Blow, Nocera and Collins

In “Rig the Vote” Mr. Blow says Republican lawmakers in some states have a new devilish plan to tilt presidential votes their way.  Mr. Nocera takes another look at “The N.C.A.A.’s Ethics Problem” and says from a look at some investigations in college sports, it seems as if abusing the legal system is all in a day’s work.  In “Goldilocks and the 3 Politicians” Ms. Collins says listening to the House of Representatives debate the debt ceiling stirs up memories of favorite childhood stories.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

If you can’t win by playing fair, cheat.

That seems to be the plan of Republican lawmakers in several battleground states that stubbornly keep going for Democrats during presidential elections. Thanks in part to gerrymandering, many states already have — and will continue to have in the near future — Republican-controlled legislatures.

Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin are considering whether to abandon the winner-take-all approach to awarding Electoral College votes and replace it with a proportional allocation.

That change would heavily favor Republican presidential candidates — tilting the voting power away from cities and toward rural areas — and make it more likely that the candidate with the fewest votes over all would win a larger share of electoral votes.

One day I will have to visit the evil lair where they come up with these schemes. They pump them out like a factory. Voter suppression didn’t work in November, and it may even have backfired in some states, so they just devised another devilish plan.

Pete Lund, a Republican state representative in Michigan, “plans to reintroduce legislation that would award all but two of Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes according to congressional district results,” said an article Friday in The Detroit News.

The paper continued, “The remaining two would go to the candidate winning the statewide majority.”

Lund, who proposed a similar bill in 2012, made Republicans’ intentions completely clear, saying, according to the article: “It got no traction last year. There were people convinced Romney was going to win and this might take (electoral) votes from him.”

These bills are a brazen attempt to alter electoral outcomes and chip away at the very idea of democracy, to the benefit of Republican candidates.

The Detroit News also reported that, according to an analysis by Mark Brewer, the state Democratic Party chairman: “Romney would have gotten nine of Michigan’s electoral votes and Obama would have received seven in 2012 under Lund’s proposal. Instead, Obama garnered all 16 Michigan electoral votes en route to his national tally of 332.”

Meanwhile, Obama beat Romney in the state by a margin of nearly 450,000 votes.

Virginia’s bill is further along than Michigan’s. It’s already being debated.

For reference, although Obama won the state of Virginia and all of its electoral votes last year, as he did in 2008, according to The Roanoke Times on Friday, “If the system had been in effect for the 2012 election, Republican Mitt Romney would have won nine of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes, and President Barack Obama would have won four.” Keep in mind that in November, Obama won the state by almost 150,000 votes.

Republicans in Virginia are just as forthright about their intention to tilt the electoral playing field in their favor.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the sponsor of Virginia bill’s, Charles W. Carrico Sr., a Republican, “said he wants to give smaller communities a bigger voice.” Carrico told The Post, “The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn’t matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them.”

Yes, you read that right: he wants to make the votes cast for the candidate receiving the fewest votes matter more than those cast for the candidate receiving the most. In Republican Bizarro World, where the “integrity of the vote” is a phrase used to diminish urban votes and in which democracy is only sacrosanct if Republicans are winning, this statement actually makes sense.

David Weigel of Slate explained the point of the Virginia plan this way: “Make the rural vote matter more and make the metro vote count less.”

Luckily, as the Roanoke paper noted Friday, Ralph Smith, the powerful Republican Virginia state senator, isn’t on board:

“Smith said this morning that he opposes the legislation, calling it ‘a bad idea.’ Smith sits on the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, which will hear the bill next week. Without Smith’s support, it’s unlikely the bill could get to the Senate floor.”

Paul Bibeau, who writes “a blog of dark humor” from Virginia, points out a numerical oddity about the effects of the Virginia law that turns out, upon reflection, to be more stinging than funny: “This bill counts an Obama voter as 3/5 of a person.”

That is because, as Talking Points Memo says, “Obama voters would have received almost exactly 3/5 of the electoral vote compared to their actual population — 30.7 percent of the electoral vote over 51 percent of the popular vote.”

