Monthly Archives: April 2011

Your Papers, Please, Mr. President!

Yesterday, April twenty-seventh, 2011 – a date that will live in infamy…

Somehow this nation has become so discombobulated by the election of a non-lily white person to the highest office in the land that a sitting President of the United States felt he needed to show his papers to a wealthy publicity-seeking charlatan.

Seriously. The President had to show his birth certificate.

Does anyone imagine that the Secret Service, the CIA, the Pentagon — and all those highly-paid GOP opposition researchers in the 2011 campaign — would have hid the fact that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States?

The whole premise of “birtherism” is absurd on its face.

Except that it’s not.

Deep down, we all know what the birthers really are.

And now we know something more about Donald Trump.

Does anyone believe that a sitting white President – who had already been elected a State Senator and a U.S. Senator before he won the Presidency – would have had his citizenship challenged in this way?

Of course not.

We know who the birthers are.

They’re the same people who hid behind white hoods after losing the Civil War. They’re the ones who passed Jim Crow laws to keep black people from voting. (And who are still trying to do it.) They’re of the same ilk as those who loved segregation and fought against the Civil Rights Act. They’re the ones that unscrupulous Republican politicians since Nixon have appealed to with their infamous “Southern Strategy”.

Sadly, the north has plenty of these people, too.

People like Donald Trump.

Born into wealth and privilege, Trump was standing on third base the day he was born – and he thought he hit a triple! A master at publicizing himself – if not always a master at real estate development – Trump is thumping his chest, proud to have forced the President to show his papers.

I have to presume that Trump is smart enough to know what he’s doing – and just whom he’s appealing to with his coarse birther rants, and now his attacks on President Obama’s academic record.

Will this President — a scholar who was elected president of the Harvard Law Review — now be compelled to produce his academic records to prove he was worthy of gracing the Harvard campus?

Did George Bush have to show us his grades from Yale?

Of course not.

We all know what this is.

Sorry, you social Neanderthals, but black people are not going to return to the back of the bus.  A man of mixed race occupies the White House.

That makes me proud to be an American.

What about you, birthers?

Don’t worry. I don’t want to see your papers. I just want Americans to see your real faces.

Okay, birthers, you wanted it. Now, read it and weep…


Filed under Politics

The Matey’s Log: A Birthday Voyage. Newport to Ensenada 2011…

I spent my birthday this year sailing southward along the Pacific coastline to Mexico in the annual Newport to Ensenada Race. It was the third time I’d been honored to be a part of this grand 125-mile overnight adventure – and what follows is a photo essay of the experience. The photos were taken by my good friend and fellow crewman, Brad Hall. Somehow, Brad managed to snap great shots at all angles and stay on board the boat.

Brad and I drove down to Newport on Thursday, April 14, to meet the rest of the crew and get another good look at our boat, Misfit – a sleek 1D35 Racing Sailboat. Brad and I had yet to sail aboard Misfit, which had only recently been acquired and modified by our Captain George Moll and the ship’s Master, Eric Schlageter. I’m no shipwright (I’m barely a sailorman) and I cannot describe everything that George and Eric did to re-build and re-design Misft (which is all really cool if you understand these things)– but you can find out by clicking here.

Misfit under construction. It was like the Manhattan Project, only more expensive.

By 4:00 pm, the Misfits (as we would be known in Royal Navy parlance) had gathered at Newport’s Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club for the “Send-Off Fiesta” – a bayside Bacchanal at which…

Then again, you had to be there.

Next morning, we were all at the dock to prepare Misfit for the race to Mexico. Off the back rail, we flew “The Jolly Claude” flag in tribute to our mighty master of the foc’s’le, Claude Dubreuil, who could not voyage with us that weekend. With Claude in our hearts though not on deck, our sturdy crew of eight was a foursome of matched pairs. (It was easier for me to group us this way while counting heads over the next 24 hours: kind of an unofficial buddy system. You don’t want to find out too late that someone went overboard. Especially at night.)

Captain George Moll and Tom Webber. Misfit is George’s boat, but I’m used to George and Tom being co-Captains. These guys are a classic odd couple. From the moment we hit the water, George is giving Tom grief and Tom is looking for a sandwich. But don’t let their Laurel & Hardy act fool you. These guys are real sailormen.

Joe and Eric Schlageter. Joe is Eric’s dad. They are two of the saltiest guys you’ll ever meet. I’d sailed with Eric many times, but I’d never met Joe until this race. Eric has forgotten more about sailing than I’ll ever know – and Joe knows even more. This is why I love sailing: the opportunity to get to know great characters like Joe and Eric.

Shaun Plomteaux and Geno Beville. The youngsters. The hotshots. They were born in water, of course, but appear to have slid right out of their mothers’ wombs into the Pacific Ocean. Watching them on this race would be a revelation. As hard as they worked, I think Captain George should move them up from midshipmen. Provided their sextant readings were correct.

Brad and Paul. A surfing Santa Barbara boy, Brad’s at home on the ocean, and has been sailing since his youth. As for me, I was born on the west side of Cleveland, and as a kid I built some model boats. We’ve shared many adventures together – and this would be another great one.

As Misfit pulls out of its berth at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club and sails out of Newport Harbor, Eric checks in with the race committee boat. “Sail number 35010 checking in!”

As we motored past the harbor breakwater, we caught our first sighting of that wacky photographer in his crazy taxi boat — the most unseaworthy-looking craft I’ve ever seen on the water.

Eric at the tiller negotiates our course at the start of the race. We got off to a very good start. Only one boat in our class got off to a better start. But there was a long race ahead.

The boys and me are on the rail early in the race. A sailboat like Misfit needs a lot of human ballast to keep her balanced as she slices through the water. I, for one, am especially suited to the “rail meat” role.

