In “He Who Knew Not” MoDo sends us greetings from the capital of shortsightedness, in politics and football. At least she’s not burbling on about old movies… The Moustache of Wisdom looks at “The Market and Mother Nature” and tells us why the United States needs to cut both debt and carbon emissions. He really needs to go and have lunch with Prof. Krugman, who may be able to get his head straight about debt. Here’s MoDo, wailing about feetsball:
Everyone told me not to fall in love so quickly, that I’d get my heart broken.
But I couldn’t help it. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, the stellar Redskins rookies, were such appealing palliatives to our ugly, nihilistic politics and our cascade of lurid sports scandals.
Watching the magnetic newcomers last summer after I returned from covering Jerry Sandusky’s maleficent trial in Bellefonte, Pa., made sports seem fresh again and gave Washington some rare forward momentum. The rookies put their hearts into every single play.
But then, on Sunday, the spell snapped when the knee snapped. Coach Mike Shanahan committed malpractice, letting a hobbled young quarterback lurch around “like a pirate with a peg leg,” as The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins wrote. The autocratic, crusty 60-year-old, who makes $7 million a year, risked the kid’s career and the team’s future trying to win a wild-card playoff game — the opposite of what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg.
At that moment, the Redskins became like the rest of Washington, and the rest of our self-centered, grasshopper attention-span culture — going for short-term gain and avoiding long-term pain.
Everything they do on Capitol Hill is about getting through the next few months, or next few minutes, or next confrontation. John Boehner, after making a mess of the negotiations with the president, is now talking about raising the debt limit in monthly increments. What’s wrong with weekly, or how about hourly?
Like Congress patching gaping fiscal wounds, the Redskins didn’t seem to fathom that they were damaging the franchise long term. “Trying to win that game, they risked 120 victories over the next 10 years,” the writer David Israel told me. “That’s crazy.”
Shanahan had not been protecting his fearless phenom well all season and had let him start playing again too soon after RGIII sprained a ligament against Baltimore four weeks ago, reinjuring a right knee that had required surgery at Baylor. (Not to mention the concussion he suffered two months prior.)
Dr. James Andrews, the sideline doctor and renowned orthopedic surgeon who was at the game in a goofy hat with pompoms, told USA Today before Sunday’s kickoff that “I’ve been a nervous wreck letting him come back as quick as he has.”
He also said RGIII ran back into the Baltimore game without letting the doctors look at him or talk to him and that “scared the hell out of me.” Shanahan told reporters that Dr. Andrews had given an O.K. for RGIII to go back in, but that turned out to be just a vague “high sign” from the surgeon as Griffin ran past. In a sport that has learned the horrific long-term impact of concussions, is that the best that can be done to protect headstrong young sports heroes?
The team handed over three first-round draft picks, a second-round pick and $21 million to get RGIII. Shanahan should have known that you don’t leave a life-altering decision to a gung-ho 22-year-old who thinks he’s invincible — a kid who’d never been in the playoffs, amped up on adrenaline and conditioned from childhood to keep playing and to avoid the scorn that comes from fellow players if you opt out without severe enough injuries.
Even though RGIII threw two touchdowns in the first quarter, it was clear that his knee was not stable. When he couldn’t plant his foot properly to throw a pass, he ran for the yardage; his knee buckled and he fell when nobody had even hit him. He tore off his helmet in a sign of distress.
It was dumb football not to switch to the talented backup quarterback, Kirk Cousins, so the other players would have a chance to move forward and RGIII would not end up in the fourth quarter writhing on the ground, his leg bizarrely twisted, helpless to reach for a low snap at the 5-yard line.
Shanahan said after the game that RGIII — who’s headed to surgery on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press — told him he could play because he was “hurt” but not “injured,” so “that was enough for me.” Such Clintonian parsing makes you wonder if Shanahan was worried about the short life expectancy for losing coaches of Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
In his book “Think Like a Champion,” Shanahan cites an Arabic saying he likes: “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him.”
The negligent coach — and, I’m sad to say, bullheaded quarterback — hurt their team and jeopardized their future.
The once humble RGIII was sounding disturbingly like the legend he has yet to become, saying he had to stay in because he was “the best option for this team” and “you have to step up and be a man.”
As David Israel notes, “They’ve created a cult of personality around this kid. He might be the most personable quarterback in the world, but if he can’t play, no one’s going to want to follow him. In a Boy Scout troop, maybe, but not a football team.”
If I want to see self-serving behavior, warped decision-making, dangerous rationalizations and chuckleheads mortgaging the future, I can go back to watching Congress.
Bread and circuses… Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Whenever I hear the word “cliff,” I am reminded of something that President Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, used to say about how we need to respond to climate change because no one can predict when it might take a disruptive, nonlinear turn. “We are driving toward a cliff in a fog,” said Holdren about the climate, and that’s always a good time “to start tapping on the brakes.” Indeed, when you think about how much financial debt we’ve built up in the market and how much carbon debt we’ve built up in the atmosphere, the wisest thing we could do as a country today is to start tapping on the brakes by both emitting less carbon to bend the emissions curve down and racking up less debt to bend our debt-to-G.D.P. curve down. Unfortunately, we are still doing neither.
Indeed, we are actually taunting the two most powerful and merciless forces on the planet, the market and Mother Nature, at the same time. We’re essentially saying to both of them: “Hey, what’ve you got, baby? No interest rate rises? A little bitty temperature increase? That’s all you’ve got?” I just hope we get our act together before the market and Mother Nature each show us what they’ve got.
Let’s look at the huge carbon and financial deficits we’re amassing. For thousands of years up to the dawn of the industrial age 200 years ago, the Earth’s atmosphere contained 280 parts per million of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Today, that number is nearly 400 p.p.m., with 450 p.p.m. routinely cited as the tipping point where we create the conditions for out-of-control acceleration. Melting the permafrost in Alaska, Canada and Siberia, for example, would release massive amounts of carbon that would further increase global warming. Permafrost is packed with CO2 and frozen methane, which is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. “If the tundra continues melting,” says Hal Harvey, the chief executive of Energy Innovation, “we could basically release the equivalent of all the carbon that all humanity has emitted from the start of history to now.” That would really send temperatures soaring, ice melting and sea levels rising.
We’re on a similar trajectory with our debt. Mounting deficits have driven America’s debt-to-G.D.P. ratio from 36.2 percent in 2007 to 72.8 percent today. In their widely hailed book on credit crises, “This Time Is Different,” the economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff argue that countries that allow their debt-to-G.D.P. ratios to exceed 90 percent experience slower growth and greater instability — much like hitting a climate tipping point. Indeed, they note, those who would point to low interest rates today as some kind of “all-clear” for more debt “should remember that market interest rates can change like the weather.”
There is another striking parallel. At some point, when we allow so much carbon to build up in the atmosphere, our mightiest efforts to cut emissions through energy efficiency, conservation and new technologies will only enable us to stay in place. They won’t be able bend the curve downward anymore. And 450 p.p.m. is not a place we want to get stuck. And, at some point, the debt will get so large that big tax increases and spending cuts will simply go to pay interest. We also won’t be able to bend that curve anymore, and spending on infrastructure, education and the poor will vanish.
I am struck by how many liberals insist on reducing carbon emissions immediately, but, on the deficit, say there is no urgency because no interest rates rises are in sight. And I am struck by how many conservatives insist we must reduce the deficit immediately, but, on climate, say there is no urgency because, so far, temperature rise has been slight. (Although 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental U.S.) One reason interest rates are so low is that they are being suppressed by the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing. That won’t last. As for the climate, well, “Mother Nature doesn’t do quantitative easing,” said Harvey. Beware of nonlinear moves in both.
We can’t go off coal overnight, and we can’t go into recession by cutting spending overnight, but we need to start tapping on the brakes in both realms by agreeing on spending cuts, tax increases and new investments that would be phased in as the economy improves, as well as higher efficiency standards for power plants, buildings, vehicles and appliances that would be phased in, too.
A carbon tax would reinforce and make both strategies easier. According to a September 2012 study by the Congressional Research Service, a small carbon tax of $20 per ton — escalating by 5.6 percent annually — could cut the projected 10-year deficit by roughly 50 percent (from $2.3 trillion down to $1.1 trillion).
What would you rather do to help solve our fiscal problem: Give up your home mortgage deduction and wait two more years for Social Security and Medicare, or pay a little extra for gasoline and electricity? These will be our choices. I’d rather pay the little carbon tax, especially since it would clean up the air for our kids, drive innovation and make us less dependent on the most unstable region in the world: the Middle East.
How could a carbon tax not be on the table today?
You seriously ask that question, Tommy? For realz??? Here’s a dose of SASQ for you: Republicans.