Tuesday, February 28, 2012

President Obama Speaks to United Auto Workers

President Barack Obama Delivers Remarks at the United Auto Workers Conference
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the United Auto Workers (UAW) Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Today, President Obama spoke at the United Auto Workers Annual Conference to discuss the success of the American auto industry.
After nearly collapsing three years ago, our nation's big three automakers are turning profits and opening new factories. The industry has added more than 200,000 jobs. And those workers aren't just building cars again--they are building better, more fuel efficient automobiles that help Americans save money at the pump every time they fill up. The cars they are building to meet new fuel efficiency standards will average 55 miles to the gallon by 2025, cutting our oil consumption by 2 million barrels a day.
When the President took office, our nation’s three largest automakers were on the brink of failure. The economy was in complete free fall and private  investors weren’t willing to take a chance on the auto industry. Doing nothing, as some proposed, would have cost more than a million Americans their jobs, and threatened the livelihood of many more in the communities that depend on the industr. As President Obama explained today:
Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel, if GM and Chrysler had gone under. The suppliers, the distributors that get their business from these companies, they would have died off.  Then even Ford could have gone down as well. Production shut down. Factories shuttered. Once-proud companies chopped up and sold off for scraps. And all of you, the men and women who built these companies with your own hands, would have been hung out to dry.
President Obama wasn’t willing to let that happen. He stepped in and offered the support automakers needed in return for some restructuring on their end:
[W]e were not going to take a knee and do nothing. We were not going to give up on your jobs and your families and your communities.  So in exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We said to the auto industry, you're going to have to truly change, not just pretend like you're changing.  And thanks to outstanding leadership…we were able to get labor and management to settle their differences.
Since then, the President has taken even more steps to help our automakers and other manufacturers. Thanks to the bipartisan trade agreement he signed into law last year, there will be new cars in the streets of South Korea imported from Detroit and from Toledo and from Chicago. And a new Trade Enforcement Unit, introduced in the State of the Union and launched today, will help counter unfair trading practices around the world to level the playing field for American workers and manufacturers. As the President explained:
...America always wins when the playing field is level. And because everyone came together and worked together, the most high-tech, fuel-efficient, good-looking cars in the world are once again designed and engineered and forged and built -- not in Europe, not in Asia -- right here in the United States of America.

Read more:

Conversation on Prayer with President Obama

Unless it’s Justin Bieber I don’t get star-struck, but I have to admit, it was pretty cool to meet President Barack Obama earlier this month. During his visit to Seattle on the weekend of February 16, I had the opportunity and privilege to attend one of the events he was speaking at. Specifically, it was an event at Boeing Everett to celebrate the work of American workers, Boeing, and the culmination of the work of the Dreamliner 787.
Light to the World
As you know, I don’t run in these circles. Sitting in a special section with dignitaries and politicians including mayors, various council members, business bigwigs, and the Washington governor was awkward to say the least. How I got invited to this event is a little unclear, but over the past couple years, I’ve been building relationships with the White House via their Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. But it’s also from a commitment – as a Christian, a pastor, and a leader – to be a light to the World and not just merely light to the Light. Translation: As we serve and love the church, we must also look outward and engage the larger culture. Folks notice and, when opportunities arise, they sometimes ask for input and involvement or merely your presence, and that’s what happened.
Because of this theology and ecclesiology to be a light to the world, I’ve tried to obviously love and serve my church but to also engage both local issues and national issues – including the messy business of politics.

Why Politics Matter

I care about politics not because I obsess over politics. Rather, politics is important to me because it involves policies, and policies, ultimately, impact people. We have no choice: we must be engaged in our civic responsibilities and affairs.
I am a staunch independent when it comes to political parties and urge Christians to not be played, swayed, and seduced by the powers that be. For this reason, I’ve tried to urge others to be cautious of the politicization and manipulation of Jesus, Christians, and religion.
But back to the story.
After the larger event to feature the Dreamliner 787 and listen to President Obama’s speech, a small group of folks were invited to a more intimate gathering (more like meet and greet) with the president. I was told I was going to be invited but I had no idea what to expect.

A Conversation About Prayer

In my mind, I had envisioned the opportunity to share some convictions of my heart that would dramatically impact President Obama and alter the trajectory of his leadership, presidency, and country. Go big or go home, right?
Unfortunately, the opportunity for a long conversation wasn’t to be. Had I had that opportunity, I was hoping to talk policies, justice, human dignity, womb to tomb, Linsanity, family, marriage, compare pictures of our kids, and challenge him to a one-on-one basketball game.
Rather, it was a few minutes among a small group. When folks were introduced at this smaller gathering, they all had “important” titles. I was simply introduced by “Eugene Cho” and I’m certain many were asking, “Who is this and why is he here?” In fact, President Obama, himself, had a puzzled look as he said, “Hello Eugene.” So, I had to introduce myself to him and explain to him that I was a pastor here in Seattle. We chit-chatted briefly about stuff, but there is something I very specifically remember, and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget this portion of our conversation.
I shared with President Obama that I occasionally but regularly prayed for him and this is how he responded:
“Thank you, Eugene. I really appreciate that. Can you also please pray for my wife and children? Pray for their protection.”
His demeanor changed. Perhaps, this is just me. Perhaps I’m reading and analyzing too much into all the non-verbal cues but then again, I’m a pastor and, after 21 years of doing ministry, you develop a “pastoral sense.” I genuinely sensed his gratitude for prayer and his request for prayer for his family.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about our short conversation – and a sense of the burden and weight of his job and the ‘calling’ of the presidency. In many ways, we ought to commend the courage of all those who step into leadership – on any level – including the highest level. We can criticize all we want about our current presidential candidates, but we must commend them for their courage to place themselves in such vulnerable positions.
On a more micro level, I too have experienced harsh pushbacks and criticism in my leadership as a pastor. Several years ago because of a controversial blog post I wrote (and a subsequent public spat with a cultural figure in Seattle), we had a rock thrown into our church building, phone call threats to my home, and anonymous hate email. It was a scary time and, after assessing the potential danger to my family, I called the police to explain and seek advice, deleted our home phone line, and removed all pictures and names of our kids from the interwebs.
Now, imagine that. Multiply that 100,000,000 and then, consider that every day. Imagine this not just for yourself but for your spouse and for your children.
You see, it doesn’t matter what your political leanings, affiliations, and affections may be. I’m always amazed by those who so often quote 1 Timothy 2:1-4 as an encouragement to pray for our leaders, but we hesitate when it’s someone we disagree with and instead start quoting Psalm 109:8.
“May his days be few; and may another seize his position.”
This of course was the recent (and nebulous) encouragement of Kansas House Speaker Michael O’Neal to his supporters. As you can imagine, a great deal of brouhaha erupted because that verse (if you read onto the next verse) is literally about “may his days be few.” It’s about death…
And then there are those absolutely crazy stories like that of Pastor Wiley Drake, who shared and continues to share very publicly that he is praying for the death of the president of the United States. Wow. Dude…

An Endorsement for Prayer

This isn’t an endorsement for President Obama or a political party. As an active pastor of a congregation, I believe it unwise to make political endorsements, but rather, I’ll talk about issues – particularly from the framework of my Christian faith.
However, I am making an endorsement. It is an endorsement for prayer and, specifically, prayer for President Obama, First Lady Michelle, and his daughters – Malia and Sasha.
As we shook hands and shared this brief conversation, I was reminded that, despite President Obama being arguably “the most powerful man in the world,” beneath it all was simply another broken and fallen man with doubts and fears – just like me and all of us. All in desperate need of the grace of God. All in need of the comfort and strength through prayer. Our brief conversation reminded me of the words I heard from President Obama himself when I attended the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C.:
“And like all of us, my faith journey has had its twists and turns. It hasn’t always been a straight line. I have thanked God for the joys of parenthood and Michelle’s willingness to put up with me. In the wake of failures and disappointments, I’ve questioned what God had in store for me and have been reminded that God’s plans for us may not always match our own short-sighted desires.
And let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith. The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, as many of you know, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’”
Agree or disagree. Like or dislike. Republican or Democrat. Tea or Coffee Party. It doesn’t matter. Lift a prayer for President Obama and his family. Lift a prayer for this fellow brother-in-Christ. Pray for strength, conviction, and courage. Pray for safety and peace.

Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. You can stalk him at his blog, Twitter or his Facebook Page. Eugene and his wife are also the founders of a movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. This blog post originally appeared on Eugene Cho’s blog.
Prayer image via Shutterstock

Barack Obama and The God Factor Interview



Obama at an April 4, 2004 Palm Sunday mass in Chicago. Via Getty Images.
Obama pictured at Palm Sunday mass in Chicago where Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke, April 4, 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the
Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.

Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on
God’s Politics.

~ Cathleen Falsani


Interview with State Sen. Barack Obama

3:30 p.m., Saturday March 27

Café Baci, 330 S. Michigan Avenue

Me: decaf
He: alone, on time, grabs a Naked juice protein shake

Cathleeen Falsani: 
What do you believe?

Barack Obama: 
I am a Christian.
So, I have a deep faith. So, I draw from the Christian faith.
On the other hand, I was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences.
I lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, between the ages of six and 10. 
My father was from Kenya, and although he was probably most accurately labeled an agnostic, his father was Muslim.
 And I’d say, probably, intellectually I’ve drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith.

(A patron stops and says, “Congratulations,” shakes Obama’s hand. “Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Thank you,” Obama says.)

So, I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there’s an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.

And so, part of my project in life was probably to spend the first 40 years of my life figuring out what I did believe – I’m 42 now – and it’s not that I had it all completely worked out, but I’m spending a lot of time now trying to apply what I believe and trying to live up to those values.

Falsani: Have you always been a Christian?

I was raised more by my mother and my mother was Christian.

Any particular flavor?

No. My grandparents who were from small towns in Kansas. My grandmother was Methodist. My grandfather was Baptist. This was at a time when I think the Methodists felt slightly superior to the Baptists. And by the time I was born, they were, I think, my grandparents had joined a Universalist church.

So, my mother, who I think had as much influence on my values as anybody, was not someone who wore her religion on her sleeve. We’d go to church for Easter. She wasn’t a church lady.

As I said, we moved to Indonesia. She remarried an Indonesian who wasn’t particularly, he wasn’t a practicing Muslim. I went to a Catholic school in a Muslim country. So I was studying the Bible and catechisms by day, and at night you’d hear the prayer call.

So I don’t think as a child we were, or I had a structured religious education. But my mother was deeply spiritual person, and would spend a lot of time talking about values and give me books about the world’s religions, and talk to me about them. And I think always, her view always was that underlying these religions were a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people and how you aspire to act, not just for yourself but also for the greater good.

And, so that, I think, was what I carried with me through college. I probably didn’t get started getting active in church activities until I moved to Chicago.

The way I came to Chicago in 1985 was that I was interested in community organizing and I was inspired by the Civil Rights movement. And the idea that ordinary people could do extraordinary things. And there was a group of churches out on the South Side of Chicago that had come together to form an organization to try to deal with the devastation of steel plants that had closed. And didn’t have much money, but felt that if they formed an organization and hired somebody to organize them to work on issues that affected their community, that it would strengthen the church and also strengthen the community.

So they hired me, for $13,000 a year. The princely sum. And I drove out here and I didn’t know anybody and started working with both the ministers and the lay people in these churches on issues like creating job training programs, or after school programs for youth, or making sure that city services were fairly allocated to under served communities.

This would be in Roseland, West Pullman, Altgeld Gardens, far South Side working class and lower income communities.

And it was in those places where I think what had been more of an intellectual view of religion deepened because I’d be spending an enormous amount of time with church ladies, sort of surrogate mothers and fathers and everybody I was working with was 50 or 55 or 60, and here I was a 23-year-old kid running around.

I became much more familiar with the ongoing tradition of the historic black church and it’s importance in the community.

And the power of that culture to give people strength in very difficult circumstances, and the power of that church to give people courage against great odds. And it moved me deeply.

So that, one of the churches I met, or one of the churches that I became involved in was Trinity United Church of Christ. And the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church.

Did you actually go up for an altar call?

 Yes. Absolutely.
It was a daytime service, during a daytime service. And it was a powerful moment. Because, ti was powerful for me because it not only confirmed my faith, it not only gave shape to my faith, but I think, also, allowed me to connect the work I had been pursuing with my faith.

How long ago?

 Sixteen, 17 years ago
1987 or 88

So you got yourself born again?

 Yeah, although I don’t — I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up, a suspicion of dogma. And I’m not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I’ve got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt. I’m suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.

I think that, particularly as somebody who’s now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there’s an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.

Falsani: Do you still attend Trinity?

 Yep. Every week. Eleven o’clock service.

Ever been there? Good service.

I actually wrote a book called Dreams from My Father, it’s kind of a meditation on race. There’s a whole chapter on the church in that, and my first visits to Trinity.

Falsani: Do you pray often?

Uh, yeah, I guess I do. 
It’s not formal —me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I’m constantly asking myself questions about what I’m doing, why am I doing it.

One of the interesting things about being in public life is there are constantly these pressures being placed on you from different sides. To be effective, you have to be able to listen to a variety of points of view, synthesize viewpoints. You also have to know when to be just a strong advocate, and push back against certain people or views that you think aren’t right or don’t serve your constituents.

And so, the biggest challenge, I think, is always maintaining your moral compass. Those are the conversations I’m having internally. I’m measuring my actions against that inner voice that for me at least is audible, is active, it tells me where I think I’m on track and where I think I’m off track.

It’s interesting particularly now after this election, comes with it a lot of celebrity. And I always think of politics as having two sides. There’s a vanity aspect to politics, and then there’s a substantive part of politics. Now you need some sizzle with the steak to be effective, but I think it’s easy to get swept up in the vanity side of it, the desire to be liked and recognized and important. It’s important for me throughout the day to measure and to take stock and to say, now, am I doing this because I think it’s advantageous to me politically, or because I think it’s the right thing to do? Am I doing this to get my name in the papers or am I doing this because it’s necessary to accomplish my motives.

Falsani: Checking for altruism?

 Yeah. I mean, something like it.
 Looking for, … It’s interesting, the most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I’m talking to a group and I’m saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I’m just being glib or clever.

Falsani: What’s that power? Is it the holy spirit? God?

 Well, I think it’s the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and an audience.
That’s something you learn watching ministers, quite a bit. What they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down before they’re preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it but what I see is there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a deeper source. And it’s powerful.

There are also times when you can see the ego getting in the way. Where the minister is performing and clearly straining for applause or an Amen. And those are distinct moments. I think those former moments are sacred.

Who’s Jesus to you?

(He laughs nervously)

Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith, and one that I think is powerful precisely because he serves as that means of us reaching something higher.

And he’s also a wonderful teacher. I think it’s important for all of us, of whatever faith, to have teachers in the flesh and also teachers in history.

Is Jesus someone who you feel you have a regular connection with now, a personal connection with in your life?

 Yeah. Yes. I think some of the things I talked about earlier are addressed through, are channeled through my Christian faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Falsani: Have you read the Bible?

I read it not as regularly as I would like. These days I don’t have much time for reading or reflection, period.

Falsani: Do you try to take some time for whatever, meditation prayer reading?

I’ll be honest with you, I used to all the time, in a fairly disciplined way. But during the course of this campaign, I don’t. And I probably need to and would like to, but that’s where that internal monologue, or dialogue I think supplants my opportunity to read and reflect in a structured way these days.

It’s much more sort of as I’m going through the day trying to take stock and take a moment here and a moment there to take stock, why am I here, how does this connect with a larger sense of purpose.

Do you have people in your life that you look to for guidance?

 Well, my pastor is certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for.
I have a number of friends who are ministers. Reverend Meeks is a close friend and colleague of mine in the state Senate. Father Michael Pfleger is a dear friend, and somebody I interact with closely.

Falsani: Those two will keep you on your toes.

 And they’re good friends. Because both of them are in the public eye, there are ways we can all reflect on what’s happening to each of us in ways that are useful.
I think they can help me, they can appreciate certain specific challenges that I go through as a public figure.

Jack Ryan [Obama's Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race at the time] said talking about your faith is fraught with peril for a public figure.

 Which is why you generally will not see me spending a lot of time talking about it on the stump.

Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure. I mean, I’m a law professor at the University of Chicago teaching constitutional law. I am a great admirer of our founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root ion this country.

As I said before, in my own public policy, I’m very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics.

Now, that’s different form a belief that values have to inform our public policy. I think it’s perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values that inform my politics that are appropriate to talk about.

A standard line in my stump speech during this campaign is that my politics are informed by a belief that we’re all connected. That if there’s a child on the South Side of Chicago that can’t read, that makes a difference in my life even if it’s not my own child. If there’s a senior citizen in downstate Illinois that’s struggling to pay for their medicine and having to chose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer even if it’s not my grandparent. And if there’s an Arab American family that’s being rounded up by John Ashcroft without the benefit of due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

I can give religious expression to that. I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, we are all children of God. Or I can express it in secular terms. But the basic premise remains the same. I think sometimes Democrats have made the mistake of shying away from a conversation about values for fear that they sacrifice the important value of tolerance. And I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive.

Falsani: Do you think it’s wrong for people to want to know about a civic leader’s spirituality?

I don’t’ think it’s wrong. I think that political leaders are subject to all sorts of vetting by the public, and this can be a component of that.
I think that I am disturbed by, let me put it this way: I think there is an enormous danger on the part of public figures to rationalize or justify their actions by claiming God’s mandate.

I think there is this tendency that I don’t think is healthy for public figures to wear religion on their sleeve as a means to insulate themselves from criticism, or dialogue with people who disagree with them.

Falsani: The conversation stopper, when you say you’re a Christian and leave it at that.

 Where do you move forward with that?

This is something that I’m sure I’d have serious debates with my fellow Christians about. I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize. There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they’re going to hell.

Falsani: You don’t believe that?

 I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.
I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.
That’s just not part of my religious makeup.

Part of the reason I think it’s always difficult for public figures to talk about this is that the nature of politics is that you want to have everybody like you and project the best possible traits onto you. Often times that’s by being as vague as possible, or appealing to the lowest common denominators. The more specific and detailed you are on issues as personal and fundamental as your faith, the more potentially dangerous it is.

Do you ever have people who know you’re a Christian question a particular stance you take on an issue, how can you be a Christian and …

 Like the right to choose.
I haven’t been challenged in those direct ways. And to that extent, I give the public a lot of credit. I’m always stuck by how much common sense the American people have. They get confused sometimes, watch Fox News or listen to talk radio. That’s dangerous sometimes. But generally, Americans are tolerant and I think recognize that faith is a personal thing, and they may feel very strongly about an issue like abortion or gay marriage, but if they discuss it with me as an elected official they will discuss it with me in those terms and not, say, as ‘you call yourself a Christian.’ I cannot recall that ever happening.

Falsani: :
Do you get questions about your faith?

 Obviously as an African American politician rooted in the African American community, I spend a lot of time in the black church. I have no qualms in those settings in participating fully in those services and celebrating my God in that wonderful community that is the black church.

(he pauses)

But I also try to be . . . Rarely in those settings do people come up to me and say, what are your beliefs. They are going to presume, and rightly so. Although they may presume a set of doctrines that I subscribe to that I don’t necessarily subscribe to.

But I don’t think that’s unique to me. I think that each of us when we walk into our church or mosque or synagogue are interpreting that experience in different ways, are reading scriptures in different ways and are arriving at our own understanding at different ways and in different phases.

I don’t know a healthy congregation or an effective minister who doesn’t recognize that.

If all it took was someone proclaiming I believe Jesus Christ and that he died for my sins, and that was all there was to it, people wouldn’t have to keep coming to church, would they.

Falsani: Do you believe in heaven?

 Do I believe in the harps and clouds and wings?

Falsani: A place spiritually you go to after you die?

 What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.

When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I’ve been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they’re kind people and that they’re honest people, and they’re curious people, that’s a little piece of heaven.

Do you believe in sin?


Falsani: What is sin?

 Being out of alignment with my values.

Falsani: What happens if you have sin in your life?

 I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.

Where do you find spiritual inspiration? Music, nature, literature, people, a conduit you plug into?

 There are so many.
Nothing is more powerful than the black church experience. A good choir and a good sermon in the black church, it’s pretty hard not to be move and be transported.

I can be transported by watching a good performance of Hamlet, or reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, or listening to Miles Davis.

Is there something that you go back to as a touchstone, a book, a particular piece of music, a place …

 As I said before, in my own sort of mental library, the Civil Rights movement has a powerful hold on me. IT’s a point in time where I think heaven and earth meet. Because it’s a moment in which a collective faith transforms everything. So when I read Gandhi or I read King or I read certain passages of Abraham Lincoln and I think about those times where people’s values are tested, I think those inspire me.

Falsani: What are you doing when you feel the most centered, the most aligned spiritually?

I think I already described it. It’s when I’m being true to myself. And that can happen in me making a speech or it can happen in me playing with my kids, or it can happen in a small interaction with a security guard in a building when I’m recognizing them and exchanging a good word.

Falsani: Is there someone you would look to as an example of how not to do it?

Bin Laden.

(grins broadly)

Falsani: … An example of a role model, who combined everything you said you want to do in your life, and your faith?

 I think Gandhi is a great example of a profoundly spiritual man who acted and risked everything on behalf of those values but never slipped into intolerance or dogma. He seemed to always maintain an air of doubt about him.

I think Dr. King, and Lincoln. Those three are good examples for me of people who applied their faith to a larger canvas without allowing that faith to metastasize into something that is hurtful.

Falsani: Can we go back to that morning service in 1987 or 88 — when you have a moment that you can go back to that as an epiphany…

It wasn’t an epiphany.
It was much more of a gradual process for me. I know there are some people who fall out. Which is wonderful. God bless them. For me it was probably because there is a certain self-consciousness that I possess as somebody with probably too much book learning, and also a very polyglot background.

Falsani: It wasn’t like a moment where you finally got it? It was a symbol of that decision?

Exactly. I think it was just a moment to certify or publicly affirm a growing faith in me.

Dallas Doctor Arrested for Alleged Role in Nearly $375 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Office Manager for Doctor and Five Owners of Dallas-Area Home Health Agencies Also Arrested
WASHINGTON - A physician and the office manager of his medical practice, along with five owners of home health agencies, were arrested today on charges related to their alleged participation in a nearly $375 million health care fraud scheme involving fraudulent claims for home health services.
The arrests and charges were announced today by Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Health and Human Services (HHS) Deputy Secretary Bill Corr, along with Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Salda ñ a of the Northern District of Texas; HHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson; Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Casey   Jr. of the FBI’s Dallas Field Office; Dr. Peter Budetti, Deputy Administrator for Program Integrity for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS); and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).  
The indictment, filed in the Northern District of Texas and unsealed today, charges Jacques Roy, M.D., 54, of Rockwall, Texas; Cynthia Stiger, 49, of Dallas; Wilbert James Veasey Jr., 60, of Dallas; Cyprian Akamnonu, 63, of Cedar Hill, Texas; Patricia Akamnonu, RN, 48, of Cedar Hill; Teri Sivils, 44, of Midlothian, Texas; and Charity Eleda, RN, 51, of Rowlett, Texas, each with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.   Roy also is charged with nine counts of substantive health care fraud, and Veasey, Patricia Akamnonu and Eleda are each charged with three counts of health care fraud.   Eleda also is charged with three counts of making false statements related to a Medicare claim .   All the defendants are expected to make their initial appearances at 2:00 p.m. CST today in federal court in Dallas.
In addition to the indictment, CMS announced the suspension of an additional 78 home health agencies (HHA) associated with Roy based on credible allegations of fraud against them.  
Today’s enforcement actions are the result of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations, which are part of the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT).   HEAT is a joint initiative announced in May 2009 between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce anti-fraud laws around the country.
“The conduct charged in this indictment represents the single largest fraud amount orchestrated by one doctor in the history of HEAT and our Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole.   “Thanks to the historic partnerships we’ve built to combat health care fraud, we are sending a clear message:   If you victimize American taxpayers, we will track you down and prosecute you.”
“Thanks to our new fraud detection tools, we have greater abilities to identify the kind of sophisticated fraud scheme that previously could have escaped scrutiny,” said HHS Deputy Secretary Corr.  “Our aggressive Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations have enabled us to break up a significant alleged fraud operation and the fraud-fighting authorities in the Affordable Care Act have allowed us to stop further payments to providers connected to this scheme.  This case and our new detection tools are examples of our growing ability to stop Medicare fraud.”
According to the indictment, Dr. Roy owned and operated Medistat Group Associates P.A. in the Dallas area.  Medistat was an association of health care providers that primarily provided home health certifications and performed patient home visits.  Dr. Roy allegedly certified or directed the certification of more than 11,000 individual patients from more than 500 HHAs for home health services during the past five years.   Between January 2006 and November 2011, Medistat certified more Medicare beneficiaries for home health services and had more purported patients than any other medical practice in the United States.   These certifications allegedly resulted in more than $350 million being fraudulently billed to Medicare and more than $24 million being fraudulently billed to Medicaid by Medistat and HHAs.
“Today, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force is taking aim at the largest alleged home health fraud scheme ever committed,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer .  “According to the indictment, Dr. Roy and his co-conspirators, for years, ran a well-oiled fraudulent enterprise in the Dallas area, making millions by recruiting thousands of patients for unnecessary services, and billing Medicare for those services.  In Dallas, and the eight other Medicare Fraud Strike Force cities, the Criminal Division and our partners in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will continue to crack down on Medicare fraud, and hold accountable those stealing from the public fisc.”
“Fraud schemes, like the one we allege Dr. Roy executed, represent the next wave of Medicare and Medicaid crime that we face,” said U.S. Attorney Salda ñ a.   “As enforcement actions have ramped up, not only in the Dallas Metroplex, but in several other areas throughout the country, fraudsters are devising new ways to beat the system.  Rest assured, however, that with the tools and resources our district’s Medicare Care Fraud Strike Force provides, we will meet this challenge head-on and bring indictments against those who seek to defraud these critical programs, and you, the taxpayer.”
“Using sophisticated data analysis we can now target suspicious billing spikes,” said HHS Inspector General Levinson.   “In this case, our analysts discovered that in 2010, while 99 percent of physicians who certified patients for home health signed off on 104 or fewer people – Dr. Roy certified more than 5,000.”
 “The FBI views health care fraud as a severe crime problem,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Casey.   “It causes increased costs for consumers, tax payers and health insurance plans, and degrades the integrity of our health care system and legitimate patient care.   Today’s arrests by the Dallas Medicare Fraud Strike Force send a clear message to those persons who are not only defrauding our federal Medicare and Medicaid and private health insurance programs, but victimizing the elderly, the disadvantaged, and those who are at a vulnerable time in their lives due to legitimate health issues.   The FBI will continue to dedicate a substantial amount of expert resources to investigate these crimes.”
The indictment alleges that Dr. Roy used HHAs as recruiters so that Medistat could bill unnecessary home visits and medical services.  Dr. Roy and other Medistat physicians certified and recertified plans of care so that HHAs also were able to bill Medicare for home health services that were not medically necessary and not provided.   In addition, Dr. Roy allegedly performed unnecessary home visits and ordered unnecessary medical services.
According to the indictment, Medistat maintained a “485 Department,” named for the number of the Medicare form on which the plan of care was documented.   Dr. Roy allegedly instructed Medistat employees to complete the 485s by either signing his name by hand or by using his electronic signature on the document.
Three of the HHAs Dr. Roy used as part of the scheme were Apple of Your Eye Healthcare Services Inc., owned and operated by Stiger and Veasey; Ultimate Care Home Health Services Inc., owned and operated by Cyprian and Patricia Akamnonu; and Charry Home Care Services Inc., owned and operated by Eleda.  According to the indictment, Veasey, Akamnonu, Eleda and others recruited beneficiaries to be placed at their HHAs so that they could bill Medicare for the unnecessary and not provided services.  As part of her role in the scheme, Eleda allegedly visited The Bridge Homeless Shelter in Dallas to recruit homeless beneficiaries staying at the facility, paying recruiters $50 per beneficiary they found at The Bridge and directed to Eleda’s vehicle parked outside the shelter’s gates.
Apple allegedly submitted claims to Medicare from Jan. 1, 2006, through July 31, 2011, totaling $9,157,646 for home health services to Medicare beneficiaries that were medically unnecessary and not provided.   Dr. Roy or another Medistat physician certified the services.  From Jan. 1, 2006, to Aug. 31, 2011, Ultimate submitted claims for medically unnecessary home health services totaling $43,184,628.   Charry allegedly submitted fraudulent claims from Aug. 1, 2008, to June 30, 2011, totaling $468,858 in medically unnecessary and not provided home health services.
The indictment alleges that Sivils, as Medistat’s office manager, helped facilitate the fraud scheme by, among other actions, supervising the processing of thousands of plans of care that contained Dr. Roy’s electronic signature and other Medistat physicians’ signatures, permitting HHAs to bill Medicare for unnecessary home health services and accepting cash payments from Cyprian Akamnonu in exchange for ensuring plans of care contained Dr. Roy or another Medistat physician’s signature.
As outlined in the government’s request to the court to detain Dr. Roy, in June 2011, CMS suspended provider numbers for Dr. Roy and Medistat based on credible allegations of fraud, thus ensuring Dr. Roy did not receive payment from Medicare.   Immediately after the suspension, nearly all of Medistat’s employees started billing Medicare under the provider number for Medcare HouseCalls.   The court document alleges that Dr. Roy was in fact in charge of day-to-day operations at Medcare, and that Dr. Roy continued to certify patients for home health despite the suspension.
Each charged count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and substantive health care fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.   Each false statement charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.   The indictment also seeks forfeiture of numerous items including funds in bank accounts, a sailboat, vehicles and multiple pieces of property.
An indictment is merely an allegation and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael C. Elliott, Mindy Sauter and John DeLaGarza of the Northern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Ben O’Neil and Deputy Chief Sam S. Sheldon of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and MFCU and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.
Since their inception in March 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in nine locations have charged more than 1,190 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $3.6 billion.
To learn more about the HEAT Strike Force, please visit: .
Criminal Division

With Panetta facing Senate panel, new questions on Afghan future

The murder of two U.S. officers inside the Interior Ministry in Kabul by an Afghan soldier over the weekend is raising new questions about the Obama administration’s ability to implement its strategy in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is sure to face tough questions on the U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan when he testifies Tuesday morning before the Senate Budget Committee.

Panetta faced similar questions two weeks ago at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing from Sen. Susan Collins, R- Maine, who noted that since May of 2007, “Afghan security forces have killed 70 American and allied troops and wounded over a hundred more in 45 separate attacks.”

She noted the devastating effect on American soldiers and Marines -- and their families back home -- when they are “risking their lives to train and assist these Afghan troops only to have some of them turn on them and kill them.”

But in the middle of a presidential campaign there seems to be little room for the GOP contenders to outflank President Barack Obama politically on this issue. In their comments over the weekend GOP contenders commented less on the strategic questions raised by the Afghanistan killings than on Obama’s apology for the inadvertent burning of Korans at a U.S. base near Kabul.


Ambassador Susan Rice talks about the current situation in Afghanistan, whether the attacks on U.S. troops are renewing and whether America needs a speedier exit.
The killing of American soldiers “is the real crime here, not what our soldiers did," said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum on NBC’s Meet the Press.

"We've made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance,” said Republican contender Mitt Romney.

One of the Republican contenders, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, has long called for the United States to end its mission in Afghanistan.

The weekend’s events “add to a drip-feed of negative news that suggests Afghanistan is an unwinnable quagmire,” said Swarthmore College political scientist Dominic Tierney, author of “How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War.”

He said, “Republicans are berating the administration for apologizing and seeking to tie this into a story of administration weakness.”

But he added, “Republicans are actually fairly ambivalent about Afghanistan. While some Republicans stress the ‘stay the course’ message, there's not much appetite for big government nation-building in the country. Republicans want toughness and resolve, but they're dubious about our capacity to socially engineer Afghanistan into a stable democracy.”

The Obama administration’s case for continued patience was made Sunday on CNN by U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker: “This is not the time to decide that we're done here. We have got to redouble our efforts. We've got to create a situation in which al-Qaida is not coming back.”

Following seven days of unrelenting anger over the burning of Qurans, there was a fresh attack outside an airport in Afghanistan. NBC's Atia Abawi reports.
Last June, Obama said that the 33,000 U.S. “surge” force that he ordered to Afghanistan would be removed by the end of this summer. That would leave 68,000 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan. Obama has set 2014 as the end date for the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan.

But Anthony Cordesman, a longtime military strategist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the bigger issues are the shifting U.S. strategy and the inherent difficulty of reshaping Afghanistan.

“At this point in time, we don’t have any particularly good or coherent options. The reason isn’t the Obama administration,” he said, but rather that the United States and its allies are confronting “the complexity of trying to transform the Afghan political structure and economy. This is not something you can blame on the Congress, the (American) people or the (Obama) administration.”

But, he added, the Obama administration has been “trying to rush the development of Afghan forces far too quickly” and that “we’re trying now to get more and more done by 2014, constantly changing the program as we cut the money and as there are more questions about how many troops are going to be actually supporting the Afghans.”

He said, “ultimately all of this does center around U.S. money” and the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request has not “defined what that request is supposed to buy – although basically it cuts the level of spending in half, which means whatever your strategy was a year ago isn’t your strategy now.”

The United States and its NATO allies have scheduled a summit meeting in Chicago in May to agree on plans for Afghanistan’s future.

The Obama administration, Cordesman said, is “talking about transition, but until the Chicago conference takes place, you don’t have even the rough goal as to what ‘transition’ means, how much it will cost, what conditions the Afghans will meet, or what level of funding and support they are going to get.”

He noted that, in addition to other uncertainties, “You don’t have a strategy that deals with the Pakistani sanctuaries – you don’t even know what level of support you can get from the Pakistanis ... .”

As for the fratricide attacks on U.S. soldiers by Afghans whom they are trying to train, Panetta said in his testimony two weeks ago that “better background checks” could help “ensure that these incidents are cut back.” He said the fratricide attacks are “not something that’s endemic. It is sporadic.”

Marine Gen. James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command, told Sen. Collins in a letter last week that “personal attacks make up a vast majority” of the fratricide incidents in which Afghan soldiers attack U.S. soldiers and Marines. “Most attackers are spurred by personal motivations, grievances, or emotions and act with little or no premeditation,” he said.

Cordesman noted, “The reality is that 18- to 20-year olds are not the natural ambassadors of a given culture –particularly if you give them guns and put them under intense stress.”

But Cordesman said, apart from stress or personal vendettas, “there will be infiltration (of U.S. forces in Afghanistan), not just incidents.” Infiltration of U.S. and other international forces is “one of the logical strategies for all of the insurgents to pursue” because “even a few bombings or killings can trigger all kinds of political reactions, as we’ve just seen.”

Today’s Suspension of Payments and the Affordable Care Act

A Fireside Chat from Marvin E. Quasniki

Uploaded by on Feb 6, 2012
GOP presidential candidate Marvin E. Quasniki reaches out to ordinary Americans by putting on a sweater, sitting near a fire and talking to a dog. Ask Marvin your questions on his Facebook page and he'll answer them in a future fireside chat!

Marvin Responds to Newt Gingrich Moon Colony

Uploaded by on Jan 26, 2012
Newt Gingrich thinks small on the subject of space exploration

Marvin E. Quasniki's Rebuttal to the State of the Union

Sorry a little late on these.  I will try to be more on time with Mr Quasniki Video's

Uploaded by on Jan 24, 2012
Marvin E. Quasniki rapidly responds to President Obama's State of the Union

Jet drier catches fire after crash in Daytona 500

 Safety workers try to extinguish a fire from a jet dryer after being hit by Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 under caution on Monday night at Daytona 500.

Rob Sweeten / AP
Juan Pablo Montoya, of Colombia, walks from his car after it collided with a track-drying truck on Monday night at Daytona.

Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images
A jet dryer bursts into flames after being hit by Juan Pablo Montoya on Monday night at Daytona.

Bill Friel / AP
Emergency workers put out a fire on a jet dryer during the Daytona 500.

Bill Friel / AP
Race leader Dave Blaney, second from left, talks with Landon Cassill, left, as other drivers gather during a red flag on Monday night.

AP reports: The Daytona 500 has been halted by a fiery explosion caused when Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into a jet drier under caution. Montoya was driving well behind the rest of the field when something on his car broke and he started sliding out of control toward the jet drier, which holds 200 gallons of jet kerosene.
 Montoya's No. 42 Chevrolet hammered the truck, setting off an explosion and sending fuel pouring onto the famed track. Montoya got out unharmed. The driver of the jet drier had to be helped out of his truck.

See coverage of the race.
·        Follow along as driver compete in the season-opening Daytona 500
·        TV sportscaster apologizes for Danica remarks
·        Romney takes campaign detour to Daytona
·        Patrick steamed after second crash in three days
·        Buescher dodges wreck to win Nationwide race
·        Why Danica doesn't drive her Lamborghini anymore
·        Slideshow: Top images of Danica's life, career
·        Castrodale: Danica can't be just image anymore
·        NASCAR spotlight shines bright on Danica Patrick
·        Economy brighter in NASCAR, teams searching
·        Junior's confidence on the rise at Daytona