“Victory”

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On the cusp of a landmark “victory” on health care reform, President Obama dramatically addressed a boisterous throng of well-wishers convinced that his industry written reforms constituted positive change. The President glowed and fed off the positive energy in the air. He seemed revitalized and renewed as the crowd roared its approval.  The president’s earnest entreaties are beguiling and difficult to resist.  The recession weary public desperately wants to believe that “change we can believe in” is at last on the way. It isn’t.

Many on the left in the progressive blogosphere believe that “change we can believe in” was killed in the crib. The corporate infanticide of change was facilitated by a conspiracy between the Administration and the insurance lobby that gutted the public option, instituted weak cost controls, enforced a mandate to buy private insurance and left the anti-trust exemption, which allows insurance companies to engage in the most egregious price gouging, largely intact.  The reality leaves me drained and dispirited.

The average black person I meet is trapped in a post inaugural cocoon of black pride.  Any constructive criticism of the President provokes a defensive scorn, as if you called their upstanding, god fearing, churchgoing grandmama a trifling whore.  The relationship between the Obamas and the black community is not political but familial. They meet every benchmark of acceptability and are like the new bougie couple that just joined the church that everybody wants to get to know. We see ourselves in them.  Unfortunately, we’ve become so lost in the reflection of ourselves that we failed to notice that the black community is drowning in an ocean of narcissistic b.s. and benign neglect.

The Stockholm syndrome is so profound that if the Congressional Black Caucus had determined to sink Health Care Reform without a public option, blackfolks would have eaten them alive.  Some folk seem to think that God put them here on earth to be Obama’s pep squad.  The President may be black, but he is also a politician like all those that came before him who told us what we wanted to hear and then broke their backs to do the bidding of their corporate paymasters.

The absence of a real urban agenda, what some refer to as a “black agenda,” is a festering wound that will never heal without progressive policy solutions that address the corporate theft of predatory lending, support for mass transit, massive infrastructure improvement,  job training programs, de-escalation of both the prison and military industrial complexes and support for public education.  The president has done some good work on the education piece with a reform of student loans, but much more needs to be done.

Don’t get me wrong, the stimulus was a tremendous help in stabilizing the economy, but we are in such a deep hole that we need much more. Everybody knows that there ain’t no damn jobs out here. State budgets are still tight and teacher layoffs, public school closings, and the loss of thousands of state and local government jobs is still a daily reality. The president damn near had to fight the civil war all over again with some ignorant Republican from Kentucky just to extend unemployment benefits for a short time.

Here in the Carolinas, Republicans  in the South Carolina House of Representatives voted to the eliminate  state support for the entire budget for HIV/AIDS  prevention and assistance. That also includes the AIDS drugs assistance program that provides a lifeline to HIV positive people who cannot afford their anti-retroviral medications.  Republicans are the same people that spread the death panels red herring they claimed was embedded in Obama’s health care reform bill that would “pull the plug on grandma.”

The political calculus implied by this heartless proposal is that the people in the program are not Republicans and that helping them extend the quality and duration of their lives is unnecessary and too expensive.  Given the disproportionate numbers of HIV infections in black South Carolinians (8 times that of Whites), the racial animus behind this move is crystal clear. South Carolina has the eighth highest rate of new  HIV infections in the country and the Republicans in the South Carolina legislature would rather pretend that this isn’t a problem as HIV ravages the black community unchecked.

The Health Care Reform proposal making its way through congress will do nothing to stop state governments from making draconian choices like South Carolina.   I pray it will provide something commensurate in the way of relief for the victims of state sanctioned indifference.  Health Reform still leaves out 24 million people from coverage because health care, despite the histrionics of the socialist obsessed right-wing, is still not a right.

The gluttonous plutocracy that masquerades as American Democracy is alive and well. If we truly want the victory over our corporate overlords, we need to stop putting our trust in personalities and parties and stick with our principles.

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The more things change…

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Please give a warm welcome to TripLBee,  Skeptical Brotha’s newest contributor.

By TripLBee, Contributor

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Remember 1993? A charismatic young President rode into the White House in shining armor, liberating our tired and weary masses from 12 years of right-wing tyranny. We were giddy. We were hopeful. We were naive.

Within days of taking office, Bill Clinton gave us a clue as to the kind of President we could expect. Having campaigned on a promise to integrate the military, he promptly compromised his GLBT constituency with the ludicrous and triangulating “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. For GLBTs the abrupt about face may have been more aptly described as the “Don’t Trust This Mutha@#$%^& As Far As You Can Throw Him” policy.

Fast-forward 16 years. Another charismatic young President extricates Americans from the grip of a crazed GOP. He is handsome. He is “articulate and clean.” He sports a brilliant and beautiful wife, and two of the cutest kids on the planet. He quotes Jay Z and Jesus in the same speech. He is perfect. He seems too good to be true. Perhaps because he is.

Among the many promises he makes is one to overturn a Jim Crow redux, euphemistically titled the “Defense of Marriage Act.” This act essentially demotes GLBT couples to legally sanctioned second-class citizenship. Cut it and slice it any way you will, this is the essence of the legislation. Those of us concerned about basic civil and human rights are heartened that our new President is set to undo such palpable wrongs. Only he isn’t.

It took our perfect Prez only a few weeks to cause us some concern.

He’s extending the pull out date in Iraq by a year? Ummmm….okay, I guess.

What? He’s tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan, the graveyard of Empires? Oh dear.

He’s pumping money into the biggest banks in the country, but he’s not requiring them to fire their bosses, cap their pay or change the way they conduct their business? Now I am really confused!

Of course we’ve made excuses for our new Prez. Who did we think we were getting after all? Che Guevarra? Look, he’s gotta compromise a little bit. I mean, he has to govern 300 million people, many of them former Republicans. He’s gotta throw em a bone every once in a while. Right?

At some point however, compromise becomes a stale rationalization for “politics as usual.” By filing a friend of the court brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, President Barack Obama has officially become a typical Democrat.

This is a sad day indeed for those of us contributed to his campaign, knocked on doors until our knuckles bled and worked the phone banks until we were hoarse. Many of us, myself included, expected this brother to be different. So far he has proven himself to be smarter, more charming, and slightly more daring than the average bear. But in some fundamental ways, he’s no different.

Born to a white mother and black father in 1961, Obama was literally illegal in 17 states. His parents’ marriage would not have been recognized in many parts of the country. I wonder what they would think if they could see their baby defending state sanctioned bigotry?

And here’s the rub. He didn’t have to do it. He could have told his lawyers to take the day off and play golf. He could have told them to call in sick. Whatever pathetic excuse he has concocted, he didn’t have to go out of his way to spit in the faces of his GLBT supporters. He claims that he had to file the brief because the Defense of Marriage Act is federal law. Well, abortion is a constitutionally protected right. Did you see Bush filing friend of the court briefs when protections for abortion were being challenged in the courts? Nope. Bush knew where his bread was buttered. Apparently Obama does not.

Bernie Sanders: progressive champion

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Yesterday’s Senate Debate on the Wall Street Bailout provided some stark contrasts.  On the one hand, you had progressive stalwarts like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.  On the other hand, you had John McCain and Barack Obama.  No matter how you slice it, Barack Obama’s capitulation on the Wall Street Bailout was a betrayal of progressive values and a betrayal of the working class, which is disproportionately composed of people of color.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Socialist who caucuses with Senate Democrats, illuminated the class betrayal of Obama and the majority of his Democratic colleagues with a clarity that should have embarassed them all.

In our country today we have the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on Earth, with the top 1 percent earning more income than the bottom 50 percent, and the top 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. We are living at a time when we have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the very wealthiest people in this country; when, among others, CEO’s of Wall Street firms receive unbelievable amounts in bonuses, including $39 billion in bonuses in the year 2007 alone for just the five major investment houses.

 We have seen the incredible greed of the financial service industry manifested in the hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent on campaign contributions and lobbyists in order to deregulate their industry so hedge funds and other unregulated financial institutions could flourish. We have seen them play with trillions and trillions of dollars in esoteric financial instruments in unregulated industries which no more than a handful of people even understand.

We have seen the financial services industry charge 30 percent interest rates on credit card loans and tack on outrageous late fees and other costs to unsuspecting customers. We have seen them engaged in despicable predatory lending practices, taking advantage of the vulnerable and the uneducated. We have seen them send out billions of deceptive solicitations to almost every mailbox in America.

I used to think that my home was the only one that was receiving them. It turns out that billions of other solicitations went out to probably every home in America. What they hoped to do was to gain new customers for credit card companies and then, through the very small print on the back of the solicitation, have the opportunity, have the ability to monkey around with interest rates so when people thought they were getting zero interest or 2 percent, it turns out that a few months later they were paying very high interest rates.

Most important, of course, we have seen the financial services industry lure people into mortgages they could not afford to pay, which is one of the basic reasons we are tonight in the midst of all of this. We have a bailout package today which says to the middle class that you are being asked to place at risk $700 billion, which is $2,200 for every man, woman, and child in this country. You are being asked to do that in order to undo the damage caused by this excessive Wall Street greed. In other words, the “Masters of the Universe,” those brilliant Wall Street insiders who have made more money than the average American can even dream of, have brought our financial system to the brink of collapse, and now, as the American and world financial systems teeter on the edge of a meltdown, these multimillionaires are demanding that the middle class, which has already suffered under Bush’s disastrous economic policies, pick up the pieces they broke.

That is wrong and that is something I will not support. The major point I want to make this evening is, if we are going to bail out Wall Street, it should be those people who have caused the problem, those people who have benefited from Bush’s tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, those people who have taken advantage of deregulation–those people are the people who should pick up the tab and not ordinary working people.

Obama’s support of the bailout didn’t come cheap.  With more than $9.8 millon rasised from the securities and investment industry, nobody can question that he is morally compromised himself by accepting $691,900 from Goldman Sachs, $448,600 from Citigroup,  $442,919 JP Morgan,  $404,750 from UBS, $370,500 from Lehman Bros, and $318,00 from Morgan Stanley.   These six investment houses and brokerages kicked in $2,676,739 to the Obama coffers alone. 

I like what I’ve read on Obama’s website about his proposals regarding predatory lending and his legislative record, but this Wall Street Bailout vote negates most of that in my mind and I am not at all happy about it.  Also missing is any real commitment to reimposing the Glass Steagall act reforms of the New Deal Era that separated investment banking from commercial banking and insurance and protected American consumers from monopoly and speculation. Votes like this underscore the necessity of campaign finance reform.  

Senator Sanders offered an amendment to the Wall Street Bailout that would have raised taxes on those making $500,000 or more to pay for the bailout and it failed on a voice vote.   I would have loved to have seen whether Obama’s lips moved yea or nay or whether they were on the floor at all.