Another Day, Another Meeting: From Russia With Love

It’s time to Break It Down!

We are having another frenetic news week. Welcome to 2017. To be sure, in the current environment, that’s not an unusual occurrence. Yes, of course there have been hectic news weeks in the past. And there will be more. However, a lot of people I know believe that TrumpWorld has brought us to a unique intersection in history; one unparalleled by almost any measure, except for those that are irrevocably slanted hard right.

A few of the more notable news stories to hit the airways and newsstands since the weekend include:

  • A Fox News Analyst (Shepard Smith) actually called Donald Trump a liar
  • Sean Spicer fell behind the info curve, claimed Kushner’s meeting was about Russian adoption (a euphemism for removing sanctions against human rights abusers)
  • Trumpcare faces demise as two more senators withdraw support
  • With insufficient support for Trumpcare, Trump says let Obamacare fail
  • Tropical Storm Don weakens in the Caribbean, while Tropical Storm Hilary (one L) emerges in the Eastern Pacific
  • The GOP-friendly Wall Street Journal renders a scathing assessment of Donald Trump’s Russiagate (my term, not the Journal’s)
  • A previously unreported meeting between Trump and Putin revealed

That’s seven separate stories and the week is just halfway over. Any of them would fuel a righteous panel discussion or a spirited debate among folks with opposing views; possibly, among even people with similar views. As for today’s post, I saved the best for last. I will elevate and discuss, briefly, the most recently disclosed meeting between Trump and Putin on July 7th during the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.

To frame this meeting, which Team Trump says was really not a meeting unto itself, but just an extension of the previous meeting of approximately two hours that has been reported. According to the White House’s official statement, it was “brief.”

In a grander context, with a different cast of characters, that characterization might just fly. But in TrumpWorld…er, I mean, today, given some of the unusual details we have logged into our consciousness, not so much.

This meeting lasted for nearly an hourly, according to a Trump staffer, and included only three people: Trump, Putin, and a Russian translator. When conceding that Trump’s source for understanding the meeting was a Russian translator, the White House source indicated that the U.S. translator at the dinner spoke Japanese. How interesting!

Now no matter how much one embraces the narrative that Mr. Trump is the master deal maker, and great communicator, it’s worth being reminded of his numerous communications faux pas when left to his own devices, whether on Twitter, or in person. Of course, this is not the first time Trump has pushed the envelope in meeting with the Russians. Back on Wednesday May 10th, he met with top Russian officials in the Oval Office. White House officials barred reporters from witnessing the moment. They apparently preferred to block coverage of the awkwardly timed visit as questions swirled about whether the president had dismissed his F.B.I. director in part to squelch the investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Moscow.

The Russians conveniently brought their own media, a largely state-run operation, in the form of an official photographer. They quickly filled the communications vacuum with their own pictures of the meeting with Mr. Trump, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador to the United States. Within minutes of the meeting, the Foreign Ministry had posted photographs on Twitter of Mr. Trump and Mr. Lavrov smiling and shaking hands. The Russian embassy posted images of the president grinning and gripping hands with the ambassador. Tass, Russia’s official news agency, released more photographs of the three men laughing together in the Oval Office.

In explaining, and perhaps, more aptly, defending, the circumstances of the meeting, White House staff said the conversation took place in full view (though without translators, probably not understanding) of other world leaders and their spouses at a dinner hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The White House sought to downplay the significance of the “discussion.” Their statement maintained:

“It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a president’s duties, to interact with world leaders.”

You know what? That’s true. But you know what is not perfectly normal, or heretofore considered part of the President’s duties? How about taking a meeting in the White House with Russian media, while barring the American press? Or, staying off camera while the Russians follow-up the meeting(s) between our two Presidents, by stating that our President accepted the denial of their President over hacking accusations, when our intelligence agencies are the source of the accusations? Or, how about proposing a joint cyber-security initiative with the country the U.S. intelligence community unanimously concludes hacked our systems…in an effort to hurt your opponent, and help you? Or perhaps, reflection on your number 1 son (chronologically), your son-in-law, and your campaign manager meeting with Russians who say they have intel that will hurt your political rival? The Russians, mind you! No, that is not normal, never was, never will be.

I know a number of individuals of the conservative persuasion. Of those I converse with on a regular basis, most of them say Mr. Trump is doing exactly what they wanted him to do when they voted for him. They not only believe he is acting in a way that is sure to Make America Great Again (MAGA), but that it’s actually happening right before our eyes. Moreover, the only people who don’t realize this are Trump-hating Democrats and liberals.

In point of fact, Democrats are resisting this administration on many levels. If you read my post last week, you know that doesn’t concern me in the least. Many conservatives go into apoplexy, or in some cases, at least feigned apoplexy over this resistance. I must admit my cynicism is heightened whenever I can find no similar apoplectic shock at the constant derision and resistance to all things Obama that was a national constant for the previous eight years. One of the fave responses by conservatives seems to be, Republicans were elected to obstruct Obama. Really? The hades you say! In that case, Democrats were elected to obstruct all things Trump. Resist! And so it is, Another Day, Another Meeting: From Russia With Love!”

