Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Am SWIE And She Is Me

“Don’t you ever get tired?”, I said to BMNB recently while we were out on our weekly grocery run.

“Tired of what?”

“Tired of struggling. No matter how far ahead we get, it seems some new problem always pops up. We’re always struggling, and I don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere. I know I’m tired.”

“Nope.”

“No?”, I responded in what almost amounted to horror.

“No,” he replied calmly. Before turning the ignition on, he turned to me. “We are blessed. We are REALLY blessed.” And he started the car.

Funny, I wasn’t really feeling blessed. It was the near the end of the month, and once again I had more month than money. Our bills, unexpected expenses, and the impact of tax decisions not of my making on my own bottom line have been wearing on me for quite a while. I don’t like debt, and the fact that I have more of it than I’m comfortable with, as a result of some stupid decisions I made and some stupid decisions I was subject to, was weighing me down. The more I thought about where I thought I would be at this point in my life compared to where I am, the more I wanted to give Prozac its proper consideration.

But I thought about it. We really ARE blessed.

We both have pretty secure jobs in an increasingly shaky economy.

We’re well educated, which means that even if we were to lose our jobs, we could probably find new ones.

We’re healthy, aside from a few aches and pains from getting older and sleeping on a cheap mattress (it was supposed to be a substitute until our bed arrived from Denver, which has not happened yet).

We have each other.

And, I have the fortitude of my mother, even when I don’t realize it.

I had to stop and get a grip: Most of the problems I’m facing are nothing compared to the problems my mother, SWIE, had faced by my same age. I didn’t give birth to six kids and have three miscarriages. I have never had cancer – she had it once and would ultimately lose her second battle with it. I’ve never lost a house. I’ve never been on welfare. I’ve never had to have my husband leave the household so that I could qualify for welfare to feed my kids. I’ve only once been financially dependent on my husband, and I swore I would never, ever let that happen again. My husband doesn’t drink, doesn’t gamble, and has never hit me (although if he did, I would put his ass in the ground. Don’t get it twisted – I’m of the opinion that the cure for domestic violence is target practice at the gun range, although there are a lot of sisters on lockdown who share this same belief).

I don’t have to put dinner for eight on the table seven days a week. I don’t have to care for an ailing parent, at least not yet. I don’t have to live through the agonizing realization that your mind is slowing failing you and your memories are fading into an Alzheimer’s haze, at least not yet.

Yet it was my mother who told me, when I faced what was then the greatest defeat in my life – failing the California bar exam – that, “Okay, we all get knocked down sometime. And you can lay down there for a minute. But then you gotta get up.”

At the time I thought she just couldn’t comprehend what I was going through. My job and career were on the line, I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt for student loans, I had to tell my boss and my colleagues that I had failed, and I had no idea where I went wrong with that damn exam anyway.

But yes she did understand. She understood that I was her child, that because I was her child that I was as strong as she was, and that what I was facing, in the panoply of problems worth worrying over, wasn’t nuthin’. The bar exam – that can be passed. Losing your uterus to cancer – now, THAT’s a real problem.

Armed with my mother’s admonishment that I had to get up, I did. I reduced the materials for the California Bar Exam to 3,600 flash cards, of which I had committed 3,400 to memory by the time of the exam. I studied like a fiend, forsaking good hygiene, sleep, and nutritional meals.

And I passed. When I look back, I can’t help but to think that at that time I had absolutely no idea what real problems were. And perhaps I still don’t.

So, bills? That I can deal with. Living in a rental when I had hoped to be in my own home by now? No biggie. At least I have a roof over my head.

Because I am SWIE and she is me. And this problem stuff? We got this on lock.

Footnote: Shortly after my solo pity party, I received an unexpected check in the mail from my electric utility saying I had overpaid them, I received a reimbursement check from work that I wasn't expecting for another week, and I found $8 on the ground when I was out walking my dog. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that SWIE and God are in cahoots.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We Are The Achievement Gap

I recently read in my local newspaper that a group of African American parents was forming what they called a “parallel school board” to monitor efforts to decrease the achievement gap of African American children in one of the local public schools. Although I applaud their efforts, I think they’re misguided.

I’m about to say something that I think will be highly unpopular in the African American community, but it needs to be said.

We are the achievement gap, not the schools. We don’t value education enough to inculcate educational achievement throughout a child’s home life. Before you can dress down the government for the achievement gap, we have to address what is happening in children’s homes such that they are not achieving.

There. I said it. And here’s why I said it: The government doesn’t have an obligation to educate our children; the government only has an obligation to provide the means by which children can achieve an education. Whether or not a child is achieving and gets a good education is the sole responsibility of parents because only parents have a true interest in the outcome.

The education of our children is far too important to leave to the government, because the government doesn’t have an interest in the education of our children. Sure, there are dedicated teachers and administrators and some well meaning policy wonks in local, state and federal government, but, overall, the government doesn’t have an interest in the outcomes of our kids. And trying to make the government more accountable to our children while they continue to languish is a waste of time and energy that we don’t have as our children fall further behind.

I challenge you to find an underachieving child of any race in a two-parent family where the parents read to the children, supplement their education with books, music lessons, tutoring if necessary, and language lessons, engage them in critical thinking over dinner, expect – not just hope – they will attend college (and not on an athletic scholarship – don’t get me started!), and expose them to cultural activities such as dance, travel, and museums.

You see, education starts in the home. And it isn’t just reading, writing and math. It’s anything that enhances critical thinking skills and cultural exposure, whether it’s playing board games instead of video games, learning to read music instead of just listening to music, and discussing history and politics during dinner. And, no, education is not just job training writ large; it is preparation to survive in a constantly changing world by understanding how it works.

So before we go hanging responsibility for the achievement gap on the government, especially since the government will do nothing more but placate us anyway, we need to ask – what are we doing in our homes to educate our children? Because education is more than simply sending your child off to school with a bag lunch and an admonishment to learn. I think parents have to educate themselves enough to know what their children should be learning and when, and then they must make sure that, even if the schools fail to teach their children, that they themselves step in and fill the gap, whether it’s through tutoring or teaching their children themselves. That requires that parents know what their kids need to learn to achieve, which means parents have to educated enough in order to know how their children should be educated. Education can’t be a “do as I say, not as I do,” kind of thing. If it’s that important, parents need to first educate themselves, not only to be stewards of their children’s education, but to demonstrate to their children that education is that important that it is worth reaching for no matter one’s age or stage in life.

So, I would urge the “Parallel School Board” to ask the following questions of interested parents:

1. Do you know what reading and math skills your child should master this year? Do you have those skills? If not, are you prepared to get them so that you can help your child get them,too?

2. Do both parents communicate the importance of education to the children?

3. Is your child’s home life stable? If not, what are you doing to provide a stable home life?

4. Do you have at least a high school diploma and, if not, do you plan to get one?

5. Does your child have too many responsibilities at home that take away from learning?

6. Does your child have a quiet place to study? Access to a computer?

7. Do you take the time to find out what children in high achieving schools at the same grade level as your child are studying and make sure that your child is studying the same thing, even if it means learning those things outside of the assigned curriculum at your child's school?

8. Do you require your child to read books beyond those assigned in school?

9. Do you know what courses your child will have to take to be prepared for college – and no, a high school diploma is NOT preparation for college – and have you made sure they are prepared to take those courses?

10. Do you limit television viewing, internet use, and video game playing by your children in your home?

11. Do you discuss world events with your child?

12. Do you supplement what they study in history and social science with culturally and historically accurate readings?

13. Do you read the newspaper and do you make your child read the newspaper?

14. Do you make your child write beyond what is assigned in school?

15. Do you provide music lessons for your child?

16. Do you ask your school for summer reading lists for your child? Do you make your child do summer reading?

17. Do you encourage your child to get involved in educational extracurricular activities such as chess club, debate team, ACT-SO, marching band, Spanish club, etc.?

18. Do you take your child to the library? Does he or she have a library card?

19. Do you read the books your child is assigned to read for English and discuss the books with them?

20. Do you play board games with your child?

21. Do you expose your child to cultural activities, e.g., Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the ballet, repertory theater, museums?

22. Do you make sure that your child learns at least one other language other than English? Do you learn the language with your child so he or she can have someone to practice with at home?

These are tough questions. And not all of these actions require money, but they do require time, and a library card at the least. We can talk later about supporting parents in their efforts to be stewards of their children's education by including family members, neighbors, mentors, etc., but first, parents have to accept that they are indeed the stewards of their children's education, not the schools. To ask a school board to be accountable for the achievement gap without examining what parents themselves are doing seems incongruous to me, especially since uneducated and underachieving children don’t end up living in the basement at the school board office as adults.

I have a dream. I dream that African American parents will start an educational movement that won’t be dependent on public schools but instead dependent on African American parents and communities creating a free and publicly available curriculum such that African American children can be educated better than their counterparts. A movement that will not only eliminate the achievement gap, but create one in which African American children are the overachievers, putting a gap between themselves and others. But it all starts at home. Most revolutions do.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Memo to Hillary: Sit down, shut up, and listen.

When I was a law clerk, one of my co-clerks, a white guy, would occasionally get besides himself and proceed to lecture my judge, an elderly African American man, on a fine point of law. On one occasion, he actually chose one area of law – qualified immunity – about which my judge was not only an expert, having served as a former U.S. Attorney, but an authority, having written the decision in a seminal case on that matter. I sat and watched this smug, self-important guy proceed to lecture someone almost four times his age about the state of the law of qualified immunity. It was like watching someone take a long, slow swan dive into a bonfire. Finally my judge, who had run out of patience (as most eighty year-olds tend to do, since they’re short on time, too), told my colleague: “Boy, sit down, shut up, and listen. You might just learn something.” He then corrected my colleague, who not only had had the temerity to lecture my judge, but had gotten the law wrong, too.

Watching my co-clerk back then is kinda like watching the Clinton campaign now. Although this will be my -- what, third missive? -- to Hillary, Inc. (as her former campaign staff was referred to in More magazine), in the interest of having a full and robust Democratic primary, I will simply say to Senator Clinton: Girl, sit down, shut up, and listen. You might just learn something. Mind you, I’m no campaign operative or political consultant, but I know what I know. And what I know is your campaign is running like a used Yugo on fumes.

First, let’s start with what’s not working with your campaign:

1. The “A” factor – authenticity. Simply put, you don’t have it. Or at least you’re perceived not to have it. The common perception is that you will do anything and say anything to get elected, and that your strategy is simply to find the right set of advisers to hit on that perfect thing for you to say in order to get elected. Girl, you need to fire the folks feeding you those tired lines about experience (since you fail to substantiate what you did during those 35 years) and catty comments about Obama (“Change we can Xerox?” Puleeze.) It’s time to channel whatever it was that made you a success at Wellesley, Yale Law School, and beyond. You need to find your authentic message and stick with it. A message that tells people why you’re the better candidate by communicating something about the qualities that made you a success. And a song wouldn’t hurt, either. More on that later.

2. The “N” factor – negativity. Girl, it so ain’t working for you. Every time you go negative on Obama, you just confirm the worst feelings that your detractors have. You need to accentuate YOUR positives, not Obama’s negatives. The more you try to bring him down, the lower you sink yourself.

3. Cuttin’ and runnin”. I’ve noticed that when you’ve faced an unexpected and/or overwhelming defeat in a state, you leave before sundown and move on to the next state like it never happened. Being a woman means standing your ground in victory AND in defeat, taking and rolling with the punches. It also means thanking your troops publicly and acknowledging your competitor’s success. Even boys in Little League shake hands with the opposing team after a loss. Anything else just belies what white folks would call poor sportsmanship, or what some black folks would call a stank attitude.

4. Kill Bill. Yep, I said it. You need to channel The Bride, Uma Thurman or whoever and Kill Bill (Nope, I didn’t see either movie.) Obama hit the nail on the head when he said he didn’t know who he was running against. You can’t be perceived to be relying on Bill to win. There’s a sizeable amount of the American populace that doesn’t want a “Clinton Restoration.” You need to heed that.

5. The “H” factor – humility. Thought you’d have this thing sewn up by Super Tuesday, now did ya? Psych! Even if that’s what you and/or your handlers thought, you should have never said it. Smacks of hubris. And, to make matters worse, it doesn’t even appear as if you had a Plan B, as if you thought there was no way Obama could knock you out of the game. Well, Hill, you’ve been served – a plate of crow with some humble pie for desert. You need to eat it and learn from it. Humility will go a long, long way. Elections are not won from the top down; they’re won from the bottom up, but the people on the bottom don’t want to feel like they’re being looked down on. You only need to look at the Obama campaign structure to see that.

