Tuesday, June 30, 2009
By MITCH STACY, Associated Press
Jun 29, 2009
TAMPA, Fla. – Television viewers knew him as the OxiClean guy: the bearded, boisterous pitchman on commercials airing hundreds of times a week nationwide. "Hi. Billy Mays here," he would begin, before showing off his latest cleaning product or gadget.
Family, friends and colleagues mourned Mays, 50, who was found unresponsive in his Tampa home Sunday, and awaited an autopsy to determine the cause of his sudden death. The coroner's office expected to have the autopsy done by Monday afternoon.
Police said Mays told his wife he didn't feel well when he went to bed Saturday night. Earlier in the day, he said he was hit on the head when his airliner had a rough landing at Tampa Bay's airport.
But the airline said no passengers reported any serious injuries, and Mays himself cheerfully recounted the landing for a local TV station. His wife, Deborah, found him unresponsive Sunday morning.
Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said linking Mays' death to the landing would "purely be speculation." She said Mays' family members didn't report any health issues with the pitchman, but said he was due to have hip replacement surgery in coming weeks.
"Although Billy lived a public life, we don't anticipate making any public statements over the next couple of days," Deborah Mays said in a statement. "Our family asks that you respect our privacy during these difficult times."
Billy Mays' face was easily recognizable, pitching OxiClean, that he said got out even the toughest of stains, and Orange Glo, which he said shined up any wood around your home. "I love beautiful wood," he tells customers.
There were no signs of a break-in at the home, and investigators do not suspect foul play, said Lt. Brian Dugan of the Tampa Police Department, who wouldn't answer questions about how Mays' body was found because of the ongoing investigation.
U.S. Airways confirmed that Mays was among the passengers on a flight that made a rough landing on Saturday afternoon at Tampa International Airport, leaving debris on the runway after apparently blowing its front tires.
Tampa Bay's Fox television affiliate, WTVT-TV, interviewed Mays afterward.
"All of a sudden as we hit you know it was just the hardest hit, all the things from the ceiling started dropping," MyFox Tampa Bay quoted him as saying. "It hit me on the head, but I got a hard head."
Laura Brown, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said she did not know if Mays was wearing his seat belt on the flight because the FAA was not investigating his death.
U.S. Airways spokesman Jim Olson said there were no reports of serious injury due to the landing. "If local authorities have any questions for us about yesterday's flight, we'll cooperate fully with them," he said.
Born William Mays in McKees Rocks, Pa., on July 20, 1958, Mays developed his style demonstrating knives, mops and other "As Seen on TV" gadgets on Atlantic City's boardwalk. For years he worked as a hired gun on the state fair and home show circuits, attracting crowds with his booming voice and genial manner.
AJ Khubani, founder and CEO of "As Seen on TV," said he first met Mays in the early 1990s when Mays was still pitching one of his early products, the Shammy absorbent cloth, at a trade fair. He said he most recently worked with Mays on the reality TV show "Pitchmen" on the Discovery Channel, which follows Mays and Anthony Sullivan in their marketing jobs.
"His innovative role and impact on the growth and wide acceptance of direct response television cannot be overestimated or easily replaced; he was truly one of a kind," Khubani said in a statement.
After meeting Orange Glo International founder Max Appel at a home show in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s, Mays was recruited to demonstrate the environmentally friendly line of cleaning products on the St. Petersburg-based Home Shopping Network.
Commercials and informercials followed, anchored by the high-energy Mays using them while tossing out kitschy phrases like, "Long live your laundry!"
Sarah Ellerstein worked closely with Mays when she was a buyer for the Home Shopping Network in the 1990s and he was pitching Orange Glo products.
"Billy was such a sweet guy, very lovable, very nice, always smiling, just a great, great guy," she said, adding that Mays met his future wife at the network. "Everybody thinks because he's loud and boisterous on the air that that's the way he is, but I always found him to be a quiet, down-to-earth person."
His ubiquitousness and thumbs-up, in-your-face pitches won Mays plenty of fans for his commercials on a wide variety of products. People lined up at his personal appearances for autographed color glossies, and strangers stopped him in airports to chat about the products.
"I enjoy what I do," Mays told The Associated Press in a 2002 interview. "I think it shows."
Mays liked to tell the story of giving bottles of OxiClean to the 300 guests at his wedding, and doing his ad spiel ("powered by the air we breathe!") on the dance floor at the reception. Visitors to his house typically got bottles of cleaner and housekeeping tips.
His former wife, Dolores "Dee Dee" Mays, of McKees Rocks, recalled that the first product he sold was the Wash-matik, a device for pumping water from a bucket to wash cars.
"I knew him since he was 15, and I always knew he had it in him," she said of Mays' success. "He'll live on forever because he always had the biggest heart in the world. He loved his friends and family and would do anything for them. He was a generous soul and a great father."
Besides his wife, Mays is survived by a 3-year-old daughter and a stepson in his 20s, police said.
Associated Press Writer Sarah Larimer in Miami and Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2009 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.
|Marcus Jones (left), father of Jena 6 defendant Mychal Bell, Rev. Al Sharpton and Melissa Bell, Mychal Bell’s mother. (AP Photo)|
The five, standing quietly surrounded by their lawyers, were sentenced to seven days unsupervised probation and fined $500. It was a far less severe end to their cases than seemed possible when the six students were initially charged with attempted murder in the 2006 attack on Justin Barker, a white classmate. They became known as the "Jena Six," after the central Louisiana town where the beating happened.
As part of the deal, one of the attorneys read a statement from the five defendants - all of whom are black - in which they said they knew of nothing Barker had done to provoke the attack.
