June 20, 2013
By ANGELA DELLI SANTI
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — In an accelerated election for a new U.S. senator from New Jersey, the Democratic field is Cory Booker vs. everyone else.
The Newark mayor’s name recognition and deep-pocketed pals would give him an advantage in any statewide race. But the charismatic Booker — who clearly has national political ambitions and has spent significant time raising his profile on social media and giving speeches around the country — may be more familiar to talk show viewers than to New Jersey voters. His ride to Washington got bumpier when the election was moved up a year because of Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s death this month.
Booker, 44, hasn’t raised as much money as he hoped. He hasn't finished his second term in Newark, something he promised to do when he decided not to challenge Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election bid. And he didn't have time to try to discourage other Democrats from competing against him in a party primary.
Booker is still the odds-on favorite to win the Aug. 13 primary, which is akin to coronation because a Republican hasn’t held the seat for more than 40 years. One recent poll had him up by 40 points among other Democrats. It also showed him well ahead of the likely Republican challenger, former Americans for Prosperity state director Steve Lonegan, in the Oct. 16 general election, which will settle the seat for a year.
As few as 200,000 voters could decide the outcome, an anticipated turnout so low it adds to the uncertainty.
It’s almost certain that Booker, a Stanford graduate and Rhodes scholar who grew up in the New York suburb of Harington Park, N.J., will be criticized during the primary for his fast-paced ambitions. One opponent, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, offered a glimpse of what is to come by proclaiming, “I don’t bring a sense of entitlement” to the race. Oliver, who like Booker is black and from Essex County, could peel away minority and female votes that would otherwise go to Booker.
The two others in the race, Rep. Frank Pallone, a 24-year veteran of Congress with deep ties to organized labor, and Rep. Rush Holt, an astrophysicist and son of a former senator, both have voting records more liberal than Booker’s. Additionally, the powerful public teachers union could come out against him because of his push for charter schools, school vouchers and other urban education reforms the union opposes.
Booker’s mere entry into this race meant backpedaling on his publicly stated intent to finish his second term as mayor of New Jersey's largest city, which expires next June. Asked about the turnabout during his campaign kickoff at a downtown dot-com, Booker acknowledged that his campaign plans had been upended.
“The reality is we have put so much into the pipeline here in Newark,” he said. “The momentum is clear. There is about $1 billion worth of development projects rolling into the city. As much as you might think I am necessary to complete those projects, this momentum will continue, and I will continue to be a part of it.”
Though he swears his allegiance to his adopted city, critics say he cares more about building his national brand than fixing the city’s systemic problems of crime and joblessness.
“Our infamous name for him is ‘Mayor Hollywood,’ because he's never here,” said Newark community activist Donna Jackson. “Or we call him ‘Story Looker,’ because every time you look around, he has another story.”
Critics see the rescue of a woman from a burning house and subsequent tweets about the experience (he has 1.4 million Twitter followers) as self-promotional, and say his investment in the downtown has come at the expense of neighborhoods where blight and crime persist. Critics say his trip to California the day after announcing his Senate candidacy for a fundraiser hosted by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is more evidence that he has already put Newark, and New Jersey, in his rearview mirror.
Supporters say Booker has reinvigorated the city.
He has attracted hundreds of millions in philanthropic money — including a $100 million grant from Zuckerberg to improve city schools — cleaned up parks and revitalized a once-moribund downtown that now boasts Panasonic’s headquarters, a sparkling new hotel, loft apartments with exposed brick walls, and increased commerce, including a trendy restaurant specializing in gourmet mac and cheese.
Don Katz, founder and CEO of Audible.com, an audiobook producer and Amazon subsidiary that relocated its headquarters to Newark six years ago, sees a vibrant city that abounds with cultural, culinary and entertainment options, and says he has never regretted moving the company from suburban Wayne to urban Newark.
He said he found Booker to be “an incredibly articulate visionary” whose ideas for urban transformation through the political system resonated with Katz. Both are also like-minded on school reform; among Katz’s 600 employees in Newark are interns and graduates of Newark charter schools.
Booker is aware of his detractors but is undeterred by them, beginning with former Mayor Sharpe James, who won re-election against the up-and-coming-councilman in 2002 after a bruising battle documented in the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Street Fight.”
“I’ve heard it,” he said, “too much Twitter from the mayor, too much exposure. There’s not a criticism I haven’t heard over the years. I’ve heard it all. But there’s one thing everyone has to admit about my life as a professional, from my days working in housing high-rises here in Newark as a tenants’ rights attorney to my time as mayor, is that I do not run from challenges. I run toward them.”
June 20, 2013
By TRENTON DANIEL
The hardship of hunger abounds amid the stone homes and teepee-like huts in the mountains along Haiti's southern coast.
The hair on broomstick-thin children has turned patchy and orangish, their stomachs have ballooned to the size of their heads and many look half their age — the telltale signs of malnutrition.
Mabriole town official Geneus Lissage fears that death is imminent for these children if Haitian authorities and humanitarian workers don't do more to stem the hunger problems.
"They will be counting bodies," Lissage said, "because malnutrition is ravaging children, youngsters and babies."
Three years after an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and international donors promised to help Haiti "build back better," hunger is worse than ever. Despite billions of dollars from around the world pledged toward rebuilding efforts, the country's food problems underscore just how vulnerable its 10 million people remain.
In 1997 some 1.2 million Haitians didn't have enough food to eat. A decade later the number had more than doubled. Today, that figure is 6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can't afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government's National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.
"This is scandalous. This should not be," said Claude Beauboeuf, a Haitian economist and sometime consultant to relief groups. "But I'm not surprised, because some of the people in the slums eat once every two days."
Much of the crisis stems from too little rain, and then too much. A drought last year destroyed key crops, followed by flooding caused by the outer bands of Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy.
Haiti has had similarly destructive storms over the past decade, and scientists say they expect to see more as global climate change provokes severe weather systems.
Klaus Eberwein, general director of the government's Economic and Social Assistance Fund, said: "We are really trying our best. It's not like we're sitting here and not working on it. We have limited resources."
He attributed Haiti's current hunger woes to "decades of bad political decisions" and, more recently, to last year's storms and drought. "Hunger is not new in Haiti," Eberwein said. "You can't address the hunger situation in one year, two years."
In the village of Mabriole, Marie Jean, a 33-year-old mother of six, looked helpless as her naked son Dieufort sat cross-legged in the dirt, a metal spoon in hand that was more toy than tool. The 5-year-old boy barely looked 3, his gaze unfocused and glassy eyes lifeless. His stomach was distended.
Jean said she lost 10 goats and several chickens to Isaac. The goats could have sold for about $17 apiece, the poultry for about $2.80. She could have used the animals for food or the money to hold her over until the new harvest season.
"You depend on this, because it's all you have," Jean said.
Many people have been forced to buy on credit, or look for the cheapest food available while eating smaller and fewer portions. Some families have asked relatives to take care of their children, or handed them over to orphanages so they have one less mouth to feed, humanitarian workers say.
Political decisions already had hurt the ability of Haitian farmers to feed the country. One example: Prodded by the U.S. government, Haiti cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice, driving many locals out of the market.
Eighty percent of Haiti's rice — and half of all its food — is imported now. Three decades ago, Haiti imported only 19 percent of its food and produced enough rice to export. Factories built in the capital at the same time did little to help: They led farmers to abandon their fields in the countryside in hope of higher wages.
At the same time, Haiti has lost almost all of its forest cover as desperately poor Haitians chop down trees to make charcoal. The widespread deforestation does little to contain heavy rainfall or yield crop-producing soil.
With so much depending on imports, meals are becoming less affordable as the value of Haiti's currency depreciates against the U.S. dollar. Haiti's minimum wage is 200 gourdes a day. Late last year, that salary was equivalent to about $4.75; today it's about $4.54 — a small difference that makes a big strain on the Haitian budget.
One hard-hit area is Ganthier, an arid stretch between the dense capital of Port-au-Prince and the Dominican border a few miles (kilometers) to the east. It's among 44 areas identified by the government as "food insecure," meaning too many tables are bare.
Here, villagers tell of an elusive rainfall that stymied crop production and then the hurricane that followed.
"That is when the misery began," said pastor Estephen Sainvileun, 63, as he sat with friends in the shade of a rare tree.
Hurricane Sandy ravaged the bean crops, leaving a three-month gap until the harvest resumed in December. With no beans to sell, farmers couldn't buy rice, corn or vegetable oil.
"Some people eat by miracle," said Falide Cerve, 51, a part-time merchant and single mother of five.
That has hurt education, too. The Ganthier schoolhouse, with its tin walls and dirt floor, can hold 100 students, but only 43 enrolled. The children are too hungry to learn.
"They're too distracted, and I have to send them home," said Sainvileun, the pastor who runs the tiny schoolhouse.
Especially hurt are children in Haiti's hard-to-reach villages. Directly south of Ganthier is one of the most remote zones in Haiti. The area is one of craggy mountains, the highest in the country at 8,772 feet (2,674 meters). Only the sturdiest off-road vehicles can climb the steep, twisting and rocky roads.
Some villages, such as Anse-a-Boeuf on the southeastern coast, are solely accessible by foot or donkey.
On a recent oven-hot afternoon, a team of Associated Press journalists hiked down a hill, past a thicket of mangroves and into the beachside hamlet. They found several dozen children waddling among the wood huts with the usual signs of malnutrition.
"This child is not malnourished," insisted 45-year-old grandmother Elude Jeudy as she held in her arms 2-year-old Jerydson, naked and crying, too frail to stand a few minutes earlier. "I feed him."
The mother had left the little boy so she could find work in Belle Anse, a nearby village on the ocean.
Neighbor Wilner Fleurimond added: "People shouldn't be living like this."
Villagers say they vote for people they hope will improve their lives but in the end find disappointment.
"We vote for the deputy we know and nothing works," Fleurimond fumed. "We vote for the deputy we don't know and nothing works."
Shortly after taking office, President Michel Martelly launched a nationwide program led by his wife, Sophia, called Aba Grangou, Creole for "end hunger." Financed with $30 million from Venezuela's PetroCaribe fund, the program aims to halve the number of people who are hungry in Haiti by 2016 and eradicate hunger and malnutrition altogether by 2025. Some 2.2 million children are supposed to take part in a school food program financed by the fund.
Eberwein, whose government agency oversees Aba Grangou, said 60,000 mothers have received cash transfers for keeping their children in school. A half million food kits were distributed after Hurricane Sandy, along with 45,000 seed kits to replenish damaged crops, he said. Mid- to long-term solutions require creating jobs.
But the villagers in the Belle Anse area say they've seen scant evidence of the program, as if officials have forgotten the deaths in 2008 of at least 26 severely malnourished children in this very region. That same year, the government collapsed after soaring food prices triggered riots.
USAID has allocated nearly $20 million to international aid groups to focus on food problems since Hurricane Sandy, but villagers in southern Haiti said they have seen little evidence of that.
Despite the discrepancy, one public health expert said there's sufficient proof that at least some of the aid is reaching the population. Were it not, Richard Garfield said, Haiti would see mass migration and unrest.
"Overall aid has gotten to people pretty well. If aid hadn't gotten to people that place would be so much more of a mess," said Garfield, a professor emeritus at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and now a specialist in emergency response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "You'd see starvation and riots ... The absence of terrible things is about the best positive thing that we can say."
Government officials concede that not all of the 44 areas have received food kits and other goods as part of the Aba Grangou program.
"It hasn't arrived here yet. It's nothing but rhetoric," said Jean-Marc Tata, a math and French teacher and father of two who lives in Mabriole.
His 18-month-old son's hair began to turn orange after Tropical Storm Isaac knocked down trees, chewed up crops and killed livestock, leaving the family with little to eat.
"We had beans that were ready to pick but everything was lost. This has been a major cause of malnutrition," Tata said in a courtyard ringed with stone homes.
Tata said he had given his son a cup of coffee with a bit of bread, his only meal so far that day as dusk began to fall. The day before: a single bowl of oatmeal.
Haiti in general and the mountain villages in particular have long suffered from chronic hunger. Child malnutrition rates have been high for years. The United Nations' World Food Program reports that nearly a quarter of Haiti's children suffer from malnutrition, though the figure is higher in places such as Guatemala and the Sahel region in Africa.
Isolation doesn't help. A doctor in Belle Anse said his hospital has treated five children who were diagnosed with malnutrition this year. He said more parents would come if they could afford transportation and hospital fees, or take away time from work to make the journey on foot.
"The future is really threatened here," Tata said. "Our life is really threatened here."
Associated Press videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama contributed to this report.
June 20, 2013
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
The Black Prosecutors Association of Los Angeles held its 2nd annual Alfred Jenkins awards ceremony last Thursday attended by the Who's Who of local legal society.
In a rare appearance together, the chief law enforcement officers in the State of California were honored together. The ceremony honorees included Kamala Harris, California attorney general, Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles district attorney, Andre Birotte, Jr., U.S. attorney Central District of California, and Ron Brown, Los Angeles County public defender.
It was a big moment for Lacey, who talked about the importance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech.
“I believe we are witnessing Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream,” she tearfully reminded the crowd.
She also emphasized the importance of black prosecutors in this society.
For Lacey, Birotte, and Harris this was the pinnacle of climbing the often-unjust world of politics. Each toiled away as low and mid level prosecutors before becoming the first African Americans to hold their respected positions.
John Mack says, “we should celebrate Andre Birotte, Jackie Lacey, and Kamala Harris because not only are they African Americans but they are at the top of their game. He adds, “they earned it and they are the absolute best.”
The ceremony, billed as a tribute to the “Champions of Justice” is a fundraiser for the BPLA Scholarship fund. More than 300 glittering guests — women in elegant gowns and men in black business suits and tuxedos gingerly socialized with the four guess of honor.
Still, the evening’s festivities included photo ops with one or more of the honorees.
Harris praised U.S. Attorney Birotte as one of the “finest U.S. Attorney’s in the United States.” She also reminded the crowd that the penal code was not designed just to protect “snow white.”
Alfred Jenkins, Retired District Attorney, and considered the Godfather of many in the room, says it’s overwhelming to be a part of the pipeline of young black people succeeding in the law.
“It’s wonderful to get your recognition while you are here to appreciate it,” says Jenkins. “It’s a marvelous feeling.”
Birotte echoed the sentiment of the other honorees. “I am in this position because of all the people that supported me.”
June 20, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday handed down decisions in five cases and agreed to hear two important appeals in the fall. Among the court’s actions:
— Struck down, by a 7-2 vote, Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law that asks would-be voters for additional documentation before allowing them to register using a federal form designed to make signing up easier.
— Ruled 5-3 that agreements between the makers of name-brand and generic drugs to delay the generics’ availability can be illegal, an outcome cheered by consumer groups.
— Held 5-4 that prosecutors in some instances may use a suspect’s silence at an early stage of a criminal investigation against him — before the suspect has been arrested or informed of his constitutional rights.
— Agreed to decide in its next term a new dispute involving race, whether federal housing law requires proof of intentional discrimination.
— Decided 5-4 that judges may not increase mandatory minimum prison terms when sentencing defendants unless the facts justifying the increase have been found by a jury.
— Barred lawyers, in another 5-4 ruling, from obtaining state driver license records to recruit clients, saying the practice is prohibited by a federal law aimed at shielding motor vehicle information.
— Said it would review a state court ruling upholding a $1.24 million defamation judgment against a Wisconsin airline that reported one of its pilots was potentially dangerous, despite a post-9/11 law that encourages airlines to report potential safety threats to federal officials.
June 20, 2013
By Shonassee Shaver
New Orleans civil rights advocate, Rev. Samson “Skip” Alexander is a legend among the many leaders who have helped affect social change. Samson was a close friend of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and he is responsible for the treasured photo capturing Coretta Scott King, sitting front row with her children mourning her husband’s death. Samson had taken and retains many historical images. It is no surprise that he is the owner of this momentous photograph.
Rev. Samson aka “Skip” recalls that day where the FBI was on patrol, lurking for misconduct and suspicious behavior.
“They were hurt about their father’s passing. As we marched to Morehouse College for his memorial, I remember them looking somber as if they were sleep walking” said Rev. Samson. Legendary boxing champ Muhammad Ali, President Richard Nixon were among many of the influential people to flow from the balcony of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr. King’s funeral was held.
“There were dignitaries at his funeral,” Samson recalled.
“Kings and queens from all around the world (Africa and India) came to show their respects for Dr. King.”
Samson had a hand in the funeral’s seating process, he said. He was also among the news press, accompanying Ebony Magazine, Pittsburg Courier, The Chicago Defender and Life and Times. “I was in charge of placing thousands people from around the world in the backyard of the church” he said.
“The FBI had told me I could not take any pictures because of the flash. The flash would spark concerns of gun firing at Dr. Kings memorial.”
Not likely to abide by law officials, he went ahead and took the picture.
“I was able to use light that was available to me. I learned this technique in the air force,” said Rev. Samson. Not wanting to get caught taking a picture. He gave the photo to someone unknown at the time, later to be someone from JET magazine.
Samson seems modest about his accomplishments, remaining humble and down to earth through all his triumphs.
“I was nobody special,” he stated when asked about his triumphs.
“I did not think I was making history at the time. We were doing what was needed during that time. We knew that in order to be free, we had to fight for desegregation.”
He candidly recalls the day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.
“I was stunned and dumb founded. The FBI told me not to leave. I remember blood coming down the 2nd floor. I was a young guy” said Rev. Samson.
King had been the president of the Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC). Rev. Samson worked for the International Representatives of the American Federation of the Sate County and Municipal employees AFI-CIO.
“SCLC had no money and we would help them raise money for the organization, while he spoke to unions” he said.
In Memphis, Rev. Samson conducted a strike with the sanitation workers. Coincidently this was done while staying at the Lorraine Hotel where King was staying when he was assassinated. His goal, to get sanitation cards signed, was short lived by the incident.
Many were uncertain if the Civil Rights Movement could go on. Rev. Samson had his doubts that the movement would not be as effective with King gone. “I thought so. No other man in the world was spontaneous as he was. He could rally up a crowd. He could bring together good men and bad men”. Dr. King was a phenomenal man.
Sampson fondly remembers the police shouting at him to get out of the way.
“I had no identification or anything,” he said.
“I ‘boguarded’ my way through. I had to take the picture, even if I was going to jail.”