Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Crying In Baseball

I recently heard someone talk about the power of being intensely passionate about something that you know deep down is really not that important.  And it is just possible that my love of, perhaps obsession with, baseball -- and the New York Mets -- might fall into this category.  For close to fifty years, I have closely followed a team that has provided endless drama, occasional miracles and an inordinate amount of heartache and heartbreak.  It is a passion that I take very seriously -- just ask the petrified trick-or-treaters who happened to knock on our door last Halloween when Daniel Murphy booted a grounder in the 8th inning of Game #4 of the World Series, and heard some choice and very loud expletives coming from the man on the couch.  But last night's game against the Miami Marlins -- a pivotal one for the Mets, who are in a three-way battle for a wild card berth -- surely tested the theory about what really matters.

This was the first Marlins game after the devastating death in a boating accident of their brilliant young pitcher, Jose Fernandez.  Just 24 years old, Fernandez was a spectacular pitcher with limitless ability, a heroic life story, and as engaging a personality as anyone in the game.

I tuned in at the close of the pre-game ceremony and witnessed a remarkable scene -- Mets and Marlins players embracing each other on the field.  All were visibly grief-stricken -- some barely holding back tears and others sobbing uncontrollably.  I wondered how they could possibly play a ball game after that, and as the Marlins took their positions, you could see them still wiping their moist eyes.

Dee Gordon lead off for the Marlins in the bottom of the first, and took the first pitch as a right-handed batter, emulating Fernandez's batting stance in tribute.  He then turned around to bat lefty and crushed Bartolo Colon's pitch into the upper deck for a home run.  When Gordon trotted around the base with tears streaming down his face it was hard to think about what this at bat -- or this game -- meant for the Mets' playoff chances.  It was a stunning moment, reminiscent of Mike Piazza's dramatic home run on September 21, 2011, the first game in New York after 9/11. 

I admit that after the Gordon homer, I wanted the Mets to come back and win (they lost 7-3), and I will be rooting for them to beat the Marlins tonight and tomorrow.  But Gordon's homer was a powerful reminder that while baseball is more than just a game, there are some things bigger than the box score.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

California's Death Penalty Cannot Be Reformed; It Must Be Replaced: Yes on 62 And No on 66

Voters have an opportunity to finally put an end to California's failed experiment with the death penalty by passing Proposition 62, and replacing it with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The history of California's death penalty is like a dystopian Goldilocks and the Three Bears story.  Its original death penalty law, codified in the late 1800s, was too hot -- with no guidelines for how or under what circumstances to impose death, it gave juries too much discretion.  It was struck down as unconstitutional in 1972. The next version was too cold -- taking the opposite approach with a mandatory death sentence that automatically imposed death when a defendant was found guilty of first degree murder, it provided for no discretion at all.  That law was found unconstitutional too. But unlike with Goldilocks, the death penalty scheme passed by California voters in 1978 -- the present law -- is far from just right.

As recently described in a Los Angeles Times editorial, California's death penalty is a "dysfunctional mess."  It has proven to be ineffective, unreliable and arbitrarily applied.  And it cannot be fixed. 

Among the many problems with California’s death penalty is that it leaves far too much power in the hands of individual prosecutors in individual county district attorney’s offices to decide which cases are "death worthy."  Indeed, one of the critical factors that determines who receives a death sentence is not the nature of the crime or record of the defendant but a wholly arbitrary one -- the county in which the crime happens to have been committed.  Remarkably, there are only a tiny fraction of counties -- sixteen -- in the entire country that account for most current death sentences, and five of them are here in California (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Kern). 

Another factor leading to arbitrariness is the quality of the defense team.  It has long been understood that the death penalty is generally reserved for those with the worst lawyer, not those who commit the worst crimes.  Defendants who are represented at trial by experienced, well-trained capital defense attorneys, particularly in public defender offices, are far less likely to get the death penalty than those represented by private lawyers who often suffer from conflicts of interest when it comes to spending time and money on developing a defense.  The differences are stark.  In Los Angeles, for example, thirty defendants represented by private attorneys have received a death sentence compared with four represented by public defenders. 

And, one can't talk about the systemic problems with the death penalty without talking about race.  It is simply a reality that one who kills a white person is far more likely to be subject to the death penalty than one who kills a person of color.  Add the ability of prosecutors to use peremptory jury challenges to strike African Americans and Latinos from juries, and the fact that most judges and prosecutors in counties where the death penalty is most frequently sought are white, and we are left with a system that is plagued by racial bias.

In sum, California’s current death penalty has proven to be an arbitrary and unreliable government program that has cost taxpayers $5 billion dollars while resulting in "just" thirteen executions – none in the past ten years.  All the while, 746 men and women languish on the largest death row in the country – a volume of death sentences that has clearly overwhelmed the judicial system. 

There are two death penalty initiatives on November’s ballot:  Proposition 62 will repeal the death penalty while Proposition 66 purports to reform it.

The backers of Proposition 66 are pushing another fairy tale.  In reality, Proposition 66 would take a broken system and make it worse by shifting the costs and burdens to ill-equipped lower courts and unqualified attorneys. It purports to speed up appellate review of death sentences by adding new bureaucratic layers to the process -- saddling local trial courts with the responsibility of adjudicating capital appeals and forcing attorneys with no experience with capital cases to take them.  A recent San Francisco Chronicle editorial called Proposition 66 a “highly complex, probably very expensive and constitutionally questionable scheme.”

Proposition 66 would do nothing to address the root problems with California's death penalty – ineffectiveness, arbitrariness, racial bias and unreliability. 

And even worse, Proposition 66’s proposed changes would actually slow down, not speed up, an appellate process that already takes 25 years or more. The nearly 750 people on death row are all entitled to qualified attorneys to handle their post-conviction challenges -- but there are simply not enough lawyers ready and, more importantly, able to do so.  But the answer isn't lowering the bar for the appointment of hundreds of untrained attorneys and increasing the number of courts that can consider challenges as Proposition 66 would do.  This would only lead to more problems, more delay and more unreliability -- and more costs.

