Monday, December 26, 2011

I am recovering..

Watching the current rhetorical dance that Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) is doing concerning a newsletter he lent his name to, I started thinking about my own experience.

Now Paul can categorically deny his racist tendencies, that is his right and his internal struggle to deal with. As for me, I came to terms with it a long time ago. When I was 12, the television show Roots came on and it was an eye-opening experience.

After watching the mini-series, my mom turned off the TV and asked me how did I feel. My response was that I hated white people. Needless to say, my parents were stunned by my frankness, especially at that age. They had never expressed any animosity towards white Americans in my presence. Yet they clearly understood how I drew that conclusion.

While growing up in Chicago, I lived in a segregated environment: school, church, social activities, etc. There was no need to interact with whites other than at the bank or shopping downtown. We even had our own cultural parade we could participate in just before school started in the fall.

I had the opportunity to attend Princeton, but I chose Jackson State, one because of economics and two, because of cultural comfort. But it was my experience at a historically Black university that actually exposed me to the relationships that shaped my more progressive views on race relations.

I was exposed to segregationist rhetoric from a Black perspective and I honestly did not feel comfortable with it, primarily because I did not pragmatically see how that mindset was beneficial.

It was my involvement with politics that created the relationships I developed which turned me from a racist to a well-balanced human being. It was my involvement with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod that opened the door to a world I had never fully immersed myself in.

That combination came into my life at the age of 18 and literally change my life for the better. I admit I am not a expert of white American culture, especially in the South, but I am sensitive to their concerns and values. I have tried to do my best to offer knowledge to my white friends and colleagues about African-American experiences in return.

As I further gained spiritual awareness and a better relationship with God, my tolerance and understanding of other cultures greatly improved. I learned how to disapprove or disagree without being discriminatory.

But the key to this evolution was to acknowledge that I am a recovering racist. You cannot solve a problem until you accept that you have a problem. I think that is what Rep. Paul's dilemma is.

Maybe it is more political expediency that explains his deniability rather than a character flaw, but it is not to say that it is acceptable. It is definitely not presidential. It is my hope that Mr. Paul comes to grips with his issue. I am grateful that I dealt with mine.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Lesson in Accountability

Joe Paterno was an American icon. He was in line to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is the winningest coach in FBS College Football. He stayed at one institution, Pennsylvania State University, one of our nation's first land grant colleges, for over 60 years, 46 as head coach. It is a level of consistency that will be hard to duplicate in our lifetime.

So how is it that a man, who grew up in the same generation as my parents, with that kind of dedication and sense of value, let a person like Jerry Sandusky get away with such a heinous act of human behavior. Maybe he believed that telling Sandusky that he would never become the next head coach at Penn State and Sandusky's subsequent resignation would have squashed it. Maybe he felt he had done enough. If that was the case, he was wrong.

It is one thing to be second-guessed after a football game, and another after the revelation of criminal activity. Joe Pa should have done more than just giving Sandusky a reason to leave Penn State. He should have made sure that the Attorney General of Pennsylvania knew that there was a potential pedophile on his staff and let the authorities take the responsibility of prosecuting him or not. He should not have kept that in the closet, thus promoting the discussion that college football is a closed society, exempt from the rules of the society-at-large.

To his credit, Coach Paterno tendered his resignation for the end of the season. He realized he had made a grave mistake and was willing to pay the price for it. But he should have resigned effective immediately and issued a stronger statement about intolerance for child abuse, sexual or otherwise. Paterno has molded the lives of hundreds of young men in a positive manner. Unfortunately, for those young men who were victims of Mr. Sandusky's actions, Paterno, due to his previous inaction, has adversely affected their lives as well.

Evil is evil and we as human beings have a commitment to stop it. Whether you believe in a God or not, you should know enough to see wrong-doing and act to change or stop it. We are all short of perfection, but that does not mean we allow predators of human beings to roam free. Joe Pa should have turned in Sandusky, plain and simple.

Now an incredible legacy is stained as the Roman Catholic Church was stained. The lesson to be learned is that once you accept accountability you can then move forward. The church has moved forward and is regaining the trust of its parishioners. Now it is Penn State's, and Paterno's, turn.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My thoughts on Mississippi's Nov. Initiatives

