Anthony Varriano

Anthony Varriano

The first 14 minutes and 25 seconds of Deadpool might be the best beginning to a movie I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. It has everything every blockbuster film should have to draw you in and put you on the edge of your seat. It introduces you to an interesting character, it entices you with either drama or comedy, and culminates in a climactic scene that sets the scene for the hero’s journey through the movie’s plot.

Deadpool 2’s first 15 minutes aren’t as good as Deadpool’s, which is to be expected. While the opening credits of Deadpool 2 are just as hilarious as those for Deadpool, the first 15 minutes of Deadpool 2 just can’t measure up to its predecessor. You can only introduce the Deadpool character once, and Deadpool does it as well as any film has, including Batman, the opening to which serves as source for a joke in Deadpool 2. Thankfully, Deadpool 2 doesn’t attempt to outdo the first 15 minutes of Deadpool, opting instead to use drama to set the stage for the sequel.

The first 15 minutes aside, the rest of Deadpool 2 is not only more entertaining than Avengers: Infinity War, but it’s better than Deadpool, too.

Back when Super Troopers 2 was released, I wrote about how a select few sequels achieve the critical acclaim of their predecessors. Much of that is due to the precedent set by the original film, as is the case with the first 15 minutes of Deadpool. Despite the wild success of The Godfather, ask any Italian or most film professors which is the better film, The Godfather or The Godfather: Part II, and Part II, will come out ahead. Ask any Star Wars fan which Star Wars is best, and most will tell you The Empire Strikes Back is better than its predecessor, A New Hope. Empire’s Rotten Tomatoes rating is even higher than A New Hope’s. The same is true of Deadpool 2’s Rotten Tomatoes rating. It’s rating is one percentage point higher than Deadpool’s as of this writing.

If you liked that Deadpool brought attention to the fact you’re watching a movie and used it as comic relief, you’ll love Deadpool 2. The sequel ups the ante in this regard, blending reality and fiction in a sort of Gonzo journalistic attempt at filmmaking. The “whose balls did I have to fondle to get my very own movie” moments are many more and even funnier than the original’s. Instead of suspending reality for audiences, Deadpool and Deadpool 2 use reality as the butt of many of the films’ jokes, and it works wonderfully, even providing laughs through its casting of characters. (Hint: stay seated after the sneak-peak trailer following the end credits for outtakes during filming of Deadpool 2.)

If you liked the relationships formed between Deadpool and Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool, you’ll love how those relationships grow and the new relationships Deadpool forms with Josh Brolin’s Cable (who is just as good in this as he was in Avengers: Infinity War), Zazie Beetz’s Domino, who is equally fantastic in her role, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s girlfriend, Yukio.

Finally, if you thought you laughed a lot when you saw Deadpool, you’ll laugh even more often and harder and longer when you see Deadpool 2. It is without doubt the funniest comic book movie ever made, overtaking its predecessor, of course. I laughed more during Deadpool 2 than I did during Super Troopers 2 and think you will, too.


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Each week at Foul Play-by-Play (follow the link to listen to the audio) we will review the week’s cheats, cheap shots and alleged criminals in sports for a sports talk radio show, eventually airing online and on GCNLive radio affiliates. Here are your top law-related sports headlines and cheats of the week for May 11-17, 2018.

Headlines Audio: Legal Sports Gambling and Domestic Violence

Cheats of the Week Audio: Rafael Palmeiro, Robinson Cano, and Mark Ingram

Headlines

The Supreme Court Allows States to Determine Legality of Sports Betting

The Supreme Court struck down the federal law prohibiting state-sponsored sports betting after almost a six-year legal battle. States can now decide whether to allow or disallow sports gambling, with 20 states having already proposed bills to legalize sports gambling.

New Jersey expects to have its sportsbooks up and running before the start of the NBA Finals, but tribal casinos could theoretically open sportsbooks immediately because they are their own sovereign nations. The 1993 Nation-State Gaming Compact authorizes the Oneida nation of New York to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted without any further approvals by the State. They intend to open a sportsbook as soon as possible.

Tribal casinos in rural America have the most to gain from the Supreme Court’s decision, because sports gambling could actually cut into the profits of urban, tribal casinos by moving money from most profitable gaming machines to less profitable sportsbooks. Setting up a sportsbook is also expensive, especially an online sportsbook, which gamblers will demand. The cautious approach of urban, tribal casinos to open sportsbooks could allow rural, tribal casinos to be first to market in the American online sportsbook industry. But your state, Montana, has long been against sports gambling. It’s one of nine states prohibiting residents from betting on fantasy sports.

While the consensus of casino experts seems to be that the estimated $140 billion per year illegally wagered on sports in the U.S. according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) is overestimated, there’s tons of money to be made by a score of entities outside the gaming industry. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants his league to get one percent of all bets made on its games. Local newspapers and radio entities in states with legal sports gambling will now be able to provide content related to sports gambling instead of dancing around the subject. Most importantly, though, most of the billions of dollars Americans have stashed with online bookkeepers overseas will find its way back to the states and stimulate the American economy. I say most because these online bookkeepers overseas have been fraudulent in the past.

New Detroit Lions Head Coach Defends his Innocence 22 Years Later

Newly hired coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia, was forced to once again express his innocence when Robert Snell of The Detroit News published a story about sexual assault allegations brought against him that resulted in an indictment but no trial for Patricia 22 years ago. Patricia’s accuser declined to testify citing “stress” as a reason, but Patricia and his attorney vehemently denied the abuse ever occurring.

As a former journalist, I’ll just say that Robert Snell of The Detroit News isn’t starting his work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions on the right foot. I had the difficulty of covering a similar story involving a high school golf coach with an alleged history of sexual harassment of female golfers. But when that teacher/coach was first hired by the district, no story was written about his alleged past because no charges were brought against him and his former district sealed all details of the allegations from the public as part of the terms of his termination.

No charges were brought against the coach the second time, either, but despite that, my employer wanted me to write a story based solely on unsubstantiated allegations that could further undermine that teacher/coach’s career. It ultimately resulted in me submitting my resignation, and I feel I was correct in doing so.

Patricia’s case is entirely different because he was charged and indicted, and while I think Snell might have risked his employer’s work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions, somebody should have and would have brought attention to this 22-year-old story.

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are Still Looking for Work

Also in the news, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, a couple of capable football players who can’t find jobs because of the expression of their personal views, are working out together with hopes of landing on an NFL roster.

Both players have waged grievances against the league for colluding against them to keep them from making a living in their chosen profession. Reid was asked about his anthem protest plans by the Bengals, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, and Kaepernick was similarly asked about his plans for the anthem by the Seahawks, who postponed a scheduled workout with the Super Bowl quarterback because Kaepernick reportedly had no plan in place, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport.

But these players aren’t breaking any rules. The NFL owners and players’ association could have collectively bargained for players to be required to stand of the national anthem had they foreseen it as an issue. The NBA did, but the NFL didn’t.

I think my biggest problem with all the haters of these anthem protesters is their attempt at justifying their hate. For once I’d just like to run into someone who says, “You know, I just really like the national anthem as a song, and the protests don’t allow me to enjoy it as much.” I think that’s the only justification for disliking the anthem protests. The whole “honor the military and stand for the flag” argument just doesn’t compute with me because I’ve never seen the flag or the anthem as representative of our military specifically. To me, it’s representative of this nation and the rights of those of us who reside here, especially the right to free speech, which I feel is the First Amendment of the Constitution because it’s most important. Kaepernick even altered his protest, going from sitting to kneeling, acknowledging and accepting the opinion of ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer.

My least favorite justification for hating the anthem protesters is the ‘if I did that at my job I’d be fired’ defense. My old man made that argument just a few days ago, and I wanted to tell him he shouldn’t be mad at Kaepernick for using his workplace as a means to create awareness for a cause for which he’s passionate. He should be mad at himself for not obtaining a job that would allow him to also do so.

The railroad workday is not televised, and they don’t kickoff the railroad workday with what was, for the longest time, a paid advertisement by the United States military exploiting the national anthem to appeal to the patriotic sensibilities of the NFL’s mostly American audience. But imagine every American industry started the workday with the national anthem. Before an attorney tried a case the national anthem would be played in the courtroom. Before I could sit at my desk and read the news, the national anthem would be played over the intercom. Before my dad could fix a locomotive, the national anthem would be played throughout the roundhouse.

