Posted by: Bruce Allen | August 20, 2017

Republicans in a Lather

Up&down chart-Main© Bruce Allen   August 20, 2017

Most Republicans have this notion that everything political in the U.S. will be fine once the party unites under the banner of “cutting middle-class taxes and improving the economy,” with Trump leading the way.  They enjoy majorities in both houses of Congress, most of the governorships, most state legislatures, with voting districts they’ve gerrymandered to guarantee red ownership for a decade, etc.  Life, for Republicans, is, in general, very good. 

Except for the lunatic in the White House.  More about him later. 

The problem with the initial premise is that the economy is about as “improved” as it’s going to get.  For the working class of Americans lacking education and/or transferable skills, add the word “ever” to the previous sentence.  Unemployment, or at least the government’s facsimile thereof, stands at under 4.5%, 10% below what economists consider “full employment,” which is usually assumed to be 5%. Inflation is under 2%, which has been the target used by the Federal Reserve for decades.  The economy is growing slowly. A combination of at least three factors suggests that measured unemployment is likely to go up in the years to come. 

(Those red-eyed folks comprising the Trump “core” need those jobs he promised on the campaign trail.  Their communities need those jobs.  Those jobs are going to become more scarce.) 

1.   A rapidly mechanizing workplace, more robotics, more machines, with people only needed to keep them running and cleaned-up after. 7.3 million jobs have been lost in the US in the past decade due to this alone.

2.   Corporate capitalism, which obliges company operators to maximize shareholder value and returns, seeking the lowest costs of production, which in turn supports

3.   Globalization which, despite the bellowing emanating from the White House, continues apace, with only economy-hurting tariffs and trade wars standing in its way. 

Millions of high quality, high-paying jobs go wanting every day in this country for lack of applicants qualified to fill them.  With current immigration policies, crops are rotting in fields owing to there being no one to pick them. There is no priority to deal with massive job re-training or any coherent immigration policy to help the agricultural sector. The party in charge needs to own these issues. 

This misplaced hope that “fixing” the economy through conventional means will work could easily backfire on Republicans, who will have to account for rapidly-growing Federal deficits to enact their agenda.  Tax reform, their version of it anyway, will clearly add to the deficit. Any infrastructure “program” worthy of receiving a name will add to the deficit, at least in the short-term. Healthcare?  Ditto. And the fascinating part is that The Freedom Caucus is ready, willing, and able to drive the economy over the cliff of government shutdowns and debt defaults in order to have these things their way, which is to say, wrong. 

Under Trump, the dismantling of the Federal machine taking place before our eyes guarantees that “externalities” such as pollution of our air and water will increase over time. It is likely that death rates among various populations will grow over time as these externalities manifest themselves in the declining health of vulnerable people. 

In short, the Republicans don’t really have an answer, either to the economy or the 800-pound gorilla in the White House. They are sufficiently disunited to be unable to wield their considerable power effectively. They are inextricably tied to this unfit President due to their spineless refusal to condemn his intellectual and moral vacuity. 

Married to the President, they are like the wives of so many husbands who complain they can’t live with them and can’t live without them. Congressional Republicans can’t afford, politically, to go up against the “Trump core” and can’t afford, morally, to not.  Rock—Congressional Republicans—Hard place. 

If, as seems likely, the wheels of the economy begin to rattle and grind in the next year, the mid-term elections hold promise for Democrats.  As the out-of-power party in Washington, it is up to them to come up with a coherent platform stating what they stand for.  It can be well to the left of what we have seen from them over the past decade.

If voters in the 2018 mid-terms and 2020 Presidential elections are on the rebound from a period of extended “losing,” they could be turned around by a platform built around producing a healthy, stronger, modern American workforce, more able to compete in the world economy without tariffs, government protection or subsidies, with health insurance for all, and without Betsy DeVos. 

For those concerned about Federal debt and deficits, it should be acknowledged that The World regards U.S. debt as virtually bullet-proof, with rates on 10 year Treasury bonds under 3%.  These rates are climbing, but the forces pushing them are weak. Most of them are due to uncertainty, which markets loathe and which comes from the White House by the ton.  Once there is a new, more predictable occupant at 1600, much of that uncertainty will vanish. The recent fall in the dollar likewise. 

The field is set for the Democrats.  Most 2018 Federal and state elections will feature Republican incumbents who have more to lose than challengers.  The opposition is in disarray. The economy is beginning to tilt against the incumbents at a bad time.  If Democrats cannot take advantage of these factors in 2018 and again in 2020 they are a sorry lot.

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Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 10, 2017

Ryancare Will Help Democrats

The Hail Mary being undertaken by Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress in a political sprint to crush Obamacare is a longshot of the highest order.  Despite the numbers, the industry, AARP, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, Republican governors and senators, and a majority of Americans opposing them, their motto is clearly “Damn the torpedoes.”  Their maybe 2% chance of success could mean the end of the Democratic party for the foreseeable future.  The 98% likelihood that they will fail could mean the opposite.

The fractures within the Republican party are obvious and growing.  The 40 person Conservative Caucus, the last remaining vestiges of the Tea Party, hates the bill. Democrats, mostly by reflex, hate the bill.  Himself has not a clue what’s even in it.  As has been observed elsewhere, the only chance the bill has of becoming law is speed, to jam it through both houses using whatever political chicanery is available (Ryan and McConnell have that covered) and get it signed before the opposition gets fully organized.  And, unfortunately, before the CBO has had a shot at the numbers.  With no idea whatsoever of the costs involved, either in human or financial terms.

