Friday, October 14, 2016

Older Whites Driving Rise In Crime

Kevin Drum has an interesting look at the recent rise in crime with race and age-specific data that is provided by the state of California. Federal crime statistics do not provide any breakdowns for either age or race, but California does and the state can probably be used as a proxy for most of the country. According to Donald Trump and Republicans, crime is being driven by foreign terrorists, illegal Mexicans, and out-of-control gangs. But the data in California shows that this is not the case at all.

It is actually older whites that have driven the increase in violent crime in that last couple of years. In fact, the violent crime rate for non-whites under 30 has dropped over 1%. There are probably a number of reasons for this. But Drum has always been a big proponent that the drop in crime all over the world coincided with efforts to remove lead from the environment. And these statistics are certainly in line with that theory. So the next time Trump talks about rising crime, the very drivers of that trend will probably be the majority of his audience.

Warren Asks Obama To Replace SEC Chair Mary Jo White

Having taken down Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, Elizabeth Warren is now turning her sights to the incredibly ineffective head of the SEC, Mary Jo White. White was an appointee of Obama's but she has always been tight with the financial industry and was seen as a moderate. But the failure of the SEC to prosecute any executives over the financial crisis is simply inexcusable. And with new pressure to force more corporate disclosure about corporate campaign donations and overseas tax payments, White has rallied behind her corporate sponsors, arguing that investors may be subject to "information overload" as a result of any new disclosures. The idea that we need to protect investors from getting too much information is a unique and bizarre argument from someone who is head of the SEC. As Warren rightly pointed out, "I’ve never heard of the idea that investors want less information than they’re getting. Let’s be honest about this. I cannot find and you have not produced a single investor who has complained to the SEC about getting too much information." And, in a 12 page letter to President Obama, Warren called for White's ouster as head of the agency:

"Chair White's comprehensive anti-disclosure agenda runs directly contrary to the SEC's purpose. It hurts investors, undermines Administration policy, and willfully misinterprets congressional mandates. You have the authority to designate a new SEC Chair, and I believe Chair White's anti-disclosure efforts give you ample reason to do so...Chair White's refusal to move forward on a political spending disclosure rule serves the narrow interests of powerful executives who would prefer to hide their expenditures of company money to advance their own personal ideologies. Despite her refusal, however, broad support from shareholders, experts, and the public has not waned. The agency has received more than 1.2 million comments related to the potential political spending rule, the vast majority of which support agency action. Forty-four Senators have expressed strong support for a political spending disclosure rule. And a bipartisan group of three former SEC commissioners including Republican Chairman William Donaldson and Democratic Chairman Arthur Levitt called the SEC's inaction on a political spending disclosure rule 'inexplicable,' and said that the agency's 'failure to act offends not only us ... but investors and the professionals who serve them.' They added that the agency's inaction 'flies in the face of the primary mission of the Commission, which has since 1934 been the protection of investors'...In the wake of the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, in part, to address inadequate investor understanding of company behavior. The Act required the SEC to develop several rules to this end. Chair White, however, appears to view these congressional mandates as mere suggestions that the agency is free to ignore. And she has gone further - publicly denigrating some of these requirements as superfluous and misguided...Under the authority outlined in 17 C.F .R. § 200.10, you may immediately designate another SEC Commissioner as Chair of the agency. I strongly urge you to use that authority today.
I do not make this request lightly. I have tried both publicly and privately to persuade Chair White to direct the agency's resources toward pressing matters of compelling interest to investors and the public, and toward completing those rules that Congress has required it to implement. But after years of fruitless efforts, it is clear that Chair White is set on her course. The only way to return the SEC to its intended purpose is to change its leadership."

Please read the entire letter from Warren because it reads like a prosecutorial indictment of White's ineffective and obstructive leadership. White and the SEC are the classic example of regulatory capture and it is high time that the agency was forced to fulfill its obligations to citizens and investors as opposed to protecting corporate interests.

Disney Visa Ruling Will Cost Even More Americans Their Jobs

In another example of how US business screws American workers, a judge ruled yesterday that Disney did not violate visa laws when it brought in H-1B workers to replace American employees. The case was brought by two Disney workers who were laid off in 2015 but were forced to train foreign H-1B workers how to do their job in the last few weeks of their employment. The H-1B workers were actually employed by two outsourcing companies that primarily used contractors from India. In their claim, the two workers claimed that Disney and the contractors had colluded in making false statements to obtain their H-1B visas. The judge rejected those claims. According to the law, companies hiring H-1B workers must show that it "will not adversely affect the working conditions" of other American workers and that those workers "will not displace any similarly employed U.S. worker" in the first six months after the visa was granted. How the outsourcing companies and Disney circumvented this requirement was easy. The outsourcing company hires the foreign worker and, because it is an outsourcing company, that worker is not replacing any American worker. In fact, that worker could essentially "sit on the sidelines" for six months. Then the outsourcing company places the foreign worker in another company, in this case Disney, and, voila, everything is legal and an American worker is out of a job. Having worked in technology, I can tell you that this scheme exists in every industry and it is has cost thousands of Americans their jobs. It is yet another example of big business contorting itself to follow the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit of the law. And another example of how US businesses consider American employees as simply disposable parts.

New Wells Fargo CEO Tainted By Scandal As Well

If Wells Fargo thought CEO John Stumpf's resignation was going to change the dynamic as the bank dealt with the scandal of massive fraud in opening bogus accounts, they are sadly mistaken. The new CEO, Timothy Sloan, was actually a direct report of Carrie Tolstedt, the head of the community banking division where the decade-long fraud occurred. In addition, even as late as this summer, he was defending the bank's strategy of aggressive cross-selling that prompted the fraud in the first place. Under that cross-selling plan, account managers were pushed to sell accounts for other business lines to their existing customers with highly aggressive sales targets and bigger bonuses as incentives. Maxine Waters, the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee expressed her concern, saying, "I remain concerned that incoming C.E.O. Tim Sloan is also culpable in the recent scandal, serving in a central role in the chain of command that ought to have stopped this misconduct from happening." The fact of the matter is that pretty much all of the current senior executives who are in any position to replace Stumpf are in some way tainted by this scandal. And that only goes to show how corrupt the corporate culture at Wells Fargo had become.

