Trump’s Main Business—Golf—Is the Symbol of All That Is Retrograde and Exclusionary in American Life

CULTURE
For successful greedheads and their wannabes, golf is the most “sacred” of sports.

Photo Credit: Jurvetson / Flickr

While waiting for Trump to jump the tracks, let’s savor the day when his inevitable train wreck first passed through a critical safety switch. On June 9th, President Trump alienated his true base — the reactionary rich — by driving his golf cart onto the green at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. In doing so, he committed an unpardonable sacrilege in the high church of capitalism. It was time to start counting the days until he dropped off the scoreboard.

For successful greedheads and their wannabes, golf is the most sacred of sports, the symbol of all that is retrograde and exclusionary in American life. There’s far more to golf, however, than mere inequality or a history of institutional racism and sexism. Golf is also a waste of space and water, and a sinkhole for chemicals poisoning the local aquifer. Think of all the organic vegetables that could be grown on those swards or the walking trails and wildlife sanctuaries that could be established. Think of the affordable housing that could be built on that land. There has to be a better use for the millions of dollars that will be squandered this year on overpriced golf duds and equipment, lessons, playing fees, and memberships in the latest trendy clubs (that these days often have you-know-who’s name on them in large golden letters).

Golf is marketed as a test of character — especially of those business school values of focus, perseverance, and self-improvement. A golf course is laid out as a hero’s journey.  You strike out from the tees (usually at different distances from the hole for men and women) onto a long carpet called a “fairway” that winds among natural “hazards” to be avoided: small ponds, sand traps, patches of undergrowth representing the oceans, deserts, and jungles that must be colonized or conquered on your 18-hole journey to capitalistic triumph.  (Golf nomenclature, including “par” and “lie,” which is where the ball comes to rest after a shot, is too vulnerable to mockery to be addressed here.)

The fairway, of course, leads to the green, a small, manicured area that contains the hole, the winner’s circle, the C-suite, the gated community, the Oval Office. It was onto such a green that Trump drove his cart — he looks to be in no shape to walk the course — and that is not only considered a moral crime in the world of golf, but an obvious defacement of grass meticulously preserved so a competent player can “read the green” and plan his or her final putts.

Trump is unquestionably a competent golfer, way better than average. He’s also an avid golfer and has, in the past, enjoyed the rarified company of such criminal media celebrities as O.J. Simpson and Bernie Madoff. As the Juice’s successful parole hearing was coming up recently, the former football hero told a friend, “We’ll be playing golf again soon.” Possibly as soon as October O.J. may be back home in Florida, maybe even golfing at Mar-a-Lago. (He was, after all, a guest at Trump’s wedding to Marla Maples.)

As for Madoff, long before his Ponzi scheme was busted, he was known for his oddly consistent, too-good-to-be-true golf scores. Trump, who knew Madoff from Palm Beach, crowed about refusing to invest with him and later called him “a scoundrel without par.” It takes one…

To understand golf is to understand Trump. He uses golf as a social lubricant for business, which is its most important function in American culture. Since it operates on the honor system, golf is convenient for lying cheats. As the joke goes, the difference between boastful golfers and fishermen is that golfers don’t have to produce proof. Golf jokes, invariably evoking sex or religion, are a staple of stale pale-male humor. The locker-room quip for which “golf” is an acronym — “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden” — may no longer be totally accurate but it certainly captures the sensibility of the game. And as a perfect complement to Trump’s own relentless boasts about his wealth, the most popular ranking of professional golfers has always been “the money list.” There are no batting averages in golf. It’s all about prize money and endorsement fees.

Trump is more than a golfer. He owns and operates golf courses. The Trump Golf website lists 18 “iconic” ones in “the world of Trump Golf,” stretching from upstate New York to Dubai. And yet none of the domestic ones even made the list of Golf Digest’s 100 top American courses. Despite widespread protests last year about his 2005 pussy-grabbing remarks, the U.S. Women’s Open was held this July at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, course, also the site of his green desecration. Only recently was it revealed that The Donald had threatened to sue the United States Golf Association if it dared move the event as some in the Ladies Professional Golf Association had evidently suggested.

For him, golf isn’t just a sideline presidential activity, it’s central to his plutocratic vision of his presidency and of the promoting of the Trump brand (clearly synonymous in his mind). His golf courses, after all, are considered a critical part of his family’s revenue stream, although typically, actual financial information on them is scanty and may eventually reveal less profit than he claims.

Recent American presidents have certainly sought out fortunes after their time in office, but Trump is certainly our first president to promote his fortune so centrally while there.  He has, for instance, reportedly spent 21%of his presidential time at one or another of his golf clubs, making himself a living billboard for the brand and the business.  (As he took office, the fee to join his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida doubled to $200,000.)  And it’s a business that desperately needs a presidential gold seal of approval.  The golf industry hit its financial high mark in 2003, and its numbers — golf courses, players, profits — have sagged ever since. In response, there has been a concerted effort to speed up the game for distracted millennials and to make it friendlier to women and children, while cutting costs by vigorously fighting property assessments and other tax regulations.

No wonder one of Trump’s early executive orders not only attempted to reverse Obama’s environmental progress in general but, as the Associated Press noted, called “for a review of a rule protecting small bodies of water from pollution and development,” which was “strongly supported by golf course owners who are wary of being forced into expensive cleanups on their fairways.” It seems that no future hazard is too small for our golfing president to avoid.

Duffers in Chief

Actually, it may be through golf that Trump has scored his most significant victory so far in dismantling the Obama legacy.  After all, during his first six months in office he’s probably managed to play golf far more often than his predecessor, whom he criticized repeatedly on the campaign trail for his time on the course.  (Precise comparable statistics are unavailable because Trump aides have been secretive about his golfing schedule.)  As it happens, there’s hardly been a president since William Taft who didn’t hit the links.  So let’s give Trump this: his golfing may be the most presidential, possibly the only presidential, thing he’s done so far.

