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Kareem Reacts to the News: DeSantis Is Child Trafficker?, NBA's Anthony Edwards' Apology, Rampant School Censorship, NFL Going Extinct?, "The Woman King," and More
My thoughts on the top--and not so top--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Today’s post is chock full of some major stories—and some that may not seem major but really are in terms of long-term impact on American culture. I try to look at a variety of topics that I think help shape the future of how we think and where we’re going as a country.
You may have noticed that I’m putting out Kareem Reacts to the News segments more frequently. That’s because the response from you has been so enthusiastic and encouraging.
Politics: New Species of Reptile Discovered in Florida Governor’s Mansion
Gov. Ron DeSantis Revealed to Be Serial Groomer and Human Trafficker
(I decided to write my own headline for this news story. Does it seem a bit sensationalist? Read on and you’ll see it’s rather mild considering the circumstances.)
“Dangerous” migrants that Gov. DeSantis lured into his metaphorical van.
Summary: Florida Flies 2 Planeloads of Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard (NYT): Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis sent about 50 undocumented migrants, including children, from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard to make a political point.
My Take: What would you call someone in clown make-up who pulls up in a black van, entices vulnerable people inside with candy, then transports them to use their bodies for his own sick purposes? DeSantis may not wear the makeup but he’s no less a predator clown who has exploited the bodies of the innocent for his pleasure, which in this case is political gain. A groomer? A kidnapper? A human trafficker?
Let’s break it down into basic facts:
DeSantis called Fox News to tell them of his ingenious plan, but gave no heads-up to any state or local officials in Massachusetts so they might be prepared to help the arriving migrants. He knew this tactic would cause even more hardship and confusion for the migrants, but he didn’t care. As long as he got his attaboys from his “official” news agency, Fox.
One migrant told the San Antonio Report that a woman named Perla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants to travel where more government support would be available to them, including jobs. (That’s the candy part of this con.)
Catherine Chen of the anti-trafficking charity Polaris noted the deception used to trick migrants, saying: “If migrants were defrauded, and if this fraud was intended as a vehicle for anyone’s material gain, including that of an elected official, then there is a case for investigating it as trafficking.”
Some of the migrants had immigration hearings within the week, which is now thousands of miles away. “I think this is all a ploy to get us to miss our court dates so we get in trouble with the law and they can deport us,” said one migrant.
The migrants aren’t from Florida, but rather from Texas! However, DeSantis reportedly used money from Florida’s $12 million relocation fund that specifically only applies to moving migrants “from this state.” Another crime.
This harmful disrespect for their humanity is the baseline for DeSantis’ brand of entitled conservatism. He offers no practical, specific solutions for how to address the situation, just name-calling and high-profile stunts that impress only the least knowledgable voters. What does it say about your leadership qualities that your main supporters are people looking to confirm their worst prejudices?
The only good part of this situation is how badly it backfired. Instead of hand-wringing anger, the residents of Martha’s Vineyard and Massachusetts responded with the kind of compassion and kindness that we associate with heartland America, a place that in DeSantis’ world only exists on the Hallmark Channel.
The migrants were housed in a church—expressing our cherished values of charity and love—given food, clothing, and medical treatment. They were then sent to a Cape Cod military base where they will have access to services including legal, health care, food, hygiene kits, and crisis counseling. In refreshing contrast to DeSantis, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has promised humanitarian support for the migrants.
Republicans like DeSantis are running scared after their self-righteous anti-abortion laws have mobilized much of America against them. Facing mid-term elections, they need to scare voters back to their side with a bogeyman who doesn’t look like them. But the reality is that there is no such thing as an “open” border as they often claim. About 20,000 Border Patrol agents secure the border. Under Title 42, President Trump expelled 400,000 people in nine months while President Biden has expelled 1.7 million in 18 months.
DeSantis’ scorched-earth march to the White House has trampled the rights of every marginalized group in America while protecting White males, preferably rich ones. It’s difficult to say who is worse, the immoral political hack DeSantis—or the irresponsible, un-American people who support him. Why do we continue to elect people with high aggression but low intelligence, high volume but low morality?
Good Vibrations: Some People Do Good Just Because They Can
Summary: Yvon Chouinard, 83, the founder of the Outdoor clothing company Patagonia, has given away his $3 billion company in order help financially support work to improve the global environment. The family received no tax benefits for this transaction.
My Take: I’m in awe. And that takes a lot to achieve at my age. Of course, the first thing most people wonder is what’s the catch? Where has he hidden his fortune? Unfortunately, our cynicism has been earned over the years as we’ve seen large corporations bragging about their community contributions with one hand, while continuing to pick the public’s pocket with the other hand.
