Wednesday, January 6, 2010

APNewsBreak: Smiley ends State of the Black Union

-- After 10 years, Tavis Smiley is ending his annual State of the Black Union conference, which spawned best-selling books and his critical stance toward Barack Obama.

The activist and PBS host said Wednesday that he needs time to focus on other projects, such as his four prime-time specials this year and his book company, which recently announced plans to publish the musician R. Kelly's memoir.

Smiley also said that, unlike a decade ago, black issues now are being addressed by numerous other media outlets, commentators and bloggers.

The State of the Black Union "doesn't have the premium that it used to have - and that's a good thing," Smiley told The Associated Press.

Smiley, who hosts a nightly half-hour talk show on PBS, said he was inspired to start the conference because black issues were rarely addressed in the president's State of the Union speech or the national media.

The conference, which took place each February, was broadcast on C-SPAN and averaged 7,000 to 10,000 participants each year as it traveled to various cities. It drew almost 20,000 people in Jamestown, Va., in 2007, when it marked the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of African slaves in North America.

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Third White House Crasher is Black Event Planner

WASHINGTON (AP) — The third gate-crasher at November's White House state dinner turns out to be a local event planner who got in with members of the Indian delegation.

The latest uninvited guest, Carlos Allen, who runs an event business called Hush Galleria in the nation's capital, has met with the Secret Service several times about the incident, Allen's lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The Secret Service did not learn of a third uninvited person who got into the dinner until mid-December, two weeks after a Dec. 3 House hearing about the breach, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because this is an ongoing investigation.

Allen's lawyer said his client is cooperating with the investigation.

"He doesn't feel he did anything wrong," Bolden said, who added that Allen retained him in the last 24 hours.

Hush Galleria promotes itself as arranging black-tie and casual events "to place up-and-coming individuals with elite individuals in our luxury environment for the purpose of assisting and supporting each other to accomplish self enrichment, business enhancement and community patronization."

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Fla. sheriff fears missing lottery winner killed

LAKELAND, Fla. -- In 2006, Abraham Shakespeare - a truck driver's assistant who lived with his mother - won $30 million in the Florida lottery. His good fortune may have cost him his life.

Shakespeare vanished months ago. His mother hopes he is somewhere in the Caribbean, lying on a beach and enjoying the good life away from all the hangers-on who were constantly hitting him up for money.

The sheriff has a more ominous theory: Shakespeare was killed.

"There are a lot of odd and bizarre circumstances in this case," Sheriff Grady Judd said. "We fear and are preparing for the worst. We're working this case as if it were a homicide."

Shakespeare, 43, won the big jackpot after buying a lottery ticket at a convenience store in a town called Frostproof, claiming later that he gave the last $3 in his pocket to a homeless man just before the winning numbers were announced.

Shakespeare - who had a criminal record that included arrests and prison time for burglary, battery and not paying child support - took a lump-sum payment of $16.9 million instead of annual installments.

He bought a Nissan Altima, a Rolex from a pawn shop, a $1 million home in a gated community. He talked about starting a foundation for the poor and insisted the money wouldn't change him.

"I'm not a material person," he said in 2007. "I don't let material things run me. I'm on a tight budget."

The money quickly caused him problems.

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Freed Gitmo Terrorists Join Al Qaeda In Yemen

As President Obama fulfills his promise of returning America to the "moral high ground" by closing Guantanamo Bay prison, at least a dozen recently freed inmates have rejoined Al Qaeda in Yemen, the country where the Christmas Day airline bomber proudly trained.

With the January 22 deadline to shut down the facility quickly approaching, the administration has released dozens of prisoners to their home nations or to laughable “terrorist rehabilitation” programs in Middle East countries. About 100 are scheduled to be transferred to a vacant state prison in northwestern Illinois in the coming weeks.

Ninety one of the remaining Guantanamo prisoners are from Yemen, a terrorist hotbed and popular Al Qaeda training ground, and many of them could be sent back home. Last month alone six prisoners were returned to Yemen, according to a British newspaper that also reported that at least 12 others recently rejoined Al Qaeda in the southwest Asian country deemed a high security threat by the State Department for is terrorist activities.

