Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Good That Came Out of 9/11


I've never been one to dwell in the past. Whatever mistakes I've made, I learn from and move on. The people I've hurt, the people who have hurt me, I find it easier to forget them than to wonder what might have been.

September 11, that's a hard thing to ignore, particularly on a big fat juicy anniversary like the fifteenth.

Such tragedies don't happen often in a nation's history. Tragedies similar, yes. Hell, we lose more innocent people to gun violence in a year than we lost on September 11, by a factor of three.

Normally, I acknowledge the day with a small prayer for the victims and for the nation to find the wisdom to prevent this form occurring again.

Something bothered me this weekend, tho: usually out of terrible events, some good can be found: connections, outcomes, developments.

Take Pearl Harbor: you can trace a line from Pearl Harbor to the end of the Great Depression, the rise of the American automotive and housing industries (after the war, the GI Bill helped these become powerhouses), the racial and gender equality movements, the computer, nuclear energy, the rise of the middle class in America, and any number of other positives that shaped the nation today.

Maybe it's just too soon to really recognize what September 11 gave us a gift. After all, many of the things on the list of Pearl Harbor took decades to come about.

Some did not. Some were almost immediate.

So I meditated on this theme a little: can we point to anything and say it is ultimately a positive for our country?

Let's look at the immediate aftermath of the attacks: we declared war and invaded two nations, one of which, as it turned out, was not even close to having anything to do with the attacks (indeed, we shared a common enemy with Saddam Hussein and probably should have used him as our proxy in retaliating.)

We wasted trillions of dollars hunting down the perpetrators who planned and financed the attacks. We endangered our allies in the Coalition of the Bought and Paid For (7/7/07, among any number of terror attacks in Europe and Asia). We blew up a budget deficit that was already skyrocketing from the ill0conceived triple tax cuts of the Bush administration -- remember, Bill Clinton left us on the path to economic solvency with a surplus that, projected, could have paid off the entire national debt.

Our housing market exploded thanks to low interest rates, a President who on the day after 9/11 encouraged us to spend as a show of our patriotism -- encouraging people to take out HELOCs and second mortgages -- and a complete and deliberate lack of oversight from the Federal government, creating the Lesser Great Depression of 2008, when Americans ended up more in debt than the government ($128 trillion to $104 trillion by 2007) and much that debt was suddenly being called in.

Because, conservatives. Conservatives suck.

Our culture suffered, too. America has long been a deeply paranoid nation, but our paranoia ran towards delusions of grandeur: we couldn't be hurt. An ocean protected us.

After 9/11, that quaint jingoism turned dark and ugly: we began to see shadows in the daylight, afraid of our neighbors, even people who lived here for years. Not just Muslims, either. Look at our egregious reduction in voting rights of minorities across the board, the nasty depiction of hard working immigrants as "illegal aliens," the rise of the men's rights activists and the war on uteri.

Things we had assumed were generally viewed as good things: that everyone has a right to vote, that everyone was free to immigrate here and help us build a nation, that a human body was sacrosanct from government intrusion, all went by the board after September 11.

Why?

I think it's because 9/11 hastened trends that had been building for decades: the dismantling of the middle class by the monied classes, for one thing. The inevitable downward slope of a nation's power, that history teaches us is unavoidable since it touches facets of society that are not easily predicted, is another factor.

That wages have been stagnant for thirty five years while productivity has skyrocketed beyond even what we could expect from the technological revolution speaks to me of a people scared of the future, and willing to effectively become indentured servants to the whims of a boss who at any moment can pick up and head to the exits and the greener pastures of southeast Asia.

All happening as the government is forced to withdrawal from the social safety net by a small but wealthy few who demand it.

You see what I mean about the difficulty in finding the good of September 11.

But there hope. For one thing, we as a nation rose up after we understood the treasons of the Bush administration and threw conservatives out of the executive and legislative branch (one house, admittedly...conservatives had already rigged the other one for permanent status).

Yes, we gave the Senate back in 2010 and if there's a reason to hate Debbie Wasserman-Schulz's reign as DNC chair, it's that she oversaw over 700 electoral losses in her tenure, many that could have been prevented.

We elected the first African American president. We are poised to elect the first woman President (the polls don't sweat me: in 2008, John McCain was leading Barack Obama at this stage), and to take back the Senate.

We are about to turn Texas into a blue state, while keeping California and New York. Maybe Texans are finally just that embarrassed by their state politics, that gave us Bush 43, and Rick "Three Strikes" Perry, and Ted Cruz, and Greg Abbott.

