Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “NFL”

Should the Cheats Define the Policy? – Tom Rossi

It seems that, for most of my life, I’ve heard a lot of whining about welfare cheats and people who cheat medicare, unemployment, social security, food stamps, and several other programs. Additionally, I now hear all about the people who misuse California’s medical marijuana law so that they can get high and have fun.

There really are people who fit these descriptions. But are these reasons to axe the whole programs? The Department of Labor, for example, estimates that 1.9% of unemployment insurance payments go to cheats. While that does add up to a significant amount of money, it also means that 98.1% go to legitimate, unemployed citizens who are in need of help.

Statistics on cheating in state welfare programs are considerably worse (and difficult to find research results on), but appear to be well below 25% attempts at fraud or at least minor tweaking, most of which are caught and stopped.

There can be no doubt that, even if at a statistically low level, this cheating is a drain on our financial resources that should not be ignored. But this is a problem of enforcement of the rules and regulations of these programs. Fiscal conservatives use these problems as justification to call for these types of programs to be shut down completely, or to cut the benefits as low as possible.

These programs are designed to help people in need. People who have lost their jobs, have had a serious illness in the family, are taking care of a special needs child (or adult), or single or just low-income parents. Can we turn our backs on these people because some people cheat?

There are societal costs – real costs – to ignoring the needs of our so-called less-fortunate citizens. It can mean that we lose whatever contribution a person might make if he or she is helped through a temporary setback. It can mean that people are carrying illnesses while mingling with the “rest of us.” It can mean that some (many) children never reach anything like their true potential and never make the contribution they could to our country. Or it could just mean unnecessary suffering by people suffering from anything from the effects of chemotherapy to chronic insomnia.

These are real costs that justify the costs of assistance programs. But I, for one, believe that the purpose of civilization and certainly of America is to insulate us from the brutality of life, or the “law of the jungle.” Otherwise, we could just fire all the cops and say, “If you can’t protect yourself, too bad.”

I want to live in a civilized country – as far from the law of the jungle as is reasonably possible. We can’t define our policies based on those (relatively few) who abuse them. That’s a separate matter. We must define policy based on benefits to our society and then work to keep the process honest. Would conservatives have us shut down the NFL because teams and players sometimes break the rules? Of course not. Think about this when you’re watching your next football game.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Irony: NFL vs. The Little Guy – Roger Ingalls

By now most sports fans have heard about the NFL scab-referee debacle. In case you haven’t, the NFL locked out the top-tier professional referees once the employment contract between the two parties ended before the start of this season. Replacement refs have been used during the pre-season and for the first three weeks of the regular games. It’s been disastrous.

This past week was particularly bad. Illegal hits and tackles were rampant due to players testing the limits of the scab-refs and finding they could get away with unsportsmanlike play. An Oakland Raider receiver was hospitalized with a brain injury because of a hit to the head. Another player had part of his ear-lobe ripped off when he was illegally hit on the side of his head. American professional football with the big and fast participants can get extremely brutal when the referees controlling the game are not respected.  And that’s now happening. The players don’t respect the authority of the replacement refs because they make bad calls and are indecisive.

Now, the NFL team owners are finally coming to the table and talking with the professional referees they locked out. What brought is all to a head was the last game of the week on Monday night when millions of people witnessed a final second play that gave the win to the wrong team due to bad decisions by the scab-refs. It was awful. Even members of the winning team said they were given a gift because replacements didn’t interpret the play correctly.

Why is this issue important? The NFL by itself is an $11 billion industry and if you consider gaming, food and beverage, fantasy football and other fringe markets, we’re talking about a $20 billion market. It’s a big part of our economy and integrity of the game is paramount.

I find two things ironic about what’s happened in the past few weeks. First, what brought the two parties back to the discussion table was the bad call that put the Green Bay Packers on the losing end of that Monday night game. There are 32 teams in the NFL and 31 of them are owned by very rich men and only one team is from a small market and is owned by the community… that team is the Packers. The little market “people’s team” pays the ultimate price because of the greedy rich.

The second ironic aspect of recent events is how the NFL parallels Big Business. The rich team owners locked out the real refs because they didn’t want to increase pay, wanted to have the ability to replace refs at will and wanted to stop paying into pensions. Keep in mind, NFL refs make anywhere from $25K to $100K which is peanuts compared to owners and players. The owners are bullying the little guys. See the parallel? Big Business pensions have been replaced with 401Ks which are cheaper for business and riskier for employees. They are also trying to make union bargaining illegal which minimizes worker rights and limits collective wage-benefit negotiations.

