The Minnesota Wild parted ways with general manager Chuck Fletcher on Monday after a nine-season tenure that saw the Wild reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for six consecutive seasons, but fail to get out of the second round.
Joe Bouley over at Hockey Wilderness tabs Toronto’s Kyle Dubas, Tampa’s Julien Briesbois, Nashville’s Paul Fenton and Pittsburgh’s Bill Guerin as potential replacements. Regardless of who takes the Wild reigns, they’ll inherit quite the mess from Fletcher.
According to Sportrac, the Wild have just over $10 million in cap space to work with next season. Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Nick Seeler and Ryan Murphy are all restricted free agents. Zucker made $2 million in 2017-18 and will demand a considerable raise. He was third on his team in relative Fenwick at even strength and fourth on his team in relative Corsi at even strength. Dumba made $2.55 million and will also demand a raise, setting career highs in just about every category. He even matched his career-high plus-minus of 15 set last season.
The new Wild general manager won’t likely let Zucker or Dumba go, and Murphy and Seeler were both positive contributors in 2017-18, too. Murphy’s relative Fenwick at even strength of 1.4 was a career high, and Seeler’s relative Fenwick of .9 was respectable in his first season. Murphy earned $700,000 in 2017-18, and Seeler made $717,500.
So if Fletcher’s replacement signs all four of the Wild’s restricted free agents to contracts, there won’t likely be money to spend on unrestricted free agents, which means trades will have to be made in order for the Wild to improve the roster. Luckily, the Wild have a whole bunch of picks in the 2018 NHL Draft and some trade chips worth something.
The Wild have a first-round pick, three third-round picks, two fifth-round picks, and a sixth- and seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Whether the incoming general manager is of the opinion that it’s time for the Wild to blow it up and rebuild or just a few pieces away from contending for a championship will determine how the Wild’s ammo will be utilized. But it’s hard to blow up a team that’s paying more than $15 million annually to two players who can’t be traded (Ryan Suter and Zach Parise).
The Wild might have the most valuable trade chip on the table, though, in center Eric Staal. Staal, at 33, finished fourth in goals scored and 26th in the league in points, and he’s owed just $3.5 million next season -- the final year of his deal with the Wild. Staal has said he and his family are comfortable in Minnesota, but a long-term extension is unlikely this offseason given the Wild’s lack of salary cap flexibility. Stall might have to be traded just to remedy the situation.
One of Fletcher’s most recent offseason acquisitions just didn’t pan out. The Wild needed a guy who could deliver hits, sure, but his average time on ice dropped more than four minutes, resulting in 34 percent fewer hits than his monster season last year when he delivered 279 hits for Buffalo. And while his possession metrics were the best they’ve been since 2012-13, left wing has become a position of depth for the Wild with the addition of Jordan Greenway and Parise recovering from back surgery (only to enter another offseason with an injury).
The Columbus Blue Jackets need a third-line left wing with Matt Calvert’s contract coming off the books, and Marcus’s older brother Nick is already the center on the Blue Jackets’ third line. Dumping the $2.875 million the Wild owe Foligno each of the next three seasons would be a good place for the new Wild GM to start cleaning up Fletcher’s salary cap mess. The Wild could always sign free agents Patrick Maroon (+1, 4.2 relative Corsi, 4.1 relative Fenwick) or Jussi Jokinen (+7, 0.8 Corsi, 0.8 Fenwick) to fill the left wing position on the third or fourth lines.
The Blue Jackets have one draft pick in each of the first, second, third, sixth and seventh rounds, but packaging Foligno with, say, Mikko Koivu, could really go far in clearing the cap space necessary to extend Staal.
The Blue Jackets have roughly $17 million in cap space for next season, with only third-line defenseman Ryan Murray a restricted free agent worthy of a contract offer. The Blue Jackets’ fourth-line center Mark Letestu will also be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Acquiring Koivu would allow the Folignos to move down to the fourth line and second-line center Alexander Wennberg, 23, to skate third-line minutes. The move would transfer $8,375,000 from the Wild’s books to the Blue Jackets’ for the next two years, and Koivu’s $5.5 million in 2019-20 as well.
Coming back to the Wild could be Columbus’s third-line right wing Josh Anderson, controlled through 2019-20 at the modest price of $1.85 million annually. Currently, the Wild have just two healthy right wings on the roster in Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Rookie Kyle Rau was playing on the third line with Parise hurt in the playoffs. Anderson, 23, logged an impressive 3.3 relative Corsi and 3.2 relative Fenwick during 986.9 minutes at even strength, and would be a considerable upgrade to unrestricted free agent Daniel Winnik, who posted a relative Corsi and relative Fenwick of -3.1 as the Wild’s fourth-line right winger.
The Wild should also get a high-round draft pick from Columbus in exchange for Koivu, but probably not the first-rounder. The Wild adding a second-round selection in a draft expected to be deep with talent would be an exceptional return for their captain, Koivu. The trade would leave the Wild with $6.525 million in cap space to extend Staal or do something else if they choose to trade Staal.
Staal is coming off his best offensive season in a decade, so he’s going to demand Parise and Suter money to make up for the measly $3.5 million annual salary he was paid this year and last. But at 33, he might be signing his last contract, so much of his salary could be backloaded to give the Wild some salary cap flexibility in these years they are cleaning up Fletcher’s mess and transitioning to a new general manager.
The smart move would be to hold off on trading or extending Staal this offseason and hope he comes back strong in the first half of 2018-19, attracting interest from contending teams prior to the trade deadline. This would give the new Wild general manager at least a little time to evaluate 20-year-old center Luke Kunin, who will likely miss the start of the 2018-19 season recovering from an ACL tear in his left knee.
Even if Kunin shows the potential to be a top-line center right away, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to retain Staal as a mentor. The Wild could still sign Staal as an unrestricted free agent next offseason even after trading him for something at the deadline. Or the Wild could simply retain Staal, work Kunin into the lineup and make the playoffs again. It’s a nice problem to have, and one of the two moves of the Fletcher era that worked to perfection (the other being goalie Devan Dubnyk).
Regardless, the Minnesota Wild general manager job might not be that attractive to potential candidates, but whoever takes over the Wild not only inherits a mess, but an opportunity to contend immediately or the means to blow it all up and rebuild.
It has to be hard to be Broken Lizard. Like the Farrelly Brothers starting their careers with the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber (1994), Broken Lizard started their careers with a comedy classic of their own in Super Troopers (2001). But unlike the Farrelly Brothers, the members of Broken Lizard also act in their films, which has made it more difficult for them to find continued success as a film cooperative. Not only does the production company have to deal with being pigeonholed as a low-brow, comedy specialist, but its members also have to deal with their own case of Jon Heder syndrome. Heder’s the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite and hasn’t been able to escape it since.
That’s why Broken Lizard’s follow-up to Super Troopers was so hard to watch. Before I knew Club Dread (2004) wasn’t any good, I had a hard time accepting the members of Broken Lizard in their new roles. By the time Beerfest (2006) came around, though, I had accepted the fact there might never be a Super Troopers 2 and could understand why. That’d be like asking F. Scott Fitzgerald to write a sequel to The Great Gatsby, or more on topic, asking the Farrelly Brothers to do a sequel to Dumb and Dumber immediately after its release.
