Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gassin’ My Head with Sub-Prime Talk

The traffic over by the mall was crazy… just like in the old days. Skibo Road had taken on ghost town qualities since the middle of the summer. I was confused about it for awhile, sitting there trying to get to my daughter’s daycare in a reasonable time. Then I saw the sign for gas at the station one block up the street. One dollar and ninety-eight cents!!! I realized then what all the traffic was about… people were going shopping. It had been so long since I had seen “shopping traffic” that I was caught off guard. Then my thoughts went back to that morning when I got my gas… $39.00 to overfill my tank. This compared to the max of $80.00 that I paid around the first of September. I remember doing the simple math standing at the pump. A $41.00 difference is $164.00 a month…

…$164.00 a month... that’s a lot of money. At least for me it is. That is the cost of my phone, internet, cable, and water bill each month, with enough left over for a pack of Pampers (I go as cheap as possible with local cable, Vonage, etc.). As a commuter, I’ve had a $300.00 per month gas budget for the past five months, but I suddenly find myself with a surplus of $160.000. I just happen to now own a new, blue, long-overdue, $160 suit… not directly related, but the timing is perfect. Of course, clothes for me are not important; this money means I have a slight cushion for monthly expenses, so things like car repairs won’t cripple the family finances like they did last summer. It’s amazing when you think about it, how big an effect gas prices can have on a family. Then when you think a little more about it… it’s not amazing, it’s frightening…

I know I make a pretty good salary. Along with the wife’s salary, things are tight, but we don’t miss any meals. It really makes this whole thing with the sub-prime mortgage crises take on greater meaning. We are just a few bank closings away from a complete financial collapse, and everyone is pointing the finger of blame at folks who bought houses that they “knew they couldn’t afford”! Talk about infuriating… One thing we know we can do well as a country is blame the victim and protect the system. I remember when I bought my first house. I was 33 years old with a 10-month old baby, and one on the way. I had just started my first job as a “Director”, and I was in graduate school. I was way too busy to learn the housing business, and really had no interest. I just wanted to buy a house for my family. I got a real estate agent, a lawyer, and a loan company, and I expected them to do the job I paid them to do. It was the first house closing for my lawyer, but he was a college buddy so I knew he would do his best not to let me get screwed.

In the same way that people trust me to provide the best educational environment for their kids, I trusted the people whose job it was to help me purchase a home for my family. The phrase, “predatory lender” had not yet made it’s way into our national conversation, but if they wanted to screw me over there was no way that I could have known. So I can sympathize with those folks who did get screwed with these crazy mortgages in the last five or six years. To expect them to know about prime lending rates is idiotic… and I think anyone who feels that way is a pompous, insensitive @sshole… with all due respect. Those same folks would scream bloody murder if a refrigerator repairman, plumber, or car technician screwed them. No one is expected to know enough about refrigeration or plumbing to keep from getting screwed, you expect the person you hire to be reputable. And even though there are “predatory plumbers”, there are unions that keep that kind of behavior in check. Well, we didn’t have that kind of thing with predatory lenders, because all checks and balances were deregulated. People who went for those mortgages were considered “prey”, i.e., creatures that another creature sought to attack, subdue, and feed off of. Owls prey on Rabbits. When a rabbit gets caught and eaten, it’s not the rabbit’s fault. Rabbits are victims of the system. That same owl will not attack a puma cause he knows he can’t win. Predators pick on people based on their inability to defend themselves. There were people who believed that they were blessed from God because “someone who was in the housing business” said they could get them approved for a home loan. There was no way to know that person was actually working for the devil. Professional criminals are professionals… whether lending agencies or pick-pockets. There is no such thing as a professional victim. Victimizers always have the advantage. Don’t blame the victim.

Anyway, I can imagine what would happen to me if gas went to $6.00 a gallon. I would have to give up my phone, internet, and baby cable. Then I would have to choose which bill not to pay, or what part of what bills not to pay. I would be on a slow financial decline that would eventually find me car-less, then jobless, and finally homeless. For folks that make half my salary, with the change in gas prices from $2.20 when they bought, their homes to $4.10 last September, that is exactly what happened. Many would have found ways to cut corners if there was just a rise in interest rates. But coupled with a rise in gas prices, which affects their ability to get to work and pay their bills, etc., they were completely undermined.

Now gas prices are dropping… rapidly. And the one thing that is being passed over in our post-presidential election euphoria is… why? There were a bunch of reasons given for why prices kept rising: the war in Iraq, China blocking the ports in the Middle East, hurricanes hitting the US, etc. But none for why gas prices are falling so fast? The Dwane T. theory is because the people who artificially/arbitrarily inflated the prices know it was the basis of our economic collapse, so they are cutting back on the profits in the short term to keep making money in the long term. The traffic over at the mall proves it. People who have jobs are shopping again… and what do you know, just in time for Christmas. A healthy shopping season will save many of our struggling businesses… particularly the chain stores. Gas prices going down is, economically, like getting a pay raise… for those who still have jobs.

Dropping gas prices will also help the oil companies get both Congress and the public off their backs for awhile. They will show a dramatic decrease in forth quarter profits, making it look like they were affected by the recession as well. Then, if they want to sabotage Obama’s first year in office, they can slowly inch prices back up through the second quarter of next year. Whatever economic plan Obama introduces will be sabotaged because rising gas prices will steal any benefits his plans have. Back in the day, we used to say that if someone was trying to convince you that something unlikely or ridiculous was actually true (for their personal benefit), we said “stop gassin’ my head up, son” (although brothers gassin’ girls heads up was the most popular use of the term).
Well, Bush and the other oil millionaires/billionaires who run this country have been gassin’ our heads up about why we are in a recession, but in this case the truth is… in the gas.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Re-Enfranchisement of Da Brovas

Like a lot of folks, I’m still on a post-election high. It’s only been a week, but Barack Obama is quickly establishing himself as a man who is capable of leading not only the United States, but the free world. He is a great visual, and great to listen too. I watched the replay of him and George W. meeting yesterday, and while W. is known for the confident bounce in his step, which is still evident, the only way to describe Obama’s gate as he walked next to him is… swagger. He had on $1,500 suit, and walked like he was coming off the basketball court after a 21-8 one-on-one victory. I know his lineage, but whether by nature, nurture, or a combination thereof, that man is all brotha.

This brother is soon to be the leader of the free world, but he is definitely the new leader of Black men. I realized this when I was standing in line to early vote. Being late in the day and obviously going over the time allotted to vote, they moved everyone on line into the gym of the youth center where we were voting. There were so many folks there, we wrapped around the wall and still went out the building. I saw my wife pointing and counting, and when she finished she said, “14”. Of course I asked what she was counting, and she said, “there are 14 black males in this building between the ages of 18 and 34.” Yeah, it was an estimate, because brothers down here age quickly and there could have been about five more. Also, she didn’t count the seven or so Hispanics that I like to include in the brother count. Those brothers had dreads, and bald heads. Some had their hats forward, some had them backward. One or two were obviously a little preppy, others looked like they wouldn’t know Izod from Ipod. But they were all there together. As a percentage of the crowd, they were small, but as a percentage of black men in society, they were definitely more than the national average. Can I say, as an older brother, I was proud.

That is the effect that Obama is having. Brothers recognize when another brother is putting himself out there, and they will rise up to hep dat brova out. In sports, it’s called making those around you better. Brothers who felt they were in this country, but the country was not in them, are feeling… American. Brothers are also feeling the need/desire/pressure to be better and do better, because they have the ultimate example of how to do it from the Commander/ God-fearer/ Husband/Father/Brother/ Professional/Community Activist/Educator–in-Chief.

This is the Re-enfranchisement f the Brothers/Brothas/Brovas/Bros (depending on where you are geographically externally and/or internally). It even affects older brothers more than younger ones. Church service this past Sunday was a celebration of Veteran’s Day. Since my pastor, most of the ministers (male and female), and probably 1/3 of the adults at the church are Vets, we take this holiday seriously. They all agreed that in many respects, this exemplified the change they were fighting for. After church, I went to visit my Uncle Jay, the WWII Veteran, to tell him about the service. He came over to me and showed me the giant poster of the Obama Family in the Fayetteville Observer and said, “this is what makes today special”. He agreed that this is what he was fighting for six decades ago when his hearing, sight and mind still worked the majority of the time. Then he did something I didn’t think he could do… he told me a story he hadn’t told me before.

Uncle Jay said that when he got back to Georgia from Asia after the war, an old White farmer told him he needed to come work for him. The man had a reputation of being abusive and not paying what he promised, so my uncle told him “no, thank you”. The man was irate, and told my uncle, “So you went away to the war, and now you think you’re too good to work for me. You just need to be beat one good time, that’ll fix you. You’ll work for me then”. My uncle asked him, “why do you want to beat me, I didn’t do anything wrong?” Pleading your case was the standard response to something like that back then, because if a White man felt justified in beating you, he would do it. While he spoke, my uncle said in the back of his mind he was thinking, “I spent the last three years of my life driving weapons and ammunition to fellas fighting on the front line with people shooting at me, and this is the thanks I get?” Then he poked the newspaper picture with finger really hard a couple of times and said, this is what it was all about… this is the thanks I get!”

After two years of prime time coverage on a Brother that represents what is good about Black men… not perfect, but good… our country is beginning to see Brothers differently. Even more, the world is beginning to see Brothers differently. But best of all, Brothers are beginning to see themselves differently.
Welcome to America my brothers, and make yourself at home.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hope, Obama, and a Harvest for the World

The Great Experiment… that’s what our system of government was called. After almost 250 years, we are still trying to work out this experiment… but I think it’s going pretty well. I often cringe when I hear about spreading democracy, considering the fact that we were founded as a republic. In a democracy, majority rules, and in a republic, a system of checks and balances is in place to make sure that the majority does not become so powerful that they deny equal rights to the minority. But by the fact that we are trying to make sure majority will is protected at the same time that the minority rights are protected shows we are still in the active process of making the US a great country. The important thing in America, whether you consider us a democracy or a republic, is that our goal is to get the most people involved in the system, whether by their direct action, or by their choosing someone to act for them.

Policy-wise, I gave a full breakdown of the type of candidate I would want in my blog, “Who Would Jesus Elect?” But on a more practical level, what do/should we want in a president? A president should be able to pull together the greatest minds available and place them in associate positions of leadership (like his cabinet), develop the appropriate programs and strategies to solve problems, and mobilize the citizenry to support these efforts. If a president can effectively do this, he will be able to deal with issues from taxes to foreign aid. The president is not necessarily an economist, or a soldier, or a city planner, or a farmer, or an ambassador, etc., but he is expected to have studied those areas and debated the merits of various philosophies pertaining to those areas in some meaningful way at a regional or national level. Based on these criteria, Barack Obama is the best of the five candidates we have to be elected president in 2008. I think Huckabee was probably the best candidate overall, and Edwards was the best for what I wanted our next president to do, but Obama has proven himself, even to me.

A wise pastor once said to me, “if you don’t know what to do next, find out what God is doing, and do that.” He was basically saying that the best way to get something done is to work with a person or person that was already doing it. People don’t walk into a job and magically take on new skills, philosophies, and personality traits. Whether taking on a partner, hiring an employee, or looking for a mentor, you want someone who already exemplifies what you want. Going back to the previous paragraph, Obama’s campaign is presidential in nature, and is based on who he is professionally and personally. Although highly educated, he is professionally, first and foremost a community organizer. His campaign was truly a grass roots effort, organized from the ground up. He has the biggest “ground game” of door to door workers ever assembled. He is a visionary that saw online communities as true communities, and met with his fellow Americans on Myspace, Facebook, and Blackplanet. He included all fifty states as part of his campaign target area, something that no party candidate has done in a very long time. And he has successfully, through his national effort to get people involved at the local level of the political process, brought more first time voters into the process than anyone in history. Win or lose, he has forever changed the way campaigns are run, because he proved that he could do it without lobbyists or political favors as long as you involve the people you plan to lead.

He was not successful at this alone. He was successful because he was able to bring in the best minds available to him to plan out his strategies, to plan out his platform, and to serve as his “cabinet” and his sub-leaders. There is an old saying that Democratic presidents are brilliant men who surround themselves with idiots, and Republican presidents are idiots who surround themselves with brilliant men. Obama is a brilliant man who surrounded himself with brilliant men and women. Obama’s presidential campaign is a great example of someone already being presidential. All of his policies, whether economic, or foreign affairs, or education, involve bringing people to the table and getting them to understand each others’ perspectives first, then implementing change from the bottom up. He is consistent… you want that in a president.

There really is no thing as “being prepared” to be president. That’s why they all go gray in their first two years in office. But you can be presidential in how you conduct business before you’re elected. Obama has done that. . To say he is inexperienced would be like saying Ross Perot would have been incompetent as president. But as a non-politician, Perot was accepted across the board as a viable candidate, and if he were on a major party ticket would probably have won. Experience has to be taken in the context of level of exposure, level of success, and ability to translate success in one area to success in another. Although his is constantly compared to Sarah Palin in experience, if you take accomplishments by age, he is closer to Bill Clinton. If you make the same comparison by age with Palin, at age 24, when he a community activist, she was a sports reporter. At age 30, when she was serving on the Wasilla town council, he was graduating Magna Cum Laude from law school as the president of the Harvard Law Review. At age 32 she became the Mayor of Wasilla, and he was Founding Executive Director of Public Allies Chicago (and organization that trains youth to become future leaders) while teaching Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law school. Regardless as to what they did in their first two years as Governor and Senator, respectively, Palin has devoted her life to mastering where she is, and Obama has devoted his life to learning from the past to help create a better future. Also, Palin has spent her life pushing people who don’t agree with her out of power, and Obama has sought to win those who don’t agree with him over, or finding common ground.

Some things that have been issues with him, really just aren’t issues To say he is a socialist is to define him by sentences rather than by track record. He has offered no socialist legislation at the state or national senatorial level. He has no socialist advisors in his inner or outer circle. But beyond that, for him to have any impact as a socialist, he would have to have a socialist leaning Senate, Congress, Supreme Court and Governorship. Even if the Democrats control government, unless you can equate being a democrat with being a socialist, any change to socialism is IMPOSSIBLE… particularly changing 242 years of government in four years. No president in recent times has had any meaningful impact on the “direction” of our country in only one term… except for maybe Kennedy… and that was because Kennedy was primarily a visionary who was able to get his vision to be excepted by the people from the ground up so it lasted beyond his life. The only way we will become a Socialist country is if we are conquered by Russia, otherwise it is IMPOSSIBLE. Is Obama a closet Muslim, or a Hateful Christian? He can’t be both, because no Muslim would sit in any Christian church for twenty years. Based on his track record of “his” actions, he is neither. If he was, someone from some mosque would have come forward by now, as would someone who feels that Obama had acted racist toward them. Neither has happened. The majority of his advisors over the past fifteen years have been/and still are White, as was his mother and grandparents who raised him. In the Bible, the Hebrew boys stayed in the oven, but since they were focused on Jesus who was in there with them, they couldn’t get burned. It’s the same with Obama hearing occasional race-based talk from his pastor. As far as being a terrorist, working on a committee with Ayers no more makes him a terrorist than working on a committee with Dick Luger makes him Republican. Obama works with people on the commonality of a goal, and not on of their philosophies other than that goal. He is also criticized for not going against his party. When your goal is to find common ground, you work to bring people together rather than “go against” anyone. I could go on, but hopefully that’s enough.

There are actually six candidates in this race, and two of them are named Obama. They are Hope Obama, and Fear Obama. The majority of voters are either voting for Obama because he represents Hope, or voting against Obama because he represents Fear. The republicans have spent so much time and money pushing Fear Obama, that the little time and money spent on promoting McCain relegated him to third party status. While this may have worked in the past, people have lived in unceasing fear for the past eight years already. Whether the Axis of Evil, or Terrorists, or Orange Alerts, people are tired of being governed by Fear. That is why Hope Obama speaks to crowds of 100,000, while McCain talks about Fear Obama to 6,000.

In terms of what he is currently doing and how that will translate to his presidency, I think McCain made two major mistakes. Sarah Palin was not one of them. As I stated in my blog, The Brilliance of John McCain, I think Palin was an excellent political move. If the bottom hadn’t fallen out of the economy, McCain would have won. One thing he did wrong was to bring in Karl Rove, and his campaign strategy. Rove destroyed what would have been McCain’s best chance to be President in 2000, by all but destroying his good name. Its true that those who live by sword die by the sword, but those who die by the sword cannot be brought back to life by the sword. McCain should have left Rovian politics alone. But even before then, McCain made the decision to “go after the base” that had never accepted him. Your base is always a fringe group, and you have to have confidence that they will come through for you regardless. He didn’t have that confidence. When Obama was being pressured to bring in Hillary, he didn’t go with political expediency because he would have turned off his base of young folks looking for something different. Biden may be old as dirt, but he was not the familiar face for Obama’s base that Hillary was. If McCain would have stayed focused on the Independents from the beginning, he would have cut into Obama’s growth factor, and almost ensured he would have won the numbers game. To summarize, what McCain is currently doing is changing who he is on the fly and not sticking to any plan of attack long enough for people to rally behind it. Thus, he is currently getting more Fear Obama votes than pro-McCain votes. He is not being presidential.

Obama would not have been a great candidate four years ago, and may not even be one four years from now, win or lose. But he is the best candidate for what our country needs today. We need to not only be proud to be Americans, we need to be happy to be Americans. Obama makes people happy to be Americans. Bush destroyed Kerry over his “global litmus test” line four years ago, but we have failed it, and we need to rebuild our international image. McCain has a good reputation with leaders around the world, but Obama has a good reputation with citizens around the world. That’s what we need in our global community. I took my soon-to-be two year old daughter with me in the booth Saturday, because I was voting for her future. I thought I would tear-up, but I didn’t… I felt relieved. But this morning I heard Harvest for the World by the Isley Brothers on Tom Joyner’s show, and I did tear up. I remember listening to that song on 8-track when I was a kid, knowing I planned to devote my life to making that song come true. I used to tear up on the line, “Dress me up for battle, when all I want is peace. Those of us who pay the price, come home with the least”, just like I did today. Like those who came before me, I don’t mind coming home with less if my children get to reap the rewards of my sacrifice.
Hope Obama doesn’t just represent the possibility that we will heal our divisions as a country, he represents hope that their will be a Harvest for the World… my daughter’s world… and that’s why I voted for him.

Dedicated to my boy Zachariah