Cousins is no match with Barkley as a winner

 

DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins

Let’s put blame where it rightly belongs: The Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t been fined and suspended by the NBA for spitting on a little girl. That would be Charles Barkley, back in 1991.

Barkley and Cousins, however, are both notorious for being surly troublemakers who fought with teammates, took cheap shots at opponents, yelled at their coaches and amassed high numbers of technical fouls.

These are hardly credentials that should merit either player representing the United States in international basketball competition, but a talent for scoring and rebounding can sometimes overcome good sense. Barkley was selected in 1992 to play on the U.S. “Dream  Team” that won gold in the Olympics. He embarrassed the team by intentionally elbowing an Angolan player in the first game, but brought his emotions under control for the rest of the competition. He led the team, filled with pro players for the first time, in scoring and became a popular figure with foreign crowds off the court.

Barkley has been seized as a role model for Cousins by Bee sportswriter Ailene Voisin, who has been eager to promote Cousins’ career and his ascent to manhood during his stint with the Kings. She sees his selection to the U.S. national team, which will play in the FIBA Basketball World Cup beginning Aug. 30, as vital to salvaging his tawdry reputation.

Although Barkley loudly proclaimed that he wasn’t paid to be a role model for anyone, his combination of poor character and basketball talent is similar to Cousins’ makeup. But the unsavory Barkley had a couple of things beyond talent going for him that might explain why U.S national team officials took a chance of him. First, he didn’t go bananas on the court. In the eight NBA seasons before he was selected for the Olympic team, Barkley, then with the Philadelphia 76ers, averaged a shameful 19 technical fouls a season. Still, he wasn’t ejected from a single game.

By contrast, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins has averaged 14.7 technical fouls a season in his four years with the Kings and has been kicked out of eight games. When Cousins’ emotions heat up, he becomes a time bomb with no regard for his team.

Second, Barkley was much more of a winner than Cousins has shown himself to be. From his rookie year in 1984 through the end of the 1991-92 season, Barkley led the 76ers to 371 wins against 285 losses – a 56.5 win percentage.

With Cousins as their leader, the Kings in the last four seasons have won a mere 102 games while losing 210 – a win percentage of 32.6 percent.

In may also be instructive that Barkley averaged 4.1 assists a game in his first eight years compared with Cousins’ 2.4 assists per game, and that Barkley played for three coaches in his first eight years while Cousins has run through four in four years.

It’s unfortunate that good character takes a back seat to talent when it comes to representing the United States in international competition. But Barkley at least had self-control and a winning mentality. Cousins has displayed neither with the Kings, and the odds are high he would be a divisive, unsettling presence on the national team.

It’s bad enough Sacramento has to put up with his self-indulgent behavior.

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Forget the spin and hire more reporters, editors

As unemployed journalists around the country well know, good journalism doesn’t come cheap. It requires many reporters out in the field getting the news and numerous editors processing it. Staffing is the heart of the business, and when you cut staffing, you cut into the heart of the news business.

From 2006 through 2012, the newsroom workforce nationally plunged 30.9 percent, according to an American Society of News Editors census, from 55,000 to 38,000. The combination of the severe recession and Internet advertising delivered a double blow to the newspaper industry. Print journalism will never recover, and the future of the online news business remains uncertain.

The Sacramento Bee, where I worked as an editor for 32 years, gamely struggles on to provide the community with local news and serve as a watchdog on government agencies. It’s the only daily newspaper in town, as it has been since the demise of the Sacramento Union in 1994.

But the Bee’s newsroom staffing has been slashed since 2006, and local coverage has suffered. Pick up a Monday paper and you think a few sections are missing. Revenue and advertising continue to decline. Meanwhile, reporters are expected to write stories while also tweeting, blogging and taking their own videos. Editors scurry around doing a variety of tasks that used to be done by several layers of editors.

Longtime readers know the paper is struggling and has cut back on coverage, the number of pages and even the size of those pages. They know their local government agencies and school teams don’t get the coverage they used to get. Hey, the Bee used to have bureaus or stringers in every little town north to the Oregon border and east to Reno. It once had an architecture critic who critiqued the local scene. One shudders to think what he would have said about a midtown restaurant built on the cheap with shipping containers. In the 1990s, I imagine a team of reporters would have been assigned to cover the notorious Twin Rivers school district – a Pulitzer Prize waiting to happen.

I wish the Bee’s top editors had enough confidence in their readers to engage them in a meaningful way. Instead of telling them with each redesign intended to save on newsprint that less is more, I wish they would simply apologize for the cutback and say money is tight.

I wish executive editor Joyce Terhaar didn’t feel the need to spin the Bee’s Capitol coverage into a generalized depiction of the newspaper’s dedication to watchdog journalism. In her opinion piece in Sunday’s Forum section, Terhaar threw out a few facts that indicated the Bee has been willing to allocate more reporters to state capitol news coverage than many newspapers – at least since a 2009 census by the American Journalism Review.

