The annual awards ceremony and convention recognizes outstanding journalism and graphic design among AAN’s 124 alternative news organizations across the United States and Canada. More than 900 entries were submitted throughout two circulation divisions and more than a dozen writing and design categories. Winners were chosen by judges at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.
The Long Island Press won three First Place and one Second-Place awards, including:
First Place – Long Form News Story (50,000-and-over circulation division), for Managing Editor Jaclyn Gallucci’s cover story “Identifying Princess Doe,” a behind-the-scenes look at law enforcement’s use of the latest technological advances to help identify a 30-year cold-case murder victim and her killers.
First Place – Multimedia (all publications), for Multimedia Reporter Rashed Mian, Twarowski, Director of New Media Michael Conforti, and graphic designers Scott Kearney and Sal Calvi’s comprehensive and interactive editorial, graphics and video package “Ripple Effect,” exposing an ever-creeping subterranean plume of toxic chemicals contaminating public drinking water supplies across Long Island.
Twarowski, Mian and Art Director Jon Sasala earned Second Place Multimedia (all publications) nods for “Clam Wars,” a cover story and video package detailing the ongoing battle between baymen and a commercial shellfish dredging company in Oyster Bay.
The 36th Annual AAN Convention was hosted by Miami New Times and featured Rolling Stone contributing editor Matt Taibbi, among other speakers and presenters. AAN Executive Director Tiffany Shackelford bestowed all winners in attendance with “bling and beverages.” Those who couldn’t make it to Miami for the festivities will be mailed certificates.
For a full list of 2013 AAN Awards categories and winners, CLICK HERE.
Arguably the most conservative jurist—if not the luckiest—on the U.S. Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas was 17 years old when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, one of the most important accomplishments of the Civil Rights era. But when Thomas recently cast his vote in the Court’s 5-4 decision gutting the law, he jabbed “a dagger” in its heart, according to its longtime supporter, Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), who actually marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965—and got his skull fractured by state troopers—to gain rights for his fellow citizens that Thomas, also from Georgia, would later take for granted. How did Thomas get into Yale Law School? He’d never admit it—but he got in by the progress made at such a heavy cost by men and women like John Lewis and other courageous people who risked life and limb to overcome our country’s endemic racism. That Thomas would let himself be cynically nominated to fill Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat by the first President George Bush—and thus become the second African-American to serve on the highest court in the land—without feeling any moral obligation to follow in Marshall’s footsteps is very damning indeed. Thomas climbed up a ladder that the Freedom Riders had risked their lives to erect. That he would deliberately pull that ladder away from future generations of disadvantaged Americans by siding with the conservative majority in this ruling is a cruel joke played on the American people by the country club elite. When the Court is in public session, Thomas is known for not saying a word. But what more can he say—after Anita Hill exposed him for who he really is? His continued presence on the Court, like his silence, is obscene.
The celebrity chef known for her Southern comfort got burned when she admitted in court depositions that she’d let the N-word trickle out of her mouth and cracked anti-Semitic jokes in her restaurant. Now Paula Deen, who really likes to pile on the butter, is smacked dab in the middle of a mud cake without the Food Network to support her and corporate sponsors like Target, Home Depot, Caesars Entertainment, Smithfield Foods and Walmart to pick up the tab. In her defense the 66-year-old busted belle blubbers, “I is what I is.” And her deluded clans of kitchen fans have made her latest batch of cholesterol-challenging recipes, “Paula Deen’s New Testament,” a top seller on Amazon’s book list. If they can swallow her warmed-over, stale racism, served with a plate of humble pie, so be it. But we lost our appetite a long time ago.
When Aaron Hernandez was a tight-end for the New England Patriots, he made life miserable for the New [Jersey] Jets—but nobody accused the football player of killing anything other than the hopes and dreams of Gang Green and their luckless fans. Now Hernandez, 23, stands accused of shooting a friend, Odin Lloyd, to death with a .45-caliber handgun in an industrial park less than a mile from his $1.4-million Massachusetts mansion. Allegedly destroying evidence like smashing his cell phone into pieces, hiring house cleaners to scrub his place after Lloyd’s murder was reported and dismantling his mansion’s security system add up to some blown coverage, let’s say. It’s right that the Pats cut ties to him. The NFL may run on thugs—but they know when to stop at the whistle. How could Bill Belichick have missed those tell-tale “Blood” tattoos on Hernandez’s arms? Maybe he didn’t have his video cameras pointed the right way that day.
The joke was on George Zimmerman, charged with murdering Trayvon Martin, when his witless defense attorney Don West bombed in the courtroom with a knock-knock joke: “Knock, knock,” West said. “Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? Congratulations, you’re on the jury.” We know justice is supposed to be blind, but not dumb. West should have saved his stand-up routine for a comedy club.
It’s not often that people think of Toronto mayors as being wild and crazy guys but Rob Ford apparently defies the stereotype. According to Gawker’s John Cook and Toronto newspaper reporters, drug dealers shot a video of the conservative mayor smoking crack cocaine this year. Toronto cops have said that the mayor knew the gangbangers posing in their hoodies with their arms around him in a widely circulated photo that does not show the mayor with a crack pipe in his hand. Canadian cops say that two of the men pictured with Ford were busted in a series of pre-dawn raids targeting guns and gangs in Toronto and Windsor, and one of the men was shot in a gangland execution outside a Toronto night club. Apparently the amateur videographer had made overtures to sell the incriminating footage, showed it to the reporters, but then got cold feet (or upped the ante). Ford says the video exists only in somebody’s fevered hallucination—he’s clean as a whistle. People who’ve seen the footage beg to differ. Gawker has since set up a crowd-sourcing fund to raise the 200 hundred grand the video maker supposedly wants for the crack tape. Perhaps prompted by the attention swirling around the scandal, a young Toronto woman threw a cup of juice at him recently while he was attending an Italian street carnival and got herself arrested. Maybe she was just trying to put out a fire—like the one that comes from a crack pipe, perhaps—and missed. We don’t know. Either way, when people tell Mayor Ford to “put that in your pipe and smoke it,” somebody may want to call the cops.
Those Texas politicians sure do spend an awful lot of time worrying about women’s sexual organs. Sometimes in the heat of the moment they say the darnedest things. While all the recent attention was rightly focused on Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, who had to take a stand, literally, for almost 12 hours to filibuster a very restrictive anti-abortion bill pushed by Texas Republican lawmakers, we’d like to shine the spotlight on Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, one of the bill’s sponsors in the Texas House. The measure imposes an unconstitutional ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and effectively closes 37 of Texas’ 42 Planned Parenthood clinics, leaving hundreds of thousands of women without recourse. In denying an amendment that would have exempted victims of rape and incest, Laubenberg made the amazing observation that emergency rooms have rape kits so “that the woman can get cleaned out.” Wrong. Those kits are only good for collecting evidence, not terminating a pregnancy. Nobody accused Laubenberg of knowing science, but you’d think she’d know more about what women in the Lone Star State have to endure before she blithely puts them through it.
An animal control officer in North Ridgeville, Ohio, Barry Accorti got the call from a homeowner concerned about a litter of newborn kittens in a woodpile behind her house. So, while the woman’s children were watching from their windows upstairs, Accorti shot the 8- to10-week-old kittens to death. “Mommy, he’s killing the kittens!” they started screaming, according to Teresa Landon, Ohio SPCA executive director, who demanded that Accorti be shit-canned. His chief, who must hate cats as much as he apparently does, stood by the kitten-killer and decided his “actions were appropriate.” They weren’t.
Cable commoners know these damsels by their royal name: “Princesses: Long Island.” They squabble, they babble, they shop ’til they drop, and then they scream for more, more, more! This bevy of rich girls behaving badly may be good for Bravo’s ratings, but they sure are terrible for Long Island’s bruised and battered image. We can imagine what the network had in mind, but what were these young women thinking? Apparently, nothing more challenging than whether nail polish is a reflection of inner beauty or whether lip gloss and breath freshener should really be combined. These “reality” females have dissed Freeport, kvetched about Super Storm Sandy’s “disgusting” debris and otherwise managed to insult New Yorkers by embodying the worst of the Jewish stereotypes. But their biggest offense? Boredom. Surely they can all do better than this. These pampered “Princesses” give “privilege” a bad name.
He’s the brutish art tycoon hubby of the voluptuous TV celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. Whatever they do behind closed doors is their business. But when the estranged couple had lunch at London’s ritzy Scott’s restaurant last month, things got out of hand, literally. Saatchi, a 70-year-old advertising mogul who owns art galleries in New York and London, was at a sidewalk table with his 51-year-old wife when the millionaire grabbed her throat and made her wince. The tabloids ran the pictures of her leaving the restaurant in tears. Saatchi called his throat-clutching gesture “a playful tiff.” She didn’t file charges—she just moved out on him. Good for her. She can leave the joking choker behind.
She’s the Texas actress nobody had heard of until she told the FBI that her estranged husband, Nathan, had sent ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Glaze, the director of Bloomberg’s anti-gun initiative, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Besides the poison-penmanship, threatening correspondence also targeted Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney John M. Bales and FBI Special Agent in Charge Diego Rodriguez. But talk about “return to sender!” Federal authorities arrested the 35-year-old actress—and pregnant mother of five—and charged her with setting up her husband, a 33-year-old Army veteran, whom she wed in 2011. Now she faces up to 10 years in federal prison. That’s probably not the outcome the former beauty pageant winner who appeared in “The Walking Dead” and “the Vampire Diaries” had in mind when she allegedly came up with this plot. It would have been better if her part had been cut.
Here’s something I’ve been chewing over for a long time.
Sixty years ago Bazooka Joe—the iconic character created by a Long Islander—debuted in a little strip wrapped around pieces of Bazooka Bubble Gum. Last November, Bazooka Candy Brands—a division of Topps (the company behind so many sports and other trading cards)—announced that they would no longer include Bazooka Joe inserts with their bubblegum, citing decreasing sales.
Joe and the gang were, it seems, being put out to pasture, where they might as well be blowing smoke, perhaps, as bubbles.
How ironic that Abrams ComicArts has just come out with a book, “Bazooka Joe and His Gang,” which features an anthology of 100 strips including the complete first series as well as essays about the kid in the black eye-patch with his baseball cap on sideways.
I can remember my shock, growing up on Long Island, when Bazooka gum jumped from a penny to two. The whole thing about bubble gum was that it cost you almost nothing. And, in all seriousness, as a little kid, being able to walk into a candy store and make your own purchase (with another 12 to 20 cents for a comic book, of course!) might even give you your first taste of fiscal empowerment.
This was still back in the day when candy stores seemed to be everywhere. You’d walk in, and often there’d be a lunch counter as well. My next door neighbor, Sam Picker, used to walk up two blocks almost every night to Dutch Broadway in Valley Stream to have his ice cream soda for desert!
I can remember it was a big deal when Bazooka introduced new flavors: grape and cherry, as I recall.
But that might have been after 1973, when it felt like almost all the candy stores on Long Island mysteriously transformed into “stationery stores.” A slice of Americana disappeared forever.
I had always loved the Bazooka Joe characters. Some years ago I was a little horrified when I unwrapped a piece and the cartoons had changed. Gone were the familiar designs, replaced by some odd nouveau version of the gang.
Why, I thought, if Bazooka had finally gone to the extent of creating some fun new adventures, had they not hired an artist who could draw in the classic style? Bazooka Joe may not have been Norman Rockwell, but I thought his place in pop culture might have been pretty well secured.
Some time later I was embarrassed when I was airing my criticism of the new Bazooka style in a phone chat with Howard Cruse, the terrific comics artist/writer, only to discover that he had been the recidivist perpetrator!
Among his many aptitudes, Cruse can replicate other illustrators, so I asked him why he hadn’t created the new strips in the classic fashion.
He told me he was charged by Topps with creating “a teenaged, and therefore, by definition, heretically altered versions” of the Bazooka crowd.
“I doubt that I could have mimicked the drawing style of the ones you grew up with if that had been what Topps wanted,” Cruse said. “It’s really hard to pull off cartooning jujitsu with anything that has to be drawn at that ridiculously small size! In other words, at that scale I was barely able to render my own style, much less anyone else’s!”
Topps itself is something of an American success story, the 1937 brainchild of the brothers Shorin: Abram, Ira, Phillip and Joseph. They launched Bazooka Bubblegum in 1947, and began experimenting with comic strip inserts, including the exploits of “Bazooka The Atom-Bubble Boy.””
But their first attempts evidently didn’t catch on.
“Bazooka Joe” was created by Woody Gelman, the head of Topps Product Development Department, and the artist he turned to was Wesley Morse.
Gelman, a long-time resident of Malverne, passed away in 1978.
“Woody was the nicest, most creative and gentlest man I ever met,” said Len Brown, a Brooklyn-born writer/editor, who retired from Topps. “I owe my career to Woody, who I met by chance when I was not quite fourteen years of age. And when I hit 18, I walked into 254-36th St. in Brooklyn, because of him, and maintained a desk at Topps for the next 40 years.
“He was the father to me that I had lost at the age of five,” Brown told me. “Do you get the idea that I have a real fondness for this man? I can still dream about him occasionally and I am always grateful….”
In 2007, Topps was purchased by Michael Eisner’s The Tornante Company and Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm specializing in leveraged buyouts. Eisner, once the phenomenally successful head of Disney, announced in 2009 that he was going to try to turn Bazooka Joe into a movie franchise.
Why now would a company virtually jettison its branding trademark?
One cigarette/Lotto shop owner in Lynbrook I recently spoke with used to have that prototypical clear plastic bowl of Bazooka right on his counter near the cash register, and he would be glad to do so again, but he had simply forgotten about it. And no one from Topps or even a local distributor had reminded him about it for years.
So, there you go. Say it ain’t so, Bazooka Joe.
And if there are any among you who never pulled a T-shirt or a turtleneck over your nose and didn’t think of Joe and his gang, I’ll treat you to a Wetson’s burger, a Black Cow candy pop, and a whole month of Sundays.
James H. Burns is a writer/actor living in Valley Stream who has made several contributions to Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. His writings have appeared in Gentleman’s Quarterly, Esquire, Twilight Zone and Heavy Metal, and more recently in Newsday, The Sporting News, CBS-NY.com, The Village Voice and The New York Times. More of his articles are available at http://thethunderchild.com/BurnsintheCity/index.html
A year after three children died when the boat they were aboard capsized and sank in Oyster Bay Harbor following a family Fourth of July fireworks outing, the push for new boating laws continues.
An investigative report released Wednesday found that overcrowding and a wave that hit at the worst possible angle caused the vessel to tip over. The report and the parents of the victims are calling for more stringent New York State boat safety legislation than a recently passed law that requires boaters under 18 receive boater safety education.
“I just hope that Victoria’s memory can serve as a reminder to all boaters to be more cautious, and remember that there are many lives at stake,” Paul Gaines, father of an 8-year-old girl who was one of the three children lost, said through his lawyer.
Victoria Gaines, 11-year-old Harley Treanor and his 12-year-old cousin, David Aureliano, drowned when they were trapped in the cabin as the Kandi Won—which had 27 people aboard—sank 65 feet to the bottom of the Long Island Sound.
Nassau County prosecutors announced earlier this year that there would be no criminal charges filed in the case. Neither Sal Aureliano, the operator of the Kandi Won, nor the vessel’s owner, Kevin Treanor, showed signs of impairment
The report urges lawmakers to adopt legislation requiring vessels to capacity limits regardless of size, require boats get regular equipment inspections and further study how to improve boating regulations.
“It doesn’t make sense that we require capacity limits be posted for everything from ballrooms to classrooms, but not recreational vessels over 20 feet,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said last July after he a proposed boat capacity bill that has not yet been voted out of committee.
Suffolk County last fall passed a law that goes in effect in November requiring vessel operators attend boating safety classes and New York State last month passed a law that goes into effect next May requiring safety classes for boaters born on or after May 1, 1996.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s report on the Kandi Won called the state law “a good first step,” but called for Albany to go further. “Lawmakers should work toward endeavor to include all boaters and should amend the provisions relating to children.”
“Victoria’s Law,” a bill in the state legislature named for Victoria Gaines, would mandate boater safety course completion for all operators and visible weight capacity limits for all recreational watercraft.
“This tragedy should be a wake up call to all legislators to enact and enforce Victoria’s Law for stricter boating safety regulations,” said Paul Gaines, who’s been lobbying for the bill with his wife, Lisa, over the past year.
The legislation would also require boat traffic controllers and first responders to be present at large boating events, such as the fireworks show. The Dolan family of Cablevision fame that held the fireworks show preceding the tragedy cancelled this year’s display.
An electronic petition in favor of Victoria’s Law and more information on the legislation and fundraising is available at www.victoriagainesmemorial.com.
There once stood a large elm tree at the corner of Essex and Washington streets in Boston responsible for sparking and embodying the patriotic spirit that fueled the American Revolution. In 1765, patriots such as the Loyal Nine and Sons of Liberty hung in effigy the official charged with implementing that year’s infamous Stamp Act—which among other stipulations required magazines and newspapers to be printed on British paper; viewed as a form of censorship among colonists. The protest was the first public act of defiance against the British government and transformed the tree into a rallying point for the growing resistance simmering throughout the 13 colonies. Soon, a sign proclaiming “Tree of Liberty” was affixed to its trunk. This spirit did not fade when British troops tarred and feathered dissenters beneath its branches, nor after it was cut down during the siege of the city. Rather, “Liberty Trees” sprang up across the fledgling confederation and inspired even more to speak out and oppose the assault on colonists’ civil liberties, rights they believed were theirs. The tree became a flashpoint for revolution, and its image emblazoned many “traitors” and “rebels” struggling to be free from oppressive rule who sought to establish a government reflective and representative of its people’s best values and interests…
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure,” wrote Thomas Jefferson soon after the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
Namir Noor-Eldeen walks through the bright sunlight of an open courtyard in New Baghdad, Iraq, his camera slung around his shoulder, the same he’s done countless times before as a photojournalist for Reuters covering the ensuing chaos of the U.S.-led invasion.
The 22-year-old, one of the most well-respected war photographers in the industry, is once again accompanied by 40-year-old Reuters camera assistant and driver Saeed Chmagh; two of about a dozen or so men talking and strolling casually to the right of a nondescript building in the eastern suburb of the capital.
“Okay we got a target fifteen coming at you,” crackles a voice from the cockpit of an AH-64 Apache gunship hovering about a mile away, the crosshairs of its 30mm machineguns bouncing from the dome of a nearby mosque to the torsos of the group, before focusing for a time on Chmagh, then Noor-Eldeen. “It’s a guy with a weapon.”
Their sights zoom in as the men continue through the yard; several others standing beside a scooter while others occupy a nearby street corner.
“Stay firm,” commands another voice over the radio. “And open the courtyard.”
“Yeah roger,” a voice responds. “I just estimate there’s probably about 20 of them.”
The vantage zooms in closer, the crosshairs settling on Chmagh for a few moments, who appears to be carrying a satchel, then back to Noor-Eldeen.
“That’s a weapon,” states a voice.
“Yeah,” another agrees.
“Fucking prick,” blurts a voice, the crosshairs focusing on Noor-Eldeen’s crotch.
“Have individuals with weapons,” says another as the gunship banks to the left, the men falling out of view behind a building.
“Hotel Two-Six, Crazy Horse One-Eight,” spits the radio. “Have five to six individuals with AK-47s. Request permission to engage.”
“Roger that,” another responds. “We have no personnel east of our position. So, uh, you are free to engage, over.”
“I’m gonna—I can’t get ’em now because they’re behind that building,” says a gunner. “He’s got an RPG!”
“All right, we got a guy with an RPG,” says another.
“I’m going to fire.”
“Hotel Two-Six, have eyes on individual with RPG,” says a voice. “Getting ready to fire. We won’t—“
“Yeah, we got a guy shooting,” interrupts another.
“God damn it,” says a voice, the camera’s view shifting to the building’s right flank. As the gunship turns the corner, its crosshairs align with one of the men in the group, who’s looking in the opposite direction.
“Just freakin’—once you get on ‘em, just open ‘em up,” declares a voice.
“You’re clear,” says a voice.
“All right, firing,” responds another.
“Let me know when you’ve got them.”
The crosshairs target the center of about 10 people huddled together, most of their backs to the gunship.
“Let’s shoot,” says a voice.
“Light ’em all up,” says another.
“Come on, fire!” someone shouts.
Bodies drop as a barrage of shelling shreds the crowd.
“Keep shootin’, keep shootin’,” a calm voice states.
Dirt and debris are launched into the air as the earth explodes from beneath the men and machineguns rattle and hiss.
“Keep shootin’,” the voice repeats.
The crosshairs dance within the dust, tracking any distinguishable human form and a thick cloud billows upward, blocking the view. More bursts of gunfire, more smoke.
“Come on, fire!” shouts a voice.
“Yeah, we see two birds and we’re still fir[ing],” says another.
“I got ’em…,” says a voice before another cuts in.
“All right,” he laughs. “I hit ’em.”
The laughter continues with the sights fixed on the massacre.
“All right, you’re clear,” someone says.
“All right, I’m just trying to find targets again,” assures the shooter.
As the smoke clears the lifeless men are strewn across the courtyard, many distorted into odd shapes and mutilated; some lying bent and twisted atop each other.
“Got a bunch of bodies layin’ there,” says the shooter.
“All right, we got about, uh, eight individuals,” says another.
“Yeah, we got one guy crawling down there,” someone adds. “We’re shooting some more.”
“Hey, you shoot, I’ll talk,” a voice responds.
“Currently engaging approximately eight individuals, uh KIA, uh RPGs and AK-47s,” radios another.
The camera again scans the yard. Piled, mangled bodies, some staining the ground, become clearer.
“Oh yeah, look at all those dead bastards,” says the gunner.
“Nice,” says another. “Nice. Good shootin’.”
The crosshairs circle back to Chmagh, lying crooked halfway on the curb and street, his left leg twisted unnaturally 180 degrees off alignment, the back of his head and shoulders jilting upward as he struggles and pushes off his elbows.
“He’s getting up,” says a voice.
“Maybe he has a weapon down in his hand?” asks another.
“No, I haven’t seen one yet,” says the shooter.
Face down, Chamgh somehow gets to his knees.
“Come on, buddy,” eggs a voice.
“All you gotta do is pick up a weapon,” says another.
The camera zooms in on a dark van that pulls up alongside Chamgh. Two men begin trying to lift him up by his arms and legs.
“We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly picking up bodies and weapons,” someone says.
“Let me engage!” shouts the gunner. “Can I shoot?”
“Come on, let us shoot! They’re taking him.”
“Fuck,” says a voice as the men try and load him into the van.
“Roger,” says another. “Engage.”
“Come on!” shouts the gunner to the rattling of more machinegun fire. The van shakes violently as its front explodes, bursts of light flashing from its inside before jolting forward several feet and slamming backwards and to the side, smoke and shrapnel again clouding the scene.
The gun jams briefly before resuming; after a few moments the smoke clearing. A basketball-sized hole is seen through the center of the windshield. The men who were helping Chamgh lie motionless and outstretched around the van.
“Oh yeah, look at that!” laughs the gunman. “Right through the windshield.”
“I think we whacked ‘em all,” someone adds.
“That’s good,” says another.
“Hey yeah, roger, be advised, there were some guys popping out with AKs behind that dirt pile break,” a voice informs an incoming ground team that will be photographing the scene. “We also took some RPGs off, earlier, so just make sure your men keep your eyes open.”
Instead of armed insurgents, the team discovers two severely wounded children in the van; its driver, their deceased father, had been driving them to school when he saw Chamgh and attempted to bring him to a hospital.
“Well it’s their fault for bringing kids into battle,” says the gunner, following up a comment about how a tank crushed a body as it approached.
The massacre and cockpit chatter among the two U.S. Apache helicopters participating in it make up the bulk of Collateral Murder, leaked classified cockpit gunsight footage of July 12, 2007 airstrikes that killed, along with all of the other men accompanying them, Reuters journalists Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh. Following their deaths the media organization requested the footage documenting the clash to no avail; Noor-Eldeen’s body reportedly discovered by a friend in a dilapidated Iraqi morgue.
A clearer view of the truth of that tragic day did not emerge until Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks—the online international nonprofit whistleblower site which publishes secret, classified and leaked news material about governments and corporations from around the world—presented the footage on April 5, 2010 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and made it available to the world via wikileaks.org and collateralmurder.com.
The U.S. military characterizes the slayings as justified. Subsequent military reports released the same day as Collateral Murder hit the Internet state the journalists were not wearing anything that would identify them as such, their Canon EOSs with telescopic lenses resembled weapons, and they were among armed insurgents; the military says weapons were found by ground troops at the scene.
In February, U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who’s currently facing a military court martial at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland for leaking more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables and more than 490,000 classified U.S. Army reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, including sharing the aforementioned video. The 25-year-old faces life in prison if convicted on the heftiest charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 and aiding the enemy.
Listen to Manning’s statement:
Yet this is not your typical court martial, contend the few core journalists who’ve been covering Manning’s plight since the beginning—he was arrested in May 2010 after an informant turning over chat logs to the FBI—other whistleblowers, advocates and outside observers. Nor is Manning, who’s been jailed for more than three years, sometimes in solitary confinement and in conditions so severe it caused international uproar and State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley to resign in protest, your typical soldier.
Taken within the larger context of 2001’s Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF); alarming new provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA); a recent power grab by the military sans Congress the Long Island Press exposed in May which essentially suspends the Posse Comitatus Act and allows the military to take authority over undefined “domestic disturbances”; the government’s recent admission it seized the phone records of the Associated Press and a reporter as part of an investigation into an alleged leak; the naming of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a co-conspirator in another investigation; and the Pandora’s box the latest U.S. government whistleblower, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald about the government’s ongoing mass surveillance programs; Manning’s prosecution has ramifications on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It has ramifications on the Fourth Amendment. It speaks to a larger discussion regarding the lack of whistleblower protections, especially for those employed in the national security and intelligence sectors—President Barack Obama has used the Espionage Act more than double all presidents combined. It shines a light into the murky back-alley dealings of U.S. foreign policy, opening the door for more rigorous debate about the ever-growing U.S. military industrial complex and covert surveillance forces. And it has tremendously significant ramifications for the future of journalism—specifically investigative journalism.
That is because Manning’s trial is also very much a trial about WikiLeaks, which the U.S. government is widely believed to have empanelled a grand jury against and which the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind ruled in pre-trial hearings, has the same standing as a media outlet as The New York Times and Washington Post, who also published significant portions of he and Snowden’s classified disclosures.
“What the mainstream media here in the U.S. should realize is: as goes Wikileaks, as goes the mainstream media,” warns Kathleen McClellan, national security and human rights counsel for nonprofit whistleblower advocacy group Government Accountability Project (GAP), at its D.C. headquarters. “There’s no distinction in the law between an organization like WikiLeaks disclosing information and The New York Times disclosing information. The law doesn’t protect either more or less.”
Yet despite what’s at stake, the vast majority of mainstream journalists and news organizations throughout the country have been providing little, if any, coverage of the Manning trial at all (Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan recently chastised the staff because of it). A handful of dedicated, if lesser-known journalists and outlets have, however, and theirs has been the most in-depth and consistent reporting on the proceedings to date—to where many others frequently call seeking input before publishing their own stories. Sometimes, they’ve been the only coverage.
Their commitment has oftentimes come at great costs and sacrifices.
The Obama administration’s harsh treatment and prosecution of Manning and the shadowy actions of military and covert surveillance operations both overseas and domestically are not new occurrences, rather, the war between the government and public over what information is shared and what stays secret has been raging since the birth of the country, with revealing glimpses behind the curtain every so often.
Independent investigative journalist-turned-Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh exposed what has become known as the My Lai Massacre—the mass murder and cover-up of up to more than 500 unarmed South Vietnamese villagers, including women and children, by U.S. Army troops in 1968. Initially it was reported to the public that 128 enemy combatants were slain in battle.
Daniel Ellsberg leaked a classified internal Department of Defense report detailing much of the decision-making behind U.S. policy and involvement during the Vietnam War in 1971 and was also tried under the Espionage Act, yet the judge ruled a mistrial after learning about, among other actions taken against him by the intelligence community, the tapping of his phones.
The Watergate break-in, orchestrated by President Richard Nixon’s CIA-connected “plumbers” and exposed by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with help from perhaps the most infamous whistleblower in U.S. history, former top FBI official Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat—also ironically essentially a case of presidentially condoned domestic spying, albeit on the National Democratic Committee headquarters instead of the general public at large—resulted in an investigation by the Senate and culminated in Nixon’s 1974 resignation.
The following year’s Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, known as the Church Committee after Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, stands as perhaps the most intrinsic look inside the inner workings of this world to date. It probed not only the CIA’s activities for illegalities and abuses, but the NSA and FBI—including the agencies’ roles in assassinations targeting foreign leaders.
Among the findings: The CIA had varying roles in coups and assassination plots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Cuba and Vietnam. In the case of the Congo, the committee discovered the agency had plotted to kill its newly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, and although didn’t ultimately do the deed (the Belgians did), had supplied weapons and money to help it along, originally planning to poison the leader.
The committee also shed light on just how high up the chain of command these orders came, revealing a concept called “plausible deniability,” meaning the president and other officials with authority to pull the trigger on such activities could know without knowing about them and escape blame.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was implicated in the Lumumba takedown, according to the committee’s reports. Classified information detailing the government’s roles in similar schemes in Iran and other countries wouldn’t surface until decades later.
The Church Committee also discovered widespread domestic surveillance operations by the CIA, including the mass photographing and/or opening and resealing of citizens’ mail without even the U.S. Postal Service’s knowledge.
In 1996 Pulitzer Prize investigative journalist Gary Webb exposed the CIA’s involvement in at least permitting Nicaraguan drug smugglers linked to the Contras to peddle crack cocaine on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s as a way to fund its guerrilla operations during the Reagan administration.
Jeremy Scahill, reporter for The Nation, exposes questionable present-day operations in the recently published Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield, also a documentary in theaters now. Besides uncovering the self-authorized international assassination program of the CIA’s Special Activities Division and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—according to Scahill, the equivalent of the president’s personal death squads with international reach, though Americans can also be targeted—he documents the systemic eradication of nearly all oversight over such forces, arguing, that their actions actually serve to perpetually feed the “War on Terror.”
Sept. 11, 2001 opened the door.
“To fight its global war,” writes Scahill, “the White House made extensive use of the tactics [former Vice President Dick] Cheney had long advocated. Central to its ‘dark side’ campaign would be the use of presidential findings [executive directives] that, by their nature, would greatly limit any effective congressional oversight.
“According to the National Security Act of 1947, the president is required to issue a finding before undertaking a covert action,” he continues. “The law states that the action must comply with U.S. law and the Constitution. The presidential findings signed by [President George W.] Bush on Sept. 17, 2001, was used to create a highly classified, secret program code-named Greystone. GST, as it was referred to in internal documents, would be an umbrella under which many of the most clandestine and legally questionable activities would be authorized and conducted in the early days of the Global War on Terror.
“It relied on the administration’s interpretation of the AUMF passed by Congress, which declared any al Qaeda suspect anywhere in the world a legitimate target,” he adds. “In effect, the presidential finding declared all covert actions to be preauthorized and legal, which critics said violated the spirit of the National Security Act. Under GTS, a series of compartmentalized programs were created that, together, effectively formed a global assassination and kidnap operation.”
In other words, where in the past journalists including Hersh were rewarded for exposing war crimes and corruption, the government’s espionage case against whistleblower Ellsberg was dropped and the president of the United States ousted due to disclosures about covert surveillance, nowadays, an Army private and former NSA contractor face decades, if not life in prison for exposing the same crimes, news outlets such as the AP have had their phone records seized and a journalist has been named as a co-conspirator in the government’s attempt to plug a leak.
All indicative, say critics, of an ongoing war not just against journalists, but civil liberties across the board.
“Gone are the days of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers,” laments Jane Hamsher, founder and publisher of FireDogLake.com, a progressive news site and action organization that’s been covering Manning’s story and trial for years. “You got the government considering whistleblowers terrorists and journalists looking down their noses on people who are sources.”
“What we’re really seeing here is a war on information and who controls information,” says GAP’s McClellan. “Cracking down on what the public is going to hear and cracking down on who can speak to certain issues.”
“It’s so hard on the whistleblowers,” adds Hamsher. “It’s just so emotionally hard on them. They’re destroyed, they’re wiped out financially, they’re called traitors, they lose their jobs. Anybody who thinks this is something somebody does for attention is out of their minds.”
She would know. FireDogLake’s headquarters—a two-story house in Northwest D.C. (ironically a few blocks from Manning Place)—not only serves as its staff’s newsroom and lodging, but doubles as a meeting/refuge space for whistleblowers and others who’ve risked a lot in order to broadcast the truth.
They travel from other states every week, put their personal lives on hold, sleep wherever they can—local hotels, rented rooms or the homes of those sympathetic to the mission: telling the story of Bradley Manning and his trial, raising awareness about the case and its larger context, documenting history. They wake up at the crack of dawn and they make the trek to Fort Meade, Md.
At least once a week they’ll pass a crowd of people of varying numbers protesting on their way in. They stand outside the base’s main gates, sometimes holding signs, often wearing black T-shirts proclaiming “TRUTH” in white block lettering—the weekly vigil of supporters and Bradley Manning Support Network members. Some have come from across the country; some have come from other countries entirely.
The journalists wait in their vehicles till around 8 a.m. or whenever the MPs show up to inspect their paperwork, credentials, vehicle registration, photo identification and vehicles. They’re eventually escorted to the other side of the complex to a small hall serving as the “media operations center.” Journalists can also opt for a limited number of seats in the courtroom.
Here, the proceedings are broadcast from one wall-size projector screen and journalists are permitted to bring along a computer “for filing and note taking purposes only.” Filing is to be done when court recesses. Social media posting may only be done when court is in recess or during break.
Seventy journalists can fit here and more than 250 applied for opening arguments, but since then there’ve only been about a dozen on average. Half as many have been here consistently.
The live feed from the courtroom occasionally craps out in the middle of important testimony [as it did on June 26, prompting complaints], and the shotgun speed the judge issues rulings and prosecution reads critical testimony into the record are regular sources of familiar jokes and frustration. More frustration, however, since unlike a traditional court proceeding, there is no official transcript provided for the public, and thus, no public record of what is said during the proceedings unless these handful of journalists write it all down, as fast as they can.
“I often times get asked, ‘Why do you do this?’” says Alexa O’Brien, one of them, who’s been covering Bradley Manning for three years and is single-handedly responsible for transcribing and posting on her website AlexaOBrien.com literally every single syllable and filing she could type or obtain, including from the pre-trial hearings. She’s also recently built an online, searchable database for this. “I don’t have a simple answer for it.”
“It’s the largest leak trial in U.S. history,” she explains in the empty media parking lot following June 26’s proceedings. “It has ramifications, wide ramifications, on the First Amendment and foundational purposes of our government and of society at large.
“The government is using charges in this court martial that have never been used in military law,” continues O’Brien. “They want to take the intent and the motive out of the Espionage Act, and that intent makes the Espionage Act as constitutional as it could possibly be. It’s a First Amendment right.
“The Department of State has been the puppet master in this prosecution vis-à-vis this—the largest criminal investigation ever into a publisher, which is the U.S. investigation into WikiLeaks—and we don’t see in any of the major papers the kind of reporting about what is happening…and what is at stake,” she adds.
“When you think about what happened,” says Gosztola, “the significance isn’t just the act itself but the disclosures, the content of what was released to WikiLeaks—when you look at the Collateral Murder video and what it revealed, the killing of Reuters employees who were out there basically doing their news jobs, and the fact that somebody wounded was killed and shot and you can hear the bloodlust in the voices of the soldiers who seem to be playing some kind of video games—and when you look at the U.S. diplomatic cables and the different military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan that he disclosed, which give a full, complete picture of those wars, a picture vastly different than the one the United States government was promoting to people during the war, I think that’s some of the importance and significance of his act, in that he punctured a hole in this whole secrecy that we have in our government and gave us a way to tell a lot of information that probably shouldn’t have ever been kept secret from us in the first place.”
Two tremendously large poodles gallop by as Hamsher explains FireDogLake’s purpose and origins inside.
“This is what is called the Hamsher Hotel,” she smiles, while chopping mixed vegetables on the kitchen counter into a salad. “Glenn Greenwald’s room is upstairs; Kevin is staying in it now. Glenn has his own room. Dan Ellsberg stays there. Dan Choi stays there. We have dinners here like once a month or so with [NSA whistleblower] Tom Drake and [CIA torture whistleblower John] Kiriakou before he went to jail—Peter Van Buren, all the whistleblowers. We really try and have a place that nurtures and takes care of people.”
“I was just interested around the time of the 2004 Election and the power of online media and what it could do, and I was posting on Daily Kos and whenever I would finish I would post it on a free blogspot that I called firedoglake because I like to lie by the fire and watch the Lakers with my dogs,” she says. “And we started writing about the Scooter Libby trial and the next think you knew we had 100,000 people a day showing up. So it expanded to more than just me writing and now what Kevin does is very much in the tradition of what we started with, which is providing a counter-narrative to stories that aren’t being adequately covered or that are sort of overwhelmed by propaganda distributed by powerful self-interested people.”
“They’re seeking life in prison for giving secret documents to a news organization and so that would essentially turn whistleblowing something akin to treason and that’s already had a huge chilling effect on sources for investigative journalists,” says Fuller, from the support network’s home base, a rented house in Columbia, Md.
Fuller says he’s “talked to reporters who have been to Guantanamo Bay for military tribunals, and they say this is the more restrictive case,” adding that the judge has been clocked reading one of her rulings at 100 words per minute.
Klasfeld, standing on a dock in the shadow of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, stresses the importance of keeping the focus on the content of Manning’s disclosures.
“I think one thing that needs a little more emphasizing and highlighting is: Just what exactly did Bradley Manning leak?” he asks. “What do we know now in 2013 that we didn’t know before WikiLeaks published all this information in 2009 and what is the value of that information? What do we know about what’s going on in Guantanamo Bay? What do we know about what happened in the Iraq and Afghanistan War? Whether it comes to casualty counts or incidents that weren’t investigated, what did we not know about the conduct of U.S. diplomacy that we do know now?
“In a lot of the focus in who Bradley Manning is and what WikiLeaks is, the personal drama of it—which is interesting—just what was leaked has gotten the short shrift.”
It’s that content, along with a host of varying personal reasons, which attracts Manning supporters from across the globe to Ft. Meade—a trek that also requires an ample amount of dedication from the members of the public who do.
It’s approaching 9 a.m. and nearing 90 degrees by the time a soldier wearing U.S. Army fatigues walks over to the makeshift barricade in a back parking somewhere in the 95-acre complex of Ft. Meade to tell Dominic and Cynthia Vautier of Bellevue, Wa. that the start of the trial is going to be pushed back a bit.
There are no signs indicating this is the courthouse, and nowhere to find reprieve from the sun. Were it not for the makeshift fencing—long lines of bicycle racks stacked alongside each other and a printout that warns not to go beyond the barricade—a visitor might imagine they were at one of the dozens of other military facilities throughout the base.
The 71-year-old software engineer and Vietnam-era veteran sits on the hot cement, legs crossed, while his wife, 64, gazes behind the line at several air-conditioned trailers housing soldiers when David Reed, another spectator, joins them. He jokes that maybe they’re not letting Dominic in because he looks suspicious.
“I would have thought there would be more people coming to the trial,” the 67-year-old retiree says. “It’s an apathy.”
“It took us two days to figure out how to get into the fort,” says Dominic, explaining that the couple made the trek as part of Cynthia’s vacation.
“When I’m a grandmother, I feel that I should be able to tell my grandchildren with great pride that I was at this trial and supported a hero,” she says.
Soon others join them, many wearing “TRUTH” shirts. In all, about 50 supporters wait in the heat till they empty their pockets, are scanned with a magnetometer, obtain a pass, wait for a while in a side room and finally enter the courtroom (25 are permitted, the rest head to an overflow trailer).
Kat, 47, from Ontario, who wore a “TRUTH” shirt and declined to give her last name, stressed the importance of being there to “show my support and be a witness to the proceedings and make it less secretive,” she says. “We’re here in support of Bradley and for people telling the truth, for example, Bradley Manning—about war crimes.”
Two plainclothes soldiers, one with an earpiece, a sidearm and a taser, stand arms crossed between the public and Manning, who is dwarfed by his lead attorney David Coombs, Major Thomas Hurley and Captain Joshua Tooman.
Three empty rows of 12 empty chairs and computers fill the courtroom to the right of the judge; five cameras pointed at the public are mounted above her head. Each session begins with a decorated Army official reading aloud a list of rules, which includes no loud whispering and no falling asleep.
When U.S. Army prosecutor Major Ashden Fein isn’t standing before the judge, he slouches back in his chair while two other prosecutors occasionally giggle with each other. Manning and his team sit upright, intently listening to every utterance. Between two recesses the visitors dwindle to about 15; by 3 p.m. there is an hour-long closed session. Judge Col. Lind informs the trial will resume the following day at noon.
It’s now that the media center crew hurries to file their stories and post them on their websites, Tweet out updates and prepare for the next day.
“I knew the trial was going to be conducted in secrecy and de facto-secrecy and I felt that there was no coverage of it that was satisfying to me, gave me the information, answered any of the questions that I wanted to have answered, and so I decided that I was going to transcribe it,” O’Brien tells us back in the empty media parking lot. “I think if Manning gets sentenced to life, that is going to be a historic day in the history of our country, but I think also, just civilization in general.”
“I do believe that fundamentally, it is our responsibility if we do know better, to do everything we can to dissent, but also to do the right thing here,” adds O’Brien. “The act of doing a transcript, for example, is a very simple act, but if it’s going to get me almost arrested at Ft. Meade, if it’s going to get me in a situation where I am somehow counter, there’s something wrong there.”
OFF TARGET After releasing an album where he compares himself to Jesus, the ever-humble Kanye West and Kim Kardashian name their child North West because reportedly, “Nothing is north of north.” So this kid is not only doomed from the start as the child of two of the most self-absorbed people on the planet and having a mother famous for her sex tape, she’s going to have to deal with being named after a cardinal direction in the playground wars. The only shocker? The kid’s name isn’t spelled Knorth.
BULL’S EYE In a huge victory for gay rights, the Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows the federal government to deny same-sex spouses the benefits granted to straight couples like Social Security, pensions and joint tax returns, is unconstitutional. President Barack Obama called the ruling “a historic step forward” on Twitter with the hashtags #MarriageEquality and #LoveIsLove but our favorite Tweet came from Bette Midler: “Surprise benefit of gay marriage to me? Thousands of weddings where they play ‘Wind Beneath My Wings!’” Gay marriage = a win-win.
PARTIAL SCORE In an effort to stimulate public discussion on its site, Facebook decides to implement clickable, searchable hashtags, similar (read: identical) to Twitter’s. If your posts aren’t set to private, and you include a hashtag in your status update, don’t be surprised to see a few likes from random people you don’t know, only now that’s not just limited to your friends list. Now, when one of our “friends” makes a particularly insightful post and attaches #yoloswag to the end of it, we’ll be able to compare it to the rest of the world’s efforts. Thanks, Facebook.
OFF TARGET A man who hired a female escort and fatally shot her on Christmas Eve 2009 after she refused to have sex with him is acquitted of murder by a jury of his peers—in Texas. Ezekiel Gilbert’s defense argued that his actions were justified because under Texas law, deadly force can be used to recover property. While prosecutors argued the law didn’t apply in this particular situation, the jury sided with Gilbert, who was cleared of all charges and released. So, that whole secession thing…is that still on the table?
PARTIAL SCORE Wal-mart, Target, Home Depot and a slew of other companies drop Paula Deen in a desperate attempt to distance themselves from bad PR after the celebrity chef admits she used the N-word to describe a black suspect after an armed robbery at the bank where she was working as a teller in 1987. Deen, who has apologized multiple times publicly for her actions nearly three decades ago, has already lost millions in endorsements and her contract with the Food Network. Deen’s sons call what’s happening a “character assassination” and author Ann Rice compared it to “a crucifixion.” Of course, none of this would even matter in Texas.
PARTIAL SCORE Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer, more famously known as the “you’re gonna like the way you look” guy, was fired after a dispute with the company’s board. This leaves Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” virtually unopposed in the rugged-yet-distinguished-old-guy-on-TV category. We’re sure that’s got to count for something.
Ever wanted to tweet E.T.? Instagram ALF? Now you can… for a price. Space tech start-up Lone Signal is using radio waves to send people’s 144-character messages to planets near red dwarf star Gliese 526—17.6 light-years away. The first message is free, while each subsequent text message costs one credit, and a photo costs three credits. Those interested in messaging their intergalactic relatives can buy four credits for 99 cents, or 4,000 credits for $99.99. Would-be space tweeters beware: Social media spam could invite alien invasion. And don’t hold your breath on quick replies. Any returning messages won’t arrive until 2050, giving humanity plenty of time to unfollow pissed-off extraterrestrials.
[colored_box color=”yellow”]If the Sun were the size of a beach ball, then Jupiter would be the size of a golf ball and the Earth would be as small as a pea.[/colored_box]
It’s hard to imagine, but cows, high on the list of favorite farm animals, are being improved upon. Fluffy bovines from an Iowa farm went viral recently, causing the Internet to collectively coo over the cuddly looking cows. But don’t think that the glossy coats of these cows—used in show rings at state fairs—come easy. Like any beauty routine, it takes a lot of time (and blow dryers and hair spray) to give a cow that glamorous glow. In other bovine news, scientists at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland are trying to breed burp-less cows, because cow burps contain methane, which contributes to global warming. Wouldn’t it be easier to tell cows that burping is rude?
To Clap or Not to Clap
Swedish scientists have found that the length of applause depends on mob rule and has nothing to do with the quality of a performance. Think the next concert or play you attend deserves a standing ovation? Simply keep on clapping and everyone else will follow the lead. But, with great cheers comes great responsibility. The scientists also found that just as it takes one or two people to start applause, one or two people can stop clapping and end applause.
Guinness Is Good For You
Bathing suit season is here, which means beachgoers are looking for low-calorie beverages this summer. Among them? Guinness Draught. It has fewer calories than orange juice and the same amount of calories as skim milk. Twelve ounces of Guinness has 125 calories, while orange juice and skim milk have, on average, 155 calories and 125 calories. This is because, compared to milk and OJ, Guinness has zero fat, more plain water content and fewer proteins and sugars. Guinness also has fewer calories than a lot of other beers, including Coors and Budweiser, because it has 4-percent alcohol content per volume versus the 6-percent of other beers. Most of the calorie content in beer comes from alcohol.
I was shocked to see that adult women behave this way…and even more appalled that they live right here on Long Island…shame on them and shame on Bravo.
Marie Naumann, via Facebook[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]I left LI 7 yrs ago 4 much higher paying job/affordable housing in CLE of all places! But miss LI terribly
@kimlaw662 via Twitter[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”grey”]The federal government has been accused of collecting data on all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data such as parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, etc., so they will have the knowledge to concoct all kinds of charges if they want to target anyone. They feel that they have the authority to do this in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which gives them license to take all commercially held data about us. What happened to the Fourth Amendment in our Constitution, which protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures? This amendment was also violated in the Boston Marathon bombing when they searched private homes without a warrant. Welcome to 1984, where Big Brother wants to watch every move that we make. We must also remember that trading away civil liberties for security results in the loss of both freedom and security.
Janet McCarthy, Flushing via email[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]I really didn’t mind Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale’s participation in Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s “Flush the Johns” dog-and-pony-show featuring the names and photos of 104 men who chose to break the law and were arrested by undercover police officers for patronizing prostitutes. Except for the facts that there was no Client No. 105 named Eliot Spitzer, and also that Dale refused to identify the hotels where these crimes took place, so I could avoid staying at any of them myself. Then I read the “Law & Order” interview with Dale [Long Island Press, June, 2013]. In it, we are told that his NCPD is a “depleted department” with a “shortage of cops” that “doesn’t have the manpower” to “direct personnel to problem areas.” And Dale himself is directly quoted as saying, “We don’t have enough people…we don’t have the personnel…we are so short right now.” Given all that, I just think Nassau police ought to be spending more of their time on more serious—and violent—crimes. But I do believe that if the police spend any time arresting prostitutes or pimps they should—in fairness—also arrest the men who patronize them.
Richard Siegelman, Plainview via email[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”grey”]Hasn’t the time come for New York to step into the 21st century and follow the lead of 46 other states to make some level of consumer fireworks legal for sale and use in the state? Kentucky, Maine and Michigan have recognized two factors related to consumer fireworks: first and foremost, the products are safer today than they have ever been before, and secondly, the sale of consumer fireworks can raise some badly needed revenue for the government.
Everyone loves fireworks. People love to watch Major League sports, but they also love to play sandlot sports. The same holds true with fireworks. People love to watch professional displays, but they also love to shoot their own backyard fireworks, too.
New York legislators have the power to change the fireworks laws and take New Yorkers out of the shadows of uncertainty and illegality, and bring New York to parity with 46 other states that permit the sale and use of some level of consumer fireworks. This is long overdue.
Bill Weimer, Phantom Fireworks Vice President via snail mail[/colored_box]
[colored_box color=”blue”]Love that my hometown paper, @LongIslandPress, made national headlines with their #WarPowers scoop
The process of selecting honorees for the Power List is so highly secretive even the NSA doesn’t know who’s on it until it comes out. Okay, that’s probably not true. The point is we typically play it pretty close to the vest.
The Power List issue has particular meaning to the Press staff as it was actually our debut issue in 2003. Although we began publishing bi-weekly as The Island Ear in 2002, the Power List in January of 2003 was our official start in the alternative publishing world. From the beginning we sought to identify the people who impacted life on Long Island and shaped its image. From our first introductory editorial in 2003:
“We were looking for more than mere celebrity or financial clout. We wanted those who made the most of their resources, whatever those resources were. We tended to reject those who held big titles but used them to little effect… We insisted on real Long Islanders, not pseudo-Islanders with country homes in the Hamptons.”
The original list included lesser-known figures like independent music promoter Christian McKnight and DOT acting director Tom Oelerich, alongside highly visible and prominent leaders such as former Senator Alfonse D’Amato and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang. Topping the list that year (as his son James would in later years) was Cablevision founder Charles Dolan. And even though Robert Moses was deceased for more than two decades, we even put him on the list. (We have since revised this policy. Only the living may appear.)
Our strategy hasn’t changed much, and—for better or for worse—neither has many of the names. Therefore, in order to prevent the list from becoming stale with perennial “Power Listers,” we created the Power List Hall of Fame for individuals who made the list five times. It’s like raising a star athlete’s jersey to the rafters. But instead of a jersey, we commission a caricature likeness of this individual that is sometimes flattering and sometimes, well, not so much.
Coming into this year, however, we faced a problem. There were so many Power List Hall of Famers continuing to expand his or her influence that it has grown increasingly difficult to exclude them. After many intense negotiations, (i.e. a couple of beers) the Press decided upon a significant rule change. From this point forward Hall of Famers will once again be considered for selection among their peers with the exception of those who are being inducted within the year.
It’s important to understand when considering this list as a whole that it is not a wish list but a mirror. Every year we point out that the list is predominantly filled with white men. Once again, 2013 offers no exception.
It is, however, interesting to note that the composition of this year’s list might be looked at as somewhat of a bellwether with respect to our economy. There is broad representation of the healthcare field from research and technology to hospitals and advocacy. As usual, there are far too many political people on the list and still more who are likely incredulous that they were not included. But this too is a reflection of Long Island, a place where politics is inseparable from daily life.
Lastly, a note on our editorial prerogative. Every year there are a few people who had the power to inspire this newspaper. Take, for example, Andy Stepanian, who embodies activism and speaks truth to power so softly it humbles the most outspoken among us. Or Gerard Depascale and Liam Neville, who took on a giant to shine light in the darkness and clear a path for others to follow. They lost their battle but won our hearts. Theirs are the stories we ache to tell throughout the year and we thank them for allowing us to do so.
For all those who are reading this issue and wondering whether or not your name will ever appear on the Power List, a few words to the wise: Those who lobby for inclusion on the list never make it. (We’re petty like that.) Also, substance wins over style.
Of course it was fun while it lasted but it was doomed to fail, admit it. As long as James “Guitar Hero” Dolan is in charge of both the Knicks and the Rangers, New York sports fans—who deserve a break from this bombastic blowhard—will have to pay the price. And pay they must—through the nose. So the Knicks are back in their “rebuilding” mode (but with the constraint of killer contracts Dolan approved), the Rangers face another postseason upheaval, and the strongman at the top who should be sent to the showers or somewhere south where ice hockey is a rare phenomenon continues to trample on our dreams. How telling that after the Knicks lost to the Pacers in Indianapolis, when the aging Knickerbockers ran out of gas for good as we knew they would (but dared not admit it to ourselves), Dolan didn’t deign to speak to the fans, let alone duh media, but boarded his jet to watch the Rangers skate to a losing season. No, his time was too precious. But come season-ticket renewal deadline, you can bet we’ll hear from the mouth of that megalomaniac again until somebody stuffs a basketball in it—or a puck.
This unscrupulous 22-year-old unlicensed tow-truck driver from Franklin Square faced grand larceny charges after police arrested him for allegedly scamming legally parked motorists in Nassau County by taking their vehicles and holding them for ransom. Capurso called his company Bumble Bee Towing, but he stung drivers again and again, police say, by posting fraudulent no-parking signs in commercial areas that read: “Customer/Tenant Parking Only 24 Hours—7 Days a Week. Unauthorized Vehicles Will Be Towed at Owner’s Expense…. Cars released by appointment only.” The cops called it extortion. Capurso probably called it easy money—allegedly taking advantage of drivers’ desperation by making them fork over hundreds of bucks to get their cars back when they did nothing wrong.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto needs to restudy his history of World War II and learn the truth—not the deceptively self-serving propaganda dished out by hard-line Japanese revisionists like those in his own Japan Restoration Party. First, he denied that the imperial Japanese military had used sex slaves in the 1930s and 1940s—dubbed “comfort women” by the Japanese soldiers for what they provided them (without admission of what it cost the women who were forced to comply or die). Not so, Hashimoto! Then he defended the practice as an honorable way to enforce discipline among the Japanese troops fighting in China and on the Korean peninsula. Wrong! He also suggested that GIs stationed in Osaka these days should visit commercial sex establishments in order to reduce the number of rapes and sexual assaults outraging his residents. Wrong again! Rape should not be condoned—it should be prosecuted. And if Americans in uniform are the perpetrators of these despicable acts against Osaka citizens, they should do serious time in jail—not in a brothel.
Taking a backhoe and a bulldozer to one of Belize’s most significant sites of Mayan civilization is so stupid, so outrageous, so egregious that Denny Grijalva, owner of D-Mar Construction whose heavy equipment did the dirty deed, owes the world an apology. The landowner who let Grijalva’s idiotic work-crew turn the Mayan pyramid on his property in Noh Mul into road fill should be severely punished. But it’s Grijalva who didn’t instruct his workers to respect their heritage. This archaeological site was the ceremonial center for a community that once numbered 40,000 people living there between 500 and 250 B.C. As Dr. Jaime Awe, director of Belize’s Institute of Archeology pointed out, the ancient Mayans used stone tools to erect these buildings. Grijalva should be forced to rebuild this pyramid by hand.
Ryan C. Fogle
The tabloids called Ryan C. Fogle “James Blond” because Russians nabbed him wearing a very cheesy blond wig and busted the diplomat for being a U.S. spy. Russian officials said that Fogle, who was a secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, was in reality a CIA agent attempting to recruit a Russian counterterrorism officer reportedly specializing in the Caucasus. Russian state TV showed security forces pinning Fogle to the ground. He was busted wearing a baseball cap attached to an unconvincing blond wig with another brown one in his knapsack. Fogle looks like an amateur. If our country can’t provide better undercover disguises for our intelligence agencies than that, the federal-budget-busting Sequester has to end because we’re in worse shape than we thought.
Zombie Industries CEO and marketing director Roger Davis must be one sick dude. The California entrepreneur showed his wares at the recent National Rifle Association convention in Houston. One of his “products” was a life-sized shooting target called “The Ex,” which featured a busty mannequin in a skimpy bra who “bled” when shot, presumably by bullets fired from wounded former boyfriends with some serious rejection issues to work through. Because the damsel dummy drew the wrath of anti-violence groups, Zombie changed the name to “Alexa.” Davis had to do a total recall of a mannequin target that was even more offensive and disturbing. Called “Rocky Zombie” but referred to as “Barry” by one of the company’s vendors at the NRA trade show who was quoted in BuzzFeed, this torso looks like President Obama, with an open bleeding mouth, short cropped hair and green skin. It was on display for two days until the NRA asked the vendor to remove it. Judging from his reaction to all the negative publicity, Davis loves the attention but we wonder how he’d feel if he had to watch a replica of himself blown to bits. It’s nut jobs like him who give gun ownership a bad rap.
Ariel Castro & Michael McGrath
Neighbors of Ariel Castro say Cleveland Police knocked on his door “20 times but they didn’t take it seriously.” What had the neighbors seen over the years? Naked women on dog leashes crawling in the dirt; a lady holding an infant and pounding on a window begging for help. Castro allegedly kidnapped three women between 2002 and 2004, and held them hostage until finally Amanda Berry, 27, who’d been kept in captivity for almost a decade, managed to break through the front door and flee in pajamas and flip-flops. Castro, 52, a former bus driver, has signed a 10-page confession detailing the horrors he subjected those women to, officials said. Michael McGrath was sworn in as Cleveland’s 39th police chief in 2005. Maybe it’s not fair to make him take the fall for his department’s long-running failure to find these women but the buck must stop somewhere. And it’s probably revealing that none of the women was a wealthy white girl from the suburbs. Still, we hear you can get a search warrant for anything these days. Surely, the Cleveland brass should have encouraged the officers on the beat to snoop around 2207 Seymour Avenue a little more, especially if neighbors were on record begging them to follow up their complaints. Castro is a bad man, and the cops in command did a bad job.
Called “the most hated Bangladeshi,” Sohel Rana is the irresponsible owner of a garment factory building that collapsed in a cloud of dust and calamity in a gritty suburb outside the southeast Asian nation’s capital. The Rana Plaza, as the hellhole was officially called, killed more than 600 workers who had no choice but to stay on the job despite the warnings of a frantic engineer who saw a dangerous crack in the unsafe structure the day before the catastrophe. The factory employees knew that if they didn’t show up, they wouldn’t get paid. Tragically, these workers wound up paying with their lives instead, crushed under tons of steel and concrete. Bangladesh has some of the lowest wages in the world, luring corporations like Benetton, the Gap, the Children’s Place and even the Walt Disney Company to the impoverished country. Rana, who rode around on a motorcycle with a gang of bikers riding behind him for protection, has also been implicated as an illegal drug kingpin. He reportedly used his muscle to acquire the property by force, obtain inspection permits despite blatant problems, and reap the profits from exploiting the defenseless. After the collapse, Rana fled to the Indian border, where he was arrested. Demonstrators in Bangladesh say there are many other factory owners just like him, so let his trial serve as an example, and may he be sentenced to sew warning labels on apparel until his fingers fall off.
Robert Rector & Jason Richwine
Economists Robert Rector and Jason Richwine at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation did a hatchet job on immigration reform by coming up with a scary study that says granting a path to citizenship for America’s 11 million undocumented residents would cost the public some $6.3 trillion. As the Daily News put it, “their distortions are breathtaking.” And their false conclusion deliberately damages the hopes and dreams of generations of people who work hard and deserve better—and are counting on Congress to finally come through for them. Rector and Richwine supposedly added up the costs of services these immigrants would use if they came out of the shadows and compared that with how much taxes they would pay; in other words, Heritage considers them all takers and deadbeats, not the founders of future startups and entrepreneurs. Granting work permits to the undocumented puts them on the road to prosperity. Many reports from think tanks that don’t have an axe to grind have documented how the U.S. will prosper if these people can get the green light. We think Rector and Richwine should switch jobs with some of these undocumented workers for a week at least and file a new study based on their actual experience. Maybe then these two privileged white men wouldn’t be so quick to condemn much-needed immigration reform as that dreaded word “amnesty.”