Monday, July 30, 2018

EGD's Michigan Football Preview 2018 - Part 2: Inside Linebackers

The 2017 Michigan Defense was elite by standard statistical measures.  The unit finished third nationally in total defense, allowed only 120.9 rushing yards per game, and ranked fourth overall in opponent passing efficiency.  And at times during the 2017 season, the Defense did indeed seem every bit that dominant.  But not always.  And standard football statistics are seldom reliable and often downright misleading. So that’s why you need to look at the advanced stats.

Here, the 2017 Michigan Defense still rates very highly—ninth overall in defensive FEI, tenth defensive S&P+, and holding the country’s #2 overall opponent success rate.  Top-10 (out of 120 FBS teams) is still “elite” by most reasonable definitions, even if perhaps a shade below the dominance suggested by the standard statistics. And that feels a little more on-point with the eye test, though ultimately saying M had the ninth-best or tenth-best defense in 2017 still doesn’t quite capture it.  

What does, I think, is to say that Michigan’s 2017 defense was generally quite formidable, but limited by a couple of key vulnerabilities.  Most opponents proved unable to take advantage of those Achilles’ heels and were mercilessly crushed at the hands of Don Brown and his minions. But the few teams that could capitalize on Michigan’s soft spots found varying degrees of success.  

One of Michigan’s major defensive shortcomings in 2017 was an inability to consistently defend vertical passes to slot receivers, a problem that will be covered in an upcoming post on safeties.  The other was Mike McCray in space.  

Now, let me begin by saying that Mike McCray was, overall, a very good player for Michigan who filled a much-needed role at WLB after Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan graduated and left a giant, flashing ?at the position heading into 2016.  My take on McCray then was competent and physical, and I dare say he generally lived up to that billing in his time as a starter.  He excelled as a run defender and performed exceptionally well against north-south offenses like Michigan State and even Ohio State.  He was also a team captain and thus undoubtedly contributed leadership and other intangible benefits to the program as well.  But man, did McCray struggle badly at times covering releasing backs in space—especially on the accursed wheel routes.  

As is the way of football, once opposing offensive coordinators detected this weakness, those with the ability to exploit it (e.g., those having speedy RBs with receiving chops) did so over and over and over and over again.  Probably on account of this critical flaw in his game, the NFL passed on McCray in the 2018 entry draft—and though McCray signed a free agent contract with the Dolphins, he announced his retirement (likely from playing, but leaving the door open to a coaching career) before training camp opened this summer.  

As for the Michigan Defense, McCray’s departure re-opens that void at WLB that #9 himself filled two seasons ago.  But back in 2016, the only real candidates to fill that hole were unproven positional misfits like Noah Furbush or Jared Wangler, some true freshmen, Mattison’s old hat rack, a warehouse dolly, and McCray.  Though some indications made McCray the natural favorite—being he was a former 4-star recruit from power Ohio high school program Trotwood-Madison and the son of Ohio State star Mike McCray, Sr., and the right size and shape for the position—he had also suffered a significant knee injury earlier in his career and hadn’t even seen the field on special teams in 2015.  Nobody outside the program really knew whether McCray still had it, until he served notice by thumping fools in the 2016 spring game. Things are different at WLB now.  As the team heads into fall camp, at least four (non-true freshmen) players will vie for the starting nod at the open WLB position, possibly as many as six.  

The three most likely candidates are probably Furbush, now a fifth-year senior with experience in 32 games and seven LB starts, redshirt sophomore Devin Gil, and true sophomore Josh Ross.  Furbush saw extensive action last season as an outside linebacker in Michigan’s 3-3-5 stack package, where he was probably best known for being the guy who leapt on the free ball in the end zone to seal the Florida game after a Chase Winovich strip-sack.  At 6’5” and nearly 240 lbs., Furbush played a versatile role—blitzing frequently, lining up as an end, dropping into coverage.  But his main role seemed to be occupying blockers so as to keep Michigan’s star middle linebacker, Devin Bush, Jr., free to wreak his sideline-to-sideline terror.  While Furbush’s best position fit is probably as a Jake Ryan-style SAM linebacker, his game isn’t much different from McCray’s (for better or for worse).