We have young people who galvanized around a 70-something Jew from Brooklyn who asked, "wouldn't it be nice if we could have back some of the blessings we worked so hard for forty years ago?"

We saw the Occupy movement. We see the Black Lives Matter movement. We see anger and outrage being channeled into challenging the system, instead of at each other.

This fall's elections is a critical benchmark in the movement to a progressive America, and so if there's any good to speak of out of September 11, it's that we are moving in the right direction.

Finally.

Friday, July 08, 2016

We Have Met the Enemy...

It strikes me that it's not only bad cops who are at fault when a cop kills an innocent citizen.

And while black men and women get killed with alarmingly frequency, white kids are often killed for no good reason. But there's clearly a racial factor at play nationwide.

There's a much deeper problem, though, and it goes beyond bad cops and beyond good cops not stepping up to intervene.

It's institutional. It's societal. It's about a culture that demands we underfund our cops -- because God forbid we should raise taxes! -- then insist they keep crime at a zero tolerance level. It's about turning citizens into statistics, and outsourcing our prison system to corporatists who see nothing but profit.

It's about a culture that worships guns and weapons, valuing them well above the very lives they are alleged to protect.

It's about turning our citizenry into targets in a video game. It's the same culture that has turned "citizens" into "civilians" as if the cops are one big armed occupying force and we the mere motion capture bystanders (or worse, perps) in a huge game of Grand Theft Auto.

When arrest statistics and "perpretrators incarcerated" become the goal of the average flatfoot on the street, when the line item for policing in the budget has to be justified with cherry picked statistics, he's going to have little incentive to actually solve problems.

Police work is hard. By God, it's hard, and there are millions of cops out there who do good, even great work every day.

The problem is, there are also thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of really horrible people wearing uniforms precisely because crime fighting has become less about fixing problems and more about "how many people can I sweep off the street today?".

We see an innocent man shot because he was complying with police orders.

We see an innocent man shot for having a legal gun to protect himself.

And we see the Blue Wall of Silence envelop the killers to protect them, like some grand omerta. We see a cop culture that echoes how badly kids are raised these days as opposed to "in the day," and how you should treat them with not respect but capitulation and deference, as if they are noblemen and we serfs.

Funny thing is, those cops grew up in that same culture. Hell, they helped create it.

And here's the kicker: today's culture is no more or less respectful of authority than any generation of the past. You have only to look at the 60s hippies, or the 50s hoods, the 20s gangsters to see that.

It's just that today, we have instant access to information from around the nation and we see right in front of us the culture from all sides.

It's not a surprise to me that nearly the first reaction of an officer is to shoot first and let the chips fall where they may. When you have the conflicting ideals of putting people away and keeping your numbers down against "serve and protect" (because how are they doing either by shooting people in knee jerk situations?), you are strongly tempted to take the easiest course of action.

And it's no surprise to me to see entire communities rise up against these tactics (sadly resorting to violence and slaughter, as evidence by the tragic events last night in Dallas). BlackLivesMatter is a real and a good thing: it reminds us that there are still entire communities who cannot live their lives and go about their business in peace.

Thing is, we're fighting the wrong enemy: the cops are a tool. They are quite literally nothing more than a tool to enforce the status quo of a society that is terrified of dissent and deviation of thought and opinion.

The real enemy is the society that forces these poor men and women into aggressive stances and situations where they are forced to make a split second decision to shoot or not because there are billions of dollars on the line each and every day across the nation: prisons are profit centers, police departments are cost centers, citizens are civilians in an armed occupation.

The police aren't the enemy. The kids being killed, black AND white, aren't the enemy. Our culture is the enemy and that enemy is pervasive and insidious.

And that enemy is us.

You and me. We have the power to stop the slaughter and violence from both sides. We can turn the relationship with law enforcement from an adversarial one, where the average cop has to have his hand hovering near his gun for a simple traffic stop, into a cooperative one.

We can vote. We can vote to fully fund our police departments. We can vote to establish accountability beyond some "civilian review board" that essentially rubber stamps anytime a gun is used. We can vote to put a framework in place that gets rids of bad cops quickly, and rewards good cops for solving problems, not ending lives, either literally or by putting away (usually) young men in prison and ruining their chances for gainful employment and all that goes with it. (The statistics in minority communities are terrifying. We have a real problem on our hands and it's going to last a long time).

We can vote to fully fund education and keep our kids in school and encourage them to go onto to college and get jobs and become responsible members of our society.

We can vote to fully fund after school arts, sports, and cultural programs, to give people an outlet to express themselves that goes beyond standing on a street corner bored to tears and restless as hell.

