Friday, December 13, 2013

Philip Rivers, Not Peyton Manning, Should be 2013 NFL MVP

Philip Rivers and DJ Fluker - Courtesy of San Diego Chargers
Last night, the San Diego Chargers defeated the supposedly Super Bowl-bound Denver Broncos, 27-20, in a nationally televised beat down at
Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. In the one-sided game, Philip Rivers, the Chargers' untiring quarterback, outplayed presumptive league Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning, secured a Pro Bowl berth, and kept the Chargers in the playoff hunt. 

Rivers was flawless, again. And after reviewing this game and every game played by Denver and San Diego up to this point in the season, I submit that Rivers is the one who should be named league MVP - despite Manning's gaudy numbers, and especially if the Chargers finish at 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs.

Yeah, I know, Manning has been mostly great this year and Denver has a better record. Manning has 47 touchdown passes. But let's take a closer look at the numbers and other pertinent facts.
While Manning has far more offensive weapons with which to work, Rivers has played at an equally elite level all year without his two starting, towering wide receivers, Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd, both out for the year.

And while Manning has played all year behind an offensive line that ESPN recently said was the best in the NFL, Rivers has played all season with a patchwork offensive line that has suffered one injury after another after another.
While demonstrably improved over last season, the Chargers offensive front is now led by DJ Fluker, a rookie who will be a Pro Bowler. But not this year.

And while Denver has a lot of weapons on defense, including former Chargers pass-rusher Shaun Phillips and sack-master Von Miller, Rivers has played on a team this year that has had a mostly awful and unreliable defense -- though certainly not last night.

Manning has more touchdown passes this year, but Rivers has a higher completion percentage. Manning also has more interceptions than Rivers (10 to 9), and has far more fumbles lost than Rivers (6 to 1). And head-to-head, Rivers wins out. 

Manning has been throwing the ball this year to Demaryius Thomas, one of the league's elite wideouts, Wes Welker, a future Hall-of-Fame slot receiver, and Eric Decker, a proven veteran wideout. Rivers lost his two best wide receivers early and has been throwing all year to Keenan Allen, an overachieving third-round rookie, Eddie Royal, an often-hobbled veteran, and Vincent Brown, a somewhat disappointing second-year receiver. 

Here's the deal: Manning was given the keys this year to a Porsche Carrera GT, while Rivers was forced to drive a sporty economy car. And yet Philip has been every bit Manning's equal. None of the Chargers' seven disappointing losses this year can be hung on the good-natured, widely misunderstood quarterback, who's played one of the best seasons I've ever witnessed by a QB on a team without any superstars.

Well, yes, the Bolts still have Antonio Gates, but even the future Hall-of-Fame tight end has had an uncharacteristic number of key drops and fumbles this year. 

The Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer almost gets it. He suggests that while Manning will get all the awards at the end of the season - if not a Super Bowl ring - in terms of durability, productivity and efficiency, "Rivers has been No. 2 with a bullet in ‘13, and by no means is it a distant second."

In my view, he's not second: he should be MVP. No one means more to his team than Rivers means to the Chargers. Not even Manning, whose team is stacked with talent on both sides of the ball.

There are a few other quarterbacks who've had great years, too, including the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles, who only has one pic. He's been phenomenal since stepping in for Michael Vick, but he’s not played a full season. New Orleans’ Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the former Charger, should also be in the MVP conversation. But like Manning, he enjoys more offensive weapons than Rivers, a better ‘O’ line and a much-improved Saints’ defense.

Of course, the subtext of this rant is the fact that this has been a heartbreaking season for the Chargers, because this team has the potential to beat anyone. Beating the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver on the road are obviously huge accomplishments this year. But there are so many games the Bolts shoulda-coulda-woulda won. 

San Diego will miss the playoffs again this year unless the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins both lose two of their remaining three games and the Chargers win their last two. It's possible. It could happen. But the games San Diego really should have taken, especially the Dolphins game at Miami and the Redskins game at Washington, in which the Chargers had the ball on the one-yard line on first down and could not punch it in for the win, will haunt the team and its fans for a long time. 

Still, there is room for optimism for first-year Chargers head coach Mike McCoy -- largely because of the play of Rivers. And I'm not the only one who thinks he is having an even better year than Peyton. David Marber of Bolts from the Blue wrote a piece this week in which he suggests that football fans should appreciate both Manning and Rivers this season because "they're both elite players having career years simultaneously." 

A day after after Marber wrote that insightful passage, it proved prophetic: Rivers went out and outplayed Manning. Need we say more?  

