Category Archives: Unpublished Works

Red Meat for Red Voters, with a side of Rhetoric and Platitudes

The late April sun beat down on the little cadre of restless reporters and, for the first time in 2015, I felt the light tingle of subtle sunburn spread across my face. Some of us were pressed up against the bars of the fence surrounding the New Brunswick Counseling Center, hurriedly scribbling notes as we interviewed the handful of protesters that had been pushed out and gated off moments earlier. The large frame of the well-dressed man who had turned them away cast a shadow across our news cameras and the crowd of raucous demonstrators.

“Can I get your name,” I asked a protester after he agreed to be interviewed.

The Voiceless Black Man was not a welcome participant in the Christie press conference.
The Voiceless Black Man was not a welcome participant in the Christie press conference.

“Voiceless Black Man,” he answered, hanging on the wrought-iron fence as if it were the bars of a prison cell. His group had gathered to protest Governor Chris Christie’s decision to send some 150 N.J. State Troopers to help quell the unrest in Baltimore, which was set off by the death of Freddie Gray, a man who died in police custody after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury. (The next day, Christie extended the State Troopers detail beyond the original 72-hour period.)

“So, what brings you out here,” I asked. I was genuinely interested, but it wasn’t the reason I had come. Christie would soon be stepping out of the addiction treatment center, a depository of Methadone and Suboxone, to sign two bills regarding opioid-based painkiller addiction.

In truth, it seemed like the governor’s decision to send police to Maryland was just an excuse to reignite the Black Lives Matter protests in New Brunswick and keep the pressure on. Why not? After all, the marches that had been seen months earlier had resurged since the latest high profile killings, including one in South Jersey. The protester began his response calmly:

“The first part is holding the people who have the power to make change accountable for their power,” he said, giving a thoughtful glance downward before he continued. “Not doing anything is the same as doing something.”

Continue reading Red Meat for Red Voters, with a side of Rhetoric and Platitudes

In Defense of Mass Demonstrations

Courtesy nydailynews.com
Courtesy nydailynews.com

Mass protests continue to rage in cities across the U.S. after grand juries neglected to indict the police officers responsible for the killings of unarmed men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in Ferguson, MO and New York city, respectively. But it remains to be seen if the outrage and demands for justice and accountability will coalesce into something truly resembling a sustained social movement. The protests, which remain largely peaceful, have been rightfully focused on the extra-judicial killings of unarmed black men by police. But what if this issue, and many others that have surfaced recently in the American psyche, are symptomatic of a larger problem? An economic problem.

Poverty; the elephant in the room. Certainly race and poverty are closely interlinked. In a society where people of color have historically been marginalized time and again, at every turn, it makes sense that the poor will disproportionately be the non-whites. Therefore, wouldn’t it stand to reason that non-whites are also disproportionately victimized in a society which has left its poor behind? While the inherent racism in the structure of our society is a major factor, all who are excluded from the miniscule ranks of the extremely wealthy are at risk as the gap between poor and rich continues to widen. Injustice and exploitation are not simply racial issues. They are the manifestations of an unjust and vicious economic reality. They are human issues.

The utter impunity granted to police in these extrajudicial killings, only two of a myriad in 2014 alone, is symptomatic of a larger systemic problem. At a Dec. 4 summit of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, hosted in the unlikely choice of Monroe Township, a relatively affluent Middlesex County municipality known for its open space holdings and agricultural roots, speakers repeatedly cautioned that “poverty in a nation of plenty degrades everyone.” Georgian Court Professor Katsuri Dasgupta sought to hammer that idea home as she delivered a scathing critique of American society’s apparent inability or total unwillingness to address the structural underpinnings of poverty. Without true reforms to the institutions that perpetuate social inequality, she told the crowd of more than 200 attendees, even a tidal wave of government services, non-profit and grassroots efforts to eradicate poverty could only amount to spitting into the wind,

“The problem of poverty and inequality is ultimately a problem of insufficient jobs. Not just any jobs, but jobs that pay adequately so that people can live with dignity and their well-being intact. But the system of Capitalism is not in the business of providing jobs; at least, not the kind of jobs which allow people to realize their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not because Capitalism has necessarily failed, but because it simply cannot.

            … Capitalism is an economic system which has to continuously increase its profit margin if it is to survive; if it is to compete; if it is to drive its competitors out of market. Wages and salaries drain the profit margin more than anything. In its simple-minded drive to garner increasing levels of profit; finding cheap regions of labor, mechanizing work, diverting more and more capital to financial speculation; [Capitalism will do] anything that minimizes labor costs –and even eliminates the need for labor … But that leaves people and communities empty handed. People need work to survive; to flourish; to get ahead in life.” – Dasgupta, Dec. 4

Courtesy motherjones.com
Courtesy motherjones.com

According to a 2013 report from the non-partisan Pew Research Center, income inequality in the U.S. is at its highest levels since 1928, right before the stock market crash that lead to the Great Depression. Since the early 1970s, income has overwhelmingly gone to the top one percent of American earners. Shocking, I know. Well recently, Fortune reported that wealth inequality, or the actual value of all assets owned, is ten times worse than income inequality. Meanwhile, U.S. household debt has continued to increase, and national student debt easily sailed past the $1 trillion mark in 2013. It’s hardly a stretch to say that minorities have borne the brunt of this consolidation of wealth, but middle class Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds have suffered from this trend. And they stand to suffer more.

Continue reading In Defense of Mass Demonstrations

The Vultures are Still Circling the Skies Over Sayreville

Image Courtesy of http://www.gmchoops.com

Sayreville, NJ — Another night, another feeding frenzy. It was after the meeting, and the Board of Education had just upheld Superintendent Richard Labbe’s decision to suspend five football coaches, including the renowned and beloved head coach George Najjar.

The alleged hazing-ritual-turned-sexual-assault among players on the football team had already been ravaging the borough for weeks. Seven players had been charged and arrested during the course of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s investigation, and now the culpability of the coaching staff was unclear. Why had these indefinite suspensions, with pay, been handed down so suddenly? The board president had insisted that no discussion regarding the termination of their employment had taken place, but a unanimous decision to dock their annual stipends seemed to be an ill omen.

Labbe, for his part, was preparing to issue a short statement to the dozens of wild-eyed, frantic journalists that were now encircling him like a group of sharks, each one more desperate than the next to devour the prey. Giant camera lenses were thrust into the superintendent’s face from all angles and, even as he spoke, questions were thrown at him in rapid succession.

When he finished giving some innocuous statement – something like, “we will be beginning our investigation shortly” – a final question came from somewhere within the throng: “Will you comment on rumors that you were overheard celebrating the coaches’ suspensions behind closed doors?”

Labbe shook his head and began to back away. When the group lurched forward and a few cameramen broke ranks to follow him, he finally realized just what sort of grave danger he was in. He turned around entirely and looked as if he were prepared to sprint off in any direction, but in an instant he was surrounded. A few school officials managed to help shepherd him out into the parking lot, where he threw terse and ambiguous responses and ‘no comments’ to the oncoming horde.

Continue reading The Vultures are Still Circling the Skies Over Sayreville

Mediated: Edward Murrow, Joe McCarthy, and Bill O’Reilly

This week’s Mediated is dedicated to the life and memory of Professor Richard D. Heffner, an American broadcaster and public television pioneer.

Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow

This week is a throwback to the days when journalism was still journalism. Everybody who knows the name Edward R. Murrow knows that with it comes the notions of news with integrity and media prestige. Lately, though, I’ve been dwelling on an argument put forth by a guy named Gilbert Seldes. You see, usually when people look back at Murrow’s utter destruction of the crazed alcoholic, syphilitic Senator Joseph McCarthy they do so with fondness. It needed to be done; no self-respecting intellectual could stand by and watch him lead the HUAC crusade to eviscerate legions of folks over nothing more than suspicions of Communist leanings.

Senator Joseph McCarthy
Senator Joseph McCarthy

Especially not an intellectual with a stage like Murrow’s program See It Now. With the name of that program came credibility – people trusted it. So, when Murrow saw the authoritarian monster that McCarthy had become he decided to take action. The whole thing was dramatized in the movie Goodnight and Good Luck. It’s a good flick for those who haven’t seen it. After verbally tearing asunder all things McCarthy, Murrow offered the senator an equal half hour time period to rebut on a later evening. This was an offer which McCarthy naturally accepted. Unfortunately for the self-proclaimed Commie hunter, the damage was done and nothing McCarthy could say would ever combat the colossal newsman that was Murrow. Shortly after, McCarthy was censured by Congress, his power waned, he faded into the footnotes of history, and fucking died. Good for him, he was nothing short of slime.

But beyond the heroic veneer of Murrow’s actions lies a much more complex and disturbing legacy. This guy Seldes makes the compelling argument that Murrow opened a Pandora’s Box of sorts. Not that what he did was wrong (believe me, there are very few people out there who want McCarthy back) but that what he did marked the first time a major news program was used for pure political opinion. Not only that, but it was used to crush a senator who’s star was rapidly rising on the backdrop of anti-Communism. It was an eye-opener – the news can be used to effect politics! Who knew? Murrow himself expressed private reservations about the can of worms he was about to unleash on the world, but he ultimately reasoned that the danger of unabashed McCarthyism was more lethal than the idea of a politically charged media.

Murrow is rolling in his grave now.

Before he ran that broadcast the idea of a Bill O’Reilly would have been laughable. News analysis would probably have been ridiculed for what it is – opinionated garbage. At a time when editorial and objective reporting were staunchly separated, Murrow’s broadcast blurred the line between the two indefinitely. Now, every reporter is a pundit and we are all forced to listen to the unfiltered opinion of our own choosing when we turn on the news. Biased reports from private companies with proud agendas clog the airwaves, and those of us who are incapable or unwilling to look up the bare-boned facts settle in with whatever vicious “news” appeals to our opinions the most. You get to pick your poison, so at least ignorance really is bliss.  Murrow’s defeat of McCarthy sent us down a slippery slope, and waiting at the bottom was the bubbling puddle of noxious sludge that is modern mass media.

The bottom line is this: Journalism is not a weapon to wield but instead a vessel for factual information. “Spin” is a word used to simply dress up what is at heart a breach of journalistic ethics: distortion of the facts. In the instance of Murrow, no matter how popular or seemingly justified, his attack was just that; an attack is never a balanced or objective thing. While it is true that pure objectivity is a falsehood, as unachievable as perfection, a journalist (especially one with influence) should do his best to convey nothing but the basic facts. And where there is editorial it should be labeled as such. Nothing more and nothing less can satisfy the honor that comes with being called a journalist. For the right reasons, Murrow nudged the news onto the wrong trajectory. Today, media practices lie far from the straight and narrow path once traveled. However, as the ages of Yellow Journalism gave way to a sort of news enlightenment, perhaps we too can rectify the legacy of Murrow’s misguided well intentions. Perhaps, now that the media has been soiled, it is up to the viewer to determine the truth. The trouble is that there seems to be a lot of “truth” to choose from.

Choose wisely, friends.

Today I Almost Became a Racist: Las Vegas Sevens and the Samoan Triumph

Courtesy of flagspot.net

The cool February desert air seemed to penetrate my scarf and jacket combo. I looked more like a haggard New York City bum on Christmas Eve than a spectator at a rugby tournament, and I felt like one too.

It had been a long succession of days and nights in Las Vegas. A string of 24 hour periods in that town can leave even the most resilient in an exhausted, immobilized state. But even now, as I sat slumped on the bleachers feeling the sometimes-warm-sometimes-cool brush of the Nevadan sun, a content smile crept across my face.

The action on the field these past few days had been incredible. The one major let down had been the United States’ game against Canada. A conversion attempt from directly in front of the posts sailed wide and sealed the loss for the Americans. It was easy to feel small in that moment, surrounded by foreigners in a crowded stadium. It was an especially easy feeling sitting next to my comrade Dos, who was draped in a vertically inverted American flag.

True, it would be unfair to take the Americans pitiful record during their time as hosts of the HSBC 7’s World Series at face value. A match the first night against the bone crushing Samoans ended in narrow defeat by a mistaken U.S. grubber out of bounds just before full time.

And the previous day a close loss to surgical Fiji in a similar manner (it was a punt out of bounds this time) proved the U.S. could hang with the higher echelons. They could even win, were it not for lethal mental errors.

Lack of discipline; it was the same disease that plagued my club at Rutgers. All of the pieces were always there and we certainly had the talent to compete, but we just couldn’t execute. It seemed that plight of Rutgers was echoed on the national stage. God help American rugby.

“No, no. All in good time,” I thought. “Perhaps we could make a statement in Rio. A strong Olympic showing might ignite some more interest in the United States.”

Indeed, the Americans had turned some heads with their play. Unfortunately each game ended up with the Eagles as the butt of many accented jokes. It was as it should have been. Chants of “Rutgers Rugby!” even came out of our demoralized little group after a while. It was the manifestation of the pure agony one feels when faced with unrecognized potential.

Courtesy of flagartist.com

But now the Fijians were getting ready to take on Samoa in the 3rd Place match. As soon as the teams’ names popped up on the digital scoreboard, America became a distant memory. Samoan flags dominated the stadium. Massive crews of massive Samoans stomped and hollered in full throat as they waited for their ruggers to take the pitch.

When they did the place erupted even further.

“Christ,” I muttered under the Earth shattering roar, “we’re in fucking Samoa!”

For three days I had privately loathed the Samoan lot. I saw Samoans as brutish and over aggressive, ignorant and self absorbed. “Large and in charge,” a phrase Lauren had used when I was expressing my aversions, kept coming to mind. It was through only mere brushes with these people in the stadium and on the shuttle from the hotel that I developed this distaste, but it had been enough for me to make a fiery statement to my companions at dinner the night before.

“If I ever somehow stumble into the White House and find myself as president, we invade Samoa,” I said, slamming my fist on the table. “Forget all of that non-interventionism garbage! We invade Samoa!”

Continue reading Today I Almost Became a Racist: Las Vegas Sevens and the Samoan Triumph