Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Pointless Cowardice of John Boehner

John Boehner speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. (photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)
John Boehner speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. (photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

By Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker
29 September 15
The mainstream interpretation: John Boehner’s forced resignation as the Speaker of the House gives him too much credit.

he mainstream reaction to the forced resignation of John Boehner as the Speaker of the House has been a kind of weary admiration. He fought the good fight against the extremists in his Republican caucus, the narrative goes, but his solid Midwestern virtues (he’s from Ohio) were ultimately no contest for the extremism of the Tea Party.

This interpretation is far too generous to Boehner, whose failures, political and substantive, were due mostly to cowardice. The tragedy of Boehner is that he could have been a great Speaker, even on his own terms, but instead his legacy is one of almost complete failure.

Boehner long made it clear that he was a dedicated party man, who believed that what was good for the G.O.P. was good for the country as well. This is how the issue of comprehensive immigration reform came to be the true crucible of his speakership. Following President Obama’s reëlection, in 2012, it was clear that Republicans had to try to appeal to Hispanic voters. In March of 2013, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, released a report saying that the Party “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” In short order, many Republicans in the Senate, including such prominent figures as John McCain and Marco Rubio, did just that, and a bill which included a path to citizenship for a majority of undocumented immigrants passed by a vote of sixty-eight to thirty-two.

Boehner also supported immigration reform, at least in its broad outlines—because he correctly saw that it was good for both his party and his country. And there was no doubt that the reform bill could pass the House, with the support of most Democrats and a substantial number of Republicans as well. But Boehner’s Tea Party colleagues in the House opposed immigration reform. So the choice for Boehner, who controlled the House floor, was clear: pass a historic bill that would be good for the Republicans and for the republic, or appease the extremist elements in his party in hopes of hanging on to his position as Speaker.

Boehner caved, refusing to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, and he suffered the fate of all those who give in to bullies; he was bullied some more. This year, the fight was over the highway bill, another piece of popular legislation that Boehner himself and a majority of the House (as well as the Senate and the President) supported—as well they might, given that maintenance of roads and bridges represents some of the basic work of government. But again the Tea Party intimidated Boehner into keeping the bill off the floor, depriving the Speaker of another major accomplishment.

Boehner adopted an extreme version of the so-called Hastert rule, named for his predecessor as Speaker, Dennis Hastert, who is now under indictment for alleged financial crimes connected to blackmail payments (he has pleaded not guilty). The Hastert rule holds that the Speaker should never allow a vote on a bill unless it’s supported by a majority of the Republican caucus. But Boehner’s approach was to keep bills off the floor that were opposed by a minority of Republicans—the Tea Party caucus, which only numbers about fifty—effectively giving them a veto over the work of the House. Nothing came to the floor without their say-so, so that meant that nothing much came to the floor except for symbolic exercises like votes to repeal Obamacare or to defund Planned Parenthood.

When Boehner announced his impending departure, he expressed pride that he had kept the government open (after a sixteen-day shutdown in 2013) and raised the debt limit. This, to paraphrase a famous Republican, reflects the soft bigotry of low expectations. Keeping the government open and paying its debts are the minimal undertakings of an elected body, not legislative triumphs. But Boehner could point to almost nothing else that happened on his watch, because the Tea Party would tolerate nothing else.

And what did Boehner’s cowardice in the face of the Tea Party stalwarts get him? They forced him out anyway. Boehner built his career around keeping his job, and he still failed. If Boehner had allowed the passage of immigration reform, it’s entirely possible that the Tea Party would have rebelled and evicted him—but at least he would have had a substantial accomplishment to his credit. Instead, Boehner tried nothing, accomplished nothing, and lost his job anyway. It’s the legacy he deserves.

+66 # MEBrowning 2015-09-29 13:16
Mainstream Republicans like Boehner allow fifty Tea Party idiots to run roughshod over the entire legislative process, and as usual, We the People lose.

The entire Tea Party faction behaves like the emperor with no clothes. They should be hounded out of every capitol building in the country, preferably dressed in tar and feathers.
+55 # HowardMH 2015-09-29 13:49
I don't know what scares me more the 50 Tea party idiots, or the idiots that voted them into office.

Stupid is as stupid does and stupid is getting a whole lot bigger lately.
+23 # Rockster 2015-09-29 13:22
Can we dream that a few politicians may take instruction from Mr B 'selfdesdructio n and show some moral courage ? It did him no good to cave in over and over except to postpone his demise so......?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fiorina's Falsehoods

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. (photo: The Atlantic)
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. (photo: The Atlantic)

By The Washington Post
27 September 15
ne of the benefits of a presidential campaign is the character and capability, judgment and temperament of every single one of us is revealed over time and under pressure.” Since presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina made that comment at the start of the second Republican debate, there have been some telling revelations about her character and her judgment. Caught making a false claim, she couldn’t just admit she made a mistake but instead doubled down and worsened the falsehood.

Arguing during the Sept. 16 GOP debate to defund Planned Parenthood, Ms. Fiorina offered this description of a disturbing scene that was supposedly captured on controversial undercover videos of the organization: “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” No such scene exists, as even some of her defenders have had to admit. Ms. Fiorina was challenged by Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace to acknowledge “what every fact checker has found”: that the scene was only described by someone who claimed to have witnessed it but was not shown in the video.

Ms. Fiorina could have acknowledged her error while maintaining, fairly, that the tapes contain other disturbing images and language and while affirming her objections to Planned Parenthood. Instead she insisted: “No, I don’t accept that at all. I’ve seen the footage.” She went on the attack against the mainstream media, and her supporters concocted a video that splices video and audio from different places in an effort to buttress her claims. Most deceptive in the CARLY for America video is use of an image (also used in the videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress) of a fetus born prematurely, not aborted, at 19 weeks of development. The premature birth by a Pennsylvania woman had no connection to Planned Parenthood or to abortion. That, though, didn’t stop Ms. Fiorina’s supporters from using it — with the voice-over and caption of “Here’s a stomach, heart, kidney, and adrenal” — to support specious allegations of Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue for profit.

Ms. Fiorina may have deeply felt objections to abortion. That doesn’t excuse her use of mistruths to justify her willingness to shut down the government, which by the way she seems to consider no big deal. “I’m not aware of any hardship to anyone, other than the veterans trying to get to the World War II memorial,” she said of the last shutdown. When it comes to character and capability, that kind of blithe ignorance is another worrying sign. 


+42 # Rockster 2015-09-27 21:54
You don't suppose that she lives in a priveledged world which never feels any negative results of anything. So her fears are all mythic and therefore not tied to reality.

+8 # dusty 2015-09-27 21:59
As a voter who would love the opportunity to vote for a woman for president I am beside myself that we are presented his year with two candidates: one who lies and then tries to extend it rather than admit her lying and another, a democrat, who lies about her use of improper email servers, that is about as nice as I can say it, while she was Secretary of State Where is Bella now that we need a woman of integrity to run for president.

+31 # LtDan65 2015-09-28 00:01
AS a disabled Viet Nam vet relying on my comp and SS to pay my mortgage and bills, I say farina can go to hell!

+27 # tm7devils 2015-09-28 00:16
Well, she cut her own throat (twice)...When is she going to lie down and bleed out?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Poll: Guy Who Asked Trump Muslim Question Leads GOP Presidential Race

Donald Trump. (photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Donald Trump. (photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker
20 September 15 

wo days after asserting that President Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim, a guy who asked Donald Trump a provocative question at a New Hampshire rally is now the front-runner in the Republican race for President, according to a new poll.

The poll, which was conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, shows Muslim Question Guy leading the G.O.P. field with thirty-four per cent as opposed to nineteen per cent for Trump.

In interviews with poll respondents, Republicans gave Muslim Question Guy high marks for stating that President Obama was neither Christian nor American and criticized Trump for not being more vocal in his agreement on those points.

Minutes after the poll was released, however, Trump was on the offensive, attacking Muslim Question Guy during an appearance on CNN.

“People who are supporting this guy haven’t done their homework,” the businessman said. “If you look back over the past seven years, no one has called Obama a foreign-born Muslim more often than I have.”

Trump’s comments did little to slow the momentum of Muslim Question Guy, who drew four thousand people at his first official campaign rally in Concord, New Hampshire, where he vowed to take back the country from Muslim clockmakers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why We Must Listen to Pope Francis

Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: unknown)
Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: unknown)

By Bernie Sanders, Reader Supported News
25 September 15
If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort." - Pope Francis addressing Congress today
rothers and Sisters: I am not a theologian, an expert on the Bible, or a Catholic. I am just a U.S. senator from the small state of Vermont.

But I here today to discuss Pope Francis in the hope that we can examine the very profound lessons that he is teaching people all over this world and some of the issues for which he is advocating.

Now, there are issues on which the pope and I disagree — like choice and marriage equality — but from the moment he was elected, Pope Francis immediately let it be known that he would be a different kind of pope, a different kind of religious leader. He forces us to address some of the major issues facing humanity: war, income and wealth inequality, poverty, unemployment, greed, the death penalty and other issues that too many prefer to ignore.

He is reaching out not just to the Catholic Church. He's reaching out to people all over the world with an incredibly strong message of social justice talking about the grotesque levels of wealth and income inequality.

