Skol? **** ‘Em, Go Philly.

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Today would have been my grandfather’s 88th birthday. Like me, Richard Wilkins Sr. was a Philadelphia fan, four for four, and I often times look back on what that must have been like in his lifetime when judging what it’s like for me. I find it was probably frustrating. For whatever reason, we seem to keep passing our fandom down though.

Philadelphia sports were tough when my grandfather was young. It took 50 years for him to see the Phillies win a World Series, the only he’d see. The Eagles won three NFL titles, all by the time he was 30. The Sixers and Flyers added a few too. All told, Philadelphia won a title roughly every 8 years of his life.

Frankly, I’d take that ratio. I was a month old when the Sixers won in 1983, and I wouldn’t see another champion until the 2008 Phillies won. I’ve lived through four Phillies World Series, of which they won one. The Sixers have been in two NBA Finals, with the only win coming in my infancy. The Flyers have lost four Stanley Cup Finals in my life, winning none. The Eagles? This is NFC title game six. They have one win, and they lost the Super Bowl that year. Technically I’ve seen a title every 17 years. In reality? It’s been worse.

There is no tortured fanbase like the Eagles. It’s been 58 years since they won an NFL Championship. That was not a Super Bowl, as the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, and other local fanbases let us know. The die-hares spend every August calling into WIP, predicting it will be their year. They watch as it never is. Neighboring cities like Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Boston get their day. Eagles fans are left with memories of Fog Bowl, Ronde Barber, Jake Delhomme, and even SpyGate.

Tonight as this game kicks off, I sort of know the drill- how can back-up Nick Foles beat the elite Vikings defense. How can this time be different for a blue-collar fanbase that gets picked on for their strong home field advantage. This should be the fifth time I watch the Eagles lose an NFC Championship game. Ask the media. Ask Vegas. Ask the Super Bowl ads with career scrub Case Keenum already in them.

But while we’re waiting for kick off, if you’re cheering for #Skol, and you’re not from Minnesota (or a long time fan), you can go **** yourself. It’s time for this Bird Gang to get it done.

The GOP on DACA- The Japanese Internment Camps of Our Time

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The Republicans in Congress are about to shut down the government because they don’t want to pass DACA. To be clear, that is the only real way to read this situation. Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, and between them, they can’t bring themselves to pass DACA into law. They have a solid majority in the House, but they have only 51 Senators, meaning they need 9 more Democrats to get this government funding bill. Democrats demanded CHIP funding (children’s health care) and DACA (Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals) in exchange for help getting to 218 House votes and 60 Senate votes. Republicans are incapable of making the deal, basically at this point because of DACA.

What DACA does and doesn’t do is critical to understanding this issue. DACA deals with 800,000 undocumented immigrants out of the estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. The key terms of being eligible for DACA:

  1. You arrived here as a child, essentially saying you were too young to make your own decision to come here, or act as your own agent.
  2. You’ve been here more than 5 years as of the dates set in the programs. You’ve been here long enough to be a part of our society.
  3. You have no felony convictions, no “major” misdemeanors, or any combination of three misdemeanor convictions. In other words, you’re not a criminal element making trouble in our society.
  4. You’re working or going to school here. You’re a productive member of society.
  5. Program eligibility was set as of 2012, so you couldn’t have come here since then thinking you’ll get DACA protections.

In other words, these people came here as children, they’ve lived here for years, they’re law-abiding citizens, they’re productive, and they didn’t come here since the program started, looking for amnesty protections (in fact, this means they’ve been here considerably longer than 5 years at a minimum, at this point). These are basically people who had no criminal intent, and are productive in our society.

Here’s the worst part- these DACA program members stepped out of the shadows and handed over their personal information when they applied for the protections. So now that we’re going back on the promise of protection, we’re using the information they handed over in trust to our government to deport them.

Why are we doing something so inhumane? Basically because Tom Cotton and David Perdue seem to have won out over Lindsey Graham in the battle to influence the President on this subject, and the President then killed a bi-partisan deal to handle DACA. They did this because they want to pass some white nationalist immigration bill that stops a lot of legal immigration from non-European nations, because their base of support wants to keep America “white.” Of course, Donald Trump who promised to build a wall along our Mexican border is eager to stand with them.

