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The Smart Way to Boycott Putin’s Olympics

UPDATE: See MSNBC video below.

LGBTs in Russia are really suffering under Vladimir Putin’s new “anti-propaganda” law, and American Gay people are properly concerned, especially when we see what a political, financial and propaganda windfall he’s about to reap next year with the Olympics.

This has prompted a movement in San Francisco and New York, led by the writer Dan Savage and others, to boycott Russian vodka, especially the Stolichnaya brand, which for decades has touted itself as the quintessential brand of Russia’s quintessential drink (and advertised heavily in LGBT media).

Gay bars dumping so-called Russian vodka. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

Gay bars dumping so-called Russian vodka. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

But as we’ve since learned, Stoli isn’t made in Russia; it’s now made in Latvia, and the holding company which owns it issued a statement in July proclaiming itself a “fervent supporter and friend” of LGBTs – as well it should be, considering how much money we make them. So this Latvian base has prompted critics, Gay and otherwise, to denounce the vodka boycott – without coming up with any better ideas.

Some people have floated the idea of boycotting the Olympics themselves – which is closer to the mark, in my opinion, except (as Jimmy Carter discovered), it doesn’t work. The athletes who trained for the 1980 Games weren’t allowed to go, so they sat around and sulked, telling everyone how deprived they were, and four years later the medalists at the Los Angeles Olympics had their records tainted in the popular mind because “the Soviets weren’t there.”

So along sped Greg Louganis, the poster boy for Gay Olympic athletes, this summer to criticize the “boycott Sochi” movement because of those poor deprived athletes – most of whom, at least in the glamour sports, make a lot more money than Gay bartenders do, and even Gay bar owners. MSNBC had Louganis all over its air as soon as the boycott idea surfaced – which got me to thinking.

I like Greg Louganis and admire him. But he’s no one’s idea of a trenchant political analyst or even a Gay spokesman. If his opinions were worth listening to, he might have said, “Don’t keep the athletes from going, because they’re good at winning public sympathy and causing a backlash.” Or he could have gone even further and said, “What ought to happen is that LGBT sports fans and our allies shouldn’t go to Sochi and shouldn’t buy tickets.”

So since nobody seems to have thought all this through correctly, here’s the smart idea. Don’t boycott Stoli; don’t boycott the Olympics.

Don’t boycott the advertisers; they’re too big a group, while boycotts must be focused to be effective.They make too many products, and even if you want to punish them, you’re likely to buy their products even as you tell yourself you’re boycotting them. Know why “Boycott Koch Industries” doesn’t work? Because they have a near-monopoly on paper products. Are you giving up toilet paper these days? When you buy more of your favorite brand, do you really turn the package around to find out who the manufacturer is? (You should; don’t buy Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.)

Procter and Gamble will probably advertise; even if you follow the company fairly closely, it’s hard to keep up with everything they make. P&G buys and sells brands every week. They don’t make what they used to make, and a brand that used to be owned by someone else is now owned by P&G.

They’re not the proper focused targets. Boycott NBC-Universal instead. Just don’t watch the Games.

Look who's on top in this logo. NBC's who American LGBTs should boycott. They're the easiest to hurt and you don't have to lift a finger.

Look who’s on top in this logo. Boycott the biggest company behind the Olympics, NBC. They’re the easiest to hurt and you don’t have to lift a finger.

NBC’s the one paying the massively corrupt International Olympic Committee, which talks out of both sides of its mouth like graduates of the Putin School of Doubletalk, all those billions for the broadcast rights.

Don’t watch the opening and closing ceremonies; don’t watch the competitions. Simple. (You can see all the highlights the next day on YouTube anyway.)

If you really want to get NBC’s goat, liberal Gay person, don’t watch MSNBC either during the Olympics. Make Rachel Maddow squirm. Be a real Inner and stick it in Chris Hayes’s face. Instead of watching – you won’t miss any news anyway; there won’t be any during the Olympics – fire off a tweet every night, “Boycott #Olympics Rachel Maddow @TRMS @MSNBC #corporatemasters #Putinsucks.”

This Gay woman is owned by Vladimir Putin's sex partners at NBC-Universal.

This Gay woman is owned by Vladimir Putin’s sex partners at NBC-Universal.

Make her ratings drop and I guarantee you’ll get her attention. And she’ll tell her boss, who’ll tell his boss – which might eventually help shape NBC’s news coverage of Russia, Putin, the Games, the IOC – and the latest bill introduced in the Duma, authorizing the Russian police to confiscate the children of Gay people.

Remember, we got Anita Bryant fired back in the ’70s, because Florida orange juice was a specific target, easy to remember.

Refuse to watch the Olympics. And every day they’re on, skip MSNBC and tweet its hosts.

Then when it’s over, declare victory and return to your normal programming.

That’s how to do Gay politics and win. LGBTs in Russia are depending on us. We must win this, and I’ve just told you how.++

[http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032507&#8243]

Do we need a Christian Left political action committee?

One of the elders, watching over his fields.

One of the elders, watching over his fields.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times, interviewing historians about 20th century mainline Protestantism, which the reporter (wrongly) equates with the Christian Left.

See it here: A Religious Legacy, With its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered.

I think she’s wrong that Methodists, Episcopalians, Disciples, Presbyterians and UCC/Congregationalists always or even mostly have a leftward tilt, and that the Christian Left doesn’t also include, say, the Baptist Jimmy Carter and most U.S. Catholic nuns. But disputing the article is not my point; the piece is fine as far as it goes. The questions it raises for people of faith are more important than what she chose to include or leave out.

Namely, where are we today as progressive Christians? What more should we be doing to assert our Christian values into the public dialogue?