6. Campaigning like you have balls. A woman who campaigns like she has balls ends up looking like a hermaphrodite. That ain’t pretty. You can be forceful, assertive and effective without trying to ape men. To wit: Oprah.

7. Stepford campaigning. You appear too scripted and stiff. Loosen up, girl!

Okay, let’s talk about what you do have going for you:

1. The Latino vote, at least for now.
2. The working class vote, at least for now.
3. The older women’s vote, at least for now.
4. Lukewarm and waning support from labor.

Now, let’s talk about how you’re going to leverage what you’ve got to get what you want:

1. Your message: One of the political commentators on CNN hit on it yesterday, even if your handlers didn’t: You’re a fighter, and you fight for what you believe in. Now, I can’t claim to have seen your campaign commercials here in California, but you need to convey that you’ve never backed down from a fight, whether it’s taking on a sitting U.S. Senator in your commencement speech at Wellesley, as a student activist fighting for black student admissions, speaking truth to power as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, fighting for migrant workers, etc. Your next commercial should have a montage of photos of you in these roles, with phrases describing each of your fights and successes – SCHip, Legal Services, House Judiciary Committee, migrant workers, child abuse, Children’s Defense Fund, etc. – a literal and visual cascade of your accomplishments over 35 years rolling throughout the screen with the song, “I’ll Stand By You” – the Patti LaBelle version – playing in the background, all grinding to a halt with a black screen with the tag line in white: Passionate enough to stand up for you; Experienced enough to win. Hillary for President.

2. Don’t concede any group, especially those that were in your base. You need to go back to those groups that were in your base – white women, African Americans – and talk in relatable language and fight for their votes as cheaply as possible, perhaps by having an internet chat on iVillage.com or BlackVoices.com while maintaining the support you already have. Think of it as two jobs – in-person campaigning by day, live internet campaigning at night. As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work.”

3. Talk less, respond more. You need to be less scripted, with fewer canned lines. You need to speak to the concerns of voters as voiced by them, and talk about the why of what you’re doing – why you chose the path you did and how it’s lead you here; what you have to offer – the perspective of more than half of the world’s population, which has never been fully reflected in the Oval Office. You might even humanize yourself a bit more, describing yourself as a menopausal sixty-something who, like most Americans, knows we can do better.

4. Use ordinary, grassroots people to get your message out and fund your campaign. You need real people talking about you at your rallies, not celebrities or politicos. People whose lives have been changed by something you took a stand on. You also need to harness them for fundraising, whether it’s Bake Sales for Hillary, Garage Sales for Hillary, Burrito Sales for Hillary, Catfish Dinner Sales for Hillary, etc, and put them and their photos on your website. You need to put the big money donors and Hollywood folks down and raise funds a dollar at a time from a groundswell of grassroots folks.

5. You need to own your error in supporting the Iraq War. And it’s easy – you could simply say that, having lived through Watergate and as a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, you could not have imagined that a president would intentionally mislead people on an issue of national security (and emphasize the "on an issue of national security" part since Bill did lie about Monica) because surely there were too many checks and balances in the White House to let that happen. You also need to say that you would no longer give any President the benefit of the doubt, nor would you expect Congress or the American people to do the same if you were president.

6. Do not – and I repeat, DO NOT – even think about trying to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations. It smacks of game playing. I don’t think you’d even have a shot of being on the ticket if you did that and lost.

7. Along those lines, do not try to win this by having the superdelegates put you over. If you don’t win by pledged delegates, you need to be gracious and acknowledge Obama as the winner. History will reward you later.

Okay, Hill, I hope you were listening. Now fire your staff and get to work.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Say A Prayer for the NIU Fallen

Say a prayer, everyone, for the students and families affected by the tragedy at Northern Illinois University.

I taught law students intermittently from 1990 to 2003, long enough to live through the Columbine, Jonesboro, Pearl, and Santee school shootings. I have to admit – given the high-strung nature of law students, I was starting to get a bit nervous in the classroom over time. As an African American woman professor, I was always being challenged by those who thought I wasn’t qualified to take the podium, and I usually dealt with these challenges by flexing my superior knowledge (a function of time, not necessarily intellect) and reasoning them into submission. I sometimes wondered whether an angry student would try to harm me, so much so that I remarked to my students after one school shooting, “Don’t even think about it. I’m crazy enough to take you out first.”

Not the words one expects to hear from her Property professor. But I was old enough to remember Theodore Streleski.

Remember him? He was the Stanford math Ph.D. student who killed his advisor, Karl de Leeuw, with a ball peen hammer after nineteen years of pursuing his Ph.D. (Okay, anyone – and I mean anyone – who spends nineteen years pursuing a graduate degree is just nucking futz to begin with. But I digress.) Streleski felt de Leeuw deserved it because he had denied Streleski honors and demeaned him and his shoes. (Given what Stanford was like back then, what with everyone wearing Birkenstocks and letting their toe knuckle hair hang out, anyone who felt that his shoes were demeaned had to be nothing but delusional.) I came to Stanford as an undergraduate three years after Streleski acted. Even my freshman English professor, who had known de Leeuw, was still unnerved about the incident years later. Just as the shooter at Northern Illinois University stopped taking his meds, I would imagine that Theodore Streleski either stopped taking his or never even started. Times like these would make anyone teaching students pause and think: Might one of these students – any of them – try to harm me for something I might say or do?

I’m sure some of my former law students probably thought I deserved a brusque introduction to a ball peen hammer, too, especially after a week of the Socratic method and future interests in land. Springing executory interests, anyone?

Are we at the point where we need mental health screenings for all students? Metal detectors at all schools? Because the classroom is the last place anyone should feel unsafe.

Unless, of course, they aren’t prepared for one of my Property classes.

Pray for a solution.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy V Day! And Don't Say The C-Word . . .

Ah, Jane Fonda. Even when she doesn’t mean to, she causes controversy. Gotta love her.

On this morning’s Today Show, Fonda appeared with Eve Ensler to celebrate the tenth anniversary of V Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls by raising funds and awareness through benefit productions of Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” Well, Fonda, in describing her initial reluctance in being involved with “The Vagina Monologues,” recounted that she had been asked to perform a monologue entitled “C-word,” and she declined, saying, “I’ve got enough problems.”

Now, since I live on the Left Coast, the “C-word” reference had been bleeped. Only when doing a Google search on V Day did I come across the controversy. It appears that both Fonda and Meredith Vieira, who had been interviewing Ensler and Fonda, later apologized for the slip.

In the words of Bill Cosby, come on, people. Fonda didn’t drop the C-word with the intention to offend; she was trying to describe. Now folks commenting on blogs are dropping the C-word to describe her. Seems Fonda can’t buy a break, much less catch one.

And the important issue isn’t the C-word, it is violence against women and girls. In the midst of all our flowers and chocolate, let’s not forget that, more likely than not, some woman or girl you know is in a violent relationship. For just one day, let’s pull our heads out of the clouds (or, for some, out of our asses), and acknowledge this and do something about it. For more information, check out vday.org

Happy V Day, and don’t be such a cunt about it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Say Hello To My Little Friends . . .

Sure, Obama is winning the pledged delegate count – at least for today. Sure, he swept Hillary in the Potomac Primaries. I could gloat and come up with all kinds of Obama-based words – Obamaudacity, Obamalicious, etc.

But there’s a storm cloud on the horizon that Obama, Hillary, McCain and Huckabee can’t stop.

We’re most definitely headed toward a recession. No one can predict for how long, but even the most grudgingly bullish economists agree that a recession is all but inevitable.

So, in the interest of helping everyone make it through the recession, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my friends. You’ve heard of “FOB’s” – Friends of Bill. I’m sure there are probably “FOO’s” – Friend of Obama. Perhaps the people who oppose Obama are FOO Fighters (pun irresistible). My friends are FOMW’s – Friends of My Wallet. They help me keep household costs down and have kept me afloat in lean times. They include:

1. Winco Foods. God love ‘em. Anybody who makes less than $100K a year and doesn’t shop at Winco is a fool, period. If I could buy stock in Winco, I would, but it’s an employee-owned grocery chain determined to keep prices down by not accepting credit cards and making you pack your own groceries. In exchange, you get super-low prices – lower than Save-Mart, Safeway, Raley’s, or any of the established major chains. I got turned on to Winco when it was Cub Foods in Denver, and since moving to California and finding Winco, I haven’t looked back. For cereals, canned goods, dairy products, pasta, rice, frozen foods, and beverages, Winco can’t be beat – not by Costco, not by the other supermarkets, nope, no way. And when you add coupons to the mix, it’s on like Donkey Kong!

Mind you, there are some things I don’t buy at Winco – meat, for one. But for staples that you don’t want to buy in bulk because you’d go broke doing it, Winco is truly a “Winning Company,” hence the name Winco.

2. Coupons, Starbucks, La Bou, and any coffee shop. But not for the reasons you think. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m the coupon queen. No -- coupon diva. Not only do I cut coupons, I send coupons to my niece in college and to anyone else who looks like they’ll use them. They are free money, and I don’t understand people who don’t use them for things they normally buy at full price.

Which leads me to Starbucks, La Bou, and any other coffee shop around. On Sundays, people like myself go to Starbucks to drink coffee and, if they live in a town which has a sorry daily newspaper, to read the Sunday New York Times. However, in the newspaper recycling bin are usually a boatload of coupons. Yes, I have no shame – I go through the recycling bin, grab the coupons, and laugh all the way to Winco later in the week, coupons in hand.

3. Wal-Mart. Yes, Wal-Mart has its detractors. However, I didn’t make this socially and economically Darwinist game we call Capitalism in America. I’m just stuck playing it, and Wal-Mart helps level the playing field. I buy household cleaners at Wal-Mart, which are usually cheaper there than in grocery stores and not as costly as buying in bulk at Costco. I also buy pants there. Yes, pants. Because I work for the government, I don’t always have to wear a suit to work. To keep dry cleaning costs down, I buy khakis and black jeans at Wal-Mart, dress them up with nice sweaters, fake pearls or a scarf, and slingbacks, and keep stepping. Plus, Wal-Mart, unlike Costco, takes coupons. Score one for the broke folks!

4. Dollar Tree. Yes, it has its detractors, too, but my wallet likes it. I buy some household stuff (plastic food containers, cooking utensils, faux Woolite for my tights, undies, and sweaters, trash can liners I use to pick up dog poop when walking my dog), as well as birthday cards and party stuff, for those rare times when we actually party. I also find good books there for a buck. Gotta love it. Plus, when you can’t score free coupons at Starbucks, etc., you can buy the Sunday paper for a buck there and get coupons. But always try Starbucks first. I’ve gone to Dollar Tree when I was feeling down and out and scored a good book, wonderful bubble bath, and a candle for three bucks and tax, which made for the ultimate poor woman’s spa treatment – a bubble bath by candlelight with a good book.

5. Isaac Mizrahi for Target and the Target Go collection, but only on sale. But for Isaac and the Target Go Collection, I don’t know what I’d do. I’ve been able to score cocktail party-worthy dresses, killer shoes, great jackets (I’m still rocking those Proenza Schouler jackets from last year’s collection and I have the Isaac Mizrahi Jackie O-inspired evening coat from two years ago and – memo to Patrick Robinson: Your sizes run too small!), and great skirts, all on the cheap. Even better – waiting for them to hit the sales racks, either in the store or online. Fashion doesn’t have to be expensive.

6. H and M. OMG! If you want up-to-the-minute fashion at can’t-be-beat prices, H and M is the way to go. I paired a killer black sheath dress from H & M with some killer Isaac Mizrahi for Target black stilletos and pearls, and I received numerous compliments. My feet hurt, but damn, I looked good!

7. Thrift stores. Yep, I’m one of those people – a thrift store shopper. I have bought exercise tapes and DVDs, books, a red Kate Spade bag, and countless other gems at thrift stores. I’ve bought chairs for $15 each, a dresser for $20. What thrift store shoppers know that others don’t is that retail stores often dump slightly damaged merchandise or merchandise that didn’t sell at thrift stores. Also, depending on what neighborhood your thrift store is in, you can score some high-end quality clothes. The Cherry Creek Goodwill in Denver is my favorite for this, although I’ve heard the Goodwill on Market Street in San Francisco is great, too.