Shaun, Geno and Eric are in control in the cockpit early in race. Eric is steering with the tiller. At this point, you can clearly see that most of our competition is behind us.

Captain George relaxes against the lifelines as the sun starts to set. We were making a steady 6-8 knots in light wind – and our hearts were full of hope. Misfit was proving to be very nimble boat.

As the sun continues to drop down toward the horizon, the Matey shows off his brand new Newport to Ensenada hat. We’ve been sailing for about 7 hours, and we’re less than a third of the way to our destination.

Young Geno takes a turn at the tiller, steering the boat while sipping a Bloody Mary in an improvised cup. Oh yeah, the cups. Tom forgot the cups. Actually, I was one of the guys who made the run for sandwiches, vodka and Bloody Mary mix before the race. But nobody told me about cups. (George insisted that he reminded Tom about the cups.) Finally, someone got the idea to make cups out of empty water bottles. It would not be the last instance of MacGyver-like ingenuity on this voyage.

Several Bloody Marys later, Geno is still at the tiller as sun has just about set.

In the waning moments of sunlight, Shaun trims the headsail. At this point we were flying a spinnaker, still averaging 6 knots in light winds. As far as we knew, we were among the leaders.

Gorgeous colors paint the water as the sun starts to dip below the horizon. This is the kind of scene that makes sailing so addictive. The beauty and the constantly changing color and character of the water are indescribable.

As the sun comes up next morning, it’s clear what gets some sailors through the night: Red Bull and energy drinks.

Joe, “The Ancient Mariner”, greets the morning light, still snug in his foul weather gear. It was a cold, damp night – and once you get cold, you’ll never warm up again. So, foul weather gear at night is a must. You don’t take your “foulies” off until the sun comes up — and you start to sweat.

It’s clear that Tom got some sleep during the night, since he looks about as good as Tom can look.

Taking a nap on the deck, it’s clear that Captain George didn’t get much sleep during the night. But George’s nap posture is nowhere near as uncomfortable-looking as Geno’s was at one point during the night when he was out cold, face down, lying in front of the companiomway. (Red Bull can only get you so far.)

The Matey celebrates the morning of his birthday, April 16th, dressed in his groovy hippy hoodie. The hoodie went on sometime during the night as another layer under my foul weather gear, At that point, I was wearing two t-shirts, the hoodie, and my foulies. I was still a bit cold.

The Matey scans the Mexican shoreline as Misfit sails toward the finish line, coming into Ensenada.

Eric is at the helm as we approach the finish line. At this point, it was hard to tell how we’d finished. There weren’t many boats ahead of us – and a half-dozen could be seen behind us. Hope springs eternal.

Brad and Tom celebrate surviving the long, cold night and arriving at the finish line in fine, seamanlike style. A hot shower was now just an hour or so away!

At this point, a marlinspike was all that held the boom vang to the boom. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, as the winds died and our boat speed slowed to 2 knots and less, the fluttering of the mainsail caused the boom to bang back and forth – and the bolt that held the boom vang in place was lost. This was the second MacGyver-like bit of ingenuity. (Claude would have been proud.)

On the Sunday return trip, as we motored north to San Diego, Shaun was all about tending to the cordage. It was like something out of a Patrick O’Brian seafaring novel to see Shaun fixing, splicing and braiding the frayed ends of every bit of rope on board.

Eric caught the cordage bug from Shaun and started splicing and sewing, too. I was too busy enjoying the ride to San Diego. Besides, as rail meat, such refined maritime skills are way above my pay grade.

Shaun’s handiwork. I didn’t think anybody did this kind of work since the days of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic wars. Someone should introduce Shaun to scrimshaw. Then again, better to save the whales.

Captain George relaxes as we arrive in U.S. waters. Misfit can motor at between 6-7 knots – and we were lucky enough to have a “following sea” the whole way. (That means we were moving in the direction of the swell.) If we’d been motoring into the waves, it would have been a very wet and bumpy ride.

Joe also relaxes, enjoying our smooth ride home. Note Joe’s bare feet. He and Tom rarely wear shoes on board. I find that amazing. These guys are really salty.

Since U.S. Customs won’t allow us to bring fruit back into the country from Mexico, George helps out by eating his share of the contraband apples.

The Matey looks a bit weathered and grizzled as Misfit makes her way into San Diego Harbor. It’s been a wonderful weekend of adventure: my first birthday on the Pacific Ocean.

Eric deals with the Customs agents at the U.S. Customs dock. I guess everything was okay because they let us all go. Luckily, the drug-sniffing dog didn’t give a damn about Red Bull.

The Misfits pose before a celebratory meal at the Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego. (My wife Victoria snapped this photo.) We look none the worse for the wear. Next year, we want to see our shipmate Claude in this photo with us!

And now, here’s a little film that Brad edited from footage he shot during the race – with the same camera he used to shoot those photos! It’ll give you a better idea of what it’s like to be on the water aboard Misfit. Ahoy!

BTW — We didn’t win the race. But I doubt anybody had more fun — or more laughs.


Filed under Adventure

A Great Pack of Baseball Cards

Recently, a buddy of mine gave me a pack of 1982 Donruss baseball cards. Thus began an adventure.

At first glance one package of 1982 Donruss baseball cards might not seem like a big deal. I mean, these aren’t Topps cards – which are the only ones I collected as a kid.

In fact, Donruss didn’t put out a line of baseball cards until 1981, the year after I graduated college: not a time when I was collecting many baseball cards. My friend’s gift pack, then, was from Donruss’ second year in the baseball card game.

After Fleer won a lawsuit in 1975 to break Topps’ monopoly on baseball cards, the sluice gates opened to release a slurry of increasingly elaborate and expensive cards. From 1981 to ‘87, Donruss was one of a trio of companies making baseball cards, including Fleer and Topps – all of which gave you gum. However, Topps appealed the Fleer lawsuit and the court ruled that Topps’ exclusive rights only applied to cards sold with gum. So, from then on, Fleer and Donruss were gum-less. Fleer put team logo stickers in each pack and Donruss included three pieces of a “Hall of Fame Diamond Kings” puzzle. (More on this later.) Score made its baseball card debut in 1988 and Upper Deck in 1989. Foil cards, holograms, I lost track.

Enclosed in its wax wrapper, my pack of 1982 Donruss cards held 15 of the 660 baseball cards they produced that year. As always, it was a crapshoot as to who those 15 players would be. The expectation I felt as a child just before opening each pack of Topps still rose in me as I tore off the wrapper. Fanning out the cards, I could see right away…

This particular pack was a Hall of Fame gold mine!

Here’s are the 15 cards in my one pack of 1982 Donruss baseball cards: a remarkable package of Major League Baseball heroics and history – plus three puzzle pieces!

1. Mike Schmidt (Third Base) Phillies

Now, that’s the way to start a pack of baseball cards – with the best third baseman of his day, and among the best to ever play the hot corner. Michael Jack Schmidt, born September 27, 1949 in Dayton, Ohio played his entire career  for the Philadelphia Phillies – hitting 548 home runs in 18 seasons. He played his final game 
on May 28, 1989. One of the great Cub-killers ever, Schmidt was voted National League MVP three times, an All-Star 12 times, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995. He was voted into Cooperstown on 444 out of 460 ballots. So, who were the 16 absolute morons who didn’t think Mike Schmidt was a first ballot Hall of Famer? Probably bitter Cubs fans.

2. Joe Morgan (Second Base) Giants

A younger generation of baseball fans might think that Joe Leonard Morgan is just another ex-jock broadcaster. But, patrolling second base for the World Champion Cincinnati Reds, Joe Morgan was the central cog in The Big Red Machine: a star among stars. With teammates Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez, and Dave Concepción, Morgan led the Reds to back-to-back World Series rings in 1975 and ‘76 — and was also the National League MVP in those two years: the first second baseman in the history of the National League to win consecutive MVP awards. In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James named the 10-time All-Star the best second baseman in baseball history, ahead of #2 Eddie Collins and #3 Rogers Hornsby. Of course, Joe Morgan was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1990.

3. Rich Gossage (Pitcher) Yankees

The next Hall of Famer in my pack was briefly a Chicago Cub: Richard Michael “Goose” Gossage — for 22 seasons one of the most feared relief pitchers in the Majors. From 1972-1994 Gossage played for nine different teams but he had his best years with the Yankees and Padres, becoming baseball’s greatest big game closer before the iceman Mariano Rivera cometh. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the 8-time All-Star was the epitome of the Closer as Character with his Wild West whiskers, nasty attitude and screaming heater. He led the AL in saves three times and his 310 saves are fourth all-time. Then again, he’s also the career leader in blown saves (112). That’s what happens when you always get the ball with the game on the line. And Goose Gossage got the final out to clinch a division, league or World Series title seven times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

For all you Cub fans: Gossage got his 300th career save while pitching for the Cubbies on August 6, 1988. Entering the game with two out in the ninth and two Phillies on base – he got Phil Bradley to pop it up to Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, preserving a 7-4 Cubs victory. Cubs win! Cubs win!

4. Lou Whitaker (Second Base) Tigers

“Sweet Lou” Whitaker isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but a lot of Detroit Tiger fans think that’s a crying shame. Louis Rodman Whitaker, Jr. played second for the Detroit Tigers from 1977 to 1995. Whitaker teamed with shortstop Alan Trammell to form the longest running double play combination in major league history: arguably the most famous since Tinker to Evers to Chance. Could he field? Sweet Lou set the standard for defensive play at his position for over a decade. Could he hit? He’s one of the very few players to ever to drive a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium. Over his 19-year career, he batted .276 with 244 home runs and 2,369 hits in 2,390 games. Since he hung up his cleats, no Detroit Tiger has worn Whitaker’s jersey number (#1), although it’s not officially retired. Sweet Lou’s jersey should probably be in Cooperstown.

5. Ron Hassey (Catcher) Indians

Hey, I got an Indian!

It’s always a big deal to get a hometown player in your package of baseball cards.

Ronald William Hassey doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown, either – but he had his Hall of Fame moments. In fact, Ron Hassey is the only major league catcher to catch two perfect games. On May 15, 1981, while playing for my downtrodden Tribe, Hassey caught Len Barker‘s perfect game against the Blue Jays.  A decade later, on July 28, 1991, he was playing for Montreal when he caught a perfect game for the Expos’ Dennis Martinez against the Dodgers.  (Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place?) While with the Oakland A’s, Hassey caught nearly all of Bob Welch‘s games, including during Welch’s 1990 Cy Young season in which he won 27 games. Hassey began his career with the Cleveland Indians, and he and future Tribe manager Mike Hargrove played together in Cleveland from 1979-1984. Many of us also remember him as a dependable late season addition to those beloved 1984 Cubs who won the NL East title before a heartbreaking loss in the NLCS to Steve Garvey and the Padres.

6. Bill Virdon (Manager) Astros

William Charles Virdon was the starting center fielder on the 1960 World Champion Pirates. He hit a ground ball in Game 7 of the World Series that took a bad hop and hit Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat. Virdon reached first base and helped ignite a late-game rally that culminated in Bill Mazeroski‘s legendary walk-off home run. When his playing days were done, Virdon managed the Pirates (1972-73), Yankees (1974-75), Astros (1975-82), and Expos (1983-84). As a manager, he added another unique chapter to the annals of baseball trivia — as one of only four men to be voted Manager of the Year in both leagues. Virdon was the 1974 American League Manager of the Year in with the Yankees – and in 1980 he was named National League Manager of the Year with the Astros.

7. Roger Erickson (Pitcher) Twins

Roger Farrell Erickson was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 6, 1978, with the Minnesota Twins. His rookie year in The Bigs was auspicious: he started 37 games, recording a 14-13 record with a 3.96 ERA and 121 strikeouts. But during his next 5 seasons, he never won more than 7 games, finishing with a career 35-53 won-loss record and a 4.13 ERA. He did, however, complete 24 of his 117 career starts: which would be a rare feat nowadays.

8. Verne Ruhle (Pitcher) Astros

Vernon Gerald Ruhle pitched in the majors from 1974 to ’86, mostly with the Tigers and Astros.  In a workmanlike 13-year career, Ruhle had a 67-88 won-loss record with 582 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA. (Which would be pretty damn good if it was you or me pitching.) Ruhle ended his career in the Angels’ bullpen and made his last appearance on the mound in Game 4 of the 1986 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. Ruhle took the ball from Manager Gene Mauch with the Angels trailing 1-0 with two out in the seventh and gave up two more runs in the eighth. Luckily, the Angels tied it in the ninth and won the game in 11 innings. Ruhle fared far better than his fellow Angels pitcher Donnie Moore did in the very next game of the series. In Game 5, the Angels were one strike away from advancing to the World Series for the first time — but Moore became the goat of the ’86 ALCS by giving up a two-out, two-strikes home run to Dave Henderson in the top of the ninth inning — and then giving up Henderson’s game-winning sacrifice fly two innings later. Boston went on to win the AL Pennant in 7 games. Hounded by the media and unforgiving fans, Moore became depressed, sank into alcoholism over the next two years, and killed himself on July 19, 1989. After his playing days, Ruhle became a pitching coach with the Astros, Phillies, Mets and Reds. One game can make a big difference. In Game 4, The Angels hitters came back to save Verne Ruhle from a loss. They didn’t save Donnie Moore.

9. Otto Velez (Outfielder) Blue Jays

Outfielder Otoniel Vélez Franceschi mercifully went by “Otto Velez” or a lot of baseball beat writers would have worn out their proofreaders between 1973 and ’83. (This was long before computer spell-check.) To make things even simpler, they nicknamed him “The Swatto”. Otto the Swatto is one of several players to hit four home runs in a doubleheader, a feat he accomplished while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays on May 4, 1980 against my beloved Tribe. But Velez’ hit his four home runs for the cycle: a solo shot, a two-run homer, a three-run blast — and a grand slam. That’s pretty damn cool. He finished his career with 78 home runs – and he ended it playing for the Indians. But Otto didn’t swatto any home runs for the Tribe, which doesn’t seem fair after hitting four against us in just one day.

10. John Urrea (Pitcher) Padres

Los Angeles born pitcher John Urrea was no longer in the Major Leagues when his 1982 baseball card came out. John Goody Urrea was a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1974 amateur draft. In 1977, he moved up from Double-A to the Cardinals as a reliever — and won his first five games as a starter. It was a promising debut, but in a five-year career with St. Louis and San Diego, that promise was not kept. Urrea pitched well for St. Louis in ’77, recording a 7-6 record with 4 saves and a 3.16 ERA, but he found himself back in the minors the next year. He fared better in the Cardinals bullpen in 1980, going 4-1 with 3 saves and 3.48 ERA – but St. Louis sent him and Terry Kennedy to San Diego in a 1981 trade for Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace and some others. Despite the fact that Urrea posted a stellar 2.39 ERA in 38 relief appearances for manager Frank Howard’s Padres, his career was over after that season at the age of 26.  I wondered how a guy with a lifetime ERA of 3.74 could have such a brief and spotty career – but I couldn’t find much info about Urrea. However, one of the few things I did find was very intriguing. It’s an interesting blog article with a provocative series of comments. Check it out at:

11. Tom Underwood (Pitcher) A’s

For 11 seasons, journeyman pitcher Thomas Gerald Underwood plied his trade with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Yankees, A’s and Orioles, posting an 86-87 won-loss record and a career 3.89 ERA. Underwood’s career was not without some highlights. He helped the Phillies win their division in 1976 and ’77, and he was part of a Yankees team that won their division in 1980 and the AL Pennant in ’81. In 1978, he was voted the Blue Jays’ outstanding pitcher. Tom’s brother, Pat Underwood, pitched for the Detroit Tigers from ’79 to ’83 – one of 381 sets of brothers who have played in a Major League game. On May 31, Pat made his major league debut pitching for Detroit against his older brother Tom who started that day for the Blue Jays. They both pitched seven shutout innings, but Pat prevailed 1-0 with some relief help in the ninth. It was one of the very few cases where pitching brothers faced each other in a regulation game.

12. Dan Ford (Outfielder) Angels

Darnell “Disco Dan” Glenn Ford played in the Majors primarily as an outfielder from 1975-’85 for the Twins, Angels and Orioles. Besides having a fabulous nickname (and also having the same name as the star of “Blackboard Jungle” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”), Disco Dan also had some notable on-the-field accomplishments. He hit the first home run at the rebuilt Yankee Stadium on April 15, 1976 and he hit for the cycle against the Seattle Mariners on August 10, 1979. He hit a home run for the Orioles in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series on their way to the championship. (Trivia note: ’83 was the last World Series that Bowie Kuhn presided over as commissioner.) In his 11 seasons, Ford maintained a .270 career batting average and slugged 121 homers. A solid career for Disco Dan.

13. Eddie Miller (Outfielder) Braves

From 1977-1984, Edward Lee Miller was a utility outfielder for the Rangers, Braves, Tigers, and Padres. Miller never played in more than 50 games in a season – and in ’81, the year he played in those 50 games, his 23 stolen bases were 10th in the National League. But Eddie Miller biggest moment in baseball was his last. In his final game on September 30, 1984 — after 7 seasons, 138 games, 332 plate appearances and 79 career hits — Miller socked his only major league home run in his last career at bat.

14. John Stearns (Catcher) Mets

John Hardin Stearns was called up from the AAA Toledo Mud Hens to play for the Phillies, and on September 22, 1974, he made his major league debut, coming off the bench to get his first knock in two at bats. But his first game with the Phillies was his last. With young Bob Boone already established behind the plate for Philly, Stearns was expendable. (Trivia note: Bob Boone is the son of the late MLB third baseman Ray Boone, and the father of two major leaguers: Bret Boone and Aaron Boone. All four Boones were named All-Stars during their careers.) Thus, the Phillies sent Stearns to the Mets, for whom he donned the tools of ignorance from ‘75 to ’84. Stearns had the dubious distinction of being one of the best players on the worst team of his era. He represented the lowly Mets in four All-Star Games — even as his team hovered around 100 losses all four of those seasons. Stearns was fast for a catcher — with nearly twice as many stolen bases as homers during his career. But Stearns best moment in baseball may have been when he got annoyed by the Atlanta Braves’ mascot, Chief Noc-A-Homa, and chased him off the field. And remember, Stearns was fast for catcher.

15. John Harris (First Base) Angels

John Harris is 1 of 571 players to have played for the Angels – and like John Urrea, he was already out of the Major Leagues when his ‘82 baseball card came out. Harris was no bonus baby: he was picked in the 29th round of the 1976 Major League Baseball draft – and he was already 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues. His three seasons, from 1979 to ’81, were all with the California Angels. In 56 games for the Halos, Harris batted .258, with 31 hits, 5 homers and 16 RBI. But though his time in The Show was brief, he’s a baseball lifer. This year, he was hired as the field manager of the Amarillo Sox of the American Association. Harris is still living the dream.

And finally, there’s those puzzle pieces.

The three 3 puzzle pieces in my package are among the 63 total pieces needed to put together the complete puzzle: a Babe Ruth collage entitled “Hall of Fame Diamond King.” Needless to say, I won’t be trying to collect them all. But I am glad that I’ve got these three pieces – and that I spent some quality time with the 15 players in this great pack of baseball cards.

Get a pack of cards – any year, any maker, and try this exercise yourself.

Each baseball card is a life story.

It’s like reading 15 tiny novels.

With or without the gum.


Filed under Sports

President Obama: The 100th Post

Since this site was launched in January of 2010, I’ve posted 99 articles on this blog. This is the 100th post. And for the first time I’m devoting a post to the words of someone other than me: President Barack Obama.

President Obama’s speech on budgets, deficits and taxation yesterday went well beyond numbers crunching. He touched on truths that progressives have been shouting at their TV sets and arguing over water coolers ever since Reagan took office and began to dismantle The American Dream for workers and the middle class.  This was a President sounding like a Democrat and embracing the role of our government to do good things for the people it represents. This was a President rejecting voodoo economics and government of, by, and for the top one percent.

I’m sure there will be compromises in the battles that loom ahead with the GOP and its Teahadist , but this time the President we elected to bring Hope and Change stood tall and spoke the truth, calmly but forcefully. The right-wingers have been throwing fits ever since Obama finished making this speech. That’s how you know it’s the truth.

And now, for the 100th post in the history of this blog, I proudly present to you the 44th President of the United States, Barak Obama…

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

“The Country We Believe In”

The George Washington University

Washington, D.C.

April 13, 2011

As Prepared for Delivery—

Good afternoon.  It’s great to be back at GW.  I want you to know that one of the reasons I kept the government open was so I could be here today with all of you.  I wanted to make sure you had one more excuse to skip class.  You’re welcome.

Of course, what we’ve been debating here in Washington for the last few weeks will affect your lives in ways that are potentially profound.  This debate over budgets and deficits is about more than just numbers on a page, more than just cutting and spending.  It’s about the kind of future we want.  It’s about the kind of country we believe in.  And that’s what I want to talk about today.

From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity.  More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.

But there has always been another thread running throughout our history – a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.  We believe, in the words of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.  And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens.  We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce.  We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries.  Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us.  “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities.  We are a better country because of these commitments.  I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.

For much of the last century, our nation found a way to afford these investments and priorities with the taxes paid by its citizens.  As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally born a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate.  This is not because we begrudge those who’ve done well – we rightly celebrate their success.  Rather, it is a basic reflection of our belief that those who have benefitted most from our way of life can afford to give a bit more back.  Moreover, this belief has not hindered the success of those at the top of the income scale, who continue to do better and better with each passing year.

Now, at certain times – particularly during periods of war or recession – our nation has had to borrow money to pay for some of our priorities.  And as most families understand, a little credit card debt isn’t going to hurt if it’s temporary.

But as far back as the 1980s, America started amassing debt at more alarming levels, and our leaders began to realize that a larger challenge was on the horizon.  They knew that eventually, the Baby Boom generation would retire, which meant a much bigger portion of our citizens would be relying on programs like Medicare, Social Security, and possibly Medicaid.  Like parents with young children who know they have to start saving for the college years, America had to start borrowing less and saving more to prepare for the retirement of an entire generation.

