January 24, 2013
By JIM KUHNHENN
President Barack Obama devoted one word — “deficit” — to the issue that brought Washington to the brink of fiscal crises time and again during his first term.
But it was the paragraph that followed in his inaugural address that foreshadowed what’s to come — more hard bargaining and more last-minute deals driven by Obama’s own conviction that he now wields an upper hand.
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said. “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
This was the language of his re-election campaign.
And while his speech contained no reference to either political party, his pointed rejection of “a nation of takers” was an implicit reminder of Mitt Romney’s infelicitous declaration that Obama’s support came from the 47 percent of American voters “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
In keeping with the objective of inaugural addresses, Obama chose to draw attention to the aspirations he hopes will define him rather than the conflicts that have characterized his relations with a divided Congress. He conceded that “outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time,” but forged ahead with a call for training more math and science teachers, for building roads and even for funding more research labs.
If there was a way to reconcile such spending with demands to stabilize the nation's debt, he didn't mention it.
“Inaugural addresses are intended for the ages, not for a particular moment,” said Matt Bennett, a former aide to Al Gore and a vice president of the Democratic-leaning group Third Way. “We will have to wait for the State of the Union, which is addressed directly to Congress, for a clearer sense of what he wants to do in the near-term and how he wants to get it done.”
Obama’s State of the Union address is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Obama and his aides approached the inaugural speech with a belief that the president had replenished his political strength with his re-election and with his end-of-year deal with Republicans that raised upper-income tax rates on some of the wealthiest Americans.
What's more, Obama delivered the speech as House Republicans were backing off earlier threats to withhold an extension of the nation’s borrowing limit if not accompanied by sharp reductions in government spending. Instead, House leaders planned a vote Wednesday to raise the government debt ceiling for three months to avert a first-ever default on U.S. obligations.
The White House welcomed the move, even though Obama as recently as last week had rejected the idea of a short term increase. “We shouldn’t be doing this on a one- to three-month time frame,” he said in a White House news conference. Yet, on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that while the bill still faces concerns in Congress, if it reaches Obama’s desk the president “would not stand in the way of the bill becoming law.”
The GOP bill would take the biggest potential crisis off the immediate horizon. But Obama and congressional Republicans still face two other fiscal deadlines: March 1, when steep automatic spending cuts in defense and domestic programs are scheduled to kick in, and March 27, when the current authority to keep government operating runs out. And then, on May 18, another debt limit crisis will loom.
“It’s a matter of how you interpret it,” said Jared Bernstein, the former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. “If you believe the Republicans will make the debt ceiling crisis a quarterly event, then this is a bad outcome. The White House playbook is that there are now enough Republican grownups in the room they can hammer out deals.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, set a hopeful tone, declaring that the inaugural was a chance to “renew the old appeal to better angels.” On Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate’s Republican leader, urged Congress and Obama to make spending and the debt their top priority and called for an overhaul of entitlement programs.
“It’s nice to say, as the president did yesterday, that these programs free us to take the risks that make our country great,” he said on the Senate floor. “But if we don’t act to strengthen and protect them now, in a few years they simply won’t be there in their current form.”
During negotiations last month aimed at avoiding a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, Obama presented Boehner with a proposal that would have reduced spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs by $400 billion; reduced non-entitlement programs by $200 billion over 10 years; and lowered cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients and other beneficiaries of government programs.
But Obama also wanted some increased spending and still wants more tax revenue through changes in the tax code that would force the rich to pay more, proposals Republicans reject.
Even an ally like Bernstein pointed out that when it comes to spending outside of defense and entitlements, Obama has an incompatible goal of reducing the budget as a share of the economy to the lowest levels since President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration.
“It is very hard for me to square those tight budget constraints on the non-defense discretionary side of the budget and many of the aspirations I heard today,” Bernstein said. “That said, I think they are exactly the right aspirations.”
And there was little about finding common ground in Obama’s speech.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” he said.
It was not meant as a self-critique.
January 24, 2013
By HENRY C. JACKSON
Nearly 50 years ago, white supremacists planted a bomb in a Birmingham, Ala., church that killed four young girls preparing to worship, an act of terror that shocked the nation and propelled Congress to pass that historic 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Lawmakers now want to honor those victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow.
