A Good Week for Montenegro, a Slow Week for Neil Gorsuch

by Jim Geraghty

A Good Week for Montenegro, a Slow Week for Neil Gorsuch

Under Senate rules, any senator can request a one-week delay in any nomination. Because Democrats requested a delay on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the Senate won’t begin debate until the first week of April. Surely it’s an annoying delay for the administration and Republicans, but this means that after being unfairly maligned and judged by a group of self-righteous authorities, Gorsuch will rise to the Supreme Court around, er… Easter.

Instead, the Senate will turn to other business, and it appears that one of the first major changes to U.S. foreign policy in the Trump administration is likely to be… the expansion of NATO. Russia, if it will make you feel any better, we thought electing Trump would mean the end of Obamacare, so everybody’s getting the opposite of what they expected these days.

The Senate voted 97-2 on Monday in favor of allowing a vote later this week on the ratification of Montenegro’s NATO membership. Senate aides reportedly said they expected a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday and said they expect Montenegro’s NATO membership to get the required two-thirds majority.

Progress on Montenegro’s accession bid had been held up in Congress by two senators.

Besides the US, the Netherlands and Spain also have yet to ratify Montenegro’s membership. All members of the alliance must ratify a bid to join in order for the petition to proceed.

The loudest opponent to this move in the Senate is Rand Paul of Kentucky.

”Most Americans can’t find Montenegro on a map,” Paul said in a sharply worded Senate speech. “Are you willing to send your kids there to fight?”

Come on. If Americans’ ability to find a place on a map was our sole measuring stick of whether a country as a worthy ally, our only alliance would be with Australia. And that’s mostly because of Crocodile Dundee and Outback Steakhouse.

If you look at the map of NATO members, you’ll see Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia… in other words, Montenegro is already surrounded by NATO countries, so this doesn’t represent NATO expanding eastward. It does, however, represent another former Soviet state (really more of a region) wishing to be closer to the West. There’s one other wrinkle: Montenegro is the only country on the Adriatic Sea that is not a NATO member, and Russia doesn’t have a lot of warm-weather ports for its navy. Back in 2013, Russia requested “allowing Russian warships temporary moorage at the ports of Bar and Kotor for refueling, maintenance and other necessities.” The Montenegro government rejected the request.

In other words, bringing Montenegro into NATO limits the Russian navy’s ability to operate in the Adriatic Sea between Italy and the Balkans. Sure, Montenegro’s got a tiny military and gets dismissed as a “postage stamp of a country“, but sometimes foreign policy is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location.

The Tax-Revenue Raiders and the NFL’s Ominous Future

The National Football League is testing the patience of fans once again.

For the third time in fifteen months, an NFL franchise is moving to a new city. Last year the St. Louis Rams became the Los Angeles Rams; the San Diego Chargers moved up the coast to become the Los Angeles Chargers and will play next season in a converted soccer stadium. Monday, the league’s owners voted to approve the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas.

The taxpayers of Nevada – or more specifically, hotel guests – are ponying up a large sum of cash to make the move happen:

The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee unanimously approved $750 million of public money to build a football stadium in Vegas, presumably for the Raiders, who have been lobbying for a move to Las Vegas.

The public money would be raised through hotel taxes.

“We are excited and thanks to the committee,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told USA TODAY after the committee vote Thursday.

How’s this for chutzpah? Davis asked Raider fans to come out and cheer until the team officially moves in 2019 or 2020 (depending on how fast they can complete the new stadium).

The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.

“And then, we will leave.” As ESPN’s Mike Greenberg observed, this is like your spouse announcing they’re divorcing you in two to three years because they’ve found someone better, but they expect you to love them until they leave. His colleague Dan Graziano offered a twisted thought: If the Raiders, who made the playoffs last year, won the Super Bowl this year or next, would the city of Oakland throw them the traditional parade?

I am sure I disagree with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff on almost everything, but she’s completely in the right here when she says, “I am proud that we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction and that we did not capitulate to their unreasonable and unnecessary demand that we choose between our football and baseball franchises.” This came down to one city/state putting a ton of taxpayer money on the table, and another city/state refusing to do so.

