28 November 2008

Brown Faces In High Places

I talked to my mother earlier this week.

"That Obama," she said, "he's already had three news conferences. Calls the reporters by name. I think he's definitely letting everybody know who's going to be in charge." She sounded tickled to death as she said this, as if he was one of her former students who had finally begun to exhibit some of the promise she had detected in him when he was in her class.

From the formidable phalanx of thousands who man his transition efforts to the daily announcements of new appointments to his future staff, it seems as if Barack Obama is already working overtime to assemble a large part of his administration before January. The pundits seemed to be consumed by the number of appointees who have been associated with the Clinton's in the past. My concern is a more visceral one - how many brown faces are being appointed to high places?

Eric Holder leads the list with his pending appointment as Attorney General.

Holder was born in 1951 in The Bronx, New York, to parents who had emigrated from Barbados. He grew up in Queens and was educated at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and attended Columbia University, where he earned a B.A. in 1973 and a J.D. in 1976.

After graduating from Columbia Law School Holder worked in the U.S. Justice Department as a trial attorney in the Public Integrity section from 1976 to 1988. He was then appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

In 1993 Holder was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia by President Bill Clinton. In 1997, upon the spring retirement of Jamie Gorelick, Clinton nominated Holder to be the next Deputy Attorney General.

Holder served as Acting Attorney General under President George W. Bush for several weeks until the Senate confirmed Bush's nominee, John Ashcroft.

Since 2001, Holder has worked as an attorney at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.

Valerie Jarrett will be a White House senior advisor.

Valerie Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran, to natural born American citizens. At age 5, the family moved to London for one year, then returned to Chicago in 1963.

Jarrett graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon, a New England boarding school, in 1974. She earned a B.A. in Psychology from Stanford University in 1978, and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981. She also speaks Farsi and French.

Jarrett got her start in Chicago politics in 1987 working for Mayor Harold Washington as Deputy Corporation Counsel for Finance and Development. She was Deputy Chief of Staff for Mayor Richard Daley. Jarrett served as Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development from 1992 through 1995, and was Chair of the Chicago Transit Board from 1995 to 2005.

She is currently the CEO of The Habitat Company, a real estate development and management company, which she joined in 1995. She was a member of the board of Chicago Stock Exchange (2000-2007, as Chairman, 2004-2007).

She is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago Medical Center, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago and a Trustee of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Jarrett also serves on the board of directors of USG Corporation, a Chicago based building materials corporation.

Rob Nabors has been tapped for the post of Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Rob Nabors was born in Fort Dix, N.J. in 1971, then lived in Arizona, Maryland, Germany, Virginia, South Korea, Florida, Italy, Massachusetts and, once again, Virginia. Nabors earned a B.A. from Notre Dame in 1993, and an M.A. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1996.

He began his career in government as a Program Examiner, Office of Management and Budget, 1996-98, serving as senior adviser to director, OMB, 1998-2000; assistant director for administration and executive secretary, OMB, 2000-01; minority staff, House Appropriations Committee, 2001-04; and minority staff director, House Appropriations Committee, 2004-06.

Melody Barnes will lead his Domestic Policy Council.

Barnes earned a bachelor's degree from the Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and received her law degree from the University of Michigan. She served as Assistant Counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, where she helped enact into law the Voting Rights improvement Act of 1992. Served as Director of Legislative Affairs for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Served as Chief Council to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) on the Senate Judiciary Committee, December 1995 until March 2003. Serves currently as the Executive Vice President for policy at the Center for American Progress.

Desiree Rogers has been selected for the position of White House Social Secretary.

Rogers, earned a Bachelor's degree in political science from Wellesley College, and a MBA from Harvard Business School. In 2002, Rogers attended the Harvard Kennedy School Women and Power Program.

In 1990, Rogers was appointed to head the Illinois State Lottery.
Beginning in 1997, she worked for Peoples Energy as a vice-president of corporate communications. By 2001, she climbed to senior vice-president.

She was named to the board of Equity Residential in 2003. Rogers was made President of both Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas in 2004. She left Peoples Energy in 2008 to run a new social networking initiative of the Allstate insurance company.

Mona Sutphen was announced as a deputy chief of staff.

Ms. Sutphen earned her bachelors degree in international relations from Mount Holyoke College. She later received an M.Sc. in international political community from the London School of Economics.

Sutphen has been a U.S. Foreign Service Officer from 1991 to 2000. She served in the Clinton White House at the National Security Council from 1998 to 2000. Positions she has served in include the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the High Representative, in the State Department human rights bureau, and the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

Currently, Sutphen is a managing director with Stonebridge, LLC.

And Patrick Gaspard is slated to become White House political director.

Patrick Gaspard is a former community organizer around school reform issues. He is married with two children. Gaspard worked for Governor Howard Dean's presidential campaign and numerous congressional candidates, and campaigns going back to the historic Mayoral election in New York in 1989. In 2004, Gaspard was the national field director for America Coming Together. Gaspard was the executive vice president for politics and legislation for the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union. He was a registered lobbyist for the union on the federal State Childen's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), in 2007. Gaspard was the political director for the Obama campaign, a position he assumed in June of 2008.

27 November 2008

Why Thanksgiving Is The Real Christmas

Barack Obama distributes food to the needy at St. Columbanus Parrish

There is something about Christmas, especially if it comes on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, that is a bit of a downer. The entire day reaches its climax about 10 am, when all of the gifts have been opened, and the commercial glow has begun to fade, until nothing is left but scraps of wrapping paper lying about amid the stacks of new belongings. Christmas dinner is often joyous, but strained, as if its participants can already feel those credit card bills in the mail, or wonder how they are going to juggle the bills they didn’t pay to create that temporary commercial glow earlier in the day.

If Christmas is on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, a lot of people are going back to work the next day. If it's on a Friday, they are slipping into a bit of a funk – the same people who just finished stacking up their new belongings now want to go out and buy even more stuff, because its…well, because everybody knows stuff is cheaper after Christmas.

In the last ten years or so, as I focused less on the material things in life and more on the experiences I could have, I started to notice more clearly the mixed messages the Christmas holiday czars were sending as they attempted to fuse religion, family tradition, and materialism.

Thanksgiving, by contrast, is unambiguous. It is all about the family. And it is always on a Thursday, which means that a lot of non-retail related workplaces have given up trying to schedule any real work during this time, making this America’s only official four day holiday period.

The phrase “giving thanks” seems to actually mean something when people say it at Thanksgiving. For a lot of us, it is a beginning of that end-of-the-year contemplation, where we go through informal self assessments as to what we’ve accomplished, and what remains undone. The focus of the day is on food, shared with people you are related to by blood or people to whom you’ve chosen to be related. No one is obligated to bring anything other than a dish, an empty stomach, and a sense of goodwill.

We catch up; we reminisce; we watch football; we tell tall tales. We play games; we take pictures; we exchange email addresses. We celebrate new beginnings, and cherish the memories of those who are no longer with us.

I would swap this Thanksgiving spirit...

Barack Obama entertains grade school children at St. Columbanus Parrish

...in a minute for the one I feel at Christmas.

24 November 2008

We Are Finally Connecting The Dots

A story that caught my eye the other day was the announcement by a school in New York that it was changing its name to Barack Obama Elementary School. The thing I’ve been preaching about has come to pass – just the presence of that brown skinned face on TV every night as Barack Obama gets closer to being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States has already begun hold the attention of those of us who have traditionally felt that our government has given us the short end of the stick.

New York School Renames Itself For Obama


(CBS/AP) A school on Long Island has been renamed Barack Obama Elementary School in honor of his historic rise to the presidency.

The move at the largely black and Hispanic school in Hempstead is among the first in what will likely be a wave of name changes around the world now that Mr. Obama has been elected president, from schools and streets to parks and mountaintops.

The name Barack Obama Elementary School was the idea of children at the former Ludlum Elementary School, according to officials at Hempstead Union Free School District.

It will give a whole new dynamic to that age old question that strangers like to ask children under ten when they have nothing else to say.

“And where do you go to school, young man?”


It will be the most invigorated answer to that question EVER.

After a few enjoyable moments picturing New York City children shouting the name of their school at the top of their lungs, I had a sobering thought. The schools named after Martin Luther King Jr. house some of the poorest performing student bodies in the country. The streets named after Martin Luther King Jr. seem to draw drug dealers and petty criminals like magnets, and often sport the highest black-on-black crime rate in their local area.

So this name thing could be a good thing, but only if we decide to make it a good thing.

This psychic hunger we have to be wholly recognized by all of society as full participants in all things American, combined with a nationwide hot flash among African Americans over the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, is the most unique moment in the history of black Americans in the country, where inspiration can finally band together with perspiration and preparation to elevate all of us, not just some of us.

If you click on the link to the article, you will see a collaboration between students, teachers, administrators and parents, a rare instance where our entire community collaborates its energies and resources all in the same direction, an exercise in "connecting the dots" that should make those of us dedicated to doing the wrong thing tremble in our shoes. My chest swelled with pride as I read about black children who live in a world of electronic everything WRITING ESSAYS and HAVING DEBATES about a presidential election that has consumed their total interest.

THIS is the real black America, the one I grew up in, the one we all know exists but can never seem to find anymore. THIS is how we have to tackle our problems - intelligently, forcefully, lawfully, and with the highest honor to ourselves and to our history.

So if you've never believed anything in your life, you need to believe that this IS our moment, that this IS our time, in a way that inspires a missionary like zeal in you to connect with as many parts of your community as you can TODAY.

Because I am not interested in seeing crackheads leaning on the "Barack Obama Boulevard" street sign ten years from now.

22 November 2008

The Quiet Transition You are NOT Hearing About

[Sometimes I run across original research, original analysis, or hard-to-get information that is exactly the kind of stuff I live for - well thought out, well written, well researched commentary, the kind that your media experts get by the pound but think is too much for you to understand.

The author goes by the handle wmtriallawyer at the progressive political website DailyKos, where we are both active members. He has given me permission to publish his comments here. Enjoy!

Everybody is abuzz with respect to the transition. Names leak out here and there on who is getting appointments, and then in the crucible of the media and the blogosphere, those names are scrutinized, praised, critiqued, and thrown against the wall.

But the part of the transition that you HAVEN'T heard about has little to do with cabinet appointments, and everything to do with running a competent government from Day One.

And President Elect Obama has that part of the transition going on, right now, in Washington.

You may have missed it on Friday last week when Obama announced the appointment of "Agency Review Teams" to go over the executive operations of government prior to Obama taking the oath:

The Agency Review Teams for the Obama-Biden Transition will complete a thorough review of key departments, agencies and commissions of the United States government, as well as the White House, to provide the President-elect, Vice President-elect, and key advisors with information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration. The Teams will ensure that senior appointees have the information necessary to complete the confirmation process, lead their departments, and begin implementing signature policy initiatives immediately after they are sworn in.

Now, it may not seem like a big deal, but for Washington, it pretty much is. Consider that the last two transitions -- from Bush I to Clinton, and from Clinton to Bush II -- had nothing like this whatsoever. When Clinton took office, people pretty much agree that his transition was fair sloppy, announcing cabinet posts and White House staff in a rush in the final weeks before being sworn in. And we know the Bush transition was a disaster. One word: Florida.

But there is definitely an air of change taking place during the unusually cold Washington autumn. Indeed, career employees of agencies are really impressed that this much forethought is going into the transition. Moreover, from what I've heard from some of the feds I know, it is rather remarkable. The transition team, almost surprisingly in some respects, has been given access to agency office space and staff to go over policy decisions and the like prior to January 20th.

Now, I realize people are clamoring for the "big change" in the form of some sort of sexy names in terms of Cabinet posts. But frankly, I think the obsession about "who" will be running these agencies isn't nearly as important as how President Elect Obama is demonstrating how he wants them to be run.

And the simple act of due diligence with respect to the executive is a earthquake of change unseen in at least the past twenty years, and potentially longer.

So, kvetch about the transition if you like. Get your pet peeves out about cabinet appointments and such. But so far, color me impressed, if only because the Obama administration is working now, doing their homework, and preparing to take charge on January 20th.

Definitely the kind of change we need in Washington D.C. And change that, frankly, is universally welcomed.

21 November 2008

Foot Soldiers With No Guns And No Bullets

Say I work for GM.

Become line manager after twenty years on the job.

Faithfully purchase company stock through the years, which ends up comprising almost 50% of my retirement/savings fund, because...well, because the guys in the front office send me memos every month telling me that investing in the company I work for is not just a good investment, its darn right PATRIOTIC to put my hard earned money behind the products I help to build.

These are the same guys in the front office who have told me year after year in the same memos that they "have a plan for the future", and that "the company's prospects for growth have never looked better".

Since I'm a line manager, according to the GM organization chart, I have absolutely no say so in the direction of the company. In fact, I have very little say so on the line I manage, other than the prescribed remedies for dealing with problems on my section of the line - and if I don't use the GM front office approved protocol for dealing with any issues that may arise, I will quickly find myself out of a job.

I'm a foot soldier with no gun and no bullets.

When the people in the front office, who have walked away with millions in stock options, not because they got money deducted from their paycheck, but because they took the spread between the strike price of one year's option grant price and another, higher strike price of another year's option grant price - a "cashless" exercise of option grants - they have walked away with free money for meeting goals that they set for themselves.

