Friday, January 30, 2009

The Big Pimpin' Awards

I’ve always had a grudging admiration for pimps. Not because I admire what they do, but rather how they do what they do. What pimps do better than anyone else is to get people – or rather, women – to join in their own exploitation without feeling exploited. For the life of me, I can’t help but think there’s some weird confluence of science, genius, madness, and alchemy such that a man can get a woman to do for pay one of the most intimate and personal acts with strangers of all varieties of personal hygiene and then turn over the majority of the money to him so that he can live a lifestyle better than hers. If I had to put my money on a Harvard MBA or an Oakland pimp to successfully run a Fortune 500 corporation, my money would be on the Oakland pimp, every time.

Well, America, it looks like we’re the hos in this recession, because there are a whole lot of pimps out there who are exploiting us, maybe not with the skill and finesse of an Oakland street pimp, but pretty darn close. And I’ve always believed that excellence should be rewarded in a capitalist, democratic society. With that, let me announce and award Black Woman Blogging’s first ever Big Pimpin’ Awards. These awards go to those newsmakers, who, over the last year or so, have been successful or at least tried very hard, to pimp the American people – our tax dollars, our values, our trust. The first part of success is believing in your ability to succeed. These pimps had self-confidence in spades.

The “Diamond in the Back, Sunroof Top, Diggin’ the Scene with a Gansta Lean” Award goes to: The CEO’s of Chrysler, GM, and Ford, for having the pimp hubris to come to Capitol Hill to ask for taxpayer bailout money in corporate jets. Don’t forget the rest of the song, though: “Just be thankful for what you’ve got.”

The “Sneaker Pimp” Award goes to: Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Playa, you’re not the first elected official who attempted to sell an appointment. You were just so bad at it that you got caught. And to appear on the “The View” instead of at your own impeachment trial? That’s just sneaker pimpin’. You need to get out of the way and let the real playas play.

The “Pimpin’ Around The Word” Award goes to: The Bush Administration, for getting our allies to join us in rendition and torture by setting up American prisons on foreign soil.

The “ ‘Too Short’ California Pimpin’” Award goes to: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature. Let me get this straight: California is in the middle of a severe budget crisis – I’m talking Vallejo/San Diego on-the-verge-of-defaulting crisis. State workers within the control of the Governor are going to be furloughed without pay. Yet other state workers who have the serendipity to work for the University of California, the California State University System, the California Community Colleges, and other state constitutional officers won’t be furloughed. Many state legislative staffers received raises, and yet the Governor and many in the California Legislature had the nerve to go the Presidential Inauguration even though we’re supposed to be in a crisis and running out of money in February? And no one’s seen fit to drive a semi up to the Capitol and set the building on fire? That’s pimpin’ California-style, in the vein of California’s most famous pimp and rapper, Too Short.

The “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” Award goes to: General Motors. They’re such a special case that they get mentioned twice. General Motors has the distinction of being able to dip into TARP money twice – once through GM, the other through their lending arm, GMAC, which they were able to morph into a bank so that it, too, could qualify for TARP money. GM cited the downturn in car sales and the increased foreclosures faced by GMAC as the reason for double dipping. It’s hard out there for a pimp.

The “Hos in Every Area Code” Award goes to: The mortgage lending industry. Because they do have hos in every area code. They’re called subprime borrowers. The problem is, now their hos are out of pocket, so to speak, because of foreclosures. Not everybody can be Nate Dogg.

The “Don’t Hate the Playa, Hate the Game” Award goes to: Citibank, Merrill Lynch, and AIG. Citibank, for taking TARP money and then having the nerve to try to take delivery of new corporate jets. Merrill Lynch, for paying billions in bonuses to its execs on the way to their arranged merger with Bank of America. AIG, for holding a spa retreat shortly after receiving TARP money. An honorable mention goes to John Thain of Merrill Lynch for spending $1 million to redecorate his office as his company was going down the tubes.

And, drumroll, please . . .

The Mack of the Year Award goes to: Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Paulson worked for Goldman Sachs in the run-up in the real estate bubble, and the role of investment banks in the real estate bubble cannot be underestimated. He later became Treasury Secretary, sold his stake in Goldman Sachs pursuant to ethics laws for a tax-free net of $200,000,000, and then helps in its bailout. But that’s not why he’s the Mack of the Year. Paulson is the Mack of the Year because he had balls to go to Congress with a three-page explanation as to why Congress should give the Bush Administration $750 billion to bail out financial institutions, saying that the money would free up credit and help the American taxpayer. Although he didn’t get what he wanted solely on the strength of his three-pager, he did ultimately get what he wanted. Banks and other financial institutions got the money, didn’t lend it out, weren’t held accountable, and no one called for Paulson’s head on a platter, or anyone else’s for that matter. Mack of the Year, I tell you. Play on, Playa Paulson. Play on.

UPDATE: At the suggestion of my brother and my protege, the "Katt Williams 'If You Can't Find Anyone Else To Hate, You Can Hate On Me' Lifetime Achievement Award" goes to President George W. Bush. As my brother put it, "Not only did he get us to jump on folks we ain’t had no business messin' with, but he got us to put $7 Trillion on our card to do it for him and his fellow Sith Lords."

Super Fly would be proud.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

To Form A Mo' Better Union

“We the People” established the Constitution in order to form a more perfect union. President Obama speaks confidently and often of perfecting our union. As for me, I don’t think the language needs to be lofty or the concept complex: “We the People” need to get to work on an individual basis and take greater responsibility for ourselves, our fellow citizens, and our government and it’s accountability. I call this forming a “mo’ better union."

The difference?

A More Perfect Union: Asking not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
A Mo’ Better Union: Don’t ask and don’t wait to be asked. Serve at the micro-level – your family, your friends, your community. Need is all around, and your service need not be grand. Thanking a military person for his or her service to our country, no matter how you feel about the war, is a start.

A More Perfect Union: Making our government make decisions we can justify to our grandchildren.
A Mo’ Better Union: Making our government make decisions that, seven generations from now, insure that there actually are seven generations from now.

A More Perfect Union: Giving equal say and weight to all constituencies, no matter how self-interested they are.
A Mo’ Better Union: Taking into account the self-interest and long-term detriment to the good will of all of anything proposed by any constituency, especially corporations and businesses, and calling them on their self-interest and detrimental proposals.

A More Perfect Union: Defending our way of life.
A Mo’ Better Union: Examining our way of life to see if it is worthy of defending. If not, changing it.

A More Perfect Union: Expecting government to step in and set the market straight when it spins out of control.
A Mo’ Better Union: Educating citizens to sound the alarm and become politically activated when the market is spinning out of control.

A More Perfect Union: Creating more educational and job opportunities for all.
A Mo’ Better Union: Preparing the underserved to take advantage of the increased educational and job opportunities for all.

A More Perfect Union: Not asking whether government is too big or too small, but whether it works.
A Mo’ Better Union: Being in the position that you don’t have to care whether the government is too big, too small, or works, because your financial well-being isn’t dependent on the government at all.

A More Perfect Union: Foreign policy based on self-interest and alliances.
A Mo’ Better Union: Foreign policy that is based on morality and international law and is defensible in the international arena.

A More Perfect Union: Assuming that we have overcome because we have an African-American president.
A Mo’ Better Union: Hoping we can overcome because we have an African-American president.

A More Perfect Union: “Greening” the United States as part of a movement.
A Mo’ Better Union: The terms “green” and “eco-friendly” disappear because they become inculcated in how we live instead of being part of a celebrity fad.

A More Perfect Union: Tolerance of diametrically opposed political views.
A Mo’ Better Union: Engaging those who hold diametrically opposed political views to see where you can find common ground or if you can even converse civilly. Civil discourse is a worthy goal in and of itself.

A More Perfect Union: Defending a woman’s right to choose.
A Mo’ Better Union: Making sure that women can truly utilize all available options so they don’t have to be in the position of making that choice.

A More Perfect Union: Spending our way out of a recession.
A Mo’ Better Union: Saving and investing our way out of a recession.

A More Perfect Union: A color-blind society.
A Mo’ Better Union: A color-celebrating and inclusive society.

A More Perfect Union: The War on Terror.
A Mo’ Better Union: Not elevating the fight against terrorism in the minds of our enemies by calling it a war. Wars are fought between nations. The organizations that are menacing us are no better than gangs and exist for all the same reasons – poverty, ignorance, lack of opportunity and freedom. Think Bloods and Crips with better weapons.

A More Perfect Union: A line-by-line review of the federal budget to cut out the fat.
A Mo’ Better Union: Putting the entire federal budget, line-by-line, on the internet, Wikipedia-style, with links from expenditures to which member of Congress proposed them and who donated to those members’ campaigns. Similarly, all government contracts would be posted online and government expenditures posted in real time – that means you, Blackwater. The power of the ENGAGED masses to keep the federal bureaucracy accountable is greater than that of any watchdog group.

You get my drift. What’s your “Mo’ Better Union”?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Can't You Feel A Brand New Day?

Sometimes music says it best . . . . God Bless President Obama and the Obama Family. And thanks to the late Luther Vandross for putting into song what is in our hearts today.

Black Woman Blogging

Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day)



Everybody look around
'Cause there's a reason to rejoice you see
Everybody come out
And let's commence to singing joyfully
Everybody look up
And feel the hope that we've been waiting for

Everybody's glad
Because our silent fear and dread is gone
Freedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfully
Just look about
You owe it to yourself to check it out
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?

Everybody be glad
Because the sun is shining just for us
Everybody wake up
Into the morning into happiness

Hello world
It's like a different way of living now
And thank you world
We always knew that we'd be free somehow
In harmony
And show the world that we've got liberty

It's such a change
For us to live so independently
Freedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfully
Just look about
You owe it to yourself to check it out
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?

Everybody be glad
Because the sun is shining just for us
Everybody wake up
Into the morning into happiness
Hello world
It's like a different way of living now
And thank you world
We always knew that we'd be free somehow
In harmony
And show the world that we've got liberty

It's such a change
For us to live so independently
Freedom, you see, has got our hearts singing so joyfully
Just look about
You owe it to yourself to check it out
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?
Can't you feel a brand new day?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Time To Get My Hustle On

I came to California state civil service seeking financial stability (even at the risk of a huge pay cut), a less stressful and more congenial way to practice law, and the freedom of not having to do any rainmaking or deal with clients other than an agency.

Did I say I came seeking financial stability?

Well, it seems our Governor wants to cut my pay, and the pay of most state workers within his ham-fisted grasp, by 10% by giving me a Friday off prior to every first and third weekend of the month, starting next month. Mind you, the folks at the Legislature, who he has no control over (and even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to control them anyway), recently received a raise. The state workers who work for agencies controlled by other constitutional officers, well, they’re not taking a hit. The University of California, the California State University system, they’re sitting pretty. But the rest of us, we’re pretty much screwed unless the courts rule otherwise.

Well, thanks but no thanks, Ahnult.

Normally, my outrage would lead me to start organizing fellow state workers who, in my view, have been far too sedate about all this, for example: 1) A “rigid digit” parade around the state capitol, where state workers flip off the Governor and the Legislature; 2) Having state workers show up at all of Ahnult’s public events and the fundraising events of legislators and throw shoes at them – hey, it worked for the folks in Iraq; 3) A “You’re All Full of Shit” protest whereby state workers leave dog poop and used kitty litter on the west steps of the capitol; and finally, 4) An “I got your mf’n furlough right here” protest whereby state workers show up to work, turn on all the lights, computers, etc., and don’t do a damn thing. Now, I know we get accused of that already, but under my protest, it would really be on like Donkey Kong – no phones would get answered, no public information requests would be answered within the requisite time frame. You get it.

But I’m not even going to go there. What this experience has taught me is this: It’s time to get my hustle on.

By that, I mean it’s time to get a side gig, preferably my own business. I’ve always known in my heart that no one should have all their income derived from one source. And I’ve toyed with the idea of getting off into other things and have done so from time to time – I’ve done diversity recruiting, had a law school prep business, etc. – but nothing serious and sustained. I need to nurture my entrepreneurial side and get a side hustle.

My best friend’s father, who was born in the Bahamas, never had fewer than three jobs. Oftentimes he had four. He put his three children through college – Harvard, Stanford, and Hampton, I think. Not shabby at all for someone who didn’t have a high school education himself. He knew, like I now know, that he couldn’t rely on one source of income to do all that he aspired to do. His wife, my best friend’s mom, also had a catering business and did hair.

“Ain’t but a po’ rat got but one hole,” a judge said to my husband upon her retirement. She was referring to housing, but I think her observation could be equally applied to income streams. And I do not intend to be a po’ rat.

Yep, it’s time to get my hustle on. I refuse to have my financial well-being subjected to the whims of stupid leaders and a stupid bureaucracy.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t lob some shoes at Ahnult or some legislators, or leave a “gift” from my dog on the west steps of the state capitol . . . .

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What I'll Do Differently in 2009

A new year, a new beginning. Oprah’s getting back on the weight loss wagon and trying to help us all do the same. In less than a month we’ll be rid of W. The winds of change are a’blowin’ . . .

I look at each new year as the chance to get things right. To do better than I did last year. That’s not to say that I succeed, but there’s something about a freshly minted year that makes me think I can.

So, what will I do differently in 2009? Well, I have some goals and some resolutions.

My number one resolution? I resolve to not try to change people. I won’t try to keep my co-workers from drinking day-old warmed over Starbucks coffee. I won’t try to make my husband do his fair share of the cooking because it’s never going to happen. I won’t try to make young parents in my family realize that the education of their children is far too important to leave primarily to the government. I won’t snipe back at family members who launch verbal attacks on me or my husband. I won’t try to get my brother to stop smoking. I won’t try to help solve people’s problems when they are resolutely entrenched in the pattern of behavior that results in those same problems. I can’t change other people, so the best I can do is change how I deal with them.

Which leads to my number two resolution: I won’t be around people who get on my nerves unless I’m being paid to do so. And it doesn’t take much to get on my nerves these days -- snarky family members, stupid people, self-made victims, you name it. And I won’t enable anyone either. Can’t seem to handle your money? Well, you can’t have any of mine. I’ve got my own debts.

Third, I will not organize anything that I wouldn’t want to attend myself. No family reunions, no cruises with people I wouldn’t want to be on land with for seven days, much less at sea with. I will back away from the calendaring function on Outlook and the task list on my phone. If BMNB or anyone else wants a get-together planned, they can pull out their Blackberries and handle their business.

Fourth, I resolve to have more fun. To hop on an Amtrak train just to watch the scenery go by. To watch “Ghosthunter” marathons I’ve recorded and lay fat and happy on my sofa. To get my hair and nails done, get massages, and get facials just because they make me feel good. To work on my novel in the library at the UCSF Med School just to see the panoramic views. To spend the Christmas holidays away from home, preferably in Maui.

As for goals, they are:

1) Lose 40 pounds.
2) Run the Bay-to-Breakers.
3) Finish my novel.
4) Organize my home.
5) Increase my savings to cover x months of expenses (the x is my business).
6) Pay off my credit cards.

Let’s see how it goes . . . . .

Friday, January 2, 2009

Don't Ever Ask A Black Man For ID On His Front Step

On the day before New Year’s Eve, BMNB and I had a, shall we say, curious encounter.

The weekend before, someone rang the doorbell twice, and both times there was no one at the door when I answered it. I thought it was just the neighborhood kids playing doorbell ditch.

The doorbell rang again on the day before New Year’s Eve. No one comes to see us without calling in advance since we live in the boonies, and no one had called us. “You get it,” I told BMNB. “I answered it twice this weekend and there was no one there.” I then did what the women in my family do when they come home from work: Run to the bathroom.

To say that the women in my family have weak bladders would be an understatement. My mother had a myriad of gastro-intestinal issues, a weak bladder being one of them. When my siblings and I sat around giving ourselves faux tribal names, I gave one of my older sisters the name “Princess Littlebladder.” She, in turn, gave me the name, “She Who Is Bitch.” It could have gone either way.

Don’t laugh. My older brother: Destined to Disappoint. He gave himself that name. He’s in a committed relationship. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Anyhoo, while I was on the pot, I heard my husband having this conversation at the front door for far longer than should have occurred with a stranger. I thought, “What if the person at the door is some weirdo psychopath who has targeted my husband for murder? And I’m still upstairs sitting on the pot!” That was SO not the story I would want to tell – how my husband got murdered while I was, well, evacuating. And by now, I had moved on from my bladder to other parts. I could just imagine my husband’s Southern relatives comforting me at the funeral and handing me Ex-Lax. Not good. I had to, shall we say, speed up my process.

As I zipped, flushed, and washed my hands, I could hear BMNB coming up the stairs. “Some joker at the door wants me to show him my ID so I can prove to him that Mr. S isn’t here. I told him that even if I show him my ID, that doesn’t prove anything. He keeps asking me for ID, so I told him I needed to talk to you.”

BMNB has a long fuse. This guy was getting to the end of it. I was being called in to intervene.

You see, BMNB never loses sight of the fact that, even with his credentials and whatnot, he’s still a black man in America. As a black man in America, he provides information to strangers on a need-to-know basis. And clearly the guy at the door didn’t need to know, as far as BMNB was concerned.

Mr. S, the predecessor-in-interest in our house, was foreclosed on. In his wake, he left an unpaid electricity bill with PG&E -- our electricity was shut off the day we moved in because of Mr. S’ bill – an unpaid water bill that almost caused our water to get shut off, and now, an unpaid car note resulting in the guest at the front door trying to repossess his car or prove that Mr. S didn’t live here.

“He flipped me his badge. Well, I got a badge, too. Maybe I should show him my badge,” BMNB offered, clearly miffed.

“Yes, Honey, maybe you should. I’m sure a Homeland Security badge outranks a repossessor’s badge anyday.”

BMNB ruminated for a moment. “Nah, better not. I’m not acting in my official capacity.” Nothing like a security clearance to slow a brotha’s roll.

I went down stairs and found a white guy with a hoodie, numerous earrings, a goatee, a soul patch, and a shaved head waiting on my front porch for me with a clipboard. He looked like, well, a criminal. And he certainly wasn’t someone BMNB was going to show ID to just because he asked.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m a repossessor. If I don’t see some ID to prove that Mr. S isn’t here, my boss is going to just keep sending me back here to confirm that Mr. S’s car isn’t here.”

“But clearly, neither I nor my husband look as if we could be Mr. S.” Mr. S had an Asian name.

“I know, ma’am, but I need some kind of proof.”

“But you can tell that the cars in our driveway aren’t the car you’re looking for, can’t you?”

“Yes, and I’ve already looked in your garage and can see that you’re not hiding the car.”

WTF? Note to self: Change garage door to one without windows when we’re flush with cash.

“Well, I can tell you my husband isn’t going to show you any ID. I’ve got something better though – how about a deed?”

“You have a copy of your deed?”

“Yes, and let me go upstairs and get it for you.”

With that, I shut the door and ran upstairs to my office. We had just received a copy of our recorded deed a few days before Christmas.

“See, you can tell that the address on the deed is the same as the one for this house. And these names? These names are our names. You can see that the deed was recorded on October 23, 2008 – would you like to write down the document number for your records?”

“No, ma’am, just seeing it is good enough. I’ll tell my boss that Mr. S doesn’t live here anymore. You see, it’s just that I have folks to report to . . . “

“Yes, we get it. We have folks we have to report to, too.”

“Thanks, ma’am.” With that, he left.

BMNB was still put out, though. The idea of some “joker” rolling up to his front door and asking him for ID? He wasn’t having it. And when I think about it from his point of view, I get it.

As a black man in America, BMNB knows that there are certain situations he can’t allow himself to be caught up in. He knows that if he’s accused of something by someone of another race, chances are that person will be believed over him, no matter how incredible that person is. He’s suffered the indignities of having white women refuse to get on an elevator when they see he’s the only one riding, or having them get on and clutch their handbags for dear life if they do. Like Barack Obama, he’s been unable to hail a cab in major cities, even when he’s suited and booted. Having been raised by a black Southern father, BMNB was made hip to the harsh realities of being a black man in America at a very early age. I remember as a child some of the things even my black Southern father would say to my brothers, things I’m sure white fathers don’t say to their sons, like, “Don’t run at night. People will think you stole somethin’.”

Even though, technically speaking, BMNB is part of an arm of law enforcement, he distrusts law enforcement. This is from someone who has had to defend correctional officers. This is from someone who also had his entire Stanford African American fraternity chapter thrown up against cop cars and frisked for no other reason than the fact that they were a group of black men out at night in Palo Alto.

So, that repossessor? He didn’t have a chance. He wasn’t getting nothin’ out of BMNB. Hell, even I don’t know how much is in BMNB’s savings account. Why? ‘Cause he works on a need-to-know basis. When I need some money, he MIGHT let me know how much he has, if I have a need to know.

I would urge those in the car repossession business to take some cultural sensitivity training. Don’t ever ask a black man you don’t know for ID when you’re standing on HIS doorstep.