August 15, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
After openly weeping and apologizing for his behavior, former U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. was sentenced to 2 ½ years in federal prison on Wednesday for using $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
“Your honor, throughout this process I’ve asked the government and the court to hold me and only me accountable for my actions,” Jackson told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. He said, “I am the example for the whole Congress. I understand that. I didn’t separate my personal life from my political activities, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
He also said, “I misled the American people, I misled the House of Representatives.” Dabbing his eyes with tissues, he said, “I was wrong and I do not fault anyone.”
As the younger Jackson delivered his statement, his father, Jesse Jackson, Sr., sat in the first row listening as tears ran down his cheeks and his mother, Jacqueline, donned sunglasses for much of the proceedings.
Jackson’s wife, Sandra, a former Chicago alderwoman, was sentenced to a year in prison and will have to serve all 12 months. She must also repay $22,000 taken from her own campaign account for alderwoman. Family members wept when she was sentenced.
Based on time off for good behavior, Jackson, Jr. could be released after completing 25.5 months. In addition, Jackson, Jr. must perform 500 hours of community service.
Because the couple has two children, aged 13 and 9, they will serve time consecutively, with the husband entering prison first. Prosecutors had asked that Jackson Jr. be sentenced to four years in prison and his wife 18 months.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that Jackson treated campaign funds as “a personal piggy bank.”
The judge acknowledged that in the past lawmakers , were more loose with the use of campaign funds, but Jackson’s actions far exceeded even those limits.
“There may be blurred lines for Congress to follow when their lives are political, this case did not come near those areas,” she told Jackson, Jr., who represented Chicago’s South Side for 17 years, “This was a knowing, organized joint misconduct that was repeated over many years.”
Jackson, Jr., once a rising political star and the oldest son of civil rights leader Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., pleaded guilty to conspiracy, making false statements, mail fraud and wire fraud. His wife Sandra was charged with filing false tax returns.
According to the federal information filed in federal court, Jackson knowingly misspent campaign funds from about August 2005 through July 2012. It said Jackson and his wife conspired to “enrich themselves by engaging in a conspiracy and a scheme to defraud in which they used funds donated to the Campaign for their own personal benefit.”
Prosecutors said among the unauthorized spending was a $43,350 gold-plated Rolex watch for Jackson, Jr., more than $22,000 in Michael Jackson memorabilia, $11,130 for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorabilia, $10,105 for Bruce Lee memorabilia, $9,587.64 worth of children’s furniture shipped from New Jersey to the couple’s Washington home, a $5,000 football signed by American presidents, $2,775 on Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, $2,200 for Malcolm X memorabilia, a $1,500 black and red cashmere cape, and a $1,200 mink reversible parka.
Reid Weingarten, Jackson Jr.’s attorney, sought to minimize his client’s action, saying Jackson did not victimize helpless widows or operate a Ponzi scheme.
However, Matt Graves, an assistant U.S. attorney, called Jackson’s crimes “staggering.” He noted that the couple had earned nearly $350,000 in 2011.
Graves spoke of Jackson being “wasted talent” who had participated in one of the largest violations of federal campaign laws. Graves even belittled Jackson’s bipolar disorder, saying there was no medical evidence presented in court to support that claim.
The judge agreed, noting that there was evidence to show that the purchases were made during a bipolar episode and that none of the extravagant items were returned. The judge called evidence provided to support the defense’s bipolar disorder claim “thin.”
Reading from a prepared statement, Sandi Jackson cried and said. “My heart breaks every day with the pain this has caused my babies.”
But the judge reminded her, “It’s not the government that put your children in this position.”
She recommended assigning the former congressman to a minimum-security federal prison camp in Montgomery, Ala., or a low-security facility near Raleigh, N.C. She recommended that Sandra Jackson be sent to a similar facility in Florida. However, the Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision.
“The judge rendered a sentence that we’re satisfied was fair,” said Weingarten after learning Jackson’s fate. “The system worked well.”
Weingarten continued: “We fully believe that our client, Jesse Jackson, Jr. is going to have another important chapter in his life. He will come back out, and we believe, that he will do great things.”
Jackson, Jr. said he hoped his wife can earn enough money to support the family while he is prison.
“”When I get back, I’ll take on that burden,” he said. “By then, I hope my children will be old enough that the pain I caused will be easier to bear.”
By Barrington M. Salmon
Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer
With the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom fast approaching, organizers in the District are gearing up for the stretch run.
Some speakers at the Aug.1 planning meeting said they hope to mobilize 50,000 to 100,000 people from the Washington metropolitan area to come out on Saturday, Aug. 24, and as many as 100,000 to 200,000 people from around the country to commemorate the march. The 1963 march was an event that immortalized the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, while crystallizing for the rest of this country just how serious African Americans and like-minded people were about securing a just society.
The Rev. Lennox Abrigo, president and founder of the Washington, D.C. bureau of the National Action Network (NAN), acknowledged the enormity of the project. But he said the coalition of clergy, unions, educational institutions, civic organizations and community groups that attended the two-hour meeting were coalescing around the issue and committing to the march’s success.
“Our primary challenge is to mobilize D.C. and the greater metropolitan area and get community leaders to get their people out for the march,” he said. “I think the march will be an expression of the individual effects that the various forms of oppression are having on people in this country.”
Abrigo, a pastor of the Seventh-Day New Covenant Church and a Germantown, Md., resident, compared the conditions that King and the civil rights movement faced and what African Americans and Latinos face today.
King’s efforts, he said, were focused on a small group of people in certain cities, while the pushback that the establishment exerts against minorities today is more individualized. Gay and women’s rights, while affecting a smaller constituency of the whole country, have been afforded to people in every state and nationally.
“We live in an era when civil rights is emerging out of individual concerns. People feel that their rights are being trampled and it’s not just one group or demographic,” Abrigo explained. “This march on the 24th is the fruition, the blossoming of resistance to all this oppression.”
Janaye Ingram, NAN’s D.C. bureau chief, said that the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III are the public faces of the march which is titled, “National Action to Realize the Dream.”
“We’re working to achieve the dream,” she said. “We have a lot to fight for, to focus on and to change. This is a fight against those who don’t want us to reach our dream.”
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), touched on a theme that others repeated.
“They didn’t have Instagrams or tweets but they got 250,000 people on the Mall,” said Ross, who was among the quarter-million people who marched and were on the Mall in 1963.
Ernest G. Green agreed.
“I drove all night from East Lansing, Mich., to be at the march,” said Green, who came to national prominence as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the black students who helped to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. “Bayard Rustin had no social media blasts or anything like that. All he had to work with was 3×5 cards.”
August 08, 2013
By Sharon Cohen
Terrance Wise has two jobs in Kansas City — one at a burger joint, a second at a pizza restaurant — but he says his paychecks aren’t enough to buy shoes for his three daughters and insure his 15-year-old car. So he decided to draw attention to his plight: He walked off work in protest.
Wise was among a few thousand fast-food workers in seven cities, including New York, Chicago and Detroit, who took to the streets last week, carrying “Strike” and “Supersize Our Wages” signs in front of McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and other restaurants. They demanded better pay, the right to unionize and a more than doubling of the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $15.
“We work hard for companies that are making millions,” the 34-year-old Wise says, adding that he lost his home last year, unable to make mortgage payments despite working about 50-hour weeks at Pizza Hut and Burger King. “We’re not asking for the world. We want to make enough to make a decent living. We deserve better. If they respect us and pay us and treat us right, it’ll lift up the whole economy.”
These one-day protests, which also took place in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Flint, Mich., come amid calls from the White House, some members of Congress and economists to raise the federal minimum wage, which was last increased in 2009. Most of the proposals, though, seek a more modest rise than those urged by fast-food workers. President Barack Obama wants to boost the hourly wage to $9. And in July, more than 100 economists signed a petition supporting a bill sponsored by a Florida congressman that would hike it to $10.50 an hour.
The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage could lead to businesses closing and fewer jobs. It also notes the cost of living varies greatly around the country and many states have higher minimum wages than the federal rate. (Eighteen states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
The Employment Policies Institute, which receives some funding from the industry, ran a full-page ad last week in USA Today, warning of another potential consequence: It showed the uniform of a fast-food worker with an iPad face, saying the wage increase could result in employees being replaced with automation, such as touch-screen ordering.
So at a time when the economy is growing steadily but slowly and about 11.5 million people are unemployed — nearly double the level before the Great Recession — how likely is it Congress will increase the minimum wage? And have these protests done any good?
The answers depend on whom you ask.
“They’re very effective,” says U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “They’ve brought attention to appalling conditions with workers putting in very long hours ... and not making enough money to survive. This I think is scandal. .. We believe it’s essential to be paid livable wages. We know the companies can afford it. These are highly profitable businesses. It would be good not just for the family budget but for the national budget.”
Ellison’s caucus launched a national “Raise Up America” campaign this summer that has partnered with fast-food workers and others in low-wage industries to highlight the call for better salaries. The congressman says he’s not deterred by likely resistance in the GOP-dominated House.
“Remember, things that don’t look possible become possible if people advocate for them,” he says, adding that in 1955 someone was probably saying “they’re never going to end segregation. ... Sometimes these things catch on. I think the thing to do is keep on pushing, keep on talking. ... That’s how we win.”
But others are more skeptical and think if there is a winner, it’s unions. The Service Employees International Union is providing financial support and staff to help train organizers for this campaign.
These protests show unions “still can appeal to and speak for workers who are on the fringes of the workforce — the less skilled, the part-timers and the immigrant workers,” Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, wrote in an email.
These still are hard times, people are happy to be employed and the political climate in the House is not conducive for an increase, he adds. “The demonstrations are street theater and the rehabilitation of the image of American unions, but it’s not going to drive new minimum wage policy,” he wrote.
Scott DeFife, executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association, calls the protests a campaign “to disparage the industry,” which he says operates on a tight profit margin. Doubling wages, he says, “would definitely have an impact on the creation of new jobs.” He says it would be especially harmful for young people, for whom the jobless rate in some communities is already in the double digits.
Some fast food companies responded to the protests by saying they respect the rights of their workers.
And some who walked out used the media spotlight to talk openly about their financial struggles.
Kareem Sparks, a 30-year-old father of two boys, 6 and 12, was laid off in 2011 from a $17.50-an-hour city job in New York. His unemployment benefits ran out and he turned to food pantries. Five months ago, he found work at McDonald’s.
“I’m grateful they gave me an opportunity to feed my family and put food on the table, but it’s not enough,” he says. Sparks supplements his income with a second job as a security guard, earning about $8 an hour. Together, he says, he brings home about $1,000-$1,100 every two weeks and needs food stamps to survive.
“It’s horrible to know when I pick up my (McDonalds) check, it’s going to be less than $200,” he says. “You spend all your money in one store and go to sleep broke. It’s not fair. ... Some people get their checks and don't come back to work.”
The average hourly salary for fast-food workers was $9.00 in May 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average age for these workers is 29 years old; for women, it’s 32, according to the bureau. The restaurant association says its own analysis of Census data found that slightly more than 25 percent of fast-food workers are heads of households.
Both sides in the fight over the minimum wage cite numerous studies to buttress their arguments about whether a raise would be harmful.
The petition signed by the economists says that for decades, research has “found that no significant effects on employment opportunities result when the minimum wage rises in reasonable increments.” The economists also note that minimum-wage workers employed full time for the entire year earn $15,080, almost 20 percent below the poverty level for a family of three.
But Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, cites another study that he says found raising the minimum wage was counterproductive — with more people losing than gaining because hours were reduced and jobs were cut.
Tessie Harrell, one of the workers in the middle of this academic debate, walked off her job in protest last week.
As a Burger King manager in Milwaukee, Harrell, 34, has to stretch her $8.25 hourly salary to support five children (a sixth lives on her own). They live in a two-bedroom apartment. Her mother helped out financially and with child care, but she has since moved to a nursing home.
“It’s not like we’re teens working for a pair of shoes or a cell phone,” Harrell says. “We’re grown adults who can’t find better jobs.”
She would like to see something come from the protests, a wage improvement, even if it's not $15 an hour.
“I hope it works,” she says. “We’re just trying to survive and build a life for our children.”
By Corey Williams
More than a dozen candidates were running in Tuesday’s primary for Detroit mayor, an office with little immediate power because most operations are being run by an emergency manager seeking to take the city into bankruptcy.
None of the candidates has name recognition outside the city like current Mayor Dave Bing, a former NBA great who opted not seek another four-year term.
The leading candidates to replace him are a former police chief, a perennial mayoral candidate, a fired city attorney and a one-time medical center chief who has launched a write-in campaign. Another write-in candidate is a barber with a similar name, raising the potential that some voters could be confused.
Uncertainty and failure have been standard operating procedure for years in once-mighty Detroit. Last month, it became the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy under the weight of massive debt brought on by crushing population decline and a history of political corruption and mismanagement.
Some of the favorites for mayor have come out against the bankruptcy filing and contend the man who made the filing — state-appointed turnaround expert Kevyn Orr — is holding the job illegally.
The top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary will face off in the November general election. That winner moves into City Hall with a title, $158,000 salary and — as things stand now — little else.
Sheila Cockrel, a former Detroit councilwoman and founder of a government relations and advocacy firm, said the bankruptcy proceedings are sure to hover over the next mayor’s first term.
“There’s no roadmap of where or how this would go,” she said.
Only about 15 percent to 17 percent of Detroit’s registered voters are expected to cast ballots Tuesday, according to city elections officials.
Seeking to bring stability and turn the city around, GOP Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Orr, a national bankruptcy attorney, in March under a Michigan law that gives emergency managers nearly unlimited power.
On July 18, Orr made the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing in federal court. He said Detroit is insolvent, unable to pay off debt that his restructuring team says could reach $20 billion. He has stopped paying on $2.5 billion in bonds, using that money to pump up struggling and underfunded city services. He also asked city creditors and Detroit’s two pension funds to accept pennies on the dollar in money owed them.
One candidate, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, contends Orr was illegally appointed as emergency manager.
“My pitch to him is, ‘You’re here to straighten out the finances. You have no municipal government experience,’” said Napoleon, the city police chief for three years beginning in 1998. “The emergency manager puts the budget together. The mayor should be able to set the priorities.”
Orr, a turnaround specialist who is receiving $275,000 annually for his 18-month assignment, also is getting little love from other candidates.
Tom Barrow, an accountant who lost mayoral runs in 1985, 1989 and 2009, also believes a bankruptcy judge’s directives are to be carried out by the city and its elected officials once Orr approves the budget.
“In light of the bankruptcy filing, I don’t believe he retains his power under state law,” Barrow said of Orr. “Bankruptcy laws kick in. Those laws are explicit that the debtor is the municipality and its elected officials.”
Napoleon and Barrow were expected to face a stiff challenge for a spot on the November ballot from former Detroit Medical Center Chief Executive Mike Duggan. But Duggan is running a write-in campaign because a residency issue kicked him off the ballot.
Although Duggan would appear poised to become Detroit’s first write-in mayor, part of his challenge will be making sure voters spell his name correctly. That’s because another candidate, barber Mike Dugeon, is seeking the job as well. He has never run for elected office and said he filed after being approached by a local television reporter over his name similarity with Duggan.
That could make tabulating the write-ins onerous and time-consuming. Following the primary, county canvassers will go over the spellings on each write-in ballot cast to determine who gets the votes.
“We’re going to be fine,” Duggan told The Associated Press. “I don’t think voters in this city will have any trouble spelling my name correctly. Every place I go people are spelling D-U-G-G-A-N.”
Unlike Napoleon and Barrow, Duggan doesn’t expect a bankruptcy to turn Detroit back over to the mayor and council.
“My preference would be for the governor to dissolve the emergency manager and let the mayor represent the city in bankruptcy court,” he said.
If elected, Duggan said he won’t wait until taking office in January to work with Orr.
“I intend to be engaged from the day after the election to push for a plan that leads to a vibrant recovery for the city,” he said. “I’ll try to convince the emergency manager to adopt my version and, if not, convince the bankruptcy judge to adopt it.”
That’s the course all candidates should push across to voters, Cockrel said.
“What we should be hearing from candidates is their understanding of the financial crisis, their approaches to facilitating the process of getting through bankruptcy and what their plans and strategies should be,” she said.
By AYA BATRAWY
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military-backed interim leadership proclaimed Wednesday that a crackdown against two protest sites is inevitable, saying that nearly two weeks of foreign diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve its standoff with the Muslim Brotherhood have failed.
The government's statements strongly suggested that Egypt's sharp polarization may spiral into even more bloodshed as thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a longtime Brotherhood figure, camp out at two main Cairo intersections and hold daily protests outside security buildings.
At stake is stability in the Arab world's most populous country. Already more than 250 people have been killed in violence since the military ousted Morsi last month, including at least 130 Brotherhood supporters in two major clashes between security forces and backers of the deposed president.
"The decision agreed on by all to clear the sit-ins is final and irreversible," Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said on state television, reading a statement issued by the Egyptian Cabinet.
In response, top Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohammed el-Beltagy said the protesters are determined to keep up the sit-ins.
"What we care about is for there to be clear talks about our position against the military coup and the importance of returning legitimacy," el-Beltagy told The Associated Press at the main protest site in the capital's Nasr City neighborhood. He said the Cabinet's statement makes "clear that they lack vision with regard to the political scene."
A joint statement released late Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
"We remain concerned and troubled that government and opposition leaders have not yet found a way to break a dangerous stalemate and agree to implement tangible confidence building measures," the statement said.
"The Egyptian government bears a special responsibility to begin this process to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizens," it said. "Now is not the time to assess blame, but to take steps that can help initiate a dialogue and move the transition forward."
It is unclear what the government's crackdown on the sit-ins would entail or when it would begin, but it appeared unlikely to start until next week. The Cabinet statement said the government was keen not to take action during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends Wednesday to be followed by four days of Eid celebrations.
For his part, the prime minister said the government seeks stability and rule of law in the face of "hard circumstances". He said Egypt must start a new chapter, "without settling scores, without bias against any side."
A flurry of diplomatic visits by envoys from the United States, the European Union and Arab Gulf states ended in deadlock. By Wednesday, all had departed Cairo with no guarantees of compromise from the government or the Brotherhood.
Some of the visits by foreign diplomats were made at the request of those in power, such as Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who wanted to find peaceful ways to resolve the dispute. But emotions in Egypt are high, and many have pushed for a strong hand in quashing the protests.
Widespread anger with the Brotherhood and Morsi is what sparked millions to take to the streets and demand his ouster just days before the military forced him out of power July 3. Later on, hundreds of thousands rallied to answer a call by the country's army chief to give him a mandate to stop "potential terrorism" by Morsi supporters.
The Brotherhood is demanding Morsi's reinstatement as Egypt's first freely elected president, and many of the pro-Morsi protesters say that the sit-ins are their last bargaining chip to press for the release of detained leaders and for guarantees that they will have a significant role in politics.
The prime minister said the Cabinet "had hoped to solve this crisis during this period without the intervention of security forces," but that the sit-ins have not been peaceful and that the protesters have frightened citizens, blocked roads, attacked government buildings and threatened security.
Sixteen prominent Egyptian rights groups said Wednesday in a joint statement that they strongly condemn "rhetoric employed by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, which includes clear incitement to violence and religious hatred in order to achieve political gains." The groups, which include the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said sectarian rhetoric has been used against Christians and that police have been negligent in protecting these citizens.
"The government's patience is running out," the prime minister said. "Therefore, the Cabinet warns against breaking the limits of peace and that the use of weapons in the face of policemen or citizens will be met with utmost firmness and strength."
Still, it remained uncertain whether authorities would resort to a level of force that could leave scores more dead, including women and children, and invite world condemnation.
In the past week, authorities have outlined plans to break up the sit-ins using more restrained measures, such as putting up cordons to block people who leave from returning.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has condemned the deliberate use of children in Egypt who are "put at risk as potential witnesses to or victims of violence." The Brotherhood says it cannot control whether families choose to stay camped out.
A statement from interim President Adly Mansour's office said foreign diplomatic efforts to ease tensions did not succeed, despite the full support of the Egyptian government.
"The state of Egypt appreciates the efforts of friendly nations and understands the reasons why they did not achieve their desired objectives, and holds the Muslim Brotherhood fully responsible for the failure of these efforts."
Remarks by U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to reporters in Cairo demanding the release of top Islamist leaders appeared to inflame an already volatile situation. After meeting Egyptian officials and Brotherhood leaders on Tuesday, the two warned that Egypt would be making a "huge mistake" if it did not release what they described as "political prisoners." They also called Morsi's ouster a coup.
The McCain-Graham visit was carried out at U.S. President Barack Obama's request, but the administration has avoided calling Morsi's ouster a coup because it would trigger a suspension of an annual $1.3 billion U.S. military aid package to Egypt. The aid package has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy in the Middle East since Cairo signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Mansour, a Supreme Constitutional Court judge who was installed as Egypt's interim president by the military, rejected the senators' message, calling it "unacceptable interference in internal politics."
Jen Psaki, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, distanced the administration from the two Republican senators' remarks, emphasizing that it was Deputy Secretary of State William Burns who was representing the U.S. government in Egypt.
"While we certainly welcome different points of views ... our agenda and goals were conveyed through Deputy Secretary Burns," Psaki said.
Egyptian prosecutors widened the scope of some cases against Brotherhood figures on Wednesday, announcing that former lawmaker el-Beltagy and three others will now face criminal charges for the kidnapping of a policeman by pro-Morsi protesters during a march. Police say their colleague was taken to the main sit-in in Nasr City and beaten before being released last week.
El-Beltagy is wanted by police and was already facing charges of inciting violence. The sit-ins have given him and other top wanted figures cover from authorities who are unable to reach them amid the thousands of protesters. The protest camps are guarded by men wielding sticks and rocks who check the identification cards of visitors.
Morsi has been held at secret locations since his ouster, though Egyptian authorities have allowed the EU's Ashton and a group of African statesmen to visit him. He faces accusations of conspiring with the militant Palestinian Hamas group during his escape from prison under Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The new Egyptian leadership also pushed ahead Wednesday with a roadmap for transition, outlining the parameters of the committee that would review changes to the 2012 constitution drafted by a majority Islamist panel under Morsi. The new 50-member panel includes quotas, such as three Christians, at least four people under the age of 40, two Islamist party figures, members of the arts community and union members.
The political turmoil has been exploited by militants in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, who have carried out daily attacks on the police and military, killing more than 20 security officials and 12 civilians.
On Wednesday, Egypt's military spokesman said 60 Islamic militants have been killed and 103 arrested in the peninsula as part of the army's operations there over the past month. It was not possible to independently verify the figures.
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