Only the Beginning…

2014-10-17 17.17.13In about two years, the Barack Obama era will be over.  It is hard to say what it all means. My personal view is that he has achieved very well under trying circumstances at least on domestic policy.  The U.S. is a strange country though, with an ugly racial history, directly connected to the ideological warfare central to the Obama presidency; so it is not surprising that President Obama is now facing a more difficult final two years.  If the country’s racial history plays out like it has always played out, the next two years might set a high bar for stupid politics.

On November 4 that drama begins when the mid-term elections are held. It looks like the Democrats stand to be crushed and lose control of the Senate.  This will set the stage for an interesting two years.  Already, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas says that if they win on November 4, there is no reason to hold hearings to confirm a new Attorney General. They should wait until the new Congress is seated. The stupidity advances; nothing happens, nothing gets done, governance has become nothingness. But this is our right: we get to elect who we want, smart, dumb, indifferent, regardless, freedom rules.

It is likely that if the Republicans do win they will probably pass bills to repeal President Obama’s major accomplishments. He will then veto said bills and they won’t be able to override.  It might be also true that they will try to impeach him. This has been said before and it would not surprise me. The GOP has petty, useless politics down to an art. It should be noted that the Democrats will likely become the filibuster party as the GOP has been for the last 4 years.  However, we will wait and see.

The GOP can also defund programs more than likely but President Obama gets the last word in the end because the founders, those strange men who created this casino called America, gave no branch of government any overarching power. They have three branches with power but all three are quite limited in what they do.  In the end, the Obama agenda won’t be in trouble unless the Republicans win an overwhelming majority in the Senate which is unlikely.  In addition, Mr. Obama has no incentive to work with the GOP like Bill Clinton did in 1994-1996 when he lost the midterms. Mr. Obama’s work is done (he being in the second term already), at least the major pieces of his legacy; that is if the legacy survives.  The Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Law, the Stimulus package, the Equal Pay Act, Gays in the military; these laws are with us, barring a cataclysmic shift in political players.

That brings us to the real election that matters for Barack Obama. That occurs in November 2016.  The candidate for the Democratic Party will be Hillary Clinton and she will be trying to make history. She will be trying again to become the first woman to become President of the United States. Why not? She also has a tremendous job on her hand: it will be her task to fight off the Republicans and hold onto the accomplishments of the Obama years. She will be like Harry Truman was to Franklin Roosevelt.  This is important to remember.

FDR passed the New Deal programs but when he died in 1945 the GOP was already chattering about repealing many of the programs including Social Security.  Enter Harry Truman, the Vice President, who had only been in office three months when Roosevelt died. Truman not only held the line on most of the major programs but he  expanded some of them including Social Security.  It seems most black workers were not included in the original Social Security law. Truman signed the law that added them.   He also demanded universal health coverage but that never made it. He desegregated the military as well making sure he had his own legacy.

So on November 4, 2014 when the Republicans surge to control (if they do), no worries if you are a die hard Democrat. The election does not mean that much after all. The election of 2016 is the one.  Hillary Clinton has to get it done; otherwise, I am afraid the GOP might actually erase the Obama era from the annals of American history. That would please a lot of people but would not surprise me either.

Here My Dear (for Anna Gordy Gaye)

Marvin+Gaye+-+Here,+My+Dear+-+DOUBLE+LP-386811Anna Gordy Gaye died yesterday in Los Angeles. I doubt many have heard of her.  Yet, the names in her name should tell most of us something.  Yes, she is related to Berry Gordy, Jr, (her brother) the creator of Motown, and yes, she was related to Marvin Gaye, Jr. of Washington D.C.; they married in 1963 (she was 41; he was 24). There is more to the Gaye part of the story but first a bit on Ms. Gaye.

Ms. Gaye was not a lucky recipient of being related to Berry Gordy.  She was involved and on the case at Motown. In 1958, she founded Anna Records with her late sister, Gwen Gordy.  Berry Gordy produced some of his early songs on this label.  When he founded Motown Records a few years later, Anna Records became part of Motown Records. After her marriage to Marvin Gaye, Anna became an important “liaison” according to the Detroit Free Press between the label and Marvin when he was having problems.  Among other things, she was instrumental in making sure he made it where he was supposed to be during his Motown years.

