Monday, June 27, 2011

Dodgers File for Bankruptcy

That the Los Angeles Dodgers need bankruptcy protection boggles the mind. That one of the oldest, and I always thought most lucrative, baseball franchises can be broke strikes at the very foundation of the American Dream.

I could understand General Motors troubles but how the hell do you lose money if you’re the Dodgers?

Does the phrase glaring fiscal incompetency conjure up a picture for you because I can’t imagine what else could have gone wrong.

What would Walter O’Malley say?

I know what the Flatbush Faithful would say, “it soives dem Bums right for leavin’ Brooklyn.”

Muslim Women and Sports Uniforms

FIFA wouldn’t allow the Iranian Women’s soccer team to compete because they considered their head to toe covering uniforms a safety hazard.

A Muslim-American female weight lifter has been barred from competing at the higher levels of competition because she wears the hijab which fully covers her arms, legs and head. This violates the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) rules, which govern USA Weightlifting, designed to insure the judges can see whether the elbows and knees are locked which is required for a lift to be successful.

Billy Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), which apparently worries about stuff like this, has issued guidelines on uniform restrictions saying restrictions should focus on not allowing an unfair advantage, not introducing a safety hazard and not making it difficult for judges.

The problem of course is both of the current objections, by FIFA and the IWF, are within these guidelines. One was deemed a safety hazard and the other may in fact cause problems for judges.

This is the kind of story that can easily bring out the worst in someone. I have to admit that my immediate reaction was “it’s women’s sports. Who cares?”

When I got my male chauvinist inclination under control I thought why should everyone else have to accommodate Muslims? When the World Series interfered with Yom Kippur, Sandy Koufax simply didn’t pitch. He didn’t ask Major League Baseball to adjust the schedule.

Then I remembered that little thing called the 1st Amendment and reconsidered.

If you believe in the Constitution then you have to support what the Constitution says even when you’re not all that enthused about it. Either we live by the rule of law or we don’t’.

So, after considering it rationally for a bit, I sort of agree with the WSF guidelines. Unfortunately those guidelines are very subjective.

Still, I’m sure someone can figure out a way to work this out. Doesn’t sound like rocket science to me. As much as I think the Muslim idea of female modesty is utterly ridiculous, the 1st Amendment says they have every right to be ridiculous. I would also think it’s in the best interest of the governing bodies to work something out. Unless of course the governing bodies don’t care because it’s women’s sports.

The Republicans

A recent Iowa poll shows Michelle Bachmann now even with Mitt Romney and that scares the hell out of me.

Bachmann is a certifiable lunatic. I don’t want this lady anywhere near the nuclear codes. She thinks the world is 6,000 years old and that Climate Change is a hoax (by who and why one wonders?).

I will grant that her education appears to give her the necessary credentials to be president but clearly her schooling hasn’t made her educated. Just what we need, another god damned Christian fundamentalist in the White House.

Let’s face it, Romney can’t win the Republican nomination. He’s the type that will always be a bride’s maid and never a bride. So who does that leave? If I had to pick a Republican it would be Jon Huntsman but I think he’s too rational for the Republican base.

Then again, McCain won in 2008 so you never know.

I mean, talk about the inmates trying to take over the asylum. Hopefully Bachmann will self destruct in the not too distant future but perhaps not.

The problem with lunatic fringe candidates like her is her supporters are too irrational to ever give up on her for any reason and a lot of people may not take her seriously until it’s too late. That’s one good point about her polling high early, it forces people to take her seriously and notice what a moron she is.

On the other hand, I might prefer her over Palin which really tells you a lot about what I think about Palin. What is it about the Republicans that they attract such lunatic females? Oh yeah, that’s right, a lot of the males are lunatics too.

I'm not voting Republican anyway. I wouldn't vote Republican if you held a gun to my head. My only interest is how scary is the 2012 campaign going to be. So far, looks like it's going to be pretty scary.

A Win for Gay Marriage in New York

Much to my surprise Governor Cuomo managed to pull it off and get Gay Marriage legalized in New York.

Cuomo managed to put together an unlikely coalition including a number of high profile Wall Street GOP supporters to allay fears that voting for Gay Marriage was the death knell for a Republican legislator.

We’ll see how well that one works out.

Even more amazing was Cuomo’s ability to somehow manage to neutralize the Catholic Church which, in the final analysis, did little more than whimper in opposition to the bill.

Well, now there are six. Here’s hoping this will cause Rhode Island and Maryland to reconsider their recent failures in this area.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Financial Crisis

The Congressional Budget Office, in its mid-year long term budget forecast, has again warned that the U.S. is headed for a financial crisis based upon its level of debt.

This is the same warning that Congress and the White House didn’t take to heart last January. The really scary part is there are two scenarios. The Baseline Scenario and an Alternative Scenario. The Baseline Scenario is bad but the Alternative Scenario is a financial nightmare.

The Baseline Scenario assumes that tax rates will return to their 2000 levels by the end of 2012 and that Congress will enforce Medicare cuts mandated in a 1997 law. The CBO, in its Alternative Scenario, predicts that Congress will do neither of these two things.

I can’t take the Republicans seriously as long as they insist on not only maintaining the current maximum tax rate but are proposing to lower it significantly. I can’t take the Democrats seriously because they seem to act like a teenager who doesn’t realize that the credit card bill has to be paid someday.

Do I have a third alternative?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Evolution, Fact and Theory

I just read an article by Jonathan Dudley on Huffington Post arguing that Evangelicals are abandoning Christian tradition when rejecting the Theory of Evolution.

Dudley quotes Charles Hodge, considered the father of modern evangelical theology, as saying: "Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science."

Dudley then goes on to say that “Christians must accept sound science, not because they don't believe God created the world, but precisely because they do.”

Dudley then points out that those that reject evolution “claim their rejection of evolution is not a rejection of science” and quotes Phillip Johnson as saying that “all he's rejecting is the atheistic lens through which evolutionary scientists view the world.” According to Johnson evolution is "based not upon any incontrovertible empirical evidence, but upon a highly philosophical presupposition."

No Phil baby, evolution is based upon what is considered the best explanation of the empirical evidence that we do have. As far as I know, no empirical evidence is "incontrovertable" which is why all scientific conclusions are tentative. If you have a better explanation, feel free to present it.

Dudley proceeds to reject Johnson’s argument based upon the simple fact that creationism has failed to provide any explanation for most of the data that evolution does explain, and that allows evolution to make accurate predictions.

I’m not sure I buy Dudley’s argument myself but what I found most distressful were the comments to the article. Whenever I read comments to Internet articles I get concerned for the ability of the human race to survive in the nuclear era. I honestly don’t understand how people this ignorant manage to brush their teeth, never mind use a computer.

The center of debate revolved around the old confusion of fact versus theory.

A Fact is a simple observation. Evolution, which simply means “descent with modification,” is a simple observation and therefore it is a Fact. A Theory explains how and why Facts happen and the implications of their happening. The Theory of Evolution addresses these questions for the Fact of Evolution.

In the final analysis the only parts that get people upset are the implications of evolution.

I might also point out that we are not comparing what “God says” versus what “scientists say.” We are comparing what “scientists say” versus what “some men say God says.”

To my mind those men, who claim to speak for God, are a hell of a lot more likely to be wrong than modern science. It makes no sense for God to design a creation 6,000 years ago which looks like it’s billions of years old. It makes no sense for God to create man in his present form and then scatter thousands of fossils that provide clear evidence of the progression of man over time.

To reject evolution is essentially to call the deity a deceiver. Even I’m not willing to perform that sacrilege.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Making fun of your principal is Free Speech

Apparently, according to a Pennsylvania federal court, it’s within a student’s right of free speech to make fun of the principal on-line.

The court sided with students in two cases, but in one case by 14-0 margin and in the other only by 8-6, so clearly there is a line beyond which the 1st amendment won’t protect you. Now all we have to do is figure out where that line is.

I have to agree with the court here. While such antics might be in poor taste, it’s not up to the school to discipline for out of school hijinks as long as things don’t go too far. What’s “too far?” Well, that’s that line that exists somewhere. My advice is better to be safe than sorry.

Why doesn’t this surprise me?

