Friday, January 20, 2017

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Inauguration of Champions Edition

Old dude, it's time to see who is going to get to go down to Houston and play for a nice shiny trophy, and I am pretty sure that this post will be a political free zone here.

Man, I hope so. One of the reasons we play games is to forget about everything else and we're seeing too much of the political world seeping into places where it ought not.

That actually makes sense, Decrepit! Have they been putting some extra brain additives in your Geritol lately?

Again, I hope so. But that's not why we're here, right?

Nope, we're here because of football. And the biggest thing is we have two excellent matchups, and people are going to enjoy the football, and not worry about politics, at least for a couple of hours. And as usual, I have a metric ton of HYYYYYYYYYPPPPE! to unleash.

You never seem to run out.

That's right. I got it. And it is time to talk some football and pick some games. Watch me work!


Glorious Green Bay Packers (+5.5) vs. Hotlanta Dirty Birds. This is a rematch of a game played in October, that the Falcons won in a 33-32 shootout. The Packers come in very beat up, though it sounds like some of their injured players might be able to give it a go. What the Packers need to do is going to be tough, but I think they can do it. The key for the Packers is to have Ty Montgomery run the ball and keep Matt Ryan off the field. My biggest concern for Atlanta is that this is the final game in the Georgia Dome, and there is bound to be a lot of emotion and pressure on the Falcons. Matt Ryan has not performed well in the playoffs throughout his career, and that needs to change in the biggest game of his life. This game will feature a lot of points, but I think the Packers will still have another game to play. Packers 63, Falcons 50.

Bet the over, then? I suspect a lot of points will indeed be scored, but I don't see anyone putting up 63. Two key players for the Packers did not play the last time these teams met -- Jared Cook and Clay Matthews. Those are key contributors, especially Cook, who has really opened up the middle of the field for the Packer offense. Atlanta can rush the passer better than the Cowboys, but they are suspect along the back line. If the Packers can get a couple of stops defensively, they will win. But it's going to be a shootout for sure. Packers 37, Falcons 34.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+6) vs. New England Patriots. The Patriots were expected to roll through the Texans, and did just that. The issue I see for New England is that the Steelers are not just a team along for the ride. They have talent and Mike Tomlin has done a better job than some of his critics give him credit for, and it's worth remember the Steelers are a talented group of players. Even though New England won the first meeting in Pittsburgh, look for this game to be very close until the Steelers pull away late, and for New England sports fans to face the reality that maybe it is time to clean house. Steelers 35, Patriots 11.

What does Tom Brady have left in the tank? That's the question. He looked mortal at times against the Texans, although that's an excellent defensive team. The question for the Patriots is simple -- can you stop LeVeon Bell? No one has recently. The Patriots tend to take away one player, and the guess here is that they will concentrate on Antonio Brown instead. Pick your poison. Patriots 24, Steelers 20.

Enjoy your football Sunday, and hopefully these games are going to be dramatic and interesting. And again, I may say some crazy stuff, but I call it like I see it. Ben out!

Goodbye to all that

I thought about doing a tidy summation of the Obama years, but we're still way too close to say What It All Means. Way back when, when Barack Obama burst upon the scene, I kept thinking of this song:


Eight years on, it hasn't really changed much. The lefties on my social media feed are filling their pages with soft-focus pictures of their hero; others have turned their profile pictures to solid black, as though the dawning of Trump is the End of Days. So yeah, it's a cult of personality. My fear is, for at least some of his supporters, the incoming president is just a different flavor (orange whip?) of the same thing. But we'll have at least four years to explore that question. And so will the Democrats:
As Trump takes over the GOP and starts remaking its new identity as a nationalist, populist party, creating a new political pole in American politics for the first time in generations, all eyes are on the Democrats. How will they confront a suddenly awakened, and galvanized, white majority? What’s to stop Trump from doing whatever he wants? Who’s going to pull a coherent new vision together? Worried liberals are watching with trepidation, fearful that Trump is just the beginning of worse to come, desperate for a comeback strategy that can work.

What’s clear from interviews with several dozen top Democratic politicians and operatives at all levels, however, is that there is no comeback strategy—just a collection of half-formed ideas, all of them challenged by reality. And for whatever scheme they come up with, Democrats don’t even have a flag-carrier. Barack Obama? He doesn’t want the job. Hillary Clinton? Too damaged. Bernie Sanders? Too socialist. Joe Biden? Too tied to Obama. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer? Too Washington. Elizabeth Warren? Maybe. And all of them old, old, old.
I dispute whether all eyes are on the Democrats, but we'll leave that aside. The piece I've linked, written by Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico, is quite good, because it gets into the true legacy of the man leaving the stage; the party Barack Obama has helmed for the past eight years is truly in desperate straits. You'll want to pack a lunch, but it's a smartly reported piece and worth your time.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Gino is back in the game

After about a year away, our friend Gino is blogging again. And he cuts to the heart of the matter, as he is wont to do, in re his reluctant but steadfast support of the president-in-waiting:
Though it was a choice I had decided to not make in the beginning, Trump was the only one out there actually speaking to the issues that mattered the most to me, and to most people who reside within my socio-economic tribe: the loss of our nation's manufacturing base, the transfer of decent jobs across the border, the unwillingness to defend our borders, and a perceived (if not real) all out assault from the Powers That Be on what being an American was all about.

Standing where I was on the sidelines while in much agreement with those of my Tribe on the issues, it really pissed me off seeing Trump's supporters branded as ignorant, racist, stupid, deplorable, and 'not part of America'. I had to stand with my people. There was nothing else... no other righteous decision left for me to make.
Over the past year, my operating assumptions were different, but since Trump won the election it's become increasingly clear that the Left is essentially unhinged. By training and background, I'm actually part of a different "Tribe" than Gino, but I've come to similar conclusions since the election. Back to Gino:
Something very different and polarizing was happening in my country... Where one side used to try to convince the other side that their cause was better, we had a complete turn around. It came down to "if you are not on our higher moral plain, then you suck!"
He's right about that -- the Left in this country is censorious 24/7. The statements I see now from the port side are not reasoned arguments. Instead, we get denunciations. I've long had the sense that the Left's demands are simply calls for orthodoxy. When someone is more interested in identifying and punishing apostates than in finding converts, it's always a sign of trouble.

I'm almost certain Trump will disappoint his voters, in large ways and small. Politicians all do that. Still, I sense there's at least an opening now for a needed discussion, rather than a listening tour that's really a lecture. We'll see. This much I know -- I'm glad Gino is back in the game.

Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you



You're likable enough, Mr. President.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

HOF Day

We'll get the announcement regarding the new members of the Baseball Hall of Fame later today. The consensus is Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are going in, with potentially first-time ballot players Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero having a shot. I've written more extensively about the HOF elsewhere, but I think that would be a good class. Bagwell was a legitimately great player, but because he played in Houston he was often out of the spotlight.

This is the last year on the ballot for Raines, who would have been considered the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history except for one thing -- he was an exact contemporary of Rickey Henderson, who was a greater player than Raines. One could make the argument that Henderson is one of the top 20 players in the history of the game, so falling short of that standard hardly seems like a disqualification for Raines. He's been worthy of induction since his first year on the ballot, in my view.

Rodriguez is an interesting case, because he has been linked to steroids, although it's never been proven. If you look at the objective numbers, he's arguably the greatest defensive catcher in history and his offensive numbers are comparable to Yogi Berra. He certainly belongs there on the merits.

I've give a little more thought to Vlad Guerrero, who was a great hitter (.318 batting average, the same as Kirby Puckett) and hit 449 homers. Those are really good numbers. He also was a good, if somewhat erratic, outfielder. No one has linked him to PEDs. He's more likely to get there sooner than Manny Ramirez, who was a better overall player but has two failed drug tests on his record.

The other guy who should be close is Trevor Hoffman, the longtime relief pitcher. I'm not sold on him as an HOF guy, but he's going to get in within the next year or two. It could even be this year.

The other story to watch -- will Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens get closer? They both have an undeniable PED taint to their careers, but I would argue both were lock HOF players before they got involved with the dark side, which was on the downside of their careers. I don't think either will make it this time, but if either of them get above the 50% threshold, it will mean the baseball writers are making their peace with the steroid era.

UPDATE: While it's not definitive, the Hall of Fame Tracker results suggest that Raines, Bagwell and Rodriguez will comprise the HOF Class of 2017. Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero may end up just short of the 75% threshold, while Edgar Martinez, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are now all well above 60%, suggesting their chances are good in subsequent years. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

If only we could draw the maps

It is an article of faith among a lot of lefties I know -- if only those nasty Republicans didn't gerrymander things back in 2010, the Democrats would be in charge of a lot more. Is it true? Walter Russell Mead wonders about that, using the example of our neighbors to the south:
1990s-era Democrats still had a strong presence in rural areas. But as the party moved to accommodate a more urban and liberal electoral base, its support outside of major metropolitan areas faded, especially during the Obama years.

Territorial representation penalizes parties for failing to build geographically broad political coalitions. So matter how lopsided a majority the Democrats can build in places like Des Moines, they will always be hamstrung if they can’t win compete less-densely populated areas as well.
You can tell this trend is happening by what happened here in Minnesota. No one thought Tim Walz was in trouble in the 1st CD, but he nearly got beat, winning by less than 3000 votes, against an opponent who he'd beaten by 19,000 the time before. It was less than comfortable for Collin Peterson in the 7th as well; he won his district with 60% of the vote in 2012, but only 52% in 2016. And Rick Nolan barely hung on in the 8th.

I live in the 4th CD; you could put the DFL label on a potted plant and it would be elected to Congress; we've demonstrated that conclusively by sending Betty McCollum back to the Hill nine times. It's easy for the DFL to control my district, but they don't have very good arguments outstate. As we look at the new legislature in St. Paul, and the new Congress, it's the same issue. Iowa and Wisconsin were both blue states less than 10 years ago, but that's changed. It could change here, too, if the DFL learns the wrong lessons from the election.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Packers 34, Cowboys 31

It was a tiptoe game:

Head, shoulders, knees (up) and toes
I'm trying to stay calm about it, but given how the season appeared to be lost at Thanksgiving, this has been a tremendous run. I'm not sure any team has been as blessed at quarterback as the Green Bay Packers have been, at least over the last 25 years.

Press your luck

Jason Willick, writing for The American Interest:
The media’s approval rating has been declining for a generation, but it entered freefall over the last year. Among Republicans, confidence in the mainstream media is close to destroyed, with just 14 percent saying they have even a “fair amount” of trust in the press, according to Gallup. Democrats are significantly more trusting, at 51 percent, although that is down from 70 percent in 2005. Among independents, the figure is 30 percent, closer to Republican levels.

High levels of polarization and partisanship mean that most Republicans will take the president’s side and Democrats will take the media’s side in their ongoing wars of attrition. If the press is to continue to hold sway, it will need to win the confidence of independents, who don’t hold Donald Trump in particularly high regard (by historical standards) but who do not exactly have warm feelings for the media, either. As Rutenberg says, high-level failures of judgment by major news organizations will continue to wear down the press’s approval ratings among this critical group. So will the ongoing perception of liberal bias, even if unintentional.
And there's a price to be paid. Ann Althouse:
Should [the press] be ousted [from their space in the White House to a different building] if they are not playing the role the place supposedly symbolizes? Are they representing us, the People, who, collectively, elected Trump, or are they representing the Democratic Party?

I don't know that the symbolism is what should determine whether the press has that space or some other space, but I don't think the press — with respect to the Trump administration — represents the people. I think the statement "They are the opposition party" is much more accurate. Too bad they did that to themselves. We could use a vigorous, professional press.
We could. I can envision countless reasons for the future Leader of the Free World to be held to account, but at this point, aside from maybe Jake Tapper, how can you take any of these reporters seriously?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Welcome to 1995 Edition

I know what you are thinking about the title. Why 1995? Well, the Packers are playing their first playoff game in Dallas since 1995-96. And that game is going to be interesting and filled with HYYYYYYYYYYYPPPPPPEEE!

The last time the Packers played a playoff game in Dallas against the Cowboys, you had a rattle in your hand. Just a baby, and the only thing you could fill was a diaper. Those were the Packers of Brett Favre and Reggie White, against the Cowboys of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. 

Things have changed a lot since then. I understand football a lot better, and all of those players in those games are all doing other things.

Yes. It's difficult to imagine it's been 21 years, but here we are.

Well, you'd better get ready. Take a swig of that Metamucil and get in position, Decrepit!  It is time to pick some football. Watch me work!

Seattle Seachickens (+4.5) vs. Hotlanta Dirty Birds. Seattle played very well in sweeping away the LOLions last weekend, but this game is a real test for them. For my money, Matt Ryan is probably the MVP of the league because he was more consistent all year and did not have a really bad game. This could be the final game in the Georgia Dome, and Atlanta is hoping that is not the case. What they need to do is to use their running game, which is a hidden key they have. Seattle will not have the aid of their crowd this time, and I question if they are strong enough to dig out a result. Falcons 28, Seahawks 17.

I think Atlanta actually is the better team, but their history works against them. Matt Ryan has been great this season, but his playoff record is abysmal and I'm guessing the Falcons will feel a lot of pressure. Seattle is battle tested. The key will be if the Falcons can keep the pressure on Russell Wilson. I think they do, but it's close. Atlanta 28, Seattle 24.

Houston Texans (+13) vs. New England Deflation. New England is expected to roll right through to the conference title game and face the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. We will discuss the Cowboys later, but New England is a very good team. The issue I see for them is that sometimes the bye week is not a good enough reward, since teams can get rusty. The Patriots have earned their championship/dynasty cred back, but Houston looks like they figured something out against Oakland, Do not expect a Foxboro Massacre, because maybe the New Englanders might be the ones who will see their championship dreams die. Texans 17, Cheatriots 9.

Uh, no. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady know how to win playoff games. Brock Osweiler? Not really. This will be ugly. Patriots 35, Texans 10.


Pittsburgh Steelers (-1.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs. The Steelers got a break today because the NFL pushed the starting time back because of an ice storm. Pittsburgh is a team that is really equipped to handle a cold weather game, and have a lot of great offensive talent. Kansas City is a very scrappy bunch of players, and their fans will have a few extra hours to lube up and get even more intimidating. I think Pittsburgh can win, but they are going to have to earn it. Steelers 20, By The Way, What's Wrong With The Chiefs? 17.

What's wrong with the Chiefs? Better ask an expert:



I miss ol' Jack Harry. He was a piece of work. As for the game, I'm also looking at the history of things. The Steelers have a glorious playoff history. The Chiefs? Not since this guy:


Matriculating down the field
Perhaps the Chiefs can get it done. The home crowd at Arrowhead is ferocious and the young fella is correct that they will likely be pretty well liquored up by game time. Is that enough against another battle tested team? Pittsburgh 34, Kansas City 27.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+5) vs. Dallas How Bout Them Cowboahs? The Packers started very slowly against the Giants, and managed to come alive for the last 27 minutes. No Jordy Nelson is going to be a big hurt, but the Packers can still come out of Dallas with a win. Dallas has not played a meaningful game in a couple of weeks, and even our loudmouth pal Skip Brainless has to admit that all the pressure is on the Cowboys. Even though they won in Lambeau in October, the Packers have improved a lot since then, and Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott are going to face pressure. The Packers need to run the football and get off to a great start to force Prescott to air it out in order to win. Make no mistake about it, if Dallas does not play well, then Dak Prescott will be in danger of being pulled for Tony Romo, and the annoying Cowgirls fans will question Mr. Prescott. And mark my words, Dallas is about to get exposed and the meltdown Skip will have will be fun to watch. Packers 40, Cowgirls 21.

Man, I hope you're right. I agree with the broad outline -- for the Packers to win, they will need to start fast and control the game flow. If Dallas is playing from behind, the chances that Zeke Elliott can wear the Packers down behind all the road graders on the Dallas offensive line is lessened. If Dallas breaks to the lead, this could go south in a hurry. The idea is to make this guy beat the Packers:


This is all he does, and he does it well
Oops, I think that's the wrong picture. Anyway, excuse me while I chase my Metamucil with Kool-Aid... Packers 30, Cowboys 27.

Enjoy your football this weekend, and if the Cowboys lose, watch Skip. And if Skip wants to debate me, just ask. Ben out!

Same as it ever was

We've been going through the cabinet confirmation process this week and, as usual, we aren't learning very much. I remember having the same feeling back in '09, when Team Obama was riding into town. I looked back through my archives to a similar time frame and found this observation:
The Washington Post is reporting that the nomination of Eric Holder to de-Albertoize the Justice Department has hit a snag. Oddly, it seems that there are some concerns being raised about Mr. Holder's role in the delivery of justice for Marc Rich and the news that Mr. Holder has been seen consorting with the inconvenient Rod Blagojevich. It's possible that the evil Mitch McConnell might raise a few impertinent questions during the hearings that are scheduled for this week. 
Impertinent questions come from across the aisle, but in the end it doesn't matter very much. Eric Holder got the job despite his previous sins and was able to commit a bunch more at the helm of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions will likely commit different sins; perhaps we'll like his sins better. I'm not particularly alarmed by anyone Trump has nominated; I might have selected some other names for key positions, but I'm just a guy banging a keyboard in his dining room. Whatever changes we see in Washington will be at the margins.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Now it can be told

President-Elect Donald Trump likes to be forced into a leather cat-suit, have a blow-up gag inserted into his mouth, be bound from head to toe, and get stuffed into a sleeping bag, which is then filled with strawberry jam and zipped closed. Still in the bag, he is rolled down a rocky hill into a pool of medium-rare Trump steaks. Extricated from the bag, he then likes to have Meryl Streep throw Trump Grill Taco Bowls at him while Rosie O’Donnell reads aloud select excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey and Mein Kampf.

Or not.
It's on the internet and I was able to provide a link, so I'm pretty sure it's true. This part of the story, however, apparently isn't true:
A Russian venture capitalist and tech expert whose name and company are mentioned in the now-notorious document alleging connections between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian hackers says no intelligence officers have ever contacted him about the accusations, which he says are false.

A report compiled by a former Western intelligence official as opposition research against Trump was made public Tuesday when BuzzFeed posted its 35 pages. The document included unsubstantiated claims of collusion between the Trump campaign team and the Kremlin.

It also alleged that global tech firm XBT Holding, with operations in Dallas, was instrumental in the hack of leaked Democratic Party emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton and fellow Democrats.

XBT, owner of Dallas-based enterprise-hosting company Webzilla, is run by a successful Russian tech startup expert, Aleksej Gubarev. In a phone interview from Cyprus, where he said he’d lived since 2002, Gubarev said he was surprised to see his name in the report.

“I don’t know why I was there,” Gubarev said, adding that perhaps a competitor sought to discredit him. “I still don’t understand the true reason for this report.”
All we need is a soundtrack:


Sing along with me!

RA RA VLAD PUTIN
Master of the current scene
There was a cat that really was gone
RA RA TRUMPUTIN
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

Meanwhile, Glenn "Instapundit" makes the salient point:
First, the press and the Deep State are already going after him, before he’s even had a chance to get out of line. And second, I mean, holy crap, could they be any sorrier at doing so? I mean, “Peegate?” Really? What the hell?

This is good news for Trump, sort of, but overall it’s really bad news, since it means that both journalism and the intelligence community are both more politicized, and less competent, than even I thought. Sweet Jesus, these people are terrible.
If you have any outrageous tales of Trump, share them in the comments section. I'll make sure that John McCain passes them along to the appropriate channels.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Unsubstantiated = Bullshit

I am a bona fide #NeverTrump guy. Wrote plenty of blog posts criticizing, even denouncing the guy. To this day, I remain skeptical of his ability to serve as President of the United States. Having said all that, his opponents are a lot worse. An amazing dispatch from the New York Times, via the local rag, demonstrates the absurdity of it all:
The chiefs of U.S. intelligence agencies last week presented President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump with a summary of unsubstantiated reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Trump, two officials with knowledge of the briefing said.

The summary is based on memos generated by political operatives seeking to derail Trump’s candidacy. Details of the reports began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.

The two-page summary, first reported by CNN, was presented as an appendix to the intelligence agencies’ report on Russian hacking efforts during the election, the officials said. The material was not corroborated, and The New York Times has not been able to confirm the claims.
Unsubstantiated, and its kissing cousin not corroborated, means the Times is simply retailing whatever bullshit someone opposed to Trump wanted out there. My favorite bit of nonsense is this:
The memos describe sex videos involving prostitutes with Trump in a 2013 visit to a Moscow hotel. The videos were supposedly prepared as “kompromat,” or compromising material, with the possible goal of blackmailing Trump in the future.
That's a bit more delicate than retellings of the story you can find elsewhere -- the preposterous suggestion that Trump hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow, the same place where Obama had supposedly stayed when he had been there earlier. We are also told that the Russians have the entire hotel bugged, so that's how we know it's true.

Okay, so let's think about that -- if the Russians had the entire hotel bugged, what are the chances that Obama would have stayed there? Do you not think the Secret Service and the various operatives who travel with the president would have allowed that to happen? Seriously? Or did the Russians pull the bugs out and then put them back in?

Another story has already taken on water:
Michael Cohen, a lawyer and adviser to Trump, also went to Twitter to deny a specific claim in the opposition research involving him. One of the memos claims that Cohen went to Prague in August or September to meet with Kremlin representatives and to talk about Russian hacking of Democrats. 
Cohen tweeted Tuesday night: “I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews.”
It would be easy to substantiate whether Cohen had been to Prague. The Times didn't do it, nor has anyone else. The Atlantic did find out where Cohen actually was:
Cohen said that during the time the report places him in Prague, he was actually with his son visiting USC and meeting with the baseball coach. A USC baseball source confirmed Tuesday night that Cohen and his son had visited USC on August 29th. Cohen said that he was in Los Angeles from the 23rd through the 29th of August, and that the rest of the month he was in New York. He said that his only trip to an EU country over the summer had been a vacation to Italy in July.

Cohen also tweeted a photo of his passport: “I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews.” Trump retweeted Cohen’s tweet.
I suppose the USC baseball coach could be a Russian operative -- in a world where MSM publications retail any damn thing, it's possible. But we're in bizarro cloud cuckoo land here.

In the end, this is all good news for Le Grand Orange. Now that it's been established that the MSM will publish anything, you can safely assume that whatever credibility they had has now been urinated away. And that's a problem for all of us -- we need an honest watchdog to keep our government accountable. We haven't had one for a long time now.

