Running the Table

Due to retiree traveling over the last weeks ;), I haven’t been as closely attuned to the performance of the Green and Gold as I normally would be.  I was literally wowed by the bravura performance of Aaron Rodgers against the Bears in the opener; after that, although aware that the team had had its ups and downs and that there were claims that some of its difficulties arose from questionable officiating, I hadn’t really had an opportunity to again study the Packers in action until last Sunday.

Yesterday, I checked the NFC North standings and schedules.  It’s still too early to think about Wild Card chances; I focused on Green Bay’s chances to win the NFC North title.  If I’m reading the standings correctly, it seems overwhelmingly likely that if the team runs the table – not unheard of in the Rodgers era – it will win the Division.  The Packers will play both the Bears and Vikings one more time.  If Green Bay beats Minnesota and Minnesota otherwise wins out, Green Bay would prevail due to the head-to-head tie breaker.  Although Chicago could survive the loss to Green Bay and win the Division if it otherwise wins out, it has to play the Vikings twice and the Rams once down the stretch; if it loses just one of those games and Green Bay does run the table, Green Bay would prevail over Chicago due to the head-to-head tie breaker.

That said, while I look to the Packers’ game tonight against the Seahawks with a bit of optimism, it’s pretty tempered.  Aaron Jones certainly seems to be a growing offensive force for the team, and they have a couple of young receivers that seem able to stretch the field.  The defense played well against Miami (conceding that Brock Osweiler isn’t Tom Brady or … Russell Wilson).  That said, last Sunday, Aaron Rodgers didn’t look to me like … Aaron Rodgers.  Realizing that this is all relative – Rodgers, even slightly off, is still one of the best in the game – he seemed … different.  I felt I saw changes like those you might note in a friend that you haven’t seen for a while.  It was hard to tell whether it was lack of communication with his young receivers (when he scrambles, they don’t seem to anticipate or come back to him the way Jordy Nelson did), a still-impaired leg, spotty protection (he was chased a lot), or … perhaps some loss of arm strength (he threw a couple of un-Rodgers-like floaters against Miami).

Another concern:  I’ve seen a short video interview in which I didn’t detect much of the swagger that Rodgers has had in past years.  I didn’t see any of the “RELAX” or “We’ll run the table” sentiments that have heralded past stretch runs.

I’ve discovered since last Sunday that my reactions aren’t unique; apparently, Bill Belichick was caught on a mic during the Green Bay-New England game questioning Rodgers’ arm strength.  (I must concede that getting an impression from the TV that I later found was more or less confirmed by Scowling Bill did make me feel like a knowledgeable fan.)  There are apparently other Packer fans who share the concern that Rodgers isn’t “right.”

While Green Bay may perhaps not need to run the table to secure some playoff berth, if Aaron Rodgers isn’t the Aaron Rodgers of old – even if this is a temporary condition that will resolve with rest for next year – it will be difficult for Green Bay to go anywhere.  I will be watching tonight with the hope that he will play like he has in the past – which obviously gets harder and harder for him as he ages (as it does for us all).  If we don’t get a good outcome tonight, I’ll start to place more focus on watching the development of what appears to be a crop of promising young players (among them, Mr. Jones; Jaire Alexander; and Marquez Valdes-Scantling) that will help us in the future.

Election Day Reflections

In the last weeks, some liberal commentators have shown satisfaction as they have described how President Trump “doubled down” on his attacks on immigrants as the mid-term elections approached.  While they appropriately and undoubtedly genuinely abhor his stoking of prejudices and fear mongering, they claimed surprise – and in some cases, apparently were surprised — at his strategy, which seemed likely to alienate moderate voters in the “swing” House districts that the Republicans need to retain control of the House of Representatives even as it bound the President’s fervent supporters more tightly to him.  Many came to speculate that since the polls indicated that the House was very likely to fall under Democratic control (today, we’ll see how accurate the polls were), Mr. Trump shaped his message to do what he could to ensure that the Republicans maintained their current advantage in the Senate.  Mr. Trump himself has suggested that this was his objective.

