Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 21, 2009

MLB’s Profitable Patriotism

Cynical marketing campaigns seem to be on the upswing in American sports. Back in March, I noted that the National Basketball Association had created more waste during its “Green Week,” producing a line of one-time-use jerseys, warm-ups, and basketballs that had everything to do with the NBA’s bottom line, and nothing to do with the environment.  Well, Major League Baseball is prepared to do something worse: for Memorial Day, it is outfitting all 30 teams with bright red “stars and stripes” caps as part of its “Welcome Back Veterans” program.  In so doing, MLB has actually tucked three insults into one.

First, and most trivially, there’s the aesthetic insult.  Check out these caps: they are ugly – actually, they might be the ugliest baseball caps to ever grace a baseball diamond.  (For the enthusiasts out there, yes, they’re definitely uglier than this, this, or this).  And, since all 30 teams must wear them, teams without red in their color schemes will suffer in particular.  In this vein, imagine this red cap with the San Diego Padres’ infamous sand-colored road uniform, or this cap with the Colorado Rockies’ purple-pinstriped jerseys.  Yikes.

Second, these caps insult the flag.  Indeed, the symbolism of Old Glory – freedom, liberty, and democracy – becomes cheapened when the stars and stripes are super-imposed in a Pittsburgh Pirates logo.  And that’s nothing against the Pirates – it’s just that a promotion intended to honor American veterans does quite the opposite when it callously re-brands the flag these brave men and women risked their lives defending.

Third, this promotion cynically uses our support for the troops as a vehicle for yet another MLB merchandising blitz.  In this vein, the $36.99 (!) red “stars and stripes” caps are the third post-9/11 iteration of “patriotic” MLB caps, succeeding the original flag-stitched cap and last year’s blue “stars and stripes” cap.  MLB is also offering a full line of $19.99 “stars and stripes” t-shirts and $119.99 (!) patriotic “fashion” jerseys.

Granted, MLB deserves some credit for donating the proceeds from the sale of the “stars and stripes” caps to charity (though an MLB spokesperson couldn’t say whether this included teams’ licensing profits).  However, the beneficiary charity is MLB’s own Welcome Back Veterans, which – naturally – puts the MLB logo front and center and, astoundingly, hasn’t updated its website in over two months.  Indeed, if the point is to help and honor veterans – and not simply push MLB’s branding into yet another frontier – why not give the proceeds to a more recognizable organization, such as VFW or the USO?  (The MLB spokesperson bristled at this question.)

Make no mistake: I am pleased that veterans will be honored on Memorial Day at ballparks across the country, and think that MLB has generally done a good job of sustaining a patriotic atmosphere at baseball games.  If anything, I fear that MLB’s latest “Welcome Back Veterans” event threatens the authenticity of this atmosphere by commercializing our support for the troops.  My advice: go back to the classy flag-stitched baseball caps; sell actual U.S. flags on national holidays and donate the proceeds to VFW; and, particularly on Memorial Day, let MLB donate $1 for every ticket sold to veterans.  In short, put veterans – and not MLB – front and center.

Cynical marketing campaigns seem to be on the upswing in American sports. Back in March, I noted that the National Basketball Association had created more waste during its “Green Week,” producing a line of one-time-use jerseys, warm-ups, and basketballs that had everything to do with the NBA’s bottom line, and nothing to do with the environment.  Well, Major League Baseball is prepared to do something worse: for Memorial Day, it is outfitting all 30 teams with bright red “stars and stripes” caps as part of its “Welcome Back Veterans” program.  In so doing, MLB has actually tucked three insults into one.

First, and most trivially, there’s the aesthetic insult.  Check out these caps: they are ugly – actually, they might be the ugliest baseball caps to ever grace a baseball diamond.  (For the enthusiasts out there, yes, they’re definitely uglier than this, this, or this).  And, since all 30 teams must wear them, teams without red in their color schemes will suffer in particular.  In this vein, imagine this red cap with the San Diego Padres’ infamous sand-colored road uniform, or this cap with the Colorado Rockies’ purple-pinstriped jerseys.  Yikes.

Second, these caps insult the flag.  Indeed, the symbolism of Old Glory – freedom, liberty, and democracy – becomes cheapened when the stars and stripes are super-imposed in a Pittsburgh Pirates logo.  And that’s nothing against the Pirates – it’s just that a promotion intended to honor American veterans does quite the opposite when it callously re-brands the flag these brave men and women risked their lives defending.

Third, this promotion cynically uses our support for the troops as a vehicle for yet another MLB merchandising blitz.  In this vein, the $36.99 (!) red “stars and stripes” caps are the third post-9/11 iteration of “patriotic” MLB caps, succeeding the original flag-stitched cap and last year’s blue “stars and stripes” cap.  MLB is also offering a full line of $19.99 “stars and stripes” t-shirts and $119.99 (!) patriotic “fashion” jerseys.

