Basketball on fast forward

The Washington Post heads to high school:

The 99th free throw of the game clanged off the rim and was rebounded by the opponent. It was then passed ahead to midcourt, where an outlet man, the team’s point guard, was waiting.

Before he could turn his eyes upcourt, he was swarmed by a pair of Lake Braddock players, jostling him with a fervent trap. Panicked, the guard threw a pass to no one, and the ball bounced into the bleachers as the home crowd groaned at the sight of another turnover.

Most eyes in the gym turned toward the scoreboard, which told the crowd that this bizarre, hellish high school basketball game was almost over. There were 8.7 seconds remaining, and Lake Braddock led West Springfield, 122-81.

After the game, Bruins Coach Brian Metress said the 122 points were a team record, the latest sign that the basketball experiment being conducted at Lake Braddock was working.

“We just said we’re going to press and run, and we’re going to press and run like nobody ever has before,” Metress said. “When you come to watch us, it’s like the circus is in town. It’s a totally different game.”

For the past two years, Metress’s team has played an up-tempo, chaotic style that has been broached only by a few bold coaches across all levels. They press constantly, make or miss. They shoot three-pointers at an unprecedented, reckless pace. They sub out four or five players at a time, every minute or two.

To give themselves a chance to win, the Bruins elected to turn basketball on its head. And with the team sporting a 19-3 record heading into the start of postseason play Wednesday, it’s becoming clear that the system has worked.

Standard basketball was abandoned about two years ago when Lake Braddock began the 2016-17 campaign with a 1-4 record. Metress and his staff decided they were tired of losing games in the 40s and 50s. They thought: What if we just decided to score as many points as possible? If we’re going to lose, let’s lose in a shootout.

So the team threw out all of its strategy midway through the season, and developed the tenets of a new style before a Christmas tournament. The Bruins would pick up their opponents with a full-court press on every possession, make or miss. They would swarm the ballhandler at every opportunity, looking to force turnovers and get quick baskets. They would shoot without pause, firing three-pointers from all over the court and never waiting for the perfect look at the basket. They would sub out players constantly to keep them fresh. And they would run. A lot.

“We wanted to approach a game so that [the opponent] has never practiced or prepared for it and they’ve never been in a game like that before,” Metress said. “We just took it to the utmost extreme.”

When it works, the system is freewheeling and fun. It opens up the game so playmakers like guard Quentin James can get easy looks at the basket. The senior has flourished under this style. Last month, he became the school’s all-time scoring leader, passing former North Carolina star and NBA player Hubert Davis.

“We’ve never really had a problem with anyone buying into this system,” James said. “Because the fact that everyone has the green light, what high school are you going to go to where everyone is allowed to shoot the ball without consequences?”

But Metress and his players are the first to admit that, when the system doesn’t work, it’s ugly. In one loss last year, the team shot 6 for 68 from three-point range. Even when the Bruins do win, the up-tempo style is not always aesthetically pleasing. It produces a lot of turnovers and fouls, hence the 99 combined free throws in the win over West Springfield. Opponents and their fans often grow frustrated at the Bruins, as games run long and leads are toppled in seconds.

The system has faltered less and less this year. After mixed results the previous two seasons, the Bruins have wreaked havoc on the rest of Northern Virginia. They have topped 100 points seven times, and all of their final scores are considerably higher than the area’s average. As a rule, they never switch out of their style and they never adapt to an opponent. If a team wants to beat Lake Braddock, it must run, too.

Lake Braddock’s coaching staff wasn’t the first with such a system. Basketball teams are scattered across all levels with a similar style, frustrating opponents with a relentless press and constant threes.

In the early 1990s, David Arseneault Sr. installed a similar system at Grinnell College, a small Division III school in rural Iowa. The Pioneers had gone 25 years without a winning season, and Arseneault needed a remedy. So they started pressing constantly. They shot threes from all over the floor. They subbed more like a hockey team than a basketball team. And they have been running some form of that system since. Arseneault’s son, David Jr., now coaches the team.

“The best way to describe how we play is if you were to imagine a game in which a team is down by eight to 10 points with a minute and a half left. And then take away the intentional fouling,” Arseneault Jr. said.

The “Grinnell System,” as it’s called, has become the face of a growing movement of teams looking to speed the game up, force a lot of turnovers and score a lot of points. Arseneault Jr. said he has heard about “countless” high school teams that run something similar, and there are a few college teams that do the same. Just last month, D-III Greenville (Ill.) beat Fontbonne (Mo.), 200-146, with a similar style. The Panthers attempted 91 threes.

Did someone say Grinnell?

“I think basketball is definitely moving in that direction, from a pace standpoint and from a three-point shooting standpoint,” Arseneault Jr. said. “I don’t even think we’ve reached the tipping point yet. I would actually like to see my team taking more threes.”

Before taking the head coaching job at Grinnell, Arseneault Jr. spent time as an assistant under his dad and then served two years as coach of the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings’ G League affiliate. The Kings appreciated Arseneault’s love of analytics and had an interest in him running a modified form of the Grinnell system. For each of the two seasons Arseneault Jr. spent in Reno, the Bighorns led the G League in scoring.

While no NBA team has taken their game to the extremes of Grinnell or Lake Braddock, Metress said that the fun, fast, three-point-heavy style that has been popularized by the Golden State Warriors has made it easier to sell his vision to his players.

“When most high school coaches tell you to look at a basketball game, they say don’t watch the NBA because that’s not relevant to how we play,” James said. “But the fact that I can turn on a Warriors game or someone in the NBA and see them running the same stuff we do in our system is pretty cool to watch.”

A little more than two years after Brian Metress sat his team down and told them the Bruins would be trying something new, Langley Coach Scott Newman had a similar talk with his squad. The Saxons had started the season 2-11. After a 40-24 loss to Yorktown, Newman knew it was time for a change.

“We just couldn’t score the ball,” Newman said. “And we had kids that were athletic and could run and would benefit from going fast, playing hard and thinking less.”

So Newman quickly installed a system similar to Lake Braddock’s: a constant press, a quick trigger, a big rotation of players. Like the Bruins and Pioneers, he needed something that could help his team survive. This style of basketball, while shunned by purists, could be a potential equalizer.

“I don’t think I would have ever had the guts to do this if I felt like we had something to lose,” Newman said. “[This type of system] will take people that are willing to take a leap of faith.”

When asked about the benefits of his new style, Newman pointed to the same things that Metress and Arseneault Jr. did: It gets more players involved, and they seemed to be having more fun.

“Every once in a while you get somebody who says it’s not real basketball,” Arseneault Jr. said. “Which is fine. I understand some people have the ideal way they think the game should be played. But I think there are so many different ways to play the game. And that’s what makes the sport so special. You can have fun with it.”

The young Saxons are still adjusting to the new style, but have gone 3-5 since making the switch. Newman said he has heard from more fans and parents saying the team is fun to watch. There is optimism around the program and its future. Originally, the coach assumed they would make a return to normalcy next year, when the team would be older and more talented. But now he is having second thoughts.

“The kids are having so much fun playing this way,” he said. “It seems a little hard to believe that we’re going to go back to the way we used to play.”

As you know, I have announced several Grinnell–Ripon College games over the years. They are a blast to watch. They are … not a nightmare to announce, but those games take a lot of work, to the point where you’re saying, “Five more on the floor,” when the next wave of Pioneers comes in. Up-tempo games are more difficult to announce because everything’s faster than when a pair of half-court teams lay. It’s easier on TV, where you can get away with just saying the players’ names.

Grinnell figured out a mathematical measure for how they need to play besides the scoreboard. The senior Arsenault had a group of math students analyze their games and came up with this formula for success, which failed to produce a win only once (due to 16-percent field goal shooting, and if you’re shooting 16 percent, you’re not going to win regardless of system):

  1. Shoot at least 94 shots per game, which averages to one shot every 12 seconds.
  2. Shoot 25 more shots than Grinnell’s opponent.
  3. Shoot three-point shots on at least half of their shots.
  4. Generate at least 32 turnovers per game.
  5. Get offensive rebounds on at least one-third of Grinnell’s missed shots.

I imagine high school teams could reduce points 1, 2 and 5 by 10 to 20 percent (whether 18-minute halves, like Wisconsin, or eight-minute quarters, like other states) to come up with the correct numbers for themselves.

Irrespective of the big question of whether you have enough shooters to play this style, Wisconsin’s 18-minute halves would seem well suited for this. One reason Wisconsin went to halves was to make teams play more offense to prevent lengthy stalling attempts by teams at the ends of quarters. (See Bennett, Dick.)


The country divide

The Washington Post shows how the cultural cold civil war is now in country music:

The stadium was filling up with fans for a late-season pro football game when Margo Price took up her spot at midfield for a pregame sound check.

Two weeks earlier she had scored a best new artist Grammy nomination. Now she was about to sing the national anthem — a slot typically reserved at Titans’ games for some of country music’s rising stars and its biggest names.

Price’s invitation, though, came with a warning.

“I’m sure you’ll be respectful of our anthem and not pull any shenanigans,” the Titans’ representative told her as she stepped onto the field. Price, 35, waited a moment for the team rep to amble away. A button emblazoned with the word “feminist” was pinned to her black leather jacket and glinted in the midday sun. “My reputation precedes me,” she said.

