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Egypt and Black History Month

February is Black History Month. For all black authors, there is some sort of unwritten rule that it is blasphemy not to comment on Black History in February. Well, I will not commit blasphemy this month.

In many schools, history is taught as a bunch of isolated facts that are seldom related to reality. Students are forced to digest facts like

  • In 1885, Sarah E. Goode invented a bed that folded into a cabinet. She was the second black woman to receive a patent.
  • Garrett Augustus Morgan created a gas mask.
  • Thomas J. Martin patented the fire extinguisher in 1872.
  • George T. Sampson invented a clothes dryer in 1892 that used heat from the stove.
  • Although Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb it would have been nothing without the carbon filament. The process for creating a carbon filament which burned in hours instead of minutes was figured out by Lewis Latimer.
  • Granville T. Woods invented the multiplex telegraph in 1887. He invented air brakes for trains. He also invented a device that picked up electricity from the “third rail” which made electric powered transit systems possible.
  • And Dr. George Franklin Grant invented the world’s first golf tee, which was patented in 1899. He was also the first Black professor at Harvard.

But even lumped together all these individual achievements don’t tell the story of Black History. They don’t tell the story of how many minorities in America thrived despite oppression. Henry Blair, for example, never learned to read or write, yet he invented a corn seed planter in 1834 and signed his patent with an X. Martin Luther King wrote some of his most eloquent essays from a Birmingham Jail.

The story of Black History, then, is the story of overcoming obstacles, of excelling in spite of squalid conditions. As we sit back today and see the people of Egypt taking to the streets and asking for basic human rights, such as fair wages and equal treatment from the government, it is hard not to remember and reflect upon the civil rights movement.

Remember, first, that the civil rights movement did not happen one day in 1963 when the Reverend Dr. King stood before a crowd of hundreds of thousands and declared, “I Have a Dream.” It started after World War II, when our brave black soldiers came back from honorable, heroic service overseas and were then treated as second class citizens, again. The integration of the armed forces in 1948 really started the civil rights ball rolling. The NAACP saw enormous growth in the late 1940s, and its president Roy Wilkins, along with Thurgood Marshall, carefully planned a series of legal battles that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, KS) in 1954. It was hundreds of thousands of thoughtful, hard-working blacks and whites who made up the civil rights movement that grew into a powerful force that lasted more than 20 years.

Freedom, liberty, and civil rights do not come easy. They did not come easy in America and they will not come easy in Egypt. We must remember that Dr. King, who was devoted to nonviolent change, led a series of marches. It is important that we do not forget people like Huey P. Newton (founder of the Black Panthers) and Malcolm X, who proposed using “any means necessary” to achieve the goal of civil rights for all, were a significant counterbalance to the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

All these people came together and demonstrated, and challenged, and marched, and fought to bestow on people like you and me the freedoms that we enjoy today. In Egypt, too, the people are going to have to fight for change on all fronts. They’ll have to continue with nonviolent demonstrations in the streets. They’re going to have to fight in the courts. They’re going to have to fight in their legislature. When I look at Egypt, I can see just how far we’ve come. When I look at the latest job numbers (unemployment rate of 9%, 8.7 million Americans having lost their jobs since December of 2007), I can see we have a long way to go.

Black History is more than a series of names and events. Black History is an American story of triumph and tribulation. It is a story of a very long struggle which should have meaning for all Americans.

By |2011-02-25T17:57:31-04:00February 25th, 2011|Foreign Affairs, Newsletter, Race|3 Comments

I Have This Uneasy Feeling About Iraq

As many of you know, I love and admire President Barack Obama. What he has accomplished is truly remarkable. Not only was he elected president but he has also taken over the helm at truly rocky times. We have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With escalating tensions in the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, the world is looking to us for leadership. Africa, South America and South Asia are in desperate poverty. Our polar ice caps are melting. Here at home, we’re in the middle of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression and our political atmosphere is truly toxic. Through all of this, our president has stood tall and managed to pull together coalitions to get significant legislation passed in Congress. Yet I have this uneasy feeling, nausea really, over Iraq.

Before we unwisely invaded Iraq, there was a balance of power in the Middle East. Iraq and Iran hate each other. They would truly like to annihilate each other but after fighting a fruitless war which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and after which there is no clear victor, they were content to scowl angrily at each other. The third point in the Middle East’s triangle was Israel. So when we swooped in and took out Saddam Hussein, we tipped the balance of power. It is really unclear how this will play out in the long run, but for now Iran seems to be the big winner.

Last week President Obama addressed the nation. He told us that combat operations in Iraq had been completed. Our troops were coming home. Cool. Let’s break out the champagne. Then, before I was able to get to the refrigerator, our president stated, “a transitional force of US troops remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, supporting Iraqi troops and targeted counterterrorism missions and protecting our civilians.” What? Then, just for a moment, our president seemed to transform into President George W. Bush and talked about extremists, terrorist bombings and sectarian strife. We’re leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq to do the exact same job they’ve been doing for the last three years. I was flabbergasted. I began to feel like Fred Sanford, from Sanford and Son, and I grabbed my chest.