Josh Ross before the red turf at Orchard Lake St. Mary's
Josh Ross is essentially a bigger-and-faster version of his older brother (and four-year M starter at WLB) James “Biggs” Ross—a fierce and instinctual run defender with the athleticism to succeed in space.  Ross could provide a talent upgrade to the position, but this would come at a significant pricetag in terms of experience.  Ross did get into all 13 games last season, but most of his action was limited to special teams—and as we saw in the McCray clips above (not to mention over several seasons of Jonas Mouton), no amount of athletic ability can compensate for late reads, false steps, and wrong angles at the linebacker position.

The third candidate, Devin Gil, committed to Michigan as a 206-lb. safety back in 2015, part of the Flanagan High School trio of Gil, Josh Metellus, and Devin Bush Jr.  Though Gil had been previously committed to Miami (Fl.), which should say something about his physical ability, the recruiting sites had listed him as an anonymous two-star player and he was widely-believed a pot sweetener signed to draw Bush up north.  So lots of people were surprised to see Devin Gil on the field in the season opener against Florida last season, looking like a competent linebacker.  He went on to play in all 13 games, and Don Brown has since deemed Gil a “dude” (Don Brownese for “significant contributor”). 

So that’s already three plausible choices, and then there’s pass-rush specialist Josh Uche.  While Uche probably fits best at a traditional SAM position or possibly as a small WDE, Michigan doesn’t really have a SAM in its defense (and instead has the Viper position, manned by Big Ten DPOY candidate Khaleke Hudson) and is pretty well-stocked at WDE as well (with another Big Ten DPOY candidate Chase Winovich starting and several highly-touted reserves). So Uche has reportedly been practicing at WLB (and probably other places as well) in an effort to get him onto the field.  That’s because Uche has the uncanny ability to “dip & bend”—that is, to beat pass protectors around the corner on a speed rush, then curl around them to the QB at just the right depth.  Used effectively, Uche could be a sack machine—but on the flip side, Uche also has yet to show he can be an effective run defender or handle any kind of pass coverage.  Until he does, Uche ‘s utility may remain limited to obvious passing downs

Josh Uche demonstrates the "dip & bend"
Especially with the 2018 Michigan Spring Game having been canceled for inclement, weather, trying to guess which of these guys[1]is on top of the heap at WLB would be a futile exercise in hubris.  But it’s quite logical to expect at least an even performance from the WLB position in 2018—and probably a slight upgrade over McCray.

Probably the guy you most want to see as the WLB starter is Josh Ross.  Gil and Furbush are both proven contributors, but neither is likely to emerge into a bona fide star.  Ross could, as the player who brings the most complete physical package to the role.  Just getting snaps means he’d have earned some measure of trust from the coaches; if he passes both Gil and Furbush for the starting gig then he’ll have really proven something on the mental side of the equation, especially considering the guys he’s competing with.  

But while Ross is the player you ultimately want to see, he’s also a true sophomore with very little defensive experience.  So, chances are he won’t start in 2018 and if he does, it probably won’t be until later in the season.  And that’s fine, because both Gil and Furbush are fine.  All three players are likely to see a significant amount of action regardless, and Uche will undoubtedly get his share of passing down snaps.    

There is little question as to will be manning Michigan’s other inside linebacker position in 2018. Sophomore Devin Bush Jr. thundered onto the scene with two sacks against Florida in Michigan’s 2017 opener and never looked back, posting 9.5 TFLs on the season and finishing as the coaches’ selection for All-B1G first-team, a Butkus Award finalist, and a second-team Associated Press All-American. named him the top LB prospect to watch in 2018, and CBS Sports projects him as the #3 ILB and a second-round draft pick. Get ready to watch Bush wreck more offenses in 2018, because he unfortunately might not be around A2 much longer. 

What makes Bush so good is an uncommon ability to attack at full speed, yet remain under control and change direction as needed. QBs simply cannot sidestep Bush as they can with most rushers.  Bush is also a phenomenal sideline-to-sideline defender, with very good closing speed, and effective coverage skills.  His athleticism and total package of skills, coupled with the advanced football I.Q. that comes from being the son of a seven-year NFL player who was also your high school coach and now lives with you and is an analyst for your college team, makes Bush a leading candidate for defensive player of the year in the Big Ten.

Despite his outstanding season, Bush was not a finished product in 2017.  He struggled with misdirection and could get overpowered by blockers when his defensive linemen (and Furbush, whom mgoblog called “Bush’s fullback”) were unable to keep him clean.  I would not expect Bush to exhibit those same shortcomings in 2018.  

MLB prospect Drew Singleton
As for Bush’s backup, look for Michigan to get game reps for a couple freshmen in the (sadly, probable) event of an early Bush exit.  The first one is Drew Singleton, a top-100 recruit out of the same Paramus, N.J., pipeline that brought Jabrill Peppers and Rashan Gary to Ann Arbor.  Singleton tore his ACL as a high school senior, redshirted in 2017, and then the Spring Game was canceled—so there isn’t much to go on with him but scouting reports and high school film.  He’s got more traditional LB size, at 6’2” and headed for ~ 235 lbs., and looks to be more of a thumper in the Mike McCray mold.  The other is true freshman Cameron McGrone, another five-star from Indiana whose game is more in the Devin Bush rocket-missile category.  Since these reps are largely about 2019, though, don’t look for Bush to come out in a competitive situation.  Don’t be surprised if a guy like Gil or Furbush turns out to be the guy who comes in for Bush in the event of injury, targeting suspension, or other tragedy.

MLB prospect Cameron McGrone
Inside Linebackers: Bottom Line

Projected Starters: MLB Devin Bush Jr., WLB Devin Gil/Noah Furbush/Josh Ross
Key Reserves: Gil, Furbush, Josh Uche (pass rush specialist)
Other possible options: Drew Singleton, Cameron McGrone, Jordan Anthony
Position grade: A- 

Bush is already an established B1G star, and will look to make first-team All-American and improve to a first-round draft grade.   The WLB position should be solid, if unspectacular, and there is plenty of overall depth.  

[1]In addition to these four guys, two other linebackers could potentially get into the mix for WLB. One is Drew Singleton, a borderline five-star recruit at the MLB spot, who will be discussed below.  The other is another highly-touted prospect, Jordan Anthony, who is likely slotted for Khlaeke Hudson’s viper position and will be discussed in with vipers.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

EGD’s Michigan Football Preview 2018 - Part 1: Cornerbacks

On April 28, 2017, Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis became the 92nd overall selection in the NFL Draft, going to the Dallas Cowboys in the third round.   A day later, the New York Jets drafted fellow Michigan cornerback Jeremy Clark in the sixth round.  Within another week, a third Michigan cornerback, Channing Stribling, would sign a contract with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent   And just like that, one of the best coverage units in Michigan history was off to professional football.  

Lewis, the best of the bunch, made first-team all-American in both his junior and senior seasons and holds Michigan’s school record with 21 PBUs in a single season.  He’d have a solid case for being the best CB in school history, had he not attended the alma mater of one Charles Woodson. Paired with two NFL-caliber boundary corners, Lewis led Michigan’s pass defense to a top-15 performance in 2015 (#13 to S&P+), and the unit became the nation’s top-ranked passing defense in 2016.  That’s what graduated from Michigan and migrated to the NFL the following spring.

In the more distant history of Michigan Football, the graduation of even such accomplished players as Lewis, Clark, and Stribling would generally have been met with the mildest of consternation, in the assumption that whoever ascended to their starting roles would surely perform adequately enough.  But Lewis had come to Michigan in 2013, the year the Brady Hoke experiment had truly begun to unravel.  That season wasn’t far removed from the gloomiest days of his predecessor, the luckless Rich Rodriguez, whose legendarily incompetent pass defenses linger in the darkest reaches of Wolverine memories.  So Lewis’ departure, and that of his veteran teammates, was a fearful occasion for some—met with anxiety and Bormir memes.  One does not simply replace the #1-ranked pass defense on S&P+.

Or maybe one does. Lavert Hill, a coveted high school cornerback prospect in the 2016 class out of Detroit MLK, had pledged his services to James Franklin and the Penn State Nittany Lions until the combined labors of Jim Harbaugh, Tyrone muthaf***in Wheatley, and probably Hill’s brother (former Michigan safety Delano Hill) set him straight.  Hill quickly proved those efforts worthwhile, showing promise in limited action as a freshman and staking a strong claim as heir apparent to Lewis’ field corner position.    
Across the gridiron, Harbaugh had inked an even more highly-touted 2016 prospect for the rough-and-tumble boundary corner position.  Los Angeles prospect David Long, at 6’ tall and with electronically-timed 4.4 speed, was ranked well within the top-100 on every major recruiting website, and consistently praised for his coverage, tackling, and general play-making ability.  Mgoblog declared him a lock, and there didn’t seem to be any reason not to agree.  But Long missed almost all of the 2016 season with an injury/redshirt, so while Hill had shown some talent at the field spot, the boundary corner position loomed as a total question mark headed into fall 2017.  And that’s when the interview happened.

Sports coaches are notorious for answering media inquiries with clichés and worthless information. Michigan secondary coach Mike Zordich is not most coaches.  Asked how “those young corners [were] coming along” as his first question at a press conference less than two weeks before the team’s 2017 opener, Zordich’s answer was blunt. “Not fast enough.”  The surprised reporters gave him several chances to retract or hedge his statement, but Zordich only doubled down.  “It’s just not happening,” the coach lamented. “Hopefully somebody will [emerge] in the next five to seven days because we’ve got to get ready for a game … I don’t want to sound like the sky is falling, but there is an eclipse.”

The eclipse must have passed quickly, however, because once the season started, the sophomore duo proved lights-out.  Michigan finished the 2017 season ranked #3 in pass defense (per S&P+), and opponents generally avoided testing Michigan’s corners—preferring instead to attack safeties and linebackers when they did go to the air.  Long and Hill held the Big Ten’s best receiver, Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs, to just four catches for 39 yards, while holding OSU star Parris Campbell to just 12 yards on three receptions.  Perhaps most impressively, Long posted the lowest opposing passer rating (11.9) and fewest yards allowed per coverage snap (0.36) of any corner in the nation, while Hill did even better against Big Ten opponents—leading Big Ten corners with just 0.26 yards per coverage snap in conference play.   

Hill’s forte, like fellow Detroit product Jourdan Lewis before him, is man-to-man coverage. Despite his small stature, Hill uses exquisite technique, phenomenal agility, and an impressive vertical leap to frustrate and shut down receivers who often tower over him. Here Hill dominates a route against battlemech-style IU receiver Simmie Cobbs, skying for the interception over the 6’3” star.  Here, Hill bursts from a trail position to PBU a crossing route—ordinarily a very difficult route to cover man-to-man.  Long, on the boundary side, plays a more physical style than Hill—but that can work in coverage too, as you see here against Purdue and here against South Carolina.  Oh, and here’s some more Cobbs frustration.  Both are adequate run defenders.  And both can make something happen when they get two hands on the ball. 

Both Hill and Long will be true juniors as they head into the 2018 season, and this year the question won’t be whether Michigan will still have reliable corners with Lewis & Co off to the League.  Rather, the more likely question will be whether 2018 is the last season we’ll see either player in the winged helmet.  Both are currently projected as late-round picks, were they to declare early after the 2018 season, and could move up by adding strength and size in the weight room, further refining their technique, and producing another year of strong play on the field.  

Michigan’s reserve corners for 2018 will almost certainly be sophomore Ambry Thomas on the field side, and fifth-year senior Brandon Watson on the boundary.  There were some who thought Thomas, another Detroit King graduate and top-100 recruit with an electronically-timed 4.43 forty and elite ball skills, would rocket past Hill or Long to start as a freshman at Michigan. But one look at Thomas in his Wolverine uniform dispelled that illusion.  Listed charitably at 170 lbs., Thomas arrived in Ann Arbor rail-thin and clearly not a viable option for holding an edge against Big Ten rushing attacks.  He still got into all 13 games, mainly as a kick returner, and his talent is undeniable. Look for Thomas to appear more regularly on defense this season as the staff grooms him for a starting role in 2019.

