Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson - a tale of two truths

I believe there are two truths that are at odds in Ferguson, resulting in unfortunate violence and injustice.

The first truth is reflected in the Grand Jury decision not to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.  In this truth, we are a nation of laws, the Grand Jury spent a lot of time, listened to about 60 eye witnesses, was presented the forensic evidence, listened to extensive testimony by the officer involved, and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to cause this to go to trial.  That is, when everything was heard and evaluated, it was believed that the officer acted in self-defense.  I think it is good to remember that almost all big news events have big mistakes in the initial reporting, especially in today’s 24 hour news cycles where TV and social media feel the need to jump in with instant opinions. So a lot of what was initially thought to be fact was probably discredited upon examination of the Grand Jury.

The second truth is reflected in the outrage of the black community in Ferguson, Oakland, and other black communities across the country.  In this truth, inner city blacks and browns live in a police state.  I believe this is because of our unfortunate and deeply failed War on Drugs.  The inner cities have been turned into armed camps of warring factions - drug gangs on one side and the police force on the other.  In the cross fire is a trapped by poverty populace, ever at risk from criminals on one side, and the suspicions, surveillance, and mistakes of the police on the other side.

In the first truth, the officer reacted as he was trained and protected his life.  Justice was done.

In the second truth, a man was killed for an act of petty theft, and injustice was done.

I don’t have wonderful solutions to this.  I note that the black community sees racism and oppression at play every day, in ways that I am blind to.  I note that the police see crime and danger to society and themselves every day in ways I am blind to.

I guess my question to my liberal and black friends would be this – if you had been on this Grand Jury, with an open mind, for three months, seeing all the facts, witness statements, forensic evidence, and had sort out fact from fiction, wouldn’t you have most likely come to the same conclusion that this Grand Jury came to? Might they not have simply been making judgments based upon the evidence rather than demonstrating some kind of racist animus?

And I guess my question to my conservative and white friends would be this – if you were black or brown and lived in an inner black or brown city, might not you think you were living in a police state where an over-militarized police force could kill unarmed boys and men with impunity?  And wouldn’t you want to burn things down yourself in response?

My hope is that our nation can grow as a result of this terrible incident, and that the police can find better ways to interact positively with inner cities, and that inner city citizens can find better ways to interact with the police – that both sides can find partnership with each other rather than both sides feeling that they are living in a war zone.  I don’t have an answer about what to do about the disastrous War on Drugs, but it is pretty clear that the consequences are terrible for people trapped in the middle of that war.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Good substance, bad precedent

If I understand it correctly, in order to qualify for Obama’s offer not to deport illegal immigrants (for two years while he is still in office) they would have to voluntarily turn themselves in to Immigration and Customs and apply for status.  Why would they do that?  What one president can grant by executive mandate another can certainly take away, and in the process of taking it away that next  president would have all the info needed to deport all of those who signed up for Obama’s deal.

Sounds like a very big risk to me.  The only way illegals would rationally become visible should be to get a change in legal status, i.e. a path to citizenship, which this Obama offer does not present, if I understand correctly.  That requires Congress to pass a law which does that, and apparently Obama’s very public executive action has guaranteed that Congress will not be able to negotiate a deal out of fierce Republican reaction to what they see as an abuse of Presidential authority.  Of course, the chances of the Republicans every successfully negotiating a deal on immigration has always been pretty close to zero, so…

So, Obama’s big immigration move, designed to be compassionate to immigrants, could actually put them at much greater risk than they already are in.  Of course, it would be a very big incentive for the Hispanic community to vote Democratic in the next presidential election, to keep a Ted Cruz type anti-immigrant Republican from rounding up all those who exposed themselves, but does this mean that Obama’s compassion is really little more than a way to use these people to elect the next president? 

Speaking of political motives, is Obama putting out bait to draw the Obama-haters into a stupid attempt to impeach him in hopes that it would so damage the Republican brand that the Democrats will ascend in 2016? 

Not sure I would recommend anyone signing up and exposing themselves for a two year exemption from deportation that could be overturned by the next president - then, adios amigo.

By the way, if Obama can do this on what he considers to be a very important thing, which he cannot get Congress to act on, doesn’t that open the door for a Republican president doing the same thing on abortion, or on access to abortion clinics, or open carry gun laws, or school prayer, or privatization of public schools, or whatever? 

I think the chances of a Republican president in 2016 are very low (it take more than white men to elect a president), but I’m still not sure I like this action by this president. 

I agree with the substance of what he is doing but I think it needs to be the Congress that makes immigration law.  This looks like a bad precedent to me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The twisted image of manhood of the NFL

Nearly everyone loves football, it's the American way, it's so ingrained in our culture that it is hard to  imagine the United States without weekend football to get excited about.  Except, for me, I don't enjoy watching it anymore, for a number of reasons, and the latest headline to point out one of them is about the DEA pulling a surprise inspection on some traveling teams this weekend looking for illegal administration of drugs to the players.

These raids are in response to a class action lawsuit from 1300 former NFL players, including Chicago Bears superstar, Jim McMahon.  He played 14 years in the NFL and received thousands of pills to put them out on the field hurt:

"The DEA’s investigative interest in the NFL is partly based on the agency’s conviction that lackadaisical prescribing practices creates addicts. McMahon, who played from 1982 to 1996, said in the lawsuit that he received “hundreds, if not thousands” of injections and pills from NFL doctors and trainers, including Percocet, Toradol, Novocaine, amphetamines, sleeping pills and muscle relaxers. He said he became so hooked on pain meds that at one point he took 100 Percocets a month."

Of course this is no surprise to anyone. In 1997 there was a movie "On Any Given Sunday" with Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx that showed blatant abuse of the players by pumping them full of pain killers and pushing them out on the field.  Jamie Williams, former tight end of the S.F. 49ers was a consultant.

So, I used to say so what? it's a violent game, all the players are there by choice, they can become very wealthy, they are stars, they take their risks, it's a free country.  But...

I stopped watching after the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice years.  In part because of the influence of the other kinds of drugs that were obviously distorting the game by distorting the players - steroids, human growth hormones, and whatever other magic pills that made people bigger, faster, less human and more uber-human.  I remember the Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus days where linemen were 250 pounds, but they became 300 and now 325 pounds.  It's like watching factory assembled robots play against each other rather than highly trained superb athletes.  The game became too distorted for me to enjoy the way I used to.

Then, I became aware that brain damage was in integral part of the game, not just the knockout concussions, but every block, tackle, bounce off the turf produces sub-concussions - many times every game - and that produced permanent brain damage that alters personalities, destroys mental functions, and leads often to early death.  What fun is there in watching that?  To me, not much fun at all.

And how voluntary is it?  

"In the Post survey, nine in 10 former players said they played hurt during their careers, and more than two in three said they felt they had no choice."

The teams force the players to become bigger and stronger (drugs needed), and to play hurt (drugs needed).  Who forces the teams? Isn't it the fans?  

Which brings my to a more troubling aspect of football for me.  I stopped being a fan quite a while ago, so I'm not hypnotized by it.  And what I see is a strange idea of what it is to be a Real Man - one who crushes opposition, a dominator, one who intimidates and terrifies others, one who is impervious to pain, impervious to any feeling at all, one who thinks all that counts is winning, one who thinks the ends justify the means, one who has stopped being a human being with feelings, doubts, questions, choices, one who stops being a human, one who stops being a ... man.  It's kind of a young adolescent boy's guess at what it is to become the man that he fantasizes becoming, an unrealistic projection beyond human achievement.

Maybe all of these characteristics are needed in actual war on actual battlefields.  Maybe one has to cut off all feeling and turn oneself into a terrifying crusher of foes in real war.  But football actually is not war, it is actually a game, and one shouldn't have to stop being human, at least to some degree, in order to play a game, I don't care how much money or fame is at stake.

I am in a lifelong inquiry to uncover what it really means to be a man, and I think that there is more to being a man than being a warrior - being tough and scary.  How about qualities like courage (not just physical courage but moral courage), nobility, gallantry, service, humility, character, honesty, responsibility, and most of all HONOR?  How about the ancient masculine virtues of chivalry?  Aren't these better measures of manhood than domination, violence, and intimidation?

My ultimate vision is that fathers will stop allowing their sons to become football players because it will be obvious that if even Hall of Famers like Mike Webster and Junior Seau die young and in mental and emotional agony due to their diseased brains, it can and may happen to their sons as well.  

And, who knows, maybe the American sports fans will lose some of their taste for violence.

Personally, I'm a big fan of golf.  Love it, nobody gets brain damage.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Veterans' Day - 100 years later

11/11/1918 - Armistice Day and the end of World War I, the "war to end all wars."  It started 100 years ago.  

It was horrible beyond imagining:  16 million dead, 20 million wounded.  There had never been such slaughter.  As logical as it was at the time that such inhumanity would shock the world into a state of mind that such a thing would never happen again, it happened again, only more so.

It spawned World War II, it went beyond the imagination again:  over 60 million deaths.  And the world war continued as well into the Cold War between the United States and NATO against Russia's USSR.  

The Cold War had proxy wars between the capitalist democracies and the communists, but the slaughters never approached WWI and WWII.  Thank goodness, and perhaps thank the most horrible weapon every devised, the nuclear bomb, for really making total war something unthinkable.

And now we have the religious wars of the Muslim faiths that the United States and the rest of the world are trying to protect itself from and stay out of as best as possible.  

So, to me, Veterans' Day, which started out as Armistice Day when I was a boy, is certainly a time to honor those who have fought under the United States flag for the last hundred years, and beyond.  

But more to the point for me, it is about honoring their sacrifices by honoring the dreams that were in their hearts, and I can't believe that their hearts had any longing more profound than the longing for the end of war, for peace.

So, for me, Veterans' Day is a day of hoping for and envisioning peace.  Actual peace amongst the multitude of religions, ideologies, tribes, and peoples.  As a troubled man once said, "Can we all get along?"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Will Republicans govern?

So, the Republicans have swept the House and Senate in yesterday’s elections.  I guess congratulations are in order for my conservative friends, and condolences to my liberal friends. 

My deepest hope is that the Republicans show up as mature adults committed to running the government rather than dismantling it.  My next deepest hope is that they don’t waste the world’s time with show trials about Benghazi, the IRS, or whatever in an attempt to impeach the President. 

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of hope for positive governance from the party that has Ted Cruz waiting in the wings like Godzilla ready to go on a rampage to control it as part of his campaign to become president.