Anthony Varriano

Anthony Varriano

Now that Republicans’ plans to repeal and replace Obamacare are all but dead, GOP Congress-men and -women will be working to preserve their jobs by accomplishing something -- anything. Now it seems the Republican budget proposals will get in the way of their next big project -- tax reform. But there is a lifeboat out there for Republicans, if they’re willing to accept a hand from a Democrat.

Progressive Consumption Tax

Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) reintroduced S. 3529, otherwise known as the Progressive Consumption Tax Act (PCTA), back in December. And while the bill wouldn’t do what many Republicans would like and get rid of the Internal Revenue Service, it would re-purpose and shrink the IRS and make tax collection a lot easier. It would also make it so most people would no longer owe individual income taxes, and it would reduce the corporate income tax rate to one of the lowest among industrialized nations.

“How?” you ask. Well, revenue once created by income taxes would be replaced by revenue created through a consumption tax, which is a tax on goods and services consumed rather than a tax on income. It’s a lot like a sales tax, except Cardin has proposed what’s called a value added tax.

Value Added Tax (VAP)

A value added tax is collected from each producer involved in the production chain of a product rather than the end consumer. So if a manufacturer buys $40-worth of product from other manufacturers earlier in the production chain, puts its own labor and materials into it and sells it for $100, the value added by that manufacturer is $60.

Why a value added tax? It’s more likely to be paid. Compliance is believed to be better when the tax is collected at all stages of production rather than the final stage, when the product is purchased by a consumer from a retailer. Both a retail tax and value added tax would produce identical revenue if compliance is perfect, and collecting at all stages of production would help ensure that is the case.

Flat Tax

Cardin’s proposed a 10-percent, flat tax because it simplifies taxation, facilitates compliance and enforcement, and doesn’t allow for distortions based on product type. The few exemptions to the consumption tax are financial services, “which are difficult to handle within a VAT and are often exempted, residential rents, and sales of existing residential housing.” So you won’t pay taxes for your accountant or broker, rent or mortgage, or the sale of your home.

According to the independent and nonprofit Tax Foundation’s Taxes and Growth Model (TAG), the plan would raise the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) 4.4 percent, increase the stock of capital used in production by 15.2 percent, and create 1.1 million jobs. It would also increase after-tax income for rich and poor, so every American would have more money with which to stimulate the economy. In fact, real after-tax hourly wages would increase 6.5 percent.

That all sounds great, right? But will it pay the bills? In short, yes. Cardin’s plan is designed to raise at least as much revenue as the current income tax system does, and the rate can be altered, but the revenue created can never be more than 10 percent of GDP. That doesn’t mean the percentage can’t increase, but the U.S. tax revenue as a percent of GDP was 26.4 percent in 2015. Cardin’s plan would refund taxpayers any revenue over 10 percent of GDP.  

Do you see how Cardin’s plan creates more revenue despite a lower percentage of GDP? Tax revenue, whether a consumption tax or income tax, is linked to economic growth. The more economic growth, the more tax revenue. Increasing the U.S. GDP 4.4 percent is no small feat. As of 2015 numbers that’s almost $800 billion, which would cover the entirety of the Republicans’ proposed military budget and then some ($621.5 billion).

Why should Congress enact a consumption tax? Well, much like healthcare, the United States is behind a lot of developed countries when it comes to taxation. About 150 countries have a consumption tax, most of which were established decades ago.

The consumption tax would also allow the U.S. to tax imports and subsidize exports without violating current World Trade Organization rules (WTO), which Donald Trump would love, even though economic theory indicates a border adjustment tax would end up trade neutral. But that’s what House Republicans want, even though, “Economists can show that the House Republican plan has the same effect as abolishing the corporate tax altogether, introducing a VAT, and then cutting payroll taxes.”

That makes the Republicans’ border adjustment tax nothing more than a political ploy that plays to its base, but that’s what Republicans need -- a political ploy that plays to its base. That and an accomplishment like tax reform. It ain’t gonna be healthcare or a budget anytime soon. So work together, Congress, and we can all get what we want.

Enacting a consumption tax is about as bipartisan as it gets. Republicans get to help corporations. Democrats get to help the poor, and Republican Congress-men and -women might get to keep their jobs. But apparently it’s a nonstarter for most Republicans -- unless you tell them otherwise. You can use Countable to keep your Congress-men and -women accountable to you. I urge you to contact them and tell them you want a progressive consumption tax. It will save every American money, and allows Americans to save and invest.

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Now that we know Donald Trump's budget would increase the deficit and do little to improve the economy according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, you can expect fixed costs like energy and transportation to cut into the average American’s income even more so than in the past. In fact, the Trump administration made a $3.7 trillion mistake in its budget, which is far larger than the $776 billion and and $303 billion mistakes the Obama administration made with its budgets.

Energy cuts focus on energy-efficiency research

While the bulk of Trump’s proposed cuts in energy are research programs at the Energy Department ($3.1 billion, an 18 percent cut in budget) seeking ways to decrease carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants and more efficient batteries for electric cars, programs that actually help Americans save money on energy will also be eliminated.

 

The Energy Star program, with which you’re likely familiar, costs about $50 million annually, but will be cut from the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget despite the EPA estimating that the program helped American consumers and businesses save $34 billion in energy costs and prevent more than 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That little blue label won’t be there to tell you whether the appliance you’re looking to buy meets the EPA’s standards because those standards no longer exist.

 

The same goes for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which funds energy audits of homes inhabited by low-income Americans and the installation of energy efficient additions like attic insulation and plastic over windows. Those workers are doing a lot more than installing plastic over windows, though. They also address health and safety issues by fixing broken windows, replacing faulty water heaters, repairing holes in roofs as well as installing other protective measures.

 

WAP cost $193 million in 2015, and the it estimates that for every dollar invested in the program, it returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits. In the past 31 years, 6.2 million low-income families have taken advantage of the program, which also produces “non-energy” benefits of an additional $1.07 per dollar invested. By lowering energy bills on average of $413 per year, low-income Americans have more income with which to stimulate the economy. But not anymore, which is likely why the CBO doesn’t see any improvement to the economy in Trump’s budget.

 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $280 million in 2015, and its budget will also be cut entirely. ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment, so cutting it would put more strain on technology businesses, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

 

The loan program that has made fuel-efficient vehicles more affordable, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, would also be cut. Luckily, according to its website, the program has $16 billion in loan authority remaining, despite loaning Ford Motor Company $5.9 billion in 2009. The scrapping of the program will also make it harder for the average American to afford fuel-efficient vehicles.

 

Finally, Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy to support innovative clean energy technologies that are typically unable to obtain conventional private financing due to high technology risks through the issue of loans. Those loans will no longer be made available.

 

So that’s what’s happening to the U.S. energy budget. No more investing in American energy unless it comes in the form of decayed dinosaurs. But with fossil fuel exploration and drilling increasing, the price of fuel should go down, right? Well, the real price of gasoline and diesel fuel is already below nominal prices, which means they’re likely to increase to at least the nominal price.

Transportation budget cuts make Americans more dependent on cars, fossil fuels

Then there’s the U.S. transportation budget, or lack thereof. While shifting air traffic control to a nonprofit organization would transfer thousands of workers off the government payroll, it could impact smaller airports providing cheaper flights, which means more expensive rates for you. The elimination of $175 million in subsidies for commercial flights to rural airports will hurt rural Americans especially.

 

Also being eliminated is funding for many new transit projects and support for long-distance Amtrak trains, which, of course, would make Americans more car-dependent, and by design, more fossil-fuel dependent. Worst yet, the roads Americans will be forced to drive won’t be getting any better. The Republicans’ budget would cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program despite skyrocketing demand. The Department of Transportation received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States, and several U.S. territories, tribal communities, cities, and towns throughout the United States, collectively requesting over $9.3 billion in funding in 2016.

 

So how do we as Americans manage to get to and from the places we need or want to go with energy costs, both in the form of electricity and fuel, and transportation costs, both in the form of planes and trains, increasing? Well, here are 5 ways to save money despite budget cuts to energy and transportation.

1) Bicycle

If your roundtrip is under 10 miles, you need not drive. Get out the bicycle, put on the padded underwear and a helmet and take your share of the roads. I recommend wearing padded underwear if you intend to cycle for an hour or more. It generally only takes an hour to go 10 miles on a bike, and with a caddie and saddlebags, you can carry a towel and fresh clothes to change into once you arrive at your destination. Do not wear a backpack! You’ll regret it the moment you get a mile from home.

2) Carpooling

Not all of us live close enough to the places we frequent to do so on bicycle. But there are other people taking a similar trip. Mobile devices with unlimited data have made social circles a whole lot bigger than the water cooler at the office. Just because no one in your office goes by your house on their way to work doesn’t mean you can’t carpool.

 

Carpooling apps are becoming more popular in metro areas, with New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. already being served by Via. But growth of carpool communities is dependent on us as Americans to make them viable options. Apps like Duet and Waze need demand to be useful, and if we’re all set on wasting money and killing the Earth by driving our cars to work everyday, they might never be available in your area. So sign up to either drive or ride with all the carpool apps and share them with your friends on social media so we can grow the carpooling communities and all save on transportation.

 

In the future, your self-driving car will simply go out and drive people to work while you’re at work or asleep. Until then, we’ll have to take the wheel, both figuratively and literally.

3) Work from home

More and more Americans are working from home these days, as employers look to cut costs like rent and energy, and employees look to cut transportation costs. If you do most of your work on a computer or over the phone like me, you can probably negotiate a work-from-home agreement with your boss. You might not be able to work from home everyday, but a few days per week will still save you money on transportation costs. And there’s nothing really like working in bed to the sounds of Rick James on vinyl.

4) Buy an electric vehicle

This isn’t going to be feasible for the average American, but for the first time ever, a car doesn’t have to be a liability anymore. Buying an electric vehicle is an investment that will pay for itself. The payback period depends on the car, of course, but it could be as little as eight years for a Kia Soul EV and as many as 30 or more years for the mysterious Tesla Model 3. And if the average American drives 13,474 miles annually, a Model 3 owner will have paid for her car in 30 years. That’s seven years before Model 3 owners will have to worry about investing in replacement batteries given the 484,669-mile projection for the batteries’ ability to retain at least 80 percent of their capacity.

5) Invest in solar or wind energy

Regardless of where you live, there’s likely an opportunity for you to harness solar or wind to create energy and lower your energy bill. And until Republicans pass a budget, there are still tax incentives and rebates available to you for installing solar arrays and wind turbines. You might as well take advantage of them while you still can, as both technologies have become more affordable to install. Solar installations have dropped nine percent in a year, and wind turbines have dropped more than 60 percent in price since 2009.  

 

The energy companies are doing their best to deter customers from installing renewable energy sources, though. Many are charging flat fees just for hooking up a solar array or wind turbine, and then they’re taking the extra energy you don’t need, but that you provide, and selling it to others. That’s why you should consult an electrician and find things you can run directly from your renewable energy sources if your energy provider is looking to take advantage of you.

 

Maybe your solar panels charge a battery or generator that runs the lights and electricity in your newly built shop or garage. You can always rewire your solar array or wind turbine into the grid, so don’t give in to paying those flat fees to use your own energy. If we discovered farting in a can could run lights for an hour, the energy companies would find a way to suck the fart out of that can and make you pay rent on the can. Don’t let them get your farts.

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Meeting your weight loss goals doesn’t have to be expensive or snack-free. Snacking can actually be good for you as long as it’s done in moderation. Snacking will actually make you eat less during meals, and spreading your calories throughout the day rather than eating three traditional meals will increase your metabolism and allow you to burn more calories and fat while at rest. I eat over 1,000 calories in snacks per day and have lost 12 pounds in two months and fit into my high school jeans.

You can keep snacking, too, as long as you know which snacks are best for you and which to avoid. Obviously, eating Hostess Twinkies every day isn’t going to be good for you. The 260 calories in two Twinkie cakes is more than even M&Ms, as is the 43 grams of carbohydrates packed into those golden cakes.

The high-calorie snacks not named Twinkies are Oreos, Chips Ahoy!, Lay’s Potato Chips (pick your flavored poison), Cheetos, Fritos Corn Chips (Chili Cheese and Original), and my personal favorite, Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists. All come in packing 160 calories per serving, and all come with between nine and 10 grams of fat. I understand you probably love a snack on this list, and I feel for you, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy that snack. Just do so in moderation.

You don’t have to sacrifice taste for nutrition, and you don’t have to pay more for healthier snacks, either. While Smartfood Delight Sea Salt Popcorn is supposed to be healthy, it still has 140 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving. And at 50 cents an ounce, it’s the most expensive snack I found at Wal-mart. Another surprise was Sun Chips, which come in with 140 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving, all for 42.6 cents per ounce. They do have a lower salt content than most chips, with just 120 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Now that you know which snacks to avoid, here are the 5 healthiest and affordable snacks on the market.

5. Stauffer’s Animal Crackers

To my personal delight, Stauffer’s Animal Crackers came in with the second-lowest fat content (2 g) and fourth-lowest calorie content (120) per serving. Animal Crackers also have just 7 grams of sugars per serving, but don’t eat too many. They had the third-highest carbohydrate count (24 g), but at just 8.25 cents per ounce, they are an absolute steal.

4. Snack Pack Pudding

Snack Pack Puddings impressed. The chocolate flavor packs just 100 calories, which was second-best, and each serving comes with just two grams of fat. While the protein content leaves a lot to be desired (less than a gram per serving), the 7.12 cent-per-ounce price was the best of all the snacks studied.

3. Greek Yogurt

It took me awhile to get on the Greek yogurt bandwagon, but I’m on it for good. Brands matter when it comes to Greek yogurt, though. The Dannon Light Banana Cream Greek Yogurt packs just 80 calories, nine grams of carbs, and no fat per serving, while Chobani has 130 calories, 18 grams of carbs and 2.5 grams of fat. Yoplait impressed with 15 grams of protein per serving. At 18.9 cents per ounce, it’s a bit more expensive than the cheapest snacks here, but the protein content makes Greek yogurt very valuable. It was cheaper per ounce than Pepperidge Farm’s Cheddar Goldfish and Chex Mix.

2. Triscuits

In the head-to-head matchup between Triscuits and Wheat Thins, Triscuits took it in a knockout. With just 80 calories per serving, Triscuits took the title for lowest-calorie snack. They were second only to Greek yogurt with 13 grams of carbs, and their 2.5 grams of fat per serving is half as much as Wheat Thins. The only category Wheat Thins won was in cost. Triscuits were 27.5 cents per ounce, while Wheat Thins were 24.3 cents per ounce.

1. Fruits and Vegetables

I know you’re thinking, “Well, duh!” But to give you a sense of how fruits and vegetables stack up against some of the packaged snack foods, there’s just 46 calories in a cup of strawberries and just 11 grams of carbs and not even half a gram of fat. And they’re 8.9 cents per ounce when in season. A serving of carrots is just 15 calories and eight grams of carbs. They run 7.6 cents per ounce, so when you’re considering what you want to snack on during the week, don’t forget about fruits and vegetables.

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It’s hard to take a day off when your job consists of writing about exactly what you want to write about whenever that inspiration strikes. I’m usually inspired to write something daily, but sometimes a vacation can go a long way in refreshing your thoughts and disconnecting your brain from all things work. That’s why I went vinyl record shopping on Sunday.

Vinyl’s comeback is no secret. I’m 31, and while my parents had a record player and used it often when I was a kid, I didn’t get into records until more recently when I started listening to them with friends. It became a kind of ritual. After our days listening to radio at work, whether traditional or online, and mp3s from our phones during our commute, we needed some art we could touch -- something tangible.

The quality of a vinyl recording is far superior to that of an mp3 or CD, too. I don’t care what anyone says. You can’t have better quality if you don’t capture everything in the first place. A digital recording does not capture the complete sound wave, while an analog recording does. That’s why Robert Plant’s voice sounds so much better on vinyl, because nothing is lost.

What I love most about the vinyl comeback, though, is the act of purchasing music. I went out looking for a few specific things on Sunday. After hearing The Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues,” I wanted to focus on buying records that featured horns, so basically anything by Chicago or my favorite band in middle school, Huey Lewis and the News. I know, I’m a throwback, but Back to the Future was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and I’ve always been a sucker for horns.

Did I find what I sought? Not really. Did I care? No. And I still ended up buying four records on Sunday.

Starting at Know Name Records in Bloomington, I discovered a bunch of records I’ll eventually buy, but the one I decided I had to have that very moment was Buddy Holly’s “Gold.” The sleeve was in terrible shape, but the vinyl looked great, so for $8 I took it home. I figured it would be one I’d never sell anyways, so what do I care what the sleeve looks like. If it plays it’s worth eight bucks. What motivated the purchase? I had just seen a Buddy Holly impersonator in Las Vegas with my dad and realized how great that man was despite not giving him a lot of play throughout my life. Now I can replay that show in my living room whenever I want.

Since I didn’t find what I sought, I went to Roadrunner Records in Minneapolis, where I immediately found the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers movie for another $8. No Huey Lewis and the News in the building, but at least I found some horns.

I walked into Extreme Noise in Minneapolis without knowing what to expect. The staff was incredibly helpful right from the start, so instead of walking in and looking around, I was immediately asked if there was something specific I was seeking.

“Yeah. Huey Lewis and the News’s ‘Sports,’” I said. The staff member smiled.

“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll have that one. Maybe Roadrunner Records would. You should probably be able to find it for two bucks anywhere.”

“I just came from there. What do you guys specialize in?”

“We have punk and metal mostly. We probably have who you’ve got on your shirt.” I was wearing The Menzingers’ concert t-shirt I bought when I saw them in Seattle. More importantly, though, I had stumbled upon music-buying bliss. I could spend an entire day in this store and not find everything I want to buy. In fact, everyone in the store, even shoppers, helped search for the sleeve for The Screeching Weasel’s new album “How to Make Enemies and Irritate People.” It was a fantastic shopping experience.

I also took home the album that probably made me a punk the moment I heard it -- Dead Boys’ “Young Loud and Snotty.” I might never listen to it in any other format again because the record sounds absolutely fantastic. It’s as close to seeing a Dead Boys’ show as I’ll ever get. Upon hearing the first side of the record, I posted this on Facebook with a picture of the record: "Strangely, the best I've felt listening to music."

It was one of the most pleasurable Sundays I’ve had in some time, and the Minnesota Twins lost that day. It will probably become a bi-weekly adventure. I’ll get my paycheck and head down to the record stores, grabbing long lost classics and new punk records that will gain value over time. Because what’s the point in buying art if it’s not worth anything more than a listen once in awhile?

Editor’s Note: I will publish a review of some of the most underappreciated records of all time as a follow-up to this piece.

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The Major League Baseball Trade Deadline is one of the most exciting days of my year. I’ve taken the day off from work in the past to keep an eye on deadline moves that would make or break teams’ seasons. Here’s a reason for fans of every team to have hope at the MLB Trade Deadline.


 

This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters providing uncensored, commercial-free play-by-play and color commentary during select games. 


 

The Buyers

Houston Astros

Reason for hope: The Astros are frontrunners with the throttle floored and no one in the rearview mirror. Making moves at the Trade Deadline in every sport can torpedo a team, though. Think of how the Minnesota Wild stumbled into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. Houston’s reason for hope is they’re really good already, but they’ll likely add a starting pitcher to turn that hope into high expectations.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Reason for hope: The Dodgers are hardly the Astros’ equivalent of the National League. While they led Houston by a half game at the All-Star Break, the next three closest teams in the overall standings were in the National League. Arizona was 7.5 games back on Monday, while Boston was 10 games behind Houston. The Dodgers can afford to make a move, and have been linked with closer Justin Wilson and were intrigued with J.D. Martinez before the season. Those moves could help the Dodgers pull away from the rest of the National League in the hunt for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Reason for hope: The Diamondbacks have the pitching to compete in the playoffs. They’ve allowed the second fewest runs behind the Dodgers. It will be interesting to see if Zack Godley can continue his fantastic season thus far (181 ERA+, .947 WHIP in 69.2 IP).