Now, assuming the same situation facing the NFL, where players are not contractually obligated to stand for the national anthem, employees of all industries could use the anthem as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves, and, in turn, a cause of their choosing. You might not have the media reporting on a railroad machinist’s decision to kneel for the anthem, but his fellow coworkers would probably ask why he didn’t stand for the anthem.

You might even have employers like NFL owners who dismiss employees for their anthem protests. They’d have good reason if morale or production is effected or damage is done to the employers’ brand. But, I ask you, is it not still illegal for an employer who has terminated an anthem protester to contact all the other employers in his industry and make sure they never hire that employee? It indeed is, and if that’s the case, wouldn’t that employee be due lost wages for the employers colluding to take away his or her right to work? He most certainly would. I don’t understand why so many people insist these guys should be banned from the sport and forced to find a new job. If you were fired from your job for expressing your political views and then colluded against by the employers of your chosen career, would you accept that you were terminated justly and humbly find work at a convenience store?

Cheats of the Week

Honorable mention: Former Texas Rangers’ first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, at 53, got a hit in his second at-bat with the Independent League’s Cleburne Railroaders, his son, Patrick’s team. Patrick also had a hit and made a great play at third base, throwing over to his dad at first to complete it.

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stu Gotz there’s no way Palmeiro makes it back to the majors because teams want nothing to do with him after lying under oath about using performance-enhancing drugs.  

Bronze medalist: Seattle Mariners All-star second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for use of the banned substance Furosemide, a diuretic commonly used to mask performance-enhancing drug use. Cano said in a statement that he was given the substance by licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical condition. Furosemide is used to treat fluid retention in people with congestive heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disorders, as well as high blood pressure, or hypertension. Under MLB's drug policy, a player is not automatically suspended for use of a diuretic unless MLB can prove he intended to use it as a masking agent. Cano reportedly tested positive for the drug prior to the season and appealed the potential suspension, but MLB was apparently able to prove his intent, resulting in Cano dropping his appeal. It will cost him $11,850,000.

Silver medalist: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Rick Brunson resigned amid allegations of “improper interactions with several women while on the job,” according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. Brunson is still married despite admitting to an extramarital affair with a massage therapist in June 2014 that resulted in him being charged with attempted criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, aggravated battery and domestic battery. Brunson was acquitted of the charges.

Gold medalist: New Orleans running back Mark Ingram not only failed a drug test and was suspended four games for a drug “permissible with the proper use exemption from the NFL,” but will also sit out voluntary organized team activities entering a contract year. I probably don’t need to tell you, Mike, but Ingram had one of his best seasons last year, scoring 12 touchdowns and setting a career high in rushing yards.

In Ingram’s case, amphetamine was likely the drug “permissible with the proper use exemption,” a drug that has long been popular amongst athletes, especially baseball players. "'Greenies’" (Dexedrine) were a club house staple for decades beginning just after World War II, when ball players drafted into the military returned to the diamond having been exposed to the stimulant pills, which the armed forces dispensed by the millions. Another incubator of baseball speed-freakery was the winter Caribbean baseball circuit. There, players on seasonal hiatus discovered the two coffee pot system, where each club house had one pot with regular coffee and one with an amphetamine additive."

As of 2009 according to Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times, “[t]he 106 players who received exemptions for attention deficit disorder represent about 8 percent of the major league players, based on 40-man rosters. The percentage of American adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder is somewhere between 1 and 3.5 percent, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, although some experts believe the actual number is much higher, citing a large number of undiagnosed cases.”

As someone diagnosed with Adult Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AADHD), I can tell you it’s very easy to obtain a prescription for amphetamines if you familiarize yourself with the symptoms prior to taking the tests medical professionals administer. I answered the questions as honestly as I could because I long suspected I suffered from ADHD. As early as first grade I would do something, anything, to break the boredom of being seated at my desk in the classroom. It got to the point my teacher had a sticky note attached to my desk with each day of the week, and she would mark the days that I behaved with a smiley face and the days I didn’t with a frowny face, delivering reports to my mother. When I was introduced to pens I clicked them incessantly. Even after being asked to stop, I would revert back to the habit in times of boredom. My teacher’s eventually inherited enough of my pens to never have to visit the school’s materials closet.

Amphetamines streamline your focus, and I imagine it slows down the spin and speed of a MLB fastball ever so slightly. For a running back like Ingram who relies on his vision to find holes in the defense, I’m sure it slows down that part of the game for him to react quicker. He won’t be doing any reacting for the first four games of the Saints’ season, though, and likely won’t be back with the Saints after this year given his free agent status and the abilities of their second-year back Alvin Kamara.

The United States Supreme Court ruled to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) by a 6-3 vote. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling, with Nevada being the sole exception.

The ruling allows states to determine whether they want to allow gambling on sports. While New Jersey expects to have sportsbooks open prior to the start of the NBA Finals, Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are all prepared to get into legal bookmaking. But Indian nations could beat even those states to market.

Casinos on Indian reservations could theoretically open sportsbooks today because they are sovereign nations. The 1993 Nation-State Gaming Compact authorizes the Oneida nation in New York to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted without any further approvals by the State. They intend to open a sportsbook as soon as possible, but other tribal nations are taking a cautious approach.

The reason behind the cautiousness is the fact sports wagering isn’t all that profitable for casinos. According veteran Nevada sportsbook operator Art Manteris, sportsbetting “generates only a four- to six-percent margin, is labor-intensive and requires a major capital investment,” according to a story by Dave Palermo of Legal Sports Report.

Consider this: “From March 2015 to February 2016 a Nevada Gaming Control Board Gaming Revenue Report shows that the “total gaming win” (the casino’s win) over twelve months from slots was $7,066,306,000 (about 7 billion) total. Meanwhile, the total table games win was $4,094,401,000 (about 4 billion). The implication of this is that, even with sports gaming’s comparatively small return of $19,236,000 (about 19.2 million) considered, no casino game even comes close to slots in terms of revenue for the casino.” That’s according to Fact/Myth.

Palermo reports that “16 percent of the tribal casinos – many in urban areas – generate 71.5 percent of the $31.2 billion industry, according to senior economist Alan Meister of Nathan Associates.” These urban, tribal casinos might not have much reason to venture into sports betting since any dollar spent at the sportsbook instead of in a gaming machine is more likely to result in a loss and will certainly result in smaller margins of return.

But rural, tribal casinos could see sports betting as an opportunity. Places like 4 Bears Casino and Lodge in New Town, N.D. could supplement its revenue used to fund the needs of reservation residents by providing the first online sportsbook for North Dakotans.

While the consensus of casino experts seems to be that the estimated $140 billion per year illegally wagered on sports in the U.S. according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) is overestimated, there’s tons of money to be made by a score of entities outside the gaming industry.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants his league to get one percent of all bets made on its games. Local newspapers and radio entities in states with legal sports gambling will now be able to provide content related to sports gambling instead of dancing around the subject. Most importantly, though, most of the billions of dollars Americans have stashed with online bookkeepers overseas will find its way back to the states and stimulate the American economy. I say most because these online bookkeepers overseas have been fraudulent in the past.

The Supreme Court decision is long overdue given the amount of revenue that could be raised by state and federal governments simply from administering a sin tax on gambling. Twenty states have already proposed bills to legalize sports gambling.


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Before the National Basketball Association (NBA) season began, almost anyone with any awareness of the NBA’s existence felt they knew which teams would be playing in each of the Conference Finals. Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics would meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors would play the Houston Rockets’ James Harden and Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals.

That’s exactly how it turned out, minus Irving, who barring injury, would be suiting up against his former teammate in a Conference Final I’d actually watch. Now, I’ll wait to see if Houston can force a Game 7 against Golden State before tuning into the NBA Conference Finals, and it took me betting on Houston to win it all to even have an interest in that series. Basketball’s predictability is the very reason I prefer the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Giant men wearing armor and wielding weapons in their hands and on their feet skate at immense speeds on an ever-changing playing surface chucking a rubber saucer at speeds even faster than their feet can carry them or baseballs are thrown while their opponents do all they can to get in front of that unpredictable projectile. Hockey is a most unpredictable sport, and that’s what holds my interest. The fact it hardly has any stoppages for commercial breaks, provides coaches with just one timeout, and requires live substitutions are all just big bonuses for the sport with the best postseason -- a postseason that can still be improved.

