Monday, December 21, 2009

Gospel Delivers Lakeland Pastor From KKK to God

Richard Harris, pastor of Living Hope Community Church in Lakeland, wrote "One Nation Under Curse" about his days as a member of the KKK in Indiana and how he was called to his religious faith.

By Cary McMullen

The photo shows a skinny, shaggy-haired teenager with huge 1970s-era glasses. He's wearing a white satin robe and on it is the insignia of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Rev. Richard C. Harris shakes his head slightly.

"It's hard to believe it was really me because I don't have those beliefs anymore," he said.

Harris has a lot of memorabilia from his years in the Klan - the white robe of a county officer, the red robe of a state officer, old manuals showing the secret passwords, signs and countersigns exchanged by Klansmen, racist propaganda. The one thing he doesn't have is the green robe of the Grand Dragon, or statewide chief, of Indiana, an office he held for two years as a young man.

On the day he quit the Klan, just 24 hours after undergoing a religious conversion, he gave the robe back to the man who recruited him.

Harris, pastor of Living Hope Community Church in Lakeland, has been out of the Klan for more than 30 years now. He has been speaking out against the Klan and its racism for a long time, but he just published a book about his years in the KKK, "One Nation Under Curse," which has landed him guest appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio talk shows.

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Tavis Smiley calls Obama's health reform 'small change'

Dec. 20, 2009, 5 p.m. - Radio/TV host Tavis Smiley today hit President Obama's apparent looming victory on health care saying that the bill does not go far enough.
"Throughout the campaign, the president promised change," he said on NBC's Meet The Press. "We have change on the horizon here but, unfortunately, it's small change. I find myself kind of like John McCain agreeing with Howard Dean, here I am agreeing with my friend Joe Scarborough."

He continued: "I think the real winners here are the insurance industry. They're, they're the--yeah, they're the ones who win here. I mean, you, you, you walk through that list, David, of those points you put up earlier. The president wanted the public option, the industry said no. The president wanted to tax their windfall profits, the industry said no. The president wanted to do a variety of things, the industry pushed back. And here's the problem for me. It's not just, David, that we're not getting the kind of health care that we were promised we were going to get, it's that in the president's first big fight with a powerful lobby in Washington, the White House lost and they lost big. And that, I think, portends something very dangerous down the road for all the other issues we have to deal with where lobbies are going to be pushing back on the White House."

Smiley has been a frequent critique of Obama, who he did not endorse. Obama has also never shown up for a major event held by Smiley.

Feds: Arrests in Africa Link al-Qaida and Drugs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three accused al-Qaida associates taken to New York on Friday are charged with plotting to ferry drugs through the Sahara desert to raise money for terror attacks — evidence of what prosecutors say is a dangerous, growing alliance between terror chiefs and drug lords.

The arrests mark the first time U.S. authorities have captured and charged al-Qaida suspects in a drug trafficking plot in Africa.

The three suspects — believed to be in their 30s and originally from Mali — were arrested by local authorities in Ghana earlier this week and turned over to U.S. agents.

They arrived in the United States early Friday morning, officials said, and were ordered held without bail after a brief court appearance later in the day in which they did not enter pleas to charges of narcoterrorism conspiracy and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the case shows a "direct link" between al-Qaida and drug traffickers.

The U.S. has long been concerned about close ties between militants and the heroin trade in Afghanistan. But the African case appears to show an expansion of both al-Qaida's illegal activities around the globe and American efforts to curtail black market deals that funnel cash to spur terror operations.

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Kool & The Gang Gives Rare Concert in Havana

HAVANA (AP) — American R&B pioneers Kool & the Gang helped Cuba get its funk on, bringing their eclectic mix of sounds Sunday to an open-air stage a stone's throw from the sparkling waters of the Caribbean.

Robert "Kool" Bell," his brother Khalis Bayyan, saxophonist Dennis Thomas and drummer George "Funky" Brown became one of the few U.S. musical acts to perform in Cuba in recent memory, amid Washington's travel restrictions and the ambivalence of the island's communist government about rock 'n' roll, hip hop and other kinds of American music.

"We are all about the music. We travel the world and our message is love, understanding and unity," Bell, a singer and bass player, said before taking the stage for a performance authorized by the U.S. government. "We don't come as politicians, we come as musicians."

With thousands of spectators stretching down Havana's storied Malcon coastal boulevard, the band played at the open-air Anti-imperialist Plaza, which sits in front of the U.S. Interests Section. Fans, many of them middle-aged with children in tow, danced and jumped up and down to the music while tenants in nearby apartment buildings watched from balconies.

The band heads next to Miami — where many in the Cuban-American community still hold deep resentment toward Cuba's government.

Offering a hybrid of funk, disco, R&B, dance and soul, Kool & the Gang came into its own in the 1970s and '80s. Its "Celebration" has been a mainstay at sports stadiums across the United States for a generation, and another hit, "Jungle Boogie" enjoyed a renaissance when it was featured in Quentin Tarantino's cult smash "Pulp Fiction."

The most recent show by a U.S. group was the heavy-metal band Audioslave's thundering concert before thousands at the same amphitheater in 2005.

But most American rockers, rap artists and other musical acts have kept away. Cuban officials often cite pop-rocker Billy Joel's indoor performance as a rock 'n' roll landmark in Havana, and that was in 1979.

Still, Sunday's show was more evidence that while the Obama administration and the government of Raul Castro talk tentatively about improving chilly relations, the entertainment world is already well into a thaw.

Omara Portuondo, Cuba's sultry-voiced diva of the Buena Vista Social Club, was granted U.S. Treasury Department permission to play U.S. concerts and recently accepted a Latin Grammy in person, while singer-songwriter Carlos Varela performed in Washington this month.

Salsa specialists Charanga Habanera have scheduled a year-end concert in Miami, and longtime island favorite Los Van Van have announced plans to put on 60 U.S. concerts in 2010.

'227' Actress Alaina Reed Hall-Amini Dies

EUR has learned that actress/singer Alaina Reed Hall-Amini has died. She was 63.

At press time, details of her death are still sketchy, but according to the blog Afrobella, the cause is believed to be related to breast cancer.

Hall-Amini was best known for her roles as Olivia, Gordon's kid sister, on the long-running children's television series, "Sesame Street," and as Rose Lee Holloway on the NBC sitcom, "227."

Born in Springfield, Ohio, Hall-Amini began her career in Broadway and off-Broadway productions. She was among the original cast members in the 1974 off-Broadway production of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Hall also appeared in productions of "Hair," "Chicago" and "Eubie!"

In addition to stage and television work, according to Wikipedia, Hall-Amini also appeared in several films, including 1992's "Death Becomes Her" opposite Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep, "Cruel Intentions" (1999), and the 2007 independent feature "I'm Through with White Girls (The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks)."

Hall-Amini was married three times. Her first marriage, which produced two children, ended in divorce. In Dec. 1988, she married actor Kevin Peter Hall after meeting him when he guest-starred on "227." She was widowed in 1991 after her husband died of pneumonia-related complications after contracting AIDS. At the time of her death, Hall was married to Tamim Amini.

Condolences/cards should be sent to her husband at 10044 Woodley Ave., North Hills, CA, 91343.

Iran Opposition: Huge Turnout for Cleric's Funeral

Mourners came from across Iran to the holy city of Qom to attend the burial of Ayatollah Montazeri.

Opposition forces in Iran say tens of thousands of people turned out for the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. The dissident cleric died Sunday, and supporters immediately took to the streets in mourning.

Mourners came from across Iran to the holy city of Qom to attend the burial of Ayatollah Montazeri.

Iranian authorities banned foreign media coverage of the event. But opposition websites and videos posted online show crowds turning out in force to hail the man considered the spiritual guide for opponents of the government.

The ayatollah, who was 87, was buried in the shrine of Masoumeh in Qom Monday. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi declared it a day of mourning and had urged supporters to come to the funeral.

Opposition websites report at least one busload of people trying to reach Qom was turned back, while there were other reports of arrests. There was no immediate government or independent confirmation of the reports.

Security was already tight as Iranians observe an annual period of mourning. Such events have been used by opposition supporters to protest against the government.

Observers note that the first week commemoration of Montazeri's death Sunday will coincide with the marking of the solemn Ashoura holiday.

Montazeri was one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic and remained a top arbiter of Shi'ite law. But his criticism of what he saw as authoritarianism and human rights abuses led to his being dropped as successor to the nation's Supreme Leader.

The ayatollah continued his opposition from Qom, where he spent several years under house arrest for his outspoken views. This year he played a critical role in condemning the government after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a subsequent crackdown on opposition supporters.

The convenient "do what I say" philosophy

From the NY Times:

Even for a born-and-bred New Yorker, figuring out this city and some of its leaders can be tricky. Let’s see if we’ve got some recent developments straight.

News item: The City Council killed plans for a shopping mall inside the unused Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx because it wanted the developer to guarantee that workers would be paid more than the bare minimum. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised a veto. Public officials shouldn’t be dictating to private industry in this manner, he said.

Do we have this right? The Bloomberg administration considers it overly intrusive when government tells some businesses to pay their employees a living wage but not overly intrusive when government tells other businesses, like restaurants, what kinds of cooking oils they may use.

Got it.

News item: Mr. Bloomberg, who worries mightily about the environment, used his private jet to get to the climate talks in Copenhagen rather than take a scheduled commercial flight.

So the way to save the planet from pollution is by further polluting it.

Got it.

Pregnant Soldiers Face Court Martial

Soldiers must prepare to confront death on the battlefields, but if they're on tour in Northern Iraq, they must also be ready to ward off new life. A US Army general in the region has added pregnancy to the list of offenses that can trigger a court martial.

General Anthony Cucolo said the current policy of sending pregnant troops home results in the loss of too many skilled soldiers. Thus, threatening to punish pregnancy is a matter of war strategy. Under his rule, both female soldiers and their male accomplices can face court martial for a pregnancy.

This is the first time the US army has made pregnancy a punishable offense, but it isn't the first time the military has weighed in on reproductive rights. Current law forbids military hospitals from performing abortions except to save the woman's life, and any person covered under the military health insurance must also pay for abortion out of pocket. And there have been reports of female soldiers giving themselves abortions while on tour overseas thanks to the complete lack of access, and the stigma attached with being sent home for pregnancy. Now for any soldier covered under Gen. Cucolo's rule, both pregnancy and abortion violate military law. Better hope that birth control doesn't fail.

Does it seem fair that soldiers must put their reproductive rights on hold?

Source: Getty

Panthers pound Vikings 26-7 with big plays and defense

The Carolina Panthers may be out of the playoffs but they're not finished.

Getting a dynamic performance from their defense and wide receiver Steve Smith, the Panthers defeated Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings 26-7 Sunday night in Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers (6-8) broke the game open in the fourth quarter, scoring three touchdowns to send the Vikings (11-3) home with their second loss in three games.

Carolina broke the Vikings with big plays in the fourth quarter, including a 45-yard scoring strike from quarterback Matt Moore to Steve Smith on the second play of the quarter for a 12-7 lead.

Smith had another 45-yard reception on the Panthers' next possession, which led to a three-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart, who became the first back in 36 games to rush for more than 100 yards against the Vikings.

After a 55-yard reception by tight end Gary Barnidge, the Panthers put the game away on a two-yard scoring pass from Moore to Stewart in the closing minutes.

The Carolina defense limited MInnesota running back Adrian Peterson to 35 yards on 12 carries while holding Favre to 224 yards passing.

Smith, meanwhile, had nine catches for 157 yards and Moore had his best game of the season, completing 21 of 33 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Rage Against The Machine beats Joe McElderry to Christmas Number One

It sounds really quite petty and spiteful, but it is all really thoroughly honourable and perfectly democratic.

There was a certain expectation that Joe McElderry’s ‘The Climb’ would be the 2009 Christmas Number One; a sort of divine right coronation of the anointed winner of X-Factor reality TV pop. And so an internet-driven protest based around the accursed and damned Facebook set out to challenge the omnipotence of Simon Cowell and the hegemony of Syco and Sony Music’s manufactured pop which mesmerises the TV-addicted masses every Saturday and Sunday evening and persuades them that what they watch is what they might like to hear at Christmas.

And it has worked for four years.

But X-Factor Christmas songs are not like the ones Cranmer used to know, where the tree tops glisten and children listen – ‘Little Town’, ‘Mistletoe and Wine’, ‘Saviour’s Day’ and ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ have been supplanted with egocentric indulgence for too many years – ‘A Moment Like This’, ‘When you Believe’, ‘The Climb’ – it is all too blandly saccharine and all about me, me, me.

What about Him?

Not that the ‘song’ by Rage Against The Machine is about Him, of course. He hasn’t had a look-in since Sir Cliff gave us the delightful ‘Saviour’s Day’ in 1990.

And ‘Killing in the Name’ is a quite dreadful, expletive-ridden, most un-Christmassy racket which is as far removed from music as politicians are from the plight of the people.

But if Joe McElderry can be created by Syco, forged by Cowell and packaged by Sony as a Christmas commodity, why cannot a group by the name of Rage Against The Machine be created ex nihilo, forged by Facebook and packaged by the new democratic media?

Their 'song' may be truly awful, but its beauty lies in the rebellion; its authenticity in the protestant spirit; its integrity in the little man conquering the Goliath that is the modern music machine.

Cranmer would like to make it clear that he has absolutely nothing against Mr McElderry (or Mr Cowell), and would like to say that the X-Factor winner has an undoubted Christmassy voice which is infinitely preferable to the din of Rage Against The Machine. And His Grace is loath to deprive either Mr McElderry or Mr Cowell of a Christmas present.

But this is people-power: the rough and raw laity versus the slick high priest of the dark arts of music promotion.

One wonders why the people can be so organised about something as trivial as the Christmas No1, but not quite so passionately strategic in their politics.

Perhaps the reason lies in the concealed reality behind this chart battle. For the supreme irony is that both Joe McElderry and Rage Against the Machine are signed to Epic Records, which is part of Sony BMG.

As far as the recording colossus is concerned, they win either way.

So if your motive in downloading Rage Against The Machine was to humble the Sony behemoth, you have failed.

And seeking to wipe the smile off Simon Cowell’s face or deprive Joe McElderry of an instant Number One is indeed a little spiteful.

Perhaps this is why the people cannot be bothered to protest, rise up, and democratise their politics. Sony is a metaphor for the European Union: its tentacles are everywhere, its fingers are in every pie and all roads lead to Rome.

Brittany Murphy Dead At 32

Actress and sometimes-singer Brittany Murphy died this morning after suffering cardiac arrest in her Los Angeles home. According to TMZ, Murphy’s husband Simon Monjack called 911 around 8 a.m., after her mother discovered her lying unconscious in the shower. She was rushed to Cedars-Sinai hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

Murphy was best known for starring in films such as Clueless, 8 Mile and Girl, Interrupted, but she was also an aspiring singer. Murphy kept a MySpace Music page (last login: June 10), and generated buzz last year when she revealed that she’d been working on her debut album with the help of Max Martin, Timbaland and Paul Oakenfold. (She provided plenty of steam for Oakenfold’s pop-electro hit “Faster Kill Pussycat,” from 2006’s A Lively Mind).

Though Murphy’s MySpace post indicated that the album was planned for late 2008, it obviously didn’t come to pass, and we are left wondering what became of her tracks. DJ Chris Cox, who also reportedly worked on her album, didn’t offer any details in tweetng his condolences.

Avatar tops US box office

Sci-fi epic Avatar has topped the North American box office, taking $73m on its opening weekend.

