Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mavericks Fire Avery Johnson After Another Playoff Flop

Avery Johnson, one of the best young coaches in the NBA lost his job Wednesday, a move the team referred to as “relieving him of his duties.” Such is the nature of coaching in the professional leagues, a sort of “what have you done for me lately.” In three-plus seasons Johnson has guided the Mavericks to the finals for the first time and to a club-record 67 wins the following season. But for all the high points, there were some serious lows—blowing a 2-0 lead in those finals, getting dumped in the first round of the playoffs after that 67-win season and then, the final straw, getting knocked out in the first round again this season after Dallas shook up its roster and mortgaged some of its future to acquire Jason Kidd. Over those three straight postseason wipeouts, the Mavericks lost 12 of 15 games, including all nine on the road. The final mark during Johnson’s tenure: 194-70 in the regular season, 23-24 in the playoffs.

The coach is like the captain of a ship; if anything goes wrong. But some of the blame for the Dallas Mavericks woes lies at the foot of Mark Cuban, its “maverick” owner. With the attitude of putting butts in the seats, the Mavericks, like the Sacramento Kings – who are now in a rebuilding phase, and Phoenix Suns – who were also knocked out of the playoff after one round, chose to build exciting run and gun teams that were not tough enough in the physical atmosphere of championship playoff basketball.

“There’s no animosity or bitterness,” Johnson said. “We all still really care about each other, but it was time to go in a different direction. … We didn’t win the championship, but if you look at the whole body of work that we put together over the last 3 1/2 years … we’ll put it up against anybody.”

Coach Johnson might not be unemployed very long. The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls are among the teams needing coaches, and both might want a young, proven coach who preaches defense and discipline. A championship-winning point guard for San Antonio during his long career, Avery Johnson became Dallas’ coach-in-waiting in 2004-05. His wait ended just a few months later. He finished that regular season 16-2, and then won his first playoff series. Then, in his first full season in charge, the Mavericks reached the NBA finals and Johnson was named coach of the year. Then came the last two seasons ending in first round playoff losses, and the rest is as they say, history.

Obama Closing in on Clinton's Advantage Among Superdelegates

Even in the mist of a bad week Senator Barack Obama continues closing in on Democratic presidential rival Senator Hillary Clinton's advantage among superdelegates, building on his overall lead in the primary race. He has out gained her 10 to 6 in superdelegates endorsements since the Pennsylvania primary. Party leaders are encouraging superdelegates to pick a side by late June to prevent the fight from going to the national convention in August, and it seems some are listening as the race enters its final five weeks of voting.

Chelsea Clinton got a superdelegate for her mom while campaigning in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, just as Senator Obama’s press secretary Bill Burton sent out a statement announcing the support of Representative Lois Capps. Senator Clinton had a big jump start among superdelegates, many of whom have ties to the Clintons and backed her candidacy early on. But most of the superdelegates taking sides recently have gone for Senator Obama, who has won more state contests and also leads in the popular vote. He trails her by just 21 superdelegates, 243-264, cutting her lead in half in less than two months.

The superdelegate chase is a key piece of good news for Senator Obama in what has been a bad week. But the problems aren't stopping his ability to win support from superdelegates that are likely to cast the deciding votes in the Democratic race. Senator Clinton had stalled in drawing their support as Senator Obama won more states than she. Superdelegates are especially valuable in this race since neither candidate can get enough delegates to win the nomination through the primaries and caucuses held across the country. Senator Obama now leads in the delegate count overall 1731.5 to 1598.5. A candidate needs 2,025 delegates to win the nomination. About 230 superdelegates remain undecided, and about 60 more will be selected at state party conventions and meetings throughout the spring.

Representative Bruce Braley of Iowa said he decided to endorse Senator Obama even though his former pastor, Pastor Jeremiah Wright, has continued creating waves by making controversial statements. Senator Obama denounced Pastor Wright in a news conference Tuesday and said the pastor does not speak for him. "That's been one of the most frustrating things about this prolonged campaign, is we seemed to have gotten away from the critical issues that started this campaign during the Iowa caucuses and now it's more about the side spectacle than the issues that voters really care about," Braley said. "I'm confident that he has taken this issue head-on. He has addressed it in a thoughtful and enlightened way."

Representative Capps said it wasn't an easy decision to pick between Obama and Clinton. She has family ties to both candidates — Obama's spokesman is married to her daughter, Laura Burton Capps, who also worked in the Clinton White House. Lois Capps filled the congressional seat held by her late husband, Walter Capps, when he died suddenly 10 years ago. Bill Clinton had campaigned for Walter Capps and presided over his congressional memorial service. Capps said Hillary Clinton would be a great president and fill a dream for those who have fought for women's rights. But she said Barack Obama's call for a change in Washington was the most important factor in winning her support. "Walter once said that 'we are strongest as people when we are directed by that which unites us, rather than giving into the fears, suspicions, innuendoes and paranoias that divide,'" she said in a statement. "For years I have been waiting for a president that speaks to that vision. I believe Barack Obama may very well be that rare leader."

Two of the most important superdelegates to sign on this week come from the states that vote next — North Carolina and Indiana, which hold primaries on May 6 and are the largest states left to vote. Senator Obama got the support of Representative Baron Hill of Indiana, while Senator Clinton won the backing of North Carolina Governor Mike Easley even though Senator Obama is expected to win the state. Senator Obama had earlier gained the support of the candidates running to become the new governor of North Carolina. So the pattern continues of Clinton being supported by the old establishment and Obama gaining the support of the new regime.

Will Jeremiah Wright Knock Barack Obama Out?

Hearing what Pastor Jeremiah Wright said in his speech to the National Press Club Monday was both liberating and alarming. Liberating because, after weeks of the endlessly repeated sound bites from his controversial sermons, which have been used as justification to smear Senator Barack Obama, Pastor Wright got to speak up for himself. He spoke plainly about racism, his own political point of view. What is so good about him speaking is that the United States is one of the few places on earth that it could happen. Also with Pastor Wright seeming to literally go off the deep end surely no one in their right mind could think that these two have anything in common at this point.

It was alarming to me because Pastor Wright, knowing full well that anything that he says at this point is attributed to Senator Obama. And many people cannot seem to separate people you know from you. I am glad that Senator Barack Obama received the Audacity of Hope message and cast out your audacity of grand standing. His name is out there -- is he seeking a book contract? It appears to me that Pastor Wright cares little for the welfare of one of his flock. In the middle of a race this tight race Senator Obama does not need any more negative fodder for the already swarming sharks in the media to feed. There is no one Black church. There are many Black churches as there are many White churches. If you are a Christian church, preach Christ. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

In the past few days Pastor Wright blew away any hope Senator Obama’s campaign may have had that he would stay in the background and let the storm of controversy he kicked up with his politically incorrect sermons pass. Instead, Pastor Wright came out swinging, mocking the media for knowing nothing about the Black church, for taking sound bites from his sermons out of context, and, basically, for being lazy and ignorant. He called the news generated by his controversial remarks "the most recent attack on the Black church." And while he takes the media characterizations of him personally he implied that his decision to speak up now was a defense of his people -- the Black church.

The audience of his friends and supporters, including Cornel West and Jim Wallis, ate up his strikes back against what has surely been a racist and unfair campaign against him. Pastor Wright's 9/11 sermon, though it looks, in sound bite form, supremely insensitive, was actually a profoundly moving statement on the tragedy and on the desperate, destructive logic of revenge. The "chickens coming home to roost" line was a quote from a U.S. ambassador, by the way, not Pastor Wright's own words. He is a scholar, and he brings layers of meaning and understanding to the themes he addresses. But that is quickly lost in a news report.

Unlike Senator Obama, who is relentlessly positive, Pastor Wright's points in his speech tended to characterize the U.S. government as an agent of evil more than a beacon of hope. "While our government cuts Food Stamps and spends billions fighting an unjust war in Iraq," he said, his own church has been working hard to serve the poor. On slavery, South African apartheid, and other issues throughout history, he pointed out the leadership of his church, contrasted with the unenlightened thinking of the U.S. government. "While those who call me unpatriotic have used their position of privilege to avoid military service . . . sending others to die for a lie."

Furthermore, Wright pointed out, "the Christianity of the slaveholder is NOT the Christianity of the slave." So much for national or religious unity. Wright doesn't hesitate to puncture the national myth of America's essential goodness. None of this is terribly shocking to those of us who are quite familiar with the U.S. government's misdeeds over time. But it's a heck of a message to send mainstream American voters. Needless to say, this is not the Obama campaign jingle. What will this mean for the rest of the nation?

Wright fielded questions on all his controversial statements. Including patriotism: "I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?"

We'll see what the press, whom he clearly enjoyed teasing, makes of it. And what the voters have to say. Not to mention Senator Obama. Senator Obama’s campaign raises hopes that the U. S. could get past its racially torrid history. Pastor Wright is here to remind us what a huge feat it will be to make that dream a reality.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Should Senator Obama Play Rougher?

Most Democrats and quite a few Republicans believe that President George “Dubya” Bu$h has been a historic screw-up as President. Therefore it should be an easy win for any Democrat winning the nomination. That might have been true before the last eight weeks of negative campaigning, beginning with the Clinton strategy of throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, in the two weeks leading up to the Texas and Ohio primaries. And when Senator Obama went there too, I believe he lost some of those last minute undecided Pennsylvania voters.

Senator Hillary Clinton won a victory in Pennsylvania, but it came at a significant cost to the reputation of both candidates and to the Democratic Party. She won with an assault on Senator Obama's character flaws, real and imagined, rather than on matters of substance. She also suffered a bizarre self-inflicted wound, having reimagined her peaceful landing at a Bosnian airstrip in 1996 as a battlefield scene complete with sniper fire. After six weeks of this, according to one poll, 60% of the American people considered her "untrustworthy." Senator Barack Obama entered the primary as a fresh breeze and left it battered and an a bit disillusioned. He is still the mathematical favorite for the nomination but maybe no longer the darling of his party. All of which deepened the skepticism that lesser educated Whites had about this a young, inexperienced Black guy with an Islamic-sounding name and a highfalutin speaking ability. And worse, it raised questions among the elders of the Democratic Party about Senator Obama's ability to hold on to crucial strongholds like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey in the general election.

Of course the bulk of the stuff is merely pure trash, but the reality of American politics: you have to get the social body language right if you want voters to consider your message. The media would have you believe that most people make their choice on the basis of "low-information signaling" - stupid things like whether you know how to roll a bowling ball or wear an American-flag pin. This is usually a Republican strong suit, but Bill Clinton was the lone Democratic master of low-information signaling - a love of McDonald's and other assorted big-gulp appetites gave him credibility that even trumped his evasion of military service. Maybe he learned it from his wife, who was raised a Republican and remained one until in her mid twenties.

The audacity of Senator Obama was the belief that the low-information politics of the past could be tossed aside in favor of an appeal to the nation's need to finally address some huge problems. But that assumption hit a wall in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is second only to Florida in the age of its population, and I guess it’s true you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Senator Obama, who entered the race intent on getting past the political campaigns of the past, has now become deeply entangled in them. It was pushed along in the debate televised and hosted by ABC. The ABC moderators' questions were about controversies, presumably to raise their rating, rather than questions concerning relevant issues like, the ECONOMY and the main drain on the economy, Iraq; health care; gas prices; mortgage foreclosures; etc.

Senator Obama’s appeal has been the promise of a new more civil sort of politics (and as a Black man, he wants to send low-information signals that he is neither angry nor threatening). But maybe he needs to show a little more attitude. When he was asked the silly question about not wearing a flag pin, I wanted a reply from like why aren’t you guys wearing pins or why isn’t Senator Clinton wearing a pin. The president wears a pin every day and he mislead the country into an unjust war.

Senator Barack Obama once again faces questions about his toughness and willingness to play politics the old-fashioned way in response to Senator Hillary Clinton's attacks. Senator Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe strongly denied a Washington Post report Wednesday that they intended to go heavily negative following the loss in Pennsylvania - dredging up old sores such as former President Bill Clinton's impeachment and the Whitewater scandal. His campaign Obama has faced pressure to attack Clinton - pressure he has usually avoided until Pennsylvania. Throughout the long summer, when Clinton was viewed as the inevitable Democratic nominee, Obama supporters pushed him to go on the offensive. Instead, he held his tongue, stressed his theme of change and a new kind of politics, and found himself surging to a stunning victory in Iowa. The campaign has dragged on and gotten increasingly heated. "It's a double edged sword for him and he's supposed to be new and different and when he runs negative ads people say what's new and different about this?" said Congressman Jason Altmire, an undecided superdelegate from western Pennsylvania. Donna Brazile, Al Gore's former campaign manager and a still-undecided superdelegate, believes the attacks - both Clinton's and the GOP's - are aimed at painting Senator Obama into the stereotypical angry Black man. "First he wasn't Black enough, then too Black because of Rev. Wright," said Brazile. "They want a rise out of him and that will ultimately destroy his candidacy that will make him the angry Black male. Obama must create a new movement and he must create a whole new choir and in his new choir he's the conductor and they are inspired by hope," Brazile continued. "They are not looking to hear that angry jocular masculine tone that we're accustomed to in American politics. He should not hit an angry note. It's not what the choir will listen to."

Senator Obama recognizes his dilemma - that when it comes to going negative, he is damned if he does and damned if doesn't. Voters "are not looking for politicians to be calling each other names and acting with a lot of bluster. That's been the politics we have had for the last 20 years. They are looking for somebody who is tough enough to stand up to the political tides when it is the right thing to do," he said Wednesday. "That is the kind of toughness I have shown for my entire career and public life. And that’s why I think I am going to be the democratic nominee."

One 58-year-old White woman from New Albany, Indiana said she left Senator Obama's town hall Wednesday "a believer." She said she's glad the race has gone on as long as it has because it led her to Senator Obama. "I first supported John Edwards and when he dropped out I backed Hillary," she said. "In the beginning I don't think his message really resounded. But then Clinton, she has slowly been chipping away my support; she's done everything I hoped she wouldn't. She went there with her attacks. I started leaning towards Obama and today sealed the deal." For Senator Obama the test is if he has enough supporters like her, people who don't want him to go negative in Indiana - and will reward him greatly if he resists the pressure to do so. But the presidency will not be won if he doesn't learn that the only way to reach the moral conversation he wants, and the country badly needs, is to figure out how to maneuver his way through the gutter.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oklahoma Governor Endorses Senator Obama

Even while losing the Pennsylvania primary Senator Barack Obama continues to gain the support of superdelegates. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry endorsed Senator Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday, calling him an inspirational leader who can unite the country. "I believe Senator Obama is uniquely positioned to unite our nation and move beyond the divisiveness and partisan skirmishes that too often characterize politics as usual in Washington," the governor said early Wednesday.

The endorsement one day after the Pennsylvania primary gave Senator Obama the official support of three of the state's 10 superdelegates, while Senator Clinton has the backing of one superdelegate. The rest are uncommitted. Govenor Henry, a moderate Democrat in a Republican-trending state, said he had worked hard to build a consensus across party lines on such issues as education, job creation and health care and "that is why I am so enthusiastic about Barack Obama's candidacy. Senator Obama understands that the serious concerns facing average Americans must transcend partisan games if we are to rise to the challenges of today and tomorrow. He is a strong, committed and inspirational leader, ideally suited to bring together Democrats, independents and Republicans," Governor Henry said.

Senator Obama said he was proud of Governor Henry's support "as we continue to build our grass-roots movement for change." He said Governor Henry had "achieved real results" as a consensus builder himself in Oklahoma. "We're fortunate to have Governor Henry's backing, and I look forward to working with him in the months ahead to bring about real change not just for Oklahomans, but all Americans," Obama said.

Despite the hype that Senator Clinton tries to push that she is gaining momentum, Senator Obama has gained 80% more the superdelegates over the last few weeks.

Senator Clinton Gets 'Must Win' in Pennsylvania Primary

Senator Hillary Clinton celebrated another must-win victory Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, with a survival win over Senator Barack Obama that she sought to frame as a sign of her strength. In her victory speech, Senator Clinton told her supporters that because of you, the tide is turning. But both candidates wake up today to the same underlying realities. Senator Barack Obama leads among delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and Senator Clinton faces another must-win primary in two weeks. Both candidates plan to spend the balance of this week in Indiana. Senator Obama spoke in Evansville, Indiana, Tuesday night, and after briefly congratulating Senator Clinton, he quickly turned his attention to Republican Senator John McCain and played the role of the presumptive nominee.

Pennsylvania was considered a state tailor-made for Senator Clinton, and by rights she should have won big. She has family roots in the state. She has the support of the Democratic establishment, including Governor Rendell's extensive network and mayors of most of the cities, and former President Clinton has a long history there and is fondly remembered. The state is mostly rural blue-collar, and it is the second oldest state in the union. Basically Senator Clinton did what she was supposed to do only not as well as she hoped. She actually lost 10 points from her lead in Pennsylvania over the past month. She started the Pennsylvania campaign six weeks age with a 20 plus point lead and won by ten points.

The one thing that Senator Clinton's victory ensured is that the primary will continue, and the results revealed many of the same patterns of strength and weakness that have been present in many of the Democratic contests. Indeed, Pennsylvania seemed to be a close replay of the March 5 Ohio primary, which Senator Clinton also won. Senator Clinton won heavily among working-class and older White voters and older women. Senator Obama won near-total support from Blacks and younger voters.