Listening to Paul Ryan explain the plan yesterday, and having read extensively the SWAG (Sophisticated Wild Ass Guess) numbers being thrown around, my sense is that the bill, in anything resembling its current form, will result in the following:

  • ten million families losing health insurance in the first year
  •  insurance companies running for the doors.
  • premium increases of 30-200% over the already-increased rates of 2017.
  • “tax credits,” the tool being used to “level the playing field,” becoming the most hated term in Trump’s America, as his base will find them completely insufficient to offset the increases in premium arising from 1) uncertainty, 2) pre-existings, and 3) the lack of a mechanism to get young, healthy people enrolled to offset the costs of the basketcases.
  • Those poor unfortunates who find themselves relegated to the “state pool” will quickly discover the nightmare of life therein.  Mr. Ryan’s rosy images aside, the state pool is to health insurance what a rusted out 1976 Yugo is to your car.
  • While the base watches their healthcare system, and health, deteriorate, they will have the added pleasure of learning about the tax windfall the law provides for the so-called 1%.
  • Medicaid getting shoved out onto the states to manage and, eventually, fund, at least in part.  Their share is likely to blossom over time.

In a worst case scenario, Congress repeals the ACA and fails to pass ANY replacement legislation.  This is where the wheels fall off.  This is the point at which a lot of older, poorer Americans will figure out that they’ve been played.  For Ryan and his lot, repeal without replacement is unacceptable.  Yet they appear to be headed exactly there.

Ryancare, as the new law is doomed to be called, could end up being exactly what the Democrats need to take back the Senate and even things up in the House in 2018.  Accordingly, the party may find itself heavily indebted to the recalcitrant Conservative Caucus.

The remnants of the Tea Party remind me of lemmings, joyfully leading their pack over the cliff to their guaranteed destruction.  In order to make a point.  As a liberal democrat, I gotta say I love these guys.  After all, they’re the only thing standing between us and a healthcare debacle, even if they’re doing so for the wrong reasons.

lemming cartoon

 

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | January 6, 2017

“That government is best which governs least.” Hogwash.

Attributable at times to Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Napoleon’s valet, the quote has no identifiable father, for one obvious reason: It’s wrong.

According to the World Happiness Report—there is such a thing at the U.N.—happiness, like gross national product, can be (crudely) measured by survey.  Here is what the people in the number-crunching business had to say about their methodology:

“So how do the researchers come up with this list? The process is actually rather simple, as the Index’s website explains: “The rankings are based on answers to the main life evaluation question asked in the poll. This is called the Cantril ladder: it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.”

Simple enough.  Here are the top 17 happiest nations on Earth.

happiness-chart

We use percentage of GDP as a proxy for expenditures per capita, which figures are not readily available.  The U.S. and Brazil are the only “happy” countries among the 16 most heavily populated nations to make the list.

For the record, the least happy 10 countries (out of 53 measured) were:

10 least happiest.JPG

What are we to infer from all these numbers?  It seems fairly obvious that, in general, people living in smaller, colder countries are more likely to be happy than those living in large and/or tropical ones.  And, ignoring Timor-Leste and Eritria (too small, too much civil war), it would appear not to be a coincidence that of the 10 countries spending the greatest percentage of GDP on government services, six are found in the list of happiest countries.  The U.S. and Germany are the only countries on the happiness list that also appear on the list of top countries by military expenditures, where the U.S. spends more than the next eight countries combined.  Finally, we must confront the fact that, deducting defense expenditures from total government spending means the U.S. effectively spends even less per capita on “happiness” (i.e., health and welfare) than the happier countries on the list.

All of which is to say that the liberal worldview, so thoroughly embraced in the Scandinavian countries, with high tax rates and a comprehensive set of “free” government services, appears to make people happier than a more conservative approach that seeks to minimize expenditures on social welfare programs in order to fund what could be characterized as a grossly over-inflated defense budget.

Which is where we came in on this movie.  It is not true that that government which governs least governs best.  What appears to be true is that government which effectively secures the lives and wellbeing of its citizens governs best.  In the United States, the country that invented Rugged Individualism, the “don’t tread on me” spirit which turns sparsely populated western and Midwestern states red will resist government of any size, shape or flavor until the roads start falling to pieces and it takes 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at one’s house, long after the heart attack victim has gone cold.

And so it’s true in America as it is across the globe.  People, and nations comprised of large numbers of them, can be counted on not to recognize which things lead to happiness and which things lead to deprivation and misery.  The “poverty amidst plenty” dichotomy growing worse in the United States each year, courtesy in large part to the Republican politicians on Capitol Hill, is obscene and needs, finally, to be addressed in a meaningful way.  For leadership on this issue, the only informed voice in Washington is that of Bernie Sanders.  “Republican leadership” has become an oxymoron.  According to most Republicans, who embrace the quote, government, by definition, is bad, and it is this warped perception from the right that is driving efforts to repeal Obamacare.  (I will resist the temptation to take this last argument to its “logical extreme,” which is that Republicans tend to believe that PEOPLE are bad.)

After eight years devoted to failing efforts to do so, the Republican party is finally in a position to repeal Obamacare.  They do not have the balls or brains it takes to draw up an improved replacement plan, leading me to believe they will take us through a healthcare crisis measured in years, to emerge with pretty much what we have now.  The 800-pound gorilla in the room, that no Republican wants to acknowledge, is the obvious solution for healthcare:  Medicare for everyone.  A single payer system that negotiates prices for durable and non-durable medical goods on behalf of the government payer and is operated by private insurance companies.  Universal medical coverage for every U.S. citizen.  No more senior citizens having to choose between medicine and food.  Higher taxes will be needed to pay for it, but the people living in the countries that do it this way seem not to mind.  The stock prices of the medical device and drug companies will decline.

As usual, the Republicans, including their plutocratic and incredibly unprepared President taking office on January 20, are hell-bent to proceed in exactly the wrong direction.  Lots of Trump voters, poor people in red states, will be paying the price.  With the Democratic party being leaderless and discredited, this is their saving grace:  The Republicans will be seen as running things badly, with an unstable president and a Congress generally loathed by most Americans.  Good luck with that.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | June 12, 2015

The 12 Types of Facebook “Likes”

Facebook-thumb-460x460

Regular Facebook users are aware of the importance of “likes” concerning their posts and the posts of friends.  In this brief treatise we will explore the various types of “likes” and the meaning or purpose behind each.

