Saturday, December 3, 2016

Natural Weekends - Progression Of Fall In Four Days - Part 3

A Congenital Liar Makes A Dangerous Diplomat

Trump's diplomatic faux-pas with Taiwan is either a tremendous blunder or an extreme provocation to China. The fact of the matter is no one has a clue which one it really is, which means China will be forced to assume the worst and interpret it in the most negative light possible. It is anyone's guess whether Trump initiated this conversation with Tsai Ying-wen, the President of Taiwan, to discuss the hotels he hoped to build there, whether this was purely a blunder by his transition team, whether an unwitting Trump was duped into it by John Bolton and other China hawks around him, or whether Trump has signed off on a strategy of confrontation with China. Take your pick of those four options.
Even more distressing is that Trump then lied about what actually happened, tweeting, "The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!". The Taiwanese insist that the call was arranged by the Trump transition team.

A similar thing happened on Trump's call to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif where, according to the Pakistani transcript of the call, Trump declared, "I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems." India was immediately outraged by Trump's effusive praise for Pakistan and Sharif on the call but the quoted sentence above played directly into their fears about the never-ending battle over Kashmir. And, just like China, India has interpreted Trump's comments as a change in US policy. The Trump campaign has refused to release transcripts of these calls with world leaders and there are valid reasons for not doing so. The summary release describing Trump's call with Sharif merely says that Trump and Sharif "had a productive conversation about how the United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future. President-elect Trump also noted that he is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship with Prime Minister Sharif." That anodyne description certainly is at odds with the Pakistani transcript and signals no policy shift at all.

This is the crux of the problem for foreign policy going forward. Trump's penchant for brazen lies will invariably create constant diplomatic chaos. Of course, there is the obvious problem that our allies will find it more difficult to work with us because they have no faith in Trump. You might remember the story from the campaign that Trump's lawyers always had to meet with him in pairs because of Trump's habit of lying or having issues with his memory of certain conversations. Any private conversation between Trump and a foreign leader will have the potential for "misinterpretation". And, when Trump denies what he said in those conversations, will whatever staff who may have been there to monitor the conversation be willing to stand up and accuse Trump of lying or backtracking? Further, there is nothing to stop foreign leaders from exploiting Trump's habit of lying. They could simply say that they spoke to Trump and he fully supported whatever policy that foreign leader was trying to implement. Is anyone in the international community going to believe Trump when he claims that he never said such a thing?

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted yesterday after the Taiwan debacle that "It’s probably time we get a Secretary of State nominee on board. Preferably w experience. Like, really really soon." That would certainly help. Even some Trump supporters are pleading for a sane voice like Mitt Romney for that post. Others seem to think we can rely on foreign governments to ignore what Trumps says and simply focus on what US policy really is. That might be easier said than done and it puts a lot of faith in foreign leaders. In the end, Trump is still the President and his narcissism feeds on the fact that he can just pick up the phone and talk to all these foreign heads of state. He's not going to stop or let diplomatic niceties get in the way of his "management style". Having a competent Secretary of State can only hope to mitigate the problem.

Trump is not yet President and he has disrupted three important diplomatic relationships - with Cuba, India, and China. Don't expect things to get much better when he does become President.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Unemployment Report Has Warnings But Won't Stop Rate Hike

The latest employment report certainly looks good from the headline numbers but there are some disturbing elements in the details. Job growth for the month of November was 178,000, just a hair over the consensus of 170,000. Adjustments to the prior months of September and October nearly cancelled each other out but it is worth noting that October's number was revised down by 19,000. The headline unemployment rate plummeted to 4.6% which at first blush sounds fantastic. But the drop is driven by an incredible 446,000 people dropping out of the labor force, rather than abundance of people suddenly becoming employed. The employment population participation rate for 25 to 54 year olds dropped from 81.4% to 78.1%. In addition, seasonal retail hiring for the holiday season also appears to be sluggish, down nearly 80,000 from the same period last year, as well as there being a decline in hourly earnings after a few months of positive gains.

The report can really be used to confirm whatever biases you may have about the economy. Bill McBride considers it another solid report while Kevin Drum believes it to be disappointing. I'm pretty sure that a similar reaction might be felt at the Fed. But even with the warning signs in this report, I still believe that the Fed will hike interest rates later this month. There is simply not enough in this report to stop that from happening. However, there is still plenty of uncertainty in the global economy today, with the fragile state of Europe, a Trump Presidency, and a newly united OPEC that has agreed to cut production and the downside risks for the economy are still quite high. But the Fed will still go ahead and raise rates, but will be doing so with their fingers crossed that it won't be a repeat of the debacle from a year ago.

Remember, Picking Winners And Losers Is OK If Republicans Do It

I'm certainly not the first one to point this out, but it certainly bears repeating. If Obama had negotiated tax breaks for a specific company and then threatened other companies if they moved jobs overseas before he even assumed the Presidency, the press, the Republican party, and the business community would be going bats**t crazy. I can hear it now: "He has no respect for the Office of the Presidency". "He doesn't understand how business works". "He's insulting business and showing us no respect." "The government shouldn't be picking winners and losers". "This guy doesn't understand or believe in capitalism". I could go on. And let's just be clear. Apparently all Trump is threatening these other companies with is more tax breaks. All this just highlights American politics' first law: If Republicans do it, it's OK.

The EU Is In Imminent Danger Of Total Collapse

The European Union looks more and more likely to break apart and the results will be chaos. In Italy, current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his government on a referendum to streamline the country's political and electoral system by restricting the size and power of the current Italian Senate. Renzi has been battling to get Europe to engage in some expansionary fiscal policy to no avail and now the electorate has started to turn against him. The main opposition is coming from the Five Star Movement led by former comedian Beppe Grillo whose platform is focused on law and order, economic populism, and social liberalism. High unemployment among the young is fueling this opposition, as it has in France. For the young and those supporting the Five Star Movement, the European Union is simply not working and if they take power from Renzi, we may see Italy make the next move to leave the EU.

The danger in Italy is that Italian banks are still in woefully bad shape while still being major players in Europe. Already, a number of medium sized banks have collapsed or are on the verge of doing so. A collapse of the Italian banking system could set off a whole new wave of contagion that could spread throughout Europe. Even in Germany, the Union's strongest economy, there have been rumblings about the strength of Deutsche Bank.

