In Defense of Obama

(Actual Post Date 2/14/10)

Very few issues are as divisive as defending  a sitting President, and your opinion on this matter is most likely predicated upon whether or not you voted for the current Commander-in-Chief.    In just over a year since Obama has taken office, many pundits and voters have cast their opinion about Obama’s first year in office, which is also a hotly debated topic, which typically reflects the political divide between the major parties.    However, no politician in recent memory created the kind of unbridled enthusiasm and fervor for change in Washington in the manner that Obama did.    With his ubiquitous campaign slogan, “Change You Can Believe In”, Obama was able to rally even the most apathetic of voters to join his movement and shout in unison, “Yes We Can! Yes We Can!”   But one year later, it seems as though these slogans can be only heard in whispers at the water cooler or at Obama’s occasional town hall rallies.    

Many of his supporters, especially young voters may be feeling a bit skittish and skeptical about Obama’s ability to actually bring change to Washington politics and deliver on his campaign promises such as Health Care Reform, investments in alternative energy and job creation through green technology.  So far, it appears that although he’s been unable to pass the current health care reform bill, he has at least begun to address the issues of skyrocketing health care costs through reform, which is something the Bush administration completely ignored and also an issue that has been dormant since HillaryCare was crushed by Republican opposition.    As Obama stated in his first State of the Union speech, he didn’t propose health care reform because it was good politics, he simply sought to deliver on his promise to the American people that he would hold health insurance companies accountable.

To some supporters, it may seem that Obama is being unfairly criticized by the media and by his naysayers, and of course the Republican party, and this argument may have some merit, especially considering that Fox News is now officially and unabashedly the Official Media Sponsor of The Republican Party.    But in retrospect, most Presidents in their first year of office, have had less than stellar beginnings, much of this has to do with shifting attitudes in Washington about the new guy in charge, disenchantment among the more conservative or liberal factions of each party with their President’s agenda and also the inherent media bias that exist in political reporting, which seems intent upon destroying a first year President’s credibility.   A prime example of this media bias would be the way that Clinton was personally attacked his first two years in office, with Whitewater allegations, rumors of affairs and an alleged murder cover up in his close circle, unfortunately the affair rumors would turn into fact and almost unravel his presidency. 

However,  in Obama’s case, he inherited two wars and an economy on the brink of implosion.  And despite saving the American auto industry from collapse, signing legislation to curb predatory lending in mortgages and credit cards, holding big banks accountable for taking bail out money, instituting Cash for Clunkers, creating the $8,000 housing rebate and saving millions of jobs via the stimulus bill, Obama is still struggling to define his presidency.    Part of the reason that he’s still struggling to define his presidency, is that he and his administration are too humble in touting his accomplishments in his first year, furthermore, the Democratic power players who helped get him elected have been inept at promoting the positive aspects of his achievements.   Despite SNL and the right wing media attempting to peg him as a “Do-nothing” President, Obama has clearly worked hard on his agenda and on establishing  America’s trust in him.  He’s already conducted ten times more press conferences and network interviews than Bush did in his first year, clearly that’s a sign of a leader who wants to lead. 

The other prevailing issue that trumps Obama’s accomplishments is the continued loss of jobs and the inability to document substantial new job creation through the American Recovery Act.    According to the non-partisan OMB, the stimulus bill did actually create almost 2 million jobs, but that was just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of jobs that have been lost over the past year,  which Republicans will quickly blame on Obama, despite the fact that job loss is an extension of the Great Recession that was presided over by Bush.

So it appears that the remainder of Obama’s first term will be defined by his ability to get meaningful health care reform passed and help spur the private sector to create more jobs, a task that seems a bit dubious because the government is designed to regulate private industry when necessary, such as banning monopolies, but it has not been involved in creating jobs in the private sector.  Corporations have clearly taken advantage of layoffs and reduced labor forces to increase their bottom line, but are in no hurry to rehire at levels prior to the recession, which is the real reason why the recovery is still lagging.  Perhaps one way to increase job creation is to incentivize American companies to bring back some of the jobs that were outsourced to foreign countries by offering them tax credits.

The good news for Obama is that most Presidents are rarely defined by their first year in office, many have stumbled out of the gate, overcome media bias, appeased their constituents and governed over Congresses dominated by the opposing party.    Obama appears to be poised to be the leader that many of us hoped that he would be,  he’s learned from his missteps and admits his shortcomings thus far, but by virtue of his sincerity and passion, he still inspires hope that real change will come eventually.

Barrington D. Ross


Was Reid Wrong?

(Actual Post Date 1/20/10)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently made some unsettling remarks to a book publisher about race, speech patterns  and Obama’s increased Presidential viability due to his “light” skin tone.     The authors quote Reid as saying privately that Obama, as a black candidate, could be successful thanks, in part, to his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”  For many African-Americans these are very sensitive topics, especially the issue of skin tone, but it is also a topic that is very familiar to the African-American community.    For centuries, black people in America have had to deal with the politics of skin tone, even within our own communities.  The issue of skin tone and its’ influence upon race has been studied and written about for years, and yet the debate continues about the significance of “light skinned” versus “dark skinned” and its’ sociological consequences.  

Reid also claims that Obama’s speaking patterns, devoid of “Negro dialect”, also make him a much more viable Presidential candidate.   This is also a controversial issue within the black community, which has a history of slang talk dating back to slavery, as a means of covert communication from their enslavers.   However, the evolution of slang and the “Negro dialect” as Reid coined it, has been universally accepted into the American dialogue, with words and phrases such as “Cool, What’s Up? What’s Happening? Jive Talk and Hip or Bad” to name a few.   There was once a time in American history, when only African-Americans uttered these “cool” colloquialisms, which may be surprising to many young people.  But as African-Americans began to become more of a part of mainstream America, the catchy dialogue that originated in Harlem jazz clubs and back alley parlors slowly became accepted by white Americans partially due to the young white patrons of these establishments, who tried to mimic the cool, hip swagger embodied by their favorite musicians.

When Reid’s statements were revealed, my initial reaction like many people of color, was that his remarks were racist and insensitive, but then I began to think objectively about the nature of his comments and the context with which they were delivered.   First of all Harry Reid, a 70 year old white man, born and raised in Nevada, a state which had its’ share of discrimination, but was not a political hotbed for civil rights, doesn’t have the racist pedigree of some of his congressional southern colleagues who were staunch segregationists.   Reid also appeared along with Senators Sam Brownback and Barack Obama in the 2007 documentary film Sand and Sorrow, which details the genocide in Sudan.  He also recently compared the opposition to healthcare reform to those who opposed the abolition of slavery in the 1800’s.  While all of this certainly doesn’t exonerate Reid from being a racist, it certainly doesn’t necessarily characterize him as a racist either.  Reid who probably grew up accustom to referring to black people as Negros, which was not uncommon for someone his age, reverted back to a term that he was familiar with in describing the “Negro dialect”.  The term Negro is in fact still utilized today by the UNCF, The United Negro College Fund,  so I will assume that Reid simply had a “senior moment” and meant no disrespect when he used the term.  

The most troubling part about Reid’s statement was that he blithely perpetuated stereotypes about African-Americans, which are predicated upon esoteric features such as skin tone and speech patterns.   Reid also inadvertently revealed his predilection for African-Americans of lighter skin tone and those who use proper grammar, without slang, if they so choose.  The problem with his statement is that he places an inordinate amount of attention upon Obama’s skin tone and speech pattern, instead of as Martin Luther King Jr. proposed, judging a man “Based on the content of his character.”   Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most influential and articulate men in history, and he was a man of brown skin tone, darker than Obama, and would not have been considered “light skinned” by any means.   King gained notoriety for his eloquent speeches and his passion for civil rights, but according to Reid’s presumption on race, King  would have been more acceptable, if he were light skinned, which is obviously ludicrous.

The real issue is that we live in a society where politicians who seek to become President, have to possess a rock star type of appeal in order to influence the masses, because most Americans are too inundated with making a living or are too apathetic to research the issues and make informed decisions about who should be their leaders.  

Obama garnered attention, much the same way MLK did, with passionate, eloquent speeches that resonated with people of all color and races.   Obama’s skin tone may be considered light skinned, but I doubt that most African-American voters supported him because of his skin tone.   Apparently, Reid felt that this would be a factor with white voters, who if given a choice of light and dark skinned black candidates, would undoubtedly choose the light skin candidate.   This is a universal conundrum that can be found in just about every society of the world, especially in Asian countries, like China, Korea and India, who are not very shy about voicing their preference for celebrities and leaders of lighter skin tone.  In many Asian countries, and Asian communities throughout the United States, Asians wear long sleeves and big brimmed visors to keep their skin from getting dark, as dark skin is considered to be of lower class and connotes a working class association.

The ability to speak well is considered by many to be a skill, and for some, like Obama, perhaps a gift.  But the ability to articulate and use proper grammar is not a mutually exclusive trait or attribute of a particular race, its’ more of a reflection of education and parenting.   Many professional African-Americans are very aware that they’re being judged not only by their skin color, but also by their communication skills.   

We know that reliance upon superficial attributes such as skin tone, weight, height, etc., really has no bearing upon a person’s character, their personality or their ability to succeed, as Oprah Winfrey once famously quipped, “My personality is not in my thighs”.    There are numerous examples of brown or dark skinned people who have achieved extraordinary success in our lifetime and yet we still continue to focus upon the color of one’s skin as the barometer by which we determine their acceptability.    Perhaps this is where Reid and others of like mind, have lost focus of the dream.  The dream that Martin Luther King Jr. had that we “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Despite electing our first African-American President, apparently there’s still a lot of work left to be done to realize the true meaning of Dr. King’s dream.  

 Barrington Ross

Why Tiger Has No Game.

It’s all but impossible to go through a day without hearing the latest news on Tiger Woods, or as he’s now known “Cheetah” Woods, (sorry couldn’t resist).   It’s still hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago, until that fateful Thanksgiving morning, we all bought in to the ideal image of Tiger Woods, uber successful biracial athlete, millions, maybe billions in endorsements and a seemingly happy marriage with his trophy wife Elin.   Well, it certainly seems that the image he and his agents spent years molding and crafting into the quintessential athlete, the rare breed that transcends their sport and becomes a household name, even to those who are casual fans of the game, has come crashing down faster than last year’s stock market.  

While Tiger’s sponsors speculate over their long term commitment to their once golden goose, it seems likely that he’ll slowly resurrect his image through the perfunctory goodwill tours,  late night talk shows and exclusive prime time interviews.   However, the one thing that perplexes me about  “TigerGate” is why he chose to disclose so much personal information about his marriage to women that he was casually involved with.    It just seems illogical that someone who savored his privacy as much as Tiger, would share details of his marriage with women, who were club promoters, waitresses and Reality TV show contestants.   

For a man who’s every move, seems as calculated as his decision to use a six iron or a seven iron on the final hole of a major, divulging information about the status of his marriage to lesser knowns, seems ludicrous.  Did he ever ponder that some, if not all of his dalliances saw their tryst with him as purely a money making opportunity?   I’m sure that some of them truly had sincere feelings for him, but when they realized he wasn’t leaving his wife, apparently some of them made a business decision to continue seeing him and recorded every detail of their affair.    And rumor has it that he allegedly paid the club promoter (Uchitel) five million dollars to keep quiet, which leads me to believe that Tiger really has no game.

No game, as in, if I wasn’t mega-rich and super famous, my interactions with women would be awkward, and a bit on the nerdy side, kind of like the Geek Squad crashing the Playboy Mansion.    We’ve all seen Tiger Woods hoisting up numerous trophies on Sunday after pouncing on fools who dared to challenge him, and we’ve seen the ridiculous checks that he cashes for his efforts, but what we don’t see is the “real” Tiger.   The one who really is a nerd, in the best sense of the word, not the kind of nerd who wears pocket protectors and funny helicopter hats, but the kind that knows he’s not a natural ladies man, but figured out that with his celebrity he could collect women, like kids collect baseball cards.  The lesson that Tiger learned is that while baseball cards don’t talk, waitresses and Reality TV contestants do.   

If Tiger really had game with women, he would have realized that his superstar status alone was enough to get what he wanted from those women, without giving away his hand.   For they already knew, that his hand had already been given away in marriage.    Therefore, there was no need to let casual hookups in on the private details of his marriage, despite how bad things may have been.    A real player will set the ground rules in advance, and dictate the rules of the game, but in Tiger’s case, he just got played.

 This is not an endorsement of cheating in marriage, nor is it giving kudos to the “Playas” out there,  it’s simply my opinion on why one of the greatest athletes of our generation, a black man who turned a stuffy, all white gentlemen’s game into a hip sport is now considered a serial adulterer and an unworthy spokesperson.  

-B. Ross   


Is It Time to Puff, Puff Pass?

Yesterday, was National 4/20 Day also known as the unofficial weed smokers holiday, where those who choose to indulge, lit up a joint, or blunt or bong hit to celebrate their affinity for marijuana.   The name 4/20 was derived from law enforcement’s use of the code to identify a marijuana related arrest.    Avid pot smokers have sense then, coined the lexicon 4/20 as a hip way of mocking the standard police code and as a covert means of communicating to other smokers, that they were about to get high.  

Over the past few years the stigma of smoking weed seems to have subsided to a degree, primarily because pot is now accepted as a medical alternative to chemically manufactured pharmaceuticals.    The AMA just last year reversed their long held position that marijuana was strictly a recreational drug with no medical benefits, and affirmed that it possesses therapeutic benefits and called for further research.   This was certainly good news for people who rely on marijuana as a means of medication for illnesses such as chemo recovery, fibromyalgia, glaucoma and a host of other ailments.  

The other primary factor in the waning stigmatization of weed is the outright promotion of marijuana by so called celebrity stoners such as Snoop Dogg, Woody Harrelson, Bill Maher and long term pot advocate, Willie Nelson.   Fifteen years ago, it was rare to see respected actors and television personalities publicly advocating the use and the legalization of marijuana, for fear of damaging their public reputations.  But now, the tide has obviously changed, and the idea of a celebrity publicly supporting legalization of marijuana is far from taboo.   

Recently, Alec Baldwin while hosting the Oscars, took a shot at Woody Harrelson, who was in attendance, and quipped that Woody probably almost forgot to come to the show, because he was so high.   To which, Woody simply smiled and tacitly agreed with him, by nodding his head.  This kind of exchange on the biggest stage in entertainment, is a clear indication that Americans are more comfortable discussing weed as an acceptable drug, along the lines of alcohol and prescription medication.    

According to a recent poll, about half of all Americans support the idea of legalizing marijuana.   In California, marijuana advocates recently gathered enough signatures to place the legalization of pot on the November ballot.    This will be a closely watched initiative in the upcoming elections and may overshadow some of the nationwide Congressional and Senate races, due to its’ potential impact on other state’s initiatives to police the distribution and consumption of marijuana. 

Currently, there are 13 states that recognize weed for medicinal purposes, including Alaska, Washington, California, Nevada, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont.   Each of these states will most likely be impacted by California’s vote on the legalization of marijuana, as advocates and users in those states may seek to replicate the Golden State’s playbook in an effort to further force the issue of legalization in their own states.

Marijuana is currently the largest cash crop in America, bigger than corn and wheat,  generating an astounding 36 billion dollars a year in revenue for growers and distributors.   The continued easing of attitudes towards marijuana will eventually force state and federal authorities to find ways to control its production,  decriminalize possession, generate tax revenues and increase education of teenagers about the effects of excessive use.       

Regardless of the outcome in November, the issue of legal marijuana will continue to be a highly debated topic, due to its growing acceptance as a medicinal drug and not just a purely recreational drug.  However, most people who smoke, are recreational smokers and that’s why many Americans are reluctant to its embrace weed as a legal drug.    

If Californians vote to legalize marijuana, hopefully, the state will institute an oversight committee to prevent dispensaries from operating near schools and playgrounds and also treat public weed smoking in the same manner that public tobacco smoking is treated.    After all, having the legal right to smoke shouldn’t necessarily impose upon non-smokers and on those we wish to protect the most, our children.  

 Barrington D. Ross