5. Houston +5
4. Ole Miss -2.5
3. Northwestern +9.5
2. Vanderbilt +23.5
1. Tulsa -3.5

The Cougars have dominated this series, 13-2 against the Green Wave since 2003 including a 10-0 run before a home loss in 2014. These two teams have 1 FBS win and 3 losses vs. Top 25 teams between them in 2019, but Houston has the better resume, having stared down a pair of Top 10 offenses in Oklahoma and Wazzu and being outscored by just 25 points combined. Tulane is a solid team, but even at home I wouldn’t want to lay almost a touchdown on a short week to D’Eriq King and a Cougars offense that’ll be hungry for a first FBS win after taking their lumps against elite non-conference competition. I’ll take the points on Thursday night.

Whenever a ranked team is an underdog vs. an unranked team, it should raise some eyebrows. Cal is a suspect 3-0, beating FCS foe UC-Davis by just 14, Pac-12 rival Washington in a weather-delayed field goal fest, and then barely hung on against North Texas from Conference USA. Ole Miss’ resume isn’t much better, but the coaching staff is very familiar with Cal and their offense is starting to pick up steam. A west-coast team with a bad offense heading east for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff is not a good spot to be in. If Ole Miss can build an early lead, Cal doesn’t have the horses on offense to play catch-up.

Coach Fitz’s resume as an underdog speaks for itself and here he is as a HOME DOG getting almost 10 points against a Michigan State team that’s been schizophrenic on offense for over a year now. Northwestern’s QB has been really bad, but the Cats’ D has been solid and they relish these ugly backyard brawl type of games. I just don’t know how anyone could lay -9.5 with Michigan State on the road in good conscience, so I’ll take the other side. Go Cats!

This is a show-me game for LSU. They’ve pasted two cupcakes and won a shootout with Texas as a touchdown favorite, so now I want to see them beat an SEC team as a big favorite on the road before I believe the CFB Playoff hype. Vanderbilt has some weapons on offense and Riley Neal is a really solid senior quarterback. LSU is banged up all over the defensive side of the ball while Vandy will be rested and prepared coming off a bye. Vanderbilt rarely gets blown out at home and while Joe Burrow will get his through the air against a bad secondary, I think they can keep a suspect Tigers’ run game in check which should give Neal plenty of chances at the backdoor.

Tulsa dominated Oklahoma State’s defense at times last week and really should have covered aside from a couple of long touchdowns late in the game that padded the Pokes’ lead. Wyoming is 3-0, but they’ve been outgained by more than 100 yards per game, even against lightweights Idaho and Texas State. With Zach Smith under center, Tulsa is a completely different offense than the one that was held to 80 yards by Michigan State in week 1. I think the Hurricane will put one on the Cowboys to even their record at 2-2 heading into conference play.

Last Week: 2-4
Season: 6-9-1


7. Browns -2.5
5. Bengals -1.5
4. Giants +2
3. Okie State -14
2. Troy -2
1. Raiders +7.5

After a deflating loss to the Bills, losing 17-16 after leading 16-0, AND their QB Sam Darnold out indefinitely with mono, AND a trip to New England on deck, AND facing an embarrassed, angry Browns team that shat the bed last week, this is a horror-spot for the Jets. The Darnold news moved this line more than 3 points in Vegas so this might be the value of the season in our pool.

My favorite betting nugget this week: Since 2015 (new CBA), teams facing an opponent playing a 2nd straight road game to open a season are 14-1 ATS. Cincy went to Seattle and nearly doubled-up the Seahawks in terms of yardage, 429-232, in a 1-point loss. The Niners were outgained in a blow-out win over Tampa Bay thanks to a rare pick-12 from Jameis Winston. 0-1 vs. 1-0, taking (maybe) the better team, at home, and facing a California team traveling east for the 2nd straight week? Gimme the Bengals!

The Bills were down 16-0 at the Jets and rallied for an improbable win. Now they're on the road for the 2nd straight week LAYING points despite going 2-6 straight up on the road last year. Despite the lopsided result, the Giants put up 470 yards on the Cowboys last week and were in the game before things snowballed early in the 3rd quarter. This is another 0-1 vs. 1-0. Gimme the home dog!

Oklahoma State rolled Tulsa by more than 20 points the last 3 times these in-state rivals have gotten together. Tulsa won just 3 games last year, their win last week was over San Jose State, a program that went 1-11 last year, and Tulsa was held to 80 total yards in Week 1, albeit by a stacked Michigan State D. There's potential for a look-ahead spot with a trip to Austin on deck, but I think the Pokes will come out flying to WIN ONE FOR T. BOONE!!

Troy has gone 31-8 the last 3 seasons and here they are at home, off a bye, and laying less than a field goal. This is the middle game of three straight on the road for Southern Miss, in between SEC opponents Mississippi State last week and Alabama next. The Golden Eagles have a solid defense and a good QB, but Conference USA has been getting pasted by everyone and Troy is one of the very best Group of 5 programs. I'll gladly lay the points.

I really don't want to step in front of the Mahomes freight train right now, but the Chiefs are making a long road trip for the 2nd straight week, this time to face a divisional rival. KC won by just 7 in Oakland last year and lost there in 2017. The vaunted Broncos D barely got near Derek Carr on MNF (22-26, 259 yards) so I doubt a suspect Chiefs D will do better, especially after watching Gardner Minshew carve them up in relief last week. Even if the Chiefs build a lead, the back door should be wide open for Carr. With a 0.5-point hook in hand, gimme another home dog!

Last Week: 2-3
Season: 4-5-1


5. Canes -4
4. FIU -7
3. New Mexico State +55
2. Georgia Tech -6
1. Colts +6.5

Manny Diaz is a good coach with a great defensive unit and 2 weeks off to prepare for a UNC team coming off the exuberance of an improbable come-from-behind win and with in-state rival Wake on deck. This is a perfect sandwich spot for Miami to get-right with a road win.

FIU got smoked by a really good Tulane team on the road and Butch Davis said afterward some players were nervous about the pending hurricane back home and would be much more focused this week. WKU blew a 14-point lead in the 4th quarter to lose to FCS Central Arkansas (shout out to Scottie Pippen's alma mater!) last week. This is a great spot for a solid, veteran FIU team to get-right and notch a conference win vs. a team they beat last year by 21 on the road.

If someone offers you 50+ points, you hold your nose and take it. This kind of huge number shows up at least once every year for Bama and over the long term it's paid well to take the dog. Forecast shows heat index close to 110 in Tuscaloosa so with a 3:00 kickoff I imagine all involved will be more than happy just to get this over with.

I'm sticking with the USF suuuucks theme and after last week's no-show that's looking like a decent camp to be in. Tech led this same USF team 38-28 in the 4th quarter last year before allowing 21 unanswered. I think they avenge that loss and get-right at home by notching a win for their new head coach against a bad G5 team.

EWING THEORY! Laying big points with the Chargers is always an adventure and they have been a much better road team of late. The Melvin Gordon saga is a huge distraction and they've already been bitten by the injury bug. I'm not sure Jacoby Brissett is a huge step down from overrated media darling Andrew Luck. I'll take an inflated line and bet on a "nobody believes in us!" performance from the rest of the Colts who everyone seems to forget went 7-1 down the stretch last year, won a playoff game, and were a popular Super Bowl sleeper just a couple weeks ago.

Last Week: 2-2-1
Season: 2-2-1


5. Wisconsin -12 (Friday)
4. South Carolina -10
3. Ole Miss +5.5
2. Kentucky/Toledo Under 62
1. UCLA +2.5 (Thursday)

Gonna start things off with a little action on Thursday and Friday this week. Going with Wisky as my first pick of the season reeks of homerism, but I like them to roll here behind a big night from Jonathan Taylor. USF only beat ECU, Tulsa, and UCONN (combined 7 wins in 2018) in conference and by a combined 16 points at that. Miraculous wins over Georgia Tech and Illinois rounded out a wholly fraudulent resume. Wisconsin had a down year, but this has been a perennial power in the B1G. Pretty much every other Big 10 program is laying well over 2 TDs to a non-Power 5 opponent this weekend so I'll take advantage of the relatively short number while folks are still asleep on the Badgers.

The Heels are starting from scratch and Mack Brown or not, the cupboard is pretty bare compared to the Gamecocks who return a ton of talent on offense and an experienced QB. With one of the toughest schedules in the country, South Carolina needs to make these less-daunting matchups count so I think they pour it on if they can, especially vs. a regional rival.

An SEC team getting points vs. Group of 5 seems likely to win more than you lose over time. Memphis has had a nice run of late, but their resume last year was a tad suspect; they beat up on a very weak American West and lost to every decent-to-good opponent they played. Ole Miss has a new coaching staff, a bunch of returning players, and no postseason ban hangover. I think the Rebs play angry and at least keep this close if not win outright.

Kentucky/Toledo Under 62; the number seemed high and has moved about 3 points in Vegas so I'll take the value.

UCLA returns 19/22 starters and should be markedly better in Chip Kelly's 2nd season. Cincinnati rose to all-time great heights for the program last year and has TWO in-state rivalry games on deck (Ohio State next week) before diving right into the meat of their conference schedule. Cincy was a 2-TD dog at UCLA last year and now they're a short home favorite? This line reeks, so I'll throw a 1-pointer on the Bruins plus the points.

Stupid or Liar: Tariffs

Is Donald Trump stupid and honestly believes that China pays his tariffs or is he a liar who doesn’t want American voters to understand that they’re the ones paying? Tariffs on Chinese goods are simply an additional tax on the American consumer and it’s really a pretty simple thing to understand.

Let’s say a Chinese manufacturer makes a thingamajig. The cost per unit is $100 and they sell it to an American retailer for $120. The American retailer then sells the thingamajig for $144 to an American consumer. Now let’s say the United States government imposes a 25% tariff on the thingamajig made in China. The cost per unit is now $125 ($100 + $25 tariff). In order to maintain their margin, the Chinese manufacturer raises the price of each thingamajig to $150 when they sell it to the American retailer. In order for the American retailer to maintain their margin, they have to sell the thingamajig for $180.