Since Taft, who was criticized not only for playing badly but for playing while fat (a kind of shaming now tolerated only for Trump’s sometime pal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie), golf has been the presidential sport of choice. Dwight Eisenhower, a good golfer, gave the game a boost when he had a putting green installed alongside the White House in 1954.

An expert on the subject, ESPN investigative reporter Don Van Natta, Jr., wrote in his 2003 book, First Off the Tee, that, despite his bad back, John F. Kennedy was the best presidential golfer. Kennedy, however, felt he had to sneak off to play because, while campaigning, he had relentlessly derided Ike for golfing too much, calling him “the Duffer-in-Chief.” (Sound familiar?)  In the end, Kennedy had to own up to his golfing habit, given rumors that his unexplained absences were not due to playing a round, but playing around.

Bill Clinton tops the “hail to the cheats” section of Van Natta’s book, with Richard Nixon, Warren Harding, and Lyndon Johnson trailing behind.  Having played with Clinton and granted him many “Billigans” (that is, “mulligans,” or replays of bad shots with no penalties), Van Natta wrote: “He followed the rules for about a hole and a half. Then he let down his guard and started taking these do-over shots, gimme putts and, at the end of the 18 holes, it took him about 200 swings to score an 82.”

Soon after the 2016 election, Golf Digest anointed Trump the all-time top presidential golfer, citing his low handicap and passion for the game. While still a college junior, he began playing at a public course near Philadelphia that he claimed was teeming with “more hustlers than any place I’ve seen to this day.” By his account, he learned a lot about gambling from golf, thinks of the sport as “aspirational,” and considers it a mistake to try to sell it as an everyman’s game. After all, people should be trying harder to get rich in order to join great golf clubs like his and earn their way onto the course and into the proud sport of the one-percenters.

Arnold (“The King”) and Tiger (“The Chosen One”)

The creation myths of golf are murky, but it seems that the modern game took root and was codified in Scotland by the seventeenth century. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century, however, that it became a fixture in American sports. By the Depression, there were more than 1,000 golf clubs in the country and one of the reigning sports superstars of the Roaring Twenties was Bobby Jones, a lawyer revered by the media and the masses both for being a southern gentleman and an amateur in a SportsWorld that was increasingly turning pro. Jones founded and helped design the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia and its most famous event, the Masters Tournament, which became the High Holy Days of the Church of Golf.

That club managed to keep black golfers off its course until 1975 when Lee Elder qualified for the Masters and had to be allowed to play. (That was the year the Justice Department and the Trump family business — of which The Donald was by then president — settled a lawsuit over discrimination in its New York rental properties.) There would be no black members at the Augusta club until 1990 and no women members until 2012 when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was invited in.

That was ten years after a feminist activist, Martha Burke, called the male-only policy “sexist.” At the time, club chairman William “Hootie” Johnson declared that the “moral and legal rights” of a private club trumped any concerns over sexism and civil rights. In the controversy that followed, CBS broadcast the 2003 and 2004 tournaments without commercials. The Masters was that important to the network and Augusta was that rich.  The sport of plutocrats indeed.

By that time, Tiger Woods, “the Chosen One,” had replaced Arnold Palmer, “the King,” as the TV presence who would make golf great again. In the 1950s and 1960s, Palmer, the handsome, charming son of a Pennsylvania golf club groundskeeper, was the leading man in the process of making golf spectatorship, if not actual participation, a national phenomenon. Palmer, who died last September, was present in 2015, along with The Donald, daughter Ivanka, and son Eric, for the unveiling of the Arnold Palmer Villa, one of eight deluxe guestrooms at the Trump National Doral Miami.

Palmer had by then long been replaced as America’s favorite golfer by Woods, the mixed-race son of an Army colonel who groomed him for his golfing future from tot-hood. Tiger was, arguably, the best golfer ever as well as one of the greatest product endorsers in all of sports. As surly as Palmer was convivial, he was protected by the golf and sports media, being its bread-and-butter, until his post-2009 decline, which seemed to be as much about a lifetime of emotional constriction and overload as his tawdry infidelity, one-car crash, divorce, and bad back.

That didn’t stop Trump from inviting him for an extended visit. Last December, at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, Tiger played a round with the President-elect, writing on his blog, “What most impressed me was how far he hits the ball at 70 years old. He takes a pretty good lash. Our discussion topics were wide-ranging; it was fun. We both enjoyed the bantering, bickering, and needling.”

Trump is reportedly an accomplished on-course trash talker, who likes to mock his male golfing partners by telling them that they should be hitting from the women’s tees. Luckily for Tiger, with all his other problems, he’s not working on any Trump golf courses, where contractors are still getting stiffed. Just recently, a South Florida judge ordered Trump Endeavor, one of his Florida corporations, to pay a Miami paint store $282,950 for work done two years ago on that Doral course with its Arnold Palmer Villa. Trump had held back payment of $34,863 on a $200,000 job. Penalties add up.  (Trump should, in fact, be credited for his lifelong efforts to increase American inequality, not just via the game of golf, but by stiffing, or underpaying, every kind of worker he’s ever hired — from waiters, bartenders, and small businesspeople to undocumented laborers.)

Meanwhile, we await the Trump train wreck, an inevitable outcome of the president’s rich-boy sense of entitlement, his jock culture need for domination, and the sad (Sad!) reality of his incompetence as a human being.

Poor Donald. Evidently nobody told him that no man can drive onto the greens, not even the plutocrat who owns them. It’s part of the DNA of the reactionary rich. So he jumped the shark, screwed the pooch. The customs of golf, like the practices of any gaudy, useless, swollen sect, are all that hold it together.

