Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pro Free Speech

The issue of free speech is a prickly one.
I recall last year, I wrote several blogs about Pastor Fred Phelps, who trolls military funerals shouting obscenities at the deceased and their mourners.
Now, it's the YouTube video that supposedly sparked violence across the Middle East for its blasphemous portrayal of the prophet Mohammed as a thief, rapist, and murderer.
Shortly after the first wave of attacks, including that of the Libyan consulate where Ambassador Stevens was killed, Obama condemned the attacks, as did Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. However, they both expressed disgust at the video and its contents, making it clear that they do not support the film, or its message.

The whirlwind, however, continues. From there, media outlets from Pakistan to Jordan to UAE have called for the death of the film maker, Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal have called Obama's apology a slap in the face of free speech, citing it as weakness and even as an indirect way of condoning the terrorists' activities.

In my mind, what Obama and his cabinet did in that first wave is called diplomacy. You state your stance, firmly and without hesitation, making it very clear that violence against your diplomats is wholly unacceptable.
In that same vein, you affirm that attacking US embassies will do the terrorists little good. The US government has to distance itself from the video and its creator in order to make clear to the budding new Middle Eastern regimes that it's not just a heap of anti-Islamists.
We can't afford more enemies in that region and condemning a video for being heinously bigoted costs less in lives and in dollars than sending in a fleet of troops to prove a point.
Where Obama's cabinet tripped up is when it sent out an “implicit censorship request” to Google, asking that the video be taken down.
Let people watch it. The ones who watch it and like it are the ones who were bigots in the first place. A movie that poorly made won't win many converts.
And if you're going to award Pastor Fred Phelps free speech allowances to slander the names of fallen soldiers, Nakoula has the right to make crappy, racist movies in the LA county boonies.
But again, just because both Nakoula and Pastor Phelps have that right doesn't mean that we have to support them.
I think this is where some people themselves trip up.

Free speech is a right but that doesn't mean you have to love what everyone says. I too think that the video is a ridiculously radical and extremist stab at the Muslim religion. I would openly admit that to any number of people – such is my right as well.
Free speech means what it says. There is no sub-clause on having the full support of the government in all your ludicrous affirmations.
Our relationship with the entire Middle East has been strained long before the camera started rolling on the Innocence of Muslims set.
As per our constitution (or the parts that are still recognized as law), the government can't stop loonies like Nakoula from getting in the way of diplomatic proceedings, but that doesn't mean that they can let loonies like him completely strike diplomacy from the table.
What was Obama supposed to say? I strongly condemn the attacks and oh, by the way, love the video! Woo hoo free speech! That's absurd.
Every American that feels the same way about this video, that it's bigoted and extremist, should voice that opinion just as loud. It’s not a knock against our national pride – it's a powerful stance against extremism, on both sides.
By condemning the attacks and the video's contents, you place yourself in the center, i.e. the only place diplomacy works.
They are obviously not on the same scale and that should not go unsaid. The death of a great diplomat like Ambassador Stevens is a loss, not just for us, but for those Libyans who wanted progress and a way forward.
But by silently accepting this video as a representation of the American/Islam paradigm, you put diplomatic work through a salad shooter.

Standing strong against terrorist activities and condemning extremist bigotry are not mutually exclusive. We can do both and still be American.
So, practice your free speech knowing that with it comes the ability to disagree with someone else's. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Retrogress Congress

What's wrong with this sentence (taken from
"Before leaving Washington to concentrate efforts on their re-election campaigns, U.S. senators voted Saturday to fund the federal government into 2013 and passed a measure asserting a tough stance towards Iran over its nuclear program."

It reminds me of that last week of finals before Christmas vacation. I would look out my dorm window, away from Econ charts and Math equations, to salivate over my mothers cooking and think up new and exciting ways to ambush my brother.
But you still have work to do!!
And the fact that I can liken my laissez-faire finals attitude to that of the men and women "running" this country, is a more than uncomfortable situation.

I don't want my congressmen/women coming home to blow smoke up my ass while the world's on fire. I don't want them avoiding dire decisions because they have to put a few sticks with their faces on it in suburban front yards.
I mean, come on!
As one comic strip artist put it, if kicking the can down the road were an Olympic sport, the US would win gold, silver and bronze.
Unfortunately, we won't get more gold out of this fiasco.
The only thing gained is a deeper hole to dig ourselves out of on the assumption that once the elections pass, Congress and whatever puppet we elect will have the balls, intelligence and ability to compromise to balance the budget.
Pipe dreams.
Spinning wheels may give the illusion of forward motion but unless there's traction, you're just stuck in the mud. And we are deep.

Just the mere fact that we can continually allow our Congress to avoid any kind of responsibility says something. Why so complacent?
Is it because Endeavour flew by last night?
Or it was Friday night and by the time the news came in, you were too drunk to read your iPhone updates.
Why am I reading about this as if it's just another piece of news to air with the weather updates?

It's grossly unacceptable!
Let's avoid doing anything so we can all go home and tell our constituents how much we care. WHAT?!
I couldn't even get away with that in college. Oh yeah professor. I know I didn't turn in my paper or take the test, but you see, I'm planning for it, and working on my own approach, trying to gain support for my thesis - and I really do care, I just can't deliver anything right now.
Ummmm...OK, you fail. Grab an application to Starbucks on your way out.
(The fact that many college grads have to work at Starbucks is another conversation entirely).

And then this vague suggestion at pre-emptive war with Iran - tremendous.
With the striking name of Senate Joint Resolution 41, this Iran stance claims that time is running out on diplomacy. Although the Resolution also states that: "Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war," I'm not buying that should push come to shove, that sentence would stand firm against tanks and drones.
I hesitate to become morbid for a moment, but how much have we forgotten?
Are flag draped coffins and thousands of childless, parentless, widowed families not enough to jog the memory?
The Middle East is a quagmire. It always has been and always will be. Our foreign policy can not rest on the goal of "fixing" it. It's not our job, it's not our business.
As a foreign country, our job is to diplomatically set up parameters for relations. If those relations become strained or hostile, bombing the shit out of them won't convince them you're right.
I wonder if the new ranks of terrorist cells in Afghanistan and Pakistan think we're right. After shell shocking them non-stop with drone attacks, I wonder if they see our point as a freedom loving nation. I'm gonna err on the side of no.
Iran is no freedom loving nation either, but it's not our job to police them. It's not Israel's either.
I know it's unlikely to change, but our tight ties to Israel get us into more trouble than not.
Netanyahu is a war hawk and would love to get in the ring with Iran, knowing full well that our "diplomatic" ties would force us into the fray as well.
It's like a sick game of Twister where one foot wrong could set off a nuclear bomb.

I predict that some sort of ramped up power play is on the horizon with Iran, if for no other reason, our greed. I can recall reading a book many years ago called "Confessions of an Economic Hitman." In it, the author recounts a conversation he had with someone in the South Pacific, who warned that at some point in the future, the US would instigate war in the Middle East. This was at least 20 years before our pre-emptive strike on Iraq. The author thought the prediction silly but the man continued, saying that our greed based economy demanded control over these oil rich nations and the only way to secure it was through war. But he warned that these conflicts would not end the way the Cold War had. It would not end with a change in government. Because these Middle Eastern countries have such a strong faith base that once we are marked as "evil," they will never stop fighting us.

It is a frightening prediction but one that, as we have seen, is completely true.
As we kick our own financial problems down the road, we ready ourselves to take on the financial burdens of yet another war.
Meanwhile, your congressman/woman wants your vote.
What a sadly broken and twisted system this is.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dodging Digital Dunces

The way I see it, in a debate, there are two scenarios in which you can't formulate a "come-back:" you lost fair and square or your opponent devolves into personal attacks.
The second one isn't too common on a debate stage or even in person. However, it is the accepted norm on the Internet.

A few days ago, I posted on my band's Facebook page and was almost immediately confronted with an angry comment suggesting that I move to Afghanistan if I hated the US so much.
This is a far right slogan I've heard too many times, and always have the same response for. Dissension is the greatest form of patriotism. It's because I love my country that I work to make it better. I then thanked him for commenting (hey, it's more hits on my band page), and went about my day.
Apparently, he didn't like my response.
After just those two comments, the rest of the 20 or so comments focused on personal, violent attacks: I hope you die, you deserve to be raped, suck this, eat that, go to hell, you're a piece of shit, etc. etc. Another one chimed in to bolster the behemoth display of dumb-assery, liking each others posts and re-iterating previous comments.
I watched this all unfold - after all, what would I say?
It was clear that any form of intellectual discourse was lost on these buffoons so why bother? I wasn't about to stoop to their level so after a while, I simply banned them from the page, reported it to Facebook and went on debating and discussing with those who had posted logical and valid points.

But it got me thinking, also because this wasn't the first time this has happened. Just a month or so ago, I commented on someone else's post only to be barraged by violent personal attacks. I've also had psycho stalkers on YouTube who began with death wishes and wrapped up with date requests.
Having grown a thick skin, I mostly just shake it off and continue on.
It's certainly not enough to shut me up, but should it be enough to make me pause?

And that's what I'm doing now.
It seems far too frequent and abundant, these digital dunces who troll the Internet armed with a full arsenal of expletives and an empty head.
And while we can't weed out all of them, or even always stop them from posting - could we trade the desensitization for awareness and not allow our entire interactive paradigm to retard to this shit-slinging level?

Because - imagine, if we begin to accept this as the norm - where does that end?
Can you picture it: once eloquent speakers meeting to debate but instead engaging in an epically grotesque and juvenile cut-down contest? Complete with foundation-less, factually inaccurate, juvenile, threatening verbal vomit?
....Scary to think that might already be happening...

If we continue to accept this as our 21st century digital discourse, we will continue to see more of these cretinous commentators and less intellectual dialog. People will cling to ideologies without the ability or even the need to back them up in any social setting. It will be black and white, good and evil. Compromise will be considered weak and any opposition to a viewpoint will be met with a slew of personal attacks instead of knowledgeable debate.
Sitting in the comfy confines, safe behind your computer, is apparently not just to avoid physical interaction, but also intellectual.

We don't need to agree on everything - what a boring and mono-faceted world it would be if we did. But if someone puts forth a point in a respectful, valid way, we have to learn and/or continue to debate it in the same fashion.
And we can't learn to accept those who don't.
Free speech is one thing, but threats and violent verbal attacks are another. 
Deleting comments, reporting abuse - these are options - but is there anything else we can do? Not just to curb this behaviour but to bolster the behaviour of intellectual debate?

(*Please note, if you have a comment on this post that has anything to do with me dying, getting raped, or getting the shit kicked out of me - stop. Go away. Come back when you have something useful to say.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Different from all other days...

There will be no shortage of 9/11 posts today. There will be no shortage of moments of silence, bowed heads, looks back and grieving remembrances.

This is one more, yet as I am wont to do - I ask a question - what's new?
I remember during Passover, one of the questions my father used to read was "What makes this night different from all other nights?"
I'm not sure why but that question always stuck out in my mind. It wasn't a happy special or an exciting Christmas morning-like paradigm shift from the ordinary.
It was somber. It was proud. Eloquent in its poetry of historical context, moving in its personal parallel, it fell like grey silk on those present - dark yet uplifting, melancholy but hopeful.

It is this same type of mood 9/11 brings me. It is of course different in that I was alive when it happened, I remember distinctly, as does everyone else, where I was, what I was doing. I obviously don't recall the Exodus from Egypt.
Yet it stirs within me, and I would think within many others, that same sense of a personal narrative, a deep seated connection to the events and the people involved - something that we, as a nation and a people, all have in common. This is our tragedy, our story.
We look back upon it, with sorrow and reflection, but also with pride, with hope, with strength.

In the eleven years since that morning, much has changed in this world, and greatly due to our actions.
9/11 catapulted us into two wars that we are still waging, that have claimed the lives of thousands of US soldiers. Here at home, our economy has bent and nearly broken under the burden of bad decisions and corrupt leadership. Our government is horribly splintered and inefficient, stalling and suffocating progress.
In many ways, we are worse off now than we were then.
Yet we look back with that somber pride of overcoming, of finding strength and unity.

Have we? Are we more united, more strong? Or do you we just reserve these feelings of togetherness and progress for this day - this day different than all other days?

What has changed?
What have we gained from the experience as opposed to lost?
Osama Bin Laden is dead. Our relationship with Pakistan is more strained than ever as we continue to pummel them with drone strikes, arguably growing terrorist ranks by default.
We are still occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, one of which had nothing to do with these attacks.
We have spent ungodly amounts of money on these endeavors while our people struggle to get by. Ironically enough, several articles today discuss the plight of surviving 9/11 families and the work of non-profit organizations to raise money, countering the lack of federal support.
We live under the most inefficient Congress in history - an ever deepening abyss of left/right hate fueling an all but stalled engine, kicking back smoke on progress and political engagement.

So, really - what is new? What makes this different than a lip service tradition? Have we, as a nation gotten better because of this - as is suggested?

This morning at Ground Zero, the family members of those who died read the names of the deceased aloud to the din of New York and the rapid clicks of cameras.
Politicians were present but none spoke - marking the first anniversary where no politicians took to the podium.
Obama gave a speech remarking on the resilience of our nation and expressing his grief for the attacks.
I listened for a few minutes and then turned off my radio.

I just sat in silence, remembering the urgent knocking on our classroom door, the distressed teacher on the other side asking that everyone come to the auditorium for an announcement.
I remember looking at my father, a historian and a New Yorker, as he watched the news, quiet and solemn. I've never seen him cry - his generation has endured many national tragedies. This was my first. As a writer and a man of words, he had little to say. His eyes could fill a book as they reflected the repeating images on the screen.
That wasn't like Passover. That wasn't a look back - that was a first look, a first impression of terror and tragedy.

For months, it was a keystone of conversation, and then, as events do, it faded from the news, and gradually from our day-to-day.
It would not do otherwise - we have to move on, as people and as a nation.
But, as we move on - wasn't the point to take those heavy words from countless speeches with us? To implement the change, the strength, the unity?
As I sat in silence this morning, I let myself cry. Not just for the victims and their families.
But for the soldiers, the innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. The homeless, poor and disenfranchised who suffer under this broken system of dis-unified corruption. The Americans who wanted strength and unity and got weakness and division instead. And in anger, in sorrow...

We are fully capable of progress. We are capable of being those people in the speeches, but we can't just be them for a day.

We can't just come together and remember, we have to come together and look forwards.

That would be a true honor to those victims, and to ourselves, as people, as Americans.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Go Metro

About four years ago, I sold my car. Since then, it's been all public transit, all the time. Well, except for those instances when you mooch a ride or treat yourself to a cab.
Unlike most other big cities in the world, LA is built on the assumption that you have a car, no, you need a car.
You don't see a lot of businessmen on the subway. You don't run into a lot of women in designer clothes on the bus.
For the most part, it's lower income or no income patrons.
Now, I don't care whether I share a bus ride with a trust fund philosopher or a blue collar high school drop out. I keep to myself regardless.
However, when push comes to shove, the state of our public transportation rests on who uses it and more importantly, who doesn't.

When New York's crime rate began to sink in the 1990's, a major catalyst was securing and cleaning up the subways. Locked turnstiles were put in, cops patrolled stations, new cars sans-graffiti and human excrement went into rotation.
If you've ever been to New York, you know everyone rides the subway. Armani suits on their way to Wall Street, Chanel bags on their way to SoHo, teachers, nannies, blue collar, white collar. If you have a car, you save it for the Hamptons. If you're moving around the city, you use public transit.
Here, if you have a car, you use it. If you can avoid public transit, you do.
It follows in a cyclical sense, that because there's not a staggering demand for it, public transit expands at a snail like pace, plodding along with superfluous time tables, short and inaccessible lines and little to no accountability for scheduling failures or security pitfalls.
And because of those shortcomings, the greater population clings to their cars like leaches on a bruise.
There was recently an article in LA-ist about a young woman's terrifying Metro experience. A man began yelling at her, threatening to kill her.
The article prompted a request for more stories like hers. I wrote in with a few but as is customary, I also added my personal spin to the issue at hand.
Fact one: Harassment on LA transit happens, verbally, physically and it is absolutely unacceptable.
Fact two: Due to the current state of LA transit, major changes are unlikely in the foreseeable future.

So, it follows from these two facts: be proactive and don't wait for change to happen.
This may sound like some kind of self help program, but really it's an honest approach to real life situations.
We should absolutely complain and make noise about the lack of safety on the Metro system.
However, we can not just point fingers and shout at scapegoats. We ourselves have to work at making ourselves and others safer.
I'm no caped crusader but if someone is getting harassed, I try to help.
If someone is harassing me, I try to deal with it in the most logical way possible. If that means getting off a couple of stops early and walking home, so be it.
If that means starting to sing to myself and talking to thin air so as to appear absolutely insane, I'm happy to try.
The woman in the article noted that she was reading a book and wearing a wedding ring, although she isn't married.
With all due respect, I've seen married women get hit on at fancy country clubs and upstanding networking events. No one gives a shit whether you're married or not.
In my experience, I have found that the best tools are the ones used in a balance.
Don't get on the train looking like a victim. Don't shy and shiver in a corner - it's too easy.
Don't fluff your feathers too much either. If you like like an arrogant little shit, someone is going to try to knock you down a few notches.
Be alert and confident but controlled and calm. Be reserved but strong. These aren't Confucian sayings - they're helpful suggestions.
Judge each situation by its surroundings and the elements at hand.
A crazy man once walked onto the train car and pushed me. I pushed back and stared him down, looking as crazy as I could.
Another time, a man came onto the train and told me to get the fuck off or he'd piss on me. You know what - I got off.

