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Former Ivory Coast President Likely to End Political Stalemate

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Bowing to international pressure and the threat of a regional war, embattled Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has stepped back from a hardline position defending his contested re-election, reports from the region say.

West African mediators said President Gbagbo agreed to negotiate a "peaceful end" to the crisis without preconditions and lift the blockade around the hotel where his rival, Alassane Dramane Ouattara, has been stationed for weeks.

Mediators from ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations all recognize results showing Ouattara as the winner of a November poll and have urged Mr. Gbagbo to step down.

Complicating the battle between presidential rivals is the division of the country into power bases – a northern one which backs Mr. Ouattara, and a southern one which backs the government. In recent years, ethnic rivalries fueled government-tolerated sweeps of marketplaces and slums in the principal city Abidjan that caused hundreds of northern and non-Ivorian residents to be dispossessed.

In a recent interview on the DemocracyNow news program, Ivory Coast political analyst Gnaka Lagoke of the website AfricanDiplomacy warned of the risks of military intervention to settle the crisis.

“It is a very bad idea,” he said. “Ivory Coast is a microcosm of a united Africa with 26 percent of the population from (neighboring) countries. In a typical Ivorian family, one parent comes from a traditional ethnic group and the other parent comes from a foreign country. So if you attack Ivory Coast, you’re not just destroying or killing people from (President) Gbagbo’s tribe, but you’re destroying a microcosm of the united Africa.”

Syracuse Professor Horace Campbell, on the same show, responded: “I agree that the question of the Ivory Coast is not about Gbagbo or Ouattara. (But) the question is whether all citizens of the Ivory Coast will have the right to participate in the political system. What is at stake here is the long challenge that people from the north who are considered from Islamic background, whose parents migrated to the Ivory Coast, whether they can participate in the political process and become leaders of the country.“

Nigerian Paper Taps Wikileaks Founder as 'Man of the Year'

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing WikiLeaks website, was named Man of the Year by The Guardian newspaper of Nigeria.

“Assange is in the eyes of the ordinary man across boundaries more of a hero than villain, more of a champion than a pest, an achiever and flag-bearer for the open society ideal, not an anarchist, but a progressive,” wrote Reuben Abati, chairman of paper’s editorial board.

“His heroism in this regard raises those pertinent issues that can no longer be ignored, notably the role and method of the whistleblower, the challenge of transparency and accountability in governance and the responsibility of both the media and governments. “

Founded in 2006, WikiLeaks defines itself as a non-profit media organization that enables independent sources around the world to reveal suppressed and censored injustices “of ethical, political and historical significance” while remaining anonymous.

'By his actions… Mr. Assange seems to have raised the bar for public accountability among nations, and probably within individual governments,' The Guardian's Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director, Eluem Emeka Izeze, wrote.

"Officials now know that in an information age driven by technology, their opinions and decisions may sooner rather than later surface in the public space," he added.

"These are momentous developments which are stripping governments of their exclusive preserves, and handing to citizens the function of determining the nature and scope of government activities," Izeze observed.

NAACP, LUCAC Say State Board of Education Violated Constitutional, Civil Rights

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By Imani Evans, Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner –

Continuing a fight that began almost a year ago, a coalition of civil rights groups - that includes the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Texas League of United Latin American Citizens - has publically released a complaint filed at the U.S. Department of Education asking the agency to review changes to the social studies curriculum standards pushed through by the Texas State Board of Education last spring as part of a broader review of state educational practices.

In a letter to the department's Civil Rights Division, the civil rights groups accused Texas of allowing a number of systemic practices that negatively impact the educational aspirations of minority students, and more specifically with violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Attached to the letter were approximately 150 pages of supporting documentation, including an outline of the NAACP's basic argument, as well as more analysis and statements of support by a number of prominent academicians including sociologist Joe R. Feagin, of Texas A&M University, and Dr. Anthony L. Brown, of the University of Texas. The complaint addresses the following issues:

• The State Board of Education curriculum changes

• Disparate discipline for minority students

• The use of accountability standards - i.e. standardized testing - to impose sanctions on schools with high proportions of minority students

• The underrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos in Gifted and Talented programs

After more than a year of frequently heated debates that drew nationwide attention - and scorn from more than a few educational experts - the Texas State Board of Education voted last May to approve new social studies standards for elementary, middle, and high school students. The process was dominated by a seven-member bloc of conservative Republican board members who, critics charged, were intent on refashioning the curriculum to suit their ideological preferences.

Their efforts resulted in controversial language that, for example, instructs teachers and textbooks to mention the "unintended consequences" of affirmative action and the Great Society, two programs deeply associated with the Democratic Party. Some critics, in particular the NAACP, charged the SBOE with inappropriately raising the actions of White decision-makers to a level of equal importance with those of civil rights protestors, and with elevating the role of Confederate figures such as Jefferson Davis while obscuring their ideological attachment to slavery.

"What we're asking them [the Department of Education] to do is to conduct a proactive review on a number of areas that we've complained about," said Texas NAACP president Gary L. Bledsoe. "We've complained about the offensive nature of the standards that were passed. The standards clearly require a student to (be taught) things that would be considered by them to be racially offensive - for example, if a student is being taught a standard that says there were positive aspects of slavery, this will go against everything that student might learn in their household, and be fundamentally untrue."

While mentioning the NAACP's partners, among them LULAC and the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education, Bledsoe also made a point of including two members of the Board of Education, Mavis Knight and Lawrence Allen, who fought hard against the changes.

Names of historic persons given in the standards fall into two categories, roughly: those who "must" be taught and those who "may" be taught. Students are required to learn about those in the "must" category only while those in the "may" category are given as mere suggestions. The NAACP/LULAC complaint points out that while Texas is 67 percent minority, only 17 percent of the persons listed in the "must" category are minorities.

"What the experts have said, that supports what we're saying, is that this marginalizes African Americans," said Bledsoe.

Dr. Emilio Zamora, a UTA professor specializing in Mexican American history, agrees.

"To state the obvious, such striking omissions and deletions suggest a pattern of neglect rather than happenstance or an occasional lapse of judgment," Zamora said in his statement of support.

Later in his statement Zamora adds: "Part of the explanation for the skewed representation rests in the continued predominance of White males as major figures in history books. This view of history, however, cannot be justified solely by the emphasis that we give to fields of history like government, industry, and wars… 76 percent male representation is inordinately high, especially if we consider that the study of history has expanded significantly since the early 1970s and provided greater depth and breadth from which to draw."

But the SBOE curriculum changes are only one part of a larger broadside against the Texas educational system. Also mentioned is the state's method of funding schools; unequal access to Gifted and Talented programs (according to the Texas Education Agency both Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented among gifted and talented students); underfunding of charter schools (Black students make up 33 percent of students in open-enrollment charter schools in Texas, which means any differential treatment of charters affects Blacks more dramatically); disparate discipline (Black students, while 14 percent of Texas public school students, are 33 percent of students who are suspended); and the problems posed by high-stakes testing (for instance, because of sanctions associated with low accountability rankings, schools actually find ways to remove low-performing minority students from the test rolls in order to affect the system).

Crucially, the complaint charges that these educational practices are not simply wrongheaded but discriminatory, and that the various issues raised in the complaint "were either the result of unnecessary policies that have a disparate or stigmatizing impact on African Americans and Latinos, or reflect disparate treatment or neglect." Although the complaint does not suggest a specific remedy, it is clearly an invitation for the federal government to consider taking legal action against the State of Texas.

"We were able to talk to and meet with people who are interested in what's going on in Texas and want to be kept informed," said Texas NAACP Legal Redress chair Robert Notzon, referring to a recent visit he and Bledsoe made to Washington D.C. "There's a good chance that we're going to get some hearing from people that are interested and can do something with this."

Feds Mean Business: U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade on Kilpatrick Indictments

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By Bankole Thompson, Special to the NNPA from the Michigan Chronicle –

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade visited the offices of the Michigan Chronicle for another sit-down interview with senior editor Bankole Thompson to discuss the recent indictments against former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, ex-top mayoral aide Derrick Miller, city contractor Bobby Ferguson and former Detroit Water and Sewage Department boss Victor Mercado.

MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: When you say this indictment brings an end to the investigation into the Kwame Kilpatrick inner circle, what do you mean?

BARBARA MCQUADE: Yes, I think so. One of the questions I get asked frequently is that we as a city are under such a cloud of suspicion, when is this going to end, when is there going to be such a closure? So I really felt that it was important to communicate that we hope this is the end for the health of the city. It is important that we can move forward. That people who want to do contracting with the City of Detroit feel confident that the culture of corruption is over.

You can never say we are not going to find any more cases. We have some little, other investigations going on. But in terms of the significant big case involving the Kilpatrick administration, this is it. I don’t want people to think that there is some another shoe yet to drop. I think it is very important to send that message. One of the things we talked about before was trying to bring a sense of urgency to this investigation so it could bring some closure. And, I’m hopeful that is what we have done.

MC: Did you feel rushed to announce these indictments because of reports that the term of the grand jury was set to soon expire?

BM: No. It is not uncommon to republish a case to a new grand jury so we would have done that if we needed to. But, we actually set the target date many months ago knowing what the grand jury schedule was. There were many witnesses who needed to come before the grand jury. And, so you know there are only so many hours of the day when you can get them in. So we came up with a timeline budget of how much time we needed to get everybody in before then.

They (grand jury) had one more week that they were sitting so we finished one week earlier. We were glad to do that. Although we wanted to push this case as quickly as possible, we also wanted to do it as thoroughly as possible. And, if we felt that we weren’t done and needed more time we certainly would have republished another grand jury.

MC: Thoroughly as possible means an 89-page indictment?

BM: Yeah it does. And, if you’ve read it I think it is thorough, detailed. Sometimes when indictments come out it just says “so and so committed extortion, bribery.” But, we thought in this instance it was very important both to apprise the defendants of precisely of what it is they are charged with so they can prepare defense at trial and also to let the community know this is exactly what these defendants are charged with.

But, it is a trick because if you make it (indictment pages) too long it’s not even digestible for a jury, so we worked pretty hard to get it as short as possible. You know that Mark Twain quote about “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” We actually did pare it down as best as we could and spent a lot of time to make it as concise as possible. But, it alleges some pretty sweeping corruption so it takes all those pages to detail every one of the schemes.

MC: Historically, the Rackateer Influenced and Corrupt Organzations Act (RICO) has been used to go after the mob, drug kingpins, etc. There are some who are suggesting that the use of RICO in the case against Kilpatrick and his cabal might be just another case of piling on. Is that the case?

BM: I thought RICO was the appropriate charge in this case. It goes after organizations that used the power of an organization to commit a variety of crimes over long periods of time called a pattern of racketeering activity. I thought this is precisely what we have here. We saw Kwame Kilpatrick use the mayor’s office and even his position as state representative as an avenue for corrupt acts to make money. He used it for bribery, extortion and to defraud donors, so we thought it was the appropriate tool for that. We use it sparingly. It requires approval by the Department of Justice in Washington which we obtained. We recognize it’s a powerful tool, but we thought it was appropriate for a case of this magnitude.

MC: Are you 100 percent confident you will win convictions on all of these charges?

BM: No, I will never be 100 percent confident of convictions.

MC: But are you very confident that you will win convictions?

BM: It is a strong case but certainly the decision about guilt or innocence is to be decided by a jury, which requires 12 strangers to agree unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt which is very standard and it should be.

But, we wouldn’t bring this case if we didn’t think we could succeed.

MC: Given that the fall of the Kilpatrick administration, has been so publicized in this area, how do you put together an unbiased jury?

BM: That would be a challenge. The question I’m sure the jurors would be asked between jury selection is not “Have you ever heard of them?” because no doubt everyone in this community, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, has heard of them. And, if they haven’t we probably don’t want them to be juror because they aren’t engaged enough in the community.

The question would be, “In light of what you’ve heard and may have read, can you set that aside and decide this fairly based on the evidence that you hear in court and only on that evidence?”

My guess is there would be some very rigorous questioning of potential jurors. But, I’m confident we can find a fair jury in this community who would be able to decide the case based on the evidence they hear in court. My experience with juries is that they take their duties very seriously, they understand the magnitude of their decisions, the collective wisdom of the 12 people is great. I’m confident we can get a fair trial here.

MC: Why aren’t some of the contractors involved in the corruption that led to this latest round of indictments not indicted?

BM: Although it’s been a long time coming, there are some contractors who were convicted who are part of this. They were involved in some of the bribery scheme. Karl Kado, John Rutherford, James Rosendale, Rayford Jackson. There are four or five contractors who pled guilty and their conduct is included as part of this and their cooperation is likely to be a part of this case. In addition, there are other contractors who can probably be more properly characterized as victims. Based on our review of the evidence, we did not see evidence that would show that they were guilty of committing crimes, but more that they were coerced into participating in these contracts with Bobby Ferguson.

Certainly I supposed they went along with it. They were told ‘if you want to keep your contract these are the conditions’, and (they) went along with it. But, it’s a difficult thing to weigh when you crossed the line from being a victim to being someone who is complicit. But, no doubt we gave some people immunity in exchange for their cooperation. That’s the reality of these cases.

MC: How many people got immunity? Hundreds?

BM: I don’t think the number is 100 and I don’t know the answer.

MC: What role, if any, did Christine Beatty play in your investigations or was she given a free pass in exchange for cooperation?

BM: No, she wasn’t given a free pass. She is not someone we’ve ignored, but I guess I don’t want to comment beyond that.

MC: Its been reported that the pension board is under federal scrutiny. Is that the next shoe to drop?

BM: I don’t want to comment on that.

MC: Bernard Kilpatrick fired back before the indictments were released, saying basically that your office is lining up criminals to testify against him and his son. Does that affect the credibility of the witnesses that you are preparing?

BM: Well, I think we’ll see at trial what witnesses, who they are, what they will have to say. But as you can see from reading the indictments it’s not solely based on witness testimony. There is documented evidence as well. There are text messages as well. I am confident that the trial will show what our evidence is and that we’d be successful. But, it’s for a jury to decide.

MC: How sure are you that you will get a conviction?

BM: You know you can never speculate on that because everybody is entitled to a fair trial. There is all kinds of uncertainty in the trial process. It’s not something that typically we’ll give an opinion on. But we don’t bring a case like this unless we believe there is a reasonable likelihood of success at trial. That is the Department of Justice standard. We believe that standard has been satisfied and we are prepared to go forward.

We’ve lost these cases from time to time over the years. But, I don’t think you can be afraid to take one on just because you’ve lost in the past. They are hard cases. Show me a lawyer who has never lost a case and I’ll show you one who is afraid to take the hard ones. We’re willing to take them.

MC: How much in dollar amount would these prosecutions cost?

BM: I really can’t say. It’s difficult to quantify because we pay our people based on salary. If they weren’t working on this case they’d still be there. They’ll just be working on something else. I can’t think of a case that would be more important for them to spend their resources on and their time on. I think its been money well spent. But, no doubt if they haven’t spent the last six years working on this, they would worked on numerous other cases.

MC: Why did you feel the need to point out that Ayanna Kilpatrick and outgoing Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick were found to have done nothing wrong?

BM: Well, I was specifically asked that question. I didn’t volunteer it. You know sometimes people may assume guilt by association and there is no evidence in our indictment that they did anything wrong. So, I thought it was our obligation to answer that question.

MC: During our first interview you talked about mock trials you conduct to try out your cases. Is that what you did with these indictments?

BM: We did. We actually had two rounds of it. We had a small group that did the vetting of the case of indictments several weeks ago. Actually, we’ve done it at various stages. We’ve had several meetings on the case. And, then we had a very big one a week ago where some of the key people in the office came in and it lasted many hours, where we asked several questions, sorted our presentation - what’s the evidence on each of these schemes to make sure that it was solid and well vetted. I’m sure we’ll do it again before trial to make sure our strategy is sound and we anticipate all of the defenses we can think of.

MC: When you say you have hundreds of witnesses are you literary saying you that number of witnesses?

BM: Well, hundreds of witnesses were questioned. But, how many would actually be called for the trial I don’t know that number. Sometimes you talk to a witness and they don’t know anything. So, just because they were questioned doesn’t mean we’ll present them as a witness at trial. What that witness list will look like at trial we don’t know yet. We’ll have to see how that shapes out.

MC: Looking ahead into 2011, what would your focus be? Is it going to be public corruption, violent crime or the civil rights unit you created?

BM: Well, I’m hopeful that now that we’ve moved past this big case certainly we’ll have a lot of lawyers preparing for this trial and getting ready to go. Maybe we can turn our focus to help this city move forward. Our violent crime is a very important thing. We are hoping to do some very exciting things in civil rights. We have some very good cases and some very good investigations pending. We want to do a lot more outreach in terms of civil rights, let people know what we have available. So, we’ve been already meeting with some community groups and civil rights groups so when people feel like their civil rights are violated they know that we are available and we are here to help.

Also protecting the rights of immigrants is very important when we think about the vibrancy of our communities. Everything we do at our office my question is, “Will this improve the quality of life for the citizens of the Eastern District of Michigan?” And, I think making it a place where immigrants feel welcomed to live and do business is a very important part of what we do. So, civil rights is a very important part of that too.

MC: What kind of feedback have you gotten so far since you took over as U.S. Attorney?

BM: It’s a lot of positive feedback.

MC: In light of these indictments?

BM: (Laughs) In light of these indictments, mostly very positive feedback. But, you know maybe the critics don’t tell me. But, I think its been positive. I’ve had strangers shake my hand on the street. But, those who are unhappy are probably too polite to say.

MC: What’s the relationship now between your office and the Middle Eastern/Muslim community in light of the death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah who was killed by federal agents?

BM: I think our relationship with the Middle Eastern community is positive. It’s a relationship we worked hard on because I think that’s another area we are having trust in government. I’m sure there are those who are not satisfied with the report from the Department of Justice that reviewed the issue and concluded that it was justified. But, that aside, we have some defendants in that case whose cases are pending so I can’t talk too much about that.

But I will tell you that relations with the Middle Eastern community is something I worked very hard on because it’s a very important part of our community. I’m their U.S. Attorney too. I want that community to feel welcomed. I don’t want them to feel that they are under suspicion merely because of who they are. I worked very hard to explain to them that our cases are based on conduct and not on people’s religion, ethnicity or national origin.

But it’s understandable to feel under fire. Since 9-11 there has been a lot of backlash against Arabs and Muslim Americans, so we worked very hard to offer them the help of our civil rights unit as well as just reaching out and answering their questions and be accountable to them for our actions.

MC: What about the Aiyana Jones situation? Still being monitored by the Justice Department?

BM: Yes. The Michigan State Police is investigating and so we are sort of standing by and keeping track of what’s going and to see if that’s resolved satisfactorily. We’ll wait for that process to conclude.

MC: What’s been the response to the town hall meeting on crime you hosted recently at Rev. Edgar Vann’s church? BM: We had maybe a little over 100 people there on a very cold night when the schools were closed. In light of the weather, I was pleased with how many people came out. One of the things we are trying to do is try to attack violent crime. We created a new violent crime unit in part because we know how strapped our state and local resources are. Prosecutors have had layoffs, the police departments have downsized. So, we’ve been trying to help with that effort.

