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Watergate Parallels – posted 10/21/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 11/22/2018

October 21, 2018 Leave a comment

This article was published in the Concord Monitor under the headline “The Trump-Nixon Debate”.

It is common now to read stories comparing President Trump to President Nixon. Watergate is invariably invoked.

To assess the fairness of this comparison, I think we need clarity about what Watergate was. It was so much more than a petty burglary.

Watergate was an extensive campaign of political spying and dirty tricks cooked up by President Nixon and his subordinates. The image of Watergate that we have inherited is much less than the multi-dimensional criminal enterprise it actually was.

Even now, I don’t think that all the wrongdoing of President Nixon is fully appreciated. You often hear the cliche that the cover-up was worse than the crime but in the case of Watergate, the crime was actually massive.

What began as an effort to sabotage his political opposition in the 1972 presidential race, mushroomed. The effort included: forging letters and distributing them under Democratic Party candidates’ letterheads, leaking false and manufactured items to the press, hiring goon squads to beat up demonstrators and stealing confidential campaign files.

While the 1972 election was a blow-out, the scope of Nixon’s crimes raise questions about the election’s legitimacy. Nixon did not play by the rules.

The fateful break-in at the Watergate Hotel was about repairing a listening device that Nixon’s team had installed at the Democratic National Committee.

Nixon wanted to neutralize anyone he perceived as standing in his way politically. He was paranoid. His enemies list started with 20 names including the reporter, Daniel Schorr, and the actor, Paul Newman. According to John Dean, White House counsel, there was a second master enemies list of 576 people, many who were supporters of Senator George McGovern, Nixon’s 1972 presidential opponent.

Nixon had a plan to undermine his enemies by means of tax audits from the Internal Revenue Service. Misusing his executive power was part of his game plan.

With Nixon’s approval, Charles Colson, Nixon’s special counsel, assembled the Plumbers, an off-the-record black bag group, that operated directly out of the White House. The Plumbers included ex-CIA operative, Howard Hunt, and ex-FBI agent ,G. Gordon Liddy. They hired out a team of right wing Cuban exiles who had Bay of Pigs experience.

The crew, paid through a slush fund provided by the Committee to Re-Elect the President or CREEP, concocted a series of criminal plots, some of which got carried out. The Plumbers broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist looking for dirt. Ellsberg had been the leaker/whistleblower of the Pentagon Papers.

Nixon despised Ellsberg who he saw as a traitor and wanted to destroy him. There was a Colson-designed further plan, never accomplished, to physically maim or kill Ellsberg on the steps of the Capitol during a demonstration on May 3, 1972.

Other plans under consideration for the Plumbers were breaking into or bombing the Brookings Institute, kidnapping anti-war leaders so they could not disrupt the upcoming Republican National Convention and hiring prostitutes to create compromising situations for Democratic leaders like Ted Kennedy.

Former Watergate special prosecutor Nick Akerman has said that the moment prosecutors knew Nixon was done as president was when they had him on tape discussing slush fund payment to silence Howard Hunt and the other Plumbers.

Although taxes was a background part of Watergate, it must be pointed out that Nixon was a tax cheat. He shortchanged the government in paying his federal income taxes in 1970-1972. He falsely backdated a deed to get the benefit of a huge tax break on donating his presidential papers. A change in federal tax law would have prevented Nixon from taking a deduction for the donation. The fake backdated deed made him able to write off the value of his presidential papers against his taxes.

Ironically, Nixon also installed his taping system into the White House to create a tax haven for himself. The law said he could still donate to the government the value of tape recordings. Nixon had an appraiser who would put any number he wanted on the value of the tapes. Nixon saw it as a huge tax deduction for the rest of his life.

This act of greed, in which Nixon hoped to realize a fortune, was the cause of his undoing. The tapes came back to haunt him.

In comparing Nixon and Trump, I would begin with greed, a quality shared by both men. Nixon cheated on his taxes. The New York Times has reported on Trump’s tax fraud and evasion in the 1990’s. Trump still refuses to release his federal tax returns. He has also refused to place his financial assets in a blind trust, using his brand and his hotels to line his own pockets.

Both presidents have treated the presidency like a business opportunity, placing private over public interest.