Despite all that, the Diamondbacks are going all-in this year, looking for pitching depth and a bat they can use either in the infield or outfield. My guess is they’ll target a fourth or fifth starter for a playoff push (Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Jaime Garcia, Scott Feldman), a closer (David Robertson, Brad Hand, Brandon Kintzler) and a bench bat (Seth Smith?). I wouldn’t count them out on Chicago’s Jose Quintana, though, either.

Washington Nationals

Reason for hope: Like the Dodgers, the Nationals have the most important thing going into the playoffs -- premiere starting pitching. Now they need a premiere closer. Also like the Dodgers, they’re apparently interested in Justin Wilson.  

Boston Red Sox

Reason for hope: Boston leads the very tough AL East and has the starting pitching to stay there, so they can afford to take it slow. They’re waiting to investigate bullpen trades, but will probably pick up someone for lower-leverage situations. Maybe they’ll deal with Minnesota like they did last year in acquiring Fernando Abad for Pat Light, who was ultimately released. They could get Brandon Kintzler and move him from the ninth inning to the sixth or seventh -- or just when no one’s on base.

Colorado Rockies

Reason for hope: All’s quiet on the Western front. The Rockies had the second wild card locked up with the defending champions 8.5 back at the All-Star break, but they did already acquire Zac Rosscup from the Cubs. He’s dealing at AAA Iowa (12.7 K/9 and 1.048 WHIP) and could help keep his old team out of the playoffs.

Milwaukee Brewers

Reason for hope: The Cubs were 5.5 back of Milwaukee at the break, and the Brewers won’t be seeking rentals. The Brewers also have injury issues. It doesn’t sound very hopeful, right? Well, there’s still outfielder Lewis Brinson, who’s recovering nicely at AAA (.985 OPS) from a bad cup of coffee in the bigs (3-for-31). He’ll be back and better than he was, giving Ryan Braun time to heal. Look for the Brewers to target young, controllable pitching (Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray), but don’t expect anything too crazy (more likely is a controllable bullpen arm like Brad Hand or Cincinnati's Tony Cingrani).

Cleveland Indians

Reason for hope: The Indians lead the deep AL Central, but Kansas City is lurking, and the Minnesota Twins just won’t quit. Getting Danny Salazar and Jason Kipnis back healthy should help, although neither were performing well before their injuries. Losing Austin Jackson for most of July is the biggest hit the Indians have taken besides that to their manager, Terry Francona, who’s recovering from surgery addressing an irregular heartbeat. So there’s likely a move that needs to be made to keep Cleveland in front of the surging Royals, and it’s probably in the form of a fourth outfielder who can play center. The return of Rajai Davis makes sense, especially given his ability to steal a bag. He led the league with 43 steals with Cleveland last year at the age of 35.

New York Yankees

Reason for hope: The Yankees’ have starting pitching depth (and a great rotation if Masahiro Tanaka figures it out) and a dynamite bullpen. The chink in the Yankee armor might be at first base, unless Gi-Man Choi continues to homer every six at-bats. The Chris Carter experiment has failed miserably thus far, but there’s not a lot of right-handed, first basemen available via trade. The Giants are reportedly shopping Brandon Belt, who’s signed for $17.2 million annually over the next four years, or the Yankees could acquire a lefty-swinging, first baseman (Lucas Duda, Matt Adams, or even Yonder Alonso) for less since Carter’s a free agent after the end of next year.

Kansas City Royals

Reason for hope: The Royals have recovered nicely from a slow start and look like a playoff team. Boy, do they need a shortstop, though. Alcides Escobar has been historically bad at the plate (43 OPS+), but continues to show above-average range at short while being average overall on defense.

Switch-hitting Freddy Galvis might be all the Royals need to make another run at a World Series. They would lose a few runs defensively, but Galvis’s OPS+ is more than double Escobar’s (90), and Escobar could come off the bench as a defensive replacement.

The Contenders

Minnesota Twins

Reason for hope: The Twins are investigating trades for controllable starting pitching. That would include Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, Julio Teheran and Dan Straily. The Twins have the prospects to acquire any one of the five mentioned, any one of which would be a lift for a team that’s had a revolving door that’s seen Nik Turly, Felix Jorge, Adam Wilk and Nick Tepesch split seven starts amongst them. The Twins won one of those seven games, which forced them to hope Bartolo Colon returns to the form that made him an All-Star last season at the age of 43.

Not only are the Twins having trouble fielding competitive starting pitchers, the starters they’ve thrown out there don’t go deep into games. Kyle Gibson is averaging five innings pitched per start. Adalberto Mejia is averaging five innings pitched per start. Hector Santiago was averaging five innings pitched per start before going on the 10-day disabled list. Only All-Star Ervin Santana and phenom Jose Berrios have managed to get into the sixth inning regularly, so there’s a need for bullpen arms in Minnesota, too.

I fully expect Falvey and Levine to be one of the many teams vying for Brad Hand, who graduated high school in Chaska, Minn. If the asking price is too high, they will find somebody, because they’ll likely take advantage of All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler’s high value and trade him due to his expiring contract. The trade market is always full of reliable relief pitching, but it generally comes at a high price. It’ll be even higher for the Twins’ Falvey and Levine because they’re seeking controllable pitching (think Hand, Justin Wilson, David Phelps, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and AJ Ramos).  

Tampa Bay Rays

Reason for hope: The Rays are the complete opposite of the Twins. They have competitive starting pitching and a good bullpen (four relievers have an ERA+ above 100). While they could really use an upgrade the fifth time through the rotation, they hope Blake Snell either returns to form (113 ERA+ in 2016 compared to 87 this season) or Futures Game MVP Brett Honeywell is that upgrade.

The Rays even have a lineup that can compete in the playoffs. Mallex Smith has been a fine replacement for Kevin Kiermaier in center field and at the plate. While they’ve lost Colby Rasmus for the rest of July, they have outfield depth in Peter Bourjos and Shane Peterson. The Rays are just looking for a bullpen arm, but might have what they need with Brad Boxberger returning from injury. They’ve also transitioned Chih-Wei Hu to the bullpen, and he could be a contributor when rosters expand. Hu was acquired from the Twins last year for Kevin Jepsen, who is currently seeking work.

Chicago Cubs

Reason for hope: The Cubs are the defending champs and are chasing a young Milwaukee Brewers team in the NL Central. If that’s not enough reason for Cubs fans to have hope, then here are a few more reasons: Kyle Hendricks comes off the disabled list after the All-Star Break, Jake Arrieta is at his best in the season’s final two months (1.100 WHIP in August, .896 WHIP in September and October over his career), and Kyle Schwarber seemed to figure something out at AAA Iowa (1.192 OPS in 44 PAs there and 4-for-14 with 2 doubles and a homer since his return).

Chicago has called just about everyone looking for starters, but Theo Epstein isn’t going to sacrifice the farm for the season. Cubs fans can expect a move for a backend starter, which could help them catch Milwaukee.

St. Louis Cardinals

Reason for hope: The Cardinals’ starting rotation is legit, and I doubt they intend to break it up via trades. They even watched Jose Quintana and have expressed interest in Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson, so the Cardinals are betting they aren’t out of the NL Central. And that’s exactly what they should do. They were tied with the Cubs just 5.5 games back of the division-leading Brewers at the All-Star Break, so the Cardinals could be buying at the deadline.

Los Angeles Angels

Reason for hope: Mike Trout returns Friday, and the Angels have expressed interest in Miami’s Dee Gordon. They even scouted Jose Quintana, so it looks like the Angels are all-in this season despite their best starter being Alex Meyer (102 ERA+). They do have the bullpen to close games, and an offense that has the potential to score runs with the return of Trout. Put Gordon at second base, and you’ve got a team that can steal some bases (if Trout ever steals again given the injury) and steal a run or two on defense. It will take more than Quintana to shore up the starting pitching, though.

Texas Rangers

Reason for hope: The Rangers still have Yu Darvish, and will likely get four more starts out of him before they’re forced to decide whether to buy or sell. They entered the All-Star Break just three games back of both Wild Card spots and have the second-highest run differential amongst the teams contending for the Wild Card (+29), so Texas could be right in the thick of things come the end of July.

The Rangers’ pitching staff outside of Darvish is pretty darn good, too, so don’t think moving Darvish will end their playoff push necessarily. But Andrew Cashner and Cole Hamels have been lucky, each sporting an ERA almost a run less than their respective FIPs.

Even with their big Trade Deadline acquisition from last year, Jonathan Lucroy, having an OPS+ that’s 55 points lower than last season’s, the Rangers look like buyers. Robinson Chirinos has been picking up the slack at catcher, and the only performance that’s been truly troublesome is that of second baseman Rougned Odor, who’s having the worst year of his young career (73 OPS+ is 20 points lower than that of his rookie season). The Rangers’ fate likely depends on him.

Seattle Mariners

Reason for hope: Seattle’s not out of it yet. The Mariners were just four games back of both Wild Card spots at the All-Star Break. They have competent starters (if they can stay on the field), a great bullpen and a lineup that can score in bunches. General manager Jerry Dipoto is even willing to take on more payroll at the Trade Deadline given the large investment already made this season ($155.2 million). Don’t be surprised if he scores Yu Darvish.

Toronto Blue Jays

Reason for hope: The Blue Jays were five games back of a Wild Card spot at the break and, like the Angels, have shown interest in Dee Gordon and Jose Quintana. Toronto has three solid starters and a fantastic bullpen, but Troy Tulowitzki hasn’t been the Tulo of old. He’s having the worst offensive season of his career since entering the league, mostly due to a .450 OPS against left-handers this season. Someone like the Twins’ Eduardo Escobar (career .770 OPS against lefties) could allow Toronto to platoon Tulo until he’s right, but the Blue Jays might roll with what they’ve got and see where they stand at the end of July.

The Sellers

Atlanta Braves

Reason for hope: The signing of Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $1.5 million deal hasn’t burned the Braves, and there’s always a team looking for a catcher at the deadline. Atlanta could score something of value thanks to Suzuki’s best offensive year since his All-Star season with Minnesota in 2014. He’s even throwing out more runners than he has since 2012. Trading Suzuki will also allow Tyler Flowers more at-bats against lefties (just 23 PAs this season).

Baltimore Orioles

Reason for hope: While Baltimore sits a game ahead of Toronto in the AL East, their run differential is 14 runs worse. The Orioles are not contenders because just one of their starters, Dylan Bundy, has an ERA+ over 100 (and it’s 101). They should be shopping both Zach Britton and Brad Brach, who could both close for a contender and come with an extra year of arbitration eligibility, which should lift the potential return for the Orioles. They’ll likely move just one, and likely the one who brings the best return, which could be Brach given Britton’s much larger salary and injury issues this season.  

Pittsburgh Pirates

Reason for hope: So far it seems the Pirates are unwilling to trade their biggest trade chips -- Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen -- but that could all change come the end of July. Ken Rosenthal thinks Josh Harrison is a fit for Boston, but even that’s a stretch. The biggest reason for hope in Pittsburgh at the Trade Deadline is the return of left fielder Starling Marte from his PED suspension.

New York Mets

Reason for hope: With any luck, Mets fans should get to see Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia all pitch in July. And since the Mets have no interest in trading Steven Matz, it’s vitally important that expiring contracts Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce are moved for what should be nice returns. Both players boast an OPS+ of 125 or higher, and should draw plenty of interest from clubs seeking left-handed bats.

Miami Marlins

Reason for hope: Dee Gordon is drawing a crowd, and while he can be controlled through 2021, the Marlins could make a killing by moving him given the interest. I’m guessing the Marlins would like to be competing in three years or so, when Giancarlo Stanton is still in his prime.

Starter Dan Straily and reliever David Phelps are also drawing a ton of interest, and while the Marlins would be giving up multiple years of control with both pitchers, the returns should be fantastic.

Detroit Tigers

Reason for hope: J.D. Martinez must be moved if the Tigers don’t intend to extend him. His contract is expiring at the end of the year, and he happens to be entering free agency after his best season ever (.991 OPS, 159 OPS+). Packaging him with Justin Wilson should set the Tigers up with more than half a starting lineup of high-ceiling prospects. While the window has closed in Detroit, a new window can be opened through these two players.  

Oakland Athletics

Reason for hope: Yonder Alonso should command a king’s ransom, and as I mentioned earlier, the Yankees are a logical fit. Sonny Gray could be moved, but Oakland would lose the affordable control it has over the righty until 2020. Rajai Davis should draw interest from a playoff-bound team based on his baserunning ability alone. Billy Beane never disappoints at the Trade Deadline, so A’s fans have plenty of reasons for hope.

Chicago White Sox

Reason for hope: Jose Quintana and David Robertson are already drawing plenty of interest, and both should bring solid returns. Number one on Kenny Williams’ list to move, though, is Todd Frazier’s expiring contract. The Todd-father has once again managed an OPS+ over 100 and is serviceable at third base defensively. The Yankees could be a fit, given Chase Headley’s 87 OPS+ this season.

Cincinnati Reds

What to watch: Zack Cozart is a prime trade candidate. His OPS this season is 241 points higher than his career OPS. He’s 31 and a free agent at the end of the season. Cozart will almost certainly have a new team in August and beyond. The Reds should demand a lot for the shortstop, and move Scott Feldman, too. Feldman’s contract is also up at the end of the year, and he’s somehow raised is K/9 by one from last season (7.5). He’d be a great addition for a team in the hunt looking to shore up the back end of its rotation (Chicago Cubs?) .

San Diego Padres

Reason for hope: Brad Hand is probably the most valuable reliever available and comes with two years of team control after this season. If you think pitching in Petco Park has helped him, that’s not the case. Hand has nearly doubled his K/9 since 2015 -- from 6.5 to 11.5. The Padres should get exactly what they want for him and nothing less.

Trevor Cahill is a free agent at the end of the year and has returned to his 2015 form, striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. He hasn’t been helped by Petco Park, either. His FIP (3.50) is just marginally higher than his ERA (3.38). The Padres should end up with a nice return for one of the cheapest rentals on the market (owed less than $1 million the rest of the season).

San Francisco Giants

Reason for hope: The Giants are reportedly taking offers on Brandon Belt, who could be another target of the Yankees. It would also open the door for Buster Posey to transition to first base full-time at some point. Belt would command quite a haul despite his contract due to his consistency throughout his career. He’s never posted an OPS+ below 100 and has played 799 games over his seven seasons so far.

Nick Hundley is an under-the-radar name to watch at the deadline. He’s a solid catcher offensively (91 OPS+) and about average defensively. He could help a bunch of teams looking for a platoon option at catcher down the stretch (Colorado and Arizona could use catchers that can hit right-handed pitching).

Eduardo Nunez is also a player who can help a playoff-bound club. He can play third, short or left field and runs the bases well. If he can show he’s healthy coming off the 10-day DL, expect him to draw interest, albeit for a limited price.

Philadelphia Phillies

Reason for hope: Pat Neshek is an expiring contract who will be moved and should bring a nice return given his unique delivery that has allowed him to flourish late in his career. He’s an All-Star at 36, and would be a welcome addition to a playoff team’s bullpen.

Daniel Nava is another expiring contract, and he’s having his best year since 2013. At 34, he won’t be back with Philadelphia next year, so the Phillies should get whatever they can for the switch-hitting outfielder who still saves a lot of runs on defense.

Freddy Galvis is set to earn more than $5 million in arbitration next year and will be a free agent after, so Philly might as well take advantage of his best offensive season and deal him to a contender. See, even Phillies fans have reasons for hope at the MLB Trade Deadline.

Even if your team is a seller, the MLB Trade Deadline can be a day that changes your team’s future and fortunes forever.  

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Unlike the NBA All-Star Game, every team is represented in the MLB All-Star Game in Miami on Tuesday, so every fan has at least one reason to watch. The best All-Star event in sports, though, takes place Monday, with the Home Run Derby taking flight on ESPN at 8 p.m. (EST).

 

Here’s every fan’s reason to watch the Home Run Derby or MLB All-Star Game.


 

This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters providing uncensored, commercial-free play-by-play and color commentary during select games.


 

The Buyers

Houston Astros

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: While there’s no benefit to Houston if the American League wins the All-Star Game, there will be three reasons to watch the game. Carlos Correa and George Springer will both start in their All-Star Game debuts, and Jose Altuve will join them as a starter for his fifth appearance.

 

The best part about the MLB All-Star Game is that it creates matchups fans don’t get to see very often, outside of interleague play and the World Series. If Max Scherzer gets the ball while the Astros are in the game, Astros fans will want to know if their youngsters can hit the Nationals’ ace if they happen to meet in the World Series. So far, Altuve is 2-for-11 against Scherzer, Correa is hitless in six at-bats, and Springer is 2-for-6 with three strikeouts.

Los Angeles Dodgers

What to watch: Home Run Derby

Reason to watch: With Clayton Kershaw starting on Sunday and ineligible for the All-Star Game, Dodger fans will have to wait until the late innings to see Kenley Jansen. But rookie Cody Bellinger will be worth watching in the Home Run Derby. He’s got 25 homers in his first season and hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down (150 OPS+). He’s averaging almost one dinger per 10 at-bats. He takes on Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon in the first round of the derby.

Arizona Diamondbacks

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: A surprise to many, the Diamondbacks are contending thanks to pitching. Arizona fans will get to see if starters Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray can handle the spotlight, as both will likely pitch in the early innings against some of the best hitters the American League has to offer.

 

George Springer is 3-for-6 with two doubles and a walk against Ray, and Michael Brantley is five-for-16 with a double and home run against Greinke.

 

Don’t forget about the powerful Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Jake Lamb. Lamb hasn’t seen much of the AL All-Star pitchers, so this will be the opportunity to show Diamondback fans what he’s got.

Washington Nationals

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Max Scherzer will probably get the start for the National League, and he should be fun to watch. AL starter at first base, Justin Smoak, is 1-for-13 against Scherzer. Jose Altuve is 2-for-11. Jose Ramirez is 1-for-6, and George Springer is 2-for-6 with three strikeouts. But look for Scherzer to be tested by AL catcher Salvador Perez if the two meet. Perez has been a pest to Scherzer, going 10-for-29 with a .987 OPS against the righty.

 

Ryan Zimmerman is also starting his first All-Star Game and is 0-for-2 versus Chris Sale. Hit machine Daniel Murphy will join him on the right side of the infield, and will likely get his first look at Sale.

Boston Red Sox

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Mookie Betts will start in place of the injured Mike Trout, and he has never seen Scherzer. He’s also 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Greinke, so Red Sox fans should tune in to see how the youngster fares in a possible preview of World Series matchups.

Colorado Rockies

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Charlie Blackmon has two hits in his only two at-bats against Sale. Joining him in the starting lineup is teammate Nolan Arenado. DJ LeMahieu will likely relieve Murphy at second base, and Colorado fans will hope to see him get his first hit off Minnesota’s Ervin Santana. He’s 0-for-5 in seven plate appearances so far.

 

Rockies fans will also want to know if Greg Holland can be depended upon to get some of baseball’s best hitters out in high-leverage situations. Miguel Sano is 2-for-3 off him, and Chicago’s Avisail Garcia is 2-for-8.

Milwaukee Brewers

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Corey Knebel has been one of the most underrated relievers in baseball thus far (15.8 K/9, 1.171 WHIP). He hasn’t had many chances to see the NL All-Stars, but will get that chance on Tuesday. Michael Brantley is the only AL All-Star with a hit against Knebel.

Cleveland Indians

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Jose Ramirez can prove he’s for real. Ramirez has been a darkhorse MVP candidate this season, carrying a Cleveland squad that’s had injury and offensive consistency issues. But Ramirez has been the model of consistency, and he shouldn’t be the darkhorse, he should be the frontrunner.

