Thursday, November 14, 2013

Republican Plan to "Reform" Recall in Wisconsin

In the last several days, news reports indicate Wisconsin Republicans are again advancing proposals to change the recall process in Wisconsin.  One such report (from the Washington Post) characterized the proposal as follows: 

On Thursday, legislators will consider proposals to drastically change the standards under which an elected official could be recalled.  One new proposal would only allow a recall of a statewide elected official if the official had either been charged with a serious crime that would be punishable by at least a year in prison, or been accused of a serious ethics violation.  Another proposal would require a member of the legislature to be accused of malfeasance before a recall could proceed.
 
The proposal to limit recall to officials who have been charged with a felony makes little sense.  If an official is convicted of a felony, they are automatically disqualified from office as a result of their conviction anyway.  So what is the point of allowing officials charged with a felony to be recalled when they are going to be out of office anyway if they get convicted?  Second, the standard of being "accused of a serious ethics violation" is odd.  What does the term "accused" mean for that standard?  Accused by whom?  In what setting or venue?   Moreover, what is a "serious" ethic's violation as opposed to one not judged to be "serious?"  Who decides whether the alleged violation is a "serious" one? 

 While these objections are rational reasons to not tinker with the law, I am not sure they would help to sway Republicans intent on forcing the issue out of distaste for the recall attempt on Governor Scott Walker.  What might make a difference is to demonstrate why the change is bad policy by anecdote. 
 
In Canada, the city of Toronto's current mayor is Rob Ford.  Mr. Ford has generated massive amounts of publicity lately for engaging in drunken rampages, admitting to having smoked crack "in a drunken stupor," threatening to "kill" someone on a video, admitting to having purchased illegal drugs within the last two years, and (most recently) being accused of engaging in sexual harassment at the office.  Mr. Ford is an embarrassment to Canada generally and the City of Toronto specifically.  Apparently, however, the Toronto City Council and the voters are unable to force him from office because no "recall" mechanism is in place there.

Perhaps efforts to gut Wisconsin's recall procedure would be defeated if legislators considered that if Rob Ford were the governor of Wisconsin, or a State Legislator or Mayor here, the new recall standards being touted by the Republicans would prevent citizens from acting to recall him from office.  Ford has not been charged with any felony (and likely will not be) and who knows whether what he has been doing constitutes a "serious ethics violation." 
 
Another example from recent Wisconsin history would be former Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan who was recalled in 2012 largely due to several incidents of boorish behavior in his personal life toward women while drunk that he was never charged for criminally.  Since it involved activity in his personal life, not in his capacity as Mayor, it wouldn't have constituted a "serious ethics violation." 
 
Wisconsin citizens certainly would want to have the option of recall available in such circumstances.  Republicans are hell bent on trying to prevent such politicians from being recalled.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  Changing a good law due to "sour grapes" is bad policy.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ryan Braun & PED use in Baseball


Ryan Braun's suspension has generated waves of controversy throughout Wisconsin and nationwide with much of it centering on what can be done to rid baseball of performance enhancing drug use.  Despite having the strongest penalties in major league sports, baseball continues to have its image tarnished by repeated scandals involving some of its major stars.   

Pundits reason that increasing the penalties even further is not likely to accomplish significant change since the penalties are already severe and the huge salaries being paid provide an incentive to cheat.  In fact, several commentators have argued that despite being suspended and penalized by baseball, Braun and other PED abusers will still reap millions of dollars in profits from the increased contracts attributable to their wrongdoing.  

Despite all the handwringing about how the problem is intractable, there is an easy solution.  If I say so myself, the solution is elegant.  The new system would merely graft an additional layer of punishment on to the existing suspension scheme.  The additional layer of discipline would simply add an additional clause as a standard, required provision in every player contract providing that a first violation of the PED policy would result in the player's contract being reduced to the major league minimum salary for the remainder of the contract term.  

Baseball would also enact a rule that this salary penalty would apply for a minimum of four years, regardless of how long the player had remaining on his existing contract.  This would ensure players who were at the end of their contracts or free agents would also be facing substantial economic disincentive. 
 
A second offense would contain the longer suspension and a provision that the player remain at the league minimum salary for the rest of his career.  A third violation would include a lifetime ban. 

Consider for a moment how such a policy would affect superstars like Ryan Braun.  Under the current penalty scheme, Braun will serve a 65 game suspension that will cost him approximately 3.5 million in lost salary.  However, when he returns, the PED use that enhanced his performance sufficiently to prompt the Brewers to sign him to that 10 year, $120 million dollar contract will still have 7 years remaining.   

