Saturday, February 28, 2009

March Madness

As an alumnus of an HBCU, basketball season doesn't start for me until tournament time. I look at the regular season as nothing more than a glorified pre-season, because most of the HBCUs will not have a record good enough to get an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Therefore, winning the conference tournament is the only ticket to The Big Dance. I remember the year I covered the SWAC Tournament, Prairie View A&M University, had not won a game in the conference during the regular season. However, during the tournament, they swept the field and won the SWAC Tournament, giving them the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, and basically being a guaranteed first-round casualty.

No historically black college has won the NCAA Tournament, and with the way recruiting goes, it would be a "Hoosiers" moment if one did. However, it is good exposure for the young men and women to go to the NCAA Tournament, as well as bragging rights in the conference they play in. It gives the alumni one glimmer of hope that this year could be the year, but as a lifelong Cubs fan, I can tell you that is more of a burden than a joy.

Nevertheless, I am getting ready to go through the process, my hopes for my alma mater rising and falling with every jump shot and free throw. I will be glad if my school gets to The Big Dance one more time and I will proud of their efforts even though they will out of the tournament in the first round. That is why they call it March Madness.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Cup and the Saucer

We are in for a fun ride. President Obama presented the outline to his proposed budget yesterday and got the talking heads, well, talking. There are those that say we cannot pay for it and those that are saying that it is bold and progressive.

I say it is the clay to the potters in Congress, especially those in the United States Senate. I say that based on what I saw develop during the debate and passage of the stimulus package. The Democratic leaders in the House put together a package that represented eight years of frustration, putting money into pet projects and using their new muscle to force it down the Republican's throats. In response, the Republicans walked away from the bill.

However, in the Senate, thoughtful debate was held for the most part, calmer heads prevailed, and a compromise was reached where at least three Republicans could support it. Now we have the President's Budget before Congress. The actual budget will be presented in April, but the outline was given this week and it seems destined to steamroll through the House.

It will then be up to the Senate to dissect it, debate it and tweak it before the budget bill goes into conference and then passage. Get use to it, because this is the pattern the President wants for most of his legislative agenda. Being a former member of the Senate, and a Constitutional Law professor, Obama believes that old cup and saucer story.

For those who don't know the story, legend has it that George Washington, then the presiding officer over the Constitutional Convention, invited Thomas Jefferson to dinner. Jefferson, who was an anti-Federalist, and not a big fan of the direction the convention was going, obliged.

During dinner, and lively discussion, Jefferson asked Washington the question about the need for a bicameral legislature. His objection was based on the British Parliament, where he personally felt that the House of Commons was effective but the House of Lords was unnecessary. Washington then asked Jefferson, as coffee was being served, "Why do you have a cup and a saucer for your coffee?"

Jefferson replied, "I pour the coffee out of the cup and into the saucer to cool the coffee." Washington smiled and then retorted, "That's why we need a bicameral legislature." Washington further explained that the House was the cup, gathering the hot passion of the masses, like coffee. The saucer was then the Senate, cooling the passions and letting reason prevail.

The Obama strategy seems to be to let that theory play out. That should make these next four years very interesting.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lifting the veil

Today Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the reversal of a policy he had to enforce during the Bush administration. Now, on a case-by-case basis, photos of the arrival of flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base will be allowed. This new policy mirrors the same policy on funeral ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

For many of us, we thought that the reason photos were not allowed at a Dignified Transfer Ceremony were political. If photos of flag-draped caskets were shown, support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would diminished. If that was the plan, it backfired.

In a day and age where pictures of the war itself can be transmitted instantly over the Internet, information about the wars were getting out, and in graphic detail. Support for the wars did diminish and mistrust in the government increased, something that should not happen in these times.

Actually, it was the first President Bush that was the one who implemented the ban, only because he was embarrassed. While that President Bush was having a press conference in 1989, engaging in a light moment with the reporters, a split-screen showed flag-draped caskets arriving at Dover, the casualties of the Panama conflict. While the timing was dubious, the reaction by the president was overreaching.

Now there are families that will be uncomfortable with the showing of flag-draped caskets of loved ones, but they will have the final say and protocols have been put in place to accommodate media outlets. We need to be reminded of the reality of war. That reality is that young men and women give their lives daily to defend our freedom.

We never should try to sanitize the truth of war. It is violent event, plain and simple. Unfortunately, as nation-states exist and diplomacy often breaks down, it is a part of the evolution of human society. We need to have a constant reminder to try harder to get along with each other and respect each others right to co-exist on this earth.

We need to see the Dignified Transfer Ceremony, in its precision-like glory, and act accordingly to minimize the need to have them. I am glad that veil has been lifted.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Common Purpose

"Imagine if next year, the entire nation had a president they could believe in. A president who rallied all Americans around a common purpose." - Senator Barack Obama, February 2008

"We will rebuild, we will recover and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."- President Barack Obama, February 2009

What a difference a year makes. Last year, candidate Obama, given the responsibility of responding to President Bush's last State of the Union Address, provided a theme of hope for the American people, challenging them to believe that we can have a common purpose.

Last night, President Obama laid out that common purpose. We have to work together to recover from this economic and security crisis. We have to work together to rebuild our infrastructure, our economic foundation, our education system and our political goodwill. We have to work together to make our nation stronger, healthier, more secure and more prosperous.

I believe we have a leader in the White House that will use his bully pulpit to continue to keep us, as a nation, on task, even while others are still willing to continue down a destructive path. Now is not the time to hunker down and forget our moral responsibility to reach out to one another, to help our fellow Americans when they are down, and to support our fellow Americans when they are in harm's way.

We always have to remember that we are all in this together. A former president reminded us of the Biblical principle, "A divided house cannot stand." It is time out for petty and divisive politics. It is time now for bold ideas and positive political dialogue.

The question becomes are Americans willing to commit to this, especially our political leaders in both parties, or are old habits too hard to break. The coming days, months and years will tell.

It is my hope that America passes this test of our character and strength. It is my hope that we all embark on, and fulfill, this common purpose.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

John and Gloria

Here is my opinion about the actions of two people: John Legend and Gloria Allred.

First on John, bravo Mr. Legend. I read the open letter Legend sent to the New York Post and I must commend him for taking a stand on this issue. Very often, celebrities have to make a decision on whether to become outspoken on issues affecting their fans. Michael Jordan, for example, made a conscious decision to stay out of the limelight on social issues to continue to draw mass appeal, make money and then using his foundation to fund causes he believed.

People were disappointed that he did not speak out on the sweatshops that were making his shoes, but he chose to use Nike's money to improve the lives of people quietly. Legend has made a decision to do the opposite. He is willing to put his celebrity to use in activism, imploring his fellow artists to join in a boycott of the Post, such as denying the Post media access and not buying the paper itself.

I wish him well in his efforts.

As for Gloria Allred, I was initially repulse at her intervention in the Nadya Suleman controversy, but then I thought about her track record. Allred is a product of the civil rights movement, a champion for the underdog, an enemy toward discrimination.

Allred is not afraid to mix it up for what she believes is right and she is willing to laugh at herself in the process. Allred is loud in her public demeanor, but most of time, she is right and she is a legal scholar, especially in the area of discrimination cases.

Allred took an action to file a complaint of behalf of the Suleman octuplets with California's Child Protective Services. She did that before against Michael Jackson concerning his children, in which the King of Pop basically told her to go to hell. We don't know what the final action was with CPS, but there have not been any more babies dangling over balconies in the Jackson household lately.

Now CPS is not the agency I would have appealed to, as they have come under fire for their CIA-style of investigating and the families they have destroyed because of those investigations, but that is another topic for another day.

Nevertheless, Allred has filed the complaint and has given Suleman an ultimatum of this Thursday to accept an offer of help from a non-profit neo-natal nursing group or, I guess, she will seek to have the children removed. Just observing Suleman from a distance, I don't think she will respond to ultimatums well.

So I am torn. I believe Allred is using her influence to try to force a positive outcome for all parties involved. I just think she should have used a different strategy. If I had Allred's celebrity and legal clout, I probably would have offered the neo-natal services, a job at the law firm and to host a fundraiser to take care of the mortgage of Suleman's mother first, and then issued the ultimatum. That would have been a better judge of her mental state than any belligerent, though well-intentioned, action.

Allred, if she had made that kind of offer to Suleman face-to-face, could have given her the good ol' eyeball test, and made a determination as to whether the children are better off in foster care. Again, I am not a big fan of foster care, especially in the case of the octuplets, so I hope that a positive resolution can be found.

In summary, celebrity can be a powerful tool, an overwhelming presence, or a enormous nuisance. It is best to use it wisely.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar thoughts

First of all, I have to say the Oscar ceremony is just too long to sit and watch the whole show. I'd rather watch golf without Tiger Woods or a repeat of the 2008 Mississippi State-Auburn football game than sit through an Oscar ceremony.

However, I am glad the award show exists and, despite its length, it is the most fabulous night in the entertainment world. Just like the Heisman Trophy in college football, it is the history of the award that gives the Oscar its special place of reverence.

Which is why it was so gratifying to see three women of color competing for an Oscar and seeing a movie about the aspirations and downfalls that exist in one of the largest ghettos in the world received eight Oscars, including Best Picture, the most coveted prize.

'Slumdog Millionaire', a classic film in the Bollywood (Indian) film making tradition, a story about a young boy whose life is transformed because of the love of a woman and the realization of his dreams intertwining with his appearance on a hit game show, was a hit for more than just the excellent directing and music.

'Slumdog', as the new lexicon refers to the movie, was a moment in the revival of the small, independent film. In this time of recession, the motion picture industry is suffering along with the rest of us, although the designer outfits would lead you to believe otherwise. The box office revenues are holding their own, but like any business, financing for new projects are getting hard to come by.

Hit the hardest are independent films, who look for a major motion picture studio to act as a distributor of the movie, to market in American theaters. That takes a keen eye from the studio executives, as well as other investors to float capital, so the distributor does not take a total hit if their hunches are wrong.

Hopefully, with the success of 'Slumdog' this year, those independent film makers will continue to see their greatest work put on the big screen, and the quality of the art of film making will continue to improve.

There were two upsets in my opinion last night. The first was 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' beating 'Iron Man' for the Visual Effects Oscar. Whereas I respect the Academy for recognizing the visual wizardry used to turn Brad Pitt from an old looking baby into himself, a man older than his looks, 'Iron Man' was probably one of the best uses of CGI (Computer Generated Image) technology ever. But I am biased toward the comic book heroes of my past.

The other upset was Sean Penn defeating Mickey Rourke for Best Actor. The nomination alone was redemptive moment for the tormented Rourke, as was the Best Supporting Actor nomination for Robert Downey, Jr., but many folks thought that Rourke, who won the SAG Award in the same category, was as much of a lock as Heath Ledger winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

However, Penn transformed into Harvey Milk like Denzel Washington transformed into Malcolm X and Will Smith into Muhammad Ali. It is hard to go to a movie to see a story that you remember or a public figure you know without wondering if it is going to come across as one of those quickly thrown together television biopics, like 'The Michael Jordan Story' for example. Penn's performance was worthy of the award, let alone the recognition it received.

The great moments of the ceremony were Kate Winslet's and Penelope Cruz's acceptance speeches. With Cruz almost hyperventilating and the whistle heard around the entertainment world by Winslet's dad, it reminds us of why this moment is so special, and why we are fans. When the best of the best have the most human of moments, we connect with them and we relate to how we would act in that moment.

In all, it was another magical, historical moment. Congrats to Cruz, Tariji P. Henson and Viola Davis for taking another major step for actors and actresses of color. Now it is off to the movies to see what next year's favorites will be.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Taking up our mantle

2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

In these days of despair, it is the proper time for us to take up the mantle, or charge, of our Christian faith. We were given a Great Commission to proclaim the Gospel all over the earth, and in everything that we do.

Instead, we let the troubles of the world cloud our judgement and blind us from God's glory. That is when we have to go to our instruction manual, The Holy Bible, and read. That is when we have to go to our secret place and pray.

In these dire moments on earth, we can please God by showing our thanks to Him, for our good health, for living another day, for family and friends, for being the ultimate provider for us. It is that acknowledgement of His good works which God appreciates and reciprocates.

As long as we are thankful, we will be blessed. As long as we are faithful, we are able to be thankful, therefore we will be blessed. As long as we are focused on God and our mission on this earthly journey, we are able to be faithful, which allows us to be thankful, and in return, we will be blessed.

It is a simple equation, or formula, for success. So simple, but yet we disregard it when we lose our focus. An example is when Job lost his hedge of protection from God and Satan took everything from him, except his wife. Job's wife, who had been faithful, lost focus and even urged Job to curse God for their misfortune. But Job did not lose focus. He remained faithful and thankful, and God blessed him sevenfold.

Job was not a superhuman, but an ordinary man who had attained wealth through his hard work and faithfulness. However, he understood that his wealth was not in earthly riches, but in the favor of God. Because of that faithfulness, Job was awarded prosperity and comfort.

Our help comes from God. Our faithfulness and our thanksgiving keeps us in favor with God. Our focus is our key to attaining salvation from God. Take up the mantle and stay focused on Him from which comes our help.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Resistance is real

Rick Santelli has become the face of the Resistance. His rant this week on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, dubbed the Chicago Tea Party, is the latest installment of the vociferous fight against Obama's policy proposals.

The GOP governors are mounting a resistance of their own, publicly turning down funds from the stimulus package, citing the restrictions attached to the legislation are too strict to be effectively used. This is not random, nor should it have been unexpected.

I believe the battle cry was started when Rush Limbaugh stated, without fear of retribution, that he wanted President Obama to fail. Initially, it came across as an idle rant. Now, based on the actions we saw during the debate in Congress, and the subsequent aforementioned actions, we know that the plan is in motion.

Now that the resistance has fired the first shots, the Obama team has to counter, and show no mercy. However, the weapon they have to use is not political retribution. It has to be aggressive intellect and unbridled populism.

The President has implemented part of that strategy, travelling the country to sell the stimulus plan. He needs to continue that strategy and his team needs to ramp up their populist skills. It would also be important to make public the nominees for Commerce and HHS quickly. The longer the team is not complete, the tougher it is for the administration to carry out the agenda.

Which reminds me, what is taking so long for Rep. Solis to be approved as the Labor Secretary? Another thought for another day.

Meanwhile, Obama has to realize now that Washington is not going to change unless pressure is put on them. The President has a State of the Union speech to give Tuesday. That should be the battle cry to crush the resistance.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't ever suppress how you really feel

I was watching some of the reaction about the Post cartoon yesterday and there was a good debate on Rick Sanchez's program between Amy Hughes and a Black history professor. He eventually got to the point where he called Hughes foolish for defending the cartoon. She naturally was offended and started deflecting the issue to some homicide that happened, I assume, the night before.

I don't think the professor should have called her foolish. However, I am concerned as to what point Hughes suppressed her neck-rolling reflex. Here's what I mean, I think the cartoon should have invoked an emotion in Black people that would naturally allow us to ask WTF? Even if you, in the end, accept the Post's explanation of the cartoon, the question should have been asked.

No matter what our political philosophy is, or what our status is in the world, there are times when our sensibilities should be expressed, not downplayed. A number of Black educated women looked at that cartoon and had a neck-rolling moment, asking out loud what was the cartoonist trying to say. If Hughes had that moment in private, made a few phone calls, and got an explanation that she was comfortable with, that's cool, but she should have let that be known.

We are human beings. We have feelings. Just because we have a gig on national TV doesn't mean that we always have to suppress them. Now Hughes had that neck-rolling moment when she was called foolish for her opinion, so I know she is capable. I just wonder did she do that when she was made aware of the cartoon.

I was told early in my political career that if you have to explain what you did or what you said, it did not come across the way you wanted it to, and you need to fix it. It would have not hurt any Black conservative pundit to demand the Post fix it, not just to them, but to all African-Americans. If Sean Delanos did not mean to cross the line, then he should say so, not Black surrogates.

I believe that part of our journey toward racial reconciliation should not mean that we don't have the right to get mad at something that offends us. It is part of who we are and it is healthy. It is medically proven that suppression of feelings leads to an early death. I will not be a fatality of suppressed emotions.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The most obvious blog I will ever write

There is no way I could call myself a serious African-American blogger and not express my opinion about the editorial cartoon that ran February 18, 2009 in the New York Post. In case you have been busy, and like me don't read a lot of newspapers, let alone the Post, here is the cartoon:

The artist, Sean Delonas, decided to combine the tragic story of a famous chimpanzee named Travis who went berserk, attacked a woman and was killed by police with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. I guess Delonas did not think highly of the stimulus bill, or the authors of it.

It just so happens that the primary architect of the bill is President Barack Obama, who, as you know, is our nation's first African-American U.S. President. Now before I register my complaint with the thousands of others who called the paper and the public figures that did interviews and press conferences, here is the defense of the cartoon by the Post's Editor-In-Chief, Col Allen:

"The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy."

Ok, so the New York Post editorial board dislikes the stimulus package so much that they thought a simian wrote it and now that one of the species is dead, they will have to find a new author for the next bailout bill. Usually when someone uses the words "parody" and "mocks" in a sentence, they are usually referring to something funny.

Mr. Allen, what in God's name is funny about this cartoon? History has reminded us that past political cartoons have depicted Blacks as primates. Rush Limbaugh compared Black South African officials with baboons on his short-lived TV show. So for your paper, not known for tactfulness, owned by arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch, to "broadly" compare Travis the Chimp to President Obama, was a bad move on so many levels.

Alright, Mr. Allen, since you have no sensibilities, let me explain to you why I am pissed. Considering the aforementioned history as part of my disgust, if you depict the President as a chimpanzee, and that image shows the animal shot dead by white police officers, in a climate where any U.S. President is a target for assassination, let alone a Black one, the cartoon is in no way funny. It is disgusting and reprehensible.

Mr. Delanos, your invidious attempt at satire was an abominable failure. Now your act sold newspapers and gave you some name recognition, which I guess is the ultimate goal of newspapers these days considering Time magazine's article about the dying industry. But you do know that you draw in a state that has an African-American governor? Governor Patterson said in an interview that the Post had some explaining to do.

I guess the objective of editorials, whether written or drawn, is suppose to shock and awe, in the essence of provoking intellectual debate about the issues of the day. However, instead of talking about the merits of the stimulus package, we are having a discussion about racial tensions and sensibilities in America. Therefore, Mr. Delanos and Mr. Allen, the cartoon failed in its mission.

Now as far as I am concerned, the Post's action falls under the category of my favorite quote, "they are who we thought they were." I am not surprised that anyone associated with Murdoch would go there. But even the people that I have little respect for can reach a new level of contempt that pushes my Christian ethics.

This reminds me of when Murdoch bought the Chicago Sun-Times. Mike Royko, the venerable Chicago journalist who wrote a book about Mayor Richard J. Daley's political machine and was the first to predict that Harold Washington would become the first Black mayor of the Windy City, left the Sun-Times and, literally, went across the street to write for the rival Chicago Tribune, because of Murdoch's reputation for yellow journalism.

That was a sad day for Chicago, but the city moved on. We, as African-Americans, will move on from this episode as well. However, it is important to document our anger and disgust and continue to put pressure on the Post to apologize for this cartoon.

Now in the end, I will be surprised if anything related to Murdoch would show contrition, and nothing short of a total economic boycott of the paper would get any kind of remorseful response. Nevertheless, I want to add my voice to the chorus of discontent.

I know that next week somebody will do something else to offend us, but this week our focus should be solely on the New York Post. Not only in our anger, but in our prayers for God to eventually change their hardened hearts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Deuce is gone, the Deuce is gone away...

Yesterday, The New Orleans Saints released their all-time leading rusher, Deuce McAllister.

McAllister, who would have received $7 million this upcoming season from the Saints, had come back this year from a serious knee injury suffered in the 2007 season. Deuce was also suspeneded for four games for steroid use by the NFL.

McAllister has been the face of the franchise since 2001, his first year professionally, after being the most prolific running back in Ole Miss football history. He replaced Rickey Williams and was instrumental in turning the Saints into a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. Deuce, who is 30 years old, is native of Lena, Mississippi and has become a successful businessman and philanthropist in his home state.

I remember the first time I saw Deuce play up close. It was in 2000, when it looked like he would have legitimate chance at winning the Heisman Trophy. It was an awesome display against Arkansas. I can't remember the stats for the game, but I remember one play, the opening kickoff. Deuce caught the ball on the 5 yard line, and ran it all the way for a touchdown. It was a long day for the Razorbacks as they had no answer for McAllister all game.

I knew he would be a special player then, and he is still a special player now. When he is healthy, McAllister is a load to tackle and he still has breakaway speed. He is not as fast as Reggie Bush, but he is more of an every-down back than Bush will ever be. The Saints, I believe, were pleased with the maturation of Pierre Thomas, the second year running back from Illinois, and figure he can be the every-down back that Deuce was for them.

As much as I like Thomas, I don't think he can replace McAllister, which will then put more pressure on Drew Brees, one of the most prolific passers in professional football. Deuce's hard running style kept defenses honest to allow Brees to maximize his weapons of Bush, Marcus Colston and Lance Moore. Saints fans will have to hope that Thomas brings that same respect on the field.

McAllister finished the 2008 campaign healthy, which means that an NFL franchise will pick him up. I am guessing that he will either go to the 49ers, Steelers or Patriots. The Dolphins, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bills are probably going to look at him as well. Wherever he lands, he will have a great positive impact on that team and make the Saints sorry for letting him go.

Football is a business and loyalty in sports is all but extinct. The Saints looked at Deuce as a 30 year old running back with two surgically repaired knees and a $7 million contract looming, but he was much more than that. He was the identity of the Saints. Despite Brees' heroics and Bush's flair, the people in New Orleans, and Saints fans everywhere, loved Deuce. The two-time Pro Bowler was the ambassador of the team and his jersey was still more popular than Bush's or Brees'. When the Saints came back home after Hurricane Katrina made them wandering gypsies for the 2005 season, it was Deuce that the city embraced as a hero when they returned. It was Deuce's heroics that got the Saints one game away from the Super Bowl, a game the Saints have never played in.

His number 26 will probably be retired in the Superdome someday, and it should be. It sure would have been nice though to see a man that has given so much to make the team successful be given the chance to retire as a Saint.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Three things to get off my chest

Today is a venting day. There were three things that I have been picking up through the different media outlets available that really have irked me, but I did not feel that compelled to write a separate article on each one. Thus, periodically, I will combine thoughts about multiple topics in one article to get it off my chest and move on from it. Yes, this my version of a controlled burn.

Topic One: Leave Senator Burris alone.

In their zeal to impeach and remove former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois House members conducting the impeachment investigation did not do a thorough job of questioning witnesses. Case in point, and not verbatim:

"Mr. Burris, were you in contact with any member of Blagojevich's staff prior to your appointment, especially concerning fundraising?"


"Moving on..."

Burris feeling compelled on his own to clarify, since after all, he was the state's attorney general at one time, filed an affidavit a day later to further explain any relationship and conversations he had with, as it turns out, the governor's brother. Burris was forthright in coming forward, he did not perjure himself.

Governor Quinn, be a man and move Illinois forward, stop using Republicans to do your dirty work. I expect you to support your junior U.S. Senator when he runs for the full term in 2010.

Topic Two: Death threats to Nadya Suleman

How much of an idiot are you to threaten to kill the mother of a child, let alone the mother of the longest surviving set of octuplets in American medical history, let alone the mother of 14 children. I am willing to bet some of those sick dogs claim to be Christian. You are more like King Herod than Christ. You remember Herod, don't you? He was the man who had the first born of Jewish families killed around the birth of Christ as an attempt to slay the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Savior of the world.

If you brilliant folks had some sense of intelligence, I would assume then that you would realize those children will be worse off without their mother. But it is obvious that you do not deserve to be amongst civilized human beings. It is my hope that the police are taking these threats seriously and the District Attorney will prosecute those individuals to the highest extent of the law available when captured.

I have been critical of Nadya Suleman's thinking process, but I would never want her to die. She has brought 14 children into the world and I pray that she is able to provide for all of them. My faith allows me to believe the children will get what they need, as a testimony to the God I serve. But as a citizen of this world, any person that is not capable of discussing an issue without resorting to threats of violence should not be allowed to walk freely in this society. If you are reading this and you were one the folks that had the need to threaten the life of another human being, may God have mercy on your soul.

Topic three: Red-light Cameras

People in Mississippi are seeing red about the new traffic light cameras that are being installed and operated throughout the state. The cameras are activated whenever the traffic light turns red. If you are snapped running a red light, you are then sent a ticket, based on the information connected to the car tag on the vehicle.

In Jackson alone, six hundred tickets are being challenged by citizens who feel that they were wrongly pictured. Get over it. While visiting Chicago, I found out I received a ticket. Since I was borrowing my father's car, he got the ticket. Oh, well, I got caught. The ticket is paid, we moved on.

Now I know Mississippi is know as the place where change dies a slow, painful death, but this is ridiculous. In our weekly Monday Morning Breakfast Club discussion, it came up that one the community leaders in the city claimed the the cameras were discriminating against Blacks. In case you did not know, Jackson has majority Black population of over 75 percent. Hmmm...what are the odds that the majority of those ticketed would be Black? I'm not a math major, but I have a basic sense of probability and automated, inanimate objects do not discriminate. People do.

So you are telling me that you would rather trust the judgment of a human police officer than a camera? Ok. Well, the Mississippi House heard your cry and voted to ban the cameras. The Senate will take up the measure next. The reason why this became a pressing legislative issue is that some key legislators got tickets from the cameras and could not get Sheriff/Chief McMillan to waive the tickets, primarily because a private company runs the service and gets paid handsomely providing that service.

Had the Legislature passed a bill when I was serving that would have allowed the cameras, there was language in the bill that would have set parameters on how much a company could charge for providing the service. Since federal law allowed the municipalities to use the cameras, they went ahead with them anyway and made their own financial arrangements with the service providers.

Also, as I reminded my former colleagues in attendance at the meeting, there may be federal funds attached to the cameras that may affect future transportation projects. However, losing federal funds is not an abnormal practice in Mississippi. I just wish that anger and resistance to change were not the driving force behind Mississippi public policy.

Ok, I feel better now.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Yesterday was a good day

A day after my first Valentine's Day with the new wife, I spent some quality time with my son, in which he commenced to beat my brains out in video games like 'Alien Hominoid' and some incarnation of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Before that one-sided affair, we attended church, where the assistant pastor gave the sermon.

He had an inspiring word yesterday, despite the fact that he is working more hours at his 9-to-5 job and he was really looking tired. Goes to prove that when you have a word from the Lord, He will give you the strength needed to carry forth the message. I was so inspired by the sermon Sunday that it gave me the idea I had been looking for to write my new book. Look for it in the coming months.

By the way, my goal to re-learn Spanish has been sidetracked a bit as I have been working hard to find gainful employment in this recession and keeping this blog current, but I still believe by the end of 2009, I will be fluent in the language. My Facebook duties have also kept my mind from turning into mush, and I am thankful for all the love I receive there daily.

Anyway, back to yesterday. After dropping my son off early at his mother's, so they could do some shopping, I drove to one of the local radio stations that has a weekly talk show on Sundays, just on a whim. When I got there, the guest host was smiling from ear-to-ear, because he thought he would have to do the show solo. He, a former House colleague of mine, likes it whenever I am on the show, because we can get into all sorts of topics to discuss politically. We had a blast for two hours, talking about the stimulus package, the legislative session and the local political races.

Afterwards, I hung out with my friend who has been battling breast cancer for the last couple of years. We started a foundation together last year called the Rebirth Foundation. Its mission is to help women with breast cancer, specifically those women that have the Her2 gene, which makes the cancer more aggressive. A select population of Jewish and African-American women have the gene, however it is not widely discussed in the network of breast cancer awareness. Our job is to make sure that discussion happens.

We caught up a little bit, talked about her new book, which will be released this year, and discussed plans and goals for the upcoming months. One goal is to get back on the golf course with her husband, since both of us are left-handed golfers. Lefties have to stick together.

When I got home, I had a quiet dinner with my wife and then fell asleep together in the middle of a 'House' marathon on USA Network. It was a good day.

I think it is important to enjoy the good days and cherish them. In my life, as hectic as it has been over the last decade, one does not get those moments often, let alone whole days, that just remind you of why this earthly experience is suppose to be an enjoyable one.

It is back to the grind this morning of job-seeking, networking, learning and writing. It is not so hard though after being re-energized from having a good day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Joy will come in the morning

2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Mark 1:40-45

We live in a world that is full of challenges. Other than the personal things we encounter in our daily lives, we watch, sometimes with horror and shock, events on the news or read on the Internet things that attack our sensibilities.

We feel for people when they lose their homes in a brush fire or tornado. We are sorrowful when people, famous or not, die in a plane crash. We grieve when we hear of families destroyed by acts of terrorism and war.

We hurt when a family member dies. We agonize when we lose our job. We feel ashamed when we don't meet the expectation of others.

In short, life is hard and the world we live in can be emotionally draining. But take solace in one thing: hope and joy are only a day away.

When we look at the Scriptures this week, we see that faith in a better tomorrow gets us through to another day. If God grants us another day on this earth, then He is giving us another chance to rebuild our character and renew our spirit. This life we exist in is a trial by fire, but diamonds and steel are forged out of fire.

Kipling once advised us that when others are losing their heads, keep ours. Our heads and our hearts have to stay focused on the One true God, the Creator of the Universe, the source of our strength that imparts in us favor to withstand the trials of this world.

No matter what our afflictions or tribulations, our moral compass must always point toward God. Our faith is our strength. It is our bridge over troubled waters, it is the thing that repairs the breach in our soul.

As we daily run the gamut of emotions with all that we are exposed to, we must continue to pursue the evidence of things hoped for and the substance of things unseen. We must continue to be faithful. Our reward for our faith will be delivered and we will know when it is delivered, because it will be when we are delivered past the obstacles in our lives.

We cannot be weary in our faith. We cannot let doubt, despair and fear take hold of us. We are the creation of a God that empowered us to be bold, thoughtful and courageous. We can take heart in that fact and we can take action through our faith.

Just as Noah saw the rainbow, we will see our victory. Joy will come in the morning.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Too far gone, ain't no way back

This week, we saw why this team of rivals concept President Obama is trying to adopt may not be successful in this day and time. U.S. Senator Judd Gregg, R-NH, was tapped by the Obama administration to be the next Secretary of Commerce, and Gregg initially accepted. Then, about a week later, Gregg turn it down and said he did that because the differences between him and the President were too great.

Did Gregg not know that his views were different from the President when he took the job offer? Why would you even entertain the offer if you were that committed to your principles? A conspiracy theorist may think that Gregg knew all along he was not going to go through with this, and that he just wanted to add another setback to the administration early on. I don't believe that myself, but Gregg's stated reasoning is illogical.

There are cynics that may say that Obama was trying to get one less vote against the stimulus package out of Congress. That would have been a bad idea, especially when you are putting that person in a position to carry out a major part of that package. Bottom line, this was just a bad idea. You knew it was bad idea when a Democratic governor of New Hampshire had to promise that he would appoint a Republican to replace Gregg. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour would not have done that if the inverse situation occurred, I can guarantee you that.

The country is not in civil war, we are just in major conflicts overseas. We are not in a depression, just a major recession. Even after 9/11, Bush did not seek Democrats to fill any vacancies he may have had in key positions, he went with people he could trust. I have no idea what kind of relationship Obama and Gregg had when they served in the Senate together, but obviously it was not as sound as they thought it was.

Gregg is too far gone as a conservative to align himself with any Democratic administration. Most Republicans in this day and age are as well, so I would abandon, if I was the President, my search to bring Republicans into the Cabinet. There are many talented Democrats who were loyal to Obama during the campaign that can fill the remaining posts.

The stimulus package vote showed that the spirit of bi-partisanship is going to be a work in progress. For example, I was stunned by Senator Jim DeMint's (R-SC) comments on the Senate floor yesterday, when he kept implying that the American people were going to lose with this stimulus package. If that is the sentiment of the Republicans that voted against the package, then it is time to work the plan to make those dire predictions inaccurate. You can't do that with the foxes guarding the hen house.

As a former legislator, the President should know that an enemy on one piece of legislation may be an ally on another. Gregg would best serve the administration as an occasional ally on Capitol Hill, periodically stopping by the White House to offer his constructive criticism about policy proposals. That invitation should be offered to all Republicans in Congress consistently.

However, it is time to move on from bringing them into the Cabinet. Lincoln was great because he understood the time he was in. Obama needs to do the same.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Experience from the USM forum on Politics and Racism

Last night, I was a panelist at a forum on the University of Southern Mississippi's (USM) campus in Hattiesburg. The topic of the forum was Politics and Racism and I was suppose to be on the panel with the mayor of Laurel, MS and the mayor of Hattiesburg, MS, both African-Americans. Neither showed up, but were replaced by a USM history professor and a member of the Hattiesburg mayor's administration.

The crowd was smaller than expected, but students showed up nonetheless, and it was a predominately white audience. Based on the questions that were presented, here was my take on the issue.

I think it is bad in principle to vote for a candidate strictly on race, however that is not a reality in America. Given the historic nature of the first African-American to be on a November ballot for President of the United States, African-Americans were going to support that candidate, regardless of whether or not they thought he was going to win. Fortunately, that candidate was a compelling figure and credible. He offered an agenda that Americans could gravitate to and his political strategy was excellent.

If he was not a legitimate candidate, if Blacks did not think he would have made a good president, he would not have made it out of the Democratic primary, considering the other option that was out there. Blacks have supported white candidates for generations and they were entitled to support one of their own, but that candidate had to be a quality choice, not just a face they could identify with.

With the choice of Michael Steele as the chair of the GOP, as stated in a previous blog, it gives proof that the Black Vote in America is not monolithic. Everyone that is a voter knows for the most part what they want their government to do and they have strong opinions about issues. With Steele at the helm, the GOP will now discover more than ever that certain issues they advocate resonate with African-Americans. It is up to the Republicans to reach out, connect where they can, and sell their ideas to gain support. In Louisiana, that effort seems to be working in the Asian community, as they have elected a Republican governor who is an Indian-American, who had been a U.S. Congressman, and a Republican Congressman who is a Vietnamese-American.

As an African-American candidate, my experience in campaigning was positive. People accepted me as a legitimate candidate and never publicly showed any disdain based on race. However, I think the support for my opponent stemmed on familiarity, and trust around money. The same can be said for those same folks supporting McCain over Obama. Culturally in Mississippi, whites, as a collective, feel more comfortable with one of their own when it comes to issues about the economy. That has to change and hopefully President Obama's ability to navigate the country through this economic crisis will help in that change.

It was noted by one of the panelists that some whites confided that they could not bring themselves to vote for a Black man, but I believe those sad individuals are more of a minority bloc and not indicative of the total population. As long as viable candidates from all ethnic groups present themselves in elections on a consistent basis, public perceptions will eventually change.

My biggest concern after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency was that people, for whatever reason, wanted to suppress discussion about the election, especially in schools where that kind of discussion is imperative. Regardless of how you felt about the outcome, that was the opportune time to create a discourse about the importance of race in our culture. The behavior that was exhibited by educators, under the veil of safety, shows that we, the adults, have a long way to go in reconciling our personal feelings on the subject and developing a safe place within us to discuss openly how we really feel.

Many cite the reaction to the verdict of the O.J. Simpson murder trial as the basis for suppressing discussion, but the exact opposite should have happened. I am still coming to grips with when did that trial turn into a racial bellwether anyway. I am assuming it was when the verdict was announced, but it was no indication before that this would elicit such a divide in the culture. That was an opportunity lost as well in creating a dialogue amongst Blacks and whites.

In the end I expressed guarded optimism in seeing a change in the South, primarily in Mississippi. I hope that my son will see such a change, and that race will not be the primary factor in electing public servants. However, people have to come to grips with their fears and openly discuss them before the foundation for that change can take hold. What I am afraid of is that Obama's election will be considered more of an aberration than a new openness in the political process.

If we have more forums around the state like the one I participated in last night, maybe, just maybe, we might see some change in race relations here in Mississippi, especially in the political process.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

Today, Abraham Lincoln would have been 200 years old. He was 56 when died, spending his last 5 years on earth as the President of the United States. Growing up in Illinois, I cannot help but have a connection with him. He is considered the state's favorite son, and places like Springfield and Salem are shrines to him.

Even though he was born in Kentucky and raised most of his childhood in Indiana, Lincoln defines Illinois like the Native Americans of whom the French named the state after. Lincoln was a man of his time. He grew up poor, he was self-educated, he was rugged yet refined. He overcame adversity in his personal and his political life to be considered one of the greatest U.S. Presidents in history.

He evolved into an open-minded and respectful man towards African-Americans, yet his political philosophy aided our struggle for citizenship for generations. He was a passionate and honorable public servant, and more over, he was a complex, good-natured human being.

One of the fascinating facts about Lincoln is that he may have lost the U.S. Senate seat to Stephen Douglas in 1856, but he wooed Mary Todd away from Douglas. He always managed to come out on top like that, despite whatever setbacks he may have encountered. A lesson to be learned from Lincoln is that he did not let his original station in life dictate his fate.

Although it was not uncommon for a man in those days to educate himself to become a lawyer, i.e. Andrew Jackson, his tenacity, temperament and thoughtfulness is what set him apart from others. Lincoln was one-of-a-kind. Again, as a child growing up in Chicago, I remember learning about Douglas and Lincoln, their great debates about slavery and their success in politics.

However, to show the distinction between them, to show why one is revered and one is almost forgotten, I have memories of Douglas' grave, with its towering monument, his statue atop that monument, back turned toward the Black community that settled in the residential development he created. Then I think of Lincoln Park, the openness and serenity of it, with a zoo where people can learn about other inhabitants of this planet, where beauty, not vanity, is appreciated, where people of all races, creeds and classes have equal access.

I always look at that as symbolic of those two men and made me understand why Lincoln is special. Lincoln may have been a man of his time in some regards, but because of his willingness to be enlightened, he transcended his time. We should all be that blessed.

As a tribute to Lincoln's Bicentennial, I present to you one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history, The Gettysburg Address:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's Nuts

The Peanut Corp., a Lynchburg, VA based company, has a processing plant in Blakely, GA. That plant produces one percent of all the peanut products consumed in the United States. Yet that plant is responsible for a salmonella outbreak that has affected 575 people in 43 states and may have contributed to the deaths of eight people, including a gentleman in MN whose family will testify before Congress today.

That is how delicate the food chain is in America. The state of Georgia had been monitoring this plant since 2007, and had discovered salmonella infestation at that particular plant. Yet and still, tainted products still made it out and everybody was impacted, from FEMA to food banks. This outbreak could be the biggest food recall in history, bigger even than the Chinese tainted milk scandal.

This event hopefully will lead to real reform in food safety for all Americans. The Federal Government has to do a better job in protecting the food chain. While the FBI is investigating the activities of The Peanut Corp. and its officials, I make the contention that it never should get to that point. Our first line of defense against food contamination should be thorough enough to never let a major outbreak like this happen again. Whatever the government decides to do to change the Food and Drug Administration, the main focus should be to make sure that we do a better job, plain and simple.

In one sense I am glad that greed seems to be the underlying factor and not terrorism. However, as a parent, I am terrified that my child could go to school healthy, have a normal day, and then come home, gravely ill, because of something he ate at his school's cafeteria. There are enough things to worry about in this world without worrying about did he eat tainted food at school, or at home for that matter.

Our food consumption should be considered a national security concern. It should be given the priority it needs to effectively protect it. And the responsibility goes beyond the government. Food processors should never cut corners to make a profit. If it is that bad business-wise, I would rather the company go belly up than save a penny. I believe there are at least 575 people, and their families, that would agree with me on that point.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

McCain blows opportunity

Today we will have a U.S. Senate version of a stimulus package, somewhere in the range of $827 billion. The House version of the bill past with a price tag of around $819 billion. Last night, the Senate voted for cloture, meaning ending debate on the bill, by a vote of 61-38. It should have been 62-37.

John McCain, the man who lost to Barack Obama for the presidency, the grand gentleman from Arizona, the war hero and the champion against pork-barrel spending, decided to play the vociferous Pontius Pilate role, instead of doing what he does best, fighting to streamline federal appropriations.

Everybody that pays attention to Congressional spending knows that some fat can be trimmed from any appropriations bill. And my friends, any bill that has over $800 billion in spending has some fat. McCain pledged that if he was elected president, he would veto any bill that had pork-barrel spending. I guess that is what he called himself doing by voting against closing debate on the stimulus package.

However, McCain is not the President. He is a member of the United States Senate and he should have joined Senators Specter, Collins and Snowe to make sure that the GOP voice would be heard in the discussion. McCain could have used his influence to streamline the Senate version of the bill so that when the conference committee meets to hash out a true compromise for President Obama to sign, there would have been a real discussion in the room. Trust me, there won't be much discussion if the two bills differ by only ten percent, as the talking heads in the Beltway tell it.

48 percent of the American people wanted John McCain to become President of the United States. They voted for him, I presume, because they felt he would have been the right leader at this time. By not stepping into the room to negotiate a Senate version of the stimulus package that Democrats and Republicans could agree with, he abdicated that leadership mantle. He let 48 percent of America down.

It does not matter if you agree with McCain or not, the fact of the matter is he ran to be the leader of the free world and people entrusted their vote with him. If he continues to be the obstructor rather than the negotiator, the credibility he has established will be greatly diminished. Part of his campaign was that he was the one with the experience to navigate the halls of Congress and get things past. Did you lose your compass, Senator?

The most important piece of legislation to be passed in the 111th Congress was waiting for you to offer your input, to put your stamp on it, and all you decide to do is just oppose it? It is a major blown opportunity for McCain to show what he is truly made of. This was the type of bill that he could make his presence felt.

Instead, he is analogous to the batter in the World Series, his team down by one run in the bottom of ninth, two runners in scoring position, two outs and he has a full count. And then on the next pitch, close enough to be called a strike, he decides not to swing. Any competitor in that situation would never let one umpire decide that game scenario, let alone 61 of them.

So Senator McCain, if you hear a faint voice in the distance yell, "you're out!", that's for you. Hopefully you will get another at-bat in a key situation.

Senator McCain, as a Democrat, as a person who sought twice the position you hold, as an American, I am here to tell you that your voice is needed. Don't hide in the chorus of boos. Don't squander any more opportunities like this where you can show what you are made of. Be the leader nearly half of America thought you would be.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Is there any baseball player that did not use steroids before 2003?

As I eagerly await the start of Spring Training 2009, again I am dismayed by the news that one of the great baseball players of this generation has tainted their achievements because of steroid use. While Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons get ready to face the music on federal perjury charges, now a Sports Illustrated report comes out that says Alex Rodriguez, known as A-Rod to many fans, had a positive steroid test in 2003, the year he won the American League MVP with the lowly Texas Rangers.

First of all, why would a baseball player take steroids? There use to be a time when baseball players were forbidden to weight lift because it was thought that it would limit a player's flexibility. Now not only is weight lifting encouraged, but guys were getting juiced up to get bigger. It makes no sense because the key to hitting a baseball is superior hand-eye coordination.

In less than a second, a batter has to locate the baseball's release from the pitcher, determine which the direction the ball is travelling to home plate partially based on the rotation of the ball and where he is going to hit the ball once he makes contact. Steroids cannot help you with that skill. Practice in a batting cage will, swing plane training will, soft toss will, but not a needle.

One has to remember, if a baseball player hits the ball in fair territory, without making an out, every three out of ten times, they are considered a great hitter, especially if they get anywhere from 500 to 600 at-bats per season. If a baseball player hits a home run 25 times out of 200 hits, that player is considered a legitimate offensive threat. So why the need for extra strength, especially in a day and age where the ballparks they play in have been shortened to create more opportunities for professional hitters to hit the long ball and the baseballs they play with are designed to carry further upon impact.

Many athletes have said that steroids improve healing, which is important in a sport that starts competitive play in April and ends in October. But since steroids are banned from all athletic competition and long-term use has proven to have devastating side effects health-wise, why even take the risk? When you have the ability of a Bonds, Clemons or Rodriguez, it definitely does not make any sense.

When I played baseball, I took pride in being able to hit the ball and being a pretty good defensive first baseman. I didn't hit for power, I just figured out a way to get on base and score runs. In the sport, that is called a contact hitter. I would have loved to hit a home run, but I was not going to cheat to do it. If it happened, it happened. But I guess since I was not playing for my livelihood and it was more about the joy of playing the game, hitting for power was not important.

It is fun to watch though, just like a long run for a touchdown or a slam dunk. I remember when baseball was in a bad place fan-wise in the late 1990's. Three men, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey, Jr., in 1998, took the country by storm by setting a pace to break the single season record for home runs, which at that time was 61 in a 162-game season. Griffey faded by late July, but Sosa and McGuire keep banging balls out of the park. Both ended up with more than 61, but McGuire earned the record by finishing the season with 70 home runs. Sosa ended up with 66 homers and the National League MVP honors as his offensive production helped the Cubs get into the playoffs.

Baseball had become exciting again. The fan base came back and everything was right in the sports world. Now, years later, we are finding out that steroids may have been the co-star of that summer on '98. As a sportswriter during that time, a story came up about McGuire using a substance that was not banned, but was close to being considered a steroid. I defended him in doing that because it allowed him to play longer than he ever had in season. Now, based on his lack of openness at a Congressional hearing a few years back, that may not have been the whole truth. Sosa has adamantly denied that he ever used steroids, but would never voluntarily take a urine sample. So far the only thing that proves Sosa may have cheated was the corked bat that exploded his last year as a member of the Cubs.

As a true fan of the game, I am deeply hurt by the constant allegations. It has definitely taken the luster off of some of my greatest memories. It may cost the heroes of my generation their shot at sports immortality.

But baseball, more than any other sport, is a game of hope. The more you play as a team, the better your chances are at winning. If you lose, you live to fight another day, more than likely against that same team that just defeated you. Every day is a new day where hope springs eternal and victory is just a couple of hours away.

That is what I love about baseball and no drug could ever give me that feeling, even if I got paid to play the game I love.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"For this is what I came out to do."

Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-11, 20c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

The title of this entry is what Jesus told his disciples after praying and beginning another day of healing the sick and casting out demons. Paul admitted to blending in to the various cultures he encountered so that he could save as many as he could.

What are we willing to do to carry out our mission in life? Have we acknowledged that we have a mission? We learn from the book of Jeremiah that we have a destiny that is pre-ordained by God before our spirit is sent to inhabit this earthly realm. We learn from the book of Jonah that we have to come to an agreement with God on our mission, or else we will suffer inconvenient consequences.

There are times where we wonder is what we are doing for God worth it. We ask the similar question that Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, why us? When we look at all of the problems of the world, and the universe as a whole, we seem overwhelmed, due to our limited understanding.

However, we should learn from the many lessons in the Bible of the faithful that God will supply us with what we need to be successful. We will endure hardships, pain and suffering. We will have to make sacrifices and face humiliation. But we are equipped with a powerful spirit, the very spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a spirit that teaches us to fear and respect God, as well as releasing our human fears.

It is a light for our dark places and substance to fill our emotional voids. It is part of our divine inheritance, but it must be tapped. Through prayer and understanding, we can do that and also reach our full potential. Part of our problem is that we want to be safe and fit into society. We must remember though that all societies need a leader.

Instead of following the trends, create one. We can co-exist in a culture without total conformation to it, for our values and beliefs should never be completely compromised. Once we thoroughly understand what our mission is, nothing on this earth is forceful enough to detract us from it.

The enemy seeks to destroy those of us that are faithful and will besiege us with adversity. But it is through adversity that our divine character is truly formed, iron sharpening iron. We have to be steadfast and immovable in our faith and our mission.

It will not be easy, but it is doable. If we seek to understand our purpose, then God will help us comprehend it. Then this journey on earth will be a positive one, not only for us, but also to those we meet along the way.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is Obama the stimulus package? Is Phelps a golden boy? Are they heroes?

One would think that with all of the hype surrounding the Obama administration, primarily the President himself, that the key to economic stimulus is Obamania. Look at all of the products out there, from commemorative coins to bobble head dolls, the President is an industry, an economic engine.

Sasha and Malia Obama, as well as their mom Michelle, have been given the responsibility, as mentioned in a previous blog, as fashion trendsetters for their respective age groups. If the President continues to engender good will amongst the American people, maybe, just maybe, he could be the stimulus the country needs, beyond any legislation he can push through Congress.

Just a thought to make you smile today.

On a more serious note, Michael Phelps is in trouble, again. Four years ago, Phelps was arrested for a DUI. After he won eight gold medals in the Beijing Olympics, all that was literally washed away in the wake of one of the greatest athletic performances in human history.

Now, after securing millions of dollars in endorsements, Phelps is in trouble again. A picture released by a London newspaper shows Phelps holding a bong, presumably inhaling marijuana, at a party in South Carolina this past November. Ironic that a bong uses water to make it work. Sorry, couldn't resist that.

Anyway, because of his self-admitted bad judgement, now he has lost his endorsement with Kellogg's and has been suspended by USA Swimming for three months. His suspension is equivalent to a Major League Baseball pitcher being suspended for five games, whereas because of the rotation system, the pitcher will only miss one game. Phelps suspension will be over by the time the USA Nationals take place, therefore it is inconsequential.

However, it is a blow to the image of Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Hopefully, this second brush with embarrassment will help the 23 year-old Phelps deal with the expectations that his celebrity demands. Here's hoping Michael can live up to that standard and that he stays in the sport until 2012.

As a connection, Obama and Phelps have raise the expectations of all Americans. They have, by their accomplishments, have restored a pride in America. However, missteps by either men, can quash those hopes in a moment. Maybe we put too much in people and put them on a pedestal too quick, but human nature demands that we have heroes.

Maybe we should show more faith in them when they disappoint us, for we are the ones that put them there in the first place.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Could Haley and Manny be related?

As news travelled throughout the sports world that Manny Ramirez, the power-hitting baseball star who spent the last months of the 2008 season in Los Angeles, was turning down a one year, $25 million contract, Mississippians were finding out that their Governor, Haley Barbour, was planning to turn down $2 billion from the Federal Government, that is if the stimulus package passes.

Both men are making their case on principle. Ramirez, who is about 36, thinks that he has at least three more years left to play at a major league level, so instead of signing one year deals, he wants security. I can understand that, but the reality is that not many teams are going to take a chance on older players hanging on, especially after what we are finding out about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons, both players who played into their forties, with what looks like a little synthetic help.

Barbour said that he is not going to accept the stimulus funds that will go to schools, transportation and Medicaid because the legislation will have too many restrictions on the funds. Let me translate: the Governor cannot move the funds around to pay for any other government projects or items in the state general budget. Barbour wants that flexibility and I understand that. The reality is that Mississippi is lucky to be getting a dime. The political stance Mississippi took in the last election did not put us at the head of the line as far as the Obama administration is concerned.

So for Mississippi to get a commitment of $2 billion out of a $800-900 billion stimulus package is good for right now. To turn it down would not be the Mississippi thing to do. This is the Hospitality State after all.

In short, in tough times, we all have to make some sacrifices, and check down our egos. Ramirez has more room to negotiate than Barbour, but in the end, Ramirez will not get a three year deal. Barbour will have to accept the funds. As the old folks say, "Live to fight another day."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

29 Red Flags not enough

Most of us naturally don't like it when someone tells us, "I told you so." It makes us feel even worse if we made a judgement call or a decision that we had some concerns about, but went ahead with it any way. However, when your job is to protect investors from fraudulent schemes, that phrase "I told you so" involves more than just hurt feelings.

Bernard Madoff, a man who confessed to his sons that he was involved in the largest Ponzi scheme in American history, destroyed the dreams of relatives, celebrities, synagogues, charities and universities to tune of $50 billion. The sad thing is that is could have been prevented nine years ago.

First, for clarity, a Ponzi scheme, named after an Italian-American gentleman who defrauded investors of some $250,000 in the early 2oth century, is when the schemer asks people to invest in a fund or proposed project and then gives dividends to the earlier investors with the funds of later investors, instead of profits made by the fund. In most cases, the investment does not generate any profits, so basically money is rotated from new investors to old investors. Meanwhile, the funds that are in the bank are used for personal use by the schemer.

Madoff played on his credibility as being the head of NASDAQ to bilk thousands of people of life savings and institutions of endowment funds. However, one man had figured out in 2000 that Madoff was a fraud. His name was Harry Markopolos, a trained independent fraud investigator.

Madoff had approached some potential investors and those investors hired Markopolos to check it out. Markopolos found enough to not only advise his clients not to invest in the Ponzi scheme, but to alert the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Needless to say, the SEC did absolutely nothing.

Over a period of nine years, Markopolos presented over 300 pages of documents and highlighted 29 red flags that showed Madoff was a fraud to several SEC local offices and the Wall Street Journal. The Journal's sister publication, Barron's, did a story about it in 2001, but it was not damning enough to detract investors. I am sure since the SEC did not act, the story was not considered as cautionary as it should have been.

If the SEC had aggressively pursued Markopolos' claims, it could have stopped the Ponzi scheme with only $7 billion in losses. Now with $50 billion in losses, it is virtually impossible to recoup. So far, only $985 million has been salvaged.

A Congressional subcommittee grilled the SEC executives yesterday, only to leave more frustrated than when they entered. Earlier, Markopolos spent the morning before the subcommittee basically crowing "I told you so." He was right, the SEC was wrong and negligent in their duty, and the list of victims, a Who's Who grouping of the rich and famous, is growing.

Heads at the SEC must roll and accountability measures must be put in place to make sure that nothing of this magnitude happens again. I just think about how the SEC forced the only Black-owned bank in Mississippi to sell its assets during that same time period, but they let a man in New York rob people of $50 billion, including the lawyer that is defending him.

It is enough to make one angry about the obvious hypocrisy that exists in corporate America, but all we can do now is fix it, and hope we never hear "I told you so" again.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Just a personal note

I would like to thank all of the folks who offered prayers and sent well-wishes Monday for my birthday and yesterday for my son. Early yesterday morning, my son was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems, throat soreness and vomiting. Later that afternoon, he was diagnosed with asthma.

That was not a surprise to me. As I may have mentioned before, I grew up with asthma. My condition was serious but not acute. I was able to play baseball competitively and enjoy a normal childhood. My worst attack happened when I was five years old and my last severe attack happened when I was 13 years old.

It used to be that having asthma was a stigma in society, but with the success of athletes like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Jerome Bettis, as well as advances in medical technology, it has become a controllable disease that is not as debilitating. It is still a serious disease though and those who suffer from it have to be disciplined in their treatment.

Asthma is the number one reason for absenteeism in our schools and is one of the fastest growing diagnoses in the United States, especially among African-American children. As a state legislator, I successfully passed legislation to allow children with asthma to maintain their inhaler with them in school to fight sudden attacks. I also served on the Mississippi House of Representatives Asthma Task Force and helped write the state's Asthma Action Plan.

I have been a speaker at Camp Wheez-Away, a summer retreat for children with asthma and have been active with the local American Lung Association for years. My personal experience drove me to be active in this cause and now I have another reason to remain active.

I have met parents throughout the years who have lost their children because of asthma, and that is something I have to keep in my mind as I go through this journey with my son. However, as my friend, who is an expert in this field and an asthma sufferer herself, reassured me, now that you know, things will get better.

My son is an active six year old. Hopefully, he will grow up like his dad and overcome his asthma as well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Slight discomfort

Very briefly, I would like to say that I have a slight discomfort with the nominations of Timothy Geithner and Tom Daschle to Cabinet-level positions in the Obama administration. Geithner, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, is imminently qualified to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Daschle, a former Majority Leader of the United States Senate, is equally as qualified to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

My problems do not stem from their qualifications, but their actions. Both Geithner and Daschle have recently admitted that they did not pay their taxes, but since they have been nominated, those issues have been rectified. It may seem minor as we all have had problems with the IRS at one time or another, but this is about timing.

As all of us are dealing with this economic crisis, it comes across to a number of Americans that future Cabinet members not paying their taxes is a sign of arrogance, and the fact that they have not stepped down and are likely to be confirmed as a sign of elite privilege.

I personally will not pass a disparaging judgement towards them, but I understand the bad perception it portrays. As someone who has had to deal with short comings in public life, I know how fragile the public trust is. How hard will it be, for example, for a Treasury Secretary, who oversees the IRS, to get the agency to enforce the law, when he has been negligent in his taxes?

During the first 100 days of a new administration, establishing a tone is important. The public mandate in the last election was positive change, but Geithner and Daschle being given a slap on the wrist does not invoke that change. Instead it adds to the perception that the "haves" get by, but the "have nots" don't.

Governor Richardson saw that when he took his name out of contention for the Secretary of Commerce, even though he actually may not have done anything wrong. Just the specter of an investigation made him realize maybe this is not the best time to pursue a Cabinet position when public trust is so important to revive.

The President is standing by Geithner and Daschle, and based on their backgrounds, he can. But you could see the pain they have caused in the face of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, as he had to answer question after question about actions neither he, nor the President, had control over.

The enemy of hope is cynicism. I guess I am just concerned that the appointment of Geithner and Daschle will give cynicism a foothold it does not need to have in this administration, especially in times like these.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I am blessed

Today I am blessed because I am celebrating my 44th birthday. There are many people that did not live to be 44, people that I look up to and admire. I think about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. These men did incredible things and yet did not live as long as I have.

My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ only lived on this earth 33 years. That is something to think about and be thankful for. My life has been an incredible journey. Two campaigns for the United States Senate. Nine years in the Mississippi Legislature. Fatherhood. Two wives. Jackson State University. 18 years in Chicago and 25 years in Mississippi.

I have met so many people like Oprah Winfrey (and her family), Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama. I have helped people get into college and out of jail. I have served my country and my political party. And glory to God, my journey is not over. As the poet said, "I have many miles before I sleep."

My experiences, good and bad, have been incredible. I learned first hand the devastation of drug addiction from my friends and the joy of birth through my son. I have seen a Black man become President of the United States and a Chicago sports team win a championship. I have loved hard and have suffered defeat.

I am happy, but I am not content, not while people in this world are still suffering. So, therefore, I must continue in my call, continue traversing on this journey, for my destiny has not been fulfilled, my purpose for being on this earth not culminated.

I am thankful for a loving wife and son. I am thankful for true friends. I am thankful for my political success. I am thankful for my work experiences. More importantly, I am blessed for having a relationship with God. He is my all and all and I am grateful that He has allowed me one more year in this temporary existence.

Birthdays are a time for celebration, reflection and re-dedication. I will do all three on this day for I have reason to celebrate, a need to reflect and a commitment to re-dedicate my life to God and to my mission on earth.

Thanks to all who will offer their birthday wishes today and may God continue to bless you, be with you and keep you in His favor always.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Black History Month: Keep us forever in the path, we pray

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

"God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might, Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land." - James Weldon Johnson

As we begin Black History Month today, we, as African-Americans, are still basking in the afterglow of a momentous event in our history. When James Weldon Johnson wrote this poem, which eventually became the Negro National Anthem, the most significant African-American of that time was Booker T. Washington, founder and president of Tuskegee Institute. Now, 109 years later, an African-American, Barack Obama is the President of the United States.

However, while we take pride in all that we have accomplished, we have to remember how we made it this far. Praising and acknowledging God is part of our heritage and should be tantamount in our celebration. The Psalmist said, "He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations."

There are some who question why we should celebrate Black History Month. I say that we should thank God every chance we get and reflect on His goodness, and that is why we should celebrate Black History Month. Consider February a second Thanksgiving for African-Americans. It is our chance to recognize the contribution of African-Americans to the progress of America, for we know from Frederick Douglas that there can be no progress without struggle.

It is also our chance to study how God, "from whom are all things and for whom we exist," delivers on His promise. How else can one explain how a people, kidnapped from their homeland, brought into a new land as slaves, could have descendants that now have positions of power in that same land? We have seen this story before with Joseph, a Hebrew slave ascending to power in the Egyptian monarchy and we know that it was God who changed hearts to make that so.

It was our faith in God that carried us through some of the darkest moments in American history, so that eventually we would redefine a nation that oppressed us so. That transformative power is strictly of a divine nature and every chance we have, we should be like the apostle Paul in proclaiming it and not be ashamed.

Our history is an affirmation of the wondrous works of God. James Weldon Johnson knew that and so did Rev. Joseph Lowery, when he cited the previously quoted verse at President Obama's inauguration. Therefore, as we celebrate our heritage, do it as a people who are grateful to an awesome God, for He is worthy of that praise.