Friday, April 24, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. on War

Stray plane sparks security scare over Washington

THE north lawn of the White House and parts of the US Capitol were briefly evacuated today after the pilot of a small plane strayed into restricted airspace.
"Proper procedures were followed. The pilot was compliant. It is over," a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said.

An official at the Federal Aviation Administration said the plane, identified as a single engine Cessna, later landed at a Washington-area airport without incident.

The security scare spurred the Secret Service to temporarily clear the north lawn in front of the White House while at the US Capitol the Senate went into a brief recess.

An "all clear" signal was given by Capitol police within minutes, and lawmakers and staff returned to Senate floor. Workers were also briefly evacuated from House of Representatives side of the building.

After the hijacked plane attacks of September 11, 2001, officials tightened up security and increased the area of restricted airspace around Washington.

There have been several incidents since then of small planes breaching Washington area security.

Supreme Court to Weigh Voting Rights Act Challenge

Three high-profile cases challenging the nation’s civil rights laws and efforts to remedy age-old discrimination against African Americans and minorities in voting, employment and lending practices are on the docket for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court over the next week.

The case that has drawn the most national attention from many Black groups and civil rights advocates challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No.1 vs. Holder, will be presented before the court on April 29.

The court is being asked to decide whether Congress overstepped its power by extending for another 25 years Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires some states to seek approval from the Justice Department before changing their election laws.

The law is being challenged by a utility district in Texas which is within the city of Austin and Travis County but is independent of those two. Because the entire state of Texas is covered by the Voting Rights Act, the utility district is also covered for its elections every two years of members of its board of directors.

The VRA was re-authorized in 1970, 1975, and 1982 for a 25-year extension and then 2006. Since 1970, it has passed by wide margins in both bodies of Congress and renewed repeatedly by Republican Presidents Richard Nixon (1970), Gerald Ford (1975), Ronald Reagan (1982) and George W. Bush (2006).

Just days after the most recent extension became law, following a unanimous Senate vote and a 390-33 vote in the House, the law was challenged by the utility district.

A three-judge federal court in Washington, D.C., last year upheld Congress’ 25-year extension of the Section 5 provision of the Voting Rights Act.

The Texas utility district has appealed to the high court.

Some governors, notably Govs. Sonny Perdue of Georgia and Bob Riley of Alabama, both Republicans, have also argued against keeping Section 5, saying it’s no longer needed because Blacks have made significant political progress since the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and 70s. The governors, as many others have lately, point to the election of President Obama as a prime example that Whites will vote for Blacks. There is no longer a need for more federal oversight of state and local elections, they say.

NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton disagrees.

“The VRA was just re-authorized in 2006 with Republican support and it was signed into law by President Bush,” he said.

“The re-authorization was fully vetted because it went through 30 hearings in the U.S. House and Senate. It was found by the Congress that even though progress had been made by minorities, there were still many instances of trickery and devices used to lock minorities out of the voting process.”

In addition to Georgia and Alabama, states covered in their entirety are Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Virginia also need permission from the Justice Department to change their election laws and procedures.

It’s not clear which way the court will rule. Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito make up the conservative wing of the court, while Associate Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg constitutes the moderate/liberal faction. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative with moderate views on race, is considered the court’s swing vote on civil rights cases.

Jon Greenbaum, director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law’s Voting Rights Project, thinks the court will see the merit of Section 5 and let it stand.

“We believe that Section 5 is constitutional and the Supreme Court will rule in our favor,” said Greenbaum.

Greenbaum added that if the conservative faction has its way and Section 5 is watered down or nullified, the civil rights community will be ready to counter the decision.

“Any ruling by the Supreme Court that Section 5 is unconstitutional would be detrimental to the voting rights of some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Greenbaum.

“Depending on the specifics of how the court rules, Congress may be able to enact legislation that would address the constitutional problems identified by the Supreme Court.”

In another important civil rights case on the docket, the court on April 22 heard arguments in Ricci vs. DeStefano, a case involving White firefighters in New Haven, Conn. The firefighters accuse city officials of violating civil rights laws by discarding a promotion exam that the White firefighters passed, but none of the Blacks who took the test passed. In throwing out the results, the city argued that the exam had a “disparate impact” on minorities and likely violated laws on equal employment opportunity.

The test was professionally designed to meet federal guidelines that focused on the requirements of the job sought with minimal focus on cultural factors that could harm Blacks and other minorities from doing well on the test.

If the court rules that the White firefighters were discriminated against and the test results considered valid, it could spell trouble for equal employment cases and other matters regarding race and employment in the future, said Mary Frances Berry, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Clinton administration.

“This is about whether we are going to see a sea change in how the judiciary looks at the need for those protections and how the popular culture and electoral politics influence their perceptions,” Berry told the media.

A lesser known, but equally important, case is Cuomo vs. the Clearing House Association, in which the court will hear arguments on April 28 on whether New York and other states have the authority to investigate discriminatory lending practices that have resulted in a disproportionate number of high interest subprime loans being issued to people of color.

“This case presents the Supreme Court with an ideal opportunity to address the root of our current economic crisis,” said John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “This will place at the forefront the impact this crisis has and continues to have on minority communities.”

Goodman League to Officially Invite Obama

President Barack Obama shakes hands with George Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls (center) at the Washington Wizards vs. the Chicago Bulls game at the Verizon Center in February

With the Washington Wizards failing to qualify for the NBA playoff for the first time in four years, President Barack Obama will have to wait until next season before he can make his second basketball game appearance at the Verizon Center.

