May 09, 2013
By Charlene Muhammad
LAWT Contributing Writer
The California Public Utilities Commission is launching a series of hearings in search of ways to improve a state program that provides low income families a discount on basic, residential and wireless phone service.
Under the federally created LifeLine program, families receive flat-rate, local land-line telephone service. They may also receive wireless service through the LifeLine cell phone program but not at the same time, advocates caution.
The series of state-wide hearings will be held in eight cities (Fresno, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Dimas, Rancho Cordova, and Eureka) between 4-7 p.m., May 14-June, 2013. Discussed will be potential changes such as new discount levels, expanding the services eligible for the discount, including wireless Lifeline service, and other non-traditional services.
“We have seen these kinds of proceedings influence the decisions made at the Commission, especially now, where we have four new commissioners at the CPUC,” said Ana Montes, during a tele-briefing with reporters on May 2. Montes is organizing director of the Utility Reform Network, which works on telecom, energy, water and environmental issues in California.
The “California’s LifeLine to the Future Tele-briefing” was hosted by the Center for Media Justice, the Utility Reform Network, and New America Media, a nationwide association of more than 3,000 ethnic media organizations.
Advocates say they intend to address the number of minutes people need to communicate effectively with employers, schools, doctors, social services, or for job interviews. But for now, their primary aim is to let people in need know what opportunities exist through the program and that the hearings are on the way.
Stephen Renderos, a national organizer for the Center for Media Justice, which works to transform media and end racism and poverty, feels the California LifeLine program is an important safety net for communities of color across the state.
“For communities of color and low income communities, the cell phone is not just a means to communicate. It’s also a means to improve their financial situation,” Renderos said.
Nationally, 13.5 million people are enrolled in LifeLine programs, but another 15 million who are eligible (many in California) still aren’t enrolled, perhaps because they just don’t know about it, he noted.
“We believe that everyone has the right to communicate and when policy issues are being decided, we believe that the solutions should reflect and fundamentally change the real life experiences of marginalized communities, meaning communities of color,” Renderos continued.
In addition, advocates noted, rate payers pay for lifeline. It’s not a gift from telecommunications companies, and people have a right to affordable and reliable services, they argued.
According to Minister L.B. Tatum of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement, a consortium of 20 African American churches in the San Bernardino region, the Inland Empire, San Bernardino County is facing an economic crisis.
He’d like to see CA LifeLine expand so grassroots, community based and faith-based organizations can help their constituents gain access, he said.
“LifeLine is needed because the folks we service are not always afforded opportunities to learn about it, and receive assistance filling out applications. We want to make sure the information about the program is marketed to the least of these,” Minister Tatum noted.
Part of what’s good about the program is the money people save on phone service means they’re able to buy food they otherwise couldn’t afford, advocates noted.
A major challenge, however, is the program requires a permanent address. Some families live in hotels and service providers don’t recognize those addresses, they explained.
Tina Cheung, a community organizer with the Chinatown Community Development Center, helps mono-lingual immigrants adjust to life in America. A recent tragedy underscores the importance of phone service, she said.
One family she assisted lived in a single room occupancy hotel, in very close proximity to their neighbors. Yet, no one knew that an elderly tenant had been deceased in the nearby unit until three weeks has passed. They were able to use their LifeLine phone to call 911 and the owner, according to Cheung.
“Often times those that qualify, whether it’s language barriers or other active barriers ... It is very possible for them to be connected ... Having that reliable phone service is so vital,” Cheung said.
Advocates expect a decision on any proposed changes to the program by the CA Public Utilities Commission within a year of the last scheduled public hearing on August 13.
(More information about the California LifeLine program is available at www.californialifeline.com.)
May 09, 2013
In an effort to meet the goals of the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) and its broad based community partnership to reduce hunger in Los Angeles County and inspire healthier eating in May, Director Sheryl L. Spiller has reached out to the department’s 13,000 employees, encouraging them to share the important CalFresh food assistance information in their communities with those who need it most.
As they have done for the past two years, the Board of Supervisors enthusiastically proclaimed May, 2013 as “CalFresh Awareness Month” in the County of L.A. The annual effort is a collaboration between DPSS, other County departments, and various community-based organizations to inform low-income families and individuals about the benefits of the CalFresh Program.
“While the local economy continues to improve, there are households across our County still struggling, unaware they may be eligible to CalFresh benefits, or afraid to even inquire,” Spiller stated. “This partnership represents an intense effort to address hunger and the public health issues it presents. CalFresh is a critical federal nutrition benefit that helps eligible households make ends meet and stay healthier.”
For more information on CalFresh Awareness Month, visit www.dpss.lacounty.gov/dpss/calfresh or call the Health and Nutrition Hotline at 1 (866) 613-3777.
