Listen children all is not lost

In this edition: Sorry in advance for 2,000 words.  Whoa-oh “We can make it happen, We can change the world now, We can save the children, We can make it better” and other dreams I have. More labeling on products, less labeling on ideas. Saying goodbye to the 9-11 era–too soon?

Saturday In The Park

Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July
People talking, people laughing
A man selling ice cream, Singing Italian songs

Can you dig it (yes, I can) 
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday

Another day in the park, You’d think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, really smiling,
A man playing guitar, Singing for us all
Will you help him change the world
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For today

Slow motion riders, Fly the colors of the day
A bronze man still can, Tell stories his own way
Listen children all is not lost, All is not lost
Oh no, no

Funny days in the park, Every day’s the Fourth of July
People reaching, people touching,
A real celebration, Waiting for us all
If we want it, really want it

Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For the day…

– Written by Robert Lamm, performed by Chicago, 1972

8 of the 10 songs on Chicago V, the band’s 4th studio album, were written by Robert Lamm who was having an enormous creative surge at that time. Keyboardist Lamm performs the vocals, backed by bassist Peter Cetera. (The album is number V not IV by virtue of the album Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall.) We in Chicago at the time assumed it was about Grant Park in our fair city, but in reality the song’s inspiration, apparently like some brands of salsa, came from New York City and Central Park. Lamm came home from a day in the park inspired by what he’d taken in and wrote the song. Lamm was born in Brooklyn and his family had moved to Chicago when he was 15, so much of his identity might have been tied to his old home town.

Chicago was (and is–they still tour) an amazing band. Multiple vocalists, wide-ranging influences, the ability to incorporate rhythmic and textural complexity into 3 minute pop songs, and the tasty musical choices they favored. The early albums also explore the questions that were being asked in the late sixties and early seventies and to many degrees, today. Another song, Dialogue (parts I and II), from Chicago V portrays a conversation between two young people–one is socially conscious and the other is more or less blindly complacent.

Ultimately, a song like Saturday in the Park is about hope and the ability to rise above daily conflict to embrace joyful living. Friends, history will portray the first decades of this century as time when hope and joy were severely challenged. If we could only recapture this point in time, when change and hope were embraced not denigrated as meaningless slogans, then we might be able to break on through to the other side–and really move forward.

Chicago’s Dialogue (parts I and II) explodes musically at the end with repetitions of:

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better

Before continuing, get some inspiration watching this video. Guitarist Terry Kath’s Telecaster work, the rhythmic emphasis the horns add, the interplay of the vocals, the final gospel-tinged finale. Awesome. Note the “natural” haircuts (probably done by girlfriends or in the mirror) and the ubiquitous facial hair, hallmarks of the early 70s.

While not overselling the meme of inscrutable oriental wisdom, this story illustrates perspective. When President Richard Nixon made his groundbreaking visit to Communist China in 1972, he asked Premier Zhou Enlai what he thought about the French Revolution (1789). He replied: “Too soon to tell.” Similarly, we have to wonder how we can put society-shaking events like 9-11 and Great Recession into context with our long-term post-war economic boom, our continuous technological advances, and our current place as a world-leading nation. Is it too soon to tell?

I know this. We are not the same people we were before September 11, 2001. We fear more and we expect less and get it.

America went into a defensive crouch. A response to protect ourselves at any cost was triggered. We suspended our national ideals by:

  • Agreeing to government measures that eliminated the privacy of email and telephones.
  • Creating a large and over-powerful security bureaucracy and gave them the funds to cast a wide net that included much of American’s personal business when looking for bad guys.
  • Torturing terror suspects and publicly defending the notion through the Executive Branch.
  • Running a secretive prison in Baghdad where we abused and tortured Iraqis.
  • Violating all notions of due process for prisoners in our custody with “wartime” exclusions.
  • Re-electing George W. Bush even after he burned a government surplus and lied us into a war for the sake of his and few of his associates misguided ideology.

Following that, the American people were so trusting that we gave financial institutions free rein to gamble our wealth away and paid dearly when the housing and stock market collapses ravenously digested our home equity and nest eggs. We believed the notion that Afghanistan would be a better place to spend blood and treasure than Iraq (correct answer: neither). Then, we gave enough attention and credence to the Tea Party and its ignorant old fart notions that they became a political force that stripped the government of tools to manage the economy, take care of infrastructure, set national priorities, tax appropriately, or do just about anything else that exceeds the import of renaming a rural post office.

Having 20/20 hindsight, I can see that we should never have let airplanes fly into towers symbolic of American enterprise. While I feel sorry for the passengers they were really the only ones who could save themselves. And I think it’s even money that Flight 93 was shot down by the US regardless of the heroic tales that we’ve been told. Intercepting hi-jacked planes may be one of the only lessons we have learned. The financial industry is bigger than ever and more consolidated (if too big to fail then, they are really, really too big to fail today). No laws have replaced the Glass-Steagall Act and the taxpayer-revived financial sector can return to gambling when it deems it sufficiently profit-worthy. The fear and sense of retribution we followed into Iraq and Afghanistan returns anew as we flirt with boots on the ground involvement in Syria supporting rebels that will likely install Islamic rule and join the anti-American Middle East factions.

Today we are shocked that the NSA gets our phone and even e-mail records just by asking. But it should be “shocked” in the sense of Captain Renault’s shock in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Croupier: “Your winnings, sir.” And while it is likely that the metadata only contains who we called and how long we spoke, and in parallel efforts who we e-mailed and cc’d, it violates the established principles of evidence gathering by casting a net far too wide to meet the 4th Amendment standards:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The acceptance of the NSA intrusions ignores another piece of historical perspective. J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI from its inception in 1935 to his death in 1972. During the time, he used FBI-gathered information to blackmail politicians and public figures like Martin Luther King. Today we may trust the government to be doing the right thing with that data–or maybe we don’t–but are we protected from all possible futures?

Now the hope and change part.

First, we must abandon all thinking based solely on identification with left and right, liberal and conservative. Oh I know, partisanship is a hard habit to break and labels have become so commonplace that we take them for granted. For example, as a progressive, I react against the Keystone XL pipeline. (Won’t be our oil, environmentally dangerous, yada yada.) But the truth is that there will be economic stimulus there. The effect will be somewhere in between the projections of the antis and the pros. Tar sand oil is coming, like it or not. The pipeline has risks but if we use the best possible engineering–sourced on-shore not off–then we could greatly benefit from a big step forward in technologies. There are union and non-union blue-collar jobs to gain, American manufactured pipeline and construction equipment. We could make it work. So if the president (through the Congress) comes out with a plan that trades the pipeline for higher coal-burning emission standards, then we get an incremental improvement that can not be gained in any other way. In a successful negotiation, both parties have to walk away with the sense of having gained something.

As a progressive, I support the idea of whistle-blowers like Manning and Snowden. They do a service by sparking the debate about important issues. But there are two sides to those stories and critical thinking is needed. We should take care in condoning the unauthorized sharing of classified information and we shouldn’t necessarily think we see the whole picture when the information shared is from someone who is struggling with perspective in their personal lives. If you want to see how the unauthorized sharing can work out, in this case sharing by virtue of outing a CIA operative, check out Valerie Plame’s memoir or the excellent film made from it, Fair Game.

Second, let’s abandon support for the politicians who live on uncompromising ideology. In the press and in our discussions with each other the intransigent need to be marginalized. Intransigence is antithetical to a governing structure like ours. Maybe we need a compromise rating system? Factor in voting across party lines? This week’s failure to pass a farm bill is an excellent example of the ideological problem and where it leads.

Lee Hamilton, once a Democratic Congressman from conservative Indiana, served 34 years in the House. He is now director of the Center on Congress at IU.  His common sense hits uncommon sentiments. See this article describing the difference between a functional government and the one we have today. Hamilton writes, “They can be politicians at election time, but once they reach Capitol Hill our Constitution expects them to be policy makers and legislators. So do ordinary Americans. The partisan maneuvering, the compulsion to send a message rather than legislate, and the lack of solid accomplishment have driven Americans’ disdain for Congress to record highs.”

Third, we need to lobby to change the direction of the War on Terror and exclude the military from the picture. For internal security, we should use the FBI and law enforcement to find those who would do us harm at home. The intelligence apparatus should be directed to locate and track our enemies and help us to predict their level of danger. Today we gather so much that individual pieces of valuable intelligence are swamped with nonsense. Terror groups are not foreign armies, they are small groups of people engaged in criminal action. Of G. W. Bush’s many, many missteps, this was one of the worst–framing our responses in terms of war. Let’s reward those who move the conversation from War to Law and push all the hawks and chicken-hawks into the wilderness of outmoded ideas.

It may be too soon to tell, but my sense is it’s time to move on. We screwed up the first decade pretty thoroughly. It’s time to right some wrongs and start moving forward. These are some of my ideas, feel free to add yours.


I don’t do a lot with Twitter but I’ve been enjoying comic and Viewpoint host John Fugelsang’s feed. See it all here and sample some of it here:

– And God looked upon his Creation & saw that it was Good. And then His Creation created Anthrax, Auto-tune & Turducken.

– If men could get pregnant not only would abortion be legal, locker room schmucks would brag over who’s had more.

– Wow, Paula Deen hates other races almost as much as she hates everyone’s arteries. Paula Deen is so upset that she’s on the verge of a 2nd facial expression.

– I would call the Congressional #IRS hearings pure theater but actual theater creates jobs. Darrell Issa questioning your ethics is like Michael Lohan questioning your parenting skills.

– Actually quite a few straight people would love it if legalized Gay Marriage could somehow destroy their own. (LB: Ouch. Hmm. Ouch.)

– #NSA notices suspicious 1st-ever rise in sentences that include both “Kim Kardashian” and “Labor.”

– Well I’d hate government too if I totally sucked at it.

– Like Grand-dad always said, “Sex is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, you still have to pay for it.”


Signs of what’s going on in America. I live in a suburb with a median income of $69,000. The new businesses are all “we buy gold” stores, thrift shops, dollar stores, and banks. The middle class is apparently selling grandma’s rings, wearing another family’s hand-me-downs, supporting Chinese too-cheap-to-be-believed goods, or paying for bank services that used to be free.


1 Comment

Filed under Complaining, Politics, Social Issues

One response to “Listen children all is not lost

  1. Andy mahoney

    “Listen children all is not lost” was stuck in my mind and I knew it was from a Chicago song but which one? I got my answer (thanks) and a lot more. Good idea to move on and improve things but as long as we remain stuck in the blame game we will remain intransigent.
    Chicago 101 would make a great course.

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