Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Which shooters get the benefit of the doubt?

The contrast on CNN tonight is striking.

In one "developing" story, a manhunt is on for three suspects in the shooting death of a police officer in Illinois. Police have not publicly released the names of the suspects, one of which is reportedly African-American and two others white. The officer killed had radioed that he was in foot pursuit of three "suspicious subjects" just before communication was lost. CNN has multiple police experts being interviewed, one a member of the federal marshal service. We have no names and really no information, including the reason the slain officer was pursuing three individuals, but the police side of the story is being told with a proverbial bullhorn.

In the other developing story, a day after CNN's cable news competitor, FOX News, called "Black Lives Matter" a "murder" operation and a "hate group," a video has surfaced of a brown-skinned man in Texas being shot by police with at least one hand in the air and standing stationary. The man's other arm is obscured in the video by a telephone pole. None of the CNN talking heads, including Don Lemon, are willing tonight to indict the officers as yet for the shooting despite what we see in the video. Two deputies, Greg Vasquez and Robert Sanchez, are getting the benefit of the doubt despite very little evidence to the contrary that they murdered this man. They are on paid administrative leave. The police statement said that the "armed" suspect resisted arrest, then the deputies attempted to detain the man using "non-lethal" force before resorting to shooting. None of those claims are supported by the video, including the claim that the suspect was armed.

This police department, in Bexar County (TX), is also criticizing a San Antonio TV station for releasing the video, encouraging local residents to contact the station with their complaints and accusing the station (KSAT) of "sensational behavior" that has put officers' lives at stake, but it seems to me that it's the officers in the video that have been engaged in sensational behavior. How dare the station show unedited video shot on a public street that tells us what it tells us.

By law, police are only allowed to shoot at civilians when they feel their life is in danger, not when they are trying to take someone into custody. According to the new database managed by the Washington Post, at least 662 Americans have been shot and killed by on-duty police in 2015, 62 in the month of August alone. The Post also reports that only 54 officers have been convicted of fatal shootings in the United States since 2005. 

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I believe that this incarnation of Donald Trump exists because we have no Stewart, no Colbert, and no Letterman. The 'no Letterman' is the key part of that dynamic. Dave went off the air in May and that's exactly when Trump's campaign took on this new face. The icon of New York broadcasting always called Trump on his shit-- even to his face. Watch this clip from the Late Show, which dates only to January. We clearly see a man that has already begun his campaign for president. The narcissism is there. At one point, he takes credit for the idea of wearing red ties. But Letterman is there to cut him, and Trump is largely chastened. This Trump is talking about improving "highways, roads, and bridges" (infrastructure). He says that Dave's idea for more mass transit just "needs to be sold." Medical costs, he says, need to be brought under control and "we have to take care of the people." He arguably endorses single-payer health insurance about half-way through the clip, although he doesn't say that directly (he has previously), and he says Dave is "100% right" when Dave says that our nation is stronger than the symbol of the American flag when it gets burned. January Trump sounds almost sensible.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Zen of Dennis Kucinich: "I'm electable if you vote for me"

Bernie Sanders now trails Hillary Clinton by only seven percentage points in Iowa (30% to 37%), according to the new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll, and Clinton has lost wholly a third of her support by that measuring stick only since May. In New Hampshire, Sanders leads the former first lady by that much and more. But Clinton will continue to be referred to as "the front-runner" by the national news media.

For his part, Donald Trump has been doing to presidential campaigns what Charlie Sheen did to television sitcoms. Our political institution, the "Washington consensus," is so corrupt that it may be actually benefiting from an infusion of tiger blood. Andrew O'Hehir is a must-read this week in Salon...  

We don’t have enough time between now and the heat death of the universe to figure out all the reasons behind the media and political elite’s collective freakout of 2015. I think we can say a couple of things: Some of the reasons are obvious and some are less so, and no matter what happens in the short term, this shock to the system is a critically important moment for democracy. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Donald Trump is not entirely a bad thing. Liberals who get the vapors, Danny Shea style, about what a national embarrassment Trump is are missing the point. We need a national embarrassment right now, or at least we need politics that break free of the tepid safety zone of bipartisan paralysis, dysfunction and apathy. Of course I don’t actually want Trump to be president, but he serves a number of useful purposes and the forces trying to shut him down are the same ones seeking to shut Bernie Sanders down, the forces that long to ensure a boring, safe and utterly substance-free general election between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Revisionist and other such histories

Here's the traditional media for you: The Southern Poverty Law Center, a well-respected civil rights organization and hate-group watchdog founded by attorney Morris Dees and the late Julian Bond, points out this week, inarguably, that Citizen Trump has been promoting "white nationalist positions" on the issues of immigration and birthright citizenship, and USA Today is still trying to decide whether or not he's a "bully."

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This writer thinks there have been too many Hurricane Katrina 10th anniversary retrospectives published this summer, but I was kind of thinking that Katrina had become just another example of what Studs Terkel called "our national Alzheimer's."

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It's a very palpable feeling: that abortion rights opponents just do not get why you are so indifferent to the illicit videos they are releasing to the public that target Planned Parenthood. This article helped explain the realities to me. If you are a man especially, please read it.

Until now, I have been completely in the dark about characteristics of female-ness such as "period chunks," "fetal seizures," and "clot(s) bigger than your first." Really, the utter audacity of those that would intrude on a decision like terminating a pregnancy... Your body is your fucking body, that I am convinced. 

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Was "Cobra Kai" practitioner Johnny Lawrence really the villain in The Karate Kid, or should we consider it instead to be that sadistic punk Daniel LaRusso? A fellow contrarian explains the theory in YouTube form.

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If you've visited the St. Louis Cardinals team museum in downtown St. Louis, you surely did not miss seeing, behind glass, the St. Louis Browns uniform worn for an afternoon in August 1951 by Eddie Gaedel. This is his story.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Little League Showcase

Central Iowa is in the news these days for reasons other than the daily, merciless battering of its citizens by the United States presidential race. You guessed the topic correctly: youth softball.

Our fit and fighting 12-year-old girls’ softball area all-stars traveled to the Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon, and had to deal with a competitor from South Snohomish, Washington intentionally losing a game with the goal of preventing the strong Iowa team from advancing against them in the tournament. The collaborative effort at purposeful defeat was apparently less than subtle, as one executed by children is likely to be-- intentional misses at the plate, bunting with two strikes, probably some giggling, et cetera. After a formal complaint was submitted, Little League Softball ordered a head-to-head game between the offending team and the aggrieved, and, in a story straight from Hollywood, the Iowa team prevailed by a single run, 3-2, Tuesday morning.

There are a lot of hypocrites out in the local media this week. It's like shooting pike in a barrel in Des Moines when the local team also gets to play the role of good guy in this provocative human-interest story. Was this event only the fault of the Washington coach? Should his players really be punished for the actions he ordered? Where were the parents when the team was witnessed to be clearly losing on purpose? Why was a head-to-head competition ordered when a tournament forfeit was clearly warranted for the Washington squad? Is Lady Liberty crying in New York harbor because of the wounded sanctity of youth sports?

Am I in the wrong because my first reaction to this story was “hate the game, not the player”? This isn’t the Black Sox scandal. The Washington team was losing for the larger purpose of winning. The structure of the tournament seems to have at least encouraged this somewhat. The outcome of Tuesday's game confirms that the coach knew the side upon which his bread was buttered. I can appreciate the argument that “they’re only 12 years old,” but I think there’s more than a little insincerity in play here, and I also get a little whiff of sexism also.

To the latter first: I’m not sure you can dismiss the reaction to this as being gender-biased. Would some of these protectors of our innocence be less concerned about this if the participants were boys? To deny that is to deny the existence of sexism. Girls are more fragile. Girls' feelings can be more easily hurt. Nobody’s going to publicly own this stance in 2015, but trust me, it’s in play here.

