1 month ago

Before you blame the coach

If you are a football fan, you’ll know this frustration. Your team faces third and one. Instead of handing off, the quarterback throws a pass that falls incomplete and the punt team comes on. You scream, “Just run the ball and get the first down!” Game theory suggests that your anger may be misplaced.

Often in life, our decision will depend on actions by others. Most games we play for fun fit this bill, like chess, checkers, and monopoly. Business also offers these interactions. For example, automakers consider rivals’ plans when deciding which new models of cars to develop. Decisions like which side of the road to drive on also exhibit this strategic element.

Economists, mathematicians, and other scientists use game theory to analyze strategic social situations. While interactions between firms, members of a group, or nations are not games per se, we borrow the term from of games of strategy. Game theorists typically analyze pretty simple games to allow us to think through all the complications.

One question economists have studied is how calculating persons will play games. Pondering strategic considerations can appear overwhelming, as Vizzini and Westley’s discussion of which chalice contains the poison in The Princess Bride illustrates. We impose structure to avoid a muddle.

Game theorists have won numerous Nobel prizes in economics. John Nash, profiled in the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind, shared the 1994 prize for helping deduce how people will play games against rational players. Nash’s idea was that players will adjust until one would want to change their action even if they knew the actions other players were taking.

Football illustrates a challenge for this adjustment. Let’s simplify the offense to a run and a pass and let the defense defend either the run or the pass. If the two teams are comparable in talent, the defense should be able to stop the play they are trying to defend but be vulnerable to the other play. Seemingly the teams here won’t be able to adjust their actions to each other: if the offense runs, the defense will defend the run, making the offense pass, and the defense then defend the pass, and so on.

Professor Nash surmounted this problem by viewing each player’s choice in probability terms. We could describe an offensive strategy as a 60 to 40 percent balance in favor of passing. And the defense might blitz on a given percentage of plays. Thinking of strategies in probabilistic terms, or what are called mixed strategies, allows mutual adjustment. If the offense passes say 20 percent of the time on third and short, the defense can’t sell out to stop the run.

Thinking about strategic choices as probabilities reinforces and challenges our intuition. One the one hand, we readily recognize the danger of being too predictable. Yet running on every third and short makes a team too predictable. So don’t criticize that pass on third and short.

Even when varying our choices, we can still be predictable. If a team alternates run then pass on third and one, opponents can guess what is coming. Flipping a coin on the sideline to decide run or pass could make sense.

Most of us will never coach a football team, but mixed strategies can help in business. For example, a branch manager did not necessarily make a mistake by choosing a weak option. It may be part of a mixed strategy yielding better performance over the long run.

Game theory is also applied to international relations. Still, I find it troubling to think of the President, with access to nuclear weapons, acting unpredictably just for strategic advantage. If unpredictability is truly valuable, President Trump should be ready to accomplish some strokes of diplomatic genius.

It is difficult for fans to validly criticize a coach’s play calls. After all, a brilliant play call can blow up due to poor execution. And that third and one pass could constitute an optimal mixing of plays. My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the season!

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

1 hour ago

Dick, Liz Cheney to headline Bradley Byrne Senate fundraiser

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) will be the “special guests” at a U.S. Senate campaign fundraiser for Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) on November 21 in Birmingham.

The fundraiser invitation obtained by Yellowhammer News outlines that there will be a VIP reception and a general reception. The VIP reception calls for a sponsor contribution level of $5,600 per couple, while the general reception allows for either a $2,800 host level or $1,000 attend level — both amounts also per couple.

The event is being held at The Club.

Rep. Cheney is currently the chair of the House Republican Conference — the GOP caucus within the lower chamber. As such, she holds the third-highest position in Republican House leadership.

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Like her father, Liz Cheney has been critical recently of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Northern Syria. The Cheneys generally have found themselves at odds with Trump on foreign policy issues for years, carrying through his time in office.

Back in 2011, Trump in a since-deleted YouTube video said of former VP Cheney, “He’s very, very angry and nasty.”

“I didn’t like Cheney when he was a vice president. I don’t like him now. … Here’s a guy that did a rotten job as vice president. Nobody liked him,” Trump added.

His criticism of the George W. Bush administration has continued in recent days and weeks. Trump in one tweet emphasized, “GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!”

Similarly to her split with Trump on foreign policy, Rep. Cheney has found herself in a heated spat as of late with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). The two have fundamentally different worldviews when it comes to intervention abroad and the United States’ national security strategy.

Byrne has found himself somewhat split between the Cheneys and the Trump/Paul side of things recently when it comes to foreign policy. While Byrne signed on as an original cosponsor to Rep. Cheney’s resolution to impose “very tough sanctions” on Turkey over the Syria/Kurdish conflict, the coastal Alabama congressman also voted against a resolution opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw. As Byrne outlined in a column published on Tuesday, his public stance on the issue does not fit neatly on one side of the debate or the other.

Yellowhammer News sent a request for comment to the Byrne campaign on the upcoming Cheney fundraiser, as well as posing a few specific questions.

Yellowhammer asked whether Byrne more aligns with Trump or the Cheneys on foreign policy, as well as whether Byrne would be more like a Senator Paul or Rep. Cheney on foreign policy if elected to the Senate. Rep. Cheney herself is heavily rumored to be weighing a U.S. Senate bid in Wyoming, and the three could even find themselves to be colleagues. Yellowhammer further asked the Byrne campaign if he would support a Cheney Senate bid.

Additionally, given Rep. Cheney’s high leadership perch in Congress, Yellowhammer asked, “Does this signal leadership in D.C. getting involved on behalf of the Byrne campaign?”

The request for comment and questions were met with a brief response from Byrne’s campaign press secretary.

“Think you’re making something out of nothing. See below— we’re excited about the event!” Lenze Morris wrote in an email.

Morris pointed to a Monday tweet from Trump thanking Rep. Cheney for backing him against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, as well as an article from August detailing that both Cheneys are helping the RNC and the Trump 2020 reelection campaign with their joint fundraising efforts.

While the Byrne campaign is “excited about the event,” so too are the other leading Republican 2020 Senate campaigns.

A spokesperson for former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s campaign told Yellowhammer News, “Politicians are supporting a politician while the Alabama Farmers Federation is supporting Coach. He’ll take Alabama farmers over the swamp any day.”

In a statement, Secretary of State John Merrill told Yellowhammer News, “My campaign is focused on traveling around the state to all 67 counties meeting with Alabamians from all walks of life and listening to their concerns. When I am in the United States Senate, my only concern will be representing Alabama thinking and Alabama values and not the thinking and values of the Washington, D.C. elites.”

State Rep. Arnold Mooney’s (R-Indian Springs) campaign declined to comment.

Read about the latest fundraising numbers from these GOP Senate candidates, as well as former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Sewell: Trump tweet comparing impeachment inquiry to ‘lynching’ is ‘despicable’

Along with Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), count Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) as an ardent critic of President Donald Trump’s Tuesday tweet comparing the ongoing House impeachment inquiry to a “lynching” of him.

Trump tweeted, “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

In a Facebook post sharing a screenshot of that tweet, Sewell outlined, “From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement, 3,446 African Americans were murdered by lynching.”

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“The history of lynching in our nation is one of white supremacy, humiliation and dehumanization,” she continued.

Sewell, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, represents a district that includes Selma.

“For President Trump to liken the impeachment inquiry—a lawful investigation—to the racial terror millions of African Americans endured is despicable,” she concluded. “And for the people of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, who marched, bled and died to end this type of terrorism, the sting of the President’s words is especially sharp.”

RELATED: Rep. Sewell: ‘You don’t need a quid pro quo’ for an impeachment inquiry

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce launches initiative to support local startups

The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday launched a new  initiative to help boost the River Region’s entrepreneurial  ecosystem.

The new “Work Together” business studio and coworking space located at 600 S. Court Street in Montgomery will be more than just a physical space, according to a press release.

Starting in 2020, “it will also feature dynamic programming and events focused on creating a haven for makers, creatives, small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers and the community to connect, innovate, create and learn.”

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The Work Together location offers flexible space for working, training and community building that can accommodate up to 100 individuals and includes WIFI and audio-visual resources. Additional smaller spaces inside Work Together provide areas for small group or one-on-one meetings, and it also offers a conference room set-up that can accommodate up to 10 people.

The chamber announced the new initiative at InnovateMGM, a half-day event celebrating  those who are innovating within traditional and non-traditional businesses, start-ups and creative ventures.

The event served as a taste of the community building that Work Together aims to provide, which goes far beyond the limits of a physical gathering space and seeks to provide meaningful programming that empowers users to achieve their greatest potential.

In a statement, Montgomery Area Chamber Chairman Willie Durham said, “Supporting and strengthening our start up and entrepreneur community is one of our biggest priorities at the Chamber.”

“Our mission is to connect people to people and people to resources and this space allows us to do just that,” he continued. “By providing the training and the space for creatives and entrepreneurs to connect, we are enhancing our ability to build community, elevate the quality of life of the region and ensure the prosperity of our business community.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Clyde Chambliss named 2019’s ‘Outstanding Public Official’ by American Society of Civil Engineers

State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) was recently named the 2019 Outstanding Public Official by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

ASCE’s Committee on Advancing the Profession selected Chambliss to receive the prestigious national honor for “impeccable service and dedication to the State of Alabama, as well as to the civil engineering profession and land surveying professionals.”

