Archive

Archive for June, 2012

Supreme Court Throws Health Care Forecasters a Curve Ball

Intertrade had rejection of the individual mandate of the health care law a 70% certainty. Most people had followed CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin’s take on the arguments that seemed to have gone so terribly wrong for the White House back in March. And they were all wrong.

President Obama has Chief Justice John Roberts to thank for saving the Affordable Care Act. Astoundingly, Roberts, who has voted 90% of the time with the other four Republican appointees, joined the court’s four liberal justices.

What many apparently discounted, was the extent that Roberts cares about political appearances. It took some intellectual gymnastics, but, in the end, it seems the Chief Justice wanted, at all costs, to preserve the integrity of the court against perceptions it had become a blatantly political body. Or, in the true meaning of the word “conservative,” he’s the kind of judge who believes it should be very difficult to alter existing law. Or both.

The gymnastics involved was the majority of the court labeling the “fee” that would be imposed on Americans who do not get health insurance a “tax,” a word that was never actually written in the legislation and a characterization which the President vehemently denied. But basically the court’s majority was saying, if the politicians were obviously afraid to call a tax what it really is- as NPR’s Nina Totenberg put it in her analysis of the court’s action, regardless, “If it looks like a tax and acts like tax, it’s a tax.”

And that’s key because there were five justices, including Roberts, who were of the opinion that a universally charged “fee” would have been a violation of the commerce clause of the constitution; they would argue you can’t force people from all 50 different states to pay a fee if they don’t get insurance. But a tax is different. The notion that the Federal government has the right to levy a tax has long been established.

The other part of the gymnastics that seems pretty conflicted is that there’s a law Congress passed that says courts don’t rule on the constitutionality of taxes until they are actually levied and this part of the health care law has not gone into effect yet. In this aspect of the case though, Roberts deferred to Congress’ assertion in the law that it is a fee, they instituted, not a tax. To justify this decision, Roberts had to kind of have it both ways.

So where to now? President Obama gets to explain to the American public what it is that the high court saved today- because his previous communication efforts with the nation in regard to the benefits of the health care law have been widely regarded as abysmal.

And, of course, what many have called his singular accomplishment as President remains intact. Mitt Romney said earlier in the week that rejection of the health care law by the high court would have meant Obama had wasted his first three years in office. That one’s out the window.

But Republicans will likely be all fired up by what they see as a slap in the face by the court. There will be symbolic but ineffective efforts in the House to repeal the law (the Democratic-controlled Senate will never go along). Mitt Romney will make it a mantra in every speech from now until November. Republicans will now be able to use “tax increase” against the President, and overall, it seems the court’s decision will further the stark nature of the choices voters face in November- namely- the role of government in our lives.

Finally, there was a lot of ridiculous speculation and forecasting about how this ruling would go. And you know which one ended up being 100% accurate? There’s a company that makes a business out of analyzing facial expressions. According to their analysis of the way the justices reacted on the bench during the arguments- there were five justices who smiled the most. The four liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts.

For whatever reasons he took the path he did, it would appear it is John Roberts who gets the last laugh.

LeBron: I’m No Longer One of the Haters

June 21, 2012 2 comments

Last year, I was very unkind to LeBron James.  Like many people, I was put off by his supreme arrogance.

I had been having difficulty forgiving him for the Decision– that abomination of televised self-love on ESPN where he announced he’d be taking his talents to Miami.    

It was hard to get over the image of the special effects, smoke-filled introduction of the Dream team in Miami, in which it appeared three Gods from Mt. Olympus (LeBron, Wade, Bosh) had descended down to earth to predict, I think it was- 8 championships.

And when ousted from the playoffs last year, I didn’t like it when he said all of us haters out there would return to our screwed up little lives while he would be going back to Olympus where, presumably, he would get back to his posse peeling grapes for him. 

As a Cleveland Cavalier, I remember, (back when the Washington Wizards used to get into the playoffs), when LeBron psyched out Gilbert Arenas standing at the free throw line, whispering something like “you’re going to miss these.”  Who does that?

The Washington Post’s Mike Wise, who is covering the NBA finals, has been on a campaign to convince the public that LeBron has changed.  And based on his recent post-game news conferences and recent interviews, there’s every indication he really has.    

About ESPN’s “Decision” debacle, Wise quotes LeBron as having told an interviewer this, last December:

I can see now if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan and I was very passionate about one player and he decided to leave, you know, I would be upset too by the way that he handled it.

It basically turned me into somebody I wasn’t. You start to hear ‘the villain,’ now you have to be the villain, you know, and I started to buy into it. I started to play the game of basketball at a level, or at a mind state that I’ve never played at before. . . meaning, angry. And that’s mentally. That’s not the way I play the game of basketball.

And on his statement after the Miami Heat got eliminated following game 6 last year that the haters would be going back to their miserable little lives while he would be enjoying his immensely rich lifestyle, Wise quotes LeBron as saying this:

I was very hurt that I let my teammates down, and I was very immature. Like I said, last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving and why I fell in love with the game. So I was very immature last year after Game 6 towards you guys and towards everyone that was watching.

He seems to get it now.  And he seems to be playing for the right reasons- joy instead of anger.  I buy it.  I am convinced.  His actions on the court have spoken for themselves this post-season.  He is a force.  He plays in pain.  He comes through in the clutch.  And now, in his own words, he clearly recognizes how he managed to cast himself in the role of villain.

It’s time to give the guy a break.  And if he finally helps his team win an NBA crown tonight- he will have begun to justify that his status as the “King,” as royalty in professional basketball,  is deserved and not just an exaggerated marketing ploy to feed the LeBron James empire.

Suddenly- these days- I like the man a hell of a lot more than I ever liked the brand.

White House Interruption: That Was Clown Behavior, Bro

Neil Munro with Daily Caller (Photo Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

I don’t care who you are or who’s in the White House.  It doesn’t matter if they are a Republican or a Democrat. It is inappropriate to interrupt the President of the United States during prepared remarks as Neil Munro did Friday afternoon during Barack Obama’s Rose Garden announcement about a change of enforcement policies for the children of undocumented parents.

This is not about politics, it’s about decorum. The White House Correspondents Association, Bill O’Reilly and two Fox news anchors were among the many who thought the incident out of bounds and over the top.

Munro works for the Daily Caller, a conservative web site run by Tucker Carlson who I used to work with occasionally at CNN years ago, back when he and Bill Press were the “left-right” commentary couple for the cable news network.  Tucker says he’s proud of Munro, but I’m not sure for what.  I don’t see the big freedom of the press issue that would make Munro some kind of journalism martyr.

Munro claims he didn’t mean to interrupt Obama and that he mistimed his question thinking the President was wrapping up his remarks.  Reporters who were there describe Munro’s claim of accidental timing as a large “cow pie.”  The entire assembled press corps knew the President was nowhere near finished.

This was the question Munro was trying to ask, according to the official White House transcript.  He finally got it all in as the President walked away from reporters following his statement with, ironically, Neil Munro, being the only one who actually got a question answered.

Q    What about American workers who are unemployed while you import foreigners?

Now, there are questions and there are questions.  It is certainly reasonable to ask how adding 800,000 children of immigrants to the work force might complicate the jobless situation.  But then there’s “while you import foreigners.”  That reveals ideology and agenda.  Mr. Munro did not give the appearance of being much of a reporter in this incident.  He may write words that get published on a web site, but on Friday he was a provocateur.

I actually think the President should hold more news conferences and answer more questions.  Neil Munro should ask whatever he likes, respecting the long-established protocols of his profession.  But besides being rude, he cut in line.  Ask your questions at the end just like everybody else.  And if the President walks away and it seems he doesn’t answer questions often enough for you- report that.

