By Sam Burnham
While the mainland was either taking a knee or cussing about the people taking a knee, the people of Puerto Rico were running around int the dark try to find something to feed their kids.I was blindsided today by stories of American citizens sitting in a sweltering airport waiting on relief flights to arrive. They were too scared to go outside where it was noticeably cooler because they might miss out on the relief flight. There are also stories of people lined up at depleted gas stations, just waiting for a tanker to arrive to fill up the empty storage tanks. This is not some random third-world country were talking about. These are American citizens.
Without going into a major history lesson, Puerto Rico, like our federal government, is loaded down with debt. With a struggling economy and crumbling infrastructure, they weren't really ready for the lesser impact of the season's earlier storms. They we most definitely not ready for Maria.
But I read an article from the New York Times Monday night and it just slapped me. I was sitting there staring at all the things ABG stands for lying in crumbles on the ground in Puerto Rico. I knew it was rough. I knew the storm had hit them and their electrical grid was struggling. But when I saw this quote by Jose A. Rivera, a farmer in Puerto Rico, it hurt my heart, made me feel just terrible. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.” I'm sitting here looking at a Spanish-speaking version of South Georgia that has just been decimated in a matter of hours.
Puerto Rico has a four century history of agriculture. They industrialized after World War II, just like the rest of America. That industrial economy collapsed, just like the rest of America. But Puerto Ricans went back to the farms. They were having a bit of a farm-to-table renaissance and agriculture was becoming a way of life for many people once again. While the island still has to import 85% of its food, they were on a track to lessen that. If their food production allowed them to begin to sell that food (plantains, bananas, sugar, coffee, etc) to the mainland, it could help offset the cost of the food they have to have shipped in. This could become a major industry for the island.
But the storm leveled all the agriculture they had, Trees are gone and their produce with them. Even if they started back today, which they can't, they would still be months, perhaps years, from being back on the right track. They have got to get the storm and the destruction behind them so they can begin to rebuild. With their economy as it is, they can't do that alone. They are going to have to completely rebuild their electric and telecommunications grid. They are going to have to rebuild the majority of homes and businesses. Most of the island is starting from scratch.
The government is sending aid and that's great but 1) it's the government and 2) it's the government. So here are some handy-dandy links to reputable charities working on relief to Puerto Rico if you'd like to help these folks get some more help getting on their feet. I think they want to walk on their own, let's just help them stand back up:
United for Puerto Rico (led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico)
Hispanic Federation "Unidos"
Catholic Relief Services
Save the Children focuses relief on families with children
By Sam Burnham
The "Take a Knee" protest found its way to the top of our national conversation this past weekend. It is a highly contentious topic to be sure. But how did we arrive at this place in the conversation? The answer reaches back to the early 80's and is centered in old business grievances, lawsuits, and enough bad blood to cause a war. So just how did we find ourselves here?
This situation, in the form we know it right now, stemmed from the former San Francisco quarterback choosing to sit or kneel for the national anthem before football games. He claims he was protesting police brutality in the US. The actions drew both praise and criticism throughout the season as both sides of the argument.
It is not being widely communicated that at the time the protests began that Kaepernick had fallen to third string on the 49ers roster. There were never any similar actions from Kaepernick while he was still the starting quarterback in San Fran. The grievance appeared only after his demotion.
According to ESPN, after the hiring of John Lynch as the new general manager of the 49ers, Lynch met with Kaepernick and he was offered a contract with the team. In March, Kaepernick chose instead to opt for free agency. Lynch left the door open for Kaepernick and it was noted that the 49ers had no quarterbacks lined up at the time. Kaepernick stuck with his free agency decision and waited for offers from other teams. Those offers never came. The 49ers signed new quarterbacks and went on with their business. Kaepernick was now unemployed.
President Donald Trump
Enter President Donald Trump. Trump made the Kaepernick protests part of his campaign rhetoric, pointing to them as he pushed his patriotic and nationalistic message in a successful effort to woo middle American voters. Kaepernick fit into the villain narrative with "Crazy Bernie", "Little Marco", and "Crooked Hillary". The idea of a player disrespecting the flag and the anthem played well to his base. And it is a message that he kept after inauguration.
The president has an issue that few have been talking about and it is bordering on a conflict of interests. In 1982, Trump, and others, initiated a business that offered competition for the NFL. The United States Football League (USFL) was an attempt at a revolutionary idea in pro football. The games were played in the summer to not be in direct competition with the NFL or college football. They were aiming for fan dollars during the off season, hoping to build a fan base and make a run on the NFL as a serious competitor. The league attracted big name players like Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, and Doug Flutie, They also had some familiar faces in coaches such as Steve Spurrier, Jim Mora, and Pepper Rodgers. Trump was the owner of the New Jersey Generals and a major investor in the league.
But the NFL hates competition and the enterprise set off an all out feud between the leagues. The USFL would end in bankruptcy but that became a lawsuit that they technically won, but not in a manner that could save the fledgling league. The feud and lawsuit was such an issue with Trump that he dedicated an entire chapter to it in his much celebrated book, The Art of the Deal. Understanding the way that Trump lives by the feud, one cannot understate the truth that Trump is still at odds with the NFL and always will be. The NFL cost him A LOT of money.
The National Football League is the (then) non-profit organization that brought in $13 billion in revenues in 2015. It is also an entity that often slaps its employees on the wrist for domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other violent crimes. It has come under scrutiny of late for its efforts to keep a cover on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to concussions and other head injuries common in pro football. The NFL was basically forced into a $1 billion settlement with retirees over the illness but refused to accept any responsibility for the illness or the often tragic incidents, most notably suicide, that seem to plague those who suffer from it.
Needless to say, the league is no stranger to controversy, but they have become experts at handling it in ways that serve their bottom line and not much else.
The Players Who Protested Sunday
After Kaepernick, a few other players joined in, making their own types of protests. Multiple estimates say that as few as 5% on players had opted to sit or take a knee. The protests were noted, but were minimal until this past week.
So what happened?
Kaepernick has still been a constant presence in media. Early last week, NPR's On Point dedicated an entire hour to discussing Kaepernick and the idea that he had been "blackballed" by the league, but never mentioned the offer from the 49ers this past March. No one elese seems to be bringing that fact up either.
With all the talk of Kaepernick in the news as well as the failure of President Trump's pet policies on healthcare, immigration, tax reform, etc, to find any progress whatsoever, the president opted to try a diversion. He began tweeting about the sparse protests and the unemployed Kaepernick and stirring the pot for his base who are growing more agitated about his lack of policy success. If he slapped a recognizable villain with some rhetoric, folks might forget about the fact that Obamacare is still very much alive or that nary a single dime has been allocated for a border wall.
Feeling the insult from the president in such a public method, players were taking knees all over. Only one of the 53 Pittsburgh Steelers even showed up for the Anthem. Alejandro Villanueva, an Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star for Valor came out of the tunnel and stood for the anthem. But so many others chose to join the protest, indicating that this wasn't about police brutality, the anthem, or Kaepernick. This protest was about Trump and his statements and tweets.
So what we have is a businessman still seething over a failed venture that started five years before Kaepernick was even born, a quarterback upset about being dropped to third string launching a publicity stunt, a league that is trying to surf the controversy and keep raking in the tax-free cash, and a bunch of players who have (likely unknowingly) found themselves becoming pawns of a terrible fiasco.
And now the American people are arguing about it like any of it matters as much as $20 trillion in debt, Americans of all colors still coming home from war draped in our flag, the fact that no Americans in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands has a home or power or running water, or the fact that our government is failing us through all of this.
President Trump, Colin Kaepernick, and the NFL, don't take a knee. Take a bow. That was one impressive show y'all just put on.
By Sam Burnham
This isn't really the article I want to be writing. I mean I'm sitting here under a full head of hair that is holding strong and mostly refusing to turn gray. When a friend asked me what sort of color I use on it I laughed. He thought I'd spend money on something like that.
But the truth is, I'm looking at the screen though a new pair of glasses that have reading power built into them. They aren't bifocals per se, at least that's what I'm telling myself. But I also know that I used readers when wearing my anti-keratoconus contacts so I know I'm fooling myself and myself alone. But I'm ok with that as well.
And then my youngest son comes up to me and asks me if I've heard about that new sci-fi movie that's coming out. "It's called Blade Runner" he tells me. Yeah, I think I'm familiar.
My other two boys are in their rooms trying to beat the old DOS game Balance of Power that we played back in the 80's. They're a little shocked that we had technology like that way back then but at the same time are a little frustrated by the speed and ease of the game - or lack thereof. You know, from that old days.
The whole eyebrow check at the end of the haircut is a recent development as well.
I was invited to lunch at a retirement home the other day. About halfway through it I began to be concerned that they might not let me leave. Last week I received another lunch invite. It was from the new owners of a local funeral home. It would be rude to refuse so I'm hoping their back door is as strategic as the retirement home's.
So I guess I'm getting old but from all I can tell right now, it beats the alternative.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire