Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Bill of Privileges

In an earlier discussion about the probably illegal warrantless spying programs revealed by the press, an acquaintance asked, "What about the Fourth Amendment?"

I responded, "Bush has informed Congress that it's no longer valid."

I did so because some backers of the war on civil liberties contend that so long as the president lets Denny Hastert and Bill Frist know about what he's doing, then it is, by definition, legal.

My comment was half-joking but half-serious. Maybe it was in fact more than half-serious.

Take the most recent column by far right commentator Cal Thomas. In it, he (surprise surprise) trashed The New York Times, falsely accusing it of 'giving aid and comfort to America’s terrorist enemies.'

Ever since the start of the Iraq aggression, any criticism of the president, his policies or the implementation of those policies has constituted for some 'aid and comfort to America’s terrorist enemies.'

This is a brilliant smear because it's false but the nature of the accusation makes it impossible to prove or disprove. The far right does the same thing when they say that if there's another terrorist attack, it will be The Times' fault. Again, defame your opponents with something that's impossible to prove or disprove.

In reality, any expression of democracy may give aid and comfort to the enemy. They don't understand the concept so they see the free exchange of ideas as a sign of chaos and indiscipline. The expression of democracy is really a sign of strength, but it can be intrepreted as a sign of weakness. By this standard, the only way to fight terrorism is to suspend democracy, lest the enemy get the wrong impression.

In the midst of his anti-New York Times screed, Thomas made an interesting, if unwitting, admission to that effect Bush has unilaterally suspended the Constitution. He writes of the paper:

This isn’t about the privileges guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is about the agenda of the Times and some other newspapers and media outlets that clearly want the administration to fail in Iraq — and in everything else — so that Democrats will retake the reins of government.

Last time I check, we had a Bill of RIGHTS. Not once, to the best of my knowledge, does the word 'privilege' appear in the First Amendment or anywhere else in the Bill of Rights.

A privilege is something that's given to you by the state and can just as easily be taken away from you by the same state. Or in this case, by the Leader.

Driving is a privilege. You are not automatically allowed to drive on public roads. You have to pass a written test. Then you take a road test and someone decides if they deem you qualified or not. Rights are different. You have them by the mere virtue of being a citizen. In this country, there is no test you must take to become a government-licensed reporter. Articles are not subject to government authorization before being published, no matter how much the administration would like different.

According to Cal Thomas, we have lost the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. And by the looks of things, many of the succeeding nine amendments as well. It was indeed religious extremists who took them away. But they weren't foreigners. And they weren't Muslim.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Talking a bad game

If you are living outside America, consider yourselves lucky that you are not subjected to the ESPN/ABC World Cup announcers. The main announcing team is Dave O'Brien (play by play) and Marcelo Balboa (color analyst). They are horrible.

Balboa is a long time US international and was captain of the US team. But he's a terrible announcer. He talks too much and says too little. And I can't stand that he defends players who dive. Nay, he even ENCOURAGED the Italian team to do it in their game vs Australia. Along with low scoring, diving is the #1 complaint about soccer from the casual American fan. The casual fan sees this and is disgusted. Then he hears the 'expert' heaping praise on the cheaters.

Dave O'Brien is worse. He never announced soccer before this year. He called a few US friendlies and now he's the lead announcer in the World Cup. It's like a football announcer calling a few NFL Europe games and then being handed the Super Bowl. It would never happen. This insults the intelligence of soccer fans. But not as much as some of O'Brien's commentary. I know Dave is trying hard but it's just not good enough. He should've spent a year or two cutting his teeth on MLS or the US national team before getting handed the World Cup.

A few tips for Dave:

-The guy standing between the pipes in soccer is called a goalKEEPER. He can also be called a keeper. We can gnash our teeth and tolerate him being called a goalie. But he is not, under any circumstances, a goalTENDER.

-You should not be announcing professional soccer.if you don't know the difference between injury (or stoppage) time and extra time.

-If a player is fouled (or dives) in the 18 yard box, he can be awarded a penalty. Calling it a penalty kick is redundant. A penalty and a foul are two different things in soccer; if you need to explain this once to your newer viewers, so be it. But NFL announcers don't say, "The Cowboys are attempting a 48 yard field goal kick."

-Do NOT say Team USA or Team Italy or Team Whatever. All games have two teams no the field (excluding the officials, I suppose). You can simply say USA. Team USA is redundant and unnecessary; even non-soccer fans can figure out that it's not the whole country of America on the field. Would you praise Team Miami for their win over Team Dallas in the NBA Finals? I didn't think so.

I know ABC/ESPN wants to use its "big guns" for this big event. I can tolerate non-soccer people like Brent Musberger, Rece Davis and Shelley Smith in studio or reporting roles. The TV people like Eric Whine-alda in the studio because he's a 'straight shooter,' but as any MLS fan knows, he comes across as a pompous, know-it-all jacka**. Alexi Lalas isn't much better.But the game commentary should be strictly limited to people who know something about soccer and are halfway coherent.

The other commentary teams are ok. JP Dellacamera is always top notch; his partner John Harkes is a newbie but could get better in the future. Everyone seems to be seduced by Adrian Healy and Tommy Smyth because they have foreign accents; I like Healy and Smyth is ok, though he's a bit overrated. Rob Stone and Robin Fraser? Better than O'Brien and Balboa is all I will say. Glenn Davis is ok and I love his partner Shep Messing. Messing proves that you can be a straight shooter without coming across as a jerk.

The main play by play guy should be the always excellent Dellacamera. As color analyst, ABC/ESPN should've stolen Ray Hudson from GolTV. If you've never heard Hudson call a game, it's quite an experience. He'd single handedly keep the casual fan tuned in, unlike the current duo who annoys even the hard core fans.

With the explosion of soccer on TV, US viewers should expect better than what they're getting.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who should be put on trial?

So the president and his apologists have their panties in a twist yet again. Yet again it's because a news media outlet revealed something that the administration didn't want the public to know about. The administration hates anyone daring to question it. It hates accountability even more.

The New York Times was the first of several media outlets to report that the administration is tracking money transfers linked to terrorism.

The president and his allies were apoplectic with rage. Rep. Peter King said the paper should be prosecuted for publishing the truth. Bush himself called it 'disgraceful.' Vice-President Cheney bemoaned the fact that the press is not subject to governmental control.

Former Treasury Secretary John Snow claims that the revelations 'undermined a highly successful counterterrorism program and alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trail.'

Snow also resorted to emotional blackmail so typical in the war on civil liberties by saying, 'The New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know, in some cases, might overwrite somebody's right to live, and whether, in fact, the publications of these could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans.'

The president claims that he's kept Congress informed of this program, which he erroneously thinks makes it legal. Think of it this way: if you inform your neighbor that you're peeping on his wife when she's home alone, does that make it legal?

Last year, the Times also revealed the probably illegal warrantless spying program, which also infuriated the administration.

The administration insists that these programs are both legal and designed to make America safer.

Let's assume for a moment that these assertions are true.

If that's the case, then shouldn't Bush and company want to shout from the rooftops about what they're doing?

Wouldn't it be a major deterrent to Osama wannabes to let them know that they are being watched, that their finances are being tracked?

A potential terrorist might read the Times and think: "Hey, it's too risky to plan anything here. I ought to go somewhere else."

And this is bad how?

Isn't the first priority of crime fighting deterrence and prevention?

If these programs really are both legal and designed to make America safer, the administration should want to award the Times a presidential medal of freedom, not a treason trial.

Yet, the administration insists on hypersecrecy (as usual), unaccountability (as usual) and shooting the messenger (as usual).

Why are they so afraid that these programs, designed to deter terrorism, be revealed and thus increase the deterrence? Is it because they know deep down that their activities are completely illegal and unconstitutional and would be discredited as such if their actions were exposed to the light of day? If they weren't doing anything wrong, why are they so afraid of this being discovered? If they're not guilty, why are they acting that way?

They've already demonstrated their utter contempt for the rule of law so you'd think they wouldn't care about this. But they do.

And they're right to care. If I were doing what they're doing, I'd be petrified of the American justice system too.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Disgrace in Nuremburg

Yesterday, the Netherlands and Portugal battled, literally, in a round of 16 game won by the Iberians, 1-0. Russian referee Valentin Ivanov showed 16 yellow cards (which tied a single game World Cup record) and 4 red cards (which broke the record) to the two teams. I've been critical of the massively excessive number of yellow cards given at this World Cup. But this is probably the only game where the avalanche of cautions and ejections was completely merited.

ESPN's Soccernet called Ivanov's performance a disgrace and a farce; many other media outlets concurred. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, never shy about sticking his foot in his mouth, said the ref deserved a yellow card for his performance.

Noticeably absent was much criticism for the two teams. Sepp Blatter who condemned the official who tried to enforce Fair the same Sepp Blatter who refused to denounce the actions of the two teams who constantly cheated. He is the same Sepp Blatter who constantly trumpets Fair Play.

Reuters called it 'stormy,' which is like calling Iraq a skirmish. Others preferred euphemisms like spirited and spunky.

Only the AP had the guts to call it what it really was: a brutal foul-fest... one of the dirtiest matches in World Cup history.

It added Cleats bashed into thighs and shoulders, heads butted and elbows flew. Players faked injuries, complained and brawled.

And most observers and media outlets had the unbridled audacity to blame the referee. The ref showed yellow cards for intentional hand balls, divings, muggings and brawling... some of which led to ejections. Take a look at The Laws of the Game and tell me which of those actions do not merit yellow cards.

It's not the referee's fault that both teams, especially the Portugese, played cheap, dirty soccer. Mr. Ivanov did the best he could in a game where one team was determined to cheat as much as possible and the Dutch insisted on responding in kind. It's enough of a shame that a game between two of the most skilled teams in the world descended into such a farce. But it's even more disgusting that everyone seems to be blaming the referee for punishing the disgraceful play.

Referee Ivanov did a good job in difficult cirumstances; it's just to bad he couldn't disqualify both teams so as to prevent either from polluting the next round with their poisonous play.

Update: For example, Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney lamented Ivanov's 'his prickly adherence to the rules chopped up a match that featured some flowing, mesmerizing play from both teams.' Actually, brutal tackles, melodramatic diving and shameless mini-brawls chopped up the match. Maybe Ivanov's 'prickly adherence to the rules' wouldn't have been necessary if the two teams had shown even a modicum of respect for them or for the game.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

President of self-liberated America visits self-liberated Hungary

A few days ago, President Bush visited Hungary to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a citizen uprising against communist rule. An uprising crushed by external Soviet aggression.

Of course, the real point of his trip was to make false analogies between the 1956 Hungarian uprising and the 2006 Iraq excursion, a photo op to prop up his reeling presidency.

Said Bush, "We've learned from your example, and we resolve that when people stand up for their freedom, America will stand with them."

It's clear that Bush did NOT learn from Hungary's example. Comparisons between Hungary '56 (and the actual liberation of Eastern Europe in '89-91) and Iraq '06 are striking more for their significant differences.

The first significant difference is that Hungarians revolted against foreign domination. They revolted against foreign military occupation. Does Bush want to encourage Iraqis to do this?

The most obvious difference is that in Hungary, the people rose up themselves to revolt against oppression. In fact, this is how all of Eastern Europe was liberated in the late 80s and early 90s. Neither Hungary nor the rest of Eastern Europe was liberated via a US military invasion. While the US and the west offered moral and financial support to dissident groups, ultimately it was the Eastern Europeans who took the initiative to liberate themselves. Contrary to popular myth, Ronald Reagan did not bring down the Iron Curtain. Hungarians did. Czechs and Slovaks did. Poles did.

This is why Eastern Europe's transition to relatively stable democratic systems was fairly seamless and why Iraq is in chaos and civil war (and getting worse). Eastern Europeans wanted democracy and freedom enough to make it happen themselves so they had a stake in making it work.

Eastern Europe is an example of the correct way for the US to help facilitate democracy, human rights and freedom. It's the only way that works.

It's no coincidence that Eastern Europe is the only part of the world where the US is viewed generally favorably. That's because it's the only region of the world where we did things the right way.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

World Cup: US post-mortem

I said before the World Cup that the US was NOT #5 in the World Cup despite what FIFA's moronic rankings said. I also said the US was going to have a hard time getting out of its group, much less repeat its quarterfinal feat of four years ago. Yet, if you'd told US players before the tournament, that they'd be able to advance with a win in its last group stage game vs Ghana, I'm sure they would've taken it. The US look flat in its 2-1 loss to the African newcomers.

I am not surprised the US was eliminated in the first round. Italy and the Czech Republic are considered two of the best teams in Europe, and thus the world. Ghana were a great unknown going into the tournament.

What was most bitterly disappointing about this World Cup for the US was not the results, but the performances. If we'd played our best and been eliminated, it would've been easier to accept. But except against the Italians, we did not come anywhere close to play our best. Not just in terms of execution, but in terms of effort.

Against the Czechs, we put in the worst US performance in any match of the last decade. Flat, uninspired, the players looked like they hadn't played in months.

Against the Italians, the US looked fantastic in the first half. Chemistry was good. Energy was fantastic. We outplayed the Italians, even before the Azzurri's red card. Two dubious red cards (well, they'd be dubious in any other World Cup) to the Americans forced the Yanks to play defensively in the second half to preserve a precious point. They did well under difficult circumstances.

Against Ghana, we had our moments in the first half but the second half was poor and uninspired.

Are you noticing a trend?

For much of the 2nd half against both the Czechs and the Ghanaians, we needed two goals. Yet in both matches, the US players casually, lazily passed the ball around in the back. Everything was laid back and casual despite needing two goals in relatively short order. There was no sense of urgency. There was no inspiration. The World Cup is the height of a soccer player's career, what he works toward for at least four years. To lack a sense of urgency when you're losing, to lack inspiration, is utterly inexcusable. If you don't have those things, you should pack your bags and go home.

Simply put, the US team is not as skilled as the Brazilians or the Spaniards. For the US team to have any chance of success, they must play hard and work hard and run their socks off and press the issue. I'm sorry to say they simply did not do this nearly enough in two of the three games.

We were not eliminated due to bad luck or poor officiating. We weren't even eliminated because of great opposing performances. None of our opponents played like world beaters, though the Czechs and Ghanaians were extremely efficient with their limited chances. We were eliminated because we played poorly. We were eliminated because we deserved to be.

There is a fine line between genius and insanity. The main difference is that if it gets results, you call it genius. US boss Bruce Arena made some quirky decisions in each of the last two World Cups. The main difference is that in 2002, his quirky decisions worked so everyone called him a genius. In 2006, his quirky decisions didn't work, so everyone's calling for his head.

I've always respected Bruce and given him the benefit of the doubt. His record deserves nothing less. But I'm sorry to say that he blew it this World Cup.

The US played a 4-5-1 formation only once in qualifying: away to Mexico. The team got down 0-2 and could barely do anything so he switched to a more familiar 4-4-2 in the 2nd half and the team clawed its way back into the game.

So how can anyone explain Arena's decision to start with a 4-5-1 in all three World Cup games? Certainly after the first game where the US generated absolutely zero offense vs the Czechs, he should've changed. After the first two games, the US only had one shot on goal total (and that one hit the post), yet Arena starts with one forward yet again vs Ghana. The only consistently dangerous attacking player was Eddie Johnson and he was brought on way too late in both the Czech and Ghana games and was inexplicably left on the bench completely vs Italy. Brian McBride's game is to win headers and flick them on to a forward running off him. He's not suited to be a lone forward.

I blame Arena slightly for even trying the unfamiliar one forward formation; I blame him completely for sticking with it all three matches even though it so obviously wasn't working. The final verdicts: the US scored only one goal of its own accord in three games and only generated four shots on goal (three of which were in the last match). Hey Bruce, if it's broke, you should've fixed it!

Simply put, the US did not play its game against the Czechs or Ghanaians. We did not play quickly. We did not take it to them. We were not aggressive winning balls in the midfield or up front. It's almost as though we were so worried about the other team that we forgot to do all the good things that go us there in the first place.

But while Bruce certainly deserves much of the blame, ultimately it's down to the players. Simply put, the US' best players didn't show up. I've already commented on the shocking lack of intensity. But the US' most dangerous player, Landon Donovan, was invisible.

I've always said, I don't care if Donovan plays domestic soccer in Mongolia so long as he performs with the national team. He's already proven he can smoke the Haitis and Grenadas of the world. He's shown he can perform well on the world stage when he was really young, nothing was expected of him and no one knew who he was. This was his chance to prove his worth against the best teams in the world, teams who were preparing for him. He failed miserably. Maybe, as commentator Ives Galarcep opines, Donovan just can't handle the pressure. Maybe US soccer needs to find someone else who can lead them to the next level. He does NOT deserve to be named captain, now that Claudio Reyna's retiring.

But Donovan wasn't the only player who failed showed up. DaMarcus Beasley was non-existent in the first game and then he shot his mouth off. He had his moments against the Italians and Ghanaians but just like Donovan, the moments were too few and far between.

Reyna was probably the only attacking player who consistently played well (aside from the vastly underutilized Johnson). But his inexplicable giveaway against Ghana gave the African side an undeserved lead and great confidence.

I can't say McBride didn't show up. He did the best he could in a role he wasn't suited for. And as always, he gave blood and guts to try to make something happen. It just didn't work out.

Bobby Convey got up and down the wing fairly well but the quality of his crosses was disappointing for someone who'd been in excellent form.

I've always said, "Never underestimate the value of being underestimated." The US team has always performed well on the world stage when they were underestimated. In 1994, we were considered a joke and got a few surprise results that carried us to the 2nd round. In 1998, we had raised expectations from '94 and ended up finishing with the worst record of the 32 finalists. In 2002, we had no expectations again thanks to the debacle of '98 and that helped us shock Portugal in our opening match; if not for a controversial non-call, we might've made the semifinal. In 2006, we had expectations again thanks to the '02 quarterfinal run and the players looked like they were feeling the weight of the pressure.

And there certainly is pressure. It's a very different kind of pressure than other countries. In Italy or Argentina, if the team performs poorly, they will be vilified at home. This isn't fun and is very intense, but it's a straight forward kind of pressure. Generally speaking, if you do well, the criticism will stop. Just ask Jurgen Klinsmann.

US players, on the other hand, have to fight a double battle: against the opposing teams and on behalf of soccer's place in America's sporting heart. No other country's players have to answer questions like, "If your team is eliminated in the first round, do you think the domestic league will collapse?" No other country's players have to deal with assinine (and logic-devoid) comments like, "The US were eliminated without winning a game. Doesn't this just prove that soccer will never be big in the US?"

US soccer fans have to defend the sport and the team against two enemies: people who think US soccer is crap so they support foreign teams/leagues instead (rather than in addition to) AND people who hate soccer entirely and use decades-old lazy cliches to bash the sport. US soccer players are unwitting warriors advance the sport's future in the country, whether they like it or not.

Soccer as a spectator sport has exploded in popularity in the last 12 years. It may never be as big as baseball or the sport we call football even though you almost never use your feet. But soccer will continue to grow in popularity and that will only make the soccer-bashers even more obnoxious and shrill. American soccer fans need to grow a thicker skin. You should like the sport for what it is, not because it's "cool" in the sports media establishment. The Jim Romes of this world are irrelevant anyways, even more so when they yammer on about soccer. These yahoos thrive on controversy. The most insulting thing you can do is ignore them.

Many American fans commented even before the World Cup that some of the players seemed to believe their own hype. I'm sure none of the players believed that the US was really the fifth best team in the world. But they seemed to think they were still a world class team that could ease to victory with anything less than top effort. As the old cliche goes, the US team is not skilled enough to win on skill alone. Even the pre-Cup friendlies were uninspiring and lacking in cohesion. The warning signs were there. Sometimes, the pre-Cup tour seemed more designed as one giant Nike advertisement than proper preparation for the World Cup. Given Bruce Arena's opinion of the federation's bureaucrats, I suspect this circus was because of US Soccer, not the coaching staff. But it harmed the US' preparation.

On the other hand, US players looked scared and tentative against the Czechs. Maybe they quickly concluded that the emperor had no clothes. Maybe they realized all the hype was b.s. Maybe they were feeling the weight of expectations, something they didn't have in 2002. Maybe they found out that the Czechs didn't underestimate them like they may have been counting on. So who knows.

The US was on the wrong end of a few controversial refereeing decisions. The questionable red cards against Italy. The completely bogus penalty awarded to Ghana. First off, these were NOT expressions of anti-Americanism as some morons have suggested. There are controversial calls in every game but I've never heard any other fan say, "The ref cheated because he's anti-Korean." Refs screw up just like the players and the coaches. That doesn't mean they should be immune from criticism and it doesn't mean they are corrupt, it just means they are human. And for the record, regardless of the officiating decisions, the US did not play well enough over the course of 270 minutes to merit advancing to the 2nd round. Their elimination was due to poor play, not the officials.

New coach: Bruce Arena is not only the most successful coach the national team has ever had. He's the best. He transformed the team from a unit that hoped for the lucky draw against big teams to one that (at least in 2002) expected to beat the big boys and were disappointed when they didn't. Regardless of what the outside expectations are, successful teams need to expect a lot of themselves. And Arena instilled those expectations into his teams.

He also proved that an American coach, or at least one with tons of experience working with the American soccer player, should be in charge of the US national team. The last two US coaches have been American and they achieved far more than the multitude of smarty pants foreign coaches that preceded them, particularly in change perceptions and expectations of the players.

But I think Bruce's time has run its course. Eight years is a long time in charge of the national team. I think it's time to move on. I think he should be succeeded by his assistant Glenn Myernick or by former youth national team coach Sigi Schmid.

Schedule more matches against top European and African sides: The US needs to schedule more friendlies against good European teams, especially away. The US is very accustomed to the Latin American style, which is patient and based largely on short passing on the ground. Also, Latin American players tend to be much smaller than European and African players. The US can play well against the Latin American style because American players can use their speed and athleticism more effectively and can gain an advantage by playing quickly. Against top European teams, the US has a size disadvantage... especially our forwards against European defenders. This limits our effectiveness of high crosses from the wings. We need to at least be able to play another way, if necessary. European and African sides are more physical than Latin American sides and we have trouble adapting to this as well.

Participate in the Copa America: The Copa America is the South American continental championship, but they invite two teams from the US' region as guests. The US participated in '93 and '95 but have declined ever since. Which is too bad since the US were semifinalists in '95, thrashing Argentina and narrowly losing to Brazil along the way. The Copa America isn't quite what it used to be but it's still the most prestigious, highest quality competition the US can participate in besides the World Cup. US players need that experience of playing high quality teams in meaningful games. The CONCACAF Gold Cup (North American championship) simply isn't enough; Costa Rica and Mexico are the only other decent teams in the competition and even they don't always send top teams to the tournament.

Make MLS games more meaningful: Regular season games in Major League Soccer aren't very meaningful. Last year, Los Angeles finished with the 9th best regular season record of the 12 teams and ludicrously ended up as league "champions." What does this say about the importance of the regular season. A good chunk of national team players come from MLS. As a result, many of the players are regularly playing in games that don't matter very much. This hurts their sharpness. Last year, Bruce Arena cited this as a serious problem that MLS should address. US Soccer should pressure MLS to make their regular season more meaningful. Business-wise, MLS is unlikely to ever go to promotion-relegation and are not going to eliminate playoffs entirely. But MLS should slash the number of teams who make the playoffs from 8 of 12 down to no more than 4, preferably 2. They should offer a major financial incentive for teams who win the Supporters Shield (regular season championship). Additionally, the Supporters Shield winner should get a berth in the CONCACAF (club) Champions Cup; as it stands now, that second bid goes undeservedly to the MLS Cup playoff runner up.

Limit the influence of sponsors: Sponsors are important. Specifically, their money. Nike's cash has been a big boon to US Soccer as a whole and to the national team in general. But ultimate control of national team preparations needs to belong to the national team coach. If he's going to be judged solely on his results, he needs to have the authority to achieve those results. World Cup preparations should be solely about getting the team ready for the World Cup, not a bread-and-circus designed to sell Nike's crap.

Update: It's been suggested that current German boss Jurgen Klinsmann be considered to succeed Arena. He's the only foreigner I'd consider. He lives in Southern California and seems familiar with how US soccer works. He's also high on soccer in the US and wouldn't be coming in with a snob complex. And he got the Germans to play exciting soccer which alone makes him a miracle worker. Though if he wins the World Cup with Germany, I'm not sure he'd leave his current job. Especially with the upcoming European championships being held in neighboring Austria and Switzerland.

2nd update: Regarding my earlier criticisms of Donovan, now the Golden Boy admits that "for too many periods throughout the game, [he] wasn’t tuned in enough." And that sums up why Donovan can not be the next captain of the team. The US best player playing in the most important soccer tournament any player can play in. And he "wasn't tuned in enough." Sorry Landon, but it's no longer sufficient to be tuned in only when you're playing Latvia or Barbados.

3rd update: It's also been argued you have to play abroad in order to be a decent player at the highest level. However, the two most dangerous players on the team were MLS' players (the vastly underused) Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey. The two players who made fatal errors in the game against Ghana were Claudio Reyna and Carlos Bocanegra... both of whom play in the vaunted English Premier League.

World Cup: a recap and a look ahead

The group stage of the World Cup is over so it's time for some analysis. Before the Cup, here were my predictions.

WINNER: I predicted Argentina (alternatives: Brazil and Germany). Argentina looked fantastic against Serbia & Montenegro, embarassing the Balkan side 6-0. They also won the match of the tournament, best Ivory Coast 1-0. But they looked flat and uninterested in a dull 0-0 draw with Holland. Brazil has looked uninspiring, except for the 2nd half of their 4-1 thrashing of Japan. The Selaçao look overreliant on individual flair, in contrast to the excellent cohesion of their great South American rivals. Germany are one of the shocks of the tournament. Not for the results, which were expected, but because they are playing exciting, attacking soccer for the first time in anyone's memory. Verdict: Argentina and Germany are still good bets to win but they would face each other in the quarterfinal. Brazil look uninspiring but of all the teams that have looked good so far, only Spain is in Brazil's half of the draw. I'll go out on a limb and predict a Germany-Spain final.

SURPRISE: I predicted Costa Rica (alternatives: Angola or Ivory Coast). Costa Rica flattered to deceive in picking apart the Germany defense in the opener. Ivory Coast played far and away the best soccer of any team that was eliminated in the first round, but a brutal group against two of the best teams in the world killed them. Verdict: The obvious surprise of the tournament is Ghana. Everyone thought that Italy and the Czechs, or possibly one of those two and the US, would get through the group. But Ghana's thrashing of #2 in the world Czech Republic and their controversial win over an uninspired US side saw them advance to the next round. They will have a hard time getting beyond the Round of 16, where they'll play Brazil... especially with their top player suspended. But Ghana deserves serious props for the way they played. Australia's Socceroos have also earned itself many fans.

DISAPPOINTMENT: I predicted Brazil (alternatives: England and Mexico). I've already commented on Brazil. England and Mexico have looked extremely uninspiring. England boss Sven Goran Eriksson has made some of the most bizarre decisions this side of Bruce Arena. But both sides have gotten the necessary results. Verdict: Aside from the US, the biggest disappointments have to be the Czech Republic and France.

STRANGEST MATCH FOR WHAT'S HAPPENING OFF THE PITCH: I predicted Serbia & Montenegro vs Ivory Coast. This also turned out to be one of the strangest matches on the pitch as well. Some really bizarre refereeing decisions, a boatload of yellow and red cards. Also, Ivory Coast became the first team in 36 years to win a World Cup game after being down 0-2.

SLIPPERY SLOPE: I wonder what's going on with the field surfaces. It seems every game you see lots of players slipping. Far more than you're used to seeing in big time matches. It's happened to every team in every stadium.

THE ETERNAL REFEREE CONTROVERSY: The officiating has been bizarre. The US was certainly on the wrong end of controversial decisions in their last two matches (though it's worth noting the US benefited from a couple of controversial decisions during their 2002 quarterfinal run and that the US didn't play well enough to mourn its departure anyway). But it goes well beyond a few calls against one team.