And that hypocrisy... Every year on television, ESPN/ABC networks broadcast-- to the entire nation-- both the Little League Softball and Little League Baseball World Series. Yet to come this summer, pre-teen boys take to the diamond in a bucolic section of Pennsylvania and entertain millions of home viewers with their opportunistic play. Only on ABC. Lucrative advertising spots are sold. The national Little League organization never has to schedule a bake sale to keep itself financially solvent. Last year, a girl that competed with the boys-- and dominated them-- had companies lining up at her front door with suitcases filled with money attempting to buy her endorsement of their product. Every element of American life gets monetized, and children's sports have come to mean big dollars. Look here quick, Martha, it's little kids acting like big leaguers on the TV. And almost never do you hear somebody say about all this: “they’re only 12 years old.”

This softball tournament in Oregon wasn’t a backyard picnic. It was squads of regional all-stars competing, in some cases, thousands of miles from home. If it’s all fun and games, then there’s a surprisingly large amount that's at stake, not the least of which is the exposure brought by television. These kids, their parents, and their coaches, don’t take a week off from work and all other activities to travel that far away and then lose. I’d seriously like to know how many of the people that have a problem with what this coach did-- and, to be clear, I do-- also have a problem with the Little League World Series being televised.

This very week, NFL linebacker James Harrison made headlines when a report came out that he forces his own children to give back “participation” awards they’re given for their youth endeavors-- his point being the popular one today that too many youth organizations have an “everybody gets a ribbon” mentality, and that fact is causing America to rot from the inside, and welfare state yada yada yada. Harrison's parenting strategy certainly was garnering a lot of online support from readers in the stories about it that I read, probably from some of the same observers who think a Little League coach went too far.

A savvy comment-maker on the radio drew a parallel specifically between the Washington coach and today’s investment bankers and tax professionals. In our culture, we expect adult individuals such as these to exploit each and every loophole they come across in their jobs. To this comparison, one of the radio hosts volleyed with the “but they’re only 12 years old” response. Okay, so he's suggesting that decisions made on the job by investment bankers, such as those that recently crippled a global economy, don't affect 12-year-olds? If forced to choose, I would take the nation’s investment bankers embracing a notion of fair play over the nation’s Little League coaches doing the same, and then we could utter a line instead like “it’s only sports.”

I’m calling dishonesty if you’re not willing to acknowledge the larger pattern at play. Sports is big business like so many other things and you can’t have a system of ultra-competition at the top without expecting some ultra-competition to seep in at the bottom. Though his statement is often incorrectly attributed to others, college football coach Red Sanders once declared that “winning isn’t everything... it’s the only thing,” and what element of American life has not taken that preposterous statement to heart? It’s fruitless to try to keep your children away from it. Better to turn a story like this into a teachable moment: Junior, did you see what that coach did in Oregon? Purposely losing so that he could win even more? Everybody voiced their outrage, but had refused to acknowledge, before the fact, that such an event was an inevitability. Then, afterwards, the deformed mindset that precipitated the scandal continued to dominate? That's also how Wall Street works.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Campaign update

The State Department now says that 60 of Hillary Clinton's private emails contained classified data. That number is expected to grow over the next few months as her former employer wades through 30,000 work-related emails that passed through her personal email server. There will likely be hundreds of breaches uncovered by the time the investigation concludes. When the government was prosecuting Chelsea Manning, then-Secretary of State Clinton called a press conference to promote the prosecution, saying therein, "I think that in an age where so much information is flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so."

She's the exception, I guess.

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Donald Trump, the man who has found a way to meld politics with professional wrestling, has a plan to radically change immigration in America. One proposal is to deport children born in America to undocumented parents. Trump did not disclose the time frame he has in mind for this rule. The Dutch that settled Trump's hometown of New York City in 1624 didn't have their papers in order. Their native-born descendants number in the millions.

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Trump scores all the headlines for his outrageous comments, but Scott Walker describes his own immigration plan as "similar."