If I had an MVP vote - and I don't - I'd give this one to Rivers, with Manning a close second. But because of all the media hype, groupthink mentality and "conventional wisdom" in professional sports, it won't happen. Even if San Diego does beat the odds and makes the playoffs.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks to Native American War Veterans This Thanksgiving

I've always loved Thanksgiving. That's not exactly a revelation, I know. But for me, the holiday is all about the Native Americans. Even as a young boy, I was far more curious what the American Indians were thinking about the Pilgrims during that historic feast than what the Pilgrims were thinking about the Indians. 

After all, the Indians were here first. The Pilgrims were the guests at this dinner, not the other way around.

The point of all this is to remind you that not only is this Thanksgiving week, it's also National Native American Heritage Month. And as we gather with our family and friends to give thanks, it would be nice for us to remember just how big a contribution Native Americans have made to our country. And, specifically, to our military.

According to statistics released this week by the Department of Veterans Affairs:
  • 14,000 American Indians fought in World War I.
  • 44,000 served in World War II, including code talkers from more than 30 tribes.
  • 10,000 served in Korea.
  • More than 80,000 served in Vietnam.
  • And 30,000 serve today in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

Just a couple of days after the 9/11 terrorist attack, I went with my wife and some friends to a concert at the Viejas Casino near San Diego to see the rock band Chicago. The casino is owned by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. 

America was still in a collective state of shock over the despicable act of cowardice against our country. But leave it to a stoic, charismatic Native American to put it all in perspective and remind us what's important.

Just before the concert started, one of the tribal leaders walked out on stage, and a big American flag was unfurled. The crowd went wild.

The tribal leader, whose name I have forgotten, stood there for several minutes just trying to gather his emotions. The crowd continued to cheer, and many of us were in tears. 

He then proceeded to give one of the most touching and patriotic speeches I have ever witnessed.

It never ceases to amaze me how much the native Americans I have met in my life love this country. It's a bit surprising given how atrociously their ancestors were treated.

I have never met a person in this country who does not feel some sense of regret for how the American Indians were treated throughout our history. But that has not stopped the American Indian population from proudly serving this country during all our wars.

A few days ago, the White House hosted the fifth annual Tribal Nations Conference, where tribal leaders engaged in government-to-government discussions with President Obama and senior officials from the administration regarding issues affecting Native Americans.

VA Secretary Shinseki addressed tribal leaders during the conference, and shared information about American Indians who have long served the country in every war of the last century. 

Stephanie Birdwell, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is the granddaughter of World War I and World War II veterans and the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran. She writes a poignant blog this week for VA in which she talks about her personal connection to the legacy of bravery and tenacity that Shinseki addressed at the conference. 

"Growing up," she writes, "I observed first-hand the challenges our veterans experience upon returning home from service. I remember my father accepted many late-night phone calls from the men he served with. They all shared experiences in combat that forged permanent bonds and relationships that would see them through not only their time in Vietnam but throughout their lives."

When the opportunity arose to help establish VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations, Birdwell notes, "It opened the door to combine two of my passions: Working collaboratively with tribes to achieve opportunities for Indian people and serving our nation’s heroes. Since then, our office has managed relationships between the VA and tribal governments across the country. We focus on implementing VA’s tribal consultation policy, promoting economic sustainability and facilitating increased access to care and benefits for veterans living in tribal communities."

Birdwell says these native American veterans include Senator and Northern Cheyenne Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal member PFC Charles George – both of whom served in Korea. George was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor; the VA medical center in Asheville, N.C. is named in his honor.

They also include Hopi Specialist Lori Piestewa, a 23-year-old mother of two who, Birdwell writes, was the first Native American woman to die in combat and the first American woman to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It's great to see VA reaching out to our Native Americans. But as I said, I'm a little biased. Most of my heroes in movies were the Indians, not the cowboys. 

What can I say? I'm a patriotic American, but in Kevin Costner's American epic "Dances With Wolves," I, like a lot of you, I suspect, rooted for the Indians, not the cowboys.

So this Thanksgiving, how about let's remember and give thanks to ALL who have served our country, including those who were here first!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

NFL Playoff Update: San Diego Chargers Are Still Alive... Barely

Chargers QB Philip Rivers - Courtesy of San Diego Chargers
Call me crazy - and I know some of you will - but the San Diego Chargers are still in the thick of the hunt for the second Wild Card playoff spot in the AFC. It's a long shot because of the Bolts' remaining schedule, the toughest in the NFL, but it could happen. 

It all starts, and perhaps ends, this weekend. San Diego has to win in Miami on Sunday. 

Here are the teams competing for that second Wild Card as of today:

New York Jets 5–4
Miami Dolphins 4-5
Cleveland Browns 4-5
Baltimore Ravens 4-5
San Diego Chargers 4-5

If the Chargers beat the Dolphins tomorrow, San Diego will of course pass Miami on this list. 

The Cleveland Browns will probably (if not certainly) lose to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. And the Baltimore Ravens could certainly lose to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Chicago. 

If all that happens, San Diego would be behind only the New York Jets, who will probably win at the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. But that isn't a given, either. Buffalo is a decent team at home.

If these games go as I expect and hope, the Chargers will be tied with or closely trailing only the Jets for the second AFC Wild Card spot by the end of the weekend. And then San Diego has to play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead. And at Denver.

It's a tough road, and San Diego's defense is giving up far too many yards and points. But with Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers back in Pro Bowl form, this team is capable. Inconsistent, but capable. 

If San Diego loses on Sunday, though, any hope of a playoff bid this season goes from slim to virtually none.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

We Need An Annual, All-Channel Telethon For Our Veterans

Temptations at Homeward Bound Telethon for veterans
Telethons have become a curious American institution. The biggest and most infamous one, of course, was the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, the kitschy, old-school show-biz affair that for five decades raised millions of dollars for muscular disease before Jerry inexplicably walked away in 2011. 

Well, just as Labor Day became synonymous with the Jerry Lewis telethon, I'd like to see Veterans Day become synonymous with a national telethon for veterans. It's a no brainer, right? And it should be broadcast on all of our 1,000-plus channels so we have no choice but to watch it, and support it. It’s the very least we can do for those who have served our country.

The telethon happening later today is a good start. Actors Alan Alda and J0e Mantegna will host Homeward Bound, a live, four-hour national telethon to support American veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Presented by Haven from the Storm and airing live to a nationwide audience on the Military Channel, the telethon will be broadcast from the historic American Legion Hall #43 in Hollywood from 7:00-11:00 PM (ET). 

The first two hours of the telethon will also air on Tribune's PIX11 (New York) from 7 - 9:00 PM ET; WGN (Chicago) from 10:30 PM - 12:30 AM (delayed)(CT); and on KTLA (Los Angeles) from 4 - 6:00 PM (PT). The telethon will be live-streamed on and rebroadcast on the Armed Forces Network on Monday.

Among the celebrities who will be appearing on the telethon tonight are Secretary of State John Kerry, Mark Harmon and the cast of NCIS, Alan Alda, Trace Adkins, Patti Austin, Jason Bateman, James Brolin, Napoleon and Tabitha D'Umo, Dr. Phil McGraw, Bette Midler, Kevin Spacey, Steve Tyrell, Ben Vereen and Henry Winkler. 

The telethon will also feature performances by The American Military Spouses ChoirCactus CrossingUnder The StreetlampGentleman's Rule and The Temptations Revue.

The broadcast will include testimonials and personal stories from veterans and their families who've experienced difficulties as they returned from the battlefronts of WW II, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

These include decorated war veterans Staff Sergeant Ty Carter (2013 Medal of Honor recipient) and Staff Sergeant Kyle Hausman-Stokes (Bronze Medal recipient); US Paralympic Medal Winner Marine LC Brandon Pelletier; actor/Navy SEAL Joel Lambert; Tuskegee Airman Lt. Bob Friend; Army Sergeant Tom Woods, Vietnam Vet Dannis Johnson, and others.

People magazine, for which I worked for many years, is teaming up with Homeward Bound because of the magazine's commitment to providing assistance to men and women who served in the military. A portion of the night's proceeds will go to one of People's charities, Operation Finally Home, which provides custom-built, mortgage free homes to America's heroes and the widows of the fallen who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and our way of life. 

Operation Finally Home brings together corporate sponsors, builder associations, builders, developers, individual contributors, and volunteers to help these veterans and their families transition to the home front by addressing one of their most pressing needs - a home to call their own. (

Other participating charities in this telethon include The American Red Cross, New York Presbyterian Hospital, One Mind 4 Research, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Here's hoping that tonight’s telethon plants the seed for a much larger annual Veterans Day tradition. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Reno Dispatch Wins Five Press Club Journalism Awards

There are so many talented journalists in my hometown, San Diego, which boasts one of the largest and finest Press Clubs in the nation. I was honored to be in their company this week and to have won eight San Diego Press Club awards at the club's annual gala.

I proudly won three first place awards for my work at Newsweek Daily Beast, including the top award for investigative reporting for my exclusive on the groundbreaking chemical weapons/Gulf War Illness lawsuit in Texas. It's a troubling story that still has not been resolved. It remains an open court case, and I will continue to stay on top of it.

