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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Risk & Leaping Through Windows

Sunday morning we sat in church with some thoughts on our minds about packing, logistics, and letting go. Reverend Peggy's sermon this morning was on our ability to fly freely, to allow Spirit to guide us to the heights we desire and can achieve. Boiled down to the street, it was about risk management and how we over manage risk that may not be existent but in our minds, or conversely how if we get trapped in risk management we would lead lives of paralysis.

As Peggy said, "Life and risk are inseparable." Getting out of bed in the morning invites risk from the moment we set feet on the floor until we curl them under the covers again that night. As part of my counseling for families purchasing homes I bring up "What if you are hit by a bus?" Crossing the street is a risk. Driving to work is a risk. Eating steak is a risk. Falling in love is a risk. Getting married. Having children. Buying a home. Taking a job. Casting a vote. Risk. Risk. Risk. Life and risk are truly inseparable and some of us are paralyzed by the amount of risk in living and others of us are completely carefree regarding the risks in life.

Risk has many meanings. Risk can be a gamble. Risk can be peril. Risk can be embarrassment. Risk can be hurt or harm, physical or emotional. Essentially risk is the opportunity for a less than intended result for an action or decision. While the intended result is good, a possible result is less than good, and depending on the odds and amount of risk the possible result could be fatal.

Risk is a tool that is used to leverage the general human condition to manage or avoid unnecessary risk that to sell products, ideas, and in many cases the past several years laws. Risk has become attendant to safety. Safety good, risk bad. As a result too many of our laws have become risk management to protect the masses from themselves and risky behavior or possible negative outcomes. Many of the risk management laws are sensible and create a lawful and orderly society, many others however stretch the power of the government into our daily lives and limit our freedoms and liberties. There are those who feel my position (against) legalizing marijuana is such a limitation, there are others who feel it is an appropriate restriction based on risk management. From child seats to disclosures in a real estate transaction, our lives are filled with laws to disclose or mitigate risk from bad decisions or accidents.

But try as we might we cannot legislate against risk. We cannot legislate against accidents nor stupidity. They exist and as a result individuals will end up on the negative side of a risky situation. Because of the existence of accidents, and stupidity, the majority are restricted more and more from taking risks, and have more and more of our freedoms and liberties restricted in the process.

Life and risk are inseparable. But it is the taking of risks that allow us to grow, to succeed and to create better lives for ourselves and our children. Bob Maxson past-president of Cal State Long Beach used to say, "When you pass an open window of opportunity you only have a short time to decide whether to jump through that window before it closes and the opportunity is gone." Not only that, if you do not jump soon enough someone else probably will.

Taking Maxson's windows of opportunity further, in my own experiences I have noticed that when we are open to change, risking our current comfort zones, change occurs. Too often in my twenty plus years of helping families purchase homes have I seen the dramatic amount of change that occurs in their lives when they make the decision to purchase a new home. Buying a home is a risk. It takes most of your savings, it will be the biggest debt of your life and consume the biggest part of your paycheck. You are changing your shelter, a primary need for your and your family.

Once an individual or couple opens to change in their life by purchasing a new home, deciding to accept the risks of homeownership, I have seen the other changes that occur: new and better jobs, engagements and marriages after years of dating, getting pregnant after years of trying.

In our lives we experience periods when we are open to change and windows of opportunity present themselves to us. After a period the windows close and disappear and it can be some time before we are once again open to change. Many people during these periods over-analyze the risks and other make no analysis at all, thus the range of results from those stuck in their jobs, relationships or living conditions that make them unhappy, and those who try wildly and fail due to improper risk consideration.

Success depends on us finding that balance between risk assessment, risk management and trust. Because ultimately trust is the deciding factor in taking a risk or not. Do we trust our information, do we trust whatever partners may be involved, most importantly do we trust ourselves?

As we sat in church on Sunday listening to Peggy talking about mother eagles slowing creating an uncomfortable nest for her eaglets and eventually pushing them off the edge of the nest and making them fly we thought of our girls who we would be sending to Minnesota the next day for two weeks of camp. The comments from other parents have been wide ranging, from "oh, how can you be away from them for that long?" to "what a great experience." Those who see peril and risk and try to protect their children as much as possible to those who understand our primary role as parents is to develop adults who make good decisions and can live independently.

