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The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

The World’s Team

In Futbol, International politics, Landon Donovan, Misc., National Pride, Soccer, Sport, US Soccer, World Cup on June 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Sitting at my desk, listening to an incessant Spanish announcer, I wondered what to do next.  It was around the 40th minute, half time to come soon, plenty to do this fine workday, but I needed to get out so I could scream a bit.  The US Soccer/Futbol team had been knocking on the door of the Algerian goal for the whole half and even had a seemingly legit goal taken away just as in the Slovenia match a few days before.  I was off that game day, thank god, and was able to enjoy a beer at 10am like any other soccer fan in the world.  This time, though, it would be an “early lunch” of coke and water and frustration as I watched my team fight to stay in the World Cup.

As a hyperactive child, I found a great deal of joy and love in the game early on.  Mostly, I ran circles around the field, but the feel of the ball on your feet, the sound it makes when you hit a great strike and the satisfaction of a perfectly-timed slide tackle, those were the things that kept me playing for a good portion of my life.  A life that grew as the game did, facing many of the same hurdles.

I remember in high school, a lot of kids would give me shit for not playing a REAL sport.  Soccer is the largest participation sport in the country, but generally not after kids reach a certain age – “Soccer Moms” – and there was little in the way of professional opportunity at the time even if you managed to be a stellar player in college.  People piss and moan about games, they’re so slow and low scoring.  Yet our national past time, Baseball, takes upwards of 3 hours to finish to a 1-0 score, and with plenty of ass-scratching and spitting taking up airtime.  Somehow, the US got the World Cup in Atlanta in 1998 and it sparked an interest – however small – in forming our own league.  Major League Soccer.

Being from Virginia, it was a real treat to see a local team – DC United – come away with the first two championships, and seeing the teams coach, Bruce Arena, helm the National squad for the world cup in 2002 and 2006.  There was still little interest in the game at that time here, so not many noticed when the team made it into the Quarter finals in ’02 and got knocked out in Group play in ’06.  We were rarely taken seriously on the world stage either, which only compounded the fans’ pain – it made sense that our fellow Americans perpetuated a stigma about our team, but even worse that foreigners who know the game continually deride our players and our league.

The big news came when the formerly great striker/brand, David Bekham, signed a deal with Major League Soccer to play for the LA Galaxy, one of the most highly attended franchises in the league.  Many say he was a has been by that time and that he came here to go Hollywood – both fair points – but he also somewhat legitimized the league.  Yes, he was being paid an exorbitant amount of money, but he was known as one of the greats of the modern game and some of the players felt his efforts genuine as they coalesced as a team.  One that initially believed otherwise, though, was Landon Donovan.

Donovan’s story ran parallel to US Soccer.  He was a naturally gifted youngster scoring 7 goals his in his first game at the age of 6 and went on to become a member of the inaugural class of the US Soccer program.  He was named best player in the FIFA Under 17 Tournament of 1999 and went to Germany to play for Beyer Leverkusen.  After a frustrating year, he came back to play for the San Jose Earthquakes, earning  2 championships and a host of other awards before moving on to the LA Galaxy and being named to the All-Time Best XI in 2005.  He gave up his armband to Bekham, though, and became somewhat critical of his teammate – famously in the pages of Sports Illustrated – but eventually reconciled with the Englisman and won MVP and Goal of the Year for the 2009 season.  We are both 28, both started playing young and both loved the game enough to continue.

And so I found it fitting to be sitting in bar at 11:30 am, jersey in full display, watching Landon streak accross the field in an attempt to keep his team going, to give us all something to watch during the World Cup and most importantly, to make a statement to the world that this team is not going home.  Everyone has probably seen the goal, and it was incredible.  But even more so, the journey it took to get there.

It takes a certain reckless determination to be able to score in the 91st minute of a must-win game, but much more to pursue a hobby, a sport and a career that many in your country find stupid and invaluable.  And yet, Landon not only played, he thrived, and has rightfully earned the status of other great American athletes – Jordan, Jeter, Gretzky, Woods, Elway – as the best in their game.

