Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week 13 NFL Notes

Eddie Lacy has had an “up and down” career with the Packers, rushing for more than 1,000 yards his first two seasons, then demoted to back-up for a few games last season for being “out-of-condition,” and this season sustaining an ankle injury in Week 6 against the Cowboys, which required surgery, and it is likely he will not see another snap this season. It is assumed that he will not be resigned by the Packers in the off-season. 

Since Lacy’s injury, Aaron Rodgers has been the Packers leading “rusher,” with 216 yards in the last 7 games. James Starks is the only “true” running back on the team who has started in the past, but in the 21-13 victory over the Texans he gained only one yard on four carries, and has only 142 yards on 61 carries, a putrid 2.4 yards-per-carry average. Ty Montgomery has gained 177 yards on 35 carries—a five-yards-per carry average—but he is a wide receiver, and has been more of a gimmick than a true running threat. 

Nevertheless, the Packers have somehow put together a patchwork running attack that, though near the bottom of the NFL, is still slightly better than what their defense has been allowing per game. Adding Seahawks’ reject Christine Michael to the line-up isn’t likely to improve things markedly (he gained only 19 yards on 9 carries in his first game as a Packer), and “trick” plays like wide receiver Jeff Janis’ run for 19 yards late in the fourth quarter is likely to be a style of play the Packers will be forced to depend upon. But for now, nobody is expecting anything from the Packers’ “running game,” which is probably its greatest “strength.”

The week that was:

Cowboys 17 Vikings 15 I’m obviously not a Vikings fan, but this is a case where I think they are on a downward spiral anyways, and I want to see someone beat the Cowboys. It has just been too “easy” for them this year, especially with a first-time starter and a rookie running back having the great fortune playing behind the best offensive line in football. The Vikings defense dominated the Cowboys for most of the game, until a fumbled punt at the 8-yard line in the fourth quarter allowed the Cowboys to score a short field touchdown; until that point, one scoring drive had been sandwiched in between five punts and two fumbles. A dose of “humility” for the Cowboys will have to wait another week.

Chiefs 29 Falcons 28 Alex Smith was surprisingly sharp, completing 21 of 25 passes for 270 yards, but he wasn’t the “difference” in this game. A Matt Ryan pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and two needless two-point conversion attempts—the second one a pass that was intercepted and returned for the winning points—was the difference. This was another game in which the extra-point rule changes have created havoc.

Lions 28 Saints 13 Coming into this game, the Lions won their seven games by a combined 26 points, while their four losses have been by a combined 18 points. This game would have been no different if not for three Bree’s interceptions, a couple of dropped passes that could have been taken in for scores, and a busted coverage leading to a 66-yard touchdown catch by Golden Tate. Are the Lions “for real”? Games against the Giants and Cowboys still lurk; the Packers are two games behind them at the moment; even if the Packers lose next week against the Seahawks and drop three games behind, it is still “conceivable” that if the Lions lose to the Giants and Cowboys, and the Packers beat the Bears and Vikings, the season finale can still decide the NFC North title, since the Packers have already beaten the Lions in an early season matchup. 

Patriots 26 Rams 10 Jared Goff versus the “master” shouldn’t have been this close, but after the opening drive touchdown and a short-field score following a Goff interception in the second quarter, the Rams’ defense kept the Patriots out of the end zone.  But on offense, the Rams were doing what they usually do, not putting up much resistance against the opponent’s defense. 

Broncos 20 Jaguars 10 Paxton Lynch subbed for the injured Trevor Siemian in this game, and he was not good, and the Jaguars out-gained the Broncos nearly two-to-one. But bad teams always find a way to lose. In this case, the Broncos only needed 3 yards of offense to score 10 of their points (one on a pick-6, the other after a fumble), and a roughing the passer penalty on an incomplete third down pass led to their other touchdown. 