It may be true in the sense of who “writes the check” to the US Treasury for the cost of the tariff that it’s paid by the Chinese firm. However, who is actually bearing the cost of the tariff? The Chinese retailer maintains a 20% margin (20/100 = 20%, 25/125 = 20%) and the American retailer maintains a 20% margin (24/120 = 20%, 30/150 = 20%), but it’s the American consumer whose thingamajig now costs 25% more (36/144 = 25%), the exact amount of the tariff.

As you can see from this example, tariffs are simply a tax on the American consumer. An argument can be made that the increased cost of thingamajigs will lead to less demand from consumers. This would hurt the Chinese firm’s bottom line because they will sell less thingamajigs unless they accept lower margins, i.e. bear some of the cost of the tariff instead of passing 100% of it onto the American consumer. In theory, this would make locally-produced thingamajigs more competitively priced and/or force the Chinese manufacturer to build a factory in the United States in order to avoid the tariff altogether.

The problem with this theory is that China no longer just makes t-shirts and cheap plastic knock-offs. Chinese firms are increasingly producing high-value products that compete with American and western firms on more than just price. Chinese technology and manufacturing quality is on par with, and in some instances may even exceed, what American and western firms are capable of.

In sectors where final products from western firms are still preferred, many small internal components are produced in China and then assembled locally in countries where they’re sold. It will be extremely costly for these supply chains to be re-routed back to the United States and for the internal components to be produced there instead.

The cost of rerouting supply chains back to the United States will certainly be passed onto the American consumer. At the end of the day, while a locally-made thingamajig may be cost-competitive with one made in China after accounting for the cost of tariffs, it will very likely still cost more than the $120 pre-tariff price tag from the example I provided earlier.

When China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001, it marked a great leap forward in the globalization of supply chains. This allowed American multi-national corporations to send expensive manufacturing jobs offshore to China and save a boatload of money. These savings boosted profit margins to record highs and the windfall largely flowed upwards into higher pay for executive and massive returns for shareholders, even after the Great Financial Crisis. The workers whose jobs were sent overseas received little in return, especially after the Great Financial Crisis. Let me be clear, these jobs were not “stolen” through unfair Chinese trade practices, they were sold in exchange for compensation.

Few in the political establishment had a problem with this until China started to assert itself around the world both economically and militarily. In 2014, China stopped using the dollars we sent them to buy United States Treasury Bonds and instead starting loaning dollars to developing countries to build large-scale infrastructure projects. As outlined in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, this is a scheme the United States had been the dominant player in for decades, but was now facing stiff competition and in fact losing out handily in many cases.

The United States cannot be wholly reliant on Chinese manufacturing and technology in order to function if they wish to counter China’s rise as a global superpower. China would be in a position to cripple the United States economically if the status quo remains unchanged. An economic crisis would seriously limit the capacity of the United States to stand up to China militarily on a sustained basis were a flashpoint to occur between the two countries.

One apparent solution to this problem is to reroute existing supply chains out of China and back to the United States. In the long run, this will certainly increase the United States’ domestic manufacturing capacity and secure a higher level of independence from bottlenecks within the global supply chain. However, one must ask, who will pay the high cost of de-globalization?

As I showed in the example earlier, American consumers are undoubtedly the ones who pay the tariffs that aim to force a re-organization of global supply chains. Middle class workers paid dearly 20 years ago when their jobs were off-shored to China and the gains went straight to the bottom line of American corporations. Now the American middle class is being forced to pay higher prices in order to cover the cost to corporations of re-shoring all that manufacturing capacity. At the end of the day, these tariffs aren’t about forcing China to “play by the rules” or “level the playing field”. These tariffs provide cover for American corporations so that they can keep the windfall they received for selling out American workers.

Fool me once, shame on me. Please don’t be fooled again.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

I recently finished The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman. The book is the memoir of former Economic Hitman (EHM) John Perkins. An economic hitman is a consultant who uses a variety of techniques, ranging from inflated economic projections to bribery, extortion, and blackmail, to entrap the governments of countries around the world in a cycle of debt and economic enslavement.

Broadly speaking, the scheme is to convince third-world leaders to take on large loans from western banks to finance infrastructure projects that will, according to pie-in-the-sky economic projections provided by EHMs, create economic growth, jobs, and a higher standard of living in the target country. Since third-world countries have no local expertise in large engineering and construction projects, the money that’s not wasted on local graft and corruption is used to pay western corporations to do the work.

When costs overrun and economic growth doesn’t materialize, the countries are unable to service the debt. Then organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank come to the “rescue” with new loans to make sure that the countries can at least continue to pay the interest on the initial loans and make the western banks whole. The cycle is repeated over and over again. The role of the international banking syndicate in this process, as well as numerous bailouts of domestic banks and industries, is detailed in The Creature From Jekyll Island about the formation, in secret, of the Federal Reserve System in the United States.

If the targeted country ever tries to default on the loans or nationalize their industries, Jackals are brought in to overthrow the government and install puppet governments, usually brutal dictators, to continue the EHM scheme. Perkins details numerous instances where the US intelligence services, and even the military itself, have been used in this way. Another great book that I read last year is All the Shah’s Men. It gives a thrilling and detailed account of the CIA’s 1953 coup in Iran that ousted democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh after he nationalized the Iranian oil industry.

The EHM system is increasingly employed domestically in the United States. Local governments, cities, counties, and states, around the country have been entrapped in EHM schemes to subsidize the development of everything from multi-family housing to retail space to corporate headquarters and even sports stadiums for billionaire team owners.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman was a really interesting book to read and paired with the others I have mentioned here, a detailed picture comes into focus of how crony capitalism is able to thrive around the world today. While many of the key players end up becoming incredibly wealthy as a result, it is not a system that thrives because of “the rich”.

It’s a system built first and foremost on debt pushed by the international banking syndicate. Governments around the world, even in the West, are easily corrupted by the promise of easy money that politicians can use to buy votes by promising something for nothing. They use propaganda to make ordinary citizens believe that these large public debts will help them. In the private sector, often backed by government guarantees, this debt trap takes the form of auto loans, mortgages, and student loans that many people will never fully repay.

In the end, the promises never materialize and when democratic attempts are made to reform the corrupt governments that helped to sell the lies, covert and/or overt force is used to bog down the democratic process, rig elections, or orchestrate a coup to keep those in power who will play along. It’s an evil, parasitic system that will require intense sacrifice in order to tear down and rebuild.

The final chapters of Perkins’ book offer a glimmer of hope and an extensive list of ideas for what you can do to help. In my opinion, waking up more people to this reality is a necessary first step, so read these books and pass on what you learn at every opportunity. I’ll be sure to do the same.

Mass Suicide

With the usual outcry after yet another mass shooting, this time at the BorderLine Bar & Grill in California, I think it might help to think about a different question than that of gun violence and mental health: Why are so many Americans killing themselves?

The AFSP has many interesting charts and graphics showing different suicide statistics in the United States, but the trend is clear: every year more and more Americans, especially young Americans, are killing themselves. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds and 2nd leading for 24-35 year olds. Very few commit mass shootings before killing themselves. Most die quietly without any news coverage. Why is this happening? What about our culture or our society is leaving so many young people feeling left out and angry at the world?

After all, mass shootings are basically a form of suicide. The shooters almost always kill themselves, force the police to shoot them, or intend to do so yet lose their nerve and surrender. The specifics of each case have been different, but a common thread seems to be that these people are angry and they want to die. Omar Mateen was angry about US foreign policy in the middle east, Patrick Kelley was angry at his mother-in-law, Dylann Roof wanted to start a race war, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wanted revenge on the kids who bullied them at school. Even in the shootings with no known motive like Aurora, Sandy Hook, or Parkland, it’s clear the gunmen were extremely troubled young people who stopped caring if they lived or died. If you factor in attempted suicides and the number of people harming themselves by abusing alcohol, prescription drugs, and opioids, it’s truly staggering how many Americans want to die.

In many cases mass-shooters are military veterans, widely revered as the most noble and brave among us, yet with their entire lives ahead of them they choose to kill themselves and others. In addition to mass-killers like OKC bomber Tim McVeigh, shooters like Christopher Dorner, DC Sniper John Allen Muhammad, Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan, Washington Navy Yard Shooter Aaron Alexis, Kelley mentioned in the previous paragraph, and the latest, former Marine David Long have been veterans of the American armed forces. What qualifies as a “mass shooting” can differ greatly depending on who you’re talking to, but I’ve read several compilations of data on generally-considered-mass-shootings that found over 1/3 of mass shooters had at least some military background.

Obviously with the longest wars in American history on-going for most of the last two decades, a larger number of Americans have some connection to or service in the armed forces than in prior decades, but still only about 15% of Americans are veterans. So the rate of veterans among mass shooters vs. among everyday American society is more than 2x. Why? The military is revered in our society; just watch an NFL football broadcast. Setting aside problems within the VA health system, veterans are given generous retirement and benefit packages in exchange for their service. They’re honored at football games, on television, in Hollywood movies, and even while boarding a plane. Why are these noble, brave, well-regarded Americans choosing to commit suicide at a rate of 20 per day, let alone the few who choose to take other lives in addition to their own?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but if you look beyond the blatantly obvious common thread of “they used guns”, there are other glaring similarities between these incidents. Mass-shooters are usually young men, often with prior military service, who are extremely angry at the time of the shooting even though they’re living the prime years of their lives. So what is making these young people feel that they not only have nothing to live for, but that the world is so against them that they need to lash out?

Video games, violent movies, if-it-bleeds-it-leads media, foreign intervention, torture, empire, and war overseas coming home, social media, government schools, the list of possibilities is endless, but I think what’s clear is that we’re creating more and more angry young people and angry veterans who’ve lost the desire to live than ever before. Beyond the very few who make the news for committing a mass shooting before their suicide, thousands more (45,000 in 2016) are making the same choice in the wealthiest country in the history of the world.

