Friday, July 16, 2010

The Case for Cutting Military Spending

On January 17, 1961, President Dwight David Eisenhower, the thirty-fourth President of the United States and the respected general of World War II, gave his farewell address to the nation. In his address, Eisenhower was ending his career in public service and made some remarks about the future of this nation, particularly of the growing industry of solely building armaments. He claimed, "this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," and that it encompassed all aspects of American life. Eisenhower saw that this new mindset came out of the Cold War but also insisted that it was something that must have a close eye kept on it, saying "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

Almost fifty years after President Eisenhower spoke of the dangers of the military industrial complex and twenty-one years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States is now crippled by the very thing that pragmatic general had warned us of. In 2010, the Department of Defense released its budget is $663.8 billion, which is an increase from the $513.3 billion that was used in 2009. Next year, that number is expected to increase to over $700 billion, making the amount of discretionary spending for the Department of Defense for the year of 2011, more costly than the 2008 bailout of AIG, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs.

Like the bailout, the United States has become the personal ATM for armament companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing to build an excessive amount of arms. Meanwhile currently, our country's education budget is at $63.7 billion, only ten percent of the whole Defense Department spending. This week on Capitol Hill, there is a debate over extending unemployment benefits, and if the unemployment rate stays at the rate than it is, then the bill should only cost $8.5 billion, little over one percent of the Defense Department's budget. As a result currently, the country is facing a deblitating deficit of $1 trillion.

There are some who say that it is an absolutely necessity to continue indiscretionary military spending and while it is true that there is a need to maintain our security, most other countries spend only a fraction of what the United States Spends. Case in point, Britain, who has the second most powerful military in the world and is the closest ally of the United States, spends only 5.8% towards the Ministry of Defence. Meanwhile Russia, perhaps the only true existential threat to the United States of America, spends the equivalent of only $46.8 billion. As for North Korea, Iran and other countries presented to be an existential threat, combined they make up little more than one percent of the entire military spending of the world.

By cutting the Defense budget, even if by only shaving off the first $100 billion, the United States can help to offset the crippling debt that so many deficit hawks in Congress and in the Tea Party worry about. In addition if the budget is slashed in half, the United States would still have more arms than Russia and Britain combined and afford to create a system of community service where college students can spend two years performing community service, joining the military, Americorps or the Peace Corps to help pay for their education as well as have an instilled sense of duty to improving their country.

Currently, the US is facing an economic crisis in ways that it has never faced before. With a dwindling Middle Class, many families find it harder to own a home, save for retirement and send their children to college. In addition, the crippling cost of the military industrial complex engorges our deficit higher than any health care program or financial recovery ever could. Meanwhile, with no significant infrastructure, there is little to export to pay for our insatiable need to consume. However, by reasonably scaling back our military spending, the United States can work to move towards securing its future from foreign invaders or the domestic terrorism of generational theft.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In order to create a more perfect union

"We the People, in order to create a more perfect union..." Those are the words that open the Constitution of the United States America, perhaps the greatest experiment in democracy since those of the Roman Republic and Ancient Athens. After months of furious debates, the delegates who came representing each of the states in the union came to ratify this document predicated by these eleven words in hopes of forging a new political experiment; the likes of which had never been seen before and, while imitated by many other nations, has never been replicated.

However, it is easy to forget that when the Constitution was ratified that the political debates surrounding it were not absolved and that they would be buried along with the buckets of sweat that dropped onto the floor of Independence Hall that scorching Philadelphia summer. In fact, one could make the argument that with the ratification of the Constitution, the floodgates for political debate were opened. Federalists were concerned that the interests of the individual states would supersede the needs of the newborn nation. Meanwhile the anti-Federalists, who would later be referred to as the Jeffersonian Democrats, were concerned about the interest of the common men and that the Constitution dictated too much on behalf of issues pertaining to government and not on the rights of the average citizen. Then there was the issue of slavery. Northern journeymen were concerned that slavery would subvert their trades by creating an inexpensive labor force to conduct their industry. Meanwhile, Southern farmers were afraid that by abolishing slaves, their businesses like plantation farming of tobacco and cotton would go belly up as well as violate not only their right to property but also their culture.

Despite all of these misgivings about the intricate details of the Constitution, the delegates decided to ratify the document nonetheless. The chief reason being was that as Benjamin Franklin said, "I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other." The Framers knew that will all of their preconceived notions and personal self interests that they could not possibly create a perfect document to govern their land. However, overall they knew that the Constitution and the laws that it entails, are not stone tablets that are infallible that must be strictly adhered to. Rather, the Constitution was an imperfect document, that must continue to be hemmed and altered. This is why their document had those words "in order to create a more perfect union;" they themselves could not perfect the union, but that future generations would work to create a more perfect union.

Indeed, there would be alterations to the constitution that would fix the problems initially posed to the Framers. Shortly after the ratification of the Constitution, Congress would pass the Constitution's first ten amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights, which included basic liberties such as freedom of religion and due process. The issue of slavery would be solved with the 13th and 14th amendment and with the 15th Amendment, America insured that no matter what race a man had, they had the right to have a voice in our democracy.

As the Union grew, so did our ability to graft in other people into the political process, such as women and youth with the nineteenth and twenty-sixth, respectively. The nation's continued tirelessly to create not only a free society but also a just and equal society for all Americans. Like Franklin, we freely declare, "it is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others." We understand that at times, this nation has not been perfect and there are still many ways where we are still imperfect. However, our ability to improve ourselves that makes America great; that drive to "create a more perfect

Saturday, June 26, 2010

General McChrystal's dismissal glosses over the real issue

This past week, the mainstream media went abuzz when a Rolling Stone profile of Commanding General of Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal was released that had disparaging comments about many civilian leaders. In the article, McChrystal claimed President Barack Obama was detached from operations in Afghanistan, was quoted as saying Vice President Joe Biden can "bite me" and called National Security Advisor and Four Star Marine General James Jones was a "clown." McChrystal was dismissed less than forty-eight hours after the article was released and was replaced by CENTCOM leader and former hea of Iraqi forces General David Petraeus, who has been elevated to something of hero status since his successful surge tactic in Iraq.

However, while many reporters were reporting about McChrystal's ousting, what most media outlets failed to recognize was that for a large part, Petraeus desired strategy is the same counter-insurgency strategy that McChrystal has used during his tenure as General. Both Petraeus and McChrystal are proponents of counter-insurgency, and in fact, Petraeus co-wrote the Counter Insurgency Field Manual. Petraeus used to a large effect in Iraq and for the most part reaped great successes through the tactic.

Yet, there is a great difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. First and foremost, the main division amongst Iraqis is the fact that most Iraqis are Shia but the overthrown government and military was Sunni. The goal was to get Sunnis and Shias to overcome their religious differences and unite to create a proper Democratic government.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the main division in Afghanistan is not religious beliefs; a majority of the nation is Sunni. Rather, the main difference amongst the people of Afghanistan is ethnicity and there are four main ethnic groups in Afghanistan. There are the Tajiks who descend from the steppes of Indo-Europe; have the same ancestors as Persians and speak Farsi. There are Turks, who migrated mainly in one of two eras, during the Ghaznavid era from 900-1100 AD and during the 20th Century before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Then there are the Hazaras, who are considered to be descended from Genghis Khan's Mongols and in many ways have the most distinctive features to a non-Afghan. Finally, there are the Pashtuns, who are native to Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan, are thought to be descended from the people who fought Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British and the Soviets. The Pashtuns also make up a large part of the Taliban.

Most of these ethnic groups have been in conflict with each other for centuries on end and for some, there is over a thousand years worth of conflict in Afghanistan. The mountainous terrain of Afghanistan permits these differing peoples to live separate from each other and as a result, most of them would prefer to stay in their valleys and live autonomously from any form of centralized society. Therefore, it does not matter who is invading their valleys, whether it be Persians, or Arabs or Shi'ites or Americans; all that does matter is the fact that they feel their way of life is being intruded upon.

This nepotism is a large obstacle for the strategy of Counter-insurgency, which is completely contingent on "winning the hearts and minds" of the people, as General Petraeus been quoted as saying. When there is conflict between the various ethnic groups, it is virtually impossible to be able to win the approval of all of the people.

This is largely the reason why many Afghans prefer to rule of the Taliban over the occupation of American soldiers. While the Taliban has oppressed the people for years and has subjugated women, they are still one of them and for better or worse have been feeding and housing them and putting them in a sort of arrested development with secularism. They are at least familiar with the Taliban. Furthermore, as the drone bombings continue in Afghanistan, it tips the average Afghan's sentiment towards the anti-Western rhetoric of groups like the Taliban.

Furthermore, the Taliban is not the key enemy of the United States. The Taliban had very little involvement in 9/11. In his book the Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright explains that many in the Taliban were in fact concerned when Osama Bin Laden and his group al-Qaeda traveled to Afghanistan and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar began allying with him. Their alliance has always been a tentative one and they had almost no hand in planning the actual terrorist attacks on 9/11; the reason we began a war in Afghanistan in the first place was because that is where we believed al-Qaeda was hiding. Yet now that it is revealed that less than 100 members of al-Qaeda are in Afghanistan and most are in Pakistan, the question must be asked, why is the US occupying Afghanistan?

In the end, it seems like America is in a horrible predicament when it comes to Afghanistan. Three weeks ago, the War in Afghanistan became the longest war in Afghanistan, surpassing the Vietnam War. In many ways, America faces the same crisis that it faced in Vietnam; the US is in a war not with a national force but rather with a stateless faction that will perpetually terrorize US forces. On one hand, America can choose to stay in Afghanistan and ride out the stalemate for hundreds of years or it will walk out without a victory or defeat and therefore give the Taliban and al-Qaeda exactly what they desire.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Charlie Crist is a symptom of an Even bigger problem for the GOP

On April 28th, news broke that Florida Governor and current Senate Candidate Charlie Crist would be leaving the Republican Party and running for Senate as an Independent. The story is on the heels of very poor performance by Crist, which has him trailing in the race for Senate against far-right firebrand and former Florida Speaker of the House Marco Rubio. Crist has been repeatedly slagged by the GOP base for his support for the Obama Administration's Economic Recovery plan, as well as his noted criticism of offshore drilling in Florida, a gulf state.

Consequently, Crist, not a man known for getting into a fray-he notably kept silent as Florida Attorney General during the Terry Schiavo case-has been in a fight for the very future of his career in politics. In a poll conducted last week, Rubio was seen as leading the race with 37%, with Crist at 30% and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek at 22%. In a nationally televised debate with Rubio, Crist was seen floundering and reduced to mudslinging. All of this culminated in Crist leaving the Republican party and running as an Independent.

The response to Crist's switch has not surprisingly vile. Many members of the GOP who endorsed Crist have renegged their support and supported Rubio. The local GOP even put out a newsletter demanding none of their members vote for Crist. John Cornyn, head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign committee has asked that Crist return the campaign funds given to him by the GOP. In essence, Crist was driven out by an angry mob and told never to come back.

However, Crist's political banishment is not an isolated case. Ironically enough, on April 28th of last year, longtime champion of the moderates in the Republican Party, Arlen Specter, announced he would leave the Republican Party to become a Democrat after it was announced that Pat Toomey, a member of the ultra-conservative interest group the Club for Growth, would be running to the right of Specter in the 2010 senate race. Like Crist, Specter's main crime was support of Obama's Economic Recovery Act and given the dubious title from the Club for Growth of "Comrade of the Week" despite his unabashed support of the Iraq War and gun rights.

In addition, many stalwarts of the Republican Party are facing challenges from the growing far right fringe of the party. Utah Senator Bob Bennett, one of the most conservative members of the Senate is facing multiple challengers from the far right. Even John McCain, the Arizona Senator who was the Republican Party's Nominee for President in the 2008 election, is facing a challenger from the right in disgraced former Arizona Congressman JD Hayworth.

As a result, many GOP Senators that typically would work together with Democrats on issues like energy and financial reform have been forced to say no to virtually everything proposed in Congress for fear that they will become subject to the rage of the Tea Partiers and 9/12ers. This shift to the right in the Republican party is slowly turning the GOP into an ideological party that will not be able to win nationwide elections.

In a recent poll, it was revealed that the biggest voting bloc in America is now independent voters who are disillusioned with both parties. They do not necessarily want to have higher taxes or more intervention from the left, but also do not want government completely out of their business lives and make America into a theocracy as some on the far right want it to be. While the Democratic party has increasingly moved to the center over the course of the past fifteen years, the GOP has become an ideological party that only caters to the beliefs of only a small fraction of Americans.

Furthermore this purge is clearly un-Republican. Case in point, the RNC recently put out litmus test called the Reagan Purity Test, which was named after the principle that Reagan once stated where if someone agreed with Reagan 8/10 times they were on his side. Members who received less than 8/10 would not receive support. However, if Ronald Reagan himself had taken the test he would have failed the test miserably. Reagan famously cut and ran from the Middle East after Marines were killed in Lebanon, raised taxes 11 times during his Presidency and signed the Brady Bill for Gun Control. If the GOP continues this purge, they risk going the way of the Whigs, and the Federalists; only a fringe group of lunatics meeting in basements, hoping for a revival of their ideas that will never come.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jeff Beck brings an Orchestra and Keeps Guitarists' Jaws on the Floor

As the battle for the California Governorship rages between Meg Whitman and her billion dollar advertising schtick and the painfully low key campaign of Jerry Brown, the state of California was treated to a different kind of Guv'nor on April 17th, as Jeff Beck took to the stage at the Nokia Theater. Beck is currently on tour in promotion of his wonderful new album, Emotion and Commotion, where he teams his guitar fireworks with a 64-piece orchestra to create his first studio record in seven years. To perform the material from the new record, Beck has taken a full string, horn and percussion section in tow with him. When needed, a light shines on the orhestra and conductor. When their time is done, the lights go off and are only on Beck, bassist Rhonda, Smith, keyboardist Jason Rebello, and drummer Narada Michael Walden.

For many years, Jeff has been labeled a grumpy Englishman with a volatile temperament that has often prevented him from enjoying great success; he famously broke up the first incarnation of the Jeff Beck Group on the eve of Woodstock, quite possibly missing the opportunity to receive the adulation that peers like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix would later receive. A noted perfectionist, many of his partnerships with other musicians have ended acriminously.

However, in recent years, Beck has been enjoying himself and as a result, he has been reaping greater results. A few years ago, he hired manager Harvey Goldsmith and has been having astronomical success. In 2007, he was featured at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival and put on a memorable 11 song set that was captured on DVD. He put out the phenomenal Live at Ronnie Scott's CD/DVD in 2008, which earned him a Grammy for his instrumental version of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." In 2009, he was inducted by childhood friend, Led Zeppelin founder, and fellow Yardbird, Jimmy Page into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his solo efforts(he had previously been inducted, along with Page, Eric Clapton and others as a member of the Yardbirds) and put on a memorable set and closed out the ceremony by jamming with Page, Rolling Stone guitarist Ron Wood, Flea, Joe Perry, and Metallica on the Yardbirds classic "Train Kept A 'Rollin." Later that summer, he finally buried the hatchet with fellow British guitar legend Eric Clapton for legendary sets in Tokyo, Japan which led to a mini tour with Clapton in England, New York City and Toronto.

This night, Beck was seen as someone who had nothing to prove to anyone but himself. After an impressive set by Zappa Plays Zappa-a band that features Dweezil son of absurdist composer Frank Zappa playing his father's material-Beck strutted out on the stage in a sleeveless button-up with flames, John Lennon Glasses, White Space boots and purple-striped sweats, toting his legendary white Fender Stratocaster. The entire audience had their jaws agape as Beck opened with "Stratus."

Throughout each song, drummer Walden, a new addition to the band, made sure his presence was known. Aptly dressed in an attire slightly resembled a sushi chef, he proceded to chop of the rhythm and pummel through Beck's riffing and giving a firm grounding to the improvisation going on with the rest of the band. Bassist Rhonda Smith, another new addition, proved her proweress on the four string with slapping bass solos and melodic lines that weaved in and out of the melodies of the song, as well as providing stellar vocals with Walden on Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take you Higher" and on her own, morphing Muddy Water's "Rollin' and Tumblin'" from a Delta Blues rollicker to a dark, hoodoo tinged dirge, aided by robotic vocals by Rebello, proving that in scarity and in the right place, auto-tune does not make you want to shoot yourself.

The real players to keep your eye on however, were the orchestra. On songs like "Corpus Christi Carol" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow" the orchestra provides beautiful atmospheres, allowing Jeff to mimic the vocal lines, by way of manipulating his guitar's whammy bar and volume knobs. Where most guitarists keep their volume knobs on ten, Jeff uses his to create crescendos and swelling sounds, giving his licks a vocal feel and where other guitarists use the whammy bar solely for guitar theatrics, Beck uses it to add extra vibrato to the notes. When coupled with a full orchestra, Beck's guitar turns from a crying maiden to a powerful operatic singer, capable of tenor to baritone.

This does not diminish Jeff's abilities when playing solely with his band however. On songs like "Space Boogie" and my personal favorite "Big Block" Jeff's guitar attacks like Andrew Jackson at Horseshoe Bend, destroying everything in its path. Other places, he is capable of playing his guitar with absolute grace such as his version of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," all the while looking so cool, even when he dropped his slide on the song "Angel (Footsteps)."

Beck closed out his initial set with his aforementioned Grammy-winning arrangement of the Beatles "A Day in the Life." This was the only case of the orchestra performing a song not on the new album, as when Beck initially recorded the song, he did so with a full orchestra, per the request of Beatles producer Sir George Martin. On this song, Beck is able to perfectly affectate the tenderness in John Lennon's voice on the Sgt. Pepper classic as well as the violence of the climax in the middle, and when aided by the orchestra, becomes a guitar wizard. By the end of the song, there was not a person sitting in their seat; everyone was applauding or roaring with adulation.

For the encore Beck returned with Rebello playing guitar and Beck pulling out the classic black Les Paul seen on the cover sleeve his bestselling LP, Blow by Blow. He did so, he said in honor of late guitar innovator Les Paul, who died this past August. Beck had become close friends with Les over the years and Beck actually inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Earlier this year, Beck performed with Imelda May, who appears on his new album, for a righteous version of the Les Paul/Mary Ford chestnut "How High the Moon." Here, Beck reprised that performance. Beck was faithful to the original, not deviating from Les' spaghetti string lines. It was a memorable moment because it reminded people that Jeff is a musician just like anyone else and he has heroes and people he looked up to; it gave this seemingly non-human guitar warrior a shade of humanity.

For the closer, Beck and the orchestra performed "Nessun Dorma" from Turnadot. Here, Beck flowed with the orchestra and followed the peaks and valleys. However, by the end, he would not be denied and there he stood, at 65 years old, soaring high above every other guitarist; a monument to the beauty of the six string. At the end, during the applause, Beck said "I have nothing left." If that is the case, he can certainly walk away from this set with a sense of pride.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review of Emotion & Commotion

Ask anybody to name a famous guitar player from the 1960s-70s Big Bang of Rock and Roll you will likely hear a few familiar names. You will either hear somebody talk about the bluesy explosion of notes that was Eric Clapton in the Bluesbreakers and Cream, or you will hear someone ramble on about the Black Magik conjured by Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin, both of whom got their start in British Blues-rockers the Yardbirds. However, if you ask a guitarist to name one of the greats from that era and it is very likely they will name Jeff Beck.

When Eric Clapton quit the Yardbirds over his objection to their decidedly more commercial direction, it was Jeff Beck who filled in and turned the Yardbirds from a cover band into one of the most influential bands of that era. After leaving, he teamed up with future chart topper Rod Stewart and future Rolling Stone, Ron Wood to form the Jeff Beck Group, a band that many consider one of the first heavy metal groups. However, after two albums, Beck had grown tired of the band and began dabbling in more unconventional styles, blending blues with fusion, Indian, Bulgarian folk and electronica. and over the years he has put out instrumental records as well as collaborating with Stevie Wonder, ZZ Top, Imogen Heap and Luciano Pavarotti. He has just enough fame to sustain himself, but enough anonymity to maintain his integrity.

If there is one compliment that is relished on Jeff the most it is that he makes his guitar "sing," in that most of his albums are instrumental yet he is able to emote so much that nobody really misses the vocals; he never wanks like say Yngwie Malmsteen. On Emotion and Commotion, we catch Jeff's ten fingers and six strings singing better than they ever have. Here, Geoff supplements his phenomenal touring band of drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and keyboardist Jason Rebello with a 64-piece orchestra.

Whenever rock musicians decide to use orchestras, it is always a high wire act; the results are either wonderfully profound or insipidly pretentious. However, with Jeff, instead of using the orchestra to be a bed for him to lay his guitar riffs on, he instead chooses to flow with the orchestra. He is the soloist in his pieces but never drowns out the beauty of the strings or the horns. On the opener, "Corpus Christi Carol"-written by another famous Jeff, Buckley-the orchestra becomes the band on the original vocal while Jeff turns makes his guitar convey all of the glory of the original. On "Somewhere over the Rainbow," a song that is covered so often it can make even the biggest fan vomit, Jeff uses the whammy bar of his Stratocaster create the bounce in Judy Garland's original vocal performance.

Jeff also finds time to perform bits his own Jeff-ness. On "Hammerhead," Jeff proves you can make an orchestra really groove, as he goes on an the warpath in a violent Hendrixian fury, brutalizing his guitar until it begs for mercy. On "Never Alone," Jeff dabbles in Africana, having the rhythm section use shakers to create a tribal sound while he uses his guitar to make sounds of chanting. On "Serene," a jazzier number, Jeff lowers the volume but far from tones it down. He plays clever runs that would make John McLaughlin grin and lets bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, a 24 year old Australian woman with enough talent to keep Beck on his toes, take her own blistering solo.

While Jeff has proven over the years that he does not need a singer, whenever he does collaborate with one, fireworks are bound to happen. On the song "Lilac Wine," he teams up with Irish singer Imelda May for a hauntingly beautiful introspection. The song goes back and forth from minor to major to create the feeling of fluctuating emotions. In between May's lines of self reflection, Jeff plays beautifully fingerpicked lines that cacade over the orchestra's flourishes. Elsewhere, Jeff joins forces with British soul songstress, Joss Stone. Stone famously sang on a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" with Beck during his weeklong stint at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, which can be seen on Live at Ronnie Scott's. Here they reprise their partnership on the violent screed "There's no Other Me," where Stone tugs at her vocal chords and spars with Beck's wailing guitars over a dub beat. But the hallmark of their collaboration comes when they cover the Screamin' Jay Hawkins/Nina Simone classic "I've Put a Spell on You." Beck and Stone capture all of the bayou hoodoo of the original on this track, and you can imagine Stone dressed as a gypsy with a crystal ball, and Beck puts on his best Albert King impersonation with his fills.

The gems of the whole album by far though are the versions of "Nessun Dorma" from the opera Turnadot and "Elegy for Dunkirk" from the film Atonement. On "Elegy," Beck uses Olivia safe for a duet while using the volume knob on his Stratocaster to make his guitar crescendo and descend, giving it a violin-like quality. On "Nessun Dorma," he starts out quietly, but as the song progresses, he weaves in and out of the orchestra, changing with the mood to culminate in a beautiful burst of ecstasy by the end of the song.

In rock's pantheon, good guitar players are a dime a dozen and many great guitarists fall off the face of the earth. However, Jeff Beck has proven that one can take the road less traveled and have a sustainable, long lasting career. He will probably never have the fame that his contemporaries have enjoyed but he has something that few in today's modern business can lay claim to: integrity; and that has led to him receiving the adulation and respect of his peers.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Insensitivity of Bob McDonnell

When most Americans think of the Civil War, they consider it quite possibly the most traumatic war this country ever went through. The reason being that it was a war where Americans were killing Americans. Mary Todd Lincoln, the first lady at the time, had many male relatives who were fighting for the Confederacy. By the time Lee surrendered at Appamatox, at least 618,00 soldiers had died in the name of this war. Shortly thereafter however, it was clear that the nation's wounds were not completely healed when President Lincoln would be shot, Reconstruction would be an abject failure and African Americans would be subjected to 100 more years of oppression in the South.

However, these facts seem to have escaped Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who this week, declared the month of April to be Confederate History Month. Virginia is the state where the Confederacy's capital was located and was where many crucial battles took place. McDonnell on his website claimed that "this was a defining chapter in Virginia's history that should not be forgotten but rather studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians both in context of the time in which it took place but also in the context of the time in which we live."

While it is indeed important to study this time as a part of American history, to glorify the actions of men who seceded from the Union and as a result caused the bloodiest war ever to occur in American history is insensitivy on behalf of the Governor. Furthermore, When McDonnell was probed in an interview about the study of Slavery in the Confederacy, McDonnell claimed it was not significant enough to discuss, saying "Obviously [the conflict] involved slavery" but that there were "other issues" and that he focused on the ones that were most "significant" to Virginia.

McDonnell's statements not only reflect insensitivity but also ignorance of the history of his state. Production of Cotton through Slave Labor in the colonies and eventually the states possibly originated in Virginia. Not to mention the fact that when the South was engaged in the Civil War, other countries suffered a brief shortage of American textile. In America's formative years, cotton production was given the moniker "King Cotton." Not to mention that almost all of the significant historical figures from Virginia up to and including the Civil War were slaveholders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and General Robert E. Lee. One of the main reasons why Virginia left the Union was because they were concerned the abolition of slavery would send the cotton industry into a tailspin, thus harming their vitality.

However, the greatest and probably the most damning quote in McDonnell's waxing of Confederate Glory is claiming that it must be understood in "both the context of the time in which it took place but also the time in which we live in." Why should we study it in the time in which we live in? We are not living in a time where there is an issue anywhere near as divisive as the issue of slavery, unless McDonnell is counting the outrage on the right about the healthcare bill that largely people of his ilk have generated.

Furthermore, this time is quite possibly one of the most shameful eras in our country's history. It was a time when we troves of people to a foreign land to work on plantations for incentive of their own and for the benefit of rich aristocrats. This nation has come so far from those dark years; so much so that a year and a half ago, we overcame our long history of discrimination when we elected an African American to the highest office in the land, not to mention the fact that he carried the state of Virginia.

Mr. McDonnell's statements praising this time is not only an insult to all of those who died on the battlefield but also spitting in the face of all of the progress we made in spite of people like himself and the Confederates. In addition, by honoring these men, we are honoring traitors and men who betrayed their country. How can we in good conscience honor those who betrayed this nation as heroes? Do we venerate the Tories and the Loyalists? Do we pay tribute to Benedict Arnold or Aaron Burr? By dedicating a month to honor traitors, Mr. McDonnell is committing treason against the United States of America and to the very ideas of America.

It seems like daily, Americans are bombarded with questions about President Obama's Patriotism or whether or not Nancy Pelosi secretly hates America. Yet how is it that we cannot question McDonnell's love for his country when he is honoring the memory of one of the most disgusting times in American history?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why Ayad Alawi's lead is a sign in the right direction

While a majority of the American general public was watching as the Tea Partiers and 9/12ers were setting the nation ablaze over healthcare reform, few people realized that in Iraq, the nation we have been in for the past seven years, had a parliamentary election. Despite a few car bombings, this election was decisively less violent and chaotic than the previous election in 2006 where Nouri al-Malaki was elected prime Minister. In this election, al-Malaki appears to have met his match as prime minister when his State of Law Coalition party only won 89 seats in Parliament while Iraqi National Accord party won 91 seats.

At the helm of this party was none other than former Iraqi Prime Minister, Dr. Ayad Allawi, a neurologist who was educated in London at University during his years of exile. Prior to his travels to England, Allawi was a devout follower of the Iraq's Ba'ath party. However, he defected from the party upon the rise of Saddam Hussein as leader of the Ba'ath party. He would go on to form the Iraqi National Accord in 1990. When the US began to prop up a democratic government in 2005, Allawi was appointed as interim Prime Minister until the people of Iraq elected Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be prime minister.

Yet perhaps the fact that is most astonishing about Allawi is his decidedly more secular approach to governing. In a 2004 address to the US Congress, Allawi only mentioned Islam twice and invoked the name of Allah once. For Iraqis to vote en masse for someone as secular as Allawi is astonishing, considering that his secular pragmatism led many to believe he was a puppet of the US Government; only a pawn for us to carry out our will in Iraq.

However, Allawi's party won widespread support in both Shi'ite and Sunni voting blocs. In fact, Allawi's secularism is possibly a reason why he was appealing to some voters; he was able to deliver the notions that Shi'ites would have a pragmatic ally while Sunnis could possibly have some of their pull in government restored again after the decisive rejection of Sunnis in the Iraqi government. In a nation that has become rife with sectarian violence since the United States invaded in 2003, the idea of having someone who will work to give both Shi'ites and Sunnis an equal voice.

All of these positives do not diminish his negatives though. Like Hussein before him, Allawi is not afraid to use brute force when he feels there may be an uprising. Case in point, in November 7, 2004, while serving as interim leader of Iraq, he ordered a military strike of the city of Fallujah, where it was believed terrorists were hiding out. Not to mention the fact that Allawi's long absence from Iraq and the fact he was born into an upperclass family is enough to make some Iraqis question his knowledge of their everyday concerns. Not to mention that he had spent many years as a member of the Ba'athist party.

On the other side of the coin, this small lead does not even ensure Allawi will be Prime Minister. However, for a country to decisively choose to elect a party led by a secular modernist who many are reticent about can be seen as a sign that the Iraqi people examined the parties running for public office and decided on their own valition what kind of leadership. This of course is the hallmark of democracy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Foundation is laid, time to build up

This week, as the Congress' healthcare plan was passed and signed into law, both sides of the aisle hoped to spin it in their favor. President Obama claimed, "this is what change looks like" in a statement after discovering the bill had been passed into law. House Speaker Pelosi used the gavel that was used to pass Medicare to pass the bill. Meanwhile on the right, Senator John McCain claimed that he would end cooperating with the other side until the 2010 election. Both sides are planning to use this bill as fodder for the upcoming

However, after taking a closer look at the healthcare bill, there is not nearly enough to cause a riot on the right, and not nearly enough to pop open a bottle and celebrate on the left. For one, it still leaves approximately 15 million Americans uninsured. The bill does nothing to curb costs for unnecessary paperwork. Also, there are still loopholes for fraud on behalf of insurance companies. In addition, without a Public Option, aka a government run alternative to private insurance, premiums will still go up.

In response to the Right's concerns, there is no federal funding for abortions in the bill. In fact, there was no such concern and in Section 1301(B)(1)(B) of the bill, it states, "Abortions, for which public funding is prohibited." In addition, there is no such thing as the death panels that would not cover certain surgeries for sick and dying, which were hailed as Eugenics by far right extremists like Sarah Palin and Churck Grassley. In truth, the proposal was to reimburse doctors through health insurance money for having a discussion for end-of-life treatment with a patient. In addition, there is no such thing as a government takeover. In fact, the final plan bears more resemblance to President Richard Nixon's attempts to overhaul the healthcare system through private insurance. There is no government alternative and in truth, there is simply tighter regulation for the private sector.

In truth, the bill does have many upsides to it. Among the most beneficial are that by 2014, insurance companies will not be able to discriminate against adults due to a pre-existing condition and discrimination against children begin immediately. College students and children can stay on their parent's healthcare plan until they are 27. Also, health insurance companies will now cover preventive care, which is decidedly cheaper than health care once somebody is sick.

That being said however, this bill should not be the end of healthcare reform. As mentioned previously, there are still 15 million Americans that will be uninsured after this bill takes effect and there is still incentives for insurance companies to raise rates on people with higher risk of getting sick, rather than just dropping them. As the late Senator Ted Kennedy once claimed, healthcare reform is a never ending process and we must continue to build upon it just like we did for previous programs.

When Social Security was first enacted in 1935, under President Franklin Roosevelt, it was a very meager program, despite accusations that Roosevelt and his cabinet was full of Reds and Commies. It was created only with the intention of helping relieve the burden off of state pension programs during the heat of the Depression. However, as time progressed on, it would go onto to help people who have been forced into early retirement due to happenings such as disability, or blindness.

In the same manner, health care reform is not a stoic thing. It is not a law chisled in stone or some holy document, it is created to help those in need and must change as the times and the needs of the people living in that time change.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why we need a stronger stimulus and jobs bill

This week, the New York Times released a study that three of the nation's top economic research firms have confirmed that last year's Economic Recovery Act in fact worked, despite the smearing of many on the right. Moody' estimated the growth between 1.6 to 1.8 million jobs. In addition, many of the Republican Congressmen who had derided the bill have in fact returned to their local districts for ribbon cutting ceremonies. However, despite these impressive results, unemployment still hovers below ten percent, which is why the Senate must pass a new jobs bill that builds on the achievements of the stimulus and cuts the failures.

Many have compared this recession to the Great Depression-some have come to call this the "Great Recession"-and in truth the government's reaction to unemployment must be met with the same type of action that Franklin Roosevelt and his team met the troubles with; the willingness to try just about anything. Many people remember that Roosevelt's administration instated the Glass-Steagall Act, and created the Civilian Conservation Corps, but many also forget that many of his ideas utterly failed. Case in point, despite its ability to give aid to states in need, the Supreme Court Ruled the National Recovery Administration unconstitutional. Also, many would also argue that Roosevelt's reticence over the national debt made him wary of creating more jobs. However, throughout his Presidency, Roosevelt and his advisors never stopped trying different methods to rebuilding the economy.

In the same respect, the necessity for jobs bills cannot be diminished and there are many fields where able-bodied Americans could be put to work. In an era where the country is trying to wean itself off of foreign oil, investing in green jobs is something that will create jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. The jobs are secure, and with simple education courses, we can put many more people to work.

In addition, there also must be further investment in community colleges and trade schools. Many people have worked certain trades in manufacturing and manual labor their whole lives only to see the jobs shipped overseas. Community colleges and trade schools are the places to invest in to help out of work blue collar workers find a new trade and be able to create a steady income for their families. It is the blue collar and middle class of this country that have helped make this country thrive in the first place.

Lastly, another area of work that is desperately in need of labor is infrastructure. The United States has not had a widespread overhaul in infrastructure since the Eisenhower Administration. However, as we have seen with disasters like the Minnesota Bridge Collapse in 2007, an infrastructure face lift is something that could benefit by employing hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers.

Of course, these are not the only areas where we could create jobs. Giving incentives for small businesses and putting tighter regulation on employment fraud are also great methods. However, if any of these ideas fail, it is up us to continue to work and try again. It is the American spirit of ingenuity that has helped the country of our grandparents persevere. Now it is our to to take hold of that mantle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is the Scott Brown win a Blessing in Disguise for Liberals?

Last week, many liberals were disheartened by Scott Brown winning the senate seat once occupied by Liberal Lion Ted Kennedy. The right of this country, ever moving further and further to the fringe, celebrated Brown's win as a referendum on President Barack Obama's agenda. It was one of many great disappointments for the left of this country, after the death of Kennedy, the lax healthcare reform bills and the retirement announcements of many long standing stalwarts of the Democratic party, and many hoped this would cause Obama to, like Bill Clinton in 1994, move to the right of the political spectrum. However, ironically, since the win, the President and Congress have taken bolder steps to the left since these cuts, including being stronger on financial reform, pushing back against campaign finance and creating a middle class task force.

According to many sources, Obama's Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Economic Advisor Lawrence Summers have since lost their influence after failing to achieve any type of financial reform. In turn, Paul Volcker, Chair of the Economic Recovery Board and former head of the Federal Reserve, has gained more influence. Last week, Obama called out big banks and demanded the current financial reform bill include a consumer protection committee as well as limiting mergers between banks.

Another sign of Obama moving further to the left came when in this past Saturday's weekly address, he called out the supreme court's decision to overturn a 107-year old ruling on campaign finance reform, calling it an assault on democracy. As somebody who has rarely made declarative statement, this was a shocker to hear from the President.

Finally, at the State of the Union Address, Obama demanded that Congress work to create a Middle Class task force, begin creating jobs in infrastructure and working on Climate change legislation. He demanded lifting the burdens of college student loans and working to tax bonuses of bankers. Compared to his previous joint address to Congress in September, which was filled with vagueness and non-declarative statements, this address was bolder and more dignified.

This isn't to say Obama is a full blown liberal. This past Monday, he announced plans for a spending freeze and is still adamant about the confirmation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's second term. However, the seeming about face could be one of the greatest examples of getting back on track in American politics.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Break up the Pit and return to Journalism

This Past September, all hell broke loose when Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress regarding health care by exclaiming "You Lie!" Rather than it being a feature headline and allowing Wilson to go into eventual obscurity, Wilson's outburst gained national attention. The next day, all of the major news networks were reporting on Wilson and his sentiment, ultimately killing any serious discussion on the actual issues being discussed in something as ponderous as healthcare. In November of that year, a similar storm was conjured when Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashed President Obama's first state dinner with the Prime Minister of India Manmohan Sign. The next day, once again, the mainstream media, rather than reporting the actual discussions that gave rise to the state dinner like India's increasing nuclear threat, reported on the idiotic actions of these two reality wannabes. Rather than the media choosing to focus on serious crises that are at hand, they have chosen to follow sensationalism instead of common sense and in turn are killing journalism

Former George H W Bush advisor and the progenitor of Fox News Roger Ailes has a name for this method of journalism and he calls it the "Orchestra Pit Theory." Ailes elaborated on this theory in an interview with, saying "you give a journalist a picture in the electronic media, you've got a guaranteed story. Its what I used to call the 'orchestra pit theory of politics.'" He then uses this example "Two guys on a stage, one guy jumps up and says I've got the solution to the problems in the Middle East. Other guy jumps up and falls into the orchestra pit. Who's going to be on the front page? The guy laying on the bass drum."

In the same respect, the Salahis, Congressman Wilson, and the Mark Sanford and Tiger Woods affairs have all glorified orchestra pit descenders. Indeed, in this era of reality TV and celebrity tabloid insanity, it seems that more people are actually diving into the pit and in turn, compromising journalistic integrity.

As a result, the general public is more well informed on the amount of Tiger Woods' mistresses than the growing crisis of increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan; they are more cognoscente of Sarah Palin's brouhaha about death panels than if citizens will get better care instead of more care. The population's obsession with Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift and insouciance about the tailors in Illinois losing their jobs is a stunning failure on the behalf of the mainstream media that cannot be tolerated.

It appears that the media has become a little starstruck in recent years. Rather than reporting on the benefits of regulating Goldman Sachs, they are more worried about losing their interview with the Goldman Sachs executive for their nightly special. Rather than evaluate whether or not President Obama has kept his campaign promise of not instating a mandate for healthcare, they are fearful of falling out of good graces with the White House.

This failure in the media then raises the question of what would have happened if we had a better system of journalism in times when we needed it. What would have happened if journalists had spent more time reporting Osama Bin Laden's recruiting of radical Islamists in the mountains of Afghanistan than who Bill Clinton had an affair with or not. What would have happened if somebody had blown the whistle on credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations on Wall Street that would have a disastrous domino effect instead of not kissing the feet of Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke? Would they have not have happened?

The role of journalists is to speak the truth about power, not to become its mouthpiece. It is to cut through all of the distractions and give the news to the general public straight and unadulterated, without demagoguery. It is the essential ingredient to a representative democracy. Without proper journalism, democracy shall also fade away.