Thursday, September 29, 2011

The media has a "trust" problem too

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken on the persona of a font of reason in a world of discombobulation, and hasn’t been shy about taking shots at the culprits. In an interview with CNN’s John King, he accused the media of failing in its duty to maintain an informed public by engaging in cheap theater. Instead of going down to the latest Tea Party event and claiming that these people represent the “mood” of the country instead of being the fringe-wing of the Republican Party—which has essentially controlled the candidate selecting process for at least two decades (except that now they have a catchy name)—find out what the silenced majority really thinks. Instead of quoting polls that ask simplistic questions that measure gut reactions, ask questions that address the underlying issues. Engage in rational discussions rather than just canned rhetoric and propaganda.

Of course, it’s obvious why news organizations like CNN avoid rational debate; liberals who prefer to discuss the complexity of policy take up too much “valuable” air time compared to the right and their simplistic slogans.

Meanwhile, hot on the heels of a bizarre ruling by federal judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn on Alabama’s anti-immigrant law—which unlike rulings on similar laws, allowed to stand arbitrary racial profiling by police and requiring the authorities to check the immigration status of children in public schools (which clearly makes mock of the state’s claim that this does not violate civil rights) while essentially taking a hands-off approach to the parts of the law that effect employers—Bloomberg criticized the media’s reliance on misinformation that fueled prejudice and hate. Instead of allowing insinuations that thousands of illegal immigrants are pouring over the border every hour to stand as “fact,” he enjoined the media to do some real research (such as USA Today’s examination of the alleged rampant spillover crime on the border), and report the facts based on actual investigative work. In arguing that anti-immigrant attitudes are counter-productive, Bloomberg said “The American dream cannot survive if we tell the dreamers to go elsewhere.”

But Bloomberg might as well be pissing in the wind as far as convincing the “mainstream” media of changing its ways. Far from having a “liberal” bias (MSNBC excepted), the media gives top-billing to whatever promises higher ratings, and this tends to be the kind of thing that excite the negative aspects of human nature. The media is rightly implicated in aiding and abetting the atmosphere which allows this to fester. Take for instance the latest claims by CNN’s “chief political analyst” Gloria Borger. After quoting the kind of poll that Bloomberg was no doubt questioning the validity of—which claimed that trust in the government was at an all-time low of 15 percent—Borger made some rather large assumptions about the attitudes of “all” Americans. “All” Americans are not anti-government Tea Partiers, and many view the problems of government in vastly different ways. “Americans want the government to fix our problems, but they don't trust the government to do it,” Border opines. But “trust” isn’t the issue for many Americans, particularly on the left. They “trust” the government to do something about health care, and to maintain Medicare and Social Security. What they don’t like is that government won’t do anything about it. The government can do something—like forcing people who have enjoyed far more largesse than they are worth to pay their taxes to help pay for the civil society that allows them to maintain themselves in wealth and style—but it is not doing so, because of fringe-right intransigence.

Obama has disappointed the left on a number of issues, ranging from the environment to the continuance of the war in Afghanistan. On health care, Obama didn’t go too far—he didn’t go far enough in supporting a public option; again, the media failed to properly address the growing state of crisis in the health care system in this country, which would have “laid the groundwork” for acceptance by the general public; indeed, the health insurance industry’s reaction to the requirement to spend 80 percent of customer premiums on actual health care costs—raising premiums while lowering coverage—promises drastic changes in the future that are far more inimical to current Republican complaints. The problem is not that everyone thinks government is too “bloated,” as Borger contends, it has been hamstrung in doing what every sensible person (Tea Partiers need not apply) knows is necessary, and collecting all due revenue to adequately fund even current requirements.

Yes, part of the problem is that politicians are shouting at each other about who is right or wrong; but it is the news media’s duty to separate the wheat from the chaff, and it is not doing that. Defunding government as the right is baying for will have detrimental effects on a wide range of areas that promote a civilized society, and we know that red states in the South and the West, when allowed to their own devices without federal intervention, will send the country down in a spiral of hatred, incivility and a caste system based on antebellum attitudes. Borger also seems completely ignorant of the fact that if the sensible Clinton-era fiscal policies were continued by George Bush, we would never be in the kind of fiscal crisis situation we are in now. Where was the lack of “trust” during the Bush years? Borger also seems oblivious to the fact that the most recent low points in “trust” in government came during the last two Democratic presidencies. Why was this? Because Republicans did everything to destroy the good credit of the government simply for the sake of partisan ends? Democratic lawmakers worked with Ronald Reagan, and Reagan new enough to raise revenue on occasion to fund needed programs. Republican lawmakers, on the other hand, are a different breed altogether. If anyone should not be trusted, it is them.

Trust? How about lack of trust in the media?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Price of being wrong

The NFL is littered with so-called “busts”—college stars who were top-ten draft picks expected to translate into NFL stars, but who for one reason or another not only failed to meet expectations, but did so miserably. A “bust” could be injury-prone or could not adjust to the speed or complexity of the professional game; in college, where in any given year there are10,000 players from over 100 Division 1 programs—of whom only a tiny fraction are NFL caliber—a player of mediocre to good talent can appear to be far better than he really is. In the college game, because there is such frequent player turnover, a player can out-physical—or outsmart—other players who are inexperienced or even less “gifted,” those who are athlete-students rather than student-athletes. Players who initially impress may also play in a “system” that simply highlights one strength. Bellevue high school football team on the Republican side of Lake Washington is an example of a program that appears impressive on the surface; they run a version of the option game that nobody else plays, and because teams don’t “game plan” for them, Bellevue has become a local “powerhouse.” Yet despite its success in the wins/losses column, Bellevue produces few college prospects, because its “game” doesn’t translate on the next level. Once a one-dimensional player reaches the NFL, it’s like playing chess with a person who doesn’t have a clue of how to play the game, but if you don’t know this, you might be confused by his “strategy” and lose a game or two. But once you figure out that your opponent has no idea about what he is doing, he can be easily beaten every time.

The question of how do we know if a college player will translate on the professional level is generally a crap shoot, and for the most part there is no such thing as a “safe” pick, only hopes and guesses. I bring this up because I’ve been listening to local sports commentators trying to solve the riddle of why Washington Huskies quarterback Keith Price, in his first season as a starter, appears to play the position at a much more accomplished level than his predecessor, Jake Locker, ever did. Although Locker was an 8th round pick by the Tennessee Titans, there seemed to be very little on paper to justify this pick. He was never a true passer, even in high school; his passing statistics were anything but impressive, his mechanics never seemed to improve, and in his only winning season, running back Chris Polk was the team’s principle offensive weapon. Nevertheless, Locker seemed to impress draft “experts” by his as yet unrealized “potential,” based on his “intangibles” and athleticism; Locker may develop in time, but no one is claiming that he is “ready” now—ironic, given the lack of enthusiasm accorded Cam Newton by the same “experts.”

While Locker struggled to develop into an NFL-ready quarterback in an offensive system that had made USC a national powerhouse, Price, seemingly out of left field, has done nothing but impress with his passing skills; he is the ninth-rated quarterback in the country at the moment, (while Locker never cracked the top-50), and no one has thrown for more touchdown passes through four games. He is clearly a more accomplished passer than Locker ever appeared to be, and the Huskies have not been this offensively potent in what seems like decades. This reality has clearly irritated and flustered one local commentator, Dick Baird. Through thick and thin, Baird was Locker’s biggest cheerleader, frequently providing various rationalizations to explain why this stud prospect, who was promised the world if he stayed local, simply did not deliver what was expected. When it came to Price, Baird is considerably less effusive, finding reasons to disparage him in order to avoid comparisons with Locker which only shed a negative light on the latter. When asked his opinion on a recent impressive performance by Price, Baird was clearly agitated; the first thing out of his mouth was to observe that Price was “fragile,” and went on to say that (something he has said many times ad nauseum) that Price had three years to sit around and learn the “system.” The irony here is that there is a big difference in learning to quarterback on the field and simply watching it; the Seattle Seahawks failed to learn this lesson when the San Diego Chargers pulled a major con-job on the organization in the Charlie Whitehurst deal. Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian himself seemed to be guilty of under-estimating Price’s ability in the season opener against Eastern Washington, to the detriment of the offensive efficiency; since then Price has flourished with an open playbook. Some local commentators have tried to find other reasons to explain why Price flew under the radar during the Locker era; again ironically, Price’s mechanics were said to be “flawed” early in his career, but have since improved markedly—and yet by most accounts, Locker’s mechanics never measurably improved despite first-team attention.

