Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Does "24" Have Destruction of DC In Mind?

Yesterday's Washington Post had a cute little story about the little geographic white lies embedded in this season's TV series "24," set in Washington for the first time. (Oddly, the show, which always features the President of the U.S. in many scenes and episodes, managed to go quite a number of seasons being set in L.A.)

Anyway, the story ended with this tantalizer from the head writer at "24": "I can safely say that Washington has been threatened by us for the last time."

Holy crap! What does that mean? Are they going to destroy Washington at the end of this season?

Are the insane "patriots" at Starkwood going to let loose a cloud of neorotoxins on the populace, having us all writhe our way to a painful death? Or will they introduce an even larger terrorist menace (there's still quite a few episodes left to go) to obliterate our fair city?

We need to take these things seriously. After all, "24" had an African-American President (actually, two) in its early seasons, and now we have one in real life!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Health Insurance Blues

We just finished processing a bunch of health care bills, and it made us feel ill.

The amount of wasted administrative energy that goes into the health care system is mind-boggling.

We had four bills to pay. They were all associated with referrals from our primary care physician to various specialists to run a bunch of fancy tests, which confirmed that, yes, the Curmudgeon is still quite healthy.

Frankly, it all seems a bit like mattress shopping. Only a fool would "pay full" price for a mattress, since just about all mattresses are deeply discounted all the time. The problem with mattress shopping is that you really don't know what's a good price unless you compare all those discounted prices. Getting the retailer to tell you the actual mattress price (as opposed to the percentage of the discount), however, is not that easy.

Health care is even more frustrating and confusing. The face value of the four bills we just paid was $3557. Of that, our health insurer, which extracts nearly $20,000 a year out of us through Mrs. Curmudgeon's law firm, paid $993.79. We were asked to pay an additional $360.41. That leaves $2202.80 that was not paid. In the mattress world, we got a "discount" of 66%.

Hey, not bad! That's a big discount--those insurance boys (and girls) must really be doing their job!

Or are they? The problem is that we don't know what the services are really worth, or what these health care providers would really charge in an open market. It sure must suck though, if you're the doctor who has to write-off two-thirds of everything you charge.

Furthermore, unlike mattresses, where the transaction cost of that hefty discount is small, the transaction costs in the health care industry are quite large. It would be one thing if Dr. X, the Curmudgeon's cardiology referral, had a sign in his window saying "Spring Sale: 65% Off on all Echocardiograms!" and we just went in and paid him the discounted price.

Instead, Dr. X has to have an administrative person to fill out a bunch of paperwork to send to the insurance company. The insurance company has administrative people to review it. (Apparently, they use a random number generator to decide how much to reimburse the doctors, because the numbers are never round--it's always something like $223.77 or $189.61.)

The insurance company then tells the doctor how much will be reimbursed and how much the doctor can charge the patient. Then the doctor's admin person arranges for a bill to be sent to the patient--probably via a third-party administrator, since we got four bills today for four different doctors, all in the same format with the same return address.

Of course, with the doctor being stiffed by the insurance company, and having to pay for all that administrative overhead, it's no wonder the doc spends about 2 minutes with you while her waiting room is filled with other patients to run through the mill. And it's no wonder that, despite all that increased efficiency at the doctor's end, it still costs a lot, because we have to pay for all those billing and review assistants!

Meanwhile, the insurance company can play the charade that we should be so we have them on our side. Just think of it: without the insurer, we would have had to pay another $2200! Yes, but we paid the insurer some $1600 just for January, and it paid our docs about $1000, while denying reimbursement for all of our son's various neuropsych treatments to get him on track at school.

Someone is laughing all the way to the bank, but it isn't us.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Silly Earth Hour

Ok, we try to be environmentally correct and all that. But we draw the line at "earth hour."

Earth Hour is the invention of the World Wildlife Federation, and of course everyone green is jumping on board. (Arlington County's government is promoting it.)

The idea is that at 8:30 pm (your local time) everyone turns out their lights for an hour and "votes for earth."

Sorry, but this is silly. We have no plan to sit around in the dark for an hour on a Saturday night, twiddling our thumbs to "vote" for earth. There are far more meaningful ways people can "vote" for earth, without resorting to some gimmick of dubious value.

