Stand or Kneel? Sports and Politics (by Sasha)

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As a political scientist, I view the controversy over the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as grounded in two related questions:

1)  How did football (and just about every other sport) become a forum for displays of patriotism?

2)  Why is the kneeling of a player during the playing of the national anthem viewed as an insult to veterans in particular?

So, in answer to #1, there is really no good reason why sports have been aligned with militarism. Some have theorized that joining the two connects nationalism with aggression; or winning with patriotism. “We (meaning the US) are Number 1!” But the history of this conjoining of (male) sports teams with national patriotism has its origins in WWI and this grew stronger during WWII.  During the fighting of the world war, it was viewed as unseemly that while other men engaged in international warfare to save the country and indeed the world, professional athletic males in the United States were playing their sports rather than engaging in true warfare. Sporting events were also an opportunity to mobilize much needed public support. Thus, patriotic moments were injected into the games: the playing of the national anthem or patriotic songs, the presence of the American flag, flybys or honor guards by the military, and the recognition of war veterans. But this association continued far beyond the world war years. It is now seen as part and parcel of what it means to be engaged in athletic competition. As a result, displays of patriotism infuses football, baseball, soccer, hockey, and so on.

image_20But think about it…this is a social construct that survived its time. This was a nationalistic practice that originated as a way of defending why able-bodied males should continue to play competitive (and lucrative) games during a time of war. The national symbolism has continued throughout the decades although it is now disconnected from the original purpose it served.

In answer to #2, I can understand that some people may be offended by NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. But why is this form of symbolic speech interpreted as an insult to veterans in particular?

This protest began last football season (2016) by Colin Kaepernick. Because it was a silent form of protest, in later interviews he had to articulate the meaning in words. His explanation was that the physical gesture was a sign of protest about the troubling incidences of black men shot by police officers who were not punished by the legal system. Kneeling was chosen a “respectful,” peaceful, and silent protest about racial inequality in the country.

nfl+9.24So how exactly does this implicate veterans?

It doesn’t. The protest is an indictment of the American legal system, law enforcement system, and systemic racism within the culture. But it is not in any way aimed at those who have served in the military.

Why? Because the flag, the national anthem, the Constitution, and patriotism at large does not belong to veterans exclusively. Yes, the nation should thank veterans for their service and should provide them in turn with respect and concrete resources to integrate them back to civilian lives (e.g., imagine a VA that is efficient and responsive and generous). However, criticisms about the nation, no matter how cutting, are not aimed at veterans. They are directed at society at large. Although symbolic speech, these actions invite reflection and conversation. Are they pointed and sometimes painful critiques? Yes, they are. But does kneeling constitute treason or an attack on veterans in particular; I’d say not. Political protest is and should be a protected right. That is necessary in any society that aspires to be democratic. Dissent should be met with conversation, not misdefined or misaligned as attacks on veterans or unpatriotic expressions in need of punishment.

It is a bit ironic that this sensitivity to the feelings of veterans as the victims of the NFL protests is taking place during a time when conservative commentators have been unforgiving in their criticisms of college and university policies designed to protect student “snowflakes” from upsetting speech, topics, or situations. Veterans, who have been redefined in recent years as heroes, are now being constructed as victims in need of protection from kneeling athletes. And so, in the words of Pres. Trump, a protesting athlete is a “son of bitch” who should be fired.

Some might say that political protests are unwarranted given the time and place consideration that these occur during sports contests, not political events. But, as I wrote earlier, the infusion of symbols of patriotism during athletic competitions is an odd coupling to begin with. If patriotic displays are embraced during games, one can expect, and one is expected to tolerate, differing views in response.

 

Salty Dog: Oh, Brother! (by Karma)

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While humans scanned the skies for the path of Irma

I weathered my own crisis here on terra firma.

A whirling dervish who bites, chews, and pees

His name is Koda, a little Cuban Havanese.

A mini me, but don’t assume I’m his mother

My humans informed me:  he’s my new “brother.”

I thought at first he was a storm victim, a guest,

But he’s here to stay, the shark-like pest.

 

He hangs from my tail, and eats from my bowl,

Over elimination, he has no control.

He squeals like a pig when he’s left alone

And smells like urine eau de cologne.

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But he’s willing to play and likes tug-of-war

My place is the sofa, he likes the floor.

And the boy’s got style when he copies me.

So he’s my Wingman, Dawg, BFF, Homie.

 

 

 

But wait…what is this fresh hell?

Says his name’s Sir Charles of Taywater Dell!

Not another young pup to guide all lifelong!

Whew! Not ours, but belongs to Cat Armstrong.

The Salt Life: Disparate Ramblings following Hurricane Irma (by Sasha)

A week after Hurricane Irma…some factoids and thoughts:

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  • Nickname:  Irmageddon (apt for the devastation of Caribbean Islands and the Florida Keys)
  • Local news stations were asked by the Pasco County Sheriff’s office to instruct locals NOT to shoot guns at the Hurricane. It had to be explained that (1) this would not alter the direction of the storm and (2) that the bullets themselves could prove dangerous.
  • In Sarasota and Manatee Counties, largely spared because of the storm’s turn, over 64,000 people were still without power as of 6pm Saturday night; that is 1 in 7 of Florida Power & Light customers in the two counties (Source: Herald-Tribune, 9-16-17, p. B1).

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  • Sarasota was largely spared but the impact continues: some gas stations and businesses still not reopened, some food shortages remain as deliveries haven’t arrived (e.g., skim milk, crackers, some fresh produce), tons of food ruined from lack of power fill dumpsters while people are being fed by neighbors, friends, charities, All Faith’s Food Bank, etc., lots of tree debris piled up at curbs waiting to be picked up; most local colleges and schools have remained closed (some served as shelters during the storm) but hope to reopen this coming week; Power and Light trucks, both locally and out of state, have set up local camps for workers who are trying to restore power by the 20th which would be two days ahead of schedule.

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  • A new danger was posed by traffic lights that were out. When this occurs, the rule is not “floor it” but act as if the light was blinking red: meaning that vehicles from every direction must come to a full stop and then take turns going through the intersection.

 

  • Some evacuees are still waiting to find airline tickets to return. Some who drove back only made it because they had filled gas cans with them (so many stations throughout the state still without fuel.)

 

  • Gov. Scott (who I think showed unusual leadership, transparency, and competence during the storm) still remains unconvinced of human-induced climate change.

 

  • Even with five days to prepare, preparation was nearly impossible. When the storm IMG_4522was approaching in a “cone of uncertainty” large enough to swallow the entire state, there was not enough of the following: gasoline, airline flights, bottled water, canned goods, plywood, tarps, batteries, flashlights, and sandbags (a 10 bag limit if you could wait for hours!)

 

We can do better; we’ve got to do better.

 

The Salt Life: Hurricane Irma and Us (by Sasha)

We are doing our best to prepare for Hurricane Irma now that she has decided to move to the West Coast of Florida. We are staying put and will check on the homes of our neighbors who have better sense than we do.

Jack has given new meaning to the term “repurposing.” What do you do when there is no plywood at Home Depot or anywhere for miles and you need to board up windows:  see what he’s done with our closet doors and fencing:

 

 

Many thanks to our son Jamison for the closet door idea; Jack lopped off the bottom and found a way to attach them. He is still pulling down a fence and fencing our windows in. All these years I’ve complained that our third garage has been converted to his woodworking shop…now I love it.

We have spent days searching for gasoline and bottles of water. Today almost every store along University Ave. was closed, so Kudos to BJs which stayed open until 2:00 today (Saturday) and had both fuel and water (and lots of wine,  yeah!) Driving home I came upon this sight driving East on University Parkway:

 

 

That’s right. The Military has arrived. Saw them turn from U. Ave to Longwood Run. Setting up a base perhaps? It should be comforting but it was scary to think we’ll need it.

And then there is stress, and not so much:

 

That’s our new puppy, a Havanese named Koda. True, our timing is off, but he is making us laugh through what looks to be a disaster in the making.

We have secured one of our bathrooms and hope to use it as a safe place if need be. Should be an interesting Sunday night…

We wish all of Sarasota–our friends, family, neighbors, and every resident–well. Be safe. If you are in need of anything and can come to our home or communicate with us, please do.

Love to all.

The Hypocrisy of Donald Trump (by Jack)

Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming to have a belief or behavioral standard to which one’s actions do not conform. Most politicians dread being caught being hypocritical and go out of their way to explain—sometimes quite awkwardly—that what is viewed as hypocrisy is merely an “evolving” position.

Donald Trump has taken hypocrisy to new levels however. He is not only blatantly hypocritical but arrogantly denies that he ever said many of the things he actually said. Below are some examples of Trump hypocrisy.

Head scarves in Saudi Arabia

In 2015 when Michelle Obama and her two daughters were in Saudi Arabia and didn’t cover their heads Trump tweeted: “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies.” (Jan 29, 2015)

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But when Trump recently visited the Saudi Kingdom Melania was also scarfless. Interestingly, the Saudi’s apparently were quite taken with her. She was in many respects the ideal wife—quiet, beautiful, and deferential to her husband.

Golf

               Trump continually criticized Obama for playing golf. Over 8 years in the presidency Obama was seen on the links 333 times. On October 13, 2014 Trump tweeted: “Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U. S., President Obama spent the day playing golf.” In 2016 in Virginia he said: “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to play golf.”

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While it is sometimes difficult to determine exactly when Trump plays because his staff tries to hide it from the press, as of May 16th he has apparently played 21 times. That comes out to about twice the rate of playing as Obama.

 

 

Executive Orders

               During and before the presidential campaign Trump often criticized Obama for abusing power by issuing executive orders. Here is one of his twitter attacks on the subject: “Why is Barack Obama constantly issuing executive orders that are major power grabs of authority?” Over his eight years in office Obama signed 276 executive orders, actually a fairly low number compared with other recent presidents. In 2015 during the campaign Trump said in reference to Obama not making “deals”: “I don’t think he even tries anymore. I think he just signs executive actions. . . . You’re supposed to cajole, get people in a room, you have Republicans, Democrats, you’re supposed to get together and pass a law. [Obama] doesn’t want to do that because it’s too much work. So he doesn’t want to work too hard. He wants to go back and play golf.”

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How is Trump doing? As of May 28th Trump has issued 36 executive orders. That is already more in his first 100-some days than Obama averaged per year over his entire presidency.

Transparency

                  One of Trump’s early criticisms of Obama was about his lack of transparency. In 2012 Trump took to Twitter (again): “Why is Barack Obama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President—ever—and he ran on transparency.”

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But as president Trump seems to have found that transparency is not something to be valued. While Obama released the visitor logs of the White House to the press, President Trump has decided that, for budget reasons, it is too costly to follow that practice.

But perhaps Trump’s largest failure at transparency is his failure to make any of his tax returns public. Indeed, one has to go back 40 years, to the presidency of Gerald Ford, to find the last president who failed to release at least one year of their returns. Many presidents as well as presidential candidates released numerous years of returns. Trump’s excuse is that his returns are being audited, but actually all presidents’ returns are automatically audited and that has not prevented them from releasing their returns.

Does any of this really matter anymore?

The power of hypocrisy—or the revealing of hypocrisy—is that there are agreed upon norms of behavior which, if violated, are found at the very least disturbing. However, in the new postmodern political world that Trump habituates (masters?) everything is “up for grabs.” Truth is debatable, facts can be countered by “alternative facts,” and norms are continually violated. As long as one is emotionally attached to a politician one can accept contradictory behavior by that politician even if such support goes against one’s own interests and beliefs.

Rep. Vern Buchanan and Environmentalism: A Failure to Lead (by Jack)

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Vern Buchanan, Republican Representative to the House for the 16th congressional district in Florida was named as a “legislative leader” in 2016 by the U. S. Humane Society for his record on animal protection issues. He was the only Republican to receive a “100-plus” rating by the organization. Yet, at the same time he obtained a pathetic 29% (out of 100%) rating by the League of Conservation Voters. So what is Buchanan? Is he a congressional leader on the environment? Is he cleverly anti-environment? Is he a “moderate” (something he loves to be called) on the environment?

                  In looking at his public positions on environmental issues and on his roll call votes it seems as if Buchanan is an “old-time” environmentalist (think early 20th Century) with nuanced positions designed to appeal to what he perceives as voters’ interests in his district. Buchanan is an environmentalist along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt. He wants to protect animals and land, but he is generally opposed to government regulation in other environmental areas. That said, however, he adjusts those perspectives to suit his district.

                 For instance, he is a supporter of the Endangered Species Act, in favor of protecting manatees, wants a designated area for the Florida panther to roam, and supports laws to curb animal cruelty. The animals that are found in Florida get special attention, but when it comes to animals outside of Florida Buchanan seems to find a reason not to care much about them. For instance, he claimed that it would be too much government intrusion to try to save wild horses in the far west and voted against legislation that would try to do that. That is, there are no wild horses in the 16th congressional district.

                  The idea of protecting species, especially the manatee and the panther, are particularly attractive positions for Buchanan because they are highly visible, in effect, “sexy” environmental positions. Everybody loves big goofy manatees and who wouldn’t want to try to save the beautiful Florida panther from extinction? Glad he agrees with this, but it hardly counts for leadership.

 

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Evidence of 2014 Coal Slurry spill in West Virginia

Instead, Buchanan’s environmental consciousness pretty much stops at protecting species—endangered species in Florida as well as pets. He dislikes using government regulation to try to protect or clean up the environment (unless, of course, it directly relates to his district). For example, Buchanan signed on to a letter to the Trump administration opposing oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida (a policy Trump is considering). He also wants the government to spend more money to research red tide, a problem that affects the 16th district’s beaches quite frequently. But if you don’t live in the 16th district Buchanan doesn’t seem to think you need a clean environment. He voted to prevent the Interior Department from enforcing a rule that would prevent coal companies from discarding mining debris into or near streams (mainly in West Virginia).