"To be clear, not one of us heard Justin use any slur or say anything that justified Mychal Bell attacking Justin nor did any of us see Justin do anything that would cause Mychal to react," the statement said.
The statement also expressed sympathy for Barker and his family, and acknowledged the past 2½ years had "caused Justin and his parents tremendous pain and suffering, much of which has gone unrecognized."
None of the defendants spoke to reporters.
By pleading no contest, the five do not admit guilt but acknowledge prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction.
Charges against Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw had previously been reduced from attempted murder to aggravated second-degree battery. All but Shaw were assessed $500 in court costs. The judge did not tack that punishment on to Shaw's case because he stayed in jail for almost seven months, unable to raise bail, following his initial arrest.
Each paid the fine and court costs immediately. The payment of restitution to Barker was also part of the deal, but the amount was not released.
The only member of the group to serve jail time was Bell, who pleaded guilty in December 2007 to second-degree battery and was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
The severity of the original charges brought widespread criticism and eventually led more than 20,000 people to converge in September 2007 on the tiny central Louisiana town of Jena for a major civil rights march.
Racial tensions at Jena High School reportedly grew in the months before the attack. Several months before attack, nooses were hung in a tree on the campus, sparking outrage in the black community. Residents said there were fights, but nothing too serious until December 2006 when Barker was attacked.
Friday's criminal proceedings were followed by a brief civil hearing to settle the lawsuit by Barker against the group.
© MMIX, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
From James Rucker co-founder of the e-grassroots activist group,The Color of Change:
Friday, nearly two years after more than 320,000 of you stood up to protect them from Jim Crow justice, the Jena 6--Jesse Ray Beard, Carwin Jones, Robert Bailey, Theo Shaw, Bryant Purvis and Mychal Bell--are all now free to move ahead with their lives. We should all be proud.
The five remaining Jena 6 cases were brought to conclusion on Friday1 when Jesse Ray, Carwin, Robert, Theo, and Bryant pleaded "no contest" to misdemeanor simple battery charges.2 They will spend no time in jail, serve seven days of probation, and pay relatively minor fines and court fees.
It's an incredible outcome given that the young men were originally charged with attempted murder in small-town Louisiana and had neither the funds nor the connections to get high-quality representation or attention for their cases.
Luckily for the Jena 6, hundreds of thousands of you got involved, and the power of your participation changed the game. An amazing team of lawyers worked tirelessly to achieve Friday's outcome. Our staff helped recruit them, and your financial contributions--over $275,000--provided the bulk of the funds for their work. Jim Boren, the coordinating attorney, said this about ColorOfChange members' contribution: "None of this would have happened without you."
But it wasn't just lawyers and money. Over 300,000 of you wrote to Governor Blanco and District Attorney Reed Walters. On September 20th, 2007, more than 10,000 of you went to Jena. Members who couldn't make it to Jena held more than 150 rallies and vigils across the country, and made more than 6,000 phone calls to elected officials in Louisiana. And a few weeks later, ColorOfChange members sent almost 4,000 complaints demanding an inquiry into the DA's actions.
Your actions offline and online helped put Jena on the map and resulted in critical coverage in every mainstream news outlet. You started a movement that made it impossible for Louisiana officials to support the status quo.
Today we offer congratulations to these young men and their families, and we say thank you to the entire ColorOfChange.org community. We're also so thankful to the attorneys who took these cases but chose to stay out of the limelight. They and several others3 are the unsung heroes of this story.
As the young men of the Jena 6 close this chapter of their lives, we wanted to give you an opportunity to wish them well. Click the link below to leave a personal statement for the young men of the Jena 6, or to listen to the voicemail from Jim Boren thanking the ColorOfChange community for our work:
While this is a great moment, it's important to remember that if it were not for the extreme nature of this case, most of us wouldn't have known about it or gotten involved. The reality is that there are countless Jena 6's: young people--often Black and male--who are overcharged or unduly criminalized, and whose plight is unknown to most of the outside world.
Even in the case of the Jena 6, we need to take stock of what did not happen. While Judge JP Mauffray was taken off the case due to the appearance of bias (a pivotal moment for the cases), District Attorney Reed Walters--the person largely responsible for the problems in the first place--still has his job.
It's the reason our work cannot just be about identifying and fighting for individuals railroaded by the system, but about creating systemic change in criminal justice in America. We are truly grateful to have the chance to do this work with you, and we're hoping for your continued engagement and support.
Thanks and Peace,
-- James, Gabriel, William, Dani and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
June 28, 2009
1. "Plea Bargain Wraps Up 'Jena 6' Case," 9-26-09
2. The sixth teenager charged, Mychal Bell, pleaded guilty to battery in juvenile court on December 3rd, 2007.
3. Thanks are due to Alan Bean, Tory Pegram, and King Downing, who dedicated months to working with the families and getting the story out, and to our friends at the Southern Poverty Law Center who played a central role in putting together and supporting the legal teams. Without any one of them, our work would have been hampered, or in some cases not possible at all.
We Decide 2008!!!
April 27, 2008*Listen To The Latest Marcus Jones Interview (The Interview Is The First Hour Of Show) In Its Entirety By Clicking On The Following Link:
To listen to the entire Attorney Louis Scott and Marcus Jones interviews as well as others on this case please visit the following link on-line:
Marcus Jones Sounds Off About Mychal Bell's Plea Bargain~
Father from Jena 6 Family Disagrees with Lawyer
11-25-2007~W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Exclusive~James Rucker Defends Color Of Change In Jena 6 Gate:
Artivist MCs Historic Jena 6 Forum @ Washington University In St. Louis...
Sunday, June 28, 2009
From The Honorable Sis. Cynthia McKinney: Free Gaza Speaks About The Delayed Departure Of The Hope Fleet.
