Saturday, January 31, 2009

The GOP's Man of Steele

Faster that a 30 second sound bite.
More powerful than a high-paid lobbyist.
Able to spin hard questions in a single press conference.

Look! On C-SPAN! It's a bird! Its a plane! No, it is Michael Steele!

Formerly the Lt. Governor of Maryland, Steele comes to the GOP to fight a never ending battle for truth, justice and the conservative American way!

All kidding aside, Michael Steele, after a long, all-day battle at the RNC meeting yesterday, emerged as the new national leader of the Republicans. He will be the face of the GOP for the next four years to counter what the Democrats, led by President Obama and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, will do.

Steele has an awesome task ahead of him. He has to revitalize a divided party that has taken a beating politically since 2006, in which time they have lost 13 U.S. Senate seats and 56 U.S. House seats, not to mention the White House. It will be his job to mend the rift between the conservatives, of which he is one, and the moderates, who put him in the chairmanship.

Steele has to continue to build upon the outreach effort that is targeting African-American, Asian and Latino voters while dealing with the rhetoric from the extremists in his party that alienates those groups. He has to develop strategies to compete in blue states, just like former DNC Chair Howard Dean and President Obama had strategies to compete in red states. He also has to define the GOP as a national party again, not a regional (can we say Southern Dixiecrat) party.

As an African-American, I am proud of Steele as I am President Obama. Not only has he broken a glass ceiling of his own, but he has solidified the argument I have made for some time that the Black Political Diaspora is not monolithic. Blacks, that could vote, were Republican for a long time before the Depression and the Civil Rights Era. Oscar De Priest, the first African-American Congressman from Chicago's 1st District was a Republican. It wasn't until William Dawson became the Congressman that the 1st District turned into a strong Democratic seat, especially in my lifetime.

My great aunt, Alton Hester of Indianapolis, was a Republican until the day she died. So strong was her convictions that when she approached her political nephew on one particular visit, she asked a couple of questions:

"Duckman, (she used to call me 'Duckman') are you still a Democrat?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Well, let me ask you this Duckman, are you a patriot?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Are you a Christian?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Then why are you a Democrat?"

That then gave me the opportunity to say that many of us in the Democratic Party are patriotic and faithful, that we share the same vision of an America where opportunities abound, the economy is strong and our communities are safe. I also reminded her that there was an old saying that all roads led to Rome, we have just chosen different roads to get there.

That, in a nutshell, is the picture of Black Political America. We are faithful, patriotic citizens of this country. Many families are more like the Huxtables and the Evans than Boys in Da' Hood and The Corner, although both are prevalent. We have helped build the economic juggernaut America once was and have defined the culture we live in now. And we have done this both as Democrats and Republicans.

From Hiram Revels to Roland Burris, we have covered the political spectrum. Many of my good friends and college classmates are active in both parties and that is good for African-Americans. Will Steele's term as chair bring more African-Americans to the GOP? That is what the Republicans are banking on, but it is nothing for anyone to be afraid of.

It just strengthens the point that the Black Vote in America should never be taken for granted. Gone are the days where an African-American can get elected just because he/she is African-American. Gone are the days when a white Democrat can assume he/she is getting the Black Vote unilaterally. As a point of fact, 9 percent of Black Vote in Mississippi voted for my Republican opponents in both the 2006 and 2008 U.S. Senate campaigns. A candidate running for political office in the 21st Century, regardless of political affiliation, has to ask for every vote, in every community to win.

If Chairman Steele and President Obama are both successful in their objectives, then it truly will be a new day in America. The content of a candidate's political character and the substance of the candidate's platform will be the deciding factors in an election, not what the candidate looks like or prejudicial stereotypes.

Those of us who are Democrats should not look at Steele's election as window dressing. Steele beat a Kennedy in a blue state to become Maryland's Lt. Governor. I have met him and have talked with him about issues, and he is more than just an "Oreo cookie" or the dreaded "Uncle Tom". He is a man of substance, who is sincere and passionate about his beliefs.

I look forward to the challenge he presents and the promise that he and the President represent.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Good and the Bad about Tobacco Taxes

Yesterday, The U.S. Senate passed a bill the will expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, commonly known as S-CHIP, to some 37 million children across the United States. The expansion of the coverage will be funded by a 61 cent increase in tobacco taxes, which would make the federal tax on cigarettes $1 a pack.

Tobacco taxes. In Mississippi it has been an issue for a number of years. It was one that I dealt with and supported as a legislator. When I was there, we started pushing for a 50 cent increase to help the state's Medicaid budget. The demand later increased to 82 cents, which would make the tax on cigarettes a $1 a pack. That could possibly make a pack of cigarettes $8, which if a person smokes a pack a day, that will be an expense of nearly $2400 a year.

Currently, Mississippi has the lowest cigarette tax for a non-tobacco producing state at 18 cents a pack. Governor Haley Barbour, a former lobbyist for the major tobacco companies, has vigorously opposed any tax increases, especially on cigarettes. However, a Barbour-appointed tax study group recommended that the cigarette tax should be increased at least 29 cents.

That has changed the debate in the Mississippi Legislature, because the House has supported some sort of tax increase for four years, but the Senate has always killed the measures. Now the Senate has passed a bill that would increase the tax by 49 cents, which would be used to maintain the fund for the legislative tax credit on car tags, as the most expensive car tags in the country are planning to increase. The House has passed their version of the increase that would make the tax $1 a pack, the money to be used to support public education.

Mississippi has a population of about 3 million folks, in which 27 percent of them are smokers. Many of the proponents of the tax increase will say that the increase will get people to stop smoking, thereby reducing the health care costs of Mississippians in the future. Opponents say that all an increase will do is drive smokers to other states to make their cigarette purchases, thereby taking tax revenues away from the state.

The argument the Senate makes is valid because their increase proposal represents the regional average of cigarettes tax, theoretically making it unattractive for Mississippi smokers to travel across state lines to make their purchases. However, as with both proposals, to target the funds other than offsetting health care costs defeats the purpose of raising them.

We know that total revenues are down and budget decisions have to be made, but to base revenue increases on something that is expected to eventually become diminishing returns is tenuous at best. Focusing on health care, as the federal increase will do, makes more sense. A healthier America, let alone a healthier Mississippi, will free up funds from Medicaid to go to other budget needs in years to come.

Now with the federal government moving faster that the state in increasing tobacco taxes, that may slow down the progress on Mississippi acting on an increase even more. Hopefully, it won't, but if the discussions do move forward, my hope is that it will re-focus on targeting the funds to health care. To compromise and just let the increased revenues go into the general fund will not be beneficial to Mississippi in the long term.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are you ready for some...political theater?

As we all anxiously await Super Bowl XLIII, with the $3 million commercials, Springsteen concert and, of course, the actual game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, we can thank IL Governor Rod Blagojevich for providing us some pre-game entertainment.

Today, Blago will provide us up to 90 minutes of grand political theater as he makes his last hurrah before the Illinois State Senate. Now this is the same guy who said that he was not going to participate in this "kangaroo court", which he affectionately calls the current impeachment proceedings. Blago, I guess, has exhausted every media outlet that would host him and now is going to give his farewell address before the IL Senate inevitably removes him from office later on today.

Rod has had a good run. In these last defining weeks, he did have a victory, thumbing his nose at the powers-that-be and getting his appointment to the U.S. Senate, my friend Roland Burris, seated. But today, this story turns the page, reaching its ultimate climax with the governor holding center stage for the last time.

It should be entertaining as well as defiant. I hope C-SPAN shows the whole 90 minutes. Never before has an Illinois Governor been impeached and removed from from office, so this is a historic event on its own. However, Blago's flair for the dramatic should make this a memorable occasion. After all, he is comparing himself to Gandhi and Mandela.

It is not clear exactly what time the theatrics will begin, but when it starts, I want to see every gesture and hear every word. The climax is always the most captivating part of a tragedy, and I am sure Blagojevich will not disappoint in that regard. He can't afford to, since he already has disappointed us enough as a public servant.

As Terrell Owens would say, "Get your popcorn ready."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Not much fun

My time in the Mississippi Legislature was a great time to serve. So many things happened during my tenure that were historic and challenging. However, I do remember when it was not that fun. That was when the state did not have much revenue to work with.

This year is that year. When visiting the Capitol yesterday, you could sense that feeling of slight dread and exasperation, knowing that revenues are tight and decisions have to be made about what programs to cut and keep. Everything is on the table and nothing is sacred.

Do we close state parks? Do we close successful pilot programs? Do we cut funding for schools? Highways? Medicaid? Never a fun time. But it is what you signed up for when you run for office. It is alright when decisions are easy to make, but this is what makes or breaks many in public service.

I am hoping that my former colleagues can look at the bright side and understand that we are still financially solvent in Mississippi. Tough decisions have to be made, but they can made without rancor or divisive discourse. I do not envy them, but I respect them and I have the full faith that they will make the right decisions.

I will be watching with interest and wish them the best in this tough legislative session.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

DTV conversion on hold

Late into the night, your United States Senate was working hard to change our lives. The Senate passed a bill to put on hold the national conversion to Digital Television (DTV), which was suppose to go into effect 22 days from now, on February 17. The House should act within the next few days.

For those who do not know, your current television programs are sent through analog signals. When the conversion happens, the analog signals will be shut off and the digital signals, which are already running, will be the only way to get your favorite television programming. If you have a cable or satellite subscription, you are already converted.

The concern about DTV conversion comes from the fact that possibly 15 percent of the population may not be able to get converted in time, primarily due to the current financial conditions of the country. PBS, the home of Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer, estimates that 17 percent of their viewership would be in the dark on February 17. Even though most states have made the financial obligations to help the public television stations convert, little has been done for the consumers.

The Federal Government has been issuing $40 coupons to consumers to help in the conversion process, but like most government programs, it is cumbersome and moving slow. The Obama administration had suggested pushing back the conversion date and the Senate recommended in its legislation to move the date to June 12, 2009.

The group that seems to be the most affected will be the Hispanic/Latino community. Univision and Telemundo has been pushing hard on their stations to get their viewers to convert but, for some reason, it has not been as successful as hoped. Another group that will be affected are the first responders who have been using analog emergency channels for years. Their conversion rate has not been as fast and it could present a problem in places where natural disasters are common occurrences. Even though the campaign nationally has been going on for two years, it seems as though change is not so easy after all.

So folks, don't panic just yet. You may get some relief temporarily, however I suggest that you stop procrastinating and make the conversion now. Change is coming.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gandhi? Mandela? Really?

This won't be long, but this definitely qualifies as a WTF moment. During his interview with NBC's Today Show, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich said that when the federal agents came on December 9, 2008 to arrest him, he said his mind went to what Gandhi, Mandela and Dr. King must have thought. Hunh?

Let us see if I can put my arms around this. Governor, you being arrested for bribery charges is similar to those great leaders being arrested in an act of civil disobedience. Hmmm...I don't think so. Nice try, though. I get that you feel the Illinois Senate is going to railroad you out of office. I get that you feel you are innocent and hence, will be vindicated.

What I don't get is this martyr business. You are a politician. You do not sell U.S. Senate seats, actually or theoretically. You do not put yourself in a position where your integrity is questioned. Your job is to work for the people of Illinois. It is a temporary job, determined by the will of the people. Your election will not be deemed worthy of a national holiday, nor did it inspire a movement. You are just a good politician who has been impeached and probably will be stripped out of his office.

Instead of invoking the names of great men, this may be the time that you start invoking the name of God. Not once in the interview did you mention how your faith is getting you through this time. If you are truly innocent, God will remove the reproach.

My advice, Governor, focus on your faith and your family and leave the martyr comparisons alone. Preparing a good defense for the criminal trial may be a good idea as well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Believe in the Rock

Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:5-12, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20

Rocks have stood the test of time. For years and years, rocks have existed on this earth, weathering storms and other changes, its physical properties remaining intact. So solid, if it is used properly, it can be a weapon. That is why when we look at God, we state that He is our Rock.

Steadfast and unchanging is our God. As stated last week, He is always there for us. He is our protector and guardian. When we get caught up in the problems of the world, we are reminded to re-train our focus, not on the troubles that assail us, but on the One who can deliver us.

For if we get caught up in the world too much, we lose focus and think we can do it alone. No great human being on this earth has moved the world without inspiration and guidance from God. It did not matter if that person acknowledged God or not, for God uses every one of His creations for a purpose.

There are those that challenge this assertion, believing, because tragic events take place, that everything is controlled by man. My challenge to them is to create a seed on their own, not a hybrid of something that exists already, but of something totally new.

Only the One that created the universe, what we know and don't know, can do that. When we understand that, then we understand that our investment should not be on things that are temporal, but on a constant presence.

We have free will to believe or not, but what a joy it is to have faith. The satisfaction of knowing that no matter what we are going through, God is always there, using us to do His will, testing us to make us stronger in our resolve to get it done.

In the story of David and Goliath, it is written that David picked up five smooth rocks to battle the giant. With his slingshot, it only took one rock to defeat the giant. The truth is that David always had an extra rock in his arsenal, and that rock was there, not only with his battle with Goliath, but in his escape from Saul, his ascension to the throne of Israel, when his son Absalom plotted against him, and even when he fell from grace. That is why most of the Psalms are written by David, because he understood, even in his darkest hour, God was with Him throughout.

Stand fast in the blessed assurance that God is our Rock. He will never leave or forsake us, He will carry us through our toughest times on this earthly journey. He will provide for our needs and He will answer our prayers.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Failure is not an option

This week, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that he hopes President Obama will fail. Fail? That's right, fail. Rush makes the case that if the president is successful, that dreaded liberal agenda will permeate the nation.

Hardly. Bottom line, if President Obama fails, this country will be in worse shape than what he inherited. Every American should hope that the Obama administration is successful in turning the economy around. Every American should hope that we can reduce the threat of terrorism while establishing a peaceful existence in the Middle East. Every American should want to make sure a solution is found to make health care accessible and affordable for everyone.

So the question should be asked, is Rush being unpatriotic? The Republicans, especially on Fox News, accused everyone that challenged or questioned President Bush as being unpatriotic, primarily in the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Free speech was almost declared un-American. The Dixie Chicks, as well as other celebrities, were rebuked for speaking against the war. Cindy Sheehan was called all sorts of names for protesting at the Crawford Ranch about the war in which her son made the supreme sacrifice for his country.

But in the first week of the new administration Rush can say he wants the president to fail and he doesn't receive any backlash from his friends at Fox News for his views? This hypocrisy is what turns people off about politics. It is not uncommon for the conservative talking heads to use double standards. Remember, it was these same folks that said that Michelle Obama was unpatriotic because she was more proud of America because her husband, an African-American, had a legitimate shot at being President of the United States. They have made millions of dollars and created a division in American politics playing this type of game. As stated before, they are who we thought they were.