And it's especially gratifying that the national news blog you are now reading, which I launched just a year ago, garnered five writing awards. My wife Gabriela kept telling me, "Jamie, if you build it (the news blog), they will come." As usual, she was right.

Thanks to all of you for being loyal readers of The Reno Dispatch. As long as you keep reading, I promise you I will keep writing.

Jamie Reno
November 1, 2013




Daily Newspaper or Website – Essay/Commentary/Opinion
"A Deafening Silence: Pope Benedict's Real Legacy"
The Reno Dispatch

Daily Newspaper or Website – Investigative Reporting
"Groundbreaking Gulf War Syndrome Lawsuit: Chemical Warfare's Lingering Fallout"
Newsweek Daily Beast

Daily Newspaper or Website - Business & Financial
"San Diego is Drone Town, USA" 
Newsweek Daily Beast 

Daily Newspaper or Website – Military
"Norman Schwarzkopf's Lionization Ignores a Dark Gulf Legacy"
Newsweek Daily Beast


Daily Newspaper or Website - Breaking News
"Exclusive: Scientists Link Gulf War Illness to Chemicals From U.S. Bombings"
The Reno Dispatch

Daily Newspaper or or Website – Health & Medicine
"America's Favorite Weed Killer Linked to Cancer"
The Reno Dispatch

Daily Newspaper or Website – Multicultural
"Only in America: A Civil Debate With My Muslim Friend"  
The Reno Dispatch

Daily Newspaper or Website – Travel
"Hotel California: The Rock & Roll Legacy of the Golden State's Inns"
The Reno Dispatch

Monday, October 28, 2013

Will Congress Let Tax Credit Expire For Employers Who Hire Veterans?

As I recently reported here, Congress is once again trying to give America's heroes the shaft. Congressional Republicans, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and some Democrats want to change how inflation is calculated by adopting a so-called “chained consumer price index," or Chained CPI. This would mean lower benefits for more than 3 million veterans, including those who were seriously wounded in combat. 

America's disabled veterans already face an insultingly small 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) next year - the smallest increase since these automatic adjustments were adopted nearly 40 years ago. 

As if all that weren’t enough of an insult, word from inside the Beltway is that the federal tax credit that offers companies real incentives to hire veterans is about to expire. And Congress has done nothing about it - at least not yet.

Back in 2011, President Obama proposed a "Returning Heroes Tax Credit" for companies that hire unemployed veterans. "Our companies need skilled workers like our veterans to grow, and there's no reason why we can't connect the two," he said at the time.

But the tax credit, which gives companies up to $9,600 for hiring a veteran, is set to expire at the end of the year. 

President Obama called for the credit to become permanent as part of his proposed 2014 budget. But as everyone is painfully aware, Congress hasn't passed a comprehensive budget since 2009. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), a former Marine, today announced his plans to introduce a bill in the next few weeks that extends the tax credit until the end of 2016.

The veteran unemployment rate has been on a roller coaster ride in the first four months of 2013, moving from 7.6% to 6.9% to 7.1% to 6.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

But the most significant and alarming fact is that unemployment among post-9/11 veterans was 10.1% in September, up from 10% in August and 9.7% the year prior, according to BLS.

The tax credit extension to companies who hire out-of-work veterans is a no-brainer. Congress needs to step up and meet its collective word to take care of our former warriors. I’ll be keeping a close eye on any member of Congress who opposes this much-needed legislation, and will name names.

And I suggest that pols on either side of the aisle who are trying to lower the already absurdly low cost-of-living benefits increase for our wounded warriors just step off. It’s a bad idea.

This all reminds me of a story I covered last year for The Daily Beast about a Senator who held up veterans' benefits in order to stage a cynical and lame political stunt. 

The then-unidentified pol, who I've since learned is Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, opted to place a secret hold, for months, on a routine bill for a COLA increase for military veterans and surviving spouses. 

My message to him and other members of Congress? Stop messing with America's heroes!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Laughter & Betrayal: Is Johnny Carson's New Biographer a Traitor?

Like many of you, I have a deep affection for Johnny Carson. My reverence for the television icon, who hosted The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992, dates back as far as I can remember. I was never too proud to beg my parents to let me stay up and watch his monologue, which always made me laugh even before I understood all the political and sexual references. 

As an Iowa boy with big dreams, I guess I saw a bit of myself in Johnny, who, like me, is from the Hawkeye State. Contrary to popular belief, Johnny wasn't born in Nebraska. He was born in a small Iowa town called Corning. He moved with his family to Nebraska at a young age. Johnny, who died in 2005, never lost his Midwestern sensibility. But he was a complex man. 