I’ve always said, “football emulates life” so I guess it’s not a stretch to say that NFL greed parallels the new American economy. What a bummer.

UPDATE: Owners and Referees come to an agreement Wednesday evening.

Football-Minded Obsession – Roger Ingalls

American football, the greatest sport ever conceived. It has all the elements that I love; physical presence, cunning, strategic planning, tactical perfection, statistical tendencies, competitive analysis and the willingness to lay it all on the line.

Football emulates life. Most, if not all, the elements described above are used daily and in many aspects of life. Getting a job, marketing, selling, politics, courting and even mating requires sophisticated gamesmanship.

I’ve watched and played football since I was a kid and my mind has been groomed to pursue every endeavor as if I were on the gridiron chasing the pigskin. It has served me well over the years but there is a downside.  It would be nice to just be able to disengage the brain, relax and enjoy life without auto-thinking the next conquest. It’s seems impossible to retrain an old brain. It’s a kill or be killed world.

An aging body can no longer play the sport but some smart football-minded person invented a new game called Fantasy Football for the physically unable to perform. After ten years of trying, I’m proud to say that the title of champion is mine.

The first game of the 2012 regular season is on the TV as I’m writing this post. American football is brutal, exciting, glamorous and defines our warring culture. It epitomizes who we are.

It’s a sickness but I love it. Go Pack Go!

bin Laden Thoughts

I wanted to wait until the dust settled, at least somewhat. Like most people I felt a wave of euphoria when the news came through. I immediately googled the President’s announcement and waited with anticipation to watch The Daily Show live.

I dismissed the ethics of targeted assassinations, of whether we should have tried to capture him, and what the implications would be for world peace. I just wanted to bathe in the relief that the bad guy had been taken out and that the good guys had finally won. Most of all as I watched the reactions of people on TV, I felt that just maybe, those who have lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and other attacks perpetrated from this man and his terrorist organization, could find some quality of closure and be able to move on in their lives.

But now, less than a week later, I want to share five concerns.

1. It’s not over. Al Qaeda seems far too extensively organized to suddenly disappear because their ailing and sick spiritual leader of several years is dead. The money, fear and ideology is probably still there, and  the top-tier of management might not be anticipating a career change.

2. Targeted Assassinations – this is sticky. It is generally condemned by many who hold the political views of our readership. Where do you draw the line? In Judaism when someone approaches with the intention of killing us, we are commanded to strike him down first. Still, it is easy when clear-cut, but how often is that the case?

3. The media are going to milk this news-byte and as they do, the American people will become more divisive and our enemies will exploit this to revive extremism.

4. The end of terrorism depends on the outright rejection of extremism in whatever political and religious guise. As long as we turn a blind eye to poverty, exploitation and the materials being taught to millions of children in schools, we are allowing the next generation of terrorism to be bred.

5. The most effective players to counter religious extremism are the moderates of that religion. The moderate majority of Muslims, Christians, and all religions where there are extremists (probably most), must become more active and empowered in setting the limits of what is acceptable in the name of their religion.

I appreciate your skepticism when most of my political commentary is gleaned from The Daily Show and the wisdom of car bumper stickers. So I shall turn to another philosophical well of wisdom: Star Trek.

In one of the Next Generation movies, the Enterprise goes back in time to about 20 years in our future (it  seemed much further in the future when the movie came out a few decades ago!). Earth is reeling from nuclear war and environmental devastation. Commander Riker describes to a disenchanted man  how a few centuries later the people of earth all enjoy peace, freedom, have clean water and nutritious food, good education and health care, and a world free of NFL and NBA labor disputes (my artistic license, but you get the point).

The disenchanted man, staring at the devastation around him,  asks how they achieved this and Riker replies that everyone was made to see that this was the right way. This scene has always made me think – how did they do that? Sure, many saw the light, whatever that light is, but what about those who couldn’t be nicely persuaded? 

I believe in self-defense. I have justified serving in an army as the way to protect my family, my people, and my beliefs in freedom and democracy. I cannot tell you specifically where the line should be drawn wherein it is justified to use violence, but there are too-often occasions where I am sure the line has been crossed.

bin Laden crossed that line and we ended his life on Sunday. This is one such occasion where the line was clearly crossed. Let’s leave it there and focus on the future – offering positive options to those who choose peace and a clear, firm message to those who don’t.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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