I'd also like to make one other point that is surely worth investigating at Wells Fargo. A significant number of employees who came forward to report the opening of these fraudulent accounts were directed to the bank's ethics hotline. I do not know Wells Fargo's policies, but my recollection from my time in the industry is that those hotlines "guaranteed" anonymity. No one really believed that and the fact that many of these whistleblowing employees at Wells Fargo were subsequently fired for seemingly minor infractions certainly indicates that their anonymity was not protected. I certainly hope the regulators and the prosecutors will look into that possibility.

A Little Relief From Election Madness

As the Trump campaign plumbs new levels of destructiveness and absurdity, some relief is necessary (h/t to Pi Li at Daily Kos):

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Vermont Grapples With Wind Energy And The Money That Comes With It

Vermonters are an independent lot and the towns of Windham and Grafton are grappling with the idea of taking substantial amounts of money to allow wind turbines to be located in their towns. Under Governor Peter Shumlin, Vermont has increased its wind energy by 20 fold and the number of solar panels installed by a factor of 11. And, while energy prices have generally risen in the last few years in the Northeast, prices in Vermont have fallen. But there has been some backlash as some environmentalists are concerned about ruining Vermont's gorgeous mountain ridges with the noisy turbines and the roads and infrastructure needed to support them. A Spanish company, Iberdrola, has proposed to install around 25 wind turbines in the aforementioned towns of Windham and Grafton. Apparently, the company has some concern that the local voters will vote down their proposal so they have essentially offered these towns an incredible bribe. It will pay the town of Windham $1 million per year for the next 25 years and in addition pay the town's 311 registered voters over $1,000 per year for the next 25 years. The residents of the town of Grafton, which would house fewer turbines, would receive nearly $500 per year for the next 25 years. For a small town like Windham, these numbers are huge. It could cut property taxes in half and still leave $150,000 a year left over for other town projects. But I think this Spanish company has no idea about the character of Vermonters. The blatant bribery here will just turn those people off rather than enticing them. We will find out the results when the proposal goes to a vote on election day.

How Chris Christie Destroyed New Jersey Transit

While we are on the subject of Chris Christie, read about what his administration has done to destroy New Jersey Transit. When Christie became governor, NJ Transit was a decently functioning system with plans for the future. A new Hudson River tunnel had secured federal funding which would have allowed an existing tunnel in desperate need of repairs to be fixed without impacting service when the new tunnel came on line in 2018. And when the old tunnel was in shape, there would be more capacity for trains between New York and New Jersey. But in the first year of his administration, Christie vetoed that plan with the ostensible reason that the state may have been on the hook for some cost overruns. Today, the aging tunnel may have to be shut down for repairs, crippling New Jersey commuters. And the plans and financing for a new tunnel are only now being finalized.

Under Christie's leadership, the state subsidy for NJ Transit has fallen by 90% to just $33 million and the budget for maintenance and service improvements fell by more than 50%. Fares have continued to rise even as service continues to decline. NJ Transit has far more service delays than its two neighbors, Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road. Last year, the budget gap for NJ Transit was $60 million and this year it is $45 million. In addition, Christie has had a long-running dispute with the rail unions that was finally resolved last March in order to avert a crippling strike by those unions. The rail workers had been working without a contract since 2011. Christie also spent the entire summer in a wasteful battle with the legislature over raising New Jersey's ridiculously low gas tax. That battle resulted in $2.7 billion of NJ Transit projects being delayed as the state's transportation fund ran dry.

All this resulted in the deadly train crash at the Hoboken station last month. And, as the Times article shows, there is anecdotal evidence that people are leaving the state simply because the commute into New York has become unbearable. Christie's desire to run for President was clear early on. For him, the state and the people of New Jersey were always a second thought. Please read the whole New York Times story to get a taste of how egregious his leadership has been.

Chris Christie's World Gets A Little Darker

While the Trump campaign disintegrates in a vortex of sexual assault accusations, Chris Christie's world also got a little more complicated. A municipal judge in Bergen County, the county that contains the town of Fort Lee whose mayor was the target of the Bridgegate scandal, has issued a summons for Christie to appear in court over his role in shutting down four lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The summons now puts the ball in the Bergen County prosecutors office to decide whether Christie should be indicted.

David Wildstein has already testified in the on-going trial of two Christie aides that Christie knew about the political nature of the lane-closings while they were occurring. And there has been some indications in that trial that Christie was aware of the plan before it actually was put in place. Even to this day, Christie is adamant that he knew nothing about the political nature of the lane closings until weeks after they occurred. I have always believed that Christie hitched himself onto the Trump train in the hopes of getting a senior position in Trump's administration in order to inoculate himself against this kind of investigation. Well, the job in the Trump administration is not going to happen and his claim of ignorance about Bridgegate may be put to the test in court someday soon.

Morning Joe Floats Conspiracy In Women Claiming Trump Abuse

I make a habit of avoiding Morning Joe, primarily because I can't stand the way he treats Mika. But when I turned on the tube this morning, it was still on MSNBC from last night and Joe was pontificating, as usual, about how we should be skeptical of the timing of all these women coming forward to claim Trump had abused them. To be clear, Scarborough was not questioning the women's claims, merely the timing of their coming forward, implying that there was some big grand conspiracy behind it all, that it all could be a result of opposition research. He posited that there were plenty of other triggers earlier in the campaign, such as Trump's spat with Megyn Kelly, that could have easily convinced these women to speak out so why is it happening just now. He then criticized the media for being hypocritical in their coverage of Clinton in the 1990s versus their coverage of Trump today. And he ended the segment with one of the all time classic "both sides do it" lines by saying that, with all the problems facing this country, it is sad that what we will be subjected to over the next few weeks is women being put in front of the press to talk about their abuse, and that will be done by both sides.

As far as I know, the Clinton campaign has not formally aligned itself with any of these women and there is no indication that the Clinton campaign has ever contacted these women or had anything to do with them. And no one has come up with any information that would tell us otherwise. And none of these women has ever been part of a Clinton ad, much less a campaign press conference. So no, Joe, both sides are not doing it. Perhaps the reason these women are coming forward now is because during the debate on Sunday watched by millions of Americans, Trump vowed that he had never sexually assaulted women. And as far as the hypocrisy of the media is concerned, Bill Clinton's affair with Gennifer Flowers was entirely consensual. That is far different than sexual assault. Yes, Clinton lied about the affair, but the voters clearly ignored that when they when to the polls, even as the media was burying his campaign.

