Archive | June 2006

The Weekly Dream: Changes and Adjustment

Lord, grant me serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
-Reinhold Niebuhr, Serenity Prayer

“My son , fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change.”
-Prov. 24:21

Lately, I cannot shake the feeling that I am trapped in the 1970s. Oil prices are high, we are fighting an asinine war, inflation pressure is building and the government is ineffectual. Although we are living in a time of rapid change, it seems more like things are staying the same. You may be up one minute, down the next, and if you live long enough, you will be up again. The cyclical nature of life is truly amazing.

Life is uncertain, and it makes promises to no one. It is a series of changes: these changes give rise to choices, these choices lead to adjustments. Sometimes we initiate the changes, sometimes we react to them. Change can be good, and it can be bad. That things change is the only constant. As creatures of routine and habit, change is not always welcomed with open arms. How can we cope with change? Perhaps a better question is whether a change is real or just its impact?

Where Do You Get Your Joy?

Anthony Robbins, the internationally renowned motivational speaker, states in his book, Awaken the Giant Within, that human beings, on a basic level are motivated to change by two things, pleasure and pain. They will take action to avoid pain and to increase their pleasure. At the root of this is desire.

Desire is important as an impetus to change. If you want something bad enough, you will give and do anything for it. Some schools of thought believe that desire is an obstacle to self-realization and a peaceful life. However, I believe that insatiable desire for the wrong things and for the wrong reasons presents the real obstacle. To constantly strive to be a better husband/wife/brother/person is not a bad thing. However, to desire vain pursuits that do not profit or are fleeting is a problem.

Desiring the wrong things is akin to eating fast food everyday, although you will be hungry an hour later. It is pointless. People pursue material goods, public approval, power, etc. although it is fleeting. They run from high to high, and all the while taking themselves through a bunch of unnecessary changes. Instead of pursuing the giver, they pursue the gifts. Instead of being content with the good, all they can focus on is the bad. The discontentment experienced leads to distraction. It causes one to focus on the problem rather than the solutions.

We are all guilty of this. We all have pursued something or wanted something that we knew was not meant for us or good for us. No wonder some many people are unhappy and discontent. They are living on a basic, emotional level and as such, are tossed with the wind. These individuals forget that there is a world of difference between wanting something and being ready for it (that is another article in itself).

Where do you get your joy? Where do you get your pleasure and validation? Joy and contentment exist independent of external factors and circumstances. No matter what occurs outside, you can see the good and appreciate life in whatever form it presents itself. I will give you an example. There have been times when I did not have a dime to my name, but I did not panic. It did not affect my outlook. There have been times, although rare, where I have been flushed with cash. And it still did not matter. This is because I knew that my financial situation, though it could be better, did not make me a better man nor was it real. Like everything in life, it comes and it goes. Therefore, it would be foolish to predicate my self-worth or mental state on something that is constantly in flux.

People Pleasing

The same goes with people. I believe that being addicted to a person or to money is more dangerous than any drug. And a good number of people are trapped by what people think. People are constantly changing and in flux. One minute they love you the next minute they act like they do not know you. My Dad calls these people, “flakes.” As long as you make them feel good or do something for them, you are their best friend. But how many people really know you? How many people would love you if you could offer them nothing? How many of them UNDERSTAND and SUPPORT your dreams, goals and aspirations? It is extremely dangerous to base your life on this shaky foundation. Take heed: the life you lead may not be your own.

Scared Money Don’t Make Money

If you can build a solid foundation within and manage your internal changes, then the external changes are nothing. Actions that seem risky to others become nothing to you because of the character and fortitude you have cultivated within. But how do we get to this point?

I believe that first, you have to know what is real. Understand that change is often the top layer and the truth is more often underneath. We might change, but who we really are at the core does not. So take time to find that person and cultivate him/her. Also, stay grounded and face your fears head on.

Know that failure and success are simply moments in time and do not say anything about you as a person. However, how you interpret and react to failure and success speaks volumes about your character.

Pay attention. Be aware of the time, internally and externally. Know the seasons of life and various environments, so that you are positioned to benefit. Think about it: Some people make more money when the stock market is down than when it is up. This is because they react quickly to position themselves to exploit any occurrence.

Seek to possess a deep and active contentment, even in the midst of struggling. Change is a process of becoming. You acknowledge where you have come from, but you know you the best is yet to come. Sometimes, your best is not good enough, and some things you have to accept. And contentment will save you a world of regret.

