Sunday, December 28, 2008

A New Year For the Rishpy Family

By Rafael Martínez Alequín

Tis the season to be jolly, holy, or happy according to tradition. Xmas and Hanukah are upon us.

However, the family of missing Israeli, Dana Rishpy mourn. Dana, who was last seen in Mexico disappeared on or about March 31 more than a year ago. Her story has been well documented in both the Mexican press and the internet. The ultimate tragedy is that no one has come forward with information that would conclude this case.

The main protagonist is Mathew Walshin, an American from Los Angeles California who befriended Dana while in Tulum, Mexico. Walshin, who has a history of sexual crimes remains free as a suspect. A relative, Steven Miller is also wanted for questioning in Dana's disappearance. Miller was seen in the company of Walshin and Rishpy while in Mexico. And as Nazi criminals were aided in escaping to S. America after the war, Walshin was aided by his Mexican friend, Flor Pastrana. Walshin was alerted when the authorities arrived and managed to slip through their watch. He was just hours ahead of them on a flight back to California.

So Flor Pastrana, Mathew Walshin and Steven Miller will happily welcome in another year, choosing to remain silent about the disappearance of Dana Rishpy. May the eye of God be upon them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Monserrate Says He Is Innocent and Vows to Take State Senate Seat

Published: December 20, 2008

A day after he was charged with stabbing his companion in the face with a broken glass, State Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate said he was incapable of such a crime, and vowed to take his Senate seat come Jan. 1.

In a one-page statement issued Saturday evening, Mr. Monserrate said he deeply loved and cared for his companion, Karla Giraldo, and called her injuries an “unfortunate accident.”

“I have been charged with offenses that I did not commit and am not capable of committing,” he said. “As a son, a brother and a father, these accusations are offensive, and they are crushing on a personal level. Nonetheless I wholeheartedly look forward to all of the facts being brought to light during this legal process.”

Mr. Monserrate, 41, a Queens Democrat who is in his final days on the City Council, laid low most of the day, spending at least some of it huddled with staff members in a back room of his district office preparing the statement. His lawyer, James Cullen, was there for a while as well, an aide to Mr. Monserrate said.

According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Monserrate stabbed Ms. Giraldo in the face with a broken glass during a heated argument, causing a black eye and a cut that required 20 stitches to close. The incident occurred about 1 a.m. Friday in his Jackson Heights apartment. Prosecutors said the couple were arguing over an undisclosed item Mr. Monserrate had found in her purse. But Mr. Monserrate said in court papers that he tripped while bringing Ms. Giraldo a glass of water, causing the injuries.

The prosecution’s case has been complicated by the fact that Ms. Giraldo, 30, is now saying that it was an accident and, according to a law enforcement source, is not cooperating with prosecutors.

Questions have also swirled around what Mr. Monserrate did next. Instead of taking Ms. Giraldo to Elmhurst Hospital Center, five blocks from his apartment, he drove her 12 miles to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Nassau County, along the Queens border.

In his statement Saturday, Mr. Monserrate said it was partly Ms. Giraldo’s choice, and insisted the hospital he chose was not outside city limits.

“Despite Karla’s initial reticence and reluctance to go to the hospital, my sole concern was to provide her with immediate medical attention,” he said. “In her distress, she insisted that she would not go to Elmhurst Hospital. I took her to Long Island Jewish hospital in Queens because my family received excellent medical care there in the past.”

Ms. Giraldo, meanwhile, was apparently staying with friends or relatives and could not be reached for comment. It was not certain how long the two have been romantically involved.

Jasmina Abril de Rojas, who said she was Ms. Giraldo’s cousin, told the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario that Mr. Monserrate was innocent.

“She told me that everything had been an accident,” Ms. Rojas was quoted as saying. She added that Mr. Monserrate was not “an aggressive person.”

Mr. Monserrate remains free on $5,000 bail. His next court appearance is Jan. 16. He has been charged with second-degree assault, which carries a maximum of seven years in prison. He has also been placed under a protection order barring him from contact with Ms. Giraldo.

Mr. Monserrate is a former Marine and served 12 years in the New York Police Department before getting a psychological disability pension in 2000, according to a person who has reviewed documents related to Mr. Monserrate’s pension. The cause for his claim was not known. In a brief interview Saturday, Mr. Monserrate declined to discuss it. “You have my statement,” he said.

In seven years as a City Council member, he sponsored at least a half-dozen bills aimed at helping victims of domestic violence.

“I have dedicated my life to keeping people safe,” he said in his statement. “I stand with the many elected officials who have expressed their condemnation of domestic violence and I fully support and have even enforced laws meant to take any appearance of domestic violence seriously."

His arrest has sent ripples through Albany, where Senate Republicans and Democrats are locked in a battle over majority control. Republicans on Saturday vowed to challenge his fitness for office. Democrats, meanwhile, were exploring the legal ramifications and whether Republicans had standing to try to remove Mr. Monserrate before a conviction. If Mr. Monserrate were found guilty of a felony, he would automatically be removed.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to bear,” said John E. McArdle, a spokesman for Senate Republicans. “He’s been charged with a very serious crime, and I think a lot will depend on what he attempts to do or what Senator Smith encourages him to do.”

Mr. McArdle was referring to the Senate minority leader, Malcolm A. Smith. A spokesman for Mr. Smith’s office said he had not spoken to Mr. Monserrate since his arrest. But initial indications were that the Democrats would not try to dissuade him from signing his oath of office.