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Trump has a sister, "a female version" of him serving on the bench of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Sadly, she's no longer a 10.

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Trump, Hillary, Bernie, and pretty much every other presidential candidate is visiting us in Des Moines at the Iowa State Fair this week. Look at this photo of Hillary. Even in a staged photo op, she can't fake her way through the disdain she has for the process. It's all in her face: Can't I just be anointed? What an awful, awful candidate.

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Did Black Lives Matters activists recently hurt the feelings of your favorite presidential candidate? Well, fear not because undercover police in New York are infiltrating their organization to make sure these terrorist acts of First Amendment exercise don't continue. Any of the previously-offended candidates have a comment on this law enforcement strategy, or are they all going to stay silent and again affirm the activists' larger point?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Brooklyn loves its Dodgers

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, George Costanza encounters an attractive woman on the subway and follows her to a hotel room. There, he is handcuffed to the bed in his underwear in what he thinks is foreplay to sexual congress, but it is soon revealed that he is being robbed by the woman and she leaves him cuffed as she makes off with his wallet. As she exits, George cries out to her, “Can I call you?”

I think of George’s desperation in this scene when I read about fans of the St. Louis Rams and the football team that refuses to love them back. A judge last week ruled that the Missouri governor can pursue a financing deal for a new open-air football stadium on the city’s north riverfront without it being subject to a public vote. A lawsuit filed by a group of state lawmakers attempting to block the governor was also rejected by the courts. (Other suits remain.) What that leaves in St. Louis is a situation in which, if the funding deal comes completely together, taxpayers are going on the hook for the construction of a second football stadium in the Gateway City when the domed stadium that opened for business in 1995, and still houses the team, is still having its construction bonds paid for by the city and the county through 2021. Meanwhile, the Rams’ owner, Stan Kroenke, the son-in-law of Walmart co-founder Bud Walton and estimated to have a financial worth of $6.3 billion after taxes and toupees, has a plan in place to use his own money (almost unprecedented in professional sports) to build what would be a third football facility. What makes his plan unique from the others is that he doesn't plan to build his stadium in the immediate St. Louis area, but on a plot of land he recently purchased near the Hollywood Park race track in Inglewood, California.

Rams fans are harboring this odd illusion that Kroenke cares one way or another what St. Louis takes as its next step. The Rams are allowed to break their lease on the Edward Jones Dome on a year-to-year basis as of the end of last season. Would the enormous financial commitment of a new stadium by the region make any difference whatsoever? Kroenke has not initiated any talk or discussion with city officials in St. Louis. Instead, he spent last week presenting detailed schematic plans for his "shovel-ready" Inglewood project to an NFL ownership group that calls itself the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities.

The front man for St. Louis' stadium "task force," and for a $998 million riverfront building proposal that is not, repeat not, a billion dollars, is former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock. He's been making the media rounds lately, including a stop into the television broadcasting booth of a Cardinals game earlier this week. "The only thing that can get in our way is ourselves, as a region," said Peacock, speaking for other people's money. The certainly-altruistic Peacock is also in the running to take over an expansion Major League Soccer franchise, which could theoretically be housed in the new riverfront facility. Peacock doesn't point out that St. Louis' current facility for American football is already much newer and superior to the ones that house either the San Diego Chargers or Oakland Raiders, the two other organizations angling to claim all or a part of Los Angeles, and it's also worth noting that MLS, since 1999, has been steering its franchises into soccer-specific stadiums tailor-made for their sport and with smaller capacities than the one being proposed in St. Louis for the National Football League.

With other teams acting as suitors for Los Angeles, Peacock seems to believe that the NFL could impose its will on Kroenke if St. Louis delivers the Rams a new facility, but the league can't even defend a four-game suspension for slightly-deflated footballs. Are league owners, through their proxy, Commissioner Roger Goodell, going to deny the first man in two decades to deliver them the Los Angeles market with the combination of franchise ownership, land ownership, and will? And that, additionally, has almost more money than is humanly imaginable? The league has already been powerless to prevent Kroenke from flouting the league's cross-ownership rules for years-- he owns the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche in clear violation of NFL bylaws-- and the league has never championed St. Louis as a market. It passed the Loo over twice when considering expansion markets prior to the Rams' relocation.

It's well-documented that new stadiums bring a community none of the following: permanent jobs, increased income, increased tax revenue, or increased economic growth. Academia agrees with this assessment in full. The Brookings Institute says that no recent professional sports facility has returned anything close to a reasonable return on investment. The St. Louis case is technically not even the standard sports stadium extortion at this point. Kroenke has not asked St. Louis for a new stadium. A lawsuit over upgrades to the dome landed in arbitration, and the Rams won. Kroenke is now putting his money where his mouth is, and people seem confused. That's because he's not asking for anything, he's just leaving. His personal monument to corporate welfare, to borrow Dave Zirin's phrase about sports stadia, is being constructed eighteen hundred miles west of the point where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi. Figuratively speaking, St. Louis is hand-cuffed to the bed in its underwear, and now apparently some Costanzas are desperate to their days looking at not one-- but two-- NFL stadiums, both of them unpaid for and empty.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tired of the Cardinals

The baseball media is clearly bored with the St. Louis Cardinals. On websites, on television, on talk radio, in snail media (newspapers and magazines), reporters and bloggers have moved on to fresher topics than the year after year dominance of the best-run organization in baseball.

What’s not to hate about the Cardinals from a journalistic standpoint? They will have no 20-game winners this year, no pitchers in the top 15 in strikeouts, WHIP, or strikeout-to-walk ratio. Their pitching staff defies all conventional SABR-metric wisdom about pitching to contact. No Cardinal hitter will slug 30 home runs, or possibly even 25, in 2015. None of their base runners will swipe 30 bags. No Cardinals are in the top 10 in batting in the National League, nor is any Cardinal likely to drive in even 90 runs. (The lead-off hitter leads the team with 60.) There are no Cardinals being promoted for the MVP Award or for the Cy Young. The Cards had six players named to the National League All-Star team but all but two went missing during the game. The team hasn’t peeled off any double-digit winning streaks during the season, like the Cubs or the Blue Jays. They acquired no marquee players at the trade deadline, like the Blue Jays or the Royals. Their team payroll is lower than ten other clubs including the Blue Jays, the media's new flavor for August.

Yet the St. Louis Cardinals, as a weekend series commences at Busch Stadium tonight against the Miami Marlins, are 73 up and 41 down, seven full games in front of both the most dominant division in the game and any other team in the majors. If they win only half of their remaining 48 games, they will be boasting a 97-win season. No team in MLB has won 100 games since the 2011 Phillies.

How do they do it? Mostly pitching. They had baseball’s best team earned run average in April, then again in May, then June, then July. Their starting rotation is, by ERA, the most dominant in MLB since the 1985 Dodgers, and their bullpen has been just as good. Even though we read and hear constantly about a budding new era of pitching dominance, and about the blazing young pitching staffs of teams like the Mets and the Nationals, the Cardinals’ tossers, if the season ended today, would win the ERA title by the largest margin of any team in thirty years. Their staff is just as young, if not younger, than these others. They had three pitchers (Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and closer Trevor Rosenthal) named to the All-Star team that are each under the age of 25. I may have forgotten to mention that the ace of their rotation went down to a season-ending injury in April after only four starts.

The team scores just enough to win. Everybody contributes. No plate appearances are given away. The best rookie hitter in the National League, measured in true production, is named neither Kris Bryant nor Joc Pederson. He is Randal Grichuk, traded by the Angels as a minor-leaguer for David Freese two years ago. He roams the outfield as a plus-defender for St. Louis. The team bats solidly with men on base, but only at .264. The BA drops to .251 with men in scoring position. Their defense is very sturdy, but not flashy beyond the general supremacy of Jason Heywood in right field and Yadier Molina behind the plate. In this paragraph, I may have forgotten to mention that their third place hitter, Matt Holliday, is missing his 52nd game of the season tonight due to injury, and their clean-up hitter from a year ago, Matt Adams, has taken only 144 at-bats.

They are 32-18 against their own division, a circuit that has been bruising every other division with regularity, one that has three of the four best team records in either league. The third-place Cubs in the NL Central are 7 1/2 games out, but would be in front of the AL East by three games and the NL West by two-- while playing the tougher, unbalanced schedule.

Where’s the ink? Where’s the love? What does it take to get a little attention around these parts? And here’s another disadvantage the Cardinals have overcome, with the traditional one already being that they play in the fifth-smallest TV market in the league. Consider now the parity problem the league suffers from. What, you ask, dumbfounded? There is no parity problem. Every team in every market has a shot at a title now. This has been well-documented. Correct. And therein lies the problem. Five to twenty-five years ago, the recently-flourishing Royals and Pirates were complaining that they couldn’t compete in their financially-disadvantaged home markets, yet that whole time the equally-disadvantaged Cardinals were competing—and thriving. This entire narrative was a scam. “Parity” has been improperly equated with fairness.

The amateur draft is the biggest reason why it’s a misnomer. “Parity” has been promoted since 1969 by a draft structure that rewards teams for being the worst in the league. These bad teams were just too stupid to realize they were being given a hand up. They sacrificed draft picks for bigger names and for satisfying immediate needs. They have gone out and signed free agents at the expense of draft picks. Contrast the Cubs and the Cardinals. The Cubs of Chicago, Illinois play in front of the fourth largest urban population in North America. They have a national fan base and every resource available to them under the sun—and have had for decades. Yet, they have constructed the club they currently put on the field, principally, by intentionally biffing it for six years, and gathering the top-end draft picks that come with that strategy. Their farm system is now generally considered to be the most-well-stocked of any in the game—although the facts on the field suggest that the distinction belongs still to the Cardinals.

Herein lies the difference. The Cubs did their well-documented “expert” building by claiming the 9th overall pick in 2011, the 6th in 2012, the 2nd in 2013, and the 4th in 2014. The Cardinals have not drafted higher than 13th in the draft since 1998, and not higher than 19th since 2008. The Cubs did not finish higher than fifth in their six-team division in any season between 2009 and this one. The Cardinals, you might be surprised to find out, have finished with the worst record in their division (or before expansion, their league) only one time since 1918. That was in 1990 when they finished sixth out of six teams in the old incarnation of the National League East and still managed to win 70 games.

The Cardinals organization clearly teaches the game better than any other. Internally, it’s referred to as the Cardinal Way. It’s an actual teaching guide that exists as a tangible, bound manual written by a baseball lifer named George Kissell, who was originally signed as an infielder in 1940 by Branch Rickey, and who later mentored Sparky Anderson, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa. The most recent results of the Cardinal Way have been laid out for you in the paragraphs above, and your doubts only add to its power. The Cards would probably be on track to win 120 games this year if they had the draft slots the Cubs have taken on for intentionally putting a non-competitive team on the field every year since this decade began.

Is this the system of competition Major League Baseball should be sanctioning? And which team should be considered the underdog? Is it the “cursed” team whose historically-bad winning percentage and championship drought (in a world where curses do not actually exist) has actually been the result of bad baseball decisions and a lack of winning attitude despite breathtaking financial resources? Or is it the little red engine that defies the odds every year despite less money, no lottery picks, and insufficient media attention for its remarkable ongoing success? A lot of you probably took the Vegas odds on the Cubs back in March, but you should have taken the Cardinals. I don’t even know what those odds were, but I know the Cardinals were a longer shot to win it all on Opening Day than were the Cubs, according to Vegas handicappers. Cards fans don’t flood the sports books with our wages. We spend our disposable income on game tickets because we know that the unbalanced fan support we offer becomes a valuable resource. That's not a glossy media story, but it's a system that works.