Both presidents were surrounded by men convicted of criminal offenses. In Watergate, over 30 Nixon associates did jail time. Trump’s list is shorter, so far. Only Robert Mueller knows the degree of criminality, including the President’s. Laughably, both presidents advertised themselves as “law and order” candidates.

Both presidencies have featured a break-in. We know that the Trump campaign benefited from the Russian election intervention with its digital break-in. Again, only Mueller knows the extent of the collaboration but the timing of email releases by Guccifer 2.0 points to coordinated effort as does the Russian micro-targeting of specific voters in specific states.

Both presidents engaged in obstruction of justice. Nixon carried out the Saturday Night Massacre. Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, as he acknowledged, because of the Russia investigation and has threatened to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Mueller. Trump also revoked the security clearance of numerous possible witnesses in the Russia investigation. These witnesses include John Brennan, Sally Yates, and James Clapper.

Both presidents have demonstrated disdain for the law and hatred for the press and the First Amendment. After Watergate, Nixon did an interview with David Frost in which he said, “If the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”. There can be little doubt Trump shares the same view. He has tweeted that he has an absolute right to pardon himself.

Interestingly, Trump is on record admiring Nixon. Trump publicized a fawning letter Nixon wrote him back in 1987 praising Trump’s performance on the Donahue TV show. Whether Trump suffers a Nixonian fate, we will see.

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Harry T. Moore, Unknown Hero – posted 10/6/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/28/2018

October 6, 2018 6 comments

This article appeared in the Concord Monitor under the title “Harry T. Moore is a man worth remembering”.

History is an often surprising and unjust thing. Who gets remembered and for what can seem arbitrary and grossly unfair. What Toni Morrison calls “the master narrative” leaves so much out.

In American history, there are some genuine heroes who remain unknown to the general public. Harry T. Moore is such a person. Moore led the struggle for human rights and against racism long before the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. His story is untold.

If asked, I expect most Americans would cite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the first great civil rights leader of our modern era. That really is not true. From 1934 to 1951, Moore, who became the Florida coordinator for the NAACP, led the struggle for civil rights in the Deep South in an even more dangerous time than the 1960’s.

Moore and his wife Harriette gave their lives to the civil rights struggle. They were both murdered on Christmas Eve in 1951 in a crime that was never solved. Their home was bombed when they were asleep inside. The bomb had been placed directly under their bedroom.

The closest hospital that would treat African Americans was 30 miles away. By the time Moore’s neighbors brought him to the hospital, he was dead. His wife died the day after his funeral.

As typically happened back then when black people were murdered, no one was ever charged although there were investigations.

Part of the reason for the disappearance of Moore’s story is the fact that his murder happened in Florida. Moore’s murder flew in the face of the fairy tale narrative told by Florida’s boosters. Florida was the vacation paradise from Silver Springs with its glass bottom boats to Key West.

In fact, Florida was a hotbed of lynchings. Between 1921-1946, Florida had 61 lynchings. It was in Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia territory.

The Florida powers-that-be wanted to bury Moore’s story since it was seen as bad publicity and a disincentive for luring tourists and their money into the state. Disappearing Moore also removed the challenge to white supremacy that he represented.

Moore began his career as a school teacher. He lived in Mims, Florida, not that far from what became Cape Canaveral. He became the principal of the Mims Colored Elementary School. In 1934, he organized the Brevard County chapter of the NAACP.

As an NAACP member, he followed the progress of a lawsuit filed by Thurgood Marshall in Montgomery County, Maryland, Gibbs v. Board of Education, that challenged unequal teacher salaries. Marshall was successful in that lawsuit.

That success prompted Moore to write Marshall about teacher salaries in Florida. The disparity in teacher salaries between black and white teachers was enormous. By 1939-1940, the average salary was $1104 for whites and $574 for blacks. The NAACP filed suit in Florida and it took a dozen lawsuits over the next decade but the teacher salary battle in Florida was eventually won.

Moore launched his own investigations into the lynchings and mob violence that were occurring in Florida. Florida was the scene of the Claude Neal spectacle lynching in 1934 which became the most publicized lynching in American history. A mob barbarically tortured, hung and dismembered Neal before the remains of his body were attached to the rear of a car which then dragged him around the community.

The Neal lynching was not spontaneous. It was advertised and tickets were sold to it. Several thousand people gathered to witness the event. Afterwards, Neal’s fingers and toes were exhibited as souvenirs. Photos were taken and sold for 50 cents a piece.

Moore publicly threw himself into the investigation of multiple lynchings. He wrote the authorities and tried to pressure Florida’s governor to act when local police refused to investigate. He was especially motivated by a case in which a 16 year old young black man was killed after sending a white girl a Christmas card.

In 1945, Moore authored a pamphlet on lynching that criticized police brutality and implicated white sheriffs in murder. He later locked horns with the notorious Southern sheriff Willis McCall in the Groveland boys case.

To say Moore’s anti-lynching work in the rural south was dangerous does not begin to describe the risks he ran. The Klan targeted him and the Brevard County School Board fired him from his teaching job, a job he had held for 20 years. He regularly received death threats and he was often followed by unmarked cars. Although non-violent. Moore carried a .32 caliber pistol for self-defense.

Moore took on an increasingly active role with the NAACP. This history is described in a biography of Moore, Before his Time, written by Ben Green. In his organizing , Moore crisscrossed the back roads of Florida for 17 years often traveling at night to avoid detection. He travelled through small towns where no restaurants would serve him and no motels would house him. Many gas stations would not let him fill up his gas tank, empty his bladder or use the phone.

Moore built the NAACP in Florida from a few hundred members and 9 chapters in 1941 to 53 chapters and 10,000 members by 1945.

In addition to his anti-lynching work, Moore was also the Executive Secretary of the Progressive Voters League, an organization he co-founded in 1944. He launched a statewide voter registration drive at a time Florida made it extremely hard for Black voters to vote. Florida had used a poll tax to prevent African American voting.

The Progressive Voters League registered 100,000 new Black voters. By the time of his death, Moore’s organization had registered 31% of all eligible Black voters in Florida. That was a rate 50% higher than any other Southern state.

Moore became the most visible African American leader in Florida. In 1949, Florida’s governor agreed to meet with him about police brutality, protection of Black voters and job opportunities. This was the first time since Reconstruction that a Florida governor ever met with a Black delegation.

Moore died in 1951, three years before the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v Board of Education. Back then, there were no federal civil rights laws or federal marshals protecting him. There was no movement. Moore was on his own.

Clarence Rowe, the president of the Central Brevard County NAACP stated:

“He was walking into the lion’s den. To do what he did back then, when the Klan was operating free rein, was suicide. He knew he was dead from jump street.”

Maybe we need to redefine who qualifies as a genuine American hero. By standing up for civil rights so early and so bravely, by putting himself on the line, and by making the ultimate sacrifice, Harry Moore deserves to be honored – not neglected. His story deserves far greater attention than it has received.

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Revisiting the Japanese-American Internment – posted 9/28/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/27/2018

September 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided the travel ban case this last term, public discussion has compared the current situation with immigrant detention to the Japanese-American internment. Interestingly, in his majority opinion in the travel ban case, Chief Justice Roberts explicitly rejected a ruling from the 1940’s – Korematsu v. United States – that had allowed the government to place Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.

I think what happened to Japanese-Americans then still remains shrouded. Lip service has been paid to the essential wrongness of the internment and some reparations have been paid but the full story remains inadequately told.

In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, public officials and the press demanded the removal of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. The press featured paranoid hysteria, demonizing Japanese-Americans as enemy spies and saboteurs.

A Congressman from Los Angeles, Leland Ford, advocated that “all Japanese, whether citizens or not, be placed in inland concentration camps”.

Military leaders made wild, unsupported claims of sabotage and espionage. The lack of evidence for such crimes by Japanese-Americans was explained away by assertions about their “sneaky nature” and their secret inclination to bear allegiance to Japan. According to military leaders, “racial affinities” of Japanese-Americans predisposed them to disloyalty.

On February 19, 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and his subordinates to designate military zones ” from which any and all persons may be excluded”. General John L. DeWitt, the West Coast army commander, issued orders, backed by criminal penalties, emptying parts of California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona of Japanese-Americans.

The majority of nearly 130,000 Japanese-Americans living in the United States were forcibly relocated from their West Coast homes during the spring of 1942. Once the relocation order was issued, Japanese-Americans were given one week (in some cases, 48 hours) to register with the authorities, gather the possessions they could carry in their hands (usually one suitcase) and report for incarceration.

