Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Warmest Decade on Record

Well, it's official. The 2000s were the warmest decade on record since records started being kept in 1870.

To make matters worse, the report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which declared the decade the warmest ever recorded, said its analysis of 10 indicators that are "clearly and directly related to surface temperatures, all tell the same story: Global warming is undeniable."

The report was compiled by 300 scientists from 48 countries.

Would the Right Wing demagogues and fundamentalist airheadss that continue to deny Global Warming please take note. Not that I expect this to have any impact upon what you already know is true because...err, why exactly do you think that you already know what is true again?

I guess this is just another left wing atheist science conspiracy to rob patriotic Christian America of its prosperity and rightful place in the world.

Federal Judge blocks some of the Arizona Immigration Law

Apparently a federal judge has blocked the more controversial parts of the Arizona Immigration Law. So at least the initial pass at legal evaluation has concluded that the law is at least partially wrong.

Again, I understand the frustration, but two wrongs do not make a right. We need to get control of the borders and then work on real immigration reform. These piece meal profiling sort of approaches aren't going to cut it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Return of the Public Option

The CBO has analyzed a proposal forwarded by Representative Fortney Pete Stark (D-Cal), the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee's Health Subcommittee.

To quote the CBO report:

“Under the proposal, a public health insurance plan would be established and administered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), and it would have to charge premiums that fully cover its costs for benefit payments and administrative expenses. The plan’s payment rates for physicians and other practitioners would be based on Medicare’s current rates but would not be subject to the future reductions required by Medicare’s sustainable growth rate formula; instead, those rates would initially increase by 5 percent and then would rise annually to reflect estimated increases in physicians’ costs. The plan would pay hospitals and other providers the same amounts that would be paid under Medicare, on average, and would establish payment rates for prescription drugs through negotiation. Health care providers would not be required to participate in the public plan in order to participate in Medicare.”

The CBO has estimated that the plan’s premiums would be 5% to 7% lower than private plans offered in the exchanges but some providers might decide not to participate in this plan due to its payment rates being lower than the private plans payment rates.

However, the CBO also believes that many providers would participate due to the expectation that a plan administered by HHS would have a very large number of participants.

The CBO estimates that the plan would REDUCE the federal deficit by $68 billion through 2020. Notice that’s “REDUCE.” There would be no need to raise taxes or cut other programs. So please ignore Rush Limbaugh when he starts telling you how this is going to raise your taxes.

What I don’t understand here is if the premiums are lower, and large numbers of providers choose to participate, why would this public option not tend to drive private insurers out of the health insurance exchange market? One has to believe that cost is going to be a critical consideration in that market.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Shirley Sherrod Affair

I think it was Davey Crockett who said “Make sure you’re right, then go ahead.” In the Shirley Sherrod fiasco the Obama administration, and especially Secretary Tom Vilsack, appear to have skipped the first step of that advice.

Let’s see, the Right Wing media wouldn’t lie would it? If Fox News or Andrew Breitbart told me the sun came up in the East today, I’d go check, and so should everyone else.

So-called Conservative media outlets are famous not only for slanting what they call “news,” but also for outright lying. Fox News has been caught red handed on any number of occasions editing video in order to give a totally misleading impression of events. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me a thousand times and I must be a Tea Party Republican.

How can we expect the American electorate to be skeptical and avoid rushing to judgment before it has all the facts if our so-called leaders aren’t capable of doing that?

Still, it’s more forgivable to be fooled by a lie than to be the one telling a lie.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The 2nd Bill of Rights

Allow me quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944.

"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education."

Now, the government cannot magically legislate these things into existence. The People cannot accomplish this vision by simply voting for these things. It's a lot more complicated than that.

What the government can do is work toward this vision. A vision that will benefit everybody to a reasonable degree rather than allowing a small elite to become obscenely rich while millions don't have a decent place to live, decent health care and enough to eat. What the People can do is vote for legislators and leaders that are dedicated to making Roosevelt's vision a reality.

Rush Limbaugh thinks this is an absurd vision. The Conservative Right thinks this is an absurd vision. Why? Because the elite can't get ridiculously richer under this vision. Oh, they can still get rich. Just not quite as rich.

I think Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Right are absurd, greedy as hell, but absurd. Why are you working and middle class folks listening to them rather than Franklin Roosevelt?

Allow me to also quote a slightly older document.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…"

Roosevelt's vision is the "pursuit of Happiness" alluded to above. No one, including the government, can guarantee you'll catch it, but the government can guarantee it will help everyone pursue it.

That's everyone Rush, and not just a privileged few. So why are you people listening to Rush Limbaugh rather than Thomas Jefferson?

If this be Socialism, then so be it.

So comrades, come rally, and the last fight let us face.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Health Care and the Free Rider Problem

Why does the Federal Government want everyone to have health insurance? Trust me; it has nothing to do with trying to turn this into a Socialist or Totalitarian state. The reason is actually an artifact of Capitalism; it’s what is known in economics as the “Free Rider Problem.”

A Free Rider is basically someone who doesn’t contribute to the welfare of the group but enjoys all of the benefits. The name comes from the example of people who sneak onto public transportation without paying the fare.

Let’s consider a simple hypothetical example involving a town’s health care. Note the word simple. For this example I’m going to make the assumption that the health care provider and the health care insurer are the same people called the Health Care System (HCS).

Now the way things work in this town is people pay for health coverage and when they get sick or injured, they receive treatment at no additional cost. In any given year around 10% of the people need treatment and, on average, treatment costs $100.

If there are 1,000 people in town then typically 100 will need treatment at an average cost of $100 so that’s $10,000. The HCS is also taking some risk here so let’s also assume that it needs to make at least $1,000 profit to make it worthwhile to remain in business in that town.