A fascinating hybrid of urbane and homespun, he was not a phony. But he was difficult. Reliably charming and quick-witted, Johnny could be very kind, at least when he was sober. And his undeniably large ego never prevented him from letting his guests shine. There was goodness and decency in him. But as many have pointed out over the years, and which Johnny never denied, the man had his demons. Johnny had a fiery temper and was at times emotionally unavailable. He could even be cruel if he felt he was being crossed. 

A comedic genius who creatively emulated all his comedy heroes - Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason - Johnny was a solitary soul who was prone to cynicism. A bit of a fatalist, he never seemed entirely comfortable in his own skin. And according to numerous accounts, he sadly never got the love and recognition he craved from his cold-hearted mother.

Which brings me to the latest biography of Johnny, which I've just finished reading. Presumptuously titled Johnny Carson, the book was written by Henry Bushkin, Johnny's longtime attorney and allegedly close friend. Loyal Carson fans will recall that Bushkin was often hilariously referenced in Johnny's nightly monologues as "Bombastic Bushkin." But after reading this book, let me suggest that "Traitor Bushkin" or "Turncoat Bushkin" would be a better nickname.

Bushkin's book is somewhat well crafted and often compelling. But it is utterly devoid of shame or conscience. 

Bushkin says that Johnny once told him after a drunken confessional, “You must never, ever repeat a word from last night." To which Bushkin responded, “I would lose my license if during your lifetime I repeated it to a soul.”

But apparently after your client and friend dies, all bets are off. Loyalty ends at the funeral parlor - at least for Bombastic Bushkin.

Here's the rub: Carson fired Bushkin after two decades of service. So this book stinks of revenge. Henry's just getting even. But they were never "even." Carson was a gifted and beloved entertainer; Bushkin is just a lawyer who made a ton of money working for Johnny and now stands to make even more.

He is a pretty good writer – assuming, which I probably shouldn't, that Henry didn't have lots of help. The book is hard to put down. That is, it's hard to stop reading. I can easily "put it down" for being a shameful betrayal of a friend.

Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the book tells us all the things about Carson that we already knew. With new details, yes, but nothing all that revelatory.  

Did Johnny have a drinking problem early in his career and could he be a mean, nasty drunk? Yes. We already knew that. Did he have a very difficult time warming up to people  and was he, for the most part, a wildly ambitious and almost pathologically private man with few real friends? Yep. We knew that, too. Did Johnny often carry a gun in his car? Yes. Knew it. Did he have deep-seated issues with women and was he unfaithful? Again, yes and yes. Tell me something we don't know, Henry. Please.

It's ironic, or perhaps not, that Bushkin, one of the few people Johnny genuinely trusted after attaining great wealth and fame, would turn around and betray Johnny's trust so completely. I guess Johnny's often distrusting nature was justified after all. 

Lawyer and author Henry Bushkin
Obviously Bushkin is deeply conflicted. But when he suggests that Johnny, who was a big fan of honesty, would appreciate this book, he fools himself and offends me.

In the book's final chapter, Bushkin writes, "I do like to think that he (Johhny) would have been happy with this book. I've tried to show him in all his complexity; in his huge talent and great vivacity, and with his tremendous appeal and charisma and sense of fun, and also with his failures and shortcomings and even cruelties. A man so suspicious of flattery and sentimentality might have appreciated my attempt to paint an accurate portrait of the most thrilling, fun, frustrating and mysterious relationship of my life - a portrait of a man I loved."

If this is love, I'd hate to know what Bushkin would write about someone he hates. As I read this book, I kept envisioning Johnny looking down on Henry's epic betrayal and just shaking his head in disbelief and disappointment. 

But there is at least one man who worked with Johnny every night who is still around to respond to Bushkin's trashy tome. Doc Severinsen, the legendary trumpet player and longtime bandleader on The Tonight Show, told The Buffalo News on Saturday that Bushkin became estranged from Johnny after he accused Bushkin of negligence and malpractice.

Doc Severinsen
“I didn’t have any personal problems with him except it seems that he was released from Johnny’s employ over a matter to do with some questionable behavior,” Severinsen said. “There may have been an agreement, something like ‘Sign this paper and go away.’ I have no business going beyond that.”

He added, “I feel he might be desperate for money or something, or someone said to him, ‘Did you work with Carson? You did? Why don’t you write about it in a book?’ That says it all.”

I don't know the details behind Johnny's decision to fire Bushkin. But Severinsen said Johnny was "a good boss because he was a fair boss. He didn’t snoop in there about what you were doing. If you repeatedly did something that he didn’t feel was right, he’d call you in and talk about it. He was fair. He was very fair, and he knew everything that was going on. As Henry Bushkin found out.”