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Play Yankee GM!


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The other day, I posted some thoughts on potential Yankees front office changes (and only got half my projections right!). But before the hot stove season can really begin, first you need to clean out the oven. So here we go: which of these players, all free agents or potential trade candidates, do you keep for 2018? And which ones would you say good-bye to? Keep in mind, you need to get the team’s payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million. Ready?

Masahiro Tanaka, Starting pitcher (13-12, 4.79 ERA, 178 1/3 IP)
Verdict: Let Him Walk Away

Tanaka is an unusual case. For starters, he’s not actually a free agent – yet. His contract does allow him to opt out, though, and most everyone expects him to, despite 2017 easily being his worst MLB season. Although he struck out more batters per inning than at any point in his career, he allowed more baserunners and home runs than at any point in his career, too. Then there is the well-known matter of his damaged UCL. It’s held up well over the past 2 1/2 years, but he is only one awkward pitch from needing Tommy John surgery. Tanaka proved during September and the Yankees postseason run that he can still be a dominating pitcher. But should he opt out, that means he’s looking for a raise on the $67 million he would get over the next three seasons. With youngsters Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, Domingo Acevedo and the like ready, or nearly ready, for their time in pinstripes, the verdict on this is easy.

CC Sabathia, Starting Pitcher (14-5, 3.69 ERA, 148 2/3IP)
Verdict: 1 year, $15 million contract

Since coming to the Yankees in 2009, Sabathia has successfully transformed himself from fireballing lefty to crafty lefty. Injuries and Father Time have taken their toll, but his 9 years in Pinstripes have been memorable. Perhaps more important than his pitching acumen, however, is the respect he garners in the clubhouse and the mentoring role he’s taken on with the younger pitchers. I think CC can match his Yankees career averages in wins (13) and ERA+ (114). Combine the on field production with the off the field intangibles, and resigning him makes sense. Helpful in this case are that CC has said he wants to play one more year, wants to finish his career in the Bronx and isn’t looking for a giant payday, and this makes even more sense.

Michael Pineda, Starting Pitcher (8-4, 4.39 ERA, 96 1/3 IP)
Verdict: Wave Good-bye!

Pineda’s Yankee career can best be described as an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Few pitchers in the last 20 years have matched his stuff, along with his ability to limit walks and strike out opposing hitters, yet get hit as hard and as often as him. When the Yankees acquired him for Jesus Montero (remember him), it looked like a blockbuster trade. Instead, both Seattle and the Yankees got burned by this one. But last season looked like Pineda had finally turned the corner. He was pitching well, and then *BOOM* his elbow gave way. Ordinarily, a pitcher with his type of injury and talent might be offered a two year, “make good” contract. But this Yankees team has enough pitching depth in the minors that blocking any of them for a questionable player is, well, stupid.

Jaime Garcia, Starting/Relief Pitcher (5-10, 4.41 ERA, 157IP overall; 0-3, 4.82 ERA, 37 IP w/ Yankees)
Verdict: Don’t let the door hit you…

The Yankees acquired Garcia primarily because they wanted a pitcher to absorb innings at the back of the rotation. Coming down the stretch last year, surprising rookie Jordan Montgomery was approaching his innings limit and the brass figured Garcia could help out in that department. The epitome of a journeyman (the Yankees were his third team in a week), Garcia failed to live up to even the modest expectations the brass had for him. He averaged less than 5 innings per start and wound up taxing the bullpen; those extra innings pitched by Yankee relievers down the stretch might well have been part of the reason they ran out of gas in the LCS. This one is a no-brainer.

Todd Frazier, 3B/1B, (.213/.344/.428, 27 HR, 76 RBI overall; .222/.365/.423, 11 HR, 32 RBI with Yankees)
Verdict: Parting is such sweet sorrow

Of all the Yankees free agents, this one may be the hardest decision. I think the Toddfather won over Yankee fans with his enthusiasm, solid glove work, clutch hits and leadership. Acquiring him was one of the best deadline moves the Yankees have made in a long time, and it’s doubtful they would have made the playoff run they did without him. The problem is, he plays a position where the Yanks have depth and youngsters who profile as a serious offensive threats in Miguel Andujar and Greg Bird. Further, Frazier’s high strikeout tendencies make him a lousy bench option – and the Yankees already have a player with a similar profile already under contract in Chase Headley. It’s conceivable the Yankees might leave Andujar in the minors for another season, which would open a spot for Frazier. But would he take a one-year deal when he’s already 32? Probably not, especially when next year he would be faced with entering the free agent market with Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado ahead of him.