The NBA is also looking to improve its postseason, thankfully. Commissioner Adam Silver floated the idea of eliminating the conferences for the postseason and simply seeding the top 16 teams based on record. This would result in less chance of a lopsided NBA Finals series. For instance, the series most of us believe to be the actual championship series between Houston and Golden State would actually be played for the championship. Houston and Golden State would be the first- and second-ranked NBA playoff teams, respectively, and would only meet in the NBA Finals under the proposed postseason alteration.

While travel concerns and the fact that the seeding of Eastern Conference teams would be skewed based on them playing half as many games against the more dominant, deeper Western Conference might thwart the NBA’s efforts to improve the postseason. But they shouldn’t. As long as there are no back-to-back games scheduled in the NBA Playoffs, travel shouldn’t be a concern. And the seeding of teams from different conferences could be based on their play against similar opponents. For instance, if an Eastern Conference team finished the regular season with a better record than a Western Conference team but lost both games to that Western Conference team, the Eastern Conference team could be seeded behind the Western Conference team based on its performance in head-to-head matchups.

The dominance and depth of the NBA’s Western Conference is forcing Silver to find a way to remedy the lack of intrigue in his sport’s predictable playoffs. A lack of competitiveness results in a loss of fans, which is exactly what has happened with elections due to partisan gerrymandering. Because elections have become so uncompetitive, fewer people vote, thinking their vote doesn’t matter, which, of course, is the intent of partisan gerrymandering.

The same is true of American capitalism. “Free” markets work for the consumer when there’s competition. But businesses want markets working for them. It’s why six companies own the majority of media in America or the means to deliver media messages. Hollywood called this “vertical integration” until the Supreme Court eventually forced movie studios to divest their interest in theaters.

But it’s happening again, and on a much more massive scale. Not only do media moguls own the media produced but the means of distribution. Comcast owns the “movies” it makes and the “theaters” that distribute them. The theaters are the cable, internet and mobile data arms of Comcast, so not only are they pulling revenue from ad sales of their shows, but they’re making two trips to the bank on just about every customer by being either one of two or the sole provider of cable, internet or wireless data in that customer’s area.

The increasingly deregulated capitalistic markets reward monopolistic businesses at the expense of the consumer. Mergers are great for big business, but they aren’t good for consumers. Sprint merging with T-Mobile would result in one less competitor in the mobile data and mobile phone markets, and with each fallen competitor the price for those services increases.

If you live in rural America you’re probably familiar with the price gouging that occurs because of a lack of competition, especially in the cable, satellite, internet service and mobile data industries. Verizon actually kicked Eastern Montana customers off their data plans because they used too much data. Many of those customers don’t have access to internet otherwise, so Verizon knows they’ll have to come back, and will pay more to do so.

So I don’t watch the NBA Playoffs for the same reason I despise American capitalism: a lack of competitiveness that results from monopolistic mergers, like Durant going to Golden State. Maybe when my Timberwolves actually win a playoff series I’ll give the NBA Playoffs my divided attention. But even with my Minnesota Wild eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I have and will continue to watch the NHL postseason, because there’s no telling what could happen.

When my realtor handed over the keys to my first home in late September, I didn’t feel like I had realized the American Dream. I even had a car in the lot (well, on the street) and a chicken in the pot. But there was still something missing.

I felt closer to realizing the American Dream while doing drugs with friends in the Escalante National Monument. That national treasure in Utah is being gutted to exploit energy sources by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and President Donald Trump, but they can’t touch the memories I have of that place or the feelings they invoke.

As we pulled away from a National Park Ranger checkpoint with so much drugs and alcohol the four of us couldn’t finish it all in a week, I watched as unlucky hippies leaned against cop cars on the side of the road with their hands cuffed behind them. It made us all realize how lucky we were. Hell, I wasn’t even supposed to be out of the county without my probation officer’s permission, so staying my ass out of federal prison and going on to have the time of my life made it feel like the new American Dream was to do drugs in beautiful places with lovely people and not get caught. But that’s just part of the new American Dream. The new American Dream is to do all those drugs and then recover from whatever addictions you acquire.

It wasn’t until I quit drinking that I felt I had realized the American Dream. I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to stimulants and depressants, but it was alcohol that brought me the most trouble in my life. Sure I was on probation for possessing a pound or so of pot, but I spent more days in jail during that probation because of alcohol than I did for using cannabis, and I still managed to use cannabis pretty regularly. But I drank daily.

First I decided I’d “slow down” for my body’s sake. You know, drink fewer days during the week. And I did, too. I had just become really intrigued by body chemistry and nutrition, so when I started counting my calories, I got a good look at my problem. I drank less often, sure, but did I ever make up for it on the weekends.

When I found it difficult to meet my caloric goals because of my drinking, I drank faster so I could drink less, or I did more exercise so I could drink more. My weekly cheat day became my opportunity to get super drunk.

When I visited my hometown in Eastern Montana and was assaulted while drunk for saying I was a Socialist, I realized I was incapable of drinking responsibly. I drank for more than 12 hours that day and blacked out en route to a house party. The only thing I remember is saying “I’m a Socialist” and someone immediately suplexing me. Sure, it was a hate crime, but since I couldn’t remember a name, face or much of anything, I wasn’t about to make a big deal of it. I figure those people living with themselves has to be punishment enough.

It took a few more weeks before I actually quit alcohol for good. It was October 3rd, and the Minnesota Twins had lost to the Yankees in the playoffs, again. I drunkenly rode my bike home from O’Donovan’s Pub, where a bartender informed me that Twins’ third baseman Miguel Sano frequented the place, and one time, drank “16 beers” with his arms wrapped around two women while on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his leg. (Just under three months later, Sano was alleged to have committed sexual assault.)

I haven’t had a drink since I heard that story. The next day hurt worse than any hangover I’ve had, including the morning after the Socialist suplexing. I stayed home from work and chased Ibuprofen with soup and water. I had no alcohol in the house because I had finished it all when I got home the night before. Usually I would have handled that hangover with a Bloody Mary or Screwdriver, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the house to get alcohol. When I checked my receipts (apparently after I had closed my tab I opened another) and found I had spent $70 -- my average monthly booze budget -- in one night, I knew I was done drinking. I didn’t need an intervention or treatment to stop drinking because I knew if I drank again, I could drink myself to death.

That doesn’t mean alcoholics don’t need help. In fact, 95 percent of alcoholics who need treatment don’t think they need it. Maybe I’m just a member of that majority, and it’ll take a relapse for me to realize it. At least I could get treatment if I wanted it, and my insurance would even cover it. That’s not the case for every addict.

A 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General found that one in seven Americans will face some sort of substance addiction. The economic impact of those collective addictions amounts to $442 billion each year, which rises as healthcare premiums rise. And America has the highest drug-death rate in the world.

 Worse yet, we’re not even addressing the problem properly. Instead of providing the treatment addicts need, money is funneled by politicians to for-profit prisons instead of treatment facilities, leaving addicts without the treatment and supportive community necessary to keep them clean. The number of substance abuse treatment facilities in the U.S., which focus on drug and alcohol abuse, was reported to be 13,873 in 2014, a decrease from the 14,152 facilities reported in the previous year.

“Former inmates return to environments that strongly trigger relapse to drug use and put them at risk for overdose,” according to a 2012 study published in Addiction Science & Clinical Practice. Of the more than 21 million addicts in America, only 10 percent receive treatment, mostly due to a lack of healthcare coverage or lack of treatment centers in their area. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 80 percent of opioid addicts don’t get treatment, and a similar 2015 study found a million opioid addicts couldn’t get treatment for their addictions if they wanted it.

That leaves a lot of Americans on our own to struggle through our addictions. I’ve resisted to commit to Alcoholics Anonymous or the 12-Step Program because I wasn’t convinced I had a problem. Now that I am convinced, I realize the importance of having a community to support you and your decision, but I still haven’t attended an AA meeting because the 12-Step Program utilized by AA most often relies on a commitment to religion. Giving oneself up to “a higher power” is the first step, and it wasn’t until I read Russell Brand’s Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions that I found a non-religious means to put the 12-Step Program to work for me, an atheist.