In France, President Francois Hollande has decided not to seek re-election, much to the relief of the rank and file of the Socialist party. That most likely opens the door for Manuel Valls to become the Socialist's candidate in next year's elections, although no one expects the Socialists to survive the first round of voting simply because the left has splintered and is essentially running four different candidates. The chances that Valls can unite the left is slim as he does not seem to believe in increased government spending or even the 35 hour work week.

If Marine Le Pen wins the election next year, you can be sure that France will also join the parade out of the EU. If the EU isn't already effectively dead by then, then an Angela Merkel loss to the AfD in Germany later next year will finally kill it. What comes afterward is anyone's guess, but it won't be pretty. I'm guessing that history will look back on the leaders of this time and wonder why in the world they desperately held the line on fiscal policy when all the economic lessons of the past have shown that governments need to pick up the slack in spending when the economy collapses, as it did during the Great Recession. That fateful decision could end up making Europe more unstable than at any time since World War II.

Trump, Truth, And A Day Of Despair

It is hard not to despair for the future on days like yesterday. The afternoon began with CNN host Alisyn Camerota becoming absolutely dumbstruck by the claims of Trump voters she had gathered for an interview. These voters claimed that illegals were allowed to vote in California and that at least 3 million of them had. In addition. President Obama told these illegals that they were allowed to vote and encouraged them to do so. When asked were they saw this news, the voters claimed it was all over the news. They had seen it on Facebook and you could even Google it. In fact, the voters seemed incredulous that the anchor did not know about these "facts". Despite Camerota's attempt to tell these voters that nothing of the sort happened, they were impervious to what she was saying. You rally have to watch the whole video to believe it.

That was followed by Trump supporter and surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes on the Diane Rehm show where she said this. "One thing that’s been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts. They’re not really facts. It’s kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts."

How are you supposed to have a reasonable political conversation with people like this. The things that they believe can be entirely made up of whole cloth and any presentation of evidence to the contrary is simply dismissed as not being relevant or factual. It is almost worse than trying to have a conversation with someone who doesn't speak the same language. I don't see how Democrats are ever going to reach voters like this because policy and even reality do not exist for them.

I had to go out for dinner and, when I returned, I turned on MSNBC to hear Trump claim at his rally in Cincinnati that he had won the election "in a landslide". I changed the channel. Of course, this latest Trump lie comes as Hillary Clinton's popular vote margin increased to over 2.5 million votes and nearly 2% more votes than Trump. In addition, the combined total of Trump's victory across the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania has shrunk to less than 80,000 votes. At the risk of infuriating all those Democrats who are also Hillary haters, I would just point out that if the all the people who voted for Jill Stein had instead voted for Hillary in those three states, she would be the President-elect today.

The day ended with a reader in Boston who gave me the heads-up on the event at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The event has been an annual gathering since 1972 where officials for both campaigns gather to have an intellectual discussion about what happened during the campaign. The reader was upset by the fact that there were no protests against the appearance of Kellyanne Conway. Back in our day, the Harvard campus would have been in turmoil over an appearance like that. In any case, the fireworks really happened inside the event when an emotional Clinton staffer Jennifer Palmieri challenged Kellyanne Conway and David Bossie, saying, "If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am glad to have lost. I would rather lose than win the way you guys did." This provided some insightful analysis from Conway, who responded, "No, you wouldn’t. No, you wouldn’t. That’s very clear to me. No, you wouldn’t. Respectfully." Bossie usefully added, "You guys are pathetic." Such is the level of debate from the Trump campaign.

But, actually, David and Kellyanne, I myself, and I think I can speak for virtually all Democrats when I say this, would totally agree with Palmieri. We would much rather lose than win by appealing to the virulent racists and white nationalists in this country. The proudest moment for the Democratic party was when LBJ threw the racists out of our party in the mid-1960s and stood up for the stated ideals this country was built on. And we have paid a price at the ballot box ever since then because of it. But the reason we have Medicare that has saved millions of Americans from an early death, the reason we have Social Security which has save millions from poverty, the reason African Americans can now vote, the reason they could say "I'm black and I'm proud", the reason lesbians and homosexuals could come out of the closet and be full participants in our nation, the reason women can build careers and contribute to our economy, the reason we elected a black President and a woman won more votes than 10 other Presidents and every other white man in history is because of the Democratic party. And the Republican party and its racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist supporters fought us every step of the way. Kellyanne and David, you will be remembered as little rich, and perhaps richer now, sycophants who helped enable an ignorant, racist, xenophobic, criminal, serial sexual predator and abuser who may end up destroying the democracy we have known for the last 240 years. That is now and forever will be your legacy.

I despair. Rant over.

Princess Cruise Lines Is The Latest Corporate Criminal

Princess Cruise Lines has been hit with a $40 million fine and seven felony convictions for deliberately polluting the waters off of England and attempting to cover up the crime. The company was convicted of dumping oily waste into the ocean in 2013 but further investigation showed that the practice had been going on since 2005. The practice only came to light because a whistleblower came forward. Engineers on board the cruise line installed a "magic pipe" that allowed untreated bilge water to bypass the ship's bilge water treatment system and flow directly into the ocean. When the whistleblower came forward with the allegations that this was occurring, the engineers ordered the "magic pipe" be removed and then ordered the crew to lie about its existence. Needless to say, the management of the cruise line blamed the "inexcusable actions of our employees who violated our policies and environmental law", rather than take any responsibility themselves.

The US Attorney who prosecuted the case said, "Today’s case should send a powerful message to other companies that the U.S. government will continue to enforce a zero tolerance policy for deliberate ocean dumping that endangers the countless animals, marine life and humans who rely on clean water to survive". The reality is more likely that companies will know even engaging in felonies that occurred continually for eight years and then lying about it will only get them a slap on the wrist. Carnival Cruise Lines, the parent company of Princess Cruise Lines, made over $1.7 billion last year. The $40 million fine, therefore, amounts to a little over 2% of profits for just one year. I'd like to see any individual get away with paying a measly little fine like that for seven felony convictions. As I keep on repeating, until corporate executives spend some real time in jail, corporate crime like this will continue as companies look at these pathetic fines as simply the cost of doing business.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trump Supporters Claim Millions Of Illegals Can Vote In California And Obama Told Them To

Hat tip to Kevin Drum for this. As he says, you simply have to watch this video right now. It is simply stunning. Trump voters argue with CNN host that California allows illegal immigrants to vote and that President Obama told illegals to go vote. They tell her she can look it up on Google and Facebook. You won't believe it till you see it.

This goes hand in hand with Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes who declared today, "There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts." These people certain prove that statement true - but I guess that's not a fact either.

Trump's Leaving His Business Merely A Maneuver To Avoid Emoluments Clause

Donald Trump's yuuuge announcement that he will be leaving his business got the requisite amount of positive press without providing any details of how he might actually do that. The best guess is that he will do what he said during the campaign and allow his children to run it. Of course, that will do nothing to prevent the massive conflicts of interest Trump will have as President because he already knows where all his current business interests are and he will be in constant contact with his children so that he will know whatever new investments come up. There is absolutely no way that he will ensure that his family will not be in control. What would Ivanka, Eric, Don Jr. do with themselves without Donald's toy to play with. And Trump himself probably could not live knowing that his company would not be there for him whenever he exits the White House.

But what was more fascinating about Trump's statement was that he clearly stated he was NOT interested in avoiding any conflicts of interest. Here is his tweeted statement in full: "I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses. Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!"

There are two important points to note in this statement. First, Trump claims that he is not bound by law from these conflicts of interest, saying he is "not mandated to do this under law". He is only doing this out of the kindness of his apparently non-existent heart. In fact, many Constitutional scholars believe that the Emoluments Clause does prevent Trump from benefitting from his overseas investments. My guess is that whatever he does to "remove" himself from his business is meant to put enough distance between himself and foreign investors to get around the Emoluments Clause. In fact, he reinforces this impression when he states that he feels "it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest". His own words belie the fact that he is not interested in making sure he does not have a conflict of interest. Rather, he is only interested in making it APPEAR that he does not have any conflict of interest. It will probably be just enough of an appearance to skirt the Emoluments Clause. As I keep on repeating, and as we saw with the Carrier deal, ignore what Trump says and focus on what he actually does.

A Counter-Factual To The Working Class Narrative Of The Election

The general consensus that the Democrats seem to have taken from the election debacle is the need to focus on the working class. While I don't necessarily disagree with that analysis, I also don't believe Democrats need to make a huge pivot. It is more a change of emphasis in the message they already have and a need to speak with one voice now that they are solely an opposition party.

But there are also some counter-factuals to that general consensus. Vox has an interesting look at various Democratic Senate candidates' results compared to Hillary Clinton.  The article points out the Senate Democratic candidates who specifically ran on an economic populist platform actually underperformed Hillary Clinton, while more "centrist" candidates outperformed her. They even put together a handy visual to illustrate the point they are trying to make.

The two candidates who outperformed Hillary the most were Jason Kander and Evan Bayh. Kander and Bayh both ran as moderates. Admittedly, Bayh had an enormous advantage in name recognition and exposure to the electorate as a former Indiana Senator. Kander was an outstanding candidate who focused his campaign on essentially "draining the swamp" of corruption in DC, a similar message to Trump. On the other hand, the three candidates who underperformed Hillary were Russ Feingold, Patrick Murphy, and Ted Strickland. Feingold and Strickland were running in two Midwestern battlegrounds, Wisconsin and Ohio respectively. And both candidates ran campaigns that emphasized economic populism. Feingold, especially, has long been known for his populism, opposing special interests and big money in politics. Strickland ran hard on opposing past trade deals, highlighting the fact that his opponent, Rob Portman, was George W. Bush's trade representative. Looking at the results this way certainly indicates that a greater focus on economic populism may not have been a winning strategy for Democrats.

While this analysis is useful, it is also important to not read too much into this. Each Senate election was unique unto itself. Strickland was painted as a failure early on in his campaign, primarily because he was governor during the Great Recession. And Bayh and Feingold especially may have suffered from the dreaded down-ballot Comey effect, where the Republican benefited from the belief that there needed to be a bulwark against a Clinton Presidency. (That may explain why Tammy Duckworth underperformed). But all three of those candidates were retreads who Democrats had run statewide before. Kander was a new face with a distinctive message. In the end, voters may have also felt that Trump's economic populism was preferable and it was worth giving him a free hand by supporting GOP candidates down ballot.

In any case, I still believe economic populism is the correct approach for Democrats. Fighting for the working class is what the Democratic party is all about. Democratic policies have helped and will help the working class. Obamacare has provided affordable health care to the working class. But Democrats betrayed the working class by abandoning the fight to save and expand unions. And they were unable to effectively implement policies that countered the negative effects of globalization and automation on American workers. The trade deals that Democrats implemented and agreed to were probably a net positive for America as a whole. The problem is that all the benefits went to the holders of capital, the 1%, and none were shared with the American worker. It is up to Democrats to come up with those policies and make it clear that the party stands with the American worker again. That will take new candidates with clear and concise policies to help the working class. Whether or not that will win close elections in battleground states is unclear. But it is clearly the right thing to do.

Foundation Self Dealing Is Latest Conservative Grift

The conservative organizations surrounding the Republican party have been known for grifting for decades. Examples are Glenn Beck's gold-buggery, the media outfits that sell their email lists to con artists and hucksters, and many more too numerous to mention. But this campaign has uncovered another conservative grift - the personal foundation that is set up primarily for self-dealing. The Trump Foundation has just admitted self-dealing to the IRS. But Trump is really playing that game for peanuts, taking a few tacky paintings and memorabilia for himself and occasionally paying his personal liabilities with Foundation money.

Steve Bannon, on the other hand, decided he would just take the cash. The non-profit Government Accountability Institute (GAI) set up by Bannon paid Bannon nearly $400,000 over four years while Bannon was also working as the head of Breitbart News. The GAI claimed Bannon worked 30 hours a week for the charity. In addition, GAI also paid two Breitbart News staffers around $1.3 million over the same four year period for 40 hours of work per week, in addition to their salary at Breitbart. When queried about this arrangement which presumably meant the staffers were working a minimum of 80 hours per week, the response was that they worked hard. GAI was the sponsor of the book Clinton Cash, a hit piece on Hillary and the Clinton Foundation, that both the NY Times and the Washington Post agreed to work with in order to explore story lines arising from the book. That probably accounts for the raft of Times' stories about the Clinton Foundation that left vague impressions of wrongdoing while actually producing no evidence to support and even evidence to refute that conclusion. Of course, the only Foundation that has admitted wrongdoing is the Trump Foundation and, based on the revelations about GAI, perhaps the Times and the Post should have been looking at that foundation as well.