It took 20 years for the Farrelly Brothers to commit to Dumb and Dumber To, so we should all be thankful it only took Broken Lizard 17 years to give us Super Troopers 2. Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske are back where they belong, portraying Vermont Highway Patrolmen in a cop comedy that pokes fun at the state of the United States and Canadian culture.
The first rule of reviewing a sequel is not comparing it to its predecessor. Very few sequels are as good as the original, and Super Troopers 2 is no exception. Holding it to the impossible standard only realized by The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back is unfair.
We can, however, compare Super Troopers 2 to similar films within the genre and subgenre. In the subgenre of buddy-cop comedies, Super Troopers 2 is no Hot Fuzz (2007), but it’s more enjoyable than The Heat (2013) and CHIPS (2017) and way better than Ride Along (2014) and Cop Out (2010). Super Troopers 2 probably falls behind The Other Guys (2010) but before Let’s Be Cops (2014).
As far as contemporary comedies go, since the release of Super Troopers in 2001, I’ve only seen a few that made me laugh out loud as much as Super Troopers 2. They are, in no particular order: The Other Guys, Tropic Thunder (2008), Jackass: The Movie (2002) (which shouldn't even count but has spawned Jackass Number Two (2006), Jackass 3D (2010), Bad Grandpa (2013), and now, Action Point, which will release June 1, and actually has a story), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Anchorman (2004), Step Brothers (2008), Old School (2003), Pineapple Express (2008), This is the End (2012), Office Xmas Party (2016), Grandma’s Boy (2006), Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), Team America: World Police (2004), Your Highness (2011) and Beerfest (2006). That’s pretty good company for a list that you’ll notice includes just one sequel (unless you include the Jackass franchise).
You should definitely see Super Troopers 2. You’ll laugh enough to forget that you’re basically watching the same plot as the original except to the music of Eagles of Death Metal instead of .38 Special, which is a treat. You’ll get some laughs out of Rob Lowe playing a former, minor league hockey player turned mayor, and you’ll no doubt enjoy the pranks pulled by and on the Canadian mounties competing with the Super Troopers to keep their jobs. The story is far-fetched at best, but the situations created by the story are worth taking the leap.
Just because Republicans relied on Russian interference to win the 2016 Presidential election doesn’t mean they’ve exhausted their means of winning elections. As of March 4, the federal government hadn’t spent a dime of the $120 million allotted to fight foreign election interference, according to The Hill. And according to The Nation, the Republican-majority Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act to provide 868 fewer places to vote, most in areas with strong minority populations. The United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has even stifled voter registration efforts of minorities. But Republicans put all their eggs in winning the Presidency basket because it would allow them to use the 2020 census to their advantage.
Brookings Institution demographer William Frey projects that whites will become the minority in the under-18 age group in 2020 and that the white share of the population will fall under 60 percent for the first time. So if Republicans can’t convince minorities to support them, they have to do what they can to preserve the illusion that their base is not dwindling.
The census is more than just a means of determining America’s population and demographics. It determines the number of Congressional representatives and electoral votes states receive, how $675 billion in federal funding is allocated to states and cities annually for schools, public housing, roads and health care, and how states will redraw local and federal voting districts.
For instance, if the 2020 census is conducted fairly, Election Data Services expects Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Alabama to lose one Congressional seat each. Those nine Congressional seats would most likely be redistributed to Texas, receiving three, Florida, receiving two, and Oregon, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina all receiving one.
But minority populations tend to be undercounted and white populations overcounted during the census. According to Mother Jones, the 2010 census overcounted white residents by nearly one percent and failed to count 1.5 million people of color. This leads to minority populations being under-represented in Congress and under-served by federal funding. And the Trump Administration plans to rig the census like never before.
The census is not a count of Americans, but a count of people residing in America. It is a count of American-born citizens and illegal immigrants alike. And while federal law prohibits the census bureau from sharing data with anyone, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, most illegal immigrants don’t know that and are naturally afraid of completing the census. They are probably more aware that the Secret Service used census data to round up Japanese Americans and send them to internment camps during World War II, or that failure to answer a census question could result in a fine of up to $100. Immigrants should know that skipping the question won’t likely result in a fine, and your census response will be counted whether you answer the citizenship question or not. Instead, some immigrants actually up and move upon being interviewed, and Census Bureau data shows that undocumented immigrants are “hard to count.”
The state of California has the most to lose if a citizenship question is added to the census, which Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross has already announced will be the case for the first time since 1950, citing the aforementioned Voting Rights Act as a reason for the addition. California and 13 other states are suing the federal government over the citizenship question in fear of losing federal funds and representation because of their large, foreign-born populations. According to Mother Jones, “California’s finance office estimates the state will lose $1,900 annually for each uncounted resident in 2020.”
Worst yet for California is that 20 percent of its residents live in hard-to-count areas, “where more than a quarter of all households failed to mail back their 2010 census forms, including a third of Latinos and African Americans.” California has 10 of the 50 counties in the country with the lowest census response rates -- home to 8.4 million people -- a population larger than that of 38 states, so you can see why the state is suing over the census citizenship question.
Just like the Environmental Protection Agency, Republicans have cut funding for the Census Bureau to basically make it dysfunctional. Back in 2012, despite objections by the Obama Administration, Congress told the Census Bureau to spend less money on the 2020 census than it had in 2010. This is after the Census Bureau failed to count 1.5 million minority residents of the United States.
With Donald Trump taking office, Congress cut the bureau’s budget another 10 percent and gave it no additional funding for 2018 -- a time the bureau generally receives a major budget boost to prepare for the census. Now the Census Bureau has half as many regional centers and field offices as it did in 2010, and the 2020 census will be conducted with 300,000 enumerators -- 200,000 fewer than in 2010.
At the same time 10 years ago, there were 120 Census Bureau employees; there are currently 40. And the $340 million promotional ad campaign for the 2010 census will likely go towards working out the kinks of the new technology replacing the boots on the ground.
The result of less funding is an investment in technology instead of people. For the first time, the U.S. census survey will be made available online in 2020. Instead of carrying clipboards, census enumerators will carry tablets, and regardless of the vulnerability of the 2020 census data to foreign interference and hacking, people will be missed, even with the increased availability an online survey provides. That is, if the software works. If the online census rollout is anything like the Healthcare.gov rollout, the 2020 census could be a complete disaster.
Planning and testing for the 2020 census has also taken a big hit by budget limitations. Field tests in Puerto Rico and on Native American reservations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington were cancelled last year, and two of three rehearsals planned for this April were also cancelled.
While traditional paper surveys will be mailed to 20 percent of American households that have poor internet access, “36 percent of African Americans and 30 percent of Hispanics have neither a computer nor broadband internet at home, and a Pew Research Center survey published last year found that more than a third of Americans making less than $30,000 a year lack smartphones,” according to Mother Jones. So people will be missed by the Census Bureau, and the people most likely to be missed are minorities.
You can help make sure the 2020 census is accurate by, first, filling out the census form. Whether you’re a legal resident of the United States, a foreign visitor with a temporary work visa, or an illegal immigrant, you should complete the 2020 census survey.
You can also make sure your neighbors complete the census by making them aware of the importance of the census, and that your community’s Congressional representation and federal funding depends on it. You can assure your foreign-born neighbors that census data won’t be shared with ICE or any other agency, and that skipping the citizenship question won’t disqualify your census response. You can also organize a series of census survey days at your local library so those without internet access or a home address can complete the 2020 census.