Marvin and Anna Gaye had one son, Marvin III, and their marriage as most Gaye fans know, was quite contemptuous.  They divorced in 1976 and Gaye famously recorded an album, “Here My Dear” which is allegedly his separation statement to Anna.  Of all the Gaye albums, “Here My Dear” is the least familiar. By 1978 when it was released, the hardcore funk era was in full swing, disco had come and faded, and the nation was one year from Hip-Hop and Go-Go. It is still a testimonial album with Gaye’s signature sacredly soulful voice carrying the day.   I gave it another listen after hearing of Anna Gordy Gaye’s death and have to admit, it is a strong album like most Gaye LPs.  It is obvious about a special woman and a special relationship that did not quite work out, something very human. Yet, the album despite the moment is still about love, the thing Marvin Gaye seemed to express better than most on wax. It is bittersweet soul but honest nonetheless. God Bless Anna Gordy Gaye.

Omaha !! (or What is Manning saying?)

275px-Peyton_Manning_(cropped) fr44BLUE 90…OMAHA…

Today’s mystery on your hump day is, what does Peyton Manning mean when he says – “OMAHA.”

Check out the link to hear a few attempts at deciphering the most important code since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The best defense in the league plays the best offense in the Super Bowl and league’s best QB is Peyton Manning who, for the last two years, under relaxed NFL rules that favor offense and especially passing, is lights out good.

Historical instincts say a good defense will always beat a good offense but the NFL has been so addicted to offense the last few years I have no idea what will happen or if that historical footnote matters. It also must be noted that Denver beat a lot of good teams but many of these teams shared a trait that worked for Denver: they were weak against the pass.

Denver has run the ball of late as well as secondaries have eased off the line to stop Peyton’s aerial show. That kind of game is a game I am sure Seattle is prepared to live with under the circumstances if they can get their back Marshon Lynch going early.  Denver is pretty good against the run though; their weakness has been covering the pass though many also contend that this is because Denver would get a big lead and then teams would pass every down trying to catch up.

The Targeting of Target

TargetAccording to the WSJ yesterday, Target, the multifaceted retailer invested millions in trying to get shoppers using their stores to convert to chips in their cards. It was Target’s hope that other retailers would support this effort.  This was 2001. The program didn’t take hold and they ditched the program three years later.

The irony now is Target has now become the victim (and millions of customers) of a global hacking effort that has resulted in the compromise of thousands perhaps millions of check cards. According to the same WSJ piece, some compromised plastic has already been found on people who obviously were receiving fraudulent cards.

When  I was in Canada last year, the chip cards rule. I could not purchase in many places because my U.S. issued cards lacked a chip. In addition, most of the restaurants where I ate brought the card machine to the table to run the card and would not (as is customary in the U.S.) leave the area with my card. It was a  much more stringent approach to plastic/electronic transactions.

In one store, a merchant laughed when I told him that the U.S. didn’t really use chips in cards much. It was a learning experience for me.

Do you want to know how late the U.S. is on this one? Check the science:

“Magnetic stripes have been used on plastic since the 1970s. Hackers find it increasingly easy to copy the data on them because the information in the magnetic stripe doesn’t change, and criminals can easily produce fake cards, because the technology is readily available.

Chip cards, on the other hand, take the cardholder information and turn it into a unique code for each transaction. They also often require additional authentication, such a personal identification number, or PIN. Payment and security experts say the technology wouldn’t have prevented the attack at Target, but it would have made it more difficult for thieves to counterfeit the cards and make fraudulent purchases.”

This one is a no brainer. At least that is what I think.  The rest of the world has moved to secure chip system and we don’t move. Why? The UK’s fraud is way down since they went to chips.  Duh?  I am laughing now.  Que up the James Brown track: “Living in America…”

New Dreams Tonight

King_Jr_Martin_Luther_093.jpgI did not know Oliver Stone was involved in a film about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, I didn’t even know such a film was in the works. Jamie Foxx, the multi-faceted entertainer, was going to be MLK Jr.