Today we learn that Trump's appointment for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, used the OneWest Foundation to essentially astroturf support for the merger of OneWest and CIT. Mnuchin was the chairman of OneWest, the successor to the scandal-plagued IndyMac, when he set up the OneWest Foundation, which he also chaired, in 2009. Shortly afterward, OneWest proposed a merger with another financial giant, CIT. OneWest Foundation donated funds to other charities. Many of those charities wrote letters to the Federal Reserve in support of the merger and some also even spoke in support in public panels convened by the Fed to explore the merger. At least two of the charities have said they were approached by the OneWest Foundation to write a letter of support. The Fed eventually agree to the merger and cited the support of charities as a factor in their decision. Again, this is pretty much another clear example of self dealing. As one expert on non-profit law says, "It is not an appropriate use of charitable assets to benefit an affiliated business."

This foundation scam seems to be the latest area of grift for the conservative movement.  It's really hard to swallow how much ink was spent on innuendo against the Clinton Foundation which looks squeaky clean when compared to these foundations associated with the conservative movement and Trump himself. But, then again, the media is never concerned with white collar crime on the right.

Sanders Provides Correct Response To Trump's Carrier Deal

Trump's announcement of a "deal" with Carrier Corporation to keep "close to 1,000" jobs from moving to Mexica is surely a PR coup for the President-elect and the media, accordingly, has been somewhat fawning while exploring the lack of details on the incentives given. In reality, this is a pretty large failure for Trump when you actually look at the specifics that have been revealed.

First of all, some 1,300 jobs will still be going to Mexico under this deal and it appears that only 800 jobs at the Indiana factory will have actually been "saved". It is unclear whether that number of 800 includes 400 jobs that Carrier had already agreed would still stay in Indiana. So it is quite possible that Trump's "deal" really only saved 400 jobs. Now those jobs mean everything to those that have them and it is undoubtedly a good thing. In addition, it is also unclear whether the remaining employees will be asked to take a pay cut. The head of the union representing the Carrier workers is saying that he expects that to happen.

At least part of the incentive for Carrier to keep these jobs was $700,000 in tax breaks from the state of Indiana. Hopefully, someone from the press will ask Mike Pence why it took until now for the state to offer those incentives, if that would actually keep the jobs in Indiana. The more likely reality is that Trump gave Carrier's parent company, United Technologies (UTC), certain promises of roll backs of regulations and business taxes. UTC is a major federal contractor.

Bernie Sanders had the proper Democratic response to this announcement in an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post. Sanders points out that Trump is only saving some of the jobs in Indiana, not ALL of the jobs as he had promised. In addition, Sanders reiterates that we still don't know if the remaining employees will be subject to wage and benefit cuts. As many economists have pointed out, this kind of deal actually encourages companies to announce an offshoring of jobs and then hope to renegotiate a special deal with the Trump administration. That should make every worker in America fearful. But the most important point that Sanders makes is that Trump promised to institute some sort of levy to keep the jobs in Indiana. It was either going to be a tariff on goods coming from Mexico or some sort of tax on companies who outsource. But Trump has actually done the opposite by giving the company a tax break. UTC made billions in profits last year and pays its top executives in the tens of millions of dollars each year. But Trump gave them a tax break to save only a portion of the jobs in Indiana that he said he would. As Sanders says, "who would pay for the high cost for tax cuts that go to the richest businessmen in America? The working class of America." Sanders proposes what Trump would not do - an outsourcing tax equivalent to the company's savings by moving offshore, the clawback of tax breaks and incentives related to the jobs being moved, and making the company ineligible for federal contracts. Please read his entire editorial.

Now, Sanders' proposals will be attacked for a variety of reasons, primarily because they will described as economically unfeasible and will only raise the cost of goods for consumers. But let's be serious. Democrats are in opposition and the chances of any Democratic proposals becoming law are nil. Republicans have shown quite clearly that you can get away with a post-policy, post-truth agenda for years. More importantly, Sanders stance is a signal to the working class the Democrats really care about saving their jobs. And he makes the critical point that companies are actually being rewarded for threatening to offshore jobs, essentially rewarding bad behavior. That is the theme that Democrats must hammer home to the working class. Democrats will not reward bad behavior. Democrats will not reward companies who threaten to kill American jobs. At a visceral level, people will understand that moral stance of not rewarding bad behavior. And the working class will understand the Democrats are really interested in saving American jobs. I hope that the Democratic leadership will join Sanders in this stance because now, more than ever, Democrats need to speak with one voice.

And, finally, when the dust settles and we actually find out what kind of agreement Trump has really made with Carrier and UTC, the press will actually talk to those workers who ended up losing their jobs and those workers who kept their jobs but with probably reduced pay and find out whether or not they feel betrayed by Trump. I think we will find a stark difference between what Trump said in his announcement and what actually happened to those workers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Comment Of The Day

Comment of the day from Scott Lemieux over at the American Prospect in a discussion of the indefensible Electoral College:

"There is a certain dark irony to the fact that a system designed to prevent the people from choosing an unqualified demagogue has resulted in the election of an unqualified demagogue not chosen by the people."

Simply The Best? I'm Not So Sure

Trump continually promised he would be able to bring the "best" people to work for him. But so far his cabinet is shaping up to be an amalgam of career politicians and technocrats, Fox News contributors, and, most importantly, plutocrats. I'm pretty sure this was not the kind of shake-up the people who voted for him had in mind. The appointment of Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary will, I'm sure, put fear into the hearts of Wall Street as he will be sure to crack down on all the abuses in the financial industry. Just kidding. Besides his own checkered history, he is a second generation alumnus of Goldman Sachs. No, I don't mean he is a second generation American - his father was a Goldman Banker, too. I wonder if that helped him get the job...

In any case, Kevin Drum put together a handy little chart yesterday to show how much of Trump's cabinet is made up of career insiders, crazies, and plutocrats:

I guess we should also note that about half of these appointees have had little or no experience running large government organization. It's going to be a long four years.

An Existential Threat To Healthcare

I have tried to avoid speculating about what Trump will or will not try to do during his term as President, because it is almost impossible to know. Of course, I fear the worst and I take him at his word on most of the things he ran on during the campaign. But I don't think anyone has a clue what he really wants to do, except for reducing taxes on the rich and regulations on business. On everything else, it is impossible to know if Trump really wants follow through. That doesn't mean that the Republicans in Congress will not be pushing a hard right agenda that will include restricting voting rights and gutting the safety net that has been built since the presidency of FDR, in addition to joining Trump in cutting taxes on the rich and business regulations.