We are going to kick Americans out of their home country and send them to countries they have never really known to appease a bunch of white nationalists. We’re going to do so despite the fact that these people are productive members of our society. We’re going to do so using the information they willingly provided to our government. It will take generations to regain the trust of people in immigrant communities. It will ruin lives. It will break up families. It will please people who still believe in a “dominant race” theory of nationalism.

Now I know how decent people felt about the Japanese Internment camps in World War II.

Rejoice New Jersey- Your Nightmare is Over

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Today is the day- Chris Christie leaves office. The Governor leaves office with the lowest approval ratings on record, thanks to Bridgegate, his failed run for President, his trip to a closed beach during a government shutdown, and people generally souring on his poor demeanor. Most of New Jersey is quite happy to see him leave. Just 5% say they will miss him.

I never liked Christie, but clearly some people did. He was elected in 2009 over Jon Corzine, then re-elected in a blowout over Barbara Buono. What’d they see? The blunt talk, the brashness, the willingness to fight, I guess. The man was never more than a blowhard that was willing to talk, a man who liked to hear his own voice. Right to the end, he ran ads on the opioid epidemic, a cause worth fighting, but made sure he was talking in them. At least he never lacked confidence.

Fortunately, New Jersey gets someone with some empathy and intelligence to replace the arrogant and brash Christie. Today, Phil Murphy, the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, will become New Jersey’s Governor, while Sheila Oliver will become the Lt. Governor of the Garden State. Together they bring competency, decency, and a plan to the state. They’re going to work on the state’s infrastructure, and getting things like the NYC transit tunnel done. They’ll fight for public education. They’re going to act to combat climate change. They’ll seek to make New Jersey a more fair and just place for everyone. Thank goodness they’re arriving.

As for Christie- he can’t be gone soon enough.

Shit Hole America and Martin Luther King Jr., 50 Years After His Death

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Normally I wouldn’t write about Martin Luther King Jr. Day, because I have nothing new to add. I have no words that do justice to such a titan in our history, a man of peace, a man of the working people of America. Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his advocacy of Civil Rights, a reputation well deserved, but he was equally as influential in the anti-war movement and the labor movement of his time. The man’s values were clearly in the camp of helping people. Our world has missed him every day of the last 50 years.

This year I am writing about Martin Luther King Jr. though. This year marks 50 years since he was assassinated in cold blood. King was killed by James Earl Ray, according to official accounts, a subject I’m not all that interested in diving into tonight. King was killed the day after delivering his “Mountaintop” speech to the Memphis sanitation workers who were working against poor wages and unsafe working conditions on the job. In that speech, he said:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats… or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
 
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
There are so precious few leaders in American life today who could deliver such words of inspiration today. There are probably just as few among us who would even want to try. One would be shocked that 50 years later, we live in a nation that deported a 39 year old father of two in suburban Detroit today, a man who came here at age 10 as an undocumented immigrant. One would be shocked that 50 years later, we are still debating criminal justice reform, how to handle police shootings, and what to do about mass incarceration. You could argue that we haven’t made much progress since Martin Luther King Jr.’s dying breath in moving forward as a society. We are having a national debate today on whether or not gerrymandering is okay- over 50 years after the Voting Rights Act.
It’s even more important to reflect on Dr. King today because of the man who currently occupies our White House though. Whether Donald Trump called Haiti and African nations “shit holes” or “shit houses” is absolutely irrelevant, as both are dehumanizing and insulting in ways we haven’t heard from a President in decades. In both word and deed, Donald Trump has spent so much of his Presidency thumbing his nose at the very spirit of Dr. King, so it was fitting that he spent today golfing- yes, golfing- on the day to honor his memory. The lack of leadership on the issues of Dr. King’s life is clear, whether it’s in Trump’s push against labor and worker’s rights, his push towards a possible nuclear war in North Korea, or his words of insult towards Haiti and African nations. The Presidency of Donald Trump is just the latest proof that America could really use a dose of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. right now.
We live in a time that is well defined by the vulgar, disparaging words of Donald Trump at this time. We lack a leader of clarity, a leader of real conviction. So, tonight, I’ll close with the words of Senator Robert F. Kennedy on the night of Dr. King’s assassination. Imagine your current President ever delivering anything with this eloquence and profoundness:
“I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black–considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible–you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization–black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love–a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Populism is the Culprit in Iran

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When protests broke out in Iran, I assumed what most Americans did, that it was about freedoms and oppression. Unlike most Americans though, I actually know a few people from Iran, so I had the luxury of asking them. What they told me was not what I expected.

My Persian friends likened protests and riots in Iran over the past few weeks to the 2008 American economic meltdown. Essentially, it began because the Iranian economy took a dive, and people were losing their savings and futures. They took to the streets because their money was gone, and it was gone in part because Tehran had not taken steps to regulate the economy and secure their money. They were unhappy.

From there, it took a turn not unlike our response to the 2008 crash. Other aggrieved people, with completely unrelated causes, joined the populist uprising, and employed other methods. Whereas the Tea Party popped up here and provided a right-wing populist response to America in 2008 and 2009, Iran has had their own unrelated radicals pop up. Anarchists, people opposed to the religious nature of the government, and people with all kinds of other, unrelated causes joined the economic populists in the streets, and sometimes went beyond non-violent protest. They sought to take advantage of the moment and push their agenda.

It might seem familiar for those of us who saw the ugly side of populism here in America.

Three Things About the Eagles Win…

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From the Eagles twitter…

The Eagles are back in familiar territory for me as a fan- the NFC Title Game. Yet, despite the familiarity, and the negative memories of the past, I’m more happy than normal about this. This sixth NFC title game since I entered high school is satisfying because it wasn’t supposed to happen. I have three main thoughts about this one:

  1. So much for Atlanta’s second round bye– The Eagles had no chance. That’s what you heard all week. Some media types talked about how the sixth seeded Atlanta Falcons essentially had a “second round bye” in coming to the 13-3 Eagles place for this divisional round game. Someone must have forgot to tell that 13 win defense, which held Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to 10 points. Someone forgot to tell that offensive line, with it’s two All-Pros, and the running back tandem that ran well all year. This team won 13 games for a reason, but got no respect. They were the first top seed ever to be an underdog in Vegas in their first home playoff game, getting three points from the sixth seeded Falcons. For the record, they’re +3.5 right now for the NFC Championship game with the Vikings.
  2. This team is one game from the Super Bowl– When Carson Wentz went down, it would have been easy to give up on the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. No team can lose an MVP Quarterback. This team has lost it’s kicker, an All-Pro tackle, their kick returner, their best linebacker, and plenty of other talent for stretches along the way this year. They are one game from the Super Bowl though, and two games from a championship, their first since 1960. They’re facing a team who is also on a back-up quarterback in this championship game. You have to start thinking about the Eagles as a potential championship team. You also have to stop making any excuses. The game is in Philadelphia, you only have to win it once. The opportunity has arrived.
  3. I had this team pegged for 7 to 9 wins before the season– I didn’t see this coming. I felt Carson Wentz would have a good year, but I didn’t see this team going from 7-9 the last two seasons to 13-3 and in the NFC Championship game, especially the way it’s went. This season is absolutely a successful one. For the first time since the Bush Administration, the Eagles won a playoff game. They found a franchise quarterback. Their defense stepped up. Their offense was balanced. I figured they’d win three games in division, split the non-division NFC games, win two or three times against the NFC West, and maybe win a game or two against the AFC West. In some ways , their schedule lucked out. In other ways, this team just impressed me. Doug and Howie did a good job building a winner, very quickly at that.

Now- beat #Skol.

What You Don’t Get About 2016 and American Politics in General

Above, you see Trump Tower. One of the great falsehoods of American Politics since 2016 is that something innovative and new happened there. The truth? nothing radical happened there. Donald Trump’s electoral coalition wasn’t really a lot different than John McCain or Mitt Romney’s. Hillary Clinton’s wasn’t wildly different than Barack Obama’s, or John Kerry’s. Really.

From 1996 until today, every Democratic nominee for President has received at least 48% of the vote. Every single one of them has carried African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community, and millennials (when it’s been relevant). From 2000 until today, every Republican nominee has received at least 46% of the vote. Every single one of them has carried Evangelicals, white men, gun owners, and rural America. From 2000 until today, most of the states haven’t even moved from column to column. Catholics, suburbanites, soccer/security moms, and union households have been your swing voters. Every Democratic campaign has tried to increase turnout among their groups, and Republicans have done the same with their’s. Turnout among the specified interest groups above has changed from election to election, and the swing groups have changed from election to election, which of course has changed the outcome. For the most part though, the electorate has remained stagnant.

