Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is the Black Widow a False Flag?

What if the terrorist threats at Sochi are just a ruse?  Is it beyond the realm of possibility that Putin and Russian authorities are using a fabricated threat to advance a hidden agenda?  I wouldn’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist.  Yes decades ago I read all of the conspiracy books about the Kennedy assassination, but the one thing about conspiracists:  they never have to prove anything, but just ask questions.  Whether it was the aforementioned JFK assassination, TWA Flight 800, Pearl Harbor attack, and off course 9/11, conspiracists charge the government with nefarious deeds often without motive.  But just because 9/11 truthers may be off base, we know governments have been known to use real or imagined threats as justification: the invasion of Iraq, the Alien-Sedition Acts, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and the sinking of the USS Maine. 

Would we expect less from the Russians?  What would be their motive?

Firstly, the Russians have been waging war against separatists in Chechnya and Dagestan for 20 years.  What started as a war of independence for Chechens has become a war against Islamic militants who have seized the opportunity to push their fundamentalist agenda.  The Chechnya and Dagestan Republics in the Caucasus have been gnawing at Moscow and Moscow has been unable to get world opinion on its side to squelch the uprising.  Portraying these “Black Widow” suicide bombers from Dagestan as public enemies #1, #2, and #3, and as threats to the athletes of the civilized world, Putin can be seen as the good guy, Russia honorable, and sway public opinion for him to exert more extreme measures on the Caucasus’s without condemnation.

Secondly, if the threat is a fabrication and there really is no danger and everything goes to plan, Putin and Russia look like great hosts with awesome security.  They will claim the most golden of the gold medals: everybody had fun and security was impeccable.  It will be such an accomplishment Putin may go shirtless at the closing games and no doubt his popularity and that of Russia will climb.  In a time when Russia’s standing in the word is waning, a successful Sochi Games will be great public relations.

And finally, as long as the short attention span media is focusing on a terrorist threat, there is no discussion on Putin’s anti-gay stance and the homophobia hanging over the Winter Games.  Putin controls the message and the media is at his bidding.  If you don’t believe me check your nightly news broadcasts.
I have no data to back this up and I am no investigative journalist.  Let’s just say I have a healthy dose of skepticism. 

You never let a serious crisis go to waste, even if you have to manufacture it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Maybe I Am Old School or Just Old


Sunday’s NFC Championship was a gripping battle of two tough teams known for their physical play, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  The game was not perfect.  San Francisco committed three turnovers in the 4th quarter, Seattle fumbled at the San Francisco goal line, there were 15 penalties, and some serious officiating lapses including a critical missed call on a roughing the kicker penalty by Seattle.  The game had drama, excitement, and guts:  Russell Wilson’s 35 yard TD to Jermaine Kearse on a 4th and 7, Colin Kaepernick’s 58 yard scramble, Marshawn Lynch going full beast mode on a 40 yard TD run, and NaVorro Bowman’s 14 tackle, 1 sack, and hanging onto a fumble as his knee is being blown up performance.   It was the good and the bad.

And then there was the ugly.

Richard Sherman, arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, allowed himself to get overly excited at the end of the game.  Up until the climactic interception, Sherman had recorded two tackles, no passes defended or interceptions.  His coverage on Michael Crabtree and deflecting Kaepernick’s pass into Malcolm Smith’s waiting hands was text book tip drill and tremendous coverage.  Richard Sherman is an outstanding football player.  He was voted to the 2013 Pro Bowl after leading the league with 8 interceptions.  He is a graduate of Stanford and has entered a Master’s program.  Richard Sherman is an intelligent young man.  Richard Sherman could be the role model of many young men in America.  He went to high school in Compton, California where he graduated as Salutatorian, entered Stanford as a wide receiver, converted to cornerback, and was drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL draft.  There is a lot to like and admire about Richard Sherman.

But Richard Sherman also carries an enormous chip on his shoulder and a lack of professionalism.  He ran smack at Tom Brady following a 2012 Seattle victory over New England, he continues a rivalry with Darrelle Revis, and he claims Michael Crabtree disrespected him at a charity event. Then there was his verbal assault on Skip Bayless on ESPN’s 1st take when Sherman opened with “Skip, whenever you refer to me, whenever you speak to me, whenever you address me, address me as All-Pro Stanford graduate, because those are some accomplishments you will never – you can aspire to, you will never accomplish.”  I’m no Bayless fan, and he has his share of detractors, but as a Salutatorian and Stanford graduate I would expect more from Sherman.

Conversely there’s his teammate quarterback Russell Wilson.  A 2012 3rd pick from Wisconsin, Wilson was considered too small for the NFL by many and wasn’t even supposed to be the starting quarterback.   Two young men both highly educated, both with chips on their shoulders, both successful, but different.  I am not saying that Sherman needs to be more like the devout Christian Wilson, I don’t believe you should try to be something you’re not.  I didn’t even have a problem with Sherman’s tirade during the interview with Erin Andrews in consideration of the excitement in the moment.  No my problem is Sherman’s lack of professionalism and an inability to win with humility, grace, and class.

When Sherman gave the two hand choke sign to the 49ers, and drawing a 15 yard misconduct penalty he crossed the line for me.  The harder Sherman tries to get respect as a player, the harder it will be for him to get respect as a professional.  I get this is football, it’s a violent game, emotions are always high, and it was the NFC Championship after all.  But in the morning after the game he said I threw a choking sign at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Why? Because he decided he was going to try the guy he was avoiding all game, because, I don’t know, he’s probably not paying attention for the game-winning play. C’mon, you’re better than that.”  I am sorry, I do not see the connection to the choke sign. Did Sherman’s teammate Kam Chancellor give the choke sign to Kaepernick when he picked off the QB earlier in the 4th quarter?

I do not remember Mike Haynes, Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson, Deion Sanders, or Champ Bailey ever giving the choke sign to an opposing player.  They are amongst the greatest to play the position and they did it with class.  I do remember Terrell Owens showing up Dallas fans and Emmitt Smith and George Teague’s taking umbrage.  I am more of an Emmitt guy than a T.O. guy.  Sherman claims he gets no respect because no one will call him the best in the league.  Perhaps, the well learned Sherman would be better off reflecting on Martin Luther King Day the trials of black athletes in the 60’s when Bill Russell, the iconic leader of the world champion Boston Celtics, wasn’t allowed to dine with his teammates in certain cities.   Let’s put these chips on shoulders in perspective.

Perhaps it’s a new era in sports marketing and hype.  Getting the big contract isn’t enough, athletes are celebrities, there is no such thing as bad publicity, the cover of Madden is affirmation of making it, and yes Sherman will be flocked on media day next week. 

Maybe I am old school, or maybe just old.

Maybe it’s the WWE-ification of the NFL.

Or maybe Sherman simply learned the choke move from his coach.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ten for Tuesday


1)      Each week 72,000 jobless Americans will lose their unemployment benefits unless Congress acts.  These people will stop seeking work and will could drive the unemployment rate down by 0.2% in January.

2)      The New England Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick are about to play in their 8th AFC Championship in the last 13 years.  The closest team to that run is the Pittsburgh Steelers with five AFC Championship appearances.  That’s dominance.

3)      According to Crime & Delinquency journal, by the age of 23 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested.  Incarceration nation.

4)      You can’t blame the violence in Iraq because the Obama administration removed all of the troops while ignoring the fact we shouldn’t have been there to begin with in the first place.

5)      The Bush administration did a bang up job spreading democracy in the Middle East, if by democracy you mean sectarian fighting.

6)      If the Obama administration chose not to prosecute the CIA interrogators who may have tortured detainees at Guantanamo Bay, does that not  suggest Snowden should get pardoned?

7)      Prime suspect in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that claimed the lives of ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay.  Abu Sufian bun Qumu was released in 2007 and sent back to Libya.  Hmm 2007, wasn’t that during the Bush administration?  I am sure Darrell Issa will call for an investigation.

8)      Is it any wonder that New York City with the global financial hub of the universe Wall St. has such a wide income disparity?  I don’t think Mayor De Blasio will be able to make a significant dent.

9)       While you can argue the effectiveness, legality, and morality of stop and frisk, there were 2,245 murders in New York City in 1990 and only 334 in 2013.

10)   Retired Florida captain Curtis Reeves Jr. shot and killed Chad Oulson because the victim was texting during the previews at a screening of Lone Survivor. Apparently Stand Your Ground now includes threats from Twizzlers and Hot Buttered Popcorn.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Prayer is back in the news, but should it in the public school

Prayer is back in the news, but should it in the school.

Don’t know much about history

Don’t know much biology

Don’t know much about a science book

Turns out Sam Cooke wasn’t the only one with a problem with school.

First a little history.  In 1962’s Engel v Vitale, the Supreme Court ruled New York’s practice of opening the school day with prayer violated the Establishment Clause.  Justice Black wrote the Establishment Clause was violated when school put "indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the officially approved religion."  In 1985’s Wallace v Jaffree the state of Alabama tried to skirt Engel by calling for a "period of silence for meditation or silent prayer."  Believing that making the “period” optional and not mandatory, Alabama thought it could escape the coercive claim.  But the court ruled 5-4 against Alabama on the grounds it failed the Lemon Test:

Government action violates the Establishment Clause unless it:
1. Has a significant secular (i.e., non-religious) purpose,
2. Does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and
3. Does not foster excessive entanglement between government and religion.

In Lee v Weisman (1992) the court once again ruled 5-4 that a benediction at a middle school graduation violated the First Amendment as Justice Kennedy noted that an unacceptable level of coercion as students would be compelled to stand as asked.  In short, the Supreme Court has historically struck down any practice that coerces participation or endorses a religion.

Which brings us to South Carolina.  The Palmetto State legislature had come up with a bill H3526 which would require teachers to lead the students in a moment of silence or prayer.  Students who chose not to participate would be free to leave the classroom.  Based on the case law cited above, it was obvious that this wouldn’t pass a constitutional challenge due to the participation of the teacher and the coercion.  Legislators came up with a compromise saying the teachers would lead the students in a moment of silence, where students could pray if they choose, and those that chose not to participate could leave the classroom.  Is it not a form of coercion to tell a child he is free to leave a room if he chooses not to participate?  Try putting yourself in the shoes of a 2nd grader.  What child may leave the room knowing they will likely get ridiculed by classmates and it won’t end with the kids.  Parents will get involved as well.  It will be pitchforks and torches time.

But why do people feel we need prayer in school to begin with when we have the home, church, and any number of private organizations.  Some claim it will improve our global standings in Math, Science, and Reading.  Based on what?  1962?  Look around, the US hasn’t slipped, the problem is it hasn’t kept up with the developing and emerging world.  I am not buying the argument that school prayer will lead to better grades.  After all, isn’t it the Godless Chinese that are ruling the educational battle?

But what may help our children better understand the hyper-connected world we live in is to teach about religion and not religious instruction or prayer.  We would be more enlightened and less ignorant on those to which we share this planet.  While the xenophobic Tea Party and ultranationalist neocons see a terrorist in every mosque and a threat in every as-salam alaykum, we would be better off if our kids understood the difference between a Shia and Sunni and the origins of Islam.

What about biology? What also strikes me as peculiar is the same people calling for public school prayer are the same ones calling for removal of sexual education or human sexuality instruction classes from public school.  It seems school is no place for biology, but the perfect place for prayer.  Yes the same folks who want public school prayer are the same folks who say “Sex education doesn’t belong in the school, it should only be discussed at home.” Now I am not against prayer.  Far from it.  People of faith and with faith, should be free to express their beliefs freely at home, freely in private settings, and most certainly in their places of worship.  But the Constitution and the case law is pretty clear that it does not belong in the public school, and asking a child to opt out is not acceptable. 

When I was a school kid I joined my classmates singing Christmas carols in December.  Being raised Jewish I had no problem singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but when it came to Silent Night I remained, well, silent.  Did I feel coerced into singing Christmas songs, possibly.  But it shouldn’t be up to the majority to decide what is acceptable for the minority.

When Megyn Kelly said “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change” in defense of her white Santa and white Jesus claim she made the point for why coercion is unacceptable. 


Friday, January 3, 2014

Can We Become Education Nation Again?

Concerns about education in the United States are not new.  And as the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores of 15 year old students placed the US 36th in math, 28th in science, and 24th in reading, there seems to be no shortage of opinions, causes, and solutions. We lost our way when we took out school prayer, it’s because of the federal government, teachers’ union, poverty, No Child Left Behind, standardized testing, bad parenting, etc.  With so many factors to choose from, how do you really know why we have fallen so far behind in educating our next generations?  Does it matter?  Should we be upset that Vietnam, Slovenia, Poland, Macau, Estonia, Belgium and others routinely kick our ass? 

“The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people…If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.  As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves…we have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”  Sound like a recent pronouncement?  It is actually from a Reagan administration Department of Education report A Nation at Risk from 1983.  It seems our concern about education is decades old.

Is it due to income disparity in America?  Well if you assume that no other nations have a similar financial stratification, once could make that claim, unfortunately, when you look at American students at the highest income quartiles, as noted by Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, they did not perform as well as students with similar backgrounds in other countries.

Perhaps it’s because we no longer have school prayer? Well then we need to go back to the early 1960’s and the landmark case of Engel v Vitale which started the case law of the Establishment clause and the limits of prayer in public schools.  This is once again a renewed debate as South Carolina is looking to establish a voluntary prayer or opt out arrangement.  I am not sure how praying in school makes a student better in science, and for that matter I am not sure how praying in general makes her a better in mathematics.

No, I think what we are experiencing is simply a case of failing to keep up mixed in with arrogance, special interests, and hubris.  What worked before doesn’t work in, as Tom Friedman says, the new flatten world.  Instead of keeping up with wireless technology and mass education, we argued whether intelligent design belongs in a science class.   We chose teacher’s years of service over innovation.  We looked for simple metrics when we should have looked at cultural shift.  We studied failing schools, when we should have been analyzing successful schools. We refuse to extend the school year like the developing world now does.  We are happy to buy products made inexpensively overseas, but refuse to believe that tomorrow’s innovations can come from these same countries.  Kids have more distractions and less discipline.  Education was the families business, now just getting by is all that matters.

I do not have the answers, but I do know that if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a nation to restore its educational prowess.