Brain damage found in 99 percent of deceased NFL players

By Alan Gilman
28 July 2017

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 110 out of 111 deceased National Football League (NFL) players suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is the result of repeated head trauma, and it’s most commonly diagnosed in veterans and people who have played contact sports, particularly American football. The symptoms vary from person to person and can be mistaken for other conditions. This makes it more difficult to accurately diagnose. A person suffering from CTE could experience any combination of symptoms like confusion, memory loss, depression, impaired judgment, anxiety, anger issues, aggression, difficulty controlling impulses, and suicidal tendencies.

The only way to confirm the existence of CTE is to examine the brain after death.

This latest study involved 202 brains from men who played football at the high school, college, or professional level. Of the 202 total players, 87 percent were found to have some degree of CTE. Aside from 110 of 111 NFL players, 48 of 53 college players and three of 14 high school players had CTE.

The study acknowledges that these results may be skewed to a degree because former players or their family members who donated brains for research likely means they noticed symptoms while their loved ones were still alive, but even if these percentages might be lower among a much larger sampling, the result would still represent a very high percentage of players with CTE.

Dr. Ann McKee, the director of Boston University’s CTE Center and the coauthor of this study said, “There’s no question that there’s a problem in football. That people who play football are at risk for this disease.”

In response to this latest study the NFL released a statement saying it is committed to supporting research into CTE and finding ways to prevent head injuries and effectively treat them. It was not until early 2016, however, that the NFL admitted there was a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE.

For decades the multi-billion-dollar NFL, like “Big Tobacco” denying the pernicious effects of smoking, utilized its well-paid “experts” to promote the claim that football-related concussions had only minimal short-term effects and were otherwise harmless. The same well-paid shills would also work to discredit and intimidate anyone who stated otherwise.

This strategy was epitomized in the NFL’s attacks on Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist employed by the Pittsburgh Coroner’s Office who had made the initial finding connecting football with CTE.

Dr. Omalu had performed the autopsy on Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at age 50 after experiencing prolonged emotional and cognitive decline. Dr. Omalu concluded that Webster had died of CTE and found that “this case highlights potential long-term neurodegenerative outcomes in retired professional NFL players subjected to repeated mild traumatic brain injury.” Dr. Omalu’s findings were subsequently published in the journal Neurosurgery.

The NFL’s concussion committee responded to these findings by writing to the journal claiming that Dr. Omalu’s paper had “serious flaws” and demanded its retraction—a request that was denied. The committee similarly attempted to discredit two subsequent reports of CTE that Dr. Omalu had diagnosed in other deceased former players. The NFL also attempted to have Dr. Omalu fired by the coroner’s office, and engaged in further acts of threats and intimidation against him. These events were depicted in the 2015 film Concussion.

In 2011, in response to these findings and to the decades-long denial by the NFL of any connection between repeated concussions sustained by players and the high incidence of brain disorders sustained by former players, a class action was filed by several hundred former players against the NFL.

By then it had become common knowledge that many former players were suffering from early onset of dementia. Many others were committing suicide at alarming rates. Among those were: Terry Long in 2005; Andre Waters in 2006; and Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling in 2012. The families of these players insisted that the brains of these players be autopsied for brain damage and all were subsequently diagnosed with CTE.

With so many former players suffering from dementia and the repeated findings of CTE in deceased players, the NFL owners determined it was to their financial benefit to limit the financial damages. Consequently, in 2013 the league reached a tentative $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players. One of the principal terms of the settlement was that the agreement “cannot be considered an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by football.”

The NFL’s subsequent admission in 2016 of the link between football and brain damage, however, had nothing to do with accepting responsibility, but instead had everything to do with protecting its immense wealth from future lawsuits. The official admission that football-related concussions cause CTE will now make it harder in the future for players to accuse the league of concealing the dangers of the sport.

“Strategically, the NFL’s admission makes a world of sense,” said Jeffrey A. Standen, the dean of the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. “The league has paid a settlement to close all the claims previous to 2015. For future sufferers, the NFL has now effectively put them on notice that their decision to play professional football comes with the acknowledged risk of degenerative brain disease.”

The NFL has also in recent years enacted rule changes limiting hits to the head and has instituted a “concussion protocol” as its approach to CTE prevention. Under this protocol, if a player is believed to have sustained a concussion, he is deemed ineligible to continue playing in that game or any subsequent game until he passes a series of neurological tests. This procedure, however, is flawed for a variety of reasons.

Concussions affect everyone differently, and symptoms can show up days after the injury. Moreover, the tests used to screen concussions are inexact and need to be interpreted by a qualified medical professional who themselves differ in their assessments. Moreover, players have a financial incentive to “fake” these tests. Last October, Doug Baldwin of the Seattle Seahawks went on Bill Simmons’ “Any Given Wednesday” program and claimed that NFL players fake the concussion protocol. He had taken a big hit the weekend before and was screened for a concussion on the sideline. Baldwin said that he didn’t try to cheat the protocol but that he could have if he had wanted to, and that the ability to cheat is “relatively known around the league.”

Lastly, this protocol is premised on concussions being the only cause of CTE. The research of Dr. McKee and others has proven, however, that it is also the repeated hits—tens of thousands during a typical NFL player’s career—that also lead to CTE.

Dr. McKee emphasized that what is needed is a “very well-constructed longitudinal study,” looking at young individuals playing these sports. “We need to follow them for decades. We need to take measurements throughout their lives and playing careers so we can begin to detect when things start to go wrong. If we can detect early changes, that’s when we could really make a difference.”

“We need a lot of funding,” she says, noting that the researchers are working with a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke that ends in December. “It’s always tricky for us to get funding.”

