Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The End of Power Trippin'

The primary focus of Congressman Delay's defense shouldn't dwell on the obvious partisan game play between Democrats and Republicans. It's expected that each party will continue to throw political salvos at one another well into 2006, creating a stage for much political drama and plenty of room for scurrilous accusations which have little relevance to the bread and butter issues most prominent on the minds of Americans.

Our worry is that while Republicans battle internally for displaced power and Democrats engage in perpetual happy hour, there will be a lack of discussion on addressing the true culprit in American political culture. It's not really about Delay. It's about a growing cynicism within the American electorate that political corruption, favors and deal-making are pervasive at the expense of the public good. There are even Republicans in Congress who are privately breathing slightly easier, hoping they can vote their conscience rather than vote the party line Delay built with such gangsta zeal. Ideological arrogance and the hard-lining tactics of "my way or the highway" mixed in with unscrupulous hyper-spending habits on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue will resume unabated as the parties (particularly the majority) are more concerned about their talking points than a clear solution to mounting budgetary and war-time problems.

The point being that Delay didn't work alone. He had buy-in.

There is much speculation as to how both party's will react to the latest round of Washington scandals, from Delay to Sen. Majority Leader Frist's stock sell-off, from Jack Abramoff to the nasty outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. But, this discussion seems far removed from the peoples' disposition. Democrats could seize that moment with an agenda but, frankly, seem more pressed to gloat. And Republicans may have the chance to impose restraint on a White House spinning into budgetary oblivion, but seem too concerned with the internal power struggle unfolding. We hope that the voting public is smarter than that.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Selective Fiscal Conservatism & Blaming it on Mother Nature ...

There is a selective memory lapse in Punditom when discussing how exactly we're going to pay for $200 billion in recovery funds for the devastated Gulf region while already saddled with a $330 billion budget deficit that is significantly linked to bloated "mega-government" military, homeland security and war pork spending. (And Republicans always pimp frugality over excess. Irony? No - more like hypocrisy). That misplaced imperialistic quagmire of an irresponsible foray simply known as "Iraq" seems to have fallen off the radar screen, considering its cost us $200 billion plus ...

Something to think about reading today's Financial Times:

"Fiscal experts are losing count of the number of supplemental appropriation bills needed to fund the conflict in Iraq. A recent report by the government's chief investigator said even the Pentagon was struggling to keep track of the funds being spent."

That's comforting ...

So, when Republicans start talking about spending cuts (and Democrats pretty much cower at the thought), recommendations range from repealing $24 billion from the pork-laden transportation bill to completely cutting the Moon-Mars mission (how forward thinking is that ye math-less, anti-scientific, iPod wearing frontierless groupies convinced the Solar System rotates around Earth) to slashing the prescription drug benefit (as if that was doing anything in the first place).

Yet, little is said about maybe, just maybe, considering a smartly mapped withdrawal from Iraq. In fact, the headlines are transfixed on the current hurricane season; we watch talking heads and policy wonks quick to place the onus of our deteriorating fiscal situation on Katrina, offering budgetary amnesty to Bush Administration officials who may welcome the post-Katrina focus as an opportunity to deflect attention from Iraq. Few, especially on the right, want to admit that war actually drains an economy, particularly since its a question of resources that could have been better spent. Instead, blame our impending economic woes on the hurricanes - great political distraction technique for an arrogant and hawkish political establishment that refuses to see how pointless its become.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Missing the Point ...

Washington Post writer Terry Neal's coverage of the recent Congressional Black Caucus gathering in D.C. gave us a great preview of the Democrat plan of attack for the '06 mid-terms:

"Many Democrats believe the great economic and racial divides exposed by Hurricane Katrina will give their party a chance to make the case for a change in leadership, beginning with next year's midterm elections."

Caucus Members were eager to launch rhetorical tirades against the Bush Administration and the extreme right. We've seen the argument blaming Republican policies for the growing gap between rich and poor, and the disproportionate impact this is having on the African American community. This assertion plays center stage at many a gathering of Black legislators, followed by the collective bitterness of advocates, activists and concerned members of the community who are jaded by the lack of a clear plan. Yet, the plan proposed seems overly reliant on the Democratic agenda (or lack thereof) which has enough on its plate trying to position itself as a centrist coalition retaking Congress and the White House. Black legislators, particularly those in the CBC, will need to seriously revisit the development of an ambitious community plan that isn't so directly tied to the fate of a political party with little power in Washington these days.

In the wake of Katrina, there was also an opportunity to raise the issue of disproportionate Black poverty in the districts of many a CBC Member and what the community (not Congress, the White House, Democrats or Republicans) can do about it. We expect this may be an uncomfortable subject. But, again, as we've stated in this blog weeks before Katrina, African American poverty in New Orleans was a reality long before media made it a sudden cause celebre'. And, what of Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Philly, Chicago, etc.? Do we wait for another Act of God before we pay attention?

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Gouge & The Fall of the Escalade ...

It's very easy to draw cynical conclusions when faced with $3+ a gallon of gas on a fuel in-efficient vehicle and a shoestring, middle or working class budget. There seems no logic in the exorbitant increases in oil prices; and it's easy to assert that, perhaps, oil companies are taking us for a ride, that the media (still riding Katrina's high) is letting both Bush Administration and the gas companies off the hook: devastating hurricanes hitting critical oil refineries does seem like a good excuse to gouge consumers at the pump. We welcomed a much more critical assessment from a recent editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News:

Many economists and others say price gouging at gas stations is actually a myth. The law of supply and demand and free market competition makes it too difficult for station owners to gouge the public ... But when there are wild swings, it's fair to ask if greed and a desire to take advantage of the public is playing a part. That's why we support Gov. Rendell's decision to require retail gas dealers to keep records of fuel price quotes and delivery invoices, which the state will examine in a month. Retailers with big price margins could face investigation for price gouging and unfair trade.

We're alson in support of Rendell's decision and other states, such as Maryland and Virginia, that are closely examining price gouging and the impact such unscrupulous business practices are having on consumers. While we're on that, we're hoping that media observers can also take a more balanced and objective approach to the issue of price gouging at the pump rather than the easily drawn conclusion that it's "just Katrina" or "just Rita" wreaking havoc on refineries. There are a whole host of other issues, such as Americans wanting it both ways: we want to lessen reliance on foreign oil, yet our foreign policy is deeply entrenched in a regional quagmire that ultimately rests on the future of oil. Meanwhile, there are reports of OPEC playing games with oil prices, with Saudi Arabia " ... not seeing demand for more crude.". Americans are showing a greater desire for a cleaner environment, but haven't been able to shake the lure of automobiles that aren't fuel efficient, despite declining sales in SUVs.

However, the silver lining in the 2005 hurricane season and the "nostalgia" of the $2.50 gallon (as the Philly Daily News called it) is that people are becoming much more aware of the oil market, its impact on our environment and its depressing drag on the American pocketbook (we haven't even discussed heating oil prices, yet). A paradigm shift is occuring, recently highlighted by Ford Motor Co.'s decision to significantly flood the market with their award-winning hybrid vehicles, such as the Escape SUV hybrid. Our hope is that such a shift and positive focus on the health of our planet will have its desired effect on the African American consumer who, in 2005, accounted for nearly a quarter of all Cadillac Escalade sales (and GM won't be paying for those $100+ gas sales and the 30-70 percent heating oil increases when winter hits). It is a very difficult task, considering contemporary Black culture is so influenced by the image of high profile entertainers and hip hop "ghetto-fab" extraordinaires driving gas guzzling street beasts on 20-inch rims. Acclaimed "underground" and "conscious" lyricist Mos Def is caught stroking GMC's Denali luxury SUV and chart popper Missy Elliot is pimping Jeep Cherokees in her latest "Lose Control" video. We don't expect to see a Toyota Prius blazed under hip grinding dancers in a Hype Williams video anytime soon ...

We all breath the same air and share the same earth. It's saddening that we haven't seen a more serious discussion within the Black electorate and public policy establishment concerning the state of our environment and the scope of Black awareness on the subject. That dialogue is well overdue.

Friday, September 16, 2005


To say the least, we're Bushed. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne called it the End of the Bush Era in his most recent column:

"He can decide to help us in the transition to what comes next. Or he can cling stubbornly to his past and thereby doom himself to frustrating irrelevance."

We were in full agreement with that assessment, particularly after pulling hairs while subjected to the scripted, insincere and completely removed tone of yesterday evening's spat of talking points. Perhaps the Administration wasn't looking for that shining moment on the aircraft carrier deck - how can you against an undefined enemy? What: demonize Mother Nature and Acts of God in a selfish bout of political damage control? Of course, the hacks, former oil execs, Halliburton stock holders, trigger happy hawks and Reagan Geriatric Quartets at the White House and on Capitol Hill wouldn't have their "morals" and "compassionate conservatism" stoop so low. But, come one, give us a little feeling, a little impassioned half-time prayer in the locker room, a teary moment reminiscent of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Churchill ... Parcell, Lombardi ... maybe Pacino in Any Given Sunday ... that moment when you look down from the tele-prompter, shake your head, have America stunned for those hanging moments of sudden and choking silence where you go "You know what ..." and you do something so unbelievably bully pulpittish as to jerk your notecards from underneath you and shred them to pieces, throwing them behind you and then really press at the tragedy of the situation straight from the heart ...

No - instead we get moments as forgettable as a Simpsons re-run, that bit of sound in the background over the loud hum of the vacuum cleaner, the ring of the phone, cats blasting jokes over draft at the local club and the mucus-laden cough of Grandpa flipping channels from the love seat. We said that for every Fox News cloned pundit that gave the President "good marks" (all the while giving the camera a sweaty hint of "why am I saying this" as if the gun barrel of a lost job and a blacklist was pointed at their head) we'd gain a dollar. Certain of our overnight earnings and blinded by the million ching chings blinging our daydreams, we were comforted by fantasies of a Big Pimpin' yacht extravaganza off the shores of some carnival festive Caribbean isle calling it a night and braced for the public policy nightmare of the next day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Media buzz and pundit puking over the meaning of stare decisis during Judge John Roberts' nomination hearing reflects two unfortunate dilemmas:

1) Great social and pop culture indifference towards discovering the definition of something most of us don't know. It's saddening that most we have little grasp of Latin, despite the language we currently speak being deeply rooted in it. Last we checked, the current republic is based on fundamentals from the Latin-speaking Roman Republic. A break from the Play Station and other social banalities draining our collective intellectual capacity could actually make a little space for a history lesson. We might gain a better understanding of what's happening. Plus, it doesn't hurt to at least have a basic sense of what your lawyer knows. Is it absolutely necessary to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a law school education to find out? Of course not. But, we cringe, simmer and convulse at the mere mention of it.

2) It is because of Dilemma 1) that most of us are unschooled in the ways of the body politic and legal code. This further alienates the public from the institutions built to serve us. We bristle at low voter turnout and government indifference to our plight, but we make scant effort to understand or examine government and the law.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Political Patronage: DON'T FRONT (on Kharma, the Hook-up & other thoughts on the FEMA Chief's "Reassignment") ...

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Cool: FEMA Chief Michael Brown needed a boot back to DC, but it's obvious the Administration failed to outright fire him. This would be the responsible course of action. That's not happening, of course, because Politics 101 dictates the dominance of the hook-up and connections over government performance and efficiency that effectively serves the interest of the people.

We disagree completely with the notion that this is confined to the Bush Administration - the President is simply masterful at how he does it. This is an entrenched cultural problem where individuals are hired or appointed based on personal or political relationships rather than on merit or true experience - it's not what you know, but who you know. This is nothing new; networking, nepotism and favoritism at the expense of performance, good management and accountability. That's how Washington and every crevice of our professional fabric operates. Many Americans are disgruntled, unhappy professionals working in companies or institutions they despise because, despite their qualifications, they may not know the latest golf swing or the latest happening power-lunch spot. Let's be real for a moment: we're seeing the devastating consequences of that tendency unfolding before our eyes.


There are a multitude of hypocrites out there calling for Brown's resignation and citing his putrid lack of credentials. Democrats, Republicans and most political junkies inside the Beltway are as guilty as the Administration for this sordid practice. Let's not front like we don't know or don't do it, too.

Why Howard Kurtz Needs to Dig a Little Blacker ...

We find Washington Post Staff Writer Howard Kurtz's recent "Media Notes" entry on Race & Class ("Katrina in Black & White," 9.10.05) compelling considering his failure to qoute at least one Black public intellectual or media source on the subject. He simply cites Chicago hip hop phenom Kanye West's unscripted and teary-eyed diatribe on NBC several nights ago, perhaps satisfied with filling his Black quote quota for the month or quarter, and then steers into a litany of White responses to the subtext of racism that West denounced.

"Media Notes," the Washington Post's premier online column gauging the pulse of the national media on public policies, has long been an interesting cross section of mainstream pop culture newspaper quotes and what Kurtz praises as his own personal starting line-up of prominent bloggers. Yet, in this particular instance, isn't it a trite irresponsible that out of the countless African American websites, Black-owned newspapers and blogs (such as this one) which focus on a vast array of public policy issues affecting Black people, Kurtz couldn't say "Let's see what the Blacks are saying about this," do a quick Google and draw a few insightful quotes from Black media sources that live, breathe, eat and excrete these same issues?

Big ups to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Daniel Rubin for doing just that in his Blinq blog. Rubin dug for a Black perspective and found one on Afro-Netizen during a recent Sept. 8th entry.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Fox Shouldn't Watch the Hen House

President Bush announced today that he would oversee an inquiry about the slow and deadly response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Doesn't the president have anything else to do? Commanding his lie in Iraq, selecting a new Supreme Court Justice, overseeing his legislative agenda (removal of the estate tax, social security reform, immigration reform...), and manage the mess his administration had a hand in creating by directing the clean up and the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and affected areas are just a few things that come to mind. Why doesn't the president oversee those things?

President Bush overseeing an investigation of why his agencies failed would be an exercise in obstruction of justice. For someone who took 72 hours to return from his vacation and 120 hours before he bothered to take a trip to the region, it is hard to imagine the president conducting a full, open and truthful investigation. Nothing short of a full-blown congressional and independent investigation is warranted and acceptable.

The independent investigation would be warranted and acceptable if it mirrors the commission that reviewed the September 11th attacks. The 9-11 commission was not influenced (at least overtly) by political pressure, as the president's would be, and was comprehensive, objective and bi-partisan.

A commission made up of respected, bi-partisan and knowledgeable individuals created by congressional legislation and approved by the president should review, at the very least, the condition of the levees before the breaches, the history of the protection plans, strategies and reports to protect and evacuate New Orleans, the reasons behind the slow response to New Orleans, Mississippi and parts of Alabama, the impact of poverty on the evacuation order, the impact of at least a 1/3 of affected states' National Guard Units being deployed to Iraq, the impact of budget cuts to FEMA, the Army Corp of Engineers and other important agencies, the impact of moving FEMA to the Office of Homeland Security and whether class and race played a role in the rescue effort or initial lack of response.

To think President Bush would review those items mentioned above, particularly the last, and the countless other issues and concerns raised by the tragedy is comical. Despite some nice rhetoric and some appointments, the President has not followed up those speeches and delegations with substantive policy. The issue of race and poverty may not be on his agenda and there is no reason to guess those issues would appear now.

The president is right to call for an investigation, but is wrong to name himself to head the effort.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Thoughts on Civility ...

As important as any local, state or federal and military rapid response to a mass casualty event such as Hurricane Katrina is our ability as citizens to maintain a certain level of civility or decorum. We note, for example, our experiences in the streets of downtown Washington, D.C. moments following the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, where drivers were angrilyblowing horns at one another on gridlocked streets. Profane verbal matches and shoving bouts broke out as the situation broke into a scene that could have provided the video track for the De La Soul hip hop classic "Me, Myself & I" Images of New Orleans, from Superdome to Convention Center, remind us of this lesson and the threats abound when there is a total breakdown of community.

This is not the first time those poor, Black, dejected, discriminated, lynched, chatteled, battered, beaten and whipped have survived disaster. The totality of the collective African American experience over more than 400 years is fraught with disaster and sorrow, as proud and legendary as that experience is. Watching the 24/7 news cycle overflowing with an infinite stream of disaster images, you can't help but be bothered if you're Black. Perhaps this is the psychological catalyst behind many emphasizing race and class, highly public Black figures carefully wording speeches, interviews and press conferences: "... dignity;" "evacuees" or "survivors," not "refugees." And then we pull from legends, family stories and ballads from the days of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, boycotts and movements when entire communities (as Black and as poor as our most unfortunate brothers and sisters being bused to shelters across the four winds) bonded in a show of solidarity and brought together by a common need to survive.

And it doesn't stop at African Americans. We express disgust at the endless stories of Katrina survivors of all races, colors and classes who are being hounded by hotels, bus drivers, cabs, and gas stations for cash that is - for the near and long-term - clearly unavailable and irrelevant. Clearly, this is the time when market capitalism, greed and our society's typical need for instant gratification must be set aside.

A passage from Yale Law Professor Stephen Carter's seminal work Civility: Manners, Morals & the Etiquette of Democracy comes to mind when surveying the situation on the Gulf Coast (primarily in and around New Orleans):

"The illusion has seeped into every crevice of our public and private lives, persuading us that sacrifices are no longer necessary. If railroad passengers a century ago knew the journey would be impossible unless they considered the comfort of others more important than their own, our spreading illusion has taken us in the other direction. We care less and less about our fellow citizens, because we no longer see them as our fellow passengers, We may see them as obstacles or competitors, or we may not see them at all, but unless they happen to be our friends, we rarely think we owe them anything."