World Cup’s interesting, but America just doesn’t embrace pro soccer. Here’s my take on why.

I first watched the FIFA World Cup soccer matches in 2002 when the network operations center I was working in decided to dedicate 4 of the 12 large screens that made up our network overview monitor to show the matches. (We had a number of foreign-born employees there and it was a very big deal to them.) I’d never so much as watched a soccer game previous to that so, while enjoyable, I wasn’t that invested in it. The 1 thing I remember thinking as we watched several of the matches was how the players on most of the teams – and we watched mostly European and South American teams playing, such was the luck of the draw – would dramatically fall to the ground and flail around as if they’d been hacked with an axe at the slightest touch from another player. I remember seeing them shamelessly mugging it up in an effort to draw the referee into laying a foul on the opposing team and thinking that it was extremely poor sportsmanship.

Years later and several World Cups more under my belt, I believe I’m not revealing any secrets when I say that the practice has done nothing but get worse. I’ve listened to all manner of explanations over the years as to why professional soccer hasn’t really caught on in America. Some have said it’s because there’s no real action in the game. (Oh, please. These people have never watched baseball? The games last, like, 4 hours and there’s a grand total of 7 minutes and 12 seconds of actual action involved.) I think what they mean is that there’s no scoring, with a high-scoring soccer match being considered a game where 1 team scores 4 times. I don’t equate score to a level of action in the game, but I get the point. Some have said it’s because there’s not enough contact. If that’s all there was to it, rugby would be the national sport. No, I honestly believe that Americans look at the drama-queen tactics of these players, rolling around on the field clutching their knee as if they’ve had it hacked off by William Wallace when another player casually brushed against the opposite elbow, and they just innately get the same sense I do: these players are trying to cheat.

As much as cheating happens in America, in all kinds of places and endeavors, the American people do not approve of cheating. And trying to leverage the referee to penalize the opposing team in order to gain a field advantage by falsely hyping up the lightest contact rather than getting the ball down the field and into the goal through superior gameplay is cheating. That’s why the sport doesn’t draw Americans to watch it, at least not at the professional level. My daughter plays soccer and she loves it. I love watching the games they play but when one of them goes down on the field, it’s because they’ve been hit – hard – not because they want to make the ref pull out a yellow card in sympathy. They don’t roll around, faces in dire agony, and then pop back up and be running at full speed 30 seconds later.

My advice to the world of professional soccer – and yes, I’m gonna use a sexist-based comment because it’s appropriate, here – is: Man up. Take the hit but shake it off and get back in there. Don’t give us an Oscar-level performance trying to get a penalty kick, give us a world-class performance threading around the opposing team members and let loose a cannon shot that smacks the goalie into the net along with the ball. Do that, and then you’ll have Americans support your sport like no other.

Bolling is a busted clock: Advocates party registration but gets the reasons in Virginia wrong

Feel free to perform a search here at HoodaThunk? to determine my stance on whether Virginia should be registering voters’ party affiliations. You’ll find that I support the idea and I always have. As I’ve written recently, I firmly believe that candidates put forward for election to public office by any group – political parties, in particular – should be nominated to that position by members of the group in question and not by people who do not hold membership, either intentionally or not. The problem, here in Virginia, is that party affiliation isn’t recorded and that information is explicitly and specifically denied to the State Board of Elections. If there’s no master list of party affiliations to go along with voter roles to be used in determining whether someone is allowed to vote at all, then there’s no way for a poll worker to determine whether the given voter in front of them is a member of the party that’s holding the primary election. This, in fact, is one of the strongest arguments in favor of nominating candidates by convention rather than primary.

Former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has written a guest column, published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, wherein he advocates for changes in the law so as to implement party registration in Virginia. Reading the article, I am reminded of the old adage that even a busted clock is right twice a day. Bolling is advocating an idea I can support, but his information offered in support of that idea are, frankly, dead wrong. Setting up the question, Bolling asks the readers to consider for a moment what Republicans in Virginia and Mississippi have in common:

Both states recently had high-visibility Republican primaries, but the outcome was not determined by Republicans. Instead, the outcome was determined by independents and Democrats, and these elections vividly demonstrate why we need party registration in Virginia, and why primary elections should be limited to self-identified Republicans and Democrats.

In Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, tea-party backed challenger Dave Brat defeated Rep. Eric Cantor in the Republican primary on June 10. Brat’s victory caught almost everyone by surprise. The question was: How could this have happened? A post-election survey of primary voters conducted by the national polling firm of McLaughlin and Associates may have answered this question.

McLaughlin found that Cantor easily won the vote among prior Republican primary voters. However, Brat won the vote among first-time Republican primary voters, who were likely independents drawn to the polls by the tea party and an understandable frustration with Washington. Brat also won among Democrats, who according to McLaughlin’s analysis accounted for 8,452 of the 65,017 votes cast on Election Day.

In fact, McLaughlin’s post-election survey found that almost half of the voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District Republican primary were not Republicans: 33 percent were independents (or refused to be identified) and 13 percent were self-identified Democrats.

Bottom line: Had only Republicans voted in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District primary, Eric Cantor would have won the election by a comfortable margin.

Ridiculous. Bolling, it should be noted, is still miffed that the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) didn’t nominate him to run for Governor in 2013 by acclamation. His festering sense of offense is what caused him to sideline himself during that campaign and – clearly – advocate to others to do the same. The general sense out here in the GOP trenches is that Bolling’s actions are a large part of what cost Cuccinelli the election, particularly since that election was far, far closer than what anyone was saying it would be at the time.

Speaking of “anyone,” please also note that Bolling is depending on post-election polling for his data. The outfit he’s relying upon is the same crew that had Cantor winning that election by something like 30%. Set aside the idea that it would certainly behoove McLaughlin to find out that there was significant non-GOP action in that election. (If that’s true, then it would mitigate their getting blindsided in their predictions.) But others who have looked at the data are finding that the evidence doesn’t support Bolling’s claim. The Washington Post:

While Republican primary turnout spiked by 28 percent over 2012, according to the State Board of Elections, Cantor received nearly 8,500 fewer votes this year than he did in the 2012 Republican primary, a drop that was larger than Brat’s 7,200-vote margin of victory. Regardless of how many Democrats turned out to oppose Cantor, he still would have prevailed had he maintained the same level of support as in his 2012 landslide.

If Democrats showed up in large numbers to vote against Cantor, turnout should have spiked highest from 2012 in Democratic-leaning areas, with Cantor seeing an especially large drop-off in support. In fact, turnout rose slightly more in counties that voted more heavily for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

The data shows Republican turnout in support of Dave Brat is what drove Brat’s victory. Likewise, the New York Times:

Mr. Cantor lost by an 11-point margin, and he lost just about everywhere in his district. Mr. Brat fared best in heavily Republican Hanover County, while Mr. Cantor kept the race closer in the more competitive Richmond inner suburbs.

So, in spite of Mr. Bolling’s efforts to paint the primary in VA-7 as a poster-child case of Democrat interference in Republican party functions, the facts and the data show otherwise.

While I’m perfectly fine with dismissing Mr. Bolling’s article as just another attempt to explain away his lack of support among the GOP voters in Virginia (at least to a level of support he’d like to see), I do think that we should press forward with enacting a party registration system. Several years ago a bill was proposed to do that, and I understand that there’s been attempts even as recently as last year. Now, I could support either a public registration, such as is done in other states, or a change in the law that says party-specific functions – such as primaries – are the responsibility of the party in question and won’t be run or administered by the State Board of Elections (SBE). In that latter case, however, it should be understood that the days of people voting in a primary when they’re not active members of a party are over. The GOP could run firehouse primaries like they did earlier this year in nominating Barbara Comstock to run for VA-10’s Congressional seat. But the lunacy that such a primary would have to be open to any registered voter needs to be set aside. Republicans will decide who they want to nominate to the election ballot, Democrats will decide their nominee, and people who chose to remain unaffiliated can take their pick at the general election. If they don’t like that, then they can make a decision as to what party most closely adheres to their values and get involved. Might do us all some good, too.

Lessig’s Mayday PAC just a left-wing, “progressive” cover to limit speech they don’t like.

So, back on May 1, Larry Lessig made a bit of a splash with the launch of the Mayday PAC, billed as the “Super PAC built to destroy Super PACs.” Lessig is being extremely careful to talk about the visions of the PAC in the most abstract terms, saying only that their goal is to “change the way elections are funded” because, as he says, “90% of Americans agree that our government is broke.” (By that I assume he means that it’s “broken” as opposed to “out of money.” Because, at $17 trillion in debt, it’s way, way past being “out of money.”) The PAC, supposedly, is going to target 5 races in the 2014 elections and donate money to the candidate who is willing to say that they are going to put the issue of how elections are funded as their #1 priority. Their goal is to elect a majority to Congress that will pass the laws necessary to… well, that’s where it gets fuzzy.

Lessig and his team don’t like the current situation where members of Congress spend the bulk of their non-legislative time sucking up to large – read that: corporate – donors rather than paying that attention to the people, their constituents. As far as that goes, I’m in agreement. It’s what Lessig and the rest of his PAC think is the corrective fix for that that has me more worried about him than about anything Congress is doing. Giving a video interview to the techie site SlashDot, Lessig answered some questions about the PAC. I think some of those answers are quite telling. This exchange was near the beginning of the interview. (“Tim” is the SlashDot interviewer, “Larry” is Lessig himself.):

Tim: Okay. So another critical and this one is a slightly different type of critical questions that a lot of our readers have, and I think this is also widespread, is they object to the idea of regulating the money that can be given to a political campaign, and they say that that is equivalent to speech; one reader asks, and I am going to say that this is somewhat facetiously, that aren’t you in that way, also calling for a prohibition of documentaries of the political bench, or books written by politicians who are in favor of a particular candidate? Distinguish the way money per se as a campaign contribution in that form is different from other forms of material support, and why it is that it is okay to limit contributions to a certain dollar amount for a person or group as opposed to other ways that people influence political campaigns themselves.

Larry: Great question. So the Mayday PAC is aiming at changing the way elections are funded. And the proposals that we pointed to don’t necessarily do anything directly about limiting people’s capacity to spend their money to speak.

Tim: But then we already have such restrictions anyhow with campaign contribution limits.

Larry: Right. But we are not focused on restrictions—we are focused on increasing the range of people who participate in the funding of elections. So there are two basic models that we’ve got: One is the voucher program—you can see it at reform.to—a voucher proposal, where every voter is given a voucher that they use to fund small dollar elections. The other is matching grant where you give a small contribution—it’s matched up to 9:1—that’s John Sarbanes’ proposal. Those two proposals don’t restrict anybody’s ability to contribute anything. Or don’t restrict people’s ability to spend their money speaking at all. All this is doing is making it, so candidates don’t spend all of their time literally 30% to 70% of their time, focused on the tiniest fraction of the 1%. So there are lots of people out there who are talking about much more radical changes—limiting the ability of people to contribute at all, stopping corporations from their ability to speak. We are not talking about that as the first steps of reform. We say, let’s change the way elections are funded. That is the first step. And that is the step that Mayday PAC will push into Congress.

Emphasis in that last answer is mine. So, Lessig recognizes that there are “lots of people out there” saying that citizens should be “limited” in contributing to campaigns at all and that corporations should be prohibited from speaking out on this. Does this bother him? No, not at all. It’s just that those actions wouldn’t be his “first step.” Which means, fellow Americans, that Mr. Lessig thinks you should be banned from contributing. I know all about what he said in the first part of that answer, but you’ll note he’s not suggesting those are the preferred directions. His implication as regards those last two – that citizen contributions should be limited and corporations shouldn’t be allowed to at all – is clear. He approves of those, but he knows he won’t get there on day 1.

Lessig won’t say who his PAC is targeting for the 2014 race. Maybe he doesn’t know. Or, maybe, his choice of language in dealing with the question might give you a clue:

Larry: Yeah. We have to first figure what the resources are before we pick. We can’t pick in advance. Because you don’t announce troop movements before the troops are ready to move. Like if we said, these are the five races and we want that to be engaged, then those five races will find a million reasons a million ways to attack what we are trying to do. So I get that that creates a little bit of anxiety and uncertainty. This is the only thing I can offer in response to that anxiety and uncertainty: We are in this for a long-term objective. We don’t care about winning. Five races won’t make it so that we get the legislation we want—it is not going to change anything really in Congress. Except break the four-minute mile barrier. Break the idea that this is impossible. So we want to do this in a way that it builds a movement that, in 2016, will be back with us so that we can win many many more races. So if we screw it up this year, if we pick the wrong kind of candidates, if we pick candidates that are only Liberal Democrats, or we kick out a bunch of Democrats in the name of crazy nonresponsive Republicans, we won’t be able to rally these people back with us when we get to 2016.

Yeah, because Republicans are so generically crazy and nonresponsive. You never see Democrats like that. So, sure, I’d really trust that I’m going to donate money to a PAC organized by this man and really trust that he’s going to give any Republican that actually espouses Republican values any real consideration.

Fat chance. Lessig and his team are barking up the right tree; we do need reform in a number of the areas of campaign finance. But, in my view, the reforms have been made more necessary by the ham-handed previous attempts that have been so obviously little more than incumbent-protection rackets (I’m looking at you, McCain!) than by any other activity. The problem here is that Lessig and the rest of his PAC are largely left-wing, so-called “progressives” looking to exploit a legitimate concern regarding our government to cover their goal of cutting people out of the process entirely beyond what little amount these leftists chose to allow. They don’t value freedom of speech except where they get to speak their minds. And I don’t approve of that stance, I don’t care how bipartisan they claim their group may be.

Happy Independence Day

eagle1

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

With these words our Founding Fathers began a letter to the King of England in which they stood a separate and equal people on their feet to look into the eye of their former sovereign and assert that they were as much the masters of their fate as any on Earth, including the King. The letter was adopted 238 years ago today. Many who signed this document did so knowing full well their fate if they should fail or come back under the control of the king. Several met that fate and would not live to see the nation they envisioned, free of Britain’s rule, come to fruition. Their sacrifice enables us to live in the freedom they dreamed of without so much as a casual thought.

Today, we should be mindful of that and work to bring the enormity of what their actions and this Declaration meant to our full attention. In the years since then many have given their all – literally and figuratively – to ensure this nation’s liberty and to bring to reality the vision of those Founders long ago. Whether it’s a soldier standing fast in the face of overwhelming odds and near-certain death or a student nervously refusing to sit quietly while this nation’s greatness is mocked by a teacher or an average citizen who doesn’t let the rain deter him from casting a vote or a woman who refuses to take a seat in the back of a bus, Americans throughout these past 2¼ centuries have braved trials big and small to see the promise of this Declaration brought to us all.

On this day, as we enjoy parades, grill up a wonderful meal, and hoist a cold brew in celebration let us recall our fellow patriots and Americans who have brought us this day and take a quiet vow to measure up to their example.

Happy Independence Day, America.

(This updated post was first published in 2009, but it rings true today.)

Once again, on participating in party functions when it ain’t your party

After the trouncing of Eric Cantor by Dave Brat in VA-7 there were allegations that Brat only won through the participation of Democrats in the Republican primary. Those allegations have been largely disproven, even to the point where the left-leaning Washington Post says it’s probably not the case. There’s a lot more suggestion that MS GOP primary winner Thad Cochran courted and relied on Democrat voters to defeat challenger Chris McDaniel, enough so that sitting GOP elected and others are markedly uncomfortable with how this turned out. McDaniel has said he’s not done looking into this, either, so we should all stay tuned.

This touches on something that irritates me no end and I’m aiming this at fellow Republicans as much as Democrats. In my view, you do not have a right to engage in party functions when the party in question isn’t an organization to which you belong. Democrats have no business voting in GOP primaries and Republicans should stay the hell out of the polling locations when it’s the Democrats deciding who their candidate is going to be. You see, it comes down to the freedom of association in my view. I have certain political views and positions and it’s up to me whether to commit to being a member of a given organization for the purpose of advancing those views and positions. A political party is, by definition, an organization that’s comprised of persons who share a certain set of views on political matters and exists for the purpose of electing individuals who will commit to voting accordingly or executing, faithfully, the laws passed by the legislature. When I commit to joining a given political party, I do so with the reasonable presumption that I’m going to be working with other people of like views and positions.

When my party is determining who we want to have as our candidate in a given election, it should not be a serious debate that the decision should be made by members of the party. As I’ve stated before, I’m a member of the Knights of Columbus. When we hold our annual elections to determine the slate of officers for the upcoming fraternal year, we do not open that election to people who are not brother Knights. It is not up to anyone who is not a member of the Knights to hold forth on who should lead our Council and their opinion on the matter, while theirs to hold by right, is immaterial to the decision. How is a political party any different?

Republicans should decide who is going to be their standard-bearer in an election, period. Democrats should decide who will be theirs. People who chose to remain unaligned can do so, of course, but the consequence of that action is that they don’t have a say in the decision of either party. They get their say on election day and can cast their ballot for whomever they wish, be it one of the declared candidates or someone we’ve never heard of. Members of one party, if they want to be honorable and – yes – fair about things, should never participate in the party functions of another party, whether the law allows them to or not. The fact that Virginia’s laws prohibit party registration and, therefore, closed primaries is one of the more powerful arguments to not hold primaries in the first place and all the belly aching about how awful conventions are completely miss that point.

Dave Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor wasn’t accomplished through the participation of Democrats, the numbers show that pretty clearly. I don’t approve of the Dems coming out to vote in “our” primary but their presence didn’t change the results. If the same cannot be said about the MS primary then I would suggest that the MS GOP member’s freedom of association has been violated and I would suggest that there should be some remedy to that. Otherwise, the man going onto the ballot in their name is not truly representative of the party’s wishes.