That means that the HCS needs revenues of R = $10,000 + $1,000 = $11,000 so it would have to charge each person in town $11 a year. But let’s assume signing up is voluntary and 10% of the people choose to exercise their “freedom” and refuse to participate.

So now there are only 900 people in the pool and, using the same assumptions as above, 90 will need treatment at a cost of $100 so R = $9,000 + $1,000 = $10,000. So the HCS would have to charge each person participating $11.11.

There’s the first problem; the rates just went up by 11 cents. But there is another problem. What happens if one of the 100 people that aren’t participating gets sick or injured? The HCS can’t simply ignore them, and, by law, they aren’t allowed to anyway.

That means that the HCS will treat not 90 people, but 100 at a cost of $100 each for a total of $10,000 in cost. But that would wipe out the $1,000 profit that the HCS needs. That means the HCS has three choices. It can break the law and ignore uninsured people that get sick or injured. It can pack up and leave, or it can adjust premiums and charge each of the 900 $12.22 to cover the 100 that aren’t buying health coverage, the Free Riders.

Now the rates have gone up by $1.22 and that causes a possible second problem. If you believe supply and demand, the increase in premium costs is going to drive even more people out of the market, so now maybe 120 people choose not to buy coverage which causes another increase in premiums, which may cause even more people to take the risk and not buy the health coverage. Luckily, for most people, the demand for health coverage is fairly inelastic so small premium increases are unlikely to make people drop out wholesale and force HCS to shut down. But it will mean people will have to make do with less somewhere else.

The same thing happens if it’s not a matter of choice but necessity. If the 100 people without health coverage don’t have it because either they have no access to it or can’t afford it, the exact same thing happens. It costs everyone else more money.

Yes it’s more complicated than I’m making it and one could pick apart some of the details of the example but the basic theory is sound.

Making health insurance available to everyone is not only the right, as in moral, thing to do; it’s the economically smart thing to do. Making health insurance accessible, affordable and MANDATORY will not only improve the well being of the entire country it will most likely reduce, or at least help get under control, health care costs.

So that’s the objective. Now, we can argue this on two levels. Either you can disagree with the objective of everyone has health coverage and everyone contributes to the cost or you can disagree. That’s one conversation.

A totally different conversation is you can agree with the objectives but disagree with the methodology, strategy or process being employed to get there. Note that “you can’t MAKE me buy health insurance” would not be part of this conversation but the other one.

So, for those of you so violently opposed to Health Care Reform, which is it? I’ve never been able to get a straight answer to this question.

Now, for those of you that are already jumping up and down screaming “it’s because they’re gonna raise my taxes,” I want you to consider two things. First, if everyone is paying their fair share, there’s no need to raise taxes and, second, raising taxes would be the worst possible solution to the Free Rider problem because it is, by definition, inefficient, and even Democrats know that.

For those of you that are already jumping up and down screaming “it’s because they’re going to use my taxes to subsidize someone else’s health care,” if you are in the top quintile of household income, you’re probably right. So what else is new? The top quintile always subsidizes everyone else in a progressive tax structure.

If you’re asking so how is this different from paying higher premiums in the Free Rider example, it’s different because it’s a progressive distribution, and if some people need to be subsidized, those doing the subsidizing are those that can most afford it.

If you are not in the top quintile, then it’s far more likely you’re being subsidized than you’re subsidizing.

I have problems with some of the Health Care Reform provisions, or perhaps more accurately, lack of provisions, but nothing I’m going to get overly excited about. Specifically, I’m disappointed that tort reform and the ability of insurance companies to compete across state lines didn’t make the cut.

So, for those of you that appear to be so violently opposed, why?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Argentina Legalizes Gay Marriage

Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize Gay Marriage when its Senate voted 33-27 to grant homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Argentina joins Canada as the only two countries in the western hemisphere to legalize Gay Marriage.

So the southernmost country joins the northernmost in granting equality. Now all we need to do is get everyone in between out of the 19th century.

70% of Argentines believed that it was time to legalize Gay Marriage. Maybe I should move to Argentina instead of Holland?

The Financial Reform Bill

This is another enormous accomplishment for the Obama administration rivaling getting any sort of Health Care Reform passed. Unfortunately he’s not getting any short term political benefit. Both Health Care and Financial Reform are going to take a while before we see the effects.

I find it interesting that the yokels weren’t yelling about this one, probably because they didn’t understand what was going on. Too many danged numbers I guess. Here are the biggies with commentary.

The days of the so-called “Liar Loan” are over. The bill prohibits lenders from many of the practices that led to the foreclosure avalanche during the current recession. It will make getting mortgages harder but I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or a good thing. Expect higher down payment requirements. The bill also eliminates prepayment penalties. Figures, after I’ve already paid off my mortgage.

Credit Scores
I’m not sure why, but the requirement allowing consumers to get one free credit score statement didn’t make it. You can get one free credit report identifying any issues, but it doesn’t include the score. The bill only allows free access to your credit score if you encounter a problem with a loan, interest rate or premiums. Well, that’s better than nothing I guess.

Credit Card Fees
Merchant’s pay Visa and Mastercard a fee for each credit card and debit card transaction. Fees in the U.S. are currently 1.6% for debit cards and 2.0% for credit cards. This legislation allows the Federal Reserve to cap the fees. The fees in Europe are much lower so this is expected to reduce fees and save merchants money. Hopefully these savings will be passed on to consumers but we shall see. The bill also allows merchants to offer discounts if you use cards with a lower fee which wasn’t previously allowed.