The question and the opinion it was drenched in was not really a question- it seemed more a debating point.  That’s what partisans do, not reporters.

Welcome to the Nats Bandwagon!

It’s just a baby bandwagon right now, but we’re building a much bigger one.

Young, fresh and amazing, the Washington Nationals are now recognized as being the real deal.  And they are getting admiration from some unusual places.  And not just because of media hype.  They are the 2nd best team in all of baseball.

First off, I’ve posted twice on the Nats in the last few weeks.  One of these was a statistical analysis comparing Bryce Harper’s rookie season projected from his first 100 at-bats, to the first full seasons of 15 hall-of-famers.  It was a gushing, almost sickeningly enthusiastic piece that naively compared the kid favorably to some of the greatest names in the history of the sport.  Since that was published, Harper’s only gotten better- hitting for better average and showing more power.

Then last Saturday, I posted about the remarkable performances by both Harper and Stephen Strasburg in the first of a three-game series at fabled Fenway Park.  It was yet another love poem to the Nats, quoting from some of the best baseball writers in the nation.  And the Nats  have only gotten better.  In fact, they haven’t lost since.  They swept Boston then went on to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays, their first 6-0 road stretch since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.

So now, on the eve of a three-game series against the New York Yankees, I know this good fortune cannot continue.  Both the Yanks and the Nats enter this series on 6-game win streaks.  Somebody has got to lose.  It’s youth against grizzled veterans.  It’s baseball’s most storied team against the sport’s perennial losers.  It’s the past against the future.  I have a feeling the Yanks are going to take at least two out of three.

I might add I also thought the Nats would get swept in Boston.

————————————-

And now to the converts.  Wasn’t it just last April that the Nats made such a big deal about the Philadelphia Phillies coming to town?  The great “Take Back the Park” promotion?   The defending NL East champs?  As of this morning, the Phillies are 10 games behind the Nationals.

And there is this.  It’s from a Philadelphia sports blog and you’d think that with a headline like Nationals Aren’t Going Anywhere– it might be a column about the team’s impending collapse.

You would be wrong.  Here are some of the more amazing excerpts:

 The Nationals, of course, are the Nationals. We are trained not to take them seriously.

My advice to Phillies fans is to start.

The only thing that can derail Washington now are injuries. In Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, they have two of the best players in baseball. From top to bottom, theirs is the best rotation in the league, with a strong bullpen and defense backing them. All together, there is just enough pop in their lineup to propel the club to 38 wins, the second-highest total in baseball.

What part of this equation do you envision falling apart? The Nationals have dealt with their share of adversity, like losing catcher Wilson Ramos for the year, or Jayson Werth for 60 days to a broken wrist. Still they are on top, their confidence building.

And they are only getting better, I’m afraid.    

Many of us watching this Nationals phenomena have been rooting for Washington for many years.  A lot of folks easily go back to baseball’s return to the nation’s capital in 2005.  Some, like me, date back to the 1960’s when as youngsters we cut our baseball teeth sitting in RFK stadium watching Frank Howard, Mike Epstein, Del Unser, Joe Coleman, Eddie Brinkman and Bernie Allen.  And there are those Washington fans who remember Griffith stadium, a place better known in baseball lore as the location of Mickey Mantle’s 565 foot homerun more than anything the Senators ever did there.

When you go back that long and see what’s happening now and watch the sudden hype in all the coverage from every corner of the media world…when you see curly W’s on the hats of hundreds of people—in Boston..when you read stuff like the post above from the Philly sports blog- there’s a tendency to say to yourself:  “Hey wait a doggone minute…I was there at the creation!  Everyone else is just a front runner!”

To my long-time and long-suffering Washington baseball buddies- resist that temptation, my friends. Welcome the converts to our fun and ever-expanding tent.  Open your arms wide for the refugees suddenly washing up on the shores of the Potomac.  Finally,Washington has something to offer the world besides debt and gridlock.  

Behold, world- in Strasburg and Harper and even with rookies you’ve never heard of like Lomdardozzi and Moore, there is the spirit and brashness of youth.  In Davey Johnson, there is the wisdom, good humor and steely determination of a lifetime in baseball winning World Series titles as a player and a manager.  In Mike Rizzo, you have the general manager who is suddenly now being recognized as the architect of one of the most interesting ball clubs in the history of the game.

Welcome one and all!  Hitch yourselves to the bandwagon but be prepared for a long, long ride through this season and into the next four or five.  Do not doubt.  Do not fear.  And for crying out loud, do not ask any Clown questions, bro’s.

The Night the Kids Took Over Fenway Park

June 9, 2012 1 comment

Oh my.  There was a baseball game played in Boston last night that was one for the ages.  Washington’s two young phenoms put on a clinic as Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 and Bryce Harper pounded three hits including a mighty 420 foot blast to the deepest part of one of the most revered places in the game- Fenway Park.

Sometimes, words are completely inadequate in capturing the history and drama of a given event.  But the promise of the future and the remarkable nature of what occurred last night seemed to bring out the poet in members of baseball’s writing community.   Besides history, the game produced two of the best written articles you’ll ever read that captured every bit of it.

The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore really outdid himself.   Here’s the piece in its entirety and worth every second of your investment.  This is but a taste.

A century’s worth of players have passed through Fenway Park, where history seeps through the emerald walls. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper graced the cathedral for the first time on Friday night, and they did not dissolve into its annals. They made them richer, more complete: The old yard can say it bore witness to Strasburg and Harper at their unbridled beginning, the moment in time when the Washington Nationals became something fresh and different.

Two of the most arresting players in baseball spearheaded the Nationals’ assault on the Boston Red Sox in a 7-4 victory. Harper, the 19-year-old without an off switch, went 3 for 5 with a double, three RBI and a 420-foot, two-run home run. Strasburg, pitching on the two-year anniversary of his masterful debut, threw his first 100-mph fastball of the season, struck out 13 over six innings of four-hit ball and escaped a bases-loaded jam by throwing a 3-2 fastball with his 119th and final pitch.

It was their first visit to Fenway.  And as evidence of how much trouble is brewing for the rest of baseball with these two kids- the bigger the moment, the better they play.  They seize the spotlight with flair and greatness.  They both have a deep understanding and appreciation of the history of the game.  Harper said he was awestruck thinking he was hitting from the same batter’s box as Ted Williams.  Strasburg pitched his second best game ever, surpassed only by his major league debut, another one of those moments he seized two years ago to the day.

ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes is also in fine voice this morning.  Impressive to me on a number of different levels, is that this is a Boston Red Sox beat writer waxing poetic about a visiting team.  But history is history, and a good reporter and a good writer knows when sublime drama eclipses such mundane things as rooting interests.

Strasburg, featuring a fastball that touched 100 mph, a changeup that violated the laws of nature and a curveball bereft of compassion, struck out seven Red Sox in a span of eight batters. There’s no telling how many strikeouts he might have finished with if his pitch count hadn’t climbed to 119 with nine outs to go.

“I knew I was up there, but I had so much adrenaline being at Fenway for the first time, it didn’t really matter,” Strasburg said.

But if Strasburg (7-1) is the rainbow, then center fielder Harper is the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that appears, oh, once a century or so. Harper homered to the right of the 420-foot triangle in center, doubled and singled, driving in three runs and scoring two, in one of the most precocious performances the 100-year-old edifice has ever seen.

Both Kilgore and Edes point out that the only other 19-year olds to hit homers in Fenway Park were Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline and Robin Yount- all hall-of-famers.  The only 19 year-olds to collect three hits at Fenway were Kaline and Ken Griffey Jr.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the sheer wonder of what we are seeing with this baseball team from the nation’s capital.  The last time they were this good was in the 1920’s when they won their only World Series behind the arm of the Big Train, Walter Johnson.

But this squad has two players for the ages.  And I might add, in Davey Johnson, one of the greatest managers and baseball men the game has ever seen.  I am astounded I have actually lived long enough to witness something so pure and amazing and rare.  May we all savor and treasure it and appreciate the incredible good fortune the fates have conspired to give us.   Some of the greatest players in the greatest game ever devised have somehow managed to land on our doorstep, in a town that has seen nothing but baseball futility for well over 80 years.

Governments Are People Too

It was Mitt Romney who famously stated that “corporations are people too.”  I’m not debating that premise- but if there’s a case to be made against vilifying corporations- then perhaps it’s time to also make a case that governments are people too. 

The fact is that the work force of Big Bad Government happens to be populated by your neighbors, by good people, by folks we used to consider heroes in this society.   There are many stereotypes about government workers.  Yes, some folks, like the clueless individuals at the General Services Administration who partied down in Vegas on the taxpayer dime did a great disservice to both their country and the image of government workers.   

But government workers are also the people teaching your children.  They are the paramedics who come to your home when you’re suffering a heart attack.  They’re the brave firefighters who risk their lives to enter a burning building.  They’re the cops trying to keep your street safe.  They’re the air traffic controllers who make sure your plane lands safely. They’re the nice lady at the Social Security office who just fixed the problem with your mom’s check. 

They’re the good folks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who scramble to cities and towns across America when a tornado or a flood or a hurricane devastates communities.   They’re the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that not only warn you when a blizzard or a tornado are coming-they’re the guys who actually fly into the eye of the hurricane to get the latest readings so they can figure which way the monster storm is moving.

Oh, yeah.  Technically, the members of our armed forces are also paid by the federal government.  All they give us are their very lives and limbs in defense of our interests and our freedom in every godforsaken corner of the planet.  

With the exception of the military, these are also the same folks whose pensions are being cut, whose salaries are being frozen, whose jobs are being eliminated in tough budget times and who get vilified as lazy, complacent “government workers.”  

But they are our friends and neighbors.  And they help keep America running, safe, and when catastrophe strikes- they help us heal and rebuild.

They are, largely, the most unappreciated people in the nation right now.   And I don’t get it, because for most of our history, haven’t we looked up to, not down on- folks like teachers, firefighters and cops? 

In the end, they provide the services that those who instinctively criticize government would scream bloody murder about, if those services were ever to be taken away from them.

Warning: Time for Ideas Not Attacks

This cannot be just another mud-slinging Presidential contest.  Our economy- the world economy- is looking at a steep drop off a tall cliff if leaders do not step forward and if we keep on with politics-as-usual.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz has a terrific analysis piece that makes all the right points.  He juxtaposes the horrible jobless numbers released Friday with what was a week of campaign hijinks from both sides.  The American electorate needs and deserves this election to be a battle of ideas about how to keep the economy from falling into a second recession.  Both the President and his Republican opponent need to give us details on their vision for the next four years instead of relying on attack strategies that usually work well in typical election years.

There is nothing typical about where we are today.  The continuing debt meltdown in Europe coupled with suddenly slowing economies in China and Brazil have combined to paint a dire situation for the world economy.  The challenges are as formidable as anything we’ve seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

This has to be about more than “we’re not doing as badly as everyone else.” Nor do we have the luxury of wasting our precious time discussing television celebrities and birth certificates.

This desperately needs to be a referendum in November on ideas and policy.  If the campaign devolves into the usual non-stop partisan warfare that has helped get us into this mess to begin with and skirts around the hard truths we need to address in terms of both economic growth and debt reduction- then our elected President will have neither a philosophical mandate or the public support for the actions he needs to take to protect us from economic calamity.

This is a time for adults not adolescent spit-ball battles and clever pot-shots.