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On the issue of climate change, arguably one of the most important issues facing the world, Buchanan is eerily silent. He almost never addresses the topic. To figure out where he stands, however, we can look at some votes he has cast. In the past he has voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, voted to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, voted against an attempt to put a tax on carbon emissions, and voted against an attempt to merely state that man-made carbon pollution contributes to climate change. In this, he seems to be merely following the party line.

sea-level-advisoryThe irony is that of all the environmental issues out there climate change and the attendant rise in sea levels is the one that will perhaps threaten the 16th congressional district the most as much of the district will slowly slip into the Gulf of Mexico.

 

In sum, on the easy and sexy environmental issues Buchanan is an environmentalist. But on the really complex, difficult, long-term, and more fundamental environmental issues, he is at best cowardly in trying to avoid taking positions and at worst anti-environment. Sadly, these more fundamental environmental issues are the ones that pose the greatest threat to our world.

With a grain of salt: Being Taken by the Ballgame (by Jack)

Braves logoBusinesspeople often complain about government interference, arguing that government should stay out of the marketplace and regulate it as little as necessary. Of course you don’t hear many complaints from those same people when the government provides a host of tax deductions and subsidies that benefit them. The latest controversy involving government subsidizing business is playing itself out in Tallahassee where House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to eliminate the government agency Enterprise Florida (actually a public-private hybrid), claiming that it does not do what was intended.

Enterprise Florida is supposed to use its resources to lure business to the Sunshine State using a variety of inducements including tax refunds, tax credits, tax exemptions, and even outright cash grants. While Corcoran wants to eliminate funding for Enterprise Florida Governor Rick Scott who has campaigned on a platform of job creation is a vigorous defender of the program.

The use of government incentives to support business is nothing new in America. Primarily because of the nature of our federal system businesses can play off one governmental unit against others to negotiate the most advantageous package of inducements to locate their business in a particular place.

Our latest local example of this sort of bargaining has recently occurred with the Atlanta Braves who indicated they were willing to relocate from Orlando if “the price was right.” Consequently, they initiated a series of negotiations with Orlando, Sarasota, Collier County and Palm Beach County to see which locale would give them the best deal.

After several months of bargaining, negotiating and playing one county off against the others Sarasota emerged as the “winner” of the Braves sweepstakes and a preliminary deal was struck. A sports complex in the range of $75-$80 million would be built in North Port by 2019. Sarasota county would kick in $22 million, North Port would add $4-5 million, West Villages would contribute 150 acres of land worth $7-9 million, and the state would add about $20 million.

braves sports complex          The county’s contribution falls just under the amount that would otherwise have to be approved by voters—hmmmm. Supposedly the Braves would pick up the remaining $22-25 million and they get full operating rights to the baseball complex. The government is trying to negotiate use of the facility for a few days during the year (the latest estimate was 22 days), but profits from the games go to the Braves who will agree to make annual payments for 30 years to cover the stadium debt.

The arguments in favor of such sports stadium deals are common: they will spur economic growth in the local area, help raise incomes and they will create jobs. Sounds good. Sounds like a wise investment. Unfortunately economists who study such deals say there that there is no evidence to indicate that those things actually happen. Two economists, Coates and Humphreys collected all the studies done on the topic and concluded that there was no legitimate economic justification for the deals—they don’t spur economic growth, they don’t create more jobs, and they don’t raise incomes. So why do these deals continue to happen?

For the answer we need to turn to politics, not economics. Politicians often campaign on the argument that they will create jobs. Governor Scott certainly did that, but he is not the only politician to pass himself off as a “jobs-creator.” To justify that they are working to create jobs they must have some sort of highly visible way of showing that they are working on job creation. Enter government incentives! In many instances corporations and sports teams have already decided where they will locate and only as an afterthought do they try to obtain government incentives (hey, why not if they want to give us some freebies).

In fact, studies show that one of the most important factors in determining where businesses locate—in addition to the quality of the labor force, access to relevant transportation, and the cost of energy, (for sports teams a supportive fan base)—is where the CEOs live! (Note that Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholtz owns a home in Naples).

Of course politicians don’t have to play this game and, to their credit, the politicians in Collier County ultimately decided to drop out of the bidding war for the Braves stadium. Perhaps they are smarter than our own politicians. They can now spend their money on more deserving projects and still enjoy the benefit of seeing the Braves. After all, it’s only a short drive from Naples to North Port. That drive won’t cost anywhere near $26 million.