Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Black first family 'changes everything'

. Wednesday, January 21, 2009

(CNN) -- Jamaal Young was watching Barack Obama and his family greet an ecstatic crowd in Chicago, Illinois, on Election Night when he realized that something seemed wrong. Obama didn't shout at his wife, Michelle, to shut up. The first lady didn't roll her eyes and tell Obama to act like a man. No laugh track kicked in, no one danced, and no police sirens wailed in the background.

Young had tuned in to celebrate the election of the nation's first African-American president. But he realized that he was witnessing another historic first. A black family was being featured as the first family, not the "problem family" or the "funny family."

"They are not here to entertain us," says Young, a New York Press columnist. "Michelle Obama is not sitting around with her girlfriends saying, 'My man ain't no good.' You're not seeing this over -sexualized, crazy black family that, every time a Marvin Gaye song comes on, someone stands up and says, 'Oh girl, that's my jam.' "

The nation didn't just get a glimpse of its new first family when Obama and his family waved to the crowds on Inauguration Day. The Obamas are offering America a new way to look at the black family, Young and other commentators say.

America has often viewed the black family through the prism of its pathologies: single-family homes, absentee fathers, out of wedlock children, they say. Or they've turned to the black family for comic relief in television shows such as "Good Times" in the '70s or today's "House of Payne."

But a black first family changes that script, some say. A global audience will now be fed images of a highly educated, loving and photogenic black family living in the White House for the next four years -- and it can't go off the air like "The Cosby Show." "The last time we had an image of a black family that was this positive it was "The Cosby Show," but this is the Real McCoy," says Jacqueline Moore Bowles, national president of Jack and Jill of America Inc., a predominately black organization for youths.

A new vision of black intimacy

The new first family could inspire some of their biggest changes within the black family itself, some say

In 1965, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic senator from New York, warned the nation about the rise of fatherless black families. He concluded that many black families were caught in a "tangle of pathology." The pathology persists. The U.S. Census Bureau said that 69 percent of black women who gave birth in 2005 were unmarried (it was 31 percent for white mothers).

The relationship between Obama and his wife may help untangle some of that pathology, some black commentators say.

It could start with black intimacy. The American public is routinely exposed to sexually charged relationships between black men and women. "Street lit" books with titles such as "Thugs and the Women Who Love Them," and "A Project Chick" now crowd bookstores and public library shelves.

Yet the new first couple offers America an example of a black, passionate, marital relationship, says Jennifer Brea, a writer for

"They are the most natural and accessible first couple this country has ever had," Brea says. "You see a politician give a peck on his wife's cheek after a speech and often it looks staged. When you look at them, you feel like that there's this chemistry and spark."

Several black women actually sighed as they talked about how much Obama seems to touch his wife and exchange soulful glances with her in public. They said Obama will show young black men how to treat women -- and young black women how they should be treated.

"We don't get to see black love," says Heidi Durrow, the prize-winning author of the forthcoming novel, "Low Sky Dreaming."

"But every time you see them [the Obamas] on stage, it's been super," she says. "It's an amazing image to see these dynamic, smart, progressive people just openly affectionate. I'm all for it."

Obama's apparent closeness to his wife may help untangle another pathology -- the preoccupation with skin color and "looking white," Bowles, president of Jack and Jill, says.

Bowles says some powerful black men marry women who are white or fair-skinned. Obama's decision to marry a darker-skinned woman like Michelle Obama shows black women that black can indeed be beautiful.

"Too often successful black men look for other things ... a white woman or someone who is light, bright and darn near white," Bowles says. "She [Obama] is a true sister, and she makes no bones about it."

'They're not 'Bebe's Kids' '

But what about those blacks who haven't been considered "true sisters" or "true brothers." A black first family changes that script as well, some say.

Obama's family shows that there is not one way, but many ways for someone to claim membership in the black family, some say.

Brea, the writer for, is the daughter of a white mother and a Haitian-American father. She says she felt pressure to claim one race growing up. She never quite felt like a full citizen.

Obama's biracial background and his "exotic" upbringing relieves her of that pressure. Obama will help other blacks who come from multiracial backgrounds and immigrant communities to be comfortable in their own skin, she says.

"It's changed everything," she says. "You can sort of be whatever you want in all of its complexity, and it's something to be proud of."

The Obama's two daughters, Malia and Sasha, also offer America a new way to look at black kids, others say. Throughout Inauguration Day, the two girls stood before the cameras and waved, smiled and played to the cameras.

Durrow, the author of "Low Sky Dreaming," says it's refreshing to see well-spoken black children on television who act nothing like "Bebe's kids," the unruly black kids from the ghetto immortalized by the late black comedian Robin Harris.

"It's wonderful for people on the world stage to see young black kids who are so poised and vivacious," Durrow says. "They're not 'Bebe's Kids.' I see them and I get the sense that they're going to be OK."

Though the new first family may seem like a novelty to some, for others they are familiar.

Barbara McKinzie, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, says she grew up in a small town in Oklahoma surrounded by black couples and an extended family of teachers and neighbors, who were knit together like the new first family.

She didn't need to look at the Inauguration Day festivities to see a vibrant black family.

"It's not new, but it appears new," she says. "The president and his wife and children are not a novelty in the African-American community.

"It's the only family I've known in my life."

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama: Challenges real, but 'they will be met'

. Tuesday, January 20, 2009

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Barack Obama delivered a sobering assessment of where America stands and a hopeful vision of what it can become during his inaugural address as the nation's 44th president.
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time," Obama told those gathered on the National Mall -- a crowd estimated at about 2 million -- and millions more watching on television and the Internet.
"But know this, America -- they will be met," he said.
Obama acknowledged the "nagging fear" of an imminent decline of the U.S. He firmly asserted that Americans were up to reversing the trends spawning that fear, whether they be social, economic or political.
"Greatness is never a given. It must be earned," he said, further proclaiming that people who question the scale of U.S. ambitions "have forgotten what this country has already done."
He also vowed to end the divisiveness and partisanship he said was rampant through Washington.
"We come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics," he said.
In another allusion to Washington's shortcomings, Obama promised to hold accountable anyone handling taxpayer dollars.
"And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
The new president also lauded the civil rights movement that ultimately made his election possible. Because of that movement, he said, "a man whose father, less than 60 years ago, might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."
Obama also said he would incorporate "old friends and former foes" in the battle to curb global warming and stave off the nuclear threat. To terrorists, he spoke directly: "For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you," the president stated.
After the speech, spectator L.J. Caldwell said the moment represented the pinnacle thus far in the civil rights movement.
"When you think back, Malcolm [X] fought. Then we come a little further, Rosa Parks sat. Then come up a little further and [the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] spoke. Then today, President Obama ran and we won," said Caldwell, of Somerset, New Jersey.
Wearing a navy suit and red tie, Obama was sworn in using the same Bible that was used in President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration.
The jubilant crowd became quiet as Obama began his address, with only an occasional "That's right" or "Amen" and scattered applause from the hundreds of thousands in front of him.
Saddleback Church founder Rick Warren delivered the invocation, applauding what he called "a hinge-point in history." Civil rights veteran the Rev. Joseph Lowery gave the benediction.
Aretha Franklin sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" before Joe Biden was sworn in as vice president.
Following the inauguration ceremony, Obama walked into the Capitol and signed his Cabinet nominations -- which the Senate will vote on when it convenes at 3 p.m. -- and signed a proclamation of national renewal and reconciliation.
"I was told not to swipe the pen," Obama quipped after signing the document, similar to proclamations signed by the last three presidents.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall -- dancing, singing and vigorously shaking flags -- before Tuesday's swearing-in.
"This is America happening," said Evadey Minott of Brooklyn, New York. "It was prophesized by King that we would have a day when everyone would come together. This is that day. I am excited. I am joyful. It brings tears to my eyes."
Minott was at Lafayette Square near the White House, where Obama and his wife, Michelle, had coffee with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush before heading to Capitol Hill.
The Obamas attended a prayer service earlier at St. John's Episcopal Church to kick off the day of events surrounding Obama's inauguration.
As many as 2 million people were expected to crowd into the area between the Capitol, the White House and the Lincoln Memorial.
Gerrard Coles of Norwalk, Connecticut, had staked out a position in front of St. John's.
"I think this was a beautiful thing," he said. "It's not every day that you get to be a part of history."
Nine-year-old Laura Bruggerman also hoped to catch a glimpse of the soon-to-be president. She waited with her mother, Wendy, and father, Jeff, of Bethesda, Maryland, amid an affable crowd that tried to let shorter onlookers and children to the front for better views.
"I want to see Obama. I think that would be really cool. I could tell all of my friends that I got to see him," the youngster said.
Some spectators were more than a mile from the swearing-in ceremony, watching on giant TV screens erected along the National Mall. The ceremony also drew celebrities like actors Dustin Hoffman, Denzel Washington and Steven Spielberg.
"It's behind the dream. We're just here feeling it with the throngs of people. It's amazing grace personified," Oprah Winfrey said.
Obama and congressional leaders formally bade farewell to Bush, and the now-former president took a presidential jet to Midland, Texas, shortly afterward.
After taking a motorcade to the White House, Obama and his family will watch the inauguration parade from a reviewing stand. The parade begins at 3:45 p.m. ET.
The new president and first lady will close the night by attending 10 official inaugural balls.
In addition to Secret Service, the security effort will involve 8,000 police officers from the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions, 10,000 National Guard troops, about 1,000 FBI personnel, and hundreds of others from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Park Service and U.S. Capitol Police.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Palestinians: 1,300 killed, 22,000 buildings destroyed in Gaza

. Monday, January 19, 2009

(CNN) -- More than 1,300 Palestinians died and about 5,400 others were wounded during Israel's three-week offensive in Gaza, the Web site of the Palestinian Authority's Central Bureau of Statistics said Monday. Louay Shabana, head of the agency, said more than 22,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Shabana put the economic destruction at more than $1.9 billion.
The fighting largely stopped Sunday with a cease-fire. Israel has said 13 of its citizens -- including 10 soldiers -- were killed during the offensive, which started December 27.
Israel said its offensive was aimed at stopping Hamas militants from firing rockets into southern Israel.
Gaza is in need of humanitarian, economic, sanitary and social help as a result of the Israeli attacks, Shabana said.
The attacks destroyed public sector and private buildings in Gaza, affecting even the United Nations Relief and Works Agency's facilities and halting economic and social services, the statistics agency said.
Gaza's gross domestic product was slashed by 85 percent during the 22 days of war, and it could take a year for the economy to recover, the agency said in a preliminary report.
About 80 percent of crops in Gaza were destroyed, according to the agency.
"The pervasive sense here among the population is one of overwhelming grief, so many families have been destroyed in so many ways," said John Ging, the top United Nations official in Gaza.
Ging, UNRWA's Gaza director of operations, said the bill could reach "billions of dollars."
Among the dead were 159 children, two of whom died in an UNRWA school that was shelled Saturday, Ging said.
Gaza's main border crossings, which Israel often closed in response to Hamas rocket attacks, were open Monday. Infrastructure repairs were being made, but 400,000 people still had no water, according to Ging.
Streets in some northern Gaza towns were flooded with sewage, and about 50 U.N. facilities were damaged, he said.
More than 170 supply trucks crossed into Gaza on Monday, less than a third of the daily number that crossed in 2005, said John Holmes, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.
Israel tried to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer said in a posting Monday on the IDF Web site.
"This was not a war against the Palestinians," he said. "It was an operation of self-defense against Hamas and related terror organizations. Unfortunately, this task was made extremely difficult by Hamas, as they made the choice to use civilians as human shields."
Israel began the offensive in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants after showing eight years of restraint, the officer said.
The operation's goal, he said, "was to improve the security situation in southern Israel, and to facilitate peaceful living for the Israeli civilians living there."
"We asked ourselves how to accomplish this, and the answer was to hit Hamas hard -- to strike the tunnels, the terrorists themselves, and all of their assets -- in order to prevent them from committing war crimes by firing rockets that target our civilian population," the officer said.
He said seven rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since Sunday's cease-fire declaration.
"We want to give this cease-fire a chance, but if Hamas chooses not to, we will utilize all of our means," he said.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hamas, Israel set independent cease-fires

. Sunday, January 18, 2009

GAZA CITY, Gaza (CNN) -- Palestinian militants declared Sunday that they would stop attacks on Israel for a week, a statement that came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a unilateral cease-fire in the country's assault on Hamas in Gaza.
The Palestinians demanded that Israel remove all troops from Gaza within the week, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha said from Egypt.
The agreement appears to cover all Palestinian armed factions, not only Hamas.
"We in the Palestinian resistance movements announce a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip," Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official in Syria, said on Syrian TV. "And we demand that Israeli forces withdraw in one week and that they open all the border crossings to permit the entry of humanitarian aid and basic goods for our people in Gaza."
There is no mutual agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians -- each side has made its own unilateral declaration of a cease-fire.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, called for the cease-fire to hold so aid could get into Gaza.
"We hope that it continues and that the situation calms down and that humanitarian aid delivery begins immediately to our people," he said at a summit in Egypt.

During 22 days of fighting, more than 1,200 people have died, all but 13 of them Palestinians. The Palestinians and Israel continued to skirmish for several hours Sunday after Israel said it was stopping its offensive against Hamas. Palestinians fired at least 19 rockets into Israel on Sunday -- including at least two after the Palestinian cease-fire declaration, according to Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld. At least three people were lightly wounded. Israeli military aircraft retaliated, firing missiles and destroying a rocket launcher, a military spokesman said.
Shortly before the rocket attacks, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli forces in northern Gaza, the military said. Troops returned fire.
Separately, Palestinian medical sources said 23 bodies were pulled from rubble in Gaza.
Olmert said Sunday the Israeli offensive had achieved its goals but that the Israel Defense Forces reserved the right to respond to any Palestinian violence against Israelis.
"IDF forces are in the Gaza Strip and many other units, which are surrounding Gaza from all sides, are closely observing every corner and listening to every whisper, ready for any response that they might receive from their commanders if and when the violations continue, as they have this morning," he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, before the announcement of the Palestinian cease-fire.
Israel pulled some troops out of the Palestinian territory as it called a halt to its operation against Hamas, but others remained.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN they would be there for a matter of days, not weeks.
International leaders are in the region for talks on the crisis. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted a summit Sunday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, bringing together leaders from Europe and the Middle East.
Olmert told the gathering that, if the cease-fire holds, "the government of Israel has no intention to stay in the Gaza Strip. We are interested in leaving Gaza as soon as we can."
He said Israel would "continue to do whatever is possible to prevent the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," and expressed sorrow for the deaths of innocent civilians. "It wasn't our intention to fight them or to harm them, to hurt them or to shoot at them," he said.
German Premier Angela Merkel underscored the international community's preferred outcome in a news conference in Egypt: "The two-state solution is the only solution we have."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, later in Jerusalem.
A top aide to Barack Obama said the president-elect would move swiftly to work on the Middle East after he is sworn in on Tuesday.
"The events around the world demand that he act quickly, and I think you'll see him act quickly," David Axelrod told CNN. But he refused to promise Obama would name a Middle East special envoy "on day one."
Israel said it launched the offensive in Gaza to stop the firing of rockets -- primarily the short-range homemade Qassam rockets -- from the territory into southern Israel by Hamas fighters.
"We welcome any alleviation of violence, with cautious optimism and hope that these declarations of cease-fire will lead to the end of fighting," said Charles Clayton, national director of World Vision Jerusalem, an aid group. "We call on all parties to stop attacks, including Hamas' rocket strikes against Israel, and refrain from further hostilities."
He called for "unhindered and safe humanitarian assistance to the desperate civilian families of Gaza who have lost their homes and businesses and are struggling amid shortages of food, supplies, healthcare and fuel."
He further called for an end "to the 18-month blockade of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza," saying it has "devastated the economy, halted services, and rendered the people of Gaza entirely dependent on humanitarian aid

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

French aid mission heads to Egypt, FM says

. Saturday, January 17, 2009

PARIS, France (CNN) -- French cargo planes carrying aid workers and supplies are bound for Egypt in an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to war-stricken Gaza, according to a French Foreign Ministry statement on Saturday. An Airbus A-310 and three military cargo planes will arrive in Al-Arich, Egypt, on Sunday, with seven tons of medical supplies and equipment to aid an estimated 500 injured Gazans, the ministry said.
A team of 80, including three emergency medical teams and one de-mining crew, with expertise to deactivate unexploded ordinance, are part of €3 million ($3.9 million) in financial aid delivered to Gaza since the start of the conflict, according to the statement.
It is unclear whether the aid workers and supplies will be allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Sunday to take part in an international Gaza summit, Sarkozy's office told CNN on Saturday.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also be attending, Sarkozy's office said.

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