Out of dire necessity, many internees had to liquidate their assets in a few days, including selling their homes and businesses, at a staggering loss.

Japanese-Americans had to report to 16 “assembly centers” where they lived for months in racetrack barns or on fairgrounds. Those interned slept in stables, livestock stalls and in the open air. The largest site was Santa Anita Race Track in Los Angeles where those interned were moved into horse stalls.

Later, those interned were further removed to ten “relocation centers”. All the internment sites were rural and remote. Topaz in Utah, Minidoka in Idaho, Gila River and Poston in Arizona, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Amache in Colorado, Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas and Tule Lake and Manzanar in California were handpicked for isolation.

The internment camps were overcrowded and provided poor living conditions. Those interned were mostly housed in tarpaper-covered barracks of simple frame construction, without running water, plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind. People ate in huge barrack mess halls.

Barbed wire surrounded the camps. Snipers manned guard watchtowers with searchlights illuminating the camps. To call such places “relocation centers” is to miss the reality of punitive confinement.

Throughout the war, many interned Japanese-Americans tried to demonstrate their patriotism by enlisting in the U.S. armed forces. By 1943, the army recruited Japanese-Americans to join new all-Japanese units. Many thousands joined, mostly serving in Europe.

The exclusion orders were ultimately rescinded in December 1944 when it became clear Japan was losing the war. Still, even after Japan surrendered in 1945, the internment did not end. It was another whole year before the last internment camp closed.

Many former internees returned to their communities and attempted to rebuild their lives as hardworking and law-abiding citizens. 43,000 Japanese-Americans left the West Coast to try and start new lives in the East and Midwest. A large number returned to find their goods stolen and their properties sold.

It is now readily apparent that the Japanese-American internment resulted more from racism than from any national security concern posed by Japanese-Americans. It is telling that the 1940’s internment met with almost universal approval by the non-Japanese population. No explanation was ever offered as to why there was no internment of German or Italian-Americans.

Behind the internment lay decades of racism against Asian people of all nationalities. in the early 20th century, organizations like the Asiatic Exclusion League advocated to prevent immigration of people of Asian origin. In 1924, Congress completely shut off the flow of all Japanese immigration.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which apologized for the Japanese-American internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership”.

Now there is an effort afoot to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, the federal consent decree that has shaped detention standards for underage immigrants since 1997. Flores limits the detention of children to a 20 day maximum limit. Changes proposed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services could lead to the rapid expansion of detention facilities and much longer detention time for children. The new proposed changes do not set limits on the amount of time children could be held in detention.

It is not widely known but according to data from the government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, as of September 19, there were 13,312 immigrant children in federal custody. The number is substantially up from 2,400 children held in May 2017.

While there are certainly differences between the Japanese-American internment and our current situation with immigrants, we need to ask: is this a road we want to go down again?

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blog name change – posted 9/28/2018

September 29, 2018 Leave a comment

For those of you who were looking for my blog and could not find it, I wanted to let you know it was down for a while. I changed the name domain from jpbaird.com to jonathanpbaird.com Sorry for any inconvenience. Jon

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The Passing of Uri Avnery – posted 9/9/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/13/2018

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

On August 20, Uri Avnery, a visionary Israeli peace activist and the first prominent Israeli to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state, died in Tel Aviv, He was 94. Avnery had devoted his life both to the struggle for peace between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people and to Israel’s peaceful integration into the broader region.

Avnery died as an outlier in Israeli politics. He believed Israel needed to make concessions for peace, a view that is not currently widely held. As Israeli politics have shifted rightward and as the Orthodox parties have gained power, Avnery remained a peace advocate, an independent leftist, and a hardcore secularist.

People forget that israel was founded by very secular idealists like Avnery. Many of the Israeli Founders saw religion as a relic of the past and they opposed giving privileges to Jews over Arabs and all other ethnic groups.

Avnery’s life story is cinema-worthy. Born in Germany in 1923, his family fled the Nazis and moved to Palestine shortly after Hitler came to power. As a young boy, Avnery refused to give the Nazi salute at school. Although his family had been financially well-off in Germany, after the move to Palestine, Avnery grew up poor in Tel Aviv. He went to work very young.