It's no person's fault if they are physically or verbally harassed on public transit. But that doesn't mean that you can't try to prepare and work against victimization.
Is it fucked up that this is how it is?
Will it change before you ride Metro again?
OK then, looks like we're just gonna have to work with what we've got right now while we work on legislatively pushing forwards.
The more we raise our voices on this issue, men and women, and the more proactive we are day-to-day, the greater chance we have of cutting these stories down.
Awareness up, harassment down. That, my friends, is a corny slogan. But, it works for me.

See you LA cats on the Metro.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sugar, spice and everything nice

Well, I'm no Democrat but I must say, they have had two Broadway smash nights.

Like "The Producers," they were all set up to fail - the Republicans laying out a red carpet of doom, soaked in rumors, banter and attacks. As CNN put it, "The GOP succeeded in lowering the bar so much that the only thing Democrats had to do Tuesday was look into the camera without drooling."

They didn't just look into the camera - they blue steeled it, and everyone watching.
Let's start with Tuesday...
It might be hard to argue with an empty chair, but it is impossible to argue with the ghost of Ted Kennedy.
Ted's nephew Joe introduced the Ted Kennedy video as an almost noble knight-like saga of passing the torch from one Democratic behemoth to a budding young senator "who embodied the change our country sorely needed."
The video went on to show footage from a Kennedy/Romney debate in 1994 where Romney claims to uphold a woman's right to abortion based on Roe v. Wade. Kennedy retorts with a well known present day complaint: that Romney's just "pandering for votes." He went on to say that he was pro-choice, his candidate, "multiple choice."
Granted, a debate from 1994 isn't exactly current events but as anyone holding or running for political office will tell you, a debate you had in 4th grade is just as 'up-for-grabs' as what you said yesterday.
And tying a memorial into the Republican debasing task at hand was a brilliant draw.
It put Romney's shortcomings in the harshest of light without dirtying any current players. It wrapped the whole accusatory game in a nostalgic haze that placed Democrats on a gentlemanly pedestal while further amplifying Romney's weak points - like a sugar coated dagger...

Tuesday wasn't all sequestered to sweet looks back. In fact, Strickland showed that the old can out-rock the new on this political stage.
Slightly reminiscent of a wily grandfather who says what he wants, Strickland accused Romney of just outright "lying" about Obama and turned the mirror on the out-of-touch high roller.
Centering much of his pointed poison on the economy, Strickland boomed, "Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands, and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps."
And as any grandfather, he threw one in for the kiddies: "if he [Romney] was Santa Claus, he'd fire the elves and liquidate the inventory."
And there you have it. The arena in Charlotte went nuts - it was just the kind of spice the Dems needed to avoid yawn-worthy, spineless rhetoric.

But the appearance of the night that everyone is talking about came from First Lady, Michelle Obama. Quotes from her speech last night cascaded over Facebook and Twitter, earning her more than just female brownie points. In fact, unlike Ann Romney, much of her speech was focused on the humble beginnings of her husband and how he won't give up on the American dream, "because he lived it."
She put Obama's life in sharp perspective, allowing people to relate to him as a person, something most Americans eat up. Even though I don't, I have to say, it was a great speech, and it seemed to come from the heart - something Romney's camp has a really hard time with.
Saying that Barack stays up late to read letters from struggling Americans, she painted a picture of Obama that people wanted to see, and she did so with grace and eloquence.
She did of course, have to mention the "women's vote" and did so with more personal anecdotes about Barack's relationship with his two daughters and his avid belief in protecting their rights, as well as all women's.

As for Wednesday, well, it was all about Bill. The two have a speckled history at best but last night it was all in for Bill and he rocked the house. I'm actually bummed that he can't ever run again. He has the air of confidence, almost arrogance, knowing how much power he still wields, but at the same time, a leader-like calm that draws people in, even with the thick Arkansas drawl.
He was entertaining but a fact-filled powerhouse, including stirring numbers on job growth since the 60s (that check out with fact checkers). As the BBC put it, "he excites Democrats, informs and attracts independents and undecideds, and infuriates Republicans."
Bill did what you'd think most campaigning politicians need to do: avoided the choir. He spoke over the heads of the already staunchly Democratic delegates and into the living rooms of America, explaining without patronizing, what the issues were and why Obama needed to take them on.

Today, media is saying, with this foundation, Obama needs to close out the night tonight with a strong, spirited speech and he will be "on the road to re-election."
It seems that game of golf really smoothed out the rough edges around Clinton and Obama's relationship history.
Some memorable quotes from Bill's speech:
"We focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities and not fighting all the time."
"Poverty, discrimination, and ignorance, restrict growth."
"Unfortunately the faction that dominates the Republican party ... they think the government is the enemy ... and compromise is weakness."
"We simply can't afford to give the reigns of government to someone who will double-down on trickle-down."

After these past two nights, viewers and delegates alike left with a sweet and savory helping of politics - a balance between the bitter left/right banter and the sweet glaze of entertainment coupled with looks back and nostalgic musings.

Again, I'm no Democrat, but if today goes the same way, Romney will need more than that one point jump to counter the swell from the DNC.
For Dems, it would be well worth a fist bump or two...


For people like me, well, I enjoy the show, but know, once the curtains close, it's more of the same, a tired two-faced game.
But don't let me rain on the parade - the confetti and sparkle will fade, in time - and down the line, maybe all of this sugar and spice - will be more than money can buy...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is who better off?

The Democrats are just about to kick off their convention, and the Republicans have just ended theirs. In this lull between the powerhouse events, the question continuously asked is: "Are we better off now than 4 years ago?"
It's the question Republicans are asking constituents as they press for votes in swing states such as North Carolina - and it's also a question asked by Democrats looking to highlight the progress made under the Obama presidency.
As Biden put it in a speech in Ohio today, "We are better off because Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."

My brain glitched as I read this. Really? This is what you're handing the nation as enough of a reason to hunker down for four more years?
This sounds more like a cheesy catch-phrase for middle school class elections than a legitimate argument for Presidential re-election.
And of course Republicans are jumping on everything from broken promises about Gitmo and Afghanistan to joblessness and taxes to prove that the starry eyed hope campaign of four years ago manifested into a hopelessly lackluster reality.  

Meanwhile, as I watch footage of David Koch listening intently at the RNC last week, I can't help thinking...who is the "we" they are talking about when they ask that question.
I know Koch can't complain. He hasn't suffered serious set backs under Obama. But Obama's talk about corporate restraint (granted, it's just talk) makes him all the more happy to chant "I built this" and gaze at Romney like a director his new favorite actor.
He's funneling so much money into the Republican campaign, you might think with each blink, he triggers a direct deposit to Romney/Ryan 2012 Inc.

Four years ago, Obama campaigned under the guise of changing the way "old politics" worked and fixing the broken process of today's political environment.
Well uh...that mission was just about as accomplished as the one Bush rented an aircraft carrier to announce.
Obama has done more than his fair share to protect the corporate interests that run this country.
Maybe that's why he's not keen to mention the overwhelming evidence that bigger government provides a better economy and a better infrastructure - which was his original campaign message.
As Julian Zelizer wrote on CNN, "One can't run a successful store if police don't protect the shop from thieves, if roads are not built and paved so that customers can reach their destination, if tax incentives are not in place to alleviate some of the costs that the owner must shoulder."
This metaphor should be the keystone of the Democratic Convention and their overall campaign.
The fact that Bin Laden is dead and GM is still pushing out cars still worse than Asian ones are little tid-bits. It doesn't say anything about the Democrats in general. Four years and all you can give me is one dead terrorist and more cars?
Doesn't that do more for flag waving GM shareholders than for the average American?
What about new jobs? What about the health care bill you championed? What about social security? Education? Foreign policy (outside of Bin Laden...oh and the drones...)?
If we're gonna cling to party ideologies, might as well hold on to the sturdiest of foundations, and for Democrats that's bigger government.
And polls show that when asked about government in terms of specific programs and works, most Americans are in favor. But in the abstract, "big government" sounds scary. It sounds a little too 1984, and Republicans capitalize (pun intended) on that comparison. It's almost like they get paid extra every time they use the word "socialist."

My stance about the broken two-party system is obvious. I hesitate to hope for any amount of legitimate change so long as it's right, left and Big Brother Buck heading up our government. But I think it's worth the mention that if Democrats did stick to their ideological base, people like Koch wouldn't be able to pay for that seat on Romney's shoulder, and people like me and you would be answering yes to that weighted question.
So the question shouldn't stop there. Like in high school essays, there should be a follow up. "And why do you think so?"
Why are the majority of Americans fiscally debating a $2 cup of coffee? Why didn't Obama deliver on so many promises? Why would Romney be different?

I think if we, the people, sought to answer more of these questions, the path to solidifying "we" as better off may brighten, and consoling comments about Bin Laden's ocean grave and GM's resurrection wouldn't be enough to secure re-election. Vapid playground put-downs and come-backs wouldn't pass for political debate. And David Koch wouldn't sit comfortably at any political event, pulling strings and trading favors.

It's a two way street. They've gotta do better but we gotta push them to.
Are we better off? You tell me...and why?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's not me, it's you

Wednesday night was a hot night for Republicans, literally and figuratively.
In hot and humid Tampa, they brought out the big gun slingers to talk about big gun issues.
Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney were officially named Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. Condoleeza Rice took to the podium to talk foreign policy. Ryan took to the stage to tell you what Obama is doing wrong. Mike Huckabee urged social conservatives to follow Romney to the White House. The day before, Ann Romney and a handful of other female Republicans took to the stage to remind females that "we hear you." Tonight Romney will tell the nation that Obama's broken promises "gave way to disappointment and division."

Let me just go ahead and deconstruct a couple of these. If you're like me, your brain rejected the above statements with a heavy helping of common sense and historical context.
Article one.
Condoleeza Rice was secretary of state under George W. Bush.
In terms of foreign policy, Rice was a key player in the most embarrassingly backwards-thinking, trigger-happy and arrogant administration in many many years. The idea of her lecturing ANYONE on foreign policy would be laughable if it weren't for the screaming crowds of supporters. But let's not digress into emotional musings just yet...
Article two.
In his first public address as official VP nom, Ryan decided to spend his time, not laying out a plan, but continuing to bash Obama. From calling Obama the "greatest threat" to Medicare to placing all the blame on him for the downgrading of the US credit rating, Ryan acted more like an attack dog than a young, inspiring leader ready to take on the country's issues.
In debate, it wasn't enough to counter an argument just because. You had to not only provide evidence but offer up a better solution. Ryan did neither.
Granted, with the current two-party system of he-said/she-said politicking, I wouldn't expect him to.
The Democrats do the same thing. Lies are the preferred form of communication leading up to election day, while the issues remain shoved under a rug of widespread apathy and ideological loyalty.
It's odd that Ryan didn't bother pointing out some of Obama's actual presidential failures - like sentencing 6 whistle blowers - more than all other presidents combined - under the Espionage Act. Or signing NDAA which effectively allows for indefinite military detention. Or deploying over 4 times as many drones as Bush did when in office, to kill targets on various classified "kill lists." Oh and by the way, he's already started deploying surveillance drones in the good ole US of A.
Ryan didn't mention any of the countless other true stories that shed light on a less than successful presidency.
All I can say is - oo oo shiny!
The less you know about this, the more we can continue our useless banter over vaginas, prescription drugs and where Obama was born. That and the fact that practices such as these are not likely to change under any president. They are a reflection of the system as a whole. It's only such "surface issues" as abortion, marriage and which God you pray to that split along party lines.

In the interest of time, I'll skip over Huckabee's call to arms. Their class clashing tiffs back in '08 generated Huckabee quotes such as "pack it up and go back to Boston," and calling Romney "arrogant and presumptuous." Last night, he was all about thanking Obama for bringing him and Romney closer together, so that united, they could take on the evil Democrats in their fortress of deception.

In the end, why don't we all just thank Obama for giving us another total wasted televised political event?
I'm sure after the DNC, we can thank Romney for the same thing.
The blame game wrapped in a cuddly veil of don't-bother-telling-us-what-you'll-do-differently.
Rice standing resolute and claiming that Romney and Ryan "know what to do" when it comes to foreign policy. Ummm...what gave that away? Romney's recent trip to Europe?
I guess when you judge from the platform of her resume, anythings looking up. 
And maybe you could share with the class what it is that they know to do - could I see an outline?
If I am to go off of their campaigning, I'd assume it's the exact opposite of what Obama has done. I guess we'll find out if Obama gets the boot - it's like a cracker jack surprise - how exciting!

Granted, I also don't have the slightest clue what Obama will do to make his next term any better.
I hate to be so depressingly realistic but the picture really sums it up.
Either way, pardon my language, we're fucked.

Until we just turn around and walk away from this broken system, and demand one that digs to the bottom of this corporatized plutocracy, we're gonna keep getting a whole lot of this, leaving us with very little on the back end.
The only thing that will trickle down is disappointment and division. Well done Romney - you got that one half right.
The pomp and circumstance of these conventions, so proven by their content, is just that - pomp and circumstance - with no more substance than the Super PACs and financial supporters allow (about as much as the contents of a dieting model's lunch box).

In the interest of our interests, we should take more interest in the simmering slop beneath sky rocket interest rates and hand shaking, back door dealing corporate interest mates. 
Or if you're happy with where we lie, don't stand - let this all pass you by, swimming in real lies, too indoctrinated to realize - the truth as it floats by, smothered and beaten, spit out, never eaten - breathe in - mind that cough. Close your eyes - exhale all the worry that comes from you seeing - enjoy the ride.
But don't look so confused as they sit so amused, counting their cash flow, as we writhe in the under toe - of too long, too much - too little from us, and then too weak - to swim gainst the waterfall...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jesus, the political activist

I am blown away. Even tho I read frequently, it's been a while since I was blown away by a work of historical non-fiction. Although very informative, most are written in a dry, overly verbose fashion, stoically framed by a slew of dates and events that I can't relate to.
The last time I was blown away by a historical non-fiction, was in fact, after reading my fathers book, America Aflame (by David Goldfield).
In it, he puts forth religious extremism and its uncompromising ideological foundation as a major contributing factor to the start of the Civil War, on both sides.
It's interesting how quickly humans lose sight of humanity in the face of Gods.
Now, it may seem that I have an affinity for religious non-fiction, but you'd be wrong.
My latest foray had very little to do with Jesus the deified son of God, and everything to do with Jesus, the man...the political activist.

The Jesus Dynasty was actually written by a colleague of my fathers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), James Tabor. Not where you'd expect enlightened authors and historians to hang out, but hey, I guess the BBQ is good.
And speaking of BBQ, Jesus won't be having any. Not just because, as a human, he's been dead for 2000 years, but also because he was a devout follower of the Jewish faith.

In Tabor's book, he chronicles the life of Jesus, based on recovered texts, and historical (as opposed to theological) readings of the gospels and stories in the Bible. For example, he uses the writings of the Roman/Jewish historian and hagiographer, Josephus, who kept record of Jewish history in the later half of the 1st century A.D.
Through these pieced, parted and often partisan sources, Tabor constructs a rough outline of Jesus' life.

Big point number one: was in fact human. Had a human mother and a human...FATHER. Actually, evidence suggests his father was a Roman soldier...hope you're sitting down...named Pantera. Metal heads, rejoice!
Secondly: He preached the Torah. He had absolutely no interest in creating a new religion. His religious beliefs were firmly bound to Jewish tradition, and the teachings of the Torah. He wasn't interested in a kingdom of heaven. What he championed was peace and justice on earth - brought on by the apocalyptic Messianic movement that John the Baptizer started, and that Jesus was baptized into. Together, they were the TWO Messiahs prophesied to retake the throne of David and the priesthood of Aron, to rule together.
That was his vision of the Kingdom of God, because that was the Jewish vision of the Kingdom of God.  On earth, as it is in heaven - he was thinking about down here, not up there...

He and his followers thought of his "divinity" only so far as the prophesies aligned with his background, time of birth and his life of righteousness. They would never go so far as to suggest he was the son of God.
They accepted him as an earthly King, with real blood ties and therefore real claim to the throne of Israel.
And that was a HUGE deal back in the day; the act of claiming that throne meant greatly angering the colonizing Romans, whose preferred form of dispatch was - crucifixion.
Truth of the matter is - Jesus and John the Baptizer made the Romans very nervous. But it wasn't their religious preaching that got all those togas in a twist.
Preaching to live your life according to the Torah is no real cause for crucifixion.
It was the Messianic movement that heralded the coming of a King, from the line of David (Jesus), and the coming of a Priest, from the line of Aron (John) that irked the Romans so much.

