He Said He Would…And He Did!

It’s time to Break It Down!

Ever since the GOP secured a majority in the U.S. Senate in the November 4, 2014 General Election, to match the advantage they already enjoyed in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans have made it clear they would pass a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Yesterday, they made the promise a fait accompli. With a resolve to match the GOP’s relentless push, President Obama made it equally clear he would veto such a bill. To that end, he kept his end of the bargain yesterday.

The Houses of Congress spent a significant portion of the first two months of the year prepping for was a near certain outcome yesterday. The Senate, by a roll call vote of 62-36, moved to approve its bill Thursday, January 29, 2015. In summary, 53 Republicans and 9 Democrats voted for the bill. Voting in opposition were 34 Democrats and 2 Independents. No Republicans voted against the measure.

On Wednesday, February 11, 2015, the House took up the Senate bill and approved the measure by a vote of 270 to 152. The bill garnered the support of 29 Democrats. One GOP Representative, Justin Amash, of Michigan, voted against the bill. That action of the House completed the preliminary steps of preparing the bill for the President’s review.

The process came full circle, apparently quickly. Congress sent the measure to President Obama yesterday. He returned to sender, using his Veto authority for the first time in five years, and only the third time during his Presidency.

Counting yesterday’s veto, you have to go back 134 years, to James A. Garfield, the 20th President, to find a President with fewer vetoes than President Obama. He had no vetoes, but served just over six months in office, as his Presidency lasted only 199 days, from March 4, 1881 to September 19, 1881. Charles J. Guiteau shot him July 2, 1881. Garfield died two and a half months later. Only William Henry Harrison served less time as an American President. Harrison, who died of pneumonia, served only 32 days. Not surprisingly, he was also among the seven Presidents who never used the veto. Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President also died prematurely, after only a year and a half in office, without ever using the veto. Millard Fillmore, the thirteenth President, served Zachary Taylor’s unexpired term, and never used the veto.

To provide a little veto context, seven Presidents, the second, John Adams, third Thomas Jefferson, fifth James Monroe, ninth William Henry Harrison, twelfth Zachary Taylor, thirteenth Millard Fillmore, and the twentieth James Garfield never used the veto. Of those, Harrison, Taylor, and Garfield died after short terms in office, and Fillmore completed Taylor’s term. Of the remaining thirty-six Presidents other than Mr. Obama, only George Washington, the first President (2), James Monroe, the fifth President (1), and Martin Van Buren, the eighth President (1), used the veto less than President Obama has to date. The eleventh President, James K. Polk also used his veto pen three times.

This however, may be just the beginning of President Obama’s veto use. He has already signaled his unwillingness to simply accept proposed GOP legislation to roll back the Affordable Care Act, as well as bills reversing the executive action he has taken on immigration.

Early indications are GOP legislators will be unable to reverse the President’s veto. The threshold for overriding a President’s veto is a two-thirds vote in each chamber of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced the veto override vote occur no later than next Tuesday.

Pipeline advocates, including Republican leadership in Congress argue the Keystone would create jobs; opponents meanwhile contend the potential environmental risks are not worth it. For its part, the Whitehouse says they oppose the measure because it usurps the President’s authority to approve or deny the pipeline. The project has been under administrative review for a number of years.

Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary notes that it is still conceivable President Obama may approve the pipeline at the completion of State Department review. In the interim, the President has downplayed the economic benefits of the pipeline. He underscored that point in the State of the Union Address, when he said: “Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,”

For their part, Republican Legislators said yesterday the expected veto sets a sour tone for further cooperation. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote in a USA Today op-ed, “This White House refuses to listen and look for common ground. It’s the same kind of top-down, tone deaf leadership we’ve come to expect and we were elected to stop.”

In other words, it appears, the long winter of our political discontent continues. What we know for sure is, when it comes to the Keystone XL Pipeline, “He Said He Would…And He Did!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com or http://thesphinxofcharlotte.blogspot.com. Find a new post each Wednesday.

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Someone You Should Know: Thomas Hagan; AKA Talmadge X Hayer

It’s time to Break It Down!

This post was originally published April 28, 2010. I am re-posting and amending it today, in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination, later this week, Saturday, February 21st, 2015.

Many of us are aware of the lore of Malcolm X. We know he was for a time a street hustler from Omaha Nebraska.  Born Malcolm Little, he refined his hustle on the mean streets of New York and Boston. By age 13, his father had died; his mother institutionalized. He subsequently spent time in several foster homes while growing up.

Malcolm, who would become one of America’s “No last name required” legends, evolved from practitioner of petty street crimes to a member, and ultimately the foremost advocate, of the Nation of Islam (NOI). After more than a decade as the firebrand public face of the NOI, Malcolm broke ranks with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (Elijah Poole), the leader of the NOI. The ensuing rift between these two men resulted in Malcolm leaving the NOI and affiliating with the orthodox Sunni Muslims.

After this split, there emerged a part of the lore that many people missed. Malcolm, in short order, made a Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca), changed his name again, this time to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and perhaps most important, renounced racism. On February 21, 1965, 11 months after leaving the NOI, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was assassinated while giving a speech in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan.

Enter Thomas Hagan!

Yesterday, the New York State Department of Correctional Services paroled Thomas Hagan. He left the Lincoln Correctional Facility at 11:00 a.m. Ironically, the facility is located at the corner of West 110th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard. Why is this ironic, you may ask? The biting irony lies in the coincidence that Mr. Hagan, known in 1965 as Talmadge X Hayer, is the lone “admitted” gunman involved in the slaying of Malcolm X. That Hagan should spend his final days of confinement in a facility on the corner of a street named for his victim is cruelly coincidental. To put the matter into even sharper focus, the nexus ties his freedom portal directly back to the man he murdered, and whose death resulted in his 44-year incarceration.

In many ways, Hagan being released yesterday was simply the culmination of events long underway. In fact, Mr. Hagan had been in a Work Release program since 1992 (18 years) that allowed him to spend five days a week at home in Brooklyn with his family, and required that he spend two days a week only at the minimum-security Lincoln Correctional Facility.

Thomas Hagan became eligible for parole in 1984. Last month he went before the parole board for the 15th time. After 14 rejections, the now 69 year-old Hagan finally gained approval for his release.  He is still on parole, but will return to his family, and continue his efforts to become a substance abuse counselor.

Hagan’s journey has been well chronicled, and more than a little interesting. He was part of a group of three NOI members who shot and killed Malcolm. He was, however, the only one of the three apprehended on the spot. He was also the only person who ever confessed and pled guilty for his role in the assassination. According to transcripts from his March 3, 2010 hearing before the parole board, he said, “I have deep regrets about my participation in that. I don’t think it should ever have happened.”

In one of the more interesting developments of the case, two other suspects were also convicted in the killing. Both of them, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Kahlil Islam, denied involvement. Of course, that is not the interesting part. For a suspect to declaring his innocence is an every day occurrence. Being convicted, in spite of their declarations is common as well. This scenario departed from the beaten path when Hagan, while admitting his own guilt, testified that Aziz and Islam were not with him, were not a part of the plan, and in fact were innocent.

All three were convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. Aziz was paroled in 1985; Islam was freed in 1987. Both maintained they were innocent from the start. At every step in the process, from the trial throughout his 15 appearances for hearings before the parole board, Hagan admitted his personal guilt, and consistently maintained the other two men were innocent. The catch, if there was one, is that three men were involved in killing Malcolm. Hagan admitted his own involvement, and even conceded there were two other men involved, just not Aziz and Islam. I am left to infer that either the parole board did not believe him, or they elected to continue punishing him for refusing to roll over on his real co-conspirators.

No matter how you look at it, there is a lot about this part of the case that begs numerous questions. For example, what are the odds that if Hagan had two co-conspirators, witnesses at the Audubon Ballroom mistakenly identified, Aziz and Islam, who apparently were there, and they could not have extricated themselves by identifying the other parties? Why would Hagan take the fall for Aziz and Islam? If Aziz and Islam were in fact innocent, why would Hagan not identify the actual culprits?

Of course, there are other equally compelling queries, but that will do for our purposes. There has long been an undercurrent of rumor and innuendo implicating NOI, in general, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, in particular, in Malcolm’s murder. Malcolm had deeply revered Elijah Muhammad, due to the role of his teachings in motivating Malcolm to turn his life around. Yet, when Malcolm learned that the Prophet, as Muhammad was known, had father 8 children by six different teenage girls, he began to distance himself from the NOI’s leader. There are those who also theorize a step further that the current NOI Leader, the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, may have been involved directly or indirectly,

I am not a detective; nor am I writing this post to solve a cold case. In taking just a cursory look at the matter, however, one could certainly see how individuals close to the situation might have been encouraged, incentivized, induced, threatened, or otherwise persuaded to recall specific details differently, or not at all. This matter has garnered some of the same kind of mystique as that of President John F. Kennedy and Dealey Plaza (the grassy knoll legend), and as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Lorraine Motel. One marked distinction in those two cases is that conspiracy theorists have been trying to establish for over 40 years that Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray did not act alone; while we know Talmadge X Hayer (Thomas Hagan) did not. We are just uncertain who acted as his accomplices.

As with Kennedy and King, other theories emerged. To be considered an icon, one must certainly be the source of more than one legend. Obviously Malcolm emerged as a change agent at a time of great social travail, and national strife. As a black leader, he was alleged to have been constantly under the watchful eye of the enigmatic J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Back in the day, the agency was widely believed to have infiltrated all major black organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPPSD), and even the NOI, as well as numerous others. The alleged purposes for these infiltrations were basic, to keep tabs on the plans and activities of the groups and their leaders, but also to sow seeds of confusion, clamor, and chaos. If in the process of so doing, one or more of the leaders happened to get taken out, even better, or so the theory goes.

After Malcolm left the Nation of Islam in March 1964, agents pondered the prospect of a depoliticized more religious Malcolm, but they still perceived him as a threat. On June 5, 1964, J. Edgar Hoover sent a telegram to the FBI’s New York office that simply and plainly instructed, “Do something about Malcolm X enough of this black violence in NY.”

During Malcolm’s era, in New York, the strategic operations of the FBI were frequently complemented by, if not coordinated with the New York City Police. As a result, the actions of the police on the day of Malcolm’s assassination were pointedly unusual. Normally, up to two-dozen police officers were assigned to his rallies. On February 21, 1965, just one week after his home had been fire bombed, none were assigned at the entrance of the Audubon Theater.

In retrospect, we may wonder what that something was, ultimately. We do not know, with certainty. However, what we do know is what subsequently happened to him. Perhaps…the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was simply a foil.

So, on April 27, 2010, Thomas Hagan gained a measure of freedom. By stepping out of prison, and into his future, he begins to reconstruct what is left of his life. He has been out of the game, at least in some part, more than four decades. It is difficult, at least for me, to avoid wondering what might be different had Malcolm been here to spend those decades, working in his own way, to retool America, and to reshape “We the People,” who live here. Because of his central role in Malcolm’s absence, “Thomas Hagan, AKA Talmadge X Hayer, is Someone You Should Know!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com / http://thesphinxofcharlotte.blogspot.com. A new post is published each Wednesday. For more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post, consult the links below:




















Ode to the Dean of Carolina Hoops

It’s time to Break It Down!

In the world of college hoops, a hand full of names, by their mere mention hearkens a groundswell of mental pictures and vivid recollections for the casual fan and the game’s connoisseur alike. Dean Edward Smith is one among that small elite cohort. There are others to be sure. Coach Wooden, Coach Rupp, Coach Krzyzewski, and increasingly, Coach Calipari are on a short list. But this post is about Coach Smith, the man who conceived and executed what came to be known as The Carolina Way.

This past Saturday night, former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith died after a lengthy illness. He was 83 years old. Coach Smith had been beset by neurological complications resulting from knee replacement surgery in 2007. As a result, eventually Coach Smith, who always preferred to maintain a low profile, became increasingly unavailable to media, and nearly invisible to the public. He did not travel to the 2009 Final Four in Detroit, where the Tar Heels won their 5th National Title in basketball.

In the summer of 2010 Smith’s family released a statement that described their patriarch as having a progressive memory disorder. Earlier in the same year, during a February observance of the 100th-anniversary season of Tar Heel Basketball, more than 70 of Coach Smith’s former players gathered at the basketball arena that bears his name. They came to pay tribute, to say thanks, and on some level to say good-bye. They assembled to honor the man who coached them through their college careers, and who followed their growth and development thereafter, whether it be as an NBA player, or as a physician, or as a school teacher, or in whatever capacity in which they may have landed in their post collegiate careers.

In the game of basketball, Dean Smith was a savant. In the game of life, he was a life coach and mentor that many of his players consulted in making decisions big and small. It was a role he relished. He understood that the acclaim that came his way accrued as a result of the success of his hoops pupils on the court and in the classroom, as well as in the lives they lived once they left Chapel Hill. It is especially important to include the classroom accomplishments as an integral part of Coach Smith’s tutelage.

His legacy, of course, covers an array of athletic superlatives, including having coached All-Americans such as Phil Ford, James Worthy, and Michael Jordan, having won 879 games (the most in college basketball history at the time of his retirement at age 66, after 36 years), having won two National Titles, having never finished lower than 3rd in the ACC, the sport’s benchmark conference during his last 33 years, having coached in 23 consecutive NCAA Tournaments (197597), and having his teams advance to 13 straight Regional Semifinals, otherwise known as the Sweet 16 (1981-93). More important, he did this without a hint of NCAA impropriety, and with a sterling academic record by his teams.

In fact, while he won 77% of the games he coached, 96% of his lettermen earned their degree. Those closest to him insist he was far more upset about the 4% of student athletes who didn’t graduate, than the 23% of games he lost. As a basketball guru, he introduced a number of coaching innovations, including player huddles at the free-throw line, scorers pointing to the passer to acknowledge the assist, and the vaunted Four Corners, which was a key factor leading to the introduction of the shot clock and 3-point shot in the college game.

But Coach Smith understood that life was about more than basketball. He was instrumental in integrating the town of Chapel Hill, and recruited the first African American scholarship athlete, Charles Scott, to play basketball at the University of North Carolina. Scott’s arrival at North Carolina changed the calculus of ACC Basketball. It would never again be the same, and that was a good thing. Charles became the first of an influx of talented African Americans to play ACC Basketball. He was not the first black player in the conference; he was however, the first black star.

Coach Smith was known to be not only a Democrat, but as a staunch Liberal. More notably, he distinguished himself as a man committed to doing the right thing for the right reason.

A lot of basketball greats lauded Coach Smith this week. Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and a host of others have weighed in. Each of them spoke about Coach Smith’s many attributes. Volumes have been written about the man, his talents and his accomplishments. Let’s be clear, Coach Smith was a man, not an angel, and certainly not the second coming. But let’s be equally clear, he was a great coach…and a better man. ESPN Classic will air more than 24 hours of programming to honor the legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith starting on this evening at 7 p.m. ET. I urge you to find some time today or tomorrow to check it out. You are almost certain to learn something you did not know about Coach Smith.

Thus, I conclude my “Ode to the Dean of Carolina Hoops!” I’m done; holla back!


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House Republicans Vote to Repeal the Affordable Care Act: A Prime Example of Public Officials Taking Action Not in the Best Interest of the Citizenry

It’s time to Break It Down!

The United States House of Representatives has voted dozens of times (at least 54) to overturn some or all of the health care initiative known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or more familiarly, Obamacare. In past instances, the action was moot, virtually from the start, since Democrats controlled the Senate, and the measure stood absolutely no chance of passing in that Chamber. In fact, it would likely never even be put to a vote while the Senate was under the leadership of Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

However, those dynamics changed, effective last November when Republicans gained control of the Senate due to the outcome of the 2014 General Election. Now, there is every reason to believe the Senate will not only entertain the bill, but will probably attempt to join the House in passing it.

To be sure wherever politics are involved, there will be parsing. Technically, it is true, the GOP has voted to repeal Obamacare…in its entirety, only six times. One could argue that the first five were enough, but oh well, nothing beats a failure but a try, or six tries, or in the case of elements of Obamacare 56 tries.  I guess the 56th time is the charm.

Yes, depending upon your perspective, perhaps you prefer to ignore the assaults on the program that were intended only to undo portions of the program, or forget about those efforts that would have delayed portions of the healthcare law. Of course if you did that, you would be choosing to ignore the point that each and every measure, whether proportional or nuclear, was intended, in the end, to erase eradicate, and destroy the President’s health care law. In that spirit, 56 times sounds about right.

So yesterday, by a vote of 239-186, the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, in its entirety. Thus, the GOP fired the first salvo at Obamacare, under the aegis of the newly constructed 114th Congress. Some suggest yesterday’s vote was a mere meaningless gesture, an act to welcome the newbies to the party.

One writer, the Atlantic’s Russell Berman framed it thusly:

They’re doing it for the freshmen — that is, the 47 House Republicans who just took office a month ago and have never had the high honor and privilege of voting to repeal Obamacare. By holding the vote, these lawmakers can head back to their districts and tell their constituents that yes; they did everything they could to get rid of the reviled law.

Added one GOP aide: “We’re just getting it out of the way.”

The larger reality is it is clear this is just the beginning of a new series of assaults on the program, launched by the Republican-controlled Congress. While the Senate is likely to consider the bill soon, in all probability, it will be filibustered there. However, in the unlikely event that lawmakers in the Senate broker a bill to totally repeal Obamacare that clears the Senate, an all but certain veto waits when it reaches the President’s desk.

And then, there is the Supreme Court, which will in the next six months consider elements of the law when it weighs in on the King v. Burwell case, in which some subsidies offered by the ACA are being challenged. If the High Court upholds the verdict reached in a lower court, it would severely undermine Obamacare, and strengthen the GOP’s efforts to squash the law. To that end, there is increasing pressure on the GOP to move into a proactive phase, and actually devise a substitute for the current law. In fact, yesterday’s measure directed a House Committee to begin work on an alternative to the ACA.

For their part, Democrats are skeptical the GOP can or will actually be able to craft compromise legislation that surgically excises the parts of the legislation they don’t like, while in effect holding harmless the elements they find acceptable.

Representative Jim Himes (Democrat – Connecticut) put it this way:

“Make no mistake, the replacement plan is a total red herring. They would have you believe that you can get rid of all the stuff that makes you uncomfortable — the mandate, the subsidies — but keep all the good stuff. And that’s just fairytale. … It’s just dishonesty. They’ve had years and years and years to come up with a replacement plan and haven’t done so, so this is a little too cute for school.”

Yesterday’s vote was significant in that three Republicans resisted the powerful allure of Party Leadership and voted against the effort to fully repeal Obamacare. This is the first time any Republican in Congress ever voted against total repeal.

John Katko, New York, Bruce Poliquin, Maine, and Robert Dold, Illinois, all who hold seats held in the previous term by Democrats, and likely to be contested in 2016, voted against the measure. Democrats cited votes by Dold, who served in the House in the 2011-2013 term, to repeal the law, as well as statements by freshman Poliquin, vowing to do the same.

According to Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

“Congressmen Dold and Poliquin appear to be hoping voters will forget their original pandering on health care. As we get closer to Election Day, we will see more and more of these chameleon votes.”

No Democrat crossed party lines to support yesterday’s bill.

If you are a student of history, or politics, or perhaps a movie buff, it’s time to stock up on popcorn and your beverage of choice. The action is just getting started, and it looks as though it may come fast and furious.

The hyperbole associated with the ACA has been pervasive. Despite it, there is clear evidence that tens of millions more people are insured, children get to spend more time on their parents policies, pre-existing conditions do not result in disqualifying individuals for coverage, and the rate/pace at which the cost of health insurance premiums increase has slowed. When these pints are taken into consideration, we are left with…House Republicans Vote to Repeal the Affordable Care Act: A Prime Example of Public Officials Taking Action Not in the Best Interests of the Citizenry!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com. Find a new post each Wednesday.

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