“Under the State Constitution and the Public Officers Law there is no bar to the seating of Senator-elect Monserrate,” Shelley Mayer, counsel to Senate Democrats, said through a spokesman. “I anticipate that the senator-elect will be following the provisions of the law by signing and filling his oath of office on a timely basis.”

Mr. Monserrate appeared in good spirits at his office Saturday. He sounded a defiant note when asked if he would still sign his oath next month. “Absolutely,” he said.

Mick Meenan, William K. Rashbaum, Rebecca White and Karen Zraick contributed reporting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Monday, December 15, 2008

Late Night Paterson Humor

December 14, 2008

Well, it had to happen sometime.

An appearance by "Gov. David Paterson" that includes broad humor about his blindness, his past cocaine use and his supposed desire, despite claims to the contrary, to appoint himself to US Sen. Hillary Clinton's seat.

There are even some upstate-is-full-of-weirdos jokes thrown in for good measure.

The governor's visual impairment also figures in Weekend Update Amy Poehler's goodbye.

Paterson’s Office Is Not Amused by ‘Saturday Night Live’ Skit

Published: December 14, 2008

Gov. David A. Paterson’s office criticized a skit on this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” in which Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, was portrayed as disoriented and buffoonlike.


Actor Fred Armisen as Gov. David Paterson, on Saturday Night Live.

The governor’s communications director, Risa B. Heller, said on Sunday that the skit amounted to nothing more than cheap ridicule — a surprisingly strong reaction considering that the governor is well known for making light of his vision problems.

“The governor engages in humor all the time, and he can certainly take a joke,” Ms. Heller said in a statement. “However, this particular ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit unfortunately chose to ridicule people with physical disabilities and imply that disabled people are incapable of having jobs with serious responsibilities.

“The governor is sure that ‘Saturday Night Live’ with all of its talent can find a way to be funny without being offensive,” Ms. Heller added.

In the skit, which appeared on the “Weekend Update” portion of the show on NBC, Fred Armisen portrayed a bumbling, lispy Mr. Paterson who referred repeatedly to cocaine use and compared his path to the governor’s office to “an actual plot from a Richard Pryor movie.”

Mr. Armisen, wearing a fake salt-and-pepper beard and a three-button suit similar to ones Mr. Paterson frequently wears, mocked the governor’s blindness throughout the four-minute segment. For most of the skit, he squinted his right eye closed and looked askance with his left eye.

The governor can see nothing out of his left eye and barely enough out of his right eye to make out large objects and see colors, he has said.

Rebecca Marks, a spokeswoman for NBC, said on Sunday night that the network was unable to locate anyone to comment on the skit.

Mr. Armisen first appears rolling his chair around aimlessly behind the newscasters’ desk. A “Weekend Update” host, Seth Meyers, then reaches out to steady Mr. Armisen and points his chair toward the camera.

“So have you heard about this guy Blagojevich? Boy, this guy is a real criminal,” Mr. Armisen says, to which Mr. Meyers responds that Mr. Paterson himself has confessed to wrongdoing — a reference to the governor’s admissions of past cocaine use and marital infidelity. Mr. Armisen then says: “But my crimes were merely crimes of the heart. And drug crimes.”

And at one point, while referring to Mr. Paterson’s decision about whom to choose to fill the Senate seat that Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to vacate, Mr. Armisen declares, “I’m tired of all these fancy two-eyed smart alecks from the big city running the show,” alluding to the governor’s reported interest in appointing somebody from upstate. The appointee doesn’t have to be blind, Mr. Armisen says, maybe “someone with a gamey arm, or maybe giant gums with the tiny teeth.”

At another point in the skit, he holds a chart, representing the unemployment rate, upside down. After Mr. Armisen leaves the desk — he first tries to shake Mr. Meyers’s hand but misses — he reappears on screen talking on his cellphone.

“Did you see me on TV?” he says, standing directly in the camera’s path, obscuring its shot.

Mr. Paterson is known for a having an irreverent sense of humor that is cheekier than most politicians would dare. And he has spoken at length about developing an ability to tell jokes at a young age as a way of making him seem more normal to his peers, who sometimes ridiculed him for not being able to see.

“I think people who have a good sense of humor do have in them a little bit of loneliness,” he said in an interview this summer. “When I was younger, I was certainly that way. So I think I used humor to entertain myself. That was my way of enjoying time, my way of finding the frivolity in situations.”

Speaking to reporters on Sunday night at the Waldorf-Astoria, where he was addressing a group from Yeshiva University, the governor was somewhat circumspect about the skit and avoided mentioning it directly. When asked if it had offended him, he kept any anger or embarrassment in check and deflected the question with an answer about high unemployment among the disabled.

“There is only one way that people could have an unemployment rate that’s six times the national average — it’s attitude,” he said. “And I’m afraid that the kind of third-grade depiction of individuals and the way they look and the way they move add to that negative environment.”

“I run the place that I work in so I don’t have to worry about being discriminated against, I think,” he said. “But the point is that a lot of people who don’t get promotions and don’t get opportunities and don’t even get work are disabled in our society.”

Nicholas Confessore contributed reporting.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lawsuit Takes on NYPD Press Credentia Policy

By Alex Kane
From the December 12, 2008 issue | Posted in Local | Email this article

The New York Police Department’s system for issuing annual press credentials to journalists is unconstitutional and arbitrary, a federal lawsuit filed Nov. 12 alleges.

The New York Police Department’s system for issuing annual press credentials to journalists is unconstitutional and arbitrary, a federal lawsuit filed Nov. 12 alleges.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of three New York City-based journalists whose 2007 applications for press credentials were denied by the NYPD claims that the city’s actions “have resulted in unconstitutional and unlawful interference with and prevention of news coverage in New York City and beyond.” The three journalists all say that the NYPD has not provided justification for why each one was denied press credentials and that the department has not answered their appeals. As a result, the plaintiffs allege violations of their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

“The system of granting press credentials in New York City has run amok and needs to be changed immediately,” said Norman Siegel, a prominent civil rights attorney who is leading the lawsuit. “We cannot allow the City of New York, the police department, to trample on the fundamental rights of journalists.”

The lawsuit is challenging the NYPD’s “unconstitutionally vague” criteria for defining who is qualified to carry city-issued press credentials. According to the NYPD’s Office of Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, an applicant must submit three articles that have been published in print media within the last six months and a cover letter from a news director or editor. For individuals publishing largely for online-only news organizations or blogs, the policy seems unclear.

Plaintiff David Wallis is a long-time freelance and online journalist who has contributed to a wide range of publications including the New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, and the Village Voice and has held press credentials on and off since 1994. Wallis is the founder of, which provides news organizations worldwide the opportunity to purchase articles and photographs from the materials featured on the website. Wallis said he continues to write for both the traditional print media as well as online-only publications.

Wallis questions why the NY PD should be granted the power to decide which journalists are “legitimate” enough to receive city-issued press credentials. “Should they really be in the business of deciding the legitimacy of news organizations?” he said.

After not holding press credentials for a short time because he was editing two books, Wallis applied to NYPD to renew his press identification card Aug. 6, 2007. He says that he was promptly denied, without reason.

“It doesn’t seem like any thought went into it,” Wallis said. “There’s a possibility that it has to do with the fact that they may have seen the dot com along with Featurewell.” Wallis said that although he noted his website in the application, his three article clips were published in print media. He filed an appeal three days later, and has yet to receive a response from the department.

Plaintiff Rafaél Martínez-Alequin is a longtime independent print and online journalist who published the Brooklyn Free Press from 1983 to 2003 and said he held credentials off and on for nearly 20 years. According to a June 16, 2007, New York Times article, over the years he became a well-known reporter at city press conferences, earning a reputation as a “gadfly” who asked discomforting questions about race and class to New York politicians. He now blogs at and edits

“The mayor does not like questions I ask him concerning issues that are affecting the Latino, the Afro-American and the poor communities,” Martínez-Alequin said. He says that although he is currently allowed to attend news conferences without a press card, nobody calls on him to ask questions.

In 2003, Martínez-Alequin switched to publishing online only and renamed the publication to be the New York City Free Press. He also writes on a related blog, “This is an issue that is very important because we are living in a new technological age,” Martínez-Alequin says.

Plaintiff Ralph E. Smith publishes, a blog that focuses primarily on law enforcement issues, community groups and youth in the city. He is currently a Public Information Officer for the New York City Corrections Department who held a working press card since 1996 until his application for renewal was also denied in 2007. Smith says that he has yet to receive comment from NYPD regarding why his application was denied.

The city’s request to delay its response to the lawsuit until Jan. 16, 2009 has been granted.

The NYPD’s Public Information Office failed to return several requests for comment by The Indypendent.

A similar lawsuit, filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), involves longtime police reporter Leonard Levitt, whose press credential renewal application was denied by the NYPD in January 2007 after he held credentials for 24 years. After working for Newsday, the Associated Press and the New York Post, Levitt founded, a website that investigates the police department. NYCLU lawyers have filed a Freedom of Information Act request to examine the city’s standards and procedures for issuing press credentials and to obtain documents about Levitt’s application. The case is pending.

Other New York City-based online-only publications have reported encountering similar troubles. “Since the summer of 2007, we [Gotham Gazette] have been denied a press identification card, which would assist us in accessing certain crowded/exclusive City Hall events,” wrote Courtney Gross, the city government editor for Nov. 13. “The NYPD’s reason: that we are online only, sans a tangible, ink-stained print publication.” publisher and co-founder Jake Dobkin described in an April 27, 2005, online article when he inquired about his application for press credentials, an NYPD employee told the publication “that websites were not eligible for NYPD working press credentials.”

“Access to newsworthy events and things like press passes should go to those who are consistently doing reporting for a real public,” said Jay Rosen, a faculty member in New York University’s Journalism Department and the author of the blog PressThink, in an email to The Indypendent. “It’s the journalism that should make the difference, not the journalist’s background, credentials, or employer.”

The issue of granting access to journalists and bloggers whose work is primarily on the Internet has sprung up in cases around the country. In Oregon, for instance, blogger Mark Bunster was denied admission to a closed-door city council executive session due to his alledged non-affiliation with an “institutional” news organization. His case prompted local city attorneys to look into the definition of “journalist.”

In California, an appeals court ruled in 2006 that online journalists are protected by the same shield law that applies to print journalists after Apple Computer sought to force online reporters to reveal their sources after employees leaked sensitive information.

The New York lawsuit will be an important case for independent journalists and bloggers to follow around the country.

“Siegel’s lawsuit argues that the current system of issuing press passes amounts to privileging those who work for large corporations,” writes a blogger named Oneshirt on the New York politics website, Room Eight. “As a result, in favoring corporate-employed reporters over citizen journalists and independent bloggers, the City’s press credentialing system effectively chooses to license primarily staid, cautious reporting — with a strong bent toward corporate coddling.”


If you’re a citizen journalist or blogger, you may want to consider applying for city-issued press credentials for access to events that are essential to your reporting.

Here’s how to go about applying for press credentials:

First, figure out which type of press credential you want or need. There are two basic categories for press credentials: a working press card, and a press identification card.

According to the NYPD application for press credentials, a working press card is “for those individuals who are full-time, news staff employees, whose routine duties require them to cross police and fire lines and are regularly involved in spot emergency news coverage, i.e.; shootings, fires, homicides, etc.” A press identification card is “issued to full-time members of the press who do not hold the Working Press Cards but do have a need for an official Police Department identification card in order to fulfill their various assignments,” like attending press conferences at City Hall.

As part of the application, the journalist has to submit three articles that have been published in print media within the last six months, as well as a cover letter from a news director or editor. The policy is unclear as it applies to bloggers or citizen journalists who work on online-only publications; some bloggers in the past have gotten press credentials, while others have been told that the NYPD does not issue credentials to online outlets.

Once you’re done preparing your application, make an appointment with the NYPD Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information by calling 646-610-8802 (Monday-Friday between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM).

Feel free to chronicle any pleasant or negative experiences in this process below in the comment section below.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Illinois Governor in Corruption Scandal

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Gov. Blagojevich visited a factory in Chicago on Monday.

Published: December 9, 2008

CHICAGO — Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested by federal authorities on Tuesday morning on corruption charges, including an allegation that he conspired to effectively sell President-elect Barack Obama’s seat in the United States Senate to the highest bidder.

A Reader’s Guide to the Complaint

Highlights from the complaint against Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich. The full complaint below contains profanity.

Back Story With The Times’s Monica Davey

The Recent Road of Illinois Political Corruption


Carlos Javier Ortiz for The New York Times

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, right, returned to his home in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon after being released on a $4,500 cash bond.

Carlos Javier Ortiz for The New York Times

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald after discussing the charges against Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich at a news conference in Chicago on Tuesday.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich appeared on Monday at a window and door factory in Chicago where workers were staging a sit-in.

Readers' Comments

Share your thoughts on the arrest of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois.

Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, called his sole authority to name Mr. Obama’s successor “golden,” and he sought to parlay it into a job as an ambassador or secretary of health and human services, or a high-paying position at a nonprofit or an organization connected to labor unions, prosecutors said in a 76-page affidavit by the United States Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Illinois.

He also suggested, the affidavit said, that in exchange for the Senate appointment, his wife could be placed on corporate boards where she might earn as much as $150,000 a year, and he tried to gain promises of money for his campaign fund.

If Mr. Blagojevich could not secure a deal to his liking, prosecutors said, he was willing to appoint himself.

“If I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself,” the governor said in recorded conversation, prosecutors said.

Federal authorities recorded Mr. Blagojevich speaking with advisers, fundraisers, a spokesman and a deputy governor, using listening devices placed in his office, home telephone, and a conference room at the offices of a friend, the affidavit said. In its detail, it paints a vivid picture of influence peddling and bare-knuckle politics inside the Blagojevich administration, evoking the heyday of Chicago’s political machine.

At an appearance to address climate change, Mr. Obama said he had not had any contact with Mr. Blagojevich (pronounced bluh-GOY-uh-vich) or his office, and did not know about any machinations involving the Senate seat. He said it was a “sad day” for Illinois, but declined to comment further.

The charges against Mr. Blagojevich are part of a five-year investigation into public corruption and allegations of “pay to play” deals in the clubby world of Illinois politics. In addition to the charges related to Mr. Obama’s Senate seat, they include accusations that the governor worked to gain benefits for himself, his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions.

For example, according to the affidavit, Mr. Blagojevich discussed whether he could strip a Chicago children’s hospital of $8 million in state money after a hospital executive declined to make a $50,000 contribution. He also discussed withholding state assistance from the financially struggling Tribune Company, which owns The Chicago Tribune, unless the newspaper dismissed unfriendly editorial writers.

Mr. Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, was also named in the complaint. After a brief appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Blagojevich, dressed in sport clothes and tennis shoes, was released on a $4,500 cash bond. An official at the governor’s office had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said that Mr. Blagojevich had gone on a “political corruption crime spree,” and that his actions had “taken us to a truly new low.”

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

He added that the complaint “makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever.” In one passage of the complaint, Mr. Blagojevich is quoted cursing Mr. Obama in apparent frustration that “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.”

The arrest leaves the fate of Mr. Obama’s vacant Senate seat in limbo. Mr. Blagojevich still has the power to name a successor to Mr. Obama, though experts in Illinois politics suggested that the legislature may move quickly to impeach him.

The Illinois Republican Party said Tuesday that Mr. Blagojevich should resign immediately “for the good of the state.” Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said that “no appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement.”

Emil Jones, president of the state Senate, said he would call the body back into session to write a law to schedule a special election for Mr. Obama’s Senate seat.

Mr. Blagojevich, 51, is serving his second term and has portrayed himself as a reformer. His predecessor, George Ryan, a Republican, was convicted of racketeering and fraud in 2006, and is now in prison.

But members of Mr. Blagojevich’s administration have been under investigation for more than a year. And this spring, the governor’s office was upended by the corruption trial of Antoin Rezko, a political fundraiser, when witnesses said Mr. Blagojevich had participated in kickback schemes that led to Mr. Rezko’s conviction. Mr. Blagojevich was not charged in that case.

Until Tuesday, though, few here could have imagined that the decision on replacing Mr. Obama would have resulted in explosive criminal charges against the governor. Under Illinois law, Mr. Blagojevich has sole authority to fill the seat being vacated by Mr. Obama, who was elected to the Senate in 2004. Mr. Obama’s resignation from the Senate took effect Nov. 16.

According to the criminal complaint, while talking on the telephone about the Senate seat replacement with his chief of staff and an adviser, Mr. Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and their financial struggles. “I want to make money,” he said, according to prosecutors. He then added, they allege, that he wanted to make $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

Mr. Blagojevich even contemplated stepping into the Senate himself, prosecutors said.

“I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain,” Mr. Blagojevich said in a recorded conversation with an adviser, according to the affidavit.

According to the affidavit from prosecutors, Mr. Blagojevich told an adviser last week that he might “get some (money) upfront, maybe” from one of the candidates hoping to replace Mr. Obama. That person was identified only as “Candidate 5.”

In an earlier recorded conversation, prosecutors say, Mr. Blagojevich said he was approached by an associate of “Candidate 5” with an offer of $500,000 in exchange for the Senate seat.

The authorities also say Mr. Blagojevich threatened to withhold state assistance from the Tribune Company, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday, as it sought to sell Wrigley Field last month in a bid to generate cash. According to prosecutors, Mr. Blagojevich and Mr. Harris made it clear that the company would only receive assistance from the Illinois Finance Authority if the Tribune fired unfriendly editorial-board members.

Tuesday afternoon, the Tribune Company, which is run by the real-estate investor Sam Zell, released a statement saying “no one working for the company or on its behalf has ever attempted to influence staffing decisions at the Chicago Tribune or any aspect of the newspaper’s editorial coverage as a result of conversations with officials in the governor’s administration.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Robert Grant, chief of the F.B.I.’s Chicago office, gave details of Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest. The governor, he said, was woken at 6 a.m. with a telephone call from the F.B.I., telling him that two agents were waiting outside with a warrant for his arrest, and that he should quietly open his door and let them in, to avoid waking his sleeping children. Mr. Blagojevich’s first response was, “Is this a joke?” Mr. Grant said.

Susan Saulny contributed reporting from Chicago.

Obama Might Change Cuba Policy

by: Shawn Zeller, Congresional Quarterly

Obama will be urged to lift the embargo against Cuba.
(Photo: Lynne Sladky / AP)

Campaigning among Cuban-Americans in Florida this fall, Barack Obama promised that as president he would lift some of the restrictions on traveling to the island and on sending money to relatives back home. He said he wouldn't go further than that, but U.S. business groups want him to go on and lift the trade embargo that has been in place since the Kennedy administration.

Isolating Cuba, these groups contend, has not worked the way a succession of presidents hoped. Last week, several leading groups, including the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, wrote Obama with their view "that the embargo is not having - and will not have - the type of economic impact that might influence the behavior of the Cuban government."

The letter followed the release of a report by Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, a free-trade group formed in 1914, that argues for a new Cuba policy. It has support from a number of past Democratic officials, including former Rep. Cal Dooley of California, who now is president of the chemical industry's Washington trade group, and James Dobbins, a Clinton-era National Security Council official who now directs the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand Corp.

The business community had some success in persuading Bill Clinton to loosen travel rules and sign a law allowing trade in food and medicine. But George W. Bush was not nearly as persuadable. He tightened travel rules; restricted humanitarian, agricultural and religious missions that Clinton routinely permitted; and even limited the travel of Cuban-Americans to see relatives on the island.

Business groups are taking heart in Obama's pledge to suspend restrictions on family remittances, visits and humanitarian packages from Cuban-Americans. And they'll probably get help from Democratic leaders in Congress. Embargo critics hold several key posts: Montana's Max Baucus , for example, chairs the Senate Finance Committee, while New York's Charles B. Rangel chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. Californian Howard L. Berman chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Colvin sees embargo politics as changing significantly as Florida's Hispanic population becomes more diverse and second-generation Cuban-Americans prove more willing to question the embargo's utility.

However, Obama won only about 35 percent of Cuban-American voters in Florida, according to exit polls, and Florida's Cuban-American community, with its considerable political clout, remains a big barrier to lifting sanctions.

Congress, says Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, will see through the motives of business groups "that just care about making money and don't care about the human side of the situation."

It would be a huge mistake, Claver-Carone contends, to abandon the embargo just as the Cuban regime is starting to strain under the worsening economy, the ill health of longtime dictator Fidel Castro and the political weakening of Castro's most recent patron, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

The first thing Obama must do, says Claver-Carone, is make clear to Cuba that the embargo will remain so long as Cuba refuses to democratize. Until Cuba does so, he says, "I know that there is majority bipartisan consensus in Congress that supports the sanctions."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Images From the Homeless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia

Mel Young, President and Founder of the Homeless World Cup Games, addressing reporters at the opening ceremonies. The event drew 56 nations to Australia in the growing annual competitions.

One Fan cheering on the home team at the Homeless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia

Australia verses Rwanda at the Homesless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia

The South African Team at the Homeless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia

Homeless World Cup Games Draw Thousands

Afghanistan United: homeless soccer stars hold the cup aloft

By David Cooke

Melbourne, Australia--ABOUT 5000 Afghans are scattered across Victoria, many forced in the last decade to seek peace away from their war-torn homeland. But over the last week, the local Afghan community has seemed so much bigger as hordes of patriots — mostly young men — danced and cheered for an unstoppable team of young homeless soccer stars.

Draped in the red, black and green of the Afghan flag and chanting "A-F-G" at any opportunity, they have been the stalwarts of the 2008 Homeless World Cup.

(Part of the opening ceremony and Street Parade at the recently concluded Homeless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia.)

(The Homeless team from Afghanistan, eventual winners of the tournament, are shown here facing off against the Scottish Team at the Homeless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia.)

Afghanistan beat Russia 5-4 in a gripping final yesterday, its cheer squad was joined by a local crowd happy to get behind them. Meanwhile in their homeland, another nine people were dead after a shoot-out.

For Maseeh Nasheet, who arrived in Australia with his family in 2002, the sight of his national team evoked deep emotion. "After three decades of war … it's a matter of great pride for all us Afghans to get to this stage," he said. "They have come from different ethnicities and different backgrounds and they're all Afghans. A united Afghanistan is the message we want to portray."

(Large Crowds attended most of the events at the recently concluded Homeless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia.)

Star striker Sayeed Reza, who has been begging on the streets of Kabul for five years, nailed three of his team's five goals and sent the partisan crowd wild. Russia also had strong support and went goal for goal with their former Soviet occupiers.

Russia's last-minute attempt to equalise proved too much for some spectators and when the whistle finally blew, more than a few young Afghan supporters shook with sobs.

"Were you watching, world?" Homeless World Cup founder Mel Young later asked the crowd. "That's the way sport should be played."

In the women's final, Zambia beat a stricken Liberian team that had to rely on three Australian replacements.

(In photo left, USA v Romania at the recently concluded Homeless World Cup Games in Melbourne, Australia.)

More than 500 players and coaches will begin departing from Melbourne today. One Kenyan player who has not been seen since arriving is still unaccounted for.

For the Australians, street soccer teams are back at the Atherton Gardens estate for training on Wednesday and Thursday this week. "We're trying to work with them to help them set some new goals so it's a chapter closed but lessons learned," Street Socceroos coach George Halkias said. "It's really about making sure they come down from cloud nine and realise that life can still be pretty tough."
Marijuana for the Memory

It's not as dangerous as scientists think it should be, and it can even be considered medicine. Also, it may affect different people in different ways.

The more researchers study the effects of marijuana, the more evidence scientists find that specific elements in it can be good for the aging brain by reducing inflammation and possibly even stimulating the formation of new brain cells. Development of a legal drug that contains certain properties similar to those in marijuana might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, chronic inflammation in the brain is believed to contribute to memory impairment.

Any new drug's properties would resemble those of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive substance in the cannabis plant, but would not share its high-producing effects. THC joins nicotine, alcohol and caffeine as agents that, in moderation, have shown some protection against inflammation in the brain that might translate to better memory late in life.

Psychologist Yannick Marchalant says, "When we're young, we reproduce neurons and our memory works fine. When we age, the process slows down, so we have a decrease in new cell formation in normal aging. You need those cells to come back and help form new memories, and we found that this THC-like agent can influence creation of those cells."

Psychologist Gary Wenk adds, "It's not that everything immoral is good for the brain. It's just that there are some substances that millions of people for thousands of years have used in billions of doses, and we’re noticing there’s a little signal above all the noise."

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PACIFIC REGION ELECTION UPDATE: The Latest in a story ignored by the western press


December 8, 2008 - 4:56PM


Simmering tensions in Papua New Guinea's autonomous Bougainville region have stopped voters reaching polling stations to choose their new president.

Bougainvilleans were supposed go to the polls last Saturday after former leader Joseph Kabui died from a heart attack in June this year.

But security fears tied to issues dating back 20 years to the closure of the island's giant copper mine are causing concerns for election officials.

Mathias Pihei, Bougainville's acting electoral commissioner, said some polling had been completed in the region's north but in the capital Buka, and in central and south Bougainville not one ballot had been cast.

"Remember the people in Bougainville are still traumatised," he told AAP.

"Problems have not been resolved yet, everyone has been traumatised to a certain degree and we are holding an election when people are not reconciled.

"There was a lot of mud-slinging in the lead-up. We had to go on air (local radio) to appeal to the voters to give everyone an even playing field.

"People were raising issues with candidates that went back to the crisis, they are keeping it in their mind and they want answers.

"I am confident we will go on... we have people on the ground negotiating."

The island of Bougainville spent nearly a decade during the 1980s and the 1990s fighting a civil war with PNG after central Bougainville landowners shut down the massive Panguna mine.

Despite Australia and New Zealand brokering a peace agreement between the two warring parties in 2001, Bougainville remains plagued by heavy weapons, fractured infighting and tension from years of arrested development.

Armed roadblocks, unresolved financial disputes with the Bougainville government and factional tensions linked to the civil war have been cited as factors stalling this year's presidential race.

"In the south and central Bougainville we have some concerns from information on the security issues," Pihei said.

"People are demanding compensation money and have set up roadblocks.

"It can been seen as being opportunistic but we are being cautious before we leap."

(In the image above, Bougainville, which is a part of Papua New Guinea, is key and important in the overall Pacific region. The Island nation lays just north and, East of Australia. It plays a role in the world economy and, is important to the shipping lanes of the region.)

One group in central Bougainville will not allow voting until the government pays for late president Kabui's funeral costs.

Another group wants compensation for a dead villager they lost when he assisted police in a failed raid on wanted pyramid scheme operator Noah Musingku.

Pihei also said Bougainville's nationalist faction known as Mekamui, who have candidates running in the election, have been using armed road blocks in the central and south to intimidate and stop voters.

Polling officials in Buka were demanding cash advances before the election can start because in the past they had not been paid, he said.

The election is the first to be held under Bougainville's constitution, another sign that the island is heading towards total independence, expected in a 2015 vote.

The United Nations, Australia and New Zealand have officials in the region monitoring the elections in an informal capacity.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Monserrate Statement on Judicial Nominations
Lack of Diversity in Candidates is Deeply Troubling

It is outrageous that the Commission on Judicial Nominations has assembled a list of seven candidates for the Chief Judgeship that does not reflect the diversity of New York State. Most distributing is the fact that three candidates put forward by the Commission have no prior judicial experience. I am appalled that the Commission did not properly consider the countless number of qualified women and Latinos serving as judges throughout our State. The Commission has failed in its duty "to recognize the character, temperament, professional aptitude, experience, qualifications and fitness for office, to discharge the duties of chief judge".

Now more than ever, I urge Governor Paterson to work to nominate a judiciary that reflects the population of our State. It is deeply troubling that Latinos, the largest and fastest-growing population in our State, are underrepresented at all levels of government in New York State.
Tempest In A Chief Judge Teapot (Updated)

December 2, 2008

There's a big to do over the lack of diversity in the list of chief judge nominees sent to Gov. David Paterson by the Commission on Judicial Nomination, despite the fact that the governor appears to be legally locked in to choosing from among the seven all-male and mostly white contenders to replace Judith Kaye as head of the state's top court.

Paterson expressed his disapproval yesterday, and his comments were quickly followed by a statement from Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who prounounced himself "incensed" and "disgusted" that Court of Appeals Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick was left off the list.

"I thought we were well past the days when women, Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians were considered less than acceptable to serve in judicial leadership capacity," Diaz said. "But the roster to replace the State’s Chief Judge - made up of nearly all white males - just does not represent the diversity of New York State’s Court of Appeals.”

"The political agendas of John O’Mara and those who are trying to back Governor Paterson into a corner are obvious," Diaz continued. "The racial undertones in this state are glaring, and the opportunities for women and Puerto Ricans and other so-called minorities are clearly not equal to the opportunities of other New Yorkers.”

Ciparick is Puerto Rican. It had been suggested that by appointing her chief judge, Paterson would be going a long way toward appeasing the so-called Gang of Three, of which two members - Diaz and Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr. - have voiced concern about the lack of Hispanic representation in positions of power in New York.

Now, it appears that option is not available to Paterson, which shuts down one more avenue that might have helped lead to a deal to end the Senate leadership stalemate.

Lest anyone be under the mistaken impression that Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, who is desperately wooing the Gang of Three, isn't sensitive to the Hispanic plight, here's his statement on the chief judge situation:

"The lack of diversity among the recommendations by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nominations is disappointing. In the most diverse state in the country, home to the United Nations, the absence of a woman or any Latinos on the list of possibilities is inexplicable and unrepresentative of the population of New York State."

Newsday's John Riley makes an interesting point, in his Rileyish way, regarding the possibility that a bit of reverse racism might be at play here. He suggests the commission might merely have sent the governor a list of the seven nominees its members thought best qualified for the post of chief judge, regardless of their race or gender.

UPDATE: Erstwhile gang member (back when there were four) Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate, who has pledged his support for Smith, also issued a statement expressing his dismay over the lack of women and Latinos among the commission's picks. He called this phenomenon "deeply troubling.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Man In Melbourne

Eric Williams in the Northcoat district of Melbourne, taping a segment for an upcoming conference on Cancer to be held in Houston, Texas later this week

by Eric K. Williams

(Special to YOUR FREE PRESS readers)

Melbourne, Australia-- "Typical Yanks" is an expression often heard when one witnesses a heated discussion, or argument, between an American and, an Australian. It could be over a sporting event, a movie and, especially over politics. More than likely, the latter, politics, than the former. There is much fascination between policy makers, intellectuals, academics, lawmakers, writers, and even music fans in this part of the world, now that Barack Obama is the president-elect. Whether it is long and insightful articles by such noted writers as Ian McEwen or, sharply critical commentary heard from the popular radio talk show host, Tony Biggs, known for his program, ON THE BLOWER, Australians will let you know what they think about every topic imaginable.

What is less imaginable is the undercurrent of suspicion that abounds among many in this part of the world with everything American. It is a different sort of undercurrent than, say, what one might encounter in Europe while riding a train between cities. There it is, out front: either people will not like you straight away, because of the land you happen to call home or, there will be a complaint about the policy of the president. That is what this writer encountered while living the life of an American Ex-pat in Scandinavia in the 1980's. After the exchange of names and other niceties, out comes the criticism directed at you, by virtue of your place of birth, to find out where you stand on one subject or another.

There are aspects of that here, too, in the land called DOWN UNDER. Yet, among fellow English speakers there is the aspect of what one might call, the verbal sword fight. The verbal sword fight is a battle devoid of profanity, curse words and open hostility. More subtle, often times. But, it is a fight none-the-less and, one that British speakers of the language, are masters of, and, it is a battle that many speakers of the American language rarely engage in.... at least not in the same way. Frankly, I would prefer a verbal sword fight with fellow New Yorkers on the corner of, say, 110th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. On the other hand, in the city that I happen to call home presently, there are no Harlems to speak of..... at least not yet.

The other day I sat outside at a local cafe, sipping coffee, in the Fitzroy district of this city. Fitzroy, for New Yorkers anyway, would remind one of how Greenwich Village was in the 1970's, BEFORE the encroachment of Gentrification. It was on Smith Street, which is a street with a lot of character that has old fashioned trolleys whizzing along and, where one could find everything from eateries to fine restaurants, mom and pop grocery stores, newspaper shops, liquor and hardware stores, where this short but, testy conversation took place. On Smith Street, believe me, there are plenty of colourful characters that stroll around, giving the boulevard the aura of a parade. It was there, at the Kent Street Cafe where a man sat at a nearby table under a large umbrella. He looked scruffy, unshaven and, a bit dishevelled. He was downing a third beer (I later found out) in mid-afternoon, as it was not quite 3 pm. At his table sat a young woman from Canberra, Australia’s capital city, who I had met some days ago at another coffee shop. This new transplant was searching for a place to live. She recognized me and, it was there that the conversation began.

I was introduced to "Andrew," who immediately recognized my American accent. The usual questions of what part of the USA I called home is what started it off. I said, "New York City." Andrew said, "Yeah, I've heard about it. But, it is a place that I have no interest in visiting. Ever." Okay, that was part of it. But, then, the discussion soon turned to politics and, he expressed how he felt that the leaders of the USA used Australia as a lap dog and, cannon fodder, for their war efforts. I pointed out that I was no fan of the current occupant of the White House and, that we were allies in the First and Second World Wars and, that, our two countries were not about to fight one another now..... Or Ever. Then, other derisive comments were made by Andrew about those war efforts of years past with, according to him, the TRUE feelings of Australian soldiers of their American Counter-parts. In short, American military types as, "Overpaid, oversexed and over here." I thought that funny and, it made me think of the Grade B 1970's-era film, YANKS, of the American military presence in Britain back in the 1940's. That's where I had heard that phrase the first time.
It went on this way for some time and, I said, finally, "Look, I am neither a military man, past or present, nor do I work for the federal government. I trust you are the same." Andrew concurred. I also said that neither he or I, as citizens of our respective countries, control either George W. Bush or, the recently ousted Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. Not to mention the new guys on the proverbial block did we control, that being current Prime Minister, Kevin Ruud, or President-elect, Barack Obama. And that, at the end of the day, we were just a couple of regular Joes trying to get by and, paying our taxes. That's all. We left it at that.

The young woman who introduced Andrew and I sat silent during this exchange, until another friend of hers joined their table. Andrew, a work-at-home scientist, was off to volunteer for a local social service centre a few blocks away. He was, as they say, "tanked." Those three pint sized beers he had consumed were taking a toll.

Which leaves me with this thought.... As I said in an earlier post, Australians of all hues and ethnic backgrounds are neither British, Caribbean, Canadian, and, especially not, American. They are themselves and, yet, there are a lot of similarities between the USA and, this neck-of-the-woods. I feel, oddly enough, at home here. Melbourne has a distinct New York-feel to it, with its grid system of organized streets, low-rise apartment dwellings, public spaces and parks. The trolleys, or trams, as they call them here, is like stepping back into time, when the city of my birth had them, as well. I do recall older relatives telling me about the time when the Big Apple had trolleys and, what fun they were to ride. Of course, and like New York, a city is more than the sum of its buildings and boulevards. There are the people who make it work and, what it is.
(Photo: With my Buddy Jo Hogan at a party. Hogan left, always informs me about the culture keys a gringo like me should avoid even in this English speaking country.)

On the other hand, I am the foreigner here, too. I am the gringo. I am the guy with the funny sounding accent and, strange clothing. As a Black American I am also a bit of an exotic here. A rarity and, a curiosity. At the same time, I feel immensely proud that Barack Obama, a fellow Black American man, is the president-elect. And these people called Australians, Black and white alike, seem genuinely happy that he is the new guy coming into power, as well. Yet, while we speak a common language and, while guys like Andrew has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about guys like me, I could not help but think about what some new friends over here, two native Aussie women, Jo and Lori, told me about this "Typical Yank" thing, that hangs in the air with their countrymen.

A thing, I should point out, that may not be immediately recognizable, even for a very un-typical Yank, who calls New York City home. It is coming around I have to say, slowly but, surely.

I leave you with this piece that appeared in THE AGE newspaper about that very thing. Read on.....

See you back here again soon. Same time. Same Channel.