Monday, December 20, 2010

Representation Without Taxation

I'll own up to being a yellow dog, liberal Democrat, and I generally support what the president is attempting to do to rescue this country from becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the Peoples Republic of China. After the great Christmas tax compromise/giveaway, however, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I should have voted for Hillary Clinton. At least I know she's got a pair. As for the president, he's participated in more cave-ins than a Chilean miner. I understand that Bo the dog is following Barack around so he can learn how to roll over. After all 42 Republican senators signed a letter saying that they would allow no other legislation to be considered until the Bush tax cuts were extended, I just knew the President would call their bluff and force them to, literally, filibuster against jobless benefits at Christmas. Instead, he quit in his corner without throwing a punch. Obama claimed the Republicans were "holding the American people hostage," and their demands amounted to "blackmail," yet he paid the entire ransom and even more that the kidnappers didn't even ask for. Doesn't he watch crime dramas on television?  Even when you've paid them off, blackmailers will continue to blackmail. I want my president to be a fighter, but not one that says, "No mas," and surrenders when he's behind on points.

The GOP merely threatens filibuster, and the Democrats flip like fish. But the closest resemblance to an actual filibuster was Rep. Bernie Sanders' 8 1/2 hour marathon speech in objection to the tax bill. Most folks' only notion of a "filibuster" was given by Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." It would be a terrific civics lesson for the American people to see the real deal. I can't remember the last time they dragged in the cots and forced senators to attend in shifts. Perhaps the sight of Mitch "The Amphibian" McConnell reading Bible passages on C-Span while attempting to block veterans' benefits might have changed a few hearts and minds. It's too late for that now. The minority party played "chicken" with Obama over the people's welfare, and Barack blinked. The president claimed this was the best deal he could get before the new congress convenes in January, and that it was a good compromise. When the playground bully pushes you to the ground and demands your lunch money, and you give it to him, it is not a compromise, it's capitulation.

I understand that the tax fight is only over a 5 percent increase at the highest income levels, but the Republicans were willing to stop all government functions rather than compromise. Obama campaigned on the promise to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for those making more than $250,000 annually, and  though some of my best friends are rich people, does the same group that prospered the most during the past decade deserve a fresh pile of free money? My dad had a saying; "This is a great country, but the dues are expensive." There seems to be a growing number of people who believe they should somehow be exempt,  agreeing with Leona Helmsley that, "Only the little people pay taxes." It's astounding that the Republicans would engage in a petty tax revolt when the nation is still in financial crisis and fighting two wars. In better days, paying taxes was often considered the height of patriotism. In the televised, Senate-Mafia hearings of 1952, when New York mob boss Frank Costello was asked by the committee to name one thing he had ever done to benefit his country, he said, "I paid my tax." Even gangsters understood how the roads get paved.
The conservatives claim tax cuts for the wealthy will help stimulate business and create jobs in the private sector, but we all know what happens to that money. It's invested in various markets, making large portfolios even larger, and allowing the super-rich to live off of their dividends and interest. While the Bush tax cuts have been in place for a decade, all the action switched over to Wall Street, creating a class of obscenely wealthy money-managers while our manufacturing base hemorrhaged jobs. Republicans have warned that  unemployment compensation and welfare assistance for the poor are destroying the work ethic, but the new tax giveaway is simply welfare for the wealthy. Who needs to work hard at a stressful job when your money will work for you? The old Reagan, supply-side, trickle-down theory of economics functions most efficiently in single family estates where the natural instinct is to care for your own. Now that Obama has waved a white flag on any inheritance taxes up to five million dollars, the money no longer trickles down; it gushes like a waterfall. The deficit hawks won't fund medical assistance for 9/11 first responders because they claim it's not paid for, yet they are practically giddy to put nearly a trillion additional dollars on the tab for this tax scam.

Ever since Obama took office, his opponents have questioned his legitimacy to be president. They have called him an illegal alien, a socialist, a Marxist, a Kenyan, and a secret Muslim. But I'm beginning to think the truth may be far more frightening. I believe that Barack did not learn "anti-colonialism" from his father, like the right-wing radio blatherers say, but instead was invested with Kansas Republican values from his mother. After all, Kansas is the home of Alf Landon and Bob Dole, and that brand of conservatism must have affected Barack's single mom and grandparents. Somewhere, he was instructed to grow an Afro and assume the guise of a liberal, which facilitated his admission to Harvard and the bar, and his subsequent hiring by the University of Chicago. His work as a community organizer cemented his liberal street cred, and his "palling around with domestic terrorist" William Ayers, gave Obama a Che Guevara-like mystique. Only now, I'm beginning to see the pattern of deception in all this, and I suspect that Barack may be the most frightening type of politician of all; a stealth Republican. Dreams from his father; politics from his mother. The president promised change, yet the Bush tax cuts are about to be engraved in stone, Guantanamo is still operating, illegal wiretaps are still functioning and Bin Laden is still alive. Would an explanation be out of order, or must we read it on WikiLeaks? Obama has spent over half his life learning how to "fight the power." It's past time he learned how the power fights back.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Tigers' TV Trauma

Let national magazines call Memphians poor, fat, and ugly. You can go to the mall and see that for yourself. But there are still things unique to Memphis that we all enjoy. Sure, we have the river, rock and soul music, and the world's best bar-b-que, but we also have the Memphis Tigers. Every basketball season, all of West Tennessee become riveted to their televisions on game nights. For most people, TV is their only access to the team, and the better the season, the higher the spirits of the citizenry. Until recently, the TV coverage was excellent and brought the game to thousands who would otherwise have to depend on the radio and their imaginations. As a result, few cities share a bond with their local university's athletic teams quite like Memphis loves their basketball Tigers.

Memphis' love affair with the Tigers really began in 1957, when tiny Memphis State College lost the National Invitation Tournament to Bradley on national television by just one point. The Commercial Appeal reported on March 25, 1957, that a huge crowd showed up at the airport to greet the returning team, including Elvis Presley, who had a pretty decent year himself. My Tiger loyalties are generational. My dad had season tickets back in the Field House days and I was that little kid under the bucket shagging errant jump shots for the team's pre-game and half-time warm-ups. Suffice it to say that I saw the entire Wilfong family wear the Tiger uniform and I was in attendance at the NCAA finals in St. Louis in 1973. I suffered through the Moe Iba years and celebrated Dana Kirk and the formation of the Metro Conference, the best collection of unaffiliated schools in the nation. Along with that came a hatred of all things Louisville. I hated their team, their fans, their coach, their school, and the color red. But the memorable games at the Mid-South Coliseum were annual gatherings of the rabid faithful to hopefully witness the Cardinals defeated and humbled, and they were as loud as any rock concert.

I had season tickets in the Coliseum and showed up in snow, rain, or iced parking lots, while the team's following throughout the city boomed. When the Coliseum restricted smoking to the concourses, it was necessary to breast-stroke through a fog of grey plumes to get to the concession stand. And the team had so many Jewish supporters, that half-time looked like Rosh Hashanah at the Temple. Almost all the games were televised on local channels, with WKNO offering a replay of every home game at 10:00 PM. I used to drive home from the games and watch Channel 10 to see if I'd missed anything. The team outgrew the Coliseum, but season ticket-holders were assured of preferential seating in the new Pyramid to reward their loyalty. I wasn't among those who got to choose their seats, but I was certain my assigned tickets would be satisfactory. Imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting parallel to Larry Finch's jersey hanging from the rafters. When I appealed to the university's ticket office, I was told that it would be no problem to improve my seats, only it required an additional $2000 "contribution" to the Athletic Department. I didn't want to pay the extortion, so I gave up my nose-bleed section tickets.

With the move to the FedEx Forum, with its corporate suites and blaring techno-music, I decided the best place to watch a Tiger game was in my living room. Four seasons ago, I invested in the 42 inch, flat-screen television specifically for basketball season and scored extra points by telling my wife that it was a present for her. Say what you will about the Calipari era, but the Memphis games were all televised, either on local or cable networks, and we made an evening of it. Select friends and former disenfranchised season ticket holders came to my house for the games, and Melody put out hors' dourves in our Tiger serving dishes, alongside the Tiger napkins. It's become a tradition. On game night, we all wear Tiger gear and erect a small shrine around the TV with our blue and white pom poms, the stuffed tiger's claw, and the tiger-striped footstool with the tail that I got at Walgreen's. Only now, if it's not a nationally televised game, we're in trouble. While I love everything about the current team and their coach, somebody made a lousy TV deal for the fans that not even High Definition can fix.

The games on the CSS Network come through clearly enough, but in the last game, some computer whiz forgot to throw a switch, and the graphic that shows the score didn't come up until five minutes into the telecast. In addition, the picture distorted and froze throughout the game, although it was not shown in High Def.  When a game is scheduled to be shown on the Sports South Network, however, it's a true reason for despair. It's a lucky thing that Greg Gaston and Hank McDowell are great announcers, because you can barely see the action they are describing. For the second straight season, the network is using some antique camera that would be better suited for a high school game. The resulting picture is so dark that the players' faces are indistinguishable, white boys included, and the jersey numbers are a blur. It appears as if the arena is experiencing a brown-out. When a recent game was televised on a delayed basis, an announcer said, "Because of time constraints, we are moving ahead in the action," and they cut out ten minutes. I understand that Memphis is mired in a mediocre conference with no visible way out, but do you suppose the league could afford to buy a digital camera for its damn network? Or is it possible the Athletic Department that remains solvent only because of the basketball team, might negotiate a better TV package for the fans? Both the team and their loyal supporters deserve better than this. Besides, I really need to see this group of Tigers play, especially since I bet a Barcalounger that they make it to the Elite Eight.