Under my revised penalty plan, Ryan's decision to break the rules by using PEDs would cost him dearly.  He would still be bound to the Brewers, but would be playing for the league minimum during next 7 years - usually the most productive (and high paying) of a player's career.  In one fell swoop, this change removes the financial incentive for players to cheat. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fahrenheit 451

Almost exactly a year ago (June 17, 2012), I wrote a blog entry about a list of my favorite science fiction books.  I was recently amazed when - out of the blue - a stranger e-mailed me about having read that entry on my blog.  Who knew anyone was reading!  Jack Collins (who wrote) alerted me to a short (only 3 minutes) video about "Fahrenheit 451" - one of the books on my list.  The video is from Academic Earth.  Enjoy!

Link to video

For bonus points, figure out why the book was named Fahrenheit 451!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pride


The focus of this post is now former Chicago Bear linebacker Brian Urlacher.  As an avid Green Bay Packer fan, you would expect me to hate the Bears and your expectations would be correct.  However, hating the team does not require one to revile its human constituents.  In fact, over the years, I have had a certain respect and fondness for two Bears in particular; former head coach Lovie Smith and Urlacher.  While (on the down side) Urlacher was a Bear, he was also a fierce, talented competitor who was respectful of the sport and his opponents.  I liked that.  He has been a classy guy.  So, I was sorry to see the Bears part ways with Urlacher.

But the subject of this post is pride.  Although it remains to be seen whether my speculation is correct, I think perhaps fault for the divorce between the Bears and Urlacher should be attributed to Urlacher's bruised ego or (if you will) his pride.  Urlacher reported being offended by the Bears stance during contract negotiations.  Urlacher said he and his agent sought an amount significantly higher than they expected to sign for expecting to give some during back and forth negotiations.  What upset Urlacher is not the Bears original position to offer a contract of 2 million per year (which Urlacher admitted knowing to be "a lot of money") but their refusal to negotiate up from that figure.  So, Urlacher concluded, there was no negotiation, the Bears just gave him a "take it or leave it" deal.  He was insulted and offended the Bears would treat him like that.  So far, although media pundits have questioned whether Urlacher can expect to do better on the free agent market, they have generally agreed with Urlacher's view that the way the team handled its non-negotiating "negotiations" treated Urlacher shabbily. 

As Lee Corso is wont to say "not so fast my friend."  For the sake of argument, assume the media pundits are correct it is doubtful free agent Urlacher can find another team willing to pay him 2 million dollars per year or more.   In fact, pundits seem to believe Urlacher will ultimately sign elsewhere for less.  With that background, consider again the Bears offer.  In this light, instead of giving Urlacher an unrealistic low ball initial offer (to offset the unrealistic demand made by Urlacher) the Bears stepped up to the plate and gave Urlacher the respect he deserved as a lifetime Chicago Bear. Instead of trying to save money by trying him to sign for less than he was worth, they offered him a contract for every nickel of the 2 million per year he was worth.  In fact, perhaps we will learn what they offered would have given him a premium to have remained a Bear.  Of course, we won't know until Urlacher signs with another team.

I suspect Urlacher's concession that 2 million a year is "a lot of money" is not quite as candid as it might seem to you or I who will never make anywhere near that much money.  Professional athletes sometimes reach the point where they become blind to the obscene amounts of money they are being paid to play a game and fail to consider they possess no other talent that would allow them to earn so much.  instead, athletes use the salaries they are being paid relative to others in the same sport as a measure of their self worth.  They are "insulted" if a team is proposing to pay them less than a player they consider themselves to be superior to, regardless of whether the player being paid more actually merits that salary.  I suspect what insults Urlacher is that he can't wrap his head around the idea that a long time favorite of Bear fans, a player the Bears have built their defense around, and a future hall of famer should be paid less than the average middle linebacker.  His pride is getting the best of him.  Sad, but understandable. 

UPDATE - News broke on May 22, 2013 that Urlacher announced his retirement.  No team was willing to step up and match or exceed the $2 million the Bears offered Urlacher to return.  For that matter, at least publicly, no team offered him a contract to play even at the league minimum (which for a player with more than 10 years of service would have been $820,000).  I wonder if this proof that the Bears initial offer to Urlacher was exceedingly generous will cause Urlacher - and the public - to reevaluate how Urlacher was being treated by the team.  I would hope so, but I won't hold my breath. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

TEXAS SECESSION


Since the reelection of President Obama, there has been publicity about petitions circulating in approximately 30 states advocating the state secede from the United States.  The most prominent of these petitions is the one in Texas because that petition has garnered more than 65,000 signatures.   

