Making Sport of Our Future

 

by WALTER BRASCH

           

One of the fun things sports writers do is try to predict the winners and scores of upcoming games, from high school through the pros. For special “look-at-us-we’re important” bonus points, they create lists of “Top” teams and rank them, both pre-season and weekly.

Sports writers have some kind of genetic mutation that leads them to believe they know more about sports than the average schlump who spends almost $200 a year for a newspaper subscription and as much as $500 a year for all-access all-games everywhere cable coverage. However, the reality is that even the best prognosticators—sports writers love big words when they can pronounce them—have a record about as accurate as the horoscope on the comics page.

Nevertheless, the guesses and rankings by sportswriters are usually innocuous. Readers and viewers usually forget in a couple of days who says what, and go about their own lives trying to make a mediocre paycheck stretch until the end of the month.

Joining the “guess how bright I am” journalists are some reporters who cover national political races. Instead of researching and explaining candidate positions on numerous issues, and giving readers and viewers a greater understanding of how those positions could impact their own lives, these pompous scribblers have made politics another sports contest.

The national news media, secure in their perches in New York and Washington, D.C., several months ago began chirping about who will win the Iowa caucus. For the final few days, they parachuted into Iowa to let their readers and viewers think they were toughened field reporters with as difficult a job as combat correspondents in Iraq or Afghanistan. Like hungry puppies, they stayed close to the candidates, hoping for a morsel or two, digested it, passed it out of their system as wisdom, and haughtily predicted the winner would be Mitt Romney—no, wait—it’s Michele Bachman—no, we’re calling for a surprising victory by Herman Cain—stop-the-presses, Cain petered out—Newt Gingrich is definitely going to take Iowa—Rick Perry is our prediction— we predict Ron Paul might be ahead—the race is going to be tough, but based upon our superior knowledge because we’re the national news media and we’re infallible, and from projections we picked out of our butts we believe—.

The one candidate they discounted for almost all but the last week of the Iowa primary race was Rick Santorum. Not a chance, they declared. Weak campaign. Lack of funds. No charismatic razzle-dazzle. No vital signs. Dead as a 2-by-4 about to be sawed and covered by wallboard.

Santorum, of course, came within eight votes of taking the Iowa caucus. The news media then spent the next day telling us all about that campaign, much in the same way that a bubbly TV weather girl, who a week earlier predicted bright sunny skies for a week, tells us we had snow the past three days.

The national news media jetted out of Iowa faster than a gigolo leaving a plain rich girl for a plain richer one, and descended upon New Hampshire. In the granite state, they have been repeating their performance from Iowa. They have predicted who the “real” winners and losers are. They have tried to convince us they can actually talk to us common folk, so they are grabbing whoever they find to answer in less than ten seconds, “Who do you think will win?” After the New Hampshire primary concludes, Tuesday, the media will happily discard their snow coats for windbreakers and descend into South Carolina, where they will continue to treat a presidential race as little more than a sporting contest.

There’s a difference, however. Generally, whoever wins or loses a game doesn’t have much impact upon the rest of us, so we smile at the sportswriters’ attempts to predict outcomes and pretend they can analyze the impact of a reserve left tackle’s hangnail. Those who are elected to our city councils, state legislatures, Congress, and the Presidency do have an impact upon us. And we deserve a lot better than the arrogance of the news clan reporting the contests as if they were sporting events.

[Walter Brasch was a sportswriter and sports editor before becoming an award-winning public affairs/investigative reporter and columnist, who has covered several presidential campaigns. He was once a reporter for an Iowa newspaper. His current book is the critically-acclaimed social issues mystery-thriller, Before the First Snow.]

 

 

Vote Against Obama in Iowa

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a crime against our constitution. It allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military inside the US - without a trial. It's one of the worst laws ever passed in the US and it passed with nary a peep of opposition. I'm positive that a huge percentage of the population is not even aware of it, partly because the establishment media didn't even bother covering it.

 

But it appeared for a while that the one guy fighting against it was President Obama. I was incredibly encouraged by that. I shouldn't have been. It turned out at the end that he was threatening to veto the bill because he wanted it to have even more executive power, not less. This president has been a disaster for civil liberties. Every time I think about the fact that he used to be a constitutional law professor, I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Indefinite detentions, summary executions of US citizens abroad without a trial, warrantless wiretapping and much, much more. All of the things we were outraged Bush did - and then some. Honestly, it makes me feel a little sick that I voted for him. At least, I could say that I fought tooth and nail against Bush.

And civil liberties abuses are the tip of the iceberg in disappointment with this president. Then there is the comedy of financial reform which doesn't reform a damn thing. There are the zero prosecutions of the top bankers who destroyed our economy through their fraud, took our money and now spit in our face with it. There is the extension of the Bush tax cuts. There is the cave in on nearly every negotiation (the payroll tax cut being the exception that proves the rule (by the way, he "won" on more tax cuts, a profoundly Republican idea)). His crowning achievement of healthcare reform was a proposal originally written by the Heritage Foundation. There isn't a Republican idea that President Obama didn't want to cuddle with and adopt as his own.

Now, the argument goes that he might be bad, but the Republicans are worse. Of course. Right now, Newt Gingrich is on the campaign trail arguing that Mitt Romney isn't kind enough to the rich. I'm not kidding. He is trying to make hay out of the fact that Romney takes capital taxes down to zero percent for only people making below $200,000. Newt thinks that's discrimination against the rich and he would take it down to zero for everybody. Then he would make your kids clean the rich kids' toilets in school.

I follow politics for a living; I'm not unaware of how hideous the Republican choices are. But that doesn't mean that we should pretend that President Obama has been brilliant because we're scared of the big, bad Republicans. That would be fundamentally dishonest.

And to be honest, I'm really disappointed that he does not have a primary opponent. This country is dying for someone who is going to take on the establishment. Who is that going to be on our side - Barack Obama? On that, I know whether to laugh or cry. Every time I think about the idea that President Obama might be against the establishment, I laugh and laugh and laugh. There is never been a guy who was this enamored with the establishment. If he had wrestling nickname it would be The Establishment.

The guy who appointed Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley (and a list of hundreds of others, including two new Fed appointments, one of which is a Republican who worked for the Carlyle Group) is not a guy who is interested in changing the system at all. Change was a cutesy slogan he used to trick us into thinking he was on our side.

I would have loved a progressive alternative, but apparently we are not going to get one (except for Rocky Anderson running on the Justice Party ticket). Primaries are the perfect place to send a message without taking away votes in the general election. But it didn't happen because the Democratic establishment says we must fall in line because we wouldn't want to hurt the agenda of the president. The agenda of the president sucks and is deeply Republican. I'd love to at least get him to reconsider that agenda for a second.

But there is one thing we can do right now that doesn't really hurt the chances of the president getting re-elected and doesn't help Republicans one bit. It is an idea that Occupy Iowa came up with. In the Iowa caucuses you can vote for "uncommitted." In fact, since the 1970's "uncommitted" has won twice on the Democratic side and it beat Bob Dole in 1980. Of course, the Republican Party has shut down this option on their side. They say you can vote that way in the GOP field but they will not register those votes or send those delegates. Of course, they're the GOP; they have no interest in your dissent.

But if all of those people were to go and participate on the Democratic side they might have an effect. If "uncommitted" beat President Obama on the Democratic side in Iowa that would make some news. That might even get the attention of The Establishment. So far, he has only responded to right-wing pressure. He is the consummate politician, so if there was actually a little bit of pressure on his left he might have to respond to it, especially during an election season. Wouldn't it be amazing if President Obama acted like a progressive on some issue because he was worried about the voters?

By the way, this strategy also has the benefit of being accurate. I am "uncommitted" toward Obama. I'm uncommitted from supporting a guy that has walked all over our civil liberties, that thinks tax cuts are the only answer, that gave all of the money to the bankers and asked for nothing in return, that thinks the right-wing establishment has all of the answers. Uncommitted is the kindest word I have.

If you live in Iowa, please send a message to the President for the rest of us. We voted for change last time, apparently you didn't hear us. If you don't hear us soon, you might be the one that gets changed.

The Young Turks on Current

 

Why Mitt Romney Shouldn’t Ignore Iowa

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Former Massachusetts governor and Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney has embarked upon an utterly stupid political strategy: ignore Iowa, the first voting state in the 2012 Republican primary. As Frank Bruni of the New York Times puts it:

If the Iowa Republican debate were to provide a truly accurate mirror of the race at this juncture, Tim Pawlenty would wear a sandwich board, with a scrawled plea to the state’s voters: “Save me.” Michele Bachmann would spin onto the stage in a giant teacup, to find a microphone three times the size of anyone else’s and a spotlight four times as bright. Newt Gingrich, looking characteristically put out, would unveil a new campaign slogan: “The Glower for This Hour.”

And the party’s most likely nominee, Mitt Romney? He wouldn’t show. The less seen of him, after all, the better.

That’s not my harsh assessment. That’s been his de facto campaign strategy this summer.

Mr. Romney is following this strategy due to his failure to win Iowa during the 2008 Republican primary. After spending enormous amounts of time and money on the state, Mr. Romney found himself outflanked by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Despite running a number of negative ads on Mr. Huckabee, the former Massachusetts governor lost the primary by a considerable margin. Crucial to his loss was the perception of Mr. Romney as a flip-flopper who wasn’t a true conservative.

So this time the candidate is ignoring Iowa.

Unfortunately, Mr. Romney simply cannot ignore Iowa, whatever he may wish. If he does so, then he will certainly lose the state. No state likes to be ignored, and Mr. Romney is weak in Iowa already.

Most probably, either Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann or Governor Rick Perry will win Iowa if Mr. Romney does not compete. A victory in Iowa will then set up either candidate as the Republican alternative to Mr. Romney. The media pays huge amounts of attention to the Iowa caucuses. Whoever wins them, if Mr. Romney does not, will instantly be catapulted into national attention. And, given Mr. Romney’s weaknesses on consistency, there’s a very good chance that he will lose the nomination to them.

So Mr. Romney shouldn’t ignore Iowa. He has to compete; if he wins, than he can eliminate the threat to his candidacy early on. If he loses, he’ll more likely than not lose the nomination.

It’s a tough choice. Mr. Romney will more likely than not lose Iowa even if he does spend the next few months of his life campaigning in the state.

Once again Mr. Romney’s problems fundamentally boil down to the fact that he is a terrible politician. Given the weakness of the current Republican field, by all rights Mr. Romney should be leading his opposition by double-digits. And if he were doing that, then Governor Rick Perry would never have joined the field in the first place.

Unfortunately, there is little that Mr. Romney can do about this anymore. The only thing that he can do at this point is to stop ignoring the most important caucus in the nation.

 

 

Toxic Lead to Cover Iowa Killing Fields

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Iowa, which gave us the carnival known as the Iowa Straw Poll and artery-clogging Deep Fried Butter, will unleash another health problem, beginning Sept. 1.

The Iowa legislature last year approved a dove hunting season, the first in more than nine decades. However, the state's Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Commission (DNR) banned the use of lead shot and bullets.

That led to a massive all-out assault by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the U.S. Sportsman's Alliance (USSA).

In a letter to Gov. Terry Branstad, the NRA underscored its opposition by waving a veiled threat that banning lead ammunition is an "attack [on] our freedoms."

“Absurd," replied Robert Johns of the American Bird Conservancy, who explained that "the NRA continues to deliberately miscast the lead-versus-nonlead ammunition issue as an attack on hunting." There is nothing in the Constitution or in any federal court decision that would prohibit the banning of any specific kind of ammunition.

The NRA blatantly suggested the ban on lead shot "is designed to price hunters out of the market and keep them from taking part in traversing Iowa's fields and forests." For its "evidence," it pointed out the cost of non-toxic ammunition is higher than ammunition made of lead. However, the use of non-toxic shot results in only a 1-2 percent increase in total costs for hunters, according to a study conducted by the National Wildlife Research Centre, certainly not enough to justify the NRA's paranoid panic that non-toxic bullets will lead to a decrease in hunting.

Iowa's DNR, the NRA claimed, was echoing not just environmental extremism but "the unscientific battle cry of the anti-hunting extremists."

 Contrary to NRA and USSA statements, there are several hundred scientific studies that conclude that lead shot is a health and environmental danger. Lead can cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, reduced reproduction, neurological damage, and genetic mutation. For those reasons alone, the U.S. bans lead in gasoline, water pipes, windows, pottery, toys, paint, and hundreds of other items.

"Wildlife is poisoned when animals scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead-bullet fragments, or pick up and eat spent lead-shot pellets[,]mistaking them for food or grit," the Center for Biological Diversity points out. As many as 20 million birds and other animals die each year from lead poisoning, says the CBD.

Humans can be poisoned by eating animals that have eaten the pellets from the ground or which have eaten decaying carcasses of birds that have been shot with lead ammunition. Iowa is one of only 15 states that don't have some regulation that bans lead in shot and ammunition. Most European countries ban the use of lead shot for hunting.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1991 banned the use of lead shot in all waterfowl hunting. The NRA screamed its opposition at that time. However, the ban didn't lead to a reduction of hunting or hunters, nor did it violate any part of the Constitution.

R.T. Cox, in his column, "The Sage Grouse," notes that "bird hunters can leave 400,000 pellets per acre of intensely hunted areas." About 81,000 tons of lead shot are left on shooting ranges each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Part of the reason for so much lead shot on the ground is that doves, which can fly up to 50 miles per hour and make sharp turns, are difficult to hit. While hunters may claim they shoot the birds as a food source, such claims are usually blatant lies meant to hide the reality that the 20 million doves killed each year are nothing more than live targets. The five ounce mourning dove, hit by shot, provides little usable meat. The NRA even advises hunters that for health reasons, they should "cut away a generous portion of meat around the wound channel."

