Thursday, March 26, 2009

Race Talk

Toni Morrison wrote an essay about language and its uses that I think many people didn't get on first read.

And then there's this nonsense.

A lot of people have sounded off about this already. But here's my concern: this Bruce woman, Glenn Beck, Fox News, "Joe the Plumber" among many others,is that their rhetoric and language can provoke action. Dangerous action. It's also distracting. Like our obsession with the AIG bonuses (1% of the bailout money). Please. That's not nearly as distressing as trying to unravel the plan to nationalize Citigroup and Bank of America. Because we really, really need to pay attention to that. It's inevitable. And it's going to take a shift in our thinking, patience and work to define our shared existence in this nation going forward. So I'm not sure what significance a culture war has right now when people just want to find balance, maintain a decent quality of life, and pursue happiness.

Someone wrote in my high school yearbook this quote: "You have the freedom of speech, just watch what you say." I still have mixed feelings about that statement. Maybe I'm just asking for discernment, common sense, or just words that expand awareness rather than contract it. Words that create, rather than destroy. And the wisdom to know the difference.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Populist Outrage

Looks like AIG isn't the only one who's gonna get it. This was the scene today around Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan.

We need a hero for the people in these times...

But alas, we're in a bear market. And all we can hope for is to find someone special and to cuddle with while we weather the storm.

Seriously. I cannot make this stuff up.

photos: © syreeta mcfadden

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Around the Neighborhood

St. James between Fulton and Gates, Brooklyn (aka Biggie Small's block).

photos: © syreeta mcfadden

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Black Swan

Hindsight is said to be 20/20. But sometimes, it's blurry.

The thing I learned from the "Brawl Street" confrontation between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer is the latter.

The crux and larger message in the interview however, shouldn't get buried and should be repeated over and over. That message is that American investigative journalism has failed us in reportage on the financial crisis.

There's truth to that, however, hindsight remains fuzzy. In 2006 and 2007, business reporters from the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Business Week reported signs of distress in the mortgage market. By mid-2007, there were mortgage foreclosures and were growing at a rate that was anticipated to exceed the amount during the Great Depression. Alan Greenspan cautioned in late 2007 and 2008 that it was unclear if this problem could be isolated and not contaminate other areas of the financial markets.

In August 2007, the global financial markets went into defibrillation. And a few months after, This American Life did a brilliant show, "The Giant Pool of Money", that unpacked the crisis to glean deeper meaning from it. In 2008, Vanity Fair did another brilliant article that deconstructed the Bear Stearns acquisition.

And then there's CNBC. The bigger question that comes to play is who is CNBC's audience? Investors, consumers, or corporations? The Daily Show put a spotlight on the fundamental problem that I think we already know. CNBC isn't journalism. Jim Cramer isn't a reporter. He's a commentator. He's a man who's worked in the industry for years, built relationships with people that became leaders in the industry, and creators of financial products that grew money, real and most likely, imagined. Then the bottom fell out and things fell apart fast. And we learned that the financial market was made of widgets worth two trillion dollars more than the GDP.


CNBC's credibility was compromised. And that tagline, In Cramer We Trust? How can he continue to be a reliable source for commentary on market conditions when his own contacts have become unreliable? If the economy is a function of confidence, and confidence is supported by value of accurate information or simply insight that comes from trusted sources, then our confidence is shaken. But that's if you were only relying on CNBC to provide you an accurate picture of the crisis. And if you were really paying attention, you would've been able to see how these things were connected. Maybe the reporting wasn't loud enough, or maybe it's hard to explain a system that requires insider knowledge of how concepts lead to wealth accumulation. Perhaps we needed the major news networks to have done a series of primetime specials noting how regulatory agencies didn't do their due diligence, or risk management departments were understaffed within major financial institutions, or worse ignored, or better, explain why you need risk management, and that we were borrowing beyond our means from the Chinese that accelerated growth of our national debt. Or even how all our institutions over leveraged and borrowed while we obsessed (rightfully so) about Iraq, Afghanistan and the 2008 Election.

Did CNBC see this meltdown coming to report it accurately? Hindsight is a funny thing. I'm a layman at best, and worked in the real estate industry, and I can tell you one thing: I did see it coming. A lot of us did. Some may not have expected it to be so toxic that it would cause a system shut down. But there were signs of distress everywhere. It seemed to me that people were reluctant to connect the dots and prepare everyone that a correction was on the horizon. CNBC is a network in collusion with financial industry. It's an offshoot of a larger conglomerate that relies on advertising dollars to support its programming and operations, and let's be honest; it restricts what truth they can say. NBC could have reported these signs of distress, but they would've lost money and we wouldn't have another Celebrity Apprentice.

Some of the conservative talking heads also are dismissive of the demographic that watches the Daily Show. It presumes that young people aren't paying attention to the news and only get news from the Daily Show. That's inaccurate. They're paying attention, they're twittering links, posting links on Facebook, reading Huffpo, NYT. The jokes wouldn't be funny or make sense if you weren't paying attention. And if you are paying attention, you must be resourceful enough to find news sources out there that you can trust and restore your confidence in the system.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fifty Nifty, United States...

Do you know that song? Composed by none other than Ray Charles. The other Ray Charles. It goes like this: "Fifty, Nifty, United States from Thirteen Original Colonies..." Imagine singing it to the key of C. Or something. Anyway, a new project has been launched. It seems to only highlight a trend out there in ether.

And I thought it was just me. It seems that photographers, journalists and writers, television networks are all asking the question: What is the character of America?

Vanity Fair in 2004 had an essay contest soliciting a similar query. It challenged entrants to "explain the character of the American people to the world." I entered that contest, and sadly, I did not win. The exercise did, however, help me. I'm still asking myself that question. I'm not sure I'll ever settle on answer. Here's a clip of my essay response:

"We are paradox. Let us begin with that as meditation.
We are hopeful. We are heartbreaking. We defend. We punish. We are arrogant and humble. We are naïve and wise.
Then, there are the photographs.
We are barbarians and humanitarians. We destroy. We rebuild. We hate. We love. We supported and objected the war.
We were born under the sign of Cancer. It is a patriotic sign. Home. Family. Nation. We are collection of people searching for place to call home. Some came by boat, plane, train, car, bus. Some even walked. Home fabricated, stolen, and replaced.
To be an American means to constantly discover and rediscover whom you really are...

2004 was an interesting time to ask the question, as it was in 2003, when the Whitney Museum exhibited work from international artists for the American Effect show. And it still is an interesting time to ask the question. Our nation is maturing and I'm not just talking about the general population. The meaning of being American is maturing. And America isn't all one color. And we can't pat ourselves on the back and say we're post-racial, post-gay, post-feminist. We're still trying to figure out what that looks like and how to live it.

So I hope we all continue to search for answers about who we are now and who we hope to become. I'll be bringing this track along, a perfectly crafted short story and anthem, for our long journey ahead.

photo: "Girl with dollar bill" © Larry Schwarm

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An Open Letter to the Rational Conservative

Dear Rational Conservative,

I’ve given this some thought, and I think the Republican Party should find a white guy.

These new faces of the party that your strategists have been pushing as of late aren’t working. It’s embarrassing –for them and for me. At this point, a rational sounding white guy might be the change you can believe in. I know that the defeat in November to the Democratic Party, let along that the leader of the party as an African American, still burns but your strategists struggling to parade a 'minority' is cheapening the effort to demonstrate inclusion in your ranks. The Democrats didn't just find a black guy, they found someone who is intelligent, pragmatic and just plain gets it.

I feel for you. I really do. It seems to me that your party acts under the presumption that you are stupid. I'm insulted for you. I know that you’re smarter than that. And if some of you are persons of color or women, then it’s my belief that your party has been a disservice to you. You’re entitled to be intelligent, conservative and woman. Or African American. Or Mexican American. These voices that we’ve seen on the national stage cannot be representative of your whole constituency. I know that your constituency isn't all white, and Rush Limbaugh as a mouthpiece for your party may make you cringe, but your silence has been deafening. If you're a party that engages in ideas and solutions, then it's ok to disagree with Limbaugh. You have that freedom of speech. It's in the constitution. If you disagree with Rove, know that you live in a democracy that protects your right to do so publicly. Not all democrats agree with everything Obama says and does. And surprisingly, he respects a differing point of view. Go figure.

I think it’s my job as an American that skews liberal and progressive to cajole some you rational thinking conservatives from your hiding places. You can’t possibly continue as the silent majority of a party whose talking points come exclusively from blowhards like Limbaugh. If you disagree with the policies from the Obama administration, what would you propose as an alternative? I’d like to hear it. I’m not kidding, I really would like to hear them. I don’t mean this to sound combative at all; I want to hear what you have to say in terms of solutions that are rooted in the facts and reality of the situation we face.

I know you’re out there. You can engage in a debate that doesn’t infuriate everyone to the point where we stop talking. I know that there were some of you who didn’t believe in the policies of the previous administration that endangered the very tenets from which our democracy was based. I know that Shepard Smith’s comments are not just slips off "of the Fox News reservation." I know you’re out there, and you feel you got played because your party’s strategists put out Palin, Jindal and this guy Michael Steele, who thinks you need a “hip hop makeover”. That belittles your crisis of existence at the moment.

I can only speak for myself but I don’t have the time to sort through rhetoric and misinformation when the realities of the economy and the wars are staring me in my face. I don’t want a single party system. I like healthy debate. I don’t always skew far left in my views either. I want practical solutions. I want to fight for the safety of the world we live in. Our lives are now, not in the hereafter. I’m happy to meet you, rational conservative, in the middle. Because that’s the spirit of democracy, the place where compromise meets and solutions arise.

Please speak up, I'm listening.


Syreeta McFadden
Democrat and Pragmatist

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day!

Scenes from Fort Greene Park Brooklyn, County of Kings!

photos by Syreeta McFadden