 

At 24, Ramirez has smashed 16 homers that have lifted his OPS to a ridiculous .980 and his OPS+ to 147. That’s 26 points higher than Edwin Encarnacion, and it’s not even the most impressive thing about Ramirez’s season. Through 348 plate appearances, he’s struck out just 39 times.

 

Ramirez has already proven himself against AL aces. He’s 5-for-14 with an .831 OPS against Chris Sale, but hasn’t had too much luck against Max Scherzer (1-for-6, 2B, 2 Ks). With Ramirez starting for the American League at third base, Cleveland fans should watch and see what he could potentially do if the Indians find themselves in the World Series again.

New York Yankees

What to watch: Home Run Derby and All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Aaron Judge. This kid just broke the franchise record for homers in a rookie season with 30, and there’s still three months of baseball to be played. He’s also hit the fastest recorded home run (of which we know the exit velocity) and the longest home run of the season (of which we know the distance; more on this later). He’s going to hit a bunch of baseballs over 500 feet. Oh, and he’s starting in the outfield for the American League in the All-Star Game and will likely get his first plate appearance against Max Scherzer and Zach Greinke.

Kansas City Royals

What to watch: Home Run Derby

Reason to watch: Mike Moustakas is not missing the mistakes. That’s all Moustakas will see in the home run derby -- mistakes. His 25 homers this year are a career best -- three more than the 22 he hit in all of 2015. He’ll do battle against divisional foe Miguel Sano in the first round of the derby. Speaking of Sano...

The Contenders

Minnesota Twins

What to watch: Home Run Derby and All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Like Judge, Miguel Sano is making his debut in both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game. Remember when I mentioned that Judge hit the longest home run of which we know the distance this season? Well, Miguel Sano hit a ball so hard and so far it broke Statcast. It’s been over a week, and we still don’t know how far this ball went (but Andrew Mearns and Rhett Bollinger came up with an estimate of at least 485 feet, which would be the second longest home run this season). I never saw it land. It disappeared having gone into (or over) the Miller Lite Fountain Bar. I’ve called Kauffman Stadium, and no one there can tell me how far that is from home plate. I’m tracking down the city planner now, hoping to find some blueprints of the stadium. I think they should break out a tape measure, but we might never know how far that ball would have traveled had it not hit a wall. One hundred years from now people will talk about Sano’s homer like we do some of Harmon Killebrew’s mythical moonshots.

 

Not only will Sano provide plenty of Sano-doubters in the home run derby, but Twins fans will get a chance to see him take whacks against some of the hardest-throwing, nastiest National League pitchers. The big man’s been carrying the Twins to a surprising first half, and they’ll need him to continue doing the heavy lifting.

 

There are also some trade chips the Twins will showcase at the All-Star Game. Closer Brandon Kintzler was a late addition to the American League roster, and Ervin Santana will have a chance to prove his season’s been no fluke. Regardless of the Twins position in the standings, both players will likely be shopped, especially Kintzler given his expiring contract.

 

Everything about the Twins screams regression, but they just don’t quit. They came back from a 6-0 deficit against Baltimore on Friday and won 9-6. The defense has improved dramatically, but there’s glaring needs in the starting rotation and bullpen. So much so that the Twins signed 44-year-old Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal, Friday.

Tampa Bay Rays

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Corey Dickerson is making his first appearance in the All-Star Game and will be the starting designated hitter for the American League. Dickerson will likely get the first plate appearance of his career against Max Scherzer, but I doubt he’ll be in the game once Zach Greinke is on the mound. He’s 3-for-20 against him with a .442 OPS.

 

Tampa’s starting rotation is going to keep the Rays competitive even Chris Archer is the only All-Star amongst them, and he was a replacement. As long as the Rays and Dickerson keep hitting like they are (the entire team has an average OPS+ of 110), Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi will keep them in games. And now Jacob Faria has burst onto the scene, going 4-0 with an ERA+ of 199 over six starts. They could win the AL East if they can find someone to replace Blake Snell (0-5 in 10 starts spanning 52 innings and a 5.14 FIP).

 

Enter Brett Honeywell, who has struggled with the AAA Durham Bulls (1.437 WHIP), but won Futures Game MVP honors. He throws a nasty screwball and should contribute to Tampa this season.

Chicago Cubs

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Wade Davis is the only Chicago Cub on the NL All-Star team. The defending champions have been a mess so far this season, and I think Cub fans probably have the fewest reasons to watch any of the All-Star events. Here’s two, though: hope that either Michael Brantley or Avisail Garcia bats against Davis. Brantley is 5-for-17 with a homer and two doubles, and Garcia is 3-for-8 against Davis.

Seattle Mariners

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Seattle is in desperate need of some young, resilient arms. Their starters just can’t stay on the field, and they moved Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura. The Mariners could have used Walker’s 76.1 innings and 3.30 ERA, but, I mean, it’s Jean Segura.

 

Jean Segura is so good he signed an extension while on the DL, because he’s fantastic (136 OPS+). He will officially lead Major League Baseball in hitting after his next plate appearance and didn’t make the All-Star team. He led the league in hits last year and didn’t make the All-Star team. He hasn’t been to the All-Star Game since 2013, and when the AL needs a replacement for Starlin Castro, who goes? Robinson Cano, whose OPS+ is 16 points lower than Segura’s. Come on!

 

Cano might play second base everyday, but Segura can play second base, too. In 142 games at second with Arizona last year, Segura was better than he was at short, which makes sense. Second base is easier. In fact, he was exactly as good at second base in 2016 as Cano has been this year (5 runs above average). Segura got robbed again, but at least he got paid.

 

Mariners fans will have to settle for watching Cano and Nelson Cruz take whacks, but they are more likely to go yard than Segura, so they’ve got that going for them.

Los Angeles Angels

What to watch: Uhm...Home Run Derby

Reason to watch: Angels fans also have little reason to watch the All-Star Game with their only All-Star, Mike Trout, not playing. They also don’t have anyone in the derby, but 500-foot home runs should be enough reason to watch.

Texas Rangers

What to watch: Uhm...Home Run Derby

Reason to watch: With Yu Darvish pitching Sunday and being ineligible to pitch for the AL All-Stars, Rangers fans have very little to watch any of the All-Star events. There were no Rangers’ prospects I can see on the Futures Game roster, and Darvish wasn’t replaced by a Ranger pitcher. So watch the Home Run Derby Rangers fans, because, again, 500-foot home runs.

Toronto Blue Jays

What to watch: Justin Smoak will be put on display in Miami. The 30-year-old is an All-Star for the first time, and he’ll be starting at first base. His OPS+ is 141. His OPS is .939. And he comes with up to two years of control at a rate that’s more than reasonable. If Toronto is wowed, they could sell very high at the deadline.

 

Most interesting is if Max Scherzer gets the start for the NL. Smoak is just 1-for-13 against him in his career.

The Sellers

Atlanta Braves

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Ender Inciarte is pretty darn good defensively, and he can hit. But can he hit Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances? Braves fans will find out if they tune into the All-Star Game.

St. Louis Cardinals

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Carlos Martinez has been the Cardinals’ best player. It would take an entire roster to get him out of St. Louis. It will be interesting if Martinez sees Oakland’s Yonder Alonso at the plate during the All-Star Game. He’s surrendered four hits in nine of Alonso’s at-bats against him, including a double.

Baltimore Orioles

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Jonathon Schoop is an All-Star for the first time at just 25-years-old. He’s mashing (.885 OPS), and he’s arbitration eligible. I’d imagine the Dodgers would be interested in adding a second baseman like Schoop, but might not pay dearly for it. Either way, Orioles fans should tune in for some of the toughest at-bats of Schoop’s career.

Pittsburgh Pirates

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Josh Harrison returns to the All-Star Game after a two-season hiatus. I don’t know that Pittsburgh would shop Harrison given the three potential years of control they have, but the contract gets $2.5 million dollars more expensive next year and stays $3 million more expensive if the Pirates pick up the options. Regardless, MLB GMs will get a look at Harrison against premiere pitching. He hasn’t seen Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances or Craig Kimbrel.

New York Mets

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Michael Conforto is an All-Star for the first time at 24 and despite being on the 10-day DL, he hopes to play. His season thus far has been insane, as he’s managed an OPS+ of 150. The Mets will likely hold onto the young outfielder since he won’t be a free agent until 2022, but Mets fans would love to see him against the AL’s best pitchers. He’s only seen Chris Archer (0-for-3 with 2 Ks) Luis Severino (0-for-2, K) and Ervin Santana (0-for-1, K).

Miami Marlins

What to watch: Home Run Derby

Reason to watch: Giancarlo Stanton defends his Home Run Derby title in front of his Miami faithful. Again, baseballs going 500-feet at more than 100 miles per hour -- need I say more?

Detroit Tigers

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: I can’t imagine anyone is interested in picking up the nearly $100 million Justin Upton’s owed over the next 4.5 years, but it might be cool to watch him swing against guys who throw hard. He’s had success against the top reliever on the trade market, San Diego’s Brad Hand. Upton is 2-for-7 with a dinger and three walks against him.

Oakland Athletics

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Yonder Alonso, 30, is a free agent at the end of the year, and I doubt Billy Beane is interested in paying him coming off an All-Star season, because he’d rather make big Trade Deadline deals.

 

Alonso can make it easier on Bean if he gets a hit against one of the NL All-Stars. He’s already 2-for-3 off Robbie Ray, but is 1-for-14 against Zack Greinke.

Chicago White Sox

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Is Avisail Garcia for real (.502 SLG)? White Sox fans will get a pretty good indication either way on Monday. He likely won’t see Max Scherzer, who he’s hit hard in big spots (3 H, 2 XBH, 4 RBI in 11 ABs), but he could be due for his first hit against Greinke (0-for-3) or improve on his 2-for-8 against Greg Holland. If he sees Wade Davis, White Sox fans might rejoice (3-for-8) but won’t learn anything about their 26-year-old All-Star.

