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What To Do With Gonzaga?

March 17, 2015

The prevailing school of thought with Gonzaga seems to be that they perennially suffer come tournament time due to a lack of seasoning. So the argument goes, Gonzaga piles up a lofty record year after year on the strength of wins over its overmatched WCC foes, and by the time the tourney rolls around, the Bulldogs simply don’t have the experience when faced with more difficult power conference opponents. They’re simply riding the heels of an old “cinderella” label and haven’t been able to live up to their billing since they have shed that label and reached more prominence nationally.

Historically speaking, this school of thought has proven to be true. But first, a quick fact that is often overlooked: Twenty years ago, a funny-sounding school named Gonzaga was ‎the type that could be used as a punchline in a joke about schedule weakness. (It actually was used as exactly that in the 1992 film “Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story”, where Gathers and teammate Bo Kimble express dismay at the quality of their opponents and complain, “Look at this! We’re playing Gonzaga. Gonzaga!”)

Then, in 1995, a funny thing happened: Gonzaga made the NCAA Tournament for the first time. In 1999, when ‎Mark Few became the head coach, they made the tourney again, and this time they made an improbable run to the Regional Final as a 10 seed, falling just short of the Final Four as they lost there to eventual National Champion UConn 67-62.

They haven’t missed the tournament since. But they also haven’t advanced to another Elite Eight either.

The question at hand then should be whether or not this is the best team Gonzaga has ever had, as it seems that it would have to be in order to justify giving these Bulldogs a shot to reverse the trend.

Attempting to quantify ‎this exactly gets tricky, as we don’t have efficiency data before 2002.

After the 1999 Elite Eight team, Gonzaga returned to two consecutive Sweet 16s in 2000 and 2001 as 10 and 12 seeds respectively. It’s quite remarkable that Gonzaga advanced to three straight Sweet 16s over that time period with three consecutive double digit seeds. I can’t find another example of that happening at any time in tournament history. Still, based upon where Gonzaga was seeded those years, it is safe to say that the expectations for this year’s team should be much higher.

Here’s a look at the Gonzaga squads that compare favorably to this years’s since the development of efficiency ratings:

‎2004: #2 Seed, 0.9244 Pyth, #5 AdjO/ #36 AdjD

Tier 2, Lost 2nd Round (Adam Morrison/ Ronny Turiaf team)

2005: #3 Seed, 0.8552 Pyth, #8 AdjO/ #132 AdjD

No Tier, Lost 2nd Round (Adam Morrison/ Ronny Turiaf team)

2006: #3 Seed, 0.8220 Pyth‎, #1 AdjO, #186 AdjD

Tier 3, Lost 2nd Round (Adam Morrison/ J.P. Batista team)

2009: #4 Seed, 0.9123 Pyth, #9 AdjO, #37 AdjD

Tier 2, Lost Sweet 16 (Josh Heytvelt team)

2013: #1 Seed, 0.9408 Pyth, #2 AdjO, #37 AdjD

Tier 2, Lost 2nd Round (Kelly Olynyk team)

2015: #2 Seed, 0.9440 Pyth, #6 AdjO, #20 AdjD

Tier 1, ???

‎The highest efficiency teams they’ve had are clearly the 2004, 2013 and 2015 teams. These teams all received seeds of 1 or 2, but with the previous teams both losing in the second round, is it appropriate to expect the same of this year’s team? Are there any differences?

I see a couple of big ones. First of all, while this isn’t Gonzaga’s highest seeded team ever (that was 2013), it is actually the best team that the school has ever assembled in terms of efficiency. But more importantly for my purposes, this is the ONLY team they’ve ever assembled to obtain a Tier 1 Final Four probability status. This is because the 2015 team is the only team to ever show efficiency rankings in the Top 25 on both sides of the ball with a Top 10 emphasis on at least one side of the ball. And, as explained in far more detail a couple of posts below, balance is a key element of a Final Four-caliber team, with 50% of historical Final Four teams meeting the Tier 1 criteria.

Conclusion: There are plenty of good reasons to oppose Gonzaga as the South regional champion. However, if you are hanging onto the “Gonzaga always underachieves in the ‎tournament” angle, know this: The 2015 edition of Gonzaga is indisputably the best team in the school’s history. So the comparison that you believe you are making is akin to comparing apples and oranges. And don’t think for a second that this year’s team isn’t aware of this underachiever stigma. Equipped with a superior arsenal relative to the teams that earned that reputation in the first place, they’ll be eager to put it to rest.

What To Do With Notre Dame?

March 17, 2015

I decided to look into this as Notre Dame possesses that classic “ripe for an upset” profile of  high-efficiency offense (#2) and terrible defense (#112).

Based on the tier criteria explained in my research that you have hopefully read by now, Notre Dame does qualify as a low-probability potential Final Four team based on the strength of their offense (Tier 3). Still, I wanted to take a closer look into teams like this and how they have performed in the tournament over time.

Here is a list of all the teams that have been given top 4 seeds in the tournament and that showed AdjDef efficiency numbers of 100+, and where they lost in the tournament:

(*: these teams were ranked 1st or 2nd in AdjOff and therefore were not eliminated as Final Four contenders)

2014 *Michigan‎ (109)- Elite 8

2014 *Duke (116)- 1st Round

2014 Creighton (152)- 2nd Round

2012 *Missouri (146)- 1st Round

2007 Texas (106)- 2nd Round

2006 Boston College (108)- Sweet 16

2006 *Gonzaga (186)‎- Sweet 16

2005 *Wake Forest (134)- 2nd Round

2005 Gonzaga (132)- 2nd Round

2004 *Wake Forest (135)- Sweet 16

2003 *Marquette (119)- Final Four

So, out of 11 teams given a Top 4 seed with AdjD numbers of 100+, just one made the Final Four and just one made the Elite Eight, while three made the Sweet 16, two lost in the first round and four lost in the second round. If we average these results, assigning a value to the round that each team exited the tournament, we get approximately 2.54…which predicts an average exit point between the second round and the Sweet 16, not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Irish.

What about if we look more specifically at the teams whose profile more closely resembles that of Notre Dame- the teams marked with an asterisk above that carried an AdjOff ranking in the top two, and thereby qualifying as potential Final Four teams like Notre Dame does? The results look a tad better, but not much, with the average exit point landing at 2.71…again predicting a loss before the Sweet 16 on average.

Conclusion: It’s certainly not impossible, but students of history should be very wary of supporting the Irish for a deep run in the tournament. With Kentucky a near lock to win the region, this section of the bracket offers value, especially as Notre Dame landed a tough draw having to play a gritty Butler squad or a heavily underseeded Texas team (11 seed with the efficiency profile of a 5 seed) in the second round. Both show stout defenses ranked in the Top 20, and could neutralize Notre Dame’s explosive offense.

Bracket Optimization- A Research Paper based on Ken Pomeroy’s Efficiency Model

March 16, 2015

Disclaimer: This exercise intends to identify a method in which to eliminate potential Final Four teams from contention as such based upon the statistical significance of their efficiency profile. This is an opposite and completely different exercise than picking the correct Final Four. Conversely, we will attempt to narrow down the contenders and then sort them in tiers in terms of their overall likelihood to advance that far based on historical data as it pertains to their efficiency profile.

Looking at KenPom data going back to 2002, after which there have been 13 years of Final Fours, or 52 teams, we find the following:

– 45 of the 52 teams (87%) owned an efficiency number in the Top 50 of both offense (AdjO) and defense (AdjD).

– Of the 7 teams over that timespan to advance without a Top 50 efficiency number on one side of the ball, 5 of them ranked either first or second on the other:

* 2003 Texas (#1 AdjO, #80 AdjD)

* 2003 Marquette (#2 AdjO, #119 AdjD)

* 2006 LSU (#65 AdjO, #2 AdjD)

* 2010 Butler (#57 AdjO, #2  AdjD)

* 2012 Louisville (#116 AdjO, #1 AdjD)

Notably, none of these teams won the National Title, and only one (Butler) advanced to the Title game.

– That leaves just two teams to have made the Final Four over the past thirteen years that fell outside the top 50 in one efficiency measure while failing to dominate at the other. Not surprisingly, they are widely considered the two biggest upset appearances in Final Four history (the only two 11 seeds to ever advance besides LSU in 1986.) Making up just 3.8% of the sample size, they fall outside of two standard deviations from the mean, and can be considered extreme outliers/ dismissable flukes:

* 2006 George Mason (#58 AdjO, #13 AdjD)

* 2011 VCU (#25 AdjD, #84 AdjD)

Now, we can use these historical trends to apply more specific criteria to what a potential Final Four team would look like, and assign probability to the chance that a Final Four team will possess this criteria in its profile. Importantly, this is much different than saying that a team that possesses this criteria will have the stated probability of making the Final Four, as there are many teams that may possess the same necessary criteria. We are simply identifying the probability that some of those teams will occupy the Final Four in order to confidently rule out a larger portion that will not.

Again, the number below is the probability that any one Final Four team will possess the specified criteria:

Top 50 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD OR Top 2 in one or the other: 96.2%

Not outside of the Top 25 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD: 96.2%

Top 50 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD: 86.5%

Top 10 in either AdjO OR AdjD: 80.8%

Top 25 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD: 59.6%

Top 25 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD, Top 10 in one or the other: 50%

Top 10 in BOTH AdjO and Adj D: 25%

Average Combined Efficiency Number (AdjO rank+ AdjD rank): 35.6

By dismissing the results of the sample that fall outside two standard deviations from the mean (95%), the elimination process is fairly simple:

When evaluating potential Final Four teams, ELIMINATE:

– Any team ranked outside the Top 25 on both sides of the ball.

– Any team ranked outside of the Top 50 on either side of the ball, unless they rank 1st or 2nd on the other.

Among the remaining teams, consider with extreme scrutiny:

-Any team ranked outside the Top 50 on one side of the ball if they rank 1st or 2nd in the other. (9.6% success rate historically)

-Any team that does not rank in the Top 10 on at least one side of the ball (19.2% success rate historically)

Now that we have whittled down the teams that we believe have any chance whatsoever for a Final Four run, the next step is to evaluate the chances of those teams relative to one another. This can be accomplished by dividing the teams into tiers based on the strength of their efficiency profile.

Five types of Final Four contender teams:

Top 25 in AdjO and AdjD and Top 10 in one or the other: 50% (26/52)

Top 50 in AdjO and AdjD/ Top 10 in one or the other: 21% (11/52)

Outside Top 50 in AdjO or AdjD/ Top 2 in one or the other: 10% (5/52)

Top 25 in AdjO and Adj D but not Top 10 in either: 10% (5/52)

Top 50 in AdjO and AdjD/ Top 25 in one or the other: 2% (1/52)

Outliers based on Standard Deviation from mean of elimination criteria: 7%  (4/52)

TIER 1: 

-Any team that ranks in the Top 25 of both AdjO and AdjD, and in Top 10 on one side of the ball. (50% success rate)

Kentucky (5,2)

Arizona (11,3)

Villanova (4,13)

Gonzaga (6,20)

Utah (18,8)

TIER 2: 

– Teams that show a Top 50 efficiency ranking on one side of the ball, and a Top 10 in the other. (21% success rate)

Wisconsin (1, 30)

Virginia (27, 1)

Oklahoma (50,5)

Kansas (37,7)

TIER 3:

– Teams ranked in the Top 2 on one side of the ball, and outside the Top 50 on the other. (10% success rate)

– Top 25 on both sides of the ball but Top 10 on neither. (10% success rate)

Notre Dame (2, 112)

Northern Iowa (15,16)

Witchita State (20,15)

TIER 4: 

-Top 50 on both sides of the ball‎ but Top 25 on just one side of the ball. (2% success rate)

Baylor (13,33)

North Carolina (12,45)

SMU (24,43)

Texas (42,19)

Georgetown (41, 25)

What can we conclude overall about this analysis? For starters, it’s quite obvious that offensive and defensive balance is a key component of a Final Four team. The very fact that the only statistically significant unbalanced Final Four teams were only able to make up for it with extreme dominance on the other side of the ball confirms this. Still, it has to be considered interesting that in the absence of balance, teams with areas of extreme strength on one side of the ball and mediocrity on the other are still preferable to teams that are above average on both sides of the ball. We see this clearly as teams with profiles rated Top 10 on one side of the ball and outside of the Top 25 on the other (a #5 AdjO and #40 AdjD, for example) appear more frequently in the Final Four than teams that appear more balanced on paper in terms of the sum of their efficiencies (a #20 AdjO and #20 AdjD, for example). This seems to indicate that while extreme balance on both sides of the ball is certainly preferable, more often than not, Final Four teams first and foremost need to have an identity in terms of where their strength comes from even if it is on just one side of the ball. Many times, it appears these areas of extreme strength can offset weakness more frequently than simply being above average with no observable calling card.