This is not where we should be in 2013, debating whether to pass bills to reduce urban voters to a fraction of the value of other voters and hoping that someone with the power to stop it thinks it’s a “bad idea.”

Next up is Mr. Nocera:

In late March 2009, Yahoo Sports published a story alleging that the University of Connecticut had violated N.C.A.A. rules in its efforts to recruit Nate Miles, a 6-foot-7 basketball player from Toledo, Ohio. The N.C.A.A. enforcement staff, led by Tim Nevius, one of its top investigators, opened an inquiry.

By then, Miles was back in Toledo; he’d been expelled from UConn in October 2008, before ever playing a game. No longer a “student-athlete,” Miles refused to cooperate. Yet Nevius interviewed Dr. Chris MacLaren, a Florida orthopedic surgeon, who had once operated on Miles’s foot. Without any consent from the patient, Nevius asked for, and MacLaren provided, details of Miles’s surgery and its costs.

This, of course, was a gross violation of medical ethics. It was also, in all likelihood, a violation of medical privacy laws. But when several lawyers involved in the case brought this potential illegality to the attention of the Committee on Infractions — which metes out punishment to rules violators, and which includes a number of lawyers — the response was coldly dismissive. A medical release from Miles “was not required,” replied Shepard Cooper, then the committee director. How did he know? Because Nevius had told him so. So much for the law.

Earlier this week, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, acknowledged that the enforcement staff had, once again, done something deeply unethical. Except he didn’t phrase it like that. In recounting the sordid details, involving an investigation into the University of Miami, Emmert made it sound as if they were aberrations, the actions of several rogue employees who were no longer there. Describing the transgressions as “stunning,” Emmert announced that he had hired a lawyer to review its investigative practices, insisting that his goal was to ensure that N.C.A.A. investigations were consistent with “our values.”

What sanctimonious claptrap. The only thing stunning about this latest outrage is that Emmert acknowledged it. (My guess is that it was about to leak anyway.)

To recap: Nevin Shapiro, the man at the center of the Miami scandal — who is now in prison for running a Ponzi scheme — claims to have given University of Miami athletes cash, prostitutes, jewelry, “and on one occasion, an abortion” for a player’s girlfriend, according to Yahoo Sports, which broke this news as well. Incredibly, N.C.A.A. investigators engaged one of Shapiro’s bankruptcy lawyers, Maria Elena Perez, which would seem like an insurmountable conflict of interest. Then, they used her ability to conduct depositions in the Shapiro bankruptcy case to gather information it could not otherwise obtain. Though Perez insists she did nothing wrong, this is the sort of ethical breach that can cost a lawyer her license.

When I expressed astonishment at this turn of events to Richard G. Johnson, a lawyer who has tangled with the N.C.A.A., he scoffed. “This is not unusual,” he replied. “This is part and parcel of the way the N.C.A.A. does business.” Andy Oliver, a former client of Johnson’s who is now a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, became the subject of an N.C.A.A. investigation after his former lawyer violated lawyer-client confidentiality in speaking to the N.C.A.A. (Oliver ultimately won a reported $750,000 settlement.)

In the case of former University of Southern California assistant football coach Todd McNair, which I wrote about several weeks ago, the enforcement staff’s evidence against him was so dubious that a judge has ruled that he will likely win a defamation suit he brought against the N.C.A.A. In another case that I wrote about, the boyfriend of an N.C.A.A. investigator bragged that his girlfriend was going to nail a player she was investigating — months before her investigation had been completed.

Indeed, in the Miami case, this is not even the N.C.A.A.’s only ethically dubious stunt. Just before Thanksgiving, the enforcement staff sent out letters to numerous former athletes who had refused to cooperate — as is their right. The letters said that if they didn’t talk in the next few days, the N.C.A.A. would assume that they were guilty of rules violations and punish their alma mater.

“The N.C.A.A. thinks it is the 51st state,” Johnson told me. Its investigators regularly solicit the assistance of law enforcement officials, acting as if they have some kind of equal standing. But they don’t. The N.C.A.A. is not a regulatory body. It is merely an association that creates rules designed to prevent its labor force — college football and basketball players — from making any money. Most of its investigations — investigations that are selective, highhanded and a mockery of due process — are aimed at enforcing its dubious rules.