We can vote to let people earn a living wage, so that one parent can stay home and take care of the kids if the family so desires, keeping those kids off the streets.

There are a million things we as a people can do to stop this, and none of them involve limiting choices, but the involve expanding opportunities.

We, the people, have to fix this.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Whither Bernie?

In reality, the primary season is over. The path Bernie has to the nomination is basically to renege on his entire raison d'être, get a firm grasp on the Dark Side, and try to super delegate his way past the will of the people, the popular vote, and electoral process he so valiantly defends against "corporate money".

In truth, the primary was over when Bernie announced he was running. He probably kept Joe Biden out of the race (who would have stood a decent chance against Hillary, and certainly could match her vote for vote at the super delegate level and could conceivably have energized the same young voters that Bernie has. Google "Biden Bitchin' Camaro"). Sanders' mishmash organization, inability to cultivate even the super delegates in his own state...I mean, really, if you're going to descend into openly trying to steal an election anyway, you may as well be honest about it and stop disillusioning the youth of today...and absolutely barebones campaign infrastructure speaks of a man who made this decision basically about as carefully as a rich person chooses toilet paper.

His most important decisions -- hiring Tad Devine and Jeff Weaver -- speak volumes about his priorities and his willingness to thrown his believers under the bus for one chance at...what? The nomination? A chance to speak at the convention? A chance to get his issues on the party platform?

He never stood a chance at the nomination. Coming from 65 points behind to ten points behind is an admirable effort but it's still a losing effort. Second place is second place and double digits is double digits, and my suspicion is that a ham sandwich could have accomplished the same, especially with a layer of bacon.

He understood all this even as late as the New York primary, where he had a slim chance still but only spent $35,000 on a get out the vote effort. Now contrast that to the million he spent monthly on Messrs. Devine and Weaver.

Sanders has reached a fork in the road. He can choose to embrace the dark arts of the possible, lawyer up, spend even more money on irrelevancies and make a joke of himself and a parody of his campaign. Or, he can choose to embrace the good in his campaign, the positivity he brought, and the idealism of the tens of millions who believe in him.

See, he's in a difficult spot and there's a carrot dangling in front of him that, frankly, I don't see how he cannot take.

For one thing, he has tens of millions in illegal campaign contributions that have to be returned. Estimates run as high as $23 million. At March 31, he only had $17 million dollars, cash in hand. He is currently outspending his monthly hauls, diminishing faster than a reservoir in a drought in summer.

If Weaver and Devine returned their stipends since they've been hired, that would be enough to pay back the money Sanders owes. But they won't.

Sanders could hold onto the money, of course, but then he exposes the donors to criminal and civil prosecution and the campaign to sanctions (moot, as Sanders will not be running past the California primary).

He's between a rock and a hard place, to be sure, so he'll probably request a bailout (heh!) from the DNC, which has a fund for just these purposes.

The same fund that is replenished by those $350,000 a plate dinners George Clooney has to hold.

Oh, the irony: the People's Candidate bailed out by the very corporate whores he hates.

Note something else: because of this indebtedness (first to his donors, then to the DNC), there is no way in the world Sanders runs a third party bid. It would immediately be shut down by the FEC until the records are straightened out. He'd need an even faster cash infusion. Hello, superPACs!

But there's a flip side to this whole conundrum: he can't *stop* running either, if he wants to be a player at the convention (and certainly if he has any chance of flipping the nomination). This means he'll be deeper and deeper in debt as the hours pass by.

Which then calls into question his entire policy platform of redistributing the federal tax revenue to pay for his programs. After all, if he can't micromanage his campaign (and word on the street is that is exactly what he is trying to do, along with his wife) then how in the hell is he going to pay for college and single-payer, even with massive cuts to defense spending?

These are issues I could never have foreseen when I endorsed Sanders back in February. My concerns dealt with his possible success, but never about his probable failures.

It concerns me because, right now, Bernie Sanders is at another crossroads that has nothing to do with his campaign and everything to do with the future of the liberal progressive movement.

In the course of my lifetime, I've seen the liberal movement's concept of a President veer from the idealism of Robert F Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to the sham of Michael Dukakis. You'll notice none of them won.

Meanwhile, the Democrats who have won: FDR, LBJ, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- Jimmy Carter being a mild outlier -- have been centrists who have enacted policies that tended to pull the nation leftward.

In FDR's case, yank it hard.

Sanders has an act to juggle here: he has to keep liberal issues at the forefront of policy discussions, yet he can't afford to have himself shunted aside as just an angry old man in a bathrobe who yells at clouds, no matter how bright and sparkly those clouds might be. That would destroy whatever progress we can make in the next four years, and render the liberal movement dead in the water for decades.

Again.

I'm all for Bernie continuing his crusade but there's an exit strategy that he needs to start implementing. The country can't afford his embarrassment.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Endorsement. And An Explanation.

I’m supporting Bernie. He better (not best, better) represents the values I want to see in a Democratic candidate. 
But Hillary is a very very close second. Close enough that the bullshit BernieBros and BernBots are tossing out there made me reconsider my vote, which is why I'm late to the endorsement. 
I've decided that I’ll vote for him anyway, if only to register my support for a left-wing platform, but it will not be a particularly happy vote unless the rhetoric starts redefining itself.
I have very serious practical & pragmatic concerns about a Sanders candidacy:
1) He will have to raise at least a half billion dollars, and more likely $2.5 billion (if you include SuperPAC and 501(4)c spending). The Kochs have committed $1 billion to getting a Republican in the Presidency already. I don’t see how that happens without going to Wall Street and even then, how that happens going to the very people he’s vowed to destroy….unless he sells out the way BernBots claim Clinton has. 
Maybe….MAYBE…if he gets the 50 million or so people who vote for him to pony up $50, he covers that nut. Maybe. Which brings me to point two:
2) He’s going to have to, inside of three months, define his brand of socialism to that slice of the population who have made reality TV popular — in other words, the uninformed. 
In fact, I think I should probably amend that $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion because a rough estimate of the ads he’ll have to run that say “No, the OTHER kind of socialism!” is massive. Meanwhile, the Republican strategy to defeat him is simple: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Sanders. 
Hillary hasn’t stooped this low, thank God but does anyone think the Trumps of the world will play nicely? Which raises point three:
3) Right now, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in either party with a net positive favorability rating (Dr Ben Carson flatlines at neither positive or negative. Hillary has a -8 net unfavorability rating). But you’ll notice, apart from the occasional joke tossed Bernie’s way, no one has truly vetted him in opposition research. There are serious issues surrounding him that have not come to light (or have been investigated and dismissed, a possibility I will admit). Burlington College will be an issue for his campaign (Jane runs his staff). His missing mid-1960s years (he’s not particularly forthcoming about them). His conscientious objector status during the Viet Nam war (remember, these are people who Swiftboated a decorated hero from that war). 
None of these have to be true to quickly turn that positive into a negative, in the skilled hands of Frank Luntz and Karl Rove. Hillary, for all her baggage, is pretty much naked in the fields: her ratings build in the best the Republicans have smeared her with.
So well have they smeared her that Bernie’s most zealous supporters are parroting Luntz talking points. 
So yea, I’ll vote Bernie and if he’s the candidate, I’ll work my ass off to get him elected because the alternative is Trump and the Idiocracy. But I hold no illusions that it will be hard work. Very very hard.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie


The news of the death of David Bowie was profoundly shocking to me, and it's taken me a moment to collect my thoughts why.

Bowie was an artist who was always able to stay relevant without becoming a parody -- unlike, say, Madonna. It was the endless variety of music he could produce without losing the underlying thread of his talent by imitating a style. He lived that style, worked that style, mined it and made it his own.

From his early glam-rock days to his more recent "rock crooner" era, he never let you lose sight of the fact that it was David Bowie, no matter what name -- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke -- he cloaked himself in. 

If anyone had found a veritable fountain of youth, Bowie had. The endless reinvention and reincorporation of music made him a walking performing encyclopedia of the past forty years.

And he never seemed to age physically. Sure, there were lines and wrinkles, the occasional wattle when he lost weight (possibly from the cancer that took him), gray hair so neatly combed and styled that you were sure he added the gray as a final touch, but you never sensed any less energy from him.

You look at a Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, Elton John or Peter Gabriel, and you see how time wounds us, saps us of strength and vitality, despite our best efforts at covering that up.

But Bowie never seemed to drain, never seemed sapped. He seemed endlessly energetic.

Many years ago, he foresaw this day as Ziggy Stardust, in "My Death": 
My death waits like a beggar blind
who sees the world through an unlit mind
throw him a dime
for the passing time...
My death waits there between your thighs
your cool fingers will close my eyes
let's think of that and the passing time
My death waits to allow my friends
a few good times before it ends
so let's drink to that and the passing time

But what ever lies behind the door,
there is nothing much to do
angel or devil I don't care
for in front of that door... there is you
Of all the people I imagine who might beat death back, it was the Man Who Fell To Earth. Godspeed, David. You've brought us all joy.