You don’t have to be a hired enumerator for the Census Bureau to make sure the 2020 census is accurate, but if you’re interested in serving as a census enumerator, follow this link. If you speak a second language, that would make you an ideal candidate in states with high immigrant populations.
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The NBA Playoffs tipped off over the weekend, and the results of every Game 1 gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in the first round. Here’s what we learned from every NBA Playoff Game 1.
If Klay Thompson keeps shooting like he did on Saturday, the Warriors won’t need Stephen Curry in the first round. He was 11-for-13 from the floor and hit five of six three-point attempts to lead the Warriors. All the Warriors’ starters had positive plus-minuses, though, so Thompson could have an off day and Golden State would still give San Antonio fits.
Dejounte Murray was the only Spurs’ starter with a positive plus-minus on Saturday. In fact, only two Spurs finished with a positive plus-minus. LaMarcus Aldridge was terrible, going five-for-12 from the field for 14 points, and the age of Manu Ginobili (-15) and Tony Parker (-17) showed, especially on defense.
You don’t need to see it to know it -- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s collective reputation precedes them. They struggle in the playoffs, and they struggled in Game 1, especially in the first half. But Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in support, as the Raptors won a Game 1 for the first time in 11 tries.
These new Raptors can win when Lowry and DeRozan struggle shooting because of their new “all hands” offensive approach. They’re seeking the most open shot, regardless of shooter, which is why DeRozan could finish six-for-17 from the floor with 17 points against the Wizards and the Raptors still won Game 1. DeRozan also had six assists, and Lowry added nine, mostly on open three-pointers. The Raptors hit 16 of their 30 three-point attempts.
Ben Simmons was a rebound away from scoring a triple-double in his first playoff game, and the Heat couldn’t contain JJ Redick or Dario Saric on the perimeter. They both went four-of-six from three-point range. Hassan Whiteside was a non-factor, playing 12 minutes. The Heat couldn’t even contain Marco Belinelli or Ersan Ilyasova, a couple of late-season waiver claims. They scored 42 minutes combined. How the Heat became the most popular pick of analysts to score an upset in Round 1 is mind-boggling.
Anthony Davis has picked up his game in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins. He scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and scored four blocks, and despite being just +1 on the night, his supporting cast was just good enough for the Pelicans to steal Game 1 in Portland. Nikola Mirotic hit four of his 10 three-point attempts to lead New Orleans in plus-minus (+13), and Jrue Holiday made half of his shots to finish with 21 points (+12).
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard struggled shooting inside the three-point line, going six-for-23 from the field but four-of-nine from three-point range. CJ McCollum didn’t offer much relief, going seven-for-18 from the field despite shooting four-of-10 from three-point range. Davis defended the rim effectively, and the Pelicans made the Blazers win on the perimeter. They didn’t, shooting under 31 percent from beyond the arc.
Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were good enough for Boston to beat Milwaukee in Game 1. And they can be enough to carry the underdog Celtics without Kyrie Irving over the East’s seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who turned the ball over a ton. Horford was huge for Boston in Game 1 and is capable of carrying this team into the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he won’t.
Milwaukee’s defensive adjustments late in Game 1 got them back into the game, and should get them a win in Game 2. They finally started forcing turnovers to make up for the 20 they lost, and although the Bucks lost in overtime, Boston showed its susceptible to losing in front of its home crowd. Once that happens, the Bucks just have to win their home games.
The Indiana Pacers are really good. Victor Oladipo looked like a superstar in Game 1, and Lance Stephenson did what he does when he’s right, holding LeBron James to a -13 plus-minus despite scoring a triple-double with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Every Pacers’ starter had a plus-minus of at least +14 while James was the only Cavalier starter in double figures.
LeBron James lost a Game 1 in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in his career, and it happened on his home court. Even King James might not be able to carry these Cavs into the NBA Finals. Even if it’s not Indiana that eliminates Cleveland, Philadelphia very well could. The Cavs have already lost their home court advantage in Round 1 and won’t likely have one in Round 2.
Paul George scored 36 points and finished the night +3. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points but was -1, and Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points to finish +1. The Thunder pulled away from the Jazz when their bench was on the floor, despite Utah’s bench outscoring the Thunder bench 34-17. Alex Abrines led the Thunder in plus-minus (+14), Jerami Grant was second (+12), Raymond Felton was third (+9), Patrick Patterson was fourth (+6), and Terrance Ferguson tied George for fifth on the team in plus-minus.
Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau might lack an effective offensive strategy, but his defensive strategy against Houston seemed to be “make James Harden beat us.” He did, but it took 44 points and 58-percent shooting, including a seven-of-12 effort from beyond the arc. Harden was simply brilliant, but Houston can’t expect him to keep shooting damn near 60 percent from the floor. Once the Wolves locked down Clint Capela, who had 20 of his 24 points in the first half, the Rockets needed every one of Harden’s points to hold off Minnesota.
Is this the recipe to beat the Rockets? Sunday was the closest the Timberwolves have been to beating Houston all season. They lost all four regular season games against the Rockets -- three by 18 points and the final game by nine points. Harden was +10 in that nine-point victory, scoring 14 of his 34 points from the free throw line. Despite 44 points on Sunday night, the Rockets were just +5 with him on the floor. Had the Wolves gotten anything out of Karl-Anthony Towns, they would have stolen Game 1 in Houston. We’ll see if they can steal Game 2 instead, which would be the biggest surprise of the NBA Playoffs.
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If you’re a cannabis user living in one of the 42 states where cannabis is still illegal without a prescription, you’re probably planning to march down to your capitol building and lobby your representatives to end cannabis prohibition on April 20. To effectively lobby your representatives requires more than just the commitment to get off the couch one day a year to sit down with your representatives, or more likely, representatives of your representatives, and requesting they support legislation to legalize cannabis in your state.
I was lucky enough to win a scholarship from Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) to lobby my representatives in Washington D.C. in June of 2013 to legalize cannabis federally. It was a most rewarding experience, and I picked up a few things at a lobbying training seminar led by then executive director of SSDP, Aaron Houston. So here’s the cannabis user’s guide to lobbying on 4/20.
You have to understand that your representative isn’t going to appreciate you wasting his or her time or the time of his or her staff with your drug-induced ramblings. Even if you are a capable orator under the influence, just the appearance or odor of being stoned can undo all your good work and that of your sober comrades.
Getting arrested for smoking a joint at your capitol doesn’t look good, either, so if you must smoke, stay at home on 4/20, where you can still submit a comment to the Food and Drug Administration to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs. The FDA is requesting interested persons to submit comments concerning abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use of five drug substances: the cannabis plant and resin, extracts and tinctures of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, stereoisomers of tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol. Comments are due by April 23.
If you wish to be treated as an equal by your representatives or their representatives, dressing as they do is a good place to start. You can’t expect your representatives to thoughtfully consider your recommendations if you’re wearing sweatpants and tennis shoes and look like you just rolled out of bed.
The dress code for members of state congress is business professional, which is exactly what you should be wearing while working in their arena. That’s either a suit or a collared shirt, slacks, a tie and dress shoes for men, and a business suit or an appropriate blouse and skirt or dress for women. “Appropriate,” in this case, refers to an appropriate amount of naked skin displayed, which should never be used as a means to your end. You want your representative to respect you, not covet you.