Granted, MLB deserves some credit for donating the proceeds from the sale of the “stars and stripes” caps to charity (though an MLB spokesperson couldn’t say whether this included teams’ licensing profits).  However, the beneficiary charity is MLB’s own Welcome Back Veterans, which – naturally – puts the MLB logo front and center and, astoundingly, hasn’t updated its website in over two months.  Indeed, if the point is to help and honor veterans – and not simply push MLB’s branding into yet another frontier – why not give the proceeds to a more recognizable organization, such as VFW or the USO?  (The MLB spokesperson bristled at this question.)

Make no mistake: I am pleased that veterans will be honored on Memorial Day at ballparks across the country, and think that MLB has generally done a good job of sustaining a patriotic atmosphere at baseball games.  If anything, I fear that MLB’s latest “Welcome Back Veterans” event threatens the authenticity of this atmosphere by commercializing our support for the troops.  My advice: go back to the classy flag-stitched baseball caps; sell actual U.S. flags on national holidays and donate the proceeds to VFW; and, particularly on Memorial Day, let MLB donate $1 for every ticket sold to veterans.  In short, put veterans – and not MLB – front and center.

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How’d We Get Here?

After the spectacularly disastrous display yesterday of indecision and incoherence on Guantanamo it is worth reviewing how we, or the Obama administration, got into this mess in the first place. It started as an in-your-face, anti-Bush campaign stunt: Bush is evil and Bush put detainees in Guantanamo, so hope and change means Obama closes Guantanamo. It is fundamentally childish and superficial but that’s the nub of it.

Oh, we’ve damaged our reputation, we were told, and now have to impress our European friends, who by the way show no inclination to change their behavior (e.g. kick in more troops in Afghanistan, expend more on their own defenses, get serious with Iran) regardless of the  status of Guantanamo. But the administration rationalized that since we are doing this to impress the Europeans maybe they’ll take some of the detainees. Make sense? No, not really since it’s not clear they’d be all that impressed or that they’d incur the wrath of their own public just so Obama will look better.

And that’s where it all went off the tracks.  As Michael Crowley writes:

As a former top Bush administration official told me today for a related print story, if the U.S. Congress refuses to accept a single Gitmo detainee on American soil, even in a Supermax prison, how are we supposed to convince our European allies to do the same thing? If the detainees are harmless we should take some. If they’re terrifying then what rational government would?

Well that’s right, especially because the premise that the Europeans deeply care about this is dubious at best. Oh, but what of the Arab states? They will think so much better of us and shower us with diplomatic favors. Let me get this straight: in Cairo and Tehran they whisper to one another, “If only those Americans would respect international norms of conduct and apply Constitutional principles never before extended to wartime detainees then we’d.. . ” It’s hard to even take it seriously.

In the end this is all about the moral preening of the Obama team who convinced themselves they could both disparage their political adversaries and bolster their own credentials through an ill-conceived publicity stunt. But that’s the difference between campaigning and governing. When you get around to governing a scheme as hair-brained as this is unsustainable. Soon enough we realize that whatever reasons Obama might have for shuttering Guantanamo pale in comparison to the logistical, security, and political problems the closing would create.

Now, he’ll have to figure his way out of this. Or move on to a string of domestic issues and hope everyone forgets. Good luck with that.

After the spectacularly disastrous display yesterday of indecision and incoherence on Guantanamo it is worth reviewing how we, or the Obama administration, got into this mess in the first place. It started as an in-your-face, anti-Bush campaign stunt: Bush is evil and Bush put detainees in Guantanamo, so hope and change means Obama closes Guantanamo. It is fundamentally childish and superficial but that’s the nub of it.

Oh, we’ve damaged our reputation, we were told, and now have to impress our European friends, who by the way show no inclination to change their behavior (e.g. kick in more troops in Afghanistan, expend more on their own defenses, get serious with Iran) regardless of the  status of Guantanamo. But the administration rationalized that since we are doing this to impress the Europeans maybe they’ll take some of the detainees. Make sense? No, not really since it’s not clear they’d be all that impressed or that they’d incur the wrath of their own public just so Obama will look better.

And that’s where it all went off the tracks.  As Michael Crowley writes:

As a former top Bush administration official told me today for a related print story, if the U.S. Congress refuses to accept a single Gitmo detainee on American soil, even in a Supermax prison, how are we supposed to convince our European allies to do the same thing? If the detainees are harmless we should take some. If they’re terrifying then what rational government would?