Well, since no one else is willing to say it, I will. For Rush Limbaugh to say that he wants the current president to fail is un-American, unpatriotic and uncalled for. I did not want either President Bush to fail. I did not want President Reagan, Nixon or Ford to fail. Why should a Republican want a Democratic president to fail or vice verse? Any true American should want America's president to succeed. Being a true patriot doesn't mean wearing flag lapel pins, draping yourself in the American flag, professing your Christian faith, toting a gun, or claiming to be right because you proclaim to be the Political Right.

Patriotism starts with supporting the leadership of your country when you believe they are correct and criticizing them when you believe they are incorrect. Patriotism is stepping up to the plate and offering suggestions for public policy to be discussed in civilized discourse, like the Republican House leadership offered to the president this week. Rush and others should be willing to serve this country to make it work better for all of us, not sitting on their hind quarters hoping for failure. Failure is not an option, not when there is so much to be done.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Follow Joe and Phil more than Abraham

Yesterday, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton introduced two more superstars to the administrative lineup, former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Holbrooke, of Dayton Accords fame, will be the U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Mitchell, of Steroid Commission and Northern Ireland Peace fame, will be the U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East.

Many have said that all this high-power talent, this modern day "team of rivals", making comparisons to President Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, could all blow up in President Obama's face. While the comparison is valid, Lincoln's management style should not be the primary model for our current president to keep this team together and focused. Instead, he should look toward two individuals in the world of sports.

Joe Torre and Phil Jackson, both, ironically, are currently coaching professional sports teams in Los Angeles, but their claim to management fame came before they set foot in LA. Torre was the manager of the New York Yankees and had to corral 25 egos into a unit that won consecutive World Series and was a constant entry in the playoffs. In this era of hype and mega-million dollar salaries, Torre effectively used his calm demeanor to keep tensions in the clubhouse down and victories high. He got players to buy into the concept that being a Yankee was the ultimate distinction, not your annual salary or how many All-Star appearances you made. Those players had one goal: to win a championship.

The same can be said about Phil Jackson. He took a franchise, the Chicago Bulls, that had never played in a NBA Championship and led them to six titles. He had to manage 15 egos daily and all the media scrutiny that surrounded his players. His philosophy, grounded in Buddhist principles, offered a calming presence in the locker room, and guided them to a ferocity on the court. He later took that same strategy to LA and duplicated his feat, securing three championships there.

Both men had the privilege of coaching Hall of Fame caliber players, legends in their respective sports, but those athletes will tell you that it was those coaches that made them the champions they are today. Despite the greatness and prestige those players individually had, it was leadership that guided them to great heights.

Lincoln had a cabinet that led America through a civil war, despite the fact that many in the administration were Lincoln's political opponents. The times dictated that those political differences be set aside for the sake of the union. One could make that same argument about our current situation, but I beg to differ.

I believe the leadership needed will not be aided by a financial crisis, it must be a winning mentality. In his Inaugural Address, President Obama said America will lead again. His style then must emulate winners in sports to keep the team together, and focused, to achieve that victory.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'm Out

As we awoke this morning, we heard that Caroline Kennedy has abandoned her campaign to be appointed to fill the vacancy for the United States Senate in New York created by the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. It is expected that NY Governor David Patterson will appoint NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to the seat.

It is a shame that the Kennedy campaign is over but maybe it is better that it is. In her effort to establish credibility to serve in the position, Caroline actually created more doubt in people's minds. Her whirlwind tour of the state seemed disjointed and unauthentic. Her responses to the media was less than awe-inspiring. Her public perception was that she was being handled, which gave the impression that she may have been overwhelmed by the process.

It was not pretty, especially when it got personal, as her cousin, who was married to Cuomo, sounded more like a bitter ex-wife rather than a family supporter and solid character witness. That is why it is a shame because Caroline Kennedy is a great American and a genuine person, something that the United States Senate needs, especially during this historic and challenging time.

Her commitment to public education is unquestioned. She is a role model for the modern American woman, perfectly balancing a professional career with motherhood. Some would say on that point that she had the means to pull it off, but how many stories have we heard about rich, powerful women neglecting their basic maternal instincts to pursue their careers?

Admittedly, she said that her recent passion for public service was inspired by Barack Obama's campaign and she was criticized for that. Why? She was no different than millions of other Americans who were more prone to vote for the next American Idol rather the next President of the United States. However, since she is a Kennedy, she was not given that latitude of typical American apathy.

The Kennedy name has become iconic in American politics. Many of Caroline's relatives have been, or still are, in public service. So to admit that she had not voted in some elections did not bode well with the electorate. Her support for Obama had some Hillary supporters seeing red, especially looking at her as Hillary's replacement. Nevertheless, a Caroline Kennedy in the United States Senate would have been a good thing. Her perspective on the world of public policy would have been welcome and refreshing.

However, the ultimate test in the political process is how one handles the spotlight and the scrutiny. As every aspect of your life is examined and questioned, one has to have the mental toughness to take it all in stride, understanding this is just a hurdle to obtain the prize. The fact that Caroline has abandoned her quest indicates that she was not up to the task. If you don't have the stomach for politics, don't get in it.

This is why a lot of good, qualified people don't get into public service. My advice to anyone who has developed a desire to serve in that capacity, especially during this Obama/change movement, learn from Caroline Kennedy's mistakes and grow a thick skin. Politics is an acquired taste.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

America's Great Commission

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." - President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

In the last chapter of the book of Matthew, in the last two verses of that chapter, Jesus said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." We in the Christian faith refer to that quote as The Great Commission, the charge we have to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world and convert them to a life of salvation.

It is a daunting task, especially to those who accept the call to preach the Gospel. Yet, even as we go about our daily tasks, the work is being done. Now we have been given another commission by the 44th President of the United States.

As John F. Kennedy charged a generation of Americans to commit more to service, and FDR a generation before that told us to think big and that we have nothing to fear, Barack Obama called on this generation to engage in the hard work of making America America again. America is the land of opportunity. Where else can a man born of mixed heritage, which during FDR's and Kennedy's time, mixed marriages were against the law in some Southern states, can ascend in a period of five years to become the President of the United States. It is time to recommit ourselves to make sure that those opportunities will still be available for future Americans and that the election of a Barack Obama will not be considered an aberration.

In Obama's first speech as president, he reminded us of the dire circumstances we are facing, but with a resolve that we expect from our chosen leader, he also reminded us that we have been down this road before. Many people look at the fact that we have been a country for over two hundred years and think that is a long time. For those who truly understand world history, we know that we are a young country in the history of man.

Many nations that have had to fight colonization and had a civil war have struggled, even to this day, to have a stable government and a vibrant economy. We have both and we have the ability to be stronger, but, as the President reminded us, it is up to us. Quoting the apostle Paul, stating that we must put away childish things, we should be reminded that the petty political strategy of denigration will not move us forward.

We will have philosophical differences in the body politic, but differences are expected in intelligent, civilized societies. What is not expected, nor should be tolerated, is a discourse that diminishes and devalues the opinion of those that disagree with us. Obama picked a modern day "team of rivals" to generate an agenda to move this country forward. If we are to participate, then we must raise our level of discourse.

More importantly, we have to be engaged, we have to be involved. When speaking on Martin Luther King Day in West Point, I challenged the crowd listening to no longer accept apathy as part of their daily lives. It is going to take all of us to turn this country around, not just politically, but personally. We have to be better parents, better financial stewards, be better educated and to take better care of ourselves and the earth God gave us custodianship over.

We are going to have make sacrifices, while maintaining our quality of life. The things we give up or temper today will guarantee a greater America for our children and our children's children. During World War II, our parents and grandparents did just that, and are considered the greatest generation of Americans to ever live. If we are obedient to the commission set forth by our president on January 20th, maybe future generations of Americans will revere us in such a fashion.

If we don't, there may not be a future generation of Americans, as we define it today, at all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reprint: A Prayer for the Obama Inauguration

This is the second of a two-part series of reprints. Today, I present a prayer by the Rev. Marilyn E. Thornton:

Prayer for the Obama Inauguration (Based on Psalm 26)

You are the judge, O LORD. We beseech your blessings on the inauguration of President-Elect, Barack Obama. We thank you that he is a man of integrity, who walks in wholeness, in your Shalom. We trust you, O God. Surround him with wise counsel and prevent him from stumbling. "Lead him and guide him along the way, for if you lead he cannot stray!"

We know that there will be many tests and temptations. Let the fire of justice and purity burn in his conscience and in his heart. Give him discernment, LORD, as he keeps his eyes upon you, imitating your loving kindness toward the people, as he walks and talks in your truth. "Let not his feet wander from the place where he met you!"

We thank you, God, for protecting him from those who would operate deceptively. Keep him separated from those of the assembly who are corrupt. "We have come treading a path through the blood of the slaughtered." Give him the desire to keep his hands clean, to speak God's truth, to refrain from evil plots and plans, to do righteously by the people of this land and of the world, abstaining from murder and needless violence.

We praise you, O God, and we ask that you keep your praise in the mouth of this new president of these United States, acknowledging always that your love for him has made him whole. May his love for you be reflected in the ways he operates in the great houses of the world: the White House, the Capitol, and the United Nations. By your grace, may he forever be a man of integrity, who walks in wholeness, bringing your redemption to our lives and to our land. Amen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reprint: A Prayer for Martin Luther King Day

Today and tomorrow will be significant days for many of us. It is always proper then to turn our attention to the One who has guided us to this point. So I will present two prayers, written by others, to properly put us in focus.

So I present the first prayer to you, "A Prayer for the King Holiday" by the Reverend Dr. Randolph Nugent:

God of our forebears and our God, who has summoned women and men throughout the ages to be thy witnesses and sometimes martyrs for thee, we bow before thee this day in remembrance and thanksgiving for the life and legacy of thy servant, witness and martyr, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We thank thee for his time among us, for his words and for his deeds, and for the quality of his living witness which eases the pain of recalling the brevity of his years. We rejoice in his example of obedient faith and the scenes and stations of his life which inform and enrich our own faith journeys. And we beseech thee this day for the strength, steadfastness and courage not only to remember but also to obey.

We remember the footsteps of Dr. King: walking everywhere in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott; sidestepping snarling dogs, swinging billy clubs, and torrential fire hoses in Birmingham; charting a King's highway in the desert wastelands of bigotry and hatred from Selma to Montgomery, from Memphis to Jackson, from Chicago to Cicero; walking ever and always where Jesus walked among the lonely and the lost; the downtrodden and the outcast; those denied their dignity and robbed of their rights. Lord, guide and enable us to follow his footsteps that we too may be found in those places of danger, division, discord and sorrow where love is so desperately needed but so painfully absent. Let us hear and feel anew the words of the old freedom song beckoning us to faith commitment in community with our fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, saying, "Walk together children, and don't get weary."

We remember the gentle, patient courage of Dr. King, as he made the teachings of Jesus the literal rule for loving: refusing the temptation to render an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth but rendering instead good for evil; nonviolently offering the other cheek to those who, blinded by hate, taunted and loving those who chose to be his enemies and persecutors; following his Lord in showing the greatest love of all by laying down his life for others. Lord, give us the courage to live by what we say we believe and to accept the teachings of Christ as codes of conduct rather than mere words of inspiration.

We remember the restless and unrelenting commitment of Dr. King, as he refused to barter justice or compromise thy Word; insisting that the demand for justice, freedom and human dignity applies to all thy children in Southeast Asia as well as the South Bronx, and throughout the two-thirds of thy creation where injustice and oppression preserve the privilege of the other third. Lord, save us from the temptation to be satisfied with partial fulfillment and limited expression of thy truth. Help us both to love our neighbors and also to see the whole world as our neighborhood.

O God, fashion and mold our memories into a guiding vision for active discipleship, so that we may not only long and yearn for thy coming kingdom but may also recognize its arrival and presence in the risen Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, in whose blessed name we pray. Amen.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Here I am

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20), Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

When we are lost, say in a mall or out camping, we are taught to identify ourselves by shouting "here I am!" to direct the path of the searching party or person. When we are in class, as the roll is being called, we say, "Here!", a shorter version of "here I am!", when our name is called to let the teacher know we are present and attentive.

But we don't have to tell God where we are, He already knows. He made us in His own image and He watches our every move. He is there for the good times and the bad. We are never lost from God.

There are times when we stray away from His teachings. We may perceive that we are lost, out of touch with God. I remember when the Columbine shootings happened and how everyone felt that day. One U.S. Congressman proclaimed that this tragedy happened because God was not present in the school anymore, that we had shut Him out. Obviously, the politician did not know that not only was God present, but He offered us all a testimony of faith to learn from.

When one of the shooters came upon a classmate, he commanded that student to renounce God and he would spare his life. The student responded with the Lord's Prayer and was killed. When the shooter approached another student with the same proposition, she recited the 23rd Psalm and was killed also.

Those children were not lost to God, nor was God absent. In tough times, we are actually closer to God than one would think. We are His creation, a temple to the Holy Spirit. If we had something that valuable, we would keep tabs on where it is at all times, sometimes even putting it in a safe place. So why would we think that God would lose tabs on us?

He has so much love for us that He did not hide us in Heaven. He put us here to make a difference in this unsafe place for all to see the glory of His creation. Because we are so wonderfully made, we can survive in this wilderness we call the world and never be lost from God. We can make this claim because we have faith. Those victims of Columbine did not see God amidst all that carnage, but they had their spiritual GPS, their strong, abiding faith, and they knew that God was with them.

Therefore in the future, never feel compelled to say "here I am!" when trouble comes your way, or you feel distant from God. Instead, follow the example of Martin Luther, who said, "Here I stand, so help me God!" Then be still and let God give you His peace and understanding.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hoping against hope

"Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having your legs cut off, and then being condemned for being a cripple. It means seeing your mother and father spiritually murdered by the slings and arrows of daily exploitation, and then being hated for being an orphan... To be a Negro in America is to hope against hope." - Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

When Dr. King wrote those words, America was a very different place than it is today, especially in the South. Segregation in public places and schools was eroding, but poverty throughout the nation among African-Americans was prevalent. Robert Clark was serving in his first year as the first Black Mississippi legislator since Reconstruction. Many African-American young men where being drafted into the police action we refer to now as The Vietnam War, yet a defiant Muhammad Ali was rejecting his draft status. The Black Power movement was in full effect and the Black Panthers were at the height of their influence. Barack Hussein Obama was a six-year-old living in Jakarta, Indonesia, while Edward William Brooke, III was serving as the only African-American in the United States Senate.

Challenging times to say the least. In the midst of this challenge, Black people in America were searching for a sense of identity and hope. Cosmetically, Afros were sprouting up, but socially and economically, we were going in many different directions, hoping against hope.

As we fast forward to today, on the eve of the shattering of the ultimate glass ceiling for African-Americans, the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, I ask the question, despite the obvious progress we have made, are we still hoping against hope? Unemployment rates in our communities are still disproportionately high, glaring economic and health disparities still exist, school districts in the inner cities and certain rural communities are struggling to maintain levels of excellence, as well as bodies in the classroom, black on black violence is still ridiculously high and yet many young men and women are fighting wars for a country in which these dire conditions exist.

As we look with pride at a historic moment on January 2oth, we need to remember it is only a moment. The Obama administration has to lead with an agenda that will address the concerns of a people that has time after time hoped against hope. We also have to play a role in making that agenda successful, by easing the burden of government to fix the problems our churches and homes are equipped to do.

It is imperative for the sake of our future to get past the party mode of the next few days and go to work. We owe it to our ancestors to change this perception of hoping against hope as our destiny in this land called America. I have faith that these next four years will lay the foundation for that change. I hope that I am right.

Friday, January 16, 2009


As I watched the remarkable "Miracle on the Hudson River" this morning, one word came to my mind: fragility. Yesterday, leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York City, on its way to Charlotte, NC, US Airways flight 1549 started its odds-defying journey. First, the odds are one in ten thousand that a bird will fly into the engine of a jet liner. Flight 1549 had it happen twice, one for each engine.

As the pilots and crew worked the drill that they have practiced for years, preparing for an emergency landing, the 155 passengers probably did not know for sure that the odds were against them again. With an inevitable crash landing in the river that divides Manhattan from New Jersey, some 900 feet from smashing into a bridge, prior to yesterday, no plane that had to crash into water had a 100 percent survival rate.

I can only imagine what would go through my mind in situation like that. The passengers that were interviewed relied their faith, thought about spouses and tried to make peace with their life mentally. I am sure all that would go my mind as well.

Which is why I thought about fragility. Yesterday's events reminded me how fragile our lives are on this earth. One minute you are thinking about what you are getting ready to do next on your list, then...

Truth is, our time on this earth is borrowed time. We are here for an uncertain period to make a difference in this world we live in. It may be 12 years, 44 years, or 112 years, no one knows for sure. That is why I wonder why so many people take their lives for granted. I wonder why young men and women think they are immortal, especially those that engage in risky behavior.

We only have one fragile life to live, with no mulligans. I used to do an exercise for youngsters where they had to take care of an egg for a week without cracking it or dropping it to teach responsibility. You can imagine how careless those youngsters were. However, when I look at some of my fellow citizens on this planet, they are just as careless with their real lives.

The 160 people that defied the odds yesterday will have a new perspective of life guaranteed. What will it take for most of us to gain that perspective? I pray it is nothing as drastic as landing in a river.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A look back: The Essence of Who We Are Now

Today I wanted to do something different. Since my friend Roland Burris will become the next junior U.S. Senator from the state of Illinois today, becoming the only African-American in the Senate of the 111th Congress, as well as the advent of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States, I thought this would be a good time to reflect.

Therefore, I am reprinting an essay that I did for Mississippi Public Broadcasting in 2005. It is short because it was read on the air, but in this atmosphere, I felt it was appropriate to place it on this blog at this time.

Now, I present to you "The Essence of Who We Are Now":

The essence of who we are now is found in our past. The past explains to us why we are continuing the struggle and where it started. The past explains to us why progress is slow and how we can measure it. The past explains why we work so hard to attain equality and respect and how close we are to those goals comparatively.

It is important to understand our past so we can truly understand why education is the passport to our future. It is important to understand our past so we can truly understand why America has defaulted on its promissory note. It is important to understand the past so we can truly understand that freedom is not free.

Our history teaches us why we thank God for the weary years and the silent tears. Our history teaches us the significance of how we got over. Our history teaches us the value of the Northern Star and the Underground.

Our story is not just about glorifying heroes. It is also about reflection and meditation. It defines what has been revolting and what has been revolution. It clarifies actions affirmed from affirmative action.

We are a people that should never be subject to shame of who we are. History provides that backbone to help us stand upright in all pending adversity. History is our moral compass to guide us to that ultimate promise of America: malice toward none and justice for all. History gives us the foundation to demand life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a world that does not offer it freely.

In order for us to embrace our future in America without fear, we must embrace our past with due reverence. The essence of who we are now is found in our past.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Saggy Pants? Really?

The Jackson City Council last night, by a vote of 4-2, defeated an ordinance that would have made it against the law to wear pants in what can be described as a sagging fashion. Councilmen Kenneth Stokes and Frank Bluntson were the only ones to vote in the affirmative.

I am glad it failed, but I understand the concern, and to be honest, I am still curious as to why this fashion trend is acceptable to young black men. As with most of the fashion trends in the urban community these days, this style of saggy pants started in our prisons. Male prisoners, to show that they are receptive to sexual relations with another man, sag their pants, similar to the subtle custom of leaving the door open at the end of a date.

When I mention that to young men, they say they know that but they still wear this style. It is a sign of rebellion that all of us go through in our adolescence. Most of the young men that wear this style are not hoodlums or thugs, but that does not make it an acceptable practice. In my amateur fashion opinion, it looks sloppy and unattractive. If I had a daughter, no one she dated would wear their pants that way. I would not want my future son-in-law to be a wannabe thug or a bad dresser.

However, bad taste should not be regulated by the Jackson Police Department. As stated by one of the council members, they have enough on their plate just getting a handle on the most serious crimes, like the escalation in violence and burglaries. Targeting a certain element of the community because they have no fashion sense is not worthy of public resources, not to mention it is unconstitutional.

When young men dressed sharp in the 1950s and 1960s, they were still dealing drugs, running numbers and killing each other. The style is not the issue, it is the substance of crime. We must concentrate on taking as many drugs as we can off the street. We must concentrate on improving police work to secure solid convictions. We must concentrate on providing adequate funding to make sure that our crime lab looks more like "CSI" rather than "Mayberry RFD".

I have been around enough teenagers to know that eventually this fad will go away. We must put our focus in making sure that crime in our communities will fade away as well, in a substantive way.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Facebook no more

At 10:00 am, on January 13, 2009, my Facebook account entitled "Erik R. Fleming" ceased to exist. All 4, 530 of my friends, consisting of family, classmates, supporters, political colleagues, celebrities and athletes that I admired, were all wiped away with the stroke of an administrator key. It is like I never existed.

Gone are the daily interactions with people from all over the world that commented on my Twitter status or my Notes. Gone are all the fun applications that people signed me up on. Gone is the crusade I had started to eliminate the tax on overtime pay in America.

It had been a great ride from May 2008 when a lady named Nancy Lockhart introduced me to Facebook. Facebook had been the primary social network for college students and teens for years. Now it has evolved into a network of 161 million users, well, 160,999,999 users as of today, ranging from the rich and famous to old classmates hooking back up after 25 years.
I met my current wife, Gina Turner Fleming, on Facebook. When I read her writings and saw her lovely smile, I knew she would be a special part of my life. And the cool thing was she requested to be my friend, since she had been voting for me in previous elections. She was glad to know that I was an African-American, and that I was single. She was one of my first friends on Facebook and now she is my soul mate for all eternity.

It was an important tool to use during the election cycle of 2008 and will play more of a role in upcoming elections. Already three of the candidates for the mayor of Jackson, MS have set up Facebook pages. My Facebook page was a way to connect with people that may have never heard of me otherwise and vice verse. Citizens of all political philosophies were able to ask me questions about the political process that they may not have been able to have answered by anyone else because they did not have that same accessibility. That opportunity is now lost.

To those people who had accepted my friend requests, I would like to say thank you. To those who sought me out, I enjoyed being your friend.

Now all this may sound melodramatic considering that I can probably start another account, like this afternoon, but that time from May 2008 to this morning is lost forever. I am fortunate that my real life, and the memories it holds, cannot be snuffed out as easily as my virtual one.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The End

In his 47th and last press conference this morning, President Bush was a man on a mission. Today was the official start of his effort to define his presidential legacy for history to judge. I say he did a great job laying the foundation.

When they build his presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, the 45 minute video of this press conference should be the first thing people see in the amphitheater they build near the entrance. It was truly a defining moment in a presidency that has been dogged by criticism and sagging popularity.

The President vehemently defended his actions after Hurricane Katrina and the September 11th attack. He passionately argued that America's moral stature around the world has not been tarnished. He took pride in the passage of the No Child Left Behind education reform bill and the tax cuts he proposed.

He also took responsibility for what he perceived were his mistakes, like the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln, and his "disappointments", like the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush said that he had no regrets, nor did he feel isolated during his time in the White House. But, to me, his shining moment was this last press conference.

His candor, sense of history, and heartfelt respect for Obama himself and of the President-elect's historical accomplishment, was one of the most genuine moments of the Bush presidency, one which was not known for being forthright when pressed for information. The man who set out to change Washington, got caught up in it, and now is glad to be getting out of it in eight days.

I can only think of what could have been had this George Bush led this country instead of the one we had, but like the President said, the historians will have to judge that.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, another era is coming to an end. Tony Dungy, the first African-American to coach a team to victory in the Super Bowl, has decided to end his coaching career. One of the most successful coaches in NFL history, Dungy built Tampa Bay into a contender and Indianapolis into a champion. He set the record for consecutive 12-win seasons and had 11 trips to the playoffs in 13 seasons.

More importantly, he created a coaching tree that has produced other African-American head coaches, similar to what Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh has done with their white counterparts. His opponent in the Super Bowl was Chicago's Lovie Smith, who worked under Dungy in Tampa Bay.

Tony Dungy, however, will be remembered as more than just a coach. He was a mentor and a role model to his players and fellow coaches, as well as leaders in other sectors of enterprise with his non-confrontational, calm, and self-effacing leadership style. Dungy would not yell and scream, but you knew when you let him down. He was not known to smile a lot, but you knew when he was pleased.

He was the true definition of a quiet storm, a force you felt more than you heard. Unlike President Bush, he was not term-limited out. Dungy is leaving on his own terms, with less concern about his legacy than the President. He, too, understands though, that it will be up to others to judge his accomplishments and his impact on the game of professional football.

So that begs the question, what will be our legacy? How will people remember us and, more precisely, who will remember us? For us mere mortals, our children being successful, healthy and safe could be ours, as well as how we treated our fellow travelers in this journey we call life.

People have made fun of my friend Roland Burris' mausoleum and how his accomplishments have already been etched in stone. To me, however, his mausoleum is a reminder on a grander scale of what we all will have etched in stone on our grave marker, defining that dash that will be chiseled between our date of birth and our date of death.

Legacies are not just for the famous, for "the end" comes for all of us on this planet. How it is defined will be the job of others. Our job is to give them something to talk about. Our reward will be to hear the words in eternity, "Well done."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"I am well pleased"

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

How many times have we worked hard to win the approval of others? As a politician, it is the opinion of others that define us as winners or losers. It is a very humiliating process, but when people are trusting you to secure their freedom and act in their best interest, the deflation of one's ego is a small price to pay.

The question is how hard do we work to obtain God's approval, or better yet, how hard are we willing to work? We are concerned with other people's opinions because they are in our face. We see them every day, so we make adjustments to our appearance and are conscious about the impression we make.

Those of us who are Christians should also be concerned with pleasing God. He made us in His own image and He is the ultimate judge of our character. If we raise our standard as to please Him, other people will be pleased with us, despite their level of spiritual awareness.

You may not win that election, but you will be put in a place to do His will. You may not have a lot of earthly friends, but what a friend you will have in Jesus, as the old gospel song tells us. You may not get the job you covet or attain all the wealth in the world, but God will provide for you to live and live abundantly.

The ultimate goal for all of us should be to receive the favor of God. The Bible teaches us that the favor, or loving kindness, of God is life itself. John the Baptist saw a sign of how God is pleased when he baptised Jesus. We see it every day but in some ways take it for granted or don't process it when we do see it.

So I challenge you to look at your life situation and reflect on how God has shown His pleasure to you in your life. That will be a humbling moment, but a rewarding one as well , for it is good to have the approval of God and know it in your heart.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

More than terrorism to be concerned about

There are two things that Americans, and more specifically President Obama, need to monitor in the upcoming months that could have a profound impact on us. First is the escalating drug war in Mexico.

In 2007, 1,600 homicides took place in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, just on the other side of El Paso. So far 20 homicides have been reported this year alone. Mexican authorities have made it clear that the homicides are connected to a drug war that is about which cartel will control weapons and drug smuggling along the border. The Border Patrol has been beefed up in the last couple of months with personnel and weapons upgrades. It is also possible that military intervention may take place if any of the bloodshed crosses over into El Paso.

Yes there could be a military surge in Mexico. Let us hope that the Mexican government can get a handle on the war before American military intervention is necessary.

The other issue is concerning American touring abroad, especially on cruise ships. The Somali pirates are becoming more emboldened as the business is becoming more lucrative. The pirates primarily have targeted supertankers, holding them for ransom from oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, pirates drowned before they could spend the $3 million ransom they had received for hijacking a supertanker with $100 million worth of crude oil in its cargo.

However, before Christmas, some pirates tried to hijack a cruise ship, with American tourists on board. Fortunately, the captain of the cruise liner took evasive action, but I believe it will not be the last attempt. Heightened security on the high seas has to be taken, which means that the new administration will have to work on treaties to protect our citizens from this potential danger. Also, economic and political stability is needed in Somalia, which looks like it is a long way off after the resignation of a current influential Somali leader. Again, it is hoped that no American blood is spilled before resolution of this scourge.

The threat of terrorism is real, but unfortunately it is not the only battle we have to fight to protect our citizens all over the world. I believe that the Obama administration's focus on national security will see the broad picture, but it is imperative for us, as citizens, to see the big picture as well and act accordingly when the times demand so.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Don't the Obamas have enough pressure?

Yesterday President-elect Obama unveiled the basic details of his proposed economic stimulus package. A one trillion dollar package that many have said is the most ambitious legislative package since the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration. As he is working his way through the process, even before his inauguration, there have been additional burdens placed upon the soon-to-be First Family, which I believe is unnecessary.

First, the children. Malia and Sasha Obama were hounded by the press on their first day of school at the exclusive Sidwell Friends, the same Quaker-run school that Chelsea Clinton attended while her parents were in the White House. Now it was expected that there would be some coverage, but announcing what dolls they had in their backpacks and what their lunch menus would be, that is a bit much. They are children, whose parents just happen to be the next President and First Lady. Hopefully, the rest of media will follow the lead of Brian Williams of NBC News, including his colleagues on MSNBC, and end the media blitz on them there.

Next, Michelle Obama has been given a new task that she definitely did not ask for. One newspaper has declared her a "one-woman bailout" of America's fashion industry. Her penchant for off-the-rack clothing has now put in her in the unenviable role of reviving an industry hard hit by the current recession.

It is amazing that only a year ago, these same fashion experts were saying that Mrs. Obama needed a makeover to a "softer" image. Now her fashion sensibilities are the new rage and she is a role model for working moms in America. Amazing what winning an election can do. Since I am not in the fashion industry, I do not share the same enthusiasm about Michelle Obama's attire. What I am excited about is the way she has and will continue to carry herself as a beautiful, strong, intelligent and professional African-American woman who epitomizes all those sisters out there who make a living and a home for their families.

She is being compared to Jacqueline Kennedy, but I would rather make the comparison to the Bethunes, Angelous, Winfreys and Berrys of our community. Beauty. Grace. Strength. Faith. Wisdom. Nurturing.

Michelle, Malia and Sasha will get attention for their activities, but the real focus should be on Barack. The majority of the American people entrusted their support to Barack Obama to be the leader this country needs at this particular time in our history. That is enough pressure for anyone at any time.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

WTF Moment #2

This moment is brought to you by the division of divorce settlements. For the first time in American legal history, a Latino man in New York State is asking for a unique settlement from his estranged wife. He is asking for his kidney back.

That's right, his kidney! He gave his wife one of his kidneys as he was the best match for her when she needed a transplant. Now that they are getting divorced, he wants that kidney back. If he does not or cannot get that organ returned, he will accept a payment of $100,000 in lieu of the kidney. I know how hard it is to get a wedding or engagement ring back, so good luck on the kidney.

If this does not qualify as a case for marriage counseling, I don't know what does. I do not have any other particulars in the case, like whether adultery was involved for example, but it is a sign that if your kidney was a perfect match for your spouse, then maybe it was meant to be that you were suppose to be together 'til death intervenes. I wonder what those folks that are concerned about the sanctity of marriage would say about this case.

I am sure that the judge adjudicating the divorce will not grant that motion, but you never know in this day and age. All I can say is that marriage should mean more than a legalized date or a disposable relationship, and no divorce should be this petty. It is my hope that this couple can come to some amicable terms and part ways peacefully or somehow work out their differences and reconcile.

Until then, this is a classic WTF moment.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rage and Wisdom

I am always amazed when I see Ann Coulter on television. I wonder how someone so beautiful can be so vitriolic and invidious. Her perceived snub by the Today Show yesterday invoked the Coulter that has, whether good or bad, made her a best-selling author and conservative icon when she had her moment on the aforementioned show this morning. Her rage against those who oppose her political thought process is unbridled and unrepentant.

She says things that I could not get away with in the political process. As a former elected official, I know there are certain ways you have to make your point without being overtly abrasive and disrespectful. Even more so as an African-American male who is very opinionated. But Coulter is rewarded by her supporters and even encouraged to attack unmercifully again and again.

I have many Republican friends whom I disagree with on a regular basis, but our discussions have rarely degenerated to the conversation I could only imagine would happen if I encountered Coulter. The question in my mind becomes what is the difference between Coulter and say, Rev. Jeremiah Wright? In this time of hopeful expectations and a call for national renewal, hateful political opinion, on either side, should be put on the back burner.

Which leads me to the moment of wisdom. At the request of President-elect Obama, James Earl Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton and President Bush will have lunch together with Obama today. It is a great moment for former U.S. Presidents and the current president to basically have an informal sit-down with the next president.

If I was in the room, there would be so many questions I would want to ask, but probably would not have enough time. However, it opens the door for those former leaders to consult frequently with the 44th President of the United States as he grapples with the worst economic situation in decades, as well as a very politically unstable world.

In reality, the final decision on any matter will lie with Obama for the next four years, but to invoke the tradition of tapping the wisdom of the elders is a stroke of genius. It is a shame that it has not occurred more often, but I hope that every new occupant of the White House will carry that tradition on, because as mortals we know that our elders will not be able to impart that wisdom forever.

In summation, disagree without being disagreeable and summon the wisdom of those who have been down the road before. From a political perspective, you cannot go wrong with that philosophy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cease Fire and New Hire

Two things this morning I will touch on briefly. The crisis in the Middle East (when is there not a crisis in the Middle East) has escalated into a ground war in the Gaza Strip. This was a fear from the very beginning of this latest conflict and proof that Israel wants to totally cripple Hamas.

Despite very diplomatic statements, Israel cannot be at ease until the political party that does not recognize Israel's right to exist is no longer capable of doing severe damage.However, the rush to move indicates that a cease-fire will go into effect within the next fourteen days. Why fourteen days? Because on January 20th, President Bush will no longer be in office and Israel would like to accomplish its mission while they have a known friend in office.

Ever since the Democratic Primaries, there has been a concern that Obama will not be as friendly, meaning lenient, towards Israel as Bush currently is. I believe that every U.S. President from this moment on will be friendly towards Israel. Israel has the right to exist and has held that right since 1947. Unless Israel commits atrocities beyond mortal comprehension towards the Palestinian people, that will not change, arguments on proportional attacks not withstanding.

As for the new hire, the nomination of Leon Panetta for CIA Director does not "light my Lucky" as the old expression goes. Panetta may be able to handle the job, but he currently has no intelligence experience. However, considering the current actions of the U.S. intelligence community over the past eight years, that may be a good thing.

For those of us in Mississippi that remember, Panetta, a former U.S. Congressman from California, was the mastermind behind the resignation of Mike Espy as Secretary of Agriculture. Panetta, as President Clinton's Chief of Staff, pushed hard behind the scenes to get Espy out while he was under investigation by the Justice Department, while also lobbying the President to appoint someone from his home state. It is known throughout the Beltway that California politicians covet the Secretary of Agriculture position as they constantly remind all who would listen that their state is the largest agriculture producer in the country. By the way, in case you forgot, Espy was cleared of all charges.

Panetta is a Washington insider to the nth degree. Maybe that is what Obama needs in that office, but this appointment will draw more criticism than any other appointment of the Obama team, primarily because of his lack of intelligence experience. In a time where the credibility of the agency is in question, it is telling that no one with significant experience was deemed worthy enough of changing that perception.

Panetta is a gamble for Obama, but it may be one that pays off. For the sake of our national security, let's hope so.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Richardson does the right thing

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson surprised many people yesterday when he withdrew his name from consideration to be the next Commerce Secretary. He withdrew as an investigation is under way in his home state to determine if a California company that received lucrative state infrastructure contracts got those contracts because of the big contributions they gave to Richardson's re-election campaign.

In light of the Blagojevich investigation in Illinois, it is very enlightening of Richardson to realize that this would hinder his confirmation, even though I believe him when he says he did nothing wrong. Richardson has had a distinguished career in public service and has been a source of pride in the Latino political community. President-elect Obama definitely wanted Richardson on his team in some capacity.

But due to the very nature of the position Richardson was appointed to, there can be no sign of impropriety as well as any misguided signals that you have to pay to play with the Obama administration. Richardson is an above the board politician and all of the facts will reveal such as the investigation moves forward.

At that point in time, when all the smoke as cleared, Obama will bend over backwards to find a spot for Richardson to fill at a time where his expertise will be greatly appreciated. Right now, the only Latinos in a Cabinet position now is U.S. Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA). Hopefully Obama can replace Richardson with another member from that community but there are no leading candidates that have hit the radar.

Meanwhile, Obama will have to hit the ground running without a key component of his team filled. Despite that fact, Richardson did the right thing in drawing that attention away from the President-elect.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Epiphany this Sunday

Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

Grace, Mercy and Peace from God, our Heavenly Father, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

This is Epiphany Sunday, the day celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi, better known as The Three Wise Men. As the story goes, the Magi followed the Star of Bethlehem to the manger where Jesus was born and offered the three significant gifts of gold, for His magnificence, frankincense for His forgiveness of our sins and myrrh for His death and resurrection.