So, rather than obsessing about his latest irrational tweets or speculating about who he is going to appoint, I've been pushing people to focus on what he actually does.  But it is hard not to be worried by his appointment of Tom Price as Secretary for Health and Human Services and what that could actually mean for the healthcare of all Americans. In yesterday's NY Times in the Upshot section, there was an article that pointed out that both Clinton and Trump both decried the high out-of-pocket costs for many insured under Obamacare. Clinton proposed a tax credit of up to $5,000 per family or $2500 per individual for those whose out-of-pocket costs exceeded 5% of their income. This proposal was paid for by new taxes and fees. According to the article, "Mr. Trump offered no specific plans for reducing out-of-pocket spending". Instead, he simply proposed repealing Obamacare altogether but never provided any coherent plan about how those 20 million people who had received insurance would actually stay insured. Now, of course, it would have been nice if the Times and the rest of the mainstream media had spent an inordinate amount of time exposing the country to this particular problem that would effect millions of Americans. Instead, we got lots of stories about the Clinton Foundation and EMAILS!

Tom Price, however, does have a plan for reducing out-of-pocket costs and, to be crude, it relies on a strategy that making healthcare unaffordable will, by definition, reduce out-of-pocket costs. If you can't pay for it, you will forgo it. The details of Price's plan are as follows. Insurers will still be required to accept patients with prior medical conditions AS LONG AS THEY MAINTAIN CONTINUOUS COVERAGE. This, he hopes, will force younger, healthier people to buy insurance because they fear they would not be able to get it if something terrible were to happen. I'm pretty sure that is a huge misread of human nature, especially for those who do not have a lot of money to begin with. The second part of his plan is subsidies, just like Obamacare. The difference is his subsidies are based on age and they are truly pitiful amounts. Price's subsidies range between $100 for younger people and $250 for older ones. This comes nowhere near covering the cost of a real health insurance policy. However it will pay for a typical junk plan, which will actually increase out-of-pocket costs if the insured really has a health emergency. And as Drum points out, "Since Price offers credits based on age, it means that the well-off all get tax credits. Many of the poor, who can't afford insurance even with the tax credits, will go uninsured and therefore get nothing. In other words, his plan is basically a way of subsidizing the rich and screwing the poor." But it will certainly reduce the cost of healthcare that the federal government is now carrying.

Price has a similar approach to Medicare and it dovetails with Paul Ryan's plan. The idea is to force Medicare recipients into private healthcare plans and then provide subsidies, in this case vouchers, to help defray the cost of that insurance. Under Ryan's proposal and just like in Price's Obamacare plan, the vouchers will probably be woefully insufficient, especially when you consider what private insurance would charge an ailing elderly patient. And Ryan's plan specifically increases the voucher over time at a rate that is LESS than healthcare inflation in an attempt to reduce that rate of inflation. But all it will really mean is that the voucher will buy less and less coverage over time.

Both of these proposals will actually increase out-of-pocket expenses for most Americans. But that is by design. Republicans claim that health consumers having a greater "skin in the game" will reduce the rising cost of healthcare because they will be more particular about what procedures they use. This is, of course, ridiculous because most of us have no ability to decide whether a specific procedure is "worth" it or not. I believe that is why doctors go to medical school. And poorer patients will obviously forgo procedures that they truly need simply to save money or because they can not afford it.

Bending the cost-curve of healthcare may be the Republicans' stated reason for their plans. But the real reason is that these plans will vastly reduce the amount of money that the federal government will have to pay for healthcare. And all those saving can go into massive tax breaks for the rich and business without totally busting the budget.

As I said at the top, the Trump administration has not yet put forward any proposals on either Obamacare or Medicare, so we will have to wait and see what actually is proposed. But it is clear that Republicans in Congress are putting on a full court press to reduce the federal costs of healthcare by passing the costs onto the consumer. And all those federal dollars saved will go back to the rich in massive tax breaks. And, for Trump, the tax breaks are probably the only thing he really cares about. With Price's appointment, Trump seems willing to go along with Congress' plans.

From a personal point of view, I wonder what all those people who voted for Trump with the belief that he shouldn't be taken literally on some of his promises are thinking now. Like the woman in Florida who is on Obamacare now but qualifies for Medicare next year. What will she think when her core Medicare coverage isn't free. Or the thousands in Kentucky coal country who have been insured under Kynect. What will they think when the subsidies don't even cover a quarter of their monthly premium. As a person who currently relies on Obamacare and hopes to be able to move on to Medicare when I qualify, I know that it will be very hard for me to forgive any Trump voter when those benefits are stripped away.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wal-Mart Convicted Of Wage Theft, Again

Here is another item that people might have missed over the Thanksgiving holiday and this time it is actually good news for a few hundred workers. A federal jury in California has ruled that Wal-Mart intentionally failed to pay around 800 truck drivers the minimum wage for inspecting and washing the vehicles. In addition, Wal-Mart did not pay the drivers for layovers, claiming they were not working during those hours. The jury awarded the drivers $54 million in damages, which also opens up Wal-Mart to additional penalties. Of course, Wal-Mart will appeal the ruling.

Wage theft, especially from unpaid overtime, costs workers in this country billions of dollars in earnings. That is why the ruling from the Texas judge striking down the Labor Department's new rules on overtime is so devastating.  And this is yet another example of corporate criminal behavior which will largely go unpunished. I'm sure Wal-Mart just considers a fine like this the cost of doing business. It won't stop until the thieving executives at these serial-offending companies spend a little time in a real jail.

Trump Makes More Distressing Appointments As Media Obsesses About Tweets

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Trump's outrageous lies and tweets are often used to deflect media attention away from other, more important stories. So perhaps his tweet about the 3 million illegals who voted for Hillary was meant to deflect from his appointment of Donald McGahn as White House Counsel. McGahn is a rabid libertarian who previously served on the Federal Election Commission where he helped make that agency even more dysfunctional than it already is and loosened enforcement of campaign spending laws. In addition, he helped block the Commission's top lawyer from sharing information with federal prosecutors without the express approval from the Commission, something that was rarely forthcoming. His libertarian leanings probably mean he will not be that diligent in reining in some of Trump's wilder ideas, which is probably why he was chosen. In addition, Trump has also chosen KT McFarland as Deputy National Security Adviser. McFarland's national security experience came during the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan presidencies which should prepare her well for the threats of today. More recently she has been a contributor to Fox News. The biggest joke in the Washington Post story on her appointment is labelling support for McFarland as bipartisan, citing Joe Lieberman as the Democratic enthusiast. The Republican support came from Bud McFarlane who we last saw during the Iran-Contra scandal in the Reagan administration. You really have to laugh at that.

In addition, Trump also added to the area of his transition team that is focusing on the Treasury Department and the Fed. The lineup of four additions that were announced is impressive in a unique Trumpian way. One is a senior fellow a the Discovery Institute, which espouses the theory of "intelligent design". Another is a big believer in dynamic scoring. The third believes the Fed is politically biased and wants to return to the gold standard. The fourth supports trade sanctions against Cuba. Poor Janet Yellen must seriously be rethinking her announced intention to serve out her full term.

Update: This morning, the Trump team announced that Tom Price would be the nominee for HHS Secretary. Price is a big supporter of Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare, suggesting the Senate should ram that change through via reconciliation which would only take 50 votes. He is also a fierce critic of Obamacare. This is probably the worst of all possible choices.

We should also notice that Trump put out another crazy tweet this morning calling for jail time and/or loss of citizenship for those who burn the American flag. This is another classic Trump deflection from the extreme choice of Tom Price. Which issue do you think will consume the media...

Texas Reports Its First Locally Transmitted Zika Case

Texas just reported its first case of locally transmitted Zika virus. Cameron County, which includes the border city of Brownsville, reported the case. This adds to the nearly 240 cases that have been reported in Florida, 170 of which involved pregnant women. The case in Brownsville did involve a woman but she was not pregnant. It is pretty apparent that Zika will soon spread all along the Gulf Coast, endangering the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of pregnant women. And we all should remember that the Republican Congress spent all summer refusing to provide any emergency funds to fight the virus, leaving the states to largely on their own to deal with the problem, until they finally agreed to help in the fall budget deal. Under a Republican Congress and a Trump administration, I would expect that the states will have to continue to deal with the virus without much help from the federal government - unless there is an outbreak near Mar-a-Lago.

Trump's Conflicts Of Interest Will Be Continual But, As President, He Will Violate One Contract

The Trump presidency will be a constant conflict of interest, especially with his myriad of overseas "investments", more properly called licensing deals. But it is especially galling to think that taxpayers will actually be paying Trump in order to protect him. Trump has already announced that Melania and Barron will be staying in New York until the school year ends. Trump has also said that he will be returning to Trump Tower frequently during his term. With that in mind, the Secret Service is looking to rent a couple of floors in Trump Tower in order to protect Trump and his family. The price tag for such a rental could come to $3 million per year. In essence, the Secret Service would be paying Trump in order to provide the protection he needs. As the article says, Trump could be absolutely correct in saying he "could become the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it", as he did all the way back in 2000.

On the other hand, someone in the federal or Washington DC government was on the ball when they leased the Post Office which is now the home to another deluxe Trump hotel. Apparently, the lease was written so that no elected official could benefit from the lease. Specifically the lease says, "No ... elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom". On January 20th, Donald Trump will be in violation of this lease. It will be interesting to see what unique theory Trump and his lawyers come up with in order to escape this particular clause in the contract.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fillon To Face Le Pen In Upcoming French Presidential Election

As expected, Francois Fillon won the runoff election in France to become the candidate of the center-right in the presidential elections next year. Fillon's main opposition in that election will come from Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right, xenophobic National Front party. Fillon will run a campaign that mirrors the National Front on the issues of immigration and Islam but also promises to cut half a million public sector jobs and cut the budget by over $100 billion. In addition, he wants to get rid of the 35 hour work week, raise the retirement age, and cut taxes on businesses and the rich. He is also, like Trump, an admirer of Putin and promises an alliance with Russia to crush radical Islam. Le Pen, on the other hand, has promised to safeguard France's robust safety net and protect government spending. Nothing in Fillon's economic proposals actually addresses job creation or any kind of investment in the future, both of which France desperately needs. The usual advocates of that kind of economic view would be the Socialists but Francois Hollande has seemingly permanently damaged the brand. It seems inevitable that the Socialists will have to throw him overboard, perhaps for Manuel Valls or even bring back Segolene Royal. But no one believes the Socialists will survive the initial round of voting. Right now, polls show a tight race between Fillon and Le Pen. But with Le Pen able to almost run from the left on the economy while at the same time having no space between herself and Fillon on the policy issues that brought the National Front to prominence, immigration and Islam, it is not difficult to foresee a Le Pen victory. In many ways, she will be running a similar campaign as Trump, espousing xenophobia while promising to protect French workers. It has already been shown to be a winning formula.

Forget Trump's Provocations, Focus On What He Actually Does

Yesterday's news was dominated by Kellyanne Conway's statement that the appointment of Mitt Romney as Secretary of State would be a betrayal of Trump voters. That was followed by Trump's rant against the Jill Stein recount and his outrageous lie that he would have won the popular vote except for those three million illegals who voted for Clinton. This is typical Trump. He is a narcissistic and abusive bully who knows how to play the media like a fiddle. Besides feeding his insatiable ego, Trump's outrageous and inexcusable statements are often used to deflect the media from other issues, something he successfully and continually did during the campaign.

Last week, Beppe Severgnini, an Italian journalist, was on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC discussing the similarities between Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi. One important point that he made was that the behavior is sometimes so inappropriate that our own modesty, for lack of a better word, forces us to downplay the abusive behavior and his perfect example of that was the difficulty the media had with Trump's "pussy" comment. It is important that we not allow that to happen. An equally important point he made was that the opposition in Italy continually overreacted to what Berlusconi said or his inexcusable, inappropriate behavior. And because of that, not only did people somewhat sympathize with Berlusconi but, because of their obsession with Berlusconi, the opposition never put together a proper policy alternative with which to confront him. His advice was to not to focus on what Trump says, although it will be important to point out his continual lies, but rather keep your eye on exactly what he does.