  1. The “Like” like. This is your basic garden-variety statement of appreciation for a post from a friend.  Straightforward, no hidden meaning.
  2. The “Obligatory” like. Used when a good friend posts something long and involved, or deeply personal.  Used when you don’t bother to read the post or follow the link, or are uncomfortable with the subject matter.
  3. The “Defensive” like. Used when you are indifferent to a post by a friend, but you don’t want them ignoring your future posts.  It’s not that you actually like the post; it’s more that you don’t want your future posts ignored or, worse yet, criticized for being insipid, wrong or politically unpalatable.
  4. The “Indifferent” like. I don’t really like it, nor do I really NOT like it.  In fact, I don’t really like YOU, nor do I really NOT like you.  The WTF like.
  5. The “Mercy” like. For those long, drawn-out posts about obscure, usually family or cat-related posts, which have drawn exactly zero likes in 24 hours.
  6. The “Dislike” like. FB has made the decision not to make a Dislike button available.  As a result, when your neighbor’s roof gets blown off or their child suffers a sprained ankle, you are reduced to just “liking” it.  As if.
  7. The “Quid Pro Quo” like. Similar to #3 above, used by prolific posters to inoculate themselves against being ignored by their hundreds of followers.  If I like one of Tony S’s posts, even though I loathe most of them, I may get an occasional like thrown my way, even though most of my posts cause him to gag in his echo chamber.
  8. The “Better Than Your Usual Drivel” like. Say your neighbor posts lots of stuff about kittens, or a friend from high school posts a thousand bowls of Pablum about God and how much he loves you.  One day they post a relatively funny video of a guy getting dragged across his front yard by his lawnmower.  This deserves a like.
  9. The “Sheer Weight of Posts” like. You’ve reluctantly friended someone you knew years ago who seems to do nothing all day but post stuff on Facebook, mostly widespread shares.  You should like every 50th one, just to let him or her know you’re still in the game.
  10. The “Pretty Sure My Friends are going to Hate Me” like. Your family tells you over and over that when you go political on FB it gives them hives, then someone posts a John Stewart or Paul Krugman clip that just rocks.  You go ahead and like it, adding an acute comment in the process, but must prepare for the slings and arrows from those near and dear who disapprove.
  11. The “Even Though 8,000 Other People Have Already Liked It” like.  Posts from huge pages like Elmore Leonard, The Christian Left, etc., which are more like web pages than FB posts, but are so good you can’t help but become #8,001.
  12. The “In the Mood to Like Everything” like.  When it’s late at night and you’ve been away from FB for a while, catching up on 500 posts, as midnight approaches you just go ahead and like everything, without even reading it, in order to avoid possibly hurting someone’s feelings, possibly a parent or child.  “‘Tis easier to like and not care than to care and not like.”

Please feel free to share other types I’ve missed, as there are probably dozens.  If you do, I promise to like them.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 30, 2015

The “Just War” and American Interventionism

This from Wikipedia:  The just war doctrine [of the Catholic Church – sometimes mistaken as a “just war theory” – found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309,] lists four strict conditions for “legitimate defense by military force”:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).

Since the United States has not been invaded in a meaningful way for over 200 years, the modern theory of the just war, as it relates to the USA, can only be examined in the context of American participation/intervention in overseas conflicts, most notably in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

NPR has been running a series of broadcasts recently looking back at Viet Nam.  In interviews with veterans of that war, two major themes emerge.

  • The people (Congress and the President) sending soldiers to fight and die were not the ones doing the fighting and dying. A disproportionate number of those on the ground were poor and black.  The majority of those sending them were wealthy and white.
  • One of the biggest problems we experienced in Viet Nam was that, having committed hundreds of thousands of troops, the U.S. never had a coherent exit strategy. Nixon’s “Peace with Honor” was advertising-speak for retreat, defeat and, finally, a panicky evacuation.

Thus, I would argue that the just war doctrine applied to foreign interventions should include a fifth element, namely:

  • there must be clearly-defined conditions when military efforts are no longer needed/wanted, and an articulate strategy for exiting the theatre when those conditions are achieved. 

All of which brings us to today.  I would argue that the Bush administration’s commitment of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2001 violated articles 3 and 4 of the just war doctrine, in addition to the proposed 5th article.  There was, at the time, no serious prospect of long term success.  The use of arms produced evils and disorders graver than the evil to have been eliminated.  And, there was no exit strategy for either incursion.  No serious discussion of the conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan can possibly conclude that either country is better off today than it was in 2001.  Moreover, these interventions have led, directly or indirectly, to the uprisings of the so-called Arab Winter, the birth of Al-Shabaab and ISIS, and the catastrophic conditions facing people in northern Africa and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the war hawks in Congress have failed to learn anything from the three wars discussed above.  The constant refrain emanating from the halls of Congress, most discernibly the halls on the political right, goes something like this:  “Terrorist organizations in _________ are murdering civilians and fomenting civil war.  We, the United States, must commit ground troops to ________ in order to put a stop to these deplorable acts.”  Fill in the blanks as you wish:  Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Eritrea, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Syria, etc., etc.  In short, for many conservatives, a popular sense of common decency and American moralism dictate that we essentially invade much of the non-Western world.

The question, then, is how can anything that feels so right be so wrong?  Once again, though we are deeply offended and troubled by events in these places, committing U.S. ground troops to any of these areas would again violate the third, fourth and proposed fifth elements defining a just war.  Initiating an unjust war, whether we like it or not, constitutes aggression.  In most of these countries, American troops would be welcomed by the few and reviled by the many.  Terrorist propagandists would surely characterize such actions as illegal aggression by infidels, stoking the flames of discord and facilitating recruitment of new terrorists/freedom fighters to take the places of those martyred by the infidels.

The peoples in most of these regions have been engaged in religious wars and sectarian violence against one another for centuries.  As combatants coalesce into the frightening Al Qaedas and Al-Shabaabs of the world, the temptation on the part of American political administrations to intervene in the slaughter is virtually irresistible, especially on the political right.  Doing so, however, does not rise to the standards of “the just war,” becoming, instead, just war.  As distressed as we are by these events, it would be morally wrong to commit U.S. ground combat forces to these areas.

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | December 4, 2014

Colts’ Running Game: Blow It Up

Colts linemenThree quarters of the way through the 2014 season, it’s time to get real about the Indianapolis Colts and the running game they will need, someday, to compete for a Super Bowl.

The Colts are, at this time, pinning their hopes on Boom Herron to carry them to the promised land.  Herron, who is the kind of back they need, is, in turn, one solid tackle away from a season-ending injury. Trent Richardson was a beast in college who lacks the body type to be successful in the NFL.  It has taken this long to discern this owing to a list of events, changes and excuses that go back to his rookie season with the Browns.  It is possible that Richardson could be successful with some teams–teams that actually create holes in the opponents’ defensive line–but his talents, such as they are, are mostly wasted with the Colts.  He is a great pass blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield.  He just can’t convert on third and short, and with his build that should be virtually automatic.

The Colts’ running game relies, in large measure, on our offensive linemen going straight up against their guy and moving him off the line of scrimmage.  In Lucas Oil Stadium, that simply has never worked.  The Colts’ scheme, such as it is, requires extraordinary backs who can produce only mediocre results within a scheme that doesn’t work.  (In some other town, Edgerrin James would have accumulated half again as many yards with the same effort.)  Our offensive lines can pass block–sort of–but cannot run block in the way they are being coached.  Can’t, and never have been able to.  Again, as we enter The Luck Years, he makes a weak pass-blocking line look better than it is with a quick release, willingness to get hit, and running ability.Edgerrin James

Watch the New England TV broadcast again, and see the announcers using the Telestrator to show how the Patriots’ running game, relying on down blocking, with either a back or receiver coming across the formation to block, created huge lanes for the back, in our case some obscure rookie who set some kind of record simply following his blocking.  This whole diagonal scheme, compared to the Colts’  vertical approach, mano a mano, is easier on the linemen and the backs, and susceptible to the stretch play as well as play action.

The Colts need to re-examine their offensive line and their entire approach to running the ball.  Things would look better at this point had Vick Ballard not gone down for the second year in a row, a brutal indicator that he may never reach his potential with the Colts.  Bradshaw may be done.  Richardson can’t do it on this level.  Otherwise, there isn’t anyone.

The Colts need their center, #72, to become the talent the entire staff tell us he will be.  The guard situation is troubling, as we’ve devoted several high draft choices and trades that, at this point, haven’t worked out at all. (Grigson was an offensive guard; he should be better at identifying and signing guys at that position who can move their guy off the line of scrimmage. ) Costanzo is everything you could ask for at left tackle, while Cherilus has perhaps a few good years left.  Otherwise, the offensive line gets pushed around every week, and any running game at all is generally the result of heroic effort by Herron or Luck or a mistake by the defense.  Getting Allen #83 back will help the running game.

The Colts will win the South again this year, probably finishing at 11-5.  They will host a divisional game in week one of the playoffs that they are likely to lose, unless Herron and the offensive line are healthy and at full strength.  In high school we had a series of plays we called “crossbucks” which, theoretically only, would produce running lanes allowing the back to run against the grain, so to speak, and produce solid results.  The Colts are built to run such a series on second and third downs.  Even Richardson could probably give 5 yards a carry with such a scheme.

The Colts have other problems, notably their inability to stop the run against good teams.  It looks like they have the players to make plays, but they give up a lot of rushing yards and a lot of big plays.  Time of possession, for the defense, is an issue, as they rank next to last in red zone defense, permitting touchdowns at something like a 70% rate. They are tough on 3rd down.  Lots of defensive backs who are near plays but not necessarily breaking up plays. Nothing approaching a pass rush as in years past.  34 Sacks thus far in 2014 vs. 42 sacks 2013.      23rd in team defense in 2014 vs. 13th overall in 2013.  They are way easier to score on than they were in 2013.

The fact that Luck has more tools and is something of a budding genius does nothing to obscure the fact that the Colts are unable to reliably run the ball and have trouble stopping the run against good teams.  They have exactly the make-up of a team that wins its first playoff game at home and goes on the road in week two to cold weather and gets hammered, either in Denver or New England.

Choose your poison, or just win out and see what happens.  The set-up is the same as that very old joke that ends with the words, “Good.  But first, chi-chi.”  Beat one, and your reward is going on the road to play the other.  Teams that do that make it to the Super Bowl all the time.  Um, no.

The Colts need to get real about their running game and their play on defense when the opponent is running the ball.  That they have enough to win the division is obvious.  The challenge for the Colts is to demonstrate they have what it takes to go on the road in the winter and play at night in cold weather in the proverbial hostile environment.  With a running game that demands offensive lineman simply push their guy out of the way and run the ball and is delusional in its belief that it can succeed doing so.  Or that Herron will have a long shelf life if he’s earning 20 carries a game, starting in Cleveland.

After the season’s over, let Richardson choose his own team and make his own deal.  Get what you can in exchange.  He is a nice guy and deserves a chance to do well.  It was not a good fit for him here in Indianapolis, not his fault.  He does lots of other things well that don’t show up in the charts.  He will continue in the NFL, as his health is surprisingly good. Go with God.

The Colts and especially Grigson need to fix both lines and refine the way they attack the line of scrimmage on offense to succeed in cold weather.  They need to increase the pressure on opposing quarterbacks coming from the middle of the line of scrimmage at all times.  They need to allow the linebackers to play in the secondary more and rush the passer less.  They need to occupy the clock and move the sticks to succeed in cold weather.

They need to run the ball.  Other than Boom Herron, they have proven unable to run the ball.

Heading into the playoffs, the Colts have reason to celebrate and reason for concern.  They have one of the best quarterbacks in football whose career is still very much ascendant.  They have a growing number of offensive weapons.  They have enough of an offensive line to allow Luck to do much of what he does, but does not produce any significant rushing yards.  It is a team built to lose in the second round of the playoffs, despite Luck, despite having perhaps the top offense in the league.  They will run into a Pittsburgh or a Denver or a New England on the road and find themselves outgunned and out-schemed.  And, if somehow they should prevail in the second round, they would need to repeat the feat, on the road, to advance to the Super Bowl.  In the winter.  At night.  And on the road.

Gronk

 

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | November 20, 2014

The Colts Give Us Reason for Concern

cropped-099indianapolis-monumentcircle.jpgHaving watched 10 Colts games this season, I am officially concerned.

I am officially concerned that a team built to run the ball and stop the run can consistently do neither.

I am not concerned about Andrew Luck, whom we expect to drag us out of every mess we put ourselves into, forgive the dangling preposition. He is very good and will become brilliant, perhaps transcendent, as he matures. It is the defense’s inability to stop the run, and the running game itself that have me worried.Indianapolis Colts Logo

Observe how the Patriots beat us this past week. The announcers illustrated over and over how the New England OC used angle blocking, crossing WRs, slanting blocking backs, slanting pulls, to create running lanes, through which an obscure running back could amass 200 yards that would have been more had it not been, in the immortal words of Kravitz, for those pesky end zones. They don’t simply put our big guys up against your big guys and start pushing away, and tell Richardson or Bradshaw to run at the inevitable opening, which is simply rarely there. The entire NE run blocking scheme was superior to our own, and was the reason we lost the game.

Three years into the Grigson regime and we are unable to stop the run nor run the ball after having invested Lord how many millions of dollars in players and draft choices. Our players LOOK like the type we want—broad, very big, but we’re unable to create running lanes on offense and putting any meaningful pressure on opposing QBs, overlooking two singularly poor decisions by Brady, both of which resulted in interceptions, and both of which were the reasons this didn’t become an uglier rout than it was. This was about being overmatched along both lines and outcoached.

It is cold comfort to state the obvious, that Brady is 37 and Luck 25, but for now there is no comparison. There is little reason to expect much more from this team than to win the punchless AFC South. At this stage, the stage at which people want to start blaming other people for the things that aren’t happening on the field, like being 8-2, for example, that the candidates include Pagano, Grigson and Christiansen. As for the latter, it’s true the Colts have been leading the league in accumulating yards and scoring, but most of that has resulted from Luck himself, especially in the un-kept statistic of avoiding sacks, while still taking more than is healthy. Again, making the O Line appear more competent than it, in fact, is.

Why does the defense get routinely pushed around by the opposing team’s ground game? Sure, they throw a shutout at the Bengals, but the fact remains that good teams can run on the Colts at their leisure. Is it injuries, the guys that aren’t in there? Not really, because every team in the soft-tissue-destroying league says the same thing.

Either these players are not as good as they look, or else they’re being improperly coached.

Any conversation that this is a championship team needs to stop at this time.

This is a team that needs to win 5 of its last 6 games to have any right making the playoffs. Going into the playoffs with a 10 & 6 record is not an ascendant strategy, playing at home perhaps once, and going on the road for the duration, only, in the prettiest scenario, to meet a Green Bay or an Arizona or those damnable Cowboys in an imaginary Super Bowl. Sure, let’s amuse ourselves and put the Colts in the Superbowl, in Glendale, against Bruce Arians and the Cardinals.

The bad karma would be thick as the local well water.

cropped-099indianapolis-monumentcircle.jpgThe Colts, for whatever reason, are not yet good enough to compete for a title. Three full years in the Grigson era and we look like a championship team, but don’t play like a championship team. For every Baltimore, there is a Pittsburgh. For every Jacksonville there is a New England. This team can only beat teams that are, bluntly speaking, not good, or during periods where they’re not good. Baltimore back when we played them was not as good as Baltimore now, with whom we would have trouble.

Until this team can consistently hold good teams, including Dallas, to under 140 yards rushing they will never give Luck and Company the time they need to go methodically down the field in the absence of any kind of meaningful running game which is—let’s be honest for just a moment—terrible, no threat whatsoever, Josh Herron the only bright light in the bunch. Trent Richardson giving it his all but never having any daylight to run to, which he had in abundance at Alabama and he needs, given his build and inertia of rest, his difficulty in getting it going quickly at the start of the play. Bradshaw is now unavailable. Everyone wanted to see Ballard run the ball this season, but that hope was dashed early. What we’ve seen since training camp, in fact, has been occasional bursts of brilliance hidden among long periods of mediocrity, good enough, once again, to beat the bad teams, but unable to get it done against good teams. A team built, it seems, to win the AFC South, generating a banner and little else.

What were, in retrospect, amazing seasons were 2012 and 2013, when Luck showed why he was the number one pick, when he carried the team on his back and managed consecutive 11 win seasons without much help. This year, his improvement has, seemingly, been more than matched by deterioration in both the middle pass rush—spare me the Mathis talk—and the play of the offensive line, which generally does not create holes for backs to run through, its express purpose for existing at all. This is an offensive line incapable of moving good defensive lines out of their lanes. This is an offensive line, at its best, capable of playing at a B minus level.

