The state of the Sox

Thank goodness the baseball season starts in a week.  My March Madness bracket is sooo busted I can’t decide if I will continue with the next round on the CBS round by round contest.  But baseball.  That’s a different story.  The season is ahead of us, all those games from April to September and beyond to the World Series.

The big question for Boston is whether the Red Sox can rebound from last year’s train wreck.  Actually the disaster began in September 2011, but things got worse under Bobby Valentine.  Maybe it is time to forgive Bobby.  After all, he was a new manager coming into a difficult situation, but he was just wrong for Boston and wrong for the Sox so no forgiveness yet.  Now it is John Farrell’s turn to try.

Spring training has been about what one could expect.  The Sox are .500.  We’ve seen some good youngsters and the pitchers are working faster – even Cloy Bucholtz.  The bullpen seems solid.  The question is:  Can the Sox hit?

Nick Carfardo had a nice list of issues the Red Sox have to resolve to get to their roster of 25 in the Boston Globe this morning.

1. Lyle Overbay — He is the most immediate decision since he has an opt-out Tuesday. The Sox have to tell him by noon Tuesday whether he will make the 25-man active roster. If he does not ask for his release and agrees to open the season in Pawtucket, he will receive a $100,000 retention bonus. The Sox might be OK with that as insurance in case something happens to Mike Napoli.

Overbay is also a proven first baseman while Napoli is not. We’re assuming that David Ross, Pedro Ciriaco, and Daniel Nava are on the bench. That leaves one spot for Ryan Sweeney (who has a March 28 opt-out), Mike Carp, and Overbay. Nava is protection at first base and in the outfield and is also a better fielder than Carp. Overbay is a pure first baseman (he made a nice diving stop Monday) and lefthanded bat. Carp went 1 for 2 against the Orioles and is hitting .211.

I haven’t been that impressed with Overbay or Carp and Napoli is doing OK at first.  I’d let Overbay opt out this morning and keep Nava as back up.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has raised his spring average to .444.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has raised his spring average to .444.

2. Bradley — It appears he’s made the team, at least that’s the indication after the team reversed its decision not to play him in left. He’s passed every eye test, including facing a tough lefty Sunday in Cliff Lee, whom he took deep for a three-run homer and sacrifice fly in his first two-at bats. He followed that up Monday by coming off the bench with two hits, a two-run single up the middle against Pedro Strop and a triple vs. lefty Chris Petrini.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.  Jerry Remy keeps using his full name.  He might be a rookie, but he’s been to the College World Series and appears very mature and stable.  I know there is all this talk about the free agency date being different if he starts the season at Pawtucket, but let’s face it, we need his bat.  Even if he cools off, as he will, I think he will be as asset.

3. Daniel Bard — We’re assuming the bullpen spots that are set are Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Koji Uehara, Alfredo Aceves, Junichi Tazawa, and Clayton Mortensen. That could change if Aceves or Mortensen is traded. Mortensen, who was touched up for two homers Monday, is out of options and the Sox don’t want to lose him because he’s stretched out and basically fills the same role as Aceves.

Bard has options and could go back to the minors, as his performance hasn’t been smooth this spring. The Sox also could option Tazawa as well.

I would trade Mortensen ( I’ve read that there is interest in him.), keep Tazawa and have Bard start in Pawtucket.  It is a long season and we will need Bard sooner or later.

How will the Sox do this season?  Predictions have a way of coming back to haunt you (take my March Madness bracket), but I think the Sox will be a better than .500 team.  The AL East is tough and I think Baltimore is the team to beat, but never, never count the Yankees out.

(By the way, I picked Indiana to win the basketball crown this year, but any team but Louisville will suit me fine.)

Photograph Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Bracket busted

My picks for the final four this year:  Duke, Michigan State, Florida State, and North Carolina.  Duke went out early and Florida State didn’t make the Sweet Sixteen.  What I get for ACC loyalty.  Actually, Duke was a decent pick, but FSU was only because they were on a streak and which I thought could be sustained a few more games.  Oh, well.

With injuries to UNC, I have a feeling my ultimate winner – and President Obama’s – may not make it, but we shall see!  I have Michigan State and UNC in the finals, by the way, and they are both still alive for the moment.

 Kendall Marshall off-balance. He landed breaking his non-dominant wrist.

I know that everyone is saying that Kentucky is a lock now, that it is Kentucky against the field, but I am still betting against them.

Sure signs of spring

The NCAA basketball tournaments are over.  We can only hope that UConn is not so dominent next year and someone else has a shot at the women’s championship.  I did have Duke in the men’s final which salvaged something although not as much as Reggie Love, President Obama’s assistant and former Duke player, who had Duke winning it all.

I planted my spring pots of pansies for the front steps, started some herbs and played with all the indoor plants  this weekend.  All signs of spring.

