Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jackie Robinson and the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team

I am tired of Jackie Robinson. More precisely, I am tired of Major League Baseball exploiting the courage, integrity and talent it took for Robinson to break baseball's "color line" sixty years ago. Through the various commemorations around the nation's baseball stadiums this weekend, MLB will have turned a substantive achievement into an innocuous cliche. The legend of Jackie Robinson will be neutered, fawned over by the masses, and safely put back in the petting zoo stable for another ten years.

A few facts: the percentage of African-American major leaguers reached 19% in 1995, and now stands at just 8%. Baseball as a sport is either increasingly irrelevant or inaccessible to blacks nowadays, and that is hardly cause for celebration. Moreover, since the Jackie Robinson story is presented as a microcosm of America, we should look at society at large over the last few years. Here we see that the proportion of blacks living in poverty has risen from 22.5% in 2000 to 24.9% in 2005, exactly triple the rate for whites; the number of black adults attaining a college degree in 2000 was 11.5% below the rate for whites, while the gap in 2005 had grown to 12.8%; and the percentage of blacks in the US Senate is one.

Now, let's look at the demographics of ownership among the 30 major league teams: 100% white, 100% male. In other words, there is not a trace of the Jackie Robinson legacy here. That this close-knit group of often reactionary oligarchs would have millions of baseball fans bask in the glow of Robinson's aging breakthrough represents either a subterfuge or rank hypocrisy. MLB is very, very far from being a paragon of fairness. In fact, while these team owners try to paint a pretty picture on the social front, they are often busy picking the public's pocket by demanding government money for new stadiums. Carl Pohlad, the owner of the Minnesota Twins and a man with a net worth of $2.8 billion dollars, has just succeeded in wresting $392 million from Minneapolis residents for a new ballpark built specifically for the use of his private business.

Meanwhile, on the field, one of Jackie Robinson's African-American heirs -- Barry Bonds -- looks set to break Hank Aaron's hallowed all-time home run record of 755 sometime this season. Normally, this would be cause for delirious celebration and heated discussion involving historical comparisons. What are the meanings of Babe Ruth's 714, Aaron's 755, and now Bonds' 755-plus? But no such conversation among fans will take place, because the thirty MLB owners have been running a dirty racket: the use of illegal steroids has been rife in baseball for at least two decades, and nowhere more conspicuously and more certainly than in the case of Barry Bonds. The American public now can have no more confidence in the legitimacy of a baseball statistic than in the certified outcome of a presidential election in Florida or Ohio.

Beyond baseball, too, race and sport do not look so glittery as an ESPN graphic. The 2007 Rutgers women's basketball team are runners-up to the national champions, but better known for being the target of a racist insult by a nationally-syndicated radio host. Unfortunately, the insult is identical in spirit to the thousands Jackie Robinson had to endure in 1947 and afterwards. So, some of us perhaps can be excused for not joining in MLB's self-congratulatory antics this weekend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Take That, Liberal Media! Baghdad's Hard-Won Distinction

Every year, Mercer Human Resource Consulting ranks 215 cities worldwide based on quality of life criteria such as ease of transportation, cleanliness and crime. New York City is assigned a benchmark rating of 100, and normally Zurich tops the list as the best city to live in with a score of around 107. Besides Zurich, this year Munich, Tokyo and London finished ahead of New York, while Beijing, Delhi and Moscow trailed far behind. In last place -- at number 215 -- was the US colonial showcase of Baghdad.

It has been suggested to me that before the American invasion of Iraq, Baghdad would have scored even worse. Not so! In pre-war 2002, Mercer ranked Baghdad — suffering under UN economic sanctions and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — 211 out of 215. Thus, in 2007 after more than 3,000 American deaths and $500 billion in direct expenditures, Baghdad has taken the place of Brazzaville, Congo to rank dead last.

Achieving the distinction of world's very worst city for Baghdad was difficult, but our military's Commander-in-Chief has done it. So, Take that, liberal media! It’s about time you saw that Baghdad, in the face of some truly dismal competition that most would have thought unshakeable, has made at least one singular breakthrough. Now, if you would like to live the life of a corporate expat in Iraq, just contact Mercer for placement opportunities.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Karl Rove's $261,000 Federal Job Program

Karl Rove is a subject so repellent that this entry will be short. At least twenty students at Washington, DC's American University also find him objectionable, so much so that after Rove addressed a group of College Republicans on campus Tuesday night, the protestors pelted his exiting car with debris and lay down in the roadway to impede its movement. The Secret Service dealt with the protest quickly, however, and within a few minutes life for the offical White House "senior political advisor" was back to normal.

It is easy to understand why the students took to the streets. Under Rove's tutelage, President George W. Bush has lied the nation into war in Iraq; spied illegally on American citizens; and promoted acts of torture. Apparently at Rove's behest, the identity of an undercover CIA agent specializing in nuclear non-proliferation was revealed for political reasons and her career ended. On the economic front, the administration has implemented policies that ensure that the American worker receives ever-less of the national GDP in wages, in spite of the president's 2000 promise to "make the pie higher" for everyone. The latest affront to the nation, of course, is the revelation that the White House hired and fired US Attorneys on the basis of their political usefulness, not their ability to administer justice.

So, with Rove playing a central role in the most damaging presidential regime in living memory, what is the worst aspect of this infamous partisan hatchet man? That he is on the public payroll! That Rove is a cynical sadist is one thing; that American taxpayers are forced to pay his salary is outrageous. Why does an essentially private Republican operative have an office in a public building, the White House? Why does he have taxpayer-financed Secret Service protection? Why does his salary -- $261,000 in 2005 -- come from the public treasury?

It's no wonder the Democrats don't cry foul: they want to put their own partisan hacks on the nation's payroll should they ever re-take the White House. But why has the press said nothing? While we try to ascertain the answer to that question, any of America's youth mapping out their own career path to power should note that "Bush's Brain" is a college dropout. On second thought, perhaps Rove's current job was the only one he could get.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

America's Great Immigration Boon

A couple of years ago, Vice President Dick Cheney remarked publicly: "There are 11 million illegal immigrants in this country; nobody knows who they are, where they are, or what they're doing." Shortly afterwards I drove by the addition being constructed on the U.S. Supreme Court. The dozens of laborers working on the project appeared to be from Latin America, and were likely undocumented. Either Mr. Cheney was being very disingenuous, or he really needs to get out more.

In reality, the U.S. finds itself in a relatively fortunate immigration situation. The vast majority of our nation's newcomers are Roman Catholic, capitalistic, zealously eager to work -- that is why they come, after all -- and family-oriented. These millions of Latin Americans speak a European language and are eager to become part of their new society, even if they also retain a foothold in their old one. Indeed, these people already are American in the sense that they have grown up in the Americas, the New World we natives are taught in school to cherish. Without them, our nation's population would actually decline, a phenomenon that would produce difficult economic consequences.

Contrast this with Europe, where most new arrivals are not Christian, do not know Western-style capitalism or democracy, and do not join the social mainstream. These North Africans and Middle Easterners communicate using inscrutable languages, and frequently remain alienated from their host societies (by choice or not), while retaining loyalties that do not include their new countries. Europe thus confronts an enormous and ongoing immigration challenge, one that by most accounts it is not handling well.

The US, on the other hand, should be thankful its advantageous position vis-a-vis immigration. All we need to do is open wide the many avenues, both formal and informal, to assimilation. These primarily involve education and healthcare, but sometimes also the financial system. When Bank of America actively attempts to open bank accounts for and give credit cards to immigrants, this potentially brings millions of workers and billions of dollars into the formal economy to the benefit of everyone. For xenophobic politicians such as Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado to argue the exact opposite is patently ludicrous. Do they want to drive this enormous realm of human activity underground?

While beneficial in most ways, mass immigration still puts pressure on our country's social and institutional capacity. But here the policy remedies are mostly out of US hands. It is Mexico and many of its neighbors further south that need to improve public safety; foment investment; reform education systems; modernize and open up labor markets; and create more jobs. Chile has shown that all of this is achievable; unfortunately, the polticians and economic elites in many of the region's countries have not taken the decision to follow suit. So while we in the US welcome our new neighbors and the dynamism they create, our government should also constructively push foreign capitals to pursue reforms that benefit their native populations. If they began to do so, every nation in the Western Hemisphere would become a better place to live. But in the meantime, the U.S. should look at Europe and count its blessings.