Sunday, February 6, 2011

Last Call

So while you're watching the big game, Robert Lipsyte argues with the coming NFL labor dispute almost certainly leading to a lockout, our failed effort in Afghanistan approaching a decade, and our economy all but down for the count that this may be the last truly super Super Bowl America has.

As spectators we rarely see the young people die in either volunteer legion.Restrictions during the Bush years on journalists filming combat deaths or even showing returning caskets kept the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a comfortable remove until they became distant and routine. Old news. Maybe even a little boring for people without loved ones on active duty.

On NFL broadcasts, players with broken bones and torn tissues are quickly carted off lest their teammates lose heart. For those of us watching on TV, the collisions seem almost like cartoon hits. How can those players just pop back up? Is it the pride, the adrenaline, that allows them to pretend they are made of steel? Of course, the real damage, the dementia brought on by head trauma, is years, even decades, away.

It’s hard to believe how recently the concussion discussion began in earnest, as if players hadn’t been hit in the head for more than a century. It was launched several years ago by the revelation that former pro football players were being diagnosed with dementia, and even dying from suspected long-term brain trauma, at disproportionate rates for their age.  It was helped along by a number of workers’ compensation cases and the superb reporting of Alan Schwarz of the New York Times.

The concussion discussion has replaced steroids as the NFL health topic, although the issues are joined: larger players seem to be at greater risk for early death, and bulking up via steroids probably contributes to harder hits. The discussion has also raised the question of whether parents should allow their children to play the game -- years of small, unreported traumas to the head can’t be good for developing brains. It even occasioned a rare but telling ESPN column on abolition.

Lest you consider this enough piling on the all-American game, labor troubles loom with a lock-out possible in March. Because the main issue is money -- the teams want to share less revenue (currently 60%) with the players -- the media tends to characterize the conflict as “billionaires versus millionaires.”  Actually, most owners are rich from other businesses and would not have been allowed into the NFL unless they were financially secure, while few players survive more than about three years in the league. The owners also want to increase production (adding two games to the regular season) without taking more responsibility for health-care costs.

If any of this sounds depressingly like real life, how could you not watch what might be the last Super Bowl, the endgame of empire, the two-minute warning before America finally beats itself?

Just so.  There's no bigger circus in America than the Super Bowl each year, and considering NFL cities are going to be facing massive budget shortfalls this year, the looming lockout over the league, the global economy on the edge of disaster and food prices rocketing up as resources become more scarce, by the time the next Super Bowl rolls around, who knows where we will be.

Here's a hint:  it won't be a better position than we're in now.

Enjoy the game.

Advocacy Versus Impartiality

It's hard to be a Supreme Court Justice when your spouse is a professional political lobbyist.  Or, you would think that, anyway.  Apparently you'd be right for once.

According to its website, Liberty Consulting is dedicated to "effective advocacy and assistance on behalf of those liberty-loving citizens and organizations who wish to preserve limited government, free enterprise, national security, individual liberty and personal responsibility."

Virginia Thomas "plans to leverage her 30 years of experience as a Washington 'insider' to assist non-establishment 'outsiders' who share her belief in our core founding principles and values," the website states.

In an email sent to congressional chiefs of staff last week, Thomas described herself as “a self-appointed ambassador to the freshmen class and an ambassador to the tea party movement,” Politico reported.

Thomas is indeed an "insider," having worked as an attorney for the US Chamber of Commerce in the 1980s and a policy analyst for then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey in the 1990s, before becoming involved in the tea party movement in recent years.

It was as the head of the tea party group Liberty Central that Virginia Thomas began attracting high-profile criticism. She stepped down from the group last fall, after a public spat with Anita Hill, the lawyer who accused Thomas' husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings in 1991.

Thomas sparked controversy when she demanded, in a phone call, that Hill apologize for her testimony. After Hill refused to do so, Thomas admitted it was "probably a mistake" to have made the request. She stepped down from Liberty Central soon thereafter, but denied the move had anything to do with the Hill controversy.

Common Cause last month filed a request with the Department of Justice to investigate Thomas' role in the Citizens United ruling, arguing that the justice's ties to conservative groups such as those run by the billionaire Koch brothers may have compromised his objectivity. The group leveled the same allegations against Justice Antonin Scalia. They hope to have the two justices disqualified from the ruling.

Justice Thomas found himself yet again at the center of unfriendly attention when it was revealed that for 13 years he had failed to report his wife's earnings on annual disclosure forms he is required to file. Thomas amended the statements going back to 1997.

Whether or not Virginia Thomas' latest venture will be successful remains to be seen. Politico reports a level of hostility among Republicans towards the supreme court justice's wife, with some viewing her as an opportunist cashing in on her husband's high-profile name.

Translation:  Yeah, see, even Republicans think this is going to crash and burn because there's no way anyone can do business with Virginia Thomas without the appearance of a serious a conflict of interest.  Corporate types don't like that, because it invites much more careful scrutiny of their activities.  A lot of uncomfortable questions get asked, the kind that are bad for corporate PR.

So yeah, people are beginning to see Ginny Thomas as a train wreck, especially after the drunk phone call to Anita Hill.  Increasingly, they don't want anything to do with her.

Can you blame them?

Getting Dicked Over

You know, given former VP Dick Cheney's record, I'm not at all surprised on where he is on Mubarak.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday as "a good man" and a strong friend of the United States, but said the Egyptian people will decide his fate as leader.

"He's been a good man, he's been a good friend and ally to the United States, and we need to remember that," Cheney said during a question-and-answer session at a tribute to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

"In the end whatever comes next is going to be decided by the Egyptian people," he said.

Here's my question:  why isn't anyone asking the obvious about why when Cheney was so adamant about invading Iran and Afghanistan that we overlooked Egypt?   After all, Saddam Hussein was "a good man" in the eyes of the US at one point too.

Overlooking The Obvious

Republicans are quick to take Florida Judge Roger Vinson's ruling that the entire health care bill is unconstitutional as cold hard fact, but that ignores the over a dozen federal judges -- some appointed by Republicans -- that have tossed lawsuits against the bill based on the Supremacy and Commerce Clauses in the Constitution.  The latest of those happened Thursday.

A federal judge on Thursday sided with the Obama administration on the sweeping health care reform law, throwing out a challenge to its constitutionality.

Keith Starrett, a George W. Bush- appointed US District Court judge in southern Mississippi, said opponents of the individual mandate had offered "insufficient" basis to challenge the government's ability to regulate health insurance coverage.

The 23-page decision, obtained by the Huffington Post's Sam Stein, read: "The Court finds that the allegations of Plaintiffs' First Amended Petition, as stated therein, are insufficient to show that they have standing to challenge the minimum essential coverage provision of the PPACA [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act]. Therefore, the Court dismisses Plaintiffs' First Amended Petition without prejudice."

It concluded, "the Court finds that the ten primary Plaintiffs have not plead sufficient facts to establish that they have standing to challenge the Constitutionality of the minimum essential coverage provision of the PPACA."

The lawsuit was filed by Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and 10 other state residents, according to the Hattiesburg American, who argued that the law would grant Congress "unlimited power to regulate, prohibit, or mandate any or all activities in the United States."

Starrett offered them 30 days to amend their complaint.

Judge Starrett found that Mississippi didn't even have standing to sue.   Once again, this law will be decided by the Supreme Court, but looking at the dozens of cases filed by the states against the PPACA, only two have come out against the government, one against the mandate, one against the entire law.

The rest have been thrown out across the board.

Something to keep in mind.

Denial Really Is A River In Egypt, Part 6

Egyptian banks are open for the first time in over a week, but massive lines reminiscent of old school bank runs are making plenty of Egyptians nervous.

Hundreds of Egyptians queued outside banks to withdraw funds as lenders opened for the first time in more than a week amid protests demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. The pound dropped to the lowest level since 2005.

At a Cairo-based branch of Commercial International Bank Egypt SAE, the nation’s biggest publicly-traded lender, one man stood at the main door taking names of customers. “Banks need to open more branches,” Mahmoud Eliwa, a 68-year-old retiree who wanted to withdraw 5,000 pounds, said in an interview outside the bank. Eliwa left after learning he needed to wait for about 100 people before him.

The central bank moved 5 billion pounds ($854 million) of cash into the financial system as depositors gained access to their savings. The regulator, which has $36 billion in reserves and guarantees deposits, used military cargo planes to bring in the funds, Governor Farouk El-Okdah said yesterday on state-run television.

The demonstrations, which left at least 300 people dead according to the United Nations, roiled financial markets worldwide and sent yields on Egyptian bonds higher. The stock market remained closed for a sixth day after the benchmark EGX 30 Index tumbled 16 percent in the week to Jan. 27. 

Egypt's stock market and currency have taken a beating in the last week, too.  But if the banks are opening and people aren't protesting as much, it's quite possible that Mubarak may survive until September...or longer.  People in Egypt have bigger things to worry about, namely food, water, and income.

The window to oust Mubarak has all but passed.

[UPDATE]  The US is now backing the "gradual transition plan".  Mubarak will stay in power until September.   Coin flip on whether or not he "wins" re-election then.
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