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Friday, December 28, 2007

Ice Hockey: The Russian Power Play

Ever since the de facto defection of Evgeny Malkin to the NHL in the summer of 2006, Russian Hockey has been fuming. Miffed at what they perceive to be too little money paid by NHL franchises in transfer fees for Russia’s best players, Alexander Medvedev and Igor Larionov, two of the primary movers and shakers of Russian Hockey, have been scheming in secret for a solution.

In the past two weeks, the secret has been unleashed. Russia is now proposing a European Hockey League to be run in opposition to the NHL. European teams, similarly frustrated by the low NHL transfer fees, are signaling their interest.

As a 33-year hockey fan, to this I say "Go ahead".

While the NHL will no doubt put a brave face on this proposal, secretly they are fretting, in my opinion for no good reason. With some of the best players in the NHL coming from other countries, it’s logical to think that the NHL would indeed worry. No team ever wants to lose their stars without compensation, precisely why the Russian scheme is on the table.

Yet the mere existence of European players in the NHL flies directly in the face of Commissioner Gary Bettman’s stubborn and quixotic plans to expand NHL market share in the United States. The NHL is arguably sixth in the pecking order behind the NFL, NCAA Football, the NBA, NCAA basketball and NASCAR in the United States. It probably isn’t helping matters when certain owners are forced to market foreign-born players with non-Anglo surnames to the slack-jawed yokels in the Deep South where Bettman insists there is a fan base.

You’ll pardon me for a quick interlude. Like most true fans of the NHL, I am not a fan of Gary Bettman. In many ways, the constant clunky changes he has made to the NHL during his tenure have destroyed the game I used to watch as a boy. Bettman has given us the Glo-Puck, the abolition of the 2-line pass and the "goalies-can-only-touch-the-puck-in-the-funky-trapezoid-behind-the-net" rule. On the flip side, the owners in the NHL love him, primarily because he was able to institute a salary cap for the league during the last lockout. While I’m not thrilled with the Bettman tenure, fans of the NHL better get used to him. With the support of an ownership group more eccentric than any other in professional sports, I have a strong feeling that he’s not going anywhere for a while.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post. Having seen hockey games in the South firsthand, I can tell you that these people are not watching hockey for the goals. They’re watching it for the hitting and fighting. It will more than likely make the marketing jobs in places like Nashville and Dallas that much easier if North American skaters claim the jobs left behind by European players going back home to play.

With regard to Russian players in the NHL, the time has long since passed when these players need to take a hike and go home. It is interesting that Russia would want to reclaim a player base from their own country that typically only give half-hearted efforts on any given night in the NHL. Too often, unlike the rest of their Eurasian counterparts, Russian players like Alexei Yashin have been picking the pockets of NHL owners based on scouted talent rather than effort. Yashin is now picking the pocket of his own countrymen. After over a decade of needless subsidy by the NHL, Yashin has now returned to Russia to grift his own people, for which the NHL is no doubt grateful.

An interesting side headline to this whole Russian plan is the amorphous involvement of Bob Goodenow, formerly the head of the NHL players union, the NHLPA. The plan currently on the table for the proposed European League calls for a salary cap, something Goodenow fought against as a union head. Time will tell how this particular wrinkle plays out in the coming months.

Europe has provided some great hockey players to the NHL over the past 4 decades, but the day of reckoning has arrived. With the current NHL now bloated with 30 teams and struggling for an American identity, a proposed league in Europe could end up being a boon for North American hockey as more NHL roster spots open up to skaters on the home front. It could just be the tonic that Gary Bettman has been looking for to cure an ailing league on the brink of marginalization in the United States.

The Overreactive World of a Republican

It’s nice to be a Leftist.

I just typed that with an inner superiority gained through serenity. My serenity is rooted in the fact that I calmly state my case in waves of rationality. When a situation presents itself, I can come to a decision free of knee-jerk reactions and invective. I’ll be the first to admit that from time to time, I pepper my language with four-letter colloquialisms common to the world of the Internet and the billiard hall, but I grew up in Philadelphia, and that kind of language is almost expected in that particular environment.

From what I’ve read in the history books, the same can’t be said of Republicans. In fact, a cursory review of Republican behavior over the past 60 years reveals a rather obvious tendency towards overreaction.

The McCarthy Era can be logically viewed as a grandstanding overreaction to the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss. From the path of this event lay the senseless destruction of lives that up until that time had been dedicated to making America a better place in the Post-Depression Era. While this televised witch-hunt was playing out, the people who actually were responsible for the transfer of atomic secrets to the Soviets went undetected. McCarthy himself became a victim of his own devices, ending his life and career twisting in the winds of shame and alcoholism. In 1954, as a parting shot to the era, an overreacting Republican forced the words "Under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance to show how much better we were than the Communists in the East Bloc. The Soviets yawned and continued unabated for 35 more years. Communists in China now prop up our crumbling economy as modern day Russia drifts back to the Soviet mindset. Which God was that anyway?

We learned some years after the actual events of May 4, 1970 that Nixon had his hand in the overreaction that was the shootings at Kent State University. The rational approach would have been to track down those who had burned down the ROTC center on the campus and deal with it appropriately via legal means. Instead, in the heat of the times, and in that special way that Nixon liked to overreact, four students were shot and killed and many more wounded.

