Monday, October 31, 2011

Herman Cain Sexual Harassment Accusations: GOP Presidential Candidate Denies Politico Report

Herman Cain Sexual Harassment Accusations: GOP Presidential Candidate Denies Politico Report:

The first response and a denial, of sorts, from the Herman Cain campaign., including an interview by FOX's Geraldo Rivera with Cain spokesman JD Gordon. Despite repeated attempts for a clear denial, Gordon refused. Laying blame at both the liberal media and the politics of inside the beltway, Gordon said that Mr. Cain would be speaking on this shortly...

Details from a statement given to the Associated Press, which contains a slightly stronger denial can be found here...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Exclusive: Two women accused Herman Cain of inappropriate behavior - Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman and Anna Palmer and Kenneth P. Vogel -

Exclusive: Two women accused Herman Cain of inappropriate behavior - Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman and Anna Palmer and Kenneth P. Vogel -

This isn't good for Cain in any way, shape or form.

Over ten years old, this is now surfacing again. Even if everything was put to rest back then, and I don't know how it was resolved, its a helluva thing to come up now. Surely, as Cain was considering a run for the White House, someone had to ask him if there was anything controversial in his past that could come back to haunt him now. Apparently, he felt this wasn't worth mentioning.

This kind of thing always seems to come out. We need to wait before casting judgement until we know the facts. Was anything ever found to be true in terms of the allegations? Who was behind the story emerging now?

Stay tuned...

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs -

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs -

Good read from Mona Simpson, Steve Job's sister...Interesting insight to an interesting man...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tired of 47% not paying any taxes? Shame on us...

I hear this complaint daily. On talk radio, on Fox, on facebook, etc. The basic message is this:

"The 47% of us who pay no taxes are really getting over on the rest of us that do! It's wrong, it's un-American and somebody should do something about it!"

First off, let's get some specifics...

Its hard to think of a person in the US who's over 18 and doesn't pay some kind of taxes. Our income is taxed, we contribute to Social Security and Medicare. We pay sales taxes in most states. We pay taxes on gasoline, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. Homeowners pay property taxes. Residents of many local communities pay school taxes. And on and on. To be fair, the vast, vast, vast majority of us pay some taxes. The complaint I mentioned above is most commonly, in my opinion, applied to those who don't pay Federal Income taxes. Its also fair to say that the revenues that come from those "other" taxes like gasoline, cigarettes, property, school taxes, etc. don't go directly to the US Treasury Department.

Let's even agree that some percent of the 47% who allegedly pay "no taxes" may be breaking the law for tax evasion. To that rather small group that does break the law, they should be charged with crimes and given stiff sentences and pay all the back taxes, plus fines they owe. Period. Make them also pay for the costs of prosecuting them as well.

So now we're down to the actual percent of people who "legally" pay no Federal Income tax. Via our current tax code, there are exemptions and deductions which are perfectly legal. The Earned Income Tax Credit, can dramatically reduce the amount a lower income family is required to pay on their taxable income. Standard deductions can lop off over ten grand from a family's taxable income.

As a result, many families pay very little or no income tax at all. The suggestion that this group of Americans is somehow free-loading off the rest of us is unfair. These are typically lower income families who aren't living in $500,000.00 homes or vacationing in Monaco. Most of us wouldn't trade places these families. Would we? Still, despite most of these people who aren't paying any taxes following the laws, many look upon this group as free-loading, leech-like, parasites slowly but surely stealing all the good stuff from those of us who pay taxes.

This week, two of the Republican candidates for President made announcements on their tax plans. Herman Cain, he of the 9-9-9 plan, announced that those living under the poverty line would not pay any income tax. Understand that for 2011, this Country defines poverty in terms of a family of four as an income of up to $22, 350 in annual earnings. For those of you complaining that everyone should pay Federal income taxes, is it safe to say that Herman Cain's tax plan is not satisfactory?

Governor Rick Perry of Texas also had a big announcement this week about his plans to address taxes in the United States. He proposes a "flat tax" that features a 20% standard flat rate and a $1250.00 per family member deduction. Suggesting that a family of four who makes $50,000.00 a year, or less, would pay zero taxes. Is that acceptable to those who are tired of people not paying any income taxes? There are other concerns about Perry's plan such as the effect of dangerously reducing the amount of revenues into the Federal government, and the deceptive "simplicity" claimed by the Perry camp.

These plans will be tweaked over time and we'll see new ones from the other candidates before too long. Regardless of what they present, there will be some group of Americans who won't have to pay Federal income tax. Not because they're free loaders, deadbeats, parasites, etc., but because the various tax plans in this Country ALL provide for some measure of relief for those who earn the least among us.

I wish the mean spirited rhetoric I've heard about "this group" destroying the country would stop. I expect the RW media to engage in that kind of partisan fear mongering and hate speech, but when I see regular people saying it around town, on facebook, etc. it disgusts me. Maybe they haven't really looked into why so many aren't paying federal income taxes or in some cases very little. With higher real unemployment than we can accurately measure, of course incomes are down. If income levels are down, so will be the amount of taxes owed. Trust me, the quality of life is also down for this group of people. They're probably not heading out to the best restaurants in town this weekend. Probably having hot dogs, or tv dinners for the umpteenth time this month. The Liberal media plays its own version of this game, just not nearly as well. All people that are wealthy aren't selfish pigs. Its brutal from either side.

The contempt I've read and listened to from "regular folk" towards this target group is disturbing. It speaks to the growing polarization of our Right and Left. Our Wealthy and Poor. The Have's and the Have Nots. Its harmful, its mean and its doing damage to us as a people. While the media loves to play winners and losers, especially in politics, to see it creep into the fabric of our citizenry will be a thing to regret in time.

Its no way to treat each other.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Calamaties of Nature for October 26, 2011

Comparing what States contributed versus what they consumed:

Find more intelligent graphs and comics at: Calamities of Nature

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It was fine then, but is unacceptable now...

It was fine then.. 

but is unacceptable now...

Is this another example of Republicans doing an about face on policy matters? (Individual mandate, anyone?) Any attempt to directly compare these two clips on a one for one basis is likely a flawed one, but it does speak to a general attitude. It shouldn't be dismissed as irrelevant. Fact is, President Ron Reagan did raise taxes and is still widely lauded as one of our finest Presidents. Even the man's detractors don't usually focus on his "over taxing" as a main complaint. (Under taxing, yes...)

Twenty years later, things are very different in our Country. Unemployment is higher, our manufacturing sector is shell of its former self and many, many of the jobs lost over the last few decades aren't ever coming back. To suggest that because a president did something two decades ago that's its the exact right thing to do now is wrong minded. It might be, it might not be

On the other hand, those who feel President Obama is out to destroy our Country by increasing some high earner's income tax, as well as closing some corporate tax loopholes, which are akin to tax increases for business in some circles, are over the top. When President Reagan rolled out his two proposals, The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (wow, that almost sounds socialist, doesn't it?) and then the Highway Revenue Act of 1982, many protested. Were they successful? I'll leave that up to you as my point is that the world kept spinning, Old Glory still looked awesome flying above and for the most part, America didn't lose a single shred of any of its essence. 

We should be able to find something slightly more subtle than THE IMPENDING DESTRUCTION OF OUR LAND when making the case that a tax hike is or isn't the right way to go.

Let's cool it...


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Share this Cartoon

From Nate Beeler, The Washington Examiner, Washington, D.C....

GOP Power Rankings 10/23/11...

GOP Power Rankings 10/23/2011...

As we head into late October, we can see the one year mark from the general election not far away. As the debates continue, individual State primaries begin in less than three months. The GOP field hasn't seen anyone leave the campaign trail just yet. As we approach the primaries, we'll see most donations targeted to the candidates that can make a serious case to defeat President Obama next year. Fundraising is key, and a few candidates are in serious trouble on this front. Stars have risen and fallen over the last few months and through it all, Mitt Romney just keeps shining. Currently the #1 candidate to represent the Republican Party to push Obama to the unemployment line, Mr. Romney has money, momentum and most importantly, apparently no equals in the race for the nomination.

NEXT DEBATE: November 9th, 2011 on CNBC...

This week's rankings:

1) Mitt Romney-Yes, Perry and Santorum knocked him around in the last debate, but to what end? Absorbing mostly body blows, Romney leads the pack in Gallups Ballot Support rankings and recognition, sits 2nd in positive intensity to only Herman Cain. Compared to Rick Perry who sits sixth in the positive intensity rankings. Despite the fuss that Bachmann, Perry and now Mr. Cain have generated enough long lasting heat to make things uncomfortable for Romney. Financially, Romney had the second highest donations, $14 Million, which was just under Perry's take of 17 Million. Romney is in good shape going forward...

2) Herman Cain-Mr. Cain got a rough ride at the start of the last GOP debate but was able to hang on long enough to allow the Romney/Perry sideshow take over. Cain has made nice progress over the last several week in both polls and fundraising. Speaking of fundraising, Cain made a personal loan of $175K to his own campaign. Having raised only 2.8M in the last quarter, this is an area where his recent wave of popularity will need to translate to money. While Romney and Perry both brought in at least 14 million, less than 3 million won't cut it.

3) Rick Perry-Last quarter's biggest fundraising champion, Perry has shown an ability to quickly raise some cash, albeit most of it from his home state of Texas. Debates are clearly not his strong suit and his roughing up of Romney seems to have turned off as many as it impressed. Despite his fanfare, Perry's national numbers have slid backwards since he officially joined the campaign, which is a very bad sign. Lots of problems facing Perry right now.

4) Newt Gingrich-Off a slightly stronger debate last week, somehow the former Speaker of the House is still hanging around. Left for dead over the Summer, Mr. Gingrich has a long way to go to entering the upper tier ranks of GOP contenders. Financially, he hasn't reported a total for the third quarter. In the prior quarter, Gingrich reported fundraising of just over $2M dollars. Third in Gallups positive intensity rankings, Gingrich hasn't gone away yet. Developing a taste for surly exchanges with debate moderators, Gingrich may have turned the ship around, but I see him a million miles away from the top three tier.

5) Rick Santorum-Santorum has been scoring points of late with the far Right of the Right and has certainly had his share of favorable moments in the last few debates. While playing to the base may feel good, its highly unlikely Santorum is attracting new voters to his team, as witnessed in the 3rd quarter fundraising number, which were dismal. His fundraising take for the quarter? Less than one million dollars. That will need to be improved upon and quickly for him to survive. His comments a few days ago that he wants the defund all Federal dollars that help pay for contraception won't woo many women to his side. His recent surge might...might...put him on a few candidates short list for VP if they need votes from the far right.

6) Ron Paul-Mr. Paul has no shot. Once he openly suggested that the United States stop sending foreign aid to Israel, any sliver of hope he was holding on to wafted away. I give him credit, he has balls, his stances are compelling to me and his frankness is refreshing. Paul is capable at raising money, with over 8M in 3rd qtr. reporting. He's likely to be around for several months. It will be interesting to see if he can stay relevant in the GOP race for the White House nomination.

7) Michelle Bachmann-Iowa seems so long ago, doesn't it? With her start crashing back to earth, there are problems everywhere. Several of her staff in New Hampshire have quit on her campaign, he fundraising for Q3 came in at just over 4M, but her overall organisation is now over 500K in debt. On top of all that, she has the highest "Strongly Unfavorable" of all the candidates vying for the GOP nomination. Yikes...

