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Fifteen Months into NFL boycott, Life Continues Remarkably Unchanged…

So, I hear the Patriots are no longer unbeaten. I gather the NFL has deigned to grant Colin Kapaernick an audience — and Antonio Brown is officially old news? I know the basic outlines of this stuff despite the fact that, for the second season running, I’m abstaining from football. I’m not reading anything on the subject, not watching NFL games, nor college games (which barely register in my Yankee world), or even Patriots games on TV. I’ve found it instructive that a conscientious objector like myself need not actively follow the nation’s most popular sport in order to know with whom Josh Gordon has latched on, who’s been accused of sexual assault, and which guys should probably activate in your fantasy league this week. That’s one of the big take-aways here: The NFL is so dominant in our culture that one is effectively buffeted by news of all this stuff, non-stop, via the dribs and drabs of interpersonal conversations, serial web impressions and daily newspaper headlines (the one made of real paper), whether one wants to be or not. Love it or hate it, such is the NFL’s omnipresence in 2019: Americans routinely absorb its competitive results and attendant news/outrages almost by osmosis.

It’s difficult for me to profess, definitively, that I had ever come to dislike the NFL or football in general. Indeed, that’s part of the problem: I quite like it — as exhibited by my 40-plus years of fandom and three decades as a sports writer, including multiple essays published in this space (see here and here) and elsewhere. But the arguments for opting out of the NFL just kept stacking up, like the arguments against smoking — or those advocating more cardiovascular exercise. Or flossing. The smoking example is best: NFL fandom was something that undeniably amused me but was pretty obviously bad for me.

I was riding in a Lyft down in Philadelphia a couple months back when the middle-aged driver and I mused for a time about the Sox-Phillies series then taking place at Citizens Park. We quickly moved on to Celtics-Sixers before taking on the inevitable: the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots in February 2018. A great game, despite the result, I admitted. But when he asked what I thought about Antonio Brown, or how long I thought Tom Brady might keep playing, I explained that I’d checked out of football starting the year before. He appeared sorta dumbfounded by this and asked me why. It wasn’t a long ride-share we’d ordered; my wife and daughter were in the backseat. I provided him only a slap-dash explanation. For you, dear reader, a complete set of well wrought justifications appears below.

Taken together, they make it ever more clear — to me, for me — that football generally and the NFL in particular were bad for me, like trans-fats. Or cocaine during the 1980s. Or fascism any ol’ time. But the NFL (and college football, it must be said) are frankly worse because trans-fats, for example, don’t seep unbidden into one’s body or consciousness via the culture at large, beguiling conscientious objectors and devotees alike with the same prurient, mass-produced id-candy.

Please believe me when I tell you this essay is not an exercise in virtue signaling. Like someone who stops drinking for the month of January, or perhaps indefinitely, I found it edifying to write this stuff down — to better process and perhaps defend (to myself) the quality of the decision-making involved. So, in no particular order of importance, let it be known that I’ve sworn off the NFL because:

1) It can kill you apparently. Not everyone who plays NFL football (or college football, or high school football) develops CTE-induced aphasia and dies, of course. But enough of them have, and enough exhibit these debilitating cognitive effects in the long term to make a compelling adverse case. Roman gladiators may have been the all-pro middle linebackers of their time, but eventually they were born from the arena in pieces. Free will allows anyone the license to play that game, but I’m free to opt out that sort of spectacle… How parents can allow their children to play the game, knowing what we now know, I truly do not understand. Create for yourself a Google alert for “High School Football Spinal Cord and Head Injuries” and witness the sickening news trickle in each Friday night, often via the live-Tweets of sportswriters who witness yet another ambulance on the field, under the klieg lights of small town America. It’s no shock to learn participation is falling across the country. I predict that, in 20 years, no public high school in the nation will have 11-man, tackle football teams, because no public school system will have the money to cover the liability insurance. Kids will continue to play football, or course, but only via private clubs. Like Rollerball.

2) The professional game would appear to be administered by fascists. Americans don’t understand (or refuse to recognize) what fascism is: the merging of state and corporate power into a single, hyper nationalist, corporate authoritarianism. The NFL’s 32 owners are certainly rich men in their own right, but they aspire to a higher, oligarchical power and prestige. They don’t covet these teams in order to gain entry into some prestigious boys club. They want access to the government/corporate apparatus that literally prints the money. To complete the picture, just watch a game on TV: 15 minutes of action surrounded by 3 hours and 45 minutes of commercials. Attend one of these games: The combatants stand around for an extraordinary amount of time just waiting for those television commercials to subside. That should tell you right there how much the competitive pales beside corporate… One of those all-powerful “corporate” partners is the U.S. military itself, our federal government. Who do you suppose provides the flyovers and dresses coaching staffs in various shades of camo, to subtly hype and recruit Americans for its volunteer armed forces? Indeed, this partnership was in place a decade before anyone realized it was a paid, client relationship, however symbiotic. Observe the Kaepernick situation. In February, he settled a grievance against the league that accused teams of colluding to keep the QB out of the NFL on account of his protests during the 2016 season. More to the point, remember that his kneeling was, quite openly and clearly, a protest of police brutality toward people of color. The league somehow spun this as an attack on the flag, the league, its corporate partners, our troops, God, on America itself. So far as the NFL is concerned, they are all one and the same.

3) Few American pursuits operate on the basis of such misplaced “manhood”. I sensed this when I was 8 years old and the situation has hardly improved since. We were again witness to this toxic state of affairs, in August, when Colts quarterback Andrew Luck opted to retire rather than deal with yet another injury/recovery process (merely implied was the regimen of drugs and steroids team staffs routinely deploy to speed along recovery and mask injury). In other lines of work we’d applaud a guy who had made his money and opted to “spend more time with family”. Instead Luck was pilloried for lacking toughness and not loving his team enough. This is happening more and more, of course, because while it pays quite well, football can maim you, or rob you of cognitive function, or kill you outright. The retirement of Vontae Davis a couple years ago hit home with me. He walked away from $4 million and it was like he’d beaten up his girlfriend or something. Wait! Bad example (see rampant misogyny below). Rather, it was like Davis had committed a hit-and-run. “This is a joke, you don’t quit,” said former coach/extant cartoon Rex Ryan. Another ESPN commentator, Damien Woody, added, “There is nothing funny about this. My blood is boiling. I want to fight this guy right now.” His teammate Rafael Bush: “I think I did lose a little respect for him as a man.” Manhood in the NFL is essentially defined by a willingness to get hurt and hurt others. Opting out of that makes you a pussy. Why would anyone with any sense choose to patronize anything like that?

4) The companion sociopathy to toxic masculinity is misogyny and the NFL has raised the latter to high art. With apologies to at least one niece who was well into cheerleading (and several others who participated in such things as high schoolers, including my wife), there’s something objectively creepy and reductive about it generally. I felt this way before I showed up at boho Wesleyan and got familiar with the patriarchy. On the most basic level, we must ask why girls are expected to cheer for boys but not the other way around (so binary!). And, while we’re on the subject, why must they do so in push-up bikinis? As per usual, the NFL has managed to magnify the phenomenon and utterly pervert it — into something grotesque, something that exceeds mere objectification. For years I’ve been reading about how little, in return for this creepy exhibitionism, NFL cheerleading squads are paid by their fabulously profitable employers. Only in the last couple years has it become clear the extent to which these women are exploited — expected to do team events without pay, for example; punished and/or fired for fraternizing with players (while players are not held to the same rules/standards). I could deal with the sexualized nature of their outfits and routines; to an extent I could swallow the questionable work conditions, which participants presumably chose of their own free will. What truly galled me and put me over the edge, however, was this story about how would-be cheerleaders who failed to make the Redskins squad were offered the opportunity to preserve their chances of joining next year’s squad by joining a sort of auxiliary, whose duties included tarting themselves up and flirting with high-rolling patrons in the skyboxes. To believe this practice was or remains restricted to Washington’s NFL franchise would be pretty naïve…

5) From a labor perspective, NFL brass have so brought the players’ union to heel that in this, the nation’s most lucrative sport, the individuals who create the spectacle itself have next to no power. Despite creating the most revenue and experiencing the shortest careers, theirs is the worst contract security among major American athletes; hockey players (many of whom are Canadian or European) have better access to guaranteed contracts, to say nothing of professional baseball and basketball players. While rampant militarism permeates the league and helps explains (alongside mere paternalism and racism) the extended blackballing of Kaepernick, his remains a labor issue at its core. On this, in America, we should be able agree: No employer has the right to tell an employee how to voice his or her political beliefs (do those who possess a right to work also possess a right to belief?). Neither does that employer have the legal right to collude with purported competitors to bar that person from employment on account of those beliefs. The NFL does both routinely. Special mention must be reserved here for college football, a farm system for which NFL franchises are not obliged to fund. Of course, in nearly every respect discussed here, the college game outpaces the NFL in terms of unconscionable behavior. “Student/athletes” create the college football product, too; they aren’t paid at all. Meanwhile, in many states, the head football coaches at state universities are the highest paid public employees in those states.

6) I never thought I’d say this, much less feel it so clearly, but the Patriots’ 20-year run of otherworldly, ungodly form has taken another chunk of the fun out of football-watching, for me anyway. The Patriots were terrible for decades, as any New Englander knows. For us fans, their all-too infrequent glimmers of contention (1976-78, 1985-86, 1996) were nothing less than thrilling. Well, that particular thrill is gone. In the 21st century, without fail, they go 12-4, win the AFC East and play for a chance to go to the Super Bowl — each and every year. Ho fucking hum. Is it Brady we should thank for this unprecedented, ultimately mind-numbing success? Is it Belichik? I tend to believe the latter and not because we are fellow Wesleyan Cardinals. Remember 2009, the year Brady got hurt? They went 11-5 with Matt Cassell at quarterback. But it really doesn’t matter who gets the credit. Sports are compelling because we don’t know what’s going to happen. With the Patriots in the 21st century, that suspense has been essentially removed from week to week.

Here’s the awkward thing (and mark this down as Reason #3,489 why American football fans hate New Englanders with the heat of 3,490 suns): The Pats, who once filled us with shame and self-loathing, have become a massive source of social and civic engagement. Where I live, here in Maine, people throw game parties where men and women alike don replica jerseys and eat snacks. These events are highly inclusive, communitarian, almost weekly affairs. It’s hard to find fault with them on any level. Indeed, it would be churlish to refuse invitations to this sort good natured revelry. So, while I am abstaining from the NFL, I did watch last year’s Super Bowl, for example — a terrible bore of a game, if we’re being honest. I attended a cocktail party last January, at a Florida golf resort, where the Pats-Chiefs AFC Championship game played soundlessly on massive flat-screen. That game was unbelievable, about the best riposte the NFL could possibly muster to someone like me (if we look past the fact that grandfatherly Pats owner/oligarch Bob Kraft flew to Kansas City directly from a Florida massage parlor). The Patriots have become such a civic/social institution in Maine that it’s honestly impossible to avoid them, even if one wishes to. In October, a friend invited himself over to my place after we finished music practice nearby. “Wait,” he caught himself, “you’re not watching football anymore…” Oh, come on over, I said reassuringly. Hewing to principle in such a case makes no sense at all. I’m not avoiding the NFL (or writing this essay) to signal any virtue. I’m not boycotting products made with slave labor after all (not technically). It’s just a football game… Of course, the Pats beat up on the Jets so thoroughly and unmercifully that Monday night, we switched it off and watched preseason basketball instead.

Hello, World. Welcome back to The Middle Kingdom

There’s a reason China has long referred to itself as The Middle Kingdom, and Daryl Morey, the NBA and frankly much of Western Civilization is beginning to understand why.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Morey is the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets and, until last week, he was known primarily as one of the league’s most savvy operators, an early, successful adopter of advanced hoop metrics and a keen, innovative judge of talent in a league turning inside-out (read: the NBA’s new, stat-backed reliance on 3-point shooting). He’s also politically aware, apparently, something he exhibited last Friday when he tweeted his support of Hong Kong protesters in their running battle with China’s central government. “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” he wrote.

Well, with that seemingly innocuous digital bromide (the political equivalent of “Boston Strong”), Morey has pissed off that central government, in Beijing. In the process, he may have inadvertently clued much of America into the fact that the unilateral, post-Cold War Era is over.

Morey has since taken the Tweet down but he, the Rockets and the NBA have reaped the 21st century whirlwind.

In response, the Chinese Central Government has announced that Rockets games will no longer be broadcast by Chinese state TV or partner Tencent, which recently agreed to a $1.5-billion deal with the NBA to stream games in China. Last year, some 600 million Chinese watched an NBA game in this fashion. The Rockets themselves just happen to have been the most popular team in the country — mainly because Yao Ming, China’s most successful NBA product, played his entire career in Houston. Today Yao is head of the Chinese Basketball Association. On Monday he severed the CBA’s relationship with his former team.

What we see here is an illustration of why China is known to itself (and to every other historical culture in Asia) as the Middle Kingdom. China so named itself circa 1,000 BCE, when the reigning Chou people, unaware of advanced civilizations in the West, believed their empire occupied the middle of the Earth, surrounded by unsophisticated barbarians.

For the ensuing 3,000 years China has indeed been the center of the universe in Asia, such has it dominated economic and cultural affairs in this region — in a way that has no European, African, Middle Eastern, South or North American analogue really. In Asia, over this long arc of history, China’s military whims were routinely indulged. Its culture effortlessly spilled over into countless neighboring nations. Its outsized market (always a function of its outsized population) routinely bent foreign states to Chinese will.

North Americas and Europeans have a difficult time grasping this concept — the enormity of China’s power — because recent history doesn’t bear this primacy out. Starting in the mid 1800s (when the English first acquired Hong Kong and its holdings in the Pearl River Delta) and ending with Mao’s victory over nationalist forces in 1949, China was something of a geopolitical and economic pushover.

Here’s the way I’ve always thought of it: China just had a bad century. The Chinese call it a “Century of Humiliation”… But one or two bad centuries in 30 isn’t such a terrible batting average and, in any case, that blip is over. Its recent “rise” is merely a reinstatement of a longstanding status quo.

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NC Legislature Earns ‘Commendation’ for Self-Hating Political Mendacity

The term Jim Crow is rightly loaded down with racial connotations, but it’s important to recognize that, at its core, Jim Crow was a political system. Yes, a central byproduct was a social system that consigned black folk to second/third class citizenship. But this social construct was enabled and perpetuated by overarching political power. At its elemental core, Jim Crow was a system of voter suppression and nullification that allowed a political minority of white southerners to wield unchecked political power and maintain a culture of white supremacy in their respective states — not merely election to election but for a period of some 100 years.

With this in mind and the November elections behind us (pending a few recounts and lawsuits — you were always a rank choice, Bruce), Republican-controlled legislatures today are busy trying to similarly subvert the will of voting majorities while they still can, however they can. Accordingly, it’s high time we bestowed the next Harris Nightmare Award (HNA) for nakedly self-hating political mendacity.

Our choice for the 2018 post-electoral HNA: The GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature, which, in the face of U.S. Circuit Court rebukes and the failure of state and federal investigations to identify meaningful in-person voter fraud, have succeeded in amending the state constitution to permanently suppress the vote via strict voter ID requirements.

This effort alone would not distinguish the NC legislature from dozens of other Republican-controlled bodies across the nation, but for the fact that November’s election in North Carolina did manifest what appears to actual voter fraud — of a kind that 1) the newly ratified amendment would not begin to address; and 2) appears to have been perpetrated entirely by consultants directly employed by Republican Mark Harris, a U.S. Congressional candidate whose razor-thin victory over opponent Dan McCready was apparently enabled by brazenly illegal efforts centered on absentee ballot vote suppression.

Republicans generally and the North Carolina legislature in particular have cited rampant in-person voter fraud as foundational to their arguments for requiring photo ID. There’s still vanishingly little evidence of such fraud; these claims are rhetorical cover for efforts (in the shameful tradition of Jim Crow) to hold down or nullify the votes of Democrats and independents.

But lo and behold, we’ve finally identified actual voter fraud and it’s specific to NC Republicans themselves!

In a striking note of bipartisan resistance, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement — a body comprising four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent — has unanimously voted to postpone certification of the Harris election (which he won by 905 votes) pending an evidentiary hearing scheduled for Dec. 21, 2018.

Named for Dr. Thomas Harris, author of the 1969 pop-psychology treatise I’m OK—You’re OK, The Harris Nightmare Awards call out the cynical, pre-emptively tit-for-tat nihilism that has informed Republican politics since the mid-1990s. In the Age of Trump, this phenomenon has been raised to high art. Hence the need for suitable commendations, like the HNAs.

Most folks will be familiar with the title of Harris’ book, which refers to an optimal state of human relations, one that most of us do indeed strive day-to-day to achieve. “Treat they neighbor as thyself” predates the good doctor’s coinage, but they go together: For one cannot hope to treat his/her neighbor well if, to begin with, one does not possess a decent, ultimately edifying sense of self-worth.

There are two more middling, less healthy states that Harris used to describe people suffering from undue superiority (I’m OK—You’re Not OK) and undue inferiority (I’m Not OK—You’re OK).

It is the fourth state, I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK, that is generally reserved for inveterate grumps and outright sociopaths. Go here for a more lengthy treatment of why this phrase so cogently describes today’s GOP and the media apparatus that supports it. In short, right wing media have decided there is more to gain politically, in the long run, by asserting the rampant political motivation and outright fakery of all media. By doing so, they stake out their own position and self-worth quite clearly: “We’re fake; they must be fake.” Or even, “We’re fake because they’re fake.”

I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.

But this phenomenon extends well beyond right-wing media circles. Hence the need for the Harris Nightmare Awards, our humble attempt to shame the unshameable.

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I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK: Walker Earns Inaugural Harris Award for Political Nihilism

With this communication, we introduce and inaugurate the random presentation of the Harris Nightmare Awards (HNAs). Named for Dr. Thomas Harris, author of the 1969 pop-psychology treatise I’m OK—You’re OK, The HNAs will henceforth call out the cynical, pre-emptively tit-for-tat nihilism that has informed Republican politics since Newt Gingrich executed his hostile take-over of the party in the mid-1990s. In the Age of Trump, this phenomenon has been raised to high art. Hence the need for suitable commendations.

Most folks will be familiar with the title of Harris’ book, which refers to an optimal state of human relations, one that most of us do indeed strive day to day to achieve. “Treat they neighbor as thyself” predates the good doctor’s coinage, but they go together: For one cannot hope to treat his/her neighbor well if, to begin with, one does not possess a decent, ultimately edifying sense of self-worth.

There are two more middling, less healthy states that Harris used to describe people suffering from undue superiority (I’m OK—You’re Not OK) and undue inferiority (I’m Not OK—You’re OK).

It is the fourth state, I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK, that is generally reserved for inveterate grumps and outright sociopaths. Go here for a more lengthy treatment of why this phrase so cogently describes today’s GOP and the media apparatus that supports it. In short, right wing media have decided there is more to gain politically, in the long run, by asserting the rampant political motivation and outright fakery of all media. By doing so, they stake out their own position and self-worth quite clearly: “We’re fake; they must be fake.” Or even, “We’re fake because they’re fake.”

I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.

But this phenomenon extends well beyond right-wing media circles. Hence our need for the Harris Nightmare Awards, whose first designee is the inimitable Scott Walker, inert presidential candidate from 2016 and two-term governor of Wisconsin now running for a third term. His opponent this fall will be former state superintendent of schools, a Democrat named Tony Evers. Walker remains unfazed.

“I’m not worried about who runs for governor on the Democrat side,” he told a group of followers in Reedsburg earlier this month. “Because they’re all about the same, they’re all just as liberal as the others. What I worry about are outside groups—names like Barack Obama, and Eric Holder’s group, people like Tom Steyer and George Soros, the billionaires from outside the state who are dropping millions of dollars in the state.”

Behold, our first but oh-so worthy HNA designee (because politicking this nihilistic produces no “winners”).

To call Walker’s opposition to out-of-state political spending “highly ironic” would be to spectacularly understate the matter. Since his first run for governor in 2009, Walker has been the pet project of billionaire libertarian donors Charles and David Koch, whose views on campaign-finance laws, among other things, Walker has dutifully promoted with legislation in Wisconsin — for a price. They don’t live in Wisconsin. Since 2009, the Koch’s very own “outside group”, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), has backed Walker’s three runs (he prevailed in a recall election back in 2012) to the tune of untold millions — untold because in our post-Citizens United era (another AFP pet project), we don’t have any idea how much AFP actually provided.

We do know how much the 2018 campaigns of Walker and Evers have spent so far: Outlays on the Republican side since the primary are about $5.4 million compared with roughly $2.2 million for Democrats. The Republican Governors Association (by definition an “outside group”) has reserved $5.7 million in TV ads for the final two months of the race while the Democratic Governors Association (yet another) has booked another $3.8 million. Americans for Prosperity on Tuesday announced a $1.8 million television and digital ad buy.

In Walker’s warning of “outside groups” unduly influencing Wisconsin elections, we see the longstanding, one-sided dynamic that produced the HNAs — one where right-wingers just assume left-wingers operate as mendaciously as they do, as utter movement soldiers. This attempt at immoral equivalence doesn’t wash, has never washed, but has nevertheless informed right-wing charges of left-wing mendacity in the context of campaign spending, gun-control, media bias, labor law and dozens more realms. It stems from this basic tenet, held on the right: Some right winger in a position to favor or otherwise advance a right-wing cause will surely do so, will do whatever it takes — in large part because he/she reasons, cynically and inaccurately, that counterpart left-leaning types are already operating on the same mendacious level.

I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.

Until last month, no poll had ever shown Walker trailing a declared Democratic opponent by more than a few points in any of his 3-plus gubernatorial races. NBC/Marist released a poll in July showing Evers ahead of Walker by 13 points. Another poll, from Emerson College, had Evers ahead by 7.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Stand up, Badgers sing!

Right-Wing Media Mantra: I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK

Since the early 1990s, when Newt Gingrich and his para-parliamentary faction initiated its take-over of the Republican Party, I’ve struggled to describe (or identify a lucid framework to help me articulate) what sort of pathology had infected the GOP, its rhetoric, and its attitude toward the liberal left, national media, and our government itself.

With help from the Washington Post and Project Veritas, I think we’ve finally stumbled upon the words to describe this larger framework: I’m Not OK — You’re Not OK.

Refugees from the 1970s will perhaps recognize this reference to Thomas Harris’ 1969 pop-psychology treatise, “I’m Ok — You’re Ok”, whose title refers to an optimal state of human relations, one that most of us do indeed strive day to day to achieve. “Treat they neighbor as thyself” predates Harris’ coinage, but they go together: One cannot hope to treat his/her neighbor well if, to begin with, one doesn’t have a decent, ultimately edifying sense of self-worth.

There are two more middling, less healthy states that Harris used to describe people suffering from undue superiority (I’m OK — You’re Not OK) and undue inferiority (I’m Not OK — You’re OK).

It is the fourth state, I’m Not OK — You’re Not OK, that is generally reserved for inveterate grumps and outright sociopaths. Let me describe why this phrase so cogently describes today’s GOP and the media apparatus that support it.

By now the failed failed frame-up of the Washington Post in November 2017 whereby a right-wing “media watchdog” group, Project Veritas, was caught red-handed trying to feed the newspaper a false story re. Alabama candidate for U.S. Senate, Roy Moore — qualifies as old news. The intent of the unabashed dirty tricksters at Project Veritas (PV) is undisputed: WaPo — which had led the reporting on Moore’s sordid, cradle-robbing past — would knowingly publish the fake story; Project Veritas would call out the paper for its lack of reporting acumen borne of liberal bias; the newspaper would then be discredited in the narrow context of any further reporting on the Alabama U.S. Senate race, but also in the broader context of all its political reporting.

The whole thing backfired, of course; WaPo’s reporting process (a fact-based process) proved to be anything but the partisan exercise PV would like to have alleged.

But PV’s strategic thinking here is yet another example of a longstanding dynamic — one where right-wingers just assume left-wingers operate as mendaciously as they do, as utter movement soldiers. This attempt at equivalence doesn’t wash, has never washed, as the WaPo example and hundreds more would capably illustrate. But the underlying rationale behind this behavior and attitude from the right, this I’m Not OK — You’re Not OK sociopathy, has nevertheless informed right-wing charges of left-wing media bias for 30 years. It stems from this basic tenet, held on the right: Some right winger in a position to tilt media coverage (to favor or otherwise advance the right) surely will do so — in large part because he/she alleges counterpart, left-leaning media types are operating on the same mendacious level.

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What the Willfully Blind Fail to See, Working Just Fine, All Around Us

Can we please stop talking about Bernie Sanders’ policy suggestions as if he were by some kind of unhinged fantasist? Sanders recently introduced to the Senate a bill that would expand Medicare to include citizens under 65 years of age — and you’d have thought he proposed changing water into wine. Hey, obstinate right-wingers: What Bernie has proposed is more or less the working model for the existing healthcare systems now operating in every industrialized nation on earth — that is, every one but the United States. What’s more, as the facts relay (in spite of reflexive carping from actual fantasists, those of the Randian variety), nearly every one of those socialized systems delivers health care for less cost per citizen than the system we Americans currently deploy (the ACA) and the largely private one it replaced.

Sanders’ call for “free public college tuition for all” during the 2016 campaign also elicited no small amount of tittering from observers on both the right and left — despite the fact that, as recently as the late 1970s, the U.S. itself offered public higher education for close to nothing. Let’s first examine what Bernie actually said: free PUBLIC college tuition (no one, including Sanders, is suggesting we subsidize anyone’s matriculation at private institutions). Second, we already offer free primary and secondary education as a matter of course; in terms of prepping workers and citizens for lifelong utility (to the culture, to the economy) why should college be any different? Last, check the stats: The average annual in-state public university room, board and tuition in 1977 — $2,067. That’s not “free”, but even when inflation is accounted for, that is highly affordable (the average price of a new car in 1977 was $5,813). More to the point, that was a four-year education debt load of some $8,200, a sum any college-educated student could expect to chip away at quite substantially — over their summers! It’s certainly nothing like the crushing debt load graduates encounter today. Why the discrepancy? Because we subsidized (read: socialized the cost of) public colleges to a far greater extent not just in the 1970s but throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. This was not some government decision, mind you; we THE PEOPLE decided it was worthwhile to make higher education attainable and affordable. Starting with the Reagan administration, fewer and fewer people saw the value in socializing the cost of higher education. Bit by bit, that socialization was dismantled and/or reduced, to the point where today the average annual room, board and tuition cost for the public, in-state college student is $20,090.

I’ll be honest: Maybe it’s my somewhat watered down but still vaguely Mediterranean complexion, but I never felt the Bern to any great extent. At 76, he was and remains too old to have been a viable two-term president. He fixates on certain issues to the exclusion of others — which is what senators do, a role that suits him. I’m not sure he plays particularly well with others, a trait we can see the value of today. He looks and sounds way too much like Larry David. And his carping at the Democratic National Committee seemed to me churlish and misplaced. [Of course the DNC favored HRC; she was a Democrat after all and Bernie wasn’t. Lest we forget, political parties in this country are private organizations. I don’t see why the DNC is obliged allow anyone who isn’t registered with the party to seek that party’s nomination. If an independent candidate like Bernie is allowed to compete for delegates, he should not be surprised when establishment Dems bend the rules to favor one of their own.]