This morning, dailyoffice.org ran this photo and caption:

Bring the DREAMers Home: demonstrators for U.S. immigration reform Monday on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, Ohio included Manuel Perez and the Rev. Paula M. Jackson, rector of Church of Our Saviour/La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador, Mt. Auburn. (Alejandra Pimentel)

Bring the DREAMers Home: demonstrators for U.S. immigration reform Monday on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, Ohio included Manuel Perez and the Rev. Paula M. Jackson, rector of Church of Our Saviour/La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador, Mt. Auburn. (Alejandra Pimentel)

The demonstration, and the photo of it I was able to obtain, are well-timed; the House of Representatives is taking up immigration reform today. Most people don’t really expect it to pass without another avalanche of draconian punishments for “illegal aliens,” but we’ll see.

What bothers me about the debate around this issue is that a Christian interpretation of it is completely lacking. The so-called “illegals” are “strangers and sojourners” in Old Testament parlance, and “neighbors” in Jesus-speak – as in “Love thy neighbor.”

They are also scapegoats, just as Christ was, for the real problems of the nation – financial collapse, unemployment, and the replacement of democracy with oligarchy.

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, turned out and left to die.

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, turned out and left to die.

Scapegoats are not allowed, Christians; you know that. There can be no question that the racism and prejudice against Latinos must stop at once.

And while there are plenty of U.S. Christians saying these very things, we get consistently drowned out by shock jocks and their imitators in Congress.

I suppose if we were equally shocking we’d get on the teevee too. But there has to be another way.

What about a political action committee that’s specifically organized by and for the Christian Left?

There are many vehicles for the Secular Left and they all do good work. But so much of the vitriolic right-wing opposition claims Christ that I think we should take him back again and set him free from his fundamentalist captors.

The basic reason fundamentalist Christianity exists is to promote racism, sexism, homophobia and war. The Southern Baptist Convention is the proof of this in its very existence; it was founded to defend slavery.

As I look around the Episcopal Church, I see several manifestations of firm belief in Christ and in God’s liberating mission to save humanity. For heaven’s sake he parted the Red Sea a long time ago, to free the Jews from slavery.

That act is still God’s template. So is the Crucifixion, which set us free from sin.

By Luiz Coelho, Jr., an ordained deacon in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. A Gay guy, too.

By Luiz Coelho, Jr., an ordained deacon in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. A Gay guy, too.

At 62 I don’t feel like I’m the person to organize the Christian Left PAC (nor that that’s necessarily the best name for it; we’re talking mainstream Christianity here). It’s something younger activists ought to do.

But they’re not, so I keep thinking about it.

What do you think? Do you not find, faithful ones, that nearly every public policy question on the American agenda is spoken of in the Bible?

Republicans in the House want to end Food Stamps, while Christ told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

We cannot let this impasse go on, because people suffer horribly from our inaction.

I do know this: we have to take on Christian fundamentalism full in the face. That’s something we’ve never been willing to do before, which I think is probably mainstream Christianity’s biggest mistake in the last 100 years.

But from 9/11 to the shooting of Malala, the Pakistani schoolgirl who advocates for universal education, we’ve seen what fundamentalist violence is like. We’ve seen it when so-called Christians bomb abortion clinics, assassinate doctors, bomb Gay bars in Atlanta, send Orthodox priests to beat up Gay people in Russia; we see it in Israel, in Hasidic communities in New York. We’re even seeing it lately among Buddhists in Myanmar!

Slavery. Scapegoats. Patriarchy. Homophobia. Attacking the poor. Trayvon Martin. The Military-Industrial-Religious Complex, in case you’ve forgotten George W. Bush and the “Left Behind” series. None of the enemies of Christ are going away anytime soon, there’s too much money and power in sin.

We’ve lacked nerve; we’ve been unwilling to endure persecution. So we kind of nibble around the edges of theology and politics, not wanting to mix them up too much, even though half of what Jesus said was directly “political” as we understand it today.

“Feed my sheep,” don’t cut Food Stamps.

Strap your sword upon your thigh, O mighty warrior, *
in your pride and in your majesty.
Ride out and conquer in the cause of truth *
and for the sake of justice.

— Psalm 45

I know we’re lovers, not fighters – but we’re fighters too.++

First same-sex wedding on a U.S. military base.

First same-sex wedding on a U.S. military base.

Liberal Naiveté Never Ceases to Amaze

That Maddow grrl is eloquent, a genius; but she still strikes me as naive half the time. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

That Maddow grrl is eloquent, a genius; but she still strikes me as naive half the time. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

I like liberals; I’m one of them. But they do amaze me with their inability to understand good and evil.

They don’t see political issues in those terms – which might be a helpful way to prevent yourself from falling into the intellectual trap of thinking “My side’s good and their side’s evil,” just because you’re on one side.

– But not if you’re actually confronting evil.

Let me define some terms here: preventing the poor from getting health care from Medicaid – as scores of un-United States are doing, thanks to Republican governors and legislative supermajorities – is evil. The Federal government’s paying 100% of the costs for three years, which will save the states big money, but no dice.

Throwing the poor off Food Stamps, as John Boehner’s House Republicans have tried to do – that’s evil. Their Farm Bill tried to cut $20 billion from Food Stamps, while the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill adds $40 billion for border security.

We’re going to secure our borders by starving people? That’s fiscal responsibility?

Meanwhile legislatures in North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere are taking advantage of a holiday weekend by passing draconian anti-abortion bills, knowing full well that the public favors the status quo on abortion and Democrats are unprepared to defeat them.

It’s the unprepared part that bothers me.

