Saturday, October 17, 2009

 

Open Thread

Yankee playoffs, great college football games -- plus Jints and "Aints" on Sunday! What a weekend!

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Friday, October 16, 2009

 

The Right Man's Burden

With all due respect to my friends (and corporate colleagues) at The Wall Street Journal, but they are off-base in today's editorial decrying the NFL's deep-sixing Rush Limbaugh's ownership bid:

Earlier this year, the NFLPA's Mr. Smith and several player reps visited our offices and made clear their determination to win the negotiation with the league's owners. Fair enough. The group made a strong and businesslike case for their position. Mr. Smith was wrong, though, to send an email to the league's players earlier in the week, urging them to speak out on the Limbaugh bid, arguing that football "rejects discrimination and hatred."

After this, opposition to Mr. Limbaugh emerged from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and, most disappointing of all, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Mr. Goodell implied in a statement that Mr. Limbaugh's off-the-cuff comment in 2003 about quarterback Donovan McNabb (that the media wanted a black quarterback to do well) violated the league's "high standard."

We suspect Mr. Limbaugh would be happy to withdraw the 2003 remark, but to elevate it to racism, hatred and disqualification from doing business with the saintly NFL beggars belief. On the evidence, the NFL is the most forgiving league in sports. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, just for starters, must be thankful Mr. Goodell's "high standard" doesn't mean a lifetime ban from the NFL.

The Journal is undoubtedly correct that the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union played a role in the

However, the paper is wrong on the chronology of player reaction and Executive Director DeMaurice Smith's further encouragement. Smith's e-mail came out after several black players -- including players on the New York Giants and Jets declared that if Limbaugh became a part owner of the Rams, they would be unlikely to sign with the team.

Last week's Daily News noted that it was less the McNabb stuff and actually more recent statements by Limbaugh that created the player reaction:

"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in (President) Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" Kiwanuka told The Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants, it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."

"I am not going to draw a conclusion from a person off of one comment, but when it is time after time after time and there's a consistent pattern of disrespect and just a complete misunderstanding of an entire culture that I am a part of, I can't respect him as a man."

There was no other way to read Limbaugh's "Obama's America" line than he was trying to draw a direct connection between having a black president and black kids beating up a white kid (his faux black-accented "Right on, right on" hardly helped).

Did Smith then take advantage of something that he sensed was already a problem for some of his players? Absolutely.

But if he was any union head worth his weight, how could he not?

Where the Journal is going with its conclusion is beyond me:

It is no secret that this country's politics has become intense across the ideological spectrum. Rush Limbaugh lets his listeners blow off steam and then get on with the rest of their day. But if the people who claim to worry about such things want to see a truly angry right develop in this country, they should continue to remain silent while the left tries to drive Rush Limbaugh and others out of American political life. If that happens, the NFL by comparison will look like an afternoon tea.

How is being prevented from buying a stake in a professional football team equivalent to being driven "out of American political life?" I mean, really? Rush makes a living out of making politically inflammatory statements. Occasionally those statements come back to haunt you. The NFL owners -- the vast majority of whom are politically active Republicans -- made a decision that being associated (from an ownership position) with someone likely to continue making such statements on a daily basis for years to come was a risky business proposition.

Goodell obviously saw it as problematic in the short-term because of the pending CBA, but the other owners saw that there could be long-term consequences from bringing Limbaugh on board.

How the Journal fails to see this is bizarre.

One last point: A few people wonder about a possible double-standard between Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, who anchors NBC's "Football Night in America" on Sundays. Well, there are a few reasons:

1) Olbermann had a long career as an ESPN anchor before he wandered into his current hard-left schtick on MSNBC;

2) Possibly because of that background (and possibly because of a warning from above), the "FNIA" Olbermann is much closer to his old ESPN persona than his more recent one (as far as I know: I haven't had a chance to watch every edition of "FNIA"); he seems to know the church-state rules and doesn't bring his political controversies to Sundays;

3) Limbaugh is a much more out-sized personality and bigger political celebrity than Olbermann could ever hope to be. Limbaugh's comments get picked up and ripple through the broader media. Bringing him is in an invitation to the likelihood of much greater controversy than having Olbermann around.