8. Costco—but rarely. What you can get at Costco that is worth buying without coupons is toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning stuff, chicken, and movie tickets (Yes, you can get movie tickets at Costco for $7.50 each instead of paying $9.50 at theaters here). The problem is, you’ll leave with a carpet cleaner, a flat-screen TV, and a five-dollar bag of Stacy’s Pita Chips. Well, the pita chips are worth it, too. But keep a short list, and don’t go broke trying to save money there.

9. The library. But not just for books. Libraries now carry DVD’s and CD’s. Plus, some libraries allow you to reserve the newest arrivals so you don’t have to buy them. I know someone who signs up for an e-mail alert whenever the local library gets new CD’s in, reserves them, rips them, and returns them. Now, as an officer of the court, I can’t tell you to commit copyright infringement . . . .

10. Big Lots. If you need to buy household appliances, linens, toys, slipcovers, or gardening stuff, always try Big Lots first. I’ve found stuff so deeply discounted that it beat Wal-Mart.

11. Payless Shoes. Yep, I’m one of those people, too. I can get away with it because I don’t work in corporate America, although the person who turned me on to Payless Shoes was a paralegal in a very old and venerable San Francisco law firm. I loved her shoes and every time I asked her where she got them, she said, “Payless.” Mind you, Payless shoes aren’t going to last forever, but if you’re in a pinch and need to look somewhat professional for work, Payless is the way to go.

12. The Wednesday Grocery Store Circular Ads. I’m like my mother in this respect –if you ask me what’s on the menu this week, I’ll tell you it’s whatever’s on sale in the meat aisle in the local grocery stores. Since I don’t buy meat at Winco and I try to avoid buying meat in bulk at Costco, I watch the Wednesday circular ads in the local paper to find out what meat is on sale, and plan my menu around the sale. I can usually beat Costco with my Safeway Club Card or other affinity card when it comes to buying meat.

13. My dog and the folks at NexCycle. Okay, it sounds weird, but here goes: If you will bend down to pick up your dog's poop for free, why not bend down to pick up recyclable cans and bottles while you’re out walking your dog? Well, I do. I take an extra garbage bag just for recyclables, and I walk my dog on routes certain to yield them – around schools and parks. Plus, I’m doing my part to keep the neighborhood up. I store my recyclables and take them to the NexCycle recycling centers, earning anywhere from $8.00 to $20 per month. It may not seem like a lot to you, but since I have to walk my dog anyway, I might as well make some money while I’m doing it.

14. My crock pots. I have two here (one which I got a Big Lots for $10), one in storage. Crock pots allow me to buy cheap cuts of meat – stew, chicken – and make sumptious and nutritious dishes that both my husband and I love with minimal effort on the weekend. This week it was Jambalaya and stuffed peppers. The week before it was Chicken Cioppino. Next week? Depends on what’s on sale in the meat department.

15. The Internet. As far as I’m concerned, no one need ever buy a cookbook as long as you have internet access. Plus, I do comparative shopping on the internet for all kinds of stuff – from car insurance to slip covers -- before I ever enter a retail bricks and mortar establishment. Markets work more efficiently with perfect information, we’ve been told in Econ 101. Well, we don’t have perfect information, but the Internet is pretty darn close.

16. Park Avenue Dry Cleaners in Elk Grove. For those times when I have to get a suit dry cleaned, at least I won’t pay more than $2.25 for each piece. Score!

17. Garage sales. Yep, I’m one of those people, too. I owe most of my patio furniture to the garage sale one of my neighbors had. Plus, I’m pretty good at giving them, too. Big ticket items are usually scored more easily (translation: cheaply) at the end of the sale.

So, who are the friends of your wallet? If you don’t have any, you better make some fast, because it's not how much you earn that counts; it's how much you keep.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Hotter Than Fish Grease, Part II: Seating the Florida and Michigan Democratic Delegates and a Brokered Convention

I understand that there may be an effort by or on behalf of the Clinton campaign to have the delegates from Florida and Michigan seated at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. This is despite the fact that the DNC ruled that they wouldn't seat these delegates because those states moved their primaries up in contravention of DNC rules. Despite the fact that, in agreement with the DNC, both Obama and Clinton agreed not to campaign in those states.

But Hillary won Florida, so I guess she and/or her advisors want to change the rules.

I also hear that DNC Chair Howard Dean doesn't want a contentious convention and is urging a "brokered" convention in the event that Obama's and Clinton's delegate counts are too close for comfort.

Here I am, once again, hotter than fish grease with my own party.

First, I don't think the DNC should support any effort to change the primary rules mid-stream. If the Michigan and Florida delegates are to be seated, they should only be seated if Obama and Clinton BOTH have a chance to campaign in those states AND a second "do-over" primary is held. Let them both compete fair and square. But changing the rules in the middle of the game? Hell, you can't even do that in Monopoly at home.

Second, a brokered convention smacks of a DNC coronation by the super-delegates. We all know that Clinton has most of the super-delegates sown up. That's fair. But if Obama comes in so close that there has to be a fight on the floor, I think the party is grown up enough to reconcile behind the nominee no matter who it is, as long as the process of deciding the nominee is fair. Now, one could take issue with the fact that having super-delegates is inherently unfair, but at least the rules of the game were known to all at the beginning. But a brokered convention in the name of party unity when seventy percent of Clinton supporters would support Obama if he were the nominee and seventy-one percent of Obama supporters would support Clinton if she were the nominee? It isn't necessary and it overrides the process.

I say let the process play itself out. The party will risk losing young voters and voters new to the party if there is any hint that the candidate they supported won fair and square, only to be sold out in a brokered convention or as a result of unfair political maneuverings.

So Hillary, if you're paying attention, I think you would be well advised to back off the idea of seating the Michigan and Florida delegates. You already have integrity issues; this would only make it worse.

And Chairman Dean, you of the failed nomination attempt, you should be the last one advocating a brokered convention. Have some faith in the party to come together after the convention, will ya?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I'll Take That Second Place Showing

Okay, so Obama didn't win California. But he did well enough to stay competitive, so I'll take that second place showing, thank you very much.

But he did win states with significant numbers of African American voters, and he pretty much had the African American voted locked up in those states.

He even won Idaho -- WTF?

Which leads me to ask: Where did Hillary go wrong with the African American vote she pretty much had locked up six months ago?

Answer: Bill. In South Carolina.

And I don't think there are enough African American super-delegates to make up the loss. It seems like, just as Kennedy endorsements didn't do much for Obama in Massachusetts, African American politician endorsements aren't doing much for Hillary in the South. Except for Tennessee and Arkansas, which may not have the same number of African American voters as South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia. Perhaps the tide will change for her in Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, and DC.

But I wouldn't be too optimistic.

As Senator Obama said last night, "Our time has come."

Indeed it has.

Barack On!

And say a prayer for the families and loved ones affected by yesterday's tornadoes.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Feeling Obamalicious

Yep, today is Super Tuesday – or rather, Super Duper Tuesday or Fat Tuesday if you’re in New Orleans or Mobile – and I’m feeling Obamalicious.

Yep, even in California, I like Obama’s chances. He doesn’t have to win all of the Latino vote – just pick off enough and continue to do as well with independents and black voters such that there will still be a Democratic primary to speak of after today.

I’ve got my Obama lawn sign up – no one stole it yet – and I’m still reeling from the unprecedented turnout of African American women who made up thirty-five percent of the voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary, where eighty-one percent of the black vote went to Obama.

And I’m still in awe of the Obamaudacity of the young voters who continue to turn out, do phone banking, and make their hope tangible. I applaud you. You’re the reason why I decided to support Obama in the first place.

As I discussed with BMNB, I don’t think Hillary gets how her words and actions play out. This is the year of integrity and intelligence, and, IMHO, candidates who don’t have both won’t make it. I’m not a Southerner, but I lived there long enough to know that Hillary’s abrupt departure from South Carolina – before the polls closed and without even making a public speech there to thank supporters – probably wasn’t received well. Her departure was the functional equivalent of saying, “NEXT!,” as if South Carolina didn’t matter. Well, respect and decorum do matter in the South.

If she wins the nomination, she’ll have to come back through there again. Hmm.

And her remark on Letterman – “In my White House, people will know who wears the pant suit in the family” – hmm, probably not received well in dress country, i.e. the South.

At this point, both Bill and Hill seem a little disingenuous, a little manipulative (what with Bill putting his foot in his mouth in his remarks comparing Obama’s successes to the putative ones of Jesse Jackson). A little lacking in, oh, what is it? Oh yes -- integrity.

So, I’m feeling a bit Obamalicious. Let’s see if my fellow California voters back me up.

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