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.

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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.

Douthat’s Flawed View of the Mosque Controversy

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Though he tries to act like he’s playing the role of peacemaking conciliator, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat eventually reveals his true feelings:

By global standards, [Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the mosque] may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

Douthat makes the same error that most other observers are making in failing to see the wide spectrum of beliefs in Islam. Yes, there are those (al-Qaeda) who couch their hatred of America in the religion (just like there are Christians who use their faith to justify their hatred of our government). But there are also Muslims — in fact, the large majority of those in the United States — who worship peacefully, just like other the Judeo-Christian worship communities Douthat taps earlier in his piece.

I wouldn’t like to be told as a Christian that I could not buy a property in Wichita, Kansas because Scott Roeder, a Christian zealot, killed a doctor who performed abortions. Same goes for Atlanta, Georgia, when Eric Rudolph bombed the Olympic Park during the ceremonies in 1996, “to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.” But because Christianity is the privileged religion in Douthat’s second America, we simply understand that Roeder and Rudolph are right-wing nut jobs that do not represent the wide majority of Christians. The same doesn’t go for Muslims.

Re-Attracting Young Voters Back to the Obama Coalition

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Matt Bai’s piece in the New York Times Magazine chronicles the emerging tensions between the White House and the Congress as they strategize for the 2010 mid-terms. Within the piece, Bai discusses the generational dynamic at play as the DNC (what is now the Obama-backed OFA) is pushing congressional candidates (against their wills) to make their pitches to voters normally perceived as unreliable.

…The lesson that Plouffe and his operation took away from the dismal 2009 elections is that Obama can act like a matchmaker of sorts, introducing the party’s candidates to new voters and vouching for their intentions, but it’s only going to matter if the candidates themselves embrace the so-called new politics. What that means, practically speaking, is that the White House is urging candidates to divert a fair amount of their time and money — traditionally used for buying TV ads and rallying core constituencies — to courting volunteers and voters who haven’t generally been reliable Democrats.

This is not what members of Congress or their campaign managers are trained to do, and it has created something of a cultural chasm between the White House and the party apparatus. There is a strong generational component here. With some exceptions, Obama’s passion for organizing finds more enthusiasm among candidates closer to the president’s age and newer to politics (candidates like Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado), while older Democrats have a harder time imagining that a bunch of volunteers and a dozen virtual town-hall meetings are going to matter more than labor endorsements and some killer 30-second spots…

[…]

By Democratic Party standards, this is a relatively muted internal disagreement. But it nonetheless points to the emergence of rival schools of thought within the party when it comes to Obama’s importance as a party leader. Some see him as having transformed both the electorate and the nature of campaigning in what could be a lasting and fundamental way, meaning that things are possible now — both in terms of liberal governance and winning elections — that did not seem possible before. Others view 2008 mostly as a cathartic election that had more to do with conditions in the country than with Obama’s peculiar magic, and they don’t think the party should assume that there are millions of new voters out there who can be tapped if you just knock on the right doors. These two worldviews coexist uneasily among the party’s elected officials and candidates, young and old, in every part of the country — sometimes just hours apart.

The congressional camp within the Democratic Party reflects the status quo that continues to claim that new voters — including young voters — don’t vote and are apathetic. What they refuse to understand is that we are civically active; we do vote when we are genuinely engaged in a conversation about issues through a medium relevant to our lifestyles. These labor endorsements and “killer” television ads are almost as boring as network news these days. Instead, we should be investing in the peer-to-peer voting drives and organizing work that have already increased the youth vote for three straight elections. From Mike Connery’s Journalist Cheat Sheet:

Tip #5: If you insist on reporting the same old story that young people vote at a lower rate than the rest of the electorate, then you have an obligation to also inform your readers/viewers/listeners that youth turnout has increased for 3 years straight, and is at its highest level in over a decade. You also have an obligation to note that in 2006 the youth vote swung a number of important federal races, including pushing Democratic candidates Jon Tester, Jim Webb, and Joe Courtney over the top.

Source: Historical voting patterns (pdf), Impact on Races (pdf), Midterm Turnout (pdf).

