Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Change Our Primary System

In 1986, Paul Simon released his landmark album, "Graceland," which opened with "The Boy in the Bubble," that featured the line, "These are the days of miracle and wonder."  It's been almost 30 years since then, and a lot has happened in the interim, but if Simon released that album today, he'd likely have to change the line to, "These are the days of misery and anger."

Everywhere you look, people are miserable, angry, and hateful.  Radical Islamists would rather kill people than negotiate with them, the world's climate is in grave danger while people around the globe ignore the warnings, and you can't go to school or the movies without worrying that the guy next to you may pull out a gun and open fire at any minute.

And how do we deal with it?  By encouraging people like Donald Trump, who feed off that anger and appeal to our basest instincts.

It used to be that this type of political climate could not exist in periods of economic prosperity, but something has gone wrong.  The numbers say that the economy is great, but most of us feel poorer than ever; it's not trickling down.

This situation enables radicals around the globe to expand their influence.  Even here in the US, we see that John Boehner is not conservative enough for the Tea Party.  As far as I'm concerned, the relatively strong economy is the only thing preventing the Tea Party from morphing into neo-fascism.  If that economy were to tank (as it could, given the unsteadiness of the world's financial markets), the anger aimed at immigrants and young Black men could easily morph into placing them in concentration camps.

People tell me, "Oh, that can't happen here...not in this modern era."  But that's exactly what Jews in pre-Nazi Germany said.

And don't think the Democrats are free from anger.  Have you seen Bernie Sanders?  His message may be on target, but he looks like he's ready to explode at any minute.  I'm not sure I want his finger on the button any more than I want Trump's.

The truth is that no sane person who's had a life would want to run for office in this era of hate, which features internet searches into everything that anyone has ever said or done.  Several congressmen have recently admitted that we are spending millions of dollars examining the Benghazi incident for the sole purpose of bringing down Hillary.  That money could be spent on promoting public service.

But the Republicans hate Hillary, and the Democrats hate the Republicans, and there you have it.  Even in this country, which prides itself on democracy and diversity, no one can compromise.  So, why are we surprised when everyone else hates us?

I wish I had an answer to the world's issues, other than to sound like a beauty contestant asking for "world peace."  But I do have an idea that might temper the rhetoric right here in the US: Change our primary election system.

Let's face it...only about 15% of voters cast ballots in primaries for any office, and those people tend to be the zealots on either end of the political spectrum.  So, what we end up with are nominees that don't represent the mainstream; you often have to choose between an ultra-liberal Democrat and an ultra-conservative Republican.  In addition, we allow people to register as independents, then vote in whichever primary they choose...those are the people that often take the parties in directions they might not otherwise go.

Here's an idea for changing the system:
  1. If a voter has a party preference, he or she will register in that party, and have to retain that affiliation for a minimum of ten years.  This prevents people from switching to sabotage the other party.
  2. Independents cannot vote in either party's primary elections.  This prevents the radical elements from exerting undue influence.
  3. If someone who has registered with a party fails to vote in three, consecutive primaries (for any federal offices--president, senator, congressperson), that voter loses his or her party affiliation and becomes an independent.  This encourages people, who feel strongly about supporting their party's philosophy, to vote in primaries.
  4. These are federal regulations that cannot be altered by any state, but do not pertain to local or statewide elections.  This prevents the above provisions from infringing on states' rights.
If we were to implement these provisions, while simultaneously taking action to overturn the Citizens United decision, we may stand a chance of reducing the anger and hate that have recently dominated our political landscape.  In doing so, we could set an example for the rest of the world that may at least begin to turn down the volume on the hate meter.

Monday, October 19, 2015


If you watched the game between the Colts and the Patriots on Sunday Night Football, you were probably scratching your head when you saw the Colts, on fourth down with three yards to go, preparing to punt before shifting into a bizarre (illegal) formation that left two Colts players in the middle of the field, confronting five Patriots who were prepared to pounce on them.  The ball was hiked, and predictably, the man with the ball was tackled for a loss, giving the Patriots a chance to score from outstanding field position.

But now, the truth has come out.  The Patriots cheated. 

According to unnamed sources from within the Colts organization, Bill Belichick waited until Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano put down his clipboard before sending a ball attendant over to the Colts sideline, where he inserted, into the papers on Pagano's clipboard, a sheet of paper with the fake punt diagrammed.  The next time the Colts' had to punt, Pagano called the play.

After all, it can't be that the Colts are inept or that whenever they play the Patriots, they find ways to self-destruct.  So, it has to be that the Patriots cheated.  We'll call it "Fake-Gate."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Head Coaching in the NFL

Joe Philbin was fired this week as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.  Joe Philbin should never have been a head coach...he is clueless.  In fact, since Bill Belichick took the helm of the Patriots, there have been 21 head coaches among the other three teams in the AFC East (Bills, Dolphins, and Jets).

I often watch football games with people who don't understand one key aspect of the NFL...the games are played by the head coaches, who decide how to use the players they have to implement the game plan.  In the 1960s, my favorite team was the Dallas Cowboys, for one reason...the head coach was Tom Landry.  For the last 15 years, I've had the privilege to root for a team with another great head coach...the Patriots and Bill Belichick.

You might say that the great coaches are successful because they have great players, but you would be wrong.  In the case of the consistently successful teams, the head coach makes the players great by designing and implementing a system and game plans that use their combined talents to achieve success.

The all-time greats include George Halas (Bears), Vince Lombardi (Packers), Tom Landry (Cowboys), Chuck Noll (Steelers), Bill Walsh (49ers), Bill Parcells (Giants), and Bill Belichick (Patriots).  There have been other, good, successful head coaches in the NFL, but these guys won consistently, with whatever talent they had available to them.

I recently attended a wedding in which a Philly fan was making a toast to a group of people from Massachusetts.  In her toast, she said, "Now I know why the Eagles lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots...Deflategate."  It made for a good laugh, but clearly she did not understand that Andy Reid had the win in hand before blowing it.  The Patriots simply executed their game plan and watched the Eagles fall apart.

There are four key aspects of great coaching: (1) building a professional, winning culture, (2) evaluating talent, (3) developing game plans, and (4) managing games.  Andy Reid is one of those coaches who is good at evaluating talent but terrible at game management.  You only have to look at this year's Kansas City Chiefs to understand that.

If you want another example, look no further than the Atlanta Falcons.  Under Mike Smith, they were a decent team that always seemed to implode, but under Dan Quinn, they are 4-0 so far and look as strong as any team in the NFL--with essentially the same talent.

If you look around the league today, there are a few other excellent head coaches like Mike McCarthy (Packers), Sean Payton (Saints), Tom Coughlin (Giants), and Pete Carroll (Seahawks).  There are a few who have potential, but it's too early to tell, including Todd Bowles (Jets), Ron Rivera (Panthers), Mike McCoy (Chargers), Bill O'Brien (Texans), and Mike Pettine (Browns).  There are also a slew of coaches who have been disappointing so far, including:
  • Chip Kelly (Eagles).  Sorry friends and family in Philly, but until he starts to manage games like a professional coach instead of a college coach, he's no better than Andy Reid.
  • Rex Ryan (Bills).  Strip away the bombast and the tough veneer, and all that's left is an average coach.
  • Chuck Pagano (Colts).  He yelled about Deflategate, but Brady could throw rocks instead of footballs and still beat Pagano's predictable teams.
  • John Harbaugh (Ravens).  He's another loudmouth whose every move is the same as the week before and the week after.
  • Marvin Lewis (Bengals).  Generally clueless, he finally had the sense to put his offense into the hands of someone really smart (Hue Jackson), and the results are showing.
  • Mike Tomlin (Steelers). His only Super Bowl win came from a team he inherited.  Now, he can't win a playoff game, even with a great offense, because he doesn't know how to adapt to game situations.
When it comes down to it, the best head coaches are playing chess while the others are playing checkers.  Do you really think that Belichick, McCarthy, or Carroll goes into a game without a unique game plan and a contingency for every move the other coach might make?  If you do, maybe you can be the next head coach of the Dolphins.