Some Yankees Irony

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Departing from the realm of politics and moving to the world of baseball…

This evening on my Google Reader, I came across a Times article titled, “In Getting Stars to Backpedal, Yankees Make a Point.” My curiosity piqued, I clicked on it. And then I laughed.

We have to start by explaining that Jorge Posada, after being placed in the ninth spot of the lineup on Saturday against the Red Sox, refused to play. Following this refusal, the Yankees made no attempt to cover up what happened and rightly revealed Posada’s tantrum. The problem with this story is that the reporter, who based on the writing of this article, must be a life-long Yankees fan, does not go far enough in evaluating the Yankees’ treatment of the situation. He argues that the Yankees are all about team-first baseball, and their actions in this particular situation — including also admonishing Posada’s best friend, shortstop Derek Jeter, for intimating he supported Posada — prove that they model “hard work and hustle.”

It was all to prove a point: that a player cannot quit on his team and expect the team to pretend everything is fine. It was a teaching moment for everybody, from aspiring young players to veterans like Posada and Jeter. Someone, it turns out, actually reads those hokey signs in spring training.

I call bullshit. If this whole team is really fueled by hard work and hustle, why does New York buy their team instead of developing it within their farm system? In tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, at least seven out of the nine hitters in the Yankees’ starting lineup were free agents that signed with the Yankees. The pitching staff may be a bit more home-grown, but for this reporter to make this claim based on this particular situation is just laughable.

Not only that, but the first sentence of the quote above actually hints at what the Yankees’ problem might be. If they do actively resist “quitting” as the reporter suggests above, perhaps they are just not good at recognizing when to quit on their players. CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada — they’re all getting old. But they’re still getting filthy rich, because the Yankees have a hard time saying goodbye.

It all connects. They don’t need to say goodbye because they know they will just buy someone else to replace them when they self-destruct on a grand scale.

I’m anything but a Yankees fan, and so part of me kind of wishes they would just follow this blueprint so we can experience the playoffs without them. But when smacked in the face with a story that belongs in The Onion more than it does the New York Times, I have to call bullshit and point out the irony.

What Is Needed to Improve Civility?

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Paul Krugman’s column today in the Times congratulates President Obama on a wonderful speech, but argues that coming together across differences is far from realistic.

But the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let’s listen to each other more carefully; but what we’ll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.

On one hand, I can see where Krugman is going. Given the imposing, complicated issues we face as a country and our lightning fast discourse thanks to technology, improving civility in our politics is going to be beyond difficult.

On the other hand, I think it’s a cop out. I don’t think civility means what Krugman thinks it means. I agree with Krugman’s claim that we do have two fundamental worldviews at work in our nation; I embrace that reality. I am resistant to the deepening of the chasm between these paradigms over the past few decades. Today, people don’t listen to agree but to disagree. Somehow we have moved to a passive-aggressive style of politics where disagreement on issues is so dangerous that we avoid each other. As the Schiff letter I discussed the other day argues, politics becomes about the problem-solver, not about the problems being solved. As a result, few problems are solved.

Whether or not President Obama’s speech was enough to snap this country out of its trance can only be determined over the next few months/years. Our track record supports the view that it might just be a blip, and that the prevailing winds toward incivility will continue. The question I am left with is what will it take – short of a revolution – to change the way we operate?

Obama’s Speech at the Tucson Memorial Service

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Here are President Obama’s remarks from tonight.  In my opinion, his best speech to date in a collection of great ones.

Remarks of President Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
At a Memorial Service for the Victims of the Shooting in Tucson, Arizona
January 12, 2011

To the families of those we’ve lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants gathered tonight, and the people of Tucson and Arizona: I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow.

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.

As Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech. They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders – representatives of the people answering to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns to our nation’s capital. Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner” – just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.
That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets. And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday – they too represented what is best in America.

Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years. A graduate of this university and its law school, Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain twenty years ago, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and rose to become Arizona’s chief federal judge. His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit. He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his Representative. John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons, and his five grandchildren.

George and Dorothy Morris – “Dot” to her friends – were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters. They did everything together, traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon. Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their Congresswoman had to say. When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife. Both were shot. Dot passed away.

A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 year-old great-granddaughter. A gifted quilter, she’d often work under her favorite tree, or sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered. A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together – about seventy years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families, but after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy’s daughters put it, “be boyfriend and girlfriend again.” When they weren’t out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ. A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with their dog, Tux. His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers.

Everything Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion – but his true passion was people. As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits they had earned, that veterans got the medals and care they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks. He died doing what he loved – talking with people and seeing how he could help. Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancée, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year.

And then there is nine year-old Christina Taylor Green. Christina was an A student, a dancer, a gymnast, and a swimmer. She often proclaimed that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her. She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, “We are so blessed. We have the best life.” And she’d pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. Our hearts are broken – and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.

Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday. I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak. And I can tell you this – she knows we’re here and she knows we love her and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey.