The Yankee’s opened at Fenway on Sunday night.  (I really dislike opening night.  One is supposed to skip school and work on opening day!)   The Sox took opening day, but lost last night.  Here is Wiley Miller’s take in Non Sequitur

There was the Easter Egg Roll at the White House where the President tried to help this poor bewildered child who was having trouble starting. 

White House Easter Egg Roll

It’s gonna be 80 today!

Elite Eight

Out of the wreckage that is my bracket, I still have four teams alive.   Duke, Baylor, Kentucky and West Virginia. 

Starting with the teams left I will predict the final four will be Kansas State, Tennessee, Kentucky and Duke.  Duke will beat Kansas State and Tennessee will beat Kentucky .  After that I have no clue.  But if Duke wins it all, expect Reggie Love to give President Obama an earful.

Don’t take any of this to the bank – I picked Duke – Kansas in the final.  I have to say that I miss Northern Iowa even if I never thought they would beat Kansas.  And what ever happened to BYU?

Sunday morning health care and basketball

I’m like about 90% of the country (including the President) waking up to find out that Kansas really did lose.   I watched the game, but still hoped it would be different this morning.  Yesterday was a disaster for my bracket:  I lost both Kansas and BYU from my final four and the only reason I haven’t lost Duke and Kentucky is they haven’t had their games yet.  March Madness a few years ago was like this:  upset after upset.  Great games, but hell on one’s picks.  At this point, I’m just watching to see what happens next.

And we are also watching health care to see what happens next.  The Republican/Tea Party folks must know they are going to lose.  Yesterday they showed their true colors.  The story in the Washington Post by Paul Kane begins

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus said that racial epithets were hurled at them Saturday by angry protesters who had gathered at the Capitol to protest health-care legislation, and one congressman said he was spit upon. The most high-profile openly gay congressman, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), was heckled with anti-gay chants.

Republican members of Congress addressed the crowd both before and after the incident.  Where were they to control their followers?

Democratic leaders and their aides said they were outraged by the day’s behavior. “I have heard things today that I have not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to get off the back of the bus,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking black official in Congress.

Between race (I believe that the opposition to anything proposed by President Obama and the wanting to see him fail is simply because the Republicans can’t stomach having a black man in the White House.) and abortion (The opposition to a woman’s right to choose stems, I think, from a deep seeded belief that women are incapable of having their own religious convictions or of making a rational decision), I worry what happens during the fall campaigns.

So I have to turn to Paul Krugman’s column earlier this week to remind myself what we are trying to do.

So this seems like a good time to revisit the reasons we need this reform, imperfect as it is.

As it happens, Reuters published an investigative report this week that powerfully illustrates the vileness of our current system. The report concerns the insurer Fortis, now part of Assurant Health, which turns out to have had a systematic policy of revoking its clients’ policies when they got sick. In particular, according to the Reuters report, it targeted every single policyholder who contracted H.I.V., looking for any excuse, no matter how flimsy, for cancellation. In the case that brought all this to light, Assurant Health used an obviously misdated handwritten note by a nurse, who wrote “2001” instead of “2002,” to claim that the infection was a pre-existing condition that the client had failed to declare, and revoked his policy.

This was illegal, and the company must have known it: the South Carolina Supreme Court, after upholding a decision granting large damages to the wronged policyholder, concluded that the company had been systematically concealing its actions when withdrawing coverage, not just in this case, but across the board.

But this is much more than a law enforcement issue. For one thing, it’s an example those who castigate President Obama for “demonizing” insurance companies should consider. The truth, widely documented, is that behavior like Assurant Health’s is widespread for a simple reason: it pays. A House committee estimated that Assurant made $150 million in profits between 2003 and 2007 by canceling coverage of people who thought they had insurance, a sum that dwarfs the fine the court imposed in this particular case. It’s not demonizing insurers to describe what they actually do.

Beyond that, this is a story that could happen only in America. In every other advanced nation, insurance coverage is available to everyone regardless of medical history. Our system is unique in its cruelty.

And one more thing: employment-based health insurance, which is already regulated in a way that mostly prevents this kind of abuse, is unraveling. Less than half of workers at small businesses were covered last year, down from 58 percent a decade ago. This means that in the absence of reform, an ever-growing number of Americans will be at the mercy of the likes of Assurant Health.

So what’s the answer? Americans overwhelmingly favor guaranteeing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions — but you can’t do that without pursuing broad-based reform. To make insurance affordable, you have to keep currently healthy people in the risk pool, which means requiring that everyone or almost everyone buy coverage. You can’t do that without financial aid to lower-income Americans so that they can pay the premiums. So you end up with a tripartite policy: elimination of medical discrimination, mandated coverage, and premium subsidies.

Or to put it another way, you end up with something like the health care plan Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts in 2006, and the very similar plan the House either will or won’t pass in the next few days. Comprehensive reform is the only way forward.

Krugman concludes

Can you imagine a better reform? Sure. If Harry Truman had managed to add health care to Social Security back in 1947, we’d have a better, cheaper system than the one whose fate now hangs in the balance. But an ideal plan isn’t on the table. And what is on the table, ready to go, is legislation that is fiscally responsible, takes major steps toward dealing with rising health care costs, and would make us a better, fairer, more decent nation.