Lastly, endure to the end. Good and bad things happen to everyone, but by keeping your head when everyone around is losing theirs proves your steadfastness and dependability. People respect those who can be depended on. And that devotion makes all the difference.

Know the seasons. Know who you are dealing with. Know thyself.

Be fluid as water, but hard as rock. That is the only way to deal with change.

Don’t be a flake.

Truth and Peace
Steven M. DeVougas

Question of the Week: What do you desire and why?

SuperSpade Speechwriting: Impacting the Present One at a Time, v0.5

Thank you for your input on the subject of this speech on Family and Impacting the Present. Now, as promised, here is a draft of my outline/talking points.

I. Intro
  a. Why do we have reunions?
    i. Reunions Magazine: Purposes of Reunions
      1. 57% to keep in touch
      2. 28% to teach kids about family heritage
      3. Other reasons: Get together before an elder passes on, Mark special birthday, holiday, or other occasion
  b. How do they start?
    i. Innocent comments, like “We should celebrate more often.”
    ii. Any other positive action starts the same way…
  c. Acknowledgments & Thank You’s
  d. The Point
    i. Ephesians 4.4-6: There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
    ii. Impact the present ‘one at a time.’ One person. One family. One vision. One dream. One thought. One purpose. One action.

II. Content
  a. Helen Keller paraphrase: “To keep our faces toward change… is strength undefeatable.” (Thanks Raye!)
    i. There exists at all times (especially the present) the opportunity to effect positive change in your own personal situation and in the lives of others…
      1. Everybody can benefit somebody…
      2. I can help people while being helped; don’t think you have to wait “until you’re ready…”
    ii. As we focus on change, we can find strength in numbers. One can become many.
      1. Since many of us have the same challenges, we can face them together (as a family or some other collective) as opposed to alone. We all can become stronger if we keep this in mind…
      2. Basic Shared struggles
        a. Personal examples
          i. Finding my purpose
          ii. Managing relationships
            1. Familial
            2. Friendships
            3. Romantic interactions
          iii.Managing time
            1. Giving everyone the time they need/deserve
            2. Getting ‘Me’ Time
            3. Work-Life Balance
        b. Ask the audience
      3. More complex shared struggles
        a. Money
          i. Lack thereof
          ii. Not knowing what to do with it
        b. Jobs
          i. Unemployment
          ii. Underemployment
        c. Politics
          i. Not caring
          ii. Not understanding on a personal, practical level
    iii. I believe that in the midst of interested people with one vision that care for the well-being of all, solutions can be reached. Well, what’s a more interested party than the family!?!?!? (Thanks Anon!)
      1. We can play the role of encouragers and mentors to family members and strangers alike…
      2. We are blessed to be such a strong, close-knit family…
      3. Let this family impact the present in a positive way and be an example of what one family united with one vision can do…
  b. Old African proverb – “It takes a village to raise a child”
    i. The family can and should be the beginning of that village
    ii. Family is important in making sure that a child is prepared to live in the future…
      1. Two types of family: Related by Blood vs. Related by Choice
        a. Blood
          i. What most think of when they say family
          ii. The easy one to define…
        b. Choice
          i. “Friends are your chosen family.”
          ii. Important to me as an only child…
      2. Both are necessary for future generational success.
        a. We can strengthen both at the same time…
          i. Be a father and a mentor to someone who is not your son or daughter
          ii. Be an auntie and a friend to the young man/woman you work with
        b. We are valuable and dynamic people, who can do more than one thing at once and more than one thing well. One person can affect many people in a positive way.
      3. What are we doing to prepare the Jackson family and our collective Black family for the future?
        a. “Strengthening Black Families today in order to get them ready for tomorrow…”
  c. When we fall we have to get back up – losing today does not guarantee losing tomorrow.
    i. There has been a lot in the news lately about the terrible state of the Black family and the seemingly too-far-gone-to-salvage state of the Black man
    ii. We have many examples in this family from the past and the present that buck this trend
      1. (List of names omitted)…
    iii.Those of us today have a responsibility to change the state of the Black man one mentee at a time. We have a responsibility as a family to change the state of the Black family one family at a time

III.Conclusion
  a. Problems typically look worse than they actually are. If we are committed to working together as one, we can overcome any and everything that we encounter.
    i. 2 Timothy 1.7: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
    ii. Let’s remember our shared experiences and our shared interests in the future. We can use these to build a solid foundation that the future, which will be talked about by the next speaker, can be as positive as possible.
  b. This is bigger than the present. We need to use it to confront and conquer the problems of the past and lay foundation for the coming days. After all, today will be the past tomorrow. Every day, we can make tomorrow better, one day at a time, one action at a time, one person at a time.

Some pieces are more clearly fleshed out than others, but this is what we’ve got so far. I need help pretty much everywhere, but especially the conclusion.

I thank you all in advance for all of the criticism, suggestions, and encouragement you give me on these points.

One Love. One II.

Cristal: Re-thinking Black business

So I read an interesting article that was on Blackelectorate discussing the implications of Jay-Z and other artists boycotting of Cristal after its Managing Director stated in the Economist, “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” And while I won’t discuss hip-hop, this little scuffle highlights a larger issue within the Black community as it relates to how we think about and do business.

For starters, from Cristal to Courvousier to Patron, hip-hop artists have been pushing alcoholic drinks like freedom was in each and every bottle. Now imagine if major hip-hop stars pooled their money (money they have after the record company loan is paid off) and created a high class champagne called, “Urbane.” And if every artist mentioned it in their song where they would normally freely promote another drink, I foresee a Black business to be reckoned with.

The problem I see is that generally speaking, Black folks are so anxious to get access to exclusive luxury products, that once access is granted, we get drunk off the high-life, instead of creating opportunities for ourselves and our communities. And when we do, we think pennies not dollars. Take for example, energy drinks by Little John and Nelly, or fruit water by 50 cent.

A much bigger problem I see is that Black folks are generally concerned with selling other people’s products rather than creating and selling our own products. Now I understand that marketing is an important component of business, but I think Black folks have pretty much saturated the marketing field in terms of entrepreneurship and working in marketing departments.

So where do we go from here?

1) Before you boycott, ask yourself how you can provide a better product/service because if you have a problem, then a whole lot of other people are probably having the same experience.

2) Having a Black-owned business does not mean that all of your clientele must also be Black.

3) We need to get into obscure businesses like selling specially-made screws to construction companies or finding new ways to make cotton last longer. I think too often we limit our opportunities to the ideas that do the most good for Black folk. But this is a double-edged sword because while I applaud the concern for Black folks, we need to realize that having businesses not based in the Black community will make a world of difference if we invest our community service dollars wisely. Black folks give our money to everyone, everywhere, all the time. So let’s reverse this cycle and not be apologetic about it.

4) Less is more. I hate when some Black folks get a little bit of money and lose their minds. And even though I can’t tell people how to spend their money, most Black folk who get caught up in the bling lifestyle are really living on short money, not long money. When you have short money, you can’t afford to just stop working and live comfortably on your investments/savings and still have enough to pass on to your children. When you have long money, you have money that you will never ever think about spending. The difference comes from

5) Quiet wealth. You will know when Black folks have truly overcome economic misfortune when you are 1) surprised when you find out a business is Black owned and when 2) you have quiet millionaires and billionaires. The sad part is that when many of us think rich, we think Forbes lists of the richest people in the world. If you only knew of the quiet wealth that doesn’t get reported, you would go slap somebody’s Mama.

6) Owning your own business does not mean you have to be broke for 15 years before you see a profit. Though it requires a lot of work, many people work full-time jobs and have businesses on the side until it is clear that more profit will be had by quitting their job.

7) Like I stated before, think outside the box and think of ideas that will benefit ALL people. While Black folks have some nuanced preferences, our wants and desires are not dramatically different from those of other groups. We all want better lives for ourselves and for our children. And if a product/service comes along to make that process better, it will be successful. It’s never too late, so act now. In the end unfortunately, the American system of governance requires you to pay to play. There are instances where this is moot, like during the Civil Rights Movement, but until we stop looking for a Black savior, we need to get our money right.

The main reason why Blacks are so pre-occupied with politics is because bureaucracies have become our own businesses in terms of being in charge of massive budgets and being able to dole out thousands of jobs for those that are loyal to the political machine.

The problem now is that there is a huge push to cut the budgets of cities and school districts across the nation. There is a reason why it is political suicide for a politician to push for tax hikes. Less taxes, less revenue, less government. Therefore, we need to get ahead of this process and get into the market so that we can pay the necessary fees in order to make sure our interests are served.

And when we celebrate increased profit margins or the success of a preferred candidate, we can all sip on Urbane. Yes sir!!!

Stay up fam,

Brandon

The Weekly Dream: Water into Blood

“Iron sharpeneth iron; so does a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”
-Prov. 27:17

This month we have been celebrating family month. However, what is family? Is it the strict blood and legal status of individuals or is it something more? Why is it that there are people who you feel closer to than members in your own family. I think the underpinning of this is the complex web of human interaction. I have stated many times that all relationships are built on time and experience. There is a direct correlation to the quality of the relationship and these two factors. I like to call this quality the “fondness factor.” We are more fond of individuals with whom we spend our time and share our experiences. Why? Well, because human beings attach interpretation/perception to factual occurrences in the form of values, opinions, and emotions.

The other day, I was discussing how the younger generation do not know how to maintain relationships. How are we supposed to build functional families, friendships and marriages when a lot of times we have not seen one before? If we know what they look like, who is going to teach us the process that yields the final product? In our commodity-driven world, people get lost in the mix and are treated as replaceable, when in actuality, a functional relationship is blood, sweat, tears and a lot of forgiveness.

With that said, there is no bond that is more mysterious and complex than the one between siblings.

Stop Wearing My Shirt, Stay Out of My Stuff

I am the oldest of five children. However, anyone who knows my brothers that are closest to me in age know that we are three different people. This is something that always baffled me: We are three people, with the same parents, similar experiences and we came out completely different, yet there are enough similarities between us that you can tell we are related. I don’t understand it. I do know that all of us play a special role in our family structure, suited to our personality.

Our family always stressed the importance of maintaining our relationship, despite our differences. “Nothing comes between you and your brothers” is something that was often said in our house. It was really all for one and one for all. The DeVougas approach to ensuring this was to force substantial amounts of time with each other. For a long time, my every waking moment was spent with one of them. If one person went somewhere, we all had to go. If I was apart of something, my brothers were going to do it or come support it. We moved as a unit, despite our unique personalities. My family never had favorites, but ensured that no one thought he was smarter or better than the other.

As we became older and our differences became more pronounced, there was an adjustment period that we had to undergo, especially when I moved back to Wisconsin after college. My little brothers were no longer boys I could beat up for wearing my clothes and touching my things: they were men. We had to adapt to each other in those roles and accept each other as the men we were and were becoming. We had to understand boundaries and respect decisions. Without this understanding, there is no way we could have gone forward.

Brothers in the Struggle

Another layer of attachment comes with our friendships. During adolescence, it is normal for teens to feel closer to their peers than their family. Naturally, we gravitate to individuals who are going through the same phase of life we are going through. To this day, I feel a special fondness for my friends because I know that they are facing the same challenges, decisions and difficulties I am going through. They call me out when I am wrong and I appreciate that.

There are times when your blood relatives do not understand what you are dealing with, but others in the same predicament can. This does not mean that these individuals are more important than your blood. However, when you are going to war, you need good counsel and support.

The Grand Finale

This is why it is very important to be careful with whom we form these relationships and attachments to. Because as our fondness increases, so does the level of trust that is involved. I would trust my life with my brothers and those who I really consider my friends. They are people of character, integrity and honesty. These are people you can let your guard down with and share your hopes and dreams. So screen the people you form your attachments with. Watch how they treat their family and look at their morals and values (Hint: How people deal with money is a great litmus test as to who you are dealing with).

Our friends and siblings are a gift. Through our striving and interaction, we have helped form our personalities. I used to say to my brothers, “because I am who I am, you can be you and vice versa.” That is the closeness we share. Knowing that we are constantly changing and growing, it takes effort to maintain this balance.

If we want to experience a new dimension in our friendships and relationships in general, make an effort to become excellent at relationship management. We all our busy and life happens, but we make time for what is important. Personally, I try to call people and check on them while I am driving or waiting to let them know they were on my mind. And if some one calls me, I try to return their call within twenty four hours. This type of consistent relationship management cannot help but win you a lifetime of friendship and enduring relationships.

While it is true that people move in and out of our lives in seasons, we should make an effort to hold fast to those who we feel are important and want to stay in contact with. In the area of relationships, if you are not growing, you are dying. If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. So, maintain relationships and hold fast to good friendships, they are hard to come by.

Ultimately, we are here to help each other and keep each other on this journey called life. I count my relationships with others as one of my most valuable assets. Therefore, I make it my business to maintain and reinforce the fondness within each and everyone of them. You cannot be your best without a little help.

Specialize in friendship.

To have friends, you must show yourself friendly.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M. DeVougas

Question of the Week: How do you strengthen your relationships?

SuperSpade Speechwriting: Impacting the Present

I have been asked to give a speech at my family reunion this July 4th holiday on the subject of “Impacting the Present.” My aunt had the great idea of posting my talking points here on the site and inviting your input, suggestions, criticism, additions, etc. on the material. So that is precisely what I will do. I have not completed an initial draft of my points yet. I will put something together this week/weekend, and I’ll put that up when it’s complete. In the meantime, I welcome any thoughts you have on the subject of “Impacting the Present” and how collective action can make a difference (the collective being a family or any other group). I am excited to heart your input.

