Do you believe in miracles, Karl Rove? Federal deficit falls to pre-crisis levels

For years we have been hearing how the federal budget deficit was ballooning even bigger than Jessica Simpson.

Now we have witnessed two miracles in our lifetime: Both Simpson and the budget no longer have to be buttered to fit through a doorway.

Jessica has Weight Watchers and the budget deficit has the Democrats.

Which the Republicans must find harder to swallow than a sauerkraut sandwich with mayo washed down with a chocolate milkshake.

The GOP long has been preaching that the Democrats are poor stewards of the economy, overseeing a period of sluggish growth and rising debt.

A false gospel, as it turns out.

The Treasury Department said today (yes, it actually does talk) that the federal budget deficit fell precipitously to $680 billion in the 2013 fiscal year from about $1.1 trillion the year before.

Even Humpty Dumpty didn’t have such a big fall.

In fact, that is the smallest deficit since 2008, and marks the end of a five-year stretch when the country’s fiscal gap came in at more than a trillion dollars a year.

Imagine: Something actually has gone right for President Obama, who has been mired in the worst slump since the 1962 New York Mets.

The report underscores the persistence, if not the strength, of the recovery after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Growth in tax revenue accounts for much of the decline in the deficit.

But increases in taxes and cuts in federal spending figure strongly too, as does a surprising — and surprisingly long — slowdown in the pace of health-spending growth.

Of course, I’m still waiting for the news to reach my personal bottom line, which still is lower than Jessica Simpson’s weekly grocery bill.

The splendor of the spectacle that Cassius Clay scripted 50 years ago against Sonny Liston

They said time is fleeting. They didn’t commit perjury.

Fifty years can zip by quicker than a hiccup.

The clock is as fleet as Cassius Clay, soon to be Muhammad Ali, was 50 years ago this Tuesday when he shook up the world with an astonishing stoppage of the feared and seemingly invincible Sonny Liston.

I was a 14-year-old freshman in high school back then, a kid who grew up watching boxing on television with my old man.

Who knew that a decade or so later Ali and my paths would cross?

Muhammad moved his training camp to Deer Lake and as a young sportswriter for the then Reading Times, I interviewed Ali multiple times over the years.

He hardly was the bombastic public Ali in his quiet, personal moments. He often would chat with me in his dressing room, giving me a singular audience as if I were the star columnist for the New York Times.

To Ali, a reporter’s note-taking pen was pure magic, no matter how big his market.

How things have changed. The Reading Times is dead. Liston is dead. Ali is locked into the prison of Parkinson’s disease, the loquacious Louisville Lip silenced. Boxing, once such a big deal that Norman Mailer compared being the heavyweight champion of the world to being like the big toe of God, has become marginalized.

Years earlier, I had loved the brash swagger of Clay during his young professional career as he literally talked his way into a bout with Liston, who had a colossally powerful left jab and a right cross that detonated like an atomic bomb.

Liston swatted away challengers as if they were mere moths.

He won the title by dispatching champion Floyd Patterson in the first round and then also starched poor Floyd in the first round in their return bout.

Clay nicknamed Liston “The Big Bear” and stalked him as if the crazy challenger was indeed bear hunting. On one occasion Cassius was literally carrying a bear trap as he baited Liston.

When fight night arrived in Miami Beach, Clay was a 7-1 underdog. There were many people who actually thought Liston would kill him.

Besides being endowed with historic punching power in both hands, Liston was a classically skilled heavyweight with a killer’s instinct for blood.

Clay back then to boxing purists was a caricature of a contender, a mere court jester who did everything wrong.

Clay carried his left hand illogically low, which was considered to be an invitation to be murdered by a crushing Liston right hand. Clay often punched while moving backward, a tactic generally deemed to be pure suicide.

Who then knew that Ali indeed was as much of an artist as a fighter, a man blessed with extraordinary hand speed, foot speed, hand-eye coordination and reflexes — not to mention having the lithe flexibility of a limbo dancer?

Ali created a whole new style of boxing and he painted one magnificent portrait on Feb. 25, 1964.

The red tassels on his boxing shoes made his fleet feet seem even faster, and were the perfect accompaniment to the pop … pop … pop of his flashing, stinging jabs.

Liston kept charging like an angry bull after Clay in a desperate, flailing, futile attempt to gore the cocky challenger.

But Clay was a classic matador who totally controlled the fight, dancing and pivoting and firing a constant blur of punches that streaked faster than bullets.

It ended when a humbled Liston, suddenly aged by a decade or so and definitely now a defanged, shell of a bear, quit on his stool before the seventh round and with Clay racing toward the ropes and bellowing at the ringside reporters: “I fooled you … and you … and you … and you. I must be the greatest!”

Cassius Clay, who the next day would morph into Muhammad Ali, indeed was the greatest then.