As usual, while most Mississippi voters are focused on individuals seeking the various statewide, legislative and county offices, many may not be aware that there are three initiatives on the ballot as well that will impact their lives greatly. Below is my take on those initiatives and where I stand on them.
I will start with Initiative #31:
Should government be prohibited from taking private property by eminent domain and then transferring it to other persons?
Initiative #31 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to prohibit state and local government from taking private property by eminent domain and then conveying it to other persons or private businesses for a period of 10 years after acquisition. Exceptions from the prohibition include drainage and levee facilities, roads, bridges, ports, airports, common carriers, and utilities. The prohibition would not apply in certain situations, including public nuisance, structures unfit for human habitation, or abandoned property.
During my time in the Mississippi House of Representatives, this issue showed its importance as we were trying to figure out how to get Nissan to locate their new plant in Canton. We committed millions of dollars in infrastructure development which included the use of eminent domain to make that happen. Eminent domain, which is the attainment of private property for public use, in that regard was a positive because it was used for public projects but it was clear it was beneficial for a private economic development interest.
This initiative will clarify in the Mississippi Constitution that eminent domain is only supposed to be used for public projects. It will prohibit eminent domain to be used, for example, to acquire land for the building of a strip mall, factory or an office building. The Farm Bureau has taken the lead in pushing this initiative because any expansion of eminent domain for private economic development would immediately threaten the largest group of landowners in the state, our farmers.
I will vote YES on this initiative.
Initiative #27:
Should the Mississippi Constitution be amended to require a person to submit government issued photo identification in order to vote?
Initiative #27 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to require voters to submit a government issued photo identification before being allowed to vote; provides that any voter lacking government issued photo identification may obtain photo identification without charge from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety; and exempts certain residents of state-licensed care facilities and religious objectors from being required to show photo identification in order to vote.
One of the most emotional days during my tenure in the Legislature was when we had to take a vote on making Voter ID mandatory, so much so that I wrote a column about it in the Jackson Free Press. Every member spoke on the floor and expressed their feelings, either in support or opposition, and afterwards many of us became closer, despite competing political philosophies.
Needless to say this is an emotional issue to members of the African-American community that remember poll taxes and questions like how many bubbles are there in a bar of soap. Voter ID seems like a practical, innocuous argument to preserve the integrity of the voting process. However, it has been used to suppress voter turnout for certain groups in other states. In Tennessee, a 96-year-old Black woman was denied the right to vote recently because she did not have a driver's license. In Florida, college students cannot use their college IDs, even if they attend state universities.
The author of the initiative, Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-Lamar County), organized the initiative drive after killing the Voter ID bill passed by the House in the Senate. His argument was that there needed to be a "clean" Voter ID bill, without provisions that would have allowed early voting, same-day registration and restoring the suffrage of first-time felons once they have served out their sentence. It is questionable whether the US Department of Justice will approve a Constitutional Amendment that requires Voter ID for all voters, but it is very possible.
It is the only initiative that has a cost attached to it. It is estimated that the initiative, if passed, could cost as much as $1.5 million from the Department of Public Safety budget. Obviously the proponents of the measure do not feel strongly enough to convince the state's 82 Circuit Clerks to provide photos on the voter registration cards they provide in their respective counties.
I will vote NO on this initiative.
Initiative #26:
Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?
Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.
I am considered a pro-life politician. I was endorsed by Pro-Life Mississippi when I served in the House. I am opposed to abortion, an emergency medical procedure, being used as a form of birth/population control. I am a strong proponent of adoption and a former abstinence-only counselor. I voted for the House Bill that banned abortions in this state, but I was also the author of the amendment in that same bill that allowed exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother.
As a Christian, I believe life begins at conception and that God has predestined our lives before our existence on this earth begins. However, I have also made the argument that the US Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution are not the 67th and 68th books of the Holy Bible.
To redefine "person/persons" in Article III of the Mississippi Constitution would effectively ban abortions in this state, but how broad of a swath will this provision cut? Medical professionals are divided on whether the initiative would prevent in vitro fertilization and outlaw forms of conventional birth control. Would family planning activities be possibly outlawed? Would the exceptions of rape, incest and the health of the mother be considered?
Here is another scenario that has not be broached: Say an immigrant couple from El Salvador comes to Mississippi without proper documentation. The wife becomes pregnant in Mississippi and then they are caught. At that point, the deportation process begins. If the personhood initiative is passed, does that fetus, which would be considered a person in the Mississippi Constitution have the right to stay, thus preventing the mother from being deported? If the Federal Government is successful in deporting the mother, can the child come back and petition for US Citizenship based on the notion it was conceived in Mississippi and was considered a person by that state's Constitution?
This initiative has failed twice in Colorado, but will be introduced in four other states. The Mississippi initiative supporters' strategy is for this initiative to be challenged and struck down in the Federal Courts, moved up in the Federal docket to the Supreme Court of the United States, thus forcing them to re-visit the Roe v. Wade decision. I consider this an extreme action based on a constitutionally extreme political philosophy.
I will vote NO on this initiative.
Those are my positions. Research these initiatives for yourself and then cast your vote on November 8th.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Raise the roof

On August 2, 2011, the full faith and credit of the United States of America will be damaged. On this date, the USA will more than likely be downgraded in their credit rating by Moody's and Standards & Poor's and this will have a direct impact on us. The most immediate will be that interest rates on loans and mortgages will go up. For example, a home appraised at $200,000 will see the mortgage payment increase by $400 per month on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage.

We learned on July 25th that the wealth disparity in America has widened between white Americans and minorities in America. The ratio is 20:1 between whites and Blacks and 18:1 between whites and Hispanics. During the Clinton administration, the ratio was 7:1 with both groups. This is significant because the wealth gap will increase if the National Debt Ceiling is not raised by August 2nd. White families will see their wealth decrease, but minorities will suffer more from the higher interest rates.

There are two options that can happen. One, the US Congress can totally eliminate the debt ceiling altogether, thus allowing Congress to borrow money when needed without worrying about reaching any self-imposed limit. The negative side of that option would be the historical lack of self-discipline Congress has shown in spending the taxpayers' money.

The other option would be the one that has been exercised 20 times over the last seven years: Set a new debt ceiling rate to continue to allow the US Government to borrow the money needed to fund obligations and maintain the operation of government. Simple right? It would have been if partisan ideology had not interfered with the process.

The Tea Party Caucus put their foot down and said they would not support raising the debt ceiling without cuts in federal spending. The President acquiesced, but with a caveat that revenues needed to be increased by eliminating tax cuts and loopholes. That is when the political game of chicken began and now has put the financial stability of the United States in unnecessary peril.

I agree on these points: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as we know it, needs to be reformed to stabilize costs and viability; overall government spending needs to be reduced; Tax cuts and loopholes need to be removed and the whole Federal Tax Code needs to be revised; the debt ceiling needs to be raised for two years. The only one that can be accomplished in the next five days is raising the debt ceiling.

A fractured Congress cannot pull off the miracle of miracles and address all of these issues in the time allotted. Quickly drafted legislation offered by both sides have proven that they do not have the time to get all of the numbers right in a massive budget package.

It is time to prioritize. The main priority right now is to raise the debt ceiling. The US Congress has to do it, based on their constitutional obligation. The 14th Amendment does not give the President the authority to by-pass them and raise the debt ceiling by Executive Order. The Speaker of the House and The Majority Leader of the Senate must act now to avoid putting the nation they claim to love, and pledge their allegiance to, in further financial distress.

It has been a spirited debate and a great exercise in partisan muscle flexing. Now it is time to do the patriotic thing and raise the roof, so that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will still stand as the strongest line of credit the world has ever seen. There is no other option.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Labels are for grocery items

I was tweeting with my friend Nic, who labels himself as a conservative Republican in Mississippi, when he asked the question, "Do you think I'm stupid?" My tongue-in-cheek response was: "You are a conservative in the poorest state in the nation...next question..."