We would contrast "earth hour" with Earth Day, which is a good event. Earth Day becomes a focus for a number of green activities, without everyone sitting around in the dark for an hour.

Sorry to be so Curmudgeonly, but at our home tomorrow night, our (fluorescent) lights will be on (to the extent we need them).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Support Notre Dame's Commencement Invitation To President Obama

Yesterday we wrote about a right wing group's petition drive, objecting to Notre Dame's invitation of President Barack Obama to speak at the university's commencement.

Today, you can sign a counter-petition supporting the University's decision:

Endangered NC GOP Senator

It looks like Republicans will have to devote significant resources to defending incumbent Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina. Two recent polls show Burr trailing likely Democratic challenger Roy Cooper, who currently serves as NC's attorney general.

Back in December, Public Policy Polling found Cooper leading Burr by 39%-34%. Now Civitas has a similar result, with Cooper leading 41%-38%.

These numbers are not all that surprising. Burr is a practical nobody in the Senate, having thoroughly undistinguished himself in his first term. Meanwhile, NC has been trending Democratic on the demographic front, as evidenced dramatically in the last election, when the state went for Obama and knocked out incumbent Republican senator Liddy Dole.

Don't count Burr out entirely. He has the good fortune to be running in a non-presidential year, when the party out of power typically picks up seats and does better. But Republicans can hardly be happy about the prospect of playing defense to protect an incumbent in what not too long ago was considered a reliably conservative state.

If Cooper were to unseat Burr, Democrats would control all four senate seats in contiguous Virginia and North Carolina for the first time since 1971!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

DC United Stadium Move Takes A Blow

Common sense is taking over in the proposal to move DC United to a new stadium in Prince George's County. Yesterday, a committee of the P.G. County Board unanimously voted AGAINST supporting legislation to have the Maryland Stadium Authority take the first steps toward making the move.

As we've said here before, moving DC United to P.G. County makes no sense. The team's fans are mostly in Northern Virginia, and the only reason United's quasi-owner, Victor McFarlane, wants the move is because he's cut some kind of deal to pair the move with a real estate development to help his struggling property management business. McFarlane is no soccer fan, and why Major League Soccer let this weasel take over its flagship team is beyond us.

Northern Virginians, who have easy access to DC United games at RFK stadium, have been rebelling against the proposed move, letting DC United officials know what they think. This week, the Arlington Soccer Association, which promotes and sells thousands of DC United tickets to families of its youth soccer players, weighed in with a letter opposing the move and predicting that many fewer Arlington families would make the trek out to P.G. County.

P.G. County Board members are wise to view the deal with skepticism. If ticket sales don't materialize, they'll be left holding the bag. Rosy forecasts from team officials need to be tempered by the reaction of fans--the folks who buy the tickets--who aren't at all enthused.

DC United does need a new, soccer-only stadium. But it doesn't necessarily need a real-estate development with the deal. Rather, that's something McFarlane wants, for his own purposes. MLS should find a new owner for DC United--one who cares about soccer--and get McFarlane out of the way. Then the franchise can move forward on a stadium deal at a site convenient to its fans.

Right Wing Catholics Hope To Embarass Notre Dame

A group of right wing Catholics based in Virginia has mounted a petition drive to have Notre Dame University revoke its invitation to have Pres. Barack Obama as commencement speaker.

The right wing press--Fox, WSJ, etc.--have all trumpeted the story this week, reporting that more than 65,000 people have signed the petition. Given that there are more than 75 million Catholics in the U.S., that number is a pittance, hardly worth reporting.

This is really about publicity for the Cardinal Newman Society, which evidently hopes to transform Catholic colleges in the U.S. into a bunch of narrow-minded fundamentalist schools like Liberty College. The Society claims that Obama should be disinvited because of his positions on abortion and stem cell research. We suspect there's more to it--these are hard core conservatives outraged at a popular African-American President. We'd be willing to bet that Notre Dame has had other commencement speakers whose views don't comport entirely with Catholic religious orthodoxy, without a peep from the Society.