And would become the greatest of all time.

Many Ali epic fights with Frazier, Foreman and Norton would ensue.

But for me, the most memorable, magical fight of Ali’s career was the shocking dismantling of Liston.

I listened to the fight on my transistor radio in my bedroom, transfixed and mesmerized … my mind somehow translating the words I was hearing into images dancing across my mind’s eye.

Those images were remarkably similar to what I saw days later when I caught a replay of the transcendent title fight at a local movie theater on Penn Street.

In retrospect, one other aspect of that historic evening strikes me with melodramatic force.

Excited over the enormity of Clay’s victory, I literally jumped down almost an entire flight of stairs to proclaim the news to my astonished father.

If tonight at 64 I tried that, I undoubtedly would end up in traction.

Damn that Father Time!

Too busy to blog blues

For the legions of folks who turned cold blue days ago waiting in breathless anticipation for my next blog, you now can exhale.

Assuming you still can.

I didn’t get writer’s cramp.

Just a cramped schedule while spanning the globe.

I accumulated more frequent flier miles than NASA.

Where the hell was I?

I visited Mother Nature at the North Pole and told the old gal she had better cease and desist from turning Berks County into a frozen custard every three days or so.

Did you notice how beautiful today was in Greater Reading?

You’re welcome.

I moved Jay Leno into his retirement home in Beverly Hills.

I helped Jimmy Fallon take over as The Tonight Show host in Manhattan.

I shot the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition after giving all the models a massage.

I caught some rays in Sochi at the Winter Olympics and while I was there I found a cure for Bob Costas’ pinkeye.

I caught some pitchers and pitched to some catchers when the Phillies opened spring training.

Now have I had to catch some Z’s.

Russia says it knows journalists are exaggerating Sochi hotel problems because it’s spying on them

Covering the Winter Olympics usually is worse than having a lobotomy because you can’t take a limo to the venues, there is enough snow and ice to mimic my backyard right now, and the Games are populated with some bizarre sports that are best viewed while stoned.

And now this …

Journalists in Sochi have been tweeting about their hotel nightmares because journalists like to bitch as much as they like to drink.

That being said, Sochi hotels apparently aren’t The Ritz.

But the Russian government says it has proof that all their gripes are overblown because it’s been spying on people in their hotel rooms.

According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, the journalists who have reported deplorable conditions in Sochi hotel rooms are trying to malign the Games.

“We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,” he said Thursday.

Sounds like my sons when they were teen-agers.

At any rate, journalists should refrain from having kinky sex in Sochi hotel rooms.

Big Brother Vladimir is watching!

This Super Bowl was ugly enough to make you stick two drumsticks in your ears and stir

As we all know, offense is sexy. The offensive-oriented NFL in recent years has generated more sex appeal than Victoria’s Secret (depending on what stage your hormone levels are).

But one axiom is an eternal truth, just as true that it sucks to live in Berks County during snowy winters.

Cue the drum roll and cannon fire. Defense wins championships.

Happened again last night in not-so-Super Bowl 48 in relatively balmy MetLife Stadium in hardly sexy East Rutherford, N.J.

Seattle’s top-ranked defense kicked the freaking lights out of Denver’s top-ranked offense 43-8.

As knockouts go, it was vintage Cain vs. Abel and Louis vs. Schmeling.

Seattle’s Legion of Boom brought the hammer, reminding me of Ivan Putski the Polish Hammer.

The predatory Seahawks suffocated and swarmed Peyton Manning, who was rattled, sloppy, mistake-prone and flashed more exasperated frowns than Custer did at the Little Bighorn.

Except for desperate underneath passes, the Broncos’ vaunted receivers couldn’t get any separation.

Even their shadows and deodorant don’t get as close to them as the Seattle secondary did.

The Broncos couldn’t run. They were more grounded than rebellious teens.

Denver couldn’t hold onto the ball, committing four turnovers in the face of unrelenting pressure.

Denver had 11 possessions and only one ended in points, a pathetic showing by a team that averaged almost 38 points per game in the regular season and broke the NFL’s all-time single-season scoring record with 606 points.

You kind of got an omen that this game was going into the crapper in a hurry for the Broncos when on the game’s first snap from scrimmage they snapped it past a befuddled Manning and in a snap it was 2-0 Seattle courtesy of a safety.

Seattle doesn’t mess with a lot of sophisticated defensive schemes. The Seahawks simply punch you in the mouth until you spit teeth like Chiclets.

The Seahawks disrupted Manning’s timing and rhythm, consistently forcing him off his spot in the pocket due to pass pressure. He was only sacked once, but the pass rush directly contributed to both of his interceptions — the second of which was returned 69 yards for a touchdown by Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, an outside linebacker.

It was a strange game because while Seattle went out with a bang, its utter dominance reduced America’s High Secular Holy Day to a whimper.