Anthony Varriano

Anthony Varriano

If you’re a cannabis user living in one of the 42 states where cannabis is still illegal without a prescription, you’re probably planning to march down to your capitol building and lobby your representatives to end cannabis prohibition on April 20. To effectively lobby your representatives requires more than just the commitment to get off the couch one day a year to sit down with your representatives, or more likely, representatives of your representatives, and requesting they support legislation to legalize cannabis in your state.

I was lucky enough to win a scholarship from Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) to lobby my representatives in Washington D.C. in June of 2013 to legalize cannabis federally. It was a most rewarding experience, and I picked up a few things at a lobbying training seminar led by then executive director of SSDP, Aaron Houston. So here’s the cannabis user’s guide to lobbying on 4/20.

1. Don’t be Stoned

You have to understand that your representative isn’t going to appreciate you wasting his or her time or the time of his or her staff with your drug-induced ramblings. Even if you are a capable orator under the influence, just the appearance or odor of being stoned can undo all your good work and that of your sober comrades.

Getting arrested for smoking a joint at your capitol doesn’t look good, either, so if you must smoke, stay at home on 4/20, where you can still submit a comment to the Food and Drug Administration to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs. The FDA is requesting interested persons to submit comments concerning abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use of five drug substances: the cannabis plant and resin, extracts and tinctures of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, stereoisomers of tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol. Comments are due by April 23.

2. Dress to Impress

If you wish to be treated as an equal by your representatives or their representatives, dressing as they do is a good place to start. You can’t expect your representatives to thoughtfully consider your recommendations if you’re wearing sweatpants and tennis shoes and look like you just rolled out of bed.

The dress code for members of state congress is business professional, which is exactly what you should be wearing while working in their arena. That’s either a suit or a collared shirt, slacks, a tie and dress shoes for men, and a business suit or an appropriate blouse and skirt or dress for women. “Appropriate,” in this case, refers to an appropriate amount of naked skin displayed, which should never be used as a means to your end. You want your representative to respect you, not covet you.

3. Sell Yourself

You’re not just selling your stance; you’re selling yourself. There’s hardly an instance you’re not selling yourself, but in this case, it’s especially important to approach the lobbying of your representatives as you would a job interview. Your interviewers should want to have you back when you leave.

Your representatives can’t dislike you and like your stance. They have to like you before they will even consider your stance. The old saying “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is never more true than when lobbying your representatives. Turn up the charm to 11. Smile, and if you can make your representative laugh, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your first goal in lobbying your representatives: being liked.

4. Appeal to the Heart, Not the Head

It might not seem like it at times, but politicians are people, too. They have family and friends they love just like you, and appealing to their feelings will force them to empathize with you. Tell them a personal story of why you use cannabis and how it has helped you. Make yourself the hero of your story and make it easily relatable.

For example: “I suffer from degenerative disc disease that causes chronic lower back pain. Upon being diagnosed at 23 years old, I was immediately prescribed opioids to manage the pain. The plan was to manage the pain until it became surgical, which is when the pain travels down the back of a leg and past the knee. It took a year for my pain to become surgical, and had I not applied for and received a medical marijuana prescription in Montana during that time, I’d either be addicted to opioids or dead.

Once I received my medical marijuana prescription I had no need for the opioids, the dosage of which had increased almost every time I needed a refill. Cannabis is a safer and healthier means of managing chronic pain than opioids, and research has shown that medical marijuana laws may reduce deaths from opioid overdoses.

But people are struggling with ailments and diseases for which medical marijuana prescriptions aren’t allowed, too. I am also an alcoholic, and I’ve been alcohol-free since October 4, 2017. But I couldn’t imagine kicking alcohol without cannabis, and I and thousands of other alcoholics don’t qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions to treat our disease. Instead, we’re called criminals for treating our disease in a safe and healthy manner. So cannabis, a drug that’s never killed a single soul, remains illegal while more than 1,000 Minnesotans die annually from alcohol.”

A cannabis prohibitionist needs a reason to change their mind on cannabis legalization. If they find out their alcoholic family member could quit drinking with the help of cannabis, they’d be more likely to adopt your stance than if you were to feed them a bunch of statistics about fewer fewer deaths in states where medical marijuana is legal.

5. Remember, You’re the Expert, Not Them

Your representatives are overwhelmed with legislation spanning a multitude of topics, so it’s unlikely they have a firm grasp on a specific topic unless it’s one of their campaign talking points. Given the reluctance of just about every politician to openly discuss cannabis, in almost every instance, you will know more about cannabis and the effects of cannabis prohibition than your representatives.

You are not lobbying your representatives because of your good looks. You’re lobbying your representatives because you know something they don’t that will help inform their eventual decisions on the matter. Deliver your message knowing you are an authority on the subject, and the confidence you exude will go a long way in persuading your representatives.


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You’re no doubt familiar with the name Robert Mueller and his investigation into the Trump campaign’s affiliations and alleged involvement in the Russian campaign to interfere with the 2016 Presidential Election. You’ve probably heard that Facebook was used by Russians to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election, and you’re no doubt aware that the Facebook data of more than 87 million users was obtained by Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2016 Presidential election. But you’re probably still wondering how this all happened, and we’re all wondering who’s guilty.

The question no one’s asking, however, is why a campaign calling to “Make America Great Again” by growing jobs and the American economy spent almost $6 million to employ an analytics firm in the United Kingdom with employees from the U.K. and Canada?

What Happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Facebook chairman and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg is testifying before Congress this week, but his prepared testimony is already available, and he won’t likely stray far from it regardless of the questions asked by the Senate Judiciary Commerce Committees at 1:15 p.m. CST on Tuesday and House Energy and Commerce Committee at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Here’s what happened in Zuckerberg’s own written words.

“In 2007...we enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them...In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who agreed to share some of their Facebook information as well as some information from their friends whose privacy settings allowed it...Kogan was able to access some information about tens of millions of their friends.”

“In 2014...we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the Facebook information apps could access. Most importantly, apps like Kogan’s could no longer ask for information about a person’s friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. We also required developers to get approval from Facebook before they could request any data beyond a user’s public profile, friend list, and email address.”

“In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica...we immediately banned Kogan’s app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and other entities he gave the data to, including Cambridge Analytica, formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data -- which they ultimately did.”

“Last month, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified. We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to investigate this.”

So the first thing we learn from Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony is that Facebook failed to protect the data of our friends from third-party app developers if our friends’ privacy settings allowed the sharing of some of their personal information. It took Facebook seven years to right that wrong. Even after doing so, Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to simply “certify” that they had deleted the data instead of proving they had deleted the data. “Clearly it was a mistake to believe them,” Zuckerberg said during the hearing, Tuesday.

The last, and most important thing we learn from Zuckerberg’s prepared testimony is that without the work of journalists, Facebook wouldn’t be aware of its mistakes in order to rectify them, providing just another reason for the importance of a free press. This while the government is compiling a database of journalists, where they reside, what they write and for whom in the interest of homeland security. Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Houlton asserted on Twitter that the list is “standard practice of monitoring current events in the media,” but the list’s existence will scare aspiring journalists from the trade like similar lists scared patients from applying for medical marijuana prescriptions in Montana. I personally heard from multiple Montanans who chose to continue self-medicating their conditions with marijuana illegally for fear of being found out by the federal government as a user of cannabis.

Who is Guilty of What

Facebook is only guilty of being careless. Zuckerberg nor his company can be charged with a crime, but they failed to notify the more than 87 million users that their information had been acquired by Cambridge Analytica. They also failed to make sure that data was not available for further exploitation by Cambridge Analytica by accepting Cambridge’s word that the data had been deleted. Judging from the effects of Zuckerberg’s failure to accept blame for Cambridge Analytica’s deceptive data mining and the effects of his recent testimony, that mistake won’t be made again.

On March 27, when Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie dismissed earlier claims from Cambridge Analytica that the firm had not used Facebook data, Facebook’s stock price was $152.22 -- down from 185.09 on March 16. Facebook’s stock price was up 4.55 percent to $165.11 as Zuckerberg testified on Tuesday. Cambridge Analytica won’t be so lucky.

A slew of Cambridge Analytica employees are likely guilty of violating the federal law prohibiting foreign nationals from “directly or indirectly participat[ing] in the decision-making process of any...political committee...such as decisions concerning the making of...expenditures, or disbursements in connection with elections for any Federal, State, or local office,” according to a complaint by Common Cause submitted to the Department of Justice.

“[Former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher] Wylie said that many foreign nationals worked on the campaigns, and many were embedded in the campaigns around the U.S.” Wylie told NBC News that there were “three or four full-time [Cambridge Analytica] staffers embedded in [Thom] Tillis’s campaign on the ground in Raleigh,” North Carolina.

A second Cambridge Analytica staffer said the “team handling the data and data modeling back in London was largely Eastern European and did not include any Americans.” On March 25, the Washington Post published that “Cambridge Analytica assigned dozens of non-U.S. citizens to provide campaign strategy and messaging advice to Republican candidates in 2014, according to three former workers of the data firm...Many of those employees and contractors were involved in helping to decide what voters to target with political messages and what messages to deliver to them.”

Cambridge Analytica’s “dirty little secret was that there was no one American involved...working on an American election,” Wylie said. One Cambridge Analytica document obtained by the Washington Post explained, “For the Art Robinson for Congress campaign, Cambridge Analytica SCL assumed a comprehensive set of responsibilities and effectively managed the campaign in its entirety.” The New York Times reported that the John Bolton Super PAC “first hird Cambridge Analytica in August 2014” and “was writing up talking points for Mr. Bolton.” Cambridge Analytica also “helped design concepts for advertisements for candidates by Mr. Bolton’s PAC, including the 2014 campaign of Thom Tillis, the Republican senator from North Carolina, according to Mr. Wylie and another former employee.”