Another interesting quirk of probability that we can see here is that the most likely annual Final Four approximately consists, on average, of two Tier 1 teams (50%), one Tier 2 team (21%) and one Tier 3 team (20%), leaving some small probability for a Tier 4 team or a team eliminated by this criteria to surprise. This information leads to two different potential strategies for filling out your bracket. On the one hand, you could try to identify the two Tier 1 teams, the Tier 2 team, and the Tier 3 team that you feel have the best opportunity to advance. Of course, since there will likely be multiple teams in each Tier, you are taking the chance of missing all of the Final Four teams if you are wrong and all your teams fall short within those Tiers. It is a high risk, high return strategy, but probably offers to most entertaining way to analyze your bracket. Conversely, by picking all four teams from Tier 1, you can be fairly confident of getting two of the Final Four teams correct, but it is highly unlikely that you will be right about all four. However, this offers a highly conservative approach for those who would prefer to concentrate on the early rounds and feel covered into the Regional Finals and Semifinals.

NATIONAL CHAMPION

Now that you have identified your Final Four, it’s time to move on to picking the Champion. Since there are only thirteen samples in the distribution, these statistics are not nearly as meaningful, but are worth a look nonetheless:

– No team has won the National Championship over the timespan with an efficiency rating worse than #40 on either side of the ball. The worst over that timespan on each side:

* 2014 UConn (#39 AdjO, #10 AdjD)

* 2009 North Carolina (#1 AdjO, #21 AdjD)

Using the same method from above, here are the probabilities based on the data that the National Champion will possess each stated criteria, with the exceptions to the rule notated:

Top 50 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD: 100%

Top 25 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD: 92.3% (UConn ’14 is the only exception)

Top 10 in either AdjO OR AdjD: 84.6% (UConn ’11 and Syracuse ’03 are the exceptions)

Top 10 in BOTH AdjO and AdjD: 53.8%

Average Combined Efficiency Number: 17.2

We’ll give some small leeway on these parameters given the small sample size, but suffice to say, while AdjO and AdjD seem equally important to achieving a Final Four Run, it would appears that AdjD becomes nearly doubly important for a team in order to win it all.

When evaluating potential Champion teams, ELIMINATE:

-Any team ranked outside of the Top 50 on either side of the ball

-Any team ranked below 25th in AdjD.

Consider with extreme scrutiny:

-Any team ranked outside of the Top 25 on either side of the ball (6.8% success rate historically)

-Any team ranked outside of the Top 10 on both sides of the ball (15.4% success rate historically)

Identify teams that lie above positive mean trends:

-Any team ranked in the Top 10 of both AdjO and AdjD (53.6% success rate).

-Any team with a combined efficiency number below 17 (mean).

UPSETS

One of the most important ways that this data can be used is in regards to upsets- not necessarily to predict upsets, but rather to have an understanding of a possibly highly seeded team’s susceptibility to be upset relative to other teams. Recognizing this can result in taking picking a team to lose earlier than many people will without taking significant risk.

So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and re-live some of the biggest tournament upsets in the KenPom era. Again, the goal is not to prove that we could have predicted the upset, but rather to show that there were signs that could have signified picking the team that was upset to lose earlier than the average bracket would have based on our already established criteria. As always, nothing is fool proof, and some of these upsets remain massive head-scratchers, which is still part of the fun…March Madness should never become a stranger to the unexplained, nor will it ever become anything close to an exact science.

Biggest NCAA Tourney Upsets in KenPom Era (since 2002):

Formula for ranking the upset: (Winning Seed/ Losing Seed ) + (Winning Seed- Losing Seed)

* Efficiency numbers included are for the losing team only.

#1: 2006: 11) George Mason over 1) UConn

(2nd AdjO, 25th AdjD)

This defensive ranking below 21st eliminated UConn as a potential National Title team.

#2: 2011: 11) VCU over 1) Kansas

(7th AdjO, 11th AdjD)

Upset not explainable by our criteria.

#3: 2012: 15) Norfolk State over 2) Missouri

(1st AdjO, 146th AdjD)

This defensive ranking way outside of the Top 50 eliminated Missouri as a potential National Title team and gave them a very slim chance to make the Final Four, only because of their dominance on offense.

#4: 2012: 15) Lehigh over 2) Duke

(10th AdjO, 81st AdjD)

This defensive ranking outside of the Top 50 without a dominant offensive ranking eliminated Duke from both National Title and Final Four contention.

#5: 2013: 15) Dunk City over 2) Georgetown

(78th AdjO, 2nd Adj D)

This offensive ranking outside of the Top 50 eliminated Georgetown from National Title contention and gave them a very slim shot at the Final Four only due to their dominant defense.

#6: 2010: 9) Northern Iowa over 1) Kansas

(2nd AdjO, 9th AdjD)

Upset not explainable by our criteria.

#7: 2004: 9) UAB over 1) Kentucky

(27th AdjO, 9th AdjD)

Upset not explainable by our criteria.

#8: 2013: 9) Wichita State over 1) Gonzaga

(2nd AdjO, 37th AdjD)

This defensive ranking below 21st eliminated Gonzaga as a potential National Title team.

#9: 2005: 14) Bucknell over 3) Kansas

(13th AdjO, 25th Adj D)

This defensive ranking below 21st eliminated Kansas as a potential national title team, and the lack of a Top 10 efficiency on either side of the ball gave Kansas a very slim chance to make the Final Four.

#10: 2006: 14) Northwestern State over 3) Iowa

(151st AdjO, 1st AdjD)

This offensive ranking well below 39th eliminated Iowa as a potential National Title team and gave them a very slim chance to make the Final Four, only because of their dominant defense.

Others:

2013: 14) Harvard over 3) New Mexico

(53rd AdjO, 18th AdjD)

This offensive ranking outside of the Top 50 without a dominant defense eliminated New Mexico as a Final Four candidate.

2014: 14) Mercer over 3) Duke

(2nd AdjO, 116th Adj D)

This defensive ranking eliminated Duke from National Title contention, and they had very slim chance at the Final Four only thanks to a dominant offense.

2010: 14) Ohio over 3) Georgetown

(10th AdjO, 61st Adj D)

This defensive ranking outside the Top 50 without a dominant offense eliminated Georgetown from Final Four contention.