Bengals 32 Eagles 14 The Bengals led 29-0 early in the third quarter, and after that the Eagles didn’t have much choice but to allow Carson Wentz throw the ball to his heart’s delight, 41 times to be exact. Two touchdowns, three interceptions and a turnover on downs was the result, so we at least know what happens in that circumstance.

Ravens 38 Dolphins 6 When the Dolphins don’t play defense and can’t run the ball, the Ryan Tannehill returns to his “normal” self, becoming ineffective while throwing three interceptions when forced to make “plays.” On the other hand, Joe Flacco had by far his best game of the year, throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns.

Bears 26 49ers 6 Colin Kaepernick did not “understand” why he was benched in the fourth quarter and the Bears leading 24-6. Through 3+ quarters, Kaepernick threw five-count-them-five passes, completed one for 4 yards. He was also sacked five times for losses of 25 yards, meaning the 49ers early in the fourth quarter had minus-21 net passing yards. The 49ers finished with 6 net yards passing; in case you are interested, the Broncos hold the NFL record for fewest net yards passing in a game with minus-53, back in 1967. 

Raiders 38 Bills 24 The Bills were handling the Raiders fairly easily for the first 35 minutes of this game, leading 24-9. Then their offense suddenly died, advancing a total of one yard on their next four possessions as Derek Carr and the Raiders sprang to life and scored 29 unanswered points over the next 25 minutes. 

Steelers 24 Giants 14 Le’Veon Bell had 35 touches for 182 yards—half the Steelers’ totals in both departments, as the Steelers’ stopped the Giants’ six game winning streak. With the Ravens playing at the Patriots next week, the Steelers at 7-5 have the upper-hand in the AFC North.

Cardinals 31 Redskins 23. Carson Palmer played efficiently for a change, keeping things simple and not throwing an interception; Redskins coach Jay Gruden believed it was just bad defensive play that allowed that him to do so, and he may have a point considering how erratically Palmer has been playing this season. Meanwhile, the Redskins, despite the loss, still have all winnable games left their schedule to make the playoffs, something which cannot be said about a disappointing Cardinals team.

Buccaneers 28 Chargers 21 The Buccaneers, after the Falcons loss, are now tied for first place in the NFC South. It would be mighty impressive for Jameis Winston to lead his team into the playoffs, especially with two games against the Saints, and one each against the Cowboys and the Panthers left to go.

Seahawks 40 Panthers 7 Cam Newton was held out for one play because of a dress code violation. Did the rest of the team show its "solidarity" with poor, put-upon Cam by playing like him the rest of the game?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trump is not the one to tell us the difference between a "terrorist" and a "crazed" shooter

Hot on the heels of the Ohio State University incident that Donald Trump declared would not have happened if one particular Somali refugee had not been allowed to enter the country, comes media coverage of the commemoration vigils for the San Bernardino massacre that, which occurred a year ago at the Inland Regional Center; 14 people were killed and 22 wounded. The shooting rampage, carried out by a Muslim Bonnie-and-Clyde duo, Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik. They were apparently angered by the “requirement” that Farook—who was employed at the Center—attend a training session in a room which was supposedly adorned with various symbols of Christianity. To “understand” what this means to some people, in some Muslim countries, converting to Christianity is the greatest apostasy that a Muslim can commit, bring and requires the death penalty. 

But their actions had to be based on something beyond this “rationalization,” since Christmas trees and ornaments have little to do with religion in this country. Could their motivation be as simple as such secular banalities? It was just too senseless for the given reason. The question that must be asked is if a majority Christian society and its accouterments disturbed their “sensibilities” so, then why did they come to the country, or better yet, why did they stay? They surely knew what to “expect” when they came to this country. If they came here with the “intent” of causing casualties, there would be less question of how to define their action. But this scenario is something we shouldn’t automatically assume to be “true,” which people like Trump apparently do. 
The answer to the question why the San Bernardino and OSU attackers acted as they did is most likely began as something as “mundane” as feeling “unwelcome” and out-of-place here, not because they secretly desired to cause mayhem. They had heard politicians and people like Trump repeatedly demonize and dehumanize them. Perhaps they had seen or heard people who disparaged them as Muslims. Likely they felt, or perceived, a general atmosphere of “hate.” They only became “radicalized” into an act of “retaliation” for these real and perceived slights and hate from society at large—and this is also something that can obviously be ascribed to the motivations of non-Muslims, like the Columbine shooters, who were seen as “weird” and were ostracized in the social setting they existed in. 