Pope Francis is looking in the eyes of the wealthiest people around the world who make billions of dollars, and he is saying we cannot continue to ignore the needs of the poor, the needs of the sick, the dispossessed, the elderly people who are living alone, the young people who can't find jobs. He is saying that the accumulation of money, that the worship of money, is not what life should be about. We cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings.

He is asking us to create a new society where the economy works for all, and not just the wealthy and the powerful. He is asking us to be the kind of people whose happiness and well-being comes from serving others and being part of a human community, not spending our lives accumulating more and more wealth and power while oppressing others. He is saying that as a planet and as a people we have got to do better.

That's why I was so pleased that in his address to Congress today, Pope Francis spoke of Dorothy Day, who was a tireless advocate for the impoverished and working people in America. I think it was extraordinary that he cited her as one of the most important people in recent American history.

As the founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper, Dorothy Day organized workers to stand up against the wealthy and powerful. Pope Francis said of her today in Congress:
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
The fact that the pope singled out Dorothy Day — a fierce advocate in the fight for economic justice — as one of the leaders he admires most is quite remarkable. We are living in a nation which worships the acquisition of money and great wealth, but turns its back on those in need. We are admiring people with billions of dollars, while we ignore people who sleep out on the streets. That must end.

Dorothy Day fought this fight, and as Pope Francis says, we must continue it. We need to move toward an economy which works for all, and not just the few.
We have so much poverty in a land of plenty. Together, we can work to make our country more fair for everybody.


-29 # WaaDoo 2015-09-25 09:35
Bernie is so wise. Listen to the Pope's injunctions to us. Agreed.
Therefore, since the "death penalty" should be eliminated - stop murdering and dismembering babies !
+17 # jwb110 2015-09-25 10:32
Quoting WaaDoo:
Bernie is so wise. Listen to the Pope's injunctions to us. Agreed.
Therefore, since the "death penalty" should be eliminated - stop murdering and dismembering babies !

I would think that bringing about economic equality in the US would go a long way toward reducing abortions. Were there no need to worry about the ability to raise a child and see it prosper perhaps many fewer pregnancies would be terminated.
Illegal abortions were very high during the Great Depression why would we think that they were not a contributing factor now.
Hope comes in all guises and with hope much is possible. Hope is life affirming.
+11 # patmonk 2015-09-25 10:29
An agnostic thanks you Bernie.
Lay not up for yourself treasures on earth..
But lay up for yourself treasures in heaven.
For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.
+2 # bardphile 2015-09-25 10:52
"He has pledged to support . . ."

And in that sad case, I intend to follow his example, distasteful though it would be. The Dem. primary contest has scarcely begun. Let's hang with Bernie a bit longer and see how it plays out, keeping in mind that in issues of civil rights and court appointments, even HRC is a lot better than a repub.
+7 # ritawalpoleague 2015-09-25 10:50
One step at a time, reiverpacific, is a vital base of the change that is so needed today. This precious Pope and Bernie Sanders are absolutely on the same page, re. need for a 'revolt' (i.e. as Bernie calls it, a 'political revolution') against all the extreme greed and need for power over all that has overtaken us.

First crucial step in putting into place 'liberty and justice and peace for all': getting us all, here and across the globe, to recognize exactly what it is that has overtaken us - the totally self-absorbed 'no one or nothing counts except me, me, me, and mine, mine, mine' essence of existence that causes the 1% to now rule and control, and has brought about, especially in the U.S., extreme suffering and unnecessary death to exist among the poorest of the poor homeless.

Yes, the 'mess' media is now, far too often, controlled by the 1%ers. But, 'word of mouth' still passes well among us, regarding what huge change must come about, ASAP.

And, Bernie Sanders, the same type of 'socialist' as is the Pope, is our first big step forward to sooooo needed change, away from greed and need for power over all to real, true, justice and peace for all. Attend caucuses in caucus states, and vote in primary voting states we all must, in order to get Bernie nominated (first important step), while we never ever forget that, unlike Hillary Clinton.....


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bad Catholics snub nose at Pope's climate call

Field of pump jacks at sunset. (photo: Alamy)
Field of pump jacks at sunset. (photo: Alamy)

By Richard Valdmanis, Reuters
23 September 15
asting the fight against climate change as an urgent moral duty, Pope Francis in June urged the world to phase out highly-polluting fossil fuels.

Yet in the heart of U.S. oil country several dioceses and other Catholic institutions are leasing out drilling rights to oil and gas companies to bolster their finances, Reuters has found.

And in one archdiocese -- Oklahoma City -- Church officials have signed three new oil and gas leases since Francis's missive on the environment, leasing documents show.

On Francis' first visit to the United States this week, the business dealings suggest that some leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church are practicing a different approach to the environment than the pontiff is preaching.

Catholic institutions are not forbidden from dealing with or investing in the energy industry. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) guidelines on ethical investing warn Catholics and Catholic institutions against investing in companies related to abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco, and war, but do not suggest avoiding energy stocks, and do not address the ownership of energy production interests.

A Reuters review of county documents found 235 oil and gas leasing deals signed by Catholic Church authorities in Texas and Oklahoma with energy and land firms since 2010, covering 56 counties across the two states. None of the Texas leases in the review were signed after the pope's encyclical.

Those two states have been at the forefront of a boom in U.S. energy production in recent years, often through the controversial hydraulic fracturing production method, known as fracking.

It was not clear whether production on the Church leases was through fracking - a process that involves injecting sand, water and chemicals underground to crack open rock formations -- or more conventional drilling methods.

The Church authorities receive a royalty ranging from 15 to 25 percent of the value of what is taken out of the ground, according to the leases, which are public documents filed with county clerk offices. Reuters' search method did not capture leases signed before 2010 but which may still be in force.

"There may be some kind of inconsistency here between what the pope has said and what the Church is doing in U.S. oil and gas country," said Mickey Thompson, a consultant and former director of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.

He added that since the Church often acquires its mineral rights through donations from parishioners, there could be "legal or fiduciary reasons" it has sought to lease them out. It was unclear if that was the case with the leases signed by Church institutions in Texas and Oklahoma, including the three leases signed in Oklahoma since June.

A USCCB official and a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City archdiocese both declined to comment.

The Vatican does not have direct power over investment decisions taken by dioceses in the United States, a responsibility reserved for their bishops.

Members of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy have fallen out of line with papal administrations before. Last year, for example, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke was moved out of a senior post in the Vatican after clashing with Francis’ more liberal views on homosexuality and Catholic re-marriage. 

Moral Dissonance

A Reuters examination of financial disclosures by U.S. Catholic institutions in August found that they have millions of dollars invested in energy companies, from hydraulic fracturing to oil sands producers. One U.S. archdiocese, Chicago, told Reuters it planned to review its energy shareholdings in light of the pope’s June message.

But the Church's direct links to the fossil fuels industry through the Oklahoma and Texas lease deals highlight a potentially deeper moral dissonance in the wake of the pope's unambiguous attack on human-caused climate change.

Francis makes his first visit to the United States from Tuesday through Sept. 27 with stops in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

In Texas, dioceses that granted oil leases in recent years included Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio.

Pat Svacina, a spokesman for the Diocese of Forth Worth, said the diocese received $31,661 from its leases in fiscal year 2015. He declined to say whether the diocese was considering reviewing its oil and gas leasing program in light of the pope's encyclical.

"The way the leases are written it is very difficult to cancel a lease that is in production," Svacina said. "The Diocese always reviews the viability and desirability of renewing a lease at the conclusion of a current lease," he added, without elaborating.

In Oklahoma, about one quarter of the roughly 165 Church lease deals signed since 2010 were granted by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, with most of the rest granted by the Catholic Foundation of Oklahoma and the St. Gregory's Catholic University of Oklahoma. 

Donated Rights

Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley signed the most recent deal on Sept. 3, giving privately held oil company Comanche Resources rights to operate on 160 acres in Major County in exchange for 18.75 percent of the value of the oil and gas produced.

The two-year extendable lease also permits Comanche to lay pipes, build storage tanks, power stations, and other installations.

Coakley signed similar deals with energy companies Continental Resources and Lance Ruffell Oil in July and August, with royalties of 25 and 20 percent respectively.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese declined to comment, and efforts to reach Coakley were not successful. The spokeswoman also declined comment on behalf of the Catholic Foundation, where Coakley serves as chairman.

An official at St. Gregory's said the university had been given significant mineral rights by donors, adding that the royalties collected had averaged about $405,000 over the past three years, or 3.7 percent of revenue. The official asked not to be identified.

While the Church provides little data on its finances, information from other Catholic institutions in Oklahoma and Texas showed oil and gas royalties yielded a small portion of overall revenue in recent years, partly reflecting a slide in energy prices.

A review of audited statements issued by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City between 2010 and 2013 showed that the oil and gas royalties made up 2 percent of total revenue, or $1.6 million, over that period. That share peaked in 2012 at 5 percent, or $704,399, according to the audited statements. The other Oklahoma institutions did not provide data.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Jordan McMurrough, said the archdiocese had been collecting small energy royalties on its mineral rights since the 1950s, but that they currently make up less than 1 percent of revenue.

"The archdiocese currently does not plan changes to its long-standing practice of granting oil and gas leases," he said, adding that Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller "is well aware of and deeply respects" Pope Francis' encyclical.

He said one-third of the archdiocese's mineral rights were donated, with the rest "by acquisition for church purposes over the years."

Officials at the other dioceses in Texas did not respond to requests for comment.

Other companies that have signed energy leasing deals with the Church in recent years include Apache Corp, Cabot, Chesapeake, Devon Energy, and Range Resources.

All have been active in a fracking boom over the past several years.

A spokeswoman for Apache Corp confirmed the company has "a very limited" number of leases with the Church, but declined to comment further. The other firms did not respond to requests for comment.

Fracking has led to a surge in U.S. production by making new reserves available to the industry, and contributed to the slump in world energy prices. But the drilling boom has raised worries about pollution, climate change, and potentially damaging earthquakes from wastewater injection -- fears that the oil industry says are overblown.

The American Petroleum Institute has said technological advances and efficient regulation have allowed drillers to raise production without contaminating water supplies or increasing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Moral Challenge Bernie Sanders Brought to the House Falwell Built

Isaiah J. Poole

Monday, September 21, 2015

Basketball at breakneck pace a way of life on Navajo reservation

Alicia Hale, a forward at Window Rock High School, stepped up her training for her senior year. (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)
Alicia Hale, a forward at Window Rock High School stepped up her training for senior year.  (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)
The Chinle Wildcat Den holds roughly 7,000 fans and has a VIP suite, a media suit and custom locker rooms, among other features. (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)
Ganado Pavillion opened in 2003 and has a 5,800-seat capacity for a school of just over 500 total students. (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)
 An outdoor basketball hoop on a cracked concrete court at Ganado High School. (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)
 Shane Yazzie, junior guard at Chinle High School, shooting baskets behind his house. (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)
 Basketball hoop and dirt court behind Shane Yazzie’s house in Chinle. (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)
Window Rock High School’s Fighting Scouts Arena opened in 2014 and cost $50 million. (Photo by Chris Wimmer/Cronkite News)

Cronkite News
WINDOW ROCK — At 5:15 a.m., sunrise is only a thin pale highlight over red rock mesas in the east as Alicia Hale steps out of her house for her daily run. Even in June, the morning is so chilly at an altitude of almost 7,000 feet that she needs several layers to stay warm.
The Window Rock High School senior lines up next to her mother and younger sister in the dirt yard of their house in the capital of the Navajo Nation. They spread Navajo white corn powder on the ground in a quiet ceremony meant to offer thanks to the Creator for the blessings of life.
They exit the yard through a chain link gate and set out at an easy jog.
The peace and serenity of the early morning stand in stark contrast to the almost continual noise of big cities. There are no tractor-trailers rumbling down the roads to make pre-dawn deliveries. There is no thunder of machinery from construction sites where workers get an early start to beat the summer heat.
The only sounds at this hour are the roosters announcing the coming of a new day. They’re vocal and insistent — a soundtrack that could be considered jarring but that actually fits the environment. Instead of shattering the sublime atmosphere, their crowing enhances it.
Sixty miles to the northwest, in Chinle, the day progresses in similar fashion for Shane Yazzie, who will be a junior at Chinle High School in the fall. He runs, he does his chores and he practices basketball — he practices until he simply can’t anymore.
As the day draws to an end and the sun sets behind the equally picturesque mesas that frame the valley where Shane lives, he shoots baskets until the light is gone — and sometimes later. There are times when he plays so late that only shouts from his parents to come inside so they can sleep will force him to stop.
“If it’s raining, he’s out there in the mud. Rain, snow, or shine, he’s dribbling the ball outside and we don’t have the luxury of having a nice concrete court for him. It’s just dirt and an old basketball goal,” said Shane’s mother, Glendalyn.
Three small dogs yip and hop around his ankles at the beginning of a practice session, but soon they grow bored of the routine and lack of attention. They walk away in search of fun and frolic elsewhere, leaving him to drill jumpers by himself as the sunlight fades.
Shane practices on a dirt court behind his house. His pounding steps and incessant dribbling have killed off the weeds that inhabit the rest of the area. A patch of bare earth, pockmarked and uneven, has been left behind for him to hone his game.
If the ball sails through the tattered net with just the right amount of spin and lands at precisely the right angle on the dirt, it will pop back to him as if passed from an assistant.
These are the realities for many basketball players on the reservation. There are more homemade baskets and scratched-out practice surfaces than perfectly level paved driveways with store-bought adjustable hoops.
Things are different here. Connections to the Earth and community and family run deep here. All things are interwoven like threads in a tapestry.
Basketball has found itself tightly laced into that fabric. Fueled by what many Native Americans say is a natural love of running and competition, basketball is very nearly worshipped on reservations across the country.
“Basketball is almost a religion here,” said Pete Butler, the head coach of the girls’ team at Chinle High School.
On the Navajo reservation, it is the king of sports.
Basketball is the heart of the sports world on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona. All sports are represented, but basketball has ascended to the throne. It stays there because the style of play unique to reservation teams has captivated players and fans alike.
Players sprint up and down the floor nonstop looking for the first good shot available. If they see it, they take it. They run until they wear the opposing team out. They run until they wear the referees out.
And then they keep running.
That is reservation basketball.
Wallace Youvella Jr., the athletic director and girls basketball coach at Hopi Junior/Senior High School, said he believes Native Americans have an instinctual love of running.
“In our culture, running is part of who we are. It comes very natural when you see our teams running up and down the court,” said Youvella.
That love led to an interest in cross-country and helped give birth to the style of basketball that was eventually nicknamed “rez ball.”
“Basketball is king on the reservation,” he said. “Not to take away from cross-country, but basketball is the most popular.”
Youvella doesn’t make his statement lightly. The boys cross-country program at Hopi Junior/Senior High School is unmatched by any other in the nation.
The National Federation of State High School Associations lists Hopi High School — officially known in the record book as Keams Canyon Hopi — as the winner of the most consecutive state titles in U.S. history.
“Right now, we’re in the works of getting a new banner put up because we ran out of space in the gymnasium for all those (individual) banners,” Youvella said, pointing at the blank white spaces around the top of the gym that are traditionally used to showcase athletic triumphs. “We had to stop in 2006 because we had no more room.”
Despite Hopi High School’s unprecedented success in cross-country, basketball is preferred above all other sports on the reservation, though many basketball players compete in both sports so they can maintain the incredible endurance required to be effective on the court.
In the traditional style of basketball, a team often jogs down the floor, sets up its half-court offense and runs plays out of various formations. The fast break is used to capitalize on opportunities when they present themselves during the game.
Rez ball is the opposite.
“They don’t really look at the clock as far as time, situation, score, et cetera. They just play,” said Raul Mendoza, head coach of the boys basketball team at Window Rock High School and a legend on the reservation after 38 years as a coach.
They run coordinated plays only if the first couple shot opportunities quickly dissolve and even then, the goal is to shoot the ball at the first open look at the basket.
“The feeling here is that the more passes you have, the more opportunities the defense has to unsettle your offense or for you to throw the ball away or for something bad to happen,” Youvella said. “So when you get that open shot, we encourage our players to take (it).”
The result is a high-octane show that is unique in the basketball world.
“Physically, they just wiped you out,” said former referee Terry Horning, who officiated summer tournaments on the reservation in the 1970s. “They never stopped running. The whole game was like a fast break.”
Horning traveled to 42 countries over the course of 10 years as the lead referee for the Harlem Globetrotters and said he never saw basketball played the way it is on the reservations.
“I started refereeing at the junior high school level and went all the way up through Division I college ball,” Horning said. “I worked the NBA Development League and I worked for the Globetrotters and in all of those games I never worked any harder than I did the two summers I went up and worked at those Native tournaments.”
Those tournaments on the Navajo reservation were in the summers of 1973 and 1974. Horning and two other referees were recruited from Phoenix to drive up to the reservation and officiate games over a weekend.
After a long Saturday of games, they could barely crawl into their beds. By the time the tournament ended on Sunday afternoon Horning said the officials were completely “spent.”
More than 40 years later, the style of basketball is still nearly identical. The No. 1 tenet is the same: run.
To build the stamina needed to maintain that demanding tempo for an entire game, kids run countless miles on the trails and dirt roads that wind through the hills and canyons on the reservation. And many of them participate in cross-country as well as basketball.
Alicia Hale’s 5:15 a.m. regimen, six days a week, currently has her running 3 miles per day but this summer she has stepped up her training and commitment to basketball and 3 miles will not be enough for much longer.
“By the end of the summer, I want to be running 5 to 6 miles each morning,” she said.
As a part of that intensified training program, she is challenging herself in the weight room like never before, under the guidance of Mendoza.
“She’s highly motivated. She wants to get better,” Mendoza said. “She’s open to learning and she pushes herself.”
She hopes the extra work will help cut down on the knee and ankle sprains that nagged her last year as well as prepare her for her all-important senior year. The breakneck pace of play is punishing and she needs to be ready.
“Rez basketball is a very high-paced, very talented, intense form of basketball that I don’t care who you are, you’re going to enjoy watching it,” said Harold Slemmer, the executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
Fans on the reservations don’t just enjoy watching it. They love it. They live it.
“Chaos, just chaos” is how Window Rock High School senior center Branon Chickaway describes the fans during basketball season. He will be one of Mendoza’s co-captains next year and he likes the chaos.
He fell in love with basketball at a young age when his maternal grandparents took him to a game at the old Veteran’s Memorial Field House, where almost 2,000 screaming fans were packed into every corner of available space.
But 2,000 fans is nothing compared to the 6,500-seat capacity of the new Window Rock Fighting Scouts Event Center where Chickaway began playing his games in 2014.
A four-sided electronic scoreboard hangs over the immaculate floor. There is a VIP area in one corner of the second level with a long conference table and plush leather office chairs, though at least one past president of the Navajo Nation was known to eschew the space typically reserved for dignitaries in favor of courtside seats to be close to the action.
There is a bay for the media with two rows of seats and tabletops for computers. There are six concession stands in the corridors. There are boys’ and girls’ dressing rooms with the Window Rock Fighting Scout logo stitched into the carpet, cherry wood lockers for each player, and chairs with the mascot emblazoned on the leather-cushioned seats.
In short, it’s a professional setup — on a smaller scale — for a school with an enrollment of roughly 700 students.
The arena provides one of the largest home-court advantages in the state of Arizona for a high school basketball game.
That kind of arena is not exclusive to Window Rock. Similar venues exist in Chinle, Ganado, Monument Valley and Tuba City.
By comparison, the largest school in the state, Hamilton High School in Chandler, with approximately 3,500 students, plays its home games in a school gymnasium that holds roughly 4,000 people.
The arenas on the reservations were built at such a large scale for one primary reason: The fans have proven they will come.
They fiercely support their teams regardless of the win-loss record. Their enthusiasm and volume can sometimes make it hard for players and coaches to communicate during a game. They are willing to wait in line for hours, and even overnight, for tickets.
Ganado High School Athletic Director Jim Dowse remembered a game his school played against Chinle: “For a Saturday game, people would spend the night (outside the arena) on Friday. And this is in January up here. It could be 10 degrees at night. That’s not uncommon. Grandma’s out there with the extension cord to the electric blanket. Crazy, just crazy.”
For big games, and especially state tournament games, communities on the reservation rally around their schools.
“Teachers stop teaching and everyone goes outside to stand in a parade line when the team goes down to Phoenix for state,” said Casey Johnson, the new coach of the Chinle boys basketball team. “Everybody’s right there waiting for one bus to go by.”
At 30 years old, Johnson is a young head coach and a product of reservation basketball. He played in the youth leagues on the Navajo reservation when he was a child and then at Tuba City High School before finishing his playing career at Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas.
Basketball has been his life.
“It’s very important to us. I believe it’s in our DNA to be competitive. It’s natural. We’re very competitive people,” he said.
The combination of a competitive nature and extreme fanaticism can put immense pressure on and foster high expectations for players who are only teenagers.
Branon Chickaway and Shane Yazzie love playing in front of legions of screaming fans. They thrive on it. But others admit it can be difficult.
“You may win two straight state championships and the community is waiting for that third,” said Pete Butler, the Chinle girls basketball coach, though he still relishes the job of coaching at a high-profile school.
One of his up-and-coming stars, Amanda Antone, said she was nervous and scared to make a mistake during her first game in front of so many fans at the 6,000-seat Chinle Wildcat Den.
“They try to control you on the court even though they’re in the stands,” she said.
Mendoza has coached at four schools in his career, including two separate stints at Window Rock and two at Holbrook High School. He has heard similar concerns from his players over the years.
“Some kids told me that it’s no fun to play because there’s so much pressure. A lot was expected of them. I think the fans really expect a lot out of the kids,” he said.
