All posts by Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Sears Closings

Brookins Head Shot*Sears recently announced that it would be closing somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 Sears and Kmart retail locations. This is the perfect example of the dark side of capitalism.

Sears has made poor strategic decisions over a number of years so in a sense this was inevitable. If the people who are in charge don’t do their job well, it is almost impossible for the rank and file of a company, and the company overall, to be successful. But this situation also highlights the way in which capitalism encourages the wrong kind of decision making.

The great thing about capitalism and the freedom of thought and decision making afforded people in our country is that with the right idea anyone can prosper. The origin of the Sears company is that they had the right idea: supplying people with tools they could not otherwise afford or get their hands on. Over the years this basic business model was expanded on until a Sears retail location today gives shoppers the ability to buy exercise equipment, get an eye or ear exam, take family photos, buy clothes, buy appliances, and of course tools. My local Sears even carries mattresses.

Sears basically ignored their core business to focus on expansion. Two things were working against Sears though. Other retailers were better at providing goods and services in the retail location form; the managers at Sears were picking the wrong stuff to diversify with (real estate for example).

My preferred economic system of socialism would not necessarily prevent the failure of Sears in this instance. But capitalism encourages the kind of decision making where an entity plays a game in which the odds are fixed against it. Normally Sears, the big company that it is, would benefit from stacked odds. But as we all found out with the real estate bubble of the last decade, no one has been in a no lose position with real estate in recent years. Capitalism fosters an environment where industries flourish under false pretenses and people feel they must become involved or get left behind. Sears fell victim to this mindset.

As I said socialism is not a panacea for this kind of point of view. But it does mitigate against the profit motive becoming too dominant while allowing for people with good ideas to prosper.

It could be that Sears is destined to fail; no business remains viable forever and over 100 years is a hell of a run. Nevertheless their downfall was hastened by their greed – the main ingredient in capitalism.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Next Wave of NBA Coaches?

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Most of the time sports are just about having fun. On any random Saturday there are a million basketball games, baseball games, soccer matches, races, etc. between friends and acquaintances that contribute absolutely nothing to society.

But sometimes sports mean everything. Sometimes sports are an ethnic group being allowed to participate at the professional level after a half century of exclusion; sometimes sports are the working class breaking the capital class’ stranglehold on wage negotiation; sometimes sports are a nation of people having a collective consciousness regarding a match seen as a proxy battle between nations. This season for the NBA sports become the stage upon which women will take another stride forward in American society as Becky Hammon coaches professional male basketball players.

On the one hand the San Antonio Spurs have a reputation as one of the smartest franchises in professional basketball. They have been on the forefront of advanced analytics; they have more international players on their roster than any other team; their coach has pioneered minutes limits for the main players. So their hiring of a female assistant coach could seem like just another smart move on their part and be brushed under the rug.

On the other hand it is a fact that Hammon will be the first female coach in major professional American sports. So her mere presence is noteworthy enough to warrant extra attention. Her ability to complete the tasks assigned to her will help determine if she keeps this job, but given the franchise’s track record it would seem talent evaluation in non-traditional forms is their specialty.

Hammon’s assistant coaching career could be the match that sparks the next wave of innovation and hirings throughout the league. Plenty of former NBA players coach in the WNBA because of their qualifications as astute basketball tacticians and winning pedigree. Hammon possesses the potential to flip the narrative in the other direction. This is not to say that women should be given jobs simply because they are women (although I wouldn’t be surprised if this does happen), but it is to say that men should stop getting these jobs simply because they are men. Too many coaches (assistant and head) in the NBA are recycled even when there is no history of winning or innovation.

Professional sports are probably the last section of society in which it is rare to see women leading men. Hammon is the first step to changing that fact.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Fantasy Sports

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Fantasy sports is both the greatest and the worst development in sports in the last 20 years.

On the one hand fantasy sports allows folks who follow a sport closely to compare players and argue greatness on a different level than the casual fan.

Statistics work well as tools in the fantasy sports universe which has led to the creation and adoption of new statistical categories that enhance the understanding of sports.

Everything I just wrote applies to more sophisticated fans. Unfortunately most people are casual fans of most sports. Most sports fans follow several teams but live and die with only one; sports are a year round phenomenon and most people do not have the desire or time to be 100% into a football team, basketball team, hockey team, and baseball team. (Notice I am only specifying the four major professional sports because they have fantasy sports attached to them, but the issue of time and devotion becomes even more exacerbated when college sports enter the discussion even if there aren’t fantasy leagues for “amateur” athletics.)

Back to the point. Casual fans are not on the same level of understanding that the devoted are. I recently learned of a fantasy baseball league in which the franchise owners are expected to follow minor league teams and know amateur draft prospects. I consider myself a casual baseball fan but know I would be in over my head in this league; I suspect most people would – unless you’re a devoted baseball fan.

My pet peeve regarding fantasy is that it allows casual fans to converse with devoted fans and those two groups are rarely talking the same language or having the same conversation. Casual baseball fans like myself have very little business attempting to argue the merits of Justin Verlander versus Clayton Kershaw using BABIP when I just got used to referring to WHIP. And if you don’t know what those acronyms stand for – that’s the point. Yet casual fans frequently use fantasy sports as their badge of authenticity even if they don’t know what they are talking about.

Beyond my personal annoyance things have become dangerous. Fantasy sports have developed into an industry. You can now risk real money based on your ability to pick winners in fantasy. This is a trap. People who previously would have just made a fool of themselves in an argument are not in jeopardy of losing their ability to pay their bills.

To be clear I am not blaming fantasy sports as being the problem, and I am ultimately in favor of allowing wagers on sports. But I am saying that some people are way ahead of the rest of us in understanding what makes some players valuable in a fantasy context and until that is understood lots of people will be throwing money away to folks with a superior skill set. In this way fantasy sports are being used as another avenue to part people from their money.

I wouldn’t play poker or bet sports with people who live in Las Vegas. They’re pros, I’m not. Right now fantasy sports is in a blind spot.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Arbitration

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Arbitration is the use of a disinterested third party to pass judgment on a dispute.

Every civil case in this country is an example of arbitration but it doesn’t only pertain to going to court; it can be used by two parties wishing to avoid the courtroom. More pertinent to this column is that it can be used by countries.

Arbitration would be a great solution to a great many of the issues between countries in conflict today. Recently I’ve commented on the Israel-Palestinian situation and the ISIS threat to the United States. I suspect that these are related issues but even if they aren’t separate arbitrations could clear up many of the problems.

Of course it isn’t a foolproof solution. Most countries find themselves in conflict because their interests bump up against another country’s interests. And usually neither country simply backs off from what they want. By agreeing to arbitration a country is admitting that they do not have the ability or desire to solve the problem on their own.

In addition, for arbitration to work depends on finding a third party that is theoretically disinterested that both countries can agree upon. Since the Cold War, the American perspective on other countries has been those aligned with us, those aligned against us, and those non-aligned. Only the first group would be trusted by our Cold War leadership and our current leadership follows the same logic. Most countries have the same outlook.

Another major problem with arbitration being the ultimate solution to international conflicts is that both parties have to agree to abide by the arbitration decision. But there is nothing really holding any country to such an agreement. Any country that is dissatisfied with an arbitration decision can simply choose to remain in conflict. This would essentially mean they continue with the status quo and would have lost nothing.

And yet despite these three roadblocks, it still seems to me that arbitration is a solution worth pursuing by the countries of the world. Furthermore each roadblock is not insurmountable.

The admission of a country that they would welcome help in resolving a dispute is not as self-deprecating as it sounds. This is the thought behind most alliances (militarily and politically) and the globalization of the world economy. National borders are not an illusion but they are very permeable. Countries already rely on each other for so much, that they would turn to one another for help in resolving conflict is common sense.

While I believe the Cold War definitely reshaped the world, it did not alter the basic truth that ambitious people run countries and those ambitious people are constantly trying to advance their interests. This has been true for all of history and yet arbitration has been used in the past. Somehow countries have been able to look beyond their own self interest and come to conclusions that are agreeable to both parties to the dispute. Finding a sufficiently disinterested third party is difficult but not impossible.

Countries who disregard the arbitration decision would risk their reputation in the international community. This is especially important in the current climate of globalization. Economic sanctions that are taken seriously and upheld by the countries of the world would have a crippling effect on the offending nation and act as a deterrent to disobeying the arbitration decision.

Arbitration may not be a miracle cure for all of the international conflicts. But it would be a good start.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Ultimate Irony

Trevor Brookins

*There is a very vocal group of conservatives in the United States that also openly avow their religious affiliation as Christian. And from the way they speak so confidently about the conservative principles and their religion you wouldn’t think there was a major contradiction. But there is.

The plain truth is that Jesus did not proclaim any political philosophy, but if he did it would’ve been communism.

I realize this is hard for most people to accept. But that is mainly because of Cold War politics and the way it twisted our understanding of communism. Let’s refresh. Most of us have been taught in school and socialized in general to believe that the economic system of capitalism is the equivalent of freedom, that capitalism is designed to ensure that all people can succeed; communism by contrast is an evil system that takes away individual freedoms and choices. In reality communism is an economic system (not a political system) based on sharing resources and the absence of private ownership; communism in theory is an economic system that arises once the people implement it.

Such perspective of capitalism and communism is typical in the United States because of position in the Cold War in which we opposed the Soviet Union for the second half of the 29th century. We have been taught to conflate the economic and political systems that the two countries used.

The United States employed the economic system of capitalism which in reality encourages that only a few will prosper. At the same time American politics has always been based on an inclusive citizenry that participated in the political process. The Soviet Union operated a pseudo-communist system but definitely under a totalitarian political setup – thus giving communism a bad name.

Jesus was someone who led a movement based on giving away a gift. Jesus instructs people to give away all they have. He confiscates lunches and redistributes the resources among the attending group. In short he embodied an individual giving away what he had for the benefit of others and encouraged his followers to do likewise.

Without the element of the Cold War and their bastardized version of communism we would be better able to accept communism and see its basis in Christianity.

The contradiction of conservatives in this country espousing capitalism while professing to be followers of Jesus and his teachings is ironic because I do not believe that most people doing this truly understand capitalism, politics, or Christianity. Most are merely following the economic, political, and religious traditions they were taught as children and surrounded by as adults.

The irony stops the situation from being tragic and ugly as if folks were engaging in the contradiction intentionally.

Still at some point the religious right must accept Jesus’ teachings or cease pretending to avow Christianity.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Why Socialism

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Every so often I rerun this column as sort of a mission statement. It explains the name of my column and my general perspective.

Socialism (as an alternative to pure capitalism) is a much more sustainable (creates tax payers), morally progressive (less exploitative), and legally advantageous stance for any government entity to assume.

At its core socialism as an economic system implements a higher tax structure which generates revenue for the government. This revenue is generally used to implement social programs to benefit the public. So why is this superior to economic conservatism?

Firstly the higher tax rates under socialism allow for profits but not exorbitant profits, so there is less of a motive of companies to exploit their labor force because the extra profits will not stay in the pocket of the owner. In this way socialism is more progressive and better; it is an economic philosophy that does not incentivize dehumanizing the labor force.

Secondly socialism rejects the ideas of social Darwinism that economic conservatives normally embrace. Economic conservatives typically assume that those who succeed in business do so because of their innate ability. The converse is also true, that those who are destitute are in that condition because they have nothing to offer society and need to fend for themselves. The problem with this assumption is that left to fend for themselves many of the economically destitute will resort to crime.

Socialists recognize the truth that those who are not assisted in pursuing success will become blight on society. Ergo, in creating social and economic programs, socialism is attempting to minimize future crime and by extension attempting to minimize the future legal costs of the government in costs for law enforcement and criminal prosecution. Those same programs not only attempt to prevent future crime but also create future productive members of society – future taxpayers in society.

Of course there is a limit to the amount of taxes that a government should implement. But such an acknowledgement is far from an anti-socialist sentiment. It is instead an admission that there are degrees to which socialist policies can and should be implemented. Of course certain infrastructural services should be performed by the state (fire departments for instance). But some non-essential programs can and should be funded by the state as well (sex education and family planning).

Essentially it is the difference between a society devoting revenue to protecting the haves from the have nots or devoting revenue to helping the have nots to become haves.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.