I have to say I was furious and dumbstruck when I heard Scarborough's remarks. In implying there is a vast conspiracy to pull an October surprise, he does a real disservice to the women who are giving up their privacy to come forward, probably knowing that they will be attacked. It just confirms my belief that Joe Scarborough is a sexist jerk.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Two Women Recount Being Violated By Trump In NY Times Story

Ok, does going until nearly 8pm count as a day without Trump? The New York Times reports that two women have come forward to recount the inappropriate sexual behavior they had to endure at the hands of Trump. One woman talks about bein groped by Trump on an airplane back in the 1980s. A second reports that she was inappropriately kissed on the mouth in an elevator at Trump Tower in 2005. Both women spoke of the matter to others at the time of the incidents. I'm guessing that these are probably just the first of many to come forward. Needless to say, Trump has denied the women's claims.

Update: And now there are two more.

Data Gives Doves The Upper Hand On The FOMC

The minutes of the September Federal Open Market Committee meeting were released today and the differences among the members could not be clearer. From the hawks, "A few participants referred to historical episodes when the unemployment rate appeared to have fallen well below its estimated longer-run normal level. They observed that monetary tightening in those episodes typically had been followed by recession and a large increase in the unemployment rate." The doves responded, "others judged this historical experience to be of limited applicability in the present environment because the economy was growing only modestly above trend, inflation was below the Committee's 2 percent objective, and inflation expectations were low--circumstances that differed markedly from those earlier episodes."

Once again, the data seems to be on the doves side. The September unemployment rate actually moved back up to 5% primarily due to more workers re-joining the labor force. This is evidence that there is still some slack in the jobs market which reduces the chances for an overheating economy and rapid inflation, the hawks' perpetual fear. The doves see no reason to raise rates when the labor force participation rate is growing and there are potentially millions of unemployed workers out there who could re-join the jobs market. With inflation still running below the Fed's 2% target, the doves would much prefer to focus on the agency's often-forgotten second mandate - full employment.

As Tim Duy points out, the current makeup of the voting members of the FOMC are overwhelmingly in the dove camp. There is still a lot of data to absorb between now and the meeting in December but if they data continues to show a growing labor force and below-target inflation, the expected rate hike may even be in doubt. As Duy says, the doves "want to let this rebound run for as long as possible".

Wells Fargo Fraud Goes Back To 2005

I think we are all shocked (NOT!) to learn that the massive fraud at Wells Fargo was occurring as far back as 2005. That means the firm was engaging in these illegal activities for a decade before they were caught and stopped. The report in the NY Times today documents how employees raised red flags about the illegal behavior for years and for years those employees were either ignored or even fired. These ethical employees reported the abuses to HR, to the company's anonymous ethical hotline, to their managers and supervisors, and a few even wrote letters to CEO John Stumpf himself.
The report also indicates that many of the whistleblowers were subsequently fired for a variety of reasons many of which show a clear indication that the company was looking for an excuse to terminate them. In one especially egregious case, a whistleblower called HR about the ongoing fraud, where he was directed to the ethics hotline. When he called the ethics hotline, he was asked to provide specific information which he did by looking up and reporting the fraudulent accounts. A short time later, he was fired for reviewing accounts without authorization.

CEO Stumpf at first tried to blame the employees for the massive fraud and then testified in front of Congress that senior management only became aware of the situation in 2013. According to the bank, the ethics hotline responded to cases individually and was not set up to discover any systematic patterns in the cases they were asked to investigate. If you believe that, I also have a bridge to sell you. It's clear that executives willingly turned a blind eye to what was going on purely to boost the bottom line, boost the share price, and line their own pockets.

Unfortunately, we all know how this will end - Stumpf will be replaced, the bank will pay even more fines and settle lawsuits that barely put a dent in its bottom line, and it will be back to business as usual. At the congressional hearing Democrat Mike Capuano asked Stumpf, "What's the difference between you and a bank robber?" The answer, of course, is there is no difference. What will it take to give some of these senior executives at the fraudulent companies some serious jail time...

Update: I guess the New York Times article was the last straw as Stumpf has resigned effective immediately. Is jail his next stop?

Some More Sunspots

We've finally had a nice string of weather so I've been able to break the telescope out a bit. Here are a couple of photos of the Sun showing two sets of sunspots.

Detroit Is Now Helping Predatory Speculators Depopulate The City

Detroit has sadly become a symbol of a city that has collapsed due to white flight and the loss of good manufacturing jobs to sustain the tax base. But the mismanagement of that city has also been a large part of its collapse, even more so today. Property tax assessments have not been made in over 20 years, meaning that many homeowners having been paying far higher taxes than their property truly calls for. According to the director of a housing advocacy group, "You’re getting taxes assessed on a $30,000 or $40,000 property value for a house that probably couldn’t sell for more than $5,000".

While mortgage foreclosures were a large factor in the wake of the financial crisis, currently the primary reason for evictions in Detroit is failure to pay property taxes. In Michigan, the state demands foreclosure on any property that has not paid tax in three years. Nearly 1 in 7 Detroit homeowners, around 100,000 people, faced tax foreclosure in 2015. Part of the problem is the enormous interest charges that the state mandates on late property taxes. The law requires on 18% fee for late taxes. This was changed to allow a retroactive interest rate of only 6% for the years 2010 through 2015 but it is scheduled to revert back to 18% this year unless retroactive rate is extended. Adding to the woes of those homeowners is the fact that they have been overpaying their taxes for decades because of the lack of any knew assessments.

Obviously, the reason for the foreclosures is to somehow collect taxes that the city badly needs, with the city estimating that auctions of foreclosed properties will bring $40 million this year. The people who are being disproportionately effected by these tax foreclosure are African Americans and other minorities. A study found that tax foreclosures on majority African-American Census blocks was 10 to 15 times higher than elsewhere.

It is also unclear whether the new owners of these properties are keeping up with the taxes after they purchase them. The untold story of Detroit today is that it is a hotbed of real estate investment with speculators and gentrifiers buying up these foreclosed properties. Speculators sometimes continue to avoid paying property taxes knowing they can pick the property up for far less than the taxes if it gets foreclosed again. The result is that housing stock that is currently occupied, primarily by minorities, is being foreclosed by the city and then sold to speculators who are leaving the property empty for the time being. As Joshua Akers, an economic geographer at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, describes it, "People think that these properties are abandoned, that people just left them behind...What has happened is the city has been willfully depopulated through a policy that prioritizes the interests of predatory speculators above the people who live in Detroit." It's hard to see how a policy like this can help the city come back to life.

Social Security Solvency And Deficit Hawks

The drumbeat about the supposed "insolvency" of Social Security (SS) has been going for decades and it has clearly fixated a whole bunch of people on the right and even in the center. I remember being in a restaurant in the mid-1990s and hearing a young man say that, by the time he retires, there would be nothing in Social Security for him so he wasn't even thinking about it. That was probably a good long-term saving plan because I have a feeling he will be happy with the extra money he does get from Social Security when, or if, he actually does retire. And I'm sure by now Pete Peterson, Fox News, the Washington Post and others in the mainstream media have already brainwashed a couple of generations of young people that Social Security is doomed to go bankrupt. Another way that these groups obfuscate the issue is by throwing these scary-sounding numbers around that sound horrific but are never put in proper context of an existing $18 trillion dollar economy that is only expected to keep growing for the foreseeable future.

Right now, in its 75 year planning horizon, the Social Trust fund is predicted to start running shortfalls where it is unable to pay full benefits somewhere in the middle of the 2030s. But the date of shortfall has continually moved farther and farther out in the future over the last couple of decades. Of course, as we have seen over the last eight years, predicting what will happen economically for a 20 or 30 year horizon, much less a 75 year one, is a fool's errand. And name any other plan that is fully funded for the next 20 or 40 years, much less 75. It doesn't exist.

But the reality is that Social Security could always be fixed pretty easily - it was just a matter of having the political will. The easiest first step would be to substantially raise the cap. Right now, the Social Security tax only applies to the first $118,500 earned, another example of the rich not paying their fair share. Over 40% of the projected shortfall is the result of the upward distribution of income moving above the cap, another negative of our increasing inequality. Eliminating that cap extends the time before a shortfall would be reached by another 20 years. Remember, Social Security is funded via the payroll tax, meaning that other sources of income such as capital gains and dividend and interest income are exempt. It would be possible, though politically difficult, to put a Social Security tax on that income, adding even more dollars to the trust fund. Theoretically, some of that increase would also be paid out on the back end in higher payouts when the individuals retire. On the other hand, the formula for allocating that new money could be tweaked to be more redistributive. Another easy fix is to simply raise the payroll tax. Yes, that would cut into current incomes but it would fully fund Social Security for its 75-year planning horizon. A payroll tax increase equivalent to .95% of GDP would full fund Social Security for its 75 year horizon, according to the Social Security Trustees Report.

Now 1% of GDP is still a lot of money, nearly $200 billion. But, as Dean Baker points out, look at what has happened to our economy over the last eight years. If the economy had grown at the rate projected back in 2008, our economy would be almost $2 trillion larger than it is today, ten times more than the 1% of GDP that Social Security needs. And a large part of the reason the economy is weaker than projected is that, rather than increasing government spending in the face of a severe recession, deficit hawks insisted on austerity, subjecting us to years of unnecessary slower growth. And many of those deficit hawks are the very same people, such as Pete Peterson and the Washington Post, that are so deathly worried about the shortfall in Social Security.

A Day Without Trump - Is It Possible

OK, I'm really going to try to spend at least one day here writing about something other than the disaster that is Donald Trump and the election horse race. But you never know when Trump will manage to outrage us again, so I'm making no promises. Instead I'm going to write some economic stories today and perhaps revisit some astronomy, because sometimes you really just want to get off this crazy planet. So stay with me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

If Dems Don't Control Congress, Obstruction Will Just Continue

With the base of the party already furious at the GOP establishment, it's hard to see how things will get any better in Washington if and when Hillary Clinton is elected. Trump is already gearing up his supporters to blame the establishment for his loss and the Republicans who survive in Congress will be living in even greater fear of a challenge from their right, even the ones in "safe" Republican seats. Mitch McConnell has already said that Merrick Garland will not be confirmed to the Supreme Court in the lame-duck session even though some Republicans would prefer to seat him then rather than having to deal with a possibly more liberal choice from Hillary. And with a base that will be furious and vindictive after losing the election, there will be no way he will go forward with the nomination. Which certainly begs the question of what he will do when Hillary's nominee gets sent to the Senate. I have always believed that there was a chance that Senate Republicans will opt to keep the seat open rather than ever confirming a Democratic nominee. The pressure from the base will be enormous. If the Democrats take the Senate, the question for Hillary will be whether she opts for a liberal like Sotomayor who the GOP will reject or a more centrist option like Garland who might have a chance with a handful of Republican Senators. If the GOP holds the Senate and still refuses to give her nominee a hearing, we will be headed for a constitutional crisis. And if Republicans manage to hold on to the House, Hillary can only expect a similar, if not greater, level of obstruction than Obama has endured. She can expect the ridiculous hearings and "investigations" to continue ad infinitum.

Can you identify one Republican leader who will be able to lead the party out of the wilderness and back into the real job of governing? McConnell has spent the last decade maneuvering solely to keep his job as Majority Leader. Paul Ryan pretends to be that leader but is always unwilling to stand up to the crazies in the Freedom Caucus when the chips are down. And with his betrayal of Trump, he may not even survive as Speaker or Minority Leader, depending on the outcome in the House. There is no one, no elder statesmen still in Congress who is capable of putting the party back together. Meanwhile, the business of the people will continue to not get addressed, fueling even more anti-establishment resentment.

For the whole country's sake, Democrats need to take control in the House and the Senate. With a few votes from some sane GOP Senators who might see that the path forward for the Republican party is to actually be a part of accomplishing some things, the country might begin to address its pressing problems.

The GOP Civil War Is About To Get Very Messy

The internal war in the GOP between the Republican establishment, especially its Congressional leaders, and Donald Trump and his large swath of supporters is going to get really ugly. Today, rumors surfaced in the fever swamps of the right that Paul Ryan advisor, Dan Senor, was actually responsible for passing the now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape to the Washington Post. According to the right-wing conspiracy theorists, the idea was for Ryan to invite Trump to campaign with him, then leak the story so he could be openly seen as distancing himself from Trump when he dis-invited him from the campaign appearance. The underlying idea was to give down-ballot Republicans space to also distance themselves from Trump. But, as polls have shown, Republicans are in trouble whether they withdraw their endorsement of Trump or not. In response, Trump has been blistering defecting Congressional Republicans with vicious tweet-storms all day today.

Now, I truly doubt that Ryan had anything to do with this. But if he did, it was one of the worst political decisions ever. In any case, if this is any indication of what the remainder of the campaign will look like, it may take a long, long time for the Republican party to recover.