What fascinates about this particular case is that the player who displayed fewer skills expected at the NFL-level QB position (Locker) is nevertheless held in higher esteem than a player who has. Locker can be said to have been a minor “bust” in college, but he is being treated as an “NFL” quarterback who just skipped a grade. Price, on the other hand, will merely be viewed as a good “college” quarterback. Is Locker being given a pass because he has “leadership” skills and an NFL-ready physique, while Price will never make it to the next level because he is relatively “slight” and is supposed to have “suspect” knees? Or are there other, less subtle reasons? Who knows? In any case, one observer covering the Titans thought that Locker looked “polished” in the preseason, except that it was “against a bunch of rookies and un-drafted fringe players.” We’ve heard that story before.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Cold War memories

I was listening to an NPR program called “The Changing World,” and there was a segment discussing the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, and its legacy. Between 1961 and 1989, 136 people died as a result of its presence. I thought back upon the time I spent as a soldier in what was then West Germany. The Cold War was technically still on, and being in a combat unit, I was expected to study flash cards and slideshows in order to differentiate between friendly and foe aircraft and vehicles, just in case the Soviets decided to send in the 10,000 tanks they allegedly had poised at the border. Although there wasn’t much respect for the capabilities of Soviet equipment, there was (we were told) a lot more of it arrayed against our NATO forces. Of course, by the time Reagan became president, the economic capacity of the Soviet block to maintain such large forces was diminishing, although that didn’t stop Reagan from undertaking a massive military construction program that the Soviet Union couldn’t match, and within a decade would abandon the pretense of superpower status.

Before that happened, we still had to play the game. I recall on one occasion my platoon took a bus tour along the East German border, at a point where that constituted little more than a creek that ran through a little town. On the other side were some guard towers, where the border guards within looked on impassively, some no more than 20 yards away; some of us made odd gestures to draw some response, but they obviously had no sense of humor. On another occasion I was “donated” to a GSR unit to help conduct patrol duty somewhere on the Czechoslovakian border. The “border” was in the middle of a forest where the only indication of demarcation were stone markers every hundred feet or so. Every other evening for a month I had to sit in a jeep wearing headphones attached to a listening apparatus, while someone outside was peering through a night vision device. At first there was this James Bond allure, but when told that no one on this duty could remember ever experiencing an “incident,” I quit trying to hear things in the endlessly monotonous static. After a week I wasn’t the only person pining to return to civilization.

Back in civilization, however, there was a war of a sort we were warned to be mindful of. The pseudo-Marxist Red Army Faction (formerly the Baader-Meinhof Gang) was killing soldiers from the early 1970s into the mid 1980s. The most notorious incident was the 1985 murder of an American soldier, targeted by a female member of the gang and lured into a wooded area where he was shot in the head; his military identification badge was then used to drive a Volkswagen sedan packed with explosives onto the Rhine-Main Air Base. The subsequent blast killed two and wounded 20. The fact is that while Germans who came of age during the war years and its immediate aftermath were generally cordial to and appreciative toward American soldiers, younger Germans had no firsthand experience with the Nazi regime, and the defeat, death and destruction that followed it; nor did they have an appreciation of highly successful Marshall Plan which facilitated economic recovery and stability for democratic institutions. Many of these people were (and are) ambiguous toward if not outwardly hostile to individual soldiers. The Vietnam War certainly had a hand in it initially, but Reagan did us no favors either. As the NPR story pointed out, not all Germans were moved by his “Tear down this wall,” speech, let alone his Bitburg Cemetery blunder. Reagan was seen as warmonger and a threat to peace, with Germany right in the middle of it, threatened with destruction again. I remember a cover of a West German magazine (either Stern or Der Spiegel) which featured Reagan with an old Army steel pot on his head, peering over a foxhole armed with a rifle. Reagan was deliberately portrayed as a cartoonish character, but clearly a dangerous one.

It’s odd, but thinking back upon that time with all of Reagan’s Cold War puffery and the threats from local terrorists, on the ground most of us soldiers never really gave the Eastern “threat” much credence (or war gamers today; troop levels have been reduced to one-quarter of that when I was there) or considered our stay in Germany as anything other than a “job” that the sooner it was over the better. Germany was a nice place to visit, but the U.S. was always the “real” world.

life is relative, but not injustice

Life is relative. What does that mean? It means that given any particular perspective, life can be better, or worse. For some, relativity has a rather narrow range. For example, someone reduced to living on the street can either say “How am I doing? You mean relative to being dead?” while easily imagining that life could be considerably better. For someone on the other end of the wealth spectrum, there comes a point where money itself becomes a relative concept, as in the difference between a lot of money and a lot more money; that person can, however, look at that man on the street and say “How am I doing? Relative to him, very well indeed.” Now, someone in the middle classes has a wider spectrum to consider; life could be better—or worse—in equal measure.

I was persuaded to undertake this mind game following a conversation with a fellow employee at work. As one might expect, there are different jobs with different responsibilities, and their relative merits are sometimes subject to debate and commentary, usually based on ignorance or pettiness. I spend 99 percent of my time outside, regardless of the weather conditions; from November to March, I’m usually on the verge of acquiring pneumonia because of the wet and cold. But I don’t complain, much. I just want to be left alone to do my job. Unfortunately, I have to tolerate remarks from people who are ignorant about what I do, and supervisors who tell me I can only do this or that to stay alert and peppy in the break room; it is no use at all to tell them that I am not able to do this. When they see me waiting for another load, they cannot conceptualize what I had to do to be in a position to wait. I have compiled a list of all the cargo I have delivered in the past 23 weeks—6,350 carts, an average of 276.1 per week. The past four weeks I delivered 1,232 carts, and average of 308 per week, an average of 77 per day. On five occasions I delivered over 100 carts. If they were lined-up five deep as they are in the staging area, they would extend an entire football field. Do people think they all disappear by magic? Since I am only allowed to haul three carts at a time, it would take about seven hours to deliver them all. Theoretically that leaves me three hours to “hang out” in the break room like everyone else can. But I cannot do this and perform my function as efficiently as the airline warehouse people tell me I do, quite opposed to what my own employers apparently believe. Unlike me, people in other jobs have the good fortune of predictability: They know when a flight comes in, and when it leaves; I, on the other hand, must deal with unpredictability. I have no influence on what the airline guys bring to me to me or when they do it. If it is brought too early, I have to find some way to get it out of the way top free-up space for more; if it comes too late, then I have to scramble and stress, because I’m usually the first person who comes to mind when in search of a scapegoat. It’s odd, but to me and the cargo warehouse employees, an empty staging area means a job well done; but to my own colleagues, it means I must have nothing to do.

And this is relative to what? I can tell you what I see: Rampers who spend half their time standing around, and when they are not, they are sitting in the break room watching TV, playing cards, playing with their I-pods or just bullshitting. I don’t blame them or even care—it is there business and that of their supervisors. But just don’t bother me with your “issues”—I have my own.