We are going to record the talk as it’s given. If I don’t think that the speech is wack or corny, I’ll post the audio and/or transcript here on the site. I’m sure with your help, it will turn out great!

One Love. One II.

Why Gay Marriage is a Non-Issue

The Fundies have been at it again lately. For those who have not heard, the Senate debated, voted on, and defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage by explicitly defining marriage as between a mand and a woman. This was a prime example of posturing by conservatives in the Senate to try to “energize” people misguided enough to think that this “issue” is important. Call it another example of the way the current administration chooses to waste the time and resources of people in this country.

Unfortunately, this tactic has worked in the past. G. W. Bush got about 9% of the Black vote in 2004, and this was thanks to the not-so-small roll that the gay marriage “issue” played in the hearts and minds of some Black voters. This was an appeal to voter’s whose “Christian” values would not allow them to support a candidate who did not have a problem with gay people getting married and enjoying the benefits thereof. This is sinister because it could (and in my opinion did) lead to people voting against their own best interests because they wanted a candidate that stood on the “right” side (pun intended) of the gay marriage debate.

The bigger question is, why does this work? What makes two people getting married, regardless of their sex, so important to me or you? In my view, it has worked because people have been successfully fooled into letting other people set their priorities. Who are these chosen priority setters? Maybe it’s your president. Maybe it’s your pastor. Either way, if it’s not you, then three is a problem. The bottom line is that we should do what we can to not let our agency be taken from us. We deal a lot with all of the reason why it’s asinine to let G. W. Bush & company to set our priorities. In a later post, I will deal with the danger in letting your pastor do it for you.

Back to the specific issue of this post, this is an issue of control. Some people want the government to control any and every aspect of life. What is ironic here is that conservatives are pushing this notion upon people’s personal lives when it is conservatives who believe in “smaller” government. This current crop certainly believes in small government when it comes to its workings with major corporations. Think about this: the constitution, with all of its flaws, was a document [in theory] written to grant rights. This proposed amendment would have been the first change to the document (had it been accepted) that would have specifically and explicitly excluded a group of people from something (before you jump on me the 3/5 provision does not do this). They want to exclude people from getting married in the legal sense of the word. However, does not having the legal means to do something mean that it won’t happen? Does it make relationships between individuals of the same sex any less meaningful? NO.

For these reasons, and others, this is a non-issue. There are other things that I’d rather see our citizenry and our government spend their resources addressing. Out site is subtitled “Black Thought at the HIGHEST Level” because we want everyone to elevate their thinking beyond the petty tactics and strategies of those who wish to harm us through tricking us into acting in ways harmful to ourselves. We can achieve this through talking about the issues amongst ourselves so that we have a concrete understanding of what’s really going on so that we can make informed decisions for ourselves.

One Love. One II.

The Weekly Dream: Where’s My Daddy

“For though ye have ten thousand instructors…yet ye have not many fathers”
-1 Corinthians 4:15

Every year, I am always stricken by the dramatic difference between how Mother’s Day is celebrated and how Father’s Day is treated in America . Mothers always get the best gifts: chocolates, perfumes, dinner. On the other hand, fathers receive ties or a card, if anything at all. In truth, fatherhood is one of the most thankless jobs I have ever known. It is right there next to teachers in my book. Fathers work all day and sacrifice, and often are treated as strangers in their homes.

Single parent households are overrepresented in our society, to the point where we essentially have created a fatherless society. Numerous studies have been done on the welfare state and its effect on the family. Not to mention that African-Americans and Hispanics make up the prison population. When you look at the divorce rate in America , few children are growing up with a consistent male figure in the home. The government does not create any incentive to remain involved in the family, as laws actually make it more difficult for fathers to assert their rights in the courts. And even though there are men out there who are taking care of their children and often someone else’s, it is the deadbeats who get all of the recognition.

In the process, we have lost sight of the role fathers’ play and even have convinced ourselves that we do not need them.

Father Knows Best

A father is the keeper of the home. He provides the discipline and instills order. He is also supposed to love, support and protect his household. For a son, he is the first example of manhood. For a daughter, he shows her how to interact with men and what to expect. A father imparts identity to his children. On a spiritual level, he should be an example of how God interacts and treats us as His children. If your relationship with God is lacking, you might look at your relationship with your natural father.

