Category Archives: Politics

The “dream” plus 50

I watched with interest the series of commemorations a couple of weeks ago, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. As I listened and read about the speeches, I began to wonder about the issues facing the African-American community, and for that matter, the entire American culture, today.

This is a sensitive topic to address, simply because I’m a 60-year-old white guy. I don’t want to come across as an insensitive bigot, but that seems to be the risk whenever you touch on anything related to race.

My question is this; after 50-plus years of struggle against oppression from outside the African-American community, has the civil rights movement now reached the point where the most fertile territory for continued growth is not outside that community, but rather within?

50 years ago, the issues were fairly clear. African Americans were restricted by a series of restraints imposed from outside their community — segregation, voting rights, fair housing, and so on. What’s the story today? Specifically, what are the issues, the causes and the solutions?

For the issues, I’ll turn to former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, who spoke at an event at a local college. He is a smart guy, a former two-term mayor and college professor. As quoted in the local newspaper, Johnson said:

“The fight definitely is not over.”

“Our unemployment rate is still twice that of whites, our poverty rate is astounding, our dropout rate is still very unacceptable, and you go on and on and on about the key factors in the lives of people of color…So the struggle must continue.”

Unemployment, poverty and dropout rate – those are good places to start. I’ll add a fourth — single parenthood, especially teenaged single-motherhood.

It is obvious the first three, and even the fourth, are all connected. If you drop out of high school, you will probably be unemployed, or only qualified for only low-paying jobs, and hence, be poor. If you start having children in your mid-teens, and without the benefit of a committed husband/father, the odds are also excellent that you will drop out of school, be un- or underemployed and poor. The out-of-wedlock birth rate in the African American community is outrageous — nearly 68% (two and a half times the white community’s rate.) Unfortunately, that frequently means “Dad” is not around, and the children are being raised by single mothers, grandmothers, and so on.
The Brookings Institute produced its fairly famous three rules for avoiding poverty.

  • Finish high school
  • Don’t marry until 21 and don’t have children before marriage.
  • Have a full-time job.

It sounds simple. It is also clear that many young men and women of color are not following these guidelines.

I realize there are still external barriers that minorities will face. I won’t pretend it’s an entirely level playing field.  However, on an individual basis, none of these steps is all that difficult. For today’s young black teens, the right course is obvious. So how do you convince a generation of young people to actually act in their own best interest? I don’t think the answer is going to come from Washington or from people who look like me. The answer has to come from within the young people’s own community. Ultimately, you have to convince young African Americans (and young people of any ethnicity, for that matter) to stay in school and out of their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s pants. That ethic must come from within the families and the community, not from a government program.

Yes, Dr. Johnson, the fight must go on, and there are still steps society in general can take. But for a significant part of the problem, the solution must come from within. Perhaps it is time for African American leaders to look to that great comic strip philosopher, Pogo.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Chasing Ice to Jekyll Island

I took a little “blog-cation”: for a while. I was feeling down with a cold-turned-bronchitis for most of January, and didn’t really feel like doing too much.

Mrs. Poolman and I had a nice weekend. On Saturday evening, we drove down to Jekyll Island (about an hour and a half from our home) to attend the screening of an environmental film “Chasing Ice.”  It was very impressive! Several folks from work were involved in the program. Also we are considering sponsoring a screening here in Savannah later in the spring. I thought it would be a good idea to see it first. The organizers from the University of Georgia did a great job. They estimate more than 700 people showed up for the reception, film and panel discussion. I guess there isn’t much else going on in the “Golden Isles” on a Saturday night in February. The film itself was also very good. Here is a trailer.

Here’s a rational thought

I don’t want to keep harping on gun control, but I had to laugh when I heard about this proposal coming from a politician, Phillip Lowe, in South Carolina. Ever since they started the Civil War, you can always count on the good folks north or the Savannah River to promote nutty political ideas.

The new supply closet?

The new supply closet?

In response to the Newtown, Connecticut shooting last week, one senator has a solution to school shootings – arm all the teachers, janitors and cafeteria workers. There seem to be two polar opposites about what to do about rampant gun violence. One side wants to eliminate (oops, I mean “restrict”) all firearms. The other side wants to just give everyone a gun. I guess the thought is that if someone came into a school and started shooting, all those kindergarten teachers and librarians would pull out their Glocks and blow him away.

I have two thoughts on that. The first is that the idea of a bunch of arming a bunch of amateurs with deadly weapons and encouraging them to use them in a building full of children, is a real scary thought. It’s not as easy as it looks on television or in a video game. Supposedly trained professionals mess it up all the time. Just last August, a handful of NYPD cops took on a bad guy and they got their man. But they also managed to wound nine innocent bystanders in the process. And these guys were supposed to know what they were doing. Imagine if they were school nurses!

The second, and equally scary thought is this; if you let and encourage guns in schools, how are you going to ensure those weapons away from the children? What happens when some junior psychopath-wannabe knows that Mrs. English Teacher keeps her gun in her desk drawer. After a playground encounter with the bully d’ jour, he decides to show his classmates how crazy he really is. Never happen? And who would have thought a 20-year-old son of a kindergarten teacher would take an AR-15, break into a school, and shoot up a class of six year-olds?  Hmmm.

Nuts and gun control

All three of “my teams” that played this weekend lost games they should have won. However, in light of Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, that shrinks to insignificance.

Before the sirens stopped wailing, gun control advocates were already hot on their keyboards. Huffington Post must have had four columns posted by mid-afternoon on Friday. You have a big problem and a big solution, but the two don’t match. Actually, I favor some stricter gun controls. It’s probably a good idea for society in general. However, I don’t believe stricter gun control will do anything to help prevent school shootings and other mass shootings. Unless you outlawed guns entirely, which is totally unfeasible, some crazy guy will be able to get his hands on a handgun, a rifle or a shotgun. Instead, we need “crazy people” control. When someone figures that out, we’ll have the answer.

The debate over gun control may be counter productive. While national attention will be focused on controlling the tools used to commit violence like this, little attention will be paid to controlling and preventing the behavior itself.  Society needs to find ways to identify and treat the kinds of people who are likely to do something like this before they break. I don’t know the answer, but I suspect just making it more difficult to obtain a gun is probably not it.

One mother, Liza Long, wrote an excellent essay on what it is like to be the mother of a mentally ill son. It’s worth reading.

This and that

It’s been about a month since I last posted. After our trip to France, I needed a bit of a “blogacation.” I’m back with a mixed bag of thoughts.

The hot news out there this past week has been the sex scandal surrounding David Petraeus.

David and Paula Broadwell in happier times.

What a waste! It is interesting to note the double standards our society has for those in the public eye. If Petraeus were a Hollywood celebrity or a professional athlete, the entire episode might not even be worth a mention in People Magazine. I think we, as a society, tend to be a little sanctimonious when it comes to a good scandal. I’m not justifying marital infidelity, but I don’t understand why today that activity needs to ruin a good career. In the not-to-distant past, many great and admired leaders had a little, or a lot, action on the side. (Hello, FDR, Ike, JFK, Teddy K, etc.)

I got a chuckle out of a set of petitions that have been circulating around the Web promoting states to secede from the Union following President Obama’s re-election. What a bunch of sore losers! I’m not an Obama supporter, and, while fairly centric, lean more towards the right side of the political spectrum. (Big surprise there, huh?) This is a democracy folks. If you want someone you like in any elected office, then go out and convince enough people and get them to vote. If you can’t, then suck it up and live with it. Don’t just try to take your ball and go home. And, oh, by the way, didn’t we settle the issue of secession back in the 1860s? You would think the folks here in Georgia would remember that.

How messed up is college football? Imagine this. My Florida Gators are 10-1 and ranked #4 in the country. With just a couple of games going the “right way” this weekend, (wins by UF, USC, and Alabama) they could play for the national championship. And this, for a team with an offense so bad they would have trouble getting a first down against Sister Mary’s School for the Deaf and Blind. I love the Gators, but I do wish they would play some offense.

And if sex scandals, a replay of the Civil War and the BCS aren’t enough controversy for you, how about skydiving cats? There has been a uproar (or at least an upwhisper) over a Swedish insurance company television commercial that featured supposedly skydiving cats. I like cats. I have two of my own, one of whom is snuggled in my lap as I write this. But when I heard about this, I laughed. Jeannie Moos with CNN picked up on the story and had this tongue-in-cheek report.

The key here, folks — they didn’t really throw cats of airplanes. It’s all a joke. And besides, don’t cats always land on their feet anyway? (That’s also a joke.)

It’s all in context

Sometimes I wonder why politicians ever open their month. The last couple of weeks have been crazy.

First, you have Congressman Todd Akin choking on his own foot over the issue of rape and pregnancy. Now the guy actually thinks he still has a chance to win. That alone shows a degree of political dementia that should disqualify him from the race. And the sad thing, or good thing — depending on your political orientation, is the idiot may cost his own party the White House and control of the Senate.

If you don’t say something stupid yourself, there are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to tell the world that you did. The latest involves Paul Ryan, who, a slew of liberal political bloggers would tell you, described rape as “just another method of conception.”

Shock! Horror! Won’t these Republicans ever learn?

However, when you look at the context of his entire sentence and his entire answer, you can see that his statement was not shocking, and actually wasn’t addressing rape anyway. His statement addressed the question of the “life-status” of an embryo.

 “I’m very proud of my pro-life record. I’ve always adopted the idea that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life…”

He could have just as easily have said something like “…regardless of how the insemination occurred…”

If you are “pro-choice”, there is plenty in that statement for you to contest. You may disagree with his view on the start of human life, but, in context, it’s difficult to classify that as an unbelievably offensive statement.

Being an equal opportunity critic, let me jump in on the President’s side. He has been famously taken to task for saying that “…if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

How many people who have expressed shock and dismay have actually read the entire statement and understood what he was trying to say? In context, he was saying that no one works in a vacuum, and that we need to work together to accomplish great things. Not very controversial, is it?

I don’t want to take anything away from someone who has built a successful business. They deserve acclaim. But the President has a point. How many of them benefited from the support offered by society, in general terms like infrastructure and education, but also in specific terms, like tax-breaks, low interest loans, employment services, even the generous commercial lending climate encouraged by the Federal Reserve in the pre-2007 years, and so on.

You can agree or disagree with the President, but again, in context, that is not really a totally outrageous statement.

And we still have two and a half months until the November election. Oh my!

Why do we need an amendment?

Let’s talk a little politics.

I was interested when I saw this announcement about a news conference to be held in Atlanta today to push for a balanced budget amendment. Take a look at the list of Georgia’s Republican congressmen behind this effort. I have questions for these people. If you think a balanced budget is such a good idea, why do you need a constitutional amendment to force you to do it? And if you really believe a balanced budget is such a great idea, why have you been unable to produce one since Bill Clinton left office?

You can blame a lot on President Obama, but not all. Republicans were in control of the White House and the Congress for much of the 2000s, when the deficit exploded.

Here is what no one is saying. You don’t need a constitutional amendment to have a balanced budget. You just need some congressmen with some guts (or other anatomical parts.)

Most of the time I think a balanced budget is a wonderful idea, but not ALL of the time. Such a constitutional provision would prevent the government from responding to many emergencies, from wars to recessions. It has been observed that we could not have fought World War II, for instance, with a balanced budget amendment in place.

As it relates to our elected representatives, the Congress has lived up the saying:

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

Our Congressmen and women are like shopaholics who just can’t miss the next sale. They are addicted to spending the public’s money. Now they are apparently admitting they can’t control themselves, so they are asking for a constitutional amendment to control their impulses.  To continue the analogy a little further, they are saying they can’t help themselves and need someone to tear up their VISA card so they won’t be able to go shopping any longer.

These folks are supposed to be smart and capable of running a government. At least that is what they tell us every time they come up from election. Why do they need an artificial restraint to keep them from doing what they are supposed to do in the first place?

I have an idea; why don’t we just elect some representatives who can do the right thing without being forced to do so?

Here are two more links on the balanced budget amendment question.

From Business Week

From The Washington Post.

On choice

On the way to work this morning, I started thinking about the concept of “choice.”  What prompted this was a report I heard on NPR on the death of a very conservative Georgia state legislator. They had a comment from a more liberal legislator who said that she liked and respected the deceased although they had very different ideas about the role of choice in government and society.

There was no question the legislator was referring to the abortion debate when she mentioned “choice.” The deceased legislator was famous among his colleagues for trying to attach an anti-abortion amendment to every bill he came across, whether it had anything to do with abortion or not.

I started thinking about the different ways liberals and conservatives view the role and importance of choice. It appears that both sides have multiple views.

Liberals promote the value of a pregnant woman’s right to make a choice whether to deliver or have an abortion.  Conservatives disagree.

Conservatives promote the value of a person’s right to choose to purchase and carry a gun without many restrictions. Liberals sincerely wish that choice was not an option.

Many conservatives think people should have the right to choose what public schools their children will attend. Most liberals believe that would be a detriment to public school systems.

The value of choice, it seems, depends on whether you agree with the choice or not.

Not surprising when you think about it.

Living in the past

You can always count on the folks in South Carolina to stir up the pot. They did it in 1860 and they’re back at it 150 years later. Monday night Confederate heritage-lovers staged a Secession Gala on the sesquicentennial of the state’s vote to secede from the union.

As a history lover and also a Yankee who has spent all but a few of his adult years in the South, I am chagrined by that group of Southerners who hold firmly onto their historical memory of four and a half years of bad judgment and reckless hubris under the banner, “It’s our HERITAGE!”

Some people take it seriously here. Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes was defeated in his bid for a second term in 2002, in a large part because he would not support the use of the Confederate Army battle flag on the state’s official state flag. Groups of protestors followed him to public appearances in flag festooned pickup trucks and staged demonstrations to support their cause. I remember it well. It was really funny. But I don’t think Roy thought so.

I guess what I don’t understand is the battle cry, “It’s our heritage.” While it is a part of Southern history, it is not a big part. The Confederacy lasted only a little over four years. Besides, it is not a part of history that Southerners should be justly proud.

Taking nothing away from the soldiers who fought for the Confederate side, their cause was morally bankrupt and politically flawed.

Current day revisionists will claim the Civil War was not fought over slavery, but rather for some vague concept of “states rights.” That may be literally true, but when taken in context, not factually so. The causes of the Civil War were complicated, but at the risk of oversimplifying them, here is what it came down to:

  1. The Civil War started because the Southern states attempted to secede from the Union and form their own separate and hostile nation.
  2. The alleged reason they attempted to secede was to defend their “state’s rights.”
  3. However, the only “state’s right” they were really willing to fight for was the right to own slaves.

Many modern revisionists like to cite the first two reasons, but they stop before they get to #3.

There were economic issues in dispute, but if it were not for slavery, there would have been no secession and no war. Slavery, along with its related issues like expansion to new territories, was single hottest political issue of the decade leading up the Civil War. It was the overarching issue of debate. The current debate over legalized abortions pales by comparison.

You cannot separate the Civil War from the issue of slavery.  Lincoln figured that out. While he has been quoted as saying he would accept slavery if it would preserve the union, he also knew by tying the Northern war effort to a fight against slavery, he could strengthen his political position, gain additional support for the war and isolate the Confederacy from potential European allies. By 1863, slavery was most definitely a central issue for the north.

You will hear Southern apologist claim, “My great grandfather didn’t own any slaves, and neither did most of the soldiers who fought for the South!” So what? The key decisions that led to the war were not made by lower aand middle class farmers and shopkeepers. The decisions were made, as usual, by the rich and powerful, and they were overwhelmingly slave owners.

It is interesting to note that the Southern politicians did a complete turn when it came to writing their own Constitution. On one hand, they claimed that while part of the national union, the states had the rights to secede and to determine the status of slavery within their borders. Yet when it came time to write the rules for the Confederacy, they specifically prohibited both those rights to their member states. Any future secession was disallowed, and states were not allowed to outlaw slavery within their borders.

What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander.

A solution to the same-sex marriage debate

The issue of same-sex marriage is back on the front burner this week, courtesy of a Federal judge’s ruling this week that struck down California’s Proposition 8, which would have outlawed the practice, at least in California.

There was an interesting column on The Huffington Post today with a reasonable solution — get government out of the marriage business.

Gee, I wish I had thought of that. Oops, maybe I did.