Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Colt 45 Chronicle #81

So much for sticking to a regular schedule in posting these old letters from my young-man youth. The idea was to be done by the end of the 2014 National Football League season, providing a degree of symmetry which I believe the project deserves, begun as it was in the slough of despond of the Seahawks January 2013 playoff elimination; also, the period of time to post and comment on these old letters, which describe my newlywed life in the Big Apple at the end of the Reagan era but predominantly record the pining for the lost innocence of my university life, would match the length of time it took me to actually compose them in the first place. Two years.

But since I haven't posted an installment of what I call "The Colt 45 Chronicle" in a month, aspirations to be finished by early February -- there are about 20 letters left -- seem too lofty.

Part of the problem is that I ran into the letter below, which is lengthy and replete with professional basketball and baseball references from the late 1980s that required a lot of hyperlinking.

This old-letter project has proven to be an interesting exercise in that it constantly forces me to ask myself, "What if I had never gotten married and not been constantly ensnared with women? With drinking buddies? What if I had been more like I am today?"

The answer that comes back is that likely I would have been more happy and productive. The reality though is that it is too much to expect a young man to have the discipline -- the ability to self-isolate -- of a man of middle age. What is required is ruthlessness, and that is something with which most young people are not equipped. At the time of my young-man youth I was intellectually aware of my lack of wisdom; hence my fascination with Diogenes' "shortcut to virtue."

The letter below is an accurate rendering of a young man recently eructed from the university. It is all here. The preoccupation with professional sports, the oblivion of worklife, women problems, drinking, an appetite for classic literature and underground rock'n'roll. An unhappy, semi-angry lout destined for future hardship.
Spring 1989

First things first, how about those GS Warriors? What's the deal with Mullin averaging 30 pts. a game? I never would have figured them to dominate Utah in three. The Knicks sweep of Philly is misleading; they won all three in the last second, and Ewing didn't do shit the whole series. On the other hand, they have an easier draw than the Warriors for round two judging from the game I saw on TV last Sunday between Cleveland and Chicago. Chicago is easily the worst team in the NBA -- minus the expansions and maybe the Kings and Clippers -- without Jordan; and, as for the Cavaliers, they look burned out compared to their February form. Price and Daugherty aren't the same. What's the deal with Sampson, is he playing? I haven't seen a box score€. That Phoenix series should be good; Chambers and Kevin Johnson -- what an awesome scoring tandem.

As for baseball, I'm actually beginning to feel a little for the Yankees and Mets, Dallas Green is a disgusting person but a solid manager, and you can tell the players appreciate the switch from Martin/Piniella ball. Green acts as a kind of buffer between Steinbrenner and the players. (Steinbrenner's hardly ever in the media now.) The big story is the Leiter for Barfield deal. Leiter is twenty-three, a local from New Jersey; he had a great start last year but choked in the second half. This year, he's pretty much been shelled. What gets people around here so pissed off is that S'brenner always unloads young talent for questionable middle-career hitters (though Barfield does have a cannon for an arm); he does it every fuckin' year, and every year for (what?) the past eight years the Yankees have ended up third or fourth or second. But through all this, I kind of like them. I like Tommy John (he looks like my old Berkeley landlord), with his ridiculous off-speed pitch and that twice-every-nine-innings fastball that either gets called for strike three or roped over the center-field fence for a three-run four-bagger. I like Don Mattingly because he really is a straight-on nice no-bullshit american kind of person who really fuckin' flagellates himself when he doesn't get a hit or when he makes an error; he doesn't do it in a grandiose, look-at-me-I'm-a-team-player media butt fuck (no Will Clark here); no, he ducks his head into his locker as he's getting on his shirt and blinks in the camera lights and politely, selflessly, but angrily (like he wants to rip the reporter in half) fesses up to the shit that went wrong during the game.
You see, I have this feeling that Mattingly is from a white-trash family, had a dad who was a sheet-rocker, and a mom that smoked Marlboro 100s and drank longneck Miller High Lifes on a bar stool while little Donny ran off to smack fly balls to his buddies in the warm dusk under chainlink backstops; which, when combined with his good-natured seriousness, makes him a truly transcendent, pure and holy figure.

And I like Sax and Righetti because they're from Sacramento and San Jose.

The Mets come in second to the Yankees; I don't know why, they just do. I like the pitching staff -- Gooden and Leach and Myers, for sure. But I don't like Strawberry, Hernandez, Carter, Teufel and Elster. I do like -- though it's hard to believe -- Dykstra and Hojo; and less hard, McReynolds and Mookie.

I follow the A's and Giants. I can't believe that the A's are as good as their record. and I don't understand why the Giants aren't better than .500. Wow! What an April for Mitchell and Clark. Thank God for Kevin Mitchell's RBIs. And you're right Ollie, Jose Canseco is is is a paper player.

Well, on the home front, we've had a few ripples recently; namely, Ashley found out -- or, rather, I should say, I told her in a drunken state, finally, arbitrarily -- about my romances with Stacey and Maura. I don't think I ever told you guys about the Maura thing. And I've been out of work for a month and one day now.

But despite these two things, the revealed adultery and the unemployment (actually the adultery admission took place some time ago, a month, which I guess means that my unemployment corresponded with revealing my adulterous behavior, the last incident of which had gone on, or, I should say, had ended, eight months previously) we have been doing pretty damn good.

The work issue is a strange one. I'm registered at several (four) temporary agencies, and I've received zero calls in three weeks besides working a half a day as a proofreader at this place called DDB Needham. What makes this peculiar is that ever since I've come back to New York from California I've been able to work regularly as a temp. Now I'm thinking about whoring myself to some permanent position again (pray for me). But in the interim I've been reading like a lot, sucking down anything I can get my eyes on. I'm working on Suetonius' TWELVE CAESARS right now. Did you know that Nero, after indulging in all possible indulgences of the flesh, struck upon the novelty of being clothed in the furs and skins of wild animals and locked in a metal cage, only to be released on signal so that he could scamper forth and devour the genitals of nude men and women bound to a stake, and this as an exciting erotic prelude to being buttfucked by one of his freed men (ex-slaves)?
Ashley is good; she's got six more exams to complete before the end of her first year; she's looking good.

I've got a few of stories tucked in my head, as we all do, and here is one of them: One rainy Friday night about two months ago Ashley and I saw a performance entitled "Violin and Feedback." It took place at a snotty Soho record store. The guy doing the performance was a friend of Jessica's and she wanted as many people as possible to go with her and see it. So we did.

Did you guys ever meet Jessica in Berkeley? She is a friend of ours and an old and brief amour of Colin's. I remember one time Lyn and Ben dropped me off at a party Jessica was having at her house on Dana St. This was the night of the Saturday you had that Fairfield summer barbecue, the one where everybody drank beer and red wine on the backyard deck in the afternoon shade; and there was that smug Aussie there; and just before we left I shook your dad's hard and told him he was a good man. The only reason I remember this -- that Lyn and Ben dropped me off in front of Jessica's house (after the familiar fifty-minute westbound stretch on I-80) -- is that I went into her party and continued to drink after all that rich German beer and thick red wine until I was fucked up enough to stumble down a stack of porch steps and lurch half a block to a deserted dentist-office parking lot and spray puke up on a cinder-block wall. I I found out a little bit later that a lot of the puke had shot down on my shoes. Anyway, that was it; that's why I remembered this story, because I can still see that golden puke-paste sticking to my boots like starfish.

Jessica did modern dance and drama and all that at U.C. She wants to be an actress; she is genuinely very nice and sweet and has been in New York since October, which is good for Ashley since they both like to talk astrology.