A Texas state senator, Wendy Davis, has become a political star by waging an 11-hour filibuster against a close-the-clinics bill. She was prepared; the rest of the Democrats largely were not, which made her instantly amazing.

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, at a rally at the state Capitol July 1. I'm glad she's being acclaimed, but she wasn't that coherent on the Maddow Show.

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, at a rally at the state Capitol July 1. I’m glad she’s being acclaimed, but she wasn’t that coherent on the Maddow Show. If you think she’s ready to be governor, you might find yourself muttering “Oops.”

In North Carolina they’re bellyaching about a bill that purported to ban Sharia law but was suddenly turned into an anti-abortion measure and passed as lawmakers headed out of town.

But what did those Dems expect? This is what Republican majorities do.

No one’s really surprised; Republicans understand the human vagina about as well as they do a foreign religion – it’s all the same to them, they don’t need to read the bill – but now Democrats are running around saying they done us wrong, when all they did was act on the power voters gave them – since Democrats can’t be bothered to vote for a mere governor or legislator, while Republicans do turn out. All these folks were lawfully elected, because progressives really don’t give a damn. If there isn’t a Barack or a Hillary at the top of the ballot, they don’t show up. They just complain mightily afterward, while Republicans couldn’t care less.

The Democrats’ naiveté troubles me, because it’s not like you can’t learn all there is to know about good and evil if you’d just pick up your Bible.

It’s all there, because human motivations haven’t changed in 10,000 years.

There are seven deadly sins, uhkay? Let us start with Greed and Pride. They’re all over the pages of that book.

It’s about greed and pride – but these liberals are babes in the woods. They heard the Bible was about God, and they don’t believe in God because the Pope and Pat Robertson are batshit crazy, so they don’t bother to read the instruction manual, which leaves them squawking that Republicans done us wrong and they can’t understand it.

Of course many liberals are fervent believers in God And All That; I’m one of them. Chris Matthews, E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Chris Hayes are all semi-public Catholics. I don’t know Joy Reid’s affiliation, but that lady’s grounded in the Black church.

Secular progressives do not see a use for God, and while they’re entitled to their faith or lack of one, they drive me to distraction. They have no grounding in classical justice, which is another thing That Book is about.

See, they think they’re inventing justice here and now, brand-new – which makes them dumb as rocks.

What the Bible does is make you see into the ugly heart of Greed. Do that, and you won’t be surprised by Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment.

Capitalists have to attack the poor. Otherwise voters might decide that Greed is not good and vote it out.

The good news in what we’re seeing now, as the Republicans fall inexorably into their death spiral, is that Romney and Rubio, Ryan and all their lesser lights are out of the closet with their hatred of the poor.

They don’t hate them individually – they don’t think they hate women or Gay people either – but they are forced to hate the poor as a class, because people without money threaten the notion that “the United States is the greatest country on earth” and capitalism is the best economic system ever invented.

It isn”t. Anything-goes Capitalism is one giant Monopoly board. Sponsored by Citibank!

Remember how much you hated your cousin, the ruthless Monopoly player?

In my case it was my brother Steve, and it took me decades to find out he wasn’t a horrible human being. I came to love him dearly; he was only half-horrible.

I believe in regulated capitalism as the best system for creating jobs and a middle class, promoting the work ethic, generating innovation through competition, and keeping the rich from robbing us blind – which they’ll inevitably do if there aren’t cops patrollng your Monopoly board.

MonopolyMan

It’s no accident that the Republican death spiral coincides with the most blatant promotion of “Makers, Not Takers” in today’s political rhetoric.

Even the racism, sexism and homophobia of today’s GOP makes a certain logical sense if you dig deep enough: they think Straight White Males are the ones who got us here, and if we’re to keep prosperity going we have to keep pale men in power.

(Please do not notice they are robbing you blind.)

Jesus knew about greed. His father YHWH wrote the book on it. I am sorry the secular Democrats never read the book.

I do not trouble any woman or man about their religion; freedom of conscience on religious and other matters is what makes us Americans.

The Vatican’s now the House of Crazy and Pat Robertson flies around like an Alzeheimer’d bat. We all know that.

But if you’d like to know about the sins of Pride and Greed, you could try reading the Book just once in your life. It’s a story of heroes and villains, and God comes out even more spectacular than Superman.++

(comicvine.com)

If he’s so Straight, why’s he always showing off his junk? (comicvine.com)

They’re not crazy, they’re fascists.

I’ve been frustrated for some time at the naiveté of current political analysis by American liberals and centrists, who can’t make hide nor hair out of the antics of the right. Their most common explanation is, “Those folks are crazy.”

And you can see why; they say some loony stuff. “Birtherism” is perhaps the best-known example; even President Obama’s birth certificate is no kind of proof to these people – because they’re not looking for proof or interested in facts.

I could put up a whole rogue’s gallery of public figures who are part of this faux movement, and fill this space with some of their wild quotes – but I won’t do it. You know already, you see them every day online and on the boob tube. So instead I’ll post a photo you might not expect.

When Chuck Grassley, longtime Republican Senator from Iowa, started trotting out the so-called "death panels" as a way to kill the Affordable Care Act, I knew the end was near.

When Chuck Grassley, longtime Republican Senator from Iowa, started trotting out the so-called “death panels” as a way to kill the Affordable Care Act, I knew the end was near. He didn’t believe a word he said – and he didn’t care that he was uttering a bald-faced lie. Mild-mannered Chuck Grassley from good old Iowa!

This is not your grandparents’ Republican party. Those people were patriotic, they did what they thought was right for the country. Today’s Republicans say and do anything they can think of to increase their power at the country’s expense.