Over the last year, as I’ve stumbled across one outrage after another, I’ve wondered when someone in a position to do something about the N.C.A.A. — college presidents, maybe? Members of Congress? — would stand up and say “enough.” It’s getting awfully hard to look the other way.

As long as there is huge money to be made nothing will change.  Cynical?  You bet your butt I am.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

When I was a kid, my parents would occasionally go out together for dinner at a restaurant. To make sure the other patrons thought they were engaged in lively conversation, my mother would quietly tell my father stories like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” He’d nod and ask questions like “What happened next?” It actually worked out very well.

The other day, when I was listening to the House of Representatives debate the debt ceiling, I tried to imagine ways to make Congress as easy to tackle over the dinner table as the Three Bears.

The debt ceiling is the first of several fiscal cliffs the country is facing in the near future and the scenario is certainly riveting: The Treasury is due to run out of money to pay our bills in late February, at which time the national credit rating could crater, sending financial markets around the world into a free fall.

But, in practice, we’re just talking about rearranging deadlines. This week, the House voted to push the debt-ceiling crisis back to the end of the line. And the obvious topic of conversation, if you were sitting over pasta with your husband, would be: Which fiscal cliff would you rather fall off first?

Imagine Goldilocks finding the first cliff too steep, and the next one too bumpy. But can you have a cliff that’s just right? Maybe we need a poem:

A sequester cuts a big chunk from the spending
For guns, butter and schools — but not lending
It kicks in March One,
Unless something is done
Toward this one the G.O.P.’s tending.

The sequester can sound sort of seductive. If you made the Pentagon really hack away at its budget you know they could find some big, useless projects to get rid of. But as it stands now, the law requires a nasty nibbling away at almost every domestic and defense program in existence rather than a couple of big constructive gulps.

There’s a thing called Continuing Resolution
A kicking-the-can institution
In March it will end,
And the government can’t spend
Unless they can find resolution

The last time Congress failed to fund the government, the results included, over the long run, the destruction of Newt Gingrich’s political career. So something to think about.

The debt ceiling cliff is in sight
But Congress thinks falling off wouldn’t be right
They’re postponing that day
Till the 18th of May
When we’ll all be too tired to fight

“No one really knows what will happen. But I’m not quite sure I want to look over the edge of the cliff when it comes to the debt limit,” Speaker John Boehner said in a speech this week. So, there’s one vote.

This was the speech in which Boehner claimed that the Obama administration was attempting to “annihilate” the Republicans and “just shove us into the dustbin of history.” He was peeved about the inauguration speech, which actually didn’t so much attack the Republicans as ignore them completely, as if they had all the significance of the Modern Whig Party. Nothing more painful than not being noticed.

Boehner’s speech, to the Ripon Society, included repeated references to the fact that the Senate has not passed a budget for several years. (“There’s nothing that irritates our members more.”) Here’s another topic for dinner: Why are the Republicans so obsessed with this issue? The Congressional budget isn’t all that critical; it’s more of a theory than a law. But Boehner and his members behave as if the Senate’s failure to come up with one is a threat to the national well-being that makes global warming look like a week of bad weather.

To lure the party’s right wing into voting for the debt ceiling postponement, Boehner tacked on a section that would defer lawmakers’ pay if their chamber doesn’t come up with a budget this year. That would presumably be the senators, since the House passes a budget every year, in the form of a plan so improbable that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan couldn’t even drag it through the presidential campaign.

“When I grew up in Wisconsin, if you had a job … and didn’t do the work, you didn’t get paid,” Ryan declaimed in the House debate. Have you ever noticed how much Ryan talks about jobs he had in high school and college? Do you think he just likes talking about the brief period when he wasn’t employed as a professional politician? Or is it just that he wants us to remember that he once drove the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile?

Nevertheless, the Senate should obviously do a budget. When the House passed its bill this week, Senate Democrats said they would. In fact, their leaders were practically wearing party hats. They can’t wait.

Once they do, we’ll talk about it over dinner. I hope there are bears in the plot.


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