Monday, September 26, 2011

Tom Seaver

This afternoon I had the opportunity to go to an informational reception for the Baseball Hall of Fame.     Hall of Famer Tom Seaver spent about an hour talking about his career and answering questions.

First to Cooperstown.  We were there in 2008.  We happened to be there on Induction Weekend and had the chance to see and talk with a couple of great ball players.  It is a bit hard to get to but well worth the trip.   Interesting exhibits and a town with a lot of other attractions.

Seaver was a Trojan when Rod Dedeaux coached the team.  He was on the 1969 Mets team and had a .286 lifetime ERA.  He was funny and had a lot of good stories.  

But when they got to questions he was asked whether the following four players should be elected into the Hall of Fame: Gill Hodges, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and Roger Maris.   Seaver commented that Hodges, based on his playing and coaching career, deserved to be there.  Hodges started as a catcher but then was moved to first because Campy became the key Dodger catcher.  He managed the Mets in 1969. From his perspective Rose, because he bet on baseball, should never be in the Hall of Fame - the fact that Rose claimed he never bet against his own team is irrelevant.   He also said Bonds should not be there based on his use of steroids.    He made an interesting point in suggesting that it was fine to steal signals but the use of chemicals was inappropriate.   Finally, he said Maris did not deserve to be there, in spite of his 61 home run - he had a lifetime batting average of .260 and only 1325 hits (275 home runs).   That sounds about right to me.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A question raised by an NPR Segment - is Compromise the Lubricant of Democracy?

This morning NPR had a segment with Bob Bennett and Byron Dorgan - Dorgan retired from the US Senate after a long and distinguished career but at least with the partial recognition (which NPR appropriately failed to mention) that it was unlikely he could win another term.  Bennett was defeated for re-election in Utah because the participants in the caucus system thought he was not GOP enough.  In the piece it was described that some people thought he was thrown out because he dared to consider compromise on the healthcare bill.  That is a gross over-simplification of what actually happened.

The NPR piece tried to paint the picture that the Senate was changing and that it was harder to get compromise because it was less possible to reach across party lines.   Anyone who watches the process understands that to be true.   Bennett - commented the that "Compromise is the lubricant of democracy"   The more I thought about that the more concerned I grew.

Bennett argued that he and (former) Senator Chris Dodd (of the special deals for mortgages fame) forged the TARP agreement when the financial markets had precipitously declined by a trillion dollars.   I agree that Bennett and Dodd helped to formulate the TARP.    The financial markets were in fundamental disarray(in part because of policies developed in Congress) and it is unclear whether adoption of TARP aided or slowed the process of recovery.  Conventional Washington wisdom of both the problem and possible solutions may or may not have been clear enough or sufficiently broad enough to serve the needs of the nation.

Bennett lost because he had lost touch with his constituents.  He (like Dorgan) settled not back in his home state but it DC.  So while I believe democrats and republicans should learn how to speak to each other more effectively - I am also convinced that spending a long career in DC may dull one's sense about the range and breadth of alternatives to solve our nation's challenges.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The President's Speech

Yesterday's speech seemed to have been more for the 2012 electoral cycle than for making substantive policy.   The deficit "reduction(s)" proposed by the President are things that not even some democrats would support.   I am sure that the White House has decided that the best way to win re-election is to try to demonize the GOP as all "Tea-Partiers" - and if you read polls on Congress - it gets single digit in positives.   But the folly of that is the trend line on independents.  The President has begun to lose independents in big numbers.

Even worse than the politics was the substance.  The AP put out a fact check on the President's speech on the Buffett provision and found it to be seriously lacking.

If that is Mr. Obama's definition of "leadership" then he deserves to be a one term president.  I guess the comparison to Jimmy Carter (who was arguably the worst president of the 20th century) is a bit mild.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pundits verus Public Shills

When Warren Buffett first started to make his claims about who pays taxes in the US I did a post which questioned whether the numbers he was using were in any way correct.   Mark Perry, an economist in DC, published the following table on his blog Carpe Diem which brings into questions Mr. Buffett's claims by using IRS data.

Buffett recently made a deal with Bank of America to create some special stock for his investment which will have an effective tax rate of 10.5% - so clearly his expertise has been in manipulating the tax system.  A lot of the success that Buffett's company has made over the time that I was a shareholder (I sold my A stock when it went to $123,000 per share) has been based on tax strategies which avoid the punitive taxation of estates before the 2001 Tax Act.

One other comment here.  According to calculations from IRS data if you established a tax rate of 100% (Take all their income) for people earning over $1 million you would yield only about half of the current deficit.

I have one other chart which tracks BRKA for the last couple of months as Buffett has made these claims.

