You probably heard that President Barack Obama appeared on comedian Marc Maron's podcast, WTF, about a week and a half ago (photos). It wasn't the first time he's done a podcast — he was on the B.S. Report way back in March 2012 — but you most likely heard about this one, since he said the word "nigger" (in the context of "it's not OK to call someone a 'nigger'" — he wasn't just dropping an N-bomb casually) and mainstream media freaked the fuck out.
After you've listened to that episode, take some time to listen to Maron talk to his producer, Brendan McDonald, about setting this up. Maron had been scheduled to be on vacation, so that was rescheduled, so McDonald dealt with Secret Service and such leading up to the interview.
Maron has one of the most popular podcasts on the planet. His 2010 reconciliation with comedian Louis CK was selected as the best podcast ever recorded. He's interviewed Terry Gross, Robin Williams, Mick Jagger and over 600 other people. For most of the people who aren't scared of disruptive technology and formats, Maron is old guard in a new world.
But still, this wasn't like doing Bill Simmons' podcast with ESPN (a Disney subsidiary) backing it. That's still old media, just in a new format. For his WTF appearance, the president parked his helicopter at the Hollywood Bowl, climbed into a car and went to go talk to a comedian in his garage.
If podcasting hadn't already arrived, it has now. And it's only going to get stronger.
It's a crisp but still 25 degrees out this morning, with a fuzzy crescent moon visible as the sky is lightening. The day after election day this year doesn't feel like a new era to me; in fact, it feels like a good time for leaders to sit down, light a fire, open a bottle of Scotch, and spend a couple of months reflecting on where our country is really going.
The nation is 236 years old; about halfway through the expected lifespan of a strong empire, historically speaking (Rome and Greece each lasted about 500 years). Our economy has evolved in such a way that we don't really know how to pull out of a slide. We make less stuff; we're primarily service-based. And for the people who do make stuff – domestically that's fewer and fewer people – we have a burgeoning movement of people who want to get rid of their stuff.
In 2008, Barack Obama ran on a platform of change. It feels like something has changed, but as a whole, it's not tangible. He won the Nobel Peace Prize on the promise of what he could do for the world, and I don't think we've seen that promise come through yet. Obama is certainly a divisive figure, but I don't think he's any more divisive than George W. Bush before him or Bill Clinton before Bush. They've been divisive in different ways (read: people hate them differently), but I think, given the way communications is evolving, we're going to keep seeing bigger and bigger divides for the next couple of election cycles, before it comes to a head.
I don't know what that head will be.
This year, Obama has run on a platform of forward. Here are some things I think we need to do to make forward happen.
Civil equality. So much of our division has to do with social issues. We've stopped competing with each other for food resources and the physical ability to procreate, and so the way to feed our evolutionary need to keep ahead of our neighbors is to legislate that hunter-gatherer competition. It's the reason we fought the Revolutionary War. It's the reason we fought the Civil War. It's the reason we had to push through abolition and women's suffrage and to allow everybody to drink from the same water fountain and it's the reason – wait for it – we need to do the marriage equality thing tomorrow, and it's the reason we need to do something for immigrants who have been here illegally for a long time.
We're not going to get any real work done until we're all full citizens. Let me repeat that. We are not going to get any real work done. Not until we take away the need for my friends and our neighbors to worry about what happens if the person they love gets sick, or if their 17-year-old son gets into college.
Seriously, let's just get this done. Let's do the equivalent of a wet-foot-dry-foot policy for immigrants who have been here five years. If you've been here less than five years, let's fast-track your residency application so that, even if you have to leave, at least you won't be looking over your shoulder anymore. And let's just pass a national marriage equality act.
The day after those things happen, the people we're bringing into full American-hood will be able to fight other battles. And so will the people who oppose them. They'll be able to help look at the economy and the environment and figure out how we end the wars we're in.
Environmental destruction. I don't care what you think about global warming or climate change or whatever we want to call it. It's pretty clear that something's up. We're still cleaning up from Katrina in some parts of the Gulf. We're going to be cleaning up from Sandy for a long time. We keep moving people inland as mudslides hit the California coast. It seems like every summer there's a wildfire it takes longer and longer to contain.
I can't tell you the causes. Humans might have nothing to do with the creation of these events. (I think we do, but I can't prove the science myself, so I'm not going to push that on you.) We might not be able to do anything to stop these storms, fires and slides.
But we can change the lifestyles that keep getting disrupted by these natural disasters. I don't think we can legislate those changes, but enough people have been affected by weather events over the past decade that if wind up having some good ideas, people might actually listen.
Fund all mandates. If you want to "fix" the economy, one of the things that we need to do is start funding all mandates. We have a healthcare mandate that will cost some people upwards of 10% of their income when it's enacted. We have federal education mandates and Medicare/Medicaid mandates that states and municipalities are picking up the cost for, at the cost of things like public safety departments and public works items like, say, enough road salt to last the winter.
I think we've shown that things like tax breaks for small businesses and higher taxes for the wealthy are only going to get us so far. They are policies that will help tweak statistics in the directions we want them, but they're never going to actually solve anything.
Diversity of viewpoints in government. Our focus on diversity in positions like judicial and cabinet appointments through the past two administrations has revolved primarily around gender and ethnic background. But for the most part, everyone appointed tends to fall into line, at least on the surface, with the political views of the person who appointed them. That leads to an us vs. them attitude in elections every four years, and it specifically excludes the viability of a third party coming into play.
We're never going to bridge divides if we don't have to build coalitions. In a two-party system, we either pass all legislation in one direction (if the presidency and the majority in both houses of Congress are of the same party), or we pass only moderate legislation (because the Democractic president and Senate need to concede some stuff to House Republicans).
We move in small increments, and every four years we have the option to push those small increments in a different direction. Let's sprinkle some Libertarians, Green Party candidates and other minor-party representatives into the cabinet and into our courts. It will be a slow change, but eventually, those parties will start to really put some seats in Congress, and leaders will have to create coalitions across a variety of viewpoints. Instead of Blue vs. Red on every issue, there will be a gradient of purples in the mix.
I recognize that I've left foreign policy entirely out of this post. But I think we need to take care of things at home before we're going to effect much change abroad. And if we take care of stuff at home, we'll be able to put more people to work on what's going on in the world.
Wherein a politician tells his 8-year-old son he plays piano in an opium den because he doesn't want the kid to know he's really in politics.
Tuesday is election day here in the U.S. It's a day when a bunch of people puff up their chest and smile proudly about civic duty (though most of us only vote in presidential elections and then only when it looks close going in – and even then our voter turnout is embarrassingly low). The reason we're doing this on Tuesday is that people are more likely to stop at the polls on their way to or from work – or take an hour out of the office – than to give up some time out of their weekend to vote.
For me, the most important races in my neck of the woods are on the federal level: president and Congress.
Here are my pet issues right now.
Civil rights. Marriage equality is at the top of my list. I have a bunch of friends who, unless they live in a handful of states, won't be able to visit their partners in the hospital – even after 40 years of monogamous couplehood. Seriously, it's ridiculous. We don't even need to talk about children, but let's do. If one of the couple has a child, the partner has no parental rights and has a terrible uphill battle to get some. Sure, raise the kids together for 12 years while the birth mother is healthy, but the second she gets hit by a bus, we'd rather make that 12-year-old a ward of the state than let him live with the other woman who helped raise him. Makes sense, right? Nope, didn't think so.
Also, I'm going to put abortion here, as a civil right, not under health care, though health care's an important piece. Abortion should be safe and legal. Why? Because laws limiting (or outright outlawing abortion) don't actually decrease the number of abortions performed. They just limit the safety. You want to pretend you're "pro-life"? How about saving the lives of moms in need, and how about making every child a wanted one, instead of one that's born into malnutrition and raised as a burden?
Health care. At this point, it looks like a single-payer system is the only way to go, unless we're willing to regulate the hell out of the system and make it a la carte. Health care is so expensive that even those of us you might consider to be middle class can't afford it, because it represents upward of 14% of our pre-tax income for a lot of us. And unfunded mandates coming up in 2014 are going to cripple some people, especially young families.
Jobs and income. OK, I really don't know how to create more jobs. But nobody can live on minimum wage. $7.25 an hour gives you $15,225 a year for a full-time job. Let's assume that gets you 50% off your health care cost and 50% off your housing cost and a 0% tax rate because your state is really helpful. You're still paying well over a third of your income into a bare-bones health plan and a small apartment ($150 and $300, respectively, out-of-pocket). There aren't any good-paying jobs out there, so I hope you didn't bother going to college, because another $300 a month in students loans would really put a dent in there. Also, I'm pretty sure you're taking the bus to work, since even if you managed a small car payment, you couldn't pay insurance. It just seems our elected politicians are entirely out of touch with reality.
Higher education. I have someone on my staff I was going to give more hours and perhaps start developing toward a management position. But I wound up having to cut his hours because he went back to school. He went back to school because his student loans were called in and, though we're paying him more than minimum wage, he can't come close to making payments, and going back to school – and getting deeper in debt in the process – was the only way to put off paying those loans. Yeah, what a crappy system.
The environment. Go ahead, tell me climate change doesn't exist. These freak storms that we're getting every couple of years are just that – freak occurrences. Except that they're happening regularly. We just had this storm come up the east coast that was 1,000 miles across. A thousand miles! And it was colliding with this giant snowstorm that came in from across the country. Have you had a headache or vertigo the past couple of days that seemed unusually strong? Yeah, that's the lowest barometric pressure that's ever been recorded getting to you. I'm sure our consumption has nothing to do with this.</sarcasm>
I left the Commonwealth during Mitt Romney's years as governor of Massachusetts. He didn't do anything for the Bay State. In fact, the most notable thing he did accomplish was to pass an unfunded mandatory health care law like the one President Obama passed that Romney is fond of claiming he'll repeal (you know, because presidents can repeal stuff – has he even read the Constitution?).
And I've had high hopes since Obama took office. I loved his speech at the 2004 Convention, and I was surprised to see him running in 2008 (I thought Hillary Clinton was going to be the obvious choice for a couple of election cycles and Obama would be the Democratic candidate of choice in 2016). Still, I was optimistic, and, in general, I've been unimpressed. Yes, Obama's done some important things, but every president does.
I don't like my relationship with my government more than I did four years ago, and really, that's what we're asking. "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" is always the wrong question, because over the course of four years, most of what happens to us is our own doing, for the most part.
I'll be casting my vote for Jill Stein. It's an easy decision for me; if I accept that we're a de facto two-party system and either Romney or Obama will be sworn in January 20, 2013, and I accept that, for me, Obama is the lesser of the two evils, New York is safely an Obama state. Look at Stein's issues page. It speaks to me. It's by and large stuff I agree with. As I said, voting for Stein is an easy decision for me.
Not such an easy decision for me is the one to vote for Ursula Rozum. I definitely align with her on the issues, and I've seen Rozum out in the community – my community – talking to groups I'm part of, engaging young voters and organizing for some important issues. And she's aggressively outspoken, which I think is important.
It's a difficult decision for me because I know the major-party race is going to be close. Ann Marie Buerkle, the incumbent Republican, has not spoken for me over the past two years. Not by a long shot. Her website doesn't allow donations under $15, and says so up front. Civil liberties and education aren't on her issues list. On the other hand, the Democratic challenger, Dan Maffei, surprised me by aggressively pursuing legislation and generally sounding smart during his term in Congress.
I say Maffei surprised me because I'd met him a few times before his run. I used to work for syracuse.com, a news website. Each time I met him at a party or other function and he discovered who my employer was, he'd immediately ask the host for a non-alcoholic beverage (seriously? The current president brews beer in the White House) and would go find someone else to talk to. Meanwhile, I'd bump into his then-fiance, Abby, at all kinds of volunteer events. She'd be real easy to vote for, but I just can't bring myself to vote for him. I mean, look at what he says about education. It says, "someone should make this better," not "I'm going to make this better, and here's how."
In a close race, that might mean two more years of Buerkle, but I'm getting tired of voting for the lesser of the two evils. America was built by idealists, and I'm an idealist, so I'm voting my heart.
My couch didn't make the trip from the North Side to the East Side. It was exactly the same size as the bottom landing, including the height to the overhang.
We probably shouldn't have successfully got it up those stairs in the first place.
It kind of needed to be replaced anyway; the wood was crumbling and it needed to be re-upholstered.
After looking around for a while, on Saturday I bought a nice, comfy sueded love seat from American Freight. The salesman was polite and helpful, but when he found out I needed delivery, he apologized profusely that they probably wouldn't be able to deliver it that day (which is what I get for going in 3 hours before closing on a weekend).
So we scheduled delivery for Tuesday after 5. The salesman said Tuesday was his birthday and he was taking it off, but he'd mark it on the invoice and put someone in charge of it.
I figured that after 5 is probably a popular time, so I was prepared to wait until 8-8:30, but since the store closed at 8, I decided to call around 7:30 to check in.
The guy who picked up the phone said, "I don't think [salesman] set it up for today," and as I started to say, "it's right on my invoice," he cut me off with, "Crap! It's right there. That's my fault, I'm really sorry. How early can I get it to you tomorrow? I'll put it on the first shipment."
Those of you who know me know that standing me up without notice is one of the worst things you can do. I have a pretty tight schedule, and if I had known there wouldn't be a delivery, I sure as heck would have put something on my calendar and been elsewhere.
I was really – really – unhappy.
So Wednesday morning, I got to work a little early, so that I could be sure the work that needed to be done was done in case they were early, and waited for them to call. I live about a mile and a quarter from work, so we're talking maybe five minutes each way, with 10 minutes for the delivery.