At least one powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee has joined a group of Republicans to call for a halt of the flawed Yemeni repatriation program. California’s Dianne Feinstein finally had a revelation that the country is “too unstable” after a Yemen-trained terrorist tried to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas. An Al Qaeda wing in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attempt.

Former Guantanamo prisoners returning to their old terrorist ways is hardly earth shattering news. Last year the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency revealed that many of the freed Guantanamo detainees rejoined terrorist missions after leaving the military prison. Many of those who returned to “the fight” graduated from a Saudi rehab program for jihadists, which has instead served as training camp for future terrorists.

Among them is a deputy Al Qaeda leader (Said Ali al-Shihri) in Yemen who organized a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in that country’s capital last year. The renowned Al Qaeda boss was also involved in car bombings outside the American Embassy that killed at least 16 people.

Washington State’s Court Ruling Ensures Eligible Voters with Felony Convictions Can Vote

Jorge Rivas
Yesterday, a Federal Appeals Court in Washington held that the state’s law denying the vote to people with felony convictions is racially discriminatory and violates the Voting Rights Act.

“This landmark ruling recognizes that racial discrimination in Washington’s criminal justice system has infected the State’s political process,” said John Payto, Director-Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “The result is that Black, Latino and Native America persons convicted of felonies in Washington are disproportionately denied the right to vote” he went on to say.

Along with the Legal Assistance law clinic at Gonzaga Law School, the NAACP won the case by providing statistics that showed people of color in Washington are stopped, arrested and convicted in such disproportionate rates that the ban on voting by incarcerated felons is inherently discriminatory. The Seattle Times is reporting the research showed that in Washington:

“Blacks are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, despite the fact that the ratio of arrests for violent crime among blacks and whites is less than four-to-one. One result of that: 25 percent of black men in Washington are disenfranchised from voting.”

The two appellate judges ruled that disparities in the state’s justice system “cannot be explained in race-neutral ways.”

State Attorney General Rob McKenna plans on appealing the case — either back to a larger 9th Circuit panel, or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. McKenna said if the ruling is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court it would apply to all 48 states that ban voting by felons in prison or on supervision.

Currently only two states — Vermont and Maine — allow prison inmates to vote. According to the Sentencing Project, nationally, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.

Is American willing to invest in JAL even if it goes into bankruptcy?

American Airlines, with its private equity partner TPG, is willing to invest $1.1 billion in JAL but with talk of bankruptcy for the struggling carrier, it's not clear if that offer will stand.

A Reuters report out of Tokyo suggest that American is willing to invest even if JAL goes into bankruptcy protection.

"We want to be flexible in terms of our ability to enhance our proposal and we have been continually in conversation with Japan Airlines about that," Will Ris, in charge of government affairs at American Airlines told Reuters. "We are looking at every possibility to make our proposal more attractive."

However, I was talking with American folks on Monday about this very issue and the line I was told to look at AMR chief financial officer Tom Horton's comments back in November.

Horton essentially avoided two questions by Japanese press about the company's intent to invest in JAL if the carrier went into Chapter 11. Here's what he said: "It is our view that our investment and our proposal would be part of an overall restructuring plan led by the government which would restore Japan Airlines to financial health so that is the scenario that we envision."

So as Japanese government officials get closer to deciding on JAL's fate, it will be interesting to see if American is willing to stay in the game.


SHIVERING Britain faces the prospect of gas supply shortages as the worst cold spell in 30 years keeps a stranglehold on the country.

The National Grid yesterday issued only its ­second-ever warning that demand for energy is threatening to outstrip available supplies unless industry quickly slashes its consumption and more gas is rushed in from abroad.

The alert prompted the wholesale cost of gas to rocket by 70 per cent and raised fears that businesses and households could soon be hit by power cuts if the freezing weather persists as forecast for the rest of the month.

Shadow Energy Secretary Greg Clark warned: “For 12 years the Government has had its head in the sand about Britain’s precarious energy security.