This leads to the question of what do we mean by an “act of terrorism” as opposed to the common-run “massacre” by a “crazy” individual. The act of terrorism usually implies a political motive to exact retaliation for some grievance experienced by an “outside” group or entity, while the typical mass killer is nursing some real or perceived personal grievance, usually against an individual or a group individuals. The “terrorist” typically  “plans” and attack over certain period of time, and targets victims he or she has never met or does not know; this was of course the case in the Oklahoma City and 9-11 events. But in the “massacre” event that is more common, a killer simply “snaps,” and his or her victims usually involves people he or she knows personally. 

Of course, there is an occasion overlap of the two scenarios, and it is not always “clear” where the line is drawn. For example, there is the continued claim that the Orlando gay club massacre that killed 49 people and wounded 53 was a “terrorist” attack against gays, when the reality was that the shooter was himself a gay man (although married) who felt personally “slighted” by the club’s largely Hispanic clientele. He meted out death in “retaliation” against as many Hispanics—not necessarily gay men—as he could. He also was no doubt influenced (or felt “justified”) by the anti-Hispanic rhetoric of those like Trump. 

On the other hand, some people shy away from calling an incident a “terrorist” act when it is. For example, when Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, the leader of a neo-Nazi group called the World Church of the Creator, in 1999 went on his two-state rampage  in which his victims included Jews, blacks and one Asian man (one of the dead being basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, killed as he was walking with his two children), the media and right-wing politicians and commentators were loath to call this a domestic terrorist act. Why? Because like in the Oklahoma City bombing—in which the FBI knew that the white supremacist group in Elohim City was likely assisting Timothy McVeigh in the act—few wanted to admit that there is “native” sponsorship of terrorism—meaning white supremacists—that plan or inspire such acts. It has to remain the “lone, crazed” killer with a “personal” agenda, if it can’t be blamed on dark-skinned “terrorists.”

Because there is this “confusion” over what is or isn’t a “terrorist” act, we are allowing Trump and his henchpersons to muddle the picture in order to advance a nativist agenda. It has reached the point where in many minds there is no difference between a crime and a “terrorist” act if it is committed by someone who isn’t a “real” American—meaning anyone who by some definition  by a paranoid nativist or xenophobe should never have been allowed in country, merely because of race or ethnicity. But outside a handful, people no matter what their race or ethnicity just want to live and let live. Is it really wise to allow bigoted blowhards like Trump, and his chief enforcers Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon (and, good god, not Sarah Palin?) and others of that ilk to be the ones who make that determination?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Jeff Sessions is only "fit" to further Trump's racial, nativist and xenophobic agenda

What the conservative publication The Nation Review described in an article two years ago concerning what was seen a certain U.S. senator’s office suggests someone who is at heart and head a bigot whose view of the world is extremely narrow. The only people who matter in his world are those like him, or rather who look like him. Those are the people who need his “protection.” In pictures behind his desk are indications of what sees in himself: the “Master of the Universe,” a “he-man” astride his “battle cat,” his sword ready to do battle in defense of what is obviously “white civilization.” Who is the “enemy”?

For Jeff Sessions, a former federal attorney, judge,  current U.S. Senator and now apparent future Attorney General in Donald Trump’s administration (it’s hard to call him “president”), the “enemy” is anyone who isn’t “white,” and in particular Hispanics, who he believes—as do many extremists on the right—are the direct threat to Anglo supremacy. Sessions often uses the term “masters of the universe” as a derogatory term to apply to “politicians, political strategists and special interest groups,” but in fact it is people like himself are truly deserving of the appellation, in an even more sinister sense. 