8) John Huntsman-Focusing mostly on New Hampshire, Huntsman's has nothing working for at the moment. Last in most of the polls, his campaign is over 800K in debt and that includes a personal loan to his campaign of about 2.5M. The end is fast approaching for Mr. Huntsman.

Overall Rankings: (The lower the score, the better...)
(After 8 rankings...)

1. Romney - 9
2. Perry - 31
Bachmann - 36
4. Cain - 38
5. Santorum - 55
6. Paul - 59 

7. Huntsman - 64
8. Gingrich - 73

(NOTE: Rankings are compiled by simply adding the rankings each week to a running total of same...)


Friday, October 21, 2011

Performance art well done...

Please watch this performance by artist Michael was recorded  a few years ago at a fundraiser in Florida for the Payton Wright Foundation to help families affected by pediatric brain cancer. As an artist, I found this to be unique and enjoyably unusual.


Thanks to Mr. Dave Elkin for passing it along...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Calamities of Nature Graph of the Week...

Starting this week, I'll be featuring a comic strip or thought provoking graph from the smart people at "Calamities of Nature." I'm excited to be able to provide some content from their website, which they describe in these terms:

Welcome to Calamities of Nature, a comic that focuses on topics of social commentary, science, religion, philosophy, and lots of bacon. If you're new here, checking out the best of Calamities of Nature is a great place to start.

Calamities of Nature has been online since July 2007. Since that time, it's been viewed by millions of people and won a number of accolades, including being a finalist for the best webcomic of 2010 by the Washington Post, finalist in the2008 Webcomic Idol contest finalist (a comic version of the American Idol show) and a finalist in the 2008 Weblog Awards (the world's largest blog competition, with over a million votes cast) alongside such famous comics as Dilbert and xkcd. Calamities of Nature has also been featured on a number of prominent blogs, including PharyngulaCosmic Variance, and Bad Astronomy(which was named one of Time Magazine's top 25 blogs of 2009).

Special thanks go out to Tony Piro for allowing Reasonable Conversation to feature his work. I encourage my readers to visit his website and enjoy his humor as I have. 


We'll start with a thought provoking graph of a recent anniversary we experienced:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another Political Quiz. Is it accurate? Try it...

Ten question political quizzes don't seem to be, at first glance, very likely to capture the nuance of many people's political beliefs. I've seen several that contain dozens of questions and produce varying results.

The ten question quiz from Advocates for Self Government surprised me. I took it this morning and it pegged me almost exactly where I consider myself on the political spectrum.

I put up a different political quiz several months ago that many readers tried out and enjoyed. Try this one, don't take it too seriously regardless of the outcomes and enjoy it. Let me know if you agree or disagree with the results.

Take the quiz here...

Most illegal immigrants deported last year were criminals –

Deportations continue to be way up under the Obama Administration...

Most illegal immigrants deported last year were criminals –

WASHINGTON – The U.S. deported nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants last year, and an increasing number of them were convicted criminals, according to figures set for release Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security.

Deportations have been on the rise for the past decade, and the 396,906 illegal immigrants deported in fiscal year 2011 is the highest number yet, according to the figures. Under the Obama administration, Homeland Security issued new priorities to focus deportations on convicted criminals, people who pose threats to national security and repeated border-crossers. Last year, 55% of those deported were convicted criminals, the highest percentage in nearly a decade.

Newt’s Personal Hypocrisy On ‘Death Panels’ | The New Republic

Great read from The New Republic:

Newt’s Personal Hypocrisy On ‘Death Panels’ | The New Republic:

If Newt Gingrich holds to form in Tuesday night's GOP presidential primary debate in Nevada, he may well decide to answer a question on health care policy by invoking the threat of "death panels." He backed up Sarah Palin when she first tossed that rhetorical grenade against the Democrats' universal health care legislation in the summer of 2009 and he wielded the dread phrase again at the last debate in criticizing the new recommendations against routine testing for prostate cancer in older men.
My colleague Jonathan Cohn did yeoman's work last week in rebutting Gingrich's specific attack on the prostate cancer issue. What has gone far too little noted these past two years, though, is just how deeply, personally hypocritical Gingrich is being in adopting Palin's "death panel" framing at all. Simply put, Gingrich really ought to know better, because his own personal experience is closely entwined with this issue in a way that brought him special insights that he has since cast aside for the sake of adopting a political cheap shot.
The "death panel" myth, as I reported in a September 2009 article, traces to a hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a small city on the banks of the Mississippi. Since the mid-1980s, Gundersen Lutheran hospital has been building a reputation as a national leader in end of life care -- encouraging local residents to develop "advance care directives" that give the hospital clear instructions in how aggressive to be in treating various end of life conditions. Today, more than 90 percent of the hospital's patients complete advance care directives, many of them years before they become seriously ill. Not surprisingly, the hospital relies more heavily than others on palliative care and spends 30 percent less than the national average on end of life medical treatment.

Thoughts on the GOP Debate...

Mitt Romney is still the undisputed #1 contender to take on President Barack Obama next November. Tonight's debate saw Romney have to work harder to fend off various attacks, mostly from Rick Perry, but fend them off he did. From health care, to job creation, to immigration, etc. Romney emerged mostly intact with little damage sustained.  The charge that Romney knowingly hired illegal immigrants has already been deemed mostly false by Politifact.

Rick Perry was more engaged in this debate, but came across more chippy than Presidential. This was much better than being asleep throughout the evening. Reclaimed at least a top three ranking onstage tonight.