At the age of 15, Avnery joined the Irgun (the National Military Organization), an armed underground Jewish group that was labelled “terrorist” by the British authorities. The Irgun fought both the British and the indigenous Palestinian population.

Avnery came to have misgivings about the Irgun’s approach to the Palestinians and he broke with them in 1941. It was the beginning of his estrangement from right wing israeli perspectives. By the early 1940’s, Avnery came to believe that Jews and Arabs had to share the common space on which they lived.

In 1948, Avnery fought in Israel’s War of Independence as part of the Givati Brigade, a branch of the Israel Defense Force. He was wounded twice in the war.

After the 1948 war, Avnery turned to journalism, which became a life-long pursuit. He bought a newspaper, HaOlam HaZeh or This World which was a muck-racking, anti-Establishment tabloid. The paper became famous in Israel for its irreverence and its sensationalist investigative reports. It exposed the 1956 Kafr Qassem massacre when Israeli border police shot dead 49 men, women and children who unwittingly broke a curfew.

In 1965, Avnery turned politician and he got elected to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. He served in the Knesset in two periods from 1965 to 1973 and later from 1977 to 1981. He was a member of the Left Camp of Israel, the Sheli party, in the Knesset.

In late 1975, he started an organization, the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace in which he argued that Israel should challenge the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, to make peace on the basis of Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in June 1967, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and carefully negotiated agreements to guarantee the security of Israel. He argued Jerusalem should be the capital of both states.

Avnery was attacked and stabbed twice after he took this peace initiative. However, that was not his greatest notoriety. He crossed front lines in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and met with Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader. He famously played chess with Arafat during the siege of Beirut.

After the meeting with Arafat, many in Israel denounced Avnery as a traitor. Avnery was the first Israeli to meet personally with Arafat. Unknown to Avnery, he was tracked by an Israeli intelligence team in Beirut. The Israeli intelligence team planned to assassinate Arafat even if it meant killing Avnery. However, the operation failed when the PLO managed to evade the Israeli team in the back alleys of Beirut. The Israelis never found Arafat’s hideout.

Avnery had been appalled by the 1982 massacre of 1,700 unarmed Palestinian and Lebanese Shiites in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. Israel’s allies, the Christian Lebanese Phalangist militia, committed the atrocities while the Israelis looked on and did not intervene. Both a UN and an Israeli Commission later investigated and found that Israeli military personnel were aware a massacre was occurring but failed to take steps to stop it.

The journalist, Robert Fisk, interviewed Avnery at the time and asked him how Holocaust survivors and their heirs could look on passively at mass murder. Avnery replied:

“I will tell you something about the Holocaust. It would be nice to believe that people who have undergone suffering have been purified by suffering. But it’s the opposite, it makes them worse. It corrupts. There is something in suffering that creates a kind of egoism. Herzog [the Israeli president at the time] was speaking at the site of the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen but he spoke only about the Jews. How could he not mention that others – many others – had suffered there? Sick people, when they are in pain, cannot speak about anyone but themselves. And when such monstrous things have happened to your people, you feel nothing can be compared to it. You get a moral “power of attorney”, a permit to do anything you want – because nothing can compare to what has happened to us. This is a moral immunity which is very clearly felt in Israel.”

In 1993, Avnery founded Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace movement. He opposed West Bank Jewish settlements as “landmines on the road to peace” and he also said “the main reason for setting up settlements is to prevent the two-state solution – the only peace solution there is”.

For the rest of his life, Avnery opposed israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank as well as its policies designed to make life in Gaza miserable. In one of his last articles, he disassociated himself from the Israeli army sharpshooters who were murdering unarmed Palestinian demonstrators near the Gaza border fence. He expressed shame and criticized the Israeli media for becoming a tool of the government. He wrote that if the late historian Barbara Tuchman were still alive, she could add a chapter to her book “The March of Folly” entitled “Eyeless in Gaza”.

Many readers may think that all American Jews support the actions of the Bibi Netanyahu government. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many American Jews who are utterly opposed to the corruption and racism of the Netanyahu government just as there are a number of Israelis like Avnery who are equally repelled.

While it seems unlikely now, I expect that israel will eventually see that uncompromising militarism is not the way to achieve peace. Avnery had the wisdom to see that genuine peace will require some compromises. His voice will be missed.

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Unsafe at Tackling Speed – posted 8/30/2018

August 31, 2018 1 comment

Football is back. Along with the NFL and college football is the running discussion about chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, the degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive hits.

While most of the CTE focus has been on NFL players, one other group has garnered attention. That group is children under age 12 who play tackle football.

New scientific information from Boston University School of Medicine shows that hits absorbed by young players are more damaging because their brains are not fully developed and because young brains are less capable of repairing themselves.

Children who get brain injuries before the age of 12 also seem to recover slower.

We have learned that playing youth football may lead to earlier onset of cognitive, behavioral, and mood symptoms in later life. The Boston University study shows that those who played tackle football before age 12 experienced symptoms 13 years earlier than those who started playing at age 12 or later.

Dr. Ann McKee, chief neuropathologist at the Boston VA Healthcare System and Director of Boston University’s CTE Center, commented:

“It’s as though the brain of these people who started playing early football was less resilient to pathology. It’s sort of like they have a weakened nervous system, and set you up for earlier onset of any of these disorders. That was a surprising finding.”

I do think there is a serious public health issue here. Over one million American children age 6 to 12 played tackle football in 2016. We know that the years before age 12 are critical for brain development. Just to refresh recollection, CTE’s early symptoms include: headaches, impulsive behavior, depression, suicidal ideation, irritability and short-term memory loss. Later, CTE leads to dementia, explosively aggressive behavior, paranoia, and impaired motor function.

Dr. McKee has recommended that children under age 14 should not play tackle football. Another leading sports injury neurologist, Dr. Robert Cantu, has recommended that kids under 14 only play flag football.

While I would acknowledge that playing youth tackle football has benefit as a form of exercise, can build character, camaraderie and a great feeling of collective accomplishment, it is difficult to escape the awareness that brain trauma is a particularly insidious injury. It is not like another broken body part. The injury is life-compromising.

Brett Favre, the now-retired Green Bay Packers quarterback and an iron man player with a streak of 297 consecutive starts, has stated:

” I got three grandsons. I’m not going to encourage them to play football, I’m not going to discourage them, but I would much rather be their caddy for them in golf than watch them play football.”

Nick Buoniconti, a Miami Dolphins Hall-of-Famer who also played for the Patriots, was quoted in the New York Times:

“I made a mistake starting tackle football at 9 years old. Now, CTE has taken my life away. Youth football is all risk with no reward.”

Buoniconti has a dementia diagnosis.

Favre and Buoniconti are not alone among NFL players in not wanting family members to play youth football. Among others, Zach Ertz, Adrian Peterson, Terry Bradshaw and Fran Tarkenton are all on record voicing a similar sentiment.

This past legislative session, five states introduced legislation that aimed to ban youth tackle football under age 12. The states were Illinois, Maryland, California, New York and New Jersey. None of the bills met with initial success but it was interesting to see the response of Pop Warner Football. They have limited contact in practice and they also eliminated kickoffs entirely.

Michael Wagner, the executive commissioner for Southern California Pop Warner Football, responded to the reform effort in his state:

“This is downright un-American. I think [for] the government to tell parents that they’re mistreating their children because they’re allowing them to play a sport…is an infringement on their freedoms.”

Pop Warner is facing a California-based class action lawsuit brought by the parents of two young men who were found to have suffered from CTE during post-mortem autopsies. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are arguing that Pop Warner failed to institute league-wide safety protocols and guidelines.

Whatever opinion one ultimately holds about football, I think discussion of tackle football for those under the age of 12 can be separated out as a distinct matter of public health. Just as we recognize the harm of lead poisoning to children, there is a strong case we need to prevent young athletes from experiencing repetitive head impacts.

The science is clear: youth tackle football is bad for the brain.

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My 1968 – posted 8/22/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/2/2018

August 23, 2018 2 comments

This piece was published in the Concord Monitor under the title “The Spirit of ’68”.

50th anniversaries prompt historical look backs. This year is the 50th anniversary of that watershed year, 1968. It still stands as a uniquely transformative year.

1968 is justly recognized as a year of radical rebellion internationally. I think of the events in Prague, Paris and Mexico City. Young people took it to the streets.

In May of that year, ten million workers joined students in a general strike that nearly brought down the French government.