And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby’s office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive. We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives. And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned – as it was on Saturday morning.

Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

Problems with the Political Process

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In a letter to the Washington Times, former Republican representative Peter Schiff (R-CT) explains why our political process is so removed from the problems people are actually facing.

This is how the game works in big-time politics: A potential candidate hires a polling firm to create a strategically written and scientifically executed poll to discover the buzzwords and simple campaign themes that ‘resonate’ among voters. Consultants then boil down the poll results to a few ‘winning’ message points and strategies. At that point, the modern candidate simply hammers away again and again at those sound bites. Winners are those who stay ‘on message’ while knocking their opponents ‘off message.’ It is of little consequence to the professionals that this process produces the kind of vacuous, unprincipled leaders who have brought our country to the doorstep of economic ruin.

Most of our officeholders, then, are empty robots, incapable of taking principled stands on issues. Sounds about right.

The Faux Tea Party

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An extremely important two paragraphs in Frank Rich’s NY Times column today, toward the end:

However much these corporate contributors may share the Tea Party minions’ antipathy toward President Obama, their economic interests hardly overlap. The rank and file Tea Partiers say they oppose government spending and deficits. The billionaires have no problem with federal spending as long as the pork is corporate pork. They, like most Republican leaders in 2008, supported the Bush administration’s Wall Street bailout. They also don’t mind deficits as long as they get their outsize cut of the red ink — $3.8 trillion worth if all the Bush tax cuts are made permanent.

But while these billionaires’ selfish interests are in conflict with the Tea Party’s agenda, they are in complete sync with the G.O.P.’s Washington leadership. The Republicans’ new “Pledge to America” promises the $3.8 trillion addition to the deficit and says nothing about serious budget cuts or governmental reforms that might remotely offset it. Surfing the Beltway talk shows last Sunday, you couldn’t find one without a G.O.P. politician adamantly refusing to specify a single program he might cut at, say, the Department of Education (Pell grants?) or the National Institutes of Health (cancer research?). And that’s just the small change. Everyone knows that tax cuts for the G.O.P.’s wealthiest patrons must come out of Social Security and Medicare payments for everybody else.

The wealthy behind this effort are stirring the pot, using the Tea Partiers as their unwitting foot soldiers.

Framing of the Youth Vote (or Lack Thereof) In November

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Well, here we go again.

The New York Times published a story today out of Colorado looking at whether or not young voters could be turning away from the Democratic ranks — two years after serving as one of the bedrock groups in Obama’s voting coalition. The story seems to be fairly balanced in its views, as there are some younger voters proclaiming their continued allegiance to the President and the Democratic Party, but there are also young voters souring on the Democratic leadership.

One young voter was particularly descriptive in explaining her conflicted views.

Kristin Johnson, 23, like many other students interviewed here in recent days, said that a vote for Democrats in 2008, however passionate it was, did not a Democrat make. But she bristles just as much at the idea of being called a Republican.

“It’s like picking a team when you really don’t want to root for either team,” said Ms. Johnson, a communication studies major, who said she was undecided about parties and politics going into the general election campaign.

If Democrats are letting voters like Ms. Johnson get away from them across the country, the ramifications of this blunder will be felt for a long, long time. But that’s another topic for another day.

I wanted to focus on another passage from the article, one that reflects exactly what we have been facing throughout the last few special elections and what we will be fighting back through November and beyond.

How and whether millions of college students vote will help determine if Republicans win enough seats to retake the House or Senate, overturning the balance of power on Capitol Hill, and with it, Mr. Obama’s agenda. If students tune out and stay home it will also carry a profound message for American society about a generation that seemed so ready, so recently, to grab national politics by the lapels and shake.

While Kirk Johnson, the writer of this piece, does not go into specifics as far as what he means by a “profound message,” I think the odds are good that these few lines illuminate the common misunderstanding that Johnson and other journalists run with when writing these stories. They go with the surface level content, mindlessly reporting that youth did not show up at the polls and, thus, are not interested in voting. Apparently, we’re just not prepared.

But what about the other possibility: perhaps youth, suckered into this idea that politicians – maybe just once – might care about our issues, might be willing to talk big, think big, dream big, and for once exercise some pragmatic idealism, are let down. After being counted on to move this Democratic administration and congressional leadership into power, perhaps we are pissed off and making a political statement by refusing to be taken for granted.

That’s where this article falls short. There are other possibilities for why youth might not be voting. Not because we are apathetic, or turned off to politics. It’s because politicians gave us their word, we gave them our vote, and aside from a watered down health care bill, a stimulus that was too small, and maybe a few other bills, the work hasn’t been done, and the to-do list is getting longer. Furthermore, we are left hanging in the breeze, waiting for an honest explanation… still.. waiting.. for that honest explanation.

So don’t get us wrong: we’re still ready to shake some lapels. But in order to be most effective, we need candidates who are uncompromising in their tenacity on confronting big issues, but flexible in crafting solutions to our problems. And we need them to engage us.

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