Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Perverted Whims of Public Opinion

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson's cynicism in his piece titled "What If We're To Blame?" is hard felt. This has been one of our main concerns when watching the molding of public policy in this country: the lack of policy knowledge or the unwillingness to even learn about what we vote, complain or protest about. Such prevailing ineptitude can have grave consequences:

The problem of American democracy is (of course) democracy. We are on the cusp of an election that commentators have already imbued with vast significance if Democrats recapture part or all of Congress -- or if they don't. But here's something that no one's saying: Regardless of who wins, it won't make much difference for most of our pressing problems. We won't have a major new budget policy, energy policy or immigration policy. The election might not even much affect the Iraq war.

This is confirmed in a recent study by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. Whereas we're encouraged by findings which show African Americans between the ages of 15 - 25 seem to be the most politically active than any other racial or ethnic group, we're also distressed by the juxtaposition of this other finding:

Most young Americans are misinformed about important aspects of politics and current events. For example, 53% are unaware that only citizens can vote in federal elections; only 30% can correctly name at least one member of the President's Cabinet (and of those, 82% name Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice); and only 34% know that the United States has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (compared to 27% who know that France holds a seat).

That's troubling. Hence, what's the purpose of voting if you don't know what you're voting for or about? But, we've always been suspicious of the hyped potential of youth voter turnout since many signs indicate 18 - 30 year old voters still don't have a solid grasp of the critical issues and a basic grounding in civics. Too many seem too content with being disillusioned, the likes of which plays directly into the hands of career politicians and party hustlers posing as public servants. They aren't accountable for not developing reasoned, effective and practical public policy because we don't know what it is they should be working on.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Black Mayors Becoming "Norm" in Mississippi ...

A sign of progress in Mississippi? Not certain given the economic environment in that state, but certainly a sign of maturity. From the AP:

From Hattiesburg to Columbus , several of the larger Mississippi cities have elected their first Black mayors the past few years. Some say it’s a sign of a maturing political process in a state with a difficult, complex history of race relations, including decades of violent backlash against Black people who attempted to vote.

Robert M. Walker, who has taught history at Jackson State University, says Mississippi is seeing the long-term effects of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which banned discriminatory practices, including sham “literacy tests” that often asked vastly different questions of Blacks and Whites as they registered to vote.

“It’s almost like having money in the bank that you don’t do anything with,’’ Walker said. “For many years, there have been folk who pay who didn’t do anything with the resources they had at their disposal. Now, with this maturing, you see something happening.’’

Reason for Concern ... and Outrage

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member Bill Strickland offers pointed food for thought:

It ought to be a source of great apprehension that without any serious debate or alarm, the Republicans—aided by an obsequious media and a fainthearted Democratic Party opposition--have succeeded in gaining control of every branch of government, can look forward to a five vote majority on the Supreme Court for years to come and don’t necessarily have to worry about cases even being sent up to the High Court since they also have a majority on eleven of the thirteen appeals courts. But even that advantage seems not to have quenched their thirst for absolute power since Attorney General Gonzales in a speech this month at Georgetown University advised federal judges to exercise “a proper sense of judicial humility” and not interfere in the foreign policy and military decisions of the White House. . . that they—and presumably all of us—abandon the fiction of a federal system of checks and balances and pay homage to what has really taken place: the coronation of the new Imperial President.

Krauthammer's Case for Obama - Winning by Losing

An honest Charles Krauthammer with some fairly reasoned advice for Illinois freshman Senator and Presidential aspirant Barack Obama (D). We see where he's going with this. But, that's proposing a potential waste in time, money and resources:

Nonetheless, he will not win. The reason is Sept. 11, 2001. The country will simply not elect a novice in wartime.

In 1956 Kennedy was preparing for a serious presidential run in 1960. Obama should be thinking ahead as well -- using '08 to cure his problem of inexperience. Run for the Democratic nomination and lose. He only has to do reasonably well in the primaries to become such a compelling national figure as to be invited onto the ticket as vice presidential nominee. If John Edwards, the runner-up in '04 did well enough to be made running mate, a moderately successful Obama would be the natural choice for '08.

Then, if the Democrats win, he will have all the foreign policy credentials he needs for life. Even if the ticket loses, assuming he acquits himself reasonably well, he immediately becomes the presumptive front-runner in the next presidential cycle. And if by some miracle he hits the lottery and wins in '08, well, then it is win-win-win.

Philly in Hot Voting Water ...

Interesting story out of Illtown, already beseiged by a homicide wave and a budget crisis (Philadelphia Tribune's Regan Toomer is scheduled to talk some more about that on Tuesday, 10.31.06 ASCENT Perspectives). We find it interesting that in a city with a Black mayor and a population nearly half African American, there would be alleged violations of Latino voting rights. Either Mayor John Street (D) is still asleep on his watch or this is - once again - another somewhat fishy attempt to encourage Republican gains in heavily Democratic Philly:

Two weeks before Election Day, the city is fighting an attempt by the U.S. Justice Department to appoint federal observers for Philadelphia elections beginning Nov. 7 and lasting past next year's presidential race, until the end of 2009.

The effort to appoint the observers stems from a lawsuit filed by the federal government 14 days ago alleging that the city has violated the rights of its Hispanic voters.

Specifically, it charges that the city hasn't adequately recruited and trained bilingual poll workers, failed to provide sufficient election-related materials in Spanish, and prohibited Hispanic voters with limited English from choosing someone to help them inside the voting booth, which law permits.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Obama: Style vs. Substance ...

Half-term Illinois Senator Barack Obama's (D) sudden rise to political stardom is a somewhat fishy ascendancy that Obama himself should be wary of. This blog frowns on politicians as "rock stars" or "celebrities" - even though it's easy to get excited due to the first real prospect for a first Black President. When a politician's substance is overshadowed by his/her "celebrity" appeal, the transparency is about as thick as polluting smog choking a city. That person soon loses the civil servant edge so desperately needed in a government wracked by scandal, corruption and greed.

Obama's rise is no sudden thing. Democrats, while stuffing money into the coffers of Sen. Clinton (D-NY), fear that their nominees for '08 may prove more divisive than electable. A Kerry or Gore re-run will look just like that - a re-run done for the sake of saving face after embarrasingly close defeats in '00 and '04. So, operatives quietly push Obama on ...

We're not saying that Obama shouldn't run because of a perceived lack of national policy experience. An Obama run, in fact, might be quite a refreshing thing. We're saying that if he does run, we hope so because be truly believes it's in the best interest of the country rather than in the best interests of Oprah or the New York Times bestseller list. There is nothing wrong with a little feel-good style to encourage the electorate or motivate the citizenry into action. But reasoned policy ultimately rests with serious, accountable and substantive work. The Senator should be able to draw many lessons in good governance from the African American experience. Because we need a lot more in Washington than just a fresh face.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Obama or President in '08? Not So Certain About That ...

Chicago Defender's Dennis Conrad on first term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's (D) possible run for President in '08. Should he? Don't know - the timing just doesn't seem right given the immense fundraising power and political popularity of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who is ahead in the polls. Yeah - it'd be great to have a first Black president (we all hope for that). Still, there are other factors: Obama may be attractive as a party celebrity, but what will his "reticence level" amongst White voters be at this stage when they're faced to choose him and a White Republican? Advice to Obama: don't get hyped into a run. Serve out a good, healthy first and second term then examine the possibility in '12 or '16. We think he'd be seasoned at that point, his fundraising abilities sharpened and his public appeal locked. Still, we believe he'd make a good choice for VP in '08 (something Clinton should seriously think about) - which is what he might be angling for instead. This is a smart way to do it:

In 364 pages that cover everything from race to Iraq and constitutional law, Obama said the hardest part for him to write was the book's final, 28-page chapter, "Family," because "that touches on what's most important to me."

And as star-struck supporters line up for hours at bookstores this week, many begging him to run in 2008, the book they wait for him to sign reveals how he and his wife have struggled with his rise in politics.