The media will of course be the most obsessive about Trump's provocations. And, like yesterday, it will be key for all of us to force them to provide the proper context. Initial media reports were virtually stenographic saying that "Trump claims millions voted illegally". After outrage from the blogosphere, today's headlines at least state that Trump's claims were false or baseless, although they somehow could not bring themselves to use the appropriate word, "lie". More likely, all this weekend was diversion from the Stein recount or some overseas deal that Trump made that has only showed up in the overseas press somewhere.

But, as Severignini said, it is important for Democrats not to get caught up in every Trump provocation and focus on what Trump actually does. The appointments of Bannon, Sessions, and Flynn are far more important than ranting about Conway's diss of Mitt Romney. The fact that Betsy Devos is Secretary of Education, a woman whose polices have failed students in Detroit, Louisiana, and Ohio, is far more important than Trump's lies about the popular vote.

Bernie Sanders tried to do this on a related subject on CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday when he finally had enough of Dana Bash continually pressing him on the Stein recount. Having already stated that Stein was entirely within her rights to demand the recount, Bernie eventually exclaimed, "Dana, this is exactly the issue. Nobody cares!" And he's right. What we should care about is what Trump does and will do. There have been plenty of rules about how to deal with life under Trump, but doing our best to not overreact to what he says and focus on the terrible things he does and will do is far more important.

It Will Be A Small Scandal That Will Be Trump's Undoing

The daily outrages from Donald Trump make it so easy for so many things to slide under the radar. And with the holiday week last week, I just want to highlight a few things that might have been missed as people prepared and enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday.

Megyn Kelly, in her just-released book, accused the Trump campaign of trying to bribe her with offers a free stays at his hotels including free trips to his Mar-a-Lago complex in Florida. More importantly, Kelly alleges that Trump tried to bribe other reporters as well in order to influence coverage. She claims that some reporters were "clearly in the tank" for Trump and that certain TV hosts actually coordinated mild criticisms of Trump with Trump himself so they could protect themselves from claims of bias. Kelly did not name names but it seems to have been a pretty open secret in the media world about just who these people might have been, But I have yet to see any media organization launch an internal investigation to discover if any of their employees might have been involved. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that "With All Due Respect", hosted by Mark Halperin who even Joe Scarborough claimed was clearly pro-Trump, got canceled in the wake of the election. And it's not like Scarborough himself did not endlessly promote Trump especially in the primaries. Now, I doubt we are going to see any serious self-analysis by the media but this is surely an area where intrepid reporters from outside the mainstream media might find worth looking at.

Next, the Trump Foundation admitted in its latest IRS filings to self-dealing. The admission covers 2015 and the filing indicates that the self-dealing occurred in prior years as well. The Foundation admitted to transferring "income or assets to a disqualified person". In this instance, a disqualified person would either mean Trump himself or a member of his family. The filing provided no details on what was involved in the admitted self-dealing, although it probably related to the extensive investigation and revelations of Washington Post reporter David Farenthold. According to the Washington Post, "[s]uch violations can carry penalties including excise taxes, and the charity leaders can be required to repay money that the charity spent on their behalf." It will be interesting to see how this admission effects NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's ongoing investigation of the Trump Foundation, especially as Trump himself signed off on the now admittedly false IRS filings in prior years.

Finally, we should not forget some of the campaign finance scandals that also surround the Trump campaign. The Democratic Coalition Against Trump filed a complaint with the FBI accusing the Super Pac Make America Number 1 of illegally coordinating with the Trump campaign by paying Steve Bannon's salary when he was working as Trump's campaign CEO.  This followed on an earlier complaint by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) to the FEC accusing the same PAC of illegally coordinating with the Trump campaign by making payments to both Bannon and Kellyanne Conway while they were members of Trump's team. Kellyanne Conway was formerly the president of that same Make America Number 1 Super PAC before she joined the Trump campaign. The CLC also accused the PAC Rebuilding America Now of illegally coordinating with the Trump campaign by hiring two Trump campaign staffers within the 120 day limit prescribed by law. A PAC hiring campaign staff within 120 days is considered to be illegally coordinating with a campaign. It should also be noted that CLC also filed a similar claim of coordination against Correct The Record, a Super PAC that supported Clinton. In that case, the PAC does not necessarily dispute the facts that the CLC presents but says what they are doing is legal based on a prior FEC ruling. It is also another indication of the failure of the media in this election that a Google search of "campaign legal center accuses PAC of illegal coordination with campaign" returns with articles only associated with the complaint against Clinton and not the one about Trump, despite both complaints being filed on the same day.

Lastly, an undercover investigation by the British newspaper the Telegraph showed the co-chairman of the Great America PAC discussing with a reporter who was posing as a representative of a Chinese national about how he could donate $2 million to the Trump campaign. The PAC was supported by Rudy Giuliani and Trump's son Eric. Political donations by foreign nationals are clearly illegal. The co-chairman discussed the ability to use a 501(c)4 in order to disguise the donation while assuring the "donor" that he would make sure he would "credit" for the donation from Trump. In essence, the donor would give to a 501(c)4 which would then pass the donation on the PAC. Read the whole story as it even more sordid and intricate than the basics I have covered here. It should also be noted that the Telegraph approached PACs backing Clinton and were consistently rebuffed.

None of the above scandals are earth shattering. But that will be the pattern throughout the Trump administration. It will be a continual barrage of small scandals and corruption. But it is important that, like Trump himself, the situation does not become normalized. I don't expect the mainstream media to investigate itself to find out which of their reporters are in the tank for Trump. Nor do I expect the FBI or FEC to follow up on these complaints. What I do expect is that independent media should and will pursue these investigations vigorously. It is no coincidence that it was a UK paper that uncovered the willingness of the Trump-supporting PAC to essentially accept foreign money. In addition, Democrats will need to press those agencies responsible for these investigations to actually do their job. That may take inordinate courage from certain individuals within those agencies but we have seen that strength of character many times in the past. And it will be necessary because it will probably not be a big scandal that brings Trump down. A usual, it will be a relatively small issue that suddenly gets blown out of all proportion. In a Trump administration, there will be plenty of opportunities for that to happen.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

More Corporate Crime, This Time In The Time Share Industry

The NY Times has an article today outlining the four year fight of a whistleblower against Wyndham Vacation Ownership, finally resulting in a $20 million award against the company. Needless to say, the company immediately announced its intention to appeal. Patricia Williams was a seasoned worker in the time-share industry, having worked in it for over a decade. In 2010, she was fired when she complained about unethical sales tactics at a time-share in San Francisco. Sales tactics at the property included opening unauthorized credit card accounts without buyers' knowledge and flat-out lying to prospective buyers that Wyndham would buy the property back if, at some point, the buyers needed or wished to sell. Another sales representatives testified that the sales goals assigned by the company were virtually impossible to meet and pressured sales agents engaged in "TAFT days" which stood for "tell them any frigging thing". When customers complained, the sales rep would dispute those claims and the case would get filed as unsubstantiated. A senior sales executive testified that he saw tens of thousands of customer complaints in his time at the firm, so it was pretty clear that senior executives had to know what was going on or were willfully blind to it.  It sounds remarkably like what was also occurring at Wells Fargo at the same time.