Matt Holliday, DH/OF, (.231/.316/.432, 19 HR, 64 RBI)
Verdict: Thanks, but good-bye

The 37 year old veteran gave the Yankees a serious boost in the first half of the season, but then age and injuries caught up with him and Holliday was a non-factor in the second half. He’s a had a good career, but Holliday is looking at the end of the road. I can’t see the Yankees retaining his services, not when he can’t play a position in the field anymore and the DH spot will likely be used as partial days off for the other players.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Outfield (.264/.348/.402, 7 HR, 22SB) Signed through 2020; $68 million owed
Verdict: Trade him. Please. 

Arguably the worst free agent signing the Yankees have made in the last 20 years, it is time for the Yankees to move Ellsbury. Once, his speed and defense made up for his below average hitting, but 2017 saw his his ability to track down fly balls regress to league average, and teams ran at will on his weak throwing arm. There’s still some speed and on-base ability, tools which might be of interest to some teams who can use him as a DH and occasional center fielder. The contract is onerous, as it gives Ellsbury a guaranteed payday until he’s 38. But the Yankees should willingly eat some it to make room for up-and-coming young outfielders like Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial.

Brett Gardner, Outfield (.264/.350/.423, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 23 SB) Signed through 2018; $13.5 million owed
Verdict: Career Yankee!

Every year, Brett Gardner’s name boils up on the hot stove. And every year, Yankee brass does the smart thing and doesn’t trade him. Yes, Gardy is entering his age 34 season, the same as Jacoby Ellsbury. Yes, he isn’t the flat-out speed demon he was 8 years ago. If Gardner’s entire game was built around speed, that would be problematic. Fortunately for the Yankees, his game is multi-faceted. Beyond that, Gardner’s intangibles – his hustle, leadership and gritty play – are irreplaceable on a team that will feature a lot of youth.

Chase Headley, 3B/1B (.273/.352/.406, 12 HR, 61 RBI) Signed through 2018, $13 million owed
Verdict: One last hurrah

When you look in the dictionary for the definition of “league average,” Chase Headley’s picture pops up. Now entering his age 34 season, Headley is no longer truly a starting corner infielder, but he’s serviceable enough that he can serve as a back-up at either corner. Odds are the Yankees will break camp with Headley starting at 3B, but by midseason he looks to resume the role he filled this past season during the second half as Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres should be in the Bronx by then. Every successful team needs players like Headley: experienced role players who can  fill in when needed, don’t grouse about their role and can be an effective bat off the bench. Also in his favor is that his contract is league average, too. He would be a hard player to replace.

Starlin Castro, 2B (.300/.338/.453, 16 HR, 63 RBI) Signed through 2019, $23 million owed
Verdict: Trade bait

Starlin Castro is only entering his age 28 season, is a lifetime .282 hitter and has already accumulated 1,280 career hits. So why dangle him as trade bait? Two words: Gleyber Torres. It’s not that Castro is a bad player, in fact, the Yankees should be able to get a decent return for him. But Torres almost made it to the Bronx lost year. Only a freak injury derailed him. If he doesn’t break camp with the big club, he will certainly be in Pinstripes by June.

Ok, that’s my take. I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments section!

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Should The Yankees Retain Girardi & Cashman?


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With the end of the 2017 season, Yankees ownership has some decisions to make, perhaps none bigger than what to do about the General Manager and manager. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi’s contracts expire after this year, and the question is should either of them be offered the chance to stay in Pinstripes.

I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that Yankees ownership would be suicidal to cut Brian Cashman loose. Since the Steinbrenner’s gave him full control over personnel decisions, the Yankees have become a markedly improved team. Shrewd trades and free agent signings have turned around the club in the Bronx. By keeping an eye towards the future as well as the present, Cashman also has the Yankees set up to make a major splash in the international free agent market this offseason and major league free agent market after the upcoming season, while getting the team’s payroll below the dreaded luxury tax threshold.

Several years ago, Cashman made improving the team’s minor league farm system a priority, which he’s done. Most baseball evaluators rank the system as one of the five best in the game, with several placing it in the top three. Even before trading for prospects such as Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, the system was developing major league caliber talent, with this season’s youngsters of note (Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and Aaron Judge) all having been drafted and developed by the Yankees.

