Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm exhausted too

Yes, I too am exhausted of defending President Obama and the Democratic administration.  Like Velma Hart (who famously chastised the president at a town hall meeting in September) I am running out of patience waiting for campaign promises to be fulfilled, for financial maneuvers to benefit my family budget, and for some of the political party angst to dissipate.  I don't place all the blame for my exhaustion on the president though.  There is more than enough blame to go around.

The past two years have been a testament to how our governmental structure often gets in its own way.  If toeing party lines replaces serving the best interest of constituents as the priority of elected representatives there is nothing corrective inherent in the system.  The biggest flaw in our system of government and politics is that it relies on the good sense and conscience of humans - which we know for sure every one does not have in ample dose.  When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can state without impunity that his party's main objective over the next two years is to make sure President Obama is not re-elected you have to wonder if the people of Kentucky don't have pressing bread and butter issues Mr. McConnell should be putting above party politics.

The president is being lambasted in the media and by Democrats for his compromise on the 'Bush tax cuts'.  I don't know if he did the right thing, but I know it could not have been an easy one.  President Obama faced trying to maintain the tax cuts for embattled middle income Americans like me, while making the highest income earners pay their due.  He had to do this with the vacillating support of his own party and against uncompromising opposition.  He doesn't bend and the tax breaks expire for middle-income workers, many of those who can least afford it will feel the economic pinch - which will result in his losing much of his political base.  He bends to Republicans who want to keep the pockets of the wealthy lined, then he is accused of being weak and ineffective, thus frustrating his party and losing face.  I'm glad I wasn't the one that had to make that decision.

The constituents that created the groundswell that catapulted President Obama into office seemed to collectively step back after his swearing-in and start waiting for a miracle.  Of course with no miracles forthcoming disappointment was inevitable. The Republican communications machinery has manipulated that widespread disappointment with effectiveness and alacrity worthy of academic study.  The ability and willingness of the American populace to be manipulated has been the most tiring thing for me. At every opportunity to show ourselves true social leaders of the Free World - health care, immigration, education - we allow ourselves to be whipped into a frenetic tornado of non-issues, non-facts, and nonsense.

Sense and reason are not breaking through, and the market place is devoid of equal counter to ulterior dissent and acrimonious drivel. President Obama, the Democrats and their communications staffs seem to be willing to let the American people decipher for themselves fact from fiction, and to give them the benefit of the doubt - just because.  They have lacked a consistent and effective message; all the more tragic because candidate Obama won election largely on message.  The connection with the people that was his ace going into office has been amputated.  If he has  a plan, if his plans are being thwarted by his own party or the opposition, if he doesn't have the stomach for the fight or he does, we don't know.

We have an ill-informed electorate, politicians who put party above people, a castrated president and a system that doesn't self-correct. We should all be tired.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Show your privates, pay your taxes and stop whining

Lately I've felt like a haughty onlooker watching someone else's child throwing a nasty temper tantrum, and waiting for the scolding or whack to the butt from a responsible parent.  Who is going to tell these spoiled children that they can't have everything they want just as soon as they want it; that difficulties are inevitable and with patience it all passes; that we can't clamor for something then whine when we get it?

No one seems to disagree that the economy is cyclical.  No one seems to disagree that these cycles start years before they are evident, or that turnarounds are usually almost over by the time they are felt.  Yet reason seems to have been shoved through the window, forced out by whining and blame.  A president in office for less than two years has been vilified for problems he could not have created; his efforts to address those problems met only with impatience and criticism.  The fickle and overindulged attitudes of many have made them fodder for the moneyed who's latest business is to stir political turmoil.

Those who say they are "taxed enough already," conveniently ignore the fact that government is non-profit.  Taxes pay for public infrastructure and social services.  It may be that many who decry taxes and support tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are those who can afford to pay for their own 'social services.'  They don't require unemployment benefits, Medicare, or food stamps; they don't use public libraries or send their children to public schools.  They have no interest in the services government provides with our tax dollars.

Since September 11, 2001 Americans have demanded to feel secure against terrorist attacks.  Politicians have been penalized at the ballot for not appearing fervent enough in pursuing ways to protect the country's residents, even as air travelers bitch and moan about long security lines and other inconveniences. The Transportation Security Administration's latest security implementations - full body scan machines and the alternate pat downs - have been lambasted as intrusive.  Where would you hide an explosive device?  Drug smugglers use every body orifice to transport drugs.  Why wouldn't potential bombers avail themselves of the same hiding places? 

Come on children. Open your eyes to the big picture, recognize who is pulling your strings and why, and quit all the bitching and moaning.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Today's colored folks

Jamaicans have a saying: tideh fi yu, tomorrow fi mi.  We all eventually have the same experiences.  The Muslim community in America is having their just-short-of strange-fruit 'tideh' right now.

The on-air conversation between Juan Williams and Bill O'Reilly that got Williams fired from National Public Radio would have been unfortunate even in the privacy of their own homes.  It was absolutely unacceptable on national television.  Unfortunately, such hate speech is not uncommon on The O'Reilly Factor.  Bill O'Reilly has built his success at Fox News largely on racial provocation.  He has over the years prostituted his own bigotry to great success.  He has bemoaned immigration and its 'browning' of America, said lives were lost in Hurricane Katrina because New Orleans were largely junkies, and once expressed surprise that eating at a restaurant in Harlem was a similarly pleasant experience as eating in a white suburban restaurant of New York.  These days Muslims are his favorite target - after Democrats.  After he blamed Muslims for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 on the ABC talk show The View, upsetting two of the hosts enough for them to walk off camera, O'Reilly says people on the street supported him. Sadly, I have no doubt many people do.

Juan Williams says he was only being honest on the show when he said he feels nervous about flying on a plane with people who identify as Muslims in their dress.  Mr. Williams, who is Black and who has written about the civil rights movement, would be understanding I guess if someone on national television said they were nervous around African-Americans.  I am willing to bet, though, that most viewers would not be.

Anti-immigrant sentiment in this country has ballooned in ferocity and scope in recent years.  It is more accurately, anti-different.  Blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and other groups, however, have been brought in under the umbrella of hate protection over the years.  Muslims are still standing out in the hail storm of intolerance. Practicing Muslims become easy targets for their dress, for their unfamiliar religious practices and for their perceived alien status,l and extremists in their midst give prejudice a ready excuse.

It has, in fact, become acceptable to vilify Muslims.  No one bothers to make the distinction between the fanatical elements of Islam and the Muslim faith.  Recently, amidst the dust-up about the plans for an Islamic center blocks from the 9-11 site in New York, a friend of mine (Someone in whom I have never before seen an ounce of racism) posted to her Facebook page "let them build it...but across the street put a topless bar named You Mecca Me Hot..." One of the comments she got was a suggestion to let the building go up and then bomb it.  When I asked who is 'they/them', she responded, "The Muslims who were part of the terrorists attack."   That the New York Muslims trying to build a community center had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks does not seem to enter her, or her commenting friends' minds.  Is there any other group who is so maligned and assailed upon for the actions of a few?  Americans for the near-eradication of the Native Americans? Europeans for slavery? Germans for the Holocaust? Christians for the Oklahoma City bombing?

Before we dismiss anti-Muslim sentiments as not our problem, before we choose to be quiet for fear of castigation from our neighbors, before we place the responsibility for change on the victims, ask yourself: Today for them, tomorrow for who?

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Leaning Towers of Media

When I studied journalism a decade ago I was taught that a journalist's job is to report the facts without opinion, without prejudice.  I remember a class exercise in which my instructor had us read sentences and pick out words that could indicate the writer's position on the subject.  Is there a difference between someone 'fleeing' and someone 'leaving?'  Is the word 'bizarre' objective?  I learned that the subtlest word usage, or twist of phrase could take a news reporter beyond his scope of telling just the truth.  I used to do that exercise while watching television news with my husband, pointing out the opinion-filled adjectives, and unnecessary tacked on bits.

That exercise is harder to do these days.  Not that journalists are being more careful about insinuating their bent into their stories, but more that the craft of news reporting has moved significantly away from truth telling towards position taking.  Now, viewers and readers are being asked to make the distinction between journalists and commentators - often the same people playing dual roles, and on the same screens or pages.

The recent high-profile firings of Rick Sanchez from CNN and Juan Williams from National Public Radio for expressing their political views - off their main job and in other media - brings to fore the discussion about if and when journalists are allowed opinions.  A larger question:  Were these reporters fired for having opinions that stand in contrast to their employers'.

I think viewers/readers who are filling the comment pages on various media websites with arguments about free speech are missing the point.  Rick Sanchez and Juan Williams may exercise their free speech rights to their hearts content in their living rooms, among friends.  Unfortunately, because of their chosen profession, and also because of their success, they now must consider first that they are viewed as newsmen - on and off the job.  As unfair as it seems, they should not be free to express their opinions in any broadcast.

We cannot overlook the fact that the reporters were fired for comments contrary to the perceived left lean of the employers.  That they were fired for being contrary is certainly an argument that can be made.  The power houses of media have almost stated political leans, in effect killing journalism.  These days viewers and listeners don't so much go to their favorite news source for unbiased reports, but to solidify their already-held points of view.  The market place of ideas has contracted into a fight circle where participants pick a side and stand their ground.  Token opposing points are thrown in by guests sporadically in vain attempts to feign impartiality. Gross misstatements and omission or twisting of facts are commonplace.

There is no growing or learning in this environment.  We are not fostering an educated electorate.  As consumers, it has to be our responsibility to sift through the opinions for the facts, formulate our own opinions and then challenge those opinions regularly.  We can no longer look to the news media to guide our opinions, but rather be vigilant about seeing through opinions.  Another option: We could watch Fox News and CNN and find the truth somewhere in the middle.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Columbus Day

As one Facebook friend put it: "Today we celebrate the discovery of an already inhabited land."  It is actually a good day to celebrate today's America.  The frontier and the 'savages' are different but the method of invasion is pretty much the same.

Today's Columbuses still assume right of space.  After all, they have more right to be Americans than anybody else.  Never mind they were not the first to get here.  Never mind their grandparents immigrated here from somewhere else.  The rules should be different now.  No one else should be allowed in.

Today's Columbuses still assume right of faith. Of course, Native Americans needed proselytizing.  What did they know of higher powers and spirituality.  Today it's the Muslims who need conversion.  They are all terrorists and do funny chants when they worship.  If we can't convince them to let their women dress like Beyonce we should kill them all.  We certainly should not let them build a social service center wherever they want.

Today's Columbuses assume right of politics.  It's not good enough to agree to disagree. Anyone who disagrees with our politics are idiots.  They must be fascists, socialists, communists, anti-American or any other name we think is bad.  It doesn't matter if we really don't understand the terms.  It's really not about truth anyway; but about grabbing headlines, sewing angst and creating division.

Just like Columbus and the Pilgrims who later followed, today's Columbuses assume themselves the standard of normalcy.  Everyone else must conform. Being gay, defending a woman's right to choose when she is ready to parent, or believing in any theory other than creation is just deviant and intolerable.

We should all be happy we discovered this great land.  Happy Columbus Day.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The clothes makes the woman

Reporter Inez Sainz has the right to wear whatever she wants. Jeans that cling like a second skin, belly-baring tops, necklines that just about burst with cleavage.  It's all her choice.  I'm guessing her employer, the Mexican television channel Azteca, does not have much of a dress policy, or it has decided to follow the mantra 'sex sells' and to let Ms. Sainz sell the station's programming the best she knew how.

Now there is absolutely no excuse for the juvenile behavior of the New York Jets coaches and players in the locker room last Saturday, but Sainz would be more than disingenuous if she said the behavior was surprising.  I suspect the sports reporter has found that her style opens many locker doors, giving her access to teams and athletes.   I have no doubt that she understands fully that her clothes play a role in how she is perceived and how she gets her job done.

We must always remember that claiming our freedoms require us to also claim responsibilities and acceptance of consequences.  Young (mostly) black men have the right to wear their pants under their behinds to show off their colorful boxers, boxer-briefs and tighty-whities.  When they unwrap that right, they cannot leave societal assumptions in the box.  There is no complaining about societal perceptions and judgments when anyone wears a look associated with criminals.  Police officers will slow down as they walk by, shopkeepers and store clerks will put their hand to hover just over the silent alarm when they enter, and women will give them wide berth and clutch their purses when they see them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hate in any shade is still hate

It has become a scary world to wake up in.  The kind of scary that boggles my mind and makes my heart hurt.  2010 seems to be conjuring up the days of Jim Crow, McCarthy hearings and Japanese internment camps.

We went from campaign grumblings about then-candidate Barack Obama's true nationality, to a seeming marked increase in the number of Americans who believe the president is lying about his religion.  The media-fueled debate - is he Muslim or is he not - has been ignoring the most important consideration: Why should it matter?

Tea Partiers, while certainly having the right to take any political position they like, have hinged their movement on attacks against the President's person and race, more than on position statements intended to address the maladies they identify.  The group's racist statements and signage have not stirred the widespread outrage they deserve.

I guess the country's general apathy made for the perfect environment and time for the State of Arizona to try to legalize racial profiling.  The state's Governor Jan Brewer touted untruths and unfounded statistics in her campaign to paint Mexicans as Arizona's biggest crime and social problem.  Few called her on it, and many supported the legislation that would have allowed police to stop and question anyone who 'looked' like an illegal immigrant.

Jan Brewer and others who prey on the fears of the ignorant are largely responsible for my fears. As are those like Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani for whom division and discord have become effective political tools.  What seemed like small pockets of intolerance in 2008, has ballooned into a canvas of xenophobia that threatens to undo all the country's progress of the last 50 years.  The most recent display of hatred is ironically centered around the site of the deadliest act of hatred against the United States, nine years ago today.  The actions of the September 11 attackers were motivated by hatred, intolerance and a warped sense of religious duty.  (Rev. Terry Jones is apparently motivated by the very same things.)  After the attacks, every speech aimed at rousing the country's spirits heralded the precepts that make America great - justice and liberty being chief among them.  We need those speeches again.  We need to see the lunacy of wanting to bar a perfectly legal Islamic center from being built blocks from Ground Zero - whether our discomfort is based on sentimentality or religious indifference.  We need to be reminded that "liberty and justice for all" encompasses those who look, dress, worship and speak differently from us.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The black elephant in the elevator

I must admit I have never felt the oppression of racism.  The concept has always seemed other-worldly to me actually.  There has been only one time (a disturbing incident in a Huntsville, Alabama Macy’s) when I walked away with a strong suspicion that I had just experienced racism.  Otherwise, rude people have always been simply that - rude. I never assumed that slights, denied career opportunities, or diverted eyes had anything to do with my color.

My husband and I have had an unspoken agreement to not make race an issue in raising our sons.  We have always lived in multi-cultural communities, and they have always had classmates that represented the widest cross-section of the nation.  We never talked about race, always affirmed them and each other, and discouraged using race as a descriptor when talking about someone:  “the short girl with black hair and dimples,” as opposed to “the black/white girl.”   Racial references were so avoided that the boys, when they do refer to someone’s skin color, don’t follow the concepts of race, but of Crayola.  They say tan or brown, instead of white or black.

I expected that my boys will be part of an enlightened post-racial society and I wanted to do a good job preparing them for it.  These days, however, I am not so sure.  I am not sure that there will ever be a post-racial society (or what that even means).  I am not sure that I am doing a good job of preparing my sons for the society that will be.  Recently my 5 and 6 year-old sons in discussion at the breakfast table, both decided aloud that they would marry tan (white) girls.  I was stunned, scared and heartbroken, though I was not sure that I should be.  I tried to find out what had led them to their decision, but neither seemed to be able to identify a catalyst.  They wanted to, “just because…dunno why.”  An equally important consideration: if I am indeed above and beyond the considerations of race, as I like to consider myself, why was their pronouncement bothersome?  A recent struggle with my sons and their visiting cousins over Nintendo Wii Miis turned teary and gave me an ugly answer.  None of the kids wanted avatars that were representative of how they look.  They wanted lighter skin, narrower noses, and straighter hair.   When I created an image that I thought resembled my son he said it was ugly and burst into tears.

My peers almost all reacted with the same resigned shrug of the shoulders and noncommittal references to “other influences” affecting our children when I told them about the incident.  No one seemed as startled or as worried as I was.  Race is not so much a bothersome personal issue for Blacks who have been saved the direct burns of racism through education, attainment of wealth, or geography of birth or residence.

Concern for my sons makes me conclude though, that it should be an issue.   We cannot afford to ignore race in our homes when there are those “other influences” – subtle yet effective – affecting our children.  They will form opinions about culture, race and themselves, and parents have an obligation to try to influence those opinions.  If I continue to deny race to my sons, but the world is telling them they are ugly because their skin is dark and their nose is broad, I am not preparing them for the world, I am sacrificing them to it.  So there will no more ignoring race in my house.  There will be lots of talk about skin color and beauty, about men and women of color who left their mark on the world, about self-worth and the necessity for more than a little bit of arrogance. I will teach them what I have learned – that racial equality and the elimination of racism require us to affirm and value our place on the rainbow.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The problem with faith

Recently I completed the book Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert and saw the movie starring Julia Roberts.  For me, the book was transformative.  I completely identified with the author's journey  to self-actualization, inner peace, and personal happiness. When I began reading the book, I couldn't stop talking about it to friends and family, but as Gilbert's story took her to an Indian ashram to study yoga, I stopped talking.

I learned some time ago that most Christians - as most of my friends and acquaintances identify themselves - see exploration of other religions and forms of worship as a threat to their own.  For many, questioning is the opposite of faith and not to be tolerated.  I knew more than a few of them would be discomforted by the spiritual questions the book raises and the conclusions the author reaches. Extolling the virtues of the book was not worth the uneasy conversations I was sure would ensue.

I don't agree with much of the author's beliefs and have no plans to study with a yoga guru any time soon, but I believe that exploration within and outside of our belief system is healthy.  While understanding the role of faith in religion, beliefs that flourish only in the absence of questions are not beliefs that will survive any real tests.

The ongoing discussion of creation vs evolution is one example of how dogged Christian views ignore science and make no room for an answer that lies outside the boundaries of Bible stories. Despite the wide variety of Biblical interpretations of concepts of hell, heaven and redemption from one denomination to the next, every one stands resolutely on their own, completely dismissing all others.  Even Christians who question some elements of their faith, only whisper those questions and don't truly look for answers, certainly not outside their frame of reference. This narrow view is Christianity's greatest liability I think.

Surely truth is to be gleaned from many sources.  Surely faith can exist in the face of questions - even those that go unanswered.  Surely we can stand to open our ears and minds to other arguments and possibilities.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Black Media for the people, or for the dollar?

I am happy to hear the discussion that has come out of Essence magazine's hiring of Ellianna Placas, its first white fashion editor - as muted as that discussion as been.  It is always a good time to talk about how well - or not - Black media is serving the Black community.

I have long opined the lack of a Black forum among the national issues discussions.  Soledad O'Brian gets a couple of specials every year on being Black in America; Donna Brazile, Rolande Martin and Tavis Smiley are the official talking heads on all matters related to the dark-skinned; and BET has apparently given up on doing any substantive programming.  There is no place where issues of national interest are discussed in the context of their effects on Black people in America.  More than not acting in its best interest, some Black media are actually doing a disservice to the community.

Trite entertainment trumps valuable information on radio shows like The Steve Harvey Show and the Tom Joyner Show.  Director/Producer Tyler Perry has proven that he can pull an audience to the movie theater with an interesting story, but seems to prefer to dumb-down his characters and his content on television.  (Does any character on Meet the Browns represent you or anyone you know?)  There are more pages dedicated to consumer products than education or edification in O, Essence and Ebony - despite the fact that Black Americans make less than 58 percent of what Anglo-Americans make in salary and are in more debt.  On the Food Network's Down Home with the Neelys, Pat and Gina Neely never discuss healthful alternatives to their fat and sugar laden recipes, though African-Americans are particularly at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Long before Essence Magazine thought a white woman could represent the fashion tastes of its audience, popular Black Media has been absent in any movement for the betterment of Black people - or any people.  We have been satisfied with just seeing color representations of ourselves on television and on magazine pages, and have not held the people who hold our eyes and ears to their social and political responsibilities.  Selecting Ms. Placas is only the latest disrespect and disregard of our community.  Frankly we deserve it.  We have not thought to demand more.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Where is personal responsibility?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest announced last week that it will file suit against McDonald's if the company does not stop using Happy Meal toys to promote their kids' meals.  The organization likens McDonald's practice to "the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children."

U.S. lawmakers are considering requiring hybrid cars to have synthetic car sounds because the usually quiet cars are endangering cyclists and pedestrians.

Parents complain misbehaving celebrities are poor role models.  The fast food industry gets blamed for the country's obesity epidemic. Schools are doing something wrong if students are not doing well. What ever happened to personal responsibility and accountability?  It seems everyone wants to pass on blame for their own poor choices.

Here are some novel ideas: Say no to your kid when they ask for McDonald's, or go and make a healthy choice from the menu.  Get off the phone, turn down your iPod, look both ways before you cross, and pay attention when you walk on the street.  Use all your senses on the road and don't wait for a revving engine or blaring horn to bring you back to consciousness. Teach your children the importance of education, to respect others, and to make good choices.

We have gone from a society that took responsibility for others beyond ourselves, to a society of people not wanting to accept responsibility even for our own food consumption.  Now I know this argument taken to its extreme could be construed as uncharacteristically un-socialist of me, but I think personal responsibility does not negate government responsibility in matters affecting the public good.  Government agencies are right to encourage the decreased use of trans fats in foods. Consumers are responsible for their portion sizes and should be able to avoid getting hit by a Prius.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hope against hope

Christopher 'Dudus' Coke is in U.S. custody and Jamaicans at home and abroad are hoping that his detention will prove cathartic for the island. Fingers are crossed that he will sing a song in his defense that will reverberate through Jamaica's House of Parliament, shaking loose the old guards of corruption. I'm not feeling hopeful.

Corruption, crime and human degradation are rife in Jamaica. They are not confined to politicians. Police officers assume drivers will be willing to pay a bribe to avoid a ticket. A visit to a government office comes with an expectation of long lines, rude and inept workers and lots of inefficient processes. Drivers are required to keep constant watch for red light runners and those who create and speed through shoulder lanes. Barbarians with guns terrorize communities, while their violence and disrespect of women is lauded in the music blaring at dance hall sessions. How will the attitudes that have been tolerating these behaviors be culled out to reveal a new way of thinking and living for Jamaicans?

Let's say Dudus' song does ensnare a long list of politicians, and vacancies abound in parliament.  Then what? Is there an educated populace ready and able to take the reins and move the country forward? More importantly, will those who step into the void have the support of Jamaicans to cut the new path.  Are Jamaicans ready to do things differently?

As the saying goes, "if wishes were horses..."  We can all hope for the best in Jamaica, but I have not been hearing/seeing on the discussion boards, Facebook pages, or in editorials any realization that the hard work will have to start with Joe Average. Change the constitution, change the instruments of policy, but if residents are not cognizant of their role in the process it will go nowhere.

I want to be hopeful, but taking one criminal off the streets doesn't yet throw up rainbows for me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

If it's broke sign the papers

I never assume that I know what's going on in anyone's home - not my neighbors, not my friends, and certainly not people I only know through the media.  I have to admit though, that Al and Tipper Gore threw me for a loop.  Who doesn't remember "The Kiss" at the 2000 Democratic National Convention? And most of us assume that after couples make it to 40 years they are pretty much on the "til death do us part" home stretch. Surprise! Not so.  The Gores show that these days up until death you can still part. And I think that's great.

Disclosure: My own parents divorced while I was in my early teens.  My husband says this tainted me on marriage, and makes me more embracing of divorce.

I don't think I am tainted at all.  After all, I did adjust my early-held opinions on the institution, and bet on marriage myself.  I have not always felt like I was winning that bet, and that is reasonably expected.  For me, having divorce on my drop-down menu (my husband's words) makes marriage a choice, not a life sentence. I know what a bad marriage looks like - couples who are never in the same place at the same time, husbands who cannot stand the sound of their wife's voice, wives who turn a blind eye to philandering husbands - and I see a lot of them around. I wish those couples would do the Gore and just cut each other loose.

Life expectancy in the United States now stands at just under 80 years old. Considering that the last national census indicated the average ages at first marriage for men and women were 27 and 25 respectively, 40 years of marriage only takes a couple to their late 60s. Good physical and mental health prevailing, that leaves at least 20 good years that ought not to be squandered tolerating or putting up with anything or anyone.

Spouses can come up with a hundred new reasons to stay in a bad marriage - from laziness to fear - but Al and Tipper have now taken 'we've been married for so long' off the table.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

When is collateral damage acceptable?

I wished someone dead...or at least harmed.  Actually, it was more than one person; it was a whole community of people.  In the moment the thought formed in my mind I felt bad about it, but then it found words and air. Then surprisingly, they also found agreement.  Jamaicans living abroad are distressed about the ongoing Dudus Affair and most of us don't hold much hope for satisfactory resolution.

After months of dirty politicking, scandals of conflicting interests, and rumors of high level blackmail and illegal favors, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke's extradition process has started and a warrant signed for his arrest.  The response from the Tivoli and Denham Town communities has been stunning - like the implausible plot of a really bad movie.  Members of these communities have blocked access to roads in and out in a show of displeasure with the government's decision, and supposedly to prevent the police or army from taking Coke into custody.

While there is some report that some residents may have been coerced into joining the picket lines, it does not seem to be true for the majority of demonstrators.  As is often the case with kingpins of criminal groups, Coke has doled out just enough cash and favors to buy the misguided loyalty of the uneducated and unemployable masses too ignorant to realize that his handouts have given them nothing beyond some chicken dinners and maybe a few pieces of clothes.  There are no reports of schools being built or outfitted with books or computers in Tivoli.  There is no Coke Technical Training Center in Denham Town.  The news of young men and women from Tivoli and Denham Town graduating from university on the Dudus Educational Scholarship has yet to be broadcasted. He has given them fish, but they are too simpleminded to realize that what they need are the resources to fish on their own.  He has supposedly provided protection for the members of these communities; no one seems to realize that it is he and others involved in criminal activities that are the real source of the danger.

So the rest of us stand on the outside slackjawed at the pictures and news of people offering up their lives and their children's lives in protection of 'President Dudus.'  First it was the government that was willing to hold the country hostage, but now it is the citizens that are willing to pick a fight with the United States over a man that is widely known to be a criminal.  These are not a people looking for or demanding a responsible government or better social services and education  These are a people satisfied to wallow in their destituteness and gather crumbs from gangsters.  It is hard to be hopeful.  It is hard to to see a Jamaica beyond the preposterous murder rate, corrupt politicians, and a seeming aversion to meaningful progress.

It is that hopelessness that leads to thoughts of razing entire communities and starting fresh. It is the lack of any vision of how to fix Jamaica that leads to musings that the casualties of an unlikely US-lead incursion into Tivoli to seize Coke may be worth the price.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not one of those people

Does the how and why of foreigners’ immigration to the United States shape their views on immigration policy? While Hispanic groups have reacted ferociously and spoken out loudly against Arizona’s new xenophobic immigration laws, I have not heard anything from other associations that represent West Indian, Asian and African groups. My social and familial circle, which includes a large proportion of immigrants, has been mute on the topic.

I suspect this is because foreign-born residents do not see themselves as part of a collective group. Jamaicans who move to the United States for all kinds of reasons – from a sense of elitism, to the desire for better economic circumstances – view themselves as different from Haitians who risk life and limb in patched boats to Florida to escape their country’s social and economic instability. Asians who are wooed to the United States for technical and industrial jobs view themselves as different from Mexicans who cross the border to take menial jobs in meat packing plants and on fruit farms.

Surely, the legal status of the groups has something to do with the perceptions, but it also has to do with choice: which group chooses to move to the United States, and which group, in large part, is forced to come because of political violence, a bad economy, or other poor conditions in their home country. People who choose to move to the United States are usually of better economic circumstances – before and after they move. They are not typically the faces you see on television in ICE raids, or as the faces of the needy; and if they overstay their visas or have other immigration problems, they can usually afford legal representation.

Racial prejudices are also an undeniable part of the immigration equation. Cubans who arrive on the Florida shores the same way Haitians do have an easier time of settling and assimilating because they look like the majority of politicians, decision-makers, police officers, and others in positions of power. Similarly, no one ever thinks of white Europeans as immigrants and they are never the face of immigration woes.

As a society, we – including foreign-born residents – have decided that some immigrants are tolerable and others are not. Arizona’s law is a great example of how policy decisions are made on factors that have little to do with border protection, and more to do with keeping specific people out. Consider: a white British male and a Hispanic male, both walking down the street in Arizona; of which of these is a police officer likely to have a “reasonable suspicion” of illegal immigration status? On what basis do you think the officer would make that determination?

American-born Blacks are keen to the threats the Arizona laws represent to civil liberties, and have joined Hispanic groups in decrying them. Where are the rest of us “other people?” While we may not see ourselves as all in the same boat, surely we are not naïve enough to think that the non-brown, non-foreign language speaking ones among us are exempt from a growing anti-immigration sentiment. For many Americans, the gates that were once flung open to the tired and poor huddled masses yearning to be free should now be closed to preserve jobs, ease the strain on social services and protect the English language – it doesn’t matter how or why you got here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Big footprints splash oil

They talk about preservation so certainly they care; but mansion walls and floors are decorated with the body parts of endangered animals. They talk about conservation so surely they recognize its importance; but it is so much work to unplug televisions, desktops, laptops, chargers and coffee makers after every use. They talk about new energy sources, so undoubtedly they see the need; but wind turbines spoil ocean views and endanger little birds.

As a gunky oil slick larger than the island of Jamaica slimes its way across the Louisiana/Alabama/Florida coastline, everyone watches in horror. There is a disconnect between the heartbreak at the environmental ruin and the country’s insatiable oil appetite. Species of animals have died out in this generation and everyone thinks they are doing their part if they give money to a telethon fundraiser or pay for a membership at their city zoo.

Residents of the land of the free have taken that all too literally. Nothing is really free, none of us are free from our obligations to the planet, and we will certainly not be free of the harsh environmental consequences of our behaviors.

‘They’ must become ‘we.’ Talk must be replaced with active commitment to reducing our energy consumption. We must shun companies with poor environmental records and reward those utilizing innovative solutions to environmental concerns. We must buy food that is grown and produced in the most responsible ways. We must not underestimate the role we each have to play, and must become aware of everything we each can do to lessen our footprint on the earth.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jamaica, a lost cause?

Recently I got a history and current affairs lesson and update on the happenings surrounding Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, who many Jamaicans believe is holding the country hostage, with the help of the JLP government.  Cliff Notes version: Coke is wanted by the United States government on drug charges.  The Jamaican government has refused to hand him over on the grounds that the evidence against Coke was illegally attained.

I have maintained my position in every conversation I have had on this issue that Jamaica, as a sovereign nation, has the right to demand its laws be followed and refuse extradition of a citizen if they are not.  No one disagrees with me on principal, but mistrust of Jamaica's government runs so deep that there is a prevailing certainty that the refusal to extradite has very little to do with asserting state sovereignty or legalities.  Stories about pay-offs, black-mail and political party loyalties are rampant and people are largely resentful of the JLP administration's actions on the matter - especially now that the U.S. seems to be retaliating by revoking visas from and refusing to give visas to prominent Jamaican business people and entertainers.

The chocking hold that decades of corruption have had on the country has just about squeezed the last breath of trust and hope from Jamaicans. We tell our children "there is no such thing as can't." We want them to face every obstacle with an attitude of confidence and determination, but we all accept that there are things we cannot do. There are many things we do not feel confident we can change. There are some things that make us feel hopeless and resigned. Many Jamaicans - on the island and living abroad - think of their country with that resignation and heart ache. With a spiraling economy, decreasing access to good and affordable healthcare, and an ever-worsening crime problem I am hard-pressed to find a Jamaican resident who is not seriously thinking about leaving, or a Jamaican living abroad who is not firmly decided never to return for more than a few days at a time. 

The Dudus affair is only the most recent layer of icing on the cake however, and Jamaica's problems do not rest squarely on the shoulders of the government.  The country's decline has been steady and apparent to all of us.  The beginning was clear in the erosion of simple courtesies and respect for self and others.  Jamaicans joke as much as complain about the lack of customer service in stores and government agencies.  We have come to accept dishonesty and outstretched hands from everyone from our garbage men to our government representatives.  We have taken on coarse language, the disrespect of women, and calls for violence as part of our musical culture.  Those of us who know better are willing to rely on, even call for, censorship, because we do not trust the masses to reject the tasteless foolishness. Those who live in Jamaica lock their grills, cross their fingers and hope for the best against crime and violence.  Jamaicans living abroad know to dig deep for the thickest version of our accents and try to blend in as much as possible when we visit lest we are harassed or worse. Jobs, particularly for the college-educated, are hard to find and prices on basic necessities make them beyond the reach of many.

Criticisms, indictments and laments do no more for progress than calling in to one of Jamaican's daytime radio shows however, so what should be done?  Is there any hope for progress and positive change in Jamaica?  How should that change begin?  Who bears the responsibility for sparking the change needed?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rights in the eyes of the beholder

A Colorado group, Personhood USA, has garnered enough signatures to put a proposition for an abortion ban on this year's election ballot.  The ballot item seeks to give unborn fetuses human rights in the state's constitution over the rights of women to have abortions.  The group hopes to put similar propositions on ballots in 40 other states, including Florida, California, Montana, Missouri and Mississippi. Personhood USA is not unique. Anti-abortionists have fought against and around Roe v Wade since it became law in 1973.

Anti-abortionists, pro fetus rights activists bewilder me. Their arguments and beliefs are, to my mind, inconsistent and contradictory.  Even their chosen identifier - pro-lifer - implies that to disagree with them is to be against life, but their considerations seem only to cover one of the lives concerned in an abortion decision.  

Activists against abortion rights, usually right-wing conservatives, argue that a fetus is a person with rights, and that the mother - merely a carrier - should have no right to terminate or discontinue its development.  They are usually the same people who argue that parents should be free to educate, proselytize, and medicate their children as they deem fit, without interference from schools, government agencies, and others. By their argument, a parent of a walking, talking, thinking child has more rights to direct that child's life than a pregnant woman has to make a decision regarding an organism within her body.

Those who argue that abortions are morally irresponsible are the usually the same people who cry for fiscal responsibility in government and for fewer social services. By their argument, a poor woman who becomes pregnant should not be allowed to terminate her pregnancy - even if she knows she is financially unable to support a child - and the government should not be allowed to provide social services, such as health care, to her and the child.

The same mouths that argue vehemently that healthcare reform makes America a "little less free" amazingly argue with the same conviction and intensity that a woman should not be allowed to determine when she is fit and able to be a mother. According to them, the federal government does not have the right to make you carry health insurance to your own benefit, but they should have the right to make you become a parent.

It does not matter if one agrees that abortion as medical procedure is right or not.  It does not matter if one would have an abortion, or support a loved one having one, or not.  It does not matter if one believes there are better options than abortion available in cases of unwanted pregnancies.  A woman's right to do as she deems best with her own body and life is the single matter of consequence in the abortion debate.  As long as the organism within her relies on her for sustenance and life a woman should have the untethered right of choice.  The strength of America's freedoms is reliant on our commitment to protecting everyone's rights to act as they please within the law - whether we like and agree with them or not.  We cannot be selective with our principles.  Freedoms, privacy, and fiscal responsibility cannot be applied like quilt patches just to make ourselves feel comfortable.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

(Un)fit to serve

Mistress Rielle Hunter's photos in GQ magazine has dragged the John Edwards affair back into the news.  (For which Tiger Woods must be grateful.) Now turncoat Andrew Young gets another 15 seconds to shill his book and wring out the remnants of media interest.

I find it interesting that Young's betrayal of Edward's trust has not drawn the same consternation as Edward's betrayal of his wife's trust.  It could be that Elizabeth Edward's ongoing battle with cancer makes her a particularly sympathetic victim, or that most people believe that trust between friends carries less weight than trust between spouses. (I hope none of my friends think that.) Either way, Andrew Young is as much a crud as John Edwards.  He was complicit in John Edward's affair, went to great lengths to try to cover it up, then at the first opportunity sought to benefit financially from it. I wouldn't let him sell me a car.

The other interesting aspect of the story is how appalled people are at how close the cheating bastard came to being president.  America has a long tradition of using a morality ruler to determine political fitness. A candidate or incumbent is far more likely to lose constituent support for stepping outside the parameters of acceptable social behaviors than for his/her agenda or political record. If DNA testing had existed then, revered President Thomas Jefferson (and author of the Declaration of Independence) would have been ousted over his affair with Sally Hemmings, which he had denied.  In recent weeks former Reps. Eric Massa and Hiram Monserrate, both of New York, found themselves out of favor and out of office for groping male aides and for roughing up a girlfriend respectively. Their voting records and platform mattered little.

But is someone inclined to an affair, or other socially-inappropriate behavior, incapable of carrying out the functions of political office?  Thousands of financially successful corporations are lead by men and women whose morality is considered far less important than their effectiveness on the bottom line.  With mid-term elections coming in November and the balance of government up for grabs, horns will lock and dirt will fly on the campaign trails. We must focus on the issues though. And the issues are big: jobs, the economy, manufacturing, education, and responsible energy use and production. We have to be a responsible electorate.  We must refuse to be fed a stream of information that has no bearing on progress and growth. We must be knowledgeable about the factors that affect us, our families, and our communities and know which candidate's agenda will serve us best. I would vote for John Edwards if he were running in my constituency. I wouldn't marry him or introduce him to my sister, but I agree with his stance on the issues that most affect me. That's what  most important.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Big Fat Truth

First Vanity Fair slighted the fledgling young actress by leaving her off the cover of their pre-Oscar "New Hollywood" issue.  Then the news wires and entertainment shows were abuzz about Howard Stern's comments about her weight.  Gabourey Sidibe's foray into acting, while heralded for it's substantive quality, has also highlighted the question about looks, weight, and size in 'Hollywood' - used collectively for the entertainment industry.

Howard Stern, who is popular especially for instigating controversy, described the Oscar nominee as 'enormous' and predicts she will never get another acting role.  Stern's comments, while likely to discomfort and to hurt feelings, were neither inappropriate nor baseless. She is enormous.  The fact of fat is no more inappropriate than the fact of race. You're either black or you are not. Beyond the middle ground of 'plump' or 'curvy,' you're either fat or you're not. As for whether Ms. Sidibe will ever work again, I suppose none of us can be sure, but to bet against her would not be a careless bet.  The title character in the movie Precious was a 300+lb black girl.  I don't remember seeing that before, and I don't expect to see it again any time soon.  Based on their ratio in movies released every year, there are not a lot of roles for black women. Even the normal-sized ones.

Rather than villifying the shock jock for his comments (on his show on satellite radio), we should be having a conversation about whether or not the people we see on television and film truly represent the larger (pun intended) public.  Do Hollywood women represent the average American woman at 162.9 pounds and size 14?  Does Hollywood even need to be representative; or are we okay with images that are aspirational and fanciful?  Maybe we should be talking about why a display of temper by a popular athlete is chastised as a poor example, but there are no requirements for those in the limelight who display poor messages about health and wellness.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Is President Obama underserving Black America?

Some of Black America's most prominent citizens are debating whether or not the country's first black president has abandoned black people.  Does President Obama need to have a Black Agenda? And if he does, should he 'ballyhoo' that agenda?

On the campaign trail, Candidate Barack Obama repeatedly vowed to be a president to all citizens, hoping to squelch concerns that he would open the White House offices and coffers to black people.  Even then, Obama was jumping through, or ducking under, hoops that had not been part of the course for previous presidential candidates and presidents.

The Obama administration has hung its hat on big social issues that, if successful, will be beneficial to Americans of all hues.  Universal healthcare, creating jobs, and improving the economy are clearly not racial issues.  There is no denying however, that black and brown people's most significant challenges are based on those issues.  Addressing health and jobs will undoubtedly improve minorities' quality of life.  While it is true that minorities are often left behind in the wake of policies and recoveries, much of the responsibility of on-the-ground initiatives that most affect people's everyday lives rests with local representatives and agencies - not with the president.

Beyond those general issues, should the president and his administration be concerned with matters of concern to only Black Americans?  I have to admit I do not know what those issues might be, but I believe strongly that all our interests are intertwined.  It may be fair to assert that white administrators and presidents past did not act in the best interest of all people - their perspective being narrowed by their race and resulting privilege.  A black president must, by virtue of his own wider perspective, be able to serve everyone. 

Whether we accept that there is a legitimate Black Agenda that requires the president's attention or not, the fact is a black president who touts one makes himself a political martyr.  With the challenges of the past year, I would hope that black opinion-makers do not add to the clamor of dissent fueled solely by race, but rather stand strongly in support of those policy changes that promise to make life better for all Americans.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The dynamics of friendship in the Facebook Age

Say you are throwing a party to mark an important life milestone and, of course, you want to celebrate with your family and friends.  How many of your Facebook (or Twitter, or MySpace) friends would be on your guest list?  Do your 'nearest and dearest' actually number several hundreds?  Of course, some people use social networking sites for business purposes and their friend list may include clients, co-workers and other associates.  Also, by it's very definition social networking lets us expand our circle of friends.  However, with security being a serious concern among most internet users, most Facebookers are not accepting cold requests. So, how many friends are actually on your Facebook friends list?

Thousands of elementary school and high school classmates, neighborhood playmates, and former co-workers have reconnected on Facebook, essentially countering some of the natural evolution that occurs in associations when people change schools or jobs, or move. I'm not sure that is necessarily a good thing.  The natural evolution of some things, is sometimes a good thing. After all, isn't there often a very good reason we don't maintain some connections?

Facebook has created for some people, myself included, an awkward interaction with people we barely knew, vaguely remember, and sometimes did not like.  I have accepted more than one friend request while still trying to figure out who had sent it.  Social networking has redefined the parameters of friendship. Our friends lists include gym mates, a friend's ex-girlfriend, distant relatives, and our Starbucks barista; making it necessary to manuever through ever-changing privacy settings to sort everyone into groups.

Having open conversations, making status updates and posting pictures in a medium open to people I have not spoken to in years - if ever - feels like living in a house with people I don't speak to. Yet, declining friend requests or 'unfriending' people makes me uncomfortable - much like a high school girl who wants to be cool with everybody.  Truthfully, thanks to Facebook, I have made new friends of old acquaintances and that has been great.  On the other hand, I have often been made to wonder why some people sent me a friend request since they never try to communicate further.

It used to be that friends were people you wanted to spend time with; people you knew well, and who knew you well; people you could call for bail money or to just cry with you; people your mother could call if she couldn't reach you; people you spoke openly and honestly to; people you invited to your house and did not tidy up for; people who knew your children's names and ages. Online social networking has certainly changed that. Now a friend can be someone who you don't even want seeing your contact information.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Uncle Claude's lessons to live by

Three years ago today my mother's brother passed away after a valiant battle with brain cancer. It would have been difficult to lose any member of my mother's tight-knit extended family, but by cause of geography and personality I had grown particularly close to my Uncle Claude. His illness and subsequent death were devastating, but his influence is as profound on my life today as it was when I would stop by his house on my way from work or school. We talked about everything – love, sex, marriage, work and money - and he never missed an opportunity to give me advice. I learned just as much from what he said, as from how he lived.