We need the spirit of the father. It is one of strength, correction, guidance, consistency and provision. Whether you have children or not, whether you are taking care of someone else’s children, as a man we can demonstrate this in our daily lives through mentorship. This means that a Father is active. It is more than a biological title. It is a connection and wisdom that comes from intimate involvement.

It is our responsibility to help transition the younger generation of boys to men. However, a lot of us were never really taught ourselves, so we first need to deal with our own issues regarding our fathers before we can go forward.

Children need their fathers.

An Open Letter

Growing up, my father worked extremely hard. I grew up watching how he handled situations and his habits. Now that I am a man, I catch myself doing the things I saw him do. Wherever I go, people would stop me and say “You’re Steve DeVougas’ son” or “That’s something your father would say.” And although my exposure to my father was limited growing up, I became more and more like him.

My father taught me how to survive and to be a man among men. He taught me how to walk (head straight and shoulders back), navigate corporate America and how to introduce myself to people. My father showed me how to educate myself and to tie a tie. When I had my first fight, he was the one that taught me how to box. He put a basketball in my hand. He taught me about having character and sacrificing for your family.

My father always expected excellence from his children and taught all of us that leaders do not have to be popular-it is all right to be different and stand out. A lot of my peers were not getting that message at home. And I knew that I was fortunate to know and have a relationship with my Dad.

Our relationship had its ups and downs, and a lot of times, I did not understand or agree with the decisions that he made, but now I am older and I can appreciate the position he was in. A young man’s relationship with his father is always a complicated and sensitive subject. One thing he always told me, “As a man, you don’t have to be perfect. All you have to do is make the best decision you can with the information you have.” I realize that my father did the best he could with what he had-for that I am thankful.

Closing Thoughts

A lot of us men do not have a relationship with our fathers, so when we have children, we are in foreign territory. One thing is for sure, your children should never have to grow up like that. If your father is around, you should reach out to him, regardless of what he may have done. He may have done things that were unforgivable, but learn from his mistakes, seek closure and forgiveness.

If you have a wonderful relationship with your father, thank him and honor him for the impact he has made on your life and the sacrifices he has made for you.

If you have not been the best father, it is never too late to handle your responsibilities.

Fathers, be patient with your children, they may be unable to appreciate you now, but one day, they will realize the difference you have made in their lives.

And please, get him something better than a card.

Thanks for everything Dad, you did better than you give yourself credit for. Happy Father’s Day and I love you. Real Talk.

God Bless all of the real fathers, it is too few of you.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M DeVougas

Question of the Week: What is a father to you? What is your relationship like with your father?

Killing Zarqawi doesn’t matter

For the record, let me say that the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will do very little to quell the insurgency in Iraq. The main problem I see with America’s conflict with terrorist groups is that we cast the story in terms of major figure heads. It’s just like how the NBA advertises its teams, Jordan and the Bulls, LeBron and the Cavaliers, etc. This is not a matter of Zarqawi and the Iraqi terrorists.

It is simply the terrorists and any attempt to categorize them into convenient movie-like themes is very destabilizing. Moreover, this type of campaign not only inflates the mystique of terrorists, but when some of them are caught or killed, it gives Americans a false sense of security.

As an aside, what is the difference between the kamikaze attacks on the US by the Japanese during World War II and those in Iraq that engage in suicide attacks? Clearly, both sides felt deeply enough to kill themselves for their cause but a good war-hero will tap into the core beliefs that drive these actions and take steps to steer this energy towards more productive ends. Because like I have said for years now, how can you kill people who are ready to die? That is not a war.

Terrorists are much more decentralized than traditional Western forces. As a result, the killing of an Arab-terrorist figure-head will do less harm than would a similar killing by an American leader. Now think back to the reasons we went to Iraq and tell me how Zarqawi relates back. If you believe popular spin, Zarqawi was the linchpin figure connecting Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda. However, “the Sept. 11 commission reported yesterday that it has found no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al Qaeda.” So what does it matter if Zarqawi is dead if the violence will escalate and his death had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction or 9/11. I am afraid we have witnessing Munich II.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

On repeal of the estate tax

One issue that has notoriously been underreported is the Senate debate over repeal of the estate tax. While many of us don’t expect to inherit anything in terms of economic wealth, this bill will have a major impact on our lives. Here’s why.

The estate tax is a tax on your right to transfer wealth and property at your death.

Before the Bush 2001 tax-cuts, the tax rates on estates ranged from 37% on the low end and 55% on the high end. However, the 2001 tax-cut has two components that essentially cancel the estate tax. For starters, before 2001, estate taxes would not be assessed unless a person’s estate exceeded $1 million dollars. The tax-cut however, does not require estate taxes to be filed unless the estate exceeds the amounts as shown below,

2005: First $1,500,000 in assets
2006-2008: First $2,000,000 in assets
2009: First $3,500,000 in assets

Beyond that, the tax-cuts also decrease the tax rates over time by the following rates,

2005: 47 percent
2006: 46 percent
2007- 2009: 45 percent

So you should see that not only more assets are exempt from taxation, but the few who do actually pay this tax are paying less of it. And in 2010, the estate taxes falls to 0% but there is a sunset provision that resets the estate tax provisions to pre-2001 levels. This is why Bush and his Republican colleagues in the Senate are currently trying to make permanent the repeal of the estate tax. It’s funny how this estate tax debate has been clouded by the gay marriage amendment and the death of Zarqawi.

Nevertheless, this week, the repeal of the estate tax was up for a test vote and once supporters of the bill realized they would be two shorts shy, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona proposed a compromise that “would exempt the first $5 million of an individual’s estate, or $10 million of a couple’s, from taxation. Estates between $5 million and $30 million would be taxed at rates equal to capital gains, and the remainder would be taxed at 30 percent.” This idea is wrong-headed because Senator Kyl can’t repeal the tax entirely; he is trying to kill the estate tax with the death of a thousand cuts.

Why is this important?

The estate tax is important because it is a significant source of revenue for the federal government. As the Center on Budget for Policy Priorities points out,

“The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that this would reduce revenues by $290 billion through 2015, including $72 billion in 2015 alone. But this estimate essentially captures only the cost of four additional years of estate tax repeal; the revenues losses associated with 10 more years of repeal — for the period 2012 through 2021 — are much higher, about $745 billion. And when the associated $225 billion in higher interest payments on the debt are taken into account, the total cost of repealing the estate tax for a decade would be nearly $1 trillion.”

I suspect that many of the people who read this blog are under 35, but I could be wrong. In any event, if we were to fast forward nine years, many of you will be married, raising children, and probably taking care of your parents. Now let’s assume that the first figure of tax revenues being reduced by $290 billion through 2015 is true. The current national debt is upwards of $8.2 trillion dollars. It is so bad that Congress had to write legislation to raise the federal debt limit to $9 trillion dollars so we can keep living above our means. Now it’s hard for me to imagine that amount of money so percentages sometimes work better. “From 1975 to 2005, debt, as a percentage of GDP was once at 34.7%, now exceeds 60%.”

This is astonishing because foreign countries, China in particular, are financing our national debt, thereby furthering the allusion that everything is ok. And if you thought the price of gas was high, just wait until foreign countries decide to take on less of our debt.

This says nothing of the amount we are paying for our activities in Iraq. Last I checked the war has cost us $320 billion dollars and the Senate is about to authorize more funding. But whatever happened to the pre-war claims that Iraq’s oil revenues would finance most of the war? Jim Hoagland of the Washington points out,

“Iraq’s oil production limps along below prewar levels. Sabotage and neglect hamper production. Corruption that is aided and abetted by neighboring Arab countries drains revenue. Forced to import $6 billion worth of refined petroleum products this year for the domestic market, the Baghdad government will spend the same amount to sustain its security forces in 2006, according to U.S. estimates.”

Speaking of war, I doubt if neo-conservatives know how to fight the war on terrorism with anything but military force so I doubt it Iraq is the last front. (read more money)

And then, there is the issue of healthcare. Once the baby boomers start to get older, they are going to put a huge financial strain on our healthcare system. This in turn will cause politicians to devote even more resources to healthcare so they can satisfy this demographic. What’s worse is that we can’t adequately handle the load we have now, so when a significant portion of the population needs access to healthcare and prescription drugs, it will be tantamount to an entire city, flushing their toilets at the same time. We have to plan ahead and the repealing or shrinking the estate tax will not help the situation.

Lastly, there is the environment because unfortunately, the earth is not getting any cooler and as a result, we will likely see more storms similar to or stronger than Hurricane Katrina. This no doubt will put further strains on the national budget.

So what I am I saying?