All it will take to make this happen is for a handful of on-the-fence House members to do the right thing. Here’s hoping.

Are you rethinking your position Stephen Lynch?  And what about you, Rick Boucher in Virginia?  Do either of you really want to be the vote that kills Health Care Reform?

One day before the House votes on health care

It is Saturday afternoon.  The Tar Heels won their NIT game, my NCAA bracket is doing so-so. and the Sox won.  There is a lot going on including the all important countdown to 216 votes in the House.

A couple of things have happened.  President Obama has made his “remember why you are a Democrat” speech (or maybe it is live up to Abe Lincoln) before the House Democratic Caucus.  There are sufficient votes in the Senate for the bill as it will be amended by the House and it looks like Nancy Pelosi will get to 216 sometime before tomorrow’s votes if she is not already there.  The picture and the quotes that follow are from the New York Times Prescriptions blog.

President Barack Obama met with House Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss health insurance reform legislation, Saturday, March 20, 2010 in Washington

“You have a chance to make good on the promises you made,” Mr. Obama said. “This is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself: ‘Doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. This is why I made these sacrifices.’ ”

“Every single one of you have made that promise not just to your constituents but to yourself,” he added. “This is the time to make good on this promise.”

He had opened his speech by quoting Lincoln

“I am not bound to win but I am bound to be true,” he said.

I have to believe that once the bill is passed and signed and benefits begin to kick in there will be support for the bill.  I really liked the President’s characterization of the the Republican’s trying to get Democrats to vote no.

“I notice that there has been a lot of friendly advice offered all across town,” he said. “Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Karl Rove — they are all warning you of the horrendous impact if you support this legislation.”

He continued, “Now, it could be that they are suddenly having a change of heart, and they are deeply concerned about their democratic friends. They are giving you the best possible advice in order to ensure that Nancy Pelosi remains speaker and Harry Reid remains leader and all of you keep your seats — that’s a possibility.”

Mr. Obama chuckled at himself, and lawmakers in the audience laughed.

“But it may also be possible that they realize that after health reform passes and I sign that legislation into law, it’s going to be a little harder to mischaracterize what this legislation has been all about,” he said.

So with all this, what is going on the Representative Stephen Lynch?  Lynch represents the part of Boston not represented by my Rep, Mike Capuano, who is voting “yes”.  Lynch has announced that he is voting “no” because the bill does not do enough to control the cost of insurance.  There is a lot of pressure on him by the local unions, include SEIU of which I am a member.  According to the Boston Globe

More than 20 Massachusetts labor leaders made a last-ditch appeal to US Representative Stephen F. Lynch late yesterday, urging him to “do the right thing’’ and vote for a national health care overhaul.

In a letter delivered to Lynch’s South Boston office, the group suggested a vote against the bill would damage his standing with their membership.

Lynch, a former president of Ironworkers Local 7, declared Thursday that he will vote against the health care bill. He said the current bill does not do enough to force insurance companies to reduce costs.

“Congressman, we will not be able to explain to the working women and men of our union why you voted against their interests,’’ the letter states. “We have stood together time and time again and you have made an enormous difference.’’

“It takes courage to make history,’’ they wrote. “We know that you have always had the courage to do the right thing — national health reform is the right thing for Massachusetts families. Please stand with us once again and do the right thing.’’

It looks like he will join Senator Scott Brown in being the two “no” votes from Massachusetts.

Another Republican objection disappeared this afternoon when the House Rules committee decided against “deeming” and will now hold two votes.  As explained in the Washington Post

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the House will take three votes on Sunday: first, on a resolution that will set the terms of debate; second, on a package of amendments to the Senate bill that have been demanded by House members; and third, on the Senate bill itself.

Van Hollen, who has been working on the issue with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said House leaders concluded that that order — approving the amendments before approving the Senate bill — makes clear that the House intends to modify the Senate bill and not approve the Senate bill itself.

“We believe this is a better process,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said of the vote strategy. “We determined we could do this. . . . We believe we have the votes.”

This is all possible because Senator Reid has done his head count and has the votes to pass the reconciled bill.

I think we will know who the 216 votes will be by tomorrow morning.

And before I retire to watch basketball (do you believe that St. Mary’s beat Villanova?! ) here is a link to the amendments the House will be making to the Senate bill.

2010 Final Four Picks

I am going to try doing my bracket two ways this year.  For the office pool, did picks all the way though to the final four.  But I am also going to try to pick one round at a time and see what happens.

My final four for this year are:

Kansas, Brigham Young, Kentucky and Duke.    Kansas to win it all.

Yes, I know that BYU and Duke are long shot picks.  But Duke seems to be in a pretty easy bracket and I don’t much like Syracuse.

I had to make my picks by noon today, and already I should have gone with President Obama who picked Murrary State over Vanderbilt.