Watson is the practical antithesis of Ambry Thomas, being an unheralded three-star recruit Brady Hoke dug up from the now-defunct Eastern Christian Academy (a bizarre “high school” in which the students took an on-line curriculum while focusing on football).  While lacking in speed, Watson was not lacking in size—and tended to play defense by using his ridiculously-jacked arms to club receivers into submission before they could even get started on their routes.  Of course, that’s the type of thing that works well in high school but gets one’s ass kicked in college, so Watson not surprisingly disappeared for his first three years at Michigan.  

Those who hadn’t forgotten about Watson’s presence on the roster thought he was too slow for cornerback, and urged a move to safety or the hybrid S/LB “viper” position.  When he didn’t, the widespread expectation was, frankly, that Watson would quietly play out his fourth year in 2017 and move on to a career in something other than sports.  But then the season started, and in the first half of the first game, Watson came and in a PBU'd a fade route along the left sideline.  The play showed Watson had enough speed to be a useful piece after all; he continued his contributions as a reserve corner (and special teams demon) throughout the season, and what do you know?  He’s back in 2018 for year 5.  

Probably the last cornerback with any realistic hope of contributing in 2018 is another guy with an unlikely path to glory, redshirt sophomore Benjamin St. Juste.  Most Michigan fans first heard St. Juste’s name on June 23, 2015, when Michigan Insiderreporter Bruch Marich announced that Jim Harbaugh had accepted a commitment from the unranked (and basically unknown) cornerback prospect out of Montreal.  This news sent the Michigan comment boards into a meltdown, as recruiting stargazers lamented that only a team comprised of guru-approved four- and five-star talent could hope to compete with the likes of Ohio State.  Nondescript three-stars wouldn’t get the job done, let alone random nobodies from Canada.  Why, they furiously wondered, was Jim Harbaugh settling for such players. When St. Juste tore his ACL a few months later, many of those same voices undoubtedly expected the obscure prospect would soon be back on the market.

But Jim Harbaugh did not “process” St. Juste, as his doubters may have hoped.  And when he returned the field, St. Juste quickly began showing the scouts the same things the Michigan staff had seen in him.  Former Michigan corner and technique guru Todd Howard called St. Juste “a legit corner” and praised his footwork.  St. Juste competed at the prestigious Nike camp, The Opening, where he posted an elite (3.93) shuttle time and made the “Dream Team,” gaining recognition as one of the best corners in attendance.  As the months grinded on, St. Juste steadily climbed the recruiting rankings.  By national signing day, St. Juste finished as a four-star prospect on both Rivals and 247 Sports, a top-20 corner prospect on both sites and a top-100 overall player to 247.  So yeah. Rankings.

Thing about St. Juste though, is he’s still a 6’3”, 195 lb. corner from Montreal.  He enrolled early and played in the 2017 spring game, where he quickly proved he was…not ready—not strong enough, and in need of much technical development.  So he took the obvious redshirt and now, a year-and-half later, Michigan just might have something.  Anytime your coach is Jim Harbaugh and you’ve got a 6’3” cornerback on the roster, a certain kind of potential is going to beckon.  Nah. Maybe!  But nah.  Right?

Cornerbacks: Bottom Line
  • Projected Starters: Lavert Hill (field), David Long (boundary)
  • Key Reserves: Ambry Thomas, Brandon Watson, Benjamin St. Juste 
  • Other possible options: Jaylyn Kelly-Powell, Myles Sims, Gemon Green, Sammy Faustin, German Green
  • Position Grade: A, should be one of the best units in the country, probably the best in the B1G, and a key strength of the 2018 team.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How to fix the USA rant (Dec. 20, 2017)

Finally finished my holiday wish list. Thanks for asking, Michael Demetriou:

I think the first thing we need to do is make a genuine commitment to true democracy. The first step in that is ending the legalized system of graft that has long been with us in some form and really took off after the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. Elections should be 100% publicly funded, and candidates should win or lose on the strength of their ideas and qualifications--not their financial resources. Candidates should be provided with adequate resources to get their message out to voters, and tough regulations should be put in place to limit (and hopefully eliminate) the ability of private actors to aid candidates through unofficial monetary contributions. Congressional districts should be drawn using computer software and overseen by a nonpartisan commission. Federal election days should be national holidays. Felony disenfranchisement should be ended, along with various other forms of legal voter suppression methods. The electoral college should be eliminated and the president elected through popular majority. Instant runoff voting should be adopted to enable meaningful participation by third-party candidates and better reflect the intentions of the electorate. And all of these reforms should occur at the state level as well.

Second, we must acknowledge and address existential threats. Climate change has to be at the top of that list, along with related concerns like fossil fuel depletion, loss of species (especially ocean fish), deforestation and salinization of arable land, and other major environmental concerns. We needed to start taking these problems seriously decades ago, and because we didn't, the best we can do now is damage control. But we need to start making drastic cuts to greenhouse emissions and shifting energy production to 100% renewables, like, yesterday. I think we need a series of very aggressive policies restricting the continued extraction of fossil fuels, taxing their use, and eventually prohibiting their emissions product. This probably means shutting down factories and taking vehicles off the road, among other things, so it's obviously a tough sell politically. But it's necessary. I would put nuclear threats second here but that seems like a permanent condition so I am not sure how helpful that is.

Third, I think we have to recognize that capitalism only functions as the basis of a national economy when its destructive impulses are tightly regulated and controlled for by government--and after decades of deregulation we have an economy that simply does not meet the needs of very many citizens. We need a massive reversal here, because it is no exaggeration to say that the 21st century U.S. economy is based literally on fraud. Because we neither regulate adequately nor reliably enforce the regulations we have, we effectively incentivize not only firms but individual executives within those firms to pollute the environment, underpay their workers, rip off consumers, engage in dishonest securities trading, then loot the company on their way out the door. And basic principles of microeconomics will tell you that where a "market inefficiency" exists, those who mercilessly exploit it will be rewarded and those who don't will be punished. Government is supposed to fix that by requiring things like reasonable minimum wages, collective bargaining rights and other fair labor standards, formidable tort, product liability, and consumer protection laws enforced by well-resourced watchdog groups and a strong and independent judiciary, rigorous health and environmental regulations, effective financial and securities policy enforced by competent and well-funded regulators, and so on. We've weakened all of these things, some to the point of substantial eradication. We need to at least restore all of these things and probably make them better than ever.

Finally, we need to restore the social mobility that once made America the "land of opportunity," at least for some, and provide a European-style safety net for those incapable of providing for themselves. These aren't entirely distinct from each other, since people are more likely to take risks (like starting businesses) when the wages of failure are disappointment and frustration rather than homelessness and destitution. But on the opportunity front, this means universal access to sufficient education. It's clear that K-12 is not enough these days, so we should have public funding for education at least through the undergraduate level, if not beyond for qualified students. On the safety net side, this means single-payer health coverage for everyone (or at least elderly, disabled, and unemployed or underemployed workers and their children), a reasonable set of cash assistance benefits for retired, disabled, or unemployed workers (or a guaranteed minimum income for everyone), a massive investment in affordable housing construction (right now there is nowhere in the USA that a person employed 40 hours per week at minimum wage can afford a 1-bedroom apartment) and/or rental subsidies for lower-income households, meaningful parental leave, and so on.

I wanted to include personal gun ownership in there somewhere, even though that's one thing that could really wedge apart any kind of widespread support for this platform. Maybe if we ever had all these things, Americans would be happy and stop shooting each other?

Virginia Driver's License Suspension Post (February 8, 2018)

Most people do not realize there are basically two different types of driver's license suspensions: public safety suspensions, and collection-related suspensions.

Public safety-related suspensions are imposed for egregious driving offenses (DUI, reckless driving, etc.) and are usually time limited. After six months or a year or however long, the suspension expires and the offender can reinstate his or her license.

The other kind of driver's license suspension has nothing do with public safety. If you get a traffic ticket and you don't pay, then your license will be suspended to coerce payment. And the suspension is not time-limited: it remains in effect until you pay.

This may be all well and good for true scofflaws with the means to pay those tickets. But usually when somebody doesn't pay a traffic ticket, it's because they don't have the money. Suspending a poor person's driver's license, which usually makes that person less likely to keep or obtain employment, thus reduces the ability to collect that traffic fine. It offends common sense. And it's through stupid ideas like that is how you get up to an eye-popping 1 million suspended licenses in a state with only 8 million people.

Virginia: stop suspending driver's license for collection-related purposes.

U.S. Culture Is Fucked rant (February 16, 2018)

We can’t enact meaningful gun control, and our children are murdered in our schools.

We can’t enact meaningful environmental protections, and our planet is being steadily rendered uninhabitable.

We can’t enact meaningful education funding reforms, and opportunity is rapidly slipping away from working- and middle-class families.

We not only can’t enact effective redistributive policies, but actually enact a destructive tax plan that transfers even more wealth to the richest Americans—and ordinary Americans struggle to afford everything from housing to health care to child care to education, let alone start businesses or save for the future.

What the hell is wrong with us?

One problem is that the SCOTUS decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon have eviscerated even the weak campaign finance laws we once had. The ability of large corporations and other wealthy donors to make effectively unlimited contributions to political candidates has ushered in an era of political corruption usually only seen in the most wretched regimes of the developing world.

Another problem is the extensive and increasingly sophisticated use of political gerrymandering to create Congressional districts that are overwhelmingly red or blue. This has fostered a dynamic in which moderates cannot survive their primaries, and the more extreme candidates who win those primaries easily cruise to general election victories.

Still another problem is the transformation of the airways and other broadcast channels from a public good into a figment of the marketplace. Where we once had an “equal time” doctrine, we have now seen an atomization of major news media into outlets that cater to particular viewpoints. If you are a hard-right person who only watches the hard-right news channel and reads the hard-right website, then you probably aren’t going to give much thought to any opposing viewpoints. Of course, now you can even select your own facts to go with your diet of unfiltered, rage-breeding opinions.

Which brings me to the final point: we seem to have no mechanism for compelling truth or punishing dishonesty in this country. Absurd factual lies by people in positions of high authority are routine, and happen with seemingly no consequence to the speaker. Trump and his crew may be the epitome of this, but the problem is hardly limited to him or even to Republicans. Consider, for instance, that the same David Brock who wrote the odious, falsehood-laden hit piece “The Real Anita Hill” wound up running Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

How does that happen? People say shit. It’s false. Nobody cares. Nobody does anything. Our kids get shot in schools. The ice caps melt. College costs more than a house. A trip to the ER now ends in bankruptcy court. Nobody cares. Nobody does anything. What the hell us wrong with us?

This is what #doom looks like.

Gun history rant (March 1, 2018)

So, American kids learn about the Revolutionary War from the American perspective: the mean English king taxed the colonies to pay for his imperial conquests without even giving the colonists a voice in parliament. But this isn't really the whole truth.
The American colonists were eager to expand. This meant attacking Native American tribes, killing their people, and seizing their lands by force. The crown, though unconcerned with atrocities against indigenous peoples, nonetheless found this inconsistent with its own geopolitical interests, and attempted to restrain these conquests. The harsh taxes were imposed to pay for the soldiers necessary to restrain the colonial aggressors. And this was the real reason underlying the American Revolution: the colonists wanted to invade Indian lands, and the British wouldn't let them.
Once the American colonies secured their independence from Britain, they were free to move westward across the Appalachians and complete the Native American genocide. This is what the militias were for. This is what the guns were for. And as this compelling new history argues, this is what the Second Amendment was written for.
Sadly, America culture has never recovered from its glorification of the armed white frontiersman and the celebration of his violence. Neither, pathetically, have our laws.
Educate yourself on the gun debate. Read this book.

Felony Disenfranchisement Rant (March 30, 2018)

How outrageous is this? Let me count the ways.

