Monday, June 30, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Decision

The U.S. Supreme court issued its long-awaited decision today in the Hobby Lobby case, involving the right of a for-profit corporation to opt out of part of the mandates under Obamacare on religious grounds. This was yet another 5-4 decision, with the conservatives on one side and the liberals on the other, with Justice Kennedy siding with the conservatives.

It is the sort of decision which leads one to realize that the Supreme Court is more of a political institution than it is a legal institution. Of course, it has always been a combination of both, but in recent years it has seemed to embrace political considerations to an unprecedented extent.

The very concept that a for-profit corporation can have religious views is suspect on the face of it. People have religious views, but corporations? I think not.

On the facts, it might appear to be a narrow holding, since it involves only four out of twenty means of birth control which Hobby Lobby is now allowed to deny to its employees. But just think of the principle involved. If in fact an employer's religious views can be used to deny health care services to its employees, where does this stop? What if my employer is a Christian Scientist or a Scientologist, can that employer then deny me access to all medical services, on the ground that the employer does not believe in this approach to healing?

And what of the rights of employees. The decision focuses on employer's rights, but totally ignores the rights of employees to their religious beliefs.

The dissent is correct when it calls this decision one of "startling breadth". One shudders to think to what lengths the right wing in this country will now go in its ongoing attempts to deny universal health care to this country's citizens.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Those Arrogant Morning TV Hosts

I used to enjoy watching Chris Cuomo on CNN's morning show. But when he interviewed Dennis Rodman, he was so verbally abusive and disrespectful to his interviewee that I lost all respect for Cuomo, and I have not been able to watch him since.

A sad offshoot of this is that when I went to the CNN website to register my disgust with Cuomo's pathetic performance (and with the praise everyone else at CNN was mistakenly giving him for his performance), I was astounded to find that 99% of the comments were anti-Rodman, not anti-Cuomo. In fact, most distressing of all, many anti-Rodman comments were downright racist, when race was not an issue at all.

Rodman had gone to North Korea out of friendship with the North Korean leader. This should be considered a good thing, not a thing to condemn him for, as Cuomo did. Yet, Cuomo was relentless in his castigation of Rodman, and he therefore belongs in the Hall of Shame.

Then we have MSNBC's Joe Scarborough. Joe's rants have become increasingly obnoxious in recent months, but there are two specific examples of his arrogance and presumptuousness which pertain to the topic of this post.

After Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer told about her encounter with Chris Christie's office, pressuring her to approve a particular development project, Scarborough trashed her, saying that if someone tried this with him he would tell them that "you have 30 seconds to take that back, or I'm calling the United States Attorney. This is presumptuous and arrogant on so many levels one hardly knows where to start. First, none of us knows exactly what we would do in a given situation. It is sheer bluster for Scarborough to pretend otherwise. Second, why would anybody carry around the number of the U.S. Attorney with them? Third, how do you expect a lowly mayor to pick a political fight with a very popular sitting governor? And finally, why does Scarborough assume there is a criminal violation here? CNN's legal expert, Jeffrey Toobin, has pointed out that there is no criminal violation at all here. Rather, it is politics as usual. It is a political issue, not a legal issue.

More recently Scarborough did it again, saying that when Bowe Bergdahl called his father saying he was having doubts about the mission in Afghanistan, the father should have called the unit commander and insisted his son be put into a hospital for evaluation. Again, ridiculously presumptuous. Joe says that's what he would have done had his own son called him with that sort of message. The fact is, the unit commander was already aware of the problems due to Bowe's having walked away on prior occasions, and obviously he didn't feel it merited hospitalization.

This kind of arrogance and presumptuousness I can live without. Joe and Chris, bye-bye.

"Whart's Wrong with Sports," by Howard Cosell

In a postscript, Cosell writes that three days after turning in this manuscript in November of 1990, his beloved wife Emmy died suddenly of a heart attack. It is well-known that after that Cosell deteriorated rapidly, becoming a virtual recluse in his last years. This book, then, is the final account of his views on the sports world.

The book is as honest and hard-hitting as his other three books. Big-time college sports comes in for a lot of criticism. I am reminded of a recent quote, when the Ohio State University president was asked if he planned to fire football coach Jim Tressel. The president's response" "I just hope Jim Tressel doesn't fire me!" This, as much as anything, illustrates the "tail wagging the dog" situation which exists in big-time college sports. Cosell is right on the money on this issue.

As usual, he derides the so-called "jockocracy" in sports broadcasting. I was surprised and dismayed to see Tim McCarver come in for heavy criticism. I see Tim as an outstanding baseball broadcaster, one who always makes the game more interesting and points out intricacies which the average fan would miss. However, Cosell says that "Tim McCarver is unbearable. He's got that whiny voice. He talks incessantly about totally irrelevant things." 

One wonders if Cosell ever bothered to actually listen to a McCarver broadcast. Also, it is apparent from his prior books that Cosell doesn't really like baseball, hence his inability to appreciate a great baseball announcer. It is said that "baseball is only dull to dull minds", and when it comes to baseball, Cosell's mind was as dull as can be.

Cosell deals with drugs, sexual misconduct, gambling, and other negative aspects of modern-day sports. These are all flimsy straw men, representing actions which no reasonable person would condone.

Cosell does offer pertinent comments about the NFL, an organization which he grew to detest in his later years. He documents how the NFL has lost anti-trust cases every time it has gone to trial, beginning in the 1950's with the Bill Radovich case. Later cases lost by the NFL include suits by Joe Kapp (1974), Cullen Bryant (1975), John Mackey, Ron Alexander, and James McCoy Smith. Th fact is that the NFL has been in gross violation of anti-trust laws for decades, and nobody but Cosell has had the courage to speak out against this. For this he deserves great credit.

It is certainly well-known that in his later years Cosell soured on both of his favorite sports, boxing and football. Yet, I was surprised to see him say that the only sport he misses is horse racing. He states that "racing is an honest sport", and that the greatest athlete in his time was Secretariat. 

One wonders what Cosell's comments about horse racing would be today, following the harsh remarks made by California Chrome's owner after his horse's defeat in the Belmont. The owner called the other owners "cowards" and "cheaters" and, based on my following of the Triple Crown races for many years, I would have to say that the failure of any horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, after twelve horses have gone into the Belmont with a chance, shows pretty clearly that the deck is stacked against any Triple Crown winner ever again appearing. For horses to run three grueling races in a five-week span can fairly be called animal abuse, in my humble opinion. And Chrome's owner is correct in saying that it is unfair for horses to sit out other races and then sabotage a potential Triple Crown winner in the last race.

There is not much really new in this book, other than comments on recent (pre-1991) events such as the Pete Rose banishment from baseball, and the Dave Winfield/George Steinbrenner fiasco. And on these issues Cosell has an obvious bias, one he really does not attempt to disguise, because of his friendships with Bart Giamatti and George Steinbrenner. Because most of this book is a rehash of his other books, I can only give it three stars out of five. However, if the reader doesn't know much about Cosell and wants to read one book to learn what he was all about, this book would not be a bad choice.

4/6/17 update. I recently reread this book and have some fresh thoughts. It is interesting how often Cosell comments on Donald Trump's involvement in sports. Cosell says that it was Trump who was mainly responsible for the USFL "losing" its antitrust case to the NFL ("losing" in the sense that the damages were set at only one dollar). He says it was obvious Trump was angling for an NFL franchise, and his involvement in the USFL was only a means to that end. However, the NFL was never going to let him in, and MLB was especially never going to let him in, due to his heavy involvement with gambling.

Trump's involvement with the sleazier side of boxing is also documented. All in all, Trump comes across as a really bad actor, and it is remarkable that the US has elected him its president, when the major sports leagues all had the good sense to keep him out!

To the extent that this book is an improvement on his other books, it is because Cosell, the ex-lawyer, comments intelligently on legal issues like the NFL's monopoly, and Pete Rose's involvement with gambling.  Indeed, Cosell's testimony is said to have been the high point of the USFL's ant-trust trial against the NFL. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"Endless Summers: The Fall and Rise of the Cleveland Indians," by Jack Torry

As someone who followed the Cleveland Indians growing up in the 1950's, I found this book fascinating. The sportswriters of that era were uniform in their condemnation of GM Hank Greenberg, and now I understand why. Greenberg did not like the press, refused to socialize with them, and as a result the press disliked him as well.

Torry documents that the actual situation is that Greenberg was a great GM, someone who built up the farm system and scouting department, and therefore had the Indians well-positioned for future success. Tragically, he was fired in 1957, and what followed was a 30-year period of poor teams and poor attendance, coupled with never-ending talk of moving the franchise to greener pastures.

As attendance fell, the owners continued to cut back on player development, creating a vicious cycle in which success was impossible. Simply put, the owners couldn't or wouldn't pony up the funds to cover the losses during those years, so they engaged in a series of self-defeating cost-cutting measures.

Things didn't turn around for the Indians until Dick Jacobs bought the team in 1986. Jacobs planned for the future, brought in able people to run the front office, and by 1994 the Indians had a high-quality team playing in a wonderful new stadium. Jacobs actually planned for losses in the first few years, understanding that those losses were a necessary step toward getting the team back on a solid footing.

The lesson of this book is, don't sacrifice the long-term health of your organization for short-term considerations. As voters we should take notice of this syndrome as well; i.e., don't vote for candidates who are willing to sacrifice the long-term health of the country for short-term political gain in the next election.

The Mississippi Senate Race

Clips this morning from both candidates in the Republican Senate primary in Mississippi showed the state of the campaign as the voting commenced today. The challenger seemed fresh and sincere, talking without notes, while the incumbent, Thad Cochran, had to read from notes written by an aide, and looked old and decrepit.

The main issue, if the lamestream media is to be believed, is the use of a video by some supporters of the challenger. The video showed Cochran's wife in a nursing home. The challenger has disavowed any connection between his campaign and those who publicized the video.

This raises a fundamental question. Why is true information considered so toxic? We have politicians who regularly lie to us, not to mention the politicians who engage in dirty tricks (think of Nixon using the CIA, FBI, and IRS to persecute his perceived political "enemies").

I can't help but think of the 1988 presidential campaign, when Michael Dukakis was forced to fire his campaign manager for disseminating true information. The true information was a tape of British Labour leader Neil Kinnock, giving the same speech that Joe Biden had plagiarized from him in a recent campaign speech. It was entirely true information, so what was the problem? The campaign manager was forced to resign, and Dukakis's campaign went into the toilet, never to recover.

What, then, is the big problem of releasing true information? The Mississippi race is said to be dead-even, but my hope is that Cochran's actions in trying to deflect from the real issues and make the tape of his wife an issue will backfire and we will get fresh blood in the Senate. God knows we need it.