As soon as President Barack Obama ended his speech with what I thought was an overly gracious tip of the hat to President George W. Bush, the Republicans, instead of being grateful, went on the attack. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner were two of the first to step up and criticize the president for not praising the surge and George W. Bush. Did we just enter the Twilight Zone? Did the conservatives say that the surge worked? To review, the surge had six key elements. These elements were unveiled to the American public by President George W. Bush, himself. Two of the six elements were to create space for political progress and diversify political and economic efforts. There has been no political progress over the last three years. None. Elections were held. No government was formed. The Sunnis, Shiites and the Kurdish Iraqis in the north continue to argue like school children. The surge did help decrease the sectarian violence but that was only one part of the plan (one out of six is an F, isn’t it?) Iraqis were supposed to form a functional government. That has not happened. We were supposed to create the space for Iraqis to lead. This simply hasn’t happened.

With Republicans giving each other high fives and congratulating themselves on the surge, I feel uneasy. With President Obama slipping into a George W. Bush-type trance and telling us that combat missions have ended when they really haven’t, I feel uneasy. This may be my whole problem with the Middle East — my feeling of uncertainty. I’m not sure it’s clear who our friends are (with the exception of Israel) and I’m not sure who our enemies are. We are embracing the Iraqi people as our friends but does that include all of the Iraqi people, including the Sunnis? I just feel that nobody has any good answers.

By |2013-10-26T15:21:25-04:00September 8th, 2010|Afghanistan, Iraq, Newsletter, Obama administration|Comments Off on I Have This Uneasy Feeling About Iraq

Barack Obama – What Have You Done for Me Lately? (Updated)

We’ve all heard the rhetoric that President Barack Obama really hasn’t done anything during his 18 months as president. There seems to be an overwhelming outcry asking, “What have you done for us lately and what will you do for us soon?” If you listen to the media, President Obama has been a failure. If President Obama is a failure then Einstein is a moron who needed remedial education. We must remember the environment that we are in. Conservatives will never say anything positive about the president. This is a given. Progressives will always want a more liberal policy then comes out of Washington. This is also a given. So the President is getting criticism from all sides. I want to take a moment to review Barack Obama’s legislative accomplishments.

Financial Reform – Big financial institutions now have more stringent regulations which should decrease their ability to make risky investments and make our economy less vulnerable. The government now has the ability to regulate derivatives. These were the instruments which helped cause the Great Recession. A new federal watchdog agency has been created to help consumers against these financial institutions.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 – This bill simply restores worker protection against paid discrimination. One would think that this would not be a big deal. This bill was shepherded through Congress against almost universal Republican opposition.

Hate Crimes Prevention Act – This bill extends hate crimes legislation to cover gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 – All I can do is smile when I see this piece of legislation. The credit card industry spent millions of dollars trying to lobby Congress to kill this legislation. In spite of their efforts, some decent legislation came out. This ended retroactive rate increases. This made it mandatory to give us, the consumers, 45 day notice before rate hikes. There is also a limit to the amount of fees that can be charged. There is also language in this legislation to make our credit card bills easier to read and easier to understand. This was a huge consumer victory.

Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – This piece of legislation gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products.

Universal National Service Act – This law set-asides billions of dollars to help students and seniors earn money through volunteer service. This can help students earn money for college.

Stem Cell Research – President Obama signed an executive order which ended the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research. Briefly, we all have stem cells in our bodies. Embryonic stem cells are a basic cell which has the ability to stimulate correctly to become any other cell in the body. The promise of stem cell research is great. Imagine one day being able to inject stem cells into the pancreas of a diabetic and those cells becoming healthy pancreatic cells, no more insulin shots. Imagine a 21-year-old who was in a devastating car crash and is unable to walk because of damage to his spinal cord. Hopefully, one day, we can inject specially treated stem cells directly into the spinal cord in order to heal the damaged segment. This is the promise of stem cells. (editor’s note: this paragraph has been edited to more accurately describe what President Bush banned and what president Obama overturned.)

Healthcare Reform – Americans are no longer beholden to insurance companies. Over 20 million Americans that do not have health insurance will be covered under this sweeping initiative.

Economic Recovery Act Of 2009 – President Barack Obama and the Democrats have been taking a beating from Congressional Republicans and talking heads about the stimulus package. Recent analysis by conservative economists, Mark Zandi (John McCain’s chief economist and an economist for Moody’s) and Alan Blinder (Princeton professor and served as vice-chairman of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve) found that intervention by this Congress and president Obama caused our GDP to be 11.5% higher and saved over 8.5 million jobs. The stimulus worked to avoid the Great Depression 2.0.

No President in our modern era has faced as much of an uphill battle as Barack Obama. Recently, at the Net Nation conference, ousted administration official Van Jones described the 44th Presidency by saying, “Barack Obama volunteered to steer the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.” In spite of his clear accomplishments, this President has faced overwhelmingly negative media, a stoically resistant Republican Party all while fighting wars both economic and military. And yet, he perseveres. As he stated at his address to the Urban League in late July, “I didn’t take this job to do the popular thing, I took it to do the right things.” For that, he has earned my admiration and continued support. I look forward to the future he is attempting to steer the nation towards.

By |2010-08-17T07:48:23-04:00August 17th, 2010|Newsletter, Obama administration, Party Politics|Comments Off on Barack Obama – What Have You Done for Me Lately? (Updated)