July 19, 2012

By HENRY C. JACKSON and SOPHIA TAREEN,

Associated Press

 

When Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. disappeared last month for a mysterious medical leave, it took weeks for anyone in Washington to even notice.

It was a measure of the disconnect between his famous name and his stature on Capitol Hill. The 47-year-old son of the legendary civil rights leader has become simply a congressman who can deliver the pork back home.

Jackson arrived in Washington 17 years ago with a star quality that set him apart from his 434 colleagues in the House. Yet he has never lived up to those high expectations on the national stage, gaining a reputation in the nation’s capital for quixotic pursuits such as trying to impeach President George W. Bush and push through constitutional amendments that had no chance at all.

One big reason given for his failure to rise to a more statesmanlike role is the cloud of suspicion that has hung over him for more than three years because of his dealings with corrupt former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

“He was, up until about 2008, clearly a rising star,” said Dick Simpson, a former city alderman and a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “After that his whole reputation collapsed, and he’s not been able to move forward.”

None of that seems to matter in his Chicago-area district, where the Democrat has brought home close to $1 billion in federal money and won every election since 1995 in a landslide.

Now, many of his constituents are willing to cut him some slack over the way he has released only scant details about his medical condition in recent weeks.

Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin said that Jackson’s health is a private matter and that he has no problem with the way the congressman hasn’t disclosed his location or detailed his condition beyond calling it a “mood disorder.” Griffin’s town of about 2,700 people is one of the poorest in Illinois, and Jackson was key in bringing it drinking water from Lake Michigan.

“I have no idea what his relationship is on the national level,” Griffin said. “The only thing I know is that he’s ... been successful in bringing back resources and funds to do things to get things moving. And that’s the type of approach we need.”

While Jackson clearly once had his sights set on becoming a senator or the mayor of Chicago, he seems resigned to playing the role of a politician devoted to local issues. He said earlier this year that the late-1990s water project in Ford Heights was a highlight of his career, not his role as Barack Obama’s campaign co-chairman, which earned him a speaking spot at the 2008 convention.

“When I first went to Congress, I promised to bring fresh water to Ford Heights,” Jackson said. “That promise has been fulfilled.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s eldest son was groomed for the national political scene from the beginning, it seemed.

He attended a top private school in Washington and earned a law degree and a master’s in theology. He has bragged about spending his 21st birthday in jail after being arrested in an anti-apartheid protest. He co-wrote books with his father and developed his own charismatic speaking style, one that is often punctuated by vigorous pointing with a raised index finger.

Shortly after taking office, he was deemed People magazine’s Sexiest Politician in 1997. He became one of the most outspoken and most quoted liberals in the House. An almost Hollywood buzz broke out over his svelte new figure in 2005 when he quietly dropped 50 pounds, disclosing months later that he had had weight-loss surgery.

But he also put significant time and energy behind a raft of big-ticket liberal ideas that largely went nowhere.

In 2001, after Bush took office, Jackson began to push constitutional amendments that would guarantee a right to universal health care and housing. In 2007, he was one of a small number of lawmakers to call for articles of impeachment against the president. Earlier this year, he pushed for a raise in the minimum wage, an idea that never stood a chance in the GOP-dominated House.

His highest-profile project in the district, a proposed third airport in the Chicago area, never went anywhere over questions of who should run it and whether it was needed.

Jackson was expected to have distinguished himself more by now.

“He’s got one of the most recognizable names in the country. It carries its burdens and is one that he wanted to attain some kind of national visibility,” said Alan Gitelson, a Loyola University political science professor. But “we can’t point to any area where Congressman Jackson has marked himself as a leader. His role has been relatively more homestyle than anything else.”

Political experts say one explanation was that he was too busy eyeing other offices. He is also under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over allegations he discussed raising money for Blagojevich in 2008 so that the governor would appoint him to Obama's vacant Senate seat.

In recent years, Jackson has spent much of his time addressing both the Blagojevich allegations and an extramarital affair that became public via the former governor’s trial. For much of the past three years, Jackson avoided public appearances and largely refused to do interviews. He did not even host an election night party after he won in 2010.

Still, Jackson has a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, a perch that — until the House GOP takeover in 2010 — allowed him to steer big money to his district. That has earned him respect and loyalty.

Earlier this year, he fended off his first real Democratic challenge, crushing former Rep. Debbie Halvorson with 70 percent of the vote even after the congressional map was redrawn in a way that added rural and white voters to his largely black, Democratic and urban district.

Jackson’s two little-known challengers in November — a postal carrier running as an independent and a Republican college professor — have seized on his medical leave to talk about the congressman’s shortcomings. His colleagues have called for more information, but only when asked.

“He should be more forthcoming,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a fellow Chicago Democrat. “That’s what’s best for him ... so that all his friends can be much more supportive and it will stop giving his enemies ammunition.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 19, 2012

By KEN THOMAS |

Associated Press

 

Second chances can be rare in politics, but President Barack Obama found Kiss Cam and an impatient crowd to be just the right motivation.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, were taking in this past Monday night's USA Basketball exhibition game when the Verizon Center’s “Kiss Cam” turned its eye their way. Their image on the huge arena screen prompted the crowd to cheer — a not-so-subtle hint that Obama plant one on the first lady.

Both smiled, but Obama just put his arm around his wife as the game resumed. That cautious reaction brought some boos.

Obama got a do-over later in the game when the Kiss Cam swung back his way. This time he delivered, giving Mrs. Obama a big kiss on the lips. And a peck on the forehead for good measure.

And the crowd roared.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 12, 2012

By DONNA CASSATA and SOPHIA TAREEN |

Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Demo­cratic House leaders on Wednesday joined colleagues and constituents in urging Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, who has been on medical leave for a month without disclosing details about his condition or location, to provide a public update about his condition as soon as possible.

House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, spoke about Jackson at separate unrelated events in Washington on the same day that a Jackson spokesman in Chicago said his staff hoped to get more ­information from doctors “soon.”

Jackson, 47, went on leave June 10, but did not disclose it publicly until two weeks later. Staff members initially released a short statement saying Jackson was being treated for exhaustion. Last week they said his condition was worse than previously thought and required treatment at an inpatient facility. Staff also said Jackson has been privately battling emotional problems.

Asked Wednesday about colleagues — including Illinois Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutierrez — who have said Jackson owes his constituents an update about his condition as soon as possible, Pelosi said she hoped he would have “the appropriate evaluation so he can share that information.”

“I feel sad that whatever the situation is that he finds himself having to be away from Congress,” Pelosi said. “Hopefully we’ll see him back here soon again.”

A Jackson spokesman had earlier offered first word from anyone close to the congressman that specifics about his ailment might be on the way.

“We hope to hear from the doctors soon,” Jackson spokesman Rick Bryant told The Associated Press earlier Wednesday. He declined to elaborate, but Jackson’s wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, echoed the sentiment in comments to the Chicago Tribune.

“I’m hopeful that my husband’s doctors will be able to release something soon,” she told the newspaper. “I’m in constant talks with them about Jesse’s condition and his medical prognosis going forward.” She did not immediately respond to messages from the AP seeking further comment.

Pressure on Jackson to give an update has been mounting.

Durbin and Gutierrez in recent days have called it his responsibility as a public official. Jackson's little-known opponents in the November election have spoken out on the same issue, and voters in his district have asked questions. Hoyer told an unrelated news conference Wednesday that Jackson does not find himself in “an unusual circumstance.”

“People get sick, and when people get sick, they miss work. Everybody in America understands that,” Hoyer said. “But I think the family would be well advised to give his constituents as much information as is appropriate.”

Bryant has said relatives requested Jackson's location be kept private and his family has been unusually reticent on the issue. Jackson’s civil rights leader father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., has called it a private issue and repeatedly declined to give details. His wife has said little.

The timing of the leave has raised questions.

A House Ethics Committee investigation is pending over allegations Jackson discussed raising money for Rod Blagojevich’s campaign so the then-Illinois governor would appoint him to President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich is serving a prison sentence for corruption.

Jackson also allegedly directed a fundraiser, Raghuveer Nayak, to buy plane tickets for a woman described as Jackson’s “social acquaintance.” Jackson and his wife have called that a personal matter.

Days before Jackson announced the medical leave, Nayak was arrested and pleaded not guilty to unrelated medical fraud charges. At Blagojevich’s 2010 corruption trial, prosecutors said another Blagojevich fundraiser was ready to testify that Jackson instructed Nayak to raise money for Blagojevich’s campaign to help him secure the Senate seat. The same witness later testified he attended a meeting with Jackson and Nayak.

Jackson was not charged and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Jackson faces a Republican and independent candidate in November, though he's widely expected to win re-election. He first won office in a 1995 special election and has easily won each race since. Jackson’s district includes parts of Chicago and some suburbs.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 19, 2012

By ASHRAF SWEILAM and AYA BATRAWY, Associated Press

 

Two American tourists and their Egyptian guide who were abducted by a Bedouin in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula earlier this month were released unharmed July 16, after negotiations with security officials and tribal leaders.

Rev. Michel Louis, 61, and 39-year-old Lissa Alphonse, both Boston-area residents, had been kidnapped from a bus the Friday before, along with their guide, Haytham Ragab, on a Sinai road by a Bedouin who was demanding the release of his uncle, who had been detained by Egyptian police on suspicion of drug possession.

The kidnapper, Jirmy Abu-Masuh, told AP that he had handed the three over to security officials near the northern Sinai city of el-Arish after he was promised that authorities were working on his uncle's release.

"We are a people of mercy and they don't have anything to do with this," said Abu-Masuh, referring to the Americans. The three released captives later appeared at a police station in the northern Sinai city of el-Arish.

In Boston's Dorchester section, where Louis lives, about 10 family members and friends celebrated the news on the porch of his home, hugging and chanting "hallelujah."

"We are in joy after receiving such a message and we believe in God and let me tell you, He did not let us down," Louis' oldest son, the Rev. Jean Louis, said outside the house before breaking down in tears and being led back inside.

Later, Louis' children told reporters they were able to talk with their father on a satellite phone from Egypt.

"He just told us that he loved us, that he's safe, and he's coming home," said son Daniel Louis. "He sounds in good spirits."

"We're just overwhelmingly happy to hear from my father," added daughter Debora Louis.

Several joyful parishioners gathered nearby at the Presbyterian chuch where the elder Louis is the pastor.

"We are all so happy and we give all the glory to God. Everyone has been so worried, but we had faith in Christ that God will deliver him," said parishioner Roseline Inozil-Camille. "We just missed him so much. He's a man of God."

The abduction illustrated a broader breakdown of security in the Sinai, a key destination in Egypt's vital tourism industry, where lawlessness has risen since last year's ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Relations between the Bedouin and authorities have long been tumultuous, with Bedouin complaining of discrimination by the government and abuses against them by security forces.

Under the Mubarak regime's tight hold, the disputes very rarely spilled over to effect tourists. However, this year has seen a string of kidnappings of tourists, usually by Bedouin trying to wrest concessions from authorities or the release of jailed relatives. In most cases, captives have been released unhurt after a few days.

During their captivity, the two Americans and their guide were kept at Abu-Masuh's home in the harsh mountain terrain of central Sinai, and given tea and food, including at one point a roast lamb, according to Abu-Masuh and the guide, Ragab.

"We were treated just like they treat their own," Ragab, 28, told AP by phone after their release. "But we were under emotional pressure. Life for the Bedouins is tough."

He said he and the two Americans spoke a lot with Abu-Masuh about his uncle — who Abu-Masuh says was being held because he refused to pay a bribe — and about the problems of Bedouin in general.

"The issue isn't Jirmy's alone, it's the issue of all Bedouins. Among them are good people who pray. The government needs to resolve their problems. From what I saw they live a tough life and have nothing to lose," Ragab said.

It was not immediately clear whether Louis and Alphonse were going to cross into Israel to join the rest of their tour group and continue their planned tour of the Holy Land before returning to the United States or cut it short. The two Americans declined to talk to the AP by phone.

Egyptian officials made clear earlier Monday that they would not bend to Abu-Masuh's demands. Officials and heads of tribes met with him for several hours before an agreement to release the hostages was reached, according to officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The two Americans, on a tour of the Holy Land, had been heading from Cairo to the 6th century St. Catherine's Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai, said to be the site where Moses received the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.

Abu-Masuh, 32, earlier told the AP that he had stopped their tour bus and ordered them off, along with Ragab to assist with translation, as a way to force his uncle's release.

Throughout the ordeal, Louis' family was concerned that the 61-year-old pastor was unable to take his diabetes medication with him when he got off the bus. His family said he takes natural medication, not insulin.

The Bedouins of the sparsely populated peninsula have long-running tensions with the government in Cairo and with the security forces in particular. Security officials say some Bedouin are involved in smuggling of drugs and migrants endemic to the peninsula.

The Bedouin, in turn, complain of state discrimination in the development of their region. Bedouin and Egyptian rights groups say the security forces are responsible for many abuses. Police hunting fugitives have staged mass arrests to pressure families to hand over their relatives. They frequently enter homes by force and detain women — particularly provocative acts in conservative Bedouin society.

There are also fears of an Islamic militant presence in the Sinai, where militants carried out a string of suicide bombings against tourist resorts in the mid-2000s. Israel says militants in Sinai are behind cross-border attacks into its territory in recent years.

Abu-Masuh said his uncle had been stopped and harassed on his way to the coastal city of Alexandria last week. When officials saw he was from Sinai, they harassed his uncle even more, Abu-Masuh said. He said his 62-year-old uncle, who raised him after his father died, suffers from back and heart problems as well as diabetes.

Officials said Abu-Masuh's uncle was detained on Saturday for 15 days pending investigation for alleged possession of drugs.

Egyptian security officials were in a tight spot with the latest abduction, unwilling to free the hostages by force and risk a violent confrontation with the captor's Tarbeen tribe. Any escalation with tribes there could lead to more abduction along the popular tourist route.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

July 12, 2012

By MICHAEL GRACZYK | Associated Press

 

HOUSTON (AP) — The head of the NAACP on Monday likened the group’s fight against conservative-backed voter ID laws that have been passed in several states to the great civil rights battles of the 1960s.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, the CEO and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said these are “Selma and Montgomery times,” referring to historic Alabama civil rights confrontations. He challenged those attending the NAACP’s annual convention to redouble their efforts to get out the vote in November.

“We must overwhelm the rising tide of voting suppression with the high tide of registration and mobilization and motivation and protection,” he said.

“Simply put, the NAACP will never stand by as any state tries to encode discrimination into law,” Jealous said.

The power to vote will be a key theme of the weeklong 103rd convention, which was expected to host about 8,000 attendees. An appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder was postponed from Monday until Tuesday, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden were also expected to speak at some point.

Since 2010, at least 10 states, including Texas, have passed laws requiring people to show a government-issued photo identification card when they go to the polls.

Supporters of voter ID laws, including many conservative Republicans, contend they are necessary to protect against voter fraud. But opponents say instances of such voter fraud are extremely rare and that voter ID laws could suppress turnout among the elderly, poor and some racial minorities who are less likely to have driver’s licenses or passports and who might find it harder to miss work or lose pay to obtain proper ID.

George R. Brown Convention Center was only about half-full for Jealous’ hour-long speech, but by the end he had much of the crowd standing and shouting, “Forward ever, backward never!”

“Our democracy is literally under attack from within. We have wealthy interests seeking to buy elections and when that ain’t enough, suppress the vote,” Jealous said. “There is no battle that is more important or urgent to the NAACP right now than the battle to preserve democracy itself. Let me be very clear, our right to vote is the right upon which our ability to defend every other right is leveraged.”

He cited the group's 103 years in existence as proof it wouldn’t cede ground on voting rights.

“If you let someone diminish the power of your vote you will already have lost a battle.”

Jealous said with 120 days remaining before the November elections, his organization's members could allow the election to be stolen from them “or we can double down on democracy and overcome the tide of voter suppression.”

“If we simply accept things as they are and allow those who wish to turn back the clocks and tides of all that we have gained, and block the forward movement of our movement for human rights ... we will have failed in our mission and our calling,” he said.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

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