The entire fiasco that was Watergate was something of a Rosetta Stone for all Republican overreactions to follow. Remember that the original break-in at the Watergate Hotel was meant to gain information to assure Nixon’s reelection in 1972. 22 months after that landslide reelection, Nixon caved in on himself and resigned in disgrace. The subsequent overreaction of Ford pardoning Nixon for crimes for which he had yet to be charged ended up costing Gerald Ford the 1976 election.

No cataloguing of Republican overreactions would be complete without talk of the present day. We as a country now find ourselves firmly ensconced in the mother of all Republican overreactions, that being the "War on Terror" in general and the Iraq War in particular. As the Bush Administration begins their 7th year of killing and torturing people worldwide who had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, we must finally acknowledge that to be a Republican is to soil one’s pants on a daily basis to the lightest of stimuli. Since the tragic events of that day, Republicans have now placed all of the citizens of the United States under illegal surveillance via the Patriot Act. They have given billions of dollars to a dictator in Pakistan with no results, save for a junta now being on the brink of collapse thanks to the murder of Benazir Bhutto. They have browbeaten the United States into invading a sovereign country that had no connection to 9/11, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens in the process.

Logical perspective tells us that a bunch of Islamic rednecks got lucky one day a few Septembers back. The logical reaction would have been to eradicate Osama bin Laden and his followers from the face of the Earth by having them eat the pointy end of the nearest missile. Instead we started a "War on Drugs" for terrorists, a bottomless pit of wasted resources and pending economic collapse that accomplishes very little. As an afterthought, Bush as Commander-in-Chief let bin Laden get away.

Fast forward to the latest Republican overreaction, that being the sudden ascendancy of Mike Huckabee to the seat of Republican frontrunner for the 2008 Presidential nomination. The bill for over forty years of the Republican Party kowtowing to Christianist bigots has come due in the form of the formerly fat man from Arkansas (the one named Huckabee). The Republicans finally have the zombie they have appeared to crave for four decades. Huckabee sports a history of a personal agenda that is anti-science, anti-woman, anti-minority and highly partisan while simultaneously spouting nonsense from the Old Testament. He should be a 25-percenter’s wet dream. Instead, if current right-wing Republican opinion is to be believed, he’s the harbinger of the Apocalypse.

While past Republican overreactions have had a tendency to indiscriminately swallow everything around it in a vortex of stupidity, the reaction to Huckabee is rather compartmentalized. As a rational human being, it’s no skin off of my nose if the Republicans tear each other apart overreacting to this perfect beast of their own creation. We all laugh when monkeys throw their own feces at each other. It’s funnier to me to watch people who don’t believe in evolution overreact and do the exact same thing. The primary difference in this case is that the rational world is walled off from this particular overreaction. Unlike past knee-jerk Republican hysteria, this one is fun to watch from a distance.

The History of Howard Stern on Sirius

(Disclosure: the author is a subscriber to, and an extremely minor [100 shares] stockholder of Sirius Satellite Radio)

I have to start this post off with something I don’t do often. I now admit that I was absolutely wrong from the very beginning about Howard Stern and his radio career.

I lived in Philadelphia during the 1980’s. I was a loyal listener to WMMR in Philly and their morning team, which included John DeBella, a man whose career was unceremoniously guillotined by the arrival (in syndication) of Howard Stern on WYSP in Philadelphia in the mid-‘80’s. I was a late teen/early 20’s guy who thought he knew everything there was to know about what made for good radio. Philadelphia would never embrace Howard Stern and DeBella would reign supreme. I was wrong.

I thought that the only substance to Howard Stern’s show were interviews with strippers, scatological humor and time spent with 15-minutes-of-fame types like Jessica Hahn and the lesser lights of the stand-up comedy world. I was wrong.

I figured that Howard Stern, being one of those annoying New Yorkers I sometimes ran into while living on the East Coast, would only appeal to the megalopolis along the Atlantic Seaboard. There was simply no way that a Jewish guy from New York would appeal to the heartland audience. I was wrong.

When they sliced and diced his old FM radio shows down to a 30-minute telecast for the E! Network, I figured no one would watch a litany of chromo-keyed breasts when they could be watching the evening news and a late night talk show. As the telecasts became the highest-rated show in the history of the E! Network, I once again found myself on the wrong end of the argument.

I have now been a subscriber to Sirius Satellite Radio for just short of two years. I now view satellite radio in the same way that HBO would have been viewed in 1976. It is an idea still in its infancy that has the potential to forever alter the way we listen to the radio. It took me all of five minutes of listening and scanning the music channels to realize that I had listened to AM/FM radio for the last time.

Since Howard Stern made the jump to Sirius early in 2006, their subscriber base has exploded, nearly surpassing their only rival (and potential merger partner) XM. While no usable ratings system exists currently for satellite radio, the millions of listeners added in the past two years can reasonably be considered a public stamp of approval for a now-unexpurgated Howard Stern Show.

Currently, Sirius is presenting The History of Howard Stern, a two-week special interspersed with interviews of people who are now or who have in the past found themselves in the middle of Stern’s personal and professional universe. The amount of behind-the-scenes detail in this special is astonishing, and I can’t help but recommend it to anyone with the capability to listen.
Yet the thing that is most illustrated by this special isn’t necessarily about the ascendancy of Howard Stern, but rather the continuing reaction to him by terrestrial radio. From the very beginning of his career in 1977 to the present day, Stern has encountered nothing but resistance, censorship and hostility toward his idea of how a radio show should be conducted. In his career, it can be safely stated that he made a lot of myopic people in the broadcasting industry boatloads of money despite their best efforts to cut him off at the knees. To see FM radio scramble for a new idea in his absence, coupled with technology such as the IPod slowly eroding the traditional audience for terrestrial radio, is something I find amusing.

If anything, thanks to the FCC only being worried about obscenity and not so much about rampant media consolidation, terrestrial radio is the worst it has ever been. Clear Channel, a company owned by a prominent Republican family, seems more focused on making sure that they hire DJ’s in all markets that delicately toe the Republican Party line rather than worrying about innovation. Even long-time carpet bagging losers like Mankow are turning themselves into Republicans publicly overnight in order to stay on the air under their GOP paymasters. Terrestrial radio owners force right-wing bigots like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck down the throats of America through the use of syndication, while liberal radio hosts such as Stephanie Miller and Air America Radio are forced into a nearly underground situation in miniscule markets. The big advertisers, obviously being extorted by Clear Channel and their powerful minions, won’t touch liberal talk radio with a ten-foot pole. And don’t even get me started on the doors that keep getting opened in terrestrial radio for drug-addled redneck Don Imus.

Not being a longtime diehard fan, and using The History of Howard Stern as a guide, in my opinion Howard Stern’s show is now better than ever. Free from the clutches of the FCC, his show is now no-holds-barred. In lesser hands, this kind of format would be a train wreck of can-you-top-this obscenity. Stern utilizes his 30 years of experience to operate two radio networks on Sirius, bringing compelling listening to all who tune in. His daily show, while maybe not appealing to every listener straight through for a four or five-hour period, always has one thing that appeals to someone. I tend to turn off his show when he invites strippers and porn stars into the studio. To me, the best moments on his show tend to be conversations he’s having with his staff or the random callers who get through. Underneath the fart jokes, sex chair rides and energy-draining phone calls from the ever-annoying Eric the Midget lies damned good entertainment. With the dawn of the Internet, the art of conversation is a dying one, and Stern may someday be viewed as one of the last masters of the art. With Artie Lange and Robin Quivers offering strong support in the studio and Fred Norris’ library of sounds at his disposal, Stern has taken the format of the radio talk show and turned it inside out.

Stern’s success does come with a price. Despite his newfound fortune from Sirius, you won’t see him hobnobbing with A-list celebrities. You aren’t likely to find many positive things written about him in the consolidated media. With his neurotic personality, this is not a guy that any one of his millions of fans can ever realistically dream of sharing dinner. When I think of his particular group of guests such as Elliott Offen, Bigfoot and Crazy Alice (with others, collectively called "The Whack Pack"), I'm tempted into thinking that someone in a group like this is bound to put his life in danger. Much like Valerie Solanis to Andy Warhol, I can’t help thinking that this is the kind of guy that has a crazed fan somewhere in his universe with his name on it. Longtime security chief Ronnie the Limo Driver isn’t much of a defense against someone like this who may pop up on the horizon.

The majority of Stern’s army of listeners will always admire from afar, forever dialing the show and getting a busy signal, dreaming of the 15 seconds they may someday get to talk to Howard Stern. I’ll just listen and enjoy and wish Howard Stern safe passage through the world around him, in addition to adding a heartfelt apology to him personally through the use of this blog for not having the good sense to be a fan of his for a longer period of time. When my Sirius subscription comes up for renewal in March, I’m getting the lifetime membership. I proudly state that I am now a Howard Stern fan.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The True Fallout Of The Mitchell Report

Hey kids, remember how Roger Clemens pitched all those years in the American League by striking out ridiculous numbers of batters and aiming at the heads of those batters that got hits off of him? Turns out he might have been juiced and possibly suffering from ‘Roid Rage.

And remember how Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in a season and everyone except Barry and his kids said he was cheating? Chalk one up for everyone. It looks like he was cheating.

And remember that amazing season of relief pitching that Eric Gagne had a few years ago? Apparently dominant relief pitching is that much easier with a little advanced chemistry in your system. He looks to have been loaded up and cheating too.

Forget about "the names" for a minute. In addition, let’s set aside the ridiculous discussion of who gets how many votes for the Hall of Fame as a result of this report. Those arguments are for unctuous baseball writers who love to belabor points for the sake of circulation and discussion, and no one outside of themselves really cares. I’d like to get a little deeper with topics I’ve yet to hear about in to 30+ hours since the Mitchell Report hit the news.

Three things strike me about the Mitchell Report. First, virtually all of the new "evidence" presented in the report comes from clubhouse employees for the Mets and the Yankees. Mitchell spent over a year on this report, and there’s no documentation in the report that states that he talked to any other clubhouse personnel in Major League Baseball. The commissioner, who is employed by the owners, requested this report. Clubhouse employees are not members of the Players’ Union; they are employees of the individual teams. If the owners really wanted the truth about what is going on in all of baseball with performance-enhancing drugs, they would have had Mitchell’s investigators interview every clubhouse attendant in Major League Baseball. In the end, without these interviews, this report ends up looking like a McCarthy-style witch-hunt deliberately constructed to name as few current and former players as possible. Now the owners can say "it was a big problem, but we’re working on it" and almost keep a straight face due to lack of evidence.

Second, how can we trust that any major sport is the unvarnished truth anymore? I have the same feeling now about baseball as I do about the NBA and its tainted referee pool. When I turn on a TV, I like to think that what I’m watching with regard to sports is true. I gave up on the bullshit that is TV news years ago, save for the Weather Channel. Sports until very recently were my last bastion of "what you see is what you get". It’s been a bad year for that thought. With Tim Donaghy, the Mitchell Report, the Patriots Spygate scandal and the only unbeaten team in NCAA Football excluded from playing for the National Championship, what is believable and virtuous in the sports world anymore? And no, golf is not a sport.

The third impression that strikes me is the fact that the War on Drugs is now finally exposed as the absolute racist joke we all thought it was in the first place. The federal government has spent trillions of dollars since the 1930’s attempting to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. Now if the Mitchell Report is to be believed, the two clubhouses belonging to the teams playing in one of the world’s largest cities have for years been one-stop shops for illegal drugs received through domestic sources. As we incarcerate insolvent black and brown people in large numbers in this country in a foolish attempt to convince ourselves that we’re keeping drugs out of the hands of our kids, an entire generation of the best millionaire athletes in one sport are being exposed as users of illegal drugs. I guess those Coast Guard cutters can’t patrol Shea Stadium. If you’re going to selectively fight any war, it’s not a war at all. It’s just a lot of people with guns and uniforms dicking around and wasting tax dollars.

The Mitchell Report, coupled with the trial of Barry Bonds, will probably be non-stop stories on ESPN for the rest of recorded time. Questions will be asked of Bud Selig about the integrity of the sport, which he will defend at all costs, even if ultimately it isn’t true. Why let the fact that your entire enterprise is a massive con job get in the way of selling tickets?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Random Thoughts in Honor of the Sun

This just in from Milwaukee: It has finally stopped snowing.

So far in December it has snowed here four times. While the landscape is beautiful, my driveway looks like the asphalt equivalent of a man who shaved with a meat cleaver. The sun is now once again coming through my office window and I can finally see blue skies on the horizon. It helps my mood immensely that I’m currently listening to Tomorrow the Green Grass by the Jayhawks. This leads to the first question for the comment thread, which is "What album do you reach for to improve your mood?" For what it’s worth, I’ll add two other albums from my personal list: Eli & The 13th Confession by Laura Nyro and the first album by Moby Grape.

I am one of the fortunate few in the United States. Being in Milwaukee, I currently have a Democratic congresswoman (Gwen Moore; I love this woman and what she stands for), two Democratic senators (Russ Feingold and stinking rich Senator-For-Life Herb Kohl), a Democratic Governor (Jim Doyle; he could be a lot better) and a Democratic mayor (Tom Barrett; so far, not bad). In 2008, only the mayor is in a re-election battle, and it’s not much of a battle at that. Gwen Moore usually disposes of her competition at a rate of around 75%-25%. It’s a safe seat as long as she wants it. I know that some of you have Senate campaigns, and we all have the White House to think about. With that in mind, I give you Question #2: "Do you think your member of the U. S. House of Representatives deserves re-election based on his/her public stands on the issues you care about? Why or why not?"

As another day passes, and the latest Cheney Administration (who’s kidding who here?) scandal comes into view, leading Dana Peroxide to hem and haw to the press gaggle (I haven’t read any news yet today, but given his track record, he has to have screwed up something else today), my newfound optimism leads me to think of the future. I think of a future without Dick Cheney running this country with his hand up the back of a frat boy. Specifically, I think of the end of taxpayer-funded healthcare for the office of the Vice-President that is quite obviously keeping Cheney alive long past his expiration date. Between the catnaps he catches during visits with foreign dignitaries to the constant shocks from his implanted defibrillator, Cheney has become something out of a typical story from H. P. Lovecraft. The only difference is that no one ever saw anyone actually exhume his body for reanimation. Strictly by observation of the two, I would ID Lynne Cheney as the corpse in the relationship. Looks can be deceiving.

I don’t subscribe to any one religion, but I do have a strong belief in a karmic afterlife. If I go to what is commonly thought of as Hell, it will be a room full of all types of bugs with Celine Dion pumping through the loudspeakers for all eternity. This leads to Question # 3: "What is Dick Cheney’s Hell?" Use your imagination and be as descriptive as possible.

And finally, Question #4, which is asked more out of curiosity than anything else: "Are there any other diehard hockey fans in the house?" I feel lonely sometimes in Packer country.

I hope the sun is shining where you are, and if not, if you’re currently to the East of me, I can tell you that this too will pass. Have fun answering one or all of the questions above. Smile everybody!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Brief History Of The Future

(The writer begs your pardon while he briefly pretends that he is Fred Savage on an episode of "The Wonder Years").

So there I was. It was 1977. Jimmy Carter came into office with a big lovable doofus for a brother. I spent my afternoons watching my rhythmically challenged, 18-year-old sister attempt to disco dance. I spent my Friday nights with a couple of guys named Jim Rockford and Quincy (what was that guy’s first name anyway? His first initial was R., but I guess he wished he was like Liberace while solving murders as a coroner).

I was in 5th grade, well on my way to building a perfectly mediocre educational resume (with "Some College" now being used on product surveys as a euphemism for "Community College Dropout"). I went to the school library and checked out a book called 2010:Living In The Future. And what an amazing future we were all to have! I would be 44 years old, leaving my perfect round house (which looked exactly like all the other houses in my neighborhood), getting into my flying car for long trips or staying home to work. My children would be in the other room attending school via television, just like all the other kids in the neighborhood. Colonies would exist on the moon, telephones would be extinct (replaced by videophones of course) and all of the little drawings in the book featured smiling faces. I was hooked. Despite my dad being 45 years old, short and overweight, I couldn’t wait to grow up to get a round house of my very own.

By my current calendar, this is all supposed to happen over the next 757 days, 412 of which will feature George W. Bush as the President of the United States. Revisionist history is nothing. Let’s talk about revisionist futurism.

A common theme of the 20th Century that cropped up, usually at World’s Fairs, in radio serials, movies, television and books, is the absolutely ridiculous and over-optimistic view of the world of the future. Buck Rogers was supposed to be the last traveler on a deep space probe in 1987! Instead, 1987 featured the Iran-Contra Scandal. The television show Space: 1999 featured a moon colony as a backdrop. Instead, 1999 was spent picking up the pieces of the tech bust and discussing the president’s sexual peccadilloes.

We’re not sending humans into deep space to live (and no, the ISS doesn’t count as "deep space"). You can count on one hand the number of people who take their personal helicopter to get to work. School buildings built 50-70 years ago are still being utilized on a daily basis, to say nothing of the house I currently occupy that was built in 1926. Webcams are more commonly used to watch women who are 18 years old and 15 seconds perform sex acts. There are no jetpacks, George Jetson is still a cartoon and people only smile if it’s in their job description. Toto, I’m not in 5th grade anymore.

Thirty years after seeing a fanciful future in a children’s book, I’ve come to realize that the people who see a better world in the future are ridiculously marginalized and sacrificed at the altar of Big Business. Somewhere along the line, the pioneering spirit and engineering intellect inherent in people such as Preston Tucker and R. Buckminster Fuller morphed into third-rate models like Bill Gates, who made a fortune creating a con job of a product which is easily replaced that never truly works exactly as envisioned. In addition, it can be argued that Gates’ product has actually become a barrier to the evolution towards the better functioning world we’ve all envisioned.

I tend to be optimistic by nature. At 41, I still have trouble letting go of daydreams of people existing in an advanced society and getting along. I would hate to think that all of my optimism about the future was instead invested in the idea of making microwave ovens smaller and kitchen counter-friendly. With regard to that childhood vision of the better world of the future, I’ll believe that one when pigs – or cars – fly.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dodd + Imus = Goodbye

I want to start this post off by saying that I genuinely like Christopher Dodd. Of late, whenever Democrats have needed real leadership in the Senate on issues important to the country, he’s stepped up. Because of this, he has leapfrogged over many other current Democratic Presidential candidates to the number two spot behind John Edwards on my list of desired candidates.

On the surface, Dodd doesn’t stand much of a chance, but he does have the IAFF union behind him for organizing in Iowa, which could make his candidacy very interesting as the Iowa Caucuses draw closer if that can translate into numbers.

Then came this morning……

Everybody’s favorite racist radio has-been, Don Imus, debuted on WABC in New York this morning, fresh off a short-lived exile for mean-spirited remarks directed at the women’s basketball team at Rutgers University. Among his new touches (which on the surface look more like transparent attempts at insulation) are a black female co-host who’s about as funny as a picnic table, as well as a simulcast affiliation with some far-flung rural cable channel called RFD (why do I picture Ken Berry and "Goober" Lindsay when I type those letters?). Among his old touches are the many members of the Washington Establishment who find nothing wrong with Imus’ long history of racial and ethnic intolerance, as long as there’s a microphone in their face. For his first show back, today’s guests included aging DC prostitution circus act Carville and Matalin, everybody’s favorite intemperate lapdog John McCain and, unfortunately, Chris Dodd.

In a presidential election season, every move is a calculation. Chris Dodd is barely recognized during televised "debates" on cable news networks. One could make the argument that as a candidate with a visible absence of big money and debate recognition, you take your exposure wherever you can get it. Anywhere you hang you soapbox is home.

Having said that, as a Democrat, why Don Imus?

Dodd is more than likely making the calculation that appearing on a radio program that is attempting to appeal to rural America is more than likely a good thing if he wants to finish strong in Iowa. Yet based on Imus’ history and the type of guests he has on his show, the only thing rural about Don Imus is his horrible cowboy hat and his borderline KKK sense of humor.

Making a conscious decision to align oneself with Don Imus for free publicity can’t be seen as a good move in attracting primary voters from the Democratic Party. Primary voters tend to be the most motivated and dedicated to a given party. I’ll venture a guess that Don Imus doesn’t have much of a rabid following among regular readers of Daily Kos or other major players in the left wing blogosphere. I’d also venture a guess that the primary voting patterns of those same readers are heavier than the rest of the Democratic population, though I lack statistical proof to back up that argument. I leave it up to those more capable to study that hypothesis.

Don Imus trying to reinvent himself as some kind of leather-faced Paul Harvey Everyman will be interesting for about one week while the mainstream press looks in on his "rehabilitation". After that, he’ll go where all short-syndication talk radio goes; straight into the abyss of a 1.5 share. His time as any type of major mover and shaker in the radio industry passed in the early ‘80’s. For anyone to appear on or to sponsor his siesta of a radio show now, in my opinion, lends tacit approval for the kind of behavior that’s gone on before. I still think positively of Chris Dodd, but today I’m stunned at how his need for publicity in a primary season leads to horrible decision making. It’s not what I look for in a President, and he just lost a chance at getting my vote.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saving Medicare One Wound At A Time

Currently, the Senate Finance committee is attempting to put together a bill to determine payments to physicians for 2008. The current number being bandied about is a 15.1% cut in pay for physician services spread out between 2008 and 2009. The cut would start with a 10.1% cut for 2008 followed by a 5% cut for 2009.

As it stands right now, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus wants a package that avoids these cuts entirely, while Charles Grassley, the ranking minority member of the committee, wants a one-year suspension for 2008 and the entirety of the cut to come in 2009.

In the past, what has invariably happened at this time of year goes as follows. The desired cut is announced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Through a combination of AMA lobbying, book cooking and the desire to pass the buck, the desired cut doesn’t appear in the budget and gets put off another year.

At the point that payments to physicians are about to be cut by 15.1%, it can be safely stated that the day of reckoning has arrived. As expected, when a budgetary emergency presents itself, every special interest cockroach comes out of the woodwork to claim the crumbs. Already, 30 senators from both parties have signed a letter that was sent to the committee asking that no cuts be applied to radiology services.

By far, the biggest stumbling block (as if we should be surprised) is Senate Republicans.

Max Baucus has a good plan. He wants to suspend the pay cut to physicians and replace that funding by reducing the payments made to insurance carriers for administrating Medicare Advantage plans. Senate Republicans, having never met a corporate welfare plan they didn’t like, are backing Grassley’s plan instead.

A Medicare Advantage plan, sometimes called a Medicare Fee for Service plan, works somewhat like a standard commercial insurance plan. They cover (in theory if not always in practice) everything that Medicare covers, plus additional benefits like routine physicals at the administrator's discretion.

Since the introduction of the Medicare Part D drug benefit, enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has exploded. When a Medicare recipient looks for a carrier to handle their Medicare Part D coverage, they are looking for a carrier and a plan that includes the litany of drugs the patient is taking into one formulary. The recipient does not commence this process looking to change their base Medicare coverage from traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan, but this happens frequently. The sales pitches put forward by many of these plans remind me a lot of the days of long distance phone carrier "slamming". Most recipients don’t realize that they need not switch their basic Medicare coverage to be enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan.

When Medicare Part D came into existence, the focus of the budget busting affects of the program seemed to be focused on the enormous giveaway it represented to the pharmaceutical industry with regard to "Average Sale Price" versus "Average Wholesale Price". The dollars paid to insurance carriers for the administration of Medicare Advantage plans in many instances is just as crippling. It is yet another example of the billions of dollars funneled to Corporate America under this president.

The ramifications of a 15% pay cut to physicians are already being made abundantly clear. Doctors, via the AMA, are already announcing that they may close their practices to new Medicare patients if the cuts are approved. This would be just in time for the Baby Boomers who will begin turning 65 in 2010 to be left out in the cold for primary medical care.

Republicans have made it their mission to starve Medicare and Social Security of needed funds until both can no longer function in any form, leading to what they hope will be their eventual demise. People like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist have made this very clear publicly over the last 15 years. It is now clear that while they attempt to destroy both, they might as well perfect a form of legal embezzlement of funds to their friends in the insurance and pharmaceutical industry.

Baucus wants to stop a portion of the bleeding of funds with the next bill. While this doesn't address the big hemorrhage to the pharmaceutical industry, it can be at least viewed as a start. Whether he has enough Roach Motels at the ready remains to be seen.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Georgia Runs Out Of Water; Blue Stater Yawns

So, if all the major news stories are correct, the reservoirs around Atlanta and surrounding areas in Northern Georgia will be out of water in roughly 80 days.

The current cracker Governor, Sonny Perdue, (a name that perfectly symbolizes the lack of working intellect of its holder) snapped into action immediately. He summoned his ill-informed political followers to the state capital and prayed for rain. When I think of effective government, this is not the picture that pops into my head, but I guess that’s just me.

No one should be surprised that a state rich in Republican tradition displays this kind of ineptitude on a state level. Rather than spending the last 20 years planning for the day in early 2008 when the wells run dry, Georgia spent their resources on the ’96 Olympics, the lengthy investigation of Richard Jewell for not setting off a bomb at those same Olympics, the initiation of a state lottery and the passage of Voter ID laws that are for all intents and purposes a reintroduction of the Poll Tax.

The contingency plans are now down to praying and (in the likely event that fails) diverting water from the Great Lakes.

As a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, located semi-majestically on the banks of Lake Michigan, I proudly say "HA!" to the first idea and "Fuck you!" to the second.

As a person with a Democratic Governor, two Democratic senators and a real Democratic congresswoman, I now say to Georgia without the least bit of pity, "How’s that small, non-intrusive government theory working for you now?" By placing your state government in the hands of people who hate governmental operations, you get what you deserve. The only thing missing from the Governor and State Assembly members in Georgia to place them firmly in the Middle Ages is chain mail armor being worn to work.

Once again, for anyone who will listen: you can’t put people in charge of government whose sworn ideology is the piecemeal destruction of that government.

Sometime in early Spring (if they have any chance at all of getting attention in the middle of a Presidential race) the situation will be so dire in Northern Georgia that the proud Bible-waving governor will be screaming at FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers to immediately fix the problems created by decades of Republican neglect. He and his brethren in state government only need look to New Orleans to see what type of response they’re likely to get.

I have friends in the Atlanta area that will be directly affected by all of this to whom I’ll more than likely ship a case of water. I really wish I could sit here and state that I care about what happens to the area as a whole. Yet I wasn’t the one who elected these charlatans to the state government of Georgia year after year. If the residents of Northern Georgia want to get mad at someone for a lack of water, look to your state and local governments that allowed an overpriced McMansion-style gated community to go up in every piece of free space in the North of the state. Here’s some math for you:

One New House = One New Dwelling Needing Water

Your government created the problem. If they can’t fix it, that’s your fault for either not voting at all or voting for these idiots when you had the choice of someone else.

Lake Michigan and its contents belong to the people abutting Lake Michigan. We do our job by continually monitoring the health of the immediate Great Lakes and the effects of changes on the residents surrounding it. You can’t have it now or at crunch time. Tough shit. That’s life.

Picture for a moment that scene in the movie "The Three Amigos" where Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase are riding through the desert. They each take turns opening their canteens. Steve Martin gets five drops of water into his mouth. Martin Short gets a canteen full of sand in the mouth. Chevy Chase dumps a canteen full of water into his mouth and onto his head as the other two look at him longingly. He then turns to the other two and offers them lip balm.

Georgia, thy name is Ned Nederlander. No worries though. I’ll be happy to send you some Chap Stick.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why Is David Stern Still Employed?

A funny thing happened to David Stern on his way back from the bank.

He was returning from depositing checks made out to the NBA by Mark Cuban. The fines had been levied by Stern against Cuban for criticizing the referees of the NBA for lackluster performance. Stern, being the commissioner of the league, scolded Cuban but good utilizing the power of the pocketbook, and strolled back to the league office with the confidence and swagger of a man confident in his decision making.

Then he passed the newsstand.

It seems that half of the referees in the NBA had violated the rules of the league by going to casinos in the off-season. One referee in particular, one Tim Donaghy, was indicted for fixing games in favor of illegal gambling interests.

David Stern acted decisively - by doing nothing.

Tim Donaghy had already resigned from the league by the time the story of his game-fixing hit the streets at large, requiring nothing more of David Stern than was required of Pontius Pilate. He washed his hands of Donaghy and let the feds take care of the execution of justice.

The other casino-hopping refs got the Scooter Libby treatment. Their punishment for breaking the rules of the NBA was for the head of the NBA to change the rules to make it OK for the refs to go to casinos in the off-season. This kind of reaction doesn’t even rise to the level of making each ref sit facing the corner wearing a dunce cap for 20 minutes. Rather than face the problem head-on, Stern saw a problem and ignored it by imperial fiat.

You have to admire the arrogance of David Stern, if nothing else. He sits on his New York throne like Queen Elizabeth II, as the head of a fading empire, TV ratings heading in a downward direction, shrinking attendance, officials with questionable ethics and a dysfunctional ownership team at the helm of the blue-chip franchise down the street at Madison Square Garden.

Through his leadership, he has done everything in his power to exclude the African-American community as fans of the sport in exchange for a well healed (read: WHITE) fan that, if we are to judge strictly by attendance figures, apparently doesn’t exist. Not to worry though, African-American fans! You can still purchase throwback jerseys at a ridiculously high price and display your pride in the NBA from a distance, where David Stern prefers you.

In a league that includes Donald Sterling among the NBA ownership group, it’s not a complete mystery as to why David Stern keeps his job. Having stated that, I appear to be the only person in the public at large who thinks that David Stern got a free pass on a problem he helped create. By constantly displaying to the world at large that he would back up the referees against all criticism, he helped form a Teflon class of official like no other in any sport. One wonders what rule the officials will break next, knowing that unless they go the full illegal route like Donaghy, Stern still has their collective backs.

The NBA has been dogged for years by criticism stating that a separate set of rules appears to exist for the star players in the league. Stern could laugh off that kind of charge based on the lack of long-term statistical evidence. Tim Donaghy throwing games and altering the results of those games for the benefit of gambling interests throws the entire product put forward by the NBA under a cloud. How can any fan of professional basketball watch the NBA and trust the product now?

