Monday, February 6, 2017

Falcons' super meltdown can never be lived down

The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots are like the Yankees of the Joe Torre era—a team you loved to hate because they were so arrogant and had the titles to back it up. When the Falcons took a 28-3 lead in the third quarter of  Super Bowl 51, one couldn’t but rejoice at the prospect that Donald Trump supporter Brady would be denied the “privilege” of being feted by that bigoted blowhard in a White House ceremony. 

But it was not to be. The Falcons completely collapsed in the most shocking of fashions. After the Patriots cut the lead to 28-9, a botched on-side kick gave the Falcons a chance to answer with points of their own, but failed. The Falcons’ defense, which had been harassing Brady all day, managed to stave off another touchdown deep inside their territory and force a field goal with 8 minutes to play. The Patriots were still theoretically three scores behind, 28-12. But with less than six minutes to play, the Falcons lost their wings. 

The alleged NFL Most Valuable Player, Matt Ryan, demonstrated why raw numbers do not necessarily equate to “value”; after all, the Falcons had lost five games during the regular season, four of which after blowing fourth quarter leads. In a similar situation in the divisional round against the Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers did not wilt under pressure. Rodgers did not fumble the football deep in his own end after being blind-sided by a blitzer after a badly missed blocking assignment. He did not get sacked for a 12-yard loss on a horribly stupid play call when the Falcons were within game-clinching field goal range. And he did possess the required tools to heave a “Half-Mary” pass in the waning seconds to get into game-winning field goal range.

The Falcons’ defense, so dominant for nearly three quarters, suddenly had the consistency of butter in the hot sun as the front line became “gassed” and the secondary acted as if they forgot what their assignments were. The Patriots not only scored on their last four possessions of regulation, but they converted on two two-point conversion attempts to tie the game and force overtime. This would be the first ever overtime game in Super Bowl history, but when the Patriots won the coin toss, the rest of the game was anti-climactic. There was no “drama”; the only “hope” that the Falcons had was if Brady threw an inadvertent pass that was intercepted. It didn’t happen. 

We can say that Bill Belichick is a better coach than Dan Quinn, because he didn’t make boneheaded-after-boneheaded decision when the game was slipping away. Not just in allowing an ill-conceived pass play when a field goal would have won you the game, but wasting a time out when a challenge flag was thrown in thoughtless desperation. Losing 34-28 in overtime when you were the underdog would normally be seen as a worthy, valiant effort; instead, no loss could be more maddeningly stomach-churning. There was no comparison to the Oilers blowing a 32-point lead against the Bills in 1993, since the Oilers were already in a tail-spin heading into the fourth quarter. The Broncos’ 55-10 and 43-8 losses in the Super Bowl were “unexpected” at the start but entirely predictable in hindsight. In this game, the Falcons had a 25-point lead that seemed unassailable, and were still leading by 16-points and had the ball with six minutes to play before they simply gave it away. This is the kind of loss no team can live down.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How about this for an "alternative" fact: The U.S. trade imbalance with Mexico is actually too little

Why are Donald Trump’s attacks on NAFTA hypocritical and out-of-touch with reality? Try to wrap your head around this, if you can: The U.S. has a population of 300+ million, and the average annual personal income of $44,000 in 2015. Mexico has a population of 120 million and an average personal income $13,000. Mexico imported $235 billion worth of products from the U.S. in 2015, and exported $295 billion. What this means is that residents of Mexico purchased on average almost $2,000 worth of U.S. products per person, or 16 percent of their purchases. U.S. residents, on the other hand, purchased about $950 of goods from Mexico, or 3 percent of their purchases, per person. 

Of course, this is an overly simple way of looking at this, since if someone purchases a car made in Mexico, the amount spent by one person can be spread out quite thin (one purchase of a car can account for the purchases of 30 other people who purchase no products at all “made in Mexico,” save for produce. Meanwhile in Mexico, American-made goods generally fall into the hands of the relatively “affluent”: the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development reported in 2015 that Mexico has the worst income disparities among its member nations, with just 2,500 people holding 43 percent of the nation’s wealth (financier Carlos Sims alone holds the equivalent of 6.3 percent of the nation’s GDP), while over half the population lives in poverty; the bottom twenty percent’s average net worth is a scant $80. Obviously most Mexicans have not reaped the benefits that Trump fear-mongers that they have.

Another fact that does not have “alternative” interpretations: China, Japan and Germany all have vastly larger economies and purchasing power than the typical Mexican resident, yet combined they purchase less U.S.-made goods than Mexico; China alone has 5 times the population of the U.S., and its GDP is currently 60 percent that of the U.S.; yet it’s exports are nearly five times that what it imports from the U.S.. China’s exports are certainly more “obvious” than Mexico’s, seemingly most of the apparel we wear and the electronic gadgets we use.  With all three of these countries the U.S. has larger trade deficits than it does with Mexico--by six times in the case of China.