Wow.  That seems impressive until you consider Texas cast 7,850,239 votes for the two presidential candidates on November 6th.  Put another way, less than 2 percent of the 4,555,755 Texans who voted for Romney signed the petition indicating their childishness.  Surveys tell us far more Texans believe in UFOs and support gay marriage.  So, not only is secession not possible, it is another example of right wing nuttery since it is wildly unpopular even among Texans who voted against Obama. 

However, the concept is worth considering.  Maybe it is a good idea.  Where do I sign?  By getting rid of Texas the rest of America won't have to be embarrassed by its propensity to employ the death penalty on innocent people who have been falsely convicted.  We would be freed of the danger of future presidents and presidential candidates from Texas like George W. Bush and Rick Perry.  We would not have to deal with creationist science text books and whitewashed history books approved by Texas educators. 

Moreover, it would be entertaining to see how Texas survives on its own.  What do I mean?  How would secession affect the Texas economy?  Not so good.  I know Texas Romney supporters were never fans of recent federal stimulus spending, but if Texas seceded, there would be a significant anti-stimulus effect.  That huge sucking sound you would hear would be from the lost jobs and damage to the state's economy caused by a federal pull out.

 There are 15 military bases in Texas.  Four are close to San Antonio, three are in the vicinity of Corpus Christi.  Imagine all those military personnel gone and the civilian jobs those people create in the communities gone with them.  NASA alone employs more than 3,000 people in the Houston area.  Nearly all of those jobs are high paying professional positions.  All gone.   

As long ago as 2002, there were more than 13,000 federal law enforcement officers in Texas.  There are certainly more now.  This includes Homeland Security, Immigration & Naturalization, Customs Service, ATF, DEA, FBI and Treasury agents.  All gone.  Who is going to man the Texas borders?  Not just the border with Mexico because now they will have to guard the US border too. 

That gives you some idea of the lost jobs and the negative impact those lost jobs would have on the Texas economy.  But what about other impacts?  Texas has more than 3,000 miles of federal interstate highways and substantially more miles of non-interstate federal highways.  Most of the cost of maintaining those roads has been paid for by the federal government.  Not any more.  Texans better keep their 4 wheel drive vehicles and stock up on shock absorbers.   

What about federal funds supporting education in Texas?  Do you really think all those red neck, small government, secessionist types want to support the "librull" educated snobs in Austin?  The University of Texas and other state colleges will no longer be serious institutions of learning.   

But what about football?  Will American high school football players want to go play college ball in a foreign country?  Will the schools that now play Texas still want to when all of the players, coaches and fans that want to travel to the game will have to have passports?  

Have fun paying for disaster relief when the next hurricane strikes you Texas.  How about all those twisters rolling down tornado alley?  Want to clean up from that next oil spill in the Gulf?  You are on your own.  No FEMA or other federal disaster dollars.  

How about food stamps?  Is Texas sure it wants to leave?  In November of 2011, more than 3,700,000 Texans (more than 1/2 of whom were children) were receiving food stamps.  That is nearly 15% of all people in Texas.  That puts the % of Texans receiving food stamps as second highest in the nation.  Many of them also receive Medicaid.  When Texas secedes, that will all stop.  What about all those retired Texans?  Well, they won't be eligible for Medicaid to pay for their nursing home care anymore.  Texan's getting close to retirement?  When they secede they will be giving up their Social Security, their Medicare AND Medicaid.  All gone. 
 
Yeah, Texas secession.  I am warming to the idea.  Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Friday, November 9, 2012

THE 2012 ELECTION: A TRIUMPH OF REASON, REALITY & SCIENCE


Republicans mourning the results of the recent presidential election would do well to examine their unwillingness to accept reality, reason, and science.  In the 1850's American political discourse was joined by a nativist group called the "Know Nothings."  The Republican party seems to be the heir to that group's legacy both literally and figuratively. 

The poster child demonstrating my point is Georgia Rep. Paul Broun who announced in a speech on September 27th that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell" meant to convince people that they do not need a savior.  Dr. Broun (the man is a physician, no less) also told listeners he  believes the Earth was created in six days and is about 9,000 years old.  

These views do not make Broun an outlier in the Republican Party.  In fact, many recent Republican candidates for president have expressed doubts about the theory of evolution (among them, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachman, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and Rick Perry).  In fact, despite his views (or perhaps because of them) Republicans appointed Broun (a member of the Tea Party caucus) to serve on the House Committee on Science and Technology.   

