Monday, December 07, 2015

The University of Virginia Football Rip-Off

The University of Virginia announced a few days ago that it had hired a new football coach, who it will reportedly pay $3.25 annually.

What a huge waste of money.  On top of this, UVA students are required to pay a sports fee of $657 annually, one of the highest in the nation among large public universities.

UVA students should go on strike against paying this exorbitant and useless fee to support a bloated athletic department budget.

Here's an undeniable FACT about college football:  100% of games result in someone lossing.  In the aggregate, 50% of games played will result in a loss.

What that means, for schools like UVA, is that unless they can out-recruit the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, etc. they are going to be on the losing end.  And, in the long run, there is NO WAY that UVA can out-recruit the major FBS football powers.  About the best UVA can hope for is to occasionally have a decent season in the ACC and go to a minor bowl (heck, anyone can go to a minor bowl these days, but that very fact has completely devalued the entire bowl experience.)

Anyway, there is a much better way for UVA and similarly situated schools to go.  Instead of participating in an ever escalating arms race that it cannot possibly win, it should drop out.  UVA ought to join other more academically oriented and/or smaller schools, such as Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, Temple, Villanova, Rutgers and form an Ivy League type of college football conference.  One that promotes the true idea of student athlete.  The Ivy League school play a ten game season, with no playoffs, no bowl games, limited scholarships, etc.  The season is still competitive--within the league--but not over the top.  (The two teams that play for the national championship this season will likely have played 15 games apiece, a ridiculous sacrifice for unpaid college kids to be asked to make for the glory of their rich alumnae.)

UVA could then slash its football budget, eliminate the hated student fee and pursue its primary mission:  educating students. It could also set an example that would encourage other schools to stop the madness and bring rationality (some) back to college football.

New Iowa Poll Provides Further Evidence That Trump Has Nowhere To Go

In our last post, we stated the theory that Donald Trump has corraled the "Wallace vote"--the lower income, less educated white voters who are overtly bigoted and willing to vote that way in general elections.

We now have some additional evidence in support of that theory--a recent poll from Monmouth of Iowa voters.  In the new Monmouth poll (http://www.monmouth.edu/assets/0/32212254770/32212254991/32212254992/32212254994/32212254995/30064771087/de240398-df23-47b6-8470-91977d38b749.pdf ), there is a tremendous amount of movement from the last poll, about a month ago.  In particular, Carson has almost collapsed, with the majority of his support moving to Ted Cruz.  Likewise, Rubio has picked up some of the Carson support, as well as improving his position among more moderate GOP voters at the expense of Bush, Kasich, Fiorina and Christie.

But Trump has gone nowhere--his support declined by a statistically insignificant 2%.  Furthermore, the poll shows that Trump's strongest support (relative to others) is among Republicans who have never previously participated in a caucus in Iowa, but say they will this year.  That cohort is notoriously fickle when it comes to actually turning out, as opposed to drinking a beer and cursing as they watch Fox News.

This poll reinforces our belief that Trump has wrapped up support of overtly bigoted voters, but in the process turned off everyone else, leaving him with no room for further growth.  Voters in Iowa are changing their minds, but not for Trump.

The result is that, with less than two months to go to the actual voting/caucusing, a new dynamic is emerging, in which Trump faces the danger of finishing second, and maybe even third, in Iowa.  Finishing third would be particularly damaging--it would destroy his claim as the GOP front-runner.  Further, it would hasten the consolidation of Republican voters in future contests, such that he could also come in third in New Hampshire.

Trump will likely do better in the so-called "SEC" primary of mostly southeastern states.  Those states have higher percentages of Wallace type voters, especially in the Republican party.  Thus, he could garner as much as 40% in some  of those states, especially in the Deep South, but his support even in that cohort may erode if Cruz and Rubio emerge as the two front-runners by then.

Trump is a stubborn fellow, who hates to lose.  We would not rule out having him take his campaign the independent route in the general election, despite his "pledge" not to.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Explaining The Trump "Phenomenon" With George Wallace

Many political pundits have tried to explain the Trump "phenomenon", i.e., his staying power atop the GOP polls despite statements that would sink many another candidate.

The explanation is really not that difficult.  Donald Trump has cornered the George Wallace vote.  In most years that would not seem like much, but in this unusual election year the Wallace vote has taken on a disproportionate impact in the GOP primaries.