Perhaps Buffett is a better investor than public pundit.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The End of the Season

Last night's final game in the PCL Championships summed up a lot about the Rivercats season.   Here are the ways:

1) Errors - Two errors were very costly.  The Cats were very error prone this season.  I have not seen a total but I bet we were near the top.
2) Hitting - Last night we got 10 hits but we also left 10 men on base.   We were below the middle of the pack on hitting. (with a .283 average)  The first five in the league were in quirky ballparks but then came Round Rock and Omaha.   That extra .006 showed in each of the games with Omaha.   We were second in home runs but an awful lot of those were single HRs.
3) Pitching - We had either the best or one of the best pitching staffs in the league but in the playoffs our best guys were not able to hold on.  Omaha (for the season) actually generated only a slightly higher ERA and fewer hits.  We were about average in runs scored against us (in the 690 range).  We were at the top with strikeouts.  But in five game series like the championships all that season stuff makes little difference.  We were the least generous on WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched - at 1.39).
4) Home and Away - Our season record on home and away games was remarkable.  We were 10 games over at home but 22 over .500 on the road.  Yet in the playoffs we lost all five games on the road.
5) Attendance was slightly down this season at just over 600,000 but compared to the early years, it was way down.  Still we were second, behind Round Rock.
We ended up Pacific Conference Champs (and for the tenth time in eleven years the Southern Division Champs). 2009 is the only other year where we won the Conference but lost the PCL.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More on the Season

The Cats won a superb game on Sunday against the Reno Aces and went off to Omaha for the PCL series against the Atlantic Division title holders - the Omaha Stormchasers.   As I commented in an earlier post - Omaha swept us in the only series we played against them this season.  This is a five game playoff so every game counts.   In the first game we kept it close in score until Omaha picked up a run in the seventh.  But they outhit us 9-3.  Godfrey had one strikeout to Mendoza's 8 but the score looked close.

Last night we came out booming with three runs in the first with a Cardenas home run.  They added 1 each in the first and second and then 5 in the third.  And that was about it.  We added 1 more run in the sixth - but they added 2 in the sixth and 3 each in the seventh and eighth.  They collected 18 hits to our 9.

What that means is we come back to Raley field needing to do what we did last weekend with Reno - win every game.  Total attendance for both games was a bit over 8000 - I guess it is time to break out the thundersticks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Cats Come Back

Coming into today's final game there were a lot of things to worry about.  The Rivercats record on 5th game playoffs was not stunning.   We looked very good in Saturday night's game but wondered whether the team could sustain the energy on this third game at home.  Our home record during the regular season was much worse than our away - and yet we had dropped both games to Reno on their home turf.  But after the Aces scored first in the second with 2 - we began to build with 5 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 3 in the sixth and 3 in the seventh.   Lenny DiNardo gave seven strong innings of pitching with 3 hits, 4 strikeouts and 1 walk.  We had good hitting performance through the middle of the lineup with Josh Donaldson picking up 4 of the 12.

Tuesday they start with the Omaha Stormchasers, who had the worst divisional record in the PCL with 79 wins.  But in the four games they played the Cats they swept us.

                                                            (Note - iPhone Video)
This season, as I mentioned in an earlier post, this team has heart.   When they come to play, as they did in the last three games against Reno, they win.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How do you spend a day of Remembrance?

Sacramento held a 5K walk and run today to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.   It got about 3000 participants.    At the end of the race finishers were given a small flag to affix to the name of one of the victims of that 9/11.  It was solemn without being maudlin.   I thought most of the coverage on NPR today was not at all helpful.  It ranged between a series of replays of that terrible day with some interviews of relatives of people who perished.  But I also saw clips of the Fox and CNN coverage and it was no better.  Not sure how many times I heard the phrase - it seems like just yesterday - but it was a lot.   What got me about the Run/Walk was that it brought a group of locals together for something that was both meaningful and helpful to the community (funds from the race went to first responders).

It was a beautiful day - slightly cool in the morning and quite comfortable most of the day with a nice breeze.  The course was fun - winding through old Sacramento and then down to Miller Park.  After the race Capitol Mall was set up with food booths (the best by far was Burgess Brothers Burgers) and a series of information setups on things like fire safety.

Policy Folly without a Clue

The Bee had an article this morning which was remarkable, if for nothing else than its disconnectedness.  The opening paragraph stated "Their homes are gone, their credit is shot and their rent is often more expensive than a mortgage payment."  It then went on to suggest that the downturn caused by the mortgage meltdown weighed more heavily on African Americans and Hispanics.  The article argued that many lower income borrowers were "forced" into the higher risk loans because that was all they could afford.

