Friday, February 15, 2008

What has Barack done?

I'm starting to understand more about the question of what has Barack done. I started my own career as a community organizer, and very few people understand what I did then or what impact it had on my life. In many respects I think Barack is experiencing the same lack of understanding - as catalysts for change you don't often have the programmatic victory numbers that define other successes. You are basically mobilizing people to enact their own power, something our country as has long misunderstood.

I assuredly don't have his credentials, but I do have a few of my own. After completing my undergrad degree, I studied community organizing at CTWO in Oakland Ca. I left with grand ideas of mobilizing central city residents, and in some cases had tremendous experiences which led me to a career in non-profit management. I've been helping people my entire career, but I imagine someone would ask me to, what have you done?

I could give them a laundry list of achievements with the work I've done, none of it high profile, none of it glamorous, none of it front page news. However, the lives that have been impacted and the legacy of the work is undeniable. There are agencies throughout the Midwest and East Coast that have benefited from my work without much fanfare. His career path is just the same, when it comes to his decision to pursue a non-traditional path to find his calling. I don't fault him for that.

According to a David Moberg article: In 1985, freshly graduated from Columbia University and working for a New York business consultant, Barack Obama decided to become a community organizer. Though he liked the idea, he didn't understand what the job involved, and his inquiries turned up few opportunities.

Then he got a call from Jerry Kellman, an organizer working on Chicago's far South Side for a community group based in the churches of the region, an expanse of white, black and Latino blue-collar neighborhoods that were reeling from the steel-mill closings. Kellman was looking for an organizer for the new Developing Communities Project (DCP), which would focus on black city neighborhoods.

Obama, only 24, struck board members as "awesome" and "extremely impressive," and they quickly hired him, at $13,000 a year, plus $2,000 for a car--a beat-up blue Honda Civic, which Obama drove for the next three years organizing more than twenty congregations to change their neighborhoods.

Despite some meaningful victories, the work of Obama--and hundreds of other organizers--did not transform the South Side or restore lost industries. But it did change the young man who became the junior senator from Illinois in 2004, and it provides clues to his worldview as he bids for the Democratic presidential nomination.

I would advise everyone to look and investigate for themselves, and to hold their own societal impact up for scrutiny. What would anyone say that you have done? What would a nation think of your contributions? I may not be running for office, but I'm thinking more and more about my own legacy. I think I'll rest easy about my contributions and I believe that Barack will be able to as well. This is a different type of politics, a different type of reason to be involved.

Further, the verbage on his website is convincing to me.

Throughout his political career, Barack Obama has fought for open and honest government. As an Illinois State Senator, he helped pass the state’s first major ethics reform bill in 25 years. And as a U.S. Senator, he has spearheaded the effort to clean up Washington in the wake of numerous scandals.

In the first two weeks of the 110th Congress, Senator Obama helped lead the Senate to pass the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act, a comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform bill, by a 96-2 vote. This landmark bill was signed into law by the President in September 2007.

The final bill that the Congress passed closely mirrored and drew key provisions in a bill (S. 230) that Senators Obama and Feingold introduced in January 2007 to establish a “gold standard” for reform. Among the provisions in the Obama-Feingold bill that were adopted by the Senate and the House were: strict bans on receiving gifts and meals from lobbyists; new rules to slow the revolving door between public and private sector service; and an end to the subsidized use of corporate jets.

Most importantly, the final reform bill contained a provision pushed by Senator Obama to require the disclosure of contributions that registered lobbyists “bundle” – that is, collect or arrange – for candidates, leadership PACs, and party committees. The New York Times called this provision “the most sweeping” in the bill, and the Washington Post said: “No single change would add more to public understanding of how money really operates in Washington.”

In January 2006, Senator Obama laid the groundwork for the reform package that the Senate eventually adopted a year later. He started building a coalition for reform by helping to author the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act introduced with 41 Democratic sponsors. The bill proposed lengthening the cooling off period to two years for lawmakers who seek to become lobbyists and requiring immediate disclosure as soon as public servants initiate any job negotiations to become lobbyists. The bill would have opened conference committee meetings to the public and required that all bills be posted on the Internet for 24 hours before they can be voted on by the Senate. Finally, the bill would have ended all lobbyist-funded gifts, meals, and travel and strengthened the Senate office that monitors lobbyist disclosure forms. All of these provisions were incorporated in either identical or similar form into the final bill passed in 2007.

In addition, Senator Obama sponsored three other ethics-related bills in the 109th Congress that went even further on ethics, earmarks, and legislative transparency. By the time of the 110th Congress, his ideas for reform had gained support, and many of his proposals were passed by the Senate.

  • The Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission Act
  • The bill would create an outside ethics commission to receive complaints from the public on alleged ethics violations by members of Congress, staff, and lobbyists. The commission would have the authority to investigate complaints and present public findings of fact about possible violations to the House and Senate Ethics Committee and Justice Department. By taking the initial fact finding out of the hands of members of Congress, who are often reluctant to investigate their colleagues, the bill ensures prompt and fair disposition of public complaints.

