Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Defense of Thanksgiving.

For any American who looks closely at the classic imagery of European settlers and Native Americans breaking bread, but also beyond, to the intents and motives behind these pictures and fables, there is a strange celebration of genocide in waiting. The mythic images of puritans in their brass buckled hats, shaking the hands of bare-chested “Indians” is bigger than one lie, it’s a whole series of euphemisms and falsehoods.
I think of the life-size dioramas in the main lobby of the Museum of Natural History here in New York City and imagine that while these two cultures are pictured peacefully meeting over roast turkey, slaves are shackled to the floors of galleons, making their way to a life of misery and death in the “new world”. I imagine that right after dinner, the Plymouth settlers ask the Indians to leave and begin erecting the fences that will begin much of the warfare that will soak the United States’ origins in blood.

The earliest Thanksgiving on record in North America was on September 8, 1565 in the area of St. Augustine, Florida by Spanish settlers, but most Americans, in keeping with our Mayflower foundation myths recognize the harvest festival of 1621 on Plymouth Plantation as the very first. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada.

Few holidays are as eagerly anticipated, economically important, and consequently derided and heavily criticized as this annual “harvest festival”. To be honest, it’s never meant much to me except good food being shoved into other good food, which is roasted and basted. To me, Thanksgiving has always meant old friends coming by, too much food, usually a lot of beer and wine, more pies than necessary and leftovers that almost eclipse the meals that spawned them in quality and taste. Try a Cuban sandwich made with Turkey and Roast Pork leftovers on toasted sourdough bread… it is mind-blowing. If it’s a holiday of excess, I’ll say it’s the best kind of excess there is, -wanton gluttony acknowledged. These might be two of my favorite days of the year, as they have traditionally brought our friends back to us, allowing us, if only for a time to be in close proximity of people we grew up with, lived with; lived nearby; or saw everyday.

During Thanksgiving, for a time, everyone is as close as they were, long ago, as in their childhood; or in some cases as they were as families before divorce, remarriage or adulthood scattered siblings and fragmented people who were otherwise much closer and saw each other more often. I guess that’s also the reason why so much fighting happens during Thanksgiving as well.

…Thanksgiving in America and in Canada also happen to be the absolute deadliest holidays on the roads. New Year’s Day isn’t even close. This year, with many more people driving than ever before (with the high price of flying, depressed economy and currently dropping price of gas) there will, in all likelihood, be an increase in fatalities which is as unnecessary as it is tragic.
Don’t drink and drive. Ever.

Give thanks for all that still you have, and have had in the way of people and friends in your life. I certainly will.

Thanks for reading our blog.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What it means: Part 9

So here it is: my final post on what I feel is the far-reaching significance of the Barack Obama victory.

Yes, I know this has been boring as all hell; but I have to confess it’s been very important for me to think this through along various lines for selfish reasons. I was stupefied by this outcome. I worried about what I felt was my own lack of understanding of this moment in history. I frankly felt kind of dumb, as if I didn’t understand what had just happened. I had no such confusion when George W. Bush took office, -one look at him and I knew it was going to be bad, bad, bad news for all of us. I just didn’t foresee eight years of his blank smiling face waving to cameras from Air Force 1.

I now realize, only through writing about it here on this blog, that I was dumbstruck by the scope and by the consequences of this change in administration and the apparent transformation that happened in America as I cynically walked around thinking that people in America would never actually vote for a Black candidate, no matter what was going wrong with the economy, no matter how bad the wars were going.

I was wrong.

I overlooked that potential in our country that has always asserted itself when we got too close to the brink. My thanks again to Michael Hew, who is the founder of this blog network, and who indulged and encouraged me to run my mouth this year. I hope he doesn’t regret it too much since I don’t seem to be able to politely stop.

The end of the Bush administration and the birth of the Obama administration means so many things to us here in the United States and also surprisingly to the world, judging by all the celebrating that’s still going on today. I tried in 9 innings to express the different ways that the Barack Obama victory represents a unique historical moment in our consciousness beyond the obvious barriers broken. I don’t think I succeeded, but I did manage to give form to some cloudy notions, hopes, fears, suspicions and embarrassing prejudices of my own. For me, the election of Barack Obama represents possibilities too numerous to mention and too nuanced to simply list. Much of his presidency’s significance is yet to come and as Yogi Berra once said:

The future ain’t what it used to be

…and I’m real happy about that, but my thoughts turn to other people in my life when I think of what might be possible now. I think of my friends and their kids. It’s weird running into people I haven’t seen since Barack Obama won.

It’s like knowing someone from another life.

Calling Beth Block my friend isn’t entirely appropriate, she was more than that. I met Beth in the early 1980s at a private school on the upper west side. We were “bad kids” together and we were smart. We had all the kinds of stupid, secret, destructive fun that seems romantic after you turn 30. My first packs of cigarettes, sneaking into bars… my sweet young life. She was there for all of it.
Beth was one of those people that everybody greedily kept as their own over the years. She wasn’t somebody you lost touch with. She kept everybody young. She’s one of those people everyone needs in their life. She died suddenly this year in a car accident in Washington back in April. I think about her a lot these days, with all that’s happened.
Beth was an extraordinarily perceptive and tough-minded girl from Texas, from New York, from Japan, from LA and from all the other places that she made hers. Every month, I find some new thing I would’ve liked to have talked with her about.

I wish so very badly that Beth had lived to see Barack Obama, Joe Biden and the voters take the country back. I wish she'd seen the crowds in Chicago and New York, among other things.


What it means: Part 8

I think all Americans are relieved to see an incoming President hit the ground running. It’s been a long time since we saw a statesman take to working for this country as if it were something vitally important and urgent. Eight years too long.

Our outgoing President and his administration have left the country in shambles. George W. Bush walks a little slower these days, shrugging as he walks to the helicopter appearing to wonder why all the people who voted for him are so damn mad.

Take fewer vacations next time Mr. Bush. I wouldn’t hire you to walk a dog.

There is much activity and reorganization already happening in Washington as posts are announced and in turn Senators and others are replaced as they move into the new Obama administration to come. The return of someone like John Podesta is a certainly a welcome sign of the value that Barack Obama and his aides will place on experience and proven qualifications… but what do the return of so many other Clinton era figures, and the Clintons themselves mean?

What are Progressives and Liberals to make of the new administration?

One figure, who has stood at the side lines since the start of the primaries, looms large over the next four years, threatening to complicate Hillary Clinton's possible contributions and legacy. While Bill Clinton represents a Liberal boogieman to Republicans, it’s important to put his lesser known decisions and policies that were neither Progressive nor Liberal, into perspective. It’s surprising to me, when I look at it all directly years later:

Under President Bill Clinton, the nation’s richest received an 8 cent tax break on every dollar, (Whereas George W. Bush only gave them 6 cents off every dollar by the way). There seems to me, an apparent correlation between the gutting of Welfare and aid programs for the poor and the Reaganesque tax break the wealthy received under President Clinton. You may want to blame the Republican Senate and House of the time, but remember, Clinton ultimately signed these into law, forgoing his vetoes.
Then there is NAFTA, which destroyed many small businesses and depressed many local economies in states like Ohio and Indiana. NAFTA ripped out much of the independent manufacturing industry of the coastal regions of the United States and in Middle America, leaving only the very biggest corporations to operate, or ironically, to also move their operations and their associated jobs overseas.
Ultimately, Clinton’s most unforgivable capitulation to the reckless free market culture of the 1990s was the relaxation of Media Ownership Regulations. This has greatly destroyed the industry of local news television and newspapers. It has impaired journalism altogether. As someone who relies and depends, as we all must, on the integrity of journalism and the role of the Fourth Estate in our civic life, this is the absolute worst thing he signed off on. It has effectively allowed Rupert Murdoch to expand a partisan news empire that runs as close along the line to lying as possible, and crossing it when they think they can get away with it. It has allowed corporations to essentially buy the reporting of reality, -sometimes in an entire region. Today if your water’s being poisoned, you won’t know until after you’re sick because the corporation doing it owns the radio, TV and newspapers in your town. None of these are the things the Republican Party would ever complain about, but they are part of the Clinton Presidency they claim to abhor. …and now he’s back.
I voted for, and deeply respect Bill Clinton, but I disagree profoundly with some of his decisions in office.

I know.

I should just be grateful Barack Obama won and remember that even a complete repeat of the Clinton years would be a staggeringly vast improvement over the last eight years in every way. But then I remember the missile strikes on Iraq just days after the Monica Lewinsky scandal heated up... and I think to myself:
things are not so bad that they can’t get worse, should we stupidly take our eyes off of our government again.

Barack Obama, our President Elect, is one of the most intelligent and capable statesmen of this, or any other time. Now he has to govern the country with all the power and responsibility that a “mandate” from the people affords. The weight of history is threatening to crush his ideals and plans for the country’s well being and future, and this man has some big plans. But our job as a citizenry is also just beginning. We have to hold all of our representatives accountable to the ideals, philosophies and ethics they claim to represent. Obama voted along with the FISA bill earlier this year. It's the last time he'll get a "pass" from this voter.

Barack Obama earned our votes. Now he has to deliver us back to the forward-looking nation that we suspect we can be. As my collaborator on this blog pointed out many months ago, “change” is only a word

…but so is "progress".
How tragic it would be, if they remain only words for the next four years.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

What it means: Part 7

There were many casualties in the recent presidential elections. The supremacy of diversionary tactics and angles like the pushing of: “Character issues,” “Guilt by association,” “Morality,” “Values (Family, American etc.)” that have been used historically by the Right to get an opponent “off platform” into an areas of constructed vulnerability seems over for the moment. The much lauded “ability to frame the debate” is also lying by the side of the road to the White House, its entrails scattered.

Karl Rove must be crying his fat little eyes out.

The Republican Party has used “Character issues” among other ploys to make investigative journalism and direct questions about its own policy and candidates irrelevant for the last 28 years or so, maybe longer. That tactic of shifting the focus onto a politician’s personal life or associations was foolproof for a long while. Idiots that we are, we allowed this to get a sitting President who presided over one of the biggest sustained periods of economic growth in the nation’s history nearly impeached over a blowjob in 1998.

I wonder if, in his private moments, Kenneth Starr ever feels remorse for wasting 40 million dollars of our hard earned money on a spurious series of investigations concocted to destroy a president just because he was a popular Democrat. I wonder if he ever allows himself to realize the fact that, as Osama bin Laden, Mohamed Atta and all those other scumbags plotted to kill as many American citizens as they could, he was working hard with Linda Tripp to attack the President of the United States. Kenneth Starr is the best example of what Republicans and the Right in America call “Unpatriotic”. You’ll just never hear any of them say it.

The GOP long ago mastered the underhanded art of casting aspersions and offering moral judgments as if they were criminal indictments. The last few years of their own sexual scandals have exposed the hypocrisy of the Republican Party and its socially conservative supporters. Republicans demonstrated that it didn’t really matter as long as it’s one of their own. Predictably, The GOP does not cite its own hypocrisy as a “Character issue.” Not only have closeted homosexuals been outed amongst its most aggressively homophobic statesmen, but extramarital affairs, once a goldmine for destroying brilliant candidates like Gary Hart, are pretty much non-issues due to their frequency in the Republican Party these days. Even the GOP’s agents in the media, like Bill O’Reilly, have been embarrassed by allegations and sex scandals that exposed their hypocrisy, although Keith Olberman is the only one who seems to remember or care. But these Republican scandals are not responsible for why it didn’t work against Barack Obama.

Subjecting opponents to murky subjective judgments of their personal worth or doubting a candidate’s patriotism by having “News Analysts” make accusations disguised as questions just didn’t work this time. I’ve heard more than one person tell me that it didn’t happen this time because the candidate was a Black man. While I don’t doubt that there were many, many, many conversations at Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times about how to attack Barack Obama without looking like open bigots, the fact remains that they did try this again. It didn’t work because enough of the active voting public, -in enough key regions, have had enough of this stupid nonsense. At no point were the GOP and the Right able to take enough of the public’s eyes off the economy and the wars by making them look at either William Ayers or the Reverend Wright.

For the time being at least, “the issues are the issues” in the trajectory of campaign contests. So the economy must be really, really, really bad because “framing the debate” by any party has become irrelevant... for the time being.

Reality frames the debate now.

You can’t make a Presidential contest a matter of whatever your own party wants to focus on right now in America, because if you’re not talking about jobs, or the foreclosure sign on some guy’s front lawn, you’re not talking about reality. Framing a debate or question shouldn’t be called “spin”, but let’s just say I think the concepts are first cousins to each other. I don’t think it’s gone forever… but it’s not a “can’t-miss, go-to” tactic any more.

That’s a brighter and clearer horizon for us.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What it means: Part 6

The Presidency of Barack Obama is not the end of Black politics any more than it is the end of racism or poverty. Al Sharpton? -Your job is still safe. I expect to see you marching the next time someone unjustly gets their ass kicked in my city. Don’t be late.

First of all, Barack Obama is Black. Period.

It may seem crazy, but there are many on the American Left, in the Black Nationalist community, in the African-American intelligentsia and in the nation’s inner cities, especially New York, who maintain that Barack Obama is either not Black or not Black enough.
Interestingly enough, to the bigots of the world he’s the Blackest man they’ve ever seen on their horizon. These are all ridiculous notions in a concrete and technical sense because Barack Obama is as much White, as he is Black. He just gets rounded off to Black or White by anyone who wants to neutralize him politically.

But I’m not here to write about what’s technically true. If I was, my collaborator and I would have run out of things to write about months ago.

To those who maintain that his life experience, education, manners, dialect or actual complexion somehow disqualify him, I propose this silly little test:
Let someone of his exact same height and appearance, manner etc. drive around with me in a car on Fordham Road or Grand Concourse in my native Bronx and let’s see how many times we get pulled over… Hell, let Barack Obama himself actually drive me around as we go pull up at the White Castle near Howard Beach and sidle up to a police car at the traffic light on a Friday night. Exactly.

That is what it is to be Black in this country.

It means that on sight, no matter your upbringing, your financial worth, your education, your achievements, your distinctions or importance to the world, you will be a “nigger” if someone decides you are. Period.

I think it’s crazy that I have to remind people of this, but here we are.

We can never forget that Blackness is first and foremost a political color. That Black people happen to be darker than White people is almost incidental to the motive and intent of calling someone Black. That Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon and other post war political thinkers found it necessary to distinguish between “lights”, “brights” and “almost whites” is not to say that they thought those people were no longer Black. I think Marcus Garvey in particular meant just the opposite. Whatever intentional attempts at “passing” or inadvertent “passing” goes on, the ultimate truth was and is; Black identity was invented to identify Whites as much as Blacks and certainly to stratify both. How skin shade adds up to Blackness and Whiteness may be a question of degrees within the murky spaces of society and the personal sphere… but at the end of any meaningful conflict or negotiation, a person is either all Black or not at all:

They won’t take out a smaller nightstick; -they only show up with one.

A skull will be broken under that higher earning afro, under that Harvard baseball cap or under that just plain lighter skin just the same. He'll be randomly beaten whether the people in his neighborhood think he’s an “Oreo” or not. I don’t know Barack Obama’s mind and specific experience, but I do know that this is the America that Barack Obama has had to navigate. He’s older than me, so he’s seen much more of it than I have, and even as a Hispanic, I have seen fuckin’ plenty.

Barack Obama won this election in spite of his Blackness.

And that’s all it means for any of us, no matter what our own imposed colors may be, White, Black or any of the infinitude of shades thereof. It’s not that racism has ended, or that race doesn’t matter now that Barack Obama is president, it’s just a sign that race doesn’t have to matter.


What it means: Part 5

That’s what a reporter looks like. We all know it.

News, journalism (even the basic nature of language as a medium of communication) has taken a savage beating these last eight years. To be fair and accurate, this is not an invention of the current Bush administration, but no presidency has ever applied secrecy, spin, deception and direct lying to the extent and frequency that it has. The Bush administration acted as if the American people didn’t need to know anything it didn’t want them to know.

None of this is possible without a news industry that is complicit across all its media forms.

The office of the Press Secretary under President George W. Bush has turned into a useless propaganda outlet that wasted the time of reporters and the American public with nonsensical obstruction, and combative refusals to answer questions.

2001–2003 Ari Fleischer
2003-2006 Scott Mclellan
2006-2007 Tony Snow
2007-2009 Dana Perino


That reporters simply didn’t walk out of the room while these patsies spewed lies from their scripts, or worse, refused to answer questions, is appalling; but the public remained silent while this happened, even tacitly supportive. It appears we can’t be trusted to ask questions when we’re scared, even when it means our own future, or the lives of our family and friends. It appears we won’t stand behind reporters when they attempt to do it for us.

That’s what happened to Helen Thomas.

Every reporter should have walked out of the room the day she was sent to the back. They didn’t respect their role, their own jobs, enough to defend their integrity from a bunch of thugs posing as an administration.

Journalists are not there to entertain you or say things to make you feel better about anything. Journalists are not there to agitate you with rumor or opinion. They are not there to get along with any politician.
If they are, -they’re not doing their job.
Their responsibility is factual truth. Their job is to ask the questions we need answered.
Who, What, When, Where, Why and How
-if but one of these goes unanswered, the picture is incomplete. I can’t think of a single important event or issue regarding this Bush administration where all of these were satisfied.

Now the Bush era is effectively over. I hope it means a return to the Fourth Estate’s potential to be part of the system of checks and balances that assists in guaranteeing our freedom and safeguarding the integrity of the republic.

I hope it means “potential”.

Fox News is to news, as the WWF is to Baseball. Brit Hume (retiring soon), Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Chris Wallace and every other pretender who sat behind a desk shuffling papers and wagging pens at television audiences are the faces of news entertainment.

They are the faces of bullshit.

Regrettably, their careers as spin agents for the moneyed establishment and whatever politicians represent the Rich are not over. At least they don’t seem to be able to so easily fool the public anymore. Today the American people look at their wallets, they look at their pink slips and look at the “foreclosed” sign hanging on their homes. Today the American people look at their broken American dream, the wars, the economy and they know they’ve been lied to.

The new White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs takes office on January 20, 2009. He is a devastatingly hard campaigner straight out of Barack Obama’s election team. He aggressively pilloried Howard Dean in 2004. He is tough and knows how to frame a debate, which means he is not to be trusted. Whether you voted for Barack Obama or not, Robert Gibbs now answers to us. Whether we get any actual answers from him is up to our press. The press’s abilities and strength are up to me, you and the rest of the country.

We cannot settle for more of the same, no matter who’s up next.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What it means: Part 4

The coming change in the White House means more for the country than just an end to an inept and criminal administration’s eight-year hold on policy.
It’s the end of Reaganomics.
It’s the end of the Unitary Executive Theory.
It’s the end of American Exceptionalism.
It’s the end of certain kinds of Fascism and trendy 9/11 nationalism…
...for now.

The Bush administration itself ended its own era by applying their spurious doctrines with unprecedented arrogance, greed and reckless disregard for the present and for the future. As they aimed at their enemies, (real, imagined and calculatingly assigned), they also seemed to blindly shoot out the ground from under their own feet. That the rest of us were standing too close to these fools as they made rubble of our Constitution, our economy, our laws -didn’t slow them in the least. They did what they wanted and figured they’d blow town before the bill came…
Yet another thing they got wrong.

The Bush administration’s legacy is one of garbage politics, historic incompetence and unilaterally applied foreign policy driven by self-interest. The final days of the Bush presidency are a fascinating study in the obvious; an impeachment now seems as meaningful as a mock beheading in colonial costumes.

It will be years before the country allows itself to accept the fact that the Bush Administration was responsible for the biggest and deadliest security failure in American history. They were in charge of our safety in 2001. We may not want to directly blame one man for something as terrible and possibly unavoidable as the 9/11 attacks… but a President who was on vacation for nearly a month just before the attacks deserves no congratulations.The era of presidential imperialism as elaborated by John Yoo, personified by George W. Bush and engineered by Dick Cheney is over. How figures like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney found their way back to the highest seats of power after their associations with the Nixon presidency three decades ago will be a question for many historians to ponder and examine. The answers will embarrass everyone.

The America that overlooked every shortcoming, every breach, and every abuse that George W. Bush and his administration committed and demonstrated is emerging from its self-imposed twilight. What we can clearly see now is ugly and astounding in its cheap shortsightedness. Not one member of this administration will emerge with a shred of dignity. These eight years have even destroyed the careers of Republicans who had opposed George W. Bush, like Lincoln Chaffee and to some extent John McCain.

None of their political opponents, no Democrat alive or dead, could have wrecked the Bush legacy so completely. But these greedy fools have also managed to do something that even David Duke, Jesse Helms and Fox News could never have done: they’ve branded the GOP as a party of dangerous backward incompetents.

The opportunists who used the 9/11 attacks as a justification for circumventing the bill of rights are being shown the door. I hope it hits them on the ass as they walk out.

If Barack Obama simply discontinues the assault on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we will be back on track toward forming that “more perfect union.” The bar couldn’t be set any lower; expectations couldn’t be any bleaker after George W. Bush. Strangely, I feel as though this is where we left off before Robert F. Kennedy was eliminated from history by an assassin’s bullet. This was where we were headed before President Lyndon Johnson stupidly dug in his heels, escalating theVietnam War. “The Great Society” never arrived.

The coming change in the White House means more for the country than just an end to an inept and criminal administration’s eight-year hold on policy.

Our beloved but of late vulnerable Constitution, despite all of the night surgery attempted by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their scurrying henchmen, is truer today than it was on November 3rd. The Constitution is truer today than it was eight, twenty, fifty, one hundred years ago… truer today that it was when it was drafted.

The words “All Men are Created Equal” possibly intended to convey that all are deserving of the same rights and opportunities under the law, are truer today.

But we must remember that it needs protecting. If Barack Obama’s administration simply stops all the criminality that Cheney, Ashcroft, Gonzalez and Yoo orchestrated with their disregard for the Geneva Conventions among other crimes, we will be on the way back to the America we used to hear about in grade school.

Land of the free, home of the brave.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

What it means: Part 3

Long ago, Lyndon Baines Johnson said to Bill Moyers that he was giving away the Southern vote to the Republicans for the next generation by signing Civil Rights legislation into law.
He was wrong.
The Southern vote was effectively locked up for several decades. An entire region was effectively written off for almost a half-century’s time. That the Republicans shouldn’t have cravenly courted the votes of fearful bigots and racists sadly wasn’t even a question. It was never wondered privately or aloud I suspect, that perhaps both parties should have closed their ranks against the people in our nation who still talked about the Civil War as a “war between the states”.

Much of the problems in our civic and our political lives are centered within how the two parties present America to itself during local and national election cycles.

In regard to the so-called “masses”, Republicans have been the party of the angry and self perceived “disentitled” men of the South and northern state suburbs. Let’s call them the “men of America who drive to work” for the sake of unifying a demographic in practical existential terms. The Republican Party pandered to what Richard Nixon called the “silent majority” in post 1960s America, exacerbating a tenuously inactive division between; homeowners and city dwellers, between the Rich and the poor, between the old and the young, and ultimately between White men and everyone else in the country. If a young man grew up poor in New York, working his way through college, the Republicans spoke to him exclusively as a White man reducing him to one visible inarguable aspect of his identity. The Republican leadership used code words for his frustrations, scapegoating everyone and everything from Feminism, to Jews, to Japanese carmakers, to unions, to Affirmative Action, to Political Correctness for the dashed hopes and hard uphill-life the American economic system and its manipulators was imposing on him. Generations of immigrants came to America in the 20th Century and were folded into a White identity that has no substantive basis, no connection to the histories of American tragedy (like slavery and the genocide of Native Americans), no connection to exploitation but most importantly… no actual connection to power.
Why would the Right and the GOP, who historically represent money and power above all else, speak to Polish Americans in Chicago Illinois, or Italian Americans in Nanuet, New York for example, in particulars that matter directly to them, why address them as individuals, or talk to them about their lives?
It’s far more politically expedient to make them White, and program them with the idea that they are part of some storied, legendary American past, so they can get angry to the point of hatred and violence at its imagined loss. It's far more useful to make them think that the gains of the Rich "White" ruling class, are part of their concerns.

How is it that Bill O’Reilly uses “Wild West” metaphors, referring to himself as a gunslinger in a fight… when he doesn’t have any direct ancestry in Frontier America? O'Reilly's forebears were Irish Immigrants. How is it that Sean Hannity can speak of the founding fathers as if he were a descendant of the English colonists?

The idea that there is a burdened, disenfranchised, disentitled White male class suffering at the hands of a government, or a secret Liberal cabal that is taking things from them in order to give them to someone else who is not White is finally falling apart. Apparently this inane but pervasive racial trope can no longer disguise the reality of American life.
Does any of this divisive nonsense that the Republican Party has promoted really matter if you’re a Southerner who's about to be homeless?
I guess the question now, looking back at the past forty years is: Has identifying as "White" robbed certain Americans of their ability to see through political rhetoric and sloganeering that disguises platforms like “trickle down economics” and policies like the “off shoring” of jobs and industry as “good for the country”?

Corporations and the Rich have been using the government as instruments of their own will for their own betterment since attaining the money to do so. They have been exploiting everyone in North America and the world, since the 19th Century, always leaving "Whites" behind with everybody else while calling it "prosperity". They have been getting many Americans to vote against their own interests (when they vote at all) by getting large swathes of the poor and the middle class to imagine themselves as Mayflower descendants before considering the concrete aspects of their economic identity. Republicans were adept at making Americans ignore reality. But it seems the party is over...
-literally and figuratively.

This presidential election has been a hard reckoning for the Republican Party. They are wondering where it has all gone wrong. They need only look at the last 25 years which is a legacy of running on the thin and dishonest appearances of a populist philosophy of less taxes, less spending, less government, more freedom; when in actuality, the Republicans have governed by spending recklessly, giving disproportionate tax breaks to the Rich, increasing the size of government and infusing the political process with a Christian focus that is unconstitutional and narrow minded. The Republican Party today makes no bones about smugly disregarding the inalienable rights of the citizenry or representing the topmost single digit percents of the Wealthy population exclusively.

Republicans need to start speaking to Americans, as citizens. Presenting candidates who speak “country” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. George W. Bush’s Texas accent and folksy affectations haven’t done one thing to better this country.

Republicans will actually have to start talking about things that matter to all Americans. They'll have to stop dividing the union that President Abraham Lincoln waged a costly war to keep united. They’ll have to return to his mandate and legacy.


What it means: Part 2

The long-suffering Democratic Party has been vindicated in many ways that go beyond the victory of one presidential candidate, and further than the recent and forthcoming gains in the Senate indicate.
The comic book artist Rob Sikoryak illustrated a great little book called “Joystick Democracy” that suggested that we had effectively two choices in America: Candidates who are pragmatic -but corrupt (the Nixon-Reagan model), or principled -but ineffective (Carter-Kerry). I hated the idea, but there was something inescapably and stingingly true about this reduction in United States politics.
It seemed that in the last two election cycles the Democrats continued to offer and promote various candidates whose experience, qualifications, intellect and force of reason was formidable… and they kept getting their asses kicked against a less qualified, less capable and functionally ineloquent Republican candidate.
The 2000 election shouldn’t have even been close, so I don’t bother saying the Republican Party stole the election anymore. It seemed that the nation repeatedly told Democrats that they preferred a monosyllabic country dullard to a worldly urbane geek. The Democrats kept doubling down on the “smart guy”, election after election just as Republicans kept proffering ever more folksy salesmen and demagogues on the national, state and local levels.

George Herbert Walker Bush, a former CIA director and ambassador, a man of no small intellect with an impeccable grasp of geopolitical complexity and world history was reduced to talking like a hick, in order to combat the “Wimp” factor as it was called in the late 1980s. The guy was a WWII pilot for Christ's sake. George Dukakis was talked into riding in a tank with oversized ear guards that made him look like a little boy standing in an adult’s shoes. It was an era of nonsense that only Bill Clinton was able to rise above...
-but only by talking to the country like he was Elvis.

This Presidential election cycle was a victory for the notion that intellect and reason are valued qualities in a candidate. It was a savage blow to the calculated Republican devolution of the politician from a learned articulator with a grasp of policy and law, down to a reality TV reject who doesn’t know the difference between a continent and a country.

The Republican Party will have to offer intelligent and mentally agile candidates if they want the people’s votes for something other than a Governor’s seat, it would now appear. When the chips are down, I don’t think Americans want their lives managed by a guy who claims he drives better when he’s drunk, or who’s simple and uncomplicated –which is code for dumb and uneducated. Let’s face it, -it was code for George W. Bush.

The smart guy won, finally.

This guy was so smart, it was considered his biggest disadvantage in a national race… after his being Black of course. As Barack Obama stepped over those old world, unspoken racist tenets that maintained that a Black man may as well quit after being Governor in America; that a Black man may as well flap his arms and trying flying to the moon before running for president... he also stepped over a secondary American prejudice.

The hatred of intellectuals and ideas has been a core value in American culture for a long, long time, but this anti-intellectualism might die in my lifetime.
The Republican Party owes the country an apology for Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and the scores of other “shucksy”, “golly gee” pretenders to the sacred trust of representative government in America.

The Democratic Party deserves our deepest thanks, for insisting that intelligence, education, sophistication and reason are the qualifications for candidacy.


Friday, November 14, 2008

What it means: Part 1

I thought I would die before I saw all of this.

I was born on the year of the MLK and RFK assassinations. I don’t consider myself old, but I think I finally may well be old after all, -however I may choose to regard myself. My mentality, consciousness, ethics and sense of history seem rooted in the last century. The “death” of the civil rights movement was all I heard about as a young child in the New York City public schools from first grade onward. As children we were brought up to believe that giants strode the earth before our birth and would never return.

The legacy of Lyndon Johnson was always in question, always the subject of argument between our teachers and sometimes our parents. The Vietnam War trumped his achievements as the driving force behind the enactment of civil rights legislation. Nobody’s grandmother has a picture of Martin, Malcolm, Abraham, Johnny, Bobby… and Lyndon.

No one remembers LBJ’s birthday.

I grew up in an America that maintained beautiful convictions such as “out of many, one,” “United we stand, divided we fall,” “All men are created equal,” “Liberty and justice for all.” Our government stamped these ideals on our money; Broadcast networks celebrated these ideals in the animated musical cartoons they televised on Saturday mornings… but the truth, unlike an ideal, is often ugly.

The truth didn’t get stamped on money; the truth didn’t get celebrated in song on “Schoolhouse Rock”.

That truth of my childhood America was that, the distance you went in life largely depended on who or what you were born as. The circumstances of your birth and the identity you were assigned closed doors to you. As a child, you knew this intimately. You knew that some people just could not go some places, and could not do certain things that it was said everyone could do. Failure or insurmountable limits were inevitable for some people but not others. No one had more doors closed to them in the 20th Century than the American Black.

The peculiar thing about American oppression in the 20th Century is that it was largely publicly ordained on a local level, across the nation. The 13th Amendment had been passed in 1865, back in the 19th Century… but somehow we still have the long chapter of Jim Crow and segregation to explain to one another. How does the country that opposed Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich explain that the National League in Baseball abolished apartheid before its government decided to enforce the Civil War’s outcome? How does it explain the Japanese American internment camps for that matter? That so many strange state and county laws were concocted decade after decade, prolonging the conflicts central to the Civil War is an embarrassment to our Republic. Racism, thanks to the legacy of Spanish “conquest” in the Americas, seemed to be in this nation’s blood. I thought these truths, were not held to be self evident, but they were truths nonetheless and were unchangeable facts of American life. I doubted my country’s maturity. I thought it would be centuries before an African American, no matter how effectively deemphasized his Blackness might be, no matter how many times they called him interracial, biracial, mixed race, half white, half black, would be elected by this nation.

I said over and over that Barack Obama could never win. I said it could not happen in my lifetime.

I have never been so happy to be so absolutely wrong about anything in my life. One impossibility, one specific relic of exclusions born of our internecine past now seems quaint and irrelevant at mid November. I just didn’t know my country as well as I thought I did.

As another silly impossibility slinks and slithers into the pages of history to become a curiosity for our children and future generations, like photographs of “Colored” signs above a fountain, like poster bills indicating “3/5s of a person,” I’m saddened that Jesse Helms didn’t live to see his own state’s electoral votes go to a “Negro.”


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Separate but Equal

The most disappointing moment of the 2008 campaign for me came when Joe Biden said that he and Barack Obama did not support the right of homosexuals to marry (it was even more disappointing than Obama's vote on the FISA bill). It can only be seen as ironic that in an election when the American people decided to elect an African-American to the highest office in the land, the voters in four states decided to deny homosexuals the right to get married. In California, even more ironically, African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for the ban. I am positive that neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden are opposed to homosexual marriage, but in order not to ruffle the feathers of the country, they took the more popular public stance.

This battle is very reminiscent of the bans against interracial marriage which were eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. In the case of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court stated:

"Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." (Just as a side note, Alabama had retained their law against interracial marriage on the books until 2000)

According to the Supreme Court, marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man". However the bans against homosexuals marrying have been upheld in various court challenges. The highest court in New York basically said that the homosexuals cannot be given the same protection under the law because discrimination against them hasn't been recognized until the recent past.

The New York Court of Appeals held in 2006:
"[T]he historical background of Loving is different from the history underlying this case. Racism has been recognized for centuries...This country fought a civil war to eliminate racism's worst manifestation, slavery, and passed three constitutional amendments to eliminate that curse and its vestiges. Loving was part of the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s... It is true that there has been serious injustice in the treatment of homosexuals also, a wrong that has been widely recognized only in the relatively recent past, and one our Legislature tried to address when it enacted the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act four years ago (L 2002, ch 2). But the traditional definition of marriage is not merely a by-product of historical injustice. Its history is of a different kind. The idea that same-sex marriage is even possible is a relatively new one. Until a few decades ago, it was an accepted truth for almost everyone who ever lived, in any society in which marriage existed, that there could be marriages only between participants of different sex. A court should not lightly conclude that everyone who held this belief was irrational, ignorant or bigoted. We do not so conclude."

I do believe that in time this will become a non-issue. It's just a shame that the American people always seem to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into giving oppressed minorities equal protection under the law. The Supreme Court has usually has had to take the first step and I do have hopes that over the next 8 years, the Court will address this issue and lay it to rest once and for all. Here is what Barack Obama said in his now famous Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic convention:

"For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work."

And I would add that if there is one person or group who are having their "fundamental" rights denied, then we are all oppressed, even if my rights are not being infringed upon. Denying the fundamental rights of citizens to marry is separate from the fight for Civil Rights of African-Americans (and clearly less violent), but the right to vote, the right to live where you want and the right to marry who you want are unalienable rights that are essential to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, that according to the Declaration of Independence, we were all endowed with by the Creator. Eventually we, as a country, realized that denying basic rights to an entire group of citizens based on something as arbitrary as skin color was wrong. I hope for the day when we as a country will realize that denying the fundamental rights of any minority group makes us smaller and uglier in the eyes of history. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was implemented to protect the rights of former slaves, but it should be applicable to every citizen regardless of their race, color, creed or sexual preference. The 14th Amendment, Section 1:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Thursday, November 06, 2008


I’ll have to write about Barack Obama’s election victory and the individual aspects of its significance in subsequent posts. I am currently too staggered by the fact that a world that I was born into, a world that I cynically thought was eternally immutable has simply vanished. It has disappeared in what seems like the flick of a switch. A world of particular limits and specific hypocrisies has ended, but somehow the lights have stayed on. A new world has emerged, with some of the old world’s prejudices and injustices still firmly in place, -but a new world nonetheless. No one can deny this.

The 21st Century began eight years later than scheduled for Americans, on Tuesday night November 4th 2008. I watched it happen with two of my closest friends. How wonderful for each and every single one of us, everywhere across the world, whether we allow ourselves to realize it yet or not.

A Black man is president of the United States.

You’ll forgive me if I say it, write it, and shout it several times like some poor soul afflicted with Tourette Syndrome. I just can’t help it.

I want to write briefly today about the opposition’s candidate, and why I think he lost. I think there is an important lesson in John McCain’s defeat, a lesson not easily seen at the moment because of the glare of Barack Obama’s history-making victory.

John McCain is one of the most dynamic, capable and fascinating politicians to battle on the American political stage in history. He has an ability to surmount political adversity that verges on indestructibility. But sadly we all know too well that he is not indestructible. His Viet Cong captors broke his body and his mind after years in the worst kind of incarceration imaginable. No human being should have been able to come back from that. I always found it so peculiar that he opposed the Martin Luther King holiday so vehemently, when he knew for seven long years, the indignity, excruciating pain, and constant fear of death that only a slave can know… and there in lies the first indication of smallness in an otherwise great man. Call it a fracturing of his decency, or an inability to relate: a flaw of illogic and discompassion in his character. At times, this is a man who cannot see when some things are the same, at others he apparently loses the ability to distinguish.

In hindsight, John McCain lost this election four years ago. He lost when he threw in with one of the most self serving and criminal administrations in our history. He did it just to get their blessing and play with their friends. In 2004, he started to act like one of them and talk like one of them, even though his ethics, his values couldn’t have been further apart from their venal motivations and unscrupulous disregard for the country. He reversed himself on every individual position of importance that distinguished him as a vigilant representative of the American people. He reversed himself on tax policy, even torture. He engaged in the same kinds of smear tactics that were used against him by Karl Rove, and tried to take it even further. He embraced the religious right, and befriended demagogues he had only a few years before called the “agents of intolerance”. He even relinquished his aggressive criticism of the Iraq war, opting to look on the bright side of every new disaster, speaking to Americans as if the war had started years later than it had.

John McCain didn’t lose this election because he was unpopular: he wasn't.
He didn’t lose this election because he looked old: nobody cared.
He didn’t lose this election because he was perceived to be incompetent by the American people: the American people believed in him.

John McCain lost because he was wrong.

How and why John McCain "became wrong"; his underlying calculations and motivations for his reversals in policy, the recent violations of his own lifelong held beliefs, values and platforms in just four short years will be a matter for historians to explore.
For my part, I'm glad I can just leave it here and move on.


The Spoils of Victory

It has been less than 48 hours since the results of the historic election on Tuesday and the Republican response has been swift. There has not been an official from the Republican party to appear on TV without mentioning that America is "a center-right" country and that Obama would be best served to govern with that in mind. The Republicans were unable to come up with a strategy for the McCain campaign, however it seems they have decided upon their post-election strategy. Their idea is to try and convince the American people that Barack Obama has to govern as a Republican would in order to be effective.

Apparently it has not occurred to them that they lost this election. They do not get to dictate the terms under which the Obama administration goes about its business. And where do they get the idea that America is a center-right country? The Right has certainly been very vocal and organized, but with the rise of the Internet, the Left has found its voice as well. We are a 45/45 country. The 10% in the middle (who are truly persuadable) decide the fate and the direction of the country in every election. In this election they have decided that we are a little more left than right. In fact in they had pretty much decided that during the '06 election, where the Democrats made dramatic gains in the House and regained control (tenuous though it may have been) of the Senate.

Barack Obama may indeed govern from the center, but it won't be because he feels that he has to follow the dictate of the Republican party. One of the main themes of his campaign was civility. While I believe that there will be times when he takes advantage of the Democratic majority in Congress, for the most part I think that he'll try to find a position that can attract the moderate Republicans, at least, to his side. The economic realities that he will face won't allow for much creative law making anyway. The economy will dominate his domestic agenda and I suspect that while he will find very vocal opposition (to whatever position he takes) from the far right, he will also find those who are willing to cross the isle and work with him.

Republicans have to come to terms with the fact that the American people have rejected the center-right or far-right policies of the Bush administration. In the end, voters do not elect a Democrat as President for his center-right policies.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

One of the People

What is the future for the Republican party? Whether they win or lose on Tuesday, it seems that there are more than a few members of their party who seem to think that Sarah Palin is going to be the face of the party going forward. Many believe that a victory tomorrow means that she will become the standard bearer for the party as she serves an apprenticeship under John McCain, a loss leaves her positioned to run for the Presidency in 2012. The most often mentioned reason for her support is that she's "one of the people". There is a general consensus that she more like "Joe six-pack" than Joe Biden, and that is seen as a positive.

Sarah Palin recently complained that the press criticism of her, may in fact be infringing upon her First Amendment rights. The First Amendment protects the American people from Congress enacting laws that would infringe upon their right of free speech. How does that relate to the press criticizing Sarah Palin? It doesn't, but since when do the facts have anything to do with the popularity of Governor Palin. In her world, the First Amendment would protect the government from the criticism of the press even though the document actually says the complete opposite. In her world, the Vice President is not only part of the Executive branch, but the most powerful member of the Legislative branch as well. It is that lack of basic understanding of the Constitution that makes Sarah Palin not only unqualified to lead this country but highlights one of similarities between her and the current administration.

Governor Palin has said that she never wavered when asked to be John McCain's running mate, but in hindsight, perhaps she should have. I don't believe that George W. Bush always wanted to be President. I think a group of interested parties believed that they could make him President and he went along for the ride. As with President Bush, Sarah Palin's ambition got in the way of common sense. There clearly was no vetting of her before she was picked by John McCain. From her unmarried pregnant teenage daughter, to her ethics violation investigation by the Alaska state legislature to her husband's ties to an Alaskan secessionist party, she was a ticking time bomb when she was tabbed for the VP slot by John McCain. McCain hoped that she would not only excite the base of the party, but bring in disaffected Hilliary Clinton voters as well. While she has succeeded in the former, she has not been able to bring over Hillary Clinton supporters in any great numbers. She knew what kind of baggage she would be dragging with her into the national spotlight (including exposing her children to excessive scrutiny), but that all took a backseat to the chance to advance herself.

She has shown a glaring shallowness of knowledge about national and international politics. Her interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric were disasters. She has been abandoned by some of the leading figures in the right leaning press (who are now branded as "elitist" for failing to support her) and many prominent Republican figures have thrown their support behind Barack Obama, while pointing to her selection as a major reason for their decision. None of this has seemed to matter to the base of the Republican party. Sarah Palin is one of them. All attacks against her are viewed as unwarranted and just symbolic of the bias of the "liberal media" (that of course ignores the fact that people like David Brooks and Peggy Noonan are far from being liberals). According to her supporters, she is the perfect face for the Republican Party because of her mistakes, not in spite of them. Her lack of understanding, her misstatements, her outright gaffes, all show that she is a regular person and that is what they value in a leader. Well, that and a committed opposition to abortion.

The standards for leadership in this country have fallen to the point that actual competency no longer matters. Intelligence is now viewed as a detriment. Who wants to hang out with someone who's going to make you feel stupid? We would much rather have a President who we want to have a beer with and talk about the game with than one who is going to bore us with their "elitist" rhetoric. Ronald Reagan started us off down this path, but he was playing a part. While he may not have been a Rhodes Scholar, he spent his entire political career being indoctrinated in Conservative dogma. He learned his politics from Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater, so upon arriving in the White House, he was well versed in the game. He decided that folksy was the way to go and as an actor used to playing roles, he played that one to the hilt. He was Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He was the regular guy who happened to have made it to top, but never forgot where he came from. He claimed to be the champion of the little guy and a true patriot and that's the role he successfully pulled off. George Bush, who followed him into the White House, was as far from a regular guy as you could find, but even he dumbed himself down, so that people would feel more comfortable with him. Bill Clinton (who actually was a Rhodes Scholar) also played the regular guy role. He felt our pain and earned the nickname "Bubba".

This succession of leaders who felt the need to play the role of "regular guy", led to the election of someone who wasn't playing a role. George W. Bush clearly lacks the intellectual capacity of his immediate successors and has led this country to the brink of disaster. He came into office as a "compassionate conservative". His eight years in office have shown him to be neither particularly compassionate (ask the survivors of Katrina) and certainly not a Conservative (how exactly do you inherit a surplus of $200 billion and turn that into a deficit approaching $1 trillion?). He will leave his eight year term having taken almost a full year of vacation time. George W. Bush was undoubtedly "one of us" but the truth is that "one of us" is not qualified for the job.

So now we return to Governor Palin, who claims that whenever she gets a question from the media that she doesn't answer correctly that they are engaging in "gotcha" questioning. If asking a question about what newspapers you read is a "gotcha" question, then every question ever posed to a politician in the history of makind is a "gotcha" question. Sarah Palin is undoubtedly one of the people, but the question becomes, is that who we want to lead us? Do we want someone who doesn't understand the Constitution? Do we want someone who thinks that being able to see Russia from their home state gives them foreign policy credentials (I can see the moon from my backyard, but I don't think that makes me an Astronaut)? Do we want someone who can only talk about issues in soundbites? Do we want someone whose greatest ambition in life was to be an anchor on Sportscenter? Do we want someone who can't pronounce the word nuclear (oh that's right we already have that)? Do we want to settle for mediocrity? If you answered yes to those questions, then Sarah Palin is the person for you. And it seems that a lot of people in the Republican Party would agree.