Subject: Public Advisory - We did not leave Cyprus today
(25 June 2009, LARNACA) - This is not the statement we in the Free Gaza Movement intended to release today. We had hoped to announce that our two ships, the Free Gaza and the Spirit of Humanity, departed from Larnaca Port on a 30-hour voyage to besieged Gaza, carrying human rights activists who have travelled to Cyprus from all across the world for this journey, 3 tons of medical supplies, and 15 tons of badly needed concrete and reconstruction supplies.
Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire, returning for her second trip to Gaza aboard one of our ships, said “[The people of Gaza] must know that we have not and will not forget them.”
That was our hope, but that is not what happened.
Instead, our ships were not given permission to leave today due to concerns about our welfare and safety. Our friends in Cyprus tell us that the voyage to Gaza is too dangerous, and they are worried we will be harmed at sea.
Cyprus has been a wonderful home for the Free Gaza Movement over these last 10 months. Cypriots know first hand the terrible consequences of occupation. They too know what it is to suffer from violence, injustice, and exile. Since our first voyage to break through the siege of Gaza, the Cypriot authorities have been extremely helpful and understanding of our goals and intentions.
The journey to Gaza is dangerous. The Israeli navy rammed our flagship, the Dignity, when we attempted to deliver medical supplies to Gaza during their vicious assault in December/January. Israel has previously threatened to open fire on our unarmed ships, rather than allow us to deliver humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to the people of Gaza.
The risks we take on these trips are tiny compared to the risks imposed every day upon the people of Gaza.
The purpose of nonviolent direct action and civil resistance is to take risks - to put ourselves “in the way” of injustice. We take these risks well aware of what the possible consequences may be. We do so because the consequences of doing nothing are so much worse. Anytime we allow ourselves to be bullied, every time we pass by an evil and ignore it - we lower our standards and allow our world to be made that much harsher and unjust for us all.
In addition to the concerns expressed by our Cypriot friends today, the American consulate in Nicosia warned us not to go to Gaza, stating that:
“…[T]he Israeli Foreign Ministry informed U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv that Israel still considers Gaza an area of conflict and that any Free Gaza boats attempting to sail to the Gaza Strip will “not be permitted” to reach its destination.”
Former U.S. Congresswoman & presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney responded to this warning by pointing out that, “The White House says that cement and medical supplies should get into Gaza and that's exactly what we are attempting to take to Gaza.”
“Instead of quoting Israel policy to us,” McKinney continued, “…the U.S. should send a message to Israel reiterating the reported White House position that the blockade of Gaza should be eased, that medical supplies and building materials, including cement, should be allowed in. The Free Gaza boats should be allowed to reach their destination, traveling from Cyprus territorial waters, through international waters, and straight into Gaza territorial waters.”
“The State Department has chosen to advise us to take the Israeli notification seriously. Our question is, ‘Can we take President Obama seriously?’ Will he stand by his own words and allow us to provide relief for Gaza or will he back down?”
Tomorrow we will deliver a waiver, signed by all going to Gaza, that we absolve Cyprus of all responsibility for our safety. We would like to tell our friends here in Cyprus that though we understand and appreciate their concerns, we will not back down to Israel’s threats and intimidation.
The Honorable Sis. Cynthia McKinney Tribute Show!!!
From The Honorable Sis. Cynthia McKinney: I Sent A Message To The President About My Trip To Gaza . . .
If I can't get a response from the White House, the Israelis certainly are paying attention to our trip. Both the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz have published stories of our visit:
1. Ha'aretz article
|Activists plan to send Gaza cement, in violation of Israel blockade|
|By Reuters and Haaretz Service|
|Tags: Gaza, Hamas, Israel News|
Activists campaigning for an end to Gaza's blockade by Israel will sail to the Hamas-run enclave from Cyprus despite the presence of the Israeli navy, they said on Thursday.
Two boats, including one carrying cement and building supplies -- materials not permitted in by Israel over fears that they could be used for military purposes -- will sail from Cyprus on June 25, the multi-national Free Gaza Movement said.
"We are taking 15 tons of cement, which is just a token of how much the Palestinians need, because the Israelis won't allow building supplies into Gaza," said Greta Berlin, a representative of the group.
The group started regular shuttles to Gaza from Cyprus in August 2008, but was turned back by the Israeli navy on its last journey in mid-January of this year.
Israel tightened a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after the Islamist Hamas took control of the enclave, a strip of land that is home to 1.5 million people.
Israeli forces bombed and then invaded Gaza in late December 2008 in a bid to rout out militants lobbing rockets into Israel, badly battering its already decrepit infrastructure.
2. Jerusalem Post article
Activists plan to defy Gaza blockade againBy ASSOCIATED PRESS
International activists, including a former US congresswoman and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, plan to defy Israel's blockade on Gaza next week by traveling to the Palestinian territory by boat to deliver humanitarian supplies.
The Free Gaza Group already has made five successful boat trips to Gaza since August 2008, but its activists were stopped twice by Israeli warships during December's Operation Cast Lead.
Free Gaza Group spokeswoman Greta Berlin said Thursday that 36 people would make the June 25 trip from Cyprus to Gaza on a fishing boat and a small ferry loaded with building supplies such as cement.
Berlin said the activists from 16 countries would include former Democratic US Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Guest speaker hurt in assault
An “inspirational” speaker for 15 years at the Missouri Scholars Academy was attacked this week after visiting the Columbia camp.
Hedy Epstein: Holocaust survivor
Hedy Epstein, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, was walking to her home from a Metrolink station in St. Louis on Wednesday when someone pushed her hard from behind. She fell to the ground and lay in a state of shock, bleeding profusely from her chin.
The attack occurred so quickly, Epstein said, that she thought she saw a man running but can’t remember what he looked like. She forced herself to get home and called a friend when the bleeding would not stop. At the hospital, doctors determined an artery had been nicked.
The attack might not have been random.
Epstein is part of a movement opposed to Israel’s treatment of Gaza and has received threatening messages.
After she gave a television interview earlier this year, someone left a phone message telling Epstein she should be ashamed of herself. In the message, the caller threatened to visit St. Louis and “give you a piece of my mind and spit on your ugly face. … We will find a way to deal with protesters of your type.”
Epstein has since given the transcribed message to police.
On Thursday, Epstein said she received an e-mail from someone asking whether she is trying to help free the Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinians more than two years ago. “Is there a connection” between the attack and e-mail? she asked. “It’s not obvious, but there might be.”
Her injuries have forced Epstein to cancel a planned trip to Gaza this month, but she’s planning another trip there in August. She said she won’t let the threats or her attack stop her.
After all, Epstein has experienced worse.
She was 8 when Adolf Hitler came to power while she and her family were living in Germany. Five years later, Epstein was taken to England with 500 other Jewish children.
From a foster home, she continued to correspond with her parents until 1942, when she received back-to-back letters from them. Though written separately, both her father and mother told her they were going to an “undisclosed location” and that it would be a long time before she would hear from them again.
Years later, Epstein found out what they meant: Both had been sent to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. “I didn’t know that at the time,” she said. “So when my parents said it may be a long time, I wanted to know how long. I wanted so much to be reunited.”
Hearing that story during the Missouri Scholars Academy this week hit home for Grace Sparapani, a scholar from Nixa. “I can’t imagine not seeing your parents again,” she said. “It really made me appreciate mine more.”
Epstein is “absolutely amazing,” Grace added. “I can’t even imagine how much courage it takes to talk about that … What she’s doing is really brave.”
The scholars made a “Get Well” card to send to Epstein, said Chris Young, a spokesman for the camp. “Hedy’s a very inspiring individual,” he said. “The scholars wanted to do something to show her that they care for her.”
The attack might have caused her body to bruise, but it did little to injure her spirit. She said she’s as determined as ever to continue opposition efforts against the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.
“I know what it means to be discriminated against and to suffer,” she said. “I care profoundly about issues of justice and fairness and peace. And I care about people — not just Jewish people. I care about everybody.”
Reach Janese Heavin at 573-815-1705 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. New content is posted on our ning site (www.dignity.ning.com) and on our DIGNITY Channel on Livestream.com (www.livestream.com/dignity). Please check out the new videos, text, and photos!! Also, I think we have some bugs to work out on our Livestream channel. Please be sure to report your findings to us so we can work through any bugs that might be in our posting or your reception.
5. Keep up with me as I cross the Meditterranean to Gaza. The boats will send out a signal and our location will be shown on FreeGaza.org. Tune in to follow our progress from Cyprus through international waters to the territorial waters of Gaza.
The Honorable Sis. Cynthia McKinney Tribute Show!!!
The Honorable Cynthia McKinney
Green Party of the United States
Well, I've finally arrived at the hotel in Doha after a brief layover in Abu Dhabi. Tomorrow, we do a full day of press, starting with Al Jazeera. In an abundance of caution, I have alerted the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Justice of my travels, in addition to note I sent to the White House. Additionally, today I've read that more than 40 NGOs called for free movement of humanitarian goods into Gaza. This is good.
I began this journey on Juneteenth, the day in June on which slaves learned that they had been freed in January! Interesting, on that day I also sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an investigation into the denial of Mumia Abu-Jamal's civil rights, and I learned, sadly, that United Nations troops of occupation opened fire on Haitians as they mourned the passing of their hero and Aristide ally, Father Jean-Juste.
Thanks to all of you for your interest and support of DIGNITY and here's the letter I sent to Attorney General Holder for Mumia:
Mr. Eric Holder
United States Attorney General
US Department of Justice
June 19, 2009
Attorney General Holder:
I am writing to ask for your personal and immediate intervention to put an end to a grave injustice. Anyone who has read the reports, as I have, including briefs and opinions of the Courts, knows that Mumia Abu-Jamal was tried and convicted amid sensationalism and hysteria that, at its core, constituted a racial frenzy. Indicting words from the Judge, himself, point to racism and prejudice even inside the Courtroom. The “Batson Issue” should be of real concern to everyone interested in justice. Sadly, Mumia was convicted amid the very racial cowardice of which you, yourself, have spoken.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is known for, among other things, having said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Ignoring any instance of racism inside the courtroom leads to injustice that threatens us all.
There is no statute of limitations on the U.S. Constitution and I therefore request that you do all within your power to review the totality of the circumstances as they are now known in 2009 in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and ensure that his Constitutional rights (in the form of racially-tinged prosecutorial and judicial misconduct) were and are not abridged. The imperative for a civil rights investigation is clear and I specifically request that of your office.
I am prepared to meet with you or anyone you designate for the purpose of engaging in a dialogue on this matter. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Please accept this request within all applicable rules and regulations.
The Honorable Sis. Cynthia McKinney Tribute Show!!!
Mairead Corrigan Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner and I will join 34 others taking medical, school, and building supplies to Gaza. I'd like to thank Nadira Kaili and Erin Connors of Atlantic Television News for donating dollars to help in my purchase of school supplies for Gaza's children. And I want to thank Jay Winter Nightwolf for the turquoise good luck ring that he gave me for this journey.