This morning I quickly want to focus on this definition of epiphany: a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something. My epiphany this morning is concerning my son. As I wake up to write this, I was hit with how blessed I am to have him healthy and engaged in my life. When I heard about the death of Jett Travolta yesterday, I started reflecting on how God has blessed me from June 10, 2002.

First of all, my son was born when I was 36 years old. Before then, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not be a father on my own. Now grant it, I was not as old as Abraham, but I was just as resigned to the fact that I would not be a father nonetheless. I was a stepfather, but I had not had the privilege of bringing another child into this world, nor was there any indication it was going to happen until October 2001.

So when that fateful day arrived, I experienced what many people have taken for granted, especially in this day and age when it seems like children more than half my age have more than one child. It was a beautiful experience and things seemed to be going without a hitch. However, on the morning of June 11, 2002, as I was holding him in my arms, I heard a disturbing sound.

Sean Christopher Fleming was wheezing. I was sensitive to this because when I was born, I was diagnosed with having asthma, a terrible breathing disorder that I had inherited. I alerted the nurse about the wheezing and an hour later I was told to bring my wife to the hospital's neo-natal care unit. There was my son, all nine pounds of him, in an incubator. The doctor found fluid in his lungs and it was a touch-and-go situation.

Looking at all of the other babies in the unit, many of them prematurely born and under weight, I would visit my son and whisper to him that he was my hero and that the other babies were looking up to him. I told him that if he would make it, the other babies would as well. It did not dawn on me how close to death he was, and trust me that was a good thing.

Now, six and a half years later, my son is a vibrant, active first-grader. He is an expert on all video games involving Sonic the Hedgehog and is a natural left-handed pull hitter. He is smart and handsome and healthy. As I hear about tragedies experienced by other families and having had to deal with public policy to address asthma and sudden infant death syndrome, my epiphany is that God has allowed Sean to overcome that and become a joy to all that encounter him.

I do not know what the future holds for him, but I am glad that he is part of my present. No matter what else happens in my life, this blessing God has given me is my greatest accomplishment and I will cherish it as long as I have a a right mind.

On this Epiphany Sunday, step back and think about your blessings. I believe that you will encounter an epiphany of your own and appreciate the gifts that God has given you in your life.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ward 2 race shaping up to be the best

Of the seven wards in the city of Jackson, the most coveted prize is the Ward 2 seat currently held by my former professor, Leslie Burl McLemore. There are rumors that McLemore will not run for re-election, but as the March 6 deadline still looms more than 60 days away, that may change.

Here are the players we do know about:

Chokwe Lumumba, a prominent attorney and human rights leader in Jackson. Lumumba was the attorney of record for the prisoners in the Attica (NY) State Prison rebellion and is the founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. He is also a successful AAU basketball coach and motivational speaker.

Clarence Bolls, co-owner of Gloria's Kitchen restaurant. Bolls has been an outspoken supporter of current Jackson Mayor Frank Melton as well as a champion against crime in his adopted Georgetown and Virden Addition communities, where his restaurant is located. He is a frequent guest on the WOAD-AM talk show, "Straight Talk."

Wydett Hawkins, former owner of the successful WascoTown laundry chain in Jackson and former television personality. Currently, Hawkins is a real estate developer, his latest project being Hallmark Estates in Northwest Jackson. His claim to fame however has been his generational fight to re-open Lake Hico, a cooling pond for Entergy's Rex Brown Steam Plant, for recreational use, as it was during the Jim Crow era in Mississippi.

If McLemore decides to step aside, this race will be the one to watch in Jackson. All three men bring a flavor to the race that will give the residents of Ward 2 three good options to choose from. All are great speakers and they are passionate about one thing, improving the city of Jackson and their ward. The other dynamic is that more candidates may enter the fray should McLemore decide not to run, and Ward 2, unlike other areas of the city, does not have a drought on potential qualified candidates.

Ward 2 is the most affluent African-American majority ward in the city, as well as the state of Mississippi. It is also the ward with the highest voter turnout in Jackson. The makeup of the ward is primarily upper middle class African-Americans who have long generational roots in the city. Many were prominent educators and many currently are leaders in the Jackson business community. Some of the most active, and effective, neighborhood associations in the city reside in Ward 2, as well as a majority of the candidates seeking the position of mayor.

Despite its clout in city politics however, Ward 2 has a glaring problem of economic underdevelopment. When you compare Ward 2 with Ward 1, the Northeast Jackson White-majority area of the city, you can see Ward 2 has some catching up to do. Many of the leaders in the community feel that McLemore has not done enough to push that development, as well as address the basic needs that any ward wants, crime protection and infrastructure improvement.

Nevertheless, despite complaints, McLemore has been able to hold the seat for nearly a decade. Should he run though, this will be the stiffest collection of opponents he has faced since the seat became open eight years ago. Regardless of the result, this will be a watershed moment in that ward's history.

One would figure that the Ward 6 race would be as compelling considering, as for right now, it is the only open seat on the ballot. But the future of Jackson, especially in the African-American community, swings through Ward 2. I believe this year's election will live up to its significance.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Trial Delay First Step for Melton's Departure

Yesterday, the federal judge in the Frank Melton case granted a 30-day delay due to the congestive heart failure that the Jackson mayor is suffering from. An independent physician said that Melton needs more time to rest up before he stands trial on civil rights violations for improperly tearing down part of a duplex that he claimed was a haven for illegal drug activity.

According to reliable sources, this delay was the first step in putting together a scenario for Melton to plea to a misdemeanor offense, avoid jail time and allow him to resign from the mayor's office, as well as not run for re-election. The political enemies of Melton are already asking for Melton to resign, but the plan is already in effect.

The key variable in this equation, however, is the ever-changing mind of Melton. Melton is known for his eclectic behavior, especially his spur-of-the-moment decision making. A deal can be on the table and then, in the blink of an eye, it is no longer there, due to a last-minute reconsideration by Melton. It is a trademark that goes all the way back to his days as a corporate television executive.

Melton's passion has been the improvement of the quality of life for Jackson, especially how crime affects the youth of this city. He recently admitted, during dueling press conferences between him and the Sheriff/Chief Malcolm McMillan, that his administration has failed in its attempt to curb crime in the city of Jackson. Not exactly what you would want to say before you embark on a re-election campaign.

His passion though has led to a reckless three and a half years of government. Now there is plenty of blame to go around as far as governmental ineptitude in Jackson, but Melton is the mayor. He is the leader who received 88 percent of the vote to change the direction of Jackson, to make it a more viable player among American cities. That has not happened.

His health has deteriorated rapidly since taking office in 2005. He has not been disciplined in his health care regimen, primarily due to the strains and demands of public service. If this deal is on the table to allow him as gracious an exit as possible, Melton should take it and stay with it.

Melton has tried to do it his way, now it is time to do the right thing, to allow what I hope, a new, positive chapter in Jackson's history to begin.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

As we are in the first hours of this new year, my wish is for everyone to have a prosperous one. Let us remember that as a new administration gets ready to take office, we also have an obligation to make our nation a better place to live.

All politics is local and within our locality, let us commit to change the dialogue from negative to positive. Let us talk about vision instead of division. I am excited about the possibility of real change coming into being and will do my small part to help bring that change about.

As the preacher said last night in watch service, "In 2009, let us put the past behind."

'Nuff said.