As long as Stern continues to sit at the helm of the NBA, this league can’t reasonably consider itself credible. When an entity loses the public trust, the eventual destruction of that entity is spent for a short time on outrage, followed by long term indifference. I for one have now reached the latter category.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Smart Money's On The Planet

I must preface this writing by stating unequivocally that I am not a scientist. I tend to base my conclusions on what I observe and for the big scientific questions, I tend to default to the majority opinion among reputable scientists presenting research free from personal or political bias. Based on observation and majority scientific opinion, I have come to the conclusion that yes, global warming is a measurable phenomenon that is occurring and that the prevailing evidence shows that the behaviors of humans are a major factor in the warming trend.

While what happens next if the overall problem continues is still open to speculation as far as I can tell, it appears ultimately that human life in certain corners of the planet is at risk. This leads to a conclusion that humankind, by continually engaging in actions not directly related to the survival of the species, has placed its own species at imminent risk of not surviving.

This is the point where I state without hesitation that I eagerly await the planet’s final response to humankind’s existence on it.

So the reader at this point is horrified. "How utterly sick!" you think to yourself, "Are you actually arguing in favor of the natural destruction of the human race?"

In a word, yes.

If you could just take a moment, take your heart off your sleeve and tuck it back into your chest, take a deep breath, swallow the nearest industry-forced psychotropic medication at your disposal and relax, I’ll explain myself.

Isaac Newton posited that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are many examples of this in everyday life. If you use logic and criticize a Republican using intellect and reason, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly tell everyone within earshot that you hate America, which while hysterical and devoid of reason, can be classified in the simplest terms as a reaction to a stimulus. If you rub a sexual organ (yours or someone else’s; I’m not judgmental) at a certain angle with the necessary combination of force and energy, you stimulate a reaction (and it’s hoped for all involved that it’s not the spoken phrase "Are you done yet?").

Now consider the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution of the late-19th Century, the actions of humankind have acted as a stimulus toward the planet on which we all coexist. The planet’s well-considered reaction is becoming abundantly clear with each passing day. It is curious to the species of humankind that for every man-made emergency, we begin with soul-searching, in most cases asking ourselves "what can I do differently to change what has occurred or what is about to occur?" With the evolutionary gift of reason, it is our conceit that we believe we can come up with solutions for every problem that presents itself.

There are two problems with that conceit. The first is humankind’s lousy track record of ideas, with an overwhelming majority of what we’ve come up with thus far being worthless and not at all helpful to the overall health and survival of the species.

Don’t believe me? Below is a list of items created by the minds and hands of humankind. How many can you spot that are/were necessary to the survival of humankind as a species?

Handguns

Bombs (atomic and non-atomic)

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge

The Chevy Vega

The Ford Pinto

The 5-day deodorant pad

Tris pajamas

Lead paint

The Dalkon Shield

Thalidomide

PCB

CFC’s

Asbestos insulation

Cigarettes

Crystal methamphetamine

Plastic containers

The Maginot Line

This is the short list. I’m certain a better mind than mine can find other sterling examples of human ingenuity throughout history that led to no improvement whatsoever in the human condition or led to lives being saved. I am certain that still others can name things that have helped in the survival of the species, such as penicillin and any of a number of vaccines that argue in opposition.

The second problem with the above conceit is much more concrete. If I had to lay a wager (a uniquely human activity that does nothing to benefit humankind by the way; add that to the list above) between humankind’s capacity to save itself from extinction, and a planet that has already survived past climate shift and inundation by large land mammals and comets, I’d bet everything on the planet. While humankind has had its successes, it is still a species ruled both literally and figuratively by its vices. While homo sapiens evolved from other species that were much more primitive, one check of any given day’s disasters in the news, from Pakistan to Burma to Darfur to any given day in the life of the current occupant of our White House, proves beyond doubt that there is still much work yet to be done on the evolutionary front. We are at best a species with potential long-term viability doomed to be disconnected from that eventuality by our emotions, terrible judgment and litany of bad ideas.

Being infected with human feelings, I take no personal or emotional comfort in self-inflicted human extinction. However, I do take comfort in the knowledge that the planet’s oncoming reaction to the negative stimulus of human encroachment presents Nature with an opportunity for improvement upon previous life models. As millions of species on our planet have disappeared, millions of others have taken their place, with each exchange bringing about either subtle or significant improvement (with the salient exceptions of the duckbill platypus and Ann Coulter). This heavenly mass teeming with life that we all coexist upon is a marvelous series of experiments to behold in that way.

Many generations from now, someone or something will discover what was Washington, DC at the bottom of a 10,000-meter underwater trench and will be curious about the primitive architecture for about 30 seconds. After that they’ll continue on their way, much like we all did when the Woods Hole Institute found the Titanic. It’s not the planet as an entity that is destroyed by global warming, but merely the myriad life forms upon its surface. While I currently recycle, compost and utilize a rain barrel and an economy car, I am aware that no amount of recycling, composting, organic farming, emission limits, carbon credits or vegetable oil buses alters the truth of supremacy of planet over inhabitants.

Look at the bright side though. Pat Robertson and James Dobson will bite the biscuit like everyone else. In and of itself, that should give everyone hope for a more evolved phoenix rising from the ashes of humankind.