The crazier the statement the more they like it. They’ve left shame behind; their only interest now is propaganda. It makes money; it gives them power.

It makes President Obama look reasonable and intelligent to most Americans, but weak and vulnerable to his enemies. That’s how they want him to look. They don’t care why he looks that way, as long as they can make people think they smell his blood.

Mike Huckabee, the genial fundamentalist, claimed yesterday that Benghazi will force Obama to resign.

Watergate was a systematic attack on the Constitution. Benghazi was a terrorist attack on a consulate.

Watergate was a systematic attack on the Constitution. Benghazi was a terrorist attack on a consulate.

To me, the only commentator who comes close to articulating what’s really going on here is Rachel Maddow. She doesn’t describe it as a fascist takeover of the GOP, but that’s what it is.

It comes in a form we’re not used to, especially in the United States, where we’ve never had a sizable fascist movement before. And these people don’t look like the fascists of old.

I’m not calling them Nazis; they’re not. They’re much closer to Mussolini than Hitler, especially in the desire of some right-wing factions to align the state with big corporations. Think the Koch brothers, trying to take over the Los Angeles Times. They’re part of the corporatist wing which failed to elect their puppet Mitt Romney.

There’s also a populist wing called the Tea Party, which is itself a catch-all term for numerous factions; the Grover Norquist wing, the NRA wing, the anti-abortion/birth-control anti-Gay wing, and others. Appealing to all of them (but often losing control of its own narrative) is the “right-wing political-entertainment complex” of Fox News and radio talk shows – which are more about making money than ideology. Rush Limbaugh’s a rich man, but Rupert Murdoch is a lot richer. All they care about is ratings – and they know that to get ratings, they have to throw red meat to their audiences, more and more every day. In that light, Huckabee is late to the party, and fairly pathetic.

They know what they’re doing; it’s all deliberate. It’s why they just make stuff up anymore; two days ago Limbaugh blamed Obama for the kidnapped women in Cleveland.

Stop calling them crazy. Stop being surprised by them. Recognize that every one of these developments is the result of calculation and market research. They’re attacking your democracy, and they won’t quit until they win or are destroyed.

(Their factionalism does give me a little hope. Tea Partiers are not natural allies of billionaires, which is why Big Business moved quickly to co-opt them with FreedomWorks.)

Like every other country, America’s always had racists, reactionaries and rich guys. What’s new is that this time they’ve also got Republicans. That didn’t happen by accident; Republican politicians have nowhere else to go. They are out of popular ideas, now that Reagan’s dead; the public doesn’t like what Republicans stand for, or we’d have privatized Social Security under G.W. Bush. They can’t win national elections, or even states they used to win, so now they’re doing everything they can think of to restrict voting.

My grandparents were staunch Republicans, but they would never have voted for these people. It’s anti-American to eliminate voting rights. That’s like trampling the flag and desecrating the graves of our War Dead; something shocking, unheard-of, un-called-for.

But in 2013 we need not to be shocked anymore by these antics. We need to expect them, and then we need to defeat them, while we still can.

Otherwise the plutocrats will move in, before Democrats figure out what hit them. (Poor Harry Reid; have you ever seen such an ineffectual majority leader?)

When Rep. Todd Akin made his wild claim that after rape, “the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down,” do you think he didn’t know what he was saying? Do you think he was just misinformed?

Or do you think he made a reasonable political calculation, that the passion of an organized minority (people who hate abortion) can outvote a disorganized majority?

That’s what they did last month in the U.S. Senate, when they voted down background checks to keep guns out of the hands of murderers and psychopaths. An organized minority, especially if it’s got money, can defeat a disorganized majority every time.

That’s how government works! That’s why lobbyists write legislation you have to live under.

In 2008, 52% of young voters went out and voted. Two years later, only 25% of them turned out, and the GOP won back the House of Representatives. Two years after a financial meltdown caused by Republicans, Americans voted them back in!

In 2012, young voters came back to the polls and Obama was re-elected. Romney’s predicted landslide didn’t happen, and for the first time more Black Americans voted than Whites by percentage.

But here’s the really telling statistic for what’s happening now.

Source: Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll

Source: Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll

Forty-four percent of Republicans think “an armed revolution might be necessary.”

That is, civil war.

Do you hear the drums beating? Maybe you should, although I can’t really blame you if you’re in denial. That’s where Democrats and pundits are right now, along with most Americans.

“Fascists? Didn’t we beat them in World War II?” Yes, but that was a long time ago – and those fascists were foreigners. These are home-grown.

“Oh, stop being an alarmist!” (I agree it’s bad for ratings among liberals, but I’m not getting paid to write this blog. Meanwhile, you explain why 44% of Republicans think “an armed revolution might be necessary.”)

This war, if God forbid it comes, will take place before a backdrop of huge unemployment and economic dislocation, caused by speculators and plutocrats on Wall Street, and political gridlock on Capitol Hill, which Americans voted for. Economic hardship is often a precursor for war.

How many states now have Republican super-majorities in the Statehouse? Those are the bright orange ones in this map, while the bright blue ones are controlled by Democrats. Only three states are split.

USA Today newspaper

USA Today newspaper; click to enlarge.

In the U.S. Senate, all states have equal voting power. Two Republican no-names in Idaho can cancel out Feinstein and Boxer in California – and they consistently do.

When the chairman of the House Science Committee denounced science as “straight from the pit of hell,” who was he talking to, but the organized (and armed) minority?

He wasn’t crazy. He was calculating.