This is an offensive line that simply is not getting it done. Blame the players, the coaches or the scheme—I’ll take the latter—this is a team that cannot run the ball nor stop the run. The two components that make the successful playoff teams successful. We lapse into the Junior Manning syndrome, of trying to get through the playoffs due primarily to the exploits of our quarterback and always coming up short, other than the one year when we started playing incredible defense IN the playoffs and won the Super Bowl. Up until that time, the defense that year, and most years was a liability. For three weeks, they became a force to be reckoned with. Not the least of reasons being the play of Antoine Bethea who, it seems, contributed more to the defense than we suspected.

For Grigson and Jimmy Irsay, much is on the line. Irsay has bought heavily into Grigson and Pagano as the hope of the future, the direction the club is wanting to go. But though the intent is there, the results are not trending well. The team cannot reliably be expected to win when it can’t run the ball and can’t sto the run. Perhaps the Colts were lucky to finish 11-5 the last two seasons, but one figured this year they should easily earn it and perhaps exceed 11 wins. Which now means, of course, running the table through December.

Six games of which the team can reasonably expect to win 5, the exception being Dallas at Dallas on December 21 at 4 pm. That game will determine whether 11-5 is possible this year, and, if so, whether it will be more luck, more Luck, or something else. So far, it hasn’t been much running the ball, and we haven’t seen run-stopping in the bad losses at home to New England and on the road against the Steelers.

The modern model of the Super Bowl offense will always include some version of The Triplets, named for Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, who led the team into three titles, with a traditionally strong NFC East-type defense behind it. Today’s Colts don’t have the triplets. They have Luck. They have TY Hilton, who is too small to be a real triplet good for, say, 1800-2000 yards of total offense for a season. And they don’t have the kind of defense that can withstand the efforts of a quality offensive team.

One game does not make a season. They will likely bounce back this week in Jacksonville. They should have no serious matchup problems with Washington. Cleveland is looking increasingly problematic. Having to beat both Dallas and Cleveland to gain some momentum leading into the playoffs pretty much guarantees an early exit therefrom. And what would that mean?

Big contract year for Luck on the horizon, in addition to others. Years 4, 5 and 6 are going to be the best Luck has to offer, and we want him working for us. Grigson should have one more year to produce high quality players, and enable a viable running game, before feeling the heat. The Colts, it was felt, would be better by now than they are. This kind of relative disappointment—plenty of fans would like to have a home team at 6-4—is bad for a group constantly being told they have the potential to be champions.

For Luck, the next 3-5 seasons will seal his reputation in the league. He will be at his peak physical and psychological best during these years, before he takes the kind of beating the NFL dishes out to physical quarterbacks over the course of their careers. As a community, we owe it to Andrew Luck to surround him with a set of triplets, an astute front office, and a defense that can help keep him on the field. We’ve all thought these came along with Grigson and Pagano. The next six games will tell us much about who they are. The next five years will tell us much about who WE are.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | November 20, 2014

Livin’ the Dream in Kensington, Maryland, circa 1967

Albert Einstein HSBack in the late 1960’s, middle class white teens living in the Maryland suburbs enjoyed rich fantasy lives. We fantasized about playing professional baseball. We fantasized about having sex with actual girls, and theorized at length about what a female breast might feel like. We were the generation that first applied baseball metaphors to sex. Thus, I could boast of having been on the Ski Club bus coming home from a trip to southern Pennsylvania when Patrick let’s call him “Phillips” made it to third base with Kathy let’s say “Taggart.”

[Patrick, as you can probably guess, was a star pitcher on the high school baseball team who, as he proved that night, could also hit with power. Kathy was a budding slut a year younger than we were, getting an early start on her likely career. This was possibly the first instance of what could be called a sit-down triple.]

One of the other fantasies that occupied more of our frontal lobes than it probably should have was finding money, money that was just lying around, maybe in a paper bag, unclaimed. While it had been years since we went around collecting soda bottles for the 2 cent deposits, we were always looking for money—by the side of the road, in payphone change slots, Coke machines, etc. My friend Deke Kaiserski led the league in looking for money, and routinely could be found with his hand, wrist and forearm stuck up a vending machine of some kind.

None of us ever had any of what my dad referred to as “folding money.” Nor were we sufficiently enterprising to get dopey part-time jobs, as doing so would have interfered with our after-school routine of goofing off, three-on-three hoops, and shoplifting at the Kensington Pharmacy. All that would change, for awhile anyway, during the fall of our junior year.

There was a group of six or eight of us that were pretty tight. Included in our un-exclusive group—we were mostly dorks—was Bobby B, DK the pop machine bandit, Ike, and Pick.

Somehow, during that year, Bob and I and Maybe Barkdoll got involved with what had to be some kind of scam involving a classmate named Tom Moffitt*, Class of ’68, his father (a notorious lowlife), and the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. Back in the day, many of you recall, it was at least as easy as it is today to separate the federal government from its money in the ostensible pursuit of truth, justice, and the American Way. In our case, it involved delivering OEO press release packages to the various House and Senate offices of the then-current elected occupants, scallywags all.

*Tom Moffitt died in Viet Nam while he was still a teenager.

Not that these Representatives and Senators gave a rat’s ass about releases coming out of the OEO. Pols had far weightier concerns back in 1968—Ho Chi Minh, domino theories, military-industrial complexities, SNCC, Sino-Soviet tensions, Curt Flood, draft dodging commie pinko fags and the like. OEO was one of those hapless civilian agencies statutorily engaged in the systematic conversion of taxpayer dollars into Xerox copies.

Anyway, Moffitt’s dad was The Contractor, and Tom, Bob, Bobby and I were The Grunts. Mr. Moffitt would pick two of us up after school in this large, loud beater of his, and we would take off at startling speeds toward our designated appointments On The Hill. Mr. Moffitt claimed to believe the idiotic assertion that driving in traffic was dangerous, and that the best way to alleviate the danger was to minimize the time spent therein, which meant driving as fast as his car would freaking go getting us downtown. Those rides were terrifying, unless they occurred with Pick, who didn’t have the sense to be frightened and seemed to laugh the entire way.

