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In Praise of Barack Obama

July 28, 2017
US-POLITICS-OBAMA-CORRESPONDENTS

“I am the B-A-R-A-C-K we are meant to be”

Fans of the Tony Award winning musical Hamilton will recognize the above lyric from the show’s “My Shot” in Act 1. I use it because just like Alexander Hamilton did over 200 years before, in 2008 Barack Hussein Obama took his shot when he ran for president. And like Hamilton, he didn’t waste his shot and ran on, among other things, a fervent promise to pass healthcare reform for all (I still believe it should have been called healthcare insurance reform but I digress). And with a sweeping mandate that gave Democrats control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, President Obama delivered on that promise when he signed the ACA into law on March 23, 2010 without a single Republican vote.

And early this morning, after over 50 fake repeal votes in the House, Supreme Court affirming decisions in June 2012 and June 2015 and a relentless and heartless attack by Republicans hell bent on stripping healthcare insurance from millions of Americans, including many of their own constituents, three brave GOP senators – Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – joined all 48 Democratic senators in voting down the so-called skinny repeal of the ACA.

Barack Obama ran for and won election as POTUS twice, both times winning the popular AND Electoral College vote. He came into office on January 20, 2009 with the nation’s (and world’s) economy on the brink of an unprecedented global economic depression. His actions, along with Democrats in Congress, helped stabilize and save the auto, banking and housing industries. Over his two terms in office, the economy improved, unemployment went down drastically and because he kept his promise, millions more Americans have healthcare insurance today than they did eight years ago. And while Democrats lost their majorities in the House and Senate while Obama was president, they did so while ensuring more Americans would and will have access to healthcare for themselves and their families.

The fight is not over. We have someone in the Oval Office who’s as clueless about his job as can be imagined. Congress is controlled by Republicans fully determined to destroy the accomplishments and legacy of the Obama Administration. They are ruling with a combination of disdain and disregard for anything that doesn’t serve their corporate masters – the Koch brothers among them – and the 1% who already have more money than they will ever be able to spend. Their heartlessness, exemplified by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in the Senate and House respectively, continues unabated by last night’s defeat. They have no intention of working with their Democratic colleagues because they just don’t care about doing the right thing for ALL Americans.

But today is a day to celebrate and remember that we recently had a president with intelligence, political experience and the heart and courage to do the right thing for all Americans, regardless of party, race, color, sexual identity or if they voted for him or not.

Barack Obama took his shot and America is a better place today because he did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The First”

April 15, 2017

JR signing

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

I am an unabashed lifelong baseball and Dodgers fan. I LOVE baseball. It was the first sport I learned to play, it was the one I played best and it’s the one I still follow most passionately. And as far I’m concerned, any records and/or statistics before April 15, 1947 simply don’t matter. Because on that date, major league baseball’s color line changed and Jack Roosevelt Robinson became the first black American to play in the major leagues. Keep in mind, this was years before Brown vs Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act. Most of America was legally and socially segregated and would remain so for years.

Being first matters in life. Very seldom do we remember who came in second or who was second-best. The Rolling Stones have endured far longer than the Beatles but it’s the latter who are still considered the greatest band ever. The Sylvers were a fantastically talented family group but they ain’t the Jackson Five. And while Larry Doby joined the Cleveland Indians just a few short months after Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers (he and Satchel Paige were on the team’s 1948 World Series winning team) and endured much of the same vile treatment, very few remember this. Why? Because Doby was the second and Jackie was the first.

Jackie Robinson’s jersey number 42 is the only number in American professional sports that is retired across an entire league. It is displayed in every major league ballpark and the great former Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera was the last player to ever wear it. It is truly fitting that the last player to ever wear 42 in the major leagues exhibited the same on-field excellence and dignity and grace as Jackie Robinson did every game of his 10 year career with the Dodgers.

Today is the 70th anniversary of Jackie’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. As they have since 2004, every player in the major leagues will wear 42 on their jersey and Robinson will be honored in every ball park across America. And in Los Angeles, the Dodgers will honor the most significant player in major league history with the unveiling of a statue of Robinson stealing home. His widow Rachel, daughter Sharon along with other family members and various dignitaries will attend the ceremonies. Also expected to be in attendance are Jackie’s former teammates Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe and Tommy Lasorda.

When I was a kid in 1950’s and 60’s and even into the 70s, there were literally dozens of black Americans in the major leagues. I worshipped and adored Wiliie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson and the player I tried to emulate, Frank Robinson, just to name a few. There were so many, Ebony magazine used to run an issue each season with photos of all black (and Latin) players on each team. Sadly, that’s no longer the case.

Jackie Robinson would no doubt be dismayed that on the day he’s being honored, the number of black Americans in the major leagues is at 6.7% and several teams don’t have a single one on their active roster. Ironically, it’s the team that was the last to add a black player, the Boston Red Sox that has the most today. To its credit, MLB has an ongoing effort to increase the number of blacks playing baseball through their Urban Baseball Academy program but it remains a daunting task.

But today is about honoring the accomplishments, deeds and legacy of the single most important figure in American professional sports, Jackie Robinson. What he endured and sacrificed will never be fully known or understood but, because he did, so many others have been able to have better lives. He may have played a game for a living but his influence across the entire spectrum of American life is his most important and lasting legacy.

“How Ya’ Like Me Now?”

March 26, 2017

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-CORRESPONDENTS

“How ya’ like me now?”

All America needs to know about the stark difference between the 44th and 45th presidents of these United States of America can be found in two accounts of how each man approached the very thorny issue of healthcare insurance in America.

One president, let’s call him Barack Hussein Obama II, took an educated, measured, well thought-out and executed approach that actually led to the ACA being voted into law. A law that an obviously disappointed and discouraged Paul Ryan on Friday conceded “is the law of the land. It is going to remain the law of the land.”

Conversely, Donald J. Trump took what can charitably be described as a “hands-off” approach that not only didn’t lead to the passage of the AHCA, but resulted in the bill being pulled last Friday without a floor vote in the House of Representatives. By all accounts, on both sides of the issue, the main thing that’s come out is how engaged and knowledgeable Obama was in the 13 months prior to the 2010 vote on the ACA and how disengaged and uninformed Trump was in the SEVENTEEN DAYS between the introduction of the ACHA and it’s being pulled.

One other fact that became widely known: Paul Ryan is no Nancy Pelosi. Speaker Pelosi worked tirelessly for well over a year to bring her Democratic caucus together with the White House and Harry Reid led Senate. She never gave up, never caved in and ultimately delivered the necessary votes for passage. On the other hand, Ryan, who had seven years to craft a plan to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” tried to ramrod a fatally flawed bill through the House in less than three weeks. He couldn’t convince his majority caucus to agree on anything until last Friday when he pulled the bill off legislative life-support.

From the moment he selected Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 to January 20, 2017, Barack Obama led America with intelligence, class, dignity, grace, integrity and most importantly, compassion for ALL Americans.  Not one single indictment of an administration official occurred on Obama’s watch. No special prosecutors and no resignations because of scandal and/or illegal behavior. He sat in the Situation Room during the raid that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Trump was somewhere in the White House residence, doing God knows what, during his first major military operation (the controversial raid in Sudan). Talk about “leading from behind.” SMH

Meanwhile, only 66 days into his first (and hopefully only) term, Trump has the lowest popularity rating of any president this early in his administration. Today there are numerous reports that his first national security advisor retired General Michael Flynn, who was forced into resigning over his alleged ties to Russia, may have cut a deal with the FBI to avoid prosecution. And Trump, who heavily and constantly criticized President Obama for playing golf instead of working on the nation’s problems, this weekend made his 12th trip to a golf course in only nine weeks in office. I’d call that hypocritical but don’t want to disparage honest hypocrites.

Once upon a time, America had true statesmen serving in the Oval Office. Today, we have a bloviating, con man devoted to lining the pockets of his family at the expense of hard-working Americans. And he doesn’t have an ounce of shame about doing so.

Barack Obama just keeps looking better and better with each passing day.

Why “Hidden Figures” Matters

January 8, 2017

hidden-figures-750x315_orig

“Mary Jackson”  “Katherine G. Johnson”  “Dorothy Vaughn”

Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. Three American pioneers whose names you’ve probably have heard of nor do you know their pivotal roles as pioneers in the nascent days of this nation’s space program. But, with the release of the new feature film, Hidden Figures, there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to not know their names and their inspiring stories.

The juxtaposition of this film’s release with the impending departure of Barack Obama and the arrival of Donald Trump as president shouldn’t be downplayed or ignored. The story of these dignified, educated, proud and highly qualified women who had to fight for everything they got at a time and in an area that was legally segregated, is one that should be seen by all. These women have far more in common with Michelle Obama than the Real Housewives of Atlanta or any other trashy “reality” show where African-American women make fools of themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, both Fences and Moonlight are both great films full of inspired performances and I highly recommend seeing both. BUT, Hidden Figures is based on REAL-LIFE people and TRUE events. Without the work of Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and the rest of the “Colored Computers” who worked at NASA’s Langley, VA facilities, the American space program most likely would have never happened. And that’s a story for everyone.

Why I Kneel with Colin Kaepernick

September 9, 2016

kaepernick-kneeling

Once again, we’ve been shown, in two distinctly different situations, the differences between white and black people in America.
Imagine if you will, then-Senator Obama praising Putin during the 2008 presidential campaign. Can you imagine the outrage, justifiable in my mind, that the GOP and media would have evoked and exhibited towards him? Now, look at the relatively muted response from both towards Donald Trump today. They would have destroyed Barack Obama and called him everything but a child of God.
Add in the various responses to the recent actions and words of 49er QB Colin Kaepernick regarding the American flag. For the most part, whites have called him ungrateful and unpatriotic while most blacks, have said, “Yeah Kap, you get it. You see the hypocrisy of what’s going on today.”
You can say whatever you want about me but I support Colin Kaepernick’s stance 1000%! Black men have been killed by police for doing such things as selling loose cigarettes on a street corner or not getting out of the street when ordered to by a police officer. BUT, a white man shoots up a Colorado movie theater, killing TWELVE people and he’s taken into custody alive.
A white racist goes into a black CHURCH in Charleston, SC, kills NINE innocent people who were gathered to worship and praise God, and not only is he taken into custody without a single shot fired, the police stop by a Burger King on the way to the jail because he was hungry.
My family has a long and proud history of serving in uniform. My parents and uncles all served as did I (USAF 1973-77). They put themselves on the line for this country at a time when in many parts of it, they weren’t even treated as full citizens. The very same flag they served to protect and honor was used to deny them their full civil rights in the segregated Deep South.
I know this makes some white people, well-meaning and who don’t support any form of discrimination and police abuse, uncomfortable but, there are huge and significant differences between the way most black and white Americans view this country and its flag and what it’s supposed to mean. Kaepernick, in his own way, is giving voice and a face to those differences and I kneel with him all the way.

Labor Day 2016

September 5, 2016

Like some of you, I’m “seasoned” enough to remember when Labor Day meant the unofficial end of summer and the start of school the next day. Today, kids go back to school in August and Labor Day seems like just another Monday holiday.

Since Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers en masse – to be fair, they knew they were legally barred from striking and had been warned that Reagan would fire them – we’ve seen a steady reduction in the numbers and influence of unions and their members. Many states, particularly in Southern states, have enacted “right-to-work” laws and regulations which have led to reduced earnings and benefits.

The GOP has been virulently anti-union and its elected officials from the local level to the White House have done everything within their power to heed the desires of their corporate bosses and donors. They see unions and their members as greedy, lazy, unproductive workers who don’t want to work hard, but just want to be protected and coddled. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve dealt with unions for almost 40 years now both as a member when a part of labor and management when I’ve held executive positions. I respect and honor the primary goals of unions – good wages, benefits and job protection – for those they represent. Currently, I am a proud employee of the State of California and an equally proud member of SEIU and both entities have been good to and for me.

On this Labor Day, I salute the past, present and future of labor unions and their members. Unions have been at the forefront of ensuring a middle class in America and must be supported in trying to keep that dream alive and obtainable for as many as possible.

May God Bless and Keep You All and please, vote on Election Day!

Why Trump Is Losing

August 13, 2016

I’ve always believed that the seeds of Trump’s running were sown at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner when he was absolutely roasted by both Obama and Seth Meyers (then of SNL). But, he was smart enough to realize that Obama would destroy him (if he happened to win the GOP nomination) so he went back to the big money of “The Apprentice” and his sundry other endeavors and waited until the ’16 cycle. He figured that HRC would run and knowing that she’s the only Democrat more hated by Republicans than Obama, figured he at least had a chance against her. And lo and behold, because of his fame and almost 100% name recognition, along with the total collapse of his collective opponents (Jeb Bush’s arrogance in thinking America has forgotten what his brother did to this country is breathtaking and mystifying to this writer), he was able to bloviate, bluff and bluster his way into the nomination.

But, now it’s time for the general election and this is where being a professional politician pays off in spades. Your base is pretty much locked in so the difference between winning and losing is message discipline, platform/policies, money, ground game/structure, attracting the undecideds and getting out the vote on Election Day. One has to have a reasonably thick skin, the ability to not take things personal and most of all, be able to avoid saying stupid stuff.

Political views aside, the one advantage HRC has over DJT is that she’s a professional politician through and through. Very little that happens during a campaign will catch her off-guard and even when it does, she dusts herself off and gets right back on the bucking bronco that is a presidential campaign. Case in point: look at the candidates’ very different responses to being attacked by a Gold Star parent at their respective conventions. When HRC was personally blamed by a grieving mother for the death of her son at Benghazi, she said, “I don’t hold any ill feeling for someone who in that moment may not fully recall everything that was or wasn’t said.” We all know how DJT chose to respond to the Khans.

Trump, like many powerful men who’ve never run for office before – it takes ego to run for any office but imagine the ego it takes to make your very first campaign one for the White House – doesn’t know or care about conventional wisdom when it comes to actually running for office. He’s used to telling people what to do and when that doesn’t work, he knows how to throw enough money at a problem until it goes away.

However, this is HRC’s fourth campaign – 2 NY Senate runs and her second one for the presidency – and she’s also been in politics and running for office ever since she and Bill started out in Arkansas. She’s the wily veteran boxer who’s seen it all. There’s nothing she’s going to get surprised by on the campaign trail. Debates? She is going to wipe the floor with DJT’s own words and stunning lack of knowledge of both domestic and foreign affairs. HRC knows the world, its leaders and can even pronounce their names properly. DJT knows this and that’s why he’s already hedging on committing to the three scheduled debates and saying the “election’s rigged, folks!” He’s building his excuses now so that on Election Night, he can say, “See, I told you she was going to steal this election.”

Whatever else DJT is, he’s not stupid. Just like John McCain will never publicly admit that selecting Sarah Palin as a running mate was a huge mistake, Trump will never confess to being in over his head now. But deep down inside, when it’s just him and his thoughts, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that he thinks, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”

Ali & Me

June 5, 2016

The Greatest.jpg-large

I had two personal interactions with “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali. The first when I was a teenager in San Diego, CA and the second when he lived in the gated community Fremont Place here in Los Angeles (the same house “Rocky Balboa” owned in Rocky II).

If you recall, Ali fought Ken Norton in San Diego in March 1973 – I was a senior in high school – at the Sports Arena. A few days before the fight, I read in the morning newspaper that Ali would be working out at the city-owned Golden Hall. My mother was a long-time city employee in City Hall and I knew my way around the various buildings. In fact, I knew the security guard and how to sneak into the place with or without his assistance. So, and for some reason I don’t remember who went with me, a couple of buddies and I decided to ditch class and go see “The Greatest” work out.

We got in – unlike today, there was ZERO security – and found ourselves some seats. We’d all grown up knowing about and admiring this man and right there in front of us, Muhammad Ali was sparring. His hands were a blur, creating rifle-shot like sounds on the pads and yes, he did the famous “Ali Shuffle.” I guess we made some noise because all of a sudden, a couple of his crew looked over and one of them said, “Who the hell are you?” Ali heard the commotion, turned around, looked at us and said, “You boys working for Ken Norton?” No sir was our response. Then he said, “You working for [President] Nixon or the FBI?” Again, we gave a negative response. He then said, “Leave those boys alone” and waved us over.

We shook hands with him – he’d had his gloves cut off – and told him how much we admired him. Ali asked why we weren’t in school, we told why we’d come down, and he told us that he was glad to see us but we needed to get “your butts back in class right now.” We nodded and took our leave. (Today, we’d have a few selfies as proof but back then, all we could get were some cherished memories).

My second encounter took place several years later in the early 1980s. I’d moved to LA after the Air Force and one Sunday morning, I took a long bike ride from the Crenshaw District to the tony Hancock Park area. Somehow, I found an open walkway gate into Fremont Place and was slowly riding through the wide streets admiring the stately and opulent homes. As I passed one driveway, I saw a black man who appeared to be in his mid-to-late 30’s and we exchanged the “Black man nod.” I said, “Hey man, you’ve got a beautiful house.” He laughed and said that it wasn’t his but he worked for the man who owned and asked if I’d like to meet him. I said sure, why not and got off my bike.

Turns out the man was James Anderson (father of former NFL running back Jamal) and he was one of Ali’s bodyguards. To this day, after several decades of working in and around the celebrity/entertainment industry, I’ll never understand why he took me, a total stranger, inside to meet Ali but he did and for that act of kindness, I’m eternally grateful.

I ended up spending about an hour with Ali in his office – he claimed to remember our previous meeting when I mentioned it but I think he was just saying that to make me feel good – and just sat there utterly enthralled. He did a few corny magic tricks, threw some fake punches at me (God, his hands were HUGE) and at one point, took a phone call from someone who apparently needed some financial assistance because, after he hung up the phone, Ali reached into a drawer and pulled out a big checkbook/ledger.

As he wrote out a check, he looked at me and said, “Hey, how do you spell hundred?” I was floored; was this another of Ali’s tricks or did he really not know how to spell hundred? Either way, I spelled it for him and James Anderson said it was time for me to go.

He escorted me to my bike and I thanked him profusely for the opportunity to spend some time with Ali. He said, “You’re welcome. Just don’t tell anybody about this; I could lose my job.” I don’t know who I could have told, but I never did…until now.

May Allah bless the eternal soul of Muhammad Ali, THE G.O.A.T. of all GOATS.

Prince’s Passing

April 24, 2016

So, sitting around with a few “non-industry” friends last night and of course, the main subject of the conversation was the passing of Prince. All of us had fond memories of the man, his music and seeing him perform. Some had seen him early in his career – I was the only one to have seen him perform at Flippers Skating Rink in LA – some mid-career or on his 2004 arena tour, some at the Essence Festival in New Orleans and many at the Forum a few years ago. Out of the 10 of us, only one guy hadn’t seen Prince live.

And, of course, the inevitable comparisons between the Purple One and the Gloved One came up and were “discussed” with some vigor. There was Team Michael over here and Team Prince over here with a couple of fence straddlers. But here’s why I’m writing this – one guy said, “You know, there seems to be a grace and dignity in Prince’s passing that just wasn’t there when MJ died.” And oh boy did that set off Team Michael!

TM argued about how MJ was the bigger global star who shut down TV for the weekend, whose funeral was so big it had to be held at Staples Center, etc, etc. But this guy, and I must admit to agreeing with him, made the point that while MJ died unexpectedly under the care of a quack doctor, at least for now, there seems to be valid medical reasons for Prince’s sudden death. He went on to say that yeah, we might find out some stuff when the full autopsy results are released but for now, Prince died a much more dignified death.

We also talked about the severe contrast in the days immediately following their deaths. Hayvenhurst was a scene for days while the crowds outside Paisley Park were quiet and respectful in their mourning. MJ’s “funeral” was a mass media production while Prince’s family, friends and close associates held a private service at PP after his cremation. And then there’s been the reaction/responses from Prince’s musical peers and industry admirers.

From the Broadway show casts of Hamilton and The Color Purple singing choruses of his songs to Bruce Springsteen opening his Brooklyn show with Purple Rain and the SNL special (how is it that MJ never appeared on that show?) last night, the outpouring of respect for Prince has been broad in scope and focused mainly on his musical gifts. And unfortunately, because of the tawdriness of his last decade or so, so much of the MJ death coverage focused on that.

This was the last thing my friend said – “Prince died at home, in the place he’d built and owned for over 25 years. MJ died in a rental house at the hands of a quack doctor which is a fucking disgrace.”

Remembering Reese

February 5, 2016

Reese in Egypt

You never know…how much someone can mean to not only your life but the lives of those around you.
 
For the past few hours, I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the passing of Maurice White. Not only from fans around the world, but from my family and friends who know of my personal connection to him and Earth, Wind & Fire. The Facebook messages, phone calls, emails and text messages have been A-MAY-ZING and touched my grieving heart and soul more than you can ever know.
 
Imagine being a fan of an artist and/or band since high school, having all of their music, seeing them in concert multiple times over the years, following them across Texas and Oklahoma for 4 consecutive nights, and then, meeting Al McKay one Saturday morning at the movies in Hollywood.
 
Because of that chance meeting, which HAD to be orchestrated by God himself, my life, professionally and personally, changed forever. Because of that day, not only was I allowed into the EWF family, by extension, so were my family and friends.
 
Little known fact: my uncle, former Los Angeles City Councilman David Cunningham, was the original sponsor of the band’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He did so simply because I asked him to.
 
Since the news of Reese’s passing, I’ve been reminded by L. Bishop Austin, Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn and others that they met him and the band through me. I am humbled by your mentioning me at this time and so glad that I was able to share my experiences with you.
 
A great writer, Steven Ivory, wrote what I consider to be the greatest tribute to Maurice and the band he created and led to the very highest heights of the music industry. Writing in SOUL Newspaper about the release of what many consider the band’s best album, “All ‘N All,” in 1977, Ivory’s tagline for his article was, “It’s Hard Being Funky and Saved at the Same Time.”
 
That was Reese (or Rooney to some) in ten words. The thing was, he and the fellas made it look and sound so damn easy because of the joy their music brought to the world.
 
I once asked him what was the best thing about Earth, Wind & Fire at its peak. I don’t know exactly what I expected him to say, but he didn’t mention hit records, album sales, being the first black act to top both the Billboard Pop Singles and Album charts at the same time, awards, etc, etc. Here’s what he said: “Charles, I had a band that could give me everything I asked for and needed, whenever I wanted and needed it, and they never let me down.”
 
Reese, you never let us down. Your music and lyrics, your positive messages and your incredible vision that was and is Earth, Wind & Fire are forever imbedded in people around the globe. Your influence on generations of musicians and live concert performers is eternal and unchanging.
 
Thank you for everything you gave me and mean to my life. We are linked not only by our beloved Memphis but by the spirit of life and love you shared with the world.
 
May Almighty God bless your eternal soul, your family and friends.
 
I AM