But this is all relativity of a kind. The “relativity” that was relevant to the conversation I was having with the above mentioned employee had to do with, what else? money. He told me he used to work for an airline union, and for basically doing the work typical of one of our ramp agents or baggage handlers, he made at one point $19 an hour. With help of double and even triple-time pay, he made nearly $70,000 one year. I didn’t let on, but I was staggered. Last year I made $22,000; this year I’m doing more work, but I’ll be making the same amount. If I made that kind of money for just one year, given my current budget requirements, I’d be set for life. I don’t begrudge anyone who can be compensated as such; I’ve said that on days that are wet, cold and miserable, I don’t think anyone should make more money that I do, and at least for a time, this guy was compensated commensurate for the work he did at least a couple hours a week.

Hmm. Well, maybe relativity isn’t quite the right concept in play here. I am doing the same work that six years ago another person was doing for double or triple the wage. Maybe the politics of income disparity or such concepts as fair or unfair is the more proper context. Washington isn’t the cheapest place to live either, not like a non-union, “right to work,” low services and low cost of living state like Louisiana, where people like Republican Rep. John Fleming can cry poverty having only $400,000 left over after he feeds his family.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A tale of two quarterbacks

Being a Brett Favre fan, I found myself gravitating to the local Minneapolis newspaper websites the past two years to check to see how he was being treated by the locals. Some people there (as well as in the media) thought that Favre was an outsider trying to shoehorn his way onto a team that was Super Bowl “ready”—except that it was a quarterback short. Favre convinced the doubters in week three of the 2009 season, when he threw that game-winning touchdown pass to Greg Lewis in the waning seconds against San Francisco. Everyone forgot about that “other guy,” Tarvaris Jackson. Although Favre did throw that pick in the NFC championship game, people forget that New Orleans defenders passed through the Vikings offensive line like a sieve, hitting him 16 times, including that double-hit that injured an ankle that would require surgery--a play that was subsequently admitted by the league should have been a penalty and nullifying an interception. It was debatable if Favre should have returned for the 2010 season, but his teammates apparently preferred a busted-up Favre to the alternative—the guy some fans referred to as “T-Joke.” Favre’s problems during the season had other fans calling for T-Jack to get another chance, and he got his chance after Favre was knocked out early against Buffalo. The Vikings ran-up 35 points in the first half, and some people were lulled into thinking that this should have been the plan all along, despite the fact that the Bills actually took an early lead after a Jackson pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown; in the second half, it was same old T-Joke, completing three passes and had two intercepted. After more of the usual the next week against the Giants (a “home” game played in Detroit after the Metrodome roof collapsed), a Star-Tribune sports columnist—who been bellyaching about giving Jackson another chance—jokingly “confessed” that he hadn’t meant that he thought that Jackson should actually start the rest of the season. It was the rookie quarterback Joe Webb who would stun the Eagles in Philadelphia in week 16.

The knock against Jackson was that he was physically and mentally unprepared to play. This was a guy who transferred from an established SEC program (Arkansas) to teeny-tiny Alabama State; that is not to say a quarterback from a college outside the mainstream can't make it in the NFL (Steve McNair attended Alcorn State), but it does lead to questions. Last year in Minnesota, he reported to camp out-of-shape and barely completed conditioning drills. In 2009, Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams called-out Jackson publicly, claiming that he could be a good quarterback if only he put in the time and effort; “This ain’t college anymore. This is the NFL.” Now, somebody thinks that Tarvaris could use a fresh start, and that is Darrell Bevell, the Seattle Seahawks new offensive coordinator.

Frankly I really couldn’t care less about the Seahawks, being a long-time Packer fan. But being a Big Ten fan as well, I do fondly recall that Bevell quarterbacked the Wisconsin Badgers to their first Rose Bowl win, himself running for the deciding touchdown against UCLA. But while Favre took considerable blame for the Vikings breakdown last year, others have pointed out that the Vikings’ woes (besides the injury-depleted receiving corps) was primarily due to predictable play-calling that failed to utilize play action and vertical routes, which would have allowed Randy Moss (when he was there) opportunities to make big plays, and simultaneously open-up run lanes. Instead, Favre was often put in untenable situations, seemingly deliberately and leading to a strained relationship with coach Brad Childress—which made his 2009 performance even more remarkable.

Who was responsible for the play-calling? Childress—or Bevell? And someone expects something to change? Marshawn Lynch isn’t Adrian Peterson. Jackson isn’t Favre (and that is meant as a criticism). Shouldn’t Bevell know better? OK, so Jackson “knows” the system, and maybe somebody thought that since he did didn’t require a lot of remedial training, he could make-up for the flaws in the team, particularly on the offensive line. But in Minnesota, Jackson had the benefit of a not yet old offensive line and talented skill position players like Peterson, and yet I remember watching him in a late season game against the Packers in 2006, thinking that the Vikings’ coaches can’t really be serious about this. Favre played old, but I kept thinking “The Vikings are giving you this game. Take the damn thing.” And they finally did, winning on a late field goal 9-7. I knew the game was over then. And it seems for the moment that Seahawks’ season is prematurely over; the coaches and management must know that if T-Jack was not the answer on good team, he certainly isn’t the answer on a team “rebuilding.” Maybe he’s just the guinea pig, taking the shots for the present so that when the team actually finds their real quarterback, it will be ready to win. But I’m just guessing.

The critics of Jackson are in the main correct. But that’s just one story. Another is what is happening on the other side of the country. "He was a one-year wonder. Akili Smith was a one-year wonder” opined draft “expert” Mel Kiper after Cam Newton allegedly failed to “wow” scouts at the NFL combines. Deborah Horton of the Bleacher Report said “The more I see of Newton, the more he appears to be a clone of Vince Young. Very athletic. Extremely strong. Apparently not NFL smart and all about the hype…He hasn't a clue how an NFL offense works, and he wants to be on camera, to be a star, more than he wants to be a team player.” Jon Gruden tried to “expose” Newton’s alleged lack of NFL “smarts” by rattling off a “typical” play call: “Flip right, double-X, Jet, 36 counter, naked waggle, X-7, X-quarter” and then challenging Newton to “Call something at Auburn that’s a little verbal.” It was an unfair question because Gruden already knew that Auburn ran a no huddle offense, where players were supposed to know what play a number written on a board on the sidelines called for. It has been pointed out by others, such as former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, that the future of football is the no-huddle offense where plays are called by single numbers or words. Coaches who like complex “verbiage” like (former) coach Gruden probably think it denotes “intelligence” as much as it proves how “clever” they themselves are.

Although the Carolina Panthers are 0-2 to start the season, Newton has shocked the doubters, throwing for back-to-back 400 yard games, and both of those games were winnable primarily because of Newton’s apparent NFL “readiness.” The second game against the defending Super Bowl champions also happened to expose the Packer secondary again, which has given-up back-to-back 400+ yards passing, but that’s an issue for another time. Some people are still warning against "overhype" because Newton hasn't won a game yet (like Peyton Manning wasn't "overhyped" in his rookie year when the Colts went 3-13), yet the fact is that this year's Carolina team looks a hell of lot more competitive and exciting than last year's 2-14 team that was dead last in total offense. Although it remains to be seen how Newton advances from here, one thing proved was that in his initial impressive performances, he has out-smarted the so-called "smart" people.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Republicans set this table

How many people take the time to wonder what kind of country we would be living in if the 2000 election had not been stolen from Al Gore? Perhaps Ralph Nader and his supporters can “congratulate” themselves for making a “difference,” but the rest of us cannot be so sanguine about the truth. Who can doubt that the country’s fiscal situation would be far more manageable? No tax cuts for the rich, which would not have been used to spur job growth, but to find ways to create a larger cash stash or gamble it away in financial casinos. Businesses might actually have been “forced” to make more money by "alternative" means, like investing in expansion and jobs as they did during the Clinton administration. A Democratic administration would have lessened unregulated opportunities to engage in predatory lending (and its offshoot—derivative “insurance”) by continuing to support and fund affordable housing subsidies. Recessions are inevitable, but financial institutions would not have been in near the state they found themselves in, and the national and budget deficits would have been at acceptable levels rather than “crisis” levels. Revenue would have remained stable, keeping federal deficits and the national debt within reasonable limits. With stable job growth, revenue and federal assistance, state governments would have been sufficiently within their means to prevent widespread public sector layoffs and education and health care cuts, which only promise long-term disastrous consequences of the nation. The question the media and responsible commentators are not asking us is if the Bush tax cuts and their accompanying public sector cuts were worth it. Sure, the right would continue to whine about taxes and “big” government, but a majority of people would recognize that the right’s vision was—and is—much more damaging to the nation’s health in the long run. And who must pay the price for the negligence and arrogance of the right? Anyone who isn't independently wealthy.