Another reality in the rural western section of Pennsylvania is the race factor. The media refuses to mention it but racism is alive and well in eastern Ohio/western Pennsylvania. The Associated Press reported that 16 percent of White voters in those area said race was a factor in their votes, and only 56 percent of those voters said they would support Senator Obama in a general election. Twenty-seven percent of them said they would vote for Senator McCain if Senator Obama was the Democratic nominee, and 15 percent said they would not vote at all. I guess people were right when they say that Pennsylvania consists of Philadelphia, Pittsburg and the rest 1960’s Alabama.

Tuesday's results will determine the allocation of 158 delegates, and those delegates will be divided proportionately under Democratic Party rules. That means Senator Clinton's win will make only a marginal dent in Senator Obama's delegate lead. Senator Obama also had a margin of several hundred thousand in the total of popular votes cast in previous nominating contests held in more than four-fifths of the states. Senator Clinton, whose campaign is predicated on the contention that her political experience trumps Senator Obama's call for political change, has consistently tried to persuade superdelegates that she would be the stronger Democratic opponent to Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee. But her overall vote deficit to Senator Obama in the Democratic contest has made it more difficult for her to make that argument. Bad new for Senator Clinton is that she has yet to reverse the slow, steady flow of superdelegates to Senator Obama.

In my opinion, Senator Obama will continue to gain strength with Democratic superdelegates. He will maintain his position as the best candidate to take on Senator John McCain. And he is ready to unite the American people and begin a new chapter in our history.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Senator Clinton Needs to Win Big in Pennsylvania

Once again, it's do-or-die time for Senator Hillary Clinton. She is trailing Senator Barack Obama and has to win the Pennsylvania primary on Today – and she has to win convincingly in order to narrow the gap and appear competitive in the remaining handful of contests. The latest major polls show her winning Pennsylvania by an average of five points. That is not enough to make substantial headway in either delegate count or the popular vote. But Senator Clinton campaign aides have made clear that a win is a win and that they plan to spin even a narrow victory into a major loss for Senator Obama. The Clinton campaign continues to ramble on with the argument of winning the large states, while in reality history shows that states like California, New York and Pennsylvania will vote Democrat no matter which candidate wins the nomination.

If Senator Clinton wins Pennsylvania by 10 points or more, that would give Senator Obama a jolt – but she would still face a steep climb in the remaining contests to capture the nomination. Her only hope is to get close in either the delegate count or the popular vote and then persuade enough of the superdelegates that she would be the stronger nominee against Republican Senator John McCain in November. Senator Obama leads in the Associated Press's overall delegate count 1,647 to 1,508, including the latest superdelegate to declare for him, Enid Goubeaux, a Democratic National Committee member from Ohio. A candidate needs 2,025 delegates to clinch the nomination. Obama leads in the popular vote by more than 800,000 votes.

In some ways, Pennsylvania is like Ohio, with its large working-class population, lots of older voters, and big Roman Catholic population. Those demographics tilt toward Senator Clinton. Since she won Ohio by 10 points, some analysts say that's her benchmark for Pennsylvania. But that will only give her approximately 7 or 8 gained delegates. She basically has to win by 15 percentage points to really gain ground. It will basically be an East-West battle; she wins the West (more rural older White blue-collar voters); he wins the East (more urban younger Black educated voters). One plus for Obama is the surge of new voters that have registered in Pennsylvania, 270,000 of them since November. Of those, 230,000 are Democrats, or 7 percent of the state party's rolls. In the latest polls 52 percent of them are backing Senator Obama.

The next contests, North Carolina and Indiana, could also present Senator Clinton with a must-win scenario. If she wins Pennsylvania, as expected, she then must do well in Indiana, where polls are close, as Senator Obama is expected to win North Carolina handily.

As we come down to the end of the primary contests I am becoming more convinced that the Democratic National Committee will say in June that whoever is leading after the last primary on June 3 is the Democratic presidential nominee and the other will be the vice-president nominee. If you go to both candidates' websites you will discover that they have basically the same positions. So it is who do you believe is the more honest candidate and which one will be able to get things done in Washington; remembering that to get things done in the capitol takes help from Democrats and Republicans and that most Republicans will not even listen to anything that Senator Clinton says.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tune Wins Closest Women’s Boston Marathon in History; Cheruiyot Wins His Fourth

When Dire Tune, (pronounced "Deer-ay Too-nay), decided to wait until the end and try to outkick her opponent, Alevtina Biktimirova, when she couldn't pull ahead of with a few miles left in the Boston Marathon. The plan barely worked – but it worked. The two women ran shoulder to shoulder from Heartbreak Hill to the end, exchanging the lead from time to time before Tune pulled away on the final turn to win in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 25 seconds today to take the closest women's race in Boston Marathon history. Ms. Biktimirova finished 2 seconds later. Ms. Tune, a 22-year-old Ethiopian remarked through a translator, “I tried to run away from her for the last miles, but she’s very strong. I was confident when I was not able to run away from her, I could save myself for the final kick.” This was her first try at Boston

Tune and Biktimirova were part of a group of 10 women who immediately broke from the pack within the first mile and stuck together until about mile 15. One by one the others dropped back until only Tune and Biktimirova were left. Tune and Biktimirova seemed to get stronger, matching each other stride for stride. Ms. Tune at one point appeared to give up an edge when she nearly missed one of the final turns.

The previous closest women's finish was 10 seconds in 2006, when Kenya's Rita Jeptoo beat Latvia's Jelena Prokopcuka. The two finished third and fourth respectively, today. The top American finished 15th overall in 2:48.43. Most of the top American women ran in Sunday's Olympic trials in Boston. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference because women from African and the former Soviet Union have dominated the race in recent history.

Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya won the men’s race in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 46 seconds. It was his fourth win in five tries. After crossing the finish line, he dropped to his knees to kiss the ground before standing up and counting off his four victories with an upraised arm. Cheruiyot's third straight victory gave Kenya its 15th men's title in 17 years. Kenyans also finished sixth through ninth. But Cheruiyot's countrymen struggled more than usual overall, with just the one man in the top five - the fewest since 1992 - and one woman in the top 10. Cheruiyot couldn't say whether the performance was related to the post election violence back home, in which some of his country's top runners have been killed and threatened. Cheruiyot missed two months of training because of the unrest before his coach moved their camp to Namibia.

More than 25,000 runners started the race for the second-largest field ever. Among entrants in this race were cyclist Lance Armstrong and astronaut Sunita Williams, who ran a simulated Boston Marathon last year while in orbit on the International Space Station.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Quarterback Steve McNair retires after 13 seasons

Steve McNair worked hard during the off-season and arrived at minicamp ready to assume his role as the starting quarterback. His body had other plans. Ending a 13-year career, McNair announced his retirement Thursday. Some of his highlights include being selected co-MVP in 2003, leading the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl and orchestrating the most successful regular season in Baltimore Ravens history. He received a standing ovation from his teammates after revealing his decision, then contained his emotions during a hastily arranged news conference. "In your mind, you feel like you can play, that you can still compete”, he said. “But when your mind and your body are not in accord, it’s not going to work in the National Football League.” The 35-year-old McNair guided the Ravens to a franchise-best 13-3 record in 2006, his first season in Baltimore. But he injured his groin during the season opener, developed back and shoulder injuries and played in only six games last season and never regained the form that enabled him to earn a berth in four Pro Bowls. He threw only two touchdown passes, was intercepted four times and lost seven fumbles before being placed on injured reserve in December, ending his most frustrating season in the NFL.

Steve McNair began his career in 1995 with the Houston Oilers, who eventually became the Tennessee Titans. He led the team to four playoff appearances, including the Super Bowl after the 1999 season. He was chosen co-MVP of the league in 2003, sharing the award with Peyton Manning, after throwing for 3,215 yards and 24 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. The highlight of his career might be a five-game stretch at the end of the 2002 season in which the quarterback was banged up so much he could not practice. Yet, he started all five games and led the Titans to wins to finish 11-5 and reach the AFC championship game for the second time in four seasons.

He underwent surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in December and spent much of the past three months getting ready for his 14th NFL season. But McNair had an inkling that all the running and weightlifting might be for naught. "My mind was telling me, ’Yes,’ and my body was like, ’No, what are you doing?’ I came up with (the idea of retiring) two or three days ago, but it’s been lingering ever since December."

Eddie George, who played running back behind McNair in Houston and Tennessee, said, "You name the injury and Steve had it and he still showed up. Not only did he show up, but he showed up and played extremely well. In his MVP year he played most of the year hurt. It is a testament to his willingness to win and how he sacrificed his body for the team." Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher, his coach for most of his career, echoed George’s comments, noting that McNair never wanted anyone to know how badly he was hurt. Baltimore Linebacker Ray Lewis, who had many memorable duels with McNair before the two became teammates, said, "There is no greater warrior or player with a bigger heart than Steve McNair. "He came into this game and gave it everything he had. He now can walk away with his head held high."

