July 31, 2009


So the names of the hundred MLB players who tested positive will come out in ones and twos, in declining order of fame and salary level.

There was a time when I was of the "their bodies, let them do what they want" school of thought.

That view evolved. I gradually realized that if steroids are bad for people, that permitting them would have two bad implications. The first is we, sports fans, would be taking advantage of people willing to damage themselves for fame and fortune. The second is that we, sports fans, would be collaborating in a policy regime that would exclude more talented or hardworking athletes because they refused to juice. The Mark Caminitis would drive out the Frank Robinsons.

Well, that's an exaggeration. What would really happen is the replacement level players who got into the majors would all be juicing. And, if it IS bad for you, then the League would be setting up a system where their most marginal players were risking their health to try to earn enough service time for a pension.

The nice thing about evolution is it never stops. Seeing the ubiquity of juice in the baseball (seriously, is there anybody left who would surprise you, after Petite?), I've come to doubt the "if" part of the syllogism above. And if it is true that taking steroids under a doctor's supervision isn't dangerous (as Manny apparently was doing in LA), then what's the problem?

Players are permitted to use any number of performance enhancing methods. In the drug realm, they are allowed to use caffeine and nicotine (the latter proven to enhance concentration), even though the delivery mechanisms for nicotine are mostly life shortening. Amphetamines were rife throughout the majors (there is a story of a pair of coffee urns, labeled "Coaches" and "Players"), use that didn't stop after Jim Bouton went public with this in Ball Four

They are allowed to have cortisone shots, not just for injuries, but for normal wear and tear on the joints that afflict older players. And, of course, cortisone IS a steroid. It is just not an anabolic steroid.

Players are also allowed to have performance enhancing surgery. One of the complaints about the impact of steroids on baseball is that their use allows older players, especially sluggers, to extend their careers by reversing the effect of aging that reduces muscle mass. Bonds hitting 72 home runs at the age of 37, as Hank Aaron remarked recently, is unnatural. But the same is true of Tommy John, whose "injury" was wear and tear on his left arm. How is replacing a worn out tendon any different from using a drug that allows a player to use weightlifting sessions to retain muscle mass as he ages?

The performance-enhancing surgery that really gets my goat is Lasix. Ted Williams had extraordinary eyesight. In spring training events, he would put pine tar on the bat barrel, and then call out the number of seams (None, 1 0r 2) the bat had hit. Now a player like Derek Jeter (on everybody's never juiced list) can get surgery to duplicate Williams's genetic inheritance.

What is really going here is that the career home run numbers of the players using steroids is wreaking hell with all of the standard Hall of Fame threshholds. It's also raising doubts about win totals of players like Roger Clemens, who would have been a lock for the Hall after he left Toronto. But a key element in evaluating players for the Hall is their career numbers. Jim Rice's rapid fall off hurt him badly in HoF ballotting. Likewise, a compiler like Mussina is helped by the focus on career threshholds.

But one is stuck with the world one is in. If steroids aren't dangerous, when properly used in a doctor supervised weight training program, why not legalize their use? That is certainly better than reading stories of high school kids ordering drugs over the internet from fly by night companies in Mexico because scouts have told them they have to get bigger.

July 29, 2009


In today's NYT David Leonhardt writes the following:

Members of Congress have come up with one idea after another to pay for covering the uninsured. But they still haven’t put together legislation that could pass.
This is simply false. The House HAS passed legisation that covers the uninsured, and provided funding for doing so.

There is also no doubt that there are at least 51 votes in the Senate for the House bill. A filibuster can be beaten if Reid wants to beat it. Between using strong arm tactics within his caucus, and shutting down business on all other matters while taking cloture vote after cloture vote, he will eventually get the bill to the floor. He will also be able to pick off Republicans who really can't go into a 2010 race being seen as opposed to providing up to a fifth of their constituents with health care services they do not currently have. And, of course, there is the reconciliation process that can be used to circumvent the automatic filibuster Reid has created.

It's not just Leonhardt. Scott Lemiux discusses an Ezra Klein post about what compromises are necessary to get passage.

So let's be clear. A good bill, with a public option, would easily pass in both houses. The insurance lobby, through the Senate Finance Committee doing everything it can to gut the Senate bill, and to slow the process down because the lobbyists are well aware that a good bill would pass easily. Slowing down the process allows the lobbyist's disinformation machine more time to operate, more time to confuse voters with false, even crazy ("the government will kill old people!") information.

The media is doing us, once again, a tremendous disservice by treating what can only be called lies as legitimate points of debate. The opponents of a good bill don't care about costs, even though they say so, because a bill with a strong public option that removes current insurance industry subsidies is cheaper than either the status quo or a "reform" plan that adds more subsidies to the insurance industry. All the malarkey that is intended to make old people afraid is totally ridiculous; they will be completely unaffected because they are already on a government health plan that was supposed to lead the country down the path to socialism. The US has the worst health care system in the OECD, but the media parrots, unchallenged nonsensical claims about the US having the best health care in the world and about how awful health care is in Canada. And d0n't get me started on why it is that wars don't have to be paid for, but health care does.

Media support for dishonest GOP spokespeople and Democrat Senators fronting for the insurance companies won't do the trick if a good bill, like the House bill, reaches the floor of the Senate. It will pass. There is no reason for Reid to take elements of a bad Finance committee bill into the Senate bill. He has the votes he needs.

And, in the end,we will get a reasonably good bill.


July 26, 2009

Prisoner's Dilemma NOT

John is right that Matt is wrong. The point of the prisoners' dilemma is that it is not a dilemma. It is a trap.

But John is wrong when he says the upshot of the political situation on health care reform is:

If congresspeople think that regardless of the success of the healthcare bill, they will be better off having voted against it, then they will.

Given a good health care bill with a strong public option, they can:

  • Vote for it, and be better off with their constituents, but worse off with their donors/future employers.
  • Vote against it, and be better off with their donors/future employers, but worse off with their constituents.

This is independent of whether or not the bill passes.

Hence their focus is entirely on preventing a good bill with a strong public option from getting to the floor for a vote. They can vote for a bad bill their donors support, and claim to be for reform when they run for re-election.

If Pelosi or Reid are seriously committed to effective health care reform, they will make sure a good bill with a strong public option is what hits the floors. There will be enough Blue Dogs, and Class '10 Senators not willing to risk their seats to kowtow to the lobbies. They'll do all they can to gut the bill behind the scenes. But if presented with a good bill, the majority will vote for it.

July 4, 2009

Gabba Gabba Hey

So it looks like Palin quit in order to get in front of an indictment for some serious corruption.

This is incredibly good news. Because you know what she is going to do.

She is going to go around the country raising money for her legal fund, pitching her book. And what will her theme be?

That she is the target of a vast media and establishment conspiracy, because they want to silence the only authentic voice on the national political scene. It is already obvious the media is out to get her. But now the establishment Republicans are joining in. They talk a good game, but in the end they are up there in Washington, living lives regular folks will never know, and making fools of regular folks.

Unlike those Washington Republicans, she actually walks the walk. Her daughters DO practice abstinence. When one of them gets pregnant, she proudly becomes an unwed teenage mother. She doesn't pretend she thinks the Universe is 6,000 years old. She believes it. She speaks in tongues. She doesn't really bother keeping the heathen foreigners straight, because America is good enough for her, and should be good enough for any real American.

She's the real deal. She's one of us, one of the knuckle dragging Know-Nothings. And that is why the media and political elites are out to get her.

The Republican establishment has to be terrified. They've run this scam out ever since Nixon, that they are the party of Real Americans, proudly ignorant (dittoheads!) racist jingoists who have a tenuous grasp of reality. Sarah Palin can make the case that she, not Haley Barbour, not, errrr, player to be named later, is just a big phony.

July 1, 2009

Town Hall

Apparently Helen Thomas and Chip Reid had a cow in today's presser with Robert Gibbs. Washington Times reporter Christina Bellantoni tweeted:

Helen Thomas to Gibbs re: town hall format argument: "I'm amazed at you people who call for openness and transparency"

This is in reference to today's Presidential town hall on health care. Leave aside the pearl clutching demand that only the WHPC should be permitted to ask the President questions. Part of what is going on here is that the WHPC, and their colleagues, are using a narrative frame that is completely out of step with both public opinion and, as Obama said in his last press conference, simple logic.

The basic narrative frame the media has adopted is that any policy needs to preserve the existing collection of medical care financing organizations--insurance companies, HMOs--because, well, just because. Here's a collection of NY Times articles, of which this one is representative. (Krugman sneaks one in that search with a solid counter-argument.

There is this Olympia Snowe interview with the AP, where she says (no joke) that she is opposed to the public option because it would lower the cost of financing health care:

"If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market ... the public option will have significant price advantages," she said.
The media completely accepts that one of the policy objectives in health care reform is the preservation of insurance companies that have created a system where Americans get the worst health care in the OECD, both in terms of covereage and of effectiveness, at the highest cost in the OECD. So they (as in the ABC "town hall") continually focus their questions on the impact on the health finance business, rather than on the health care provided to American citizens.

In other words, they are asking the wrong questions, questions that reflect what the President has pointed out, is a completely illogical position:
"Just conceptually, the notion that all these insurance companies who say they're giving consumers the best possible deal, if they can't compete against a public plan as one option, with consumers making the decision what's the best deal, that defies logic," Obama said.
So if the President is going to actually discuss the real policy issues involved with health care reform, he has to take his questions from the public, and not the press.