Tax cuts for the rich not only did not spur the economy and create jobs (a net of 2 million compared to 22 million in the Clinton administration), but along with Bush’s wars insured that when the time came, the government would be hogtied to do something meaningful about it, because of the massive deficits incurred under Bush and a Republican Congress—a congress that helped him “hide” the true costs of their military adventures, and inevitably the true state of the country. If 9-11 occurred in an alternate administrative universe—and it might very well not have, given the outgoing administration’s and subsequent FBI warnings to Bush that Al-Qaeda was plotting such an attack, which the Bush and his aiders and abettors apparently chose not to take seriously—Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan would have remained the principle target for military suppression, and would have been quickly isolated and marginalized. As for Saddam Hussein, he would have continued to be isolated by the international community, and in hindsight we can say that Iraq would have certainly been affected by the “Arab Spring,” and Hussein could have been forced from power in the same manner as Qaddafi, without incurring the trillion dollars in costs and thousands of American deaths.

Thus the right’s attacks on Barack Obama seem not only hypocritical, but a lie to mask their own abject failure to govern. Instead, the right tries to drown-out reason by shouting over it, apparently in the belief that the louder they shout, people will be so flustered that they won’t know what to believe; being paranoid and fearful, a majority seems willing to be gulled by mindless rhetoric that deliberately obfuscates reality. The 2012 election will tell us just to what extent this is true; the 2010 election at least warned us of the danger.

The world I see ten years after 9-11

I watched some of the 9-11 tenth anniversary ceremonials taking place at the World Trade Center site, and I found myself curiously unaffected by it, in fact I was somewhat put-off by it. That is not to say that the act itself did not have an effect on me at the time; I remember I was working a temp job when it happened: it was break time, and I noticed a gaggle of office workers gathered around the television in the break room. On the screen were the Twin Towers, smoke billowing out of both. I remember that it was difficult to register what exactly was going on; I felt the same way on my first day home after a seven-year stint in the Army: CNN was broadcasting live a routine launch of a space shuttle, and while the voice of a mission control announcer was blandly reciting telemetry readings, viewers were trying to register what exactly was going on with that huge white cloud in the sky that the shuttle disappeared in barely a minute into the launch. Something terrible must have had happened, but your mind just couldn’t register the reality of it until the authorities confirmed the terrible truth. In the case of 9-11, that happened when the towers collapsed; an “accident” that was at first seemed insufficient by itself to cause permanent damage, had turned into a calamity of the first magnitude—it was like the supposedly unsinkable Titanic, suffering what appeared to be a grazing, survivable wound inexplicably come crashing down, to be no more. It was not that the towers were struck that had its lingering effect, but that they had come down. If the Twin Towers had survived the attack, the sense of vulnerability would be much less.

So why was I put-off by the ceremony? Whenever the television cameras panned the crowds, all that touched my eyes was a sea of pallid faces, with nary a dark or even Oriental countenance in sight, except when the Obamas made an appearance. Once or twice a black commentator appeared on the screen, perhaps inserted to obscure the possibility of anyone making the same observation that I was making. 3,000 people died from the tragedy, yet it was only to white people, apparently, who were “harmed” by this event—forgetting, of course, the subsequent national scapegoats and whipping boys, particularly Muslims and Latinos. Why was it that only white people came to mourn and commemorate—or were allowed to be seen as such? Because this crime was against America, and the only “real” Americans are white? Because the “enemies” of America are non-Caucasian and their “liberal” or “socialist” friends? Because right-wing politicians, commentators and the media have broadcast the drumbeat of hate against Muslims and Mexicans, which many Americans apparently find difficult to distinguish empirically? That they believe that those groups who have been isolated from white society either physically or psychologically nurse a special grudge, and lie in wait for their opportunity to seek revenge, because they “hate” that America? Because hating a government that represents a “leveling” force in society, as many so-called “real” Americans do, is really an expression of “loving” America—one that prefers a society based on separation and inequality? That their very presence at the event would expose the lie of their definition of what America is?

People should be allowed to mourn for the victims of an unspeakable tragedy, but not use it as an excuse to differentiate themselves in an “us” versus “them” context. The 9-11 “commemoration” in New York merely reinforced the divisions in this country, one of which pits white American against the dark-skinned “them.” This is nothing new; as Richard Slotkin, wrote in his classic study “Regeneration Through Violence,” white America through its mythology has always “regenerated” itself by finding new enemies to coalesce against, and always those enemies are of the “dark” races. The chain from Indians to Mexicans to Spaniards to Filipinos to Japanese to Vietnamese to Panamanians to Afghans and to Iraqis (the Germans were the only “chink” in this chain), the American myth lived on in the national psyche. “But their apparent independence of time and consequence is an illusion; a closely woven chain of time and consequence binds their world to ours. Set the statuesque figures and their piled trophies in motion through space and time, and a more familiar landscape emerges—the whale, buffalo, and bear hunted to the verge of extinction for pleasure in killing and “scalped” for fame and the profit in hides by men like Buffalo Bill; the buffalo meat left to rot, till acres of prairie were covered with heaps of whitened bones then ground for fertilizer; the Indian debased, impoverished, and killed in return for his gifts; the land and its people, its “dark” people especially, economically exploited and wasted; the warfare between man and nature, between race and race, exalted as a kind of heroic ideal; the piles of wrecked and rusted cars, heaped like Tartar pyramids of cracked, weather-browned, rain-rotted skulls, to signify our passage through the land.” It wasn’t enough to exploit the land; the black and brown people –save for those who “entertain”—are left on the peripheries, to serve as “proof” of their inferiority, useful only as reminders of who the “enemy” is.

Football season a tonic from the political BS

The media and Republicans are complaining that the president’s latest job creation plan will be paid in part by closing tax loopholes that benefit the rich; they call this a tax “increase,” when in fact it is not a tax increase at all, but given the fact that the rich pay on average half to two-thirds their theoretical federal tax, this plan only suggests they pay more of what they should owe. On the other hand, I read about a survey that suggested that small businesses are less unhappy about taxes than they are high insurance costs. Who knows what is going on in DC; all I can say is that a lot of fools voted for more than a few fools who don’t know the first thing about what it means to govern.

Thank god then, I say, that football season is back to remind me that there is real life going on outside that ongoing nightmare. It is true that Brett Favre is really, truly done, but as long as he has records to break, he will remain worthy of mention so long as they stand. Being a Favre fanatic (a bit ironic, because he’s a white man from Mississippi), I am naturally not a “fan” of Peyton Manning, who is the immediate threat. Favre’s records in this pass-happy age are certainly more vulnerable than Dan Marino’s once seemed. Marino’s records seemed indestructible when he retired; Manning had only been in the league two years, and Favre was already intimating imminent retirement. One thing that observers didn’t take into account, however, was Favre’s seeming indestructibility, and his consistency—18 consecutive seasons with 300 completions and 3,000 yards. But Favre—or anyone else, for that matter—never put-up the kind of numbers Manning has: 11 of 13 years with 4,000+ yards, and averaging more than 30 TD passes per season. Manning is a passing machine; he lives to pass. He’d pass on every play if he could. I remember watching a sideline clip of him literally screaming at an offensive lineman who had the audacity to suggest that he might call a running play once in awhile.