Steve McNair retires as one of the most versatile quarterbacks in NFL history. He's just one of three quarterbacks to amass over 30,000 yards passing and more than 3,000 yards rushing. The other two were Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young.

Nick named Air McNair, he was originally drafted by the Houston Oilers third overall in the 1995 NFL Draft. He played college football at Alcorn State University a historically Black university which competes in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), arguably the toughest Black conference in the U. S. which includes nationally known schools such as Grambling State, Jackson State, and Southern Universities. Many major colleges recruited McNair to play defensive back, but Alcorn was one of the few institutions that recruited him to play quarterback. In his senior season (1994), he amassed incredible statistics - throwing for 4,863 yards with 44 touchdowns (thus the nick name Air McNair) and rushing for 936 yards. His 2,387 rushing yards from 1997-2001 made him one of three quarterbacks in NFL history to rush for more than 2,350 yards in a five-season span. Mike Vick had 3,570 from 2002-2006; Randall Cunningham had 3,232 from 1986-1990.

Steve McNair grew up with his mother and four brothers in the rural farming community of Mt. Olive, Mississippi. He married his wife Mechelle in 1997 and has four sons. His cousin, Brandon McDonald, is a cornerback and punt returner for the Cleveland Browns. McNair hosts an annual football camp for children at his alma mater Alcorn State and teaches kids sportsmanship, good role models, and football.

Senator Obama Takes Whistle-stop Train Tour Through Pennsylvania

Flags and bunting hung from the back of a shiny blue train car. Thousands of people swarmed small-town rail depots. And Senator Barack Obama made his pitch as he rolled by: "The train is leaving the station. I need your help." The presidential candidate's Saturday whistle-stop tour leisurely rolled through the politically rich blooming Pennsylvania countryside from Philadelphia to Harrisburg with four full stops — and a couple of "slow rolls" — between. Senator Obama's relaxed appearance — casual without a tie or jacket, his shirt sleeves rolled up — and the lazy pace of the train did not show the fierceness of the Democratic nomination. Polls show Senator Clinton leading in the state, though Senator Obama is ahead in the delegate count. From Wynnewood and Paoli to Downingtown and Lancaster, Senator Obama portrayed his rival as a typical Washington politician and game-player who uses slash-and-burn tactics and can't be trusted to say what she believes.

As the tour began in Philadelphia, Senator Obama shook hands with conductors and chatted up rail-workers at the 30th Street station's Track 2 platform. Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Senator Obama's most prominent supporter in the state, joined him, as did the senator's family. "I'm really excited about this," Obama said. "This is great! Everybody, get on board now." And, with that, Senator Obama climbed aboard the Georgia 300 train car, pulled the whistle and set off.

The plush and upholstered car, named General Polk and built by Pullman Standard for the Southern Railway in 1930, contains a kitchen, two living areas and a small bedroom. It has been used by other politicians before, including former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. One day after a stunning 35,000 turned out to hear him in Philadelphia, about 6,000 people greeted him in Wynnewood and another 3,000 showed up in Paoli. People packed parking lots, gathered on hillsides, and, at one depot, perched on a bridge. At each stop, Senator Obama descended his train car to speak from a podium — and before giant flags and "Change We Can Believe In" banners — in unseasonable weather in the 80s. Many in the crowds carried water bottles and wore hats under the bright sun. Some brought their children and their dogs. At a couple of points, Senators Obama and Casey ventured from their air conditioned coach to wave from the small observation balcony at the back as the train slowly rolled by a couple of paint-peeling depots where sign-toting supporters lined both sides of the tracks. "We've got four days before we bring change to America. This is now our moment. This is now our turn," Obama said often throughout the day — prompting chants of "Yes, we can!" and causing shrieks from the crowd of "I love you!" Even Senator Clinton has not generated this much excitement in her home state of Pennsylvania.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Senator Obama Gets 3 Key Endorsements; Former Clinton Cabinet Member & 2 Ex-senators

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor on President Clinton’s cabinet endorsed Senator Barack Obama on Friday over Senator Hillary Clinton in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. Also two other Democratic elder statesmen, former Senators Sam Nunn of Georgia and David Boren of Oklahoma, also said they were supporting Senator Obama. Reich said in a blog post that "although Hillary Clinton has offered solid and sensible policy proposals, Obama's strike me as even more so." Mr. Reich also said Senator Obama's plans for reforming Social Security and health care have a better chance of succeeding, and his approach to the nation's housing crisis and financial market failures are sounder than Senator Clinton's. Mr. Reich is a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He ran for governor in Massachusetts in 2002 and now is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

A number of other former President Clinton cabinet members have endorsed Senator Obama. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was U.N. ambassador and energy secretary under Clinton, endorsed Senator Obama in March despite heavy wooing by the former president. Former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, who headed the transportation and energy departments under President Clinton, became a co-chair of Senator Obama's campaign last September. Former Clinton Commerce secretaries Norman Mineta and William Daley also have endorsed Obama.

Former Senators Nunn and Boren will serve as advisers to Senator Obama's National Security Foreign Policy Team. Nunn served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987-95, while Boren was the longest-serving chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Both men are moderate-conservatives tried to keep President Clinton from going to far off center during his time in office. For a man who has little experience Senator Obama is building quite a solid team. Senator Nunn, who recently flirted with his own possible White House bid, said Senator Obama has "a rare ability to restore America's credibility and moral authority and to get others to join us in tackling serious global problems." Senator Boren, who recently played host to a forum on electoral alternatives, including third-party runs, said: "Our most urgent task is to end the divisions in our country, to stop the political bickering, and to unite our talents and efforts. Americans of all persuasions are pleading with our political leaders to bring us together. I believe Senator Obama is sincerely committed to that effort."

In the Newsweek poll conducted April 16-17 Senator Obama has taken a huge lead nationally against Senator Clinton. Senator leads 54 percent to 35 percent. This marks a big shift from the magazine’s last survey in March, when they were essentially tied. Besides Senator Obama's usual leads among men, Blacks and young people, he leads in this poll among women and older voters and are about even among Whites.

Time is running out on Senator Hillary Clinton. She trails Senator Barack Obama in delegates, states won and popular votes. Senator Clinton argues to Democratic officialdom that other factors should count, an allegation that she's more electable chief among them. But she undercut her own claim in Wednesday night's debate, answering "yes, yes, yes" when asked whether her rival could win the White House. There's little if any public evidence that the superdelegates who will attend the convention, are buying her argument anyway. I don’t understand, it seems to me that if you are more electable you would be winning. Maybe some can explain it to me.

Senator Clinton leads in Pennsylvania polls in advance of Tuesday's primary there, with 158 convention delegates at stake. A victory is essential to her chances of winning the nomination, but she needs to get 65 percent of the vote to do any real damage. Her lead right now is far from sufficient; her 46 to his 40. She will need to follow up with a blowout win in Indiana on May 6, particularly since her aides have privately signaled that defeat is likely in North Carolina on the same day. Overall, Senator Obama's delegate lead is 1,645 - 1,507. That masks an even larger advantage among those won in primaries and caucuses, where his advantage is 1,414 - 1,250. With an additional 566 delegates are at stake in the remaining contests in eight states, Guam and Puerto Rico Senator Clinton needs to win an almost impossible 65 percent of the delegates to draw even with Senator Obama. It's a share she has achieved only once so far, in Arkansas, where her husband was governor for more than a decade. Given the unyielding delegate math, Clinton has relied for weeks on mercy from party leaders to sustain her challenge. And they are growing restless, eager for the epic nomination battle to end so Democrats can unify for the fall campaign against Senator John McCain and the Republicans. For now, party officials have granted Clinton a little more time to make her case, and she takes every opportunity. Eager to capitalize on Obama's comments about small town Americans, she announced the support last Tuesday of Bill Kennedy, a commissioner in Montana's sparsely populated Yellowstone County. Unflustered, Senator Obama countered 24 hours later with an announcement that 25 of the 35 Democratic members of the Legislature in predominantly rural South Dakota were for him.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More Hoops at the White House?

On TV, you normally see presidential candidates holding babies and shaking hands. On HBO’s current edition of Real Sports, you see something different: a candidate playing basketball. For what’s billed as the first TV basketball footage of Senator Barack Obama, who played in high school and whose brother-in-law is Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson, HBO filmed Senator Obama playing basketball with troops from Fort Bragg, in Pinehurst, North Carolina on March 19.

The HBO producer said he wasn’t facing the tightest defense in the world, but he was a good rebounder. TV shots of Senator Obama recently bowling 37 in seven frames didn’t show much athletic ability, but his basketball playing could lead to a change at the White House.

After being told by HBO Bryant Gumbel that the White House has an outdoor hoop, Senator Obama said, “I wasn’t aware of that. I was thinking I was gonna have to tear down the bowling alley to build a basketball court. But I’m still thinking if I get there, we may need at least a little indoor halfcourt.” And it might be handy if say, any prep hoopsters being recruited by Oregon State just happen by and maybe add a phone for 3 a. m. calls.

Former NFL Star Battles Multiple Personality Disorder

Herschel Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, NFL Pro Bowler and Olympian, tells of having dissociative identity disorder (DID), or what is more often called multiple personality disorder, in his book Breaking Free which was released this week. Herschel says he knows that conjures immediate thoughts of demons and freaks. He was diagnosed with DID in 2001. He remembers some things like playing Russian roulette with himself, but he does not remember other things like placing a gun to his wife’s head. “That’s when I knew I had a serious problem. I never injured her, but I threatened her a couple times. That’s not me.” He says the disorder contributed greatly to his divorce. He married his childhood college sweetheart, Cindy Grossman in 1983. After eighteen years of marriage they divorced in 2001.

He originally wanted to name the book “Doctor, Am I Crazy?” but it sounded so negative. He chronicles how as a child he developed hidden personalities, or “alters.” That was his coping mechanism to deal with childhood bullies who picked on him because he was obese and he stuttered. He says he was frequently the subject of beatings throughout his early school days. In an attempt to get comfortable talking with other children he offered money just to have conversations. To get in shape, he spent days running barefoot in a plowed field in rural Georgia, dragging a tire roped around his waist. To conquer his confrontations with bullies, Walker says he used alters that he has given names: Warrior, Sentry, General, Daredevil, Different Drummer, and Enforcer. He says his alters functioned as a kind of community supporting him. But there are parts of his childhood he doesn’t remember. He revealed that due to his social disorder, he can not remember the season he won the Heisman Trophy, let alone the moment. He is getting help for this disorder, and feels he has turned it around.

Herschel Walker lives in Dallas and founded a successful food company, Renaissance Man, that he sells about 25 million pounds of chicken a year. The profits of which have enabled him to become involved in starting medical treatment centers in Texas and California. He is a born-again Christian who frequently talked about his faith during his USFL interviews.

He chose the U.S. Football League over the NFL in the 1980s. After the USFL’s failed, he may be best remembered for the deal in which the Dallas Cowboys traded him for five players and four draft picks one of which turned into Emmitt Smith. On the playing field, Walker says he invoked his alters primarily to be aggressive and cope with pain. An all around athlete, he was awarded the first Dial Award for the national high-school scholar-athlete of the year in 1979. In college, he was a running back for the University of Georgia, where he was an All-American and won the 1982 Heisman Trophy. In 1999, Walker was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He has a sixth-degree black belt in tae kwon do. He ran the 100 meters in 10.22, the 100 yards in 9.3. He competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics in two-man bobsled. He still performs 2,500 sit-ups and 1,500 push ups every morning. He has been going through this same routine every morning since high school. When asked if he ever got tired carrying the ball 30 times a game, he replied, “The ball ain't heavy.” In 1999, he was selected to Sports Illustrated's NCAA Football All-Century Team. On the Fox Sports Net show Sports List, Walker was named the best college football running back of all time. Herschel Walker is the only player to have 10,000+ yards from scrimmage and 5,000+ return yards (all of which were on kickoff returns). He is the only player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways: rushing, receiving, and kickoff returns. He is one of six players (Jim Brown, Lenny Moore, Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, and Thurman Thomas) to exceed 60 TDs rushing and 20 TDs receiving.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park

Allen Allensworth was born a slave in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1842. At the age of 12, he was "sold down river" for trying to learn to read and write. After some trading by slave dealers, he was taken to New Orleans, and bought by a slaveholder to become a jockey. The Civil War started, and when the Union forces neared Louisville, Allensworth found his chance for freedom. He joined the Navy and when he was discharged, he had achieved the rank of first class petty officer. In 1871, he was ordained as a Baptist minister and entered the Baptist Theological Institute at Nashville. While serving at the Union Baptist Church in Cincinnati, he learned of the need for Black chaplains in the armed services, and got an appointment as Chaplain of the Black 24th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers.

He had seen many Black people move west after the Civil War to escape discrimination. He teamed up with a gifted Black teacher named William Payne three other men with similar vision, Allensworth decided to establish a place where Black people could live and thrive without oppression. On June 30, 1908, they formed the California Colony Home Promoting Association. They selected an area in Tulare County because it was fertile, there was plenty of water, and the land was available and inexpensive. In August 1908 Colonel Allen Allensworth and the other settlers established a town founded, financed and governed by Blacks. They first bought 20 acres, and later, 80 more. Their dream of developing an abundant and thriving community stemmed directly from a strong belief in programs that allowed Blacks to help themselves create better lives. By 1910 Allensworth’s success was the focus of many national newspaper articles praising the town and its inhabitants. The little town with a big vision grew rapidly for several years -- to more than 200 inhabitants, by 1914. That same year Allensworth became a voting precinct and a judicial district. Colonel Allensworth was killed on September 14, 1914, when hit by a motorcycle, while getting off a streetcar in Monrovia, California. After a funeral at the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, he was buried with full military honors.

An unavoidable set of circumstances made it impossible for the residents of this tiny town located 30 miles north of Bakersfield to achieve their founders’ dreams over the long term. But the town did remain home to a handful of families and individuals throughout the 20th century, and true to the courage and resolve of its founders, the town has survived and persevered, earning the well-deserved title “The town that refused to die.” Since most of the water for Allensworth farming had to come underground from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and there were many other farms and communities between the mountains and Allensworth, the water supply for the town and farms began to dry up. The next blow was the Great Depression that hit the whole country in the early 1930s. Public services began to shut down, and many residents moved to the cities to look for work. The Post Office closed in 1931. By the 1940s, most of the residents were migratory farm workers, and the population was mainly a mixture of Blacks and Hispanics. Housing deteriorated, as most of the people didn't consider Allensworth their permanent home. The population had shrunk to 90, in 1972, and later dropped to almost zero.

A drive began in the early 1970s to save the town of Allensworth. In 1974 California State Parks purchased land within the historical town site of Allensworth, and it became Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Allensworth would be an historic monument and public park dedicated to the memory and spirit of Colonel Allensworth as well as a place to note the achievements and contributions of Blacks to the history and development of California. In 1976, when the town site became a state historic park, restorations began, and plans began for further preservation, restoration, and reconstruction, and for interpretation of the history of Allensworth. Today a collection of lovingly restored and reconstructed early 20th-century buildings, including Allensworth’s the Colonel ’s Allensworth's residence, furnished in the 1912 period; the historic schoolhouse, which was still in use until 1972 and is furnished as it would have been on a school day in 1915; the Baptist church; and the Mary Dickenson library. It contains items from the colonel's life in the service and the ministry. There is also a small display of farm equipment as a reminder of the Allensworth economic base. With continuing restoration and special events, the town is coming back to life as a state historic park. The park’s visitor center features a film about the site. A yearly rededication ceremony reaffirms the vision of the pioneers.

In 2008 California State Parks is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of this unique town dedicated to the dignity of the human spirit. There you can learn about Colonel Allen Allensworth and the courageous group of families and individuals who created their own version of the “American Dream.” You can experience the inspiring story of the people who came to an isolated spot in the southern San Joaquin Valley to build a place of their own—a place where hard work, dedication, and faith would allow them and their children the opportunity to control their own discrimination-free destiny. There are volunteers and guides leading tours and recreating the historic atmosphere of the early 1900s. There was a Black History Month Celebration in February, an Old Time Jubilee in May, a Juneteenth Celebration, and the annual Town Rededication in October. One other exciting aspect of the centennial celebration is the creation of a traveling exhibit that is circulating throughout California before coming to the park for Rededication Day in October. Entitled “Allensworth: 100 Years of the California Dream,” the exhibit will showcase the park and demonstrate its impact throughout the state. The Exhibit is on display at the San Bernardino Government Center April 4 through 30, and at the California African American Museum May 1 through October 3).

The park is 30 miles north of Bakersfield; 20 miles north of Wasco on Highway 43; seven miles west of Earlimart on County Road J22.

Bruce Springsteen Endorses Senator Obama for President

Rock star Bruce Springsteen, also known as “the boss”, endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president Wednesday. In a letter addressed to friends and fans posted his Web site, Springsteen said he believes Senator Obama is the best candidate to undo "the terrible damage done over the past eight years. He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next president," the letter said. "He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where '...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.' Like most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest," Springsteen wrote on his web site.

Bruce Springsteen is known for his gritty lyrics about the struggles of working-class Americans, particularly in the economically ravaged factory towns of the Northeast. He is from New Jersey. Springsteen and his E Street Band were part of the Vote for Change tour, a coalition of musicians opposed to the re-election of President Bu$h in 2004. He wrote the anti-war ballad "Devils and Dust" about Iraq. President Reagan used Springsteen's then-popular song "Born in the USA" at campaign rallies in 1984 until he was asked by Springsteen, who supported Democrat Walter Mondale, to stop. The song about a Vietnam veteran's hard times was often misinterpreted as a patriotic call to arms.

Springsteen took issue with recent criticisms of comments made by Senator Obama about working-class voters in small towns in Pennsylvania and controversial statements by his pastor. "Critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships," Springsteen wrote. "While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision ... often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment." The impact of celebrity endorsements in US presidential races is debatable, but Springsteen's defense of Senator Obama may carry some importance due to the content of his songs, many of which give voice to hopes and fears of small town America.

Monday, April 14, 2008

How Does Senator Obama's Remarks Play in Pennsylvania

With the Pennsylvania primary a week away and polls showing the race tightening up from Senator Clinton’s 20 point lead a few weeks ago to her current single digit lead she is back to trying to throw negative attention toward Senator Obama. Her latest tactic is calling Senator Obama elitist and divisive after remarks he made at a fundraiser in San Francisco. He said some working-class voters have grown frustrated with the economy. Duh, everybody has grown frustrated with the economy. She said that Senator Obama is out of touch with their concerns. If she doesn’t see that voters are frustrated with the economy, then she is not out of touch, but blind and deaf also. He went on to say, “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

However, Senator Clinton may not get as much reaction as she hoped it would judging by some remarks from Pennsylvania voters. One voter who seems like just the sort of Pennsylvanian who might have been offended by Senator Barack Obama’s comments that small-town residents “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion” said, “we believe in God, and I own a couple of guns.” This voter says he switched his party registration from Republication to Democrat so he could back Senator Obama in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary. He says Senator Hillary Clinton’s criticisms Sunday that Senator Obama’s comments were “elitist and divisive” haven’t moved him. Even conservative Republicans didn’t muster the sort of outrage over Senator Obama’s remarks that Senator Clinton and her backers were expressing Sunday. They say that Obama’s remarks lack judgment and understanding, but that many small-town residents are indeed bitter. “Hell, yeah, they’re bitter,” said one retired resident. “George Bu$h has been a disappointment. The economy. Jobs. Immigration -- we’re being invaded.” One man with an Obama sign in his front yard, called the notion of Obama as an elitist “really hilarious.” Senator Obama, who was raised by a single mother, “had to make his own opportunities. He didn’t have anything handed to him, the way Hillary did,” he said. He said he has never before been active in a political campaign. “He is different from anybody I can remember running for president,” he said of Obama. “He’s really for the little people, not the special interests.”

Senator Obama told the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal on Saturday that he regretted his choice of words. “But the underlying truth of what I said remains, which is simply that people who have seen their way of life upended because of economic distress are frustrated and rightfully, so.”

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania says, "In towns like yours and mine, families are struggling with bills they can't afford and jobs moving away. It has to change but it won't until we change Washington. That's why I believe in Barack Obama. I've worked with him. I've seen him stand up to the lobbyists and special interests. And like us, he's tired of the political games and division that stops anything from getting done. Barack Obama knows Pennsylvania's hurting. He can unite America and bring real change." Senator Casey, a freshman senator, is a key endorser of Senator Obama in a state whose governor and big-city mayors are backing Senator Clinton. Like his late father, a well-liked governor, Casey opposes abortion rights and is popular among many Catholics and blue-collar Democrats who are crucial to Clinton's hopes. Senators Obama and Clinton will meet Wednesday at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for the 24th debate of the Democratic presidential campaign. It will be televised on ABC 8 to 10 p.m. ET.

Crystle Stewart Crowned Miss USA 2008

Twenty-six-year-old Crystle Stewart, an entrepreneur from Texas was named Miss USA on Friday, winning over 50 other beauty queens for the coveted crown. Crystle, of Missouri City (a suburb of Houston), Texas, runs a party-planning and motivational speaking company, as well as modeling professionally. She says she wants to dedicate her life to international philanthropy. "I want to talk to people about how to set a goal and achieve it," she told The Associated Press after the show. "Because I just achieved my goal." Ms. Stewart won the Miss Texas USA 2008 title in a state pageant held in Laredo, Texas on July 1, 2007 after competing against 121 other contestants.

Contestants from all 50 states and the District of Columbia had been in Las Vegas for nearly three weeks, rehearsing and hyping the 57th annual pageant. The pageant featured music from Rihanna. Miss USA contestants are scored in three categories: swimsuit, evening gown and interview and unlike the rival Miss America, Miss USA contestants are not asked to perform a talent. Ms. Stewart said she was eager to travel and spread her message of self-improvement to young women. She noted she was one of only a handful of Black woman crowned Miss USA in the pageant’s 57-year history. "I think the United States is coming together," she said, citing the historic presidential candidacies of Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. She declined to name her preference. Ms. Stewart will compete in the Miss Universe pageant in Nha Trang, Vietnam in July. She also becomes a spokeswoman for breast and ovarian cancer awareness and other causes, while traveling to promote the organization. Crystle Stewart holds a degree in consumer science and merchandising from the University of Houston.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Honda Campus All-Star Challenge

Proving that intelligence is more than just book smarts, Oakwood University leveraged teamwork and speed and knowledge to emerge victorious as National Champions of the 19th annual Honda Campus All-Star Challenge. This event is the largest annual academic competition between the nation's leading Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and was held this weekend in Orlando, Florida. Oakwood University showcased their skills and intellect by quickly and accurately answering questions on world history, science, literature, religion, the arts, social sciences, popular culture and African-American history and culture. Correctly answering the final question:

For reasons yet unknown, this disease correlates with biochemical markers called human leukocyte antigens. It does not, however, involve leukocytes but myelin sheaths protecting nerve cells. Name this crippling disease of young adults.
(Correct answer: Multiple Sclerosis)

Oakwood University topped second place finisher Alcorn State University to claim the championship and take home $50,000 in grant money for their school. More than 320 college students from 64 HBCUs across the country gathered to compete in the three-day tournament to win grants and glory for their academic institutions. Now in its 19th year, the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) celebrates the proud academic heritage of the nation's HBCUs and showcases the great minds these institutions have produced. HCASC provides a platform for America's best and brightest from the nation's HBCUs to come together as friends, competitors and future leaders. This event allows students to compete, engage in teamwork, and establish long-term relationships.

During the three-day tournament, the 64 HBCU teams of four compete in a modified round robin format. Teams are randomly placed into eight divisions. The divisions are named after famous Black people. The top two teams from each of the eight divisions advance to the "Sweet 16," then "elite eight" and "final four" in a single elimination playoff. The final two teams then compete for the National Champion title in a best 2 out of 3 final series. In addition to Oakwood University and Alcorn State University, student teams from Howard University and the Southern University-Baton Rouge also demonstrated their academic prowess by making it to the final four. This year's HCASC theme, "Call to Action," encouraged students to take from this experience a greater understanding of what they can do personally to positively contribute to the society. Keynote speaker Sheila Johnson, president and managing partner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, co-founder of BET, and a major philanthropist, encouraged students to heed the call to action.

American Honda Motor Co. Inc. is the founder and host of this academic challenge and provides more than $300,000 in institutional grants each year to the HBCUs that participate in the competition. Established in 1989 by American Honda Motor Co., Inc., the annual academic challenge has touched more than 50,000 HBCU students and awarded more than $5 million in grants to HBCUs to improve campus life through facility improvements and expanded academic resources. Game play takes place during two eight minute halves. Questions are split into toss-ups and bonus questions. The toss-up questions are always ten points in value, while bonuses have varying point values, no more than thirty possible points.

2008 HCASC "Sweet 16" Teams:
Alabama A&M University
Alcorn State University
Florida A&M University
Grambling State University
Howard University
Langston University
Morehouse College
Norfolk State University
North Carolina Central University
Oakwood University
Prairie View A&M University
Tennessee State University
Tuskegee University
Southern University - Baton Rouge
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
West Virginia State University

An episode of A Different World, entitled "Goodwill Games" revolves around the premise of Dwayne Wayne and Whitley Gilbert competing in Hillman College's Campus All-Star Challenge tournament.

For their efforts, the representative schools are awarded grants
• The NCT Champion school is awarded $50,000
• Runner-Up takes $25,000
• Semifinalists take $15,000
• Quarterfinalists take $7,500
• Teams who make the first round of the playoffs take $5,000
• NCT qualifiers take $3,000
• An additional $1,000 grant is awarded to the schools of All-Star players, so designated as being the top individual scorers in each of the 8 divisions.
• The recipient of the Sportsperson Award earns their school an additional $1,000 grant

Past HCASC winners
1990 West Virginia State College
1991 Florida A&M University
1992 Norfolk State University
1993 Tuskegee University
1994 Tuskegee University
1995 Jackson State University
1996 Florida A&M University
1997 Alabama State University
1998 Florida A&M University
1999 Florida A&M University
2000 Clark Atlanta University
2001 Morehouse College
2002 Morehouse College
2003 Florida A&M University
2004 Morehouse College
2005 Florida A&M University
2006 Morehouse College
2007 Tennessee State University
2008 Oakwood University

For more information on the Honda Campus All Star Challenge, and, a list of the 64 participating HBCUs, please visit

Third Annual USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Award

NBA Legend, entrepreneur and philanthropist Earvin “Magic” Johnson, will receive the annual USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Award for his work in entertainment and underserved communities with the Magic Johnson Foundation. A long-time humanitarian and social advocate, Magic founded the Magic Johnson Foundation in 1991 as a single-disease organization that worked to raise funds for community-based organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs. Over the past few years, the Magic Johnson Foundation has awarded more than $1.1 million in funds, established 20 Magic Johnson Community Empowerment Centers, four HIV/AIDS clinics and has co-created the award-winning “I Stand With Magic” campaign to end HIV/AIDS in the Black community.

The USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Award is presented annually to an entertainment industry humanitarian who has made remarkable contributions of time and energies with a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the quality of life for others. The USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Award recipient is unique in that his or her efforts extend far beyond a charitable contribution or simply lending one’s celebrity to enhance a cause or concern. The ceremony will take place Tuesday, May 6 at 6 p.m. at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Magic Johnson is also Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Magic Johnson Enterprises. Through strategic investments, partnerships and endorsements, Magic Johnson Enterprises has bolstered the economy by establishing brand name businesses in underserved communities (the ghetto), training and hiring local residents and employing local contractors. Magic Johnson Enterprises is comprised of a portfolio of companies including Starbucks, Burger King and AMC Magic Johnson Theatres.

In addition to his varied business accomplishments, Magic Johnson is universally known for his 13 year career in the NBA. His honors include: five national championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, three MVP awards, 12 NBA All-Star games, a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain and induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. To learn more visit
to learn more visit:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

LSU Hires Trent Johnson from Stanford as New Basketball Coach

LSU introduced Trent Johnson, who led Stanford to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA tournament, as its new coach today. Coach Johnson had said recently he hoped to remain at Stanford and had been slated to meet with Cardinal athletic director Bob Bowlsby on Thursday to discuss a new contract. Stanford hired Coach Johnson in 2004. He was an assistant at Stanford before going to Nevada and then returning to the Cardinal.

“The opportunity to recruit the best student-athletes across the country and have the opportunity to compete for a championship year in and year out … that is the goal,” said Johnson, who was 80-48 in four seasons at Stanford. “We have an excellent chance to get this thing turned around soon.” His decision to leave may have been helped when Stanford’s twin 7-footers, Brook and Robin Lopez, announced last week they would hire agents and enter the NBA draft, forgoing their final two seasons of eligibility. LSU went to the Final Four only three seasons ago, but failed to make the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years. The Tigers went 13-18 this season, and Coach John Brady was fired during the year. Assistant Butch Pierre took over February 8 and led LSU to victories in five of its last nine games, but the Tigers lost in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament. This week, LSU also likely lost one of its best players when 6-foot-10 freshman forward Anthony Randolph announced he intended to enter the NBA draft. Randolph did not immediately hire an agent, however, leaving open the possibility he could return for his sophomore season. LSU considered a range of candidates, including Travis Ford at Massachusetts, Anthony Grant at Virginia Commonwealth and Oliver Purnell at Clemson. Ford and Purnell both withdrew from consideration Tuesday.

In his four seasons at Stanford, Coach Johnson had a record of 80-48 (a .625 winning percentage). He led the Cardinal to three appearances in the NCAA tournament and one NIT tournament appearance. His overall record as a head coach is 159-122 (.566). His 2003-04 Nevada Wolf Pac team was the Western Athlete Conference (WAC) regular season and WAC Tournament champions and made it to the NCAA Sweet 16.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Trumpet Awards, Syndicated, To Air on TV One

Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, actress LaTonya Richardson hosted the 16th annual Trumpet Awards which aired in syndication in March and will air on TV One Sunday April 13 at 8 p.m. EST. The Trumpet Awards is often referred to as “the Oscars for Black America”. More than 20 of the best and brightest achievers in the Black community were honored during the show which was taped at the Atlanta Civic Center.

Among the honored were Halle Berry (Entertainment & Pinnacle Awards); Danny Glover (Humanitarian); Najee (Arts); and Ludacris (Usher Ramond Altruism Award). Black achievement was saluted in every field including law, business, medicine, politics and public service. “The audience basked in the success stories of some very great African-Americans,” said Xernona Clayton, the founder of the Trumpet Awards and president and CEO of Trumpet Awards Foundation. “This year’s television program was syndicated for the first time and broadcast around the country, in addition, to being aired in 177 countries around the world.”

Other 2008 Trumpet Award honorees were: Sheila C. Johnson (Entrepreneur); Shareef Abdul-Rahim (Community Service); Dr. T. B. Boyd III (Business); the Honorable Judge Paul L. Brady (Legal); Brian O. Jordan (Athlete/Developer); twin brothers Dr. Vance and Dr. Vincent Moss (Medicine) and Don Thompson (Corporate Executive). This year’s Tower of Power honorees were Georgians and included Thurbert Baker, Georgia Attorney General and president of the National Association of Attorneys General; Representative Sanford Bishop Jr; Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr; Representative Hank Johnson; Khalil Johnson, COO, Georgia World Congress Center Authority; Representative David Scott; State Representative Georganna Sinkield; State Representative Calvin Smyre, president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators; Michael Thurmond, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor and State Representative Al Williams.

India.Arie was among the performers and among the presenters were Usher, Representative John Lewis, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Representative Maxine Waters and former U. N. Ambassador Andrew Young. Michelle Obama was also on hand to address the audience.

Candace Parker Has Whirlwind 24 Hours

The City of Los Angeles can now claim to have arguablely the best male and female basketball players in the world. The NBA’s Los Lakers have Kobi Bryant and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks selected Candace Parker number one in the WNBA draft Wednesday, a day after she capped her college career by leading the University of Tennessee to a second straight NCAA title. "These last 15 hours or so have been just amazing," Parker said. "To win a national championship and then switch gears and come to the WNBA draft and be surrounded by my peers that I've played with ever since I was in junior high school has been amazing.” The Associated Press player of the year joins Lisa Leslie, turning Los Angeles into one of the top teams in the league. The Sparks were a franchise-worst 10-24 last season with Leslie sitting out after giving birth to a daughter in June.

"Lisa Leslie has been one of my idols ever since I was younger," Parker said. "I've never had an opportunity to play with her ... but I'm really looking forward to it. Obviously, she's a great role model and I'm looking to take in whatever she tells me." LSU senior Sylvia Fowles was taken second by the Chicago Sky. The 6-foot-6 center led the Lady Tigers to four straight Final Fours and scored 24 points and had 20 rebounds in their heartbreaking 47-46 semifinal loss to Parker and Tennessee. Stanford star Candice Wiggins, whose team finished runner-up, went third to the Minnesota Lynx. Alexis Hornbuckle of Tennessee was chosen by Detroit and Matee Ajavon of Rutgers was selected by Houston, rounding out the top five.

Candace Parker left Tennessee with a year of eligibility remaining. She chose to skip her fifth year, which she gained because of a knee injury as a freshman. Parker, Fowles and Wiggins headlined a talented class that has been hyped since their freshmen year. Crystal Langhorne of Maryland was taken sixth by Washington and Essence Carson of Rutgers went seventh to New York. Carson will be close to home, having played college ball in New Jersey. The expansion Atlanta Dream chose Tamera Young of James Madison at No. 8. Amber Holt of Middle Tennessee State went ninth to Connecticut and Laura Harper was selected 10th by Sacramento. Tasha Humphrey of Georgia went next to Detroit, and the Sun took UConn guard Ketia Swanier with their second pick of the round at No. 12. North Carolina's LaToya Pringle was chosen by the defending champion Phoenix Mercury and New York picked her Tar Heels teammate Erlana Larkins to close out the first round which included all Black players. All five Tennessee starters were drafted.

50 Cent and Universal Sued for Pushing "Gangsta" Life

Rapper 50 Cent, Universal Music Group and several of its record labels were sued on Wednesday for promoting a "gangsta lifestyle" by a 14-year-old boy who says friends of the rapper assaulted him. The lawsuit which was filed by James Rosemond and his mother, Cynthia Reed, says Universal Music Group and its labels Interscope Records, G-Unit Records and Shady Records, bear responsibility for the assault because they encourage artists to pursue violent, criminal lifestyles. The lawsuit also names 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, Violator Management, Violator CEO Chris Lighty, rapper Tony Yayo, a member of 50 Cent's G-Unit hip hop group, and Lowell Fletcher, an employee of Yayo.