Barack Obama’s 2012, and for that matter 2008 election was as much about his ability to beat his opponents into the ground among the swing-voters above as it was his increased turnout in the base. Donald Trump’s 2016 electorate was a mixture of winning the swing groups and base mobilization changes on both sides.

A lot of people look forward and forecast things that are wild variations from where we were in 2016, and they’re probably wrong. John McCain got 46%, Mitt Romney 47%, and Donald Trump 46%- despite Trump’s low approval numbers, he’s probably not going below 45% against any Democratic nominee, if he doesn’t go a couple points higher. There is no reason to believe that people who voted for every Republican from George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign on are now going to flee Trump. They may be embarrassed by his behavior, but they probably don’t really disagree with him.

A portion of the American left wants to argue that a different nominee in 2016 likely would have won. That may be true if that nominee is someone who had greater appeal to the base voting groups that have backed every Democrat since Bill Clinton, someone with say Barack Obama’s appeal. That may also be true if that someone was a candidate who had greater appeal among the swing-voter groups that went from Obama to Trump, someone like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama that did very well with white Catholics, soccer moms, and blue-collar union households. The thing is, neither of those candidates existed in 2016. There’s a pretty good argument that no 2020 hopeful being mentioned has a case right now that they can do that like Barack Obama did in his two races. Even so, there’s a good argument that virtually anyone nominated should get to 48% in 2020, simply because they are the Democratic nominee, and that’s the floor for Democratic nominees in the last 20 years.

So while you’re watching the craziness of American politics, the upheaval and turmoil of it all, over the next three years, don’t get too caught up in the hype. To every action, there is a reaction. To every game changing moment, there is a reality that we’re probably going to end up in a similar place to before. The 2020 Election probably starts out at 48-46%, regardless, and then becomes a fight to the finish from there.

What I Learned About the GOP War on Government

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I recently finished a stint serving as executive director of a government transition of power in Northampton County, PA. I have lots of campaign experience, but wanted to engage in actually helping build a $400 million government in my community. What I found out was going on in the outgoing Republican Government was absolutely appalling and shocking for me at first, but gradually fell right into line with what I had expected from watching the Republican Party operate in Washington, Harrisburg, and other capitols around the country.

The former Executive in Northampton County had literally balanced his budget for four years on the backs of the needy, the vulnerable, and the employees of the county. He didn’t fill essential positions like Warden at the prison, for months and even years. He was squeezing the county work force for more of what he referred to as “efficiencies,” which just meant more work for less pay. He had corrections officers working overtime regularly. He had problems in both the county’s senior care and the children and youth departments, mostly because they were understaffed. He literally ran the county like a corporation, which is to say he let services suffer in the name of “profits,” which in this case were only the money he was using to balance his budget, and even run a surplus that he wanted to run for re-election on (fortunately, we beat him). What’s worse is that he and his Republican Council went so far as to create “lockbox” accounts to put money in that couldn’t be spent out of without supermajority votes, to further deny services to the public which uses them.

I would like to say here that this is uniquely bad, but it is not. Today I watched Steven Mnuchin say that “blue” states like California and New York should stop trying to find ways around the new tax law’s elimination of the state and local tax deduction, and should instead just cut their budgets and taxes, like other states (i.e.- New York, a successful state, should become Oklahoma now). In this statement, Mnuchin essentially gave away the real game in eliminating the state and local tax deduction federally- to force states that have functioning government services to stop having functioning government services. New Jersey should stop taking care of their poor, their sick, their elderly, and their children, and should instead cut the taxes of millionaires living in Colts Neck.

Speaking of Colts Neck and New Jersey, next week a much larger transition will come to an end, and the Chris Christie nightmare will finally end when Governor-elect Phil Murphy takes the oath of office at the statehouse in Trenton. While this seems like a happy moment, Murphy is taking over a very precarious situation. He was elected promising big improvements for New Jersey. He wants to rebuild the state’s infrastructure, particularly NJ Transit and the proposed new transit tunnel into Manhattan. He wants to fund public schools at higher levels, especially for the poorest districts in the state. He wants to create a state owned bank. He wants to make the state’s payments into the pension fund. He wants to invest in the people of his state, and the combination of Chris Christie and Washington Republicans have made that increasingly hard to do. Christie “reformed” the state’s pension system on the back of the workers, and then simply didn’t make the payments into the fund- then left Murphy with quarterly payments to make, mandated by law. Washington Republicans made it much harder to pass his “millionaire’s tax” to help finance his initiatives by taking away the state and local tax deduction that was critical to New Jerseyans at all income levels. Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to go after states that legalize marijuana and tax it, just as New Jersey is considering this as a financing option. The clear signal of national Republicans is that they don’t want Governors doing things in the public interest anymore than they wanted President Obama to do so, and they will throw every barrier they can up in the way, even when the voters want an active government. Of course they and their compatriots in Trenton will now cry foul of Murphy and say New Jersey cannot afford to do the things the public wanted him to do. They made sure of it.