Mother Jones reported the deep involvement of Cambridge Analytica staff in the management and decision-making in Senator Ted Cruz’s 2016 Presidential campaign. “Cambridge Analytica was put in charge of the entire data and digital operation, embedding 12 of its employees in Houston.”

So there’s ample evidence that many employees of Cambridge Analytica have violated the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibiting foreign nationals from participating in the decision-making process of any political committee with regard to such person’s Federal or nonfederal election-related activities. But why isn’t the Trump campaign and fellow Republican campaigns subject to punishment for hiring foreign agents to participate in American elections?

Following the Money

Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. paid Cambridge Analytica almost $6 million to effect the 2016 Presidential Election. Cruz for President also paid Cambridge Analytica almost $6 million to effect the 2016 Presidential Election. Make America Number 1 paid Cambridge Analytica almost $1.5 million during the 2016 election cycle.

The John Bolton Super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1 million during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. The North Carolina Republican Party paid Cambridge Analytica more than $200,000 over the same period.

These are all Republican campaigns, supporting Republican candidates who, allegedly, want nothing more than to create American jobs and a thriving American economy. But they’re not putting their money where their mouth is. Giving more than $16 million to an analytics firm in the United Kingdom does nothing to improve the economy or create jobs in America, which is why the Trump campaign and other Republican campaigns are more guilty than Facebook and even Cambridge Analytica.

The Federal Election Campaign Act should not only prohibit foreign nationals from participating in and effecting American elections, but prohibit campaigns from spending campaign funds on services provided by foreign entities.

We can’t stop campaigns from purchasing products made outside America’s borders. Not much is produced in America anymore. But when it comes to services like catering, polling, marketing and advertising, campaign spending should be limited to those firms that reside in America in the interest of protecting the integrity of American elections and growing the American economy. It’s hypocritical of the Trump campaign to run on a slogan of “Make America Great Again” and then spend its money to grow un-American economies and jobs. Regardless of what the Mueller investigation uncovers, the Trump campaign is already guilty of selling out America.


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I don’t enjoy writing the “fire the coach/GM” letter. I hope no one does. Calling people’s job performance into question publicly isn’t something I long to do. I’m not the current President. Firing people isn’t my thing. But when I feel a change is needed to improve the product for which I and my neighbors pay handsomely, I’m not going to bite my tongue and suffer in silence.

Twice I've written letters calling for sports executives to be fired, and in both instances they were. On Oct. 17, 2011, I called for Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith to resign. Less than a month later, he was dismissed. On July 14, 2016, I called for most of the Twins’ front office to be fired, including Smith’s predecessor and replacement, Terry Ryan. Four days later Ryan was fired.

It’s not that I think these “fire the coach/GM” pieces actually instigate change. I doubt they even reach the decision-makers. But they make me feel better and, hopefully, provide you some insight into the thoughts and feelings of a frustrated season ticket holder and the reasons for that frustration.

In the past, I wrote my “fire the coach/GM” letters in reactionary anger. They were fueled mostly by emotion, not logic. With Ryan, it was an inactive trade deadline that set me to punching the keys. With Smith, a slew of bad trades got me started down the same path (JJ Hardy, Johan Santana, Wilson Ramos). Only the Twins’ on-field success kept me from writing. But when Smith traded Delmon Young for Minnesota local, lefty Cole Nelson in A-ball and Lester Oliveros, I had had enough. I didn’t need to know both players’ careers would end three years later to know the trade was no good for the Twins. And while Delmon Young was hardly a hot commodity, he did go on to carry the Detroit Tigers to a World Series, winning ALCS MVP honors the following season -- a year after posting an 1.170 OPS in 21 plate appearances for the Tigers in the 2011 ALDS.

This time I’m taking a different, more reserved approach. I’ve been putting this off for months with hopes of Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau giving me a reason not to write this. He hasn’t, so I am.

I’ve been a supporter of Thibodeau’s since his first season with the Chicago Bulls. In fact, I hadn’t watched an NBA game since Jordan’s last in 2003 until Thibodeau took over in Chicago and installed an attitude instead of an offense. The Bulls’ physicality on defense was nostalgic in its ferocity, raising memories of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman frustrating the hell out of everyone they guarded. I always liked the idea of figuratively “punching opponents in the mouth” and literally hurting them with physical play on defense.

I enjoyed watching low-scoring games in which baskets were hard to get, and scars and bruises were just the price paid to play in the paint. I loved hard fouls, not because of the violence or the further potential for violence they sometimes instigated, but because I am a firm believer that if you’re the last line of defense between your opponent and the basket, and your opponent gets by you, it’s your job to make sure your opponent doesn’t hit a shot. And if you could put them on their ass in the process of fouling, you did your job, even if your opponent hits the foul shots. Now everything’s a flagrant foul and players on defense are more apt to shy away from contact rather than initiate it.  

I so wanted Thibodeau to succeed while much of the league started exploiting the three-point line. I feel like it was the last chance to save basketball as I knew and loved it, and Thibodeau inherited a pretty good team when he left Boston for Chicago. The Bulls finished at .500 the season prior to Thibodeau’s arrival and were 11th in defensive efficiency but 27th in offensive efficiency.

Thibodeau made me look like a genius that first season, as the Bulls finished first in the Central Division at 62-20, 11th in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency. But was it Thibodeau who made me look like a genius or league MVP Derrick Rose? It certainly wasn’t Thibodeau’s offensive schemes, which boiled down to Rose playing in isolation, driving the lane, with or without a screen, and either dishing or finishing.

Not much has changed, except instead of Rose driving and dishing or finishing, it’s Jeff Teague dribbling and dribbling and dribbling until the shot clock expires. Teague can’t finish at the rim like Rose could, so defenders happily trap him under the basket where they know he can’t finish over them and an interior pass is difficult. Teague can’t hit the three, either, so defenders can play him closer to the rim, limiting the effectiveness of Teague’s dribble drive. It’s hard to beat a defender off the dribble when he’s so far away, and if there’s no help needed to defend against the dribble drive, there’s nobody left open to take a shot off Teague’s pass.

Thibodeau has done very little on the offensive end to adapt to the players he has and the skills they possess. It’s still isolation plays in a spread offense with virtually no movement away from the ball except the occasional high pick and roll. He’s not putting his players in a position to find success or even an open shot. Phil Mackey crunched some numbers at NBA.com, and the Wolves take more contested shots than any team in the NBA and take the second fewest wide open shots. A team that struggles shooting like the Wolves needs all the open shots it can get.

Thibodeau has long been known to be a defensive guru, but his offensive schemes leave much to be desired. The Timberwolves didn’t hire him to improve their offense, though. It was already ranked 12th in efficiency before he got there, thanks to an effective facilitator in Ricky Rubio, whom Thibodeau traded for Oklahoma City’s 2018 first round draft pick and cap space to sign Teague. Thibodeau blew up a successful offense to add a score-first point guard on a team with its three top scoring options already established. It seems Thibodeau thought he could just assemble five effective scorers and not have to worry about designing offensive schemes for them. If they can all create their own shot, there’s no need to run a play, right? But this time he didn’t have a 22-year-old Rose to hide his lack of offensive ingenuity behind highlight reel finishes at the rim.

So Thibodeau made the move that sold seats at the newly renovated Target Center and gave Wolves fans reason for hope. He traded for Jimmy Butler -- a trade that already looks like Chicago won despite almost everyone in the sports media agreeing the Wolves had fleeced the Bulls on draft day. Regardless of who won the trade, the Wolves won my money. I became a season ticket holder because Butler was coming to town (and the seats at Target Center were comfortable). He was my favorite player in the league at the time because, again, he plays defense, and does it better than almost anyone. Since he’s been gone, we’ve all seen how truly invaluable he is. Before Butler went down with a torn meniscus, the Wolves had the eighth best net rating in basketball (2.6). Since Butler’s injury, the Wolves are 19th in net rating (-1.0).

Butler was Thibodeau’s way of covering for his weak defenders until they learned how to play defense. Correcting poor footwork takes time. You can’t blame Thibodeau for the poor defense of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Expecting him to turn Towns into the young Joakim Noah (4.2 DBPM in 2010-11) and Wiggins into Ronnie Brewer (3.2 DBPM in 2010-11) in two seasons is unfair. Noah was already an elite defender before Thibodeau arrived (3.3 DBPM in 2009-10, his third season after four years in college), and Brewer was already trending up in his fourth season (1.6 DBPM in 2009-10). Wiggins is also trending up on defense in his fourth season, albeit from a lower starting point. His -1.5 DBPM this season is a vast improvement on the -2.9 and -2.5 DBPM he posted the two previous seasons. Towns’s 1.0 DBPM is better than positional peers Kevin Love (-1.5), Channing Frye (-1.0), Tristan Thompson (-0.7), Tyler Zeller (-0.6) and Robin Lopez (-0.2).

Both Towns and Wiggins have the offensive ability to make up for their subpar defense, though. So if they aren’t scoring -- a lot -- they’re a liability. With Butler gone, they’re the top two scoring options -- just like they were last year. Towns gets the touches on offense to cover for his defensive shortcomings. He had 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting for a +10 rating in Denver, Thursday night.

Wiggins doesn’t get those dedicated touches Towns demands in the paint, however. He has to settle for Teague’s desperation passes when his dribble drive fails to draw a helper on defense, which never leaves Wiggins an open shot and forces him to shake a defender before settling for a contested jump shot at the end of the shot clock. Wiggins is at his best when driving to the basket, but you don’t see too many high pick and roll plays called for him. In fact, it’s as if Thibodeau’s spread offense has gone and made the Wolves’ best athlete into a spot-up shooter, and a bad one at that. Wiggins had nine points on Thursday night on four-of-12 shooting, and the Wolves allowed 13 net points while Wiggins was on the floor. He needed to score 22 to avoid being a liability. If the defense isn’t there yet, the offense must be, or there’s no reason to have Wiggins on the court. The Wolves were 11 net points better with Jamal Crawford and 24 points better with Rose on the court. They scored nine and four points, respectively, but were buoyed by their defensive ability.

Minnesota doesn’t have much time to rebuild their chemistry with Butler, but they’ll immediately be better thanks to Butler guarding the opposition’s best player whenever possible. What’s worrisome is that Butler’s addition doesn’t seem to be showing itself in the numbers. Minnesota’s defense was 27th in efficiency last year, and the Wolves remain the 27th-ranked team in defensive efficiency after adding one of the best two-way players in the game. Butler’s DBPM is just .1 this season, a career low and way down from the 1.1 he posted last year. His defensive rating is also at a career low this season, so Butler is having a down year on defense, and his offensive numbers are understandably down having gone from a team where he was the scoring option to a team with ample scoring options.

All that said, after the season, regardless of outcome, Thibodeau should step down as the Timberwolves head coach. I don’t have much faith in his ability to act as president of basketball operations, either, but he did bring me Jimmy Butler, and for that I am forever grateful. For that, he should remain the president of basketball operations. I don’t even mind him serving as a defensive coordinator on the coaching staff, but the best thing he could do as president of basketball operations is go out and hire the offensive Yin to his defensive Yang. The Timberwolves could have avoided giving Thibodeau so much control and just hired David Blatt like Joseph Gill recommended at SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus back in January of 2016. But Thibodeau can make it up to them by hiring Blatt himself. It would be a classy move and allow Thibodeau to focus on team-building and management, so Minnesotans have a quality basketball team worth watching for years to come.

If Thibodeau fails to win a playoff series, he isn’t going to be on the hot seat. But the Tweeters are rumbling and the word “fire” is being thrown around the Internet. That’s the spark that leads to letters like these being sent to ownership and published online, and then as letters to the editor in newspapers (although getting this down to 700 words will be a challenge).

You have to give Thibodeau some props, though. Despite running his players into the ground under an avalanche of minutes, potentially shortening Derrick Rose’s and Joakim Noah’s careers, and being known for having an abrasive attitude, his former players love and defend him. Without Thibodeau, the Wolves wouldn’t have Jimmy Butler or a shot to make the playoffs, so despite me calling for the end of his head coaching career, I’m just like one of his players. I love Thibodeau for giving me a reason to watch professional basketball again, and I’ll defend his ability to build a winner, but I can’t defend his offensive strategy anymore. 1953 called, Tom. It wants its pace and playbook back.


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The best days of the Minnesota sports year are here, and I’m not just saying that because Target Field opens its gates for baseball on Thursday. The Minnesota Twins are, as of this writing, playing their home opener against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon.

Even if the foot of snow the Twin Cities received Tuesday doesn’t melt by game time or more rain and snow moves into the area forcing a postponement, at least Minnesota sports fans will have two more games to watch later that night. Both the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves play games that could affect the postseason, and both play at the same time, which is frustrating and frankly, should be illegal.

Thursday is going to be the best day of the Minnesota sports season. That is until Saturday, April 14, when four professional sports teams in Minnesota could all play on the same day for the first time ever. We know the Twins and Minnesota United FC (MNUFC or Loons for short) will be in action. But with the NBA Playoffs set to begin that same day, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs also underway, Minnesota sports fans could watch their home teams for up to 11 consecutive hours on April 14. The Twins host the Chicago White Sox at 1:10 p.m. CDT and MNUFC’s match in Portland kicks off at 9:30 p.m. That leaves plenty of room in the television schedule for both the Wolves and Wild.

These really are the best days of the Minnesota sports year, and they’ll continue for as long as the Wild and Timberwolves allow. Here’s the potential schedule for the best days of the Minnesota sports year. You’ll notice this is not a complete schedule of upcoming sporting events featuring a team from Minnesota. Days during which just one Minnesota sports team plays a game are not included. Each day listed has the potential for at least two games to be played by a team from Minnesota. All times are Central. Asterisks indicate a potential game not yet scheduled. Check back for updates.

Thursday, April 5

  • MLB Home Opener: Twins vs. Seattle Mariners, 3:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Wild @ Los Angeles Kings, 9:30 p.m. on FSN
  • Timberwolves @ Denver Nuggets, 9:30 p.m. on TNT

Saturday, April 7

  • Twins vs. Seattle Mariners, 1:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Wild @ San Jose Sharks, 9:30 p.m. on FSN

Monday, April 9

  • Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 7 p.m. on FSN Plus
  • Twins vs. Houston Astros, 7:10 p.m. on FSN

Wednesday, April 11

Friday, April 13:

  • Twins vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, 6:30 p.m. on USA

Saturday, April 14

  • Twins vs. Chicago White Sox, 1:10 p.m.
  • Minnesota United FC @ Portland Timbers, 9:30 p.m. on FSN

Sunday, April 15

Tuesday, April 17

  • Twins vs. Cleveland Indians, 6:10 p.m. on FS1 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4: Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7 p.m. on CNBC

Wednesday, April 18

  • Twins vs. Cleveland Indians, 6:10 p.m. on ESPN in San Juan, Puerto Rico
      • José Berríos is scheduled to start this one in his home state of Puerto Rico, just 20 minutes from where he grew up in Bayamon. Berríos is an excitable, emotional player who obviously loves the game. He shed tears of joy when he was drafted by the Twins, who looked past his control issues to draft him with the 32nd overall pick in 2012 because of his electric stuff. If you watched Berríos struggle to an 8.02 ERA over 58.1 innings his rookie year after dominating every level of the minors, you couldn’t help but feel for the guy. With so much natural movement on his pitches -- even his four-seam fastball -- it’s understandable that throwing them all where he wants -- especially his curveball -- is a lot easier said than done, as indicated by his first season in the bigs. After allowing 5.4 walks per nine innings his rookie year -- at 22 years old -- he almost cut that in half the following season. He walked just one Baltimore batter over his first nine innings of the season, and would have had a perfect game going into the ninth inning had Eddie Rosario caught a ball he usually would. While Berríos has been both victimized and vindicated by his passion and emotion, in Baltimore he showed that he’s more mature, both mentally and physically. He worked out of trouble in the ninth inning in Baltimore to earn his first career complete game and shutout because of that mental and physical maturation. The experience he gained playing most of an MLB season with Ervin Santana as a mentor has certainly contributed to Berríos’s confidence to attack the strike zone with all his pitches. And his dedication in the offseason, culminating in a video of him pushing a full-sized van 22 days before Spring Training, certainly indicates his legs are firmly underneath him, but more importantly, that his dedication is unwavering. I wouldn’t be surprised if Berríos dominates the Cleveland lineup backed by the Twins’ superb defense and a raucous Puerto Rican crowd. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he allows some early runs, overthrowing some fastballs and leaving them up in the zone because he’s so amped. Regardless, as an American, and Puerto Ricans are Americans, it’s hard to root against anyone so dedicated to and passionate about what they do for a living. While Berríos will be joined on the field by fellow Puerto Ricans Rosario and Francisco Lindor, Berríos will be the center of attention. It is a home game for the Twins and should feel like it. Lindor’s first at-bat against Berríos should be interesting, though, as both played for the runner-up Puerto Rican team in last year’s World Baseball Classic. Lindor performed better than Berríos in the WBC, so there will undoubtedly be some friendly competition between the two.
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 2: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, 8:30 p.m. on TNT

Friday, April 20

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 6:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, 6:30 p.m. on USA

Saturday, April 21

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 5:10 p.m. on FSN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 3: Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets, 6:30 p.m. on ESPN

Sunday, April 22

  • Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays, 12:10 p.m. on FSN
  • Minnesota United FC @ Seattle Sounders FC, 3 p.m. on FSN
  • *Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: Wild vs. Winnipeg Jets, TBD on TBD

Monday, April 23

  • Twins @ New York Yankees, 6:05 p.m. on ESPN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 4: Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets, 7 p.m. on TNT

Wednesday, April 25

  • Twins @ New York Yankees, 5:35 p.m. on FSN
  • *NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 5: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, TBD on TBD
  • *Stanley Cup Playoffs, Round 1, Game 7: Wild @ Winnipeg Jets, TBD on TBD
    • Seven games are necessary in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because the margin of victory is so small. Even baseball has a better argument than basketball for making its first playoff round a seven-game series. Most teams play outdoors, where wind, heat, humidity, precipitation, sunlight and shadows can affect the outcome of a game. And if they don’t play outdoors, the different dimensions of every playing field can affect the outcome. I would happily cut the MLB regular season back down to 154 games if it meant making the Divisional Round of the playoffs a seven-game series. I’d be even happier to cut the first round of the NBA Playoffs down to five games, but more on that later.

Friday, April 27

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m. on FSN
  • *NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, between 6 and 9:30 p.m. on ESPN or ESPNEWS

Saturday, April 28

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1 p.m. on FSN
  • Minnesota United FC vs. Houston Dynamo, 7 p.m. on FSN

Sunday, April 29

  • Twins vs. Cincinnati Reds, 1 p.m. on FSN
  • NBA Playoffs, Round 1, Game 7: Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets, between 12 and 2:30 p.m. on ABC
    • With two Game 7s already penciled in for Sunday, April 29, the Wolves’ first-round matchup could take two whole weeks to complete, and like the NHL, that’s not out of the ordinary. The Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers went to seven games in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs last year. They started play on April 15 and completed the series on April 30, with nine of those 16 days being off days. Worse yet, the result of the series would have been the same had they played five games. But that’s another opinion piece for when the NBA Playoffs become uninteresting, which will be whenever the Wolves, if they in fact qualify for the postseason, are eliminated. Even with those five bodies playing all those minutes all season long, the Timberwolves might have a better chance to advance in the postseason than the Minnesota Wild. The Wolves are getting their leader back in Butler; the Wild just lost one of theirs in Ryan Suter (broken fibula) for the season. Regardless, it’s apparent that the best days of the Minnesota sports year are here. Let’s hope we stay busy watching four Minnesota sports teams into May.