You’re not just selling your stance; you’re selling yourself. There’s hardly an instance you’re not selling yourself, but in this case, it’s especially important to approach the lobbying of your representatives as you would a job interview. Your interviewers should want to have you back when you leave.
Your representatives can’t dislike you and like your stance. They have to like you before they will even consider your stance. The old saying “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is never more true than when lobbying your representatives. Turn up the charm to 11. Smile, and if you can make your representative laugh, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your first goal in lobbying your representatives: being liked.
It might not seem like it at times, but politicians are people, too. They have family and friends they love just like you, and appealing to their feelings will force them to empathize with you. Tell them a personal story of why you use cannabis and how it has helped you. Make yourself the hero of your story and make it easily relatable.
For example: “I suffer from degenerative disc disease that causes chronic lower back pain. Upon being diagnosed at 23 years old, I was immediately prescribed opioids to manage the pain. The plan was to manage the pain until it became surgical, which is when the pain travels down the back of a leg and past the knee. It took a year for my pain to become surgical, and had I not applied for and received a medical marijuana prescription in Montana during that time, I’d either be addicted to opioids or dead.
Once I received my medical marijuana prescription I had no need for the opioids, the dosage of which had increased almost every time I needed a refill. Cannabis is a safer and healthier means of managing chronic pain than opioids, and research has shown that medical marijuana laws may reduce deaths from opioid overdoses.
But people are struggling with ailments and diseases for which medical marijuana prescriptions aren’t allowed, too. I am also an alcoholic, and I’ve been alcohol-free since October 4, 2017. But I couldn’t imagine kicking alcohol without cannabis, and I and thousands of other alcoholics don’t qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions to treat our disease. Instead, we’re called criminals for treating our disease in a safe and healthy manner. So cannabis, a drug that’s never killed a single soul, remains illegal while more than 1,000 Minnesotans die annually from alcohol.”
A cannabis prohibitionist needs a reason to change their mind on cannabis legalization. If they find out their alcoholic family member could quit drinking with the help of cannabis, they’d be more likely to adopt your stance than if you were to feed them a bunch of statistics about fewer fewer deaths in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Your representatives are overwhelmed with legislation spanning a multitude of topics, so it’s unlikely they have a firm grasp on a specific topic unless it’s one of their campaign talking points. Given the reluctance of just about every politician to openly discuss cannabis, in almost every instance, you will know more about cannabis and the effects of cannabis prohibition than your representatives.
You are not lobbying your representatives because of your good looks. You’re lobbying your representatives because you know something they don’t that will help inform their eventual decisions on the matter. Deliver your message knowing you are an authority on the subject, and the confidence you exude will go a long way in persuading your representatives.
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You’re no doubt familiar with the name Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Trump campaign’s affiliations and alleged involvement in the Russian campaign to interfere with the 2016 Presidential Election. You’ve probably heard that Facebook was used by Russians to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election, and you’re no doubt aware that the Facebook data of more than 87 million users was obtained by Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2016 Presidential election. But you’re probably still wondering how this all happened, and we’re all wondering who’s guilty.
The question no one’s asking, however, is why a campaign calling to “Make America Great Again” by growing jobs and the American economy spent almost $6 million to employ an analytics firm in the United Kingdom with employees from the U.K. and Canada?
Facebook chairman and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress this week, but his prepared testimony is already available, and he won’t likely stray far from it regardless of the questions asked by the Senate Judiciary Commerce Committees at 1:15 p.m. CST on Tuesday and House Energy and Commerce Committee at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Here’s what happened in Zuckerberg’s own written words.
“In 2007...we enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them...In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who agreed to share some of their Facebook information as well as some information from their friends whose privacy settings allowed it...Kogan was able to access some information about tens of millions of their friends.”
“In 2014...we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the Facebook information apps could access. Most importantly, apps like Kogan’s could no longer ask for information about a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. We also required developers to get approval from Facebook before they could request any data beyond a user’s public profile, friend list, and email address.”
“In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica...we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and other entities he gave the data to, including Cambridge Analytica, formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data -- which they ultimately did.”
“Last month, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified. We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to investigate this.”
So the first thing we learn from Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony is that Facebook failed to protect the data of our friends from third-party app developers if our friends’ privacy settings allowed the sharing of some of their personal information. It took Facebook seven years to right that wrong. Even after doing so, Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to simply “certify” that they had deleted the data instead of proving they had deleted the data. “Clearly it was a mistake to believe them,” Zuckerberg said during the hearing, Tuesday.
The last, and most important thing we learn from Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony is that without the work of journalists, Facebook wouldn’t be aware of its mistakes in order to rectify them, providing just another reason for the importance of a free press. This while the government is compiling a database of journalists, where they reside, what they write and for whom in the interest of homeland security. Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Houlton asserted on Twitter that the list is “standard practice of monitoring current events in the media,” but the list’s existence will scare aspiring journalists from the trade like similar lists scared patients from applying for medical marijuana prescriptions in Montana. I personally heard from multiple Montanans who chose to continue self-medicating their conditions with marijuana illegally for fear of being found out by the federal government as a user of cannabis.
Facebook is only guilty of being careless. Zuckerberg nor his company can be charged with a crime, but they failed to notify the more than 87 million users that their information had been acquired by Cambridge Analytica. They also failed to make sure that data was not available for further exploitation by Cambridge Analytica by accepting Cambridge’s word that the data had been deleted. Judging from the effects of Zuckerberg’s failure to accept blame for Cambridge Analytica’s deceptive data mining and the effects of his recent testimony, that mistake won’t be made again.
On March 27, when Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie dismissed earlier claims from Cambridge Analytica that the firm had not used Facebook data, Facebook’s stock price was $152.22 -- down from 185.09 on March 16. Facebook’s stock price was up 4.55 percent to $165.11 as Zuckerberg testified on Tuesday. Cambridge Analytica won’t be so lucky.
A slew of Cambridge Analytica employees are likely guilty of violating the federal law prohibiting foreign nationals from “directly or indirectly participat[ing] in the decision-making process of any...political committee...such as decisions concerning the making of...expenditures, or disbursements in connection with elections for any Federal, State, or local office,” according to a complaint by Common Cause submitted to the Department of Justice.
“[Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher] Wylie said that many foreign nationals worked on the campaigns, and many were embedded in the campaigns around the U.S.” Wylie told NBC News that there were “three or four full-time [Cambridge Analytica] staffers embedded in [Thom] Tillis’s campaign on the ground in Raleigh,” North Carolina.
A second Cambridge Analytica staffer said the “team handling the data and data modeling back in London was largely Eastern European and did not include any Americans.” On March 25, the Washington Post published that “Cambridge Analytica assigned dozens of non-U.S. citizens to provide campaign strategy and messaging advice to Republican candidates in 2014, according to three former workers of the data firm...Many of those employees and contractors were involved in helping to decide what voters to target with political messages and what messages to deliver to them.”
