July 12, 2012
By GARY FINEOUT | Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The president of Florida A&M University submitted his resignation Wednesday, the same day the university was sued by parents of a drum major who died during a hazing. It was unclear if the two events were related.
James Ammons announced the resignation, which takes effect Oct. 11, in a letter to the chairman of the university’s governing board. He said his decision came after “considerable thought, introspection and conversations with my family.”
Ammons' departure is the latest in a series of blows to the university that has seen its image badly bruised by Champion’s death, the suspension of the band until 2013 and the springtime resignation of its veteran director.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in Champion’s hazing. They have pleaded not guilty. Their trial is scheduled to begin the same month as Ammons’ resignation, in October.
Dreams of playing in the band drew students to apply to the university as much if not more than the school’s academic program, and the same professional performances that led it to play at Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations were a huge attendance draw at football games.
An alumnus and former top administrator of the school, the president was first hired to help steady FAMU in the wake of financial woes and threats to its accreditation.
But Champion’s death put a spotlight on a hazing culture that he and other top FAMU officials have been unable to eradicate.
The school’s trustees gave Ammons a vote of no-confidence in June, after questioning his leadership in several areas, including what some saw as his lax attitude toward hazing and management of the band prior to Robert Champion’s death in November.
At the time, Ammons said he would stay on the job, and he immediately recommended stringent new eligibility requirements for membership in The Marching 100 band, which has played at Super Bowls and inauguration ceremonies.
Champion died in November after being beaten by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel following a football game against the school’s archrival.
Champion’s death put a spotlight on hazing at the school and led to the suspension of the band until at least next year. In the meantime, the FAMU athletic department was already grappling with a multimillion-dollar deficit.
The lawsuit brought by Champion’s parents claims Florida A&M University officials did not take action to stop hazing even though a school dean proposed suspending the band because of hazing concerns three days before their son died. School officials also allowed nonstudents to play in the band, fell short in enforcing anti-hazing policies and did not keep a close eye on band members to prevent hazing, the lawsuit said.
School officials “failed to properly supervise, train, discipline and control the FAMU Band,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit seeks damages greater than $15,000, but does not give a specific amount.
Champion’s parents, Robert and Pamela, have already sued the bus company, claiming the driver stood guard outside while the hazing took place. The company said the driver was helping band members with their equipment.
Florida A&M University trustees were added as defendants to the lawsuit, which was to be refiled later Wednesday. Under state law, Champions parents had to wait six months before they could include the university in the lawsuit since it’s a state entity.
uly 05, 2012
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations has endorsed an African Union force to capture warlord Joseph Kony and neutralize his Lord’s Resistance Army.
The 15-member Security Council approved the “United Nations Regional Strategy to Address the Threat and Impact of the Activities of the LRA” in a presidential statement Friday.
The plan provisions a new force of 5,000 AU soldiers and bolsters humanitarian efforts.
The LRA, carried out its worst atrocities in northern Ugandan in the 1990s, but had by 2004 largely been driven out of the area. Remnants, however, continued to attack civilians in Uganda and three neighboring countries. The group is notorious for carrying out massacres, mutilating victims and abducting boys for use as child soldiers.
Kony and the LRA gained notoriety following a YouTube video, “Kony 2012,” that went viral.
July 05, 2012
By LARRY MARGASAK and PETE YOST | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department declared Friday that Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to withhold information about a bungled gun-tracking operation from Congress does not constitute a crime and he won’t be prosecuted for contempt of Congress.
The House voted Thursday afternoon to find Holder in criminal and civil contempt for refusing to turn over the documents. President Barack Obama invoked his executive privilege authority and ordered Holder not to turn over materials about executive branch deliberations and internal recommendations.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, the department said that it will not bring the congressional contempt citation against Holder to a federal grand jury and that it will take no other action to prosecute the attorney general. Dated Thursday, the letter was released Friday.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the decision is in line with long-standing Justice Department practice across administrations of both political parties.
“We will not prosecute an executive branch official under the contempt of Congress statute for withholding subpoenaed documents pursuant to a presidential assertion of executive privilege,” Cole wrote.
In its letter, the department relied in large part on a Justice Department legal opinion crafted during Republican Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Frederick Hill, the spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, said it is regrettable that “the political leadership of the Justice Department” is taking that position. Issa, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, is leading the effort to get the material related to Operation Fast and Furious.