If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Monday, 02 April 2018 18:30

Comparing the Fitbit and MyPlate apps

I recently scored a Fitbit Alta for $40 and have been making the transition from using the MyPlate app by Livestrong to using the Fitbit app. I mostly purchased a Fitbit because I suspected I was underestimating my daily caloric exertion in the MyPlate app. What made me suspect that? Well, I set a MyPlate goal of losing a half pound per week and shed six pounds in three weeks.

It only took one day for my Fitbit to prove my hypothesis true. I had been underestimating my caloric exertion by a lot because I don’t carry my phone with me everywhere I go. I was shocked by how many steps the Fitbit monitored and was immediately pleased with my purchase. But over the next few days, I discovered things I miss about the MyPlate app and things I like about the Fitbit app.

What I Miss About the MyPlate App

The Workouts

I really like the burn I got from the 10-minute abs workout and seven-minute cardio sculpting workout. I can still do the workouts, but logging the calories burned isn’t as easy as wearing my Fitbit while I exercise.

I noticed after completing my abs workout that my Fitbit didn’t come close to logging the 74 calories burned the MyPlate abs workout says it burns. That’s probably because most abs exercises involve very few steps, and the Fitbit Alta doesn’t monitor heart rate. I ended up adding my calories burned manually, using “Calisthenics” as my exercise in the Fitbit app. I have to do the same for the cardio sculpting workout. This is a minor inconvenience.

The Vast Database of Exercises You Can Add Manually

The MyPlate app also has a more vast database of exercises you can add manually, including cooking, baking, bathing, and even sexual activity. My Fitbit might be splashproof, but it’s not meant to be worn in the shower, which means it doesn’t log the calories you burn while bathing (roughly 140 calories per hour).

In the Fitbit app, I had to substitute the “cleaning” exercise for the baking I did while my Fitbit charged. Had I been wearing my Fitbit, however, my movements would have been monitored and calories burned registered.  

The Macronutrient Breakdown of Meals and Foods

The MyPlate app also does a better job breaking down your macronutrient consumption with pie charts indicating the percentage of calories consumed from carbohydrates, fat and protein. It also breaks down your macronutrient consumption for each food and meal. The Fitbit app fails to do so, only offering a macronutrient breakdown of your daily consumption.

What I Like About the Fitbit App

Fitbit Coach

The Fitbit Coach app provides a slew of workouts for Fitbit users, some of which are free for all users. You can even pick your trainer and whether you want to hear their encouragement and tips during your workout. The free catalog of exercise options is vast and diverse when compared to that of the MyPlate app, and calories burned are automatically registered in the Fitbit app.

The “In the Zone” Feature

The Fitbit app displays your caloric intake right next to your caloric exertion to give you an idea of how far you are under or over your caloric goal. It takes into account your weight loss goal, so if you are looking to lose weight half a pound each week like me, your caloric deficit will be 250 calories per day. That means you’ll be “in the zone” if your caloric consumption is 250 calories less than your caloric exertion.

Your caloric consumption and exertion graph will indicate your success with a green graph when you’re “in the zone.” If you’re over your caloric deficit, your graph will be pink. If you still have room to consume calories given your caloric exertion, your graph will be blue. This graph makes it easier to meet your weight loss goals.

Better Barcode Scanner

The most frustrating thing about the MyPlate app is its barcode reader, which takes considerably longer than the Fitbit app does to recognize the barcodes of particular foods. Not only does it take longer to recognize the barcodes, but MyPlate’s database of barcodes is not as vast as Fitbit’s. The Fitbit barcode reader recognizes barcodes, even in low light, almost immediately, and is more likely than the MyPlate reader to find the food you’re eating.

Fitbit vs. MyPlate Overall

Overall, the Fitbit app is slightly better than the MyPlate app, but only when linked to a Fitbit. If not for purchasing my Fitbit Alta, I’d probably still be using the MyPlate app. I say that because of the macronutrient breakdown of foods and meals MyPlate provides. I really like to see how everything I eat breaks down into carbohydrates, fat and protein before I eat it. I plan my meals days in advance at times, and now I have to estimate those macronutrient breakdowns based on the nutrition facts of each food. It’s a modest inconvenience I can tolerate as long as my caloric exertion is more accurately monitored.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: America’s Healthcare Advocate, The Bright Side, The Dr. Daliah Show, Dr. Asa On Call, Dr. Coldwell Opinion Radio, Good Day Health, Health Hunters, Free Talk Live

The biggest reason for fans of every MLB team to watch Opening Day is that their team is in first place. It’s the only day of the year every team can say that, but fans of every team, even the Miami Marlins, have at least one reason to watch Opening Day baseball.

The Playoff Contenders

Houston Astros

The defending champions take on their in-state rivals the Texas Rangers on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. CST, and the biggest reason for Astros fans to tune in is to see if 35-year-old Justin Verlander can repeat his stellar 2017 season and carry a staff of mostly question marks.

Dallas Keuchel followed up his Cy Young season in 2015 by posting an ERA+ of just 86 in 2016. He rebounded with an ERA+ of 136 last season, but pitched just 145.2 innings. He’s pitched 200 innings just twice in his six-year career. Verlander has done it in 10 of 13 seasons, which is five more times than the rest of the Astros’ starters combined.

But the Astros are prepared in case their starters fail to eat innings, with Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock available in the bullpen.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw takes the mound against San Francisco at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN. That’s all Dodgers fans should need to tune in on Opening Day, because it could be Kershaw’s last season with the Dodgers.

New York Yankees

Yankees fans will get their first look at last year’s home run champion Giancarlo Stanton in Toronto on Thursday. Oh, and the runner-up in the home run race, Aaron Judge, will be there in pinstripes, too.

Chicago Cubs

Jon Lester will take on Miami to kick off Opening Day on ESPN at 11:30 a.m. CST. Lester, who has struggled throwing to first base, will feature a new bounced throw he’s been working on in Spring Training. It’ll be interesting to see if his new approach limits the running game of Miami, a team that does have some speed if nothing else.

Cleveland Indians

Indians fans will get their first look at new first baseman Yonder Alonso, who has become the new poster boy for launch angle despite his simple focus of becoming “a tough out.” He’s certainly been that in Spring Training, collecting 21 hits in 56 at-bats and amassing an OPS of 1.284. Defensive metrics have Alonso rated as a downgrade at first base when compared to Cleveland’s former first baseman, Carlos Santana, though.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals will have to wait until Friday to open the season due to weather in Cincinnati, but it does give Adam Eaton an extra day to recover from the ACL tear that kept him out all of last season. Eaton will most certainly be the biggest addition to a team that sees its championship window closing. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Weiters will all be free agents at the end of the season.

Boston Red Sox

J.D. Martinez debuts with Boston on Thursday at Tampa Bay, a much-needed upgrade at designated hitter, where Hanley Ramirez struggled to a .750 OPS last season. Martinez will get time in the corner outfield spots as well, but will mostly steal at-bats from Ramirez and Mitch Moreland, who will serve as a platoon at first base.

Martinez’s awesome power to all fields should play well at Fenway Park, and while he might not hit as many home runs as he did at Chase Field in Arizona, at least he’s not in Arizona this year, where baseballs will be kept in a humidor to limit home runs. Chase Field accounted for the fourth-most home runs in baseball last season. Fenway was 26th, but Martinez is more than just a power hitter. He’s hit over .300 in three of his seven MLB seasons.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins’ new braintrust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine might have won the offseason, adding reasonably-priced bullpen depth (Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney), undervalued starters (Jake Odorizzi, Lance Lynn) and an undervalued slugger (Logan Morrison). They were the second-best offense of the second half of last season, with Gold Glove center fielder Byron Buxton discovering a swing that has him poised for a breakout in 2018.

Twins fans will get a chance to see all their new additions in action on Thursday in Baltimore, most notably starter Jake Odorizzi, who takes the mound with Ervin Santana recovering from hand surgery.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies were second in the league in save percentage (77.05 percent) last season despite Greg Holland being abysmal in the second half (6.38 ERA). They added Wade Davis in the offseason, who closed out 32 of his 33 save opportunities in 2017.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers were surprisingly good last year, and will surprise no one this year. They also got better in the offseason, adding center fielder Lorenzo Cain and left fielder Christian Yelich. Those additions should help them climb out of the bottom third of the league in runs scored.

St. Louis Cardinals

Marcell Ozuna is coming off a career year in Miami (.924 OPS) and provides added depth to a lineup that already had six players with an OPS+ over 100. The Cardinals were 13th in the league in runs scored last year, but were 20th in runs allowed. The addition of Ozuna allows the Cardinals’ best outfielder, Tommy Pham, to play center field full time instead of splitting time with the less adept Dexter Fowler, who will roam right field instead. The Cardinals are going to score more runs and limit fewer runs in 2018 thanks to Ozuna.  

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners’ aging rotation can’t seem to stay healthy, and Felix Hernandez is a shell of his former self, but they have the speedy Dee Gordon roaming center field to back up that aging rotation, which is the best reason for Mariners fans to watch Opening Day baseball. Gordon’s transition from middle infielder to center fielder should be an adventure worth watching, but his prowess at the plate and on the base paths is always worth watching. The addition of Gordon should lift Seattle’s run production substantially, which was 15th in the league last year. Gordon’s 60 stolen bases last season would have put the Mariners at the top of the league in that category.

The Pretenders

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks still have Zack Greinke, who will open the season at home against Colorado. Greinke allowed more home runs last year (25) than he had since his rookie year in 2004 (26), but the new baseball humidor in Arizona should make him even better in 2018. It might have an adverse effect on Paul Goldschmidt, though. Still, having a Cy Young contender on the mound is reason enough to watch Opening Day.

Los Angeles Angels

Angels fans were probably hoping Shohei Ohtani would be starting Opening Day at Oakland, but he hasn’t pitched well enough in Spring Training to warrant the fourth spot in the rotation let alone the first (27.00 ERA). He hasn’t hit either (4-for-32). The Angels still don’t have the starting rotation to reach the playoffs, but the addition of Ian Kinsler into an already potent lineup featuring the game’s best player, Mike Trout, one of the game’s best hitters of all time, Albert Pujols, and a rejuvenated Justin Upton, should make for an Opening Day featuring plenty of runs scored.

Philadelphia Phillies

Jake Arrieta won’t toe the rubber on Thursday in Atlanta, but Aaron Nola will, giving Phillies fans reason to watch and reason for hope. The Phillies aren’t as far from contending as some people think thanks to their young talent being quick studies at the MLB level. Nola amassed 184 strikeouts in 168 innings last year, left fielder Rhys Hoskins hit 18 home runs in 170 at-bats, and second baseman César Hernández collected 215 total bases for a second consecutive season.

Toronto Blue Jays

New addition Randal Grichuk is going to have a career year in Toronto, and Aaron Sanchez seems to have rediscovered himself (3.06 ERA in Spring Training) after struggling last season. The key for Toronto is always health. How many games will Troy Tulowitzki and Curtis Granderson play? Even Josh Donaldson missed considerable time last year. But the starting rotation and lineup are both playoff caliber. The bullpen is the reason they’re pretenders.

Baltimore Orioles

Manny Machado is moving to shortstop in the final year of his contract with the Orioles. Adam Jones is also in a contract year, so both will be looking to put up massive numbers to earn big paydays in the offseason. Machado was a premiere third basemen and should make for an above average shortstop, especially given his hitting ability. Watching him at his new position on Opening Day is reason for Orioles fans to watch.

San Francisco Giants

It’s another even year, and the Giants have added pieces to make another run at a championship. With Madison Bumgarner recovering from a broken hand and out three months, the eyes of Giants fans will gravitate towards Andrew McCutchen on Opening Day. At 31, McCutchen should enjoy hitting in the Giants’ effective lineup, but hate chasing balls in right field behind the Giants’ aging rotation.    

Texas Rangers

Can Cole Hamels return to form after a hiccup in 2017? Rangers fans will get a clue when he takes on the offensive juggernaut Houston on Thursday. If the 34-year-old Hamels has indeed regressed, at least the Rangers now have the 34-year-old Doug Fister to back him up in the rotation.

The Mediocre

San Diego Padres

Eric Hosmer will debut with the Padres on Thursday in San Diego against Milwaukee, giving San Diego the bat it needs to protect Wil Myers. They’re still a long way from contending, but having a guy like Hosmer in the lineup should help make the vast Petco Park look just a little bit smaller. Petco allowed the second-fewest homers last year.

Kansas City Royals

Replacing Hosmer with with Lucas Duda could be a very affordable way for the Royals to get similar offensive production for $140.5 million less than Hosmer got from San Diego. Duda posted an .818 OPS and hit 30 homers playing for the Mets and Rays last year. But Jon Jay (.738 career OPS, +4 total zone/total fielding runs above average per 1,200 innings in center field) is no Lorenzo Cain (.763 career OPS, +11 total zone/total fielding runs above average per 1,200 innings in center field).

New York Mets

All eyes will be on Noah Syndergaard, whose 101-mph fastball has been all the rage in Spring Training. The Mets have playoff potential in their pitching, both starting and relieving, and the addition of Adrian Gonzalez gives them four professional hitters (Jay Bruce, Yoenis Céspedes and Todd Frazier) in the lineup. The Mets are also very old and injury prone, so health will be a key factor in limiting their potential.

The Rebuilding

Pittsburgh Pirates

Ivan Nova could be the next Pirate traded and will start the season in Detroit taking on Jordan Zimmerman. Nova isn’t a free agent until after next season, but the $9 million and change he’s owed this year and next will make him very attractive to a team in the hunt if he has similar success to last season (4.14 ERA).

Tampa Bay Rays

Chris Archer has long been the subject of trade rumors, but will start for the Rays on Opening Day for the fourth consecutive season. Archer’s contract is any team’s dream and comes with two club options at just $8.25 million after next season, so if he gets off to a hot start, the Rays could be given an offer they can’t refuse. Rays fans should tune in on Opening Day to see their ace get the season started on the right foot.

Atlanta Braves

Top prospect Robert Acuna Jr. won’t be on the Braves’ Opening Day roster so Atlanta can control the start of his service time and retain his rights longer, but second baseman Ozzie Albies will be worth watching. Albies posted an impressive .810 OPS in 217 at-bats last year and has been raking in Spring Training (20-for-66 with an .843 OPS).

Chicago White Sox

Yoán Moncada found an effective stroke last season, posting a .750 OPS in 199 at-bats. He’s been even better this spring, posting an .833 OPS in 59 at-bats. All eyes will be on Moncada to become the star everyone expected way back when he was still with the Red Sox.

Cincinnati Reds

Scott Schebler has been an absolute force in Spring Training, with 19 hits in 46 at-bats and an OPS of 1.151. He’ll be manning right field for the Reds on Opening Day, looking to build on his respectable 2016 season that saw him post a .762 OPS over 257 at-bats.

Detroit Tigers

Miguel Cabrera might not be a piece the Tigers can trade -- this year or ever. But Nick Castellanos has just one more year of arbitration eligibility, and Victor Martinez and José Iglesias are free agents at the end of the season. The Tigers have to move all they can to complete their rebuild, so Tigers fans should be rooting for Cabrera, Castellanos, Martinez and Iglesias to start the season hot on Opening Day.

Miami Marlins

José Ureña taking on the Cubs should be reason enough for Marlins fans to watch Opening Day. Ureña had a fantastic 2017, going 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA. If he can shut down the Cubs’ lineup, it should give Marlins fans hope that they might have an ace in the making.

Oakland Athletics

California native Matt Chapman will look to stake his claim to third base for the long term in Oakland after posting a respectable .785 OPS over 290 at-bats in 2017. He’s got legitimate power potential, too, hitting 14 home runs and 23 doubles last year.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wants drug dealers to face the death penalty for their crimes, but hasn’t gone into any detail as to what sort of drug crimes would warrant capital punishment if he and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had their way.

Are we only talking about the leaders of drug cartels? Are we talking about the drug “mules” who move the drugs into the country? Are we talking about the people who cut up and deliver the drugs? Are we talking about the doctors prescribing the drugs? What about the manufacturers of opioids?

Trump’s death-penalty-for-drug-dealers plan is what he thinks will reign in the opioid epidemic. But opioid addicts don’t go straight to fentanyl and overdose. They start on Vicodin prescribed by their doctor, one in 12 of whom has received money from drug companies marketing prescription opioid medications, according to a recent study by Boston Medical Center. These doctors are just as responsible for opioid overdose deaths as other drug dealers.

More than 40,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2016, 40 percent of which involved prescription opioids. So putting drug dealers and drug lords to death for trafficking heroin and fentanyl only addresses part of the problem. If opioid addicts don’t have access to the cheaper, stronger heroin and fentanyl, that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop using opioids. They’re just going to use more prescription opioids, whether their doctor prescribes them or not. And they can still overdose on prescription opioids.

Who Deserves the Death Penalty?

The death penalty has been and continues to be reserved almost exclusively for murderers. In fact, of the 31 states still sentencing people to death, only Texas kills people convicted of “criminal homicide” and those suffering from mental illness. Even now, a bill filed by Democratic State Rep. Toni Rose of Dallas to bar the death penalty for the mentally ill is unlikely to pass in the Lone Star State. The state would likely be the first to embrace Trump’s death-penalty-for-drug-dealers plan given the border it shares with Mexico, from where 90 percent or more of America’s heroin supply originates.

Drug Lords

Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera was scheduled to stand trial in April, but the federal judge in Brooklyn presiding over the case postponed the trial until September. It gives the prosecutors ample time to prepare their case against the most wanted drug dealer in the world, but they won’t likely need it. They have access to over 300,000 pages of documents and thousands of secretly recorded conversations to help make their case.

The real question isn’t whether “El Chapo” is guilty, but whether he actually has the $14 billion in cash from narcotic sales U.S. authorities want to seize. Most experts think this figure is too high, but the point is the man made billions of dollars selling opium around the world, and especially to Americans.

While “El Chapo” is charged with federal crimes that would subject him to the death penalty, the Mexican government wanted assurance the death penalty would not be sought when negotiating the terms of his extradition. So “El Chapo” won’t be the first drug dealer Trump gets to put to death. International drug lords are already subject to capital punishment, though, because they’d be charged with federal crimes. Drug lords like “El Chapo” certainly deserve the death penalty, but Trump isn’t just talking about killing drug lords. I’d hope he knows we can already do that.

Cartel “Security”

“El Chapo” had a 30-year career dealing illegal drugs because of his “security” detail. Not only did they keep him alive and out of jail all those years (and broke him out of jail twice), but they left no witnesses and eliminated troublemakers for the cartel.

These killers fulfill the “murder prerequisite” required by 30 of the 31 states still sentencing criminals to death, and are deserving of the death penalty. But murder charges would have to be brought in the country where the murder occurred. If no blood is shed on American soil, they are not subject to American law.

Drug Mules

Trump’s death-penalty-for-drug-dealers plan seems to be targeted at the people who don’t deserve it. Sessions did his best to implement Trump’s plan by sending a memo to federal prosecutor’s requesting they pursue the death penalty in cases “dealing with extremely large quantities of drugs.” But the people found in possession of those “extremely large quantities of drugs” are the least deserving of the death penalty. Some aren’t even aware they’re trafficking drugs.

Most drug mules are only guilty of being desperate. They’re just trying to find a better life for themselves and their family and might not have another means to do so or, frankly, a choice. I dare Jeff Sessions to refuse a drug lord’s order to traffic heroin across the border. The thought that you could be sentenced to death if arrested isn’t as bad as being killed where you stand. Plus, what if you get away with it?

Many of these people are looking to move to America just to do a job an American is unwilling to do. Drug lords “help” them realize that dream -- for a price. There are over 55 million poor people in Mexico and 15 millionaires who amass roughly 13 percent of the Mexican economy’s total value. So 45 percent of Mexico’s population is impoverished and for every millionaire in the country, there are roughly 3,660,000 poor people. Now you know why so many Mexicans are eager to move to America and work a shitty job you wouldn’t do for double or triple what they’re paid.   

Put yourself in the shoes of a poor Mexican with a family to support. Even if you don’t have kids, you still have mouths to feed in Mexico. Mexicans take care of their familial elders, and not just their parents. Aunts, uncles and other immediate family members living under one roof with their nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters is common in Mexico. So a working-aged couple could have no children but still be expected to support a family of five or more. And when it comes to feeding the family, the oldest and youngest are the first priorities. Those who provided the meal are most likely to eat the least.

Despite a 3.8-percent unemployment rate in 2017 and a 17-percent increase in the number of Mexican workers gaining access to social security in the first half of 2017, 57.2 percent of Mexican workers still have jobs in the “informal economy.” This means more than half of the country’s laborers aren’t receiving health insurance or earning retirement benefits nor are they protected in the workplace. Their wages are not collectively bargained; they are dictated. The hours they work per day are not subject to Mexican law, and neither is the condition of their workplace nor the treatment they receive from their superiors.

Even worse, the informal economy accounts for roughly a quarter of Mexico’s gross domestic product, so programs meant to help impoverished Mexicans are severely underfunded because the government is raising revenue from just 75 percent of its economy. It’s something that’s taken a long time to correct. Mexico’s congress eased restrictions on hiring and firing back in 2012, and over the next five years, participation in the informal economy fell just 2.2 percent.

And in a country where drug lords earn more than CEOs and have not only assassins but cops on the payroll, you can bet that Mexico’s informal economy will never disappear. Every country has an informal economy. It doesn’t matter where you go, there will be jobs there that pay cash under the table. Governments can’t monitor every dollar that changes hands, but countries where large amounts of illicit drugs are produced will always have larger informal economies. Since we mostly just consume drugs in America and not produce them, the informal economy created from drug trafficking in the United States is modest when compared to that of Mexico, Colombia or Afghanistan, the leading provider of opium to the world.

So when a Mexican laborer struggles to find work in the formal economy, the informal economy awaits to prey and profit on his or her desperation. At some point, any type of work for any amount of money will look a lot better than the starving, disappointed faces of your family at home. Scrape by long enough working 16-hour days for barely enough money to feed your family and trafficking a little heroin across the border to a dealer in the states sounds like an opportunity instead of a risk. And when your employer, the drug lord, a surprisingly amiable fellow, promises to send your family to join you upon your successful completion of this most simple task, you too would turn mule for a chance at the American Dream.

Just deliver a package across the border, and you’ll be working an American farm and earning more money than you ever thought was possible, even though it’s less than what most American, fast food employees earn. You’ll send some of the money from your first paycheck back to your family with a letter telling them how long it will be until you can afford a foreclosed fixer-upper you can renovate together and turn into a home. But your family won’t likely receive that letter or the enclosed American money because the cartel probably has a murderous goon holding your family captive in their own home who reviews and censors all incoming mail and pockets any money he discovers. Getting you out of Mexico allowed the cartel to “recruit” your family.

Members of your family would likely be forced to take your place working for the cartel, regardless of their health or ability. The cartel doesn’t care if they die on the job, and neither do the police. That’s the risk that comes with working in the informal economy: you are treated like slave labor. The cartel needs its laborers to be so uncomfortable that they welcome the work because it means they will eat. Threats aren’t as effective a form of persuasion as a person’s instinct to survive. Threaten your workforce with death, and they’ll soon welcome it; provide just enough for your workforce to survive, and they’ll do just that -- survive.

Those who do survive will ride off into “retirement” as a drug mule when the cartel has no use for them anymore. Everyone becomes a liability eventually, and processing heroin, from planting to harvesting the opium poppies to splitting and scraping the poppies to extract the opium, is not work suited for the arthritic. Your former employer, the drug lord, provided them with no knowledge of your whereabouts despite reviewing your mail. His only interest is in his product reaching its destination, and he doesn’t want his drug mule thinking about his brother, the American mule. The drug lord wants his mule’s mind on the job.

Unfortunately, your family member is probably better off being caught at the border and locked up in an American prison than they’d be having delivered their drugs successfully. Unlike you, they aren’t fit for the type of work available to them in the states, or anywhere else for that matter, and will likely resort to working for the cartel’s drug dealer in the states, hoping to put away enough money to try and find you and the rest of the family. That hope dissipates upon discovering the cost of living in America, eventually giving way to those survival instincts once again.

There’s no room for hope in drug cartels. Families can’t discover their escaped, American dreamer is actually living the American Dream and saving to buy a house for the family. Slave owners didn’t want their slaves learning how to read for a reason. That reason is reason -- the ability to think, understand, and form judgements logically. Your family receiving a letter from America saying how well you’re doing, how much money you’re making and, most importantly, your return address, will have them escaping north the first chance they get, consequences be damned. Hope makes people risk their lives, not because of the potential payoff, but because of the realization that they aren’t actually living. The hopeless are simply surviving, and hope makes people risk survival for the chance to truly live.

Drug mules don’t deserve the death penalty because despite being responsible for trafficking the drugs into the country, they’re usually doing so to preserve their own life or the lives of their family. To hold them responsible for deaths that result from the drugs they traffic is asinine, unless, of course, your goal all along was to limit immigration.

The people Trump and Sessions seem to be targeting are the cartel’s lowest-level, nonviolent laborers. Putting these people to death is not going to solve anything. There are plenty of mules drug lords can recruit or force across the border. You don’t think a drug lord would kidnap a man’s wife or child to persuade him to traffic some drugs?  

Drug mules are not drug dealers; they’re drug movers, and when drug movers are caught, no harm has yet come to anyone in this country because the drugs haven’t reached the drug dealer. And even the drug dealers aren’t all bad.

Drug Dealers

Drug dealers provide a service in high demand, especially in America, where roughly a trillion dollars was spent on illegal drugs from 2000 to 2010. If there’s one thing the Drug War has proved, it’s that you can’t stop people from using drugs. The opioid epidemic in this country is a perfect example of how drug users find a way to abuse drugs. Even in places where illegal drugs are hard to find like West Virginia and Indiana, Americans find a way.

Is cocaine too expensive and too stepped-on where you live? Is good heroin hard to find? No worries. Just make an appointment with your doctor and tell him or her you’re suffering from intense pain that’s keeping you up at night. You’ll have a prescription for opioids the same day, and less than a month later, you can tell your doctor the dosage isn’t working anymore and get something stronger. Within a few months, you’ll have access to the strongest opium legally available.

Drug users use drugs, regardless of accessibility or legality. In fact, the illegality of drugs makes them more desirable because of the coolness that comes with being forbidden. Illegal drugs are also more dangerous than legal ones because the people in charge of regulating the purity and dosage are the drug dealers, who do not have their customers’ interests or lives in mind.

Drug prohibition is also responsible for the violence associated with drug trafficking. Since drug dealers and traffickers risk imprisonment, the cost associated with that risk goes into the price of the drug. Every time a drug dealer is arrested, drug prices increase. Every time a drug mule is caught at the border and product is seized, drug prices increase. And every time an “El Chapo” is arrested, drug prices increase.

These inflated prices as a result of illegality make drugs less affordable, forcing drug users to come up with more money. Unlike most products, the demand for drugs doesn’t drop considerably when supply is low and prices high. Casual drug users might be turned off by high prices, but addicts care little about cost and will do just about anything to acquire the extra cash they need except wait for their next paycheck. Unfortunately, methods for acquiring money quickly tend to be illegal.  

The illegality of drugs causes more illegal activity in order to obtain those drugs. It’s responsible for convenience stores, homes and cars being robbed and purses being snatched. It results in violence, death and increased costs to the judicial and prison systems. Oh, and then there’s the costs of enforcing drug laws, which came to roughly $76 billion in 2015. That’s almost half of what the federal government spends to fund public schools.

Legalizing drugs and making them available for purchase at pharmacies that ensure purity and safe dosage for human consumption would make drugs and access to those drugs safer, cheaper, and result in less violent crime and fewer overdose deaths. Daily purchases would be limited to a safe dosage determined by health professionals, and users would be getting a pure, uncut substance that won’t kill them because the “dealer” would have their interests in mind instead of trying to maximize profit.

Drug dealers are looking to make a buck any way they can, which includes cutting up drugs with synthetic additives designed to offer a similar effect as the actual drug but at a cheaper price for the drug dealer. This is why methamphetamine ends up in Ecstasy and fentanyl ends up in cocaine and heroin: it’s cheaper. Of all drug dealers, the dealers of bad drugs are the only ones who deserve the death penalty.

Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colo. on a platform that included the legalization of recreational drugs, but also a plan for punishing drug dealers who sold bad drugs. He thought such dealers should be put in stocks and displayed in public places so locals could mock them and even molest them. Thompson was concerned with buying ineffective drugs, though, not dying from heroin cut with fentanyl. I think drug dealers who sell bad drugs that result in an overdose death should be tried for murder and sentenced to death if so ruled by a jury of their peers in states where capital punishment is still enacted.

If Trump sees his death-penalty-for-drug-dealers plan as a way to further limit immigration of Mexicans he thinks are “bringing drugs, crime and rapists” to the U.S., he’s going to be disappointed in its ineffectiveness. Sentencing every drug mule to death might send a message, but do you think “El Chapo” or any drug lord will have a sudden shortage of available mules because they’re scared of receiving the death penalty if arrested in America? No, they’ll be scared of the gun the drug lord is holding to their head.

But if Trump sees his death-penalty-for-drug-dealers plan as a way to hold drug dealers responsible for deaths that are a direct result of their greed and help ensure drug users get what they order and not a surprise overdose, his plan would sound less crazy.

If he sees his plan applying to doctors who blatantly overprescribe opioids resulting in the deaths of patients all while taking money from the manufacturers of those opioids, I’d have no objection. If those doctors are practicing in a state where the death penalty is still enacted, and their carelessness resulted in one of their patients becoming addicted to opioids and eventually dying from that addiction, a jury should consider the death penalty as a possible sentence for the doctor.

Hell, if by “drug dealers” Trump means the producers of prescription opioids, like Purdue Pharma, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen, Endo, Allergan and Watson, I wouldn’t find his plan crazy at all. The executives who created this crisis are most responsible for the resulting deaths. Whether their drugs were specifically responsible for the deaths is irrelevant. You don’t have to wield the knife to be guilty of murder.

These pharmaceutical companies not only downplayed the addictive effects of opioids in the late 1990s, but rewarded salespeople with luxury trips and $20,000 scratch tickets for getting doctors to switch patients to opioids and also paid doctors to prescribe them. The pharmaceutical CEOs and executives who made OxyContin into a billion-dollar revenue stream annually are just as guilty of murder as “El Chapo,” and perhaps more so. “El Chapo” didn’t get Americans hooked on opioids; big pharma did that by providing the “gateway” to heroin and fentanyl. Without $30 billion in OxyContin sales, “El Chapo” doesn’t become “El Chapo” -- the drug dealer worth $14 billion.  

Since Trump won’t likely enact his death-penalty-for-drug-dealers plan for his rich, pharma friends who paid for his campaign, at least someone is doing something to hold big pharma accountable. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is suing the opioid manufacturers previously listed to recoup some of what the United States has lost to the opioid epidemic big pharma created. A recent report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that the opioid epidemic cost America more than $500 billion in 2015. That’s in one year!


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: America’s Healthcare Advocate, The Bright Side, The Dr. Daliah Show, Dr. Asa On Call, Dr. Coldwell Opinion Radio, Good Day Health, Health Hunters, Herb Talk, Free Talk Live

Seeing a lot more bad movies is to be expected when you become a MoviePass member. You’ll see more movies when you’ve got an annual membership to see as many movies you want, even if you only need to see one movie per month to make the membership worth the price. And most movies are bad these days. Gringo is one of those movies.

Having seen the trailer and read the synopsis, I had reason to hope Gringo wouldn’t suck. It’s a relatively original idea: dirty, pharmaceutical CEO doing off-the-books business with dirtier drug dealer needs the business with the drug dealer to stop in order to facilitate a merger. Conveniently, the business conducted with the drug dealer occurs in Mexico -- the kidnapping capital of the world -- and the CEO already has a patsy in mind, but his patsy doesn’t act as the CEO expects.

Despite quality casting, I didn’t laugh out loud once during Gringo. Charlize Theron (A Million Ways to Die in the West) produced the picture and plays the CEO’s business associate. The CEO is portrayed by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Black Mass), brother of director Nash Edgerton. Edgerton was good for a few laughs, but Theron was easily funniest, and it wasn’t because of the dialogue written for her by Anthony Tambakis (who wrote Warrior and Jane Got a Gun, both featuring Edgerton) and Matthew Stone (Life, an actually funny film starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence).

Why Theron was willing to put up money for this heap of garbage is beyond me, but maybe it was a good script before David Oyelowo was attached. Oyelowo plays the patsy and wasn’t funny nor realistic. Spoiler alert: he’s clueless about his wife’s cheating on him with his CEO and “friend,” who treats him like a subordinate. What’s unrealistic about Oyelowo’s performance is that his character is too clueless to exist in real life.

But Jason Bateman is never clueless and always funny, and Game Night is another relatively original idea: a group of friends gather for their weekly game night expecting to solve a staged kidnapping and end up attempting to solve an actual kidnapping. Sure, it has its roots in The Man Who Knew Too Little, a brilliant picture starring Bill Murray, who thinks he’s portraying a spy in the “Theatre of Life” while actually thwarting an act of international terrorism. Game Night isn’t as entertaining as The Man Who Knew Too Little, but we can’t expect Bateman to channel Bill Murray. Like Theron, Bateman put up money for Game Night to be produced.

Game Night is also casted well, with Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers, Mean Girls) playing Bateman’s wife and Kyle Chandler (Super 8) his “cooler,” older brother. The screen is stolen, though, by Jesse Plemons (Paul, The Post), portraying the perfectly awkward neighbor, who loves his dog a little too much and wants nothing more than to be included in the group’s game nights after his wife has left him.

I laughed out loud throughout Game Night, and while it wasn’t The Man Who Knew Too Little, or even Horrible Bosses, the jokes are at least written and delivered well. Mark Perez (Accepted) wrote a quality script and Rich Delia (Dallas Buyers Club, The Help) put together a better cast than Carmen Cuba (The Martian) did for Gringo. if you’re looking for laughs, see Game Night, not Gringo.

If you need more reasons to avoid Gringo and see Game Night, Gringo has received a 39-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes while Game Night sits at 82 percent as of this writing.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk radio shows: The Karel Show, Erskine Overnight, The Lounge, Free Talk Live, The Debbie Nigro Show

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 19:53

Bad beats abound during March Madness

The number one overall seed in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament fell to the 64th overall seed -- the first time a 16-seed has beaten a one-seed in the history of the Final Four tournament. But that one upset hardly tells the story of the bad beats abound during March Madness.

Bad Beats Betting the Spread

My friend and I experienced the bad beats abound during March Madness on a blue chip parlay betting the spread -- even though I had planned to not bet the spread beforehand. We placed $20 on Duke, Kentucky and Kansas to cover their respective spreads because the $76 payout on our $20 bet was too attractive to avoid. (We made another $20 parlay bet on the same three teams to win outright to cover our potential loss on the spread parlay.)

Duke doubled the 10.5-point spread against Rhode Island, and Kentucky easily covered the 5.5 points by which they were favored, winning by 20. Kansas just had to win by five over Seton Hall and we would have won almost $150.

With 1:20 left, Kansas led by eight, but then Khadeen Carrington scored seven points in a minute to keep Seton Hall just five points back. After a pair of free throws by Malik Newman, we were good, leading by five. But there was plenty of time for Seton Hall to get off a three, and despite being well defended, Myles Powell knocked down a fade-away three as the buzzer sounded to deliver our money to the house.

We managed to find one of the few bad beats specifically betting the spread. I even went to Vegas with a plan for betting the Final Four that included never betting the spread, but the potential payout for betting the spread was just too attractive for me to avoid.

If you were betting on Texas Tech to cover the 11.5-point spread over Stephen F. Austin, you were disappointed that the Red Raiders didn’t try to score in the final 20 seconds while up 10. If you had your money on Purdue covering the four points by which they were favored, you were ecstatic when Dakota Mathias hit a three-pointer with 17 seconds left to push the Boilermaker lead to five. Even after Kelan Martin hit a layup to cut the Purdue lead to three with three seconds to play, if P.J. Thompson hits the front end of a one-and-one, you at least get your money back. If he hits both free ones you’re a winner. That had to hurt.

Bad Beats Betting the Over/Under

You might not have predicted Buffalo upsetting Arizona let alone covering the nine-point spread. But you might have been willing to bet that the two teams would score more than 158 points. The brutal irony in Buffalo’s drubbing of Arizona is that the Bulls actually took their foot off the gas pedal after Wes Clark hit a three to make it 89-64 with 1:17 left. The four points Arizona scored the rest of the way was two points short of 159 and a win for those betting the over.

The First-Round Upsets

Eight of the 32 first-round games ended with an underdog on top. University of Maryland-Baltimore County led the charge with its win over top-seed, Virginia. But two 13-seeds (Buffalo and Marshall) also upset two four-seeds (Arizona and Wichita State).

Syracuse, an 11-seed and a team some said didn’t deserve to be in the tournament, upset six-seed Texas Christian University. Another 11-seed, Loyola-Chicago defeated sixth-seeded Miami. Tenth-seeded Butler rounded out the upsets by double-digit seeds with its win over seventh-seeded Arkansas.

Alabama and Florida State both upset eight-seeds Virginia Tech and Missouri, respectively.

The Second-Round Upsets

Six of the 16 second-round games resulted in upsets. Syracuse went on to upset Michigan State to make the Sweet 16. But Syracuse isn’t the only 11-seed in the Sweet 16. Loyola-Chicago also beat a three-seed in Tennessee to join Syracuse as a Cinderella.

Florida State is the next lowest seed left in the dance, defeating one-seed Xavier. Two seven-seeds also remain, as Texas A&M and Nevada defeated four-seed Auburn and two-seed North Carolina, respectively. Fifth-seeded Clemson beat fourth-seeded Auburn to conclude the second-round upsets.

New Odds for Sweet 16

Duke has the best odds of making the Final Four final and the second-best odds of becoming champion. They’ll face the lowest overall seed remaining in the tournament, Syracuse, whom they beat by 16 back in February. Syracuse’s zone defense was and still is superior to Duke’s, and it didn’t and still won’t matter.

Duke hit just two of 18 three-point attempts against the Orange zone, but the Duke zone sent Syracuse to the free-throw line just six times. The Blue Devils hit 14 of 16 free throws, 14 of which went to big men Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Marques Bolden. They hit 12 of those 14, which is well above their season average. Bagley shoots 62 percent from the charity stripe, Carter shoots 74 percent from the line, and Bolden hit 59 percent of free ones this season.

Syracuse will have to put the Duke bigs on the line again and hope they miss more often. It’s really the only chance they have unless they shoot the lights out against a Duke zone that has improved since they last played.

The team with the best odds to become champion is one-seed Villanova. They get a tougher test than Duke to open the Sweet 16, though. Fifth-seeded West Virginia will hope its full-court press can limit Villanova’s league-best scoring efficiency, a tall task for the gritty Mountaineers.