2002: 8) UCLA over 1) Cincinnati

(6th AdjO, 5th AdjD)

Upset not explainable by our criteria.

2004: 8) Alabama over 1) Stanford

(49th AdjO, 3rd AdjD)

This offensive ranking below 39th eliminated Stanford as a national title contender, and they only narrowly maintained status as a Final Four contender as the offense held Top 50 status by the skin of its teeth without a dominant (Top 2) defense.

2011: 8) Butler over 1) Pitt

(4th AdjO, 22nd AdjD)

Upset not explainable by our criteria.

So, out of the 16 biggest upsets in the Ken Pom area, 11 of the losses (69%) can be anticipated earlier than expected based on the criteria. This is different than proclaiming that the winning team was easy to predict, which is an important distinction to make. We are simply saying that more than two thirds of the time, evidence existed indicating that these teams would lose before the National Championship game and in most cases, before the Final Four. Our criteria indicated that a whopping 8 of the 16 teams “upset” (50%) had a slim to none chance to make the Final Four to begin with.

Good luck with your brackets, and welcome to March Madness.

FINAL BRACKETOLOGY UPDATE

March 15, 2015
MIDWEST- Cleveland SOUTH- Houston EAST- Syracuse WEST- LA
1 KENTUCKY DUKE VILLANOVA WISCONSIN
2 Notre Dame Kansas Virginia ARIZONA
3 IOWA STATE Maryland Baylor GONZAGA
4 SMU NORTHERN IOWA Oklahoma North Carolina
5 West Virginia Arkansas Louisville Butler
6 Providence Georgetown Utah Witchita State
7 Michigan State Ohio State Oregon VCU
8 Davidson St. John’s Iowa San Diego State
9 Texas Xavier Louisiana State STEPHEN F AUSTIN
10 NC State Colorado State Oklahoma State Cincinnati
11 Purdue Georgia Dayton Indiana/ Tulsa
12 Temple/ Ole Miss BUFFALO WYOMING WOFFORD
13 HARVARD UC IRVINE NMSU GEORGIA STATE
14 MANHATTAN VALPO NORTH DAKOTA ST EASTERN WASHINGTON
15 BELMONT NORTHEASTERN ALBANY UAB
16 C CAROLINA/ HAMPTON NORTH FLORIDA ROBERT MORRIS LAFAYETTE/ T SOUTHERN

BRACKETOLOGY

March 15, 2015
MIDWEST- Cleveland SOUTH- Houston EAST- Syracuse WEST- LA
1 KENTUCKY DUKE VILLANOVA WISCONSIN
2 Notre Dame Kansas Virginia ARIZONA
3 IOWA STATE Maryland Baylor GONZAGA
4 SMU NORTHERN IOWA Oklahoma North Carolina
5 West Virginia Arkansas Louisville Butler
6 Michigan State Georgetown Utah Witchita State
7 Providence Ohio State Oregon VCU
8 Davidson St. John’s Iowa San Diego State
9 Texas Xavier Louisiana State STEPHEN F AUSTIN
10 NC State Colorado State Oklahoma State Cincinnati
11 Purdue Georgia Dayton Indiana/ Tulsa
12 Temple/ Ole Miss BUFFALO WYOMING WOFFORD
13 HARVARD UC IRVINE NMSU GEORGIA STATE
14 MANHATTAN VALPO NORTH DAKOTA ST EASTERN WASHINGTON
15 BELMONT NORTHEASTERN ALBANY UAB
16 C CAROLINA/ HAMPTON NORTH FLORIDA ROBERT MORRIS LAFAYETTE/ T SOUTHERN

Last Four In: Indiana, Ole Miss, Temple, Tulsa

Last Four Out: Texas A&M, Boise State, BYU, Illinois

* A win by UConn would push Temple out of the field. (Seems appropriate to steal a bid from their own conference).

* Wisconsin falls to a #2 seed in the Midwest with a loss to Michigan State. Virginia moves up to #1 in the West and Notre Dame shifts to a #2 seed in the East.

Belmont’s Biggest Day Ever- Card Picks 5-11

June 7, 2014

P=Pace, S= Stalker, C= Closer

Picks include all horses being used in any bet whatsoever. Good luck.

Race 5: 12:54- Woody Stephens, 7f

1- Bayern (5-1) P

Had rough trip in Belmont and rough luck in Derby Trial DQ, now gets rail spot against a field loaded with speed. Still, shows a 98 Beyer from SA allowance win at 8f, which is second in the field, but figs have been in decline since then.

2- Financial Mogul (30-1) C

Closing type should get a nice pace to run at here, but may be a cut below in terms of talent, following a 6th place finish in the 7f Bay Shore last out, gets blinkers off 2 month layoff.

3- Havana (6-1) P

Highly regarded in his 2 year old season following 8f Champagne win over the BEL surface, but wasn’t sharp in return race following injury, finishing 3rd against weaker. A bit of a question mark as he attempts a return to form, far inside much of the speed.

4- Meadowood (15-1) S

Takes a class jump off 6f win at Pimlico in only his 4th career start, but is undefeated and shows the best late pace number from his last effort, but stretches out to 7f for the first time.

5- Coup de Grace (10-1) P/S

Winner of 7f Bay Shore in last attempt back in April, posting an 89 Beyer while rating off the pace, will need to improve on that figure here but could hit the board with similar racing tactics if the speed collapses.

6- Embellishing Bob (8-1) P

Winner by DQ in 8f Derby Trial after breaking maiden in third try, racing just off Bayern throughout in first stakes attempt. 94 Beyer appears competitive here, but seasoning remains a question against a speedy field.

7- Tonito M (20-1) S

Was 2nd after a rough trip in 7f race at SA in first US start following dominating wins on the Puerto Rico circuit, figures to get a nice trip behind the speed, and is eligible to improve off 83 Beyer number in second race off the ship.

8- Favorite Tale (12-1) P

Upset Havana in last start at 6f over this surface but was nowhere to be found in the Bay Shore, may prefer shorter sprints.

9- Spot (30-1) S

Closed from off the pace to win the 7f Swale at GP, but low Beyer of 87 was justified in two subsequent efforts, as he finished well off the board against tougher foes. Has yet to duplicate the turn of foot shown in the Swale.

10- Kobe’s Back (15-1) C

Will certainly get the right setup here to make his late run, which he demonstrated in winning the 7f San Vincente at SA four starts back, posting a 95 Beyer, which tops the field at the distance. Missed the win in the Bay Shore by just a half length and may see more pace here; for the runner with the best career late pace number of 105, he seems most logical to pick up the pieces. The choice.

11- Social Inclusion (7-5) P

By far the class of the field, but has seen declining Beyers since massive 110 in 8.5f allowance win at GP. Still, he’s talented enough to battle this type of contested pace and still have plenty left at this distance, must use defensively on top while seeking value elsewhere.

12- Top Fortitude (20-1) P

Rated and drew away impressively to win the 7f La Barrera last out, but sat behind pretty leisurely pace and 85 Beyer confirms this, will have tougher ones to chase this time around.

13- Pure Sensation (30-1)

Steps up in class following 2nd place finish ahead of highly regarded Havana in that one’s return, speedster draws wide and looks up against it.

Picks:

1) Kobe’s Back 15-1

2) Social Inclusion 8-5

3) Tonito M 20-1

4) Coup De Grace 10-1

Race 6: 1:32- Acorn, 8f

1- Fashion Plate (12-1) P

Didn’t run a lick in Oaks after the ship to CD, but had dominated SA on the lead. Gets a tough post against a speedy field that may give more pressure than she can handle.

2- House Rules (12-1) P/S

Races after a 2 month layoff shipping in from GP, Beyer figures between 80-90 are well below the best here, but she could conceivably work out a ground saving trip if she settles back. Breaking between two speed horses will make that a tough task, pass.

3- Fiftyshadesofgold (8-1) P

Chased division leader Untapable when a distant 2nd at FG, won at 7f in last but will face more pressure on the front end this time stretching back out, 94 Beyer is the second highest in the field, however. In the mix for a piece, but worried that the speed will be her undoing as she has never won beyond 7f.

4- Sweet Whiskey (20-1) P/S

Stretches out the 8f for the first time and makes a class leap here, in a tough spot off a 7 week layoff.

5- Sweet Reason (10-1) S/C

Stalking style should suit here in third race off the layoff, as 2 yo form was solid and she’s had some tough racing luck since winning the 7f Spinaway. Still, will need to make up 7 lengths on favored My Miss Sophia following 3rd place finish in the 9f Gazelle last out.

6- Tiz So Sweet (20-1) P

Speedster moves way up in class on short seasoning, low speed figures suggest she will be up against it in a field loaded with front-running types.

7- Unbridled Forever (10-1) S

Figures to get first run on the speed if the pace collapses, and while well beaten by foes My Miss Sophia (6 lengths) and Fiftyshadesofgold (1.75 lengths) in her last two starts, she should see a much more favorable race shape here. Her speed figures are consistent and improving and she deserves a flyer here at long odds on a pace angle, the choice.

8- My Miss Sophia (6-5) P

On paper, she towers over this field with a field high 100 Beyer, and two wins and two seconds in her four career starts. However, she will see more pressure on the lead than she has before, too much to justify a play at these odds beyond defensive protection in exotics.

9- Artemis Agrotera (5-1) P

Her 8f win over the BEL surface in the Frizette last fall looks good here, but she races back after a 7 month layoff against more seasoned horses, and this combined with her front-running style could compromise her chances.

10- Lady Paradime (30-1) S

Takes a big class leap as she exits two wins over optional claiming company, but did show ability to rate off speed and close to win two back, which could be meaningful here on the bottom of deep exotics.

11- Risque Reality (30-1) S

Exits a third place finish against lesser and will stretch out to 8f having never run beyond 6.5f. Difficult to support.

12- Vero Amore (20-1) P/S

Cuts back in distance following runner-up finish in 9f Black-Eyed Susan, but 84 Beyer posted in that race doesn’t inspire confidence.

13- Euphrosyne (20-1) S

Well beaten in Black Eyed Susan, finishing 13 behind a slow race. Toss.

Picks:

1) Unbridled Forever 10-1

2) My Miss Sophia 6-5

3) Sweet Reason 10-1

4) Fiftyshadesofgold 8-1

Race 7: 2:14- Ogden Phipps, 8.5f

1-    Close Hatches (5-2) P

Sharp front-running winner of her two 2014 starts, posting a field high 100 Beyer in the 8.5f Apple Blossom, and has a win over this track in last year’s Mother Goose. Still, in head to head competition, she’s been squarely beaten by the other two powerhouses here, and we’re not sure she deserves such comparable odds, but perhaps this track will play more favorably.

2-    Antipathy (30-1) P

It takes balls to take on the two best 4 yo fillies in America off a career best optional claiming win, three back. No pun intended.

3-    Belle Gallantey (30-1) P/S

Winner of three straight, she’s shown some ability to rate off the pace and win, which counts for something here. Still moves up in class, but while there seems to be a huge separation between the top three and the others, she seems the best of the latter.

4-    Classic Point (20-1) S

Stretches out beyond 7f for the first time in her career, and oh my, what a place to attempt such a thing. Made a massive improvement in her last versus optional claimers, but was off the board by a combined 34 lengths in her prior three against stakes horses. Yikes.

5-    Beholder (7-5) P

Still the fastest filly on the block, but she may not have it as easy here as she had it winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. There’s a lot of pace to contend with, even if some of it is cheap speed, and she’s the only runner to have never run at BEL which is no small deal on a racetrack as nuanced as this one. Still, she very well may win on talent alone, but going to BEL from SA can’t be understated.

6-    Princess of Sylmar (9-5) S

Although she probably prefers a longer distance than this, she did handily win her last race coming in off a six month layoff following a tough campaign, and it would be hard to argue that the race shape doesn’t set up perfectly for her style. She settles outside all of the speed, and should be able to stalk and pounce on command if Pletcher has her ready to fire and get revenge. Interestingly, she has the top 2014 Beyer of the Big 3, a 101 in her return.

NOTE: I don’t think this race is bettable on any level. Watch and enjoy.

Picks:

1)    Princess of Sylmar (9-5)

2)    Beholder (7-5)

3)    Close Hatches (5-2)

Race 8: 3:00- Just A Game, 8f T

1- Ready Signal (30-1) C

Ran a respectable fourth behind a couple of foes here when stepping up to graded company for the first time, speed figs are still a cut below and she won’t have much pace to attack here, prefer other off-the-pace types.

2- Strathnaver (20-1) C

Exits an even 4th on the poly at 8.5f in her last following a long layoff, not sure she’s quite sharp or fast enough to contend here and running style won’t help.

3- Dame Marie (20-1) C

May have moved too soon in the 8f Turf Mile last out, where she was unable to hold on through the stretch, losing narrowly to one of today’s foes. Would be a live bomber with more pace signed on and a better timed move, but looking elsewhere.

4- Somali Lemonade (8-1) P

Appears to be in career form after switching tactics to racing near the lead, winning her last two including a field high 96 Beyer. She shouldn’t have much pressure up front and should have plenty in the tank having raced beyond this distance many times. Playable.

5- Coffee Clique (10-1)

Stalked and emerged victorious in her last, posting a competitive 95 Beyer. She’s been working well and has the look of an improving filly, and should sit close enough to the pace to be in contention late.

6- Stephanie’s Kitten (4-1) S

Defending champ was arguably the division leader a year ago before injury knocked her off course. Her last place finish after a ten month layoff last out wasn’t as bad as it looked as she missed the win by only 3 1/4 lengths, but now she runs back after nearly two months, probably prefers a hotter pace, and may not be as sharp as some of these. Moves up on softer turf.

7- Unlimited Budget (20-1) S

The always experimental filly who took on the boys at Belmont last summer tries turf for the first time, difficult to endorse.

8- Waterway Run (6-1) S

Exits a good win in the 8.5f Beaugay over good turf, where she stalked and overtook a moderate pace. 90 Beyer there isn’t quite at the level of the top contenders, but she’s worth a look.

9- Discreet Marq (5-2) P

Remarkably consistent, and has finished first or second in her last eight races. She’ll meet a tougher field here but figures to get away with pretty easy fractions on the lead, and is 3/5 at BEL. The 95 Beyer she posted when just nosed for the win last time out in her first off the layoff ranks with the best here, and she is eligible to improve, especially with a slight cutback. A single for me in the Pick 4.

10- Better Lucky (3-1)

Runner-up last year, but tough to figure following well beaten 2nd at 7f over the KEE poly in first race off a five month layoff. Was nosed out by a half a length by the top choice back in December, and that one seems sharper, but she deserves a look based on career form, as she’s never missed the board at this distance.

Picks:

1) Discreet Marq 5-2

2) Somali Lemonade 8-1

3) Coffee Clique 10-1

4) Better Lucky 3-1

Race 9: 3:48- Met Mile, 8f

1- Palace Malice (8-5) S

Arguably the best horse currently in training, he tries 8f again after winning in his two prior 2014 starts at that distance. He gets a tough post, but running style should suit, as he figures to drop back, save ground and make one run on the speed. His high Beyer of 113 creates some separation even among this contested, high quality field, but at such low odds, he can’t be the only play…but he won’t beat us on top either….he’s quite accomplished over the BEL surface.

2- Vyjack (30-1) P/S

Returned from nearly a year layoff with a 7f win over optional claiming company, but this seems an awfully tough spot to make a comeback, especially for a horse who really lost his form last year. He can beat me.

3- Scary Charly (50-1)

Scary indeed. He looks hopelessly outclassed, stepping up into one of the deepest races of the year so far right after breaking his maiden…on his 7th try.

4- Goldencents (10-1) P

Defending BC Dirt Mile champion returns from a 6 month layoff and gets slapped with a disrespectful morning line. Still, there’s reason to worry as he switches surfaces back to BEL, where he did finish 2nd as a 2 yo in the Champagne, but his glory days have come on the SA carousel. With so much speed in here we feel he may be compromised, and he hasn’t been as effective over one turn miles as two turn miles (1 for 6), and that’s an important bit. Try to beat.

5- Moreno (10-1) P

Wheels back quickly after a solid 4th place finish in the 9.5f Pimlico special, where he landed just 1.75 lengths from the win after holding the lead in the stretch. Son of Ghostzapper seems to always have the lead at the 8f mark, but connections insist on racing at longer distances…could this be his race? Look back at last year’s Jim Dandy, and you’ll see he was just a half length behind winner Palace Malice, the heavy favorite here, at the 8f mark. He’s 2/2 at BEL, and the cutback should help with the quick turnaround.

6- Central Banker (8-1) Scratched

7- Capo Bastone (30-1) C

His victory at 28-1 in last year’s King’s Bishop looks just as unbelievable now as it did then, as he’s lost his three races since by a combined 26 lengths. That was a race that he won based on a total pace meltdown, which isn’t impossible here, but this is a much tougher field with more consistent stalkers and closers.

8- Declan’s Warrior (30-1) C

An effective closer at shorter distances as a 3 yo, he really lost form at the end of last year. His most recent start at this distance led to a nearly 10 length thrashing at the hands of Palace Malice. Should be coming late, but he doesn’t look playable here.

9- Normandy Invasion (5-1) C

Popular 4 yo returns after a two month layoff, last seen easily beaten by leading HOY candidate and race foe Palace Malice. There’s a strong feeling though that a one-turn mile is right in his wheelhouse, and he’ll get a chance to prove it. Difficult to elevate him above the favorite based on the result of his last race, but certainly in the mix, as he figures to drop back and pick off the pace late.

10- Clearly Now (10-1) S

Tough-luck colt is clearly talented but can’t ever seem to get up for the win. This distance may be a bit further than he wants to go, although he’s certainly a grinding type that keeps coming, but just doesn’t seem to have the turn of foot or will to win to get to the wire first. He’s playable underneath in exotics, but we’ve lost enough money on him at this point that I can no longer bear to include him. Now watch as he ruins the trifecta.

11- Broadway Empire (20-1) P

Speedster does show a 9f win in last year’s Oklahoma Derby, but all of his wins have come in wire-to-wire fashion. That would be a difficult way to win among the likes of these.

12- Romansh (15-1) S/P

Cuts back in distance following a win in the 9f Excelsior at AQE; seems somewhat of a forgotten horse, but not sure he has the pure speed to make a meaningful impact here, especially layed off since March.

13- Shakin It Up (6-1) S

Ran a solid 2nd last out in the 7f Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day, closing well to post a 107 Beyer, which is good for 2nd highest in the field. He does have a win at 8.5 to his credit this year, and in all his 7f races, whether wins or losses, he seems to be begging for more ground. He figures to sit a solid trip just outside the speed, and is tactical enough to save ground despite a wide post. The pick.

Picks:

1) Shakin It Up 6-1

2) Palace Malice 8-5

3) Moreno 10-1

4) Normandy Invasion 6-1

Race 10: 4:42- Manhattan, 10f T

1- Imagining (7-2) P

Exits win in 10.5f Manhattan with field high last out Beyer at 10f or beyond (98) and is 5/8 lifetime at BEL. Boasts an impressive pedigree (by Giant’s Causeway out of an AP Indy mare) for this distance and is tactical enough to sit just off the main speed, both of whom are drawn well outside and have never raced beyond 9f. The key question is whether he will settle behind the speedy Fire Iron or go with him; but he seems professional enough to relax from this post, in which case we feel he is a lock for the exacta and a must use in multi-race wagers.

2- Hey Leroy (12-1) S

Shows field-high Beyer for 2014 (101), although that was at 8f, in fact, he’s never raced beyond 8.5f and figures to be challenged heavily on the stretch out.

3- Rookie Sensation (12-1) S

Faded and lost lead in only prior attempt at this distance, but has been closing well from just off the pace at shorter distances recently, would need to improve speed figures in his first try over the BEL surface; has backers, and they are legion. We feel the pace here is overstated and will be subdued; Wise-guy horse.

4- Grandeur (5-1) C

Narrowly beaten 3rd in his last over this course, he gets first time Lasix here, but running style may lend better to a distance a bit longer than this, especially in a race without a ton of pace. Shows the best class in the field, but tended to fall back too far early in races earlier in his career. He stayed within 2.5 lengths from the pacesetter under easy fractions last out over this course right after the ship from Europe, and as one that’s been waiting for his breakout win for over a year now, if that change in tactical style plus the addition of Lasix isn’t enough, what is? He’ll see more pace here than last time for sure, which could help, and he is a Euro type that has done his better running on firmer ground. The pick, and if we’re wrong, we’re done with him.

5- Boisterous (8-1) S

Exits a respectable 3rd in 9f Turf Classic at CD, is 6/11 lifetime at BEL but has been inconsistent recently against top company, beaten easily by both Imagining and Seek Again in 2014. Certainly a horse for the course, but his overall inconsistency and descending form while others look ready to explode makes him tough to support.

6- Seek Again (3-1) S

Improving 4 year old gave Wise Dan all he could handle in 9f Turf Classic, shows a win at this distance from December, would need to improve speed figures (94 Beyer in last, 93 in 10f win) but should be in the mix late. The feeling here is that the Man O’War over this course was the better of the two races, and he’ll take heavy action simply due to how close he was to beating the Horse of the Year. He’s proven at this distance, interestingly in the same race that drew us towards the top pick a year ago, but seeing as how all of his other races have come up much shorter and his figs are below, we’ll try to beat him for the win, using him defensively in the second and third spots.

7- Five Iron (15-1) P

Came out of nowhere to win 8.5f Fort Marcey at BEL wire to wire at 20-1 odds, posting an impressive 100 Beyer. Figures to be the one to catch on the front end, but has never raced beyond 9f so this may be beyond his scope, especially following a somewhat freaky career effort. Will probably have the most impact on the race, without standing a real chance to win it.

8- Real Solution (5-1) S

Seeking a return to the winner’s circle in 5th start since Arlington Million victory by dq, but this is his ideal distance and he looked much improved in 2nd place finish in Man O War, just 3/4 of a length behind Imagining. Will need to run closer to the pace this time, which has been a problem, as well as his tendency to hang in the stretch. A sentimental favorite of ours that is hard to play on top this time, but always seems to find his way onto the board.

9- Kaigun (15-1) S/C

Former claimer has finished a combined 2.25 lengths behind Wise Dan in his last two races, staging impressive late runs, but he’s another that will stretch out from 8 and 9f races here. Still, looking at the ground he gobbled up over the reigning Horse of the Year over his last two races, which equates to over a length on average over the final furlong, we get the sense of a rapidly improving gelding that deserves a shot to make another run into the trifecta,

10- Chamois (15-1) P

Nosed out for the place by Hey LeRoy in last, he’s winless at BEL and has never run beyond 8.5f, will contend for early lead from wide post. Runs back quick from 5/17 start off a six month layoff. Trainer admitted that he is running back too quickly and probably won’t win, which we never like to hear a trainer admit. Could be an addition to the pace of a race where the pace scenario looms large.

Picks:

1) Grandeur

2) Imagining

3) Real Solution

4) Seek Again

5) Kaigun

Race 11: 5:52- Belmont, 12f

1- Medal Count (20-1) S

His Derby was much better than it looked, as he had to check hard into Danza when moving late and still managed to finish a respectable 8th. He’s fresh, having skipped the Preakness, and while his dirt form draws comparisons to Dullahan, another Dale Romans trained colt who floundered in this spot, his pedigree leaves no questions regarding distance concerns. A live exotics player.

2- California Chrome (3-5) P

There isn’t much more to be said about this spectacularly professional colt, who will try to become the first Triple Crown winner of our lifetime here. His running style suits perfectly for this race, as he is able to rate and push a button at any desired moment. A win here would not surprise, but if we didn’t want him at 5-2 in the Derby, we can’t take him at the inverse of that in the toughest Belmont in recent memory. His Preakness was certainly not as strong a race as his Derby, and for as many Triple Crown hopefuls as we’ve seen succumb to the grueling distance of this race, he’ll be played only very narrowly on top, but with much respect underneath.

3- Matterhorn (30-1) S

Exits a well beaten 4th over a sloppy BEL track in the Peter Pan, and doesn’t appear to have the seasoning or the pedigree to contend here.

4- Commanding Curve (15-1) C

Getting no respect on the Morning Line, the Derby runner up comes in fresh after skipping the Preakness, but undoubtedly will draw comparison to last year’s runner up Golden Soul, who was nowhere to be found here. He received a favorable trip in the Derby, but let’s not forget that he finished the final ¼ faster than any other horse in the field and was the only colt making up ground through the final stretch. That doesn’t always translate to a Belmont winner, but he should probably be used underneath in exotics.

5- Ride on Curlin (12-1) C

The expert consensus seems to be that he is a tired colt after his career effort in the Preakness, but he’s been a favorite of ours since the winter, and we can’t help but love his throwback style. We’ll play contrarian here, and argue that he has actually improved with every race, even under a tough campaign, similar to how Oxbow and Will Take Charge matured last year. A more logical comparison would be Palace Malice, another Curlin colt, who got better with every race last year just as his sire did, and has continued to do so in 2014. One man’s tired colt can be another man’s improving colt, and his workouts got better at BEL as the week went on. We give him a strong look to hit the exacta based purely on his toughness.