Sessions is a scion of the segregated South, served as a U.S. Attorney and as Attorney General in Alabama. His views and actions in regard to civil and voting rights is a mixed bag. He has been accused of “retaliation” against black leaders in Alabama for accusing him of making racist statements to them, which led the U.S. Senate to turn down his nomination for a federal court judgeship. On the other hand, he was “praised” for at least stating an “intent” to bring federal charges against a KKK member who killed a random black man and left him hanging from a tree, although the reality was that he never prosecuted the case, leaving it to local authorities. Sessions, in fact, seems to be loath to give credence to “hate crimes”—in fact, like most on the right, prefers to speak of the “hate” from the other side. 

But Sessions principle obsession these days are immigrants, legal or illegal, and Hispanics in particular. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, for this has been the leading “obsession” of the extremists on the right since at least 2000. He has opposed any form of immigration reform—comprehensive or otherwise—that allows any increase in the number of legal immigrants of Hispanic origin in this country. Let’s be honest about this: there would be far less rhetoric involved here if there were not people who just don’t like Hispanics, whether it is because of their appearance or their speech. It is as much a visceral reaction as it is a “legal” one. There are many other immigrant groups who by percentage have a large illegal element;  in fact,15 percent of all illegal aliens in this country are of Asian or Indian origin, and that number is growing at much faster rate than the “Mexicans.” 

But like on the issue of trade and jobs, people here have fixated their hate on Hispanics, and Sessions is a leading “light” in that movement—if not the leader—and now he is the prospective Attorney General with all the power to carry out a policy based on lies, misinformation and his own special brand of racism. Sessions and his apologists may claim up and down that he is not racist against blacks, but you only have to be racist against one group to be a racist. And only a racist can throw out numbers that he should know are false to excite hate in others.

For example, in a speech at the Republican National Convention, Sessions proclaimed that “there are about 350,000 who succeed in crossing our borders each year.” His listeners undoubtedly believe the only “border” that matters is the one to the south. But like so many “statistics” quoted by extreme nativists and xenophobes (like Trump, Pat Buchanan, Anne Coulter and Michelle Malkin), Sessions quotes “facts” that either have no foundation in truth, or deliberately “misinterprets” them. The number he cites is from the Border Patrol’s number of apprehensions on the Mexican border, some 337,000 in 2015, a number that has been decreasing steadily since 2000. Since 2009, more immigrants leave the country (Mexico’s current unemployment rate is less than 5 percent) than enter.

Furthermore, the Border Patrol’s numbers indicate the number of failed attempts to enter the country, and include persons who attempted to enter the country more than once—again an indication of the success rate of the Border Patrol to apprehend illegal entrants. Yet we have the nation’s top law officer (if he is confirmed in the post) express his intent to base his actions on deliberately falsified information, which he will “justify” to himself based on his own prejudices and hate.

Sessions exposes his personal nativism and xenophobia by overlapping his illegal immigrant position  into an anti-immigrant position generally. In an op-ed last year he wrote “Each year, the United States adds another million mostly low-wage permanent legal immigrants who can work, draw benefits and become voting citizens. Legal immigration is the primary source of low-wage immigration into the United States. In other words, as a matter of federal policy — which can be adjusted at any time — millions of low-wage foreign workers are legally made available to substitute for higher-paid Americans.” Again, as noted before, the ignorant are leading the blind here; immigrants are not to blame for low wages in this country, but on actions that date back to Reagan’s “supply-side” economic policies—policies that continue to be supported by Republican plantation masters like Sessions, with their fixation on the “Southern” model of economic “development.”

Jeff Sessions should not be confirmed as Attorney General if he cannot be the “impartial” judge of the country and its laws. That means that he has to base his actions on evidence and facts, not blatant falsehood that his own bigotry justifies.  Based on his own rhetoric of blatant misinformation and racial paranoia, it is doubtful that he is suited for the position. Sessions nomination makes mock yet again Trump's claim that he wants to work for "all Americans."

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Know-it-alls know nothing on trade and jobs

Part of the problem with critics of free trade, besides not knowing what the hell they are talking about, is that is that their arguments are so obviously racially-motivated. They “pick on” the easiest targets, not necessarily the most “guilty” culprits. Let’s take the official trade numbers for 2015 from the U.S. Census for select countries, using first the amount in dollars of products exported from the U.S. to those countries, the amount imported from those countries, and the resulting trade imbalance:

CHINA: exports $116.1 billion, imports $483.2 billion=$367.1 billion deficit.

GERMANY: exports $49.9 billion, imports $124.8 billion=$75 billion trade deficit. 

JAPAN: exports $62.4 billion, imports $131.4 billion=$69 billion deficit.

MEXICO: exports $235.7 billion, imports $296.4 billion=$60.7 billion deficit. 

Now, the first thing we should notice about these numbers is that Mexico imports more goods from the U.S. than the other three countries combined—this in spite of the fact that all three alone have far larger GNP’s than Mexico. In fact, nearly half of Mexico’s total trade is with the U.S.; is that “bad” for American businesses, consumers and the economy in general? I guess that depends on who you ask, and their level of nativism, xenophobia, stereotyping, paranoia, prejudice and other such “rational” discussion variables. 

Both Donald Trump and—to his discredit—Bernie Sanders, have been blowing smoke in people’s eyes about the realities of trade. We live in a different world now, just in case they haven’t noticed—and one largely created by the people who are in power, not immigrants who often get the blame. Automation has been and will continue to be a major reason for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the country. Americans’ addiction to cheap apparel, shoes, electronics and practically every useless trinket you can find is why they have a “Made in China” label.  Germany exports their “superior” automobiles to this country, and they don’t want any of our “junk.” Japan is nitpicky about what it will accept that is American-made as well, and in this country people still believe that Japanese cars (and their heavy machinery, like the “Big Bertha” drill?) get better gas mileage and less prone to “breakdown.” But when it comes to NAFTA, and Mexico in particular—note that Canada is never mentioned in such discussions—people in this country raise their fists and vow “retaliation.” 

Trump and Sanders are being cowardly in their populist rhetoric directed at Mexico as the “villain,” as if they would prefer to have an economically Third World country right on the doorstep. But the “Mexicans” are “stealing” jobs from “real” Americans, we are told; well, I tell you what, if you live in Kent and you need a job, and if you are black, female (preferably both, thus “killing” two demographic birds with one stone) or a white kid with no job skills, just sign up for a position as an order picker at the Amazon Fulfillment Center. They are waiting for you, regardless of your (lack of) work ethic or if you are on a prison work release program. It’s part of their “progressive” hiring policy, because its mid-level to management hiring practices are not. Everyone else is wasting their time even bothering to apply. 

Truth, however has little relevancy when playing on people’s dark side, where paranoia and prejudice coexist comfortably.  Both Trump and Sanders have lately been attacking a company called Carrier, which manufactures furnaces. Carrier is planning to move two plants from Indiana to Mexico, with the loss of supposedly 2,000 jobs. There are calls for the company’s parent United Technologies Corp. to stop the move, with the threat of denying UTC government contracts. If the move is stopped and plants stay in Indiana, then of course the nativists will thump their chests at defeating the brown-skinned “enemy.”

But as the Washington Post recently told us, it is all a “lie”:

Trump is selling a vision of manufacturing as it was in the 1950s, where workers with modest skills went to work in factories that employed huge numbers of people in good-paying, secure jobs with excellent benefits. That world doesn’t exist anymore. In some cases it’s because those jobs have moved overseas, not because of bad deals, but because people in Mexico or China or Vietnam will work for wages Americans won’t accept. The reason you can buy a 12-pack of tube socks at Walmart for $5 is that the socks aren’t made by people earning the kind of wages Americans demand. That’s a reality of different countries’ states of development, not a question of whether a trade deal is “bad.” 

