Meg Whitman’s Housekeeper

What is the typical politician’s reaction when he is caught out? Deny, lie, shift the blame. This appears to be Meg Whitman’s strategy when the story came out that she had fired her housekeeper of nine years for being an illegal immigrant. Whitman had taken the stand that employers of illegals should be held accountable, so then she had to get rid of the evidence that she was one of those employers. When her dirty little secret came out, she began to deny, and apparently lie (in the face of evidence), and she blamed the housekeeper and her lawyer, and her opponent, at having conspired to make political capital out of her actions.

How much effect this incident will have on the campaign is not easy to predict. The Whitman camp has doubled her ads on Hispanic television in an attempt to counter negative effects. I believe that the fact that she hired an illegal immigrant is not the main issue. What is the most important aspect of this incident is how she treated her housekeeper of nine years. That part is clear. She fired her without compassion, told her that she never knew her, cast her off like one would throw away garbage. Then it was cover up time until the word got out, and the strategy changed to deny, lie and blame others.

Whitman would have been much better off to have taken the initiative in the first place, admitted to having made a mistake, and given some hope to the dismissed housekeeper, perhaps even helping her attain legal status. That is what a compassionate person would have done. We know now what Whitman is not.

Tax Cuts for the Rich

Republicans are pushing for the continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. On the one hand, they criticize the present administration for the size of the budget deficit, yet on the other, they want the tax cuts to continue. They say that we can’t afford $20 billion dollars in assistance to the unemployed, but we can afford the $650 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

How can they defend that? Well, according to the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, “There is no evidence that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy.” This is complete hogwash! President Clinton left office with a surplus. When the Bush tax cuts took place in 2001, the surplus turned into a deficit, and we have had a deficit every year leading up to the crash.

We already know that this economic concept does not work, no matter how “vibrant” we may limn it to be. President Reagan said the same thing, that his tax cuts would reduce the deficit. Instead they blew out the deficit to three times the amount.

Now Republicans are insisting that the tax cuts are an essential tool to increase employment. We have had nearly ten years to see if increased employment is a benefit of the tax cuts. What do we find? Since the tax cuts were instituted, there has hardly been any job growth, and, of course, in the last couple years with the economy in its inevitable decline, the tax cuts have done nothing to counter the loss of jobs and the severe decline in family income.

There is absolutely no evidence that the continued gift of $650 billion to those who need it the least will produce one single job. We are better off putting that money back into revenue.

A Christian Cretin

About that Florida minister, Terry Jones, who is about to create havoc with the burning of the Quran, I agree with everything others have said about his selfish and precipitous intention, including the Rev. Pat Robertson, whom I criticized in a previous post (“Misplaced Reverence”, January 18th, 2010). There is no need to repeat the condemnation from so many others in this post.

But on his own religious terms, Jones should go back to praying and ask himself, to whom did he listen when he decided on this action. Was it God, or Satan, or his own vanity (which in Christian terms is the same as Satan)?

Consider the discord he is creating, the future danger to our soldiers in Afghanistan and to all Americans overseas, and the increased likelihood of attacks to this country from terrorists. Consider the encouragement of hate in people who have bought and sent him copies of the Quran. (They certainly did not have them lying around at home.) Consider the feelings of hate that are churning inside him. Yes, it is pretty clear that he is acting in the interests, not of God, but of Satan.

The sad thing is that his own vanity (the sin of pride, Satan’s sin) won’t let him back down. And, no doubt to the joy of the Evil One, the rest of us will have to suffer.

California’s Budget Mess

Once more California is in financial crisis mode because the Assembly cannot pass a budget. The longer the budget is stalled, the more costly it is to the state. This situation occurs every year and it is one that the state can ill afford, especially at a time of economic downturn.

The reason why this happens is that because a shortsighted voter initiative requires the state budget to be passed by a two-thirds majority vote in the State Assembly and Senate. While one party can have a simple majority, it is impossible for one party to have two thirds. At present the Democrats hold the simple majority, but the dilemma will be exactly the same when the Republicans hold the majority. So even when they do reach a compromise, it is always a budget that cannot work, a budget that contains a large dose of wishful thinking needed to get it passed. Add to this an intransigent governor, as at present, and there is a triangle of opposites that must be accommodated. Since he has a line item veto, the budget is further compromised.

In a situation like this, a super majority is really not a majority. It flies in the face of basic democratic principles. The power is held by the minority party in order to make up the required two-thirds. The fate of the budget can therefore end up depending on the vote of one assemblyman in the minority party – a situation that has happened. It is unconscionable that one person should be able to hold the whole state at ransom. That is not democracy!

In addition to the impasses, there are no senior members on either side in the Assembly who can exert their influence to facilitate the budgetary process. This is due to another shortsighted voter initiative, which prevents assemblymen from serving more than three terms of two years each. So far-reaching decisions end up being made by rookies and sophomores.

The financial mess that California finds itself in cannot be fixed until both those initiatives are overturned.

There is a chance that the undemocratic two-thirds majority will be overturned this November through Proposition 25 (2010), which restores the simple majority to the budgetary process. Opponents of the proposition see tax increases implied in the initiative, or at least that is what they will use in an attempt to defeat it. Such increases are not in the proposition.

It is possible that following passage of Proposition 25 (2010), a budget could pass on a simple majority with tax increases, just as a budget could pass with deep cuts in social services. The governor still remains as a factor that has to be accommodated. And the electorate can vote out those who supported the undesired aspects in the budget, or recall the governor, or vote in a new governor next time. In other words, it is the democratic process at work.

Red-fleshed Apples

An exciting announcement out of Britain: The “World’s First Red-fleshed Apple”, the Redlove Era, developed in Switzerland, will be available in markets in a year or so. The red color extends from the flesh into the apple to the core. Something new? Not!

It’s about time the red-fleshed apples hit the supermarket. Notice I said “apples” with an “s”. The Redlove is NOT the world’s first red-fleshed apple. Apple growers in the US, Canada and New Zealand have known about the red-fleshed and pink-fleshed apples for a long time. And there are many varieties. I know of a grower who has around 75 cultivars of these unusual apples.

Even in my small backyard orchard, there are five different red-fleshed apple trees and two pink-fleshed ones – all but one are good eating. The remaining one is an edible but fairly tart crabapple. Four of the red apples are red-skinned and one looks deceptively like an ordinary yellow-green apple until you bite into it and discover that it is red inside. Both pink-fleshed apples hide under a similar yellow-green exterior. All these apples are of American or Canadian origin, except the Niedzwetzkyana, which comes from Kazakhstan, the place where apples originated.

The Redlove is therefore not the world’s first red-fleshed apple. It will only be the first supermarket one.

Legalizing Marijuana

In November, California voters will decide whether to fully legalize marijuana (Proposition 19). The state has already legalized marijuana use for medical purposes. If the latest proposition is passed, the main benefit would be the decriminalization of marijuana together with a steep drop in prices that would make trafficking the drug unattractive to criminal elements, and there would be some state income from taxes. The main personal advantage would be that it will be much easier and cheaper to get high.

The disadvantages, however, are significant. Decreased social inhibitions mean an increase in risky behavior, leading to more accidents. And there are health risks similar to tobacco. Marijuana has toxic elements, like cyanide and tar that is higher than in cigarettes; it causes mouth cancer; it increases pressure on the heart and narrows arteries in the brain, reducing cognitive abilities; and there is more. As with tobacco and alcohol, the taxes are nowhere near enough to cover the health and safety costs to society.

Significant loss of cognitive abilities by long-term marijuana users was brought home to me as a college professor.

When I was teaching freshman English, I noticed a pattern among some of the argumentative essays. They were characterized by a curious but complete inability to present a cogent, reasonable argument. Since a number of the essays in this group advocated (poorly) the legalization of marijuana, I referred to these failures as the “pothead” essays.

One day when I was with a student who had written a classic “pothead” essay, though not on marijuana, I decided on an experiment. I said, “Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?” He answered, no. So I said, “How long have you been smoking pot?” A large smile spread over his face. “How did you know?! I’ve been smoking it since I was thirteen and it hasn’t affected me one single bit.” Well, my friend, it had! I had deduced that he was a hardened user from the essay he turned in.

California voters have not always voted in their best interests, so there is an excellent chance that Proposition 19 will pass this November. More is the pity. We are still struggling with the impact and costs of smoking. Legalizing marijuana will only increase the load on society.

Football and Video Replay II

After the blunder by the referees in the England vs Germany match, there have been more calls for video replay. The amazing error occurred when the referee disallowed what was clearly a goal by Frank Lampard against Germany. The ball hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced well across the goal line before German keeper Neuer snagged it on the rebound and continued the play. Neither the linesman nor the Uruguayan referee saw the goal.

News stories have made the comparison to another contentious moment in the 1966 World Cup when England played Germany in the final. A similar kick from England’s Geoffrey Hurst struck the bar and landed on the line. Hurst was awarded the goal, even though no goal had been scored, and England won.

After this last blunder, once again there have been calls for the use of video technology, including from England coach Fabio Capello.

FIFA has been reluctant to introduce technology, and with good reason. FIFA president Sepp Blatter says,

No matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being. This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else?

Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport.

Soccer is also a game that at its best is continuous. Interruptions from fouls and throw-ins are minimal, unlike the two or three minute stoppages that video replays would require.

The solution need not be the technology. FIFA is already considering adding two more referees to be placed behind the goals. This seems to be the best solution. The area patrolled by these referees would primarily be the penalty box, where many fouls occur that are missed by the main referee and the lineman who is at best 32 meters away. The goal referee would be positioned at the side of the goal away from the linesman, and he would have been in a perfect position to verify Lampard’s goal or deny Hurst’s “goal”. (He would also have seen the two handballs from Thierry Henry that put France into the World Cup competition in place of Ireland.)

Football Karma

If there is anything like karma in sport, we witnessed it in Group A of the World Cup. France only made it to the competition through cheating in the final qualifying match against Ireland, when Thierry Henry used his left hand twice to guide the ball so he could kick the all important goal. Both the referee and the linesman missed the red card foul.

At the World Cup, the performance of the French team, who were highly fancied, has been embarrassing at best, and the behavior off the field can only be described as shameful. The latest implosion began when one of the star players, Nicolas Anelka, was sent home for an abusive outburst at the manager Raymond Domenech, a man who was not above using astrology to make some of his roster decisions. To support Anelka, the team refused to practice and watched television instead. Domenech had to read a statement from the team to the press. His replacement was announced before the last humiliating game. The players had lost confidence in him, if they ever had much to begin with. After the last match, a 2:1 defeat by lowly South Africa, Domenech refused the customary handshake with South Africa’s Brazilian coach. The French players, who flew to South Africa first class, were sent home on a cheap charter flight.

In the end, many of the French fans were rooting for South Africa and, when France was eliminated, the Irish were celebrating.

Football (Soccer) Divas

When we watch the World Cup matches, we see the country’s best players on display. As a general rule, they are also the best paid players, most of them being multi-millionaires. We may not see it on the field, but off the field there are diva-like demands. Brazil required that the hotel pool be kept at the exact temperature of 90 degrees. The team also wanted a constant supply of hot coffee and no chocolate. North Korea (no millionaires here) demanded a private floor at their hotel. Other countries had their own demands or brought equipment, food, and other amenities from the home country to satisfy the players.

The greatest demands came from Argentina. All rooms had to be painted white. The food requirements included ten hot dishes a day plus fourteen salads, three pasta dishes a meal and three desserts, and ice cream to be available 24 hours a day. And the dapper coach of Argentina, Diego Primadonna, who wears a suit on the sidelines that must have cost more than the average yearly income of an African, demanded that his suite be remodeled with more expensive toilets and bidets installed. The South African Sunday Times reported that Maradona’s 450-dollar bidet features a heated seat, a warm air blow dryer and front and rear bidet wands. Maradona also had two thrones installed! Does this have something to do with the bidet?

Fortunately, the spoiled behavior does not generally translate onto the field of play. One exception is the Diving Diva, Cristiano Ronaldo, the captain of Portugal, who throws himself down at every opportunity in the hope of extracting a free kick from the referee. Any touch on His Elevatedness from an opposing player and down he goes, appealing for a foul. At least twice in Portugal’s opening game did this action result in a free kick against him, showing that the referee wasn’t going to take his histrionics. Let us hope the remaining referees are alert to the antics of the Diving Diva.

Vuvu … What???

What distinguishes South African soccer fans from the rest of the world?

Answer: They are deaf!

The vuvuzelas are those noise-making plastic horns that are being blown at every World Cup soccer match. They are also being blown from dawn to dusk in the streets wherever soccer fans congregate. The noise level of each horn is 130 decibels, which is above the human pain threshold and which causes permanent hearing damage. The players complain about the noise on the field and, above all, the disruption it provides to on-field communication, making it difficult for them to play their regular game.

The noise also affects television viewership. With some games, it is difficult to hear the game being called over the “incessant whining of locusts” or the “buzzing of angry bees.”

Not unexpectedly, there have been many calls for banning them, at least from during the games. Initially, Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, said no because he worried about Europeanizing the competition. In other words, the vuvuzelas were part of the South African cultural identity. Yes, the vuvuzelas did originate in South Africa twenty years ago, based on the traditional antelope horns, and yes, South Africans commonly play them at soccer games, but how can a cheap tube of plastic only twenty years old be considered part of South African heritage?

Now at least the head of the World Cup organizing committee, Danny Jordan, is considering a ban, probably not the least reason being some talk of lawsuits. If there is to be a ban, it should not come until the completion of the first round in fairness to the competition. Let all teams and all games in the round be played under the same conditions. Once the competition moves to the round of 16, the all-important knockout games begin. At that time, it would be appropriate to ban the interfering buzz so that the teams can play to their full potential.