Back here in Northampton County, we found the same crunch coming from Washington Republicans. Our new County Executive’s agenda was rather restrained and modest- fix the problems left for him in senior care and children and youth, increase economic development in the county’s northern rural core, protect the county nursing home, preserve our open green space, return our work force to proper staffing levels, and do so without raising taxes. With existing money and revenue projections moving forward, this was quite possible, before the Washington Republicans pulled off their tax-scam legislation. Due to their cuts to Medicaid, made in the name of “deficit reduction” after they cut the government’s revenue by $1.5 trillion for the next decade, the math got a lot tighter. Medicaid is a huge provider of health insurance for senior citizens (largely because they are on fixed incomes and qualify for it as the supplemental insurance for their Medicare), and Medicaid therefore is a huge piece of the puzzle for the county maintaining their nursing home, a safety net the voters voted to keep by a 75-25% margin in 2011. The cuts to Medicaid are being made to finance tax cuts for the highest tax brackets and corporations, and those cuts jeopardize an essential service of the county, which in turn jeopardizes the ability to do virtually anything else in the agenda the voters voiced support for with 54% of the vote, just this past November 7th.

The United States is a very wealthy nation, a nation that can do far more for it’s people than it is doing now. We don’t have endless reserves of cash to give everyone free everything, but we can certainly provide more and better services that the public says it wants, provided that we prioritize better. The current Republican Party, whether down at your county court house, or bumbling throughout the White House aimlessly right now, is fighting a war to make sure that the government can’t do anything well, or even adequately. These men and women in the GOP are running for office to leave the government impotent and incapable. This is not a disagreement over the scope of government programs and whether or not we should waste money at this point, this is a war against government. We need to engage that war.

Maybe Little League Championships ARE A Bad Thing

When I was young, I was a pretty good athlete. I won lots of trophies and medals, I won tournaments, I made the All-Star teams most years. I won seven varsity letters in high school for running well, but my sports career ended before my first college race. Mono just snapped me of the energy to go on.

When I think back on my time playing sports, I’m grateful for all the lessons I learned there (even the ones I only later realized.). Being a teammate. Making friends. Exercise. Critical thinking, under pressure. Discipline. Even learning how to lose. My time playing sports, from little league to college taught me many valuable lessons. It was critical to my life.

One thing that didn’t make those lists was the trophies, medals, and attention I got for winning youth sporting events. Did it help my self-esteem? Sure, but I didn’t have an issue with that anyway. What about the kids who are taught they are losing, or worse yet, are losers? The kid that can’t hit, throw, or catch well? The kid on the end of the bench? They get the least playing time often, which denies them the benefits outlined above. They make the least friends, because they’re the least “part” of the team. I think back now on my sports time, and wonder what it would have been like to be them.

Much of the “trophy culture” in youth sports is driven by parents, and is for their validation. It reinforces bad behavior and it teaches bad values. It enforces a “to the winners go the spoils” attitude with the benefits of playing sports, which hardly creates an empathetic society later. It places the self value entirely in getting a trophy, at a point in life when the trophy doesn’t have any real value yet. All those little league wins don’t mean a damn thing when college scholarships get handed out. You have no idea at age ten who’s going to be a superstar athlete, so stop trying to create one.

I do think there’s a time to start separating young athletes by ability, particularly as they reach their teens. That can be a good life lesson too, and can make a kid work much harder, or go seeking a different talent or direction. I just don’t think that time comes with a nine year old.

I loved playing on the fields pictured above. I did well there. I don’t think I did well because I won though. I did well because my teammates then are my friends still now. I grew up healthy and with a positive body image. I learned how to compete and think under pressure. I learned to win and lose better. The trophies though? I’ll trade them for the memories.