In his ascension lies ours.  Though I don’t see many other jerseys on game day, I see more than I used to.  Though I’m still reading plenty of Facebook status updates bemoaning this misunderstood sport, I’m also seeing a lot of virtual support and shop talk throughout.  New York is expected to have a following for Soccer, but having seen this video recently, I am heartened to see that finally, after years of feeling otherwise, I am not alone as a true fan of this game and a fan of this team.  Whatever happens in this next game against Ghana is irrelevent compared to the realizations we can come to through a simple game.

Most importantly, though, I hope the world recognizes that though we bastardized the name, we can still field an impressive cast, one that belongs on this stage as much as Italy or France – both of whom will be watching the ensuing rounds from their couches.  This country, after all, is home to all countries.  No matter what nation is playing, there is a good chance that they have a community within the United States.  These seemingly disparate pockets of humanity find a context for collaboration and cooperation in this country more so than others.  Everyone can appreciate the injustice dealt to us against Slovenia, and now everyone can share in the sheer perseverance in winning not only the game against Algeria, but also – for the first time since the Great Depression – our Group.  It seems funny, but perhaps – at least when it comes to Futbol – we Americans are at our best when faced with adversity.  For all the qualities exemplified in teams throughout the world, it is this one that is inherently rare and valuable.  This team, The World’s Team, has reaffirmed my faith in The World’s Game.

Regultion, Deregulation, and the real issue at hand

In Misc. on September 17, 2008 at 2:11 am

The dems are silly. Deregulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its regulations IN FAVOR of big business, policies that aren’t measured for the long term, and a legislative system open to special interest lobbying and prone to fiscal irresponsibility (and opportunism) that have destroyed our economy specifically, and our society in general.

Deregulation in itself isn’t bad, and regulation isn’t inherently good. Its a system of regulations designed by corrupt leaders that have damaged our economy and our society. Regulation should be used wisely, not haphazardly. The goal should be deregulation in all cases except where regulation is practical, and necessary for the good of society. That balances freedom with the fastidiousness of healthy choices.

Obviously, pollution and co2 emissions should be regulated.  That is clearly for the greater good. So should campaign finance and special interest access to legislators. But regulation should not simply be a knee-jerk reaction to every circumstance that gets out of hand. If our society is unhealthy, it is not because each sector is insufficiently regulated, but because Washington, the brain that runs society, is corrupted. Correct that pathology, and all other poor regulation (or deregulation) decisions will begin to correct themselves. I learned that watching House M.D.  One explanation for all the symptoms of an ailing human (or, by analogy, social) body or is always simpler, and therefore more likely, than two.  A society whose brain works for the best interest of its body is a society that will begin to correct itself.  For the last 8 years and more, it has had other interests in mind.  Thus, the greatest task of any reformer must be to realign the interests of politicians with the interests of the people – the social body.  Then America’s social, political, and economic development will get back on track.  What better way to do that than to start by impeaching and expelling corrupt legislators?

If this analysis holds any weight, then perhaps the current social and economic collapse in our country began on the day when the 2000 election was decided by the florida supreme court (judicial appointees with close ties to politics), instead the Florida electorate.  Reform elections, and you will reform the whole system.

McCain has advocated lobbying and election reform as much as Obama has. The question is: who is really serious about throwing out the trash? I fear the answer is neither, and I suspect that those I am most often surrounded by assume the answer is Obama, when it is just as likely that it would be McCain. Not that I agree with McCain on everything, but I have had glimmers of hope when he has spoken about vetoing every pork barrel bill that comes accross his desk (see the clip at 0:55).

In my mind, there’s no way to call this election beforehand. They are both politicians with reformist instincts. McCain has chosen a terrifying and ignorant running mate, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see the reformer in him if/when he takes office, even if he has been irresponsible in his choice of a successor. Meanwhile, Obama has made many concessions and sold off some key values and tried to spin it as a heroic act. It might be naive of us to think that he will hit the ground running with tough campaign reform when he declined public funding for his own campaign in this election (and the restrictions that go along with it, which are meant, although imperfectly, to level the playing field) after pledging that he would accept it. It seemed winning was more important than upholding commitments and ideals in this case. How do we know there won’t be something else more important once he’s in office?

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