But the good news for Obama is he won’t have too long to see some exciting hoops in Washington.

Remember the fan who allegedly heckled the president during the Wizards vs. Chicago Bulls game back in February?

Well, the AFRO had confirmed that Miles Rawls had intentions far beyond annoying the first Black president of the United States.

We reported last month that Rawls, the longtime commissioner of the annual George Goodman League—a series of summer basketball games at Barry Farms Dwelling Court—had plans of inviting Obama down to the Farms, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The AFRO now learns directly from Rawls— also a longtime District police officer—that he has written an official letter of invitation and will personally deliver it to the White House one day this week.

Rawls, who will also take to the president several photos of the Goodman League games, said he wanted to present an invitation to Obama during the Wizards games, but never had the chance because the two were having so much fun exchanging trash talk.

If the president does accept the invitation to either watch or participate as a player in the games, surely he’ll be the most recognized public figure to do so.

But he won’t be the first famous face to engage in D.C.’s most popular street ball tournament.

Rawls, one of the most respected names among local basketball, has the ability to attract high- profile ball players to participate in the games. He’s invited NBA stars such as Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Shaquille O’Neal and several And-1 All Stars down to play against some of the best local talent.

Whenever word gets around the area that a star baller will be playing, hundreds of folks crowd the courts just to be a witness.

If Obama shows face, he’ll easily attract the most visitors to Barry Farms in the 30-plus year history of the Goodman League games.

President Obama Should Have Attended UN Conference on Racism

Ron Walters

(April 21, 2009) - I’m missing something here. President Barack Obama just went to Europe and Iraq and made speeches saying that he would be deferential to Communist China, that he would meet without conditions with the leadership of Iran and that he wanted to open up a new relationship with the Islamic world.

Then he went to the Conference of the Americas in Trinidad and shook the hand of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has said some devilish things about America and the Bush administration. But the key issue that took over the conference was the American overture to talk to Cuba, in response to Raul Castro’s statement that he would talk with the U. S. and everything would be on the table.

Moreover, the Obama administration has said it wants to open up a new chapter in its relationship with the United Nations. To that end, it has appointed an African-American ambassador and put in its application for a seat on the Human Rights Commission.

Against this background, the decision of the Obama administration not to go to the United Nations Conference on Racism in Geneva, Switzerland April 20-24 would appear to be a powerful refutation of this relatively liberal approach to the international community it has established.

This is a conference on racism, which means that the interests of those who experienced racism around the world and especially in this country were involved in their representation at this forum. Not only are African Americans implicated as victims of racism because of their experiences in this country, they also are taxpayers and should be able to depend upon representation by their government to deal with this issue in such a forum. Then, of course, there’s the obvious point that an African-American president and an African-American U. N. Ambassador are involved in this decision not to send a representative.

No doubt, they would protest that they are following the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in their position and, thus, their right to make such a decision. But its basis seems to be narrow and counter to the world-wide problem of racism.

The administration sent a delegation to Geneva in February to the preliminary meeting and left concerned about the fact that language equating Zionism with racism was carried forth from the Durban Conference of 2001 to this one. On that basis, they decided - like their counterpart, former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell - not to send an official delegation.

In making this decision, Obama has made a political decision to privilege the interests of the Jewish community over that of Blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. This cannot be perceived as change. This places such groups, who played a decisive role in his election, into the category of being expendable.

Now, I’m aware that the Jewish community voted 77 percent for Barack Obama, support him financially and are linked to the politics of the Middle East.

I’m also aware that the entire continent of Africa, where Obama’s father was from, experienced racism at the hands of their colonial masters, and still do so today.

Most importantly, there is the pregnant question in the Black community of whether having run a “race neutral” campaign, Obama will now run a “race neutral” administration, ignoring the interests of the Black community.

In that context, ignoring a high-profile conference on racism is a gamble that this is, indeed, an expendable issue, of intense concern only to a handful of activists in the Black community - that most Black people won’t even know that such a conference has taken place. Then, Black leaders, so entrenched in the politics of the economic issues, are likely to have given him a pass on this.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee has voiced her regret that the Obama administration will not attend the conference. But I have also heard through Professor Michael Fauntroy of George Mason University that the CBC was denied in its effort to get support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who told them not to go.

Otherwise, no ruckus has been made of this, so the Obama people could be right. You get the government you are willing to fight for.

Ron Walters is the distinguished leadership scholar, director of the African American Leadership Center and professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. His latest book is: ‘The Price of Racial Reconciliation’ (University of Michigan Press).

First 100 Days

President Barack Obama, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks to reporters at the conclusion of his first full Cabinet meeting at the White House on April 20, a few days before the president marked his first 100 days as the nation’s first Black president. (AP Photo)

(April 21, 2009) - As the nation looks back to January 20, many people will remember the tears of joy and reminiscing as Barack Obama took the oath of office as America’s first Black president. Now, 100 days later on April 26, civil rights leaders, analysts, pundits and ordinary Americans continue to mark the historic occasion, while also pausing to reflect on how far the new president has come and how far he still has to go.