We are not risk seekers, Leslie and I. But at the same time we know our kids face daily risks and accidents and sometimes we have to let them happen. They need to learn to fail as much as they need to learn to succeed. They need to learn how to make their own risk assessments so later in life when their windows of opportunity present themselves they will make the leaps necessary to improve themselves and their lives.

Children love to come to us and say "look what I did!" not "Look what you did for me!" Accomplishments are based on overcoming risk, even slight risks. Making the choice to be successful is risking failure. We need to teach our children how to take these risks. We need to accept that life and risk are inseparable and allow individuals to make choices, to make decisions, and to accept the consequences of their actions and decisions the risks they chose to take. Our society has increasingly moved those consequences from the individual to society as a whole, the blame for poor risk management and decisions from the individual to others. Too many are passing this philosophy and dependency onto their children, inhibiting their ability in the future to make decisions, grasp opportunities, leap through windows, limit their opportunities for success.

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing...Security does not exist in nature," Peggy quotes us from Helen Keller. Imagining not being able to see, hear or speak one wonders how can life be experienced, and yet Keller did experience life to the extent she understood the relationship between risks, security, and life more than those without any of her disabilities.

In this troubled economy so many people have seen their job loss, or loss of their home, as an opportunity, a window to jump through. Starting a new business, being free to move to another region of the state or country for a new job or career, unburdening themselves from emotional anchors that have weighed them down from creatively soaring, these individuals have taken risks and are succeeding. Instead of shutting down and creating negative environments for themselves they have opened up to the changes available. They have taken risks, easier to take after losing what they thought was security.

Take a risk.

Jump through the open window of opportunity. Go to your personal Home Depot and buy that window yourself and open it.

Be open to changes in your life and match them with your vision for what you truly want to do and want to be. Balance risk analysis and risk management.

Most importantly trust yourself, your wisdom, your experience, your talents, your creativity, your judgment, your relationships and your faith. Jump and you can soar.

DCS 07282010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Are Subsidies and Payment Transfers Stimulus?

It appears that after practically in third, from $120 billion to $34 billion, that a few Republican Senators will jump the aisle and pass a bill that will re-new extended unemployment benefits. The bill has been held up as Republicans have asked, "how are we going to pay for this?" With no budget in place, and not budget being presented nor debated in Congress, Republicans wanted to see some cuts in spending made elsewhere before passing the bill.

Using the politics of division that are so natural in Washington, Democrats, led by House Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, accused the Republicans of cold-heartedness, not caring about American families and blocking a bill that was "about jobs." Jobs? How is extending unemployment benefits about jobs?

Once again we see this Administration and Democrats confuse economics with social policy. While this Congress has passed three huge bills that have transformed our national debt and both the healthcare and financial industries, none of the bills have really done or been about jobs. Preaching the Keynesian religion, Democrats feel that the best way to stimulate a moribund economy, increase hiring in an economy and promote economic growth is through sweeping government regulation and spending.

The practice has never worked as a long term economic policy and as is being seen in our current economy is failing now. Jobs created to work for the federal, or state, or local, government, are not jobs upon which an economy is built nor sustained. As the number of people reliant upon tax dollars and government spending increases the burden for making those payments becomes focused more and more on a shrinking number of net tax payers instead of takers. Eventually this system collapses under it own weight. Unbridled public spending and borrowing cannot continue for prolonged periods of time without leading to insolvency, which leads to economic crisis and melt down.

Jobs that allow an economy to grow and sustain itself are created in the private sector. In America this mostly means within the small and medium size businesses that support local communities and larger businesses. Locally these businesses are hurting because of the lack of manufacturing businesses in California that support smaller subcontracting companies and suppliers. Through tax policy, environmental policy and costs to operate businesses have left the state and/or country to manufacture their products.

Nationally the uncertainty created by the 111th Congress and Obama Administrations have led companies to hang onto cash and not reinvest in their businesses. Having found out what was in it after it passed as promised by Pelosi, corporations are estimating their costs due to Obamacare in the billions of dollars. Bent on overtaking and controlling the banking system the financial reform bill puts tremendous powers in the hands of an appointed official, the Chair of the Federal Reserve, to dictate credit policies and asset ratios of banks. Businesses are holding onto cash because they are not able to get credit lines secured by receivables due to Fed auditors scrutiny of bank balance sheets and discouraging credit extensions they consider risky. Businesses are holding onto cash as they are uncertain if/when the Cap and Trade movement will gain ground in Congress between the mid-term elections and the end of this Congress. If passed Cap and Trade will increase taxes and costs for businesses.