Cincinnati Reds

What to watch: Zack Cozart is a prime trade candidate. His OPS this season is 241 points higher than his career OPS. He’s 31 and a free agent at the end of the season. He will almost certainly have a new team in August and could do a lot to help his prospects in joining a contender by getting a hit in the All-Star Game. He’s handled Lance McCuller’s, Jr. (2-for-4, 2B) but struggled with Ervin Santana (1-for-6, 3 Ks) and Craig Kimbrel (0-for-5, 2 Ks).

San Diego Padres

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Brad Hand is going to draw a crowd. He’s probably the best reliever available and comes with two years of team control after this season. If you think pitching in Petco Park has helped him, that’s not the case. Hand has nearly doubled his K/9 since 2015 -- from 6.5 to 11.5.

 

He’s allowed a double to Alonso in four at-bats, and Mike Moustakas doubled the only time he saw Hand. Justin Upton also has two hits, including a homer, in seven at-bats against Hand, so he’s got an opportunity to prove he’s truly turned a corner at the All-Star Game.

San Francisco Giants

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Buster Posey will set the franchise record for All-Star Game starts at catcher with four. He’s quietly having one of his best seasons (142 OPS+ is third best of his career, and a point short of second best). But he’s on a really bad team.

 

I don’t know if San Franciscans would forgive the Giants brass for trading Posey, but if there was a time to do it, that time is now. There’s always a team looking to improve at catcher at the Trade Deadline. Think how Jonathan Lucroy was valued last season, but Texas seemed to have gotten burned on that one.

 

Given Posey’s premiere play at a premiere position, he’s absolutely worth the $21.4 million he’s paid -- right now. Is there a GM out there willing to take on at least four more years of that? I think Cleveland should sell the farm to improve upon the 79 OPS+ they’re getting from Yan Gomes. We will see.

Philadelphia Phillies

What to watch: All-Star Game

Reason to watch: Reliever Pat Neshek is a prime trade target with a chance to prove he can still get tough outs in big games at nearly 37 years old. It would be nice for Phillies fans to see him get Yonder Alonso out. He’s 2-for-2 against Neshek with a home run. Otherwise he’s been terrific against the AL All-Stars he’s seen, including a 1-for-8 career clip against Nelson Cruz with four strikeouts to boot.

 

So there’s every fan’s reason to watch the Home Run Derby or All-Star Game. The All-Star Game starts Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on Fox.

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"Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that'll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.” - George Carlin

Go anyplace people congregate besides a church, and you’ll find more people swearing and swearing more often than ever before. A lot of people in those churches will swear once they’re outside those sacred walls, too. In a bar, you can overhear a conversation where every other word is a swear word, and I mean that quite literally. Go into a library and the people talking on the phone or chatting online are swearing. I’ve experienced both in the last few weeks.


 This post was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters providing commercial-free, uncensored play-by-play during select games.


According to a 2006 Associated Press poll, nearly three-quarters of Americans questioned -- 74 percent -- said they encounter profanity in public frequently or occasionally. Two-thirds said they think people swear more than they did 20 years ago, and 64 percent said they say fuck, ranging from several times a day (8 percent) to a few times a year (15 percent). People who swear are not in the minority. We are the majority.

But we don’t swear all that often. Just one in 200 words uttered are swear words, so it’s not like we’ve become completely vulgar. But why do we swear? Researchers at Keele University in Staffordshire led by Richard Stephens found that cursing is most often associated with angry attitudes and emotions toward certain subjects and is used as an emotional coping mechanism. Cursing allowed the study's participants to feel a sense of empowerment. Not only does it empower you mentally, but physically as well. Swearing can improve your performance of physical tasks and also reduces pain, unless you swear everyday.

So swearing is a coping mechanism that empowers. People who struggle with shyness might feel better behind sunglasses. The lonely get pets. People who stub their toe or watch their favorite baseball team blow a five-run lead and lose in extra innings swear. And it’s not due to a lack of vocabulary or intelligence, either.

Psychologists at Marist College found that those with the best handle on vocabulary also had the best handle on profanity. Those who struggled with vocabulary also struggled with profanity, so the smarter you are the more profanity potential you have.

A 2016 book by Benjamin K. Bergen investigates the linguistic history, psychology and science of swearing. It’s appropriately called What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. What it reveals about the history and anatomy of swearing is in-fucking-credible.

Why and how do words become swear words? Bergen found that the majority of American English swear words have “closed syllables,” meaning the words end in a consonant, as in “fuck.” Most are also just one syllable and start with a consonant, like “fuck” and “tits.” “Profane English monosyllables are significantly more likely to end with a stop consonant, like t or k, than other English words” (47). So English speakers naturally find words consisting of one syllable and a stop consonant to be less pleasing to the ear. If a word sounds displeasing, it’s more likely to have a meaning that’s displeasing. A word like “cunt” sounds bad regardless of meaning.

Explaining what makes a curse word isn’t dependent simply on its sound, though. It’s the meaning of words that matters. Many curse words are associated with genitalia, like “cunt” or “cock,” the use of genitalia, like “fuck” and “cocksucker,” or the process of excreting fluids, like “piss” and “shit.” So we’ve created these mostly monosyllabic, stop-consonant words that sound displeasing to associate with things that make for displeasing conversation. Most people don’t like to talk about pissing and shitting, and some don’t like to talk about fucking, although all these taboo topics have received ample attention from comedians and comedies.

There’s nothing funny about a lot of curse words, though. For me, the most unfortunate finding of Bergen’s many studies and experiments was discovering that slurs directed at a specific community, ethnicity or race weren’t found by Americans to be most offensive. While “nigger” was far and away the most offensive word, and “fag” was third, “cocksucker” fourth, and “chink” fifth, words like “homo,” “lesbo,” “queer,” “spic,” “kike,” and “gook” settled in the middle.

Americans actually found “bitch” to be more offensive than “retard” and “dyke.” “Whore,” “pussy” and “slut” were found to be more offensive to Americans than “homo” and “lesbo.” “Asshole” and “prick” were found to be more offensive than “queer,” “spic,” “kike” and “gook.” And the word gay used with the intent of being offensive to homosexuals ranked fifth to last in offensiveness, right behind “dumb,” “sodomize” and “moron.”

What the fuck, America? Where’s the fucking empathy? Put yourself in the shoes of a homosexual and tell me you find “cunt” more offensive than “fag” or “cocksucker.” Australians throw “cunt” around like it’s “shit.” And there’s no way “bitch” is more offensive than “homo,” “lesbo” or “queer” unless you’re a misogynistic pig who thinks questioning manhood is worse than questioning sexual identity or preference. Apparently Americans do feel that way, though, which is probably why we don’t have a female President and a misogynist instead.

Swearing is also geographically dependent, though. Where you live determines what you say. Jack Grieve has researched what swear words are most popular in America and where, resulting in a collection of heat maps displaying the most commonly used swear words. The southeast United States is apparently the hotbed for swearing in America. Coastal Americans use “fuck” more often than Midwesterners, and swear more in general.

People in Great Britain swear differently than Americans and find different words offensive, too. For instance, Brits found “cunt,” “motherfucker” and “fuck” to be most offensive, with “nigger” coming in fourth, which is even more disturbing. Half of Brits surveyed didn’t consider “Jew” to be swearing, but “Paki,” a slur for people of South Asian descent, was found to be the sixth most severe swear word. So Americans can take some consolation in knowing they found an actually offensive word most offensive.

When it comes to the “heavy seven” as George Carlin calls them -- shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits -- I think all should be allowed except “cocksucker” because it denigrates homosexual males. Instead of censoring words that hurt no one, we should censor words that actually hurt some.

Words like nigger, chink, retard, dyke, homo, lesbo, cocksucker, queer, spic, kike, gook, wop, redskin, and any other racial or ethnic slur, and words dedicated to denigrating the disabled or the sexual identities of others have no place in public conversation or in mass media. “Shit,” “piss,” “fuck,” “cunt,” “motherfucker” and “tits” hurt no one -- not even children. “There’s no evidence that exposure to profanity harms children, and...there are better ways to deal with profanity than to suppress it,” according to Bergen. But when it comes to the use of harmful language, I’m for censorship.

There’s nothing that hurts my ears more than the ever-increasing use of “gay” and “fag” by young people, or the use of “nigger” and “spic” by those who’ve never come in contact with members of either race they’re denigrating. I’d rather they say “fuck” and “cunt.”   

When I hear the word "faggot" I cringe, and I fucking swear a lot. But that's because "faggot" was repurposed to hurt a specific group of people. When I hear "fuck," I hardly give it any attention. Sometimes I even smile, depending on its use.

Fuck is my favorite word. In fact, profane words are the most versatile. Most can be used as a noun, adjective, adverb, verb, interjection, and conjunction (prepositions are iffy). For instance, “Fuck (interjection)! I squashed my nuts on the fucking (adjective) fuck (noun) so fucking (adverb) hard. I won't fuck (verb) for days, fuck (conjunction) maybe weeks.” You can’t do that with “fag,” although young people are trying.

Once we grow tired of profane words it’s pretty easy to create new ones. Bergen created a bunch of words and asked Americans which sounded most offensive. These people didn’t know whether these words were from another language or if they existed at all, but it’s no surprise that monosyllabic, stop-consonant words were considered most offensive. Someday “vleak” could be a swear word. Hopefully, though, it will have been created to describe something rather than degrade someone. Then it would have value.

“Fag” has no value to me as a writer, while “fuck” has been used by writers of all mediums (except children’s books). “Fag” has no value because of its intent. Its entire reason for being is to offend, much like “nigger,” “chink,” “retard,” “dyke,” “homo,” “lesbo,” “cocksucker,” “queer,” “spic,” “kike,” “gook,” “wop” and “redskin.” Could you imagine if your entire reason for being on Earth was to offend others? Would you find that useful?

While a lot of swear words have become “fillers,” like “um” and “uh.” When a word is on the tip of your tongue, and you’re struggling to spit it out, it’s perfectly naturally that the struggle would result in swearing. People recovering from brain trauma sometimes lose their vocabulary, except when it comes to swearing. That’s because those swear words are stored in a different part of the brain, so people can convey their frustration. It’s a natural reaction, like dropping a hot plate that’s burning your hand. Swearing is a coping mechanism after all, and uttering that “fuck” could actually make you feel better about yourself, calm your nerves and help you discover that word that briefly escaped you.

Slurs have no place as “fillers.” No one searching for a word says “faggot” to fill the void in conversation unless they have Tourette’s syndrome. There’s always intent behind a slur, and that intent is never useful, which is why the increasing use of slurs is not only displeasing but dangerous.

Since swearing is likely never going away, how should Americans handle swear words? When is it okay to swear? What words are okay to say and when? Well, as a writer, I can only tell you to consider your audience. While writing this piece I considered using a headline that had swear words in it to be as forthcoming as possible with my intentions. But through my work on an uncensored, live podcast, I’ve learned a few things.

The title of the live podcast is Fuck Dick and Bert. It’s meant to be an alternative to the Minnesota Twins’ play-by-play and color commentators Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven. Not a lot of thought went into the show initially. It was just a way for my friends and me to feel important and productive during Twins’ games and to bitch about the Twins and Dick and Bert’s broadcast. Then came an idea. What if we could provide every fan an alternative audio broadcast of every sporting event that’s not only uncensored but commercial-free? That’s when I started investigating the marketability of uncensored, commercial-free play-by-play.

I took to the forums where Twins fans congregate and asked what people thought of the idea. We hadn’t marketed the show to them directly in the past, so no one was aware. One member had even attempted something similar weeks prior. The responses were mixed. Some thought it was a great idea and the same number of people hated it, but there was one response that stuck with me.

One member said they wouldn’t tune in simply because of the name of the show. The word “fuck” was apparently offensive to him. Despite me telling him I rarely swore during the broadcast and that my intention was to provide helpful life advice and entertaining anecdotes alongside the play-by-play, he said nothing would change his mind except a name change. I hardly slept that night, mulling over alternatives to the name that conveyed everything about the show that our target market needed to know.

Anyone in our target market would see “Fuck Dick and Bert” and know: 1) it’s uncensored, 2) it’s Twins-related because Dick and Bert are the longtime Fox Sports North broadcasters, and 3) it doesn’t like Dick and Bert and is probably nothing like Dick and Bert’s broadcasts.

But if one person won’t tune in because they perceive the show to be “in bad taste” due to the use of profanity in the title, that’s one too many. And while advertising a show with profanity in the title is difficult given Facebook’s advertising policies, there’s no point going forward with a show that’s going to turn off an entire group of people because of one word.
So you can consider your audience and treat them as you’d like to be treated, but the Golden Rule doesn’t allow you to know what offends people. Maybe the word “fuck” doesn't offend you but offends them. Maybe they use “fag” and you find that offensive. Are we to censor ourselves for the sake of others? You can try. I do it all the time, but that's when I'm around people I know, so I know what offends them going into conversation.

The only actions you can take with people you’ve just met is nicely ask if they’d stop using the swear words you find offensive. “Could you try not to use that word, please? I find it very offensive.” Try not to be too picky. You can’t expect people to change in the first few minutes they’re in your presence. You are not Jesus Christ, and they are no saint. Don’t be surprised if that offensive word slips through that person’s lips again, because habits are hard to break, but hopefully they apologize. If they refuse or are unable to accommodate you, find a different conversation.

I went about this all wrong the first time around, but I was in a bad mood that day. A young North Dakotan in a rural bar asked me if I was a faggot because I had come from my ex-girlfriend’s funeral and was dressed in slacks and a collared shirt. I was immediately offended, not because I’m gay, but because I despise the word. I was also in the mood to fight after seeing a lifelong friend buried at 24 years old. This young man could have said it in conversation with one of his friends and I probably still would have interjected. I attempted to explain the definition of the word (it’s a bunch of sticks or twigs bundled together as fuel). He thought I was being a smartass, which I was. But what I really wanted to do was say, “Yeah, I’m gay. Wanna make something of it?” and then knock him out in front of a bunch of homophobes. That’s the type of reaction the word “faggot” deserves from everyone. And that goes for all slurs.

As a white male surrounded by brown people and homosexuals, I wouldn't dare utter "nigger,” "spic" or “faggot” in their presence because I don’t use those words privately. I know those words were created to degrade an entire group of people, and I find them useless and displeasing to the ear.

Growing up in Eastern Montana, I've heard Americans who have little to no association with people of other races using slurs far too often, and that's why I wrote this piece. Americans shouldn't be more offended by "fuck" than "fag," but they are. I see America moving away from words like "fuck," “cunt” and “motherfucker,” and towards words like “nigger,” "fag," and “gay.” That growing use of slurs worries me, especially with gentrification forcing minorities out of the cities and into rural areas where people haven't had contact with people unlike themselves. It's a recipe for violence, so I hope Americans realize which words are truly harmful and avoid using them in conversation and online. I hope they’d embrace George Carlin’s “heavy seven” before a new seven ends up hurting more people. I hope it's not too late.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom, America’s First News, America Tonight, Bill Martinez Live, Korelin Economics Report, The KrisAnne Hall Show, Radio Night Live, The Real Side, World Crisis Radio

Facebook has already lost the battle, but it’s reorganizing its troops and attempting an all-out assault on fake news after its security team admitted in a new report that “fake personas were created on Facebook...to amplify news accounts” and spread fake information online during the 2016 United States Presidential election.

Facebook has since taken action, “killing” 30,000 fake accounts in France. It’s also drafted users like you to report fake news, implementing a little button in the upper-right-hand corner of posts to activate the counterintelligence to vet the misinformation.

That counterintelligence is conducted by some of the most trusted news agencies -- Associated Press, ABC News, Politifact, FactCheck, and Snopes. ABC said they aren’t being paid for its efforts despite devoting six journalists to it full-time, and I’d assume the rest are “volunteer mercenaries” as well, which makes me feel all patriotic for American journalism.

But fake news is paid news, so waging war against it requires paid fact-checkers. But Facebook is putting its own boots on the ground, directly in front of its massive algorithm, and it has counterintelligence that shows who it should target. Facebook claims that users who post more than 50 times per day are most likely sharing spam or fake news. So Facebook can now limit their distribution as if it were destroying railroad tracks, airports, bridges and highways.

Facebook doesn’t even have to consider what the trains, planes and automobiles are carrying. The link between spam and fake news and those sharing more than 50 times per day is so strong, Facebook doesn’t even need to consider the content. “It’s one of the strongest signals we’ve ever found for identifying a broad range of problematic content,” Facebook’s vice president in charge of News Feed, Adam Mosseri told Recode’s Kurt Wagner.

The problem is Facebook has to cover its ass and allow for freedom of speech and the press -- you know, those First Amendment rights. So if Facebook thinks you or its algorithm has found fake news and wants to blow it out of the water, it has its counterintelligence team of journalists fact-check the story. Even then, though, Facebook can’t launch torpedoes. It sets phasers to stun and flags the post as “disputed” if two of its counterintelligence communities finds a problem with the news. And while disputed stories don’t show up as much in the sea that is News Feed, they’re still out there -- seeking, and eventually destroying, a gullible target.

Facebook has even taken steps to assist the gullible targets by asking them if they’re sure they want to share the trash upon which they’ve stumbled. Nothing’s stopping that fake news terrorist from tossing that bomb into the Facebook-sphere, though.

The one thing that would make a difference on the fake news front doesn’t seem to be figured out yet. Facebook says it’s going to make it harder for fake news publishers to profit from fake news, but they haven’t revealed how. In their new report, Facebook calls this phase of the battle plan as “disrupting economic incentives.”

Fake news publishers are practicing guerrilla warfare already, though, moving from network to network in order to keep the ad revenue coming. And as long as there are gullible targets willing to click on fake news, there will be fake news. The best defense against fake news is through an educational campaign that limits the number of gullible targets to the point it’s no longer profitable for fake news publishers. That’s the weapon Public Data Lab and First Draft are working to create, and until that information bomb is complete, fake news will continue to sail the Facebook News Feed seas. It takes a new propaganda campaign to end the current one.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Tech Night Owl, Free Talk Live

If you live in western America, fireworks might be banned due to fire restrictions in your area. I know you can’t even buy fireworks in my hometown this year because of the high fire danger due to an extreme drought in Eastern Montana.

Just because there are no fireworks doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Independence Day, though. There’s plenty you can do with your day off that is still patriotic while being less flammable and less expensive. Here are a few things you can do in lieu of fireworks on Independence Day.

1. Host a party

Thanks to social media, it’s never too late to host a party. You can create an event on Facebook or Google+ in minutes and have people over for fun and games. Have guests bring an item for a potluck. Hit the local store and buy some party favors in red, white and blue.

Play Bocci or do something truly American and throw a baseball around or shoot some hoops. You can even spray paint a Twister board on the lawn in non-toxic, red, white and blue marking chalk. Yard games like cornhole and the ladder golf ball toss are fun for kids and adults alike, and you can make them yourself at home and have them ready overnight. My favorite and the favorite of our family’s is the “original” washer toss game. It’s a pair of carpeted boards with three holes into which you toss large washers from 10 feet away. Some call it Texas horseshoes apparently. Follow the links to do it yourself.

2. Hit the gun range

If you still want that feeling of American patriotism flowing through your veins that only exploding artillery provides, go down to the local gun club or shooting range and fire off a few rounds in succession. Print some fun targets like Osama Bin Laden’s face or a poster of his entire body and tape it together. Then unload like you’re fighting for America’s independence all over again. I assure you this will help you forget about there being no fireworks.

3. Go fishing

If you live near water, there’s nothing like taking a day to go fishing. Anyone can do it, and it’s the ultimate relaxation activity. You can even bring a small, gas grill and cooler with you to have a barbecue. You can even bring a small, gas grill and cooler with you to have a barbecue. You can get all the information you need regarding fishing licenses and permits by visiting here.

4. Volunteer

I know what you’re thinking: “The last thing I want to do with my day off is work.” But volunteering to help a fellow American who’s less fortunate enjoy Independence Day is far more fulfilling than fireworks. Here are some volunteer events happening in America on the Fourth of July.

You could also help out a military family in your neighborhood. Feed them lunch or put together a care package for a member of your community who’s serving overseas. You can even write them a letter, or write a letter to the family of a veteran who was lost to a war or conflict. Visit the local nursing homes and speak to a veteran, or visit a VFW or American Legion club and buy a veteran a drink.

Volunteering could be as simple as going to a local park where the homeless frequent and barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers for them. Veterans account for nearly eight percent of the homeless population after all. Bring some voter registration cards and call it a voter registration drive. You can print voter registration cards from your Secretary of State’s website. Even people without an address have the right to vote. You can use the address of the nearest shelter if someone doesn’t have a place where they receive mail.

5. Attend a parade

Parades happen almost everywhere in America on the Fourth of July. Chances are the main street in your town will be shut down for an Independence Day Parade. Check it out. You’ll score a bunch of free schwag and candy and the kids will have a blast.

6. Attend a fireworks display in the area

If you must have your fireworks then you can get in the car and drive. Just because fireworks are banned where you live doesn’t mean there isn’t a fireworks display nearby. In the case of Eastern Montana, that’s exactly the case, though. But for others, you might be just a few hours away from a fireworks display. Use this map to find one in your area. Searching “fireworks displays near me” on Google will also give you more local options.

So that's what to do in lieu of fireworks on Independence Day. Don’t let the lack of fireworks get you down and take action now to make this Fourth of July one you and those around you will never forget.

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I’ve been using the MyPlate app by Livestrong to log my daily meals and exercise for two months now, and not only have I lost weight (almost 13 pounds to be exact) and fit into my high school jeans, but I’ve hardly increased my exercise habits because of what I’ve remedied regarding my daily food intake.

I wrote a piece called “10 ways to enjoy losing weight” when I was just starting to use the MyPlate app, and the folks at Livestrong were kind enough to grant me access to the “locked” exercises that come with a paid membership. I haven’t used any of them yet and still managed to cut an inch off my waist and lose 13 pounds. This only affirms my hypothesis that nutrition is more important than exercise when it comes to losing weight, and most of us aren’t consuming what we should and would be surprised by what’s in the foods we eat.

There are plenty of ways the MyPlate app can help you lose weight, but here are the five things that helped me and opened my eyes the widest. 

1. Having a Specific Goal Really Works

Having a specific weight and timeline in mind is the only way you’ll achieve your weight loss goal. You can’t reach a goal without having one. Simply wanting to lose weight isn’t enough. You have to want to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain date and then want to keep it off.

The first thing MyPlate does when you begin to use the app is ask you your height, weight, age, gender and weight loss goal. That’s how MyPlate determines the number of calories you should consume each day.

I’m a 31-year-old, five-foot, 11-inch male that weighed 185 pounds, and I wanted to lose 1.5 pounds per week and get back down to my college weight of 170 pounds. MyPlate recommended a diet of 1,645 calories per day, and while that’s less than the 1,800-calorie-diet recommended for a man, I assure you it’s plenty, especially if you eat the right foods. I managed to average just 1,469 calories per day and never felt hungry once in the last two months. I would guess my actual intake was higher because I think we subconsciously think are portions are smaller because we want them to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if my daily average is actually more than to the lowest recommended diet for men of 1,500 calories per day. 

How active you are during the day also plays a big role in your daily calorie recommendation. Since I sit in front of a computer for a living, I don’t burn a lot of calories naturally throughout the day, which is why my calorie recommendation is low. I do, however, bicycle often and do a lot of walking when I take public transit downtown for a ballgame, so more often than not I met my goal of 250 calories burned per day. And when I didn’t, I still generally burned 100 calories. I averaged 272 calories burned per day over the first two months of using MyPlate.

I managed to do a pretty good job of meeting my net calorie goals, so, naturally, I lost weight. To maintain my weight, I can start consuming the 1,800 calories recommended for a man per day as long as I continue my exercise habits, which shouldn’t be too difficult since I hardly changed any of my exercise habits. 

2. Carbs are Killers

As I stated in my previous piece about nutrition, I knew cutting carbohydrates would be the key to reaching my weight loss goal. I’ve been known to enjoy an IPA or two and have a childlike love for Stauffer’s Animal Crackers. I love sourdough and garlic bread. I’m a snacker, too, so a lot of the crap I was putting in my body came between meals. MyPlate helped me manage my snacking by logging my carbohydrates and scaring the hell out of me.

While I’m still struggling to cut carbs due to a limited budget and the affordability of breads, I wouldn’t have come in under my goal as often as I did had I not known what my problem was. I managed to nearly cut microbrews out of my diet entirely. I think I’ve had six in the last two months, and two of them I drank yesterday, which accounted for almost 500 calories and 36 grams of carbs.

2. It’s Okay to Cheat Once a Week

The debate over “cheat days” has not been settled and likely won’t, but I can tell you that I feel best when I go slightly over my daily calorie limit once per week. You can see those days pretty easily on my calorie intake graph, and it’s something that happened naturally. My body wanted to consume more, so I abided. 

Restricting calories limits the body’s leptin production, which is the hormone responsible for maintaining our energy levels and weight loss. So while cheat days only raise your metabolism slightly the following day, the way I feel the next day makes it worth the extra calories regardless of the limited effect on my metabolism.

Yesterday was a cheat day for me, and today I woke up rejuvenated and ready to work. I’ll probably go work on my scooter engine after this, which wouldn’t have been the case yesterday, when I wanted to do as little as possible and fell asleep watching baseball at eight o’clock. 

Cheating doesn’t mean you get to eat whatever you want for a day, though. It generally means you can splurge during one meal, but you still shouldn’t eat more than your body needs at any time. I made that mistake yesterday at lunch despite finishing just half of a Red Cow blended burger and barely touching some fries covered in gravy. I felt pretty terrible the rest of the day. So while you can eat foods with a bit more fat and sugar on cheat days, it’s not a reason to eat until you feel sick.

3. Cutting out Fat is Easy

I managed to cut my fat intake after the first few weeks of using the MyPlate app thanks to a Ninja 900-watt blender. I realized the fatty foods I was eating were generally snacks and fatty meats. Replacing the fatty hamburger and pork with turkey, chicken and fish was easy, and while I still eat both pork and hamburger, I do so in much smaller portions.

The one thing I knew I had to do was eat more fruits and vegetables. Even when I tried to eat more fruits and vegetables during those first few weeks, I’d generally only do it for one meal per day (generally breakfast). Then I invested in a blender, and now I consume more than the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

I’m also replacing less-healthy snacks with healthy ones. I have up to two blended smoothies per day, usually containing three servings of fruits and vegetables each. Plus, I add two tablespoons of hemp protein powder in an attempt to reach my seemingly unattainable goal of 123 grams of protein per day.

4. There’s Sugar and Salt in Everything

I managed to cut into my sodium intake substantially, and I never put salt on anything! I was against salt more so than sugar going into this little experiment. I know where that salt has gone, too. It’s been replaced by sugar.

My substitution of fruit smoothies for crackers and other snacks has been a key to cutting my daily sodium intake. I’m a sucker for Dot’s pretzels (360 mg, 17% sodium daily value), Frito’s Honey BBQ Flavor Twists (180 mg, 7% sodium daily value), and Roasted Garlic Triscuits (135 mg, 6% sodium daily value). Those numbers are all per serving -- not per box -- and I can eat half a box, and in the case of Dot’s pretzels, half a bag. I used to be able to eat a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos -- and not one of those small bags. I don’t do that anymore thanks to my blender.

I have not been able to cut my sugar intake substantially, though. I’ve managed to come in under my recommended daily sugar intake of 33 grams a dozen times in roughly 60 days. I gave up ketchup and mostly cut out barbecue sauce in an attempt to cut down on sugar consumption, and nothing’s changed. I still go over my recommended sugar intake almost everyday.

 

The foods highest in sugar that I’ve eaten the last two months are sodas and juices I’ve used to mix with my smoothies and the fruits also in those smoothies. And if I cut out the three or four ounces of soda or juice I use in my smoothies, I’m still going over the daily recommendation for sugars. The only way I see a way around sugars is to eat nothing but vegetables and nuts and drink nothing but water, which I’m not ready to do. I focused on salt.

5. Logging Your Meals and Exercise is Too Easy Not to Do

Just because I can fit into my high school jeans doesn’t mean I’m done with the MyPlate app. I’ll probably never stop using it. It’s a part of my life now, and that doesn’t bother me. People use their phones for worse things than logging meals and exercise.

I’m still only using the free workouts, of which I’ve done five or so times over two months, and they really work. I did the 7-minute Cardio Sculpting Workout yesterday because it was my “cheat day” to eat, and my butt and legs are sore. I’m looking forward to really getting into the locked “Gold” exercises, which I’ll review in another two months. The 10-minute Abs Workout doesn’t require any gym equipment, so I’ll start with that one.

MyPlate even counts my steps, so if I walk or run a few miles or climb steps, the app automatically subtracts those calories burned from my net intake for the day. The amount of time you’ll spend logging your meals everyday amounts to a few minutes per day. If you can’t take a few minutes out of your day to learn about what you’re putting in your body, you’re not dedicated enough to your weight loss goals.

You can’t just get down to your weight and stop logging your meals and exercise, but the beauty of MyPlate is that it’s too easy not to use. Regardless of where I am I can log my meals and exercise. It might be harder to do when eating out, but that’s because restaurants that don’t have more than 20 locations aren’t required to post nutrition facts on their menus, or anywhere. You can still find a similar recipe for a restaurant menu item and add the ingredients one by one, though. Since using the MyPlate app I’ve been less inclined to eat out because I know those foods are less healthy by design. The foods from fast food chains and restaurants are designed to be addictive, and that’s just more sugars and salt I don’t need.

Livestrong’s MyPlate app is a perfectly reasonable way to start losing weight. It’s doesn’t cost anything but the few minutes per day before or after each meal (I recommend before). I also recommend subscribing to the Livestrong blog. You’ll notice they have valuable information. Try MyPlate for two weeks without changing a thing like I did, and you’ll see what’s going into your body and want to change for your body’s sake.

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