Friday, September 30, 2011

In Celebration of Chutzpah

Chutzpah: Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts,' presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to." In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and a grudging admiration. In the same work, Rosten also defined the term as "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

So, that's you Brian, Mr. too-big-to-fail Bank of America. Five bucks a month for a debit card? You little shit!

So, Bryan baby, I suppose this $5 per month fee is your way of saying thanks to the American people for saving your ass?? I’m not sure I quite get your message. I assume it’s something like,

Well people, the government keeps strangling us with regulations and now we can’t even charge companies fees for these damned debit cards. We’re losing so much money here that I personally will not be able to afford the fourth home I purchased in the Bahamas.  And don’t even mention my sailboat.  So look people, I understand your pain, with no job and all that crap. I get it. Really, I do.  But, you have to be reasonable. Unless I charge you the five bucks per month, I just won’t be able to support the Hummer I was going to buy my kid. So, take it or leave it people. I need the dough. Oh, and speaking of dough, if you’re having trouble scraping up the dough to buy bread (hahaha, get it . . . dough . . . bread??) I suggest a nice cake instead.”
So, here’s my suggestion to you Brian, baby. I think the government should take away your gambling license.  See, instead of you taking all of our money and pissing it away on gambling, something you’re obviously not very good at by the way, we think you should go back into the banking business. What’s that? Well, it’s something like this. See, people take their cash and place it in your care. You charge them a small fee for handling it, and then, if they leave it with you long enough, you invest it in actual loans—you know, like when people want to buy a car or a house, or maybe start a small business?? Remember those kinds of loans?  And you also provide people with a thing called a checking account and you can charge them another small fee for that.
But that’s it Brian. You can’t do anything else. Oh, and one more thing, Brian. We’re not going to let you operate in more than one state—so pick your state carefully. Yeah, no more global banking shit. That’s for smart people, not people like you Brian.
So, that’s all for now Brian. Oh, and one more thing. If you ever stray off the reservation again, we’re going to put handcuffs around your wrists and place you in a small jail cell for a really long time.
Ta ta Brian. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Colleges as the Minor Leagues

Reading the Observer this morning about how the University of North Carolina is taking a fresh look at its academic offerings, especially those preferred by its “student-athletes” brings me to a sense of sadness and wonder—wonder that we can go on playing this game of “Let’s Pretend” regarding athletics and money in this country.

I began thinking about this subject a long time ago. When I attended university, we used to refer to one of the schools in our conference as a “football factory”.  The term was intended to denigrate their academic program, which we thought had lost out to their athletic programs.  Then, over time, the Olympics started to come into focus, especially the notion that the games were somehow pure, i.e., the athletes had not yet been tainted by money—they were all “amateur athletes.”  The more I paid attention, the clearer it became that Olympic athletes were really “amateur” in name only. Most were sponsored by some group or another and the ones that weren’t had commercial sponsors who paid them one way or another. When professional basketball invaded the Olympics, I conceded that the amateur athletics notion had just been buried for good.

 Then over time, one college after another got stung by its own stupidity and greed. Money began to dominate college athletics.  The TV rights to games alone made the “amateur” notion of collegiate competition a joke.  So, why would we continue to play “Let’s Pretend”?  Well, apparently nobody is willing to stand up and state the obvious—college “student-athletes’ are paid minor league athletic employees. Unlike baseball, where the major league teams own their own minor league franchises to train their upcoming athletes, in football and basketball (the so-called “revenue sports”) colleges provide the minor leagues.  A recent controversy regarding the true nature of college athletes (are they paid employees?)  has been brought into the daylight via an article in the Atlantic by Taylor Branch—“The Shame of College Sports” –The Atlantic, October 2011.  The true controversy is whether we should consider college athletes as paid employees of the university, in which case they would be entitled to workmen’s compensation when they become injured.  Apparently, the powers that be do not want that, because it would leave them liable. The NCAA “Let’s Pretend” they’re just student-athletes allows everyone to escape such liability.

But the potential damage even goes beyond that done to the athletes themselves. The college academic programs are also damaged, as when we used to refer to that “football factory”.  Real students who graduate from the “football factories” of the country are not treated as seriously as they should. See, even “football factories” have serious academic study programs and real students. If the “student-athletes” manage to trash their school’s academic standing because they are joke students, many real students are thereby potentially damaged.
So, why not just admit the truth—college football and basketball NCAA conferences are the true minor leagues of the NBA and the NFL. The participating athletes are minor league professional athletes—paid employees. Whether they go to classes is largely irrelevant. Maybe we even need to go the extra mile and declare that these athletes don’t actually have to attend academic classes, since they are not real students.
Now the problem with such an approach is that it may punish the real student-athletes, i.e., the students who happen to be both gifted academics and gifted athletes.  Surely we are clever enough to manage such a reality so as to not harm the real student-athletes.
And while we are on the subject of truth in athletics, why don’t we deal with the taboo subject of “performance-enhancing drugs”? Talk about “Let’s Pretend”.  We demand that athletes meet higher and higher performance standards, and then we wonder and are “shocked . . . shocked” when we find that high performing athletes actually cheat by injecting themselves with various Illegal substances in order to become better at their game.  But in the end, who really cares if Lance Armstrong used illegal drugs to gain his mastery over the field of bikers?  If professional athletes wish to screw up their bodies in exchange for gaining mastery (and a great deal of money) why not let them? Nobody is forcing them to choose that path to glory.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The GOP as a Cult

In a recent article in truthOut ( a recent defector (retiree) from the ranks of the GOP Mike Lofgren, a former professional republican staff member wrote:
" A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner. A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media.
Mr. Lofgren includes in his article a quote from John P. Judis, an editor at the New Republic, “Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today's Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery."
It seems to me that anyone with even a shred of objectivity left cannot but be dismayed watching the cast of characters who currently pose as actual or potential leaders in the GOP, including most especially the people acting as candidates for the highest office in the Land.  It seems equally clear that republicans in general now are more than simply opposed to Obama policies and program proposals. They oppose almost as a religious experience.  They oppose as the Islamic extremist with dynamite strapped to his middle opposes as he detonates himself in a marketplace of innocent people. They seem no longer to care what results from their opposition.  And that makes them truly dangerous to the future of our republic.
When I observed that New Yorkers, seeking to replace the idiotic Anthony  Weiner as their Congressman, voted for a conservative republican instead of his democratic challenger, I gasped. What could they be thinking, I wondered? You are voting to install yet another person to oppose any ideas of our president to minimize the economic damage done to our country by, guess who, conservative republicans? Really . . . you really imagine that you are sending a smart message to our president? A message to be sure, but the message is, “well we’re just a bunch of ignorant, low-information voters who are unhappy, so we’re installing another of the idiots who got us into this mess . . . as a way of telling you we want someone to get us out of this mess . . . that we’re helping to keep us in . . .” Yeah, that’ll surely work to invigorate the president.  Nothing like making his work harder as a way of hoping he can work smarter.
So this coming election in 2012 may well settle both our economic future, and our future as a democratic society.   It is hard to be hopeful, when visions of America as Iran keep appearing in the rear view mirror.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The GOP Anti-Enlightenment

It is one the world’s true wonders that current republican candidates can be so wrong on so many issues, and how they label our president with the worst of their own faulty positions.  Their main smear against Obama is that he just wants to do “more of the same thing”, which has not worked, and will not work in the future. 

On that point, it is hard to label Obama as a “more of the same thing” kind of guy, since, aside from rescuing the banks, he actually hasn’t done much on the economic front.  Some of the things he says he wants to do—spending on infrastructure for example, are hotly resisted by all of the candidates.  In fact, it seems not to matter what Obama wants to do—republicans have said No to everything.  They do so want him to be a one-term president.
So, what is their prescription?
Repeal “Obamacare” – now there’s a big job creator. Take away health care from the 40+ million who have none, thereby further reducing their spendable income. Yeah, that’s a winner. The main fear of republicans about “Obamacare” of course, is that it threatens one of their core financial supporters, the health insurance industry.
Roll back all regulations – they talk of an ‘explosion” of regulations, “smothering” American job creators. In fact, the near absence of regulations is what got us into the current financial mess to begin with. Their most current bitch was about some proposed EPA regulations on emissions, which Obama just killed. But the fact is, our skies were cleaned up with no obvious deleterious effects on employment some 40 years ago. Republicans are simply lying about it. What we need is to reinvigorate EPA, not kill it. Bush almost succeeded in killing it, and in fact killing all regulations. That worked out real well, huh?
Cut more taxes on corporations, especially on profits earned overseas—oh yeah, that’ll create more jobs, huh?  The main net effect of further cutting corporate taxes, already at a low point, is to fatten the profits flowing to the wealthiest Americans. No new jobs are created by these tax cuts, but they do exacerbate the already perilously high and climbing national debt.
Substitute the Bible for the Constitution – sounds far fetched, except that one of the core constituencies of current republicans is the country’s Christian Taliban.  They are a scary bunch who want to gut public education and replace secular law with religious law (e.g., Sharia). Current candidates cherish this bunch of ignorant miscreants.
Get rid of what remains of the Nation’s Middle Class – this is one of the most baffling of their platform planks. They seem bent on killing the Middle Class, which is the group that made America great, while it was still great. Republicans seem intent on destroying that class and its institutions, including unions, public schooling, Medicare, Social Security and the minimum wage.  They seem not to realize that, if we lose the Middle Class (a serious possibility) we lose much of America.
Talk about repeating the same thing over and over, while expecting different results (one definition of insanity). That platform more or less describes the course charted for America by George W. Bush. I believe we are in the middle of Great Depression II mainly because of those republican policies held so dear by the current crop of candidates.  If Obama hasn’t yet even begun the job of solving the enormous problems of our Nation, willed to him by republicans, it is because republicans continue to resist solutions.  Some of them, Bachman for example, wish to return the Nation to the 18th century, without the enlightenment part, of course.  Call her crazy.