And like Favre, he seemed physically indestructible, and he had the good fortune to be seen as a franchise starter from day one; Favre got off the bench twice in his rookie season with Atlanta and didn’t complete a single pass (but he did throw the first two of his 336 regular season interceptions). If Don Majkowski hadn’t been completely baffled by the West Coast offensive and lost the support of fans, Favre’s career might not have taken off for another year or two. On the other hand, Manning was always The Man in Indianapolis. Star running backs came and went, even when still in their prime; it seemed to me that Manning didn't like the “competition,” but Marshall Faulk had the good fortune to wind-up with an apparently hapless St. Louis Rams team that would go on to win the Super Bowl. With Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame-caliber running backs like Faulk and Edgerinn James out of the way, Manning was free to do what he wanted.

But passing on every play does apparently take its physical toll after 200+ games. Manning’s nerve injury seems almost puny compared to the broken bones and blown-out knees that take out most players; it even seems hardly game-related. It is somewhat of a shock to learn now that Manning is not invincible, and what it means for Favre is that his consecutive start streak—along with his interceptions—will likely remain his longest surviving record. Still, at his present pace, Manning is four years away from breaking Favre’s other career marks, when he is 39. But will he? Manning’s most recent operation to repair neck damage causing nerve pain used bone fragments removed from his hip rather than from a cadaver, apparently to affect a faster recovery period. However, on a sports internet site discussing his future, a person who claimed to be a nurse and operating specialist said “I have seen this surgery numerous times. It works well and really helps people get on with their lives, pain free. However, one loses some of the ability to move their head fully. I don't know how well it holds up under the stress of hard hits as found in football. There is a metal plate that stabilizes the site after the bone is inserted to fuse the joint. The harvest site (hip) is usually more painful than the neck site post op… If another part of his neck fails, he could end up blowing through a straw to get around in his chair. Good luck big guy.” According to doctors, 20 percent of all patients who have a similar procedure will experience hip pain the rest of their lives. All of this no doubt comes as a shock to most football fans who had no inkling that Manning was suffering from a condition serious enough not only to delay his season, but to seriously hamper his functionality the remainder of his career; few people, however, know that Favre himself suffers from degenerative hip disease, although of an apparently less severe variety than the one that ended Bo Jackson’s career prematurely.

Having been raised in Wisconsin, I remain a Green Bay fan, regardless of how I feel about the way the Packers jettisoned Favre. I’ve stated in the past that I’m not as high on Aaron Rodgers as some other people are, and I find his arrogance less appealing than Favre’s “aw shucks” demeanor. It also should be pointed out that the Packers have hardly been invincible with Rodgers at quarterback; his record as a starter in the regular season is currently 28-20, which hardly justifies his “elite” status., and the Packers were fortunate to make the playoffs at all last year given his inconsistent play. It is worth noting that nobody was picking the Giants to go to the Super Bowl in 2007, let alone defeat the Patriots—and they have done nothing special since; the only explanation for the Packers run was that at least insofar as their NFC opponents were concerned, all were vulnerable or over-rated—the Eagles even lost to the Vikings at home against a rookie quarterback. The Atlanta Falcons surprisingly lopsided defeat opening day against Chicago suggests that their run last year was a fluke; New Orleans, despite their loss to Green Bay, will more likely than not reclaim their spot atop their division. One thing I observe about Rodgers is that he generally starts hot, then cools precipitately for inexplicable reasons. Last Thursday, Rodgers completed 14 of 15 for 188 yards and 3 TD passes in the first quarter, when the Packers seemed ready to blowout the Saints; the remainder of the game saw him complete 13 of 20 for 124 and no touchdowns, allowing the Saints to come-up a yard short of potentially sending the game into overtime. We saw this same scenario in last year’s NFC wild card game, the championship game, and the Super Bowl. I also cannot help but observe that Rodgers does not have a history of fourth quarter comebacks, which explains his modest won-loss record as a starter—and for a team that everyone says is stocked with outstanding talent.

But football, unlike other major sports, has an aura of unpredictability. The Patriots, the perennial favorite, was the “best” team last year with a 14-2 record, and lost its playoff opener at home; they have not won a Super Bowl since 2005. The Packers were nearly eliminated from the playoffs, and won the Super Bowl. That is what makes football such a fascinating game.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

History of the world according to Madonna

I was listening to BBC World News last week, when the entertainment correspondent commenced to interview someone who sounded like an American trying to cop a phony British accent. She said that she had never written a movie script before, and when asked if she had read any reviews of her new film, she giggled that she was afraid to read them. Later she dropped the accent, and telling us how she wanted to tell the story of her subject from a “woman’s perspective.” There was no mention of the subject’s suspected Nazi ties, which if true might prove awkward, given the writer/director’s professed “identification” with her subject, since they were both controversial Americans with British connections through marriage. But in another interview, she claims that “In fact, I thought (she) was a Nazi too, when I started my research. But after years of searching, I could not find any empirical evidence to support (the allegation), (that she) was a Nazi supporter or a Nazi.” In the movie, a character rebuffs the Nazi sympathizer claim, suggesting that it is merely naiveté—as if the murder of 6 million Jews and the killing of 20 million Russians was something beyond the scope of her imagination, and she could not be blamed for that.

Alright, enough of the mystery girl; we are talking about the Material Girl herself, Madonna, and her new film, “W.E.,” sort-of based on the life of Wallis Simpson, who King Edward VIII abdicated his throne for. Madonna claimed that she wanted to discover the “mystery” of how a king could throw everything away for a twice-divorced, fortyish, rather homely woman. Some scandal sheets—then and now—suggested that both had sexual “problems,” and that Edward could only be “turned on” through deviant sexual practices—apparently like his “friend,” Adolf Hitler. This is just innuendo of course, but if this was a problem for Simpson, she never let on. In any case, it was unimportant; the release of previously secret papers from the Royal archives pertaining to the abdication crisis contained a letter from Sir Horace Wilson, in which he said “There was on her side (Simpson) no indication of any affection. On the contrary, her line throughout seemed to be to feather her own nest and to save her own skin…To know all is to forgive all, and all is not known. But subject to that, the conclusion seems to be: selfish, self-seeking, hard, calculating, ambitious, scheming and dangerous."

I have to admit that I haven’t spent years researching the life of Simpson like Madonna did, or claims she did. Maybe it took her that long to read a couple of flattering biographies. I prefer writing from experience, because I don’t have to spend days doing research trying to discover if someone like Madonna actually has a point. I remember her alright; she was born with silver spoon firmly entrenched in her mouth, the daughter of an engineer for Chrysler, and who had a “rebellious” streak; if you are a kid with family money, you can always afford to be “rebellious.” Madonna says she was crushed by the death of her mother from breast cancer, something which she hasn't gotten over to this day; she was only five-years-old at the time. I remember that I did like her song “Like a Virgin,” a catchy little hit single, and I thought that the music video for “Like a Prayer” was worth a few spare minutes. I also remember her “Sex” book with the metal covers (god, I wish I hadn’t thrown that away; it would probably be worth a fortune now), and feeling sorry for good actors like Willem Dafoe and Jurgen Prochnow, doing their best to compensate for the perennial Razzie Award winner for worst actress in “Body of Evidence.” Some people actually thought Madonna was good in her Major Film Debut, “Desperately Seeking Susan,” but she didn’t do any actual acting in it; she was just playing herself, which some people may or may not find appealing. Madonna did inspire a very funny spoof—Julie Brown’s “Medusa.” It includes a scene where “Mr. Actor Man”—apparently based on her then-husband Sean Penn—is engaged in a futile effort to give her acting lessons; she rather he’d suck on her toes.

When I was “furthering” my education in Sacramento, there was a feminist professor in a media studies class who thought Madonna was God-like; I told her that Madonna’s shtick wasn’t exactly new—I seemed to recall Elton John, Freddy Mercury, David Bowie and Alice Cooper. But Madonna was different. Why? Because she was a woman, of course; I wanted to point out that Patti LaBelle (I have nothing to do with these links) wore something like that cone-shaped brassier in LaBelle's stage act back in the mid-Seventies, but I figured I'd "concede" her point for the sake of peace. I did mention that Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You” also had rather strong sexual overtones; yes, but it was Madonna who was controlling the action. OK, but what about Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk” which sounded to me like an older woman trying to push herself on a kid to “Get it On” with her? Madonna was too narcissistic to even come close to matching the simmering sexuality of “Talk.” In the 1990s and beyond, Madonna mainly survived on her own PR; there are still a lot of people who identify with her self-obsessed persona. Of course, not all of them can afford to move to England and pretend they are “better” than you, just because they can fake a British accent.

Back to the present. The Times of London claimed that Madonna's new film was “screamingly, inadvertently funny in parts [that] had ‘em rolling in the aisles at Venice,” while The Guardian opined “Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson – marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternizing with Nazis – it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna's jaw-dropping take on ‘the 20th-century's greatest royal love story.’ The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel…What an extraordinarily silly, preening, fatally mishandled film this is. It may even surpass 2008's Filth and Wisdom, Madonna's calamitous first outing as a film-maker. Her direction is so all over the shop that it barely qualifies as direction at all.” It was noted by others that the production was “troubled,” and that Madonna’s “unusual” directorial style managed to alienate some the original cast, including Ewan McGregor who subsequently walked-off the picture.

But this is supposed to be a history lesson. British author A.N Wilson, who claims to have been a close friend of Lady Diana Mosley, a Nazi sympathizer even before she married British fascist leader Oswald Mosley (in a civil ceremony in Joseph Goebbels’ home), said that Mosley “knew Wallis and the Little Dook (Edward), as she called them, in their Parisian exile. She had no doubts at all that Edward VIII and Wallis had both been pro-Hitler before, during and after the war. That photograph of Wallis more or less curtseying to the Führer is a chilling reminder of what we were all spared by the crowning of Edward's dull, brave, stammering brother.”

It was common knowledge in London that Simpson was “friendly”—extremely so—with the likes of Herman Goering and Joachim von Ribbentrop, who was the Nazi ambassador to Britain before becoming foreign minister; it was also strongly suggested that she had an affair with Ribbentrop . According to an FBI memo during the period the Duke was “appointed” to serve as governor of the Bahamas during World War II, the former German Duke of Wurttemberg-turned U.S.-based Benedictine monk Father Odo told an FBI agent that "He knew definitely that von Ribbentrop, while in England, sent the then Wallis Simpson 17 carnations every day. The 17 supposedly represented the number of times they had slept together." Simpson apparently continued her contacts with Ribbentrop during her “exile” in France at least until 1940; she was naturally suspected of passing “state secrets to the Nazis,” as was her husband, known for his thoughtless tongue. The Duke had well-known Nazi sympathies himself as early as 1933; because of the “communist threat,” he was of the opinion that Britain had no choice but take the Nazis side in the war. While the war was raging, the Duke/governor of the Bahamas submitted to an interview with an American magazine reporter; he claimed that it would be "a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were overthrown. Hitler, he said, was the right and logical leader of the German people." He even suggested that FDR be prevailed upon to intervene as a mediator between the Nazis and Britain. The opinions expressed were so shocking that the magazine thought the better of publishing it. It might be a matter of debate how far Simpson helped shape his views, but it was also a “known fact” in both London and Berlin that she played him like a puppet on a string. In any case, both the Duke and Duchess—besides being reduced to high society “parasites”—greatly embarrassed the royal family and brought disrepute for themselves by openly cavorting with high Nazi officials (at least before the war), and making ill-advised comments that could be construed as favorable to the Nazis.

A report in The Guardian in 2002 detailed some of the highlights of 227 pages of FBI documents on the activities of the pair:

"It has been ascertained that for some time, the British government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections and there is strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne…Both she and the Duke of Windsor have been repeatedly warned by representatives of the British government that in the interest of the morale of the British people, they should be exceedingly circumspect in their dealings with the representatives of the German government. The duke is in such state of intoxication most of the time that he is virtually non compos mentis. The duchess has repeatedly ignored these warnings.” In a secret memo dated September 13 1940, an informant had "established conclusively that the Duchess of Windsor has recently been in touch with Joachim von Ribbentrop and was maintaining constant contact and communication with him…Because of their high official position, the duchess was obtaining a variety of information concerning the British and French official activities that she was passing on to the Germans."

Since the British were afraid that the duchess would reveal her Nazi sympathies and support, it was “considered absolutely essential that the Windsors be removed to a point where they would do absolutely no harm," preventing her from being in contact with British officials, or "establishing any channel of communication with von Ribbentrop." In 1941, an agent quoted an informant who claimed that Herman Goering and the duke had reached a deal in which "after Germany won the war, Goering, through control of the army, was going to overthrow Hitler and then he would install the duke as king of England."

The informant also provided a possible motive for the duke and duchess’ seeming treason: “Of course she had an intense hate for the English since they had kicked them out of England." The Duke’s relations with his brother, King George VI (the one in “The King’s Speech”) were forever soured because he refused to confer to the duchess the title “Her Royal Highness.”

So Madonna’s rewrite of history can at least be said to be naïve. Whatever else attracted the pair to each other, one of them surely was their common “appreciation” of the Nazis, and how it would eventually form an “us against the world”—or at least against the British, who treated them so “abominably,” forcing them into permanent exile. England wasn’t, after all, their home anymore. The Nazis, on the other hand, treated them like rock stars. And if Mosley is to be believed, the Windsors remained Nazi sympathizers even after the war. Madonna apparently shoe-horned in a character in her movie living in contemporary New York City who has some “spiritual” connection to Simpson to mirror her own professed “identification” with her subject; obviously, to admit to some rather significant flaw in her heroine’s character would be tantamount to admitting to some rather significant flaw in Madonna.

History certainly has a way of being inconvenient if you are ignorant of it. There was an auction recently in which the wares were jewelry that once belonged to Simpson, all told selling for £8 million, about $12.5 million. Over half that amount—£4.5 million—was for just one item: A bracelet of onyx and diamond, in the shape of a panther. According to the Daily Mail, there was a “nail-biting battle” between two bidders; one of them is believed to be Madonna or her representative. In any case, there is a question about where all this jewelry came from. Before she died in 1986, Simpson’s affairs were controlled by a French lawyer named Suzanne Blum. After the death of the Duke, and in frail condition, Simpson was dependent upon Blum, although it was clear they shared a loathing for each other. After a row over some personal papers, The Mail described what happened next: “Blum never dared enter the Duchess's presence again - at least not until the Duchess could no longer speak. But the Duchess would pay heavily for her scorn. After that day, Blum did exactly as she pleased. She sold jewelry from the Duchess's multimillion-pound collection without her permission, set about publishing love letters between the Duchess and the Duke and appointed herself keeper of the Windsor flame…All the time, the vulnerable Duchess - abandoned by the Royal Family and with few friends to protect her - was held virtual prisoner in her own house. She was helpless, sometimes sedated and hopelessly alone.” According to Blum’s 1994 obituary in The Independent, Blum “was frequently challenged to give evidence of the Duchess' wish and to show that she had a power of attorney to act for her. Blum published virtually everything except that authority. Thereafter it was Blum who organised the sale of the Duchess' jewels in Geneva in 1987 and the donation of most of the proceeds to the Louis Pasteur Institute, many millions of pounds, apparently again by the Duchess' wish.” One senses in the “apparently” that there was some doubt about that.