Cambridge Analytica’s “dirty little secret was that there was no one American involved...working on an American election,” Wylie said. One Cambridge Analytica document obtained by the Washington Post explained, “For the Art Robinson for Congress campaign, Cambridge Analytica SCL assumed a comprehensive set of responsibilities and effectively managed the campaign in its entirety.” The New York Times reported that the John Bolton Super PAC “first hird Cambridge Analytica in August 2014” and “was writing up talking points for Mr. Bolton.” Cambridge Analytica also “helped design concepts for advertisements for candidates by Mr. Bolton’s PAC, including the 2014 campaign of Thom Tillis, the Republican senator from North Carolina, according to Mr. Wylie and another former employee.”
Mother Jones reported the deep involvement of Cambridge Analytica staff in the management and decision-making in Senator Ted Cruz’s 2016 Presidential campaign. “Cambridge Analytica was put in charge of the entire data and digital operation, embedding 12 of its employees in Houston.”
So there’s ample evidence that many employees of Cambridge Analytica have violated the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibiting foreign nationals from participating in the decision-making process of any political committee with regard to such person’s Federal or nonfederal election-related activities. But why isn’t the Trump campaign and fellow Republican campaigns subject to punishment for hiring foreign agents to participate in American elections?
Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. paid Cambridge Analytica almost $6 million to effect the 2016 Presidential Election. Cruz for President also paid Cambridge Analytica almost $6 million to effect the 2016 Presidential Election. Make America Number 1 paid Cambridge Analytica almost $1.5 million during the 2016 election cycle.
The John Bolton Super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1 million during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. The North Carolina Republican Party paid Cambridge Analytica more than $200,000 over the same period.
These are all Republican campaigns, supporting Republican candidates who, allegedly, want nothing more than to create American jobs and a thriving American economy. But they’re not putting their money where their mouth is. Giving more than $16 million to an analytics firm in the United Kingdom does nothing to improve the economy or create jobs in America, which is why the Trump campaign and other Republican campaigns are more guilty than Facebook and even Cambridge Analytica.
The Federal Election Campaign Act should not only prohibit foreign nationals from participating in and effecting American elections, but prohibit campaigns from spending campaign funds on services provided by foreign entities.
We can’t stop campaigns from purchasing products made outside America’s borders. Not much is produced in America anymore. But when it comes to services like catering, polling, marketing and advertising, campaign spending should be limited to those firms that reside in America in the interest of protecting the integrity of American elections and growing the American economy. It’s hypocritical of the Trump campaign to run on a slogan of “Make America Great Again” and then spend its money to grow un-American economies and jobs. Regardless of what the Mueller investigation uncovers, the Trump campaign is already guilty of selling out America.
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I don’t enjoy writing the “fire the coach/GM” letter. I hope no one does. Calling people’s job performance into question publicly isn’t something I long to do. I’m not the current President. Firing people isn’t my thing. But when I feel a change is needed to improve the product for which I and my neighbors pay handsomely, I’m not going to bite my tongue and suffer in silence.
Twice I've written letters calling for sports executives to be fired, and in both instances they were. On Oct. 17, 2011, I called for Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith to resign. Less than a month later, he was dismissed. On July 14, 2016, I called for most of the Twins’ front office to be fired, including Smith’s predecessor and replacement, Terry Ryan. Four days later Ryan was fired.
It’s not that I think these “fire the coach/GM” pieces actually instigate change. I doubt they even reach the decision-makers. But they make me feel better and, hopefully, provide you some insight into the thoughts and feelings of a frustrated season ticket holder and the reasons for that frustration.
In the past, I wrote my “fire the coach/GM” letters in reactionary anger. They were fueled mostly by emotion, not logic. With Ryan, it was an inactive trade deadline that set me to punching the keys. With Smith, a slew of bad trades got me started down the same path (JJ Hardy, Johan Santana, Wilson Ramos). Only the Twins’ on-field success kept me from writing. But when Smith traded Delmon Young for Minnesota local, lefty Cole Nelson in A-ball and Lester Oliveros, I had had enough. I didn’t need to know both players’ careers would end three years later to know the trade was no good for the Twins. And while Delmon Young was hardly a hot commodity, he did go on to carry the Detroit Tigers to a World Series, winning ALCS MVP honors the following season -- a year after posting an 1.170 OPS in 21 plate appearances for the Tigers in the 2011 ALDS.
This time I’m taking a different, more reserved approach. I’ve been putting this off for months with hopes of Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau giving me a reason not to write this. He hasn’t, so I am.
I’ve been a supporter of Thibodeau’s since his first season with the Chicago Bulls. In fact, I hadn’t watched an NBA game since Jordan’s last in 2003 until Thibodeau took over in Chicago and installed an attitude instead of an offense. The Bulls’ physicality on defense was nostalgic in its ferocity, raising memories of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman frustrating the hell out of everyone they guarded. I always liked the idea of figuratively “punching opponents in the mouth” and literally hurting them with physical play on defense.
I enjoyed watching low-scoring games in which baskets were hard to get, and scars and bruises were just the price paid to play in the paint. I loved hard fouls, not because of the violence or the further potential for violence they sometimes instigated, but because I am a firm believer that if you’re the last line of defense between your opponent and the basket, and your opponent gets by you, it’s your job to make sure your opponent doesn’t hit a shot. And if you could put them on their ass in the process of fouling, you did your job, even if your opponent hits the foul shots. Now everything’s a flagrant foul and players on defense are more apt to shy away from contact rather than initiate it.
I so wanted Thibodeau to succeed while much of the league started exploiting the three-point line. I feel like it was the last chance to save basketball as I knew and loved it, and Thibodeau inherited a pretty good team when he left Boston for Chicago. The Bulls finished at .500 the season prior to Thibodeau’s arrival and were 11th in defensive efficiency but 27th in offensive efficiency.
Thibodeau made me look like a genius that first season, as the Bulls finished first in the Central Division at 62-20, 11th in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency. But was it Thibodeau who made me look like a genius or league MVP Derrick Rose? It certainly wasn’t Thibodeau’s offensive schemes, which boiled down to Rose playing in isolation, driving the lane, with or without a screen, and either dishing or finishing.
Not much has changed, except instead of Rose driving and dishing or finishing, it’s Jeff Teague dribbling and dribbling and dribbling until the shot clock expires. Teague can’t finish at the rim like Rose could, so defenders happily trap him under the basket where they know he can’t finish over them and an interior pass is difficult. Teague can’t hit the three, either, so defenders can play him closer to the rim, limiting the effectiveness of Teague’s dribble drive. It’s hard to beat a defender off the dribble when he’s so far away, and if there’s no help needed to defend against the dribble drive, there’s nobody left open to take a shot off Teague’s pass.
Thibodeau has done very little on the offensive end to adapt to the players he has and the skills they possess. It’s still isolation plays in a spread offense with virtually no movement away from the ball except the occasional high pick and roll. He’s not putting his players in a position to find success or even an open shot. Phil Mackey crunched some numbers at NBA.com, and the Wolves take more contested shots than any team in the NBA and take the second fewest wide open shots. A team that struggles shooting like the Wolves needs all the open shots it can get.
Thibodeau has long been known to be a defensive guru, but his offensive schemes leave much to be desired. The Timberwolves didn’t hire him to improve their offense, though. It was already ranked 12th in efficiency before he got there, thanks to an effective facilitator in Ricky Rubio, whom Thibodeau traded for Oklahoma City’s 2018 first round draft pick and cap space to sign Teague. Thibodeau blew up a successful offense to add a score-first point guard on a team with its three top scoring options already established. It seems Thibodeau thought he could just assemble five effective scorers and not have to worry about designing offensive schemes for them. If they can all create their own shot, there’s no need to run a play, right? But this time he didn’t have a 22-year-old Rose to hide his lack of offensive ingenuity behind highlight reel finishes at the rim.