Lead on the dove killing fields isn't the only problem. An investigation by the North Dakota Dept. of Health in 2007 revealed that 58 percent of venison donated to food banks by the Safari Club contained lead fragments. A study conducted by the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2006 revealed there were toxic levels of lead in condors. During the past decade, 276 California condors were found to have had lead poisoning; there are fewer than 400 in the state. A ban on lead shot was enacted in 2007.

There are alternatives to using lead. Non-toxic bullets and shot are made from tungsten, copper, and steel, without the negative health problems. While some hunting advocates maintain that lead bullets are significantly better in the field, there is no evidence to suggest that "green" ammunition results in fewer kills.

Nevertheless, disregarding scientific evidence and facing NRA wrath, Branstad said he agreed with a legislative panel's decision to ignore the findings of the state's professional wildlife conservationists, who he said exceeded their authority, to restore lead shot hunting.

Andrew Page, a senior director for the Humane Society of the United States, has another opinion, one far more logical than the NRA/NSSA rants: "If hunters are conservationists as they say they are, they should be the first to stand up and say they won't poison wildlife or the ecosystem."

 [Walter Brasch's latest book is Before the First Snow, a story of America's counterculture as seen through the eyes of a "flower child" and the reporter who covered her life for three decades.]

 

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing--The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fashionable pundits like to say that the Republican Party has shifted its focus from “social conservatism” (e.g., banning abortion, shoving gays back in the closet, teaching school children that humans and dinosaurs once walked the earth hand-in-claw) to fiscal conservatism (e.g., tax cuts for the rich, slashing social programs). But is that really true? Tim Murphy ofMother Jones argues that the old culture war issues never really went away. Rather, the Republicans have simply rephrased their social agenda in fiscal terms.

For example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is quite upfront about the fact that he hates Planned Parenthood because the group is the nation’s leading abortion provider. Yet, he seeks to de-fund the Planned Parenthood and the entire Title X Family Planning Program in the name of balancing the budget. Never mind that the federal money only goes toward birth control, not abortion, and research shows that every dollar spent on birth control saves $4 in Medicaid costs alone.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly surveys the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls in Iowa and agrees that reports of the death of the culture war have been greatly exaggerated.

But the key takeaway here is that fiscal issues have largely been relegated to afterthought status. That’s just not what these right-wing activists — the ones who’ll largely dictate the outcome of the caucuses — are focused on. Indeed, even Ron Paul, after pandering to a home-school crowd last week, conceded, “I haven’t been asked too much about fiscal issues.”

Budget cuts

Sarah Babbage writes in TAPPED that Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress seem poised to grant an additional $20 billion in spending cuts for FY 2011, in addition to the $10 billion in cuts they’ve already pledged for this fiscal year. Babbage notes that, after weeks of negotiations, we’re right back to the $30 billion in cuts the GOP initially demanded. She warns that these cuts will have a trivial impact on the $1.6 trillion deficit, but they could have a devastating effect on the fragile economy.

Taxes for thee, but not GE

General Electric raked in $14.2 billion in profits last year, $5.1 billion of which came from the United States, yet the company paid $0 in U.S. income tax, Tara Lohan notes in AlterNet. Despite its healthy bottom line, and its sweet tax situation, GE is asking 15,000 unionized U.S. workers to make major concessions at the bargaining table. GE wants union members to give up defined benefit pension programs in exchange for defined contribution programs.

As we discussed last week in The Audit, defined benefit plans guarantee that a retiree will get a set percentage of her working salary for the rest of her life; defined contribution plans pay the worker a share of the revenue from a pool of investments. As the fine print always says, investments can decrease in value. So, if the stock market crashes the day before you retire, you’re out of luck.

Generation Debt

Higher education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a better standard of living, but with unemployment hovering around 10%, many college graduates are struggling to find jobs to pay their student loans. Aliya Karim argues in Campus Progress that the government should compel colleges and universities to be more transparent about the realities of student loan debt:

The government should require colleges to provide information about graduation rates, college costs, and financial aid packages on college websites, enrollment forms, and guidebooks. This information should be easy to find and understand. Without such information available to them, students may not be aware that their future college has a graduation rate lower than 20 percent or that its graduates face close to $30,000 in debt.

The government has a lot of leverage over public and private schools because so much student debt is guaranteed by taxpayers. Greater transparency will enable students to make more informed choices, and give colleges with low graduation rates a greater incentive to clean up their act.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Diaries

Advertise Blogads