Does the jewelry that may or may not be in Madonna’s possession also have a sordid “history” to conceal?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Froma Harrop's dance with racism

I don’t pay much attention to the Seattle Times, accept maybe to scan the front page when I’m passing a newsstand on my way to work at the airport; I once read that a friend of Mark Twain advised him to stop reading newspapers, because what he read made him so angry; I generally find it sound advice. Unfortunately other people do buy the paper, and I happened to encounter a week-old edition with a story of slight interest that continued on an inside page. As I was fumbling with the newsprint, the editorial page came in view; I observed an op-ed written by one of the people who is responsible for my present contempt for the paper. I have to admit that I had forgotten how much distaste I feel for Froma Harrop, a syndicated op-ed writer working out of Providence, Rhode Island. It isn’t all that surprising that Times would feature her for so many years. For a newspaper in an allegedly “progressive” city, the Times seems to want to play both sides of the fence—“liberal” on gender and gay issues, yet more than willing to throw racial red meat to the more “conservative” audience, such as allegedly corrupt black community leaders and “criminal” Latinos; the paper seems to believe that hatred toward Latinos and acceptance of the worst stereotypes sells its over-priced, shriveled-up little scandal sheet—and Harrop does her best to help spread that message.

Harrop pretends to be a “populist,” which apparently means someone who is ruled by their emotions and prejudices. During the Bush years, Harrop was still liable to say that Bill Clinton and his “big government” policies were responsible for the country’s increasing budget and debt problems. The absurdity of that argument—when one of the rare balanced budgets this country has seen was in the last year of Clinton’s second term in office—should make any rational-thinking person cringe. She was, however, a Hillary Clinton supporter; she also opposes affirmative action, because she feels white women are the principle victims of it. Naturally, she doesn’t take into account that white women were the principle beneficiary of affirmative action (until they didn’t need it any longer). After Clinton lost to Barack Obama in the primaries, Harrop apparently decided that Obama was the “affirmative action” candidate who unfairly stole Hillary's glory, so she did the next "logical" thing--becoming a John McCain supporter, even "advising" him on health care policy.

But Harrop’s number one issue—like the Times’—is immigration. The above mentioned op-ed continues Harrop’s anti-Latino propaganda. She has long criticized Obama on most issues, but on this occasion she had something “nice” to say about him, praising his administration’s more “effective” approach to illegal immigration; of course this praise came before the revelations of his illegal immigrant uncle. Harrop went on to parrot her usual misinformation about “Mexicans” driving downs wages, which is why we need to drive them all out. This is a complete misrepresentation of reality; the U.S. imports most of its apparel and consumer electronic devices from Asia. Why? Because they are manufactured by cheap labor, with workers making a few dollars a day in some places. How can the U.S. compete with this? Nobody likes low wages, but realism tells us that for the U.S. to compete with these foreign sources, they must keep costs down. It is a fallacy to believe that if Americans on the lower-end of the pay scale make an extra dollar an hour they will willingly buy higher cost American-made products—especially when retailers are trying to maximize their profits by selling low-cost Asian-made goods. The world is apparently much too complicated for people like Harrop to understand—and the people she patronizes are of no help to her “cause.” What this country needs to do is develop new products and technologies that are home grown—something which it did in the past, but has passed-on first to Japan, and now China and Europe.

Harrop has made many plainly racist accusations in the past. She, like most nativist xenophobes, accused Latinos of being responsible for the population “explosion” in the country. As usual, this flies in the face of facts. Since the “amnesty” of 1986, the population of the U.S. increased by 64 million—50 percent more than the total number of Latinos in the country, including illegal immigrants. Harrop also blamed Latinos for resource and water wastage in the Intermountain West. Huh? What about people who own large homes that waste electricity and lawns that need to be watered constantly? Industries that refuse to "go green"? But no—illegal aliens crowding in one-bedroom dwellings, in ditches or tents are to blame. I once complained to the Times about a piece Harrop wrote about urban sprawl; "Mexicans" yet again are here, there and everywhere are consuming resources and generally making nuisances of themselves.

I wrote to the Times on another occasion questioning why they continued to publish Harrop’s op-eds when it seemed that every other week she was bashing “Mexicans.” Someone with an anti- Mexican fixation scapegoating them for anything and all was clearly a racist. This person with this odd, foreign name doubtless believes that her “people” came to the country the “right” way, which until 1924 meant the price of ship fare and brief stop at Ellis Island. The U.S, has never had a comprehensible immigration policy in regard to Latin American; today Euro-elite Latinos are first in line, while it is nearly impossible for Latinos with indigenous blood to immigrate legally, which why they do so illegally. Yet this country starves for their labor; the purpose of current immigration policies is simply to keep their numbers under control. The vast majority of undocumented workers in this country are here to work and support their families; they are not responsible for vast increases in crime as Harrop has claimed on many occassions; in fact we see that the kind of anti-Latino sentiment she subscribes to is causing violent crimes against Latinos, particularly in states like Georgia. As far as being a burden to the "system" as Harrop subscribes to, know one really knows; one study has shown that what illegal immigrants may pay in taxes is as much as $16 billion in excess of what they derive from government services.

Here are some Harrop commentary from the past:

“David Paul Kuhn well captures my long-running frustration in trying to work around The New York Times’s agenda when the subject is immigration. He shows how the paper lumps together legal and undocumented immigrants to underplay the damage caused by illegal immigration. In this case, the piece slyly implies that illegal immigrants do not depress the wages of America’s low-skilled workers…The game, also blatantly played in countless editorials, is to portray the controversy as being pro-immigrant versus anti-immigrant —rather than over the true source of public anger, which is illegal immigration. As Kuhn points out, legal immigration enjoys widespread support.”

First, as I’ve stated before, street corner workers doing yard work do not “depress” wages, cheap foreign product made by cheap labor does. But for this so-called “liberal”—and for others, like Thom Hartmann—propaganda works when facts do not. The fact is that given the level of hate propaganda, those who have immigration on the brain tend to lump all in the same group. And if the NY Times has an “agenda,” it is an attempt to humanize people, many who traveled great distances through many hazards—even life-threatening—to get here. These people deserve more consideration and respect than people who demonize them, like Harrop, who spends her life making a great deal of money creating essentially nothing useful.

Harrop also criticized the NYT’s again for an editorial entitled “Study Finds Young Hispanics Face Obstacles to Integration”:

More than one in five American children are Latino. While 92 percent of them are citizens, 58 percent live with one or more foreign-born parents.

“Readers are no doubt scratching their heads, wondering what percentage of those foreign-born parents are in the country illegally. If immigration status weren’t germane, there would be no purpose in the “while” clause, noting that the great majority of Latino children are citizens.”

Note that Harrop doesn’t actually address the thrust of the study, rather fixates on a passage which she attempts to insert her own “facts” to avoid the problem. Why do Latino youths face obstacles to integration? How about prejudice, demonization and scapegoating from people like Harrop?

“Latinos should darn well vote” goes another bit of Harrop’s patronizing tripe. Like they “owe” Democrats? For what? Latino voters saved Sen. Harry Reid’s arse in 2010, and what are they getting for it? Nothing. If the vote doesn’t come out in 2012, Harrop can more properly blame paladins of paranoia and hate like herself, who have allowed a public acceptance of numerous voting laws passed by Republican-dominated state houses that disenfranchise millions of mostly Democratic-leaning voters, as detailed in the current issue of Rolling Stone. Anti-Latino immigrant fanatics like Harrop have created an atmosphere where the false belief that illegal immigrants are also illegally voting prevails, without a shred of evidence, and has allowed the passage of photo ID requirements that directly affect young voters, voters in poor neighborhoods, and in some states ex-felons who have served their time—obviously in the belief that most are minorities likely to vote Democratic.

Harrop also whined about a guest worker program in Utah: “Guest-worker advocates, writes an approving editorialist for The Wall Street Journal, believe that ‘the most responsible way to shrink the illegal alien population without hurting the local economy is by giving foreign nationals wider access to the state's labor markets.’ The writer calls the law's opponents ‘immigration restrictionists.’…Gosh, Utah is now setting up a formal partnership with the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to grease the pipeline of foreign laborers. Native-born and otherwise documented workers, hold your tongues. You don't want to be called a ‘restrictionist,’ do you?”

Why does Harrop hate “Mexicans” so much? Oh never, mind. She wouldn’t tell us the real truth anyways. She has claimed that Americans support legal immigration. Well, only if they are not “Mexicans,” apparently. One-in-nine resident of Asian heritage are illegal immigrants, but she apparently likes them.

“But the NY Times also likes this end-run around federal laws that limit the number of immigrants that may enter this country legally ---- laws designed to protect the wages and benefits of U.S. workers. How nice to treat the long-suffering, low-skilled American as invisible and shroud that neglect in pious humanitarian sentiments.”

People like Harrop just slaughter me. Isn’t it loverly that we live in a country that relegates an entire segment of the population to a permanent underclass that is “long-suffering” and “low-skilled?” Harrop’s “empathy” is more likely to excite incredulity from the very people she patronizes—mainly minorities. By the way, Harrop’s hilarious reference to immigration laws that are supposed to “protect” wages and benefits is only worthy of more incredulity when we realize that, once more, that the greater threat is jobs moving out of the country because of low-labor costs elsewhere, and this is what the domestic economy must compete with. So what’s her plan about that? Harrop’s contempt of “humanitarian sentiments,” merely reiterates her lack of simple human decency.

“Poor immigrants: Asset of Burden?” Harrop admits that most Latinos are hardworking, but naturally she seems to assume that most of them are uneducated and illiterate, and have nothing of value to contribute. “Much of the demand for labor is really for cheaper labor that undercuts the most economically vulnerable Americans.” Actually, that is not true. Today, most of the jobs going wanting are technical, scientific, health care and other skilled jobs that there are not enough qualified “natives” to fill. Note that Harrop doesn’t suggest that we need to do something to improve the education system in the country. It’s odd, but in the male-dominated college and university environment in the decades following WWII, engineering and sciences were the avenues to exciting careers when horizons seemed endless; today, women like Harrop dominate college classrooms, and there is much less interest in the more advanced fields.

“Mass immigration has hastened the declining fortunes of our low-skilled workers.”

More ignorance. In the past, the American economy needed immigrants in order to grow; the more people, the more workers, the more money made. During the Clinton administration, there was a net of 22 million jobs created. In the past, immigrant labor tended to fill the lower-rung positions that gave “native” workers, regardless of their skill level, the opportunity to advance as businesses grew. In the 1986, the year of the “amnesty,” the unemployment rate was 7.0 percent. By 1989 it was 5.3 percent. The presence of illegal immigrants thus had no direct bearing on the unemployment rate; the indication is that they were located in areas where there was demand for labor. Illegal immigrants do not go places where there is no work—and natives in impoverished, high unemployment areas have the unfortunate habit of staying put, waiting for work or collecting various forms of public assistance.

“It's true that immigration has cost Mexico many of its most ambitious people. At the same time, it helps the Mexican elites get rid of potential malcontents who would demand needed change…More questions: Immigrants may help solve the problems of a declining population, but wouldn't educated foreigners do that best? High-tech professionals from India or Romania have skills that our economy most needs. And they are less likely to tap welfare benefits.”

Here we see Harrop muddling about aimlessly, trying to justify her bigotry. First she says that “ambitious” people have left Mexico. Good or bad? Hard to say. If “potential malcontents” are not “elites,” who are they? Is she talking about the people who are not “white?” Educated immigrants are best, she says. Perhaps—except that it again begs the question why Harrop thinks so little raising-up the native population out of poverty and despair. Why should people from India and Romania be taking the best jobs?

More Harropsisms:

“Poor immigrants, be they legal or illegal, should be treated with dignity. Portraying these hard-laboring people as some sort of criminal class is plain nuts.” Harrop should take her own advice.

“The American public gets to decide who comes here and how many, not would-be immigrants.” Before there was as "American public," there were indigenous peoples who didn't get to decide anything--the "public" just took what they wanted; the same treatment was accorded to Mexicans who were residents of the territory extorted from Mexico by an expansionist-minded U.S.. And who is the “public” anyways? People like Harrop and Pat Buchannan, who thinks that non-whites are “out to destroy the country?”

“While the demand for workers should inform these decisions, American employers have no God-given right to cheap labor.” Maybe not, but again it exposes Harrop’s ignorance about economic realities. It’s either “cheap” labor here, or no labor at all, since it will have gone off to some foreign land.

More mindboggling Harrop hypocrisies: “Bush was a fan of the cheap labor that illegal immigration fostered, but he did have an abiding respect for the aliens themselves. In pushing his own comprehensive immigration reforms, he warned against ‘harsh, ugly rhetoric.’ But now that rhetoric has busted through the gates, and responsible Republican leaders will have a hard time corralling it. This obviously isn't helpful to their party's long-term prospects.”

Harrop, the alleged “liberal” who supported John McCain in 2008, has been on the leading edge of the “harsh, ugly rhetoric” she supposedly is decrying. It “busted out” of her “gate” years ago, and she still finds it impossible to “corral” it in.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

With friends like these...

Last week I read a newspaper story composed by someone named Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. I wondered what exactly her intent was. Presumably she sought to give a “larger than life” character a human face. If that was her intent, for me she badly misfired, turning her subject—who she helped write an autobiography—into a rather unpleasant, unsympathetic character. The following passages were the ones that stood out most starkly:

“When the first neurologist told her she had symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, she almost dropped him with one punch. When a second advised her to retire immediately, she said, ‘Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?’"

“She told her doctors, ‘You don't know me. You don't know what I'm capable of.’"

“Asked to count backward from 100 by 7s, she froze. Next, she was asked, ‘Do you know today's date?’ She has never known the date. She deals with dates strictly on a need-to-know basis.”

“She performed less strongly on the neuro-psych exam, which evaluated her mental status, and problem solving and spatial abilities. She was led into a small white room by a stranger who promptly began firing math questions at her — and math has always been a sore subject with (her). Her college sorority sisters at the University of Tennessee-Martin had to do her homework for her.”

"’They didn't test for leadership,’ her son says. ‘They didn't test for relationships. They didn't test for basketball IQ. None of those things are on the test; it was just math problems. They asked questions she wouldn't know on a regular basis. So I don't think the test applies to what she does as a coach’”

This, however, was contradicted by an earlier passage:

“After several instances of forgetfulness last season, she says, ‘I lost my confidence.’ She became increasingly hesitant, and withdrawn. She avoided meeting with players one on one, afraid she might say something wrong. There were days — not many, but a few — when she couldn't bring herself to go to the office at all, and stayed home, ‘just to be around the house, and be in a safe place.’"

My general impression is a person who is easily crossed, perhaps verbally abusive, prefers excuses to explain away faults, and cannot function outside the safety of supporters. Not someone I would have much respect for.

Of course, I’m cherry-picking here from a lengthy story, but once a bad impression is made, it is the one that sticks in the mind. The subject of the piece was Pat Summitt, coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols for near four decades, and along with Geno Auriemma, is probably the only coach who has ready name recognition in women’s basketball, professional or collegiate. She had won her first two NCAA titles when I was there, although I don’t recall ever seeing her on campus, or having the impression that anyone accorded her the star status of the football coach. One thing that I did notice over the years that she tended to recruit mostly black players, when other schools were importing Europeans with questionable amateur status. I read somewhere that some white female coaches did not feel “safe” recruiting in black neighborhoods, which explained why their squads were mostly white. But Summitt, who had a reputation as a trash-talker with a blue streak, probably preferred black players because they had a greater tolerance for such verbal antics, when sensitive white players might run and cry to mommy. She might not be the Bobby Knight-type who throws around chairs and punches players, but she was obviously someone who didn’t take fools gladly. In a way, I admired all of that.

Maybe I’ll give Summitt a pass, this time, and blame my negative impression on an overzealous zealot trying too hard to turn her “hero” into a put-upon Prometheus, and instead turning her into some delusional General Patton, who unfortunately did get carried away with his emotions in rather unpleasant ways. With a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, the last thing she needs is “friends” making excuses for her; there will come a time when she needs support more tangible and grounded in reality. Where will they be then?