Another example of the Republican rejection of science concerns climate change.  Scientists knowledgeable in the field overwhelmingly endorse the concept climate change is occurring and change is being accelerated by human action.  But science is not good enough for Republican orthodoxy.   

The "know nothing" wing of the Republican Party similarly continues to believe president Obama was born somewhere other than Hawaii, and holds the rather inconsistent belief president Obama's politics are reflective of the years he spent as a follower of Rev. Jeremiah Wright (a Christian pastor), and yet that he is (simultaneously) a Muslim and an atheist.  He can't be all three.  Donald Trump's post election rant claims the election proves America is no longer a democracy (it has always been a republic, not a true democracy) because Obama was elected despite losing the popular vote (although Obama won the popular vote in addition to the electoral vote). 

Before the election, Fox News political pundits (most notorious among them George Will, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove) rejected the cold, statistical, scientific evaluation of  the polls to determine how the election would turn out that was forecast by Nate Silver's 538 blog in favor of predictions based on "gut feeling," "momentum," and years of political experience.  Come the morning after, it turned out the Republican rejection of science concerning political polling was just as crazy as their rejection of other science.  Silver called every single state correctly and "gut feeling" by Republicans was dead wrong. 

But it is not just rejection of science holding Republican's back.  They reject reality too.  Before the election, Republican pundit Dick Morris predicted Romney would win "in a landslide" garnering 325 electoral votes.  In making this prediction, he was rejecting science as did the others noted above.  But where he rejects reality is his comments after the election trying to explain how the election turned out so different than he expected. 

How did Morris characterize what he had just witnessed?  "I've got egg on my face. I predicted a Romney landslide and, instead, we ended up with an Obama squeaker."  The "landslide" Morris predicted was 325 electoral votes for Romney.  Notice how he characterizes an Obama victory with 332 electoral votes (7 more than would have constituted a "landslide" for Romney) as a squeaker?  That is just not understanding the concept of reality. 

Reality hampered the Republicans in the 2012 elections in other ways.  Despite knowing women normally compose about 52% of the votes, Republicans seemed to go out of their way to say and do things to alienate women voters.  Despite knowing Latinos were a crucial, and increasingly large voting block, Republicans did everything they could to alienate Latino voters.  Despite knowing approximately 82% of Roman Catholics reject Catholic doctrine opposing birth control, Republicans attempted to convince them it was an attack on their religion for insurance companies to require coverage for contraception.  

The Romney economic plan was also a bit short on reality.  It offered no explanation how the numbers were supposed to add up.  How could increased defense spending and no tax increases square with deficit reduction?  It couldn't.  It's not complicated math, its arithmetic.  What about the Republican phobia about increasing the top marginal tax rate for fear the richest (the "job creators') would send the economy into a nose dive?  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, that is not true.  Raising the top marginal tax rate was also found not to negatively affect job growth.   History confirms it. 

Finally, Republicans ignored reason by abandoning moderate politicians in favor of radical, sometimes lunatic fringe, Tea Party candidates.  This probably allowed Democrats to win elections they may well have otherwise lost.  Which seats am I talking about?  Alan West in Florida.  Richard Mourdock in Indiana.  Todd Aiken in Missouri.  Joe Walsh in Illinois.  Linda McMahon in Connecticut.  Josh Mandel in Ohio.  Sam Wurzelbacher ("Joe the Plumber") also in Ohio,  From the last election cycle, add Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell.  Going back 4 years, add Sarah Palin. 
 
If Republicans want to win national elections, they would do well to embrace facts rather than ideology, be more open to women, minorities, and educated individuals and reject the lunatics in their midst.  But instead, it seems they are opting to be even more fervent about everything that brought them to this debacle.  Republicans appear to  believe the problem is their candidates are not pure and "conservative" enough.  This brings to mind the common aphorism often (but probably erroneously) attributed to Albert Einstein.  "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."  Of course, the scientific method would prevent such a problem.  Too bad the Republicans reject science.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Seattle Debacle & a Couple of Modest Proposals

What is probably the most controversial ending to an NFL game in recent memory causes me to finally come out of the hibernation affecting this blog with a few thoughts about the game, the Packers, and the NFL.

Before addressing the game end controversy, a few thoughts about the Packers.  The first half performance by the Packers was atrocious.  The offensive line has been (appropriately) castigated for its part in allowing Aaron Rodgers to be sacked 8 times in the first half.  However, I don't think the line bears complete responsibility for the problem. 

On numerous occasions, it appeared to me Rodgers had sufficient time to make his initial reads and make a throw, but instead of launching a pass, attempted to hold the ball, move in the pocket, and wait for things to develop downfield.  Unfortunately, all to frequently his receivers did not come open and Rodgers was sacked.  So I think some of the responsibility for the sacks has to lie with Rodgers for holding the ball too long and failing to throw the ball away when his receivers did not come open.  Furthermore, Green Bay receivers bear some responsibility for not getting open and beating the tight bump coverage off the line.

Moreover, all the responsibility does not lie with Green Bay players.  Mike McCarthy has to shoulder some of the blame for not slowing down the pass rush with more running plays.  When the Packers added more running plays in the second half, the offense became much more effective. 

It is worth noting Rodgers was not sacked once in the second half.  Why?  It appeared to me to be a combination of factors.  When passing in the second half, the Packers shifted from deep routes to more quick hitting passes.  They also rushed more which slowed down the pass rush.  These factors allowed the Pack to maintain possession longer on their drives which increased offensive efficiency by tiring out the Seattle defense.

Finally, it is unfair to analyize the Packer performance without noting that Seattle played well.  The Seattle defense was particularly impressive.  I suspect that by the end of the year, we will see Seattle has a top 10 defense. 

Let's now shift to the end game debacle.  By this time, it is clear to almost every sentient football observer except Golden Tate and Pete Carroll, that the Packers were robbed of a win by the officials. 

The official who ended up signaling the touchdown had an absolutely clear, unobstructed view from less than 10 yrds away of Tate shoving Sam Shields in the back for blatant pass interference before Tate ever went up to try to catch the pass.  According to NFL rules, this act of offensive pass interference on a play when time expired ends the game.  But pass interference was not called and the non-call of pass interference cannot be reversed on instant replay.  It was a horrible, and obvious, officiating error, but one the rules say cannot be fixed by replay. 

That leaves us with the catch.  Whether the ball was caught, and who caught it, is a call that can be reviewed on replay only if, as here, the catch was in the end zone.  In the field of play, even that call would have been unreviewable.  No reasonable person viewing the video of that pass can dispute Packer DB M.D. Jennings caught the ball. 

While it seems clear to me and most everyone else who watched that Golden Tate never had possession of the ball, if he ever got possession of it his posssession was clearly after Jennings possessed it, not simultaneous.  If possession ever changed (and I don't think the video indicates possession ever did change) it was not until after Jennings was on the ground.  Of course, once Jennings is on the ground with possession in the end zone, the play is over. It was in interception.

Before leaving the game, let's consider for a moment how the game might have ended differently if the Packers had adopted a different end game strategy.  When the Packer offense got the ball on the 1 yd line, the offense was unsuccessful in advancing the ball for a first down to maintain possession, failed to burn much time off the clock, and damn near gave the ball back to the Seahawks with a fumble.  The Pack then punted.  But should they have punted?

At the time, not just now in hindsight, I called for a different strategy.  I would have had Aaron Rodgers take the snap in shotgun formation, and then run around toward the back of the end zone before stepping out to allow a safety.  That would have burned about as much time off the clock as expired with the punt, and would have given the Seahawks 2 pts leaving Green Bay with only a 3 point lead.

A 3 point lead is clearly not as good as a 5 point lead, because the Seahawks could tie with a field goal which would have been useless with a 5 point lead.  On the other hand, when Green Bay punted, the Seahawks took possession on their final drive at about the Green Bay 46 yrd line since the Pack punted from deep in its own end zone. 

By giving up a safety, the Packers would have executed a free kick from its 20 yd line (almost 30 yds further up field than the punt).  That kick would have been without any rush by the Seahawks, creating the probability of a longer, better covered kick that could have been directionally angled for maximum coverage.  While we will never know for sure, I suspect the Seahawks would have got the ball at about their own 20 yd line (instead of the Packer 46) with about 5 seconds less on the clock than was available after the punt. 

Sure, doing that would increase the possibility of a tie slightly since Seattle would only have to get into field goal range (and kick successfully) to tie instead of having to score a touchdown.  But the trade off is Seattle would have had further to travel to get into field goal range than they had to travel for a touchdown after the punt and even a successful field goal would have only resulted in a tie rather than a loss.  My strategy would have actually decreased the odds of a touchdown which would have, and did, result in a loss. 

A final suggestion.  If the players are so disgusted with the performance of the replacement officials there seems to me to be an easy solution.  All it would take is for the regular officials to announce they plan to picket the stadiums and for the union member players to announce they will not cross those picket lines to enter the stadiums.  Without players crossing the picket line, games could not be held.  If the games are not held, television money and gate receipts dry up for the owners.  The strike would settle in a matter of hours.