In the massive sexual discrimination class action law suit brought against mega-retailer Wal-Mart alleging a endemic pattern of discrimination with respect to salaries and promotions, the Supreme Court has ruled that the case did not satisfy the rules of a class action suit.

Basically the court ruled that the plaintive could not demonstrate enough commonality across all of the issues nor was adequate evidence of a policy of discrimination presented.

The court didn’t rule on the merits of the accusations, but simply upon whether the case could proceed to trial as a class action. All five conservatives concurred; the four liberal judges partially concurred finding fault with the court’s blanket dismissal of the appropriateness of a class action suit.

This is another example of the law potentially trumping justice and I always thought it was supposed to be the other way around.

Why not let a jury of their peers decide on the evidence rather than turning the case on a point of law? Probably because Wal-Mart could lose and that would cause some of the privileged to lose money. Can’t have that happening. Better to deny low wage workers their day in court.

Friday, June 17, 2011

U.N. Passes Gay Rights Resolution

Or at least they passed a resolution to commission a study on discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity and how human rights law can be used to end such violence and discrimination. They also agreed to follow up on the study which was to be completed by the end of December 2011.

Well, it’s certainly a start. The resolution was introduced by South Africa and the vote was close with 23 in favor, 19 opposed and 3 abstentions. The United States voted in favor along with most European, South American and Asian members. Most African and Middle Eastern countries were opposed. Russia voted against the resolution and China abstained.

One has to wonder how the United States would have voted with a Republican president? I’d love to ask the so-called Republican presidential contenders how they would have instructed the U.S. representative to vote on this one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stuff in the News

One of the wonderful things about the Internet is it is so easy to get a variety of news quickly. Of course one needs to be careful about the accuracy of things on the Internet but, with a little caution here and there, it works out well.

First there’s the GOP debate news. Different people have different opinions but the gist of the situation seems to be that Romney didn’t hurt himself, Bachmann exceeded admittedly low expectations, Pawlenty came off as a wimp, Gingrich and Cain did nothing to help their causes, Paul came off as consistent if a little wacko and Santorum was a total flop.

I’m not sure I could stomach any of these morons but Romney and Pawlenty are probably the least objectionable. Actually I like Huntsman but he’s too intelligent to have any chance in the Republican race.

Then there’s the story from California about the 9th Circuit trying to decide whether the decision of the gay judge on Prop 8 should be tossed out. Tossing his decision without any other evidence of prejudice beyond simply that he was gay would set a dangerous precedent to my mind and I suspect the 9th Circuit will see it the same way.

Another story from California is about some stealing a relic of St. Anthony from a Long Beach church. I have two thoughts about this one. The first is bewilderment about how people in the 21st century can still believe this garbage and the second that it took a lot of misplaced guts to steal the damn thing from the alter of the church. Parishioners are confident the relic will return because they’re “praying.”

Last, but not least, is the story from Peru that the president there is determined to build the world’s largest statue of Jesus above Lima harbor. Unfortunately, the idea appears to have been nixed, or at least delayed, by the mayor of Lima. The statue would be 72 feet high.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Islamic Schools on the Rise

According to MSNBC, the number of students attending Islamic religious schools in the US has increased by about 25% since 2006 to around 40,000 students.

My mind immediately goes back to the old question, which can be used either with religion, race or nationality, “are you an American Christian or a Christian American?”

The right way to say it, of course, is Christian American, or Jewish American, or Atheist American or Islamic American. We’re all Americans who just happen to be Christian or Jewish or whatever. Except of course that some Christians, such as George Bush Sr., don’t think atheists should be included.

Things start to be an issue when one considers themselves a Christian or Jew or Muslim that just happens to be American. I believe that many fundamentalist Christians look at themselves that way and I suspect so do many Muslims.

You are entitled to practice your religion as you see fit. That includes having separate schools if you desire them. However, government money, through things such as voucher programs, shouldn’t support those schools.

I can’t wait to see the reaction when the Right Wing nuts figure out the voucher programs they fight so hard for will also fund Islamic Schools.

Let’s Talk Deficits Again

My enthusiasm for Barack Obama has definitely flagged. My fundamental problem is that he does not appear to be taking the budget deficit and national debt issues seriously enough.

Now, he is caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s quite likely that taking steps to get the deficit under control will lead to an increase in unemployment and might very well send the country back into a recession. That won’t help him at the polls in 2012.

But that’ no excuse not to be wrestling with the problem.

Back in January of 2010 I wrote a post bemoaning the Federal Deficit. At that time the budget deficits were expected to be 2009: $1.8 trillion, 2010: $1.2 trillion, 2011: $900 billion, 2012: $500 billion and 2013: $500 billion with the understanding that the further out you go the less accurate you get.

It is now about a year and a half later and the actuals for 2009 and 2010 were 2009: $1.4 trillion, 2010: $1.3 trillion so we actually did slightly better than projected. The problem are the new estimates for 2011 through 2013 which are now 2011: $1.6 trillion, 2012: $1.1 trillion and 2013: $770 billion.

How the hell did 2011 have, all by itself, almost as big a deficit as originally projected for 2011 through 2013? We’re now looking at a projected $3.5 trillion in deficits over the three year period instead of $1.9 trillion and who’s to say these estimates aren’t way off as well?

In 2000 the Federal Government spent $1.8 trillion and took in $2.0 trillion. That was a surplus of $200 billion. By 2008, spending had increased to $3.0 trillion while revenues, after dipping to $1.8 trillion in 2003, were at $2.5 trillion leaving a deficit of around $500 billion. That’s when things completely went to hell.

The Stimulus Package sent spending to $3.5 trillion in 2009 and 2010. A increase of $600 billion dollars which was more than the total of $590 billion spent in 1980. Even adjusted to 2011 dollars the 1980 federal government spent only about $1.6 trillion. In the meantime revenues actually dropped to $2.1 trillion.

What the hell is going on? Where is the money going?

If we compare 2000 to 2010 we have a net increase of $1.7 trillion, almost double. So what were the big hitters?

#1 – National Defense +$399 billion to a total of $693 billion
Clearly the toll of our Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

#2 – Income Security +$368 billion to a total of $622 billion
No, this isn’t Social Security. It’s Federal Pensions and Disability, Unemployment, Housing Assistance, Nutrition Assistances and something called “Other Income Security.” Unemployment took the biggest chunk of the increase to the tune of $137 billion followed by “Other” by $94 billion. What I’m guessing are the three main welfare categories, Housing Assistance, Nutrition Assistance and “Other” accounted for a increase of $187 billion up to $335 billion. However only about 50% of “Other” consists of welfare. The rest is money paid into by workers and earned so that reduces true welfare to $242 billion or about 7% of the federal budget.

#3 – Social Security +$297 billion to a total of $707 billion

#4 – Medicare +$254 billion to a total of $451 billion

#5 – Health +$214 billion to a total of $369 billion

These five categories account for $1.5 trillion of the $1.7 trillion increase and $2.8 trillion of the $3.5 trillion budget. This is where you have to make cuts. However you can’t touch Social Security in the short term so that leaves the other four and the dribs and drabs left over. The next biggest item is Interest at $196 billion and that’s a dependent variable.

I don’t think you can get it all with cuts. I don’t see any way to avoid a tax increase. If the Republicans tell you different, they are playing magic with mirrors.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Home Depot tells AFA to Stick It?

Apparently the American Family Association (AFA) has presented its petition to Home Depot with 500,000 names of people who have sworn to stop shopping at Home Depot until the company decides to “remain neutral in the culture wars.”

Home Depot’s reaction appears to have been to tell the AFA to take their petition and stick it and reiterated their commitment to diversity.

This upsets the AFA because gays “are in the clasp of Satan.”

The AFA is on The Southern Poverty Law Center's official list of “hate groups.” Do I really need to explain why?

Now excuse me because I really need to go buy a few things at Home Depot.

The “gainful employment” Rule

The “for profit” college industry has flourished over the past ten years. This is a good thing right? Well, maybe.

The business case for some of these schools is to sign up students that have absolutely no hope of actually graduating but are eligible for federal loans. The school gets paid and the student ends up with nothing but a debt which they can’t repay and they default. That’s YOUR tax dollars at work.