New Polls Put House In Play For Democrats

Following up on my prior post about Hillary opening up a significant lead, internal Democratic campaign polls now show the party with a seven point lead over Republicans in the generic Congressional poll. A lead like that certainly puts the House into play for Democrats. But there is even worse news for Republicans in tight re-election races. That same poll shows that it doesn't matter whether they withdraw their support for Trump or continue to support him - either way, they still face a massive generic 12-point gap. Now, Trump has just come off one of the worst weeks in political history so you have to wonder if these huge poll advantages will dissipate somewhat before election day. On the other hand, Trump had one of the worst weeks in politics only a couple of weeks before this one so the chances that things could actually get worse are still pretty high.

Republicans came into this campaign believing it would be a "change" election, as it usually is after an eight year Presidential term. But I think they underestimated how much the GOP electorate was dissatisfied with everyone in politics, not just Democrats. A large part of that was brought on by the last three decades of Republicans and Fox pounding into their base that government is always bad and corrupt, while feeding the beast of white nationalism. The GOP forgot that they are part of government too. And the list of broken promises to the base, on abortion, on jobs, on real tax cuts for the middle class, is long. And now the GOP establishment is finding out that a big part of the change their base actually wants is new Republican leadership.

Hillary Consolidates A Substantial Lead

The latest poll averages show Hillary Clinton with nearly a 10-point lead nationally over Donald Trump:

While Trump's support has plummeted, Clinton seems to be consolidating hers. If you look at some of the individual polls where Gary Johnson and Jill Klein are still part of the polling choice, you will see that Johnson is still carrying significant support, somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. I suspect that, as time goes on, the majority of that Johnson support is coming from people, especially Republicans, who would never, ever vote for Hillary but just can't stomach Trump. The Libertarian party is their only refuge. I would also guess that part of Hillary's rise is not only independents and disaffected moderate Republicans coming over to her side but also a number of liberal Johnson supporters finally rallying behind her. Johnson's gaffes on foreign policy and his position on taxes and investment are really not what Bernie supporters are looking for and they have come home to Hillary. And poll numbers like this must make down-ballot Republicans fear for their jobs, but they are stuck between the rock of their base and the hard place of still nominally supporting Trump.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hard Brexit May Cut US Bank Employment In London By One Third

Theresa May is starting to see the true implications of a "hard" Brexit, especially the pain that will be felt in the financial industry. If London loses its preferential access to the European single market, US international banks may move between a quarter to a third of their workers from London to the Continent. One estimate is that it will cost the government nearly 10 billion in revenues as well as over 70,000 jobs. Now, some of these numbers may be scare tactics or, it may be argued, that a shrinking financial sector would actually be a net positive for the British economy. But that money and those jobs will need to be made up somehow and I have a feeling that it will be a lot more difficult than the government currently thinks to do that.

Italians Vow To Challenge German Austerity

In early August I wrote a post about the end of austerity, noting Hillary Clinton's specifically ignoring any talk about the debt or budget deficits, the end of the Cameron/Osborne regime in Britain and Theresa May's call for stimulus after the disastrous Brexit decision, and the reluctant recognition of economists and even the IMF of how destructive austerity had been. I also noted that the last remaining holdouts for austerity were the Germans. Well it looks like the Italians have finally decided to take the Germans on. Last month, the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Renzi bluntly criticized the German fixation on austerity, saying, "Stressing austerity means destroying Europe. Which is the only country which receives an advantage from this strategy? The one which exports the most: Germany." The Italian Finance Minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, supported that criticism recently when he said, "Austerity is out of the discussion in a way. We need to bring more growth and more jobs to Europe." Germany has been absolutely fixated on adherence to the 3% rule on deficits to the detriment of all else. The result has been enormous and unnecessary economic pain in Southern Europe, especially Spain, Portugal, Greece, and even to some extent Italy. Even in announcing their challenge to German austerity, the Italians are still trying to stay within the confines of that rule. As the Italian Minister of Economic Development put it, "If you want to close this divide and you want to persuade your citizens that there is opportunity in the internationalization of the economy and innovation, you need to invest a lot. The question is whether you do it within the European rule or whether you break the European rule. What we are trying to do is to stay within the European rule." Somehow, I sense a veiled threat in that statement that, if the rules aren't relaxed, perhaps they will be broken. As the article notes, the truly remarkable thing is that these countries had plenty of opportunity to challenge the Germans on austerity but none did, with the exception of Greece. As one economist said, "On the merits, Spain, Italy and France should be ganging up on the Germans and outvoting them and strong-arming them. For whatever reason, they don’t get there, and I genuinely don’t understand it." Neither do the citizens of those countries and that is reflected in the unpopularity of their governments.  The Germans are unlikely to change their position - it almost seems as if it's in their DNA. But Angela Merkel has been seriously weakened at home over her immigration stance and if she does not stand for re-election or runs again and loses, perhaps their is a sliver of a chance for a more sane policy from the new government. On the other hand, the rise of the right wing in both Germany and France may allow for even less room for the Southern European countries to maneuver and the resulting economic fight may spell even more trouble for the embattled European project.

GOP Will Pivot To Stopping Hillary From Destroying The Country

With Paul Ryan's announcement to his Republican House caucus that he will be focusing on protecting his House majority and the Trump campaign can be damned, I'm pretty sure the GOP will spend the remaining month until the election talking about how they are the only thing standing in the way of Hillary Clinton doing unspeakable things to this country. The gutlessness of Ryan is pretty pathetic because, although he won't campaign for Trump, he still endorses him. This is the best attempt he could make to keep his party's rancid base from deserting the party while still appearing to distance himself from Trump. And that will be the GOP playbook going forward - doing everything in their power not to piss off the core of the party that supports Trump while playing to the moderates, especially women, that they need to actually win re-election. So expect to hear a lot about stopping Hillary from packing the Supreme Court, moving the country to a single-payer health plan, and letting immigrants and terrorists flood into our country. Polls are now showing double-digit leads for Hillary and panic has set in all down the ballot. Being a buffer against the evils of Hillary can appeal to the base without explicitly dumping Trump. It's really all they have left at this point.

Thoughts On Debate #2

Donald Trump had a better debate last night than he did in the first but that was one of the lowest bars to cross. It will certainly fire up his base but it will hardly matter - they were never going to desert Trump anyway. He did virtually nothing to convince anyone else to vote for him. And the fact checkers will have a field day with some of his comments. Especially damaging was his virtual admission that he paid no federal taxes and his seeming to be proud of it; his brushing off the Access Hollywood tape as just "locker room talk" and refusing to show any contrition; and his incredible statement that if he won he would get his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor and throw Hillary in jail. Apparently, Trump is not aware of how our Constitution actually works and his statement is more reflective of a banana republic rather than the United States. Trump's visceral anger was clear in his body language throughout the debate as was his hatred for Hillary. And his leering over Hillary's shoulder when she answered questions just added to the impression he is a sexual abuser. His direct accusations that Bill Clinton was a rapist probably didn't help him much either and his foreign policy answers were a disaster, especially when he basically recommended allying ourselves with Russia, Iran, and Syria to defeat ISIS. This was only minutes after declaring Iran the greatest terror state ever.

As far as Hillary is concerned, she apparently decided to take the Presidential route staying calm and focusing on the issues rather than spending inordinate amount of time rebutting Trump's accusations. She was happy to let Trump ramble on with his answers and throw out all sorts of accusations and her two responses were that what he said wasn't true or to go to her website for a fact check and then she would pivot to the issues she wanted to talk about. And it also allowed her drive home the point that Trump was not fit to be President. That seemed to be her unspoken theme of the night - just look at this guy, he is clearly not Presidential material but I am. And her spoken them was about needing to bring all Americans together to be a stronger country.

As I said in the live-blog of the debate, I doubt this will change the trajectory of the election at all. In fact, it is possible that the debate did even more damage to Trump when the fact checkers get through with him and the 30 second ads start coming out. Initial polls show that Hillary won the debate though by a much smaller margin than the first. But Trump's better-than-expected performance that probably solidified his base makes it even more difficult for those Republicans in tight re-election races to decide whether to repudiate Trump or not. And it is impossible to know whether there is more dirt to come out on Trump or when he will go on another self-destructive tweetstorm. The polls for Trump and Republicans are in free-fall and there was probably nothing in this debate that changed that dynamic.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Live Blogging Debate #2

To get us primed for the debate tonight, at a press conference earlier today Donald Trump trotted out four women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault in the past, pretty much laying the groundwork for what we might expect tonight...

No handshake as they walk out. First question concerns whether the language in the debates is setting a good role model for children. Hillary answers by talking about coming together to make a better America. Trump agrees and then talks about the economy, Obamacare, the Iran deal, trade, law and order. He still has that sniffing problem. He wants to make America great again.

Next question is about the tape from Friday and whether Trump understands that this was sexual assault. He says it was just locker room talk but that he will take care of ISIS. The follow up asks whether he has ever done the things he describes in the tape. He denies it and goes back to taking on ISIS. Hillary responds by saying that Trump is not fit to be President. She relates all his aggressions against women during the campaign, as well as his verbal assaults against immigrants and Latinos and others. Hillary goes back to bringing people together to build a better country. Trump responds that Hillary is all talk and no results. Third question is that Trump says the campaign has changed him so when did that change occur. Trump again goes to the fact that it was just words. And now he goes for Bill Clinton for his deeds as opposed to Trump's words. He recites all the accusations against Bill. Hillary responds by quoting Michelle Obama that "when they go low, we go high". She says Trump never apologizes - for what he said to women, the Khans, the racist birther lie. Trump says Hillary's campaign started the birther lie and that she should apologize for the 33,000 emails. Trump will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary if he wins. Hillary responds that everything Trump just said was a lie. Hillary says that a person with a temperament like Trump should not be in charge of the law. Trump responds, "that's because you'd be in jail".

9:26 - question is about the email server. Hillary says she takes responsibility for the decision to use private server. She points to being exonerated by the FBI and that no classified material got into the wrong hands. Trump goes back to the deletion of her emails. Hillary tries to respond but Trump keeps on interrupting her. Trump then goes after Anderson Cooper for not asking about the emails. Net question is about the rising cost of Obamacare. Hillary says she will work to fix those problems. Says Trump will repeal it, but she points out all the benefits, especially the fact that 20 million Americans will lose coverage. Trump says Obamacare is a disaster and he will repeal it and replace it with something and that Hillary wants to go to single-payer. Next question is about Bill Clinton call Obamacare " a crazy system". Hillary repeats her prior answer. Trump's answer for Obamacare is basically that we need to get competition across state lines and block grants to states for Medicaid.

9:38 - Question re Islamophobia. Trump says Islamophobia is terrible but Muslims need to report what they see and we need to say "radical Islamic terrorists".  Hillary says Muslims are part of the American fabric and we need to make them feel part of America say they can also be our eyes and ears; Trump's words only feed into ISIS propaganda. Next question was about Trump's Muslim ban. Trump says the Muslim ban has morphed into extreme vetting.  Hillary is asked why she supports letting more Syrian refugees into the country. She responds the millions are suffering and it is the nature of America to be compassionate. She won't let dangerous people into the country. Goes back to Trump's words being propaganda for ISIS. Trump denies he wanted to go into Iraq. He then goes after the moderators for allowing Hillary to go over her answer by 25 seconds and launches into an attack on Hillary's bad judgement.

9:48 - Question about the WikiLeaks that showed Hillary saying that politicians need to have a public and private position. She responds that it was part of a class on Lincoln trying to work with a recalcitrant Congress. She then turns on Wikileaks working with the Russians to interfere in the election; goes after Trump's Russian connections and his not releasing his taxes. Trump responds Lincoln never lied but Hillary does; we don't know whether Russia hacked this stuff; goes back to the answer that when the audit is done he will release his taxes.

9:53 - Question about what to do to make sure rich pay their fair share. Trump will get rid of carried interest and will lower taxes for corporations; cutting taxes for the middle class "big league". Trump says Hillary will raise taxes. Hillary says Trump's plan will make the wealthy richer and raise taxes on the middle class; she will not raise taxes on incomes below $250,000; will raise taxes for those over $500,000 and a millionaires surcharge as well. Trump is asked about whether he paid federal income tax. He avoids the question and says he was just taking a deduction that everyone else takes; then launches into Clinton's bad judgement that Clinton hasn't done anything in 30 years. Hillary responds listing her accomplishments over the years regarding children, health, women; 400 pieces of legislation have her name on it; she recognized you need to work with others to get things done in Washington and her record shows she has done that and will do it.

10:03 - Question re crisis in Syria and Aleppo. Clinton goes after Russia on Syria, saying they want to keep Assad in power; Russia wants Trump to win but she will stand up to Putin and Russia. Trump talks about Obama's line in the sand and says Hillary was responsible. Hillary responds she was not Secretary of State then. Trump goes into our weak nuclear arsenal; goes after Hillary about after Iran deal; goes on rant that Russia and Iran are killing ISIS. Question re Pence's comment that we need to go after Russia and set up safe zones in Syria. Trump says he doesn't agree with Pence; that Aleppo is already lost; wants to know why we don't have a sneak attack on Mosul as opposed to announcing we are going to attack. Hillary is asked about using American forces in Syria. Hillary does not want to put boots on the ground and wants to specifically target the ISIS leader as well as arming the Kurds.

10:13 - Trump complains that the moderators at biased by letting Hillary run over on her answer. Question is whether they can lead all Americans. Trump goes into economy, NAFTA, and Hillary's lie about TPP; he talks about the disaster for blacks and Hispanics; Hillary will get nothing done. Hillary answers by talking about her record working for children and families; will make sure that every American feels they have a place in her America; talks about how Trump's rhetoric is coarsening our Republic. Follow up on her statement on "deplorables". Hillary answers that her issue is really with Trump. Trump talks about a divide nation because Hillary has tremendous hate in her heart.

10:21 - Question re Trump once said discipline was important to be a leader so how does he explain his comments about Alicia Machado. Trump goes off on Benghazi and tweeting is an effective form of communication. Hillary responds that Trump does not have the discipline to be a leader. Trump starts talking about 1929. Question re Supreme Court. Hillary talks about the importance of "real-life" experiences for Supreme Court justices; Citizens United; voting rights; and women's right to choose; calls out the Senate for not doing their job. Trump talks about appointing another Justice Scalia and the respect for the Constitution and the Second Amendment; Trump is claiming he is still self-funding and calls out Clinton for not self-funding her own campaign. Hillary tries to talk about background checks and closing the gun show loophole.

Last question re energy policy. Trump says EPA is killing our energy companies; he's for wind and solar and clean coal; he will bring energy companies back and they will pay off our national debt. Hillary claims China is dumping steel in the US and Trump uses that steel in his buildings; says we are now energy independent and must remain so; need to fight climate change by moving toward renewable as quickly as possible; talks about her plan to revitalize coal country. One last question is for the candidates to name one positive thing to say about the other. Hillary says she respects Trump's children; that the reason the election is so combative is because the staked are so high. Trump says Hillary's statement about his kids was a compliment and that Hillary is a fighter and doesn't quit.

And we're done. The candidates shake hands.

Hard to read this debate a Trump is so scattered in all his responses while Hillary was pretty wonky. Obviously, probably a better debate for Trump as he did get in his points to attack Hillary but whether that countered his basic admission that he hasn't paid federal income tax. Basically, this was a rehash of everything we've heard before so I doubt it will change much. Will come back with more thoughts tomorrow.

State Of The Election As We Head Into Tonight's Debate

The second Presidential debate will be held tonight in St. Louis tonight at 9pm and I will attempt to live blog it.  Usually, the first Presidential debate has the largest audience but I'm not sure that will be the case this year. I'm guessing more people will be tuning in tonight for the same reason that people who are not auto racing fans tune into the last 25 laps of the NASCAR race at Talladega - to see the big wreck. Trump will have to defend his outrageous comments about essentially sexually assaulting women that came to light last Friday. But he will also be on the attack not only against Hillary Clinton by bringing up Bill Clinton's philandering past but also against the Republican establishment, especially those who have deserted him over the last two days.

It has been the wildest couple of days that I can remember in Presidential politics. After Trump's comments became public, a flood of Republicans began to abandon him and the list continues to grow. There were some incredible rumors going around yesterday with lots of speculation that the GOP establishment was desperately trying to find a way to drive Trump off the ticket because he was clearly not going to go willingly. At one point, Mike Pence's schedule dropped off the Trump website and the rumor was that Pence was withdrawing as VP in an effort to put pressure on Trump to do the same. But later in the afternoon, a new schedule for Pence showed up on the Trump campaign site, showing that he would be in North Carolina on Monday. And Pence apparently spoke to a group of donors last night and focused on the GOP economic policies while trying to ignore Trump's comments. My guess is that Pence will simply begin his futile run for the 2020 nomination by traveling the country to support GOP candidates in tough races. That would provide at least one reason for his trip to North Carolina tomorrow, although that is still a swing state. But if he goes to New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and, especially, Missouri, that will be a signal that he is not answering to Trump but doing his best to help Republicans keep the Senate.

The question for everyone in the Republican party is what position they should take with regard to Trump. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has already decided to stop monetary support for Trump as the party goes into full panic mode simply to protect their majorities in the Senate and the House.  Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who has been especially silent, put out statements condemning Trump's comments but are still nominally supporting him. The question about how to react to Trump is especially difficult for Republicans in tough re-election races. Kelly Ayotte announced she would not be voting for Trump, but she has been hurt badly by calling Trump a role model for children in a debate earlier this week. Joe Heck in Nevada followed Ayotte by also announcing he would not be voting for Trump. Richard Burr in North Carolina desperately tried to hedge his bets by saying that he wanted to wait and see what Trump's "level of contrition" would be over the next few days. And Roy Blunt in Missouri accepted Trump's apology and will still continue to support him. The problem for these Senators and for the GOP establishment is they really don't know how the base of the party will react when they abandon Trump. But the indications are that the core Trump supporters are not taking it well. Paul Ryan and Joe Heck were both heckled and booed at rallies by Trump supporters. It was interesting that Burr and Blunt's comments came later in the afternoon after those reports of heckling had come out.

The fear for the GOP is that Trump will turn his supporters against any of those candidates that repudiate him. And that fear appears to be well-founded as Trump is already sending tweets accusing Republicans of caring more about their jobs than supporting him in making America great again:

There is a core of support for Trump that consists of somewhere around 30% of the voters who will never give up on Trump, no matter what he does or says. These represent what in my younger days were known as George Wallace wing of the electorate. It comprises white nationalism and anti-immigration along with a strain of economic populism. Ross Perot, although he was more economically oriented, tapped into that. But for the most part, this group has been loyal Republican voters since Reagan. But GOP policies have failed them and they see that their own situations have gotten worse while the 1% have only gotten richer. On the other hand, they can't bear to vote for a Democrat which is why they really don't care if Trump goes to Washington and blows everything up.