Gonzaga checks in with the third-best odds to reach the final and win it all. Florida State stands between Gonzaga and the Elite 8, where either third-seeded Michigan or seventh-seeded Texas A&M will be waiting.

Second-seeded Purdue has the fourth-best odds to become champion despite having just the sixth-best chance to reach the final. That’s because Purdue has the toughest road to the Final Four, playing three-seed Texas Tech and potentially facing one-seed Villanova.

Fifth-seeded Kentucky has the fifth-best odds to be one of the Final Four and tournament champion and has one of the easiest paths to those ends. Ninth-seeded Kansas State awaits on Thursday, and if Kentucky wins, the Wildcats will either see seventh-seeded Nevada or 11-seed Loyola-Chicago.

Michigan has the sixth-best chance of reaching the final and becoming champ, with Kansas, a one-seed, checking in at seventh. The Jayhawks’ low odds despite their seed likely has to do with how Duke and Clemson have looked in the tournament thus far. Fifth-seeded Clemson smoked fourth-seeded Auburn by 29 in the second round, and Duke won both its games running away.

So if you’re looking to make back some of the money you lost on the bad beats abound during March Madness’s first two rounds, Duke and Villanova are the best bets to reach the Final Four.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

I’m going to Las Vegas for the first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and intend to place a few bets while I’m there. I’m no college basketball expert, nor am I a sports betting expert. But I do know a little about both, and I have a guide for betting the Final Four so I can enjoy games I’d otherwise not watch and leave Sin City with some money in my pockets. So whether you’re in Sin City, Atlantic City, or wherever sports betting is legal, here are four tips for betting the Final Four to help you enjoy March Madness to the fullest.

1) Don’t bother betting the spread

The first rule of betting the Final Four is to bet the moneyline. Unless you have intimate knowledge of the teams playing the game, betting the spread during March Madness is just that -- madness.

More often than not, betting the spread will burn you. It’s hard enough to pick the winners of the 32 first-round games let alone determine by how much each team will win or lose. Sure there can be more money in it, but there’s nothing worse than picking the winner and losing your bet because of the spread. So don’t bother.

The over/under isn’t much better because determining how many points two teams will score can be just as risky as betting the spread. You’re still dealing with points instead of outcomes. Stick to the simplicity the bracket provides and pick the winners and leave it at that.

2) Parlay your way to the cashier

Pooling your picks together into one bet is a great way to win that money you left on the table by not betting the spread or the over/under. Out of 64 teams, you should be able to pick at least three teams you’re confident will win or lose and parlay them together for a satisfying win.

Parlays are also the most fun. Since more teams are involved, you’ll have a vested interest in watching more games. Parlays also give you an opportunity to enjoy winning and losing with friends. Have two friends each pick a team to add to your parlay and split the bet three ways. You and your friends will enjoy rooting on the same teams, and whether you win or lose, the entertainment you’ve received and bonding you’ve done thanks to your friendly parlay should make for a nice consolation prize.

3) Diversify your long-term investments

Putting your entire nest egg into one exchange traded fund or behind one business isn’t good investment advice. The same goes for sports betting. Betting on your favorite team to win it all isn’t a great way to invest your money. First off, you’re betting your heart instead of your head, which is only excusable if you win and tends not to happen on bets of the heart.

The only bets of the heart I’ve won are the two times Duke has won the National Championship since I started filling out a Final Four bracket (2010, 2015). Duke is the only winner I’ve ever picked since I started filling out a bracket regularly, but I’ve never actually had any money on it. Still, it’s a good example of what not to do, because I’ve been wrong 10 of 12 times. And while I have money down on Duke to win it all this season, I also have money on a few other teams.

Instead of picking your team to win it all, pick your team and then three others you think can win the championship. Maybe they’re your Final Four teams. Maybe they're FiveThirtyEight's projected Final Four. Maybe they’re the odds-on favorite, your local team, your alma mater, and a sleeper. Whatever combination you decide, when making the long bet on the champion, it’s best to have a few horses in the race with varying odds of winning. Your best bet would be to pick a pair of high-seeded, title contenders, one four- or five-seed, and one team with long odds you feel is best equipped to make a run to the Final Four. That way, if your favorite team is knocked out early, you still have reasons to watch and a chance to win your money back.

4) Budget busters to avoid in the first round

No guide for betting the Final Four would be complete without warning you of games for which you should simply sit on your wallet. No need for you to lose your entire roll in the first round because you bet the wrong way on a bunch of coin flips. These toss-ups will be fun to watch whether you’ve got money riding on them or not. I just don’t think you should risk your hard-earned money betting these games -- unless you know something I don’t.

Kentucky (5) vs. Davidson (12)

Since 1985, a 12-seed has upset a five-seed in all but four tournaments, and Davidson is probably the best 12-seed in the tournament. There’s just nothing safe about a 5-12 matchup, and with the spread at six points, this will likely be the biggest nailbiter of the 5-12 games.

Davidson is one of the best in the tournament at limiting possessions, which could be a problem if Kentucky comes out a little wild, turns the ball over early, and finds itself playing catch up with very few possessions. And Davidson won’t give them many extra possessions, either. They don’t turn it over often or take bad shots, so they could have a chance behind senior forward Peyton Aldridge, who averages 21 points per game. If you’re looking to bet an upset, though, this would be one worth a look. Otherwise, leave it alone.  

Virginia Tech (8) vs. Alabama (9)

Alabama has relied on freshman guard Collin Sexton, described by Tully Corcoran of The Big Lead as “The Russell Westbrook of College Basketball.” Virginia Tech is the complete opposite, with six players to rely on for quality minutes and points. But Bama could be missing a formidable presence in the paint if Donta Hall isn’t cleared to play after sustaining a concussion in the SEC Tournament. Regardless of Hall’s status, I recommend staying away from this one. Virginia Tech is favored by two according to Intertops, so this one could be determined by a bad bounce.

Arkansas (7) vs. Butler (10)

The spread in this one is 1.5 points for Arkansas, but I’m not betting against a team with the Bulldogs’ postseason pedigree, no pun intended. I’m also not betting on a team that slows down the game like Butler, because that sort of play can’t help you when you’re behind, and it’s just not fun to watch. As someone who has watched Virginia play twice this season, I can tell you once was one too much.

The Razorbacks’ take risks on defense and could get burned by the sure-handed Bulldogs, who seldom turn it over. The Bulldogs have the shorter trip to Detroit and should be well-represented at Little Caesars Arena. Butler senior forward Kelan Brown needs to be great, or seniors Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon will be too much for the Bulldogs. I like Arkansas, but I’m not confident enough to bet on it nor intrigued enough to watch it.

Missouri (8) vs. Florida State (9)

Intertops has Florida State favored by one point in this one, and that’s enough reason not to like it. Missouri just got six-foot, 10-inch freshman forward and projected top-five NBA draft pick Michael Porter, Jr. back from a back injury that cost him most of the regular season. His production being a question mark is likely why the Seminoles are favored, but Florida State defends the paint well regardless.

Florida State makes teams bet them from beyond the arc, so the Tigers will have to match their season average of 38.5 percent from behind the arc to stick with the Seminoles, who played a tough ACC schedule and struggled with the best of the best conference. They beat UNC by one, but their next best wins are over Clemson (a five-seed) and Miami (a six-seed). For that reason, I like Missouri, but I’m concerned about what Porter can do after shooting 30 percent from the floor in his return against Georgia on Thursday.

Rhode Island (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)

All bets are off when it comes to the streaky shooting of freshman phenom Trae Young. Rhode Island is favored by two, but if Trae Young is hot, you can tear up your bet on the favorite. If he’s not, you can breathe easier knowing he’ll simply be setting up his teammates with fantastic looks.

Some say the only reason Oklahoma made it to the dance is so the NCAA would attract more eyes to televisions because of this kid’s ridiculous shooting (at times) and passing prowess and confidence (at all times). He’s a dynamic player who should raise ad revenues for the NCAA that they won’t share with him.

Frankly, Oklahoma is lucky to have pulled Rhode Island instead of, say, Nevada, who beat the Rams. Arkansas earned a split with fellow seven-seed Texas A&M, and even the length of the Aggies would give the Sooners trouble, both shooting and rebounding the basketball. Verdict: someone on the selection committee wants Oklahoma to stay and dance for a while.

That’s not a knock on Rhode Island. I just think they’re the most vulnerable seven-seed. Danny Hurley’s Rams have the experience but not the size. The Rams don’t have anyone on the roster taller than six-foot, eight-inches, so Young should get good looks at the basket, and if his shot isn’t falling, the painted area will be open often. But will all those twos be enough to hang with Jared Terrell and the Rams?

Terrell attempts more than five threes per game and hits 41.5 percent of his long-distance shots. But Young averages more than 10 attempts from beyond the arc per game, sinking 36.1 percent of them. The math isn’t in Rhode Island’s favor, so the senior, Terrell, will have to lock down the freshman, Young, defensively and shoot more threes than he’s averaged this season for the Rams to advance. I like Oklahoma in this one, and would bet on it if the Sooners were treated like underdogs. The moneyline for them to win pays just $120 on a $100 bet, according to OddsShark. That's not worth a bet, but it will be a fun one to watch anyway.

*Creighton (8) vs. Kansas State (9)

This one comes with an asterisk because Kansas State may or may not be at full strength for this game. If they aren’t, go ahead and take Creighton. But if the Wildcats do get all-conference forward Dean Wade (foot) and all-conference guard Barry Brown (eye) back for Friday night, keep your money out of this one. You’ll enjoy watching it regardless.

Creighton can score the rock and do so faster than just about anyone in the tournament, averaging 84.3 points per game. That’s an insane pace, but K. State held its opponents to less than 68 points per game, so don’t be surprised if this one ends up coming down to a final possession. The spread is two in favor of Creighton, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t cover. But I’m not going to find out the hard way.    

So there are four tips for betting the Final Four so you can hold onto your money throughout March Madness and come home from the big dance feeling like a winner.


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