A quick nod here to BarbinMD, a DailyKossack who posted about the President’s command performance at Walter Reed Hospital, six weeks after shameful conditions there were exposed in the Washington Post. Bush’s belated attempt to take credit for reacting to the scandal, while downplaying his Administration’s lack of interest in veterans’ problems is the subject of the blogger’s scorn. Barbin makes a comparison with the President’s 2005 staged event in New Orleans’ Jackson Square, weeks after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city. He promised then to rebuild the Big Easy, bathed in klieg lights turned on only for his speech and then shut down, along with the power to run them, thirty minutes later.
Hopefully, we’ve come to see this kind of chicanery for what it is. Thanks for your indignation and for exposing the spin machine.
Barbin gets points also for noting that the photo-op hugfest ended an hour earlier than scheduled. It must have all been too much for the Commander-in-Chief to bear.
In all the coverage of Kyle Sampson’s testimony (five discussions with the AG about the dismissals!) and what it will mean for AG Gonzales, the retirement under fire of the San Diego FBI office may seem to be under the radar. Laura Rozen, who hopes it won’t go unnoticed, picked this news up from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
San Diego FBI chief Dan Dzwilewski, who was
rebuked by superiors for publicly defending
ousted U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, has announced
Dzwilewski, who has been at the helm of the San
Diego office since July 2003, sent an e-mail to
his agents and staff Wednesday saying he
planned to take a post as director of security at
Sempra Energy. His last day at the bureau is to
be April 30.
Some colleagues found the timing of the
announcement curious. On Tuesday, FBI Director
Robert Mueller acknowledged during testimony
before the Senate Judiciary Committee that one
of his subordinates, John Pistole, told Dzwilewski
that his statements on Lam were inappropriate
and that he should keep quiet.
Dzwilewski had said Lam's firing was political
and would adversely affect ongoing corruption
There’s a fellow who would have additional information about the damage done by the firings and the consequences for saying so publicly. It would be interesting to hear him testify before the Senate as well. Good catch by Rozen.
The 60 Minutes interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards prompts Bob Herbert to write this morning about the issues Edwards is out front on, including eliminating poverty. Imagine a real discussion in America about eliminating poverty…
The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal and crossposted here at Bill Kavanagh's gracious invitation.
My first love is baseball. I am a Yankee fan. Please don't snicker. Rooting for the Yankees doesn't make me a bad person. However, as another opening day approaches, I want to acknowledge the cultural importance of two Brooklyn Dodgers: team President Branch Rickey and second baseman Jackie Robinson. This season marks the 60th anniversary of their collaboration to break major league baseball's color barrier.
Baseball is America's enduring pastime. Hence, the game is a snapshot of America's soul. Prior to Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, baseball was at the forefront of America's institutionalized bigotry. Racism was not stigmatized in that era. Indeed, bigotry was mainstream. Just consider the story of Jimmy Claxton.
Claxton was the first black player in organized baseball in the 20th century. In 1916 he pitched in two games for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. The Oakland Oaks believed Claxton was a Native American. Once his race was discovered, Claxton was released. He would later play in the Negro Leagues.
In those days baseball's ruling class was an aristocracy of white conservative wealthy men with no appetite for change or trailblazers. Baseball Commissioner Judge Keneshaw Mountain Landis and owners such as the Yankees' Daniel Topping and Del Webb embraced the status quo as fervently as Saudi Arabia's ruling kingdom. Baseball's culture did not nurture change agents.
Branch Rickey was the exception. After a mediocre career as a player and manager, Rickey established a legacy as baseball's most innovative front office executive. With the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1920s and '30s, Rickey invented the modern farm system as a means of training and developing players.
Many fans of my generation are devoted followers of Sabrmetrics and grew up reading Bill James annual Baseball Abstracts. Yet it was really Branch Rickey who first challenged baseball's sacred myths with statistics. On August 2, 1954, when he was with the Dodgers, Rickey published an article in Life Magazine entitled, "Goodbye to Some Old Baseball Ideas" and pioneered new formulas for measuring the game three decades before anyone ever heard of Bill James. If you think breaking the color barrier was tough, just imagine challenging baseball's aristocracy about the exaggerated importance of batting average! My favorite quote from Rickey's article:
"I repeat: baseball people--and that includes myself--are slow to change and accept new ideas. I remember that it took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms. I know a manager who still believes that iodine is the panacea for sliding burns. It is the hardest thing in the world to get big league baseball to change anything--even spikes on a pair of shoes. But they will accept this new interpretation of baseball statistics eventually. They are bound to."
It took a visionary such as Rickey to challenge baseball's culture of institutionalized bigotry. In doing so, Rickey was under enormous pressure to select the right baseball player. And picking the right player went beyond picking the most talented. Had Rickey chosen a player without Robinson's intestinal fortitude, it might have been decades before baseball tried again.
The Negro leagues were populated with worthy players such as Larry Doby who later became the first black player in the American League. Satchell Paige, Robinson's teammate with the Kansas City Monarchs had also paid his dues and later on defied father time and pitched with distinction in the major leagues. Rickey's eye for talent and judge of character compelled him to make history with Jackie Robinson.
Robinson was the first four-letter athlete at UCLA between 1939-1941. A dynamic broken-field runner in football; as a point guard who introduced an up-tempo fast break in basketball; a speed demon in baseball; and an NCAA champion long jumper. At UCLA, Robinson also earned the reputation of someone who would stand up for himself and fight back.
After Pearl Harbor, Robinson was drafted into the Army and promoted to second lieutenant. Robinson's defiant nature resulted in his being court-martialed for not moving to the back of the bus. Robinson had not violated any articles of war. He merely committed the sin of standing up for his dignity. All charges were dismissed, and several months later, Robinson received an honorable discharge from the Army.
In 1945, Robinson was disenchanted with the Negro leagues. He was good enough for the major leagues but not getting a fair shot. Even in segregated America, a smart man like Robinson could do more with his life than pursue empty dreams in the Negro leagues. Robinson's love for the game nothwithstanding, he might have quit playing.
Enter Branch Rickey, of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had a proposition for Robinson: Rickey would make him the first player to sign a contract to play in white organized baseball only if Robinson promised not to retaliate, no matter the provocation. Larry Schwartz of ESPN, provided the following shorthanded version of their fateful conversation in 1945:
Rickey: "I know you're a good ballplayer. What I don't know is whether you have the guts."
Robinson: "Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"
Rickey, exploding: "Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."
Robinson accepted Rickey's terms and reported to the Dodger's top farm team, the Montreal Royals in 1946. He had no choice really. And Rickey understood that given the culture in both baseball and America, any retaliation by Robinson would close the door for other black players.
Robinson had played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs. The Dodgers already had future Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese, so Robinson moved to second base in Montreal and did not disappoint. He had a stellar season and led Montreal to their league championship. Rickey opted to promote Robinson the following season and he made his major league debut on April 15, 1947.
Art Rust Jr. was a black sports talk radio host I enjoyed listening to in the 1980s while growing up. I vividly recall Rust saying that Robinson's death at the age of 53, was due to the stress of suffering indignities and racism in silence. A proud man, Robinson honored his agreement and held his tongue. Whether that resulted in Robinson's death at a relatively young age is anyone's guess. But internalizing it had to extract some kind of price.
But the price was worth it as players such as Larry Doby, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks were soon after allowed to showcase their talents. Even the lily white Yankees finally relented and promoted Elston Howard to the big leagues. The culture remained slow to change however. As Peter Golenbock noted in his classic book Dynasty, Casey Stengel first comments about Elston Howard were "When I finally get a nigger. I get the only one who can't run."
Even as more black players became major league players, baseball remained slow to promote minorities as managers or in the front office. Frank Robinson became the first black manager with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. In 2005, Willie Randolph became the first black manager of a New York baseball team.
Sadly, blacks are declining in baseball today. Inner city blacks are far more interested in football and basketball. Growing up I enjoyed players such as Mickey Rivers, Roy White, Willie Randolph, Oscar Gamble, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield who all donned Yankee pinstripes. Today, the only African-American regular in the Yankee lineup is Derek Jeter who has a black father and white mother.
I wonder how many of today's athletes and front office executives understand the historical importance of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. Not only did they pave the way for future black baseball players but helped enhance the legitimacy of the civil rights movement. Much of the progress made in the past sixty years could not have taken place without Rickey's foresight and Robinson's courage. It doesn't seem right that their beloved baseball no longer interests today's young black athletes.
He was in his fifties, unshaven, wearing a baseball cap and a tieless suit. He was the kind of guy one typically avoids talking to in New York, exercising the emotional self-protection methods that get us through an average day.
I was stuck there standing, however, urinating in the men’s room at the multiplex in Times Square, having just seen “Reign Over Me,” the new film in which Adam Sandler plays a post-traumatic stress disorder victim. Something about the moment made me think this guy was OK, however, and might need a little sympathy. As I finished my business and moved past him to wash up, he asked me if I’d seen the picture.
He paused, thinking a minute. “Reign,” he answered.
“Yeah, I did,” I admitted.
“What did you think?” he asked.
“Pretty sad,” I offered. The film portrays the life today of a man whose entire family had been on the American Airlines flight from Boston that had crashed into One World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It is, in fact, pretty sad and oddly funny.
“I thought I was over it,” he told me. “I lost my cousin, but I thought I was OK. I couldn’t stay in there though. Sometimes I just can’t take it anymore,” he said through tears that were beading up on his cheeks.
“A lot of people aren’t over it. It’s still hard,” I said, knowing it wasn’t much help to him.
He moved to the door of one of the stalls. “I’m never going to be over it.”
“I know, but it gets better” I replied, knowing I really only began to understand his pain. “Take care of yourself.”
The guy closed the stall door.
PTSD is a fact of life, not only in this city, but among so many people, both the civilian victims of the attacks on New York and Washington and those who’ve been sent to the far corners of the earth to fight the wars that emanated from those attacks, justifiably and not so much so. Many of our families and neighbors live with the effects of untreated trauma, stress, and loss and only sometimes relate the symptoms to their causes. Not all of those affected have enough understanding of the problem to seek help and treatment.
One organization that works with the victims of PTSD is the Iraq Veterans Against the War, which reaches out to veterans without political fear or favor to help them get help. The US Department of Veterans Affairs also offers good links to the National Center for PTSD for both vets and civilians. As their site indicates, “learning how common PTSD is and finding that these problems are shared by hundreds of thousands of survivors of trauma can help people with PTSD recognize that they’re not alone, weak, or 'crazy.'"
It’s still a long road back to healthiness for our nation and for people as individuals. Many of us know folks who’ve lost part of their lives since 2001 and some of us have been a lot luckier than others in recovering from the trauma and loss. If you are suffering from symptoms of PTSD or know someone who is, know that it’s a courageous thing to reach out for help, not a weakness.
Speaking of the role of TPM Muckraker in the DOJ prosecutor scandal, Josh Gerstein has a piece in today’s NY Sun about the site beating the MSM to the punch on the latest data dump from DOJ. There’s even some question as to whether the blog is making the practice of “dumping” enormous quantities of data (with smoking guns buried somewhere inside, but presumably in quantities too small to easily find) obsolete.
There wasn’t much resolved yesterday at the Queens Courthouse, but the case did move forward. Three police officers were indicted in the death of Sean Bell, a young African American father, who was about to be married on the day he was killed. The grand jury had, as expected, returned indictments in the cases of three shooters who had fired the most shots at Mr. Bell’s vehicle early on that November morning outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens.
One of the wounded civilians involved, as well as Mr. Bell’s fiancée were in the courtroom as the three officers pled “not guilty” to all charges. Gescard Isnora and Michael Oliver were indicted on charges of manslaughter, assault, and reckless endangerment. Isnora fired first in the incident and fired eleven bullets into the vehicle that held Bell and friends. Oliver fired thirty-one times at the vehicle. Marc Cooper was indicted on two counts of reckless endangerment. He fired four times. One of Cooper’s shots hit the window of a JFK Airtrain at a station nearby.
It is likely that the defense will move for a change of venue, which could remove the trial from Queens, and probably from the City of New York. This tactic has been key to the defense in other police shooting trials, most notably in the 1999 case of Amadou Diallo, when an upstate jury found officers not guilty after forty-one shots were pumped into the African immigrant by NYC police in a case of mistaken identity. If the case is moved, Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking for the surviving victims, announced that they would not cooperate with the prosecution.
The three undercover officers were released, on bail in the case of Isnora and Oliver, and Cooper on his own recognizance. The case is scheduled to resume in April.
Josh Marshall’s TPM Muckraker blog gets a nice writeup by Terry McDermott in the LA Times today. The Muckraker was critical in breaking the story about the firing of federal prosecutors, which the Administration attempted to bury as separate, local, and unrelated to one another. TPM readers provided tips that helped put the pieces together.