The record store, LUNCH FOR YOUR EARS, was one of those intelligentsia-art-sham-rock shithouses. As soon as I walked in the front door I was confronted with a big trough of Brian Eno, Fred Frith, Tuxedomoon and The Residents. Tangerine Dream was playing on the turntable. But what made this particular avant-garde trading post so fucked up and self- congratulatory was how it offered such a condescendingly premeditated smattering of soul, funk, jazz and punk/hardcore. I went to flip through a bin (which I did), let's say it was "Hardcore," (which it was), and I saw Husker Du's LAND SPEED RECORD (Okay, fine, but CANDY APPLE GREY?); Suicidal Tendencies; and then one of those recent Dead Kennedys LPs. And that's it, outside of one or two New Jersey indie labels. So where's the Flipper? Where're the Bad Brains? Where's MEATPUPPETS I? Sure, it's mostly unlistenable. But that's what makes for good hardcore: a lot of nasty chaff with that occasional kernel of joy. They did have a healthy Minutemen collection, bigger than BLEECKER BOB'S, much bigger; and as a result, I couldn't totally distance myself from what they were all about. All in all though, their meaty and burly sections were awkwardly undersized, kind of like the big junior high jock soaping up in the second-period PE showers with his peanut-shell cock (sorry, I'm kinda of fucked up; I had thought about that earlier and had to toss it in).

This is the deal. I got to the record store first. Ashley and Jessica had stopped off at a nearby bookstore hoping to find some astrological titles. I told them that I'd go on ahead and meet Antony, just in case he beat us there. So I tossed them a good bye and hustled my soggy wool pants down
Prince Street due east. It was raining at a good clip and not a soul was on the sidewalks.

After three blocks of craning my neck trying to locate the street numbers, I passed a woman, probably a dike, carrying two white plastic shopping bags full of groceries. The sidewalk was poorly lit, but when she walked by I saw enough of her face to see that she was pretty scared. Nobody out, nobody even within shouting distance; nobody except me; and the wind blowing everything around except the old dark brick; and an alley only three yards -- a mediocre Roger Craig line plunge -- away, as peaceful and slender as meadow rivulet.

After another few blocks the streets started to brighten up. I found the street numbers without any problem thanks to a corner pizza place which lit up the whole block; a guy was working the dough inside. This was my block. LUNCH FOR YOUR EARS couldn't be far. I figured maybe four or five stores down at the most. I walked on a few more feet and found the address, but I kept on moving because it was a record store and Jessica had told me that we were looking for a cafe. I looked around for something else, like a bar or restaurant, but I figured that the record store had to be it. It was the only thing still open.

I had been drinking for a long time and walking around in the rain. It was Good Friday and Ashley and I had started the day with a few cups of coffee at around a quarter to Eleven. The view from our window was gray and wet. I can always tell when it's bad out. The rain drips off the upper concrete ledge like snot, white and frothy. I had put on one of the last three Van Morison albums and was feeling pretty shitty, a sore golf ball in the ear/throat region as I drank the coffee, every gulp grating the back of my throat like it was a piece of Monterey Jack cheese. But after half a cup and a few songs I was feeling very fine and plenty energetic. Ashley picked up the phone and called Jessica, who was at work, Good Friday and all. Thank goodness I wasn't, and thank goodness Ashley wasn't. Jessica told us to come down to her apartment in the East Village around 1 o'clock. So Twelve-ish we took off, taking the elevator down. And damn it was cold when we got out into the weather -- blowing like a storm and pushing icy rain, feeling like needles, at your face. We made it to the subway, and a beautiful and understated couple walked onto the downtown train with us.

I'm sorry, I can't finish the story; it got too big and I got too drunk. I wish I had more tenacity and energy. What I can say, which is what made me tell this story in the first place, is how this guy -- the guy who was putting on the show at the record store LUNCH FOR YOUR EARS -- the guy who was doing the violin and feedback -- how this guy took a snapshot of the crowd with a small Instamatic camera while he was playing, which reminded me of the concert where I saw Tony Levin, the bass player who was playing the Chapman Stick for Peter Gabriel), do the same thing; more precisely, it reminded me of the Monday after the Saturday I saw Tony Levin do the same thing at the Greek Theater, the Monday I walked into 386 Doe and saw you guys tucked into that big library table and said to you I had seen God, and He was Peter Gabriel; and everybody responded with a thunderclap of belly laughter shooting fast and loud out of sunburning faces, teeth spit flaked. That was it, and I thank you, Oliver.

Right when I got back from California, I sat rosy-cheek bemused in some newlyweds' apartment (a fellow first-year classmate of Ashley's), drinking beers -- quarts -- listening to a freshly purchased HAND OF KINDNESS by Richard Thompson, which I had brought with us to listen to. Once I caught a three-quart buzz, I started thinking about the time I saw the very same album in Lyn's Hillegass bedroom at Eleven o'clock in the morning on one of those days that Oliver had brought me over after an early Baker run -- a Top Dog securely under belt -- and this is what I jotted down on the back of a list of phone numbers when I got home from the newlyweds (I was blasted): You guys had it all then You were perfected Going forward Yet resting At the same time.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

NFL Week 13: Goodell Caught Lying

Every year I travel down to California to spend Thanksgiving with my father. We run a local turkey trot at the community college and then spend the rest of the day snacking on chips and watching the NFL games.

This year was a treat because of the Seahawks-49ers match-up. Last season's NFC Championship game caused a brief "family feud" between the two of us -- my father thought Richard Sherman's post-game assertion of his superiority thuggish; I accused my father of being racist. The Thanksgiving evening rematch on national television provided an opportunity for me and my father to relive those events and approach the divisional rivalry with more reserve.

As it turned out, the game itself, as one-sided as it was, didn't generate much heat. It was a bitter, bilious Thanksgiving meal served cold to the San Francisco faithful. Seattle dominated in all aspects of play: the defense smothered Frank Gore and the impressive lineup of 49ers receivers, and Kaepernick never found a rhythm; while on offense, the great Marshawn Lynch piled up 100 yards on the ground and Russell Wilson scrambled and connected with receivers for over 200 yards.

All in all it was statement game and that statement was twofold: one, the Seattle defense is back to playoff form; and two, San Francisco is a franchise that has a lot of problems. A Raiders victory next week is not unthinkable.

Next week the shutdown Seattle D will be tested by Chip Kelly's hurry-up offense. Mark Sanchez repeatedly led the Eagles down the field to paydirt at the beginning of the game in Dallas against the Cowboys.

The Dallas D did not have an answer. Sanchez was never harried and LeSean McCoy cracked off huge runs. On offense the Cowboys were never able to establish a passing attack off the strong running of DeMarco Murray. That's how the Cowboys win: they pound the ball with Murray, and then Romo goes to the play-action pass. Murray was able to run effectively in the first half. But Romo was unable to connect to Witten or Dez Bryant. Then in the second half Dallas was too far behind to stick with its run-first offense. Romo is not the player he was; his bad back is a real limitation.

Given what I saw on Thanksgiving, it is not hard to imagine the Eagles in the NFC Championship game.

Somehow Rob Ryan's Saints defense shut them down in the playoffs last season. McCoy was held in check. If I remember correctly, the game-time temperature was in the low 20s;  I think it bothered Philadelphia, even though the Eagles had home field, more than New Orleans. So that is the ticket to stopping Chip Kelly's hurry-up: Stop LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles and let Mark Sanchez try to beat you. I think Seattle should match up pretty well.

The bombshell of NFL Week 13 is not any victory on the gridiron but the reinstatement, announced yesterday, of Ray Rice by arbitrator Barbara S. Jones, a former federal district court judge.

The basis of Judge Jones' decision to reinstate Rice, as Ken Belson makes clear in an excellent frontpage account in today's paper, "Ray Rice Wins Reinstatement to N.F.L. in Arbitration," is that NFL commissioner Goodell punished Rice twice for the same incident. Initially, Goodell ruled Rice would have to serve a two-game suspension for knocking out his fiance, now wife, Janay in a hotel elevator. Then after video of the assault went viral, Goodell went back and ruled that Rice would be suspended indefinitely. The Baltimore Ravens followed suit by releasing him.