4) Were Olbermann to announce that he was going to try to buy an NFL team, I'm guessing that that might not sit too well league ownership eith.

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Slouching Toward Socialism

Bank of America chief executive Kenneth Lewis has decided to forgo his total pay for 2009 -- giving into pressure from the Obama administration's "pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg.

Lewis announced recently that he was stepping down -- a victim of the continuing fall-out from BofA's purchase of Merrill Lynch last year. Both federal regulators and New York's attorney general are probing the transaction. While Bank of America received billions in federal TARP money, the takeover occurred even as Merrill was going broke, but its executives were receiving millions in bonuses. BofA shareholders ended up losing millions in stock value.

There needs to be a full accounting this deal, no question. Already, a federal judge last month rejected Securities and Exchange Commission settlement with Bank of America -- declaring that the shareholders were left holding the bag. He ordered a full trial on the SEC's allegations against BofA.

There is clearly something going on in the BofA/Merrill/bonuses story. It may turn out to be the last great financial scandal of the first decade of the 21st century.

All that said, it is a major mistake for the Obama administration swooping in and basically intimidate Lewis into giving up all compensation for this year. Admittedly, the core issue here involves the American people trying to prop up many banks -- even as many of those same banks managed to disburse rather hefty bonuses.

Feinberg may see pressuring Lewis into giving up his compensation as protecting the taxpayer. However, perhaps Feinberg has forgotten -- or perhaps never saw -- the "SOCIALISM?" signs that have popped up at Tea Party protests and town halls this year. Americans might not like seeing bank executives getting big bonuses right after they've gotten a federal bailout. But they don't exactly like the idea of one individual setting pay for various executives either.

Besides, there is absolutely no evidence as yet that Ken Lewis has done anything criminal -- or even unethical, for that matter -- in the acquiring of Merrill Lynch. Even if it turns out that he has, there is something called due process. Let that play out and, if necessary, go after Lewis' bonuses in the courts.

In almost any other circumstance, forcing Lewis to give up his salary and bonus could be seen as an unconstitutional "taking." It could also be deemed an equally unconstitutional "bill of attainder" -- punishing one specific individual in a manner that no one else is being so sanctioned..

Even in the current tough economic times, class envy hasn't gotten so intense that Americans can't find something wrong in the idea that a man can work hard at his job for nearly a year, but a federal official -- one of the controversial "czars," to boot -- can swoop down and declare, "You have no right to that money; return it now."

That's the ultimate big-government move.

Socialism? Not exactly, but the sort of overreach that invites real distrust of federal power.The president might be inclined to rein in his pay czar.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

 

Fox, Friends & Me!!!

Up early on Wednesday morning to talk about the Baucus health-care bill:

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The Sacking of Rush

Conservatives will inevitably be livid over Rush Limbaugh being dropped from the ownership group seeking to buy the National Football League's St. Louis Rams.

Consider the seeming hypocrisy: The league has current players either implicated or found guilty in vehicular homicide (current Rams player Leonard Little and currently suspended Cleveleand Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth), regular stabbing deaths (Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis who plead out of a murder charge), animal cruelty (yeah, you know who!), drug usage (too many to mention) -- and various other ethical and legal indiscretions.

Is it really the case -- given that "record" -- that Rush Limbaugh could be deemed persona non grata among owners? Is it really the case that those foul-mouthed rappers -- like Jay-Z -- can get ownership shares in basketball teams without a peep of protest from anyone? Is it really the case that any ownership group with Rush on it would be unable to get the necessary two-thirds approval from current owners?

The answers are yes, yes and yes.

To understand what is going on, realize that Rush and the NFL are unique in their respective fields.

The NFL passed baseball as America's national pastime years, if not decades, ago. The Super Bowl is annually the most watched TV program -- by far. This an $8 billion behemoth. (The Dallas Cowboys new stadium cost more than $1 billion alone.)

Meanwhile, with Howard Stern's abdication to satellite radio a few years ago, Rush Limbaugh is easily the most listened to -- and most influential -- talk radio host in the nation. With a daily audience of some 20 million, no one comes close.

Unfortunately, their brands are almost mutually exclusive.

The NFL is about conformity, control and image. Controversy is neither desired nor tolerated. Indeed, Roger Goodell, the commissioner in his third year has made discipline his watchword. Embarrassed by the multiple arrests coming out of Cincinnatti a few years ago, Goodell has cracked down. Suspensions for inappropriate off-field behavior has been swift and unsparing. The reason is obvious: He is overseeing a multi-billion dollar business and he cannot -- will not -- allow a bunch of athletes in the 20s and 30s ruin the public image of this golden goose.

Limbaugh, meanwhile, courts controversy. His image is big, bold and brassy. He sees himself as the truth-teller against a mainstream media beholden to left-wing biases and Democratic politics. He sees himself as a conservative, but not beholden to the Republican Party -- though he has many GOP guests and friends. He seeks the limelight and adopts a "bring it on" attitude when Democrats try to demonize him.

Ironically, his larger-than-life persona, of course, serves Democrats well, too: They get to deem him the "leader of the Republican Party," which helps their fundraising -- and his ratings. Of course, as several episodes this year have demonstrated, this can put the GOP in an awkward spot: Do Republicans agree with statements by Rush -- or distance themselves from them? Walking the fine line can be difficult.

On the surface, the Rush-NFL story seems to be about race: All NFL owners are white; more than 65 percent of the players are African-American. And black New York Giants players declared that they could never play for a Limbaugh-associated Rams team -- even though their former defensive coordinator is currently the head coach:

"All I know is from the last comment I heard, he said in (President) Obama's America, white kids are getting beat up on the bus while black kids are chanting 'right on,'" Kiwanuka told The Daily News. "I mean, I don't want anything to do with a team that he has any part of. He can do whatever he wants, it is a free country. But if it goes through, I can tell you where I am not going to play."

And this racially-charged incident wasn't a one-time thing. What Limbaugh can't escape is his ill-fated and brief time as an ESPN Sunday "NFL Countdown" analyst in 2003. That was when he infamously declared that Donovan McNabb wasn't "that good from the get-go" but was celebrated as a great player because the media and the NFL wanted to see "a black quarterback doing well." As it happens, McNabb was wrong on both counts -- his estimation of McNabb's talent and on the level of racial "boostering" in the media. That had been the case a few years before, but not then. It was an old story.

After the Giants players spoke out, Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith started soliciting opinions from other players.

But behind this black and white saga playing out in public, the real drama was going on in living color -- and the color was green.

It's not a coincidence that Goodell zeroed in on that 2003 LImbaugh's incident Tuesday when he made it quite clear that Rush's role with the ownership groups was exceedingly problematic. McNabb isn't just a good player; he's also a good person -- someone who's never been in trouble on or off the field. He is, yes, a role model -- the opposite of the bad boys that Goodell has been forced to discipline over the last few years (including McNabb's now-teammate, Michael Vick).

If Limbaugh could make race a feature of commentary on his first go around connected to one of the NFL's broadcasting partners, what could the league expect if it became partnered with him? Goodell could immediately envision weekly -- if not daily -- politically-charged comments coming out of Rush's mouth. Why not? That's what Rush does -- and does quite well. It's what his 20 milliion listeners expect. They don't listen to him holding his tongue on anything. And again, this has been one of his best years for having his message spread beyond his radio listeners. His statement that he hoped President Obama's agenda would fail resonated throughout the media; his speech before the CPAC conference was covered live by CNN and Fox: NBC's "Today" had a two-part interview this week. He is at his peak.