Herman Cain is encouraging American families to do the math themselves on his 9-9-9 plan. Ignore what the experts say. Maybe his plan is very nuanced and no one understands it. Which is bad news for the regular folk who he wants to "do their own calculations." The plan does not seem to do what Mr. Cain claims it will, which is very bad for his campaign's future.

Michelle Bachmann yelling "Anderson!, Anderson! Anderson!" seemed pathetic to me, as is her constant droning on that she was a former Federal Tax Attorney, a Mom, a Christian, an American, a Human, etc. Oh, she also hates Barack Obama...

Rick Santorum continue to not go away. One post debate wrap up called him "the arsonist." Not afraid to get into other candidates faces, he was very forceful throughout the evening. But to what end? When you're polling around 1%, do you really matter?

Newt Gingrich is the guy we all hated getting yelled at by when we were kids. Yes, he's smart. Yes, he knows history. No, I don't think he'll be President, but I'm sticking to my guns on him being a awesome choice for someone's Chief of Staff. He may regret acknowledging that the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea, via the Heritage Foundation back during the Clinton effort to reform health care.

Ron Paul is a dead man walking. Saying out loud we should stop giving aid to Israel is a no-no. He may not even get offered a job in the next Administration for that error.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Best Poster from Occupy Wall Street I've seen yet...

My favorite poster from the Occupy Wall Street protests: (Thanks to Barry Ritholtz for the heads up via Pete Domnick...)

Should we stop funding Liberal Arts Education with public dollars?

Florida Governor Rick Scott, citing shrinking financial resources, supports a strategy that would showed preferred funding for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs (STEM). Governor Scott says, "If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott said. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state."

The Governor is expected to include several different reforms aimed at Colleges and Universities across Florida when he submits his new budget next January. With more money being provided to the STEM majors, less funds will be available for Liberal Arts majors, plus some other "science" based fields of study such as Psychology and Anthropology. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” says, Governor Scott. 

Now's probably a good time to mention that Governor Scott's daughter, Jordan Kandah, earned an Anthropology degree from William & Mary College. She did not work in the field, rather was a Special Education teacher before enrolling in a MBA program earlier this Fall. 

As fun as that sounds, its not really evidence that Scott's policy is hypocritical or would even be a bad one.

As I understand it, students would'nt be prevented from study Liberal Arts, they just wouldn't get as much public dollars via student grants and loans to do so. This wouldn't effect Scholarships or other private sources of tuition assistance.

I don't profess to know how the coffers for Florida higher education look at this moment. In general, with the shape of the economy, rising health care costs, unemployment's effect on the tax base, etc. it doesn't sound crazy to me to accept Scott's premise that there is less money to go around. The State is trying to direct its limited financial resources toward those fields of study that can lead to the highest paying jobs (i.e. produce the biggest financial payoff) for Florida.

The Governor is advocating for closer scrutiny for how the Public dollars are spent. That's not a bad thing.

As to the question of is it dangerous to have the Government start picking winning and losing Majors to back differently? Good question. Is there evidence that Florida is running short on STEM majors? Or the Country for that matter?

Some say yes....

Some say no...

I believe we absolutely need Liberal Arts majors to graduate and fill Society's needs for teachers, Psychologists and sure, Anthropologists. As income disparity worsens, the harshness of basic living is becoming more and more difficult. I say life is getting harder, not easier. As the world continues to shrink, the entire dynamic of how higher education, economics and our work-force interact is changing. Technology has replaced so many jobs in the labor pool, there aren't enough jobs to go around. Incomes are depressed, "savings" is hard to achieve when you have trouble paying your bills in the first place.

I believe we need better teachers, especially in the Journalism and English fields. Via the advance of the internet, more people are able to summon vast amounts of information on the subject of their choosing. The rub is, content from the internet, even from well known websites that advertise themselves as "THE place for News", or more "fair and balanced" than those other guys, isn't always accurate or impartial. Too often, people get their information...and develop subsequent opinions on an issue...from an agenda driven, biased news operation. Its difficult and time consuming to do research on topic, consider both sides viewpoints, fact check, etc. The more trained we are in reading, critical thought, etc. the better prepared we will, as a people, be able to cut through the noise and make decisions based on the facts of an issue.

We need smart people to help figure out our Country's future. I say we need both STEM people and Liberal Arts people taking their best collective whack at it.

It'll be a while before we can see the effect of Governor Scott's education reform, if it even survives through to the final budget. If it succeeds as designed, and unemployment spikes down in Florida, especially in the STEM fields, then the State will benefit in many ways. Will it justify the expected drop off in Liberal Arts education? Time will tell. At the point in time a shortage of available Liberal Arts degreed people is identified, the need would easily be filled by bringing in professionals from out of state. If its bad enough, perhaps a future Governor will adjust higher education funding once more.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Requiem for Reggie...

  I'm taking a rare step away from my usual content to share with my readers some brilliant writing about a retired hockey player. His name was Reggie Fleming and he was a fighter back in National Hockey League of the 1960's. He was also the first professional hockey player to have his brain tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), which he was diagnosed, post mortum, as having. The NHL is struggling with the issues of fighting and conucussions in its sport. It has voices from both sides, pro and con, who are participating in this important conversation. 

  This article was written by Earl McRea who passed away yesterday. The story, "Requiem for Reggie" was first published in the Canadian Magazine, July 15th, 2009. Long time hockey writer Stan Fischler calls it "the best hockey story ever written." 

Mr. Fleming passed away at the age of 74, just four days before this profile was published. 

Requiem for Reggie by Earl McRea

The storm howls over the dark and empty fields of the American Midwest, ragged clouds of snow sweep blindly across the headlights. The storm is getting worse as the night deepens. Reggie Fleming hunches over the steering wheel, silent, his eyes unblinking as they squint into the blizzard. Slowly his right foot presses down until the car is charging wildly into the night at 75 miles an hour, 20 over the speed limit. In the green reflection from the dashboard, Reggie Fleming's face is almost grotesque, the lumps and furrows from 18 seasons of violent warfare in pro hockey casting their own proud shadows. Fleetingly, his face is illuminated by the headlights of passing vehicles, the effect that of the horror face that jumps out of the darkness at the carnival. Fleming drives on in silence, the only sound the erratic rush of the wind along the windows.
He's 39 now, Fleming, but looks older; his hair, once a thick and golden brushcut, running thin and wispy, his stomach fat and soft. It's hard to believe he was once, and not so long ago, one of hockey's most brutal, meanest players; short on talent but long on the stick, a bully who carved his notoriety in the flesh of opposing players. He was a fighter and a good one and as long as he was that, the czars of hockey embraced him. When he wasn't, when he couldn't fight anymore, when he wouldn't fight anymore, the czars of hockey kissed him off and forgot about him. It was as if he had never existed. And the hurt was more than any he had ever felt on the ice. It hurt because he fought, he says, not for pleasure or profit but out of duty. His was the role of the good cop, always reflecting on his own special station in life, loyally serving the czars, nurturing his loyalty to friends and, above all, dedicating himself to the cause, the fine and honorable cause. It was the only way he knew, the only way asked until, in the end, the realization dawned on the czars that, in the words of Shakespeare, the heyday in the blood is tame, it's humble. The good cop was no more. The body could no longer serve the mind. The mind could no longer serve the body.
But Reggie Fleming, driving through the long night to Madison, Wisconsin to play hockey for a fifth-rate team of nobodies in a league few have heard of and few ever will, Reggie Fleming refuses to believe-or accept-that the end, for him, has come. It is a tragic story and an old one. Maybe it's because Reggie Fleming's gift was his fists. Fighters always seem the most reluctant of athletes to bow out. Joe Louis for example. Louis went out to the sound of trumpets, came back, and went out a last time to a funeral dirge. Sugar Ray was a long time in believing. Floyd Patterson still doesn't know. Marciano was smart, one of the few. They should all have listened to Marciano. He said he knew it was time to go when he would hesitate in finishing off an opponent he had in trouble instead of doing it fast like he used to. He worried that maybe he couldn't do it. He worried that he would tire trying and get knocked out himself. Marciano reflected on this and came to a conclusion. Age. Growing old. Growing old takes the confidence and slowly dissolves it and when the confidence is no longer there, neither is what it was that made you good in the first place. Marciano went out to trumpets. But most fighters don't, or can't, and maybe it's because they are fighters. Traditionally, fighting is the manly art, the essence of machismo, manhood itself. Most fighters, schooled in the streets, believe this. Not being able to fight is not being a man anymore. So they tell themselves lies and keep on trying.
Reggie Fleming keeps on trying.
He laughs at my question, a short, nervous laugh and gives me a quick sideways glance. "A lot of people must be wondering that," he says in his high, raspy voice. "Look, I just love hockey, that's all, I love hockey. I think I can still play hockey the way I always played it, does there have to be a damn reason? Embarrassed, I'm supposed to be embarrassed or something because this is a nothing league, a bunch-a bunch of bums they say. I don't give a damn what people think of me, I don't care, I can still play hockey and that's what I'm doing, okay?"
For 16 years Fleming played and fought in the National Hockey League, first with Montreal, then Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Buffalo. Then he went to the WHA, where he spent two years with the Chicago Cougars. He played and fought, he'll tell you often, when the NHL was the best hockey in the world, before expansion in 1967. He never did score 20 goals in a season, the figure that historically separates the haves from the have-nots, although he did manage 23 his first season with the Cougars. But he wasn't expected to score goals. He was expected to fight. He did get penalties, plenty of them, and his ability to beat people up was always the root of his ego. In one season, 1965-66, he had more penalty minutes than any other player in the NHL. Today, he ranks seventh on the all-time list for penalty minutes, 1,468 minutes, more than 24 hours in the box. But he ranks first for getting those penalty minutes for fighting. He had a ferocious left hook, a decent right and a beautiful head butt. He fought all the tough ones: Howe, Fontinato, Lindsay, Harris, Ferguson - and seldom lost. His only clear defeats came in the last few years; he lost to age.
The dreaded inevitable happened last May on a flight back from Houston. "We're coming back after the finals, we got beaten out by Houston, and Stapleton and Demers, Jacques Demers, he's the director of player personnel with the Cougars, they called me over and told me they wanted me to retire, just like that. They wanted me to have a press conference and say I'm quitting. Stapleton said there was a job for me with the club after I quit. My mind was all confused, just throwing it at me like that. I didn't want to quit and Stapleton said it was a nice way out for me because the club wasn't going to protect me in the draft coming up next week. I asked why and he wouldn't give me a straight answer, something about the numbers game. I told him, that's fine, I'll take my chances in the draft. Whitey said, well, if nobody wants me, there's a job for me in the organization."
Pat (Whitey) Stapleton, coach and general manager of the Cougars (and now part owner), felt Fleming, in his second year with the club and with only two goals, 12 assists and 49 minutes in penalties to show for the 45 games he'd played in, had lost much of his ability; the little he had as a player and, now, as a policeman too. Stapleton used Fleming sparingly because he was overweight and slow.
"The year before," says Fleming, "I had those 23 goals. And I got 93 minutes in penalties. That was second best minutes on the team. I was still aggressive but, goddam it, he wouldn't use me enough, wouldn't let me show it."
Fleming took his chances in the draft. He lost. Not one team wanted him. He waited a few days. Nobody phoned. So he decided to phone. He called Harry Howell, coach of the San Diego Mariners. Howell was a good friend. They'd played together once for three years. Howell wasn't in. Fleming left a message to return the call. Howell never did. Fleming talked to Ron Ingram, director of player personnel for San Diego. "I tried San Diego because I thought they could use a good policeman." Ingram said rosters were already completed. Fleming phoned Buck Houle, general manager of the Toronto Toros, and left a message. Houle didn't phone back. Fleming quit phoning around.
He got a job selling beer to bars and restaurants. It paid $12,000 a year plus mileage for the used van provided. The comedown was hard. He has a wife and two small kids, a big mortgage on a big house in Chicago and high payments on his 1974 Thunderbird. With the Cougars, he earned $35,000 his last season. Not much by today's hockey standards-but the most money Reggie Fleming ever made in his life. His wife is a part-time airline stewardess. She makes $9,000 a year. It helps, but she thinks maybe she should start trying to become a full-time stewardess.
Throughout the summer, Reggie Fleming tried to get in touch with Stapleton about the promised job. He had difficulty reaching Stapleton. He did reach Demers. Demers said talk to Stapleton. He finally reached him. Stapleton said he was busy with Team Canada 74, wait a bit. Fleming did. All summer. In the meantime, he sold his beer. He'd get up late, help get the kids, Kelly, 5, and Chris, 7,off to school then watch cartoons on TV all morning. He was waiting for the phone to ring. It sometimes did but not with the call he wanted. At noon, he'd get into the van and drive 200 miles or more around Chicago selling his beer. The job had a built-in hazard for Fleming. He had to drink beer to be sociable. His weight ballooned. Soon he weighed 220 pounds-35 over his playing weight. He ate a lot too because that's what he does when he's bored and restless and it didn't help. It's hard to adjust when the only thing you did for 18 years is no longer there.
In late August, the mailman came with a letter from the Cougars. It was a try-out form, the kind given rookies and free agents. Fleming had never asked for a try-out form. It said he could come to training camp but would only be paid $25 an exhibition game, and if he got hurt he'd have to pay himself. There were other equally humiliating, clauses. He threw the form into the garbage.
"Eighteen years I played pro hockey and they send me something like that," says Fleming, "If they don't know what I can do after 18 years then they can go to hell." But the worst was yet to come. On Sept. 3, he got another letter from the Cougars. It started "Dear Mr. Fleming" and was signed "Jacques Demers." It told him that he'd cleared waivers in early summer, was a free agent and should start looking elsewhere for a job. That was it. Nothing else.
"I was going to try and get in touch with Demers and Stapleton and ask what the hell happened to the job promise but then I thought why should I, people like that don't deserve to hear from me."
Instead, he phoned around again. He phoned Indianapolis. He heard they were looking for a coach. They promised to phone back. They didn't. He phoned an old friend, Jean-Guy Gendron, coach of the Quebec Nordiques. Gendron invited him to training camp. He went-and was soon cut. Too fat. Too slow. "And," says general manager Maurice Filion, "not the fighter he once was." Fleming went back home to Chicago. He phoned Emile Francis, coach and general manager of the New York Rangers. Francis had always treated him well and told him, when he was traded, to call should he ever be out of work. Francis listened and sympathized-but it was now November and all the jobs were filled.
Eighteen years, thought Fleming over and over, 18 years and you go out like this. But the ego refused to wither. He listened to an offer to play left wing for a team called the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Flyers in something called the Continental League. Travel is by car or however you can, the rinks resemble barns and fans seldom number more than a few hundred. The level of play is industrial league in Canada. The players aren't paid but Fleming would be-$100 a game; $3,600 a season. He accepted. And found out fast that the Flyers can't fly and the league isn't continental. But grandeur is often made of dreams.
"You know, I had this dog once," says Reggie Fleming. "His name was Mickey and, oh, he was beautiful. Part husky. He'd follow me everywhere and nobody would try to fight me if Mickey was with me. He'd go to school with me, meet me at noon, walk back to school with me and be there when I get out. Just like magic. Mickey didn't go looking for trouble but he'd never back down. He'd do anything I told him, anything. He looked scary but he really wasn't. He'd only fight to protect me. I remember when he died. I guess I was about 11. I held his paw in my hand and watched him die. I really loved Mickey. He was a real friend, maybe the best I ever had."
Reggie Fleming's survival ethic was spawned in the big red brick house in east-end Montreal where, as an only child, he lived with his parents, grandparents and nine uncles and aunts, some not much older than him. His father, Alex, was a government packaging inspector, a big raw-boned man who once played pro football in Montreal. His mother, Julie, worked as a cigarette girl at Delormier Stadium in the summer and a counter girl at the Forum in the winter. In those years, before the war, it was a culture that demanded youthful subservience to authority and Fleming's dad demanded more than most. Fleming lived in the big, old house for his first 13 years while his parents saved to buy a home of their own.
"We were a good Catholic family," says his widowed mother today, "we went to church every Sunday. Reggie was an altar boy. He was taught to respect his elders. In those days you did as you were told. It's the way it was. Reggie was a good boy. When we finally moved into our own home, I'd come home from work and he'd have the potatoes and vegetables ready. On Saturdays, he'd wash and mop the floors.
He got into fights, yes, but what boy didn't? But he didn't go haywire like some kids when they got older. He was too busy playing baseball and hockey and football. He was always out playing. He loved sports. He always tried his best."
Reggie Fleming remembers: "It was a tough neighborhood, English and French, mostly French and they were always attacking the English guys, right? You had to fight. I learned with my uncles, there were five of them, all older than me, that you didn't back down. I was sort of an outsider, being an only child and they'd pick on me. I wanted to prove I was better than them. I had to fight better. I got a reputation as a fighter, a tough guy. Only time they'd leave me alone was when I was with Mickey." He laughs. "But I only fought if challenged. You couldn't be a chicken."
