Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Making a Difference

I’m an old baseball junky. Played it incessantly as a kid, all of the way from Little League to high school. Two guys I grew up with made the majors, and I was offered a low minors contract. But this was back when the minors had AAA, AA, A, and B-D classifications, meaning they needed lots of fresh meat. I knew I wasn’t good enough, and, besides, in hindsight, neither of the guys I knew made more than about $15K a year (this was back before the explosion in salaries). Anyway, I always make time for the World Series and for the baseball all star game, which is, IMO, the purest of them all because the players actually try. The other sports’ all star games are merely exhibitions.

So tonight I’m watching the All Star Game. But it was kind of ruined for me during the pre game show when the two drivelers of Fox Sports, Joe Buck and his sidekick, the inept Tim McCarver, hosted something called “People Who Make a Difference.” As an aside, one of the things that always irks me is that the two mediocrities—Buck and McCarver—make more than a million dollars a year apiece. For doing a poor job of broadcasting sports. On the field were 30 great people, people who’ve gone out of their way to actually help others, and who don't come anywere near a million a year, making a difference; they deserve all of the credit in the world.

But here’s what really got to me. They did a little cute thing where five of the 30 “Difference Makers” were showcased in videos narrated by the current president and the four living former presidents. With the exception of Jimmy Carter, for whom I have the utmost respect, all I could think of while listening to these “great men” drone on in extolling the virtues of volunteer work, was “humma-humma-woof-woof,” an expression I picked up in from the many cynics with whom I served in the military whenever a “great man” made some sort of pronouncement about how "we're all in this together." Substitute “motherhood and apple pie” if you don’t like my expression.

As I was watching the extravaganza, I was wondering just why I got a bad taste in my mouth watching these presidents hold forth on the virtues of these individual Americans and how we (you and me) can really make a difference in our nation. And then it struck me: these guys can sure talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Are "we all in it together" with these men? Can I actually identify with them?

The current occupant, Barack Obama, was elected—and let’s be honest here—with votes from middle and lower class folks who believed his speeches about “making a difference” and who believed that would translate into a difference for them personally. Yeah, I voted for him, but to be honest, inasmuch as I’d already bailed from the stock market, a McCain victory wouldn’t have affected me too much personally. So what have we seen from Mr. Obama? I see lots of stuff about how Goldman Sachs and other bankers are already back making money. I see where Bank of America won’t give a home loan, but is sure interested in raising the salaries of its executive. All of this after the American people ponied up the money to rescue these ungrateful bankers. It seems Mr. Obama never met a banker he wouldn’t save, but isn’t overly concerned about continually rising unemployment, most of it among those who voted for him. Oh, and then there are the wars and the defense of the unlawful actions of the Bush Administration. Mr. Obama now believes in the national security state. He also believes in nation building and in commitment of U.S. troops in godforsaken foreign lands into the far future, for objectives that are difficult to discern. It doesn’t escape my notice that most of those who actually fight and die in the wars are not exactly what one would term “upper class.” Obama’s friends won’t die in any wars, they’ll just keep making money. I don't need your lectures, Mr. Obama. Just do what you said you would do.

Then there is George W. Bush. I laugh when this contemptible man has the effrontery to lecture me on “making a difference.” Fortunately, I think (hope) we’re resilient enough to rebound from this man’s offenses, but it’s going to be a close call. He enriched the already rich and he put the nation in severe peril through his tax cutting and his stupid wars. He deserves the "worst president" label. Yeah, he sure made a difference.

Although Bill Clinton has done much good since he left office, we still need to look at how he actually performed as president. Yes, the economy grew and the stock market went up, but hidden in there were the loss of American jobs and, notably, the relaxation of sound banking regulations. The latter turned into a time bomb and it’s noteworthy that many folks who sold Clinton on the beneficial aspects of the relaxation now occupy leading positions in Obama’s administration. What else? Oh, yeah, the best chance ever for a national health plan. Bill Clinton submarined the opportunity by putting his wife and other ideologues in charge. One wonders if this was a quid pro quo for his history of personal weaknesses. And Clinton didn’t reform: he actually ensured the election of George Bush as his successor through his inability to keep his pants zipped. I don’t want Clinton lecturing me either.