Here in the United States, the war in Vietnam defined the backdrop to our lives. Maybe never before in American history was a war hated so much by so many. The military draft loomed large and young men faced critical decisions about participating in a war that lacked even paper thin rationale.

The war was daily body counts, the credibility gap, pictures of napalmed children, and “we had to destroy it in order to save it”. For people of my generation, Vietnam was defining, birthing a mass anti-war movement.

In January 1968 came the Tet Offensive, an illusion-shattering event. At the time there were over 540,000 American troops in Vietnam. Contrary to the predictions of American military commanders like General Westmoreland, Tet demonstrated that there would be no military victory for the U.S.. By February 1968, half the American public viewed the war as a mistake. Then in March came the My Lai Massacre where hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians were murdered by U.S. Army troops.

President Johnson withdrew from the presidential race shortly after facing a surprisingly competitive challenge in the New Hampshire primary by the anti-war insurgent, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. Then in March, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy joined the presidential race.

The war shook and shredded old world views. Previous certainties unravelled and new perspectives opened. The Movement, black liberation, and women’s liberation all emerged, along with the 1960’s counterculture.

I was 17, a senior in a private school just outside Philadelphia. Personally, it was a transition time as I prepared to leave high school and head to college in Hartford, Connecticut. I remember:

  • my sister Lisa and I putting a flower petal “Gene McCarthy for President” bumper sticker on the back of my dad’s convertible. We did not have to go “clean for Gene” because at that point we were pre-hippie radical.
  • hearing racist students at my high school applaud the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Anger in black communities erupted in over a hundred cities all across America.
  • listening to the unforgettable music. Bob Dylan had already released John Wesley Harding. 1968 meant Marvin Gaye singing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, Janis Joplin wailing on “A Piece of my Heart”, Jimi Hendrix doing “All Along the Watchtower” and Phil Ochs singing “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore”.
  • staying up late watching returns from the California primary and hearing the devastating news that Robert Kennedy had been assassinated.
  • the student occupation of buildings at Columbia University, freaks and straights, underground newspapers and Liberation News Service and R. Crumb
  • joining the Students for a Democratic Society (also known as SDS) chapter at my college and being given a list of books to read by another student that were not on any college syllabus. Some of the books on the list were: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Fanshen by William Hinton, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon and The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills.
  • marching across Hartford at night with my SDS chapter to demonstrate against the presidential candidacy of Richard Nixon who had a rally at the Hartford Armory shortly before the November 1968 election.

Most shocking that year was the Chicago Democratic Convention. I was not there but I watched the events unfold on television. It is often remembered for the police riot where Mayor Daley unleashed his police force to attack demonstrators and anyone with long hair.

While the attack on demonstrators was undeniably brutal, that does not explain why Chicago was such a breakaway political experience for so many young people. There was a deeper set of issues at play.

The Democratic primaries in 1968 featured the rivalry between Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy. Both candidates were anti-war and collectively they won an overwhelming majority of the Democratic popular vote during the primary season. After the withdrawal of President Johnson from the race and after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, the Democrats were thrown into total disarray.

The Party establishment responded by choosing Senator Hubert Humphrey to be the Democratic party standardbearer in the general election. Humphrey was Johnson’s Vice-President. Although he had a generally progressive record on civil rights and domestic policy, he was a supporter of Johnson’s hated Vietnam policies. As such, he was a wildly unpopular choice, especially among young people.

These events pushed a chunk of my generation leftward and raised fundamental questions not just about the war but about American society. Why were we in Vietnam anyway? And why were we as a society so unable to tackle poverty and racism? And also, given political realities, how did someone live a life of integrity?

After the summer of 1968, it was hard to see life in quite the same way. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew I wanted to connect it to the sixties movement for social change in some capacity. I think the uneasiness of this time was best captured in a little-known out-of-print book, A Name for Ourselves, written by once SDS President Paul Potter. Potter critiqued the hyper-individualism in American life and argued for a more communal and collaborative way of life.

1968 was high energy: an exciting, questioning activist time. While I have seen 1968 argued as having an ambiguous legacy, as we face extreme economic inequality, unprecedented corruption and venality, the climate crisis, the resurgence of white racism, and the tremendous threat to women’s reproductive rights, we could use some 1968-like spirit right now.

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