Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pride Goeth…

Via ESPN:

The NFL has suspended Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady without pay for the first four games of the season, fined the New England Patriots $1 million and taken away two draft picks as punishment for deflating footballs used in the AFC title game, the league said in a statement Monday.

[…]

The Patriots will also lose a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017.

Excuse my schadenfreude, but the Patriots and Tom Brady have been either dismissive or arrogant about this whole stupid thing, and I’ll bet that most of this punishment is the league hitting back at them for being such pricks.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Reading

A Song For the Ages — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on the history of the civil rights anthem.

As marchers took to the streets of Boston in late April to demand justice for Freddie Gray, some of them began to sing: “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day …”It wasn’t a surprising choice. “We Shall Overcome” is a staple for civil-rights protests—and for that matter, for any kind of social-justice movement. The Library of Congress calls it “the most powerful song of the 20th century.” So it was a surprise to learn that not only is the identity of the person who made it into that anthem known, but he died only on May 2.

His name was Guy Carawan, and he was 87 years old. The story of the song and how Carawan helped make it ubiquitous is full of surprises, and it’s a wonderful demonstration of the folk tradition at work, accreting bits and pieces over the years until it became today’s widely known version. It’s also, appropriately enough for a civil-rights anthem, the story of a song that draws heavily on both African-American and European-American tradition, just like all the best American music. Like so many folk songs, it feels as though it’s existed forever; asking who wrote it seems ridiculous. Hasn’t it always been there?

Actually, although the song is old, its history can be fairly carefully traced. The first few bars seem to derive from a hymn first published in 1792, called “O Sanctissima,” also published as “Sicilian Mariners’ Hymn.” As The New York Times notes in its Carawan obituary, Beethoven wrote a setting of the hymn, and the resemblance is unmistakable for even the least trained ear, though it diverges after the first few lines. The Times says that a version published in the United States in 1794 was already recognizably the melody known as “We Shall Overcome.”

The basic frame of the words seems to have come from “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” a hymn written by the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, a famed black preacher in Philadelphia, and published in 1901. Tindley’s tune bears little in common with “Sicilian Mariners,” as you can see here. His words are also far more elaborate, and focus more on salvation of the individual by God, rather than the power of collective action. The lyrical similarity comes with a refrain on each verse, in the familiar AABA structure, that presages “We Shall Overcome.”

So when the did the song cross over from the sacred to the secular? The first appearance of the modern version of “We Will Overcome” comes from 1945. Workers in the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers Union in Charleston, South Carolina, went on strike at an American Tobacco Company cigar factory. The workers were largely, though not exclusively, black women. They reportedly ended each day’s picket with a version of the song.

Zilphia Horton, a labor organizer and musician, heard the song there, and Pete Seeger learned it from her. (Seeger is credited with changing the opening line from “We will overcome” to “we shall overcome,” though he wasn’t so sure.) Over the ensuing decade, the song was published and recorded several times.

Carawan, meanwhile, had served in the Navy in the U.S. during World War II and then studied at UCLA, taking a master’s in sociology. Able to play the guitar, banjo, and hammer dulcimer, he moved to New York City and joined the folk revival in Greenwich Village. In 1953, he traveled through the South with Frank Hamilton (who was not yet a member of the Weavers) and Jack Elliott (who was not yet Ramblin’). At Seeger’s suggestion, they stopped at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, an organizing school founded by Zilphia Horton and her husband Myles. Carawan learned “We Shall Overcome” there. In 1959, when Zilphia Horton died, he became Highlander’s music director.

In 1960, at the founding convention of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Raleigh, North Carolina, Carawan was asked to lead delegates in a song, and he chose “We Shall Overcome.” Carawan began accompanying himself on guitar, and soon the room was joining him. As he told NPR in 2013, it was an immediate hit:

That song caught on that weekend. And then at a certain point, those young singers, who knew a lot of a cappella styles, they said, “Lay that guitar down, boy. We can do this song better.” And they put that sort of triplet to it and sang it a cappella with all those harmonies. It had a way of rendering it a style that some very powerful young singers got behind and spread.

Moving Left — Elias Isquith in Salon on how the Democrats are a-changin’.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not a timid man. But like most politicians, he is cautious. He’s taken some risks during his years in Albany — like when he muscled through same-sex marriage, or when he imposed a statewide ban on fracking. Even in these rare moments, though, he was careful and deliberate. He only gambled when he saw no better option. And that’s one of the reasons why his recent endorsement of a wage hike for fast-food workers is a genuinely big deal.

Writing in the New York Times, Cuomo, who usually bills himself as the consummate pro-business Democrat, declared that although he’d already signed a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour by the end of 2015, the fast-food industry’s wage floor was still not high enough. And because the state legislature wouldn’t cooperate, the governor continued, he was going to direct the state’s labor commissioner to impanel a “Wage Board,” which would ultimately recommend a new fast-food minimum wage. There would be no need for legislative approval.

Unlike his moves on marriage equality and fracking, Cuomo’s joining the growing movement to raise service industry wages came rather out of the blue. But when you situate the notoriously plutocrat-friendly governor’s announcement in the larger context of what’s happening within the Democratic Party right now, it doesn’t just make more sense — it also becomes quite telling. If even Andrew Cuomo has decided that spurning multinational corporations like McDonald’s by supporting the “Fight for $15” is in his self-interest, then the balance of power among Democrats has truly shifted in favor of the party’s activist, union base.

Of course, this is hardly to say the Democratic Party is now the social democratic organization of lefties’ dreams. The minimum wage for fast-food workers is just one issue, and in terms of threatening the party’s wealthiest supporters, it’s relatively harmless (political donations from the fast-food industry overwhelmingly benefit Republicans). But Cuomo’s op-ed for the Times, while significant, isn’t the most important sign that the Democratic base is steering the party in a more left-wing direction. In fact, it’s not even the first or the most conspicuous; but those designations belong to Democrats whose respective names carry at least as much weight.

A political shift on this order is always a long time coming, so picking a start date is inevitably somewhat arbitrary. But if I had to point to one big, specific moment when it started looking like party elites would have to veer left to stay in the base’s favor, I’d go with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s surprisingly difficult reelection from earlier this year. As I wrote at the time, one of the main reasons why Emanuel had to fight off a left-wing primary challenger was because Chicago Democrats, especially African- and Latino-Americans, were angry over a first-term record they saw as too conservative on economics and education. Some even took to calling him “Mayor 1 Percent.”

After running an apologetic run-off campaign — in which the neoliberal Emanuel and his supporters tried to refashion him as a true progressive — the mayor ended up defeating his opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, with relative ease. But while Garcia, by most accounts, ran a disorganized and borderline incompetent campaign, simply forcing Emanuel into the run-off was itself a major victory. No incumbent Chicago mayor had ever had to do it before, and it was widely seen by expert observers as an “embarrassment” for President Obama’s former chief of staff. In retrospect, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis’s unfortunate illness may have saved Emanuel’s career in electoral politics.

Chicago was the first sign that a new Democratic Party base — one comprised of more people of color as well as educated and single women — was exerting its influence. But former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign has been the most conspicuous. Because while Emanuel’s pivot to the left wasn’t so much about policy as public relations, Clinton’s campaign has thus far been characterized by her assuming new, more liberal policy positions. Despite having been a believer in the “tough on crime” policies of her husband, Clinton endorsed outfitting the nation’s law enforcement with body cameras, and spent her first big policy address calling for mass incarceration’s end.

Brady’s Punishment — Andy Borowitz has the awful news.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (The Borowitz Report) – In what football insiders are calling an unexpectedly severe punishment, the National Football League has sentenced the New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady to a year with the New York Jets for his role in the so-called Deflategate scandal.

The punishment drew howls of protest from Patriots fans and management, with many calling it the harshest in league history, but N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the decision as “a necessary deterrent.”

“We need to send the message that this league has zero tolerance for cheating,” Goodell said. “We believe that a year of playing quarterback for the Jets sends that message loud and clear.”

Brady was reportedly in a state of shock when he heard the news of his punishment. He later met with reporters in a hastily called press conference during which he frequently seemed on the verge of tears.

“I am going to fight this decision with every fibre of my being,” Brady said. “This is America. You can’t force a person to play for the Jets.”

At a sports bar in Manhattan, the reaction to the impending arrival of the Jets’ longtime nemesis was muted. One Jets fan observed, “Look, Brady’s a dick, but even he didn’t deserve this.”

Doonesbury — Gaming the system.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Short Takes

Handshake between Presidents Obama and Castro.

President Obama: Partisanship over Iran deal has gone “too far.”

Pope calls 1915 Armenian massacre “genocide.”

Gander sauce for anti-gay legislators in North Dakota coffee shop.

Jordan Spieth wins the Masters.

The Tigers swept the Indians this weekend, and the Perfect Season continues.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Short Takes

The Saudis like the Iran nuclear framework.

California agriculture is exempt from water restrictions.

Closing arguments in the Boston bombing trial.

Carbon monoxide kills eight in Maryland family.

Duke beat Wisconsin.

The Tigers won their Opening Day game against the Twins 4-0.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Halftime Hype

Something to look forward to at tomorrow’s Super Bowl:

PHOENIX—Stressing that she didn’t want to divulge too much information about the upcoming performance, pop star Katy Perry dropped several hints at a press conference Friday indicating that this weekend’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime show will be completely awful. “I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this: Come halftime on Sunday, you better be ready to see the absolute worst, most god-awful piece of garbage you could possibly imagine,” said a smiling Perry, cryptically adding that fans could expect to see several surprise guests join her for “some lame duet performance that no one would ever want to see or hear in a million years.” “I can’t wait for you guys to see what Lenny [Kravitz] and I have planned, because you’ll be blown away at just how unbelievably terrible it is. The whole thing is going to be one giant, extremely over-the-top, 12-minute-long, pathetic excuse for entertainment that will be totally unwatchable. Trust me, you’re going to hate it—just absolutely hate it.” Despite guaranteeing that this Sunday’s halftime show will easily be one of the worst of all time, Perry did admit that it will be difficult to top last year’s giant heap of dog shit starring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Sorry, folks, it’s from The Onion.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Precious Jewels

I’ve skipped over the obvious set-ups with the story about the deflated balls of the New England Patriots, but this quote is just too good to pass up.

If a coach looking for a ball at practice should unwittingly approach one of the bags, the team’s equipment director, Joe Skiba, will pounce: “Get away, those are Eli’s game balls.”

Skiba added: “No one is allowed to touch those balls. They’re precious jewels. Too much work has gone into them.”

[rimshot]

Oh, the hell with it.

HT to Anne Laurie.

Short Takes

Government of Yemen collapses.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dead at 90.

New York State Assembly Speaker arrested on corruption charges.

Former Thai leader impeached.

New England Patriots’ coach and quarterback deny knowing anything about deflated balls.

No Disneyland for you unless you’ve been vaccinated against measles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama laid out a big agenda in the SOTU.  Video.

ISIS released a video of two Japanese hostages and demanded ransom.

The presidential palace in Yemen is under rebel control.

Pipeline break leaks thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana.

Paris mayor plans to sue Fox News for “inaccurate” reporting.

Report: 11 footballs underinflated in Patriots’ game.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Short Takes

Both sides have the deadliest day in Gaza.

Many bodies of crash victims held by Ukrainian rebels.

Kerry says Russia trained separatists on how to use the missiles.

Three teens held in Albuquerque homeless killing.

Rory McIlroy wins British Open.

The Tigers avoided getting swept by Cleveland 5-1.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Reading

Road Trip — Julie Pace of the AP in TPM on the Obama tour to bolster support.

Welcome to Barack Obama’s split-screen presidency.

On one side: a confident Obama making campaign-style stops around the country and ridiculing his political opponents to the delight of cheering supporters. On the other side: an increasingly unpopular president hobbled by gridlock on Capitol Hill and a steady stream of vexing foreign policy crises.

Obama has long sought refuge outside of Washington when his frustrations with the nation’s capital reach a boiling point. But his ability to rally public support in a way that results in progress for his legislative agenda has perhaps never been weaker than it is as he nears the midpoint of his second term.

To the White House, the take-away is that Washington — and the Republican Party in particular — is out of touch with the American people and failing to address their priorities. But to GOP leaders, Obama’s activities in a midterm election year reinforce their view of a president more focused on soaring speeches and partisan politics than on working toward compromise solutions to the nation’s problems.

Each side has at least some evidence to support their case.

Many Americans are indeed deeply frustrated with Washington’s inability to get anything done. Polls show majorities want to see action on some of Obama’s proposals, including increasing the minimum wage and overhauling the immigration system. Yet Obama’s own approval rating has fallen to the lowest levels of his presidency. And with his party at risk of losing control of the Senate, the president has ramped up his fundraising for the midterms and taken on a sharply partisan tone when voicing his frustration with Republicans.

During a speech Thursday in Austin, Texas — a Democratic enclave in a GOP-leaning state — Obama berated Republicans for, by his account, failing to act on “every serious idea” he’s put forth this year.

“The best you can say for them this year is that so far they have not shut down the government,” he said. “That’s the best you can say. But of course, it’s only July so who knows what they may cook up in the next few months.”

Egged on by a raucous and supportive crowd, Obama slipped deeper into campaign mode, leaning into the podium, responding to commentary from the audience and slipping into the familiar campaign language of his presidential bids. “Cynicism is a choice. Hope is a better choice,” he declared.

Why We’re Never Rid of Torture — Rebecca Gordon on why Dick Cheney’s America still has the capacity to do it.

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off.  But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.

* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”

* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Final Notes — Everything you need to know about the World Cup final game between Argentina and Germany.  From Joe DeLessio at New York magazine.

The World Cup comes to an end this afternoon in Rio, when Germany and Argentina meet in the tournament’s final. It’s Germany’s eighth appearance in the final (they’ve won three times), and it’s the fifth time Argentina will play for the title (they’ve won twice). The game is sure to draw monster ratings, with both die-hard fans and casual observers tuning in. And so if you’re the type who only watches soccer once every four years, here’s a primer to get to ready for the big match.

How did these teams get here?
Germany went 2-0-1 in the group stage (the draw came against Ghana), then beat Algeria and France in the knockout round to advance to the semifinals. As you might have heard, they embarrassed Brazil (the favorite to win it all) in that game, defeating them 7–1, prompting a lot of sad Brazilian front pages.

[…]

Argentina, meanwhile, has won all of its games, finishing the group stage 3-0-0 before beating Switzerland and Belgium to earn a berth in the semis. They needed a penalty shootout to get past the Netherlands in the game, after neither team scored in either 90 minutes of regulation or 30 minutes of extra time.

What do I need to know about Germany?
• They’re an efficient, disciplined team that beats opponents by working as a unit. Their midfield is a major strength and a big reason they walloped Brazil in the semifinals, and Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalies in the world.

• They have the second-leading goal scorer in the entire tournament in Thomas Muller, whose five goals are behind only Colombia’s James Rodriguez’s. Those who jumped on the U.S. soccer bandwagon may recall Muller as the guy who scored for Germany in their 1–0 defeat of the Americans…

• Germany’s roster also includes Miroslav Klose, the all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history. His goal against Brazil in the semis was the 16th of his World Cup career.

• Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the U.S. team, is rooting pretty hard for Germany. The German-born Klinsmann both played for and coached the country in past World Cups, and with the Americans out, he’s not hiding his rooting interests.

What do I need to know about Argentina?
• Their best player is Lionel Messi, who may also be the best player in the world. He aggressively attacks defenders, and thanks to his sick ball control skills, creates opportunities to shoot and pass. He tallied 291 goals in 201 games for his club and national teams in between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. (The only player who comes close to that figure is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.) And he has four goals so far in the World Cup, tied for third most.

• Argentina, a team not necessarily known for its defense, has been incredibly tough to score on in the knockout round so far: They haven’t allowed a goal in their last three games (not counting the penalty shootout, of course). Thanks to two games that have gone into extra time, that’s 330 minutes of play in elimination games, against some of the best teams on the planet.

• Javier Mascherano — who stumbled to the field after knocking heads with an opponent against the Netherlands, and later revealed that he also “tore [his] anus” while trying to prevent a Arjen Robben goal in the same game — plans on playing in the final.

[…]

All right, just tell me who’s supposed to win.
Through the semifinal round, FiveThirtyEight put Germany’s chances of winning the World Cup at 63 percent, and Argentina’s at 37 percent. Germany are the favorites according to bookmakers, too, even though no European country has ever won a World Cup played in the Americas.

Doonesbury — Rumor has it…

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Short Takes

The confrontation between Israel and Hamas continued unabated.

President Obama promises quick action on border crisis.

Julian Castro was confirmed as the new HUD Secretary by the Senate.

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin gets ten years for corruption.

World Cup: Argentina beat the Netherlands.

The Tigers beat the Dodgers 4-1.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Short Takes

Ukraine: Heavy fighting and bombardment from the government against rebel forces.

Thousands of Israelis gathered on Tuesday to mourn the three teenagers kidnapped and killed on the West Bank.

President Obama urges Congress to pass infrastructure bill.

World Cup: Belgium eliminated the U.S. team 2-1 in overtime.

Tropical Update: TS Arthur tromps up the East Coast.

The Tigers beat Oakland 3-0.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Short Takes

Dam Close — ISIS is closing in on Haditha Dam, the second largest in Iraq.

Iran is said to be secretly supplying Iraq with weapons.

The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo TV service, saying it violated copyright.

Also, the Court unanimously ruled that cell phone searches by police must come with a warrant.

The N.F.L. has lifted the cap on payments to concussion victims.

Diane Sawyer is leaving the anchor desk at ABC.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 8-6.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Short Takes

First of 300 military advisers on the ground in Iraq.

Thad Cochran wins run-off in Mississippi.

No-Fly List process deemed unconstitutional.

Two dead and 10 injured in shooting in Miami.

Verdict in British phone hacking scandal.

Bite me — Italy loses to Uruguay in a strange match.

R.I.P. Eli Wallach, 98, actor on stage and screen for over 60 years.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 8-2.