Friday, August 4, 2017

No Such Thing as "Hot Justice"

They say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps, no better example of that is “Victims' Rights” – the politically correct practice of granting victims of crime influence over a prisoner’s fate.

Some say I remain imprisoned beyond my release date – August 8, 2013 – in part because the victim’s family so desires. I am aware of the practice. It is, nonetheless, a stunning suggestion: A modern criminal justice system turning the fate of a prisoner over to civilians. (Is that not a sterilized version of turning suspects over to a lynch mob?)

Nothing so corrupts the pursuit of justice as emotions. All people hold soft spots for the victims of a tragedy. But they do not owe special favors to these dear people. Victims of crimes are no more entitled than are victims of disease, or natural disasters. They are to be shown empathy and respect, but dispensing justice cannot become part of their repertoire. Society must never feel compelled to assuage a victim’s grief with a breach of justice, no matter how good such a breach might make us feel about ourselves.

A victim’s heart is immoderately skewed. As harsh as it may sound, the only role victims should play in the criminal justice process is as witnesses sworn to the truth, like everyone else. 

Justice is no popularity contest. It is a hard-earned virtue, fragile as man’s vanity – the cornerstone of societies everywhere. It is man’s earnest attempt to define guilt, and then levy the responsible consequences. “Victims’ Rights” inclusion into the mix is a capricious and fundamentally contradictory act – fancying-up with emotions what must strenuously be kept emotion-free. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Close the Book on a Golden Age in Sports

Baseball whiffed on Barry Bonds. They had the last great African-American baseball player in their midst. Instead of appreciating him, they colluded against him - refused him a a roster spot on a Major League team after he broke their all-time homerun record.

The owners had done it before - colluded against African-American ballplayers. That's how they kept blacks out of baseball the first 108 years of its existence. there was no definitive explanation given for why blacks were not allowed to play, but people understood. Neither was there an explanation for why there was no longer a place for Bonds in the game, though at the time of his exclusion, he arguably had more "pop" still left in his bat than most players in the league. Again, they left it to the public to presume the reason - that he tainted the game... cheated it by using steroids? Were they sure? Were they serious?

Major League baseball is the most insidious cheater in the history of American sports. It cheated an entire race of men out of the opportunity to compete in "America's game," and earn a living. This same league - with cheating in its DNA - looks at its players - past and present - and cannot be sure which, if not all, have cheated the game and one another - be it by steroids, corked bats, spit balls, amphetamines, stolen signs, etc., etc.; and whether they continue to cheat, still.

Now, it is over. Close the book on the great African-American baseball players: Josh, Satchel, Jackie; Willie, Ernie, Hank; Gibson, Henderson, Griffey, et al. It's over, America.

Imagine football - after watching Jim Brown, Deacon Jones, and Mean Joe Greene - ending with Lawrence Taylor, Barry Sanders, and Randy Moss. No Cam, no Zeke, no Beckham.

Imagine basketball - after Russell, Wilt, and the Big O - stopping with Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe. No Lebron, no Curry, no Durant. That is what has become of baseball in America. still a great game, but just as it was before Jackie Robinson, so much less than what it could have, and should have been.

I started watching baseball in the early 60's. The brothers were on a 50 year tear. Then, during the latter decades of the 20th century, African-American children stopped playing baseball - turned full-bore to basketball, which took less people, less space, and less time organizing.  And they turned to football, which represented a fundamental shift back to pure athleticism. The die was cast: When the nursery dries up, nothing grows. Add: Baseball is simply a more difficult game to play. Nothing is more baffling in sports than trying to hit Major League pitching.

It's over, boys. Barry Bonds is likely to be the last great African-American baseball player. (Never has Major League pitching seen the like. In one season, he not only had more intentional walks than any other player in baseball history, he had more than any team. They were not just afraid to pitch to Bonds, they refused.) For those of us who got to see him play, he was something to watch.  

Monday, June 19, 2017


They call him, “The Monster.” He is six-year-old Anthony Fremont, a child possessed of great powers with he wields viciously against anyone, or anything that doesn’t like him. His go-to move: Banish them “to the cornfield,” forever. 

Anthony is a television character in an episode of the popular ‘60’s series, “The Twilight Zone.” He could double as our own president, Donald Trump. All of those around Anthony must think happy thoughts and say happy things.

“I hate anybody who doesn’t like me!” he declares. 

“Everybody loves you, Anthony,” his father falsely, and fawningly assures him.

“That dog (barking)”, Anthony says, “doesn’t like me. He is a bad dog.”

Suddenly, the barking dog goes silent – into the cornfield. Afraid for his own safety, the father assures the boy: “That’s good what you did, Anthony… real good.” 

The father becomes a metaphor for Trump apologists across the country. They know that his actions – rescinding checks on Wall Street, rolling back environmental protections, spurning human rights, while sidling up to the dictators (perhaps for no other reason than that he is attracted to authoritarian rule) – are contrary to an enlightened society. The apologists choose to appease Trump, nonetheless – damn the collateral damage – to save themselves and their agendas.

When FBI director, James Comey, fell out of favor with President Trump, it was “to the cornfield” for him. But, it is not just that he was fired; it was tacky – meanly done, as if humiliation and denigration were necessary parts of the process. The apologists stepped forward:  “Well, you know Trump. He’s not steeped in the ways of Washington.” How about decency? Has he any familiarity with that?

Then, as though to outdo himself, the Trump administration went after Michelle Obama’s nutrition initiative for America’s school children. (What sort of people would interfere with children getting better nutrition?) The former first lady was more direct, asking of Trump: “What is wrong with you?” She might have added, “…Anthony!” 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Cat's in the Cradle

“The Hermit Kingdom” – that’s what they call North Korea. Sounds enchanting, and endearing when you think of its inhabitants who have no one but themselves to rely upon. That raw independence has spawned a siege mentality, beginning with it impetuous leader, Kim Jong Un. Many see him as 27 year old despot with a nuclear arsenal at his fingertips. America calls him “irrational”. (He must be. He defies America at every turn.)

Speaking at the United Nations this past month, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said of North Korea:  “They don’t need nuclear weapons.” They don’t? Then who does? America has over 2500 nukes. We must need them. (Do we need so many?) And, you say North Korea needs none. Who’s being irrational? 

The U.S. wants North Korea to dismantle its entire nuclear program, (composed of six to ten warheads.) We want the Korean peninsula to be nuclear free. Are we so full of ourselves that we presume the right to set the parameters of another nation’s existence?

We have nuclear weapons to deter other nations from attacking us. Russia has the same nukes. Lesser nations – France, Israel, Pakistan have nukes for the same reasons: to insure their survival in the face of nations who only respect the ability of contrary nations to hit them back. It is called “Mutual Assured Destruction” – “MAD.” That is what N. Korea wants – what America has in spades: the surety of MAD(ness).

America claims Un threatens our existence. No, he doesn’t. Un says, “If the U.S. attacks us, we will fight back.” That is a simple assurance. We, Americans, can trace such assurances back to grade school – those of us, that is, who had guts to hit the bully back. N. Korea, with its nuclear program, seeks to keep the bully at bay, like everyone else. 

N. Korea saw what happened to Iraq and Libya. Neither of those countries threatened America. America made them disarm, nonetheless. Then, we killed both of  their leaders, and left their nations in shambles. “Irrational” would be for Un to disarm in the face of American intimidation., and expect a different result.

President Trump dispatched a nuclear-powered naval strike force to the Korean peninsula, ostensibly to intimidate Un into backing down from any more nuclear, and ballistic missile tests. A day later, Un tested one of his missiles, anyway. Two weeks later, on the 28th of April, as the U. S. naval “armada” drew nearer to the Korean peninsula, Un tested another missile. 

By the way, how does one use a nuclear-powered strike force to convince another nation to de-nuclearize? Weaker peoples might fold. A determined nation will respond, “I’m gonna be like you.” If nothing else, N. Korea is determined.

It is interesting that as the United Nations Security Council convened a special session to discuss N. Korea’s ballistic missile tests, the U.S. and India, that same week, tested ballistic missiles of their own. Unbowed, Rex Tillerson stood on the floor of  the U.N. and asked that N. Korea – already the most-sanctioned nation on Earth – be hit with ever more crippling sanctions for daring to do what we do. 

By its policy toward N. Korea, it is apparent that the U.S. wants to bring that nation to its knees – perhaps to total extinction, and subsequent absorption into a unified Korea dominated by the U.S.-friendly, non-nuclear South. Many in the world might say that would be a good thing for the impoverished N. Korean people. Perhaps…

But, what if that nation views itself as 25 million people operating as a simple organism, like a colony of honeybees. This is not to belittle, but to highlight the industriousness of this feisty people who, with less outside help than any other nation on Earth, strive with dogged purpose to fulfill its destiny.

As a people, Americans reject the notion – think: humans were not meant to conform, like bees, to a single purpose. How do we know? Were all humans meant to be like Americans – slavishly staring into their iPhones, worshipping money, fame; cramming gratuitous foodstuffs down our throats until the entire nation is awash in an epidemic of obesity? Are we so much better than they?

I have had the advantage of being raised in rural Michigan of the 50’s and 60’s. A hand-pump was our sole source of water, a pot-bellied stove our sole source of heat, an outhouse at the edge of our backyard our source of relief. Times were hard. We ate regularly, but food was never in abundance. 

When I hear of the dire straits N. Koreans face, I am reminded that our family was never closer, never so assured of who we were, then when times were hardest. Perhaps the hard times the N. Koreans know – the threats, the sanctions – has only made them more united/less divided than any other nation on Earth. 

Recently, the N. Koreans celebrated the anniversary of their republic’s founding with a splendid display of pageantry. Such spectacles, along with the nation’s expansive weapons systems, tax Un’s ability to feed his own people. Come nighttime N. Korea becomes a black spot on the global map, evidence of a modern nation that cannot afford to keep the lights on. 

Such failures make N. Korea a bright target for ridicule. Yet, even the U.S. must temper its mockery with a measure of respect. Earth abounds with nations that fail to feed their own; that have little to show for their existence besides hunger, squalor, and corruption. Through the hardships visited upon the N. Korean people, a poor nation has forged itself into a an advanced and nuclear state. 

Still, America cannot resist deploying her smug pit: “They have no access to the internet!” Big deal! Neither did we. Instead, my siblings and I were raised on the complete set of “Childcraft” books – children’s literature from “Bo-Peep” to “Rapunzel”, and beyond. 
Look, let not lean with our feigned pity. Ask: “Can the N. Korean children go fishing, play baseball, go for walks in the woods?” If so, then many of them are more free than our own children – chained as they are to their fancy computers and cell phones; addicts to technology that diminishes them where consequent time spent with nature would enrich their souls. 

This is no attempt to romanticize the tribulations of the N. Korean people. They suffer; who doesn’t. I wish all the world’s children were free from hunger. That will not happen, especially with world leaders like ours who feign commiseration out of one side of their mouths, while clamoring for ever more bone-chilling child-starving sanctions out of the other side. 

Leave the N. Koreans be. (Stop trying to make everybody like your sick selves.) They want to live, that’s all. They have a right to self-determination; the right to be different. They are a unique people – they are denizens of  “The Hermit Kingdom.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

"For Spacious Skies, For Amber Waves of Grain..."

America, "Land of the free, home of the brave," is bi-polar. At once, she professes to love freedom, and then she hates it. Her minority peoples of color have borne the brunt of this Jekyll-Hyde personality. It comes of a germ deeply embedded in America's DNA. How else to explain a history of confinement of innocents unparalleled among civilized societies?

America enslaved her African-American population for over 250 years, despite those unfortunate people having done nothing wrong. Again, she forced Native Americans unto reservations though they had done nothing wrong. She forced Japanese-Americans into internment camps though they had done nothing wrong. Today, America holds me in prison though I have served my time and have done no wrong since my initial offense.  

In all these instances, the State has made lame assertions to justify its prolonged confinement of hapless human beings. Of prolonging slavery, they said: "Imagine what chaos would ensue if four million people, ignorant and lacking in survival skills, were set loose upon the countryside." Similarly facile statements - made to play upon the public's own self-interests, and its fear of the confined - were laid at the feet of Native Americans, Japanese-Americans, and me. It has never mattered to the State that such assertions are without merit. What matters is that the State is vested with great power. The power to deny liberty is awesome.

