26 July 2007

The Lonely Voice of Justice (BR)

About the only ink afforded to Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich after his performance at Tuesday's CNN/YouTube debate was in reference to his dubious distinction of having the lowest-testing moment of the night among focus groups.

He earned the enmity of these political taste-testers by being the only person on a panel of eight candidates, including one black man, who is openly in favor of the payment of reparations to African-Americans for the crime of slavery.

It's worth mentioning that this performance by Kucinich tested lower than a statement by Mike Gravel that American servicemen "died in vain" in Vietnam and are doing the same thing in Iraq today.

Maybe most Americans see an increasing black middle class, and the ascension of African-Americans to prominent and valorous positions in society -- like, for example, legitimate contender for the presidency -- and see the broaching of the topic of reparations as dredging up old unpleasantness and resurrecting a dialogue about race that we were never very comfortable taking part in, and decide that the whole thing is an anachronism and some karmic statute of limitations has expired.

Or maybe we're just used to the government not having to pay for hurting people.

The practice of kidnapping black Africans to America and forcing them and their children to work without pay was tolerated, regulated, and therefore endorsed by the United States government for the first 87 years of its existence. Millions who should have enjoyed rights equal to any other citizen instead were denied them wholesale, and could look forward to nothing other than pitiless oppression and endless toil, and release only in the form of death.

Was our government coddling the American Indians when it "reserved" some land for them to live on after defeating the natives in war? Should individuals today who abduct and hold victims against their will not have to answer for their actions? The United States, great and glorious though we are, for a time democratically sanctioned the trafficking of human beings like cattle, in violation of principles enshrined elsewhere in our laws. See the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

This is not abstract conceptualizing. Our legal system is based on a standard of justice whereby an injury to one party, materially and/or by denial of rights protected by law, must be repayed by the injurers, in direct monetary compensation or by forfeiture of their own rights.

Congressman Kucinich is not my preferred candidate for president, but he is no lunatic for understanding this very simple principle and applying it honestly to the topic of reparations. The unpopularity of his comment speaks less to his being out of touch with voters and more to how out of touch many Americans are with the ideals we claim to venerate.

24 July 2007

We Haven't Learned a Goddamn Thing (BR)

I'm in the midst of enjoying my morning coffee at 1:00 PM, as is my custom, and browsing Crooks and Liars to catch up on whatever ass-hattery perpetrated by Team Bush I managed to miss thanks to our species' confounded need for sleep.

A post titled Dems' big advantage on Iraq by Steve Benen reports the results of a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, which does indicate a shrinking level of public tolerance for the President's assertion of exclusive dominion over the handling of the war:
Most Americans see President Bush as intransigent on Iraq and prefer that the Democratic-controlled Congress make decisions about a possible withdrawal of U.S. forces, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As the president and Congress spar over war policy, both receive negative marks from the public for their handling of the situation in Iraq. But by a large margin, Americans trust Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular. And more than six in 10 in the new poll said Congress should have the final say on when to bring the troops home.
While this is encouraging data for anyone who, like me, favors a withdrawal from Iraq, I can't share in Benen's enthusiasm when he sums it all up this way:
Any Dems who are still worried about how the public might react to Congress forcing Bush’s hand just aren’t paying attention.
This is a popular line of thinking among my fellow Democrats, but it does not ring true to me. Even though Americans of all stripes are growing sick of the war, we are not as gung-ho to end it as we were to invade in the first place.

As if to confirm my skepticism, The New York Times published a separate poll today, showing that popular support for the initial invasion of Iraq has increased seven points since May; a frightening and baffling 42% of our countrymen and -women would go to war all over again today, even knowing everything we know now, even having seen the chaos and death that has ensued.

Another interesting finding in the Times poll is that notwithstanding John Edwards' and Governor Richardson's frequent admonitions regarding how easy it would be to simply cut off the money and force the President to bring the troops home, only eight percent of those polled favor blocking funds as an option. Fully 63 percent say they support fully funding the war with a timetable for withdrawal, but this only illustrates the cluelessness of the electorate about the process and the ground rules of the debate.

It's a bit like someone stating his support for being fed cheesecake by five nude models. It's a nice idea, but it speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of how things work in the real world.

I'm not as heartened by the vox populi today as some of my friends, and I see the Democrats' hedging as fairly standard political maneuvering. If a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq precipitates an escalation of the current civil war into full-fledged genocide, or turns the country into a safe haven for Islamist groups with aspirations to global terror -- two very real possibilities -- it will be determined to have been the Democrats' fault.

More to the point, nowhere in these poll results do I see a people that has learned anything from this horrendous botch-job of a war. There may be sympathy toward the de facto "peace" party, but there's nothing that would identify a solid majority in favor of military restraint, robust diplomacy, or non-interventionism. If anything, I see a nation increasingly protective of its prerogative to screw up just as badly in the future.

Labels: , , , , , ,

20 July 2007

Aim For His Head (BR)
A modest proposal to reclaim the integrity of America's game

As this article begins, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds stands within two home runs of tying the Major League record of 755, currently held by Henry Louis (Hank) Aaron, and three of breaking it. Bonds is and has been embroiled in a cloud of controversy for several years as allegations of performance-enhancing drug use have been leveled at him from several sources.

In last year's book Game of Shadows, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams documented Bonds' dealings with disgraced BALCO trainer Greg Anderson. Anderson was indicted for distribution of steroids to athletes before striking a deal with federal prosecutors under which he would not be compelled to identify his clients by name in open court.

The allegations in Shadows, based upon leaked grand jury testimony from Bonds, Anderson and others, paint a picture of the 14-time All-Star which most baseball fans had already understood: That of a phenomenally talented egomaniac with a sociopathic streak and few scruples to speak of.

Bonds was well in the midst of compiling a sure-fire Hall of Fame resume in 1998, when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa each began hot pursuit of the all-time single-season home run record, held to that point by Roger Maris, the New York Yankees outfielder who hit 61 round-trippers in 1961. Both players surpassed Maris' total -- McGwire finished the season with 70 homers, Sosa with 66 -- and the story captured America's attention, largely eliminating remnants of ill will toward the game following 1994's season-ending players strike.

According to Shadows, the events of 1998 stoked Bonds' competitive spirit, as well as his jealousy. McGwire and Sosa were being hailed as saviors of baseball as the national pastime, despite rumors among players and press that they were getting a little "help" on the side. (During the '98 season, McGwire admitted to using androstenedione ["Andro"], a bodybuilding supplement that was legal and allowed under Major League Baseball's drug policy at the time. McGwire famously refused to confirm or deny accusations of illegal steroid use in front of Congress in 2005. Sosa has steadfastly denied ever taking steroids, and is currently enjoying a resurgent season with the Texas Rangers after a year out of baseball.)

Bonds coveted the adulation and professional respect afforded McGwire and Sosa and assumed that his methods would not come under scrutiny from MLB authorities so long as fans and revenue continued to roll in. In 1999, according to Williams and Fainaru-Wada, Bonds began a regimen of anabolic steroids. In 2001, Bonds, whose previous highest single-season home run total was 49, clubbed an astonishing 73 homers, breaking McGwire's three-year-old record. But the kudos Bonds thought he had coming once again eluded him, as his power surge was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks on the U.S. that same September.

Bonds' story is one of extraordinary ability not wasted, but most certainly tarnished and sullied. You or I could take all the steroids we wanted and never hit .370 against Major League pitching, as Bonds did in 2002. Steroids would not imbue any of us with the patience and visual acuity the slugger possessed in 2004, when he accepted a record 232 walks in a season, though his fearsome, "enhanced" presence likely contributed to that total. And steroids don't help anybody win Gold Glove awards for outstanding defense, of which Bonds has eight. Without steroids, Bonds was arguably the greatest baseball player of our generation. With steroids, the same is true, yet he is also a disappointment and a disgrace.

But why spill all these words over one man's dearth of character? Because: As we speak, this man is sneaking up on the most hallowed of records in professional sports; the all-time Major League home run record. And it's not just the record, it's the man who holds it.

