Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Audacity of Greed

People don't work on Wall Street or even generally invest in the stock market to better the conditions of humankind and life on Earth. Investments are not often the stuff of altruism.

Wall Street is about greed, as in "greed is good."

And so what do we expect?

President Obama reprimanded Wall Street scions today for taking $20 billion in bonuses last year, even when there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Of course they would take those bonuses. And run.

It's a money brothel, not a volunteer fire department.

It's a greed machine, not the Peace Corps.

It's: "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what the American brand (and loop holes) of the "free market" can do for you.

The lion that is the audacity of greed makes the audacity of hope seem like a mouse.

And so, will real change come?

A change of values? Against the grain of human nature?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stimulus Package

This just in from the Viagra Nation: even the phrase "stimulus package" sounds obscene.

Country and planet seeing some bumps along a stratospheric rise and overly caffeinated course of consumerism?

Look at the short term again. Put it on plastic. Charge it to who knows who?

We want a stimulant? We should take a rest. For three decades and more, we've been shopping in middair with our credit cards falling out of our pockets. It's time we got back down to the ground before everything we know becomes a dustbowl.

"Stimulus package," "stimulus bill," President Obama would rather call it a "recovery bill," but there's a HUGE disconnect here. Recover from what?

What we need to recover FROM is spending and debt, both personal and national -- and to shift the nation's resources from personal gain to public good.

We shopped 'til we dropped. Seems a drop in shopping is the answer. Good for us, good for all. It's not as if we are all really NEEDED. 300 million people in this country?

And so any part of the stimulus package that "puts money in the pockets of ordinary Americans" is not necessarily a good thing. Better to give others jobs or more education, retraining and opportunity to jump back into innovative and improved ways of building a more sustainable culture, a more enlightened nation.

As the president himself said in his inaugural address, "...we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

Now "remaking" is a big word. It doesn't mean just repairing and restoring the old status quo. I didn't vote for that. I voted for change. And I want to see the systemic change and the change in emphasis and the change toward the common good in this mega dose of National Viagra.

With Obama at the wheel, I want to see a distinct turn away from 'affluenza' and this consumerist juggernaut. America is either better than this spoiled accumulation of junk, this shopaholic patriotism, this sprawling and selfish paving over of paradise, or it's not.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama at the Wheel

The only thing that concerns me so far is that President Obama may move too fast. He may be racing the clock, that 100 day deadline that the media impose.

In the span of about four and a half working days in office (though it seems there was no slowing down this weekend), the president has turned the tide on torture, government jobs and government assistance, public works projects, abortion, lobbyists, diplomacy, governmental transparency, and today, and vehicle emissions.

To be fair, the larger issues of the economy and global climate remain and probably will always remain beyond his ability to turn around. These things are bigger even than any administration.

But what a change a few staffers and the stroke of a pen can make.

A few staffers and the stroke of a pen.

And now for the enforcement and the rallying of public opinion. These are the greatest challenges of any president: to see that his edicts are enforced and to sway enough of the public to champion his causes -- and make his brand of CHANGE the brand of change for the public at large and indeed the dedicated goal of the majority. Can he do this?


Friday, January 23, 2009

Clinton Gone, Kennedy Out, Kirsten In

Way back last year, late in the Bush Era, when Caroline Kennedy announced her desire to be the next Senator from New York, I was all excited. But it turns out that excitement was based on an old crush, not current conditions. Kennedy has proved her desires to be pie in the sky. Her resolve started with the romantic aura of 'Camelot reborn' yet ended in mystery and even a bit of political mayhem. In the last month, "Sweet Caroline" has not displayed the steely focus, drive AND decisiveness one needs to be a particularly effective statesman.

These ARE qualities Hillary Clinton has shown from the moment she found out about Monica Lewinsky, and Hillary only built on these strengths during her determined run for the presidency.

Now we have Kirsten Gillibrand, a United States Representative from the Albany area, and good for her. Good for us. This is the right choice after all. A tough campaigner, an impressive fundraiser, a bridge-building "blue dog Democrat," who may catch some flak east of the Hudson and south of Westchester, but who may, in the short term she's got, help bring together more upstate and downstate values.

She'll become known for her defense of gun rights, but you know who else defends gun rights? The American Civil Liberties Union.

Rep. Gillibrand has a 100% voting approval record from the ACLU, and along with some green cred and on the ground experience in Washington, that's good enough in my book.

I say farewell to the old baggage of Clinton and Kennedy and welcome the fresh young face and future-leaning pragmatism of Kirsten Gillibrand.

Governor Patterson, a bit sloppy in the final rounds, but in the end, a victory.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

HeRObama Cans Torture

It's just the day after the day after, and I just got what, for years, I wanted most: an end to torture by the United States, effective immediately.

And this includes, as the Geneva Convention said it should, any life-threatening interrogation tactics. As we would not want our own lives threatened, no matter what, so should we not want anyone to threaten another's life. Perhaps their liberty, yes. To restrain someone and to incarcerate them is humane, but torture never is.

To put it bluntly, anyone who voted to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004, voted not just implicitly but explicitly to allow torture to continue. By then, the widespread use of torture in American-run prisons at home and abroad, far beyond and more secretive than Guantanamo, including top secret CIA "black areas" in undisclosed locations, was well known.

Like war, like any crime of violence, torture is personal. Millions pay (or go into debt) so that others may commit these crimes. They're the professionals; we're just the voters. But that is a cop out. Those who don't make it's absolution a priority are morally suspect.

Thank you, President Obama and ALL who help this change come to be and to stay.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

1/20/09 on the Capitol Steps

The big inaugural wrap up in short order:

Dr. Strangelove: Was there in his wheelchair. Talk about stranger than fiction. And not nearly as funny.

President Bush ('til noon): Just wanted to get the heck out of there. Even Dr. Strangelove was glaring at him. At least Obama gave him a hug, two hugs in fact.

Rick Warren: I was squirming through that god stuff and that African-American stuff at the beginning. And, at the end, I was thinking the Lord's Prayer a cheap shot to get the crowd to go along with the ruse. But in the middle, there actually were some good lines, asking for the things for which we might wish to be forgiven. A tall order.

The first thing that really got my attention: Aretha's hat.

The second thing: Aretha's voice.

Joe the VP: nice job on your oath, Joe. You got the job.

John Williams' musical piece: a piece of #%$! At least Aaron Copeland showed respect for the simplicity of the traditional Shaker tune, "Simple Gifts." If it says "simple" in the title, and "simple" is not only the sentiment behind the music but the moral theme of the music and of the religious sect behind its creation, then don't muss it up with layers of a confused cacophony of jumbled riffs and jamming solos. Perhaps the masses were wowed by (or at least respectful of) the two big-name players, but the piece was a travesty. This frazzled, bipolar chamber ditty, I am sure, left Williams fans wondering what it was and left classical aficionados groaning.

The Oath: It's written in the Constitution, but the phrasing (and pauses) are not. Barack jumped the gun, and Roberts took the blame. Even presidents and men in robes are only human, and we got our first reminder of this sad fact two seconds into the oath. Perhaps it's funny now. I hope Leno, Letterman, Steward and SNL can do something with this. I figure we're in for a redo. (But FYI, the O'Man still became president precisely at noon, somewhere toward the end of that mishmash of a musical number, even without the oath.)

The Address: I know he's got the job now, a grave and daunting task, but hey, this guy inspired us with some of the greatest political speeches in years. Why drag us through a short draft of a State of the Union address? Go for the rafters! This is your day. It's not a news day. Give the grim realities a rest, and shoot for the stars. And it doesn't hurt, now that the world is watching, to repeat a dozen of your best lines from the four best speeches you ever gave: your 2004 Democratic Convention speech, your February 2007 campaign announcement speech, your March 2008 Philadelphia speech on race, your 2008 Convention speech and, perhaps best of all, your acceptance speech in Chicago, that electric evening of November 4th.

We might need a serious and supremely aware and capable and tirelessly hard-working president, but to keep our hopes fired up and ready to go, we need more jolts of electricity, and today would have been a good day to make our hair stand on end.

The woman who spoke after the Address: Uh oh. Even with a speech on his B-list, Obama is a hard act to follow, but this was drivel. Poetry, Elizabeth? It didn't sound like poetry. It sounded like a mom at a PTA meeting. Most of the people in the room I was in turned away and stopped watching.

Joseph E. Lowery's Benediction: Could they have chosen a better guy for the job? I say no. He gave us the cadences and the rhyme we were craving by then. Those amens worked for me. Hear, hear!

And Diane: Good job. Your brevity was almost startling in the midst of some of these errant rambles.

Strangest scene: An ex-president's departure aboard Marine One has never seemed so startling. Everyone else could wind down and enjoy the party, but not the ex. Just an hour out of office, Bush was banished, it's as if he was not just going to Texas but was going into exile. The chopper made a slow, sad pass around the capitol, and that was that.

Okay, America, no more pleas for fealty or forgiveness. President says, "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." So keep the cannons at bay, and let's come down off this mountain top and get to work. It's time we turned those tanks into tractors.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Flying Out of the Valley of Despair

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation....

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Mommy, my plane turned into a boat!"

It's not a miracle when good things happen, and the pilot of the US Airways flight that landed (or "crashed") into the Hudson yesterday would be the first to say so. We do the best with the circumstances we've got, and having two minutes to make a big left hand turn and ease it straight down a big handy river turned out to be a very, very good thing.

It is nice -- it is inspiring -- to see so many perform so well -- and to see so many so happy. Cut and bruised and COLD, but happy, beaming glad to be alive and to see so many others alive, too.

In some ways, we NEED tests, perhaps even tragedies. Humans are happier with a few well-meaning life and death challenges -- not hate, not war, not animosity, not premeditated violence. But things happen, and it is good to see some of us jump in to do the best we can with what we've got.

We NEED tough times to bring out our "better angels."

And we need "heroes" who didn't ask for it -- and some who did.

We have been absolutely hungry for heroes.

And it seems 2009 might be a good year for them.

Surf's up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Race We Want

Here's a new angle on globalization.

As Star Trek and other pillars of Sci-Fi have suggested for decades, we're inevitably headed toward a global melting pot and perhaps even an interstellar melting pot. As long as people can travel and intermix and share cultural traits (probably starting with food and ending with a mind-melded rather secular religion), we can't help it. Globalization R Us.

And here's one clue:

When we look at people, what we seem to prefer is a moderate skin color. George Hamilton aside, we seem to prefer darker whites (it's called tanned) and lighter blacks (it's called multicultural).

It's that Brazilian cafe au lait that is probably considered the world's sexiest skin color. Neither the Norwegians nor the Nigerians come close to the global appeal of coffee with cream.

Seems this mix is practical as well, desired and potentially accepted everywhere, not so dark as to cook and not so light as to be extremely prone to skin cancer.

And so, let the mixing continue. Let's get on with it, so that we can become one race and get over this tribal, ancient, petty squabbling.

And the globe now knows we have the ultimate poster child for this meeting of the skins. He's the one looking up from the word HOPE.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obama: Thank John Edwards

The first analyses of Barack Obama's victory are now being published, and more are being written. Some time back, at this blog, I wrote about a few people who helped the most to get Obama elected, including Colin Powell, George W. Bush and David Axelrod. But I left out one man who, inadvertently, might have helped more than any other.

And that man is John Edwards. Barack Obama might ought to thank Edwards for staying in the race, a strong and attractive candidate, through the Iowa caucuses.

January 4th, Edwards took a strong second to Obama in Iowa. Edwards had also taken second (to Kerry) in 2004. Edwards was familiar to the caucus goers in Iowa, and through two election cycles, he remained hugely popular there.

Edwards later succumbed to scandal (and wasn't even invited to the convention), but before that, he was instrumental in taking out the two biggest Pre-Obama Democratic Party rock stars of the century: Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton.

As much as Edwards tried to be the populist "change" candidate and cover his bases by showing substantial alignment with Obama, Edwards' voters remained more culturally similar to Clinton's voters.

In Iowa, Edwards helped split the two biggest voting blocks: the white vote and the status quo vote. His strong second gave Hillary a mighty shock, and Howard Dean knew all about that.

That gave Obama the opening he needed. Surely, Obama went into Iowa thinking he might well come in second to Hillary, but as in 2004, Edwards was there to deliver the surprise.

And early momentum is a huge thing, a monumental advantage. The 2008 election -- and history -- took it's amazing turn to Obama out on the prairie, January 4th, thanks to John Edwards. And as much as anything, that is why we are where we are today.

We'd like to think, in the pre-inaugural glow millions and perhaps billions are now enjoying, that it's all ordained, in hindsight, that we are fulfilling our destiny, that this was always how it was meant to be, that America's goodness is stamped in stone -- that Obama's rise to seeming invincibility and bipartisan (and multiracial) popularity is not just a dream, that it is our due. But it is often circumstances such as Edwards' strong showing last January that change the course of our political and national fortunes.