The Post also points out that manufacturing jobs in apparel and electronics are likely gone for good—mostly to China, where the U.S. has lost by some estimates 3.2 million manufacturing jobs alone since 2001, but also because “manufacturing jobs have disappeared (because of) automation. When Trump says we don’t make anything anymore, he’s lying. In fact, we make lots of stuff — we just need fewer and fewer workers to make it…The issue is that the fortunes of factories themselves and of manufacturing workers have diverged…U.S. factories now manufacture twice as much as they did in 1984, with one-third fewer workers, according to the Federal Reserve.”

Trump and Sanders are also lying to the American people about a return to some 1950s middle class utopia, according the Post: “Trump will be signing Republican policies that represent the opposite of that happy 1950s vision of American manufacturing. They’ll be keeping the minimum wage low, making health care less secure, undoing regulations on worker safety, and engaging in an all-out assault on the unions that negotiated those high wages, good benefits, and job security. Look for a national ‘right to work’ law meant to stab collective bargaining in the heart…In other words, Trump and the Republicans plan to nationalize the Southern economic model, which says that if you release corporations from the burden of taxation and roll back worker protections, you can attract jobs. Sometimes it works — but those jobs are inevitably less secure and lower paying.”

Yet we will continue to hear the bullies and cowards blame immigrants in general and “Mexicans” in particular for low wages and the loss of jobs for “real” Americans. What the bullies and cowards will not tell you, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, is that

The bottom line, say economists and company executives, is that what’s good for Mexico’s factory workers is good for some U.S. workers too. That’s because the chain of goods that supplies Mexico’s factories is very different from the one for China. Simply put, Mexico needs to consume a chunk of U.S. goods in order to make its own. Around 40 cents of every dollar that the United States imports from Mexico comes from the U.S., compared with just 4 cents of every dollar in Chinese imports, according to the Woodrow Wilson Center. The influx of auto factories in Mexico might sustain hundreds of supplier jobs in Deforest, Wis., or Calhoun, Ga. “Instead of thinking of Mexico as a separate part of production, it’s now part of our manufacturing process,” said Raymond Robertson, an economist at Texas A&M University. “Mexican companies aren’t just producing products that rival ours, they are producing parts of our products.”

The Times noted that even if Trump’s “wall” gets built, it will not bring jobs back, especially from the Pacific Rim. “‘Trump's talk on trade is bluster,’ says economist Charles Ballard of Michigan State University. ‘Even if you did [what Trump says], you wouldn't reverse the technology, which is a very big part of the picture.’" It was also pointed out that putting high tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods would repeat the mistake of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which only served to dig the country deeper into the Great Depression. It would also merely make more expensive products that workers in the lower-income brackets would not be able to afford to purchase—and thus causing job losses in service-sector jobs.

But try telling Trump or Sanders that—they are the “experts” on trade and the economy, aren’t they—as are all these right-wing know-it-alls I listen to on street corners or in eating establishments. Even pro-labor research institutes in the U.S. admit that trade with Mexico has been far less damaging to job losses in the U.S. than China has been, and most economists are forced to admit that NAFTA has been a zero-sum game as far as the jobs-lost vs. jobs-gained equation is concerned. In fact the relatively manageable trade deficit with Mexico compared to other countries indicates that there is little relationship between the NAFTA trade gap and the jobs numbers; as many people here have gained from NAFTA as have been “hurt” by it. That cannot be said of U.S. trade relations with other countries. 

Yet people are still fixated on Mexico, and this can only be attributed to prejudice against Mexicans. China is far away and too big to “push around.” Politicians have been using “Mexicans” as scapegoats to rouse their constituents for a long time, and the trade and jobs shibboleth is just another myth for the ill-informed masses.