According to the National Center for Education “for profit” college students account for 12% of the college population but 25% of the Federal Loans and a whopping 43% of the defaults.

College expenses are divided into three categories, Instruction, Research and Public Service and Student, Academic and Institutional Services and Support. Public colleges spend, per student, approximately $9,400 a year on Instruction, $6,100 on Research and $6,600 on Services and Support for a total of $22,100 per year. Private, non-profit colleges spend approximately $15,300 a year on Instruction, $5,800 on Research and $14,100 on Services and Support for a total of $35,200 per year.

The colleges offset these costs by charging an average tuition of $6,400 for public colleges and $24,900 for private colleges. The rest has to be made up by state subsidies, grants and donations.

Now let’s consider “for profit” colleges. They spend $2,700 on Instruction, basically nothing on Research and Public Service and $9,000 on Services and Support for a total of $11,700 per year. They charge an average tuition of $15,300 per year. That’s a profit of $3,600 per year per student.

Now here’s the good part. Federal student loans pay for $9,700 of the “for profit” tuition as opposed to $6,000 in public colleges and $7,700 in private colleges.

What’s that you say? What about graduation rates? The graduation rate, for 4-year programs, from public colleges is 55%; at private non-profit schools it’s 65% and at “for profit” schools it’s a dismal 22%. To be fair however, “for-profit” 2-year programs have a higher graduation rate than public college 2-year programs.

What the “gainful employment” rule does is attempt to insure that students get reasonable value for the tax dollars being spent and there is a reasonable hope of getting loans repaid.

Career programs offered by “for-profit” schools will no longer be eligible for federal student aid if they do not hit certain benchmarks indicating they are not saddling students with unsustainable debt. The career programs would have to demonstrate that at least 35 percent of their former students are repaying their loans; that the annual loan payment of the average graduate is less than 30 percent of his or her discretionary income or that the graduate's annual loan payment is not more than 12 percent of his or her total salary.

If the programs fail to meet these benchmarks three years out of four, they would no longer be qualify for federal grants. Enforcement of the new rules would begin in 2015.

This strikes me as a pretty weak set of rules but at least it’s an attempt to protect both potential students and tax dollars. Needless to say, the two leading Republicans on the House Education Committee, John Kline of Minnesota and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, are opposed to the regulations. Kline has vowed to undo any Department of Education attempt to withhold funds from “for profit” institutions.

I guess that fact that both Kline, to the tune of $100,000, and Foxx have received campaign donations from the “for profit” industry have nothing to do with those positions.

Here is the perfect example of regulations that could both save money and help people from getting ripped off and the Republicans are against it. So what else is new?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Palestinian State?

There is an international and domestic political train wreck that could happen in September of this year.

Here’s the situation. The Palestinians are working toward the recognition of a Palestinian State by the United Nations and expect things to mature sometime in September. What the Right Wing has missed, or chosen to ignore, about Obama’s recent speech was his statement opposing such a course of action.

Despite all of the hullabaloo, stating that the 1967 borders was the starting point of negotiations is not a change in U.S. policy. Stating that the U.S. opposes the U.N. initiative was the important point and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, blew it by ignoring this critical point and harping on the 1967 borders thing. I suspect he did that as a play to his Right Wing supporters here in the U.S.

The Palestinians need 128 votes in the General Assembly to approve a Palestinian state by voting it admission to the U.N. They currently have 112 votes but hope to increase that number to 130 or 140 by September.

Of course, first they have to get the resolution to the General Assembly. In order to do that, the 15 member Security Council must first vote for statehood and the U.S. has veto power in the Security Council. All the Palestinian votes in the General Assembly are useless as long as the U.S. vetoes the resolution.

So, what’s the point?

The Palestinians are hoping they can pressure Obama by staging protests for independence and reform similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt. The Palestinians ask, “what would be the argument of President Barack Obama in trying really to disregard this wish?”

Duh, the argument would be domestic U.S. politics. There is no way a sitting U.S. President would not order the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. to veto this resolution unless a previous agreement with Israel had been reached. According to Gallup, a whopping 63% of Americans say their sympathies are with Israel in the Mideast spat against only 17% that sympathize with the Palestinians. The remaining 20% claim to be neutral.