What will it take to cease this endless assault upon precious liberty? First, it will take acknowledgement that such assaults have, and continue, to take place. A sickness must be realized before it can be cured. Then, it will take real people demanding that this aberrant nature be purged from our national psyche once, and for all.  

I was sentenced to parolable life in 1997. Explicit in that sentence was that if I served that time with good conduct, I would be eligible to go home in 2013. I went about serving my time with distinction. That was my plan. (What other plan is there for a serious man who needs to get home to his family?) Now, at the age of 66, I am in my 21st year of confinement, courtesy of America's sick tendency to defer freedom for as long as it possibly can. Again, there is no end in sight.

Today, we have the modern version of America's well-documented obsession with mass incarcerations. Over two million souls languish in America's prison - a quarter of all of the imprisoned people on Earth. There are even private prisons to complement the State's efforts. Yes, everyday Americans can profit, financially, from the imprisonment of their fellow Americans. (How sick is that? Out of the window goes any incentive to set men free once those men become inventory on the shelves.)

Americans are numbed to this nation's bent for mass incarcerations. They take solace in believing they will not become one of the confined. During slavery, whites were assured, by virtue of their race, theat they could not be enslaved. Likewise, whites - even blacks - were assured, when they saw Native Americans a being herded onto reservations. When the Japanese-Americans were rounded up for the internment camps, again it was race that saved everyone else from the same fate. 

Individuals manage to circumvent a sense of guilt for these mass imprisonings by casting the prospect of such guilt against their sense of relief that the same could not happen to them. As startling as this self-centeredness sounds, it is more astounding Americans' lackluster desire to redress this fundamental defect i its creed.  

I once was guilty. Then, I paid my debt to society. Now, I am owed my liberty - like the slaves were owed; like the Native Americans and Japenese-Americans were owed. 

Free me, and the many others like me who have served their time, and yet continue to be held in America's deep State. Let us go home. Then, let us all free America. Yes, this nation - guilty for so long of imprisoning innocents - must, and can be liberated from her compulsive need to confine. She, too, deserves a second chance.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Nikki Ain't Playin' No Games

For all of President Trump's limitations, give the man credit: He has surrounded himself with some tough cookies. (If only they and their boss could get on the smae page.) There's defencse secretary, "Maddog" Mattis, secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and the fiery Nikki Haley, Ambassodor to the United Nations. 

Haley is the one who, as governor of South Carolina, shed tears when nine of her constituents - African-Americans at a prayer meeting - were shot dead by the racist, Dylan Roof. Days later, she looked up at the confederate flag flying over her capitol - the most prominent symbol of America's racist past - and demanded that flag come down, forever.  

While Trump is loathe to impugn the Russians in any way, neither Mattis nor Tillerson has hesitated to call them out. And, Nikki, if she wasn't such a fine lady, would spit in their eye. Of America's attack on that Syrian air base, Nikki stood toe-to-toe with her Russian counterpart and assured him, "there is more where that came from." 

Trump has been quick to call out the Chinese over North Korea's provocative behavior, (despite China having less control of its client than Russia has over Assad.) Yet, in the days leading up to America's attack on the Syrian air base, and in the days that followed, Trump has not once let the words "Russia" or "Putin" escape his lips. Senators Graham McCain has called Putin everything from a "thug" to a "war criminal." Trump will not so much as call Putin "contrary." 

What is this wedge that rives that Republican leadership? How odd becomes this American president when faced with the spectre of Putin. Trump is blinded to what everyone else seems to know: Without his Russian benefactor, Assad would be toothless, and as dead as Khadaffi.  

This has left many ordinary Americans shaking their heads and wondering, "What do the Russians have on Trump?" Perhaps the ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into Trumps's ties to the Russians will tell us.  

Meanwhile, chew on this: Russia has sophistacated anti-missile systems - the S-300 and S-400 - deployed in Syria. If the Russians had chosen to use those systems against America's incoming Tomahawks, chances are they could have stopped many of those missiles in their tracks. They did not choose to do so. Trump got a freebie. Putin cannot afford to let that happen again. The next time Trump sends a tomahawk cruise missile anywhere near Putin - or Putin's boy, Assad - America had better be ready for a fight. Just sayin'...

So, why did trump bomb Syria? (Believe me, it wasn't for the babies.) It would appear, with his approval numbers tanking, the only thing Trump fears more than Putin, is low ratings. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Legacy, or Aleppo

America went into Iraq and blew it up, (and lost over 4,000 of our sons in the bargain.) We did not go into Libya - we flew over, and helped blow it up. (We lost none of our sons.) We did not go into Syria, nor did we fly over; it blew itself up. (Again, America lost none of its sons.) Now they seek to blame President Obama for Syria being blown up because America did not go in to save it from being blown up, when going in would have meant helping to blow it up while losing many of our precious sons, besides.

Then, they say, "Obama should have armed the moderate rebels in Syria." Arm the moderates. First, doesn't "moderates" sound soft, especially when cast against the likes of those gangs fighting in Syria? Imagine the "moderates" - walking around with their fancy USA weaponry, and ISIS walking up to them and saying, "Give us those guns!" Then, imagine the "moderates" handing over those weapons immediately, and asking, "You won't hurt us, will you?" Next, the detractors would be accusing Obama of arming ISIS.

Obama's presidency has been a deliberate and consistent attempt to lower the world's temperature - literally, with his global warming initiatives, and figuratively, with his Iran nuclear deal, the opening to Cuba, and the draw-down of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Precious few of America's son have died on foreign soil on Obama's watch. That is by design. If no one else appreciates that, the mothers and fathers of American soldiers certainly do.

Still, there is Aleppo, and the Syrian diaspora. America must not be insensitive to their sufferings; neither should it saddle itself with the blame.

People everywhere have a right to protest; even to rebel. They do not have a right to have their own way. that has to be earned. Sometimes, to get it, one has to fight for it.

With the right to protest comes a responsibility to accept the consequences. The Syrian people protested against their leader, Bashar Assad. The protests became a rebellion. When the fighting started - the consequences - the Syrians skedaddled.

The American colonists, after living over 150 years under British rule, protested, and rebelled against King George. When the fighting started, the colonists stuck to their guns. Homes burned. Cities fell. Men, women, and children died.

The colonists fought on. There was never a guarantee that they would win. Ask the soldiers at Valley Forge. They were a wretched lot. Yet, they weathered their terrible losses and , after years of more fighting, they won their freedom.

President Obama realizes that no nation is so great that it can assume the responsibility of shaping the destinies of other nations. That responsibility rests with that nation's people. They, alone, must decide what they want, and whether it is worth fighting, and dying for. They do not need America for that. They need vision, courage, and commitment to their ideal.

The Syrians had a vision. They lacked the courage and the conviction to see it through. They claim to have wanted freedom from Assad. They expected someone else to deliver it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Barack, Let it Be

I have great admiration for Barack Obama and his presidency. I become increasingly uneasy with his apparent obsession with "legacy."

Outside of Abe Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation," presidential legacies tend to be mundane, and the stuff of nerds. You were president. Given great power, you had to do something. Let history decide if it was worth remembering.

I thought all along that President Obama sounded a bit foolish when, during his aggressive campaigning for Hillary, he openly appealed to voters - especially African-Americans - to protect his legacy by coming out and voting for her in. I cannot remember any other president, Democrat or Republican, imploring voters to protect him, as though only he and his accomplishments were encased in glass. If presidential legacies are as fragile as that, then none but the most stout should be safe.

Subsequent administrations may seek to "white-out" their predecessors' achievements, but the spirit of that administration will last through the ages, especially if that spirit is genuine. To tout the greatness of your deeds taint those deed with a haughty spirit.

Chill, Barack, chill. You smiled and lit up a nation, a world. That is the pearl of your legacy. No subsequent administration can touch that.

With Trump, More is Less

In observing Donald Trump, I am reminded of the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry is dating a women whom Newman has dumped. Jerry is dumbfounded. Elaine suggests, "Maybe there is more to Newman than meets the eye."

"Oh, no," Jerry responds, "there is less."

People - especially Republicans - struggle to understand, and then defend, Trump's outlandish remarks and antics, many suggesting, "Maybe he knows more than we think."

Oh, no. He knows less.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Po' Ass Can't Take a Whuppin'

“It’s a po’ ass that can’t take a whuppin’.” That bit of wisdom came to me courtesy of my uncle, Red Carter, many years ago. It still holds true today. And there is no better example of that than former UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.

The great heavyweight champion, George Foreman, after dismantling a ring opponent back in the early 70s, tempered the praise of ringside announcer, Howard Cosell, by saying, “Anybody can dish it out. A real champion is the man who can take it.” 

Again, it was George who tweeted this to Ronda following her devastating loss to Holly Holm in 2015: “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Foreman! Down goes Ali! We all got back up Ronda. So will you.” 

Except, Ronda is not made of the stuff of those great fighters. Less a champion, Ronda was more a product of UFC promotion, and the public’s twisted desire to parallel the triumphs of women in sports to those of men.

ESPN sports analyst, Max Kellerman, once compared the rise and fall of Ronda Rousey to the ups and downs of Mike Tyson’s career. Let’s see:  Ronda is 14-2, with one knockout and nine submissions by armbar. Tyson is 49-4, with 43 knockouts; the same number of KO’s as Rocky Marciano. (Not quite the correlation they were looking for, huh?)

Perhaps it is in the labeling: During Tyson’s reign as heavy weight champion, they proclaimed him “The baddest man on the planet.” During Ronda’s run, they proclaimed her “The baddest woman on the planet.” Ah… except, there is this rub:  In the fight game, only the heavyweight champion can reasonably call himself, “The baddest man on earth,” for only he is obliged to take on all comers to prove it. The champions of lesser weight classes – middleweight, welterweight, lightweight – are compelled to fight only men their size, or smaller. 

Back in the 40s, a two-fisted bartender, nicknamed “Two-ton” Tony Galento when asked if he could beat then heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, famously replied, “I’ll moider de bum.” Joe took the fight despite being outweighed by 200 pounds. He beat “two-ton” Tony down. Being heavyweight champion, Joe simply did his job. If some behemoth had challenged heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, in that same manner, Mike would have had to do the same. Such responsibilities come with the territory. 

Proclaiming Ronda Rousey “The baddest woman on the planet,” meant nothing. If a 235-pound female shot putter had challenged bantamweight champion, Rousey, to a fight, Ronda would have laughed and said, “lose a hundred pounds, girlfriend, and then come back to see me.” That would have been a bantamweight champion doing her job. 

Ronda burst onto the UFC scene with one spectacular victory after another, most of which came within the first minute of the first round. Gorgeous, to boot, they packaged and sold her before she knew who “her” was – trumpeting Ronda “The greatest female fighter ever!” at one stage in this ballyhoo, a handler, at the mention of boxing champion, Floyd Mayweather, scoffed, “Ronda would ‘rad doll’ him.” They had gone too far.

Of mixed martial art’s many disciplines – judo, boxing, karate, jujitsu – boxing imparts the most enviable edge. To simply be able to punch ad adversary in the mouth is extraordinarily menacing. Ronda’s principle discipline is judo, where she earned a bronze medal at the Olympics. As MMA fighters go, her striking/punching skill is tolerable; her ability to defend against strikes, atrocious. Ronda was a “one-trick pony.” Deny her the armbar, and she becomes a punching bag for skilled strikers. Holly Holm, with her boxing background, maintained her distance from Ronda with good footwork, and then pounded her to a pulp. 

On December 30, 2016 Ronda Rousey marched on the octagon for what should be the last time. The initial optics were convincing  - she appeared in great shape. She wore her trademark “mean-mug.” But, she had not come to fight. Ronda was there to collect three million dollars and get the hell out of there – one last time – in under a minute. Mission accomplished. She took some punches, grabbed the money, and was out of there in 48 seconds.

There is a world of sports far removed from mere mortals. It steams with testosterone as toxic as the Venusian plains. It is a land of giants – of Shaqs, Gronks, and Phi Slamma Jamma. There, boxing greats like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson cut other great fighters to shreds, as though they held straight razors in each hand. And hitters, like Big George Foreman and “Iron Mike” lift 200-pound bruisers off the floor with a single punch. It is a land of men, unsafe for women and children.