But I’ll say this, god bless the man. For the entirety of my life — for the entire post-WWII era — the mere inkling of anything nominally socialist here in America was met with howls of derision and irrational fear-mongering (thanks, Russia). The mere existence of Bernie (and his policy proposals) have gone a long way toward demystifying the term and curing our nation of this impractical, hypocritical phobia — because we already socialize all sorts of costs and risks in this country: schools, highway construction/upkeep, libraries, congressional and veterans’ health care, Social Security, all branches of the military, police and fire departments, the court system, the Centers for Disease Control, public transportation and yes, even PBS. Socialized medicine and low-cost, subsidized public higher education are not fantasies. Variations on these specific themes are functioning to great effect in the real world, all around the world, even here in America once upon a time. Which is more than we can say for trickle-down economics and its fanciful enabler, the Laffer Curve.

Take your political temp with an awesome new game!

 

Neo-Hegelian idealist philosopher, educator and fascist Giovanni Gentile. It was he, not Mussolini, who explained, “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

Hey, Kids! Time to play a fun and revealing new game we’re calling, “You Might Be a Fascist!” Follow along and respond. If you’re not careful, you may learn something about yourself before we’re done (!).

Here we go. Complete this statement with candor: When Hillary Clinton conceded the election on Nov. 9, 2016, did you think her speech and the tone of that speech…

  1. Displayed respect for our country’s centuries-old traditions re. the peaceful, orderly succession of power?
  2. Stood in contrast to the concession speech her opponent would not commit to making had the tables been turned (“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.”)?
  3. Didn’t impress me one way or another?
  4. Revealed her to be weak?

If you answered 4, you MIGHT be a fascist!

Here’s another one: When then president-elect Trump claimed on Twitter that, contrary to all demonstrable evidence, he actually won the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally for his opponent, your gut reaction was:

  1. Authoritarians typically exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy, for the deeper objective is to weaken democratic institutions that invariably limit their power.
  2. Actively eroding confidence in voting and elections (to say nothing of representative bodies and establishment media) gives would-be authoritarians a freer hand to wield power.
  3. Hell yeah! And that bitch was clearly behind all that voter fraud — and the child sex ring, plus all those murders. Lock her up before she kills again.

That’s right, if you answered 3, you’re almost certainly a fascist. (You’re getting really good at this! To think that only 15 months ago, you fancied yourself a mere Libertarian!)

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Published Letters and Iberian Slang

A bit of housecleaning here at halphillips.net: First, I coined a useful, new word a while back. See below and feel free to deploy as part of your common parlance going forward:

Smoor n. archaic, 13th century Iberian slang for a mixed-race resident of Andalusia during the Muslim occupation of what is now modern Spain; one of mixed parentage with chocolate-, graham cracker-, or, less frequently, golden marshmallow-colored skin; one who stands to be roasted over an open fire for this crime of miscegenation.

•••

Next, I had a couple letters to the editor printed this spring in the Portland Press-Herald, not technically my “local” paper (those have folded) but published only 20 miles south and still the largest daily in Maine. See below, and if you want to check out the comments, visit here (you’ll find a pretty typical right-left troll exchange therein).

To the editor:

In this day and age of reckless, willfully obtuse, anti-government bloviation, it’s important to be clear about how/why government functions as it does, why it’s rarely “perfect”, but why it is nevertheless worth defending and maintaining. Today’s case in point: Kevin Miller’s April 25 story re. L.D. 1379, which would allow the Dept. of Marine Resources to more actively police (via GPS) disputed fishing boundaries. I’m no lobsterman. I’ve no dog in this fight. But here we clearly have an industry that cannot or will not police itself in civil fashion. All parties agree that escalation, even violence will ensue if nothing is done. Like so many prickly deals in a country of 330 million people, responsibility for any potential solution falls to government.

This scenario is typical. Government action is by nature reactive. It works slowly. It can be unwieldy. But when there’s a problem — when human nature and/or the “unerring” profit motive fail to address (or utterly pervert) that problem — it is the authority of last resort. That’s the story with L.D. 1379, and it’s the story behind 90 percent of the regulatory measures on the books today. Right-wingers are convinced that bureaucrats sit in rooms all day wondering how they can extend their unelected influence over this business sector or that public domain. That’s just not how it works. Observe the gestation of L.D. 1379. That’s how it works.

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Candide’s Political Shuttle of the Absurd, Philly Edition

A federal Homeowners Loan Corporation 1936 security map of Philadelphia showing redlining of lower income neighborhoods. Households and businesses in the red zones could not get mortgages or business loans.

So I was preparing to fly back home from Philadelphia last week when I briefly made the acquaintance of someone on the rental-car shuttle bus. I never got his name. He was sitting up front, in the passenger seat, a huge, broad-shouldered white dude of middle age in a blue blazer and buzz cut. The poor sap had a flight leaving in less than an hour, whereas I had plenty of time, so we commiserated over this inequity before eventually getting to the obligatory, “You headed out or headed home?” He was headed home, to Cincinnati, after attending a “military justice convention” in southern New Jersey. Unbidden, he indicated that he couldn’t get out of Philly fast enough.

I asked him what he meant because, with Clara in school there, Sharon and I are spending legitimate time in Philly for the first time and we’re frankly a sucker for its many charms. “It’s just so dirty here,” this guy said, adding that while Cincinnati has its own problems, “there are just so many homeless people here. It doesn’t feel safe.”

Doesn’t feel safe?

“Like you feel when you’re on the south side of Chicago.”

Well, this was all the code language I cared to exchange with this fellow, a 265-pound military justice professional who presumably has an understanding of actual war zones but nevertheless is made uneasy by urban — or, more likely, by the sensation of minority status in a country one believes to be “white”.

This is where we are today, people. Rhetoric matters. How does one avoid tying this guy’s attitude directly to having a political candidate, and now a president, who talks incessantly about the “carnage” of American urban life? [When he’s not talking about the bodily fear we should feel in the presence of brown people, be they Hispanic or Arab.] For more three years now he’s been trotting out this fear-mongering (as opposed to solutions) from a place of high visibility and authority. Seems to me it has colored the way a whole lot of white people view urban areas, people of color, homeless people, even the global universality that is urban grit and grime. More likely, they’e long felt this way and now feel emboldened to verbalize it.

The south side of Chicago reference was the kicker: Straight from Steve Bannon’s white nationalist gob to this guy’s ear, via Twitter and Fox News.

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Pledge This: ‘I Support The SoPo Three’

Pledge This: ‘I Support The SoPo Three’

Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute

This is how kids pledged allegiance to the flag pre-WWII. Honest.

[Ed. Despite a dodgy, opportunistic political history, the pledge is back in the news. Accordingly, hp.net has reposted this piece from 2015.]

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (Feb. 24, 2015 ) — The sad truth is, kids are easy targets when it comes to ideological inculcation outside the home. This time-honored strategy of ‘getting them while they’re young’ may have first been written down in Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”), but it’s a gambit that is surely much older than that. And so I was heartened to read of the South Portland, Maine girls who recently put their feet down re. the pledge of allegiance, which, I understand, is something SoPo kids — and most American high schoolers — are still expected to recite each and every morning.

Over the public address system, students at South Portland High School hear the same sort of thing we all grew up hearing: At this time, would you please rise and join me for the pledge of allegiance

In late January, however, class president, Lily SanGiovanni, made the decision to start adding what proved to be a controversial 4-word tagline … if you’d like to.

Naturally, in a country so volubly dedicated to liberty and free speech, people freaked out. Love of country was questioned. Ingratitude to fallen soldiers was charged. Educational bureaucrats wavered, then caved. The four words were eliminated.

What a steaming pile of crapola.

It’s probably been a while since most adults have taken a close look at the U.S. pledge of allegiance, or given it much thought. Revealingly, our culture does not ask adults to say these words, every morning, Monday through Friday — only our children are required to do that (if they go to public, taxpayer-funded schools). Still, we old folks can all recite it by heart: I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

There. I did that from memory (!). See how impressionable young minds are over the long term? … But seriously folks, it’s instructive to examine this pledge, in the same way SanGiovanni and two of her classmates have done. They were uncomfortable with the invocation of a Christian God, every day, as part of a public statement that students enrolled in government schools are obliged/encouraged to recite every day. They have a point, but that’s not the half of it.

Let’s start with the name: Exactly what sort of authorities, in a democratic republic, would suggest that adult citizens make such a pledge? In my view, it’s not something free peoples should ever be asked to do — especially kids, whose feelings on these matters should formed by parents, not the state. This practice strikes me as something illegitimate or otherwise authoritarian “regimes” would insist upon: maybe the Czech government in 1967, or the Khmer Rouge circa 1975, or Josef Stalin any ol’ time.

In fact, see here the Oath of Allegiance Grandpa Joe did require of the Soviet people, starting in 1939: I, a citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, joining the ranks of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, do hereby take the oath of allegiance and do solemnly vow to be an honest, brave, disciplined and vigilant fighter, to guard strictly all military and State secrets, to obey implicitly all Army regulations and orders of my commanders, commissars and superiors. I vow to study the duties of a soldier conscientiously, to safeguard Army and National property in every way possible and to be true to my People, my Soviet Motherland, and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government to my last breath. I am always prepared at the order of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government to come to the defense of my Motherland — the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics — and, as a fighter of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, I vow to defend her courageously, skillfully, creditably and honorably, without sparing my blood and my very life to achieve complete victory over the enemy. And if through evil intent I break this solemn oath, then let the stern punishment of the Soviet law, and the universal hatred and contempt of the working people, fall upon me.

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