Every piece of legislation this Administration and Congress has passed has increased to costs on businesses. Instead of loosening the cash and anxiety among business owners by extending the Bush tax cuts (which increased revenue for the Treasury every year from passage to 2007 as predicted by the Laffer Curve), stopping "comprehensive" reforms, and allowing the private sector to heal, the constant drumbeat to reform all of America at the expense of the private sector has killed economic growth.

Into this dying economy the Administration plunges ahead with more speeches for reform that is about "jobs" but in reality is about votes. Looking to use the immigration issue as another wedge to divide the country for political advantage, Obama knows that if he is able to naturalize many or most of the 12 million illegal immigrants in our country he has secured the votes of the Hispanic and Latino communities for the Democrats for decades. Somehow his language will make his quest for these votes about jobs, but we won't know until legislation is passed what it will mean.

Regarding the bill to re-new extended unemployment benefits, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said, "This bill is about jobs, and this bill is about compassion." I will grant that the money given in the form of unemployment benefits will trickle through the economy for food, rent, gas, but to say it is primarily about "jobs" is deceitful. Extending the payments is not about creating or saving jobs, it is about using the Federal Treasury without limit as a social welfare system.

We are a resourceful nation populated with so many who have an entrepreneurial spirit. Despite the recession individuals across the country are creating their own businesses. I have spoken in the past several months with many small business owners who have started what I have termed "Recession Businesses." Each has said they took the opportunity of being laid off to start their own business so they would not be dependent on a single source of income for their future. Sure there is risk and they may not make it, but maybe they will. One owner of a small hot dog and hamburger shop has hired at least two or three workers, and has created business with his suppliers that did not exist before. No boss to give him a pink slip, not dependent on the government for survival, he represents many small business owners spring up in Long Beach and across the country.

It is my belief that 99 weeks of unemployment benefits is too many, it appears that my sentiment is shared by about half the country so it is a divisive issue that crosses party lines. My solution to the issue would be a multi-pronged series of actions.

First, on the benefits scale back the payments as the traditional 26 week benefit is passed. Lower the payments by 5% per month until the maximum of 99 weeks is reached.

Second, to pay for the deficit created by the benefits instead of recirculating repaid TARP money and profit into more government bailouts and takeovers, transfer the funds to cover the unemployment benefits.

Third, with some more of the funds left over make one-time cash payments to community colleges to jump start programs for re-training laid off workers, assisting small business owners and start ups.

Fourth, extend the Small Business Association lending program that is currently being phased out. Allow small and community banks to assist local businesses in loans to purchase equipment and obtain cash flow as they grow and secure their business. Instead of re-circulating TARP funds into government programs and jobs, use the funds as intended--to assist banks with their assets. Use the re-paid funds as funds for small and community banks to make small loans, $10-50,000 to small and medium size businesses.

Fifth, repeal or at least suspend Obamacare. This gets a guffaw from those who supported major healthcare reform, but was reforming our entire healthcare system for 10% of the populace when we have 10% unemployment a wise decision? Reduce the costs to employers and increase the chance they will hire and extra worker, or two or three.

Six, extend the Bush tax cuts. Facing increasing tax burdens to pay for increasing debt burdens at the state and national level, businesses, and small business owners, are holding cash to bridge the pending gap between revenue and expenses created by this hit to their bottom lines. Most businesses are Schedule C or S Corporations, meaning personal tax returns are in play. Reducing the tax burden allows business owners to expand their business.

America needs private businesses. It needs them to thrive to provide jobs and stability in local communities. Private businesses create tremendous velocity of money through payrolls, suppliers and tax revenues they generate. Since January 2009 Washington has passed legislation that has only hindered and hurt private businesses and economic growth.

Extend unemployment benefits? Congress and Obama need to extend private business, let them take care of getting rid of unemployment benefits with jobs.


Monday, July 19, 2010

You're Doing A Bad Job.....Here's My Vote

Last week's release of a Field Poll shows that 16% of Californians approve of the job our State Assembly and Senate are doing. Sixteen percent. Who are these people and why is the number so high? Despite several years now of structural deficits and cash shortages the fiscal policy of the majority has not changed: expand government, protect state employees at all costs to taxpayers, raise taxes.

In late June both Gallup and Rasmussen released polls gauging the American confidence in Congress. According to Rasmussen only 12% of those polled felt Congress is doing either an "excellent" or "good" job. Gallup's numbers reflect this by asking merely if respondents "approve" of how our Washington legislatures are doing. Twenty percent said they approve. Approve of passing the $800 billion stimulus bill, approve of passing Obamacare without reading it or knowing what we are now finding out was in it, approve of passing the massive financial reform bill that will stifle economic growth and job creation as small businesses are burdened with costs and taxes.

So how will voters react to this dismal performance by their representatives? Evidently it is the other guy's representatives we disapprove of in Southern California because our elected officials keep getting recycled and re-elected. The integrity of the voter is abysmal. I am not sure if it is because our region is so incredibly partisan or so incredibly ignorant as to the correlation to our votes and our outcomes.

Case in point are the teachers. Teachers have been furloughed and laid off this past year because of the lack of funds from Sacramento to the school districts. Teachers, almost unanimously, donate about $6 per pay period locally to their Political Action Committee and an additional amount to the statewide PAC at the California Teachers Association. Keeping in mind that teachers are being laid off because of the poor fiscal management and decisions made by our California Legislature over the past decade or more, the teachers are continuing to fund the campaigns of the same politicians who have caused the furloughs and lay-offs.

Chances are after the November 2010 election our Assembly and Senate will look identical to how it looks now because of gerrymandered districts, ignorant voters and ignorant public employee union members who continue to donate to PACs that support the status quo. Next spring our school districts will go through the lay off procedures once again as the same politicians in the same jobs will continue to produce the same results: less money for local education and the perpetuation of structural deficits. Don't believe me? Here is the California Teachers Association endorsement page for the coming election. This is a real diverse group isn't it?

As for Republicans they have already shown their rewarding bad behavior by nominating Mike Villines for Insurance Commissioner in the primaries. Villines is one of a few Republicans that crossed the aisle to vote for the biggest tax increase in history last year. A vote made after he signed a "No Tax Pledge" and vociferously defended the No Tax Pledge publicly. He did not and will not get my vote, not only for his vote that allowed the tax hikes to go through last year but for his lack of integrity and honesty.

Speaking of integrity, in my local Congressional District that went approximately 70% for Obama in 2008 my Congressional Representative is running for re-election. On a record that has been with the Democratic Majority in virtually every single vote, Laura Richardson has shown the District she is nothing if not loyal to the Democratic National Committee, that plays well politically but what about her integrity? In a District that has unemployment near 20% she has supported legislation that hinders small businesses and economic growth. Not that she cares since she has her job and for Richardson that is all that matters. But this is only part of the Richardson iceberg.

A woman driven to climb the political ladder, Richardson bought off union support for her run for the Assembly by introducing legislation in Long Beach that would require hotels on city leases to unionize, thankfully the legislation was vetoed but Richardson got her support, won her primary and in the district was a shoe in for Assembly. In the Assembly she voted to require the California Indian Tribes to unionize their casinos. This guaranteed her support in the race to win the Congressional seat of Juanita Millander-MacDonald who had passed away while in office. Richardson won this race as well and promptly quit making payments on the home she purchase in Sacramento barely a year before.

This past month Richardson was cleared by the Ethics Committee in Congress. She was before the committee because of the dealings with her home in Sacramento that was foreclosed upon, sold by the bank (WAMU) at auction and then bought back from the buyer by WAMU and given back to Richardson. Seems there was some "mistake" in the foreclosure, of all the foreclosures in California the past few years hers was the "mistake" and the bank paid a premium to re-acquire the home to give to her. Evidently, according to the Ethics Committee, the transaction that resulted after Richardson personally contacted WAMU's lobbyist in Sacramento to re-purchase the home well above the foreclosure auction price and deed it back to Richardson was "normal business." Maybe for a member of Congress but I'm not sure too many families in California have experienced such "normal business." Further the committee bought that Richardson was a victim of "loan fraud." Richardson was as much a victim of loan fraud as President Clinton was a victim of sexual harassment and assault.