Hank Aaron, who has still hit more home runs than anyone to ever put on a Major League uniform, began his career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues before signing a minor-league contract with the Milwaukee Braves in 1952. He made his big-league debut in 1954. In an era of painful transition for baseball, when racial epithets screamed across baselines were still the norm, Aaron won the hearts of fans and colleagues alike with his no-nonsense style, superlative play, and clockwork consistency that garnered him 24 trips to the All-Star Game, another Major League high mark.

In 1973, as Aaron himself closed in on the record of 714 career home runs, held by Babe Ruth, he was inundated with racist hate mail and threats of death should he break Ruth's mark. He finished the year one homer short of Ruth. He tied the record on his first at-bat of the next season, and, on April 8, 1974, Henry Aaron sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field wall at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium to become the home-run King of all time, having overcome professional and societal adversity to achieve the improbable feat.

So now we come to the summit of what to now has been a history lesson, and a full explanation of that to which the title of this article alludes. My suggestion and plea to pitchers throughout the game is to do whatever is in their power to prevent Barry Bonds from ascending past Hank Aaron on the all-time home run leader board. In short, throw at his head. Or aim a fastball at his kneecaps. Maybe throw one behind him to provoke an altercation and rough him up when he charges the mound.

Whatever means are necessary -- short of outright criminal conduct, of course -- to put this big baby and no-good cheater out of commission and end his pursuit of a record rightfully owned and earned by a living embodiment of athleticism, sportsmanship and gentlemanliness, should be employed. The tacit policy of the league's pitchers should be not to allow Bonds to escape an at-bat without fearing for his long-term health. Hurlers with more pacifistic inclinations (I assume these are a minority contingent) should intentionally walk him. But the bottom line is that the batters' box should be a perpetually scary place for Bonds to venture into.

Hitters get thrown at for any number of violations of baseball etiquette. This is really no different. Stealing signs, crowding the plate, spiking a fielder on a slide into a base, all eventually earn the offender a knock-down or a bruise.

This sort of justice for Bonds would be beyond poetic, to come within tasting range of the glory he has for so long sought, and employed underhanded, unethical and illegal methods to attain, only to be ultimately stymied, and have his career ended, by a united front of his fellow ballplayers, who have for years now been victimized by Bonds' cheating. It would be the first real show of commitment on the part of players themselves to a steroid-free workplace, and the first step on a long road for Major League Baseball, an organization whose naked greed afforded monsters like Bonds a safe haven, back to respectability.

Labels: , , ,

03 July 2007

Gimme a break.................. (CS)

Of course everyone is going to write about this filth. It is, to me, the winning stroke for George W. Bush's bid for the worst President in American history. In the words of Armagideon Time: "Congratulations, Mr. President. There is no bar for venality set so low that you can't find a way to slither underneath it."

Two blog posts really brought home how truly disgusting and foolish a man the President has proven himself with this action. Matt Cooper points out that,
Scooter Libby was indicted by a Bush-appointed prosecutor who was given his authority by the Bush Justice Department and then a Bush-appointed judge presided while a jury of his peers convicted him on four of five counts...The appelate court, loaded with such noted liberals as Reagan appointee David Sentelle, denied his appeals. Where is the miscarriage of justice that required a president, notoriously stingy with pardons, to swoop in?

Cynical-C Blog dredged up an Atlantic Online artice from 2003 which showed Bush's tendency towards this sort of thing... or rather his lack-thereof. Of the 153 cases/executions brought before GW Bush during his tenure in Texas, he showed mercy just once. 150 men and two women and only one was worthy of such benevolence... and it wasn't the mentally retarded Terry Washington.

A lot of people will say, "Well, we shouldn't be surprised. Libby was never going to do time." In a way they're right. The worst is what we've come to expect from this, the worst of presidencies. But it is no less depressing then had it been a complete surprise. It is even worse as this feels like the final stroke against the possibility of seeing the right thing done in this country. As if it were the final proclamation that even when some form of justice might be done, these crooks and their cronies will find a way to slither free.

Too often we see the rich buy their way out of justice. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been quoted recenty as saying that, "It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals." After this incident I sincerely think Fitzgerald's hope will not be so with Bush and those around him and I wonder how much damage this King of American Failures has really done to justice, to the presidency, and to the country.