August 15, 2013
By Travis Loller
A Tennessee judge's decision to change a baby's first name from Messiah to Martin is drawing strong reactions from people who believe the judge overstepped her powers and those who think parents' creativity should have some limits.
Thousands of people have commented online about the judge's order since WBIR-TV published its story over the weekend. Many of them said Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew went too far, but not all.
"I agree 100 percent that we only have one messiah and that's Jesus Christ," said Edith Wood, a resident of Cocke County in eastern Tennessee, where the boy lives. The mostly rural county is located in the Appalachian foothills and encompasses part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Wood said a cousin called from Atlanta and asked her to find the judge and take her out to dinner. Telephone calls to Ballew from The Associated Press rang unanswered Monday, and her voicemail was full.
The hubbub started when the boy's mother sought an order to establish paternity. It included a request for the judge to determine the child's last name.
When Ballew heard Messiah's first name, she decided it should be changed, too, saying the child could face problems with the name Messiah.
The name on his birth certificate was Messiah DeShawn Martin. The judge changed it to Martin DeShawn McCullough, giving the boy his father's last name while replacing Messiah with his mother's surname.
"The word messiah is a title, and it's a title that has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ," she told WBIR-TV in an interview from her office, which had a ceramic figurine of Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus on her desk. A copy of the Ten Commandments hung on the wall.
While Messiah may not be a traditional English name, it is becoming more popular. Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, just ahead of King but behind Major at No. 1, according to the Social Security Administration's annual list of popular baby names.
And other religious names are very common, such as Mohammed in Islamic culture and Jesus (pronounced Heh-SOOS') in Hispanic culture.
Asked about the name Jesus, Ballew said it was not relevant to the current case.
A number of countries have rules about what are acceptable baby names. In Iceland earlier this year, a girl won a court battle to legally use the name given to her by her mother. Blaer means "light breeze" in Icelandic, but it was deemed to be not a proper feminine name by authorities, who referred to her in government documents as "Girl."
Hedy Weinberg, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said the U.S. is different because of the First Amendment.
"Parents, not the government, have the right to name a child," she said. "The judge cannot impose her faith on those who come into her courtroom."
The ACLU has offered to help the parents fight the decision.
Laura Wattenberg, the founder of babynamewizard.com, said she has been using the name Messiah as an example of changing baby names.
"The percentage of kids getting names we think of as normal is shrinking," Wattenberg said. "Today, Paisley is more common than Mary."
Messiah Ramkissoon, a spoken word poet based in New York City, said people sometimes assume his name is a stage name. But he said the name simply represents a messenger and doesn't refer exclusively to Jesus. He added that many people are named Emanuel, which means "God is with us" and is another term used for Jesus in the Bible.
The baby's mother, Jaleesa Martin, told WBIR-TV she chose the name Messiah because she likes the way it sounds and thinks it goes well with the names of her other two sons, Micah and Mason. She said she's appealing the decision and in the meantime will still call her son Messiah.
"I never intended on that — naming my son Messiah because it means God," she said. "And I didn't think a judge could make me change my baby's name because of her religious beliefs."
August 15, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
After openly weeping and apologizing for his behavior, former U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. was sentenced to 2 ½ years in federal prison on Wednesday for using $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
“Your honor, throughout this process I’ve asked the government and the court to hold me and only me accountable for my actions,” Jackson told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. He said, “I am the example for the whole Congress. I understand that. I didn’t separate my personal life from my political activities, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
He also said, “I misled the American people, I misled the House of Representatives.” Dabbing his eyes with tissues, he said, “I was wrong and I do not fault anyone.”
As the younger Jackson delivered his statement, his father, Jesse Jackson, Sr., sat in the first row listening as tears ran down his cheeks and his mother, Jacqueline, donned sunglasses for much of the proceedings.
Jackson’s wife, Sandra, a former Chicago alderwoman, was sentenced to a year in prison and will have to serve all 12 months. She must also repay $22,000 taken from her own campaign account for alderwoman. Family members wept when she was sentenced.
Based on time off for good behavior, Jackson, Jr. could be released after completing 25.5 months. In addition, Jackson, Jr. must perform 500 hours of community service.
Because the couple has two children, aged 13 and 9, they will serve time consecutively, with the husband entering prison first. Prosecutors had asked that Jackson Jr. be sentenced to four years in prison and his wife 18 months.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that Jackson treated campaign funds as “a personal piggy bank.”
The judge acknowledged that in the past lawmakers , were more loose with the use of campaign funds, but Jackson’s actions far exceeded even those limits.
“There may be blurred lines for Congress to follow when their lives are political, this case did not come near those areas,” she told Jackson, Jr., who represented Chicago’s South Side for 17 years, “This was a knowing, organized joint misconduct that was repeated over many years.”
Jackson, Jr., once a rising political star and the oldest son of civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., pleaded guilty to conspiracy, making false statements, mail fraud and wire fraud. His wife Sandra was charged with filing false tax returns.
According to the federal information filed in federal court, Jackson knowingly misspent campaign funds from about August 2005 through July 2012. It said Jackson and his wife conspired to “enrich themselves by engaging in a conspiracy and a scheme to defraud in which they used funds donated to the Campaign for their own personal benefit.”
Prosecutors said among the unauthorized spending was a $43,350 gold-plated Rolex watch for Jackson, Jr., more than $22,000 in Michael Jackson memorabilia, $11,130 for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorabilia, $10,105 for Bruce Lee memorabilia, $9,587.64 worth of children’s furniture shipped from New Jersey to the couple’s Washington home, a $5,000 football signed by American presidents, $2,775 on Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, $2,200 for Malcolm X memorabilia, a $1,500 black and red cashmere cape, and a $1,200 mink reversible parka.
Reid Weingarten, Jackson Jr.’s attorney, sought to minimize his client’s action, saying Jackson did not victimize helpless widows or operate a Ponzi scheme.
However, Matt Graves, an assistant U.S. attorney, called Jackson’s crimes “staggering.” He noted that the couple had earned nearly $350,000 in 2011.
Graves spoke of Jackson being “wasted talent” who had participated in one of the largest violations of federal campaign laws. Graves even belittled Jackson’s bipolar disorder, saying there was no medical evidence presented in court to support that claim.
The judge agreed, noting that there was evidence to show that the purchases were made during a bipolar episode and that none of the extravagant items were returned. The judge called evidence provided to support the defense’s bipolar disorder claim “thin.”
Reading from a prepared statement, Sandi Jackson cried and said. “My heart breaks every day with the pain this has caused my babies.”
But the judge reminded her, “It’s not the government that put your children in this position.”
She recommended assigning the former congressman to a minimum-security federal prison camp in Montgomery, Ala., or a low-security facility near Raleigh, N.C. She recommended that Sandra Jackson be sent to a similar facility in Florida. However, the Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision.
“The judge rendered a sentence that we’re satisfied was fair,” said Weingarten after learning Jackson’s fate. “The system worked well.”
Weingarten continued: “We fully believe that our client, Jesse Jackson, Jr. is going to have another important chapter in his life. He will come back out, and we believe, that he will do great things.”
Jackson, Jr. said he hoped his wife can earn enough money to support the family while he is prison.
“”When I get back, I’ll take on that burden,” he said. “By then, I hope my children will be old enough that the pain I caused will be easier to bear.”
August 08, 2013
By Corey Williams
More than a dozen candidates were running in Tuesday’s primary for Detroit mayor, an office with little immediate power because most operations are being run by an emergency manager seeking to take the city into bankruptcy.
None of the candidates has name recognition outside the city like current Mayor Dave Bing, a former NBA great who opted not seek another four-year term.
The leading candidates to replace him are a former police chief, a perennial mayoral candidate, a fired city attorney and a one-time medical center chief who has launched a write-in campaign. Another write-in candidate is a barber with a similar name, raising the potential that some voters could be confused.
Uncertainty and failure have been standard operating procedure for years in once-mighty Detroit. Last month, it became the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy under the weight of massive debt brought on by crushing population decline and a history of political corruption and mismanagement.
Some of the favorites for mayor have come out against the bankruptcy filing and contend the man who made the filing — state-appointed turnaround expert Kevyn Orr — is holding the job illegally.
The top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary will face off in the November general election. That winner moves into City Hall with a title, $158,000 salary and — as things stand now — little else.
Sheila Cockrel, a former Detroit councilwoman and founder of a government relations and advocacy firm, said the bankruptcy proceedings are sure to hover over the next mayor’s first term.
“There’s no roadmap of where or how this would go,” she said.
Only about 15 percent to 17 percent of Detroit’s registered voters are expected to cast ballots Tuesday, according to city elections officials.
Seeking to bring stability and turn the city around, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Orr, a national bankruptcy attorney, in March under a Michigan law that gives emergency managers nearly unlimited power.
On July 18, Orr made the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing in federal court. He said Detroit is insolvent, unable to pay off debt that his restructuring team says could reach $20 billion. He has stopped paying on $2.5 billion in bonds, using that money to pump up struggling and underfunded city services. He also asked city creditors and Detroit’s two pension funds to accept pennies on the dollar in money owed them.
One candidate, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, contends Orr was illegally appointed as emergency manager.
“My pitch to him is, ‘You’re here to straighten out the finances. You have no municipal government experience,’” said Napoleon, the city police chief for three years beginning in 1998. “The emergency manager puts the budget together. The mayor should be able to set the priorities.”
Orr, a turnaround specialist who is receiving $275,000 annually for his 18-month assignment, also is getting little love from other candidates.
Tom Barrow, an accountant who lost mayoral runs in 1985, 1989 and 2009, also believes a bankruptcy judge’s directives are to be carried out by the city and its elected officials once Orr approves the budget.
“In light of the bankruptcy filing, I don’t believe he retains his power under state law,” Barrow said of Orr. “Bankruptcy laws kick in. Those laws are explicit that the debtor is the municipality and its elected officials.”
Napoleon and Barrow were expected to face a stiff challenge for a spot on the November ballot from former Detroit Medical Center Chief Executive Mike Duggan. But Duggan is running a write-in campaign because a residency issue kicked him off the ballot.
Although Duggan would appear poised to become Detroit’s first write-in mayor, part of his challenge will be making sure voters spell his name correctly. That’s because another candidate, barber Mike Dugeon, is seeking the job as well. He has never run for elected office and said he filed after being approached by a local television reporter over his name similarity with Duggan.
That could make tabulating the write-ins onerous and time-consuming. Following the primary, county canvassers will go over the spellings on each write-in ballot cast to determine who gets the votes.
“We’re going to be fine,” Duggan told The Associated Press. “I don’t think voters in this city will have any trouble spelling my name correctly. Every place I go people are spelling D-U-G-G-A-N.”
Unlike Napoleon and Barrow, Duggan doesn’t expect a bankruptcy to turn Detroit back over to the mayor and council.
“My preference would be for the governor to dissolve the emergency manager and let the mayor represent the city in bankruptcy court,” he said.
If elected, Duggan said he won’t wait until taking office in January to work with Orr.
“I intend to be engaged from the day after the election to push for a plan that leads to a vibrant recovery for the city,” he said. “I’ll try to convince the emergency manager to adopt my version and, if not, convince the bankruptcy judge to adopt it.”
That’s the course all candidates should push across to voters, Cockrel said.
“What we should be hearing from candidates is their understanding of the financial crisis, their approaches to facilitating the process of getting through bankruptcy and what their plans and strategies should be,” she said.
August 15, 2013
By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer
With the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom fast approaching, organizers in the District are gearing up for the stretch run.
Some speakers at the Aug.1 planning meeting said they hope to mobilize 50,000 to 100,000 people from the Washington metropolitan area to come out on Saturday, Aug. 24, and as many as 100,000 to 200,000 people from around the country to commemorate the march. The 1963 march was an event that immortalized the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, while crystallizing for the rest of this country just how serious African Americans and like-minded people were about securing a just society.
The Rev. Lennox Abrigo, president and founder of the Washington, D.C. bureau of the National Action Network (NAN), acknowledged the enormity of the project. But he said the coalition of clergy, unions, educational institutions, civic organizations and community groups that attended the two-hour meeting were coalescing around the issue and committing to the march’s success.
“Our primary challenge is to mobilize D.C. and the greater metropolitan area and get community leaders to get their people out for the march,” he said. “I think the march will be an expression of the individual effects that the various forms of oppression are having on people in this country.”
Abrigo, a pastor of the Seventh-Day New Covenant Church and a Germantown, Md., resident, compared the conditions that King and the civil rights movement faced and what African Americans and Latinos face today.
King’s efforts, he said, were focused on a small group of people in certain cities, while the pushback that the establishment exerts against minorities today is more individualized. Gay and women’s rights, while affecting a smaller constituency of the whole country, have been afforded to people in every state and nationally.
“We live in an era when civil rights is emerging out of individual concerns. People feel that their rights are being trampled and it’s not just one group or demographic,” Abrigo explained. “This march on the 24th is the fruition, the blossoming of resistance to all this oppression.”
Janaye Ingram, NAN’s D.C. bureau chief, said that the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III are the public faces of the march which is titled, “National Action to Realize the Dream.”
“We’re working to achieve the dream,” she said. “We have a lot to fight for, to focus on and to change. This is a fight against those who don’t want us to reach our dream.”
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), touched on a theme that others repeated.
“They didn’t have Instagrams or tweets but they got 250,000 people on the Mall,” said Ross, who was among the quarter-million people who marched and were on the Mall in 1963.
Ernest G. Green agreed.
“I drove all night from East Lansing, Mich., to be at the march,” said Green, who came to national prominence as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the black students who helped to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. “Bayard Rustin had no social media blasts or anything like that. All he had to work with was 3×5 cards.”
August 08, 2013
By Sharon Cohen
Terrance Wise has two jobs in Kansas City — one at a burger joint, a second at a pizza restaurant — but he says his paychecks aren’t enough to buy shoes for his three daughters and insure his 15-year-old car. So he decided to draw attention to his plight: He walked off work in protest.
Wise was among a few thousand fast-food workers in seven cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, who took to the streets last week, carrying “Strike” and “Supersize Our Wages” signs in front of McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and other restaurants. They demanded better pay, the right to unionize and a more than doubling of the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $15.
“We work hard for companies that are making millions,” the 34-year-old Wise says, adding that he lost his home last year, unable to make mortgage payments despite working about 50-hour weeks at Pizza Hut and Burger King. “We’re not asking for the world. We want to make enough to make a decent living. We deserve better. If they respect us and pay us and treat us right, it’ll lift up the whole economy.”
These one-day protests, which also took place in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Flint, Mich., come amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to raise the federal minimum wage, which was last increased in 2009. Most of the proposals, though, seek a more modest rise than those urged by fast-food workers. President Barack Obama wants to boost the hourly wage to $9. And in July, more than 100 economists signed a petition supporting a bill sponsored by a Florida congressman that would hike it to $10.50 an hour.
The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage could lead to businesses closing and fewer jobs. It also notes the cost of living varies greatly around the country and many states have higher minimum wages than the federal rate. (Eighteen states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
The Employment Policies Institute, which receives some funding from the industry, ran a full-page ad last week in USA Today, warning of another potential consequence: It showed the uniform of a fast-food worker with an iPad face, saying the wage increase could result in employees being replaced with automation, such as touch-screen ordering.
So at a time when the economy is growing steadily but slowly and about 11.5 million people are unemployed — nearly double the level before the Great Recession — how likely is it Congress will increase the minimum wage? And have these protests done any good?
The answers depend on whom you ask.
“They’re very effective,” says U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “They’ve brought attention to appalling conditions with workers putting in very long hours ... and not making enough money to survive. This I think is scandal. .. We believe it’s essential to be paid livable wages. We know the companies can afford it. These are highly profitable businesses. It would be good not just for the family budget but for the national budget.”
Ellison’s caucus launched a national “Raise Up America” campaign this summer that has partnered with fast-food workers and others in low-wage industries to highlight the call for better salaries. The congressman says he’s not deterred by likely resistance in the GOP-dominated House.
“Remember, things that don’t look possible become possible if people advocate for them,” he says, adding that in 1955 someone was probably saying “they’re never going to end segregation. ... Sometimes these things catch on. I think the thing to do is keep on pushing, keep on talking. ... That’s how we win.”
But others are more skeptical and think if there is a winner, it’s unions. The Service Employees International Union is providing financial support and staff to help train organizers for this campaign.
These protests show unions “still can appeal to and speak for workers who are on the fringes of the workforce — the less skilled, the part-timers and the immigrant workers,” Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, wrote in an email.
These still are hard times, people are happy to be employed and the political climate in the House is not conducive for an increase, he adds. “The demonstrations are street theater and the rehabilitation of the image of American unions, but it’s not going to drive new minimum wage policy,” he wrote.
Scott DeFife, executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association, calls the protests a campaign “to disparage the industry,” which he says operates on a tight profit margin. Doubling wages, he says, “would definitely have an impact on the creation of new jobs.” He says it would be especially harmful for young people, for whom the jobless rate in some communities is already in the double digits.
Some fast food companies responded to the protests by saying they respect the rights of their workers.
And some who walked out used the media spotlight to talk openly about their financial struggles.
Kareem Sparks, a 30-year-old father of two boys, 6 and 12, was laid off in 2011 from a $17.50-an-hour city job in New York. His unemployment benefits ran out and he turned to food pantries. Five months ago, he found work at McDonald’s.
“I’m grateful they gave me an opportunity to feed my family and put food on the table, but it’s not enough,” he says. Sparks supplements his income with a second job as a security guard, earning about $8 an hour. Together, he says, he brings home about $1,000-$1,100 every two weeks and needs food stamps to survive.
“It’s horrible to know when I pick up my (McDonalds) check, it’s going to be less than $200,” he says. “You spend all your money in one store and go to sleep broke. It’s not fair. ... Some people get their checks and don't come back to work.”
The average hourly salary for fast-food workers was $9.00 in May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average age for these workers is 29 years old; for women, it’s 32, according to the bureau. The restaurant association says its own analysis of Census data found that slightly more than 25 percent of fast-food workers are heads of households.
Both sides in the fight over the minimum wage cite numerous studies to buttress their arguments about whether a raise would be harmful.
The petition signed by the economists says that for decades, research has “found that no significant effects on employment opportunities result when the minimum wage rises in reasonable increments.” The economists also note that minimum-wage workers employed full time for the entire year earn $15,080, almost 20 percent below the poverty level for a family of three.
But Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, cites another study that he says found raising the minimum wage was counterproductive — with more people losing than gaining because hours were reduced and jobs were cut.
Tessie Harrell, one of the workers in the middle of this academic debate, walked off her job in protest last week.
As a Burger King manager in Milwaukee, Harrell, 34, has to stretch her $8.25 hourly salary to support five children (a sixth lives on her own). They live in a two-bedroom apartment. Her mother helped out financially and with child care, but she has since moved to a nursing home.
“It’s not like we’re teens working for a pair of shoes or a cell phone,” Harrell says. “We’re grown adults who can’t find better jobs.”
She would like to see something come from the protests, a wage improvement, even if it's not $15 an hour.
“I hope it works,” she says. “We’re just trying to survive and build a life for our children.”