She has submitted applications for funding into next year, she says, but she is not sure they will be granted. “There’s so much discussion of this disease not existing that funding agencies are reluctant to consider this a real neuro-degenerative disease. But I think we’ve proven beyond a doubt this is.”

WSWS

 

The Surprising Cross-Partisan Appeal of Single-Payer Healthcare

Where Trump voters and socialists agree.

BY THEO ANDERSON

“It’s not difficult to talk about healthcare with people from across the spectrum. People want to pit rural Trump voters against the educated, progressive people in the cities, and that’s not where the tension is.”

In early April, a public radio program in the Rust Belt city of Rochester, N.Y., spent an hour discussing healthcare—but not, as you might expect, the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. It focused instead on the brightening prospects for a single-payer healthcare system. The guests included a Trump voter and small-business owner, Tim Schiefen, and the co-chair of the Rochester chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Karen Vitale. What was remarkable was how little they disagreed.

Asked his opinion of single-payer, Schiefen responded that it was worth exploring. “The problem is putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse,” he said. “Why are we allowing these gross, overspending health insurance companies … to administer this stuff?”

Increasingly, the single-payer solution is generating that sort of consensus across ideological and party affiliations. In early April, an Economist/ YouGov poll showed that 60 percent of respondents supported a “Medicare for all” system, including 43 percent of people who identified as conservative and 40 percent of Trump voters.

The energy behind single payer is partly a result of the GOP’s success in pointing out the flaws in Obamacare, then failing to offer a workable alternative. Vitale believes that, in a paradoxical way, it’s also driven by Trump.

“I think Trump broke open a lot of things,” says Vitale, who grew up in a rural small town an hour south of Rochester. She says that the Trump voters she knows trusted his populist pitch— and “now they’re activated, and they’re acting from a place of self-interest. You can’t put them back in the box.” When Trump breaks campaign promises, she predicts, “They’re going to notice really quickly. They noticed with Trumpcare.”

That doesn’t mean they’re ready to abandon Trump. On the radio program, Schiefen said he appreciates Trump’s “moxie” and has no regrets. But he also said he would be willing to vote for Democrats with better ideas. “The whole system is built too much on us [versus] them,” he said. “Let’s put aside the differences. Let’s get to the root of the concern.”

A healthy interest

Vitale and other members of the Rochester DSA are part of a coalition pushing for single-payer reform in New York State. In early April, they traveled to Albany to lobby state legislators. They also regularly canvass the city, educating people about single payer and urging them to call their representatives.

“It’s not difficult to talk about healthcare with people from across the spectrum,” Vitale says. “People want to pit rural Trump voters against the educated, progressive people in the cities, and that’s not where the tension is. The tension is with suburban Trump voters who are wealthy and doing very well in our current healthcare system, and have no interest in reform.”

The power of single payer as an organizing tool seems to hold true across the nation. As with many DSA chapters, the East Bay DSA has seen a spike in membership since the election, and much of the new energy is being channeled into the push for single payer. The chapter sends hundreds of volunteers each month to canvass on behalf of the Healthy California Act, which would create a state single-payer system.

“It’s strategic because it’s something that’s going to profoundly benefit the vast majority of people,” says Ari Marcantonio, East Bay DSA’s lead organizer for the campaign. “So this is an issue we can mobilize tens of millions around. But single mothers, people of color, poor people and immigrants will benefit the most. ”

Among some conservatives, the shift in thinking on healthcare is being driven by the idea that, as Schiefen said, the insurance companies are profiting at the expense of people’s health. That critique allows them to pin the problems on Obamacare while embracing the idea of universal healthcare.

Consider Christopher Ruddy, a Trump supporter and CEO of the influential conservative website Newsmax. In a recent editorial, he urged Trump to “reject the phony private health insurance market as the panacea” and lamented that Paul Ryan’s second plan “accepts key parts of the Obamacare law that benefit the insurance industry, but it ends the Medicaid expansion program that benefits the poor and keeps costs down.”

Ruddy didn’t embrace a full single-payer system. But he did argue that Trump should honor his campaign pledge to provide universal healthcare. It could be achieved, he wrote, by expanding the Medicaid system “to become the country’s blanket insurer for the uninsured.”

When a dramatic expansion of the Medicaid program is a prominent conservative’s solution to our healthcare crisis, we’ve entered uncharted waters.

A bigger boat

As recently as last year, the push for a single-payer system seemed virtually dead among the Democratic establishment. Hillary Clinton ran on the promise of tweaking Obamacare. The liberal economist Paul Krugman wrote that Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for all” proposal was “just not going to happen anytime soon.”

Now, the goal seems a lot closer. In January, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) reintroduced a bill—originally put forth in 2003—that would create a publicly financed universal healthcare system funded largely by a payroll tax, tax hikes on the rich and a financial transactions tax. Conyers’ bill, The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, has widespread backing from unions, medical organizations and progressive groups, and had 104 co-sponsors as of late April.

Bernie Sanders has promised to introduce a single-payer bill in the Senate, leading CNN to predict that “Democrats eyeing the 2020 presidential contest could soon face a ‘Medicare-for-all’ litmus test from the party’s progressive base.” At a rally in March, Sanders said, “Every major country on earth guarantees healthcare to all people … don’t tell me that in the United States of America, we cannot do that.”

This abrupt turnabout is partly a result of the Republican failure to replace Obamacare. The GOP’s flailing has energized and focused the resistance to Trumpism while undermining the party’s legitimacy on the issue. The videos and headlines from raucous town halls have been particularly devastating. A Pew Research poll released in mid-April found a 19-point gap regarding which party is trustworthy on healthcare, with 54 percent saying that Democrats would do a better job.

