Monday, September 22, 2008

Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father

The book is framed as a search for authenticity and a sense of belonging. Perhaps surprisingly, the intellectual aspect of this gets little attention. I have no real sense of what he studied, or what he took from that. His search is in large part a coming to terms with what it means to be black in America. But it is foremost seeking an understanding of what his family, and particularly his father and his father's side of the family, mean for him.

Obama's brothers and sisters

from his mother and her Indonesian second husband Lolo: Maya

from his father and his Kenyan first wife Kezia: Roy (Abongo), Auma, Abo, Bernard

from his father and his American third wife Ruth: Mark, David (who died in motorcycle accident)

from his father and a girlfriend: George

Auma - key link to Obama's family in Kenya and a remarkable story of achievement in her own right, excelling enough as a student in Kenya to go on to study lingiuistics in Germany

Lolo Soetero - tragic figure, a man whose idealism is squeezed out of him by the post-Suharto crackdown on intellectuals trained abroad

Ruth - the one unsympathetic figure from the family

Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father

433: "I asked her why she shought black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa. She shook her head and smiled. 'Because they come here looking for the authentic,' she said. 'That is bound to disappoint a person. Look at this meal we are eating. Many people will tell you that the Luo are a fish-eating people. But that was not true for all Luo. Only those who lived by the lake. And even for those Luo, it was not always true. Before they settled around the lake, they were pastoralists, like the Masai. Now, if you and your sister behave yourself and eat a proper share of this food, I will offer you tea. Kenyans are very boastful about the quality of their tea, you notice. But of course we got this habit from the English. Our ancestors did not drink such a thing. Then there's the spices we used to cook this fish. They originally came from India, or Indonesia. So even in this simple mealyou will find it very difficult to be authentic -- although the meal is certainly African.'

Rukia rolled a ball of ugali in her hand and dipped it into her stew. 'You can hardly blame black Americans, of course, for wanting an unblemished past. After the cruelties they've suffered -- still suffer, from what I read in the newspapers. They're not unique in this desire. The European wants the same thing. The Germans, The English ... they all claim Athens and Rome as their own, when, in fact, their ancestors helped destroy classical culture. But that happened so long ago, so their task is easier."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 2, "Partying with the 'People's Money'"

The American public did not favor the Bush tax cuts over increased social spending or even deficit reduction. Nor did Americans favor the skewed distribution of those tax cuts over more egalitarian alternatives. The Republicans were aware that they were pursuing a policy without public support. So they disguised the size of the cuts with phase-ins (especially at the top end) and sunsets. They also left the alternative minimum tax in place to give them more apparent room for cuts: they realized that its increasing bite on the middle class would compel a fix, but by that time the cuts would already be in place. The sunsets were also designed to create an artificial crisis of sudden, apparent tax increases several years later; the idea is that this will create pressure to make the cuts permanent at that time.

They also stretched legislative norms to maneuver the cuts through Congress. They used their control of the agenda in the House to evade consideration of budgetary alternatives and consequences. And they passed the cuts through the budget reconciliation process to circumvent a Senate filibuster.