To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation’s deficit.  They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush and President Clinton; by Democratic Congresses and a Republican Congress.  All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice, but they largely protected the middle class, our commitments to seniors, and key investments in our future.

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus.  America was actually on track to becoming completely debt-free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed.  We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program – but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending.  Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts – tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.

To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our national checkbook, consider this:  in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.

Of course, that’s not what happened.  And so, by the time I took office, we once again found ourselves deeply in debt and unprepared for a Baby Boom retirement that is now starting to take place.  When I took office, our projected deficit was more than $1 trillion.  On top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession that, like most recessions, led us to temporarily borrow even more.  In this case, we took a series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs, kept credit flowing, and provided working families extra money in their pockets.  It was the right thing to do, but these steps were expensive, and added to our deficits in the short term.

So that’s how our fiscal challenge was created.  This is how we got here.  And now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s.  We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt.  And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and win the future.

Now, before I get into how we can achieve this goal, some of you might be wondering, “Why is this so important?  Why does this matter to me?”

Here’s why.  Even after our economy recovers, our government will still be on track to spend more money than it takes in throughout this decade and beyond.  That means we’ll have to keep borrowing more from countries like China.  And that means more of your tax dollars will go toward paying off the interest on all the loans we keep taking out.  By the end of this decade, the interest we owe on our debt could rise to nearly $1 trillion.  Just the interest payments.

Then, as the Baby Boomers start to retire and health care costs continue to rise, the situation will get even worse.  By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs, Social Security, and the interest we owe on our debt.  That’s it.  Every other national priority – education, transportation, even national security – will have to be paid for with borrowed money.

Ultimately, all this rising debt will cost us jobs and damage our economy.  It will prevent us from making the investments we need to win the future.  We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads and bridges – all the things that will create new jobs and businesses here in America.  Businesses will be less likely to invest and open up shop in a country that seems unwilling or unable to balance its books.  And if our creditors start worrying that we may be unable to pay back our debts, it could drive up interest rates for everyone who borrows money – making it harder for businesses to expand and hire, or families to take out a mortgage.

The good news is, this doesn’t have to be our future.  This doesn’t have to be the country we leave to our children.  We can solve this problem.  We came together as Democrats and Republicans to meet this challenge before, and we can do it again.

But that starts by being honest about what’s causing our deficit.  You see, most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but they like the stuff it buys.  Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense.  Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research.  Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare.  And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political skills tell me that almost no one believes they should be paying higher taxes.

Because all this spending is popular with both Republicans and Democrats alike, and because nobody wants to pay higher taxes, politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse –that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices.  Or they suggest that we can somehow close our entire deficit by eliminating things like foreign aid, even though foreign aid makes up about 1% of our entire budget.

So here’s the truth.  Around two-thirds of our budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security.  Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20%.  What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That’s 12 percent for all of our other national priorities like education and clean energy; medical research and transportation; food safety and keeping our air and water clean.

Up until now, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington have focused almost exclusively on that 12%.  But cuts to that 12% alone won’t solve the problem.  So any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget.  A serious plan doesn’t require us to balance our budget overnight – in fact, economists think that with the economy just starting to grow again, we will need a phased-in approach – but it does require tough decisions and support from leaders in both parties.  And above all, it will require us to choose a vision of the America we want to see five and ten and twenty years down the road.

One vision has been championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates.  It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that.

Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve.  But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.

A 70% cut to clean energy.  A 25% cut in education.  A 30% cut in transportation.  Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year.  That’s what they’re proposing.  These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget.  These aren’t the kind of cuts that Republicans and Democrats on the Fiscal Commission proposed.  These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in.  And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic.

It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them.  If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them.  Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities.  South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science.  Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels.  And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors.  It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today.  It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher.  And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck – you’re on your own.  Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

This is a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit.  And who are those 50 million Americans?  Many are someone’s grandparents who wouldn’t be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid.  Many are poor children.  Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome.  Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care.  These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.

Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy.  Think about it.  In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined.  The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each.  And that’s who needs to pay less taxes?  They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs?   That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.  As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan.  There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.  And this is not a vision of the America I know.

The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism.  We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share.  We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness.  We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare.  We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.

This is who we are.  This is the America I know.  We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country.  To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms.  We will all need to make sacrifices.  But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in.  And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

Today, I’m proposing a more balanced approach to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over twelve years.  It’s an approach that borrows from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission I appointed last year, and builds on the roughly $1 trillion in deficit reduction I already proposed in my 2012 budget.  It’s an approach that puts every kind of spending on the table, but one that protects the middle-class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future.

The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week – a step that will save us about $750 billion over twelve years.  We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs I care about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs.  We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology.  We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access.  We will invest in education and job training.  We will do what we need to compete and we will win the future.

The second step in our approach is to find additional savings in our defense budget.  As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world.  But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt.

Just as we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense.   Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending.  I believe we can do that again.  We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.  I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete.

The third step in our approach is to further reduce health care spending in our budget.  Here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer:  their plan lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead.  Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.

Already, the reforms we passed in the health care law will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.  My approach would build on these reforms.  We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments.  We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency and speed generic brands of medicine onto the market.  We will work with governors of both parties to demand more efficiency and accountability from Medicaid.  We will change the way we pay for health care – not by procedure or the number of days spent in a hospital, but with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results.  And we will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services seniors need.

Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional one trillion dollars in the decade after that.  And if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, this approach will give the independent commission the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare.

But let me be absolutely clear:  I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society.  I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs.  I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves.  We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.

That includes, by the way, our commitment to Social Security.  While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that is growing older.  As I said in the State of the Union, both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  But we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.

The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code.  In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans.  But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society.  And I refuse to renew them again.

Beyond that, the tax code is also loaded up with spending on things like itemized deductions.  And while I agree with the goals of many of these deductions, like homeownership or charitable giving, we cannot ignore the fact that they provide millionaires an average tax break of $75,000 while doing nothing for the typical middle-class family that doesn’t itemize.

My budget calls for limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2% of Americans – a reform that would reduce the deficit by $320 billion over ten years.  But to reduce the deficit, I believe we should go further.  That’s why I’m calling on Congress to reform our individual tax code so that it is fair and simple – so that the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.  I believe reform should protect the middle class, promote economic growth, and build on the Fiscal Commission’s model of reducing tax expenditures so that there is enough savings to both lower rates and lower the deficit.  And as I called for in the State of the Union, we should reform our corporate tax code as well, to make our businesses and our economy more competitive.

This is my approach to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next twelve years.  It’s an approach that achieves about $2 trillion in spending cuts across the budget.  It will lower our interest payments on the debt by $1 trillion. It calls for tax reform to cut about $1 trillion in spending from the tax code.  And it achieves these goals while protecting the middle class, our commitment to seniors, and our investments in the future.

In the coming years, if the recovery speeds up and our economy grows faster than our current projections, we can make even greater progress than I have pledged here.  But just to hold Washington – and me – accountable and make sure that the debt burden continues to decline, my plan includes a debt failsafe.  If, by 2014, our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy – or if Congress has failed to act – my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code.  That should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road.

So this is our vision for America – a vision where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and rising opportunity for our children.

Of course, there will be those who disagree with my approach.  Some will argue we shouldn’t even consider raising taxes, even if only on the wealthiest Americans.  It’s just an article of faith for them.  I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more.  I don’t need another tax cut.  Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut.  Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare.  Or by cutting kids from Head Start.  Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn’t be here without.  That some of you wouldn’t be here without.  And I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me.  They want to give back to the country that’s done so much for them.  Washington just hasn’t asked them to.

Others will say that we shouldn’t even talk about cutting spending until the economy is fully recovered.  I’m sympathetic to this view, which is one of the reasons I supported the payroll tax cuts we passed in December.  It’s also why we have to use a scalpel and not a machete to reduce the deficit – so that we can keep making the investments that create jobs.  But doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option.  Our debt has grown so large that we could do real damage to the economy if we don’t begin a process now to get our fiscal house in order.

Finally, there are those who believe we shouldn’t make any reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security out of a fear that any talk of change to these programs will usher in the sort of radical steps that House Republicans have proposed.  I understand these fears.  But I guarantee that if we don’t make any changes at all, we won’t be able to keep our commitments to a retiring generation that will live longer and face higher health care costs than those who came before.

Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments.  If we believe that government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works – by making government smarter, leaner and more effective.

Of course, there are those who will simply say that there’s no way we can come together and agree on a solution to this challenge.  They’ll say the politics of this city are just too broken; that the choices are just too hard; that the parties are just too far apart.  And after a few years in this job, I certainly have some sympathy for this view.

But I also know that we’ve come together and met big challenges before.  Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill came together to save Social Security for future generations.  The first President Bush and a Democratic Congress came together to reduce the deficit.  President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously and still found a way to balance the budget.  In the last few months, both parties have come together to pass historic tax relief and spending cuts.  And I know there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to see a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

I believe we can and must come together again.  This morning, I met with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to discuss the approach I laid out today.  And in early May, the Vice President will begin regular meetings with leaders in both parties with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit by the end of June.

I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today.  I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum.  And though I’m sure the criticism of what I’ve said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all bridge our differences, and find common ground.

This larger debate we’re having, about the size and role of government, has been with us since our founding days.  And during moments of great challenge and change, like the one we’re living through now, the debate gets sharper and more vigorous.  That’s a good thing.  As a country that prizes both our individual freedom and our obligations to one another, this is one of the most important debates we can have.

But no matter what we argue or where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans.  We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves.  We have to think about the country that made those liberties possible.  We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community.  And we have to think about what’s required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.

This sense of responsibility – to each other and to our country – this isn’t a partisan feeling.  It isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea.  It’s patriotism.

The other day I received a letter from a man in Florida.  He started off by telling me he didn’t vote for me and he hasn’t always agreed with me.  But even though he’s worried about our economy and the state of our politics, he said,

“I still believe.  I believe in that great country that my grandfather told me about.   I believe that somewhere lost in this quagmire of petty bickering on every news station, the ‘American Dream’ is still alive…

We need to use our dollars here rebuilding, refurbishing and restoring all that our ancestors struggled to create and maintain…We as a people must do this together, no matter the color of the state one comes from or the side of the aisle one might sit on.”

I still believe as well.  And I know that if we can come together, and uphold our responsibilities to one another and to this larger enterprise that is America, we will keep the dream of our founding alive in our time, and pass on to our children the country we believe in.  Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.


Filed under Politics

10 More Rays of Sunlight

With earthquakes, tsunamis and meltdowns in Japan, House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP Teahadists threatening to shut down the government, and fabulous Pia Toscano getting voted off “American Idol” — things can seem pretty bleak. But, as I’ve said before, it’s does no good to retreat into the darkness of despair. We must seek the light. No matter how black the landscape appears at night — there are rays of sunshine rising just below the horizon. Here are 10 rays of light that, for me, provide illumination in the current gloom

1.  Boehner Plummets in the Polls

Speaker John Boehner, meet Speaker Newt Gingrich.

It didn’t take very long for John “Crybaby” Boehner to lose favor with the American people. Blubbering Boehner’s approval rating has fallen 18 points since early January. Weepy John celebrated the New Year with a 35% job approval rating. Three months later, his approval rating is falling like bitter tears – down to 25%. And that’s before he blunders into a government shutdown. Americans actually seem to be paying attention to just how bad a job Boehner is doing of governing. Boehner and Gingrich. Together forever.