Well that’s right, especially because the premise that the Europeans deeply care about this is dubious at best. Oh, but what of the Arab states? They will think so much better of us and shower us with diplomatic favors. Let me get this straight: in Cairo and Tehran they whisper to one another, “If only those Americans would respect international norms of conduct and apply Constitutional principles never before extended to wartime detainees then we’d.. . ” It’s hard to even take it seriously.

In the end this is all about the moral preening of the Obama team who convinced themselves they could both disparage their political adversaries and bolster their own credentials through an ill-conceived publicity stunt. But that’s the difference between campaigning and governing. When you get around to governing a scheme as hair-brained as this is unsustainable. Soon enough we realize that whatever reasons Obama might have for shuttering Guantanamo pale in comparison to the logistical, security, and political problems the closing would create.

Now, he’ll have to figure his way out of this. Or move on to a string of domestic issues and hope everyone forgets. Good luck with that.

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Oh, and Incidentally . . .

You gotta’ love the New York Times and its hyper-politically correct sensitivities about revealing the ethnic or religious backgrounds of criminal suspects. Thus we have today’s front-pager: “4 Accused of Bombing Plot at Bronx Synagogues.”

Who were these four, I wondered? Could they be Chrysler shareholders upset that they are getting stiffed in bailout proceedings? ACLU lawyers mad that President Obama has refused to release interrogation photos? Possibly Greenwich hedge-fund managers furious about plans to regulate their industries? Or maybe just random nuts who like to set off bombs for the fun of it?  Nope. It turns out–get ready for it–the suspects were… Muslims.

The reveal didn’t occur until after the jump:

Law enforcement officials identified the four men arrested as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh. Some of the men were of Arabic descent, and one is of Haitian descent, according to law enforcement officials. At least three were United States citizens, according to officials. They are all Muslim, a law enforcement official said.

Mr. Cromitie, whose parents had lived in Afghanistan before his birth, had told the informant that he was upset about the war in Afghanistan and that that he wanted to do “something to America.” Mr. Cromitie stated “the best target” – the World Trade Center – “was hit already,” according to the complaint.

Of course if the Times front-page headline had screamed, “American Muslims Plot to Bomb NYC Synagogues,” it might have given its readers the wrong idea. It might even have convinced some that there really is a war of terror and we really are under siege. But that can’t possibly be true. Everyone on the Upper West Side knows such claims are merely the product of Dick Cheney’s sick imagination.

You gotta’ love the New York Times and its hyper-politically correct sensitivities about revealing the ethnic or religious backgrounds of criminal suspects. Thus we have today’s front-pager: “4 Accused of Bombing Plot at Bronx Synagogues.”

Who were these four, I wondered? Could they be Chrysler shareholders upset that they are getting stiffed in bailout proceedings? ACLU lawyers mad that President Obama has refused to release interrogation photos? Possibly Greenwich hedge-fund managers furious about plans to regulate their industries? Or maybe just random nuts who like to set off bombs for the fun of it?  Nope. It turns out–get ready for it–the suspects were… Muslims.

The reveal didn’t occur until after the jump:

Law enforcement officials identified the four men arrested as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen, all of Newburgh. Some of the men were of Arabic descent, and one is of Haitian descent, according to law enforcement officials. At least three were United States citizens, according to officials. They are all Muslim, a law enforcement official said.

Mr. Cromitie, whose parents had lived in Afghanistan before his birth, had told the informant that he was upset about the war in Afghanistan and that that he wanted to do “something to America.” Mr. Cromitie stated “the best target” – the World Trade Center – “was hit already,” according to the complaint.

Of course if the Times front-page headline had screamed, “American Muslims Plot to Bomb NYC Synagogues,” it might have given its readers the wrong idea. It might even have convinced some that there really is a war of terror and we really are under siege. But that can’t possibly be true. Everyone on the Upper West Side knows such claims are merely the product of Dick Cheney’s sick imagination.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A smart take from Dan Gerstein on the dangers of Obama’s passivity in dealing with his party’s Congressional leaders. Both on the stimulus and on the Pelosi/CIA flap, Obama failed to take charge — and suffered the consequences.

Arlen Specter leaps forward as a character witness for Nancy Pelosi. No really — you can’t make this stuff up.

Your tax dollars at work, according to a Joseph Abrams Fox News report: “The federal government is spending $178,000 to better understand why drug-abusing prostitutes in Thailand are at greater risk for HIV infection, an endeavor taxpayer watchdogs are calling a huge waste of American taxpayers’ money.. . Researchers plan to interview 60 sex workers — 36 women and 24 kathoey [transgender prostitutes] — to understand the factors that make the prostitutes susceptible to HIV, including economic pressure, sex-change operations, their heavy use of drugs and a Buddhist fatalism that keeps them feeling resigned to their fate.”

As I noted yesterday, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan has some . .  er . . . interesting urban policy ideas. The latest: “‘Job growth and business growth are critical, but also to some extent downsizing the city is, too,’ Lonegan told the paper. ‘You have neighborhoods in Camden I’ve visited that are boarded-up. They should be leveled. Why not make them into parks or forests?’” Some New Jersey politicians have taken offense at the image of bulldozing the Garden State’s urban areas (imagine that!). The latest poll (before this flap) has Lonegan trailing Chris Christie by 23 points.

A typical “process” story suggesting Pelosi’s real sin was “going off script.” No, it was lying about her involvement in the enhanced interrogation policies while conducting a witch hunt against others involved in the development of those policies. There is no script to get you through that one.

Karl Rove gets to the heart of the Obama about-faces: “Mr. Obama’s appealing campaign images turned out to have been fleeting. He ran hard to the left on national security to win the nomination, only to discover the campaign commitments he made were shallow and at odds with America’s security interests. Mr. Obama ran hard to the center on economic issues to win the general election. He has since discovered his campaign commitments were obstacles to ramming through the most ideologically liberal economic agenda since the Great Society. Mr. Obama either had very little grasp of what governing would involve or, if he did, he used words meant to mislead the public. Neither option is particularly encouraging.”

Not good: “The Federal Reserve’s latest forecasts for the U.S. economy are gloomier than the ones released three months earlier, with an expectation for higher unemployment and a steeper drop in economic activity.” The Fed now says  unemployment will be between 9.2% and 9.6% (not 8.5% to 8.8%) and  GDP will drop of between 1.3% and 2%, not the previous estimate of just a 0.5% to 1.3% drop.

James Capretta warns: “Democrats in Congress are bravely marching ahead with their plans to pass a $1 trillion-plus health-care plan. To succeed, they have to get their rank and file members to support massive tax hikes and arbitrary price controls in Medicare. If nothing else, the latest white paper from Senator Baucus should makes it clear that Republicans have nothing to gain by helping them.”

A smart take from Dan Gerstein on the dangers of Obama’s passivity in dealing with his party’s Congressional leaders. Both on the stimulus and on the Pelosi/CIA flap, Obama failed to take charge — and suffered the consequences.

Arlen Specter leaps forward as a character witness for Nancy Pelosi. No really — you can’t make this stuff up.

Your tax dollars at work, according to a Joseph Abrams Fox News report: “The federal government is spending $178,000 to better understand why drug-abusing prostitutes in Thailand are at greater risk for HIV infection, an endeavor taxpayer watchdogs are calling a huge waste of American taxpayers’ money.. . Researchers plan to interview 60 sex workers — 36 women and 24 kathoey [transgender prostitutes] — to understand the factors that make the prostitutes susceptible to HIV, including economic pressure, sex-change operations, their heavy use of drugs and a Buddhist fatalism that keeps them feeling resigned to their fate.”

As I noted yesterday, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan has some . .  er . . . interesting urban policy ideas. The latest: “‘Job growth and business growth are critical, but also to some extent downsizing the city is, too,’ Lonegan told the paper. ‘You have neighborhoods in Camden I’ve visited that are boarded-up. They should be leveled. Why not make them into parks or forests?’” Some New Jersey politicians have taken offense at the image of bulldozing the Garden State’s urban areas (imagine that!). The latest poll (before this flap) has Lonegan trailing Chris Christie by 23 points.

A typical “process” story suggesting Pelosi’s real sin was “going off script.” No, it was lying about her involvement in the enhanced interrogation policies while conducting a witch hunt against others involved in the development of those policies. There is no script to get you through that one.

Karl Rove gets to the heart of the Obama about-faces: “Mr. Obama’s appealing campaign images turned out to have been fleeting. He ran hard to the left on national security to win the nomination, only to discover the campaign commitments he made were shallow and at odds with America’s security interests. Mr. Obama ran hard to the center on economic issues to win the general election. He has since discovered his campaign commitments were obstacles to ramming through the most ideologically liberal economic agenda since the Great Society. Mr. Obama either had very little grasp of what governing would involve or, if he did, he used words meant to mislead the public. Neither option is particularly encouraging.”

Not good: “The Federal Reserve’s latest forecasts for the U.S. economy are gloomier than the ones released three months earlier, with an expectation for higher unemployment and a steeper drop in economic activity.” The Fed now says  unemployment will be between 9.2% and 9.6% (not 8.5% to 8.8%) and  GDP will drop of between 1.3% and 2%, not the previous estimate of just a 0.5% to 1.3% drop.

James Capretta warns: “Democrats in Congress are bravely marching ahead with their plans to pass a $1 trillion-plus health-care plan. To succeed, they have to get their rank and file members to support massive tax hikes and arbitrary price controls in Medicare. If nothing else, the latest white paper from Senator Baucus should makes it clear that Republicans have nothing to gain by helping them.”

Read Less




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