Price’s career — her success and nearly a decade of struggles — isa testament to the way America’s poisonous politics are scrambling country music. Study after study has documented the widening social gulf that separates the major parties. Republicans and Democrats report increasing levels of animosity for those on the other side of the political divide, according to surveys. They have few close friends from the opposing political party. They watch different television shows.

Those same pressures are fracturing one of America’s most distinctive art forms, giving rise to separate musical genres aimed at liberal and conservative fans. “I’m just singing the truth,” Price said. “That’s what country music is supposed to be — three chords and the truth.” Increasingly, though, that truth is shaped by America’s political war.

Price has appeared as the musical guest on liberal bastions such as “Saturday Night Live,” “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central and the three major late-night network talk shows. On Sunday she will learn whether she can add a best new artist Grammy to her accolades.

But she’s entirely absent from country music radio — still the major star maker for Nashville-based musicians who aspire to fill stadiums. And that has made Price all but invisible in certain quarters of the country, including some parts of her adopted hometown. …

Price’s rich country voice caught the attention of Nashville music critics. “Her voice is just unreal. That’s what grabbed me,” said Joseph Hudak, a Nashville-based writer for Rolling Stone. Her writing called to mind country music’s hell-raising, honky-tonk roots. “I killed the angel on my shoulder with a bottle of the Bulleit / So I wouldn’t have to hear him bitch and moan, moan, moan,” she sang to the cry of a steel-pedal guitar.

Price, though, had several strikes against her when it came to landing a recording contract with a major label.

Country music these days is dominated by men, who typically account for about 80 to 90 percent of Billboard’s top 40 country radio hits. Online the situation can be even worse. Spotify’s “Country Gold”playlist of 50 songs often doesn’t include even a single female artist.

Price’s music also didn’t sound like the other hits played on country radio, which mixed hip-hop beats with twangy verse.

Her biggest problem might have been her lyrics. Hit country songs tended to celebrate small-town life. Often, they responded to the growing partisan rancor by emphasizing America’s essential goodness, as Luke Bryan did in his hit “Most People are Good.”

Bryan focused on motherhood and football: “I believe most Friday nights look better under neon or stadium lights,” he sang.

Price was offering a different view of America. She sang about sin and struggle and the sortsof misfits who never felt comfortable in football stadiums. “I’m an outcast, and I’m a stray / And I plan to stay that way,” she sang. Her songs were about small, depressed towns that people longed to escape. These were the very places country music expected her to celebrate.

“You’re so country, but you’re not a redneck,” she recalled one record industry executive telling her. She took it as a backhanded compliment. He passed. Others pressed her to give her song arrangements more of a pop feel. She refused.

Price had been at it for 12 years when her husband prevailed on her in 2014 to sell their car, pawn her wedding ring and spend the money recording a country album. The last song she wrote before she headed into the studio told the story of her life: her father’s decision to sell the family farm, her struggles in Nashville, the death of her son.

“I felt like I was at the end of a rope and if something didn’t happen soon, I was going to break,” she said of “Hands of Time.” “I wrote it as a form of therapy. Not for anyone else, but for myself.”

Months passed with little interest from record companies. Her slide guitar player persuaded an executive from Third Man Records, founded by Jack White, a well-known rock and blues musician, to watch her play at a Nashville bar. Third Man didn’t have much experience with country music, but signed her anyway.

Before the album was even released in 2016, “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” booked her to sing. Just weeks after it dropped, “Saturday Night Live” offered her a slot on the show.

“Are you sitting down?” she asked her drummer, shortly after she got the news. He was stacking boxes at the warehouse job he had taken to pay the bills.

“We’re going on SNL!” she screamed.

The New York Times called her the “next big thing out of Nashville.” A New Yorker staff writer described listening to her as “an uncomplicated joy, with awe laced through it.”

Country music radio programmers were less impressed.

“I have never heard a Margo Price song that I thought was a mass appeal runaway hit,” said Nate Deaton, the general manager of a station in San Jose. Country hits often offered up a dose of nostalgia. “There’s a lot of people in big cities that came from small towns,” he said, “and there’s an awful lot of us that never lived in small towns, but nonetheless there’s an appealing nature to it.”

R.J. Curtis, the executive director of the Country Radio Broadcasters trade group, echoed that assessment. He was a fan of her music and had even attended one of her Nashville shows. “But programmers just don’t know what to do with her,” he said. “Man, we’re missing out.”

Country music has for decades accommodated different sounds and styles — the Bakersfield Sound, Outlaw Country, Urban Cowboy country and alt-country among others. What united them was a working-class sensibility that rose above politics.

