Sunday, December 31, 2017

After another humiliating loss, the question will be if the Packers learned the right lessons

It wasn’t a totally lost weekend if you are a football fan in Wisconsin. This past Saturday, the Badgers’ inconsistent quarterback Alex Hornibrook saved his best for last, throwing four touchdown passes in beating Miami on their own home field at the Orange Bowl, adding a measure of “needed” credibility for an already impressive 13-1 season, marred only by a 6-point loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game thanks to uncharacteristic big plays allowed by the defense early in the game. The Big Ten was shut out of a spot in the playoffs, but 7-0 in bowl games against Big-5 competition with one New Year’s game left should at least provide some consolation. Meanwhile, somewhere in Michigan…

…Mike McCarthy continued to put his faith in his own “genius”—or hard-headedness—by starting Brett Hundley one more time, with predictable results in another humiliating loss, 35-11 to the Lions. Hundley’s numbers were not as bad as last week, but two interceptions, a fumble, 40 sack yards lost, five consecutive series in which a total of -7 yards were “gained,” and you have an easy explanation for another miserable offensive performance, in no way mitigated by a late game touchdown with the Packers down by 24 points. It appeared that McCarthy’s stubbornness would still get the better of him even after the Lions promptly answered with a touchdown, but Hundley’s subsequent interception apparently exhausted even his patience, and “Rudy” finally got a chance to play. Joe Callahan may not have played as well in the one series that was left to him as we might have imagined, but he did complete 5 of 7 passes and avoided throwing an interception in his first NFL action. Hundley finished the season with a 70.6 passer rating, good enough to finish 31st out of 33 eligible quarterbacks with the minimum number of pass attempts. 

The Packers finished the season 7-9, McCarthy’s second losing campaign since 2006. The Packers clearly do not have a defense that can keep the team in the game on a regular basis when the offense is playing poorly, and that is a given if Aaron Rodgers is not playing and Hundley is. The “eye” test tells us that despite starting nine games, Hundley has shown little improvement in his ninth start from his first. Heading into next season, the Packers will have to decide if the team’s experience with Hundley is more educational than Hundley’s has been for his own future. Datone Jones (a former teammate at UCLA, and who has appeared on four different rosters this season) claimed last October that Hundley was a “future Hall of Famer.” The Packers should know better than that when evaluating their backup quarterback position next season.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Since Hundley shouldn't be "rewarded" for his poor play at home, McCarthy should give "Rudy" an opportunity

Since the Packers’ season was essentially over after last Monday night, I had to debate with myself if it was even necessary to comment on this past Saturday’s  game against the Vikings. The only “point” of it was to play “spoiler,” since the Vikings were playing for top-two seeding in the playoffs, which seemed unimaginable when the season started. But this was an opportunity to just sit back and take in sights, since there was nothing to gain or lose. To be certain, the Packers’ defense was “game,” allowing only one touchdown and 16 points total. But the offense, well, did we expect better? Really?  Being a California guy, I suppose that Brett Hundley could be “excused” for playing like he was in the process of thawing out; but then again, Aaron Rodgers is a California guy too. Bottom line was that I was “embarrassed” for Hundley, if he wasn’t enough for himself. 

In front of the Lambeau Field crowd that had at least witnessed adequate play from Matt Flynn (remember his 480-yard, 6-touchdown performance against the Lions in 2011?), Hundley had his worst game of the season, completing 17 of 40 for 130 yards and 2 interceptions, as the Packers were shutout for the second time at home with him under center. Hundley completed just 7 of his last 26 passes for 81 yards. And it actually did look that bad, particularly when he was just trying to avoid throwing another interception. Hundley finished the season 1-4 at home, a 50.6 passer rating with 0 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions--and dropped passes were not to "blame" for his lousy play at home before this last game, but his inability to function in the pocket and locate open receivers (and get it to them when he did). The Packers also averaged a mere 12 points per game, which didn’t provide much excitement for the home crowd. Did they have reason to be disappointed? I think that the scattered booing was just being “charitable.”

Mike McCarthy must stop with the constant litany of tiresome excuses he has put forth for Hundley's poor play, no doubt thinking it is a reflection on his coaching; a losing season is what he deserves (but not the team) for continuing this charade. As Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said, "The final ingredient in this ignominy stew was McCarthy selling out those players who came to Lambeau Field with their work boots on by stubbornly refusing to remove his quarterback from a 16-0 loss that dropped the team to 7-8...More than likely he just obstinately refused to admit he was wrong about a guy who gets sent back to Go every time it seems like he might make it past Baltic Avenue. If McCarthy had bothered to look around and see the body language of some of his players as Hundley continually refused to maneuver inside the pocket or spot open receivers when he did leave the pocket, he would have seen a defeated team."

The Packers play the Lions in the season finale, and with their loss today Detroit also has nothing to play for save "pride," although a few of the Packer players sound like they’ve already shutdown for the season. Of course, now we hear that McCarthy still intends on starting Hundley, which only proves he has little regard for how the fans feel; for them, it's too late for "making up." For me, it is time to shutdown Hundley for the season. Sure, he has played well on the road, but he shouldn’t be “rewarded” for playing so poorly at home. Joe Callahan--who has never played a regular season snap--has sat on the bench watching all of this and wondering if he could do “better.” I’m not sure he can, but like Rudy who got a chance to play one snap with Notre Dame, maybe McCarthy can find it in his heart to put Callahan in the game. After all, it can’t hurt anymore that it already has.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What Republican tax "reform" really means for working people

All right, so we all know that the Republican tax reform package is an early Christmas gift to their billionaire donors. It has already been confessed by Republican politicians that this was a “pay us or else” proposition from the Koch brothers and the like. Of course it was blackmail—and a fraud. Who were the Koch brothers going to give their campaign contributions to if they were not going to receive what essentially qualifies as a “rebate” for all the billions they have given to far-right causes and candidates? Fanatical progressives like Bernie Sanders? 

The lies pile up on lies. Donald Trump outrageously continues to claim that he will not benefit “one cent” from this tax “reform.” Good god, does he really take everyone (particularly his shrinking working class support) for “retards” with an IQ too low to be measured? Particularly with the “pass-through” tax reductions for “businesses” that create no jobs but lots of additional income for the “proprietor,” Trump comes out of this like a verifiable thief.  It’s only “great” for the rich like him. And why should Trump give a damn about what working people think? This is a man who has known nothing but wealth and privilege since the day he was born; he has no clue about how difficult the lives of working people really is.

And what about those working people the Republican tax plan is supposed to be “for”? For those with poverty-level incomes under $9,500 (or $19,000 married filing jointly) a year, they will not see a tax cut at all—in fact their “after tax” income will barely rise, and may significantly decrease if they actually want individual health care coverage moving forward. And you don’t have to be a math “wiz” to figure out the reality of this “great” tax package, especially if you are on the lower end of the pay scale. If you, like me, decide to take zero exemptions as a single filer and do not itemize, on an income of $30,000 at the current 15 percent tax deduction that is $4,500 in payroll federal income taxes deducted. Minus $10,000 from the standard and personal deduction, that leaves $20,000 in taxable income, which comes to $3,000 in taxes. That leaves a refund of $1,500. With the new tax rate at 12 percent, $3,600 would be withheld, and with the single deduction of $12,000 that would leave $18,000 of taxable income, which comes out to $2,160 in taxes owed. What does that mean? You will not see a noticeable difference in your tax refund size, and it might be even less than before. 

Why is this significant? Under this scenario, your additional after-tax income will be something like $800, which may sound like a “lot” when it appears as a single lump sum. Now if you are paid twice a month, that comes out to $33 a check. Is that a “lot” of money? You tell me. Maybe you could spend that on a movie, or go to a restaurant, buy a book, or “splurge” on steak instead of hamburger—once every two weeks. That kind of "Trump" change is too little to “save” or cause the economy to “grow,” because you don’t have any motivation to use it on higher-priced manufactured goods that maintain jobs; only significantly higher wages can do that. Now if you are in the top one percent of the tax bracket, you will see a significant amount of money, but what are you going to with it that makes the economy “grow” or create jobs? Nothing; you will probably just leave it in the bank. Not for nothing did the one-time Bush tax “rebate” for working people actually work in “bumping” the economy, albeit  briefly: it was enough money to actually purchase “high ticket” items. 

What does tax “reform” mean for businesses that already pay far less than the current 35 percent (because of various exemptions and loop holes)? Filing their taxes may be "simplified," but they are no more likely to use the money to create living wage jobs than before; once more, "trickle down" economics will be revealed to be a right-wing fraud. Meanwhile,  people who pay state and local taxes will have a reduced deductible cap—thus likely seeing less after-tax income than before. The deficit will skyrocket to heights unimagined before (and you thought Republicans were “fiscal conservatives”); Trump and Paul Ryan’s poor-hating budget-cutting to "pay" for the increased largesse of the very richest will create poverty in the US—as a recent UN report warned—that will reach levels not seen since the Great Depression even without an “official” depression; and this bill will essentially “kill” the Affordable Care Act in the next decade, leaving at least 13 million more people than before uninsured. 

There are numerous other “issues” with this tax policy, including tying future tax bracket levels to the chained Consumer Price Index (which allegedly takes into account consumer reaction to higher prices), which will have the effect of raising brackets slower that the true rate of inflation, thus lowering tax savings. The bottom line is that for low-to-middle-income people, tax reform is a con job—even before the “sunset” effect. Even alleged “moderate” Republicans like Susan Collins conned us, and her claim that it is “sexist” to criticize her over her support for the tax bill is just more evidence that gender politics has taken a turn into blatant self-serving hypocrisy. 

Now what? Nothing can be done until 2020, and that will require Democrats to take the presidency, the House and at least 60 Senate seats. Trump and the Republicans have demonstrated their contempt for working people, although many are still blinded from the fact; the question is will working people take back their government from the oligarchy of the rich?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

With season officially over for the Packers, time to insure that Rodgers will be "ready" for next season

I bet Brett Hundley was out there on the sidelines saying to himself “Whew. At least that’s not me throwing those three interceptions,” having already done so twice in a game this season. But for a while there in his return to the line-up Aaron Rodgers made things at least “interesting.” Most of the “experts” were predicting that because of Rodgers’ rustiness and the “improved” Carolina offense, the Panthers would prevail. Indeed, while the Packers’ defense seemed to be an on-again, off-again affair, they were eventually sunk by four turnovers, the last one a fumble after a pass completion following the recovery of an onside kick, after pulling within a touchdown with 2:43 left. It did seem for a few seconds there that Rodgers would pull another rabbit out of the hat despite throwing those three picks (much as Russell Wilson did after throwing five interceptions in the 2014 NFC Championship game against the Packers), until Geronimo Allison’s miscue at the Carolina 28-yard line, ending the game a 31-24 loss. 

It’s hard to assess Rodgers’ return. He was under duress almost the entire game, and having avoided sacks throughout, was done so twice for 19 yards in losses on back-to-back plays after reaching the Carolina 21 midway in the fourth quarter, losing the ball on downs. After returning to “form” by the end of the first half and the Packers ahead 14-10, he promptly opened the second half with two of his first three passes picked off. His third quarter numbers—3 of 11 for 20 yards and those two interceptions—were strictly DeShone Kizer-like. Rodgers did revive enough in the fourth quarter to at least make it a “game,” completing 13 of 17 for 142 yards and a touchdown, but otherwise only managed to reduce his passer rating by six points. 

As I mentioned last week, I thought that expectations that Rodgers’ return would propel the Packers to the playoffs was strictly a game of chance. The best thing that can be said (and that is only an assumption) is that the Packers were more “competitive” against the Panthers than they might have been without Rodgers. But with the season officially over, it might be a good idea to insure that Rodgers will be “100 percent” healthy for next season, instead of playing out the season just to pad his stats.

Update: Atlanta’s victory over Tampa Bay makes it official: the Packers are officially out of the playoff picture, but the odd thing is that the Falcons can still lose a playoff spot to the Lions, Cowboys or the Seahawks—the latter two teams the Packers defeated earlier in the season when Rodgers was healthy.

Update II: As expected, Rodgers was put back on IR for the remainder of the season.