I can’t believe I’m saying this: give Tebow a chance

Tim Tebow is getting screwed, and the kid doesn’t deserve it.

Now let me say hastily I am not a Tebow fan, and it’s not because he used football to sell his religion.

Kurt Warner did that. Jon Kitna. Danny Kanell. June Jones. Reggie White. There’s an almost endless supply of great football players (and coaches, e.g., Tony Dungee, Bobby Bowden) who have used their football fame to push religion down people’s throats. And I think that is eminently fair. There’s no one holding a gun to my head making me listen to their interviews and press conferences. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m getting with those guys. I know what Tebow’s going to say if you hand him a mike. It’s my problem if I listen to it. My TV clicker works just fine.

No, I was anti-Tebow because he used his religion to sell football.

Specifically, he used his religion to finagle himself a position as a starting NFL quarterback, one of the most elite jobs on this planet.

He didn’t deserve the abbreviated shot he got in Denver. He got it by using his rabid popularity with a certain set of not terribly knowledgeable football fans and his bond with the secretive Christian sub-culture that runs many NFL organizations.

It was wrong of him to do that. Remember, he took someone else’s money. Someone far more talented slid down the draft board and got paid less because Tebow’s buddy Josh McDaniels moved him up. He took someone’s job. There are only so many spots on an NFL roster. Someone didn’t make the teams in Denver and New York because he did. Somewhere, right now, someone is stacking groceries because of Tebow. And worst of all, he pretty much ruined, or allowed his supporters to ruin, the careers of two decent journeymen quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez and Kyle Orton. One of those probably deserved it, but the other surely didn’t.

But now Tebow is getting wronged, and the wrong being done him is just as great as the wrong he did. It’s worse. Tebow is a not terribly sharp twenty-something. Yeah, he made a mistake, but he’s a kid. He did what any cocky kid would do. He got a job he didn’t deserve, looked in the mirror, and convinced himself he did. Every one of us has convinced ourselves we deserved something that we really didn’t.

He didn’t deserve his half-shot, but once he got it he put his heart and soul into it. He worked hard. He did everything anyone asked of him, right down to playing on special teams.

The people screwing him over are not foolish and cocky young men. They are foolish and callous old men. When those cynical old men traded for Tebow, listed him as their number two quarterback, and then refused to play him, jumping over him to the third string quarterback, they killed whatever career this kid might have had. They didn’t even let him play a half in the meaningless last game of the year, when he could have auditioned for another job. They left him there, on the sidelines, trying to smile and be a good guy while he got screwed in front of a national TV audience. Now everyone in the league knows that the Jets pretty much believe that anybody—third string QB, shell-shocked starter, waterboy, some guy out of the stands, an ancient Bret Favre–anybody has a better chance of being an NFL quarterback than Tim Tebow, and no other team will touch him.

Now, I think this may be true. I don’t think Tebow would be a good quarterback. I think you need to be able to throw quickly and accurately to be a quarterback, and I doubt his ability to do that. But I wanted to see it play out on the field. I wanted to see him get annihilated by a three hundred pound lineman with no compassion and quick feet, not by a three hundred pound coach with no courage and a foot fetish.

Nor is anyone else jumping up to make this right. Maybe the coach that originally selected him, McDaniels, will step up, but it’s very doubtful his boss, the notoriously unsentimental Bill Belichick will allow this gesture of kindness. (Remember, this is a guy who once cut a player the night before the Superbowl.) Maybe he will get a shot in the CFL or some other league and find his way back like Warren Moon or Warner. But probably not. He’s probably headed to be a grad assistant at Ohio State or coach at some Christian high school.

OK, Tebow has a boatload of money. He has the family business, evangelism, to go back to. He’s not that bad off in normal human terms. Yes, he’s got some sexual issues that need to be worked out, but he’s better off than 99% of the young men his age. Still, he didn’t get what he deserved in NY. He didn’t get a chance.

At least being railroaded isn’t as bad as being waterboarded

Could the charges on which former C.I.A. agent John Kiriakou are being jailed be any flimsier?

You may have heard that John Kiriakou, who worked undercover and as a terrorist logistics specialist for the C.I.A. before retiring, took a plea and admitted that he violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Scott Shane of the New York Times explains why. First, his family’s financial difficulties that followed in the wake of his charges

… were complicated by Mr. Kiriakou’s legal fees. He said he had paid his defense lawyers more than $100,000 and still owed them $500,000; the specter of additional, bankrupting legal fees, along with the risk of a far longer prison term that could separate him from his wife and children for a decade or more, prompted him to take the plea offer, he said.

This is only the first case prosecuted under that act since Defense Department official Lawrence Franklin was charged with leaking to AIPAC, in 2005. Shane writes:

Thus Mr. Obama has presided over twice as many such cases as all his predecessors combined, though at least two of the six prosecutions since 2009 resulted from investigations begun under President George W. Bush.

One can’t help but conclude that the charges brought against Kiriakou were, in large part, an indication of just how angry the C.I.A. and the administration were with the criticism of waterboarding that, post-retirement, he’d aired out in the media. His actual crime, meanwhile? Shane’s explanation is worth posting in its entirety.

In 2008, when I began working on an article about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I asked him about an interrogator whose name I had heard: Deuce Martinez. He said that they had worked together to catch Abu Zubaydah, and that he would be a great source on Mr. Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He was able to dig up the business card Mr. Martinez had given him with contact information at Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the C.I.A. contractor that helped devise the interrogation program and Mr. Martinez’s new employer.

Mr. Martinez, an analyst by training, was retired and had never served under cover; that is, he had never posed as a diplomat or a businessman while overseas. He had placed his home address, his personal e-mail address, his job as an intelligence officer and other personal details on a public Web site for the use of students at his alma mater. Abu Zubaydah had been captured six years earlier, Mr. Mohammed five years earlier; their stories were far from secret.

Mr. Martinez never agreed to talk to me. But a few e-mail exchanges with Mr. Kiriakou as I hunted for his former colleague would eventually turn up in Mr. Kiriakou’s indictment; he was charged with revealing to me that Mr. Martinez had participated in the operation to catch Abu Zubaydah, a fact that the government said was classified.

Yeah, I know: That’s it? Shane solicits a quote from retired C.I.A. officer (and current Brookings Institution fellow and Daily Beast columnist) Bruce Riedel, for whom Kiriakou served capably while in the C.I.A.

 “To me, the irony of this whole thing is, very simply, that he’s going to be the only C.I.A. officer to go to jail over torture,” even though he publicly denounced torture, Mr. Riedel said. “It’s deeply ironic under the Democratic president who ended torture.”

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Tournament of Rock IV: And the winner is….

The the final round matchup between #10 seed Meat Loaf and unseeded upstart Duran Duran saw more than 12,500 votes cast, a new Tournament of Rock record. Thanks to everyone who showed up to voice their support.

Along the way we’ve had some laughs, traded some barbs, shaken our heads in disbelief at some of the results, watched some videos, and a few of us have reveled in the irony and spectacle of it all. It has indeed been fun.

The final was a see-saw affair. It started slow, then DD surged to what looked like an insurmountable lead. But the Meat Loaf fan club struck back, pulling even and nudging ahead for a few minutes. But the Duranies rallied and pulled away, in the end tallying 58.15% of the vote.

Ladies and gentlemen, please congratulate your choice for the greatest corporate band in the world, DURAN DURAN! Let’s celebrate with Simon doing is David Bowie impression.

Here’s how the final bracket looked. See you next time. And by the way, if you’re looking for more music content, have a look at our Best CDs of 2012 series.

Image Credit: KikiLime Designs

Why corporations are like Burmese pythons

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2Last week, many Americans were stunned to pick up their newspapers and learn that AIG was suing us taxpayers for saving them. We shouldn’t have been. That’s what any corporation would do. Indeed, the directors of AIG had to consider it or else get sued themselves.

Corporations are the Burmese pythons of the economic ecosystem.

Burmese pythons are the giant snakes now taking over Florida. Not native to Florida and relatively recent arrivals, they are nonetheless thriving, growing to tremendous lengths and having babies by the basketful. In the process they are driving out the native species and terrifying parents of toddlers and owners of small dogs. Pythons are successful because the indigenous species are not large enough or strong enough to challenge them. We humans did not realize the threat they posed until we woke up one morning and found a 200 lb snake in the swimming pool. That’s why today Florida kicked off a state-wide Burmese python hunt, complete with prizes.

Which brings us back to corporations. Corporations are so successful, and so ubiquitous, that it would probably surprise most people to learn they are a very recent introduction into the economy. While most economic entities—companies, countries, trading blocs, markets, etc have been around for thousands of years, modern corporations were started in 1855 in England with the passage of the Limited Liability Act. And in just over a century, they had already grown to the point where they could strangle and devour small nation-states (ARAMCO in the Middle East, United Fruit in Latin America, Rhodes in Africa). Now corporations are becoming large and bold enough to challenge large countries.

Corporations are advantaged in the economic ecosystem because of five factors.

First, they are dictatorships, not democracies. Dictatorships are inherently advantaged over democracies in terms of speed and action. In the short term, the advantage created by minimizing discussion allows for rapid decision-making and follow-through. Of course dictatorships tend not to be advantaged over the long term because they are have succession and resource allocation issues, and in fact we have seen many very large and successful corporations fail or atrophy, e.g., Kodak, GM.

Second, limited liability gives them the ability to grow to tremendous size. Before the corporations act, if a company failed, creditors could come after the investors for their money. As a result, investors were very careful what they invested in and very careful of the obligations that company took on. Investors did not want to own giant companies with potentially giant downside risks. However, with limited liability, the potential downside was capped. Capital flooded into these new entities. And it turned out that capital was the natural constraint on company size. Before that, those needing capital had to take it out of their own pockets or get it from tight-fisted bankers. Once the capital constraint was removed, companies turned into corporations and exploded in size.

Third, and back to the python analogy, corporations are remorseless in pursuit of a very simple set of goals. Pythons want to reproduce. Corporations want to grow profits for shareholders. Just like the human species, a nation is juggling dozens of objectives, and economic goals are only a few of the many. Simple goals are a tremendous advantage in a Darwinian economic world, in part because…

Fourth, corporations are mobile, both literally and figuratively. If Alabama, say, is doing poorly, the U.S. can’t just close it and walk away, leaving obsolete people and infrastructure behind and moving to Pennsylvania or Arizona. (Although, I admit the idea of simply closing Alabama is appealing.) But a corporation can. And will. In 2007, when war profiteer Halliburton became concerned it might have to compromise its profit objective by obeying U.S. laws, it simply moved to Dubai. But often corporations don’t even need to move physically, they can move “virtually” to a better or less risky place. In every large accounting firm, there exists a unit called “Transfer Pricing,” the whole purpose of which is to create plausible, if not necessarily true, allocations of costs to ensure that a corporation that operates in 20 countries can earn huge profits in 20 countries and effectively pay taxes in none of those. That allows the giant General Electric to use the roads, airports, schools, and stability of the U.S. and pay only nominal taxes here. Corporations even can, in the case of AIG and GM, be insured from the ineptitude of bad leadership without paying for it. By operating across national boundaries, they are able to avoid their rightful obligations to any one nation.

Finally, corporations are stealthy. Take for example annual reports, where “revenues” by segment are reported in such arcane aggregations that the true position in any market or segment is impossible to figure out. Even experienced analysts only learn as much about corporations as corporations want them to know. Of course, we have units of the government, like the SEC, charged with penetrating this secrecy, but the SEC is compromised by lack of resourcing and a relentless assault on their authority from corporations. The corporate world camouflages its motives by promoting the widely-held falsehood that lack of government oversight is essential to successful operation of the free market, and that in turn is essential to freedom and our way of life.

We could keep working the python analogy, comparing gradual constriction of a helpless raccoon to the squeeze on the recent elections created by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations to participate in the political process. But after some point every analogy becomes tiresome, no matter how apt.

My point, though, is a simple one. Corporations are amoral by design. Their objective is not necessarily aligned with the objectives of society overall. They are large, powerful, and will continue to get bigger and more powerful. Their growth in both size and brazenness is not without consequence. Like the Burmese pythons in Florida, it may already be too late to stop them.

I have spent my life working for the world’s largest and most powerful corporations. I’m not anti-corporation. I’m not anti-python either. I just don’t want them loose in the kiddie pool.