For example, compare Chouinard’s gesture with that of Barre Seid, a Republican donor, who recently gave away his company for philanthropic and political causes. However, Seid’s $1.6 billion gift, possibly the largest political donation in history, reportedly will give him a huge personal tax benefit. Ray D. Madoff, a professor of tax law at Boston College who is the director of the school’s Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good, said, “These actions by the super wealthy are actually costing the American taxpayers to support the political spending of the wealthiest Americans.” Seid’s gift is meant to to fund conservative causes, including efforts to stop action on climate change. How ignoble.
Mr. Chouinard’s actions cheered me up and renewed my faith in altruism, as I hope it does for you.
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Sports: This Again?
Yup, you should be ashamed.
Summary: Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards apologized for a video he posted on Instagram—since removed—in which he made anti-LGBTQ+ comments. He has since apologized, tweeting: “What I said was immature, hurtful, and disrespectful, and I’m incredibly sorry. It’s unacceptable for me or anyone to use that language in such a hurtful way, there’s no excuse for it, at all. I was raised better than that!”
The Timberwolves also expressed their disapproval: “We are disappointed in the language and actions Anthony Edwards displayed on social media. The Timberwolves are committed to being an inclusive and welcoming organization for all and apologize for the offense this has caused to so many.”
My Take: Another athlete, another anti-gay slur. Last year, Kevin Durant was fined $50,000 fine for using “offensive and derogatory language on social media” after texting messages that included threatening language and anti-gay and misogynistic slurs. He also apologized.
It would be easy to dismiss Edwards’ immaturity—he’s only 21—if not for the fact that we’ve seen so many cases of famous athletes and owners in the news spouting racism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. This damages sports in general and their teams specifically, and revives the old stereotype of the dumb, bullying jock.
But more important, it perpetuates prejudice against a group and that prejudice often leads to restricting rights and to violence. I don’t think an apology—however heartfelt—is enough. Edwards needs to repair the damage with some voluntary community service with LGBTQ+ organizations, particularly youth groups, to show his support. If he can’t do that much to undo the harm he’s caused, then his apology is meaningless.
Education: Why We Want Dumber Children
“A Lot More Censorship Is Coming to a School Near You” (Daily Beast)
Notice how the top row consists of books by People of Color.
Summary: This opinion piece by Jeremy C. Young details the nationwide attempt by conservative legislatures to restrict what students learn in K-12 schools. The restrictions generally apply to information about race, gender, sexuality, and U.S. history—for now. And they have been shockingly successful: “By the year’s end, 54 bills had been filed in 22 states, of which 12 became law.”
Young proves that it’s only going to get worse: “My organization, PEN America, recently released a report on educational gag orders in the 2022 state legislative sessions. Since the start of this year, we’ve tracked a total of 137 educational gag order bills introduced in 36 different states. The number of bills has increased 250 percent compared to 2021. And the bills have tended to be more punitive, to target more types of educational institutions, and to restrict a wider array of speech.”
My Take: Education is a major priority for me. My Skyhook Foundation exists to help students learn more about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). For me, the greatest existential threat to America as a democracy is the systemic undermining of education in order to hammer conservative social and political propaganda into the pliable minds of our children. I realize that many parents believe it’s just the opposite: that schools are currently shoving liberal agendas down the throats of their children. But this is not a case of agreeing to disagree. If those parents had a better education in logical fallacies, they’d realize they are wrong.
It’s pretty clear that the main motivation parents have in restricting knowledge—and critical thinking—from their children is the fear that when their kids think for themselves, apart from any brainwashing from the family, church, and community, they may form values of their own that conflict with those of the parents. These parents don’t want their children thinking with any depth, just enough to get a well-paying job and agree with them at Thanksgiving dinner. That’s just bad parenting.
Note that I said the crucial element is teaching critical thinking, which is about learning how to research evidence, weigh its veracity, find the flaws in logic, and then reach a reasoned conclusion. It doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t dissuade their child from joining a cult or getting a mullet. It’s worth noting that many of the states that are trying to restrict learning in schools also have the poorest ranking for education. That cycle has to be broken, not encouraged.
Sports: Is Football Heading Toward Extinction?
“NFL season is here but I won’t be following anymore. I can’t un-see the harm it causes” (The Guardian)
For many football players, the pain lasts a lifetime.
Summary: The author, Daniel Sailofsky, is a sociologist who studies violence, gender and labor in sports—and huge sports fan. Despite knowing about the deadly effects of concussions and the troubling statistics of players’ violence against women, he continued being a fan. That recently ended: “I hit my breaking point last summer. Researching concussions in football, and specifically the lengths the NFL has gone to obfuscate the clear link between the sport, chronic traumatic encephalothapy (CTE), and violence, early dementia, and death among its players, I decided I can’t continue to watch.”
My Take: I remember being stunned by an article back in 2016, “Top 12 NFL Players Who Wouldn't Let Their Kids Play Football.” Some of the players just cautioned against letting kids play too early, but others were more adamant, like Terry Bradshaw, who said, “If I had a son today, and I would say this to all our audience and our viewers out there, I would not let him play football.”
I like football. Part of the appeal is how rugged and physically challenging it is. But I have to admit, my enthusiasm has waned these past few years as I’ve learned more about the horrific long-term effects on players, some of whom have degenerated into suicide, dementia, and violence against others. Add to that the NFL’s dubious treatment of its Black players and coaches, its forgiving nature when it comes to atrocities committed by high-profile players like Deshaun Watson. The league does not have a believable commitment to perpetuating values that we would want our children to emulate.
Having said that, The New York Times reports, “Television viewership for the N.F.L. last season was its strongest in six years, even as most television programming around it craters in popularity. Last year television networks committed about $110 billion for the rights to show the N.F.L. for the next decade, ensuring its financial success no matter what happens with viewership around the edges. The league is on track to meet Commissioner Roger Goodell’s goal of earning $25 billion in revenue annually in 2027.”
But all is not rosy. A survey this year showed that half of Americans don’t think tackle football is an “appropriate sport for kids to play.” This could lead to a shortage of not just fans who grow up more interested in other sports, but fewer players willing to risk their health. In recent years, more top-tier players have been retiring earlier to protect their health.
Naturally, there is backlash because none of us wants to see lost beloved symbols of our childhood or things we bonded with others over. Remember a couple months ago the outrage over the discontinuation of Choco Taco? But things change, often for the good. Think smart phones.
I’m torn. Like the other 17.3 million Americans who watch the NFL games, I want the action, the danger, the triumph of one agile person darting past over a ton of human muscle trying to stop them. But I also don’t want to enable a sport that has such dire consequences for the people I’m rooting for. The famous study of CTE which examined the brains of former players found CTE in 99% of former NFL players.
I don’t have an answer, nor have I made a decision. But the closing words of Sailofsky’s article have me thinking: “I can’t un-see the harm football causes, and my own tacit support of this harm. So until there are drastic changes in the sport and its systems, I’m out. I hope I’m not waiting the rest of my life.”
Movies: Movies Aren’t History—Thank Goodness
Summary: Based on a true story, The Woman King depicts a group of women warriors, the Agojie, in 1823 Africa trying to protect their kingdom from destruction by African and European slavers. Leonard Wantchekon, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, is the author of a book detailing the biographies of more than 50 of the Agojie and a historical advisor on the film. The article details what facts the film got right and some of the facts that were left out or changed.
My Take: First, I want to talk about the movie, then I want to talk about the backlash against the movie.
The Woman King portrays an African community that is not the romanticized Wakanda. The Dahomey at the core of the movie are slave traders, selling other Black Africans to White slave traders. For the sake of having conflict, suspense, and people we can root for, the Dahomey want to get out of the slave trade because it’s evil. Other Black tribes don’t want to, which brings them to battle.
But that’s not what the heart of the movie is about. Its focus is on the women warriors led by a very fierce Viola Davis and their tribe within the tribe that empowers and protects women so they can reach their full potential. That passion provides much of the movie’s power and impact. It’s an impressive statement to see a middle-aged Davis as a warrior looking formidable without having been buffed to muscular perfection like Charlize Theron (The Old Guard, Mad Max: Fury Road) or Linda Hamilton (Terminator 2).
The battle scenes are brutal and exciting. The scene where the recruits have to prove themselves in a final contest is excruciating and amazing (and accurate). It’s also thrilling to watch an action movie with a cast that is 95% Black for a change. And is set in historical Africa.
Now, to the backlash, which is important because it’s really not about the movie, though it pretends to be. Some critics note that there are historical inaccuracies, that the Dahomey were worse than portrayed, that the Agojie were not as revered as suggested. So what? If you really want a history lesson, spend the 2 hour and 14 minutes running time reading up on the tribe.
Fictional movies are not history—not ever. If they were, no one would go see them. They are history-lite. That’s why we have documentaries. The demands of telling a story assure that facts will be altered and eliminated in order to look at the bigger picture. Non-fiction gives facts; fiction gives truths. The facts are that the Dahomey were enthusiastic slave traders; the truth is that Black people must unite against being exploited by others, that women can find their significant power when the opportunity is there. It is a sad irony that the male trolls don’t see that they are making the movie’s point.
Much of the criticism comes from men who seem threatened by the portrayal of tough women who don’t need men. Others worry that the movie glorifies slave traders as heroes. Technically, they are right. But there’s more nuance than that simplistic view. The story is about coming to a realization that by exploiting others, they are allowing themselves to be exploited. That is a lesson as important today as it was then: No one’s free unless everyone’s free.
Now, that was a newsletter! I ranted, I raved, I accused, I supported, I sprained a finger wagging it in disapproval. You can help heal my finger by SUBSCRIBING and also by SHARING so we reach others who might like to join our Kareem community.