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Fair Play and Foul Times

Now is far too early to be writing about the upcoming Democratic party primary race, although we’re tempted to by a newly released Quinnipiac poll that shows many of the contenders currently well ahead of President Donald Trump in key states. Trump was waving around of piece of paper that he contended was a secret agreement he’d reached with Mexico, which reminded us of Sen. Joe McCarthy waving a piece of paper he contended was a list of all the communists working in the State Department, but better to let that play out before writing about it.
There was plenty of other news afoot, as usual, but two separate stories in the sports page caught our eye. Both had to do with sportsmanship, which is one of those old-fashioned values our conservative souls hate to see slipping away.
Although we’re too all-American to care much about soccer — or “football,” as the damned foreigners insist on calling it — we’ve been pleased to see that for some time now the American women’s team has been quite good. The American men’s team has achieved respectability, but the distaff national squad has been a dominant force, winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals and more than two dozen titles in other prestigious international tournaments. They started their defense of the World Cup championship on Tuesday beating Thailand by a score of 13 to 0, which prompted criticism in some quarters.
Soccer is such a low-scoring game that a three goal differential is considered a butt-kicking akin to the 60 to 6 scores that the big time college football teams routinely rack up in their early games against tune-up teams, so the record-setting 13 goal difference was considered an unsportsmanlike running up of the score intended to humiliate a clearly outmatched opponent. The team and its coach were unapologetic, however, and based on accounts of the game we figure they had nothing apologize for. Old-fashioned notions of gentlemanly and ladylike require that a team pull its starters once a game has been clearly won, even if it’s not yet halftime, which the American squad apparently did with a six goal lead or so. No coach can ask the substitutes to play less than their best during their time on the field in front of family and friends, however, and in this case the bench was also six or seven goals better than the Thai starters.
“To be respectful to opponents is to play hard against opponents,” U.S. Coach Jill Ellis said, which sounds about right to us. Ellis also noted that the team is playing for another world championship, adding that “I don’t find it my job to harness my players and rein them in.” Those substitutes will play some crucial minutes in the closer matches are sure to come, and Ellis is wise to keep them sharp. We do feel badly for those outmatched Thai players whose family and friends watched them endure a record-setting butt-kicking, and after our inept years on the playgrounds we can empathize, but our best advice is that they try to get better.
The other story came from the National Basketball Associations finals, where the powerhouse Golden State Warriors, the defending champions and winners of three of the last four playoffs, found themselves down by a seemingly insurmountable three games to one in the best of seven series against the underdog Toronto Raptors, who were in the finals for the first time in franchise history. One reason for the Warriors woes was that the supremely gifted small forward Kevin Durant, a recent most valuable player who was twice the the MVP of the finals, was on the bench with an injury. Durant either foolishly or courageously took to the court for the fifth game, depending on how you look at it, and although the Warriors won and are now down only three to two and have a chance of extending their dynasty he aggravated an achilles tendon in the efforts, and he wound be around for game six or a possible game seven and might even start next season on the bench.
As Durant was being carried off the court many of the Raptors fans loudly cheered the injury, and there’s no excuse for that. Canadians are typically very polite people, but the big sport up there is ice hockey, which doesn’t understand the concept of unnecessary roughness, so we weren’t entirely surprised. To their credit the American players who make up the Raptors’ roster chastised the cheering fans, and gave Durant respectful applause on his way to the hospital, and the team’s management also issued a “tweet” saying they don’t approve of anyone cheering a player’s injury. The Warriors had earlier apologized for one of its franchise owners who started a sideline fight with Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, and banned the fellow from the rest of the finals, so at least the league is taking an admirable stand on sportsmanship that shouldn’t be necessary.
Both stories are about mere games, but we think they illustrate a broader cultural decline that also infects our politics. On both sides of the political divide people want to run up the score, recognize no standards of unnecessary, and think it doesn’t matter how you play the game so long as you win. We hate to lose a game just as much as the next guy, but we’d hate even worse to lose the tradition of fair play by the fair rules.

— Bud Norman

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Oh Yeah, the Economy

Perhaps it’s just because we’re not hanging out with a high-rolling crowd, or because baseball season is underway and the National Basketball Association’s playoffs just concluded, but nobody seems to be talking about the economy these days. All of the non-business news media seem equally uninterested, to the point that it takes another announcement from the Federal Reserve Board to get any front-page play for those poor newspaper scribes stuck on the economy beat.
We suspect this has something to do with the diocletian nature of all that boring data that the Fed went on about Wednesday. The economy isn’t quite bad enough for the Republicans to make an issue of it, and not nearly good enough for the Democrats to do any bragging, and apparently not so bad that the Fed feels obliged to again ramp up the money-printing that fueled that newsworthy stock market boom, but not so good that it intends to raise interest rates above 0 percent any time soon, and only the economics geeks understand what any of that means and none of them seem agree about it. Better to talk about baseball and basketball and whatever else might be going on, we suppose, but we can’t shake a nervous feeling that something important is going unremarked.
Perhaps it’s also because no one seems to know what to do about it. President Barack Obama’s only big economic initiative since that pork-laden “stimulus” bill and all the other debt-increasing “investments” he and his Democratic majorities in Congress foisted on the country back in the bad old days has been his Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with most of Asia, and the Republican congressional majorities that resulted from those earlier fiascos have been largely supportive, and it’s suddenly the remaining Democrats who are balking, and by now it’s more a story about our troubling politics than our troubled economy. David Brooks, The New York Times’ token “conservative” who fell in love with the perfectly pressed crease in Obama’s pants way back in ’08 and has never quite gotten over it, blames it all on what he calls the “Tea Party” faction of the Democratic party, which is wedded to labor unions and their protectionist preferences, and although he admits that Obama’s characteristic secretiveness prevents anyone without top-secret security clearance from knowing what the free-trade deal is he rightly notes that those same Democrats don’t seem to mind they have no idea about the wacky deal he’s making with the even wackier mullahs of Iran about their nuclear weapon ambitions. Our conservatism requires no quotation marks, and we’re staunchly Republican, and will grouse that the “Tea Party” analogy belies Brooks’ putative conservatism because the “Tea Party” was pretty much right about the growing debt and all the regulatory red-tape resulting from all those expensive “investments” and everything else, and we’re free-traders to our Adam Smith core, but even we are so spooked about Obama’s negotiating record and what might be hidden in that Trans-Pacific partnership that we’re willing to wait another two years or more for a better and more transparent agreement. There’s some fun in watching all the presidential hopefuls in both parties try to finesse this mess, even if the smart ones seem to understand they can simply ignore it, but otherwise we can well understand why people are following the divisional races in major league baseball and The Golden State Warrior’s long-awaited basketball championship.
Eventually everyone will be forced to pay some attention to the economy, certainly by November of ’16, and at that point it will be all about politics. The Republicans will argue that the numbers regarding jobs and household wealth and Gross Domestic Produce could have and should have been been much better, the Democrats will reply that those admittedly unimpressive numbers would have been so much worse without the president’s “investments” and resultant regulations and trillions of dollars of debt that everyone would have stopped going to work and buying groceries and falling for the latest advertised seductions and we’d all be rubbing sticks together in some cave, and that the same president’s secretiveness and lack of meaningful relationships with anyone else in government sank that Trans-Pacific Partnership that might have helped, and there’s no way way of knowing who the public will blame.
They’ll blame somebody, though, because there’s no getting around the end-of-the-month fact that economy isn’t that good. Even through the rose-colored glasses of the Federal Reserve Board the economy is expected to grow at at only 1.8 to 2 percent this year, barely enough to sustain those much-touted jobs number that haven’t quite kept up the arrival of new legal and illegal immigrants, another issue proving problematic for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, and on those rare occasions when people talk about the economy nobody seems to singing that happy days are here again. Whatever the economic numbers might be deep inside the business section around the next election day, we expect the Democratic nominee will be griping about the inequality of it all, which will resonate with a large resentful population of the country, and the Republican nominee will be talking about tax-cutting and de-regulating and unleashing the potential of the economy, which will resonate with the more hopeful portion of the electorate, nd the electoral numbers will decide the matter.
Until then, we’re as confused as anybody else. Zero percent interest rates don’t seem to provide any incentive for making the loans that could fuel an economic boom, and it isn’t any good for those poor old folks counting on interest-bearing retirement plans, but anything higher is likely to scare away investors in such uncertain and debt-laden and over-regulated times such as these, and that free-trade deal with a crucial foreign might or might not be a good idea, as only those with a top-secret security clearance would know, so we’ll anxiously await whatever happens. In the meantime we note that The Kansas City Royals are back on top of the American League’s Central Division and that The New York Yankees are within striking distance of the lead in the Eastern, and we’ve had a certain sympathy for The Golden State Warriors ever since they won their last title 40 years ago with that arrogant white boy Rick Barry as the star, so we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman