Saturday, November 8, 2008

Let's enjoy this, but let's move on soon...

I'm white. I'm the son of a civil rights lawyer - we spent part of my childhood in Mississippi while he filed lawsuits to advance African-American political rights. My first vote for a presidential candidate, in the 1984 Maryland Democratic primary, was for Jesse Jackson - not because I thought he was the most qualified candidate, but because I knew he was breaking new ground and I wanted to help.

So I'm excited we've just elected the first African-American president. It is a profound delivery on the promise that is our great nation. I think we should celebrate some about this singular fact.

But let's move on soon. I did NOT vote for Barack Obama because he's African-American. I voted for him because he struck me as the most competent - and certainly the least volatile - of the choices we had. I like him as he comes across in the media: He is of my generation, he is pragmatic not ideological, and he blends passion and "cool" and sincerity and good-natured humor. Yesterday he moved smoothly from profoundly serious economic and foreign policy questions from the press to silly ones about the dog and handled them with equal grace and a tone suitable to each. And when he blew it with an inappropriate crack about Nancy Reagan, he was quick to call her and personally apologize. I do like the fact that he's African-American, but that's much more of an abstraction than the fact that I like HIM (also an abstraction, admittedly, since I only know what I see and read by and about him).

Barack Obama won a larger % of the popular votes than any candidate in the last 20 years. He has promised to continue to work to bridge gaps and find common ground, and I believe him. We don't want his presidency to be about race any more than we wanted John F. Kennedy's to be about religion. I'm sure we all want it about the United States of America, so let's move on...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Era of consumer excess finally over?

The New York Times this morning says "sales at the nation's largest retailers fell off a cliff in October." Of course, the economy is the immediate cause, but it's seemed for a while that the 40-year orgy of spending beyond our means for more and cheaper stuff, financed by home equity and more work hours, has to end and now maybe it really will.

I know modern consumption really got going in the 1920s with the expanded use of credit, and so it's already survived one global economic depression. And I know any permanent declines in the level of consumption will bring real hardship and wrenching change given how much of our economy it drives.

Consumption in the 30s needed a boost, but ours is still over the top, even in its current contracting state. It's not that we buy stuff - it's that we buy more than we need and worse, we throw away perfectly good stuff when we're tired of it and buy more. It's bad for our wallets, bad for our environment, and is only so important for our economy because we're addicted.

So let's kick the addiction, we can all help: I'll buy less, and try to buy clothes I need from the consignment store. I'll encourage my government to spend MORE - not wastefully, but on infrastructure and clean-up. Fixing bridges and razing dilapidated buildings does more for me and creates more worthwhile jobs than giving me tax rebates to buy more TVs and fashionable shoes I don't really need. And the people who get those jobs DO need to consume more, though I'd like my government to figure out how to encourage them to spend the extra money on health and education.

I realize this is simplistic and there are a lot of issues. I fundamentally believe it's time to consign the Consumer Era to the history books. I've no idea how to do it, but will start with Gandhi's admonition to "become the change we seek."

Monday, November 3, 2008

One set of reasons Obama's warning us it won't be easy...

I haven't seen this movie I.O.U.S.A. but I'm going to - Peterson has been a voice of alarm - with good reason - for a long time, this is really important - and scary - stuff.

"Unfortunately, even as the federal government bails out Wall Street, the government's own finances are heading south. And $700 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to the $53 trillion in financial obligations that the government currently owes.

"Which is why, on this Halloween, we're bringing you a light-hearted horror movie - our acclaimed documentary I.O.U.S.A., which boldly and at times comically examines the nation's rapidly growing debt and its consequences. The film has been a huge hit, getting rave reviews from Roger Ebert and others.

"Today, we're pleased to release "I.O.U.S.A.: Byte-Sized" online. This is a 30-minute condensed version designed specifically for watching and sharing on the web - for free as a public service for all.

"Visit to check it out (we've even made it stream so you can start watching right away without having to download a file).
We're also pleased to announce another round of theater showings for the full-length film. Visit to see if the film is playing at a theater near you.

"We're not asking you to donate anything. We're not asking you to pay anything - you don't even need to buy popcorn. All we're asking is that you visit to find a showing at a nearby theater or check out the byte-sized version.

"Then, tell your friends, your family, your Facebook friends and your Twitter followers about the staggering amount of money - $53 trillion - in financial obligations owed by the federal government to foreign investors and to every single American in the form of pensions, health benefits, Social Security and Medicare.
For our children and grandchildren. For ourselves. Watch I.O.U.S.A.: Byte-Sized and join us in our Fiscal Wake-Up Movement. Together, we can make American fiscal responsibility a reality.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Saw Bruce and Barack

It was a great crowd, here's the best picture I could take. We didn't get very close, and everything was an hour late, but it was still a wonderful experience. Bruce Springsteen was great with his acoustic guitar, harmonica, and reinstated verses Woodie Guthrie should have never let be taken out:

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I [heard them grumbling],
Is this land made for you and me?

Bruce then gave his own great speech about the American Dream and what's happened to it and why Barack Obama can help us rebuild it, before introducing Obama and his family.

We've all heard Obama's stump speech - alot of times. But it's great to hear - he's so right about the need to end the tired politics of hate, division, and fear. I know it can't just be fixed in one election on Tuesday, but I believe we'll take an important step forward Tuesday.

For one thing, I think (and hope) Obama will actually disappoint us liberals. He's going to tell fathers to do their jobs, he's going to kill government programs that don't work, he's going to honor the role of faith-based organizations in social work. I think he's determined to lead from the center, not by triangulating like Clinton did but by continuing to reach across tired old debate lines. I don't think he'll use the mandate he wins on Tuesday to over-reach like Clinton did a little and Bush II did ALOT.

I hope I'm right and, if so, I look forward to having my assumptions challenged.