Goodell's nightmare would be regular headlines of, "NFL owner Rush Limbaugh charged the Obama administration with..." Even worse, the controversial Limbaugh brand would be attached to the conformist "American as apple pie" NFL -- just as Goodell would begin sitting down with the aforementioned Mr. Smith to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement with the players!

It's highly unlikely that Goodell even bothered to poll the owners on whether to let the Checketts-Limbaugh alliance continue. The NFL ownership is heavily Republican (ironically, late Rams owner Georgia Frontiere was one of the few Democrat owners); but they weren't any more likely to permit agreement with Limbaugh's politics imperil their golden goose -- any more than they would allow one of the privileged athletes playing for them.

And so, the Limbaugh-NFL union comes to an end before it even began. This was a potential merger of two hugely successful individual entities that were too big to succeed together.

On the bright side, they still get to remain number one -- separately, though still quite profitably.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

 

Good Idea, Bro!

RNC Chairman Michael Steele changes the name of his blog on new party web-site.

Out: "What Up"

In: "Changing The Game."

Just when Steele had put together a few good non-bad headline generating weeks, his committee unveils its new Web-site prematurely. To add insult to injury, the Committee comes up with a name that sounds like the faux hip-hop lingo Steele was spouting earlier this year. And, the first blog had an embarrassing typo in it as well (what? no editors in the RNC Communications shop?).

So time for 2.0 on "GOP 2.0."

UPDATE: Steele visits Department of Bad Analogies.

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Weeds of the Garden State

Ah, the wonders of Garden State politics!! New Jersey provides real excitement the off-year elections with enough nutty storylines and subplots to fill an episode of "The Sopranos." But, this being, New Jersey, it's not enough that the race could be dominated by arguments over property taxes, a floundering economy, the always endemic corruption -- and who might be the biggest Springsteen fan. Nope, remarkably, the race could come down to how the public reacts to one candidate calling the other fat.

Hey, this is Jersey, folks.

For most of the year, incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine -- bedeviled by a weak economy and having overseen a series of tax hikes -- has significantly trailed Republican former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. In the last few weeks, however, Corzine has pulled into a dead heat. However, independent candidate Chris Daggett has recently become a force in the race. His provocative plan for property tax reform has earned him a big feature article in The New York Times and, more importantly, the surprising endorsement of the state's biggest paper, the Newark Star-Ledger

Perhaps, not coincidentally, Daggett is getting fairly positive headlines because he's waging a policy-based campaign -- just as Corzine and Christie seem locked in a more personal dogfight. And it doesn't get much more personal than, well, one guy calling the other fat. It started three weeks ago with a hard-hitting ad that went after Christie for a series of preferential treatment in traffic and other incidents . The ad accused the hefty Christie (shown getting out of his car) of "throwing his weight around." Corzine's spokesman at the time declared that the ad wasn't meant to bring attention to Christie's physical appearance.

Corzine, however, seriously may have skewed the official line on Tuesday. Asked if he thought Christie was fat, Corzine rubbed his hairless scalp and responded, "Am I bald?"

In the real world, the exchange might be rather amusing. In the political world,Corzine is stepping into very precarious waters. The initial ad may have been fair game. But making a personal attack against an opponent strikes many voters as dirty pool. A fat joke may well backfire against Corzine (who's not exactly Kate Moss himself).

There's a precedent for this sort of late-in-the-game personal jabs blowing up in the face of the aggressor. In 1998, incumbent three-term Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York was locked in a tight struggle with Rep. Charles Schumer, Two weeks before election day, D'Amato was permanently knocked off course after word got out that, in a talk before a Jewish group, he referred to Schumer as a "putzhead." D'Amato's initial denial fed into an ongoing Schumer line of attack -- that the incumbent had a history of embarrassing gaffes and ethical miscues that he then lied about.