Tip #6: If you are going to report on low-turnout among young voters, you also have an obligation to note that young people face more barriers to voting than do older voters. We move more frequently, requiring us to re-register sometimes on a yearly basis, on campus we face a lack of voting machines and long lines, and many university towns actively discourage and try to prevent students from voting.

Source: League of Conservation Voters Education Fund

Tip #7: There are simple fixes to the problems outlined in #6 – election day and same-day registration and mail-in voting are two such fixes that can be applied at the state level. These have been proven to bump youth turnout by as much as 14%!!!!! It would be nice if you reported on them occasionally.

Source: CIRCLE

Tip #8: Young voters will participate if they are asked to, particularly by a peer. This is proven. But the system stopped asking long ago by removing resources and manpower away from young voter outreach. Only in recent years have organizations – and a few campaigns – begin to reengage young voters in any serious way. The result is three straight years in which youth turnout increased. In plain terms: young voters are not apathetic. Rather, the system fails to engage them in any meaningful way.

Source: Young Voter Strategies, Voter Mobilization Tactics

Tip #9: Stop reporting on “celebrity activism” as the Rosetta Stone for understanding the youth vote. This is a Boomer and Gen-X construction created for a broadcast TV culture of the 80s and 90s. Today’s young voters are interested in peer-to-peer communication and networked action. From Facebook to on the ground, peer to peer organizing at club, bars, barbershops and apartment canvassing, the most effective, and sustainable developments in youth organizing in the past five years have come from new, grassroots organizations doing peer to peer organizing on the ground or online. Stop reporting on celebrities and start doing the work of talking to and reporting on the activities of these organizations. Good places to start include:

Forward Montana, The Oregon Bus Project, New Era Colorado, Young Democrats of America, and The League of Young Voters.

There are many more, but let’s do this in baby steps. Start with these and we’ll work out way deeper into youth organizing together.

Young voters can be courted; it just takes some courage and genuine effort. The Speaker’s office and legislators like Congressman George Miller (D-CA) have been great on youth policy issues, but in purely electoral terms, the Congressional campaign plan outlined above is disappointing. While OFA doesn’t have a pristine record with young voters, they apparently get it more than many of the old guard congressmen and congresswomen.

More Critical Thinking, Less Hegemony

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Matt Bai writes an interesting piece in the Times today, noting both how far we’ve come in our various debates since the 1960s, while acknowledging that, in some ways, we have not come far at all.  Bai used the controversies surrounding Rand Paul and Richard Blumenthal to make his case.

Why then, to quote the ubiquitous Bono, is our political debate so stuck in a moment it cannot get out of? In part, it is probably because so many of the Americans most engaged in politics — as well as those who run campaigns and comment endlessly on them — are old enough to remember Altamont. It is your classic self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the ’60s generation dominates the political discourse, the less that discourse engages younger voters, and the longer the boomers hold sway over our politics.

On a deeper level, though, this all probably has as much to do with our basic human tendency toward moral clarity. As much as conservatives may view the decade as the crucible of moral relativism and the beginning of a breakdown in established social order, there remains something powerfully attractive about the binary, simplistic nature of it all, the idea that one could easily distinguish whether he was for war or against, in favor of equality or opposed.

By contrast, war today seems more a question of degrees and limits, while equality seems less about the laws of the land than about disparities in economic and educational opportunities that are subtler and harder to address. The choices of our moment are not nearly so neat or so satisfying as they were a generation ago, which makes them less useful as a basis for one’s political identity, and harder to encapsulate in some 30-second spot or prime-time rant.

Emphasis is mine.  I find myself agreeing with Bai’s explanation, especially given my work with college students.  Our students today are getting their bachelor’s degree and I would wager that, the way we construct our educational system in this country, a significant number get out of it without having to think critically about issues.  If I’m a student and I have followed external formulas guiding my behavior, never having this behavior challenged, I am not even aware that there is anything other than my cozy dualistic system from which I can choose (Harvard developmental psychologist Robert Kegan would say I am subject in my meaning-making capabilities).  Of course a simplistic, yet disingenuous politics is going to thrive.

In order for us to challenge this lack of preparation we are offering our students, we must challenge the hegemonic structure dictating that campaigns or discussions on public affairs must run this way.  Simultaneously, we must purge ourselves of the assumption that we must go to college to have a chance to learn this.  These are big tasks; these notions unobtrusively penetrate our lives everyday, seducing us to believe that, because its the way things work, we must follow it.  You go to college, get a four degree, and then work somewhere because you are deemed to be bright enough to do so and be a citizen.  There’s a code for it:  it’s “tradition.”  It’s romanticized.  The degree is money, we’re taught.  Yes, our realities are much more contextual than they used to be; our technology, while improving our lives and making them more efficient, gives us a tangential responsibility of learning supplemental skills to be able to cope with the effects of the improvements.

Yet, how many of these college degree-holding, former students come home from work and sit in front of their TVs, allowing the sonorous tones of Bill O’Reilly, Wolf Blitzer, and/(but most likely) or Keith Olbermann to fill their living rooms?  Many, I’d be willing to bet.  And it’s because “we’re tired.”  We’ve been thinking all day.  We need someone to explain things to us, not help us understand anything more.  And so when Blitzer’s voice gets pitchy with excitement, indelicately discussing stories as complex as the history of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the opportunity to parse what he is saying, to explore it, to uncover it, comes and goes.  “Why is this garbage on TV?,” someone might ask.  But given the way we tackle education in this country, we are all too often incapable of answering our own questions.

So when I read Matt Bai’s piece this morning, I couldn’t help but get excited.  A writer for one of the main cogs in this hegemonic structure takes notice of the primary problem — it’s a welcome event.  Yet, until we have younger people willing to challenge the status quo of journalism and education in this country (and older ones courageous enough to assist), our external formulas will rue the day.  Anyone up for the task?

UPDATE: Changed the title to better reflect the post.

David Brooks’ Description of Obama’s Presidency

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In today’s New York Times, David Brooks takes a stab at describing Barack Obama and his performance in office so far. In doing so, Brooks paints a portrait of how polarizing Washington is and what that polarization does in shaping Americans’ sense of reality.

Who is Barack Obama?

If you ask a conservative Republican, you are likely to hear that Obama is a skilled politician who campaigned as a centrist but is governing as a big-government liberal. He plays by ruthless, Chicago politics rules. He is arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.

If you ask a liberal Democrat, you are likely to hear that Obama is an inspiring but overly intellectual leader who has trouble making up his mind and fighting for his positions. He has not defined a clear mission. He has allowed the Republicans to dominate debate. He is too quick to compromise and too cerebral to push things through.

You’ll notice first that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed. You’ll, observe, second, that they are entirely predictable. Political partisans always imagine the other side is ruthlessly effective and that the public would be with them if only their side had better messaging. And finally, you’ll notice that both views distort reality. They tell you more about the information cocoons that partisans live in these days than about Obama himself.

[…]

In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don’t live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.

It’s unfortunate that our “information cocoons” insist on simplifying the most complex of matters to yes/no or good/bad answers. I like that Brooks shows us what we can get with complexity despite its boring reputation. When we look at phenomena like Obama’s performance with the goal of gaining better understanding as opposed to getting an explanation, we preserve the complexity of the matter and enhance our own analysis skills.

New York Times Plagiarizing Bloggers

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Maureen Dowd is in some trouble today. In her column today, there’s a passage that appears to have been lifted from Josh Marshall’s post on Thursday, May 14th, at his blog, Talking Points Memo.

From Dowd’s column (5-17-2009): “More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when the Bush crowd was looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

(Since editors have changed the column, here is an image of the original, thanks to the blogger who broke this story). Dowd-1

From Marshall’s post (5-14-2009): “More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

Dowd’s explanation thus far is that while talking to a friend about the column in question on Friday, the friend suggested that Dowd insert the idea represented in this particular passage into her column. Dowd claims ignorance, pointing out that she had no clue her friend was giving her intellectual material belonging to someone else. Yet somehow this “weaving” of information, as she describes it, ends up in the Grey Lady word for word.

This is a big moment. It’s the old establishment versus the new order. The tale of an institutionalized pundit, who once kickstarted a plagiarism controversy herself two decades ago, producing content that, at the very least, is inspired by some dude named Josh Marshall.

The way many traditional media types view bloggers, I’m sure the verdict here will be that Mr. Marshall should have known all along that Ms. Dowd would want to use those twenty-eight words in a row and should have stopped himself from publishing that post.

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