Fortunately, the administrators of Notre Dame have better sense than to embarass their institution by dis-inviting a sitting President from giving the commencement address--a true honor for any great educational institution. Obama will give the address, and the seniors at Notre Dame will be proud that they were there to hear it.

Wagner, McAuliffe Get To Top Primary Ballot

Showing some organizational muscle, Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Jody Wagner was the first--in a crowded field--to file the required signatures to put her on the primary ballot. That assures her the top position on the ballot. No one knows scientifically if that's the best position, but everyone assumes it is!

Wagner submitted more than 17,000 signatures, well over the 10,000 she needed. Wagner has also been dutifully locking up endorsements from local Democratic politicos. At present, her campaign appears to have good momentum. It's a tough race, because none of the five candidates has particularly wide name recognition in the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, in the three-man Democratic gubernatorial primary race, Terry McAuliffe was the first to file his signatures, with almost as many as Wagner. That puts him on the top of the ballot. Brian Moran says he'll file later this week, while Creigh Deeds--who unlike Moran and McAuliffe had actually been working in the General Assembly session--will file later this month.

(The Moran people seem a little conflicted--perhaps they don't want the middle position on the ballot. We doubt it matters.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Patti Prius At 2000

It's been nearly two months since we traded our sporty, muscular Acura RL for a dainty, gas-sipping Prius. So how's it been?

Well, we've put nearly 2000 miles on the Prius (Patti Prius, the kids named her) so far and it has certainly proved itself as a gas miser. We're averaging about 47 mpg for our combined city/highway driving so far. That's a big jump from the roughly 22 mpg we got with the RL in similar driving conditions.

The Prius is more comfortable and roomier than we expected. We took a long trip to NY this past weekend and everyone was fine. There was plenty of room in the hatchback for luggage--probably about the same as the RL.

The electric motor is great around town. When we're driving more than 10 minutes we generally get about 50 mpg around town. The Prius is a star in stop and go traffic--all that braking generates electricity to recharge the battery, and in slow traffic much of the power comes from the electric motor.

On the highway, the Prius gets a bit lower mileage--about 45-46 mpg--but that may be more a function of the Curmudgeon's lead foot.

We're still getting used to the navigation system, which is not nearly as simple or intuitive as the Acura one, but certainly adequate to get us around. (For some reason, it wanted only to take back roads to NY; no doubt we selected some arcane option by accident.)

One very annoying factor on the Prius, however--at least on ours--is the gas tank. It registers "full" when it is still at least 2-3 gallons short of being full. Trying to get it to finish filling is a real chore. Yet, driving around with only 9 gallons in an 11.9 gallon tank partially defeats the purpose of higher gas mileage (i.e., a longer cruising range). We're going to explore how to fix this particular problem.

Another annoyance is the climate control system. When we set it to "auto" at a certain temperature in the dead of winter, it insisted on running the air conditioning, robbing us of fuel economy. There's also no indicator for engine heat, so we don't know when the engine is warm enough to turn on the heat (on low--again, the higher the fan, the lower the fuel economy). We'll be interested to see how much fuel economy we lose in the summer when a/c becomes a must.

The Prius has a high profile, with a narrow wheelbase, and in high winds you can definitely feel it, whereas the all-wheel-drive RL was a road hugger.

On the other hand, some features on the Prius work better than on the RL. We tried to program the RL so that all the doors would unlock when unlocking the drivers door, to no avail (although it's supposed to be able to do that), but had no problem with the Prius.

The RL also had super-sensitive doors that were always closing on people when you didn't want them to--not a problem with the Prius.

All told, we're satisfied. It's not a good-looking vehicle. But it gets us around town without destroying the planet quite so badly. And, we hope that by the time we get around to our next car, we'll have plug-in hybrid options with gas mileage in the 80-100 mpg range.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Devolution In Texas

The Texas Board of Education will hold a highly politicized hearing this week on whether to modify its state science curriculum to challenge the teaching of evolution in biology classes.

The Chairman of the Board, a dentist named Don McLeroy, has a religious belief that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago, and he is leading the battle. As in other states, religious conservatives who have taken over the state Republican party apparatus have infiltrated the Board to the point that they can force a vote on this divisive issue.

At the Curmudgeon, our only doubt about evolution is the existence of people like McLeroy. We don't seem to be evolving at all, but rather sliding back to the Dark Ages.

While the Texas Board is at it, why not revise the curriculum of other scientific subjects? If the earth is only 10,000 years old, then there's a lot about geology, physical science, astronomy and other subjects that's clearly wrong.

Religious zealots like McLeroy like to position themselves as "opponents" of the "theory" of evolution, raising questions about the evidence behind the "theory." What they really are, however, is proponents of religion. They should keep their teachings to religious school, and keep their hands off the public schools.

One of the more interesting aspects of the upcoming hearing is a rift between Republicans on the Texas State Board. The 15-member board has seven staunchly religious conservatives, but also includes three Republicans who have been part of a bipartisan group that supports teaching evolution without caveats.

Significantly, the state Republican Party passed a resolution urging the three evolution Republicans to back the anti-evolution curriculum, and the three have been the target of a vigorous campaign of emails and phone calls from the religious right.

And therein lies a major problem for the GOP. As the religious right has continued to take over the party apparatus in states like Texas, it has driven out more moderate Republicans focused on taxes and economic issues.

At a time when Republicans are trying to figure out how to rebuild a governing coalition, efforts such as those of Dr. McLeroy are sure to alienate potential allies, and continue to paint the party as one of religious intolerance.

In the longer run, religious conservatives may also be damaging their religion. When a religion has to ask its adherents to ignore science and hold onto beliefs that clash with known facts, it risks extinction. Many religious beliefs of the past have long succumbed to the advance of human knowledge. Insisting that the earth was created 10,000 years ago, against an overwhelming wealth of evidence to the contrary, is a good way to become irrelevant. It is thus no surprise that, in a tradition of religious shamans going back for eons, McLeroy and his fellow travelers are busy trying to suppress the truth, rather than reconcile their beliefs with the facts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Time To Calm Down In D.C.

It seems like every day we learn of a new effort out of Washington to rescue or stimulate the economy.  Being pro-active is good.  But it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and we're about there, or maybe past it.

It started in the waning months of the Bush administration with Bailout I and II.  Then we had Obama Bailout; The Stimulus; and now Obama Bailout, the Sequel and Night of the Walking Fed.

It's time to slow down.  First, these things take time to work, especially economic stimulus.  Second, there are, indeed, signs that the economy has stabilized.  Yes, it still stinks--employment continues to be down and probably will edge down a bit further.  Employment, however, is a trailing indicator of the economy--businesses won't start hiring until they're sure there's a rebound.

Other signs, however, suggest the worst is over.  Banks are reporting some profits; housing prices appear close to a bottom; retail sales have stabilized.  More importantly, inventories are quite low, meaning there's a lot less excess now.  And consumers who have put off purchases will soon begin to make them again.

Another good sign was last week's stock market rally and its ability to hold on to the gains for a few days.  Consumers are starting to realize that, as badly as they've been beaten up, for the most part they still have some investments and they still have their jobs.  They're a little like people who've experienced a really bad storm, like a hurricane--the storm is beginning to move out and they realize they've survived and that the damage, while significant, can be repaired.

That's not to say that there won't be more bad news in the months ahead, but the worst may be behind us.

The bigger danger, now, is that Washington goes too far.  Already, the federal government is racking up a huge deficit.  Congress is spending like drunken mortgage brokers, and we all know that once Congress starts spending on something, it's hard to stop.  (Just look at farm and ethanol subsidies.)

We're going to need 12-step stimulus anonymous programs to remove all kinds of people and businesses from their newfound addiction to government funds.  Banks, insurers, hedge funds, auto manufacturers, auto parts suppliers, etc., etc.

Too much stimulus leads to inflation; and difficult solution to inflation is to raise interest rates, which stifles growth.  At this point, inflation is a significant risk.  Oil prices have recovered from their low and are headed back up; the fed is printing money like mad; and the Obama administration has set the stage for a trillion dollar deficit.  

Given those risks, it's time for Washington to take a break.  Let's see what happens over the next three months, and not react to every new piece of news, good or bad.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Conservatism For Sale

Republicans and conservatives have been sniping and backbiting at each other of late, indicative of a vacuum in leadership of their movement.

