New solutions for NFL Neanderthals

NFL logoI’m with Karl Rove, at least on this: Condoleezza Rice should replace Roger Goodell as head of the National Football League.  Goodell has been a toady for the owners, who get fat profits from leaving the game just where it is. Despite lip service to the contrary, they have accepted barbaric behavior from the players on and off the field.

The PBS documentary League of Denial showed the conspiracy of silence and cover-up of the lifelong brain damage to players from repeated concussions.  And off the field, events of the last weeks – think Ray Rice of the Ravens, Adrian Peterson of the Vikings,  Greg Hardy of the Panthers, Ray McDonald of the 49ers – show domestic violence is a way of life for some players, and enabling them (as long as they perform well on the field) is a way of life for team owners.

Rice (Condoleezza), the former Secretary of State, is a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, who has always said being NFL commissioner would be her dream job.  Unless she were gelded from the get-go by those who appointed her, I think she could demonstrate more testicular fortitude than the incumbent. She’s strong, capable, knows the game, and could negotiate the shoals among owners and players alike, committed to doing what’s best for the game and the humans involved. Female fans  are the hot demographic for the NFL.  Eighty-five percent of abuse victims are female, according to studies reported in the Wall St. Journal. Who better to succeed Goodell that a powerful, smart, capable, female African-American football aficionado?

Yet even a change of commissioners is not enough. Congress has demonstrated its unwillingness to deal responsibly with a host of pressing issues. But the expected do-nothing  lame duck session coming up could be an opportunity for them to revisit the laughable, sweetheart non-profit tax exemption the NFL enjoys. It might even bring together tax hawks and doves. Congressional action that could hurt their pocketbooks is one thing that could get the owners’ attention.

Losing sponsorships would also send a clear message. Radisson hotels just pulled out from the Minnesota Vikings in the wake of Adrian Peterson’s child abuse scandal. Wouldn’t it be nice if other corporate interests stepped out of their luxury boxes and followed suit?

The fans also have to play their part, indicating their ire or at least not buying team gear and wearing jerseys of their favorite wife beaters or child abusers.  Female fans in Baltimore last week sporting Ray Rice jerseys were especially nauseating. As Charlie Pierce said on Bill Littlefield’s Only a Game, “there is virtually no limit to American hypocrisy when we want to be entertained.”

The Patriots won big Sunday, and that was satisfying. But I wish Bob Kraft had been a more stand-up guy for the values that his late wife, Myra, championed.  Something is rotten with NFL football.  Whether the Patriots, Vikings, Packers or Jets, I kept wondering which players, under all that gear,  were going home to beat up their wives and girlfriends. Or maybe abuse their kids. Globe columnist Joanna Weiss writes about the need to change the culture accepting domestic abuse and how even a zero-tolerance policy is “just not enough.” Probably so, but at least it would be Step One.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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In Scotland, what’s really under those kilts?

domino effectThe domino theory, used by the United States to justify military intervention in Vietnam, has always been fallible. In Southeast Asia, neighboring Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. Thailand is a parliamentary (if unstable) democracy.  The Indonesian archipelago is a republic.   But this week’s vote in Scotland to determine whether the land of bagpipes, kilts, golf, whisky and North Sea oil should become a separate nation could trigger a global exercise of the domino theory – that could rip apart multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation states.

It’s hard to imagine a worse time for a vote like this to succeed.  As laid out by analysts far more sophisticated than I, if Scotland can secede from the U.K., why should anyone respect national borders?  Should the Basque separatists have their own nation?  What about the Catalan in Spain? People in Barcelona refer to themselves as the capital of Catalonia and have agitated for years to have their own country. Why should Russia respect the borders of the Ukraine (it has already taken Crimea) or, for that matter, any part of any nation of the former Soviet Union in which substantial numbers of Russian speakers live? Vladimir Putin, who has called the breakup of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century, seems to be trying to recreate it.