Each time a franchise succeeds in getting a shiny, state-of-the-art, luxury-box-laden stadium heavily financed by the taxpayers, it increases the incentive for other owners to pressure cities for the same deal. Marcus Thompson II, writing in the East Bay Times (which used to be the Oakland Tribune) wonders which city will get a raw deal next:

One: will the other 32 owners just let the San Francisco 49ers expand its kingdom and have a top-five market to itself? All the while, the Raiders dip into the Los Angeles fan base.

Two: how long before another team in a small market — which just saw a major market open up with an abandoned fan base and a potential boon in revenue — tries to make a move on Oakland?

The Jacksonville Jaguars owner has plenty of money. Can the Titans survive long term in a college town in Nashville? How committed are the Bengals to Cincinnati?

Don’t give me the they-would-never speech. It’s been proven that emotional, fan-centered view is just a marketing ploy. The NFL owners will go where the money is.

Wait, there’s one more ominous angle, from a Deadspin commentator: Let’s take an NFL team, a roster of 53 athletic young men, some as young as 21 or so. Some of them are making enormous amounts of money; the league minimum is roughly $465,000. They are active from mid-to-late July to January, or February if they’re in the playoffs. Sometimes, when injured, they have significant amounts of time away from the regimented routine of the season… now let’s put all of those young men in Sin City, surrounded by casinos, clubs, strippers, and every other temptation under the sun. What’s the worst that could happen, right?

How many years until a player gets caught in gambling scandal?

There’s genuine reason to wonder if the future of the NFL is as bright as the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell have come to expect.

The NFL went through a bout of sudden franchise moves in the mid-90s. The Raiders moved from L.A. back to Oakland, the Rams moved to St. Louis, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and renamed themselves the Ravens and the Houston Oilers moved to Memphis and eventually renamed themselves the Tennessee Titans.

The NFL’s popularity wasn’t hurt by that franchise roulette, but the situation is different now. Back in the 1990s, the economy was running good-to-hot and the public was a less wary of giant taxpayer expenditures on stadiums to host ten to twelve home games a year. (And that’s counting the preseason.)

In 2016, the NFL’s television ratings were down nine percent from the previous year in the regular season and down six percent in the playoffs. Undoubtedly some of that represents exasperation with the likes of Colin Kaepernick. But there are a lot of complaints of fans that won’t go away if Kaepernick keeps his word and stands for the upcoming season: sloppy play, long commercial breaks, long instant-replay delays, too many games being played between the Thursday Night Game, Sunday’s games, the Sunday Night Game, and the Monday Night Game, overseas games in London starting at 9 a.m. Eastern…

One other major factor for the future of the sport: I occasionally see voices on the Right scoffing at parents who won’t let their sons play football, contending this is an example of overprotectiveness or “snowflake culture.” Well, 12 former NFL players are telling their sons and grandsons the same thing, players like Harry Carson, Mike Ditka, and Troy Aikman. At age 44, Brett Favre said he doesn’t remember his daughter’s soccer season. Most of us will go through life and never suffer a concussion, or only experience one or two. Former Jets receiver Al Toon was diagnosed with nine during an eight-year career. (Toon says he has lingering conditions but “nothing significant.”) How many concussions can a young man suffer before serious long-term damage occurs? When it’s your child, how many hits to the head seem like “too many”?

You can go through life with a sore knee. You need a functioning mind for the rest of your life, long after your playing days are over. Parents and grandparents being extremely wary about concussions on their sons’ developing brains doesn’t strike me as being overprotective. It strikes me as being extremely careful about the risks and rewards.

ADDENDA: My old coworker from our States News Service days, David Enrich, went on to bigger and better things at the Wall Street Journal. Now David’s got his first book, a nonfiction epic about one of the biggest financial scandals in world history, entitled The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History. You’re probably thinking, “Eh, I don’t care about bankers.” Trust me, it’s an engrossing, enlightening tale that reveals some depressing details about the financial and regulatory world. Key figures are convicted, but the resolution may not fit your definition of justice. It’s a wild ride featuring mildly-autistic mathematicians, coke-snorting “Wolf of Wall Street” ids in suits, investigators, lawyers, families… David puts it, “The banking industry does a really good job of making itself seem more complicated than it really is. (It’s a convenient way to keep peddling mediocre products to clients and to justify sky-high profits and bonuses.) The reality is that much of finance, when boiled down to its essence, is pretty intuitive, and one of my goals with this book is to demystify things for laypeople.”

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty