Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Senate Hangs in the Balance

The New York Times election handicapper just reported today that Republicans now have a 60 percent chance of taking the Senate. While that is better news than 70 or 80 percent chance, it certainly gives the sane among us pause. Essentially, a party that has done little but obstruct a sitting oppositional President for six years may actually be awarded with more power. So what are the ramifications for Obama, Democrats and the country in general, if they do win.

1.    Obama could be impeached, even without cause – as appears to be the case, given the arguments provided so far.
2.    The Obama administration might be months away from passing their last initiative. It is extremely plausible to believe that the only bills Obama will sign in his last two years, if the GOP win a majority, are those he capitulates to a conservative Congress or those less controversial bipartisan bills that benefit few.
3.    Comprehensive Immigration reform is all but certainly dead – though that already appears to be the case. One can assume any attempt to regulate Wall Street, address environmental concerns or otherwise seek to reform the country for the better are over.
4.    A push for more cutting of entitlements and more tax cuts for the wealthy (with a very small break for the middle class to hide the bonanza). I wouldn’t be surprised to see an increase in taxes on the poor.
5.    More blocking of liberal judges at all levels (and maybe an inability of any liberal Supreme Court Justice to leave).

Essentially, nothing good for the vast majority of Americans. So how does this happen? I think a few themes stand out at the forefront of how a do-nothing, corporate-sponsored, one percent supporting, hate mongering party can continue to win as they send the country further and further down the tubes: 1. Citizens United and two subsequent decisions that have essentially opened the floodgates of corporate money into elections. Elections can be bought, as we have seen for at least three decades now, and the candidate with more money almost always wins. 2. Creating narratives around victims and others is a powerful way to build a base, as the GOP continues to show (anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-affirmative action, anti-feminist, etc.). When I ask my students how many consider themselves feminist, the proportion continues to shrink, showing how effective the right has gotten at framing an issue as uncontroversial as equality between genders. 3. The Dumbing Down of America: far too many Americans believe that Obama is the problem, when the majority of his attempts to address our most pressing problems have been blockaded by the Republican House. While Obama has been a major disappointment, his inability to even pass bills the Republicans once supported shows that Gingrich’s tactics still poison the hallowed halls of power in DC. 4. Conservative Media Bias: the greatest lie the devil told was making us believe he was an angel. And conservatives have been equally effective at convincing far too many Americans that our media has a liberal-bias, when that is as far from the truth as Sarah Palin being educated enough to serve in public office. With the exception of MSNBC, the media is dominated by moderate and right-wing voices who might be more liberal when it comes to wedge issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, but to the right of the public on economic and foreign policy issues (particularly given the reality that over 90 percent of what you hear comes from five companies, that are soon to be four, whereas 35 years ago it was over 300 media companies). 5. Those wedge issues, which continue to rear their ugly heads. Abortion has waned as an election wedge, but immigration, gay marriage, religion inside and outside schools, government-funded contraception (which is really a misnomer) and the like continue to sway far too many Americans. 6. I think there is a hearkening to the past that still resonates with many Americans, where we should split power between the two parties to ensure that no radical agenda is pursued by either. But given the radical nature of the GOP in general these days, that strategy is more ill-advised today than at any time in the past. 7. Finally, is the continued belief among far too many Americans that the government is always bad and can do little to solve our economic or social problems. The reality, looking empirically to the past, is quite the opposite – as I have outlined over and over again in this blog. But as long as cynicism reigns, the conservatives have an easy target to aim at.

And so we stand a few months away from potentially giving two out of the three branches of government fully to the Republicans, with the Presidency potentially to follow. Even with my seven explanations above, I am still baffled at how easily the average American has been hoodwinked into supporting a party that will do nothing but continue to take from the poor and middle class and give to the rich. They are little more than shysters in sheets selling one lie after another, encased within a bespectacled veneer of fear and hate, but apparently the public is still hungry to buy. Here’s hoping a GOP diet is the next craze just around the corner!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Another Victory for Equality

Yesterday the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Virginia’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, providing another victory for marriage equality in a unbroken string of triumphs since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013. The opinion included no stay, meaning that gay couples can start marrying immediately (at least until the appeal presumably hits the Supreme Court).

While many continue to argue against “gay marriage,” it is an untenable and absurd a position as those who argue that children must be taught “intelligent design.” The reality is that the 14th amendment to the constitution is quite clear on the point, in section 1, stating: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

It is the last part of the last sentence that essentially seals the case, unless we are going to start arguing that gays are not citizens of the United States. Sure a church, temple or mosque can refuse to marry them within their confines, that is fine – just as some Catholic priests won’t marry a parishioner to a non-believer. But marriage is a legal pact outside religion that confers certain rights and privileges to its participants. To argue that some should be excluded because of the normative is both unconstitutional and morally indefensible. It is good to see the courts, some politicians and a growing proportion of the public recognizing this simple truth!

Messi Malaise and Football Corruption

A Spanish judge today rejected a prosecutor’s request to drop the charges of tax fraud against Lionel Messi and ordered an investigation into three charges of unpaid taxes. The judge claimed that there was sufficient evidence to believe that the star knew about and consented to the formation of corporations that shielded image rights revenue from taxes in his adopted homeland. In June, it appeared the well-publicized case would be resolved, but that is no longer the case.

Messi and possibly Barcelona will now face renewed scrutiny regarding their finances (after the Neymar debacle last year, that found them guilty of underestimating the cost of the purchase of the Brazilian star) and the notion that football has fallen too far out of step with the reality of everyday citizens in Spain, and across Europe. As Spain attempts to recover from the economic devastation of the real estate collapse, and unemployment of the young hovers around 50 percent, Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to pay exorbitant transfer fees, huge salaries and essentially ignore the plight of their country. Messi and his father now face charges of trying to defraud Spain of tax revenue, with the punishment if found guilty currently unclear.

Messi is the fourth highest paid athlete in sports today, with over 31 million Euros in salary and bonuses and another 18 million pounds in sponsorship deals, behind only boxer Floyd Mayweather, Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo and basketballer Lebron James. And yet it appears that he might have been involved in trying to keep a few million more pounds of that money over the period from 2006 to 2009. Corruption is, of course, nothing new to the world of football. In just the past decade, we have had QPR coach Harry Redknapp facing tax evasion charges (though he was exonerated), a sting operation finding match fixing across the world (including in England), the infamous 2006 Italian football scandal that involved the top teams in Series A and B (including champion Juve) fixing matches with favorable referees, charges of racial abuse levied against John Terry and Luis Suarez and pervasive across the major leagues of Europe, violent fans attacking and even killing players of rival teams (most famously with Lazio and the Jewish Tottenham fans), shadowy agent dealings and referees fixing games. (

Juventus might be the most famous case in recent years, resulting in relegation to Series B, deduction of 9 points, fines in excess of 68 million euros and being stripped of their Series A titles for 2005 and 2006. Since returning to the top, they have won the Italian title three years in a row, though their now ex-coach Antonio Conte himself faced a four-month ban last year for failing to report match-fixing from his time at Siena. There are still charges that match-fixing is prevalent across the game and leagues and that referees are often involved. In Brazil last year, a referee in a lower league game stabbed a player during a game and was subsequently beheaded by fans!

The question that emerges is how deep the corruption reaches and whether world football has fallen too far out of step with the struggles of everyday people suffering around the world, who arguably help to generate the very funds that lead to that dramatic disparity. Transfer fees continue to rise beyond the reasonable (with fees up to 30 million pounds for young, largely unproven future stars – or 16 million pounds for a backup right back who has only played in 25 games in the EPL), players salaries are exorbitant at top clubs even when they rarely play and ticket prices for fans go up year after year. There is also the continued presence of racism across European football from Italy to Spain to England and Russia and one scandal after another involving players driving drunk, making inexplicable and controversial political statement or showing little loyalty to the fans and teams that make them rich. And there is the sense that teams like PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea are buying crowns with rich plutocratic owners from the Middle East and Russia.

Is World Football then a reflection of the increasing inequality and corruption in society, ignoring the plight of so many to serve the interests of so few, or a route out of poverty for so many youngsters who dream of playing the beautiful game for fame and fortune? The World Cup in Brazil offered both of these realities in stark terms, with fans across the world watching on as beautiful football and beaches largely hid the dramatic poverty just around the corner. Sure there are the few that take the long road from the ghetto or favela to the top of the football world, but how many others are left behind, to suffer the failure of their dreams with nowhere else to turn? And can football do anything about this reality?

As with media, the question is often asked of whether it simply reflects society or leads it toward a particular worldview. It is hard to fathom a reasonable argument in which football is leading the charge of increased inequality across the globe or the notion of winning at any cost. And yet one can ask whether players like Luis Suarez should recognize their place as role models to future generations and try to set a good example for those youth. There is the question of whether managers and owners can try to strip the game of its corruption, even if the stakes are so high (as bicycling has tried to do in the past few years). There is the question of whether FIFA can finally force Sepp Blatter to step aside and try to address their own long history of bribes and corruption. There is the question of whether UEFA can force clubs to actually abide by Financial Fair play, even as we watch transfer fees move toward the surreal. And there is the question of whether fans can demand more of football at every level, using their money and numbers as power to force change.

On the other hand, the fans themselves want their teams to win and find themselves steeped in the very world that football reflects. One thing I am near certain of though is that while Messi might pay a large financial punishment in the future, the thought of robbing Barcelona and the world of its most cherished asset seems beyond the realm of possibility.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Botched Execution Renews Debates About Death Penalty

The arguments against the death penalty are already quite profound, including 1. The cost, 2. Failure as a deterrent, 3. Possibility of Error, 4. Racial/Class bias and 5. Moral questions regarding an eye for an eye (and the notion of state-sponsored murder as a punishment for murder). But another argument that resonates for many is the “cruel and unusual punishment” debate, thus questioning the constitutionality of its continued use. This was brought into clear focus today with the botched execution of an Arizona inmate, who was still alive and in considerable pain 90 minutes after receiving a lethal injection: LA Times. Isn’t it time to finally end this barbaric and anachronistic practice, catching up with the rest of the democratic world?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Conservative Responses to Malaysian Crash

Reinforcing the notion that nothing is sacred and no person’s pain is above a few points in the battle of political rhetoric, some conservatives used the tragic death of 298 to drum up some support for their messages of hate. The lowlights …

Bryan Fisher
Tweeted, “Obama politicizes deaths of AIDS researchers on Malaysian plane. We know how to stop AIDS: persuade men not to have sex with men.” And then “In his remarks, President Obama politicized Malaysian airliner tragedy, used it to press the radical homosexual agenda.”

Rep. Peter King
Claims the crash shows a lack of leadership by Obama, like the neverending story, otherwise known as Benghazi.

Todd Starnes
Tweeted, “Yesterday Obama announces new sanctions against Russia. Today, jetliner crashes in Ukraine.”

Former Rep. Allen West
“Sadly, hundreds of Ukrainians and 298 souls on MH17 have paid the price for the weakness and abject cowardice of Obama’s ‘flexibility.’ And here in America we quibble over a lawsuit against this charlatan. The blood on Vladimir Putin’s hands was poured by Barack Obama who is indirectly responsible, accountable accountable [sic] and no different than Neville Chamberlain’s weakness in the face of the 20th Century maniacal dictator Adolf Hitler.”

And finally, Rush …
“It’s a Malaysian Airlines jet and can you — I’ve got the British Open on the top menu, monitor, I haven’t had CNN on all day, what do you bet they have broomed everything and are covering wall-to-wall the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down by a missile? This is, I mean, you talk about — I don’t want to appear to be callous here, folks, but you talk about an opportunity to abandon the bad Obama news at the border, and no, I’m not suggesting anything other than how the media operates.” 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Final Thoughts on the World Cup

The World Cup is over and we are stuck waiting four more years to see if Russia can match the excitement Brazil offered, certain the beautiful shoreline scenes will not be seen again for some time. Even with their failure as a national team, all the fears surrounding the host’s ability to serve up great football were quickly put to rest with one of the highest scoring group stages in history and few of the problems many thought might beset this grandest stage of world sport. The best team won, Messi failed to supplant Pele and Maradona at the peak of the pantheon of football and there were plenty of other surprises along the way. Here are my final thoughts:

1. Bavarian Supremacy: Germany finally lived up to their potential and answered their critics, winning the World Cup for the first time since the ugly victory over the same Argentines back in 1990. It was a display of power and timely scoring that brought the crown back to the European superpower, though some luck was involved as well. Argentina had three wonderful chances to go ahead in regular time, with Higuian and Messi’s misses the most memorable and painful for the South Americans. And Algeria had several chances to knock them out early, though their failure to put them away cost them in extra time. But a team full of world class talent, spread across Europe, was able to find that moment of brilliance in the hands of their most diminutive star, Mario Goetze, after gliding past Brazil in one of the most lopsided victories in the history of the knockout stage. This was a team built to win now and they didn’t disappoint, though the future also appears bright with so much young talent likely to still be around in four years. They will miss the all-time leading goal scorer Klose and the leadership of Lamm, but still have a solid foundation with the best goalkeeper in the world, Neuer, an incredible midfield and some of the best forward in the world. Look for them to be the favorites to win the Euros in two years.

2. Messi’s Miss: Lionel Messi had a good tournament; there is little question of that. He was the key player in the Group Stage and set up two goals that got them through to the finals, but when he had the chance to lead his team to victory, the shot went wide and the chance passed. Messi didn’t have a bad final, with several moments of brilliance peppered in among many others where he was anonymous, but failed to finish the job and will now stand as not only the third best player in history, but the second best in his own country. Four years from now he can right that final lacuna in his otherwise otherworldly CV, but it will be even harder as some of his best supporting cast might be shipped off to pasture by then. It was a great tournament for Argentina, and there is no shame in losing to this German team, but one can’t help but realize they had a real chance to pull off a huge upset in the final.

3. U.S. Ship is Rising: The United States seemed to be DOA when they were assigned to the Group of Death. And yet a late goal in the opener against Ghana, an impressive draw against Portugal (that was 30 seconds from being a win) and a disciplined 1-0 loss to Germany all bode well for their future. They then played in arguably the game of the tournament against Belgium and had a chance to steal the game when a chance to score fell to them in the dying seconds of regulation extra time. That miss took the wind out of their sails, however, and two quick goals meant the road back was all but impossible, until a late goal made that possibility seem real. They fell just short but a series of younger players showed their talent and this could be a team that could go further in four years, particularly if they sort out their troubles up front (the loss of Altidore certainly hurt). The biggest question might be around Michael Bradley, who will have to improve his performance on the biggest stage if they are to take the next step.

4. British Blues: The stories out of England after they fell out of the competition after only two games were downright apocalyptic. And yet one can’t help notice the young talent coming through the ranks that challenges the biggest perception of this team – that they lack the tactical nous and technical abilities to compete at the top of the game. But with Sterling, Lallana, Rodriguez, Walcott (who missed the tournament through injury) and Barkley, this could be a team for the future (I don’t include Jack Wilshere, as he appears to have taken several steps backwards since his injuries and I wonder if he will ever live up to his potential now). England should be disappointed in the performance of their stars, including Wayne Rooney and Stevie Gerrard, as well as the defensive lapses that allowed four soft goals in in their first two games, but the future looks a lot brighter to me.

5. A Bridge to Far for Belgians and Brazil: Brazil will look back at this World Cup with both pride (for their role as hosts) and horror (for losing their last two games by a combined score of 10-1). Their victory over Columbia 2-1 was their best game of the tournament, but also the ugliest – resulting in the tournament-ending injury to star Neymar and the suspension of defensive bedrock Thiago Silva. Those two absences meant they were huge underdogs against the German machine, but the level of capitulation left many scratching their heads and wondering where the team from a year ago went (having won the Confederation Cup). The future of Brazilian football is now a big question mark, with Scolari gone and some of their more solid players getting older. The team can rebuild around Neymar, but who else? They lack a quality central striker, mettle in the center of midfield and defensive discipline (with one wondering how in the hell PSG was snookered into paying so much for the mercurial David Luiz). The opposite can be said of Belgium, who performed below the level many predicted but gained the international experience their young star-studded team needs to make the next step in the future. Eden Hazard will have to figure out how to translate his club form to the international arena, as will several others, but it was clear that the loss of Benteke could not be covered over by a less-than-impressive Lukaku. The most surprising thing about this team is the veritable collapse of Fellaini, who now appears to be a shell of the player who excited England with his play for Everton before the horror that became his first season at United. Maybe he can rediscover his form in his next adventure, but for now he appears to be a player running in revers

So a short respite from football is at hand, though the EPL season is less than a month away and we are in the midst of the silly season – of transfers and meaningless preseason friendlies. But congratulations and condolences to Brazil in equal measure! I can’t wait for Russia …