Birmingham Reps. Terri Sewell, a Democrat, and Spencer Bachus, a Republican, announced the bipartisan effort Tuesday to award the medal to the four slain children: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14 when they were killed, and Denise McNair, who was 11.
Sewell said the bombing was a catalyst for the civil rights movement.
“I wouldn’t be here, my mayor wouldn’t be here, were it not for the struggle and sacrifice of those freedom fighters,” Sewell said during an event at the National Press Club on Tuesday.
She was joined by Birmingham Mayor William A. Bell, who says he knew Denise McNair well. His brother was her classmate and their families were friends.
At that time, “everybody in Birmingham — they had some kind of connection or relationship,” to the victims, he said.
The four girls were among a group of 26 children entering a church basement on Sept. 15, 1963, when dynamite equipped with a timer detonated. Twenty-two others were injured when the massive explosion blew a hole through a wall in the church, shattering most of its windows.
The grisly images from Birmingham drew national attention and deepened tumult in Birmingham, a city already rife with racial tension. In the aftermath, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a eulogy for the “martyred children.”
The bombing proved to be a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. Within a year, Congress passed the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and, a year later, the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
But it took more than a decade before any of the bombing’s perpetrators were successfully brought to justice.
In 1977, Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopened the case, asking the FBI for help. That led to the murder conviction of Robert Chambliss, a known Ku Klux Klan member. Eventually, two others — Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry — were convicted for roles in the bombing, Blanton in 2001 and Cherry in 2002. A third suspect, Herman Cash, was identified by federal investigators but had already died when the FBI announced its case.
The push for a Congressional Gold Medal, which will be led by Sewell and Bachus in the House and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., in the Senate, is part of a yearlong effort to commemorate Birmingham’s role in the civil rights movement.
Bachus, who couldn’t attend Tuesday’s event, said recognition from Congress is the right way to honor the four girls whose deaths “led to a permanent change in our society.”
January 24, 2013
Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown (D-San Bernardino) will swear-in thirteen new executive officers of the Sacramento NAACP branch including the new president, Tyrone Netters, on Wednesday, January 30 at the State Capitol in Sacramento. As a former executive officer of the San Bernardino NAACP branch, Brown said she’s honored to be a part of the experience.
“As a former branch president, I'm proud to support the NAACP. I’m excited to participate in the ceremony as the officiator, it’s a true honor. I am sure the leadership and advocacy of the new executive committee members of the Sacramento Chapter will have an immense and vital impact in the Sacramento community,” she said.
This is the second time in history that a former NAACP executive officer in the State Legislature will swear-in an executive committee. The Honorable Mervyn Dymally was the first executive officer in the State Legislature to hold this honor.
The following officers will be sworn-in by Brown on January 30:
Tyrone Netters, President
Stephen Webb, 1st Vice President
Betty Williams, 2nd Vice President
Velma Sykes, Treasurer
Joell Reed, Secretary
Aliane Murphy-Hasan, Asst. Secretary
Dale McKinney, Chair, Education
David Clements, Chair, Criminal Justice
Peter Brixie, Attorney, Legal Redress
Malachi Smith, Chair, Veteran Affairs
Natasha Drew, Advisor Youth Council
Stacey Drew, Freedom Fund Committee
Dr. Nate White, Chair, Membership
The ceremony will take place in Room 127 from 5:00 – 7:00p.m. A light reception will follow in Room 125.
January 24, 2013
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN Associated Press
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was indicted Friday January 18 on charges that he used his office for personal gain, accepting payoffs, free trips and gratuities from contractors while the city was struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The charges against Nagin are the outgrowth of a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor. The federal indictment accuses Nagin of accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and truckloads of free granite for his family business in exchange for promoting the interests of a local businessman who secured millions of dollars in city contract work after the 2005 hurricane.
The businessman, Frank Fradella, pleaded guilty in June to bribery conspiracy and securities-fraud charges and has been cooperating with federal authorities. Nagin, 56, also is charged with accepting at least $60,000 in payoffs from another businessman, Rodney Williams, for his help in securing city contracts for architectural, engineering and management services work. Williams, who was president of Three Fold Consultants LLC, pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to a conspiracy charge.
The indictment also accuses Nagin of getting free private jet and limousine services to New York from an unidentified businessman. Nagin is accused of agreeing to wave tax penalties that the businessman owed to the city on a delinquent tax bill in 2006. In 2010, Greg Meffert, a former technology official and deputy mayor under Nagin, pleaded guilty to charges he took bribes and kickbacks in exchange for steering city contracts to businessman Mark St. Pierre. Anthony Jones, who served as the city’s chief technology officer in Nagin’s administration, also pleaded guilty to taking payoffs. Meffert cooperated with the government in its case against St. Pierre, who was convicted in May 2011 of charges that include conspiracy, bribery and money laundering.
Nagin, a former cable television executive, was a political novice before being elected to his first term as mayor in 2002, buoyed by strong support from white voters. He cast himself a reform-minded progressive who wasn’t bound by party affiliations, as he snubbed fellow Democrat Kathleen Blanco and endorsed Republican Bobby Jindal’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2003. Katrina elevated Nagin to the national stage, where he gained a reputation for colorful and sometimes cringe-inducing rhetoric.
During a radio interview broadcast in the storm's early aftermath, he angrily pleaded with federal officials to “get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.” In January 2006, he apologized for a Martin Luther King Day speech in which he predicted New Orleans would be a “chocolate city” and asserted that “God was mad at America.” Strong support from black voters helped Nagin win re-election in 2006 despite widespread criticism of his post-Katrina leadership.
But the glacial pace of rebuilding, a surge in violent crime and the budding City Hall corruption investigation chipped away at Nagin's popularity during his second term. Nagin could not seek a third consecutive term because of term limits. Mitch Landrieu, who ran against Nagin in 2006, succeeded him in 2010. Aaron Bennett, a businessman awaiting sentencing in a separate bribery case, told The Times-Picayune that he introduced Nagin to Fradella specifically to help the mayor get Home Depot granite installation work for a business that he and his sons founded. Fradella's company received millions of dollars in city contracts for repair work at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and in the French Quarter after Katrina, the newspaper reported. Some of the allegations in the indictment have been the subject of state ethics complaints. In April 2010, the Louisiana Board of Ethics charged Nagin with two possible violations of state ethics law.
One charge involves Nagin’s “use of a credit card and/or gifts” from St. Pierre and his technology firm, NetMethods, while the company was working for the city. NetMethods paid for Nagin and his family to travel to Jamaica in 2005 and to Hawaii in 2004, according to newspaper reports. In the other charge, the Ethics Board says Stone Age LLC, the Nagin family’s business, was compensated for installation services provided to Home Depot while the home improvement retailer was negotiating tax breaks from the city.
Nagin has largely steered clear of the political arena since he left office. On his Twitter account, he describes his current occupations as author, public speaker and “green energy entrepreneur.” He wrote a self-published memoir called “Katrina’s Secrets: Storms After the Storm.”
Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, didn’t immediately return cellphone calls seeking comment on the indictment.
January 24, 2013
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY Associated Press
The "baby dolls," an on-again, off-again Mardi Gras tradition of New Orleans' African-American community, are on again.
The troupes of women strutting and prancing in bonnets, garters, and skimpy or short, ruffled dresses on Fat Tuesday also are being spotlighted in a new book and museum exhibit that trace their history and modern rebirth.
When the predominantly African-American Zulu krewe hits the streets on Fat Tuesday — Feb. 12 — its marchers will include the Baby Doll Ladies, a troupe formed after Hurricane Katrina. They play tambourines and cowbells to accompany their dance, a hip-hop style called bounce.
Though Mardi Gras celebrations date from the city's French founding in 1718, historians say the baby doll tradition started in 1912 when black prostitutes who worked just outside the legal red-light district called Storyville dressed up on Mardi Gras to outdo their legal rivals.
Storyville was closed in 1917, but the baby doll costumes caught on and survived for decades in African-American neighborhoods.
In the years of segregation, blacks celebrated Carnival in their neighborhoods with informal parades of the brightly feathered and beaded Mardi Gras Indians, picnics and parties centered on the floats of the Zulu parade and costume traditions such as the baby dolls.
The end of segregation in the 1950s and '60s — and new economic opportunities — brought new avenues for African-Americans to participate in Mardi Gras. Debutante presentations at gala balls and more traditional float parades sprung up. And the revival of Lundi Gras celebrations the day before Mardi Gras brought together the monarch of the predominantly white Rex krewe to meet with the king of Zulu to toast the coming festival.
