Friday, April 24, 2009

The long-dead Brooklyn Dodgers still haunt New York

What an opening week in baseball this turned out to be, here in New York. Two new stadiums for the city's teams, the Yankees and the Mets, and more media hype than anyone thought possible. Along with a lot of angry fans!

Hardly had the final "Out" been called at the end of the first game in the Mets new home, misnamed "Citi Field," on April 13, than Mets fans began to inundate with phone calls the main radio sports station, WFAN, and the local ESPN radio station. They could hardly contain the anger, outrage, and even disbelief at what they considered the disrespectful treatment of the Mets team by its owners. This was dissing, big time!

The explosive outbursts continued for almost 24/7, with bewildered hosts first trying to field the bitter comments, then empathizing with the callers, all week long. The complaints were not just about preposterously inflated ticket prices for seats that offered obstructed views of the field, or outrageously over-priced food at upscale in-park restaurants and concessions. Those gripes were not even half of what aroused the explosive anger of Mets fans.

No, their ire was aroused by the fact that their beloved team had been used to act as a foil for a long-dead Brooklyn Dodgers team, that hardly any fan under 70 years old had ever rooted for. Today's teenage fan, or the 25-year-old or even the 30-year-old fan, carries not the vaguest memory of cheering a team in a place called Ebbets Field. Most of them, however, have learned of this revered episode in New York history from older relatives and through history lessons in school, that tie the career of Dodgers' player Jackie Robinson to the civil rights movement. This knowledge is considered a fact of life and is not disputed.

As described by disgruntled fans, to walk through the entrance of Citi Field is to walk into a mock-up construction of Ebbets Field, and then into an almost religious homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers – the team that was put to rest in the late 1950s. This main entryway leads into a 160-foot diameter space called the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which houses giant photographs and memorabilia dedicated to the late Dodger ballplayer. There are words by and about Robinson etched into the surrounding walls, along with continuously playing loops of film footage of Robinson. There is an 8-foot sculpture of Robinson's number "42," a number that has been retired by every major league baseball team.

"Where are photos and films and visual images of the Mets players we grew up cheering?" fans angrily inquired of anyone who would listen. Since Robinson never even played for the Mets, never wore a Mets uniform, how is it possible that management would elevate this player above all others, here in the entrance of the new stadium built expressly for the New York Metropolitans? Where in the world, fans protested repeatedly, was the homage to the heritage of the Mets – you know, the team that is expected to play ball in this place for possibly the next half-century? Where is recognition of their first half-century of accomplishments, which began in 1962, and where, at least, are the plaudits to their spectacular World Series wins in 1969 and 1986? Is that all just chicken feed?

No fans had any problem with a section of the park being dedicated to Robinson, the man who "broke the color barrier" in baseball, as an addendum, but not as the central feature of the stadium. Having never played on the Mets team, his achievements belonged to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

On the whole, most radio hosts caught on to the sincerity of the grievances of Mets fans, and allowed them to vent their rage. None of the WFAN hosts had yet visited Citi Field, so they were taken aback when one caller after another verified previous callers' depictions. One benighted host, whose name I don't remember, seriously accused fans of taking a "blasphemous" position against the icon in the Rotunda. [Dictionary definition of blaspheme: to speak irreverently of a god or sacred things.] Hmm.

And, of course, there are always those "good" whites, who are so eager to detect anything that can be interpreted as smacking of "racism." Steve Somers, late night host of WFAN, who also had not yet seen the new stadium, could not resist using the suggestion of racism against callers who expressed perfectly legitimate gripes. Tony Paige, however, WFAN's black host, said he was disappointed not to see celebrations to other great Dodgers, as well as Mets. It's okay for the rotunda to be named for Robinson, he maintained, but why not make it a general homage to all the great ballplayers of both teams?

WFAN's main sports announcer, Mike Francesa, ultimately just tried to shut up fans. Without resorting to name-calling, he first expressed genuine surprise over the vehemence of the complaints, and then became protective of Mets management, insisting that the owners were certain to "make some adjustments," once they were clued into fans' responses.

He was right about that. By April 16, the third day of the storm, fans were calling in to tell of giant posters of Mets ballplayers that were being affixed by stadium staff to the exterior of Citi Field. Are they now putting up posters of Casey Stengel, the Mets' first manager, or pitcher Tom Seaver, or Willie Mays? With my own eyes, I can attest to the fact that appropriate graphics already decorated the new Yankee Stadium, from day one. No one had to nudge those owners into public recognition of Yankee history.