In the early 1970s Johnny Cash recorded “What is Truth” in support of Vietnam War protesters even as his close friend Merle Haggard was singing “The Fightin’ Side of Me”slamming them. The two stars could still share a stage.

By 2003, though, the rules had changed. With U.S. troops massing on the Iraq border, Natalie Maines, the lead singerof the Dixie Chicks, told a London audience that she was ashamed that George W. Bush was from Texas. At that moment, the female trio was one of the biggest acts in country music.

Sixteen years later the Chicks are both a band and a verb. To be “Dixie-Chicked” is to be excommunicated from mainstream country music radio. The Chicks were the victims of a rally-around-the-flag backlash — they criticized the president on the eve of a major war.

These days the divide in country music has become more obviously partisan, reflecting the political division among its main supporters: white Americans. Mainstream country music has little patience for messages that fail to celebrate small-town America or tilt even remotely anti-Trump.

Liberal country music fans, meanwhile, want assurances that their favorite singers are sufficiently to the left. “White people are the only race that’s politically divided right now,” said Lilliana Mason, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland and author of “Uncivil Agreement,” a book about political identity and America’s growing divide. “Because the partisan divide is so deep you have to define what kind of white person you are.”

For left-leaning country singers, like Price and Sturgill Simpson, there’s pressure to signal to their fan bases that they are on their side. In 2017, Simpson let loose an epic anti-Trump rant that made Maines’s criticism of Bush seem tepid by comparison.

“He’s a fascist . . . pig,” Simpson said of Trump outside the Country Music Awards in Nashville. All Trump supporters, he added, were “bigots.”

Simpson had won a Grammy earlier that same year for best country album, but, like Price, was rejected by mainstream country music radio. A few years ago there was an expectation that stars such as Simpson and Price might bring a new sound and sensibility to country music.

Instead, they became their own subgenre and today are often classified as “Americana” artists, a subset of roots music aimed largely at liberals. Americana music isn’t always easily defined, but the Milk Carton Kids, who opened this year’s Americana awards show in Nashville, took a stab at it in a song:

A country song that’s a little too political / A feminist anthem that’s a bit too literal / Your lyrics are biblical / Your Twitter feed is liberal”

The same pressures that were splitting the country were now fracturing country music.

“Country music is taking collateral damage because so many people these days want blood,” said Kyle Coroneos, who runs the website Saving Country Music. “In previous eras no one thought about this stuff, just like we didn’t think about our neighbors’ politics.”

Midway through her recent set in Washington, Price launched into “All American Made,” a song about the divisions in the country and the title track to her second album.

Price and her husband wrote it together several years ago, and last summer Price updated the song for the Trump presidency.

“I wonder how the president gets any sleep at night / And if the folks down by the border are making it all right,” she sang before a crowd of about 2,000 people in Washington who let out a cheer. To anyone who might have been offended, Price explained that she wrote the song during the Obama administration. But no one seemed to care.

A few weeks later Price was back in Nashville for a pre-Grammy party. She mingled awkwardly with the guests and then cut out early. On her way to dinner, she and her husband made a quick detour to get a look at a billboard that Spotify had put up congratulating her on her nomination.

“Who dat?” she called out laughing when she spotted her face staring back at her. The Nashville skyline glittered in the distance.

The next morning she gathered with her band to rehearse before she jetted out to Los Angeles for the Grammys and a spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

From there her schedule was a sprint. She was five months pregnant, working on a new album and had live shows planned through April.

Price suggested the band add a new Tom Petty song to its set. Her husband pulled up “You Don’t Know How it Feels” on his phone, picked up his harmonica and began to play along, feeling his way through the song. The band joined in. Price copied the lyrics on a piece of paper.

Petty’s music had been one of her first loves. As a teenager in rural Illinois she taped “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” off the radio and sang it into her hairbrush. “He was singing to a girl in Middle America who was maybe a little poor or a little different,” she told Rolling Stone when Petty died in 2017. His music, she said, “defied genre . . . defied politics.”

But it was getting harder and harder for stars, such as Price, to pull off that trick. Recently, her management team had encouraged her to do a dual interview with a big mainstream country artist. “It will be good exposure,” she recalled them telling her, an opportunity to introduce her music to a new group of fans who might not otherwise hear it.

Price shot down the idea.

“I don’t respect his art,” she explained later. “It’s not anything personal.”

These days, Price said, she was eager for her own “mental sanity” to edge away from country music. “Sonically I want to do something different, and I want to reach more people. Country music was a good way to get my foot in the door, but . . . when you venture out of country music you have more freedom to say what you want, and country music radio isn’t doing me any favors.”

Sometimes, Price mused, that she should have been “born in an earlier era.”

As it was, she was playing almost 200 dates a year. She wasn’t a country music megastar, selling outstadiums across the South and Midwest. But she could fill a theater with 2,000-3,000 die-hard fans in Brooklyn. More and more, when she looked out at the crowd, there were people singing along to her lyrics as if she was singing about their lives too.

In several cases, the divide is self-inflicted. The Dixie Chicks were the first, but not the last, to alienate their audience not just by taking positions their audience didn’t agree with, but being vocal about it, as if their First Amendment rights are more important than their audience’s First Amendment rights.

Taste of Country reports on one of those issues:

Big & Rich singer John Rich makes no secret of his staunch support for the Second Amendment, and he is calling on fellow country stars who have advocated for gun control measures to speak to him on the issues and “give me a solution.”

Rich spoke to Fox News after learning that Florida Georgia Line singer Tyler Hubbard and Dierks Bentley have both joined TOMS’ founder Blake Mycoskie’s End Gun Violence Together campaign, which calls on citizens to visit the TOMS website and send a postcard to their elected representatives demanding that they take action on universal background checks. TOMS says that’s a measure 90 percent of Americans support, and both Hubbard and Bentley posted to social media in support of the campaign.

Telling Fox News that he had previously worked with both artists and has nothing but respect for them, Rich says he’d invite them to a friendly debate over the facts.

“The issue with gun control, you look at it and you go, ‘These maniacs, these vicious people are taking a weapon and shooting people with it,’ he states. “And then the flip side of that is, right now, I’m in New York City and back in Nashville is my wife and my two little kids. And if somebody breaks into my house, which rifle would you suggest I tell my wife to grab? Which one should she grab? The one that gives her the best chance at protecting her and my kids or the one that doesn’t? Those are the types of questions I would like to ask them.”

Rich cites himself as a responsible gun owner who does everything by the book. “I have my firearm and my concealed weapons permit to defend myself against the crazy guys,” he states. “You realize there’s three or four hundred million guns in the United States right now. You can’t get ’em. They’re already sold, they’re already out there. They’re grandfathered in. So I would ask those artists, ‘What laws would you propose?’… Give me a solution, I never hear the solution of what it would be.”

Rich fears more gun control laws could be a slippery slope to the type of mandatory assault weapons buyback program suggested by Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).

“Somebody literally knocks on your door in the future and says, ‘Mr. Rich, we’re here to purchase all your weapons.’ … This is where this can lead to.”

TOMS’ End Gun Violence Together campaign focuses on enforcing existing gun laws that impose mandatory background checks on sales of every gun in the U.S by closing the gun show and internet loopholes that allow buyers to get around those laws. Mycoskie launched the campaign in the wake of the mass shooting that killed twelve people at the Borderline Bar & Grill in California in November.

Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town singer Karen Fairchild also accepted Hubbard’s challenge to join him in supporting the program, while other country stars including Tim McGrawFaith HillCamRosanne Cash and more have expressed public support for various gun control measures.

I am reminded of a country song:

The (Green) New Deal wasn’t (and isn’t)

Jonah Goldberg:

In his piece “There Is No Green New Deal,” Charlie writes:

What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has thrust upon our national conversation is not, in any sense, a “Green New Deal.” It does not resemble a Green New Deal. It does not approximate a Green New Deal. It does not so much as represent the shadows or the framework or the embryo of a Green New Deal. It is, instead, the inchoate shopping list of a political novice who has managed to get herself elected to Congress and believes that this has turned her into a visionary.

I agree with that, but it’s worth reminding folks that there was never any single coherent thing called “the New Deal.” From the beginning, FDR was clear that he was winging it. At Oglethorpe University, he famously set the tone for what they were up to: “bold, persistent experimentation.” He added, “It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Roosevelt fans on the left — and of late on the right — have lionized FDR’s “pragmatism” ever since. But this is a terrible credo for a nation committed to the idea that we live under the rule of law, not of men. Some avenues are supposed to be closed off from “experimentation.” Let’s try getting rid of the Bill of Rights for a bit and see if we can’t get great things done! Let’s be — as Tom Friedman puts it — “China for a Day.” Implicit in the idea of experimentation from Washington is the idea that planners should not be constrained. Implicit in the idea of a constitutional republic is that they should be. As we put it in our editorial on the Green New Deal, “The Left really has only one idea: control” — and that is the idea implicit in New Deal–style “experimentation.”

But there’s something else implicit in the idea of such experimentation: a total lack of policy coherence.

