Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 10, 2018

Craig Carton and the American malaise

Filed under: sports — louisproyect @ 8:26 pm

Craig Carton

One of the reasons for a happy marriage now in its sixteenth year is that my wife and I have similar pop culture tastes as well as leftwing politics even when they clash. For example, we have both enjoyed listening to shock jocks in the morning for about as long as we have been married.

First it was Howard Stern, an obvious sexist pig but a very funny one. When Stern moved to satellite radio, we switched to Don Imus, his arch-enemy. When Imus was fired by WFAN in 2007 for a racial slur, we decided to give his replacements a try. Despite being featured on a sports talk radio show, Imus was mostly about interviewing politicians and reporters—and very good at it. Taking over for Imus, ex-NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason and long-time radio talk show host Craig Carton also interviewed politicians but their primary focus was on sports. What made the show worth listening to was Carton’s shock jock antics that were obviously stolen from Howard Stern. Riffs on bowel movements, raising kids, impromptu restaurant reviews, etc. were interspersed with commentary on sports with the typical call-ins from “Vinnie from the Bronx” about a trade the Yankees should make.

Three days ago a jury found Carton guilty of conning wealthy investors into buying bulk tickets to concerts but only used the seven million dollars to pay off his gambling debts plus other personal expenses such as landscaping his 9,345 square foot mansion. He faces up to 45 years in prison but will likely get much less, my guess five years or so.

Carton was making huge bets at casinos. Witnesses told the jury that he borrowed money from loan sharks to fund these outings. One of them was Desmond Finger, the general manager of the Upper East Side strip club Sapphire 39, who testified that he made high-interest loans of up to $500,000 for each of his casino fixes. Carton probably worried much more about the money he owed to someone like Finger than the hedge funds he conned. It is not hard to imagine him getting roughed up or worse from one of Finger’s friends if he didn’t pay up. At least in prison, he won’t have to worry about his legs being broken–at least if he keeps his eyes opened and his big mouth shut..

Carton, like Stern and Imus, made lots of enemies because of his big mouth. Bob Raissman, a sports columnist for the NY Daily News, a one-time far-right tabloid now oriented to the Democratic Party, raked him over the coals. Referring to his attorney’s decision not to put him in the witness box, Raismann wrote:

How ironic that in the fight of his life, Craig Carton could not use his most lethal weapon — his mouth.

The same mouth that took him to radio’s mountain top. Morning-drive in New York City, making over $1 million per year working on WFAN with a celebrity/ex-jock/wheeler-dealer Norman Julius Esiason.

The same mouth that spewed invective, verbal sewage, loved by FAN’s target audience, the miscreants who showed up to watch him walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in a Speedo.

Many people, including me and my wife, could not figure out why someone doing so well would shoot himself in the foot. It was the same question I had about Bernie Madoff. After having made it big as a shock jock or a securities broker, why would anybody risk throwing it all away by committing a crime?

Madoff remains a mystery but it is clear that Carton had a very serious gambling addiction. Like drugs, tobacco or alcohol, it can destroy one’s life. I say this from personal experience having a very close friend who lost well over a hundred thousand dollars over the years betting on horse races. When we were in our late teens, he used to bet hundreds of dollars on the trotters at Monticello Raceway. Some nights he’d win, other nights he lost. I used to accompany him to the races but usually bought a book with me to read during the races. For me, gambling is a complete waste of time and money. One of the reasons I got out of the stock market was that it was too much like gambling.

If you listened to the Boomer and Carton show, you’d be struck by how much gambling permeated the conversation between the two. It was always about whether a team would cover the odds. All of these shows on WFAN have a big focus on the “over-under” on professional sports events especially on Friday, just before the NFL games on Sunday.

On May 14th this year, New Jersey, Carton’s home state, made sports betting legal. This measure had been pushed for years by the former governor Chris Christie, who was one of Carton’s best friends. Christie, a frequent guest, on the Boomer and Carton show, used to love talking odds with the hosts. FanDuel, a sports fantasy website, has also been given the green light for bookmaking.

On top of sports betting, lotteries have become ubiquitous in the USA. Even though a lottery ticket might cost only a couple of dollars, poor people can end up throwing money down the drain in the hope that they can become millionaires. As a vicious cycle, the lotteries only exist because state treasuries have been drained by tax cuts, thus making poor people even more needy.

The Wikipedia entry on “problem gambling” cites medical authorities who see it in the same terms as substance abuse even though it is described as an impulse control disorder rather than an addiction. The gambler can’t help betting when feeling distressed (e.g., helpless, guilty, anxious, depressed). Since this is the normal state of mind for most Americans, it is not surprising that billions of dollars are wasted on betting just as they are on opioids. Of course, gambling will only cost you your freedom while opioids will cost you your life.

Like Boomer Esiason, Craig Carton was a Trump supporter and a racist. The show constantly praised the cops and always took their side whenever someone like Trayvon Martin was killed. It is a crowning irony that a “law and order” man like Carton will end up in a New Jersey prison serving time with Black prisoners who might have heard him on one of his racist rants.

I continue to listen to Boomer Esiason in the morning, now that he has a new co-host, a guy named Gregg Gianotti who is the comic next to Esiason’s straight man just as was Carton. Thankfully, Gianotti does not seem that interested in politics. Mostly, he enjoys talking about sports. Naturally, my wife has bailed on the show since her interest in sports is zero.

I only wish that WBAI was not as bad as it is. For most of the 1980s and until 2000, I used to listen to it religiously and donate hundreds of dollars a year. A typical morning show would consist of great music and interviews by someone like Will Wilkens, a fellow member of CISPES and a good friend. This was the kind of programming Samori Marksman, a Caribbean Marxist, used to promote.

After Marksman died suddenly of a heart attack in 1999, there was a coup led by Utrice Leid that antagonized most listeners, including me. A listener revolt eventually led to her clique being ousted and the station converted into one based on “community control”. That conversion led to a new type of programming marked by conspiracy theories, medical quackery and tedious leftist sermonizing that was unbearable.

Anticipating this article a couple of days ago, I turned WBAI on just for a sample of what it was up to now. Confirming my worst suspicions, the host was on the phone with someone who was making the case for alchemy as a solution to diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.

The opening sentence of Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” reads as follows:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Of course, Dickens wrote the novel to demonize the French Revolution but some of this rings true as applied to the current period. I would only qualify it by saying that a new “Tale of Two Cities” would be much darker and would begin by simply stating: “It was the worst of times”.

1 Comment »

  1. I used to go to the racetrack with my father and his buddies. My dad was a superb handicapper and often won money. But some of the guys were chronic gamblers. One was president of a union local in town, and he’d tell us stories about things he had done to get money to gamble. We’d laugh but it wasn’t funny. He had five or six kid, including twins I went to school with. They were super popular, always homecoming king or queen. Football quarterback and cheerleader. I never knew then what they faced at home. He told us that one night his wife held a butcher knife to his throat. He said she should just kill him. Sometimes I think as many families in my hometown were ruined by gambling as by drinking.

    Comment by Michael Yates — November 10, 2018 @ 10:53 pm


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