State of the Union

Taming the Beast

Time for a rant about professional football.  I don’t know how many TAC regulars are football fans, but I suspect there are at least a few.  I have been a fan for many years but rarely watch anymore.  At one time, football was a real male bonding experience with big brawny guys smacking each other around and being watched from cold hard stadium seats by other guys swilling beer and eating hot dogs.  I still recall as a high schooler sitting in Yankee Stadium and watching the devastating hit by the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik on Frank Gifford of the Giants. Bednarik’s motor never stopped.  He played both linebacker and center and was never off the field.  Giants players mostly lived in modest houses in the industrial towns of northern New Jersey in those days and were paid so little that they had to sell used cars during the off season.  Players played because they loved the game and owners were football people through and through like George Halas, the Rooneys, the Maras.

Today professional football has been cleaned up and homogenized.  It is little more than a very profitable business designed to appeal to every demographic and it has become oh-so-boring.  Team owners are careful about their investment and many are completely ignorant of the game, having made their money in software design or building shopping centers, not in running sports franchises.  Overpaid players are commodities that have to be protected and the sport has become so risk adverse and over officiated that the play is constantly stopping because of penalties on ridiculous infractions that are impossible to discern even on replay.  And then there is replay itself – another excuse to slow up the action and squeeze in more commercials.  To bring excitement back into the game throw out many of the rules that limit physical contact and get rid of at least half of the officials, particularly the clown who is hunched over in the defensive team’s backfield.

Discipline to maintain a fantasy public image is nothing short of draconian.  In today’s NFL, when a player, coach, or owner does something that the tight butts at the sport’s control center consider to be damaging to the “business interest” heavy fines are instantly levied.  Players go out to play only to find out on Monday that they have been fined $10,000 for doing something that did not even result in a penalty on the field.  There’s something 1984ish in that you can be punished well after the fact for something that was apparently not punishable when you did it.  This week owner Bud Adams of the Tennessee Titans was fined $250,000 for flipping off the opposing team.  It was twenty five times more than a fine levied the previous week when one player was punched by an opponent. I hope Adams refuses to pay it.  Of course, the NFL is a monopoly so it can do what it wants, so maybe it is time to lobby congress to get rid of sports monopolies and bring in a little competition.

Every game starts with a dose of heavy handed and mawkish jingoism, frequently featuring our “heroes” serving overseas, regarding whom the NFL could care less as they are in no position to buy tickets and team paraphernalia.  Teams are frequently considered successful when they make a lot of money even if they lose. The sport is so commercialized that on kickoffs and punt returns twelve seconds of play are routinely sandwiched between six minutes of commercials.  If you want to watch a game that is not local you have to go through Rupert Murdoch and his monopoly at Directv and pay him $270 for the privilege.  If you want to watch it in High Definition you have to pay him more.    

We’ve become a candy ass country where everyone is afraid of offending anyone else or upsetting the cozy business arrangements that make the insiders rich.  Just as the Olympic Games have been destroyed beyond any hope of redemption due to American style commercialization so too have professional sports become symptoms of a bland and undemanding society that is no longer interested in genuine competition or human achievement on the athletics field.  That is probably why the game experience itself has become so bad with fans getting drunk and obscene because what is going on on the field can be a bit like a board meeting at IBM.  I would like to blame it all on Obama and the Democrats, but I believe I am correct in saying that most team owners are Republicans.

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What Kind of War Is This?

Are we at war — or not?

For if we are at war, why is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed headed for trial in federal court in the Southern District of New York? Why is he entitled to a presumption of innocence and all of the constitutional protections of a U.S. citizen?

Is it possible we have done an injustice to this man by keeping him locked up all these years without trial? For that is what this trial implies — that he may not be guilty.

And if we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that KSM was complicit in mass murder, by what right do we send Predators and Special Forces to kill his al-Qaida comrades wherever we find them? For none of them has been granted a fair trial.

When the Justice Department sets up a task force to wage war on a crime organization like the Mafia or MS-13, no U.S. official has a right to shoot Mafia or gang members on sight. No one has a right to bomb their homes. No one has a right to regard the possible death of their wives and children in an attack as acceptable collateral damage.

Yet that is what we do to al-Qaida, to which KSM belongs. Read More…

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Vet Shrinks That ‘Get it’ Get Sacked

The murderous rampage of Army Maj. Nidal Hasan almost two weeks ago at Ft. Hood has inadvertently reopened a nasty wound and I am glad. People are again talking about the mental health of our returning soldiers, but more importantly, talking about the stigma attached to both active duty and veteran military servicemembers who seek help for their seemingly irreconcilable bouts of rage, depression, anxiety, paranoia, guilt and other symptoms of trauma related to their service overseas. There are snowballing reports of war heroes belittled and shamed by commanders and fellow comrades for daring to fix themselves. They are “set apart” as freaks by those who don’t understand, and who have bought into the institutional mindset that real warriors don’t cry — that is, until someone close to them blows their head off, or puts a bullet into somebody else.

One has to be living under a rock not to see this happening on  huge military installations all over this country. Last summer in a horrifying two-part series, The Colorado Springs Gazette wrote about the incredible homicide rate among the “Lethal Warriors,” a single 500-soldier unit otherwise known as the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, stationed at Fort Carson there.

Most of the 10 Fort Carson soldiers accused of murder, manslaughter or attempted murder since 2006 were from this unit. A number of suicides and suicide attempts were also from this unit, which is part of a brigade combat team that took more casualties in Iraq of any one unit stationed at Fort Carson so far, the report claimed.

The take-home hit in the gut was that the guys profiled in the story — some were in jail, others close it — were pretty much ignored by the system. Not not only that, but in some cases they were re-deployed to the warzone  despite being hopped up on pain killers and anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds, and carrying rap sheets filled with violent crimes. It’s safe to say they were worse than zombies when they got back home. When they did seek help, they were kicked in the teeth by their superior officers’ scorn — a charge of course, that was denied.

Now comes Dr. Kernan Manion, a contracted psychiatrist with the Marines at Camp Lejune in North Carolina, who was sacked last summer for repeatedly warning of a coming “Columbine-style attack” on base if the mental healthcare there wasn’t improved. Mark Benjamin, a writer for Salon who has been living and breathing these issues for sometime in an attempt to call attention to this military crisis, wrote about Manion and his alarms in this report, published on Sunday. Read More…

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The Rural Brain Drain

Last Thursday’s event at the New America Foundation on the “rural brain drain” billed itself as examining a “major policy problem that has largely escaped media and political attention.” Indeed, you may get glimpses of this issue from time to time–as we did when media attention was focused on the rural “meth problem” earlier this decade–but it is, for the most part, invisible. The flight of population and talent from small, primarily Midwestern towns has been steady for decades now. The best and brightest often depart for better economic climes, joining the “creative class” as popularized by Richard Florida. Those who are left behind are left with few opportunities, with both agriculture and industry shrinking their workforces and depressing wages. (Two facts were mentioned that I cannot corroborate but are striking: (1) The average size of farms in Iowa has doubled since 1990 and (2) wages in the meatpacking industry, a significant employer in the Midwest, are now 1/3 of what they were fifteen years ago.)

The social implications of this process for the small towns themselves are disturbing. The economic dislocations coincide with all sorts of other problems: crime, family breakdown, drug abuse, etc. Of course, in the long run, even the very existence of these towns is at stake. Much of the Great Plains — little more than a century after being settled extensively — has simply emptied.

A common enough interpretation of this phenomenon is that it reflects the march of progress. The rural exodus is merely part of America’s steady urbanization and transition into a “new economy.” Why should we get all worked up about the sad but inevitable? I would submit that conservatives should be concerned. Even if you are not a follower of Wendell Berry, one can see the virtues of an agrarian way of life: its closeness to nature, distance from the distractions and temptations of urban life, and largely traditional culture. Even the Republican Party should worry. After all, small town America, the “Heartland,” is a central part of its mythology.

How can we repopulate the interior again? The policy suggestions proffered at the event were a mixed bag, many calling for sustained government intervention, i.e. building a broadband infrastructure or a high-speed rail system. Others were slightly less statist: offering land or tax incentives to newcomers or “returners.” These are all well and good, but I think they miss the gorilla in the room: mass culture. Other than perhaps country music, our culture is overwhelmingly urban. I would think that the comforts and entertainment of modern life exert a huge allure for the rural young. I doubt much in the way of incentives or infrastructure investment could overcome that powerful force.

Do any TAC readers have firsthand experience with this “brain drain”? Listening to sociologists talk about this is one thing, but it would be nice to hear about it straight from the horse’s mouth.

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Conservative Votes, Right-Wing Victims . . .

In the midst of a debate with Conor Friedersdorf, John Hawkins of Right Wing News produces this gem of thought:

. . . the reason so many conservatives are hacked off at moderates is because they are the ones who supported many of the dumb positions that decimated the GOP over the last eight years. It wasn’t the conservatives arguing for deficit spending, amnesty, and a prescription drug benefit — it was the moderates. When they won the day, the Republican Party, conservatives, and America lost.

Then, moderates got their dream candidate in 2008: John McCain.

Of course, there never was a simple vote to have “deficit spending.” Instead, there were two tax cuts and a couple of expensive wars that right-wingers strongly supported. Concerning Medicare Part D, John McCain voted against it while such “moderates” as James Inofe, Richard Shelby and Rick Santorum voted in favor.

Perhaps John Hawkins opposed cutting taxes in the face of two expensive war and led “tea party” demonstrations outside of the office of Rick Santorum, but I doubt it.

One lesson from the last few years is that movement conservatives are never responsible—they are always victims circumstance, the Liberal Media, or of nefarious “moderates” and “RINOs” that nobody previously noticed being in charge in the GOP.

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plus ça change…

From a former jarhead friend now working in Afghanistan as a contractor:

About the only thing you really need to stockpile is patience because it’s a military/government project, where the sad but common saying is “f–k up, move up”. You’d be astounded at the incompetence and how deep and swift it can flow through here sometimes. You remember.