Since publicly announcing my problem with alcohol on Facebook on Oct. 12, 2017, I found I did have a community in place to help me through my problem with alcohol. Friends of mine who’ve long been out of touch and also quit drinking offered their support, as did my family. Not every alcoholic has friends and family with experience overcoming addiction, however. I guess I’m lucky to have excessively drunk alcohol and done drugs with people willing and capable of realizing and accepting their powerlessness over substances.

Prisoners aren’t leaving prisons with that community in place. They’re reentering communities where they’ll be tempted around every corner. So until we stop putting nonviolent, drug offenders behind bars and instead put them in treatment centers to get the help they truly need, we’ll be inching ever closer to making the new American Dream overcoming addiction.


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Josh Brolin, who portrays Thanos, the villain in Avengers: Infinity War and the character with the most screentime, is listed 27th in the credits for the film -- just ahead of Chris Pratt, the star of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. In all, the stars and co-stars of seven film franchises are represented in Avengers: Infinity War.

The result of so many superstars sharing one screen is a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie and a billion-dollar budget for Marvel Studios, 80 percent of which has already been recouped. Regardless of the film’s box office success, we know The Avengers franchise can’t last forever and are reminded of that throughout Infinity War.

Spoiler alert: Infinity War writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely abandoned the Hollywood ending for this one, probably at the request of Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, who hinted that Infinity Wars would bring the first 22-movie arc to a “finality.” While that doesn’t mean there won’t be more Avengers movies after next year’s, different characters could be wearing the costumes.

Spoiler alert: Many of the Avengers “die” in Infinity War. I put that in quotes because now that The Avengers has borrowed a tactic from X-Men: First Class that originated in Superman, no one is ever really dead. Knowing the Avengers can now turn back time, the deaths, at least at the end of the film (wink), didn’t invoke much of an emotion in me. But the ending was shocking nonetheless.

Spoiler alert: I for one appreciate a film that ends with the villain winning, like The Joker did in The Dark Knight. Thanos beats the Avengers like The Joker did Batman, which will result in Avengers 4, the untitled sequel to Infinity War set to release next year, likely making more money than Infinity War. That was the case when a similarly solemn ending in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers resulted in an even better box office return for Return of the King.

Since all the Avengers actors and actresses have signed contracts for two Avengers films, this one and the next one, there’s no way of telling who actually died in Infinity War. That’s the point of those vague contracts, but we do know a few Marvel heroes will survive to make more sequels.

Pratt and his fellow Guardians are the only Marvel characters with a movie on Marvel’s schedule after the next Avengers film, set to release in 2019. Chris Hemsworth, of the Thor franchise, is expected to return given both the box office success and critical praise of Thor: Ragnarok. Plus, he hasn’t exactly taken Hollywood by storm with his roles outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Benedict Cumberbatch will likely get his own sequel thanks to the $670 million Doctor Strange made worldwide.

Spoiler alert: “It was the only way” are Strange’s “last” words to Tony Stark after giving Thanos the Time Infinity Stone to spare Stark’s life. That tells me Thanos winning the first battle and Stark surviving that battle are both necessary for the Avengers to eventually overcome Thanos. I’m also certain the Avengers will go back in time to resurrect the “dead” Avengers with the help of Captain Marvel, according to the short preview revealed at the end of Infinity War’s credits.

If Captain Marvel, set to release March 9, 2019, is even close to as good and successful as DC’s Wonder Woman, it will help Marvel fans get over the inevitable end of the Avengers as we know them. Rumors are that Chris Evans of the Captain America franchise will play the character for the final time in the next Avengers film. Robert Downey Jr. is also under contract for just one more film and has to be getting prohibitively expensive. He made $50 million for Infinity War. Scarlett Johansson was the next-best paid Avenger at $10 million and is expected to get her own Black Widow spinoff. And we know Ant-man and the Wasp is on the way.

Growing old in roles isn’t often allowed in Hollywood, unless you’re Sylvester Stallone, who has done it with Rocky and Rambo. Women are almost never allowed to grow old in roles, with Renée Zellweger’s Bridget Jones not much of an exception since the character was supposed to be “old” from the start. Sigourney Weaver’s run in the Alien franchise might be the longest Hollywood’s allowed a woman to grow old in a role, and Weaver aged so gracefully there wasn’t much reason to take her off the screen.  

The point is Infinity War serves as a warning to those who thought Downey Jr. would play Iron Man long after his famous facial hair turned gray. The film’s ending encapsulates how it feels when things end -- film franchises and life alike. It’s depressing, but you’ll find reason for hope if you just sit patiently through the credits, consisting of mostly digital artists’ names printed so small and moving so fast you can’t read them. The same goes for life -- patience is rewarded, and no matter how bad it gets, there is always hope.


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In late Sept. 2017, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un called the United States President a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard" in response to insults hurled by Donald Trump during his first speech to the United Nations. Trump called the North Korean dictator a “madman” on a “suicide mission” and that the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if it or its allies were attacked.

Mighty Trump Says “Might” be Open to Talk

The dick measuring continued, with Trump basically saying “mine’s bigger than yours” in a tweet on Jan. 2. He was referring to the size and power of his nuclear launch button after Kim bragged that the United States was within range of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and he had a nuclear launch button on his desk. Eight days later, the White House released a statement announcing the Trump Administration might be open to holding talks with North Korea. It was an obvious attempt to reign in the war rhetoric so everyone could enjoy the Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korea without worrying about a nuclear attack, but it was more than welcome given the threats of nuclear war made by both bullies with no regard for anyone else on this playground called Earth.

Trump’s official White House statement was hardly responsible for Kim and Trump planning to meet within a month. The statement put much of the worried world at ease despite Trump committing to nothing at all. Considering U.S./North Korea relations consisted of name calling and threatening nuclear war seven months ago and dick measuring four months ago, “might be open to holding talks” sounds really good to a lot of frightened people. So good, in fact, Trump supporters in Michigan chanted for him to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But Trump isn’t even the second-most important player in this nuclear football game. Back in Sept. 2017, when these two “leaders” started threatening each other’s nations with nuclear war, I wrote that Trump’s hands were too small to handle North Korea alone. I was right.

Moon Works His Magic

The hands that could handle Kim, China and the U.S. belong to South Korean President Moon Jae In. Moon threatened Kim, too, but unlike Trump, he didn't tweet or speak a single word. His actions spoke volumes.

In July 2017, North Korea tested a missile that could theoretically reach the U.S. mainland. Moon responded with his own missile test, sending a message that South Korea could take out Kim if attacked. He also ordered the full deployment of the missile-defense system despite China’s concerns. Moon had to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping not to take economic retaliations in response to the deployment of the missile-defense system. Xi acquiesced, and Moon earned the trust of both Trump and Xi in the process.

Moon then went to work playing good cop prior to the Winter Olympics. When Kim announced North Korea’s interest in attending the Winter Olympics in Seoul, Moon agreed to host them despite South Koreans taking issue. Trump and his defense team contemplated a “bloody nose” strike of Pyongyang to punish Kim prior to the Olympics to make him more eager to negotiate peace and denuclearization. But Moon talked them out of it, assuring the U.S. that Kim would not receive any concessions.

Thank the Sanctions

The real reason Kim sought Korean peace and is ready to talk denuclearization is because he can’t import the materials he needs to grow his nuclear arsenal, and his people are growing more and more desperate by the day due to economic sanctions limiting their access to things they need to survive.

South Korean researchers expected United Nations’ sanctions to start giving North Korea “severe economic difficulties” come March. The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved sanctions banning the import of all natural gas liquids and condensates and capped imports of crude oil. For a nation already struggling to keep the lights on in its capital, losing access to more energy sources limits the exports North Korea can produce and transport, too.

China is responsible for 85 percent of North Korea’s imports but has been limiting its exports of crude oil, refined oil products, steel and other metals to the nation since Jan. 6, as the U.N. mandated. Russia, responsible for 2.3 percent of North Korea’s imports, is also adhering to the U.N. sanctions. Putin has to expel roughly 30,000 North Korean migrant workers along with limiting oil and oil products exports and banning textile exports. Both nations have been accused of subverting the sanctions, with Russia allegedly serving as a middle man moving North Korean coal. Allegations against both nations have not yet been substantiated, but North Korea has long subverted sanctions by trading goods at sea rather than on land. Those maritime trades are being stopped more often, though.

Kim knows his people will eventually be desperate enough to revolt and overthrow him, and he certainly doesn’t want to be the last of the Kim regime, nor does he want the nation to fail. Neither do his neighbors. No one knows what would result from a failed North Korea, but both China and Russia fear a unification with South Korea would lead to American military bases along their shared borders with North Korea. That’s a pretty reasonable assumption and something Trump will no doubt demand when he visits North Korea within the month. Regardless of what comes of the denuclearization talks between Trump and Kim, Moon has proven to be most presidential and most deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize if Korean peace is indeed realized after 68 years at war. 


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Had you been living under a rock the last month you’d still somehow know the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round was deep with quarterbacks. The fact five quarterbacks were taken in Thursday’s first round shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but, as always, there were surprises throughout the draft’s first round, starting with the very first pick.

The Best: The Cleveland Browns got their franchise quarterback, probably

Many “experts,” including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., predicted Cleveland would take quarterback Sam Darnold, but Baker Mayfield is the next potential savior of the Browns franchise. I don’t know if Mayfield is a franchise quarterback. I’m no expert, but even the experts can’t predict who will go where and how good they will be in the NFL. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson as the 25th best player on his big board in 2001 and promised in 2010 to retire if Jimmy Clausen wasn’t a successful NFL quarterback.

 

The Cleveland Browns struggling to draft the right quarterback since Vinny Testaverde went 16-15 over the 1994 and 1995 seasons shouldn’t be such a surprise. All teams miss more than they hit when it comes to drafting players at any position let alone the most important position. The Browns missed on quarterback Tim Couch with the first overall pick in 1999, but they did worse in the following draft, selecting pass rusher Courtney Brown with the first overall pick. He finished his career with 19 sacks.

The Browns managed to miss in this draft, too, albeit not as badly as they did 1999 or 2000. Baker Mayfield will be better than Tim Couch. I’m almost sure of that, but they might have passed on the best player on the board to fill an immediate need, which is almost always a mistake.

The Worst: The Cleveland Browns passed on the best player available

The Browns wasted little time in surprising everyone, as they seem to do annually, selecting Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick. Cornerback was an immediate need for Cleveland, but they could have traded down to draft Ward if they weren’t interested in the draft’s best pass rusher, Bradley Chubb. The next cornerback selected was Louisville’s Jaire Alexander at 18th overall by Green Bay, who moved up to get him.

The Browns probably had Ward atop their board and liked him enough to not risk losing him to the Broncos, who actually have a need at corner with Aqib Talib being traded to the Los Angeles Rams. But the Browns’ immediate needs, or any team’s immediate needs for that matter, shouldn’t influence how players are ranked, with quarterbacks being the obvious exception.

KFAN Radio’s Paul Allen made a valid point immediately after Cleveland’s selection of Ward had the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium gasping in shock during the annual Draft Party, Thursday night. Allen said Chubb could have addressed the Browns’ defensive secondary issues by forcing quarterbacks to get rid of the football faster, in turn, requiring less of defensive backs, who wouldn’t have to lock down receivers in coverage for as long. He’s right, but again, no franchise in all of sports is under more pressure to win than the Cleveland Browns, and new general manager John Dorsey has just four years (or less) to build the Browns into a winner. He’s plugged the two biggest holes thus far. The last quarterback to win a game for the Browns on a Sunday was Johnny Manziel, and Cleveland allowed a league-worst 68.6 completion percentage last season.

Ward will have an immediate impact for the Browns, but will forever be compared to Chubb. He can mitigate the frequency and relevance of those comparisons by helping the Browns win games. And with the additions of wide receiver Jarvis Landry, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back Carlos Hyde, the Browns are going to win four or five games this season.

The Best: The Denver Broncos got an unexpected gift from the Browns

The Broncos didn’t have an immediate need for a pass rusher with the league’s second-best pass rusher according to Pro Football Focus in Vonn Miller. But John Elway did as every general manager should do when given a gift: accept it graciously and unwrap it hastily.

After the draft, Elway said “none” of their mock drafts had Chubb falling to fifth overall, so Elway ought to be elated. His team got a better player than expected, albeit at a position of depth, but Denver’s defense won’t require a cornerback of Ward’s caliber anymore. The average amount of time opposing quarterbacks will have to find an open receiver will be considerably less than it was against last year’s defense with Chubb and Miller rushing the passer, requiring less of the secondary in coverage downfield.

The Worst of the Worst: The Bills gave up way too much for a project quarterback

The Buffalo Bills give up way too much to move up and draft who “experts” saw as the least-prepared quarterback with the highest upside and biggest bust potential. And I’m not just talking about the twelfth overall pick and two second-round picks -- numbers 53 and 56 -- Buffalo sent to Tampa Bay to move up five spots and select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen eighth overall. The trade was lopsided in Tampa’s favor, but the Bills’ buffoonery leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round is even more disturbing.

Seth Walder with ESPN Analytics reports that according to ESPN's draft pick calculator, the picks Tampa Bay received from the Bills carry an expected Approximate Value (AV) of 12.2, while the picks the Bills received were only worth 7.3 AV. He does add that the calculation is made independent of players’ positions, and since quarterbacks have a higher upside than other positions, “it is probably more justifiable to trade up in this situation if the target is a QB.”

The lopsidedness of the Bills/Bucs trade pales in comparison to, say, the San Diego Chargers trading two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and two players, one of whom was Eric Metcalf, to move up one spot in the 1998 draft. Everyone remembers the storyline the sports media used to sell that year’s draft as dramatic television -- and it was indeed dramatic. Would it be Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf going first overall?

The “experts” said both quarterbacks would be successful in the NFL. President of the Indianapolis Colts at the time, Bill Polian, still sweats when asked about that draft. Had he picked Leaf, he wouldn’t likely have a job as an ESPN analyst and would be remembered for building teams that failed to win the big one. His Buffalo Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls, and his Carolina Panthers -- in just their second season, however -- lost the 1996 NFC Championship Game. Manning is why Polian remains employed and relevant, and why I had no idea who Bobby Beathard was until just now.

Beathard was the Chargers’ general manager at the time. Unlike Polian, though, Beathard had already constructed a championship team in Washington, where he won two of his four Super Bowls. Despite giving the Arizona Cardinals so much to move up one spot in the draft, Beathard’s sterling reputation must have mitigated criticism from San Diego sports columnists and NFL analysts because I struggled to find any criticism of the trade after Beathard made it. There had to be someone out there who knew the Chargers had given the Cardinals too much even if the “experts” were right about both Manning and Leaf, but I couldn’t find them on the Internet. Nothing short of a Hall of Fame career and a San Diego Super Bowl win would justify trading five players who would all end up logging at least some time in the NFL to move up a single spot in the draft.

But the Chargers and their fans were desperate for a franchise quarterback they knew they wouldn’t get with their third overall pick. The experts were right about that. There weren’t any Tom Bradys hidden in the 1998 NFL Draft. Matt Hasselbeck was the third-best quarterback drafted and was the second-to-last quarterback selected, going to Green Bay as the 187th overall pick in the second-to-last round.

The one Sports Illustrated column I did find that was critical of Beathard was because prior to the 1998 season, he traded San Diego’s “only proven receiver, Tony Martin, to the Falcons for a second-round draft choice in 1999.” SI’s Michael Silver wasn’t concerned with the two first-round picks, second-round pick, and two players Beathard traded to draft Leaf, nor was he concerned with the Chargers being unable to surround Leaf with help because of all the draft picks Beathard traded away. He wasn’t concerned with Leaf’s athletic ability or even his mental state while transitioning from a small town life and a quaint college in Pullman, Wash. to the life of a millionaire, NFL star quarterback in sunny and seductive Southern California at the age of 22. Silver was concerned that the Chargers’ new franchise quarterback wouldn’t have any open receivers to whom he could throw the football. Silver, like everyone else, was assuming Manning and Leaf were equals because that’s what the “experts” kept saying. The Bills are guilty of applying this same groupthink to the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round.

The Bills believed the first round of this draft would be deep with franchise quarterbacks or they wouldn’t have traded the quarterback who led them to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Before the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft even started, the Bills had blown it like Beathard did. They subscribed to the “expert” opinion that the 2018 NFL Draft would be a quarterback draft. They adopted that doctrine, and proved their devotion to that dogma by trading the aforementioned Tyrod Taylor, who only threw for nearly 2,800 yards, ran for another 427 yards, including four rushing touchdowns, and finished with 14 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. All the Bills managed to get for the leader of their playoff team was the 65th pick in this year’s draft -- which they also traded.

The Bills enter the 2018 season with former Cincinnati backup quarterback AJ McCarron expected to start. He’s signed for two years, which gives Allen the time he needs to hone his skills. But is a backup quarterback getting his first opportunity to be the regular starter the best mentor for a project quarterback like Allen? Who knows? Certainly not the “experts.”

All I know is if I were a Bills fan I’d be livid. Buffalo should be building on its 2017 success by using this draft to give Taylor the weapons he needs to make the Bills a contender. He finally got the pass protection that the Bills lacked during Taylor’s early years. The offensive line improved from 11th in 2016 to seventh in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus.

Taylor might have gotten out of Buffalo just in time, though. Four Bills’ offensive linemen will be free agents at the end of this season, according to Sportrac. So not only did Buffalo jettison a quarterback they painstakingly groomed into a capable, playoff-caliber quarterback for a third-round draft pick, but they drafted an even younger, more inexperienced quarterback who, like Taylor in his early years, won’t have the luxury of pass protection. But Allen doesn’t have Taylor’s running ability to avoid hits and extend plays, either.

The Bills were the absolute worst before and during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. They’ve consciously decided to go from their first playoff berth in almost 20 years to grooming a quarterback prospect mentored by a man getting his first opportunity to be a starting quarterback in the league. Sorry, Bills fans. It’s going to be a few more years of pain and suffering with nothing but hope to stave off disappointment.

The Best: The Arizona Cardinals got the quarterback they need

The Cardinals have a good quarterback in Sam Bradford. He’s accurate, has a great arm and will pick defenses apart when given time in the pocket. But he might be the slowest starting quarterback in the game, which doesn’t bode well for him or the Cardinals given his injury history. Bradford will miss games, and Mike Glennon won’t inspire much of anything in his absence. Enter Josh Rosen.

Rosen is ready to start in the NFL and the “experts” say he’s the best pocket passer in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’ll have a great mentor in Bradford, who is almost strictly a pocket passer. Unless Bradford stays upright all season and plays to his potential, Rosen will start for the Cardinals at some point this season. He’s got the competitive mentality to thrive as an NFL starting quarterback, but some “experts” say his mouth will get him into trouble and might be why he wasn’t the first quarterback drafted. I wish all quarterbacks were as outspoken and confident as Rosen. He sounds like a human being instead of an NFL android. After the draft’s first round, he said, “There were nine mistakes made ahead of me, and I will make sure over the next decade or so that they know they made a mistake.” Randy Moss said something like that upon being drafted, and he followed through. I think Rosen will do the same.

Again, I’m no expert, but I only needed to see one highlight of Randy Moss against the University of Montana to know he was the best non-quarterback in the 1998 NFL Draft, which included the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy, Charles Woodson. Moss leaped over a Montana defender, which was against NCAA rules at the time but not called. I imagine the officials were too awestruck to remember the rule. The best part wasn’t how much clearance he had over the defender, but despite his momentum being slowed while floating through the air, he was at top speed in two steps, pulling away from everyone in pursuit. I’d never seen anything like him and knew he would be a star if he could stay out of trouble. I remember analysts predicting Moss would fall in the draft due to off-field concerns, of which I was aware. In fact, I hoped teams passed on him so he fell to my Vikings.

I was shocked 19 NFL teams passed on Moss. Cincinnati did so twice in favor of Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. General managers were afraid Moss wouldn’t be able to stay on the field let alone out of prison, which allowed the Minnesota Vikings to give me what remains to this day as my most joyous occasion associated with my Minnesota Vikings fandom. Stefon Diggs’s “Minnesota Miracle” catch to win the 2018 NFC Divisional Playoff Game over New Orleans didn’t even come close to matching the emotions that came over me the moment Randy Moss was drafted 21st overall on Apr. 18, 1998. I ran through my house screaming with joy as tears ran down my face. Sadly, it’s the happiest and proudest the Vikings have ever made me.  

Moss didn’t wait long to make me and the Vikings look like geniuses. He just had the best rookie season ever by a wide receiver, catching deep bombs from 35-year-old Randall Cunningham, who set career highs in net yards per pass attempt, touchdown percentage and quarterback rating. In fact, it was the only season Cunningham recorded a quarterback rating over 100.

Moss is the best wide receiver of all time, according to the statistical gurus at FiveThirtyEight, because he made his quarterbacks better than any other receiver in history. Moss remains the sole Hall of Famer from the 1998 NFL Draft class. Manning will be eligible for induction in 2021. I didn’t see anyone in the 2018 NFL Draft who screamed Hall of Famer like Moss did in 1998, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there.

The Best of the Best: The Baltimore Ravens traded down for value, up for the best quarterback

Heisman Trophy winners were selected at the top and bottom of the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round, and if my franchise needed a quarterback, I would have selected the quarterback taken last in the first round over the first quarterback selected.

I would have traded down to draft Lamar Jackson after Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen came off the board. In fact, just before my franchise was on the clock with the 30th pick and Kirk Cousins entrenched at quarterback for the next three years, I publicly hoped Jackson would fall to the Vikings and they would select him. I think he’s a better version of Teddy Bridgewater, and I enjoy watching quarterbacks who can extend plays with their legs.

NFL scouts and general managers don’t like their quarterbacks to be athletes, however. It’s too dangerous outside the pocket, which is probably why Jackson fell all the way to the bottom of the first round -- just like fellow Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did in 2014. Bridgewater entered his pro day considered by many as the top quarterback available in the draft, but his pro day was a disaster because he decided to do something he never had -- throw without wearing gloves.

While the decision cost Bridgewater in the draft, it worked out pretty well for the Vikings despite the career-threatening injury that resulted in the Vikings losing Bridgewater for almost two full seasons. Minnesota still got a competent starting quarterback who played at an All-Pro level and led his team to the playoffs in just his second NFL season. Despite the injury, Bridgewater ended up being a steal in more than one way.

With Bridgewater dropping on “experts” draft boards because of a hilariously small sample size of errant passes for which there was a reasonable explanation, the Vikings didn’t have to trade up for Bridgewater. They didn’t even have to use their first first-round pick. Instead, Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman waited for every other team to reach for a quarterback in another draft “experts” called deep with franchise quarterback potential.

Spielman let Jacksonville make the mistake of drafting Blake Bortles third overall. He let the Browns do their thing and trade up for Johnny Manziel at 22nd overall. But when Bridgewater was still on the board as Seattle was on the clock with the last pick in the first round, Spielman pounced, sending the Vikings’ 40th and 108th overall picks to the Seahawks to select Bridgewater, knowing that drafting Bridgewater in the first round instead of the second would allow the Vikings to retain Bridgewater on a rookie contract for five years instead of four.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome must have taken notes on Spielman’s moves in 2014, because he made almost the same exact draft day trade as Spielman for yet another Louisville quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round. Newsome was even more creative than Spielman was in the first round, though, culminating in Newsome’s best work in his final NFL Draft with Baltimore.

Instead of the Ravens using their first-round pick like the Vikings did selecting linebacker Anthony Barr ninth overall in 2014, Baltimore traded down twice. The Vikings had an immediate need at linebacker, however. The Ravens immediate needs entering the draft’s first round were wide receiver, quarterback and tight end. Four of the five quarterbacks “experts” considered to have franchise potential were already off the board, and the top wide receivers and tight ends weren’t expected to be drafted until around pick 20. So the Ravens didn’t necessarily need to make a selection with their 16th overall pick.

As if on cue, Buffalo came calling with another one of their generous trade proposals to move up and snag the 12th overall draft prospect according to “experts.” Baltimore got Buffalo’s 22nd and 65th overall picks for its 16th and 154th overall picks, turning its pick in the middle of the fifth round into a pick at the top of the third round, where an immediate contributor can still be drafted.

The Ravens weren’t done turning their willingness to wait into valuable draft picks. When they were on the clock at 22, there still hadn’t been a wide receiver drafted. So Newsome flipped that pick and their 215th overall pick in the sixth round for Tennessee’s 25th overall pick and the 125th pick in the fourth round. Newsome turned Baltimore’s late sixth-round pick into a selection in the heart of the fourth round -- just for the willingness to drop three spots in the draft.

Newsome and the Ravens were rewarded for their patience. By the time Baltimore finally made a selection, the top-ranked wide receiver, tight end and fifth-ranked quarterback were still available. D.J. Moore, the second-ranked wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft, was selected by Carolina just before Baltimore’s pick at 25, so the Ravens took the top tight end in the draft, Hayden Hurst. Hurst can stretch the middle of the field for Flacco and the Ravens, whose current tight end is more of a blocking specialist than route runner or receiver. Hurst isn’t going to be a game changer, but he’ll have an immediate impact.

Hurst isn’t the Ravens’ pick that’s getting all the attention, but it should be. The value Newsome got in return for trading down to draft Hurst is shocking. For the willingness to wait and drop nine spots in the NFL Draft’s first round, the Ravens were rewarded a pick atop the third round and another in the fourth round, all while sacrificing draft picks that seldom provide value to NFL teams.

According to Kevin Meers of The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, the 65th overall pick the Ravens got from Buffalo is more than twice as valuable as the 154th overall pick they sent in return -- an increase in value of nearly 108 percent. The 125th pick Baltimore plucked from Tennessee is 1.8 times more valuable than the 215th pick they sent back to the Titans, or an 80-percent increase in value.

Newsome didn’t sacrifice much value by trading down, either. Baltimore’s 16th overall pick was only 1.17 times more valuable than the 25th overall pick -- a 15 percent sacrifice in value. So Newsome’s trades to move down the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round actually increased the overall value of the Ravens’ draft picks by 173 percent.

Newsome thought he was done flipping picks on Day 1 of the draft until the final selection of the first round put Philadelphia on the clock with Jackson still available. Like Spielman, Newsome knew drafting Jackson in the first round would allow the Ravens to retain Jackson on a rookie contract for five years instead of four. So he sent Baltimore’s 52nd and 125th overall picks to Philadelphia for the 32nd and 132nd overall picks.

Newsome might have gotten an even better deal trading up for Jackson than the Vikings got trading up for Bridgewater, and I think they got a better quarterback, too. But the real beauty in Newsome’s work during the 2018 NFL Draft’s first round is all the value he created for Baltimore in the draft’s middle rounds by trading down in the first round to where he expected the players he desired would start coming off the board.

The Vikings’ Spielman made similar moves in the middle rounds of last year’s draft, scoring a starting center in the third round, and another rookie contributor in the fourth round. That’s why I called him the funnest general manager to watch on draft day. So far, Newsome has the Ravens setup for similar success, with a pick in round two and two picks in both the third and fourth rounds. In his final NFL Draft, Newsome has employed his experience and patience to leave a lasting legacy and a competitive Ravens roster for his replacement.


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The most recent World Health Organization rankings of the world’s health systems has the United States at 37th -- seven spots behind its neighbor to the north, Canada, and 19 spots behind its American predecessor, the United Kingdom. That might not seem so bad on a list 190 nations long, but the United States ranks last in health care system performance among the 11 richest countries included in a study conducted by The Commonwealth Fund. In that study, “the U.S. ranks last in Access, Equity, and Health Care Outcomes, and next to last in Administrative Efficiency, as reported by patients and providers.”

Much of our inflated health insurance premiums in America comes from paying to create your bill. That’s right -- 25 percent of total U.S. hospital costs are administrative costs. The United States had the highest administrative costs of the eight countries studied by The Commonwealth Fund. Scotland and Canada had the lowest, and reducing U.S. per capita spending for hospital administration to Scottish or Canadian levels would have saved more than $150 billion in 2011.

Treating healthcare like any other marketplace requires careful, complicated codification of products sold and services rendered. People must be paid to determine how much your healthcare costs, and that can’t be changed, but it can be improved upon. Allowing insurance companies to profit from people’s health makes for a marketplace in which every cent of cost is counted and every penny of profit is protected. Profit motive always results in more scrutiny by the haves at the expense of the have-nots.

You might think that an industry that preys on the unhealthy and the healthy alike would prefer their consumers healthy as to enjoy the profits from your premium payments without paying for healthcare. But the cost of your health insurance premium already includes your health insurer’s profit margin. The health insurer is going to do all it can assure a certain amount a profit except for a catastrophic health emergency that consumes the country. But if the consuming population is unhealthy relative to other markets, the health insurer has good reason to inflate prices to cover its projected costs. That is indeed the case in the United States.

The United States is the 34th healthiest nation in the world, according to 24/7 Wall St. That’s not terrible, but not what you probably expect from a nation advertised by Americans as the greatest in the world. And you’re paying for it.

Not unlike a mortgage or auto insurance premium, the cost of your health insurance premium is an average based on the health insurer’s risk. That risk is the potential costs the health insurer could incur based on the perceived health of its insured consumers. I’ve written in the past how Republicans can’t repeal and replace Obamacare because their constituents, most of whom reside in the South, need Obamacare. Southerners are the least healthy Americans, with 20 percent reporting fair or poor health in 2014. The South also has the highest rates for diabetes, obesity and infant mortality in the nation. The South also accounts for nearly as many uninsured people as the rest of America combined, and 17 percent of the uninsured fall into the coverage gap for Medicaid expansion. Your health insurance premiums pay for their healthcare as well as your own, which is why, given the current for-profit health insurance marketplace, I would welcome a fat tax.

A fat tax is a tax on fat people. People who live unhealthy lifestyles should pay more for health insurance. As a healthy consumer of health insurance, I’d prefer to pay a lower premium given my dedication to maintaining good health at the expense of those who refuse to maintain good health. I might be fat shaming some people, but I don’t care. I shouldn’t have to pay for your diabetes because you can’t resist stuffing your face with Twinkies. Maintaining your health is your responsibility and no one else’s, and you should be punished for failing to maintain good health at the expense of your neighbors. But since something that could ever be referred to as a fat tax by the opposition would never pass Congress, a rewarding people with discounts for their healthy habits would be much more likely.

I foresee this program as mirroring the Progressive auto insurance Snapshot program -- “a program that personalizes your rate based on your ACTUAL driving.” Instead of plugging a device into your car, you’d use a Fitbit or similar health monitoring device with a heart rate monitor. Couple your daily monitoring of your exercise and diet with the results of regular checkups with your physician to confirm your healthy habits and you’ll be given a discount on your monthly health insurance premium as determined by your overall health.

Simply scheduling and completing regular checkups will help lower premium prices by catching things early and allowing for preventative medicine to work rather than resorting to more expensive reactionary measures. That could be the first discount bracket: schedule and complete a physical twice annually for two percent off your monthly premium. That way everyone at least has a chance to save some money. Those who fail to do so will pick up the tab.

The real discounts will be reserved for those consumers who regularly show signs of living a healthy lifestyle. People who don’t use tobacco products would receive a one-percent discount on their monthly premiums that the insurer will recoup from charging tobacco users with a one-percent premium penalty.

Non-drinkers would also receive a one-percent discount, as alcohol is a cancer-causing carcinogen and dangerous when consumed irresponsibly. Accessing a penalty for drinking, however, would be problematic, as social and occasional drinkers shouldn’t be penalized for enjoying alcohol responsibly. But say you get a ticket for driving while intoxicated -- that’s two percent tacked onto your health insurance premium for putting your own health and the health of your neighbors at risk. The same goes for possession of illegal drugs, except cannabis. No discount or penalty would be accessed for cannabis use since it is proven to kill cancer cells and be of medical value.

Even if you are a tobacco user and a heavy drinker or drug user, you too deserve opportunities to lower your health insurance premiums. So anyone who meets the Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for weekly exercise for a month gets a one-percent discount on their premium the following month. That’s just 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly. Add that to the two-percent discount for completing bi-annual physicals, and you could offset the penalties of driving under the influence and smoking.

Big money will be saved based on your body fat. If an adult male or female maintains an athletic body fat percentage (between five and 10 percent for males and between eight and 15 percent for females), they get an additional two-percent premium discount on top of the two percent for completing bi-annual physicals. That same two percent would have to be paid by someone, though, so it would fall on the obese.

