Friday, July 03, 2015

"We can't wait any longer"

A flag can be a very untrivial item. If a large enough number of people project deep meaning onto that flag, this inanimate object becomes an item of terrific importance, one that ignites deep passions, just as a painting in a museum might.

The flag of the Confederate States of America is just such a powerful emblem. It’s one that represents the longest-lasting terrorist threat to the United States. Its precise role in the Civil War is muddy to me. Whether it belongs to the Southern states in general or the Army of Northern Virginia or whatever doesn’t matter. What does is its ongoing use of the battle flag as a symbol of a culture that has fed terror to black families for more than a century and a half. In the United States, Nelson Mandela is formally declared a terrorist while the Confederate flag flies above the state capitols of South Carolina and Louisiana. It is protected by law from desecration or defilement in five states. In Germany, neo-Nazis wave the flag as a proxy because it’s a crime in that country to fly the swastika.

As an exercise in political activism, Bree Newsome’s climb to the top of the flag pole in Columbia, South Carolina last week is being compared to the historic stand taken by Rosa Parks. It was also some John Brown shit—aggressive, divisive, and taken of strong moral character. The greatest American of the twentieth century was Martin Luther King, Jr. The greatest of the nineteenth was Brown. It causes me distress that I have to un-“friend” people from Facebook for posting dumb “Heritage, Not Hate” GIFs even though those people have lived in the state of Iowa their entire lives. These are people that do not know their own proud history.

The North held—and still holds—all of the high moral ground in respect to the United States Civil War Over Slavery. The war was about the economic empowerment of the Southern region of the country only so far as the entire economic engine of the South was driven by human chattel. It’s incomplete to talk about slavery as only the forced servitude of black-skin peoples. It was also about babies being ripped away from mothers and sold away for life. It was about a dehumanization effort so powerful that it blossomed again soon after the war had formally ended, then flourished through decade upon decade of public lynchings, systematic rape and emasculation, and survives even up to a cowardly act of arson at a predominately-black church in the South probably again sometime within the last couple hours.

The war began not then, as we’ve been told, with cannon fire at Fort Sumter, South Carolina in 1861, by rebel soldiers against Union forces, but the moment that slavery began on the continent. That act of terror was returned when Northerners of conscience, like Brown, at long last declared all-out war against it. It’s critically important to understand that slaveholders went to war because of their fear of more retaliatory strikes against their contaminated and loathsome system by interracial bands of freedom fighters like Brown’s.

To know the story of the great man, Brown, is to begin to understand the Southern mindset that would eventually declare the elevated conflict beginning in '61 “the War of Northern Aggression.” They’re damn right it was. A small handful of Northerners, and a smaller handful still of Southerners, had had enough. Slavery even confined to the South indicted everybody in the United States. In the North, legislative and judicial acts of cowardice, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, the Dred Scott decision, and the Missouri Compromise, infected all Americans with the cancerous tumor of white supremacy. There would be no more compromises.

The heinous flag of the Confederacy memorializes America’s great unforgivable sin. It should exist in museums for as long as the Republic stands, but Bree Newsome did an effective job of showing us one place where it doesn’t belong.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sorry, I was on vacation again

Interesting financial development in Washington last week, instigated by an invigorated Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The agency released to the public 7,700 consumer complaints against the financial services industry. One banking rep called it a “public shaming” of the industry. Bankers had lobbied hard and expensively against the release, saying that the complaints amount to one-sided stories in each case.

That’s rich. The idea that a complaint by an American citizen and consumer submitted to a government agency should not be a matter of public record is a radical one indeed, yet that’s the world we’ve been living in up to this point. The culture of secrecy is slipping away from them and they can feel it. How is this different than the Federal Communications Commission publicly releasing the complaints it gets from TV viewers about broadcast programming? It isn’t.

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The four dissenting voters in the historic gay marriage decision at the Supreme Court are being dishonest. You're giving them entirely too much credit if you accept their written dissents at face value. They are members of ancient religious tribes and each of their dissenting "legal" opinions are reflective of ancient prejudices, personal anxieties, self-loathing, bad science, and bad sociology. The law was never a consideration.

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There's one person that we could dare say is most often forgotten as a gay pioneer-- a person that was "out and proud," and unapologetic, and also absolutely dominant in her field dating back to the early 1980s. Give it up for Martina Navratilova.

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Now's a great time to revisit 1996's Defense of Marriage Act. Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Tom Daschle, Chris Dodd, Tom Harkin, Joe Lieberman, Patty Murray, Harry Reid, and Paul Wellstone are hoping you'll forget about that one.

Only seven years ago, Barack Obama told MTV he opposed gay marriage, and only four years ago, White House aide Dan Pfeiffer told a group of bloggers, "The president has never favored same sex marriage. He is against it." Now the White House lights up at night in the colors of the rainbow, and in only a decade, historians will be trying to sell us on the idea that Obama was a pioneer for gay rights.

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Hillary Clinton came out for gay marriage in March 2013, the same week Bill O'Reilly announced he was okay with it.

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Donald Trump has been fired from NBC for repeatedly denigrating Mexicans. Trump says that illegal immigrants are "pouring across our borders unabated. Public reports routinely state great amounts of crime are being committed by illegal immigrants."

I don't know why everybody is so upset. He's citing "public reports."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The limitations of Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is fulfilling the progressives’ wish that a truly left-wing candidate might run for the Democratic nomination, and for the time, he is soaring, pulling within 10 percentage points of Hillary Clinton in the latest poll out of New Hampshire. But we’re about to find out what a giant mistake it was for Sanders, a political independent that caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, to choose to run as a Democrat rather than as an independent.

Ralph Nader electrified the summer of 2000 with his independent candidacy, tallying almost three million votes and pushing a progressive agenda that Democratic candidate Al Gore refused to open his ears to until years later. By then, the former Vice President was a filmmaker and a defeated political candidate. Howard Dean was the upstart “progressive” in the 2004 Democratic Primary and the party machine famously rose up to destroy him in Iowa. Sanders, like Dean, is most vulnerable to destruction in this particular state.

The caucus system is profoundly polluted. It allows a small number of activists to dominate the majority. Voters in a caucus, as opposed to a primary, don’t have the whole of election day to cast their ballot, or the time requirement of only a few minutes to do so, or the option to vote absentee. Further, one caucus vote does not equal every other, and the vote is not private affair.

Iowans voting in the Democratic or Republican Party Caucuses are forced to brave the unpredictable weather conditions of a January night in chilly Iowa. The time commitment is the entire evening, perhaps from 6:30 or 7 local time to three hours or more later. (Anybody that works outside an 8 to 5 schedule is excluded.) After a lengthy discussion about the party platform (plus a spirited pass-the-hat effort you don’t find at a traditional polling location), the participants break down into their different candidate groups. They look around the room to see if they’re being judged for their choice by their boss, their co-workers, or their neighbors, especially if they're voting for Donald Trump. The candidates that fail to garner more than 5% of the vote are not tallied for their actual percentage, but actually dismissed entirely. Those candidates have been deemed “unviable” and their supporters must then choose between joining one of the “viable” groups or going home having not had their vote counted at all. (This happened to me and the rest of my precinct’s Dennis Kucinich faction in 2008. I joined my next door neighbors in the John Edwards camp, not feeling any peer pressure whatsoever.) The only vote tally that makes it out of the room and onto your television screen is the final vote, and that one has been shrunken down to a fractional allotment based on the percentage of registered Democrats in that precinct. These reported numbers will tell only part of a story and may bare only a passing resemblance to what would have been the actual vote.

Sanders is clearly a growing favorite in this race among rank-and-file Democrats, and could potentially give Clinton a run for her money for overall support, but he has absolutely no chance of supplanting the Queen of Wall Street Cash as the favorite among the party leadership and the party’s money changers. Sanders’ chance to guide the rhetoric of the debate is limited by the electoral apparatus itself. His “true” progressivism (contrasted by Clinton’s poorly-disguised Republicanism) will have the tangible impact of coloring Clinton’s stump speeches and dictating the nature of her campaign promises, but not in any way will it affect the method in which she truly intends to govern if elected.

Sanders’ voice will have been muted entirely by Super Tuesday in early March. The remaining six months of the race will be a sprinting battle between the preternaturally-dishonest Clinton, a Republican Neanderthal, and nobody else. And if a Nader pops up in there to sound a progressive voice during any part of that half-year, he or she will be labeled by the Democrats a threat to the progressive agenda, a spoiler, and an egotist. He or she will be told that the primary season was the proper time to have raised a voice. The electoral story will end with either a Democrat or Republican victory and a less-than-30% turnout of eligible voters.

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As a federally-contracted employee, my security clearance data is likely in the hands of the Chinese. I was notified of this by my employer earlier today. Aren't I lucky that the United States government keeps a file on me despite no criminal record and foreign governments can just lift it in full?

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Michael Jackson taught us that "it don't matter if you're black or white." It's good advice for Rachel Dolezal. And also for her critics.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Robbers and cops

"Education" is one of those priorities that you probably assume everybody in politics is for. Well, you’re wrong. Education is the great financial equalizer, and that’s the most dangerous enemy possible in a kleptocracy. The Koch-funded Ayn Rand cultists in Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Illinois are each trying to pull off the most draconian of cuts in state education funding. It turns out that if you don’t tax people enough, you don’t have the money to fund the future economic prosperity of your state.

In Scott Walker country, the Badger State, the proposed cut is 13% of the current budget over two years and the elimination of tenure protections for faculty under state law. In Louisiana, where another Republican presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal, holds the executive, the proposal is for a one-year 78% cut. In April, a march by student groups to the legislature in that state drew 1,200 attendees. In Illinois, it’s 31% for one year. The president of Southern Illinois University says that tuition price would have to double statewide if the cuts turned out to be that drastic.

It’s bad enough that working class Americans are increasingly priced out of higher education. Millionaires and their heirs realize that an educated populace only mean more competition for pie slices. The high cost of college helps tamper upward mobility.

Particularly in respect to private colleges and universities, nobody in power in America questions the logic that poor people have to earn their way in while wealthy people make a purchase, even though these private schools couldn't survive without their buckets of taxpayer money that arrive in the form of government backed-loans. To the wealthy, a shared prosperity only translates to higher prices on goods. To keep the economic gap as wide as possible, it’s cheaper for them to keep the money that should go to the U.S. Treasury as tax and spend it instead directly on the politicians and on building walls around their homes.

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Over and over we hear, as one disgusting phone video after another goes viral, that "most cops are good." Well, probably in the sense that most haven't shot and killed a black person, this is true. But I'll bet it would be almost impossible to find one that hasn't falsified a statement. The unwillingness of cops at every level to accept oversight in the form of mandatory public record-keeping and statistics on misconduct and shootings tells us all we need to know. When a civilian files a false statement, that's a crime. When a cop files a false statement, that cop is subject to punishment at the discretion of a supervisor. They kill with impunity and steal in the mega-millions under a law called civil forfeiture. They have relentlessly opposed cameras forced upon their car hoods and on their person, and they have lobbied far and wide for laws that prevent the public video recording of officers while they're working on the job. Accusations of intimidation directed towards the public are legion. An unwritten rule stands that cops don't report misconduct on other cops.

If the police are constantly telling us that we "have nothing to worry about if we haven't done anything wrong," why do they oppose any form of oversight for themselves, and why take such aggressive action when they feel threatened? The man who shot the video of Freddie Gray being arrested in Baltimore was arrested. So was the man who shot the video of Eric Garner being choked out. And the primary witness in the Michael Brown shooting. Cops in New York even went so far as to try to poison the man behind the Garner video. (Only a hunger strike in prison by a suspicious Ramsey Orta may have saved his life.) The Fraternal Order of Police is attempting to make anti-police rhetoric a hate crime and public protests against police behavior subject to counter-terrorism laws.

Warning shots, mace, and tasers continue to be trumpeted as preferable alternatives to shootings and yet the killings of civilians by police continue unabated. In fact, they're ramping up. Why? The pattern of suppression suggests that cops view anybody on the civilian side of the "blue line" as untrustworthy when it comes to promoting the malignant culture of police corruption and terrorism ahead of truth.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Limited pool

My alma mater has hired a new men’s basketball coach to replace Fred Hoiberg. Iowa State has pulled Steve Prohm away from Murray State to replace Hoiberg, who moves on to helm the Chicago Bulls.

Were any minority coaches interviewed by the school during the one-week search process? It doesn’t appear likely. Prohm's Murray State team plays in the Ohio Valley Conference so royal pedigree clearly wasn't a determination in the final choice. He was reportedly chosen among seven candidates that received interviews. The six other names are formally unknown, but ESPN reported that three of the other six were Hoiberg assistant T.J. Otzelberger, Stephen F. Austin's Brad Underwood, and Valporaiso's Bryce Drew. Cyclone Insider has two others reportedly as USC's Andy Enfield and Wichita State's Gregg Marshall. That leaves one that could have possibly been a minority.

Was Prohm the best qualified candidate for the job? Maybe. We also know that the Cyclone job should have been a mighty attractive one. Hoiberg leaves a great team behind, one that finds itself ranked in basically every preseason Top 10 poll. Prohm accepted the job sight unseen, having never set foot before yesterday in Ames, Iowa, or on the Iowa State campus. So he clearly believes it's a big step up in his career.

According to 2012 statistics (the most recent available), the participants at the college level of men's basketball-- the players-- are statistically over 57% African-American, but the percentage of head coaches is less than 19%. In college football, African-American players now outnumber white ones for the first time, but only 10% of the coaches are black. These two black-dominated sports are, by far, the two largest revenue boosters among college sports, yet 89% of athletic directors are white. And you wonder why people keep referring to the college game in both sports-- where the players are not paid and scholarships are dependent on good health- as a plantation.,

If anybody in the media even bothers to ask the question, we'll get the same answer from the Iowa State AD that we get every time in this situation: there were no better qualified candidates. And on it goes. It's not just that white candidates get more chances, they also get more second chances. In college football, it has still never happened at any school at any time in history, outside of a historically-black college or university, that an African-American coach was fired and replaced by another African-American coach.

This is a taxpayer-funded position we're talking about at Iowa State University, and Prohm instantly becomes the third highest-paid employee in the state of Iowa. (Not bad for a guy who on Sunday was a coach with a little over 100 career wins, all in a conference that had the 23rd highest RPI ranking last year.) Aren't there some hiring rules and open records laws that apply here? Iowa State advertises itself as an Affirmative Action/ Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Your air conditioning is slowing down my internet.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Vendetta against Venditte

Pat Venditte became the second ambidextrous pitcher in 120 years of Major League Baseball yesterday when he was called up by Oakland after eight seasons in the minor leagues. As he demonstrated in his first game at Boston's Fenway Park, he's capable of switching from left arm to right, and back again, in the same inning. (Some of us don't have even one big-league-caliber arm.) Venditte's first test was successful. He threw two shut-out innings in relief. If things continue to go well, the Athletics should be able to use him to eat up a ton of innings this summer. I'm going to assume they're wise enough to keep two different pitch counts.

Is Major League Baseball ready, though? There have always been a number of switch-hitters in the game, and so now, let the chess game begin. Pitch by pitch, the switch-batsmen are allowed to change sides of the dish, although it's extremely rare that they do. They stick, instead, to the conventional wisdom in the game, which is that left-handed hitters do better at the bat against right-handed throwers, and right-handers better against the southpaws. (No Major League pitcher yet has literally had a paw.) But this is not universal. I do recall that switch-hitting Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith went up to bat swinging right-handed against a right-hander at least one time in his career with the Cardinals. That leads me to wonder whether his official career statistics are fully accurate or if somebody might have gotten lazy at some point. For switch-hitters, we get accustomed to thinking "versus RH pitcher" and "batting left" would be the same thing, but in Ozzie's case, the statistics would be slightly different. I tried to look it up tonight on Ozzie's page at www.baseball-reference.com to see if that was true, but I started drowning in a sea of Ratio Batting and Win Probabilities and gave up.

But I digress. My concern for Venditte's cause stems from one of the highlights I saw on Sportscenter from last night's game. When switch-hitting catcher Black Swihart came to the plate for Boston in Venditte's second inning of work, the pitcher had to declare which arm he was going to use for that plate appearance. This was ordered by the home plate umpire to be consistent with a long-standing MLB rule that has almost never applied to an actual game situation. But that rule needs to change now. A pitcher should be able to throw it up there any way he wants, provided he starts with one foot on the rubber and respects the guidelines for avoiding a balk when there are runners on base and doesn't use steroids or bet on the games. Joaquin Andujar was an over-the-top right-handed pitcher, but sometimes with two strikes on the batter, he would drop his delivery down sidearm. He didn't have to tell the batter that he was going to do it. The element of surprise was the point. You can throw it underhand if you want to-- maybe to the Phillies' lineup this year to help make things fairer. Pitchers try to trick hitters. That's the tradition of the game. It's why some pitches-- maybe you've heard this-- are not thrown straight. The hitter's job is to try to adjust. Just like in football, where it's the quarterback's job to decide how much air is in the football, and then the defense adjusts.

It's time for the new MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, to step up and be a Manfred. Retired lefty Al Hrabosky often says that baseball hasn't passed a rule that benefited the pitchers since before the time the mound was lowered in 1969. Here's a small corner of the game where that string could be broken. Or maybe I'm taking this whole thing too seriously.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Stay Human

I woke up this morning just hoping for the good news that the Cardinals had held on to a 7-1 lead late in Los Angeles, but I got much more: Stephen Colbert's new music director was announced as New Orleans' own Jon Batiste! Here, Stephen makes the introduction online, from NOLA, along with a plateful of beignets. I saw Jon with Stay Human open before Al Jarreau in the Jazz Tent at Jazzfest '14. He played a most memorable version of "St. James Infirmary." I thought the tent poles might dislodge from the ground from the massive swings.

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Aidah and I are proud new owners of a Honda CRV, my first-ever sport-utility vehicle. Costs a little more but it's the first vehicle that I could sleep in comfortably if I had to.

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Definitely worthy of one of your free New York Times clicks this month.