They called me at 11:30, and said it would be between 1 and 3, and that they'd call when they were loading up – which was especially good, since it meant I could take a late lunch and not have to skip out of work.
They called at 2:15, said they'd try to be there around 3; they showed up about 3:20 (not too bad). And rather than the love seat I had bought, they had brought a sofa, so definitely worth the extra 20-minute wait.
Bottom line, though, is that I have a place to sit and stretch out; I'm happy with the quality of the furniture, and I'm happy with the price I paid. I'm not entirely happy with the transfer from warehouse to delivery, but in the end, it didn't put me out that long.
That's not great customer service, but it's not bad. I wouldn't be doing business with them if they weren't human beings, and unfortunately, humans make mistakes sometimes. It's the willingness to own up to those mistakes and correct them that makes the better humans stand out.
As long as you don't let the mistakes snowball, it's all good. You can always correct mistakes, but if you have to do it often, you're not doing your customers right.
We're seeing that with President Barack Obama's cabinet choices. Eric Holder was confirmed, despite questionable decisions during the Clinton administration. Tim Geithner was also confirmed, despite a $34,000 tax mistake. He admitted the error and worked to correct it.
But Tom Daschle – who had a bigger tax mistake, though he is working to correct it – withdrew his name from consideration. And the mistakes snowballed enough that Nancy Killefer, withdrew her name from cabinet consideration for a $950 error.
So, American Freight doesn't get a recommendation with flying colors. I liked the product and the price, and the service wasn't entirely lacking. But I'd give them another shot. But the next time, a minor service problem looks a whole lot bigger.
President Barack Obama's inaugural address keeps getting better every time I listen to it.
In fact, I have to say, I wasn't all that impressed sitting and watching it live on television – but then, I, like millions of others, was very much wrapped up in the moment, and the words were just the words of a politician.
But I'll admit, there were definitely some winning moments. One thing Obama had to do was to declare America safe – something he had barely done during the campaign. In fact, I'm of the opinion that he's learned something since the election, sitting in on daily security briefings. Suddenly, safety is an issue, not something abstract. He knows, as very few others know, what intelligence is being gathered about potential threats against the U.S.
Flashy speech or no, Obama's first 100 days start now.
A hundred days is a benchmark. At that point, he's had some time to settle into the job, to learn what it takes to get things done, and most importantly, to accomplish some things.
Mitch tells me the first 100 days need to include a stimulus package, the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and the ending of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.
I'll agree with all of those, and I think the Guantanamo closing will come as soon as we figure out what to do with some of the prisoners we're interested in holding but not extradicting (because they'll be tortured in their home countries) or prosecuting (because military or intelligence secrets would be aired in open court).
The other thing I expect soon – Thursday, perhaps, since it's the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling – is an end to the Global Gag Rule. The rule says no federal funding can be used for foreign family planning programs that either directly fund or even discuss abortions as a possibility.
Ronald Reagan instituted it in 1984, Bill Clinton repealed it in 1993, and George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 – on the Roe anniversary.
But there's another thing I'm very concerned about, as are many other people: openness.
But after 100 years of press inclusion, the Bush administration shut the door on the press, and in doing so, on the American people, who access government through the press.
As Rosen says, it's not just the one-way communication of a blog that goes out from the White House to the people that's important, it's government transparency, and a give-and-take between the citizenry and the government.
So, we've had another peaceful transfer of power, and we have been peaceful during that transition. We have turned a page. We have elected a president on a platform of hope, change and positivity, someone with a simple motto: yes we can.
So let's, please, move forward.
But let's also not get complacent. We've given Barack Obama the privilege to lead us. Let's hold him accountable for doing so.
In case you missed it, the U.S. elected Barack Obama to the office of the presidency on Tuesday.
It didn't really surprise anybody. Even Karl Rove predicted he would win in a landslide.
Obama is African-American, and if you're not up on your U.S. history, please leave right now, go to the library, and educate yourself.
During the primary season, it became clear that the Democratic Party was going to make some history. It was either going to put a woman at the top of the ticket, or it was going to put an African-American at the top of the ticket.
Some people – including some close to me – said that they would vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary because they were worried there were people in the country who would vote for the Republican candidate (we later found out that would be John McCain) solely because they wouldn't vote for Obama because of his race.
My response? These people wouldn't vote for Clinton because of her sex. Also, they would probably vote Republican even if John McCain were the Democratic candidate.
Once Obama and McCain were nominated by their respective parties, race became all but a non-issue. McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, certainly couldn't use race as an issue, at least not overtly. Same for the mainstream media, even if they were to endorse McCain/Palin (which very few of them did).
But once Obama got elected, people all over the world – including in the U.S. – started reacting positively at the fact we had elected a black man to the presidency.
Black voters interviewed by members of the press – particularly older ones, who had lived through depression-era segregation all the way up through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and '70s – celebrated. Some said they feel at home for the first time.
McCain, in his concession speech, brought race into the picture.
It feels like this election was never about race, but the reason for that is we have an economic crisis and two wars on our hands. Mitch reminds us that Obama's victory doesn't mean racism's dead in the U.S. He's right, of course. It just means race wasn't the top issue in this campaign.
There's still a lot of work to do, and it's not only racism that needs eradicating in the U.S.
Several states added constitutional amendments making gay marriage illegal. One state added an amendment – presumably aimed at gay couples – making it illegal for unmarried couples to adopt children.
Women still make less money than men for equal work – I've seen numbers that say women's salaries come in about 75% to 84% of men's salaries.
Some reading for you:
» The Housewife of the Revolution asks, "What are you doing to eliminate inequality?" Me: Doing the best I can to not use the privilege that comes with being a straight, white male.
» Keep it Trill wants to know how people in California could say Yes We Can to Obama, but No You Can't by passing Proposition 8.
» Here's one I found most illuminating, though: Jasmyne Cannick, a black lesbian, was out campaigning in force in California, but didn't feel the need to talk about Prop 8 at all, feeling a struggle she felt personally had been co-opted by a primarily white No On 8 movement.
When Barack Obama announced a couple of weeks ago that he would make sure his supporters were among the first to know when he selected a running mate, my initial thought was, hey, cool, someone's using available technology well.
Eventually, curiosity caught up with me, and yesterday I signed up to get my text message.
The idea here was that anyone who signed up on Obama's list would be among the first to know his choice. To make people feel like they were on the inside of the campaign.
Obama's choice started leaking around midnight Eastern last night, and the text message came at 3:13 a.m.
Even on the west coast, you had to be up pretty late to be among the first to know, and if you were on the east coast, you actually could have found out more than an hour and a half before you got your text message.
By the time I woke up (and I get up pretty early), it didn't matter if I checked my text messages, The NY Times, CNN, WaPo, LAT or the Trib.
In short, by electing to cap the late-night leaks with a 3 a.m. message, Obama's campaign effectively skipped letting people on the inside.
Yes, we knew that his choice would show up on Web sites of major news outlets within minutes of the text message being sent out, but the fact that some people are going to learn this in the newspaper (I'm guessing the west coast papers managed to squeeze it into their print editions) around the same time people are getting their text messages, really defeats the purpose.
What should have happened is that a text message should have arrived at 11 a.m., or 2 p.m., or 5 p.m., when people are in the middle of things – going about their days. If everyone stops what they're doing to talk about the text message they just got, that's a measure of success for something like this.
I'm not going to pretend to be uber-qualified to write about race, and I'm not going to go link-crazy here, but race is starting to come out as factor in the presidential race right now, and I feel the need to comment. I'm a white male who works in a mostly white office, so most of the racism I come across is in the media.
People told me during the primary season that they thought if Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee, which it appears he will be (and if he's not, he'll have a lot of explaining to do, since he's campaigning; same with John McCain, by the way – neither of these guys is official yet), people would vote for McCain just because of Obama's race.
Thing is, the people who would vote for president based on race would also vote for president based on gender. It would have been six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other on that count.
The latest polls are out, and guess what?
• People think race is going to be a factor • Obama is leading McCain by about six points • Add in Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, and Obama is up by 13 points (five points to Nader, two to Barr)
What does this say to me? Either:
(a) There's a bit of third-person effect going on here. That is, "race doesn't matter to me, but I bet it does to everyone else." Or,
(b) Race does matter, but it's not to whom you think. The people who want an old white guy in office aren't necessarily Republicans or even Conservatives. They don't care which old white guy they put in office, so long as it's an old white guy.
We knew that some McCain voters could defect to Barr. But did anybody honestly think Nader would be sucking votes from McCain?
What I do know about racism is this. If Obama gets elected, there will be extra pressure on him. If he has a lousy presidency, a large group of people who thought they were taking a "very open-minded risk" voting for him will cite it as an example that a black man can't run the country. And if he does well, there will be a group of people who will pat him on the head (proverbially, anyway) and say, "Good boy. You proved us wrong."
None of that makes me happy. It's just the way I see it.
Personally, I'm going to vote for the person this year I think will do the best job in the White House, whether it's one of the four men mentioned here, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, or one of the other dozens of candidates who will no doubt join the race between now and November.