"What we have argued about - repeatedly - is how to balance work and family in a way that's equitable to Michelle and good for our children," he writes, adding that during his first congressional campaign she declared: "You only think about yourself. I never thought I would have to raise a family alone."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Black Panthers 40th Anniversary & Their "Conservatism"

As polls, surveys and studies show a more independent-minded Black electorate, there is a brewing resurgence of Black conservatives who would like to point to this sudden political epiphany as some sort of mass conversion to conservatism. Baltimore Sun Columnist Gregory Kane joins that crew in his recent BlackAmericaWeb.com piece:

But on many of their core principles, the Panthers were the forerunners of today’s black conservatives.

We beg to differ on this, and not for the assumed reasons. It matters not if the Black Panthers were conservative or liberal - what matters most is whether they were effective. And: is the Black Panther model still relevant or useful today? Recent characterizations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and, now, the Black Panthers as conservatives only serve to undermine a community need to define its own political and ideological imperatives through its own lense. Why apply labels to causes and public figures if they themselves didn't even use it. Kane and others - on both sides of the aisle - are getting stuck in the ideological labels created and pushed by our White counterparts. Tread very carefully ...

The counter argument here is that Black people can't accept the "intrinsic" conservatism of the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King, Jr. because they are "misled" to believe that "conservatism" is a dirty word by Democrats, pop-culture and morally corrupt liberals. No - conservatism and liberalism are becoming dirty words because society is becoming increasingly disillusioned with the very negative and vicious partisan climate.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Religious White Voters in the Polls ...

The creepy thing about the focus of this poll and a strategy heavily relied upon by Republicans is that its religious White people that have played a central role in justifying this 400 year old mess Black people found themselves in since slavery. Reports Frank Newport in USAToday's Gallup Guru:

Republicans have cultivated religious whites by promoting issues which strike a resonant chord with these voters. Many religious whites are genuinely concerned about erosion in morality and values which they tie to their Biblical faith. Republican efforts to oppose such issues as same sex marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research have fallen on sympathetic ears.

Nothing works as well in elections as emotions, and religiously based emotions are some of the most powerful of all. Convincing religious voters that a vote for Republicans means a vote for stemming the tide of secular humanism and the eroding moral and family values has been a highly effective technique for the GOP.

Of course, it's now perceived as uncivilized to openly encourage racism, but the code words are prevalent when GOP operatives imply that people of color and "their movements" or "their counter culture" are partly to blame for proliferating "secularism."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hip Hop: "You The Love of My Life"

Lonnae O'Neal Parker's piece from Sunday's Washington Post is all the buzz in the hip hop world. Although it's a well written piece and absorbing to read, the argument is completely misguided and lacking in substance. Hence, it enters that already crowded hall of anti-hip hop apologists who preach that same tired sermon to the same applauding choir:

That my decision to end our love affair had come only after years of disappointment and punishing abuse. After I could no longer nod my head to the misogyny or keep time to the vapid materialism of another rap song. After I could no longer sacrifice my self-esteem or that of my two daughters on an altar of dope beats and tight rhymes.

No, darling, I'm not anti-hip-hop, I told her. And it's true, I still love hip-hop. It's just that our relationship has gotten very complicated.

The first problem here is simple: you can't stop kids from listening to hip hop - or any pop music for that matter. Especially budding teens who are bound to get their fix of Billboard hits and MTV pics from equally driven peers at a variety of settings: from school to the local mall to when adult supervision has to run an errand and leaves the latch-key kid home (or, in the case of many single-parent African American homes, has no choice but to work several hours beyond when the kids reach home thereby offering ample time to play video games, watch BET and engage in activities that parents hope kids are not engaged in).

The parents of today must realize that they were the kids of yesterday - and, yes, we found numerous creative ways to catch our daily doses of hip hop, including the hip hop our parents found objectionable.

An often overlooked technique is actually talking with the kids about it or investigating their perspective through educated discourse. There's a bit a intellectual laziness in assuming that you can simply resolve the problem by cutting the child off from a rather complex, creative and important global phenomenon as hip hop. Get their perspective on why this or that song is "hot." Then: introduce some flavor-filled alternatives to the dumb stuff. Give the kids some context.

The second problem here is assuming that all hip hop is defined by commercial radio. Again, the intellectual laziness returns because diatribes on the pop-culture maladies within hip hop are absent any serious examination of the totality of hip hop. Instead, it's a knee jerk reaction to objectionable content in songs rotated endlessly on a pop radio turntable. There is no look into the complete artistic realm of hip hop - what is on FM radio is actually a small, but well-marketed and heavily financed fraction of the world of hip hop. To suddenly paint all of hip hop as mindless, disrespectful and unseemly dribble is a slap in the face to the thousands of emcees (the corps of true poets, thinkers and lyricists) who break many a pencil on a pad to entertain droves of endearing connoiseurs of the art that is hip hop. Parker's column ignores that because she's immersed in what pop-culture is feeding her. They never get signed, never get promoted, nor will their tracks make it to a big city FM station dial. Instead, you find them on late night college radio segments, downloaded on mp3s from the underground depths of websites or battling each other verse-for-verse in smoke-filled clubs like their jazz forefathers from another time. There are a few who do "make it", but manage to keep it as real as the limitations of the record industry that puts food on their table will allow. But, they all get mad respect and love for what they create.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Political Awarenesson the Rise (?)

Not certain what this will translate into come November 7th, but interesting how it coincides with a recent Indiana University study that shows comedy "fake news" spoofs like The Daily Show resonate more as substantive news programming:

Politics is a water-cooler topic, a dinner-table subject, an issue to discuss after Sunday services, and this year the interest of American voters is at its highest level in more than a decade.

That renewed attention could translate into higher voter turnout on Nov. 7, according to an Associated Press-Pew poll. Seventy percent say they are talking politics with family and friends, and 43 percent are debating the issues at work. Among churchgoers, 28 percent share their political views, a number that rises to 34 percent among the congregations in the South.

Genome-wide Study of Prostate Cancer in African Americans

Recent study worth studying places great weight on the need for the African American community - particularly Black males - to focus significantly on the impact of prostate cancer:

Researchers from 14 institutions across the country today announced the results of the first genome-wide linkage study of prostate cancer in African Americans. Using genetic markers, researchers identified several regions of the human genome that likely contain genes that, when altered, increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.

The study was conceived, implemented and executed primarily by African American investigators. Published in the journal, The Prostate, the AAHPC is a milestone in years of research designed to identify genetic risk factors for prostate cancer and to help determine if heredity plays a role in the disparity in prostate cancer rates seen among African American men. The African American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study Network (AAHPC) recruited 77 African American extended families, which encompassed a total of 418 men with prostate cancer, to participate in this study. All of the families studied had at least four men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Using genetic markers, researchers were able to map several important regions of the human genome that likely contain genes that, when mutated, predispose these men to developing prostate cancer.

We're not certain how much this will shape policy on the issue, but it's an important step.

Monday, October 09, 2006

When George Curry Makes A Good Point ...

George Curry, once famed Editor-in-Chief then rudely clowned face of the defunct Emerge Magazine, gets unpredictable with this well crafted piece:

The sight of grinning Black elected officials rushing to endorse a White Democrat is a familiar scene. What made this bum-rush so noteworthy was that after Mfume filed to fill an open Senate seat, the party went out and recruited Cardin to run against him. With limited resources and lacking the support of party bosses, Mfume still came within 9 percentage points of defeating Cardin. If he had won, Maryland’s Senate race would have featured two African-Americans, guaranteeing that one would be elected to office.

This is true considering it took many of these same Black elected officials over a year to finally endorse their former CBC colleague and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. By the time they did, it was too late.

Curry goes off, but may be representing the feeling of many African Americans gearing to vote for a new Senator in Maryland:

If we are truly tired of being taken for granted by one major party and just plain taken by the other, then it’s time to take a stand. Here’s my modest proposal for my fellow Black Marylanders – teach both parties a lesson by voting for the Black Republican, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. On the issue of affirmative action, Michael Steele is no Clarence Thomas. I disagree with Steele on most public policy issues. He is a Republican in every sense of the word.

But like the voting in New Orleans, this is not about one person. It’s larger than that. This is about demanding respect. And I can think of no better way to get the attention of both parties than, in this one instance, voting Republican to make a point. Some party leaders may not be able to read and write but they can count. If we do this, everyone will have to do some different kind of figuring. Republicans will have an incentive to court the Black votes and Democrats will have to work in earnest to earn the respect of African-Americans.

The October Surprise that Is Not ...

To us, the recent results of a Newsweek poll confirm this blog's steadfast conviction that Democrats will not take the House in November as media hype would have you believe:

Fifty-two percent of those surveyed in a Newsweek poll say they believe House Speaker Dennis Hastert was aware of the former Florida Rep. Foley's inappropriate messages to teenage House pages and tried to cover them up. Hastert has said he was not aware of Foley's inappropriate conduct until the story broke publicly late last month. Also, 42 percent say they trust Democrats to do a better job of handling moral values, while 36 percent say they trust Republicans more.

52 percent - albeit a majority of Americans - is modest, despite clear evidence suggesting a cover-up took place. Hastert should get gone; but, see, he's feeling comfortable with only a scratch above half of all Americans feeling he should resign. We go back to George Will's cogent piece in the Washington Post:

After the 1936 election, in which President Franklin Roosevelt shellacked the Republican nominee in all but two states, a humorist wrote: "If the outcome of this election hasn't taught you Republicans not to meddle in politics, I don't know what will." If, after the Foley episode -- a maraschino cherry atop the Democrats' delectable sundae of Republican miseries -- the Democrats cannot gain 13 seats, they should go into another line of work.

Will is on point here. At this stage, Democrats should be using this moment to solidify both base and message - we don't see either happening right now. 52 percent means that American voters probably feel overwhelmed with news on the Foley scandal; that media is saturating headlines with what many will attribute to simply "the usual business on the Hill" and not enough to punish GOP leadership for a serious lapse in judgment and institutional responsibility. Which is why Hastert and other rank-&-file Republicans are staying on message by blaming this latest debacle on soured Democrats digging for dirt. Too much scandal in the headlines can actually have the opposite effect of what was originally expected. Suddenly, the accused perpetrators become unknowing victims of mean-spirited partisan antics. Dems should probably cool down the resignation rhetoric and let chips fall where they may.

If both 2000 and 2004 Presidential races ended up pretty much neck-&-neck even after news about Bush's DUI charges, draft-dodging and questionable Air National Guard service surfaced, then what makes you think Democrats are in any kind of position to retake both chambers of Congress after Abramoff, Delay and Foley?

With the North Korea impasse now blazing the global headlines as the new crisis of the month (and Kim Jong Il begging for attention), "Foleygate" will take back stage to the real October surprise. Maybe we're just rampant cynics with nothing better to do than lament, but we remain skeptical of any Dem takeover in the House - perhaps the Senate. Yes, indeed, Dems should be putting out those resumes and mass resignations of the House Minority leadership should begin sometime after the last votes are counted on November 7th. You think it's bad now - Republicans will be off the chain once they figure voters will let them off the hook for pretty much any crime and breach of public trust. Maybe voter discontent and a healthy grassroots response from the body politic will prove this blog wrong in a month.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Foley Scandal & The Party of Values

Latest breaking and rather damaging news from Capitol Hill:

As the FBI investigation picked up steam, with agents contacting former pages across the country, there were new allegations that Foley's suspect behavior towards pages was no secret to the Speaker of the House and his top staff for at least three years.

Kirk Fordham, former chief of staff for Foley, told ABC News today that sometime in late 2003, he told the Speaker's chief of staff that Foley was getting too close to young male pages.

Fordham says the Speaker's aide, Scott Palmer, then met with Foley. Fordham also said the Speaker knew about the meeting.

Fordham says there had been a series of warnings from page supervisors that Foley was spending too much time with the pages in ways that were inappropriate and would not stop.

This is a "cute" way of saying that House leadership knew for quite some time that Foley was engaged in this sort of behavior. Oh - did we forget to mention that he was a fairly formidable GOP fundraiser, donating as much as $100,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee as early as July 2006.

Obviously, this was someone the House Republican leadership didn't want to get rid of.

Here's an Associated Press report about NRCC Chairman Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-NY) role in all of this:

Reynolds said he alerted House Speaker Dennis Hastert about the issue in the spring, but at the time they had not seen the e-mails in question. Hastert said he doesn't remember talking about it with Reynolds, but he didn't dispute Reynolds' account.

Flanked by about 30 children of supporters and as many parents, Reynolds defended his actions at a press conference late Monday in Amherst.

The congressman said that like anyone who hears a complaint about a co-worker, he alerted his supervisor, in this case Hastert.

"I don't think I went wrong at all," said Reynolds. "I don't know what else I could have done. What's a good citizen to do?"

You could've been a lot louder about the situation and pressed a bit more. This goes way beyond a simple "complaint about a co-worker."

Swift resignations are warranted in this matter. Hypocrisy abound considering Republicans (especially the very ferocious ideologues on the House side) paint themselves as the "party of family values."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nagin in the News - Small, Minority and Local-owned Business Mandate for N.O.

We feel New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin on this:

From now on, companies that seek subsidies or tax waivers from New Orleans city agencies will be required to work with local and minority-owned businesses under an executive order signed by Mayor Ray Nagin last month.

The new requirement, which the Nagin administration characterized as an expansion of existing goals to advance disadvantaged businesses, is meant to ensure that small businesses will have opportunities to participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans, Nagin said Monday at a news conference at Baker Ready Mix, an African-American owned concrete company on Frenchmen Street.

"Any community in America that is thriving and growing has small businesses that are doing well," Nagin said.

Too bad the Bush Administration doesn't feel the same way.

King & Republicanism ...

Earl Ofari Hutchinson muses about how Martin Luther King mused:

While King can never be considered a political conservative, the snippets of conservative thinking in his musings on the black family, economic uplift and religious values blend easily with the social conservatism of many blacks. In the decades after his murder, it has blended just as easily into the GOP’s prescription for black ills. And that evidently is more than enough for black Republicans to say that today he’d be a big player on the GOP team.

We supposed most a curious for a straight answer on whether he was actually a registered Republican or not, which is what is being asserted (or implied) lately. Was he - or was he not? And, if he was, does it really matter at this point? Do you feel us on this?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fox & Clinton - Round II

We went on a little blogging hiatus. Fingers needed stretching. So, the stuff below might seem a little old. Happy October ...

Fox News Sunday Host Chris Wallace made the curious move of re-hashing his memorable and very sharp-tongued interview with former President Bill Clinton on Sunday. Conventional wisdom has it that it became the flavor of the week, so naturally FNS focused on it. There was much more to it than that.

Not that we're defending anyone involved in this interview, but this blog is of the opinion that Wallace got clowned by Clinton. Most who viewed it in it's entirety got that. Wallace may not want to admit it, but his joke ended up joking him in the face - in fact, Clinton seemed to punk Wallace like a gesticulating football coach pounding the self-confidence out of a rookie water boy. That's our take - no need to go into the details. You can watch it for yourself at the FNS site because they can't seem to get past it ... or over it. We agree, though: it was great political drama.

Still, we think the greatest, most recent moment in Presidential folly was the recent NBC interview between Brian Williams and President Bush in which the Commander-in-Chief of the world's mightiest military machine desribed his reading list as "ec-e-lectic."

That's right. Not "eclectic" - he said "e-ce-lectic."

Our problem with all this revisionism is that it distracts us from some real issues - like: where is bin Laden and will he be found? Or: how exactly will this War on Global Terror end up? And: once again, why are we in Iraq?

Being caught up in Clinton's eruption may have turned into a rally cry for Democrats and a whining post for Republicans, but media talks less and less these days of how we ended up there in the first place. It seems generally accepted that this "liberation" was based on pretty solid "lies" ... ooops, excuse us before the Bush fundraisers, federal G-Men, right-wing talk show hosts and black helicopter posses shut us down (since that's what they've been doing more effectively than hunting down the most wanted man in the world) ... we mean "misrepresentation of the facts." The American public should simply accept this as a moment of bad governance and let bygones be bygones.

Last time we read the Constitution, it's not supposed to go like that.