If you were a gambler this would be known as "stacking the deck" in your favor.

American business management may not do a lot of things well, but they are the world's best rationalizers - if their ass was on fire, they'd tell you how it was a "strength building exercise", even as they urged you to hurry up with that fire extinguisher.

Since I'm a line manager, I don't rationalize so well, because it is impossible to convince my superiors that my people aren't slowing down the line if they aren't doing their job properly, and in a timely manner.

It is even harder to convince myself, when I am reading the section of the paper where it explains exactly what happens to all my company stock I've worked so hard all these years to buy when a company wipes out its legacy costs by going through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, not to empty my bank account of all the money I have left in it so I can see how many rounds of ammunition it will buy after the gun store owner has deducted the cost of the semi automatic weapon I have selected.

To this imaginary line manager, and the thousands of real people like him who take their orders from the top, none of this is academic. His money is personal. His money disappearing is more than personal, it is an act that should carry the same punishment as a capital murder charge - because whoever pulls the trigger on a bankruptcy to "get rid of legacy costs" has deliberately slaughtered his financial future in a premeditated manner.

Houston is just now recovering from Enron, a company who has a fraction of the influence on Texas that these companies will have on the state of Michigan.

If government is "for the people", then it needs to do its job. And in case anyone in the government has forgotten why they went to Washington, I will give you a news flash – your real job isn’t to feed us when we are on the bread lines, but to keep us off of them in the first place.

20 November 2008

Big Spenders Forget To Tip The Help

S. and I were in the car yesterday, headed to the airport. For us, the Atlanta airport is a forty five minute ride to the south side of town - when traffic is good. It's the longest time we spend together in the car outside of long trips. So the conversations are a round robin, a mix of "don't forget" instructions, recent events in the lives of our friends, and current events.

Somehow, there was a segue from The Real Housewives of Atlanta (I know, I know, I've been talking about this all week) to the testimony the executives from the Big Three automakers gave to Congress the last couple of days.

"So what do you think about this bailout?" I asked. "Every place I've been this morning, all the people are saying the same thing - its not going to happen."

"They've got to do it." S. said, her voice flat as she watched the 75 South traffic begin to merge with the 85 South traffic.

"What I can't figure out," I said, "is what a Chapter 11 bankrupcty filing is supposed to fix if they end up with the same people running the company. The private jet thing is just noise. They're already paying for the jets anyway. Not using six thousand dollars worth of jet fuel this week isn't going to save any of these companies from going under."

"They've got to do it," S. repeated, "because a Chapter 11 will wipe out all the employee stock those people have in their retirement accounts."

And just like that, I realized why Congress doesn't get it. Why Henry Paulson, the great protector of almost anybody with a pulse on Wall Street, doesn't get it. And why, as heartfelt as their pleas for help were, the Big Three CEO's just don't get it - because all of them have reduced all of us from a mass of living humanity to a column of impersonal numbers.

Back when you used to eat nicer meals in nicer restaurants, you used to tip fifteen to twenty percent of the bill, routinely, because the meal didn't serve itself, the water didn't appear out of thin air, and you had no idea what the cook even looked like when you left. The wait staff brought your order to the kitchen and delivered your food to the table, among other things. The tip was a small cost of being in such a nice place to begin with, but a big part of the wait staff's income.

Let the wait staff of this same restaurant walk out of the door en masse and you will see the owner of the business pull his hair out until he can hire a new staff, because he can't deliver all that food by himself.

I don't know what Paulson thinks Wall Street really is. They don't make anything in those glass towers in downtown Manhattan but big phone bills. The auto industry not only employs over 10 million people - its products literally take America back and forth to work, delivering the productivity industries around the country need so the thirty year old guys Paulson is so fond of, who have never had a job that didn't involve a financial calculator and a computer screen, can bet a healthy slice of this year's Gross National Product against a hunch that the Thai baht will fall in value against the U.S. dollar.

And for all that bringing to and fro every day of laborers and teachers and farmers and painters and machinists and yes, waiters and waitresses, all across the country, in order to let his guys keep playing with our real money like it came from Parker Brothers, these guys can't throw another 25 billion on the table, after getting a bill for 350 billion? It is the equivalent of a tip after a big meal - in this case, a big meal that very, very few members of the American public got to taste.

Now I'm sure, if you were able to see a copy of Paulson's American Express bill, you could see that this is a man who understands the concept of tipping. Your people in Congress might not be as familiar with this custom, since they are just now learning how to pay for their own dinners.

So for all the Christian Righters, right wingers, left wingers who skipped history class, and Fair Taxers whose blinders keep them from seeing anything else but that damn flat tax - this is how you get to the communism you claim you hate so much, when there are too many people who are broke, hungry and homeless.

Because if you ever go to a high end restaurant, Mr. and Ms. Congresspeople, and don't leave a tip, you really don't need to go back there.

I would hate to think what might show up in your food.

19 November 2008

The Most Watched Black Woman In The World

Alright - Anxious Desperate Real Housewives of Atlanta is over, at least until next week, but I've already seen too much of them in the last two days to watch a Reunion: The Real Housewives of Atlanta show next Tuesday.

I'm ready to get back to "The Most Watched Black Woman In The World" program, starring Michelle Obama, premiering next January on every news channel on the planet.

The good thing about the White House is that it produces as much spin on the First Family as the producers at the Bravo! channel do for their Real Housewives franchise. One of the things that used to be a real sore spot among black folks, especially in the seventies and eighties, was the way black people were portrayed on TV. One bad image was one too many for a lot of us, who felt that with so few roles in TV, anything that negatively portrayed black people was perpetuating the very inequalities we were trying to eradicate.

You don't here as much about this these days - whether or not a lot of that has to do with the demise of UPN I don't know. But I can still watch an entire night of TV and see no black actors in starring roles.

Reality TV is scripted, with exaggerated personality conflicts, artificially contrived settings, and the most provocative editing decisions you can find outside of the Fox News studio, all done in an effort to force their preconceived storylines to pay off with a big bang. Bravo! will play these shows to death for a few more weeks before bringing something else into their rotation.

The White House spin machine will just be getting started. Michelle Obama will not be on TV as much as her husband, but she will be on there a lot, talking about real issues and real problems facing American families. The most watched black woman in the world will be on camera in her own hair, wearing tasteful accessories and keeping her cleavage to herself. The producers of her clips will have a mandate from the Office of the President to leave all the bloopers, bad angles, and awkward sounding phrases on the cutting room floor. What the cumulative effect of seeing thousands of positive minded clips and soundbites of this image of a black woman will be, I can't say.

I'll just be glad to finally see THIS kind of spin begin.