Let me mention now in passing the role of fundamentalist religion in all this. My mainline Episcopalians never pass out voters’ guides the Sunday before an election. But Baptists and megachurches do every time; organized minority vs. disorganized majority.

My final point concerns the rise of violent anti-Gay fascism in France. You might think the French would know better, having suffered under the Nazi occupation in World War II – and mostly the French do know better, that’s why they voted Socialist and passed same-sex marriage – but an armed minority can cause a lot of damage to an unarmed majority.

Police had to use tear gas to subdue anti-Gay rioters last month. (London Telegraph)

Police had to use tear gas to subdue anti-Gay rioters in Paris last month. Were they really that anti-Gay, or were they using opposition to same-sex marriage, ginned up by the Catholic Church, to win power? (London Telegraph)

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t like what I see; not from the President, not from Democrats in Congress, not on MSNBC (especially Chris Matthews, whom I admire as a person) – and not online, where my Facebook friends continually yap that “them folks is crazy.”

No. Them folks is dangerous and we’d better be prepared. Let’s start by realizing what’s really going on. The birthers know better, all of them do; but many people have a deep-seated hatred of this African-American President, at the same time we’ve got mass unemployment, terrorist attacks, same-sex marriage, undocumented immigrants and (since 1962, but who’s counting) no organized prayer in public schools. Chuck Grassley had better ride that wave or he might drown. So he’s all for Chuck Grassley and America be damned.++

VIDEO: “The Thaw” – militarized, fist-thumping children in (dare I mention) Idaho

Rutgers Tape Shows the Violence, Homophobia & Moral Corruption of Bigtime Sports

UPDATE: Rutgers University fired Coach Mike Rice Wednesday morning; this post was written Tuesday night. The focus of public anger now turns to the athletic director, who was informed of the allegations back in July, took no action until the videos were handed over in November, and finally suspended the coach for three games without pay.

This is the same school where Tyler Clementi took his life after his roommate secretly live-streamed video of him kissing a man in their dorm room, provoking a national outcry about bullying.

I grew up Gay in a somewhat athletic family. I’m not very talented physically, but I’ve participated in most of the sports American boys are taught – and I kept playing for decades after my more athletic brothers quit, especially once I found something I was good at: distance running and other highly aerobic activities. One of the highlights of my life was rafting down the Arkansas River years ago from Salida, Colorado to Canon City. It’s dramatic, risky, exciting, a wonderful physical challenge (“Churn churn churn, paddle paddle, front, back, reverse reverse, look out for that hole! OMG we’re gonna slam into those rocks!”), all while surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery. It was like having fantastic sex for six hours straight!

white-water-rafting

I’ve been a sports fan all my life – until the last couple of years, because now I see how money has corrupted elite athletics.

The excitement of physical competition is completely real, for the athletes and the fans. Combine the physical genius of highly skilled players with the shrewd strategies of gifted coaches and you’ve got quite a show indeed. But what we don’t see is far more important than what we do.

Lance Armstrong confessing to Oprah. He was willing to win at all costs - including risking the health of his teammates.

Lance Armstrong confessing to Oprah. He was willing to win at all costs – including risking the health of his teammates.

It isn’t just Lance Armstrong doping, and coercing all his teammates to do the same; it isn’t just NBA and FISA officials throwing games so the most lucrative teams win. It’s more than just the politics of the Olympics, with all their bribes and intrigues; it isn’t just the NCAA’s exploitation of “student-athletes” at major colleges.

It’s us. The fans. We’re the people who fund these organized criminal enterprises owned by billionaires, often at taxpayers’ expense. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the “500,” just persuaded the Indiana Legislature to divert tens of millions of dollars in property taxes to their private business. “Look at all we do for the city,” they say. “Look at all the tourists we bring in. You did the same thing for the Pacers and the Colts.” Who can argue? Not local hack politicians who did indeed build new arenas for the football and basketball teams, both owned by billionaires.

Now comes Mike Rice, the head basketball coach at Rutgers University (which is soon to join my beloved Big Ten Conference) in a big new scandal. Videotapes of his practices show him systematically abusing his players, physically and verbally.

ESPN and the newspapers describe Rice as using “homophobic slurs” and “throwing basketballs at his players’ heads from point-blank range.” But it wasn’t their heads he usually aimed at. He gives new meaning to the term “crotch rocket,” as in “incoming.”

Who can be shocked that a coach calls his players fairy, cocksucker and faggot? Bobby Knight did that at Indiana for decades, where he’s still revered for two national championships despite his criminal record. Verbal abuse is the stock in trade of many coaches, including high schools, middle schools and Little League, so who’s kidding whom?

Rice’s misogyny, his contempt for women by calling his players cunts, bothers me more. No wonder so many players get in trouble for rape, domestic violence and other crimes.

As professional and Olympic sports (which are also professional) scandals mounted over the years, I turned my attention more and more away from the pros to the college level. I come from a long line of Purdue University graduates; it’s a school we’re very proud of. A century and more ago, the president of Purdue created the Big Ten Conference as the first successful attempt to police college sports, which were headed down the corrupt path. Purdue’s athletic teams have been largely scandal-free since then (unlike those at hated rival Indiana, among many other schools), and the kids who play at Purdue go to class, usually graduate and are successful. They don’t all take basket-weaving, either; I know several who took extremely challenging classes in engineering, pharmacy, math, history and other fields.

But it’s become increasingly clear that Purdue has sacrificed a good part of its educational mission, especially since the creation a few years ago of the Big Ten television network, which makes so much money that it’s caused conference realignment nationwide, as other leagues try to duplicate what BTN is doing.