But we’ve also joined forces and we put together this group that’s called the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Partnership. Its got Detroit Police, FBI, Michigan State Police, the Wayne County Prosecutor, the Wayne County Sheriff, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and certainly we are doing a lot together on the enforcement side. If we all have scarce resources, if we can come together and talk about how to use those most efficiently we think that’s a better way to serve the community.

We can’t just arrest our way out of our violent crime problem. History shows that’s just not working and we still have a lot of violent crime. We’ve made lots of arrests. One of the things we’ve been trying to do with this series of town hall meetings is to get out and talk to members of the community, tell them that we need their help, that we can’t do this without them. To get that kind of help, I think we need to earn public trust.

MC: Do you feel that you are gaining that public trust?

BM: I’m hopeful that we are. The meetings we’ve had have been very positive and the citizens who come say that they are fed up with crime. They want to help. They want to know how they can get involved with block clubs, neighborhood watch. The people who come out to a town hall meeting are probably the people who are interested in helping. The ones who don’t come are probably the audience we need to reach even more. We did one in northwest Detroit, Southwest Detroit, the east side recently that just by getting out people may talk to their neighbors and we can find ways to build some trust there. We need citizens to feel confident that when they report a crime that there will be response. We need people to feel like they can trust the police. This sort of no-snitch mentality…people fear the police and we want to show a face that they can trust and being accountable to the public. That is what we are trying to do.

MC: Given what allegedly transpired between former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the former Justice Department police monitor Sheryl Robinson Wood, what kind of challenge does that present for both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Detroit Police Department in terms of moving forward and addressing inherent problems within the police department?

BM: Having the problems that we had with the previous monitor who had to leave because of her own conflict of interest was certainly a big setback for us. We now have a new monitor in place and I’m confident that the new monitor and his team are doing good work and have actually made some progress. In the past year they went from (a) compliance rate of 20 percent to 60 percent. They are showing progress and that I think is something that should give us reason for optimism.

Wesley Snipes Supporters Demanding Retrial

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By Gregory Dale, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

Following the federal imprisonment of actor Wesley Snipes on a three-year sentence for failure to file income tax returns, a collection of celebrities, politicians, friends, and supporters are demanding the actor receive a fair trial.

A group calling itself The Friends of Wesley Snipes is pushing a petition for the famous actor in order to bring awareness to perceived misconduct during his trial. Spearheading the movement is Snipes' wife Nicky and a laundry list of celebrities and supporters including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Denzel Washington, Judge Joe Brown, among thousands of other supporters.

According to CNN, Snipes reported to a Pennsylvania federal prison camp on Dec. 9, 2010 for not filing tax returns in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Though Snipes initially faced felony charges of tax fraud and conspiracy, those charges were later dropped and Snipes was charged with misdemeanor violations.

Prosecutors argued that Snipes had received $40 million since 1999, but had not completed tax returns and was involved in a tax resisters group. The actor denied his involvement and said his failure to file was due to a mistake by his financial advisor.

The Friends of Snipes contend on their website that, in addition to Snipes unfairly receiving the maximum sentence of three years in prison on misdemeanor charges, he was denied an appeal. Additionally, the group claims that two jurors from the Snipes trial sent out e-mails explaining that three other jurors presumed that Snipes was guilty before the trial began. In their e-mails, the two jurors claimed the remaining jurors, in rendering their verdict, never believed that Snipes would be sent to jail, and felt they needed to come forward to show misconduct.

But Judge Hodges, who issued Snipes' sentence, declined to interview the jurors to confirm any misconduct and issue the actor a new trial.

Snipes' lawyer, attorney Daniel Meachum, said a brief for Snipes' appeal will be submitted this month and the petition is slated to be submitted to the Supreme Court in February.

"It's not so much a case about Wesley Snipes, but it's a case about the judicial process right now," Meachum told the AFRO during a recent interview. "This case is about the everyday man. Wesley Snipes is actually just a vessel because there's a bunch of people—Black and White—who have been incarcerated when they don't necessarily need to be there, because the prosecution has not turned over all the discoveries [evidence] that they're required to do. Wesley's just one of many victims in this system."

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