President Obama’s initial accomplishments have included:
• Immediately confronting the nation’s failing economy to the point where he now sees “glimmers of hope.”
• Reversing a string of anti-union executive orders issued by the Bush administration.
• Establishing a Middle Class Working Families Task Force.
• Closing the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison to hold what the Bush administration called “enemy combatants” and suspected terrorists following September 11.
• Making his first trip to Europe for the G-20 Summit with first Lady Michelle Obama, raising good will for America abroad.
• Traveling to Mexico with hopes of stopping violent drug cartels and preventing them from entering the U. S.
• Reaching out to restore relationships with Cuba with strong support from the Congressional Black Caucus.
• Recommitting millions of dollars to the prevention and awareness of HIV/AIDS in America.

But, specifically, how is the new president doing on issues pertaining to African Americans from a civil rights perspective? Pointing out that 100 days is simply not enough time to tell, some civil rights leaders give him an A so far, with most also giving an “incomplete” on the grassroots economy.

“There are some As and a couple of incompletes,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson in a phone interview from Thailand. “I think the position against torture, an A; the G-20 conference, putting a credible face on America’s foreign policy where he has trust capital and Bush had trust deficit-disorder.”

Jackson also listed Obama’s reaching out to Cuba, Venezuela and the overture toward Iran as all As, along with his dealing with the student loan industry, which Jackson described as a “$95 billion-a-year rip-off.”

But the incompletes – mainly in the area of economics - are clear, he says.

“There’s an incomplete on the stimulus because it must be more targeted to get to the bottom. As the states get it, they’re using the term ‘shovel-ready.’ But, shovel-ready for those who don’t have a shovel because of the lack of capital and lack of credit means they may not be ready. That could be seen as boot straps without the boots.”

To be fair, Jackson conceded the president could only demand that the money gets out of Washington. “But, we must demand that the states get it down to where the people are,” he said. “We have to be certain that it gets down to the most unemployed, the most in need of training, the most in need of business development. That’s an on-going struggle there.”

As Black unemployment surges toward 14 percent, National Urban League President Marc Morial agreed.

On a scale of 1-10, Morial gave the president a 9 for his first 100 days.

In the Black community, Morial cited a need for greater civil rights enforcement and the need for help with job development.

“The creation of an agency taskforce to assist African Americans in securing construction jobs and green jobs; and the hiring of African Americans in subcabinet positions at Education, HUD, Labor and Health & Human Services,” Morial said.

Like Jackson, he says African Americans must press local and state government to do right by stimulus money.

“We need to remain engaged and hold mayors, governors and local school districts accountable for the stimulus dollars to ensure that African Americans are included in its benefits,” Morial said.

Morial also praised Obama for getting off to a fast start with the passage of the stimulus bill, the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and the appointment of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree also applauded the president’s appointment of Holder, America’s first Black attorney general and listed a string of observations that have impressed him within the first 100 days, including “his symbolic and substantive decisions evince a level of maturity and calm judgment rarely seen by someone so early in their term as president.”

He gave Obama a 10 for adopting a stringent ethics code for his administration and for suspending the prosecution of suspected terrorists who have been detained, but not charged with offenses for nearly seven years; for outlawing waterboarding as an interrogation tactic and for appointing former rival and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

However, Ogletree’s wishes for the next 100 days are just as strong, as he also pointed to the need to connect with those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

“I would like the president to do a tour of America and ascertain the extent and the causes of poverty in America and seek a bipartisan set of proposals, comparable to a modern-day American Marshall Plan to rebuild America and energize its people from the bottom up,” Ogletree said. “Furthermore, I would hope that President Obama will continue to work with HBCUS to create our next generation of leaders in business and industry.”

While civil rights leaders across the board applaud the new president, they almost unanimously stopped short of the highest rating of 10, noting the incomplete on issues pertaining to grassroots African Americans.

“President Obama has tackled some of the critical issues affecting this country, reversed some of the wrongs of the previous administration and has offered hope for all Americans,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, but quickly citing criminal justice issues that need work.

“Forty percent of the prison population is African American while African Americans only make up 13 percent of the country’s population,”
Jealous said. “We would like to see the president pass a series of laws that would do away with racial profiling, eliminate the excessive use of force by law enforcement and enforce strict guidelines on prisoner treatment.”

Like other leaders, Jealous also strongly pointed out economic deficiencies in the Black community.

“Our citizens are losing their homes at a rate we have never seen before; small businesses are folding and more Americans are losing their jobs every day. President Obama needs to address these issues and address them fast,” Jealous said. “The housing crisis is crippling our country and the administration needs to call for a moratorium on foreclosures on homes. Further, President Obama needs to implement smart policies to stop the exponential job losses and put an end to the hemorrhaging in the small business community.”

Jealous concluded, “We cannot mortgage the lower class to invest in the middle class. With millions of African American’s out of work, the president needs to address the issue of poverty. A large number of Americans live on Main Street; however, a large number of African Americans live on Back Street, and the president must continue to offer hope to those aspiring to be in the middle class.”

While many said it’s far too soon to realistically rate the president, they were quick to say what they want more of.

John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, applauded Obama’s appointment of Holder but he also wants more attention paid to the impoverished.

“Many inner city communities are in economic and social distress,” said Payton. “Their public schools are failing to graduate many, and in some cases, most of their students. Public housing is in an equally distressed situation. Jobs are being lost; health providers and health insurance are being lost. The criminal justice system is playing an inappropriate role in many of those communities. We need comprehensive programs to address these critical problems.”

Payton said social and civil rights groups must propose policies for corrective action and not stand by and watch.

The greatest help for the administration must be everyone’s patience, said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

“I don’t think you can judge someone after only 100 days. That said, he’s accomplished more in his first quarter than most presidents achieve in their entire first term. He’s focused on creating jobs where we need them and has signed into law a number of backlogged civil rights bills,” said Henderson. “We didn’t get in the morass we’re in today overnight and we’re not going to get out of it in 100 days or 200 days or even in a year.”

Perhaps Jackson summed it up most succinctly. “We’re better off than we were before he was inaugurated.”

Sunday Morning Talk Shows Showcasing More Blacks

NEW YORK (AP) -- During a "Meet the Press" round-table earlier this month, NBC's David Gregory turned to Rutgers University economist William Rodgers for an assessment of President Barack Obama's overseas trip. Rodgers said he'd give the president a grade of either A-minus or B-plus.

There was nothing remarkable about the discussion. Yet Rodgers' presence, his first time on "Meet the Press," illustrated a quiet effort at improving diversity on the Sunday morning political talk shows.

Rodgers' appearance marked one of 40 times a black American had been on one of the four broadcast shows this year, through April 12. During the same period two years ago, there were 25 appearances.

"We wanted to try to broaden the voices that we have on our round-table, and that includes more diverse voices in terms of race, gender and inside and outside of Washington," said Betsy Fischer, executive producer of "Meet the Press."

Even at a time the United States has elected a black president, these things are noticed. Michele Norris, host of NPR's "All Things Considered," said she hears some "attagirls" on the street after she's been on a Sunday morning round-table. Ian Cameron, executive producer of ABC's "This Week," gets e-mails from the public about diversity.

The National Urban League Policy Institute was critical of the programs in a report issued four years ago that it called "Sunday Morning Apartheid."

"There is nothing more galling than having white people sitting around talking about black people, and that is often what happens during these shows," said Richard Prince, who writes regularly on diversity for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Cameron said he first became conscious of the issue while working at a Canadian television network in 1989 and a Toronto Star columnist mocked a program for being little more than "three white guys talking about the economy."

At the time, Cameron was responsible for booking the show's guests.

Beyond offering different perspectives, Rodgers said one of his teaching assistants recently reminded him of the unspoken impact of diversity.

"In African-Americans' absence, there may be this subtle perception that African-Americans, or women, or Latinos don't think at that level or are not able to articulate," said Rodgers, a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and recipient of a Ph.D from Harvard. "From a standpoint of images where perception is reality, it is important."

The election of a black president probably makes producers more aware of the need to make the effort, he said.

"If you have an individual who can be president, then there are all kinds of people who can be just as effective," he said. "How much you can quantify it, it's too early to tell."

Two of the 40 appearances were by Obama himself, on "This Week" in January and CBS' "Face the Nation" in March. "Fox News Sunday" had the greatest frequency of appearances by blacks, primarily because Juan Williams is a regular panelist. Norris made three appearances on "Meet the Press" during that time, according to figures compiled for The Associated Press by Media Matters for America.

More familiar faces included Gwen Ifill of PBS, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Bill Cosby.

Norris may be new to Sunday mornings, but is hardly new to Washington: she's a veteran reporter who worked at The Washington Post and ABC News. Some other seasoned reporters, like Eugene Robinson, Perry Bacon and Michael Fletcher of the Post, are also getting Sunday face time.

It's important that they are there to talk about all issues, Norris said.

"I happen to host a show called `All Things Considered,' so it would be inappropriate and lamentable if I were to come on and be asked to consider one thing - race," she said.

Besides making shows look more representative of the public at large, diversity improves them, she said.

"It's not about numbers," she said. "It's not about quotas. It's not about window-dressing. It's about the broadcast that you produce and are you doing the kind of journalism that is truly representative? Are you asking the right questions?"

Prince said he noticed the programs are making progress.

Still, improvement in this area may overshadow work needed in others.

Media Matters also measured the number of Latino guests or panelists on "Meet the Press," "This Week," "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday" this year for the same period.

The count?


It will take Iraq time to put down extremists

WASHINGTON (AFP) — It will take Iraq "considerable" time to finish putting down extremists, General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the region said Friday.

"Although Al-Qaeda and other extremist elements in Iraq have been reduced significantly they do pose a continued threat to security and stability," Petraeus said in testimony to Congress.

With violence in Iraq surging, Petraus voiced concern at ethnic and sectarian strains, tensions between political parties, the return of displaced people, and budget issues, among major challenges facing Baghdad.

"The progress there is still fragile and reversible," he stressed.

On Iraqi security forces, Petraeus said: "they are considerably more capable than they were just a couple of years ago, but there will be continued attacks over time.

"It is going to take a considerable time for Iraq to eliminate all of the remaining (extremist) elements," he said.

Two suicide bombers struck near a major Shiite shrine in Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 58 people amid a brutal spike of attacks nine weeks before US troops are to withdraw from Iraqi cities.

At least 140 people have been killed in the past 24 hours as suicide bombers targeted areas packed with civilians in the capital and a restaurant filled with Iranian pilgrims further north.

The security arrangement reached in November between Washington and Bagdad calls for US forces to pull out of cities June 30 ahead of a full withdrawal from the country by late 2011.

But US and Iraqi officials were not ruling out pushing back the June 30 date, particularly in the case of Mosul seen as the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda.

"If you ask me today, the one area I'm still not sure about is Mosul. But we will do a joint assessment," General Ray Odierno told CNN Friday.

"The bottom line is we're doing joint assessments with the government of Iraq in all of the areas today," Odierno added. "We'll provide recommendations to the prime minister (Nuri al-Maliki). "And he, ultimately, will make that decision whether they stay with combat forces in the city" past June 30.

Mexico flu outbreak kills dozens

Dozens of people have died and hundreds of others have been infected in a viral outbreak in Mexico suspected to have been caused by a strain of swine flu.

The UN's health agency, the World Health Organization, believes the virus is behind 60 deaths, mostly in and around the capital, since mid-March.

Local schools have been closed and a vaccination campaign is being launched.

Seven non-fatal cases of a new form of swine flu have also been confirmed in the southern United States.

An official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the Associated Press news agency that there was no confirmation of any link between the two outbreaks.

The White House said it was following the US outbreak - in California and Texas - closely.

'Mutated from pigs'

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said "unusual end-of-season influenza activity" had been noticed in Mexico starting from the end of March.

Fifty-seven people had died in Mexico City from flu-like symptoms, she said, and another three in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico. There are around 800 suspected cases, she said.

Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the virus had "mutated from pigs and then at some point was transmitted to humans".

The strain of flu had been confirmed in at least 16 deaths, with 44 others being tested, the government said.

It urged people to take preventative measures such as not shaking hands or sharing crockery.

'No contact'

In the US, experts say the seven people who fell ill across two states were suffering from a new form of swine flu that combined pig, bird and human viruses.

"This is the first time that we've seen an avian strain, two swine strains and a human strain," Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the CDC, told AFP.

The CDC said none of the seven victims had been in contact with pigs, which is how people usually catch swine flu.

It was tracking those who had been in contact with the seven to see if they were ill, it said. All seven had made a full recovery.

Brooklyn Pastor Timothy Wright Dies At 61

Reverend Timothy Wright, pastor of Grace Tabernacle Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn and Grammy-nominated gospel singer, passed away yesterday at age 61. Wright had been in the hospital since last July, when he was seriously injured in a car accident.

On July 4, Wright, his wife Betty, and his 14-year-old grandson D.J. were driving home on I-80 in Pennsylvania when a driver, driving the wrong way, crashed into them. His wife and grandson did not survive, nor did the other driver. Wright was in critical condition for a while and his family didn't immediately tell him of his wife's and grandson's death. By October, he was able to see supporters at an event, but he was in a wheelchair (he was paralyzed from the waist down) and on a respirator. He told WCBS 2, "I lost my wife, I lost my grandson, and for some reason, God left me here. So here I am." According to a letter posted on his MySpace page in February, his family and friends were happy that Wright had movement in his shoulders, neck and hands, but noted there were difficulties because of a recent set-back.

The AP reports that Wright "released more than a dozen gospel recordings, writing many of the songs." He was nominated for a best traditional soul gospel Grammy in 1994 for his record "Come Thou Almighty King," with the New York Fellowship Mass Choir" and in 1999 for "Been There Done That," which he recorded with the B/J Mass Choir. You can hear some of his music on his MySpace page.

Yankees and Red Sox Ready for Round 1

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox renew their long-time rivalry this weekend with a three game series/battle in Boston. Both teams are on winning streaks entering tonight’s fray. The Yankees pulled out a 14 inning affair with the A’s on Wednesday to run their string of successes to three straight. Meanwhile, the Red Sox swept the Twins in a Wednesday doubleheader to extend their current streak to 7 wins. Both teams enter the series with a 9-6 record, 2 games behind the first place Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.

The first salvo has already been fired by David Ortiz at Joba Chamberlain, alluding to the right-hander’s “purpose pitches”:

“None of that, man — just play the game the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s about it,” Ortiz said, referring to Chamberlain.

“This is a guy, as good as he is, the next step for him will be to earn respect from everybody in the league. He’s not a bad guy, but when things like that happen, people get the wrong idea.” Source

There’s no question that Chamberlain shouldn’t go head hunting as he has when facing Kevin Youkilis. But Big Papi never seemed to have a problem when Pedro Martinez was sending Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter to the hospital for X-Rays, nor when Josh Beckett recently threw over the head of former Yankee Bobby Abreu. Pitching inside is part of the game and it’s time the Yankees did unto others. Translation: Big Papi needs to shut up and play baseball.

But for the most part, the players like and respect each other. Gone are antagonists Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and Roger Clemens. Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jeter bonded during their time playing together for Team USA in February’s World Baseball Classic. The animosity of Yankees and Red Sox fans towards players and towards each other, however, is unparalleled in major league baseball. It has spilled over outside of the ballparks, where name calling, fights and more heinous crimes have taken place as a result of ill feelings between the fans/cities.

The Fenway faithful are sure to be loud and rude this weekend, just as Yankees fans will be when the teams meet at the Stadium on May 4 and 5. They won’t have Alex Rodriguez to boo, but Derek Jeter will be there, and Mark Teixeira will receive his share of hate for not choosing Boston as his free agent home.

Probable Pitchers

Friday (7:05 ET, YES): Joba Chamberlain vs. Jon Lester
Saturday (3:40 ET, FOX): A.J. Burnett vs. Josh Beckett
Sunday (8:00 ET, ESPN): Andy Pettitte vs. Justin Masterson

Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls

Wow, talk about turnaround. The Boston Celtics finally showed up in this series. Paul Pierce came out smoking and hit his first 6 shots, ending the game with 24 pts. Rajon Rondo continued his stellar play this series with a 20 pts, 11 rebs, 6 asts, and 5 stls performance. The Celtics showed that they are the reigning champs and what that really means. They came out with that killer instinct and once they put their foot on the Bulls neck, they didn't let off. The crowd at the United Center came to party, but it sounded more like a funereal at the end.

The Bulls came out tight. After winning game 1, the Bulls probably succumbed to expectations. Many thought that the Celtics were a wounded aging team and the young upstart Bulls have a chance. The series was tied 1-1 and the Bulls were coming home on a night that Derrick Rose was given the Rookie of the Year award. After the tip off everything went terribly bad for the Bulls. The Bulls were led by Ben Gordon with an uninspiring 15 pts. The only plus out of this game was that Kirk Hinrich actually played well off the bench with 14 pts and 3 asts.

Key facts:

- I'm sorry Doc if you had been reading here and decided to give Perkins a few more touches. He played terribly last night and when given the opportunity he was allowing Noah to play him tough.

- Stephon Marbury played great last night. He played 24 minutes, shot 4 of 10 (yes, I can forgive that) and ended the game with 13 pts, 3 rebs, and 5 asts. This may be a the light that the Celtics needed to see from Marbury. He looked comfortable out there.

- It was great seeing Scalabrine on the floor last night, but what kind of headband was that? Did it have airbags or something?

This was a devastating loss for the Bulls. Can they bounce back and even the series or is it over for the Bulls and this season?

Jay Leno checks into hospital

Jay Leno canceled the taping of The Tonight Show yesterday due to what some suspect was food poisoning. Leno was driven to the hospital and is doing fine. He was even running his monologue by hospital staff which is why a collective groan could be heard coming out of the building last night.

Friday’s show has also been canceled with Jay expected to return on Monday.

Whatever. I smell a conspiracy. Jay Leno probably isn’t even sick. I bet it finally happened. His chin killed a kid just to watch it die. He must have went to hold a baby like the president does, only, when he went in for the hug, his chin pressed the soft spot on top of their head and killed them. That’s why he rushed to the hospital. On the bright side, he finally remembered that hilarious dead baby joke.

Obama to release photos of alleged prisoner abuse

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years.

The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Forty four pictures that the American Civil Liberties Union was seeking in a court case, plus a “substantial number” of other images, will be released by May 28.

The photos, examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib, which became a symbol of U.S. mistakes in Iraq. But Defense officials nevertheless are concerned that the release could incite another backlash in the Middle East.

Some of the photos show military service members intimidating or threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them, according to officials who have seen them. Military officers have been court-martialed for threatening detainees at gunpoint.

“This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration’s claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, which obtained the agreement as part of a long-running legal battle for documents related to Bush-era anti-terror policies.

The photo release decision comes as President Barack Obama is trying to quell a drive to investigate Bush-era anti-terror practices, which was spurred in part by the release last week of Justice Department memos detailing the Bush administration’s legal justifications for harsh interrogations. But now the photos and a series of other possible disclosures stemming from the ACLU lawsuit threaten to fuel the controversy.

Additional disclosures to be considered in the coming weeks include transcripts of detainee interrogations by the CIA, a CIA inspector general’s report that has been kept mostly secret, and background materials of a Justice Department internal investigation into prisoner abuse.

In each instance, Obama and his administration are being forced to decide whether to release material entirely, disclose it with redactions or follow the lead of the Bush administration and fight in court to keep the material classified.

Last week, Obama opted to demand relatively few redactions in the Justice Department memos.

With Obama trying to navigate ambitious health, tax and environment legislation through Congress, the White House rejected the idea of appointing its own 9/11 Commission-style review of President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policies, according to an official, fearing it could become a partisan distraction.

Miss California Carrie Prejean Becomes Conservative Darling Amid Gay Marriage Brouhaha

Carrie Prejean may have lost the Miss USA crown, but she sure won the hearts of conservatives. What is it with the GOP and beauty queens? Don’t forget that Sarah Palin was once an aspiring Miss Alaska! (swimsuit competition video here)

Miss California has been blasted since the Miss USA competition Sunday night, when she said on national television — much to the dismay of celebrity blogger Perez Hilton — she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. She later said that while she doesn’t regret voicing her beliefs, her stance is what left her in second place. But since then, Politico reports, Prejean has found a slew of supporters from conservative bloggers, talk-show hosts and others on the right.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins stated his "admiration and support" for Prejean and said she "has been victimized by this flagging production in a vain attempt to generate interest through controversy rather than substance." One Alabama state legislator even introduced a resolution praising her for speaking out against gay marriage; it passed by voice vote.

Others applauded her for speaking her mind, even if it may not have been politically correct enough for the pageant crowd.

"It was refreshing to see someone not give the politically correct answer," writes a Kansas City Star columnist. "Predictably, conservatives and some Republican politicians are embracing Prejean because of her comments. That’s fine, too, because she’s getting a positive reaction for speaking her mind."

Donald Trump, the owner of the Miss Universe franchise, told FOX News that he has received thousands of calls and letters, the majority of which support Prejean’s stance.

"Miss California has done a wonderful job, that was her belief … It wasn’t a bad answer, that was simply her belief," Trump said, adding that Prejean’s question was "a bit unlucky," and that no matter how she answered, "she was going to get killed."

Perhaps if Prejean’s current career plans don’t work out, she could find a niche for herself in politics. The GOP could use more women in its ranks!

Scottish singing sensation gets dye job, makeover

What's next, a fake tan?

Britain is buzzing over singing sensation Susan Boyle's mini-makeover, with some worrying that her new look may cost her some support in the "Britain's Got Talent" competition that catapulted her to international stardom.

Boyle, 47, became an instant YouTube and Internet celebrity after appearing on the British TV show with gray frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows and a jowly face above a remarkably unflattering dress. The contrast between Boyle's un-adorned looks and her angelic singing voice endeared her to viewers the world over.

But on Friday, Boyle appeared on the cover of The Sun tabloid sporting freshly dyed and styled brown locks and newly shaped eyebrows.

While no one could accuse Boyle of turning into a WAG — as the highly stylized Wives and Girlfriends of England's wealthy athletes are called — the difference was shocking.

"Compared to what she had, it's a 200 percent improvement," said Toni Jones, assistant fashion editor of The Sun. "But our readers think this is as far as she should go. We want her to stay one of us, not get hair extensions and a fake tan."

Jones praised Boyle for getting a 35-pound ($51) hair cut at a local salon near her home in Scotland rather than trekking to London for a 200-pound ($295) cut at a celebrity salon.

But Max Clifford, Britain's most prominent publicist, called the makeover a major risk because it could jeopardize the phenomenal connection between Boyle and her worldwide audience.

"Keep her as natural as possible for as long as possible," said Clifford. "It's more about protection than promotion. She's got the voice. She has to make sure that the person people all around the world fell in love with remains the same."

In addition to the new haircut, Boyle has also upgraded her wardrobe. Instead of the plain beige dress she wore on her first TV appearance, she was recently photographed wearing a stylish black leather jacket and what appeared to be a Burberry scarf.

Judges of "Britain's Got Talent" will decide May 23 whether Boyle gets through to the next round. Britain's bookmakers have made her the firm favorite to win the competition.

Warner: Climate change a national security issue

Former Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia says dealing with climate change is a national security issue that must be addressed.

But Warner told a House panel there will be "a rough road ahead" if greenhouse gases are to be reduced. He cautioned against moving too quickly when technology to curtail heat-trapping emissions may not be available.

Still, Warner said future generations will judge what lawmakers do — or not do — today to address global warming.

He said the issues of climate change, energy and national security are interwoven and can't be ignored. Warner joined former Vice President Al Gore in appearing before the Energy and Commerce subcommittee which is considering a bill to cut greenhouse pollution.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Vice President Al Gore, the leading American voice on climate change, urged lawmakers Friday to overcome partisan differences and take action to reduce greenhouse gases, calling the climate issue the most important ever before Congress.

Gore told a House hearing that the Democratic bill that would limit carbon dioxide and other pollution linked to a warming of the earth will simultaneously solve the problems of the climate, economy and national security.

"We are, along with the rest of humanity, facing the dire and growing threat of the climate crisis," said Gore, who argued that Congress must act to "restore America's leadership of the world and begin, at long last, to solve the climate crisis."

Gore, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on global warming, has for more than a dozen years championed the need to address climate change.

The former Tennessee congressman and senator described the bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee as "one of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced in the Congress." It calls for a reduction of greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by mid-century. It also would require utilities to produce a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Gore's backing comes after three days of hearings where experts, Republicans and moderate Democrats expressed concern that the bill, which would establish a cap-and-trade system to cut emissions, will drive up energy costs.

Gore rejected any conflict between addressing global warming and economic well-being. But he urged the House panel to make sure the bill includes provisions to protect people who will unfairly face hardships, such as workers in energy-intensive industries who could lose their jobs and those who face higher energy bills.

He offered the panel a litany of examples of what rising temperatures are already doing to the planet. He spoke of Arctic warming, melting Greenland ice sheets, and how increasingly acidic seas are striking seashells and coral reefs with a type of osteoporosis.

Gore's celebrity on the issue of climate change could generate much needed public support for the legislation after three days of panels and testimony and more than 50 witnesses espousing on the nitty-gritty details of the 648-page draft bill.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who co-sponsored climate legislation in the Senate last year, also were scheduled to testify.

Gingrich, who led a Republican-dominated House from 1995-1999, still isn't convinced that human activities are the leading cause for global warming. He was added to the lineup late Thursday at the request of Republicans. But he has urged conservatives that they should play a role in crafting climate and energy policy.

Gingrich last year appeared in a commercial sitting beside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that was paid for by Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection. In it, Gingrich said that while he doesn't always see eye to eye with Pelosi, "we do agree our country must take action to address climate change."

Warner will argue that the climate bill should do more to address national security and that if it did it would garner more public support.

Warner has been a strong advocate for mandatory action to reduce greenhouse gases. But his bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., as well as Democrats, failed to get enough votes in the Senate to break a GOP filibuster. That debate, like much of the discussion this week before the House committee, focused on bitter disagreement over the expected economic costs, and similar arguments have been made this week.

Better-than-expected results at Ford lift stocks

Investors set aside some of their worries about the economy Friday after quarterly results from Ford brought a glimmer of hope for the troubled auto industry.

Ford's loss wasn't as bad as analysts had forecast, and the No. 2 automaker used up much less cash during the first three months of the year than it did in the last quarter of 2008. The stock jumped 15 percent.

All the major indexes jumped more than 1 percent, including the Dow Jones industrial average, which advanced 130 points.

Better-than-expected results from American Express Co. and Microsoft Corp. also pushed stocks higher. The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index were close to breaking even for the week after six straight weekly advances.

The market's attention was also on potential news about the "stress tests" the government is giving 19 of the largest U.S. banks. Federal regulators will be doing private briefings with the banks on Friday on how the tests will work.

The tests are designed to determine which banks may need further help from the government, and Wall Street is expecting an announcement from Washington Friday afternoon about the guidelines that will be used in determining which banks are healthy enough to survive in an even worse economic environment.

Even though formal results won't be announced until May 4, investors expect that the disclosure on Friday of the methodology for the tests could shed light on which financial companies might need more support.

Robert Reynolds, chief executive at Putnam Investments, said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's statement Tuesday that "the vast majority" of banks have enough capital hints that the market likely won't be surprised by the grades banks bring home from the stress test.

"I think it will confirm what the market thinks," he said, adding that banks are still troubled and will need time to repair their balance sheets. "I don't think that by any stretch of the imagination it means that we're out of woods."

In midday trading, the Dow rose 129.66, or 1.6 percent, to 8,086.72.

Broader stock indicators also jumped. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 13.43, or 1.6 percent, to 865.35, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 35.52, or 2.2 percent, to 1,687.73.

Homebuilder stocks rose after the government reported that sales of new homes slipped last month but still topped expectations. New home sales fell 0.6 percent in March, better than the forecast of economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Pulte Homes Inc. rose 58 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $11.75, while Lennar Corp. rose $1.34, or 15.5 percent, to $10.01.

The government also reported that demand for big-ticket manufactured items fell less than expected last month. Orders to U.S. factories for durable goods — those expected to last at least three years — fell by 0.8 percent, less than the 1.5 percent economists had been expecting. The report spurred some hope that a slide in manufacturing could be starting to bottom out.

Ford rose 72 cents, or 16 percent, $5.21 after reporting that it spent $3.7 billion more than it brought in during the quarter. That amount is far less than the $7.2 billion the company went through in the fourth quarter.

American Express jumped $3.16, or 15.1 percent, to $23.13 after the credit card lender reported earnings late Thursday that topped Wall Street's expectations, in part because of heavy cost-cutting. The company was by far the biggest gainer among the 30 stocks that form the Dow Jones industrials.

Microsoft rose $1.60, or 8.5 percent, to $20.52 as investors cheered cost-cuts that included layoffs. Profits fell 32 percent but were in line with Wall Street estimates.

Manufacturer 3M Co.'s earnings fell 48 percent as the recession squeezed sales in everything from health care to office supplies. The maker of Post-it notes and Scotch tape lowered its full-year profit forecast. 3M rose $1.79, or 3.3 percent, to $56.

Honeywell International Inc. fell 99 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $31.39 after the manufacturer's earnings fell 38 percent as a slide in commercial aviation and autos hurt sales. Honeywell also lowered its earnings forecast for the year.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 9.59, or 2.1 percent, to 476.21.

About three stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 569.6 million shares.

Bond prices fell, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note up to 2.98 percent from 2.93 percent late Thursday.

The dollar was lower against other major currencies, while gold prices rose. The weakness in the dollar meant each barrel of oil cost more. Light, sweet crude rose $1.89 to $51.51 even as supplies remain plentiful.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 1.6 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 2.4 percent, Germany's DAX index rose 2.6 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 2.6 percent.

Suicide Attacks Rock Iraq, in Second Day of Carnage

Iraqi police say a pair of suicide bombings in Baghdad Friday killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 100 others. It was the second day of carnage in the Iraqi capital.

Officials say the two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the midst of a throng of Shi'ite worshipers outside the Imam Mousa al Kazim shrine.

Eyewitnesses say panic swept through the crowd of worshipers, after the first explosion, causing a stampede.

Many Iraqis fear the bombings, clearly aimed at the Shi'ite community, could reignite sectarian violence in the country, after months of relative quiet. U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq's major cities by the end of June.

Two suicide bombings, Thursday, one in Baghdad and one in Diyala province, left at least 78 people dead.

US Army soldiers stand next to a car damaged by a bomb explosion in Baghdad, 23 April 2009
Both of those attacks were also aimed at Shi'ite targets, one of which killed dozens of Iranian pilgrims at a restaurant.

Uday Abu Tabikha, a spokesman for Iraq's Red Crescent Society, says that the upsurge in violence has a variety of causes and it may get worse.

He says that the increase in violence has many different reasons, including the results of the [January] provincial elections, and the fact that citizens are not happy with the government. There could also be a further upsurge in violence, he adds. Other reasons for the violence, he notes, are a traditional spike in fighting during the month of April, when insurgents like to fight, in addition to the stalemate in reconciliation talks (between Sunnis and Shi'ites).

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (file photo)

Al-Iraqia TV reported that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has appointed a committee to examine the recent spike in violence.

An announcement, Thursday, that Iraqi security forces had allegedly captured the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, caused some analysts to suggest the wave of suicide bombings could be related to his capture.

The latest spike in violence followed what had been a steady decline in killings over the past year.