The answer to this question is where the solution will be found: If America really is the greatest country on earth in the midst of the longest economic expansion in its history, then why are so many young people in the prime of their lives choosing to opt out? Unfortunately, as always, the focus seems to be on guns and background checks while this cancer continues to eat away at our young people. For the sake of the next generation of young people, I hope we can find a way to turn these statistics in the other direction, but it could get worse before it gets better.

Our First Investment Property

In November of 2016 Kendra and I purchased a 4-family investment property in south city St. Louis ~3 miles from our primary residence. After concluding our first calendar year of owning the property, I thought I'd share our results for those who were curious and/or thinking of possibly pursuing a similar buy and hold real estate investment.


Purchase price: $179,900
Our loan is a 30-year fixed rate residential mortgage at 4.25%
25% Downpayment: $44,975
Mortgage Payment (Principal & Interest): $663.75

Operating Income
$26,435 scheduled gross rents (4 units)
$(1001) vacancy
$600 garage rent
$11 interest
$26,045 gross operating income

Operating Expenses
Property Management (10% of gross rents): $(2543)
Leasing fee for new tenant placement: $(550)
Sewer: $(1397)
Water & Trash: $(1232)
Lawn care/mowing: $(350)
Gas & Electric during vacancy: $(228)
City occupancy inspection aka government extortion fees: $(183)
Maintenance & Repairs: $(3594)
Property Taxes: $(2009)
Insurance: $(983)
$(13,069) gross operating expense

Net Operating Income: $12,976
Mortgage P&I: $(7965)
Cash Flow Before Taxes: $5,011
Cash-on-cash return: 11%
Equity Accrued: $2275
Total Return: $7286
Total ROI: 16%

Our goals were to cash flow $100 per month per door, have a cash-on-cash ROI of 12%, and achieve a total return of 20%. We hit our cash flow number almost exactly at $104 per door while our ROI and total return came in a little under our projections. However, we elected to spend about $1500 at the end of December on a handful of maintenance & repair items which brought down our NOI for the year. Excluding that line item, our cash-on-cash return would have been ~14.5% and our total return would be close to 20%.

Within the next 5 years this property will need a new roof and likely at least one new hvac unit to replace an existing boiler. We plan to pay for these items out of the property's cash flow, so although we hope that this year's numbers are a good baseline for future years until the mortgage is paid off, we know that those big ticket expenses will likely weigh on our returns at some point over the next few years.

Regardless of how you do the accounting, we were ecstatic with the first year's performance of our investment! Having a quality property manager on our team made this a very hands-off investment for us and we hope to acquire several more small multi-family properties in the future. Real estate investing really does work if you know your numbers and can find the right property to fit your goals!

Lastly, new investors often ask what to estimate for expenses. After 1 year owning this property, we now have one year of data! These numbers are as a percentage of scheduled gross rents. I did not include the garage rents since the garage accrued no expenses and not every property has one.
Vacancy = 4%
Operating Expenses = 50% and breaks down as follows:
Property management: 12%
Fixed expenses (property tax, insurance, water, sewer, trash): 21%
Variable expenses (maintenance, repairs, lawn care, gas, electric, inspections): 17%

Empathy at Gunpoint

I recently came across an inane (shocking) HuffPo op-ed that I felt like is a common enough, albeit absurd, belief among many people living in Trump-era America that it was worth commenting on in some detail. Here is the link: I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.

First off, Americans are the most charitable people in the world by a wide margin, so the notion that Americans as a whole lack empathy is utter nonsense. In fact, the hated 1% provide 33% of all donations made and almost all (86%) of donations made upon death. This generosity from the "rich" (adjusted gross income > $250,000) comes on top of providing for over half (52%) of the individual income taxes collected by the Federal government, despite accounting for only 3% of all returns filed. So in addition, the notion that rich Americans are callous and lack empathy is also ridiculous.

Moving onto the HuffPo op-ed, I think the author unintentionally touches on the root of the political disconnect in America when she describes how empathetic she, and people who think like her, are compared to "right wing" people who she says just plain don't care about other people. The fact of the matter is that anyone who champions one side over the other in the right/left political dichotomy is a person who lacks empathy.

The writer goes through several scenarios where she's says she is happy to pay more for a burger, pay more in taxes, etc. so long as her wealth goes to a good cause like a minimum wage worker feeding their family or a child being provided a good education because society would be better for it and only a callous selfish right wing person could disagree with her fundamental view of what it means to live in a society. However, if we buy into her version of society within the right/left political dichotomy, then what she's really saying is, I think these are examples of worthy recipients of my wealth, and you should too and if you don't someone should force you at gunpoint to go along with itHerein lies the root cause that is splintering American politics in 2017. At it's core, the argument is, "Who should decide what's good for a society?"

While I don't know for sure, I would guess that if team blue were in power and raising taxes on the wealthy and enforcing free college and health care for all that this writer would be applauding all the way. For me, that shows a glaring lack of empathy on her part because while she may agree with those ideas and would gladly volunteer a portion of her wealth toward them, what about all the people who don't agree with her or have different priorities for their own wealth? Should everyone be forced to show their empathy in the same way she does? That would not only be glaringly unempathetic, but it's immoral, yet it's how people on both sides of right/left politics have been programmed to think about every political issue. 

The notion that any small group of people in Washington D.C. (or Jefferson City, Springfield, etc.), whether liberal or conservative, have any idea what's best for everyone in America (or Missouri) is pure fantasy. A common glib response to libertarian ideology is that we have a utopic vision of the world that just doesn't exist, yet those same people turn around and advocate for an unelected official in the federal government to decide what's the best curriculum to teach schoolchildren in Wyoming, New York, Kentucky, and Alaska. Who exactly is living in a fantasy world?

What it actually means to live in a society is that individuals work together to solve local issues that affect their daily lives and matter to them, even if they may not matter to anyone else or heck even if they matter a lot to everyone else. Our system of government has aged very poorly and over time, for a myriad of reasons, far too much power has been consolidated at the Federal level and it's starting to drive everyone crazy. No good solution will come from wagging a finger atop your high horse and explaining, "Welp, I can't teach empathy so I don't know what else we have to talk about."

A potential answer is that we should decentralize political power and actually empower individuals to solve their own problems at a local level rather than lamenting about an obstructionist "other side" that's preventing you from forcing the society you think is best onto everyone else at the point of a gun. The fact of the matter is that society and culture should be vastly different in Mississippi vs. California vs. Oregon vs. Nebraska vs. Tennessee and wildly different between cities and towns in each state and even neighborhoods and streets within those communities.

If we could all just agree to disagree about who has the best vision for putting our wealth to good use then there would be nothing left to argue about. Frankly, it's disgusting that anyone thinks it's okay to tell someone else what the best use of their time and money is and then advocate a government use force to make them comply with their worldview. Nobody cares more about you, your family, and your wealth than you do, so why would you want anyone else to decide the outcome of your life? In my libertarian world, the HuffPo author would get everything she wants, but so would everyone else! In her world, at least half the people are miserable all the time. Which sounds more empathetic to you?

Stupid or Liar: Gun Control Edition

The monster behind the Sutherland Springs shooting had a least a half-decade of documented warning signs. Among those was a domestic violence conviction while he was an employee of the U.S. government, and for good measure he even went so far as to make death threats and try to escape from the nut house while still in their employ. From what I understand, under current law, the man should not have been able to buy a gun as a result of this conviction, even in Texas.

Yet even with all this evidence documented in the public record, and the laws on the books necessary to follow through on preventing the man from buying a gun, the government is so incompetent that this poster child for crazy-white-male-who-shouldn't-have-a-gun managed to slip through their system thanks to a lack of "common sense" at the level of, "maybe we should notify our fellow federal government agency, the FBI, about this bat-shit crazy guy we hired and fired, you know, like we're required to."

Once the horrific shooting had begun, the carnage was only stopped when an armed citizen, a former NRA instructor, confronted the shooter with his own gun, shooting him three times. Not only that, the armed citizen then got in a vehicle with another fellow citizen and pursued the shooter until he lost control of his vehicle and killed himself and was no longer a threat to others.

I don't know what the best course of action is to counteract gun violence in America, but after this I sure as shit know (if I didn't already) that it is not to place more power and responsibility in the hands of the federal government, stained as they are with the blood of innocent churchgoers.

Frankly, if you take into account everything that went on in Sutherland Springs, Texas this past weekend and your sincere proposal is still anything along the lines of, "we need the federal government to 'do something', enact 'common sense' laws, and/or take further control over the sale and ownership of firearms", then you're either stupid or you're just a liar.

English Premier League 2017-2018 Preview

1) Manchester United
Jose Mourinho always wins the league in his second season. United were a trainwreck at times last year, but the manager had inherited a mess of a squad and needed time to rebuild. Mourinho ruthlessly moved on from the aging Wayne Rooney and out went flops from the old regime like Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlein, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. In comes powerhouse forward Romelu Lukaku and midfield anchor Nemanja Matic. Lukaku has been prolific in the Premier League and amazingly is still just 24 years old. Much of United's fortunes hinge on the Belgian taking the next step up in his career to become a cold-blooded 30-goal scorer ala Didier Drogba during Mourinho's first stint at Chelsea. Matic still has plenty left in the tank and his positional discipline will allow Paul Pogba the freedom to roam forward and be the talisman United paid a then-record fee for last summer. Eric Bailly proved an astute addition in defense and Henrik Mkhitarayan is brimming with confidence after a difficult start to his United career. It could come down to the wire between the red and blue halves of Manchester like it did on the last day of the 2011-2012 season, but my money is on the Red Devils.  

2) Manchester City
Pep Guardiola's first season in the Premier League was an uneven one as he failed to get consistent performances from his team after a blistering start to the campaign. In the summer City got a lot younger, lowering the average age of their squad down from 28 years old to 25. Pep rightly focused on invigorating a wretched defensive unit by bringing in Danilo from Real Madrid and Benjamin Mendy from AS Monaco. While City got younger at the back, in attack they remain overly-reliant on the creativity of 31-year old David Silva and goal scoring of not-getting-any-younger Sergio Aguero at age 29. Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus will take over those respective attacking roles in time, but it feels like this squad needs another year to marinate before they're ready to dominate the league.    

