Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada vs. Team USA

It promises to be the most exciting contest of the Vancouver Olympics, Canada versus Team USA in hockey. I will be watching because I have a few emotional connections to the sport.

My mother was born in Vancouver ninety-three years ago yesterday. While she is not alive to enjoy it, I know wherever her spirit may be she is very proud of her home city and native country. Her father was an executive with the well-known Canadian retailer, the Hudson Bay Company. While she later became an American citizen she had many warm memories of her childhood including walking several miles to school in snowshoes.

I was born in Chicago, the same year my paternal grandmother saw her first hockey game in person. Although she had come up from her home in New Orleans for the Christmas holidays she was able to endure the chill of the Chicago Stadium with great humor. "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out," she was reported to have said with a laugh.

One of my early hockey memories was the USA victory over Canada in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. I had started playing hockey on a local outdoor rink in suburban Deerfield's Jewett Park. I played defense and goalie primarily because I was not an agile skater. Most kids skated unaware of the bone freezing temperatures. Our brand of hockey was fast, exciting, clumsy and hard-hitting. I suffered a couple broken noses while playing, one from a high stick and the other from an elbow.

By the time I was sixteen years old I decided to hang up my skates. But by then I had watched my Chicago Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup. The 1963 team had some legendary Hall of Famers, including Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Elmer "Moose" Vasko, Eric Nesterenko and goalie Glenn Hall. They overcame the exciting Montreal Canadians, led by Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, and the Gordie Howe led Detroit Red Wings. These were the good old days, before the NFL expanded, when the NHL included Chicago, Detroit and Montreal, along with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers. The skaters did not wear helmets back then, and most were missing teeth and many had crooked noses from multiple breaks.

Hockey is one of those sports you are either totally passionate about or you don't care about at all. It is a cold sport to watch or play, yet that makes it a perfect fit for Canada. To fully appreciate how great a sport it is you have to have played hockey or have grown up with it all around you. I mean not many Americans understand "offsides" and "icing." It is hard enough to keep up with the puck, in person or on television, when some slapshots zoom at nearly one-hundred miles an hour.

We in the United States have too many other major sports, like baseball, basketball and football, competing for fan loyalty. So hockey has had limited success in America, and many fewer of our athletes take it up professionally. That's one of the reasons hockey has struggled to succeed on American television. That's why some American television executives cynically say, "Everyone who cares about hockey is at the game."

All of Canada will be watching this afternoon as their Olympic team tries to take the gold medal in a sport that is synonymous with the country. A victory will be more than beating Team USA, it will be for national pride. Meanwhile, the Americans will be motivated by their underdog status and the realization that a victory can be a big boost for a game they are passionate about and a country they love.

It doesn't get better than this.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chile Rocks

Our prayers go out to the people of Chile and all those who will be affected by the enormous 8.8 earthquake overnight. Congratulations to especially CNN for their comprehensive coverage this morning, Betty Ngyen and Rob Marciano anchored, and Telemundo as well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Now: "Survivor: Health Reform"


LIVE, from historic Blair House, across the street from the White House, in your nation’s capital. It’s the latest reality television program.

“Survivor: Health Reform!”

Watch as America’s leading political parties square off while seated at tables in a “hollow square set up.” Who will win America’s hearts as contestants vie over tort reform, pre-existing conditions, health coverage for all, and insurance reforms?

Let’s introduce some of the contestants: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator John McCain, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid.

We would also be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to thank the health care industry for its generous funding. It is great to know that these companies want to put America’s health care needs first. It particular, their support has made it possible for Republicans Senator Mitch McConnell, Representative Eric Cantor, Representative John Boehner and Senator Charles Grassley to attend, along with Democrats Reid, Senator Max Baucus, and Representative Steny Hoyer, to name just a few.

Hypocrisy is sure to abound during the show; it’s a special feature of our presentation. We know Americans never tire of hypocrisy. Will the deeply tanned House Republican leader, Representative John Boehner, argue that there are too few papers, or too many in the president’s proposal? Which John Boehner will show up?

Will Republicans open by crying out against using “reconciliation” to get health reform passed? Just as Minority Leader McConnell did on the Senate floor Wednesday, “Democrats on Capitol Hill are working behind the scenes on a plan aimed at jamming this massive health spending bill through Congress against the clear wishes of an unsuspecting public." Never mind that Republicans rammed through two major tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans during President George Bush’s first term using reconciliation. It is estimated that the Bush tax cuts will add $2.3 trillion to the nation’s debt over a decade.

For those of you watching who do not have or cannot afford health care, there is sure to be something for you in our show. There is the Obama plan that is projected to cover 30 million of you. While the price tag is almost $1 trillion over 10 years, the White House projects it will actually save the government money in the long run. And, in a surprise, Republicans are coming to the table with a plan of their own, and it will cover up to an additional 3 million uninsured citizens by 2019! Way to go!

And count on the participants to throw in a little demagoguery as well. Take Obama’s proposal, which calls for a small reduction in the rate of future growth of Medicare spending. Republicans are sure to claim that Democrats are going to cut Medicare and scare the bejesus out of you senior citizens! Of course, don’t expect Republican Paul Ryan to mention his ideas for “reforming” Medicare and other entitlements, even though everyone agrees costly entitlements must be addressed, but certainly not in public.

Watch as all the dramatic developments unfold around key discussion points: controlling costs, insurance reforms, reducing the deficit and expanding coverage. How many talking points will be covered? How much partisan bickering will there be? Will it be gridlock! Oh, and as an extra treat, Vice President Joe Biden un-tethered. What will he say, what won't he say?