Lending Watchdog
The bill creates a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau within the Federal Reserve (another goddamned federal bureaucracy) with the ability to regulate just about every type of lending institution except car dealerships. The Republicans got these exempted because supposedly they’re already regulated enough. Aren’t you people tired of getting your pocket picked by the GOP? This was the one major victory for the lobbyists in this bill.

Bank Bailouts
The bill doesn’t allow the government to step in and break up banks but it does provide a host of new powers that should prevent things like the recent financial chaos.

The Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation (FDIC) can now liquidate failing institutions and recoup its money by selling off the bank’s assets.

Payments to creditors of a failed institution will now be the same as in a bankruptcy. This is supposed to localize problems and prevent a repeat of things like the $160 billion bailout of AiG.

Wait until you hear this one. If a bank fails, the FDIC can take back compensation paid to its current and former senior executives in the two years prior to the failure. The government can also ban those executives found responsible for a bank’s failure from future work in the financial industry.

Consumer Education
The bill establishes an Office of Financial Literacy (another goddamned federal bureaucracy) within the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) tasked with educating the public about savings, loans, liens and fees.

This bill gives the government significant new powers. It gives the government much more additional power than the Health Care Reform bill did. Basically we’re talking about a financial big Kahuna that can not only establish the rules, it can also step in and dissolve failing institutions and punish those who screw things up.

I don’t think that last bit is constitutional. Isn’t everyone, including bank CEOs, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? Here it sounds like we have a regulatory agency playing judge and jury. I’m not sure I like that.

Hell, why didn’t they just nationalize the whole industry? It probably would have been easier and a lot less expensive.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this reform was necessary but I’m a little surprised at the scope. All I can say is wow!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Bush Tax Cuts

The tax reductions implemented by the “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003” are set to expire at the end of 2010.

In the past I have consistently said they should be left to expire in order to reduce the budget deficit. I’m now going to modify that position.

The economy is too fragile to suddenly remove that much spending power from Main Street and give it to Washington D.C. However, not all of the tax cuts benefitted the general population so here is what I would do.

Increased Child Tax Credit
I would leave this in place.

Marriage Penalty Relief
I would leave this in place as it was an unfair situation in the previous tax code. We should be encouraging marriage and not discouraging it.

Increased Alternative Minimum Tax Threshold
I would leave this in place as it benefits the lowest income households.

Capital Gains and Qualified Dividends Reductions
I would leave these in place. This is not the time to begin discouraging capital investment. Yes I know that this primarily benefits the rich, but I think it would be risky to repeal it.

Tax Rate Adjustments
Ok folks, you knew this is where it was coming. I would leave the reductions in the lowest four brackets in place and return the two upper brackets to the 2001 levels raising them from 33% to 35.5% and from 35% to 39.1% respectively.

I think this leaves the adjustments made out of fairness in place, it leaves the investment incentives in place and it leaves the income most likely to be spent locally in place but it increases the rates, and therefore hopefully the revenue, where it will probably least be felt.

In parallel, the federal government needs to consider how it can reduce expenditures without causing wholesale layoffs. This can’t happen all at once as the shock to the economy would be too great but it has to start happening and there is no time like the present.

Withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan would be a pretty good start and then I would slash marginal programs in the Department of Education and in the Department of Energy.

At the same time, Congress needs to SERIOUSLY work out a reform of the tax code. Not only does the growing disparity in wealth and income need to be curtailed, taxes need to focus more upon consumption and less upon earnings.

That’s not to say excess income shouldn’t be taxed. It should. But I’d like to see income taxes not start until earnings exceed a number beyond what we all need to live reasonably comfortably.

Of Quintiles and Gaps

I was reviewing the 2007 household income & tax tables from the CBO.

Let me start by saying that federal government spending needs to be gotten under control and reduced. The federal government has to learn that it can’t spend money it doesn’t have and we would all like to have more of our money to spend. I say “our money” because every dollar generated in this economy is the result of someone’s hard work.

However, that is a problem that cannot be resolved without also reforming the tax code. The basic problem in the U.S. today is the growing disparity between the wealthiest households and everyone else.

Let’s consider a few numbers (all dollar amounts are in 2007 dollars so everything is adjusted for inflation.)

In 1979, the boundary between the lowest quintile of households and the 2nd quintile was $17,400 in minimum adjusted income. Minimum adjusted income is total household income divided by the square root of the number of people in the household. So for a household of 4 to be in the 2nd quintile would require a pre-tax income of $17,400*2 = $34,800.

In 1979 the boundary between the 2nd quintile and the 3rd was $27,600, between the 3rd and the 4th $37,900 and between the 4th and the 5th $52,800.

So in 1979, in order to be in the top quintile, a family of 4 would have to have a household income of $105,600. The boundary into the top 1% in 1979 was $167,500 so a family of 4 would need a household income of $335,000 to be in the top 1%.

Now the good news is that since 1979, the boundaries for all quintiles and the top 1% have increased. That means everyone has more money to spend. A “fair” share of the increase would mean approximately the same percentage increase for everyone. Mathematics being what it is, that would mean that the top brackets would still gain more dollars than anyone else because they started out with more.

Assume for a moment that all increases were equal to the percentage gain experienced for the boundary into the middle quintile (the 3rd) since 1979 which was 24.3%. The gap in real dollars between the 2nd quintile boundary and all the others would still have increased.

For example, in 1979 the gap between the boundary into the 2nd quintile and the 5th quintile was $35,400. If both groups had grown at the same percentage of 24.3%, by 2007 the gap would have grown to $43,993.

In 1979 the gap between the boundary into 2nd quintile and the top 1% was $150,100. If both groups had grown at the same percentage of 24.3%, by 2007 the gap would have grown to $186,537. That’s a lot of money.

Yes these are big differences, but relative to where things started, this is actually a fair distribution of the increased prosperity.

Now some people would argue that this in fact isn’t fair and that the lower quintile boundaries should have gone up by a higher percentage in order to keep the gaps from growing so much. I sort of agree with that but I’d settle for everyone benefitting by the same percentage.

However that’s not what happened. What happened is that the boundaries grew by different percentages and do I have to tell you which grew by the larger percentages?

The 2nd quintile boundary grew by 17.8%, the 3rd by 24.3%, the 4th by 41.5%, the 5th by 52.4% and the boundary into the top 1% by a whopping 110.7%.

This is an unfair distribution of the increased prosperity.

The gap between the 2nd quintile and the 5th quintile grew from $35,400 to $54,200 and between the 2nd quintile and the top 1% grew to $332,400.

Now what do you think is going to happen when we reduce federal spending? Guess who’s going to get an unfair share of the money being saved? For you Tea Party types, try real hard now, you can do it.

In parallel with reducing government spending we desperately need to reform the tax code so that the benefit of the reduced spending falls more upon the lower income quintiles than the higher income ones. As a matter of fact, I don’t see why the highest quintile needs any tax reduction at all.

If you want to restore a healthy robust economy this is how you do it. Why you ask? Because the households in the lowest four quintiles have a much higher propensity to consume (in other words they’re going to spend the money) and they’re most likely to spend it locally. This would strengthen small businesses in towns and cities all over the country rather than having the money invested in large corporations or, worst of all, in foreign countries.

You will hear every right wing wacko telling you this is Socialism. Oh my god, the “S” word. Quick, let’s all go run under our beds while the working and middle classes get their pockets picked again. Ignore those assholes; this is what needs to be done.

Ignore the Supply Side types as well. They’ll tell you that we should cut taxes more for the upper quintile because they’ll invest the money and it will “trickle down” and create jobs. Like daddy George H.W. Bush, and just about every real economist has said, this is voodoo economics. Trickle down my ass. Give the working stiffs the money, let them spend it at local small businesses and let the prosperity trickle up. That is how you build a strong economy.

Now, in case you’re thinking that somehow using quintile boundaries is some kind of trick, let’s quickly consider average pre-tax income.

In 1979, the average pre-tax income for the lowest quintile, the 1st, was $16,600, for the highest quintile, the 5th, it was $140,300 and for the top 1% it was $550,000. So the gap between the 1st and the 5th was $123,700 and between the 1st and the top 1% was $533,400.

By 2007 those gaps had grown to $246,300 and $1,854,600 respectively. Now let’s look at the percentages. The average income of the 1st quintile grew by 10.8%; the income for the 5th quintile grew by 88.7% and the income for the top 1% by 240.5%.

For the other quintiles, the 2nd, 17.7%, the 3rd, 19.2% and the 4th, 28.6%. The boundaries, for a family of 4, in 2007 were, for the 2nd, $41,000, for the 3rd, $68,600, for the 4th, $100,000 and for the 5th, $149,400. In order to be in the top 1% in 2007, a family of 4 would have required a minimum adjusted income of $705,100.

Here’s the bottom line. For the past 30 years, ever since Donald Regan talked Ronald Reagan into dramatically reducing the top income tax percentages, the gap in income and wealth between the top households and everyone else has grown dangerously wide.

Those reductions did two things. First it immediately widened the already enormous gap in discretionary income between the wealthy and the not so wealthy and we all know that money begets money. The second thing it did was make unrestrained greed worthwhile!

The marginal taxed rate went from 70% in 1981, to 50% in 1982, then to 38.5% in 1986 and then to 28% in 1987. It went back up to 39.6% in 1993 and is currently at 35%.

If you want to know why you can’t pay your mortgage, why you’re maxing out your credit cards and why the very thought of college tuition makes you go into a cold sweat, this is probably it.

The disparity is utterly ridiculous. If the distribution had been fairer, far fewer people would be having the kind of money troubles that are common these days and the economy would be a hell of a lot stronger.

Something has to be done to correct this.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ok, so those weren’t the final thoughts on the World Cup

Hey, it’s not my fault. Ryan Bailey at “Dirty Tackle” published an article about the “Ten things we’d like to see at World Cup 2014” and I can’t let that go by without putting in my two cents.

#1 – More Superstar Performances
Nay, I disagree. Bailey seems disappointed that the heralded players didn’t dominate more. I don’t have a problem with superstar performances but personally I’m more enamored with the emergence of the surprise hero, the guy who comes out of the pack to the surprise and joy of the sports world.

#2 – A less annoying fan craze
Oh I agree with this one. I don’t EVER want to hear another vuvuzela.

#3 – Less empty seats
I don’t think you have to worry about this one in Brazil.

#4 – More Maradona
Oh yeah, I could do with lots more Maradona. The man is a treasure.

#5 – The introduction of video technology
Agreed, it’s foolish not to provide the refs with the technology to do their job better.

#6 – Less psychic animals
I hope you don’t mean by this no psychic animals? Paul was part of the whole panorama of the tournament. Nobody paid any attention to those false prophets put forward by zoos and aquariums trying to cash in on Paul’s talent and fame anyway.

#7 – More ambush marketing
Agreed, as a matter of fact I think there should be a trophy for the best ambush marketing stunt especially when good looking Dutch girls in short skirts are involved.

#8 – More French mishaps
Aw, come on, give the French a break. They’ve suffered enough (*cough, cough*).

#9 – Better stadium security
Absolutely, there are too many nuts in the world. The pranks in South Africa were semi-playful but the bombings in Uganda weren't and I'm more worried about the latter than the former.

#10 – A better final
I’m betting the Brazilian national team will have a lot to say about this one and I'm also betting that you can take it to the bank that there will be more fireworks in the final four years from now.

The one you missed is less goddamned feigned injury flopping.

Final Thoughts on the World Cup

Well, the World Cup is over and that’s probably the last we’ll hear about soccer in the U.S. until the next cup approaches in 2014. It was a pretty weird one if you think about it so here are some final thoughts.

The Jabulani Ball
The complaints came loud and often from the players about this ball. According to NASA, the ball will exhibit a knuckle ball effect at speeds above 40 miles per hour. I also suspect that the triangular designs on the ball provide an optical illusion making the ball look like it’s moving even more erratically than it actually is. You’ll excuse me, but can you imagine the NFL introducing a new ball design for the playoffs? That would get some people lynched.

Not only should they be banned, they should all be gathered up and burned. The incessant buzz could drive you crazy. Yes, after a while they became just white noise in the background but I still think they should be outlawed. Brazil, take note. The New York Yankees did the right thing when they banned them. Hopefully no one shows up with them at NFL games because it could get bloody.

Ambush Marketing
I think FIFA needs less starch in its shirts. I thought the Dutch girls that converted themselves into a Bavaria beer commercial during the Denmark v. Netherlands game was damned funny and didn’t cost FIFA one nickel. That being the case, having the girls arrested was more than a little overkill.

Bad Calls
Bad calls by referees and umpires are part of any game; live with it already. However, that doesn’t mean refs should be hung out to dry when there is technology that can help them get it right or at least keep them from looking ridiculous.

Certainly a buzzer like they have in hockey for when the ball breaks the plane of the goal makes sense. So does an instant replay look see on disputed offside, or lack of offside, calls when goals are at stake. FIFA should drag itself into at least the 1990s.

The U.S. Team
They have a ways to go. They just seemed rough around the edges when compared to the other teams. It’s hard to believe they’re ranked 14th in the world.

The Hand of God
Luis Suarez, by denying Ghana the winning goal with his hands, did what any other player would have done. Was it cheating? Absolutely, but it was a spur of the moment reaction and not premeditated. The action was covered by the rules and the appropriate penalties applied. FIFA need not look at changing the rules as a result of Suarez’s action. If Ghana had made the penalty kick, the whole incident would already have been forgotten. If Uruguay had won the World Cup, we’d be hearing about nothing but. I say let it sit.

The Final
Man it was ugly. Phantom fouls, flopping and a whole bunch of short midfield passing. It could be sold as a cure for insomnia. I am especially appalled at the constant spectacle of professional athletes falling to the group and writhing in pain over contact that wouldn’t inconvenience a butterfly. Give me a break. These guys should try a little rugby.

Andres Iniestra
The one silver lining in the final was the play of Andres Iniestra. Not only did he score the winning goal, and the only goal, in an athletic move of pure artistry, but he played with a tenacity and persistence throughout the entire game. As part of his goal scoring celebration Iniestra tore off his shirt to reveal a memorial to a fallen comrade on his t-shirt. It read “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros,” which translates to “Dani Jargue always with us.” That was a yellow card admirably achieved.

Soccer in the U.S.
The World Cup as a tournament is an interesting spectacle. The drama of each win and loss, the characters involved and the weird stuff that comes along with international events of this sort combine to make following the cup at the operational level fascinating.

Unfortunately, the individual games are DULL.

The lack of scoring (Spain, the winner, only scored 8 goals in the entire tournament), the amount of time spent passing the ball around in midfield, the fact that the overwhelming majority of opportunities amount to nothing and the little girl antics of rolling around on the ground while clutching your knee, only to pop up again and keep playing, sort of put off American fans.

Like I’ve said before, it doesn’t have the tradition of baseball, the explosiveness of football or the acrobatic high scoring of basketball so I don’t see it ever making much of a dent here as an adult spectator sport.

So, it was fun while it lasted. Here’s hoping I’ll still be around for the next cup and has anyone heard anything about when Larissa is planning to make her run?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Viva Espana!

I said when Spain lost its first game to Switzerland that the loss might actually help Spain by forcing them to refocus. Well it certainly didn't hurt them.

The cardiac kids pulled out another 1-0 victory in the 115th minute of the final. Andres Iniesta had the winner with a line drive into the net which, I have to admit, was a thing of beauty. The goal came with the Netherlands down to 10 men after Johnny Heitinga was sent off with his second yellow card.

Congratulations to Spain on their first World Cup championship. They'll be dancing in the streets of Madrid tonight. As for the Netherlands, that's three trips to the final without a win.

Spain wins the World Cup while scoring a total of only 8 goals in the entire tournament. That's by far the lowest goal total for the championship team in the history of the cup.

You could have put lipstick, makeup and expensive French perfume on this game and it still would have been a pig. Referee Howard Webb gave 14 yellow cards! The previous high for a World Cup final was 5. In addition to Heitinga's 2 cards, the Netherlands earned 7 more for a total of 9. Spain joined in with 5 cards of their own.

I called the Spanish team the cardiac kids due to their four consecutive 1-0 wins with late goals. However, given their center field passing ad nauseam sort of game, I could have called them the snooze patrol.

Yes, they won, and in the final analysis that's what counts, but the sound of snoring all over Northern New Jersey and Southern New York almost drowned out the vuvuzelas. If soccer gained any ground in popularity in the U.S. due to this tournament, the final undid all or most of it. I napped through much of the second half and the first 15 minutes of extra time. I happened to be eating pistachios when Spain scored otherwise I might have missed it.

In the 3rd place game Uruguay, after taking a 2-1 lead, ended up losing to Germany 3-2. Diego Forlan scored another goal and sent me off looking for a "Forlan" Uruguay jersey. Unfortunately for me, they were all sold out.

So Paul the octopus wins the head to head competition with Mani the parakeet and maintains his perfect prediction record for the 2010 World Cup. I also went 2-0 on the weekend making me 13-3 for the knockout rounds and 24-8 overall.

So the World Cup is over. It certainly was a wild one. The 2014 tournament will be in Brazil. Would you like an early prediction on who's going to win that one?

Friday, July 09, 2010

If you could be an inanimate object…

I’d be Larissa Riquelme’s cell phone.

I don’t know why any red blooded male would be rooting for Spain. Larissa had promised a nude run through the streets of Paraguay and those bozos, by beating Paraguay, screwed it up.

I mean, national pride is one thing, but guys, Jesus, look at this lady!

Now comes word from Paraguay that Larissa says she will run naked through the streets of Asuncion anyway as “a present to all of the players, and for all the people in Paraguay to enjoy."

I suspect a few of us outside Paraguay might enjoy it as well. Hell, if she times it during the World Cup final it could be a close call in the ratings.

The exact date hasn’t been announced but I need to go check on flights to South America anyway. I mean, no sense waiting for the last minute right?

Paul says I’m right, Mani says I’m wrong

Who are Paul and Mani you ask? They’re friends of my pet goat Frankie. While Frankie specializes in making me look silly over my NFL football picks, Paul, an octopus in Oberhausen Germany, and Mani, a parakeet in Singapore, specialize in World Cup predictions.

Paul, so they say, has correctly predicted the outcome of all of Germany’s games this year including the loss to Spain. That prediction spurred a number of Germans to speculate on how Paul would taste for dinner and some even sent in recipes. According to the AP, that prompted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to become concerned about the safety of “El Pulpo Paul,” as he’s known in Spain, and offered Paul protection.

However Paul appears to be quite safe as his loving admirers far outnumber the would be octopus gourmets.

Paul agrees with my picks and has chosen Germany to win over Uruguay and Spain to triumph over the Netherlands in the final.

Mani, the Singapore based parakeet, begs to differ however. Mani has chosen the Netherlands to win on Sunday. I’m not aware of any prediction for the Germany v. Uruguay game.

So it’s an Octopus v. Parakeet showdown. Oh, the excitement is almost unbearable *snore*.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

DOMA Unconstitutional

A U.S. District judge in Boston has ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in two separate cases.

In the first case, brought by the state of Massachusetts, Judge Joseph Tauro ruled that DOMA interfered with a state's right to define marriage and forced Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens.

In a second case, filed by Gay Advocates & Defenders, Tauro ruled that DOMA violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

I can hear the howls of indignation about "activist judges" from the right already.

The fact of the matter is that the judge is correct on both counts. I've searched every page of the Constitution and no place can I find anything that would lead me to believe that equal protection under the law applies to everyone but gays.

I also find it wryly amusing that the same people that are constantly screaming about the federal government over stepping its bound have no problem with a federal law that defines who a state can declare is married.

I doubt this decision will survive the current right leaning Supreme Court but that will be a problem with the Supreme Court and not with the current ruling.

Really Dumb Ideas

I have two really dumb ones to talk about today.

The first is one of little or no consequence but simply annoying. Blizzard has decided to transition to using real subscriber names on its forums including the World of Warcraft forums.

This has got to be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of in a long time. I understand the problem of Trolls, Flamers etc., but this is simply going to drive people off the forums. Yes anonymity allows some people to act like assholes but it also allows others to freely express opinions they might not be willing to have their names attached to for any number of legitimate reasons.

Another major problem with this idea is it violates the compartmentalization that I have taken great care to organize my life around. My work persona is not my home persona, is not my blogger persona and is not my gamer persona. I would prefer it if people couldn’t trace me from on-line to real life and from real life to on-line. My name is fairly unique and it would be very easy for someone to locate me once they have it.

The second really dumb idea comes from the not so great state of Louisiana. Governor Bobby Jindel has signed into law a bill allowing concealed weapons to be carried in church.

WTF is wrong with these people that think it’s necessary to have a gun with them everywhere they go? The bigger the gun, the smaller the dick I’m betting. This country is rapidly becoming screwed up beyond all recognition.

Here’s hoping someone blows Jindel’s family jewels off, in church, with a once concealed weapon.

It’ll be Spain v. Holland in the Final

Spain managed to clog the middle and slow things down against Germany yesterday and pull out a 1-0 victory with a goal in the 72nd minute by Carles Puyol.

It was a clear case of age and treachery overcoming youth and skill. In other words, Spain used their experience to control the play and take the prize. Of course Germany having to sit Thomas Muller didn’t help any.

Spain’s victory means we’ll have a new World Cup Champion. Neither Spain nor Holland has ever won a World Cup.

So, that leaves me 11-3 in the Knockout Rounds, 22-8 overall and it’s on to the finals.

In the 3rd Place game I have to go with Germany over Uruguay.

In the Championship Game it’s obvious to me that I have no idea who’s going to win. Either team would make a worthy champion. I’d love to see the Dutch win it, but, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m going with Spain.

So, my final World Cup summary:

Germany over Uruguay
Spain over the Netherlands

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Illegal Immigration

Some people are not happy with my position opposing the Federal Government’s law suit against Arizona over its controversial immigration law. Supposedly, as an avowed Left Wing Pinko Card Carrying Member of the ACLU, I’m supposed to be storming the state house in Phoenix foaming at the mouth in indignation.

Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.

First of all, I don’t follow any party line. I take each issue on its own merits and sometimes that means going against the grain. Granted, it doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen.

Second of all, while I haven’t attacked the Arizona law directly, I have alluded here and there to the fact that I consider it ill advised and bigoted. Not a very strong condemnation perhaps but, given that I believe gaining control of our borders for both economic and security reasons needs to be a priority, it’s the most I can do.

I sympathize with the plight of Arizona, Texas and California, states which find themselves with a severe illegal immigration problem that the federal government is unable, or unwilling, to address.

Yes, I stand by equal protection under the law but a corollary of that is I expect respect for the law and enforcement of the law. If a law is unworthy of respect or enforcement it shouldn’t be a law.

I also sympathize with illegal immigrants that have established permanent roots in this country and are hard working contributors to society. I think some provision should be made for them to obtain legal residency and, eventually, citizenship.

In other words I think immigration reform is long over due but, and this is a big but, I don’t see how you put a period on that problem without first gaining control of the borders so that the country doesn‘t find itself right back in the same situation 10 or 20 years from now.

Uruguay Falls to the Netherlands

My sentimental favorite is gone so now I’ll be rooting for my #2 favorite, Das Nederlands. I really would like to see the Dutch finally win. They deserve it and they especially deserve it after knocking off Brazil.

That win makes me 11-2 in the knockout round and 22-7 overall. Not too shabby for an old coach who hung up his Class C license 10 years ago.

Germany and Spain are still to play this afternoon so the second half of the final has yet to be determined. I’m sticking with Germany and an all Nordic final.

On a personal note, I think Diego Forlan of Uruguay has edged out Luiz Suarez and emerged as my favorite player in the tournament. The man has one gear, HYPER! Of course that could all change during the Third Place game yet to come for Uruguay.

Federal Government to Sue Arizona over Immigration Law

The rumored action by the Federal Government to sue Arizona over its new immigration law has apparently been confirmed by Justice Department officials and now has been officially announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano.

This action is despite Arizona Democrats almost pleading with the Obama Administration not to take this action.

I think the move is ethically right but politically unnecessary as the ACLU is already challenging the law.

According to the AP, “The lawsuit will argue that Arizona's law requiring state and local police to question and possibly arrest illegal immigrants during the enforcement of other laws such as traffic stops usurps federal authority.”

I have to be honest, I don’t see that.

If you stop someone because he has violated some state law, why is it a usurping of authority to detain him upon suspicion that he is also breaking some federal law? I would think police agencies do this all the time.

I think the ACLU claim that the law discriminates against Hispanics, and would cause racial profiling, is of much greater concern.

If the federal government is incapable of enforcing the law then it’s not surprising that the states under the greatest pressure do to that lack of enforcement are stepping in to enforce it for them. This is a lot better than a gun totting public taking it into its own hands. That would be the first step toward anarchy.

I don’t particularly like the Arizona law but I understand the frustration and why they felt action was necessary. I think the Obama Administration is wrong and it should sit on the sidelines while the ACLU lawsuit works its way through the courts.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Question that Terrifies Atheists

This is another one of those Christian YouTube challenges with comments disabled. I wonder why they always disable comments? I guess they're afraid to hear real answers to their questions.

Anyway, the question is "What proof and evidence can you supply that proves atheism is accurate and correct?"

Oh the stupid, it hurts.

Let's ignore the redundant English and obvious lack of understanding of what "evidence" and "proof" are and address what he clearly means. This is the old "burden of proof" shuffle.

Ok, one more time. Atheism is simply the lack of belief. It is the null hypothesis. The burden of proof is on the Theist just like it's on anyone making a definitive positive assertion.

Now, that being said, let us consider the so-called flavors of Atheism. There is Weak Atheism, which is what I've described above. I am a Weak Atheist, along with probably 99% of anyone that claims to be an Atheist. Then there are the so-called Strong Atheists. Strong Atheists DO make a definitive positive assertion that there is no God and it is perfectly valid to challenge them to prove that statement.

Of course a Strong Atheist can't "prove" there is no God any more than a Theist can "prove" that there is. Outside the realm of mathematics it's pretty much impossible to "prove" anything.

The most one can do is present evidence that makes an assertion more probable.

Weak Atheists make no assertion, just like people that don't believe in purple unicorns or pink elephants make no assertion. The absence of belief is not an assertion beyond "I don't believe," which is a tautology and by definition true.

So I'm sorry, the question doesn't terrify me at all. It doesn't distress me in the least. It's not even a particularly difficult question, just a really DUMB one.

A far more terrifying question is "If there is no God, then why does anything exist?"

What makes this question terrifying is that the answer may well be "there is no reason."

Saturday, July 03, 2010

A Russian World Cup and Jesus Christ

Apparently a poll taken in Russia found that 8% of the population thought Russia would win the World Cup. Some bozos on the internet thought this was funny and were making fun of it.

Come on, 8%? That many people in the U.S. couldn't tell you how many states there are in the union or who's on a quarter. Hell, I'll bet you more people than that in the U.S. couldn't even tell you what sport the World Cup is associated with.

You want to laugh? Well in a recent Pew Research poll 41% of Americans think Jesus Christ will return by 2050. Trust me, it's a hell of a lot more likely that the Russians will win the World Cup than it is that Jesus Christ is coming back (assuming he was ever here to begin with).

On the bright side, 46% said it wasn't going to happen. Let's break this down a little shall we?

The only region of the country where a majority of people thought Jesus would be back was, (oh come on, do I have to tell you?) you guessed it, the South. 52% of people in the South said it will happen while only 33% said it wouldn't.

What freaking planet do the people in the South live on? Can somebody please check the damn water down there?

On the other end of the spectrum was the secular Northeast where 64% said it wouldn't happen and only 29% said it would. In between were the west, 51%-35% said it wouldn't, and the Midwest, 47%-39% said it wouldn't.

Let's compare this against education shall we? Those with a high school education or less said Jesus would come back by a margin of 59%-31%. Those with at least a college degree said it wouldn't happen by a margin of 64%-19%. Those with at least some college said it wouldn't happen by a margin of 51%-35%.

As I've said before, the solution to religion is education.

On to the Semi Finals

Spain bested Paraguay 1-0 on a goal in the 82nd minute while young and fast German legs shredded a suspect Argentine defense to run away with their game 4-0.

After running my morning errands I turned on the Germany v. Argentina game with the score still 1-0, and just before things started to come apart. I watched Germany put three in the net basically by using pure speed to out gun an Argentine defense that at times looked simply over matched.

Two goals within 6 minutes at 67 and 73 minutes pretty much put the game out of reach and Germany added the icing at 88 minutes.

So, Tuesday we get Holland v. a Suarezless Uruguay and Wednesday we get Germany v. Spain.

I picked 3 out of 4 Quarter Final games only missing Brazil's loss to Holland. Me and 83% of the rest of the world missed that one. That leaves me 10-2 for the Knockout stage and 21-7 overall. One might almost think I know what I'm talking about.

So where do we go from here?

Both of these games are tough to call. All logic says The Netherlands defeats Uruguay but the emotions of the moment are difficult to gauge. Suarez may have to watch from the bench but Diego Forlan will be there and that man is INTENSE. The Dutch had a huge victory against Brazil, could they suffer a let down? Emotionally I'll be cheering for Uruguay but I suspect the Dutch will prevail.

In the other game, who the hell knows. Yes the Germans looked fantastic against the English and the Argentines, but this is Espana. Spain's defense isn't suspect and the Germans aren't going to be able to freely counter attack like they did against the Brits and Argentina. Still, they looked too good and they are brimming with confidence. I'm going with the Germans to upset Spain.

So, to summarize:

The Netherlands over Uruguay
Germany over Spain

In the meantime, the luckless Ghana team got to be the special guests of Nelson Mandela at his home. Even Asamoah Gyan was smiling when he met the great man.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Uruguay in a Wild One

When Luis Suarez wins one for Uruguay it's usually with a rocket strike into the net like he did against South Korea. This time it was batting away a goal, illegally, with his hands at the very end of the overtime period with the score Uruguay 1, Ghana 1.

The play brought an immediate Red Card and a penalty kick awarded to Ghana. It was total bedlam in the stadium as the last remaining African team looked poised to advance to the semi-final. But Asamoah Gyan's kick hit the crossbar and the game proceeded to the penalty kick shoot out which Uruguay won 4-2.

Now THAT is a tough loss.

So what about the fact that Suarez essentially cheated in order to give his team a chance? You wouldn't fault a football player that purposely commits pass interference in order to prevent a winning touchdown, or a basketball player that purposely fouls to prevent a winning basket, so I'm not going to fault Suarez either.

Unfortunately for Uruguay, because of the Red Card, the star striker will miss the semi-final game against the Netherlands and that is going to hurt.

Brazil falls to The Netherlands

Wow, I figured it was possible, but I never really expected it to happen. I think the Dutch just made believers out of the whole world.

All I can say is wow. Are we looking at a Holland v. Spain final?

Of course you can’t count out any of the teams at this point. Let’s see what happens this afternoon with Uruguay v. Ghana.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

New Study on Charter Schools

A new study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education on the effectiveness of Charter Schools has concluded that they’re not very effective. As a matter of fact they could, depending upon the level of the surrounding public schools, actually have a negative effect.

The study was conducted among middle schools and comparing students who won a lottery to attend a Charter School to students who lost that lottery. The major findings of the study, with commentary, were:

“On average, study charter schools did not have a statistically significant impact on student achievement.”

A key point in this statement comes from the words “On average.” There was actually a significant range from statistically significant NEGATIVE impacts to statistically significant POSITIVE impacts.

Here’s the deal, if the surrounding schools were at the bottom of the barrel, there was improvement because the bar was set so freaking low that almost anything would have helped.

If things weren’t quite the bottom of the barrel, not only did Charter Schools not help, they were actually counter productive and student achievement DECREASED.

To quote the report, “We found a strong and statistically significant negative association between students’ baseline test scores and charter schools impacts on their subsequent reading and math scores.”

In other words, if students were already doing ok, Charter Schools tended to hurt rather than help.

“Study charter schools’ impacts on student achievement were inversely related to students’ income levels.”

According to the report “Study charter schools had a negative and statistically significant impact on test scores of higher income students.”

A “higher income” student was defined as a student not certified for a free or reduced price lunch so we're not talking the millionaire's club here.

At the same time the study found a statistically positive effect on “lower income” students for math scores, but the data on reading scores was not statistically significant. Not exactly what I would call a resounding success.

Allow me to suggest that this isn’t really different than the first finding. It’s a correlation but not a cause and effect relationship. The fact of the matter is that “higher income” students were probably higher achievers to begin with.

“Study charter schools positively affected parent and student satisfaction with and perceptions of school.”

So basically they bought into the hype and didn’t take a hard look at the numbers.

If Charter Schools were a good idea, one would expect improvement across the board or at least no ill effects. What the numbers are saying is they help if the local schools are a complete catastrophe, but, if the local schools aren’t a complete loss, not only don’t they help but they may actually hurt.

If the local schools are that bad, the money being spent on Charter Schools would most likely return greater dividends by IMPROVING THE LOCAL SCHOOLS. The Charter School critics appear to be right.

Governor Christie please take note. Your Charter School and voucher strategy is going to be counter productive. Far better, far better, would be to invest in the existing local schools with the majority of funds going to those schools currently doing the worst.

I know Conservatives don’t like to hear this but, FACTS DON’T LIE.