A general  manager’s job is to put a contending team on the field, while ensuring payroll is kept manageable enough that ownership can be comfortable. Cashman has the team on the right track. Releasing him would be mistake.

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Joe Girardi, like Cashman, is also on an expiring contract. Unlike Cashman, Girardi’s case isn’t as cut and dried.

A major league team’s manager can have differing responsibilities, based on the front office’s expectations. Some teams ask the manager to teach a young team to play at a major league. Others ask the manager to maintain clubhouse order and make a team of cast-offs and never-were’s respectable. Still others want their manager to get their team to the playoffs.

For the New York Yankees, the manager always has one job, and one job only: win. And winning means, win the World Series. Anything less is considered a failure.

This is Girardi’s 10th season as Yankee manager. In that time, his teams have been to the World Series once. Over that same period, the Giants have been three times, the Phillies twice, the Rangers twice and the Royals twice. That the team hasn’t been as successful on the field during his ten years isn’t entirely Girardi’s fault, though. But there is a case to be made that this season might qualify as his worst at the helm.

Most baseball fans have probably heard of “WAR,” even if they don’t fully understand it. It represents a player’s value above that of a typical “replacement” level player. (Fangraphs has  a detailed and easy to understand explanation here.) A team full of 0 WAR players would be expected to only win 48 games (which would set a record for futility) but the idea is that if you can cobble together a roster worth 52 WAR, you should win 100 games. It can be argued that if a team wins more games than their cumulative WAR, then the manager positively influenced the final record. The same goes for the converse.

Another way of evaluating a manager’s effectiveness is by using a little known statistic called Pythagorean Won/Loss. It measures the numbers of runs a team scored and the number it allowed, and comes up with an expected win total. (When Bill James came up with this, it sparked a firestorm which still rages in sabermetric circles).

In 2017, the Yankees aggregate team WAR was 55.1, which would equate to a 103-59 record.
In 2017, the Yankees Pythagorean W/L record was 100-62.

In 2017, the Yankees actual record was 91-71.

Throughout the previous 9 years of his tenure, Girardi had been worth between 3 and 8 wins to his team; which is to say, the Yankees typically won 3 to 8 games more per year than they statistically should have. In 2016, he was worth around 5 wins to the Yankees. So it’s fair to ask, why did this year’s squad so badly underperform their stats?

I think there are some clues in Girardi’s postseason performance. Everyone is well versed in how badly he botched Game 2 of the division series against the Indians. But there were some decisions in the ALCS, especially regarding his handling of the pitching staff, that are head scratchers. Over the years, Girardi has earned a reputation as a manager who perhaps overly relies on statistical analysis, and not enough on what his eyes see happening on the field. The fans have even coined the nickname “Binder Joe” because of this tendency. And so we had an exhausted Tommy Kahnle trying to get out hitters with his fourth best pitch in Game 7 and a spent David Robertson left in to get pounded in Game 6. We watched a tired Luis Severino lose the strike zone in Game 6. We watched as the Yankees best reliever, Aroldis Chapman, was left in the bullpen in critical junctures of both games – and never get used at all.

It is entirely possible that while he relates to his players on a personal level (the way the team rallied around the manager in the LDS is testament to that), too many of the Yankees players in 2017 were too unfamiliar to their manager for him to properly gauge how best to deploy them during the season. The youth movement underway in the Bronx certainly revealed some of the young talents shortcomings, from Gary Sanchez’s defensive failings, to Betances’ mechanical woes and Judge’s prodigious strike-out totals. Girardi never seemed to be able to address those problems, or even willing to at times.

Those would all be reasons to dismiss Girardi, but I don’t think the Yankees should -or will. Removing Girardi because of one bad year would be shortsighted, I think, especially when over the course of his career he’s proven to be one the 5 best major league managers in the game. I do think, in light of the youth movement underway (I fully expect to see at least another 4 or 5 of the Baby Bombers in Pinstripes next season), Girardi will need to step up his game and leave the binders in his office once the game starts.

Dismissing Girardi also begs the question: who would you replace him with? As I said above, his history says he is one the 5 best managers in the game today. The Yankees are on the cusp of many playoff appearances and potential world championships to come. It’s not the time to gamble on an untested commodity, and I doubt the Yankees will be able to pry Tito Francona or Joe Maddon away from their respective teams.

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So, for now, I think the Yankees will stand pat with their managerial personnel. They’ve brought the team this far. MIght as well give them the chance to finish the job.

25th Amendment: Will Trump Be Deposed?


There’s been a lot of talk lately about President Trump being removed from office via the 25th Amendment (thanks, Steve Bannon). I thought all that had gone away months ago, but suddenly talking heads can’t get enough of the latest talking point. Since everyone seems to have forgotten what the 25th Amendment says, I thought I would share the following Roll Call video. It’s by far the most unbiased presentation on the topic I’ve come across.

https://cdn.media.rollcall.com/videos/2027/101217Whiteboard25thAmendment.webm

Kneeling for Stupidity


FL: Arizona Cardinals v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a year of what may go down as the dumbest protest in American history, it seems the National Football League is ready to listen to their fans and end the shenanigans, once and for all. The NFLPA should thank them, before any more of their members are made to look like communist sympathizers.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began this hairbrained scheme on September 11, 2016. At the time, I thought it was nothing more than a very idiotic marketing ploy by a former starter whose poor play had landed him on the bench of a bad, and dysfunctional, team. He may have claimed it was to protest police brutality, but his actions since (appearing at press conference in Miami wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt & drawing little pigs on his socks among them) only bolstered my opinion: either he was a wannabe Che Guevara (but without the cajones), or he was desperately trying to force the league to keep him employed. When the season began with him not having a job and the outcry went up from certain segments of the sports commentariat that Kaepernick “deserved” a job, I felt vindicated. After all, his terrible play the previous three seasons certainly didn’t justify his being on an NFL roster. But that didn’t stop that rather vocal group of commentators from assuring us the only reason Kaepernick was watching the games from his couch was racism.

(As a side note: 22 of 87 NFL quarterback are black, as are 9 of the 32 starters. The NFL, as are all pro sports leagues these days, is the most egalitarian of employers. The only thing that matters is performance on the field, not race or religion.)

The NFL is a league that employs rapists, murderers, drug fiends and wife beaters, among other sundry malcontents. And until a week ago, approximately a quarter of those players were engaging in on-the-field behavior 90% of the country finds reprehensible. The outcry and backlash was the result of a few players who may have thought they were doing something principled, and a bunch of guys who get paid to have their brains routinely bounced around their skulls falling for what President Trump does best: troll.

And that was the insanity of this protest from the get-go: perceived police brutality in American cities is a topic worthy of discussion. But the moment you start using the National Anthem and the US flag as the center of your protest, the cause gets drowned out. It isn’t very positive imagery. Look, I get it: the First Amendment allows political speech involving the national symbols as props. But it doesn’t excuse you from widespread ridicule and scorn when you’re even perceived to be disrespecting them. The result in that case tends to be that your cause gets lost in the noise. Nobody cares, nobody wants to hear it – worse, your cause becomes anti-American. If you need a better example, the Supreme Court rulings that upheld disrespecting the flag as political speech were over the flag burning incidents in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Does anyone remember what those protests were about? No. All we remember is seeing the images of people burning a flag, and the outrage and anger it sparked.

Prior to the President’s calling out the players, only a handful were engaging in carrying on Kaepernick’s egregious demonstration. But, Trump Derangement Syndrome combined with the idea of team unity, and that Sunday nearly every team was protesting the flag and anthem. The blowback has been fierce, to say the least: attendance and viewership have cratered in the intervening two weeks. The league and networks have been scrambling, and the proposed rule change is a result of all that. Of course, the better option for the NFL might be to forgo the nearly $6 million they get annually from DoD for their contrived displays of patriotism prior to kickoff. But somehow, unless Congress expressly forbids it in the next budget, I don’t see that happening.

As for the players who feel strongly about police brutality and targeting, they have plenty of outlets to do something. After all, these are all multimillionaires with public megaphones in their adopted communities. They can arrange rallies and protest marches, and actually do more than simply stage ridiculous publicity stunts. They can endow scholarships. They can engage in outreach between their communities and the local police departments. Money and fame both talk, and neither is in short supply for a Cam Newton or Marshawn Lynch.

As for Mr. Kaepernick, he gave an interview on Saturday that amounted to him begging for a job. Of course, his girlfriend came out Sunday and tried to claim he was misquoted, but I suppose the cat is out of the proverbial bag now. As I thought from the beginning, he was trying to use the BLM activists to ensure his employment. Rather than celebrating him, they should be seething at this point. He used them, and in the process, turned their protest movement into a mockery of responsible public demonstration, making it a subject of abject ridicule.

As for me, I don’t watch football for political stunts and could care less about them. I tune in on Sundays to watch young men get their brains routinely bounced around their skulls, not unlike the Roman gladiators of old. Much the same as I don’t care a whit about the idiocy of the people who entertain me from Hollywood, the same goes for the ones on the gridiron. So I’ll keep watching, at least until they decide to switch from tackle to flag football.

Update: looks like the NFL isn’t going to force players to stand, only “encourage” them. Whatever, it’s their funeral. -10/11/17

Las Vegas


Just some quick thoughts:

  • The latest casualty toll is 58 dead, 515 wounded. That’s nearly 600 total casualties, a horrific number by any reckoning.
  • With nearly 600 casualties, it’s likely the shooter fired at least 2,000 rounds. 
  • The shooter was firing into a crowd at a range of approximately 500 yards.
  • Given those two factors, it is unlikely that the shooter was using a modified semi-automatic weapon. This jibes with not only what I heard on tapes of the shooting, but other veterans: the weapon being fired is a M60.
  • Also, the degree of planning and the logistics involved in carrying out this attack makes it unlikely the shooter was acting alone.

There is still much we do not know. But, be wary of what the alphabet networks are feeding you. A lot of what we’re seeing isn’t matching what we’re hearing from them.

Why Chuck Todd’s Anti-Americanism Is a Problem


There’s been some furor over NBC political news director Chuck Todd’s description of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore the other day. You can watch the segment below:

The flak Todd is catching is legitimate: he is expressing the very liberal (and very wrong) concept of government and liberty; to wit, that individual rights and freedoms are granted by the government. The fact is that the Founding Fathers established the Constitution to limit the powers of the government, even going so far as including the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited it by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people“) in the Bill of Rights. It also fits with the very declaration that created the nation to begin with (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“).

If what Chuck Todd was saying – that our rights come from government, and so therefore government can remove those rights as it chooses – was actually considered radical by the media establishment, the outrage be deafening. Sadly, the media establishment is overrun with liberals. Liberal dogma, which depends on the idea that people are subservient to government, fully accepts Todd’s characterization. Indeed, it lionizes it. The outrage response is not to Todd’s remarks, but to articles like this one.

I wasn’t going to bother to commenting on the entire thing. After all, it’s just another illustration of the fundamental divide between conservatives and liberals. You can’t reconcile that basic difference – conservatives know that rights do not come from government and liberals feel that they should. But then, something happened in my own life that brought this problem to the fore.

My brother-in-law works long, hard hours at his job and to help him out, my wife and I have been watching my 13 year old nephew from the time he gets done with school until her brother gets home from work. This also means I get to help him with his homework. The subjects he usually asks for help with are the three I’ve always been comfortable with: math, science and history (or in the modern vernacular, social studies). Yesterday, he asked if he could quiz me on the stuff he learned in history that day. It’s a little game we play – he’s a bright kid and he tries to catch me with trick questions. To my surprise he broke out a pocket Constitution and asked, “What are the rights given by the First Amendment?”.

I told him none. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly – but it doesn’t give them to anyone.

Now, ordinarily I would be ecstatic that the very basics of our government are being taught in our schools. Civics is a subject that is not given nearly enough study by our youth. But his reaction to my answer might have me rethinking that position. You see, he was shocked – astonished, even – by it. Then he said, “But my teacher said our rights come from the Constitution.”

I suppose I shouldn’t have been angered by that. I mean, textbooks are written by liberals, curriculum are designed by liberals, and most of our educators are liberals. But that such drivel is being taught had me seething. To my nephew’s credit, he was able to follow along as I outlined how the Constitution does not grant rights, but was written to ensure the government protects rights. But the fact that I spent 90 minutes deleting the programming the liberal establishment was implanting in one impressionable 13 year old not only angered me, it frightened me.

This is the problem  with liberal academics today. Rather than an exploration of ideas, it has become a process of indoctrination into the liberal world view. Even though my nephew’s pocket Constitution included the Declaration of Independence, his class hadn’t covered it. They hadn’t even read it – and in fact, had been told not to. Educators have figured a novel way of turning the Constitution in on itself, in a version of double-speak that would leave even Orwell breathless.

If we are not having our kids explore the very foundations of the government they’ll soon be entrusted with guiding, what are we inviting? The answer to that is also self-evident: a subversion of the very country our forebears worked so hard to create and preserve. The liberal dream realized: the fairest, most equal society in history, with the rights you deserve provided by a benevolent government.

Of course, we’ve seen that movie before, thousands of times. It was the underpinning of the French Revolution, complete with guillotines for those who would not accept the government’s benevolence. It girded the Soviet Union’s gulags, the reeducation camps in Maoist China, the chaos in the streets of Venezuela. It was the result our founders feared – and from what I’m see happening today, the one I’m afraid we’re fast headed towards.

 

To DACA or not to DACA?


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Since everyone else is weighing in on the issue of DACA, I figure I might as well, too.

First, although I am opposed to illegal immigration in general, I think this particular class (children raised in the US, although not born here or granted legal immigration status) merits special consideration. For the most part, these are people who didn’t choose to come to the United States. That decision was made for them while they were minors. When we’re talking about DACA, we’re talking about people who have been raised here and are American in every sense of the word – except legally. Moreover, there are at least 800,000 of them. There could be as many as 1.7 million.

Some have become high achievers in their chosen fields, some have served in the military with distinction, others are just ordinary folk, trying to find their way in this world. Yes, some are bad apples – as you can find in every demographic group. But it is a small minority, and they can be dealt with as any nation deals with crappy immigrants.

All that being said, I applaud President Trump’s decision to terminate the existing DACA program, and for one reason: our Constitution says immigration decisions are the responsibility of Congress, not the Executive. Before President Obama created the DACA program, he acknowledged (often) that any such executive action was unconstitutional. When he issued that executive order in June 2012, it was not his intention to make it a permanent fixture. The EO included a sunset period, since renewed twice. Obama had dual intentions; first, he wanted to try to force Congress to tackle immigration reform. Secondly (and cravenly), was his intent to shore up his support in the Latino community prior to the 2012 election. He failed on the first count, but succeeded on the second.

President Trump is, in large measure, copying the Obama administration’s playbook. By announcing that he is ending the program, but delaying enforcement for six months, he is attempting to force Congress to act and giving them a window of opportunity. At the same time, he is trying to reinforce his standing among his base by at least appearing tough on immigration.

So, are Trump’s chances of getting Congress to act any better than Obama’s were? First, there is the House leadership, which so far has demonstrated that it is extremely consistent in running from their own shadows. If they can be forced to address the issue, the chances of something happening are pretty good.

In fact, something could conceivably pass this week. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) has had HR 496 pending for nearly 8 months, and it specifically addresses the DACA situation. Had the leadership scheduled it for a vote in the Spring or Summer, this issue would already be behind us. But, again, leadership is afraid of doing anything that might possibly bring about a challenge from the right, even if they personally support it. (Where I come from, we call that cowardice – but whatever). However, Coffman has about had it with the cowards in his party and is filing a discharge petition to force a floor vote. He might just get it, too. As of this writing, he was only 3 votes shy of forcing Speaker Paul Ryan’s hand.

That would be half of the equation, because as we all learned on Schoolhouse Rock, a bill has to pass both houses of Congress before it can be sent to the President’s desk. There is a companion bill pending in the Senate, S128. Unfortunately, the Senate leadership is as afraid of their shadows as their House counterparts (see: Obamacare repeal). So how could the bill make it’s way to the floor if Mitch McConnell decides to go into a corner and cower? Believe it or not, this is where the filibuster can be useful. Any senator who supports passage can tie the Senate in knots until S128 is voted on. This is the perfect time to engage in such tactics, too. In case you’ve missed it, virtually every fiscal matter facing the country needs to be addressed over the next 3 1/2 weeks. Even losing a day to a filibuster would seriously crimp on Mitch’s ability to get out and fundraise.

So yes, there is a better than 50/50 chance something finally gets done. In fact, if Congress wanted put the President on the spot, they could pass the BRIDGE Act, as is, ignoring the White House’s request to include border wall funding. But again, I doubt that happens. Congressional leadership is too cowardly to even consider it..

Grinding Gears


Things that grind my gears:

  • Sub-par football players who think they are entitled to an NFL job, simply because they stage lame-brained protests. Also, people who think sub-par football players are entitled to an NFL job, simply because they stage lame-brained protests.
  • People who think other people shouldn’t do their job because their name sounds like a guy who’s been dead for 147 years.
  • People who think being somewhat conservative automatically makes you a Nazi. Also, people who think being somewhat liberal automatically makes you a communist.
  • Customer service reps who seem to care about everything except the customer.
  • People who cannot discuss their differences without hurling bricks at each other.
  • People who think shooting police officers is good sport.
  • Police officers who think everyone is ready to shoot them.
  • Gas station attendants who don’t know how to pump gas.
  • People who are absolutely certain the only character quality that matters is the pigmentation God gave them.
  • Americans who insist they’re something other than an American. For instance, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Irish-American, Italian-American, African-American, Polish-American, Arab-American, Hindu-American, German-American… Knock it off. You were born here, you’re an American. End Story.
  • People who don’t think, but immediately launch into “tribe’ mentality. Nobody is perfect, not even the anointed leader of “your side.” Be real enough to fess up when they mess up.
  • Store clerks who can’t do basic math. I mean, nobody ever taught you how to take 10% off a ticketed price? Seriously?
  • Fast food employees who somehow think an entry-level job is worth $15 to anyone. Here’s a clue: if the only thing you’re qualified to do is ask “Do you want fries with that?”, you need to get yourself some edumaction. You. Not the government. YOU.
  • Public Sector Unions. Heads up: working for the government is a privilege, not a Constitutional right. We – your fellow citizens – hired you because you’re supposed to be the best and the brightest. Prove it.
  • The Veteran’s Administration.
  • People who think nobody needs a gun, so nobody should own a gun. Hopefully, I’ll never need mine. But if you try to take mine away, you’ll be proving why I need them.
  • Idiots who own guns, but leave them around for kids to blow their heads off. Hint: the mattress isn’t a lockbox.
  • Cockroaches. Cockroaches annoy the HELL out of me.
  • So do skunks.
  • Finally, people who treat everything as if it’s a life and death matter. It isn’t, trust me. Learn to laugh a little, even at yourself.

    Trust me, you’re funnier than you know.

Afghanistan, Part Deux


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Like most of you, I watched President Trump’s speech last night with great interest. Of far more interest to me than any possible deployments was that this was billed as the President’s strategy for Afghanistan and Southwest Asia. Potential deployments are important, of course – but understanding why those deployments are happening and what the objective is, is far more important.

First of all, I have to give the President kudo’s for not pretending we’re withdrawing, as his predecessor did on multiple occasions. Likewise, I have to give him props for understanding that no military campaign can be run on a clock. It’s over when the objectives have been met, whether that’s tomorrow or 10 years from now. And I respect that finally we have a Commander-in-Chief who understands that battlefield commanders should be the guys calling the shots, carrying out missions created by folks who understand military strategy (such as General Mattis). Politicians understand political strategy, but generally they’re lousy at real battle plans. The last guy who sat behind the Resolute Desk proved that, over and over again.

But as far as the actual strategy we’re pursuing, I don’t actually see anything different than what we have been doing for the past 8 years. Trying to train up the local armed forces to defend their country from insurgents and rebels? Check. Pressuring the Afghan government to step up operations in the troubled provinces? Check. Pressuring the Pakistani’s to stop Afghan insurgents from using their territory as safe havens and travel routes? Check. We’ve been doing those things and none have worked. We train the Afghan army, but they can’t even recruit properly – and our advisors get shot on their bases. We threaten to withhold funding for the civilian Afghan government, but in addition to being more corrupt than an eastern European smuggler, they know it’s only threats. We aren’t about to financially cut them off at this point, because doing so would mean leaving our soldiers behind as hostages. As for Pakistan, we’ve actually withheld both military and civilian funding, with no effect.

The only new wrinkle was trying to draw India into the conflict. The President must have started drinking if he thinks this is going to work. India has nothing to gain – and everything to lose by meddling in this conflict. India’s biggest rivals are China and Pakistan. As long as Pakistan has to keep forces along the Afghan border and internally has to deal with the Haqqani and Pashtun populations, it’s less force India needs to worry about on their shared border. Quite frankly, given the rise of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu-nationalist coalition, India has no problem with Pakistan dissolving into chaos. They would welcome it.