Miraculously, we made it to the OEO every time, picked up our packets of Important Releases, hoofed over to the Hill, and delivered them in a conscientious and workmanlike manner to almost every office on the list. Given our overall levels of personal responsibility those days, surprisingly few of the packets got trashed prior to being delivered, probably because there were never that many to begin with on any one day.

One did tend to run into important people in the halls. I think I took a piss next to the young punk freshman Senator Ted Kennedy on one of those days. However, in that we, the Grunts, were grunts, the pols had better things to do than mess with us, or even acknowledge our existence. On the congressional food chain, we were even lower than the pages, who, when they weren’t being sexually harassed, were volunteers. At least we were getting paid. Generally we tossed the envelopes on the receptionists’ desks and beat feet.

By the time we were done, Mr. Moffitt was usually unavailable, likely in his cups somewhere. We would grab a bus to Chevy Chase Circle, and transfer there to one that would take us out Connecticut Avenue to our homes in Kensington, Maryland, [Motto: A Good Place to be From]. It was at the Chevy Chase Circle bus transfer station that I had Fun with Bob.

As we waited for the bus, I checked my pockets, and found that I had one bus transfer, one dollar and one cent to my name. It was early spring, maybe 6:30 in the evening, and I was, as usual, starving. There was a row of candy and cigarette machines in the shack, the old style mechanical ones, but, without even a nickel, there was nothing there for our BruAl. Vending machines didn’t accept dollar bills in 1967. Homework loomed, and Barbara had undoubtedly served and cleared dinner. Woe was BruAl. Pick, who, I suspect, also had an effective net worth of less than a nickel at that moment, brooded. We were the only two people in the station/shack.

For reasons known only to boys, I decided to see if I could get one of the candy machines to “bite” on my penny. My friend Deke, who was always doing this, as well as checking vending machine and pay phone change slots, would have been proud of me.

I dropped the penny in the slot, pulled the handle under a Snickers bar, felt the handle engage the latch, and pulled the handle out, CHING, at which point the Snickers bar fell into the whatchacallit, the poorly-designed slot you reach in to get your candy, often skinning a knuckle or wrist in the process. And when I pulled the handle again, this time without even bothering with the penny, once again it engaged, released, and dropped a second Snickers bar into the hamper CH-CHING! Another pull, another candy bar. CH-CH-CHING!!! I was in The Zone, and this was way before there even WAS a Zone. I was living the dream, facing the prospect of virtually Unlimited Chocolate and Corn Syrup, when Pick got into the act.

Bedlam.

Bob starts in, frantically pulling handles, laughing his ass off, braying on the inhale, sounding more like a distressed mule than a euphoric teenager. Between us, we probably ended up with 50 candy bars. We were jamming them into our coats, shirts, pants, hats, wherever we had a place, when the thought occurred to us—what if someone should come into the station and see us, collapsed amidst a pile of ill-gotten confections? Were we subject to prosecution? Worse yet, could someone make us give the stuff back? Was this the seminal idea behind the 2000 Film Chocolat?

We had to split.

In the next scene, picture our two heroes, trying desperately not to drop their loot, half-running, half-staggering down the median strip on Connecticut Avenue, making for the next stop on the line. Crying, laughing, and cursing. After a brief wait, our bus arrived, and we clambered aboard, trying our best not to look felonious. We had just put one over on The Man, we had the spoils to prove it, and we were, for the moment, invincible. I believe we had also crossed a state line, rendering us Immune from Local Prosecution, although perhaps subject to some minor Federal statutes. We ate all the junk we couldn’t stash in our clothes, and grinned back at the commuters glaring at us.

Crime did pay! You could steal and get away with it. And if you ate the evidence, no jury on earth could convict you. So our experience, far from being a simple gastronomical orgy was, in fact, an important life lesson: If you’re going to steal, steal food. No one ever went to the slam over a Payday. Not even 50 Paydays.

And if you’re going to steal food, steal it with Pick. If Pick’s not available, call Louie or Showzie. Crime is more fun when your accomplice makes noises like a hyena and has stuff shooting out his nose.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | February 3, 2013

The “Long Stock” Effect = -2.25% of 15% Return

This February 2013 post should have read that long positions work against you, even when markets are stable.  The 2.25% quote here assumes a 15% rate of return.  The effective rates will be determined by assumed or actual rates of return.

Nick Murray, formerly a Big Deal at Bear Stearns, when there WAS a Bear Stearns, used to teach that the way to get rich in the stock market was by doing what most people don’t, because most people aren’t rich.  He used to serenade us with visions of an S&P at 10,000 and a 30,000 Dow, and he was telling us to expect this by 2005.  In addition to a myriad of other things, Nick was apparently unaware of what I choose to call The Long Stock Effect.

Here’s the problem.

Let’s say I’m an investor with $100,000 to invest and no strong feelings about the market, other than it’s hard to beat the indexes.  Let’s say I decide to put my money in a no-load, low expense S&P 500 index fund.  I’m going to buy the large cap market, and stick with it for the next 20 years or so.  No commissions, no research, no advice, just a $100,00 bet on the S&P.

s-and-p-500-history-chart

History of the S&P 500 since 1960.

Let’s also say I’m a freelance writer, and am relying on my instincts more than my intellect when it comes to investing.  (The joke here, of course, is that there is a freelance writer somewhere with $100,00 to invest.  But I digresss.)  My instinct tells me that some years the market will be up, and some down, but over a long period of time there will be more upside than downside.  Until the 21st century, that had been true for a hundred years.  Buy and hold for a long time and make money.

The paradigm seems to have shifted around 2001 with the busting of the tech bubble.  Since then, the S&P has been flat, and the variance in annual returns far higher.  Major swings up and down, with the index in early February 2013 at about the same point it was in 2001.  Undaunted, our freelance writer figures to buy today, rather than wait for the next dip.  After all, he’s a long term investor.  With good common sense, and fairly high risk tolerance.

