What Happened to Parity in the NFL?

Over the last decade or so, the National Football League has been striving to create a balanced league in which the old saw “on any given Sunday” could literally be taken as truth. A league where several playoff spots would be up for grabs into the 14th, 15th and 16th weeks of the season. A league with fewer haves and have-nots and more sharing of talent and potential.

Well, this year, that plan has turned to, you should pardon the expression, poop.

At this writing, we have completed 10 of the 16 weeks in the season, just past the halfway point. We still have 37.5% of the season ahead of us.

But in six of the eight divisions, one team is essentially running away with the title with records well above average, with seven to 10 wins under their belts. In all cases, they have at least a two-game lead. That’s not yet a title, but it’s certainly imbalance.

Equally revealing, almost half (15 of 32) of the teams have rung up fewer than five wins with six games remaining. Most of those teams are looking at losing seasons and only a handful have any shot at a playoff spot. (Notable exceptions are the AFC South and East where the division leaders are playing .500 ball and their closest competitors are one or two games off that tepid pace.)

Unfortunately, my San Francisco 49ers are not only dead last in the NFC West at 3-7, they have the worst PA (Points Against) rating in the entire league, being outscored by their rivals, 252-139. That’s a 113-point deficit. The only other team to come close is my once-favorite team, the Detroit Lions, with an 89-point deficit.

It’s ugly out there, folks, and it ain’t gettin’ any prettier.

Let’s Call “Inversions” What They Are: Immoral, Disgusting Subversions of Democracy

The current juggernaut of corporate inversions is Pfizer’s planned “merger” with Allergan in a $160 billion blockbuster deal. In case you’re not following this mind-boggling story, here’s the plot line in a nutshell.

  • Allergan is a drug company based in New Jersey. Some time ago, even though it was formed in the United States and continued to operate precisely as it had before, it “merged” with a company in Ireland by the simple process of filing a few papers and a change of address. Poof! Allergan was no longer an American company.
  • Pfizer now proposes to merge with Allergan the result of which will be a single Irish company and the disappearance of billions of potential tax dollars from the U.S. Treasury. A deficit you and I get to make up. Sweet deal, eh?

This “Irish” company operates almost entirely in the United States but it pays little to no U.S. corporate tax. Translation: it can take full advantage of American infrastructure, academia, research, local and state tax breaks, and thousands of other benefits of being a U.S. corporation while contributing essentially not one dime to the cost of those benefits.

If I run a wire from my house to your cable connection and pirate the signal, that’s illegal. I’m benefiting without paying. Thievery, pure and simple.

The same is undeniably true of American corporations which undertake inversions of this heinous and disgusting type.

The problem has two dimensions at least:

First, the U.S. corporate tax code has a massive loophole. Many members of Congress have been working for years to close this one to no avail, thanks to these corporations — who are now, by choice, foreign companies, remember — buying influence in our national Legislature. (An act which ought to be illegal but is also loopholed in place.)

Second, it has always been seen that it is in America’s interest to encourage foreign businesses to set up operations and do business in this country. But the immoral and greedy American corporate culture has twisted this benefit into a huge detriment to this country.

Some estimates are than these inversions cost the American economy upwards of $600 billion per year in tax revenue across all levels of government. That number could well be low by orders of magnitude. We can’t know because one of the advantages these inverted companies get is the right not to disclose much financial detail. (See “encouraging foreign business”.)

This is a travesty. It must be stopped. This single argument alone is enough to justify a significant increase in the regulation of capitalism before it literally destroys our nation.

Add the New Yorker to the List of Publishers Proving Content is King

new_yorkerWeb traffic and subscriptions at NewYorker.com are way, way up ever since the magazine put up a new paywall a few months ago. Editor Nicholas Thompson attributes the sudden increase in eyeballs and dollars to the simple fact that, “The main strategy for growing audience is to publish more, better stories.”

Columnist Benjamin Mullin takes the New Yorker’s success apart today on the Poynter Web site that monitors global journalistic trends and news.

Web publishers have always fallen into two broad categories:

  • those who publish great content, often, and draw attention by the quality of their thinking and writing;
  • those who try to game the system with SEO gimmicks, phony keywords, and disingenuousness

I suppose you could add salaciousness to the list but I prefer not to include that category under the rubric of “publisher.” They are more purveyors.

So the pay-to-read model continues to gain traction and momentum, as good writing, reporting and insight is rewarded once again. It’s not quite a trend yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on. At least it’s no longer appropriate to knee-jerk reject any suggestion that paying for content is a viable business model.

Way to go, New Yorker!

Bleacher Report Gets it Right: Tomsula is a Lousy Head Coach

From the moment the San Francisco 49ers announced Jim Tomsula as their new head coach, I’ve questioned his ability and his suitability for the job. Other commentators have generally counseled a wait-and-see attitude. But now that the Niners find themselves mired at 3-7 and hopelessly out of the post-season chase, the widely followed Bleacher Report has finally publicly acknowledged what I’ve been saying all along: “The biggest takeaway from the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 11 loss? Jim Tomsula is a bad head coach.”