As times changed, the baby doll tradition faded.
But not everyone forgot the dolls, or what they meant to Carnival in New Orleans.
One new group — the 504 Eloquent Baby Dolls of New Orleans, named in part for a telephone area code — will march with a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians and the Skull and Bones club, maskers clad as skeletons in another revived black tradition.
"I've got a wonderful group of women who want to educate our youth, who want to bring our culture back to the streets of New Orleans," said Denise Trepagnier, a heavy crane operator and part-time seamstress who organized the group.
Around New Orleans neighborhoods, you might catch a glimpse of other baby doll troupes with names like the Gold Digger Baby Dolls, the Treme Million Dollar Baby Dolls and the Ernie K-Doe Baby Dolls.
Trepagnier is planning a route for her group. But, unlike the float parades, many baby dolls go where the mood takes them.
Like Trepagnier, dancer and choreographer Millisia White had education as a goal when her New Orleans Society of Dance began performing as the Baby Doll Ladies in 2009. She said she first saw baby dolls as a child in the 1980s.
"That was my first glance of a woman out in the street, expressing herself independent of the men. That was exciting to me," she said.
Those baby dolls were likely the Gold Digger Baby Dolls, the first group in the revival.
Trepagnier said she remembers seeing baby dolls until about 1962. After that, "they seemed to have disappeared. I didn't see any for a long time," she said.
The return of baby dolls is like the comeback of Mardi Gras Indian tribes, which started as raucous groups in black neighborhoods and now are a celebrated part of the Carnival season, said Wayne Phillips, the Louisiana State Museum's curator of costumes and textiles.
An exhibit about the origins of baby doll masking and the new groups reviving the tradition has just opened at the Louisiana State Museum. And the LSU Press has just released "The 'Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition" by Kim Marie Vaz, associate dean at Xavier University in New Orleans.
Beatrice Hill, a founder of the original baby doll troupes, gave an account of their birth published in the 1947 book on Louisiana folklore, "Gumbo Ya-Ya."
Hill told Robert McKinney, a researcher for the Depression-era Louisiana Writers project, that uptown prostitutes got word their downtown counterparts planned to dress and parade on Mardi Gras in 1912.
In Hill's account, the uptowners met at 3 a.m. one morning in 1912 to plot strategy against their rivals.
One jumped up, Hill reported, and said, "Let's be Baby Dolls. That's what the pimps always call us."
They hit the streets with cigars in their mouths and "money all over us, even in our bloomers," throwing dollars at men, Hill recounted.
Surviving transcripts of McKinney's interviews show the prostitutes, calling themselves the Million Dollar Baby Dolls, later collected dues and held dances to raise money for their costumes, possibly making them the first organization for parading women, said Vaz. At the time, high society white women's Carnival organizations held balls but didn't parade.
The Louisiana Weekly, the newspaper of the New Orleans black community, identified the Million Dollar Baby Dolls in 1939 as among the city's oldest African-American masking groups, Vaz said.
Phillips figures respectable women were masking as baby dolls within 20 years of the 1912 escapade.
The earliest known photographs of baby doll maskers are cells from a 1931 film that doesn't make clear whether they were prostitutes or mainstream revelers, Vaz said.
"Even today, those in the Baby Boom generation recall their mothers and grandmothers warning them against the lewd and lascivious behavior evidenced by many a Baby Doll on Carnival Day," she wrote.
Perhaps taking a tip, though not their designs, from a booklet published in 1922 by the Dennison Manufacturing Co., some women wore costumes fashioned from crepe paper.
The first of the current baby doll troupes apparently started in the 1980s, when Merline Kimble and friends revived her grandparents' Gold Digger Club of baby doll maskers. The late Antoinette K-Doe created the group named for her husband, Ernie K-Doe, in 2003 with friends including Reed, Trepagnier and praline store owner "Tee-Eva" Perry.
The revival of the dolls complements the long-standing street-marcher traditions of Fat Tuesday.
Among them are the revelers of jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Marching Club, the Jefferson City Buzzards, the Lyons Carnival Club and others. Some trace their roots to Mardi Gras' raucous street celebrations of the 19th century.
Like the baby dolls, they'll be strutting their stuff and having a ball before the solemn season of Lent brings the revelry to a halt on Ash Wednesday.