Friday, July 31, 2009

The "Beer Summit"

Today we witnessed the first presidential "Beer Summit". This was the name given to the meeting held at the White House by President Obama, Vice President Biden, Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley. The stated purpose of the meeting was to establish a dialogue between the folks in the well documented dust-up that occurred in Cambridge Massachusetts two weeks ago.

The President, was hoping to conduct a male bonding moment, I mean a "teachable moment", over a few beers. The President had a Bud Light, Vice President Biden a Buckler(non-alcoholic), Professor Gates had a Sam Adams and Sgt. Crowley a Blue Moon. This was conducted outside in the rose Garden within photo lens range of the press.

It must be nice to know the President of the United States, in the middle of a health care legislative fight that may define his young presidency, has time to have a few beers and mediate a situation that he had no business involving himself in to begin with. Or did he make the time because his advisers have been getting some unflattering feedback from the American people about his comments after the incident that just doesn't seem to want to go away.

In Obama's words it was "an opportunity to listen to each other and recognize we all have different points of view". Really? To be sure, race relations in America are constantly going to have its ups and downs - on a daily basis. Have things gotten better? Absolutely. Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely.

For me, however, a "teachable moment" is providing examples for my children and their friends, as my parents provided for me, to judge people by the quality of their character and not the color of their skin.

Examples of how to settle disagreements, even heated ones, without the need to use racial or ethnic slurs.

Examples of how to treat everyone as you wish to be treated.

Examples of how to stand up for yourself and what you believe is right by using your brain to guide your actions, not your emotions.

Examples of not thinking you are better(or worse) than other people. I could go on and on with examples but I think you get the idea.

To be sure, there are those who think the President is utilizing out of the box thinking to open the lines of communication in the police/race debate that has captured the headlines for the past two weeks. Were there positive outcomes from this post workday happy hour? Seems to be, judging from the comments by Sgt. Crowley afterwards. I didn't hear from Professor Gates, but maybe I missed his statement.

Just like I may have missed his apology for possibly helping to escalate the situation that day. We heard Sgt. Crowley's. Oh, and we also heard an apology today, on Larry King Live no less, from Boston Police Officer Justin Barrett for his email that referred to Professor Gates as a "banana eating jungle monkey". (But that's for another blog post).

I don't have the luxury of having the President of the United States provide me a "teachable moment" to learn conflict resolution. But maybe the next time I have a tough situation, I'll call and see if he's available. Maybe I'll get a beer and a tour of the White House too.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

We All Make Mistakes

I wasn't going to write anything about the Henry Louis Gates Jr. issue that has brought the race debate to the White House, but the more I thought about it, well, obviously you see the result.

Ok, I admit that my feelings regarding this incident are skewed in both directions - on one hand, as a former law enforcement officer, I know the folks "in blue" are not always saints, but they are not always sinners either. On the other hand, as a Black man who has personally experienced, "questionable" police behavior, I empathize with Dr. Gates and the multitude of emotions he must have felt during this unfortunate incident.

The problem is, the cynic in me wants to reprimand both of the parties involved for letting the incident get out of hand, and then I want to ask President Obama, what the hell he was thinking interjecting himself and ultimately the Presidency,to the degree in which he did. Then, to make matters worse, President Obama offers an "apology" for the manner in which he "spoke" on the issue! That's on par with GOP National Chairman Michael Steele apologizing to Rush Limbaugh for offering viewpoints outside the perceived mainstream and political correctness, under pressure from the "establishment" within his party! In my view, it weakens both men.

I have no doubt that Dr. Gates and the Cambridge policeman both did and said things that helped to escalate rather than defuse this tense situation. But for President Obama to place himself in the middle of this without having all the facts, sends the wrong message regarding his "Presidential" behavior, and helps to undermine his presidency.

The police officer involved will suffer personally and professionally for his part in this incident. Being branded a racist, whether real or perceived, does not go away quietly. That designation will haunt him for the rest of his life.

As for Dr. Gates, well, we all need a wake up call periodically to keep us humble with the gifts God has bestowed upon us. Ego and arrogance tend to cloud judgement and this was a stark reminder that in spite of the accolades, awards and degrees, all of which he worked hard for and truly deserves, he is still just a man. And men do make mistakes.

For both of these men, the hard lesson here is, as a wise man once said, "respect is earned, not bestowed".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Operation Bid Rig - Jersey Style

Well folks, I've said this before and will say it again - "You can't make this stuff up". Once again the state of New Jersey grabs national headlines with arrests involving corruption. But wait, it also includes the illegal sale of body parts. Now that's a new twist.

During the wee hours of the morning, law enforcement representatives knocked on doors to arrest 44 people for various charges involving money laundering, extortion, kickbacks and other offenses. They were politicians, government officials and Rabbi's. They actually had a bus to transport them to the FBI Building in Newark for processing (that's fingerprinting and mug shots for you laymen out there). I'm not going to recap the circumstances leading up to this mass round-up, but suffice to say that, in the words of Beth Mason, 2nd Ward Councilwoman in Hoboken whose mayor was part of the bust, as reported in, "the pure arrogance of it all".

As a former law enforcement investigator, I applaud the work that went into this case. These dedicated men and women spent countless hours compiling the evidence that these corrupt politicians and others, eagerly and readily supplied in their quest for greed.

As a resident of New Jersey, I'm sick and tired of reading about the greed and avarice of a few (although that now seems to be a relative term) that tarnishes the good work provided by many local and state elected officials who don't take a kickback. It amazes me that we may need to start defining what a good politician is, based on whether or not they've been indicted!

Ok, I know that everyone in our system of justice is innocent until proven guilty, but why do these people put themselves in situations where this is even necessary to consider? Why are they being put in handcuffs? Why are they subjecting their children and spouses to the embarrassment and humiliation of the public flogging that always comes with these incidents? I don't not feel sorry for these guys. A crook is a crook - period. I certainly don't feel sorry for any cleric, regardless of denomination, who is a crook. My question is this - when will it end?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Obama Stumps in New Jersey for Corzine

President Barack Obama visited the Garden State of New Jersey to show support for embattled Governor Jon Corzine in his bid for re-election. Corzine has been in a uphill battle with Republican Chris Christie, the former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. I find it interesting that the Democrats have pulled their "Big Guns" early in this campaign - Vice President Joe Biden for the Corzine Campaign kick-off, assorted cabinet level folks and finally, the Commander in Chief himself - in July!

This shows that the Corzine campaign recognizes that he is in big trouble, and not just with non-democrats. Do I think that the President's visit will help Governor Corzine? Yes, but not enough to make a big difference. Corzine's favorables are way too low, and one visit by the President isn't going to change that in his favor.

But does this mean that Chris Christie will be residing in Drumthuacket, the Governor's mansion, in January? It remains to be seen. This is July, and there is a lot of campaigning to be done and anything can happen in politics. Do I like Chris Christie for governor? Yes I do. I think he could bring a breath of fresh air to the Gold Dome in Trenton, and make the tough decisions that need to be made to bring prosperity and reason back to New Jersey.

I hope he will also bring a renewed sense of respectability to the state Republican Party. The party needs to stop the bickering, backbiting and sabotaging within its ranks. The party must grow and this will only happen if party leaders set the tone by allowing divergent viewpoints to be heard and allowed to become part of the fabric of the party.

In addition, the state party must be willing to welcome people of color and ethnicity. This must be done through real efforts, and not half-hearted attempts so GOP folks can say "well we tried", then pat themselves on the back for a valiant effort to make themselves feel good.

Above all, I never, ever want to hear from my party leaders that a particular group will not vote Republican, such as African Americans, therefore we will not even try to get their vote. And Republicans wonder why people of color seem to go Democratic. If you don't feel wanted, or are not taken seriously, what other recourse is there?

Chris Christie has an excellent opportunity to not only takeover the governor's office, but to set the tone and direction for the rebuilding of the GOP in New Jersey. Whether either happens...well...time will tell.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Swimming Intolerance

Disturbing new came out of the Philadelphia Pa. area this week. In Montgomery County, a private swim club decided that it couldn't or wouldn't accommodate a group of minority children swimming in their pool. This was after the group, Creative Steps Day Camp, had paid the pool $1, 950 and signed a contract for the pool's use. Apparently, after the children got to the pool, club members took exception, and put pressure on the club president to get rid of the kids. You can read the details of the story in the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspaper or any other major paper across the country, because they all covered it. For me, the story brought up a painful memory from my own childhood involving a swimming venue.

In my circumstance, I had accompanied several of my white school friends to their neighborhood swimming area, which was located in a fairly well to do area of our town. We rode our bicycles to the location up steep, hilly streets on a very hot summer day. We were looking forward to taking a dip in the cooling waters. One after another, my friends dropped their bikes and ran into the water. I dropped mine and followed them.

Funny thing happened though - the parents of white children began running into the water to get their children out! I didn't understand why until one of them loudly let everyone know there was a "Nigger" in the lake and pointing at me. The good news was, my friends and I suddenly had the whole swimming area to ourselves. The bad news was, I felt embarrassed and humiliated to think that people thought I was diseased and wouldn't allow their children to swim in the same water with me because I was Black.

That was 40 years ago. It's amazing how as time moves on, some things change and some things remain the same. Yes, I am saddened by the actions in my childhood and those in Montgomery Count Pa. It would be easy to remain bitter and victimized by these incidents. However, good things actually come out of trying circumstances. In my case, it renewed my desire to be the best that I could be and never accept second class treatment from anyone. It made me stronger.

For those children in Pa., the outpouring of support from across the country has been incredible. These children will be receiving help and opportunities from Hollywood filmmakers, world class chefs, Olympic athletes, Police Athletic Clubs, and a host of others. Yes, I definitely "feel their pain" but I also see them handling it with pride and dignity. These children will be fine. But it is critically important for us adults to set the example, and remember not to judge all folks for the actions of an ignorant few. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard, because our actions as viewed by our children, will set the tone for how they handle adversity in the future.

Remember, intolerance and ignorance starts at home.

Did You Know

Fact: In 1984 Republican James L. Usry was elected the first Black Mayor of Atlantic City, NJ

Fact: In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a bipartisan fair housing bill, which expanded protection against housing discrimination.

Fact: In 1990 the U.S.Golf Association followed the lead of the Professional Golfers Association required clubs hosting golf tournaments to ban discrimination against minorities and women.

(Source: Before the Mayflower - Bennett Jr., Lerone, A History of Black America.Chicago,2007).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Funny Man Not So Well Liked

Al Franken, the democratic Senator elect from the great state of Minnesota, is not making people nationally very happy. As reported in Politico, a national poll released today shows Franken is viewed unfavorably by 44 percent of voters. The Rasmussen Reports poll found that 34 percent have a favorable view of the former Saturday Night Live comedian, and another 22 percent at are "not sure what to think of him".

Of course, here is the kicker - it doesn't really matter what people think of Franken nationally. Those that count are the people of Minnesota who voted for him. Granted, the Minnesota Supreme Court had to step in to rule that Franken had indeed won the election by an extremely close 312 vote margin, but the fact remains that he still got more votes than former Republican Senator Norm Coleman for the post.

The saying, "be careful what you wish for", applies to this situation. But then again, Minnesotans are an independent bunch. Remember Governor Jessie Ventura? Guess they sent another message to the political "Establishment" with this pick as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Can't We Just Get Along?

Is anyone else as tired of hearing ex-staffers whining about Sarah Palin as I am? A recent article in Vanity Fair about the former Vice Presidential candidate and current Governor of Alaska, is another wonderful example of the GOP's infighting being conducted on a public stage. Give it to the democrats, at least they try not to air "family feuds" in public.

The article references former Presidential Candidate John McCain's senior level staffers slamming Palin, and each other, with personal attacks. Please children, the election was over eight months ago. It's time to stop this nonsense and address the real issue - how to make the GOP relevant again.

Did You Know:

Fact: In 1989 Douglas Wilder became the first Black Governor (VA) in the United States.

Fact: The Republican Party was responsible for the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution granting Blacks freedom, citizenship and the right to vote.

Fact: Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman-both Democrats-rejected anti-lynching laws and efforts to establish a permanent civil right commission.