6- Matuszak (30-1) C

Son of Bernardini was crushed in his last by a colt that opted against this race and will run in Race #2 on the undercard. What does that tell you?

7- Samraat (20-1) P

Hard-trier actually ran a great Derby, but simply doesn’t appear to have the genetic configuration to contest a race of this length, especially as he will be expected to press along with California Chrome early. He will be in requirement of an oxygen mask by the 10f point if that is the case, and those last two furlongs could be a long, long run.

8- Commissioner (20-1) S

Deserves a look if only for his potential based on pedigree. He’s by Belmont winner A.P. Indy out of a Touch Gold mare, also a Belmont winner (and Triple Crown crusher), and you don’t see that very often. Sure, up to this point he’s seemed a one-paced grinder that can’t accelerate, but those are the types that often get up for this race. He’s been improving and hasn’t yet run a race suited for his running style, and much crazier things have happened than him winning this race (Da’Tara? Sarava?) Still, we’ll try not to get too carried away as his prior form is still subpar, and use him underneath to spice up exotics, but if he drifts up above 40-1 and there’s a live Pick 4 on the line, a win bet to hedge is mandatory.

9- Wicked Strong (6-1) S

Our Derby pick ran incredibly well over an impossible trip to finish a solid 4th, and wisely skipped the Preakness to freshen up for this. The big misconception about this colt is that he is some sort of deep closer, which can spell disaster in a race this long, but with a much smaller field and less absurd post, he should be able to stake out a trip similar to the one he had in the Wood Memorial, settling just off the pacesetters and then letting loose with one big run. We’ve had a decent history of picking Triple Crown spoilers (Victory Gallop, Touch Gold, Empire Maker all correctly picked as winners), and this one deserves another shot at overlayed odds. The choice.

10- General A Rod (20-1) P/S

You have to respect his connections for contesting all three legs of the Triple Crown, as this is a solid colt that always fires but just can’t seem to find that turn of foot; he’s more of a one-paced grinder that just keeps coming, and that isn’t the worst style in the world for a race like this. He figures to be part of a soft early pace and could certainly hang on for a piece, but he is difficult to support on top.

11- Tonalist (8-1) P/S

This is the most polarizing colt in the field, coming off a strong win over the slop on this BEL surface in the 9f Peter Pan, posting a 101 Beyer. Still, we find it difficult to see a Tapit colt stretching out this far successfully and having any kind of impact. There is so much going against him here- the wide post, the front-running style against more seasoned colts, the seeming affinity for sloppy tracks on an 80 degree summer day in New York- and we’ll try to keep him off the board entirely.

Picks:

1) Wicked Strong 6-1

2) California Chrome 3-5

3) Ride on Curlin 12-1

4) Commissioner 20-1

5) Medal Count 20-1

6) Commanding Curve 15-1

7) General A Rod 20-1

Is Obama Surprised That The U.S. Employment Situation Is Still An Unmitigated Disaster?

June 4, 2011

 

Yesterday’s disastrous unemployment data should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the economic developments over the past month. Following an inflation-themed asset rush in the early parts of the year, the market has reversed course and began to face the reality of the national economic debacle that continues and worsens by the day. The Dow finished down on the week for the fifth consecutive time, the longest such streak since 2008, while the unemployment rate continued to hover around unacceptable levels, actually upticking to 9.1% over the past month. It should be clear by now that the optimistic pundits describing the so-called “recovery” may have been tuting their horn a bit early; as we near the two year anniversary of a near financial meltdown, things are not getting better. They are getting worse, and our leaders appear clueless as to how to solve the problem.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but will offer a few quick points that Mr. President either refuses to acknowledge or has yet to discover. What frustrates me the most is that in speeches like what I have posted above, he seems to understand the problem perfectly, but is infinitely misguided in determining the proper solutions. On a broad scale, the fiscal issues facing the United States are twofold: Government debt is expanding at an unsustainable pace that threatens the credibility and survival of the dollar itself, while at the same time the nation’s labor force is struggling to find work, which is almost single-handedly destroying the real estate market. I wish there was a way to solve both of these problems at once, but unfortunately, there is not.

Obama’s solution to the catastrophic debt situation involves some moderate spending cuts combined with tax hikes upon the nation’s wealthiest members. As he stated in the above speech, “I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more.” (around the 34:40 mark). The President is correct on one count: the most fortunate among us can certainly afford to pay more. Whether or not they should be obligated to so that the government can continue to spend recklessly is another topic altogether, especially considering that the top 5 % of the nation’s earners already shoulder 60% of the tax burden…a number that has been increasing over the last three decades.

Let’s deal with the issue of unemployment first. To quote Bill O’Reilly, who summed it up perfectly on his Talking Points Memo Thursday night, “Mr. Obama wants to raise taxes on the affluent, including small business owners who hire people. Does that make sense to you? If you want more jobs, you must give business incentives to hire, not take more money away from the entrepreneurial class.” Mark my words- Until we see across the board tax cuts, we will not see increased employment opportunities either. Even keeping taxes at their current levels will not alleviate the problem, and raising them further will continue to strain employment opportunities in America. No amount of government spending can encourage hiring in the private sector.

Of course, lowering taxes across the board also lowers revenue, so while this solution helps to solve one problem, it exacerbates another. However, it is important to note that Washington does not have and has never had a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. How can a government that refuses to live within its means expect its citizens to behave in a fiscally responsible manner? Abolishing that 1% of foreign aid that the President scoffs at around the 14:00 minute mark of the above speech (much of it to countries who hate Americans) would be a good starting point for trimming down the spending, not the laughable $38 million package agreed upon in Congress. His ideas to cut areas of defense spending and to restructure Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are steps in the right direction, but are ultimately not enough to solve the problem. Taking steps away from what is becoming a culture hell-bent on entitlement would have an immediate impact as well. An aggressive tax-hiking stance, especially while targeting the section of the country that has been funding this record government spending spree and doing most of the hiring, will only serve to cost Americans more and more jobs. The only solution is to cut taxes and limit government spending massively. Until you can accomplish that Mr. President, don’t be surprised that this once strong nation is slowly but surely decaying on your watch.