In the words of Republican Representative Mike Pence, "Tomorrow's summit is looking more and more like a taxpayer-funded media event designed to set up passage of ObamaCare 2.0, and the American people deserve to know it!"

Precisely, that's why we are promoting "Survivor: Health Reform." Check your local listings!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Footnote to History

Polls are a snapshot of sentiments taken over a short period of time. Given the general anti-incumbent feelings roiling through the nation and directed at Washington it is no surprise that the latest CNN poll indicates that Americans want to throw the bums out; all of them!

With unemployment at 10 percent, huge annual federal and state deficits, a massive and growing national debt, a broken health care system, Wall Street bailouts from U.S. taxpayers begetting huge profits for banks, insufficient financial regulation, two costly wars and growing terrorist threats, it is no wonder Americans are frustrated. Yet, in response to this crisis, Washington has been locked in highly partisan bickering and maneuvering to no apparent end.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, released Tuesday, shows only 34 percent of those surveyed feel that current federal lawmakers deserve re-election, while 63 percent say they don't. Just 51 percent feel their own member of Congress deserves to be re-elected, while 44 percent say their representative doesn't deserve another term.

An equal number, about 56 percent of those polled, believe that most Democrat and Republican members should not be re-elected. These poll numbers should be a wake up call on Capitol Hill, especially for Democrats who have more incumbents. The Democrats currently hold a 255-178 majority in the House heading into November's mid term elections, but Republicans are poised to make major gains. And control of the Senate may be up for grabs too.

President Barack Obama is not eligible for re-election until 2012. Yet 52 percent of the registered voters surveyed in the CNN poll currently believe he should not be re-elected, with 44 percent saying they would vote for him. 49 percent approve of the president's job performance and about half disapprove.

Certainly a lot can change in three years, and the Republicans will, at some point, have to come forward with a winning agenda for the nation and a candidate who can beat President Obama. Just saying no will not win them the nation's highest elected office.

For sure voter anger will be a factor in how ballots are cast. Senator Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts was a sure sign that voters want things to change. And, while President Obama was handed a deep recession and a myriad of other significant problems when he took office, he was elected on a promise of change. Yes, Republicans have obstructed, have flip-flopped and have fabricated untruths, but Democrats have been divided and divisive too.

President Obama, while personally popular, has failed to herd his flock and get his message through to Americans. As an example, it might have helped if The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or the stimulus bill, had been called the "Jobs Bill" and the money directly doled out to projects by the federal government instead of through the states, where some Republican Congressmen took credit for what they voted against.

Or it might have helped if the laudable attempt to pass health care legislation had been more tightly managed. The lengthy process opened up opportunities for health care lobbyists and opponents to use scare tactics to undermine the cause. Americans were even more confused by the debate than members of Congress. Main Street is hurting. Americans want results, and who can blame them.

In 1982, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives when they gained 26 seats. The country was struggling through a recession and President Ronald Reagan's popularity was at an all time low, a 35 percent approval rating, which was compounded by his budget cuts. Some even questioned whether he could be re-elected to office because he was insensitive to the needs of average citizens.

If the Democratic members of Congress don't get behind their leader they will suffer big losses in the fall. If President Obama is unable to overcome the political machinations of Washington, if he is unable to get America on a course to more jobs and a brighter future, if he is unable to bring change, he may very well become a footnote to history.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Red Sea

President Barack Obama's 2010 federal budget includes a staggering $1.6 trillion deficit this year and an astounding sea of red ink for the next decade. Unlike Toyota's gas pedal defect, U.S. spending appears stuck in overdrive and there is no easy fix.

Today the United States remains mired in an economic crisis. Millions of Americans are out of work and more are still being added to the unemployment roles each month. Last year the government passed a $750 billion stimulus package to slow the job loss and it has had some positive effect. Yet this package and the loss of income tax revenues have exacerbated the deficit problem.

A proposed freeze on discretionary government spending, about 14% of all federal expenditures, and a tax increase for high income earners will not make much of a dent in the red ink. It is time for our elected officials in Washington stop playing political games with America's future. It is time for courage, leadership and bipartisanship.

Congress should immediately and unanimously pass legislation establishing an independent fiscal commission to reduce the federal deficit. The commission should be tasked with making recommendations that will eliminate this country's annual deficits by the end of this decade. The commission should include a collection of our best and brightest minds from a broad collection of disciplines. This will help depoliticize the process and go a long way to assure that the recommendations are fair and actionable.

Entitlements cannot be off limits, yet this very suggestion will send elected officials running to the hills. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consume a huge percentage of our annual budget. They must be restructured in a way that realistically reflects the government's ability to pay for them.

Defense spending must also be significantly reduced. America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must be ended as soon as possible. Further, tens of thousands of U.S. troops based in Europe, Japan and in other foreign countries must also return home. Twenty-first century technological advancements can be more vigorously applied to our national and anti-terror defenses. Unnecessary and outdated weapons systems can be eliminated.

More rigorous management procedures should be adopted across all government agencies. Billions of dollars in waste is built in to unnecessary paperwork, overlapping requirements and, at times, conflicting regulations. And members of Congress pass thousands of earmarks each year amounting to billions of taxpayer dollars. Earmarks should be eliminated.

These are but a few areas an independent fiscal commission can investigate. But nothing will happen as long as our political process is paralyzed. President Obama should sit down with the Congressional leadership, Democrats and Republicans, and together they should immediately agree to create the fiscal commission.

The recent Massachusetts senatorial election spoke volumes about this country's frustration with politics as usual. Americans want change, many of them are hurting. It is time to put politics aside for the sake of our children.