Archive for the ‘press & politics’ Category

Rejecting Racism: Stop Running The Fat Cat’s Rat Race

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Today’s speech on race by Senator Barack Obama was noteworthy. The media is abuzz with glowing proclamations. Some have said that the Obama speech was the most important speech on race in the forty years since the death of Martin Luther King.

While pondering the many positive observations, what struck me most was the fact that forty years have passed…but not the racial divide…regardless of the words Dr. King spoke then and despite the words Senator Obama uttered today. That left me wondering what was to be gained by stating the obvious to those who have never been intended to appreciate it or to those who aren’t interested in changing it.

Let me attempt an explanation by first asking a question. What is the concept of race? Is it really anything more than a human construct that allows us to identify and isolate others in a classic “we versus they” dynamic? The answer to my question is no. In so noting, the issue of race is a human invention used to either elevate one group or to denigrate another group. It is the means by which many of us can avoid our unique human ability…and the responsibility it brings…to employ informed observations and reasoned judgments.

Our capacity to discern color or country of origin has often been the justification for the wholesale condemnations that frequently precede the waging of wars. It serves as the mechanism by which we dehumanize our enemies and excuse our transgressions. Race has become the means by which we have circumvented our obligation to judge others by what lies within. Instead, it allows us to slay others for that which sits upon the surface.

Today, many of the pundits have argued that we avoid discussions of race because it is a difficult topic. I reject much of that argument. I contend we don’t address racism because its elimination requires us to grant our fellow humans a degree of fairness we aren’t willing to afford. In this world of limited resources, the concept of equality is apt to be perceived as the brake being applied to the unencumbered pursuit of more than one’s share of the spoils.

When pundits speak of forty years of seeming silence, they are simply exposing the swamp wherein still lurks a willingness to inflict more of the same on those who can be easily identified as different. What the passage of time has brought is the goal to do so through subtler methods and without speaking words that could subsequently serve as the evidence that we may still reject equal opportunity and equitable justice. All too often, it is far easier to assert that one’s child didn’t get into the school of his or her choice as a result of affirmative action than it is to admit our lengthy history of denying equal opportunities to the underprivileged. Perhaps we also seek to avoid an admission that the goal remains the same?

What most Americans don’t realize is that the powers that be have little interest in establishing an equitable order. This includes measures like the Bush tax cuts; but there is a better example that also allows me to focus on race. Simply look at the refusal of our government to enforce our existing immigration laws for the last two decades and you will begin to understand how the efforts to amass wealth have been transformed in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery. The current clamor to close our border isn’t a sudden admission of exploitation; it is a recognition that the unchecked increase in the number of Mexicans has the potential to skew the political power such that those who have more may not be able to maintain their unchallenged hold on the power that assures more.

Look, the greed of those who govern hasn’t suddenly subsided. They have simply recognized that in their rush to expand their enrichment, they may have forgotten to police the portal. Hence we now have the calls for a temporary guest worker program…the modern means by which the underclass can be employed without enslavement…and prevented from circumventing the all-important political status quo.

At the same time, the powers that be prefer that this easily identifiable underclass be pitted against those Americans who are known as the “have-nots”. The approach isn’t unfamiliar. When the slaves were freed, they were quickly portrayed and perceived as an economic threat to southerners struggling to make ends meet. The same strategy has been embraced with Mexican immigrants.

Both efforts have been relatively successful because the battle for fewer dollars was intensified by an increase in those competing to obtain them. Thus the animosities of austere Americans have been artfully aimed at those who are different (black or brown)…and not at those who look the same but hoard the lion’s share of the wealth.

In the end, race is the rail upon which the wizards of wealth have sought to separate one segment of society from another. When they succeed, they incite the insolence they intend.

Barack Obama deserves recognition for revisiting our racial rancor. However, unless and until each individual looks beyond the veil of vitriol that has been designed to divide us, we will forever overlook the power of the present to unite us. We’re engaged in the kind of race that can only be won when everyone refuses to participate. Our humanity needn’t be a hologram on the horizon. Healing must be achieved in the here and now.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Towards A More “Perfect” America

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Race. Like it or not, race is still an issue in America. Generations after the civil rights marches, and more than a century since the Civil War, race is still an issue in America. And no matter how far we push the conflicts of race to the corners of our minds and to the fringes of our society, race is still an issue in America. You may not think this is true. In every coffee shop and in every mall and in every schoolhouse you will find whites and blacks and Asians and Hispanics. People of all color hold positions of prominence and authority just as they all occupy the lower rungs of our society. It is true that in many areas of our lives, the matter of ones racial identity has become almost moot. But this is only the surface, the part that we expose in public or polite company. Yet the racial inequality that lies at the heart of the American experience can’t be swept away so easily, for it lies buried in the generational experiences of our elders, it perpetuates itself in familial memories, and it is always an underlying scapegoat for each races misfortunes. Humanity is always cruelest to its own members.

White Americans descend from persecuted pilgrims or poor immigrants. Their roots began in flight from religious oppression or corrupted Old World governments. But in their determination to improve their own lot and secure their own freedoms, they exerted the same negative aspects on other races they encountered. Native Americans were slaughtered and impoverished. Blacks were held in slavery and beaten down. Even white women were burdened under the yolk of white male supremecy. As years passed on, the idea of America, and it’s quest for perfect individual freedom and respect has helped liberate these groups and others from racially motivated discrimination. But the memories remain, and the policies of the past still touch and color the lives of the historically oppressed.

Race issues are still among us. They made us who we are today. They have historically divided us and made many America’s where there should be but one.

That race has become an issue in this presidential election is no surprise given the history of America and the fact that the leading Democratic candidate is a half black-half white American. That it is being used to denigrate that candidate by his opponent, a white woman, is a little more than unfortunate. In trying to paint Barack Obama as a covert racist (or as someone who would deingrate the potential of White America in favor of righting the historical wrongs done to Black America), Hillary Clinton proves the dictum laid earlier: Humanity is always cruelest to its own members. The quest for the presidency takes all sorts. Hillary Clinton has proven to me at least that her quest for the presidency is not to make America a markedly better and different place, but rather is an effort to make her own personal history complete, at least as she sees it to be. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has shown me time and again that his quest is not for personal destiny or pride but for a better America for us all-white, black, yellow, green, or purple.

Today in Philadelphia, Obama gave a speech to address the race issue. Comments made by his former church pastor have been foisted into the media spotlight by Clinton campaign supporters, comments that exude the angst and historical anger blacks have towards the policies of white America. The media bandwagon had whipped this pastor’s comments into a front page issue, and for those who only follow politics tangentially, the idea could be drawn that Obama not only agrees with the divisive comments of his former minister, but that if elected he would somehow work to reverse all the historical wrongs in one fell swoop.

In his speech today, titles “A More Perfect Union,” Barack Obama not only dispelled those fears and false claims, but he showed himself to be an honorable man and a “more perfect presidential candidate” than anyone else in the field. With eloquence and humility, Obama explained why he can vigorously disagree with his former pastor’s comments without throwing the man under the proverbial bus.

Some excerpts may help for those who didn’t get to hear the speech:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America…

Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

We all of us hear coments from people we respect or trust or love that rub us the wrong way. But we do not disown these people or banish them from our own lives. Why should Obama do any different? Instead, his is a position of realism-he knows there are racial divides that lie under the surface and sometimes rear their ugly heads at inopportune or embarrassing times. People are imperfect, even as they strive not to be.

Yet I am confounded. Why is it okay for the GOP to be ensconced with religiously motivated hatred towards homosexuality and this not be cause for general alarm or cries of discrimination? Why can a GOP candidate receive the blessing of a Bob Jones University and not be held in disdain? The easy answer is because America still is not equal for everyone. The harder answer is that America still subtly condons discrimination against other Americans, that humanity is still trapped by her historical racial and religious divides. Barack Obama won’t be able to change these facts overnight if elected, but he certainly recognizes them, understands their roots, and realizes that the path ahead comes not from pretending these problems are solved, but in admitting that these problems of the past have brought us ALL to where we are today. While our differences may have divided us in the past to brought us to our problems today, only by working together can we solve the immense problems that affect us all right now.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This speech today, perhaps more than any other he has given, shows that Barack Obama is the right leader for America today. It was the kind of speech that filled my heart with hope and my mind with pride. “This is my candidate speaking,” I thought as I drove through traffic listening on the radio. “This is why I support Obama.”

There is much more in the body of the speech that you need to read if you didn’t get a chance to hear it live. Indeed, it is a speech that every voting American should take the time to read. You should read it because of what it says about America’s racial history. You should read it because of what it says about Barack Obama and his own views on race in America. You should read it because of what it says about who we are, where we are going if we don’t change course, and where we can be if we do.

The economy, health care, the environment, and the future of our children and our neighbors children demand that we change how we live, work, and play in this coming century. Different solutions to todays problems must be found. Our way of life may well have to change dramatically if we are to push forward towards more freedom and equality for all. We cannot do this with politicians who exploit of divisions to gain self importance or power. We can only move forward if we move forward together. Who better to guide us along this path right now than Barack Obama?

(cross posted at Common Sense)

Hillary Clinton really needs to be more conscious

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

about what’s behind her when she faces people with cameras in their hands. Heh! The news site upon which it originally appeared seems to have thought better of publishing such a picture of a Clinton, even a Clinton on a greased rail to failure as a presidential candidate.

Is Obama finally taking the populist stand?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

The man who held that position was of course John Edwards. His message was clear: there are two America’s. With prices rising for almost everything and wages stagnating for years now, the time was ripe for a populist candidate within the Democratic Party and Edwards proudly filled that role.

 

Barack Obama would logically have a hard time filling that role. If he did attempt to put out a populist message, the MSM would most likely label him “the black candidate”. The Clinton’s already did that in South Carolina..thankfully it back-fired on them. I have been waiting to see if Obama would grab the populist mantel in spite of the pitfalls that stood in his way. As Manning Marable, a Columbia University history professor stated:

 

That’s because once Obama parroted Edwards’ attacks on greed and inequality, he would “be stigmatized as a candidate mobilizing race,” David Sirota adds: That is, the media would immediately portray him as another Jesse Jackson — a figure whose progressivism has been (unfairly) depicted as racial politics anathema to white swing voters.

 

Sirota’s piece addresses the pitfalls that a populist message would create for Obama with the press and with the Clinton campaign:

 

Remember, this is always how power-challenging African-Americans are marginalized. The establishment cites a black leader’s race- and class-unifying populism as supposed proof of his or her radical, race-centric views. An extreme example of this came from the FBI, which labeled Martin Luther King Jr. “the most dangerous man in America” for talking about poverty. More typical is the attitude exemplified by Joe Klein’s 2006 Time magazine column. He called progressive Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., “an African American of a certain age and ideology, easily stereotyped” and “one of the ancient band of left-liberals who grew up in the angry hothouse of inner-city, racial-preference politics.”

 

Well, I am here to say that Tuesday night in Madison, WI Obama finally hit a populist note. From his speech:

 

It’s a game where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns record profits, while you pay the price at the pump, and our planet is put at risk. That’s what happens when lobbyists set the agenda, and that’s why they won’t drown out your voices anymore when I am President of the United States of America

 

It’s a game where trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart. That’s what happens when the American worker doesn’t have a voice at the negotiating table, when leaders change their positions on trade with the politics of the moment, and that’s why we need a President who will listen to Main Street – not just Wall Street; a President who will stand with workers not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

 

Obama is now officially the front-runner. He needs to go after Hillary’s base of support; The blue-collar workers, the folks making under 50k a year, retirees, older women, immigrants and even white collar workers. Obama is also now taking aim at John “weathervane’ McCain as well he should:

 

John McCain is an American hero. We honor his service to our nation. But his priorities don’t address the real problems of the American people, because they are bound to the failed policies of the past.

 

George Bush won’t be on the ballot this November, but his war and his tax cuts for the wealthy will.

 

When I am the nominee, I will offer a clear choice. John McCain won’t be able to say that I ever supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the beginning. Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House.

 

He needs to remind people of NAFTA and its consequences, like he did tonight in Madison. He sounded confident and today he is supposed to deliver a major policy address. I will watch and listen to him and what he says and doesn’t say.

 

Because this time around..I want to vote for someone, not just for the lesser of two mediocre evils. If I don’t hear what I need to hear from Obama, it will just be another Presidential Election where one of my felines gets my vote, as was the case with John Kerry. For me, this Presidential election isn’t about race or gender..its about who is delivering the populist message that we can no longer tolerate ‘two America’s’ which is represented by the growing economic inequality in our nation. Obama got my attention when he returned campaign contributions from lobbyists. I hope he gets my vote by addressing the problems that affect hard-working Americans on a daily basis and ending the war in Iraq as soon as humanly possible.

 

I don’t want just rhetoric..I want substance. He will need to not only address the issues, he will need to tell me how he plans to fix them and pay for them. He has the style and he is a mesmerizing speaker..but for my vote he will need much more than that.

 

 

South Carolina Debate: The Lowdown On The Dust-Up?

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I’ve been stewing on last evening’s debate for the better part of the day. Generally speaking, I found it to be rather disquieting. It took me until this evening to discern the source of my anxiety…and my belief that it was little more than a quid pro quo demonstration of status quo politicking. My first instinct was to be angry with the candidates…and then I began to reconsider. That would have been the easy conclusion…but it would have also been an exercise in self-deception.

I’ll now attempt a reasoned explanation of my newfound hypothesis; that being that despite reading and listening to the many protestations that Senators Clinton and Obama engaged in petty bickering…and the fact that they did…both candidates simply provided the stick that most voters are seeking with which to unleash their own particular bias…upon the candidate they oppose…regardless of the actual facts.

Think about it for a moment. Logic should tell us that candidates engage in such tactics because they have been proven to be effective. Therefore, logic should also tell us that they are effective because it is what we the voters accept, want, and expect. Here’s the thing. As the election process unfolds and we each select the candidate we prefer, we then pivot in search of the means to discredit the candidates we reject.

So what does that mean with regards to my hypothesis? Two things. One, we select for the truth we prefer; not the truth we ascertain or uncover. Two, once a candidate speaks the truth we prefer, we’re willing to accept untruths about the other candidates in order to bolster our own biased beliefs.

Hence, as with Pavlov’s dogs, our actions train candidates to perform the deeds and actions that result in the positive rewards they seek…our votes. Here’s how it works. Over time, voters make known to candidates their beliefs and expectations which is then transformed into a subtle but certain acquiescing to the assaults upon the enemy in order to obtain the power that we believe will allow us to reinforce (legislate) our shared beliefs. In the end, this process succeeds in conditioning politicians to launch the spurious attacks upon their opponents in order to receive the primary benefit they desire…an Election Day victory.

Here’s the disconnect. Pavlov’s dogs began to salivate at the sound of a bell once it was linked with being fed. Politicians also begin to link negative campaigns with Election Day votes. Once this happens, the quest for satiation on the part of the candidate and the voter (victory for the candidate and power for the voter) sets aside what ought to be the ongoing prioritization of truth. Thus the affirmation of our shared truth (the goal)…the truths (beliefs) we prefer…the truths (or lack thereof) that achieves the goal (reward) we seek…becomes the acceptable and/or preferred stimulus-response construct.

Once this model is cemented into the collective psyche, winning is the objective and the pursuit of truth…a truth that is just…not just the truth we like…is no longer the relevant priority. Our own particular bias becomes the driving force and all actions are viewed through this skewed prism…including a willingness to discount the truths of the opponent and to accept the attachment of untruths to the enemy if they have the potential to succeed in sullying and defeating that enemy. Simultaneously, we’re outraged at the similar tactics of the opposition…though fully in denial as to the inevitable tit-for-tat reality.

Looking specifically at last evening’s debate, we begin to see the pull of this deeply ingrained construct. Let’s assume Obama had intended to conduct the campaign he initially outlined…one that focused upon bringing unity…or at the very least a shared respect for the truth we can mutually agree upon as opposed to the truth we can impose. However, following his losses in New Hampshire and Nevada…coupled with indications the Clinton attacks may be resonating with voters…he is forced to reconsider.

I believe he feels forced to do this because the strategy he has employed seems to be failing to overcome the established expectations. In essence, the long-standing stimulus-reward conditioning prevents voters from properly attributing his actions. His hesitation, or refusal to participate in the process as it is designed, leads voters to conclude his truths mustn’t be valid or, at the very least, his convictions about his beliefs aren’t all that strong (see also Fred Thompson). The problem is that the prevailing mind set posits that all parties share the same goal and those unwilling to do what it takes to achieve those goals must lack the conviction (or the truth) to do what is necessary to win the reward (the power to impose that truth).

I suspect Obama’s original strategy was premised upon the notion that the truth he would support when elected would first be as much of the truth as he had already espoused…but it wouldn’t stop there. He believed he would also endeavor to get more or most voters to coalesce around a shared truth. Unfortunately, in the existing stimulus-reward system, that proposed outcome would often seem insufficient to the highly conditioned voter. It feels like the glass would be half-empty rather than half-full…and that is apt to fall short of satisfactory.

This results in what we saw last night…a skirmish fully adorned with the trappings that have become all too familiar…and by and large…demanded by the voters.

In the end, Obama has presumably realized the need to engage the negativity despite his dislike for such a system. The open question is whether he can muster the motivation to participate in the existing dynamic in order to win the opportunity to change it…assuming I’ve ascertained his actual goal. It’s possible his objective is no different than that of his opponents and that he has, to this point, simply attempted a novel strategy.

Regardless, as long as the public’s objective remains the attainment of the power necessary to implement our own coalitions (tribe) selective truths, the execution and the outcome of our political process will remain the same. We can continue to feign our disgust at what transpires while signaling our acceptance…or we can begin to abridge our bias and forego the fabrications and falsifications we have institutionalized in favor of a rational and reasoned reality.

Until such time as we make that choice, we’ll continue our self-sustaining system of salivating each and every time someone succeeds in repackaging the same old rancid red meat. I’m of the opinion that we need to end our dogged dependence on this tired old trick.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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