“Covering state government – the politics and the policy – is a core part of The Bee’s mission,” Terhaar said. “We’ve protected our Capitol Bureau staffing as we’ve cut back, losing only one reporter since the AJR 2009 census.”

While that may sound good, it overlooks the fact that newspaper staffing nationwide dropped sharply between 2003 and 2009, according to the Pew Research Journalism Project. I would assume Capitol Bureau staffing took a hit during those years from which it hasn’t recovered. Secondly, shoring up one beat comes at the expense of others. How much watchdog journalism can you do on small government entities when staffing is down more than 30 percent?

The Pew report notes that a majority of the public believes watchdog reporting is valuable, Terhaar said. Assuming this is true, Terhaar and other executives need to let readers know how much watchdog work goes undone because the paper lacks the advertising and circulation revenue to pay for it. They need to make a case to show why the public should pay for quality investigative journalism in all areas of the community, in addition to online news.

I imagine the beleaguered residents in the Twin Rivers school district would be willing to pay a little extra for a spotlight on the school board. Arena-subsidy opponents surely would have paid a few bucks for insightful analysis of that issue. The list could be endless.

 

 

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Columnist’s views on death penalty, convicted priest

After reading Sacramento Bee columnist Marco Breton’s hang ’em high column yesterday regarding the death penalty, I decided to reread three columns he wrote on the Rev. Uriel Ojeda in 2012 and 2013. I did this because I recalled a tone of empathy and sadness in those columns for a 33-year-old priest who committed despicable crimes upon a 13-year-old girl.

The three columns  dwell on the downfall of a popular, charismatic Catholic priest. The headlines say things such as “Human flaws test devotion”; “Former ‘rock star’ priest facing trial as solitary figure”; and “Priest’s downfall a tragedy of faith, delusion and denial.”

Ojeda was charged in late 2011 with sexually abusing a girl beginning when she was 13 years old. The abuse began, according to the girl’s family, when he was a guest at their home and a parish priest in Woodland. It continued over a period of years. Ojeda was sentenced last July to an eight-year term and sent off to prison.

When the charges were announced, many parishioners loyal to Ojeda flocked to the courthouse to show their support and decry the persecution of their beloved priest. Some sang and chanted on a street corner near the county jail in hopes Ojeda would hear them, Breton noted.

Breton also acknowledged that he special feelings for Ojeda because the priest prayed over Breton’s father the night before he died. “The moment Ojeda spent with my family will remain sacred with us forever, irrespective of his legal fate,” Breton wrote.

In a July 2013 column, Breton points out the attorney Jesse Ortiz, “who represents Ojeda and is one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Sacramento, is seeking to have Ojeda’s statements to diocesan officials barred from evidence as privileged information.”

Breton exhibits here none of the disdain he extends in yesterday’s column toward death-penalty lawyers whose “frivolous legal delays” and “legal manipulations” make the death penalty system flawed, in his view.

While understanding toward Ojeda’s frailties, Breton turned a blind eye to the plight of his victim, who surely was being ostracized by the congregation. He made no effort to tell her story of abuse and exploitation and possibly “acts that cannot be detailed in a family newspaper.”

Contrast that indifference with Breton’s denunciation of the “unspeakable crimes” committed upon a Yuba City boy in the mid-1990s, crimes “too gruesome for a family newspaper” and ones committed by a serial predator Breton views as evil and beyond rehabilitation.

While one could debate where to place Ojeda’s actions on a scale of depravity, it’s instructive to note that some lawmakers view the death penalty as appropriate in cases of sexual abuse of children.

The view of evil gets so darn arbitrary it’s hard to know where to begin or with whom. Breton envisages reforming the death penalty “so it stops being arbitrary and inefficient,” but would he be so enthusiastic if some prosecutor thought Ojeda’s crimes deserved the ultimate punishment? Ojeda already got the short end of the arbitrary stick when he became one of the few convicted priests to get a prison sentence.

Maybe when evil hits closer to home, one comes to understand the complexities of human beings and our flawed justice system. Still, Breton would do well to look beyond his acquaintances and ponder the inequities of our entire social system, one in which the poor and uneducated are targeted for death row far more than the upper classes. They deserve equal protection under the law, and all the time that takes.

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Ducks, geese and teenage girls along seedy stretch of river

I don’t know what to make of the two teenage girls in skimpy attire I saw last Friday afternoon. They were  wading in the lower American River. A minute later, a girl with a small dog came out of the woods and walked ankle deep in the river a hundred feet upstream. 

I saw them when I stopped on the bicycle bridge over the river just off Highway 160 north of downtown Sacramento. I was doing my regular 11-mile loop bicycle ride from my Land Park home in Sacramento. I like to take a break on the bridge and check out what’s going on in the river. Usually, I see a few ducks and geese and occasionally a heron or egret. Friday I wondered whether salmon might be cruising upriver as early arrivals on the annual spawning run.

Then there’s the human element. The bridge overlooks a thickly wooded area frequented by a variety of down-and outers, from grizzled old men pushing shopping carts to bare-chested guys in their 20s and 30s on bicycles to the occasional bedraggled woman. The woods on both sides of the river are dotted with homeless camps. Not so long ago, a sprawling homeless encampment on the south side of the bridge gained nationwide notoriety.

On my bike rides, I pick up the American River bike trail in Old Sacramento, follow it through Discovery Park and pedal out about three miles to the Del Paso Boulevard crossing. Just after this point, I usually turn right onto a spur of the bike trail that leads over the bicycle bridge and into midtown. This less-traveled section makes me a little uncomfortable, as it has for more than 30 years.

In the old days, I used to run along the bike trail and dip into the horse trails that go through the woods close to the river. I loved the opportunity to get off in the woods for a good workout and come upon deer, pheasant and quail. Twice I saw coyotes and once a fox.

I had no serious trouble with the folks I saw camping in the woods. Being 6 feet tall and 200 pounds probably helped. Occasionally, I got some heavy stares and was thankful my New York City youth had taught me how to return hard eyes. Once, someone smashed the window of my car, which I had parked at the Del Paso Boulevard crossing. The cops were there when I returned from my run. “This is no place to leave your car,” they said as though I were a middle-class slummer.

Which I was and still am. I wonder what it must be like to live in this world and what has happened to put these people there. What goes on when the sun goes down? What do old guys do when chest pains strike them? How do they protect themselves in this jungle? Bodies are regularly found in these woods.

And then there are the teenage girls in their shorts and halter tops wading in the river. Do they live in the nearby trailer parks or ramshackle houses? Are they runaways living in the woods? Do they get a kick out of walking on the wide side? Are they reveling in the belief they’re invulnerable? Are they stupid? Naïve?

I took a long drink of water and start pedaling back toward home.

 

 

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Get gays in the church door and then what?

Once upon a time, I covered religion and ethics for the Sacramento Bee. I was assigned to this task by the managing editor who felt the Bee should try to explore the often contentious intersection of religious belief and the secular culture.

I was put on this beat in the mid-1990s not because of any deep religious convictions but because I was, in his words, a “thoughtful guy.” He considered that a good trait to have when dealing with the complexities of religion and the community’s religious leaders, who didn’t always see the “liberal” Bee as their ally.

I quickly learned that the powerhouse Protestant religions of the 1950s and 1960s – Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans — had been eclipsed during the Reagan era by the fundamentalist Christian evangelical movement. Charismatic pastors with impressive oratorical skills, business acumen and social savvy had built “megachurches” across the nation, drawing thousands to Sunday services in churches with generic names like Willow Creek Community Church and Fellowship Church.

 These pastors preached sermons of inclusion and acceptance rather than fire and brimstone and established many social, recreational and outreach ministries to tap into a wide audience.

 “Get them in the door before you scare the hell out of them,” said one smooth-talking local pastor in explaining his approach to building his congregation.

Given this background, I wasn’t shocked to read a Bee story Monday in which the Rev. Rick Cole, spiritual leader of the 7,000-member Capital Christian Center, said he has been reaching out to gays. Cole has been pastor of the Assemblies of God church since 1995, when he took over from his father, the late Rev. Glen Cole.

“I’ve adopted a love for gay people from my own heart, and we have a really great dialogue about faith and how we can encourage one another along the way,” Cole said. “Our church has gone from where we wouldn’t know if we had any gay congregants to where we know we have at least several dozen, and instead of being afraid to come here, God wants us to make this a safe place for people to grow.”

In the article, headlined “Pastor builds interfaith bridges,” Cole talks about finding more common ground with gays, as well as Jews and Muslims, in an effort to break down barriers and biases.

“There are so many things that divide us ethnically, socioeconomically, spiritually,” Cole said. “Part of my role and goal is to unify and honor people, bless people and affirm people.”

I think Cole is to be commended for adopting a civil, respectful tone in regard to gays, but I doubt that his idea of personal growth would match that of most gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

 When he says “homosexuality’s still a complex subject,” he is speaking from the point of view of an Assemblies of God pastor. His church believes that homosexual conduct is both a sin against God and mankind. It also believes sinners go to a literal hell.

“Homosexuality is sin because it perverts the created order of human sexuality, the heterosexual fulfillment of both man and woman (1 Corinthians 7:2-5),” according to a document approved by church’s Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery. In addition, “homosexual acts are unnatural because of their high correlation with major illnesses and terminal disease.”

In case the point isn’t clear, the document further states: “Clearly on every front, whether it be moral, spiritual, physical, or psychological, the practice of homosexuality has proven itself devoid of any individual good or social benefit. Furthermore, the historical record shows homosexuality as detrimental to the well-being of the individual participant, the extended family, and society at large.”

Peruse the Assemblies of God news website and you’ll find articles on gender conversion therapy, homosexuals in the schools and workplace, and the damage inflicted on children by same-sex parents.

The Rev. Cole’s brand of tolerance may get some gays and lesbians in the door, but God only knows what may come after that.

 

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