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Unprecedented Obstruction: The Unmitigated Inconvenience of Karma

It’s time to Break It Down!

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Senate would forego the first two weeks of its anticipated August Recess. The move was unusual on its face, but the reason offered was sheer partisan political poppycock. Leader McConnell blamed Democrats and their “Unprecedented Obstruction,” for the delay and abbreviation of the Senate’s much anticipated month-long summer hiatus. He then cited a couple of examples of the lack of cooperation the mean old Democrats were foisting upon his genial GOP colleagues.

This post is straight forward, and will be brief. It begins and ends with my observation that Mr. McConnell is either operating with an extreme memory deficit, or he doesn’t believe his fecal excretion is malodorous. Unprecedented Obstruction? Puhleeze!

The GOP instituted an obstruction plan so sublime it inspired a book. I’ll get back to that. First, let’s face it. McConnell’s own fingerprints are all over the Party’s efforts to obstruct President Obama. In October 2010, speaking of the GOP, he famously said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

For a time, many of us thought the Republican Party’s organized anti-Obama recalcitrance started there. It would take a while, but we would later learn that we were wrong, and that the Republican Party’s maleficence started the night of President Obama’s first day in office. Contemporaneous with the evening’s Inaugural Balls, a cabal of GOP Congressmen met for dinner and deception at the Caucus Room, a high-end D.C. establishment about a mile from the evening’s main festivities. Their master plan, devised over several hours, was a plot, not just to win back their recently lost political power, but also to waylay President Obama’s legislative agenda.

The book, referenced above, written by Robert Draper in 2012, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,” details the steps the GOP laid out as the way forward. According to Draper, the guest list that night included a proverbial Congressional Who’s Who. In attendance were:

  1. Eric Cantor – VA
  2. Kevin McCarthy –CA
  3. Paul Ryan – WI
  4. Pete Sessions – TX
  5. Jeb Hensarling – TX
  6. Pete Hoekstra – MI
  7. Dan Lungren – CA
  8. Jim DeMint – SC
  9. Jon Kyl – AZ
  10. Tom Coburn – OK
  11. John Ensign – NV
  12. Bob Corker – TN
  13. Newt Gingrich (Former GA Representative and noted GOP intellectual)
  14. Frank Luntz (Event organizer, GOP wordsmith)

Notably absent were then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and House Minority Leader John Boehner R-OH – who, according to Draper, had an acrimonious relationship with Luntz. The group devised a four-point plan. The steps of which included:

  • Go after Geithner. (And indeed Kyl did, the next day: ‘Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it—please?’)
  • Show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies. (Eight days later, Minority Whip Cantor would hold the House Republicans to a unanimous No against Obama’s economic stimulus plan.)
  • Begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves. (The first National Republican Congressional Committee attack ads would run in less than two months.)
  • Win the spear point of the House in 2010. Jab Obama relentlessly in 2011. Win the White House and the Senate in 2012. (Despite their best efforts, that White House gambit did not pan out).

You want a blueprint for obstruction Mr. McConnell, I would say, this is it. At the end of the meeting Newt Gingrich said:

“You will remember this day. You’ll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.”

It’s instructive to recall, at that time 700,000 people a month were losing their jobs and the American economy was in the most horrible tailspin since the Great Depression.

And the Republicans wanted to keep it that way.

That dear reader is some obstruction for you. McConnell is not alone in grousing about Democratic obstruction. Conservatives often lead with that trite lament. My curt response always is, “Consider the example of the last eight years.” I have been known to express empathy for a variety of reasons, but quite frankly, the temerity of anyone suggesting such a thing strikes me as ludicrous. Particularly if said someone was either a party to snubbing President Obama’s agenda to repair our fractured country, or said someone was supportive of the efforts of those who did so. Quite simply, the current claim is bogus, and I frame it thusly, Unprecedented Obstruction: The Unmitigated Inconvenience of Karma!”

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Independence Day: Free At Last Redux

It’s time to Break It Down!

Today’s post is a revised reprint of a blog I originally published July 9, 2008, and then subsequently in the July 4, 2012 Edition of “Break It Down!” Since yesterday was the 4th of July, this redux version is quite timely. I hope you had a wonderful Independence Day, 2017, and that you will enjoy this week’s blog.

So as I approached this Fourth of July, as always, I did so with a complicated panoply of thoughts, a few of which I will share here. Our great country, and yes, by many measures it is great, strives to be all it can be, at home and abroad. It’s apropos to note we have been successful on many fronts. On others, we still have work to do. It’s fair to embrace our successes, and necessary to accept our challenges. Doing both is the only way we can reach our true potential.

As African Americans, we often find ourselves pulled in divergent directions over how to address this day; perhaps everyday. A hundred fourteen years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois framed it thusly in “The Souls of Black Folk:”

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  One ever feels his twoness, –an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

I endorse his views on the subject.

But lest anyone rush to judge Du Bois, he is not alone; he is not even the first to cast a disparaging eye at the relationship between African Americans and the Fourth of July. On July 5, 1852, fifty-one years earlier, Frederick Douglass gave a speech at Corinth Hall, in Rochester, NY, his home. In a passage of that speech, Douglass said:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Suffice it to say neither Douglass, nor Du Bois was sold on the notion of the Fourth of July as a pure as the driven snow family friendly holiday. But that is not the sole point of this post.

No, history has given us the gift of some intriguing coincidences, as well as some compelling ironies. In observing both, there are times when, even though I hold him/her in great awe, I am convinced God is, if not a confirmed jokester, at least the owner of a genuinely robust sense of humor.

During a number of past holidays, I have addressed ad nauseam, the “principle of incompatibility” that divides holidays from structured endeavors such as reading, studying, and heaven forbid, working. To that end I usually try to ratchet it down a notch or two, or several, during holidays. The fact that today is July 4thAmerica’s official Independence Day, makes that messaging exceedingly apropos.

Looking back at Independence Days past, 1826 probably held one of the more noteworthy coincidences.  July 4th, 1826, marked not only the 50th Anniversary of American Independence, but was also the day two of our nation’s Founding FathersJohn Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died. Yes, they died the same day in the same year. Such an occurrence today would almost certainly serve as a catalyst for rumors of a death pact.

Adams and Jefferson shared more than joint status as two of the fifty-six co-signers of the Declaration of Independence; they also went on to become the 2nd and 3rd Presidents of the United States, respectively. It is reported that Adams’ last words were, “Jefferson still survives.” However, unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died earlier that day.

Adams and Jefferson had quite a concurrent history.  Adams was the first to serve as America’s Vice President, he was the first President to live in the executive mansion (known today as the White House), and he was also the first President to be defeated in a re-election bid…by Jefferson, who had served as his Vice President.

Thomas Jefferson went on to become President after defeating Adams, but not without a bit of what we would think of today, as drama.  Aaron Burr tied Jefferson with 73 electoral votes.  As a result, the election was sent to the House of Representatives to determine the winner. After 36 ballots (that’s right 36), Jefferson prevailed. In later developments, Burr, who served for a time as Jefferson’s Vice President, killed Alexander Hamilton, who was also a Founding Father, in a duel. Not surprisingly, Burr’s career in politics took a precipitous decline afterward, although he was never convicted of a crime for his role in the incident.

Burr’s leaving the office meant Jefferson had to secure another Vice President for his second term as President. After 203 years, P-Funk fans still tip their hat to Jefferson, as he selected George Clinton to hold the second chair. (Funk-a-teers and P-Funk Mythology devotees will know what I mean…see George Clinton, musician, and his anthem Atomic Dog, as a point of reference).  I digress!

The virtually concurrent deaths of Adams and Jefferson marked an intriguing Independence Day coincidence of considerable magnitude. This past Friday July 4, 2008, Independence Day again collaborated with the death of a prominent political figure, this time in what many consider a compellingly ironic twist. Former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, popularly known as Senator No, a nickname he appeared to relish, died leaving a legacy that will be debated, by supporters and detractors for many years to come.

It is a fact that there are those who consider Helms a patriot. Others have cited his “courage” to stand against the forces of change, on issues ranging from gay rights to trade agreements, to foreign aid. Many of his most notable tirades focused on issues of civil rights and affirmative action, and funding for AIDS research. He was also a leading Senate opponent of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, and he authored and/or approved the infamous, in North Carolina anyway (but highly effective), “white hands” commercial, aired during the first of two Senate campaign battles against former Charlotte Mayor, Harvey Gantt (1990).  For that moment in time at least, Senator No drove the concept of negative campaign advertising to a new and ugly low.

The Honorable Senator No appeared to take great pride in his predictable opposition to progressive ideals, and often needled the media when he felt he had bested their desired interests. He earned the distinction of being North Carolina’s longest serving Senator. That is a noteworthy accomplishment, and cannot be diminished.

However, it must be noted that many of the tributes and editorials that began streaming forth Friday (July 4, 2008) sanitized the bigotry and raw mean-spiritedness that marked so many of Helms’ political encounters; especially his triumphs. His was a divisive, zero-sum brand of politics that often targeted the historically disenfranchised for more abuse, insult, and exclusion. In that light, it is impossible to deny the essence of irony in the events of Independence Day, 2008. He was a bona fide Tea Party hero, before his time. One can almost envision the spirit of King, after having scaled the mountaintop, uttering that famous three-word phraseFree at Last!  Indeed, it’s “Independence Day: Free at Last Redux!”

I’m done; holla back!

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The Great American Opioid & Heroin Epidemic: When the Victims are Mostly White

It’s time to Break It Down!