Say what you will about the President – and I’ve obviously said my share – he is bright, possessed of an uncanny intuition about popular reaction to him, and savvy.  I wonder, in what is admittedly the purest of speculation, if Mr. Trump really cares that much whether the Senate remains in Republican hands in January; I consider him, as I’ve mentioned in previous notes, a brilliant showman who knows that a good show needs a worthy antagonist.  Whether he has one House of Congress or both bedeviling him might make little difference to him, since there is seemingly no chance that there will be 67 Senate votes in the next Congress to remove him from office, no matter what the House does.

I would offer that the goal that the President might have been primarily seeking to achieve through his campaign rhetoric is to harden his base against the evidence in the Special Counsel report widely expected to be issued not long after Election Day.  I suspect that most Americans, whether they support or oppose Mr. Trump, expect the Mueller Team to issue a report which will include fairly damning particulars incriminating senior members of the President’s staff, including his son and son-in-law, and perhaps the President himself.  (Given the email string Donald Trump, Jr., has admitted to relating to the senior campaign staff’s Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives in the summer before the election, it’s hard to envision that Messrs. Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner won’t be charged with something.)

Perhaps the overriding impression one gained from Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury (it was released only 10 months ago, but it seems like a decade ago), was that Mr. Trump never intended or wanted to be President; that the campaign was an immense publicity venture intended to further his business and media interests.  (Some credence for this is provided by the behavior of some of the nationally-experienced leaders in the campaign, such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who presumably would have behaved more circumspectly than they did had they thought that Mr. Trump might actually win.)  If this was Mr. Trump’s true campaign goal, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that it might remain so.  If such is the case, he may have concluded that his and his family members’ ability to escape this endeavor unscathed and to reap the harvest that their efforts have wrought lies in convincing a substantial part of the electorate – through his own efforts and those of his megaphone, Fox News and the rest of the alt-right conservative media — that no matter what is presented against them by Mr. Mueller’s team or other authorities, it’s a “lie,” “fake news,” “biased,” and “rigged”; that black is white.

As anyone that reads these pages is aware, I believe that the President and his cohort habitually lie and distort facts for their benefit, while I consider the mainstream media – unquestionably given to nit-picking, hyperventilation, and liberal coloring – to have generally had the better part of describing what the facts actually are.  That said, what might be the most disturbing aspect of our current national condition is that too many of our people seem to almost wantonly cling to what they want to believe.  The President’s obvious fabrications and racially-tinged messages over the last couple of years have kept me hoping that a substantial part of his base would come to see his demagoguery for what it is.  That hasn’t happened – indeed, his supporters seem more avid now than they were the day he took office.  This trend will certainly help Mr. Trump and his family weather any coming storm from the Mueller investigation, but his behavior has eroded and I fear will in the future further eat away at our capacity to agree upon truth, value compromise, and respect the input of all well-intended citizens.  If we cannot together figure out a way re-embrace these principles, our system will cease to flourish.  Today’s results – in terms of both outcomes and the level of turnout among various segments of our electorate – will provide us a measure of the size of the task we as a nation face starting … tomorrow.

Wisconsin’s $4.1 Billion Foxconn … Speculation ;)

As I suspect that everyone that reads these pages is aware, I rarely see eye to eye with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  With that caveat, attached is a link to an article called to my attention by a very close friend (who is not a resident of Wisconsin).  The piece describes how the Foxconn initiative has evolved since first advocated by Mr. Walker through and since its enactment into law by his signature just under a year ago.

https://www.theverge.com/2018/10/29/18027032/foxconn-wisconsin-plant-jobs-deal-subsidy-governor-scott-walker

How Will We Answer Lynyrd Skynyrd and Mrs. Trump?

Although I strongly suspect that everyone that sees this either has or intends to vote, it recently struck me that two questions posed 45 years apart sum up what is facing us in the next week.  In its song, Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynrd asked in 1973:

“Now, Watergate does not bother me.
Does your conscience bother you?  Tell the truth …”

Although Melania Trump has perhaps never heard of Lynyrd Skynyrd, she seemingly posed much the same question to us last June when she wore a jacket bearing words that she later confirmed were intended “… for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me …”:

“I really don’t care.  Do U?”

I don’t believe that criticism of a First Lady is generally warranted unless she chooses to actively participate in a substantive policy realm (which Mrs. Trump hasn’t).  Skynyrd’s reference was obviously to another time when an otherwise able President was ultimately driven from office because he let his partisan fervor override his respect for our laws.  Even so, I would offer that Mrs. Trump and Skynyrd were in their respective ways asking us:  Do you care enough to address what you see happening in your country?

We have to care.  My stomach is genuinely upset by the level of intense conflicting emotions currently loosed in our country.  I want to “turn off” – to focus on sports, hiking, the Weather Channel, whatever.  I’m not allowing myself to.  I’ve been extraordinarily blessed to be an American, and it’s time to stand up for what our country is – which has nothing to do with skin color, religion, sexuality, or like differentiators.  It’s time to begin returning to responsibility, civility, and good faith compromise between informed citizens of different perspectives seeking truth; to decency.  While “political correctness” can admittedly be carried too far, it’s time for some in our citizenry to remember (and for some, if necessary, to learn) that ugly emotions – such as anger, resentment, greed, intense dislike (or worse) of those not like us — should be suppressed, indeed, need to be suppressed for us to thrive as a nation … not given free rein.

The outcome of no one election – certainly not of the impending one — will quell the caldron of passions – I would suggest the demons – in our national psyche unleashed during President Trump’s campaign and presidency.  Still, we have to start somewhere.  I acknowledge that if the Democrats gain control of one or both Houses of Congress next Tuesday, the most immediate outcome of a divided government will be yet more rancorous exchanges while giving the President the foil that, as a great showman, he knows he needs in order to continue to stoke his followers.  I absolutely agree that Democrats, every bit as subject to their special interests as Republicans are to theirs, have a significant share of the responsibility for exacerbating the tensions we must now overcome.  That said, since Mr. Trump is demonstrably incapable of doing anything other than inciting division amongst us – indeed, he and his enablers have a unique talent for and revel in making Americans of different persuasions ever more intensely dislike each other – I would submit that any vote that serves to thwart them will, like the very first movement of a long and painful physical therapy regime, begin our nation’s process of returning to a stable footing.

Hopefully, we will answer:  Yes — Our conscience does bother us.  And yes — We do really care.

On Polls of Wisconsin Governorship and U.S. Senate Races

I am more than a little puzzled by the discrepancy between the respective margins that I’ve seen polling organizations recently report in the races for the Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat and the Wisconsin Governorship.  I understand that pollsters are currently finding that Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin leads her opponent, Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir, by perhaps as many as 15 points, while Republican Governor Scott Walker is indicated to be trailing his opponent, Democratic Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, by only a few points – either at or within the margin of error.

While incumbency has always been a distinct advantage in American electoral politics, in the hyper-partisan, polarized environment currently existing both within the country and the State of Wisconsin, it’s hard for me to believe (as one seemingly should, if the polls are to be credited) that up to ten percent of the Wisconsin electorate will split their tickets to retain both Sen. Baldwin and Gov. Walker.

Although voter sentiment could swing heavily one way or the other in the ten days remaining before Election Day – those with longer memories will recall that the Carter-Reagan Presidential race was razor-thin until the electorate split heavily for then-Candidate Reagan in the weekend before the 1980 Election Day – it seems to me that the reported narrow margin between Gov. Walker and Superintendent Evers is closer to the existing state of our Wisconsin political climate than the wide margin reported to exist between Sen. Baldwin and State Sen. Vukmir.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see both races decided (either way) by fairly narrow margins.

On the Caravan

There are certain positions embraced by large numbers of our citizens that I don’t understand – literally, “don’t get”; perhaps foremost among them is the visceral desire so many of our people have to keep immigrants out of our country.  The President is obviously currently in the process of inciting a frenzy amongst his supporters about the “caravan” of Hondurans now making their way north from their country through Mexico.

Putting aside the fact that the President is blatantly lying about these desperate people – such as calling their progress north an “invasion” (2000 penniless, malnourished, exhausted, unarmed people — including children — over 1000 miles away is hardly a challenge for the most wealthy and armed 300+ million people on earth), while indicating that the caravan was organized and/or encouraged by the Democrats and includes “Middle Easterners” (presumably terrorists) – so as to prey upon his supporters’ fear and intense dislike of Hispanic immigrants for his own political gains, it cannot be ignored that although the President exploits these feelings, he didn’t create them; a significant segment of our populace obviously does feel a deep antipathy toward non-white, non-English-speaking immigrants.

In an economy in which just about everyone that wants a job has one, it’s hard to ascribe these citizens’ abhorrence to fear of job loss.  Perhaps some of it arises from no more than a wary discomfort with what is different.  Perhaps some arises from the notion that immigrants are a drain on our public finances.  (Acknowledging that there are distinctions that should perhaps be taken into account, I have seen any number of economists opine that immigration is an overall a net economic plus for us.)  Since the vast majority of the President’s supporters and virtually all of those that form the backdrop of his rallies are of European Christian descent, it’s hard not to attribute the hostility of some (NOT all) to racial and/or religious bias.

As these struggling people continue their extremely arduous and dangerous journey north, the irony of the anxiety being felt by some of our citizens isn’t merely an “800 pound gorilla” … it’s King Kong.  I see little difference between the struggle those in the caravan are currently enduring to escape intolerable conditions in their own country to seek a better life in our country from that of the European emigres who left intolerable conditions in their countries to come here a couple of centuries ago.  Whether they braved a terribly dangerous journey to cross the sea to an extremely harsh environment because of religious persecution, famine, or otherwise, they came here, as the Hondurans currently intend, because they saw it as their only way to a better life.  The vast majority of them arrived here with no more than those in the caravan carry today.  Those of English, French, German, Russian, Irish, Polish, Scandinavian, Italian, Spanish, and other descent certainly must have considered the languages, customs, faiths, and skin tones (between northern and southern Europe) of the others strange and perhaps threatening.  They got over it.

I absolutely agree that those that immigrate here should make every effort to assimilate and contribute – for their good as well as ours.  That said, while we need immigration laws, they should be tolerant ones.

There is a dominant American DNA strand, the strand that actually made this country great:  that without regard to ethnicity, gender, religion or other particulars that distinguish us from one another, our forebears that chose to make the journey here carried the same gene in their psyches — the courage to risk everything for the promise of a better life.  These Hondurans possess the same DNA strand.  Whether they ever reach and/or are admitted to our country, they already are, in the most fundamental way, citizens of the United States …

On Craig Counsell

Conceding that my close attention to Major League Baseball waned in the late 1980’s as our family grew, I’ve always felt that the best manager I’ve ever seen was Billy Martin.  Because of his managerial skill, Mr. Martin was asked to manage [and because of his vitriolic nature, ultimately asked to leave  😉 ] multiple organizations.  With each team, he would assess the talent that he had, and won Divisions, Pennants, and World Championships with different strategies and different arrays of talent:  when he had great power, he relied on offense and the homerun; when he had starting pitching, he relied on his corps of starters and his defense; when he had speed but little power, he’d steal a base, hit and run, and manufacture offense; when he had a great closer, he’d build his game strategy to maximize his closer’s effectiveness.

Although I’m but a bandwagon fan of the current Milwaukee Brewer team (although a true fan of the 1982 World Series team), I’ve now seen enough that I consider Craig Counsell — although toiling in a small market during Baseball’s Big Money Era may prevent him from ever mounting the victories and championships that Mr. Martin did – to be every bit as adept as Mr. Martin was.  He only had one pitcher win as many as 10 games this year and has only one position player – Mr. Yelich (despite my enduring affection for Charlie Moore) – that is better than the 1982 counterpart.  [Although I’m happy to debate, I’d submit that the ’82 team was markedly better than the current Brewers at catcher and all infield positions; that Ben Oglivie (40+ homeruns in ‘82) and this year’s Ryan Braun are a “push” in leftfield; and that although they brought very different skills to their teams, Gorman Thomas and Lorenzo Cain are a “push” in centerfield as well].  Mr. Counsell nonetheless managed his team to as many victories (in 162 games) as the ’82 Brewer team.

Mr. Counsell doesn’t seem to get rattled; he’s been able to leverage a bunch of different talents to the team’s best advantage; and by all accounts, he’s been able to juggle a number of personalities and egos to maintain a loose clubhouse.  Whether Milwaukee wins or loses the pennant or – if it gets that far – the World Series, he’s done an incredible job, and the Brewers and we Brewer fans — true or bandwagon – are fortunate to have him.