1) ALI, RUSSELL, AND LEBRON?
Name the last African American athlete who took a stand on social issues. Not since the days of Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell have black athletes taken to social activism, Jason Reid of the Washington Post writes today. That changed with the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, he says, when Miami Heat stars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade spoke out:
They made their feelings known despite the blowback they could face from some of the fans who pay their multimillion salaries. Following the initial splash of the tweeted team photo, Wade and James commented about the case in interviews and offered support for the deceased boy's family.
Although that may not seem like controversial stuff to some, don't kid yourself: The subject of race remains polarizing. There's potentially plenty of blowback out there whenever the issue is addressed in a public forum.
Even if fans don't react negatively, skittish corporate execs might. Wade and James make millions from their product endorsements. The companies who pay them no doubt are concerned they're risking alienating some consumers.
Reid says there's too much to lose economically for African American athletes to get involved in social issues.
What did Wade and James do? They were photographed wearing hoodies.
That's too much for people who remember that Ali went to prison.
"I like your stuff, but that's like a paintball team comparing themselves to the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy," one commenter said.
Meanwhile, another privileged group -- sports broadcasters -- is being roasted today for its expression of "slactivism," donning hoodies in their avatars, Poynter reports.
As a journalism organization, ESPN should do more work like Hill's and less like the self-expression of several others -- including ESPN anchors Trey Wingo and Mike Hill, NFL reporter Michael Smith and Grantland writer Jonathan Abrams -- who donned hoodies in their Twitter avatars.
If you want to make a difference, explain the story, don't become part of it.
2) HOT AIR ON HIGH PRICES
What would it take for people to change their behavior because of high gas prices? Something more than $3.79 a gallon (in the upper Midwest), the New York Times says today. Sixty-three percent of Americans say the high prices are causing financial turmoil of some sort, just not enough to do anything about it.
Analyzing census data, the writer determined gasoline accounts for less than half of what a typical driver spends on entertainment and restaurants, and found that during periods of high gasoline prices, there is no corresponding reduction in our spending on entertainment.
In other words, Americans may protest loudly, but their economic behavior indicates a remarkable indifference to the price of oil. In Europe, where taxes keep gas prices well above $5 a gallon, citizens are more likely to take public transportation and live near the center of town. The streets are filled with mopeds and tiny cars. The United States, on the other hand, barely exerts the minimum effort expected of a gas-phobic society: its enthusiasm for car pooling, enhanced public transportation and fuel-efficient vehicles remains relatively low. The average American even spends more gas money on social and recreational trips (about $13 a week, on average) than on their commutes to and from work (around $8). If gas prices truly damage the quality of our lives, we have done a remarkable job of hiding it.
Yet they attract so much attention for other very rational reasons. First, we're still adjusting to a world of volatile gas prices. From World War II to the mid-1970s, the overall U.S. economy was largely insulated from the rest of the world. Our exports and imports were a small part of most businesses, and gas prices, which were carefully managed by complex government controls, barely budged. (In inflation-adjusted terms, they actually fell.) As the massive cars of the time attest, Americans didn't need to think about the global supply or demand of oil. Even after the oil shocks in the 1970s, prices went up by what now seems like a trivial amount.
3) THE ETHICS OF GETTING INVOLVED
Should journalists have signed petitions for the recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker?
The revelation that reporters at Gannett newspapers in the state signed the petitions has renewed the question of whether journalism ethics has evolved to allow journos to reveal their political biases.
Ryan Rainey, a journalism student, writes in the Badger Herald that there are credible reasons why reporters should be allowed to go on the record with a political statement:
None of the news employees said to have signed the petitions were covering the recall, nor were they involved in any statewide political coverage, the newspapers said. Instead of acknowledging the ethical complexity of their employees' individual and unique decisions to sign petitions, they made a rigid judgement about a difficult issue.
That means the armchair media critics who couldn't even tell you who Bob Woodward is have won.
Journalists are, just like everyone else, complex Americans who make difficult decisions on a regular basis. We're not robots -- especially not the liberal or conservative models some think are programmed by George Soros and the Koch brothers.
Instead, we're equal actors in society who want to participate in the democratic process just like any other Wisconsinite. Does that mean journalists can participate in activism? No.
But it does mean that if we want to see an election happen, or if we want to have a small, non-activist say in an issue that affects our friends and families, we'll relish the opportunity to do so. Any true journalist, regardless of personal political beliefs over which they have little control, will swear an personal oath to fairness and equal-opportunity sourcing.
Media outlets that cater to a point of view are having a field day.
Writing in HuffPo, journalist Dave Seldana favors the journalists who are involved.
Granted, taking a position on an issue as contentious as recalling Walker is a political act. Signing a petition is clearly taking sides. But then, so too is choosing not to sign a petition. Are those staffers who did not sign because they support Walker and oppose the recall effort also facing disciplinary action? And if not, how does Gannett rationalize that choice? Because clearly any staffer who did not sign is presumptively a Walker supporter and can't be trusted to report fairly on the issues, right?
Given the choice, I'll take a reporter who owns up to her opinions over one who hides behind a fake veil of "objectivity."
The test comes when people in the media get involved on he side of controversy not considered popular in media circles, however.
Former WCCO meteorologist Mike Fairbourne signed a petition years ago contending the role of humans in climate change is overblown. He was roasted by the local media. It's one reason why most local meteorologists steer clear of the issue. It's not worth the blowback.
4) THE MYSTERIOUS SQUID OF ALEXANDRIA
Settle down, people. The mystery has been solved. Why was there a squid on the public access area of South Union Lake in Alexandria? Squids, you may know, aren't freshwater creatures. The latest invasive species? It occupied the wags in town for a day or so,until a nearby resident said he buys squid to feed to his turtles.
5) A DOGGIE WELCOME HOME
Saying again: When I am king of universe, dogs will live much longer than they do now.
(h/t: Michael Wells)
Bonus I: Women in Afghanistan are still being jailed for "moral crimes" that aren't in the penal code.
Bonus II: Video of James Cameron's trip to the deepest part of the oceans this week.
Chief Justice John Roberts has said he has complete confidence in the Supreme Court to decide cases fairly and impartially. Court watchers point out, however, that the nine current justices tend to vote along a partisan divide, aligned with the presidents who appointed them. Today's Question: How confident are you that the Supreme Court decides cases impartially?
WHAT WE'RE DOING
Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) - First hour: When was the last time you had an extensive, hands-on, physical exam in the doctor's office? With a push for technology and hyper-specialization in the medical world, many fear that the art of general diagnosis and the teaching of good diagnostic practices, may be fading. We discuss how to revive the lost art of the diagnosis and why getting back to basics at the doctor's office could lead to more affordable healthcare.
Second hour: Jonah Lehrer, author of "How We Decide." Lehrer edits the "Mind Matters" blog for Scientific American and writes his own blog, "The Frontal Cortex." His latest book is "Imagine: How Creativity Works."
Third hour: A bad boss can make your work life miserable. But new research shows that he or she can also affect your family life, your health and your personal morale. How should one cope? And when should one just jump ship and try to find a new job?
MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): An America Abroad documentary: "The Rise of the Islamists."
Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) - First hour: The Political Junkie.
Second hour: A.N. Wilson, author of "Hitler."
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - The military wants to improve treatment of post traumatic stress disorder. Many vets say they're still under pressure to deny their problems. While there's more treatment, more deployments have made the problem worse. NPR looks at the stigma and misunderstandings of PTSD.
Legacy funds have helped Minnesota become among the small number of states looking at contaminants of emerging concern in drinking water. Some of these contaminants are little known or little researched, but health officials say it's important to develop guidelines for them. Consumers have started paying more attention to some of these emerging contaminants, but even the most vigilant consumers say they're relying heavily on government regulators to tell them if their tap water is safe. MPR's Elizabeth Dunbar will have the story.
It's hard to believe it's been nine years since four people met their end at the front of a Burlington Northern train that wiped out their car at the railroad crossing on Ferry Street in Anoka. The guard gate never came down, the lights never illuminated and the four young people never had a chance.
Brian Frazier, 20, of Ham Lake, Bridgette Shannon,17, of Ramsey, Corey Chase, 20, of Coon Rapids, and Harry Rhoades Jr., 19, of Blaine were killed.