SEC files suit to enforce subpoena on Congress. So, Obama Administration now taking subpoenas seriously?

The SEC has filed a lawsuit to enforce a subpoena issued to House Ways and Means committee. This is setting up a court battle pitting the powers of the Executive branch against the Legislative. While I am firm in my belief that Congress should not consider themselves above the law, I am also struck by the Administration’s responses to subpeonas. Seems they’re not so quick to demand compliance when it’s Congress issuing the subpeona on them as they are the reverse.

I think Congress should feel free to delay for as long as the IRS has. Or, better yet, that they should be filing lawsuits of their own.

Virginia orders Lyft, Uber to cease ops. Protecting consumers or shielding businesses from competition?

The Commonwealth of Virginia has issued cease and desist notices to 2 companies engaged in the relatively new business of arranging for individual consumer’s transportation in a “peer-to-peer” model. Now, that’s a statement that requires explanation on a variety of levels, so let’s examine the players, first.

Lyft and Uber are, at their core, smartphone apps that allow a user to call for a ride to wherever they’re going. The drivers are users of the system who are offering to drive people who need the ride. Users register on the system and, if they’re offering their driving services, fill out a profile that details what kind of car they have, where they’re willing to operate, and the like. I’m not a user of the system so I can’t really speak from experience but that’s the general idea. The term being used to describe this activity is “ride-sharing.” When a user needs a ride, they signal that on the app and are paired with a nearby driver that meets their requirements. (The system won’t pair a driver of a 2-seat roadster with a user that has a party of 4, for example.) On Lyft, according to their web site, the calling user can then get the information about the driver including pictures of the driver and their car and can see the location and progress of the driver as they come to the calling user. Payment is also handled via the app so no cash changes hands.

The drivers aren’t necessarily professional drivers. They are simply users who are offering to give people rides during their free hours of the day so they can be college students, stay-at-home moms, men who are looking to augment their regular jobs with offering rides during some of their off hours, etc. The decentralized, peer-to-peer nature of this system makes the barrier of entry very low, gives users the ability to know the names, backgrounds, and reputations of the drivers before actually getting into their cars, and fits in very nicely with the modern, app-driven lifestyle of many of today’s young student and professional set. For short-range, short duration trips, it’s also fairly cheap.

As you might imagine, established cab companies hate the idea. So do the politicians and bureaucrats who derive funding from the taxes and license fees cab companies pay. Which might explain at least a part of why the VA DMV issued their shutdown orders to both companies. The DMV letter advises both companies that they are operating in violation of state law. Both are refuting that assessment and Lyft has openly said that they will not comply with the order. The DMV is saying their shutdown orders are driven by concern for the safety of the public.

I can certainly understand public safety being a concern of the DMV and no one is suggesting that it shouldn’t be. I do question, however, both their position to make the assessment that these peer-to-peer drivers are somehow safe or not and the driving factor behind their decision to issue the order coming not from public complaints but from complaints filed by cab companies with a vested interest in shutting down competition. The only questions the DMV should be concerned with regarding the safety of a given driver is whether or not their license is valid and whether their vehicle has complied with any safety inspection regimen currently in use. Aside from that, it should not be considered within the purview of a government agency to make a subjective judgment as to whether a given business model is “safe” or not. The DMV should most certainly not be jumping to the commands of a given set of businesses whose concern could be very easily construed to be not so much for the safety of the traveling public but more for the safety of their own revenue stream.

The idea of ride-sharing has matters of concern, yes. As a rider, am I covered by the driver’s insurance if that driver has an accident while I’m in the car? (Lyft has a $1M-per-incident insurance policy in place, for example, that presumably covers riders. That’s a great business decision on their part.) Is the driver I’m using known to be a safe operator? (Again, the app generates reputation scores so, in fact, both Lyft and Uber have a significant competitive advantage over regular cabbies in this regard.) I would think that drivers would also be concerned. While the system allows riders to view drivers’ profiles and reputation scores, drivers don’t get that information regarding riders, I don’t think. I would think the idea of not really knowing the nature of the people getting into one’s car would be something that might be worrisome. I’m hoping that insurance policy will also offer some protection to the drivers, as well.

Either way, I think the DMV’s actions are heavy-handed and ultimately harmful to the traveling public. I also think that if cab companies don’t want their business taken away, then they should learn to innovate and provide the services consumers are looking for today. Perhaps if they were to stand up a similar app, complete with a driver-scoring feature? Who knows? One might wonder whether an alliance with Lyft would offer these cab companies the chance to lure back the consumers who find the alternatives more attractive?