Friday, February 29, 2008

Enough from Campaign Spouses!

I suspect I'm in the company of a huge segment of the voters who have had it up to here with the spouses and other kinfolks of the candidates for office constantly appearing in the media – print and electronic – for whatever reasons the candidates have in mind. These people are not running for office, mouth the expected accolades and platitudes, and generally mess up the whole process. The ladies who are good-looking may add some charm in the minds of some, but they appear more to this corner as window-dressing and being manipulated.

To his credit, Huckabee hasn't paraded his wife before the media as did John Edwards and Giuliani. Clinton, Obama, and McCain have exploited their spouses to a degree that's disgusting. The spouses have nothing to say that sheds much light on the temperament or the philosophies of the candidates for the simple reason that they're as scripted as the candidates are. I'm not interested in what Bill Clinton thinks or in what Michelle Obama has to offer, often with a stridence that makes one wonder who calls the campaign shots in that family…either family. Ms. McCain keeps a much lower profile, thankfully, but she doesn't need to be a stand-in or standout for her husband.

Indeed, these proxy-campaign kin can be detriments to campaigns. Bill Clinton was no help in South Carolina or anywhere else when he called Obama's self-stated Iraq-war stance(s) a "fairytale," even if it has been. That stirred African Americans for Obama into dealing the race-card, the last thing any campaign needs. Hillary Clinton had already stirred that crowd by stating quite accurately that President Lyndon Johnson had worked in tandem with Martin Luther King, Jr in bringing off the civil rights legislation of the 60s.

Nor is hubby Bill any help when he simply just appears anywhere, since his presence reminds everyone of Hillary Clinton's cuckolding-in-reverse, not to mention the telephone sex, blue dress and all the rest – things occasioning most women to "throw the bum out." This goes to the heart of her philosophy vis-à-vis power-at-any-price, even suffering for it through thorough and disgusting humiliation.

Michelle Obama did her husband no favors when she claimed that only now as she approaches middle-age can she take pride in this country…about as unpatriotic a statement as can be imagined, especially when made in such a self-serving way by one who has been as privileged and wealth-gathering as both of the Obamas have been. Nor has her stridence on the stump been helpful, though not much more intense than that of Hillary Clinton in her stump appearances. The two of them cause men to shudder and be turned-off when they act as proverbial fishwives.

Much has been made lately by parts of a thesis Michelle Obama wrote when she was a student at Princeton. Here is the setup, according to Jeffrey Ressner of the Web-site POLITICO (Feb.22): "Just under 90 alums responded to the questionnaires (for a response rate of approximately 22 percent) and the conclusions were not what she expected." Here is Ms. Obama's statement/conclusion: "I hoped that these findings would help me conclude that despite the high degree of identification with whites as a result of the educational and occupational path that black Princeton alumni follow, the alumni would still maintain a certain level of identification with the black community. However, these findings do not support this possibility."

Ms. Obama had sent out questionnaires to some 400 black alums "requesting the respondents define the amount of time and 'comfort' level spent interacting with blacks and whites before they attended the school, as well as during and after their University years," according to Ressner. Apparently she was disappointed that the respondents had moved away from provincialism and opted to enter the mainstream of American life and be a part of the wider community, not just return to their ethnic group, or, perhaps more fairly, at least "still maintain a certain level of identification with the black community."

Okay…an adult shouldn't be held accountable for something done or said as a college student, but when what she said then is coupled with what she said just the other day, one has to conclude that she sees two Americas race-wise and that her husband is proof of which one is superior since his entry into presidential politics has constituted the first time she can be proud of the nation that virtually guarantees the safety in this world of whole countries, not to mention her own, and all of that without the benefit of Barack Obama.

This campaign would be better off if the spouses were asked to go home and do what they normally would be doing instead of gallivanting around the nation and making campaign speeches. Indeed, both Obama and Clinton, at least, might prefer their departures at this point, when their spouses have done enough to hurt their images. Ms. McCain has been smart enough to do no damage and, indeed, seems to prefer being somewhere else.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Casino "Plot" Thickens

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has concluded a "win-win" situation for himself with respect to the "gaming" issue, but now he needs to find solutions to the budget problems, a harder task by far, though the House, according to the State Constitution, is supposed to finagle a budget of some kind, with the governor responsible for merely administering it. One remembers budget problems of other days when Joe Clark and Michael Moloney, chairmen of the House and Senate A&R Committees back in the 90s, respectively, would meet during the last hours of the biennial session and hammer out a budget to be rubber-stamped in both houses.

The main player of the week is House Speaker Richards, who, upon not getting his way with the casino bill, simply packed the appropriate committee in order to prevail by dumping one member and adding two. Simple…done the Kentucky way! In so doing, he managed to allow Beshear to satisfy his patron, William Yung, by attempting to make casinos possible anywhere, while only slightly hurting his reputation with the "horsy set," since he at least delivered on a promise to get the casino matter in the pot.

Richards managed to get a bill out of committee that while allowing five racetracks (among nine sites altogether) to establish casinos did not guarantee them that privilege. This made him, not the governor, the heavy among the horse people, who wanted a guarantee of exclusiveness for the tracks. Richards will not run for the governorship again so he had nothing to lose with respect to the pony establishments. He also had nothing to lose vis-à-vis Yung and the big-shot slots-folks, since that crowd is not his constituency, anyway.

This entire mess points to the actual motivations of the people pushing for casinos. The racing crowd wanted entire control at the outset of the shenanigans, pushing for casinos ONLY at the tracks, thus sewing up the entire gambling operation in the state, other than the lottery and the bingo games. KEEP (Kentucky Equine Education Project) has inveighed profoundly with respect to how the casinos (track-controlled) would be the savior of Kentucky education. Casino-control, however, would have enriched the racing industry exponentially, allowing the tracks to reap ALL the benefits, which it could distribute – or not – as it saw fit.

Initially, the governor's plan was unbelievably weighted by concessions to the horse crowd, such as a casino guaranteed at the seven main tracks (12 sites altogether), with the state's take 30% less from track-casinos than its take at stand-alone casinos run by other than the horsy set. His proposed amendment-prologue was right out of the KEEP playbook and didn't mention casinos until the 43rd word. Can anyone find it hard to imagine a simple casino amendment that might take a dozen words, instead of the 93-word quagmire of propagandized verbosity proposed by Beshear? That proposal made him whole with everybody – Yung, the "gamers" who will invade the state upon passage, and the racing operatives.

Actually, the guv's proposal assumed a level of ignorance among both legislators and populace that was transparently palpable. The initial committee vote not liked by Richards cut the total number of gambling pits to nine but still GUARANTEED that five tracks would own them. Presumably, the tax-cut would – given a successful bill – still apply, so that the racers would have tremendous advantage over all other operators. That didn't work, so the present bill is operative in the House, where the democrat caucus runs the show and republicans can go along for the ride – or not. The tax-break will probably stand, however.

The stated objective all along has been that the casinos would be the magic bullet aimed at the suckers who would "game" in great numbers, thus enhancing state revenue by hundreds of millions annually. Gambling would contribute to state coffers, but one wonders if the primary objective by the big-time players has always been "just what they can get out of it." Wherever gambling (something for nothing) has entered the picture officially, the operators are the big winners. The horse industry in Kentucky provides some of the best proof of this.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

BOPTrot Redux?

Incoming governors in Kentucky have always had to face a budget crisis, real or imagined…or just made-up for whatever reason. Budget bills are supposed to originate in the state House, but governors in Kentucky have always wielded inordinate power with the taxpayers' money. Governors are supposed to administer the laws passed by the Legislature, including the budgetary decrees, but they have – or take – great latitude in performing their duty. For their part, the House and Senate would just as soon not be held accountable anyway, since budget votes can alienate voters faster than a hawk attacking a June-bug.

Enter the new governor, Steve Beshear. He's been a party apparatchik (former attorney-general, lieutenant governor and all-around party hack) for decades. He knew last year that he would be under the gun for the finances, so he built his entire campaign on a promise to deliver casino-gambling to the state, the better to guarantee some $500 million per year as rake-off from the gross carried on the backs of the suckers and delivered to the slot-shots.

Problem: Whenever and wherever "gaming" (euphemism for the slots, roulettes, cards and all the rest) rears its ugly head, even for discussion, larceny is its handmaiden. Flashback to the early 90s (BOPTrot), when some 21 or so legislators and bureaucrats were convicted in an FBI sting operation of skullduggery vis-à-vis (guess what?) "irregularities" (euphemism for vote-buying or pay-offs) concerning the pony-establishment.

The state Republican Party, sniffing the "gaming" stink settling over the capitol concerning the tug-of-war in the Legislature between various parties and/or factions within parties, has just filed a complaint with the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission against Speaker Richards and two other members of the House. The complaint relied heavily upon TV-reporter Mark Hebert's statements during the weekly KET Comment on Kentucky program a few days ago and is a part of the official complaint.

Hebert: "If you listen to the folks from the tracks, they're saying that they're being essentially held hostage by one faction in the House, folks who want them to pony up and commit X number of dollars for all the House races later on this fall. And, 'Hey if you give us the money, and you commit some money to all our candidates, that are Democrats, you know what? We'll back off this thing of uh, uh, you know, of requiring you to have local voters approve it, or we'll back off this thing of nine potential casinos but no guarantee that your tracks will get any. You know we'll make it a little more friendly to you.'" Listed in the complaint are the laws subject to having been violated.

The tension, of course, has to do with special interests, especially those of the horse-racing community that has long suspected bad things happening to pari-mutuel betting if another far-more accessible method of throwing money away should become available. So…the governor's initial plan was unbelievably weighted by concessions to that crowd, such as a casino guaranteed at the seven main tracks (12 altogether), with the state's take 30% less from track-casinos than its take at stand-alone casinos run by other than the horsy set. Smell familiar?

The arguments are raging over just what can be stomached, and the plans have been changed and re-changed as the various parties to the battle stake out their "profit-areas." This, of course, brings on line the red flags that flew over BOPTrot. Hebert spoke of things relating to elections, especially money, but the average Joe Blow, when he remembers the "money under the table" stuff of BOPTrot, thinks of pay-offs and other such unrighteous things, especially since the lessons of the 90s are not too late for the learning currently, i.e., lawmakers making sure not to get caught. The FBI spent about a year-and-a-half stalking that other gang, which must have been made up of the not-too-bright.

When William Yung is added to the mix, the smell becomes keener. He's the "gaming guru" who poured a million big ones into the PAC that helped Beshear to the governor's chair. He contributed $10,000 to the inauguration festivities and bought $7 million worth of prime land across the Ohio River from Cincinnati to build (gasp) a casino, never mind that he's just been thrown out of his licensure for one in New Jersey. That's another thing about the "gaming" industry…sooner or later (mostly sooner) the bad apples take over and squirrel away the profits while introducing everything from call-girls to bodies in the river.

Will there be another BOPTrot? It all depends upon whether or not the sharpies are smart enough to hold off the "revenooers," the guys who are so endemic to Kentucky history, no matter what badge they wear.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Friday, February 22, 2008

NYT - Just Make It Up!

This is a statement from a recent offering in this corner: "Newspapers don't – or at least aren't supposed to except in rare circumstances – lobby legislators; therefore, they can be said to be lobbying their readers if they push an agenda, which nearly all newspapers do." A lobbyist represents a constituency in the interest of achieving an objective. Constituency is defined as: "a group or body that patronizes, supports, or offers representation; the people involved in or served by an organization (as a business or institution)."

A newspaper is a lobbyist representing its constituency, the editors/managers/political-apparatchiks, in an effort to achieve the objective of making its position convincing to its readers in an effort to get them to think as it does and act accordingly, including in their voting. This is what's so ironic in the recent New York Times hatchet-job on John McCain – using a lobbyist as its tool to destroy the man's reputation. Dan Rather used a military angle to attempt to destroy Bush in 2004, but the "swift-boaters" did the same thing to destroy JohnKerry.

There's a huge difference, of course. The NYT and Rather/CBS used outright lies – allegations with absolutely no corroboration, proof, reliable sources, etc. – while the "swift-boaters" used profoundly well-documented information, i.e., the unvarnished truth. In other words, the newspaper, using no sources at all, and Rather/CBS "made-up" stuff to obtain their objective, figuring the public to be too dumb to recognize their shenanigans for fraud, while the "swift-boaters" just told it like it was.

This, of course, will amount to media-suicide, its collective credibility already almost non-existent, at least with regard to the high-profile biggies like the NYT and the Washington Post. People are not actually stupid enough not to see through being not only lobbied but lobbied by folks who have only their self-proclaimed integrity to commend them while being almost pathologically unable to print the truth…maybe even to recognize it.

The media-corruption inherent in the Rather/CBS exercise in fraud (forgeries of Air Guard documents, for starters) and the sordid attempt by the NYT to waylay a presidential contender through subterfuge (only anonymous sources – meaning made-up sources) are not exceptions to journalistic purity, but more the rule, at least with the east- and west-coast biggies. They have their agendas, at the top of which lists is the effort to smear anybody and anything representative of the current administration and any republican aspiring to head it.

In the noxious Rather/CBS affair, the NYT added its part to the scheme by interviewing Marian Carr Knox, the 86-year-old who denied categorically that she typed the infamous memos back in the 1970s that Rather passed off as authentic, but remembered conversations along certain lines. Egad! In a January 1988 (another election year) interview, Dan Rather tried in vain to implicate George H.W. Bush in the Iran-Contra affair and became so incensed that he ended the interview right on the air. The CBS agenda was plain – eliminate Bush 41 from the presidency – but its effort failed.

It's always dicey to try to ascribe to people or institutions attributes which may or may not be accurate, but one has to wonder about a media "event" that is plainly without merit because it is based on lies, whether intentionally so or simply through negligence. The infamous "Koran flushed down the toilet at Gitmo" caper by Newsweek magazine in May 2005 is a case in point. While Americans would not bat an eye if a gaggle of atheists flushed a million Bibles down a sewer manhole, 16 Muslims in Afghanistan sort of committed hara-kiri over that incident, one perhaps designed to embarrass the Bush administration, then in its second-term-first-year. Newsweek, of course, is owned by the Washington Post, an avowed Bush-hater, whose candidate had just been beaten a few months before.

According to Free Republic, which has them cited on its Web site, the NYT ran front-page stories on Abu Ghraib on 32 successive days in 2004, including the entire month of May. Given that this episode lacked beauty, it's also true that no one was even injured, much less killed, at Abu Ghraib. Coincidentally, 2004 was also a presidential election year, with an absolute NYT-must being the defeat of George Bush, which, of course, didn't happen, even though the war was not popular. The public is not as dumb as the media elite thinks it is.

So…should anyone be surprised that the liberal Big Apple rag would stoop to denigrating an individual – any individual – with a made-up yarn if to do so satisfied its agenda? Strangely, before breaking this "story," but after sitting on it for months (actually years, apparently, since the incident dates to 2000), the newspaper endorsed McCain as the best republican. The pooh-bahs running the paper apparently didn't realize they were endorsing a candidate they considered guilty of moral turpitude, thus exponentially enhancing a public perception of the paper as being…well, sort of crazy, certainly not to be taken seriously.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Campaigning as Soap-Opera!

The theme for this year's quadrennial election-circus could well be "Campaign as Soap Opera." This is true for both parties, but especially true for the democrats, who have suffered through Gravel's assertion that homosexuals make the best soldiers to the latest highly public pronouncement by a candidate-wife, Michelle Obama, that for the first time in her adult life she is now proud of her country. Gravel is acknowledged to be flaky, but Ms Obama leads one to believe that being a graduate of Harvard Law School, not to mention Princeton University, does not guard against making profoundly dumb remarks.

Besides having been a practicing lawyer, Ms Obama is a former associate dean at the University of Chicago; a member of six boards of directors including the prestigious Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Tree House Foods; and Vice President, Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals. One supposes that in fulfilling these important and extremely well-paid positions she had to suffer as well as she could through her shame of the country in which these positions represented the best she could do…merely becoming rich in the process without even adding hubby Barack's annual Senator's income of $169,300 to the kitty.

Okay…Ms Obama, an African American, grew up on Chicago's South Shore in less than perfect circumstances (had to share a bedroom of sorts with a brother), so maybe that fashioned her thinking. Maybe she's never heard of the white kids who grow up in shacks often without indoor plumbing all through Appalachia. Or…it could be that her history courses at Princeton never included the fact that some 600,000 mostly white men died in delivering her possible forbears from slavery.

Ms Obama's remark was dumb with respect to the campaign, not with respect to how she has felt through the years. She was just telling the truth. To torpedo her husband's campaign with a remark like that suggests two things: (1) She is profoundly ignorant with respect to the intelligence most everyone else has in assessing her capability in bringing about a desired result; and (2) The nation is headed for another "two-for-one" White House circumstance if Obama should be elected. Any one brazen enough to one-up her own husband and bring down the wrath of millions upon him is brazen enough to be another Hillary, the scourge of the White House in the 90s.

The Obama show is as "soap-opera-ish" as the Clinton show…in reverse, with hubby Bill torpedoing his wife's efforts with unseemly remarks such as the "fairy-tale" thing concerning Barack Obama and support for the Iraq war…or lack of it, depending upon the perception. One dictionary-definition of fairy is "male homosexual," so that didn't help, particularly in view of Slick Willie's sexual peccadilloes. Fairy tale is defined as "a made-up story usually designed to mislead." Bill surely meant that, but he shouldn't have said it. It was dumb.

For her part in the soap opera, Senator Clinton dared to mention the unmentionable in a speech, to wit, that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been helped by the Johnson administration in the civil rights action of the 60s. Her statement was eminently true, but she should never have made it, since it was too "soapish," truth-telling being a part of the afternoon peep-shows only when self-sacrifice is the issue.

Before he departed the current soap-opera circus, John Edwards introduced the nation to the $400-haircut, while his lawyer-wife also hit the hustings. The bizarre thing about women's lib, apparently, is that spouses seem to be making a statement that the co-presidency is what the founding fathers had in mind, never mind their spelling out the duties of the "president" (singular case).

Edwards divided the nation into the "haves" (his group) and the "have-nots," most any family below the $75,000-per-year mark – great soap-opera stuff – and both began and ended his campaign in New Orleans, or what's left of it, apparently to make a statement regarding the haves and the have-nots…or maybe FEMA…or maybe the levees that the Right Honorable Reverend Doctor Imam Farrakhan claimed the U.S. government had sabotaged in order to kill black folk. One can only wonder when he became proud of the nation as an adult since he declaimed/complained constantly about his parents having to work in a North Carolina mill, as if nobody else was ever required to work in a mill. Soapy (or sappy) stuff!

The republicans have had their share of soap opera stuff, too, everything from drag-queen charges to saving the Olympic Games to multiple marriages and mistresses to (horrors and gasps!!!) the notion that an abortion is next to godliness. Maybe that's for another day. In the meantime, perhaps Barack should tell (okay…gently request) Michelle to shut up and go home and take care of the girls. Hillary can't do that, of course, because she can never be quite sure as to Bill's whereabouts…or his activities.

Campaigning as soap-opera! It's a delightful bit of entertainment, especially in a milieu in which the primary objective is to promulgate heat (as in an afternoon passion-pit), not light.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Monday, February 18, 2008

Political Machine in Gear

Kentucky reverted to the same machine-driven type of governance that has obtained for what seems forever when democrat Steve Beshear was elected governor last November. He followed a republican governor whose administration was flawed from the outset because of bureaucrats who were both greedy for power and unbelievably incompetent. They did-in the administration in large part simply because of their ignorance in the use (or non-use) of e-mails.

The abuse of the merit system was the immediate point of rupture, but such abuse has been so flagrant within democrat administrations for so long that it has been generally accepted as just part of the political turf wars. Democrat attorneys general routinely have turned a blind eye to it, but a democrat AG with an opportunity to sink a republican governor while enhancing his own ambitions to be governor pulled the coup. His effort backfired on his own agenda-prerogatives, but that's another story.

Ironically, Governor Beshear's outfit pulled the same number – abuse of a merit-system employee – just days after he took office. A democrat attorney general won't touch this with a ten-foot pole for obvious reasons. His ostensible reason probably would be that this flagrant abuse belongs before some ethics panel, not the all-important AG's office, which has better things to do. So, the employee can just find himself a lawyer interested in a contingency deal and go to court, where he's guaranteed to win some of the taxpayers' money.

Precisely as is the case in every election aftermath, the governor claims he is confronted with financial problems so severe that there's no answer. Of course, there's always an answer, but the easiest answer for this governor (and maybe a bunch of bureaucrats smelling easy money) is to bring in the casinos and, just as in the case of the smokers, put the onus for balancing the budget and building great edifices to his honor on the backs of the gamblers. After promising "no new taxes" (which are, of course, what new cigarette taxes are), he's faced with the task of actually running the government with what he has – the very thing he was elected to do.

It gets better as the "machine" kicks-in. The guv insists that casino gaming (euphemism for gambling…sounds better) will save the state, and has now recommended a constitutional amendment of some 93 words for referendum in November, with the word "casino" appearing about halfway through. The prologue to "casino" indicates that the gambling stiff will practically turn Kentucky into Camelot, Paradise, and Utopia combined. Indeed, the amendment even provides survival for the sucker who plunges too deeply in his ministrations to the state and winds up…well, however…maybe a reserved cot in a homeless shelter.

Predictably, one need only to follow the money to see whom the action – besides the state, of course – will benefit. That money-trail leads to a big-time casino magnate (also in big-time trouble) who just happened to support the guv's campaign and inauguration festivities with thousands upon thousands of greenbacks. That money-trail leads also to the "horsy set," the folks who, by the requirements of the accompanying legislation, not only can't lose but stand to reap huge windfalls since they get a 30% advantage over off-track casino-operators in retaining proceeds from the tax-man. The reason: to keep the horse industry from falling into disrepair in case the bettor's forsake the ponies for the slots. Translated: Guffaws to swing the power-lines on Main Street as the horsy-set-gang waltzes to the bank.

It's the "machine mentality" that drives things. Governor Beshear was a state representative in the early 70s, attorney general in the late 70s and lieutenant governor in the 80s. He also had flings at the governorship and U.S Senate after that, but was the victim of sandy factionalism – or whatever – that ground the gears to a halt for a while. Now, the machine is well-oiled again and off to a great start.

There is a bit of hang-up, of course…with the machine. The state Senate became republican-dominated in 1998, a traumatic experience from which democrats have not yet fully recovered, especially since it is heavily republican now. Whereas all legislation was decided upon before 1998 in the House democratic caucus – floor votes meant little in either assembly – it is now subject, sometimes cruelly, to actions by the Senate, which at this point provides such formidable opposition to the casino-cookie that even democrats in the House don't like the prospect of perhaps voting the wrong way on something that fails.

Kentucky is in its groove again, except, of course, for the pesky Senate. The machine is being lubricated and the apparatchiks are rubbing their grubby hands together in glee. With the attorney general counted on to be looking the other way, the sky's the limit…a lesson too late for the learning by the previous administration. The federal sting of some 15-20 years ago, dubbed Operation BopTrot, involved convictions of legislators who accepted bribes and other illegal inducements to support horse-racing legislation. This new gang had better watch it.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Friday, February 15, 2008

Congress & the Steroids

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution spells out the responsibilities of the U.S. Congress, among which are cataclysmic duties such as declaring war, but not among which is even a slight mention of conducting the business of the nation's baseball establishment, notwithstanding the vital national interest in the use of steroids or human-growth-hormone, especially as related to whether or not baseball apparatchiks such as pitchers, shortstops and personal trainers should be adjudged or regulated by any national agency or court with respect to their inalienable right to either become bionic or remain normal.

All of this notwithstanding, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Henry Waxman, held a hearing with pitcher Roger Clemens, perhaps the highest-profile player in the game, and Brian McNamee, his former personal trainer, with regard to who was telling the truth about whether or not Clemens ever used these substances. Clemens said – and has said from the start, with regard to the Mitchell Report that named him among 89 users – that he has never done so foul a thing, while McNamee claimed that he actually punched the needles into Clemens tough, Texas hide to turn him into the scourge-of-batters that he is.

Of course, one wonders why this committee that has nothing to do with baseball managed to get itself into the picture, though one member during the hearing mentioned something about the anti-trust act, which exempts baseball for some reason or other. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the whole nine yards had to do with Clemens spending the time leading up to the hearing (gasp) schmoozing with legislators in their august confines during "working" hours. These House cats can't pass a vital intelligence-act, but they have time to pass the time of day with a baseball pitcher…sorta like O.J. living it up with the jury as they contemplated his fate. McNamee, on the other hand, was not to be seen with the solons. Egad!

Nearly three years ago, there was that other famous baseball hearing held on the same subject before the same committee, chaired at that time by republican Thomas Davis. Some big names in baseball appeared – McGuire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Canseco (who admitted use) – and the upshot seemed to be that some of these guys were lying through their collective teeth. Later, Palmeiro actually failed a drug test. What did this hearing prove? It proved the obvious, to wit, that "performance-enhancing drugs" (euphemism for making the body and mind more animalistic) had been used for decades by players in the highest-profile sports – professional, collegiate, and even in middle and high schools. In professional sports, drugs mean millions of dollars in personal income, thus provide an incentive of tremendous magnitude.

There is this strange phenomenon in this country, namely, that folks think sports comprise contests in which only gentlemen compete. That was never true, of course, although there was a time when it was far truer than today. The difference, in a word: MONEY! Before the days of free-agency, baseball players were little better compensated than common laborers, had no rights, played mostly during daylight, were bought and traded like slaves, and there was no TV. They played more for the love of the game (and dodging of work like coalmining) than is the case with players today.

Radio started the off-the-turf interest as games were broadcast. I well remember my favorite, Waite Hoyt, who did the Cincinnati Reds games. Ronald Reagan made up what was not on the wire (sometimes inoperative) used to transmit by teletype the action for stations with announcers not in the stands, or at least not heard in out-of-the-way places. Mel Allen did the New York Yankees games for years.

As it does concerning almost everything it touches, television, unlike radio, has corrupted sports. TV introduced the average Joe Blow to the sofa-remote combo, and he became a couch potato avidly watching sporting contests at every opportunity. Advertisers saw the tremendous profits to be had by bombarding the captive audience with their collective sales-pitches, and the TV operators had never dreamed of the gobs of greenbacks to be had. Sports-stars are icons to young people, so the audience became home-TV-grown.

Athletes discovered their true worth, insisted upon a piece of the action, and the rest is history. A professional basketball player who can't make more than 7-million per year is mediocre. The ego of baseball players is enhanced by dollar-marks, not necessarily by their spitting, scratching, snuffing, or even ability. So…what's always been perfectly predictable? Cheating, of course! Just follow the money, like Deep-throat told the reporters, and find the culprits.

In single-player sports like boxing and tennis, cheating (fixing) has always been a possibility/probability, especially in boxing, in which cheating pales in comparison to cruelty. It's accomplished by either throwing a match or "bulking up" with steroids. In team sports, where once the objective was merely to best an opponent through skill, now the method is to inflict pain, thus either incapacitating or intimidating the opponent into losing. The route to this method goes through the syringe and/or the pill.

The havoc seen even in basketball, a "non-contact" sport, is seen on the channels every night. The training for the skinny pivot man involves adding 30-40 pounds to his frame and then running him to death in both practice and game while he is knocking everybody around and "executing," as the coaches blabber. They're more accurate than they mean to be, assuming some literacy on their part.

The hearings amount to nothing, except that, as in the case of Barry Bonds, an African American baseball player under indictment for perjury, the effort will now be made to see if white-guy Clemens can be indicted for perjury, since he was under oath. It was instructive that House Black Caucus member Elijah Cummings told Clemens that he did not believe him, even though McNamee is a gross self-admitted liar. It's payback time.

As for the steroid problem, it will be swept under the rug and athletes will continue to find ways to become bionic. The non-users will become the victims of the users. It's rough out there, but just follow the money.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lobbying by Any Other Name

Kentucky democrat legislator Jim Gooch is a thorn-in-the-flesh to his party. He's already incurred the wrath of the politically correct crowd by pushing for action to deny "partner benefits" to employees of the state, namely those already in place at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. Actually, no legislation is needed since the Kentucky Constitution plainly prohibits such perks. The state attorney general, already on the record before his recent election as favoring the perks, has not and will not take action to remedy the situation, notwithstanding that the outgoing attorney general had already ruled that the perks were illegal.