The Palestinians U.N. diplomat, Riyad Mansour, said if the negotiations didn’t work, the Palestinians had “other tactics” available. He didn’t expand on what these “other tactics” might be but did make the point that neither Israel in 1948 nor the U.S. in 1776 “negotiated” their independence.

Personally I think such threats are hollow. The Palestinians can’t win independence through violence. That would only lose them supporters. They need to figure out a way to get U.S. support. The problem of course is the U.S. will not publically meet with the Palestinians without Israeli participation.

The Palestinians have made no headway in U.S. public opinion. As a matter of fact the current 63% is pretty to a record support level. They’ve actually lost ground. In the 1990s a lot of Americans claimed to be neutral.

Personally, my sympathies are evenly divided. I feel sorry for the Palestinians but I can’t bring myself to support people that strap bombs onto teenage girls in order to kill other teenage girls in grocery stores. If you want to fight, then wage war on the Israeli army and not on children.

On the other hand, the Israelis deserve to live in peace but that doesn’t excuse some of their current tactics either. It seems to me that the Palestinians are doing a lot of dying over there because the Israelis tend to be a tad heavy handed.

So at the moment I find both sides both sympathetic and reprehensible. Therefore I stand neutral.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Reclining Seat Leads to Air Force Scramble

Huh? Now that just sounds utterly ridiculous doesn’t it? Here how it apparently went down.

1. Shortly after take-off from Dulles International in Washington, Passenger in crowded Boeing 767 on its way to Ghana fully reclines coach seat smashing knees of passenger sitting one row back.
2. Passenger one row back takes exception to knees being smashed.
3. Heated words are exchanged over reclined seat and smashed knees
4. Passenger with smashed knees smacks reclining passenger in head.
5. Scuffle ensues.
6. Flight attendant and another passenger attempt to intervene
7. Pilot, uncertain what the ruckus is all about, decides better to be safe than sorry and heads back to Dulles.
8. Pilot can’t land with full fuel tanks and needs to fly around for about an hour.
9. The Air Force gets wind of the confusion and scrambles two F-16 fighters from Andrews Air Force Base.
10. The two F-16 fighters take position 1,000 feet above airliner “just in case.”
11. Airliner finishes burning off fuel and lands.
12. Fighters return to Andrews AFB.
13. Dulles police take arguing passengers into custody.
14. Passengers get to stay at flea bitten airport hotel until the next morning
15. Arguing passengers are released by Dulles police.
16. Flight heads for Ghana 12 hours or so late.
17. Disposition of arguing passengers is unknown.

Now if would be interesting if the airline and the U.S. government presented these two morons a bill for the airliner fuel, the lost time and the F-16 fuel and wear and tear. I suspect it would be a healthy sum.

Simple courtesy says, given the lack of leg room on airliners, you don’t recline your seat unless the one behind you is empty. On long fights this is a bit annoying but those are the breaks. If it’s so important to you to be able to recline, buy both seats.

Can you imagine what it was like for those two yo-yos on the trip back to Washington and during the time circling to burn off the fuel? You could get lynched for making people spend extra time on an airline flight like that. I hear Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are blaming Obama for the whole incident. After all, Obama is black and there are black people in Ghana so obviously it’s his fault.

The KKK as the Good Guys?

What does it take to make the KKK the Good Guys? Answer, the Westboro Baptist Church.

Apparently the KKK doesn’t take to the WBC’s antic of demonstrating at soldier’s funerals and showed up over the weekend to protest the protesters.

The WBC says it doesn’t care because the KKK has “no biblical support.” As if that meant anything to anyone with at least half a brain.

I have an idea. Since football this season is looking a bit iffy, let’s schedule one on one gladiatorial combats, to the death of course, between the KKK and the WBC as a substitute for the NFL games.

I can see the advertisements now. Two bigoted assholes enter, but only one leaves. Who could argue with that? We’ll blindfold the combatants, to add to the suspense, arm them with battleaxes and kick them out onto the field. We’ll legalize gambling for the events and Las Vegas can set the odds. It can’t miss.

I suppose that would violate some law or other. Too bad.