Healthcare and The Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act was Constitutional – though as a tax rather than a commerce provision – surprising many who expected at least the individual mandate requirement to be struck down.  The Supreme Court has five conservative and four liberal judges, with the expectation that on the biggest issues they will vote along party lines, rather than according to the evidence with which they are presented. This goes against the notion of separation of powers.

The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, designed the government of the United States with checks and balances, granting some authority to the President, more to Congress, and the task of ruling on the legality of the actions of both to the Judicial Branch.  If the rulings of the highest court in the land are liable to change based on the right or left leanings of the Justices who are on the bench at the time, then interpretation of the law becomes a lottery based on who is in the White House to nominate a new judge when a space becomes available.  This is not how laws should be upheld or struck down, else there is a risk of tyranny of the majority.

“Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts or evidence”

John Adams

This quote from the second President of the United States was part of his argument in defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial.  Despite a risk to his law practice and the well-being of his family, Adams believed that everyone was entitled to a fair trial and took on the case.  Through the passage of time, as politics has become more partisan and the two parties are as divided as any time since the Civil War, this notion of justice and impartiality has been all but vanquished.

Take “Citizens United” – the decision by the Supreme Court in 2010 that ruled corporations are allowed to fund electioneering communications, overturning a previous ban.  Although they are still not allowed to provide funding directly to candidates in federal elections –  SuperPACs have essentially made that ban irrelevant – the ruling effectively stated that companies should be protected under the First Amendment as if they themselves were citizens.  Mitt Romney at the Iowa State Fair last year stated that “corporations are people” – the message that the Supreme Court gave with their Citizens United decision. Common sense tells us that this is not the case.  In the recent recall election of Governor Walker in Wisconsin, the incumbent was able to outspend his opponent 7 to 1 because Citizens United allowed him to receive donations from companies.

If elections were not decided on spending alone, this may not be such a big issue, but nowadays, the more a candidate spends on attack ads and marketing, the greater their chances of winning.  So what could this mean?  Republicans tend to be favoured by the richest people and the biggest businesses in this country, as they advocate lower taxes on the higher earners and a decrease in Corporate Tax rates, thus they are likely to gain the most money in campaign funding.  This increases the likelihood of GOP candidates getting elected, both to Congress and to the White House, giving them the opportunity to nominate and affirm Justices to the Supreme Court.

It is vital, therefore, for the judicial branch to remain independent, no matter who they were appointed by and regardless of their own political viewpoints.  Today’s decision goes some way to restore the notion that the Justices would be able to pass judgement on cases without bias or prejudice of their own allegiances.  Indeed, in his opinion on the ruling, Chief Justice Roberts echoed John Adams’ sentiments noted above:

Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.

Chief Justice Roberts Opinion, National Federation of Independent Business vs Sebelius 2012

It is perhaps the hardest thing to accept – that something you do not agree with should still be allowed to be implemented, but that is the nature of a plutocracy.  I may not agree with much of what they say on Fox News, but I still believe that the First Amendment gives them the right of free speech and they are entitled to broadcast their message. Continue reading

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Euro 2012 Update – Semi-Finals & Competition Update

Captain Ronaldo’s diving header books a semi-final spot for Portugal

In the first of the four quarter-finals at Euro 2012, Portugal had to wait until the 79th minute until they finally made a breakthrough against a stubborn Czech Republic side, who had put all of their focus on defence.  It was their star man, Cristiano Ronaldo, who booked their place in the semi-finals with diving header that bounced over Petr Cech and into the roof of the net.  The Czech Republic did not so much as muster a shot on target and were lucky to have kept Ronaldo off the score sheet for so long, such was the brilliance of his performance.

Germany made three changes to their front line for their game against Greece; bringing in Klose, Reus and Schuerrle to replace Gomez, Mueller and Podolski.  The rotation showed the strength in-depth of the German squad as they rallied to a 4-2 win  – the two goals flattered the 2004 European Champions who, like the Czechs before them, showed little in the way of attacking initiative.  The strikes from Lahm, Khedira and Reus were all highlight worthy, while Klose’s header took him to 64 for Germany, 17 of which have come in major tournaments.

The most disappointing quarter-final to watch was the Spain vs France encounter, with the reigning World and European Champions dominating possession, but again played the first hour without a recognised striker on the pitch.  While the intricate passing the Spaniards display is impressive, short of a player like David Villa up front to provide an outlet for their moves, the constant build-up play with no end product has made their matches tedious to watch.  However, two goals from Xabi Alonso ensured their progress and their supporters will not care about the style of play if Spain go on to be the first nation to win three consecutive tournaments.  France were once again disappointing, despite having talented players like Benzema and Ribery up front, they were unable to break down the opposition and exited the competition having won just one of their four games.

Italy and England faced off against each other in a knock-out tie for the first time in their history and the Italians dominated the encounter, save for a fifteen minute spell at the start of the match.  After De Rossi had hit the post with a curled left-foot shot from 30 yards, Roy Hodgson’s side responded with a sustained spell of pressure which nearly brought the opening goal – first through Glen Johnson saved by Buffon, then a header from Wayne Rooney that was glanced over the bar.  When that period of attack had proved fruitless, England resorted to sitting back and soaking up pressure from Italy, who wasted many good chances to win the game in normal time.  Despite 31 shots from the Italians – versus just 8 from England –  the match remained goalless and went to a penalty shoot-out.  When Montovolio sent Italy’s second spot-kick wide of the post, it looked as though Hodgson’s men were going to pull off an unlikely upset.  Nevertheless, after Pirlo had converted his penalty with a cheeky chip into the centre of the goal, Ashley Young struck the bar and Ashley Cole hit a tame shot that Buffon stopped easily.  The loss was the sixth time England have exited a major tournament on penalties – Italy join: Germany (World Cup 1990, Euro ’96); Argentina (World Cup ’98); and Portugal (Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006) as tormentors of the English from 12 yards.   Continue reading

Euro 2012 Update – Group Stages Over and Competition Update

The eight quarter-finalists for the European Championships have been decided, but there is yet to be a country that has stood out as a favourite to win the tournament. None of the four teams who topped their groups have played well in all of their games thus far and, with the knock-out stages beginning tomorrow, all of the sides will need to find their form fast.

Lars Bender scores Germany’s winner against Denmark

Before the competition began, Germany and Spain were considered to have the best chance of emerging victorious, but both were just a goal away from elimination in the second-half of their final group matches. The Germans did win all three of their games – against Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark – yet, other than the first half versus the Dutch, they rarely showed their best form. Either side of their 4-0 thrashing of Ireland, Spain were held to a draw against Italy and only beat Croatia through a late goal, but the most troubling aspect of their performances was the amount of time they lined up without a recognised striker on the pitch. While passing prowess and dominating possession has been the cornerstone of both Spain and Barcelona’s success in the last four years, without the injured David Villa up front to provide clinical finishing, neither team has looked unbeatable.

England topped Group D – thus avoiding a matchup with Spain in the next round – after a resolute defensive performance earned them a 1-1 draw with France, before a spirited fight back resulted in a 3-2 win over Sweden and a functional display against the Ukraine secured another three points for Roy Hodgson’s men, although they did benefit from a non-given goal for the hosts that replay showed had crossed the line. England have shown a unity in their squad that has been absent in recent tournaments and with Wayne Rooney back in their lineup, after serving a two game suspension, they will prove a tough opponent in the knock-out rounds. The other group winners, the Czech Republic overcame their opening day 4-1 loss to Russia, beating Greece and Poland in their next to matches to progress.  Despite winning their first fixtures, Denmark, Russia, Croatia and Ukraine all exited at the group stage.

Of the four runners-up, Portugal have been the most impressive. A 1-0 defeat to Germany was only through a late goal and then Portugal

Ronaldo finally gets on the score sheet at Euro 2012

overcame Denmark 3-2, despite throwing away a two goal lead and having their star player, Cristiano Ronaldo, misfiring. The best player in this tournament, Ronaldo found his shooting boots in his country’s final match against the Netherlands, scoring both goals as the Portuguese came from behind to win 2-1. If the Real Madrid man goes on to show any of the form he displayed during the club season this year, Portugal have a great opportunity to go all of the way in this tournament.

Greece took advantage of Russia’s failures in front of goal in their final group game to earn a 1-0 victory thanks to a Karagounis goal just before the break – that result moved the Euro 2004 champions into the quarter-finals on the first tie-breaker of head-to-head record.  France progressed as runners-up in group D despite losing to an already-eliminated Sweden in their third match; and Italy came second behind Spain in Group C to ensure their continued involvement in the competition.

The first quarter-final, to be played on Thursday, is between Czech Republic and Portugal; the winners of which will face a semi-final against victors of Saturday’s game between Spain and France.  The other half of the draw could see Germany and England squaring off for a place in a major final once again, should they beat Greece and Italy respectively.  In both the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European championship, the two nations met in the semi-finals and each time the Germans progressed via a penalty-shoot out.