18 November 2008

Recovering From An Obama Overload

There are times in your life, like after completing a move from one house to another, or finishing your final college exams, or electing the country's first black president, when you just have to vegetate for a day or two to get your equilibrium back.

I didn't know how tired I'd been, both mentally and physically, until about midnight last night. Because that's when I found myself finally turning the TV off after watching three episodes of The Real Houswives Of Atlanta. After months of watching Campbell Brown, Larry King, Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blizter and Roland Martin seven nights a week, I felt like someone who had quit smoking for an entire year who just had to smoke one cigarette - guilty but relaxed.

Instead of being outraged at Sarah Palin, or the young black woman with the frizzy hair and the big eyes who was a Republican analyst on the CNN panel, I was indignant as NeNe, Sheree, Lisa, DeShawn, the fake-est wannabe black divas you ever want to see, and their white girlfriend Kim, a cheap rendition of "Blonde Ambition", strutted, pranced, primped, and texted their way around Atlanta.

Real Atlanta society women, both black and white, tend to live closer to town. You are more likely to find them in Talbots than Neiman Marcus. And I doubt seriously if there are very many of them who have private chefs or personal hair stylists who come to their homes. Watching these women on a TV show would be like...well, like watching paint dry, because a lot of times, that's exactly what they are doing - watching the paint dry on their latest civic service project.

Which is why the self-proclaimed divas in the picture above are on the show instead.

I started out flipping back and forth between the show, which had back to back episodes on Bravo, and Monday Night Football, at least until I heard DeShawn casually toss off "I think I'd like to raise a million dollars for my charity" while she and her friends sat around drinking wine in her living room.

She had decided, all by herself, to set this as her fundraising goal for a gala she was going to have in less than three weeks. I mean, I know we were breaking through barriers this year, but a newcomer to town getting a million dollars out of the pockets of athletes and celebrities, people who were still trying to stuff their pockets full before they got hurt, cut, or traded - THIS sounded like a train wreck waiting to happen.

I never clicked back to the game.

A fifteen thousand dollar tithe. Six thousand dollars for TWO custom suits for an eighteen year old boy headed to Clark Atlanta University. A five thousand dollar birthday party for a pre-teen girl. More glasses of midday chardonnay than you could keep track of.

I alternately howled and laughed for three hours as these five ditzes reminded me why I didn't miss hanging out in town all that much. Anderson Cooper's face when he was on Jay Leno last week came to mind as I watched NeNe's pendulous breasts just about jump out of her barely there tops every time she moved - Anderson had looked like a kid who had seen his first Playboy spread when he told Jay "I like NeNe. She's my favorite."

I was struggling by eleven thirty to stay up, but paydirt was just up ahead - the charity gala at DeShawn's house that was supposed to raise a million dollars. When the camera panned across the face of Andrew Young, I knew her goose was cooked. Maybe DeShawn thought she was in New York, or Los Angeles - there are very few events in Atlanta that can raise a million dollars in one night, even when Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, Arthur Blank, Anne Cox Chambers, and the rest of the gang whose millions are in the triple digits are in the room.

DeShawn and her husband spent thirty thousand dollars for her extravaganza, and ultimately raised somewhere around ten grand. I almost felt sad for DeShawn, especially when her husband struggled to keep his composure, swallowing mighty, mighty hard when he heard how much money his wife actually raised.

I hadn't thought about that sober minded, well educated, conservatively dressed black couple who would be moving into the White House all night. I'm almost ready, though, to get back to keeping up with the Obamas and their doings.

It just won't be tonight - because the season finale of The Houswives Of Atlanta will be on.

Me and Anderson Cooper will have our popcorn ready.

16 November 2008

Obama Has Got To Give It Up

Barack Obama has led a charmed life this year. He came back from a loss in the New Hampshire primary with a big South Carolina win. He survived Rev. Wright, the “Hardest Working Preacher In The Pulpit”. He weathered backlash from “bitter” white Americans. He was so nice to Hillary Clinton it almost drove her crazy before she finally suspended her campaign.

The Greatest American Hero didn’t faze him. Caribou Barbie could out wink him, but she couldn’t out think him. And Joe The Plumber found out that the “being a celebrity” thing Obama seems to have down pat is waaay, waaay harder than it looks.

But there is one thing the next most powerful man in the free world (as long as China doesn’t want its money back anytime soon) won’t be able to overcome. One day next January, an outstretched hand is going to reach out to Barack Obama.

And Obama will probably have to fight back tears - as he surrenders his Blackberry.

Giving up his favorite gadget will probably take more of a toll on him emotionally than giving up his seat in the Senate today will.

As president, though, he’s got to give it up. Caribou Barbie herself illustrated earlier this year that an email account can be a dangerous thing if it gets into the wrong hands.

A confirmed Blackberry addict, it may take Obama some time to get used to this. You may see pictures of him at a State Dinner, bored by a Saudi Prince complaining about wife number twenty three’s cooking, his head cocked back, his eyes angled down and to his side, peering into an empty hand before he catches himself

You may see him at a White House press conference, uninterested in the reporters question, his thumb dialing an imaginary wheel like he has a nervous tic.

The most wired presidential candidate in history is going to be cut off from the world as he knows it, a world where he had a link to the entire planet in his pocket.

Damn shame.

14 November 2008

Post-Election Ruminations Of A Night Owl

I personally feel a particular kinship with our president-elect, not because he has brown skin, or a searing intellect, but because he is a fellow writer. He is a member of the late night scribe club, because that is usually the only time that no one is calling your house, no one is watching TV, very few people are emailing you - a time when the hard thinking that you need to do to turn ideas into keystrokes can begin in earnest.

Barack Obama is man who understands words and how to use them, both as a writer of prose and a writer of speeches, each of which have different demands on a writer. He appears to have a fine appreciation for alliteration, onomatopoeia, and all those other obscure but relevant literary terms that give the majesty to the lyricism that can be found in almost all of his inspirational speeches.

In my mind, my work has its own identity, containing a certain level of inner tension, a certain amount of well articulated outrage that I attempt to harness as I do my part to shape the narrative that will come to define the Obama presidency. Which means that the love fest of the last week has left me a little flat when it comes to providing commentary on the political world as it relates to Barack Obama.

This probably mirrors, in a way, the thing that I imagine is going on across the country as Obama supporters slowly come down off of their high from November 4th – a certain amount of mental slackness that you get when you get through an intellectually and emotionally exhausting event, the same way you used to feel when you finished your college exams – totally drained and worn out.

Also, the enemy used to have a name. First it was Hillary Clinton. Then it was John McCain. Now, with the election behind him, Barack Obama has switched from fight against his political competitors to fighting for the entire country – a switch whose vast undertaking has diluted the potency of his efforts to the point where he seems to be sinking slowly down to the level of a mere mortal who is about to inhabit the White House.

