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Colley: A case for the Hall of Fame

I’m on the Jerry Kramer bandwagon. A couple of weeks ago a columnist from Sandpoint made the case for Kramer’s selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This is larger than a sports issue. Kramer was voted football’s best offensive lineman for the first 50 years of the National Football League. Some great talents followed in the next couple of decades but John Hannah and Anthony Munoz didn’t anchor the line for five championship teams over the short span of seven years. They didn’t inspire a generation of young ballplayers. Kramer did.

By the time I played high school ball the great man had retired. However, on jersey selection day the offensive linemen on my team almost came to blows to grab number 64. They did this because Kramer’s two books were among the most checked out from our local library. Guys who never obeyed an assignment to read a novel for English class all had read the tales of the Lombardi Era in Green Bay. They were the first “long” books I read, and I checked them out several times.

My hometown is 58 miles south-southeast of Buffalo. There weren’t many Packers fans in the area, but Kramer was a beloved figure. The Bills have only two championships, and both were from the years the franchise competed in the AFL. Buffalo had some talent in the very same years the Packers were the scourge of the NFL, but even casual fans know the Bills would’ve been pasted had they played Lombardi’s Packers in a title game as two AFL clubs learned the hard way. The Buffalo offense was a nod to Green Bay success. Guards Billy Shaw and Joe O’Donnell led a version of the power sweep. Jack Kemp wore number 15 at quarterback and displayed the same leadership skills as Bart Starr (also number 15). Buffalo was a minor league version of the Packers, and yet, somehow, Billy Shaw is in the Hall of Fame. Was he better than Kramer? It’s a stupid question. Kramer has five championship rings and they all meant something. On a weekly basis he blocked the likes of Merlin Olsen, Jethro Pugh and Alex Karras. Those three are all NFL legends. How did Kramer stack up against those men? Again, he has five championship rings and they don’t. Lombardi claimed Kramer was the best in the game. What do you suppose the greatest coach in the history of football knew that the spindly, myopic and flaccid members of the Hall of Fame selection committee haven’t been able to see for four decades?

Kramer long ago said there were things in life more important than a cubicle in a museum, and he’s right. Still, it’s an injustice and it only becomes more and more and more unjust with the passage of time.

Several years ago some snot-nosed sportswriter claimed Kramer had been overrated. By Lombardi? By his teammates? By the backs he led to immortality? Even after the departure of Taylor and Hornung and three different starting centers during the championship run the power sweep remained effective. The last title came with a backfield filled with cast-off running backs. The guy calling Jerry Kramer overrated insisted the greatest play in NFL history wasn’t the Packers clinching the Ice Bowl on a quarterback sneak behind Kramer. He claimed the guard slid off Jethro Pugh and instead Center Ken Bowman delivered victory. Nothing against Bowman, but I’ve seen the replay a few thousand times. It’s so obvious Kramer cleared Starr’s path.

People are making up stories to excuse their own failings when it comes to selection.

Another argument maintains there are just too many Packers from the 1960s already in the Hall of Fame. It’s ridiculous. If Kramer was the best then, he should’ve gotten the nod ahead of linemate Forrest Gregg. The committee enshrined Gregg in 1977. Heck, you could make a case for putting every Packer from 1961 through 1967 into the Hall. You could do the same with members of the Steelers a decade later. A few years ago Redskins linebacker Chris Hanburger was given a cubicle in Canton. He was a pretty good ballplayer. He also has no rings on his fingers related to professional football and his club was routinely stampeded going up against the Packers. So much was the humiliation Washington brought Lombardi out of coaching retirement and gave him the sun, moon and stars for his new role. Hanburger was good, but I don’t believe the coach ever put him in the same category as the greats from his previous job.

The question then begs why? Why every year is Kramer snubbed? Did he use some writer’s cereal bowl as a toilet? I’ve never heard a bad word about the guy. He didn’t get booted from the game for gambling like some of his contemporaries. He didn’t slap his wife around inside elevators. In fact, it’s a miracle he played at all. Broken bones he never even knew he’d suffered were discovered healed during his playing career. He was on the field with a broken leg and didn’t even know about the injury until at least a year had passed. There are wood chips embedded in his body. He wasn’t a massive man, but he somehow managed to push aside behemoths. His mind is still healthy despite the blows to his head. And the books alone should get him into the Hall as an ambassador for the game, but he’s so much more.

Is there someone we need to bribe? I’ll start the collection.


Twn-column
Other view: Mnuchin's take on artificial intelligence is not defensible

As I learned (sometimes painfully) during my time at the Treasury Department, words spoken by Treasury secretaries can over time have enormous consequences, and therefore should be carefully considered. In this regard, I am very surprised by two comments made by Secretary Steven Mnuchin in his first public interview last week.

In reference to a question about artificial intelligence displacing American workers, Mnuchin responded that “I think that is so far in the future—in terms of artificial intelligence taking over American jobs—I think we’re, like, so far away from that [50 to 100 years], that it is not even on my radar screen.” He also remarked that he did not understand tech company valuations in a way that implied that he regarded them as excessive. I suppose there is a certain internal logic. If you think AI is not going to have any meaningful economic effects for a half a century, then I guess you should think that tech companies are overvalued. But neither statement is defensible.

I do not understand how anyone could reach the conclusion that all the action with technology is half a century away. Artificial intelligence is behind autonomous vehicles that will affect millions of jobs driving and dealing with cars within the next 15 years, even on conservative projections. Artificial intelligence is transforming everything from retailing to banking to the provision of medical care. Almost every economist who has studied the question believes that technology has had a greater impact on the wage structure and on employment than international trade and certainly a far greater impact than whatever increment to trade is the result of much debated trade agreements.

As for the secretary’s questioning of tech company valuations, no one can predict markets, so he may turn out to be right. But with Apple trading at below the market average price earnings ratio, and Google trading with a price earnings ratio in the 20s at a time of very low volatility and near-zero long-term real interest rates, I do not understand the basis for Mnuchin drawing a conclusion about the inappropriate valuation of technology stocks.

In a highly uncertain world with a major tax reform debate upcoming, the credibility of the Treasury secretary is an important national asset. I hope Mnuchin will soon find an opportunity to clarify his thinking on technology and to back off from judging appropriate sector valuations in the stock market.


Columns
Other view: Obamacare is still vulnerable

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s, R-Wis., decision to pull legislation to reconfigure the nation’s health-care system is a major setback to President Trump and the GOP. For seven years, Republicans promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. Their failure to deliver on this promise exposes intraparty divisions that will not be easily healed.

But there is more to the story than just the GOP’s prospects as a governing majority. The failure of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) has three broader lessons as well.

Lesson No. 1: Radical changes to social welfare programs are rare.

As the political scientist Paul Pierson has argued, dismantling social programs is risky for politicians who want to be reelected. There are exceptions, of course, such as the 1996 abolition of Aid to Families With Dependent Children—a.k.a. “welfare reform.” But Obamacare is not welfare. Moreover, the AHCA’s negative impact on insurance coverage and affordability was so dramatic that House Republican leaders simply couldn’t structure the vote on the bill in a way that would protect their members from constituents’ wrath.

Many Republicans believed they could dismantle the ACA because it has not achieved the popularity of programs like Social Security. Because ACA was passed on a party-line vote, unlike Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, and because many Americans blamed the law for rising insurance premiums, Republicans thought they could push for dramatic changes.

Yet repealing and replacing the ACA was always easier said than done.

Lesson No. 2: Congress (at least part of it) isn’t immune to reality.

In a world of “alternative facts,” it is easy to assume that members of Congress will just make things up to support whatever they want to do. But the failure of the AHCA shows that facts still matter.

Analysts say Congress cares about public opinion, interest group views and the assessments of the Congressional Budget Office. And each of those was decidedly against the Republican health-care bill. Only 17 percent of the public supported it, interest groups overwhelming opposed it, and a CBO report that said that it would cause 24 million people to lose coverage by 2026 and drive up premium costs substantially for older Americans. No wonder the AHCA had difficulty gaining majority support. Congress is clearly not a research bureau, but facts still matter to many lawmakers.

Lesson No. 3: Obamacare is still vulnerable.

Republicans have conceded that the ACA will be the law of the land for the “foreseeable future.” Republicans may also face political risks if they actively seek to “explode” the individual insurance market, as Trump has promised. Republicans hope that they can blame Democrats for future problems with the ACA, but this remains to be seen.

Republicans can, however, do much to undermine the ACA, especially its health insurance exchanges, whose stability in some states is precarious. For example, the administration could use its executive authority to weaken enforcement of the individual mandate or simply pull ads to encourage people to sign up for coverage. Moreover, any such action may be harder for voters to perceive, thereby creating space for Republicans to weaken Obamacare without a clear political price.

In short, the ACA evaded repeal, but its fortunes during the Trump administration remain uncertain. How far are Republicans willing to go to undermine the ACA through administrative and legal actions? Will the ACA’s insurance exchanges stabilize or unravel in some states? Will the GOP again try to cut Medicaid to help offset tax cuts and infrastructure spending?

We don’t know the answers to those questions. What we can say is that the health care debate is not over. More conflict over the government’s role in health care lies ahead.


Mailbag
Letter: A way forward for Republicans

A way forward for Republicans

Hey, Republicans! We will give you total freedom from any and all mandates in exchange for a voluntary public option. Also, private insurers could compete across state lines to have the same shot at customers that the public option would have.

Sherrie Goff

Pocatello