Rutgers is now joining the Big Ten (which is growing to 14), mostly to get BTN into the New York market. The conference has always been prominent in Chicago and the Midwest; all but one school, Northwestern, are publicly-owned. Now instead of concentrating on its historic Great Lakes territory, the Big Ten extends from the Atlantic to Nebraska – and would go to the Pacific if the money were right.

But the conferences are now, and long have been, subordinate to the NCAA, which The New York Times columnist Joe Nocera calls a “cartel.” The NCAA has a Congressional exemption from monopoly laws while raking in billions of TV dollars.

Need a sports fix? The NCAA has an app for that.

Need a sports fix? The NCAA has an app for that.

Nocera and other journalists are dedicated to showing that the NCAA is completely ruthless at exploiting athletes. They’re essentially slave labor. They get scholarships – unless they get hurt, in which case they’re often on their own, with no way to pay the medical bills from all those concussions and broken bones. Schools just toss those kids away. If they’re poor and Black, they don’t stand a chance.

But because all this is done in the name of “education” and “not-for-profit,” most fans just look the other way and enjoy the show.

It’s maddening to me to go on Facebook and see all the Episcopal clergy I know touting their favorite teams, which they do constantly, without any acknowledgment of the labor issues, the health consequences, the sexism and racism and homophobia that are built into the Big Sports Machine. I mean, world-class football will kill ya – but they’re all glued to their TV screens and texting on Twitter and Facebook.

There’s going to be a reckoning someday. I believe the entire sports edifice will come crashing down in a worldwide spasm of disgust, because the whole thing’s based on human exploitation. People who get outraged by sweatshops in China or sexual slavery in Thailand and Russia will not be able to escape knowing they provide the market for these products.

And no feel-good features on TV, like how that Notre Dame player kept going despite the death of his phony girlfriend (and Grandma on the same day!) will be able to overcome the revulsion, or the knowledge that we all participated in this.

So what if there’s an openly-Gay baseball player someday? That’s bound to happen. Reforms on the periphery are not going to cure what ails sports.

They’re violent. They kill people. They’re racist and sexist and homophobic. They use slave labor in college. They bribe their way to success.

It’s all just a TV show – but the fix is in and always has been.

You’re paying for it, sucker. Why worry about global warming when it’s baseball’s Opening Day?++

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America’s God Is Capital

You never knew where Paul Lynde was going to show up on "Bewitched."

Paul Lynde’s head on a plate; I can think of a few more that ought to be there.

Sometimes I get the impulse to start a new blog which would list crimes committed by American business.

I’m going to resist this impulse for a host of reasons: it would get boring. Shrill, probably. Take up too much of my time, a drumbeat of bad news. Better to collect TV Guide covers, like I did when I was 10 years old; I had quite a collection there for awhile, I Love Lucy, the Flintstones, My Three Sons. Davy Jones of The Monkees!

Davy Jones was the cute one, a former child actor in Britain.

Davy was the cute one, a former child actor in Britain.

But it would be a good idea for some compulsive person to gather all the white collar indictments, fraud charges, shareholder lawsuits and convicted criminals in one place. Because there’s a pattern to them; somebody wanted to make money and didn’t care how they did it. Didn’t care who they hurt. Didn’t care how polluted that river got.

Let me start with this one, just reported today, February 21, 2013.

Feds Indict 4 in Salmonella Outbreak

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal grand jury has indicted four people in a 2009 salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia peanut processing plant.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Georgia charges four employees with Virginia-based Peanut Corp. of America. The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and others related to contaminated or misbranded food.

The company’s filthy processing plants were blamed for the outbreak that killed nine people and sickened hundreds. The company later went bankrupt.

Named in the indictment were company owner Stewart Parnell, vice president Michael Parnell, Georgia plant manager Samuel Lightsey and Georgia plant quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson.

They knew their peanuts were bad. They sold them anyway. A lot of them ended up being made into peanut butter sold to schools, where kids got sick. But the Parnells didn’t care about that; they cared about profit instead. They had a bunch of bad peanuts and they “couldn’t afford” to eat the loss, so they made sure schoolchildren ate them instead. And Lightsey and Wilkerson went along.

Or, to be fair, that’s what they’re indicted for; they haven’t been convicted.

Stewart Parnell, right, of Peanut Corp. of America took the 5th Amendment when called to testify before Congress. His tainted peanuts killed 9 and sickened more than 700.

Stewart Parnell, right, of Peanut Corp. of America took the 5th Amendment when called to testify before Congress. His tainted peanuts killed 9 and sickened more than 700.

Now it would be one thing if this were an isolated case; “a few bad actors.” But that isn’t so; for one thing, they had help from your Food and Drug Administration, which doesn’t have enough food safety inspectors, thanks to your elected Congress, industry lobbyists and your Republican Party.

I’d also put on my fantasy blog several entries about the Indianapolis concrete cabal; those convictions came down a few years ago. Most of the big concrete companies in the city conspired to fix prices, costing taxpayers untold millions for every mile of highway and public works project in central Indiana.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned Wall Street and the big banks until now.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren made news the other day during her first big hearing on the Senate Banking Committee. They had the heads of the financial regulatory agencies – the SEC, the Comptroller of the Currency, etc. – all lined up in a row to testify. She asked a simple question: when is the last time you took the big Wall Streek banks to court? I know you get fines out of them, you announce impressive-sounding settlements for wrongdoing, but when is the last time you put them on the witness stand?

Elizabeth Warren

It was good Washington theater. The agency heads hemmed and hawed, mumbled and shuffled, which was all anyone needed to know. The agencies, which are supposed to be guardians of your taxpayer and investor money, never take anyone to court. So, unsurprisingly, when a big bank gets caught being funny with the money, whatever fine they receive is simply written off as the cost of doing business, while the CEO takes his golden parachute to Aspen.

Corruption is endemic in American business. It’s everywhere – every industry and just about every big company. Or so I believe.

It’s not that there aren’t honest businesspeople, there are; but “corporations are people, my friend,” and people are greedy.

Johnson & Johnson is in trouble right now over a bunch of hip implants they knew were bad, but kept selling anyway. That’s right, the Band-Aid people who took care of my ouchies when I was collecting pictures of Samantha and Darren on “Bewitched.”

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So if you ever find yourself wondering why some people are religious, including some Gay people like me, here’s an answer. Religions are ethical systems. Right and wrong are their subject matter.

Religions make clear that if the peanuts are bad, you can’t sell them. If the mortgages are bad, you can’t package them up, stamp an A+ rating on them and sell them, while secretly betting against your own customers that those Collateralized Debt Obligations are worthless and may bring down the entire world economy.

It is wrong, West Virginia and Kentucky politicians and citizens, to blow the tops off mountains so coal companies can kill workers while extracting coal that fouls the atmosphere and contributes to global warming, which will probably destroy planet Earth.

There is no amount of money that makes these things right. And if the planet gets destroyed, Aspen won’t be worth living in.

Of course, even religions act corruptly much of the time. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a possible candidate for pope, spent hours testifying in a deposition yesterday about the pedophile scandal in Milwaukee during his time as bishop there. Cardinal Roger Mahony, rebuked last week by the new Archbishop and told not to speak publicly again, was also deposed in Los Angeles about the pedophile scandal there. Both Dolan and Mahony get to vote on the new pope – proving that religion is no guarantee of personal sanctity.

A person has to follow religion and really do what it says for it to be effective. The Episcopal Church isn’t pure either. And neither am I, but I’m working on it.

About the time I was collecting TV star covers, my Granddad, about to retire from the drug store he owned in our small town, asked me what I was going to do when I grew up. “Bidness?” he assumed. (David Letterman’s right, that’s how Hoosiers pronounce it.)

“No,” I told Granddad too heatedly. I couldn’t imagine myself as a businessman. (I probably wanted to be Paul Lynde.)

At 14, after Grandma and Granddad moved to Florida, I remember deciding I would never be part of corporate America. It was a juvenile decision, at the start of my hippie days in the ’60s, but I was right. I did end up owning a small business once, but I really wasn’t cut out for it. I’m a social worker, a writer, an activist, even a religious leader.

And while there’s no money whatever in those professions – and yes, it takes money to live in this country – I’m okay these decades later with how my life turned out.

Paul Lynde never hurt anybody, while that peanut man in Georgia killed nine people. Four years later he’s finally being brought to justice with his brother and two other accomplices.

And let me note this: a few weeks ago my prayer site, dailyoffice.org, received a $500 contribution from a stockbroker. We really needed that money, and he’s not the first businessperson to give.

Where is J.P. Morgan – the man, not the company – when we need him? He was Mr. Episcopalian in his day; he used to hire a special train to take him and his mistress to General Convention, where he’d hold court and decide everything, while writing the occasional letter to his wife. He wouldn’t have tolerated today’s corporate behavior – he got his way because he was rich and people were afraid of him.

I fantasize he would have made a big announcement about his donations to the Republican Party – then quietly cut a check to Elizabeth Warren.++

No one was stupid enough to cross J.P.

Nobody fucked with J.P. – yet we still have atheists complaining about the Wrath of God. Don’t they understand anything?

Republican Meltdown

boehner-cries

We seem to be witnessing the implosion of the Republican Party. It just gets curiouser and curiouser.

On Friday House Speaker John Boehner first scheduled, then withdrew a vote on his “Plan B” as a step toward resolving the so-called fiscal cliff crisis, in which all the tax cuts of George W. Bush are set to expire and $500 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect.

Boehner didn’t have the votes for Plan B. He couldn’t get his own party to go along with him.

Plan B would have extended Bush’s tax cuts for 99.8% of Americans – everyone who makes less than a million dollars. (And even millionaires would have enjoyed continued lower rates on their first $999,999.) But House Republicans wouldn’t do it. They want no tax increases at all.

They don’t care that polls show the American people overwhelmingly favor increasing taxes on the rich.

These are the same “lawmakers” (put that in quotes because they’re not making any laws at all these days) who moan and groan about the budget deficit and the national debt, which they’re sure will “turn us into Greece” any day now, causing hyperinflation, high interest rates and mass unemployment. Indeed, they’ve been predicting this since 2008, yet interest rates remain so low my bank is now begging me to refinance my mortgage so it can profit on all the money it “saves” me.

Inflation-indexed Treasury bills carry a negative interest rate. If you’ve got ten grand to park, it will cost you money to give it to the U.S. government. We’ve never seen such a thing. Bonds are supposed to pay you, not the other way around!

The deficit hawks keep predicting the end of the world. The Mayan calendar comes and goes, the world keeps spinning, but the GOP/Tea Party is convinced we must cut spending – not for the sacred military, mind you, but for “luxuries” like unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and disabled veterans.

If it doesn’t help millionaires, Republicans aren’t interested.

This is all very odd. And though this situation is incredibly complex, certain basic facts stand out.

Under ordinary rules of politics, politicians favor what’s popular with the public. But these Republicans don’t. People don’t want Medicare cut; they like Medicare and they paid into it. Congressional Republicans want to cut Medicare anyway.

A recent poll by CNN/ORC found that a majority of Americans say the Republicans are “too extreme.” That should cause them to moderate their positions, but so far it hasn’t.

If no deal is made and we go off the “fiscal cliff,” government spending will gradually drop so drastically that by spring, we’ll head back into a recession. And people will blame the Republicans if that happens, according to a Pew Research poll.

House Republicans are unmoved. They won’t raise taxes no matter what. They’re willing to let their Speaker twist in the wind on Capitol Hill rather than do a simple deal to keep the whole party from looking like idiots.

Grover Norquist’s infamous no-tax pledge has been shredded so badly that this week he declared Boehner’s tax increase on millionaires wasn’t a tax increase at all. He’s coming very close to political irrelevance, after dominating the party for 20 years.

Dick Armey took a $7 million payout from FreedomWorks, a phony Tea Party organization financed by the Koch Brothers, after the election, demanding that they remove all references to him immediately on his departure. This week, FreedomWorks declared “Two Cheers for Plan B” on Thursday, then Friday morning said, “That doesn’t mean to vote for it.”

The National Rifle Association held a “news conference” (a speech, actually, no questions allowed) Friday in the wake of the mass murder of 6-year-olds in Newtown. Wayne LaPierre’s speech was almost universally condemned; even Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post was appalled.

 

The Post is Rupert Murdoch's conservative paper; the Daily News is sort of moderate.

The Post is Rupert Murdoch’s conservative paper; the Daily News is sort of moderate.

But so far Republicans are “sticking to their guns,” in the face of polls showing Americans want sensible gun safety laws. According to the Daily News, Pew found that “65 percent said that allowing assault weapons ownership makes the country more dangerous, while just 21 percent say they make the country more safe.”

Just hours ago, a candlelight vigil was held at Lafayette Park in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP-Getty)

Just hours ago, a candlelight vigil was held at Lafayette Park in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP-Getty)

John Boehner has tried to get a deal with President Obama, but he doesn’t have enough support in the House. How long can he remain Speaker this way? Saint Reagan couldn’t corral these people; he raised taxes 11 times.

If compromise is now a dirty word to Tea Party Republicans, the government grinds to a halt. Whatever the House might pass, the Senate will reject, and we’re left with nothing.

When has a political party ever induced a recession, thinking this is what people want? It’s never happened!

So what’s really going on here?

First, Saint Reagan is dead. The Republican Party hasn’t had an idea since he left office, so they keep running on what they say he stood for, as distorted by lesser lights since then like Newt “Moon Colony” Gingrich, Norquist, conservative think thanks, neo-con warmongers at the National Review, Rush Limbaugh and Fox. When a new idea does surface – the universal health insurance mandate, part of Romneycare and Obamacare, originated at the Heritage Foundation – other conservatives beat it to a pulp. Eventually no idea can survive. Republicans become more and more right-wing, with no effective brakes to keep them from plunging off the cliff.

Apparently they haven’t lost enough elections yet; that’s what causes party realists to slam the brakes. Democrats had to lose the White House three times before they found Bill Clinton, a Southerner and “new Democrat.”

Second, in the absence of a coherent ideology, the only thing that matters to most politicians is simply getting re-elected. They don’t really believe anything (which is a Tea Party criticism too). All that interests them is power. If a new ideology came along and seemed to offer a more popular outcome, they’d switch in a heartbeat; “forget what I said yesterday, here’s what I say now.” If Grover Norquist is out, “I didn’t really mean it when I signed that pledge.” If Grover Norquist comes back in, “I’ve been with Grover from day one.”

Congress is like “Survivor.” They just wanna be on TV.

The 2012 election thinned the ranks of House Republicans, but they retained the majority due to gerrymandering in the districts, where Republicans controlled the map-drawing after the 2010 census – AND the 2010 midterm elections. This year Democratic House candidates actually received a collective majority of the votes, but won only about 45% of the seats, thanks to gerrymandering. (Maybe someday, after the gridlock, Americans will finally decide gerrymandering harms the country. Maybe someday pigs will fly.) Indiana’s Congressional delegation flipped from 7-2 Democrat to 7-2 Republican in two short years.

Nate Silver of The New York Times suggests there is no way to put together a winning coalition in the incoming House. If so, we’ll have gridlock for the next two years.

Say that Mr. Boehner cannot count on the support of 34 of his Republicans when it comes to passing major fiscal policy legislation. That means he would need to identify 18 Democrats who would vote along with the Republicans who remained with him.

Here’s the problem: it might be hard to round up those 18 Democrats.

The reason is that most of the Democrats who remain in the House are quite liberal.

Here’s the really important thing: whatever political manipulations have occurred (and yes, they happen every day), the American people voted for divided government. A fascinating new CNN/ORC poll, little publicized so far, shows that despite all the bad press and lopsided polls listed above, people still want Republicans to control the House, 51%-43%. That poll was taken earlier this week!

People voted for gridlock and they still support it. Therefore, paradoxically, what House Republicans did this week was simply giving them exactly what they asked for – in general, not on specific issues. Republicans are losing on actual issues, but as a rule of thumb they’re doing great!

Americans don’t know what they want. And if we don’t know, how can Washington?

Obama and the Democrats made a huge mistake, losing the 2010 midterms. This is entirely the fault of the President, David Axelrod and David Plouffe. A census year is the most important midterm of the decade, because it determines who controls the statehouses, and they control the maps, which naturally favored the GOP.

We are at last ungovernable. Obama’s going to have to see what he can do by executive order, because nothing will pass the 113th Congress. Fiscal cliff? Debt ceiling? Recession? The Middle East? Toss a coin.

Meanwhile I’ll be curious whether anyone can lead the imploded Republican Party, and what life will be like if no one can.++

what-me-worry2