National Greatness Reconsidered

Team USA is doing poorly in the World Cup of Basketball which is also serving as a 2020 Olympic qualifier. Even though several top NBA players chose not to play on Team USA, many US fans still assumed the team would prevail. Now they are disappointed.

The new international basketball reality, the world has closed the considerable gap the US historically had in basketball dominance, makes me wonder why the men’s US National Soccer Team is still a third or fourth tier program?

Much more importantly, why do we let our country’s athletic performances influence what we think about ourselves? At all.

It’s odd isn’t it, the way we count Olympic medals and feel a little better about ourselves, at least temporarily, when our countrymen/women excel in international competition.

Like most places, in the US we watch our teams closely and cheer them passionately, while we simultaneously incarcerate more people, childhood poverty and homelessness increases, gun violence persists, environmental regulations are undone, and loneliness and mental health challenges mount.

If we have to compete, why don’t we change the parameters? How about a World Cup of Prison Reform. The country that reduces their prison population and recidivism the most wins. The World Cup of Childhood Poverty and Homelessness. The country that moves the largest percentage of children out of poverty and reduces their homelessness population the most wins. The World Cup of Public Safety. The World Cup of Environmental Protection. The World Cup of Social Infrastructure.

Granted, those competitions won’t translate to television and will take a lot longer, but unlike the athletic ones, the outcomes will improve the long-term quality of our lives.

We Need To Stop Criminalizing Poverty

A tweet:

“A Georgia man stole a can of beer. The judge ordered ankle monitoring. The company administering it charged him more than $1,000. He sold plasma, but fell behind on his payments & the judge jailed him for non-payment. We need to stop criminalizing poverty.”

I had to read this a few times. The first time I thought the author was excusing the man’s initial act of stealing the can of beer as a result of his poverty. So I wondered, what does stopping criminalizing poverty mean? It can’t mean excusing theft can it? Otherwise, as Chinua Achebe wrote, things fall apart.

Upon closer review, the overarching problem is falling behind on his payments for the disproportionate fine. And being jailed. Stopping criminalizing poverty means a poor person should not be fined $1,000 for stealing something valued at $5. Nor should they be jailed when they can’t pay the fine on time. Taxpayers pay for the person’s time in prison and society pays when they find it even more difficult to find work upon their release.

Community service makes much more sense.