You had Graham Poll, one of the best referees in the world, fail to send off a Croatia player who received two yellow cards. The player wasn't expelled until he received a third card, thus becoming the first player in World Cup history to receive a trio of cautions in one game. You also had a Uruguyan referee who was suspended by his domestic federation for "corruption" but was somehow deemed worthy enough to officiate the world's top soccer tournament.

EUROPEAN GROUP WINNERS STRUGGLE: Many have concluded from this tournament, that the US is hurt by playing almost all of its competitive matches in a relatively weak CONCACAF. That is certainly true. Though there is a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy in there. Because CONCACAF is viewed as weak, CONCACAF teams get tougher draws than European teams. Because they get tougher matches, they do less well. (Incidentally, why did Mexico get a seeding for the Cup and a much easier draw even though they were behind the US by any objective measure you could use?).

But what about European teams?

Ukraine won their qualifying group but somehow managed to get annhiliated 4-0 by Spain at the World Cup (though they advanced thanks to an undeserved 1-0 win vs Tunisia). I'm sorry but any team that loses 4-0 at the World Cup doesn't deserve to advance.

Serbia and Montenegro won their European qualifying group, going undefeated as well. They allowed only 1 goal in 10 qualifiers. But at the World Cup, they conceded 6 to Argentina and 3 to Ivory Coast. I'm sorry but any team that loses 6-0 at the World Cup didn't deserve to be there in the first place. Even if they come from Europe!

No CONCACAF team lost as badly as either of these European group winners.

Croatia was another European group winner to go home without winning a game.

Trinidad and Tobago, who actually played worse throughout most of CONCACAF final round qualifying than the two teams who didn't make it to Germany, actually got a result... something that undefeated European group winners Serbia and Montenegro can't say. And T&T never lost 0-6.

Even Australia, from the even more maligned Oceania region, acquitted itself better than almost half the European qualifying group winners.

I'd like to see Croatia try to get a result in Costa Rica's Saprissa Stadium or Mexico City's Azteca. I bet it's a bit harder than Reykjavik or Valetta or any other team in their qualifying group, for that matter. In CONCACAF final round qualifying, there are no world beaters, but there are no guaranteed results either.

YELLOW CARDS FOR SNEEZING: The worst part of this World Cup has been the referees giving cards out like a clown handing out candy. While this hasn't been a particularly violent World Cup, almost 69 percent of games (33 of 48) have seen at least five cards issued. 8 or more cards have been shown in an astonishing 9 games, almost 1 match out of every 5. A trio of games have seen multiple red cards. The result is that countless players have been or will be suspended for a game for yellow card accumulation, including such 'goons' as Zinedine Zidane (otherwise known as the best and most graceful player of the last 15 years).

I'm all in favor of cracking down on malicious and unnecessarily violent conduct. Unlike the English, I enjoy watching skill more than brute force. I don't agree with those who think that referees should not blow their whistle lest they 'ruin the game'; those players who treat soccer like rugby are the real ones who ruin the game. But this is getting ridiculous. Referees are treating almost every single foul as a bookable offense.

Except shirt pulling of course.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Adirondack Progressives to host US Senate candidate

Matt (of blogosphere fame) reports that the Adirondack Progressives will be hosting a fundraiser for Green US Senate candidate Howie Hawkins. Hawkins is running against incumbent Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton is increasingly unpopular with liberals and progressives for her support of the Iraq aggression as well as other pandering positions like her support for a political grandstanding anti-flag burning constitutional amendment.

Matt notes that the Adirondack Progressives will be holding a fundraiser for Howie at Rock Hill Cafe [in Glens Falls] on July 22nd at approximately 6:00 pm. We will have music by Carrianne Skidmore and then a delicious vegetarian buffet dinner. We'll then have Howie and his delicious politics all to ourselves for an hour or so.

He notes that the group is asking a minimum donation of $25 per ticket... [but] will gladly accept more per ticket but don't wish anyone to be excluded who might wish to attend.

He adds that the Adirondack Progressives expect to host Green gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt in the autumn.

For tickets or more info, contact Matt at (518) 361-6278 or mattfuniciello @

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Seen on the side of a milk carton

Name: Landon Donovan
Profession: Soccer player
DOB: 3/4/82
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 148 lbs
Last seen: Smoking mediocre Central American teams
Last seen with: Bruce Arena's judgement and US team's sense of urgency (also both unexpectedly missing)

If you've seen this missing person or have information regarding his whereabouts, please contact the US Soccer Federation at (312) 808-1300.

Whew, that's easier than I thought

I was listening to an NPR story on the debate in the Senate to raise the federal minimum wage. Though Congress has raised its own salary several times since the mid-90s, the minimum wage for honest, hard-working people has remained the same: $5.15 an hour.

It's fairly well known that the federal minimum wage is well below what is needed for someone to have even a very modest standard of living in this country.

But on the Senate floor, Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi offered a a novel solution. What workers need to do to "get out of the minimum wage rut" (his words) is breathtakingly simple.

They need to think about "moving a little bit to get better jobs."

All that the honest, hard-working minimum wage workers need to do is look for higher paying jobs.

Many Americans think Congress is aloof and out of touch with reality, but not the senator from Wyoming. I'm sure millions of working poor will be sending their heartfelt thanks to Sen. Enzi for his innovative, life-changing advice!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thank God we don't have socialized medicine

During a soccer game at the beginning of the month, I suffered a freak injury to my leg. I had to be hospitalized and required two surgeries and a 6 day hospital stay. It was really my first major injury. Thank God I was lucky enough to have good health insurance via my employer. Or rather, that my employer offered good health insurance. Instead of a bill of knows how many thousands of dollars, I got off with a 500 dollar co-pay.

Here's what happened to me.

Step 1: I went to the ER and had to fill out paperwork. I had to give them my personal info as well as health insurance details.

Step 2: I was admitted to the hospital (same one that runs the ER) where I had to fill out a little more paperwork regarding personal medical history.

Step 3: I did a follow up exam with the operating doctor. His office is affiliated with the hospital. I had to fill out a crap load of paperwork involving personal info, health insurance details and personal medical history. This despite the fact that the specialist was affiliated with the hospital AND got a referral from my primary care doctor. In an efficient system, either of them could've transferred these details to them.

Step 4: I got my cast refitted at the occupational therapy office of the hospital (which is actually part of the hospital, just in a separate building). I had to call the hospital's administrative office and "register" before this appointment. During this "registration," I had to give my personal info and health insurance details.

Thank God we don't have some kind of (insert menacing music) socialized medicine in this country. Sure, there are 36 countries with better health systems that the US (primarily because of accesibility): most of them offer some kind of universal health coverage to their citizens, ALL of whom spend a lot less money per capita on health care. But they are forced to navigate paperwork and a big, slow bureaucracy.

Instead, we have our messed up, inaccessible system and we're stuck with even more paperwork and SEVERAL big, slow bureaucracies. We may be one of the least healthy populations of any western country, but at least we have our ideological purity. (Except for military veterans, the poor and the eldery, who get free or mostly free health care)

Of course, if I didn't have health insurance, I wouldn't have had to worry about any of this annoying paperwork. I just would've had to sell everything own.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Polls are the cotton candy of journalism

I've written before on the popular fairy tale mouthed by so many journalists: "We don't make news. We just report it."

The bottom line is that newspapers decide what's news and what isn't. That's not a bad thing or a good thing. It's simple logistics.

The amount of news out there is infinite; after all, what I had for dinner last night was news and was important to me. The amount of space in a newspaper is finite. Editors and journalists have to decide what news they think is most important to the largest part of their readership.

When a paper runs one wire service story about about a bridge in Scotland that dogs like to jump off and puts it on the front page, then it has another wire story about one of the most populous states in the country mandating universal health insurance and buries it in the middle of the paper next to a cheesy graphic... when a paper does this, it's expressing its editorial judgement. Stories about Tartan canines belong on the front page; stories about one of the nation's most pressing issues belong next to a picture of an Elvis stamp.

But the ways newspapers make news is not simply limited to editorial judgement. One of the most obnoxious trends in modern journalism is the tendency to make news out of polls.

Or to be more specific. The tendency for major news organizations to commission a poll and then create a story out of the results of that poll. That IS making news.

Most polls sample several hundred people. Even the most prominent national polls usually don't sample more than 1200 people. Headlines for such polls always read, "Bush approval rating down to 25%." In reality, they should read, "300 people sampled approve of Bush."

Is it really news that a few hundred people approve of the president or of the war in Iraq or whatever issue?

I accept the reality of polls IN news, but not of polls AS news.

What's the difference?

Polls IN news supplement a broader, more substantive story.

Polls AS news are the whole story.

As such, polls as news are a crutch. They are a crutch for lazy reporter in search of an easy, formulaic story. It's the journalistic equivalent of cotton candy. Tastes good but with no nutritional value whatsoever. Cotton candy is fine for a dessert but not as a main course.

The local Post-Star did not invent this unfortunate trend, but they are dilligently following it as they do every other journalistic fad.

Recently, paper did one such 'story' on a poll conducted by Zogby International. According to The Post-Star, Zogby reported that of 401 registered voters asked: 51.2 percent supported incumbent GOP Rep. John Sweeney, 26.5 percent supported Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand and 22.4 percent chose other or undecided.

The headline was: Poll: Sweeney leads 2 to 1.

It could just as easily have been: Sweeney ahead 205-106.

The paper also made a story of the polls results indicating that Sweeney allegedly did well among 'military personnel, NASCAR fans and people who shop at Wal-Mart.'

The paper made a big deal of this story despite the fact that:

a) The poll was commissioned by the Saratoga County REPUBLICAN Committee and

b) Kirsten Gillibrand is not even the Democratic nominee yet. She faces a primary in September against a couple of Democratic opponents. This fact was not mentioned by The Post-Star, not even casually in passing at the very end of the article as per their usual standards.

How is this a story in and of itself? I mean, how is this a story to anyone outside the campaigns? How does this make us better understand Sweeney's and Gillibrand's positions on the issues? (To say nothing of the other candidates)

Stories like this are not about illuminating the public's understanding. They're easy, lazy stories about 'the horse race.' Stories which better belong in the sports section not the news section.

The paper wrote: "I think it is premature to say Sweeney is 'winning' the race 2-1," said [Skidmore College professor Robert] Turner, who analyzed the poll results.

Yet that's exactly what the paper declared: Poll: Sweeney leads 2 to 1.

None of this is surprising. The news media routinely makes news and pre-empts citizen voters by deciding who is a candidate 'worthy' of their attention and who isn't.

It's no secret that they are ignoring Greens and candidates from other smaller parties as well. They are making news by deciding that Greens, Libertarians and others aren't serious enough to cover. If Eliot Spitzer's campaign gets hundreds of articles and Malachy McCourt's campaign gets none, The Post-Star is thus editoirializing in the news coverage, even by omission. This goes to show that media bias is most insidious not when something is written, but in something is omitted.

But the media does the same thing even within the major parties. The establishment media has already decided that Eliot Spitzer is going to win the Democratic nomination for New York governor which is why it's all but ignoring the campaign of his challenger Tom Suozzi. The establishment media has already decided that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to be re-nominated to run again for her seat so it's ignoring her challenger Jonathan Tasini.

The media does this because they are overreliant on polls. They do this because they see Spitzer at 80 percent in the polls and decide Suozzi has no chance. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Spitzer gets all the media coverage and Suozzi none, then Suozzi WILL have no chance. The media is making and shaping news, not simply reporting.

Polls are not a substitute for editorial judgement. They are not a substitute for information. And they should never be used as an excuse to avoid treating candidates fairly.

Update: While The Post-Star may be doing a disservice to its readers by ignoring McCourt, not all media outlets are doing so. The New York Daily News ran an article on his candidacy and the Albany Times-Union did the same. Because these papers trusted that their readers were intelligent to comprehend more than two choices, you can read the articles and make up your own mind. Isn't that what the news media is supposed to be about?

Monday, June 19, 2006

The need for scapegoats

If the Founding Fathers had thought dissent were unpatriotic, we'd still be singing 'God Save the Queen'

Earlier, I posted an entry on efforts by the far right wing to censure former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter.

A reader commented:

Someone should inform these loonies that Carter has not been president for 25 years and that they really should check the calendar. SHEEEEESH!

The reader is absolutely right, but what she fails to realize is the facts are irrelevant to that crowd.

The far right controls all the levers of power. The presidency and executive agencies. The House. The Senate (where at least the right's power is moderated a little by the nature of the chamber). Even more right-wing judges, who believe that legislative mob rule and unrestricted executive authority, can trample individual rights, are flooding into the lower levels of the judiciary.

So when the far right controls everything, who do they have to blame when things go wrong? In addition to Jimmy Carter, I've seen the following people and groups be blamed for all our problems in recent weeks:

-Out of power Democrats.

-The mythical 'liberal media.'

-Ordinary citizens who criticize the Iraq aggression, the war on civil liberties or any of the other malfeasence launched and defended by the far right.

-Loving gay couples

-The Dixie Chicks (who've received DEATH THREATS, which just goes to show some people believe in freedom so long as you don't actually exercise any).

-TV commentator Keith Olbermann

-Former Vice-President Al Gore.

-Environmentalist and singer Joan Baez


-Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan

-Documentary maker Michael Moore

I don't care whether you like or dislike any of these people or groups. What's most notable is that none of these people/groups actually develop public policy. None of these people are responsible for the problems in our country (with the possible except of the media, which was so sycophantic toward Bush in the early days of the Iraq atrocity).

But the fact that none of these people/groups actually have power makes no different to the far right, who needs scapegoats because their plans are going badly wrong. And since right wingers are the ones who have the actual power, since they're the ones who actually made the disastrous decisions, they need to blame singers, filmmakers and ordinary citizen Americans.

I hope Americans are too smart to see through the deceitful blame-shifting. It's just too bad the pathetic Democrats won't provide a serious alternative and the establishment media won't give any coverage to other, real alternative parties.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

US 1-1 Italia

So the US forced a 1-1 draw with Italy today. Italy had a man sent off and the US two. Perhaps I'm biased, but the Italian red card was deserved for a flagrant elbow. Both of the US reds were bogus. One was, at worst, a foul not a (second) yellow card. And the other wasn't even a foul but the ref gave a straight red. The ref completely changed the game. Not only because of the bogus reds but even for giving yellow cards to every player (on both teams) who sneezed, coughed or looked at him funny. I think my friend jinxed it by saying before the tournament how well officiated all the games had been. Then after the game, the ABC commentators point out that this ref had been suspended by his domestic federation for improper conduct... yet somehow he gets chosen to ref a World Cup game? Absurd.

