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Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Re-examining the 100-1 Ratio

In The Black Man on March 30, 2010 at 12:56 am

While the country was mired in the health care reform debate, the Senate passed a bill that could possibly narrow the disparity between cocaine and crack sentences. According to Jim Abrams of the AP, “Currently, a person convicted of crack cocaine possession gets the same mandatory jail time as someone with 100 times the same quantity of powder cocaine. That 100-1 ratio has been particularly hard on the black community, where convictions on federal crack laws are more prevalent.”

Democratic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who was in favor of the 100-1 ratio bill in 1986, stated that “Crack cocaine had just appeared on the scene, and it scared us because it was cheap, addictive. We thought it was more dangerous than many narcotics.” But now, as Durbin points out, “Law enforcement experts say that the crack-powder disparity undermines trust in the criminal justice system, especially in the African-American community. According to Senator Durbin, African Americans, who roughly comprise 30 percent of crack users, are much more likely to be convicted of federal offenses.

Currently, the House has a similar measure as the Senate (H.R. 3245), the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act awaiting vote. Click here to read the ACLU press release on eliminating the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity.

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Not Just a Bill

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 at 10:06 am

Picking up from the Schoolhouse Rock song “I’m Just a Bill”–

“…And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill
Well, then I’m off to the White House
Where I’ll wait in a line
With a lot of other bills
For the president to sign
And if he signs me, then I’ll be a law.
How I hope and pray that he will…”

The newly reconciled health care reform bill is not just an average bill. This bill, which will be signed into law by President Obama sometime next week, developed over a “long and contentious quest.” Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post continues “Lawmakers are leaving Washington on a rancorous note. Members of both parties seethed over the political response to threats of violence against a number of House Democrats, and senators belittled one another during amendment votes that lasted nearly 21 straight hours.”

The President is on the road promoting the plan, while many governors are pondering suing over the passage of the law. Mississippi’s governor Haley Barbour has been very vociferous in his opposition for the health care reform. For Barbour “A physician’s creed is to ‘First, do no harm.’ The health care legislation passed Sunday infects the economy with harmful tax increases, strips benefits from senior citizens and robs each citizen of their basic freedom to choose their own health care.”

“Not So Fast My Friends”

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 at 3:14 am

Channeling my inner Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friends” maybe we don’t have healthcare reform. Senate Republicans were successful in their challenge of halting the Democrats reform and the newest law, at least for now. Perhaps Vice President Joe Biden was a little premature with his comments about the reform bill, now maybe he should say this is a big deal.

According to MSNBC, “Senate Republicans succeeded early Thursday in forcing a change in a measure altering President Barack Obama’s newly enacted health care overhaul, meaning the bill will have to return to the House for final congressional approval. It was initially unclear how much of a problem this posed for Democrats hoping to rush the bill to Obama and avoid further congressional votes on what has been a politically painful ordeal for the party.”

The American public is getting a valuable lesson in American government 101; better yet, I can hear the old Schoolhouse Rock tune, “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill, and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it’s a long, long journey to the capital city. It’s a long, long wait while I’m sitting in committee. But I know I’ll be a law someday, at least I hope, I pray that I will, but today I am still just a bill.” Maybe the healthcare reform law or bill is even a little too complex for Schoolhouse Rock.

“Hell No You Can’t”

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 at 8:32 am

In March Madness fashion, late last night on the House floor, minority leader John Boehner put on a full court press to stop the passage of the health care reform bill. Boehner’s impassioned speech asked several poignant questions to the proponents of the bill, but none perhaps more memorable than: “Look at how this bill was written, can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without back room deals that’re struck behind closed doors? Hidden from the people? Hell no you can’t!”

For Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, “but rather than calm the demonstrators, Republican congressmen whipped the masses into a frenzy. There on the House balcony, the GOP lawmakers’ legislative dissent and the tea-party protest merged into one. Some lawmakers waved handwritten signs and led the crowd in chants of ‘Kill the bill.’ A few waved the yellow ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag of the tea-party movement. Still others fired up the demonstrators with campaign-style signs mocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” But by the end of a very long night, with emotions running high, the bill passed.

For President Obama this was a victory–not only did he fulfill a campaign promise, but approving the measured “proved that we are still capable of doing big things. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.”

The Rise of Obamacare?

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Last minute heroics–that’s what March Madness is all about. Unlikely heroes emerge, heroes like Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh; heroes like Dayton Flyers’ Brittany Wilson and her game winning layup. Well, this March Madness is not only relegated to the hardwood, it has taken Capitol Hill by storm. Last ditch efforts by opponents to derail “Obamacare.” Verbal jabs on the House floor, priceless exchange, and with an historic bill of this magnitude, do we really expect anything less?

In spite of the heroics on the hardwood or Capitol Hill, fans and bystanders can cross the line a time or two. One of my favorite professors likes to say that when it comes to matters of the heart, be prepared for pushback, but also be prepared for the unexpected. And for those protesting at Capitol Hill yesterday, protesting an issue that is very close to the heart, some, not everyone, crossed the line by shouting racial and homophobic epithets. The beauty of America is our diversity of opinion and the medium for which it can be voiced. Perhaps the ugly side of America can be that as well–using that opportunity to spout hate.

Well, who’s Capitol Hill’s hero? Pro-lifer, Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan–Stupak and pro-life Democrats reached a compromise with the White House, in which an executive order reinforcing the language of the Hyde Amendment, a rider that prevents federal funding for paying for abortion. Who would have ever thought it, and it almost seems like an oxymoron, a pro-life Democrat–however, the pro-lifers prevail.

Defying the Odds

In The Black Man on March 17, 2010 at 9:35 am

Tim King, founder and CEO of Urban Prep in Chicago, has reason to be proud: his vision of reclaiming young African American boys from the streets, drugs, and gangs and putting them on a path of manhood and productive citizenship is underway. “A role model doesn’t have to be a parent, but if you don’t have someone who looks like you, who has a similar background, about whom you can say, ‘He did it and I can do it,’ then you never will believe it. That’s why all these kids want to be basketball players or rap stars –those are the people they see who look like them.”

So, King decided to become more visible, become a star in his own right, he founded Urban Prep Charter Academy, the nation’s first all-male, all-African American charter school in the Southside of Chicago. 107 seniors are graduating, and out of that 107, all have been accepted to four year colleges or universities. According to abcnews.com, when the school opened four years ago, only 4 percent reading at grade level. Duaa Eldeib of the Chicago Tribune quotes King as saying that “There were those who told me that you can’t defy the data. Black boys are killed. Black boys drop out of high school. Black boys go to jail. Black boys don’t go to college. Black boys don’t graduate from college. They were wrong.” But the job is not done. King sees this as just another accomplishment in the journey of life. Now the focus shifts to seeing that these young men attend college: King said that “If we fulfill our mission, that means they not only are accepted to college, but graduate from it.”

And for graduating senior Bryant Alexander, “we’re breaking barriers and that feels great.”

But, that Old Powerful But

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2010 at 9:12 am

Last week First Lady Michelle Obama came to Mississippi. Her visit to the Hospitality State garnered a lot of attention, both locally and nationally. While I wanted to be present for this historic visit, I was out of town. So I intently followed the events. Granted, I wished her visit would have been for more positive reasons–it turns out that for the past five years, Mississippi has been deemed the fattest state in the union. But…

The old powerful but–But, she did point to progress in creating a healthy Mississippi. She mentioned Starkville School District’s removal of deep fryers from the schools’ cafeterias. This is great. But, there’s that thing again, but, while surfing the newspapers last night, I came across a rather interesting sidenote to the Obama visit. Long time Clarion Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow, well, his column for the paper has been axed. According to the Jackson Free Press, “Eric Stringfellow, who has worked with The Clarion-Ledger as a writer or editor since 1982, revealed today that the executive editor of the paper, Ronni Agnew, has dropped his column…Stringfellow accuses Agnew of dropping his column because he revealed that the paper had killed his column about first lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Jackson.”

What’s all this flap about? Hmmp. So I kept reading…In the axed column, Stringfellow writes “Barbour is carrying the flag in the GOP’s assault on the president’s agenda but still managed to do a day-long waltz with the First Lady as the local big shots in the president’s where pushed to the back. Barbour’s gifts, perhaps coupled with the White House’s political incompetence, made part of Obama’s show offensive.” For more on Eric Stringfellow and his dismissal from the paper, click here.

The Man behind the Boss

In Uncategorized on March 8, 2010 at 9:21 am

St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson said in an interview with Jay Crawford on ESPN’s First Take that he would not have been the second leading rusher in the NFL in 2009 if it were not for his offensive line. Jackson continued with the interview by saying that he gets the publicity and typically the offensive line is overlooked. In this case, the team or the men behind, or more aptly, the team of men in front of Steven Jackson solidifies him as one of the better backs in the NFL.

Growing up I often heard that “behind every good man is a good woman.” And as a kid, hearing that really didn’t make sense, so I would often ask, “what does this mean?” Now as an adult, I understand this adage somewhat better. Essentially, an individual’s success (gender neutral) can be measured by the team of advisors around him or her. For Congressman Bennie Thompson that trusted advisor is I. Lanier Avant.

I had the pleasure of meeting Avant, along with the Stennis Institute’s student association–Stennis-Montgomery Association (SMA) last week. As Congressman Thompson’s chief of staff and staff director of the House Homeland Security Committee, Avant has become, as the Network Journal points out, “the right-hand man for Mississippi [the] Congressman…Notwithstanding his 20-year relationship with Thompson, his mentor, he insists on constantly proving himself. He is chief policy adviser and political designee, oversees six district offices and manages a staff of 70. During the 110th Congress, he spearheaded a robust agenda, including more than 130 congressional hearings on the Department of Homeland Security’s critical operations, which exposed deficiencies, streamlined priorities and created more efficient infrastructures in the department.”

When in a room with Avant, one quickly becomes intrigued by his charisma. For the students of SMA and more specifically, for me, the annual D.C. trip is made the better for being in the presence of one of D.C.’s top political insiders.

No Ford Here

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

So, one of the sons of Memphis’ political dynasty–Harold Ford–decided not to run for Senator of New York. According to Michael Barbaro of the New York Times, “Harold E. Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who has sought to parlay his star power and Wall Street connections into a political career in New York, has decided not to challenge Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand in the Democratic primary this September.”

Over his tour of the state, Ford’s potential candidacy was not received well by some, including the Obama administration. This according to the New York Daily News, who quoted an Obama campaign insider of saying of Ford, “This was about raising his profile and he probably succeeded. Nobody knew who he was in New York and now they do.”

A Little Too Familiar

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2010 at 2:10 am

It was not that long ago where all eyes were on Haiti. An unexpected 7.0 earthquake ravaged the island nation. After the earthquake in Haiti, I instantly remembered the 1989 California earthquake and the devastation it caused. I didn’t think that I would see an earthquake of such magnitude occur again this year, let alone within two months. This past weekend: a 7.0 earthquake near Japan triggers tsunami warnings; and an 8.8 earthquake in Chile.

Gautman Naik of the Wall Street Journal writes “Three massive earthquakes have struck in less than two months, raising the questions: Are they related, and are we living in a time of more and bigger temblors? The Chile earthquake, 8.8 on the Richter scale, was by far the largest. But a little noticed 7.0 quake struck near Japan’s Ryukyu islands just a few hours earlier, triggering its own tsunami warnings. The Jan. 12 temblor in Haiti was also 7.0, about 500 times less powerful than the Chile quake, though it appears to have killed many more people. That prompts yet another question: Why did a much larger quake cause much less destruction? Scientists say the three recent earthquakes probably aren’t related, mainly because they occurred at such great distances from one another.”

The events are unrelated but the pain is all too familiar. The pictures coming out of Chile are heartbreaking, and in addition to the destruction comes reports of looting. Desperation, heartache, and fear. And it starts with one day at a time, and that is no simple task.