In 2008, an Anoka County jury awarded the victims' families $21.6 million. A Star Tribune investigation found evidence of tampering in some of the crash data provided in the trial. after the families' attorneys argued that the deadly collision was caused by a malfunctioning signal.
Witnesses said the car -- a Cavalier -- was in its proper lane when it was hit, disputing the railroad's assertion it had driven around lowered gates.
The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial because the jury had been instructed to apply a "reasonable person standard of care" rather than a standard based on compliance with federal regulation. Family members argued BNSF was working the judicial system.
A court sanctioned the railroad because it allowed destruction of an "event recorder" system at the crossing, and failed to preserve a tape of an event recorder in the locomotive.
Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court put an end to it, overturning the Court of Appeals and ruling the railroad will not get a new trial. Justice Alan Page said the instructions to the jury and the verdict did not "affect the fairness and integrity of the proceedings."
In his opinion today, Justice Page called out BNSF:
Our review of the record indicates that the allegedly erroneous standard of care was not limited to the disputed jury instruction and special verdict question; rather, it pervaded the entire trial. Nor were appellants the only parties to rely on the common-law standard of care. Instead, BNSF itself sought to convince the jury that it was not negligent under a common-law, rather than a regulatory-compliance, standard of care.
From its opening statement to the jury, BNSF asserted that the gates at the Ferry Street crossing worked, and worked properly, on the night of the accident:
This unfortunate accident happened as a result of the inexcusable conduct of a 19-year-old young man who disregarded the flashing lights and the down crossing gate, who disregarded the oncoming train with the whistle sounding and the lights flashing and drove around a fully-lowered crossing gate in front of the train. . . . [T]he evidence will show  that this state-of-the-art BNSF signal system provided proper and adequate warning and was working as intended [on] September 26, 2003.
Page said the railroad argued its entire case on "common law negligence" and then demanded a new trial on an entirely different theory -- regulatory compliance.
He said granting a new trial to BNSF after it "knowingly tried the case under (what we have assumed, but not determined, to be) the wrong standard" would be unfair.
"I can tell you that there wasn't a lot of screaming and shouting," Mark Bradford, an attorney for the family of Brian Frazier, the driver of the car, said about a conference call with families of the victims after the ruling today. "Everyone was fairly sullen because everyone knows nothing will bring back their kids."
Bradford said he doesn't believe there are any lingering issues that might lead Burlington Northern Santa Fe to push the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The decision didn't really rest on a lot of legal technical issues," he said. "It was a common sense decision that when you as a party choose to litigate and follow a strategy, when that strategy doesn't turn out to benefit your client and you end up with an adverse decision, you can't come in and try again under a new strategy. You sink or swim with the result. This was a common-sense, well-reasoned decision that didn't need a lot of legal analysis."
There was no dissent among the seven Supreme Court justices in the case.
(update 12:33 p.m.) - In a statement to MPR News this afternoon, BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth conceded the case:
We have deep sympathy for the families of the individuals involved in this tragic event and are sad for their loss.
While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision, we respect the judicial process and the finality of the decision.
What does it take to get a somnambulating Congress upset? A hoodie.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, took to the House floor today to condemn the shooting of Trayvon Martin.(6 Comments)
Here's today's final block of oral arguments in the Affordable Health Care Act before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In this afternoon's arguments it appeared the majority of the nine justices do not favor striking down the part of the law that expands Medicaid.
In earlier arguments, it appeared the judges based their questions on the assumption they'll kill the part of the law that requires people to have health, insurance, the Associated Press reported.
The first of the day's two sessions was unusual in that it assumed an answer to the central question in the historic health care case: that the requirement that Americans carry health insurance or pay a penalty will be struck down.
In their questions, liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer took issue with Paul Clement, the lawyer for 26 states seeking to have the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act tossed out in its entirety.
"What's wrong with leaving this in the hands of those who should be fixing this?" asked Sotomayor, referring to Congress.
Chief Justice John Roberts also spoke about parts of the law that "have nothing to do with any of the things we are" talking about.
Here is the audio from that portion of today's arguments:2 Comments)