I can't complain, though. The US completely dominated the first half, even before the Italian red card. They played with more energy in any five minute segment of the half than they did during the whole game vs the Czech Republic. The first half, THAT is how the US is supposed to play.

My friend and I were screaming at the TV in the second half, "Bring on Eddie Johnson!" Lots of space. Tired legs. Bring on a forward with fresh legs, speed and who can create things on his own, something Brian McBride can't. I generally defer to Bruce Arena as he has the results to back up his decision making, but it was a crime Eddie Johnson was left on the bench today. It was even more of a crime to not use an available sub when you're down to 9 men. I honestly think Johnson might've created one or two goal chances.

But after the two bogus expulsions, the Americans did well to hold on for a draw. Given Ghana's shock thrashing of the Czechs, the group is wide open. If the Italians beat the Czechs and the Americans beat Ghana, the US will go through regardless of the score. (Technically, we could go through if the Czechs crush Italy and we crush Ghana, but the combination of both is very unlikely).

This is no small task, as the Italians looked beatable today and Ghana looked excellent. But at least we have a chance, which is more than most expected after Monday.

There are still some things they have to improve upon. Especially defensively and not giving up dangerous set pieces. And Bruce Arena needs to get Eddie Johnson's rear end off the bench. But a repeat performance like today (sans les cartons rouges) and better use of Johnson and we can beat Ghana.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Soweto: 30 years later

This essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel, Iraq and Iran*. (*-added on the suggestion of a reader)

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Soweto massacre. In 1976, the racist apartheid government imposed Afrikaans as the sole language of education. Thousands of black South African students took to the streets to protest. Over 300 peaceful student protesters were slaughtered in Soweto (a township of Johannensburg) by the regime's forces of disorder and over 100 more in other parts of the country. It was an important event in the anti-apartheid movement that really re-launched blacks' struggle for freedom and liberty in the country. The act of state terrorism was a major black eye for the regime and really caused the beginning of its deserved isolation.

US National Public Radio ran an excellent radio documentary on the anniversary.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Censure the president

If the Founding Fathers had thought dissent were unpatriotic, we'd still be singing 'God Save the Queen'

President George W. Bush has:

-authorized an almost certainly illegal domestic spying program

-repeatedly defended the Guatanamo Bay camp where kidnapees are kept indefinitely without trial, accusation or either (which constitutes, in and of itself, a form of torture)

-launched a hideous, unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq

-insisted we 'stay in the course' in Iraq (whatever that means) despite overwhelming evidence that our continued presence is doing more harm than good both for Iraqi security and our own.

There's quite a bit more malfeasance I'm omitting.

So naturally, the far right believes the president should be censured.

Oops, my bad. They want the president censured, just not the sitting president.

Then again, the president they want censured has won a Nobel Peace Prize, something the current president has no chance in heck of being nominated for. Maybe if Jimmy Carter had launched an assault on civil liberties and an unprovoked war of aggression, the far right might think more favorably of him.

Adirondack Progressives to meet in Glens Falls

Matt reports:

Tonight [Thursday June 15] at 7:30 pm, the Adirondack Progressives will meet UPSTAIRS at Rock Hill Cafe [in Glens Falls]. This meeting is an organizational one to plan for the upcoming visit to Glens Falls by the Green U.S. Senatorial Candidate, Howie Hawkins. We'll also be talking about how this visit will be the precursor to [Green candidate for governor] Malachy McCourt coming to see us in the fall... Please attend if its at all possible. We'll keep things brief.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The day the hockey died

I was saddened (if not surprised) by the announcement that the Adirondack Frostbite will cease operations. This upcoming winter will be the first that the Glens Falls Civic Center won't host professional hockey since the building opened in 1979.

For the last 20 years, going to watch hockey at the Civic Center on Saturday evenings has been a winter tradition for me.

However, it's sadly become a tradition for fewer and fewer people. Average attendance for the American Hockey League's Adirondack Red Wings was over 4500 throughout the 1980s but started declining in the early 1990s. In 1999, the AHL team left was replaced by a United Hockey League franchise (the Icehawks, who became the Frostbite a few years later).

Attendance kept falling after the UHL's arrival and never recovered. In the most recent season, the Frostbite averaged about 1900 fans per game despite having a pretty successful team.

Sadly, some fans are blaming co-owners Steve Levy and Barry Melrose (more well-known as ESPN hockey commentators). The fact of the matter is that Levy and Melrose saved the franchise from collapse two and a half years ago. They lost a lot of their own money on the franchise and it was grossly unfair for some partisans to blame them for the team's demise. It's easy to say 'stick with it' when it's with someone else's money!

The bottom line is that thousands of fans who regularly attended the AHL Red Wings never even considered going to a UHL Icehawks/Frosbite game. I never hesitated despite the drop in level because I love hockey and because it's not like there's a ton of stuff to do in Glens Falls during a Saturday evening in the winter. But too many so-called fans never came back. If the game's entertaining, then that's what it's all about.

But too many local hockey fans never gave the UHL a chance. That's not Barry Melrose's fault. Far from attacking him and Levy, fans should be thanking them for giving us two and a half more years of hockey.

Monday, June 12, 2006

USA 0-3 Czech Republic

It's one thing to lose. But it's another thing to look like you've never played together before.

The Czechs are an excellent team and they may well have won even if we hadn't played like complete garbage. But we could've made it a little harder on them. Pumping in long balls to a lone forward playing against a quartet of 6'3 defenders? Too many balls were in the air period. When we played quickly and on the ground, good things happened. Only problem is that I can count on hand the number of times we actually did that.

Was there anything good about our performance? Eddie Johnson had some moments. Landon Donovan looked dangerous too the three or four times he touched the ball.

But energy? Zilch. Passing? Utter crap. Creativity? Huh? Decision making speed? Glacial. In game adjustments? Non-existent.


Not the result, but the performance.

Further proof Americans hate soccer

I don't put much stock in these online polls and I know they can be stuffed but this one from caught my eye:

"How will you be watching today's USA-Czech Republic World Cup game?"

Taking the day off from work/school. Taking a long lunch. Secretly watching at work/school. Following online. Won't be watching the game.

36% answered 'won't be watching the game' which means that 64% will.

Almost 95,000 votes so far.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Amnesty for 'legal' activities

Conservatives fumed over proposals to reform the nation’s immigration laws that would create a guest worker program. ‘This is amnesty,’ they screamed. They were furious about proposals which they say would reward and legitimize illegal behavior. The American government must always ensure respect for the law.

At least that’s what the right believed when the question was immigrant scapegoats.

Now, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter is proposing to give Pres. Bush blanket amnesty for the probably illegal warrantless spying on domestic citizens program.

The administration argues that the program is legal because it says it's legal. And the Bush administration has a long tradition of being sole arbitrer of the Constitution. Separation of powers went out the window years ago.

But if spying on citizens without a warrant is perfectly legal, then why is an amnesty needed?

As Adirondack Musing asks, why stop there? Why not go ahead and give Bush blanket amnesty for all laws he might break in the future? It'd probably save a lot of investigative time and money.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Shock! Amazement!

Earlier this week, The Guardian newspaper did something absolutely unprecedented for a English sport media outlet. It ran a column about US soccer that was not only mostly positive, but fair and even-handed.

Even more shockingly, the article was largely free of condescension, patronization and sarcastic. This is a serious violation of the English sport media's code of conduct with regard to coverage of the Beautiful Game in America.

I don't think the piece had a single snide use of the phrase "football, or 'sawker' as the Yanks call it." A version of this phrase is pretty much obligatory in any English media report on soccer in the US as is the pretense that it's the most original and creative observation in the world.

To read this ground-breaking article, click here

Friday, June 09, 2006

The party starts today!

The world's greatest party starts today when the World Cup opens in Germany. Given that I'm home injured, it's not the worst thing in the world to have 6 hours a day of top soccer!

My predictions...

WINNER: Argentina. I always pick Argentina even though they always lose and even though everyone else is picking Brazil. Picking Brazil is like picking Duke to win March Madness. I think the lack of expectations might work in the Argies favor this time. Plus, I love Lionel Messi. (Alternatives: holders Brazil and hosts Germany are also good choices. If the Czechs stay healthy, watch out for them)

SURPRISE: Costa Rica. Everyone thinks CONCACAF (North/Central America and the Carribean confederation) is crap but I'd like to see England go play a competitive match in Costa Rica or Guatemala. CR are a good little team and it wouldn't surprise me to see them do well. (Alternatives: maybe Angola or Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast is much better but Angola have an easier group)

DISAPPOINTMENT: Almost by definition it must be Brazil because everyone expects them to win. But given the difficult group and some of the scoring problems they've had, it wouldn't shock me to see the Netherlands go out in the first round. (Alternative: England and Mexico, because I can't stand either of them)

STRANGEST MATCH FOR WHAT'S HAPPENING OFF THE PITCH: Serbia & Montenegro vs Ivory Coast. This match features two countries, each divided. Montenegro recently voted in a referendum to secede from Serbia. But since they qualified as a combined entity, they will participate as a combined entity despite the vote. A majority of Ivory Coast territory is controlled by rebels. The rebels and loyalists have signed truces and 'peace agreements' more often than Bush has been dead wrong on Iraq. Oddly, the peoples of all four territories will likely be fully behind their team. (Alternatives: the colonizer-colonized matches between Angola-Portugal and Togo-France)

THE US: The US brings its best ever team to a World Cup but they are also part of their most difficult opening round group ever. Forget what the stupid FIFA computer rankings say. The US is NOT #5 in the world (somewhere between 9 and 12 is more like it). But the US' first two opponents are top five caliber: Italy and the Czech Republic. The upside: both of those powers have major injury worries. Just getting out of the first round would be a major achievement given this group. And even that would set up an almost certain second round clash with defending champions and favorites Brazil. If the US matched the 2002 quarterfinal run this time, it would be the greatest achievement in US soccer history.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I have taken a brief hiatus from this blog for medical reasons. I will resume regular publishing within the next two weeks. Thanks.

Update: I've had a few private inquiries. I injured myself playing soccer (football). It is not extremely serious but I will be virtually immobile for several weeks. I may occassionally blog about the World Cup during my recovery. After all, if you're stuck at home with little do other than sleep, read and watch TV, having it happen during the World Cup is probably the least bad time. On the other hand, it also kills me to be exposed to all this high level soccer but not be able to go anywhere near the field (pitch) during it. I must have a World Cup curse as my only other serious soccer injury occured during the 1998 tournament.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ending legalized gerrymandering

One of our local NPR affiliates ran fascinating interview with the director of Common Cause New York, Rachel Leon. With the nation's most dysfunctional legislature and rigged electoral laws, New Yorkers rely on Common Cause and other good government groups to speak out for the interests of citizens.

Leon spoke primarily about how to reform New York's obviously broken political system. The first step is redistricting reform.

I've always considered electoral reform to be the most important reform to impose on this state's government. Progressives tend to focus on other 'sexy' causes like universal health care or instant runoff voting. And while those causes are important, redistricting reform is the most fundamental.

Simply put, such reform is a PRE-CONDITION for the advancement of any progressive causes.

Right now, citizens have almost no impact on Albany. Everything in the legislature is controlled by the leaders of the two chambers, with plenty of input from lobbyists.

Redistricting reform would change the fundamental equation.

Right now, legislators choose their voters long before voters get to choose their legislators. Legalized gerrymandering ensures that the vast majority of legislative districts are either overwhelmingly Democratic or overwhelmingly Republican.

There has been an implicit agreement between the Republican Senate majority leader and the Democrat Assembly Speaker to agree to legislative districts that helps preserve the majority of each. Each leader has foresaken their co-party members in the other chamber to preserve their own power.

This is why the Republicans have controlled the Senate since the late 60s (despite the state's voter registration being overwhelmingly Democrat) and the governor's chair for the last dozen years, but haven't come close to controlling the Assembly in a quarter century.

This gerrymandering effectively makes incumbents virtually unaccountable, as most are representing districts whose registrations are overwhelmingly of their own party. Most incumbents get weak opponents. A disturbing number don't get any opponents at all.

To wit, there are 62 members of the state Senate. In the 2004 elections, 4 incumbents lost their re-election race. This was considered a virtual revolution in New York politics.

It's commonly known that most legalized gerrymandering is done by drawing odd shaped, sprawling districts to ensure overwhelming majorities for one party and sometimes even to exclude a potential strong challenger to an incumbent. Director Leon also noted a different way upstate districts get gerrymandered. She pointed out that districts include the prison population in the census counting. There is a very large prison population in many upstate counties. Prisoners, of course, can't vote. This doesn't necessarily affect the partisan makeup of the districts but it certainly makes a mockery out of one man, one vote. (For some reason, all I could think of when she talked about this was the three-fifths compromise).

Legalized gerrymandering is choking off what's left of democracy in New York state.

The solution is fairly straight forward: an independent re-districting committee. Other states like Iowa and Arizona choose a panel of retired judges to re-draw the lines. This panel can be chosen with input from the governor, from the legislative leaders, even from the secretary of state or attorney general.

The panel would submit the proposed new district lines to the legislature. But they would be compelled to either accept or reject the panel's plans. Legislators could not amend them.

While not without potential flaws, this would certainly be a great improvement over the current system of legislators choosing their voters. It would take the power out of basically two men (Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader) and give it to a panel of hopefully disinterested former judges.

The plan's biggest virtue is, of course, its greatest challenge. Because the plan takes imperial power away from the speaker and the majority leader, it makes it very difficult to persuade those two men to give up that power. And since lack of legislative accountability is an integral part of the system, it's very hard to exert any pressure on those two men or even on their co-party members who selected them. Thus, you have a catch-22.

Fortunately, good government groups and, yes, newspaper editorialists are around to prevent the issue of reform from dying.