Williams, of course, was fired for reporting these abuses through the process that most companies have to encourage whistleblowers to report abuses. But, like most of those processes, there is no promise of anonymity, despite what employees might be told. Williams was let go for essentially not being a team player. Williams then sued the company and even offered to settle if the company changes its sales policies, recording all sales encounters and providing a simplified form that described the contracts buyers were agreeing to sign. The company refused. As the case went on, Williams was essentially blackballed from the industry and found work difficult to come by. Finally, six years after being terminated and four years after she brought her suit, Williams won the $20 million judgement for lost earnings and damages. My expectation is that the amount will be substantially reduced on appeal.

It shouldn't take six years out of a person's life to stop such egregious and unethical behavior by a company. More importantly, is their any regulation of this kind of company and, if so, where are the regulators. I don't believe that the CFPB has jurisdiction on this, but it will hardly matter as Trump and the Republicans gut that agency and reduce regulation across the board. I'm pretty sure that Wyndham looks at this lawsuit as merely the cost of doing business. In fact, during the case, they settled with other employees who had initially joined Williams in the suit. As I've said time and time again, the only way this kind of illegal and unethical activity will stop is when senior executives actually end up in jail for the criminality they oversee. It is well past time that happened.

College Football Roundup - Is The Big 10 Vastly Overrated Again

The big game of the week was, of course, the traditional Ohio State-Michigan showdown which actually meant something this year as the teams were ranked #2 and #3 respectively. Ohio State pulled that game out 30-27 in double overtime. Maybe these teams have two of the best defenses, or at least defensive lines, in the country, but it was hard not to notice how poor their offenses really are. J.T. Barrett looked like a deer in the headlights virtually every time he had to go back to pass. Wilton Speight had three brutal turnovers as the Michigan quarterback which essentially cost the Wolverines the game. Of course, when Speight wasn't throwing interceptions or fumbling, he was making the Ohio State defensive backfield look more like a Big 12 team as receivers were wide open for much of the game. Ohio State has scored just 17 points in regulation in its last two games. Michigan, admittedly playing without Speight, has scored just 13, 20, and 17 regulation points in its last three. Hardly the kind of offensive output that will win the national championship.

For some reason, many people think Ohio State has had a tough schedule but it looks like their biggest wins were against Michigan and Oklahoma, hardly a win to brag about. On the other hand, Michigan has significant wins over Colorado, Wisconsin, and Penn State. So three of the five biggest wins for Ohio State and Michigan are actually other Big 10 teams. And the other two are against teams for the two conferences deemed the weakest, the Pac12 and the Big 12. If you don't think the Big 10 might be overrated, that should be a little disconcerting. Of course, neither Ohio State nor Michigan will even be in the Big 10 championship game. That game will be between Wisconsin and Penn State. A quick review of their schedules shows Penn State with its only significant win being over Ohio State while the best Wisconsin show is just two close losses to Ohio State and Michigan.

In last week's rankings, the bowl committee had Ohio State at #2, Michigan at #3, Wisconsin at #6, and Penn State at #7. Clemson was #4 and Washington came in at #5. Assuming that Clemson and Washington win their games next week, it is hard to see how Michigan can get into the playoff. And it is also hard to see how Wisconsin and/or Penn State can move up in front of Washington and get into the playoff, despite the weakness in the PAC 12 and Washington's weak schedule. And Ohio State will be in, despite not even playing in their conference's championship game.

That should really tick off the Big 12 who saw their teams kept out of the playoffs in prior years simply because the conference did not have a championship game and the committee implied that it preferred conference champions. And like the PAC 12, the committee has dissed the Big 12 all year long. But with the Big 12, that lack of respect is entirely deserved as the conference apparently does not believe in defense. Like a bad penny, Oklahoma has reappeared by winning nine straight after two early losses and Oklahoma State is ranked all the way back at #10 with two losses as well. However, one of those losses was early in the season to Central Michigan when the referees misapplied the rules and give Central Michigan an extra play to throw a successful Hail Mary and win the game.

We haven't even mentioned Alabama who continues to just roll along at #1. The continue to just dominate their opponents and show no sign of weakness. They face a less than formidable Florida in the SEC championship game.

Finally, let's talk about a couple of coaches. First, poor Charlie Strong was fired at Texas so that Houston's Tom Herman could take over. Strong took over for Mack Brown, a god in Texas for bringing home a national championship. But Mack left the cupboard absolutely bare for Strong when he came in This was Strong's third season and his last two recruiting classes were top-notch. Most colleges give the coach at least four years to build the program, but not in this case. From the very start, there were rumors that some of the big boosters were not happy with the choice of Strong and had been itching to get rid of him. It being Texas, you have to wonder if the color of Strong's skin added to some of that impatience.

And then there is Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. Earlier this week, the NCAA notified Notre Dame that is would have to forfeit its wins in 2012 and 2013 due to improper academic benefits given to eight football players. The school has vowed to appeal that ruling, calling it unprecedented for what was essentially a self-report. Brain Kelly responded to the ruling by saying, "If doing the right thing means you've got to put an asterisk next to these games, that's fine by me. We still beat Oklahoma. We still beat Wake Forest. We still beat all those teams, so you can put an asterisk next to it. If that makes you feel better, then that's fine with me." That just doesn't seem like the right attitude for a program that has always prided itself on at least the appearance of being squeaky clean. In addition, the Irish were supposed to be real contenders this year but a porous defense and critical offensive turnovers have led to a poor 4-8 record. It also doesn't help that Kelly actually called out players individually for certain losses this season, which is hardly a way to bring a team together. It seems that Kelly has the support of the university right now but you have to think he will be skating on very thin ice if things don't improve significantly next year.

Natural Weekends - Progression Of Fall In Four Days - Part 2