Bobo thinks he can play economist today. He’s just FULL of ideas. In “The Truly Grand Bargain” he burbles that next year could be historic if the Republicans were to insist on achieving the Grand Bargain the White House says it wants. He says he has a path to get there. Nothing new, cut “entitlements” and be austere. SOS. Mr. Nocera, in “The Next Tobacco?”, says the N.C.A.A. plays fast and loose, and gets caught. Mr. Bruni looks at “Pro Football’s Violent Toll” and says the bloody end of the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher raises broader questions about the destructive culture of pro football. Here’s Bobo, regurgitating more pap about “entitlement reform:”
Sometimes you have to walk through the desert to get to the Promised Land. That’s the way it is for Republicans right now. The Republicans are stuck in a miserable position at the end of 2012, but, if they handle things right, they can make 2013 an excellent year — both for their revival prospects and for the country.
First, they have to acknowledge how badly things are stacked against them. Polls show that large majorities of Americans are inclined to blame Republicans if the country goes off the “fiscal cliff.” The business community, which needs a deal to boost confidence, will turn against them. The national security types and the defense contractors, who hate the prospect of sequestration, will turn against them.
Moreover a budget stalemate on these terms will confirm every bad Republican stereotype. Republicans will be raising middle-class taxes in order to serve the rich — shafting Sam’s Club to benefit the country club. If Republicans do this, they might as well get Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments printed on T-shirts and wear them for the rest of their lives.
So Republicans have to realize that they are going to cave on tax rates. The only question is what they get in return. What they should demand is this: That the year 2013 will be spent putting together a pro-growth tax and entitlement reform package that will put this country on a sound financial footing through 2040.
Republicans should go to the White House and say they are willing to see top tax rates go up to 36 percent or 37 percent and they are willing to forgo a debt-ceiling fight for this year.
This is a big political concession, but it’s not much of an economic one. President Obama needs rate increases to show the liberals he has won a “victory,” but the fact is that raising revenue by raising rates is not that much worse for the economy than raising revenue by closing loopholes, which Republicans have already conceded.
In return, Republicans should also ask for some medium-size entitlement cuts as part of the fiscal cliff down payment. These could fit within the framework Speaker John Boehner sketched out Monday afternoon: chaining Social Security cost-of-living increases to price inflation and increasing the Medicare Part B premium to 35 percent of costs.
But the big demand would be this: That on March 15, 2013, both parties would introduce leader-endorsed tax and entitlement reform bills in Congress that would bring the debt down to 60 percent of G.D.P. by 2024 and 40 percent by 2037, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Those bills would work their way through the normal legislative process, as the Constitution intended. If a Grand Bargain is not reached by Dec. 15, 2013, then there would be automatic defense and entitlement cuts and automatic tax increases.
Both parties say they are earnest about fundamental tax and entitlement reform. This deal would force them to think beyond the 10-year budget window and put credible plans on the table to address the long-term budget problems while there is still time. No more waiting for the other guy to go public with something serious. The ensuing debate would force voters to face the elemental truth — that they can only have a government as big as they are willing to pay for. It would force elected officials to find a long-term pro-growth solution as big as Simpson-Bowles.
Republicans could say to the country: Hey, we don’t like raising tax rates. But we understand that when a nation is running a $16 trillion debt that is exploding year by year, everybody has to be willing to make compromises and sacrifices. We understand that the big thing holding the country back is that the political system doesn’t function. We want to tackle big things right now.
The year 2013 would then be spent on natural Republican turf (tax and entitlement reform) instead of natural Democratic turf (expanding government programs). Democrats would have to submit a long-term vision for the country that either reduced entitlement benefits or raised middle-class taxes, violating Obama’s campaign pledge. Republicans would have to face their own myths and evasions, and become a true reform and modernization party.
The 2012 concession on tax rates would be overshadowed by the 2013 debate on the fiscal future. The world would see that America is tackling its problem in a way that Europe isn’t. Political power in each party would shift from the doctrinaire extremists to the practical dealmakers.
Besides, the inevitable package would please Republicans. The House would pass a conservative bill. The Senate would pass a center-left bill. The compromise between the two would be center-right.
It’s pointless to cut a short-term deal if entitlement programs are still structured to bankrupt our children. Republicans and Democrats could make 2013 the year of the truly Grand Bargain.
Bobo, you schmuck, Social Security is not an “entitlement.” I worked for 49 years and paid in (a greater percentage of my income than my bosses did, thanks to the cap) and now that I’ve retired I’m going to be able to live in a house instead of a refrigerator carton under the bridge. DIAF. Here’s Mr. Nocera:
Almost from the moment I started writing about the N.C.A.A. last year, I received periodic e-mails from fans of the University of Southern California football team still incensed about an N.C.A.A. ruling that had been issued against the school in 2010. They claimed that the case offered an unusually stark look at how the N.C.A.A. twists facts, tramples over due process and unfairly destroys reputations when it sets out to nail a school, a player or a coach.
I didn’t pursue it back then, partly because the story seemed stale; the alleged transgression had mainly taken place in 2005. Besides, the rules themselves are little more than a restraint of trade, meant to ensure that the athletes remain uncompensated despite the billions of dollars everyone else reaps from the sweat of their brows.
In the U.S.C. case, the N.C.A.A. made a series of allegations about Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, the most memorable of which was that his parents had lived rent-free in a house owned — heaven forbid! — by one of two would-be agents. The N.C.A.A. views any transaction between a college athlete and an agent as a violation of its amateurism rules.
Ah, but what to do about it? Bush, safely ensconced in the N.F.L., was out of reach of the N.C.A.A. There wasn’t even all that much it could do to U.S.C. — unless, that is, its investigators could prove that a member of the U.S.C. athletic staff had known about the sub rosa relationship. Then it could throw the book at U.S.C. Which is exactly what happened.
The university official the N.C.A.A. singled out was Todd McNair, 47, an African-American assistant football coach. One of the would-be agents, Lloyd Lake, who has a history of prior arrests, claimed that he had told McNair about the relationship during an angry two-and-a-half minute phone call late on the night of Jan. 6, 2006. McNair, for his part, said that he had no recollection of ever meeting Lake, much less having an angry phone call with him. There was no evidence to corroborate Lake’s claim.
Not that that mattered. The N.C.A.A.’s Committee on Infractions concluded that Lake was believable, McNair was not, and that the coach was guilty of “unethical conduct.” Thus labeled, McNair’s coaching career was effectively destroyed.
McNair then sued the N.C.A.A. for defamation — and here, I happily concede, is where the story becomes anything but stale. About two weeks ago, Frederick Shaller, a superior court judge in Los Angeles, issued a tentative ruling, saying that McNair “has shown a probability of prevailing on the defamation claims.” He also denied the N.C.A.A.’s request to put the e-mails and other evidence that had led him to this conclusion under seal.
The evidence is simply beyond the pale. To find McNair guilty of unethical conduct, the enforcement staff had to put words into Lake’s mouth that he never uttered. It botched its questioning of McNair — and then, realizing its mistake, chose not to re-interview him. One enforcement official sent a back-channel e-mail describing McNair as “a lying, morally bankrupt criminal.” And that’s just for starters.
Because he is a public figure, McNair had to show that the N.C.A.A. had acted with “actual malice” — that is, it wrote things in the full knowledge that they were false. As any journalist knows, it is very difficult for a public figure to sue for defamation — precisely because actual malice is so hard to prove. At one point during the hearing, the judge told the N.C.A.A.’s lawyer that he well understood why the organization would want to keep evidence away from the public; if he were the N.C.A.A., he would want to keep it from the public, too.
If this evidence does become public — the N.C.A.A. has vowed to appeal — I think it will scandalize fans who have long been led to believe that N.C.A.A. investigators are the “good guys” trying to catch the “bad guys” in college sports. Nor are these the only N.C.A.A. documents that are coming to light. In a class-action lawsuit involving former players who object to the N.C.A.A.’s profiting from their likeness long after they have graduated, e-mails and documents have exposed the essential hypocrisy that underlies college sports. (A lawyer with Boies, Schiller & Flexner, where my fiancée works, is among those working on the case. She has no involvement.)
I think back to another time when the release of documents changed the way the public thought about a certain secretive institution. Back in the mid-1990s, whistle-blowers leaked documents to the news media showing that the tobacco industry had long known that cigarettes caused cancer — and had been involved in a massive cover-up. The ensuing litigation forced the tobacco industry to pay enormous sums in recompense, and ultimately to be regulated by the federal government.
Not that N.C.A.A. is the next tobacco.
Or is it?
Next up is Mr. Bruni:
Pro football left me with a neck injury. Watching pro football, I mean. At least three of the games that started at 1 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday went thrillingly down to the wire, two of them bleeding into overtime, and as I sat in a sports bar jerking my gaze from the television showing the Colts to the one with the Seahawks to the one with the Rams, I suffered mild whiplash. I ache as I write.
The whole 2012 season has been like that: seesaw contests, last-minute heroics. The spectacle presented by the National Football League has perhaps never been better.
Or uglier. And on Sunday, there was also a reminder of that, the overtime games overshadowed by the anguished examination of a murder-suicide, just a day earlier, involving the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Belcher, 25, shot and killed his 22-year-old girlfriend, then himself. They left behind a baby girl, Zoey. Chiefs players are already talking about a fund for her. That’s apt, but they should be talking about a whole lot else as well.
There’s something rotten in the N.F.L., an obviously dysfunctional culture that either brings out sad, destructive behavior in its fearsome gladiators or fails to protect them and those around them from it. And while it’s too soon to say whether Belcher himself was a victim of that culture, it’s worth noting that the known facts and emerging details of his story echo themes all too familiar in pro football over recent years: domestic violence, substance abuse, erratic behavior, gun possession, bullets fired, suicide.
His death was the most stunning N.F.L. news of the last few days, but not the only peek into a world of tortured souls and crippled bodies. In The Times, Judy Battista reported that this year would be a record one for drug suspensions in the league, a result in part of an apparent rise in the use of the stimulant Adderall. The record could reflect heightened vigilance by league officials, but still: the high stakes, physical demands and physical agony inherent in pro football indisputably encourage drug taking, and some oft-medicated players graduate to years of addiction problems.
The scientific journal Brain just published a study by Boston University investigators of 85 people who had received repeated hits to their heads while they were alive and were examined posthumously for degenerative brain disease. Sixty-eight of those people had such disease, which can lead to mood swings, dementia, depression. Fifty of them had played football, 33 in the N.F.L., including Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bears safety who shot himself fatally in the chest last year after sending his ex-wife a text message requesting that his brain tissue be analyzed for football-related damage.
The study’s publication follows the consolidation earlier this year of more than 100 lawsuits involving more than 3,000 former N.F.L. players and their families, who accuse the league and its official helmet maker of hiding information about the relationship between injuries on the field and brain damage. It also follows the revelation this year that the New Orleans Saints engaged in a bounty program by which defensive players got extra money for knocking opponents out of games.
In May the former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, a veritable legend whom I’d known for years as Nemesis No. 1 of my beloved Denver Broncos, shot and killed himself, and in a heartbreaking assessment of his demise five months later, the San Diego Union-Tribune noted that “within two years of retiring, three out of four N.F.L. players will be one or more of the following: alcohol or drug addicted; divorced; or financially distressed/bankrupt. Junior Seau was all three.”
In the same article, the newspaper reported that the suicide rate for men who have played in the N.F.L. is nearly six times the national average.
The Union-Tribune maintains a database of N.F.L. players arrested since 2000. The list is long, and the league is lousy with criminal activity so varied it defies belief. The quarterback Michael Vick of course staged inhumane dog fights; the wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg with a gun he’d toted illegally into a nightclub; the wide receiver Dez Bryant was accused of assaulting his own mother.
How all of this misfortune and all of these misdeeds do and don’t relate to one another isn’t clear. But to be an N.F.L. fan these days is to feel morally conflicted, even morally compromised, because you’re supporting something that corrodes too many lives.
The Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said on Sunday that Belcher’s bloody end left him wondering “what I could have done differently.” That’s a question that everyone in the N.F.L. should mull.
And we fans must demand it. On Monday morning, what didn’t feel right wasn’t just my neck, but also my conscience.