1. Felony disenfranchisement in the first place is a despicable, irrational policy that is part and parcel of Jim Crow. If felony disenfranchisement did not exist, this conviction would not have been possible.

2. It's become customary in this day and age for people to have to sign things without reading or understanding them first. So to find that this woman knowingly cast an illegal provisional ballot just because she signed a form affidavit saying she had completed her sentence when she was on work release, a crime punishable up to 20 years in prison, is unduly harsh.

3. In the event she was given a 5-year sentence, which seems wholly out of proportion to the offense. This was not a crime of moral turpitude, but a technical regulatory violation. What legitimate societal interest is really served by incarcerating this woman for five freaking years?

4. Of course, the true purpose behind the harsh sentence is obvious: it sends a message to anyone with a criminal record that they better be damn sure their voting rights are fully restored because look what can happen. This will undoubtedly have a massive chilling effect, especially among African-American voters.

5. Not to mention the entire purpose of a provisional ballot is to allow a person whose voting registration is in question to cast a ballot, and then figure out later whether it counts or not.

6. Another distinguishing feature of voter fraud is its rarity; hardly anyone ever commits voter fraud but certainly this conviction will be held up as evidence that a scourge of illegal voting is sweeping the nation, and that voter ID laws and other onerous deterrents are needed to prevent it--when frankly what we ought to do is just get rid of felony disenfranchisement laws.

Voting Rant (June 11, 2018)

When I lived in Washington, I would receive ballots in the mail from time-to-time, and could vote by opening the envelope, filling out the ballot, and returning it by mail or to one of numerous drop-boxes around town. If I needed to research a race to figure out how to vote, I had plenty of time and resources available--including a detailed voter's guide that came with each ballot. I certainly did not need to worry about finding my polling place, figuring out a time of day to vote, making sure I had proper ID, or any of that nonsense.

Now I live in Virginia, which has primary elections tomorrow. I did not know about them until today. I had to look up my polling place on-line. In the course of doing that I discovered that I will need to present photo ID to receive a ballot. In 15 minutes of internet searching I was not successful in figuring out which races and candidates will be on my ballot. I will need to probably vote after dropping my daughter off at school--and thus arrive late to my office.

These are all minor annoyances to me. I have a post-graduate education and professional career. But lots of other Virginians will not learn about the primaries in time to plan for them, do not have the option of simply showing up late for work because they went to the polls, or may be turned away at the polls because they failed to register in time, didn't bring proper ID, or went to the wrong polling place. I do not find this acceptable and nobody else who believes in democracy should either.

Housing Rant (June 14, 2018)

It has long been HUD's position that a household should spend about 30% of its income on mortgage or rent and utilities--any more than that and a household is officially "cost burdened." A household that spends more than 50% of its income on housing expenses is "severely cost burdened." As you can imagine, having to spend such a high portion of your income on housing costs leaves little money for other needs, such as nutrition, transportation, education, health care, and so forth. And such families are unable to save--so a single unanticipated expense or income disruption, something as simple as a car repair or reduction in work hours, can put that family easily into crisis.

Okay. But how many U.S. households are really dealing with these kinds of precarious circumstances? After all, the official U.S. poverty rate is only about 15%--so we must only be talking about one or two families out of ten, right?

Nope. According to figures released earlier this week by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the wage needed to afford a 1-BR apartment in the U.S. without being cost burdened now exceeds the earnings of a household at the 50th income percentile in the U.S., and a household needs to be at about the 60th income percentile to afford a 2-BR apartment. In other words, well over half of U.S. renter households are cost burdened--many of them severely so.

The good news is, we could actually solve this problem. The NLIHC estimates the national affordable housing shortage at 7.2 million units. So all we'd need to do is close that gap, using any combination of additional construction and funding for housing vouchers. This would not be cost-prohibitive; I've seen estimates as low as $22 billion (in 2016) for fully-funding the voucher program--construction could cost more but may also exert downward pressure on rents.

If only we had a government that might actually listen.

Letter to University of Michigan President Santa Ono on Pro-Palestine Protests of March 24, 2024

 Dear President Santa Ono: Although I was generally in agreement with the content of your letter regarding the disruption at the honors conv...