At the same time, progressive energy has expanded the horizon of possibilities. Groups devoted to pushing the Democratic Party in a progressive direction—like Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress and Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC)—are making healthcare reform central to their work, and they’ve moved well beyond Obamacare. Brand New Congress, which recruits and supports progressive candidates for office, cites “making Medicare available to anyone who wants it” among its highest priorities. PCCC has collected more than 40,000 signatures on a petition that asserts, “All Democrats running for office in 2018 should publicly support and run on passing Medicare for All.” The goal is “to create a push for Democrats to go bold,” says Kaitlin Sweeney of PCCC.

These federal reform initiatives are working in synergy with state-level proposals. In Minnesota, state Sen. John Marty introduced legislation in January to create a single-payer system with universal coverage. More than 250,000 Minnesotans are currently uninsured.

“The Affordable Care Act was a half-baked solution,” says Marty, a member of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. “I don’t want to minimize for a minute the difference it makes. It covered many millions more people. But … the system is dysfunctional, and it’s getting worse.”

Drop by drop

Marty compares the healthcare fight with the struggle for marriage equality, in which state laws created a domino effect. In 2008, he introduced a marriage equality bill in the Minnesota Senate and said it could pass in five years—which it did, in 2013. “This is doable stuff,” he says. “Times are changing and [single payer] could happen.”

None of the state-level campaigns are a sure thing. The November election turned the Minnesota legislature considerably “redder,” meaning Marty’s bill has no chance in the near term. The Healthy California Act, introduced in February, appears to have broad support in the legislature, but Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has been skeptical. In New York, single-payer legislation is stuck in the GOP-controlled Senate.

But if and when one state adopts a single-payer system, it could quickly alter the national political landscape, with implications far beyond the fight for healthcare reform. For DSA, the fight for single payer is intended to be the first stage of a revolutionary program.

“The single-payer campaign is really about training hundreds of young people who have never been involved in activism or politics to get brass tacks organizing skills, which are door-todoor outreach,” says Ari Marcantonio of East Bay DSA. “We’re using it to build a mass socialist organization, city by city, and the power and the infrastructure we need to win all kinds of things—like a living wage for all workers and housing as a human right.”

Fundamentally, he says, the aim is to “challenge the very deeply ingrained notion that markets are our friend.”

THEO ANDERSON

Theo Anderson, an In These Times writing fellow, has contributed to the magazine since 2010. He has a Ph.D. in modern U.S. history from Yale and writes on the intellectual and religious history of conservatism and progressivism in the United States. Follow him on Twitter @Theoanderson7 and contact him at theo@inthesetimes.com.

http://inthesetimes.com/article/20121/where-trump-voters-and-socialists-agree-single-payer

Taking a knee with Kaepernick

Several NFL players have joined in the “quiet insurrection” started by Colin Kaepernick, but the impact is getting louder and louder, writes Nation columnist Dave Zirin.

Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots raise their fists during the National Anthem

Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots raise their fists during the National Anthem

ON SUNDAY, a small group of National Football League players risked their careers, their endorsements, and their livelihoods. They did so through the simple act of refusal. They refused to be a prop for the cameras. They refused to swallow their concerns about racism and police violence in order to please the needs of their employers. They refused to be intimidated by sports-radio talkers bashing their character or an online army of shameless thugs threatening their lives with the casual click of someone ordering a book from Amazon. They stood in the proudest tradition of athletes who have used their platforms for social change, and they have already felt a backlash that would ring familiar, almost note-for-note, to anyone acquainted with what that last generation had to endure.

Before naming the players who chose to stand against the current, it is worth setting the stage. Sunday was less a current than a red, white, and blue tsunami. This was opening day for the NFL–by an exponential degree the most popular sports league in the United States–and it was also September 11, 2016, the 15th anniversary of the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those attacks killed thousands of innocent people. They also launched an unprecedented assault on civil liberties, the scapegoating of an entire religion, and an illegal war in Iraq that continues to produce an unfathomable body count. The leader of these atrocities, George W. Bush, should have had to answer for his actions. Instead, he was there on Sunday in Arlington, Texas, tossing the coin for the nationally televised game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. The Cowboys were not alone in bringing out–literally–the big guns. President Obama spoke over the Jumbotron in Seattle and Vice President Joe Biden was live in Philadelphia. Every stadium had troops march onto the field with flags roughly the size of Rhode Island. Warplanes flew overhead. Bald eagles–actual, real-life bald eagles–were even set free to soar for the cameras.

Like those majestic eagles, the NFL has ascended to new heights these last 15 years by pinning the image of their league to our permanent state of war. The Pentagon has made sure that this has been a mutually beneficial relationship, tying military recruitment,staged “salute the troops” events, and a hyper-militarized form of patriotism to the NFL’s brand. Journalist Shaun Scott wrote a masterful excavation of this last week on Sports Illustrated‘s website, in an article titled “How the NFL sells (and profits from) the inextricable link between football and war”:

It didn’t matter that NFL players such as Cardinals safety Pat Tillman and Rams center Jason Brown criticized the war; or that actual veterans detested insulting comparisons between the vicissitudes of combat and the triviality of sport.

What mattered was that subcultures like tailgating, fantasy football, and gambling helped the NFL become more popular than ever, and that this popularity coincided with – and exploited – the escalation of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN OTHER words, nothing that happened Sunday, with its big-budget patriotic pageantry, should have surprised anybody. It was business as usual. The true shock and awe was the presence of a small group of players who took that moment to instead express dissent. To be clear, these were not gestures against war or the national-security state. They were acts of solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s anthem demonstrations against police violence. They were protests aimed at stating the simple idea that there is a gap between the values that the flag claims to represent and the deadly realities of racism. They were also–whether intentionally or not–declarations that they would not be intimidated by the backlash felt by Kaepernick or Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who took a knee on Thursday and promptly lost an endorsement deal.