Few will recall that in 1968 George Wallace ran for president on an avowedly racist, segregationist platform.  It was also a populist platform economically.  His appeal was largely limited to lower class whites of more limited education, but he nonetheless received nearly 14% of the vote nationwide, and carried five southern states.

Back in the 1960's and 1970's, many Wallace type voters identified themselves as Democrats, for historical reasons.  They tended to either stay out of national elections, or vote Republican, particularly if someone like a Goldwater was running.  Many more were independents.  These days, the parties have re-aligned, and Wallace type of voters are more firmly in the GOP camp (although some are still independents) to both the benefit and detriment of the Republican Party.




Notwithstanding that realignment, Wallace voters have had a fairly limited impact on Republican presidential nominating contests.  In a typical election year, with maybe three serious GOP candidates pursuing the presidential nomination, the Wallace type vote would not be so evident.  A leading "centrist" candidate, such as a Romney or McCain, would have roughly 60% of the vote in polls in such a contest, and a couple other more right wing candidates might carve up the Wallace vote, maybe one getting 16% and the other getting 10%.  In such a contest, the Wallace voters are out there, but they in no way dominate, or even significantly affect, the course of the race.

This year is unusual.  There are more than a dozen candidates, with no heir apparent.  Trump went right out of the gate for the Wallace type voters, proclaiming in his first speech that Mexico was sending rapists and murderers across the border.  He has continued to make a series of bigoted and racist comments since then, and he has stayed at a pretty steady 20-25% in national polls of Republicans.  (In head to head polls against Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, however, Trump typically polls the worst of the leading Republicans.)

But remember, Republicans make up roughly one third of the electorate.  So 25% of that one third is less than ten percent of the overall electorate--basically, the Wallace vote.  These voters have always been around.  They probably always will be (European democracies also have their hard core right wing nativist political groups, who usually get around 10% of the vote, barring something unusual.)

Trump is the first serious candidate for President since Wallace to overtly court bigoted voters.  Unlike Wallace, whose credentials as a racist were quite well established before he ran for President, Trump showed few signs of outright bigotry before running for office (he certainly looked like a run of the mill sexist, but not a bigot).  Trump is no dummy--we suspect that he made a very calculated move to corral the nativist right, and has been fighting to hold on to it ever since.  Of course, that makes him practically unelectable in a general election, but maybe he figured that would be a bridge to cross later.

In any event, Trump's "enduring" appeal is not that difficult to explain.  Anyone can put together the hard core Wallace vote if they are willing to be overtly racist and bigoted.  Few have tried, because it is not typically a winning strategy in the long run.  But don't expect Trump's support to erode or fade--as long as he keeps up what others view as outrageous statements, he will maintain the Wallace vote--they have nowhere else to go.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Is Football A Barbaric Sport?

Let me preface this post by saying that I enjoy football as much as any red-blooded American, and always have.

But these days, I have a feeling that within 100-200 years, humanity will view American football with the same disdain we have today for the gladiatorial contests of Rome.

We are increasingly seeing the sheer brutality of football, in the form of serious brain damage done to a large majority of players.  Not just professional players, either.  A recent study [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/new-87-deceased-nfl-players-test-positive-for-brain-disease/] found that 79 percent of ALL football players (and 96 percent of pros) had evidence of CTE--chronic traumatic encephalopathy--which is a brain disease.

Before the recent revelations about the problems with concussions and CTE in football players, all we, the fans, could really see is the more typical daily carnage of a football field--torn ligaments and muscles and the occasional more serious injury requiring a player to be carted off the field.  We could live with this.

But can we--should we--live with a sport that practically guarantees its participants will suffer debilitating brain injuries?  It certainly makes me uncomfortable, and I think if we could visualize it happening during the games, we wouldn't let it continue to happen.

We can't continue to ignore the issue.  I doubt that a technological solution--better helmets, etc. is going to emerge.  Nor is it likely that rule changes can be effected that will maintain the integrity of the game while providing effective protection to its participants.

(This same issue may be lurking for another sport--futbol, or soccer--but the evidence so far is inconclusive),

There is big, big, big money on football, especially professional and college ball, so it will take awhile to work through to the conclusion that football is too dangerous to be viable.  I, for one, however, am becoming increasingly queasy every time I tune in to watch my favorite teams, literally, butt heads.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Donald Trump Won't Be President

This is part one of an examination of why Donald Trump will not be elected President.

When it comes to voters, PT Barnum's adage rings true:  you can fool some of the voters all of the time; you can fool all of the voters some of the time; but you can't fool all of the voters all of the time.

For now, Trump has some of the voters fooled.  Pretty much, he has the voters who (a) tend not to vote; (b) are angry white male bigots and misogynysts; and (c) fall for anyone who is "not a politician".  That is not an insignificant portion of the population, but it is far from an electoral majority.  It is more or less the George Wallace faction of American politics.

As we will see in a later part, however, Trump illustrates why we SHOULD have politicians who are "politicians."  Non-politicians make terrible political leaders and public servants.  Trump has never served in any elective office, and he won't serve as President.

Let's start with Part 1 of why Trump won't be elected:  he is a spoiled brat bully.  Most voters don't know Trump's personal history--YET.  At some point, at least one of his Republican opponents, or a super-PAC aligned with one, or the press, will start to get this out.

Trump is no friend of the "working man."  He was born into a very wealthy family and given everything as a result.  He never had to work his way up from nothing.  And he hasn't required HIS kids to do real work either--instead, he has continued with a family dynasty typical of the Old European feudal days, where his children--Ivanka, Donald Jr., Eric and Baron--are given key positions in his various enterprises regardless of their qualifications.

Trump is also a thin-skinned bully.  If anyone crosses him, he either fires them or sues them.  He uses a phalanx of lawyers to intimidate his foes, and if the lawyers get out of line, he sues them too!  Except for his family members, no one who works for Trump is safe--they can be and regularly are fired for the most trivial reasons.

Someone who is thin-skinned is not going to make a good President.  The President has to get along with Congress if he or she wants to get anything done.  Trump is used to working without any checks or balances--the most he has to deal with are Boards of Directors, which in his case are mostly his own children or very loyal subordinates.

He also has to get along with other world leaders.  They don't owe him anything, and they don't need to defer to him.  Pissing off the rest of the world really isn't going to do anything to "make America great again."  It's a new world, Donald--America can't just go around invading everyone.  Indeed, our failed invasion of Iraq, while also pursuing a legitimate war in Afghanistan (both with ALLIES) showed the limits of our military power.  We have no real economic or military leverage over China, and we aren't going to go to war against Mexico, which happens to be a very important trade partner.

Trump would also need to appoint a cabinet--serious people to lead important executive agencies of the federal government.  What, is he going to appoint Ivanka to State, Donald Jr. to Defense, Eric to Treasury, Tiffany (who is in college) to Labor, and Barron (who is 9) to Education?  Is he going to continuously hire and fire cabinet members who disagree with him or cross him in any way?  He has to get along with these people too.

Bottom line:  being a thin-skinned bully does not a good President make.

Next:  why being a billionaire and not "beholden" to people making donations is a bad thing.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Flash Boys--Massive Fraud and Racketeering On Wall Street

If you are an investor in the U.S. stock markets, you need to read Michael Lewis's latest book, Flash Boys:  A Wall Street Revolt.

Revolt is right--you will be revolted by the utter greed and criminality of a small band of Wall Street gangsters who have rigged the market to skim off hundreds of billions of dollars that properly belong to investors.

In some ways, this is nothing new--shysters on Wall Street have been rigging up similar schemes for as long as stock markets have existed.  Still, it makes you sick what these guys have been up to.

Basically, Lewis shows how a group of high frequency traders (HFT's) have, since 2007, rigged the market so that their computers can skim a penny or two off every trade.  That may not sound like much, but in a market that trades trillions of dollars every year, it amounts to hundreds or billions of dollars in ill gotten gains.

What makes you really sick is the complicity of the large banks that place the trades, supposedly on behalf of the investors.  The large banks (like Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse) got their "cut" of the action, and so, just as they did in the mortgage crisis, they screwed the people they were supposed to represent.

In typical Lewis style, the story is told through the eyes of a few key participants, a band of heroes that rebelled against the system that everyone else went along with.  The story moves along at a good clip, and is even fun at times.  It leaves you wondering about the complete misdirection of scientific and technical talent into what is essentially a vast criminal enterprise.

Will justice be done?  Doubtful--no one went to jail over the mortgage crisis, and, as Lewis notes, the only person to go to jail so far in this sordid episode is a poor Russian programmer who became a pawn of the powers that be at Goldman Sachs.  It makes you really wonder--is the U.S. justice system really rigged to protect the rich?

At a minimum, the Justice Department should launch a criminal investigation, while also considering a civil racketeering lawsuit to capture the billions in illicit profits ripped off by this gang of hoodlums.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Public Restrooms Need Automatic Doors

These days, you can get into a public restroom and do your business without touching anything (at least with your hands).

The toilet flushes automatically.

The water faucet comes on automatically (if you flail your hands around enough).

The paper towels come out, or the hand drier starts, without touching anything.

But then BAM--you're faced with that germ ridden door to get back out!!

If the door opens outward, without a latch, you can always use your elbow or hip to get out; if not, you might be able to get away with crooking a pinkie around the handle.  Otherwise, all that non-touching is wasted as you grab the doorknob to get back to the real world.

Why not have automatic doors in public restrooms?  Then the cycle will be complete!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Travel Arrangement Woes

Much as we love the ability to make our own travel arrangements online, there are times when we long for the olden days of travel agents!

We had three instances lately of weird/bad things happening while making online travel plans.

The first was with Expedia.  While researching flights for a trip to Greensboro, we were surprised to see that there were no nonstops from the Washington region.  On previous trips, we'd had a few nonstop options.  Deciding not to take "no" for an answer, we went directly to the airline websites for United and US Airways.  Turned out there were several nonstop options, some fairly convenient, we might add.  Now we don't trust Expedia's listing of available flights.

This seems consistent with a more general trend that travel websites such as Expedia, Orbitz, etc. really aren't too interested in selling you flights--they want you to book hotels, cars and vacation packages.  Flights apparently are a loss leader.  (Or maybe the airlines don't want you booking through these convenient sites that show you the competition.)

The second problem came while we were directly on the US Airways website, looking at some flight options for Florida.  We weren't quite sure if we'd be leaving from the DC area, or Charlotte (due to a potential meeting), so we had one tab on our browser looking at DC flights, and another at Charlotte.  After deciding that DC was the way to go, we started booking the flight.  We clicked the flights we wanted, went through payment, etc.  After confirming everything--and paying--we saw that the flights that were booked were from Charlotte.  We had to call US Airways and get everything changed.  They politely waived the change fee.

Later, we tried an experiment where we again had two tabs open, looking at flights to the same destination from two different departure cities.  We booked a DC flight right up to the confirmation and sure enough, the website conflated the flights with the other city.  We then just closed the browser before paying, cancelling everything.

Lesson learned--don't try booking a flight on US Airways with two tabs open.  We haven't tried this with other airline websites.

The third problem happened with Orbitz, which we thought we'd give a try given disappointment with Expedia.  What a disaster that was!  With an impending snowstorm threatening airline havoc, we decided to move a Florida golf trip one day later.  The Orbitz website took us through a series of steps after we clicked on a link to change our flight.  After that series, which took a few minutes and appeared to put us on the cusp of booking our new flight, we reached a final screen that instructed to call an Orbitz agent.  Aaaauuuuggghhh!

Ok, so we called.  Recording says high volume due to weather delays, etc.  We enter a bunch of information over the automated phone system.  Finally, agent comes on--of course she has no access to what we entered while waiting.  With the agent, we basically start all over.

Not sure if the agent was incompetent, or what, but she was taking a long time.  Really long.  We had the US Airways website (just one tab!) up and knew exactly what we wanted.  We said we already knew about the change fee.  Nonetheless, she put us on hold to "research" the change fee and then research the fare restrictions.

Finally, about 50 minutes into the call (including waiting at the front end), she quoted a new fare--it was about $1000 higher than what the website said.  After a few moments looking at the website, we realized she had booked us into a flexible fare, instead of non-refundable (which was the original fare).

We asked her if she could just cancel the ticket (and give us a credit) so we could just book it over the US Airways website.  THEN she told us we could just go ahead and change the ticket on the website since we had a confirmation number.

Click, we hung up, after telling her she really was not at all helpful.  Five minutes later we'd made all the necessary changes on the US Airways website, with it costing us $120 difference (mainly the change fee coming back--the change fee outbound was waived due to the weather).

Lesson learned:  don't use Orbitz!

Who knows, if we learn enough other lessons, we might just hold ourselves out as travel agents to the less web savvy traveler!