Again, everything is “relative.” Since the U.S. has a larger economy than every other country, it can technically “absorb” more imports than the countries it exports to. Thus it can be said that U.S. trade with Mexico actually benefits the U.S. disproportionately, while trade with Germany is more “proportionate” given that its buying power is only a quarter that of the U.S.’, while China obviously does not absorb anywhere near a proportionate amount of U.S. exports as the U.S. does from China. Trump’s claims about jobs being “lost” to Mexico far pale in comparison to jobs that have simply disappeared because U.S. companies could not compete with low-cost products from Asia.

In order to achieve a trade “balance,” the U.S.—besides somehow forcing a more proportionate trade with China—has had to take advantage of the markets of countries with lesser economies, such as “developing” or “Third World” nations, and force them to take in excess U.S. products, while importing virtually nothing from them. This seems hardly “fair,” although it would come as no surprise that Western “brands” are more popular than the homegrown variety, denoting “social status.”. 

In any case, as former Vermont governor and progressive Howard Dean recently opined before a Canadian audience, attacks on NAFTA are out of proportion with reality, and serve no purpose but to harm relations and the economies of all three nations of NAFTA. There are other, far more pertinent issues that prejudice against Mexico and Mexicans cannot explain, and it is hardly in the U.S. interest to create a “failed” state right on its southern border.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is Bernhard Langer a better "American" than Serena Williams? Maybe in Trump's anti-matter universe

Don’t you feel “good” about being an “American” these days? This past weekend Serena Williams won the Australian Open tennis tournament, her 23rd grand slam singles title and a new record for titles won either by women or men since professionals were allowed to compete in them in 1968. There were a few former women stars on hand to witness the event, like Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert—players who disparaged Williams in the past for not showing enough “effort” in standing virtually alone against the Eastern European hordes—particularly those who many Americans “fans” gravitated to, mesmerized by those cocktail dresses overlaying pallid complexions and blonde hair. 

But Williams’ story turned out to be less newsworthy than that concerning German golfer Bernhard Langer, who like Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova enjoys the tropical climes of southern Florida, and while avoiding paying taxes by retaining the citizenship of their native countries. Langer, it seems, was the “source” of a story put out by the Trump administration about “voter fraud” being witnessed in Florida. Langer, it was reported, merely did his duty as an avid Trump supporter (does that make him a “secret” sympathizer of neo-Nazis, a growing problem in Germany as here). Upon reading the embarrassing news reports about himself, Langer attacked the media for disseminating this “misinformation.” Of course, the real “fraud” being perpetrated here is by Langer and the Trump administration, since the media only reported what it was told by the Trump people, supposedly based on what the “witness” Langer told them. 

Unfortunately for Langer, the Trump report was quickly converting him into a liar and a fool as well as a bigot, which the “media” had the bad manners of exposing. Langer now admits that he couldn’t have seen any voter fraud himself since, well, him even being at a polling place might be “misconstrued” as voter fraud since he isn’t a U.S. citizen.  He now claims that he was merely passing on information given to him by a “friend” who supposedly witnessed voter “fraud,” the nature of which remains unclear, although one suspects that to some people voting while dark-skinned constitutes voter fraud. Furthermore, contrary to what the Trump administration told the media, Langer says he never even spoke to anyone there, but does claim that he told this story to another “friend” who had connections with someone in the administration, and that was the person who passed on the bogus claim, and from there we received another alternative “fact” from Trump’s anti-matter universe. 

This is the “America” we live in now. Serena Williams may be an American, but she is also black and is thus less worthy in Trump’s new White World Order—orchestrated by racist Steve Bannon—than, say, some Arian-Nordic foreign type who is just here to soak-up the sun, and winning senior tour golf tournaments using anchored putters, which the PGA is now banning because the use of it by players like Langer is deemed “cheating.” Langer has won $22 million on the Senior Tour, after having won only 3 events on the regular PGA Tour

Monday, January 23, 2017

Week 20 NFL Notes

What is worse—getting blown-out, or losing a close game? I suppose for Packer fans it is disappointing that this season wasn’t a repeat of the 2010 season, when the Packers blew-out the favored Falcons 48-21 along the way to a Super Bowl victory. The outcome of this season’s NFC Championship game was never in doubt, thanks to a Packer defense that carried on as it had in the fourth quarter last week—practically non-existent in a 44-21 rout, so that Packer fans at least had lots of time to absorb the result. No sacks and no interceptions is no way to keep Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in check, especially with Aaron Rodgers supposedly suffering from some illness. Although the Packers entered the game “full strength” with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison playing, that might not have been as helpful to the cause if their injuries limited their effectiveness, much like Robert Griffin III hurt the Redskins’ chances by staying in the game after injuring his knee in the first quarter of an eventual loss to the Seahawks in the 2012 Wild Card round. 

Nevertheless, the Packers did advance farther than anyone believed after a four-game losing streak mid-way in the season. The Packers did silence those annoying Cowboys/Dak Prescott bandwagon fanatics for at least a couple more weeks, and for me that victory was satisfying in the way the Wisconsin Badgers upset the “experts” by beating a 38-0 Kentucky team (that supposedly could compete against the lower-rung NBA teams) in the NCAA Final Four a few years ago; they might not have won the finals against Duke, but at least they insured that they would be more than a mere footnote because of that victory. 

The AFC Championship game was no more competitive. Antonio Brown was supposedly suspended for live streaming a locker room speech by his coach, but with things quickly going south for the Steelers that was just a forgotten detail. Not that it mattered at that much, with Le’Veon Bell out of commission most of the game and Tom Brady slicing-and-dicing the Steeler secondary, completing 32 of 42 passes for 382 yards on the way to a 36-17 victory for the Patriots. 

This Super Bowl will at least have historical significance in the fact that Bill Belichick will have an opportunity to match Vince Lombardi’s five titles, although it took Lombardi just seven years, and Belichick 16 years. Needless-to-say, I’m rooting for the Falcons.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Will weak opposition to Trump's Back to the Future sequel help keep this country stuck in a reactionary past?

The other day, Donald Trump practiced his State of the Union speech before a lily-white millionaire and billionaire donor audience, and of course he repeated the disingenuous self-promotion and praising those in his elitist inner circle of “beautiful people,” relatives and friends. These were the people who were going to make America “great” again, at least for themselves. Trump also told us that he was “proud” of his cabinet picks. One suspects, of course, that when Trump first learned the shocking truth that he had actually been elected president, he was initially so discombobulated that he confused his loyal “alt-right” supporters by suggesting that he intended to be president of all Americans, not just their insular, bigoted minority. But since then Trump has apparently been a lap dog for Steve Bannon and other alt-right “advisors,” accepting their “suggestions” for helping guide him on ruling the country. 

Trump’s press secretary defended his failure to include a single Hispanic in his cabinet by claiming that only the “best and brightest” were selected, which to her credit CNN’s Ana Navarro—a Republican—took great offense to. The reality is that hardly anyone that on Trump’s proposed cabinet is actually “qualified” for their prospective position. The  Interior Department is to be headed by someone who has the “right” pro-business credentials, but just because he is from a Montana boondock doesn’t mean he knows anything being a steward of the land—in fact quite the opposite is indicated by his record; under him, the designated head of the EPA only has a record of dissent and stalling in regard to his responsibilities. 

The former Marine general who is the proposed Secretary of Defense has publicly expressed contempt for “bureaucracy”—meaning civilian oversight of the military, which is supposed to be the point the post. Trump’s new energy secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, once demanded the abolishment of the post. Trump’s proposed Attorney General has record of contempt for civil and voting rights, and we could go on and on from there with Trump’s “picks” for other positions, most of whom have either a military or billionaire background—and utterly out-of-touch with the problems facing most Americans. Reagan’s “trickledown” philosophy didn’t work then, and it won’t now—or ever—save for the rich and self-privileged. 

These are the people who are going to make America “great” again. What does this mean? It means returning America to its past of white supremacy, to the narrative described by Richard Slotkin in his classic study Regeneration Through Violence

But their apparent independence of time and consequence is an illusion; a closely woven chain of time and consequence binds their world to ours. Set the statuesque figures and their piled trophies in motion through space and time, and a more familiar landscape emerges—the whale, buffalo, and bear hunted to the verge of extinction for pleasure in killing and “scalped” for fame and the profit in hides by men like Buffalo Bill; the buffalo meat left to rot, till acres of prairie were covered with heaps of whitened bones then ground for fertilizer; the Indian debased, impoverished, and killed in return for his gifts; the land and its people, its “dark” people especially, economically exploited and wasted; the warfare between man and nature, between race and race, exalted as a kind of heroic ideal; the piles of wrecked and rusted cars, heaped like Tartar pyramids of cracked, weather-browned, rain-rotted skulls, to signify our passage through the land.