Over and over, radio hosts and callers felt obligated to repeat something like, Not to take away from Robinson's greatness, or Not that I don't respect what a pioneer he was, or Not that I don't understand how much he did for our society, yaddah, yaddah. Only after carefully reciting such platitudes did they feel safe to voice their opinions about Mets' owner Fred Wilpon's gross negligence, perhaps even contempt, of the Mets own heritage.

Much is made of Wilpon's passionate love of all things Dodgers. His fondest memories supposedly consist of his trips with his father to Ebbets Field. One would think, however, that he would be able to separate his childhood attachments from the reality of the business of baseball. Unless, of course, his fixation is more of a psychosis. It might be fair to question whether Wilpon has an obsessive attachment to a long-dead team, or harbors a fixation for a revered ball player, or is it a preoccupation with a particular civil rights episode?

Wilpon actually displaced the "Hall of Fame" that commemorated Mets players in their old Shea Stadium, and substituted, instead, the Robinson-Dodger shrine in Citi Field. Word has it that the exhibits (busts, banners, statues) from Shea's glory days are "currently in storage." One Mets blogger observes, "It's like Mets history was carted away on a flatbed with the last piles of rubble from Shea Stadium." With the blessings of Fred Wilpon, apparently.

As another blogger puts it, due to the overpowering fame of the New York Yankees, "the Mets have always had a problem with being treated as if they were secondary. ... Citi Field is a reminder that for many old Dodger fans, the Mets are a consolation prize."

One might ask why the Robinson Rotunda is not a fixture in the stadium of the true heirs of the Brooklyn Dodgers, namely, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It's not as if Robinson has been forgotten and relegated to the dustbin of history. On the contrary. He could arguably be called the most celebrated baseball figure ever, superseding even Babe Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle. There are schools named for him, streets and highways named for him, youth parks and college stadiums named for him.

And it's not as if young people do not get a full dose of the civil rights story and, therefore, need to be educated in the Robinson legacy. When being taught, it is not unusual for civil rights propaganda to move from Martin Luther King, Jr. straight to Jackie Robinson. Robinson's life is a thoroughly covered chapter in school history texts and classrooms.

In major league baseball, every year, an entire day, April 15, is set aside to honor Robinson. As stated above, his number 42 can no longer be worn by any player on any team, except on this day, when all players, coaches and managers are expected to wear it. Some people consider this a rather excessive encomium to one man. Why not have an annual day set aside to honor a different player every year? Why not a Ted Williams Day, where his number 9 is worn, or Joe DiMaggio's number 5 is honored?

One is left with the suspicion that it is not Robinson's skills as an outstanding athlete that are being commemorated, but there is a greater desire, in some quarters, to keep alive the memory of the social conditions that prevailed in the country at the time. As if Americans are not badgered with the civil rights theme at every turn – Justice, Equality, Humanity. We must now attend baseball games for yet more lecturing about our nation's past wickedness and the triumph over Evil. If this is, indeed, the heart of Fred Wilpon's attachment to the Brooklyn Dodgers, would it not be more fitting for this Jackie Robinson Rotunda to be set up in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial soon to be constructed on the Mall in Washington, DC?

When the bleak days of persecution were finally over for Robinson, he was feted and celebrated as a sports figure, businessman, and much-sought-after public speaker. His career with the Dodgers began in 1947, and, in 1950, Hollywood was already producing a film of his life, in which Robinson played himself. He lived many good years basking in the public's adulation and appreciation of his talents, and he, apparently, never viewed himself as a "victim."

After recovering from the shock of the epithets hurled at him by indignant Mets fans, Fred Wilpon claimed that, although the new Citi Field "does not have room" to set up commemorations to the Mets, he will, nevertheless, put up some "banners and placques." Days later, he claimed there will be a Hall of Fame, after all. "We think it will be out in the food court, where so many people will get to see it," he added.

And still days later, the Mets V.P. of Business Operations, David Howard, began the public relations task of clean up. He could not deny that, until the loud fan base spoke up, there was little consideration of Mets history by management. But all that's going to change, he insisted. In an interview, after first sermonizing on the civil rights achievements of Jackie Robinson and "all he did for America," Howard expanded on Wilpon's promise to show greater recognition for the Mets team. "We'll roll out additional elements," he declared, referencing mementos and such.

I suspect that, after all this furore, Mets management will be falling all over itself to do more than just "roll out" some memorabilia. We can probably expect placques and friezes and statues galore of Mets luminaries. No doubt, extra-special attention will now be given to former Met Dwight Gooden, who initially was chastised by Mets management for responding to a fan's request to sign his name to a wall in the stadium's "Ebbets Field Club." (What else would it be named?) After being subjected to yet more outcries from the fan base, for insulting Gooden, management reversed itself and decided, not only to preserve the Gooden signature wall, but to request other Mets, such as Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza, to add their signatures as well.

Sometimes, it takes a lot of hollering to wake up the clueless.

See also:
Welcome to CitiField... home of the Mets and shrine to the Dodgers

An Addendum

And then there's the New York Yankees, and the scandal of their newly built (and totally unnecessary) stadium, conceived in greed, and built on avarice. This is a shopping mall pretending to be a sports stadium, built primarily to cater to corporate megamillionaires. Management's irresponsible financial miscalculations just might be their undoing. They might live to be sorry that they trashed the house that Ruth built, which I still view every day on my ride on the elevated #4 subway train. Two giant stadiums, side by side – one, a place that ordinary fans could afford, and the other, an extravaganza of luxury suites, exclusive clubs, and $2,500 seats.

As Matt Taibbi puts it, as the consequences of the economic recession take hold, there will be nothing more entertaining than watching this Yankee management "choke on their own greed." Greed, aided and abetted, that is, by the unwitting taxpayers of New York.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Political profiling and the attempt to squelch dissent

There is probably no species I disdain more than "watchdog" groups whose members set about scrutinizing the behavior, conduct and attitudes of their fellow citizens, determined to expunge views deemed "undesirable." These self-righteous caretakers make a mockery of American freedom. See The Watchdogs: A close look at Anti-Racist 'Watchdog' Groups,by Laird Wilcox. All too often, when their efforts to inform the populace of some potential calamity fail to arouse the desired concern, these interlopers are known to further embellish their hoaxes, and even engage in outright lies. They are given to contriving whatever it takes to denigrate perfectly legitimate challenges to public policies, in order to make those they view as political opponents look like "threats" to the social order.

The most recent case of such chicanery comes in the form of the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC), an entity initially concocted by Missouri's Department of Public Safety. In February, MIAC issued a report entitled, "The Modern Militia Movement," whose purpose was to warn the public of scary organizations filled with shady individuals who hold unconventional attitudes and pursue anti-American activities.

If you thought you had heard the last of militia-bashing, think again. It seems that "militia" has metamorphosed into a frame of mind, rather than an actual membership group. You might be a militia type simply due to some of the notions you carry in your head. It appears that the militia groups of the 1990s, that were intimidated out of existence by Bill Clinton's jack-booted mobs, will forever be conjured up and given new life, whenever powerful cliques desire to squelch the political views of their opponents.

You might ask, can't a citizen question the role played by the Federal Reserve or the usefulness of U.S. membership in the United Nations or take a stand against illegal immigration? It seems not. For these are among a specific list of categories used by this Missouri government agency to profile potentially dangerous "militia" types. Also under suspicion for anti-American thinking are those who oppose gun control, those who challenge the government's right to violate the Posse Comitatus clause in the Constitution, and those who express opposition to the North American Union and to abortion. And don't have a beef with the income tax!

Unfortunately, since 9/11, many newly created agencies have been given carte blanche by the Department of Homeland Security, ostensibly to alert police and other law enforcement officers to prospective social misfits. Almost every state has something called a "fusion center," whereby an agency is set up primarily to ferret out "domestic terrorists." And which state would not welcome yet another make-work opportunity, to justify a substantial flow of federal funds? These fusion centers found ways to further feed at the public trough long before bail-outs and stimulus packages became popular. Worst of all, they operate under the false guise of "assisting" the police in recognizing so-called enemies of society.

When first perusing the MIAC report, I was struck by the simpleminded disparagement of challenges to government policy for which there are First Amendment constitutional protections. In the opinion of the creators of the report, even to be opposed to a call for a Constitutional Convention makes one suspect. Say, what? But I was really taken aback when I came across this statement:

Militia members most commonly associate with third party political groups . . . are usually supporters of former Presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr."

Now, my first choice for President in the last election was the Honorable Ron Paul. But on November 4, 2008, it was not possible to vote for him here in New York. As it turned out, my second choice also was not on the state ballot. That was Rev. Chuck Baldwin. And so, I opted to vote for someone who was much further down my list of choices, former Congressman Bob Barr. When I saw these three names, of all people, in that MIAC report, I laughed.

But, of course, this is no laughing matter. Imagine what these watchdogs are implying. They are sending signals to law enforcement personnel to keep an eye on people wearing buttons with particular politicians' names on them, on cars that bear bumper stickers with names like Ron Paul, and on protesters carrying signs supporting or discrediting specific causes.

The tone and spirit of the MIAC report had a familiar ring to it. It sounded similar to screeds regularly disseminated by those scapegoating watchdogs, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League (ADL). So, when I read this statement by Chuck Baldwin, I knew he had it right:

I am absolutely convinced we will find that this report actually originates with Morris Dees and his ultra-liberal Southern Poverty Law Center. And if my hunch (a very educated hunch, I might add) is correct, it means that the Department of Homeland Security and various State police agencies around the country are allowing a left-wing special interest group to use them to harass, intimidate, and profile people with conservative political opinions.

Campaigns to "reeducate" police departments around the country have been underway for some time by these self-appointed watchdog groups, initiated by the ADL. They began with the passage of "hate crime" laws in various states and municipalities. As we see, they have now expanded to include still further whims and fancies of the doctrinaire left. Political "independents" are clearly targeted. Notice how only conservative-libertarian independents are profiled in that MIAC report. Why not the left-leaning independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont? There's no greater hell-raiser when it comes to challenging government policies than my favorite leftist, the estimable Bernie (who identifies himself as a "Socialist"). Obviously, the MIAC crew considers Sanders on the correct side of the political spectrum; hence, no need for political profiling.

As the MIAC report made its way into the media, first via the muckraker Alex Jones, and eventually into the hands of radio and TV talk show hosts, an avalanche of criticism poured down on the Missouri state government. William Gheen, director of Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC), expressed shock "to see credible law enforcement agencies disseminating the same kind of over-the-top political propaganda" distributed by such groups as the SPLC and ADL.

Gheen stressed the fact that, however these groups might market themselves, they are nothing more than political organizations with stated political goals and agendas. The founders and directors of these watchdog groups are not unbiased, objective bystanders. On the contrary, through character assassination and smear tactics, they work to instill fear in the general public, in order to weaken the will to dissent.

A major charge made by the watchdog groups against "militia" adherents is their tendency to promote "conspiracy theories" about government persecution. So, it is ironic that the very existence of this MIAC report, developed by a government agency to instruct law enforcement personnel, confirms fears of government abuse. That is, the government, using the force of law, appears intent on curtailing individual liberty, free speech, and even the right to vote for a preferred political candidate and belong to an independent political party.

The huge public outcry against the MIAC report finally resulted in Missouri's Governor Jay Nixon rescinding its further distribution. Also, John Britt, the director of the Department of Public Safety, was placed on "administrative leave." In addition, several Missouri state legislators promised to introduce an amendment that would bar the Department of Public Safety from ever using state or federal funds for political profiling. Official apologies were sent to Rep. Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr.

But the damage has already been done. As Chuck Baldwin, observes,

The fear and intimidation associated with those referenced in this report has already taken place. Are people opposed to abortion, illegal immigration, the Income Tax, the U.N., etc., now afraid to express their opinions publicly (especially in Missouri)?

Will similar political profiling reports be better hidden from public view? Have we seen the end of this type of pernicious scapegoating, or will greater secrecy be employed in the future, to keep such briefings under wraps?

The mainstream media, of course, will learn nothing from this incident. Newscasters, journalists and pundits will continue to accept as Gospel the press releases and "intelligence" reports that flow almost daily from these notorious surveillance groups. After all, they make such good news fillers. Fawning, deferential members of the media, for years, have ignored all criticism of these spy organizations, as newspapers and other media outlets propagate their slanders and rumors, thus granting them the credibility they do not deserve.


The New York Times, the Watchdogs, and the crusade to destroy the immigration reform movement

Waiting for the glorified fireman (Chuck Baldwin)
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