Predictions Competition Update

After the group stage, there are co-leaders in the Political Footballs Prediction Competition, both of whom have 48 points as they correctly predicted 6 quarter-finalists and had them in the right position in the group.  The leaders:

Position Name Entry Name POINTS
1 Karl Schmidt Hitbat #1 48
= Taggart McMahon Dirt Chickens 48
3 Sean Mahoney KievskiSnatch 42
= Sean Morrissey Where’s USA? 42
= Pamela McVeagh-Lally Imogen’s picks 42
= Fraser Allen Fallen Heroes 42

There have been 60 goals in the 24 games played thus far and there has yet to be a goal-less draw in the competition.

Euro 2012 Update and Harry Redknapp

The European Championships have reached the half-way point of the group stage, with two of the groups having played twice and the others having their second round of fixtures in the next couple of days.  Here’s a group-by-group update on how things have gone so far:

Group A

Co-hosts Poland started strongly in their opening match against Greece and went into half-time a goal and a man up.  The home side’s star striker, Lewandowski, had found the back of the net inside the first 20 minutes and then the 2004 European Champions had Papastathopolous sent off for a highly questionable second bookable offence.  However, the Greeks came roaring back after the interval and equalised through Salpingidis, who then earned a penalty when he was brought down in the area by Polish keeper, Szczesny, who was sent-off for the foul.  The spot-kick was missed and the two sides each earned a point with a 1-1 draw, a result that Poland repeated in their second game against Russia.

Russia’s Alan Dzagoev has 3 goals in 2 games

That point kept the Russians at the top of Group A, after they had opened their campaign with a 4-1 thrashing of the Czech Republic.  Their young midfielder Dzagoev notched two of the goals in that game, as well as the one against Poland, to put him joint top in the race for the tournament’s golden boot.  The other match in the group saw the Czech Republic take a 2-0 lead over Greece within the first six minutes and, although they did pull one goal back in the second-half, the Greeks were unable to gain another draw and sit bottom of the group.

All of the countries can still qualify for the next round, though Greece face an uphill task as they will need to beat Russia in order to have any chance of progressing.  Russia know that a draw will be enough for them to make the quarter-finals and the Czech Republic need only a point to make it at the expense of Poland, assuming the Greeks do not cause an upset.

Group B

This was the so-called “Group of Death” and it looks like being terminal for the Netherlands, who are yet to record a single point after two matches.  They opened with a surprising 1-0 defeat to Denmark, a result that did not reflect the Dutch dominance of the game, but proved that the Danes – number 9 in the FIFA rankings – were not a team to be taken lightly this summer.  Germany are all but into the quarters after beating Portugal 1-0, and the Netherlands – their old enemies – 2-1.  All three German goals have been scored by Mario Gomez, the man who misfired so badly in the Champions League final, but now seems unable to put a foot wrong.  The best game of the tournament so far was today’s match between Portugal and Denmark.  The Portuguese took a two goal lead early on after goals by Pepe and Helder Postiga – who showed the kind of touch in front of goal he never displayed in his season with Tottenham – but a brace from Nicklas Bendtner got the Danes back level.  Portugal were hampered by the poor form of their star man, Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed two one-on-one chances you would have bet your mortgage on him scoring (and indeed, UEFA’s stat man had assumed he scored the first one and updated the live twitter feed accordingly), but they were not to be denied their victory and substitute Silvestre Varela hit a great right-footed strike to give them the lead for good, with just three minutes remaining.

Nothing is yet decided in Group B: Germany could still be eliminated, despite having 6 points; Netherlands could still make the quarter-finals, even though they have lost both of their matches.  The Netherlands need to beat Portugal and hope Denmark lose their match against the Germans, then it will come down to goal difference between the three sides.  Germany win the group with a draw or win, a loss combined with a win for Portugal would drag them into a tie-breaker.   Continue reading

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 13 – The Phantom

The title – The Phantom – of this week’s season finale episode of Mad Men refers to the various spectres that have built up through the season and are now haunting many of the characters.  Pete Campbell is unable to forget his brief affair with Beth, the wife of Howard, his commuting acquaintance, and the yearning Pete has for her is exacerbated when he sees her on the train with her husband.  Beth is also unable to forget their encounter through natural means and is on her way to a hospital for electric-shock therapy to help her overcome her depression, but not before she arranges another rendezvous with Campbell in the same hotel he had tried to lure her to before.  Because Pete is smitten, he meets with Beth and sleeps with her again, even after finding out that she is likely to forget everything that has happened between them.  When he later visits her in the hospital, Pete is a stranger to Beth and is able to open his heart to her by telling her about his friend – a man in love with a married woman who started an affair in order to feel attractive and powerful, but ended up falling in love and realising that his own marriage was merely a “temporary bandage on a permanent wound”.  Campbell is unable to keep his mouth shut when he next sees Howard on the train and lambasted him for what he is putting Beth through, in doing so revealing that it was he that she was having an affair with.  In an ensuing brawl, Pete gets punched for the second and third time of the season – the man whose wife he slept with, and the conductor of the train following in Lane’s footsteps*.  Now that he is successful at work, living in the suburbs with a loving and devoted wife and child, but remains unfulfilled and constantly in search of more gratification, Pete Campbell has become the Don Draper he so admired in the first season of the show.

*On the plus side – Pete did get to deliver the funniest line of the night – telling the “Officer of the New Haven Line” that he was the “President of the Howdy Doody Circus Army”.

Lane’s suicide last week has cast a shadow over many of the events at the firm, though ironically – given that it was financial problems that were the driving force behind the Brit hanging himself – money is no longer an issue for the firm.  Joan – who not only believes she could have prevented his death by sleeping with him, but is also coping with the new relationship she has with the partners as a consequence of the actions that resulted in her elevation to that position – is able to give positive news on the billings and even suggests they expand their office space to the floor above.  Without Pryce there to be reticent about such an expansion, no objection is made and Mrs. Harris is forced to argue the point with herself about the additional outlay.  A payout of $175,000 from the life insurance policy that the firm had on Lane – which was revealed to cover suicide after three years by a conversation between Pete and Howard earlier in the season – convinces Joan that they should make the investment.  Since more people have been hired to cover the Jaguar business, nobody wants the office that somebody killed themselves in, and Bert Cooper is back on the scene and wants a permanent place of his own, growth was inevitable for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and next season should see another new design for their workplace.  The manner in which Joan marked the place of a proposed new staircase with a red “x” was very ominous and, although I did not compare its placement with the shot of Lane looking out of his window last week, it appeared to be roughly above the spot where he hung himself. Continue reading

Euro 2012 Preview and Predictions

There is still time to enter the Political Footballs Prediction Competition and your chance to win a $50 gift certificate for soccerpro.com – enter here before 12am midnight on Friday June 8th.

I made some projections back when the draw was made, but with Euro 2012 kicking off on Friday when the co-hosts Poland take on Greece, here is my updated preview and predictions for the tournament.

Poland’s chief goal-scoring threat, Lewandowski

Group A

Because they are one of the hosts of the tournament, Poland were rewarded with one of the top seeds in the draw and lucked out with a group from which they have a reasonable chance of progressing.  Arsenal’s keeper, Szczesny, provides them with a safe pair of hands at the back and they will need that, as Poland’s central defence is one of their main weaknesses.  Their star man is Borussia Dormund striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored 22 goals for his club’s title-winning season and was named the Bundesliga player of the year – also netting a hat-trick in Dortmund’s 5-2 win over Bayern Munchen in the German Cup final last month.  Poland will also be hoping that Rafal Wolski will come of age in this tournament – the young left-winger has quick feet and plenty of skills, providing pace off the bench that could help them exploit the opposition’s tiring legs late on in matches.  They are the lowest ranked side in the tournament however, and Poland will need all of the advantages they will get by being on home turf if they are to progress to the knock-out stages.

Russia are the group favourites and need their best striker, Kerzhakov, to continue the impressive form he has shown for Zenit St. Petersburg in the Russian league this season.  They also have a trio of players who have recently plied their trade in London: Arshavin started off well for Arsenal, but has lost confidence in recent years – a loan spell since January back at Zenit is yet to help him rediscover his form of 2008; former Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko can at times look unable to control a ball, but he has a habit of scoring crucial goals; and Fulham’s January acquisition, Pavel Pogrebnyak performed excellently for his new side and may have won a place in the starting line-up.  The most important player to Russia’s chances will be midfielder, Roman Shirokov, who can dominate the midfield and links up well with the attackers – he is also a legitimate goal-scoring threat.

In any other group, I may be dubious about Russia’s chances, as all of their attacking players can blow hot and cold, but Group A is the weakest of the four and it is hard to see either the Czech Republic or Greece causing an upset against them.  However, along with Poland, any of the three teams could finish second behind Dick Advocaat’s side.  The Czech Republic have a strong midfield – anchored by Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky, who is the playmaker of the side, and the energetic Jiracek.  Unfortunately for the Czechs, their main striker is still Milan Baros – top scorer in Euro 2004, but he lacks the pace he had eight years ago and his performance that summer looks like being his career high.  It is hard to write off the Greeks, as they triumphed in that tournament in Portugal in 2004 – providing the blueprint for success in Europe that Chelsea followed to win the Champions League this month: spoil the opposition’s play, and hope to score on the break.  This time around, Greece has more attacking flair than and all eyes will be on how Ioannis Feftazidis – dubbed the Greek Messi because of his close ball control – will perform in his first major tournament.  At left-back, Holebas is a threat going forward and the centre of defence will again be difficult for opponents to break down, with Papasthopolous and Papadopoulos both tall and impressive at the back.  If Greece are to have another strong tournament, then their likely star will be Sotiris Ninis – the playmaker who is the architect of his side’s attack, though he missed a lot of games through injury this past season.

Group A Prediction: 1. Russia; 2. Poland; 3. Czech Republic; 4. Greece Continue reading

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 12 – Commissions and Fees

Why does everything turn out so crappy?  It’s a fair question that Sally’s creepy friend, Glen, poses to Don at the end of tonight’s episode of Mad Men – at the very moment Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce finally appears to be starting to make it, they are brought to their knees by the tragic demise of one of their partners, Lane Pryce.  The Englishman – who came to New York to be Putnam, Powell and Lowe’s financial officer when they acquired the old agency of Sterling Cooper – took his own life to escape from money troubles, and the shame he felt about them.

This storyline had been building up throughout the season: Lane had been late paying the tuition fees for his son’s school; owed the equivalent of $8000 in taxes in the United Kingdom; and then wrote himself a check – forging Don’s signature – to claim an early bonus to clear that debt.  Pryce explained himself to Draper by saying that he had foregone what he was owed for the good of the agency and had liquidated his stock portfolio so that he could provide $50,000 in capital to SCDP when Lucky Strike pulled their business.  But the true cause of Lane’s downfall was not finances, rather his own pride.  When Pete Campbell – not the most humble of characters – was unable to come up with the cash, he confided in Don and the senior partner covered Pete’s share, as well as the $100,000 he was required to invest.  Money is not an issue for Draper, nor is it for Roger Sterling, who has been handing out cash and apartments this season, and if Lane had reached out to them for help, they likely would have come to his aid.  This was the man who freed Sterling, Cooper and Draper from their contracts at PPL to allow them to create their own new agency – though he may have complained that he never received a monetary reward for this action, had he simply been honest with the men, they undoubtedly would have repaid this favour with one of their own.

Yet Lane was a very proud man, someone who could not stand up to his father, yet rolled up his sleeves and fought Pete in the conference room over a slight about his value to the firm.  It was Pryce who made the first contact with Jaguar – albeit fortuitously over a steak and kidney pie after England’s world cup victory – but the sad irony is that had the agency never won the car company’s business, his embezzlement might never have been discovered.  When he was in need of a Christmas bonus to pay the tax bill, Lane approached their bank manager for an extension of the overdraft and that was granted prior to winning of the new client – but when Jaguar came on board and requested a different fee structure to the usual rates, Bert Cooper awoke from his four-year long slumber to study the books and found the cancelled check.  If the English car makers were a part of the reason that Pryce’s scam was uncovered, their lack of reliability – noted earlier in the episode by Jed Covington in the barber shop to Don – prolonged his life by just a few hours, since when the engine would not start in the new Jaguar his wife had bought for him, Lane was forced to find a different method of killing himself.

By hanging himself in his office, the Englishman chose to commit suicide in a manner that had the biggest impact on his colleagues – in particular, Don Draper.  Don was the only person who knew that Lane had defrauded the agency and had insisted that he resign from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – a move that would have resulted in him losing his visa and return back to Great Britain.  While that may have been something Pryce considered to be too shameful to consider, he should have recognised that Draper was incredibly decent in the way he handled the situation: Don was chided by Bert for not being adult in the firm’s affairs; told nobody else at the company of Lane’s crime; and allowed him to leave on his own terms, rather than being fired and perhaps arrested.

Sadly, the way that Lane chose to exit was at the end of a rope and Draper may regret that he insisted that the Brit resign or face further embarrassment, taking some of the blame for his suicide.  When someone takes their own life, those around them will often have feelings of guilt, anger or frustration that they were not able to prevent it from happening and, in the 1960s, there was even less understanding of mental health issues than there is today.  How Don handles this next week will be interesting to watch – will he reveal the depth of Lane’s financial problems and thus provide an explanation to the other partners, or keep his former colleague’s secret, even after his passing? Continue reading