The domino theory envisioned a one-country-at-a-time tipping over of the established order.  What could follow here would have a more viral impact and be a recipe for global chaos. Middle East national boundaries are an artificial construct to begin with and didn’t start with the voluntary coming together that characterized Scotland and England 300 years ago.  Borders in the Middle East were  imposed by outsiders, and many of the tensions in that region are rooted in that artifice.  If the Scots can break away by plebiscite, others will seek to do it the ISIS way, a recipe for disaster.

Where does it all end?  The separation of South Sudan from Sudan doesn’t seem to have made things better. Would breaking up the French and Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium make life better in those regions?     As political scientist George Friedman has noted in the Stratfor Intelligence Report,  there are innumerable separatists in parts of Africa, India and Asia who could assert the right to divorce, many of them with greater grievances than the separatists of Scotland.

The outcome of this vote had long been assumed to be a slam dunk No vote. But other polls suggested a tiny plurality of Scots favor independence. With undecided holding the balance, the news this morning is that it’s “too close to call.”

There are many U.K.-centered questions raised by the specter of Scottish independence: the future nation’s currency (its own, the euro, the pound?), defense (they would oust the U.K.’s nuclear installation), membership in international alliances and many more. But the most profound question is what will be the impact around the world. I shudder to think of the worst-case scenarios that might unfold.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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Observations on state primary 2014

ballot boxThe Y chromosome was in short supply among top winners in yesterday’s primary.  The result is that party candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, attorney general and, in my home county, district attorney and governor’s council, are all women.  (So, too, with unopposed candidates for state auditor, state senator and state representatives.) The women’s vote may not have been dispositive but it sure helped mightily.

Observation #2.  If Juliette Kayyem had been helped out with delegates at the Democratic state convention in June and remained on the ballot Tuesday, Steve Grossman would be the Democratic nominee today. She would have drained  from Coakley at least 6 percent of those voting based on gender.  As it was, the surprising narrowness of Coakley’s margin should give pause to voters concerned about a repeat of 2010, when she stunningly lost the U.S. Senate race to Scott Brown.

Observation #3.  The dramatic success of attractive political newcomer Maura Healey over good guy Warren Tolman is a triumph for the combination of fresh energy and focused professional experience over labor (Tolman’s brother Steve heads the AFL-CIO), the political establishment (elected official endorsements including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Deval Patrick) and a more broadly bully pulpit view of the office.

Observation #4. By their action and inaction,  6th district voters told Congressman John Tierney it was time to go. He clearly, and as it turns out unwisely, was saving his resources for an expected general election rematch against Republicans Richard Tisei. He probably believed, as did many, that, as  an incumbent, he would easily prevail in a four-candidate Democratic primary.  He never effectively challenged the distortions in Seth Moulton’s advertising.  And when he finally took to the airwaves, questioning why Republicans were so interested in contributing to Moulton’s campaign, it was he – and not Moulton – who was faulted for going negative.  It appears Republican money was behind a chunk of Moulton’s war chest. And it may be that some Tisei-supporting Republicans-leaning independents also took Democratic ballots and voted for Moulton to weaken Tierney for their candidate in November.  If that was their plan, it may have backfired, making it much more difficult for Tisei now that Moulton is the nominee.

Observation #5.  In the Middlesex race for district attorney, Marian Ryan’s reported steely managerial edge and her inexcusably withholding of public documents that did not reflect well on her office’s handling  the Jared Remy case were apparently less troubling to voters than Cambridge City Clerk Michael Sullivan’s reputation as a political hack and his image as ethically challenged.  This race was the opposite of the AG’s race between two high quality candidates. The DA’s contest was a classic lesser-of-two-evils outcome, aided, again, by the women’s vote.

Observation #6.  With turnout  approximately 15 percent, does it really mean that 85 percent of the electorate are  satisfied with the outcome either way?  That they’ll have no complaints later on?  Saying they’ll vote in the general election if  not the primary is just stupid.  In race after race in a largely one-party state, the primary is the election. (Maybe we should go the way of California, where there’s an open primary and the top two vote getters, regardless of party, go on to the general election.)

In eastern Europe in 1990, just after the breakup of the Soviet Union, I watched elections from Berlin to Bucharest. I saw Romanians stand in line for hours to cast their ballots, often clutching to their breasts photos of loved ones who died fighting the Ceausescu dictatorship for the right to vote.  Our indifference is shameful.

I welcome your comments in the section below.


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Grossman at the top – in all but polls


gube debateThe Democratic gubernatorial debates ended last night. Three decent, intelligent individuals with strong commitment to Massachusetts and public service.  Notwithstanding Attorney General Martha Coakley’s double-digit advantage in the polls, it is Treasurer Steve Grossman who has emerged as the most solid choice. Coakley has the advantage of superior name recognition, while Grossman has drawn the major newspaper endorsements . He’s the one who can put it all together as gubernatorial material.

After following the race and now listening to the two debate each other and pediatrician Don Berwick, who ran the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services for the Obama Administration, one can hardly fail to be impressed by how Grossman (whom I have previously labeled distinctly uncharismatic) has grown as a candidate. Here’s how I see the three:

Coakley, coming from the legalistic ways of the state’s chief prosecutor, tends to look at problems with a certain, if sometimes opaque, practicality but is distinctly without a vision, a leitmotif if you will.  Berwick has lofty ideals but fails to detail how his self-touted management skills would implement his vision.

Grossman manages to have generous helpings of both vision and practicality, and he has a track record both in the Treasurer’s office and in the private sector of delivering on his proposed innovations, especially when it comes to job creation, and combining efficiency with progressive values.  His performance in recent debates has been strong, leaving viewers the impression he would be a strong candidate against likely Republican nominee Charlie Baker in the general election.  Grossman is very well informed, thoughtful and straightforward in his approach to a whole range of challenges.  Coakley is nuanced to a fault, and, while Berwick is clear cut about what he aspires to, he does not explain how he would get from point A to point B.  He simply says that’s what leadership is all about.

One of Berwick’s best lines was directed toward Coakley and her nuance.  “All we’ve heard from you is boilerplate.”  She has yet, he said, “to be bold on something controversial.” That approach could win her the nomination, but might be too cute by half for the general election.

As Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung wrote regarding Coakley on the casino issue, “Martha Coakley is bouncing around on the casino issue like a pair of dice on the craps table.  Only by chance do you find out what she really thinks.” I would add that, in addition to  Grossman’s ability to talk the talk and walk the walk, he would be a stronger candidate in November against Republican Charlie Baker. In fact, that match-up would be beneficial to the voters.

This race has not generated much enthusiasm. Conventional wisdom has it that in a low-turnout race the candidates’ ground games, their ability to get their supporters to the polls next Tuesday, will matter.  The polls usually sample likely voters, who may be as little as 20 percent of the electorate.  So the only poll that matters is the vote on election day.  And, trite though it sounds,  every vote still does count.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Market Basket deal: time to celebrate

Market Basket logoIt’s hard not to be happy that the Market Basket board approved Arthur T. Demoulas’ buyout of the supermarket company.  Not that I shop there; there isn’t one near me. But my sister does, and praises its bargains. What makes a mere onlooker happy is the sense that for once the little guy won, that is, a bunch of little guys, the employees standing in solidarity without a union and refusing to bend to moneyed corporate power. Refusing even though it put their jobs in jeopardy and, for six weeks, affected their family income.

This really does seem to be a victory for time-honored (too often ignored) corporate values of appreciating the employee, sharing profits through better benefits, and reinvesting in the company rather than having all profits go back to the shareholders.   It is a triumph for the notion that CEO’s can really care about the ordinary folks who work for them.

The Boston Globe just posted video of the pickup in activity in the warehouse. The mood is celebratory, though for some weary protesters this resolution seems to have come just in time.  It’s unclear, notwithstanding their dedication to CEO Artie T, how much longer they could have held out.  Beyond the grit and determination they have all shown,  employees and customers alike now have to have patience.  According to the Globe, it will take seven to ten days until Market Basket shelves are 80 percent full, and it will take two weeks to be back to 100 percent.

It may be that some shoppers have found other places to buy their groceries, but I suspect some newcomers will try Market Basket for the first time. The outstanding question is whether Artie T’s purchase of the “other side’s” 50.5 percent leaves him with debt service so large it renders impossible the low low prices for shoppers and generous employee benefits.  There may well have to be adjustments there.  For the immediate future, at least there are 25,000 workers who will have a boss who seems to really care about them and understand that they are the core of the company’s success.  Can you imagine Bank of America or American Airlines (substitute your own favorite ice-water-in-the-veins corporation) dealing with customers and employees as Market Basket has?

I welcome your comments in the section below

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Clock ticking on state gov. candidates

Democratic gubernatorial candidate state treasurer Steve Grossman has  narrowed the gap between Attorney General Martha Coakley and him, but it’s unclear if he can make up a remaining 12-point deficit in the last two weeks before the state primary. Right now, however, those same polls show Coakley holding a 23-percentage lead over Grossman among women voters, some of whom are intent on reversing the history of women failing to make it to the corner office. I wonder if he regrets not sharing some of his convention delegates with erstwhile candidate Juliette Kayyem to keep another woman in the race.

The ever uncharismatic Grossman has become a much better candidate in the last two months, projecting competence.  He has sharpened his message (job creator in both private and public sectors) and has mastered being forceful without seeming a bully, always tricky for a male candidate running against a female.

He has scored points criticizing Coakley’s “pattern of poor judgment”  for sanctioning Partners Health Care acquisitions of community hospitals in seeming disregard of impact on health costs and “allowing to walk”  a lobbyist/former donor who charged a hospital on a possibly illegal contingency basis. Coakley, in turn, counters that Grossman has raised $150,000 from industries he regulates and that he has “sent jobs out of state” by having campaign signs printed elsewhere. Hardly equivalent criticisms to be sure.

During that heated exchange in Monday’s Boston Herald debate, former Medicaid/Medicare administrator Don Berwick, the third candidate in the race, scolded them both  for their “politics as usual.”  “It doesn’t help people,” he said, to good effect. Dr. Berwick,  smart and progressive, likes to “take the long view,” and embraces values of social justice, compassion and equality of opportunity. He even pledges “to end hunger and chronic homelessness in my first term.”  Oh, my.  But, much as we like to fault politicians for not taking the long view, Berwick seems singularly disinclined to talk specifics about the here and now.  He is a single-minded proponent of a single-payer health care system, but I have never heard him explain how exactly he would move the state there.

All three Democrats faulted Republican Charlie Baker for “mismanaging” the Big Dig, an issue that seems dredged from the Paleolithic era, with blame for the (wildly successful) project costs being shared by two decades of Republican and Democratic governors.

How they all deal with the casino issue becomes a prism for viewing the candidates. Both Coakley and Grossman favor casinos, while Berwick decidedly does not.  If the repeal referendum passes in November, Republican Charlie Baker would file a bill to create a single casino – in Springfield.  So would the Dems also advance a one-casino bill?  Coakley is classically non-committal, saying “Let’s take it one step at a time, see where the vote goes.”  Grossman is clear cut. Despite being a casino supporter, he “wouldn’t go that route……out of respect for the people’s vote.” Berwick passionately opposes casinos. Period.

The more interesting question: if repeal passes, how would each make up the $73 million in casino revenues that the state budget counts on? Coakley, in full frontrunner mode, didn’t specify (read: I don’t have to commit until I see if the repeal referendum passes?). Grossman was certain that, in a $40 billion state budget, “we’ll find it,” even if it means invading the state’s rainy day fund. Berwick, as with most spending issues, would cover costs with savings from health care reform.  But that wouldn’t  happen overnight, and meanwhile there’s that nasty $73 million gap.

In a parallel vein, on the matter of funding universal pre-K education, Berwick said that, in addition to savings from heath care,  he’d go after $2 billion in tax expenditures (loopholes). Plus, he supports a graduated income tax.  Apparently his taking the long view forward is not retrospective. Perhaps he’s not aware of  repeated anti-grad tax votes for many decades?

Attorneys general, it seems, have difficulty getting elected governor. Think, Eddie McCormack, Bob Quinn, George Fingold, Frank Bellotti,  Scott Harshbarger, and Tom Reilly; all failed trying.  The last Attorney General to be elected governor was Paul Dever, who tried it once and failed but finally succeeded in 1948, after military service.  Prior to that, I can only find James Sullivan, at the beginning of the 19th century.  Will Coakley break the pattern of half a century?She is a better candidate than when she ran against Scott Brown in 2010, but many questions still remain.

Most independents, the majority of Massachusetts voters, won’t weigh in until the general election. Recent polls suggest that some 47 percent of Grossman supporters would jump to Baker in the general election rather than support Coakley. But Baker, whose  performances to date are nothing if not uneven, is not a shoo-in. Of course, if Berwick ( now trailing badly, but who has said he’s “in it to win it“)  got out of the race, things would really be stirred up, and both Democratic and Republican primary winners could assert that they were supported by the majority of their parties.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Market Basket a real-life “Tyrant” drama

Market Basket logoThe dueling Demoulas brothers remind me of nothing so much as the hot new Fox dramatic series called Tyrant. Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed, the son of a corrupt and murderous Middle Eastern dictator/president (pick your model), has fled to the United States to become a pediatrician.  Married with two children, he is the “good” son, who returns after 20 years to visit his family .  The “bad” son is the brutal Jamal, who, upon his father’s death, takes over the make-believe country of Abbudin, apparently intent on carrying on his father’s ways.

The “bad” brother, Jamal, rapes, steals, jails and kills his critics, but underneath it all we learn he has a soft spot; he really wants to turn his back on the presidency and flee with his mistress to the white sandy beaches of the Maldives . The “good son,” recognizing that the “bad” son is disastrous for the people of Abbudin, determines to overthrow him and, in the process, resorts to methods that reveal his own inner tyrant.

Today’s excellent reporting on Market Basket’s  Demoulas brothers  by  Shirley Leung (“bad” brother Arthur S. “shows generosity and resolve”) and Callum Borchers (“good” brother Arthur T’s “personal touch can cut both ways”) is a page out of the Tyrant playbook. The Demoulas scions are cousins, not brothers, but the message is the same: the “good” Arthur can also be cutting and nasty; the “bad” Arthur can also be generous and thoughtful. Set aside the spin.  This is not a Manichean struggle of pure good versus pure evil.  They are both flawed human beings, with much dramatic and emotional family baggage.

What seems to differentiate the two is that Arthur S. wants the profits largely to benefit the shareholders and Arthur T. wants to share the profits with Market Basket employees and customers (through lower prices.)  It is that  philosophy, along with his own talent for interpersonal relations, that endears him to the employees of Market Basket. The saga over the past month, as employees and customers stand behind Arthur T, is nothing short of epic.  And all this solidarity without a union!

Now, sadly, the brothers’ obstinacy threatens to bring down the whole Demoulas empire. Governor Deval Patrick and New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, properly reluctant from the outset, to interfere in the business of a private company, have recently been trying to bring about some resolution. It may be too late. The once $4.6 billion company is hemorrhaging millions every day.  Employees, many still protesting, are desperate for income.  Organizers have set up a website to raise money to help out hard-hit employees. Suppliers have been left finding new outlets for their produce. Customers depending on Market Basket’s low prices to get by are having go  elsewhere and pay higher prices. Ill will is growing throughout the marketplace, and there’s a very damaging impact on the regional economy.

Arthur T. wants to buy out Arthur S., return to his CEO position and end the stand-off.  Arthur S. is said to be considering other offers, including one from the Delhaize holding company that owns Hannaford’s.  But combining Market Basket and Hannaford’s could raise a host of anti-trust considerations, according to news analysis. Public sentiment seems to be with Arthur T. and the employees because most like to see the little guys (along with rich Arthur T) prevail.

Somewhere, I am convinced, a screenwriter has already started on a script to capture the nearly century-long story of the Demoulas family, the rise from poor immigrants to small market owners, to successful supermarket owners, to  empire chieftain.  It will be a tale of family rivalries, betrayals, battles for wealth and control. The script will chronicle how it is the “little people” who are hurt from the epic and prideful battles over money and power.

What we don’t know yet is whether the key players survive, and whether there will be justice and redemption. Or do they all fall on the battlefield, victims of their own greed, pride and blind stubbornness. Tune in next week.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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