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Division Bell

There have been posts on amconmag.com about the divisions in the major parties, particularly the GOP. There’s an old saying that you can’t tell the players without a program and it’s a good idea to fully understand what the true divisions are with the Republican Party and the larger Right.

The real division roiling the party right now is between the institutional establishment and Conservative INC. The institutional establishment includes the Republican Party itself along with all the think tanks, media figures, big donors and power brokers in the powers centers of the country (D.C, New York, Hollywood) and in each state (the neocons would be a faction within this group). Conservative INC. of course, is that amalgamation of political organizations, activists, interest groups, lobbyists, and in this day and age online groups with their fat email lists and online magazines along with bloggers who make their living off of “the base”.

It’s not a neat division. There is plenty of overlapping. Fox News for example, went from being Bush II’s palace guard to organzing peasant revolts. Talk radio hosts contracts are held by corporate syndicates but they are the ones closest to “the base” through their programs. Big publishing houses make a killing off the Right market. Corporate donations help to fund many political groups. Each group tries to influence the other and tries to control the other, so it is the ying and yang of the Right in this country.

Read More…

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Polk Country

As America debates whether to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, in the ninth year of a war for ends we cannot discern, a riveting new history recalls times when Americans fought for vital national interests.

A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent is Robert Merry’s brilliant biography and history of that time. Merry goes far toward righting the injustice done by historians who have denied this great man his place in the pantheon of presidents, because they believe “Jimmy Polk’s War” to have been a war of aggression against a Third World people.

As Merry relates, the problem is not with “Young Hickory,” the protege of Andrew Jackson, but with historians who ever allow political correctness to blind them to true greatness.

The Mexican War was as just a war as we have ever fought.

In 1836 at San Jacinto, Sam Houston had won the independence of Texas with his defeat of Santa Anna, butcher of the Alamo and Goliad. In eight years, Mexico had not tried to recapture Texas. For eight years, Houston and Texas had sought admission to the Union.

In 1844, Polk, twice defeated for governor of Tennessee, was seeking the Democratic vice presidential nomination on a ticket with ex-President Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s vice president.

But when the issue of annexation of Texas caught fire in the country, Van Buren opposed it, losing his patron Jackson. Polk rode the Texas issue to victory in Baltimore as the “dark horse” in the most dramatic convention in history. His opponent that November, the Whig Henry Clay, running a third time, was also fatally wrong on Texas. Read More…

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Veterans Only Day

Just attended a sparsely attended Veteran’s day service in my hometown. One of the hosts from the VFW, a stout man and Vietnam vet took a moment to harangue those who did make it about those who didn’t. Nearly everyone there was a veteran or close relative of a veteran.  “It’s sad that so few made it out when we are in the middle of war,” he said. His son was a classmate of mine and is scheduled to return from his third tour in Iraq in the next two months.

It seems difficult to square the lack of enthusiasm for Veteran’s day festivities with the near saintly-status Americans routinely give our soldiers. But we treat our armed servicemen and women like a different species of American. There are military families, who serve our country from one generation to the next. And then there are the rest of us who fight terrorism by shopping in big box stores and seeing Broadway shows.

Andrew Bacevich has written movingly about this segregation of our military from normal American life. It makes the decision to enter military service more difficult for the average American kid, while making the decision to go to war easier on the commander-in-chief. Short of a draft (which is abhorrent to me) there is no easy fix for this separation.

But the hero-worship we give to soldiers is patronizing and dangerous. We pretend our soldiers are so different from us. We leave them alone, and let them be subjects of the Veterans Administration. How kind, to wish they had better benefits packages.

They tell us to thank a veteran today, as if they want to shake our soft hands and hear the words ‘Thank you’ from doe-eyed accountants and clerks who don’t know their names, and apparently don’t care to find out.

Probably better to ask what beer they drink at the local VFW and bring a case every once in a while. Learn a few names, watch a football game. It’s what a good neighbor would do.

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The Two Faces of Nidal Hasan

Nidal Malik Hasan was two men.

One was the proud Army major who wore battle fatigues to mosque; the other, the proud Arab who wore Muslim garb in civilian life.

What brought Hasan’s identities into fatal conflict was his belief that Iraq and Afghanistan were unjust wars, and his shock that he, a Muslim, was to be sent to serve in one of those wars, against fellow Muslims — a sin against Allah meriting damnation.

Hasan was conflicted by a dual loyalty — to the country he had sworn to protect, and to his perceived duty as a Muslim. When Hasan told his neighbor that morning, “I am going to do good work for God,” the call of jihad overrode his oath of loyalty as an American soldier.

Hasan proceeded to shoot, wound or kill 44 U.S. soldiers, and die on what he saw as the side of right, the side of Islam, against America. “Allahu Akbar!” — “God is great!” — Hasan shouted as he began firing.

An Internet posting by “Nidal Hasan” compared suicide bombers to medal-of-honor winners who throw themselves on grenades to save fellow soldiers. Hasan had decided to become a suicider for Allah.

Though this was an act of treachery against his fellow soldiers, of treason in wartime, of terrorism and mass murder, Hasan must have seen himself as a hero and martyr. Read More…

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