Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cubs 2013 Preview

Someday we'll go all the way...

The inspiring song by Eddie Vedder that allows the eternal cubs fan to cling to that hope that all the grief and disappointment of bleeding Cubbie blue will one day be vindicated and make that magical year all the more immaculate when the Cubs will finally win the whole thing.

This is the kind of year that will make Cubs fans say "Someday...".

Our presumptive ace, Matt Garza, out. Shawn Baker, the -let's take a chance- middle of the rotation strength, out. Ian Stewart, out. All three starting off on the DL. LaHair moved to Japan, we released Campana for reasons that I can't begin to fathom. They are a distant memory now. So lets look to who we are putting out on the field.

Position Players

First Base: Tony "I'm not a Mob Boss" Rizzo (.285 BA/15 HR) - having played for team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, a lot is resting on this guys shoulders to come out and give opposing pitchers SOMETHING to realise that they aren't just playing catch with their catcher.

Second Base: Darwin "The Golden Boy" Barney (.254 BA/7 HR) - Coming off a solid defensive year and returning the 2nd Base Golden Glove to it's rightful home in Chicago, a lot may be asked of Darwin as far as base running to help produce some small ball offense.

Shortstop: Starlin "Defacto All Star" Castro (.283 BA/14 HR) - Slowly showing some more maturity, Castro is now considered a seasoned veteran on this infant team of infielders.

Third Base: Luis "What happened to Ian" Valbuena (.219 BA/4 HR) - Earning a fair amount of starting time last year with Stewart suffering from leg issues, Luis starts this year... earning starting time while Ian nurses a leg injury.

Catcher: Welington "There is only one 'L' in Welington" Castillo (.265 BA/5 HR) - He's had some great offensive years in the minors, and his defense has been improving. With Soto gone the Cubs are expecting a lot from this 26 year old.

Left Field: Alfonso "1/3rd of the payroll" Soriano (.262 BA/32 HR) - He's been averaging 4 steals a year the last few years, but that's ok cause he was healthy pretty much all of last year. Waitaminute...

Center Field: David "d.Jesus" DeJesus (.263 BA/9 HR) - He hasn't been an everyday center fielder since '07. But the 33 year old is preferred over the 'not quite ready for the bigs' Brett Jackson. This may, probably will, almost certainly will change near the trade deadline, I'm just saying.

Right Field: Scott "Please stay Healthy" Hairston (.263 BA/20 HR) - He'll probably loose a lot of playing time to veteran and already named opening day starter Nate Schierholtz, but Scott is the best pick up we made as far as position players this off season. We really need him to take swings in the 5 spot in my mind to offer some protection to Anthony and Alfonso.

It was a rough off season, we aren't in a position to pick up a huge free agent since we have little to surround them with. I'm very confused though why we picked up a couple decent outfielders while letting LaHair and Campana walk away, and then picked up one new infielder, especially with so many question marks around third base. We grabbed Lillibridge, we can plug a whole defensively just about anywhere, but that's it. I have no idea what would happen if any of our infielders went down at this point. Vitters is a distant possibility to free up Valbuena to move over somewhere. I'm not being blown away by anyone in spring training. Baez needs a couple years yet. If we would have grabbed/held on to a Scott Moore or someone like him this off season I'd feel a little better about not completely shooting ourselves in the foot as far as infield depth.

I also want to make one more point about letting Campana go, this was the stupidest move the Cubs have made since Maddux for that other guy. We are gearing to be a small ball team with DeJesus, Castro, and Barney having the best chances of crossing the plate, so why on earth did we get rid of a guy who was built to pinch run in the 7th inning. He could have racked up 50 stolen bases just from doing that 5 times a week. I think this move in itself cost the team 40+ runs and probably a dozen wins this year. Nothing but love for him in Arizona now.


When Baker had to leave his first spring training start after recording only one out and three earned runs, I started to get that feeling that things where not going as planned. Here is who was have to fill out the opening five rotation spots;

Jeff "The Shark" Samardjiza (9-13/3.81 ERA) - Showing some great strides in improvement last year as a starter, but a far cry from an Ace. The Cubs need him to smooth out the edges and pitch to his potential.

Edwin "The Big Pick-Up" Jackson (10-11/4.03 ERA) - I'm always a little Leary of players that need more then one hand to go through the teams they've played on <cough...Milton...cough...Bradley...cough>. Excuse me. If you recall though, I suggested this pick up back in October. Just try re-reading this rotation without him in it.