3) Chelsea
The Blues moved on from long-serving captain John Terry, Matic, and striker Diego Costa, replacing them with Antonio Rudiger, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Alvaro Morata. All of these are great moves long term, but manager Antonio Conte may encounter some depth issues having also sold or loaned out a number of younger squad players. The team was fortunate to not endure any long term injuries last season and now will have to juggle European competition in addition to the weekly rigors of the Premier League. I think Chelsea takes a step back this season while Conte puts a more permanent stamp on the club.     

4) Everton
After a very successful season in which Everton challenged for a Champions League place before fading at the tail end of the season, Ronald Koeman splashed the cash this summer in an effort to take the club to the next level. The manager injected his squad with young talent, bringing in English goalkeeping phenom Jordan Pickford (23 years old), defender Michael Keane (24), attacking midfielders Davy Klaassen (24) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (27), and striker Sandro Ramirez (22). Even among so many impressive moves, the headliner by far was the return of striker Wayne Rooney 13 years after he left his boyhood club to become a legend at Manchester United. With Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Arsenal largely standing pat over the summer, I think there's room for Everton to move up several spots in the standings and finally make good on the potential that's been building under Koeman.

5) Arsenal
While last year's team lifted the FA Cup for the third time in four years, they also finished outside the top four in the league for the first time in Arsene Wenger's tenure as manager. No Champions League football for the Gunners could be a blessing in disguise. Midweek Champions League fixtures make for a grueling schedule and it's no coincidence that the last two league winners did not have to contend with both competitions. With the additions of Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette, there is no doubt Arsenal have the talent to finish in the top four and even win the league, but the uncertain futures of star players Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will be ominous clouds hanging over the entire season as both enter the final year of their contracts. The FA Cup win and club-record signing of Lacazette papered over the cracks of last season's 5th place finish and the fanbase remains split over whether a 2-year contract extension for Wenger was the right move. If the team has one of their patented month-long swoons at the wrong point in the campaign and both Ozil and Alexis continue to avoid signing new contracts, the wheels could fully come off the bus and plunge the club into a deep state of uncertainty.

6) Tottenham
Spurs enjoyed their best-ever season in 2016-17 as the club finished second in the league with the highest point total for a runner-up since Manchester United in 2011-12. Mauricio Pochettino might be the best manager in the Premier League as he's turned an also-ran football club into legitimate title contenders. After selling Kyle Walker for over $50 million, a staggering sum for a one-trick pony fullback, the club have made only one signing to add to a small squad that has enjoyed a remarkable run of form and good health. A long term injury to any one of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, or Christian Eriksen could spell disaster for Spurs as the depth behind them is non-existent. The squad as-constructed could be close to a breaking point having played match after match at maximum effort over the last two seasons. It will be up to the manager to make the necessary additions to the squad in order to consolidate their position as annual title contenders moving forward. I think Spurs will struggle to replicate the impressive form of the last two years while temporarily playing home games at Wembley Stadium as they wait on construction of their new stadium.  

7) Stoke City
Mark Hughes oversaw a lot of turnover in the summer, but on the whole this should be a much improved team from last season. After three straight 9th place finishes, the club sank to 13th on account of scoring the third-fewest goals among surviving teams. Stoke moved on from long-serving players Jonathan Walters, Glenn Whelan, and Phil Bardsley and sold enigmatic winger Marko Arnautovic to West Ham, replacing him with vastly talented striker Jese formerly of Real Madrid and PSG. The club signed two young powerhouse defenders in Kurt Zouma, on loan from Chelsea, and Bruno Martins Indi permanently from FC Porto. They also should get see what a fully focused and healthy season from Saido Berahino looks like after his protracted transfer from West Brom. Overall, Stoke will be less reliant on older players in decline and suddenly appear to have some intriguing upside.    

8) Liverpool
Abject defensive performances plagued Liverpool last season and thus far the club has done little to address the team's shortcomings at the back. Their marquee summer signing was another fleet-footed attacker in former Chelsea flop Mohamed Salah who revitalized his career during the last two seasons at AS Roma in Italy. It seems likely that Liverpool will cave into an astronomical offer from Barcelona for Brazilian midfield dynamo Philippe Countinho and thus leave manager Jurgen Klopp with a very similar squad makeup from the end of last season. I think Manchester United, Arsenal, and Everton all improved more than Liverpool did this summer, so a slide out of the European places seems likely without one or two defensive signings in the last weeks of the transfer window.  

9) Leicester City
The Foxes regressed to the mean in a big way after their shocking Premier League triumph in 2015-16, flirting with relegation before finishing 12th. Leicester are much better than they looked at times last year and they won't have to contend with Champions League football this time around. With the pressure of a title defense gone, I think Leicester could actually surprise some and challenge for a place in the top four, especially if they can keep hold of wantaway winger Riyad Mahrez.

10) Crystal Palace
New manager Frank de Boer was the biggest summer addition at Crystal Palace. After six wildly successful seasons as manager of his boyhood club Ajax, de Boer signed on at Inter Milan in August of last year. He lasted just 85 days before getting sacked and will now try his luck in the Premier League. There's no doubt about de Boer's managerial chops and he should be given ample time to make his mark at Selhurst Park. Palace finished one point better than 17th and 5 points below 8th, so there is a wide range of outcomes here. The switch from Alan Pardew to de Boer alone should be worth 4 or 5 places in the standings.

11) Bournemouth
The Cherries finished 9th last season and will look to consolidate their position in the top half of the table. The team trimmed a number of squad players from their roster while bring in three major signings. Asmir Begovic will take over as the first choice goalkeeper after two low-key seasons at Chelsea. Nathan Ake was signed permanently after a successful loan spell and the ageless Jermain Defoe comes aboard on a free transfer to add to the team's end product. The main question for me is whether Benik Afobe and Callum Wilson can score enough goals to supplement Joshua King's 16-goal tally from last season. Defoe has scored everywhere he's gone in the Premier League so they'll probably be okay barring a rash of injuries like they endured in 2015-2016. 

12) Watford
Although Watford finished 17th, their position in the table did not accurately reflect how well they played at times last season. Consistent goal-scoring was the main problem for the Hornets after striker Odion Ighalo failed to live up to expectations and was eventually sold to China for a hefty sum. Watford added some creativity to the team, making loans for Tom Cleverley and Nathan Chalobah permanent, and signing striker Andre Gray from Burnley. The club also added Richarlison, a young winger from Fluminese in Brazil, and Will Hughes, a well-regarded young attacking midfielder from Derby County in The Championship. The injection of talent should help Watford recover from last season's stumble and resume a move higher up the table.

13) West Brom
Thanks to their disciplined defensive tactics, the Baggies finished 10th last year despite scoring just 43 goals, at least ten less than any other team in the top half except for Southampton. The team moved on from midfielders Craig Gardner and Darren Fletcher, replacing the latter with the ageless Gareth Barry who is still an above average Premier League midfielder even with over 600 league appearances under his belt at age 36. The team also added talented but oft-injured striker Jay Rodriguez to their ranks. As with any Tony Pulis-coached side, their biggest scoring threat will come from set pieces. It's a formula that should keep West Brom comfortably in the Premier League, but without any real upside.

14) Southampton
Despite not scoring many goals, the Saints put in a fine defensive performance throughout last season, including seven 0-0 draws. Displaying consistent discipline and cohesion shows just how good the club's youth academy is at turning out competent Premier League players. The team's new manager Mauricio Pellegrino will head into the campaign with largely the same squad, although standout center back Virgil van Dijk could be sold to Liverpool before the transfer window closes. With only six points separating Southampton's 8th place finish from 17th last year, a team that largely rode its luck will probably slip a fair bit in the standings.  

15) Newcastle United
The Magpies laid waste to the Championship, earning promotion back to the Premier League at the first opportunity. Disagreement between manager Rafa Benitez and owner Mike Ashley over the club's transfer policy has loomed throughout the summer and seems to be coming to a head just as the season gets underway. Newcastle fans have been on a roller coaster ride since Mike Ashley bought the club in 2007 and the situation seems very likely to continue. I could see Newcastle finishing anywhere from rock-bottom to a place in the top 10, so I'll split the difference and put them here at 15th.  

16) West Ham United
A move away from their historic home ground of Upton Park to the cavernous Olympic Stadium sapped the atmosphere from West Ham home matches and the team seemed listless for most of the season. The Hammers allowed the sixth-most goals in the league last season, 11 more than Middlesbrough who were relegated. To shore up such a leaky defense, manager Slaven Bilic brought in vastly experienced defender Pablo Zabaleta on a free transfer and former England goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan, both from Manchester City. The club also spent big money to bring former Manchester United hero Javier Hernandez back to England and paid a club-record fee to sign combustible winger Marko Arnautovic from Stoke City. West Ham were one of the worst teams in the league for long stretches last year and if Bilic loses his grip on the dressing room, the team could come unglued in a hurry. I wouldn't be shocked to see West Ham get relegated, but there are too many bad teams at this end of the table to pick against a roster with this much talent.       

17) Huddersfield Town
Even the most passionate American soccer fan has probably never heard of Huddersfield Town, yet the club actually has a greater history of success than many established Premier League clubs. While this will be their first ever Premier League season, the club has won England's top flight competition three times in their history. Huddersfield won the FA Cup in 1922 before reeling off three straight league titles from 1924-1926 under legendary manager of Herbert Chapman who went on to even greater success at Arsenal. Huddersfield made a flurry of moves in July to strengthen their squad, most notably sealing the permanent transfer of Australian Aaron Mooy from Manchester City. Mooy was outstanding as a loanee last season, appearing in 51 games for the club. The odds are heavily against Huddersfield staying up, but it's such a great story that I'm picking them to pull it off just so I can root for it!   

18) Swansea City
Hull City and Sunderland were so bad last season that the battle against relegation was already settled heading into the final month. The Swans finished a comfortable seven points above the drop, but they were by far one of the worst teams that stayed up. In the summer Swansea sold off a couple of key contributors in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jack Cork while culling a number of expensive squad players. At this point the roster looks much more like a Championship side than a Premier League one. Swansea have only delayed the inevitable the last couple of seasons and their only saving grace might be that the two of the three promoted sides are Premier League first-timers Huddersfield and Brighton. 

19) Burnley
I picked Burnley to go down last season and they just managed to stay up, finishing 16th. In the summer they sold their best defender Michael Keane to Everton and their best attacking player Andre Gray to Watford. They signed prolific Leeds United striker Chris Wood, but you never know how goal totals from the lower leagues will translate to the Premier League. Burnley scored the fewest goals of any team that avoided relegation and then sold their best striker, so I think goalscoring will be an issue yet again. I like this club and their team plays with a lot of heart, especially at their home ground Turf Moor (what a great name for a stadium), but I think a second season in the top flight is too much to ask.    

20) Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton is another Premier League first-timer. In 1997, the club narrowly avoided being relegated out of the football league altogether on the final day of the season. After selling their stadium and enduring several seasons of further turmoil, the Seagulls began a long climb to the top flight. They finally reached the summit by securing automatic promotion after a narrow loss in the playoffs the prior season. Brighton's big name summer signing was midfielder Davy Propper from PSV Eindhoven and it appears they'll move forward with largely the same squad that won them promotion. I'm sure the club's fans will enjoy a season in the Premier League regardless of the outcome, but unfortunately I think their stay will be a short one.

A Taxpayer-funded Stadium is a Financial Own Goal for St. Louis

Today I read a column from Benjamin Hochman in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that made my blood boil. Hochman was attempting to counter the argument put forth by Governer-elect Eric Greitens that taxpayer-funded sports stadiums are "welfare for millionaires". I happen to agree with the governor-elect that taxpayers have no business speculating on sports stadiums, but that's not what made me sigh and shake my head at Mr. Hochman's column.

He's entitled to his (wrong) opinion that building a Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium using taxpayer funding would be good for St. Louis and spur economic growth in the city. What I take issue with is presenting a nonsensical investment scenario as sound practice such as in the following excerpt: 

"Let’s consider it this way. A house appraises at $150,000 — but someone buys it for $240,000 and plans to wait for it to increase in value, just to see a return. The house’s investor understands that buying the house could benefit the whole community, so it’s worth this initial cash loss.

Well, Forbes says an MLS franchise, in a market similar to St. Louis, is worth $150 million. But SC STL is willing to invest $240 million (paying for the MLS expansion fee and some of the stadium), acknowledging that it could take eight to 10 years to make the money back."

The way I read it, Hochman is arguing that taxpayers should support the "partnership" offered by SC STL because the ownership group is ready and willing to overpay to bring an MLS franchise here by putting up 65% of the cost of the project. This is apparently worth it to the benevolent owners of SC STL because it will benefit the whole community now and then they'll worry about recouping their investment down the line when the value of the team has appreciated.

One problem, of course, is that this is NOT a return on investment. In the house example, if you paid $240,000 for a $150,000 house, you would need the house to appreciate in value by 60% just to break even. At that break-even point your "return" is a big fat ZERO. No intelligent investor would take that deal and expect to come out ahead more often than not.

However, there is a reason that such a senseless investment scheme could make sense to the ownership group behind SC STL if they get some help from the city. In broad terms, Major League Soccer is a single entity made up of all the teams in the league. The ownership group of each team holds one "share" in the league and thus the profits or losses of individual teams are shared equally. Through normal operations, MLS loses money each year, but in order to buy into the league, you need to pay a hefty expansion fee which has increased with each additional team. This expansion fee is shared among the existing owners.

The way I see it, even though SC STL would be paying for 40% of the cost of construction in order to get a stadium deal done, this is a small price to pay for an opportunity buy a share in the league with their $150 million expansion fee. They won't get such an opportunity without a new stadium to operate in. SC STL has presented this as evidence that they're being a generous partner in the deal. While they're only paying for some of the cost of the stadium, they're paying for all the cost of the expansion fee. How nice of them!

Although, according to Forbes (via Hochman) that $150 million is exactly what the team would be worth once it is up and running. Since ever-increasing expansion fees are the only way MLS owners are currently making any real return, having a share of the league pie (and any future expansion fees) is the only appreciating asset in the deal. The league owners' hope is that by the time MLS stops expanding, the league will be profitable and the value of each share (team) will go up value. There's no guarantee the league will be profitable in the future, but as long as new money keeps coming in via expansion fees, those holding a share in the league will get paid. If you're thinking this makes MLS seem like a Ponzi scheme, you're not alone. 

So, if we apply this to Hochman's example, here's what's actually going on: SC STL wants to buy a house that's worth $150,000 right now, but the price tag to acquire it is $350,000. Their proposal is that SC STL will pay $150,000 for the house only (exactly what it's worth) and will own the house free-and-clear. To satisfy the seller, they still need to come up with the remaining $200,000. To do this, SC STL is proposing that they put up $80,000 (40%) as long as the taxpayers will take out a loan for $120,000 to cover the remainder.

When it's all said and done, SC STL would own a house worth $150,000 that they paid $230,000 for. That's a 53% premium, but assuming the house is truly worth $150,000 and they're bringing their own money to the deal, they'll have a 65% equity position. The taxpayers will owe $120,000 on their loan and own nothing except conjecture from SC STL that doing this deal will improve the value of adjacent homes in the neighborhood, create jobs because they'll hire people to cook, clean, and do maintenance at their house, and also create new tax revenue by having out-of-towners to come visit them and spend money at nearby bars, restaurants, and hotels. I think it's pretty obvious that the SC STL proposal is not a benevolent investment partnership, but more like a bait-and-switch.

The potential benefits to the taxpayers of such a deal may indeed come to fruition, but what if they don't? What if the addition of an MLS team doesn't create any additional revenue for the city after all? The SC STL ownership group will very likely make a return on their investment no matter what because they own the only appreciating asset in the deal, a share in MLS along with a cut of any future expansion fees. The ownership group would also receive 100% of any profits from a future sale of the team. If "build it and they will come" doesn't come true, the city could take a total loss on their end of the deal even while the ownership group pockets a healthy profit. Does that sound like a "partnership"?

If the projections do come true and enough new revenue is created to pay the taxpayers back in full, what was the return on investment for the risk they took funding the unsecured end of the deal? Even if there was an actual net positive return for the city over the life of the stadium lease, time and again we've seen sports teams come back to taxpayers and ask for more money for renovations or a brand new stadium. One team is currently suing to get out of their lease and others have threatened to move the team to gain leverage.

I would love to see MLS come to St. Louis, but not at the expense of taxpayers. Adding a team here would be a definite plus for the city both in terms of civic pride and financially. I am not disputing that. However, if the city has to put up $80 million with no guarantee of success and no asset to fall back on if it doesn't work out like SC STL says it will, it's a terrible proposition any way you look at it.

Simply put, the city would put a lot of taxpayer money at risk in order to help the investors behind SC STL acquire the a potentially lucrative share in Major League Soccer. You can argue the merits of various tax incentives that have been given to many other businesses in St. Louis, but there's no denying that the proposal put forth by SC STL socializes the majority of the risk while privatizing any potential for a hefty profit in the future. That's not a partnership to make St. Louis great again; it's the definition of welfare for millionaires.

In the spirit of bad analogies (thanks Mr. Hochman!), I see this "deal" as asking St. Louis to score an own goal in order to spur growth. Imagine your soccer team is coming off a string of draws and losses, but they've been playing better recently and it's unclear at this point what the outcome of the season is going to be. The next match is about to start and their opponent is much more talented and has your team outmatched. The other team comes to your team before kickoff with a proposition: we'll let you score an own goal right from the kickoff.

It will put your team behind and definitely give the other team an immediate advantage, but being behind might spur your team to play really hard over the remaining 90 minutes which could help them have a chance of coming back to tie or even win the game. While winning after scoring an own goal right away is possible, it's unlikely. A tie is probably the best your team can hope for and it's almost certain that giving the other team an advantage will just end up helping them score more goals than they otherwise would have in the rest of the game. There's always a chance it could work in your favor though. Would you want your team to accept that proposal?

Sticks and Stones

Right off the bat, I did not vote in this election. That's a separate discussion unrelated to thoughts I have about the results. My vote was not worth 42 votes in the electoral college, so spare the non-voter/3rd party shaming. I am simply offering some thoughts I had while trying to understand what caused such a stunning upset to take place.


While looking out over the smoldering ruins of last night's election predictions, I was struck by the realization that words don't matter after all. For most of my lifetime, and at an accelerated rate over the last decade, we've been told how powerful words are. Because they're so powerful, we've been told that we need very well-educated people to carefully sift through all the words and tell us what we're allowed to say and to whom we're allowed to say it. Any speech that deviates from allowable opinion is now defined as racist, sexist, homophobic, or nationalist and anyone engaging in such talk has been branded accordingly. I think this final step is where the foundation was laid for Trump's victory last night.

Is a world where we avoid hurtful words so that nobody ever has to suffer taking offense or being triggered something to strive for? Yes, I believe that it is. However, I disagree with the notion that someone's words mean more than the actions that they take or what's in their heart. In recent years though, we've been told that no, a person's words are what determines whether they are a racist or sexist and they need to answer for them and be punished accordingly, no different than if they had firebombed a church or hit a woman rather than simply said something politically incorrect. I think that over time this attitude alienated a huge swath of rural America.

You can believe that this group of people is still privileged by virtue of their sex and/or skin color, but you cannot deny the fact that they have been left behind both socially and economically. Instead of discussing ways to help people in rural America understand and cope with the social and economic changes that are taking place, you have an establishment media made up of coastal elites that consistently, and with increasing vitriol, labelled these people as rednecks, racists, and various other forms of "deplorable". After years of being treated like social pariahs, I think it's easy to see how many in this group would be drawn to someone who doesn't kowtow to the politically correct status quo.

