Saturday, April 17, 2010

More online fun

I had done this in the past, but after my last computer died I kind of fell away from it, at least until last month, when I once again took part in the Streak for the Cash game on  The premise is relatively simple, every day there is a list of games that you pick the winner from and the person at the end of the month that garners the longest winning streak gets a cash prize.  You can play multiple times a day, provided that the outcome of you previous game has been determined, but usually I only pick one game per day, I just don't have the time to sit in front of my computer all day to pick three and four games a day. 

That being said, each entry into the contest lasts for one month, at which point the streak resets and you start again from zero.  Since I managed to get one month in, here is how I did in April;

Record 13-6

Longest winning streak - 5 games

Longest losing streak - 4 games

The longest winning streak looked like this

3/22 Los Angeles Kings over Colorado Avalache (4-3)

3/23 San Jose Sharks over Minnesota Wild (4-1)

3/24 5 or fewer goals scored (Anaheim Ducks vs Vancouver Canucks) (5-0)

3/25 Kansas State Wildcats over Xavier Musketeers (101-96)

3/26 Baylor Bears over St Mary's Gaels (72-49)



Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fantasy Baseball 2010 - The thread

Here to replace the just completed fantasy hockey season is the new fantasy baseball season.  I opted for a different sort of league this year.  Usually there are two major types of leagues, the rotisserie variety where stats are accumulated in categories and then the teams are ranked and awarded points based on how they do in those categories.  For example, in a 12 team league, if you were currently second in a category, say home runs as an example, you team would be awarded 11 points.  You then take the total points awarded out of your placement in all of the categories (most baseball leagues tend to go with a 5X5 format, that is 5 hitting and 5 pitching categories) to determine your overall status.  The other option is a head to head league, where you play one other team from the league over the course of a week.  Like a rotisserie league, you compete in specific categories, but the totals only count for that week and each category you are ahead in at the end of the week counts as a win in the overall standings.  Unlike a rotissiere league where stats are accumulated season long, in head to head at the end of the week the board is efffectively erased, a new opponent for the next week is determined and the process repeats itself for the next seven days.

All of that being said, I opted to try a new format being offered over at, one where it is simply total points accumulated.  Everything a player does can either earn or cost you points and at the end of each day you teams total points gets counted into a grand total.  Because I am not in a specific league there, I am basically just competing against anyone else who is playing the game, meaning my chance of coming in in the top three is almost impossible, there will probably be tens of thousands of people participating in the game, so my goal will be quite simple, do better than average.  Anything above that will be gravy. 

Like the hockey league, I will post weekly updates in the comment section.  They will of course offer some wry, rather unastute commentary from yours truly as well as a few of the leagues basics, such as top score from the week, my score from the week, the weekly scoring average of all teams and my overall rank.  Yes I will pick an MVP, but rather than sit here and try to break down daily box scores because you can change your roster on a daily basis, instead it will simply be the person who had the best game on my best day of the week.  An example from my current week is that on 4/7 my team earned 81 points, and my best player that day was Matt Garza, who garnered 27 points as I had the Tampa Bay pitching staff that day, so he would be my presumptive MVP (though technically for pitching purposes you get the stats accumulated by the entire staff that day, but the game doesn't distinguish between pitchers, you just get credit for the staff effort, I just mentioned Garza because he started that game).

Hopefully that was confusing enough.  Anyway, let the games once again begin.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

March Madness - Rounds 5 and 6

If I am doing two rounds at once that can only mean one thing, WVU lost and my last remaining entry in the tournament is gone.  So mcuh for this year, and given the way I did I can honestly say good riddance.

Rounds 5 and 6 (3 games)

Record 0-3

Overall 40-23

Worst round selection - Has to be WVU since they were the last ones I had left and proceeded to not only lose in the Final Four to Duke, but to get blown out. 