What was absurd about the article is that the writers did not seem to have a clue that public policy designed to assist actually worsened the problem.  The Community Reinvestment Act; the demands of members like Barney Frank for more lending to low income communities and the pressure on Fannie and Freddie to increase their leverage - all contributed to the loan bubble that put these borrowers even more behind the eight ball.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections on 9/11 Ten Years After

I was in Mexico City on 9/11 and teaching at AnĂ¡huac Mexico Sur, which I had done for several years.  I taught a short course (two weeks) on Technology and Globalization.  The University offered adjuncts a house in Coyoacan.   Each morning I would go out to run in the park where the bullfighters ran.  The park has a dirt track and each morning young and old trek around the space which is probably a half mile in circumference.

I came back to the house to get ready to go to the University and saw the housekeeper looking at TV intently.  One of the normal routines at the time was to watch a newscaster who wore a clown's nose and funny hair and basically made fun of the news.  (John Daily with funny hair and in Spanish)   But this was clearly different.   I walked into the room and saw an image of plane #2 going into the second tower.  We had a limited discussion because both of us were simply agape.  Then the pictures of the Pentagon began to appear and I kept asking is this real or a simulation?  The pictures of plane #2 and then the Pentagon kept repeating with cutaways to grim faced newscasters blathering the same banalities they had said a few minutes ago.

I arrived at the  University by about 10 AM and found it in a high state of activity.  The media center was downloading tons of video.  Classes were cancelled.  Within about an hour, the university had organized a mass.  My good friend the rector gave a homily that I will never forget; both for its brevity but also its clarity.  The substance of it was that a) this was real - not some video game and b) that the world does indeed have evil in it.  The motto of the university is "vanquish evil with good."

I am not sure what I did the rest of the day.  I think I had lunch and then returned to campus but I may have stayed on campus. I know I kept busy.  I called my family and had a short but good talk with my daughter who was a bit more than a year out of college.   But by about 8 PM we left campus for dinner at a small pasta restaurant.   The place had about 20 tables and two TVs.   It was mostly empty.  The news on both TVs was repeating the images we had seen all day with the newscasters repeated the same tired phrases.  After about 20 minutes of seeing the same thing repeat (which I had seen several hundred times before) one waiter walked over and turned off both TVs.  There were only about four tables occupied but all of us cheered for that act.

In 1997, I had noticed the same thing about TV news while coming back from living in Oaxaca.  I was in the Red Carpet room waiting for a flight with my daughter and her friend and CNN kept repeating the same tired phrases about the death of Princess Diana.  Newscasters had the same game face on and also the same repeated images.

On the weekend, I went with a friend (who was then a young dean but is now a Rector of a University) to Veracruz for Mexican Independence Day.  We went out to dinner heard the President's traditional Grito.   We then went to a disco (boy do I love discos- NOT) and stayed until five in the morning.   As we got back into the car we realized that we did not know the way back to the hotel.  My friend said we'll simply ask someone to give us directions.   Three guys were on the street - one with a bottle of Johnny Walker Red stuck in his belt.  My friend asked them directions and they said they would take us back to the hotel.   If you asked three strangers to do that in Mexico City you would be in big trouble but in a small town like Xalapa it was not a problem.   My suspicion is that our three new buddies probably did not have 100 pesos among them.

We got back to the hotel and one of the three guys looked at me and asked if I was an American.  When I replied in the affirmative - he said the tragedy that happened on 9/11 did not happen to you.   I must have looked a bit quizzical or angry but he then followed up with - "not to you but the whole world. "  I began to realize the dimensions of the events on 9/11.  We then sat down at the taco stand in front of the hotel and had tacos and talked about life - with my limited Spanish.   Although it was offered several times, I never did take a plug out of the Johnny Walker.

At the end of my course I flew back to California.   I had called United and they said I needed to be at the airport 3 hours before my flight.  I dutifully arrived at the airport at 3:30 AM.   The ticket counter was not open and the only people in the airport were an elderly couple that was going to visit their son in LA.   We waited around until about 5:45 and then the United people showed up.  I guess the United people on the phone had not been informed of the new policy.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Conflict of Visions - UPDATED

One of the most compelling books by Thomas Sowell was one called a Conflict of Visions.  In it the economist argued that liberals and conservatives use the same words but do not mean the same things when they use them.   Liberals describe justice or equality in syntactic notions that are substantially different from the same words when they are used by conservatives.

My sister in law, who is a frequent poster to Facebook - began a thread a couple of days ago asking why the private sector had not picked up the slack created by drops in jobs in the public sector.   As the thread evolved I got into a discussion with a friend of my sister in law's named Jacob.   We eventually got into a discussion about whether (as the National Priorities Project - which is a pretty left of center advocacy group) the cost of military expenditures (past, present and future) amounted to 60% of the budget - NPP has a chart which purports to show that.   Jacob argues passionately that the NPP figures are correct.  And indeed, in one sense the NPP  could be accurate.   But like many public policy arguments today - the statistical accuracy is not helpful to understanding the budget challenge we face.