But to the super-majority in the California 37th Congressional District it does not matter that the incumbent is not intelligent enough, or has enough integrity, to know her personal finances and whether she can afford to support three homes on a public salary. It does not matter that she has received special favors from a now defunct bank that others going through foreclosure will never receive. It does not matter that her loyalty is to herself and to her PAC contributors. What matters is they don't have to think, don't have to look at the character of the candidate, don't have to see any connection between her votes and their conditions. Just look inside the parenthesis and make your vote.

Eighty percent of Americans do not approve of the job Congress is doing, but fifty percent of the registered voters approve of the job their Representative is doing?

Hard to believe that any group that is comprised of individuals selected by a series of majorities could have a lower approval rating than Congress, but the California Legislature manages to succeed. Even more challenging in California than upsetting a Congressional incumbent is upsetting an incumbent in either the Assembly or Senate due to the incredibly partisan districts. That and again the ignorance of the voters to connect their condition and that of the state with their own voting patterns. Despite the almost criminal sell outs to state employees at the expense of the rest of the budget the champion of sell outs, Warren Furutani's district will re-elect him. Rarely is there a SEIU or other labor rally where Furutani is not present. He led a march in Long Beach against immigration policies in which many members of the union were interviewed for a story in the Press-Telegram but did not give their names as they were illegal immigrants. A union with as much power as SEIU that control many in the legislative majority having protests about immigration that are populated by their own members who are illegal immigrants. And the voters will punch Furutani's ticket again in November, and other candidates supported by the SEIU, CTA and other unions reaping billions in the state budgets.

Do voters make the same decisions in their lives that do not include voting? Do they buy the car they have the 80% disapproval for? Do they date the person who they have only a 16% feeling of "excellent" or "good?" Of course not, but that is because they can make the immediate connection between action and resulting impact on their condition.

Across the nation Americans are waking up to the power of their vote, the most powerful right in our Constitution, to select our representatives in government. Reinforcing the studies that have shown for some time the poor performance of our statewide education system, the lesson is yet to be learned by California voters.

I am hoping that come November the majorities in districts across the state will have done their homework and pass their tests in the voting booth. Especially in the CA 37th Congressional District.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Try Enforcement Before Any More Regulations

This week I took two tests to fulfill the requirements of the National Mortgage Licensing System Requirements (NMLSR) for the Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008 (SAFE Act, Title V of Housing and Economic Recovery Act). As I studied for the tests I realized how many different agencies, acts, regulations and oversight departments I am responsible to for the simple act of originating a mortgage. Despite the myriad of reports, licenses, disclosures, compliance audits, etc we go through, somehow we must go through even more since Congress and the Administration feel the only way to solve any problem is with more regulations and agencies (this applies to state government as well).

Here is a partial list of the Federal Laws covering the mortgage industry:

  • SAFE Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing
  • Housing and Economic Recovery Act
  • TILA Truth In Lending Act
  • Regulation Z
  • RESPA Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
  • Regulation X
  • HPA Homeowner's Protection Act
  • HOEPA Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act
  • FCRA Fair Credit Reporting Act
  • FACT Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003
  • Do Not Call Registry
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (aka Financial Modernization Act)
  • Fair Housing Act
  • ECOA Equal Credit Opportunity Act
  • CRA Community Reinvestment Act
  • HMDA Home Mortgage Disclosure Act
  • MDIA Mortgage Disclosure Improvement Act
  • Regulation H Flood Disaster Protection Act

We are regulated, overseen, report to or otherwise beholden to:

  • FTC
  • HUD
  • Federal Reserve Board
  • FNMA
  • FHA
  • FHFA
  • CA DRE (or CA DOC)
  • OCC

These are not complete lists but the major ones of regulations and overseers. But evidently we need more as exemplified by the financial reform bill about to be passed by Congress that will add more agencies, more acts, more regulations, plus more costs, more paperwork and fewer options for consumers.

Our government is expanding its influence and control to solve problems or issues that could be solved by following and enforcing existing regulations, or eliminating existing regulations.

Obamacare could have been cut to 10% if existing regulations were repealed to allow greater freedom for Americans to shop and purchase insurance and existing regulations enforced to reduce and eliminate fraud and waste.

The Gulf oil disaster could most likely have been averted had existing regulations and oversight been enforced and active.

The housing and credit crisis could have been mitigated and the depth of the recession shallower if existing regulations had not created an environment where Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became subprime lenders with the encouragement and blessing of Congress. Mortgage fraud could have been reduced greatly if existing regulations had been enforced.

I am glad there is finally a national license for mortgage originators, unfortunately like most legislation targeting an industry it is half-assed and will have a net negative impact. Excluded from the licensing requirements are those who work for federally chartered depositories (Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo...). Essentially the bright minds in Congress and the regulatory bodies who created the SAFE legislation feel there is no fraud or deceit among mortgage originators in federally licensed institutions. Right, and they will also take your three dollar bill.

The overall purpose of the SAFE Act, combined with many of the provisions in the financial reform bill about to be passed is to eliminate independent mortgage originators. The legislation eliminates many mortgage products and options, or limits their use to direct lenders. Selfishly the legislation helps our company by eliminating competition. But elimination of competition and products does not benefit the consumer/home owner. It does benefit the major banks, of which there are becoming fewer and fewer.

Also benefiting the big banks is the Federal Reserve policy limiting the ability of small banks to lend to small businesses. In meetings this week a top Fed auditor admitted they are discouraging community banks or the seven hundred plus small banks on their "watch list" from lending to small companies as they do not want them taking on the risk. Restricting capital flow, revenue flow, credit extension hurts small businesses and communities and drives business from small banks to major banks. Eliminating competition increases costs and fees, and creates an environment where the federal government can more easily control our banking system.

And that is what all the legislation from this Congress and Administration is all about, more control. Restrict the number of companies and firms in the private sector and allow for more regulations that allow government take-over and control. Once passed it will not shock anyone to see a path towards nationalized banking, to go with our health care.

Exempt from the financial reform legislation are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, already in government trusteeship and majority ownership. The next step for the GSEs is to become part of HUD and fully under government control.

After financial reform President Obama wants to see "comprehensive immigration reform." "Comprehensive." That means a multi-thousand page bill that no legislator will read that dramatically alters our nation. The ultimate purpose could be the naturalization of tens of millions of illegal immigrants--future voters. The immediate impact will be more regulations that will be ignored by regulatory bodies and not enforced leading to the same issues and problems in the future.

Because of lack of enforcement of laws and regulations already on the books the current Congress and President have created issues that require "comprehensive" legislation. Comprehensive means elimination or restriction of free markets, more government control and intervention, higher fees and taxes and less freedom and liberty for consumers and business owners.

I would like to see one regulation passed: Government agencies or individuals who do not fulfill their duties and obligations of oversight, regulation and enforcement are subject to penalties and fines including restriction or forfeiture of their salaries, benefits and pensions.

Enforce the laws we have and see how many problems and issues get solved that way before imposing more laws that restrict our freedoms and liberties and increase the control and dominance of our government.

Happy Bastille Day commemorating when French citizens overthrew a tyrannical government.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Soccer: We Get It...We Just Suck At It

Let me start by saying I am not an anti-soccer snob. I played my first game of soccer sometime around 1973 when I noticed a game being played on the field next to the high school up the street from our home in Berwyn, Pa. I was riding my bike home from a friend's and stopped to see what was going on. There were some kids and about two or three adults. "Hey, want to play?" "I guess." I was pressed into service and put in the goal.

Up to this point I was a three sport participant, Pop Warner football in the fall, rec league basketball in the winter and Little League baseball in the spring. No where near the best on any team, I worked my butt off to stay on the team. Now here was another sport. When I entered Junior High I tried out and made the team, it seems soccer has a position for guys who are not the fastest or strongest but who have stamina. I became a midfielder as I could run the whole game, not the fastest but able to keep going.

When we moved to New York I was on the freshman squad in high school. That year the New York Cosmos in the now defunct North American Soccer League signed Pele, the Brazilian superstar. He came to our school and put on a clinic for us. I'll never forget his opening talk that lasted ten to fifteen minutes. He walked up and down juggling a ball that never hit the ground--we had never seen such incredible touch.

When we moved to Brussels my sophomore year I joined the team there, again not the fastest, strongest or best kicker, but someone who could stay out on the field and just keep going. Our coach was a former player for Liverpool and the English squad sometime in the 1960's; our colors were white and red and patterned after The Reds. My junior year I had a letter to the editor in Sports Illustrated when I wrote that the NASL would benefit from the European practice of not interrupting games with commercials but rather put the sponsors logos on the screen during live play. This year ESPN and ABC finally got the message with their coverage of the World Cup.

Having lived in Brussels during the 1978 World Cup and experienced the passion of the people. While Belgium did not qualify neighboring France, Germany and the Netherlands all had teams in the the draw. At the time very few homes in the country had televisions, Belgium itself had two channels for the entire country, importing two each from France, Netherlands and Germany for viewing. Bars would be full with patrons slowly sipping their Stella Artois or Maes Pils to make it last through the match. Department stores would turn over their display windows to banks of televisions with speakers set up outside and the sidewalks would be crowded with spectators watching the games being beamed from Argentina. Belgium is officially bi-lingual (note "officially" unlike America) with the northern region, Flanders, speaking Flemish which is a Dutch dialect and the southern section, Wallonia, speaks French. Brussels, the capital, is in Flanders and is bi-lingual; all the signs are in Flemish and French. They do not like each other very much the Flemish and the Walloons, and tend to gravitate to the host nation of their language.

Holland made the finals of the 1978 World Cup and Belgium was somewhat crazy with the prospect that it would bring home the Cup. Alas it was not to happen and Argentina won its first cup.

Since then I have followed, as well as I can in a country that has not really followed, the World Cup. Not to the extent that I can whip off the winners of all the Cups, nor know all the world stars of the game. But I understand the depth of the sport throughout the world and our place as an also ran in the sport. I "get" soccer. Maybe a bit more than some of those who are arrogantly suggesting those who criticize the sport do not "get it."

Soccer is not a success in America for many reasons. The marketing ability of the NFL and NBA to capture audiences. The lack of a solid league that has built fan bases that translate into butts in the seats and eyeballs on the screen for games. But mainly soccer does not succeed in America because we suck at it.

Just about every four years we are hyped by the covering network that "this could be the year that the U.S. Soccer Team breaks through at the World Cup." "If the U.S. squad does not advance this year it will be a disappointment." And we don't. This year we lost to Ghana, a country with a population of about 23 million people and our trip to the Finals was once again derailed. In 2014 our boys in Brazil will get bounced and not make the semi-finals. Why? Because we suck.

With a population in excess of 300 million people from which to draw twenty five players we have the masses to produce a team that can get through all the regional qualifying, but once we meet the elite we are not one of the elite. Our soccer athletes just are not as good as those from other teams and may never be.

It is a bit frustrating to think about. Across the country we have millions of kids playing soccer through AYSO, school and college. There are a lot more kids and young adults playing soccer than there are playing hockey, and yet our national hockey team reaches the elite levels. Why? Because in other countries their best athletes tend to play soccer and then hockey. Our hockey team consists of our third level "best" athletes, as do our soccer players.

And that is why when it comes to international soccer we suck at it. We are not sending our best athletes, nor our secondary athletes, to the game. If we did the rest of the world would bitch and complain and try to ban us from playing the game. Our national soccer team is the one thing we give the world that makes them feel superior to us. If there was a national effort to win the World Cup in 2018 we would win. But at a price.

What if our national team consisted of Kobie Bryant, LeBron James, Derek Jeter, Reggie Bush, Brian Urlacher or any of numerous professional athletes in our country who chose basketball, football or baseball for their careers? Can you imagine a secondary back from almost any top ten college football team playing soccer? What about an outside linebacker on defense? No country comes near our in producing the number of athletes with the size, strength, speed and athleticism as the United States. None of them play soccer.

Once the top athletes have decided, usually by the end of high school, to play one of the big three, the other athletes then dilute themselves among the secondary sports, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, volleyball, swimming and in many areas baseball is included in this group. It is rare that the top athletes are playing one of the non-revenue producing sports, so rare that any top athlete that does play one of these sports is a superstar.

For those who lament that soccer is not popular in America because we don't "get it," I say, you don't get it. There are enough of us who have played the game, coached or watched our kids play the game and been exposed to it to know the game and "get it." What you don't get is that we don't watch the games because we know we are not watching our best athletes participate. When a network turns over an hour of programming so a soccer player can announce he is going to play for whatever the name of the team in Miami is called, then we might win internationally.

Until then, soccer will remain a secondary sport and the United States will remain a secondary power in international play.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


In November the same voters that have consistently voted to bankrupt our state will have on their ballots Proposition 19. Prop 19 will legalize marijuana in California. Not just pot for medicinal purposes, but for any and all purposes.