As “The Star-Spangled Banner” played around the country, two players on the New England Patriots: Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty; three players on the Tennessee Titans: Jurrell Casey, Wesley Woodyard and Jason McCourty; and Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs raised their fists during or immediately after the Anthem played. In addition, four players on the Miami Dolphins–Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins–took a knee during the National Anthem. The Dolphins’ gesture was all the more dramatic because it took place across the field from the Seattle Seahawks, who linked arms in a gesture of “team unity and solidarity” after their efforts to make some sort of statement about police brutality were snuffed out because, according to the reporting of NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, “#Seahawks originally planned to kneel together, hand over their hearts, during the anthem. But some players close with military objected.”

Never mind that these protests have had nothing to do with the military. But that mere perception was enough to suppress a small group of proudly outspoken Seahawks players who wanted to show Kaepernick that they were on his side. The endless howl that any action on Sunday should be interpreted as being “against the troops” and disrespectful to the memory of 9/11–no matter the words of actual troops or 9/11 families–stretched from a sector of the Seahawks locker room to anonymous Twitter bigots to celebrities Rob Lowe and Kate Upton. It’s an absurd argument, meant to derail and delegitimize the actual issue that’s being raised: the extrajudicial killings of black people.

The best response to this came from Kaepernick last month when he said:

I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.

The pressure to fall in line was strong enough to compel a group of political players in Seattle to back down from their planned protest. But the capitulation of the Seahawks was overshadowed by these other gestures, which defied not only the political agenda of the league but also its top-down corporate structure. They are gestures that stand as a rebuke to those in the NFL audience who cheer for Black bodies on the field, but rage against Black voices. Jay Busbee at Yahoo! Sports called Sunday’s events a “quiet insurrection.” It is an apt description, with one caveat: This is an insurrection we can only see if we get beyond the noise.

First published at TheNation.com.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/09/14/taking-a-knee-with-kaepernick

The Olympics’ Most Dominant Athletes Have Cannabis Connections

Phelps was infamously busted doing a bong hit, and Bolt has been known to pass the dutchie.

Usain Bolt beats Justin Gatlin 100m Final WC Beijing 2015
Photo Credit: Youtube screen grab

Holy Ross Rebagliati, Batman! Two of the most outstanding athletes of this year’s Olympic Games have the skunky scent of cannabis wafting around them. One of them is the “world’s fastest man,” while the other owns more Olympic gold than any athlete in history. So much for amotivational syndrome.

On Sunday night, charismatic Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt blew past the fastest 100-meter field in Olympic history to win his third consecutive gold medal in the event. Only one other sprinter, American Carl Lewis, has won gold twice in the race, and Bolt has now blown past him as well.

Bolt has said he doesn’t smoke marijuana now, referencing the Olympics’ drug-testing regimen.

“People can say what they want, I know I’m clean. That’s the only thing that counts, not what other people say,” he told the German newspaper Bild. “I was subject of so many anti-doping tests during the Olympic year, between 30 and 40. Nobody in my family or those close to me smoke and I don’t hang out with people who smoke.”

But that wasn’t always the case.

“When you’re a child in Jamaica, you learn how to roll a joint,” Bolt said. “Everyone tried marijuana, including me, but I was really young.”

Then there’s Michael Phelps. At 31, the Baltimore Bullet is dominating his swimming sports for an incredible fourth Olympics in a row. With a handful of fresh gold medals in his pocket already from the Rio games, he now has a whopping 23 Olympic gold medals, twice the number of his nearest competitor. This is the same guy seen doing a honking bong hit in a photo leaked by a tabloid in 2009  That was just months after his historic eight-gold medal win in Beijing in 2008. Phelps as freak didn’t go over too well with the sporting set; USA Swimming suspended him for three months and he was forced to issue the mandatory mea culpa. His behavior was “inappropriate,” he said.

History’s most dominating swimmer has had issues with other substances, too. His bong scandal was bookended by a pair of drunk driving arrests, one in 2004 and one in 2014, with the latter earning him another suspension form USA Swimming, this one for six months.

Phelps has never tested positive for banned substances during his swimming career, but that didn’t stop his party drug history from becoming part of a mini-controversy in Rio. Phelps inserted himself into the tiff between rivals U.S. swimmer Lilly King, who won the gold in the women’s 100-meter breast stroke, and Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, who won the silver and who had been suspended twice over failed drug tests.

King said Efimova should be banned for life for doping, and Efimova retorted, “What about Michael Phelps?”

Phelps backed his teammate, saying, “I think people should be speaking out more. You know, I think she is right. I think something needs to be done.”

And speaking of Ross Rebagliati, who won the first Olympic gold medal for snowboarding at Nagano in 1998 and nearly had it taken away after testing positive for marijuana, there’s a new sport set to take the Olympic stage in 2020, and its adherents have just a stony reputation as the snowboarders.

The sport is skateboarding, and one of its biggest stars, Australian Tas Pappas, is raising concerns that the Olympic drug-testing regimen may put off skaters. The sport’s most mainstream competition, the summer X-Games, doesn’t do drug testing.

“I’m wondering how it’s going to work as far as the drug testing is concerned, because some guys skate really well on weed and if they have to stop smoking for one competition (the Olympics) it might really affect their performance,” Pappas said. “I truly believe you do better sober, but I’ve known guys who couldn’t skate unless they were stoned, so I don’t know how it’s really going to work.”

The Olympics and drugs—it’s always something.

 

Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/olympics-dominant-athletes-cannabis-connections?akid=14544.265072.2aUAmf&rd=1&src=newsletter1062097&t=26

Rio 2016: The “Olympic ideal” and the reality of capitalism

rio-2016

8 August 2016

“The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” These words, which appear in the Olympic Charter’s “Fundamental Principles of Olympism,” are supposed to sum up what is referred to with sanctimonious reverence as the “Olympic ideal.”