Young Rosemond says he was assaulted on a Manhattan sidewalk in March 2007 by four men including Yayo and Fletcher. The lawsuit claims Rosemond was targeted because he was wearing a T-shirt by Czar Entertainment, a management company that represents The Game. The Game is a former G-Unit rapper who fell out with the group and became a rival rapper. Tony Yayo, whose real name is Marvin Bernard, pleaded guilty to harassment in February, and was sentenced to ten days of community service. Fletcher pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to 9 months in jail.

"The members of G-Unit, including defendants Yayo and 50 Cent, encouraged, sanctioned, approved and condoned its members threatening violence, and or engaging in violent acts in furtherance of its business," the lawsuit said. “The attack on Rosemond was intended to "promote and maintain Yayo and 50 Cent's 'gangsta' image," which was "promoted, marketed and advertised" by record labels.”

Senator Obama Makes Major Cut into Senator Clinton’s Pennsylvania Lead

Senator Barack Obama is gaining ground on Senator Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, moving within range of a major upset in the April 22 primary that would virtually end the hard-fought Democratic presidential race months earlier than expected. Less than two weeks before their next showdown, opinion polls show Senator Obama cutting Senator Clinton's once big lead in Pennsylvania to single digits and making gains among some voting blocs that have been her most reliable backers.

A win in Pennsylvania for Senator Obama would be a shocking twist in a Democratic race filled with them, effectively killing Senator Clinton's hopes of overtaking him in the fight for the right to face Republican Senator John McCain in November's presidential election. "If Obama wins Pennsylvania, the race is over," said one political analyst. Pennsylvania had been considered a lock for Senator Clinton because of its high concentration of the older, White, Catholic and blue-collar voters that form the backbone of her coalition. And she was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. But a successful six-day bus tour of the state and a few bad weeks for Clinton has helped tighten the race. A new poll showed Senator Clinton's lead at 6 points, down from 9 points last week, 12 points in mid-March and as much as 26 points in February. An average of all polls in the state this week shows Clinton with about a 7-point advantage. The poll showed Senator Obama gaining ground among Whites, women and those voters who rank the economy as their top issue. He also is picking up support in the populous and crucial Philadelphia suburbs.

Senator Obama's advertising had been effective and his week-long swing through the state showed him talking with voters in a more personal and effective style. He was talking specifics about health care and the economy -- really talking to people about the problems they face. Meanwhile, Senator Clinton suffered through questions about her lie that she faced sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996 -- she said she "misspoke" -- and whether she should even remain in the race amid dwindling hopes of catching Senator Obama. Senator Obama has a nearly unbeatable lead on Senator Clinton in the pledged delegates and picking up superdelegates daily. She hopes the final contests will help her close the gap in pledged delegates and catch him in popular votes cast in the state-by-state contests. All that is gone with a loss in Pennsylvania or possibly even with a narrow win. A narrow win for her and he can almost declare a victory anyway; that may not get her out of the race but it deflates her arguments.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Toni Braxton Hospitalized for Chest Pain in Las Vegas

Toni Braxton is on the mend and in "good condition" following a health scare. The 40-year-old "Un-Break My Heart" singer was admitted to Las Vegas' St. Rose Dominican Hospital for chest pains Monday night. The six-time Grammy winner, in Vegas headlining a five-nights-a-week show, "Toni Braxton: Revealed," at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino’s vintage 720-seat Flamingo Showroom., is currently listed in good condition and was expected to be released later Tuesday. Her two-year run at the Flamingo began in August 2006. Though several reports have erroneously claimed that Ms. Braxton was taken to the hospital immediately after a performance, there was no “Revealed” scheduled for Monday. (The show is dark on Sundays and Mondays.) Officials for Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel-Casino and Harrah's Entertainment Inc. also clarified that Ms. Braxton was not at the casino at the time.

While there hasn't been any further details released on her present ailment, Toni Braxton has previously admitted suffering from a condition called pericarditis, a viral inflammation of the lining of the heart, which she was diagnosed with four years ago. In a January interview with Newsweek, Braxton said she periodically suffers from heart flutters and high blood pressure. Since her disclosure, Toni Braxton has since been named a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.

Known for her husky alto voice, in addition to winning six Grammy Awards, Toni Braxton has sold over forty million records worldwide. Her number-one hit "Un-Break My Heart" is the second biggest single by a female artist ever. With her 1993 self-titled debut album she topped the Billboard charts and continued that streak with her second studio album "Secrets" which spawned the number one hit "Un-Break My Heart". In addition to performing in her successful Las Vegas act, Toni is in the studio working on her sixth studio album. Her father was a clergyman, and the Braxton children were raised in a strict religious household. She attended Bowie State University (an HBCU school) to obtain a teaching degree but decided to pursue a musical career. Toni and her four sisters (Traci, Trina, Towanda, and Tamar) began performing as The Braxtons in the late 1980s and were signed to Arista Records in 1989. Their first single, "Good Life", was released in 1990.[2] Though the song was not successful, it attracted the attention of Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. With Braxton's low register sounding similar to that of Anita Baker, Reid and Babyface recruited her to record a demo of "Love Shoulda Brought You Home", a song that they had written for Anita Baker for the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy's film, Boomerang. Baker, who was pregnant at the time, didn't record the song but suggested that Braxton record it. Her recording was later included on the soundtrack along with "Give U My Heart" - a duet by Braxton and Babyface. Braxton, meanwhile, was signed to Reid and Edmonds' Arista-distributed imprint, LaFace Records, and immediately began recording her solo debut album.

In 1998, she filed for Chapter 7 protection from a reported $3.9 million debt. All of her personal household possessions were tagged and marked for sale to pay off her creditors, including her prestigious awards. The humiliating and highly publicized bankruptcy taught her a lesson, she says. In the middle of the bankruptcy proceedings, Braxton was able to pursue her acting dreams when she was offered the role of "Belle" in Disney's musical, Beauty and the Beast, a role she played on Broadway on September 1998 through February 1999. Toni Braxton was the first Black woman to play a Disney character leading role on Broadway.

On May 19, 2006, the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas announced that Braxton would replace Wayne Newton as the casino’s new headlining act starting August 3, 2006. The show, "Toni Braxton: Revealed", will be performed six nights a week and run through March 2007. Later she confirmed that she was extending her show through August 2007. The show has become the first headlining show from a Black performer in Vegas to enter the top 10 Vegas show's charting. Due to the success of the show Toni extended her show through August 2008.

Toni Braxton met musician Keri Lewis in 1997, when the group Mint Condition (which he was a member of at that time) opened up for her while she was on tour. On April 21, 2001, they married. On December 2, 2001, she gave birth to their first child, a son named Denham Cole Braxton-Lewis. The couple's second son, Diezel Ky Braxton-Lewis, born March 31, 2003, was recently diagnosed with autism. The couple currently lives in the in Las Vegas. As well as being a spokeswoman The American Heart Association she is also a spokeswoman for Autism Speaks.

Senator Obama New Ad: The Women in His Life

Senator Barack Obama recently released a campaign ad airing on Philadelphia stations, serving southeast Pennsylvania. The ad runs for 30 seconds and features his half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham and his wife, Michelle Obama. The script follows:

Senator Obama: "I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message."

Maya Soetoro-Ng (Obama's half sister): "People recognize themselves in Barack, and they feel understood by him. In part, that's because he listens so well."
Madelyn Dunham (Obama's grandmother): "Well, I think it's given him a lot of depth and a broadness of view."

Michelle Obama (Obama's wife): "Barack and I talk all the time about making sure that our girls can imagine any kind of world for themselves, with no barriers."
Soetoro-Ng: "He wants to make sure that everybody's children have the opportunities that his daughters have."

The key images: The ad opens with a still photo of Senator Obama kissing one of his daughters. As Soetoro-Ng speaks, images appear of Obama in small groups and hugging an elderly woman. His grandmother and wife speak on camera amid spliced footage of Senator Obama with his children and in a classroom talking to youngsters.

The goal: Senator Obama the family man. The ad provides a personal touch to Obama's image, continuing an ad mix in Pennsylvania that balances policy and biography. This is the first ad to feature some of the women in his life — an outreach to women voters who form a core support group for Senator Hillary Clinton, the other Democratic presidential nomination candidate. The ad also illustrates Senator Obama's diverse family tree. Soetoro-Ng's father was Indonesian, their grandmother is White and his wife is Black.

The ad serves as something of a public debut for Obama's grandmother — a woman some may only know because of Obama's reference to her during his speech on race. Then, he described her this way: "A woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of Black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."