How Difficult is It to Show a Little Support?

Ferguson Police NYT 2

UPDATE BELOW

One would think the GOP and gun advocates would be more supportive of Americans’ rights to be free from excessive government intervention and from being shot by the police for the mere possession of a firearm. Apparently when it comes to black people, the GOP and NRA worship the government and anything in a uniform.

As Eugene Robinson writes,

If you are a black man in America, exercising your constitutional right to keep and bear arms can be fatal. You might think the National Rifle Association and its amen chorus would be outraged, but apparently they believe Second Amendment rights are for whites only.

Meanwhile a White guy can wave a gun and taunt Black protesters. And we all know the police aren’t going to shoot him.

On the Philando Castile shooting where after telling the police he possessed a legal firearm, the police shot Castile dead, Robinson writes:

Afterward, it was confirmed that Castile did indeed have a legal permit to carry a gun. He was not guilty of any crime. He was just 32 — and, incredibly, had in his brief life been stopped a total of 52 times for nickel-and-dime traffic violations.

Think about that: here’s a guy who had been stopped 52 times by the police – not in the West Bank but in the United States of America. So why is Donald Trump saying – to much praise from the Right — that in his America, he would increase Stop & Frisk? If being stopped 52 times by the police isn’t excessive government intervention then I don’t know what is. Stop & Frisk is the epitome of government excess.

El_Tres_de_Mayo,_by_Francisco_de_Goya,_from_Prado

We all remember this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But how about what comes next?

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

But overall, my biggest question is: why is it so difficult for Republicans and many Americans (including plenty of Democrats) to simply show a little support, especially when such a large sector of our society is crying out for help? Why is it that a portion of Americans are asking to be treated with dignity by the government they pay to protect them, yet Trump and most conservatives boast about making their lives worse?

Remember, the police work for us, not the other way around. The police are government representatives paid for by us the taxpayers. If taxpayers are unhappy with the services their community receives from the police, the community should have the right to protest and demand a change, and absolutely no one in America should find that controversial.

If one portion of America wants to vote for a candidate for his supposed business acumen, then tell me what successful business in the world survives when it dismisses its customers’ complaints and taunts them in response? Surely that is how one of our major parties wishes to treat us.

So when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee for the National Anthem. Or when African Americans around the county demand to receive better service from those they pay to protect them, ridiculing them is counterproductive and about as un-patriotic as one can imagine.

Wouldn’t showing just a little support make much more sense? Why not start by just listening?

UPDATE:

great-observation

Seeing this photo coincides with a conversation I had today with a friend about that sudden fear that rushes through your body whenever a police officer crosses your paths in the United States, whether it is simply a police cruiser pulling up behind you on the road, an officer standing next to you in a store, or stopping you on the street. That feeling that you must be absolutely submissive is absolutely unique to the United States of America. And I say that as a “white” boy from a nice white suburb.  It is a feeling I have never had anywhere else in the world, having lived now 16 years abroad.

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It’s Just Creepy

first-orderI did my entire primary and secondary education in the Montgomery Country Public Schools system in Maryland, USA. And every single weekday morning from age 5 to 18, I stood up with my entire class, faced the American flag and a loudspeaker, placed my right hand over my heart, and — accompanied by the rest of the classrooms and students in the school building — followed the lead of our school principal to recite in unison the Pledge of Allegiance.

north-koreaThis wasn’t Nazi Germany, some former Soviet state or North Korea. It was and continues to be the United States of America.

When San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked controversy for refusing to stand for the national anthem, I immediately thought – not about the politics – but how the whole playing and standing for the national anthem thing is – like making children recite a morning pledge — just creepy.

As I get older, travel the world and live abroad, I can see how creepy – insecure even – is this very unique American obsession with constantly reaffirming our patriotism.

I go to an airport in the U.S. and when my flight is ready to board, the ground handler announces that servicemen in uniform get priority boarding. Then people clap and thank the guys in camou for their service. Forget for a second the politics of whether I support the wars they fight on my behalf or believe that those wars actually protect me or my freedoms. The draft is over, these are people who of free volition, in a free market have elected to take a government job working in the U.S. military, like anyone else who freely chooses to become a public school teacher, tax collector, DMV administrator or public defender.

As Bomani Jones writes in relation to Kaepernick,

The NFL takes many of its cues from the military and has encouraged the idea that reverence for the military is a citizen’s requirement, not choice. The draft is gone, but we’ve all been conscripted as unquestioning devotees whose gratitude can be demanded by anyone at any time.

If we live in a country that believes – has convinced itself that it believes – in the free market, in private sector solutions and that anything the government does or controls should be distrusted, then why the cognitive dissonance when it comes to people in a uniform? Why do we have to be unquestioning devotees to the military and the police? Don’t they work for us? Don’t we pay their salaries with our taxes? Isn’t paying taxes then the ultimate sign of support for our military? So why aren’t those wealthy Americans and corporations who do everything in the power to pay lower (0r no) taxes (not to mention, never serving in the military) considered less patriotic?

And why is it that we are told to protest peacefully, but then when we do – as in the case of Kaepernick by sitting and not standing – we suddenly become anti-American heretics? And why does everyone else have to protest peacefully, when the U.S. government, its officials, agents and pundits get to threaten everyone else with war, violence, death and punishment? So, for example, why does John McCain get to propose invading country after country while everyone else has to act like Martin Luther King Jr.?

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Of course, it wasn’t a coincidence that in 1954 corporate America together with religious groups lobbied to get the words “under God” incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance. We wanted to brainwash Americans to believe that capitalism was sanctioned by Christian values at a time of heightened fears of communism. But now we act like those two words are the resounding pillars of our society.

watchtowerSo forget for a second the politics of Black Lives Matters or that Black Americans may be uncomfortable with police departments like the one in Ferguson running a shakedown racket, the police towers and constant harassment, mass incarceration or that the police are a greater mortal threat than terrorists. Forget about whether not standing for the anthem is an appropriate act of protest or an offensive public heresy.

Repeat after me, “I love you, father, I love you father, I love you father,” until I am finally comfortable that you love me.  At the end of the day, are we a nation of children in need of brainwashing or a nation of insecure, needy parents who require constant affirmation from their flock?

The fact is that the demand for unquestioning devotion in the form of pledges of allegiance or the “Please stand for the National Anthem” is just plain creepy.

 

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Photographs and Memories (dedicated to Chantal Cavé)

Shadowlands

There must be something endearing about the fact that when I was thirteen years old, my then girlfriend and I used to listen to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” – a song that was not contemporary at that time – conscious that due to our age, our puppy-love would not last forever. Yet it was Croce’s “Photographs and Memories” that I had found more haunting at that time. It’s funny that as a thirteen year old boy – the extent of whose “bedroom talks” consisted of talking on the phone until late into the night – I was impressed at how such a short and simple song lyrically, could so adeptly transmit the tragedy inherent in love and memory.

Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you

Memories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day
When I called you mine

But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when
Morning walks and bedroom talks
Oh how I loved you then

Summer skies and lullabies
Nights we couldn’t say good-bye
And of all of the things that we knew
Not a dream survived

Photographs and memories
All the love you gave to me
Somehow it just can’t be true
That’s all I’ve left of you

But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when
Morning walks and bedroom talks
Oh how I loved you then

Fast forward almost 30 years, and one day in the summer of 2014 when trying to come up with a new song to sing goodnight to my first born son, “Photographs and Memories” and its lyrics came back to me almost instantly. And for some strange reason – maybe the mention of “Christmas” – my son loved the song.

Sadly, rediscovering that song coincided with my brother’s fiancée, Chantal Cavé, being admitted into the hospital and then a few weeks later passing away, two years ago today.  Those nights when Chantal was in the hospital on the other side of the Atlantic with my brother at her side, I would sing that song to my son, and I did everything in my power not to break out in tears.

As I have written before, I did not know Chantal well. I met her once but knew about the year she and my brother had spent together and that it would define him forever. The most I could do was write a short poem about that year.

Now two years later, my son still asks me every few nights for “Photographs and Memories” and each time I sing it, I think about how few photographs and memories are left from when I was thirteen, about the people we love and cherish, and about the huge hole I feel in my heart for my brother and Chantal’s family that can never be filled with photographs and memories alone. But sometimes photographs and memories are all we’ve got.

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The Sympathizer

The SympathizerI just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathizer by Viet Thahn Nguyen about an American educated Vietnamese double-agent (of mixed European and Vietnamese parentage) that takes place during the aftermath of the Fall of Saigon. There were things about the book that I loved – fantastic insights into American culture, policy and its attitude towards Asians – but I ultimately did not always relate to or care about the main character. The book is supposed to be reminiscent of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, but it felt more like The Orphan Master’s Son to me.

Here are a few samples of some of my favorite lines from Mr. Nguyen’s wonderful prose:

The General’s men, by preparing themselves to invade our now communist homeland, were in fact turning themselves into new Americans. After all, nothing was more American than wielding a gun and committing oneself to die for freedom and independence, unless it was wielding that gun to take away someone else’s freedom and independence.

. . .  happiness, American style, is a zero-sum game […]. For someone to be happy, he must measure his happiness against someone else’s happiness, a process which most certainly works in reverse. If I said I was happy, someone else must be unhappy, most likely one of you. But if I said I was unhappy, that might make some of you happier, but it would also you uneasy, as no one is supposed to be unhappy in America. I believe our clever young man has intuited that while only the pursuit of happiness is promised to all Americans, unhappiness is guaranteed for many.

What am I dying for? … I’m dying because this world I’m living in isn’t worth dying for! If something is worth dying for, then you’ve got a reason a live.

 

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The One-Sided News Cycle

donald-hillary

 

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing good to say about Trump and the last thing the world or our country needs is for him to become president. But my entire Twitter and Facebook feeds are fully consumed with the latest offensive, ignorant or stupid thing that Trump or his representatives are saying. The same with the front pages of our major newspapers. There is no real discussion or scrutiny of Hilary or her polices. Hilary is suspiciously absent from the news. The entire election has become about how ridiculous Trump is, and that is definitely not good for America or for democracy. Election coverage should be a series of discussions about different policy options and the candidates’ qualifications and ability to implement those policies.

The 2016 Election is just a dumb, one-sided Reality Show.

We’ve become a country of suckers. #UnitedStatesofSuckers

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The Undeniable Political Pressure to Keep Benzema off the French Team

Karim

 

UPDATES BELOW:

In declarations yesterday to the Spanish football newspaper Marca, Real Madrid footballer, Karim Benzema, said that the French national team coach, Didier Deschamps, caved into political pressure from racist portions of French society to exclude him from the team at the European Soccer Championship taking place this month in France. As you can imagine, the French political class has been quick to condemn his statements.

But is Benzema wrong? The president of the French Football Association (FFA), Noël Le Graët, has just responded saying that Benzema’s comments were “unjustifiable and inappropriate”, and Thierry Braillard, the French Secretary of State for Sports, says there is no racism in the FFA. But Benzema never said the FFA or Deschamps were racist. He said that the political pressure to make the decision had racist origins, and that is very hard to deny.

The controversy stems from a formal investigation earlier this year into whether Benzema had aided in a scheme to blackmail fellow footballer Valbuena in relation to a sex-tape. Benzema was never formally charged, let alone found guilty. The most damaging evidence against Benzema were telephone recordings with his ex-convict friend (all leaked to the press) making fun of Valbuena and his predicament.

Nonetheless, as a result of the Valbuena affair, Deschamps made the decision (together with AFF president, Noël Le Graët) to exclude Benzema from the national team and this summer’s European tournament, citing team unity and cohesiveness as the reason. France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls was adamant in his public statements that Benzema should be barred from the team. It should be noted that Benzema is currently France’s most talented player and just came off his best year at Real Madrid.

So was Deschamps acting under pressure relating to the current political landscape in France? That there has been political pressure is undeniable. Continue reading

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Was America Ever Greater? We’re Doing Just Fine

Back in 1936 after having honored the United States with four gold medals in front of Nazi Germany, when asked about Hitler, Jesse Owen reminded his interviewer that the U.S. president would not receive him either at the White House because he was black.

Shortly thereafter, World War II broke out in Europe causing one of history’s greatest human tragedies. America sent hundreds of thousands of its young men, black and white, to the front to help change the course of the war and reshape contemporary history. At the end of the war, the young American men returned and benefited from the greatest socioeconomic engineering campaign in American history, called the G.I. Bill. This program almost singlehandedly created the American middle class which has fueled the economy ever since. Excluded from these benefits were African Americans, with effects that are felt very much to this day, as described in Ta-Nahisi Coates’ The Case for Reparations.

Fast forward to 2016 and the White House looks like a very different place than it would have to Jesse Owens had he been treated any better by Roosevelt than he had been by Hitler.

So I don’t know what Mr. Trump is talking about. If we are going to make America better again, in which point of American history is he talking about? The one that wouldn’t let Jesse Owens into the White House? That of the Greatest Generation when our young men came back from the war to receive huge government benefits which built the middle class for White America only, while leaving Jim Crow in the South and housing discrimination in the North? It seems to me looking at the White House today that we are doing alright. At least those of us who aren’t complaining that we’re not so great anymore are doing just fine. We are doing just fine, thank you very much.

And watching the sitting President of the United States receive people at the White House to celebrate America’s unique cultural heritage, tell me whether you can think of a cooler place on Earth.

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