‘Futureland’ and a co-worker’s racism harsh my Obama high

January 21, 2009

futurelandFROM JASON’S GRITTED TEETH — My outlook swings day-to-day from gloriously optimism to blood-boiling pessimism.

Yesterday, watching Obama take control of the mess into which the executive branch had fallen, was a good day. In the evening, I told Andrew I believe we’ve done much more than we realize to eliminate racism in this country, or at least make it so socially odious that it might as well not exist.

Today, however, was a pessimistic day as my idealism was smashed. In the cubicle next door, I heard a co-worker raving about an encounter with a client he labeled “a damned Arab.”

“They’re all terrorists. Even the children… You can’t trust any of them. I don’t know why they have to call me, talking all Arab. We should blow them all up,” he said.

I am sheltered. I normally associate with people of extreme education, raised in a strict environment of social correctness. This co-worker’s words were alien and loathsome. There was nothing in them to which I could connect on any level.

They were not the starry-eyed hope I felt during Tuesday’s inauguration. This co-worker clearly does not agree with Obama’s words: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and latino America and asian America — there’s the United States of America.”

The fever of the inauguration had given me a temporary peace. But my co-worker’s words jogged me into a blacker vision for our nation’s future, one that’s been reinforced in the last week while reading an excellent science fiction work by Walter Mosley, titled Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World.

This dystopia is no Idiocracy; it’s a world of corrupt geniuses and the helpless victims pulled into their sphere of influence. Futureland is a place of designer brain-viruses, corporate city-states and megalomaniacal dictators, genetically-engineered slaves, and politically oppressed masses.

It’s a place where children are drafted into government cabals; where the race and gender divides have exploded; where the Supreme Court allows citizenry to be revoked from anyone the authorities deem socially dangerous; where property rights have been all but abolished; where pre-teens live in underground concentration camp castes while the rich cavorte in the streets above; and where science and religion have been merged into one InfoChurch to keep the desperate under thumb.

Some days Mosley’s futurescape seems laughable. Others — when a co-worker reveals such ill-masked, torturous hate — his grim vision seems as imminent as the vignets he ties together in this book. And then I wonder whether we’ve really progressed at all as a nation, or whether we’ve simply deluded ourselves into thinking our attitudes are evolving at all.


Obama’s eloquence straightened American spines today

January 20, 2009

165357FROM JASON’S LUNCH ROOM — Everyone today will have an Obama story.

Mine happened in a small, corporate lunch room where about 40 people gathered in absolute silence. Where mainly there’s a deafening rabble of voices, there was respectful silence. All mouths — from 18 to 65, black, white, brown, male, female, poor, less poor, smart, less smart — were clamped shut.

And every eye was on the LCD flat-screen on one end of the room. Every head nodded in unison as the 44th President talked about economic and military crises, and about unity in the face of very palpable threats. A buzz of electric agreement surged through the room when Barack Obama told us to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking.”

My co-workers are not people to remain quiet long; but for 30 minutes today, they listened without speaking. They agreed without dissenting. They prepared for hard work without grumbling.

One giant of a man, who looked like he could crush me with a glance, wiped tears away. When Obama finished speaking, a white man and black man at the back of the room gripped each other in a bear hug and then went separate ways without saying a word. At the end of the 30-minute address, there was no hooting or whistling in my lunch room; everyone walked from the room with backs straight, eyes thoughtful, and minds in a mutual alignment.

The word I’ve been avoiding here is “hope,” because it carries with it the weight of a political slogan. What I can say I saw instead in that room was an expectation of success.

After 12:30 p.m., it was finally right and prideful again to be an American. After eight long years of confusion and embarrassment, we were no longer ‘Merkans. There’s no more need to worry about “strategery.”

It was liberating, and for the first time (especially watching the faces of my black co-workers) I could start to scratch the surface of what it really means to live an historical moment. I thought to myself that if I could magnify my content by a thousand, it might come close to what our black brothers felt in 1964 when Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

I couldn’t help questioning the ethics of the swelling patriotism I felt in that lunch room.

The day after the nation elected Obama, I asked a black worker what it felt like to have a black man become president. She told me it was a feeling I could never as a white person understand. She apologized, saying it wasn’t meant to be racist; just that I lacked the cultural lexicon necessary to get it.

This, she said, was validation that a person like her could achieve the highest level of power. All the doors were finally thrown open to her, not on paper but in practice.

She’s right, of course. I’m not sure that I can understand the spiritual release she experienced on election night, or at noon today. I’ve never been shackled with the onus of minority race.

But I can understand in many other ways. My family grew up in poverty. My family accepted government cheese. My family did not often have money for new school clothes, let alone luxuries. My family did not have money to send me to college, and so I paid my way on the sweat of my brow instead of the polish of my spoon.

And here is a man that embodies that golden American upward mobility, that seed of manifest destiny we all want to nurture in ourselves. When I watched President Obama’s address today, I saw myself on that stage even though my skin is white and my paycheck is small.


Face-to-face with Barr pushes me further to the left

October 20, 2008

FROM JASON’S FURTHER ELECTION ADVENTURES — Bob Barr lives in a perpetual set of parentheses.

Slumped in a chair a few feet away from me last week, the former Georgia congressman tried to explain his position on the economy.

Along the way, he got bogged down in a string of his own subclauses. As soon as he got rolling on one idea, he would abandon it in favor of whatever new one sprang to mind, shifting directions mid-sentence.

It wasn’t going well for him: The day’s stocks had fallen about 500 points, and he was having trouble (in my opinion) justifying his hands-off economics approach with reality. It’s hard to champion deregulation when it’s so very visibly destroying the fabric of an entire nation’s economy.

“Bob the Builder,” as he christened himself, finally jumped that line of thought and instead tried persuading me we need to repeal the 16th amendment.

It’s a very Libertarian idea, after all, and he’s the party’s candidate for president, which is why he was sitting with me during a stumping pit-stop in Ohio. National polls show him with tentative support from about 4 percent of voters. He told me he expects to be on the ballot in at least 47 states, but he’s not expecting to win.

I wouldn’t expect him to, either. With the exception of his rather ardent opposition to the Iraq war and open-mindedness about legalizing marijuana, on most issues he comes across as distinctly neo-con.

He authored the Defense of Marriage Act, asked the Pentagon to ban Wicca in the military, is anti-abortion, wants to “secure our borders” (by which he means cracking down on immigration), is a former member of the NRA’s board of directors, and supports dropping pretty much all government programs except ones connected to national security.

During my few minutes with him, he got pretty heated about the banking bailout. His argument: Let failing businesses fail, no matter how many people will lose their jobs and homes.

“We’re really going to pay $700 billion to save these businesses? That’s not government’s job,” he said, grinding out the words in a Tony Clifton-esque voice. “We’ve got to get rid of this inequity between individuals and big companies.”

The framers of the Constitution didn’t think the government should be involved in the economy at all, he said.

Well, that might have been fine when building ships and exporting slave-picked cotton and tobacco was our economic forte, but things are a little different now. The economy is no simple machine and as much a free market idealist as I’d like to be, history’s proven that when it’s left to naturally balance itself without regulation the result is a lot of financial suffering for the nation’s poorest citizens.

What really got under my skin was how Barr transitioned from a laissez faire rant to pushing for a Fair Tax. Now, I’m no economist. And I haven’t been through the Washington hellfire like Bob Barr. But I don’t need Alan Greenspan perched on my shoulder to tell me a consumption tax is a bad mechanic.

If you really want to stagnate an economy, try attaching a heavy tax on purchasing goods and services.I know people who will cross county lines now to avoid a one-percent sales tax difference; what would happen with a 25 percent-or-so consumption tax?

Keynesianism is all about spending. Slap a high enough tax on, say, a Ford Mustang, and *BAM!* they’ll stop selling. When people stop buying, producers lose money and lay off workers. A nasty cycle begins.

When I raised the point, Barr looked at me as though I were a two-headed Gidra and told me it was no problem — businesses wouldn’t have to pay income taxes, so his plan should work.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get more muddled, Barr brought up the silver standard.

The supporters of metal-backed money seem to be very vocal these days, forcing my brow to wrinkle in frustration. Linking the value of money to a mineral supply is bad for so many reasons. I thought we’d figured that out in 1857.

What these nickle-heads don’t get is that fiat currency is pervasive and useful. Credit helps grow the economy by encouraging spending. It allows for upward mobility by allowing people to make investments in homes and vehicles. The sheer volume of money alone — thanks to electronic transactions like debit and credit cards — that exists today could never be covered by the silver supply. And that’s a good thing, because it allows for incredible liquidity and versatility.

If you want more on problems with gold- and silver-backed currency, just listen to FDR’s 1933 radio address about how it caused the 20th century’s worst banking crisis.

I left that room last week not much enamored with Bob Barr. He seemed a pleasant enough fellow, though a bit erratic, but he lacked any kind of presidential charisma. More importantly, I simply don’t think he has the intellectual capacity I would expect from the leader of the free world — or even the leader of a free economy.

But what bothered me most was that he also seemed to lack compassion. His viewpoints were couched so much in terms of moral and idealistic absolutes that I don’t think he was seeing the millions in this country who fall through the cracks. I fear that if he were president, he would zealously walk over the backs of many hurting Americans in the name of freedom.


Pre-election pandering in Ohio is out of control and just plain stupid

October 11, 2008

FROM JASON’S STATE — In Ohio right now, everything is politics.

Being a battleground state isn’t easy. Just ask the guy who was run off the road Wednesday on a highway near my house.

The man was forced off the pavement by a crazed Obama fan because he had a “Nobama” bumper sticker, according to a police report. It doesn’t help that the alleged offender appeared to be Arab and was screaming and throwing unidentified objects from his window.

Add to the problem crazy stumping by every imaginable political talking head as they criss-cross the state. In my job as a newspaper reporter this election season, I’ve written lots of stories about “star” visits to my 800,000-population (158,000 registered voters) area. Ohio has 20 Electoral College votes and is polling three points in the blue.

Newt Gingrich told me Democrats are bad at economics.

Adrian Fenty, mayor of Washington, D.C., told me they can rescue the economy.

Caroline Kennedy compared Barack Obama to her father.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Academy Award-nominated actress Rosie Perez told me the large local Puerto Rican population could win Ohio for Obama.

Obama’s chief medical issues advisor, Dora Hughes, advocated universal health care, while U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) told me John McCain’s $5,000 tax credit will fix the health insurance crisis.

Hillary Clinton has spoken twice within eight miles of my humble abode. Obama has swung through once.

McCain and his lipstick-laden pit bull, Gov. Sarah Palin, town-halled it up this week just 10 miles southeast of me.

Gangs of roving voting registrars have been patrolling sidewalks every weekend for a month, trying to drive up participation on both sides of the fence. Obama’s student-heavy grassroots push was balanced by GOP blue hairs knocking door-to-door to encourage absentee balloting. All that madness ended Monday as the voter registration deadline passed.

Now we’ve entered the most wonderful phase of any dirty election: Sign-stealing. Those suckers have already started mysteriously disappearing from yards overnight. It’s been coupled in isolated cases (one of which I’ve seen documentation, the others rumored) with absentee voter card thefts from mailboxes.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten a few nasty calls from old white people today who are angry that local college students from out of state have been lining up for early balloting here. One woman told me it’s fraud for college students to vote, and they shouldn’t have representation no matter what taxes they pay.

She told me — in her most patriotic tone — that it doesn’t matter if the Supreme Court’s ruled in favor of a student’s right to vote in the state where he or she attends school. They’re “dirty little hippies supporting that black Obama,” and I’m biased to say otherwise, she told me.

Have you ever noticed that Republicans eagerly support wars to “defend our freedoms” but are equally eager to attempt to deny a woman’s freedom to choose, a gay person’s civil freedoms, a student’s freedom to vote, an immigrant’s freedom to come to America, a non-English-speaking person’s freedom to abstain from English, and a black person’s freedom to… um… be black?

That observation aside, I’m really starting to tire of all the “celebrity” political visits. Honestly, if you haven’t by this time researched and decided which presidential candidate to support, you should have “idiot” tattooed on your forehead.

With roughly three weeks to go, if you’re a so-called “undecided,” then you are probably either mentally challenged, criminally ignorant, the product of rampant Deliverance-style incest, have an advanced case of Alzheimer’s disease, or are suffering from cripplingly explosive amnesia.

If you are basing your presidential vote on television ad spots, what you heard from your brother-in-law, a gut feeling, the candidates’ favorite colors, looks, skin color, Fox News reports, or who has boobies, then you should be slapped with the moron stick and forced to wear a T-shirt that reads, “I am bad and should feel bad.”


Newt Gingrich’s college lecture: Bail-outs, stumping for McCain, and why Obama is wrong to be a “citizen of the world”

September 25, 2008

FROM JASON’S JOB — “Hi. I’m Newt.”

And there he was, shaking my hand. I looked him in the eye. He looked me back. I don’t think he was very impressed.

I was.

The man gripping my hand Wednesday was a legend. Some people hate him. Some people love him. But he was still Newt Gingrich, in the flesh, trademark white mop and all.

The former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives carried himself with a confidence indifferent to my opinion. But he smiled, and in the smile I could see a solid half-century of handling — handling the economy, handling to his own party members, handling heads of state, dissenters, reporters like me.

I don’t agree with his politics, not since the Republican Party abandoned the ones that count in favor of fear-mongering and social discrimination. But before our handshake ended I realized I was no match for “Hi. I’m Newt.”

Here was a man who authored the Contract with America, was Time magazine’s Man of the Year, bullied Ronald Reagan’s campaign as a freshman Congressman, led the movement that end with Bill Clinton’s impeachment, browbeat the Republican machine into order, and stood third in order for presidential succession.

Here was a man I respected on so many fiscal issues: Limiting the size of government, eliminating waste, cutting taxes, implementing tort reform, fixing the welfare system, giving tax credits for children, repealing the marriage tax, instituting “loser pays” laws. These were good ideas — it’s just too bad that spending under the provisions of the Contract with America increased spending 13 percent.

Here was the man who ran roughshod over House rules, described as “reckless” by Ethics Committee investigators, who was sanctioned and eventually was forced to resign from one of the nation’s most powerful posts by a cabal of his own Republicans.

And here was a man who got down to business as he took a seat in front of some dozen reporters and photographers, stumping for Sen. John McCain while mocking President George W. Bush.

Gingrich’s agenda for the night was to lecture at Oberlin College — a liberal stronghold in a liberal county in the battleground state of Ohio. During a 20-minute press window before the lecture, he told me how glad he was that the Bush-backed Paulson plan for a $700 billion banking industry bail-out was on the rocks.

(I suppose he told all the reporters this, not just me. If you want to count those other guys, go ahead.)

He railed at Sen. Barack Obama for having the solid brass cajones — how dare he! — to want to move ahead with Friday’s presidential debate at the University of Mississippi. He suggested that the debate should play second chair to the banking crisis, which McCain had “rushed to Washington” to solve.

Except that McCain didn’t rush to Washington — he rushed to CBS News to talk to Katie Couric about it. Nothing like a little face time.

Gingrich praised Obama as being the”best political speaker since Ronald Reagan” and “tactically the best politician in the country today.” But coupled with the compliments was a bizarre accusation that I can’t fathom; the former speaker’s most incisive declaration against Obama was his summer trip to Germany, where Obama spoke to a crowd of 200,000.

The problem? Obama told the Germans he was a “citizen of the world.” Gingrich said Obama should know better — he’s a citizen of the United States, not the world.

With respect, I think Gingrich needs to learn about subsets. The U.S. is part of the world, and any responsible leader should consider the impact his actions have on the world stage. That’s something that Bush has not done in all his arrogance over the past eight years; it’s a subtlety that employed by Obama could restore America’s global credibility and reverse our image as a nation of cowboys.

“Do you really want someone as president who thinks he’s a citizen of the world?” Gingrich asked an audience of 1,200 later in the evening.

In the midst of that crowd, I lost my journalistic cool for a moment. Normally, I keep my mouth clamped shut and my pen scribbling while reporting. But this time an involuntary and slightly loud “yes” jumped past my lips.

But “Hi. I’m Newt” didn’t share that opinion. In his lecture later in the evening, he harped again at Obama’s “horrid” claim that the U.S. is part of a larger picture. The complaints didn’t end there, though. He said Obama should never have gone to Germany — that the presidential campaign should stay in America since it will be decided by Americans. He said it was presumptuous for Obama to tour as though he were already president and not simply a senator.

I disagree. I want a president who earns respect, who can build a real Coalition of the WIlling with words instead of weapons. Allies are only allies if you hold their hearts and minds — which is something lacking in the so-called Coalition in Iraq. The same Iraq where Gingrich’s candidate wants to stay as an occupying force for the next century.

I walked away from the lecture with certain phrases from the departing crowd ringing in my ears: They were talking about Gingrich’s succinct delivery, his obviously masterful analysis of the political scene. They were saying how here was a Republican whose mind was sharp and whose experience was to be lauded.

But they were saying he was still wrong. Dead wrong.


Forumites: Election ’08 for Morons #3

June 3, 2008

I’m rushing to get this post up for a couple of reasons. My original plan had been to let it go until tomorrow.

Now, though, it looks entirely possible that Barack Obama will reach a magical milestone tonight that could make the entire Democratic infight with Hillary Clinton moot. By midnight, CNN is reporting, Obama could have 2,118 superdelegates pledged to his nomination as the party’s candidate. Mathematically, that would eliminate Clinton from contention.

Clinton could be forced to concede the race, but told reporters about an hour ago that she won’t do so today. That means probably the biggest news of the year will break tomorrow.

Still, Clinton plans to speak in New York City tonight, and it will be interesting to see whether she turns a deaf ear to the speculation about the superdelegate squeeze, whether she’ll address them head on in her speech, or if she’ll actually do the smart thing and admit defeat gracefully instead of prologuing the inevitable for another full news cycle.

It’s the starting gun all the pundits have been straining to hear. If the votes fall as predicted, tonight could mark the beginning of the real presidential race between Obama and John McCain.

With that in mind, here’s Obama and his stances, taken quote for quote, in context, his real words:

Also, I’ve been itching to post a real blag entry here, instead of these comics I’ve been obsessed with. They’re fun, but there’s no substitute for substance over style. So I’m getting ready to review a few books I really love.


Forumites: Election ’08 for Morons #2

June 3, 2008

Sadly, Hillary Clinton has been judged during this election on her personality. Everyone I talk to goes the route of, “She’s such a bitch. I can’t imagine her being president.”

There’s something to be said for presidential dignity and reserve, but not at the cost of ignoring a candidate’s platform. I think a lot of die-hard righters would be surprised how conservative Clinton is on many issues — even those big social ones — even though she manages to stay extremely leftist on others. It surprised me to no end when she voted to support the gay marriage amendment. She’s also famously refused to apologize for her vote authorizing the Iraq War.

The result, I suppose, is that she has a wishy-washy, “I’m trying to appeal to every demographic” image, and it’s not doing her much good. She really wants to regain ground with that Protestant base playing the middle, and her values-based pandering to the middle class shows it.

As a note, I came within a hair’s-breadth of voting for Clinton in the primary, until about a five-hour research session (mostly at On The Issues) swayed me away from her platform.

Again, for clarification, all of the quotes are real. Nothing is made up. She said these things.