In the 1980’s and 90’s, the scourge of powder and crack cocaine plagued the American psyche. It’s fair to say the collective and typical response to the epidemic was in a word, visceral; an instinctive, deep-seated, gut-wrenching sense of despair about all involved, sellers, buyers, users, the broken, the mangled, the dead, and the imprisoned. This is especially true of the imprisoned.

The drug epidemic of that era prompted the advent of the now infamous Clinton Crime Bill, including provisions such as the 3-Strike Law, and disparate sentencing for cocaine and crack, even though the latter is a derivative of the former; in essence, the same drug. Not coincidentally, more whites used cocaine, while more blacks used the cheaper crack.

Needless to say it was a different time. Add to President Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a.k.a. The Clinton Crime Bill, the comments of First Lady Hillary Clinton, whom at one point made the following reference:

“But we also have to have an organized effort against gangs. Keene Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels; they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super predators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.”

Mrs. Clinton made those remarks in a 1996 speech at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. The comments haunted Clinton during her recent Presidential run, as first Bernie Sanders, and then Donald Trump used them to attack her during the campaign. Interestingly, the full context of the speech does link children and super predators. It does not, however, directly label African-American youth that way. But this is not a post to litigate that question. It was simply a point worth making.

The essential point revolves around the contemporary issue of today’s opioid and heroin epidemic. The preamble was necessary to provide a measure of context when contrasting the harsh and disparate public policy prescriptions then, versus the consistently far more empathetic reaction and approach to today’s problem.

The relationship of Americans with drugs and alcohol has a long and winding history. Though alcohol is currently a staple in many social settings, there was actually a period, known as the Prohibition Era, when from 1920 to 1933; the country maintained a constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. High incidences of alcoholism, family violence, and saloon-based political corruption led activists to lobby for ending the alcoholic beverage trade. It was thought the cessation would cure a sick society. The effort started in the late 19th century and culminated with the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Legislation known as the Volstead Act established the rules for enforcing the ban and defining the parameters for the alcoholic beverages that would be prohibited.

The reality was the law was widely disregarded, tax revenues were lost, and organized crime took over the alcohol market. Prohibition ended with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 5, 1933. Prohibition failed politically. However, though seldom acknowledged, it succeeded in cutting overall alcohol consumption in half. From a public policy standpoint, that in and of itself is a significant accomplishment. In the end though, the loss of needed tax revenue during the Great Depression, and the increased influence of criminal organizations rendered the law unsustainable.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the discourse around marijuana is not so dissimilar as the one around alcohol a century ago, One major difference that is frequently not highlighted is the posture that the alcohol lobby takes on legalizing, or even de-criminalizing cannabis. Suffice it to say, they do not tend to invite or encourage the competition. There is a spirited public health debate on the subject though. Slowly, and perhaps inexorably, there is a nationwide movement afoot to make weed accessible, either medicinally, recreationally, or both. Who knows; perhaps it’s coming to your state, or one near you, soon.

Check almost any evening newscast, and you can see a story discussing the challenges that certain Americans face due to opioids, heroin, and/or prescription meds. You know we are in a different place with this epidemic than we were with the cocaine, crack epidemic, when the liberal Democratic (though the irony then was Bill Clinton was not a liberal) President led the drive to enact an onerous crime bill, while today the conservative Republican (though the irony now is Donald Trump is neither a conservative, nor a Republican) President named a commission studying the opioid epidemicoften brings up the alcohol addiction that consumed and killed his brother.

Trump named New Jersey Governor, and 2016 Presidential candidate Chris Christie to lead that commission. The Governor discusses his own compassionate approach to people suffering from opioid addiction; he frequently refers to a personal friend with a successful law practice a brilliant wife, and wonderful kids. Carly Fiorina, who also vied for the 2016 GOP Presidential nomination, mentioned her daughter’s death, due to drugs. Former Florida Governor, and 2016 GOP Presidential candidate Jeb Bush wrote an article on his daughter’s drug struggles. And that doesn’t even begin to count the many, many state lawmakers who have shared similar stories about husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, and coworkers who struggled with addiction. This amazing up close and personal insight, according to their individual stories, has led them to believe in the need for better, comprehensive drug treatment.

What these anecdotes reveal is how shared experiences and personal relationships influence public policy deliberations and decisions. These pols introduce and discuss people in their lives who suffered and sometimes died due to their involvement with drugs. They made this nexus with a specific purpose in mind: to call attention to addiction in a way that focuses on public health rather than criminal justice. In other words, when policymakers have skin in the game, it’s amazing how much more empathetic their remedies are, to issues that would otherwise have drawn draconian prescriptions.

There is another issue that these stories bring to the fore that may not be evident upon first blush: race. Even after decades of progress on racial issues, America remains a very segregated country. On a day-to-day basis, most Americans closely interact only with people of the same race. And that impacts our policies.

For example, the opioid epidemic contributed to the record 52,000 drug overdose deaths reported in 2015. Because the crisis has disproportionately affected white Americans, white lawmakers — who make up a disproportionate amount of all levels of government — are more likely to come into contact with people afflicted by the opioid epidemic than, say, the disproportionately black drug users who suffered during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s. Not surprisingly, that means a lawmaker is more likely to have the kind of interaction that Christie, Trump, Bush, and Fiorina described — one that might lead them to support more compassionate drug policies — in the current crisis than the ones of old.