Trump is a truly unique phenomenon. He broke all the rules set forth for a Presidential candidate by the establishment and yet he still won in a landslide. This proves that more people than anyone realized were deeply fed up with being told in what ways they are and are not allowed to express their frustration with the changes taking place all around them. Do you really believe that 1 in 2 Americans are deeply racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or all of the above? I don't. More and more people are open to change than ever before, but it's a slow process that takes time and it won't be sped up by labeling those who can't keep up with ever-changing definitions of acceptable speech as awful human beings. I think many of the people who voted for Trump felt they had no other way to express their fear that life in America as they and their parents and their grandparents knew it was going away faster than they were ready for. 

Americans have always despised being told what to do and last night a large group people, who felt left behind by the speed at which our society has changed over the last decade, said enough is enough and put the brakes on the whole thing. Trump said many hurtful things during his campaign, but I think that his supporters looked past his words and personal impropriety because they were angry that the establishment saw him as nothing more than a hilarious caricature of their underlying fears about social change and the economy. I would suggest that one consider this before unleashing more anger and finger-wagging over the fact that Trump won. If you try to understand how a Trump voter could possibly feel that siding with him was their best choice, I think you'll find that it's not because they hate women or immigrants, but that too many people told them it's where they belonged.

This too shall pass though and while it stings for many that the country as a whole may not be as far along as the progressives would like, it doesn't mean that social change is going to be thrust into reverse and take us back to the dark ages as many have been forecasting this morning. While Trump was winning electoral votes, the legalization of marijuana in various forms recorded a clean sweep wherever it was on ballots. Look beyond the president; society is becoming more socially liberal and accepting of change by the day and that's not going to stop because of Donald Trump. American society doesn't change based on who's voted president. The only effective action you can take to make the world a better place is to focus on your sphere of influence. Be a good person to your neighbors, do good things in your community, and focus on raising your kids to be the people you want to see in the world. Do that and it's guaranteed you'll be on the right side of history.

The NFL's Popularity Problem Is a Familiar One

If you haven't noticed, this NFL season has been about as entertaining as a toddler's birthday party. Inexperienced players, bad coaching, injuries, a lack of star power, and an erratic commissioner are among the issues that have conspired to make America's richest sport's league all but unwatchable. In watching this unfold, I've noticed that many of the root causes of the NFL's recent problems are strikingly similar to those causing the current plight of our national economy and political system.

Professional Football used to be a free market. Sure, the game has certain rules necessary for fair play, but so does a free market economy. In the past, fans knew that the best 22 players would take the field for their favorite team each week and compete within that set of rules. Over the years, however, the commissioner (government) has burdened the game (economy) with an unrelenting barrage of new rules, revisions, and fines. Many of the new rules favor quarterbacks (too big to fail) and scoring in general (Wall Street). The League's new salary structure favors cheap, unskilled (rookie) labor over established veterans. Instead of letting the game's free market decide if the league should be geared toward offense or defense and then ebb and flow over time as coaches and players adjust, the commissioner decided it's in everybody's best interest if scoring goes up as high as possible and the most important players when it comes to scoring points get protected even if it means basic fundamentals and the ability to get through more than three plays without a penalty flag goes straight out the window.

Can anyone explain what constitutes a catch in today's NFL? Ruling on a catch used to be like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous quote regarding obscenity, "I'll know it when I see it." The current explanation in the 2016 NFL Rulebook includes 6 paragraphs and over 200 words. Beyond the catch rule, there are now a litany of new penalties surrounding the way players tackle, hit, block, and conduct themselves on the field. You can't tackle receivers unless they're defenseless, then you can only tackle them a certain way. You can block, just don't block from behind, from the side, or  below the waist. You can tackle a quarterback, just not too high, or too low, or anywhere near his head. Did you manage to score a touchdown? Great! Just don't coordinate your celebration with a teammate, celebrate near an opponent, or celebrate too long. Don't wear anything that's not league-sponsor approved and if you're thinking of supporting a childhood cancer patient by writing a Bible verse on your eye black, don't even go there.

While some of the rule changes have no doubt improved player safety, so much of the intervention of the league office seems rooted in nothing other than exerting control. Instead of letting each team regulate their players' behavior, the league office wants to make sure everyone conforms to one polished image. Gone are the days where teams had a personality matching their coach, their city, their star players, or like most things cultural, a combination of many influences. Fans are tired of rooting for indistinguishable teams made up boring, unmarketable players. It's impossible to market a team or an individual player well when they've been forced to act alike by an uptight commissioner.

Modern stadiums are completely sterile and corporate-focused even though they're largely funded with taxpayer money. Beyond the on-field rules of conduct, the League has chosen to enforce rules for off-field conduct as well. Of course, much like our national government, the League likes to pick winners and losers by doling out punishment based solely on their perception of public opinion rather than any defined legal or moral code. The League has ignored damning evidence of domestic violence involving well-known players (Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Josh Brown) while gleefully pouring time and effort into punishing teams (New England Patriots) and players (Tom Brady) that don't instantly submit to a decree of wrongdoing (Deflategate) even if it's based on nothing. The League's hypocrisy in this manner is obvious to anyone who's watching and eerily similar to the way government seeks to apply punishment to some (Edward Snowden), but not others (Hillary Clinton) even when they've committed the same crime.

The result of all this onerous regulation, intervention, and meddling in what was once a relatively free market sport is a vastly inferior product. Sure the league has grown immensely over the last 15 years and made billions in profit, but who has benefited from this? Players? Fans? The cities that pay for new stadiums? The sole benefactors have been the League itself, the commissioner, and the owners, i.e. the elites. Much like our current bubble economy, just because the stock market is at an all-time high, doesn't mean that the output or the outlook is any better than it was when this uptrend began.

All of the NFL's money and power has flowed in one direction and I think fans inherently know this and as the product in front of their eyes has gotten worse and worse, they've realized how deeply frustrated it makes them feel to have put so much time and effort into something without anything in return except asking for more. As a result, I think many fans have become more willing to turn away altogether and sink their time, money, and energy into other endeavors. Similarly, many people are fed up being told how great the United States economy and system of government is because when they look at their bank statement or the candidates being foisted up them they are asking themselves, if this is the best our country can do, why should I even bother tuning in?

My Best Day in Central London

In November of 2013 my wife Kendra and I took our first big vacation together as a married couple. Our itinerary included four nights in London, England; four nights in Edinburgh, Scotland; and three nights in Dublin, Ireland. The first full day we spent in London was my favorite beginning-to-end day of the trip as we were able to see a number of iconic sites as well as dig up a few gems that we hadn't expected to find.

Our AirBnb was located just a few feet from the Leicester Square tube station, so our day began with a leisurely stroll down Charing Cross Road and past Trafalgar Square on a sunny Thursday morning. We popped into a little sandwich shop to grab breakfast to-go. I had a bacon sandwich with a fried egg which became my go-to way to start the day in the UK and I demand an answer as to how otherwise gluttonous America missed the boat on the bacon butty sandwich.

On the way to the Millennium Bride with breakfast in hand we passed St. Paul's Cathedral. This is one of many Christopher Wren designed buildings that we would see during our trip and it's probably the most impressive of them all. We didn't have time to tour the interior, but we walked a lap around the outside and took in all of the beautiful artistic intricacies on display. The Queen Anne statue out front is also quite striking with her golden crown, orb, and scepter. Just before arriving at the Millennium Bridge, we passed the National Firefighters Memorial. This memorial was originally intended to honor firefighters who lost their lives in the London Blitz during World War II. The scope of the memorial has since been expanded to include firefighters lost during peacetime as well.

After crossing Millennium Bridge, we made our way to Shakespeare's Globe for a morning tour which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me. The self-guided Exhibition in the Globe is engrossing and covers a wide breadth of topics from Shakespeare's impact on the English language that we use it today as well as techniques they used to sew, stitch, and dye the elaborate costumes used in his productions. The guided tour offers a fascinating opportunity for visitors to get a firsthand glimpse into life in 17th century London through the lives of those who produced, performed, and attended Shakespeare's plays. An awe-inspiring amount of work went into recreating The Globe from the ground up so that this important historical insight would be available for generations to come. I would put Shakespeare's Globe among my top must-see sites for anyone visiting London.

After leaving The Globe, we continued east along the riverfront, stopping to sample Turkish delight and fresh roasted nuts at the Borough Market. We then crossed the Thames on the modern version of the famed London Bridge and made our way to the Monument to the Great Fire, also known simply as The Monument. I knew little about the Great Fire of London going in, but luckily The Monument turned out to be both informative and interactive!

The Monument stands 202 feet tall, the exact distance from its location to Pudding Lane where the Great Fire began. Inside is a narrow staircase with 311 steps that take you to an observation platform with views of Tower Bridge and a number of iconic modern buildings along the Thames. One of the biggest takeaways from our time spent in the United Kingdom was that builders of monuments are passionate about stairs. While the immediate area has been built skyward over the last 340 years, the view is still well worth the climb.

From The Monument we continue east a short distance to the Tower of London. I was slightly let down by the Tower of London overall, but part of that was our own fault. The castle is huge and you could easily spend half a day or more checking it out. I had only budgeted a couple of hours since we wanted to do both Tower Bridge and Westminster Abbey before the end of the day.

We started out doing a tour of the medieval palace and the East Wall with an audio guide. This took up a lot of time and we would see plenty of medieval castles later on in the trip that I thought made for much more interesting exhibits. We then quickly toured the Crown Jewels and walked through most of the Royal Armouries before moving on. It was neat to see the Crown Jewels up close, although I didn't find the exhibit that engrossing. I really enjoyed the Royal Armouries, but we were short on time and sort of rushed through it. I would recommend that you see the Crown Jewels first, tour the Royal Armouries, take the East Wall Walk, and then end at the Medieval Palace on your way back to the main entrance.

Just outside the southeast corner of the Tower of London is the entrance for Tower Bridge. The exhibition here was one of my favorites in London and went very in depth on the history of engineering and constructing the bridge. After walking across via a glass-floored observation deck above the roadway, you head back downstairs to the engine rooms to learn about the mechanical side of operating the bridge. It's a great tour overall and from up high on the bridge you get some truly spectacular views of the River Thames.

It was late in the day at this point, so we decided to take the tube to Westminster which was back the way we came and then some. Unfortunately, Westminster Abbey was closed by the time we got there, so we moved on to the Churchill War Rooms which is right across the street. The War Rooms are open until 6:00 p.m. which is at least an hour later than most of the other tourist sites we visited, so it might be a good idea to leave it until later in the day since you'll have more flexibility on time. I am a somewhat of a World War II buff, so I loved the hell out of this museum.

The War Rooms exhibit is housed inside the actual Cabinet War Rooms which were built in the late 1930s just before the outbreak of World War II. When the war ended, the secret command center was more or less abandoned for nearly 40 years before it was turned into a museum in the early 1980s. Because the War Rooms were never re-purposed, the entire underground complex is basically unchanged from when it was in use during the war. A major redevelopment in 2005 added an immense level of detail to the displays such that it feels like you could actually be involved in the key moments of the war. After the War Rooms exhibit is the Churchill Museum which is a large exhibition solely dedicated to the life of Winston Churchill. It's a brilliant and detailed museum that includes many fascinating artifacts from Churchill's life before, during, and after the war. As a history dork, I was in heaven, but Kendra actually enjoyed all of it just as much.

The streetlights were on by the time we'd finished in the Churchill War Rooms, so we made our way back toward Trafalgar Square to call it a day at our AirBnb. The weather held up well and we ended up walking over 5 miles on the day, not including all the stairs we climbed at The Monument, Tower of London, and Tower Bridge. Seeing so much in one day actually had a humbling effect as we realized we could put in another 5-10 days just like it and still have barely scratched the surface of all there is to do and see in this great city. Even so, this was my favorite day in Central London; at least until the next one. Cheers!

Stubborn German Brewing Company

With nothing much going on in St. Louis this past weekend, my wife and I journeyed over the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and visited Stubborn German Brewing Company in Waterloo, Illinois on what turned out to be a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. Southern Illinois' newest craft brewery opened in late April 2016 and I had heard positive reviews from several friends who had been there over the past few months. Our experience at Stubborn German more than backed up those claims!

Although it was too crowded to sit outside and enjoy the weather on their beautiful front porch, seats at the bar suited us just fine. Stubborn German does not serve food, but that leaves plenty of room for beer and with a wide variety of styles on offer, you'll want to do plenty of sampling. You can order full or half pints of all their beers as well as a 6-beer sampler tray for $9.

I started with a pint of their altbier which is one of my favorite beer styles. Altbier is a German style that is top-fermented like an ale and then matured at a much cooler temperature like a lager. This unique crossover of brewing techniques creates a beer with a rich and fruity malt flavor that finishes refreshingly crisp like a lager. Stubborn German's altbier is as good an example of the style as I've had and I would highly recommend it for both novice and experienced beer drinkers alike.

Stubborn German did such a great job branding their various styles of beer that I felt inclined to get one of everything on the tap list. Since we also had to drive back to St. Louis later in the day, my wife and I decided to order a sampler tray for our second round and I think she enjoyed writing out our choices on the tray with a chalk ink pen just as much as drinking them. The two IPAs, Blitzkrieg and Midnight Rye, were very good and I wouldn't hesitate to order a pint of either one, but my favorite beers from our sampler tray were the Mississippi Steam and Schitzengiggles.


Mississippi Steam is a California Common which is style that I've seen pop up at a few craft breweries recently. Also known as "steam beer", a California Common is fermented with cold-loving lager yeast at warmer temperatures more typical for ales. Similar to the German altbier, this crossover in brewing techniques creates a malty, medium-bodied beer that's also easy-drinking and refreshing. Schitzengiggles is a Munich Dunkel which is a German dark lager. This beer was fantastic and I ended up ordering an additional half pint after we finished the sampler tray. Since I've never been to Germany, the vast majority of dunkel biers I've had were imported, so having a fresh, cold pour just a few feet from where it was brewed gave me a brand new appreciation for the style.

In addition to Stubborn German, Hopskeller Brewing Company also calls Waterloo, Illinois home, although the Hopskeller taproom won't open until later this year. Two craft breweries operating in a town of roughly 10,000 people gives Waterloo a breweries-per-capita figure that's 15 times the national average. That fact alone should be reason enough for a visit!

English Premier League 2016-2017 Preview

1) Manchester City
The most-talented squad in the league quit on a lame duck manager last season and barely scraped 4th place as a result. They added the world's best manager in Pep Guardiola while shoring up central midfield (Ilkay Gundogan) and defense (John Stones) in the transfer market. The Premier League title is City's to lose for the foreseeable future. 

2) Manchester United
This summer United added four immediate starters, including the most expensive footballer of all time, and a manager with an exceptional Premier League resume to a squad that finished level on points with 4th place Manchester City last season. Assuming overachievers Leicester City and Tottenham revert toward the mean and Jose Mourinho maintains his hoodoo over Arsene Wenger, United should easily finish in the top four and challenge for the title.

3) Chelsea
Much like Manchester City, the Chelsea squad quit on their manager Jose Mourinho after a dismal start to the season and The Special One was fired for the second time as Chelsea manager. With as deep a squad as any outside of Manchester, new manager Antonio Conte has plenty of talent to work with and should make Chelsea a title contender again in short order.

4) Arsenal
Despite an asinine transfer policy that pushes a threadbare squad to the brink of disaster each season, Arsene Wenger has stubbornly managed to keep Arsenal in the Champions League for 17 years running. If history is any guide, Arsenal will do just enough to secure a top-four finish in what is likely to be Wenger's final season at the helm.

5) Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp's makeover of a team that was headed definitively in the wrong direction just two years ago is nearly complete. With an enviable array of young attackers at his disposal, Klopp's pressing style of play should give Premier League opponents fits for years to come. Questions remain at the back, but if Liverpool can discover some measure of defensive solidity, they will be immediate contenders for the top four.

6) Leicester City
The Foxes shocked the world by winning the Premier League last season and surely there is no chance at a repeat. Even so, Leicester City weren't simply lucky winners; they played like champions from start to finish. While they will struggle to reach such epic heights ever again, especially while playing in the Champions League for the first time, Leicester has a solid team and an experienced manager who should be able to keep them from immediately falling back into mediocrity.

7) Tottenham
After months of desperately clinging to Leicester City's coattails, Tottenham came unglued in an epic second-half meltdown at Stamford Bridge before losing their final two matches to finish below arch rivals Arsenal yet again. Most of their key players then went on to experience similarly harsh letdowns at the Copa America and European Championships in the summer. With no time to rest and recharge after the stress of playing at full-tilt for most of the last year, Tottenham will struggle to cope with their rejuvenated top four rivals as well as a full slate of Champions League fixtures.

8) West Ham United
The Hammers were sneaky-good last year and looked on course to secure a place in the Champions League before sputtering down the stretch with a series of disappointing draws. Unfortunately, the club followed up such a promising season with a fairly bland summer transfer window and another 7th place finish now looks more like a best-case scenario. Moving from the intimately rowdy confines of Upton Park to the cavernous Olympic Stadium will also negate what had been one of the best home field atmospheres in the Premier League.

9) Stoke City
The Potters finished 9th for the third successive season and while they could probably move a couple of places higher if things break right, it seems unlikely they will suddenly mount a serious push for a European place. Gone are the days of having to worry about getting dragged into a relegation scrap, but until the roster's overall talent level improves significantly, Stoke will simply remain among the best teams in the second tier of the Premier League.

10) Southampton
Over the course of three weeks this summer, Southampton lost their manager and then sold their best defensive midfielder, best creative player, and best striker. Such an mass exodus of talent would hamper the prospects of any football club, but after finishing 8th, 7th, and 6th in successive seasons, the Saints are hoping that selling off the club's best assets will help consolidate their position in the top half of the table for the long haul. In the meantime, the club puts their Premier League status at risk while attempting to rebuild their roster on the fly.

11) Watford
As long as Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo can maintain their scoring record from last season, The Hornets should finish comfortably mid-table. I also see some upside here as Watford maintained the status quo during the summer while also shoring up their squad depth. Several teams around them in the table were forced to sell key players so Watford could rise in the table simply due to attrition.

12) Bournemouth
After barely surviving their first-ever season in the top flight of English football, minnows Bournemouth will look first and foremost to secure a third season in the Premier League. Last September, the team lost star striker Callum Wilson to a torn ACL after just seven games in which he had already scored five goals. The Cherries held their own though and sat in 11th place well into the second half of the season. When it appeared that Bournemouth had secured safety, the team took just one point from their final five matches and sank like a stone. Manager Eddie Howe will hope that having his best players available for a full season will allow Bournemouth to retake last season's high water mark and this time hold onto it.

13) Middlesborough
I've always had a soft spot for Middlesborough so I am thrilled to see them back in the Premier League again. In the early 2000s Boro boasted a fascinating cast of swashbuckling players that managed to reach the 2006 UEFA Cup (Europa League) Final at their peak. The club fell on hard times after that and were eventually relegated, but now they're back and have shown the ambition to remain in the top flight. So far this summer they've added former Premier Leaguers Alvaro Negredo, Brad Guzan, Fabio, Victor Valdes, and Gaston Ramirez to an already deep squad of experienced campaigners. 

14) Everton
Ronald Koeman is a manager whose stock is on the rise after a very successful stint at Southampton, however, his new club is headed in the opposite direction after woefully underachieving last season. Everton is so far planning to run back basically the same exact squad minus their most-talented young player in John Stones who was sold to Manchester City for a hefty sum. The club replaced Stones with (ages as of September 1, 2016) 32-year old Ashley Williams who will play alongside 34-year old Phil Jagielka and 31-year old Leighton Baines in defense. While the midfield boasts several intriguing yet oft-injured young talents, if Everton does not age gracefully at the back, they could find themselves sinking into a relegation dogfight. 

15) Crystal Palace
A popular pick for relegation this season, I think that the impending demise of Crystal Palace is a bit overblown. They have a very supportive home atmosphere and an experienced roster of veterans who have been through the wars at this end of the table. Alan Pardew is a bad manager, but it took him a number of years to take Newcastle down so I imagine Palace survives for at least another season before things go south completely.