There are many ramifications of such a vote, unfortunately I do not have the faith in the average California voter to understand the ramifications, nor to think through the consequences passage of Prop 19 brings. There will be plenty of money to fund the Yes On 19 campaign, billionaire George Sorros is rumored to be ready to spend considerably to support the Proposition. Websites are popping up to generate funds for Yes On 19, and one wonders how much Mexican drug cartels are pouring into the effort, after all who will benefit more than them if Prop 19 passes?

And therein lies the biggest problem I have with legalizing pot in California, even medical marijuana use. Unless the cultivation and transportation of marijuana is legalized in the state and all pot sold in the state must come from a registered state pot farm then we are funding the drug cartels in Mexico with our marijuana consumption, legal or illegal. Take a look at Mexico and what drug money has done to the country. Already Third World before the rise of the drug cartels in the last decade, the country now is lawless and run by drug dealers, especially in the regions along the United States border. Now imagine legal consumption of Mexican grown marijuana, an increase in demand in California, federal laws against the importation of marijuana, and an Administration that is determined not to monitor our borders.

Arizona passed its immigration legislation in response to a federal government that has refused to protect our borders, refused to enforce federal immigration laws and refused to acknowledge the deep rooted crime and costs associated with the open border with Mexico. Showing its position on illegal immigration and enforcement of current immigration laws the Department of Justice has sued Arizona to stop the enactment of SB 1970. What happens in the Arizona deserts if Prop 19 passes? Or do Californians, especially those supporting Prop 19, care?

One of the arguments in favor of passing Prop 19 is the tax revenue it will raise. "Tax marijuana and it will generate billions of dollars in tax revenue for the state and help solve our budget crisis." No, stopping spending on myriads of failed social programs, re-negotiating contracts with state workers' unions particularly for pensions and benefits, and not borrowing more money for bonds to pay for ridiculous propositions will solve our budget problems. Giving more tax revenue to our legislators in Sacramento is akin to giving more booze to an alcoholic, it won't end well.

Supposing the proposition passes, where is the tax collected? At point of sale? At transfer from the grower to the distributor? What if the retailer is buying from a dealer getting the pot from Mexico? How is that transaction taxed? Who monitors the collection of the pot tax? Who monitors the cultivation of the pot and ensures it goes from grower to retailer? Who monitors the dealers, I mean retailers, dispensing of the drug? Who monitors the dealers to ensure they are only purchasing from legal and registered growers--if that is required? Will this cost money? What about the cost to local and county governments to monitor the law and the sale and use to ensure it is all law abiding?

I am going out on a limb and making the presumption that those in favor of legalizing pot in California are more liberal than conservative. A side benefit for those who support Prop 19 will probably be the up-ticket benefit on election day. Just as Obama being on the ticket in November 2008 was responsible for the failure of Prop 8 to pass, Prop 19 being on the ticket will most likely benefit Barbara Boxer in her re-election bid against Carly Fiorina and Jerry Brown in his gubernatorial bid against Meg Whitman. The increase in pro-pot voters will likely lead to an increase in votes for the Democratic office seekers, a two for one deal for the liberal portion of the state. Incumbent on defeating Prop 19 will be a get out the vote campaign targeting socially conservative Democrats who voted for Obama but against Prop 8. Without Obama on the ticket however it will be difficult to get these voters to the polls again, and if they do show up chances are if they vote "No" on Prop 19 they may check all the (D) boxes as well.

Prop 19 is a bad idea for our state. It is another in a series of visceral propositions that Californians tend to vote for because it makes sense to them or makes them feel good about being engaged in democracy. But like bonds for high speed trains, or bonds for stem cell research, or bonds for reconstruction of the watersheds, once passed the reality and consequences of the propositions come to bear and damages our states finances and spreads to negatively impact the state and local governments.

For those who argue, "well alcohol is legal." Yes it is and the manufacture, distribution, transportation and sale are established and tightly regulated. Drug cartels in Mexico are not supplying us our Crown Royal and Miller Lite. Drug cartels are providing our nation with pot, meth, cocaine and drugs I probably do not even know about. How good of an idea is it to provide them with a legal and supposedly legitimate market for pot that enhances their revenue, and allows them to smuggle other illegal drugs into the country with their pot shipments?

No on Proposition 19. Click on "Comments" below and let us know how you feel.