Romans would have probably been almost happy to welcome a loon preaching a new religion. Anything to take away the simmering mutterings of a legitimate King overtaking their half Jew, Herod. 
But that wasn't the case.
Jesus was claiming a right to the throne of Israel, as a blood line heir of King David.
He was claiming a political post that would usurp the power of the Roman Empire.
Jews believed that once a King from the Davidic blood line, with a priest from the Aron blood line laid claim to the throne of Israel, the end of an age was at hand - the end, they thought, of an age of injustice and foreign rule.
They looked upon Jesus as King, and John as Priest.
And with this vast following of hopefuls, Jesus represented a political threat to Roman rule, not a religious one.
He was crucified not as a religious zealot, but as a political activist.
His brother (yes, brother) James carried on this legacy as the Messianic legacy, not a Christian one. Being of the same blood line as Jesus (different father, same mother), James was the natural successor to his brothers works, hence the name, Jesus Dyansty. It was crucial to maintain that Davidic blood line to keep the movement going.
That guy Paul - just named himself a thirteenth apostle - he was never invited into the inner circle, never knew Jesus, and was in fact scolded a few times for twisting the teachings of Jesus.
Not to mention, you only need 12 apostles - to rule over the 12 tribes of Israel.

What happened many years after Jesus' death was a theological and overly fantastical rendition of life events.
He didn't rise on the third day, his body was moved.
The crown of thorns was placed upon his head as a mockery of his claim to the throne.
He would never have blessed the bread and wine at dinner as his flesh and blood. It was strictly forbidden in the Torah to drink blood. He would have blessed it in the traditional Jewish fashion.
His mother wasn't a virgin. She was adulterous. She became pregnant before she married Joseph, arguably from a Roman soldier.

The facts reach out from the book and grab at your mind like someone reaching for your hand. It's tactile, tangible - exciting and riveting. To understand that the most popular figure in the history of humanity, was in fact, a human.
It makes you appreciate the strength of mankind, the power of our own will.
I'm an atheist and I've never felt more intrigued by Jesus than after reading this book.
Because I now know him as human.
Gods, and giants are always capable of great feats, but if a human gives us all hope.
And hope that is based on our own abilities, not our faith in ethereal beings.

And of course, he was very religious, and his faith surely gave him strength to act - but he would arguably never have acted had his faith concerned itself with purely heavenly matters.
Jesus was all about his here and now - his teachings say nothing of after lives, resurrection or heavenly kingdoms.
He had faith in God, but also in his people. He had faith that justice would be carried out, on earth, in his lifetime. 
So - why? Why would we strip such an amazing human of his very humanity?
Is it, as Nietzsche says, so the weak can feel more comfortable knowing that no human is capable of such greatness?
Again, I have no problem with faith. I don't preach Atheism. I don't preach at all. I do my best to overcome my own varied superstitions in the face of truth and reality.
It's uncomfortable for many to think of Jesus as man.
But think about it! Would that not give you more faith?!
To realize that a human, someone just like you - was able to move a nation, no, an Empire, with his teachings and his beliefs. That is surely worthy of another chapter in the Bible.
Human strength and religion need not sit on opposite ends of the spectrum.
If you are a Christian, reading this, tell me - why would Jesus' humanity be a threat to his true legacy?

His true legacy - the one believed by his followers, his apostles and many people in Israel around that time:
that soon, oppression would be cast aside, dictators removed, injustices righted, on earth.
He represented that hope, in the flesh.

That makes him all the more impressive to me.
Because as a human, and a political activist - the change they wanted, is the change I want.

Wherever your bones lie, after all this time, through history's lens we can try, to reconstruct your life, your teachings, your legacy - so that you may in fact rise, as a hero - of the people, for the people and by the people.

For more on James Tabor and his work, please visit:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can't see the forest through the pussy willows...

Hitler was evil.
But you wouldn't know that if thousands of people hadn't followed his lead.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a tremendous milestone.
That never would've happened if it weren't for the tireless and cohesive efforts of thousands.

Three members of the Russian punk rock band, Pussy Riot, have been jailed since February because of a performance.
You wouldn't know or care if it wasn't all over Facebook, on Madonna's back during a show, and plastered through international media.

The one thing all of these mentions have in common is cultural signifigance.
In these three cases and in many more, culture took on the political meaning of that time, that place, those people. And that's why people knew about it, and that's why people were engaged.

Let's face it, politics aren't sexy. On their own, they're not flashy or entertaining - unless someone loses their shit on the senate floor or accidentally tweets penis pictures. Serious issues go unnoticed for the same reason that more people watch American Idol than C-Span.

Of course, C-Span is far more relevant to our lives, our well being, our future. But American Idol is fun to watch, engaging, sexy.
A Russian writer and performer was on NPR the other day, commenting on the Pussy Riot issue.
What particularly caught my attention, as I did my second round of shoulder presses, was how she lamented the extreme focus on the issue.
She said that due to the media frenzy over their captivity, so many issues, far more relevant to the Russian people, are going unnoticed. When asked why: "they're not as interesting to people."


The fact that Russia jails hundreds of dissidents every year isn't as interesting. Or the fact that those dissidents don't receive proper medical treatment and die during what should have been a 2 year sentence. These aren't made into billboards by celebrities or pinged incessantly on Facebook, because they lack the style and swagger to ignite cultural interest.
And without that, political issues, no matter how important, will always simmer below the line of mass public knowledge and engagement.

In the 60s, politics were made sexy and engaging by artists. Music was overflowing with political messages and it was considered cool to go to protests, to be engaged, to "be the change."
Hitler pumped out propaganda videos and posters like he was running a movie studio. A line from Mein Kampf reads,

"The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses' attention to certain facts, processes, necessities, etc., whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision."

Absolutely right. No one gives a shit until you show them in a way they can digest it, until you make it a part of their culture.
In Hitler's case, he appealed to the wounded pride of a nation. Propaganda was always about the strong German overcoming the trials and tribulations of injustice to rise, a superior race.
That made it interesting to people, that made it sexy.
If he were just to come out after the first world war and suggest more violence and make far flung suggestions at racial cleansing, he would've sunk into loony anonymity.

Humans are fickle - we are self gratifying beings. If we aren't entertained, engaged or otherwise drawn to something, we don't care about it.
Political and social issues have to appeal to this human trait, and that's something this generation has lost.
It's not cool to be into politics anymore. Preaching escapism has become central to my generation's dogma. We'll regurgitate 60s fashion, art, and music, but hollow out the meaning for an empty but oh-so-chic design. We'll donate to save Darfur but only because that celebrity said so, and once the check is mailed, we let the message fade.
Since 9/11, countless laws have been passed that constrict our freedoms and usurp our rights. Crickets. In January, 2010, the Supreme Court basically OK'd corporately sponsored elections. Silence.
We don't fight for anything because it never seems urgent enough. People aren't going to go looking for reasons to get into politics. Politics has to come to them.
And the only way for politics to get to the people is through popular culture.
We're desensitized to politics, disinterested - because our culture dismisses any political ties.

And so, we will continue to focus on very minute issues, such as Pussy Riot, or the occasional disaster relief, simply because they rise above that simmering line, to engage us culturally.
And until larger issues, like oh, I dunno - the corporate dictatorship we live under, our broken two party system, our shattered infrastructure, our thoughtless wars, our tattered economy - until issues like these are made sexy, with enough glitz to grab our attention, they will remain beneath the surface, like a cancer quietly destroying a people - without their knowledge.

No doubt, it's our fault as a nation, for not stepping up to the plate to take interest in our own country, but in all honesty, that will never happen - it never has.
People don't just care - they have to be made to care. Information has to be delivered in a way that piques interest.
So, how can we do that?
How can we make politics sexy, interesting, engaging?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Paul Ryan: just right.

In my early morning daze, the push notification on my phone read Paul and I damn near fell out of bed. "Holy shit! Romney picked Ron Paul to be his VP!"
Oh wait, no. Paul RYAN...the name wound its way through my groggy brain, pushing through cobwebs and tannins til it landed in its familiar file of "Economic disaster."

The sun light filtered through the shades - outside, grapes ripened on vines cascading over rolling hills. Paul Ryan trickled out of my mind.
His nomination just wasn't that interesting to be honest.

He's just right - not too hot, not too cold - for the Republicans and their corporate keepers.

He's not an extreme choice like Sarah Palin was. He's what I like to call an "econ-con," a double entendre I chuckled over in my simultaneous dismay.
He's a business-friendly, economically motivated Republican, as opposed to Tea Party evangelical loony tunes like Bachmann.
He fills in a lot of holes in Romney's personality and campaign.
He doesn't have a history of see-sawing, he has no experience in the financial sector which will take some heat off of Romney for being viewed as a heartless millionaire.
Of course, let's just disregard the fact that just a few months ago, Romney said that anyone without business experience shouldn't be allowed inside the White House...ahem, ahem, cough, cough.

