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Calling Foul

Liberals’ College Hoops Pity Party

Think top college programs are just using up poor, helpless athletes then tossing them aside? One graduation statistic slaps away that argument.

One of the silliest arguments I’ve heard in recent years is this idea that college athletics represents some kind of indentured servitude. According to the website of the College Board, the average four-year cost at an in-state public school is about $74,000 in education, housing, and meals. For an out-of-state student at a public school, it’s a little north of $120,000. And at Duke and Stanford and all the other private institutions, the price tag averages $164,000. Student-athletes get those generous amounts in direct, in-kind compensation.

College Basketball

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty

If that’s servitude, sign me up.

Yes, these athletes—or a very small number of them anyway, at a comparatively small number of schools, in the marquee sports of men’s football and basketball—print money for their alma maters. I’m not against them drawing modest salaries, because it’s work and it takes up a lot of their time. A modest salary, and the Heisman-worthy running back should make the same as the pine-riding second-string punter.

Handle With Care

Stop Hyperventilating Over Ukraine

America never fussed over Ukraine before, so why exactly should we now? Before the West makes moves, we need to define why we should defend the country and what, specifically, we’re willing to sacrifice to preserve its borders.

Watch an hour of cable—and I’m talking MSNBC; forget Fox—and you might well come away from the hyper-ventilations thinking that we will or should go to war over Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea. Listen: Nobody’s going to war over Crimea. This isn’t 1853. Yes, it matters to us how Crimea may once again become a part of Russia, and we don’t like it a bit, but let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter to us in cold, hard, realpolitik terms, whether Crimea is a part of Russia. It’s used as a naval base, and Russia’s had that all along.

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Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters

Now Ukraine, that’s different. Or so everyone on TV says. But when everyone starts saying something, I start doubting. After all, a decade ago, nearly “everyone”—every “grown up,” that is, every person who took a “properly expansive” view of American security in the post 9/11 age—said we needed to topple a dictator who had nothing to do with 9/11. So: Is Ukraine different? We may decide that yes, it is, but there are some real and specific questions we’d better ask ourselves before we just automatically make that declaration.

One way we decide these things is by looking at the historical record, and the historical record practically screams no, Ukraine is not different, is not a vital American or Western interest. Soviet Russia annexed Ukraine in 1922, after a war that had commenced in 1917, when the Bolsheviks took Moscow. The borders of Ukraine changed many times over the years. Even its capital was moved from Kharkiv in the east to Kiev in the west. At the end of World War II, the USSR expanded Ukraine again, as Stalin unilaterally redrew the Curzon Line to take in Eastern Galicia and Lvov, Poland, which became and still is Lviv, Ukraine.

In states where gay marriage is legal, gays are still banned from openly marching in St Patrick’s Day parades in New York and Boston.

It’s obscene, in 2014, that gay groups are forbidden from marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades in two of America’s most liberal cities. In Dublin—Dublin! I daresay a more Irish city even than Boston—gays have marched for years. As far as anyone can see, the parade flourishes, no epidemic of gayness has “afflicted” the children born in the years since inclusion, and everybody goes home happy. This isn’t just a foreign phenomenon. Chicago’s St Patrick’s Day parade has managed to include gays without catastrophe ensuing as well.

USA/

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

 The New York-Boston situation, while legally not only understandable but completely defensible, is a moral shambles; to the extent that the men making and enforcing this ban won’t just live in history, they’ll live in infamy.

I say it’s legally defensible because, like it or not, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is entitled to enjoy one of the few justifiable carve-outs to civil rights law. Courts have usually held that private, “expressive” associations can limit their membership, and this is right: Imagine if the NAACP were forced to admit white supremacists, or, for that matter, if a gay pride group were forced to welcome homophobes. Constitutionally, the New York and Boston bans are justified—although let us note that we’re just talking about one day a year here---no one is asking for ongoing participation in the association’s business.

2014 Midterms

Now the Good News From Florida

Forget the conventional wisdom—the health-care issue actually helped Alex Sink a little. Democrats must learn from it.

Was it really Obamacare that sunk Sink? I mean of course Alex Sink, the Democratic Florida congressional candidate who lost to Republican David Jolly on Tuesday. After the results were announced, Washington’s conventional wisdom congealed immediately: This was all about Obamacare, and it’s going to doom the Democrats come November.

Florida

Joe Raedle/Getty

Not so fast, says Geoff Garin, the pollster who did Sink’s polling in the race. Garin argues in a memo he released the day of the voting that “the issue ultimately provided more of a lift than a drag to her campaign.” He followed up by telling me yesterday: “She would have done worse if she’d neglected to hit back and engage the issue.” There’s a lesson in there for Democrats as they march toward November.

Garin put two key questions to the district’s voters. The first paraphrased the criticisms of Sink on Obamacare: Sink supports this law that will take away $716 billion from Medicare, and that caused 300,000 Floridians to lose their coverage and 2,500 patients at a district cancer center to have to change doctors. The second paraphrased criticisms of Jolly’s health-care position: He wants to totally repeal the law instead of fix it, a position that would let insurers again discriminate against the already ill and charge women more than they charge men for coverage. Repeal would also cut expanded prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients.

Keep Calm

Fl Loss Shouldn’t Make Dems Panic

While the defeat of Alex Sink in Florida’s special election Tuesday night may be embarrassing for Democrats, they shouldn’t panic and run away from the electoral benefits of Obamacare.

So here we go: Republicans—and, no doubt, the Koch Brothers—are crowing that David Jolly’s win over Alex Sink in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District Tuesday proves that Obamacare is the death knell for Democrats this fall. Outside groups, led by the Kochs, pumped a few million into the district, largely hitting Sink over Obamacare, which she said needed to be improved although she still trumpeted its benefits for senior citizens.

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Newscom

Republicans will say more: that they had a flawed candidate in Jolly, a former lobbyist; that Barack Obama carried this district in 2012. The Republicans won’t say that Obama carried it over Mitt Romney by just 2 percent, and this is the very definition of a swing district. But both of these statements are factual, and Republicans will spin them hard today and tomorrow.

Most of all, Republican spin doctors will say this is a bellwether: The Democrats put loads of money and troops into Sink’s race, precisely to prove (in a winnable district) that 2014 wasn’t going to be a disaster for them. They still couldn’t win it, which, the GOP will say, just demonstrates what a bruisin’ Democrats are cruisin’ for this fall.

Another Untrue O'care Horror Story

Health Care's Resistors and Adapters

You’ll recall that Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in delivering one of the 17 GOP State of the Union responses, spoke of “Bette,” the Spokane woman whose premiums were going up under Obamacare by $700 a month. The state’s jackboot, according to McMorris-Rodgers, was planted right on Bette’s throat, and there was nothing she could do about it. Bette would “have no choice” but to pay the extra, socialistic freight. Awful, awful, awful.

But the Spokane newspaper tracked Bette down and got the whole story, which was that her insurer did indeed cancel Bette’s then-current plan, which didn’t meet all the new ACA coverage requirements. When she called, the insurer tried to steer her to a plan that cost around $500 a month more. However, Bette never went to the Washington state web site to check out all the options available to her. If she had, the LA Times reported, she’d have found that in fact many options were available to her, “and with a deductible far lower than the $10,000 she was paying under the old plan and broader coverage, though lacking a provision for four free doctor visits a year provided by her old plan.” But Bette just didn’t want to go on “that Obama web site at all.”

Now, the Detroit News has found another Bette. Julie Boonstra has cancer, and last month she starred in a Koch Brothers-funded ad for one of the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. The ad claimed that Obamacare would make her medication so unaffordable that she might die. The News looked into the details of her new plan and found that she is going to save $1,200 a year. Here’s how the News summarizes the details:

Boonstra’s old plan cost $1,100 a month in premiums or $13,200 a year, she previously told The News. It didn’t include money she spent on co-pays, prescription drugs and other out-of-pocket expenses.

VOTER’S CHOICE

GOP’s Whack a Mole Addiction

For the first time in decades, there’s no clear GOP candidate to compete against Clinton in the race for the White House. Who will it be, folks? Batter up and whack-a-mole.

While the Republican presidential contenders were kumbaya-ing at CPAC, evidence continued to mount over which of them gets to suffer the embarrassment of winning 180 electoral votes. A USA Today poll found that 59 percent of respondents said they will or might vote for Clinton. It showed enormous improvements in personal qualities (Is she likeable? Is she honest?, etc.) since the first time she ran for president. Respondents even thought that she was six years younger than she actually is!

What the CPAC goings on tell us, combined with a burst of polls showing Clinton wiping out Chris Christie and just mopping the floor with Jeb Bush, is that as they face 2016, the Republicans are in a situation that has almost no precedent in the party’s modern history. In practically every nomination battle going back to Tom Dewey—I’m not even going to tell you the year, but trust me, that’s going back!—the Republicans have had a chalk candidate. The establishment guy, the early front-runner.

Dewey, Dewey, Eisenhower, Eisenhower, Nixon, Rockefeller, Nixon, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Sr., Dole, Bush Jr., Bush Jr., McCain, Romney. These were the establishment nominees. You could make a case for William Scranton instead of Rocky in ’64, and you might argue, I guess, that at the start of the 1968 cycle, it wasn’t Nixon but George Romney, although he imploded in the pretty early innings. And anyway, I’m not sure Romney ever led Nixon in the polls. So these were the GOP establishment choices. You’ll have noted that only one of the whole bunch of them, Nelson Rockefeller, failed to capture the nomination.

Today? No chalk horse. Wide open. Christie was, but clearly isn’t anymore (by the way, Clinton leads him by 10 points—in New Jersey). Those who think Jeb Bush can step in and play this role are going on name and history, but they obviously aren’t looking at the numbers—Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee do just about as well against Clinton as Bush does. Establishment money might chase Bush if he got in, but there’s no evidence that votes would.

Props to Hillary

Hillary's Right on Putin & Hitler

Calm down, everybody. Clinton's Hitler analogy was accurate—and it's hilarious to watch Republicans trying to use it to dent her foreign policy credentials.

I, for one, was sorry to see Hillary Clinton clarify her remarks comparing Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler. Yes, I know the rule. No Hitler analogies. No mentions of his name period. I know the rule, but I don’t like the rule. I think in some ways we need more Hitler analogies, because when political figures around the world do things like some of the things Adolf Hitler did, we ought to be able to say, for the sake of historical accuracy and for the sake of issuing warnings that will get people’s attention, “This is like that thing Hitler did.”

Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

And what Putin is doing is like what AH did in Czechoslovakia. In both cases, the claim is that annexation is the only possible solution to ensure the protection of the German/Russian population. In fact, if we do want to think about differences, we could easily argue that Hitler behaved less brutishly than Putin. The Nazis were carrying on about the German population of Czechoslovakia for three years before they struck, so at least poor Edvard Benes had warning and knew what was coming. Putin seems to have cooked this up in mere weeks.

If, then, the analogy is basically accurate, why was it controversial for Clinton to say this? Can no one can never compare any action taken by any leader to any action taken by Hitler? That’s absurd. Let’s say there’s a dictator out there with two separate and competing private militias. Let’s even say that one private militia wears black shirts and the other wears brown shirts. And let’s say that on that dictator’s orders, the guys in the black shirts wipe out the guys in the brown shirts, who are led by a man who was once arguably the dictator’s best friend, to the negligible extent that our dictator is capable of having friends.

This is just the crisis to make themselves seem relevant again within the GOP—even if they’re undermining the commander in chief at a pivotal moment.

Say this for Rudy Giuliani: He gave away the game with his now-infamous admiring comments on Fox News two days ago about Vladimir Putin. “He makes a decision and he executes it, quickly,” the former mayor said. “Then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader. President Obama, he’s got to think about it. He’s got to go over it again. He’s got to talk to more people about it.”

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Larry Downing/Reuters


Giuliani, once a genuinely moderate Republican (go look up his mayoral immigration record) and a man whom aides used to describe a long time ago as the one figure capable of pulling the national GOP back toward the center (I swear, I had those conversations), has served for some time now as little more than a right-wing standup comic—and a staggeringly hypocritical one at that. I’ll never forget his St. Paul convention speech, when he defended Sarah Palin by mocking Barack Obama and the Democrats for not thinking her hometown was “cosmopolitan enough.” This from a man who, while ostensibly campaigning against Hillary Clinton in 1999 and 2000 to represent all of New York state in the U.S. Senate, I think literally never spent a single night upstate. Zoom—as soon as the event in Albany or Schenectady was over, it was on the plane and right back to the emotional safety of the Upper East Side.


A standup comic often serves as his audience’s id, and so it is in this case. The neocons, on some emotional level, prefer Putin to Obama. He’s rugged. He goes shirtless. He knows his way around a Kalashnikov. He “wrestles bears and drills for oil,” as Palin put it Monday night, also on Fox. Palin, of course, is a pretty id-dy figure in her own right. She and Giuliani can say what some others who live and operate in Washington may feel constrained from saying. But every time John Bolton and Charles Krauthammer and Lindsey Graham and others carry on about Obama’s weakness, they’re also implying that he’s not half the man Putin is. And in neocon world, it always comes down to who’s the manlier man (although this makes Osama bin Laden a manlier man than Bush or Cheney, and Obama a manlier man than all of them, but never mind).

In Memoriam

The Great Russ Hemenway

I have been meaning for some time now to write about Russ Hemenway, one of the great unheralded liberal operatives of the last 50 years in American politics, and my dear friend, who died last month at 88. (Here is his New York Times obituary.) It’s taken me some time—because, I told myself, I’ve been really busy, and I have been. But it seems clear to me now that it’s mainly been because, even though he lived an amazing long life and passed in relative peace, I still haven’t wanted to accept the idea that he’s gone. He was like my second father.

That, I realize, isn’t of concern to you, so I won’t carry on too much about that. But here’s what is of concern to you. Russ had a dramatic impact from behind-the-scenes on American politics and liberalism for a solid half a century. Working closely with Eleanor Roosevelt as a young man, he helped propel the reform movement to power, the movement in cities (mostly New York but elsewhere to some extent) to take on the big corrupt urban machines. The reform movement was responsible for numerous positive changes—open primaries, easier ballot access for non-machine candidates, sweeping reforms of the judicial process, which before the movement’s efforts was more or less completely corrupt. A lot of these changes wouldn’t have happened without Russ, or certainly wouldn’t have happened as quickly or thoroughly.

That would be life’s work enough for a lot of people, but Russ went on to play an even bigger role in Washington politics through his National Committee for an Effective Congress, which Mrs. Roosevelt founded. NCEC was a pioneer outfit in candidate recruitment and in modern campaign-targeting techniques and the like, and it helped put dozens of liberals (a few of them Republicans, back in those days) in Congress. NCEC didn’t just do campaigns, though. It was active in all kinds of legislative battles. The first campaign finance reform law, for example, which passed in 1971, wouldn’t have made it through without Russ and NCEC, said The New York Times at the time. Pursuing political reform, opposing the Vietnam war, working for unions, fighting the imperial presidency; Russ did all these things.And he must have done them well. When Charles Colson presented to his president, Richard Nixon, his master “enemies list,” Russ’s name was on it.

So that’s the basic biography, but it doesn’t begin to describe what an amazing person he was and what an incredible life he led. I got to know him in 1987. He was 62 (he seemed so old!). At that point, and for about two decades prior, he knew virtually every prominent Democrat in the country, and I mean knew them: He huddled with senators and House members in the Casbah-decor bar of the old Democratic Club on Ivie Street, or in their private hideaways in the Capitol, plotting strategy on the current bill, sipping from their private bottles of 18-year-old scotch. He knew their strengths and, as any savvy operative should, their weaknesses: who drank too much, who catted around too much, who did nothing really but play golf, who was cheap, who was crooked. He hated the cheap far more than he hated the crooked.

Two out of John McCain’s three suggestions for how to aid the conflict in Ukraine and Russia are bad—and if the U.S. isn’t careful, it may end up more involved than it can afford to be.

I’m not sure what we should do about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I am, however, dead sure about what we shouldnt do. Please, Washington—don’t listen to John McCain!

The leader of the capital’s bombs-away caucus spoke exclusively over the weekend to the Beast’s Josh Rogin, who nailed the scoop. It was a relief to see McCain acknowledging that there is no plausible military option. So that’s progress. But the steps McCain advises are certain to heighten tensions and probably start a new Cold War, which is surely what the thuggish Putin wants. It’s most definitely not what the United States should want, at exactly the time when, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed, we should be reducing the size of our military and the reach of our global commitments.

McCain floated three notions: tougher sanctions against Russia and its higher-ranking officials; NATO membership for Georgia; expanded and sped-up missile defense systems in Europe. The first is unobjectionable. The world has to do something here, and sanctions are that something. If we can’t prevent Putin from engaging in this kind of aggression—and face it, we can’t—we can at least do what we can to harm his economy and limit the foreign travel of his high government officials.

Battle Cry

Show Me the Medicaid Money

Support for the repeal of Obamacare dropped to 31 percent this week, but right-wing states are still rejecting billions in free money. Buckle up Republicans, Obamacare is here to stay.

Somewhat quietly, Obamacare enrollment hit 4 million this week. Now, it’s certainly true—as critics have noted—that enrollees aren’t the same thing as people who will continue to stay with their plan for a full year. If an enrollee encounters an unexpected expense of replacing a head gasket or something like that, he might skip a payment. But even so, 4 million’s a more-than-respectable number.

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© Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Also rather quietly this week, a new tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed support for repeal of Obamacare down to 31 percent. As Jay Bookman noted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, overall the poll wasn’t something the president would exactly brag about, but it did represent noticeable change, especially among independents, 57 percent of whom now support the law.

That 31 percent number made me sit up straight for one reason. The percent of Americans who identify themselves as conservative is, lately, about 38 percent, says Gallup. So 31 percent is getting down there. And consider this: As of mid-December 2013, the percentage of Americans who favored repeal was 52.3 percent in a Real Clear Politics average of numerous polls. The Affordable Care Act may not be as popular as Twelve Years a Slave, but it’s not The Lone Ranger anymore either.

Equality

Morally and Legally Right

The history of civil-rights law is clearly on Jan Brewer's side with her veto of discriminatory SB 1062.

There’s no question that Jan Brewer did the right thing yesterday. No moral question. And no legal question either. Well, let me slightly amend that: With this Supreme Court, you never know about the future. But we know about the past, and decades of civil-rights case law are squarely on Brewer’s side, and supporters of SB 1062 just have to see this clearly and squarely and accept it.

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Arizona Governor Jan Brewer makes a statement saying she vetoed the controversial Senate Bill 1062 bill, at Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix February 26, 2014. (Samantha Sais/Reuters)

It’s not like we’ve never fought over these questions. We have, of course, and a result, there’s a history here. And that history, that body of court decisions, says clearly, like it or not, that generally speaking, citizens cannot opt out of civil rights laws.

As Harvard law professor Noah Feldman pointed out yesterday in a Bloomberg view column, segregationist business owners in the South argued after the civil rights act of 1964 that their “constitutional right to associate” as they chose should permit them not to serve black customers. (The religious-liberty right, Feldman notes, has the same “constitutional status” as the right to associate.) But courts never said that this was permissible.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Texas: Where Crazy Gets Elected

One of America’s largest states has the highest percentage of uninsured citizens in the country—yet its bullheaded leaders still won’t get on board with Obamacare or the president himself. What’s more, it seems the Texan population are A-OK with that.

So what happens in Texas when the Republican gubernatorial candidate invites Ted Nugent to the state to campaign for him not long after the Motor City Motormouth has called the President of the United States a “subhuman mongrel,” not to mention a “Communist” and a “gangster”? Would you believe, as Maxwell Smart used to say, that the candidate increases his lead? Well that’s what has happened. There’s crazy, and then there’s Texas crazy.

In a poll that came out Monday, conducted as the Nugent controversy was brewing, Republican Greg Abbott leads Democrat Wendy Davis by 11 points, which Politico notes is up from six points in a poll last year.  Now there are surely other reasons for this little surgette, but it certainly shows that Abbott’s decision to keep company with Nugent did him no harm at all in the state.

You think that’s bad, get a load of this, from the same poll. The candidate leading the Democratic field for the right to seek John Cornyn’s Senate seat is a woman named Kesha Rogers. Two of her top ideas? Impeach Barack Obama and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Yes, you read it right. She’s the leading Democrat. She’s also a La Rouchie, a fact that far from hiding she seems intent to rub in the other candidates’ faces: I can ramble on about crazy worldwide banking conspiracies all I want, she seems to be saying, but as long as I want to impeach Obama and repeal Obamacare, you can’t touch me! There’s crazy, and there’s Texas crazy.

This would all be merely amusing, but there’s another side to Texas crazy. Let’s get serious now for a few paragraphs.

Freak Out in Kansas

Where Does the Tea Party Find These People?

I was on Hardball last night talking about the escapades of this Milton Wolf character, the tea party guy who’s challenging GOP incumbent Senator Pat Roberts this year. Wolf became freshly newsworthy this past weekend when the Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that in 2010, Wolf, a radiologist, posted photos of disfigured corpses on Facebook (of people who’d been shot, etc.) and joined other commenters in poking fun at the them.

One image he posted showed a human skull all but blasted apart, about which Wolf wrote: “One of my all-time favorites,” Wolf posted to the Facebook picture. “From my residency days there was a pretty active 'knife and gun club' at Truman Medical Center. What kind of gun blows somebody's head completely off? I've got to get one of those.”

The Kansas City Star headlines an AP story by asserting that Wolf has “apologized,” but I read the piece and I’ll be jiggered if I see any apology in there. What Wolf does is try to explain his actions, although not really, and then accuse Roberts of leaking the material (which, if he did, so what; any opposing campaign would). A release by Wolf’s campaign even called the alleged leak (and it’s only alleged) “the most desperate move of any campaign in recent history,” another clueless and self-pitying statement.

So, this is clearly freakazoid behavior, and is obviously a grotesquely inappropriate thing for a medical professional to do. And it raises the broader question: Where does the tea party find these people?

About the Author

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Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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