Uncle Claude preached and lived the importance of education. He encouraged and praised its pursuit among family, co-workers and friends, and that encouragement was often accompanied by financial support. A registered nurse himself for many years, his life circumstances had him take a circuitous route to graduate school. One of the biggest smiles I had ever seen on his face was on his graduation day. He was 56 years old.

Beyond the high-minded reasons for wanting to get an education, Uncle Claude believed that higher education was the gateway to financial independence and a comfortable life.  He had a practical approach to money: it is important and necessary to maintain a desirable quality of life, but it should not control your life. He discouraged incurring debt, but by word and example encouraged those around him to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  He emphasized responsibility and self reliance, but placed more value on family than things; more on living life richly than on accumulating wealth. He took pleasure in traveling across the state, across the country, or across the world to be with family and friends. He bought the cars he loved and electronics and gadgets that made his life easier. He was generous with his blessings. Yet he left no financial burden for his family.

There is a redeeming quality in every single person and Uncle Claude could always find it.  He saw potential where others could  not, and was always mentoring and encouraging someone to do more and go further. From friends and family who had strayed off the path to their goals to inmates at the South Florida Reception Center where he worked, he believed it was never too late to get your act together and do something positive with your life.  His faith in people was unshakeable even as he was often disappointed.

His tendency to give one more chance is no doubt tied to his realization and acceptance of his own flawed character. I admired that my uncle readily owned his mistakes and was arrant in using them as life lessons for others. I loved that he was imperfect and did not feel the need, like many of his generation, to hide his failings from the many young people he sought to influence. I have found myself passing on in word selection and straightforward attitude much of the advice he gave to me on to my sisters, my cousins and my godson. That this person who I so loved and admired was capable of making egregious errors in judgment, removed for me, all the excuses that come with pursuing perfection and experiencing the inevitable failures.

More than anything he taught me in life, it is in his passing that I learned his most invaluable lesson.  Death forfeits the fight. It eliminates your chances to give second chances. It takes away the ‘one day’ you plan to really start living your life. It deprives us of opportunities to change the outcome. Everything you want to do and everything you know you need to do is urgent today. That is my Uncle Claude’s greatest legacy and lesson.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

This is going to sting a little

I knew very early in my life that I would suck as a politician. My mother told me. Success in politics means getting elected and re-elected, more than it means legislating in the best interest of constituents. I used to rant on and on about the illegal fishing village that blighted what could have been a scenic view of Hunts Bay along the causeway that connects Portmore, St. Catherine with Kingston. I could not understand why the powers that be could not, or would not, level the shacks that presented traffic and health hazards and keep the inhabitants from returning. (As it turns out, the fishing village was finally moved in late 2009 to allow for highway construction.) My mother tried at the time to explain please-the-people politics to me, but it did not make sense to me that government would act against people's long term best interest to win political points in the short term. Surely, it was a just a Jamaican thing.

When I worked with a utility in a large United States municipality, I was confused when raising rates was weighed in the context of losing votes, even though the money was needed for federally mandated capital improvements. Politicians and bureaucrats made an assessment that more votes would be lost by raising the rates, than by continued poor service, and federal fines. Surely, it was just a local government thing.

For better or for worse, the Obama administration has made implementing health care reform the idée fixe of their first year in office. As the debate has raged on, dissenters muddied the waters, raised unwarranted fears, then said they could not vote for a health care bill their constituents don’t support. Because of the price tag and complexity, the health care bill was a hard sell to begin with. Rather than engage in intelligent discourse about its merits and the possible immediate and long term benefits to the American public, politicians pandered to the party line and to the short-term, mis/uninformed whim of constituents. As President Obama pointed out in Wednesday’s State of the Union address, the health bill has never been good politics. Taxes, economic incentives for businesses, increased utility rates, reduced bus routes are other things that are often not popular with the public, and hence not good politics.

It must be a quandary for the best-intentioned politicians: how do they do what is best for their constituents – even when voters do not realize it is for their own good – and still win votes. For politicians whose only intention is to maintain their clutch on power, access and benefits of office, there is no such conflict. It is the electorate that must make the difference. We must become educated citizens who understand that sometimes long term gains must be prefaced by some discomfort. Immediate gratification should not be the driving incentive for supporting or opposing policy, or politicians. Our representatives must be required to show substantive long-term solutions for their time in office, not just feel good bits that leave problems unresolved. We must grow up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The price of politics

The success of a company is determined by how much it makes. The success of CEOs, boards of directors, and entrepreneurs is measured by profits. A corporation's sole reason for existence is to make money. It is to be assumed that any and all their actions are underlined by that singular motive. Even so called good-will gestures by corporations are aimed at maintaining a positive public image, which has direct profit correlations. It is not a large leap to see that the choice a company makes to financially support a politician's election campaign will be made to serve its bottom-line, not the general good of the American public. It is true that those two goals may be one and the same on occasion, but invariably where there is a choice to be made between the two, a company will choose profit - as it should. Companies make political contributions to be able to have access to politicians and to shape policy that ensure their future profitability.

The Supreme Court's ruling on January 21 that allows corporations to spend limitless amounts of money in support of political candidates undermines the democratic process. There is a reason millions of dollars is poured into advertising for elections. Those are not wasted dollars; voters are in fact influenced by the messages that bombard them over and over again in the months and weeks leading up to an election. As we saw in the last presidential election, even after ads are pulled for inaccuracy or inappropriate statements, they continue to influence what people think about the candidates in a race. The general public is far more likely to see and get information about the candidates and the issues from a commercial, than from a credible news source.

When a corporation is allowed to invest in the election of a candidate, they are, in essence, being allowed to buy the public's attention, and votes. Candidates may now find themselves running against large corporations with deep pockets and endless resources. Will any candidate be able to match the dollars to get his message out adequately if his opposition is supported by a corporation, let alone entire industries? To assume that letting companies inject millions into election campaigns does not come with the expectation of reciprocity is to put more faith than most of us have in politicians, and to expect corporations to not act in their own financial best interest. What will the inevitable return on investment for the corporations mean for the good of the American public?

The only good thing about the Supreme Court's ruling is that the public will get to see more clearly who is up for sale.

Monday, January 25, 2010

For whom the death knell sounds

Was it arrogance that caused the Democratics to lose the Massachusetts seat held by the late Senator Ted Kennedy for almost 50 years? Did the party not realize that hard economic times and scepticism about health care reform has faded the state's blue tradition? Whatever the reasons, President Obama and the Democratic Party now find themselves without the protection of a filbuster majority as they try to push ahead with controversial legislation and attempts to fix the economy.

It seems particularly ominous that Scott Brown won in a special election to represent a state that mandated universal health care in 2006 (with Brown's vote and support), by promising to vote against a similar national health care plan fought for by his predecessor. The late senator must be rolling over in his grave. Sitting parties are always vulnerable when the economy is doing poorly, and the Obama administration is also faced with a voting public who did not necessarily agree with the bank bailouts and are disgusted by the obnoxious bonuses being mete out in the financial industry. They have also been frightened by misinformation and confusion about an expensive and cumbersome health care plan. With mid-term elections coming in November, and the economic forecast still showing rainy days ahead, Democrats have a tough row to hoe if they want to maintain their tenuous majority.

Many of the people who handed out buttons, made phone calls from party offices across the country, and wept in the streets at the prospect of electing the first black president, have now gone back to their politically inactive lives. The excitement is all over and the waggonists have abandoned the work that needs to be done. While President Obama's election mobilized the political right, democrats on the Hill and on the streets rested on their laurels despite the big issues at stake. There has been no uprising to defend the things upon which President Obama campaigned and won, such as healthcare reform and economy recovery. There has been no answer to the Teabagger movement; no animated, angry left.

To be true agents of change we must go beyond turning up to elect the president. We must be educated constituents that understand large global and national issues. We must be able to understand how larger issues connect to our quality of life - our jobs, taxes, housing, and health. Every election - municipal, state, federal - is important. Every issue is worth our attention. We cannot be so lazy as to hold a president to campaign promises, without providing the support needed to accomplish them.

Massachusetts is behind us, but there is much ahead to lose or to accomplish. What we do next will sound the death knell for real progress, or the rallying cry towards a truly historic period of American history.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

West Indian in America

For us football is actually played with your feet, and many of us would rather watch Manchester United on television than the Dallas Cowboys. We don't quite get baseball, but fully get that a cricket match can go for days. We are more likely to serve cornmeal pudding or rum cake, than apple pie for dessert. We know tea is not necessarily from a bag, but could be cocoa, chocolate or anything hot and in a mug. Our recollections and longings are peppered with references to 'back home, and around countrymen our speech takes on a distinct cadence as we relax into the rhythmic hybrid of homeland dialect and broken English. We are West Indians in America.

According the Census Bureau's 2000 report on the foreign born population, approximately 2.8 million people from the Caribbean live in the United States. That number does not include U.S.-born children of Caribbean immigrants who consider themselves West Indians, or those the Census Bureau did not reach due to some missing immigration paperwork. It is also not hard to believe that many more people from the islands have emigrated to the United States over the last 10 years.

We come to the States in pursuit of prosperity, education, and sometimes love. While we predominantly live in big metropolitan areas, there is a West Indian to be found in every corner of the United States. We are lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, chefs, administrators, engineers, and politicians. You name a job, a West Indian is doing it - and maybe on double shifts.

While most of us are happy abroad, we know a truth that many people living back home are reluctant to believe. Life in the United States is not all bliss and Kellogg's corn flakes. Those of us who grew up in the islands often miss aspects of our life back home - regardless of how difficult that life may have been. It is not unusal to hear West Indians pine for the more relaxed pace of the Caribbean.

For many West Indians, living in America also presents moral, political and spiritual considerations that were untested in our usually conservative communities back home. Creation vs evolution, gay marriage vs domestic partnership, affirmative action, and race relations are most often items for the overseas, rather than local section of our home country's newspapers. We have not established ourselves as a voting bloc, like Hispanics for example, quite likely because our views are splintered. Those who migrated in the 70s, and 80s are likely to be conservative, particularly about fiscal issues, gay rights, religious liberty, and abortion. Younger immigrants and the children of earlier immigrants are likely to have more liberal views.

Though we sometimes experience racism, without the historical prospective of the periods of the Jim Crow South, and the Civil Rights Movement, West Indians often have a more optimistic view of race relations. For example, affirmative action and reparations are issues on which African-Americans and West Indians don't always agree. In fact, West Indian emigrants often experience prejudices from African-Americans, largely due to differing points of view on social and political issues.

Over many decades West Indians emigrants have become part of the fabric of this country. With Haiti's desperate situation in the news, concerns about an influx of Haitians seeking refuge in the United States are being raised. Discussions about border security, immigration policy, and illegal immigrants are constant, but now with the attention focused on Haiti I am increasinly uncomfortable. I am one of the outsiders many born-Americans want to keep out. The discussions of illegal entry intermingle with proposals for putting limits on people emigrating to the United States and the resentment of some is not difficult to see.

Despite all the challenges and sacrifices, we make our lives here. Our tax dollars and our hard work help to build this country. Our children are born here. We leave our lives behind in the countries of our birth, and most of us will never go back. We are naturalized citizens, resident aliens, out of status permanent visitors. We are West Indians in the U.S.A.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Citizens of the world

I have missed living in South Florida more over the past week than I have at any other moment in the 18 months since my family moved to New Jersey. The contrast between life in South Florida and life here in these Northeast suburbs has been amplified by the earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday, January 12.

In the days immediately following the quake I went about expecting to hear discussions about the disaster in Haiti, about local relief efforts, about the need for volunteers to do something...anything. The silence was deafening. I looked around for signs at the local library, fire department, high school, and churches showing prayer and support for Haiti. There was a glaring absence of any. A whole community, it seemed, was some how collectively unaware, or collectively choosing to ignore the plight of a neighbor. I know things were different in Miami.

A week after the earthquake, some e-mailers and callers into the National Public Radio show Talk of the Nation made the apparent detachment of my neighborhood seem generous by comparison. One writer lamented everyone's political correctness, arguing that with more than a million Haitians already living in the United States we should not be letting in anymore. Others questioned how much aid should be given to a country which cannot seem to get its act together. Even people who seemed to want to say the right thing sounded patronizing: "I live near Little Haiti (in South Florida) and they are quiet, and smart, and creative."

Today the concept of a global economy is apparent from the moment we put on our underwear in the morning. Social networking websites make it possible to connect with people everywhere and anywhere around the globe. Travel, migration and the Travel Channel give everyone opportunities to expand their cultural references. Despite all that, ignorance, hatred, irrational fears and indifference are still evident in the idiotic spoutings of the likes of Pat Robertson, in the apathy of entire communities towards the distress of others, and in our unwillingness to let go of racial and cultural stereotypes.

Thankfully, as the world continues to shrink it will become increasingly difficult for those who see the world in terms of 'us and them', or who prefer to turn a blind eye, to maintain their view.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Are you supportive or destructive?

It is still early January and the ink is still wet on those New Years' resolutions. What did you do when your friends and family shared their resolutions with you? Did you roll your eyes when your overweight girlfriend said she's resolving to lose 50 lbs.? Did you chuckle when your chain-smoking brother said he would quit smoking in 2010? Did you remind your sister that she said the same thing last year when she mentioned she would be going back to school this year?

You can play a supporting or destructive role in helping others achieve their goals. Every snicker or unsupportive word has the potential to kill somebody's dream. Several studies have shown that social support can be key in weight loss. I'm willing to bet that theory applies to other goals as well. We all do better if we feel supported by those we love.

If you think a goal or resolution is unreasonable, then offer guidance - not criticism. Say to your friend, "Weight loss is often difficult to plan, why not resolve instead to see a nutritionist to learn about healthy eating, and to do some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes every day."

If you are tired of hearing your sister talk about going back to school to get her Master's, help her make tangible plans. Ask her if she has already decided on a course of study and a school; and for a specific date by which she will complete the application process.

If you have no faith that someone can or even intends to accomplish a goal or keep a resolution, then don't say anything.

Your words can carry so much weight for those who love you and value your opinion. You can be responsible for encouraging someone to achieve, or be responsible for stepping on and shattering their goals. Which one are you resolving to be?