Given those dynamics, is it any surprise then, that the crack epidemic led to a “tough on crime” crackdown focused on harsher prison sentences and police tactics, while the current opioid crisis has led more to calls for legislation, including a measure Congress passed last year, that boosted spending on drug treatment to get people with substance use disorders help? In a word, no!

Social stratification and racial segregation are huge factors in the how and why we deal differently with the matter of addiction in different communities. The data shows that the opioid crisis has hit white communities harder, which in turn has led to more overdoses and deaths among whites than among blacks, and Latinos. That alone makes this drug epidemic unique in the history of American drug epidemics.

In addition to stratification and segregation, virulent racism is also a factor in creating disproportionate white victims of opioids. First off, the leading edge of the epidemic sprang from doctors oversubscribing opioids…to white patients. This oversubscription led, indirectly to children, family members, and neighbors acquiring the drugs, by accident, or by the white patients directly sharing them. Alternately, studies show that doctors have generally been more reluctant to prescribe painkillers to minorities, because doctors mistakenly believe that minority patients feel less pain or are more likely to misuse and sell the drugs. In a perverse and ironic way, this discriminatory practice prevented minority patients from drowning in the tsunami of opioid painkiller prescriptions that got white Americans hooked on opioids, including heroin, and led to a wave of deadly overdoses.

While I won’t dwell on the stereotyping, I will observe that sooner or later, one way or another, karma will hunt you down, and what happens next…well, just try harder to do the right thing, and stay on the right side of karma. The cocaine and crack epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s deserved a more empathetic response. It didn’t happen. The current crisis is not exactly a do-over, but it is, nevertheless, still an opportunity to do the right thing. Let’s not lose the lesson, or the opportunity. We are here now. Let’s handle this. The Great American Opioid and Heroin Epidemic: When the Victims are Mostly White!”

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Football’s Brain Drain: The Rest of the Story

It’s time to Break It Down!

A couple of years ago, in November, the movie Concussion debuted. The film told a story, based on groundbreaking research, on a disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or more familiarly, CTE. The picture is a biographical sports drama film directed and written by Peter Landesman, based on the exposé “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, published in 2009 by GQ magazine. Will Smith portrayed Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who fought against the National Football League, which was trying to suppress his research on what in 2002, the time frame in which the movie was set, was a little known disease.

That was then. Today, much more is known about the deadly disease, though still, not nearly enough. As a result of continually emerging data, which can only be accessed through autopsying deceased subjects, a number of pro football players have donated their brains to science in support of continuing efforts to learn more about how the disease works, and to promote more effective strategies, methods, and techniques to combat the debilitating, and ultimately deadly consequences of CTE.

Yesterday, Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp indicated via video on The Players’ Tribune that he plans to donate his brain to science in order to aid the research. He spent most of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he won a Super Bowl, and ended his playing days with the Oakland Raiders.

Sapp, a 13-year NFL pro said an email he received from former running back Fred Willis, and his own experience with cognitive issues were key factors in leading to his decision. He said he wanted to leave the game better than he found it, and he noted further:

“I’ve also started to feel the effects of the hits that I took in my career. My memory ain’t what it used to be. And yeah, it’s scary to think that my brain could be deteriorating, and that maybe things like forgetting a grocery list, or how to get to a friend’s house I’ve been to a thousand times are just the tip of the iceberg. So when it comes to concussions, CTE and how we can make our game safer for future generations, I wanted to put my two cents in—to help leave the game better off than it was when I started playing.”

Sapp also referenced another Hall of Fame defender, Nick Buoniconti, a former New England Patriot and Miami Dolphin. Nick was a key player on the Dolphins’ historic 1972 undefeated Season. In May, Buoniconti told S.L. Price of Sports Illustrated that he “feels like a child” because of his cognitive issues. According to that story, Buoniconti’s Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans (a nuclear medicine functional imaging technique), were consistent with Parkinsonian Syndrome and CTE.

According to an report this past April, William Weinbaum and Steve Delsohn wrote that Boston University researcher, Dr. Ann McKee, examined the brains of 48 former NFL players. Of those, 47 of the brains showed signs of CTE. In a September 2015 study, researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University said they found CTE in 87 of the 91 brains they had studied belonging to former NFL players.