There has never been a golden age of the Olympic games, which have for over a century served as an arena for the promotion of nationalism. The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was candid in acknowledging that he valued sport not only for its potential for advancing mankind’s development, but also for its use in preparing French men to become better soldiers in war.

With the opening of the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, however, the contrast could hardly be more stark between the supposed Olympic ideal and the reality of a capitalist system mired in economic crisis and social inequality and hurtling toward another world war.

The opening ceremony of the Rio games, held in the city’s iconic Maracana Stadium, was widely covered by the international news media. Less reported was a brutal attack by the Brazilian police against a demonstration organized a half mile away, called against what the protesters termed “the exclusion games.” Police used tear gas, pepper spray and stun grenades to drive the demonstrators off the streets, injuring several.

Earlier clashes were seen along the route taken by the Olympic Torch, which in one case was extinguished by a crowd of workers and youth in the coastal town of Angra dos Reis. They had turned out to protest the expenditures on the Olympics under conditions where public employees and teachers are not being paid and transit service and health care are being cut because of the deepening fiscal crisis.

In 2009, when the Brazilian government secured the 2016 games for Rio, then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva proclaimed, “Our time has arrived.” During the same period, Lula was boasting that Brazil, whose growth rate had rebounded to 5 percent, was immune from the effects of the global financial meltdown of 2008.

Since then, the world capitalist crisis has devastated Brazil’s economy, driving the official unemployment rate to over 11 percent and sending real wages falling. Millions are threatened with being thrown back into extreme poverty in what is already one of the world’s most socially unequal countries.

Even as the games unfold, the Brazilian Senate is moving ahead with the impeachment of ousted President Dilma Rousseff on trumped-up charges of budgetary irregularities. Those moving against the Workers Party (PT) president are, like the PT itself, implicated up to their necks in the multi-billion-dollar Petrobras bribery scandal. Nonetheless, they are backed by both Brazilian and foreign capital, which wants a full change of regime in order to proceed with sweeping austerity policies under interim President Michel Temer, Rousseff’s former vice president and political ally.

In the run-up to the opening of the games, the Brazilian government heavily publicized alleged terror plots that appeared to have little if any substance. In fact, the massive security operation accompanying the Rio games is aimed not at terrorists, but at the Brazilian population itself. An occupation army of some 100,000 troops and police—twice the number mobilized for the already militarized 2012 London games—has been deployed across Rio, many dressed in combat gear, carrying assault rifles and backed by armored cars and even tanks.

This operation has been supplemented by the United States military and intelligence apparatus, which, according to NBC, has “assigned more than 1,000 spies to Olympic security,” hundreds of whom have been sent to Brazil. In addition to the CIA, FBI and NSA spooks, detachments of Marine and Navy commandos from the US Special Operations Command have been deployed on the ground.

This is the culmination of a campaign of repression that has unfolded over the past few years in tandem with preparations first for the 2014 World Cup football tournament and now for the Olympics. Violent police measures have been used to drive tens of thousands from their homes in impoverished districts targeted for development, while thousands more homeless have been swept from the streets in what amounts to an exercise in “social cleansing.” Police have killed between 40 and 50 people a month in the city over the recent period, while extra-official death squads have murdered many more. So much for the Olympics and “human dignity.”

Against this backdrop, the vast wealth expended on the Olympics, all in pursuit of enrichment and private profit, is obscene. Corporate sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Samsung, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonalds and others, have paid hundreds of millions of dollars for exclusive marketing rights and are spending hundreds of millions more to exploit them. TV companies have shelled out $4 billion to broadcast the 19-day event, while marketing revenues are expected to total $9.3 billion.

A relative handful of individual professional athletes will make tens of millions more from product endorsements. The days when the Olympics were a celebration of amateur sports are a distant memory.

Within the games themselves, the overriding atmosphere of social inequality is ever present. While poorer teams are dealing with substandard conditions in hastily constructed Olympic villages, the US basketball “dream team” is residing on the luxury cruise ship Silver Cloud, moored in Rio’s harbor and surrounded by police and navy patrol boats.

Meanwhile, the use of the Olympics to promote nationalism and prepare for war is as virulent in the Rio games as at any time since Adolf Hitler convened the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

On Monday, it was announced that Russian athletes will be banned entirely from the Paralympics to be held next month in Rio in connection with charges of state-sponsored doping of athletes. Earlier, 118 members of the country’s track and field team were banned under a system relegating the decision to the federations of each individual sport.

Washington, the World Anti-Doping Agency, various NGOs and the Western media have waged a virulent campaign to exclude every Russian athlete from the Rio Olympics and prevent the country’s flag from even appearing there, as part of a broader effort to paint Russia as a “rogue” nation that must be stopped by force.

The campaign to bar Russia from the games is inseparably bound up with the growing US-NATO siege of the country’s Western borders, which has been steadily escalated since the US- and German-orchestrated coup that installed an ultra-right, anti-Russian regime in Ukraine in 2014.

The sanctimonious denunciations of Russia for having corrupted an otherwise pristine sporting event reek with bad faith and hypocrisy. The anti-Russian campaign intentionally obscures the wholesale corruption surrounding the entire organization of the games as well as the rampant doping practiced by nearly every country.

The controversy, which has run in tandem with the Democratic Party’s neo-McCarthyite campaign denouncing Vladimir Putin for interfering in the US election, has been pumped up as part of the attempt to prepare public opinion for a military conflict with Russia that could quickly lead to nuclear war.

While this year’s Olympic Games will once again provide a display of astounding athletic ability by participants from across the planet, the entire event is overshadowed by a social system that is founded on inequality and exploitation, and threatens the very survival of humanity.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/08/08/pers-a08.html

Who will follow the example of Muhammad Ali’s principled stand in our day?

muhammad-ali-AB

6 June 2016

The death of former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who, in his day, was a symbol of protest and resistance, has prompted the inevitable and instinctive effort by the establishment to appropriate his legacy for their own cynical uses.

It is hard to believe that more than half a century has passed since the first bout between Cassius Clay (Ali’s birth name) and Sonny Liston in February 1964 and more than 40 years have come and gone since Ali’s astonishing comeback.

Ali was a great athlete, but one could reasonably argue that he made his chief mark on history and popular consciousness by his courageous opposition to the Vietnam War. A product of rebellious times, Ali earned the admiration and respect of tens of millions around the globe for his act of protest.

After upsetting reigning heavyweight champion Liston in February 1964 at the age of 22, the boxer aligned himself with the black nationalist Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He defended his title numerous times, before announcing in 1966 that he would not serve in the US military and then refusing induction into the armed forces a year later.

Ali explained at the time: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what?… How can I shoot them poor people, Just take me to jail!”

Ali’s boxing license was immediately suspended and his title stripped from him by the cowardly, “patriotic” boxing authorities. He was widely vilified by sports writers, generally among the stupidest and most superficial members of the journalistic fraternity. The venerable Red Smith claimed that the fighter had made himself “as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.” Another sports writer-sage, Jim Murray of theLos Angeles Times, termed Ali a “black Benedict Arnold.”

Ali was convicted at a trial in June 1967 and sentenced to five years in prison. For four years, when he was at the height of his physical powers and his case was winding its way through the courts, Ali was unable to fight. The US Supreme Court finally tossed out his conviction in 1971. During his suspension he toured the country, speaking at hundreds of colleges and universities in opposition to the war in Vietnam and on other social issues. Ali would regain his boxing license and go on to take back his heavyweight title, lose it in the ring, and then win it back a record third time.

By all accounts, his noisy, self-promoting and occasionally cruel outbursts aside, Ali was a kind and decent man. In an often barbaric sport, he exhibited great gifts, remarkable grace and elegance, and enormous physical courage. Moreover, Ali had a devilishly sharp wit. He was not only impressive in the ring but could hold his own in the company of experienced interviewers and antagonists, and even best them.

Ali’s decision to join the Nation of Islam does not speak to his perspicacity, but it has to be viewed in context: official American political life, only emerging from the depths of McCarthyite anticommunism, had nothing to offer. The most oppressed layers of the population were hunting around for some viable form of opposition.

There is no reason, of course, to idealize the boxer or make his ideas out to be more coherent or progressive than they were. Ali was all over the place ideologically, and by 2005 he was sufficiently domesticated or worn down by age and health issues to accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom from the arch-war criminal, George W. Bush.

Nonetheless, in early 1966, when opposition to the Vietnam war was not yet a mass phenomenon in the US, Ali’s stance was principled and inspiring. It certainly contributed to and encouraged public disaffection. By the time he refused induction on April 28, 1967, protest demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people had taken place in New York City and elsewhere, including one on April 15 of the same year (addressed by Martin Luther King, Jr.).

To root for Ali at the time was to root for opposition. He emerged as a public figure in an era when hostility to the status quo was a mass popular reality. In the US, Newark, Detroit, Los Angeles and other major cities went up in flames in the mid-1960s. The latter part of the decade witnessed the anti-Vietnam War movement and expressions of protest on every college campus. Big national strikes and battles between American workers and police on picket lines were on the order of the day. Internationally, hated dictatorships fell in Greece, Spain and Portugal. The global crisis reached its potentially revolutionary peak in the great French general strike, in which ten million people participated, in May-June 1968.

The dead, of course, cannot defend themselves against the exploitation of their lives and activities for utterly rotten purposes. Inevitably, President Barack Obama took the occasion of Ali’s death to present an unsuspecting public with another example of his almost supernaturally sinister hypocrisy and cant.

In a statement, Obama asserted that Ali “stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”

As though Obama, the ideal president for spies, policemen and investment bankers, would know anything about “standing up” and “speaking out” when there might be a price to pay. Has this individual ever taken a single step, twitched so much as a muscle, without ensuring himself well ahead of time that it would find approval with the powers that be?

It is a remarkable commentary on the putrid state of the media and public intellectual life in America that Obama can make such an astounding statement without anyone calling him to order. The US president praises Ali for being prepared to go to jail—this from the relentless, vindictive persecutor of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden! Dead and buried opponents of imperialist war are so much less threatening!

“Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it,” asserted Obama, the dispatcher of drone strikes that terrorize entire populations, the presider over “kill lists” that spell incineration for men, women and children in various parts of the globe.

One element of Obama’s statement did ring true: his obvious astonishment at Ali’s willingness to sacrifice career and income for principles. This speaks to a wider and genuinely disturbing problem: how is it possible that we are forced to look back to the 1960s for examples of political courage of this kind?

The United States has been at war with the rest of the world for a quarter-century. During that time, innumerable athletes, actors, musicians, artists, scientists and others have received honors at the hands of Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama, each president guilty of policies leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings or more. Not a soul, as far as the public is aware, has turned down an award, spoken out at the White House or the Kennedy Center or generally repudiated honors from one of these blood-soaked administrations.

That list of honorees—some of whom have histories of social protest or at least independent thought—includes such figures as Sidney Poitier, Meryl Streep, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Jack Nicholson, Paul Simon, Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Robert De Niro, Bruce Springsteen, Mel Brooks, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin.

Stagnant, opportunist times have encouraged submission and quiescence. In such periods of social indifference, as the Russian Marxist Plekhanov once noted, many souls fall into “a cold slumber” and “their moral level sinks very low.” The sooner we fully emerge from such times the better!

David Walsh

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/06/06/pers-j06.html