The New Deal cargo-cultists have a vexing habit of pointing at the things they like or liked about the New Deal and saying, “That’s the New Deal.” So they like Social Security but are silent — usually from ignorance — about the policies that caused blacks to protest the NRA (National Recovery Administration) as the “Negro Run Around” and “Negroes Ruined Again.” They like all the government makework for artists and writers but don’t talk about the little things, like Jacob Maged or the scuttling of the London Economic Conference, that helped deepen the Depression.

The simple fact, as I argued here, is there was no single New Deal (which is one reason why historians talk about the second New Deal, which produced most of the stuff people associate with the good New Deal). It was the steady pursuit of control and constantly updated wish lists. As FDR told Congress in 1936:

We have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people’s government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.

In other words, so long as we have the power, whatever we want to do is “wholesome and proper.” But if our political opponents get power, look out!

“I want to assure you,” FDR’s aide Harry Hopkins told an audience of New Deal activists in New York, “that we are not afraid of exploring anything within the law, and we have a lawyer who will declare anything you want to do legal.”

The New Deal wasn’t a program, it was the by-product of ad hoc experimentation by people who thought their own power was self-justifying. And to look back on it as somehow more coherent than the would-be Green New Deal is to give it too much credit.

“To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan,” wrote Raymond Moley, FDR’s right-hand man during much of his rule, “was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.” When Alvin Hansen, an influential economic adviser to the president, was asked — in 1940 — whether “the basic principle of the New Deal” was “economically sound,” he responded, “I really do not know what the basic principle of the New Deal is.”

It was control. And wish lists. And it was ever thus.

Presty the DJ for Feb. 14

On Valentine’s Day, this song, tied to no anniversary or birthday I’m aware of, nonetheless seems appropriate:

The number one British single today in 1968 was written by Bob Dylan:

The number one British album today in 1970 was “Motown Chartbusters Volume 3”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 14”

Evers vs. business, part 1

M.D. Kittle:

Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to cut middle-income taxes by raising taxes on Wisconsin’s vital manufacturing sector is making some employers nervous.

And that’s not what the doctor ordered for a resurgent sector that not that long ago seemed to be on life support.

“I have an advanced manufacturer in my district in the process of trying to expand their business. Now they are are concerned, with the rhetoric coming out of the East Wing, they’re not sure if it’s the right to expand their business,” state Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) told MacIver News Service last week on the Vicki McKenna Show on NewsTalk 1130 WISN.

The markets may hate uncertainty, and business deplores it.

“This is not the time we should send out mixed messages within the state of Wisconsin that’s going to put any new development or growth on ice,” Testin said. “We should continue to pursue policies that are going to grow our economy.”

Evers campaigned on a pledge to cut taxes 10 percent on middle-income earners, amounting to about $225 in tax relief for the average filer. The Democrat’s plan, yet to be fully defined, would be paid for in large part by hiking taxes on manufacturers that make more than $300,000 annually. Those who do exceed the income limit would no longer receive the state’s manufacturing and agricultural tax credit. Evers says the cap would generate about $518 million to pay for his proposal, leaving nearly $375 million at present unpaid for.

An Assembly Republican tax relief packagewould also target middle-income earners, delivering a $300-plus income tax cut for the median income family, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Republicans fund their proposal using about $340 million annually from the projected $2.4 billion in additional tax revenue over the next couple of years.

The bill, which passed last week in the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on a party-line vote, is slated for floor debate this week in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Evers’ plan appears to be a nonstarter for Republicans.

“We are not going to raise taxes — period,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). “We are not going to raise taxes, especially on our job creators, when we have a huge budget surplus.”

Capping the tax credit, critics say, could be disastrous for a rapidly expanding manufacturing sector that has helped the Badger State keep its unemployment rate at 3 percent or lower for nearly a year.

The state added 9,100 private-sector jobs in December, according to the latest preliminary data from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remained at 3 percent.

Wisconsin added 44,900 private-sector jobs from December 2017 to December 2018, with weekly wages rising a robust 4.5 percent in year-over-year comparisons. Wisconsin’s private-sector wages grew on average by 5.7 percent in the first five months of 2018, according to Census Bureau data. That compared to 2.7 percent for the entire U.S.

Manufacturing has had a lot to do with the strong economy.

A big reason for manufacturing’s resurgence in Wisconsin is tax policy change over the last eight years, particularly the manufacturing and agriculture tax credit that was among Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s top first-term initiatives. A 2017 University of Wisconsin-Madison analysis of the tax credit found it had accounted for the addition of more than 20,000 manufacturing jobs and more than 42,000 total jobs over a three-year period.

Capping the tax credit would have real-world implications on businesses that have helped build Wisconsin’s economic turnaround.

The vast majority of Wisconsin businesses in the U.S. — and Wisconsin — are pass-throughs, such as S-corporations and sole proprietorships. The tax structure passes income through to the businesses owners to be taxed under the individual income tax, not at the corporate rate. It reduces the effects of double taxation faced by traditional C-corporations.

In December’s extraordinary session, the Legislature passed a bill allowing pass-throughs the ability to choose between filing under the individual tax code or the higher 7.9 percent corporate rate. In that case, the businesses aren’t capped by the $10,000 limit on individual income tax deductions.

Most pass-throughs are small businesses with $10 million or less — much less in many cases – in sales or receipts. Evers’ tax increase on small manufacturers with taxable income of more than $300,000 would more than likely stymie job creation and production expansion in Wisconsin, Testin said.

That’s why it’s critical, Testin said, that the Legislature hold the line on any attempt to raise taxes.

“That’s the wrong approach right now. We don’t need to,” the senator said. “The (Legislative) Fiscal Bureau numbers show we are in sound fiscal ground right now. To upend the apple cart and send a chilling message to the business community in the state that we have an administration that wants to be tax happy, it’s the wrong call.”

Ask Bill Smith what he thinks about the legislative battle over tax cuts and he’ll tell you lawmakers should instead focus on repealing one of the state’s most inequitable taxes: The personal property tax.

“We urge the governor and the Legislature to get rid of the personal property tax and give Main Street some real relief,” Smith, state director of NFIB Wisconsin told MacIver News Service.

Wisconsin law has long taxed businesses on their personal property. The business community got a partial victory in the last session, when the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a $75 million repeal, exempting machinery, tools and patterns from the personal property tax code.

True fairness, Smith said, will come when the entire tax is wiped out.

“Doing so would impact every business on Main Street equally, without picking winners and losers,” he said.

Green Fantasyland

Jonah Goldberg:

On Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced what many news outlets described as “legislation” for the Green New Deal, a wildly ambitious plan to eliminate the American fossil fuel industry within a decade or so. It’s worth noting that it’s not legislation as people normally understand the term. It’s a resolution titled “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” In other words, even if it passed — a considerable if — nothing would really happen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t taking it too seriously. She didn’t put Ocasio-Cortez on the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and when asked about the resolution, she was dismissive.

“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi said. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”

I bring this up for the simple reason that a lot of people on the left and right have every incentive to make this thing a much bigger deal than it is.

Still, given that almost everyone running for the Democratic presidential nomination feels obliged to say they’re for it, it’s worth taking somewhat seriously.

This raises the first of several problems: It’s not a very serious proposal. The goal is to eliminate the fossil fuel industry over a decade and, perversely, phase out nuclear power over a slightly longer period. All of the jobs dependent on these industries would be replaced by government-guaranteed jobs.

“We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years,” the backers explain in an outline, “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.”

Well, at least the plan isn’t too ambitious. Retrofitting “every building in America” can be done in 10 years, but eliminating all the gassy cows will take a bit longer. Maybe we’ll move them all to Hawaii, which with the near-abolition of airplanes will be effectively cut off from America anyway.

Even if you take these goals seriously, as a practical matter it’s a fantasy masquerading as green virtue-signaling.

But it’s a fantasy based on a worldview that should be treated seriously because it’s so dangerous. NPR’s Steve Inskeep asked Ocasio-Cortez whether she was comfortable with the “massive government intervention” critics say is required by such an undertaking.

“We have tried their approach for 40 years,” Ocasio-Cortez replied. “For 40 years we have tried to let the private sector take care of this. They said, ‘We got this, we can do this, the forces of the market are going to force us to innovate.’ Except for the fact that there’s a little thing in economics called externalities. And what that means is that a corporation can dump pollution in the river and they don’t have to pay for it, and taxpayers have to pay.”

The fascinating thing is that Ocasio-Cortez thinks this is actually true.

Thanks to the government intervention known as the Clean Water Act and other regulations, corporations can’t pollute waterways. Ironically, the only entities that can pollute with impunity are government agencies such as the EPA, which did precisely that in Colorado in 2015. Closer to home, ExxonMobil has spent millions cleaning up Newtown Creek, which happens to run through Ocasio-Cortez’s native Brooklyn, close to her district. Ironically, the city of New York is still allowed to pollute the creek whenever there’s a heavy rainfall.

Even if Ocasio-Cortez was speaking figuratively in her talk of “externalities,” the larger point remains. The free market hasn’t been given free rein, and over the last 40 years the free market and government regulations alike have made laudable environmental progress. In 2017, the U.S. had the largest reductions of CO2 emissions in the world for the ninth time this century. Rather than celebrate and build on that reality, the Green New Dealers would rather embrace their fantasies — and waste a lot of time and money in the process.

Green crap

No, the headline is not an accident for this piece from David Harsanyi:

A number of Democratic Party presidential hopefuls — including Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julián Castro, and Beto O’Rourke, for starters — have already endorsed or expressed support for the “Green New Deal” (GND). [Thursday], Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey dropped details about her plan.

It is not hyperbole to contend that GND is likely the most ridiculous and un-American plan that’s ever been presented by an elected official to voters. Not merely because it would necessitate a communist strongman to institute, but also because the societal costs are unfathomable. The risible historic analogies Markey and Ocasio-Cortez rely on, the building of the interstate highway system or moon landing, are nothing are but trifling projects compared to a plan overhauls modernity by voluntarily destroying massive amounts of wealth and technology. That is the GND.

While some of the specifics need to be ironed out, the plan’s authors assure that this “massive transformation of our society” needs some “clear goals and a timeline.” The timeline is ten years. Here are some of the goals:

  • Ban affordable energy. GND calls for the elimination of all fossil fuel energy production, the lifeblood of American industry and life, which includes not only all oil but also natural gas — one of the cheapest sources of American energy, and one of the reasons the United States has been able to lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction.
  • Eliminate nuclear energy. The GND also calls for eliminating all nuclear power, one of the only productive and somewhat affordable “clean” energy sources available to us, in 11 years. This move would purge around 20 percent of American energy production so you can rely on intermittent wind for your energy needs.
  • Eliminate 99 percent of cars. To be fair, under the GND, everyone will need to retrofit their cars with Flintstones-style foot holes or pedals for cycling. The authors state that the GND would like to replace every “combustion-engine vehicle” — trucks, airplanes, boats, and 99 percent of cars — within ten years. Charging stations for electric vehicles will be built “everywhere,” though how power plants will provide the energy needed to charge them is a mystery.
  • Gut and rebuild every building in America. Markey and Cortez want to “retrofit every building in America” with “state of the art energy efficiency.” I repeat, “every building in America.” That includes every home, factory, and apartment building, which will all need, for starters, to have their entire working heating and cooling systems ripped out and replaced with…well, with whatever technology Democrats are going invent in their committee hearings, I guess.
  • Eliminate air travel. GND calls for building out “highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” Good luck Hawaii! California’s high-speed boondoggle is already in $100 billion dollars of debt, and looks to be one of the state’s biggest fiscal disasters ever. Amtrak runs billions of dollars in the red (though, as we’ll see, trains will also be phased out). Imagine growing that business model out to every state in America?
  • A government-guaranteed job. The bill promises the United States government will provide every single American with a job that includes a “family-sustaining wage, family and medical leave, vacations, and a pension.” You can imagine that those left in the private sector would be funding these through some unspecified “massive” taxation. On the bright side, when you’re foraging for food, your savings will be worthless.
  • Free education for life. GND promises free college or trade schools for every American.
  • A salubrious diet. The GND promises the government will provide “healthy food” to every American (because there are no beans or lettuce in your local supermarket, I guess).
  • A house. The GND promises that the government will provide, “safe, affordable, adequate housing” for every American citizen. I call dibs on an affordable Adams Morgan townhouse. Thank you, Ocasio-Cortez.
  • Free money. The GND aims to provide, and I am not making this up, “economic security” for all who are “unable or unwilling” to work. Just to reiterate: if you’re unwilling to work, the rest of us will have your back.
  • Bonus insanity: Ban meat. Ocasio-Cortez admits that we can’t get zero emissions in 10 years “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” The only way to get rid of farting cows is to get rid of beef.

The GND uses the word “massive” to explain the size “investments” (formerly known as “taxes”) 13 times. How will we pay for this plan? “The same way we did the New Deal, the 2008 bank bailouts and extend quantitative easing,” say Markey and Cortez, who earned her degree in economics at an institution of higher learning that should be immediately decertified. The plan itself seems to insinuate that billionaires can pay for the whole thing. Of course, best case scenario, it is estimated that instituting a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent would raise a little more than $700 billion over that decade. She does not explain how we’re going to raise the other 20 bazillion dollars it will cost to deconstruct modernity.

Cortez and Markey claim that 92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans support the Green New Deal. I’m not sure where that number is derived. But ask them again when government agents come to take out their water heater.

This is, bluntly, treason.

Presty the DJ for Feb. 11

Today in 1964 — one year to the day after recording their first album — the Beatles made their first U.S. concert appearance at the Washington Coliseum in D.C.:

The number one album today in 1969, “More of the Monkees,” jumped 121 positions in one week:

Today in 1972, Pink Floyd appeared at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, during their Dark Side of the Moon tour.

The concert lasted 25 minutes until the power went out, leaving the hall as bright as the dark side of the moon.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Feb. 11”