Sapp had a number of other reflections, including:

  • “We’re playing in a macho league and we’re talking about Hall of Famers now who are immortalized forever, made busts and everything. Legends of the game, There’s no way any of us wanna really admit that we can’t remember how to get home or a grocery list that the wife has given us or how to go pick up our kids from the school, or whatever it may be.”
  • “You try to [say], ‘All right, I’m gonna get a little more sleep — maybe it’s something I did last night, maybe something I drank,’ or whatever it is. You try to find a reason that it’s not that it’s my brain, that I’m not deteriorating right before my own eyes.”
  • “It’s the most frightening feeling, but it’s also a very weakening feeling because you feel like a child. I need help. I need somebody to help me find something that I could’ve found with my eyes closed, in the dead of night, half asleep.”
  • “I used to call myself an elephant in the room. Never forget anything. Man I wake up now and be like, ‘OK, what are we doing? Let me get the phone.”’
  • “And it’s from the banging we did as football players. We used to tackle them by the head, used to grab facemasks. We used to allow Deacon Jones to do the head slap. All of that was something that we had to take away from the game. We used to hit quarterbacks below the knees. Now it’s a strike zone. Let’s keep making the game better.”

Sapp suggested that improvements should begin at the youth level by eliminating tackling until players get to high school. It’s a start. Needless to say, football, which has been elevated to America’s game, is a contact sport. Fans and players alike frequently view any effort to make the game more humane, more civilized, or just plain more safe, with a jaundiced eye. It’s fair to say, extraordinary steps may be required to save the game from itself. I think Mr. Sapp has the right idea. But then again, I’m not a huge fan of the game. But I’m sure that’s redundant. That’s beside the point. For now, let’s focus on today’s post, “Football’s Brain Drain: The Rest of the Story!”

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Cavs-Warriors III: Golden State Takes the Rubber Match

It’s time to Break It Down!

On Monday evening, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors played the last meaningful NBA Basketball game until November. I’m already ensconced deeply in the throes of withdrawal. To commemorate the passing of the hoops torch, so to speak, I’m writing a post about this year’s NBA Finals.

The Warriors clenched the best-of-7 series in 5 games, winning by a margin of 4 games to 1. For hoops aficionados, this year’s NBA Playoffs was a relatively uninspiring affair. The early rounds were rife with high scoring games and series sweeps. The one remaining hope for many of us who live and breathe the game was for Cavs-Warriors III to save us; to salvage an otherwise ignominious representation of the highest level of the game we have come to know by the familiar branding label, “The NBA – It’s FANtastic!”

To be perfectly candid, there was more than a less than stellar Playoffs coming between the NBA and a large segment of its loyal fandom. On July 4, 2016, Kevin Durant jumped the proverbial ship, leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the newly Runner-up Golden State Warriors. Now if you don’t follow the League, that move may sound like merely the latest pro basketball personnel transaction. But oh no! The resident hoops community was hyperactively astir because the reputed second best player on the planet signed a contract with the team that won a record setting 73 games during the regular season.

This development was especially worrisome for at least three groups of people.

  1. Those persons obsessed with the competitive balance of the league, and who therefore believe KD forever and irrevocably altered the ability of any team to compete with this iteration of the Warriors
  2. Those individuals who think KD was a wuss for signing with a team that had just beaten his team the month before, and therefore exhibited no competitive spirit.
  3. Cavs’ fans

During the regular season, Durant, who missed 20 games due to injury was monitored and evaluated based upon numerous metrics, including, in some circles, as much for what his subtraction from the Thunder meant to them, as what his addition meant to the Warriors. Back in OKC, Russell Westbrook, Durant’s former sidekick, was left to manage both his feelings, as well as the fortunes of a team suddenly without, arguably, the second best player in the league, and ascending. Meanwhile, out in Oakland, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, in conjunction with Coach Steve Kerr set about figuring out the substantial challenge of integrating the force that is Durant into the Warrior’s already successful orbit, without mucking up either team chemistry, or player egos, either or both of which can be fragile commodities.

The Warriors, who won 73 games a year ago, fell off their stratospheric pace, yet still managed to win 67 games, good for most in the league during the regular season. Keep in mind; they accomplished this with KD missing nearly a quarter of the season. Then during the playoffs, to add an element of intrigue, they made a record-setting 15-0 playoff run, while their coach missed 10 games, leaving coaching duties to Assistant Mike Brown, who coached LeBron in Cleveland, before a brief stint with the Lakers. Brown was 10-0. The 15-0 start by the Warriors included 3 series sweeps in the tough Western Conference, plus pushing the Cavs to a brink of elimination 0-3 in the Finals.

If you know anything about sports fans, you understand fan loyalty is an inexplicable intrinsic concept. That is to say, fans will support their team under the direst of circumstances. For example, no NBA team has ever rebounded from an 0-3 deficit to win a 7-game (4 wins) series. Yet, there were Cleveland fans who at least gave voice to the sentiment that, after the Cavs won, albeit convincingly, game 4 at home, their beloved Cavs could actually make a different kind of history by coming all the way back and winning the Finals. Having beaten the Warriors last year, after having trailed 0-2, and then 1-3, in addition to having LeBron James, the game’s current best player, many fans in the Land believed the Cavs had spooked the Warriors in Game 4, and would finish the job.

As a Laker fan, I have had little to cheer about in years. As a hoops fan in general, and an NBA fan in particular, I was drawn to the many intense debates centered around LeBron’s relative greatness, vs. KD’s relative hypocrisy (he once panned the idea of creating super teams after LeBron’s “Decision” to leave Cleveland). The debates are fun, especially if you are not vested in who wins or who loses a game or series. As a 40-year resident of Charlotte, I do pull for the Hornets, and was an original Hornets’ season ticket holder. Partly because Dell Curry played for those Hornets, and partly because his son Steph grew up here, I pull for him to do well. I’m not a Warriors’ fan. However, as long as Dan Gilbert owns the Cavs, I can’t pull for them. If you don’t know the backstory, conduct a web search of Mr. Gilbert and LeBron. Finally, as NBA players go, Andrew Wiggins is my favorite player…just for the record.

Since the Hornets, Lakers, AW, and the T-Wolves weren’t in the playoffs, and the two teams remaining were the Cavs and Warriors, by the process of elimination, I pulled for Golden State. After about a quarter and a half of hotly contested play, the Warriors pulled ahead, and held off the Cavs for a 129-120 Title Clinching victory. This year’s series marked the first time in the history of the League the same two teams met in the Finals for three years in a row. Kevin Durant captured his first Title, averaged over 30 points a game, and won the series MVP. The Warriors avenged their collapse against the Cavs last year, and in doing so, expelled the demons, and expunged the stench of falling short after a storybook Regular Season, and a 3-1 Finals lead. All’s well that ends well. Of course, if you are a resident of Cavs’ World, all did not end well. Sorry, not sorry. “Cavs-Warriors Part III: Golden State Takes the Rubber Match!”

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Griffin vs. Nugent: Anatomy of a Threat

It’s time to Break It Down!

A week ago I spent several hours engaging a number of conservatives about what, at the time, was a fresh topic: Kathy Griffin’s depiction of a decapitated #45. At its best, it was a tasteless and over the top gesture; at its worst, it was a gruesome visual that led many conservatives to contend that it reflected an actual threat on #45’s life. I read that the FBI has committed to investigate the matter.

Having stipulated all of the above:

  1. I personally think Griffin went too far, and,
  2. I said that (more than once) in my encounter with several conservatives who revel in their full-throated support of the current President…and in their total and absolute disdain and rejection of his immediate predecessor (Barack Obama).

That is significant because, in engaging them, I asked did they not see the parallels between Griffin’s act and what President Obama faced during the entirety of his 8-year tenure in office? As an aside, numerous reports confirm that President Obama received more death threats than any President in history. By at least one account the number increased by 400 percent over the 3,000 or so per year that George W. Bush received, according to Ronald Kessler, author of, “In the President’s Secret Service.”

I am confident that most will not find it surprising, the gaggle of conservatives with whom I spoke felt Ms. Griffin’s action was not only reprehensible, but that nothing even remotely comparable happened to President Obama. They used a number of rationales to reach that conclusion, some of which I will address below.

At the outset, one individual said I could not cite a single example of anyone doing anything similar to Obama. Not one. The Tea Party immediately springs to my mind. Another accused me of bait and switch by even bringing it up. Then of course, they dared me to produce such an example. Having been around the block more than a time or two, I didn’t fall for the okey-doke. I noted that in my interactions with this group I was able to discern that all of the members were savvy enough to navigate the web and find numerous examples with just a few clicks.

At that point, the dimensions of the exercise changed. The response was altered to, not one single person with a significant social media presence had ever done such a thing. Joe Blow from Kokomo didn’t count. Say what? So I inquired what difference does a robust social media presence make?

The answer, I was told, was that because Ms. Griffin has more than a million Twitter followers, her message was spread instantly to a huge audience. Of course, it is worth noting that the four Presidents who have been killed while in office, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy, were all killed by a lone gunman. By the way, each was gunned down prior to the age of social media. Moreover, while its fodder for another post, it should also be added, the perpetrators killed each of them using a firearm.

I went on to observe that one key distinction was Ms. Griffin’s act drew condemnation from the left, not just the right, and she quickly apologized. The apology, they argued was weak, and insincere. By this time I was becoming more than a little aghast at the double standard consistently used by these exemplars of conservatism. Well, not really. I’m accustomed to it by now. Nevertheless, I soldiered on. I asked if that was the same reaction they had when candidate Trump apologized for having made a comment about grabbing women’s genitalia? I guess they had no answer for that one so at least two of them asked me if I had ever mad a lewd comment to a female or a male?

At this point, I felt turnabout was fair play. I labeled that diversionary tactic exactly what it was, bait and switch. I went on to add the question was unapt, since I was not a candidate for President. It was at this point, out of nowhere, one of them introduced the possibility that the folks threatening President Obama might have been joking. I opted not to take the easy way out, being as how Griffin is a comedian, and all. Instead, I stayed on topic, and kept the subject on my initial point about what Obama experienced. I said I never got the impression that Ted Nugent was joking (And by the way, he does have an appreciable social media footprint).

At this point, the response level got even more extreme in its ridiculousness. A respondent replied that Nugent was a “real conservative” who was angry with Obama (and Hillary) because he felt they’d committed treason by their actions related to Benghazi. OK, point-counterpoint; I asked if they were aware some Americans believe Mr. Trump is guilty of Treason (Russia, Russia, Russia)? Then things just went off the grid. A gentleman responded some Americans believe Martians walk among us. He went on to discuss the waste of taxpayers’ money on the countless investigations, when…wait for it…there is no crime. While it would have been easy enough to reply, “And some Americans think #45 is a good President.” But I didn’t. I kept Michelle’s “Go high” uppermost in mind as I continued to respond.

I noted that in this country, we have a system of protocols that provide a certain order and sequencing to things. In that light, first come the investigations, and then the conclusions follow. Not the other way around. Hence, it just might be appropriate to complete a few of these investigations before we conclude no crime was committed. As to the waste of taxpayers’ money, I do not remember any strong assertion from the admittedly fiscal restraint promoting Republicans that any Hillary Clinton investigations were a waste of money. Not once!

At this point, one of them attempted to double back and re-insert the question of whether I had ever made lewd comments to a woman. Now I felt they not only had no pertinent answers, but that they had also reached the end of their collective hyper creative imaginations. Tempting, as it was to go rogue or break western, I restrained the urge. I noted that I would simply not dignify their efforts to malign my character. And, as a visitor to their social media space, I would certainly never deign to do such a thing to any of them.

All things considered, it was an interesting encounter. These are just the CliffNotes. It was also another not so subtle reminder of that deep and wide ideological chasm I reference frequently. The right, from #45 to Mr. Nugent, to folks I encounter from time to time on the WorldWideWeb seem not only unalterably opposed, but also physically incapable of issuing a simple apology or conceding an otherwise plain to see (by anyone outside #45’s supporters, surrogates, and spinners) reasonable point.

My own view is that in the strictest sense Nugent’s speech was hateful, but did not comprise a direct threat. Similarly, I find that no matter how tasteless Griffin’s depiction was, it was not a threat to #45. I fully expect the Secret Service, even #45’s Secret Service, to arrive at the same conclusion they did with Nugent. Stupid? Yes. Physically threatening? No. Having said that, I do believe the left is at a strategic disadvantage when it comes to these matters. The right is ruthless and relentless. It’s what they expect from each other, and they reward commitment to the cause. The left, not so much.

The right has devised a convenient response for may of #45’s more outré actions. They have drawn a peculiar line in the sand. On one side there is criminal behavior; on the other side political acts. According to them, none of the regime’s bizarre and otherwise inexplicable actions are illegal. They are merely politics. Right wing zealot style. Buckle up; it’s going to be a long and circuitous ride.

Nugent’s pearls of wisdom include but are not limited to:

  • “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their (the Obama administration’s) heads off in November”
  • “If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
  • “Harry Reid, Obama, and Hillary Clinton should be tried for treason and hung.”
  • Our unholy rotten soulless criminal America destroying government killed 4 Americans in Benghazi. Period! What sort of chimpass punk would deny security, turn down 61 requests for security, then tell US forces to STAND DOWN when they were ready to kickass on the allapukes and save American lives! Obama & Clinton, that’s who. They should be tried for treason & hung. Our entire fkdup gvt must be cleansed asap”
  • “Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun.”

Mitt Romney thought so much of him (Nugent), he sought (received and accepted) his endorsement. When asked about Nugent’s comments, Romney would only say in a written statement released by his communications team:

  • “Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil.” – Andrea Saul, Romney Campaign Spokesperson

Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, was a bit more effusive. He put it this way, when he tweeted:

  • “Ted Nugent endorsed my Dad today. Ted Nugent? How cool is that? He joins Kid Rock as great Detroit musicians on Team Mitt!”

At the time, Nugent was somewhat more subdued, when he tweeted:

  • “after a long heart&soul conversation with MittRomney today I concluded this goodman will properly represent we the people & I endorse him”

And then there was #45, who, of course on Twitter, said this:

  • Ted Nugent was obviously using a figure of speech, unfortunate as it was. It just shows the anger people have towards @BarackObama.”

#45 would double down on his comments by inviting Nugent to the White House. It should come as no surprise his thoughts about Griffin were substantially different. About her, he tweeted:

  • Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself. My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!”

There is a case study begging to be done on the nuanced matters tied to these two incidents. It’s apparent that TrumpWorld readily sees some kind of universal anger towards President Obama that, in their view, simply does not exist in the bitterness directed toward #45. The reasons for that, they say, are just products of liberals in general, Democrats in particular, and of course, the main stream and fake news media (which includes just about every media outlet not named Fox, or not based in Russia). More important, he was rightfully empathetic toward his son Barron, stemming from Griffin’s depiction, yet found no such insight into the feelings of Malia and Sasha, tied to Nugent’s despicable rants. Surprising? No, not really. When taken altogether, you have the necessary framework for, “Griffin vs. Nugent: Anatomy of a Threat!”

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