The patrician “Poppie,” George H.W. Bush, who wants to be everybody’s grandfather. Not mine, thank you. Doesn’t seem to have done much of a job with his own kids; why would I want him near mine? Never met an oil man or banker he didn’t love. Loved what his wife said about Hurricane Katrina refugees. I voted for Ross Perot, in hopes that he was launching a viable alternative to our current corrupt party system. Unfortunately, Perot turned out to be wacko with no staying power, but even in 1992, I knew the truth. No lectures from Poppy, thank you.

Jimmy Carter, a truly admirable man, way over his head as president. I wish he’d never been president—he gave us Reagan—but I’m glad he was born. He tried, but he failed, so he did us no favors. I'll listen to this man.

So there you have it. Five presidents, only one whom—Carter—has actually tried to walk the walk. The rest of ‘em are great talkers, but that’s all they are. Check their bank accounts.

Unlike most of us, presidents, by definition always make a difference. So why is it that the difference presidents have made during our lifetimes has unfailingly been negative? They kill us, they bankrupt us, they put us out of work, sometimes a combination of all. Why do the American people end up the big losers in the game these monied people play to be anointed president? With the exception of Carter, every one of these presidents is a believer in "trickle down economics," the theory that enriching the rich will redound to the benefit of the lower classes. Yes, the theory has worked temporarily, sometimes through true economic growth (rare), but more often through extensive borrowing. They're all Reaganites! Given economics and wars, our nation is in a disgraceful state, thanks to the cumulative effects of the efforts of these presidents and their political henchmen. Congress? Sure, but the president has the power of suasion and the veto. I don't identify with these dudes. No way, no how.

Final score: American League 4, National League 3. Damn it!


  1. The National League has been breaking my heart ever since Braves Field in 1948. Yet you gotta love them, they play real baseball instead of a home run derby by a juiced up steroidal DH. I can't understand why they have won only 40% of the World Series series championships since 1903(?), money I suspect.

    Obama's first pitch did not impress. It had the trajectory of last years stock market. Let's hope he pitches some hard fastballs to Goldman Sachs and their ilk.

    BTW, make it a real World Series and open it up to Japan, Cuba, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and anyone else who wants to compete.


  2. Every succeeding election drives home the reminder that our Revolution was never about "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" but that a bunch of wealthy to fairly wealthy white guys were chapped that a bunch of OTHER wealthy white guys got to rule them - and tax them - and they didn't like that.

    The real populist success stories in American politics are few and far between. Most of our rulers have come from the "governing class" or, once elected, have been drawn, by money and power, into that fold. Certainly there have been exceptions...but not many, and certainly not for the past 29 years.

    We're as stratified and as clas-bound in 2009 as we were in 1899, in many ways, and yet the magic of the electronical television allows us to pretend that those heartwarming Horation Alger stories still happen and really make a difference, as though one Latino becoming a big-league executive cancels out the other 99.6% of the trust-fund kids who make up the owners, CEOs and executives of the large corporations, unions and political parties that run our lives.

    So the spectacle of a bunch of entitled pols extolling the virtues of good old-fashioned hard work and sacrifice? Mockery, yes, but not unexpected.

  3. And as a comment on BB in general - I was a big fan from my school days through the 1980s. But the combination of the ridiculous juicing, the whoring for advertisers, and especially the endless game length finally managed to kill my affection for the sport.

    Bill James (of course) had a good essay about this, about how there were things that were good for the athletes and the teams that were bad for the sport as an event, and that the endlessly long pace of so many of the games was one, and one that could be controlled if the sport had a real commissioner willing to regulate the thing, instead of a shill for the owners who just wanted to plump up the till.

    And lets not EVEN get into the state of the professional minor leagues...

    If MLB ever gets its shit together and reins in the endless diddling around - the repeated throws to first, the stepping out of the batters box or off the rubber (and all the other assorted fiddling and twitching that seems to accompany most at-bats), the multiple pitching changes in the mid-innings of meaningless games - and gets the time back down to 2 hours or less, then I'll be back. But 2:50? That's nuts.

    If I want to sit on my dead ass and watch a bunch of overpaid prima donnas for three hours, I'll go to the opera.

  4. There is a sense, an idea percolating up through our consciousness, our collective idealism, penetrating our carefully constructed social mythology that this land, this nation, founded hundreds of years ago by refugees, adventurers, businessmen, and slaves…all dreamers of something grand and majestic…really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
    Oh sure, we have “words” on a piece of paper written by these men extolling the virtues of individuality tempered by social responsibility, which lead to the social construct of the needs of my neighbor is the measure of my help, which even today, we all pay homage too even though really? Come on…seriously, my one new neighbor is a putz, my other neighbor…nice lady, my neighbors across the street…perhaps we’ll speak the same language…but depends if the exchange is civil and the subject neutral. All in all, the creed of the neighbor’s need is now myth, legend, but still nice to pander too at baseball games.
    So we all resort to our utopian mythologies that this nation has been infected with because it is so much easier to pander to a legend than it is to actually make something tangible from it.
    Words are so much cheaper to employ than actually sweating the response you get from a person who is wondering “really, why are you helping me…what is your angle?”

    So now…with the past eight years behind us, we stare at our nation vacantly, much like a newly widowed spouse pondering their future without their mate, wondering, “what now?”

    What now, indeed.

  5. What now do we make of our national institutions that we have all bought in too, even though the inhabitants therein seem to have no sense that we exist outside their windowless suites unless it’s beat the street for votes once in a grand while?
    Government…the Congress, the Presidential office, the Supreme court…what are we to make of these institutions who represent only those who can afford the wordsmiths, the plush excesses that only a few of the nations richest can pay for…what are we to do with a Government beholden to the wealthy of the world?
    We, the citizens, the ones who make the whole damn thing work, we’ve been promised change, and yet change has been the red-headed step child relegated to sleeping underneath the stairs.
    We, the citizens, the ones who have been duped repeatedly by those we have elected, we’ve been promised institutional openness of our Government, and yet that promise of openness has been treated like typhoid Mary after her second quarantine.
    We, the citizens, the ones who are manning the military, bleeding and dying, who have said our goodbyes to our loved ones, we’ve been promised an end to the insanity of watching our children and parents spill their blood in a foreign land that has nothing to do with our security, but everything to do with the rich and powerful. And the one land which actually had something to do with our security…treated as another jaunt in the colonies not of our choosing.
    And so now we come to the truth of our sorry state…the words are empty, the promises meaningless, and the problems are ours to be bear alone because there is no hope of respite from those who have impose these chains of powerlessness and hopelessness on us.
    What do we do…the dreamer has awaken, and has found it was just a dream…

  6. And so I think of King David, the prince of excesses who had the temerity to be intellectually honest with himself and G-d, even though that seemed to be the only two he was honest with…

    (Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 NIV)
    What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
    Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"?
    It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
    I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
    I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.
    What a heavy burden God has laid on men!
    I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

    And so I read David’s words, and I wonder as I stare emptily into eternity all the way to the edge of time… really, what has changed since then?

  7. Publius,
    The only benefit I got from playing baseball was learning how to throw grenades. It was a natural transition, so we should continue the sport to train future little grenade throwers.
    Well it seems that your enfatuation with Commander O is growing dim. I'm a better person than one who would say -we told you so.
    Obama has ADHD of the mouth. The man loves to preach and talk. We should pay him by the word.
    I expected NOTHING from Obama and it appears that he'll deliver.
    Let's take your dialogue back into our early lives. What did Truman and Eisenhower do for guys like your father and mine? And by extension what did they do for the families of these type of men.?
    My point is that the Presidency is as big a lie as is the concept and reality of democracy in America. Both of our fathers fought for this country but what benefits did they accrue?

  8. Powerful words, Sheer, and probably true.

    Now that you've adequately described the current situation, I challenge you to look into your crystal ball and tell us what is to come.

  9. You ask for a prophet to tell you the future, and yet the future is plain as day...
    "O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary. She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter among all her lovers; all her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies."

    I have an uncomfortable feeling that Aldous Huxley's was on to something when he wrote "Brave new world."
    A coworker, as we were discussing this today, sent me a link, which I'll share...
    You need Quicktime to view it, but it is a series of pic's detailing Neil Postman's comparative thesis in his book "Amusing ourselves to death" between Orwell's 1984, and Huxley's Brave New World.
    Apparenlty, Mr. Postman's thesis is that Orwell was wrong in his main point...that the Government would impose conformity on the people, rather he argues, that people will choose conformity...willingly.

    Our "future" is here, now...we're living in it.

  10. Publius-

    I too played baseball as a kid, just Little League though. Never watched much pro sports on TV, except for Pro Football with my folks, they both loved it and it was nice when I was home to share that with them.

    I think there is a connection, which you imply between what has happened to baseball and what has happend to our politics (and journalism).

    Sometime back in the 1980s our political elite came to the realization that the future vision we had been selling ourselves and the rest of the world wasn't going to pan out in the long run and that those with the most would have to pony up and become essentially the same as what had happened to the political/economic elite in Europe (only marginally better off than the middle class).

    Nobody at the top wanted that, so Reaganomics and Thatcherism came along, and with that entertainment became a commodity to distract and promote mindless consumerism and the "values" behind it. . . what you buy is who you are, if you can buy a lot than you are a success/very important, if you can't your a loser since it's your problem, not the system's . . .

    If you are in the biz of selling this swindle you can make a lot of money, as in journalism, or more indirectly professional sports. Tell the young that the way to success is throwing a ball around and you preclude a hell of a lot of energy that could have been used to promote political change, especially among the young, who always consitute a threat in this regard.

    Nobody who counted wanted a replay of the 1960s . . .

    Btw, feeling much better, typing with both hands.

  11. I too was a Little Leaguer, pretty decent fielder but stunk at the bat.

    I've seen Obama's pitch already a dozen times :) and it seems to me it's reflective of his administration to this point.

    Decent form, takes a while to get to the plate, but doesn't quite go the whole distance to make it to the plate.

    seydlitz, do you get Colbert's show? He had Douglas Rushkoff on last night, an amazing coincidence with your comment here. Must be psychic, eh?


    Video at Colbert's site:


    sheerah, we've got to get us a religion thread going here, with religion in the news for the past few weeks. I'm referring to Ensign, Sanford and others. And now seydlitz's brought up the topic of prosperity/success theology too.

    BTW, seydlitz, nothing too serious, I hope?

    Back to Publius, Barney Frank was on Stewart's show this week explaining that the reason Stimulus 1 was short was because of Republican opposition.


    I think I would tend to believe him about that matter, though I'm not capable to discuss financial matters at that level.

    And because Congressional Republicans are so miserably shitty I wouldn't put it past them. One thing Obama's crew has done right WRT to those stinkers is concerning Arizona and its 2 potholes in the Highway of Life, McCain and Kyl, who have bitched about the stimulus money all along. Some Obama cabinet members sent a letter to the governor asking whether her state's share of the money should be taken away.

    Here's the story:


    QUOTE:Kyl maintains this year's stimulus law isn't working as advertised and argues that taxpayers shouldn't have to stay on the hook for money that hasn't been spent or won't be spent until years from now.

    On Monday, four Obama Cabinet secretaries sent letters to Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asking if she, too, wanted to shut off the spigot of federal stimulus cash.

    “I believe the stimulus has been very effective in creating job opportunities throughout the country,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote to Brewer. “However, if you prefer to forfeit the money we are making available to the state, as Senator Kyl suggests, please let me know.”

    McCain shot back on Tuesday: “I strongly support the comments of Senator Kyl and call on the administration to retract its threat against the citizens of Arizona."

    Brewer also weighed in on the brewing political controversy.

    "The governor is hopeful that these federal Cabinet officials are not threatening to deny Arizona citizens the portion of federal stimulus funds to which they are entitled," Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said. "She believes that would be a tremendous mistake by the administration. And the governor is grateful for the strong leadership and representation that Arizonans enjoy in the United States Senate."ENDQUOTE

    More of this boot to butt for Arizona's TweedleDum and TweedleDummer, please.


  12. Basil-

    Feeling much better thank you.

    Don't get Colbert, but will have to start to.

  13. You gave us a bunch of presidents taht we shouldn't believe in. Can you give us any president, or anyone in American politics, who is under the lable "One Man Can Make A Difference"?

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