Best round selection - None

Overall best selection - I can take little comfort in the fact that I at least had WVU in the Championship Game and had Butler all the way to the Elite Eight.  Sadly for my bracket, one of those underperformed (WVU) while one overperformed (Butler). 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stolen Content - Voices from the past

I remember having Bruce Bartlett on the radio show a number of times when I was working with Jerry Bowyer.  So it was with great interest that I hapened to find this while surfing this evening, sort of a catching up if you will.

The Democrats' Gratitude List
Bruce Bartlett, 03.26.10, 12:01 AM ET

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) owes Newt Gingrich a debt of gratitude. One of the big reasons why both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton failed in their big legislative initiatives is that until 1994 the committee system in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, was very powerful. Many initiatives with strong presidential support died simply because of the tugs of war that went on interminably as various committees competed to have jurisdiction.

This all changed in 1995 when Republicans took control of the House and Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) became Speaker. One of their first actions was to thoroughly gut the committee system, which they saw as the liberals' base of power and an impediment to fast action on the Contract With America. Thousands of Democratic committee staffers were fired and control of the legislative process was centralized in the Speaker's office. Such longtime staples of legislative activity as hearings and markups were essentially dispensed with.

In practice, the only committee that mattered anymore was the House Rules Committee, which is completely controlled by the Speaker. Historically, its only job was to set the terms of debate in the House--the length of debate on bills, what amendments would be in order, etc. But under Gingrich the Rules Committee became the committee of primary jurisdiction in many cases, often writing bills from scratch in the dead of night.

Personally, I lament the decline of congressional committees. They came into being for a reason--to provide specialized expertise, allow experts and interested parties to review and comment on pending legislation, allow time for thorough analysis and fix potential problems before a bill reached the House floor.

Nevertheless, Gingrich's innovations proved indispensable to Ms. Pelosi, who was able to ram a massively large and complicated bill through the House in a way that would have been impossible under the pre-1995 committee structure. Under that system, Republicans would have had many more opportunities to amend or kill the health bill. Their failure to do so, therefore, rests partially with Gingrich, who unwittingly provided Democrats with the parliamentary tools they needed to enact it.

Democrats also owe a debt of gratitude to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). When he was elected in a special election on Jan. 19, it appeared that HCR was dead. Because of Republican filibusters and delaying tactics, Democrats needed all 60 of their votes to get it passed. Brown's election reduced their numbers to 59, which appeared fatal to HCR in the view of many close political observers.

What happened instead is that the Democrats' supermajority loss in the Senate forced the House to either accept the more moderate Senate bill or nothing. It also forced House Democrats to get moving and pass a bill. In the absence of the Brown victory, the House would likely have insisted on its more liberal approach to HCR and would still be endlessly debating the public option and other liberal hobbyhorses that would never pass the more conservative Senate.

Incidentally, liberal opposition to HCR is a very underreported story. Something like a third of those who opposed it in public opinion polls did so because it didn't go far enough even though Republicans continually asserted that all opponents agreed with their argument that it went much too far.

In the end, House Democrats realized that they couldn't go back to the Senate for another vote and had no choice but to accept its version of HCR. Had Democrat Martha Coakley prevailed in Massachusetts the forces that led to passage of HCR might never have come together.

I think with time Republicans will recognize that HCR changes our health care system far less than they said it would and in ways that they will eventually acknowledge as improvements. Indeed, within hours of passage some Republicans were changing their tune from complete repeal as the first order of business should they regain control of Congress--which was stupid anyway since Obama would veto any such effort and Democrats in the Senate would filibuster it--to reform; fixing the legislation rather than repealing it in toto.

One reason for the Republican change of heart is that HCR is in many ways a Republican bill virtually identical to the health legislation enacted in Massachusetts under Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006. And if one goes back and reads conservative think tank proposals for health care reform since the 1990s, it's clear that Obama's plan owes more to them than to liberal ideas, which mostly involve moving toward a Canadian-style single-payer system.

Here's the basic logic. If you want to cover preexisting conditions, which just about every Republican does, you have to have a mandate for people to buy health insurance, otherwise no one will buy it until they get sick, which would bankrupt every health insurance company overnight.

Once you accept the principle of a mandate, which conservative health reformers have long done, then you have to confront the fact that some people won't be able to afford it, so you have to have subsidies. And subsidies have to be paid for by raising revenue in some way. This leads us basically to where HCR ended up.

The biggest problem with HCR, which Republicans could have improved if they had chosen to cooperate rather than fight it to the death, is that the financing is less than ideal. The cost of the program should be largely paid by its beneficiaries, and soaking the rich is unwise for both political and economic reasons. It would have been much better to eliminate the tax exclusion for health insurance, as Republican presidential nominee John McCain proposed in 2008. This is an issue that will have to be revisited, but I think Republicans will eventually come to support the benefit side of HCR just as they now support Medicare.

Despite Obama's victory on HCR, I think it may have been a political mistake for him to pursue it. The reason is that presidential popularity is largely a function of how well the economy is doing. Presidents get the benefit when things are good and the blame when things are bad, regardless of whether they or their policies had anything to do with it.

Obama came into office in the midst of the second-greatest economic crisis in our nation's history, and I think he should have focused on it pretty much to the exclusion of all else. There may or may not have been anything more he could do substantively after passage of the $787 billion stimulus bill in February 2009, but I think he would have benefitted politically by doing more to show that he cares about the unemployed and those suffering from the economic crisis.

Washington insiders place great weight on presidential successes in getting big legislative victories in Congress. But I don't think average Americans care much about such things unless it benefits them immediately and directly. And their memories are short. Few presidents in history were more successful than Lyndon Johnson in getting big legislative victories in Congress, yet he was so unpopular that he chose not to run for reelection in 1968.

Perhaps Obama concluded that the economy was either going to recover on its own by 2012, in which case it cost him nothing to get HCR enacted, or it wouldn't, in which case it wouldn't matter one way or another. But Democrats in Congress may differ in their assessment because many of them are almost certain to lose in November in part due to controversy over HCR, perhaps giving Republicans control of the House, which would be like déjà vu all over again given that Bill Clinton's ill-fated health reform effort is widely credited for giving them control of Congress in 1994.

I think it would have been a good idea for the country to have had a debate about single-payer even though I don't think it would have been a good idea to implement it. The reason is that it would have highlighted the biggest problem with our health care system, which is that it costs far too much for what we get, and forced us to think about some ways in which other countries have developed health care systems superior to ours.

Here is the central fact about the American health care system: We spend 16% of the nation's entire output on health. The country with the second-largest health spending as a share of the gross domestic product is France, which only spends 11%. The average of all major countries is 8.9% of GDP.

A key reason why conservatives oppose further government intervention into our health care system is that they think it will become even more expensive as a consequence. Yet almost every other major country has some sort of national health insurance, and they not only spend a lot less than we do but have better health by many measures.

Moreover, I don't think most Americans realize just how much government already pays for health through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, not to mention a vast tax subsidy for private health insurance. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we are paying 7.3% of GDP through government for health care now--and I don't believe this counts tax expenditures that add another percentage point or two. This is considerably more than most other nations pay for universal coverage. Here is the cost to taxpayers of single-payer systems in some other countries (percentages of GDP): Canada, 7.1%; U.K., 6.9%; Japan, 6.6.%; and Switzerland, 6.4%.

What this means is that for no more than we are paying in taxes right now we could have universal health coverage for every American, a health care system no worse than that in countries where health is as good or better than here, and give the entire country an effective tax cut equal to 8% or 9% of GDP--more than $1 trillion--by completely eliminating the cost of private health insurance and all out-of-pocket health costs.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons why we might not want to adopt the same health care system that they have in other countries. But a serious discussion of single-payer might have highlighted some ways in which our system could be improved and things we might learn from them.

Bruce Bartlett is a former Treasury Department economist and the author of Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action and Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Bruce Bartlett's new book is: The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward. He writes a weekly column for Forbes.

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