Thursday, February 26, 2009

A New Kind of Leadership

President Barack Obama’s summit today on fiscal responsibility did not magically repair the rancor between the Parties, nor did it magically fix the impending crash of our entitlement programs. However, what it did do was to signal a new type of leadership. He demonstrated a type of leadership that I have not seen from a President in my lifetime. What this summit did was it showed that President Obama has no intention of steamrolling the Republicans even though he has the juice to do that. He realizes that in order to solve the long-term solvency issues of this nation it is going to require getting the legislative branch to work together. President Obama demonstrated many times on the campaign trail and has stated since being elected that he is not afraid to listen to differing views and when they are reasonable to adapt his views to accommodate new ideas.

How refreshing it is to see a leader who is not so insecure that he is afraid to consult with even his rivals to craft ideas and positions that benefit all Americans. The lies and secrecy of the past I think have so enamored us that many can no longer recognize true leadership or have never seen it. President Obama has always surrounded himself with the brightest people and a free exchange of ideas and in the end has determined based on his principles and a sense of the situation what is the best decision. You may not agree with his decision but it would be difficult to argue with the process. So often in the past we have had Presidents who have claimed to be one thing (new Democrat, Compassionate Conservative, etc.) and once elected have turned out to be something else. Barack Obama campaigned as a pragmatic leader to the chagrin of many progressives and won because the public liked what it saw during those two years. They liked knowing that he wasn’t easily rattled nor would he make life and death decisions based on emotions and pettiness.

The speech before the joint chambers of Congress I think demonstrated to all who viewed it that we have crossed a new threshold in American politics. The strength of Barack Obama has always been his direct connection to the people of America. There is a genuine bond that has been missing and not manufactured like the George W. Bush outsider persona that was so patently crafted and false. I watched the speech on MSNBC and they had a running graph of Democratic and Republican voters gauging the speech and there was an extended time during the speech when you could not even see the lines. The lines of both had extended past the top of the graph which represented positive responses. As the President was introduced I have to admit that I had to fight back a tear at just the spectacle of it. And the truth be told despite the recent NY Post cartoon so very many Americans are basing their opinions on this President not on his race, but on his character. I just wish I knew how to extend this phenomenon to include all of American life and its people.

I couldn’t help but remember the sovereign tone of George W. Bush after his reelection stating that he had political capital and that he was going to spend it. I wonder what Mr. Bush and Rove now thinks about political capital after seeing the real thing. President Obama is a man of the people who speaks to and for the people of this nation. As his exchange with John McCain over the helicopter demonstrated he is at ease being who he is. There are no phony everyman metaphors that so defined our previous Presidents. He does not have the scripted craftsmanship of Reagan who as the great communicator never spoke without someone else’s words. After listening to his speech I can’t see how anyone can believe that he is not up to the task that we sent him to accomplish. He may not be able to do everything, but it won’t be for a lack of trying.

I know that I won’t agree with all of his policies or decisions, but I will never be able to disagree with his leadership. We as a nation have been given a reprieve from the secrecy and bullying leadership of the past. We have been presented with a thoughtful, articulate, and courageous man to lead this nation and although you may not have voted for him or even trusted him for that matter I doubt that anyone could deny that we made the right choice. He refuses to be sucked into the pettiness that Washington has fallen into, where people who disagree with 5% of a solution condemn the entire solution. I don’t know how long this is going to last but I want to enjoy the ride for as long as it does.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Birth of a New Nation

According to many Republicans the United States is a brand new nation. This new nation was born on January 20, 2009. All of our problems and crisis’s began on that faithful day when Barack Obama became our 44th President. No sooner than he had taken the oath of office the country began its downward descent. You see it was that day that we started a war with Iraq, removed all regulatory agencies from performing their duties, and we provided large tax-cuts to the wealthiest of Americans. President Obama had a very busy day. Somehow they expect the American people to believe that for the last eight years at least that they were not only not in power, but they were not even in Washington.

This has to be their strategy because I can’t think of any other reason for the response of Governor Bobby Jindal to the President’s speech. He begins by giving his own immigration biography which if his Party had their way would no longer be possible and seemed to me to be a blatant attempt to replicate the President’s history as if to say they are similar somehow. Then he began with his “We Americans can do anything” chorus which ran throughout the course of his response. My reaction to the response was that as Americans we do not need the government to do anything that just by the sweat on our brow and the might of our will we can do all of those things that government is too corrupt, incompetent, or uncaring to do. Of course the Republicans had to find someone to deliver the response whose hands were not soiled by the very things that Governor Jindal was decrying in his response, except the state of Louisiana requested 250 billion dollars in federal aid just for the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The line that has to go down in the annuals of the worst speech writing in political history though has to be his reference to the Federal government’s response to the hurricane. According to Governor Jindal the reason we don’t need our government anymore is because after the hurricane the government at the time was incompetent to handle the disaster. I wonder if anyone had mentioned to the Governor that the government during that disaster was led by George W. Bush, a Republican and was ruled by a Republican majority in both Houses. Do these guys not have access to the internet or library cards? Why would a Republican mention Hurricane Katrina and government incompetence in the same breathe is beyond me, you can’t make this stuff up. I’m sorry Governor but your logic does not stand up to any rational examination. If Governor Jindal is number two behind President Obama then America tonight got to see that there is a huge gap between number 1 and number 2. Sort of like Michael Jordan and the rest of the NBA when he was playing.

Ok, so for those keeping score at home let’s do a recap. First we had Governor Sarah Palin and her inability to grasp basic domestic and foreign policy facts, not to mention her basic lack of ethics when it came to billing the people of Alaska for travel or the RNC for clothing. Then we have Lt. Governor Michael Steele to head the RNC and his on the one hand saying the Republicans need to expand their Party by working with groups whom they disagree with like gays but when asked about
civil unions gave a resounding no. And now we have Governor Bobby Jindal talking about what the economy needs is more tax-cuts and less government regulation. Now I could be wrong but what it looks like to me is that the Republicans believe that if they change the messenger they can continue to keep the same message and the American public will not be the wiser. It is almost like they believe that the American people can’t tell the difference between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin or Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal or Michael Steele. Do they think the American public is so stupid that all we see are genders and races and are not listening to their words? I could go on and on about the “New Republicans”, but why bother.

Instead of coming up with new ideas and policies the Republicans are content to just present new caricatures. They want the American people to ignore or forget about the fact that they presided over all of the current crisis’s we are in and try this new idea they have of tax-cuts for the wealthy and reducing government oversight. We have to remember after all as of January 20th they are the Party of fiscal responsibility and ethics. There is only one slight problem though the country wasn’t born in 2009, it was born in 1776. We may have been born at night but it wasn’t last night.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Our Best And Our Brightest

For years many blacks have just come to accept that integration was the path to success in America. Blacks who have been able to have deftly navigated the integration maze either through employment, education, or athletic achievement. And once reaching the pinnacle of their success they have chosen to leave their neighborhoods, friends, and communities to relocate into white America where they take on mythical status as being more than black. To whites they become not like those other blacks and therefore become more acceptable to their white sensibilities. And in some cases blacks believe they have some mythical characteristics that separate them from other blacks. In their wake they leave behind a community that is devoid of role models and success stories. They leave behind a community that is becoming more financially and morally bankrupt.

Before integration and the black man’s desertion of the black neighborhood the only place for successful black men was within the black community. They didn’t have the option of leaving and joining the majority population so their influence and their example were there for all to see and emulate. With the exodus of these heroes the black community has been left with smoke hounds, drunks, and prison gang leaders for masculine role models. And people wonder why young black men are doing so well? When you remove the presence of successful men in a community a vacuum is created and as with any vacuum something or someone is always there to fill it. In the case of the black community it has been filled by despair, hopelessness, and this penitentiary mentality. The heroes we have been left with are those who exploit and pander to violence, criminality, and gangsterism.

I remember when I was growing up we had professional athletes, doctors, and professional men as neighbors. We interacted with them daily and got to see that a black man could be successful without resorting to dealing drugs, robbing people, and killing their brothers. These men provided hope just by their very presence to many young black men who otherwise would have been consumed by their circumstances. Even children who did not have fathers at home still could go out into the community and see that there had been others who were able to overcome their surroundings and reach to another level. As blacks have been able to wrestle success from the clutches of an economic system that for so long had ignored and marginalized them they began to seek the safety and comfort of the suburbs. While I have no problem with anyone who wants to make a better life for their families in the suburbs, I do believe that we all have to be cognizant of the consequences of our actions. As more and more successful blacks have migrated to the suburbs in their wake they have left a more engrained and intransigent form of poverty, a poverty that feeds on itself and creates more poverty.

In my opinion there are two ways to be successful. One is to migrate to the suburbs and integrate into an established system of success. This of course is the easy route to take because the only work involved is assimilation into the larger culture. The second and by far the more difficult way is to stay where you are and rebuild the institutions that you have. By doing this you create and enforce your own definition of success which may be different from the larger culture. The key question in all of this I guess is do successful black men owe any loyalty to their communities besides trying to sell them sneakers or an occasional drive through the hood? Each person must answer this question within themselves, but as a Christian I am not only judged on what I do but also on the opportunities I have to do the right thing and do not.

Our black youth in our communities are at a crisis point. They are angry and for good reason. When they needed a black man to protect them and to lead them there was no one positive there. Instead what was there was gangs, criminals, and disengaged fathers. No longer were there positive role models to emulate and find a communal sense of pride in. As more and more black kids are growing up without fathers the need for hope has never been greater. These kids need to know that they matter in a world that has basically ignored, shunned, and made them feel invisible. They continue to cry out in dysfunctional ways, but it is the only way they know how to say we are hurting and no one seems to care. It is time for all of us to come together not as a white community or a black community but as one community to rebuild and restore our promise to one another. Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Morals Of A Gnat

As I watched the rant of CNBC analyst Rick Santelli concerning the proposed housing bailout of the Obama administration I couldn’t help but think is this where we have evolved to as a country? Where our chief concern is what’s in it for me. Have we gotten to the place where we are taking our moral cues from the same greedy, profit at all cost mentality that got us into this mess? According to this crowd it is now immoral to help those who have become unemployed, sick, or homeless because they have had the misfortune of working for a company that had lay-offs and didn’t have golden parachutes. Because these people are still fortunate enough to be employed and have homes then the rest of the world be damned?

The popularity of this type of behavior illustrates how through the media and our decades of greed we have become desensitized to the suffering of others. We are emulating the attitudes of the “Gilded Age” prior to the “Great Depression” where as long as the misery is affecting others then it is not my concern. This type of behavior is often times seen in courtrooms where we blame the victim in order for us to not believe that we ourselves could be victims of similar mishaps. It is a response to a deep-seated fear and insecurity because deep inside we all know that we could just as easily be that victim. So rather than accept the possibility that it could be us we place blame and give the victims characteristics that reduce their humanity. In this case that all of the people who are being foreclosed on are somehow responsible for their misfortune due to bad decision making or some other moral deficiency.

The problem I have with this guy in particular and with the recent criticism of the economic plans of this administration in general is that people are treating this crisis like it is just another recession and so all we need are a few minor tweaks and the system will right itself. Anyone with the slightest understanding of this crisis and of our history realizes that this is not the 1970’s or 1990’s where we faced market corrections and slight downturns and our solutions did not require radical departures from previous policies. The current crop of naysayers whether they be the greedy or the Republicans seem to be focused on the short-term, for some reason they refuse to look at the overall view. They take snippets of data and scraps of the solutions and say this does nothing to change the crisis this week as if we got here overnight. The problem with many of them is that they believe the history of America started on January 20th and ignore the systemic problems brought about by years of neglect and greed.

What I don’t understand is when did our morals become everybody for themselves? I find it hard to believe that we have become a nation of such selfish proportions. I was taught and firmly believe still that if my neighbor is struggling and if I can help him then I should. We are being bombarded by article after article and rant after rant about the ignorance of the average American for buying homes they could not afford or speculating on the real estate market. It is a common refrain of the right and the greedy to blame those less fortunate for their circumstances as if they were the ones who brought down our economy. It is like the welfare queens of Reagan claiming that every woman on welfare was a black woman driving a Cadillac and living in some fancy condominium. The sad part is that it resonates with people. It allows those who are selfish to ignore and overlook the suffering of those they see every day. It allows them to make judgments about those they don’t know and based on those judgments walk by the homeless, the hungry, and the poor without feeling guilty.

Have we become so jaded that our national conscience can no longer be shamed into action on the part of those less fortunate? It is a shame how the wealthy and the greedy have turned this into a referendum of the middle-class and not a condemnation of the greedy who ran our economy into the ground. While the CEO’s are brought before the cameras not to be drawn and quartered for their excesses, but merely to be scolded like unruly children and sent back to their mansions and country club lifestyles. Yet those poor Americans who can and have lost their homes are told you were stupid and we won’t help you. We reward those who have lost billions of dollars of other people’s money and blame those who have lost thousands of their own dollars. Is it me or is there something wrong with this picture?

No Mr. Santelli, the message our government is sending is not that you don’t have to pay your mortgage if you are laid-off or you have a rotten loan, the message that our government is sending is that we care for all Americans not just the greedy and the wealthy. The message we are sending is that we are a compassionate nation and if that offends your delicate sensibilities then maybe you ought to relocate to a country where excess and greed are not frowned upon. Do I think that it is fair that I have to continue to pay my mortgage while others may receive some help? Of course not, but I thank God that I am not in their shoes yet! How about you Mr. Santelli if it is such a great deal why don’t you quit your job and apply for foreclosure assistance?

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Friday, February 20, 2009

A Nation Of Cowards?

Many of the pundit class in the media have been “appalled” by the comments of Attorney General Eric Holder, the first black Attorney General. In a speech that he gave at the Justice Department for Black History Month the AG stated that in effect when it comes to matters of race we have been a “nation of cowards”. As I observed the many black talking heads run for cover over the AG’s “controversial” remarks it reminded me of the “Jeremiah Wright” incident and many other times when a black person has spoken out in ways that were considered too confrontational. As a defense against the topic many focus on the tone of the speaker and not the message of the speaker. In this way we can continue to avoid the topic because we are so busy debating the messenger. What this allows us to do is to avoid the dreadful facts that in many ways our society and our social interactions have not changed much in the last fifty years.

What I think AG Holder was trying to do was to not allow many of us to fall into the trap that is Obamania. Now that Obama has been elected President many have begin to declare that our racial problems are over, that his election is evidence that we now live in a post-racial society. We are constantly being told that now we have nothing left to complain about – we elected a black man didn’t we? Let’s be clear electing Obama President is a historical and monumental achievement in America and is worthy of praise, but are any of us so naïve to believe that a black man that had to run by not discussing the problems and plight of black people suddenly removed the racial disparity that has for so long divided this nation? Think about this as an example; how many of us took part in the election by doing voter registration, attending rallies, and other volunteer activities and when they were over went back to our insulated enclaves feeling good that we had “made a difference”? For those of you who believe that we live in a transformed America let me present to you some facts that may alter those beliefs.

· In 2004, a typical black family had an income that was 58 percent of a typical white family's. In 1974, median black incomes were 63 percent of those of whites.

· Unemployment among blacks is more than double that for whites, 10.8 percent versus 5.2 percent in 2003 -- a wider gap than in 1972.[2]

· In 2000, the median net worth of a household headed by a non-Hispanic white adult was $79,400. The median net worth of a household run by a black adult was $7,500.[3]

· According to the 2000 U.S. census, an estimated 14.3% of the Black/African American population 25 years and older has a baccalaureate degree, 42.5% has some college education, and 72.3% completed high school. In contrast, 26.1% of the White population 25 years and older has a baccalaureate degree, 54.1% has some college education, and 83.6% completed high school (Bauman & Graf, 2003)[4]

· Only about 5 percent of the nation's churches are racially integrated[5]

So as one can easily deduce from the statistics electing one man to one office does not dramatically change what is happening on the ground with blacks. As I listened to the white pundits I couldn’t help but notice that their take – like so many other whites – was markedly different than the black pundits. They tend to believe that things are better for blacks than the blacks believe. Whether we like it or not at some point we have to begin to address and confront our racial history. For too long we have brushed it under the rug thinking it will just go away and granted that may happen, but at the rate we are going that could take a couple of centuries. In the mean time we continue to live in fear and mistrust of each other choosing to live in separate worlds that only collide when we are forced to by circumstance or emergency. The statistic that sticks out the most to me is the church integration, how are we going to live together when the one place where all are suppose to be equal under God remains so divided?

What many whites don’t understand is that in order for any minority to be successful they have to become experts in the culture of whites. They have to learn the music, the art, and the history of the white society. They have to learn and understand the psychology of whites. So minorities know whites, they have to. By the same token whites can be successful and don’t have to learn about any culture other than their own unless they choose to. You see integration has always been a bottom up proposition minorities integrating up into white schools, white neighborhoods, and white social circles. Rarely do whites integrate into black neighborhoods, black schools, or black social circles. Whites for the most part can still go through their daily lives without any significant interaction with a black person other than service personnel. In the meaningful areas of our lives many of us are still very segregated with the near future looking bleak.

Until we are able to have a free and open exchange of ideas we can never expect to overcome the centuries of mistrust that continue to plague us. Until whites are able to express their concerns about black societal ills without fear of hostility and calls of racism and until blacks are able to confront whites about their role in slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation without whites becoming defensive and blaming past generations we will be unable to bridge the divide that separates us. Are we a nation of cowards? Maybe, but in the past we have been and unless we overcome our fears instead of denying them we will remain stuck in the quagmire that has become race in America.


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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Angry Chimp And Other Lies

The problem I have with the cartoon that appeared in the New York Post newspaper drawn by Sean Delonas depicting the police shooting a chimpanzee with the caption that now they will have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill is not that it is racist and illogical, but that it illustrates the cowardice that new Attorney General Holder was speaking about in his recent remarks. Rather than acknowledging the intent of the cartoon the cartoonist wants to hide behind some phony pretext of the complexity of his illustration. Cartoons by their very nature are not designed to convey complex concepts. Cartoons are designed to illicit immediate responses based on their imagery.

While I do not believe like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson that the white man is the cause of all of the black man’s problems, it must be acknowledged that we do have a race history. Part of that race history is the depiction of blacks as
monkey’s, apes, and gorillas so the cartoonist’s denial and subsequent refusal to accept that fact does not pass the smell test. I was watching the Chris Matthews show last night and my favorite Republican apologist and white defender Ron Christie was on and in rare form. If this was still during slavery times Mr. Christie would be a casualty not by white slave owners but by other blacks as a collaborator and house Negro. Everyone has the right to join whatever Party and support whatever agenda they choose to, but no one has the right to change or ignore facts. When asked by Chris Matthews about the history of blacks being depicted as apes being a historical fact Mr. Christie denied that it was an historical fact. It is this distortion of the facts that keeps us as Americans from proceeding with the necessary national conversation concerning race.

Mr. Christie represents the most despicable of blacks in America, while he is more palpable to whites he does not represent the true feelings and concerns of blacks and this makes him dangerous. He is dangerous in that he creates a false sense of security for white Americans. No matter how outrageous the behavior or how grave the slight Mr. Christie will just smile and pretend that no ill will was intended. Not only will he accept the behavior but will often times justify or excuse the behavior and will attack other blacks who may be outraged by the behavior as being racists. Mr. Christie reminds me of the black man who when the Klan came to his house to burn a cross remarked that the neighborhood welcome wagon had arrived and they were kind enough to bring their own lighting. Unless we are willing to discuss these types of events honestly and be able to express the historic significance of them we will remain a nation of cowards and our racial divisions will continue. Our fear is that by speaking openly and confronting these issues we will be ridiculed, labeled racists, or subject to hostility and the truth is initially there will be those who respond in these ways. However, our fears must not prevent us from having a conversation that is long overdue. We might be surprised at how many of us share similar views once the shouting subsides.

Mr. Christie made a statement that illustrates to me the crux of many of our misconceptions. He spoke of a racially blind society which on the surface may seem benevolent to the issue of race in America. The truth is that it is patently false and unrealistic. Race unlike religion or many other differences we hold is apparent upon seeing someone or in some cases upon reading someone’s name. So the idea of a colorblind society is ludicrous and not what most blacks want. We don’t want a colorblind society, we want a color-neutral society where we celebrate our differences but we do not allow those differences to color our judgment of one another. It should be ok to be different and not be penalized for it.

The problem with the cartoon is that it plays on the historical prejudices that still remain deep in the psyche of America. Also, it made no sense logically. A cartoon is not the type of media that should require an explanation and I believe the cartoonist knew that. It isn’t like Mr. Delonas
[1] is a stranger to comic symbolism. He has previously been called to task for other drawings that depict prejudice against other groups and individuals. I have no problem with the cartoon myself because to those who view and accept the racial connotations of the cartoon I have no rational conversation with anyway. I am never going to be able to reach out to them in any substantive way. To those who recognize its racist depiction then it does not appeal to them as well.

While I understand sometimes the need for controversy to stimulate dialog this cartoon and its hidden meaning do not rise to the occasion. If the artist had been willing to acknowledge its true intent then we would have a basis for conversation, a starting point; albeit a sick one but one none the less. By continuing to couch our true feelings in innuendo and false metaphors we only persist in feeding our insecurities. Racism has always thrived in secrecy and until we remove the cloak that protects it we will never be able to uncover and eradicate it.


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I Told You So – Sort Of

After watching the Republican responses to the passing and signing of the Presidents stimulus package it is becoming abundantly clear what their strategy will be for the next few years. They will stage these phony displays of public outrage and then at the same time take credit for any benefits from the stimulus package. First let’s be clear about whether this bill was bi-partisan. In order to do this you have to separate the Republican Party from the Washington Republicans many of whom represent solid Republican base districts that were gerrymandered by Tom Delay and his cohorts from the Republicans who represent statewide constituencies like governors. Most Republican governors who are not seeking future national office are in strong favor of the stimulus bill. So far the ones who have spoken out against it are Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. It will be interesting to see how many of these governors will be lining up for a 2012 presidential bid.

Many Republicans are strategically placing themselves to have the best of both worlds. If the Obama economic plans do not work they will say we told you so, if they do work they will say it was our opposition and not the economic plans of the President that turned the economy around. The Republicans are gambling that they will be able to steal the credit for the economic turnaround hoping that by the time the economy does turn around the voters will have forgotten their opposition to all of the President’s economic policies. This strategy really exposes the Republicans deep seated hostility towards the American electorate. They are willing to be seen as rooting for the economy to crash and taking concrete steps to bring it about while at the same time believing that the American public won’t remember their opposition to the economic policies that succeeded. Basically they are saying the American public is so stupid that they can be easily duped by sound bites and imagery. Granted there was a day in American politics when these strategies were successful, however what the Republicans and many Washington pundits have failed to realize is that a new bell has rung and once rung it cannot be un-rung.

American voters are becoming even more engaged not less engaged in the political process. There are more outlets for information than there ever has been so the nightly sound bite and sweeping political imagery has lost its effectiveness. The Republicans may think this is 1984, but they are going to be in for a rude awakening. The American public is not looking for a return to past failed policies and phony cultural wars. The Republicans are pinning their hopes in 2010 on the fact that the economic crisis they helped to engineer is so deep that there will be little change by election time and they can tout the President’s economic policies as failures. They are already laying the groundwork for this strategy by claiming that the economic policies of FDR were ineffectual during the Great Depression because there wasn’t instant success. What they fail to mention and what many Americans who survived during that period often state is that while those FDR policies did not completely turn the economy around they did help to stem the hardships of the depression and gave the public hope and confidence that their government was trying to help them. Imagine how much worst the situation would have been if the Republicans had been successful in curtailing the programs of the New Deal.

In similar fashion the Republicans of today are trying to reduce the size and scope of the President’s economic policies so they can claim that they were right. These so called “principled” men who took a budget surplus and created the largest deficits in history are now claiming to be budget and deficit hawks. During the debate concerning the President’s stimulus package many Republicans stated that their opposition to the bill was that it did not address the underlying problem of our economic problems which according to them was the housing market. So one would think that when the President announced his plan to help shore up the housing market and try to keep families in their homes that the Republicans would be ready to support it; right? Wrong. Almost to a man as with the Stimulus Bill the Republicans are lining up to denounce the plan. The Republicans are not only the “Party of no” they are also the Party of no ideas.

The economy at some point will rebound we all know this. Our economy is now and always has been cyclical. The question then becomes is the government responsible for setting in place safety nets to help reduce the suffering of its citizenry while at the same time instituting policies that will reduce the likelihood of similar catastrophes or is it the governments job to sit and watch as its citizenry suffers the hardships and horrors of a system many have no direct control over and receive only minimal benefit from? The Republicans are betting that by the time the economy turns around that they can tell Americans that the Republican’s magic economic fairy was responsible and not the policies of this administration, that it was their opposition that made the recovery possible. So either way they were right. When all you have to do is sit and watch you are afforded the luxury of saying I told you so, but when you are responsible for the welfare of a nation that luxury is no longer available. Only a child sits and waits to say I told you so while adults work to solve problems. Our country does not have the time for children’s games, we need adults.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Rock And A Hard Place

As the Obama administration continues to try and come to grips with the many crisis’ that face our nation I can’t help but wonder what is going on in the mind of Republicans. They truly are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand if the Obama administration is able to produce results and begin to make inroads towards resolving these myriad of problems it will surely keep the Republicans out of power for not just years but possibly decades and on the other hand if they continue to resist and obstruct the possible answers to these problems and succeed in collapsing not only our economic, but our social and political order where does that leave them? In my opinion they have only one choice. They must put the welfare of the American people first as they were elected to do.

I realize this flies in the face of everything the Republican leadership has been preaching for decades with their partisanship hyperbole and win at all costs attitude, but we are not dealing with politics as usual and I am not sure they are willing to accept this premise. How anyone can envision this as a winning scenario is beyond me. First you help to create the crisis and then not only do you do nothing to fix it but you actually try to derail the things that may reduce suffering and resolve the crisis. Do they really believe that people who are unemployed and hungry are going to be concerned with political dogma and right-wing principles? Yes, we brought the country down around us but we preserved our principles. Let it be said that it was these very same principles that created the atmosphere for this crisis we are in. When you are out of work and your home is being foreclosed on al Qaeda, minorities, and all the other fear tactics of the Republicans seem a lot less scary. Being homeless and not being able to take care of your family I think trumps all the other fears you may have had in the past.

Where were these "principles" when the Republican leadership embarked with George W. on the trillion dollar deficits from billions of dollars of surplus left by the Clinton administration? Just so we understand these "principled" men, when a Republican President was in the White House and they had control over Congress spending billions of dollars to reward wealthy people was not a bad thing but when it is a Democrat in the White House and the Democrats control Congress now spending billions of dollars to fix the crisis their spending habits created is now a bad thing. I’m sorry but I seem to be missing something in this equation. Principles are a funny thing. The reason they call them principles is because you stick to them no matter what the circumstances. If you claim to have a principal against committing adultery and then you commit adultery over and over then it is not a principle. It may be something you aspire to or something you talk about, but it is not a principle. It just amazes me how blatant the animosity of the Republican Party is towards the average people of America. And what amazes me even more is how we allow them to get away with it on "principles". It has become abundantly clear to me that many of these people have no principles or empathy for that matter for anyone but themselves.

I found the town hall meetings by the President to have been refreshing and insightful into what is going on in the real world. It allowed all of those politicians and media types who spend their daily lives living in the vacuum of Washington and influence to see how the average American is rooting for this President and how they want to come together to solve our national nightmare. Unlike the Republican town hall meetings and "impromptu" gatherings these were actually open to all and this President does well in this type of exchange with everyday people. We as a nation must begin to turn the heat up on the Republicans. They must be held accountable for their unfounded claims and their lack of empathy for the suffering of the people. It is one thing to have a difference of opinion or philosophy but it is quite another to be willing to sacrifice the American people to prove a point. We are not economic models or financial theories; we are real people who have seen our lives damaged by policies and greed from Washington to Wall Street. Just as the CEO’s should be held accountable so should the politicians who oversaw this fiasco. So long as we allow these people to operate with impunity for their actions there will be no incentive to change. So long as the Republicans are allowed to make their baseless claims and tired old arguments without fall-out there will be no incentive for change.

Change must become more than an election slogan. Although I have to admit it was one hell of a slogan, we the people must continue to press for change. There are going to come times when we will have to take to the streets to emphasize our deep desire for change and support of change. The hope is that we will become weary and go back to American Idol or Desperate Housewives and once again leave the politicians and titans of Wall Street to their own devices. We have the momentum to make drastic changes that will impact not only ourselves but especially our children. Will we be the next "Great Generation" and change a world or will we be remembered for "the Osbournes"?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Crisis is Only a Crisis?

Character is not made in a crisis it is only exhibited.” - Robert Freeman

When is a crisis a crisis? Obviously in the Republican mindset it is whenever they decide it is. It is not based on evidence, facts, or the threat level as evidenced by the Iraq War. It is not based on the magnitude or the suffering involved as evidenced by Hurricane Katrina. It is not based on expert predictions or historical facts as evidenced by the current economic conditions. In what has to be the most bizarre strategy in the history of politics the Republicans have chosen to hope for economic disaster. That’s right, with the rest of the country and the world hoping that the Obama administration will succeed in turning the economic crisis around the Republicans have staked out the strategy and the position of gloom and doom. Not only have they expressed hope that this will occur which is bad enough, but they are also in the process of orchestrating our economy’s complete demise through their inaction or obstinacy.

Regardless of one’s political persuasion, we as a nation are in the midst of a national crisis the likes of which I don’t think any of us realize. When someone is in the throes of a calamity its magnitude I think can’t be measured until after the crisis has passed or dissipated somewhat because to acknowledge its size would be to face the hopelessness of the task. Many times individuals function on adrenaline during these times of crisis and do not fully appreciate the enormity of the moment. Whether we accept or understand the size of this thing most of us are willing to accept that this thing is big and we need to do something about it and do something now. This is a time when all Americans should be coming together to solve this crisis and get behind our President who was elected to lead us at this time. As I watch all of those Republicans on television posturing I can’t help but remember these same Republicans who stood in front of the American people prior to the Iraq War and spoke about how this national crisis dictated all Americans to come together and stop the “mushroom cloud”. We have since learned that those were theatrics and there was no imminent mushroom cloud. However, does anyone today believe that the President and the economists are posturing now? Does anyone believe that the unemployment, foreclosures, and business closings are theatrics just to pass some massive Democratic spending bill in an effort to change our way of life?

Based on the logic of the Republicans which demonstrates they have no logic is that the Democrats have created this crisis so they can create legislation to regulate our free markets, provide universal health-care, and supply everyone with a government job. I couldn’t imagine waking up every morning hoping for a return to the suffering of the Great Depression just so I could return to power. We have to remember that if the Obama administration is able to resolve this and the many other crises facing our nation the Republicans will be out of power for possibly decades. Their only hope is to prevent these efforts from succeeding through obstructionism and stagnation. They are essentially betting against the American people. The public should really take a moment and think about this; we have a major political party betting against the American people they were elected to serve. And not only are they betting against the American people they are actually doing things to undermine the efforts of those who are trying to do something about the crisis. This of course is all being done in the spirit of the loyal opposition.

If the Republicans succeed in bringing down the economy and the country what will there be left to govern? The good news is that you are back in power; the bad news is that our country lies in ruins. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the Republicans are doing and they must be held accountable for their actions. First of all they were on watch when this crisis occurred which they have not taken responsibility for. In my opinion if you cannot acknowledge your mistakes then you cannot lead in the future because you obviously have not learned anything from those mistakes which you haven’t acknowledged were mistakes. You then proceed to undermine those who are trying to correct your mistakes which you still have not acknowledged were mistakes. And to demonstrate that you have changed and learned from those mistakes which you have not acknowledged were mistakes your strategy for solving the crisis is more of the same things that created the crisis? Is there any credible person who still believes that tax-cuts are going to solve this crisis?

It is time for us who are suffering to punish those who are indifferent to our suffering. The Republicans are so desperate that any change in the polls no matter how insignificant to the overall situation considers it a victory. Remember how the McCain campaign reacted to the spikes in polling for Sarah Palin and Joe the plumber they tried to build their campaign around them. Theatrics is not a strategy. I have often envied the people of Europe and their willingness to take to the streets and protest in large numbers their dissatisfaction with their leadership. We in America have become so selfish that if it an issue doesn’t impact us directly we tend to ignore its effects on others, i.e. Iraq War, health-care, etc. We are in a crisis and we must let those in Washington know that whether they believe we are in a crisis or not, we believe we are in one and we want immediate action. The Republicans believe that now the election is over we will go back to sleep and they can rally their more vocal base and bushwhack the election; they must not be allowed to do so. A crisis is a crisis when we say it is.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

What is it about politicians and rich person that makes them think they don’t have to pay taxes? Not only do they not have to pay taxes but they also do not expect that to be an impediment to continuing to work in the government. In many of their minds all it takes is a sincere public apology and a plausible deniability of culpability and its back to business as usual. While many will argue that the tax problems of some of President Obama’s appointee’s are mild compared to some other President’s recent picks, but is that really the issue? President Obama campaigned on bringing change to Washington that requires actually changing things for that to be a reality.

While I agree with many that Mr. Daschle was a unique pick to head HHS and brings a lot of intangibles that would have helped to get Universal healthcare passed against many intransigent elements but at what cost? Do we believe that he was the only person who could understand and have the experience to get it done? I don’t think so. I believe that there are others who may not be tainted by Washington who can be just as effective. The key for this administration going forward is that it’s not enough to talk change. There are many who have already begun to question how change is possible with so many Washington insiders in the administration. I understand that given the depth of the crisis’ we face as a nation and with the President promising swift action it was important to have as many experienced people as possible to get off to a quick start but the President cannot overestimate his hand. There are forces in Washington and not just Republicans that are not in a hurry to see the Washington system dismantled.

It appears to me based on interviews and the continual reports of Wall Street bonuses despite their horrific performance that what is happening today is so ingrained and systemic that many of these people do not even believe they have done anything wrong. It is amazing to me how often we here the elite class speaking of the lack of responsibility of the poor and their “sense of entitlement” and yet what is rarely reported until recently is the “sense of privilege” by the wealthy. What bothers me the most is the lack of outrage by the American public when the wealthy class and their apologists say publically that they are entitled to these outlandish perks as incentive for doing their jobs. You are telling me that a person who is already earning millions of dollars in salaries and benefits needs more millions of dollars to do their job. And that if they don’t get it they will quit and there will be some sort of brain drain in corporate America? My feeling is with the great job that they have done in tanking our economy so what if they leave whoever replaces them certainly can’t do any worse.

The problem in America is that there is such a negative connotation connected to paying taxes that very few people are angry with those who have found a way to pay little if any taxes. It seems that many believe that when they are able they too will find away to skirt their obligations. Many people who are not wealthy risk penalties, fines, and jail in an effort to not pay their fair share. It reminds me of “so-called” Christians who refuse to provide charity which is a duty of all Christians and yet pretend to be pious. We need to reform our tax codes and create a flat tax rate for everyone regardless of income or position. We remove all deductions and exemptions and everyone pays a flat percentage of income. While no one including me wants to pay taxes in a communal society it is a necessity. Instead of seeing paying taxes as a burden it should be treated as one’s patriotic duty to maintain our society and way of life.

Why do we pay taxes? We pay taxes so that our governments can provide services that we cannot provide for ourselves. The problem is that we all have things that we don’t think the government should be using our tax dollars for and I understand that. However that does not preclude us from having to pay taxes. There is a cost to be a part of a society and unfortunately taxes is a part of that cost. We cannot have the bulk of those taxes being paid by the hardest working people who don’t have tax attorneys and CPAs to hide income and create phony tax shelters. Why is it that those with the most want to pay the least? There are too many wealthy people who believe that paying taxes is optional or only for the little guy. The middle-class in America has been sold this mistaken idea that whatever is good for the wealthy is good for them. We ignore their excesses and greed. We accept their contempt for our society and their utter lack of empathy for anyone but themselves.

The time has come for all of us to step up and pay our fair share. We must no longer accept that there are those above the law and above paying taxes. We must make our tax laws fairer, simpler, and more enforceable. We must enforce our corporate taxes and not as the Republicans suggest reduce them. If we were able to collect just half of what is owed the government by corporations and the wealthy our national debt would be reduced considerably. We must make those who intentionally avoid paying their taxes pay a heavy toll, because they are after all stealing from all of us.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mission Impossible

Michael Steele, former Lt. Governor of Maryland is now the chairman of the Republican National Committee. In what will surely be touted as an historic event similar to the Governor Sarah Palin nomination I think it is important to review what this says about the “new” Republican Party and its future direction. For Republicans it shows that it is still about image and perception and not about real change of direction or policy. For the rest of us it demonstrates just how much the Republicans despise the American people and their utter contempt for our intelligence. The Republicans will now be known as the “Alternate Reality” Party. In their “new” reality symbolism has replaced substance, imagery has replaced depth of ideas, and a comedian has replaced leadership.

The thing that bothers me the most about the last two major Republican charades – Sarah Palin as Hillary Clinton and Michael Steele as Barack Obama is the transparency of their condescension of the American people. What the Republicans fail to understand is that it is not the face that is important; it is the policy behind the face. Instead of focusing on changing the outdated and patently false narratives they have been force feeding the nation, they focus on the superficial. If we change the spokesperson it appears as if we are changing the policy when in fact we are not. Are these people so detached from reality that they believe that women supported Hillary just because she was a woman and that blacks and minorities supported Barack Obama just because he was black? While many women and minorities found a sense of pride in the candidacies of both Clinton and Obama their support went far deeper than the cosmetics of gender and race. Are they so cynical that they believe that women would have supported Ann Coulter just because she was a woman or blacks would have supported Clarence Thomas just because he is black?

The selection of Michael Steele as head of the RNC is a farce in itself. It took him six ballots to defeat a member of an all-white club, the distributor of Barack the Magic Negro cds, or the architect of the last two election cycle defeats. It definitely appears like the Republicans are learning from their past mistakes and are taking this opportunity to retool their party with new ideas and directions. As he made the rounds of the talk shows you would think that Mr. Steele would be saying the things that would be signaling the end to the rank partisanship and taking a more conciliatory tone; right? Well, you would be wrong. According to Mr. Steele the past two election cycles should have no bearing on whether Republicans should support President Obama’s policies or follow the will of the American people. It is irrelevant today that in a democracy the voters have spoken and made a choice. It is also irrelevant that we are facing a far greater challenge than the one that the former administration faced when the Republicans expected everyone to rally around the flag and support their policies.

Well, Mr. Steele those policies have failed America miserably and for you and the Republicans to continue to offer up the same ideas repackaged is an insult to the American people. As a recovered person I am reminded of the phrase that if nothing changes then nothing changes. Just because you put a new shade of paint on the outhouse doesn’t mean it won’t stink anymore. When asked why the Republicans lost Mr. Steele has answered that the Republicans needed to return to the 1994 Pact with America fashioned by Newt Gingrich. Just so I understand the way to take the Republican Party into the future is to return it to the past? This stuff is too good. You couldn’t make this stuff up. I have written previously that I thought the Republicans did not have the humility to be able to reassess their defeats and develop new ideas that resonate with the people. For some strange reason the Republicans have the mistaken belief that presentation is more important than ideas. They have every intention of presenting the same old ideas delivered by new faces.

Mr. Steele has decided to take on an impossible mission. He is being asked to sell the Republican’s rehashed ideas to an America that has changed while they have not. How anyone could review the last two election results and come up with the belief that the reason they turned out the way they did was because the Republicans were not “Republican” enough is beyond me. Mr. Steele may be black but he is no Barack Obama. He is not a visionary, but merely an opportunist that happened to be the color of the day. Despite his rhetoric to the contrary Mr. Steele will not and cannot lead the Republicans into the future unless they are willing to change their policies. The time in American history and politics where style trumps substance is thankfully over. If the Republicans think they can return to viability by resisting change versus embracing change then it really will be mission impossible. Real change is not just changing the faces but changing the ideas they represent.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who Is In Charge?

Meanwhile, the effort to foist all blame for this mess on the private sector continues unabated when most of the blame for this current debacle can be laid at the feet of the Congress and a couple of former presidents. And there is a strategic reason for this[1]

It's too big a business for the left to keep all those things alive that divide the people of this country into groups that are against each other. Yes, I'm fired up about this.[2]

So Rush Limbaugh is now the leader of the Republican Party? I love this. You mean to tell me that when the majority of the country is trying to come together and solve some of the biggest crisis’ in our time you have this hot air, blow hard saying he hopes we fail just so Republicans can come back to power? And this is the guy you want to have out in front of your party? This is the reason why the Republican Party is headed for extinction they are either unwilling or unable to adapt to the future. They continue to want to cling to an America that is past. Rather than have the humility to do some self-examination they continue to press an agenda that was soundly defeated and one which many Americans are tired of.

For the past two years the American people vetted both the Democratic candidates and the Republican candidates and made their decision. The Republican’s offered the country more tax-cuts and Joe the plumber. President Barack Obama was very open about what he planned to do to stimulate the economy. The American people made their decision. For the Republicans to ignore the will of the people further illustrates their contempt for the people of America. The President has tried to reach out to Republicans to try to bring them on board and they respond by offering the same tired rhetoric and ideas that created this mess in the first place. No, Rush this economic crisis was not created by the Congress and a couple of former Presidents. To quote the dean from “Animal House”, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

What does this say about a political party when their leader is a radio talk show host? Are the Democrats now going to elect Keith Oberman head of the Democratic Party? What many don’t understand is that Rush Limbaugh has never run for any political office that I am aware of. He is an entertainer; and not a very good one. He will twist facts, outright lie, and say the most partisan things he can to get ratings. Are the Republicans so devoid of ideas and leaders that they have to rely on Rush Limbaugh to show them the way? I think this is great because the way he is leading is a dead end. The vaunted Republican base is shrinking not expanding. The last two elections showed that. Based on the current tactics being employed by Rush and his underlings it is going to shrink even smaller. What do they think there is some large majority of whites who believe in tax-cuts for the wealthy, bailing out the corporations, nation building, and working at Wal-Mart? Are you kidding me?

The problem with Rush Limbaugh and many like him is that they live in a bubble of privilege and echo chambers. They are surrounded by only those who share their opinions so they begin to believe that they have more power and influence than they do. In the hood we call it they believe their own hype. For Rush Limbaugh to say that the Democrats want to continue to keep the country divided would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. Rush, were you at the Republican Convention? It was full of pasty old white guys. And you call this the Party that wants to unite America? I assume they plan to do this through promoting tax-cuts for the wealthy, bans on abortions, and reducing the government to the treasury and the defense departments?

I’m sorry but any Party that is willing to stake its political future on the opinions and pronouncements of Rush Limbaugh deserves to become the next “No Nothing” Party. Once again we see that in a culture that has no long-term values or belief system the “cult of personality” trumps the logic of reason. The very culture that he decries is the true vehicle of his power and success. If we really did live in the world that he claims to desire he would be just another fat middle-aged white dude at the family picnic with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist instead of a fat pampered and pompous entertainer. Long live the King!


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Monday, February 2, 2009

I Am Already Tired Of Obamania

Even though it hasn’t even been a month into the Obama Presidency I am already tired of Obamania. Let’s be clear I am not tired of President Obama, but I am getting extremely tired of everyone invoking his name and attaching it to any pet cause they happen to favor. It’s as though by doing so they add instant legitimacy to their cause. I am reminded of how modern Christians have for decades done the same with the name of Jesus or God; attaching Him to all types of doctrines and circumstances He may or may not favor.

As an active member of my community I have been to neighborhood meetings, local and state political gatherings and the theme has been the same. I refer to it as the “Obama effect”. Due to the historic nature and the grass roots precedence set by the Obama campaign and his election many believe that this “effect” will automatically translate into an outpouring of community involvement and activism. I even heard one gentlemen refer to time as BB (before Barack) and AB (after Barack). Ok folks let’s get a grip. We have not passed into some magical kingdom where CEO’s and bankers are no longer driven by greed, where parents are suddenly willing to be responsible for their children, and every citizen is now an active educated member of our democracy.

First of all, no one knows what the effects of the election of President Obama will have in the future body politic. No one knows if the grass roots community will continue to turn out for local and statewide elections. No one knows if this was an isolated alignment in history of the right man being in the right place at the right time. While I think it is important to try and use the President’s popularity and the grass roots mechanism to advance a progressive agenda. I, like many others hope that the recent awakening from the state of lethargy of many who had never been involved or had given up on the process will be a continuing phenomenon. The truth is none of us really knows if they will. Just because folks showed up for Barack Obama doesn’t mean they will show up for Bob Smith.

Here are my two main problems with the current strategy of some to cloak all issues in Obamania. The first is when you rely too heavily on the popularity of anyone or anything you actually diminish its popularity. What happens is that people get tired of the constant bombardment. Think of all the people and products that have over-saturated our consciousness and their eventual fate. Many people mistakenly believe that the success of the Obama campaign can be replicated in other areas that may not have direct connections or applications. We have a tendency in this country to think that success in one area or of one individual is directly transferable to all areas and individuals. A simple search of our movies, television shows, and music will bear out our desire as a culture to clone success and its elusiveness.

The second problem I have is that when you rely on the “cult of personality” your programs or policies rise and fall with the popularity of that personality. As we ride the wave of Obama popularity it is easy to believe that he will always be this popular. He won’t be! What many failed to understand is that it wasn’t just that Barack Obama was popular that made his improbable election possible. The key was that he offered ideas and addressed issues that resonated with the people. If your policy or issue is worthwhile it should be able to stand on its own merits. The methodology and tactics may be replicable, but you can have the best organization but if the issues or policies are crappy you won’t be successful. The issues and policies must drive the agenda and in some cases today this is not always the case. A policy or issue must rise or fall based on its value not its association to a popular personality. If a policy or issue is good it doesn’t need the hype and if it isn’t then the hype won’t make it so. Associating bad policy to Obama will not only tarnish President Obama but also those affected by those policies.

It would be easy and attractive for progressives on the local and state levels to believe that invoking the Obama campaign will instantly translate into support, but the real lessons of the Obama campaign is that hard work married to the right policies will garner public support. If you craft the right policies or come down on the right side of the issues I think the public will respond based on the issues and not the hype. The worst thing we can do is to use this time of opportunity to push through the wrong policies and issues and once again alienate or discourage these newly invigorated people. These dispirited individuals could present long-term consequences and again be lost for generations.

So in moving forward may I suggest that we imitate the hard work of organizing and mobilizing people based on the Obama model, but that we do not use the Obama campaign as some sort of holy talisman used to legitimize bad policy.

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