Although the House voted Thursday to find Holder in criminal and civil contempt, Republicans probably are still a long way from obtaining documents they want for their inquiry into Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-tracking investigation focused on Phoenix-area gun shops by Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The criminal path is now closed and the civil route through the courts would not be resolved anytime soon.
“This is pure politics,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“Remarkably the chairman of the committee involved here has asserted that he has no evidence that the attorney general knew of Operation Fast and Furious or did anything but take the right action when he learned of it.
“No evidence, so if you have no evidence as he has stated now about the White House and the attorney general, what else could this be but politics?”
More than 100 Democrats walked out of the House chamber to boycott the first of two contempt votes, saying Republicans were more interested in shameful election-year politics than documents.
Republicans demanded the documents for an ongoing investigation, but their arguments focused more on the need for closure for the family of slain Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Two guns identified by the Fast and Furious tracking operation were found near his body after a shootout in Arizona.
Democrats promised closure as well, but said a less-partisan Republican investigation was the only way to get it.
Adding to the emotion of the day, the family of the slain agent issued a statement backing the Republicans.
“The Terry family takes no pleasure in the contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder. Such a vote should not have been necessary. The Justice Department should have released the documents related to Fast and Furious months ago,” the statement said.
The contempt votes happened on the day that Obama’s health care law survived in the Supreme Court, prompting some Democrats to speculate that the votes were scheduled to be overwhelmed by news stories about the ruling.
About five hours after the court ruled, with news sites flooded with information about the health care ruling, the House voted 255-67 to declare Holder in criminal contempt.
A second vote of 258-95 held Holder in civil contempt and authorized the House to file a lawsuit.
In past cases, courts have been reluctant to settle disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government.
The issue became more complicated when Obama invoked a broad form of executive privilege, a legal doctrine designed to keep private certain communications of executive branch agencies.
Issa’s committee will consult with the House counsel’s office about a court challenge to the administration’s decision not to cooperate, spokesman Frederick Hill said.
The documents were written after Fast and Furious was shut down. The subpoena covered a 10-month period from February 2011, as the Justice Department expressed growing concern that the Fast and Furious operation had employed a risky investigative tactic known as “gun-walking.” In early December 2011, the department finally acknowledged that the initial denial of gun-walking was in error.
Republicans said the contempt citations were necessary because Holder refused to hand over documents that could explain why the Obama administration took 10 months to acknowledge the gun-walking.
In Fast and Furious, ATF agents abandoned the agency’s usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased, often as soon as they were taken out of gun shops. Instead, the goal of the tactic known as “gun-walking” was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers, who had long eluded prosecution, and to dismantle their networks.
Gun-walking long has been barred by Justice Department policy, but federal agents in Arizona experimented with it in at least two investigations during the George W. Bush administration before Operation Fast and Furious. These experiments came as the department was under widespread criticism that the old policy of arresting every suspected low-level “straw purchaser” was failing to stop tens of thousands of guns from reaching Mexico, more than 68,000 in the last five years. A straw purchaser conceals that he is buying guns for others.
Fast and Furious identified more than 2,000 weapons suspected of being illicitly purchased. But agents lost track of many of the guns. Some 1,400 of them have yet to be recovered.
July 05, 2012
NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s new poet laureate will be telling her own story, in prose.
Natasha Trethewey is working on a memoir, currently untitled, that has been acquired by Ecco. The publisher, an imprint of HarperCollins, announced Monday that the book is scheduled to come out in 2014.
The 46-year-old Trethewey is the daughter of a white father and black mother. The memoir will tell of her childhood in the American South in the 1970s and ’80s.
Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for her collection “Native Guard.” This fall, she begins a one-year term as U.S. poet laureate.
June 28, 2012
By MIKE BAKER |
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — President Barack Obama’s campaign has recruited a legion of lawyers to be on standby for this year’s election as legal disputes surrounding the voting process escalate.
Thousands of attorneys and support staffers have agreed to aid in the effort, providing a mass of legal support that appears to be unrivaled by Republicans or precedent. Obama’s campaign says it is particularly concerned about the implementation of new voter ID laws across the country, the possibility of anti-fraud activists challenging legitimate voters and the handling of voter registrations in the most competitive states.
Republicans are building their own legal teams for the election. They say they’re focused on preventing fraud — making sure people don’t vote unless they’re eligible — rather than turning away qualified voters.
Since the disputed 2000 presidential election, both parties have increasingly concentrated on building legal teams — including high-priced lawyers who are well-known in political circles — for the Election Day run-up. The Bush-Gore election demonstrated to both sides the importance of every vote and the fact that the rules for voting and counting might actually determine the outcome. The Florida count in 2000 was decided by just 537 votes and ultimately landed in the Supreme Court.
This year in that state alone, Obama and his Democratic allies are poised to have thousands of lawyers ready for the election and hope to have more than the 5,800 attorneys available four years ago. That figure was nearly twice the 3,200 lawyers the Democrats had at their disposal in 2004.
Romney has been organizing his own legal help for the election. Campaign attorney Ben Ginsberg did not provide numbers but said the campaign has been gratified by the “overwhelming number of attorneys who have volunteered to assist.”
“We will have enough lawyers to handle all situations that arise,” he said.
The GOP doesn’t necessarily need to have a numerical counterweight to Obama’s attorneys; the 2000 election showed that experienced, connected lawyers on either side can be effective in court.
Former White House counsel Robert Bauer, who is organizing the Obama campaign’s legal deployment, said there is great concern this year because he believes GOP leaders around the county have pursued new laws to impede the right to vote.
“The Republican Party and their allies have mapped out their vote suppression campaign as a response to our success in 2008 with grass-roots organization and successful turnout,” Bauer said. “This is their response to defeat: changing the rules of participation so that fewer participate.”
Several states with Republican leaders have recently pursued changes that could make voting more difficult, including key states such as Florida and Ohio, despite objections from voting rights groups that believe that the laws could suppress votes from low-income and minority blocs.
Republicans dispute that the laws are political, pointing to cases of election fraud and arguing that measures like those requiring voters to show identification are simply common sense. Pennsylvania’s Republican House majority leader, Mike Turzai, however, told GOP supporters over the weekend that the state’s new ID law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Independent from the Romney team, a conservative group is prepping an Election Day team of its own to combat possible fraud.
Catherine Engelbrecht, president and founder of True the Vote, said the organization hopes to train and mobilize up to one million volunteers this year, many of them to serve poll watchers. One of the group’s main initiatives is to “aggressively pursue fraud reports.”
“Being a poll watcher is an age-old tradition and we’re fortunate that so many volunteers are ready and willing to take a day off, learn what they need to know and help out at the polls,” Engelbrecht said. True the Vote already has thousands signed up to help and had 500 trained election workers monitoring the Wisconsin recall vote earlier this month.
“They serve as volunteer guardians of the republic, to ensure that procedures at the polls are in keeping with state law,” she said.
It’s one of the efforts that have Obama’s team fretting. The Democrats fear that anti-fraud activity could get out of hand, with vigilante poll watchers targeting and intimidating voters who may not know their rights.
“We will have the strategy and the resources to address the threat and protect the voter,” Bauer said.
The Obama-aligned attorneys, most of whom are not election experts by trade, undergo training and have materials to show them how to help at the polls on Election Day.
Charles Lichtman, who is helping advise the effort in Florida this year after leading it in the last two cycles, first created the Florida Democratic Lawyers Council after the 2000 election, vowing that there would never be a repeat of that disputed vote. He contends Democrat Al Gore would have won the presidency over Republican George W. Bush if a similar legal infrastructure had been in place then.
Lichtman’s efforts have since been replicated for other states. He said that is vital to provide voter protection.
“My experience has been that, in every election, the other side has taken drastic measures to try to suppress the vote,” Lichtman said. The volunteer organization has not been involved in the 2012 legal disputes so far, though they are monitoring the developments.
Four years ago, the teams of lawyers organized by Obama and Republican candidate John McCain in 2008 went largely unused since the election wasn't very close.
But this year may be different given all the changes to voting laws — and the closeness of the race in recent polling.
The states with the strictest ID laws require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots. If they don’t have proper identification or fail to bring it, they can cast a provisional ballot but must later go to meet with state elections administrators to sort things out before the ballot is counted.
Voting groups see a variety of potential problems, such as how voters are informed of the rule changes, how poll workers handle voters who fail to bring IDs and whether voters are provided adequate notice of the steps they need to take after casting an absentee ballot.
About 30 states have some form of an ID law, with varying methods of implementation.
Legal challenges typically start coming in the weeks before the election, but “litigation has started coming sooner and more vociferously” this year, says Edward Foley, an elections law expert with Ohio State University. That includes lawsuits surrounding Florida’s plan to purge ineligible voters from the rolls.
Foley said. “We’re in an era of increased litigiousness over the voting process.”
He said lawsuits after Election Day may occur only if votes in a battleground state are within the “margin of litigation.” That would probably be a difference of just hundreds of votes, a result that would be rare.