Well, if you've been following Romney, you'll know that flip-flopping is not something he's afraid to do - the man practically has springs on his feet, and now he'll have to jump again.
Remember Romney-care? Yeah, tricky one. Particularly when your new VP sliced and diced any semblance of socialized health care like a horror movie surgeon (which by the way, you'll have to pay top dollar for). Not to mention Romney's relaxed view on abortion - Ryan? Well he wants to ban many forms of birth control - I hear the problem with abstinence is people just aren't giving it a fair shot.

Ryan's economic plan takes the rug out from middle and lower class Americans (not that there is much of a middle anymore) and then proceeds to beat them with it.
While some have claimed that he's the compromising kind, that's about as true as Obama being a beacon for hope and change.

What he is, is again, just right (pun absolutely intended).

During the debt ceiling debates, Ryan made it a point to personally visit Cantor and Boehner, dissuading them from signing any agreement that would raise taxes and not make sufficient cuts to entitlement and other federally funded programs, such as Social Security. Basically, don't compromise with Republican ideologies.
Well golly gee, doesn't that just sound all bi-partisan and cozy?
No. Of course it doesn't.
Romney is gelatinous enough on his own. Granted, he doesn't gel over to the center but he's not the straight up and down conservative that the GOP wants to neatly niche out their party.
Ryan is.
And that's how this works. The right needs to stay right. The fact that much of Romney's history shows him flirting with centrist notions makes no difference now. He can't say that he's in favor of gun control at this point - he's got the NRA up his ass with a .45.
He can't say he's OK with birth control - he's got a religious right wing flapping at him.
The fact of the matter is, is that so long as elections run this course: right vs. left, no one on either side will be allowed to tickle the line between their side and center side. It has to be us vs. them, we're righteous, they're evil. Because after all, it's really about conservative and liberal, not about one nation - for the people, by the people and of the people. Ha - pipe dreams!

So, I'm not super bummed or super excited about this choice. Romney will win some and lose some based on his running mate. Florida will probably move a few points further away, while conservative swing states that don't favor Romney's swing, will pendulum over to the right.
Corporate funds will bolster as per usual, happy with Ryan's favoring of lax regulations and taxes.

So, in reality, it's business as usual. The right stays right, the left stays left and in between, the no man's land of a quiet center simmers in the final months before election.
And the pipeline of the majority of Americans between left and right will continue to shoot out pipe dreams of progress until simmer turns to boil.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


It's a question I ask myself so often. As an activist, it's not just asking yourself why things happen but why you fight to change them. It's not just why didn't anyone stop it, it's why didn't I stop it? And why don't I next time...
It's overwhelming. Depressive realism takes hold frequently, reminding me that there is so much wrong in the world, the attempt to right it can drown good intentions before they move to swim.

This morning, I flipped through a pile of articles and settled on one entitled, "The Casualty of Coal."

Gary Wayne Quarles was 33 when he died in the Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster on April 5, 2010. He lived next door to his parents, and was their only child.

They read their son's autopsy report, indicating carbon monoxide poisoning and a cause of death of smoke and soot inhalation. There were also prior symptoms suggesting he had black lung disease.
Gary Wayne's father, Gary, recited the creed he and other miners felt was the true Massey motto: "Production first, safety last, haul that coal or haul your ass."
Throughout the company's history, it received numerous safety violations, and contested most of them.

On a day that began with 3 anti-depressants, Gary headed to Washington to speak to lawmakers about mine safety and regulation.
"This was my son, Gary Wayne," he said, holding a poster-size picture of his son. "I called him my son, but he was a man, a real man." He paused to compose himself, with difficulty. "We are here for safety."

Two years after the tragedy, no Massey executives have been criminally charged, no new Federal mine safety legislation has been passed and the families of those killed that night have only memories and money to console themselves with.

Gary Wayne's mother, Patty, says she agreed to the final settlement, not because she thought it was a good one, but because she couldn't bear to argue over cash for her sons life anymore.
"I wanted it over. I wanted it over so bad. At the same time, this is your mom saying this is what your life's worth. Like your mom sold you out. He was our whole world. He'd come to the door and say, 'Hey Mom.' I can almost still hear him. It's unbearable to think about what's actually gone."

They now have the freedom to do whatever they want to. Neither one ever has to work again. But they don't want to do anything. Patty sleeps a lot and sits on the porch, staring out towards her son's home. Gary drives to the cemetery where Massey paid for their sons plot and burial. He used to look forward to hunting season, particularly when he wouldn't have to work anymore.
"I always wondered what it'd be like not having to work. I love to hunt. But see, me and Gary Wayne hunted. Now when I make the trip, I cry going in, I cry in the tree stand, I cry coming home. I never know when I might start crying. I don't really understand it."
Patty says she never saw him cry before this. Now he cried remembering...the night of the explosion, when families gathered in a building and a woman from Massey held a clipboard, announcing, '"If I call your name, you are to report to the fire department to identify bodies."'
"What kind of person says that?" he asks.

What kind of person says that?
Why did it happen?
Why did they let it happen?
Why didn't someone stop it?
Why weren't they punished?
Why didn't they make sure it won't happen again?
Why didn't anyone respond to Gary's cries for safety, for his son?
Why didn't anyone do anything?
Why didn't anyone do anything?
Why didn't anyone do anything?

That's why I try to do something.
For stories like this, for realities like this. I can't imagine losing a child, and I can't imagine pleading with someone, who with the flick of a wrist, could ensure that it wouldn't happen again, and them turning away. I can't imagine how that feels. I can't imagine the rage, the sorrow, the soul wrenching, mind blowing, heart stopping depth of loss.

But I can imagine the country that allows it.
And that's why I do something.

I can imagine a country where stories like these are far too regular, where parents bury teenagers, and receive condolences and a grave stone.

I can imagine a country that puts profit before people, always, without question.
I can imagine that country because it is our country, it is our nation, it is US.

We are this country and we are the guilty parties, that allow this to happen, time and time again.

Our silence and inaction is a seal of approval.

That's why I try to make noise, why I try, to make a difference.
It's not just for me or for you and yet it is entirely for me and for you.
You do not live outside these tragedies. They are not beneath you or perpendicular. They are your reality, your country and your future.
This is why.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

It's a small world, after all

The world is getting smaller. No developed nation can cling to isolationist ideologies and no developing country (with resources) is allowed to.
Our differences are both peaked and dulled by this interconnection. Our similarities are either used for kumba-ya campaigning or shoved under the rug of coincidence.
You won't hear a lot about it in this country, but many of our plights are shared on this stage of global politics. And many of our decisions and stances make marks on other cultures, countries and governments, good and bad.
So, on this platform of continuous globalization, I'd like to share some news stories about us, from parallels and points of view outside of our own.

Have a great weekend, Revolutionaries!

Deja-vu in Poland: Jacek Zakowski could easily be talking about us, but he's not. In a recent article in Gazeta Wyborcza, Zakowski scolds his country for giving up the liberties it fought so hard to gain. “There was no coup, no fanfare, no lofty ideas or slogans,” he says, but slowly and systematically, the Polish government has been restricting the rights and freedoms of its people by passing laws eerily reminiscent of pre-1989. Just in the past six months, Poland has passed a handful of laws that allow invasive government surveillance coupled with restricting public demonstration. Of course, just as in the US, each law comes sugar coated and tied off with double speak logic and a sprinkling of fear. Zakowski sees this as an ominous trend and eerily finishes off his article: “No huge external threat menaces us ; instead, the threat comes from within. A quarter of a century after the overthrow of communism, we have forgotten why it had to be overthrown. We remember the censorship, the empty shelves and tanks in the streets, but we forgot that these were only symptoms. The disease was the arrogance of power. And that rot can set in even in a democracy.” Don't we know it...

Compare and contrast with a .45: I abhor mindless regurgitation of news, particularly tragic, mindless acts of violence. That's why it was so refreshing to read an article by a Brit on the events of July 19th in Aurora, Colorado. Needless to say, all of Europe was shocked, but in a way, not surprised. It's hard to be surprised when you look at our gun toting culture. In 1996, Britain banned all handguns after a school massacre in Dunblane, Scotland when a man, armed with 4 pistols, killed 16 children and an adult. Assault rifles and automatic weapons have been banned since the 1930s. Last year, 51 Brits were killed with guns. In 2009, 31,347 Americans were killed with guns. Kind of makes the adage, “Guns don't kill people, people do,” a mockery of 30,000 cadavers. One man argued, on the site,, that if people in the theater had been allowed to carry guns, this mad man could have been stopped before killing 12 people. Ummmmm...I can't grasp that logic. Oh wait, because it isn't logical! Adding guns to a lethal situation doesn't make it any safer. It seems we suffer from “add-it-on-itis,” thinking that we can cover up a bullet wound with a bandaid and call it a day. The truth of the matter is, that bullet hole wouldn't be there if guns weren't floating around neighborhoods like runaway balloons at a Fair. But as we all know, the NRA has the nuts of government between a rock and a salad shooter. Even conservative Romney had originally campaigned to ban certain guns in 1994 to now of course stand firmly behind the “out of my cold dead hands” slogan. Unfortunately, that slogan is all to real for more than 30,000 Americans a year.

No doot aboot it: Say what you will about their funny accents and cops on horses but money talks and the Canadians are getting loud. For the first time in history, the average Canadian makes more than the average American. Personally, I'm surprised it's taken this long to surpass us. Through the economical twists and turns of the past decade, Canada has remained relatively even-keeled, due in large part to a firm set of banking regulations and a government active in social programs such as health care and education. They're certainly not perfect but they seem to get that free-market capitalism, particularly as a governing faction, doesn't quite cut it. As Stephen Marche wrote in, "The Canadian system is working; the American system is not."

Outsourced: Any businessman will tell you: it's a global economy, and times are rough. Outsourcing is nothing new yet most Americans choose to cling to the ignorant naivete that jobs on American soil are always a better option. That's just not the case. As Michael Tanner said in, presidential hopeful Romney knows from previous experience that outsourcing allows a company to be more "efficient and dynamic" in a global economy, allowing companies to grow and consumers to consume. He calls on Romney to make a "full-throated defense of capitalism" via outsourcing, and to stand up and tell it like it is. Only problem is, it's election year. Romney has backed up on a lot of issues such as health care and gun control, and he's not about to lose swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania just so he can come off as a cold but honest businessman.
So there you have it. The truth of the matter is this: you won't hear the truth. Romney won't back anything that might lose him votes regardless of how he really feels. 
He has to represent the Republican party and all the ideologies that go with it. 
And one of those ideologies is based on the needs of lower/middle class working families who rely on those outsourced jobs. 
The funny (ironic, not haha) part of it is, outsourcing will continue, probably even increase, regardless of what Romney has to say. 
It's a global economy and the figureheads of government have little to do with that.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Buddy President

National Review is a “conservative commentary on American politics, news and culture,” and I make the journey to the right from my center soapbox about twice a week to read about what stereotypical conservatives have to say about what's going on in the good ole US of A.
Two days ago I happened upon an article by Rich Lowry on how Obama is tricking young voters entitled “Obama's Dupes.”
Expecting to hear about another Bachmann-esque conspiracy rant and rave, I skimmed through the first few sentences.
Skimming turned to reading and I finished up the one page article feeling inspired.
Inspired and pissed off.

Now, I have no problem with a conservative having a point - I would be just as inspired and pissed off if it was a leftist that brought this up again.
I have a problem with the fact that his point is even an issue.
In short, he makes the argument that young voters flocked to Obama in '08 because of his promise of hope and change. Fine - they were duped just like any other constituent who honestly believes anything a potential President (or in office one for that matter) has to say. 
But the unsettling argument continues on to point out that it'll just happen again - why? Well, because Obama has that "cool and cerebral style," because of the "slow jam" on the Fallon show, because he's like their buddy.
Their buddy?!?!
I can remember the first time I heard about this - when Bush was first elected. In interviews, people said they voted for him because he seemed like a good guy, someone you'd want to grab a beer with. 

Why the fuck would you want the President to be someone you'd grab a beer with?
Wouldn't you rather he skip the beer and spend some time...oh I dunno...running the god damn country?!
While Lowry's post focused on young liberals, this phenomenon is not cloistered in the leftist lair. It's a widespread factor in deciding who to vote for. 
And this kind of thinking points to something that I have long wrestled with: the cultural politics of my generation. 
In other words, my generation (I'm 25) does a damn good job of avoiding politics. And when we do encounter it, we treat it like a Facebook event - something we can ignore or pay attention to based on who's gonna be there, how much fun we think we'll have and whether it happens at the same time as Glee or not. 
Well shit people, it's not a frat party. 
Politics happen whether you RSVP or not - the only thing is that if you don't show up, or possibly even worse, if you show up with a punch bowl blend of ignorance and arrogance, the downfall of our future economically, socially, politically, globally and yes, culturally, will catch up with you quicker than that 5th gin and tonic.

Politics can be culturally stimulating - but we as a culture, our generation, has to make it so. And that does not include having a beer with the President. The President should be chosen based on his ability to work for you, for the issues that effect you and will effect you. 
But since most people my age don't know what those are, we fall back on how likable a guy is. 

Make politics part of your cultural existence - educate yourself on the things going on around you outside of fashion, fucking and Facebook. 
Create culture that mirrors politics and you'll see that through the creation of a culture that is tied to politics, the political trajectory can be moved. 
We can't change politics through a few non profits and a few rallies. We have to change it through the cultural lens we use to see it. 
Only then will we honestly appreciate the realities of our nation's issues. 

So, put down the Bud Light and get to know Obama as a President, not as a buddy. 
And get to know the system he's a part of. 
Pretty sure once you do, you won't want to have a beer with any candidate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Burned by the sun...

Call me crazy. Many have.
It's been suggested that i'm lazy, complaining and a downright drag.
I sit and I write, concocting a fight -
in my head, that I dread –
will never see the light -
of day.
There's apathy here -
festering in the open air -
of reality – no shade -
getting burned by the sun -
all we think to do is run -
so the bad news won't hit us -
the evil escape us -
and we emerge unscathed
on the other side of rage.
But you can't skip that step
where you won't give but you get -
the perfect world, that polished pearl -
the future you planned in your dreams
it ripped at the seams
and you won't pick up the needle to sew
to move forward and grow
or tear it down to start again -
just act!
Instead you sit in your left, you stall in your right -
you flip flop and see saw, abide by the fucked laws -
and whine when you can't have your way -
but who has your say?
The ones in the boardrooms -
the slick and sly tycoons -
may sound cliché but check.
No really, I want you to
go google and yahoo -
I want to be wrong – prove me wrong.

This world's going down
to the sound
of our silence
infighting, violence -
the wallets on wall street just laugh.
A brilliant dark craft -
the buck just gets passed -
to figureheads bought and sold -
and a drying hard mold -
burned by the sun -
harder to crack
the more we relax
so sit back and wait
the end quickens its pace
rushing towards our shrugging fat race
sitting under the weight
of dictatorial fate -
learning to breathe through gasps
ignoring imploring relapse
our noted division
a vicious addiction
to being told
who we are
what we know.

far be it from me
to change what you see
all I can do is suggest -
but if taken in jest
as most all will do
it's nothing to you
nor to me
so I might as well keep
these thoughts to myself
if all that they'll reap
is a place on the shelf
by morals and ethics and
ideas by dead presidents -
i'm not here just to be read.
I'm here to set fire
to make us move higher
above what we think we can do -
for why would they spend
the time and the money
to paint things so sunny
if they didn't fear the storm?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Around the World

My dad, a historian, travels all over the world speaking and lecturing on US history. A colleague of his recently contacted him asking if some German middle schoolers could email him with questions on the upcoming US Presidential elections. He said of course, remarking to me how sad it is that many of the college students in the US don't even know what kind of government Germany has, much less who runs in elections, wins and loses. Hard to imagine US middle schoolers emailing German professors with detailed, intelligent questions on their elections.
Whether it's a matter of being smarter or just paying more attention, Europe, and well - much of the world is way ahead of us.
I can recall a girl in my freshman class at UCSB who though Berlin was in Russia...I'm serious.

I don't want to get into a rant about the educational system b/c it'll exhaust me and unless you care, bore you.
But what is short and sweet to note is that paying attention to what goes on in other countries makes it easier and more interesting to pay attention to your own. The US is clutching to a faded name of "superpower," and our influence is felt all over the world, culturally and politically. Stepping outside of the mundane, media mogul driven heap of how we arrogantly and ignorantly look in the mirror - why not check out a few other viewpoints? Tis, after all, the digital age. It takes you just as long to get to BBC, and Al Jazeera English as it does CNN and FOX.
So hey, live a little and take your brain around the world for a spin :)

It's a conspiracy! I'm not gonna lie - I sometimes enjoy pondering conspiracy theories - toying with the notion of underlying secrets and intrigue. Some don't even warrant that phrase due to overwhelming evidence and fact. However, this is not one of those cases.
Remember Bachmann? Yeah - that Tea Party nut job who threw her name into the hat for President way back when. Yeah, she wants in to the spotlight again, this time with a conspiracy that long time aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and is really a spy for the organization. Huma Abedin has been a close aide to Hillary Clinton since her days in the Senate, and the Senate was not quiet on their attacks against Bachmann and her letter.  John McCain, no stranger to controversy or the Tea Party had this to say: "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit, and they need to stop now." House speaker Boehner echoed that sentiment, "From everything I do know of [Huma Abedin], she has a sterling character, and I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous." Dangerous and stupid, maybe, but not enough to get Bachmann to apologize. She stands by her motion for a probe into the White House questioning the influence of the Brotherhood. On Wednesday she released a statement, effectively telling everyone to go fuck themselves and she will not apologize, and "not be silent as this administration appeases our enemies instead of telling the truth about the threats our country faces".
Fear, fear, fear, fear!! Run, run, run, run!!! Wait, I have an idea. Bachmann - why don't you get your small-minded, big mouthed head the hell out of politics.
We've already got all the loony tunes we need.

Apocalypse: In that same vein of fear and controversy, I thought I'd introduce you to a new book I came across: The Last Myth - What the rise of Apocalyptic thinking tells us about America.  In this book co-authors, Mel Gilles and Matthew Barrett Gross argue that the US's obsession with the Apocalypse, whether that be global warming, the NWO, Jesus, the A-bomb or October 2012, our constant worry about the impending end leads us down paths of extremes that ultimately fuck us over. For example, not dealing with issues as they pertain to the present, but only seeing them as inevitable - such as global warming. It's never too late to stop torturing our own bodies with waste, and yet because of the apocalyptic notion that it's all fucked anyway, we fight less for the here and now. Same thing goes for the apparent 3 million "preppers" in the US. These extremers believe that due to some rapidly approaching mayhem - war, famine, zombies, etc. - they need to keep basements fully stocked with spam and ammunition. Now as Gross says, there's nothing wrong with being prepared, but when you make all your decisions based on an unforeseen future, you skew your present to reflect a hypothesis that is often times unfounded, at least time line wise. Gross argues that if the Apocalypse didn't play such a major roll in America's thinking, we'd be more inclined to stay active in our country, both politically and socially, recognizing the present as now and the future as when we get to it.

The Syrian sink hole: A deadly blast on Wednesday killed over 180 people, including al-Assad's defense minister. There are conflicting reports as to whether it was a suicide bombing or remote controlled - government says the former, rebels say the latter.
Either way, with targets of al-Assad's inner circle, many are hoping that this signals the beginning of the end for him and his regime. Fareed Zakaria made a good point in his CNN post, saying that we are often times too quick to celebrate things like this - the truth of the matter is, much like our overall foreign policy, we don't know that much about what's happening in Syria,
We don't know who the rebels are, how organized they are, if there's a central chain of command, or even what their agenda is, besides overthrowing al-Assad.
Beyond that, in reality, the rebels don't control any part of Syria - they cause a ruckus, sure, but that's certainly not the same as organized control of an area. Zakaria goes on to ask several questions about the rebels:
"is the opposition fighting together in a coordinated way? Who leads it? Does the Syrian National Council — the main exile opposition group – have any sway over these forces? Do the groups on the ground have any sectarian flavor? Are they largely Kurdish or Sunni? What is the role of the jihadi militant groups in the Syrian rebellion?"
These questions are spot on in terms of the role we, and any other nations, will play in Syria. It's not a promotion of inactivity, but having seen historically the wide gap between what lack of planning (Iraq, cough, cough, cough) and careful planning (WW2) can lead to, it'd be best to do a little recon - maybe figure out where Berlin is, so to speak, before we blast through there like an old Western.

Big Banks: Sound familiar? Yeah...currently four of Europe's largest banks are under investigation following a rate-fixing scandal. Crédit Agricole, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Société Générale under the leadership of Barclays' traders, most notably Philippe Moryoussef, apparently set out to rig the regions benchmark interest rate. However, at this time, only Barclays' is under fire - having also tripped up on its blown attempt at fixing the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and the European equivalent, Euribor.
Unfortunately, any hope I have for justice on this front is tarnished by past experience. Considering how well the US banks fared after grave counts of fraud and corruption, a little slap on the wrist for billion-dollar corporations doesn't do a damn thing for the people at the bottom.
Hope springs eternal but I'm not expecting a few probes to pull the rug out from under corporate behemoths. That's something only we could do...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rant, rattle and roll

My guitarist and best friend Brian is the catalyst for today's rant and roll - followed of course by some news bite munchies...enjoy!

The latest from the campaign trail: he's a shifty asshole, vote for me! Not that that's really news - it's a sad recurrence that is now all but synonymous with political elections. When my guitarist asked what I thought about it, I shrugged. I don't really. With the hours in my day, political attack ads rank right there next to root canals and Reality TV. If I wanted to listen to unfounded, juvenile aspersions, I'd just open my window and let the bickering bums serenade me for a while. At least they're mildly entertaining. However, as Brian pointed out, this has become the norm. We expect it, and this expectation shapes how we react on voting day. For example, how many people do you know that vote "against" someone?
Now that I think of it, most of the people I know are negative nancies when it comes to politics - they very rarely seem gung-ho about a candidate, and more often than not say something like, "Well, I can't imagine seeing him as President so I'll just vote for the other guy," regardless of who that is! We are now overwhelmingly concerned with the negative aspects of the campaign as opposed to the positives. Now, you could certainly argue that the ratio of bad to good is overwhelmingly in favor of the former, but it's interesting to take notice of these details.
For example, what would happen if someone ran for office with no attack ads? If everything they put out was an affirmation, an opinion as opposed to piss and vinegar attack...
I mean we tell kids to ignore the "mean people" at school - we tell our friends to ignore their bosses cut-downs, if anything apply a formidable blend of sarcasm and wit as a retort.
What if we could apply that same logic? It has long been a belief of mine that politics are so detached from how we really think and how we really live that it's no wonder our government holds no parallel to modern day or modern ways. And yet, because it is our government, it effects our daily lives at every turn. It's a mind boggling anomaly - like living with a slob that wrecks your house but pretending he's not there.

Well, the slob is here. Doing away with attack ads is not the be-all, end-all of course, it's just a small detail in a system rife with corruption and detriment. However, maybe thinking about these attack ads, how they effect our choices, how they effect our system, will spur some other thoughts...some other musings. It did for me...and as I like to say....Think. React. Do Something.

And now, for a quick news bite:

Home Sweet Greece: Many young Greeks are facing a dilemma - maybe some Americans can relate. The economy is shit! Known as the post-junta generation, these Greeks have to consider whether to stay - hope and help rebuild this broken system or flee for better opportunities. The dilemma is one that I have often pondered as well - stay because you love your country (or the idea of it) or leave because you know a better life exists, with more opportunities and more money. More than 50% of Greeks under the age of 26 are jobless, and with many smart, young professionals emigrating, the cycle deepens. One 23 year old soldier wants to go abroad to study political science but then return to, as he puts it, break his generation's "consciousness of dependency."
He says Greece needs to "rise up and develop its own power, to protect our people's benefits. Economically and politically, we need to rise up."
Although the current crisis hits him and his family hard, he is optimistic in that it represents a chance "to change people's minds.... to abolish the mentality of dependency."
A few words of wisdom we could all learn from...meanwhile, the Kardashians are on...

Secretary of State Clinton in Cairo: Hillary Clinton met with newly elected President Mohamed Morsy in Cairo to urge him to "assert the full authority of the presidency." As in, get the military back in its place as a national defense organization, under the yolk of the presidency. Morsy as of now, has no parliament and no cabinet. There is no official constitution. Clinton re-iterated her support for a "full transition to civilian rule, with all that it entails." Morsy expressed his happiness in seeing Clinton and having her visit Egypt. So, looks like we can begin to breathe a sigh of relief - Egypt is in our pocket once again.

al-Assad staying power: Many have asked how long al-Assad can hold out. It's been about 16 months, and the latest shows aerial attacks blasting his civilians. A senior general defected earlier this week but before you get all optimistic, this general had been under house arrest for over a year. The inner circle of generals and political high-ups is 80% Alawites, a faction that makes up only 20% of Syria's population. Needless to say, it's a tight-knit group and one that's proving hard to crack. With his go-to guys still close and loyal, al-Assad shows no significant signs of backing down. But, rollercoaster up - don't lose all hope. As with any dictatorship, there are a fair share of silent objectors, mostly Sunnis, who make up a good deal of the military. Beyond that, inflation is up 30% and can't finance al-Assad's mayhem forever. Sources say that al-Assad and company are now freely printing money like garage band tickets. And lastly, neighbours are beginning to tire of the ruckus. Last week an Iranian ambassador criticized his government for their support and suggesting that al-Assad's days are clearly numbered. It's no surprise - this isn't exactly a war effort. And unlike other dictatorial regimes that have deep pocketed financiers in various crevices of the world (or CIA, ahem ahem), al-Assad is pretty much on his own, like a psychopathic candle in the wind, if you will.