We are at a crossroads. In many ways, 2017 is like 2009. We expected “change” in 2009, but what kind of change? It was the kind of “change” that Republicans and the far-right most abhorred and feared: The country rallying behind an at least initially popular Democratic president, fearful of thought that he might actually do important things that only Democrats would get credit for. But then again, the “change” some people were expecting was a cordial, cooperative atmosphere between the parties, and little else. For his part, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that it was his fervent desire to work with Republicans to do what was best for the country, and he actually believed that this was possible. But Republicans were having none of this; even those who may initially have been swept-up in a brief period of goodwill were forced to contend with the intense of antipathy toward Obama of a—let’s not kid ourselves—racist base that opposed any Obama policy position simply because he was Obama, and black. Just looking at him was enough to drive them over the edge and into the dark side of their psyche. Those of you who wish to can continue to lie to and about yourselves. 

So will the world change overnight? No matter what Trump does in the first 100 days, the only people likely to notice a change (or should expect one soon) are those in danger of losing their health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and businesses that want to operate without the constraints of regulation. What both of these promise is the further widening of the gap between the well-off and not so well-off. This has been happening since Reagan became president and labor rights became something that is “bad,” or least people have been led to believe this is the case. But when you have executives making 9-figure “salaries” that are paid for by people on the other end losing their jobs, well there is something that is just not “right” about that, especially when it is not always clear what those executives do to “earn” such largesse.

So what does the “opposition” to Trump look like? Probably something more impotent than what Obama was forced to deal with. Take for example this threatened  “womxn’s march” on Washington, DC and in scattered locales after Trump’s inauguration. I don’t blame black women participants who want hypocritical white women to stay away; after all, the fact that the white female vote for Hillary Clinton was the precise percentage of that for Obama in 2012 only proves that Clinton’s gender was only a “detail,” that for those who this detail was important were naturally Democratic voters, and was otherwise hardly a factor for the majority of the white female voters; race and ethnic prejudice among white women was likely a more important factor than gender in their voting. It is useful to note that Clinton’s unethical and irresponsible behavior as Secretary of State apparently did have an important impact on the white male vote; the relatively scandal-free Obama administration received 5 percent more of the white male vote in the 2012 election than Clinton did, and this clearly was the difference in Midwestern states that Trump won by narrow margins.

Of course, the other “natural” opposition to Trump, black Americans, didn’t help their cause much over the past year or so with the so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement, the hypocrisy of which is self-evident in the fact that 90 percent of black lives taken are by other blacks who apparently have a different idea of whose lives “matter.” What the BLM movement really “meant” is that blacks don’t like feeling marginalized in white (and increasingly Asian elite) society. Unfortunately white society is constantly being bombarded with images of innocent people—mainly white—being murdered by black men, or in the recent case of a mentally-disabled white man, being tortured and mutilated by a gang of male and female attackers in the name of hatred of Trump. Loud, brash, rude and even violent behavior would naturally turn-down the empathy dial of many white voters in face of these competing images, who instead of being made to feel “guilty,” instead voted for someone they thought could protect them from these social vigilantes.

Hispanics have more reason than anyone to oppose Trump, especially after his deliberate snub of any Hispanic for a position in his cabinet. If he wanted to dispel any notion that his many racist comments about Hispanics in the past were not out of personal prejudice, he could have selected someone, even for a minor position. But he did not do this, and this was because we should take his hate as it is. Hispanics have very little presence in the media despite being 17 percent of the population, so even if they were willing, any anti-Trump commentary will be "token"--especially in the face of the black and white female stranglehold on "victimization."Since he is such a friend of Vladimir Putin, who has used his power to accumulate $85 billion in personal wealth, and engineer the murder of political opponents, maybe we should remember what Abraham Lincoln wrote about those who work on the paranoia and fear of others:

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

What about the “liberal” opposition, the talking heads in and out of the media? Are you talking about the people who were too fearful of speaking the truth because they were afraid they might be implicated as well—especially in regard Trump anti-Hispanic hate talk, which they freely disseminated and rarely confronted? Why didn’t the media beat into the heads of the ignorant what health care was like before “Obamacare”? Why didn’t they tell us that the only “difference” between then and now was that tens of millions couldn’t afford health insurance back then, and now they can? Why haven’t we been told that because of so many uninsured, that health care costs were out-of-control because people could not afford even preventative care? Of course, Trump is someone who is so conceited and narcissistic that he is will ignore or attack the media in any case, even while he takes the country down with him.

The next four years will without doubt be a song-and-dance show, with Trump the master of a three-ring-circus defending the actions of his cadre of unqualified players who only want to destroy the country and “remake” it in their own image, meaning, well, we know what that means. It isn’t the “American” image, but all the “pretty people” and rich and powerful who constitute the only reality that he knows. Those “little people” who voted for him because he fed them hate will be fed little else.