May 09, 2013
LAWT Contributing Writer
The Federal Bureau of Investigation placed 1970s Black radical Assata Shakur — formerly known as Joanne Chesimard — on their list of Most Wanted Terrorists on May 2, 2013, the 40th anniversary of the murder of a New Jersey State trooper the government says Shakur is responsible for. Shakur is the first woman ever to be placed on the terrorist list, which was established by former President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, and the 46th person overall. Osama bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda, was on the list until he was killed in Pakistan in 2011.
The FBI also doubled the State of New Jersey’s reward for her capture to $2 million. In 2005, on the 32nd anniversary of the shooting, New Jersey announced it was offering a $1 million dollar reward for information leading to Shakur’s capture.
Aaron Ford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Newark office, made the May 2nd announcement in a news conference. On May 2, 1973, a shootout occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike in which New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, who had stopped Shakur and two of her associates, was killed. Shakur was wounded in that shootout; her associate Zayd Malik Shakur was killed and the third man, Sundiata Acoli, escaped and was apprehended three days later. Shakur was found guilty of murder in the killing of Trooper Werner Foerster and sentenced to life plus 33 years in 1997. She escaped from prison in 1979 and surfaced in Cuba several years later where she was granted political asylum.
“While we cannot right the wrongs of the past, we can and will continue to pursue justice no matter how long it takes,” said Ford. In a direct appeal to Shakur, he said: “Give yourself up, come to America and face justice.”
The placement of Shakur on the terrorist list and the doubling of the reward for her capture has angered activists and caused concern for civil libertarians who claim that Shakur is the one who deserves justice.
“Through her writing, Assasta Shakur has educated generations about how the FBI [through its CounterIntelligence Program – COINTELPRO] operated with impunity to neutralize the Black Panther Party. Labeling Assata a terrorist and putting a bounty on her head is a clear attempt by U.S. authorities to hide this chapter in history,” said Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. The group released a statement on May 2 calling for the FBI to respect Shakur’s political asylum status.
Attorney James Simmons of Human Rights Advocacy in Los Angeles, who also noted the legality of Shakur’s asylum status, said that it was an extension of the war that had been waged against Ms. Shakur and other activists like her back in the late 60s – early 70s.
“The FBI and State of New Jersey have intensified their persecution of Assata Shakur by appealing to mercenaries to kidnap her from Cuba, where she is protected by international law,” Simmons said. “This political persecution against Assata Shakur is a continuation of over 40 years of lies, violence and torture against her founded in the illegal and discredited counter intelligence program founded by the disgraced former longtime head of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover.”
A 1988 article in the Washington Post noted that, between 1973 and 1977, Shakur was indicted ten times for a variety of offenses including bank robbery, kidnapping and murder. Three trials resulted in her acquittal; one trial resulted in a hung jury; three of the indictments against her were dismissed without trial; and she was convicted in the death of Trooper Foerster after a change of venue to a New York county where all of the jury members on the trial were white.
Forensic evidence submitted at Shakur’s trial showed that she had been shot while her hands where raised in the air, and that her wounds precluded her from holding or firing a weapon.
In 1998, as then-Pope John Paul II made preparations to visit to the island of Cuba – the first time a religious leader from the Vatican had ever visited the island since its 1959 revolution – the New Jersey State Police wrote the pontiff requesting that he pressure former President Fidel Castro to return Shakur to the U.S. Alongside of that request was a resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives that called on Cuba to extradite Shakur and others who had fled the United States seeking asylum from political persecution.
Cong. Maxine Waters (D-CA, 43rd), initially voted in favor of the resolution but issued a retraction the next day, saying that the legislation referred to Shakur by her birth name of Joanne Chesimard and that the measure had been “quietly slipped [onto an] accelerated suspension calendar reserved for non-controversial legislation” by Republicans.
In her 1998 statement Waters said that she supported the right of Cuba to grant political asylum to persons just as she supported the right of the U.S. to grant asylum to others, and that she supported Shakur’s right to seek to also seek asylum.
“In a sad and shameful chapter of our history, during the 1960s and 1970s, many civil rights, Black Power and other politically active groups were secretly targeted by the FBI for prosecution based on their political beliefs. The groups and individuals targeted included Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, officials of the American Friends Service Committee, National Council of Churches and other civil rights, religious and peace movement leaders,” Waters said in her 1998 statement. “However, the most vicious and reprehensible acts were taken against the leaders and organizations associated with the Black Power or Black Liberation Movement … This illegal, clandestine political persecution was wrong in 1973, and remains wrong today.
Attempts to reach Cong. Waters for a statement on this recent development in Shakur’s case were not successful by press time.
According to Simmons, the FBI could better utilize its time and resources writing those exact wrongs. “There are plenty of criminals that work for the FBI that they could chase after, who have caused the deaths and false imprisonment of activists over the years such as Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Bunchy Carter, John Huggins, Geronimo Pratt and many others, Simmons said. “Go find them and bring them to justice.”
Activists nationwide have scheduled a week of teach-ins from June 2nd – 9th to discuss the case of Shakur and other victims of the FBI’s CounterIntelligence Programs. Information on those activities can be found at www.assatateachin.com. A teach-in has been scheduled for the Los Angeles, with the location and time to be determined. Interestd persons can call 424-200-4968 for further information.
May 02, 2013
By Mike Baker
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- After struggling to sway both state and federal lawmakers, proponents of expanding background checks for gun sales are now exploring whether they will have more success by taking the issue directly to voters.
While advocates generally prefer that new gun laws be passed through the legislative process, especially at the national level, they are also concerned about how much sway the National Rifle Association has with lawmakers.
Washington Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat who had sponsored unsuccessful legislation on background checks at the state level, said a winning ballot initiative would make a statement with broad implications.
"It's more powerful if the voters do it — as opposed to our doing it," Pedersen said. "And it would make it easier for the Legislature to do even more."
On Monday, proponents of universal background checks in Washington will announce their plan to launch a statewide initiative campaign that would require the collection of some 300,000 signatures, according to a person involved in the initiative planning who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt the official announcement.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility has scheduled a fundraiser in Seattle at the end of next month and hopes to have a campaign budget in the millions of dollars.
Ballot measures may be an option elsewhere, too. Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said an initiative is one of the things the group will be considering as it reconsiders strategies. An organizer in Oregon was focused on the Legislature for now but wouldn't rule out a ballot measure in the future if lawmakers fail to pass a proposed bill there.
While advocates have had recent success on background checks in places like Connecticut and Colorado, they've been thwarted in some other states and in Congress. The U.S. Senate rejected a plan to expand background checks earlier this month, although lawmakers in the chamber are still working to gather additional votes.
Brian Malte, director of mobilization at the national nonprofit lobbying group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said passage through Congress is the ideal in order to have a national solution and so that states with strong gun laws aren't undermined by nearby states with weaker standards. He noted that initiative campaigns are costly endeavors that can drain important, limited resources.
Still, Malte said, the ballot measures are an option to consider.
"At some point, certainly decisions need to be made about what the right time is to say we take it to the people," Malte said.
Brian Judy, a lobbyist who represents the NRA in Washington state, did not return calls seeking comment about the new initiative. He has previously said the NRA would likely oppose such an effort, arguing that the recently proposed laws on background checks would largely impact law-abiding citizens instead of the intended targets such as criminals and the mentally ill.
Gun measures have had mixed results at the ballot. More than 70 percent of Washington state voters rejected a 1997 initiative campaign that would have required handgun owners to pass a safety course. After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, voters in Colorado and Oregon approved ballot measures the next year to require background checks for buying weapons at gun shows.
Following another massacre in Colorado earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a bill to expand background checks to private transactions and online purchases. A similar expansion plan in Oregon is stalled in the state Senate.
Some states don't see initiatives as a viable option right now. In Missouri, state Rep. Stacey Newman has been pushing for background checks with little success. While she spoke positively about the idea of a ballot initiative, she said there's no serious consideration of it because of the cost and coordination required just to get it on the ballot. Instead, the supporters of background checks in the state are simply working to prevent NRA-supported legislation from passing the state's General Assembly.
"We're continually on defense," she said.
Gun buyers currently must undergo a background check when they purchase a weapon from a federally licensed firearms dealer but can avoid checks in most states by using private purchases, such as at gun shows.
Washington state advocates believe polls show the public is sufficiently on the side of expanding background checks further. An independent Elway Poll conducted two months ago found that 79 percent of registered voters in Washington state supported background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions.
That wasn't enough to shepherd the bill through the Legislature. Even in the state House, which is controlled by Democrats, supporters fell short after an NRA campaign put pressure on some lawmakers. Pedersen had offered concessions through the process, including the option of sending the measure out for a public vote and exemptions for people who already have concealed pistol licenses or law enforcement credentials.
Pedersen said he was working with the initiative organizers on language for the proposal, and he said the Legislature would first have another chance to adopt the measure early next year. If it fails among lawmakers again, the proposal would then automatically go to the ballot, where Pedersen said he welcomed a campaign competing against groups like the NRA.
"I'm not afraid of it at all," Pedersen said. "The public is really with us. It's the right policy. I think it can be useful for further progress."