Adult males with a body fat percentage over 24 and adult females with a body fat percentage over 37 would receive a two-percent premium penalty. If they make their two appointments for physicals annually, there wouldn’t be any change to their bill. The overweight, being males with body fat percentages between 21 and 24 and females with body fat percentages between 31 and 36, would receive a one-percent premium penalty.

Adult men with body fat percentages between 11 and 14 and women between 16 and 23 would get a one-percent discount for maintaining a “good” body fat percentage. Those men with body fat percentages between 15 and 20 and women with body fat percentages between 24 and 30 would pay no penalty nor receive a discount for maintaining “acceptable” body fat percentages.

These discounts and penalties would motivate consumers to improve their health in order to save money, in turn, lowering premiums for everyone by improving the overall health of all consumers in the marketplace. The higher the U.S. climbs out of that 34th spot in overall health, the less everyone pays in health insurance premiums.

I pay roughly $135 monthly in health insurance premiums for a high-deductible, Bronze package I found on MNSure -- Minnesota’s equivalent to the Obamacare marketplace. I maintain an athletic body fat percentage under 10 (two-percent discount). I exercise and regularly exceed the Department of Health and Human Services’ weekly recommendations (one-percent discount). I don’t smoke (one-percent discount), and I don’t drink (one-percent discount). I saw my doctor twice last year (two-percent discount). Add it all up and I’d save seven percent on my monthly health insurance premiums, or a measly $9.45 monthly. That’s over $113 annually, though, much of which would be recouped from the penalties assessed to the unhealthy. I could think of a lot of things on which I could spend that $113. It would be nice to be able to afford a steak once in a while.

While Medicare-for-All is picking up steam in Liberal circles, it’s still at least three years away from being seriously considered by Congress as a solution to ever-increasing healthcare costs. Meanwhile, here’s a solution that addresses two problems: ever-increasing healthcare costs and the declining health of Americans overall.


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The Minnesota Wild parted ways with general manager Chuck Fletcher on Monday after a nine-season tenure that saw the Wild reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for six consecutive seasons, but fail to get out of the second round.

Joe Bouley over at Hockey Wilderness tabs Toronto’s Kyle Dubas, Tampa’s Julien Briesbois, Nashville’s Paul Fenton and Pittsburgh’s Bill Guerin as potential replacements. Regardless of who takes the Wild reigns, they’ll inherit quite the mess from Fletcher.

The Wild’s Mess

According to Sportrac, the Wild have just over $10 million in cap space to work with next season. Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Nick Seeler and Ryan Murphy are all restricted free agents. Zucker made $2 million in 2017-18 and will demand a considerable raise. He was third on his team in relative Fenwick at even strength and fourth on his team in relative Corsi at even strength. Dumba made $2.55 million and will also demand a raise, setting career highs in just about every category. He even matched his career-high plus-minus of 15 set last season.

The new Wild general manager won’t likely let Zucker or Dumba go, and Murphy and Seeler were both positive contributors in 2017-18, too. Murphy’s relative Fenwick at even strength of 1.4 was a career high, and Seeler’s relative Fenwick of .9 was respectable in his first season. Murphy earned $700,000 in 2017-18, and Seeler made $717,500.

So if Fletcher’s replacement signs all four of the Wild’s restricted free agents to contracts, there won’t likely be money to spend on unrestricted free agents, which means trades will have to be made in order for the Wild to improve the roster. Luckily, the Wild have a whole bunch of picks in the 2018 NHL Draft and some trade chips worth something.

The Wild’s Ammo

The Wild have a first-round pick, three third-round picks, two fifth-round picks, and a sixth- and seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Whether the incoming general manager is of the opinion that it’s time for the Wild to blow it up and rebuild or just a few pieces away from contending for a championship will determine how the Wild’s ammo will be utilized. But it’s hard to blow up a team that’s paying more than $15 million annually to two players who can’t be traded (Ryan Suter and Zach Parise).

The Wild might have the most valuable trade chip on the table, though, in center Eric Staal. Staal, at 33, finished fourth in goals scored and 26th in the league in points, and he’s owed just $3.5 million next season -- the final year of his deal with the Wild. Staal has said he and his family are comfortable in Minnesota, but a long-term extension is unlikely this offseason given the Wild’s lack of salary cap flexibility. Stall might have to be traded just to remedy the situation.

Potential Wild Offseason Moves

Trade Marcus Foligno and Mikko Koivu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Josh Anderson and draft pick(s)

One of Fletcher’s most recent offseason acquisitions just didn’t pan out. The Wild needed a guy who could deliver hits, sure, but his average time on ice dropped more than four minutes, resulting in 34 percent fewer hits than his monster season last year when he delivered 279 hits for Buffalo. And while his possession metrics were the best they’ve been since 2012-13, left wing has become a position of depth for the Wild with the addition of Jordan Greenway and Parise recovering from back surgery (only to enter another offseason with an injury).

The Columbus Blue Jackets need a third-line left wing with Matt Calvert’s contract coming off the books, and Marcus’s older brother Nick is already the center on the Blue Jackets’ third line. Dumping the $2.875 million the Wild owe Foligno each of the next three seasons would be a good place for the new Wild GM to start cleaning up Fletcher’s salary cap mess. The Wild could always sign free agents Patrick Maroon (+1, 4.2 relative Corsi, 4.1 relative Fenwick) or Jussi Jokinen (+7, 0.8 Corsi, 0.8 Fenwick) to fill the left wing position on the third or fourth lines.

 The Blue Jackets have one draft pick in each of the first, second, third, sixth and seventh rounds, but packaging Foligno with, say, Mikko Koivu, could really go far in clearing the cap space necessary to extend Staal.

The Blue Jackets have roughly $17 million in cap space for next season, with only third-line defenseman Ryan Murray a restricted free agent worthy of a contract offer. The Blue Jackets’ fourth-line center Mark Letestu will also be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Acquiring Koivu would allow the Folignos to move down to the fourth line and second-line center Alexander Wennberg, 23, to skate third-line minutes. The move would transfer $8,375,000 from the Wild’s books to the Blue Jackets’ for the next two years, and Koivu’s $5.5 million in 2019-20 as well.

Coming back to the Wild could be Columbus’s third-line right wing Josh Anderson, controlled through 2019-20 at the modest price of $1.85 million annually. Currently, the Wild have just two healthy right wings on the roster in Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. Rookie Kyle Rau was playing on the third line with Parise hurt in the playoffs. Anderson, 23, logged an impressive 3.3 relative Corsi and 3.2 relative Fenwick during 986.9 minutes at even strength, and would be a considerable upgrade to unrestricted free agent Daniel Winnik, who posted a relative Corsi and relative Fenwick of -3.1 as the Wild’s fourth-line right winger.

The Wild should also get a high-round draft pick from Columbus in exchange for Koivu, but probably not the first-rounder. The Wild adding a second-round selection in a draft expected to be deep with talent would be an exceptional return for their captain, Koivu. The trade would leave the Wild with $6.525 million in cap space to extend Staal or do something else if they choose to trade Staal.

Trade or Extend Eric Staal?

Staal is coming off his best offensive season in a decade, so he’s going to demand Parise and Suter money to make up for the measly $3.5 million annual salary he was paid this year and last. But at 33, he might be signing his last contract, so much of his salary could be backloaded to give the Wild some salary cap flexibility in these years they are cleaning up Fletcher’s mess and transitioning to a new general manager.

The smart move would be to hold off on trading or extending Staal this offseason and hope he comes back strong in the first half of 2018-19, attracting interest from contending teams prior to the trade deadline. This would give the new Wild general manager at least a little time to evaluate 20-year-old center Luke Kunin, who will likely miss the start of the 2018-19 season recovering from an ACL tear in his left knee.

Even if Kunin shows the potential to be a top-line center right away, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to retain Staal as a mentor. The Wild could still sign Staal as an unrestricted free agent next offseason even after trading him for something at the deadline. Or the Wild could simply retain Staal, work Kunin into the lineup and make the playoffs again. It’s a nice problem to have, and one of the two moves of the Fletcher era that worked to perfection (the other being goalie Devan Dubnyk).

Regardless, the Minnesota Wild general manager job might not be that attractive to potential candidates, but whoever takes over the Wild not only inherits a mess, but an opportunity to contend immediately or the means to blow it all up and rebuild.


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