His mission has changed. So has mine.

Success for Obama will not be defined any longer by the number of opponents he can put out of the race – now, it will be measured by the number of Americans he can keep in the game.

I don’t have a four hundred and fifty person transition team. There is no where near tweleve million dollars in my budget for anything, let alone a transition effort.

But what I do have in common with Barack Obama, in addition to being a fellow writer, is a commitment to the people in my community, the same way he has a made a commitment to America, to help us see the possibilities that are within our grasp, and to urge us to begin grasping.

11 November 2008

Just Who Is Valerie Jarrett?

Valerie Jarret's name seems to be everywhere these last few days as aides to Barack Obama float her name as a replacement for Obama in the Senate.

Just who is she?

Meet Valerie Jarrett, the Woman Who Taught Al Sharpton to Lower His Voice.

One of Jarrett's better-known conferees has been the Reverend Al Sharpton. As Sharpton tells it, he was initially skeptical of Obama — until Jarrett went to work on him. "Part of what moved me from, 'Who is Barack Obama and what is he really about?' to 'Yes, this is a guy who can help make changes even if we're not on the same page in terms of style and approach'--a lot of that came from talking to her," he gushes …"

Earlier this year, Rolling Stone magazine published "Obama's Brain Trust" , which took an in-depth look into Jarrett's role in the campaign:

"The second influential friend in Obama's brain trust is Valerie Jarrett, who joined the campaign in the summer of 2007. At the time, insiders say, Obama didn't appear to be catching on with voters, and the mood among staffers was "Aw, man, this isn't working. These guys just aren't doing it right. They're just gonna run a bunch of ads, and then it's gonna be over." Axelrod and Plouffe were counseling patience, but the national poll numbers showed them 30 points behind Clinton. It was a combustible moment, and it could have sparked the kind of backstabbing and infighting that have destroyed so many Democratic campaigns. But Obama pre-empted any uprising by bringing Jarrett to the table to be his voice on the senior team when he wasn't in the room. Instead of an implosion, there was a change in course. Obama began to draw sharper contrasts between himself and Clinton, and the campaign began to gain ground. "Everybody kind of just swallowed and worked things out, and the warship didn't really have a dent," recalls one insider.

Jarrett, a longtime deputy to Mayor Richard Daley, met Obama in 1991 when she hired his wife, Michelle, as an assistant to the mayor. A well-connected Chicago insider, Jarrett is the most influential woman and African-American in Obama's inner circle. Her primary role is to pierce the bubble of the campaign — to shoot straight with the candidate and to give the two Davids some push-back on strategy. Accomplishing the latter task is easier than it sounds: Jarrett has known Axelrod for more than 15 years and worked closely with him on Daley's mayoral campaigns. Described as "the other side of Barack's brain," Jarrett plays the same role for the candidate's wife. "I help form a bridge between Michelle and the campaign," she says.

Jarrett describes her relationship to Obama as fraternal. "I don't have a brother," she says, "so he is like family to me." Indeed, Jarrett's personal relationship with Obama gives her a subtle, calming influence that others can't match. When Obama was cooped up in the office of his Hyde Park home after the Rev. Wright fiasco, writing the speech on race that would rescue his campaign, she reached out to him to give him a chance to let off some steam. "He was under a lot of pressure because he decided to do this speech on very short notice," she recalls. "So Sunday night, I know he's up writing this speech — Barack does a lot of his writing late at night because the house is quiet and Michelle and the girls are asleep, and that's when he thinks best. And I had heard this hilarious story about a friend of ours, and I thought, 'Well, I'll send him an e-mail. If he's focusing on his speech and he doesn't want a distraction, he can ignore it. But if he wants a break, he can lighten the mood a little bit.' He called, we had a very good laugh, and then we went back to work."

Jarrett also helps Obama with humanizing touches that — for all of the candidate's transcendent stage presence — sometimes elude the former law professor. The vivid anecdote with which he closed his speech on race — about the white campaign organizer named Ashley who, as a child, ate mustard-and-relish sandwiches during her mother's battle with cancer — was a story Jarrett had picked up on the campaign trail in South Carolina and related to Obama on a late-night flight to Georgia."

A Vogue Magazine story, "Barack's Rock" describes Jarret's influence as a Chicago power broker:

"...Valerie Jarrett's real clout comes less from her career than from her extraordinary connections and seemingly endless capacity for extracurriculars. As one observer put it, "She knows everyone in Chicago." Obama's media adviser Anita Dunn recently cracked that "she may be one of the most plugged-in people in the United States." Or as Susan Sher says, "Whatever situation she's in, she rises to the top," enumerating how Jarrett did just that at City Hall, where she ended up in the famously difficult post of chairing the Chicago Transit Authority for eight years; at the Chicago Stock Exchange; and on the board of the University of Chicago Hospital, which she now also chairs. "She is like a god in Chicago, an icon," says Adrienne Pitts, a 40-year-old lawyer who takes every opportunity to see Jarrett speak at events around the city, something she does with less frequency now that Jarrett is so often traveling with Team Obama or helicoptering into problem situations or trying to catch some of the big, joyous campaign moments and watch history change. That is, when she can get away from her day job."

Jarret's Early Years

"Jarrett was born to an African-American family in Shiraz, Iran, where her father, Dr. James Bowman, ran a hospital for children as part of a program that sent American doctors and agricultural experts to developing countries to help jump-start their health and farming efforts. At age 5, the family moved to London for one year, then returned to Chicago in 1963. Her father, who is of African American descent, is a pathologist and geneticist. He is currently Professor Emeritus in Pathology and Medicine, University of Chicago.[3][4] Her great-grandfather was the first African-American to graduate from M.I.T., her grandfather was Robert Taylor the first black man to head the Chicago Housing Authority, and her father, Dr. James Bowman, was the first black resident at St. Luke’s Hospital. Though Ms. Jarrett has never worked in Washington, her great-uncle is Democratic powerbroker Vernon Jordan. [5] Her mother, Barbara T. Bowman, is an African-American early childhood education expert and co-founder of the Erikson Institute for child development.[5][6]

She graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon, a New England boarding school, in 1974. She also received a B.A. in Psychology from Stanford University in 1978, and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981."

Divorced after a brief marriage, Jarrett is a single mom and has one daughter, Laura, who attends Harvard Law School.

Jarrett's efforts and input will be felt at the highest levels of the Obama administration now being formulated between Washington D.C. and Chicago.

Enough With The McCain Election Fallacy!

I was riding in the car last night with S. when she turned on the radio. My heart sank - it was NPR, her favorite radio station, and the announcers were in the middle of their evening news report. Don't get me wrong - I think National Public Radio does a commendable service of bringing parts of our culture to light that might not otherwise get a voice.

What kills me is the Dramamine-sounding voices, in a timbre and cadence that begins at cloying and escalates to mind numbing, as if the news readers are telling after lunch stories to a bunch of preschoolers who they are trying to lull to sleep.

Last night, the announcer and his cohost recapped the presidential campaigns in an effort to analyze what went wrong for John McCain and what went right for Barack Obama - a subject that gets my blood pressure up when on-air personalities use poor analysis to build specious arguments or make unfounded assertions.

The announcer ascribed McCain's loss to several factors - not defining who he was to the public properly, not hammering the alleged precondition faux pas Obama made at a debate during the primaries, and not appealing to enough "UFP"'s, a designation I never did fully understand, although I took it to mean "undecided for president".

I looked at S., my eyes glaring at the radio speaker in the dash. "This is just bad information. I can't STAND when somebody who should know better uses bad information to reach a conclusion."

I get home, and what do I see - channel after channel full of people saying, "if only the McCain campaign had done this", or "if the election had been held in September, McCain would have won - he was ahead then."

Then I pop on the internet, there is more of the same old story, the same old "woulda coulda shoulda."

Are these people for real? Does someone actually pay them to spin this nonsense out of whole cloth - because there are very few empirical facts to back up what they are saying.

A guy walking down the street can have the internet in the palm of his hand. There are nine hundred and seventy eight channels on my TV, including one that seems dedicated to showing "Dog The Bounty Hunter" reruns in perpetuity. And I'm sure that between Google, Alexa, Yahoo, and MSN, ten thousand new pages of information have been indexed in the time it took to write this sentence.

In a world where the traditional has been turned inside out and upside down, in a world where marketing campaigns have to calibrate their efforts to adjust for the amount of savvy the average man on the street has about being sold to, it is more than amazing that we continue to rely on a structure like this for information, a structure that seems to willfully ignore what is going on around it.

The Obama campaign took a full court approach to a game that is normally played as if it is a half court one. Instead of bulking up with wide bodied players who could throw elbows in the paint all day long, they went with a squad that could run the fast break for forty eight minutes.

Instead of a twelve man squad, they had the Verizon network on their bench, giving them an inexhaustible supply of reserves.

Salary cap? Didn't apply to them. They could pick up anybody they wanted.

They had the Pat Riley of politics, disguised in his "Colombo" costume, who was going for the black candidate "three peat" - Chicago's City Hall, Illinois Senate seat, and now the presidency of the United States.

If they had called these campaigns on ESPN, the announcers would have stopped caring about the Clinton campaign in May, and stopped laughing about the McCain campaign in January.

There was no horse race this fall, not even close. The debates are practically irrelevant, the ads superfluous, and the nightly pandering to whatever locale a candidate is in by drinking a beer, eating cheesesteaks, or wearing a cowboy hat at a rodeo has gotten to be as ridiculous as the footage on America's Home Videos.

I can't take this pablum anymore!

We have trillion dollar problems that will take several, as in more than one, trillions to solve. We've got an economy that has one foot stuck in the fifties and one foot stuck in the door of the new millennium. We've got a population that needs to see beyond the end of their own experiences, but is mighty, mighty comfortable with the labels we allow ourselves to be stuck with.

I challenge my fellow political scribes to think big. If you want to compare Barack Obama to someone, chose someone like Steve Jobs of Apple.

Because the difference between Apple and Microsoft is what the challenge of an Obama presidency is going to look like if you believe he will really attempt to change the way we see government in America.

10 November 2008

Measuring The Drapes At The White House

Barack and Michelle Obama took a spin around the White House today with George and Laura Bush. I'm not usually one for photos, but man, it sure looked good just seeing these two walk through the door.

I guess John McCain was right - they were already "measuring the drapes" at the White House - along with setting up a top shelf "transition" website called change.gov, selecting a few key staffers, holding a press conference, and compiling an exhaustive list of items that could be changed immediately, by executive order, without going through Congress, in the first few days of the Obama presidency.

Not bad for the first six days as president-elect.

I'll give him a gold star if he makes it back home in time to help his daughters with their homework.

Images via AFP/Getty

Biggest HALLELUJAH! Of Her Life

The seminal photo for me last week was one taken of Barack Obama moments before the television networks announced that he would be the 44th president of the United States. He was seated on one end of a couch in a hotel suite adjacent to Chicago’s Grant Park, looking a little dour, while his mother-in-law's arm extended from her perch at the other end of the couch, her care worn hand clasping the back of his shoulder, both of them staring at the television screen in front of them as if they could see their own futures.

Mrs. Robinson’s face was as familiar to me as the faces of the women who had managed the periphery of my youth. I recognized in her piercing eyes the power of all my surrogate mothers, from my aunts, and my neighbors, to the ladies who ran Vacation Bible School and the ladies who operated the neighborhood community centers in the summers. The determined resolve I saw in the tight clamp of her lips was a look I knew too well, as if she could barely keep hold of the emotions coursing through her body.

For all of her official reactions that were recorded for posterity by the photographer in that hotel suite last Tuesday night, there are other, more powerful displays of emotion that surely must have come later. Because the women I talked to over the last few days, black women who have the same grey hair, the same pursed lips, the same piercing eyes – my mother, my aunts, and an assortment of likeminded women who collectively raised me when I was a child – have been releasing the biggest HALLELUJAH of their lives the past few days.

Rappers may have popularized the phrase “make a dollar out of fifteen cents”, but these women have lived it, and in many cases are still living it as they oversee daycare centers, manage after school programs, and organize efforts to make sure that the children who often do without get to see a little sunshine in their lives sometimes.

I’ve read a hundred stories in these last few days since the election. Listened to countless broadcasts that tried to pinpoint the turning points in the campaign season that led to an Obama victory. Only one or two of the stories in print even acknowledged that Mrs. Robinson, who managed Mali, Sasha, and whatever else that could only be handled by her hands alone, had a role of any importance in the grand scheme of things.

So I’ll say it here – the ONLY reason Barack Obama can stand before you today as the next president of the United States is because of Mrs. Robinson.

09 November 2008

Why Critical Thinking Really Matters In A Media Driven World

[Sometimes I run across original research, original analysis, or hard-to-get information that is exactly the kind of stuff I live for - well thought out, well written, well researched commentary, the kind that your media experts get by the pound but think is too much for you to understand.

The post below has been slightly edited from the original that I came across at Daily Kos.

By J Dawg

It's been nearly two years since the Presidential campaign for 2008 was launched. I recall watching the election night coverage of the 2006 mid-term elections, only to hear a particular talking head proclaim that beyond that evening’s results, the real importance of that night was that it ushered in the search for the next President. It was probably Chris Matthews who said it. The comment seemed ridiculous at the time given the Congressional wave of that election, but he was right. 2006 was Act I of the play. November 4th was Act II. Here’s hoping that Act III will bear the fruits of the labor.

The fact that a pundit was right shouldn’t catch us by surprise. In fact, I would argue that they are always right. They speak in such a self-assured manner. They have experience. They’ve walked the halls of various governmental institutions for decades. They have all of the key players in their Address Books. They know of what they speak. And those that doubt them will never understand.

So I thought it might help to compile a sampling of just how right they were. And how we, the doubters of the pundits and their conventional wisdom, were so wrong in our inability to understand the politics of this day. This is a teachable moment for us! So now, for the sake of posterity, and in no particular order, a sample list of their wisdom:

    1. Hispanics will never vote for an African-American. There has always been a tension between the two ethnic groups. The divide is far too great for any one candidate to overcome.

    2. Jews will never vote for an African American. There has always been a tension between the two ethnic groups. The divide is far too great for any one candidate to overcome.

    3. Supporters of Sen. Clinton will switch allegiance to Sen. McCain. The bitterness of the campaign and the race of the candidates will trump actual issues.

    4. Supporters of Sen. Clinton will definitely switch allegiance to Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin. The bitterness of the campaign and the race/sex of the candidates will trump actual issues.

    5. An extended primary will destroy the Democratic party. The fissures are irreparable. Pay no attention to record voter registrations. These wounds cannot be healed.

    6. Michigan and Florida will punish Sen. Obama. Given the awful treatment of these states after they merely skirted around a few party rules in the primaries, Sen. Obama has handed those states to Sen. McCain. The offended Democrats will never forgive.

    7. ‘Celebrity’ will de-rail Sen. Obama. There is no worse fate for a politician than being popular. Record-breaking crowds here and abroad will kill his chances.

    8. Sen. Obama will avoid negative attacks if he only agrees to town-hall meetings. Not agreeing to those town-hall meetings logically dictates the acceptability of referring to Sen. Obama as a terrorist.

    9. Sen. McCain will defeat Sen. Obama in the lone town-hall debate because that is his strength. That One’s only hope is to come out of it beaten and bloodied, but still standing.

    10. The Bradley Effect will cost Sen. Obama the election. He needs to have a buffer of 6% in the popular vote if he hopes to win a majority of votes cast.

    11. ACORN will throw the election into turmoil. Voter registration fraud will cloud the results. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck will appear at numerous polling locations across the country to cast their illegal votes.

    12. Vice-Presidential choices will not matter. Gov. Palin’s lack of knowledge on issues will have no impact on the decision of the voters. Most women will flock to her for no other reason than a certain kinship. She’s just like them.

    13. Sen. Obama will lose the tax argument. Republicans own it. Taxation is the cause of our economic woes. It’s not stagnant wages. Nor is it rising fuel costs. Or health care costs. Spending any length of time in the debates talking about taxes is time spent on Sen. McCain’s turf, and an automatic loser.

    14. Rev. Wright/Mr. Ayers/Insert-Name-Here will be an anchor to Sen. Obama’s candidacy. The average American will not understand that an individual can know someone in their lifetime, and not necessarily ascribe to every one of that individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions; past, present or future.

    15. Republican strongholds will not flip. Sen. Obama is merely throwing money into places like North Carolina and Indiana to keep Sen. McCain on defense. He cannot actually win those states. Besides, Chairman Dean’s 50-state strategy has proven to be a waste of time and money. Those states are lost causes.

We decide what is conventional wisdom. It is not decided for us. We can determine what is possible, even if it is not probable. Don’t watch the experts express their beliefs with certainty and think "They must be right". Think "They might be right. But then again..."

I also think it is fair to say that just because the pundits are wrong so often does not mean that they can’t be right. Flipping through my rolodex of cliches, I found one about a ‘broken clock’ that seems to apply. Here’s hoping that the clock will finally begin to keep the right time, just when we need it to work the most.

[If you haven't figured it out by now, critical thinking is an area Barack and Michelle Obama excel in. As far as I'm concerned, "taking things you hear on TV at face value causes cancer in laboratory rats". Thinking hard is finally, finally about to be in style.]

Dense & Intense - This Week On The Web

In the course of keeping up with the news and doing research, I come across some great stuff you might not see in your hometown newspaper or on the nightly news.

Dense & Intense - This Week On The Web is a compilation of longer, more detail-oriented stories and humor pieces that caught my eye during the week.

Below is my favorite picture, in a picture filled week, from the behind the scenes photos the Obama campaign released just before Barack Obama was declared the president, when he was sitting with his mother-in-law on Election Night.

This week, there is only one story - Barack Obama. I read "The Secrets of the Campaigns", a Newsweek series written by reporters inside the campaign who were sworn to secrecy. I thought it was a great way to see what was really going on all those months.

Pack a lunch - it is a seven part series - but well worth the read.

This is a seven-part in-depth look behind the scenes of the campaign, consisting of exclusive reporting from the McCain and Obama camps assembled by a special team of journalists who were granted year-long access on the condition that none of their findings appear until after Election Day.

It has been one helluva week. I am STILL tired.

Enjoy your Sunday!

07 November 2008

When Naked Ambition Is A Good Thing

Barack Obama has re-imagined almost every aspect of a presidential campaign, changing the way we describe our American political culture. So is it too much of a stretch, given all the innovative and surprising ways we’ve seen the Obama campaign operate these last few months, to expect him to approach his new job with the same unorthodox methods that he used to get there?

We’ve gotten used to using the water level of people in our bureaucracies who have been professional time wasters. We are having a hard time fathoming how a new president can fundamentally realign the expectation levels of his individual staff members, especially in ways that could actually foster real changes in the way the permanent Washington bureaucracy works.

A president’s actual actions only constitute a small part of his image as these actions are translated by both print and news media into the information we ultimately get to consume. Which means, if the scribes and wordsmiths and scriptwriters are going to continue to mine the same old presidential metaphors, the same old presidential narratives, the same old presidential story arcs, regardless of what is going on in front of them, then we are already doomed to "more of the same."

What we do know is this - Barack Obama is an opportunist’s opportunist. He has gone from state senator to president elect in forty eight months because of a naked ambition, ascending the political ladder in a way that has largely left behind the negative connotations we are used to associating with someone who wants to get ahead in hurry. Make no mistake about it, behind that made for TV smile is one of the most calculating political minds in the country.

Add to that my own speculation - that living outside of the continental U.S. in both Indonesia and Hawaii during his formative years has given him an ability to see America without the emotional investment in its symbols that us mainland dwellers have - and you get a man free of the "analysis paralysis" that often haunts centrist politicians.

One of the fallacies of the Camelot mystique and the Kennedy image is that this evocative spirit spontaneously generated itself because of Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy’s youth, vitality, and photogenic offspring. The reality is that Kennedy understood how to use his youthful image as a tool that could generate goodwill among a populace skeptical of youth - he was the first president to assign a photographer to follow him all day everyday, providing the country with an unprecedented view of the president's daily life and the activities surrounding the office of president.

I suspect Barack Obama will use the power of digital communications in a way that would make Ronald Reagan envious. I would assume, if I were a betting man, that he will continue to use unorthodox but well planned methods to achieve the ends he seeks in a Herculean attempt to remake key parts of our government. And I think that he will use plain, straight forward, unvarnished honesty, not all the time, but when we need to hear it, in order to help us begin to believe in what government can accomplish.

In this land of opportunity, I believe we will finally have a president who knows how to take advantage of the ones before us, even in this time of crisis, in a way that benefits all of us.

06 November 2008

Why We Stood In Line

[Sometimes I run across original research, original analysis, or hard-to-get information that is exactly the kind of stuff I live for - well thought out, well written, well researched commentary, the kind that your media experts get by the pound but think is too much for you to understand.

The post below has been slightly edited for the Brown Man Thinking Hard blog. Terje Anderson has given me permission to publish her comments and photos here.

Over the last few days when looking at the photographs of people standing in line at early voting sites across the country, I've been reminded of so many pictures I've seen of election lines before - lines of voters from throughout the world, voters who have had to fight for the fundamental right to vote, voters for whom standing in line is perhaps the easiest part of everything they've had to do to bring about change.

First I thought of this famous picture of people in Soweto lined up to vote in South Africa's first post-apartheid election.

I thought of 1990, when the people of Burma shocked the military government by showing up en masse to overwhelmingly (80%) elect the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD) and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The military junta refused to accept the vote, and to this day the Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and the people of Burma, often led by Buddhist monks, continue their struggle for democracy.

I remember seeing pictures of women lining up to vote in parliamentary elections in Nepal earlier this year, elections that ushered in the first democratically elected sovereign government following the ouster of the monarchy:

Because I have many close family ties there, I especially remember Chile in 1988 when the right wing dictator Augusto Pinochet tried to arrange a window-dressing referendum that he expected to continue his term in power. His military junta was shocked when 56% of the voters were brave enough to vote "NO" - beginning the long democratization process that today has resulted in the election of Michele Bachelet, a Socialist woman, as President. During the campaign against Pinochet, the mothers of political activists who had been murdered or "disappeared" led the "NO" voices.

How about these voters in Sierra Leone, reclaiming their country after the ugly civil wars that tore the west African country to shreds?

Another picture from Sierra Leone, where thousands of citizens were maimed by the armies that terrorised the country:

After another brutal civil war, the people of Liberia were willing to wait in long lines in 2005 to elect Africa's first female head of state:

In Guatemala, these peasants had already stood in line to vote for hours, only to find out that there was a problem with their registration. But instead of going home, they stood in yet another long line to sort out registration errors to finally be able to cast a vote. (Unfortunately, a possible glimpse of what many voters may face on election day in the US on November 4th.)

After the government of Ukraine stole the 2004 election, the people of the country rose up in the "Orange Revolution". Here are Ukrainian voters lining up in a rural village to vote in the second election (this one fair) that swept the government out of power.

Voters in East Timor in 1999, lining up to vote in the first election after years of living under a brutal Indonesian military occupation.

I'll never forget the images of these brave people in Harare, Zimbabwe (another country I have strong personal ties to) risking their lives to vote for the opposition under the eyes of Mugabe's police, soldiers and ZANU-PF thugs.

I think we were all inspired by the "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia, people were willing to risk their lives in a peaceful popular uprising that heralded the arrival of democracy throughout eastern Europe.

And despite facing grinding poverty, political violence, and a history of stolen elections and military coups, these voters in rural Haiti still were willing to line up to vote in 2006.

And let's not forget the courage it took Iraqis to come out and vote under the threat of political and sectarian violence. We can appreciate their bravery and commitment even while we object to the stupidity with which Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield went to war. (A hat tip in thanks to "VA Classical Liberal" for finding this photo - not 100% sure about public domain on this, but I'll chance it).

And lest we think these struggles only happen in other countries, let's never forget the battles for the right to vote that we've fought, and are still fighting, in America.

Immediately after the Civil War, former slaves (male) gained the right to vote, and the Reconstruction period saw large numbers of African-Americans elected to offices in the former Confederacy. These rights were soon lost in the face of the emergence of the Jim Crow period, the rise of the Klan, the Poll Tax, hoax "literacy tests" and and host of other attacks on the right to vote.

Women in America were denied the suffrage for the first century and a half of the our history, and only gained the vote after decades of ridicule and struggle.

A US law passed in 1870 prohibited Chinese immigrants from becoming United States citizens - making it impossible to vote - part of a series of racist laws designed to restrict Chinese immigration to the US. These provisions were later expanded to cover other Asian-Americans, and were not fully repealed until 1965.

The first peoples of the United States, the Native Americans, were subjected to massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and forced removal. Despite being the original Americans, Native people were denied US citizenship until the 1920s. Even after citizenship, many states denied American Indians the right to vote until the 1940s and 50s.

The fight for full voting rights for African-Americans in the United States was long and often violent.

The Selma to Montgomery marchers were marching for voting rights, and the violence at the Edmund Pettis bridge is what finally shamed LBJ and the United States Congress into enacting the Voting Rights Act.

Finally able to register, southern blacks flooded into county offices to enroll as voters.

Cesar Chavez led a march from Merced to Sacramento to fight for the dignity of Latino farm workers in California.

The spirit of Chavez continued in the massive marches for immigrant rights, raising the level of political awareness and activism in the Latino community.

In 1978, just a few months after using the power of the vote to elect the openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk, San Francisco residents marched by candlelight in sadness and anger after the murder of Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

In 2004 students and residents at Ohio's Kenyon College had to wait as long as 10 hours to vote, and voting only finished after 3 a.m.

Earlier this year, hundreds of students from the historically black Prairie View College in Texas had to march 7 miles to the county seat to protect their voting rights.

We didn't let long waits and lines keep us from living up to the legacy we've inherited. On Tuesday we made sure that the frustration and intimidation the right wing wanted to use to beat us was overwhelmed by our sheer numbers and determination.

So when I think about those long lines on Tuesday, I knew that we weren't standing in those lines alone - we were accompanied by the history of millions of people a whole lot braver and tougher than we ever needed to be to stand in line for those few hours.