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.