To illustrate the problem facing our freelancer/investor, and the millions of long investors like him, let’s take a simple scenario and do the math:    The market goes down 15% this year and up 15% next year.  Will you be better off, even, or worse off in two years? (Less commissions, and in nominal dollars, in which case inflation is working against you.  If you have $100,000 in two years, you’re worse off than you are having it today to the extent that inflation has eroded its buying power.  Time value of money and all that.  But inflation has been mild, and you don’t care about that either.)

So, here’s the math.  You start with $100,000 and lose 15% coming out of the gate.  Nice going.  Now you have $85,000.  Luckily for you, the following year the S&P goes up 15%, and you’re thinking, “YES, I’m back to even again.”  Except that, um, you’re not.

Your $85,000 has indeed risen by 15%, but that leaves you with only $97,750.  So, while you felt you were breaking even, you lost 2.25% of your investment, plus commissions, plus any taxes on the gains, plus being on the wrong side of inflation.

You’re hosed.  Keep doing this for 20 years and you’ll make a small fortune the hard way–start with a LARGE fortune and follow your instincts.

Now you’re thinking, fine.  So I lost some of my capital.  The problem is that the market went down the first year, and up the second.  Surely, if you reverse the assumptions, I’ll come out ahead by that pesky 2.25%.

Let’s do the math.  Year one is a winner, and your $100,000 grows to $115,000.  Alas, year two is a bummer, and the S&P gives up 15%.  15% of $115,000 is $17,250 which, subtracted from your $115,000, leaves you with the same stinking $97,500.  STILL down 2.5%.  Plus the blah blah blah.

Up&down chart-MainYou’re hosed either way.  What does this mean for the long term investor?  Think of it as a cover charge.  The “price of admission” to investing in the stock market, ceteris paribus, is 2.25%.  Comparable to the expense ratios in expensive managed money funds and the charges inside variable annuities, with all of their guarantees.  (Wait.  This is becoming a commercial for annuities.)  Expensive mutual funds hit you with a lot of fees, but this does not negate the “long stock effect” described above.  It adds to it.  So, if your managed money account with your broker costs you 2% of assets for their expertise, you are down over 4% before you start.

No, wait.  This is becoming a commercial for short sellers.  If the long buyers are paying a 2.25% vig, then perhaps the short sellers have something going on.  We’ll have to think on that one and save it for a later date.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | November 10, 2012

Romney voters less educated than Obama voters?

I thought it would be interesting to take Tuesday night’s election results, by state, and compare them to several indices of education attainment compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.  We already know that Romney supporters tended to be older, wealthier, more male, and whiter than Obama supporters.  What we had no idea about—until now—is that they were, across the board, less educated.

The Census Bureau annually ranks states according to education achievement, by measuring the proportion of residents that have graduated from high school, graduated from college, and earned graduate degrees.  The three graphs below show those rankings.  The states in blue went for Obama; the states in red for Romney.  The median for the 51 states (for the purpose of this analysis, the District of Columbia is considered a state, not a colony) is 25.5 which, in order to avoid partitioning states for the convenience of this analysis, has been rounded down to 25.  Thus, the top 25 states are above the median, while the bottom 26 sit below.

  1.  High school graduates

Of the three indices, this is the least informative, because a high school diploma no longer carries with it the assumption of basic competence in anything except texting on cell phones.  Compared to the other two, however, Romney voters fared best in this measure.  In the states that went red on Tuesday, 38% sit above the median, 62% below.  For Obama, 59% of the blue states sit above the median, 41% below.  Thus, of the 25 states with the highest percentage of high school graduates, 16 went for the Democrats, 9 for the Republicans.  For the GOP, it gets worse from here.

  1.  College graduates

A college degree is still a fairly reliable indicator of achievement, although it, too, has been diluted over the past several generations.  Seven of the 25 states above the median went for Romney, including none of the top 16.  Pretty remarkable, if you ask me.  25% of the red states sit above the median, 75% below.  70% of the blue states sit above the median, 30% below.  And of the bottom 15 states, 12 are red, only 3 blue.  College graduates voted for Obama in a big way.

  1.  Holders of graduate degrees

If there is any reliable indicator of educational achievement left, certainly graduate and professional degrees retain some meaning.  The results in this index would be shocking, had we not just looked at the numbers for undergrads.  Only 13% of the red states sit above the median, 87% below.  And again, of the bottom 15, 13 favored Romney over Obama.  81% of the states above the median are blue, with 19% below.  And of the 18 states with the highest percentage of graduate degrees, every one went for Obama.  18-0. If the President were an NFL team, we could finally stop watching those smug old broken-down Miami Dolphins guzzling champagne every few years.

Put differently, of the states with the highest percentage of high school graduates, 64% are blue, 36% red.  For college graduates, the break is more dramatic—80% to 20%.  And for those holding graduate and professional degrees, 87% of the states went for Obama, 13% for Romney.  These numbers, crude though they may be, are statistically significant.

If one is willing to assume a correlation between educational attainment and income, the numbers are even more surprising.  Wealthy voters could be presumed to be more highly educated, which would tend to increase Romney’s popularity among folks who have graduated from college at least once.  Yet nothing could be farther from the truth.

I’m not anxious to try to interpret these figures.  But some of my rightist friends are.  Here’s a sample:

I need this kind of taunt like I need bunions, but am assuaged by considering the source.

Anyway, the list of challenges facing the Republican party going forward just got a little longer.  They must find a way to appeal to a younger, browner, poorer and more female cohort.  Add to that the need to appeal to more highly educated voters, historically more liberal than those with less formal education, and the goal becomes even more daunting.  If they are to maintain their base during this process, it means becoming the party of choice for the young and the old; brown and white; male and female; rich and poor; dropouts and doctors.

Good luck with that.

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