All posts by Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Politics vs. Religion

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*People who live in a certain school district are worried that their community is going to become overpopulated with folks who (in  their opinion) do not pay their fair share of taxes but sap resources from the federal state and local governments.

So far it seems pretty cut and dry; wouldn’t we all be worried if a group of people represented the threat of resources being taken away and not replenished. Within the past two weeks I’ve had conversations about this threat with two different couples who live in the community being threatened and each time I’ve felt uncomfortable afterwards because it seemed like I was exhibiting bias against a specific community.

Let me be more specific. In the past two weeks I’ve had conversations about Orthodox Jews moving into the Pine Bush school district. I’ve written about this situation before and it seems it has only become more tense since then.** Moreover the people of Pine Bush fear they can see their future when they look at the East Ramapo school district which is  grossly underfunded in part because of the Jewish population within its limits (I’ve written about this as well)** or the Kiryas Joel community which is fighting to have a pipeline built to augment their water supply. At the end of the day I concluded that I wasn’t being anti-Semitic and my critiques were justified.

Here is how I quieted by inner conscience.

First I concluded that there is a difference between criticizing a person or group of people for their politics and criticizing them for their religion. Religion is something that for many people is chosen for them by their parents. This is particularly true of the Orthodox communities in Rockland and Orange Counties in New York. There is little interaction between them and the community at large. I’ve been in the local park when my daughter tried to play with some Orthodox children and she was basically ignored. This isn’t to say that all Orthodox shun outsiders, but that their community is more insular than most. Politics by contrast is something that people generally choose for themselves. Certainly there is a degree of influence from one’s background, family and friends. But there are plenty of examples of people who grew up working class but who favor economic policies that lean conservative. I could say that these are the exceptions that prove the rule, but I think it is more common than that. At the end of the day it is more likely that a group of immigrant Latinos (generally a population that favors liberal policies) would have a conservative or two among them than a household in an Orthodox community has a reformed Jew living under that roof.

Secondly I concluded that history was a factor but not in the way that I initially thought. Nazi Germany famously committed genocide against Jewish people. So it is a sensitive topic when Jews get criticized simply on the basis of their religious background. In addition I’ve found that the existence of Orthodox communities in this part of New York is a direct result of the Holocaust. Survivors and their descendents came to the United States looking for a place to settle. Many chose New York City and then migrated further upstate when their communities grew. Everyone generally votes in their own self interest, but having experienced or having heard about the chain of events that led to the Holocaust these Orthodox Jews understandably have become an even stronger voting bloc in favor of policies that help their community.

I have no problem with them voting in their own interest. But then it only makes sense that others will vote in their self interest and if those two things don’t line up it is unfair to call the non-Jews anti-Semitic. Look back at this column and think to yourself if you felt funny about the group that perceived a threat before you knew that they perceived the threat from Orthodox Jews. I know for me that if I substitute any other group in for the Jews I don’t feel at all bad about my disagreement with what they want.

I still want every person or group of people to have the ability to settle wherever they would like. I still want every person or group of people to be able to pursue their American dream. I just don’t think that means I have to agree with everything a group wants.

**

For past columns on related topics you can use the eurweb search bar or click Pine Bush or East Ramapo.

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 trevormbrookins@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

 

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Rice Doctrine

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*“When America steps back and there is a vacuum, trouble will fill that vacuum.”

That remark from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a critique of President Obama’s (without explicitly naming him) foreign policy initiatives of withdrawing American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also a call to arms with regard to the situation between Russia and Ukraine. Rice is essentially hinting that the world will go to pieces without American leadership.

There are a few problems with this perspective. First it ignores events that could be viewed as troublesome that occurred during American leadership – some might even say as a result of American leadership. Second it creates an unrealistic standard. Third it ties American foreign policy to American narcissism.