    To avoid manipulation of the commission for political purposes, any person filing a complaint that they knew to be false would be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment. No complaints could be filed against a member of Congress for 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election.

    The bill was widely endorsed by reform groups. According to Common Cause: "[T]his legislation would do more to reform ethics and lobbying than any other piece of legislation introduced thus far because it goes to the heart of the problem: enforcement." Public Citizen praised Senator Obama "for having the courage to challenge the business-as-usual environment on Capitol Hill and introduce far-reaching legislation." Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington stated: "This is the first bill that deals seriously with the lack of oversight and enforcement in the existing congressional ethics process. . . . This bill will help restore Americans' confidence in the integrity of Congress.

  • The Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act
  • This bill would shed light on the almost 16,000 earmarks that were included in spending bills in 2005. Under the bill, all earmarks, including the name of the requestor and a justification for the earmark, would have to be disclosed 72 hours before they could be considered by the full Senate. Senators would be prohibited from advocating for an earmark if they have a financial interest in the project or earmark recipient. And, earmark recipients would have to disclose to an Office of Public Integrity the amount that they have spent on registered lobbyists and the names of those lobbyists.

  • The Curtailing Lobbyist Effectiveness through Advance Notification, Updates, and Posting Act (The CLEAN UP Act)
  • This bill aims to improve public access to information about all legislation, including conference reports and appropriations legislation, in particular after hurried, end-of-session negotiations. Conference committee meetings and deliberations would have to be open to the public or televised, and conference reports would have to identify changes made to the bill from the House and Senate versions. Finally, no bill could be considered by the full Senate unless the measure has been made available to all Senators and the general public on the Internet for at least 72 hours.

Presidential Valentine's

I have had some friends indicate in one way or another that they believe my support for Barack is over the top. I really disagree, I've posted about my issues w/a few of his stances on many occasions. Reality is though, I guess we vote for whomever motivates us to believe they are capable of making decisions that benefit our home, our community, our nation and our world.

As a married woman of nearly 13 years, I must say that I have the utmost respect for Barack Obama's decision to spend Valentine's Day with his wife. At the most heated point in this political process, with negative ads airing in multiple states, and on the heels of several high profile mess starters (i.e. Julian come lately Bond) Obama spent time at home. I know that he was probably on a flight at darkthirty in the morning back on the stump, but it did my heart good to think of someone with their priorities in the right place. Win or lose, he has a family, a wife and 2 girls to care for. I want to believe in a leader who understands the tremendous demands and pressures that are placed on an individual who answers the call to service. I want to believe in a man like Barack Obama.

I am heartened to know that there are people throughout this nation who are rethinking their obligations as a SuperDelegate. I had started wondering if I was the only person who thought it strange that someone could vote against the overwhelming will of the people throughout their state. Michigan and Florida broke the rules, I don't even think there should be an additional conversation about that. But my same heart that relishes the idea of a man of character leading this country, would be equally heartened if a woman of character were to lead this country. Maybe next time there will be one in the race and I'll be able to make that choice. For me, there's not much debate.

The policy differences are just that, slight differences without great distinction. The goals and objectives of their healthcare plans are not worlds apart, the greater issue becomes timing for covering the most and hardest to cover people. I'm a little slow to open my heart on this argument, I was dismayed by the debate regarding a higher minimum wage when I'm still looking for my wage increase to pay student loans. But I digress. Since I'm not a liberal extremist Barack didn't always appear to be a likely choice. I voted Republican so recently that I'm still repenting. That being said - I have 3 children who are now able to spill out Barack facts with the best of strangers. They are increasing their historical references for Michelle too, and she's no slacker. He married an equal, an amazing woman of substance I'd be happy to have in Washington. I'm thinking if she had run, she'd be the one with my vote. She's a wife, a mother, and a woman of amazing accomplishment and substance - and I can fully understand making the decision to spend Valentine's Day with her. After all, I'm a newbie to the all encompassing political watch - but I'm convinced, Michelle having his back is a good place for him to be with more hullabaloo to come.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Edwards Endorsement Spells "For Sale" Politics

So, my husband is the political guy in the household - at least that is how he tends to fancy himself. And we started a conversation about Edwards today when I had a ah ha moment, Edwards will endorse Hillary. Think I'm smoking something? Well, I've been trying to figure out how the Democratic Establishment would ensure that Hillary won, even if the momentum, support, and popular vote didn't go her way. Today, it occurred to me, Edwards is the cold water on an emerging fire.

1. Originally, Edwards and Obama followed the rules. If Edwards endorses her, he will tow the party line about every delegate counting, in addition to throwing his her way. Even the small number that he won will be counted. The contest is going to be very close, and I believe his supporters will largely (but not uniformly) follow his recommendation. Hillary will attempt to seat Florida and Michigan, even though the party has said that their delegates will not count. With Edwards agreement, this will be put in the media as 2 of the 3 candidates sharing thoughts about how to get a Democratic candidate at any cost. She campaigned illegally and needs every delegate she can get, even though it was not a true contest. ( As a non-Democrat, this makes my skin crawl - to all heck with the rules.)

2. Hillary needs money. Not that Edwards is a cash cow, but he may have the ability to pull some additional dollars to a campaign that is burning money aggressively.

3. So I'm done with visceral hate for Billary, but I will not vote for them. Some believe that Edwards potentially joining the ticket will attract more
African-American voters, since many had an interest in his campaign. Even if he doesn't join the ticket, his support will mean that he has a been offered a sweeter deal effectively - everyone (including Barack) will be promising him something.

4. Imagery. The party has to be seen as unified for the sake of the general election. If Edwards and Hillary unite - the pressure will be much more aggressive for Obama to "take one for the team". The rhetoric has already started with regard to the "true fight" being against the republicans, implying that everyone (regardless of tactics) should unify for the long term.

5. Character balance. Edwards has flaws, but his character has not been in question in the way that Billary has. While people don't vote on endorsements, they may align their thoughts about momentum and inevitability because of them.

I hope I'm wrong, but I believe this week Edwards will come out and announce that he has made the difficult choice to support Hill. When that happens, the media will carry the story into the March primaries and the next election cycle - toting the teflon queen has pulled an upset. No one will think that his effort to end poverty will be placed in the hands of the family that largely failed health care and catalyzed welfare reform in idealism. No one will think that this was a race card - race is only an issue if you are of color - otherwise you can partner with who you want.

Colin Powell implied he might endorse a Democrat or Independent - and the blogs went crazy. Edwards endorsing Billary seems natural on Fox News. Colin encounters everything from "Old Boys Network" to "you knew he would endorse Barack because he's AA" as people spout hate about the idea that Barack could just be the best person for our country at this time - and the reality is, it's getting bad. Bad enough for old politics to prevail.

I'll write about it when it happens. Should it not, I'll write about that too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Journey into Black History...Dr. Mae C. Jemison

It is the 6th day of February, and Black History Month has been on our mind, a lot. I believe that there is no need to single out the shortest month of the year to highlight people who have clearly shaped all history - but I am recognizing, after our relocation specifically, all history is not created equal. Our children have embraced our decision to increase our knowledge of history during this month, using it as a catalyst for a more focused dinner conversation. In just a few short days I have learned, they aren't the only ones who are learning.

Dr. Jemison was destined to be an early topic in the month, because I was intent on talking about living legends. Our living legends are people who are alive today and making a difference. Often times when we talk about history, the focus is on the top 5 names that we all should know. (We have also learned that we don't know as much as we thought on that front either.) We are science nuts, and when I thought about celebrating my Soror and a hero, I thought I knew the direction to come. Dr. Jemison is so much more.

Mae C. Jemison blasted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, September 12, 1992, the world's first woman of color to go into space and the city of Chicago's first astronaut in U.S. history.

At 16 she graduated from High School, and was encouraged to read and excel in school by her parents. My children were particularly interested in her younger life, and relocation to Chicago - as much as her many achievements. Jemison attended Stanford University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering, and fulfilled the requirements for an A.B. in African and Afro-American studies. She completed her medical doctorate at Cornell University. This could have been enough to start a conversation with my children, until we discovered her tremendous commitment to service and giving back. Jemison was a General Practitioner in Los Angeles with the INA/Ross Loos Medical Group, and then spent 2 ½ years as Area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa.

One of 15 selected from 2,000 applicants to NASA, Jemison was selected after the fatal Challenger launch which ceased any new applications to the program. Her resilience to pursue her own path and to explore outer space was consistent throughout her entire life. Applying a second time gave a great lesson that even the best of the best have challenges. I thought I would have talked about the pink and green banner she carried into space, but I spent a lot of time talking about the facts I discovered along with my children. There's so much to know about the heroic giant - a woman of grace.

Honors and awards include induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame; selection as one of the People magazines' 1993 "World's 50 Most Beautiful People"; Johnson Publications Black Achievement Trailblazers Award; the Kilby Science Award; National Medical Association Hall of Fame; selection as a Montgomery Fellow, Dartmouth College; and numerous honorary doctorates. She was the host and technical consultant of the "World of Wonder" series on the Discovery channel, appeared in an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation, and was the subject of the PBS documentary The New Explorers. She marked our 4th day of Black History month, but reminded me the season isn't for the children or anyone else. February has served as a catalyst, a good reminder, all of our history lessons are not yet learned. And surely, we are unable to teach what we don't know. We celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Jemison!