“Today’s alert is a taste of what is to come as a result of Labour’s negligence – gas supply shortages and regular power cuts. I have repeatedly warned that Britain lacks the back-up plans that France and Germany have for these situations.” National Grid issued its warning – known as a gas balancing alert – because an unexpected shortfall meant Britain’s demand was at risk.

Gas was flowing out of the UK’s main storage facility at Rough, 18 miles off the Yorkshire coast, at a record rate yesterday as energy needed for homes and businesses came very close to the previous record high.

Analysts said the freeze combined with the post-New Year return to work created a surge which put intense pressure on supplies and added to the need for expensive additional gas to be pumped in from mainland Europe.Experts have estimated that Britain only has enough gas storage for 15 days so in times of high demand we have to rely on imports.

ADP Report: US Companies Cut 84,000 Jobs in December

Payroll processor ADP has reported that private US companies cut 84,000 jobs in December, the smallest drop in employment since March 2008. Bloomberg has more:

The ADP report is based on data from about 360,000 businesses with about 22 million workers on payrolls. Today’s ADP report showed a decrease of 96,000 workers in goods-producing industries including manufacturers and construction companies. Service providers added 12,000 workers.

Employment in construction fell by 52,000, the 35th straight monthly drop, while financial firms decreased jobs by 12,000, ADP said, the 25th consecutive decline for the industry.

Companies employing more than 499 workers shrank their workforce by 34,000 jobs. Medium-sized businesses, with 50 to 499 employees, eliminated 25,000 jobs and small companies decreased payrolls by 25,000, ADP said.

Another report today showed employers last month announced the fewest job cuts since the recession began in December 2007 as the economic recovery encouraged companies to retain staff. Planned firings fell 73 percent in December to 45,094 from 166,348 during the same month the prior year, Chicago-based placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said.

The number of jobs lost since the recession began in December 2007 is the biggest in the post-World War II era.

More of the same…with even more people out of a job.

Gary Coleman Hospitalized

Just in from the "The Insider" news desk: Former child star Gary Coleman has been hospitalized.

A rep for the actor says that Gary was doing promotional work in Los Angeles when he stated he wasn't feeling well. We're told he was then taken to the hospital as "a preventative measure."

According to the rep, who spoke with Gary this morning, he says he's fine but must remain at the hospital to undergo more tests before his release.

Jennifer Lopez Says She Deserves an Oscar Nomination

Jennifer Lopez feels she deserves to have won an Oscar.

The singer-and-actress believes her role in ‘El Cantante’ was worthy of an Academy Award and was disappointed she didn’t even get nominated for the prestigious honor.

Jennifer who starred alongside husband Marc Anthony in the movie said, “I feel like I had that Oscar worthy role in ‘El Cantante’, but I don’t even think the academy members saw it. I feel like it’s their responsibility to do that, to see everything that’s out there, everything that could be great.”

The ‘Maid in Manhattan’ star admits she watched the 2008 Oscars with frustration even though she had given birth to her twins, Max and Emme, just days before.

She said, “Well, it is a little bit frustrating. It was funny; when the Oscars were on, I had just given birth on the 22nd, and the Oscars, I think, were a day or two later. I was sitting there with my twins – I couldn’t have been happier – but I was like, ‘How dope would it have been if I would’ve won the Oscar and been here in my hospital bed accepting the award?’ ‘Thank you so much! I just want to thank the academy!’ ”

However, she does believe she will get the honour one day, telling Latina magazine, “Things will happen when they’re supposed to happen. I have the utmost faith and no doubt that it will one day, when and if it’s supposed to. You can’t get all crazy twisted over it.”

Mariah accepts another award

Mariah Carey accepted yet another award for her work in the movie Precious, this time at the Palm Springs Film Festival. (It’s a legitimate event, OK?)

Anyway, Mariah didn’t seem to take the award too seriously, as she appeared to be fairly drunk while accepting. The singer was at a loss for words.

Including her recent win at Italy’s Capri Film Festival, that makes two awards for Mariah. Could an Oscar be next?

Redskins Hire Former Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan as Head Coach

The first offseason coaching vacancy will be filled about 48 hours after it became open, as the Redskins have landed former Broncos Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan. Reports say that he agreed Tuesday to become the coach of the team, and will have the final authority on football decisions, according to

Shanahan’s decision to join the team was confirmed to The Associated Press by an official within the NFL. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the team was not commenting on its coaching search.
The Redskins announced they would hold a news conference Wednesday, although they did not say why.

The deal with Shanahan is for five years, the Denver Post reported on its Web site. The hire comes just a day after the team canned former coach Jim Zorn, who left after an awful 4-12 season.

It will be interesting to see where Shanahan, who was out of football for just one season, starts with the team. They need to figure out what to do at quarterback, and also figure out where they will go in free agency, a thing the team has used to try and build over the years, but with little success.

Baseball To Announce New Hall of Fame Inductees

At 2PM EST, the class of 2010 inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown will be announced. Among those with a chance to be enshrined are Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, and Don Mattingly among others.

Alomar has probably the best chance of getting in and could conceivably be the only one among the eligible players. McGwire isn't likely to get the call unless he does something to improve his image in the wake of the steroid scandal mess.

Andre Dawson is the only one to get the call in his ninth year of eligibility. Alomar came up well short, but Bert Blyleven missed by a total of five votes (at 74.2%). He failed to get 75% of the votes cast needed to be inducted. Blyleven has two more years of eligibility before he would have to rest his hopes on the Veterans Committee.

Emerging Counter-Argument: GOP Has More Retirements Than Dems

With multiple pundits predicting the retirements of Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd spell serious trouble for Dems — ABC News says Dems are “dropping like flies” — Steve Benen spells out the counterargument:

In the House, 14 GOP incumbents have decided not to seek re-election, while 10 Democratic incumbents have made the same announcement. Does this mean Republicans are “dropping like flies”?

In the Senate, six Republican incumbents have decided not to seek re-election, while two Democratic incumbents have made the same announcement. Is this evidence of a mass Democratic exodus?…

So, to review, Republican retirements outnumber Democratic retirements in the House, in the Senate, and among governors. The preferred Republican/media meme of the day doesn’t match up well against reality.

Duly noted. Still, let’s keep in mind that the Dorgan and Dodd announcements raise two separate questions. The first: What do the retirements say about the overall political environment and how difficult it is for Dems? The second: How do the Dorgan and Dodd retirements specifically impact Dem chances of holding their Senate super-majority?

The fact that the GOP has had more retirements doesn’t materially impact the second question. The bottom line is that the Dorgan retirement is very bad news for Dems. Yes, it may well be offset by Dodd’s retirement, which gives Dems a much better chance of holding the Connecticut seat. But nonetheless, the North Dakota seat is now all but certain to flip Republican, and before, it wasn’t.

The point is that the debate over the number of retirements and over the Dem chances of holding the super-majority are two separate conversations. That said, when it comes to assessing just how bad the environment has become for Dems and whether Dems are “dropping like flies,” obviously the number of GOP retirements deserves to be part of the media discussion.

Also, on a separate note, it’s unclear to me how reliable an indicator of the political environment retirements are in the first place, particularly with nearly a year until Election Day. Genuinely unsure on that point. Anyone have a better sense?

Will New York Elect Merrill Lynch's Harold Ford Jr. As Its Next Senator

Interesting trial balloon from the New York Times: Former Tennessee Rep. and current Merrill Lynch banker Harold Ford Jr. is weighing a run for Senate against Hillary Clinton substitute Kirsten E. Gillibrand.

Ford had been a rising star among Democrats in DC. But in 2006, a very Democratic year, he tried to make the jump to Senate and failed against Republican Bob Corker.

So he packed up, headed to New York, and landed a high-paying job as an executive at Merrill Lynch. But his interest is clearly poltics (his father was a politician), as evidenced by his frequent TV appearances and continued role in the Democratic party.

Wall Street would like him to run, Bloomberg would consider endorsing him, as would several other prominent Democrats. However for the sake of party unity, the very top players like Chuck Schumer would not be keen on a pitched primary battle among Democrats.

But between this, and the wave of Democratic retirements, this is shaping up to be fascinating (and very bloody) midterm election.