In order to make the indefinite suspension seem credible and not merely a capricious reaction to public outrage Goodell made two contentions: 1) that he never saw the video of Rice knocking out his honeybunch prior to his initial ruling, and 2) Rice misrepresented the incident in his disciplinarian hearing, calling it a slap.

Well, now we know, thanks to Judge Jones's decision, that Goodell lied in characterizing Rice's testimony as misleading. As Belson says,
In the Rice case, after his initial two-game ban drew the ire of fans and women’s groups who thought it minimized what had occurred, Mr. Goodell acknowledged a month later that he had “got it wrong.” He then announced a new policy in which first-time offenders in domestic violence cases would miss at least six games. Judge Jones, in her decision, noted that Mr. Goodell called Mr. Rice then to let him know that the six-game rule would not affect him because he had already been penalized. 
That promise was scrapped two weeks later, on Sept. 8., after the video of Mr. Rice punching Janay Palmer, who is now his wife, became public. That, in turn, led to the appeal by Mr. Rice. 
In her ruling, Judge Jones devoted considerable attention to what Mr. Rice actually said at the June 16 meeting with Mr. Goodell. She said that the commissioner, in his testimony at the arbitration hearing, recalled Mr. Rice telling him in June that he “slapped” Ms. Palmer. Other N.F.L. executives had similar recollections. 
Judge Jones noted that Mr. Goodell’s actual notes of the June 16 meeting were not detailed and did not contain the word “slap” but did contain the word “struck.” More persuasive, Judge Jones added, were the “detailed and careful notes” that Heather McPhee, a players union lawyer, took at the meeting. Those notes include Mr. Rice stating, in quotation marks: “And then I hit her.” 
Judge Jones noted that Ms. McPhee testified she used the quotation marks because those were Rice’s exact words.
If Goodell lied about what Rice said in his disciplinary hearing he's probably lying about when he saw the knockout video. As Belson notes, Goodell has problems:
Judge Jones’s ruling is hardly the last word in the Rice matter. Mr. Goodell’s handling of the suspension is also being investigated by Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director, who was hired by the N.F.L. to find out what, among other things, the league knew about the graphic video of Mr. Rice and when. Mr. Goodell has insisted that he did not see that video before his initial meeting with Mr. Rice last June. If that turns out not to be true, the league’s owners, who have thus far stood behind Mr. Goodell, may take a dimmer view of his leadership.
At the very least, the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson imbroglios have forced the NFL to relinquish its privileged status as the final arbiter on discipline. Judge Jones' ruling should put an end to that. As Juliet Macur points out in "Ray Rice Ruling Highlights Roger Goodell’s Missteps," the league office no longer has any credibility:
He threw out Rice’s two-game ban, and made it possibly for good. Yet what he might have thought was a good idea to appease the public has just left the league without ballast. Instead of a strong leader when the league needs it most, he has been an inconsistent and weak one. 
Goodell has made so many mistakes in the case that it is hard to keep track of them. He has been breaking the rules that he has been making up as he goes along. The owners either see that and don’t care because Goodell has made them so much money, or they continue to wear blinders.
The league is now at the mercy of arbitrators to clean up its messes. Another one next week will hear the case of Adrian Peterson, who was suspended at least until April 15 for hitting his 4-year-old son with a stick and leaving wounds. It is another chance for Goodell to fall even deeper into a hole that has now turned into a canyon.
Earlier in the month Dave Zirin, "Beyond the Drug Raids: Why the Feds Are Fed Up With the NFL," saw evidence that the vast criminal conspiracy that is the National Football League is no longer the sacred cow it once was in Washington D.C.:
Let’s be clear: the recent raid on five NFL teams by the Drug Enforcement Agency to see if teams were doubling as illegal painkiller dispensaries has little to do with concerns about how our nation’s Sunday heroes Novocain themselves for gridiron glory. The fact that the NFL and their teams of doctors and nurses give out prescription pills like Halloween candy and break out syringes to top off sessions of physical therapy has been public knowledge for over forty years. Player memoirs like the 1970s Out of their League, by Cardinal linebacker Dave Meggyesy, and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Peter Gent’s semi-autobiographical bestseller North Dallas Forty, addressed such things with a nonchalant frankness bordering on the blasé. These practices are also discussed by former players with a shrug as just the price they pay for keeping the trains—those same trains carrying billions of dollars in revenue—running on schedule. Players tend to come from poverty and play an average of just three and a half years on largely non-guaranteed contracts. They will do what they have to do to get out there on Sunday, and teams will be only too happy to oblige. 
The real story here is that these raids happened at all. The NFL employs twenty-six full-time lobbyists and spends about $1.5 million per election cycle to make sure that the feds leave the league alone and no one looks too closely at how the sausages are made. Pro football is supposed to be an entity that operates in a magical constitution-free zone of antitrust exemptions and tax breaks, with numbing opiates in every locker. But those days appear to be as dead as playoff hopes in Oakland. 
A combination of the bumbling Clouseau-esque stewardship of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, public pressure and a never-ending cascade of scandals has created a relationship between the NFL and the federal government described to me by a hill lobbyist as “something south of toxic.” In September they hired democratic operative Cynthia Hogan to head their lobbying operation in an effort at making their relationship with this administration at least better than poisonous, but this is beyond Cynthia Hogan. Hell, this is beyond Olivia Pope. The federal government is out for a chunk of Roger Goodell’s flesh and the evidence of this is there for anyone who cares to look. 
Over the last three months, we have seen the Federal Communications Commission—a body appointed by the Obama administration—both rescind the decades-old NFL blackout rule and threaten to ban the dictionary-defined slur that brands the Washington football team from being uttered over broadcast television. We have seen rage by public officials over how the NFL and especially Roger Goodell has ignored or even covered up issues of violence against women. We have seen Goodell again and again, whether in the Ray Rice domestic violence case or in his recent ruling on Adrian Peterson’s season-long suspension for hitting his child with a stick, careening from one crisis to the next, absent of a moral compass while thumbing his nose at the Players Association, public pressure or common sense. We have seen the open questioning on Capitol Hill of the NFL corporate office’s tax-free status, something estimated to save the league $10 million dollars a year—a move championed by now-retired Republican senator from Oklahoma Tom Coburn. We have also seen the unthinkable: senators asking the “Emperor has no clothes” question of why the NFL gets any special treatment at all. 
When politicians see the once bullet-proof NFL shield, with all of its cultural capital, as a target for scoring easy political points, it speaks volumes all by itself. This humiliating DEA raid is really just a dash a salt on an already simmering stew. Goodell’s league has long carried itself like the sporting equivalent of Goldman-Sachs; simply too big to fail. Those days of anti-accountability are over. Roger Goodell and the collection of owners that pull his string are failing at the most fundamental task of a league built on the broken bodies of its players: keeping people’s attention firmly focused on the field. Now people—and politicians—are looking at what is behind the curtain and scrutiny does them no favors. It is perfectly understandable why many would see conflict between the federal government and the powers that be in the world of football as the Kang vs. Kodos of political battles. But this is a sport that is being victimized less by big government than by their own arrogance and negligence. Whether we are talking about the covered-up dangers of youth football, the plantation economy of the NCAA, or the corporate culture of the NFL, the feds are not done with the people who run this sport. Not by a longshot.
I am doubtful that Goodell is in a death spiral. The Mueller report will likely be a skillful graywash. The power of the league office will be curtailed but not so much that the owners will force Goodell onto his sword.

As for Ray Rice, I will be surprised if any team signs him this season. He is too toxic. There is the "No More" ad campaign, which strikes me as fresh and effective. We are still -- thanks to the popularity of the NFL -- a TV nation. Ray Rice will have to bide his time.

In the "Super Bowl preview" match-up tomorrow between the Patriots and the Packers at Lambeau Field, I like Green Bay. Revis and Browner have been touted as the best cornerback tandem in the league this year. My sense is that Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will beat them, allowing Aaron Rodgers to connect over the top. Plus, there are the screens to Eddy Lacy. The Packers defense is good enough to slow down Brady. In a scoring contest between Rodgers and Brady, take Rodgers.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ayatollah Connects Ferguson to P5+1 Talks

Returning home from the holidays, reading the Gray Lady in an aisle seat on a full flight, I was pleased to see Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, weighing in on Ferguson (Thomas Erdbrink, "Iran’s Supreme Leader Backs Further Nuclear Talks"):
The ayatollah also made reference to the riots this week in Ferguson, Mo. The unrest in response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, shows “the gap between the American people and their administration.”
There was a more expansive story in Business Insider (Hunter Walker, "Iran's Supreme Leader Says Ferguson Shows What's Wrong With America") which noted that Khamenei, in several Tweets on Ferguson, not only explained how the riots in St. Louis County and around the country prove that USG is battling its own people, who do not trust the government, but also how Israel, through a "Zionist network" that controls the "lifeline" of U.S. politicians by threat of blackmail, is preventing the federal government from publicly embracing a deal with Iran on its nuclear program as well as justice for Michael Brown.

The Khamenei Tweet on the Zionist connection to Ferguson is as follows:
network blackmail US officials &if they act agnst their will, they're forced to resign,face defamation and death threats.
Here are the two Khamenei Tweets on Ferguson. The first, mentions low voter turnout during the recent midterm elections:
US isn't honest w its nation. The recent US election turnout was so low. At events in US is fighting w its ppl.
The next, reasserts the obvious, that the U.S. public does not trust its government:
We don't seek to gain the confidence of US; we don't need that. We don't trust you; your ppl do not trust you either.
All of this is fairly unremarkable and obvious. But it will set off some tongue-clucking among brainwashed Western liberals and conservatives.

Can anyone deny Zionists have a stranglehold, a veto on most aspects of U.S. foreign policy?

Khamenei's assertion that the "Zionist network" has a stake in maintaining the U.S. system of institutional racism and white privilege is more novel. Certainly Israel's deep bonds with the Southern Baptist Convention, ties that have been developed over the last 20-plus years, support such an assertion.

Immersing myself in the broadcast television coverage of Ferguson from Tuesday until this morning it is interesting to note the playbook that is followed whenever there is an outbreak of dissent, protest, riots, whatever.

The primary play in that book is to focus on the "violence" of the protests and loss of property. The source of the outrage is given short shrift. Only the News Hour -- from what I saw -- provided a cogent explanation of why the grand jury process, a process that should have resulted in an indictment of Darren Wilson, was totally skewed towards blaming the victim, the teenage Michael Brown.

The three-day's worth of coverage I saw was heavily weighted toward the suffering of Ferguson's small-business owners and employees not knowing if they were going to be able to pay their bills.

Obama is almost certain not to pursue any federal civil rights prosecution here. The least one would expect would be some sort of Department of Justice monitoring process for the local police of St. Louis County. But don't expect it. Holder is on his way out, and so too is Barack. There is no will to take on white privilege and institutional racism; just as there is no will to cut back the warfare state.

Which means it will be up to the young and and young at heart, those who want to see a more egalitarian society, to stay mobilized and maintain the struggle.

Monday, November 24, 2014

P5+1 Talks to Continue but Future Still Clouded by War

The charade has been played out. Though it was a foregone conclusion that the P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program would be extended again, the canard had to be maintained that negotiators were making a hard charge to finalize a comprehensive agreement by today's deadline. Now, thankfully, that is behind us.

Michael Gordon and David Sanger report this morning, "Negotiators Plan to Extend Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program," that
Hours away from a Monday deadline for completing a new accord to curb Iran’s nuclear program, negotiators planned to extend negotiations and expected to reconvene next month, a Western diplomat said. 
A location for the December talks has yet to be chosen, but over the past month, Secretary of State John Kerry has met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Muscat, Oman, and in Vienna. 
American officials and their negotiating partners have yet to explain if any substantial progress was made in the latest round of talks here and what gaps remain. President Obama had said in a television interview on Sunday that there were still “significant” differences between the two sides. 
It was also unclear how long the talks would be prolonged, as negotiators try to resolve crucial issues, including how much nuclear fuel Iran could produce, how long the accord would last and how intrusive inspections would be. 
“Given progress made this weekend, talks headed to likely extension with experts and negotiating teams reconvening in December at a yet to be determined location,” said a Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions related to internal planning.
The reason why the P5+1 negotiations have to be maintained is the alternative is either more sanctions emanating from the U.S. Congress or an Israeli attack. As Sasan Fayamanesh noted in
"Is Israel Losing the Battle to Wage War on Iran? On the Long-Term Agreement Between Iran and the P5+1," which appeared on the Counterpunch online weekend edition, Israel has been trying mightily to derail the P5+1 process:
Failing to stop the JPA [last November's breakthrough Joint Plan of Action], Israel then tried to nullify it by passing a new and severe set of sanctions through the US Congress. The move was led by Kirk and Menendez, two senators who often appear on the list of the biggest recipients of campaign cash from pro-Israel public actions committees. The Kirk-Menendez bill, titled “Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act,” was introduced on December 19, 2013, with the sole purpose of ending the agreement between Iran and the P5+1. The bill gained momentum as various Israeli lobby groups, particularly AIPAC, exerted pressure in the Senate. On January 4, 2014, AIPAC had a summary of Kirk-Menendez bill on its website and was instructing its members to “act now.”
The number of senators signing the Kirk-Menendez bill rose from 33 in early January to 59 in mid-January, 2014. This was despite the fact that some officials in the Obama Administration, including Secretary Kerry, referred to the bill as an attempt to push the US into a war with Iran. This was also in spite of Obama’s threats to veto the bill. On January 28, 2014, in his State of the Union Address, Obama reiterated his stance on any congressional bill intended to impose a new set of sanctions on Iran and stated that “if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. ”
Israel, its lobby groups and its conduits in Congress, nevertheless, pushed for passing the resolution. However, they could not muster the strength to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate to make the bill veto-proof. They threw in the towel and AIPAC declared on February 6, 2014: “We agree with the Chairman [Menendez] that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support . . . and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.” As many observed, this was the biggest loss for Israel, its lobby groups and its conduits in the US Congress, since Ronald Reagan agreed, contrary to Israel’s demand, to sell AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia. Subsequent attempts to nullify the JPA also failed. This included an attempt by some Senators, a few days before March 2014 AIPAC policy conference, to include elements of “Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act” in a veterans’ bill.
In the end, Israeli lobby groups had to settle for a few letters written by US law makers to President Obama, telling him what the final deal must look like. The AIPAC-approved letter in the House of Representative on March 3, 2014, was circulated by Eric Cantor and Steny Hoyer. The Senate letter was posted on AIPAC website, dated March 18, 2014, and, as many Israeli affiliated news sources joyously reported, the letter gained 82 signatures. Finally, 23 Senators also signed the Cantor-Hoyer letter, as Senator Carl Levin’s website posted it on March 22, 2014. If some of the harsh measures proposed in these letters were to be adopted by the Obama Administrations, no final deal could be reached with Iran.
The JPA was supposed to lead to a final settlement in six months, and, consequently, there were many rounds of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 before the deadline. The final and the most intense negotiations that took place behind closed doors in July 2014 lasted for more than two weeks. However, in the end there were “significant gaps on some core issues,” as a statement by EU Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif read on July 19, 2014. It was therefore decided to close the so-called gaps by November 24, 2014.
We are now approaching the 2nd deadline for reaching a long-term agreement between Iran and the P5+1. It is unclear whether the gaps can be bridged. It is also unclear how much of these gaps are due to the relentless Israeli pressure that is still being exerted even on the Obama Administration and its team of negotiators. We know that these negotiators, as they have readily admitted, consult Israel before and after every meeting with Iran. Indeed, even after the latest round of meetings between Iran and the US in Muscat, Oman, Kerry called Netanyahu to “update” him on the negotiations. Yet, we also know that Israel does not have the clout that it once had in the White House. The most influential Israeli lobbyists have left the Obama Administration and their policy of tough diplomacy is in tatters. Israel has also been unable to stop the short-term P5+1 agreement with Iran, it has failed to nullify the agreement after it passed, and it has not even been able to garner the two-thirds majority in the Senate to make veto-proof a Congressional bill designed to start a war with Iran. In other words, in the past two years Israel has been losing the battle to engage the US in another military adventure in the Middle East. But has Israel lost the war to wage war on Iran? The newly configured US Senate is already seeking a vote on another Israeli sponsored war bill called “Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014.”
As long as negotiations are underway Obama can easily veto any war bill coming out of the Republican-controlled Congress and expect that the veto will not be overridden. A veto becomes more difficult to maintain if the P5+1 process breaks down.