“Instituted in 1963, the award is made to those members of ASCE who have contributed substantially to the status of the engineering profession by meritorious public service in elective or appointive positions in civil government,” Lawren Pratt, the ASCE member who nominated Chambliss for the award, advised in a statement.

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During his tenure in the Alabama Senate, Chambliss has led the effort to reform and modernize government regulations on the engineering profession. He was first elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018.

In 2018, Chambliss helped write and pass Senate Bill 316, which required Qualification Based Selection (QBS) to be included in the State Administrative Code and added two public members to the Alabama Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors.

Brad Williams, P.E., president of the Alabama section of ASCE, praised Chambliss’ leadership.

“Senate Bill 316 led to one of the strongest QBS laws in the nation; it would not have passed without Senator Chambliss’s leadership,” Williams outlined.

Chambliss and his wife, Tara, also a civil engineer, own and operate a civil engineering firm that provides engineering services to small towns, water systems and developers in central Alabama.

“Senator Chambliss’ knowledge of our profession as a practicing Professional Engineer was instrumental in how he was able to lead meetings, mediate between parties of differing interests, and educate legislative members on the importance of QBS,” Williams added.

In accepting the award, Chambliss said that he appreciated the collaboration between legislators and professionals in the engineering field that led to the passage of SB316.

“It is such an honor to be recognized by my peers and colleagues with this award. Passage of SB316 was truly a group effort, and I appreciate the work of my engineer and surveyor peers in the development of such a great piece of legislation. I also want to thank my legislative colleagues for their support in voting for the bill, and Governor Ivey for signing it into law,” Chambliss said.

Chambliss was recently named as a member of the 2019 Yellowhammer Power & Influence 40.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Byrne: How do you solve a problem like Syria?

Recent developments in Syria highlight the need for the United States to revisit its broader Middle Eastern policy.

Early last week, I joined a small meeting of House Republicans for an update on Syria from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper where he discussed a phone call from President Erdogan of Turkey to President Trump.

During that call, Erdogan notified President Trump that after years of waiting at the Syrian border, Turkish troops would finally cross over. He assured that Turkey was not coming after our troops but targeting certain Kurdish factions they consider terrorists. He gave President Trump 48 hours to relocate the two dozen or so American troops stationed on the border.

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President Trump was faced with a difficult decision. Ultimately, he decided to remove American servicemembers from harm’s way to prevent a full-blown conflict with Turkey.

Turkey’s incursion into Syria is wrong and very troubling. Erdogan should never treat our president and our country the way he did on the phone call. There will be serious consequences for his behavior.

I support seeking methods of leverage with Turkey that do not endanger our troops.

After President Trump proposed harsh economic sanctions, the administration negotiated a cease-fire with Turkey. The cease-fire has been shaky at best, but it probably prevented many more deaths in the region.

This is happening in the context of a greater strategic problem in the Middle East. For at least a decade, we’ve lacked a well-defined mission. What are our interests in the Middle East? What do we do to pursue and protect those interests?

Since coming to Congress and serving on the House Armed Services Committee, I have not seen a strategic, conventional interest for the U.S. in Syria, other than destroying the ISIS caliphate.

To be sure, Kurdish forces were the largest part of the successful campaign against the caliphate, and we need to stand by them as best we can under these challenging circumstances.

But Syria is a failed state. It is bewildering the number of groups in some form of combat. With so many factions, it is often difficult to know who the good guys are. Problems between the Turks and Kurds will persist for generations, but this dispute is one of many combustible problems in the Middle East today. Just weeks ago, Iran attacked our Saudi Arabian ally.

We need to work with our allies to determine our strategic goals and how to reach them. We should continue providing assistance to our allies, including the Kurds, but progress requires buy-in from all of our allies in the region.

Turkey, as a NATO member, does currently play a role in supporting our alliance goals. Turkey is the home of an important U.S. airbase and many other critical NATO assets including U.S. nuclear weapons.

However, Turkey’s actions cast serious doubts on whether they will honor their NATO commitments going forward, and frank discussions between Trump, Erdogan and other NATO leaders are needed.

We must be tough with Turkey. I still believe strong sanctions to weaken and punish Turkey are needed, and I signed on as an original cosponsor to Liz Cheney’s resolution to impose very tough sanctions.

After the Turkish incursion, I was disappointed that the House hastily put forward a resolution condemning President Trump’s actions without knowing the full facts. The very next day, I received a classified briefing shedding more light on his tough decision. I think everyone in Congress should have access to these classified briefings to gain a fuller understanding of what happened.

Instead of attacking the president, we need to have sincere bipartisan conversations and propose concrete solutions for Syria and the Middle East. On critical national security issues, we must put America first.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.