And even assuming Proposition 66 could miraculously speed up the first part of the appellate process in state court, there is a second layer of mandated review in federal court after the state process concludes -- another bottleneck in which over 200 of California death row inmates are seeking review (a number that is itself larger than just about every other state's death row).  Proposition 66 does nothing to address the delays in federal court – and thus the delays in the system overall -- because California voters can’t set rules for the federal post-conviction process.

The Los Angeles Times described Proposition 66 as “a menu of mostly distasteful ideas” that is unlikely to “achieve the kind of fast-tracking” its proponents promise while likely to make the system “even more expensive.” It would undermine the already tenuous ability of the legal system to ensure that death sentences are fairly and consistently imposed and that innocent men and women are not executed.  This attempt at streamlining justice will simply not fix the intractable flaws of California's death penalty.

Proposition 62 provides a simple, commonsense solution to an unfixable death penalty system.  Replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole, according to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, will save taxpayers $150 million every year.  More importantly, Proposition 62 will finally put an end to this risky, discriminatory, arbitrary and dysfunctional mess. 

To volunteer, donate and/or learn more about Prop 62, click here

[Read more:  The Arbitrary Execution of Tom ThompsonAnother Poster Child For California's Dysfunctional Death Penalty]

Monday, September 19, 2016

Birtherism And Basket Cases

This weekend proved that the mainstream media is incapable of handling the sheer volume of dishonesty and deceit that oozes out of the Trump campaign.  After Donald Trump brazenly lied about his role in the birther movement on Friday, blaming Hillary Clinton for originating this easily discredited racist conspiracy theory and crediting himself for putting an end to it -- his surrogates went on the national teevee talk shows over the weekend and doubled-down, pushing the same blatant falsehoods.  The sheer audacity of Republican party stalwarts, from Chris Christie to Reince Preibus, lying to their incredulous hosts who did little more than stammer in response, demonstrated more clearly than ever that we have gone through the looking glass.  The truth no longer seems to matter.

In sum,
  • The notion that Barack Obama was born in Kenya was an insidious, racist conspiracy theory launched from the fringes of the right wing in order to delegitimize the first African American president. 
  • Donald Trump's transformation from real estate tycoon/reality TV star to a presidential candidate was triggered by his endorsement of the birther conspiracy; it has been a key part of his political identity that he continued to nurture for five years -- until Friday.
  • On Friday, he grudgingly conceded that Obama was, in fact, born in the United States without explaining what happened to the clear and convincing evidence he claimed to have to the contrary.  And he falsely claimed that Clinton was responsible for initiating birtherism and he, Trump, put a stop to it. 
  • Over the weekend, his campaign and surrogates continued to lie about Trump's and Clinton's respective roles in the birther movement.  
40% of Americans of voting age are Republicans who will vote for any Republican candidate regardless of their racist, misogynist, xenophobic or anti-Muslim views (and, Clinton is right that about half of the 40% will do so because of those views).  This 40% also doesn't care that he lies about virtually everything, has a long and dishonorable history of corruption, is remarkably ignorant and unable to articulate any policy proposal without lapsing into gibberish, and leans heavily towards fascism as a governing principle.  They certainly are not troubled that he will never release his tax returns or provide further details about his Foundation or the Trump Organization, or truthfully answer questions about his finances, his philanthropy (or lack thereof) or his entanglements with foreign governments and businesses that may conflict with U.S. policy prerogatives.

Deplorable, but whatever.

Trump still needs 51% to win, right?  So what about the other 11% who seem to float back and forth between the two candidates depending on the news cycle? 

What's up with these folks? Are they too pure to vote for Clinton because she is not the perfect progressive candidate and they are fed up with voting for what they see as the lesser of two evils?  Are they too disillusioned to believe there is any real difference between Trump and Clinton and they assume that our government will put adequate checks on potential abuses of power?  Are they so frustrated with the political system that they want to shake things up or tear it all down despite the damage a Trump presidency would do to the environment, the economy, the courts and justice system and our relations with the world. 

This latest round of utter mendacity should be a wake up call to every decent person who somehow has missed the fact that Trump's entire campaign is based on racism and lies.  To vote for Trump because you are a Republican who believes that his presidency will advance your political philosophy is one thing.  To vote for Trump -- or to vote for a "protest" candidate or no one at all, thereby increasing his electoral odds -- out of  frustration or cynicism or apathy is truly deplorable.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Day In The Political Life Of The Deplorable Donald Trump

The day began with great anticipation.  Donald J. Trump, whose political career was essentially launched five years ago when he began wallowing in a racist conspiracy aimed at delegitimizing the first African American president, was going to deliver a major statement on what has come to be known as the "birther" issue.  The New York Times, which has been loathe to call Trump out for either his lies or his racism, actually noted that Trump has continued to "promote" this "lie" and suggested it was borne out of "racism":
Much has been made of Mr. Trump’s casual elasticity with the truth; he has exhausted an army of fact-checkers with his mischaracterizations, exaggerations and fabrications. But this lie was different from the start, an insidious, calculated calumny that sought to undo the embrace of an African-American president by the 69 million voters who elected him in 2008.
Whether Trump was really going to admit that President Obama was born in the United States was far less interesting than learning about why he peddled this lie for so long and what happened to the information he claimed to possess that purportedly proved what all reasonable minds knew was utter bullshit. 

But Trump bamboozled the media yet again.  With reporters anxiously awaiting for Trump's remarks on birtherism, he pivoted to promoting his new D.C. hotel ("I think it may be one of the great hotels anywhere in the world") and promoting himself (with a group of decorated war veterans to sing his praises).  He then gave the following statement and took no questions:
Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States—period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Of course, Hillary Clinton did not start the birther movement and Donald Trump did not resolve it.  These were brazen, ridiculous, easily provable lies.

But Trump wasn't done. 

Later in the day at a rally in Florida, he falsely stated that Clinton intends to "destroy your Second Amendment" -- which she doesn't and constitutionally couldn't -- and then suggested that Clinton's bodyguards should "disarm immediately" and then "let's see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay? It would be very dangerous."  Of course, this isn't the first time Trump has suggested a "Second Amendment" solution to a Clinton presidency.

Another normal day for Donald Trump.  Relentless lies, sidestepping his own racist behavior while blaming others, and thinly veiled calls for violence.  Normal for Trump, but not normal for a presidential candidate of a major party. 

It is far past time for the mainstream media to stop covering the campaign as a contest between two equally flawed candidates.  Donald Trump is more than flawed.  He is a dangerous, indeed, deplorable demagogue.  He is unapologetically corrupt, and he lies or spews hate and violence almost every time he opens his mouth.   

The New York Times finally called him a liar today.  Hallelujah.  Others in the media signaled that they were disgusted (and hopefully embarrassed) by his political chicanery and dishonesty.  Has the media finally reached a tipping point?  We better hope so.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Wilco Rocks -- And Not Just For Dads

I originally wrote this piece on February 1, 2012, after Wilco played a fabulous show at the Warfield in San Francisco.  This week they are playing at the Fillmore and I can't wait to see them again.   

Dad Rock, my ass.  OK, I'll admit that I am over 50 and the father of two, and that when I saw Wilco at the Warfield in San Francisco the other night, I fit comfortably within the demographic most represented -- relatively immobile white men over 40, holding plastic cups of beer and shaking nothing but their heads to the music.  So, maybe that's the audience for Wilco these days.  But that should not diminish their stature as one of the truly great rock bands or that of their front man, Jeff Tweedy, who is the most compelling singer/songwriters of his generation.

For me, the pantheon of (North) American rock musicians who not only capture the spirit of their time but leave a legacy well beyond it are Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen.  If the torch must be passed, I don't think it is that outrageous to think of Tweedy, the 44-year old leader of Wilco, as the one to pick it up.  (It is not surprising that along with Billy Bragg, Tweedy (with the rest of Wilco) recorded the brilliant Mermaid Avenue albums based on unreleased material written by Woody Guthrie.)

Jeff Tweedy is an elegant lyricist who crafts deeply effecting, unsparingly honest songs, often about pain and loss, self-doubt and self-destruction, and sings them with his nasally but soulful and quite captivating voice.  Part way through the show at the Warfield, he paused to check in with the audience.  He somewhat jokingly conceded, "this has been kind of a morbid show so far," and asked, "are you guys okay?"  He then added, "we figured if you're here, you probably enjoy being sad -- at least a little bit. I know I do."  One reviewer described the show in a way that aptly describes Tweedy's music generally.  Rather than morbid, "it felt like a solemn celebration . . . the songs themselves may have expressed misery, but the grace and energy given to them imparted a kind of a buzzing, heartworn elation."

What makes the Dad Rock moniker so misplaced in my view is that Tweedy and Wilco are not merely an easy throw back to those artists and bands of my generation's heyday.  While the influences of the Byrds, the Band, Neil Young, John Lennon and others can be heard, there is also a hard driving, progressive sensibility coursing through the music.  Some tunes are simple and straightforward, others experimental and complex or, as is often the case, a combination as one critic described of "elaborate constructs surrounding their simple melodies."

 Tweedy has evolved from when he practically co-invented the genre of alt-country rock in the late 1980s-early 1990s with the band Uncle Tupelo.  Wilco's albums over the years have taken very welcome if "unexpected detours" into psychedelia, power pop, soul, R&B and electronica.  Or, as David Dye put it, Wilco has alternated between folk-tinged alt-country and experimental pop, surprising fans and critics with its sonic inventiveness along the way," and in the process "made some of the finest albums of the '90s and '00s, while establishing itself as a virtually peerless live band."

Another reviewer explained that "Wilco's great strength lies not just in Jeff Tweedy's world-weary inscrutability, but the ways he and the band matched those stark, sometimes startling sentiments to expectation-defying deconstructions of Americana." 
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is now ten years old, but it remains for me one of the greatest Rock 'n Roll albums of all time.  As the notoriously stingy Pitchfork beams:  "Complex and dangerously catchy, lyrically sophisticated and provocative, noisy and somehow serene" it is "simply a masterpiece."

Wilco is known as a great band to see live, a reputation cemented by their release in 2005 of Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, "a recording that doesn't merely retread a band's back catalog, but puts their songs in a new perspective, and in this case these performances reveal that one great band has actually been getting better."

The concert at the Warfield did not disappoint.  It included several songs from their fine new album, A Whole Love, as well as compelling renditions of some of the band's impressive catalog, including I Must Be High and Shouldn't Be Ashamed (from A.M.); Sunken Treasure, Misunderstood and Forget the Flowers (from Being There); Shot In The Arm (from Summerteeth); Ashes of American Flags, Heavy Metal Drummer (from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot); At Least That's What You Said, Handshake Drugs (from Ghost Is Born), and Impossible Germany (from Sky Blue Sky).

As I waited eagerly for each gem, I was struck by how many more great songs there are in the Wilco oeuvre.  Personal favorites not covered on this night included How To Fight Loneliness, She's A Jar, Via Chicago, Jesus Etc, Poor Places, Pot Kettle Black . . . .  I could go On and On and On.  (Click on the "Wilco" tag below for a sampling.)

Given how Wilco changes up the set list for each show, I was tempted to go see them again at the Fox Theater in Oakland, where they played last night.  But two shows in one week for a 50+ year old family man would be pushing it.

Dad Rock?  Here's what Tweedy himself had to say about Dad Rock:
I recently had a revelation about it: When people say dad rock, they actually just mean rock. There are a lot of things today that don’t have anything to do with rock music, so when people hear something that makes them think, “This is derived from some sort of continuation of the rock ethos,” it gets labeled dad rock. And, to me, those people are misguided. I don’t find anything undignified about being a dad or being rocking, you know?
Indeed, I do.

Monday, August 29, 2016

I Stand With Colin Kaepernick And Against Forced Patriotism

San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick has caused quite a stir by refusing to do what virtually every player and fan does before the start of American sports events -- stand for the playing of the National Anthem.  Whether one is an American or not, whether one supports the government and its current policies or not, whether we are at war or not, it is expected that each and every one of us at the ball park put down our beers, stand at attention, put our hats over our hearts and honor America by singing about the land of the free and the home of the brave -- often with a military color guard and, for big games, a military plane fly over. 

Kaepernick would have none of it.  As he explained:  “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Especially for someone who is not a star player and who therefore has much to lose, Kaepernick took a brave, principled stand.  Having far less at stake, I used to sit for the anthem, particularly during the Reagan and Bush I Eras.  But I got tired of the dirty looks and derision I received from fellow fans,  and so for the last several decades I have grudgingly stood for the anthem -- although, for what it's worth, I don't put down my beer.

This forced public display of patriotism began with our national pastime -- baseball -- during the world wars, and other sports followed suit.  Major League Baseball doubled down after 9/11, with the singing of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch.  I wrote about this in 2010.

Originally posted on October 24, 2010

Let's Play Ball

In 1916, during WWI, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the Star-Spangled Banner be played at military events, and two years later, it was played during the 7th Inning Stretch at the 1918 World Series.

Thus began a wartime tradition.

During the Second World War, the National Anthem began to be performed before every game.  It has been asserted that this was not solely due to patriotic zeal but also to make sure the fans didn't question the patriotism of the players who weren't fighting in the war.

Peace came but the anthem played on.  During the Vietnam War, at the 1968 World Series in Detroit, Jose Feliciano sparked enormous controversy by performing a soulful rendition that was deemed disrespectful.  This eventually paved the way for countless non-traditional versions which could be poorly rendered as long as they were considered respectful. Rosanne Barr's attempt at a comedic version at a 1990 Padres games was widely trashed, with then-President Bush calling it "disgusting." And Michael Bolton was lambasted after his 2003 American League playoff game performance when he forgot the words midway through and had to rely on a cheat sheet.

After 9/11, one song did not seem sufficient for players and fans to express their love of the United States, and Irving Berlin's God Bless America began to be sung during the 7th Inning Stretch, either instead of or in addition to Take Me Out To The Ballgame.  It is played during every game at some ballparks, like Yankee Stadium, as well as at All Star Games and the playoffs and World Series.

Those who believe that this nationalist fervor is misplaced are shouted down.  When Toronto Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado refused to stand with his teammates during God Bless America in protest of the war in Iraq he was booed and roundly criticized.  In 2008, during a Yankee game, a fan who tried go to the bathroom while the song was playing was restrained and ejected.  Anyone who doesn't stand and remove their hat during either song will likely find a beer poured over their head.  Baseball remains America's Pastime.

However, it has never been clear to me why we must reaffirm our love of this country -- including the 28% of  Major League Baseball players who are foreign born -- not once, but twice during a baseball game.  It seems to me that we show our faith in what is great about the United States by enjoying the great American game itself, and I truly believe there are few things more patriotic than standing up during the 7th Inning Stretch and singing about "peanuts and crackerjacks" at the old ballgame.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Attention Media: Trump Is A Bigot. He Is Not Trying To Appeal To People Of Color

I woke up to an NPR teaser informing me that Donald Trump is reaching out to African Americans.  All over the media the last few days have appeared reports of a Trump Pivot -- a move towards a kinder, gentler Trump who is concerned about the plight of Black America.  He is supposedly giving speeches (to white audiences) that he hopes will appeal to people of color. 

The question breathlessly being asked of panels of experts and pundits is whether this will have any impact on African American voters. 

It is absolutely crazy-making how the media continues to treat Trump like a normal candidate.  He is not a normal candidate.  He is not trying to appeal to African American voters.  He is a fucking bigot. 

Hillary Clinton filleted him today, calling him out for building "his campaign on prejudice and paranoia" for "taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties" and for being "a man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far reaches of the internet." 

Clinton provided a substantial and irrefutable bill of particulars:
  • When Trump was getting his start in business, he was sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black and Latino tenants.
  • Three years later, the Justice Department took Trump back to court because he hadn’t changed.
  • State regulators fined one of Trump’s casinos for repeatedly removing black dealers from the floor. No wonder the turn-over rate for his minority employees was way above average.
  • Trump first gained political prominence leading the charge for the so-called “Birthers.”
  • He promoted the racist lie that President Obama isn’t really an American citizen – part of a sustained effort to delegitimize America’s first black President.
  • In 2015, Trump launched his own campaign for President with another racist lie. He described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. And he accused the Mexican government of actively sending them across the border.
  • We all remember when Trump said a distinguished federal judge born in Indiana couldn’t be trusted to do his job because, quote, “He’s a Mexican.”
  • This is someone who retweets white supremacists online, like the user who goes by the name “white-genocide-TM.” Trump took this fringe bigot with a few dozen followers and spread his message to 11 million people.
  • His campaign famously posted an anti-Semitic image – a Star of David imposed over a sea of dollar bills – that first appeared on a white supremacist website.
  • The Trump campaign also selected a prominent white nationalist leader as a delegate in California. They only dropped him under pressure.
  • When asked in a nationally televised interview whether he would disavow the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, Trump wouldn’t do it. Only later, again under mounting pressure, did he backtrack.
  • And when Trump was asked about anti-Semitic slurs and death threats coming from his supporters, he refused to condemn them.
  • Through it all, he has continued pushing discredited conspiracy theories with racist undertones. Trump said thousands of American Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks. They didn’t.
Clinton gets it.  Will the media ever get it? 

Trump is not reaching out to African Americans -- he is condescending to them.  And he couldn't give a shit about them or their vote.  It should be obvious to any sentient being -- including those who get paid to report on politics -- that Trump is appealing to white moderate voters who might hesitate to vote for a mean-spirited racist fuck.

Thank you for listening.  We now return to our regular programming

Swiftboating Hillary . . . Again

Republicans with the complicity of the so-called liberal media, are expert at undermining Democratic candidates on the basis of bogus allegations that are repeated so often they become part of the political fabric.  Al Gore said he invented the internet -- which he never said.  John Kerry misrepresented his war record -- which he never did. And now, Hillary Clinton while Secretary of State provided access in exchange for contributions to her husband's charity that has done little more than enrich the Clintons themselves -- which, despite a raft of explosive headlines and breathless reporting does not appear to be the case.

Having learned nothing from the trumped up controversies of the earlier Clinton Era, from Whitewater to Travelgate, the New York Times, The Associated Press and other supposed credible media outlets continue to uncritically echo and amplify the conspiracy theories of right wing ratfucking operations whose sole aim is to take the Clintons down.

It is worth noting that Bill Clinton did not go home and paint himself in the shower after his presidency ended.  He established a charitable foundation that, according to CNN, is made up of 11 non-profit groups that work on four major issues: global health and wellness, climate change, economic development and improving opportunities for girls and women. 

It is worth noting that Charity Watch has given the Clinton Foundation an A grade, finding that in 2014, 87.2% of the Foundation's funding went to its programs, and stating that the Foundation does "really important, valuable work that saves lives of lots of people."

According to Inside Philanthropy, the Clinton Foundation runs an initiative that focuses on saving the “lives of people with HIV/AIDS in the developing world by dramatically scaling up antiretroviral treatment” and has expanded to address malaria and maternal health.  Another program works to prevent deforestation, develop clean energy, and help island nations meet the challenges of climate change.

What does the Donald J. Trump Foundation do again other than offer golf games and buy Tim Tebow jerseys?

It is also worth noting that neither Bill nor Hillary nor Chelsea receive any salary from the Foundation.  In fact, they have donated millions to it.

It is true that some people who gave to the Foundation also happened to have met with Clinton while she was Secretary of State but there is no evidence that they met with Clinton because they gave to the Foundation.  And there is no evidence of any quid pro quo -- that those meetings affected any action at the State Department.

Matthew Yglesias, among others, has ably debunked AP's purported expose:
The State Department is a big operation. So is the Clinton Foundation. The AP put a lot of work into this project. And it couldn’t come up with anything that looks worse than helping a Nobel Prize winner, raising money to finance AIDS education, and doing an introduction for the chair of the Kennedy Center. It’s kind of surprising.
As with so many things about the Clintons, there is an appearance of impropriety but no evidence of actual impropriety. But that doesn't seem to matter.  Under the rules of false equivalency, Donald Trump is awash in conflicts of interest and so it must be reported that Hillary Clinton is too.  Add Republican swiftboating techniques and the special media rules for Clinton-related conspiracy theories and you now have a full blown scandal that will become endless fodder for pundits, talk show hosts, Trump tweets and Republican calls for yet another Clinton investigation.

It is going to be a long eight years.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Trump Exposed

"NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small." -- Parks Department spokesperson Sam Biederman
The statues of a grotesque, flabby, emasculated Trump that appeared in public spaces on Thursday in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Seattle were, depending on one's view: (1) a brilliant takedown of an offensive demagogue or (2) a tasteless body-shaming joke that diminishes our politics.

The project was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes.  As reported in the Washington Post, "hoping to strip away the Teflon Don’s legendary confidence to reveal the fleshy mortal beneath the expensive suits and long ties, members of the anarchist collective INDECLINE decided they would showcase the aspirant president in the most humiliating way they could imagine: without his clothes."

The idea that this guerilla art project does a disservice to the political process by being disrespectful to a presidential candidate, and thus proves how low our country's politics have fallen, has it exactly backwards.  It is the nomination of Donald Trump that demonstrates how diminished our politics have become.  This art project is an apt reflection of the fact, to paraphrase Andy Borowitz, that the bar cannot be lowered any further.  Certainly not by art.

One thoughtful writer questioned the value of a "humiliation mode of politics":
Are we laughing at Donald Trump because Donald Trump is naked, and fat, standing in front of us? Are we mocking the fact that anyone who has cellulite or a gut or a figure that’s not valued by a capitalist, health obsessed, body-shaming society dares to be nude in a public space? Are we laughing at Donald Trump because we believe that men should be manly, and that manly means to have a big penis, and that anybody who doesn’t fit into that violent, cissexist masculinity is worthy of contempt?
I very well could have a blind spot here because of how much I loathe Donald Trump and all he stands for, but I truly think we are mocking Trump because he is Trump -- regardless of body type.  Of course we would be -- and should be offended -- if an unflattering, vulgar, naked statue of Hillary Clinton appeared.  But she is not an arrogant, bigoted, misogynistic vulgar white man who prides himself on being a "ladies man," has bragged about the size of his penis during a presidential debate, and attempts to diminish, disparage and humiliate anyone who deigns to criticize him.  In my view Trump is fair game for all manner of humiliation.

At bottom, these are not normal times.  Donald Trump should not be treated by the public, by the media or by the art world as just another candidate for president.  He is a unique danger to the country.  He is grotesque whether he is wearing a suit and spouting hateful lies or, presumably, when he is fully exposed.  And he needs to be fully exposed.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Devil And Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy's historic playoff performance last year carried the Mets into the World Series.   In the Mets' 4-game sweep of the Cubs in the League Championship Series, Murph batted over .500, with four home runs, a double, six runs batted in and six runs scored. Including the final two games of the Division Series, Murphy homered in six straight post-season games. 

Murphy had been a pretty productive hitter for the previous few seasons -- second in the league in hits in 2013 and ninth in 2014, and even made an All Star appearance in 2014.  But he would often make baffling mistakes in the field and on the basepaths.  I believe it was Mets' announcer Keith Hernandez who once said that Murphy believes he is invisible when he runs the bases. 

Murphy was bound to come back to earth after his ridiculously hot playoff run and, unfortunately for the Mets, he crashed a little too early. 

In Game #4 of the World Series, the Mets were on the verge of tying the series up at two games apiece, leading 3-2 with the Nats  having two on and one out in the 8th inning.  Closer Jeurys Familia came in and coaxed an easy grounder from Eric Hosmer, but Murphy, rather than scooping it up and throwing to first for an easy out, charged the ball and missed it completely, allowing the tying run to score.  As he later said, “I tried to one-hand it, and it probably deserves to be two-handed.”

Probably.  Fangraphs found this to be one of the most costly fielding errors in World Series history -- right up their with Bill Buckner.  On the next play, Mike Moustakas hit a ground ball beyond Murphy's limited range, for the go-ahead run.  The Mets lost the game and the Royals went up 3 games to 1.

Murphy also made a costly error in Game #5, and finished the series with a .150 batting average (3 for 20 with no extra base hits). 

Of course, Murphy wasn't the only Met to play poorly in the World Series -- there was plenty of blame to go around.  But in analyzing Murphy's body of work -- his seven year career and 2015 regular season (.281 batting average, 14 home runs, 73 RBI) -- his NLCS performance seemed like an aberration and his World Series play -- particularly his fielding gaffes -- seemed more Murphy like.  Comparable players identified by were Rance Mulliniks and Martin Prado -- not Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.

So, when the Mets declined to sign Murph as a free agent, and chose the more consistent and far better fielding Neil Walker, it appeared to be the right move. 

Little did we know that Murphy made a deal with the devil.  The devout Christian sold his soul in return for an MVP-type year.  There is no better explanation.

Eerily tracking the Broadway hit Damn Yankees, Murphy joined a Washington team against their New York rivals and has been transformed into a star.  Signed by Nationals, Murphy flirted with an other-worldly .400 batting average for much of the first part of the year and showed the kind of power that he displayed in the playoffs last year.  He is leading the National League in hitting (.346), and is third in RBI (82).  And he has absolutely crushed his former team -- hitting six homers and knocking in 19 runs in 12 games.

But far worse, the devil appears to have thrown in for no extra charge, the complete and utter demise of the Damn Mets.  While Murphy's Nationals are comfortably in first place, the Mets have imploded.  Their all-too-familiar mix of injuries, uninspired play and baffling managerial moves, has just culminated in a humiliating three-game sweep by the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks. 

The Mets haven't won back-to-back games since early July.  They can't hit and they can't run. David Wright's career is in doubt.  Matt Harvey looked haunted early in the year and then succumbed to a season-ending injury.  Two other great young pitchers -- Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz -- are plagued by bone spurs that appear to have hampered their effectiveness. Yoenis Cespedes could play as long as he has a caddy and a golf cart.  Other key players are aging fast and/or getting hurt.     Once promising youngsters seem utterly lost.  Manager Terry Collins' tenuous grasp on baseball strategy is slipping away.  The Mets have no chance of catching the Nats, and their wild card hopes are quickly vanishing.  In short, the season has gone to hell.

Last year's run, despite a devastating World Series loss, was -- in a word -- amazing.  The Mets transformed what looked to be another depressing year of mediocrity into a joyful one filled with magical, unforgettable moments.  They were a fun, exciting team with a great core of young players, a fascinating collection of personalities and star power.

At the time, I wrote about how perhaps it was time to change the Mets narrative:
For Met fans, there is always a lingering sense that disappointment is not far off -- that the Mets' penny-wise owners will not do what it takes to keep the team competitive and that something unexpected but nevertheless devastating will undermine the team's seemingly limitless future.  But, things feel different this time.  The Mets have a deep core of great young talent, savvy veterans, and apparently great chemistry.  They surely need to make a few changes and add some key new pieces this off season, but maybe, just maybe, this is the start of a new era.  Maybe it is time for a new narrative.  Not lovable losers or unlovable losers tempered by the occasional miracle, but a truly solid baseball team that doesn't have to rely on magic to win. 
I guess I was premature.  I didn't take into account Murphy's deal with the devil.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Donald Trump Is An American Monster

He "represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character that almost every country in the world has learned to fear and despise. . . . [He] is also America's answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string warts, on nights when the moon comes too close .... " --  Hunter S. Thompson, The Death of Richard Nixon:  Notes on the Passing of An American Monster

As everyone has heard by now, Donald Trump suggested at a rally today that the "Second Amendment people" were the only ones who could prevent Hillary Clinton, if she were elected, from abolishing the Second Amendment. 

Here's the actual quote:  "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.  [Crowd boos]  By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks.  Though the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."

Was this a call to assassinate Clinton?  Supreme Court justices?  As the understated Nicholas Kristof put it:  "When you have to ask the question about a presidential candidate, that's a problem."

Rebecca Solnit aptly explains:  "Trump is a master of doublespeak, dog whistles, deniable statements, and the rest. He puts things out there that can mean terrible things but that he can wriggle around about. So he both did and did not call for an assassination; he made a statement whose grammatical looseness includes that possibility and allows him deniability." 

Together with his recent efforts to delegitimize a Clinton presidency, encouraging his supporters' calls to "lock her up" and stating "I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, to be honest," Trump is unconscionably setting the stage for undermining democratic rule and encouraging a violent response to a Clinton electoral victory. 

So, has Trump finally gone too far?   Has he finally provided cover for those craven Republican leaders who continue to support, if not endorse, him to belatedly rid themselves of his taint?  Has he finally gone so far that the media will shed its reflexive "both sides do it" analysis in which Trump's lies, bigotry and batshit craziness is equated with Clinton's fumbling explanation for her use of a private email server?

And speaking of the media, I miss Hunter S. Thompson.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Has Red Donald Finally Gone Too Far For The GOP?

It has become clear that no matter how racist, misogynistic or xenophobic Donald Trump is -- no matter how offensive his statements about Mexicans, Muslims or women are -- the Republican Party establishment will not denounce him and the vast majority of Republicans will continue to support him.  This should not be surprising.  Racism, xenophobia and misogyny, albeit in a more subtle form, have been an essential aspect of the GOP for decades.  It is the special sauce that has kept white working class Americans in the fold ever since the segregationists abandoned the Democratic Party in the wake of LBJ's signing of the Voting Rights Act and Trump forerunner Patrick Buchanan devised Nixon's Southern Strategy a few years later -- a strategy perfected by Reagan (e.g., welfare queens) and advanced by Bush I (e.g., Willie Horton). 

From Birchers to Birthers, Republicans have sought to woo uneducated, socially conservative white men with racist and anti-immigrant appeals.  Throw in attacks on the gays and abortion-seeking women, and you've got the making of a coalition just big enough to make the presidential race competitive, control at least half the Senate and retain a gerrymandered House of Representatives.  Notwithstanding the attempts of the few moderate Republicans still extant to treat Trump as a gross aberration from Republican Party orthodoxy, Trumpism is Republicanism writ large.

But, Trump's Putin fetish and his soft-on-Russia stances are hardly Republican -- they should be an anathema to Republicans who love a good Cold War and hate a good Communist.  Throughout Obama's presidency, Republicans harshly criticized him for having the audacity to negotiate an arms treaty with Putin and for not confronting Russia's aggression more aggressively.

This ever-expanding bill of particulars should be disturbing, indeed disqualifying, for any GOP candidate -- even Donald J. Trump:

1.  Trump has repeatedly praised Putin as a leader, alternatively stating that he knows him, has a relationship with him, and never met him.
2.  Trump has relied on Russian capital to prop up his businesses, the extent of which would likely be revealed by tax returns that Trump refuses to release.
3.  Trump either appears to be unaware of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, given his word salad response on ABC's This Week, or does not oppose it -- with Trump supporters eliminating from the GOP party platform support for providing lethal defensive weapons for Ukraine.
4.  Trump's campaign manager has been a lobbyist for several pro-Putin clients, including a deposed pro-Russian Ukraine president.
5.   Trump appears to have legitimized Russia's seizure of Crimea, contending that the people there actually welcomed it.
6.  Trump has stated that he would not necessarily defend NATO countries if they were attacked by Russia, in direct violation of our heretofore unquestioned security commitments.
7.  After Russia hacked the DNC, Trump invited Russia to intervene in a United States presidential election by "finding" Hillary Clinton's missing emails and disseminating them.

Republicans have little problem with the prospect of an erratic, grossly ill-informed, racist creep, but are they comfortable with an erratic, grossly ill-informed Russian stooge?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Raising Kaine: Clinton Disappoints With VP Pick, But I'm Still With Her

Hillary Clinton could have chosen a chimpanzee to be her running mate and I would still support her.  The stakes in this election are too high.  If nothing else, the last few Days of Dystopia, aka the Republican National Convention, have made it clear that Donald J. Trump is intent on harnessing the darkest and most dangerous instincts of disaffected white Americans whose fervent cries of "build the wall," "lock her up" and "all lives matter" were absolutely chilling.  It isn't hyperbole to say that this is how fascist regimes get their start -- drumming up fear and hatred, claiming to be the one and only person who can make the country safe and strong, and then promising with nothing more than slogans to make it all happen on the first day in power.

Thankfully, because Trump is so remarkably disorganized and erratic -- and women and people of color still have the vote --  the odds still greatly favor Clinton to win the presidency.  But the fact that this might be anywhere near a close vote in November is deeply troubling, indeed, frightening. 

Which brings us back to Clinton.  I don't really need to rehash the reasons why I supported Clinton in the primaries.  (See, e.g., On Loving Bernie But Not Feeling The Bern)  And I don't really need to repeat the familiar litany of reasons why Clinton is not my ideal candidate.   (See, e.g., The Pros and Cons of Voting for Hillary Clinton)  At bottom, I believed -- and continue to believe -- that she was the candidate best positioned to beat the Republicans.  I have come to accept that while she will generally support issues critical to progressives, she also will invariably disappoint.

I just didn't think she would disappoint so soon.  I really hoped that she would not heed the calls from the more moderate/corporatist wing of the Democratic Party to choose a running mate that would make her candidacy more palatable to white blue collar men and the Democratic establishment.  I really hoped that she would shed her more cautious political instincts and understand that the political zeitgeist calls for a less traditional, more progressive choice.  I really hoped that her response to Trump's pick of a right-wing religious zealot would be to go in the other direction rather than trying to fill the vacuum in the center. 

Choosing a candidate to her left -- particularly Elizabeth Warren -- would have sent a strong signal that Clinton, having dispatched with Bernie Sanders, was not going to hew to the center.  It would have shown that she was willing to tap into the passion and energy that drove the Sanders campaign and that is, frankly, lacking among Clinton supporters.  Warren, as a running mate, would be better than anyone in the country at shaming the Republicans for their coziness with Wall Street, attacks on reproductive rights, disdain for consumers, and intransigence on the Supreme Court -- as well as exposing the idiocy, the hypocrisy and the danger of Donald J. Trump. 

But, alas, this was not to be.  Clinton has chosen Tim fucking Kaine.  Kaine is a Senator and former Governor from Virginia, an important battleground state to be sure.  He is the son of a welder with Midwest roots that give him an appealing blue collar aura.  He speaks Spanish.  But he has strong ties to Wall Street and favors greater deregulation of banks.  He is an advocate of free trade deals and supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Warren, Sanders and purportedly Clinton oppose.  And he is "personally" anti-choice. He is a white man.  He is not a progressive.  He is not an electrifying speaker.  He is a conventional pick in what is not a conventional election cycle.

I'm disappointed. Very disappointed. Extremely disappointed.  Progressives should be very, very disappointed.  Dammit!  Fuck!  ...

OK?  OK.

Now, let's get back out there and support the ticket.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Business As Usual While Police Kill Black Men

"I think he's just black in the wrong place."  -- Valerie Castile
"The ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement is about acknowledging the brutal, painful injustices our Black sisters and brothers have endured and are continuing to endure. When we talk about #BlackLivesMatter, some people hear that we don't think "all" lives matter. Supporting #BlackLivesMatter, especially in the face of these killings by police officers, doesn't mean that no one else matters. It means that we white people haven't done justice by our brethren of color, and it's time that we step up to the plate. All of us. Together." -- Jim Hightower
Republicans on Capitol Hill, determined to validate their conspiracy theories, are grilling the FBI Director over his recommendation to not indict Hillary Clinton over her use of a personal email server while Secretary of State. Democrats defend the Director. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is decompensating from criticism over his posting of an anti-Semitic image obtained from a white supremacist site and his praise of Saddam Hussein, becoming even more incoherent than usual.  Fox News is reeling from a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by one of its female stars.

In short, another typical day in America.

Meanwhile, Philando Castile, a black man, was fatally shot by the police in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota after being stopped for having a broken tail light.  This comes only one day after Baton Rouge, Louisiana police shot and killed another black man, Alton Sterling.

In short, another typical day in America.

123 black men have been killed by U.S. law enforcement THIS YEAR.

But as my friend Reggie Shuford (Executive Director of the Pennsylvania ACLU) notes, there continues to be a palpable disconnect between Black America and the rest of us:
Yesterday, I felt like I existed in a parallel universe, where Black America was collectively grieving and expressing outrage at yet another killing of a Black man, while just about everyone else (with a few notable exceptions) was going about business as usual. This business as usual - the killing of Black folk and the lack of awareness and engagement by others - has got to stop. I need EVERYONE of goodwill to join the fight to preserve Black lives. Everyone.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

More Than A "PR Problem" -- How The Mets Can Ethically Bring Jose Reyes Back Into The Fold

In 2006, the Mets were one pitch away -- albeit, a nasty, possibly unhittable Adam Wainwright curveball (that Carlos Beltran watched for strike three with the bases loaded, but I digress) -- from making the World Series.  That team was led by two of the game's brightest young stars:  David Wright and Jose Reyes.  And although the next two promising years resulted in epic, brutal, end-of-the-season collapses, Wright and Reyes (with the exception of Reyes' slumping September in 2007) lived up to the hype with explosive campaigns and were poised to be the two pillars of an exciting new era of winning Mets baseball. 

Well, that is not exactly what happened.  The Mets would not have another winning season until last year when Reyes was long gone and Wright was mostly hurt. 

David Wright did have a couple more stellar years, but starting in 2009, when he suffered a concussion from a Matt Cain beanball, he has endured a never-ending series of injuries that has plagued his career. This culminated in a diagnosis of spinal stenosis last year and a season-ending neck injury this year. 

Meanwhile, Jose Reyes remained, for a time, one of the most exciting players in baseball.  He played with passion, joy and fire that not only made him a delight to watch and root for, but he often carried a team that otherwise lacked those qualities.  However, after the 2011 season (in which he led  the National League in batting), only 28 years old and seemingly approaching the peak of his career, Reyes (unlike Wright) was not signed by the Mets to a long-term contract but was allowed to pursue free agency.  He signed a massive deal with the Miami Marlins but was traded to Toronto after one year, where the artificial turf wreaked havoc on his legs.  In 2015, Reyes was traded again, this time to Colorado, where he played poorly.

His skills seemingly diminished, the now 33-year old shortstop has been put on waivers by the Rockies, and if not claimed in 48 hours, Reyes will become a free agent.  From a purely baseball perspective, Reyes would be a bargain for any team that wants to give him a try.  His new team would only have to play a pro-rated league minimum while the Rockies remain on the hook for the $39 million left on his contract.

Some have clamored for the Mets to bring Reyes back into the fold, perhaps to make the loss of David Wright, the other half of the erstwhile dynamic duo, less acute  And given how little the team would have to pay for his services, it might be worth the risk.  The Mets could certainly use his undeniably electric energy to shake up what feels like a team that needs some shaking up.  Even at this advanced stage of his career, Reyes has more speed than just about anyone currently in the Mets dugout.  If he still has a bit of pop in his bat, he could be a worthy contributor to what has become a fairly anemic lineup.  In the field, he could play not just shortstop, where Asdrubal Cabrera is doing just fine, but could possibly play David Wright's old position -- third base -- or he could play second and the Mets could move Neil Walker to third.  Or he could play the role of a utility man, coming off the bench to pinch hit, pinch run, and play any of the infield positions when needed.

But -- ah, there's always a but -- last year on Halloween, Jose Reyes was charged in a domestic violence incident after a particularly frightening assault on his wife:
According to the report, Reyes grabbed his wife by the throat after an argument in their hotel room and then shoved her into the sliding balcony door in their room. He was arrested for abuse of a family or household member. His wife was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for injuries to her thigh, neck and wrist.
Charges were dropped after Reyes' wife declined to cooperate with prosecutors. But Reyes was suspended by Major League Baseball, pursuant to its domestic violence policy, for 51 games, essentially, the first two months of this season.  In addition to his loss of playing time and salary while suspended, Reyes made a public apology.  He also has apparently participated in some kind of a counseling/therapy program and contributed $100,000 to a charitable organization on preventing domestic abuse and treating domestic abuse survivors. 

It has been suggested that signing Reyes would merely be a "PR" problem given the domestic violence incident.  But this is about much more than PR.  Instead of talking about Reyes' batting and fielding statistics we should be talking about the following statistics from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
On average, 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States. Over the course of a year, that equals more than 10 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story—nearly 2 million women are raped in a year and over 7 million women and men are victims of stalking in a year.
When Major League Baseball adopted a domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy last year, it finally accepted responsibility for addressing such significant societal problems.  As MLBPA executive director Tony Clark stated: "Players are husbands, fathers, sons and boyfriends. And as such want to set an example that makes clear that there is no place for domestic abuse in our society. We are hopeful that this new comprehensive, collectively-bargained policy will deter future violence, promote victim safety, and serve as a step toward a better understanding of the causes and consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse."

Particularly if they sign Jose Reyes, the Mets organization would have a civic obligation and moral duty to show their fans that they take domestic violence deadly seriously.  They could do this by making sure that Reyes continues in a therapeutic/counseling program for domestic violence abusers.  They should require him to make public service announcements and appearances about domestic violence that could have a far-reaching impact on the community.  The team should also devote significant resources to fostering awareness about violence against women and contribute to anti-domestic violence organizations. 

A reunion with a formerly beloved star who appears to be on the decline could be a great story of redemption if Reyes has some game left and helps the Mets win but, more importantly, if he and the Mets show a demonstrated commitment to taking meaningful action to combat violence against women.