He remembers high school, D'Arcy McGee, where he got to grade 11, never a very good student. "They made me protector of the cafeteria once. The girls would get out five minutes before the boys so they could buy stuff in the cafeteria without the boys bugging them. My job was to stand at the door and make sure none of the guys got in, right? Well, this guy, this tough guy, he got by me. I threw him out, smashed his head on the floor. Sure I felt bad but he should have listened to me. The teachers didn't want him in. I was just following orders. Same when the teacher would leave the room. Some guys would always fool around and I'd tell them to shut up. Nobody told me to do it, I just would. I felt it was unfair on the kids trying to get an education. It wasn't fair on the teachers. They had a job to do, right?" "Me, I was a dummy, it didn't matter, but some kids were trying to learn. I'd feel sorry for the teachers, you were supposed to listen to them, do what they said. I remember this one kid, fooling around, I busted his nose. He wouldn't stop fooling around. I could never understand it. All you had to do was what you were told and there'd be no problems."
Fleming played high school hockey and was invited to the training camp of the Montreal Junior Canadiens, coached by Sam Pollock, now general manager of the Canadiens of the NHL. He didn't make it his first year. He did his second. He made it on his ability and desire to fight to help his team. His mother: "Father and I would go to the games and Reggie would never be used unless Pollock wanted something stirred up. Then, out he'd come. It sickened me, I was crying inside. I'd see him all cut and bleeding. I was going to tell Pollock to stop using my child this way but Reggie told me 'Mother, don't, it's my job, what I'm supposed to do, it's the only way I'll make it.' "
"My first game in Chicago," says Fleming, "there was a brawl and I just sort of watched. In the dressing room Rudy Pilous, he was our coach, he said 'Fleming, if your buddies are in trouble don't just stand there. Your job is to help them out, fight for them. If you don't, you might as well pack your bag, you're no use to us.' So I went out and fought. That was always my job, eh? I didn't do it to be cruel, I was just following orders."
There are many hockey experts, NHL referee-in-chief Scotty Morrison for one, who think the policeman in hockey is fast becoming obsolete. "The best way to spark your team is with a goal. As hockey schools get better, the skills get better and you don't need the rough stuff to accomplish something. In the old days of six teams, the rivalry was fierce. It was war. The policeman never talked to players on other teams off the ice. But today, you got players on different teams running the same hockey school, in the same golf tournament, with the same lawyer. It's hard to hate and fight your business partner and friend." Plus, it's a whole new culture today. The culture that gave us a Reggie Fleming is no more. Today's player is better educated and more passive, Watergate and Vietnam having taught all of us that leaders do not necessarily sit on the right hand of God, their commands to be blindly served."
"I still think you need the cop," says Fleming "it's the tough teams that win the Stanley Cup. Take this team I'm on now. I get respect. Why? Because they know I'm Reggie Fleming. Somebody's always taking a run at me so he can say he fought Reggie Fleming. It means something. Usually, though, I just push them off now. Hell, they're just kids and old men, eh? What have I got to prove?"
The Kenosha Flyers, playing before 415 fans in a cold, cheerless Madison arena that can seat 8,000, are trailing the Madison Blues 10-7 in the third period when it happens. A kid on the Blues named John Gill trips the Flyers' Steve Anderson. Anderson gets up, skates over to Gill, says something. Gill says something back. Anderson punches him in the face. The crowd roars. Gill brings his stick down on Anderson's head. Anderson collapses to the ice, and now the crowd is going wild. Across the ice charges Reggie Fleming. He lifts his stick and smashes Gill across the back of the neck, sending him to the ice. The benches empty, the fans scream, rush down from their seats to the boards, throw cups and papers on the ice. "You rotten bastard, Fleming," a voice yells. "Kill him, Kill Fleming."
A tall, skinny black kid with the Blues, Cal Harris, 23, who weighs 170 pounds, turns on Fleming. "C'mon, Fleming, drop your stick, drop it you chicken and we'll see how tough you are."
"Screw off," says Fleming, and turns away.
"Fight you coward," screams Harris, fists clenched. "Fight, you fat slob." The crowd howls for blood. Fleming skates over to the penalty box. He's shouting at the referee but it can't be heard over the noise. A fan leans over the rail and spits on Fleming's head. A half-filled cup of Coke hits Fleming on the shoulder and he turns, curses the fan and waves his stick blade in his face. "Fight, c'mon, fight," Harris is yelling in the background. "Chicken," the fans chant. "Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!"
All the wars of all the nights of the past suddenly rage through Reggie Fleming's mind and, spinning, he attacks Harris, fists up and swinging, the crowd shrieking. Fleming misses with a wild right hook. Harris slams him in the face with a right, a left, drives a right deep in to Fleming's belly. Fleming gasps, doubles over and Harris slams his head back with an uppercut. The crowd screams with delight. The other players watch. Fleming swings blindly at Harris but Harris moves in, punches him furiously in the face and head and hurls him against the boards. Harris pulls Fleming's jersey over his head, tosses him to the ice, jumps on him and flails away. Blood appears on Fleming's jersey, spreading fast like ink on a blotter. Harris doesn't let up and Fleming is helpless. It's brutal and sickening to watch and finally it's broken up. To boos and thrown debris, Fleming leaves the ice, gasping for breath, blood pouring down his battered face. He heads to the dressing room, alone, closes the door softly behind him, and sits on the bench. From far away come the crowd noises. He says nothing, takes off his jersey, throws it in a corner. He turns back, closes his eyes for a few seconds. He opens them and looks at his hands, turning them slowly. They're trembling.
"Sometimes," he says softly and haltingly, "Sometimes I wish ... I wish I could control myself just once. It's ... it's the kids. I go home and they see the cuts and bruises and--" He doesn't finish the sentence. He lifts his hands to his face. For a long time he's quiet and then, from behind the red swollen hands, a long, shuddering sigh. In the morning, the children will see him. He knows what they will ask. And he knows, as always, he won't have an answer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Do moderates lack "convictions?" (Or, everyone doesn't fit in a box...)

I opened this blog early last May. I did so, in part, because I felt disenfranchised. There's very few talk shows or cable channels (other than CNN, I suppose) that don't adhere to a fairly hard-line ideology. Fox News and the Wall Street Journal favor the Right. MSNBC and Public Broadcasting/NPR favor the Left. Network newscasts lean left, but not as far as MSNBC does, in my opinion. 

My politics are slightly left of center. I do not fit into a box labeled Conservative or Liberal. Looking at a bell curve, we see how the political spectrum, to me, is generally distributed: 

What's not on the graph is where our Country currently stands. While this is open to much debate, I'd place the "mainstream" of America, just to the right of the mid-line. I say, currently, we lean to the right. There are many reasons for this, but that's fodder for a different post, not this one.

Now look at the graph once more. Where is the bulk of the population? On the far right? On the far left? No, its not. It's found within the middle of the curve. The range from the "moderate left" to the "moderate right" makes up for the majority of Americans. The average American isn't Glen Beck any more than they're Keith Olbermann. They're not Chuck Grassley anymore than they're Bernie Sanders.

Recently I've been accused of having no convictions by a few friends who are self described hard line Conservatives. The fault they have found with me is best described this way. "Moderate" or "Middle" means you don't really believe in one way or the other when it comes to the issues of the day. Its been inferred by a few that anyone who is "in the middle" lacks a certain courage of their convictions. You hear it in the media all the time. Pundits or talk shows hosts bashing persons on the opposite side of their ideology as evil, dangerous, corrupt. Moderates have little appeal. Current GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul said, "We've had way too much bipartisanship for about 60 years." Compromise is now, apparently, a dirty word, (...which will cost you your seat, Mr. Congressman if we catch you even thinking about it.)

Newsflash to anyone who subscribes purely to a political ideology, (right or left, it doesn't matter to me), I say you are the cop outs. You are the ones stalling real progress on our nation's problems. What you call a politically pure point of view is misguided and immature. To worship your favorite talking head or political figure is akin to worshiping a sports team or favorite athlete like we did when we were kids. "Its all good/its all bad" is not a refined, polished, rational perspective to hold. Its also a horrifically bad direction to try and pull/push the country.

The history of the United States shows us a gentle dance back and forth between the two main parties. Since the parties of today, the Democrats and Republicans, came into shape in the 1820's, we've seen 17 Democrats elected and 18 Republicans elected. While its never been so hip to demonize the other party, its still a crappy idea. Nothing gets done. The two parties get entrenched and the Public Good suffers. It may make for great television or good talk shows, but it doesn't do much to solve problems.

To my critics, who claim that not labeling myself this thing or that thing politically, leaves me everywhere but nowhere, let me spell it out for you. A few of my beliefs...

I am a blend of libertarian, liberal and conservative ideologies. 

I think the government has no business legislating the personal affairs between two adults in marriage or the bedroom. Let the Church handle this. If government MUST be involved, let the States sort it out. 

I think the Federal Government is too large and needs to be streamlined. Move more things to the State level. 

I think drugs, especially marijuana, should be legalized. Pursue a program like Portugal did. Its not perfect, but looks to be promising.

I think we benefit as a country when we have vibrant social programs to help the poor, the sick and the elderly. 

I think we need Universal Healthcare in the United States. I think a blend of mandatory public/private would work the best. 

I believe in a strong national defense. I oppose nation building. I think we could trim 15-20% of the defense budget and still far...the most potent fighting force on the planet. We need that money elsewhere. I support the use of drones in lieu of troops. 

I do not support the Bush Doctrine. Its too open to abuse. 

I support talking to any foreign country to pursue peace and understanding in the world. 

I support the continuance of foreign aid programs with the caveat of proper oversight and ROI. In some of the places we're making investment, its for the future-not the current people in power. The world is getting smaller and smaller and to draw back everything to within our borders and close our eyes/ears is a doomed foreign policy. 

I've read reasonable arguments both pro and con regarding the building of a wall across our border with Mexico. I'm unsure what's best to do, although I think in certain locations a wall could be part of an effective strategy for border security. 

The Federal Government should either enact a bold immigration enforcement policy by Executive Order soon or grant great latitude to the States to enact their own policies. 

I am concerned that our Homeland Security hasn't done enough to secure our ports. 

I support 2nd Amendment rights. I support greater enforcement of current law, but also a reduction in what weapons should be allowed to be owned by the public. 

I support the death penalty in the case of violent crimes against children and in the killing of law enforcement officers. Also in other cases as merited with adequate evidence of guilt. 

...and so on...

There are Democratic ideas...

There are Republican ideas...

What "box" shall I check?

Because a person doesn't subscribe to your world view, doesn't subscribe to your demonization of an opposing viewpoint, doesn't mean they don't have a valid viewpoint. Or that they stand for nothing. To subscribe fully to an ideology, to me is frightening. It locks the mind. It draws the windows and the shades and shuts out the sun. Sun is light, light provides illumination. Illumination is knowledge and understanding. Statistics suggest, my dear hard core friends, that more of America is like me, as opposed to you. History also tells us a balance has been in place through almost two hundred years. The trend will continue. Small, frustrating steps will be taken in this direction and that over time. Over lifetimes. To lose this Country to one ideology or another almost certainly ensures its failure.

Be very careful what you wish for...

Don't confuse ideology with conviction...