Update (9:30 a.m.): Res ipsa loquitur:

Other than that, it's great reporting

When asked for further comment, Tapper said the following:

Forget it Jake — it's MSMtown

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Coming attractions

Chicago has problems galore, but the largest one might be its parlous financial condition:
The Windy City has become a poster child for financial mismanagement, having suffered a series of ratings downgrades in recent years. Aside from having thin reserves and large volumes of outstanding debt, Chicago is notorious for its underfunded pension plans.

For example, the city’s Municipal Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund (MEABF) reported $4.7 billion in assets and $14.7 billion of actuarially accrued liabilities at the end of 2015, representing a funded ratio of just 33 percent. The actuarial calculations rely on a controversial practice of discounting future benefits at a rate of 7.5 percent, which is the assumed return on the fund’s portfolio return. If a more conservative assumption was employed, MEABF’s liabilities would be higher and its funded ratio lower.
The State of Illinois is not going to be able to bail Chicago out. Somebody is going to get stuck. Will it be the pensioners of Chicago, or will it be you and I? It's a story that will play out across the country. Be ready.

This just in

Actually, I don't care what Meryl Streep thinks. We pay attention to what she says when she is saying words that other people have provided her, in artificial worlds created by other people.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Nat Hentoff, RIP

One of the most useful commentators in public life has now passed away. Nat Hentoff is perhaps best known for being one of the greatest jazz critics of all, writing primarily for the Village Voice, but he did some of his greatest work as a tireless advocate for free speech and the First Amendment. He was an increasingly rare bird, a pro-life liberal, and he was willing to put his beliefs on the line. A taste of Hentoff from 1992, when he helped to provide a forum for Bob Casey, then the governor of Pennsylvania, who had become unwelcome in his own Democratic Party because he, too, was pro-life:
In a full-page announcement, New York's Village Voice recently invited one and all to come to the Great Hall of Cooper Union -- where Abraham Lincoln made the speech that caused his bid for the presidency to catch fire. I have been at many debates and discussions there, some fiery, but always the clashing ideas could be heard.

This time Democratic Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania was to deliver the speech the Democratic Party would not allow him to make at its "unified" convention. Casey is a liberal Democrat. He has created and expanded, for example, a program providing crucial medical services to low-income pregnant women and young children, and he was responsible for the first increase in minimum teacher salaries in the state in a quarter of a century.

But Casey failed to pass the official Democratic loyalty test of chairman RonBrown. Casey is pro-life, and so he was gagged for the entire New York celebration of Democratic pluralism.
What happened next is depressingly familiar:
As moderator, I started what would have been the discussion by pointing out that this was an evening about free speech -- not only that of the governor of Pennsylvania but also that of anyone in the audience who wanted to challenge him.

The hooting, screaming, pounding and whistle blowing began. Strategically located at both sides of the hall -- disruption by stereo -- a preening array of hooligans made all speech except their own inaudible. They reminded me of the domestic brown shirts breaking up Jewish meetings in my youth, but these were howling soldiers of the left. (There is no difference, of course, between right and left when it comes to silencing the bearers of uncomfortable ideas.)

Among the opponents of any free exchange of ideas were ACT UP and various pro-choice (sic) cadres, among them: WHAM (Women's Health Action Mobilization); and NYU Students for Pro-Choice.

At least 80 percent of the audience wanted to hear Casey and said so, as best they could, by applauding his attempts to get started. But they were no match for the speech muggers.

After several tries, Gov. Casey yielded. "The Democratic Convention suspended the First Amendment," he tried to say, "and tonight you did the same thing." Casey walked off the stage as the shouters congratulated each other.
There's more at the link, including an anecdote about a long-time lefty cause célèbre, Mumia Abu-Jumal. Hentoff was able to support the pro-life movement and the cause of Mumia. You might think that wrongheaded, but Hentoff would have loved that reaction and would have mounted a spirited defense of both positions, just as he would have supported your ability to argue against him. I have a copy of his book "Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee -- How The American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other" in my library and I recommend it. RIP.