Michael Steele criticizes Rush Limbaugh, who lashes back. Meghan McCain takes a swipe at Ann Coulter, and Laura Ingraham gets Ann's back by going after Meghan's weight (meeoowww--cat fight!)

One problem that is evident in the back and forth is the difference between conservatives--an ideology--and Republicans, a political party. Conservatives really seem happier being on the defensive, being on the outside, criticizing Democrats. Republicans would be happier winning elections.

Another problem--a big one, we think--is that the leaders of the conservative movement are in it for the money. Nothing wrong with that; after all, a linchpin of the conservative movement is the capitalistic imperative to get rich.

But the money motive does skew the debate. Rush Limbaugh may be a conservative radio commentator, but he's also out there making money on his radio show. He LIKES controversy, as it drives up his ratings. There's no profit in any Republican party leader attacking Rush, because Rush relishes the opportunity.

Limbaugh is a horrible icon for Republicans (as opposed to conservatives). Fat, rich, white; a drug abuser; hardly the epitome of a family man (three divorces, no children). He's everything ugly about the conservative movement, and he could care less.

Ann Coulter is another of the same ilk. Coulter makes a fortune off her books attacking the left with provacative titles. Conservatives who rail against their taxes are happy to part with their money for Coulter's diatribes. She earns nothing by taking the edge off. And she's another ugly icon of the movement--smug, smarmy, blonde. If she really believed her own Kool-aid, she'd be a housewife tending to the kids in obscurity, but, at age 47, she's never been married and has no kids.

Most of the other "leaders" of the conservative movement aren't much better. Laura Ingraham? She went after Meghan McCain because she needs the publicity for her own flagging radio show. (Laura, age 44, also has never been married; she has adopted a Guatemalan girl.) Blow-hard Bill O'Reilly? Another angry, fat-cheeked white guy laughing all the way to the bank. (At least O'Reilly is married and has kids!)

We're not saying the left doesn't have some economic opportunists--one, Al Franken, is about to become Senator from Minnesota. But by and large the left has a more balanced (and cacaphonous) cast of characters that is either less interested in the money, or just hasn't been successful monetizing the debate.

If Republicans want to win, they'll need a leader willing to stand up to the self-interested conservative money-makers, without folding like a cheap tent.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Terrific Way To Promote Distributed Solar Power

When an idea from liberal Berkeley is embraced by the conservative denizens of Desert Palms, California, it must be a good one.

And so it is. Today's New York Times reports on a program under which municipalities finance home installations of solar panels. (See "Harnessing The Sun, With Help From The Cities")

Here's how the program works: a homeowner applies to their municipality for financing for solar panels. The town gives the homeowner a loan, which is then paid off--with interest--via property tax payments over the next 20 years.

This is the same way that homeowners pay for things like water and sewer pipes to serve their communities.

The other day, we lamented that perpetually sunny places like Arizona and Southern California have made surprisingly little progress in getting solar energy going. This is a way to move solar forward, relatively quickly, in those places where it makes the most sense.

Desert Palms, California, is one of those places. The sun shines nearly 360 days a year. It is blistering hot during the day, but relatively cool at night, meaning there is a peak demand for air conditioning--and electricity--in the afternoon, which happens to be when solar panels are at their peak performance. Residents of this community are fairly well off, so they can afford the payments.

As the NYT points out, many of the residents there who have taken advantage of the program are politically conservative, even skeptical about global warming. But solar panels allow them to reduce, or even eliminate, their electric bills, providing the cash savings to make the payments on the solar panels.

The NYT says other municipalities are interested as well. We hope the program will spread, and that federal legislation will help encourage widespread implementation.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wasted Daylight

The Curmudgeon was in Scottsdale, Arizona last weekend, visiting friends (and, of course, playing golf). While we were there, the rest of the country switched to "daylight savings time," but Arizona--the last holdout after Indiana caved in--didn't.

We have no problem with Arizona not switching--after all, daylight savings time doesn't save any daylight at all; it just shifts it, giving us more daylight in the evenings and less in the mornings.