Between the national debt, the war on terror, healthcare, and stronger storms due to global warming, repealing the estate tax is one of the dumbest things Congress could be doing right now. Moreover, Republicans are generally regarded as more frugal than Democrats but this Congress takes the cake, the chicken, and the kool-aid! And whenever Bush is pressed on the budget, he excuses everything on the war on terror. So why does he push his annual tax cuts and why is he aiming to kill the estate tax? If the war on terror is such a burden, then why does the government need less money? Especially when we know that when the government has less revenues, education budgets get tighter, and there is an overall decrease of government investment in services and infrastructure. When Bush started the war on terror, he knew good and well that it would be finished during his Presidency. And like the war on terror, future administrations will have to deal with this tax cut until eventually, American’s will be forced to pay the bill. And when that time comes, there will be calls to sacrifice (in the form of higher taxes) to help keep the American Dream alive. I believe this will happen in our lifetime so do know that the decisions of today will affect you tomorrow.

But even after all of that, I still support the estate tax because there is already an industry of tax lawyers and accountants that do nothing but find ways for the rich to pay fewer taxes. Moreover, only less than 2% of the population pays this tax. My take is that if you are in the top 2% wealth bracket, you can sacrifice a little bit. Of course, I can’t tell people what to do with their money but passing on a huge inheritance to children is foolhardy because generally, the money will make these kids spoiled and less inclined to work. I think Warren Buffet said it best;
“Warren Buffet didn’t disinherit his children because he disapproved of their career choices or their character…His desire was to “force them to carve out their own place in the world.” He was determined to leave them “enough money so they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.”

So stay informed and be aware of how repealing the estate tax will affect you and your future,

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

Sometimes a Citizen

Definition seems to on our minds lately here at The SuperSpade. A question that has been in my mind recently is: at what times do you claim to be a citizen of the US, or claim to be an american? at what times do you reject one or both of those labels? This is a question of self-definition and/or self-identification. Basically, it is another way of asking, who are you?

This question came to me as I was talking to a co-worker about the perception of US citizens in other countries/communities around the world. My statement was something to the effect of: “As americans, we experience a lot of ‘luxuries’ due to the often malicious pracices of the US.” She stopped me after this statement and commented on how quickly/easily I referred to myself as an american. This was odd to her because she’s never heard me refer to myself as an ‘African American’ (I usually say Black instead). My response to her was that in this context, I would be considered an american to most people if I were to travel abroad; when they saw me, they may likely interpret me as an american or a representative of america, regardless of whether that is true or fair. Also, as a resident here, there are things that we ‘benefit’ from due to US foreign policy (e.g ‘less expensive’ prices on oil compared to its price in other nations, although our US oil companies are still making money hand over fist).

I suspect that there are many other instance where I, and other people, will claim membership to various groups when it “makes sense” or is advantageous. An example of this is when we are in court, accused of something. Most times, we talk about our constitutional rights as citizens to have a fair trial in front of an impartial jury. Conversely, there are times when we reject the notion of being american. An example of this is when some people are confronted with a decision/opportunity to join the military. The sentiment is at times, “I’m not american enough to fight for it.”

How/when do you embrace or refer to yourself as an american? As an African American? As whatever? Is it a mere question of convenience? Is it context-specific (whatever will best support the point you’re trying to make)?

For many Black people [in America], this subject is just one manifestation of how complex our identities are due to our history. However, I’d argue that this actually is true for any group of willingly/unwillingly displaced peoples. The fact that the physical displacement took place many years ago does not make this any easier to figure out for Black people in america than it does for the sons/daughters of first generation immigrants (let me be clear on the fact that the immigrant experience and the Black experience are not the same, we can talk about this in a later piece). Are they americans, whole members of the culture their parents left, or are they some complex combination? The answer is the latter in my view most of the time, but that’s tough to define. I embrace the complex combo notion because it is the most inclusive and because it does not neglect past cultural foundations. It is risky to me in some cases (e.g. Black vs. African American) because the result is often times more assimilation as opposed to addition, in this view.

Using myself as an example, my goal is to embrace history, apply it appropriately to the present, using both to build an advantageous future for myself, my loved ones, and strangers at large. This can be interpreted as a complex goal, that celebrates both yesterday’s and today’s triumphs and tribulations. Choosing what to celebrate is what in my opinion leads me [and any/everyone else] to sometimes embrace our citizenship in america, and other times to minimalize it. In the case of me being a citizen when I’m in court, I’m embracing “american ideals (which are unfortunately often times not in line with american reality, but that is another discussion…).” In the case of military service, I am choosing to celebrate the struggle of my ancestors in america who did enough service for any Black person today to not even need to think about “serving their country” in the army, navy, or marines.

Knowledge of self is basic need. In order to meet this need, we need to ask ourselves these questions and understand our own answers. Everyone doesn’t need to have the same answer, but everyone needs to have an answer. Let’s help one another meet our basic needs, for the betterment of us all.

One Love. One II.

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