Despite the high expectations and the near-constant bellowing from the crowd to shoot the ball, Amanda said she got used to the noise after that first game and now wouldn’t trade the passion of the fans for any of the possible negatives.
She will only be a sophomore this fall, but the desire to play the game already outweighs the demands that will be placed on her by the vocal fan base when the season starts.
“I love the sport and I can’t go a day without it. I have to have that ball in my hand in order for me to think straight,” she said.
“It’s my passion. I love to play basketball,” said Yazzie. “Even when I don’t have a basketball in my hand, I still imagine that there’s one there, and a lot of kids are like that around the reservation.”
Shane and Amanda — two kids with nearly identical thoughts. They are separated by two years at Chinle High School but have the same yearning for the game.
On the reservation, that yearning goes beyond the natural love of running mentioned by Youvella. It goes beyond the competitive instincts that Johnson believes are ingrained in the Navajo people.
For many players, sanctuary is at the center of their love of basketball.
“Basketball is an escape,” said Mendoza. “It helps them fill something in their lives that might be missing — to fill a void, I guess you could say.”
The kids can step onto the hardwood courts of the huge arenas or the dirt lots behind their homes and tune out some of the realities of the reservation.
There are few options for entertainment, so the communities navigate toward sports for enjoyment and distraction, and to dodge the pitfalls that can creep into the void.
“If it wasn’t for basketball, or any of the sports that we have, I think that a lot of our kids would go astray and turn to drugs and alcohol and other bad things that they encounter,” said Shane Yazzie’s mother, Glendalyn.
Parents use discipline, traditions and a deep-rooted understanding of their values to instill self respect and respect for the community in their kids to help them avoid the “bad influences” that can lurk in places with limited opportunities.
Alicia Hale counts those values on her fingers as quickly and easily as if she were reciting the first five letters of the alphabet: faith, family, school, sports and friends — in that order.
“When I step on that court, I feel like there’s a lot of people watching me. They watch to see what you do and how you do it — how you present yourself on and off the court,” she said.
Yazzie also understands his behavior will be scrutinized.
“If you play basketball, you represent your school, your team, your family, your clans and your community. Your community looks up to you,” he said.
Branon Chickaway’s grandfather, Gabriel Haskie, used an ancient ceremony to help Branon begin to walk on the correct path. When Branon was 12, Haskie took him into a sweat lodge to pray.
“This is how our ancestors, how our great elders taught us,” said Haskie. “We encourage the young ones to go on with life in a positive way, to learn something about themselves, about their lives, to be the people that they should be.”
Those instructions have taken hold and are displayed when Native teams compete in Phoenix during the state tournament. The Arizona Interscholastic Association oversees the competition, and its director says he has seen the fruits of the labor of parents and coaches on the reservation.
“The competitive culture there is just different,” Slemmer said. “It’s very positive. Very, very seldom do we ever see anything that would even resemble (poor) sportsmanship. They’re extremely good sportsmen and sportswomen. They’re very supportive of each other.”
The commitment to sportsmanship isn’t a new phenomenon. Horning, the former referee, had the same the experience more than 40 years ago.
“They’re very good about sportsmanship,” he said. “That was one of the refreshing parts of it. I worked those tournaments for two years and I guarantee you I never even thought about calling a technical foul.”
Glendalyn and Shawn Yazzie made it very clear to their son Shane that without the grades, there is no basketball.
“We make his education the priority, then his sport,” said Shawn.
Shane saw the lesson firsthand when his father told one of his older brothers he was no longer allowed to play because his grades had begun to suffer. Shane has no intention of jeopardizing his career.
“It gives me motivation in school to keep my grades up,” he said.
In addition to using strict discipline and a deep appreciation of their values to guide their kids, parents and coaches emphasize that education is the driving force behind success on and off the court.
“I try to stress to the kids, your education is more important,” said Mendoza. “That’s what’s going to allow you to get opportunities in life, to get jobs, to go better yourself.”
Vernon and Clarissa Hale say they’ve never had to worry about Alicia’s performance in the classroom. She has been on the National Honor Society every year and the benefits and importance of a quality education are consistently at the forefront of her thoughts.
“If you’re a star basketball player, you have to have the education to go with it,” Alicia said. “My No. 1 goal with basketball is to be able to play at the next level, whether it’s (junior college), community college, Division I, II or III. That’s fine with me. As long as I get to come back here to use the education that I get.”
Alicia has one more year to prove herself on and off the court. Like many others on the reservation, she’ll play in summer leagues hosted by her high school.
She’ll play on club teams and AAU teams in tournaments across Arizona to showcase her talents with the hope of earning the college scholarship she wants so badly.
Finally, as fall turns to winter, she’ll jog onto the court again in front of thousands of screaming fans who have arrived from all corners of the Navajo Nation to watch the sport they love.
The fans will reconnect with distant friends and relatives from different parts of the reservation and shout for the kids to “shoot! shoot! shoot!”
It will also be Branon Chickaway’s final year on the floor of the Window Rock Fighting Scouts Arena. His grandparents — who have raised him — had six children of their own and survived years of travel and expense as they watched their kids play every sport possible.
So, as Branon grew — he’s 6 feet 2 inches tall now — his grandfather, Gabe Haskie, knew what would come next.
As he thinks back and retells the story of his reaction to Branon’s announcement that he wanted to play basketball like his aunts and uncles, he nudges his straw cowboy hat back a little further on his head.
“‘Good,’” Haskie told his grandson.
Then he pauses, looks down and takes a deep breath, mimicking the moment he and his wife committed to several more years on the road to the arenas of the Navajo Nation. When he looks up, there’s thin smile on his lips and a bright light in his eyes.
“Guess we better saddle our horses again.”