kstreetfriend

kstreetfriend.blogspot.com examines current issues and in digest form communicate information for dialogue, discourse and advocacy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

 

50 Cent. . . "Get Rich or Die Tryin" Man Shot to Death Pittsburgh



I write the following because Tom Birdsong, Assistant Managing Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on Wednesday, November 9, 2005, said, “No one is going to write about your family’s plight.” Thereafter, Mrs. Estelle B. Richman’s staff (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania‘s Secretary of Welfare) became very rude and indifferent to our emergency situation. In fact, Ms. Richman’s chief of staff, Linda Hicks no longer accepted our calls. Christian Bowser actually laughed about our situation. Inez Titus, became even more stubborn with her unlawful position. The Executive Director for Western Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, Tim Cornell (Mrs. Titus’ supervisor) has yet to return any of our calls.

Nonetheless, a man was shot to death in a cinema lobby shootout after watching gangsta rapper 50 cent’s movie “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” prompting the Loews Cineplex at the Waterfront in West Homestead (just east of Pittsburgh) to stop showing the film. I was there with my family (common-law wife and three minor children). That is, although determined eligible, my family has again been denied the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (“LIHEAP”) federal entitlement for the fourth or fifth straight year. Without heat during the cold winter months a theater provides temporary shelter (allowing my family opportunity to give relatives “a break” from our nightly sleep-overs).

What happened at the Waterfront? Shelton Flowers, 30, of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, was shot three times and died later at a local hospital. Flowers had just watched the movie and got into a confrontation with three men in the bathroom. A fight ensued and spilled out into the concessions area, where Flowers was shot. Immediately, Loews Cineplex pulled the movie as a precaution. The R-rated movie is based on Curtis “50-cent” Jackson’s own life which includes drug dealing, time in prison, and getting shot nine times. Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom, Inc., removed billboards for the movie near some inner-city schools after Los Angeles area community leaders complained last month.

Wilkinsburg, just east of Pittsburgh, is a town that was once synonymous with white supremacy. It is a town that had a mere 502 black residents in 1950 when its population hit 31,000, and only 224 more black residents 10 years later. But, over the next few decades, almost like a prophecy, the black population rose to 90 percent. That is, just a little more than 200 years ago Andrew Levi Levy, Sr. named the town “Africa.”

The borough grew from Levy’s land and other plots (such as the curiously named “Pious Purchase,” and others called Rippeyville, McNairsville and Sterrett Township). It was incorporated some 118 years ago and given the name Wilkinsburg after Judge William Wilkins, the Secretary of War under President John Tyler. Nonetheless, many of its current residents still believe Wilkinsburg is no different today than it was in the 1920's when hooded knights of the Ku Klux Klan cavorted. They say whites still control the town with black “puppet” politicians.

While other cities the size of Pittsburgh has seen a steady growth in gun crime, our gun violence trajectory appears to have exploded. Community activists, politicians and crime experts all have brainstorm strategies for stemming violence. The residents here had hoped for a comprehensive plan of action that would have addressed part of the root causes that lead our neighbors to take up guns. But, the answer given is more of the same. The local politicians have taken a page from the George W. Bush handbook (Madison Avenue to sell our reputation).

We have our three rivers, a beautiful skyline, a romantic culture district, a few of the country’s best hospitals, excellent universities, and the like. But, there's never anything mentioned about our blighted downtown business district, the high unemployment rate of black males, increased gun violence, and the growth of conservative republican complacency.

It's no secret any more that economic conditions for blacks in Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities is precarious. Black residents rank low compared to the national average of income, employment, and education. We have chronic problems of gang and drug violence, family breakdowns, soaring incarceration rates for young black males, and abysmally failing public schools. Wilkinsburg residents are, in fact, the best example of the 13 percent of the United States’ (black) population still living chained in by a Bush presidency, with our eyes riveted on the wall of the white media (Madison Avenue) in front of us, where we see nothing but shadows made by powerless leaders hiding behind us.

We could debate endlessly the role of such squeamishness in concealing and exacerbating the problem with race relations in both Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. We could also discuss the minor role played by gangsta rap music. But, what we should consider is how right-wing conservatives, such as Senator Rick Santorum, have convinced so many blacks that shadows from behind (self-indulgent grab for expensive cars, clothes and money of black republican conservatives living in our affluent North Hills neighborhoods) are reality.

Many of the black residents of Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities believe a lot of the Madison Avenue nonsense. They believe things that are just not true. And, the Republicans gets their strength from this.

The bottom line: The root cause of the shooting at the Loews Cineplex is the apparent political cleansing of true democrats from local politics. Gerrymandering and electoral manipulation (just plan “punk ass” democrats) have left the city with zones of endemic poverty, an absence of social services, crumbling infrastructure, and appalling schools. After the radicalized poverty of black America was laid bare in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina almost everyone expected some change from white America. But quickly the Bush administration and the Republican party have lapsed back into policies to further divide America.

In the 1990's white America built prisons to house the disproportionately black inmates it had planned to toss into jail (in the years that followed) to reassure the affluent majority it complacency with race issues. One of every eight black males between 25 and 29 years old is behind bars on any given day according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group that seeks to reduce incarceration rates. If this rate continues, one of three black males born today will be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes.

A local daily “conservative right” newspaper, “The Pittsburgh Tribune Review” recently feature an article written by Walter Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University. In the article “Ammunition for Poverty Pimps” Mr. William suggested the Census Bureau’s 2004 current Population Survey found two segments of the black community. One segment suffers only 9.9 percent poverty rate and another suffers 39.5. He surmised that one would be a lunatic if they believed white people practice discrimination. He concluded, among other things, that the only distinction between the two segments was marriage. Adding, “If today’s black family structure were what it was in 1960, the overall black poverty rate would be in or near single digits."

I guess Mr. Williams failed to consider the proof that demonstrates blacks are denied opportunities in forms of employment, education and even human treatment. For example, on October 18, I borrowed a little more than $50 to buy a bus ticket to travel halfway across the state for an oral test given by the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission. I was well dressed in a dark business suit and could have been easily mistaken as a black republican conservative. However, while on the elevator headed for the floor for the testing, a white woman asked me if I was allowed on the floor where the testing was being held. She suggested that because I was black, "I had no business on their elevator." She ordered me off the elevator on a lower floor and said that she would have to call up stairs to let the staff know I was on my way.

Soon thereafter she was advised that I was scheduled for an oral test on the floor I was trying to get to. But, she still refused to compromise. She announced that I wasn't permitted to travel through their office without an escort. Interestingly, it was additionally odd that the State required a monitor to sit in with me during my testing.

Nonetheless, getting back to the LIHEAP issue, the federal entitlement program provides waivers and reduced heating rates to low-income households. It is a federal program that assists those who cannot pay their bills. Eligible households can receive assistance through a direct payment to energy vendors that supply their fuel, or through a crisis component during weather-related emergencies. To be eligible for the program, household income cannot exceed 135 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines: $12,920 for a one-person household; $17,321 for two persons; $21,722 for three persons; $26,123 for four persons; $30,524 for five persons. For larger households, the guidelines increase by $4,401 for each additional person. Homeowners, renters (including those whose rent includes heat), roomers and subsidized housing tenants may be eligible.

I have a good understanding of the program because I was previously employed by Allegheny County as a planner and wrote grant applications for the agency that implements the program. However, in 1989, I was fired in retaliation for organizing a union. The political sub-division said I was terminated for being tardy four times in a four-month period. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") identified a white female working in the same office as having been tardy 71 times during the same time period and not disciplined. But, the PHRC ruled it was bad management and not discrimination.

Ever since my termination the political-subdivision has found some way to retaliate against my household, i.e., always reaches for any available loophole to frustrate the process and deny my family the federal entitlement. In the past, I have complained to the State, federal government (FBI), courts and media to no avail.

Consider this, when the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan passed through Western Pennsylvania in September 2004, the LIHEAP offered free water heaters and furnaces. Income restrictions were waived allowing the affluent to participate. My family was denied relief because the deed to our house is recorded in our minor son’s name. But, LIHEAP allows renters and other non-homeowners to participate.

The current issue involves Duquense Light Company’s termination of our electric service immediately following the close of last year’s LIHEAP program (March 31, 2005). Although they already had $371 as a security deposit the utility company terminated service and demanded $866.01. And, despite the fact that we didn’t have any electrical service, the next month we received an unexplained bill for almost twice the amount actually due: $1,646.17. Because we are current living on “food stamps” we were forced to go without electric until the start of the 2005-2006 LIHEAP program.

As a “food stamp” participant we received our LIHEAP application early and returned it weeks before the November 7 start. In fact, as we do each year, we contacted Mr. Cornell’s office to advise him of our situation (requested that he process our application to allow the electrical service to be restored on November 7 without a 72-hour wait). Mr. Cornell didn’t respond.

Mrs. Titus, Mr. Cornell's assistant did call on November 7, just before the closing (3:00 p.m.) of her office. She advised our application would be denied - "Duquense Light now demanded $2,600.” To memorialize the outrageous response I requested permission from Mrs. Titus to allow a "three-way" connection with the local media Channel 4). I called Channel 4 because I was given its “gold medal” for outstanding community service in 1989. However, during the three-way conversation Ms. Titus refused to acknowledge her previous position (Duquense Light demand of $2,600). She would only say our family was being denied the federal entitlement. Immediately, I voiced a complaint to Mr. Cornell’s secretary. She suggested that I call Harrisburg (Department of Welfare’s main office). She provided me the number.

Precious Perry answered the Secretary of Welfare’s telephone. She transferred me to Ms. Richman’s chief of staff (Linda Hicks). Mrs. Hicks promised to have Christian Bowser call before five p.m.. But, it never happened. At 9:00 a.m. the next morning (November 8), I called Mr. Cornell’s office and left another message requesting a return call. I also called Mrs. Hicks again and questioned why Mrs. Bowser never called.

This time, Mrs. Hicks promised to have Ms. Bowser call before 11 a.m.. Mrs. Hicks asked us to “call back if Mrs. Bowser failed to call.” It never happened.

I did call Ms. Hicks at 12:00 noon but she rushed me off the phone. She gave me Mrs. Bowser’s telephone number and requested that I call her directly. I called the number but got Mrs. Bowser’s voice mail. I left a message explaining the situation. Mrs. Bowser never called back.

On November 9, 2005, I called Mrs. Hicks again to advise Mrs. Bowser' failure to call. But, Mrs. Hicks quickly rushed me off the phone again. She said that she would no longer address the issue. She said “communicate with Ms. Bowser from that point.”

Thereafter, I called Mrs. Bowser’s and spoke with her secretary. I left another message. Even more frustrated now, I called the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I spoke with Mr. Tom Birdsong. I advised him of our situation and asked if he would investigate the issue in a “confidential” manner. He said that he would forward the information to Larry Walsh. I informed him that in the previous years I have communicated with Mr. Walsh but nothing was done. I even told Mr. Birdsong that I once connected a Post-Gazette columnist, Tony Norman, and allowed him to participated with a three-way telephone call (allowed him opportunity to monitor a call to prove how rude the LIHEAP program staff was acting). Mr. Birdsong said he would have Mr. Walsh call.

At approximately 4:00 p.m., I was finally able to get Mrs. Bowser on the telephone. She laughed at our situation!

After laughing, Mrs. Bowser would only reiterated Mrs. Titus position, “Duquense Light can demand funds that are not owed.” She added, “Mrs. Titus’ position is final.” She said she would have Mrs. Titus send us a rejection letter.

Immediately, I called Mr. Birdsong. But, he became rude. The conversation concluded with Mr. Birdsong saying “No one is going to write about your family’s plight.”

50 cents, during an interview on ABC’s “The View,” said he was saddened by the fatal shooting: “I feel for the victim’s family in this situation.” He added, “But you know, these weren’t kids. This was a 30-year-old man (who) had a dispute with three other guys.”

I’m older than 30. But, what is rage? How come I’m able to control my anger? Would I have controlled my anger if one of my family members was hit by a stray bullet during the shootout?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

 

Knuckle Up Scooter Libby, Karl Rowe. . . Not (Judge Reggie B. Walton Bush Friend).




A CIA officer’s name was blown, there was an apparent leak of information to friendly reporters in the national media, national security was at stake, a news reporter was eventually jailed, an administration mover and shaker called: “Scooter” has been indicted for possible obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements, and the federal judge assigned to the case was appointed by the same executive branch and had previously served in the White House Media Affairs Office.

Is there just too much by happenstance for this to be just a coincidental thing?

What a saga, sometimes humorous, sometimes crazy and gripping, but in fact, really serious, with each new segment so far finishing with a cliff hanger leaving the country eager for more information. It’s a tangled web of lies, cover-up, judgment of others, and corruption at the highest level of government (an unnecessary war with Iraq). It involves the po-po (the FBI), an assistant to the president of the United States, the chief of staff to the vice president, an assistant to the vice president for national security affairs, and a ruff neck (keeps it real and knows the streets) judge who once admitted as a junior in high school he discovered his father’s guns and straight razor and started sneaking them out of the house tucked into his pants (one of the fights escalated from punching to a boyhood friend being stabbed nine times with an ice pick). There’s also the highly unusual (August 2005) fight where this same federal judge wrestled a man to the ground during a traffic incident on the Chevy Chase Circle (Washington, D.C.).

Maybe it’s just a part of the George W. Bush legacy? Maybe it’s just an element of indeterminacy in human actions which often works in favor of true disclosure? Nonetheless, both political parties would prefer for their own reasons not to pursue the truth, and the media will be content to go along with the typical hyperbole (cover-up), and the greater peril will be to the public’s confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice.

The American judiciary was placed into the frame work of our system so that no one branch of government could become too powerful and exercise its powers unduly either over the other branches or the American people. For many the separation of power has basically disappeared.

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, although indicted by a federal grand jury on five charges related to the CIA leak probe (one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two counts of making false statements), appears to be confident that at the end of this process he “will be completely and totally exonerated.” Karl Rove, president Bush’s top political adviser, who testified four times before the grand jury and wasn’t indicted (but not yet out of legal jeopardy), said through his attorney Robert Luskin, “We are confident that when the special counsel finishes his work, he will conclude that Mr. Rove has done nothing wrong.”

But, how can they be so confident? Both Libby and Rove as senior government officials with responsibilities for national security matters (entitling them to access to classified information) were obligated by applicable laws and regulations, including Title 18 United States Code, Section 793, and executive Order 12958 (as modified by executive order 13292) not to disclose classified information to persons not authorized to receive such information, and otherwise required to exercise proper care to safe guard classified information against unauthorized disclosure.

At issue is Joseph Wilson, who was married to Valerie Plame Wilson. Mrs. Wilson was employed by the CIA and her employment status was classified. Prior to July 14, 2003, her affiliation with the CIA was not common knowledge outside the intelligence community. In 2002, after an inquiry to the CIA by the vice president concerning certain intelligence reporting, the CIA decided on its own initiative to send Wilson to the country of Niger to investigate allegations involving Iraqi effort to acquire uranium yellow cake, a processed form of uranium ore. Wilson orally reported his findings to the CIA upon his return.

On or about January 28, 2003, president Bush delivered his State of the Union Address which included “sixteen words” to justify war with Iraq asserting that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. But as part of the American system of check-and-balances on May 6, 2003, the “New York Times” published a column by Nicholas Kristof of which disputed the accuracy of the “sixteen words” president Bush used in the State of the Union Address. The column reported that the ambassador sent to investigate the allegations had reported back to the CIA and State Department in early 2002 that the allegations were unequivocally wrong and based on forged documents (It’s just impossible to operate a clear conspiracy where all the pieces fit together).

On or about June 23 and the morning of July 8, 2003, Libby met with “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller and discussed Wilson’s trip and his belief that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. When the conversation turned to the subject of Joseph Wilson during the second meeting, Libby asked that the information Libby provided on the topic of Wilson be attributed to a “former Hill staffer” rather than to a “senior administration official.” An under secretary of state had orally advised Libby on or about June 11 or 12, 2003, while in the White House that, in sum and substance, former ambassador and career state department official Joseph Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. Additionally, the vice president himself had also advised Libby that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA in the counter-proliferation division.

Shortly thereafter, on July 10 or July 11, 2003, Libby spoke with Rowe, who advised Libby of a conversation Rowe had earlier that week with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. Libby was advised by Rowe that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.

On September 26, 2003, the Department of Justice authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation to commence a criminal investigation into the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information regarding the disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA to various reporters in the Spring of 2003. A major focus of the grand jury investigation was to determine which government officials had disclosed to the media prior to July 14, 2003 information concerning the affiliation of Valerie Wilson with the CIA, and the nature, timing, extent and purpose of such disclosures, as well as whether any official making such a disclosure did so know that the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA was classified information (conducted an investigation into possible violations of federal criminal laws, including Title 50, United States Code, Section 421 – Disclosure of the identity of covert intelligence personnel; and, Title 18, United States Code, Sections: 793 Improper Disclosure of National Defense Information, 1001 False Statements, 1503 Obstruction of Justice, and 1623 Perjury).

As part of the criminal investigation, Libby was interviewed by special agents of the FBI on or about October 14 and November 26, 2003, each time in the presence of his counsel. But, during the interviews, Libby is accused of lying about material facts related to the disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA. Libby is said to have knowingly and corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, and impede the due administration of justice, namely proceedings before the grand jury, by misleading and deceiving the grand jury as to when, and the manner and means by which, Libby acquired and subsequently disclosed to the media information concerning the employment of Valerie Wilson by the CIA. He is also said to have knowingly and willfully made a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation in a manner within the jurisdiction of the federal bureau of investigation. If convicted, the crimes charged in the indictment carry the following maximum penalties: Obstruction of Justice – 10 years in prison; Making False Statements and Perjury – each 5 years; and each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

A George W. Bush appointee will determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed, if any. Judge Reggie B. Walton, with a minimal academic performance in high school, poor grades in college, and very poor showing on the law boards, enrolled into the CLEO program and somehow managed to earn an academic scholarship to American University College of Law. He graduated in 1974 and took a job as a public defender in Philly (Philadelphia). In 1976, he left that job for a position at the D.C.’s United States Attorney’s office. Here, he met Bob Bennett (brother of William Bennett Drug Czar appointed by George H.W. Bush) and in an attempt to establish credibility on minority issues the republicans appointed Walton to the number two drug czar position. For the next two years that followed, Walton traveled the country spreading the republican anti drug message to black communities.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed Walton to the D.C. Superior Court. But for unexplained reasons in 1989, Judge Walton moved to the White House Office of Media Affairs. Only to be appointed again in 1991 by George H.W. Bush to the D.C. Superior Court. President Bush appointed him to the federal bench (District of Columbia) on October 29, 2001.

Please note Judge Walton’s tenure in the White House Communications Office (considered an element of the continuing campaign). The office often calls local radio stations, television stations, and newspapers daily to see if they’d be interested in an interview with an administrative figure. It also has a supporting element (research units) available not only for the communications head but to the chief of staff and other white house senior staffers.

Since his appointment to the bench, Judge Walton has been assigned the majority of the most troubling legal matters involving the Bush administration. An appointed judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, but Judge Walton's willingness to often speak (for the administration it seems) on highly charged partisan issues further shakes public confidence in the judiciary. For example, following the death of Terri Schiavo, Judge Walton was dispatched to speak with NPR’s Ed Gordon about what he considered liberal “activism” in the U.S. Courts.

In 1998, the republican appointee enumerated some of the standard racist conceptions often voiced by the right wing, telling Judy Cresanta and Kari Larney of the Nevada Policy Research Institute “bad parenting, bad neighborhoods and guns” fuels the problem with youthful offenders. However, in the book “Black Judges on Justice” Judge Walton had a black moment (said something really gangsta) and did admit as one of his major frustrations while working with the Bush administration, his inability to convince administration officials of the fact that fighting crime is ineffective without attacking social causes of crime.

Judge Walton is the federal judge who threw out a lawsuit filed by a whistle-blower who alleged security lapses in the FBI’s translator program, ruling that Sibel Edmond’s claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security. He said that he couldn’t explain further because his explanation itself would expose sensitive secrets and disrupt diplomatic relations. Edmond’s lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, called the decision “Another example of the executive branch’s abuse of secrecy to prevent accountability.” Ms. Edmond, a former contract linguist, alleged in her lawsuit that she was fired in March 2002 after she complained to FBI managers about shoddy wiretap translations. She contended that she told the FBI an interpreter with a relative at a foreign embassy might have compromised national security. Although the government’s lawyers met with Judge Walton at least twice privately, Edmond had claimed the republican appointee dismissed her lawsuit without hearing evidence from her attorneys.

In September 2005, Judge Walton dismissed two claims, but left open the possibility Steven Hatfill, a scientist once named by the Department of Justice as a possible suspect in the anthrax-letter attacks of 2001, could hold officials accountable (count seeking a declaration that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and others unconstitutionally deprived him of employment opportunities). A fourth claim seeking monetary damage from the federal government for alleged privacy act violations, also remains alive, but two counts to hold defendants individually responsible were dismissed. The judge had delayed the case saying that he wanted the Department of Justice investigation of the issue to proceed without interference from Hatfill’s civil suit. Many observers of the investigation dismissed the judge’s pronouncements about the case – the government had been periodically advertising impending breakthroughs since just about the time the spore-ridden letters were mailed out, some critics pointed out. Mr. Hatfill, a bio-terrorism expert, contends his reputation was ruined when law enforcement officials called him a “person of interest.” Hatfill once worked as a researcher at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Frederick, Md. At one time the FBI had Hatfill under 24-hour surveillance.

Judge Walton also ruled that a Missouri charity financed terrorism and is connected to a similarly named organization in Sudan, dismissing a lawsuit filed by the Islamic American Relief Agency – USA, which is based in Columbia, Mo. The charity had sought to thaw its assets which the treasury department froze in 2004. Lawyers for the Missouri charity had denied any link to terrorism and had said the charity is entirely separate from the Sudanese organization. Judge Walton said his decision was based on both public records and classified documents. Shareef Akeel, a Michigan lawyer representing the charity said nothing in the public part of the record showed that the charity had sent money out of the country for illegal purposes.

In a case involving a request for documents on the Oklahoma City bombing which resulted in convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Judge Walton held that FOIA plaintiff (Judicial Watch) was required to file an administrative appeal for the documents, even if they were suing over the agency’s refusal to grant expedited processing. Judge Walton said the Judicial Watch was attempting to “bootstrap” its disclosure requests onto its bid for expedited processing. Although it appears that the FBI subsequently failed to timely respond to Judicial watch’s substantive request for documents within 20 days, Judge Walton said he will only consider those facts and circumstances that existed at the time of the filing of the complaint, and not subsequent events.

A coalition of hunting supporters that included Safari Club International and numerous other sportsmen’s groups were dealt a blow by Judge Walton when in 2004 he dismissed their attempt to stop black bear hunting in New Jersey’s National Park Service Lands.

In January 2004, Judge Walton held the longstanding ban on the sale and possession of handguns in Washington, D.C., is constitutional. The suit, brought by the National Rifle Association, challenged the constitutionality of the handgun ban on Second Amendment grounds. In the ruling, Judge Walton dismisses the suit, noting that, “The Court must conclude that the Second Amendment doesn’t confer an individual right to posses firearms. Rather, the amendment’s objective is to ensure the vitality of state militias."

Finally, a three-judge panel of a federal appeal court unanimously reversed Judge Walton, ruling that the public has the right to challenge an interior department official’s approval of the proposed Roundup Power Plant despite studies showing that it would pollute air in Yellowstone National Park and Wilderness areas. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Court of Columbia Circuit affirmed the public’s legal right to challenge a political appointee’s approval of the proposed power plant. Judge Walton had dismissed the case saying the conservation groups lacked standing because the ultimate permitting agency was the State of Montana. The National Parks Conservation Association, The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society, and a Denver resident alleged the Interior Department officials violated the Clean Air Act which prohibits degradation of air quality by man-made sources in pristine air sheds such as parks and wilderness areas.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

 

Millions More Movement, BOND, Coming Together vs. Reclaiming Our Destiny (Functionally Unemployed vs. House Slaves). . .



As I prepare for a civil service exam scheduled for October 18, 2005, I struggle with a desire to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Millions More Movement activities, rather than voyaging half way across Pennsylvania to take another test.

Do I really want to take this exam and attempt to get on another civil service list?

Since 2003, I have participated and completed the State Civil Service process more than a dozen times. In fact, I have tested within the “Rule of Three” mandate (State must hire from within the top three), but they have yet to call me for an interview.

The Civil Service Commission has tactically explained their hiring practice, i.e., Pennsylvania agencies often “opt out” and instead use a little known exception to the process (management directive that grants an unfettered discretion) that allows them to ignore the employment list and promote almost any available lower classification (a current employee).

The Commonwealth’s excuse for not hiring me is no different than the excuse a local temporary employment agency (Robert Half International) recently provided. That is, despite the fact that I scored a perfect 100 percent on their required testing (the average score for everyone else is only 85 percent), and was given an almost perfect score for my interview, the employment agency has insisted since August 2004 that it can’t place me. And, the Pittsburgh EEOC district office, a federal regulatory agency with authority to enforce Title VII has suggested that there appears to be nothing wrong with the company’s reason for not placing me: Robert Half claims its clients continue to select (whites) other candidates who have tested well below my scores and have inferior work experience and there is nothing they can do about it.

Nonetheless, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan (Nation of Islam) has challenged all of us to rise above the things that have kept us divided in the past. The agenda of his Millions More Movement is to see how all of us, with all our varied differences, can come together and direct our energy, not at each other, but at the condition of the reality of the suffering of our people. He has directed us to use all of our skills, gifts and talents to create a better world for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the like. True That (word is bond)!

I really want to participate and get my swerve on (enter the conflict of eliminating poverty and injustice in American society). But, this year, I have to tend to my family’s needs. That is, they have cut off all of my utilities, placed tax liens on my property, and have us struggling on food stamps. But, I am a proud “functionally unemployed” black man, flexed, and bout it (real, not fake and true to the game).

No! I’m not going to make it to Washington, D.C. for the Millions More Movement Activities. I have to take the civil service exam. . . . I have to score within the top three to force the white man to get creative again.

The Honorable Minister hopes to help poor people learn how to help themselves, beginning with the knowledge that there is strength in numbers. I may not be there on October 15, 2005, in person, but as a black man tight (straight, legitimate and feeling really good at the moment) and on his hustle (taking care of my family), I’m already there in sprit.

If I could go to the Millions More Movement activities, I would hope to hear about the marked change of October 2005, from the last two political cycles when President George Bush (Karl Rove) used the power of the White house to coax first-tier candidates into important congressional races. In these crucial few months when candidates are entering races, raising money and recruiting staffs, republican hopefuls are quietly stepping off. There’s one obvious reason why republican hopefuls aren’t listening to the White House: Bush is an unpopular president.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, Bush won the admiration of most Americans (even some blacks) for resolute leadership in the face of a foreign threat. But, after the recent simpleton response to hurricane Katrina and his tone-deaf reaction to the needs of America’s poor, the GOP and the world now well understand that Bush has slipped into a hole and unfortunately it appears the HNIC won’t be climbing back out. That is, his message remains essentially hopeless worries and hopeful faith. He’s back again portraying the world as too treacherous, too dangerous, and too risky for anyone but the GOP. Karl Rove wants to keep America focused on terror and national security. And, then they went public with wacked (crazy stupid) information suggesting possible subway attacks in New York (a city on orange alert the second-highest-level-indicating a high risk of terror attack since the color-coded warning system was established after the September 11, 2001 attacks). Bush backed the decision to announce the threat publicly despite questions by most federal officials about its credibility. They even claimed the source of the threat had passed a polygraph test. In short, like always, the GOP knew America can’t second-guess the motive behind a terror alert.

If I could go to the Millions More Movement activities, I would hope to hear about black GOP conservatives who have gone out their way in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina to play the race and irresponsibility card hoping to cultivate the most reactionary forms of Christian fundamentalism alongside the extreme right for whom racism is an essential ideological component. Just yesterday black GOP conservatives gathered to discuss race and irresponsibility. BOND (The Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny) and the Heritage Foundation cosponsored the event: The New Black Vanguard Conference II. It was moderated by Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Founder and President of BOND. Dr. Shelby Steele (Hoover Institution Senior Fellow), Joseph Phillips (Actor & Columnist), Linda Porter (Founder Jochbed Education Project), and La Shawn Barber (lashawnbarber.com) attempted to reflect upon policy questions they claimed of major significance to black communities.

In the course of a denunciation of current black leadership they enumerated some of the standard racist conceptions often voiced by the right wing: The view that welfare programs had created among blacks a culture of irresponsibility; there is an enormous cost for risky behavior within the black family (promiscuous women and fatherless households); and, one generation of blacks has followed another into poverty.

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson has suggested in the past that America shouldn’t blame racism or President Bush and the GOP for what happened to thousands of poor blacks during and after hurricane Katrina. He said “The truth is black people died, not because of President Bush or racism, they died because of their unhealthy dependence on the government and the incompetence of Mayor Ray Nagin (a black man) and Governor Kathleen Blanco.” The black GOP conservative singled out Rev. Jesse Jackson, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rapper Kanye West, all of whom he says blamed President Bush for not doing enough to help black people.

Yes! Rev. Jesse Jackson is on the record calling the president’s response “incompetent.”

Yes! During NBC’s celebrity telethon for hurricane Katrine victims on September 2, 2005, the scripted program took an unexpected turn, when Rapper Kanye West went off the script during the live broadcast, declaring “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

But, black GOP conservatives are nothing but house slaves. They blindly follow simple-minded people. In slavery days we had house slaves and field slaves. The house slaves were “well behaved” and “rewarded” by being allowed to work in the “big house” close to the master. The field slaves were “rough” and “functionally unemployed.” Thus the people were divided and pitted against themselves, instead the common enemy (extreme right forces and Christian fundamentalists).

If I could go to the Millions More Movement activities, I would hope to hear about how da fam in the Burgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) can get rid of some punk ass black politicians that are indifferent to the plight of "functionally unemployed" individuals and their families. The last time da fam in the Burgh had oportunity to "break bread" with a "bout it" black leader was August 19, 1997. On that particular day the Honorable Minister accepted my question (from the audience) related to how black males can be a better father to their children. Among other things, he eloquently advised the group of black politicians on how we can come together and direct our energy, not at each other, but at the condition of the reality of the suffering of our people. But it's October 2005, conditions for blacks in the Burgh have become more precarious. The city is now controled by (in the closet) black GOP conservative house slaves.

No Diggety!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

 

Why?



Open Letter: They Killed My Dad . . .

United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
10th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., Room 5643
Washington, DC 20530

RE: Open Letter (Information Previously Submitted)

Dear All:

“Is that the telephone ringing?” It rings a couple of more times.

I turned over a few times and attempted to continue to sleep. But the ringing persists. I asked myself, “Am I sleeping or is this just a dream that somehow involves a ringing telephone?”

Next, I hear a soft, but half-sleep female’s voice coming from the second floor of our family dwelling. There’s no phone on the second floor. My wife standing at the top of the stairs offered to come down and answer the phone. Although tired, she realized my need for sleep. That is, I had arrived home just an hour or so earlier. Because I didn’t want her to make the journey downstairs, I jumped up to my feet from the sofa, stumbled across the corner of the coffee table, and rushed to the telephone.

“Babe, I have it!” I told my wife as I took a seat at my desk and looked to the telephone’s caller-ID. “UPMC University of Pittsburgh Medical Center” was displayed. “The hospital. Oh no!” I pondered. Quickly, I grabbed the phone. “May I help you?” The nurse on the other end, with a collected voice, immediately replied, “Get down here.” She continued, “Your dad . . . His heart stopped! There was a struggle . . . You have to come back to the hospital!” As she attempted to explain, I smacked the shit out of my forehead with my left hand, fell a little further back into the chair, and shouted, “What da fuck?”

There was so much now running through my head, so many questions I wanted to ask, but the only words I could muster were, “Is my dad breathing . . . Is he okay?” There was a slight hesitation from the nurse. I sensed there was something more this nurse wanted to tell me. But she stopped. “This isn’t good?” I mused. “He’s breathing. Just get down here.” She would soon add. I told the nurse “I’m on my way” to conclude the call.

Now standing, I looked across the dark room for any answer. I screamed out loud, “Damn!” I had just left my dad less than an hour ago. He was in excellent condition. In fact, he was in the best condition that I had witnessed during his seven-day stay. He was normal again, The condition he was in when he was admitted. “Shit!” I screamed. “They’d killed him! Why? Is it because I told them I was taking him home in the morning?”

I couldn’t tell my wife and kids because I really didn’t know what to say. I decided to wait until after I got dress. But getting dress, only took a few minutes. I put the same dark suit back on (without the tie) that I had wore earlier that evening. Really, I just didn’t have time to think about what I needed to say. So, I grabbed my keys and ran for the door. Because the lights were still off I stubbled a second time, this time over my youngest son’s big wheel. Frustrated, I looked up the stairs from the floor to see if I had disturbed my wife and kids. My wife was still standing at the top of the steps. She knew something was wrong. She asked, “Are you going back to the hospital?” Before answering I took a brief moment to finish putting my shoes on. I just didn’t know what to say. It reminded me of the day my oldest brother died. I had received the call from his lady friend and had to call and inform my brothers.

I attempted to explain to my wife what appears to have happened at the hospital, but abruptly stopped. I just turned away, telling my wife, “I don’t have time to go into the details . . . Please call my mom.”

Now in the family vehicle I raced to the hospital. Continuously, I banged my fist on the steering wheel as I drove. “Why? I asked. I did pray to my God. I asked for courage and wisdom to deal with the situation. I also made what might have been an inappropriate request, I asked my God to sacrifice any good he planned for me in exchanged for my dad’s recovery. I just wanted my dad to live. He enjoyed life so much. He was really looking forward to turning ninety.

The streets were empty. It was almost five a.m.. The drive took longer than I wanted, giving me too much time to think about things. As I pulled into the hospital parking area tears finally begin to fall. I did choke up because I knew and I realized exactly what they had done. I didn’t even park the vehicle. In a rush I jumped from the driver’s seat and screamed to the guard “I have to get upstairs!” At first the security guard didn’t say anything. All I remember is it appeared he went running to the vehicle. He probably was just too busy running to the van to place it into park. I didn’t turn back to look. But, I did hear him say, “just go!”

With tears streaming from my eyes, I ran through the hospital, up the escalator, onto the elevator, and down the hall to my dad’s room. It took less than five minutes to get from the parking area to his floor. As I approached, I was first greeted by a nurse who had been assigned to sit many nights with my dad. She was a large Caucasian woman, aggressive, and proudly loud. I listened as she explained my dad’s final moments. Thereafter, the head nurse of that unit, who had placed the earlier telephone call, quickly pulled me away and led me into my dad’s room.

By now they had removed the “code blue” instruments from the room. The head nurse put her arm around me and handed me a box of tissue. At first, I wanted no parts of her sympathy. I pulled away and turned toward the private bathroom in the corner. I shook my head with disgust after noticing the soiled towel and wash cloth that I had used earlier in the evening to clean my dad, still on the bathroom sink. “They didn’t even clean?” But, the head nurse was persistent. This time she grabbed me and extended a full hug. I noticed that she had a couple documents in one of her hands. Soon, she would hand me a copy of what she identified as my dad’s lab results and explained “the only lab work done that past week had clearly indicated no prostate cancer.” She added “Don’t leave your dad’s body, and don’t let the hospital perform the autopsy.”

In short, I had complained in writing to the hospital, just a day or so earlier, about my dad’s stay. I explained that he was hospitalized, over my objections, for elective care. The hospital had failed too diagnosed an apparent hernia for more than a year. A medical condition that wasn’t bothering my dad, but for suspect reason the hospital now wanted to correct before it developed into a problem. The night my dad was admitted the hospital promised that it would only take a day or two. But it was now the seventh day. In fact, it appeared the hospital had failed to do anything during his stay. That is, they kept my dad heavily sedated until his last night. My complaint had identified that during my dad’s first two nights hospital staff didn’t change his bedding, i.e., I found my dad often sleeping on urine soiled sheets. The complaints also had questioned the excessive amount of medication, lack of exercise, and unnecessary delay in treating the hernia. In fact, I specifically explained in my writing that hospital physicians previously diagnosed (treated for more than a year) my dad’s hernia as prostate cancer -- a condition that the current physicians now claimed as impossible (explaining the prostate is too far away from the upper abdomen hernia). I additionally advised the hospital that I had already submitted a complaint, months earlier, to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania alleging Medicare fraud. That is, it appeared the hospital’s physicians were running up a Medicare bill but not treating the alleged prostate cancer (hernia).

Respectfully,
/s/
Kstreetfriend

Saturday, April 02, 2005

 

Western Pennsylvania Connection, Halliburton, Bush Family, Asbestos, Tort Reform...



George W. Bush and his corporate friends have invented another new "crisis." If you want a better understanding of the issue (tort reform), think of the recent tobacco industry litigation.

The tobacco industry was forced to pay billions of dollars in damages. In short, this important litigation allowed trial attorneys to proved that a corrupt tobacco industry deliberately concealed information on the known dangers of cigarette smoking and generations of American children became victims.

Of course the president's friends, corporate lobbyists, don't want to talk about lung cancer, birth defects and the like, when they discuss frivolous lawsuits. They refer to a few real or invented examples of ridiculous lawsuits. They suggest to the public that these few examples of ridiculous lawsuits drive up the cost of insurance. And, if you listen to the president, hundreds of firms face the imminent threat of bankruptcy at the hands of a predatory trial bar with the economic calamities that inevitably result: lost jobs, a depleted source of settlements and destruction of the retirement pensions of tens of thousands of employees.

Corporate lobbyists want to create a new set of barriers designed to keep victims from ever getting their day in court. They focus on "trial lawyers" because it sounds better to beat up on trial lawyers than the innocent people who have been injured or killed because of corporate misconduct. That is, they want to make it more difficult to hire a lawyer to go up against a big corporation. They purposed a limit to the fees that trial lawyers can collect -- even when the attorney wins a case for his client. And, they want to make it easier to fine lawyers for unsuccessful suits.

So! What really is the story with George W. Bush and tort reform?

For the answer one should consider the thousands of truly impaired asbestos victims that have been deprived just compensation by Harbison-Walker Refractories, Dresser, and/or Halliburton. Even the Republican Congress has come on board with purposed legislation to replace the current litigation system (establishment of an asbestos fund). The trust fund model would set up medical criteria for determining eligibility, as well as compensation based upon impairment. In short, asbestos claims would be theoretically removed from the tort system and become ineligible for compensation from other sources of funding (such as the U.S. Treasury).

It all started in 1865, then known as the Fire Brick company, a Pittsburgh-Based Harbison-Walker Refractories Company was formed for the purpose of manufacturing and selling refractory products. Asbestos, a fire-resistant material, was a key ingredient of Harbison-Walker manufacturing products called refractories used to line industrial blasts furnaces. The dusty fiber-filled products, with names such as Micracrete 7, Harbison-Walker Lightweight Castable 10 and Chromerpak G, contained as much as one third asbestos.

Workers, many of which were my dad's older relatives, made little money mixing the products with water and spraying it in furnaces. They unknowingly put their health at risk trying to pay for food, rent, transportation, and other necessities. Asbestos causes mesthelioma, a rare cancer, and can lead to lung cancer and asbestosis (a debilitating lung disease). My dad, now deceased, previously explained how the large asbestos dust clouds were spawned when the furnances that only lasted a few months (because of the intense heat) were broken down.

My dad was a former newspaper editor, after retiring from journalism, he took a mundane job with Harbison-Walker, photocopying documents. Because of his age, he was eventually forced out of work, given a $35 monthly pension, but no health benefits. I should also mention that I received a $250 Harbison-Walker college scholarship.

Nonetheless, as many of you probably are aware, Harbison-Walker documents did show that the company's safety officer began writing memos in 1962 on the hazards of asbestos and continued to do so after Dresser acquired the company in 1967. In particular, Dresser's Harbison-Walker Division received warnings from safety officers and in 1972, was asked by the federal occupational safety and health administration to add a warning: "Harbison-Walker has been acutely aware of the asbestos problem for years." Additionally, a document from 1976 specifically noted that Harbison-Walker made $10 million a year supplying asbestos in direct-bonded brick for industrial furnances, the only company carrying the product with asbestos.

I can still remember my weekly visits to my dad's One Gateway Center office, departing the elevator, and my dad pointing to photographs of Prescott Bush (President George W. Bush's grandfather and Harbison-Walker board member for decades until he became a U.S. Senator -- by 1941 Prescott still held 1,900 shares of Dresser stock), and the first George H.W. Bush (President George W. Bush's great grandfather's first job was on the Dresser payroll, i.e., when Dresser went-public in the 1920's, it turned to W.A. Harriman & Co. whose president was George H.W. Bush).

My dad often explained to me that President George W. Bush's dad (George H.W. Bush a former U.S President) was once being groomed to run Dresser the company that his father and grandfather had reshaped decades earlier, but opted for intelligence roles. My dad suggested George H.W. Bush's connection to Cuban exiles, explaining the close proximately of the Zapata oil platform to Cuba and the naming of boats for the "Bay of Pigs" invasion -- notably the "Barbara" (his wife's name). He even told the story of H. Neil Mallon, a Dresser executive selected by Prescott Bush to be president of company. Mr. Mallon was so close to former president George H.W. Bush, that he has been described as a "surrogate uncle and father-confessor." The former U.S. President named one of his son's (Neil Mallon Bush) after him.

In 1967, the Western Pennsylvania company merged with others into Dresser, in an attempt to shelter itself from possible asbestos liability/litigation, Harbison-Walker became an unincorporated operating division. Note: Please See my earlier post (February 16, 2005 -- Kaplan, Inc. Open Letter) that provides detail of how the Washington Post Company (WPO) and/or Kaplan, Inc. (wholly owned subsidiary), used the "unincorporated division" defense as an attempt to avoid constitutional claims, absentee student issues (alleged inflated enrollment). The Kaplan case demonstrates the Bush administration's effort to eliminate the "50 percent rule" that governs student financial aid eligibility and is designed to prevent corruption (inflated enrollment, diploma mills, etc.). The Bush administration wants to change the Higher Education Act (eliminate the 50 percent rule) for the direct benefit of for-profit education lobbyists.

In 1992, pursuant to a distribution agreement, the assets comprising the Harbison Division were sold to Indresco, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Dresser, in exchange for Indresco's assumption of certain specified liabilities of Dresser. Shortly thereafter, Dresser distributed the common stock of Indresco to its shareholders, leaving Indresco as a stand-alone company. Indresco eventually changed its name to Harbison-Walker Refractories Company. That is, Dresser executives spun off Harbison-Walker into a separate company, and the new entity indemnified Dresser from asbestos claims filed after the spinoff. The companies have since directed all sick workers to sue the new Harbison-Walker Company, knowing it would collaspe and file bankruptcy.

And, Dresser and Halliburton have since merged when vice president Dick Cheney was the chairman of the board and held a $45.5 million stake as Hilliburton's biggest individual stockholder.

Hilliburton accounting practices have been questioned in the past, and it also faced inquiry regarding suspect payments involving officials in Iran, Nigeria and Kuwait. Its subsidiary companies, using the same address as the parent company, were also still doing business in places such as Iran. The company has also faced scrutiny involving alleged overcharging the defense department for gasoline and army mess halls in Iraq. Investigations appear to reflect Hilliburton's interests in overseas activities. Seventy percent of its annual $13 billion business is conducted overseas in 100 countries. But, it's the $9 billion in Iraq-related work that intensified the glare of the public spotlight on the company. In short, it has built a worldwide business, centered on providing services to support U.S. troops in battle. (Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo).

Erie Palmer Halliburton pawned his wife's wedding ring and founded the Houston, Texas company in 1919. Starting at first as an oil drilling services company, it had sites in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Soon it would expand globally with a stead volume of its business linked to the federal government. In 1963, Halliburton acquired the Brown and Root Company. Political connections involving Brown and Root can be traced as far back as the late 1930's when its founders George and Herman Brown would send cash-filled envelopes to then-congressman Lyndon B. Johnson, who distributed them to other members of Congress as campaign contributions. President Johnson steered all sorts of federal projects to the firm in exchange for millions of dollars in political contributions. Brown and Root would become LBJ's most important political benefactor and played a key role throughout his political career.

Prescott Bush (George W. Bush's grandfather) was a partner of the Brown Brothers. His wife's father George H. Walker, also worked for them. What is interesting is the money Prescott Bush made off of Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II. Both Prescott and his father-in-law financed Hitler before and during the war through their Union Banking Corporation.

In conclusion, George W. Bush signed legislation that would make class-action suits seeking $5 million or more, heard in state courts, only if the primary defendant and more than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state. But, if fewer than one-third of the plaintiffs are from the same state as the primary defendant, and more than $5 million is at issue, than the case would go back to federal court. The clear message to the nation: The rights of large corporations that have taken advantage of seniors, low-wage workers, and local communities are more important than the rights of average American citizens. Mr. Bush's goal is to protect corporate interests, not to protect the interests of the small business with a hardware store on Main Street. His interest is the corporate conglomerate that does not pay any taxes and gets million in taxpayer subsidies, and bribes our politicians yearly. He has returned our country to the days of industrialism where the rights of business trumps the welfare of the individual.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

 

Mayflower Compact Coalition (Wangstas Fo' Shizzle My Nizzle)...



RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman today attended the unveiling of the 21st Century Mayflower Compact at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.. The nine-point agenda includes support for school choice and private Social Security accounts. The Coalition is advised in part by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s consulting firm.

African Americans often reach different and surprising conclusions on social issues that the casual (Caucasian) observer just won’t understand. For example, Black folks still want to see Michael Jackson find happiness. His high-pitched voice and soulful delivery is the soundtrack of generations and has a permanent place in the Black community’s psyche, no matter the plastic surgery, skin bleaching and alleged child molestation charges. Possibly, it’s the “he’s still Black” phenomenon that African Americans well understand. They want Michael Jackson’s name cleared. In short, they want him to make good music and just leave the damn kids alone.

Likewise, Blacks see Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance Program, popularly known as Social Security, as an entitlement forced into place during a period when “bigots” wanted to run things. And against the odds, a well respected Franklin Roosevelt was able to established needed protection for the public from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. As its original name suggest, African Americans believe the insurance program was created to do much more than provide an old age benefit.

Wangstas (whites and uh oh oreos) are extremely white people who attempt to be “gangsta” (cool with Black people) in order to “pimp out.” They dress, speak and act for all practical purposes as an African American aside from the fact that they are not. Normally they are hated by the fam for being fake.

The White House and its oreos who support overhauling Social Security have launched a highly targeted campaign to convince Black people that President Bush’s plan to create private investment accounts will have special benefits for them. The ghetto fab element about the GOP message to African Americans: “The shorter life expectancy of Black males means Social Security in its current form is not a favorable deal.”

Proponents of privatizing social security who claim no group has as much at stake in the debate over reform as African Americans, in fact, are right. Black families of workers who become disabled or die are much more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to be dependent on the grip available from disability and/or survivor benefits. Blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 23 percent of African American children receive survivor benefits, and 18 percent of the community are disability beneficiaries.

Although the wangstas are making a special effort to appeal to the strizzeet with the 21st Century Mayflower Compact, the “lower life expectancies” illusion appears to reached every one except the African American senior. Their attempt to focus on a very narrow element of the system (current program based on longevity is unfair) is misplaced and doesn’t gain cool points. What the oreos fail to realize is their attempt to be “down” for da brothas... is just “gosh-darn” obnoxious (using their vernacular) and another clue identifying the new face of segregation.

“A’ight?”

Social Security is an insurance program that protects workers and their families against the income loss that occurs when a worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies. All workers will eventually either grow too old to compete in the labor market, become disabled, or die. President Roosevelt created the program to insure all workers and their families against these universal risks, while spreading the costs and benefits of that insurance protection among the entire workforce.

It is a “pay as you go” program, which means the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) payroll tax paid by today’s workers are not set aside to pay their own benefits down the road, but rather go to pay the benefits of current recipients. The tax is progressive. The low-wage workers receive a greater percentage of pre-retirement earnings from the program than higher-wage workers. And, in the 1980's, Congress passed reforms to raise extra tax revenues above and beyond the current need and set up a trust fund to hold a reserve.

As was the case when the program was established, higher-wage workers still oppose the social nature of the program. They argue low rates of return as a reason to switch from the current “pay-as-you-go” system to one in which individual workers claim their own contribution and decide where and how to invest it. In short, rather than sharing the risk across the entire workforce to ensure that all workers and their families are protected from old age, disability, and death, higher-wage workers want to enable opportunity to reap gains from private investment without having to help protect lower-wage workers from their disproportionate risks.

Allowing high-wage workers (who are more likely to live long enough to retire) opportunity to opt out of the general risk pool and devote all their money to retirement without having to cover the risk of those who may become disabled or die, is da fo’ shizzle identifying the republican party’s desire to return to a segregated society.

Roosevelt’s benefit formula currently in place intentionally helps low income earners. Lifetime earnings directly factor into the formula. And, thirty-five percent of Black workers born between 1931 and 1940 had lifetime earnings that fell into the bottom fifth of earnings received by workers born in these years. African Americans’ median earnings (working-age in jobs covered by Social Security in 2002) were about $21,200, compared to $28,400 for all working-age people.

HNIC, President Bush, does acknowledge the difficulty Blacks will have in accumulating enough savings in their individual accounts to provide for a secure retirement once the progressivity of the current system is eliminated. However, he has only suggested allowing lower-income workers to place higher portions of their income into the uncertainties of investment accounts (creating even more risk).

Yes! Private accounts would be passed on to children or other heirs. But, what the HNIC and his oreos doesn’t explain is lower-income workers would be forced to buy an annuity large enough (when combined with their traditional Social Security benefit) to ensure that they would at least have a poverty level income for retirement.

Yo’ playa... da new private Social Security account fizzle sucks!

Friday, March 11, 2005

 

Brian Nichols, Bart Ross, Perceived Unfairness (Courts Under Attack)...



Taking a life is wrong!

Fighting the justice system outside of its contour isn’t rational. Freedom has provided civil liberties when used correctly removes insurmountable barriers such as segregation, discrimination and the like. Although many Americans have formed certain perceptions about the judiciary that represents an overall lack of trust, one must prove their argument within the structure provided and advocate change through civilized conduct. There are many methods of mentally or physically withdrawing from a hostile situation. The most common, attribute racist behavior to ignorance and chose to educate as a response to discrimination, which can give a sense of empowerment.

A spate of violence in the judicial system has many uneasy and on edge. Security at federal, state, and local courts across the country has been increased in the wake of the shooting of three people in Atlanta (Judge Rowland Barnes, his court reporter and a Fulton County deputy) today and last week’s killings of U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow’s husband and mother in Chicago.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, courthouses today are already secured by electronic surveillance systems, armed security officers, and metal detectors and scanning devices at every public entrance. In short, Judges are often the target of threats from defendants or litigants. They worry that their addresses and other personal information are easily accessible using the Internet and public records. And, there are trials that have the potential for additional security concerns.

In Chicago, police concluded that 57-year-old Bart Ross, a Poland immigrant, harbored a grudge against Judge Lefkow because she dismissed his malpractice lawsuit. In Atlanta, observers say a second rape trial was going badly for 34-year-old Brian Nichols, an African-American. It was his second trial in as many weeks. The first ended in a mistrial after a jury was unable to reach a verdict (8 to 4 in favor of acquittal).

Public confidence plays a significant role in the ability of courts to perform their function effectively. Courts must rely for enforcement of their decisions on retaining sufficient respect from individual citizens so that the vast majority will comply voluntarily. Perceptions influence, even shape, behavior. Both Bart Ross and Brian Nichols appear to have expressed a concern about possible unfairness. Note, more than one-third of all Georgians see African Americans as receiving worst treatment than others by the court system. See “Essay: Race and the Georgia Courts: Implications of the Georgia Public Trust and Confidence Survey for Batson v. Kentucky and its Progeny,” 37 Ga. L. Rev. 1021.

In fact, there are twenty years of surveys (1978 to 1998), that identify positive and negative images of the judiciary recurred with varying degrees of force-fulness across the nation. See David B. Rottman’s, “On Public Trusts and Confidence: Does Experience with the Courts Promote or Diminish It?” Negative images centered on perceived inaccessibility, unfairness in the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, and lack of concern about the problems of ordinary people. There is also a concern that the courts are biased in favor of the wealthy and corporations - political considerations exerted an undue influence on the judiciary.

Nonetheless, improving public trust and confidence of the courts is fundamental and likely to be the best defense against the emotional reaction of losing a legal case. As early as 1988, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, William H. Rehnquist, detailed the extent, almost since the inception of our system of government, that the courts require the public’s trust and confidence. See “The Supreme Court: The First Hundred Years Were the Hardest,” 42 U. Miami L. Rev. 475, 477 (1988).

Justice Rehnquist provided the following example:

“When former Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, an appointee of President George Washington, fell ill in December 1800, president John Adams turned to John Jay asking him to return to that position (Jay having served as the first Chief Justice). But, John Jay refused the appointment writing ‘The Court, labored under a [judicial] system so defective that amongst its other problems, it did not possess the public confidence and respect which as the last resort of the justice of the nation, it should....’”

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her address to the National Conference on Public Trust and Confidence in the Justice System (July 1999) has expressed a similar concern:

“[i]n the last analysis, it is the public we serve, and we do care what the public thinks of us.”

But, prior to a 1999 study sponsored by the National Center for State Courts and the Hearst Corporation, “How the Public Views the State Courts” there was no systematic body of evidence that could document the extent to which and the ways in which perceptions of the court differ across social groups.

The 1999 survey findings reveal stark differences in how minority groups view the judicial system. African Americans consistently display a more negative view of the courts and less trust and confidence in the judicial system than do White/Non-Hispanics or Hispanics. That is, as a general matter, blacks express low levels of confidence in the courts, lower than other groups.

Minority groups perceive themselves as treated worse by the judicial systems because: (1) court personnel aren’t helpful and courteous; (2) most juries are not representative of the community; (3) courts fail to make reasonable efforts to ensure that individuals have adequate attorney representation; (4) judges are generally dishonest in deciding cases; and (5) courts are just “out-of-touch” with what’s going on in their communities.

Interestingly, Caucasians appear to either not understand or discount the perceptions of minority group members about the fairness of the court process.

A perception that money (court costs) matters in the treatment one receives from the courts is also an important component of the court’s public image. Nearly all respondents (87 percent) believed that having a lawyer contributed “a lot” to the high cost of going to court. More than half the respondents believed that the slow pace of justice, the complexity of the law, and the expenditure of personal time (e.g. missing work) additionally contributed “a lot” to the cost of going to court. Most distressing, all of the groups said courts handle cases in a poor manner. Family relations cases and juvenile delinquency cases, in particular, are said to fare worst.

In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that a government lawyer prosecuting an African American criminal defendant violates the Equal Protection Clause if the prosecutor uses peremptory challenges for the purposes of excluding African Americans from the jury. The decision was premised in part on a desire to bolster public confidence in the fairness of the court system.

The Batson principle has been extended in a series of subsequent decisions, so that the prohibition on racially discriminatory peremptory challenges now extends to all trial attorneys, regardless of the nature of the case or the identity of the client. See Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1992); Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614 (1991); Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400 (1991). In Powers v. Ohio, the Court held a jury “acts as a vital check against the wrongful exercise of power by the State and its prosecutors,” and that racial discrimination in jury selection “damages both the fact and the perception of this guarantee.”

While Batson has not produced a general public consensus that all races receive equal treatment in the court system, that does not necessarily mean the decision has been completely ineffective, or that it is somehow fundamentally misguided. By striking at the use of racial stereotypes as the basis for peremptory challenges, one expected outcome of the Batson decision would be to increase the number of minorities serving on juries. Such an outcome could play a potentially significant role in improving public confidence in the court system. Data from the Georgia survey (Essay: Race and the Georgia Courts: Implications of the Georgia Public Trust and Confidence Survey for Batson v. Kentucky and its Progeny,” 37 Ga. L. Rev. 1021) suggests that, in certain respects, those who have served as jurors tend to have greater trust in the court system than other citizens, and this hold true when minority jurors are examined.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

 

Tavis Smiley's "State of the Black Union" 2005 Unity Covenant



Atlanta was the hot spot today. Tavis Smiley hosted his annual symposium "The State of the Black Union." The forum was held at Rev. Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. The program focused on defining the African American Agenda. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition took opportunity to explain to those gathered that the Black Congressional Caucus has in place a ten (10) point plan of action. But regardless of the question of whether or not the agenda set forth by the Caucus is the substance of this group's covenant the forum did establish that the process will include a community unity.

Today, black leaders voiced a need to advance the community. Freedom was the agenda until 1864. Civil rights, voting rights and access to public accomodations followed from 1864 to 1964. Leveraging the black community's collective capital appears to be the new covenant.

They voiced a concern that Democrats have taken the black community for granted and the republican party "just takes, using blacks who really have no power to lead."

The highmark of the event was when the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam, explained to the group that "regardless of where we have been, we want to advance our people." He said, " black children can't eat at the table of illusion and hypocrisy." He added, "we can't focus on the house that denied us access for 400 years." He closed, "the hell with democrats and republicans."

These African American leaders, carrying the history and weight of the black experience want group unity. They appear to have found meaning in their individuality and heritage. It's more than a common skin pigmentation. It has now become a community based on a social phenomenon of systematic and comprehensive forces that only those challenged by a longstanding history of discrimination and violence may understand.

The Need:

The level playing field remains more illusion than reality... Since the start of George W. Bush presidency in January 2000 a general concern in the African American community was voiced that on issues that are of the greatest importance to millions of Americans, the President's policies are misplaced priorities. The uncertainty continued into 2004 election.

But there's one truth above all others in second term elections. They are referendums on the incumbent. So as hard as it is to accept, there are other Americans outside the African American community that like the job that George W. Bush is doing. And, with re-election he's not an asterisk anymore alone among American presidents. That is, riding the votes of 59 million (other)Americans, he's the president regardless of the fact that majority of African Americans who voted would rather have had the other guy.

So... it's time to move on. African Americans must put their differences aside. American identity is not a function of birthright but a way of life. The African American community must keep moving toward the America identity it believes is possible. Isn't democracy great?

Some argue "African American leaders judges America from the utopian standard, never comparing America to anything other but the Garden of Eden (immigrants, for example, are said to compare America to their old country)." But, it has been only forty years since separate water fountains of Jim Crow prohibitions and many Americans would now like to proceed as if the slate is clean and the scale is balanced.

The upward strides of many African Americans into the middle class have given the illusion that race cannot be the barrier that some make it out to be. However, one in four African Americans continue to live below the official poverty line (versus approximately one in nine whites). The optimistic assumption of the 1970s and 1980s was that upwardly mobile African Americans were quietly integrating formerly all-white occupations, businesses, neighborhoods, and social clubs. Black middle- and working-class families were moving out of all-black urban neighborhoods and into the suburbs. But, the one black doctor who lives in an exclusive white suburb and the few African American lawyers who work at a large firm are not representative of the today's black community. And although most white Americans are also not doctors or lawyers, the lopsided distribution of occupations for whites does favor such professional and managerial jobs, whereas blacks are clustered in the sales and clerical fields.

In short, the inequalities run even deeper than just income. One must compound and exponentiate the current differences over a history of slavery and Jim Crow, and the nearly fourteenfold wealth advantage that whites enjoy over African Americans—(regardless of income, education, or occupation) needs little explanation, and add the failure of the education system where African Americans children are the clear victims.

The explanations for economic inequality perceives the American political economy as being fundamentally fair with virtually everyone guaranteed an equal opportunity to compete, work hard, and excel in American schools, labor markets, housing markets, and other American social institutions. However, using wealth as a measure of economic inequality, the same top twenty percent of American households controlled over sixty-eight percent of the net worth of the United States, leaving virtually no wealth in the hands of the bottom twenty percent.

Economic inequality that characterized the United States at its inception continues to influence contemporary institutional practices and American social institutions routinely discriminate against African Americans denying them the means of acquiring human capital (innate individual capacities such as talent and motivation combined with achieved qualities such as educational qualifications and employment experiences). Limited to segregated neighborhoods, educated in inferior schools, and lacking access to the good jobs that are increasingly located in inaccessible suburban neighborhoods, African Americans bear an unfair share of the costs and economic inequality in the United States constitutes economic injustice.

Recurring discrimination in workplaces and elsewhere wastes human capital and seriously restricts and marginalizes its victims. The negative impact of racial animosity and discrimination includes a sense of threat at work or elsewhere, lowered self-esteem, rage at mistreatment, depression, the development of defensive tactics, a reduction in desire for normal interaction, and other psychological problems. The costs of racial animosity and discrimination extends well beyond the individual to families and communities. While many African Americans may have managed to overcome discrimination, their struggle will take a toll in their personal health or on the ability to maximize contributions to the larger society.

Discussion:

Are some blacks becoming a "black bourgeoisie?"

Are some blacks controlling the wealth and power within the black community and turning its back on its own people?

Are many members of black America adopting the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class, and are trying to distance themselves from the black poor?

In the 1960s, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs broke the open barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some blacks was now wide open. More blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of – they fled blighted inner-city areas in droves. The new frontier, business where the dollar is made and where significant wealth and resources are at stake.

But, is there a widening rift between the black haves and the black have-nots that has been blurred by racism, ignored by blacks and hidden from white society?

Is black wealth, like white wealth, now concentrated in fewer hands?

A study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, shows progress toward school desegregation peaked in late 1980s. That is a half-century after the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of American education, schools are almost as segregated as they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The report said that a massive migration of black families toward the suburbs is producing "hundreds of new segregated and unequal schools and frustrating the dream of middle-class minority families." According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test report, by the 12th grade, on average, black students (in the United States) are four years behind those who are white or Asain.

The "NAEP" test report not only average scores for each racial or ethnic group; they also place each individual test-taker in one of four different "achievement levels." The bottom is labeled below basic, which is reserved for students unable to display even "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills." In five of the seven subjects tested, a majority of black twelfth graders perform Below Basic. In math, the figure is almost seven out of ten, in science more than three out of four.

While this gap may not be hidden from public, black republicans have been inhibited from describing the problem in its full dimensions. But closing the skills gap is the answer to real racial equality in American society.

What, in fact, are black republicans doing with what they aggregate?

Access to positions of power and prestige – and to well-paying jobs in general – are limited because blacks typically leave high school with an eighth-grade education. The status of blacks today is different than it was a half century ago, when almost 90 percent of blacks lived in poverty. By now more than 40 percent of blacks describe themselves as middle class, and a third live in suburbs. College attendance rates are as high although a high percentage drop out before getting a four-year degree. African-Americans are CEOs and occupy lofty positions in the federal government. But all is not well.

The most discouraging news of all is that which has been barely discussed by black leaders: the appalling racial gap in academic achievement in the K-12 years. Without an education, black children are slaves to the world they live in. Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down legalized school segregation to give equal educational access to African Americans and other minorities. But, today's major American educational issue still involves race.

Blacks have no choice but to prepare its young. At least three black men ascended in the aftermath of civil rights movement to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and an additional 275 or more senior black executives are now no less than three steps away from the CEO. They've attended the nation's most prestigious schools, learned how to navigate the highest reaches of the systems, and they have thrived.

But, for all their great wealth and enormous resources, it appears most sucessful blacks remain absent from the struggle of educating our young. Recently, Kmart Holding Corp. chose Aylwin Lewis to improve the giant retailer's image and operation. Lewis joins Stanley O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, Richard Parsons of Time Warner, Ken Chenault of American Express and Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae as the only African American chief executives heading top publicly trading companies in the U.S.

Corporations today say they do look to a talent pool largely comprising minorities and women for their senior and middle managers. But the level of education and the caliber of schools blacks attended are not equal, and the competition for market share is so ferocious that companies must recruit the best talent.

George W. Bush appealed to Americans' best instincts when he declared that no child should be left behind.

But?

All agree that every child in America should have the same opportunity to reach his or her full potential regardless of the color of skin, gender or the income level of the child's parents. The president's plan has set up millions of vulnerable kids for failure, leaving black youth with another dose of mostly symbolic politics. The education reform accountability system based on annual testing in grades three through eight that financially sanctions schools that do not show quick improvement, will do a great deal of additional damage to the children in America's most-troubled public schools. It is wrong to expect schools to succeed virtually overnight when so little is done to attack inequalities in education.

How can he expect the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, to do as well as those who have every advantage?

Given Bush's spending priorities there is little left to finance his efforts to leave no child behind. Further, by the time students enter the third grade, when the Bush testing plan would kick in, much already has been determined about whether individual children will succeed or struggle academically.

America's schools must be accountable to the children being educated in them and to their parents. But making high-stakes annual tests the sole determinant for students and their schools, and imposing major costs on those who fail, is counterproductive.

In closing, assessment should measure, not drive, education reform. Why force schools to spend thousands on consultants to teach test-taking strategies instead of substantive learning? The magic that can happen between a creative teacher and engaged students is too often lost in schools driven by test preparation.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

 

Alberto Gonzales, Bill O'Reilly, Ward Churchill, Gawker, Poynter, Someone Please Help -- Culture Western Pennsylvania Politics



Pittsburgh Mayor Under Federal Probe

The following is a story written on January 10, 2005, by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Torsten Ove. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05010/439729.stm

Behind a nondescript metal door next to the cafeteria in the federal courthouse, Downtown, the fate of Mayor Tom Murphy will play out in the coming months.

A grand jury has started gathering evidence to determine whether Murphy violated the law when he traded a generous contract with the city firefighters union in return for its endorsement in 2001.

That prosecutors were scrutinizing this deal has long been public knowledge, but the status of the probe and any details remain a secret.

That's always the case with federal investigations, in which prosecutors, agents and grand jurors are under strict rules not to reveal information -- or even acknowledge that an investigation is under way.

Those on the outside, then, are only left to speculate about what might be going on.

To date, this much is known:

On April 12, fire union chief Joseph King issued a letter saying Murphy traded $10 million to $12 million in fire union contract demands, including no-layoff protections, in exchange for the union's votes in the 2001 primary.

After the district attorney and the U.S. attorney promised to investigate, the FBI started interviewing witnesses in May, including King, Murphy and his top aide, Tom Cox.

Then, last month, city Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow delivered documents related to the contract that had been subpoenaed by a grand jury under the direction of First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar.

Cessar will likely summarize those records for the grand jury, one of five that hear cases in U.S. District Court, at a future session. Federal grand juries usually meet once a month, and unlike state or county panels convened for a special purpose, they hear all manner of cases for 18 months.

The grand jury has the power to subpoena all records and witnesses, but in this case apparently no one has yet been called to testify.

All of these developments are standard operating procedure for a public corruption probe, former federal prosecutors said.

"The fact that a grand jury subpoena has been issued does not necessarily mean that the prosecutor has determined to seek an indictment," said William Snyder, a former prosecutor in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., who recently took a job in academia at Albany Law School.

The grand jury is the usual means of securing documents in cases, especially sensitive ones. While federal agencies such as the FBI or IRS can issue "administrative" subpoenas or summons in drug or gun investigations, corruption probes require a grand jury subpoena.

The fact that Murphy has hired a lawyer, Robert Del Greco Jr., does not mean he's going to be charged. It's normal practice for everyone involved in grand jury proceedings to hire lawyers, who aren't allowed in the grand jury room but can advise their clients outside.

"He would be foolish not to hire an attorney, given just the information I've read in the paper," said attorney William Conley, a former federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh.

Del Greco won't comment on the case, nor will King or his lawyer, Patrick Nightingale.

The nuts and bolts of grand jury proceedings are second nature to prosecutors and defense attorneys, but what intrigues some in the Murphy case is the nature of a potential charge.

Cessar, who is not allowed to comment, is presumably interested in whether the fire contract deal violated the federal Hobbs Act, which prohibits public officials from using their official power to obtain property or services.

The law was used to convict former state Rep. Frank Gigliotti and former Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Jaffe, among others.

But several ex-prosecutors said they don't see how the Hobbs Act would apply to such political "horse-trading" as the deal King says he cut with Murphy. Doesn't this kind of thing happen all the time in politics?

"Based on what I've read, it's not a crime," said attorney Tom Farrell, the prosecutor who put Gigliotti in prison and now represents a witness in the Murphy investigation (he won't say who).

"I've never seen a Hobbs Act violation that didn't involve an exchange of money," he said. "When does the political horse-trading cross the line into corruption?"

The FBI has asked questions about money changing hands, but there is no indication that such an exchange took place.

Several ex-prosecutors said the Justice Department, which has to sign off on investigations of elected officials, would never take a chance on indicting a big-city mayor based merely on the allegations raised publicly so far.

For an indictment, there likely would have to be more -- either secret payments or services of some type or perhaps an attempt at obstruction.

One former prosecutor said the U.S. attorney's office is often in an untenable position in these kinds of cases, because prosecutors are obligated to investigate a complaint in the public interest but don't want to ruin someone's reputation with the "onus of investigation."

That's one of the main reasons why grand jury proceedings are secret in the first place.

"The secrecy requirement protects an innocent person who has been investigated and cleared by the grand jury," says the "Benchbook for U.S. District Court Judges," a guide published by the Federal Judicial Center. "In the eyes of some, investigation alone suggests guilt. Thus, a great injury can be done to the good name and standing of anyone, even though they are not indicted, if it becomes known that there was an investigation about them."

Although federal grand juries in routine cases will sometimes take their lead from the prosecutor and "rubber stamp" an indictment, ex-prosecutors say that doesn't happen in more sensitive investigations like this one. Grand juries are often independent-minded and will decline to indict if they feel there's no case.

Former prosecutors also reject another common contention, often raised in probes of elected officials, that such investigations are motivated by local or national politics.

Murphy is a Democrat, after all, while Cessar and his boss, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, are staunch Republicans obviously working for a Republican administration.

But ex-prosecutors said that fact would have no bearing on the investigation. For one thing, the lead agency is the FBI, which rotates its agents around the country so they have no personal ties to a case. The lead agent in the Murphy case, for example, is from Newark, N.J.

And Farrell, a diehard Democrat, pointed out that his most well-known case was the prosecution of Gigliotti -- another diehard Democrat.

"In my experience," he said, "politics don't play a role in federal investigations."

County Sheriff Under Federal Probe

This next story was written on January 27, 2005, by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer Chris Osher. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/pittsburgh/s_297355.html

At least six high-ranking employees and a former captain in Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio's office testified Wednesday before a federal grand jury that has subpoenaed DeFazio's campaign records. Most of the witnesses appeared before the grand jury for about an hour. All declined to comment as they left the federal courthouse yesterday.

One witness cooperating with the investigation has said the FBI is investigating how Chief Deputy Dennis Skosnik collected money from the sheriff's command staff -- about 12 people in all -- as Christmas gifts to the sheriff in 2003 and 2004. Two people familiar with the probe have said the FBI wants the sheriff's command staff to detail the Christmas presents.

Cmdr. Carmen DeLuca, Lt. Thomas Carter, Capt. Joseph Rizzo and Capt. Frank Schiralli appeared before the grand jury yesterday. "They have done nothing wrong," said attorney Robert Leight, a former FBI agent and former assistant U.S. attorney who is representing all four men. "They are merely fact witnesses."

Capt. Donna Best also appeared before the grand jury with her lawyer, Tom Ceraso.

Former Capt. John Tozzi, who retired in June 2004, also appeared. His lawyer, Robert G. Del Greco Jr., said his client is a witness and isn't a subject or target of the federal investigation.

DeFazio's executive assistant, William Mullen Jr., said yesterday that he has complied with a grand-jury subpoena by delivering nearly 17,000 pages of documents Tuesday to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Most of the documents are campaign records, including canceled checks and expenditures.

Mullen, who came to the courthouse yesterday with his lawyer, Charles Porter, said he appeared briefly before the grand jury to verify that he is the keeper of the documents and had compiled them.

"Those records are accurate to a fault," Mullen said.

"There are probably 30 binders worth of canceled checks," he said. "It's probably two and a half feet high."

Mullen said he also has provided a list of 297 special deputies -- an honorary position bestowed by the sheriff's office -- as well as backup documentation of their appointments. The position of special deputy comes with a special badge but confers no law-enforcement powers.

Mullen also has provided a roster of reserve deputies -- a volunteer position used primarily to provide security during parades, funerals and other functions.

"I'm sure there will be questions and additional documents will have to be provided," Mullen said.

The use of the badges raised concerns in 2003 when eyewitnesses said entrepreneur Timothy Heffner of Pine, whose home was raided last year by the Internal Revenue Service, twice tried to make arrests by displaying a badge. The sheriff's office also gave an honorary badge to Christopher Fekos, a Dormont businessman who has been named in court documents as a suspect in the theft of $1.8 million from Citizens Bank.

Employees of DeFazio's office began receiving subpoenas this month either to provide documents or appear to testify. Mullen said it wouldn't be appropriate for him to comment on whether other employees in the sheriff's office had received subpoenas for additional records.

DeFazio, one of the county's top Democrats, was first elected sheriff in 1997 and re-elected in 2001. He is running this year for a third four-year term. As sheriff, DeFazio wields considerable political clout. He succeeded last year in efforts to keep the sheriff's office an elected post rather than an appointed one under a proposed reduction of county row offices.

The sheriff's office has a $10 million annual budget and more than 200 employees. Sheriff's deputies provide county courthouse security, transport prisoners and serve legal papers.

DeFazio's personal lawyer, Anthony Mariani, has said federal law-enforcement officers have told the sheriff he is not the subject of the investigation. Mariani has said DeFazio will cooperate with the investigation and will help in any way possible.

"The sheriff continues to fully cooperate and would expect everyone involved to do the same," Mariani said yesterday.

DeFazio and Skosnik have declined to comment on advice of their lawyers. They were unavailable yesterday.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar, who is coordinating the probe, declined to comment.

Allegheny County Coroner Under Criminal Probe -- Hobbs Act

This story appeared in the February 15, 2005, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was written by Jonathan D. Silver. http://postgazette.com/pg/05046/457665.stm

A clinical, three-page treatise on positional asphyxiation written by Dr. Cyril H. Wecht is the driving force behind the criminal investigation of Allegheny County's coroner.

The problem, according to District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., is that Wecht and the coroner are one and the same.

Zappala contends that Wecht may have violated state and federal ethics laws by using his public office for private gain. Specifically, Wecht recommended homicide charges in the death of an Altoona man who died from positional asphyxiation during a fight with Mount Oliver police in 2002, and then earned $5,000 as a private consultant to write the report for a federal lawsuit by the man's family.

Wecht said yesterday he conferred with his personal attorney, the coroner's solicitor and other lawyers he knows, and he still could not find anyone to tell him he broke the law.

"I can only tell you that nobody can come up with any logical explanation or rationale for that assertion," Wecht said. "Forget whether they think it is likely to be meritorious, nobody that I've spoken to can understand what the reasoning is."

In March 2003, the family of 43-year-old Charles Dixon filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Mount Oliver police. That July, after reviewing testimony at an open inquest and a recommendation by hearing examiner William Manifesto, Wecht recommended that Zappala pursue criminal charges in the case, though he did not identify a culprit.

About two months after that, Wecht was asked by the law firm Lewis, Lewis & Reilly to write a report about positional asphyxiation, which the coroner's office ruled as the cause of Dixon's death. That condition can happen when pressure is applied to the back of someone in a prone position.

In the report, dated Oct. 2, 2003, Wecht wrote a seven-point memo to attorney Frank E. Reilly based on his review of "the death certificate, autopsy protocol, microscopic autopsy tissue slides, various investigative reports and documents, and the 'Findings and Opinion of the Coroner's Office' regarding the death of Charles Dixon Sr."

Over the three pages, Wecht laid out in dry, scientific detail the cause of Dixon's death and then concluded that "information about the dangers of positional asphyxiation has been widely disseminated to law enforcement agencies" throughout the country.

The lawsuit was settled for $850,000.

Wecht said once the coroner's office issues its findings in a particular case, that has "terminated our office's involvement in the case."

Wecht estimates he has been asked to serve as a private consultant on an average of two cases per year handled by his office for the 23 years he has been coroner, including the period from 1966 to 1980.

"They've come to me for my opinions and I've rendered them," Wecht said. "In all of these cases, I've submitted a written report which goes to opposing counsel.

"I'm there as a private pathologist, not as the coroner," Wecht continued. "I've done nothing different, and there's nothing new or different in this case."

In fact, there is a difference. The Dixon case might be the only one in which Wecht has served as an expert after an open inquest was conducted to determine the cause and manner of death and whether someone was criminally liable.

Wecht did serve as an expert witness on a lawsuit brought by the family of motorist Jonny Gammage, who died of positional asphyxia during a confrontation with police after a traffic stop in Overbrook, but Wecht was not the coroner when the incident happened in 1995.

Wecht said for the past two to three years, he has charged a standard $5,000 fee for consulting on cases, whether "malpractice or murder."

"That's a standard rate for a guy of his national prominence. That's clearly reasonable," said attorney J. Kerrington Lewis, one of the attorneys who represented the Dixon family. In addition to probing Wecht's activities in the Dixon case, Zappala said Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, who is in charge of the investigation, had requested copies of Wecht's ethics filings.

Under the county's Ethics Act, adopted in 2001, row officers and others are required to submit annual statements of financial interest that document gifts, corporate interests, owned properties and the names of immediate family members and whether they belong to county boards or directorships, among other things. Wecht did not file any statements for 2002 or 2003.

"I have received no gifts from anybody. I don't have a political fund. I own one home and none of my children or in-laws or family work for the county," Wecht said last week. He would not directly address why he had not filed statements with the county.

Both Zappala and Claus were out of town.

Manager in City Controller Office Sentence -- Sold Cocaine from his desk.

This story appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on December 11, 2003. It was written by Tribune staff writer Glen May. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/news/s_169433.html

Gilbert Martinez, a former manager in the city controller's office, pleaded guilty Wednesday to numerous charges he sold cocaine from his office at the City-County Building during 2001 and then fled to avoid a trial.
The 30 counts combined merit a prison term of 100 years, although Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel could order some sentences to run concurrently, sharply reducing Martinez' term. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 10.

Martinez, who oversaw purchasing and contracts in Controller Tom Flaherty's office, vowed after his June 24 arrest that he had insider information that would "blow the top off Pittsburgh."

Martinez had no tales to tell. "That was just something he said," his lawyer, Patrick J. Thomassey, said yesterday.

Flaherty had little to say last night.

"I don't have any comment. That's between he and his lawyer," Flaherty said.

Martinez, 60, who remains in the Allegheny County jail pending sentencing, made no comment. Thomassey said his client had little choice but to plead guilty given the evidence.

That evidence, Assistant District Attorney Steven Stadtmiller said, included a videotape filmed in the City-County Building lobby of Martinez selling 27 grams of cocaine to a police informant for $1,350.

Undercover officers and the informant bought cocaine from Martinez six times, Stadtmiller said, with a second transaction recorded on audiotape. The sales ranged from 4 to 27 grams, Stadtmiller said.

Martinez, of Brookline, pleaded guilty yesterday to six charges each of drug delivery, drug possession and possession with intent to deliver. He also pleaded guilty to six counts of flight to avoid prosecution and six of missing a court appearance.

Prosecutors said yesterday that Martinez tried to find a way to flee to Cuba or to Mexico after he skipped a Jan. 6 hearing on his drug charges. Martinez was arrested June 24 at a hotel in Meadville, Crawford County.

Allegheny County Sheriff's Sgt. Jack Kearney, who headed the manhunt, said after yesterday's hearing that Martinez tried to use his dead father's biographical information to get a bogus Social Security card, and that he also tried to get a phony passport.

Martinez contacted Cuban diplomats in Washington, D.C., to try to arrange flight there, Kearney said, and also considered opening a business in Mexico in the lobster industry.

But Thomassey said stories about Martinez's planned escape were exaggerated.

"I think if he was going to go to Mexico, I don't know why he was in Meadville (Crawford County) for four months," Thomassey said.

According to prosecutors, Martinez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 26 years for the drug charges alone and up to seven years on each of the 12 charges stemming from his being a fugitive.

But Thomassey said Martinez should face only three-year mandatory terms on each drug sale.

Thomassey said he hopes Martinez is not given harsher treatment because of where the drug transactions took place.

"It just happened to be where the transactions occurred," Thomassey said, adding Martinez has no prior criminal record.

Thomassey said no decision has been made about the fate of Martinez's $1,885-a-month city pension, which continued to be deposited in Martinez's bank account while he was on the run.

Craig Frischman, the lawyer for Pittsburgh's municipal employees pension fund, said there are several factors that could determine whether Martinez's conviction will result in the loss of his pension. But Frischman said he first needs to review the law and the details of the charges against Martinez.

Allegheny County Jail Guards -- Sex With Prisoners

This story appeared in the February 18, 2005, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The story was written by Tribune staf writer Dave Conti. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/pittsburgh/s_305041.html

An Allegheny County jury on Thursday acquitted an out-of-work guard in the first case from the county jail's sex-for-favors scandal to reach trial.
Donald Stupka, 46, was cleared of a charge of institutional sexual assault by a jury of eight women and four men after two hours of deliberations.

"It's clear the jury didn't believe her story," defense attorney Michael Foglia said of the testimony of Stupka's accuser. "It's the right verdict."

Stupka declined to comment as he left court with several friends and relatives, all of whom broke down in tears when he was acquitted.

Mike Manko, spokesman for the district attorney's office, also declined to comment because more cases are awaiting trial.

Stupka is one of 13 male guards and one female guard arrested last year following a grand jury investigation into sex and drugs in the Uptown lockup. Three male guards have already pleaded guilty to institutional sexual assault charges.

Stupka's accuser testified that the guard began giving her cigarettes in 1999, and that one night that year, she performed a sexual act on him in her cell. Assistant District Attorney Randy Ricciuti did not present any physical evidence to the jury.

Stupka denied the allegations and testified he had never seen the woman until a preliminary hearing following his arrest.

"She was an admitted drug user and abuser," Foglia said.

The woman also has accused two other guards who are awaiting trial. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review does not identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted.

Stupka was placed on "inactive" status at the jail following his arrest last February and has not been collecting pay or benefits, according to the county controller's office.

Jail Warden Ramon Rustin was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

West Homestead Police Chief Arrested

This story appeared in the February 19, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was written by Post-Gazette staff writer Torsten Ove. http://pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/pittsburgh/s_304559.html

The FBI and U.S. postal inspectors have arrested former West Homestead Police Chief David Ausburn. His detention hearing in U.S. District Court will be tomorrow.

The criminal complaint against him remains sealed, but agents took him before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan yesterday for an initial appearance hearing, at which a defendant typically is notified of the charges against him and has a lawyer appointed to represent him.

Ausburn will appear again before Lenihan at 2 p.m. tomorrow, when the case likely will be unsealed and the judge will decide if he should be released on bond, or detained as a danger to the community or a risk to flee.

No one has revealed the exact nature of the charges, but U.S. Postal Inspector Tom Clinton and FBI agent Denise Valentine, veteran child sex-crimes agents with the Crimes Against Children Task Force, investigated the case. The federal, state and local unit handles investigations of child pornography, child exploitation and Internet coercion throughout Western Pennsylvania.

The U.S. attorney's office won't comment on the case, and yesterday neither would Ausburn's lawyer, James Ecker.

"I really can't talk about it, much as I'd like to," Ecker said.

Ausburn, 35, was supposed to make his first appearance in court on Feb. 7, but checked himself into a psychiatric hospital instead.

Mayor John Dindak said he talked to Ausburn last week, although he didn't ask him for any details of the investigation.

"He sounded depressed on the phone," said the mayor. "He said, 'I won't be seeing you guys for a while.' "

Ausburn called Dindak on Feb. 4 and said federal agents had a warrant to search his office. The agents spent eight hours at the police station and confiscated the chief's car and laptop computer.

Agents are required to leave a copy of the warrant at the scene of a search, along with an inventory of any items seized. But Dindak said he hadn't seen the paperwork and the chief may have it.

Borough council accepted Ausburn's resignation at its Feb. 7 meeting. A search for a replacement is under way.

Rankin Police Chief Gets Jail Term

This story was written by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Torsten Ove and appeared in the January 27, 2005 edition of the newspaper. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/05027/448613.stm

A federal judge yesterday sentenced former Rankin Police Chief Darryl Briston to three years and a month in prison for the theft of $5,855 seized from a borough resident during an arrest of a drug suspect in 2002.

Briston had asked Senior U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch not to send him to jail, saying he was concerned about his wife and two children.

Instead, he got the maximum under sentencing guidelines that are no longer mandatory because of a recent Supreme Court decision.

"We're going downstairs to appeal right now," Briston said as he left court. "This is wrong, man."

Bloch said he didn't have to follow the guidelines but indicated he would anyway, as First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar had requested.

In arguing for leniency, Briston's lawyer, Caroline Roberto, suggested that sending him to prison would have a greater impact on the ex-chief than other defendants. A jail term for Briston would mean additional punishment for a man whose conviction already means he can never again be a police officer, she said.

Roberto presented several character witnesses on Briston's behalf, including Allegheny County police detectives Robert Young and Donald Strittmatter.

"In all the years that I've worked with Darryl, I've always thought he was an honest, trustworthy police officer," said Young.

Roberto also presented a former Allegheny County Jail inmate who said he'd heard other inmates say they would kill Briston if he ended up there.

Briston, 41, of Penn Hills, was found guilty at trial last year on all counts related to the theft of $5,855 seized by Rankin police during the arrest of a federal drug suspect April 15, 2002.

The jury convicted him of deprivation of civil rights under color of law, theft from an organization receiving federal funds and two counts of obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors said the former chief stole the money from Tamera Brice after Rankin police took it from her safe after the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested her boyfriend, Richard Powell, on gun and drug charges.

Powell went to federal prison. But Brice was never charged with any crimes, although she did admit that some of the money had come from Powell.

In addition to the theft counts, prosecutors said he falsified receipts to make it look like most of the money had been spent fixing Brice's Chevrolet Blazer after a tour bus smashed into it in July 2003.

Omar R. Deer, owner of the Allmor Corp. auto body shop where the work was done, said the repairs cost $1,910, not the $5,787 Briston had claimed.

Cessar said Briston also gave the forged documents to the grand jury and directed two Rankin officers to place false evidence in the department's evidence locker. Those actions were the basis for the obstruction charges.

In addition to the prison term, Bloch ordered Briston to pay an outstanding balance of $4,255 to Brice as restitution.

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