Unfortunately, we saw a vast waste of another kind of daylight--sunlight--while tooling around the desert valleys of Scottsdale. Scottsdale is a fairly wealthy community (at least before the housing bust), but we didn't see a single home with solar panels the entire time we were there. (We did see a few wind turbines, although they were perfectly still when we drove past.)

That's similar to our experience in San Diego and other parts of Southern California in the past few months.

We hope that will change with the new tax/stimulus bill passed by Congress. Under the old tax code, you could get a 30% tax credit on your investment in solar panels, but only up to $2500. Under the new provision, the $2500 cap is removed, so you can really get a 30% credit. (For the Curmudgeon's solar panels, that would have meant an additional credit of about $3700.)

One of the problems with our national energy policy is that it's so haphazard. We really ought to be concentrating on encouraging widespread solar adoption in those parts of the country where it makes the most sense: Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Texas and Florida.

On top of the tax credits for solar, we'd like to see a program under which the federal government specifically targets certain areas--like Scottsdale--for intensive expansion of home and small business solar with direct subsidies that would bring the homeowner/businessperson investment to roughly half the cost, a point at which solar becomes fairly economical for people in areas of good sunlight.
(In Scottsdale, a homeowner would get almost double the sunlight the Curmudgeon gets in Northern Virginia; if that homeowner paid half the cost of new solar panels, he or she would recoup the investment roughly four times faster than the Curmudgeon.)

Ideally, such a program would also concentrate on urban areas facing a looming peak power deficit, and would enlist utilities to invest in solar as well--instead of expensive new high voltage power lines--in those areas.

Solar power is not the answer to all our energy problems. But it is an answer to many. Right now, solar power remains largely uneconomical, but it is getting closer. By stimulating the solar market in the right places, under a realistic plan, we can push the economics in the right direction and advance U.S. energy independence that much more quickly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Will GOP Dump The Man Of Steele?

Word has it that GOP insiders, especially the righteous wing, already chafing at the leadership of national chairman Michael Steele, are getting the knives out, plotting to replace him.

That would be delicious for Democrats. Steele has been trying to broaden the appeal of the party by taking on (but then retreating from) Rush Limbaugh, and making statements on abortion and gay rights that don't exactly comport with Republican orthodoxy.

If he is removed precipitously, it will only reinforce the party's image as a small, exclusive club for white people.

We think cooler heads (to the extent they still exist in the GOP) will prevail. Recall the early days of Howard Dean's stewardship of the Democrats--party activists and bloggers were calling for his head. He persevered and ultimately helped lead Democrats to a stunning comeback.

Of course, Dean and the Democrats were helped immensely by Republican overreaching--a lesson they should pay heed to now. (Hint, hint: earmarks!!).

But back to Steele. The GOP desperately needs to broaden its base--to stop being the little tent party. But there are a lot of core Republicans who don't see it that way, especially in the righteous wing. They'd just a soon fight an insurgency against the Democrats than give ground on ideological issues.

We'll see how it plays out. Steele probably has been too vocal and too visible in his new position, rather than working on a plan, or a blueprint, to bring GOP success to coming elections (Howard Dean did have a plan, and it largely worked). Removing Steele, however, would be a huge blow to the GOP's image.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DC United Tries To Flim-Flam P.G. Taxpayers

Recently, we wrote about why DC United's plan to move to a new soccer stadium in Prince George's County is an affront to United's fans. (See "Save DC United From McFarlane And Co.")

It's now clear that the plan is also a rip-off of Prince George's County taxpayers, who stand to gain little benefit and share all the risk.

The basic problem is this: DC United is owned by a fellow named Victor McFarlane and some cronies of his. McFarlane is not a soccer fan. He's a real estate developer. He's not in this to improve DC United's fan base; he's in it to make money on real estate. Hence, all the decisions on a new stadium are being driven by how McFarlane can parlay the move into a real estate deal that will make him richer (or save him from potential financial doom, according to some reports).

The original proposal to move DC United to Maryland had the state stadium authority issuing bonds to pay for the new stadium, with United paying 25% of the estimated cost. The stadium authority would be paid off by tax revenue generated by ticket sales. P.G. County itself was not going to have to pony up any money--that's how they were able to pitch the project in these rather dire economic times.

But now McFarlane wants P.G. County to put up the other 25%, to the tune of $47 million in bonds. DC United claims the County will be paid back by ticket sales. (See "Team Now Asking Pr. George's to Pay Part" in today's Washington Post.)

Don't bet on it. In order to pay the County's share, DC United would have to generate a significant INCREASE in its current ticket sales. McFarlane says no problem--the team has generated annual ticket sales of 20,000 in "rickety" RFK Stadium, so it should be able to increase those sales by 20% in the new stadium. (That would mean a sell-out of every game in the new, 24,000 seat stadium.)

That's ridiculously pie in the sky. DC United supporters in Northern Virginia are already bombarding the club with letters and emails imploring it NOT to move to more inconvenient P.G. County. RFK, rickety as it is, is convenient, with ample parking and easy Metro access from Northern Virginia. Since more than 60% of the team's fans are in NoVa, moving to P.G. County probably means LOWER attendance.

Furthermore, we have today's economy, where people are cutting back on luxuries such as attending professional sports games.

And then, where would McFarlane's incentive to increase ticket sales come from? If the Maryland Stadium Authority and P.G. County are the only ones on the hook, why should McFarlane spend money on marketing and promotion to increase the number of fans attending games?

Remember, McFarlane is not in this for soccer. He's looking for a real estate deal. Once he gets it, he could care less how the team does, especially if he and team aren't on the hook for the stadium.

The taxpayers of P.G. County should beware of this deal. They're the ones who will foot the bill, sooner or later.

As far as DC United goes, our concern remains the same: McFarlane is in the process of destroying one of Major League Soccer's premier franchises. MLS needs to act quickly to recover the club from him and find an owner who cares about soccer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Disappointing Hoyas End Season On Sour Note

It's pretty incredible to think that the Georgetown Hoyas made it as high as number 8 in the men's basketball rankings earlier this season. Now, after a distasteful loss to St. John's in the first round of the Big East tournament, they're looking at playing in the NIT, where the winning team's fans get to chant "we're number 66."

It was a disappointing year for the Hoyas. They are a young team, but they were certainly better than their final record. They started out great. They beat Memphis and Maryland, and then clobbered UConn on the road to start the Big East season. While no one expected the Hoyas to run the table through their brutal Big East schedule, it was certainly reasonable to foresee Georgetown in the conference's upper tier by season's end.

Instead, the Hoyas lost their Mojo. They lost to Notre Dame; they lost to Cincinnati--TWICE; they lost to St. John's. They lost games in OT. They squandered leads against Marquette and couldn't sustain their rally against Syracuse. What they really lost was the ability to win games.

Georgetown has a lot of talent. John Thompson III has been a good coach up to this point, but we have to blame the coach in significant part for what happened in the second half of this season. When a team begins to unravel like the Hoyas did, it's up to the coach to figure it out and bring them back together. At times, Georgetown's offense was just pathetic. Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, BRICK.

And Thompson needs to teach his teams how to rebound. Last season, even with 7'2" Roy Hibbert the Hoyas were a poor rebounding team. This year they were downright awful.

The good news for us Hoya fans is this: the big price increases Georgetown foisted on us the past two seasons should be history, at least for one year. In a down economy, with a disappointing team, they'd better not increase seat minimums and ticket prices.

We hope the Hoyas have gotten over their youth, coming together as a real contender next season!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Idol Delight

American Idol wrapped up its Top 12 (plus 1) last night, with a good field. Two bits of good news:

1. Tatiana is out, for good. In fact, all the emotional head cases are out. Thank you Idol. We want drama, but not that kind.

2. Anoop is in, as a surprise 13th finalist. We don't think he'll win the whole thing, but he has a terrific personality and should make it through a couple rounds.

Speaking of Rounds, our favorite to win is Lil Rounds, with Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert rounding out the top three. To win, however, Lil will have to develop her own personality and style.

Dark horses for the final three: Alexis Grace and Alison Iraheta.

First to go: Michael Carver--great guy, but out of his league with the rest of this bunch.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

How We'll Know It's A Depression

Having carefully studied photographs and footage of the Great Depression, we've figured out an easy way to know when our current "economic downturn" officially becomes a Depression:

When the world goes back to black and white!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Going Green With Dominion?

Talk about screwy priorities!

Today we signed up for Dominion's "Green Power" program, which is finally available in Virginia. Dominion, like many other utilities, offers this program whereby you agree to pay a little bit more on your electric bill and it will be used to support expansion of renewable energy.

We're all for that, but it really shows you what kind of country we are. Why not charge more for "Dirty Power," like coal, and less for green power? Yes, we know the anwer.

While it makes us feel good to sign up for Green Power, we still have our suspicions. Just what is Dominion doing with that extra money? What if they decide that a new, cleaner coal plant is "green." Or they invest in "clean coal?" We wouldn't like that too much.

What's really needed is legislation to restructure the incentives Dominion and other electric utilities have. California has been quite successful in incentivizing its utilities to invest in conservation. The concept is simple: let the utility make money off conservation. As it stands, Dominion makes money by selling more electricity, building more plants and adding new transmission lines.

Green Power is a small step in the right direction, but bigger steps are needed.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why Not Just Bring Back George Allen?

We're a little frustrated with Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner right now. While both supported the bill to give D.C. a real, voting representative in the House, they also both voted in favor of an amendment to strip D.C. of its gun laws.

C'mon guys, have some backbone. All us Northern Virginians didn't bust our guts to get you in office so you could play patsy to the NRA! Grow some testicles and stand up to the gun lobby.

If that's all you can do, why not bring back George Allen. At least we didn't have to support his campaign financially, and could deride him whenever we wanted!

An Evening With Jody Wagner

Last night, the Curmudgeon attended a meet and greet with Jody Wagner, who is one of a number of Democrats vying for the nomination to run for Lt. Governor of Virginia.

Since all the candidates are virtual unknowns, it will be good to have similar opportunities with the others in the coming months as well.

We were impressed with Wagner. She has previously served as Virginia's Treasurer under Mark Warner, and then as the Commonwealth's Secretary of Finance in the Kaine administration. She is thus quite familiar with the intricacies of the commonwealth's budget and finances.

Wagner spoke to a small group--attendance no doubt dented by the day's snowstorm--for a few minutes about her issues. Her main focus appears to be education. Among other things, she wants to enhance science and engineering training to keep Virginia, and the nation, competitive.

She also showed interest in health care, especially for children.

What we didn't hear from Wagner was anything about energy or the environment. That's not to say she doesn't have positions on those vital issues, but evidently they aren't at the forefront of her campaign.

Wagner hails from Virginia Beach, but has done a great job sowing up endorsements from local politicos in Northern Virginia, practically sweeping Arlington and Alexandria.

What was most impressive to us was her detailed knowledge of the workings of Virginia's government. She clearly realizes there are limits--especially in this economic environment. And she also knows how to get things done.

Wagner also has a great personality. She doesn't seem to be all about herself, and comes across as a competent woman who wants to get things done.

It was a welcome contrast to SOME candidates for statewide office, who's lack of knowledge doesn't prevent them from promising pie-in-the-sky. Yes, we're thinking of Terry McAuliffe. Mr. T. has sunny optimism--who wouldn't with all the money he can raise for his campaign--enhanced by the bliss of ignorance.

Although Mark Warner had no experience in Virginia government, or elective office, before becoming governor--and was a darn good one at that--we're leaning to experience this time.

We can't say Jody Wagner is better than the other Democratic candidates for Lt. Governor since we haven't met the others and know little of them. We can say this: based on what we have seen, she should make a good Lt. Governor. We wish her well!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Parkhomenko: Hold Off On Those Darn Signs!

The District 47 race for the house of delegates seat being vacated by Al Eisenberg promises to be an interesting, heated battle amongst a gaggle of Democratic activists.

We hope that at least some common sense will prevail in the contest. Candidate Adam Parkhomenko already has yard signs littering the medians of Arlington's streets (such as Washington Blvd.) notwithstanding that the Democratic primary won't be until June.

Good grief, Adam--do we really need this eyesore so soon? We know its inevitable, but maybe all you "green" Democrats could reach a truce and agree not to post any signs in Arlington rights of way until closer to the election--say two months?

We'll be watching. If you say you're green, be green.