It is debatable whether every action in international relations can and should be termed pro-American or anti-American; some events might be neutral. However Rice is under the impression that when America steps back, basically if we aren’t actively pushing for a pro-American outcome, then the result will necessarily be anti-American. There is merit to this way of thinking so I won’t dismiss it completely. But it is far from a certainty that every agreement between nations that we aren’t involved in is a step toward our destruction.

Assuming the perspective that every action is either pro or anti- American raises the stakes and makes it a reasonable conclusion that the United States must be ever present. In Rice’s words: that we must never “step back.”  This was of course the dominant perspective when Truman pledged that the United States would meet communist aggression everywhere in the world. The perspective and the commitment  to action creates an unrealistic standard of behavior. It is basically a commitment to be involved in every event in the world. This is obviously impossible. And it is equally impossible to allocate military resources to support the pro-American position in every interaction between countries. Rice said Obama’s policies were a result of tiredness and leaders cannot get tired. My counter: can they be realistic?

Furthermore if we understand trouble as something non-peaceful then Rice’s perspective ignores all of the troublesome things that have happened throughout history when the United States didn’t exist. What would the explanation of the Crusades or human sacrifice practiced by the Aztecs? Or once this country was established but was not a world power – what is the explanation for the wars of unification in Germany and Italy. It doesn’t make sense that the reason for all of these troubling events was that American didn’t step in; nor does it make sense that these events are inherently anti-American because we didn’t have a presence in them.

In addition once the United States was a world power it can be argued whether or not our presence ensured that trouble would be avoided or whether a pro-American policy will be adopted. Vietnam anyone? And telling me that we would have won the war handily but we didn’t let our military do what it was capable of only proves my point that an American presence guarantees nothing.

Lastly, while I love my country, it is the height of conceit to take the position that without the United States playing a large role in the affairs of other countries that the world cannot go on smoothly. Certainly our interests would not be promoted but it is hardly true that our interests mirror those of the world at large. On a smaller scale it is true that each of us must be involved in a number of interactions to feed ourselves and our families. We are correct in believing our involvement in transactions is necessary for our well being. But we are conceited in believing our involvement in transactions is necessary for the well being of society in general. On the contrary society will continue with or without our input. The same is true of the world without American involvement everywhere.

Recently Time magazine published an article about the dangers for women under the rule of the Taliban – a possible outcome of the United States leaving Afghanistan. I’m not sure our difference in philosophy from the Taliban on how a society ought be governed is enough to act in this instance.  And if we did act I’m not sure if we could ever totally eliminate the influence of the Taliban. And I a fairly sure that if we do act it will create more Taliban.

The Cold War is over. It is time to let its foreign policy die as well.

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 trevormbrookins@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Presidential Takeover

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*The expansion of presidential power is one of the issues that seems to change a person’s argument according to the party in the Oval Office. Democrats gripe when a Republican President exercises excess authority and vice versa.

But most people are really upset not by the fact that Presidents have more power than they did in former administrations. It’s really about how the opposing party utilizes that increased power. This is why Democrats complain about George W Bush initiating the Patriot Act but not about Obama’s extension of it.

Nevertheless I will review here two instances of the aspects of the expansion of Presidential authority.  One is a reasonable evolution of the office of the Presidency while the other has been a fundamental redefinition of the office and how it operates.

The late 19th century saw the country fully embrace industrialization and the expansion of business that followed. During this time period businesses engaged in questionable tactics in order to gain advantages over competitors. The ultimate result was the elimination of many small to medium sized businesses and the exploitation of consumers. Because this wave of industrialization involved national businesses and interstate commerce, this situation necessarily had to be addressed by the federal government.

To be sure the Progressive Era was about more than federal regulation but that was a major part because only the federal government has the authority to regulate national affairs. Therefore laws like the Interstate Commerce Act had to have the executive branch behind it. This is where presidential power reasonably increased. In fact there was no way to avoid furthering empowering the president if regulation of business was to take place.

On the other hand the 20th and 21st centuries have seen the trend of increasing leeway given to the President in military and national security matters. This is a problem. The Constitution unmistakably casts the president as someone who will execute the military and national security decisions of Congress.

Military conflicts against other nations used to require a declaration of war. Even when American troops were attacked (supposedly in United States territory) as they were to start the Mexican-American War, even when American profits were at risk as they were leading up to the Spanish-American War, even when the most powerful countries in Western civilization were fighting with world dominance at stake as it was during World War I, the President took his concerns to Congress and asked/demanded a declaration of war.

Yet since the beginning of the Cold War presidential dependency on Congress to authorize military action has gone out the window. Presidents have committed American troops to Vietnam, Grenada, Egypt, Chile and Iraq (twice) without waiting for approval from Congress all under the guise of national security. Assuming the threat from the Soviet Union was real during the Cold War still shouldn’t mean the President gets to single-handedly decide to risk American soldiers in theaters of war. But that threat essentially transformed our system of checks and balances into an absolute monarchy as far as military decisions are concerned.

On the one hand I can appreciate that no one but the current President has an idea of how dangerous a situation the country is in. I would imagine many presidents got their first national security briefing and immediately rethink their views on unilateral action. But the counter to this perspective is that terror is not new; threats to this country are not new; and freedom has never been free and somehow we avoided turning into a dictatorship.

The most problematic aspect of this development regarding the presidency is that the American public and Congress appear largely unable to distinguish supporting the troops from supporting bad decisions. When the President sends American soldiers somewhere, Congress has the option of approving paying for the mission. They could vote against it but consistently approve these military actions because the American public generally hang yellow ribbons and say “support the troops” without considering why those troops are being put in harm’s way.

The growth of the executive branch and Presidential authority was always going to happen as new national laws were created. That was unavoidable. But Congress ceding its military and foreign policy duties is and has always been far from inevitable and clearly not desirable.

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 trevormbrookins@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: A Revolution at Northwestern

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*The tide has turned. And not a second too soon.

The National Labor Relations Board has concluded that college football players at Northwestern University qualify as workers and are therefore eligible to form a union. With that decision, and the label of labor, comes the ability to bargain for better wages. But more importantly for these college athletes is the ability to bargain for better healthcare.

To be clear this isn’t the solution to the exploitation of college athletes that I expected or argued for. But it is a welcome change to the way things were.

There are those who will say that a free college education at any university, not to mention one like Northwestern, is enough compensation. Forgetting the fact that the free college education is not guaranteed and is undermined by their athletic commitments, to these people I say that the physical toll that football can take on one’s body and (as we have found out in recent years) one’s mind is should not be minimized. Of course players should be held responsible for their decision to play a violent sport, but that doesn’t absolve those in charge of those players from the responsibility of doing what they can to minimize risk and treat players for injuries sustained while at school.

Others will say that if they are workers they can get paid and every school cannot pay the same amount. This is true and one of the reasons I argued for popular players being able to profit from their name and likeness rather than a system in which schools pay players. Nevertheless if the inequality of school resources is the problem than “salary” caps are the answer. This is what professional football and basketball do when the franchise in New York has the ability to pay players much more than the franchise in Indianapolis. Salary caps even the playing field (so to speak) and allow for the quality of decision making to determine a franchise’s success rather than the size of a bank account. The same would be true at the collegiate level.

Furthermore if there needs to be a further grouping of schools along financial lines, I’m not crazy about the idea but, I also acknowledge that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. If certain schools had the ability, and wanted to, compete against only those schools with similarly large athletic budgets – no problem. We will all watch your games with great interest knowing we can get to know the future professionals that much better while they are in school. But we’ll also look forward to seeing how the future bankers and scientists of the country compete against one another on a different day. College is about preparing young people for life by giving them life experiences. The fact is that different schools focus on different things and allocate resources accordingly.

Some people will say that if college athletes are workers they can get paid and their compensation should be taxed. OK. Where’s the problem? It is easy enough to amend the tax code to include a shelter for the value of a college scholarship while allowing the actual wages of the athletes to be taxed as income.

