Feds say Native Mob gang dented but work remains

Federal prosecutors say they’ve weakened a violent American Indian gang known for terrorizing people in the Upper Midwest now that an alleged leader and two members have been convicted in one of the largest gang cases to come out of Indian Country.

By Steve Karnowski, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Federal prosecutors say they’ve weakened a violent American Indian gang known for terrorizing people in the Upper Midwest now that an alleged leader and two members have been convicted in one of the largest gang cases to come out of Indian Country.

But investigators acknowledge their work isn’t done in Minnesota or other states where the Native Mob is active, noting that the gang has been around for a long time.

“We have some conservative confidence that we did put a dent (in the gang) but we’re also very realistic and know that law enforcement will continue to pursue gang activity including the Native Mob,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter said after jurors handed down convictions Tuesday on an array of racketeering and other charges.

“The verdicts reflect the seriousness of the crimes that were being committed by the Native Mob, which includes not only drug trafficking, but discharging of firearms at innocent people, and trafficking firearms, and basically wreaking havoc through communities throughout the state of Minnesota,” he said.

A federal jury in Minneapolis convicted the alleged Native Mob leader, 34-year-old Wakinyon Wakan McArthur, on drug and weapons charges – but also on a charge of racketeering conspiracy, which is often used to target organized crime.

Two of the gang’s alleged “soldiers” – Anthony Francis Cree, 26, and William Earl Morris, 25 – also were convicted of multiple charges including attempted murder in aid of racketeering. The latter charge stemmed from the shooting of another man that prosecutors alleged McArthur ordered, though his attorneys disputed the claim and McArthur was acquitted on that charge. But only Morris was acquitted on the top racketeering charge.

Defense attorneys said the government’s case was overblown, arguing that while gang members may have committed individual crimes, there was no evidence to support racketeering charges alleging the trio was part of a large, organized criminal group.

The three men were the only defendants who rejected plea deals after 25 people were indicted in the case last year. Several of those individuals testified during the trial, which Winter said should give other gang members pause knowing they can’t trust their co-conspirators.

A sentencing date has not yet been set, but all three men face between 20 years and life in prison, prosecutors said.

“The Native Mob has been a real detriment to native American communities throughout the state of Minnesota,” fellow prosecutor Steve Schliecher said. “Their game plan is to promote fear, and that’s the base of their power, and I think their power is diminished by this jury’s verdict. It’s going to allow people to have the rights to not live in fear, to continue on their peaceful lives.”

McArthur’s attorney, Frederick Goetz, said his client’s acquittal for attempted murder indicates the jury recognized the three defendants’ culpabilities varied.

“It was a mixed result for a mixed verdict,” Goetz said, adding that he would likely appeal.

Cree’s attorney, John Brink, said the verdicts were inconsistent, giving them an issue to use in their appeal.

Morris’ attorney, Tom Shiah, cited the same issue about inconsistent verdicts. He said he was glad Morris was acquitted of the racketeering charge but acknowledged his client was still “looking at a boatload of time.”

Federal authorities say they’ve been investigating the Native Mob, though not these three defendants, since 2004, and have now secured 30 convictions since 2007.

In the latest case, investigators said they were targeting a criminal enterprise that used intimidation and violence to maintain power. Prosecutors said the case was important not only because of its size, but because the racketeering charge is rarely used against gangs.

The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment called the Native Mob one of the largest and most violent American Indian gangs in the U.S., most active in Minnesota and Wisconsin but also in Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is made up of mostly American Indian men and boys, and started in Minneapolis in the 1990s as members fought for turf to deal drugs. The Native Mob is also active in prison.

The Native Mob had about 200 members, with a structure that included monthly meetings where members were encouraged to assault or kill enemies, or anyone who showed disrespect, according to the indictment. Authorities said McArthur would direct other members to carry out beatings, shootings and other violent acts to intimidate rivals.

The trial, which began in January, included nearly 1,000 exhibits and 180 witnesses.

Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this story.

We Day concert/rally expected to draw 15,000

We Day, an event to celebrate and encourage local and global action by young people, is expected to draw 15,000 to KeyArena on Wednesday.

By Jack Broom, The Seattle Times

Erika Schultz / The Seattle TimesSixth-grader Aimee Coronado, 12, left, and ninth-grader Emily Barrick, 15, have been fundraising for local and international causes at Federal Way Public Academy and will attend We Day on Wednesday. The event, held in Canada, makes its U.S. debut at KeyArena.

Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times
Sixth-grader Aimee Coronado, 12, left, and ninth-grader Emily Barrick, 15, have been fundraising for local and international causes at Federal Way Public Academy and will attend We Day on Wednesday. The event, held in Canada, makes its U.S. debut at KeyArena.

By themselves, jangly bracelets made from soda-can pull tabs by Emily Barrick, 15, and other Federal Way Public Academy students for a charity fashion show aren’t going to save the world.

Nor will the funky brown scarves made from shredded T-shirts by other Federal Way students, including Aimee Coronado, 12.

Same with the stack of book bags taken to a girls school in India by Bijou Basu, 16, a student at The Overlake School in Redmond.

But taken together — and combined with thousands of other acts by thousands of other students — these individual good deeds begin to have real power.

That’s the thinking behind We Day, expected to draw some 15,000 middle- and high-school students and supporters from 400 schools across the state to KeyArena Wednesday.

“When young people choose to become active for a cause … When they are passionate about serving others, they are not alone,” said Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children, the Toronto-based charity organizing the event.

Students couldn’t buy tickets to the event, part concert and part pep rally. They earned their way in, by committing to work on at least one local and one global service project.

Performers and celebrities on tap include Jennifer Hudson, Magic Johnson, Martin Sheen, Mia Farrow, Nelly Furtado and Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil-rights leader.

Students will also hear from Spencer West, who despite having had both legs amputated, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, on his hands. And from 9-year-old Robby Novak, better known as “Kid President” in popular YouTube videos (including a recent one in which he picked Gonzaga to win the NCAA basketball tournament.)

Co-hosts are Munro Chambers and Melinda Shankar of the TV series “Degrassi,” who have made overseas trips on Free the Children projects.

This is Free the Children’s 24th We Day, and the first outside Canada.

The organization has been featured on “60 Minutes,” and past We Days have included such notable speakers as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama.

It plans to continue its international expansion with an event in Minnesota later this year, and one next year in London.

Kielburger, now 30, was 12 when he saw a news report about the murder of a boy his age in Pakistan who had been forced into working in a carpet factory at the age of 4.

With his older brother, Marc, Kielburger formed Free the Children, which hosted its first We Day in Toronto in 2007.

Since then, backers say, the events have helped raise $26 million for 900 different causes, and led to 5.1 million hours of volunteer service.

Erika Schultz / The Seattle TimesFederal Way Public Academy students created bracelets made from Starburst wrappers for a charity fashion show.

Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times
Federal Way Public Academy students created bracelets made from Starburst wrappers for a charity fashion show.

“Our goal is to systematically bring service learning into schools … just like reading, writing and arithmetic,” Kielburger said

That’s already happening. Federal Way Public Schools, which is sending more than 1,200 students and chaperones to We Day, has a districtwide focus on service, which includes raising money for an adopted village in Sierra Leone.

In addition, individual schools have projects of their own. Federal Way Public Academy, an academics-focused alternative school, is sending about a third of its 306 students to We Day.

Projects at that school include the fashion show to benefit homeless teens in the Puget Sound area, and an annual carnival to help build a school in a village in Kenya.

At The Overlake School in Redmond, 60 students, active in a variety of causes, are planning to go to We Day. Overlake students are required to put in a number of hours each year on causes they select.

Basu, an 11th-grader at Overlake, read Kielburger’s book, “Free the Children,” four years ago and was inspired by the idea of helping people but was unsure how to get started.

Last year, she and her mother, who is from India, traveled to that country as volunteers for a Seattle-based organization, People for Progress in India. In West Bengal, they visited a school for children of commercial sex workers.

“No child should have to go through what these girls were going through,” she said. She brought them book bags and other school supplies. “I could see it really meant something to them that there were people out there who cared about them.”

Returning home, she encouraged other students to join Free the Children or other causes.

We Day chose Seattle for its U.S. debut, Kielburger said, partly because of the enthusiasm of Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll, who’ll be there with several Seahawks players. Carroll is co-chair of the event, along with Connie Ballmer, philanthropist and wife of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Carroll heard Kielburger speak two years ago at a Tacoma event honoring retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“Craig has this tremendous passion and energy about helping people,” Carroll said. “I tracked him down and I invited him to bring it to the U.S., which they were already thinking about.”

Microsoft and Amway are title sponsors of the event. The Seattle Times is among its regional media partners.

Students drawn to We Day already have decided to become active, and this will reinforce that decision, said Federal Way’s Coronado.

“I think everyone has the potential to do something great,” she said. “We Day is like a little shove to help get you going.”

Mitch Albom: ‘Vietnam Vet Deserves a Friendlier Farewell’

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

On Sunday, March 24, Mitch Albom, the award-winning Detroit Free Press columnist and best-selling author of Tuesdays With Morrie, wrote about a Vietnam veteran who recently passed away, alone and homeless. The vet, who served with honor as a Marine in Vietnam, was living on the mean streets of downtown Detroit, struggling with alcohol and poverty and confined to a wheelchair. As Albom asks, “Does this sound familiar?”

For too many vets, it does. This is especially true for Native vets. As ICTMN has reported, the 2010 Veteran Homelessness supplemental assessment report to Congress indicated a disturbing statistic that showed that American Indian and Alaska Native veterans who are poor are two times more likely to be homeless than American Indian and Alaska Native non-veterans who are poor

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that more than 300,000 vets are homeless on any given night. Here are excepts from Albom’s poignant column on one of these men; read the full article here.

 

If you knew Sanderious Crocker, please read this.

He died.

He was 67. Folks called him Sam. He was living in poverty in downtown Detroit. A Vietnam veteran who was seriously wounded, he’d been homeless for a while. He struggled with alcohol. Maybe you know this. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you lost touch. Maybe you wanted to.

Whatever the case, you should know that Sam’s body had been sitting at a Detroit morgue for a week before a friend called me and asked whether there was a way to find his family — any family — because a soldier shouldn’t die alone and neglected.

He left behind his papers. I am looking at his discharge form now. It says he served four years in the Marine Corps, in 1964-68. It says he earned badges for pistol and rifle marksmanship. It says he won several medals.

Under “Character of Service” is one word:

“Honorable.”

Maybe you knew Sam. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you feel bad for his ending. Maybe you don’t. I can’t sit here and tell you Sam was a great man or even a good one. But I do know he served when his country called, and he paid a price, and the military sent him off with the word “honorable.”

Maybe we should do the same.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/03/25/mitch-albom-vietnam-vet-deserves-friendlier-farewell-148342

Both sides of gun debate make public appeals

By Michelle Salcedo, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two of the loudest voices in the gun debate say it’s up to voters now to make their position known to Congress.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and National Rifle Associate Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claim their opposing views on guns have the support of the overwhelming number of Americans. They are looking at the next two weeks as critical to the debate, when lawmakers head home to hear from constituents ahead of next month’s anticipated Senate vote on gun control.

Bloomberg, a former Republican-turned-independent, has just sunk $12 million for Mayors Against Illegal Guns to run television ads and phone banks in 13 states urging voters to tell their senators to pass legislation requiring universal background checks for gun buyers.

“We demanded a plan and then we demanded a vote. We’ve got the plan, we’re going to get the vote. And now it’s incumbent on us to make our voices heard,” said Bloomberg.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that legislation would likely be debated in his chamber next month that will include expanded federal background checks, tougher laws and stiffer sentences for gun trafficking and increased school safety grants. A ban on assault-style weapons was dropped from the bill, fearing it would sink the broader bill. But Reid has said that he would allow the ban to be voted on separately as an amendment. President Barack Obama called for a vote on the assault weapons ban in his radio and Internet address Saturday.

Recalling the horrific shooting three months ago at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 first graders and six school administrators dead, Bloomberg said it would be a great tragedy if Congress, through inaction, lost the moment to make the country safer from gun violence. Bloomberg said that 90 percent of Americans and 80 percent of NRA members support universal background checks for gun purchases.

“I don’t think there’s ever been an issue where the public has spoken so clearly, where Congress hasn’t eventually understood and done the right thing,” Bloomberg said.

But the NRA’s LaPierre counters that universal background checks are “a dishonest premise.” For example, mental health records are exempt from databases and criminals won’t submit to the checks. Background checks, he said, are a “speed bump” in the system that “slows down the law-abiding and does nothing for anybody else.”

“The shooters in Tucson, in Aurora, in Newtown, they’re not going to be checked. They’re unrecognizable,” LaPierre said. He was referring to the 2011 shooting in a Tucson shopping center that killed six and wounded 13, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the July assault in a suburban Denver movie theater that killed 12 and injured 70. In both instances, as well as in the Newtown killings, the alleged shooters used military-style assault rifles with high-capacity ammunition magazines.

LaPierre slammed Bloomberg for the ad buy.

“He’s going to find out this is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people. And he can’t spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public,” LaPierre said, adding, “He can’t buy America.”

“Millions of people” from across the country are sending the NRA “$5, $10, $15, $20 checks, saying stand up to this guy,” LaPierre said, referring to Bloomberg.

LaPierre said the NRA supports a bill to get the records of those adjudicated mentally incompetent and dangerous into the background check system for gun dealers, better enforcement of federal gun laws and beefed up penalties for illegal third-party purchases and gun trafficking. Shortly after the Newtown shooting, LaPierre called for armed security guards in schools as well.

LaPierre would like to see Congress pass a law that “updates the system and targets those mentally incompetent adjudicated into the system” and forces the administration to enforce the federal gun laws.

“It won’t happen until the national media gets on the administration and calls them out for their incredible lack of enforcement of these laws,” LaPierre said.

In Colorado, a state with a pioneer tradition of gun ownership and self-reliance, Gov. John Hickenlooper just signed bills requiring background checks for private and online gun sales. The legislation also would ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.

“After the shootings last summer in the movie theater, we really focused on mental health first then universal background checks,” Hickenlooper said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think the feeling right now around assault weapons, at least in Colorado, is that they’re so hard to define what an assault weapon is.”

Hickenlooper said he met with a group of protesters against the bills in Grand Junction, Colo., were “very worried about government keeping a centralized database, which I assured them wasn’t going to happen.” The protesters, he added, view the background checks as “just the first step in trying to take guns away.”

As casinos struggle, tribes seek more federal aid

Once the envy of Indian Country for its billion-dollar casino empire, the tribe that owns the Foxwoods Resort Casino has been struggling through a financial crisis and pursuing more revenue from an unlikely source: U.S. government grants.

By Michael Melia, Associated Press

LEDYARD, Conn. — Once the envy of Indian Country for its billion-dollar casino empire, the tribe that owns the Foxwoods Resort Casino has been struggling through a financial crisis and pursuing more revenue from an unlikely source: U.S. government grants.

The money provided annually to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation through the Interior Department and the Department of Health and Human Services has risen over the last five years to more than $4.5 million, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. One former tribal employee says department leaders were encouraged to offset dwindling resources by seeking more federal grants.

The Pequots, who once distributed stipends exceeding $100,000 annually to adult members, are not alone among gaming tribes seeking more federal aid. Several, including the owner of Foxwoods’ rival Connecticut casino, the Mohegan Sun, say they have been pursuing more grants – a trend that critics find galling because the law that gave rise to Indian casinos was intended to help tribes become financially self-sufficient.

“The whole purpose of the 1988 law which authorized Indian casinos was to help federally-recognized tribes raise money to run their governments by building casinos on their reservations,” said Robert Steele, a former Congressman from Connecticut. “I would argue strongly that federal money was meant for struggling tribes. Certainly the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans couldn’t under any circumstances be put in that category.”

As long as they have federal recognition, casino-owning tribes are eligible for the same grant programs as the larger tribes based on large, poverty-stricken reservations in the American West. The grants, which don’t need to be paid back, support tribal governments by paying for programs such as health screenings, road maintenance and environmental preservation.

“The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is proud of the work they do with the use of federal funds when it comes to assisting the region and fellow Native Americans,” said Bill Satti, a tribal spokesman, who said the grants have supported the tribe’s medical clinic and repair work on local roadways.

Thomas Weissmuller, who was chief judge of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court until 2011, said that near the end of his tenure the tribal council said they had distributed too much money to members and urged department leaders to pursue more federal grants. He said there was resistance from some council members, who raised questions about the effects on sovereignty, but he was personally encouraged to pursue grants by officials including the tribal chairman, Rodney Butler.

Weissmuller said he was not comfortable seeking such assistance for the tribal court system because most of the issues it dealt with were related to the casino, which is essentially a commercial enterprise.

“A billion-dollar gaming enterprise should fully fund the tribal government,” said Weissmuller, who said that he was forced out of the job by tribal officials who told him he did not appear to have the tribe’s interests at heart on other matters.

The reversal of fortunes for the Pequots began around 2008, when Foxwoods completed a major, costly expansion with the 30-story MGM Grand hotel and casino just as the recession began to show its teeth. The following year the tribe defaulted on debt exceeding $2 billion.

Since then, the tribe of some 900 people in rural southeastern Connecticut has ended its member stipends. The Pequots have kept some other benefits in place, covering payments for members pursuing higher education and offering supplemental pay for tribal members taking entry-level jobs at the casino.

The federal grants provided to the Pequots through the Interior Department and its Bureau of Indian Affairs, meanwhile, rose from $1 million in 2008 to $2.7 million in 2011, with partial records for 2012 showing $1.7 million in grants for the year. Grants provided to the Pequots through the Indian Health Service, a division of Health and Human Services, increased gradually from $1.7 million in 2008 to $1.9 million in 2012. That money is to support health care services such as community health, nutrition, substance abuse treatment and pharmacy services.

The federal money opened the door to scrutiny by the FBI, whose investigation of tribal finances led to the January indictments of the tribe’s treasurer, Steven Thomas, and his brother Michael Thomas, a former tribal chairman. The two are accused of stealing a combined $800,000 in tribal money and federal grants. The tribal council has expressed full confidence in its treasurer.

Mohegan Tribe officials said they took pride in refusing federal grants for years, in acknowledgment that there were needier tribes. But tribal officials said they had relaxed that position as their Mohegan Sun casino, like Foxwoods, has faced growing gambling competition from neighboring states.

“It’s a sign of the times. Everybody is” seeking grants, Mohegan Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum said. “There’s some that we qualify for and it helps us to keep everybody healthy and working. At the end of the day, why shouldn’t we apply for it? If we get approved, it’s always for a good cause, usually health or jobs created.”

Tribal officials said they receive modest grants to contribute to the cost of health care for their 2,000 members.

The tribe that owns the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Michigan, one of the country’s largest Indian casinos outside of Connecticut, has been aggressively pursuing grants in areas including environmental protection and health services as it struggles with the weak economy, according to Sylvia Murray, grants and contracts manager for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

Sam Deloria, director of the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, N.M., said he has no issue with tribes pursuing grants for which they are eligible. It’s no different, he said, from the state of Alaska participating in federal programs despite the annual payouts to residents from the state’s oil savings account.

As the federal money reflects financial distress for gaming tribes, however, he does worry that their struggles ultimately could have a ripple effect throughout Indian Country and affect the ability of tribes to participate in the marketplace.

“It has got to raise a set of issues that either in the courts, or in the Congress, or in the marketplace, eventually it will get people looking at tribal participation in business in a different light,” he said.

20-Year Ban on New Uranium-Mining Claims in Grand Canyon Holds Up in Court

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The Havasupai Tribe, and the Grand Canyon watershed, won in U.S. District Court this week when a judge denied the uranium industry’s motion to overturn a 20-year federal ban on uranium mining on 1 million acres in the ecologically sensitive landmark and haven of sacred places to many tribes. Still under contention, though, are previously existing claims that are held still valid.

The March 20 move upheld a ban signed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in January 2012, when he prohibited new uranium-mining claims, as well as development on certain old claims whose rights may have expired, for 20 years on 1 million acres surrounding the canyon. In response the National Mining Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, Northwest Mining Association and other groups filed four lawsuits challenging both the ban and the federal government’s authority to enact it. The Havasupai Tribe was among those who stepped in to combat the industry.

“It’s a great day for the Grand Canyon, and for rivers, wildlife, and communities across the West,” said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice, one the attorneys representing conservation groups and the Havasupai tribe in the case, in a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. “The uranium industry was hoping to cripple the Interior Department’s ability to temporarily protect lands from destructive mining. Today’s opinion upholds the Interior Department’s authority to take such protective measures.”

Salazar had enacted a two-year block on new mining claims for those million acres in 2009 to give the department time to study whether to institute a more permanent or longer ban. In March 2011 the state of Arizona’s environmental protection department granted permits to Denison Mines Corp. of Canada to reopen three mines near the canyon, even as the U.S. government was gathering information on whether to extend the ban. In January 2012 the Interior Department announced the 20-year ban, which was then challenged in court.

Uranium mining in the Grand Canyon threatens sacred sites of the Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo peoples. Tribal health is also at risk, with radioactive material posing a danger to Navajo citizens, said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly in a statement when the ban was announced in January 2012.

Not covered in the ban protected by the March 20, 2013, court ruling is the question of previously approved mining and new projects on claim sites with existing rights, the Interior Department said in its statement announcing the ban last year. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be developed under existing rights. On March 7 the Havasupai tribe and three conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Energy Fuels Resources Inc. to start up a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park, citing a lack of formal tribal consultation and the company’s failure to update the federal environmental review it had conducted in 1986.

“We regret that the Forest Service is not protecting our sacred site in the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property from destruction by uranium mining,” said Havasupai tribe chairman Don Watahomigie in a March 7 statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Havasupai are returning to the federal courts to protect our people, our religion and our water.”

In addition the four uranium-industry lawsuits that were covered by the March 20 ruling could still raise arguments on other legal grounds, the Center for Biological Diversity said, adding that court proceedings will continue to unfold this spring.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/03/22/20-year-ban-new-uranium-mining-claims-grand-canyon-holds-court-148319

Complicit in Killing the Earth: Of Pepsi Challenges and Democrats and Republicans

By Gyasi Ross, Indian Country Today Media Network

A few months ago—right up until Election Day—many of our people messaged and pontificated like crazy to point out that there are serious and profound differences between the two political parties. This past election was presented as the ultimate Pepsi Challenge©; in a blind-folded taste test, Native people chose Barack Obama and Democrats 2 to 1!!

A few years ago, I was one of those people—I worked on the President’s campaign and honestly thought that we were entering a new generation of progressive politics, where Democrats moved back to respecting our people and the Earth.  But at that time, I didn’t get the punchline of the Pepsi Challenge, the fine print that we never hear on the commercials:

“Whichever you choose will still kill you.”

That is, whichever choice you make—Pepsi or Coke—both are horrible choices.  YES, one might taste better to you—you dig the spiciness of Coke or prefer to catch the wave of Pepsi.  Still, when you finish that refreshing can of pop, you’ve just ingested exactly the same high fructose corn syrup, brominated vegetable oils.  Both brands will kill your teeth, makes you fat, causxe erectile dysfunction, etc etc…No matter which one you choose, both Coke AND Pepsi do that.  Therefore, while one might be nominally better, they both kill you.

And just like pop kills Native people disproportionately, this Keystone XL pipeline will disproportionately affect Native sacred sites, unmarked Native grave sites, our aboriginal homelands.

We’re seeing that same scenario play out in politics with the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The party that is supposed to be pro-environment, the Democrats, are working hand-in-hand with the party that unabashedly loves scorching the Earth, the Republicans, to absolutely kill any possibility of yours and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren having a quality of life that even remotely approaches ours.

Make no mistake, our grandchildren are screwed if this thing goes through.  The Keystone XL pipeline and our dependence upon fossil fuels generally will ensure that.  Think Soylent Green. Think Children of Men.  Think Planet of the Apes, except with no talking apes (I don’t think). As we speak, the supposedly different Democrats and Republicans are conspiring together to kill the Earth, trample over Native burial grounds and sacred sites. In fairness, President Obama has noted that the Keystone XL pipeline is not a major job creator, and perhaps that will be a basis for rejecting this especially since some 68% of his voters disapprove of this project.

I hope so.

Still, as noted previously, the President effectively gave himself cover when the State Department rubber-stamped the environmental impact statement and said the pipeline would have “no significant impact to the environment,”

Pepsi and Coke will both kill us—there really is no choice.  Instead, we need to drink water, a radical choice, in order to live.  Similarly, we need to start earnestly looking for a radical option to the political parties that are killing us—the Green Party, Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke, help us please!! Funny, the things that get characterized as “radical” are the ones that will keep us alive.

We fell for the political Pepsi Challenge—God help us all.  God help our kids, Native and non-Native, even more—they’re gonna need it.

Contact your Senator — the information is here.  Tell them “no.”

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation
Activist/Attorney/Author
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi
www.cutbankcreekpress.com

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/03/21/complicit-killing-earth-pepsi-challenges-and-democrats-and-republicans-148296

State senators pledge $300M more for higher ed

State Senate leaders pledged Tuesday to increase funding for higher education by $300 million but did not say how to pay for it.

The Associated Press and Seattle Times staff

OLYMPIA — A group of Washington state senators vowed Tuesday to increase funding for higher education by $300 million but declined to say how they would get the money at a time when lawmakers are struggling to balance the budget.

Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, who developed the plan supported by a GOP-dominated coalition, said it is possible to write a budget that balances state spending while increasing funding for state colleges and universities. He said it will be a matter of prioritizing where government dollars go.

“We’re going to make higher education a priority,” Baumgartner said.

Lawmakers already face a more than $1 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget cycle and are separately under court order to expand funding for K-12 education.

The senators also propose to require a 3 percent reduction in tuition for in-state students. They say this would help manage the long-term financial concerns in the state’s prepaid-tuition program, known as GET, for Guaranteed Education Tuition.

Senate Democrats said they were encouraged that the GOP-leaning majority is embracing increased funding but want to better understand the details of the proposal.

“The bottom line is, we’re open to the conversation — We’re not sure the numbers will add up,” said state Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.

Margaret Shepherd, director of state relations for the University of Washington, was also waiting for more specific details. However, both she and Frockt said the $300 million appears to largely include money already expected to go to the institutions for general growth.

Shepherd said the proposal adds only about $75 million in new money to the system and that gain is offset by the loss in tuition dollars. Frockt said he thought it would only add about $42 million to $58 million, after the loss of tuition dollars was factored in.

“It will not provide adequate funding for the investments that we need to make in order to provide a high-quality education for our students,” Shepherd said.

Washington’s university presidents said earlier this year that the schools would freeze tuition for two years if lawmakers would add $225 million in extra funding to the system.

The coalition’s plan would award $50 million of the new higher-education money to schools based on how well they did on certain performance metrics, such as the number of undergraduates in degrees such as science or engineering, the retention rate of first-year students, and the average time it takes to complete an undergraduate degree.

Baumgartner said the aim was for the money to go to programs that directly benefit students, and not to faculty salary increases. Most state college faculty have not had a raise in four years; the UW has said that raising faculty salaries this year is a priority.

Frockt also said the $50 million for improving performance is too low to provide much incentive. “I think if you spread it across the system like peanut butter, it’s not that significant,” said Frockt, who himself proposed a bill — which died — that would have created an incentive performance fund.

The proposal would also expand the State Need Grant, the state’s largest grant program for low-income students, by 7 percent, to serve an additional 4,600 students. The State Need Grant currently serves about 70,000 students, but the state has estimated that 30,000 additional students qualify but receive no money.

Associated Press writer Mike Baker and Seattle Times higher-education reporter Katherine Long contributed to this report.

‘Still a huge wound’: remembering Green River killer’s victims

The Organization for Prostitution Survivors, a new Seattle nonprofit, is working to raise money and build public support for a permanent memorial to the victims of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway. The effort has the support of U.S. Congressman and former King County Sheriff Dave Reichert.

By Sara Jean Green, The Seattle Times

PHOTOS BY ERIKA SCHULTZ / The Seattle TimesNoel Gomez, a former prostitute who co-founded the Organization for Prostitution Survivors, is raising money for a memorial to the victims of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, who has pleaded guilty to 49 murders. "I feel like they are my sisters," Gomez said.

PHOTOS BY ERIKA SCHULTZ / The Seattle Times
Noel Gomez, a former prostitute who co-founded the Organization for Prostitution Survivors, is raising money for a memorial to the victims of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, who has pleaded guilty to 49 murders. “I feel like they are my sisters,” Gomez said.

By the time a pimp put Noel Gomez to work on the streets of Seattle in the early 1990s, the Green River killer had slowed his killing spree of girls and women, many who were also caught up in the dark underworld of prostitution.

“But he was still out there and whenever I worked Pacific Highway or Aurora Avenue, I was very aware that the next car I got into could be the Green River killer’s,” said Gomez, 39, who has been out of the life for seven years now. “I was obsessed with him getting caught.”

She recalls watching “Judge Judy” on TV in her Queen Anne apartment in November 2001 when the program was interrupted by a breaking-news alert: Gary L. Ridgway, a then-52-year-old truck painter from Auburn, had been arrested. Gomez cried at the news.

Now, nearly a dozen years later, long after Ridgway pleaded guilty to 49 murders, Gomez and Peter Qualliotine are working to raise money and build public support for a permanent memorial to the girls and women Ridgway strangled and discarded.

The two are co-founders of a new Seattle nonprofit, The Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS). They are hosting a series of community engagements at libraries and community centers throughout the year to help educate the public about the dynamics of prostitution and the extreme sexual violence that prostituted girls and women endure.

In addition to the community engagements, Gomez and Qualliotine are holding weekly art workshops for prostitution survivors and plan to display their works in quarterly art exhibits. The women’s artwork, they said, will influence and inform the design of the memorial.

OPS has so far raised about $10,000 of its $225,000 goal. The money will be used to launch the fledgling organization, pay for supplies and salaries (Gomez and Qualliotine have been working for free), provide housing, job skills and other services to survivors of prostitution and go toward funding the design and siting of the memorial.

“In my world, in the world I roam in … it has not gone away,” Gomez said of the trauma caused by the Green River killings. “I think there’s a lot of people who don’t think about it or even know about it. But what people don’t understand is that in certain circles, it’s still a huge freaking wound.”

Gomez, a chemical-dependency professional who works with juveniles in the King County Juvenile Detention Center, previously worked for The Bridge Program, a Seattle residential-recovery center for prostituted youth.

Qualliotine, who also worked for The Bridge, designed one of the country’s first “john schools” in Portland for men who have been arrested for patronizing prostitutes. The schools examine men’s accountability in creating demand for prostitution.

U.S. Congressman and former King County Sheriff Dave Reichert has pledged to help Gomez and Qualliotine. As a 31-year-old detective in 1982, Reichert began investigating the Green River cases.

Reichert said he thought about a memorial for the victims years ago, but worried the grief was still too raw for families who had to relive horrible memories every time a new victim was found.

There has been no closure for the families whose daughters’ lives were violently cut short, he said. And for law-enforcement officers, there are aspects of the killings that they’ll never forget.

“When you collect remains for years and years and years, and sometimes multiple bodies in a week, those thoughts and visions never go away,” Reichert said. “ … This is about the victims, the families and the relatives — they’re the ones who have lost loved ones — but this has meaning for the detectives, too.”

The Green River killings were “the worst serial murder case in the nation,” with 51 confirmed victims and dozens of other slayings believed to have been committed by Ridgway, he said. More than half of Ridgway’s victims were 18 or younger.

But Ridgway, who preyed on prostitutes and runaways, “doesn’t have the name recognition Ted Bundy has,” Reichert said, referring to the Northwest serial killer who raped and killed female college students in the 1970s. He believes that’s because of the social stigma attached to those involved in prostitution.

“People were driving to and from work on Pacific Highway or Aurora Avenue or First Avenue and they were never seeing these young girls on the street,” he said. “There were hundreds of them — you couldn’t miss them — but no one saw them.

“Then they disappeared and no one missed them,” Reichert said.

Maybe Seattle and the county can embrace the idea of a memorial to the victims “as the community’s recognition that they failed these kids and for the future, maybe we will remember our failure,” he said.

Reichert, who as a teen ran away from home to escape his abusive, alcoholic father, said 90 percent of Ridgway’s victims were on the streets because of the abuse they suffered in their own homes.

“There’s a reason those girls were on the streets,” he said. “And it’s still happening.”

It was true for Gomez, whose physically abusive, alcoholic father kicked her out when she became pregnant at 15.

And it was true for Debbie Estes, one of Ridgway’s youngest victims, who along with her two siblings was sexually abused for years by a relative, said Estes’ sister, Virginia “Jenny” Graham, of Spokane. After Estes ran away from home, it didn’t take long before she fell under the control of a pimp, Graham said.

The last time Graham saw her sister, Estes and her best friend Becky Marrero — another Ridgway victim — had stopped by the family’s Federal Way home to pick up some of Estes’ things.

Soon after, Estes was raped and pistol-whipped by a serial rapist. She was set to testify against him when she disappeared on Sept. 20, 1982.

Estes’ body was found almost six years later, on May 30, 1988, in Federal Way. She had just turned 15.

Marrero was 20 when she disappeared from a SeaTac motel on Dec. 3, 1982. Her body was discovered in an Auburn ravine December 2010, years after Ridgway had admitted he killed her.

“When these particular girls were being killed, it was like no one cared,” said Graham, a married mother of three. “You couldn’t go anywhere without people talking about it, at the grocery store or wherever. I heard some of the cruelest things being said, like: ‘It’s her fault for being out there.’

“But what people didn’t realize was my sister didn’t have a choice. She couldn’t go home,” Graham said.

Graham and Reichert are working together to contact other victims’ families and hope to meet with them to discuss the memorial.

“It’s for healing, it’s positive and it will happen, I have little doubt,” she said.

 

To learn more

For more information on The Organization for Prostitution Survivors and to donate to the Green River Victims Memorial, visit www.seattleops.com. The website includes a video about the effort.

Community engagement

The next OPS community engagement will be held the second week of April, and the first art exhibit is planned for early May. Dates and venues haven’t been confirmed yet, but information will be available on the OPS website.

The Organization for Prostitution Survivors

Pope Francis urges protection of nature, weak

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press
Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press.Pope Francis gives the thumbs up to the crowd as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his inauguration Mass at the Vatican on Tuesday.

Gregorio Borgia / Associated Press.
Pope Francis gives the thumbs up to the crowd as he arrives in St. Peter’s Square for his inauguration Mass at the Vatican on Tuesday.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis laid out the priorities of his pontificate during his installation Mass on Tuesday, urging the princes, presidents, sheiks and thousands of ordinary people attending to protect the environment, the weakest and the poorest and to let tenderness “open up a horizon of hope.”

It was a message Francis has hinted at in his first week as pontiff, when his gestures of simplicity often spoke louder than his words. But on a day when he had the world’s economic, political and religious leadership sitting before him on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica for the official start of his papacy, Francis made his point clear.

“Please,” he told them. “Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

The Argentine native is the first pope from Latin America and the first named for the 13th-century friar St. Francis of Assisi, whose life’s work was to care for nature, the poor and most disadvantaged.

The Vatican said between 150,000-200,000 people attended the Mass, held under bright blue skies after days of chilly rain and featuring flag-waving fans from around the world.

In Buenos Aires, thousands of people packed the central Plaza di Mayo square to watch the ceremony on giant TV screens, erupting in joy when Francis called them from Rome, his words broadcast over loudspeakers.

“I want to ask a favor,” Francis told them. “I want to ask you to walk together, and take care of one another. … And don’t forget that this bishop who is far away loves you very much. Pray for me.”

Back in Rome, Francis was interrupted by applause several times during his homily, including when he urged the faithful not to allow “omens of destruction,” hatred, envy and pride to “defile our lives.”

Francis said the role of the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics is to open his arms and protect all of humanity, but “especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.”

“Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others,” he said. “To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.”

After the celebrations die down, Francis has his work cut out for him as he confronts a church in crisis: Retired Pope Benedict XVI spent eight years trying to reverse the decline of Christianity in Europe, without much success.

While growing in Africa and Asia, the Catholic Church has been stained in Europe, Australia and the Americas by sexual abuse scandals. Closer to home, Francis is facing serious management shortcomings in a Vatican bureaucracy in dire need of reform.

Francis hasn’t offered any hint of how he might tackle those greater problems, focusing instead on crowd-pleasing messages and gestures that signal a total shift in priority and personality from his German theologian predecessor.

On Wednesday, Francis may give a hint about his ecumenical intentions, as he holds an audience with Christian delegations who attended his installation. On Friday, he will put his foreign policy chops on display in an address to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

Saturday he calls on Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat south of Rome, and Sunday celebrates Palm Sunday Mass, another major celebration in St. Peter’s Square.

He then presides over all the rites of Holy Week, capped by Easter Sunday Mass on March 31, when Christians mark the resurrection of Christ, an evocative start to a pontificate.

Francis, 76, thrilled the crowd at the start of the Mass by taking a long round-about through the sun-drenched piazza, shouting “Ciao!” at well-wishers and kissing babies handed up to him.

At one point, as he neared a group of people in wheelchairs, he signaled for the jeep to stop, hopped off, and went to bless a disabled man held up to the barricade by an aide and kiss him on his forehead. It was a gesture from a man whose short papacy so far is becoming defined by such spontaneous forays into the crowd that seem to surprise and concern his security guards.

“I like him because he loves the poor,” said 7-year-old Pietro Loretti, who attended the Mass from Barletta in southern Italy. Another child in the crowd, 9-year-old Benedetta Vergetti from Cervetri near Rome, also skipped school to attend.

“I like him because he’s sweet like my Dad.”

The blue and white flags from Argentina fluttered above the crowd, which Italian media initially estimated could reach 1 million. Civil protection crews closed the main streets leading to the square to traffic and set up barricades for nearly a mile (two kilometers) along the route to try to control the masses and allow official delegations through.

At the start of the Mass, Francis received a gold-plated silver fisherman’s ring symbolizing the papacy and a woolen stole symbolizing his role as shepherd of his flock. The ring was something of a hand-me-down, first offered to Pope Paul VI, the pope who presided over the latter half of the Second Vatican Council, the meetings that brought the Church into the modern world.

Francis also received vows of obedience from a half-dozen cardinals — a potent symbol given Benedict XVI is still alive and was reportedly watching the proceedings on TV.

A cardinal intoned the rite of inauguration, saying: “The Good Shepherd charged Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep; today you succeed him as the bishop of this church.”

Some 132 official delegations attended, including more than a half-dozen heads of state from Latin America, a sign of the significance of the election for the region. Francis’s determination that his pontificate would be focused on the poor has resonance in a poverty-stricken region that counts 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.

In the VIP section was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Taiwanese President Ying-Jeou Ma, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Prince Albert of Monaco and Bahrain Prince Sheik Abdullah bin Haman bin Isa Alkhalifa, among others. All told, six sovereign rulers, 31 heads of state, three princes and 11 heads of government were attending, the Vatican said.

Francis directed his homily to them, saying: “We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!”

After the Mass, Francis stood in a receiving line for nearly two hours to greet each of the government delegations in St. Peter’s Basilica, chatting warmly and animatedly with each one, kissing the few youngsters who came along with their parents and occasionally blessing a rosary given to him. Unlike his predecessors, he did so in just his white cassock, not the red cape.

Among the religious VIPs attending was the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, who became the first patriarch from the Istanbul-based church to attend a papal investiture since the two branches of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago. Also attending for the first time was the chief rabbi of Rome. Their presence underscores the broad hopes for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue in this new papacy given Francis’ own work for improved relations.

In a gesture to Christians in the East, the pope prayed with Eastern rite Catholic patriarchs and archbishops before the tomb of St. Peter at the start of the Mass and the Gospel was chanted in Greek rather than the traditional Latin.

But it is Francis’ history of living with the poor and working for them while archbishop of Buenos Aires that seems to have resonated with ordinary Catholics who say they are hopeful that Francis can inspire a new generation of faithful who have fallen away from the church.

“As an Argentine, he was our cardinal. It’s a great joy for us,” said Edoardo Fernandez Mendia, from the Argentine Pampas who was in the crowd. “I would have never imagined that it was going to be him.”

Recalling another great moment in Argentine history, when soccer great Diego Maradona scored an improbable goal in the 1986 World Cup, he said: “And for the second time, the Hand of God came to Argentina.”