Colin’s Sit-Down

I admit it: I have never been a huge Colin Kaepernick fan. I don’t like all the tattoos and I have thought him a bit of a doofus when he has spoken to the media — like so many of his fellow N.F.L. players. Colin is, of course, the wannabe  quarterback of the San Fransisco Forty-Niners football team. Before the last two pre-season football games he has refused to stand during the national anthem as a protest  against what he perceives as injustices in this country, particularly injustices involving minorities. He also includes in his protest, as I understand it, the inaction of those paid to “serve and protect” the minorities and other disadvantaged persons. This topic has been very nicely discussed in a recent post by Jill Dennison that I reblogged. It is well worth reading.

The interesting thing about Colin’s protest is that the protest itself has drawn more attention (and ire) than the injustices it is directed against. It is seen by many as unpatriotic despite the fact that the First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees each of us the right to speak our minds and express ourselves as we see fit. I would argue that he is being a bit of a rebel in the true American spirit. This country is guilty of a great many injustices against minorities, increasingly of late. And we have seen the police reluctant to step in and even to over-react when they do step in. Theirs is a difficult role to play in neighborhoods where the tempers are at the boiling point and violence is just a word away. I don’t envy them in the least.

But the fact that this young man would choose to draw attention to a situation that needs to be addressed should be applauded, not condemned. It takes great courage these days to stand up for what one believes, and for that alone Kaepernick is to be praised. Whether or not his action will have the desired effect is doubtful, and there is always the possibility that it will have a reverse effect — especially in today’s political climate. But as an action in protest of an injustice it is not to be condemned as “unpatriotic.” After all, the flag he chooses to refuse to salute does represent his right to protest. And the actions he is protesting against are not those of a country that prides itself on taking and holding the moral high ground.

As a nation we have much to answer for of late and we have never fully accepted the equality of the races. Lincoln thought we never would. And with a major politician with a mouth far too large raising temperatures and tempers around the country, waiving red flags in front of bigots and racists, the injustices Kaepernick is protesting against become all too visible.

We need to pause and reflect just what it is this country stands for. If for no other reason, Colin Kaepernick is to be lauded for his stand.

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Cheaters As Heroes

I have blogged before about America’s poor choices when it comes to picking people to call “heroic,” but the situation doesn’t seem to have changed. I would have thought my posts would have done the trick, but apparently not. So we will take another crack at it.

Our choices are especially odd when it comes to our sports heroes, and that’s where most of our heroes can be found — in sweaty locker rooms and beating up their wives. We also indiscriminately refer to every soldier who ever wore camouflage as a “hero,” whether they ever did anything but serve slop in the cafeteria at boot camp. Anyway, the recent case of Pete Rose is worth pondering as he was given a “prolonged” standing ovation in Cincinnati prior to this year’s All Star game.

Rose, of course, played for the Cincinnati Reds for years where he was known as “Charlie Hustle,” and he seemed to be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame until it was revealed that he had gambled on baseball games. He was banned from baseball and could no longer be considered a candidate for the Hall of Fame. He continued for years to insist that he had not gambled on the games in which he played and has appealed his situation in order to once again become eligible for the Hall. Then it was revealed on ESPN, complete with graphic evidence, that he had, indeed, gambled on the games he had played in and was therefore guilty of lying in addition to breaking the rules of the game he claimed to love — and assuredly played very well.

And yet, he was given a standing ovation by the thousands of fans who recently attended the Hall of Fame game in Cincinnati. Puzzling.

And then there’s the case of Tom Brady who allegedly lied about any involvement in the infamous (and seemingly trivial) “deflate gate.” Every professional quarterback interviewed after the scandal insisted that any quarterback would know instantly if the balls he was throwing were over or under-inflated. ESPN even had a retired quarterback throw three balls on camera, one under inflated, one over inflated, and the third properly inflated. He picked out each ball correctly after only one throw. The evidence is overwhelming that Tom Brady knew the balls he was playing with were not regulation. He may not have ordered them to be so, though that seems unlikely, but he insisted he knew nothing about the incident, which is highly improbable. In a process in which Brady refused to cooperate, the NFL ruled against him and suspended him for four games. He is appealing, as is the NFL Player’s Association, and the punishment may well be reduced, perhaps to a fine. But in the eyes of an adoring public he has always been innocent and remains the hero of many a young would-be football hero, even though he almost certainly lied. Puzzling.

And, of course, there is the case of Tiger Woods who is from all reports guilty of repeatedly cheating on this wife and, after an ugly divorce, underwent therapy to try to calm down his racing libido. Yet he remains ever-present on the television and his appearance at a golf tournament immediately increases revenue through attendance and television audiences — despite the fact that, truth be told, he is yesterday’s news. We try these folks in the court of public opinion and we often do not know all the facts. That’s certainly the case. But when the evidence is made public there is little room for doubt and only a strange form of denial can allow us to continue to regard these folks as exemplary, the kind of people we would like our kids to grow up to be. Puzzling.

And yet the court of public opinion can be nasty as well, and perfectly willing to find a man or woman guilty of heinous crimes without the benefit of due process — as in the case of Bill Cosby, who reportedly drugged women and then raped them. But then, Cosby wasn’t an athlete — at least not a professional athlete. And he is probably not even on the radar of the millennialists who weren’t born when he was one of the funniest men around, making millions of dollars on television.  Yet, again, he wasn’t an athlete; perhaps that’s the key. We want our heroes to be famous and rich athletes — even if they are known to be cheaters. Puzzling.

Democracy and Socialism

Karl Marx, being a Hegelian, was convinced that capitalism was inherently contradictory and would therefore implode and in the process it would become transformed into socialism. The state would take over the means of production after the workers revolted against the owners who were exploiting them by paying them less than their labor was worth. The problem, as Marx saw it, was that in a capitalist economy workers are forced by circumstances to sell their labor as a commodity to a factory owner and this in itself is a contradiction — since labor is not a commodity. When, say, the carpenter who makes furniture in his small shop with an apprentice or two finds he cannot compete with the factory down the road that turns out furniture at a faster rate he must go to work for the owner of that factory in order to survive. The factory owner pays him a minimum wage (?) that has no relation whatever to the value of the objects the carpenter is now helping to produce. This is another contradiction. The real problem arises because the furniture he now helps to produce for the owner of the factory creates what Marx called “surplus value,” that is, value in excess of the value of the labor that went into the production of the furniture, including a reasonable profit for the owner. The owner keeps that surplus value himself in the form of excessive profits and therein lies another contradiction: the value that ought to accrue to the worker (because he helps to create it) goes to the factory owner. When the N.F.L. struck several years ago, the players wanted their income to be predicated on the amount of money the owners were taking in from TV revenue and at the gate. They didn’t know it, but the players’ stand was thoroughly Marxist.

In any event, because of these inherent contradictions within capitalism, Marx thought the government would inevitably take over the means of production in order to protect the workers and capitalism would be replaced by socialism which would almost certainly be coupled with a democratic political system — and history has borne out that coupling, for the most part. While there are obvious exceptions, such as the former U.S.S.R., not only is our democracy itself a peculiar mixture of capitalism and socialism, but there are a number of  nations that have found socialism fits nicely within the bosom of democracy — England, for one, and even more so the Scandinavian countries where, we are told, some of the happiest people on earth live and work.

It is amusing that a great many people in this country fear socialism the way folks in the middle ages feared leprosy — even though measures have been taken to make our economy more socialistic since at least the time of Franklin Roosevelt, and the government has always meddled in the economy. There has never been such a thing in this country as “free enterprise capitalism.” In the beginning the economies of the various colonies took the form of mercantile capitalism in which the colonial governments maintained considerable control in order to reduce the possibility of inordinate wealth in the hands of a few — fearing that it might develop into aristocracy, or fearing wealthy American colonists who might become a threat to Mother England. Most of the colonies also had laws prohibiting primogeniture as well, in order to spread the wealth. Despite these measures, a small group of wealthy Americans was able to help fund the revolution that eventually freed the colonies.

Many people mistakenly identify democracy and capitalism even though, while it is certainly the case that they evolved together historically, one is a political system and the other an economic one and the two are at times incompatible. Out-of-control capitalism, as we are seeing, results in incredible wealth in the hands of very few and a powerless electorate, which cripples democracy. At the same time, many people also fear things such as the Affordable Care Act because it smells of socialism and must therefore be “undemocratic” or “un-American,” whereas it does not conflict in any way with the democratic process. Folks frequently fear what they do not understand. These people need to be reminded of the fact that this country, which is ostensibly a democratic one, has been slowly but steadily moving in the direction of greater state involvement if not since the very beginning then at least since the 1930s and that a number of federal policies and agencies have sprung up since that time to avoid monopolies and to temper individual enthusiasm — largely because that enthusiasm in pursuit of profit has often shown complete disregard for the health and well-being of our citizens.

At any rate, capitalism is not to be confused with democracy and socialism is in many ways more compatible with democracy than is capitalism, especially our particular form of capitalism in which a few wealthy folks seem to have all the power and the rest of us simply go through the motions. A democracy is supposed to be a government of, by and for the people, but when the corporations and a few very wealthy families control the reins of power the political system cannot be said to be a democracy in any meaningful sense of that term. In a socialistic economy, on the other hand, in which the possibility of a few gaining the vast majority of the wealth and power is thwarted by the intervention of state and federal agencies and the courts, the people have more power and the political process is more likely to be one that is amenable to the will of the people as a whole. In other words, democracy often joins more comfortably with socialism than it does with capitalism because more of the citizens are likely to be in a position to play an effective role in self-government when the wealth and power are not allowed to collect in the banks or off-shore accounts of a very few — and the highest courts are not declaring that corporations are “persons,” thereby allowing them to unduly influence the outcome of political elections. I don’t advocate the elimination of private ownership, since I am aware of the advantages of a competitive economy, but I do wonder why so many of our citizens are frightened of an economic system that, it turns out, is quite compatible with democracy and which almost certainly gives them more power and freedom in the end.