James Cameron's much-hyped 3D film also took an estimated $232.2m worldwide - the ninth biggest opening to date, 20th Century Fox said.

Disney's The Princess and the Frog slipped to second, with $12.2m.

Drama The Blind Side dropped to three while the Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans? came in at four.

The top five was rounded off by The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

1. Avatar - $73m
2. The Princess and the Frog - $12.2m
3. The Blind Side - $10m
4. Did You Hear About the Morgans? - $7m
5. The Twilight Saga: New Moon - $4.4m

Avatar - set in the 22nd Century on a distant planet, Pandora, inhabited by a humanoid race - reportedly cost up to $400m to make and market.

20th Century Fox's head of distribution, Chris Aronson, said there was "no question" the studio had made a good investment.

"The word of mouth is something that I don't know I've ever seen in this business before," he said.

Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for, said: "What they spent on this movie was totally justified and they're going to more than earn it back."

Avatar's weekend haul was the sixth biggest of the year in the US and Canada.

The record for 2009 was set last month by The Twilight Saga: New Moon while the biggest opening weekend of all time in North America was $158m for last year's The Dark Knight.

Sinbad: Comedian Files for Bankruptcy After Going Broke

It turns out that Sinbad is broke. The comedian declared bankruptcy on December 11th of this year, a day after the IRS came after him for $8.15 million in bad debts. In the court filing, the actor claimed that he has only $50,000 in assets, but $10 - $50 million dollars in liabilities.

Sinbad, whose real name is Sinbad Adkins, was a big star during the 1980s and 1990s, starting his career on "Star Search" and starring later in the film "House Guest." He is 53-years old.

The actor's tax troubles are not uncommon for folks in Hollywood, as many other black celebrities, including the Great Redd Foxx, Wesley Snipes and Joe Louis have been among those who've found themselves having problems with the IRS. But tax trouble can also affect the rest of us if we are not careful. Here are some tips to avoid tax problems:

1) Always save money: Your future income may never be as high as you think. Many celebs started off balling and thought that the money would keep flowing. I am sure that Sinbad thought that his personal gravy train would continue long after the movie "House Guest," but the "House Guest" money probably ran out a long time ago.

2) Be truthful: Don't lie about your income or deductions. It's just not worth it and the IRS comes hard for their money.

3) File your return on time and pay on time: Not filing your taxes is a serious offense. Make sure you send something in every year. If you owe a debt, either pay immediately or get a payment arrangement.

4) Respond to IRS claims immediately: The IRS is very powerful, so not responding to them can lead to criminal charges. You don't want them to be mad at you.

We should not judge the celebs who have tax problems, we should learn from them. Be smart, be careful and save your dough. You never know when the government will come knocking.

EMTs On Break Allow a Pregnant Woman To Die

Eutisha Revee Rennix, 25, was a pregnant woman being served at an Au Bon Pain in Brooklyn. Rennix started to experience shortness of breath and severe stomach pains. She then began to have seizures. At that point, other patrons of the coffee shop turned to two city Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to ask for their help in saving the young woman. The EMTs chose not to help the woman, and told the employees that they simply needed to call 911 instead. Apparently, the EMTs were on their break and didn't feel like helping her.

"People were calling out saying, 'She's turning blue! She's pregnant!' " said one of the witnesses. . "I remember them saying they couldn't do anything because they were on their break," another worker said. "We started screaming and cursing at them."

The woman eventually started foaming at the nose and mouth.

Eventually, 911 was called and the ambulance arrived. By that time, it was too late to save Rennix. She was pronounced dead at 10:17 that morning. She had a 3-year old son.

The Fire Department, who runs the city's Emergency Medical Service, says it's going to investigate the incident. Also, the two EMTs who chose to do nothing have been put on paid, but restricted duty and not allowed to provide patient care.

What makes the case of Eutisha Rennix so sad is that the Fire Department was right near the location of her death. Even sadder is the fact that the EMT dispatch center is in the same building. We can all agree that this never should have happened.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.
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