As for Pakistan itself, the President is fooling himself if he thinks that nation truly has a strong central government. They have a strongman as Prime Minister, but as with his predecessors, he is far more concerned with India to his southeast than ethnic Pashtuns in the north. Everyone who has ruled the territory that comprises modern-day Pakistan has had to deal with the Pashtun, from Alexander the Great through Genghis Khan, various Indo-Turk rulers, the British Empire to the 21st Century. In those 24 centuries, most ruled by benign indifference, as the exertion required to bring the region to heel would cost more in blood and treasure than the effort is worth. The same holds true for today.

The President’s yardstick for success – “a lasting political solution among the Afghan people” – is little more than a pipedream. As mentioned above, the central Afghan government is incredibly corrupt, but that’s only part of the problem. Afghanistan is dominated by dozens of tribes, each with a stake in maintaining their individual fiefdoms. Not only are there the tribal considerations, but there are some serious ethnic divisions – it’s generally accepted that there are at least 14 different ethnicities within Afghanistan’s borders, and they don’t all play nice together.

Finally, there is a serious gap in the strategy the President laid out last night. He failed to mention the other nations that border Afghanistan, namely Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. For instance, Turkmenistan has a large, ethnic Turkem population, as does Afghanistan. Tajikistan has an area controlled by ethnic Pashtuns. Iran still considers the territory centered on the city of Herat to be theirs, since it’s ethnically Persian. Nor did he mention how Russia and China, who are both major players in the region, would have their considerations addressed.

In short, what I heard was the President basically saying we’re in Afghanistan until the conditions that led to the region becoming a home for terrorists and insurgents are rectified. He may not want to call it nation building, but essentially that’s what he’s committed us to doing. It’s the overarching strategy we’ve tried for the last 16 years without success. With all of the loose ends that aren’t even acknowledged under his version, I can’t see how it will be successful now.

Bye Bye, Steve Bannon


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It’s official: Steve Bannon was fired from his role as the President’s Chief Strategist earlier today.

But before anyone starts thinking this signals that the administration will now pivot to the center, you need to stop and think about something. Bannon wasn’t much of a strategist. Rather, he was the guy who came aboard the Trump Train after last year’s Republican National Convention to help streamline and polish Donald Trump’s existing “America First” positions into something more palatable to the general electorate. In terms of strategy, he proved (at best) to be a man playing checkers on the “swamp” chessboard. Otherwise, the President would have actual legislative victories he could point to as wins – and not be where he is, almost 8 months in. Which is to say, his efforts to remake Obamacare into Trumpcare defeated, with no movement on the other big campaign promises, either: the border wall still without funding (and Mexico thumbing their noses at us), no movement on tax reform or infrastructure legislation, and efforts to renegotiate our trade deals actually going backwards.

However, this is the second major administration official in two weeks to cross the new Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and find themselves being sacked as a result. If nothing else, I’m certain other acolytes who may have thoughts of taking similar approaches – of operating the way they did for the campaign and the first 6 1/2 months of this Presidency – are having misgivings now. Kelly has made his imprimatur on the administration. Whether or not the President can abide Kelly’s style and handling remains an unresolved issue, but it’s apparent that Kelly is running the White House as he sees fit. For now, anyway.

Trump will, of course, continue to be Trump. He will continue to push his agenda, focusing on the culture wars that originally earned him electoral support. His economic agenda is actually pretty much straight from the Republican playbook (tax reform, job growth, etc) and he will find congressional support for that, regardless of whatever else he does.

As for Bannon, expect him to return to his previous vocation, agitating for a nationalist agenda. Near term, I foresee him excoriating lawmakers over the border wall funding (given the proximity of budgeting and the debt ceiling on the calendar), and making Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s lives miserable. Longer term, he’ll look to undermine the forces in the West Wing that undermined him from the outside. Expect to see all kinds of hit pieces on Kelly and National Security Advisor HR McMaster, along with Jared and Ivanka Kushner. I also suspect “normal” conservatives, such as Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, and Ben Carson, could find themselves with banner headlines on Breitbart or the National Enquirer. As for the President’s economic team, Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin were part of the “establishment” long before the term became fashionable. Only a fool would think Bannon doesn’t have something special up his sleeve for them.

Removing Bannon won’t end the chaos surrounding the administration. If anything, the noise is about to get louder and more ferocious (although it will almost be funny to watch the NY Times and CNN suddenly forced into defending people like Perry and Mnuchin). Strap in, it’s going to be an even bumpier ride.