To be fair, Jacob claimed that he is not an Obama supporter and that he is concerned about many of the same things that I am concerned about in our current discussions - namely I think both of us are concerned about the re-evolution of mercantilist schemes which allows interests to lobby to get advantages they have not been able to secure in the marketplace.  Jacob rightly argues (and I agree) that this is not a problem with just the current administration and goes back to (at least) the Bush administration (we both might argue well before W).

What interested me as I thought about his comments was the way we are looking at the same issue.   The chart at the left is how I look at the issue of government spending.  I am (and have been for several years) concerned that government is taking an increasing share of the fisc.  That has the potential to crowd out private sector spending - a partial response to the original post made by my sister in law.   For at least a decade we took in about 18-20% of GDP and spent a couple of points more - then (beginning at the end of Bush but clearly during Obama's tenure) we escalated the percentage of GDP dedicated to the federal government and concurrently did not increase taxes (which I believe would have devastated the economy).   All that spending (which the chart clearly shows went to two areas - interest expense and funding entitlements.   If you look at the chart the worry comes not from "all other spending" but from things like Medicare.  The NPP analysis would lay the problem on military (past, present and future) spending - but as the chart suggests - the cause is something different.   I can see the other side - but from my view the problem comes not from military spending but from other sources.   Until we begin to acknowledge that entitlements are the problem we need to solve, the long term trend for budget deficits will not be reversed.    I am not sure what the right percentage of GDP should be dedicated to the military and I am even willing to concede that some of our military spending in the last decade was almost mercantilist like.  But I still worry about those entitlements and think that is a bigger problem.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Rivercats 2011 season

The last game of the regular season was this afternoon where the Cats dropped an extra inning game - 6-5 in the bottom of the 10th. to Colorado Springs at their quirky ballpark.  Here are some general comments on the season:

Play – The Cats ended up winning 88 games in the regular season (2 less than their best record).  Of those, 47 were on the road.   They won 7 of 11 extra inning games.  This was a season of streaks.  So before their last regular season game they had established a 10 game winning streak (a record) but earlier in the season they set a new record for consecutive losses (9).   They are below the median in hitting stats near the top in pitching.  They allowed the fewest runs (1271) and amassed an ERA of 4.20.  They also had the highest number of Ks. Round Rock allowed almost 200 more hits and had an ERA that was almost 70 points higher.

The real story here is the heart of the club.  For a good part of the season they showed great heart as a team - even in today's loss, they were never out of the contest. 

Playoff Matchups – We’ve done pretty well against Reno this season with a 9-6 record.  Our away record with them is 4-3.  There were two games rained out – so for some reason we were scheduled to play 17 games against them.  The last time we played Reno was at the end of July, at home where we dominated them. In runs scored against Reno at home we outscored them 43-41 and in away games outscored them 57-54. We played one series against Round Rock which we lost 1-3.   That was in mid-August. We got 38 hits for the series but could not convert those into runs.  We were outscored in the series 25-14.  

There are other parts to a baseball experience so here are some comments on the non-game issues:

Season Ticker Holder Benefits – These remain pretty good.  This year they gave you an electronic card with $72 credit for each seat, much better than the Cats cash for the last few years.  There were a series of events (which unfortunately we only got to one) which looked fun.   Fan appreciation night was sort of a bust.  In previous years there were more goodies – that could be a sign of the times.

Food – Part of the ballpark experience is the food and the Rivercats had some advances this year.   No, the Bacon-Double-Cheeseburger on a Donut was not a favorite but several new items were.  There was a baked potato dog.  There were three new kinds of “gourmet” hamburgers.  And there was a vegeburger which was excellent.   They also introduced souvenir cups which cost $6 but then can be used for the rest of the season for a huge soda for $3.  Value for the money was there.

Staffing was a bit less than last year.  So for example, the stand that sold the baked potato dog was only open on big nights.

Parking – The range of parking options at the field is huge and varied – ranging in price from $7-10.   At the beginning of the season roads were torn up so they allowed you to park free for the first home series.  That was a nice touch.

Attendance – For most of the season it looked a bit down.  In mid June attendance was averaging 7177, which would mean about 520,000 for the year which is about 100,000 fewer fans than previous years and 300-400,000 from the highs of several years ago.

Now on to the first two games of the playoffs which start in Reno on Wednesday.   We come back to Sacramento on Friday.  Same cycle runs for the winners of the Divisional Championships in the following week.