On Tuesday, June 16, President Carter visited Gaza and said that he was almost brought to tears by what he saw. He said that he felt partly responsible because the American International School, one of many destroyed by the Israelis, had been "deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16s made in my country." Not only that, he added that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being treated "more like animals than human beings."
Last time I went--or rather, tried to get to Gaza--my father told me to buy a notebook and write everything down. This time I've got a video camera!!! Now I've got to learn how to use it!! As often as I can, I will get the video uploaded to our tv channel.
Yes, we have been trying to do a lot with very little to get our DIGNITY presence online up and running before letting you know about it. Well, I think the time has come to at least let you in on what we're trying to accomplish (and to volunteer your help where you can!!).
Thanks to Anita Stewart, Don Debar, DJ Radio Conscious, Lindsey Tackett, and of course, the rest of the DIGNITY crew, I am proud to announce that we have a tv channel (www.livestream.com/dignity), a ning page (http://dignity.ning.com/), facebook (www.facebook.com/CynthiaMcKinney) and myspace (www.myspace.com/dignityaction) pages, and yes, we tweet (www.twitter.com/dignityaction)!!!
I have notified the White House that I am on my way to Gaza. I'm reading that the White House also wants Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and specifically mentioned consstruction materials, food, and medicine. That might be just what is needed to allow us to get through this time, because in addition to the medical and school supplies, we are also taking cement and building supplies.
Finally, the President wants to take $600 billion from health care programs that are working--Medicare and Medicaid. Rahm Emanuel's brother is a health policy advisor. $12.8 trillion have been transferred to the financial classes already even though the entire US GDP for 2008 was only $14.2 trillion. You and I are squeezed while the war machine and the robber barons (as Cindy Sheehan calls them) get our green. Please tune in to our efforts and let's work together!
Thank you so much for all the words of encouragement you have sent to me in these past few days. I'm trying to respond to everyone. Even though it might seem impossible at times, I still believe we can change our country and our world. Thank you for helping me and for supporting me as we all join together and try. We can effectively resist--with DIGNITY.
Here's the note I sent to President Obama today:
"I understand that you sent a message to Israel about its blockade of Gaza. Thank you. It is reported that you specifically mentioned food, medical supplies, cement and building supplies in your note. This note is to inform you that I embark today on a trip to Gaza and we will have for the people of Gaza, exactly the materials that you mentioned, and school supplies for the children. Thank you for the note to Israel and I hope that also means that you will not sign any appropriation bill that has weapons for Israel. President Carter noted that seven schools were completely demolished with F-16s from this country. We all are responsible and I know you know that. But all of us are not in a position to stop the carnage. You are. Please, not one more dime not one more weapon for Israel's war machine."
The Honorable Sis. Cynthia McKinney Tribute Show!!!
1979: "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
1980: "Rock with You"
1983: "Billie Jean"
1983: "Beat It"
1983: "Say Say Say"
1987: "I Just Can't Stop Loving You (with Siedah Garrett)"
1987: "The Way You Make Me Feel"
1988: "Man in the Mirror"
1988: "Dirty Diana"
1991: "Black or White"
1995: "You Are Not Alone"
Thursday, June 25, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the little boy who refused to grow up. But now he is gone.
Michael Jackson, whose quintessentially American tale of celebrity and excess took him from musical boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits and failed plastic surgery, died Thursday afternoon at UCLA Medical Center after arriving in a coma, according to a city official. He was 50.
Jackson was pronounced dead at 3:07 p.m. CDT. He had been rushed to the hospital, a six-minute drive from the rented mansion in which he was living, shortly after noon. A hospital spokesman would not confirm reports of cardiac arrest.
At Jackson's peak, he was the biggest star in the world and has sold more than 750 million albums.
From his days as the youngest brother in the Jackson Five to his solo career in the 1980s and early 1990s, Jackson was responsible for a string of hits like "I Want You Back," "I'll Be There" "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" "Billie Jean" and "Black and White" that exploited his high voice, infectious energy and ear for irresistible hooks.
As a solo performer, Jackson ushered in the age of pop as a global product -- not to mention an age of spectacle and pop culture celebrity. His early career with his brothers gave way to a solo act in which he became more character than singer: his sequined glove, his whitened face, his Moonwalk dance move became embedded in the cultural firmament.
But after his entertainment career hit high-water marks, it started a bizarre disintegration. His darkest moment came in 2003, when he was indicted on child molesting charges. A young cancer patient claimed the singer had befriended him and then sexually fondled him at his Neverland estate near Santa Barbara, Calif., but Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
Jackson is survived by three children: Michael Joseph Jackson, Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince "Blanket" Michael Jackson II.
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958. The second youngest of six brothers, he began performing professionally with four of them at the age of 5 in a group that their father, Joe, had organized the previous year. In 1968, the group was signed by Motown Records.
The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon and Michael was the center of attention: He handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age.
In 1971, Jackson began recording under his own name, while also continuing to perform and record with his brothers. His recording of "Ben," the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No.1 hit in 1972.
The brothers left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. Jackson's first solo album for Epic, "Off the Wall," released in 1979, yielded four No.1 singles and sold 7 million copies.
"Thriller," released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for the album's title track, directed by John Landis, was a horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip and helped make MTV a household name.
Even with the millions Jackson earned, his eccentric lifestyle took a severe financial toll. In 1987, Jackson paid about $17 million for a 2,600-acre ranch in Los Olivos, 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Calling it Neverland after the mythical island of Peter Pan, he outfitted the property with amusement-park rides, a zoo and a 50-seat theater, at a cost of $35 million, according to reports.
A forensic accountant who testified at Jackson's molestation trial in 2005 said Jackson's annual budget in 1999 included $7.5 million for personal expenses and $5 million to maintain Neverland.
The child molestation trial attracted media from around the world to watch as Jackson, wearing a different costume each day, appeared in a small courtroom in Santa Maria, Calif., to listen as a parade of witnesses spun a sometimes-incredible tale.
After weeks of testimony, the jury returned not guilty verdicts on all 14 counts against Jackson.
The No. 1 singles
Jackson's 13 No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts put him behind only Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Mariah Carey:
1979: "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
1980: "Rock with You"
1983: "Billie Jean"
1983: "Beat It"
1983: "Say Say Say"
1987: "I Just Can't Stop Loving You (with Siedah Garrett)"
1987: "The Way You Make Me Feel"
1988: "Man in the Mirror"
1988: "Dirty Diana"
1991: "Black or White"
1995: "You Are Not Alone"
By Bob Mehr
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
TUNICA, Miss. -- Charley Pride remembers the night well.
It was the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix during the mid-'60s. He was a relative unknown in show business then, and an oddity at that: a black country and western singer. In what seemed like a mad proposition, the fair's promoters had asked him to fill in for ailing comedian Jimmy Durante at the last minute.
"So I went out in front of these people and sang my songs, which nobody knew," recalls Pride. "Somewhere in the middle of the set, a fella in the back stood up and said, 'I've never heard of you or any of your albums, but I'm about to go out and buy them all!' "
Recalling the story, Pride, lets out a laugh. "Right then, I figured if I can win these people over, maybe I've got something that folks just like."
An aw-shucks attitude and confident determination, show biz guile and genuine love; that's the essence of Charley Pride.
It's Thursday night in Tunica, and Pride is in a reminiscing mood. He's returned to his old stomping grounds for a Grammy-sponsored celebration of Mississippi music at the Harrah's Horseshoe Casino.
Even now, some 40 years after his ascent, it's remarkable to consider that one of the most successful country stars of all time, and arguably its finest and most singular talent, is an African-American from Sledge, Miss.
With 70 million albums sold, Pride remains the second-biggest artist in the long, storied history of the RCA label, behind only Elvis Presley. And his resume -- Country Music Hall of Famer, member of the Grand Ole Opry, more than 30 No. 1 hits -- places him among the giants of any genre.
Not bad for a failed pitching prospect who once threw for the Memphis Red Sox of the old Negro League.
Pride's journey from the cotton fields of Sledge to the playing fields of Memphis to the studios of Nashville is a truly remarkable tale and one that may be coming to theater screens.
At 71, Pride still moves with athlete's grace -- in fact, he still works out each spring with the Texas Rangers baseball team -- and has a jocular air about him: One minute he's cracking jokes, another he's teasing someone mercilessly, but ultimately winning the room over with his country homilies and mega-watt smile.
Even among a group of Grammy-winning peers, which include legendary blues pianist Pinetop Perkins and Music City star Marty Stuart, Pride is the focus of attention as he works his way through several hours of press interviews and photo ops, capped by an awards ceremony and concert performance.
Early in the evening, the assembled honorees gather for a formal group portrait, and they sit waiting for Gov. Haley Barbour to arrive. A small space is cleared in the front row where a chair is placed for Barbour.
"C'mon now, the governor's gonna need more room," says Pride impishly. "He's a little wider than that."
After the pictures are taken, Pride addresses the media, holding forth on a range of topics, including baseball and music: "See, I didn't have no steroids to help me sing," he offers to one reporter.
Pride then heads to a packed VIP reception, where he spies actor Morgan Freeman among the party-goers.
Thrusting a hand out towards Freeman he says, "I'm Charley Pride, the singer.
Freeman's face lights up. "Well, I'm Morgan Freeman, the actor," he replies.
For the next 10 minutes, the two men -- born only a few months and miles apart -- engage in a spirited conversation about their shared Southern roots, and long, hard paths to success in music and movies.
As it happens, Pride soon may be looking at actors to portray his own life.
"A couple years ago I was trying to make the point that America really needed a movie about Charley Pride," says Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer. "America needs to see an artist's story that isn't like every other rise-to-fame tale where they destroy themselves with ego or self-destruct with drugs or alcohol."
Two years ago, Brewer and his production partners managed to interest Paramount Studios in the idea of making a Pride biopic. But, recently, changes in management and direction at the studio ended its involvement. Now, Brewer is looking for another company to make the film.
For Brewer, the paradoxes of Pride's life story are simply too good to ignore. "Charley rose to prominence parallel to the Civil Rights Movement, when a lot of people viewed country music with being part of the problem and not part of the solution," says Brewer. "But Charley was the true embodiment of what freedom was. Country music was in his heart and he felt he had the right to sing it. And, not only that, but he felt he had the right to love it ... and not be ashamed."
Despite the odds against any movie project getting off the ground, Brewer is confident that Pride's larger-than-life tale and persona will be enough to bring the film to fruition ultimately.
"He's got that intangible quality. You can feel it sitting down in a room with Charley. The way he speaks, you get this combination of Southern vernacular and this particular snap in his sayings, which are almost musical," says Brewer. "At the same time, when you're in his presence there is this masculine power; it's literally in his name: Pride."
At the Grammy VIP party, Barbour presents Pride with an achievement award after a glowing introduction. "I can't disagree with anything the governor just said," jokes Pride. Later, inside the ceremonies at the Bluesville Theater, Pride sings a selection of his own hits and tunes written by fellow Mississippians.
A showman at heart, he flirts with the photographers in front, cracks a few one liners and sings with both a powerful command and an easy grace. By the time he exits the stage, everyone in the audience is standing and applauding thunderously.
Just like he has for the last 40 years, Pride is still winning them over.
-- Bob Mehr: 901-529-2517
© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online
Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal
After serving 18 years as mayor, Willie Herenton announces his resignation Thursday and reaffirms his intention to seek the 9th Congressional District seat held by Steve Cohen.
By Amos Maki
Thursday, June 25, 2009
For the second time, Willie Herenton announced his resignation Thursday as Memphis mayor.
This time, from all indications, Herenton is serious and will leave his City Hall office July 10 -- nearly 18 years after he became the city's first elected black mayor -- to devote his energy to a run for Congress.
Herenton's departure will leave City Council chairman Myron Lowery to serve as mayor until a special election in October, which could lead to yet another major empty chair in politics if Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton is elected.
All of this will unfold as city government wrestles with serious financial challenges, crime problems and major redevelopment projects, and as a grand jury continues a yearlong criminal investigation exploring Herenton's connections between his private business and public duties.
Surrounded by supporters and city workers at a news conference in the Hall of Mayors on Thursday, the 69-year-old Herenton said he was tired of the job and wanted to leave the office on a high note.
"This is getting routine for me," said Herenton. "You don't have the zeal to face it every day, and I'm the kind of guy, I got to climb mountains."
On March 20, 2008, Herenton -- in a shock to supporters -- said he would resign, effective July 31. Later, he tied the move to his return as schools superintendent, which did not occur, and he stayed on.
In addition to his campaign to unseat Rep. Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional District, Herenton said Thursday he would join his son Rodney's financial business.
Herenton will receive a yearly pension of about $75,000.
Lowery said the Shelby County Election Commission would not set a firm date for the special election until he, as council chairman, sends a letter notifying the commission of a vacancy in the office of the mayor and until the council approves a resolution recognizing a vacancy.
Lowery said he will send the letter today, and the council will vote on the resolution July 7. The Election Commission plans to meet July 9 to set a date for the special election.
Although Herenton could change his mind up until his replacement is sworn in, Lowery said he and Herenton discussed the transition Thursday and agreed Lowery would take the oath of office at noon July 10.
"Our city will move through this transition in a good, fine way," said Lowery, who was shopping at Home Depot for yard supplies when he learned Herenton was holding a news conference.
Herenton's resignation will have a huge ripple effect that could reach all the way to the Shelby County mayor's office and will include a long line of candidates who have aspired to reach the city's highest office but never wanted to challenge Herenton.
Since city Chief Administrative Officer Keith McGee suddenly announced his retirement last week, speculation about a Herenton retirement reached extreme heights. A large number of high-level city division directors and other appointees are expected to follow, promising a large turnover in the the city's leadership and operations.
Under federal scrutiny and with city work still left to be done, Herenton said some supporters had urged him to remain in the mayor's office.
"I am convinced that serving as mayor while pursuing a seat in Congress is not a good idea and would only become a distraction and take the focus from the campaign I intend to run," he said.
Herenton, a former Golden Gloves boxing champion, said he wanted to focus his time and energy on his next political fight: unseating Cohen in the August primary.
"It will be a beat-down," Herenton said. "I'm pumped up."
Herenton wouldn't be the first Memphis mayor to step down. In 1982, Wyeth Chandler resigned to take a judgeship, with council member J.O. Patterson Jr. replacing him to become the city's first black mayor.
Herenton, who had been the first black City Schools superintendent, assumed the mayor's post in 1992 after a historic election that saw him defeat incumbent Dick Hackett by 142 votes.
"That's what my career has been about, defying the odds to make progress," said Herenton.
Surrounded by portraits of white former city leaders in the Hall of Mayors, Herenton said that when he took office there were very few black Memphians working in city government and he was proud to make City Hall a more diverse place, helping propel more black families into the middle class.
With a bold and brash style that angered critics and often endeared him to supporters, Herenton oversaw a revival of moribund Downtown Memphis and the remaking of the city's crumbling public housing with a focus on leveraging private investment.
Herenton said he had been a good steward of the city's assets, building the reserves to a record $89 million from the $3 million the city had in the bank when he first grasped the levers of power.
"The city of Memphis has grown and prospered for all the citizens, and I will leave behind a much better and stronger city government than I inherited," he said.
But Herenton was also roundly criticized for cronyism, pervasive crime problems, higher taxes, mixing personal business with his public office and a personal style that some said aggravated racial divisions. In his later years in office, Herenton oversaw the flight of the middle class -- black and white -- from the city to the surrounding suburbs.
-- Amos Maki: 529-2351
By Bob Mehr
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The death hadn't even been confirmed, the body not yet cold, before the comparisons were being made.
The passing of Michael Jackson on Thursday afternoon reignited the occasional debate between the King of Pop and Elvis Presley, "The King" of rock and roll.
In the hours after Jackson's passing, Canadian songbird Celine Dion claimed it felt "like when (President John) Kennedy died, when Elvis Presley died. We are not only talking about a talented person dying, it's an amazing loss."
The articles analyzing the similarities between Jackson and Presley have been ubiquitous and inevitable over the last 72 hours. Even Billboard magazine editorial director Bill Werde declared, "The world just lost the biggest pop star in history, no matter how you cut it."
But is there really a case to be made that Jackson's and Presley's places in the pantheon of popular culture were as similar as some suggest?
Certainly, parallels between the two do exist. Both were born poor and became massive music icons on a global scale (though Jackson may have the slight advantage there as Presley never performed outside of North America.). Each sold hundreds of millions of records and reached unimaginable levels of fame and wealth before experiencing rapid personal and professional descents (and, of course, there's the matter of Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie, who was married briefly to Jackson in the mid-'90s)
"Like Elvis, Jackson unified black and white listeners, and made startlingly important, memorable, and era-defining music," says writer and music historian Alanna Nash, author of several Elvis books, including a groundbreaking biography of Presley's manager, Col. Tom Parker. "Jackson was also a completely luminous performer -- you couldn't take your eyes off of him -- and part of it was because you sensed that this was an extraordinarily damaged boy-man, again, like Elvis, a Peter Pan, a puer aeternus (Latin for "eternal boy")."
But unlike Jackson -- whose gaudy sales figures and personal excesses defined him -- Presley's impact and lasting relevance were part of a larger cultural phenomenon.
"Elvis emerged at a point in history where our culture was ready to turn itself upside down," says Dr. John Bakke, a professor emeritus of the University of Memphis' Department of Communication, who staged the first scholarly conference on Elvis in 1979. "From the depression on to World War II and then into the Cold War, there was a real drive towards security. Elvis came along at just the time the first identifiable generation of teenagers were about to substitute a drive for freedom for their parents' drive for security.
"With the change in values came a change in music and you had the impact of what became rock and roll. Elvis stood at the cusp of that generational revolution."
As Nash notes, Presley's was a trailblazing path. "Where Elvis co-created a musical art form, Michael largely built on one. Where Elvis changed sexual mores in the conservative wake of World War II, Michael only made shocking crotch-grabbing movements. And where Elvis, expanding on James Dean's work, harnessed a burgeoning youth culture, Michael only drew more attention to it," says Nash. "He did it brilliantly ... but his cultural impact pales in comparison to Presley's."
Beyond their impact in life, the question now is whether a cult will spring up around Jackson in death similar to the one that grew around Presley.
Given the particular nature of Jackson's legal and personal troubles over the past decade, it's hard to imagine millions of tourists visiting Jackson's childhood home in Gary, Ind., or his former Neverland Ranch complex in California the way Presley pilgrims -- young and old -- turn up at Graceland each year.
"There will always be throngs of people who will mourn and revere (Jackson)," says Nash. "But because his personal life was so outsized, peculiar, and tainted with scandal far more lurid than Presley's drug abuse, I can't see him morphing into the Disney-zed figure that Elvis has become.
"It's far easier to overlook Elvis's peccadilloes than Michael's," she adds. "Elvis was beautiful, sexy, and fun. Michael was sweet, strange, and sad. Who wants to see that on a lunchbox?"
Bakke also points out that the worlds in which Presley and Jackson lived and died in were dramatically different.
"In general people weren't interested in (Elvis) personally or that interested in their pop culture figures the way they are now. It was a big deal when one of the networks actually led their newscast with Elvis' death. Compare that to what you're seeing with Jackson -- it's totally night and day."
Like Jackson, Elvis' reputation had, by the end of his life, been damaged to some extent (by his divorce, rumors of drugs and diminishing commercial success). But Presley's image was rehabilitated posthumously. Due largely to the continuing efforts by the Elvis Presley Enterprises and RCA records, he's remained a relevant, romantic and iconic figure for successive generations of fans. (Through a spokesman, Elvis Presley Enterprises declined to comment.)
While Jackson's later years rarely saw him create or put out new music, Elvis continued recording up until his death, amassing a voluminous catalog of material -- touching on rock, pop, country and gospel -- that could be released and repackaged for years to come. "Suddenly after Elvis died, there was a vacuum," notes Bakke, "and there was plenty to fill up the void: RCA started packaging and marketing to those interests."
The opportunity for Jackson to be remembered and rehabilitated will be more complicated given his chaotic family and financial circumstances. Elvis had strong supporters in Priscilla and Parker, as well as a small army of business interests eager to keep his flame burning. Who will step in and play the same custodial role for Jackson? At this point it's hard to say.
The only thing that's clear now is that the tragedy of Jackson's life and death might prove mere foreshadowing for what awaits his legacy.
Died: 50 years old
Age began performing: 8
Albums sold: 750 million
Grammy Awards: 13
Film appearances: 6
Died: 42 years old
Age began performing: 18
Albums sold: 1.3 billion
Grammy Awards: 3
Film appearances: 31
Their personal lives shared numerous elements, for better or worse:
Both careers involved "moves" that were part of their attraction. Elvis' moves earned him the nickname "Elvis the Pelvis." Later, he would include karate moves in his act. Jackson's legendary "Moonwalk" was just one part of a dance-heavy act.
Costumes came to symbolize both. Elvis had popularized capes and beaded jumpsuits in Las Vegas. Jackson, known as the "'gloved one," also popularized other distinctive clothes including braided military-style jackets.
Obsessive personality traits were part of their lives. Both were musical perfectionists, spending long hours in the studio doing take after take until they were satisfied. Jackson was obsessed with his appearance, including his notorious morphing through plastic surgery and a meager diet to keep a "dancer's body." Elvis obsessed about everything, sometimes eating meatloaf every night for two weeks at a time. He wore out friends when he insisted they play Yahtzee with him over and over and over.
Both kept animals at their ranches (Neverland for Jackson, the Circle G for Elvis). Elvis, who loved horses, also had peacocks, dogs and a chimpanzee named Scatter. Jackson, who had a zoo at Neverland, had a chimpanzee named Bubbles.
Elvis escaped with whispers and occasional finger-pointing for bringing the underage Priscilla Presley to Memphis from Germany, while Jackson was accused of pedophilia in connection with children's overnight visits to Neverland.
Drugs became part of their lives. Elvis eventually became addicted to prescription drugs and died of a heart attack that may have been triggered by polypharmacy. Jackson, who resorted to painkillers while defending himself against pedophilia charges, canceled part of his "Dangerous World Tour" to go into rehab. Investigators now are looking at drugs as a possible cause of his death.
-- Michael Lollar
© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online