Travis "Not Kerry" Wood (6-13/4.27 ERA) - We gave up a lot with left handed specialist Sean Marshall and we're still waiting to get a return on that trade. He is looking pretty good so far this spring training, so here's hoping.

Scott "Also Recovering from Injury" Feldman (6-11/5.09 ERA) - After the '09 season, the sky seemed the limit for 17-8 Feldman. But, since then he has stumbled and battled injury. $6 Million seems a bit steep for the question marks surrounding this guy, but with so much talent on the DL, Cubs need to this to turn out to be a smart pickup.

Carlos "The .500 Pitcher" Villanueva (7-7/4.16 ERA) - That's right, the guy who got moved into the 5 spot after two key injuries is the only person standing on the bump who didn't have a loosing line last season.

It could have been worse, we even have Casey Coleman who is looking great in spring training should one more guy go down to injury. We knew we had a lot of question marks so we went out and grabbed more pitchers then we should have needed to get into the scenario we find ourselves. Hopfully Garza and/or Baker bounce back quick and gives up options for the year.

We do, fortunately, have a decent bullpen forming, Hoping that Marmol earns his salary, Fujikawa is as good as advertised and keeps his impressive line going past spring training. Camp is back, Russell is looking good. And a few other guys are looking good in limited action that could round out a decent list of options. Of course, the pessimist in me reminds you that if out starters have trouble getting through 6 or even 5 innings    then you need about 8 awesome arms in the bullpen to make up for it.

All in all, the expectations have to be pretty low for the 2013 season. We're still waiting for the players of tomorrow to grow up while hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with high risk free agents. Who knows, maybe we have the next Mike Trout in the wings and our rotation puts up career numbers... OR.... The Cubs will fight and flail to avoid another 100 loss season, will trade anyone with value (DeJesus, Jackson, Soriano) and we'll try again next year. 

But, I recall again, the great words of Eddie Vedder, 

...Someday we'll go all the way.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pop Stars and Politics

Earlier this week, Harrison Ford went to Washington not as an actor, but as a pilot, imagine my disappointment when the Millennium Falcon did not crash through the capitol dome and with Chewbacca grabbing Nancy Pelosi like a wookie rag doll. I decided to do a little digging and find some other celebs who've donned the activist cap for their cause.

Lady Gaga went to Washington to have a meeting at the White House about bullying. Imagine the awkwardness when she appeared wearing massive amounts of red makeup and the secret service thought she allowed herself to be beaten to prove a point. A point that naturally nobody got but immediately wanted to download on iTunes.

Bob Barker was denied access to the congressional hearing for talks about the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act after refusing to surrender his collection of rubber bands and sickles.

Adrian Grenier was in D.C. recently to promote Eco-Friendly living, most attendees left the discussion with a burning desire to buy styrofoam cups and leave their cars idling for no reason. The remaining audience members where still trying to figure out how this guy has a career playing a celebrity on TV.

Julia Roberts met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss clean cook stoves. That's right, cook stoves. I'm sure there is some horribly sexist joke to be made here but danged if I could come up with it.

Jessica Alba's visit to the capitol to discuss child safety was frequently interrupted by questions from the audience concerning where her babies come from.

Angelina Jolie is well known for raising awareness for people displaced around the world by war, ethnic cleansing, and herself.

Matthew Perry was hesitant to give testimony when he realized that he was speaking for the need to fund U.S. drug courts.

Celebrities can assist in bringing a lot of attention to an issue, and lets face it, congressmen will use just about any excuse to rub shoulders with celebs. Just look at Stephen Colbert's visit about migrant labor. The fanfare in this case obviously overshadowed any good that could come from public awareness of this topic, and it was pretty obvious that Mr. Colbert wanted the press and that someone in congress just wanted an autograph.

So why not let these appearances be served up with some Cheese, let's get William Shatner to discuss the need for space exploration, the Baha Men can discuss the need for keeping stray dogs locked up, Betty White can lecture congress on the need to raise the retirement age for social security, we could even get Chris Brown to discuss domestic violence. After all, if not for celebrities, who would I be poking fun of right now?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Government would never steal your money...

Imagine you wake up one weekend morning. You get in your car, needing to get to the store to grab a few things, Cheerios, batteries for the remote, some new underwear, the usual. You stop at the gas station and stick your debit card into the pump. 'Declined' the display reads. Huh, that's odd, I know I got plenty of cash in the bank. You disregard it and swipe the credit card instead. Then as the grocery store the same thing happens. Now you are a little bit worried and embarrassed. You run to the ATM to try and get some more info, and your receipt statement says;

'Your account has been frozen by order of the U.S. Government'

But it doesn't stop there. Everyone's money is on lock down, because the government needs as much of it in the banks as possible for a one time 'tax' on everyone's savings. as much as 10%!

Don't think this nightmare could ever happen? It's happening right now to people in Cyprus.

President Anastassiades
Last weekend, Euro-zone finance ministers, in response to a large chunk of change lost from holdings in Greece prior ro their economic implosion, had the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Cypriot government agree on a bailout package for Cyprus, comprising 10 billion euro contribution from Europe and the IMF combine and an approximately 5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) euro contribution from depositors in the Cyprus banking system. The contribution from the banking system is to come through a 6.75% one-off tax on deposits below 100,000 euros ($130,000) and 9.9% taxation on deposits at or above 100,000 euros.

Anastassiades, who just assumed the presidency March 1, urged Cypriot lawmakers to approve the levy in a vote Monday. But he also said he was working to amend "in the next hours to limit the effect on small depositors " The country is still waiting to see what is meant by "small depositors."

people trying to save their money
The government has since shut down electronic transfers and some reports have said that the ATMs in Cyprus have had all their cash drained. President Anastassiades went on national television today to calm people who are emptying their accounts of cash. He even promised revenues from natural gas reserves to entice people to keep their money in Cypriot banks for the next two years. The government has closed banks through Tuesday to prevent mass withdrawals. It will not surprise me if people in Greece, Spain and other weak economic Euro Zone countries will start moving Euros to stronger countries such as Germany and the UK. If you see governments start to impose limits on capital movement I would expect those countries interest rates to rise.

We have about $6 trillion in savings accounts in the US. You don't think a one time shot of 10% of that is tempting prize for a government that spends like a alcoholic in a liqueur store.

Or what about IRA's? There is about the same amount in the countries retirement savings as there is in national debt. 

Don't think the government would simply take your money on the promise to pay you back, well, first of all, I'd have you research what social security is, and then I'd invite you to learn about something that's already been proposed at the federal level, called Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRA's)

In 2008, presidential candidate Obama first proposed a prototype nationalized GRA plan. In his 2010 State of the Union address he called for an “effort to increase retirement savings by requiring all businesses to offer automatic IRA accounts,” claiming such a government guaranteed plan would let employees automatically enroll in direct-deposit retirement accounts and allow them to expand matching tax credits.

It would not be a far stretch to 'offer' the following plan to the masses; simply hand over all your retirement savings, subject yourself to a new tax, and the government will take care of you when you get old. Basically a massive expansion of Social Security with the promise to obtain large amounts of capital now to help service the debt. It may be too good a deal for our government to pass up. Like a person breaking their IRA to pay off the credit card trying to save money on interest.

The more interesting question is how much coverage a country basically stealing your money gets in the media. I'm sure what is happening to this European democracy, that fell on hard times, is of little interest, since something like that could never happen here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cause and Effect: NYC Bans

Ever wonder why people who believe in global warming would buy beach front property? Or why we hand out federal grant money to people to study ways to cut federal spending? Or why 24 hour stores have locks on the doors? Perhaps it's the same logic as to why a New York City mayor that would put a ban on car idling, and then also ban trans fats. Are you a little confused? Let me explain.

Back in 2008, the NYC Health Department fully implemented a ban on trans fat at all restaurants within the city limits (with the exception of foods served in the manufacturer's original packaging, such as crackers). The new rule has had a big impact on everyone (except Mayor Bloomberg, who got caught exploiting the loophole with trans fat Cheez-Its). New research shows the regulation had the desired effect, banishing a not-insignificant amount of trans fat from New Yorkers' hearts, but it's also had an impact worldwide.

New York City restaurants and Big food companies are squeezing trans fats out of products from Oreos to Cheetos and rushing to find palatable substitute oils. Even Crisco has been reformulated so it's trans-fat free. Fast-food chains such as Wendy's and McDonald's have scrambled to figure out ways to cook fries without trans fats. Not only in New York but getting ahead of the curb with it's restaurants nationally, in many cases, trans fats simply are being replaced with other oils, usually ones that are only slightly better for you. The primary solution that these chains and producers have found? Palm oil.

Its properties make it highly versatile in the food and chemical industries. It has a high melting point, making it smooth and easy to spread. Palm oil is contained in thousands of supermarket products. In fact, more than 90 percent of the palm oil produced is used to manufacture food products, cosmetics, detergents and candles. Bio-diesels are on the rise, but I digress.

Worldwide demand for palm oil has increased sharply over the last few years. With 54 million tons in 2011, doubling from 2000, it is the most widely produced vegetable oil worldwide. It has the highest yield of any oil crop and is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce and refine.

What is the problem here, a slightly healthier food that works basically the same way? Sounds like pretty decent trade off, doesn't it? What was I trying to say when I pointed out the car idling in my first paragraph?

The demand has gotten too high, the industry can't keep up. The solution? Make more room to produce more palms. Nearly 90 percent of global palm oil production was in Malaysia and Indonesia in 2010. Although much of this production took place on land long ago established for agriculture, some of it occurred in areas that were newly cleared specifically for oil palm cultivation. In fact more than half of plantations established since 1990 in those two countries has occurred at the expense of natural forest. This expansion has resulted in a decline of almost half the natural forest in Malaysia and Indonesia, roughly 60 million hectares have been destroyed between Malaysia and Indonesia, roughly the land area of the states of Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota.


And the problem is growing, now countries like Columbia and Nigeria are cashing in on the latest craze, both rich with peat swamps, forests, and jungles, that are cleared out, increasing their rates of deforestation to account for this massive shift that is being spurred by New York and other major cities.

Less forests, less carbon getting filtered out of the air naturally, it may be that Mayor Bloomberg must have anticipated this minor little side effect of eliminating trans fats from our diet, that is why he passed the car idling ban, to reduce his carbon footprint. Oh wait, that's right...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What Do They Have in Common?

Remember all the fun late night comics had over the Senator from Idaho who did a little toe tap in a Twin City restroom and was laughed out of office. Well get this, he's back in hot water for using campaign funds to cover his more then $200,000 defense fee. His lawyers argued that using campaign money for a legal defense over his 2007 arrest was proper because, wait for it, he was arrested while on official business. Not to be confused with getting his business done, officially.

Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, was arrested during a sting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Craig used a bathroom there during a layover, when an undercover officer said Craig sexually solicited him by tapping his foot. Craig had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor but after his case became public he tried to renege. Now, the Federal Elections Commission is suing him for using more than $216,000 in campaign money for that legal fight.

The Judge overseeing the suit, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, reminded Craig of his prior guilty plea. Referring to his statement 'That had no connection to his duties, other than being in an airport,' and citing a letter that was written by Craig and his lawyers to the Senate Ethics Committee in 2007 describing Craig's arrest and conviction as 'purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties.'

Compare this case to others like former Democratic California Rep. Gary Condit, who used more than $100,000 in campaign funds for attorneys during a 2001 police investigation into missing intern Chandra Levy. New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel used more than $300,000 from his political action committee to pay attorneys during a 2009-2010 House ethics investigation. Former Florida Republican Rep. Tom Feeney used more than $100,000 in campaign funds to pay attorneys during a 2007 ethics investigation.

Republicans soliciting sex? Democrats skipping out on paying taxes? The only thing these politicians seem to be able to agree on is that they hate paying lawyers out of their own pocket. A sentiment that I can wholly get behind, especially when you consider that there are far more lawyers then any other profession in congress.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Study in Absurdity

We have an issue in this country, and I think most people would agree with me on this, that people just generally don't know that much about money. It doesn't matter if it's the ability to balance a checkbook or how best to manage a retirement fund, people just struggle to wrap their brains around what they are supposed to do in today's money market.

No, I'm not going to try and sell you gold now, do you read this blog? Do whatever you want with your money, I don't care. What I wanted to talk about is a hilarious hypocrisy in how we use our federal dollars when it comes to addressing the aforementioned issue. Let's put on our imagination caps for a moment, who is the best, by which of course I mean worse, entity to try and educate the general public on how they should manage their money? If you said the same entity that has borrowed more money then they could ever hope to repay in their lifetime, then you would be correct.

The federal government is worried that you, yes you, don't know what to do with your hard earned money. The same government that takes 2 percent more of your money through a payroll tax increase and then wails louder then a kid who's binky was taken away when it had to tighten it's belt by basically the same amount.

Take a look at a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concerning the goals for an initiative called 'National Strategy for Financial Literacy'. Who's goal, simply stated, is to educate the general populous on how to manage their money;

Recommendation: To help ensure that the National Strategy for Financial Literacy serves its goal of improving the nation's financial literacy and education, the Secretary of the Treasury, in concert with other agency representatives of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, should incorporate into the national strategy clear, specific goals and performance measures that would serve as indicators of the nation's progress in improving financial literacy and benchmarks for what the Commission sets out to achieve.
Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury
Status: Closed - Not Implemented
Comments: The Financial Literacy and Education Commission released a new strategy in 2011 and subsequently has produced an accompanying implementation plan (still in draft). The strategy and plan do not include the types of goals, performance and benchmarks that we recommended.

That's right, with over 50 organizations and programs lending their know how towards educating the general public on how to manage money, it was recommended that take some time to actually decide how and if we are accomplishing anything, an apparently major shift in the status quo of just doing something without worrying about those pesky things like results and effect. Note that this recommendation was over 7 years after the program was started back in 2003. They poo poo'ed the recommendation saying that their goals would be changing really soon anyway, not to anything that it was recommended them to be, and we haven't actually published them yet. Kind of sounds like a 'yeah, we'll get back to you on that one' comment.

Now, let's look at a senate hearing about this project conducted in 2011, discussing these recommendations. Specifically the line of questioning from Senator Johnson (R-WI) to the head of the GAO, Mr. Dodaro. I'll paraphrase a little here;

Senator Johnson: So who is in charge of this program, now 7 years since it started?
Dodaro: I dunno, I guess that guy over there. (Points to a group of 20 agencies,a guy from treasury points to himself and mouths "Me?")
Johnson: How much have we spent on this program?
Dodaro: I dunno.
Johnson: Can you guess? Millions, Billions?
Dodaro: No, I really wouldn't feel comfortable guessing.
Johnson: Well, we've been doing this for several years, what have we accomplished?
Dodaro: Glad you asked! We have a website! It's very pretty.
Johnson: So 7 years in, and we still haven't even really established what you guys are supposed to be doing?
Dodaro: Did you not just hear me say 'website'?

So there you go folks. Someone, we don't really know who, spent god knows how much money to put together a website with no real goal or way of measuring if they are being successful so that they can educate you on how to manage your money. What a country!

Don't stop reading now folks, The final kick in the pants to this story is that in 2012, someone decided that their tactics and priorities, whatever they where, where old and tired, so they appointed a committee to look into this whole thing. Not so much as to take a step back and see how silly they look, heavens no, but rather to forge a path forward. There conclusion? Well, on top of once again stating that they really need to say what it is that they do, they concluded that they are failing their "objectives" on several fronts, then they continue a narrative that we've heard before, "Overall, participants agreed that additional funding is needed to address data gaps presented by these priorities."

No real definition, no idea how well we're doing it, so please give us some more money so that we can continue the good fight.

By the way, that really neat website can be viewed here. We don't know how much taxpayers spent on it, so you better look at it and try and get your money's worth.

Friday, March 1, 2013


This is getting silly, but here we go again...

In a press conference today, Obama was going on about the horrors that lye in wait to steal food out of your mouth and the TP from your bathroom as the sequester begins it's reign of terror. He once again blamed republicans for all the grief and all the damage that it will cause, stating "They [republicans] have allowed these cuts to happen, because they have refused to budge on closing a single wasteful loop hole to reduce the deficit."  - President Obama, 3/1/2013

Had I still had food in my mouth, I would have spit it out as I nearly fell off my TP-less toilet when I heard this. Sure the term wasn't labeled 'wasteful' when Mitt Romney proposed this very idea as part of a tax reform idea that was 'defeated' back in November, but when John Boehner tried to submit a plan to the White house in December to avoid raising taxes, like we just did as part of the Fiscal Cliff Deal. I believe the words used at the time where "a step backwards" and "not serious". On top of that, to steal a page from the White House playbook, was this not an idea submitted by Bowles in the Bowles-Simpson plan as a way to reduce the deficit. A Democrat in a committee created by... wait for it... the President?

On top of that, while fielding questions, he just kept on making stuff up, he mentions that Custodial staff at the capitol have already been given a pay reduction, well GUESS WHAT! There is a document sent to the employees that work at the capitol, doing things like taking out the garbage and sweeping the floors. Turns out, that they saw these coming a mile away and planned and prepared for it. Kudos to the managers on the Hill for having no faith that their bosses wouldn't figure out anything to help them out.

This, however, does not change one little fact, that this President is lying through his teeth, he can't figure out what story to sell us, he's running low on ways to keep blaming the right for why nothing there is working. I'm just so frustrated that the guy who was hired to lead is instead taking cheep shots and so blatantly misleading. Is he that confident that he won't be called out on this? Does he know he has a majority of people in his corner no matter what? Is the 47% Romney talked about finally at 51%?

My head hurts, I need a nap. Wake me when it's over.

Press Conference from 3/1/2013