By definition a conservative is someone tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions. I personally myself will never want to be tagged with a label that infers that I am predisposed to the notion of maintaining Mississippi as a poor state, because that is the condition we are in.

That is why I am against this labeling system we have adopted in the political process. Human beings that fully use their power of reason, especially in the realm of public policy, are too complex to be neatly placed into that kind of a box. People that tend to think in the big picture range from maintaining the status quo to challenging traditional forms (liberal). I know I have during my time in public office, but outsiders want to try to put me in a box as well.

In Mississippi, the opposition wants to quickly say that I am a liberal because I am a member of The Democratic Party. When I took the position to limit abortion or protect the right to bear arms, fellow Democrats accused me of being a conservative in Democratic clothing. The truth of the matter is that I was born Erik Robert Fleming, the name that my parents agreed upon after much negotiation. I am a child/creation of God and I am an American citizen because I was born in this country. I am identified as a person of African heritage, but there are Sioux, Cherokee and Caucasian bloodlines in my DNA as well. I am a Christian because I profess that He is the Savior of the World. I affiliate politically with the Democrats because I personally believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people.

That is enough labeling for me. I do not like to be boxed into a corner because of who I align with or what I look like. I want to be respected for being me and I would want my ideas to be heard regardless of the audience. Unfortunately, that is not the political system we live in and that is why we are in gridlock while our financial house slowly crumbles away. We are too busy trying to appease a group we want to be labeled with instead of pursuing solutions to move our state and country forward.

Staying locked into a labeling system is a conservative idea. Standing out and making a difference is a liberal idea. What would Jesus, my spiritual inspiration, do? According to the Bible, Jesus' disciples were gathering wheat on the Sabbath day. Some Pharisees, the conservatives of their day, questioned Him. He stated that men had to eat on the Sabbath as well. That is the pragmatic, yet liberal, concept humans should embrace: doing what is right when it is right.

I never want to be stuck in anything I do. If there is a better way to move forward, then I am all for it. The only conservative position any human should be boxed into is when we are in the grave. Until then we should be free to hold on to values we embrace, yet shake things up when needed. We idolize coaches that use that philosophy, but we condemn politicians. That is strange to me when the end game in both arenas in winning.

I am not a tomato can to be placed on a shelf in the canned food section of the super market for convenience. I am a human being, born free and refusing to be bound by the chains of society. I am a free thinker. To label me is de-humanizing and that is not what God intended for me.

Mississippi and America deserves men and women in public service who adhere to the philosophy of thinking about the next generation, not the next election. You can't have that when you marginalize them into labels. I am not convenient, I am complicated. Accept me for who I am.

If we all respected each other like that, then we would truly have a better government that represented us and our best interests, in my humble opinion.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Big Question



David Gregory, the moderator for NBC's Meet the Press, asked the question leading up to a break in the round table discussion is the Federal Government capable enough to solve the problems of the day as it is constituted. My answer to that question is, emphatically, no.

Now listen to the conversation, if you have not already, between former President Clinton and House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, in the video above. That is a real discussion between people who understand the process. Those are the kind of discussions I use to have with my colleagues in the Mississippi Legislature, thus allowing me to earn the trust of Democrats and Republicans alike. These are the discussions that are sorely lacking in our process now.

The title of the video is misguided because Ryan admits all he was trying to do was start the discussion on Medicare Reform. He knew that his proposal was a radical idea, but the discussion has to start somewhere, so why not throw something out there and see if it sticks. The problem is that in this era of partisan spin and cheer leading, the GOP equated Ryan's icebreaker as the gospel to fix Medicare and the Democrats campaigned against it, successfully I might add in a special election in the most conservative Congressional District in New York State.

Ideas in politics are just that: ideas. They are not subject to pious adherence, they are starting points to invoke intelligent discussion and hopefully a workable solution to a public policy issue. Whether it is the deficit or crime in the streets, ideas in the legislative process are introduced as legislation to be debated, dissected and eventually fine-tuned to comport to the balance of providing for the general welfare while maintaining individual liberty. That is the foundation by which all legislation should be framed.

Fox News and MSNBC are not the policy makers for this nation, therefore our political direction should not be guided them. The men and women that sit in the United States Congress have that responsibility and they should start acting like they understand that. When the country is in a crisis, ideology should be thrown out the window and the preservation of the nation should be the main priority. Instead of developing talking points, both parties should be engaged in meshing ideas to move the nation forward.

Campaigning has its season. Governing is the main job. It is harder to govern that it is to campaign. In order to move this country forward, at some point in time, our elected leaders must be able to discern the difference. If they cannot, then they should be removed during the electoral process, it is that simple. However, the reality is everybody that says throw the bums out wants to keep their bum, and this cycle of leadership without vision or courage continues.

Leaders lead, followers follow. Right now we have a Congress comprised of expert followers, not leaders. They can give great speeches and most of their media sound bytes are on point, but that does not equate to leadership. The wood stain does not help the patio deck support the weight of those who stand on it, it is the strength of the wood used to construct the deck. We know how to make politics sound appealing to our bases, but we have forgotten how to govern the masses. In other words, we know how to make the deck look good for our benefit, but we have forgotten how to build the deck altogether.

In this time in our history, that has to change. This is the time for big ideas, not small-mindedness. As someone who has had the privilege of serving the public, I know how hard this is. I know how unappreciated one must feel when they have the passion to govern while others are more concerned with staying elected. But we need those people with a passion to govern to step into the forefront, even if it means breaking the party line. If those people are not in Congress yet, then they must run for Congress and we must support them, for the future of our nation is at stake.

Our economy is in a mess because we are too scared to do the things, or even have the discussions, necessary to make the fundamental changes needed to improve it. The political parties either want to vilify or sanctify the business community that drives our economic engine. They should be leading them. That is what they truly want and that is what the American people truly want. It is time to stop disappointing them and start doing what they want.

The Ryan-Clinton exchange was as pragmatic as one can, and should, expect from their political leaders. It is long overdue for those discussions to be the norm in Washington once again. It is time for the leaders to lead, and not in name or deference only.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hallelujah!

That was the response my estranged wife posted on Twitter when I said goodbye officially to our tumultuous marriage this morning.

It is obvious that clinging on to a false hope of reconciliation was futile and unhealthy for me. That should be a lesson for all of us. When a relationship is going to end, let it end, despite how strong your feelings are.

No matter how much you love someone, you should never let that love overpower the love you have for yourself. No matter how painful your loss may be, you will survive, as I will. Time will heal all wounds because God is the master of time and healing.

I am so open about my life because I am living it and I feel I have the right to tell my story more than anyone else. I have nothing to hide because I have done nothing wrong but be human and only God can condemn or forgive me for that.

I wish that the outcome could have been different but a relationship takes two people to make it work. It has become painfully obvious that my estranged wife was not committed to do her part. To her credit, she went through a lot while I was in the grip of depression. To be honest, she went through hell. Therefore, I cannot blame her for rejoicing that I will no longer be a part of her life. Hopefully over time she will find someone that will make her rejoice in a more positive way.

She will be mad when she hears about this, but she will get over it like she will get over our marriage. There is no going back anyway, once a spouse says they want a divorce, it is best to let it happen and move on.

There is no pain that God cannot help you overcome, even heartbreak. So for those reading this, take it not as an announcement of a failure, but as a lesson in love and relationships.

If you truly love someone, sometimes it is best to let them go...Hallelujah!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Pride is Back on Madison Avenue

I remember this time of year during the Michael Jordan era in the NBA. The Chicago Bulls would be working their way through a series of Eastern Conference contenders to defend their NBA title. As a fan, I would be so excited to watch MJ, Pippen and an assortment of incredible role players slashing, dunking and shutting down their opponents.

Well, it has been a long time since 1998. No additional banners have been erected. No ticker tape parades. Not for the Bulls anyway, as the White Sox and the Blackhawks have won their respective championships since then. But things are starting to return to normal on Madison Avenue in Chicago, because the pride of a champion is coming back.

Led by the league's MVP, Derrick Rose, the Bulls are back among the NBA's elite again. Along with Dang (the old man on this young team), Noah, Gibson and the new guy Boozer, they have generated the old memories again. With tough defense and an attacking half-court offense, the Bulls have its fans excited again about May and June basketball.

Everything is right in the world now. The Bulls are back!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hustle hard

With all apologies to rapper Ace Hood, I want to take this time to talk about the concept of hustle hard, better known as success in the grind of life. It is the mantra of the new economy the President aptly described we are in.

Everybody will have to work a little harder and step down from their personal pedestals to make it in this economy. If you have just a high school diploma or you have a felony conviction, it will be like climbing a societal Mt. Everest to make it, but since people have conquered the real mountain, advancement to the summit of the proverbial mountain can happen as well.

Just having an associates or bachelor's degree will not make the load that much lighter, but what you actually learn can never be taken away and that knowledge can be used as an important tool for survival. However, it does not really matter what tools and weapons you have at your disposal, if you do not have the drive and the fortitude to push through the tough times ahead, you will not be successful.

The hope is that as you are still breathing, your chances for success still exist. You have to possess the ability to hustle hard when the odds are stacked against you, meaning that when chaos is all around, your mind has to be clear, creative and decisive. Materialism is a distraction, comfort and security are the ultimate goals. In other words why flex a BMW when a Chrysler 300 will do fine? Why go to the Rocawear boutique when they sell it at Burlington Coat Factory?

Hustling hard is not about being blinged out, it is about working non-stop to achieve your goals, meet your needs and then fulfill your desires. Many young people, and to be honest, quite a few my age, don't really understand that. Somehow, someway, they think they have earned a sense of entitlement. This current economy has served as a great reality check for many persons that fall into that category.

Bottom line, in order to hustle hard successfully, one must be willing to make sacrifices, be willing to keep the faith when it seems hope is gone, and safely navigate through the pitfalls of life's journey to get to your ultimate goal. If you are not hustling hard, then you are only hustling yourself.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Inspiration/Revelation

Last night, I watched the PBS documentary Freedom Riders and was reinvigorated. Lately, as I have been chronicling my personal struggles, it has taken a lot of energy to keep my spirits up and to move on into my glorious future. That has taken away energies toward the cause and that is understandable because you have to help yourself before you can help others.

That is why it was important for me to watch the story of the young men and women who braved the best shot the Jim Crow South threw at them and made a difference, as well as history. It was also important to be reminded how Jackson, Mississippi became the last defiant stand for the riders.

Young people from all over the country, by the hundreds, descended on Jackson, ready to go to Mississippi State Prison at Parchmen, to bring the rule of law to the defiant Dixieland. It reminded me of when I made the decision to come to Jackson because I am sure they were asked the same question I was: why Jackson?

They knew the answer before I did. I had to stay in Mississippi for four years to see what they saw. Fifty years ago, they saw Jackson as the crossroads from the past to the future. Now it is my responsibility to keep that pathway open.

People have constantly asked me will I ever run for political office again. I have been hesitant to answer because of my current struggles. Last night reminded me that my internal demons are nothing compared to the principalities and powers that terrorized those young freedom fighters. They perservered and so will I. More importantly than running for office, I am engaged again and I will be active in the pursuit of justice, opportunity and respect for all Mississippians.

Thank you Freedom Riders for breaking down barriers for me and continuing to inspire me to do God's work, especially in Jackson, Mississippi.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taking a deep breath...

...The hits just keep on coming, but it was not like it was unexpected. I will now have to abandon my undisclosed location and be back out wandering in the world. Since no new flow of income has emerged and there is no hope of reconciliation in my personal life, the nomadic journey begins again.

But I have to take a deep breath and count it all joy. I may be struggling but I am still here. People are planning to manipulate me again politically, but they will not succeed. People are tarnishing my good name and trying to make me look bad with my family and friends, but they will not succeed. People are trying to play games with my emotions so that I will relapse and lose control of my life, but they will not succeed. People are painting me as an unstable person, but the truth is the accusers and framers are the unstable ones themselves.

People are rejoicing that my struggles continue, but their joy will soon come to an end. I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and I am pressing forward. The devil will employ all of his resources to keep me down but I will not succumb to him or those who, willingly or unwillingly, do his dirty work. When I get to the other side, those who were with me during this struggle will be greatly rewarded. Those who have abandoned me, kicked me or pushed me into this abyss will get their just rewards in due time from a source more powerful than anything in this universe...

...whew! Taking another deep breath...

This struggle is tiring to the soul, but I cannot stop and surrender to the weariness. I wish those who don't love me would leave me alone and those who do love me stay strong in their prayers and support. Of course, if it was that easy then it would not be a struggle.

This is where the testimony of faith applies: I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me...

...Deep breath...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May have quit tobacco too soon...

...It has been nearly a week since I dipped my last chew of tobacco between my cheek and gum. It has been rough. I can feel my weight climbing back after I lost over 30 lbs. The cravings have gotten stronger, and the stress is starting to mount.

I did not get the news I wanted concerning a job that I was offered, nor concerning pending financial matters. I am being inundated with opinions from family and friends about my personal life and whether I am going to have a political future in this state.

Right about now, I would be pulling a good pinch of Grizzly Mint from the tobacco tin, sticking it in my mouth and letting the soothing tobacco do its work. However, I know that the few minutes of peace and tranquility I may garner from that pinch will eventually lead to years of discomfort and maybe even sudden death. That is why I quit.

When I said I wanted to enjoy the next 46 years of my life, I meant it. I want to be cancer-free as long as I can be, therefore I want to live as long as I can. I want to have moments with my son as he gets older. I want to see the men that are currently in my custody living productive lives outside of incarceration. I want to see the next generation of leaders emerge and take Mississippi/America to new heights. I may even want to fall in love again.

I cannot do that if I die from mouth cancer or lung cancer or any other type of cancer. It is going to be a struggle, but it is one I have to prevail because the alternative is definitely not a viable option.

On that note, it has been brought to my attention that maybe I should not be so personal with my blog entries. Some have said that it may jeopardize a job opportunity or make some folks feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable is living in your car because you cannot afford a place to live. Feeling uncomfortable is going a whole year without gainful employment, begging and borrowing and scraping up whatever you can to survive. Feeling uncomfortable is watching your child in intensive care and being powerless to do anything to help accelerate the healing.

Feeling uncomfortable after reading some one's personal diary: not so much. As for the job, there is a popular saying amongst the social networking set that goes: be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind. It is what it is. This blog is my blog to be as transparent as I want without crossing the dreaded TMI line.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, maybe I don't need to succumb to the craving after all. All I need to do is express myself and not stress myself. In short, blogging good; chewing tobacco bad.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Confession of a celebrator

Hello.

My name is Erik, and I celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden...

I introduce myself that way because Americans seemed to be uneasy with people who celebrated the death of our tyrant for the last decade, much like they are around addicts, no matter which stage of the recovery they are in.

I had no problem with it. Unfortunately, I was in my undisclosed location getting ready for some early shuteye when I heard the news, not from CNN mind you, but my first ex-wife. CNN was confirmation, then MSNBC for pragmatic coverage of what was happening.

There were no flash celebrations in my neighborhood, but I enjoyed and reveled with the folks on TV. I was glad that bin Laden died on the same exact day as Hitler and I am assured that they are rotting in the same, well-deserved place.

Victory, by the way, is never morbid. A crazy man decided to use an act of terror to get attention and start a holy war. He succeeded, he got the attention he wanted, and now he is dead! Yippee!

If that is considered insensitive, so be it. I think it is insensitive to fly planes into buildings, killing innocent people. I think it is insensitive to blow up government buildings because you disagree with its presence in your region of the world. I think it is insensitive to convince young men to sacrifice their lives as suicide bombers based on ideological rhetoric.

So I was glad to see my fellow citizens celebrating an end to tyranny in their generation. The images will live in my memories forever. The Greatest American Generation had their victory celebration. The Founding Fathers had theirs. Now we have had our turn.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The end...

The end. Those two little words have so much meaning. Basically it means the conclusion of a story that has been told and often times leaves the reader wanting more or completely satisfied.

The end to me means the conclusion of the first 46 years of my life. It has been eventful. Two failed marriages, a domestic abuse charge, financial struggles, numerous jobs, a fairly successful political career, college (nuff said), fatherhood, romantic relationships (and some not so romantic), parties, my ongoing spiritual journey and a serious battle with depression.

It's the battle with depression that has transformed my life. Once I was diagnosed and treated, my life has started to transform. It all started on the day of my last blog. That following Monday, I started counseling and medication. I have never felt better.

My outlook on life has become normal again. I am enjoying the little things and no longer sweatting the small stuff. My mind is sharper and I am more engaged in politics than ever, even without holding a politcal office.

Unfortunately my change has come too late to undo a lot a damage that was done during my darkest moments, but that is to be understood. Now, it is time to take this new self on a new adventure. The past is the past. Lessons have been learned. It is time to move on.

So this is the end of the first 46-year chapter of my life. I look forward to the journey for the next 46 years with great anticipation. I will never let sorrow and despair control my life again. As I travel through life's valleys, I will gather strength through my faith and press on to the mountain top. I am more alive now than I have ever been and I am going to live like I am truly alive.

Goodbye depression! Goodbye loneliness! Goodbye gloom and doom! Hello world, my name is Erik Fleming!

THE END

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29, 2011

Today is the worst day of my life. I have never felt this way before, with everything caving in. However, it is from this point forward that I will move forward. I will not be defeated, I will not surrender to the principalities and powers of darkness.

Therefore, as I begin this epic battle, I will go dark and be off of the grid for a while, for however long it takes. I will be in this battle alone, for it is alone that I will find the strength to overcome.

Your prayers are welcome and your understanding and patience are needed as I sojourn on.

Take care to all who I have befriended on the previous journey. I look forward to seeing you on the other side of the mountain.

"Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me." - Micah 7:8 KJV

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Innovation: A Quick Note

When President Obama spoke last night at the State of the Union, he stressed that America needs to be innovative again. Many people clearly interpreted that he was strictly referring to the science and the business community.

But there has to be innovation in one other major institution: government. In order for America to truly move forward and get out of crisis mode, politics as usual cannot continue. Those individuals that have been elected to public office, especially at the Federal level, have to be creative and innovative in addressing the concerns of the American people.

Nothing can be sacred. We must look at wasteful spending in all aspects of government. We must get more return for our entitlement investments in order for them to become self-sufficient. We must honestly look at revamping our current revenue system, that means taxes. We cannot protect earmarks that steer funds away from fulfilling general budgetary purposes. We cannot continue to point fingers at others and wait for the other side to blink.

This is the time for true, innovative leaders to emerge. This is the time for statesmen to rise above the noise and influence the masses to support creative ideas and concepts, regardless of which party they come from. This is our time to do great things. The only way that can happen is when politicians are more prone to open their minds rather than their mouths.

Innovation is not limited to industry. Government must practice it as well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rahm's real fight

As I write this, the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that they will hear the case that will determine if Rahm Emanuel, the former Illinois Congressman and White House Chief of Staff, can run for Mayor of Chicago. The ruling also has halted all ballots being printed until they make a final determination.

The issue is whether Emanuel has truly established residency to run for the office. There is a law that says a person running for mayor in an Illinois municipality must be resident of that municipality for one year before the election. There is also another law that says a person voting in any Illinois election must establish residency for one year prior to the election, unless said person is called into service for the United States of America.

Emanuel has a home in Chicago, for he was the Congressman for Illinois' 5th District from 2003 to 2009. Ironically, he replaced Rod Blagojevich in Congress. In January of 2009, he became the Chief of Staff for President Obama. He resigned in October of 2010 to run for mayor of his hometown.

Emanuel contends that he meets the residency requirement to be a voter in the upcoming election, thus making him a qualified elector, and therefore a qualified candidate for mayor. He claims that his service as Chief of Staff qualifies for the service to the United States exemption. The Chicago Board of Elections agreed with that premise and qualified him as a candidate.

However, that ruling was challenged to the Illinois Appellate Court and that court overturned their ruling. Unfortunately, I agree with the Appellate Court and I believe the Illinois Supreme Court will also. The problem for Emanuel is that while he may qualify as a voter for the election, the law concerning the qualifications as a candidate are clear and distinct. The fact that he has not been a resident of the state for one year prior to the election, and that absence is documented, Rahm Emanuel is not qualified to run for Mayor of Chicago.

It is a shame because he was the leading candidate going into the February 22nd primary. He campaigned on a positive vision for the city and was not only well-funded, but well-organized also. The main beneficiary of Emanuel leaving the race will more likely be former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, who has also campaigned as a healer, not a divider.

If the Illinois Supreme Court rules otherwise it will be a surprise, but it is a tough fight that Emanuel has to engage in and in the long run, it will bring some clarity to Chicago politics, which would be a rare, but welcome, moment indeed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dealing with the Pain

Yesterday, I was enjoying the game between the Bears and the Packers for the NFC Championship with friends. The Bears were losing but it looked like the defense had stopped the Packers' offense cold. All that was left was to see Jay Cutler, the Bears' quarterback, get his bearing and mount the comeback for the ages. That never happened.

Cutler apparently was injured just before halftime. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, today's MRI on Cutler's knee showed a Grade 2 MCL sprain. According to our eyes yesterday, it looked like something completely different. When the Chicago fans in the room saw Todd Collins come in the game and saw Cutler just standing around looking like he had given up, we lost it.

To be a fan of the 2010-11 Bears is to become an expert in body language. When Cutler is on, he looks like Gary Cooper in High Noon or Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, the confident gunslinger who can look at opposing defenses and ask if they feel lucky today. When Cutler is off, he looks like Sleprock or Glum, head down, shoulders slumped and the frustrating look of disengagement on his face. It was the off Cutler we fans saw during the championship, on and off the field.

After he missed a wide open Devin Hester in the first quarter for a possible tying touchdown, Cutler's negative body language became very noticeable. Then he was gone. On the bench. In the biggest game of his life. I honestly thought, without knowledge of the severity of the injury, he had quit on his team. It certainly looked that way when third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie was quickly scouring over the pictures of the Green Bay defense, without any assistance from Cutler.

Bears fans were not the only ones who thought he had quit. Other NFL players on Twitter felt that way as well, watching the same thing we were watching. But according to his teammates, we were wrong. Brian Urlacher, the Bears' defensive captain, said those players were jealous and that the fans were stupid. Glad you are sticking up for your teammate, Brian, but over 60,000 "stupid"fans braved bitterly cold temperatures to watch you all disappoint them yet again, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of fans across the nation. Maybe the stupidity is being loyal to a team that has only won one championship in 48 years, but that is why we are called fans which is a shorter version of fanatics. We will deal with the pain of another heartbreaking season and we will hope that next year, if the NFL has a season, will be a championship year. Stupid is as stupid does.

Meanwhile, it was the testimony of Hanie that convinced me that maybe Cutler did not quit on his team. Hanie said that Cutler came to him after the Bears cut the lead in half in the 4th Quarter, congratulated him and then told him to calm down, re-focus and take the team down the field again. That is the leadership old school players like Derrick Brooks and Mike Ditka expect from a team captain, but it is just not as fiery as they would have done it. Nevertheless, if Hanie's account is accurate, then that is all Cutler could do in that situation and I commend him for that.

So Jay, I apologize for my frustration. I am a fan. I want you and all the other Bears to do well and play with all your heart. I want you to rehab hard and take advantage of the time to listen Mike Martz and re-train your footwork. I want you to endure the pain in your knee to get better and I want you to endure the pain of this unfair criticism to make you a better player, a better leader and a better man. This may seem to be a low-point, although your cool demeanor would never reveal it, but it can be the fuel to re-ignite a new passion.

Drew Brees was told by 31 NFL teams that his reconstructed throwing shoulder was too much of a risk. New Orleans, with a new coach, decided to take a chance. Brees transformed that rejection in four years to become the most productive quarterback during that span and to become a champion. Maybe January 23, 2011 will be the moment that Jay Cutler dealt with the pain and laid the foundation for a champion to emerge.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Early 2011 Random Thoughts

Again, it is almost the end of January 2011 and I have let a lot of things go by because I have not had time to sit down and write down my thoughts. I don't even have time to jot them down then transpose it, but on this football championship Sunday, things have quieted down enough to put some things down that have been on my mind.

First, Haiti has disappointed me in a big way. Amidst recovering from its worst disaster ever, a cholera outbreak manifests because $10 billion in aid has been ineffective in improving the lives of the victims there. Whether it has not been spent or mismanaged, bottom line, our donations have gone for naught. Top it off with another controversial presidential election and the return of Papa Doc, and you have the best real-life soap opera in the modern ages. It is time for total UN intervention, as well as the OAS. This situation is why these organizations were founded and it is long overdue to get to work.

As for Africa, the audacity of the illegitimate president of the Ivory Coast is epic. Dude, you lost the election that you have put off for nearly a decade. The people do not want you. Put the guns down, get a plane ticket and get to steppin'. Any coalition government that is created because of your incredible sense of self will not work unless you no longer within the borders of that nation-state. That fact that you inaugurated yourself after the majority of the voters rejected you proves that you are not worthy of playing a role in that nation's future, period. God will keep account of the bloodshed your selfish act has caused. Meanwhile, there is hope in Tunisia and the Sudan. The Southern Sudanese people have desperately sought independence and judging from the initial sentiments prior to the official vote, it looks like that will become a reality. I hope and pray that this act of democracy will bring about a long overdue peace. To the north, the citizens of Tunisia have ousted another wanna-be dictator from the continent. Good for them and the beauty of it was, nobody really saw this coming.

Next, I want to touch on the Ted Williams story. The fact that a homeless alcoholic radio announcer has been given a second chance is what America is all about. But it was never going to be a bed of roses as some people tried to make it. A man with that God-given talent to be out of the normal loop of success and society as a whole meant that he had a lot of demons to exorcise. His reconnection with his family, no matter how caustic, was the first step. Meeting with Dr. Phil, or any psychologist for that matter, was a major step, because he has to be in the right mind frame to enjoy and blossom in this second opportunity. Now he is in rehab. To Mr. Williams: Get everything right with you and within you first. Then, and only then, will you live the life God wants you to have. Good luck to you, sir. I will be rooting for you.

In the no surprise category, the Scott Sisters are free, the Republicans in the US House repealed Health Care Reform and Sarah Palin says she will not shut up. All of those items have one connection: The 2012 challenge to President Barack Obama. MS Gov. Haley Barbour is seriously considering running for POTUS and freeing the Scott Sisters will be a feather in that cap. I am glad to see that the power of the Internet was used to make this a political decision and force justice to be enacted, but understand if Barbour had not made the calculation, then the fight would still be going on.

The Health Care Repeal vote this past week was another chapter in political theater in a time when the civil discourse was suppose improve in light of the Tucson tragedy. Knowing the legislative process, I know that changes to the Health Care Reform legislation could have been done without repealing the bill. Instead, the House Reupblicans chose an action that was just like Yul Brenner's Pharaoh expelling Charleston Hester's Moses, erasing the prophet's name from the Egyptian record and uttering the famous edict: "So it is written, so it shall be done!" Well, we know how effective that strategy was and the GOP repeal vote will be equally as effective and may have a backlash impact in the 2012 elections.

Palin's defiant stand on Fox News definitely is not a surprise, as a matter of fact it was anticipated as she is in a constant battle with irrelevance. Palin will run for POTUS in 2012. Get use to seeing her on every news channel until November 2012.

I know, I know, that was a lot, but I feel so much better. I am honored that y'all read it and I will continue to try to do better to be more timely with my thoughts.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Lost Art of Slow Dancing

I know this is telling my age and starts my descent into old fogeyism, but I just have to ask this...what has happened to slow dancing? Recently, I was given a security detail for a high school party. At the party, the deejay was bumping the latest hits and party favorites and the young people were dancing. Sounds normal, right? It was anything but.

First, while dancing to the jams, I noticed that the boys were dancing in the middle of the dance floor, imitating fraternity stepping and several other popular gyrations. Meanwhile, the girls were circling around them, either on the dance floor or the wall, just watching. I thought I was watching a National Geographic special on an African tribe's traditional warrior dance, with the females watching, trying to pick out a suitable mate.

Then, as has been normal throughout the history of partying, the deejay started playing some slow jams, to give the revelers some rest, and allow the opposite sexes to interact. There was some interaction, but no dancing. Instead, I heard one of the young men say, "This is not a happy hour club!", obviously implying that only slow records should be played at establishments that serve alcohol.

When I was that age, I couldn't wait for a slow jam to come on, especially if I had a young lady that I was interested in at the party in my sights. It was a chance to interact, use my smoothest rap, which wasn't very smooth at all, and get close to a female with little noise as possible, just letting the groove move us. If there was no connection, no problem, but if there was, what a great start!

It seems like now, the young men use the Little Webby approach ("Girl give me that!") instead of the suave, polite approach. Call me old school, but a woman, regardless of age, should be approached in the least harshest fashion possible. However, that does not seem to be the time we live in.

R&B seems to stand for Raunchy&Bold if you listen to the lyrics of the latest songs. All of the illusion of intimacy is gone, it is just raw. Therefore, I guess that love songs and slow dancing don't jive in this day and time. I have to adjust, but it does not stop me from longing for a more simpler, interactive time.

SIGH!!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Open Letter to The Honorable Tim Scott

Reps. Allen West (R-FL) and Tim Scott (R-SC)


To: The Honorable Tim Scott
Member
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC

Dear Rep. Scott:

This correspondence is in regards to your new tenure in the United States Congress. First, and foremost, congratulations on being elected. Your election in South Carolina, as well as the election of The Honorable Allen West in Florida, has written a new chapter in American politics. Being the first African-American Republicans elected in the Deep South since Reconstruction speaks volumes as to how far we all have come as a nation. Your election is as important to the African-American political diaspora as the election of President Barack Obama, because it shows that the Black electorate is not a monolithic one.

That last thought leads me to the second point of this correspondence. Recently you said this to Politico about joining the Congressional Black Caucus:

"I haven't really decided. I'm probably leaning against it at this point...My experience has been the whole notion of one nation - so I really shy away from things that create some kind of boundaries...It highlights the divisions I've been pushing forward to erase."

I understand why you feel that way. I acknowledge that you were a member of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus but you left because of the diverging viewpoints. I speak to you as someone who twice resigned from the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus because I felt that selfish gains were being rewarded and the uplifting of the 1.3 million African-American citizens of Mississippi were being ignored.

The lesson I learned that drew me back to the caucus was this: Change can more easily be gained inside the room rather than outside the door. As a Black man who is a Republican, you can bring a perspective that has not been heard in the CBC since 1996. Rep. West has made the decision to join the CBC. He should not be the lone voice of conservatism in the room.

Many of us who follow politics realize that there were many African-American voices in the Tea Party movement. You and Rep. West now have a chance to express their concerns, not just in the halls of Congress, but in one of the most respected organizations in American politics. To exclude yourself from that organization plays into the divisiveness that you seek to avoid.

Now grant it, I am a Democrat and I have a belief that American government should be a progressive government. However, I have never been adverse to a great idea, regardless of what party or individual comes up with it. The CBC does not need to be monolithic, it needs to be innovative. If any organization has one viewpoint expressed, it will become stagnant and irrelevant. The CBC is too valuable to become that way.

Therefore, I humbly ask you to reconsider your decision, or at least lean toward joining at some time during your tenure. Your voice will be welcomed and your principles will be upheld, because the last time I checked, the CBC seeks the goal of one nation, prosperous and secure, as well.

May God continue to bless you, be with you and keep you in His favor always...and again, congratulations being given the opportunity to serve our great nation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Perils of Public Service

"An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve." - U.S. House Speaker John Boehner

On the morning of January 8, 2011, an enthusiastic Gabrielle Giffords sent a tweet, inviting constituents to attend her Congress on Your Corner event at a mall in Tucson, AZ. Six hours later, she was just leaving surgery, fighting for her life after a lone gunman shot her in the head at point-blank range.

In Mississippi, if you assault an elected official, while they are performing their official duties, you will receive an automatic sentence of three years in jail. That law was passed for a reason. Public servants in the political arena are some of the most vulnerable people for attacks. Why? Because people, even in an apathetic, cynical culture, are passionate about their politics. For totally unstable people, political philosophy, or their concept of one, tips them over the edge.

Knowing this, elected officials go out in the public anyway, listening to the concerns and complaints of the citizens, most of the time without any type of security. I used to get stopped at grocery stores, gas stations, sporting events or even strolling through the park. People call your house with threats. People mail nasty letters. Now, in this day and age, salacious e-mails and blog postings have become the weapons of choice.

All I had to protect me was the hedge of protection God placed around me. No Secret Service, State Troopers, local police or security guards. But here I am, and I would not change a thing. Why? Because that was the peril of one of the greatest jobs in a democratic republic, political public service.

A true public servant will never be afraid to talk to the people that they represent. You must go out and communicate with the people who have given you their trust to handle the people's business. That is the spirit and heart of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Ever since 2007, she has had these type of events, informally talking with voters, explaining to the best of her ability what was going on Washington, DC. Now she is in critical condition in an Intensive Care Unit.

If she could though, I can guarantee she would have no regrets, only remorse for the six people that lost their lives in this bizarre and violent attack. As soon as she can, she will be reaching out to those families, offering condolences, even while she will be recovering from injuries. While fighting through the pain of rehabilitation, she will do her best to let the people of her district know that she is still on the case and that she appreciates all of the prayers and well-wishes.

Eventually, she will get back to work, addressing the concerns of her constituents, giving speeches, taking phone calls, reading e-mails, getting stopped at grocery stores...and well, you get the point.

I was never afraid to go where I needed to go, speak where I needed to speak, read what I needed to read. To me, talking with people was the greatest joy of being in public office, and when you are doing something you enjoy, the last thing to consider is the danger of what you are doing. You don't get paralyzed with fear when you are helping someone address a problem or answering a question that has puzzled them. You just do your job.

That is the mindset of a Gabby Giffords. That is why she will survive. That is why America will never fail. As long as public servants look the peril in the eye and stare it down, democracy will never yield to terror in any form and public service will still be the noblest endeavor of a free society.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Predictions for 2011

I am not Nostradamus, but this should be interesting if they come true...

Tiger Woods will win a golf tournament
A Boston sports team will win a championship
Lindsay Lohan will have a breakout year
Jeff Bridges will win another Oscar
Brett Favre will stay retired
Congress will not cut entitlements and will not change Health Care Reform
The MS House of Representatives will become majority GOP
Haley Barbour will announce he is not running for President
Pakistan will declare war on the Taliban and Al-Quieda
Civil war will re-emerge in the Ivory Coast
North Korea will seek a peaceful solution with all Asian nations
Unemployment will drop below eight percent
Gasoline will go over $3.50
A HBCU basketball team will advance to the Sweet Sixteen
None of the major sports will be cancelled due to labor issues
The top movie of the year will be a romantic comedy
Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj will make an album together and dominate the pop charts
A National Merit Scholar will win a beauty pageant
Kim Khardasian will make over $6 million again
The OWN channel will be a success
Violent crimes will continue to decrease
No athlete will be accused of sexting
The top selling gospel album will out perform the top selling rap album
The EVO will surpass the iPhone
Twitter will be officially declared a news agency

OK, I did mine...have fun with yours and most importantly, have the best 2011 you can control!