Gooch makes the "greens" mad because he pushes for more coalmining, though the "greens" haven't come up with an alternative to coal, at least for the near term, drive cars that spew toxic fumes, and eat food that has been transported on those atmosphere-killing 18-wheelers. Now, Gooch has incensed the newspaper folks because he has introduced a bill that would put them in the same class as lobbyists, which, often, they are.

Part of the current law defining the lobbyist specifies "any individual who is engaged: 1. During at least a portion of his time to lobby as one of his official responsibilities." Obviously, no target of the lobbying is named in this portion, so it does not strictly apply to making nice with legislators. Newspapers don't – or at least aren't supposed to except in rare circumstances – lobby legislators; therefore, they can be said to be lobbying their readers if they push an agenda, which nearly all newspapers do.

Even with this part of the lobbyist law in place, Gooch provides an amendment that would specifically add to the lobbyist category editorialists and editorializing cartoonists for any news-medium engaging in profit. Since most news outlets are operated for profit, Gooch's bill pegs them squarely, especially since they unmistakably push agendas, thus lobbying their readers for whatever they favor. In the case of newspapers such as the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Louisville Courier-Journal the notion of agenda-pushing is all the more important since they have a monopoly on the printed news, not just locally but throughout the state.

Gooch was recently excoriated editorially for producing his bill by the Paducah Sun, suggesting that either he was not serious and just wanted to send a message, or – if serious – "sincerely misguided," railing, of course, about First Amendment rights, which rights the newspaper would claim any rapper would also have in espousing rape of children and old women and the glorious murdering of policepersons. Any terminology advancing the "lyrics" would also be protected. Predictably, the editorialist hearkened back to Thomas Jefferson, as if his ghost should haunt Gooch and scare him into reconfiguring his shabby thought-processes.

Will Gooch's bill pass? No. Has he unmistakably made a point, as the editorialist perhaps unhappily suggested? Of course he has. There are no greater lobbyists in the world than newspapers that routinely mix reporting with commentary on their "news pages," and TV-radio talking-heads as well as, regarding the evening newscasts, the reporters who, unlike in the past, are also commentators, i.e., presenting the news and then explaining to all the great unwashed out here what it actually means. It means, of course, whatever the lobbyist/media-outlet says it means, not what it actually means.

The TV-reporter appearing on the evening news programs while standing in the snow or rain (like an idiot) in front of the White House may report that the president has dispatched troops to Country X, and that this action is bound to enhance – or diminish – his approval ratings. Say what??? Yeah…if ABC, for instance, doesn't like the president, the reporter can just explain how that action proves that the prez is stupid and deserves to be not only second-guessed, but maybe even impeached.

Far-fetched? Not at all! Flash back to 2004 and the intrepid CBS news-guru Dan Rather. CBS was well-known as particularly anti-Bush – well, actually rabidly anti-Bush. So…what to do? Senator John Kerry had been "swift-boated" and was in danger of losing the election, especially since he would not release the important parts of his service record. Added to that was his tossing of his medals or ribbons or whatever he specified at a given news-conference, as well as his peculiar statements back in 1970-71 about the Vietnam War.

A military smear – to offset the "swift-boaters" – was the perfect tool to be used in sinking Bush, notwithstanding his well-documented military service, including plenty of active duty. So…Rather comes up with a document as phony as a three-dollar-bill designed to accuse somebody somewhere of doing Bush favors. CBS was lobbying its viewers, in other words, to be against the prez in November 2004, and lobbying dishonestly in the process.

Regarding the case in point, the Lexington Herald-Leader printed the Paducah Sun editorial on its Op-Ed page on 12 February. The lead editorial in that issue had to do with the wrongness – in its opinion – of a State-Senate-passed bill that would require a pre-abortion ultra-sound. In other words, the paper was lobbying its readers (its constituency) to put the pressure on the lawmakers to throw out such a mandate. This satisfied the paper's pro-abortion agenda, just as a coal-lobbyist would satisfy his constituency by putting the pressure on a lawmaker to favor his industry through legislation.

The media folks call it responsible enlightening of the public. Actually, it's just lobbying by another name, to wit, editorializing.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Casino's Hope...the Guv

Everyone is poised in the Kentucky Legislature for the grand introduction any day now of the governor's recommendation in the wording of an amendment to the state Constitution regarding his long advertised recipe for tax windfalls in the hundreds of millions – CASINOS AS SALVATION. In other words, get rich off the backs of the suckers!

There's already been a bill in the House and a bill of sorts in the Senate, though neither will come close to the governor's. HB 601 establishes KRS Chapter 230A, authorizing casino gambling at seven Kentucky horse racing tracks. It renames the Kentucky Lottery Corporation the Kentucky Gaming and Lottery Corporation, and sets forth its powers and duties related to gaming in Kentucky. The bill creates a Casino Gaming Advisory Committee, and sets out the committee's members, terms, and purpose. It requires the corporation to take all actions necessary to facilitate casino gaming at the earliest feasible time, and sets out the requirements for gaming license applications.

This could be called the "Horsy Bill," since it would confine casinos only to racetracks and therefore enrich the horse-operators while at the same time denying any competition from anyone else's blackjack table or roulette wheels or slot gallery, where the little old blue-haired ladies in pink jogging suits get their only exercise by pushing coins or buttons or (gasp) maybe even pulling a lever. What the tracks lose at the betting windows can be recouped in the "gaming" area…and vice versa. It's a win-win for the tracks.

The Senate version, SB 20, – at least the introduction – is a verbose quagmire that covers about every subject imaginable. Here is just a part having to do with distribution of proceeds: create the Kentucky gaming account, the Kentucky municipal public safety account, the Kentucky county public safety account, the Kentucky horse racing equity account, and the Kentucky thoroughbred claiming account; require that certain amounts of the gaming account support administrative operations of the commission, and other amounts from the gaming account be dispersed to the Kentucky Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Account, the Department of Education, the Council on Postsecondary Education, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for health care services for certain indigent Kentuckians and for a prescription drug program for senior citizens, the Kentucky municipal and county public safety accounts, capital construction, sewer and water projects administered under the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, the Kentucky veterans' trust fund, the state road fund, the budget reserve trust fund, and the equine industry program trust and revolving fund; establish the disbursement of accounts to the Kentucky municipal public safety account and the Kentucky county public safety account; establish the disbursement of funds to the Kentucky horse racing industry; …

When the lottery was Constitutionalized some 18 or so years ago there was great talk about its being the absolute answer to making Kentucky education magnificent beyond all expectations. Of course, all the proceeds went into the General Fund – totally predictable – since the lawmakers were not about to give up the spending of that windfall. If anyone thinks for a moment that the "gaming" greenbacks will be allocated specifically, he's been in a cave for a while.

The whole mess reminds one of the BopTrot and accompanying scandals of the early 90s, the result being quite a number of legislators and bureaucrats, including the House Speaker, trucked off to the Big House. If memory serves, one legislator sold a vote for only a measly $400. Recently retired Lieutenant Governor Steve Pence, a former federal prosecutor, helped that gang off to their time of rest and relaxation, and one wonders about whom or what else might have been affected, except that Bill Clinton fired all 93 federal prosecutors in one day soon after he took office in 1993. How many sighs of relief were occasioned in Frankfort then?

The most accurate description of "gaming" is that it embodies corruption – everything from "money under the table" to officials; payoffs to operators; prostitution; and, finally, the crooks who run the operations. Well…at least the Senate version would provide funds to the Kentucky Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Account, thus letting the citizens save the suckers.

I wrote a novel a while back based in large part on the casino thing. The title is Lucifer's Hope…the Guv. Check it out.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Monday, February 11, 2008

Campaigns - Sheer Entertainment!

Although struggling already through a solid year-and-a-half of mind-numbing campaigning by some 18 candidates (at one time or another) and cringing at the thought of being exposed to another nine months plus, I've been well entertained at times. It's been fun just to see how Obama has developed his "black pulpit delivery" a la the styles of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and a mighty host of African-American pulpiteers. He's got the cadence but not Jesse's couplets…yet. I learned in her "60-minute" interview with Katie Couric the other evening that Clinton drinks all the water possible, the better to maintain her physical resources. Priceless information.

The whole subject of speechifying is interesting, though the off-the-cuff presentations are far more enlightening. Some candidates need a script, while others can get by easily without even using notes. Some do well on the stump, while others snooker the talking-heads-interviewers or are thoroughly skewered by them. Russert of Meet the Press skewered Clinton, but couldn't get anything over on Huckabee the other morning. A Baptist preacher has to be fast on his tongue just to survive a squirrelly church. Russert was a pushover.

McCain can be terse and smile in the process, predisposing some dire fallout later and leaving one with the impression of the WWII Japanese officer in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. He can also be funny, as when he mentioned being "tied up" in 1969 at the time of glorious Woodstock and its dope-heads, hippies, flower-children, LSD-freaks, and free-lovers, some sort of commemoration for which Clinton had favored ladling out a million dollars of taxpayer funds…the penultimate earmark in terms of zaniness and self-serving.

In another "60-minute" interview the other evening, Obama explained that he started his campaign by giving out details of what he would do (though one wonders at this), but that what people need now is a leader…sort of "out with the nitty-gritty and in with the passion." He's adopted the Pogo Approach – "We have met the enemy and he is us." (Walt Kelly's invention). What Obama said the other day was, "we are the ones we've been waiting for," but he meant, "We have met the savior and he is me." Obama has also made much of the fact that he was a "user" back in those wild-oat-sowing days, the better to connect with the teeny-boppers, cool cats, and old hippies of today.

Both Clinton and McCain are doing the high-wire act (one slip and it's gangbusters) in trying to explain their flip-flops or outright irreparable mistakes, about most of which they should just say nothing. Last fall, Clinton reckoned in an appearance before the congressional black caucus that the government should give $5,000 to each baby when she/he escapes the womb to face a cruel world. Since about 4,000,000 babes arrive each year, that works out to some $20 billion in just the first year.

Later over in Iowa, she allowed that it would be a good idea to give every earner a $1,000 tax-cut per year in behalf of her/his IRA. This amounts to more than the baby-boon (up to $25 billion), but she would pay for it with higher estate taxes. Then…about those driver-licenses she thought would be great for illegals…before she thought that maybe that wouldn't be so great, like being for the war before being against the war. Shades of John Kerry. At least, she doesn't mention the babies and the IRAs anymore.

McCain voted against Bush's tax relief but now has to explain why he thinks that relief should be permanent. He insulted the "Swift-boaters" who had the goods on John Kerry in 2004, but doesn't mention this subject now, perhaps wondering what those wicked conservative "swiftees" might come up with to prove that he's actually a democrat masquerading as a republican. Shades of that awful "tax-reform" he finagled with Senator Feingold, one of the most rabid republican-haters! Long live the PACs. is alive and well.

Huckabee did himself no favors in that outrageous appearance at TV evangelist Kenneth Copeland's digs, although he smoothed out Russert's attempt to hang one on him over that. Maybe the Huck didn't figure that Copeland would put the whole scene on TV, wherein he pledges his loyalty to Copeland…or his ideas…or whatever…or whatever Copeland claimed. Egad! At least Senator Grassley has ceased investigating Copeland for now. Keep listening for the spin, although Huckabee was frank enough to say he needed that fundraiser. He needs all the fundraisers he can get, not that any of them will help him much outside the South and a couple or so Midwest states. God is not that popular in a lot of places. One wonders if Huckabee knew what Copeland was up to when he screamed that bit of exploitation in his church service.

In a late-night session in the fall of 2006, soon-to-be speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Mr. Speaker, once again, as a mother and a grandmother,” demanding that the votes be recorded. Apparently, she hadn't caught on to the fact that a chamber full of fathers and grandfathers didn't make that claim as a point of privilege or some such thing. Last fall, Clinton said, "I say this nation can shatter the highest glass ceiling – because that’s what Americans have been doing for over 200 years." In other words, the gender card is now being played by these two powerful women, and it's interesting to see their strange concepts of qualifications to be leaders. Well…it's their turn, isn't it? Egad!

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Twister & the Train

The rash of tornadoes that hit the Midwest and meandered through Tennessee and Kentucky the other day/night doing extensive damage and costing some 55 lives in four states reminds me of another life and times and date certain when the creator of this corner was a locomotive engineer on the old Southern Railway System, now part of the huge Norfolk Southern Line.

It was a harrowing experience on April 3, 1974. At the throttle of lead-engine 3003 on that beautiful, unseasonably warm day, I had had one of those great runs the dispatchers rarely handed out, on Train 172 at about a mile-and-a-quarter long. I’d left Oakdale, Tenn., about 2:30 p.m. and was slowing on the steep grade approaching Moreland, Ky., some 125 miles and three hours later, when things came unglued.

Positioned on the cab’s east side, I didn’t see the funnel cloud brakeman Allen Knight saw when he looked back through the west-side window. We knew it was windy and the weather was threatening, but on the185-ton locomotive hadn’t felt anything unusual…until the utility pole at the main Moreland crossing snapped and came crashing down in front of the engine, high-voltage wires and all, and fire flew out from under the wheels.

Fearing electrocution, I jumped up, wanting to get all of me, including my feet, on the seat cushion but couldn’t because the brakes would go into emergency if I took my foot off the “dead man’s pedal” (made of metal and designed for emergency brake-application if not depressed). Little blue, lead-thin lines crackled around the 600-volt cabinets only a few feet from our seats, and Allen yelled at me not to touch anything. Unknown to us, the 23-ton caboose was shaking violently and conductor George “Billy” Boswell and flagman Mike Richardson were simply “hoping for the best,” with nowhere to go. The tornado passed through the center of the train.

It was vital to get the train over the crossing since blocking it would make practically impossible the movement of emergency vehicles from Danville/Junction City to the south-end of the county. All brakes went into emergency (indicating a break in the train-line or the train itself) soon after the engines cleared the crossing, however, and we came to a grinding halt, the 185-ton engine vibrating as if some gigantic hand were shaking it.

Nine of the ten mobile homes on a ridge on the west side disappeared. Another one a few yards away on the east side imploded, and I radioed the dispatcher in Somerset, Ky., that it looked as if Moreland was blowing away. The black-angus cattle in the field on the west side were rolling end over end down the fence-row or twirling around in the middle of the pasture, a funny, puzzled look on their faces. The steeple blew off the church over by Highway 127, which paralleled the tracks. Trees were going down and utility poles snapping everywhere.

When the wind died down a bit, Allen and I hit the ground to see if anyone was in the flattened trailer nearby and survey the situation. The man from the trailer said his family was safe in the adjacent house but bewailed the fact that his 23 guns had disappeared. He later found most of them. Sitting against the engine’s fuel tank on the west side was a man who was obviously shaken, dazed and hurting. He said he was standing in his yard a few hundred feet down the track, but in an instant simply landed by or against the train. We helped him home, where his wife was plenty scared, and found out later that he had a severe injury.

Walking south down the tracks, we found pieces of the blown-away trailers and downed trees sandwiched between the cars in the train. Our worst fears were confirmed when we discovered the crossing completely blocked by two overturned boxcars. An automobile was on its side in the yard adjacent to the crossing.

We continued down the tracks, climbing over trees, and met Billy and Mike, who looked as if they had seen ghosts. They told us that cars weighing more than 50 tons empty had been lifted off their wheels intermittently throughout the train and set down beside the tracks or stacked on each other. They had had to claw their way over, under and around trees and other debris. The track was hardly damaged, unbelievable since derailments usually cause severe damage as wheels snap rails and chew up ballast and crossties.

After passing through the train, the twister continued northeast and caused one death locally, as well as considerable damage. As things calmed down it became deathly still, as if nothing had ever happened, and then the rains came. We were told to stay there until well after dark, but finally instructed to proceed with the few cars we could still pull the twelve miles to Danville, home and home terminal. The storm accompanying the tornado had knocked out all power, and there didn’t seem to be a light in the whole town of 12,000. There were no rail-yard employees on duty, no lights, and the usually bustling installation was like a ghost-town.

If the tornado itself had passed through either end of the train, one can only guess what might have happened. I’ve seen worse storms at sea, but could not have imagined anything on land like that tornado if I hadn’t experienced it, up close and personal.

And so it goes…actually, went.

Jim Clark

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Racism & the Baptists?

In a "special interest" session at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration last week in Atlanta, this is what, according to Ethics, Aidsand Wright-Riggins, an African American and executive director of National Ministries, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., said, "While I applaud the organizers of our event in coming together and asking the question of how do we move forward beyond race, I think the real challenge for us is to deal with that insidious cancer that is within the very fabric of our society, that I would term racism."

The NBCC (Jan. 30- Feb. 1) was a convocation established primarily by former presidents Carter and Clinton, both Baptists, which was attended by some 16,000 fellow Baptists, almost exclusively in denominations other than the Southern Baptist Convention. This is the NBCC's statement describing itself: "The New Baptist Covenant is an informal alliance of more than 30 racially, geographically, and theologically diverse Baptist organizations from throughout North America that claim more than 20 million members. Representatives of these Baptist organizations have reaffirmed traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality, as well as their obligations as Christians to fulfill the biblical mandate to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.

Racism is defined as "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; racial prejudice or discrimination." Despite the fact that race was not part of the NBCC self-description except as remarking obvious physical racial divisions in society, Wright-Riggins managed somehow to find racism there, apparently, and affirmed that even the NBCC honchos mentioned "move forward beyond race." Probably, they did, so what's new with the liberals, as opposed to the conservatives, whether in religious, government or institutional circles? Everything boils down to race and the constant drumbeat to "just do something" about it.

Wright-Riggins elaborated further by claiming that the country is comprised of a "racialized society." Well, of course it is. Racialize is defined as "to give a racial character to." Everyone in the nation owns a racial character, but this does not equate with racism. It's merely descriptive of who people are. The suspicion here is that Wright-Riggins meant racialize to be pejorative and applicable only to those not African-American.

From Ethics "About 10 percent of white children in the U.S. live in poverty, he [Wright-Riggins] said. That compares to 27 percent of Native American children, 28 percent of Latino children and 33 percent of African-American youth live in poverty. 'There seems to be a correlation between social policies and race in this country.'"

There is a correlation of sorts. In 1960, just before the civil-rights legislation was understandably and justifiably passed, the rate of illegitimacy among blacks was 23.6% of births, meaning that more than 75% of black families could be assumed to be headed by a man and wife. Now, that rate is 70%, probably much higher in places like New Orleans, the logical conclusion being that currently only 30% or less of black families are headed by both parents. The social policies of the country were drastically changed, but did those policies eventuate in unintended consequences?

Ethics "Looking to the plight of African-American men with regard to issues of criminal and racial justice, Wright-Riggins noted there are more black young men in prisons than in colleges and universities." One wonders if Wright-Riggins is even remotely aware of what has happened to the black family in the last 40 years, since he seems not to understand the primary reason. More to the point, one wonders what he thinks either the church or the government can do to rectify this social catastrophe within his own community. If he intends to continue claiming his people to be one big collective victim, in the vein of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he might as well be on Mars for all the good he will do.

Reasonable – and yes, compassionate – people understand the nature of the problem. The answer was to be found at one time in school-integration, justifiably mandated by law. That didn't work materially with respect to overall education, though it was great for black athletes. The approach by the NBCC seems to have been church-integration, as if that would materially change anything. Churches should be welcoming to all people of all races, but people of various persuasions, whether religious or racial, usually prefer to be "among their own" – just human nature.

Victimization is an approach doomed to failure. It is very much in evidence in the current presidential campaigns, and the race card is being heavily played, as well as the gender (women as victims) card. There is racism in the country…among all races. People are what they are, and some folks can't stand other folks. However, people in places of leadership, like Wright-Riggins, need to stop blaming others for collective dysfunction and start demanding that specific houses be put in order. Only then will the problems of education, prisons, poverty be solved.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Whither the Non-Southern Baptists?

Concerning the just-concluded New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta (Jan.3-Feb.1), mostly the brain-child of former presidents Carter and Clinton, Bruce Gourley, interim director of The Center for Baptist Studies and online editor of Baptists Today, wondered in his blog of 01 February if the event was the beginning of a Baptist World Movement. At least 16,000 Baptists registered for the convention, though this number was probably enhanced greatly by the fact that the NBCC began on the same day that the Joint Midwinter Board Meeting (Jan. 28-30) of the four high-profile African-American Baptist denominations (millions of members) ended its meeting in the same building.

Along with the plenary sessions that were addressed by such prominent political notables as Carter, Clinton, Al Gore (speech at luncheon in his honor), and Senator Chuck Grassley, as well as high-profile Baptist preachers/speakers, there were adjunct meetings covering many other subjects having to do with both church and community. Held just days before the "Super-Tuesday" primaries and featuring high-profile mostly democrat-politicians, the NBCC has been criticized by some as more political than religious but, while that may be true on the part of some of the leaders (Clinton the final speaker, whose wife is appealing for the Georgia/black vote on Tuesday), it certainly was not the case for the rank-and-file Baptists, who attended for the worthy, advertised reasons from all over the country.

The Baptist World Alliance is a worldwide fellowship of 214 Baptist conventions and unions comprising a membership of 36 million baptized believers and a community of 105 million. Baptist World Aid is the compassionate arm of the Baptist World Alliance, supporting those in need irrespective of tribe, caste, color or religion, in four areas of ministry: relief, development, fellowship assistance and Connection. It's safe to say that most of the NBCC participating denominations (some 30 of them) are also member-bodies of the BWA.

This being the case, one wonders what Gourley, an important personage in moderate/liberal Baptist circles, meant by his "Baptist World Movement" term. Notably absent from the NBCC was the Southern Baptist Convention of some 17.1 million members, according to the 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, the largest non-Catholic denomination in the United States. The SBC pulled out of the BWA a short while back, many SBC-critics figuring the action signified that the SBC, probably the largest contributor, felt it didn't get to "call the shots," perhaps by virtue of the size its support.

Others think – probably more correctly – that the conservative-to-fundamentalist SBC felt the BWA was embracing doctrines that run counter to scripture, especially concerning social matters such as homosexual marriages, ordinations, behavior, etc. Indeed, the SBC, once a moderate-to-conservative denomination, was taken over by arch conservatives, fearing wholesale liberalizing of beliefs, during roughly 1979-2000 largely by denominational politicking…not pretty but very effective, especially since the movers-shakers announced early on what they intended to do, and how.

Former president Carter, once an active moderate/liberal Southern Baptist who favors state sanctioning of civil unions for homosexual couples, disagreed with the power-brokers, who ignored him, whereupon he left the denomination back in the 90s. He has not been timid in his denunciation of the SBC, reckoning it publicly to present a "negative" image of Baptists to the nation, notwithstanding that it supports 10,000 missionaries and their ministries of education and benevolence. This, of course, makes one wonder as to his primary cause for instituting the NBCC – spite? Hopefully, no! He has consistently ripped President Bush both at home and abroad, giving rise to thoughts of a possible political agenda as at least part of his motivation for the recent convocation, never mind that Bush plans to be in Texas this time next year.

So, where does this leave the NBCC? Will it become the groundwork for some sort of super-denomination made up primarily of non-Southern Baptists (and largely controlled by octogenarian Carter or his surrogate[s]) but not confined to just this country? Or, was Gourley just indulging a bit of hyperbole? If not, with respect to the Baptist World Alliance he could be treading dangerous waters and introducing more potential for schism, not to mention denominational financial disruptions. The odds in this corner are that he meant quite well but was just overcome with hyperbole.

Unity of various kinds and inclusiveness were the key-words of the gathering, and yet another attempt at closing a chasm between black and white Baptists that exists mostly in the imaginations of a small group of leaders in both camps meant little or nothing, as usual, mainly because the two groups are quite different in their approaches to things such as worship, rights, etc., and don't suffer at all for that. Interestingly, the small Baptist denominations that "normalize" homosexuality were not invited officially to the NBCC. So much for inclusiveness!

It will be interesting to see what the follow-up to the convention will be. This spring, the convocation leadership group will reconvene in Atlanta to consider hundreds of suggestions and discuss how to follow up, according to Carter, who asserted that people had mentioned to him that they wanted the effort to be a movement, not a moment, according to Texas Baptist newsmagazine Baptist Standard editor Marv Knox.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

Friday, February 01, 2008

Super Bowl Silliness/Shame

Super-Bowl-Sunday might as well be recognized as a national holiday not because it merits such acclaim but because calendars of activities endemic to everything from churches to bars to restaurants to the simple hearth-and-home are cleared for it. It's no longer just a football game in which millionaires attempt to beat the stuffing out of each other for the fans' delight; rather, it's an event that the networks are already covering, with the bloodletting still two days away.

Last year, 144.4 million folks were glued to their TVs for the big gridiron-grinding, with probably most of the gobs of mobs, slobs, snobs, and nabobs tuning into the other entertainment venues accompanying the massive masochisms of mob-violence manipulated by muddlers called coaches, such as those of the over-the-hill TV-sports-gang making profound prognostications and talking-heads tossing their usual tedium and network gurus philosophizing the psyches of the corner linebackers. Egad!

Naw…this is not a slam at the sport, just with the obsession with it, so pronounced that some folks will pay $700 for a ticket, while others will allow themselves to be hit-up for thousands from the scalpers. It's just a sort of reminder of how things have changed in this country in the last half-century or so. Okay…the Blue Laws were accounted as un-Constitutional decades ago, but they furnished a perception of God that is sorely lacking today. Even without the laws, many retail businesses would have shut down on Sunday…some still do – the scriptural day of rest – as the people, whether believers or not, honored God, or at least honored those who honored God.

The approach today is not even subtly hedonistic. Whereas sports were not even indulged on Sunday in other days, the current halftime shows often furnish a coarseness hard to imagine in public on a Sunday evening…or any evening. The scantily-clad "cheerleaders" furnish the cheesecake, though even they lose out to the endless parade of commercials. A few years back, the titillating breast-bearing of Janet Jackson was the stuff of headlines.

In 2006, it was Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Jagger, a 62-year-old juvenile, had the appearance of having been hit by an 18-wheeler on his way to the activity. He and his two guitarists were dressed in black (though Jagger sported a white shirt) and they cavorted around and atop some sort of stage or runway that surrounded a bunch of what seemed to be mostly girls, with perhaps some older women (baby-boomer groupies?) mixed in. All three on the stage looked like warmed-over death, with their contortions and facial expressions roughly the male equivalent, one supposes, of the three witches in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Jagger doesn’t actually sing. He was messing with words, but he actually didn’t speak, either, but that didn’t matter. He is a grunter. Bobbing up and down on spindly toothpick-like legs, he simply grunted and went through gyrations that were probably supposed to be sensually exciting, but actually made one wonder if he just needed desperately to go to the bathroom. There were times when it seemed he would throw his crotch out of place, much like the crotch-hopping/duck-walking histrionics rendered by celebrating (hey…look at me) linebackers/tackles 15 yards past the play toward the opposite goal just after they’ve given the opposing quarterback a concussion.

One wonders if the public is becoming a bit jaded with the whole thing. As a percentage of viewers, the TV gang of 1982 (49.1%) was much larger than that of last year (42.6%). It may be that part of the reason has to do with the gross lack of sportsmanship, not to mention the extra timeouts for commercials, making the game into a seemingly never-ending business-ripoff more than a contest between highly skilled athletes. The trash-talking, taunting, and the hamming of the participants add to the coarseness and remind of a time when sport was supposed to be gentlemanly as well as rough.

The plethora of rules (penalties) having to do with protecting the players from themselves (grab his face-mask to bring that sucker down, never mind the broken neck) gives rise to the baseness of paying grown men millions of dollars to play a game, after the NFL's minor-league colleges/universities have paid them other millions to get ready for the big-time…Super-Bowl-Sunday! Only in the good ol' U S of A. It's here to stay, but the shame connected to it is too much. One longs for the day when the game will just be played for the championship…back to the Lombardi era…and all the other silliness, like the Jagger Jungle, will go the way of all nonsense.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark