Obama Observations

He's not black, Arab, socialist, African American, nor an agent of (though possibly an opportunity for) change.

Last night, Andrew Young was one of the few people to note that he's not black. I believe he called him "Afro-European-Asian American", which is sort of close.

People are claiming this was a rejection of fear. But the Democrats were using fear of Bush, just as Bush has used fear of Al-Qaeda. But fears are real ofcourse, and both have been misused.

The anticipation that Obama will change things because of his ethnicity is strange given the experience with Thomas, Rice and Powell (at least the last two are incredibly attempting to rehabilitate themselves).

Perhaps most crucially, Obama's election is frequently portrayed as evidence of US exceptionalism. It's widely being implied that it is the end of racism -- all the while being regarded as "historic" at every turn...

[originally published at husseini.org on Nov. 6, 2008]

Obama Nationalizes MLK

Obama: "America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there."

I have reflected on that line a thousand times. I've always wanted to be part of that We. Not because I'm a U.S. citizen, but because I try to be someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. That "we" in King's speech could mean African Americans, it could mean decedents of slaves, it could mean people who are oppressed. It could mean people trying to act in a righteous manner: Toward a New Jerusalem. It quite certainly was not meant as a nationalistic flourish.

Last night in front of the White House, the chants were the predictable "yes we can", the mildly cleaver "two more months" -- and the ominous "U-S-A"..... As Rahm Emanuel is slated for chief of staff....

[originally published at husseini.org on Nov. 5, 2008]

Obama Said Healthcare is a Right, Right?

Many people following the election probably think that Obama said that healthcare is a "right for every American." That's how Democracy Now headlined their report about the healthcare exchange following Obama's second debate with McCain.

But that's not actually what Obama said. He said healthcare "should be a right for every American." This is virtually meaningless. Life should be fair, politicians should be honest, I shouldbe able to play the piano and you perhaps should be doing your laundry.

(The introduction of the word "right" was from the moderator Tom Brokaw, the original questioner Lindsey Trella asked: "Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?" Neither Obama, McCain or Brokaw used the term "commodity" in their discussion which followedTrella's question.)

Of course healthcare as a right is provided for from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 25 states:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The day the Declaration passed the UN General Assembly, Eleanor Roosevelt said

In giving our approval to the Declaration today it is of primary importance that we keep clearly in mind the basic character of the document. It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a Declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms, to be stamped with the approval of the General Assembly by formal vote of its members, and to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations.

So healthcare "should" be a "right", but there's no legal instrument to make it a reality. It is not an obligation of government as far as Roosevelt or Obama are concerned. It's easy to idealize Rossevelt or Obama -- but they didn't make the change happen -- movements did. And they need to first carefully parse the words of the politicians. 

[originally published at husseini.org on Oct. 30, 2008]

To the American Race

South Park's Chef: "Never make fun of an American because they are black or brown or whatever, but it is ok to make fun of a foreigner because they're from another country."

Colin Powell: "And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions."

From the Theme to "American Dad":
"Good morning USA!
I've got a feeling that it's gonna be a wonderful day.
The sun in the sky has a smile on his face,
And he's shining a salute to the American race."

[originally published at husseini.org on Oct. 21, 2008]

Neglecting my Home(page)

I'm spending most of my blogging time lately at VotePact.org. Also wrote a piece on Bill Maher's movie for Air America. Will likely not have time to write a proper piece, but I have similar feelings about Oliver Stone's "W." Some of his past work has been strong--blah, blah blah--BUT: It's it ridiculous to come out with a movie on Bush (that doesn't actually seem very promising) just as he's leaving office. I mean, how brave! After all the blood sweat and tears, here comes the cavalry! This is especially the case given that Stone's other major movies during Bush's time in office ("World Trade Center" and "Alexander") if anything made things easier for Bush.

(Disclaimer: I haven't and don't intend to see any of these movies, I've been attacked for this, but I don't think it's ridiculous to criticize a movie without subjecting yourself to it. If I see a book on evolution and I notice the index doesn't contain a listing for "Darwin," do I have to read the book to know it's probably lousy?)

[originally published at husseini.org on Oct. 17, 2008]


I remember one of the nights of the 2000 Republican convention was dedicated to the notion that "W is for Women." I remember thinking at the time, no, it's for War, Wealthy and White. Really. 

[originally published at husseini.org on Oct. 17, 2008]

My Year on Wall Street

"The sliver of sky that keeps me alive." That was the phrase I'd mutter to myself throughout my year on Wall Street as I walked around downtown Manhattan amid the skyscrapers on my breaks. That's what got me through that year about a score ago.

I had recently graduated from college with a co-major from the math and philosophy departments. The market had crashed, but I managed to land a job at Moody's Investors Service. Aspects of the job were interesting--I got to play with SQL database and C, which was moderately interesting. But mostly it was doing mundane fixes for the software that ran Moody's records of various companies.

The software was used by an entire floor full of clerical workers, "the poor shleps," "the people upstairs," who typed in data all day long, whose jobs were more boring than my own, but who I suppose at least got to commiserate with scores of co-workers.

After a while my boredom compelled me to barely work at all. I was stunned as I'd get paychecks I didn't feel were earned. Then it occurred to me: They weren't paying me for the work I was doing, they were paying me for work I wasn't doing. They were paying me for my passivity. They were paying me for my silence. They were paying me NOT to do certain things. To NOT apply my skills in certain ways that might threaten their interests.

My boss was actually a relatively decent guy. When I told him I was resigning, he seemed genuinly curious about my feelings. Told me about one time he quit a job and wanted to shout "Free at Last" a la Martin Luther King. I told him it was a Henry David Thoreau quote from "Civil Disobedience" that was echoing through my mind:

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others--as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders--serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as the rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few--as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men--serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

During my obligatory bye-bye "interview" with a Human Resources honcho I advised him to pay for some programming classes for one of the sharp data entry people--one particular African American woman came to mind--who already knew the idiosyncrasies of their internal system. He seemed inclined to pass on the suggestion--he assumed that if they educated someone, that person would ditch them for another job in short order.

During this entire period, I derived some meaning by taking art classes. It was sort of liberating--unlike my work since this period, I'd walk out of the office at 5:00 or 5:30 and--in comparision to my life since--forget about my job.

For a time I would occasionally go to the old churches in the area--I think it was around this time that Dylan's "Ring Them Bells" came out--they seemed like a relief for a while, but then became part of the same mundane, exploitative existence.

A few months before I quit, a sense of ambition led me to start interviewing for other positions and I'd landed an offer from JP Morgan. It was in a snazzy new group dealing with secularized mortgage instruments of all things; this was a bit before the S&L scandal became front-page news. As best as I can tell, they were taking the (presumably good, unlike now) assets from S&Ls and selling them to head off the impending disaster for another spell. There was a company-wide hiring freeze at Morgan because of the crash, but they found some way to work around that and bring people on board for this group.

As I considered taking the job, I started getting chest pains. I could sort of fake my way through Moodys, but at JP Morgan, I'd probably have to both apply myself and give of myself. I talked to another analyst--we took a walk around the JP Morgan building. He was a PhD from MIT and had a background in physics and told me he had expertise with some arcane set of equations that seemed to have some application to finance, or so the folks at Morgan were hoping.

I asked him if this was what he really wanted to do with his intellect, he talked about how it was up to government to set the rules and corporations to play by them. If the system was flawed, it was the fault of Washington, not New York. I could almost hear someone in Washington saying they had to make the rules a certain way because that's what Wall Street needed.

One of the co-heads of the group described their mission as making money and getting their kids into "the right schools."

I turned down the job. I just didn't want to deaden my soul and accommodate myself to that system. The head of the group I'd report to said he though t I "didn't understand the opportunity we're offering you here." I told him that I understood, but felt another calling.

So corporate capitalism is having a hard time again. There's global poverty, increasing inequality, etc. and that's all fine, but not folks on Wall Street losing their shirts.

To me, it comes back to a fundamental incompatibility with human nature. It's actually my hope that a system that objectifies people can't function. That's a good sign. I don't want to help put Humpty Dumpy back together again. We need to find and articulate forms of social organization that make sense. I do want to minimize the painful convulsions, but be done it must be.

Let the real discussion -- and work -- begin.

I don't want the "promised land" to just be a sliver the the sky I mutter about. I want to be there -- I want it to be here on this Earth.

Thanks to Beau Friedlander at Air America for encouraging me to wrap up this piece -- was was written during a train ride from D.C. to New York -- when I mentioned it to him and for his edits. 

[originally published at husseini.org on Oct. 4, 2008]

Frontline Swipes "Democracy"

I just saw a promo for a Frontline (PBS) program on the election. The program has a reputation for quality it does not deserve any more, if it ever did.

Here's Robert Parry:

Yet, Frontline and other mainstream U.S. news outlets shy away from this central fact of the Iraq War: by invading Iraq without the approval of the U.N. Security Council and under false pretenses, the Bush administration released upon the Iraqi people “the accumulated evil of the whole” – and committed the “supreme” war crime.

The promo used the tune "Democracy" by Leonard Cohen. I'd tried to get the Nader campaign to use the song in its 2000 campaign without success. The program "Democracy Now!" did pick up the suggestion and still uses it periodically.

[originally published at husseini.org on Sep. 10, 2008]