Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Socialist Meddling

Why did stocks drop sharply yesterday? A pullback after an improbable six week advance? The immediate driver was the leak over the weekend that the Treasury was considering exchanging its preferred equity in US banks into common equity AND SecTreas' Geithner's comment that health of individual banks may not be the SOLE criterion for repayment of TARP money.

Healthy banks, some of whom had TARP money forced on them for the sake of the overall financial system last fall, want to pay it back as quickly as possible to get the government of their boardrooms. Goldman, Sachs and JPMorgan are at the head of the pack.

The Obama Administration likes to meddle and would like to do indefinitely. There's been a largely unspoken fear that healthy banks would not be permitted to pay TARP back. An excuse that it would be better for the financial system was likely or perhaps even more fearfully a diktat that said no one would be allowed to pay it back until all the banks can pay it back to assure a level playing field. Citigroup and Bank of America will take YEARS to pay it back.

If the House's 90% punitive tax plan was any indication, neither the Administration or Congressional Democrats (and the 80 or so idiot Republicans who voted for this bill), government in the boardroom is a bad idea. This is why financials took a tumble yesterday with financials leading the way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A season in an inning?

That terrible ACK ACK sound you heard yesterday afternoon was the Yankees bonking an eighth inning lead by allowing three two-out runs to the woeful Royals (eight runs in previous five games). And the loss is ultimately Girardi's fault -- too much tinkering at the margins.

Girardi put Brian Bruney in for the 7th inning. Bruney is now being counted upon as a bridge to Rivera, and he responded with an easy 14-pitch inning. Then Girardi put Damaso Marte in for three lefties in the 8th. When the Royals pinch hit with two outs, Girardi lifted Marte.

And that's where the Yanks lost the game. Marte is getting serious money (> 15M/3 years) to pitch 60-70 innings a year and he has the experience and capability of getting righties out. That said, the otherwise underwhelming Billy Butler does hit lefties hard (.983 OPS v. lefty, .649 OPS v. righty). Once Girardi lifted Marte, he brought in Jose Veras. Veras walked Butler. That's inexcusable. But it's not reason to lift Veras to bring in the less experienced Phil Coke against a switch-hitter. Coke is a lefty-specialist; Veras was a general reliever who has a sufficiently effective breaking ball to get lefties out. And Veras has more experience both as a reliever and a major leaguer (Coke was primarily a starter in the minors). Bad move.

The Mess lost nearly 30 games last year that they led in the 7th and 8th innings because their bullpen stank. The Yanks cannot win the most competitive division by over-thinking the matchups against a stiff team.

Ultimately, there will be two repercussions -- more Joba-should-set-up nonsense from the fans, and more questioning of Girardi's handling of the bullpen (which had its own issues last year).

The possible solution is in Scranton -- Mark Melancon. He tore through A, AA and AAA ball last year and is a candidate to take over for Rivera in 2011. He throws hard, and is a career reliever, not a starter who can be converted like Joba. He'll be with the big club before June, especially if Veras and Coke can't find the plate.

Pres. Obama does the right thing

Pres. Obama passed a major test of will -- he ordered the dispatch of the USS Bainbridge and its Navy SEALs who effected the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama after the ship had been captured by pirates, the Captain had exchanged himself for his captured crewmen, and the crew had retaken the vessel whilst Phillips remained captive of Somali pirates for more than two days.

Obama needed prodding -- the military reportedly urged Obama to act before the president did so, and only when it was apparent that the pirates would kill Phillips did the rescue occur. Indeed, Obama seems to have limited the SEALs' authority to act such that they did not initiate rescue attempts when Phillips sought to escape on Friday. And there had to be some embarrassment level within the administration as Obama dithered Thursday and Friday as the Maersk crewmen took matters into their own hands and retook their ship.

Kudos to the Navy SEALs who gunned down three pirates including the one with a rifle aimed at Phillips. And ultimately, the best outcome occurred -- Phillips was rescued, the pirates were killed and the SEALs' tremendous competence was displayed. This will be a triumph for Obama, which would become a greater one if the president took some initiative and ordered strong action against Somali pirates, who continue to hold more than 200 hostages.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bad Journalism 101

Read the story linked above and you'll think the Obama State Department is hopelessly cheap -- giving just $50,000 to Italy for relief assistance for the earthquake that hit L'Aquila.

But, as Instapundit noted thanks to one of his astute readers, the US isn't being cheap at all. The chief of mission in Rome immediately granted that 50K and that's the maximum the chief of mission may disburse without additional approval.

The Agence France Presse, which carried the story, should have made that fact apparent.

PECOTA Projections for 2009

Baseball Prospectus has run its PECTOA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) projections for 2009 and come up with the following division winners: Yanks, Indians, A's, Mess, Cubs, Dodgers with the RedSawx and D'Backs as the wild card teams.

These projections are interesting for various reasons, not least of which are that BP has a good track record for picking sleepers (they had the Rays with 90 wins last year).

But some of the numbers they come up with are weird. They had only two AL teams hitting better than .265, which was below the league average last year (.268). They had the Yanks at .264/.337/.413 for average, OBP and SLG but the '08 Yanks were .271/.342/.427 with a weak year from A-Rod, too many at bats for Jose Molina and no Texeira. And BP predicted the Yanks would allow just 634 runs -- the last time the Yanks allowed less than 656 (the 1998 total) in a full season was 1978.

BP also predicted that the three best overall batting teams would be from the National League and even predicted the Rangers would score fewer than 800 runs, something they've never failed to do since The Ballpark in Arlington opened in 1993.

Review the numbers . . . and have some salt grains handy.

Seasons change in early April

College basketball season ends tonight (men's) and tomorrow (women's [yawn, another UConn rout]) and baseball season is underway. And for the first time in about five years, the Yanks are built for more than just the regular season -- they have the starting pitching depth to win a post-season series.

First, the end of the college basketball season. Even though my prediction of where it would finish was wrong, my comment about Michigan State was right -- it's the only Big T(elev)en team capable of succeeding in a non-Big T(elev)en style game against top teams. Big Ten basketball is dreadful: the game resembles a rugby scrum -- low scoring, jaw-smashingly physical, slow paced. Three teams play a style that resembles decent basketball: Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State. On Saturday, Michigan State did the same thing to UConn that it did to Duke in reaching the 2005 Final Four -- outran the opponent in the full court and outbanged it in the half court. UConn made the fatal mistake of continually pounding the ball inside and seeking no offensive balance. Michigan State had breakouts with the four players who had jammed the middle of the defense turning and running full court the other way for transition baskets. And Izzo just outcoached Calhoun.

Ultimately, MSU's win is a good for college hoops as a whole -- UConn is in line for some severe sanctions from the NCAA and the worst outcome would have been for a UConn title to be vacated by the NCAA. Other Final Four teams have had their appearances vacated by the NCAA -- officially removed from the records -- but not a champion. The roll of dishonor: runner-ups Villanova ('71), UCLA ('80), Michigan ('92, '93) and semifinalists Memphis State ('85), UMass ('96) and Ohio State ('99).

As for the other national semifinal -- UNC has shown throughout the Tournament that its pre-season #1 ranking is well-deserved. UNC has faced two mild tests in five games -- from LSU in the second round before Ty Lawson took over, and early in the second half Saturday, before the team regrouped and throttled overmatched Villanova. UNC whupped Michigan State 98-63 at Ford Field earlier this year and no matter what other extenuating circumstances existed (tired MSU team after early-season tournaments, center didn't play), it's hard to envision MSU reversing that result. If Carolina rolls again by 10+, it will be the first team since 2001 Duke to roll all six Tournament opponents by double digits -- and with a 21-point win over Gonzaga, not-that-close 12-point win over OU and yawner of a 14-point win over 'Nova, ROLL is definitely a proper term.

Second: it's time for some baseball. The Monk likes three decisions the Yankees made in the offseason: (1) sign Sabathia; (2) sign Texeira; (3) move Gardner into centerfield. The Monk is completely neutral to displeased about the signing of Burnett -- a prima donna who is prone to getting hammered and who performs best in his walk years. The Yanks are old with some rare spots of youth (Gardner, Joba, Hughes, Cano), have solid overall talent, and have the other two best teams in baseball in their division. Yipes.

Think about it: the Rays, RedSawx and Yankees are the three best teams in baseball. The Mess? Starting rotation is too weak. The Phillies? Same issue. Cubs? Same issue. Dodgers? Hitting is weak. D'Backs? Also weak hitting. Twins? Lack of hitting, lack of pitching depth. Angels? Bullpen now worse, getting old, lost Texeira, play in crappy division (just ask how that helped them prepare for another beating from the RedSawx). This makes the road to the World Series easier for every team in the playoffs because one of the three best teams in baseball will be eliminated by October 4 -- the last day of the season. Think 1978, when the second-best team in baseball didn't make the playoffs.

Predictions? Yanks, RedSox and Rays will finish within 5 games of each other and I think the Rays will be the odd one out -- the Yanks won 89 after losing Wang before the 1/2 way point, lacking #4 and #5 starters, and with weak hitting years from their regulars and a loss of Posada. Think about all that went wrong for the Yanks and realize this: they would have won the AL Central with their record. Add CC and Burnett and a full season from Wang and Pettitte as a No. 4 starter instead of an overworked No. 2, and the team should be in the 95+ win range. The RedSawx have the top 1-3 rotation in baseball and added depth in the off-season (Smoltz, Penny). I don't think they need Manny to compete, especially because his absence in left field constitutes a defensive upgrade.

Twins should win the Central. They have good defense as always and four young starters who are capable. The ChiSox go three deep in the rotation and fall off. The Tigers are a dumpster fire, mentally, but may have added character to the clubhouse by dumping Sheffield. The Indians' No. 3 starter is Carl Pavano.

The Angels have enough ability and talent and managerial skill to win the West, but the Rangers and A's will improve a lot. And the Mariners will still stink.

In the NL, the Mess and Phils should take two playoff spots. The Marlins have the capacity to do more than just beat the Mess in September and allow the Phils to take the NL East crown; ditto the Braves (added Lowe and Vasquez -- and the AL to NL switch for Vazquez should cut his ERA from 4.67 to the 3.80-3.90 range, especially with those spacious NL East yards).

The Cards are the best challengers for the Cubs, but the Broohas have two solid young pitchers in Gallardo (the next Lester/Beckett?) and Bush and decent vets like Suppan and Looper -- they could challenge and pull in 85-90 wins. The Reds are improving; the Astros and Pirates stink.

The one team I'd like to see do well is the Giants: they're in a socialist country (California) but privately financed their own stadium. They have good young starters (Lincecum, Cain), a veteran retread (Johnson), a refurbishment project that may work out (Zito -- from 3-12, 5.99 on June 30, 2008 to 10-17, 5.15 overall), and Sanchez could be serviceable if he finds the strike zone. The Dodgers have Manny -- a reason to root against them. But they have Torre, who is a master of getting as much as he can from questionable players even if they're not his "guys". The D'Backs have serviceable No.3 and 4 starters after a dynamic top two, and good young talent.

Divisions: RedSawx/Yanks, Twins, Angels; Phils, Cubs, DBacks
Wild Cards: RedSawx/Yanks, Mess

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Just beautiful -- Obama's fascism with a friendly face

Because in reality, that's all Obama is: a genial, pleasant-looking, young, liberal fascist. He is so far to the left of any other President we've had that it is actually frightening.

Today's editorial from the New Hampshire Union Leader says it about right:

For months, this newspaper has opposed President Obama's bold, forward-thinking agenda. What a colossal mistake.

We realize now that we were merely clinging to the discredited ideas of the past. Holding on to disposable relics like tradition, religion and the Constitution only delays the glorious new world that awaits us all.

President Obama has shown America a bright, glimmering future full of widely shared prosperity and national nice-to-each-otherness. Only by universally embracing the President's vision can this nation succeed and prosper. Resistance will bring nothing but social distortion, widespread panic and madness.

President Obama has shown us all that to achieve the unrealized promise of this great nation, we must transcend outdated values such as public thrift, individual liberty and restrained government. All power must be shifted to Washington and deposited in the hands of a wise and benevolent ruler whose will is never questioned . . . To do anything less is to guarantee disaster.