So Thibodeau made the move that sold seats at the newly renovated Target Center and gave Wolves fans reason for hope. He traded for Jimmy Butler -- a trade that already looks like Chicago won despite almost everyone in the sports media agreeing the Wolves had fleeced the Bulls on draft day. Regardless of who won the trade, the Wolves won my money. I became a season ticket holder because Butler was coming to town (and the seats at Target Center were comfortable). He was my favorite player in the league at the time because, again, he plays defense, and does it better than almost anyone. Since he’s been gone, we’ve all seen how truly invaluable he is. Before Butler went down with a torn meniscus, the Wolves had the eighth best net rating in basketball (2.6). Since Butler’s injury, the Wolves are 19th in net rating (-1.0).
Butler was Thibodeau’s way of covering for his weak defenders until they learned how to play defense. Correcting poor footwork takes time. You can’t blame Thibodeau for the poor defense of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Expecting him to turn Towns into the young Joakim Noah (4.2 DBPM in 2010-11) and Wiggins into Ronnie Brewer (3.2 DBPM in 2010-11) in two seasons is unfair. Noah was already an elite defender before Thibodeau arrived (3.3 DBPM in 2009-10, his third season after four years in college), and Brewer was already trending up in his fourth season (1.6 DBPM in 2009-10). Wiggins is also trending up on defense in his fourth season, albeit from a lower starting point. His -1.5 DBPM this season is a vast improvement on the -2.9 and -2.5 DBPM he posted the two previous seasons. Towns’s 1.0 DBPM is better than positional peers Kevin Love (-1.5), Channing Frye (-1.0), Tristan Thompson (-0.7), Tyler Zeller (-0.6) and Robin Lopez (-0.2).
Both Towns and Wiggins have the offensive ability to make up for their subpar defense, though. So if they aren’t scoring -- a lot -- they’re a liability. With Butler gone, they’re the top two scoring options -- just like they were last year. Towns gets the touches on offense to cover for his defensive shortcomings. He had 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting for a +10 rating in Denver, Thursday night.
Wiggins doesn’t get those dedicated touches Towns demands in the paint, however. He has to settle for Teague’s desperation passes when his dribble drive fails to draw a helper on defense, which never leaves Wiggins an open shot and forces him to shake a defender before settling for a contested jump shot at the end of the shot clock. Wiggins is at his best when driving to the basket, but you don’t see too many high pick and roll plays called for him. In fact, it’s as if Thibodeau’s spread offense has gone and made the Wolves’ best athlete into a spot-up shooter, and a bad one at that. Wiggins had nine points on Thursday night on four-of-12 shooting, and the Wolves allowed 13 net points while Wiggins was on the floor. He needed to score 22 to avoid being a liability. If the defense isn’t there yet, the offense must be, or there’s no reason to have Wiggins on the court. The Wolves were 11 net points better with Jamal Crawford and 24 points better with Rose on the court. They scored nine and four points, respectively, but were buoyed by their defensive ability.
Minnesota doesn’t have much time to rebuild their chemistry with Butler, but they’ll immediately be better thanks to Butler guarding the opposition’s best player whenever possible. What’s worrisome is that Butler’s addition doesn’t seem to be showing itself in the numbers. Minnesota’s defense was 27th in efficiency last year, and the Wolves remain the 27th-ranked team in defensive efficiency after adding one of the best two-way players in the game. Butler’s DBPM is just .1 this season, a career low and way down from the 1.1 he posted last year. His defensive rating is also at a career low this season, so Butler is having a down year on defense, and his offensive numbers are understandably down having gone from a team where he was the scoring option to a team with ample scoring options.
All that said, after the season, regardless of outcome, Thibodeau should step down as the Timberwolves head coach. I don’t have much faith in his ability to act as president of basketball operations, either, but he did bring me Jimmy Butler, and for that I am forever grateful. For that, he should remain the president of basketball operations. I don’t even mind him serving as a defensive coordinator on the coaching staff, but the best thing he could do as president of basketball operations is go out and hire the offensive Yin to his defensive Yang. The Timberwolves could have avoided giving Thibodeau so much control and just hired David Blatt like Joseph Gill recommended at SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus back in January of 2016. But Thibodeau can make it up to them by hiring Blatt himself. It would be a classy move and allow Thibodeau to focus on team-building and management, so Minnesotans have a quality basketball team worth watching for years to come.
If Thibodeau fails to win a playoff series, he isn’t going to be on the hot seat. But the Tweeters are rumbling and the word “fire” is being thrown around the Internet. That’s the spark that leads to letters like these being sent to ownership and published online, and then as letters to the editor in newspapers (although getting this down to 700 words will be a challenge).
You have to give Thibodeau some props, though. Despite running his players into the ground under an avalanche of minutes, potentially shortening Derrick Rose’s and Joakim Noah’s careers, and being known for having an abrasive attitude, his former players love and defend him. Without Thibodeau, the Wolves wouldn’t have Jimmy Butler or a shot to make the playoffs, so despite me calling for the end of his head coaching career, I’m just like one of his players. I love Thibodeau for giving me a reason to watch professional basketball again, and I’ll defend his ability to build a winner, but I can’t defend his offensive strategy anymore. 1953 called, Tom. It wants its pace and playbook back.
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The best days of the Minnesota sports year are here, and I’m not just saying that because Target Field opens its gates for baseball on Thursday. The Minnesota Twins are, as of this writing, playing their home opener against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon.
Even if the foot of snow the Twin Cities received Tuesday doesn’t melt by game time or more rain and snow moves into the area forcing a postponement, at least Minnesota sports fans will have two more games to watch later that night. Both the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves play games that could affect the postseason, and both play at the same time, which is frustrating and frankly, should be illegal.
Thursday is going to be the best day of the Minnesota sports season. That is until Saturday, April 14, when four professional sports teams in Minnesota could all play on the same day for the first time ever. We know the Twins and Minnesota United FC (MNUFC or Loons for short) will be in action. But with the NBA Playoffs set to begin that same day, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs also underway, Minnesota sports fans could watch their home teams for up to 11 consecutive hours on April 14. The Twins host the Chicago White Sox at 1:10 p.m. CDT and MNUFC’s match in Portland kicks off at 9:30 p.m. That leaves plenty of room in the television schedule for both the Wolves and Wild.
These really are the best days of the Minnesota sports year, and they’ll continue for as long as the Wild and Timberwolves allow. Here’s the potential schedule for the best days of the Minnesota sports year. You’ll notice this is not a complete schedule of upcoming sporting events featuring a team from Minnesota. Days during which just one Minnesota sports team plays a game are not included. Each day listed has the potential for at least two games to be played by a team from Minnesota. All times are Central. Asterisks indicate a potential game not yet scheduled. Check back for updates.
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I recently scored a Fitbit Alta for $40 and have been making the transition from using the MyPlate app by Livestrong to using the Fitbit app. I mostly purchased a Fitbit because I suspected I was underestimating my daily caloric exertion in the MyPlate app. What made me suspect that? Well, I set a MyPlate goal of losing a half pound per week and shed six pounds in three weeks.
It only took one day for my Fitbit to prove my hypothesis true. I had been underestimating my caloric exertion by a lot because I don’t carry my phone with me everywhere I go. I was shocked by how many steps the Fitbit monitored and was immediately pleased with my purchase. But over the next few days, I discovered things I miss about the MyPlate app and things I like about the Fitbit app.
I really like the burn I got from the 10-minute abs workout and seven-minute cardio sculpting workout. I can still do the workouts, but logging the calories burned isn’t as easy as wearing my Fitbit while I exercise.
I noticed after completing my abs workout that my Fitbit didn’t come close to logging the 74 calories burned the MyPlate abs workout says it burns. That’s probably because most abs exercises involve very few steps, and the Fitbit Alta doesn’t monitor heart rate. I ended up adding my calories burned manually, using “Calisthenics” as my exercise in the Fitbit app. I have to do the same for the cardio sculpting workout. This is a minor inconvenience.
The MyPlate app also has a more vast database of exercises you can add manually, including cooking, baking, bathing, and even sexual activity. My Fitbit might be splashproof, but it’s not meant to be worn in the shower, which means it doesn’t log the calories you burn while bathing (roughly 140 calories per hour).
In the Fitbit app, I had to substitute the “cleaning” exercise for the baking I did while my Fitbit charged. Had I been wearing my Fitbit, however, my movements would have been monitored and calories burned registered.
The MyPlate app also does a better job breaking down your macronutrient consumption with pie charts indicating the percentage of calories consumed from carbohydrates, fat and protein. It also breaks down your macronutrient consumption for each food and meal. The Fitbit app fails to do so, only offering a macronutrient breakdown of your daily consumption.
The Fitbit Coach app provides a slew of workouts for Fitbit users, some of which are free for all users. You can even pick your trainer and whether you want to hear their encouragement and tips during your workout. The free catalog of exercise options is vast and diverse when compared to that of the MyPlate app, and calories burned are automatically registered in the Fitbit app.
The Fitbit app displays your caloric intake right next to your caloric exertion to give you an idea of how far you are under or over your caloric goal. It takes into account your weight loss goal, so if you are looking to lose weight half a pound each week like me, your caloric deficit will be 250 calories per day. That means you’ll be “in the zone” if your caloric consumption is 250 calories less than your caloric exertion.
Your caloric consumption and exertion graph will indicate your success with a green graph when you’re “in the zone.” If you’re over your caloric deficit, your graph will be pink. If you still have room to consume calories given your caloric exertion, your graph will be blue. This graph makes it easier to meet your weight loss goals.
The most frustrating thing about the MyPlate app is its barcode reader, which takes considerably longer than the Fitbit app does to recognize the barcodes of particular foods. Not only does it take longer to recognize the barcodes, but MyPlate’s database of barcodes is not as vast as Fitbit’s. The Fitbit barcode reader recognizes barcodes, even in low light, almost immediately, and is more likely than the MyPlate reader to find the food you’re eating.
Overall, the Fitbit app is slightly better than the MyPlate app, but only when linked to a Fitbit. If not for purchasing my Fitbit Alta, I’d probably still be using the MyPlate app. I say that because of the macronutrient breakdown of foods and meals MyPlate provides. I really like to see how everything I eat breaks down into carbohydrates, fat and protein before I eat it. I plan my meals days in advance at times, and now I have to estimate those macronutrient breakdowns based on the nutrition facts of each food. It’s a modest inconvenience I can tolerate as long as my caloric exertion is more accurately monitored.
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The biggest reason for fans of every MLB team to watch Opening Day is that their team is in first place. It’s the only day of the year every team can say that, but fans of every team, even the Miami Marlins, have at least one reason to watch Opening Day baseball.
The defending champions take on their in-state rivals the Texas Rangers on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. CST, and the biggest reason for Astros fans to tune in is to see if 35-year-old Justin Verlander can repeat his stellar 2017 season and carry a staff of mostly question marks.
Dallas Keuchel followed up his Cy Young season in 2015 by posting an ERA+ of just 86 in 2016. He rebounded with an ERA+ of 136 last season, but pitched just 145.2 innings. He’s pitched 200 innings just twice in his six-year career. Verlander has done it in 10 of 13 seasons, which is five more times than the rest of the Astros’ starters combined.
But the Astros are prepared in case their starters fail to eat innings, with Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock available in the bullpen.
Clayton Kershaw takes the mound against San Francisco at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN. That’s all Dodgers fans should need to tune in on Opening Day, because it could be Kershaw’s last season with the Dodgers.
Yankees fans will get their first look at last year’s home run champion Giancarlo Stanton in Toronto on Thursday. Oh, and the runner-up in the home run race, Aaron Judge, will be there in pinstripes, too.
Jon Lester will take on Miami to kick off Opening Day on ESPN at 11:30 a.m. CST. Lester, who has struggled throwing to first base, will feature a new bounced throw he’s been working on in Spring Training. It’ll be interesting to see if his new approach limits the running game of Miami, a team that does have some speed if nothing else.
Indians fans will get their first look at new first baseman Yonder Alonso, who has become the new poster boy for launch angle despite his simple focus of becoming “a tough out.” He’s certainly been that in Spring Training, collecting 21 hits in 56 at-bats and amassing an OPS of 1.284. Defensive metrics have Alonso rated as a downgrade at first base when compared to Cleveland’s former first baseman, Carlos Santana, though.
The Nationals will have to wait until Friday to open the season due to weather in Cincinnati, but it does give Adam Eaton an extra day to recover from the ACL tear that kept him out all of last season. Eaton will most certainly be the biggest addition to a team that sees its championship window closing. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Weiters will all be free agents at the end of the season.
J.D. Martinez debuts with Boston on Thursday at Tampa Bay, a much-needed upgrade at designated hitter, where Hanley Ramirez struggled to a .750 OPS last season. Martinez will get time in the corner outfield spots as well, but will mostly steal at-bats from Ramirez and Mitch Moreland, who will serve as a platoon at first base.
Martinez’s awesome power to all fields should play well at Fenway Park, and while he might not hit as many home runs as he did at Chase Field in Arizona, at least he’s not in Arizona this year, where baseballs will be kept in a humidor to limit home runs. Chase Field accounted for the fourth-most home runs in baseball last season. Fenway was 26th, but Martinez is more than just a power hitter. He’s hit over .300 in three of his seven MLB seasons.
The Twins’ new braintrust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine might have won the offseason, adding reasonably-priced bullpen depth (Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney), undervalued starters (Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn) and an undervalued slugger (Logan Morrison). They were the second-best offense of the second half of last season, with Gold Glove center fielder Byron Buxton discovering a swing that has him poised for a breakout in 2018.
Twins fans will get a chance to see all their new additions in action on Thursday in Baltimore, most notably starter Jake Odorizzi, who takes the mound with Ervin Santana recovering from hand surgery.
The Rockies were second in the league in save percentage (77.05 percent) last season despite Greg Holland being abysmal in the second half (6.38 ERA). They added Wade Davis in the offseason, who closed out 32 of his 33 save opportunities in 2017.
The Brewers were surprisingly good last year, and will surprise no one this year. They also got better in the offseason, adding center fielder Lorenzo Cain and left fielder Christian Yelich. Those additions should help them climb out of the bottom third of the league in runs scored.
Marcell Ozuna is coming off a career year in Miami (.924 OPS) and provides added depth to a lineup that already had six players with an OPS+ over 100. The Cardinals were 13th in the league in runs scored last year, but were 20th in runs allowed. The addition of Ozuna allows the Cardinals’ best outfielder, Tommy Pham, to play center field full time instead of splitting time with the less adept Dexter Fowler, who will roam right field instead. The Cardinals are going to score more runs and limit fewer runs in 2018 thanks to Ozuna.
The Mariners’ aging rotation can’t seem to stay healthy, and Felix Hernandez is a shell of his former self, but they have the speedy Dee Gordon roaming center field to back up that aging rotation, which is the best reason for Mariners fans to watch Opening Day baseball. Gordon’s transition from middle infielder to center fielder should be an adventure worth watching, but his prowess at the plate and on the base paths is always worth watching. The addition of Gordon should lift Seattle’s run production substantially, which was 15th in the league last year. Gordon’s 60 stolen bases last season would have put the Mariners at the top of the league in that category.
The Diamondbacks still have Zack Greinke, who will open the season at home against Colorado. Greinke allowed more home runs last year (25) than he had since his rookie year in 2004 (26), but the new baseball humidor in Arizona should make him even better in 2018. It might have an adverse effect on Paul Goldschmidt, though. Still, having a Cy Young contender on the mound is reason enough to watch Opening Day.
Angels fans were probably hoping Shohei Ohtani would be starting Opening Day at Oakland, but he hasn’t pitched well enough in Spring Training to warrant the fourth spot in the rotation let alone the first (27.00 ERA). He hasn’t hit either (4-for-32). The Angels still don’t have the starting rotation to reach the playoffs, but the addition of Ian Kinsler into an already potent lineup featuring the game’s best player, Mike Trout, one of the game’s best hitters of all time, Albert Pujols, and a rejuvenated Justin Upton, should make for an Opening Day featuring plenty of runs scored.
Jake Arrieta won’t toe the rubber on Thursday in Atlanta, but Aaron Nola will, giving Phillies fans reason to watch and reason for hope. The Phillies aren’t as far from contending as some people think thanks to their young talent being quick studies at the MLB level. Nola amassed 184 strikeouts in 168 innings last year, left fielder Rhys Hoskins hit 18 home runs in 170 at-bats, and second baseman César Hernández collected 215 total bases for a second consecutive season.
New addition Randal Grichuk is going to have a career year in Toronto, and Aaron Sanchez seems to have rediscovered himself (3.06 ERA in Spring Training) after struggling last season. The key for Toronto is always health. How many games will Troy Tulowitzki and Curtis Granderson play? Even Josh Donaldson missed considerable time last year. But the starting rotation and lineup are both playoff caliber. The bullpen is the reason they’re pretenders.
Manny Machado is moving to shortstop in the final year of his contract with the Orioles. Adam Jones is also in a contract year, so both will be looking to put up massive numbers to earn big paydays in the offseason. Machado was a premiere third basemen and should make for an above average shortstop, especially given his hitting ability. Watching him at his new position on Opening Day is reason for Orioles fans to watch.
It’s another even year, and the Giants have added pieces to make another run at a championship. With Madison Bumgarner recovering from a broken hand and out three months, the eyes of Giants fans will gravitate towards Andrew McCutchen on Opening Day. At 31, McCutchen should enjoy hitting in the Giants’ effective lineup, but hate chasing balls in right field behind the Giants’ aging rotation.
Can Cole Hamels return to form after a hiccup in 2017? Rangers fans will get a clue when he takes on the offensive juggernaut Houston on Thursday. If the 34-year-old Hamels has indeed regressed, at least the Rangers now have the 34-year-old Doug Fister to back him up in the rotation.
Eric Hosmer will debut with the Padres on Thursday in San Diego against Milwaukee, giving San Diego the bat it needs to protect Wil Myers. They’re still a long way from contending, but having a guy like Hosmer in the lineup should help make the vast Petco Park look just a little bit smaller. Petco allowed the second-fewest homers last year.
Replacing Hosmer with with Lucas Duda could be a very affordable way for the Royals to get similar offensive production for $140.5 million less than Hosmer got from San Diego. Duda posted an .818 OPS and hit 30 homers playing for the Mets and Rays last year. But Jon Jay (.738 career OPS, +4 total zone/total fielding runs above average per 1,200 innings in center field) is no Lorenzo Cain (.763 career OPS, +11 total zone/total fielding runs above average per 1,200 innings in center field).
All eyes will be on Noah Syndergaard, whose 101-mph fastball has been all the rage in Spring Training. The Mets have playoff potential in their pitching, both starting and relieving, and the addition of Adrian Gonzalez gives them four professional hitters (Jay Bruce, Yoenis Céspedes and Todd Frazier) in the lineup. The Mets are also very old and injury prone, so health will be a key factor in limiting their potential.
Ivan Nova could be the next Pirate traded and will start the season in Detroit taking on Jordan Zimmerman. Nova isn’t a free agent until after next season, but the $9 million and change he’s owed this year and next will make him very attractive to a team in the hunt if he has similar success to last season (4.14 ERA).
Chris Archer has long been the subject of trade rumors, but will start for the Rays on Opening Day for the fourth consecutive season. Archer’s contract is any team’s dream and comes with two club options at just $8.25 million after next season, so if he gets off to a hot start, the Rays could be given an offer they can’t refuse. Rays fans should tune in on Opening Day to see their ace get the season started on the right foot.
Top prospect Robert Acuna Jr. won’t be on the Braves’ Opening Day roster so Atlanta can control the start of his service time and retain his rights longer, but second baseman Ozzie Albies will be worth watching. Albies posted an impressive .810 OPS in 217 at-bats last year and has been raking in Spring Training (20-for-66 with an .843 OPS).
Yoán Moncada found an effective stroke last season, posting a .750 OPS in 199 at-bats. He’s been even better this spring, posting an .833 OPS in 59 at-bats. All eyes will be on Moncada to become the star everyone expected way back when he was still with the Red Sox.
Scott Schebler has been an absolute force in Spring Training, with 19 hits in 46 at-bats and an OPS of 1.151. He’ll be manning right field for the Reds on Opening Day, looking to build on his respectable 2016 season that saw him post a .762 OPS over 257 at-bats.
Miguel Cabrera might not be a piece the Tigers can trade -- this year or ever. But Nick Castellanos has just one more year of arbitration eligibility, and Victor Martinez and José Iglesias are free agents at the end of the season. The Tigers have to move all they can to complete their rebuild, so Tigers fans should be rooting for Cabrera, Castellanos, Martinez and Iglesias to start the season hot on Opening Day.
José Ureña taking on the Cubs should be reason enough for Marlins fans to watch Opening Day. Ureña had a fantastic 2017, going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA. If he can shut down the Cubs’ lineup, it should give Marlins fans hope that they might have an ace in the making.
California native Matt Chapman will look to stake his claim to third base for the long term in Oakland after posting a respectable .785 OPS over 290 at-bats in 2017. He’s got legitimate power potential, too, hitting 14 home runs and 23 doubles last year.