16) West Brom
Professional shouter Tony Pulis is the embodiment of a brand of English football that's well past it's sell by date. It's good enough to keep a club in the 21st century Premier League, but it won't ever inspire ambition of achieving more than that. Pulis' repugnant band of knuckle-dragging hatchet men will likely kick and punch their way to 40 points using any means necessary. 

17) Swansea City
After returning to the top tier of English football for the first time since the mid-1980s, Swansea ascended to record levels of success for the club by winning the 2013 League Cup and earning a place in the Europa League. After another season of punching above their weight, the cracks started to show in early 2015 before a disastrous 2015-2016 season where Swansea only avoided finishing much lower in the table thanks to surprising wins over Chelsea, Liverpool, and West Ham in the final month of the season. Even long-serving club captain Ashley Williams jumped ship this summer from an ever-weakening roster, leaving Swansea squarely in the fight against relegation from day one.

18) Burnley
The Clarets were relegated in 2015 after just one season in the Premier League, but will make an immediate return after finishing last season on a 23-match unbeaten run to win The Championship. The club faces an uphill battle to shake the label of a yo-yo club by earning a stay in the top flight. Burnley tends to stick with the players who earned promotion instead of going on a spending spree. It's a strategy that has rarely worked for any promoted club, but with so many bad teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, I wouldn't be surprised if they managed to stay up.

19) Sunderland
For some reason David Moyes decided to return to the Premier League aboard Sunderland's sinking ship and he faces a massive task to keep them up. Big Sam Allardyce worked his hoof-and-chase magic to just avoid relegation last season before deciding to take the England job. Sunderland has a thin squad of mostly Manchester United cast-offs and I just can't see how they're not going to finish at or near the bottom of the league. Maybe Jermain Defoe has one more year of magic and can score enough goals to give them a puncher's chance, but it seems very unlikely. Overall it's a sad state of affairs for one of the biggest football clubs in England.

20) Hull City
The Tigers enter the Premier League with no manager and without even enough professional players to field a full match day squad. Steve Bruce, the most successful manager in the club's history, resigned in July due to ongoing disagreement with management over transfers. While Bruce was making the most of the meager resources at his disposal, the club's ownership was engaging in a ludicrous ongoing dispute with fans over dropping "City" from the club's name in order to rename it Hull Tigers. With no end to the turmoil in sight, Hull City will be fortunate to eclipse Derby County's shameful record of 11 points as the fewest in Premier League history.

Contemplating Arsenal: Matchday 1 Dilemmas

Everyone knows that you can't win the league by September's end, but I believe you can go a long way toward losing it. With Liverpool, Leicester City, Southampton, and Chelsea among their first six opponents, Arsenal can ill afford to start the season in a sluggish manner if they want to avoid the all too familiar burden of playing catch-up. For me, 10 points is an absolute minimum in these first six matches and given that Arsenal play Liverpool and Chelsea at home, meaning trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge loom in the second half of the season, banking points now against their title rivals is even more paramount. Unfortunately, inaction in the transfer market and ill-timed injuries have left Arsene Wenger with several key dilemmas heading into Matchday 1.

On the field, the preseason has been quite fruitful. While the club searches high and low in the transfer market for a new striker, the team has come through five friendly matches with a unbeaten record and 17 goals scored. Fringe first-team attackers Chuba Akpom and Joel Campbell caught the eye in the offensive third and are pretty much assured of being involved in at least Arsenal's three August fixtures as Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud have yet to start training after their exploits at the European Championships. For two players most assumed would leave on loan, or even permanently in the case of Campbell, it's been a statement preseason to this point.

At the back, two defenders new to the first team also had impressive preseasons. Krystian Bielik did very well as an 18-year old thrown in alongside and against much more experienced players. The young Pole had a few nervy moments, but mostly showed a much more advanced game than his age would suggest. Rob Holding, a new signing from Bolton Wanderers, also played well and seemed to improve with each successive game. Based on their preseason performances, either player could argue that at this point they should be well ahead of Calum Chambers on the depth chart.

Last year's stalwarts Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, and Alex Iwobi picked up right where they left off and all three should find themselves in the starting XI against Liverpool. New signing Granit Xhaka also caught the eye as he seamlessly integrated into the team. His wide range of passing ability immediately had the midfield functioning better than it had at any point in the final two months of last season. Mohamed Elneny was very assured in preseason and while I don't think he'll be first-choice to start the season, he's going to be a very important player for Arsenal. After missing large chunks of last season through injury, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla both looked fit and ready to get back to their best. Santi, playing in the #10 role, completely bossed the 8-0 win over Viking FK and The Coq was as energetic and tenacious as we've seen him in 2016. 

Based solely on preseason performance and fitness, I would pick the following team to play Liverpool:

Starting XI:

Bench: Opsina, Gibbs, Elneny, Ramsey, Alexis, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain

Conversely, there are nearly as many less positive aspects to Arsenal's preparation for the season that have left the squad criminally lacking in central defense and as limited on options up front as when last season ended nearly three months ago. Frankly, I think the lack of a striker signing has more to do with a lack of viable options rather than a lack of trying. Jamie Vardy was content to stay on a Leicester. Higuain was way overpriced for his age and appears to have gotten over Argentina's Copa American Final defeat by shame-eating bread pudding for the last two months. Arsene Wenger would never go for a player with Ibrahimovic's attitude. Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo have joined the Premier League, but neither would be an upgrade over Olivier Giroud. Arguably no player who has already moved would've fit the bill for Arsenal so I have a hard time raking Wenger over the coals for a lack of action here.

Lacazette seems to be available only if Arsenal are willing to overpay. Mauro Icardi has been mentioned, but it felt so out of the left field that it's more likely an agent is fishing for a new contract. Unless Arsenal is waiting for a big domino to fall and free up an angle to move for Lewandowski or Lukaku, I can't see what move folks will be pointing to on September 1st saying see, see, that was the one that Wenger missed out on. I think a last-minute move for one of Mahrez, Lacazette, or Draxler is the most likely scenario at this point unless something dramatic happens and a true impact player becomes available. As reactive to perception and fan sentiment as Ivan Gazidis has been in recent years, I also believe early season results will have an impact on Arsenal's deadline day dealings. If things go awry against Liverpool and Leicester, there will be immense pressure on Wenger to make something happen no matter what. It's not an ideal scenario, but a very possible one.

On the defensive end, the ankle injury suffered by Gabriel Paulista on Sunday leaves Calum Chambers as the only fit senior central defender in the squad less than a week before the season starts. An established central defender had to have been on the club's shopping list at the start of the summer as Per Mertesacker enters the final season of his contract, Laurent Koscielny turns 31 years old in a month's time, and the other existing internal options, Gabriel and Chambers, having failed to impress. When Mertesacker was ruled out until 2017 with an injury in the club's first preseason game the need for a defender become more urgent. Inexplicably though, more time passed with no movement on the transfer front before Gabriel's injury left the club in a serious lurch and without enough time to do much about it.

Surely Wenger already knew that getting in a central defender before the window closed was no longer an "if the right deal comes along" scenario where if it didn't happen then at least he still had the same options he finished with last season. With Mertesacker gone as a fallback option, the situation the club finds itself without any of the three available in is akin to fiduciary irresponsibility. Some people would say Wenger simply "took a risk" that the players on hand could bridge the gap until the end of the transfer window when players supposedly become available. I find this line of thinking ludicrous; a risk coincides with a potential reward and I just can't find any upside to this approach aside from possibly saving a few dollars on a transfer fee or maybe getting a slightly better player at the last moment were they to become available instead. When circumstances change and necessity emerges, those in charge need to make the tough decisions that guarantee needs are met at the expense of wants. Frustratingly, club management has failed miserably in this area yet again.

As it stands, I think Arsene Wenger will have little choice but to field a makeshift defense in the opening match against Liverpool. I really can't believe that he would take the added risk of bringing Koscielny back from the beach and straight into the side against a team as good as Liverpool. Not only is there a risk that Koscielny plays poorly because of a severe lack of match sharpness, but I have to believe that straining to keep up would increase the risk of injury and thus worsen an already dire situation. It seems absurd to take such a gamble with a player that Wenger has routinely said needs careful management because of a chronic achilles problem as well as a recurring hip injury. Look no further for a glaring example of bringing a player back too soon out of necessity than the poor performance of Alexis Sanchez in the first half of last season.

The "best" option is probably to play Nacho Monreal in the middle alongside one of Chambers or Holding. That he paired Holding with Gabriel from the start against Manchester City would hint to me that Wenger, like anyone who watched the preseason, feels that Holding is simply a better option at his point. Kieran Gibbs was solid in preseason and will be eager to stake a claim to playing time early on in the season. The only other option, aside from moving Francis Coquelin from midfield to center back, would be to play Holding and Chambers together, but playing two inexperienced central defenders against the pressing of Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool side seems like a recipe for disaster. Remember in December of 2014 when Wenger deployed a very green Chambers alongside an unfit Per Mertesacker and then-unproven Hector Bellerin at the Britannia Stadium? Stoke led 3-0 at halftime and Calum Chambers was later sent off.

Looking at all aspects of the situation, I think Arsene Wenger will pick the following team on Sunday.

Starting XI:

Bench: Opsina, Chambers, Koscielny, Elneny, Campbell, Walcott, Akpom

From the midfield forward, it's actually not a weak team at all. Ramsey probably isn't fit enough to do 90 minutes, but neither is Cazorla so they could split that position something like 55/45. Alexis probably won't last 90 minutes either, so Walcott or Akpom will likely get a run out in the second half depending on if Arsenal need a goal. Campbell can bring an injection of creativity as well as defensive solidity to the right hand side, so it seems almost guaranteed that he gets on the field at some point. Bielik probably earned more consideration than many would have thought, however, I can't see Wenger relying on an 18-year old assuming Koscielny can at least suit up. Any way you slice it, Sunday will be an engrossing Opening Day for Arsenal fans, for better or for worse.