Initial polling on Saturday shows the three quarters of Trump supporters are still going to stick with him and actually are less likely to vote for a Republican candidate who repudiates him. This is the conundrum that faces all the Republican candidates in tight re-election races. For them, it is pick your poison - repudiate Trump and endure the wrath of some of your base or still support him and lose those moderate GOP voters, especially women, that you also need to win. Already, some recent polls are showing leads for Democrats Hassan in New Hampshire, Kander in Missouri, McGinty in Pennsylvania, and Ross in North Carolina.

For Democrats, they should be thanking their lucky stars that the Trump disclosures came out just now (unless, of course, the campaign had a hand in their release). Wikileaks just released a batch of emails and the transcripts of Hillary's private speeches and there is plenty of fodder in them for some potent attacks on Hillary. When talking to Wall Street, she says, "There’s nothing magic about regulations, too much is bad, too little is bad. How do you get to the golden key, how do we figure out what works? And the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry." I'm pretty sure that voters do NOT think we need more industry insiders in the regulatory apparatus. At a talk at the University of Connecticut, she states, "At the State Department we were attacked every hour, more than once an hour by incoming efforts to penetrate everything we had. And that was true across the U.S. government. And we knew it was going on when I would go to China, or I would go to Russia, we would leave all of our electronic equipment on the plane, with the batteries out, because this is a new frontier." Which kind of begs the question about why she maintained a private email server. But by far the most damaging was her vision for the future that she laid out in a speech to Banco Itau. She says, "My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere". You can believe that his statement will come up tonight, either from a questioner or from Trump himself.  And you can be sure that if Trump's Access Hollywood comments about his sexual exploits and assaults had not come to light, the press would be all over these statements, especially the comment on "open trade and open borders". And rather than Trump's campaign, we would be talking about how Hillary's is melting down.

I expect Trump to come out and attack everyone tonight. He will attack Hillary on her "open trade and open borders" and the economy and trade. He will attack her as complicit in Bill Clinton's affairs. He will attack the media. And he will even attack the Republican establishment, claiming that they don't really want to make America great again, they just want to keep their jobs. But regardless of what happens tonight, I really do think the Trump campaign is doomed. He was already significantly down in the polls and is likely to be even further behind after this weekend. He has just lost too much support among women and independents and there is just not enough time to turn that around. And for much of the electorate that is not nearly as addicted to politics as I am, the character of the candidates is essentially already baked in and they are not going to change their minds simply because of a policy issue. The real question is how much of the Republican party Trump will drag down with him. And that question will be asked long after this election as Republicans will have to explain why they stood where they did with regard to Trump. History will also be asking that question.

College Football Roundup - Rivalries

There were a couple of big rivalry games this weekend, one of which had playoff implications, as well as one other top ten matchup. Taking the games chronologically, Texas and Oklahoma played the traditional "Red River Shootout" which has apparently been renamed as the "Red River Showdown". I'm not sure if that's because the universities were worried that, with Texas' ridiculous open-carry laws, some fans might take the nickname seriously. More bizarrely, near the end of the game, the Fox sportscasters congratulated themselves on barely ever making the mistake of calling it the "Shootout" . It really takes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to allow the proliferation of more guns but worry about calling a football game a "Shootout". Anyway, the game was a typical Big 12 high-octane offense, no defense affair. The teams racked up over 1,100 yards in total offense as Oklahoma held on for a 45-40 win. Oklahoma kept on looking like it would run away with this game but Texas just kept on coming back, to their credit. Unfortunately for Texas coach Charlie Strong, that probably won't be good enough. Strong knew what he was getting into when he took over for Mack Brown, the man who had brought a national championship back to Texas. However, Mack basically left the cupboard empty for Strong - Texas just did not have players. Under Strong, the offense has improved considerably and they have some real game-breakers. But Strong was known as a defensive specialist and the defense continues to get torched. The boosters are restless nd it sure looks like Strong will be fired at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Oklahoma, despite only being 3-2, is undefeated in the conference.

Later in the afternoon, #9 Tennessee traveled to College Station to take on #8 Texas A&M and their 12th man. Texas A&M moved to the SEC a few years ago but in this game it looked more like Tennessee had moved to the Big 12 as the teams combined for over 1,250 total yards and 10 turnovers. As usual, Tennessee fell behind early and was trailing 28-7 early in the third quarter. And, as usual, they clawed their way back into the game as Texas A&M played it just a little too conservatively. The Volunteers scored 21 points in the 4th quarter, the last TD with just 41 seconds left to tie the game at 35. A&M, however, marched down the field and had a makeable 38 yard field goal to win the game as time ran out, but the kicker missed it badly to the left. After both teams came up just short of first downs in the first overtime, they both elected to kick field goals. A&M scored a TD on the opening possession of the second overtime to take the 45-38 lead. Josh Dobbs was then intercepted of Tennessee's fist play to seal the win for the Aggies.

The evening game matched #10 Miami against #23 Florida State in one of the great rivalries in college football. It's amazing how many of these games have come down to a last second kick that would determine the winner or the loser. And this game was no different. Miami dominated the first half but could not convert touchdowns, which only left them with a precarious 13-3 lead at halftime. Florida State took over in the second half, scoring two third quarter touchdowns on passes of 59 and 20 yards and then added a field goal with about 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter to complete a 17-0 run and take a 20-13 lead. But a long punt return set up Miami deep in Seminole territory with a couple of minutes to play. With 1:38 to play, a Brad Kaaya to Stacy Coley 11-yard touchdown pass looked like it would send the game to overtime. But Florida State's DeMarcus Walker burst through to block the extra point to give the Seminoles a thrilling 20-19 win.

In other games of note, Washington absolutely crushed Oregon 70-21, taking out their frustrations for what I believe was the prior seven years of losses. Washington looks head and shoulders above anyone else in the Pac-12 and will certainly be in the national championship playoffs if they can keep a clean sheet for the remainder of their schedule.

Finally, Navy upset #6 Houston 46-40 in the rain at Annapolis. How many times has Navy taken on a ranked opponent over the years and given them fits with their precision triple-option attack. So many times, they have come up just short. But this time, the Midshipmen intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown to take a lead they would never relinquish. Navy racked up 306 yards on the ground on 63 carries and dominated the time of possession by nearly a 10 minute margin. While the offense kept the high-powered Cougar offense off the field, the Navy defense did not give up the big play, forcing the Houston offense to methodically move the ball down the field. Eventually, Houston just ran out of time and with it went their chance to make the playoffs. It is a big win for Navy, marking the first win over a top-ten team since 1995.

Natural Weekends - Butterflies Are Free

There were still lots of butterflies at the Silver Sands park, searching for the last few flowers to nibble on.