A real-life member of “The Wild Geese”… blowing up his spot in Vice.
Simon Mann is a British mercenary, most famous for his failed 2004 coup attempt against Teodoro Obiang, president of Equatorial Guinea. An ex-Special Forces soldier, Simon co-founded the private military company Executive Outcomes, which at its height in the mid-90s ran two African wars, using oil money to fund a full-on air force and thousands of private soldiers.
In 2004, after pocketing millions fighting rebels in Angola and, he says, protecting a free election in Sierra Leone, Simon’s luck ran out. He’d been hired to fly to Equatorial Guinea with 69 South African heavies, capture the airport and escort an opposition leader to the presidential palace. During a layover in Zimbabwe to collect guns and refuel, he was busted.He ended up in Chikurubi Prison, one of Zimbabwe’s nastiest, before being extradited to Equatorial Guinea four years later. There he spent a year and a half in solitary at Black Beach prison, one of Africa’s nastiest, before being pardoned. Simon has written a book about his adventures, there’s a movie in the pipeline and he’s working on a novel he wrote in jail. Between all that, he spoke to me about coups, spies and kick-starting the Iraq War.
Love that he classifies his paramilitary activity in various parts of Africa as “reinvesting in Africa.” Also loves how he blows up Mrs. Thatcher’s son on Twitter:
And, of course, this photo is tops:
So everybody who knows me knows I don’t really like sports. Not exactly hate them (though I do hate a few), but even the ones I like or want to like, I can’t sit through an entire game and pay attention. Maybe at the stadium. But not for an entire season. Even the teams I support or want to win just because, I don’t follow what they’re doing. I barely know who plays for them.
When it comes to sports, I have always been interested in the social/historical/economic/etc. forces behind them. The identity politics. Hence my fascination with football hooliganism and stuff like that.
I’ve spent my education and most of the time since then complaining about our mainstream media and the bullshit that it is there to support. And as a guy who was working in Yankee Stadium when September 11 happened, I can say there are very few places that we see this kind of malarkey more than in big-ticket American sports. (Though, to be fair to the man, everybody says President Bush did throw a strike to open Game 1 of the 2001 World Series. Gotta give him props for something, right?)
I’m not sure that it always has been like this. We used to have a progressive mainstream publications in this country, and I am pretty sure that there were even sports departments at some of those newspapers, and I think they did good work. You’d never know that if all you ever saw were the kind of wrapped-in-the-flag circle jerks that most major sporting events – I mean televised spectacles – are.
So if you didn’t already know about the man, I give you Dave Zirin. Eloquent purveyor of progressive values, and a man who knows how to explain it in the context of America’s (and the world’s) sports experience. And he does it weekly, or even daily, relating everything from the NFL referee lockout to crazy Linda McMahon’s political campaigns (and the McMahons’ history of running the WWF and all the WWF athletes/actors who killed themselves and others). He also wrote a book titled Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports, with a foreword by Chuck D, so I figure he has some love for hip-hop, too.
So a couple of weeks ago I was going to write about Dave Zirin and his little blog posts on The Nation about the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide. Then my computer died. And then, last Friday, some dumb kid murdered a bunch of children inside of a school in Connecticut. And the NFL pretended to care. And Dave Zirin, the media loudmouth who has taught me the most about the brutal head injuries suffered weekly by football players (not to mention the greed of all owners/administrators in major sports, professional, collegiate, and otherwise, and in particular the greed and partisan zealousness of pretty much every NFL owner… oh, and stupid fans), pointed out that they don’t.
And neither do “we.” From the Sports Editor of The Nation:
Dave Zirin on December 17, 2012 - 1:05 PM ET
After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the NFL and its players made an effort on Sunday to recognize the collective grief shaking the country. There was a moment of silence at all fourteen NFL games in remembrance of the twenty-six people, including twenty children, mercilessly gunned down. Players on the New York Giants wore decals with the school’s initials on their helmets. Their star wide receiver Victor Cruz paid tribute to one of the fallen children, writing “R.I.P. Jack Pinto,” and “Jack Pinto, my hero” on his shoes and “This one is 4 u!” on the backs of his gloves. Cruz was Pinto’s favorite player and 6-year-old Jack will be buried in his Victor Cruz jersey. The New England Patriots also made a statement, wearing a helmet sticker with the Newtown city seal and a black ribbon. They in addition pledged to donate $25,000 to help each family affected by the tragedy. But it’s what the Patriots didn’t do that speaks volumes and perhaps says more than they intended. Normally after the team scores at home, their “end zone militia”, dressed as revolutionary war soldiers, shoots twenty muskets in the air. There were no guns fired, thankfully, on Sunday night.
The NFL’s intervention into this national tragedy as a voice against gun violence comes at an awkward time for the league. Just two weeks ago, Kansas City Chief’s player Jovan Belcher shot and killed the mother of his 2-month-old child, Kasandra Perkins before taking his own life. Belcher had an arsenal of weapons in his house, all of them—like the guns used in Newtown—legally purchased. When NBC broadcaster Bob Costas, the day after the Belcher murder/suicide, said that easy access to military-proficient guns combined with our glorified “gun culture” played a central role in this tragedy, he was derided by the Fox News crowd as a fool. Now he looks horribly prescient.
But, as we try to understand the numbing regularity of these mass shootings, there is also a question that goes beyond just gun control and mental health. Should our culture, and in particular the violence of the sports we consume, shoulder some of the blame? It’s an increasingly recognized fact that our most popular sport, football, is also our most violent. Every new study reveals that on Sundays we are watching people become mentally and physically crippled for our entertainment. In addition to the violence between the lines, this is a league that drapes itself in the trappings of war, from military flyovers before games to the constant slickly produced recruitment ads for the US armed forces.
Given all of this, can the NFL as an institution be a credible voice of peace? The answer is simply “no”: not even when they silence their muskets. The NFL cannot be a force for nonviolence because its popularity is the perfect reflection of what we’ve become as a country. We are a nation that has outsourced war overseas to remote control killer drones we overwhelmingly support, private security forces we don’t control and an armed forces we barely acknowledge. Meanwhile, a host of basic freedoms have been eroded over the last decade except the freedom to arm ourselves to the teeth. We can’t assemble with our neighbors in protest, but we can assemble military-style weapons alone in our apartments.
As we become further atomized and further desensitized to the daily violence that surrounds us, we also further worship a sports league that acts as the perfect metaphor for this state of affairs. We don’t have to see the glassy eyes or faces contorted with pain on the field, as they are safely hidden under helmets for our consumption. We also don’t have to see the broken bodies and lives off the field. We just get three and a half hours of incredibly entertaining, highly commodified violence in a safely consumable package. The true costs are hidden from us until they erupt into view, as in the case of Jovan Belcher or the suicide of the great Junior Seau. Similarly, the true costs of worshiping the way of the gun are only dragged into open view when it comes home to places like Newtown, Connecticut. We don’t have to see the faces or learn the names of the children killed in the drone strikes in Pakistan. We aren’t asked to care about the young black teenagers who die on the corners of Chicago. No NFL player writes their names on their shoes. But now we have to look in the mirror and either reckon with what we see or recoil and turn away.
If we want to follow the example of the NFL, the answer doesn’t lie on the field. Follow the example of the seven NFL players who turned in their guns to team officials the week after the Belcher shootings out of fear of what might happen if they were in the wrong state of mind or if a family member somehow grabbed ahold of their weapons. But even that is not enough. We need to throw ourselves on the machines of violence in Washington, DC, otherwise we are just dooming ourselves to more of the same. And the same is simply intolerable.
As usual, a major Democratic politician got walked all over by a right-wing blow-hard last night in the first presidential debate. There is nothing new about Democrats getting bullied, pilloried, and browbeaten by their Republican opponents. And there is nothing new about people like me being deeply ashamed of being a witness to it. True, this this accomplished by a lot of bald-faced lies and levels of hypocrisy that makes one want to gouge one’s own eyes out, but it wouldn’t be possible if politicians like Obama actually stood up for themselves. (Barack: You’re the PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES. Stand up for your fucking self.)
I’m not saying Mitt Romney trounced the President last night, but Obama should have done better. To start with, Mr. Obama, enough with all those “umms” and “ahhs” and again with the “umms.” That’s just not acceptable. You’re going to lose the whole debate just doing that.
Another thing - since we were talking about the economy, I would have liked to hear more about Romney’s 47 percent. (And for his part, it would have been nice to hear Romney bring up the “You didn’t build that…” remark – if only so I could see the President defend the comment, in context and out, because I know he can if he wants to man up.
I have to say that I thought Mr. Romney’s “trickle-down government” was a nice rhetorical turn of phrase. Didn’t see something that good coming from Obama… not even a repeat of his recent “take two tax cuts and call me in the morning” speechifying.
Anyway, here are some more detailed observations of what the President SHOULD NOT let Mr. Romney and the Republicans get away with.
• At one point Romney brought up Dodd-Frank and the fact that it codifies certain financial institutions as “Too Big Too Fail” (TBTF). Dodd-Frank is certainly an imperfect piece of legislation, and if his statement is true, I would be inclined to agree with him… if he weren’t Mitt Romney. So, Mr. President, remember:
Mitt Romney supported the 2008 Wall Street Bailout. And he did so from the sidelines, while you, as a senator and presidential candidate, voted for it. Remind people of that.
• While we’re on the subject, don’t let Mitt Romney talk about bailouts – PERIOD. Here’s something that has not been getting a lot of attention from politicians, pundits, or the mainstream media. Why did I have to learn about it in Rolling Stone?
In fact, government documents on the bailout obtained by Rolling Stone show that the legend crafted by Romney is basically a lie. The federal records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that Romney’s initial rescue attempt at Bain & Company was actually a disaster – leaving the firm so financially strapped that it had “no value as a going concern.” Even worse, the federal bailout ultimately engineered by Romney screwed the FDIC – the bank insurance system backed by taxpayers – out of at least $10 million. And in an added insult, Romney rewarded top executives at Bain with hefty bonuses at the very moment that he was demanding his handout from the feds.
• Since Mr. Romney wants to talk about “trickle-down government,” let’s talk about that (alleged) jewel in the crown of his business career: those awesome 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah that we all remember so well. As the brilliant Matt Taibbi wrote (also in Rolling Stone):
“Not that Romney hasn’t done just fine at milking the government when it suits his purposes, the most obvious instance being the incredible $1.5 billion in aid he siphoned out of the U.S. Treasury as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake – a sum greater than all federal spending for the previous seven U.S. Olympic games combined. Romney, the supposed fiscal conservative, blew through an average of $625,000 in taxpayer money per athlete – an astounding increase of 5,582 percent over the $11,000 average at the 1984 games in Los Angeles.”
• I keep hearing Mitt Romney talk about small business and his business experience and how he knows how to help small businesses thrive. Where or when did he get this experience? At prep school? At BYU or Harvard? Maybe it was in France when he was doing the Mormon-mission thing instead of getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. (With three draft deferments, that puts him high on the table, but nowhere near Dick Cheney, who had five.) OK, I digress, but where did Mitt Romney get his small business experience. From his Convention speech, I got the idea that it came from starting Bain Capital. Despite starting out with something like $37 million, I guess Mr. Romney considered his new firm a “small business” because there were a total of seven employees. Remember them?
Of course, the President did say something about this, but I don’t think it was enough:
“Under Governor Romney’s definition, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses,” Obama said. “Donald Trump is a small business. Now, I know Donald Trump doesn’t like to think of himself as small anything, but that’s how you define small businesses if you’re getting business income.”
• It was interesting to hear Mr. Romney lecture the President about working with Congress. Does he mean this Congress?
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” —Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, Senate Minority Leader, Oct. 23, 2010
• Finally, the President should have been more forceful in shutting Romney down when he repeated that idea that the President looted $716 billion from Medicare.
The President, like many in his party or of his political persuasion, need to step up and stop getting pushed around. It doesn’t get any more high-stakes than this…