There is something unsavory about Kerry racing to the airport in Geneva to personally fellate the Saudi foreign minister. Gordon and Sanger reported yesterday, "Iran Nuclear Negotiators, Facing Key Differences, Weigh Extending Deadline" that
Mr. Kerry also rode to the airport here Sunday to talk with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister. While Saudi Arabia is not involved in the talks, it has long been worried that an agreement might allow Iran to keep more of its nuclear infrastructure than Saudi Arabia is comfortable with. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, also flew here to join the talks.
The reality is that U.S. foreign policy is dominated by the Saudis and Israelis. This isn't to say that they get every single thing they want; rather, they wield enormous influence and, because of their pull with a pay-to-play Congress, can effectively block any administration initiative.

This is prominently displayed with regards to Syria. Obama cannot cut a deal with Assad to roll up the jihadis because Israel and the Gulf monarchies won't allow it.

So what you get is a dissociative identity disorder where the United States is at war with itself. One part of USG is at war with another. The covert campaign run by the CIA to oust Assad metastasizes into region-wide war that requires a Department of Defense intervention.

It is the Al Qaeda formula that goes back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The U.S. and Israel support Al Qaeda in southern Syria, while the U.S. battles its epigones elsewhere. It is a formula for perpetual war.

As Obama green-lights a combat mission for U.S. forces in Afghanistan through the end of next year, reneging on his pledge to end fighting there by December, it should be apparent to even the laziest of observers that the U.S. is first and foremost a warfare state.

How to sell this to the voting public?

I don't think it can. That's why you will see continuing efforts to disenfranchise the poor while exacerbating the impact of dark money.

Eventually there is going to be some sort of reaction, whether in the form of a popular democratic uprising or a Thai military-type coup.


I'm out of town for the rest of the week; back Friday.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Captain America #24 + Captain America #25

Wednesday evening is a big night out for me. I go to a taqueria off Pine Street and get a takeout bean burrito. I visit for a bit with the young Mexican guy who runs the taco shop; he is friendly without being obsequious and extremely efficient; a solid citizen who enriches the community where I live. Another warm acquaintance of mine is also an immigrant from Mexico. My Latina friend with whom I ride the bus in SeaTac and who cleans rooms at the airport motel next to the building where I work is a paragon of decency; she works six days a week and never fails to be warm and polite.

I consider these two people -- immigrants, I'm not sure of their legal status -- the finest individuals I come in contact with in public. To make political hay by stirring up hard-shell nativism and bigotry is not only suicidal, given the obvious demographic trends, but it is morally wrong as well. Mexicans are just as American as Captain America if you ask me.

From the taqueria I walk north on Broadway past the community college. A few blocks after the college I arrive at the neighborhood comic shop where I pick up the week's new releases.

As I enter, the proprietor greets me by name. This week he suggests that I read the latest Daredevil issue.

A big, bearded, barrel-chested guy with a earring and a puka-shell necklace wearing a yellow t-shirt (I'm wrapped in several layers; it's cold) standing in front of the wall where the new releases are displayed chirps, "I can't stand Mark Waid."

Mark Waid writes Daredevil.

"It's always the same precious, 'Oh, look at me! Aren't I witty?' crap," says Big Yellow.

Big Yellow then proceeds to recapitulate the history of the Daredevil title the last five years. I engage in dialogue with him; tell him I wasn't a big fan of Shadowland. Then I shift gears, pointing to the cover of the comic book he holds in his hands. "There's the guy I like."

The name on the cover I was pointing to was Remender. The comic Big Yellow was holding? All-New Captain America #1.

"I'm excited that Sam Wilson is finally getting his due," says Big Yellow.

"What I could never figure out is how Sam Wilson could go from being an island kid to a Harlem badass," I say, proceeding to confuse Big Yellow by imparting to him my own confusion.

I remember reading the Stan Lee-Gene Colan Falcon origin, Captain America #117, as a kid. Falcon is Sam Wilson's superhero alter ego. Sam Wilson is a fresh-faced youth with a trained hawk, Red Wing, on a tropical island (I thought it was Trinidad and Tobago; turns out it was an island off Haiti) who comes to the assistance of Red Skull. The Red Skull is getting shit-kicked by a bunch of Nazis. Turns out the Red Skull is actually Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America. The real Red Skull, using the Cosmic Cube, has traded identities with Captain America. So while the Red Skull is parading around Manhattan sucking up adulation as the star-spangled Avenger, Captain America is fighting for his life against a group of war criminals that the Red Skull double-crossed one time too many.


Anyway, it turns out I was confused. Sam Wilson is not an islander but a Harlem native who answered a newspaper ad soliciting workers to come to the tropics. Steve Rogers/Red Skull trains Sam up to superhero status, gets him a costume and an alter ego, the Falcon -- and away they go.

In Captain American and the Falcon #144, Sam Wilson loses his pretty green outfit and gets the red-and-white costume (not unlike the Atlanta Falcons white jersey) and the gold nose-guard that we have come to associate with the character. A year or two later, during the Watergate era, is when I became a regular reader of Captain America and the Falcon. By this time Sal Buscema had taken over the penciling duties and Steve Englehart was the writer. Sam Wilson was no longer the ingenue sidekick; he was one tough brother, pure Black Power muscle. These comic books are a treasure trove of early '70s Americana.

Anyway, Big Yellow just stared back at me as if I were unhinged, babbling as I was about Sam Wilson's origins.

The scans you will find below are from the final two issues of the Captain America devoted to the Dimension Z storyline. The Iron Nail, the loser in a fight to the death with Captain America, managed to strip the Super-Soldier serum from Cap's DNA, leaving Steve Rogers a frail old man.

As the Avengers battle Arnim Zola's Dimension Z hoards in downtown Manhattan, the Falcon flies a ticking super-bomb to the stratosphere, sacrificing his life so the inhabitants of the megalopolis might live.

Remender is not afraid to embrace the hoariest, clunkiest conventions of the genre.

Fear not though, Sam Wilson is not dead. In the end, his Stark-designed vibranium wings shield him from the lethal blast. Only the Falcon character shuffles off, while Sam Wilson is reborn as the "All-New" Captain America.

Remender, whose writing is always to be read with an eye to the present political age, is making a statement here, I believe, about the failure of our first black president. Sam Wilson, the son of community organizers, Marvel's first African-American superhero, is taking his shot as leader of the Free World. Will he fail like Obama? Or will Remender, a true radical, render this black Captain America, albeit if only as a counterfactual, a triumph?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Iran Nuclear Talks: The Real Goal is to Keep Talking

A safe bet is that some sort of partial agreement or outline of principles is going to emerge from Geneva before the Monday deadline for the P5+1 talks with Iran on its nuclear program. 

A working framework will allow talks to continue. I believe this the raison d'etre of the P5+1 process. It is not to arrive at a final agreement because once that happens the U.S. Congress, serving at the behest of neocons and the state of Israel, will plunge in its tusked snout and tear apart any accord; and the same can be said for Iran. As Thomas Erdbrink notes  in "A Nuclear Deal Is Likely to Hit Hurdles in Iran":
In Iran, the final decision on a nuclear deal lies with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader. And if history is an accurate guide, the real debate over an accord, should one be reached, will not begin to unfold until after it is announced. When that debate gets underway, the voices of the hard-liners — the clerics, Revolutionary Guards commanders, conservative lawmakers and others who are by and large closest to the supreme leader — will be raised against any compromise on Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
There is no terra firma here. That becomes clear after reading Michael Gordon's excellent recapitulation, "U.S. Lays Out Limits It Seeks in Iran Nuclear Talks," of the salient details of the ongoing negotiations in Geneva. What one comes away with is a strong sense that the deal being hammered out is an elaborate ruse, a classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin, whose purpose is to keep the narrative moving and nations bargaining.

There are too many variables and arbitrary imperatives and artificial benchmarks. The key measurement appears to be an one-year minimum for nuclear "breakout" for Iran. The U.S. assumes, I guess, that Iran has already secretly solved all the difficult technical issues of fashioning a trigger for a nuclear device. So the U.S. bargaining position is predicated on limiting that which it thinks it can measure -- the amount of fissile uranium in Iran's possession and Iran's ability to produce that uranium.

Negotiations therefore revolve around how to reduce Iran's stockpile of fissile uranium and its centrifuges. As Gordon compactly explains:
The United States long ago dropped the goal of eliminating Iran’s enrichment ability, a demand that Israel has long insisted was the surest way to guarantee Iran did not maintain an option to pursue the development of nuclear arms.

So the negotiations have been focused on measures that would constrain Iran’s ability to quickly produce a nuclear bomb but allow it the ability to maintain what Iran insists is a peaceful program of nuclear power and research. Shortly after arriving here Thursday night to join the talks, Mr. Kerry met for more than two hours with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s envoy to the Iran talks. But there was no word on whether they had made any headway. 
One critical question is how many and what type of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to keep to continue enriching uranium. Another question is what happens to the nuclear material Iran already possesses, which could be used in making a bomb. A third question is what kind of measures can be taken to limit Iran’s ability to produce plutonium, which can also be used in producing a nuclear weapon. Affecting all of these issues is the length of time an accord would be in effect. 
At the same time, the Western and Iranian negotiators must agree on a schedule for suspending or lifting sanctions, Iran’s goal in the talks, while preserving the West’s leverage in case the accord begins to fray. 
Iran has nearly 10,000 operational centrifuges, which Iran insists will be used to make fuel for civilian reactors. But given Iran’s current abilities, Mr. Kerry has said that it would not take Iran long to produce enough enriched material for a bomb if it abandoned the temporary freeze it had been observing while talks are underway.
“I think it’s public knowledge today that we’re operating with a time period for a so-called ‘breakout’ of about two months,” Mr. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April. 
It would take far longer for Iran to take a bomb’s worth of fissile material, which can sustain a chain reaction, and fashion it into a weapon that could be delivered by a plane or missile. But since such work might be hard to detect and would be beyond the scope of an agreement, the breakout time to produce fissile material for a weapon has become an important indicator of Iran’s intentions.
“Enrichment time needs to be pushed to a year,” said Gary Samore, a former senior National Security Council official and president of an advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran. “This is what they need to have in order to sell the deal to Congress and U.S. allies.” 
To achieve an adequate breakout time, American and other international negotiators initially proposed establishing a 1,500 limit on the number of basic centrifuges Iran would be allowed to operate while banning the use of more advanced centrifuges.
Iran, however, has steadfastly refused to agree to a major reduction in centrifuges, although recently some Iranians have hinted that the number could be set at 8,000. 
More recently, negotiators have been exploring a formula in which Iran could have as many as 4,500 first-generation centrifuges if it also agreed to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Russia or take other offsetting steps. For a considerable fee, Russia would convert the fuel into rods that would be burned in Iran’s lone operating commercial power reactor. 
Some combination of moving Iranian stockpiles of fissile uranium to Russia for reprocessing and reducing the number of Iranian centrifuges, but not so steeply as the U.S. wants, is seen as a credible foundation for a working agreement.

But knottier problems lie with the kind of inspection regimen Iran will countenance and the timeline of any agreement:
A major stumbling block is the question of how long an agreement should last. Iran has argued that it could be seven years or even less. That, Iranian officials say, would enable Iran to install tens of thousands of new centrifuges to enrich its own uranium after a Russian contract to supply nuclear fuel for the reactor at Bushehr, Iran, expires in 2021. 
But an agreement that would shrink Iran’s network of centrifuges only to see it expand exponentially within a decade is a nonstarter for the United States. 
“I would say about 15 years,” said Robert J. Einhorn, a former senior State Department official. “There has to be a sustained track record of scrupulous Iranian implementation of a deal before the international community will have confidence that the program is strictly peaceful.”
Kerry stopped off in Paris on his way to Geneva; he compared notes with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius, who has played the role of bad cop in the P5+1 talks, as well as Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

The larger reality is that if talks were to end without any agreement, the Saudis and Israelis would feel compelled to mount an assault on Iran, which, given the war with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, would likely prove to be catastrophically destabilizing. Kerry is lining up his ducks to make sure the P5+1 process doesn't crater. He can sell the fact that maintaining the Geneva talks keeps Iranian centrifuges from spinning,

The Saudis and Israelis can live with this knowing in two years it will either be a warhawk neocon Hillary in the White House or some even more bellicose Republican. Iran can be smashed then.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NFL Week 12: A Vast Criminal Conspiracy

"Crisis" might not be the appropriate term to describe the National Football League as Week 12 begins, but trouble is definitely brewing, and brewing in several different pots.

Take for instance this morning's Associated Press report, "Silent to News Media, Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch Is Fined Again." Some of you will recall that in the heat of last season's Super Bowl run, the NFL went after Beast Mode for his vow of silence towards the media. A $50,000 fine was levied, which apparently was held in abeyance until now because the Seattle running back refused to talk to reporters after the Week 10 Giants game and the Week 11 Chiefs match-up. The league has added on another $50,000 for good measure.

But what is interesting is that Lynch, true to his gridiron form, is not going to go down gently; from the AP story it is apparent that he will comply with the letter of NFL's news media policy but challenge the league to try to enforce its spirit. In other words, can the league force Marshawn Lynch to say the words it wants him to say? I think not.
The league spokesman Michael Signora said penalties against Lynch would total $100,000. Along with the $50,000 for violations of the news media policy this year, the league is collecting a $50,000 fine that was imposed on Lynch for violations last season. The fine from 2013 was postponed in anticipation of future cooperation from Lynch. 
The league’s policy mandates that players be available during the week and in the locker room after all games. Lynch did not talk to reporters the past two weeks after games against the Giants and Kansas City. 
Lynch spoke at his locker for nearly 10 minutes Wednesday, but he answered almost every question by talking about music or his shoes.
Beast Mode's free-speech crusade -- free silence, rather -- is minor compared to other "headaches" the NFL currently has, foremost of which is the migraine over a pending preliminary concussion settlement. Substantive questions have been raised about the payment formula that is the basis of the settlement between the league and the class of 5,000 former players suffering from the debilitating effects of brain trauma.

For an excellent introduction to the concussion issue and the class-action suit against the National Football League, read Michael Sokolove's "How One Lawyer’s Crusade Could Change Football Forever," which appeared a couple weeks ago.

Sokolove explores the concussion class-action suit through the lens of the young attorney, Jason Luckasevic, who got it rolling. Luckasevic just happened to be friends with the forensic pathologist who published a scholarly article equating the repeated brain trauma of Steelers great Mike Webster with dementia and early death:
As Luckasevic was getting started on his legal career, his older brother, Todd, was in his medical residency at the Allegheny County medical-examiner’s office, working under a forensic pathologist named Bennet Omalu. The Nigerian-born doctor spent some Thanksgivings with the extended Luckasevic clan. He and the Luckasevic brothers sometimes went out for beers together or to hockey games. Luckasevic found Omalu to be good company, “an easy guy to be around, even though you could tell he was brilliant or even a genius.” 
In 2002, Omalu performed an autopsy on Mike Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman and a member of pro football’s Hall of Fame. Webster was just 50 when he died, and he spent the last years of his life suffering from dementia, at times living in his pickup truck. When Omalu studied Webster’s brain in his laboratory, he noted a degeneration of tissue and other markers of decline usually present only in people decades older or sometimes in boxers suffering from “punch drunk” syndrome. Over the next few years, he autopsied five other former N.F.L. players, none of them old, and saw the same patterns: tangled brain tissue and the accumulation of tau protein, a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Omalu published his findings on Webster in 2005 in the journal Neurosurgery. He identified what he was seeing as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., and suggested that football caused irreversible brain damage. The N.F.L.'s response was to attack him, and N.F.L.-affiliated doctors demanded, without success, that Neurosurgery retract the article. Later his conclusions were called “preposterous” and a “misinterpretation of the facts.” 
Luckasevic by this time had begun to take on other types of cases: auto accidents, slip-and-falls — the bread and butter of the plaintiffs’ bar. He did not seem to be on the verge of initiating a landmark case. At first, his response to the public controversy picking up around Omalu, whom he occasionally employed as an expert witness, was just to step up and defend his friend. He remembers thinking: Why would Bennet make this stuff up. I mean, why would he? It’s just not done. He worried that Omalu would pay a professional price. “It looked to me like Bennet had raised his hand and said there’s a problem we need to be aware of, and he got savaged for it.”
Sokolove frames the problem facing the NFL, a corporate colossus that dominates television and posts $9 billion in revenue per year, as analogous to the tobacco industry, a deeply-embedded pastime that has been gradually shunted to the margins.

But, wait, there is more trouble for the NFL. After Sunday's Week 11 games plainclothes agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) swept in on visiting ball clubs -- Seahawks, 49ers, Buccaneers, and others -- to question team physicians about the distribution of prescription painkillers. Ken Belson reported on Monday, "Federal Investigation Into Painkillers Targets N.F.L. Teams’ Medical Staffs," that
The unannounced visits by the Drug Enforcement Administration were spurred, in part, by reports of widespread abuse of painkillers that were included in a class-action lawsuit against the N.F.L. The suit, which is being heard in federal court in California, claims that team doctors routinely dispensed Percocet, Toradol, Novocain and other drugs to energize players before games and relieve pain afterward. 
More broadly, the agency has increased its policing of prescription drugs in recent years as addiction and abuse of painkillers and other medications have skyrocketed.

A spokesman for the agency characterized the inquiries on Sunday as administrative in nature and said agents were looking to ensure that team doctors and other medical-staff employees were properly licensed to possess and distribute prescription medicine outside their home states. They also wanted to confirm that team trainers and other nonlicensed staff members were not handling prescription drugs. 
“Our role is law enforcement, and we have the regulatory authority to make sure anyone who has a license operates within the law,” said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the D.E.A.
In addition to the concussions settlement there is the painkiller class-action suit against the league:
Lawsuits contending that N.F.L. doctors have mishandled prescription drugs date back at least to 2011. That year, a dozen former players accused the league and its teams of repeatedly administering the painkiller Toradol before and during games, worsening high-risk injuries such as concussions. 
The players also contend that the league and its teams failed to warn them of the consequences of taking the drug, a blood thinner that, according to the suit, “can prevent the feeling of injury” and therefore made it harder for players to recognize when they had concussions. 
The dozen retired players, including Joe Horn and Jerome Pathon, played in the late 1990s and early 2000s and said they had anxiety, depression, short-term memory loss, severe headaches, sleeping problems and dizziness. 
“We took it like clockwork,” said Horn, a receiver who played 12 years with the Kansas City Chiefs, the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons and who said he was now experiencing bouts of dizziness and blackouts. 
In a class-action suit filed this year, hundreds of former players said that team doctors often dispensed painkillers “without a prescription and with little regard for a player’s medical history or potentially fatal interactions with other medications.” 
The complaint also said that the N.F.L. “sanctioned and/or encouraged the misuse of narcotic pain medications” in combination with other anesthetics and alcohol as a way to help players deal with a demanding slate of games. 
The N.F.L. has asked a federal judge to dismiss the suit. 
Toradol and other painkillers have been routinely distributed in baseball, hockey and other sports, and have been an open secret in locker rooms for years. 
But their use in the N.F.L. is notable because of the violence of the game and because painkillers taken as prophylactics before games can mask injuries, including concussions. 
The N.F.L. has agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle a suit brought by about 5,000 former players who said the league hid from them the dangers of concussions and repeated hits to the head. A federal judge in Philadelphia will hear objections to that proposed settlement this week.
Then there are the Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice domestic violence imbroglio's. Peterson was charged with a felony for taking a switch to his young son's genitals; that was plea-bargained down to misdemeanor reckless assault. The NFL suspended him for a year. An arbitrator will hear that case in December. Ray Rice punched his wife unconscious in a hotel elevator, a moment captured on video that went viral. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, after tacking back and forth, suspended Rice for the year. Rice is appealing that suspension. An arbitrator will decide that appeal.

Even if in both cases the arbitrators side with the league, Belson, in another Monday story, "Adrian Peterson’s Path to Reinstatement Is Bogged Down in N.F.L.'s Complex Process," sees an erosion in Goodell's -- and the league's -- power:
The N.F.L. has been scrambling to overhaul its personal conduct policy in the wake of the debate over its handling of the Rice case. One of the effects of that controversy is that Commissioner Roger Goodell, who in past cases often heard appeals, was forced to bring in an outside arbitrator, an erosion of his power. 
Though no formal decision has been made about whether arbitrators will be used in all future cases, it is notable that an independent arbitrator was chosen to hear Peterson’s appeal. 
“You will see a trend away from the N.F.L. controlling everything,” said Mark Conrad, who teaches sports law at Fordham University’s School of Business, referring to the league’s personal conduct policy. “I don’t think the owners will want to do it all at once because it would be a sign of weakness.” 
To avoid ad hoc responses to player conduct cases in the future, the union has called on the N.F.L. to collectively bargain any changes to its personal conduct policy, which allows the commissioner broad discretion to penalize players. 
The league has said that it has consulted with the players and their union about potential changes to its personal conduct policy but that it remains the province of the league.
To add heft to the issue of domestic violence in the NFL, and no doubt ratchet up the stress in the NFL corporate suites, was a two-part series published on Monday and Tuesday by the Gray Lady.

Titled "Nowhere to Turn," reporter Steve Eder outlines a system where teams use off-duty police, "Whisked Out of Jail, and Back to the N.F.L.: N.F.L. Teams’ Ties to Police Put Victims of Domestic Violence in a Bind," as well as official personnel, "N.F.L. Was Family, Until Wives Reported Domestic Abuse," to make sure domestic violence goes unreported.

All in all it has been a brutal week for the NFL.

Right now on the field I'd say the two best teams are the Packers and the Patriots.

This Sunday the defending Super Bowl champs have a huge test when the Cardinals come to Seattle to try to silence the 12th Man for the second year running. The Seahawks must win four of the next six games to squeak into the playoffs as a wild card.

As I see it they cannot drop anymore games at home. So in essence the season for the Seahawks comes down to Sunday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Get Ready for a Scott Walker Presidential Run

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. One of the best sources of information for what is going on nationally in politics is Thomas Edsall's online opinion column for the Gray Lady. Appearing every Wednesday, Edsall paints a picture of an America steadily pauperizing while an aggressive Republican Party fights to stovepipe more wealth up to the 1% at the same time it is beating back the revanchist, volatile Tea Partiers in its ranks; the Democrats meanwhile dither and play pat-a-cake with their own super-rich, pissing away the electoral advantage provided by the huge demographic shift underway (colored youth) in the U.S.

For his first opinion piece after the midterm election results have fully settled, "Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions," the sagacious Edsall highlights the curious contradiction of the GOP preoccupation with organized labor versus the predilection of Democrats to institutionally ignore unions.

I say curious, but one could also label it neurotic or psychotic. Without organized labor the Democratic Party isn't credibly competitive. Yet year after year the Democratic Party delivers nothing to the unions; it takes their money and uses union volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls, while at the same time it pursues free-trade deals and Wall-Street-friendly tax policies and bailouts.

The current GOP strategy to weaken organized labor and eviscerate the Democrats centers around going after public-sector unions. Elect hard-charging Republican governors who, acting in concert with GOP-controlled legislatures, rescind collective-bargaining rights for government employees. Call it the Scott Walker phenomenon. It worked to wonderful effect in Wisconsin:
A paradox of American politics is that Republicans take organized labor more seriously than Democrats do. 
The right sees unions as a mainstay of the left, a crucial source of cash, campaign manpower and votes. 
“Unions are the largest player in American politics and they will be for some time,” Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, declared in March at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Fourteen million Americans have to pay union dues. If they average $500, and that is a low estimate, that’s a $7 billion slush fund for the left.” 
Democrats are happy to get labor’s votes and money, but they have done little to revitalize the besieged movement. 
“The unions basically have become an A.T.M. for Democrats,” Steve Rosenthal, a former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., told me in a phone conversation. “There is a sense of taking unions for granted, no place else to go, don’t need to do much for them.” 
Republicans are willing to go to great lengths to weaken the union movement, especially at the state level. Even as the strength of organized labor as a whole declines, conservatives view unions that represent public sector employees, in particular, as anathema. They are desperate to gut the power of the 7.2 million organized government workers — who range from teachers, to clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles, to social workers, public hospital employees, meat and poultry inspectors, road workers, property tax auditors and civil servants in general. These are the employees who populate the extensive bureaucracies that the right loathes.
Unions the right has targeted include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, appearing at the same C.P.A.C. event as Norquist, boasted that in Wisconsin the successful drive to render public sector unions impotent was the result of a coordinated effort between the party and the conservative movement: "We had total and complete unity between the state party, Americans for Prosperity, the tea party groups, the Grandsons of Liberty, the 9-12ers were involved. It was a total and compete agreement that nobody got the credit, that everyone was going to run down the track together."
The anti-union alliance between the Republican Party and movement conservatives got a big boost on Nov. 4. The heroes of this anti-union drive, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, and Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, were re-elected in states with a long history of strong labor movements. Prospects for the enactment of additional anti-labor legislation also improved as Republicans made substantial gains in legislatures and governor’s races across the country.
After the 2010 election, Republicans had complete control (governor and both legislative branches) in 21 states, almost double the 11 states with complete Democatic control. Now, 24 states are fully in Republican hands; Democrats dominate in just 7.
 The 2014 election was “a major political defeat for the unions, particularly state-wide public sector unions, because it shows how much the voting public sees unions as part of the problem of persistent unemployment and underemployment, rather than being part of the solution,” Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University, replied in response to my email. Chaison’s assessment: "The election of Republicans is indicative of the degree to which the voters have turned on the unions. There was once a time, two decades ago, when candidates to the governor’s officer sought the endorsement of major unions in his or her state; now they run on being anti-union crusaders. Quite a reversal of fortunes. The public sector was, for fifty years, the engine of union growth in America. This will happen no more. The brake on union decline is gone. The victory of Republican governors shows how much unions have lost their political power – now they are vulnerable to attempts to strip them of their power at the state level. Every new governor seems to be a Chris Christie, ready for a fight."
By 2013, 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers were covered by unions, down from 23.4 percent in 1983.
Republicans have good reason to target public sector unions. Without them, the share of the work force represented by unions would be even smaller than it is now. By last year, union coverage of private sector workers had fallen to 7.5 percent, from a high of roughly 35 percent in the mid-1950s. Government workers today make up 15.8 percent of the total work force, but union representation of this sliver has grown from less than 10 percent in the 1950s to 35.3 percent.
Norquist told the C.P.A.C. conference that conservatives hadn’t taken on public employee unions in the mistaken belief that “you can’t do anything about the public sector. The rules are set, and they elect the guys who set the rules.” But Walker’s success in winning a recall election, and in getting re-elected, has permanently changed thinking on the right, Norquist declared. By this reasoning, Walker’s survival and ultimate triumph demonstrates that changing the rules to make it more difficult to organize public workers, to collect dues and to bargain over wages and fringe benefits is politically viable, even in a Northern state.
In 2011, when Walker first took office, 37 percent of the nation’s 21-plus million public sector employees were union members; by 2012, this droppedto 35.9 percent; and last year, it fell to 35.3 percent.
So that's the formula for 2016: Continue the frontal assault on public-sector unions because that is where the union density is; get overall union density down to where it is in the private sector, below 8%, and choke out what is left in the bathtub; oh, yes, and elect Scott Walker as POTUS.

Edsall goes on to describe why the Democratic Party is not only not doing anything to fight back against this assault, it is actually attacking unions itself. As Edsall explains,
If Republicans and conservatives place a top priority on eviscerating labor unions, what is the Democratic Party doing to protect this core constituency? Not much. 
In fact, the Obama administration has undermined the bargaining leverage of the most successful unions by imposing a 40 percent excise tax, which takes effect in 2018, on health insurance premiums in excess of $10,200 annually for individuals, and $27,500 for families, in order to finance Obamacare. The provision, which covers what many of labor’s enemies call “Cadillac plans,” has provoked an angry response from labor leaders. They see the tax as threatening the continued survival of key health insurance benefits that unions have won as part of total employee compensation packages.
In an email to me, Joel Parker, national vice president of the merged Transportation Communications International Union and International Association of Machinists, wrote about the consequences of the new excise tax:
The result is a nightmare for union workers at large companies, and even worse for non-union workers. For the latter, companies will simply unilaterally cut benefits and/or shift to high-deductible plans. Institutionally, the bill weakens unions, one of the remaining core groups in the Democratic coalition. Private sector unions’ main selling point to non-union workers was superior health and pension plans. The health insurance advantage, if the excise tax is allowed to survive, will gradually disappear. 
Democrats neglect the union movement at their peril. Not only does organized labor provide millions of dollars – the Center for Responsive Politics reports that unions spent $116.5 million on politics in 2013-14 – but union members are a loyal Democratic constituency. On Nov. 4, the 17 percent of voters who come from union households supported Democratic House candidates by a margin of 22 points, 60-38, while the remaining 83 percent from non-union households supported Republicans 54-44.
I know something about unions. I've worked for various union locals, central labor councils and Taft-Hartley trusts for 15 years. Unions are dying. No question about it. And, yes, Obamacare is hastening the process because it is helping to drive out the "blue chip" medical, full-maintenance-of-benefits type plan in favor of these 80-20/70-30 co-insurance, high out-of-pocket limit plans.

Mostly though unions are dying because there is a lack of class consciousness in leadership. Union chiefs see themselves closely aligned with plutocrat-friendly Dem politicians; they fancy themselves executives in a corner offices with a shiny nameplates. And that kind of thinking is a serious problem.