When this season ends — if not before — Trent Baalke needs to can Tomsula. then he needs to resign. The Head Shed on this team sucks. Too bad we can’t force the owner to sell because this fish rots from the head down driven by monumental egos with zero justification for their positive self-images.


TPP Must Be Defeated or U.S. Laws and Regulations Will be Weakened or Overturned

I am a strong opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the massive trade deal President Obama is trying to ram down the throats of the American people by steamrolling Congress into a single up-or-down vote.

Obama keeps lying about the bill, saying that no American laws will be abrogated or changed by any of its provisions. That is pure unadulterated bull-pucky.

As David Dayen reports on The Intercept today (Nov. 24), at least one American law designed to protect dolphin from “accidental” poaching has already headed to the Dumpster as a result of TPP provisions. More are clearly on the way.

The reversal of dolphin-free labeling regulations came not as a result of Mexico (the country that filed the complaint in question) forcing a change. Rather, it comes about obliquely. The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the U.S. regulation unfairly discriminated against Mexico simply by denying their seafood a dolphin-safe label.Mexico and Canada are on the verge of effectively striking down another U.S. labeling law, this one mandating country-of-origin identification on meat and produce. The WTO ruled against that law in May, and Canada and Mexico proposed $3.7 billion in retaliatory sanctions. Once again, the sole grounds for the complaint is interference with profit margins of privately held corporations.

The mechanism that was central to both of those rulings is something called the “investor-state dispute settlement system” which is exactly what it sounds like: a replacement for national courts by WTO committees and councils who can impose huge fines against nations whose trade practices disrupt private corporate profits.

Can you say Fascism, boys and girls?

(Lest you be tempted to jump on my claim, please consider this quotation by American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” (Emphases mine)

Presidential Candidates Graded on Climate Change: Only 4 Get Passing Grades, One on GOP Side

The Associated Press did an interesting fact check on the accuracy of statements made by the Presidential candidates of both parties. The result, shown in this graph, was high marks for Democrats and only one GOP candidate (Jeb Bush) getting a (barely) passing grade.

Graphic shows results of survey of scientists on candidates’ statements on climate change; 2c x 5 inches; 96.3 mm x 127 mm;

Graphic shows results of survey of scientists on candidates’ statements on climate change; 2c x 5 inches; 96.3 mm x 127 mm;

The study was done as objectively as possible. Eight climate scientists were shown candidate comments without identifying the candidates in any detectable way. Thus their findings are hardly subject to the charge that they were even incidentally partisan.

Interestingly, the top tier of GOP candidates are all near the bottom of the truth scale, with the recently trending Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas coming in at a dismal 6% accuracy. That result let one of the scientists evaluating the responses to say, “”This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner. That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president.”

See, even scientists have a sense of humor!

As Uber, AirBnB and Others Give “Sharing Economy” a Bad Rap, “Cooperative Economy” Gains Traction

coopAs someone who has long been interested in trying to help establish and promote sharing (or giving) economics, I have become dismayed in recent years as so-called “sharing” services like taxi competitors Uber and Lyft and and hotel competitor AirBnB have been touted as if they were contributors to the Social Good by their very business models.

In point of fact, as this excellent article from one of my favorite sites, Truthout.org, clearly explains, these services and their ilk are really thinly disguised “fronts for millionaires and billionaires to opportunistically ride off the backs of everyday people, while also exacerbating many economic inequalities.” Co-authors Brian Van Slyke and David Morgan of Grassroots Economic Organizing do a careful, thorough and revealing dissection of these companies, which try to convince us that they are all about leveling the economic playing field. They clearly are not.

I highly recommend this article if you share my interest in creating non-market options to the essentially unregulated capitalist economy which is destroying the American middle class and with it the American Dream.

The remedy Van Slyke and Morgan propose is the creation of more cooperative business ventures. Such businesses are owned and operated by their employees and/or customers/clients rather than by investors whose sole interest is (and should be) profit-making. According to a University of Wisconsin study, nearly 30,000 cooperatives of all kinds (consumer, producer, worker, etc.) operate within the United States at 73,000 places of business, own over $3 trillion in assets, and generate over $500 billion in revenue annually. Cooperatives employ over 2 million people and pay out an estimated $75 billion annually in wages, according to the study.

The Truthout piece focuses much of its attention on taxi coops, of which there are quite a number. Worker cooperatives provide services in all of the following economic sectors, as extracted from a 2005 “Snapshot” report on cooperatives produced by the University of Wisconsin:

  • Business services, such as personnel and benefits management, and group purchasing of goods and services ƒ
  • Childcare ƒ
  • Credit and personal financial services ƒ
  • Equipment, hardware and farm supplies ƒ
  • Electricity, telephone, Internet, satellite and cable TV services ƒ
  • Food and grocery services ƒ
  • Funeral and memorial service planning ƒ
  • Health care ƒ
  • Housing ƒ
  • Insurance ƒ
  • Legal and professional services ƒ
  • Marketing of agricultural and other products

That same report lists the following seven internationally recognized purposes for engaging in coop business enterprises:

  • Voluntary and open membership ƒ
  • Democratic member control ƒ
  • Member economic participation ƒ
  • Autonomy and independence ƒ
  • Education, training and information-sharing ƒ
  • Cooperation among cooperatives ƒ
  • Concern for community

One of the most recent analyses and discussions of the worker cooperative as an expanding business model comes from the folks at Shareable. In this article from July 2014, they provide a great deal of insight into the means and reasons for forming cooperatives, several case studies and resources for getting started in the coop business.

I see this model as the possible savior of the American middle class, but it needs much greater attention and expansion. One great way to bring it about might well be to proselytize workers in companies like Uber and AirBnB who are now being ripped off by their corporate owners who own none of the company assets, take none of the risk, and scrape large percentages off the top of their workers’ revenues with no more justification than a smartphone app.

In fact, worker coops creating those apps may well be another disruptive business model worth considering.

The Francis Effect = +10-20% on Climate Change

After Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States following his issuance of an official Papal position on global climate change, at least one survey indicates he exerts a powerful influence on the opinions of Americans of every political persuasion. In a before-and-after poll conducted for the Center for Climate Change Communication, the Pope gave climate change an 8-point bump across the nation, from 51% who said they were very or somewhat worried to 59%. Catholic opinion was influenced even more strongly, with the worriers going from 53% to 64% while mainstream (non-Evangelical0 Protestants also shifted upward in double digits from 47% to 57%.

The only group to report a relatively small increase in concern over global climate change after the Pope’s pronouncements and his visit to the U.S. were evangelical Christians, who went from 39% worried to 43% worried, remaining the only identified religious group that doesn’t take climate change seriously.

Chart of public opinion before and after Pope Francis' comments on climate change. (Center for Climate Change Communication)

Chart of public opinion before and after Pope Francis’ comments on climate change. (Center for Climate Change Communication)

Niners’ Win Over Falcons Meaningless, But Telling

49ers-FalconsThe San Francisco 49ers won a football game Sunday. They beat the 6-2 Atlanta Falcons. Can’t you feel the excitement in my voice? Ah. Didn’t think so.

The win, which has the Niners at 3-6 with a bye week coming up, is fairly meaningless because:

  1. The Falcons didn’t appear to send the A Team onto the field. Instead, they played flat and complacent, taking the win for granted. That’s always a mistake. The Falcons lost this one far more clearly than the Niners won.
  2. The Niners were without several key players, including three of the four starting corners, so it’s hard to take any lesson from the game with any certainty.
  3. A one-point victory at home is never a good sign. Conventional wisdom gives the home team a three-point advantage before we start tallying comparative strengths and weaknesses. (But the Niners were huge underdogs, so there is that….)
  4. Backup QB Blaine Gabbert, pushed into the starting role, was almost bound to have a decent game in his first start in 3+ seasons. In that setup, he’s almost a rookie and the Falcons’ defense couldn’t quite figure him out. Next game won’t have that same advantage.

Still, a win is a win. A year from now, few will remember the weakness of the opponent or the good fortune (along with some good coaching; more on that in a moment) that led to the victory. It’s in the W column and that’s what counts long-term.

The defense played particularly well Sunday against a top-10-ranked Atlanta offense. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that they held Devonta Freeman, the league’s second-leading rusher, to 12 rushing yards on 12 carries. This may say more about Eric Mangini, the twice-head-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator, than about the on-field talent. Still, that’s impressive.

Gabbert was average, which is to say much better than Colin Kaepernick has been the last two outings in particular. He definitely earned the coaching staff’s confidence, which they demonstrated by announcing him as the starter Week 11 after the bye this week.

All in all, a squeaker win from which we could take a very few lessons but not garner much long-term hope. I’ll take it.

Tony Dungy on Kaep: It’s Not a Talent Problem

I’ve always respected Tony Dungy as a football coach. In a piece today on USA Today, Dungy braced the Niners’ front office’s decision to bench QB Colin Kaepernick. Here’s his comment, with which I heartily agree:

“I think the guy is good, and someone that has been to championship games and has looked so good and did some things so well early on his career, I just don’t see how it falls off that quickly,” Dungy said. “I don’t think it’s talent, I don’t think it’s ability. I think he can be a starter again, and I think he’ll get with someone that gets it back out of him.”

Translation: It’s the coaching, stupid. Or it’s the stupid coaching. Take your pick.