2. The NBA Playoffs

The real pro basketball season is about to begin: the NBA playoffs. Let’s face it. The regular season is just an 82-game tournament seeding process. Now things get serious. And this could be one of the best NBA playoffs ever. The first four teams in each conference all have a legitimate shot. (Okay, maybe not Dallas.)

The storylines could hardly be more compelling. Will the aging veteran Boston Celtics reach the finals and deny retiring Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson his fourth and final NBA title three-peat? Will LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and the star-studded Miami Heat deny the Chicago Bulls and MVP candidate Derrick Rose a return to their first NBA Finals since the Michael Jordan era? And you can’t ignore the consistency and professionalism of the San Antonio Spurs or the explosive youth and athleticism of the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.

3. Survivor: Redemption Island

I am an unabashed Survivor fan – and this season is shaping up to be one of the best. The Redemption Island twist has added a new and intriguing wrinkle to what is already the best television game show ever produced. Bringing back classic villains Russell Hantz and Boston Rob didn’t work out as well as the producers might have hoped – but, then again, did anyone expect to see bad boy Russell reduced to tears?

Boston Rob & "The Former Federal Agent"

Boston Rob seems to be in charge of the game, but if Bible-toting Matt can return from his second stint on Redemption Island, he may yet be a factor. Meanwhile, Phillip the “former federal agent” just might be the craziest character in the game’s history. Will the girls ever turn on Boston Rob? Damn, I love this show.

I’ll go tally the votes. The tribe has spoken.

4. Baseball Season Begins

All I need to say is this: at this moment in the 2011 Major League Baseball season my Cleveland Indians are in first place in the AL Central.

There’s a whiteboard hanging in Indians manager Manny Acta’s office upon which is written, “The road to success is not a freeway. It’s a tollway and it’s always under construction.” The Indians are a work in progress, indeed. They’ve got a young roster and a parsimonious payroll – but they just swept the wealthy superstars of the Boston Red Sox with bunches of home runs and a suicide squeeze bunt. However, even if the Tribe finishes the season with a stunningly unlikely World Series victory, I’ll never refer to The Jake as “Progressive Field”.

5. NU Dance Marathon Sets Fundraising Record

It’s not just that I’m proud of my daughter Emilia and her fellow NU Dance Marathon emcee Jesse Swedlund for keeping more than 900 student dancers moving for thirty straight hours in early March — although their energy, enthusiasm and good humor were prodigious, indeed. But to top off the whole experience, the 2011 Marathon raised over a million dollars for The Children’s Heart Foundation. ($1,019,130 to be exact.) It was inspiring to go back to campus and see so many great young people having so much fun working up a sweat for a worthy cause.

6. Glenn Beck Leaving FOX

What could be better than the news that Glenn Beck’s god-awful show will be off Fox News Channel later this year? It’s like Christmas in April. It’s like an early birthday present. (April 16th, by the way.) Beck’s ratings have sunk 30% from their peak, and an advertiser boycott also took its toll. Crazy Beck was reduced to hawking gold coins and dubious workout products. Of course, FOX softened the blow, saying they’ll still be in business with Beck, starting with some Beckumentaries — but no longer having to endure a daily dose of Beck’s chalkboard ravings is reason enough to smile.

7. Casey on American Idol

I was shocked when Pia Toscano got voted off, but I’m glad that “Idol” judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler had already used their one and only save to keep Casey Abrams on the show. I dig Casey’s style, his voice, and his groovy bass playing. He’s unique. In fact, Casey’s so cool, I’m amazed he’s still in it. It’s gratifying to know there are so many “American Idol” watchers with good taste. (Even if they did make a mistake booting Pia.) But, seriously, Paul McDonald? Really? That dude’s raspy, one-octave voice is wearing as thin as his smile is wide.

8. Michelle Bachmann for President

The fact that Michele Bachmann, the wacky Tea party darling and GOP Congresswoman from Minnesota, is seriously considering running for the Republication Presidential nomination is a gift that will keep on giving. I can’t wait see her on the GOP primary ballot in Iowa. Man, I hope she wins in Iowa. Then, she can ride her crazy train to New Hampshire. With Michelle ranting and raving on the extreme right wing, just imagine how far toward the fringe Newt and Huckabee and the Donald will have to go. And could there be room on the GOP crazy train for both Bachmann and Palin? How about Palin-Bachmann 2012? Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Could anything that fun actually happen? It would be the death of satire, true. But it would also spell doom for the Republican Party.

9. The Vic & Paul Show Goes to Chicago

After a 22-year absence from the Chicago area stage, my wife Victoria and I will perform “The Vic & Paul Show” at The Prop Theatre from June 9-12. It’s going to be great fun doing comedy in Chicago again – and even more fun to be doing it with the brilliant Steve Rashid at the keyboard. If you don’t have your tickets yet – don’t wait too long. It’s a limited engagement (5 shows) and The Prop’s an intimate space (70 seats). For reservations, go to:

10. Easter Will Soon Be Here!

For untold centuries, after the darkness and cold of winter, human cultures have celebrated the return of life and light in the spring. That’s why The Easter season is such a profound holiday. It’s a celebration of life’s annual victory over death. Which is why it’s fitting that Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection at this time. This is one of those years when “regular” Easter and Greek Easter are on the same day. Since my wife is Greek Orthodox, we always enjoy a big Greek Easter dinner with our close circle of friends. Legs of lamb on the barbecue grill, dyed red eggs, pastitso and baklava. Oh yeah, some Ouzo, too. I’m in heaven just thinking about it. Opa!


Filed under Random Commentary