But now, Stone, a fine filmmaker with some skill and the temperament to take on such a project, is out. He has quit the project over disagreements with the film’s direction and content, it seems. Here is Stone’s statement currently circulating the world of media:

“Sad news. My MLK project involvement has ended. I did an extensive rewrite of the script, but the producers won’t go with it.

“The script dealt w/ (with) issues of adultery, conflicts within the movement, and King’s spiritual transformation into a higher, more radical being. I’m told the estate & the ‘respectable’ black community that guard King’s reputation won’t approve it. They suffocate the man & the truth.”

I have to be serious. I am surprised he lasted this long.

This control over Dr. King has been going on since the moment Dr. King was killed. His image has been carefully controlled by so many different forces: the government, politicians, his family.  Motives are different, of course, but Dr. King, the non-violent dreamer seeking a colorblind future for the U.S. has been the by-product. We are all quite robbed culturally and historically for this conduct.

Of course, no one wants Dr. King, the guy who was killed in Memphis. The guy laser focused on economic inequality and violence and militarism in this society.   And I can’t imagine his family wants to hear about any of their father’s personal failings. So it works; this marriage of image control and revisionism.

The Republicans now say if Dr. King were here, he would be on their side. The Democrats think he would be on their side as well. I have serious doubts about that. The Democrats of drones and Barack Obama?  The Democrats of Bill Clinton and the DLC?  The Republicans who love racism and economic exploitation like its dark chocolate.

Most of us don’t really know what Dr. King would do today but we do know that Oliver Stone has a point.  Don’t lie to us about Martin Luther King Jr. anymore (though, of course, they will)

I haven’t seen the Lincoln Memorial speech on August 28, 1963 today. I am sure I will.  The “Dream” speech will be played over and over, wreaths will be laid, and people will talk about this non-violent man who wanted all of us to come together in brotherhood.

I can always count on Reuben Jackson, the poet, to remind me of how Dr. King’s legacy has been manipulated. Reuben probably heard about this and is laughing that Stone got frustrated at this image control and got out.

It don’t surprise me Oliver Stone decided to step off.  He probably knew it wasn’t going to work. Fact is, we do need some dreams today, just new dreams. Like in that U2 song: we need new dreams tonight.

Bold, big dreams that actually will change the world and lives. This film, right now, sounds like the same old dream.

Photo Credit:

Amiri Baraka & the Beginning of History

marqueeI said, to myself, when I heard the death of Amiri Baraka, that it felt as if Frederick Douglass has died or something.  It weighed that big on me. I had met Baraka years ago and he had befriended me so it was like a ton of bricks crashing down all at once.

And then later, as time passed I was convinced as we all paid tribute to our cultural and literary father, a race man of the modern world, that this had to be a Victor Hugo moment for Black America. This had to be a moment where we said we love this guy, because he loved us.  And judging by the texts and messages from the service in Newark and from those watching it by stream like me, it was.

On May 22, 1885, 2 million people came out for Victor Hugo’s state funeral. It is the largest funeral in the history of France.  For a writer.  It is a message. We love this guy and what he gave us. Amiri Baraka didn’t get 2 million but he got just as much love.  The message was clear.

I know it sounds strange to compare a country’s celebrated tribute to a beloved artist (Hugo) more than a century ago to a people’s tribute to an artist (Baraka) today but as Amiri Baraka once wrote in his book of essays, Home: “Black is a country.” I believe that. It isn’t our fault many Black Americans consider themselves Americans but also consider themselves part of something else, something outside of America though within it; it is what we are and it is what Amiri Baraka was. Amiri Baraka was an eternal figure for Black America just as Victor Hugo is for France.

Today was a Victor Hugo moment.

But Amiri Baraka had a wide reach. Poet Sonia Sanchez. Actor Danny Glover. Poet Haki Madhubuti. Jazz trombonist, Craig Harris. Dancer Savion Glover. Professor Michael Eric Dyson. Actor Glynn Turman.  Poet Askia Muhammed Toure who called his long time friend – “comrade.” Even the Newark Fire Department entered and played bagpipes. Amiri Baraka’s son, Ras Baraka in his eulogy said that his father “effected us all” and to all who called him racist or an anti-Semite, that “every color in the world is represented here today” to pay tribute to him. And like his father, in a philosophical manner, Ras Baraka called our condition “imminent,” adding that “we have lived too long off the fumes of history.” It is time, he urged to “start history again.”

One could not ignore that refrain. It is time to start history again.

Amiri Baraka’s death is a beginning for poets and artists and people of goodwill who respected his tradition and politics.  Those of us who believed in his ideals have to begin to fight for these ideals more forcefully in any and every way we can. On the page. In the schools. In the streets. In our homes with our children. In the hearts of men and women of good will.  There are some things more sustaining and vital than more “things,” Amiri Baraka would likely say if he could.  This is the message I took away from today’s tribute. History must begin again and fight for a people’s democracy. At some point, between here and there, we lost our way.

Photo Credit: Randall Horton

Breakfast with Amiri Baraka

imageSo Kenneth Carroll, the Director of D.C. Writers Corps at the time, sent me to National Airport to pick up Amiri Baraka, the poet. Baraka (Amiri) was on his way to Washington D.C. to conduct a reading and do a workshop for poets teaching in WritersCorps Kenny had organized. It was easily 8:00 am in the morning and after his flight landed I waited patiently for him to arrive from the plane.  Of course, he was the last one to emerge from the tunnel and he was walking slowly, hunched a bit in his stroll because his spine must have curved a bit from age, but he still moved softly through the space bopping a little bit, his briefcase in his hands full of his poems, and writings and writings in progress which protruded from his bag.

He had been sleep he told me; they even had to wake him up to tell him he was in Washington D.C.  I had gotten to know him pretty well over the years so when he saw me he knew I was there for him and soon we were on our way to the city from the airport, to the Writers Corps offices downtown.

We stopped at his request for breakfast at the Waffle House right across from Ford’s Theater on 10th Street downtown and it was cool.  It was a chance to talk to an elder poet who I respected and to just hang out beneath the fray of poetry performance and teaching, which is where I usually encountered him.  I knew him for years but this was the first time I could just talk and get to know him as a person, a human being.  He signed a bunch of books for me on the ride over that I had in my car, asked me about my writing, and when was I going to get another book out. That was Baraka, always pushing the poets to produce the work. I was even proud that he remembered I had a book which meant much to me back then and still does.

At the Waffle House, I remember I ordered a Belgian Waffle, and he ordered something which I don’t remember but he did order bacon. That is all he said when we sat down too, he wanted bacon.

“I am going to eat that pork,” he said.  I understood totally his pause, pork being oftentimes political in Black America yet it was still quite funny as he seemingly talked himself into eating pork like he knew he shouldn’t have it.

We talked mostly politics that morning as we both barely ate our food. This did not surprise.  He just wanted something to get the day going and I was just glad to have the moment. Baraka’s visit, as I recall, was not long after Newt Gingrich and the “Contract on America” and the triumph of the Republican right. The constant chatter around the country, and in the city of Washington D.C. for that matter, was how the so called “welfare state” would finally be dismantled and how the Democratic Party was defeated and dead as were progressives and liberals.   Baraka, while not a Democrat or a liberal, was outraged that this group of politicians would gut “safety net” programs and programs for the poor, like food stamps and school lunch for children. He was completely disturbed by it all.   He even pondered for a moment if Gingrich and his cohorts were just evil people who were subhuman or something.

“How can they take away food from babies?,” he even asked as we ate and talked.  I had no answer. I felt the same way about the political developments. Maybe they were evil I remember thinking; I didn’t know enough about the mechanics of the ideological fight to reach any other conclusion back then.

Baraka also opened up a lot that day about getting some more books out. This was the mid 1990’s and many of his books had long since gone out of print. Some alleged that it was a deliberate attempt to quiet him down by forces beyond the publishers who would happily sell his works because he was a well known writer.  The assertion in this instance was whether you liked Baraka or not and whether you liked his politics or not, he was a major writer of his time, a writer well deserving of having his books in print.

But back then, the writings were trickling out again. “Transblucency,” a collection of selected works was published by an Italian publisher who Baraka praised for publishing his work. Then “Funk Lore,” a collection of new poetry on a small press, Littoral Books, arrived as well. And as one might expect, if you attended one of his readings, he would often appear with stapled pages of chapbooks or mini-essay book offerings, trying to get the word out and trying to sell some product to the people.   It is what he did: he wrote and produced works.

In the spirit of the intellectual, W.E.B. Dubois, a man Baraka constantly quoted and referenced because of Dubois’ output as a writer, and also for Dubois’ “double consciousness” ideal, Baraka wrote always when I saw him.  He wanted to add daily to the discourse, to keep the discussion fresh and solid and challenging. The ultimate goal was always total freedom of African-American people and equal justice and freedom for all people.

I dropped Amiri Baraka off that day at the workshop.  Kenny Carroll and I talked to him more that early morning before the workshop, something both of us probably would have done for hours if we had the time.   It was one of many encounters with the master that I will never forget.  Readings, performances, readings at his house in Newark, chance encounters in cities at conferences or at the late poet, Gaston Neal’s house before the Million Man March.  It all sticks with me. Last year, when Norton released an anthology of  modern African-American poetry, Baraka reviewed it and mentioned in his review (which was somewhat critical) that he thought I belonged in the anthology.   As far as I was concerned right then, it didn’t matter where I had ever been published because one of my poetic heroes at least thought I was trying hard.

I feel extremely blessed to have shared space with Amiri Baraka over the years; it is as if I had met Frederick Douglass or something, a big part of human history that I can never forget. We all know, like all human beings, he was not perfect. But into time, I am also sure, history will absolve him of his flaws and celebrate an artistic legacy of a human being rare and special in our time. This is something I am quite sure will happen.

March to the Madness #1

March-MadnessLast year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball season had to be one of the toughest to pick all year. Each year it gets tougher and tougher to gauge the season, pick the consistent winning teams, and to see which teams will rise up during March when the chips are down. This year is even more difficult.

There are many direct and indirect reasons for this. One is, so many of the really good players leave now, it is hard to even know who plays for who.  Louisville, last year’s champ, lost some of their players to graduation but they also lost at least one who seized the moment and went pro. The runner-up to the title, Michigan, had two of its stars go NBA.  There are countless teams up and down the board who lost star players.

The coaches, the good ones, learn to reshuffle fast, reconfigure lineups, and of all things: recruit, recruit, recruit. Junior college players. Transfers. Foreign players. They have to find talent.  No matter the coach, what it really comes down to is how many top tier ballers you have on your sideline. This is what determines the winner every single time.

Indirectly, at least this year, the shuffling of conferences has thrown the leagues into complete chaos. Syracuse is in the ACC. Georgetown is in the Big East but this isn’t the Big East everyone feared. There is no Syracuse game (damn!) and UCONN is gone as well (not to the ACC though). Other teams have moved around as well though the West Coast power conferences and teams remained stable.

There are still the normal big players this year who might not be the champ but they are still solid. Duke and North Carolina are again solid teams in the ACC. Florida and Kentucky are threats from the SEC. Michigan State and Ohio State who played a classic last night are very good as well and both can contend and Michigan though they lost Trey Burke, are still loaded with talent. Kansas, as always is very good, and are a threat to win it all. Out west, Arizona is quite good as is UCLA. Gonzaga is part of the West’s strength but I will stop there because there are lots of teams who are good, like…

The Iowa State Cyclones who I saw play last night and who not only have Coach Fred Horberg’s motion three point offense working but these are players who can play above the rim and shoot. Dangerous B-ball cocktail.

Creighton, with big Doug McDermott leading the charge and looking like another Kevin Love type player, is solid as well but being in the new Big East might hurt them.

Oregon Ducks. I saw this team play early in the season when teams are not yet together and their talent level is quite high. They are high octane and should be all year. Out west, they will fly under the radar.

Other teams to watch: Wisconsin. Pittsburgh. Wichita State (made the Final Four last year). Massachusetts (yea, Dr. J’s alma mater is back playing good again), and though I hate to say it – Villanova. They took their medicine of a down year and now are back.

I could go on and on about this season and as you can ascertain from just these notes, the field is wide open. There are probably about 15-20 teams who have a shot to make a run.  One thing for sure, it won’t be Louisville. They have so many missing parts from last year’s championship run. They can be good but not great. And to get to the dance you have got to be great for about a month. Other teams on the outside for sure: Indiana. Maryland.  Yes, it is going to be a great year but tough to pick.

January notes…

I always remember Januarys when I was growing up in Washington D.C. because they were cold.  December might be cold and even November at times, got cold early but January usually  left no doubt it got cold.  The holidays would be over, it was time to return to school and the early part of the month was depressing. It was cold and all the excitement of the holiday season was gone.

Take down those decorations.  Pack up those Christmas ornaments. We didn’t do Kwanzaa when I was coming up so it was just Christmas and then the cold. It is over. All of it. It kind of hits you like a thud because you have been visiting friends and relatives, drinking egg nog, eating rum balls, and chocolates, and then it is done.   And the weather gets sloppy and cold. Slush storms, snow, wintry mix, all of that. Washington D.C. in January was unapologetic weather.

image_t580Back in 1982 in one day, a plane crashed leaving National Airport in a nasty winter storm.  On that same day, a Metro train jumped the tracks and crashed. All of it, many believe, was related to the January cold in D.C.

We used to keep cold beer out in the snow in January. We knew it would not go bad because it was below freezing most of the time.  Don’t believe me? The average temperature in Washington D.C. in January is between 29-43 F.  It is the city’s coldest month.

As I got older, I began to look at January differently overall. I celebrated Kwanzaa as I got older and that event created a great transition from the madness and corporatism of Christmas.   My transition into the workdays of January were more seamless. I did not dread the new year of work or the cold. I felt rejuvenated at times because I emerged from the long break full of a more varied experience.   When the King holiday was added, I began to look forward to the King holiday. I would write something and try to attend events related to Martin Luther King Jr. I would try to take my children to an event once I had a family.  This would provide a nice segue for the upcoming African-American History Month events that would follow in February.  Last year, in January, we, as a family came to the city for Barack Obama’s second inauguration.  We hung out in the city and attended some events.

It is going to be cold in January in Washington D.C.   Not a typical cold either – much colder.   I am not there. Where I am is much colder.  But still, I do not look at January anymore with trepidation.  It is a cold month but isn’t cruel.

G-town Hoyas 1984 @ 30

0319_largeBallers. Shot callers.

It is officially college basketball season. NCAA. The March to the Madness.  The Madness.  Young ballers between the age of 18-22 bringing the joy. The NFL is still playing out but it is the playoffs now so there will be fewer and fewer games each week.. Soon, there will be one game left and most of us will care about the spectacle not the outcome.

College basketball, on the other hand, is about to revert to two or three games every night. NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship has finished its quasi-preseason and now league play begins.

Granted, college basketball is not what it once was. The one and done rule is toxic to the sports cohesion.  Gone are the days of UCLA and an 88 game win streak. Gone are the days of Magic Johnson v. Larry Bird in prime time.  Gone are the days of a guy named David Thompson jumping so high he could touch the top of the backboard.  And gone are the days of the mighty Georgetown Hoyas and John Thompson.

Last night, cable television replayed the 1984 Georgetown Hoyas – Houston Cougars championship game in 1984.  It was the Hoyas’ finest moment in history and one of the best team’s ever.  That team included the great Patrick Ewing, David Wingate, and Reggie Williams, perennial All Americans who all went onto the NBA. They finished 34-3 that year and beat just about everyone.  They were 14-2 in the mighty Big East.

It has now been 30 years since that spectacular team and this year as the tournament begins, there is bound to be talk about Ewing, Thompson,and the shining moment for Georgetown basketball. Ewing has had a great pro career and retired. John Thompson is retired from Georgetown.