Christie may have the chance to do the same to Corzine: He's already made Corzine's negative ads a felection his own reform message. The governor, meanwhile, may learn that the narrow odds he faced in gaining re-electiion -- may have suddenly become a fat chance.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

 

Nobel Pile-On

The old conventional wisdom: Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.

The new conventional wisdom: Be careful of what you never-in-a-million-years-thought-you-might-get; it just might cause you unending headaches.

Last week's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama had the unusual effect of uniting the American political class in universally declaring that the award was premature -- at best. While conservatives largely unleashed mockery and venom, the left hardly rose up in defense of the award. On the contrary, some were so puzzled that they were forced to try to explain the award giving process; but with the notable exception of Democratic elected leaders, the awarding gave the left the opportunity to note the aspects of its agenda that had yet to be completed. Like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. While not specifically attached to issues of global peace, Obama nonetheless was also forced to play defense over the weekend on another level: At the Human Rights Campaign Fund annual dinner, Obama renewed his promise to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy governing gays in the military -- an issue along with gay marriage that was the point of a march on Washington this Sunday.

Meanwhile, one week after it's "Not Done" skit went immediately viral, "Saturday Night Live" was back at it again this weekend with another skit that mocked Obama -- this time with Fred Armisen-as-Obama declaring that he won it because, "I'm not George Bush." SNL also likened Obama getting the award as comparable to winning the Powerball lottery. The opening skit also got in a dig at Obama's economic advisers, who he was going to ask how he should invest his winnings. After all, "Obama" said, "Those guys do not make mistakes." Ouch.

Of course, when Obama does make a final decision on Afghanistan, the Nobel will continue to haunt him, one way or another: If he increases troops, those on the left will say that he has betrayed the hopes and optimism that the Nobel Committee had invested in him. On the other hand, a failure to increase troops -- i.e., ignore the suggestions of Stanley McChrystal, his commander in the field -- will give the right a talking point that will be used well into the 2010 mid-terms: Barack Obama loves basking in the love and adulation of the global elite -- to the detriment of U.S. national interests. Politically, it becomes a no-win for the prize winner.

Ironically, however, there is one way that the Nobe farce may be used to the White House's advantage on the domestic front. Watch the pivot: While the focus remains on things the president hasn't done and an Afghanistan decision not yet made, at some point during this week, the political class will wake to the fact that the Baucus bill is going to be voted out of the Senate Finance Committee (possibly as soon as Tuesday). That means that the reports of the death of the president's primary domestic agenda item -- a health care bill -- may just have been exaggerated.

Like it or not, individuals of all ideological backgrounds will soon be forced to concede that this president is right now far closer to passing a near-universal health care reform bill than anyone of his predecessors. Despite all the heat and fury of the past summer (town hall meetings and so forth), an issue that has bedeviled Democratic presidents since at least Harry Truman is going to be closer to reality. A president that is currently roundly criticized as being unduly praised and flattered for little accomplishment will suddenly have a rather significant political and policy success to display.

That will be far more significant and long-lasting than the weekend headaches brought on by an unrequested Nobel Peace Prize.

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A Nice Weekend

New York Yankees in the ALCS for the first time since 2004.

New York Giants are 5-0 for the first time since 1990 (they went on to win the Super Bowl, the following January). Admittedly, they benefited from their scheduled opponent, the Oakland Raiders, evidently missing the team plane, because they certainly didn't show up Sunday.

Boston Red Sox swept out of the playoffs (admittedly, I had mixed feelings about this: Part of me was rooting for a lengthy Sox-Angels series with the starting roster of both teams ending up on the disabled list by the end. Still, we'll take this). Bonus: Loud-mouth Jon Papelbon blowing two-run lead in the top of the ninth!

New England Patriots lose to Denver -- and Tom Brady loses a fumble that looked not a whole lot different than that infamous "tuck rule" play from a few years back.

Okay, Gang Green: Time to keep the good vibes going tonight!

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