The road to prosperity, President Obama has shown, is traveled by high-speed rail and government-mandated hybrid automobiles, powered by wind, water and air, subsidized by gargantuan energy taxes and paid for by borrowing trillions that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will never be able to repay. It is a road that can be constructed only by an energetic national government unconstrained by law, tradition or actual cash reserves.

* * *

So let us all stand idly by, mouths shut in obedience to our new rulers, and watch the traditions that hold up our society, like pillars of a great temple, crumble and collapse from the force of great, howling winds that sing hauntingly of a future filled with consequences none of us understands.

Let's all do this until at least midnight tonight. Then April Fool's Day will be over.

P.S. -- He brought the Queen of England an iPod as a gift. Seriously. And Bush was a doofus? Get real.

Don't blame them a bit

White House staffers park on West Executive Drive next to the White House. In the parking lot, Politico found 23 cars recently; only FIVE were American nameplates.

The Monk has owned four cars in his life (technically five, because I'm the listed owner of Monkette's car) and all four (five) have the same common trait -- I did NOT buy American.

Car 1 = used '88 Nissan Sentra. That was the college car and the only American car that was competitive with the Corolla/Sentra/Civic class was a Ford Escort . . . which looked terrible. The Monk's progenitors extolled the virtues of Japanese compacts and, in the '80s, the Japanese compacts far outperformed American cars in quality.

Car 2 = new '96 Passat. The Monk didn't even consider an American car -- I looked at cars for about 12 months before purchasing and each of the relevant Consumer Reports car issues had nasty black marks for the reliability ratings of American cars in the Passat's category with one exception, the Ford Taurus. The Taurus' handling (I rented plenty of the dang things on trips) was too loose for my taste and I wanted a little sexiness in the vehicle. The Taurus was Madeleine Albright on the sexy scale. I checked out the Accord, Camry, Maxima, Taurus, 3-Series, 5-Series (boy, those Beamers are overpriced!), Acura TSX, and wound up with the Passat due to price and handling -- it handled like a German car and was priced less than similarly loaded Hondas, Toyotas or Nissans.

Car 3 = barely used (< 14K miles) Saab 9-5 Aero. I'd liked Saabs since riding in my college roommate's duckmobile (the old Saab 900) and the Aero got better mileage than comparable cars because of its Turbo engine. Got it at Carmax while there to look at a 9-5 SE. There was no American car that could compete in that class -- Lincoln is for old people; Ford has no high-end sporty sedans; and I wouldn't be caught dead buying a Cadillac because the fecking things are wholly unreliable and fugly. And all that conventional wisdom about how a turbo is good only until the warranty runs out is rubbish: I never had an engine problem with the Saab; it was a pretty reliable machine and it kept my family safe during the crash that totalled it. The worst injuries we suffered in a bad wreck were burns from the airbags and an impact injury to Monkette from the airbag whacking her arm. The baby was unscathed (and a nod to Chicco baby seats too).

Loved that car.

Car 4 = even less used than the Saab -- a Volvo S80. No turbo, so the mileage isn't good. But it's steady and has both the 5-star safety ratings from NHTSA and top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (whose tests are probably better than NHTSA's). Again, why even look at an American car? The Caddies are ugly and unreliable, Lincolns are still for oldies and concentrating on their gargantuan SUVs, the high-end Chryslers are thuggish (and sluggish). The competition was Acura, Infiniti and Lexus but none had the right combo of same size as the Saab and unbeatable safety ratings. No repeat on the 9-5 because its safety rating was lower than the Volvo by a lot (the Saab 9-3 safety ratings are excellent across the board, but that car is too small for me, wife, small man, and hopefully additional critter).

Car 3a = Monkette's VW Jetta TDI. No vehicular problems in the 3 years she's had it. She wanted a top car for fuel efficiency and manual shift. This thing gets 35-40 mpg in the city and is more fun for her (TURBO) than the poncy Prius or some Fusion like vehicle that takes 10 minutes to reach highway speed. And the safety ratings are top-notch.

So, The Monk bought non-American cars for their looks, cache, performance, and safety. Seems like a lot of people have made the same calculus as The Monk. And at least 18 of them work at the White House.