Others will argue that the idea of taxing their income but not their scholarships seems complicated. And that the whole idea of compensating athletes seems complicated and not worth it. I agree that I have drawn a line in the sand to protect the athletes from being overtaxed. I also point out that the line had to be drawn somewhere and that it is a worthwhile endeavor to take on such a complicated situation. Not doing so is simply giving up because it would too hard – in other words: lazy. I have no doubt that there would be revisions and some degree of trial and error before settling on a system that is equally appealing and appalling to all involved. But the core of the matter is college football players generate a lot of wealth but do not partake of any it. That situation should be remedied even if it is complicated and will take some time and thought.

At the very least the guys at Northwestern should be able to go to the doctor in 10 years on the school’s dime. Because repeatedly colliding with other men at full speed is bound to have some long term effects, right?

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 trevormbrookins@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Athletic Scholarships

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Phil Everyguy* loved basketball. Throughout childhood he dreamed of playing in the NBA.

Phil knew that he would have to go to college first so he worked hard to improve. Earning a scholarship became the most important thing in his life. Finally he was offered a scholarship. Phil was excited; he had made it to the next level.

On the other hand Phil had put his faith in a person and institution that (in the best of circumstances) would be motivated to help him for the next 4-5 years. More likely the coach and institution are interested in Phil only as much as he can help win games and increase revenue.

One of the main problems with college athletics is that once Phil accepted the scholarship he was at the mercy of Coach Authority.

Athletic scholarships are one year agreements between a student and the university. Unfortunately college for most people is at least a four year process. So it is important and problematic that the school has the option to renew the scholarship agreement each year. This is generally at the discretion of Coach Authority so Phil has to make sure he conforms to what Coach wants or his ability to pay for (and stay in) school goes away.

The NCAA has standards regarding how many hours a team can practice but voluntary workouts are not part of these regulations. So when Coach Authority asks his players to attend early morning or late night conditioning sessions, Phil doesn’t have to go. But often there is a pressure to attend because not doing so puts his scholarship in jeopardy.

Many college athletes would like to attend class and really prepare for life after sports. Unfortunately an effort to take on a more challenging academic schedule requires that much more effort outside of class – time that could be spent in the weight room as Coach Authority suggested. Again there is  a conflict of interest that will be decided in favor of what Coach wants.

Even if Phil attends all of the voluntary and mandatory workouts, there is still no guarantee that the school will renew his scholarship because Coach Authority may have recruited better players at his position and need to offer those other players scholarships.

So what happens if Phil decides he wants to transfer schools to a place that is more sympathetic to players taking a tougher course load and players who want to do an internship instead of off season skill sessions? Coach Authority has the option of forcing Phil to sit out a year before being allowed to participate in basketball at his new school. This penalty makes it less likely that schools will want Phil to transfer because they need help winning games now.

When someone says that college athletics exploits the student athletes, the number one defense is that the athletes shouldn’t complain because they are getting a free education. But the structure of the scholarship agreement establishes that is part of the very exploitation and shows that the free college education is not a certainty.

On the other side of this equation is Coach Authority who is having his behavior forced to some degree. Coaches are demigods on college campuses; in many states the basketball coach is the highest paid state employee. And to maintain their status all coaches have to do is continue winning games. This leads to the coaches perpetuating the exploitation of the athletes because it is to their advantage to push their players to participate in voluntary activities. Players who do not participate are more likely to games lost. Based on their own self-interest then, coaches should jettison such players and give their scholarships to other players.

Another defense of the status quo is that it doesn’t affect the vast majority of players. In other words most players are more than happy to practice as much as possible, minimize their academic commitments, and aren’t looking to transfer. All of this may but true but it is ultimately irrelevant. The structure of collegiate athletic scholarships should be revamped because it lends itself to exploitation when it doesn’t have to. Plenty of regulations are established not because they are needed at that moment but because there is the potential for future problems (The Second Amendment is an example).

A four year scholarship structure can get coaches the same labor force but it would oblige them to make sure they work with a player to improve rather than giving up on him. Would coaches go for that?

*I hope you can tell these were made up names.

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 trevormbrookins@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: On Collegiate Athletic Conferences

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

 *I have gotten a number of emails from folks who believe I automatically jump to a conclusion based on race or ethnicity. Over the past few years I haven’t responded to any of these messages in my column.

I only do so here to assert that I do think about an issue for a good while before I write about it. I do approach things from a liberal perspective but that point of view doesn’t automatically determine what I will conclude. Read this week’s column and see if it makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know where my logic fails. Now for this week’s column.

There is a basic problem in college sports. The NCAA and conferences are not approaching things from the same direction. As a result member institutions are forced to have dual allegiances.

This problem becomes more apparent when the interests of the NCAA  does not align with the interests of a conference – like when the NCAA promotes the idea of amateur student athletes while the conference is strictly interested in having the best athletes.

The more recent, and much more problematic issue is conference realignment. Major athletic conferences were first created in the early part of the 20th century as an organizational tool. But as revenue grew more lucrative, conference realignment and conference recreation became the order of the day. This was a recurring theme throughout the second half of the 20th century as there was some form of conference realignment in each decade since the 1940s.

It’s worth noting that each time conference affiliation and structure changed it did so because of revenue issues. But at least early on conference leaders considered geography in creating conference structure. That is, the teams in the Pacific 12 Conference have historically presided in the Pacific or Mountain time zones. The 21st century versions of conference realignment completely ignore geography.

Changes in transportation have led to the ability of schools with major athletic teams to schedule and align with other similar schools thousands of miles away. These groupings are done in an effort to increase revenue. In this way conferences have done exactly what they are designed to do – namely get as many like minded schools together as is possible, host the most spectacular sporting events possible, and collect money. In fact conferences should be applauded for their efforts at realignment.

For football and basketball players at schools with major programs conference realignment is a positive. It allows for better competition which theoretically leads to better skills for the players, and it allows for wider exposure for the players; both of these are factors in whether an individual will have a chance to earn a living in professional sports.

Anyone who doesn’t share this view is guilty of applying the ideals of the NCAA, which is about student athletes and not usually about money, to athletic conferences. The expectation that conferences would behave with student athletes as their primary concern has always been unreasonable.

Because the NCAA is not primarily concerned with revenue it can take a broader view and provide solutions that benefit a larger number of schools. Also, because the NCAA is the main governing body of college athletics it can compel behavior by schools. SPOILER ALERT!!! Yes I am advocating for a central governing body to regulate an industry for the highest benefit to those in the industry. This is essentially how the NCAA destroyed the women’s AIAW national tournament and the men’s postseason NIT tournament. The NCAA basically forced teams to participate in the NCAA tournament and while it was probably a step backward initially, the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments are now worth billions of dollars combined.

Furthermore for athletes in the majority of intercollegiate sports, which do not generate revenue the way football and basketball do, geographically spread out conferences lead to less than peak athletic and less than peak academic performance. In addition, non-sensical conference affiliations are often a drain on athletic budgets. More specifically a school that must fly to play a football game across the country gets lots of revenue, exposure for its players, and exposure for the team and school to help recruit more players. When the bowling team takes the same trip, none of those positives are present.

This doesn’t mean that an NCAA determined conference structure would be perfect, but it would at least consider more than revenue streams.

College athletics has tried the deregulated model of conference structure. It’s gotten us to a place where the University of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri) is in the Southeastern Conference, Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) is in the Atlantic Coast Conference,  Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas) is in the American Athletic Conference with the University of Connecticut (Storrs, Connecticut), and Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska) is in the Big East.

If the NCAA can’t do better than that they should close shop.

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 trevormbrookins@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.