Saturday, September 15, 2012

President Obama Speaks at Ceremony for Benghazi Victims

President Obama delivers remarks at a ceremony marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya.

Friday, September 14, 2012

White House Briefs

'SUNY Campuses Have Been Alerted to the Threats Happening Nationally'

Governor Cuomo Reassures the Public in the Wake of University Bomb Threats in Other Parts of the Country

1:48 pm - The following statement has just been released by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo:

"While there are no reports of any threats on SUNY or private campuses in New York State, the safety of our students and the security of our campuses is our top priority. 

"In response to reports of bomb threats at college campuses in other areas of the country, I have directed Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, Commissioner of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Jerry Hauer, and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to coordinate and monitor this situation and be prepared should there be any reports of similar threats at campuses in New York State.

"SUNY campuses have been alerted to the threats happening nationally and are following standard procedures to ensure the safety and security of students, faculty, and our campus communities. I encourage all students, faculty and New Yorkers to remain vigilant and to contact local law enforcement in case of an emergency."

Details on the bomb threats are available in this report by the Los Angeles Times.

West Wing Week: 09/14/12

This week, the President and his administration commemorated the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and addressed the attack on the American embassy in Libya. We also took the Rhodes Traveled for a look back at the meaning of honoring 9/11.

New York City Passes Ban on Sale of Giant Sodas

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Prosecuting Wall Street

Why has Wall Street not been held accountable for crimes connected to the deepest recession since the Great Depression?

U.S. Debt and the 2012 Election

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) talked about national debt and budget deficit reduction. He said that he was not worried about the "fiscal cliff," referring to impending tax increases and budget cuts at the end of 2012 if Congress cannot reach a new budget agreement, focusing instead on the financial health of Medicare and his belief that the only way to save the program is to change it.

HCR Provides $72 Million to Build Affordable Housing Across New York State

Funding Expected to Leverage Hundreds of Millions in Public and Private Resources

Funding in the amount of $72 million is available through New York State Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) for shovel-ready projects to build affordable housing units across the state.

"As New York's economy gets back on track, these funds will help launch shovel-ready projects across the state, creating jobs while building affordable housing for our residents," Governor Cuomo said.

"With a streamlined application process, New York State is removing the barriers that for too long held back economic development and made our government inefficient. These funds will leverage millions of dollars in private resources, creating valuable partnerships as we work to rebuild communities and create jobs in all corners of the state."

HCR Commissioner/CEO Darryl C. Towns added, "Governor Andrew Cuomo has charged state agencies to bring state resources together with local and federal resources in the most productive way. For us, that means working with our partners to create and preserve affordable housing, thereby growing the economy and growing jobs. We will be looking for projects that will make a difference in local communities, and will leverage other resources, both public and private.”

The funds are available through HCR's Unified Funding Application, a single-source process to apply for several funding streams for affordable, multifamily developments.

The unified application streamlines the process, as part of the Governor's efforts to break down the inefficient and duplicative silos that had previously governed state funding.

The $72 million is expected to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private resources.

In 2011, HCR made 35 awards, totaling $78 million in low-interest loans and tax credits to build and preserve 2,200 units of affordable housing.

The projects leveraged over $500 million in grants, loans and private resources.

In this round of funding, applicants will compete for: low-interest loans through the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund Program (HTF); Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC); the HOME Capital Program; and State Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (SLIHC). Specifically, applications will be accepted for: 

HTF - $32 million

LIHTC - $25 million
O $22,000/unit maximum
O $1.43 million/project maximum ($1.65 million for projects in which 50% or more of the units built will serve large families or persons with special needs)

HOME Capital - $11 million (subject to availability of appropriations)

SLIHC - $4 million
O $20,000/unit maximum
O $750,000/project maximum

The application and reference materials are available on the HCR website. Posted deadlines for Early Round projects will be Thursday, October 25, 2012, with other project applications due November 29th 2012.

Additionally, the Governor announced that three Unified Funding Application workshops will be held by HCR staff statewide. The schedule is as follows: 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Rochester City Council Chambers
City Hall - Room 302
30 Church St.
Rochester, NY

Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 10:00 AM 
Hampton Plaza Ballroom
38-40 State Street 
Albany, NY 

New York City
Friday, September 21, 2012 at 10:30 AM
25 Beaver St., Room 510
New York, NY

Visit the following website for more information on HCR's Unified Funding:  

Today in History: September 14th

Highlights of this day in history: America mourns victims of Sept. 11th attacks; Theodore Roosevelt becomes President; 'The Star-Spangled Banner' written; Monaco's Princess Grace dies; Baseball season cancelled due to players' strike. (Sept. 14)

Federal Court Blocks Indefinite Military Detention in NDAA

Sources:The Young TurksPoliticoWXIX
The New York TimesThe Guardian

By Madison Mack

Anchor: Christina Hartman

Video courtesy of

Obama's Drone War: Newsy In-Depth

 Sources:The New York TimesWXIX
New America FoundationSlateThe Washington Post
Al JazeeraThe GuardianThe New York Times
The White House 

By Madison Mack
Anchor: Christina Hartman

Video courtesy of

Protests in Cairo Test Shaky US-Egypt Relations

Demonstrations in Cairo against an anti-Islam film have entered their fourth day. In the past, Egypt has been a strong political ally of the United States, and it continues to receive more than one billion dollars in aid each year. But the latest wave of violence is putting a strain on the relationship. President Obama said, "I don't think that -- we would consider them an ally. But we don't consider them an enemy." Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan reports from Washington D.C.

Libya Launches Probe into US Embassy Attack

Libya has launched an investigation into Tuesday's attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed. Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid has been inside what is left of the consulate buildings. She reports from Benghazi.

South Africa Miners Call for National Strike

The leader of a major protest by South African platinum miners has called for a national strike in the sector, deepening an industrial crisis that has escalated over the past few months, and spurred violence that left 45 people killed at the Lonmin operated Marikana mine. Miners from the Anglo American platinum mine (Amplats), joined forces with their colleagues from Marikana at the Blesbok stadium in the heart of the platinum belt near Rustenburg, 100km northwest of Johannesburg on Thursday in a show of solidarity against low wages. Al Jazeera's Tanya Page reports from Mooinooi, South Africa.

Philadelphia Honors Muhammad Ali with Liberty Award

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has become the first athlete to receive the prestigious Liberty Award in the US. It's for his work outside the ring as a social activist. Ali also received $100,000 in cash prize. But there was a time when he was wildly vilified including the time when he dropped his old name Cassius Clay and converted to Islam. Today, however, Ali, who at 70 is suffering from Parkinson's disease, is one of the most beloved and idolized athletes in the world. Al Jazeera's Cath Turner reports from Philadelphia.

Nepal Family Seeks Justice for the Missing

Six years after Nepal's civil war ended, hundreds of people who disappeared while in state custody, are still missing. It's presumed many of them were killed but no-one has ever been prosecuted. Now, the government is proposing plans to grant amnesty to alleged human rights violators, many of whom continue to serve in senior positions. Al Jazeera's Subina Shrestha reports from Southern Nepal.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Attack on U.S. Consulate in Libya, Mitt Romney's Statement

On September 12, Mitt Romney made a statement on the killing of the American ambassador and three staffers in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. He also criticized the Obama administration for giving "mixed signals" in its response. Afterward, he answered questions from reporters.

Editor's note: Rather than post a two-three minute "sound bite" of the GOP presidential candidate's comments, From The G-Man believes it is in the best interest of the public to post the press conference in its entirety....without bias or opinion.  

President Obama's Rosh Hashanah Greeting

The President extends his warmest wishes to all those celebrating the Jewish HIgh Holidays.

Oval Office Chat Session: Obama and Hadi

The President Thanked Yemeni Leader for "His Swift Condemnation of Today's Violence" 

This afternoon, President Obama called Yemeni President Hadi to discuss the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a and express concern about the security of American personnel and diplomatic facilities in Yemen.  

President Obama thanked President Hadi for his swift condemnation of today’s violence, and welcomed the announcement that an investigation into the incident is already underway.

President Obama expressed appreciation for the cooperation we have received from the Yemeni government and underscored the importance of working together to ensure the security of U.S. personnel going forward.  

President Hadi committed to doing everything possible to protect American citizens in Yemen, and said he had deployed additional security forces around the U.S. Embassy.  

President Obama reiterated his rejection of any efforts to denigrate Islam, and emphasized that there is never any justification for the violence we are seeing.  

President Obama concluded the call by expressing his appreciation for the strong partnership between our two nations and reaffirming our commitment to supporting the Yemeni government and people during their historic transition.

A Closer Look at U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens

John McCain on Libya, Romney and the Mideast

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Moyers Moment (2009): William Black on What Inspires Financial Fraud

Air Date: September 11, 2012
The veteran bank regulator describes how fraud and deceit caused the country's economic meltdown, which got its start four years ago this week.

Tavis Smiley: Poverty is the New Slavery

According to a new report, poverty in America has reached its highest level since 1965 - a source of concern for "Sunday Morning" contributor Tavis Smiley, who says poverty "threatens our democracy."

'Three Women Still Die Every Day as a Result of Domestic Violence'

Statement by Vice President Biden on the 18th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act 

Eighteen years ago today, the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law. It was founded on the basic premise that every woman deserves to be safe from violence, and since its passage, we have made tremendous strides towards achieving that goal. We gave law enforcement and the courts more tools to combat domestic violence and hold offenders accountable. We created a national hotline to direct victims to life-saving assistance. And since VAWA passed, annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent. 

But we still have much work to do. Three women still die every day as a result of domestic violence. One in five women have been raped, many as teenagers, and one in six women have been victims of stalking. While women and girls face these devastating realities every day, reauthorization of a strengthened VAWA languishes in Congress. VAWA is just as important today as it was when it first became law, and I urge Congress to keep the promise we made to our daughters and our granddaughters on that day—that we would work together to keep them safe. 

Oval Office Chat Session: Obama, Magariaf and Morsi

Leaders Discussed the Tense Situation in Libya and Stressed Cooperation

The following was submitted by the Office of the White House Press Secretary.

On September 12, President Obama called President Mohamed Magariaf of Libya. It was their first conversation since President Magariaf’s election last month. 

President Obama thanked President Magariaf for extending his condolences for the tragic deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, and two other State Department officers in Benghazi.

President Obama also expressed appreciation for the cooperation we have received from the Libyan government and people in responding to this outrageous attack, and said that the Libyan government must continue to work with us to assure the security of our personnel going forward.

The President made it clear that we must work together to do whatever is necessary to identify the perpetrators of this attack and bring them to justice.

The two Presidents agreed to work closely over the course of this investigation.

The President reaffirmed our support for Libya’s democratic transition, a cause Ambassador Stevens believed in deeply and did so much to advance, and he welcomed the election of a new prime minister yesterday to help lead the Libyan government’s efforts to improve security, counter extremism, and advance its democracy.

President Obama also called Egyptian President Morsi to review the strategic partnership between the United States and Egypt, and our ongoing efforts to strengthen bilateral economic and security cooperation.

Given recent events, and consistent with our interest in a relationship based on mutual interests and mutual respect, President Obama underscored the importance of Egypt following through on its commitment to cooperate with the United States in securing U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel.

The President said that he rejects efforts to denigrate Islam, but underscored that there is never any justification for violence against innocents and acts that endanger American personnel and facilities.

President Morsi expressed his condolences for the tragic loss of American life in Libya and emphasized that Egypt would honor its obligation to ensure the safety of American personnel.

Politics in Action: H.J. Res. 117 and H.R. 6365


H.J. Res. 117 – Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013
(Rep. Rogers, R-KY)

The Administration supports House passage of H.J. Res. 117, making continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2013, and for other purposes.  Reflecting a compromise, the legislation adheres to the funding level agreed to by both parties and excludes ideological or extraneous policy riders that have no place in funding legislation.  H.J. Res. 117 allows critical Government functions to operate without interruption in order to protect national security and ensure that Americans continue to receive vital services and benefits in a timely manner.  The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress on appropriations legislation for the remainder of the fiscal year that honors the Budget Control Act, preserves critical national priorities, and makes investments to spur economic growth and job creation for years to come.

H.R. 6365 – National Security and Job Protection Act
(Rep. West, R-FL, and 2 cosponsors)

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 6365, the National Security and Job Protection Act.  The bill's unbalanced approach breaks the agreement reached in the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) and fails the test of fairness and shared responsibility.  Upon the enactment of unspecified spending cuts, H.R. 6365 would reduce discretionary funding below the level agreed upon in the BCA for FY 2013.  Similar to the House Budget Resolution, this reduction would lead to destructive cuts in investments critical to the Nation's economic future, ranging from education to research and development to infrastructure.  Like the House resolution, this bill does not require the elimination of across-the-board cuts to mandatory domestic programs, including Medicare.  The bill also rejects any effort to achieve deficit reduction by asking the most fortunate Americans to pay their fair share.

The BCA, including the sequestration mechanism, was passed in both chambers of the Congress with majorities in both parties.  The sequestration is now scheduled to occur because the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, established by the BCA, did not achieve at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.  As the Administration has long said, the sequestration would be highly destructive to both defense and non-defense priorities.  It was intended only to serve the function of forcing compromise on a balanced package of deficit reduction that could replace the sequester in its entirety.  H.R. 6365, which contains no elements of compromise, fails to replace the entire sequester in FY 2013, fails to eliminate any of the reductions beyond FY 2013, and fails to ask the most fortunate Americans to pay their fair share. 

Moreover, the requirement that the President transmit to the Congress by October 15, 2012 a legislative proposal that meets the Act's deficit reduction targets is unconstitutional.  The President has already submitted proposals for balanced deficit reduction, and the Administration is ready to work with the Congress to pass a comprehensive deficit reduction package. 

The Administration strongly opposes the approach in H.R. 6365.  If the President is presented with H.R. 6365, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

Cuomo Seeks to Improve Access to Legal Services for Seniors and the Disabled

“Think Group” Will Devise a Blueprint for Enhancing Access to Affordable Legal Services

A partnership between the State Office for the Aging, the State Office of Court Administration and the New York State Bar Association has been fostered in order to find new ways to better provide affordable legal services to senior citizens and New Yorkers with disabilities. 

"Access to affordable legal services is of utmost importance, particularly for senior citizens and residents with disabilities," Governor Cuomo said.

"This partnership builds on efforts the state has already taken to ensure that New Yorkers with disabilities are treated fairly and have proper access to the same avenues of justice that are available to others.”

The collaborative effort will identify the legal needs and barriers to justice faced by older adults and individuals with disabilities.

The partners involved in the effort will develop a strategic plan to more effectively use existing resources, including attorney pro bono programs, to target areas of greatest need. 

For older New Yorkers and individuals with disabilities, access to affordable legal services can be a critical factor in their ability to continue to live in their homes and communities of choice.

Financial, health care, and family problems can also pose complicated legal issues. To determine the adequacy of existing programs, the partnership will assess legal needs and identify legal assistance programs and resources.

It will survey legal services providers, attorneys, judges, the general public, and county-based agencies on aging that administer the State Office for the Aging’s Legal Assistance Program.

It also will develop an inventory of legal resources and perform an access-to-justice gap analysis.

A “Think Group”—composed of attorneys, judges, health care professionals, experts on aging and disabilities, and others—will devise a blueprint for enhancing access to affordable legal services by the targeted populations and their caregivers. 

The partnership is expected to yield a variety of educational programs and tools, including an interactive website, a series of community forums to raise awareness about the legal issues often faced by the targeted populations, an elder preparedness self-assessment tool, an elder law treatise for attorneys and other professionals, and strategies for increasing the availability of free and low-cost legal services.

The partnership was facilitated by Robert Abrams, Esq., a long-time practitioner and advocate in the field of elder law.

“We are thrilled to be part of this exciting partnership. The New York State Office for the Aging administers a Legal Assistance Program for older adults who, due to economic or social need, would not likely be able to obtain the assistance of an attorney, impeding access to justice,” said Greg Olsen, Acting Director of the New York State Office for the Aging.

“These citizens have a right to receive the help they need in seeking justice related to issues around housing, health and long-term care, financial exploitation, physical and mental abuse, guardianship, employment, discrimination, caregiving, and many more.” 

“Ensuring meaningful access to justice for all New Yorkers is fundamental to the court system's constitutional mandate and a priority for Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. The legal services needs of the elderly, those with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations continue to grow as we grapple with the persistent effects of the economic downturn,” noted New York State Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti.

“I am delighted that the Office of Court Administration, the New York State court system’s administrative arm, has been given the opportunity to be a part of this collaborative, multifaceted undertaking that seeks solutions, compatible with today’s fiscal realities, to enhance legal access for members of these populations and their caregivers. Having access to adequate, affordable civil legal services is so crucial in achieving just outcomes, often making the difference between having shelter and becoming homeless, and securing or losing access to health care and other basic needs. I look forward to the progress that this unique partnership will bring to this critical area.” 

Seymour W. James, Jr., President of the New York State Bar Association, added, “The ability to access legal advice can make an enormous difference in the well-being of older adults and individuals with disabilities. Our members help address these needs by volunteering countless hours of pro bono services each year. The New York State Bar Association is pleased to join efforts to determine how best to meet the legal needs of these vulnerable populations.”

NY Initiative Will Allow Police to Access DMV Info

Reforms Include Granting Access to DMV Data Using a Secure Internet Portal

On September 12, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new data sharing initiative that will give law enforcement agencies greater and instantaneous access to information housed by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) through a secure internet portal.

This information includes photos of all New York State drivers and non-drivers, vehicle registrations, drivers’ lifetime driving histories, as well as real-time notifications of traffic violations and other changes to a driver’s record.

“This initiative adds another tool for law enforcement, making it easier for them to identify, find and arrest suspects,” Governor Cuomo said.

“Providing better access to DMV information is part of an ongoing effort to make state government more productive, effective and streamlined.”

The initiative will provide law enforcement with expanded and faster access to:

The LAWMAN Database

The LAWMAN database includes approximately 15.6 million registration files which is every vehicle registered in New York State. These files are critical in helping law enforcement identify and arrest suspects based on available information about vehicles such as partial license plate numbers.

Currently, the New York State Police must perform all LAWMAN searches for vehicle registration information on behalf of law enforcement agencies around the state. This initiative allows all law enforcement agencies to have direct access to the LAWMAN database over a secure internet site, even when they are in their patrol cars as long as the car has internet access.

By streamlining this process, law enforcement can save staff time and produce greater efficiency for taxpayers. Usage will be audited by the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) on an ongoing basis to ensure appropriate usage to maintain the protection of privacy. 

NYS Driver License and Non-Driver ID Photos

DMV Photo is a database of approximately 16 million photo images of New York State drivers and non-drivers. DMV Photo allows officers to compare a driver’s license photo against a person’s appearance.

Currently, to obtain a driver license or non-driver ID photo, a law enforcement agency has to be authorized based on a set of complex criteria. This new initiative opens the process, allowing each law enforcement agency the opportunity to set up a protocol to request photos.

Once a police department sets up its specific protocol, its officers will be able to access the photos in any internet-enabled patrol car. Usage of DMV Photo will also be continually audited by DCJS to ensure appropriate usage.

Complete Driving Histories

The new initiative will provide prosecutors with the entire driving history of a driver. Currently, only the last four years of a person’s driving record is available to prosecutors or, in the case of a DWI conviction, the previous 10 years. A full driving history will help prosecutors make appropriate charging and sentencing recommendations. 

The LENS System

Currently, over 30,000 individuals in New York State are on parole or probation for driving-related crimes whose driving privileges have been suspended or restricted. The DMV-maintained “LENS” system is being modified to enable law enforcement to receive real-time notifications of tickets issued to drivers under such supervision.

Parole and probation officers can enroll in this service and will be notified automatically if an individual under their supervision receives a traffic ticket, indicating that he or she has violated the terms and conditions of his or her parole or probation by driving. This  access will be limited to law enforcement only and will allow for better monitoring of problem drivers to protect public safety.

Today in History: September 13th

Highlights of this day in history: Israel and the Palestinians sign a major accord; President George W. Bush takes responsibility for the federal response to Hurricane Katrina; Attica prison uprising ends; Rapper Tupac Shakur dies. (Sept. 13)

Special Counsel Cites HHS Secretary for Hatch Act Violation

Sources:PBSThe Daily CallerThe Federal Times

By Christina Hartman

Anchor: Christina Hartman

Video courtesy of

Navy Warships, Marines, Drones Headed to Libya After Attacks

Sources:BBCPoliticoFox News

By Christina Hartman

Anchor: Christina Hartman

Video courtesy of

Was Romney Wrong to Criticize Obama in Libya Statement?

Sources:Embassy of the United StatesYouTube
CBSTIMEWikimedia CommonsWeekly Standard

By Shanley Reynolds

Anchor: Christina Hartman

Video courtesy of

The Film: What We Know

Let's take a closer look at the film that seems to have provoked violence and protest in Libya and Egypt, and now, Tunisia.

Egypt Protests Continue Against Anti-Muhammad Film

Despite the government's call for calm, a few dozen protesters showed up outside the U.S. embassy. The prosecutor general said four people are being questioned after protesters on Tuesday climbed over the embassy's walls and took down the U.S. flag. Nine Coptic Egyptian-Americans were also put on an airport watch list. They are believed to have contributed to the production of the anti-Islam movie that led to the embassy protest. The man behind the protests says he just wants to combat insults against Islam through legal and peaceful means. Wesam Abdel Wareth, the protest organiser, has said his group is not happy that young people who joined their protest brought down the US flag. He also says there was no co-ordination with protesters in Libya, and condemned the violence there. Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh reports from Cairo, Egypt.

U.S. Begins Investigation into Benghazi Attack

The U.S. government has begun its investigation into how a well-armed group of men was able to kill the American ambassador to Libya in an assault on the US consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday. The attack came amid a protest against a YouTube movie made in America and aimed at insulting the prophet Muhammed. It was the first time a US ambassador was killed in the line of duty in 33 years. Ambassador Christopher Stevens had been the chief diplomatic liaison with Libyan rebels struggling to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and, prior to that, had served as the second-ranking diplomat in Libya during Gaddafi's reign. Patty Culhane reports from Washington DC.

U.S. Crops in a Poor State

The U.S. has released a much-awaited report into the state of the country's corn and soy bean crops. G20 leaders will use the figures to decide whether or not joint action is needed to stop the price of food from rising worldwide. Al Jazeera's John Hendren reports from Brookston, Indiana, in the Midwest.

Maoist Leader's Influence Persists in Peru

Peru's government is marking two decades since the arrest of Abimael Guzman. The former university professor led the Shining Path rebels during Peru's brutal Maoist insurgency. Even today, however, his legacy lives on and the Shining Path still poses a headache for the government. Al Jazeera's Gerald Tan reports.

Myanmar's Rohingyas Unlikely to Return Home

Buddhist and Muslim Rohingya communities in Myanmar are far from resolving their religious differences. The government was forced to declare a state of emergency in June after fighting between Buddhists and Muslims left at least 80 people dead. Even as the two parties seek reconciliation, mutual distrust lingers thus making the Rohingya's efforts to return to their violence-torn province unlikely. Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay reports from Sittwe, Myanmar.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Claims Victory

Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime minister, has claimed victory in the country's parliamentary elections. Preliminary results show his center-right Liberal Party won 41 seats in the 150 member house. Earlier Dutch Labour Leader Diederik Samsom conceded defeat with 39 seats. Al Jazeera's Simon McGregor-Wood reports.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Journalism Trailblazers: Mike Hodge/"The Metro 7"

"The Metro 7" pictured from the left: Michael B. Hodge, Ivan C. Brandon, LaBarbara Bowman, Leon Dash, Penny Mickelbury, Ronald A. Taylor; Richard Prince and attorney Clifford Alexander at March 23, 1972, news conference. Credit: Ellsworth Davis/Washington Post (Click photos to increase size.) 

Member of Legendary Group 
Discusses Landmark Washington Post Case, Its Impact, and the “Abysmal” State of Journalism


The following is an excerpt from a 2002 article written by Steven Gray, a reporter and member of the National Association of Black Journalists, in recognition of the 30th anniversary of the landmark 1972 discrimination suit filed by seven reporters against the Washington Post. The group became known as the "Metro 7".  

"In August, six former Washington Post reporters met at a colleague's home for a commemoration. Not to mark the 30th anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, but of a landmark Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint charging the newspaper with discrimination against its black employees.

"The case, believed to be the first of its kind against a major American newspaper, unarguably accelerated the hiring and promotion of scores of journalists of color. More important, it helped solidify the role of black journalists in the interpretation of contemporary American history. Yet, it seems the complaint and its significance has been largely ignored. There was no formal recognition of it scheduled at this year's NABJ convention in Milwaukee, where we relished in the ascension of more blacks to top newspaper posts." 

Gray's article can be read in its entirety here.

On September 10, From The G-Man contacted "Metro 7" member Mike B. Hodge to discuss his career, the editorial policies and racial atmosphere at the Washington Post, then and now, and the current state of journalism in America.  

G-Man: Who or what inspired you to become a journalist? 

Hodge: I was always a writer. The first toy I remember ever having was a typewriter. 

G-Man: With regard to journalism, what type of training did you receive?

Hodge: I went to the West Virginia University School of Journalism. I was in the  integrated class. In the four years I was there, I was the only Black-American male in the editorial department. There was another guy, Chris Nowoboda, who was from Nigeria. He was the best writer in the class. I thought I was good, but he was great. I loved that.  

G-Man: Do you recall the very first news story you worked on? 

 The first story I covered as a professional was on policing in the District of Columbia. It used to be that when the DC Police Department did recruiting, they would go all over the country, including the South, and the only requirement was that you had to have an 11th grade education, as I recall. It may have been a high school diploma, but I am almost certain completing the 11th grade was all they required. They would get a lot of guys from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, places like that. And they would come up, get the job and live in Prince Georges County, which, in those days, was very much poor and largely white. The department struggled with a lot of charges of abuse, police overreach and out and out racism. The story that I was asked to cover was a few years after the department changed its policies to require that applicants have at least two years of college and they must live in the district. Those two changes made a tremendous difference in the relationship the police had with the residents of the city. Everything got better.

G-Man: Did you ever have any reason to believe that race would play a factor when you decided to become a journalist?

Hodge: I knew, but I had no idea what it really meant. My world view was totally segregated, Black and White. So there was no choice but for it to be a factor. But I was hopeful, given the fact I was a reporter at a liberal newspaper, that it would be okay. What I failed to realize was even though the organization was liberal, the individuals who put it together, weren't necessarily. 

G-Man: As history clearly shows, race did become a factor in your career. However, you and six other reporters did something extraordinary to change that and the state of journalism in America. For those who may not be aware, especially young people, describe what the "Metro 7" did that completely transformed the Washington Post and the news industry. 

Hodge: Well, initially, there were nine of us. Ultimately, the group was reduced to seven.  While the Washington Post probably had the largest number of Black employees than any other mainstream news organization in the country, they were a little disconcerted when we threatened to file an EEOC complaint against them. Our lawyer was Clifford Alexander, who was the first chair of the federal EEOC. We wanted to file a lawsuit, but he felt an EEO complaint would be just as significant for a newspaper with the reputation of the Washington Post. Initially, they were quite defensive and not happy. The executive editor, Ben Bradlee, gave us an opportunity to air our grievances. We laid out our issues, and he heard and understood them. I think there was a list of maybe nine or ten complaints.

There were two specific complaints that I felt were very important. The first involved the absence of Black assignment editors. Because there was no editor of color on the assignment desk, all the Black reporters were only assigned Black stories. Now, I don't think any of us had a problem with that, but when you went out and did the story, often the White editor would nitpicked over it because it didn't fit his perception of what the Black community was supposed to be. It was no fun having someone who lived in the suburbs telling me how I got the story about the Black mother in the hood wrong.

The other issue, which I clearly remember, was raised in effort to help all of the Washington Post reporters. The system that was originally in place would have you do a story and drop it in the editor's in-box when it was finished. If it was a piece for the following day, for the most part, no problem. But if it was a feature, which I did a fair amount of, I would still dropped it in the box. An editor would read it, at some point, and give it back to me with his notes. Incidentally, besides being White, all the editors of that period were men. I would rewrite the story, make the requested changes, hand it back in, and then another editor would read it. 

There was one story that I did where the editor asked me to make three specific changes. I rewrote it exactly as suggested and handed it in. Another editor got hold of it and, lo and behold, the only notes I got were about the changes that I made to my initial story. Basically, I was told to go back to my original version. It was extremely frustrating!

G-Man: Can you cite one example of "in-your-face" racism that you or a member of the Metro 7 experienced at the paper? 

Hodge: Racism in those days wasn't quite that blatant. You have to remember this was a collection of sophisticated and educated people. And as I said earlier, the only stories I was assigned -- until my last year or so -- were in the Black community. So the blatant racism wasn't at work. However, it did exist in the city. I happened to live downtown in a fairly large building, and I was one of two Black people in it. The other person was a guy who was living there with his White girlfriend. I was often mistaken for the delivery boy. Whenever I got on the elevator, whoever was on it would get off. I just got used to it. They were mostly old people who moved from further out in the city when the neighborhoods had become too dark for them.
G-Man: Did the Metro 7 receive a great deal of support from white colleagues at the Washington Post?

Hodge: I think they were concerned for our well-being, initially, but they did support us. In fact, our success ushered in an opportunity for women working at the Washington Post to file a similar EEO complaint.

G-Man: Was the late Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Carl T. Rowan working at the publication? If so, what was his reaction to what you and the other six reporters were doing?  

Hodge: Carl was actually syndicated, at that point, and worked out of his own offices. I never met him. The columnist who was most impactful for us was William Raspberry, who was just a few years older. Initially, Bill was a little leery of what we were doing. But by the time we actually did it, he stood with us and supported us. Bill recently died. He was a trailblazer in many amazing ways. I would like to state something for the record. Black reporters were working at the publication before we got there, but they were very specific. For example, Robert Maynard, a Neiman Fellow, worked on the National Desk. When I got there, Dorothy Gilliam was on leave of absence. 

G-Man: As far as you know, 40 years later, has the atmosphere or situation improved at the Washington Post?

Hodge: Actually, it has. There have been numerous urban columnists - that's the euphemism for Black. Currently, Milton Coleman is the Deputy Managing Editor, having worked his way up after joining the staff in 1976.

Bill McCreary, Les Payne and the late Gil Noble are legendary journalists that earned numerous awards throughout their career, but, with all due respect, they never obtained the same level of visibility as their white colleagues Tom Brokaw, Mike Wallace and the late Peter Jennings. McCreary, Payne and Noble are household names, but the majority of those households are Black. 

To date, aside from Max Robinson, no Black has hosted a nightly news program on a major network. Moreover, the Connie Chung, Katie Couric -- and most recently Christiane Amanpour -- "experiments" appeared to be an exercise in futility. Do you have a theory as to why high-profile Black reporters and women continue to have problems obtaining or maintaining coveted time-slots at major networks?

Hodge: I think, in general, we are still very much a nation cauterized on race and ethnicity. As much as we celebrate the inclusiveness of different cultures, there are still many who believe that a true American is a White Anglo-Saxon. Hence, all of the noise about President Obama's "otherness" and claims about not being born here and being a Muslim, even though both of those things have proved to be untrue. 

G-Man: Overall, how would you describe the current state of journalism in America?

Hodge: Abysmal. There has been a downward spiral over the last 30 years. The airwaves were always viewed as belonging to the people and the networks and radio station owners would have to apply for a license every so many years. In exchange for a fee and the promise to do a certain amount of public service programming, they could keep their licenses. Also, news divisions were never viewed as money-makers. They were image makers. CBS was known as the Tiffany network because they had a stellar news division. It spared no expense to get the story. It was the home of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Others strived to emulate them. Now, however, news organizations are either mandated to be profit-making, constrained by economics or both. For instance, all the major news organizations used to have bureaus around the world in major countries and hotspots. And now, they mostly conglomerate. Not good. 

The Metro 7 recently celebrated their 40th anniversary. They’re picture with others that worked with them at the Washington Post. Top row, from left: Ivan C. Brandon, Sandy Davis, Craig Herndon, Mike Hodge, Richard Prince, Leon Dash, Ronald A. Taylor. Bottom row: Hollie I. West, Angela Terrell, Alice C. Bonner, Bobbi Bowman, Courtland Milloy Jr. The seven were Brandon, Hodge, Prince, Dash, Taylor, Bowman and Penny Mickelbury, who was recovering from an injury and was unable to attend. Milloy, longtime columnist, joined the Post in 1975. (Courtesy of Craig Herndon).

G-Man: A few months ago, Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of Fox News, addressed 350 students, which included journalism students, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ailes basically told the journalism students to consider changing their major if they were "going into journalism because they cared". What do you think of his statement?
Hodge: Roger Ailes is one of the reasons the state of journalism is so bad and the country is in the state it is in. The Fourth Estate is supposed to be the independent observer of events and the check on the condition of state. Ailes has created a machine that is partisan and profit centered. They are decidedly Republican centric, which is the antithesis of what good journalism is.

G-Man: How did you become affiliated with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)?

Hodge: I had been a working member of the Guild for 20 years. We had what I consider an ill-advised strike. I discovered that much of our leadership had no real idea how unions worked, what their value was, or how a negotiation worked. I grew up in a union household, so I had some ideas about governing on all those levels. I didn't have the answers necessarily, but I knew that if I got involved I would at least be a good place holder and possibly a problem solver, rather than a bomb-thrower or someone who would create problems. 

G-Man: You have the floor. Is there anything you would like to say to fellow journalists, news directors, producers, and editors, or the public-at-large?   

Hodge: Journalism is something that is near and dear to my heart. It has an extreme importance in the fabric of our country. The reason I went into it was to cast an honest eye on those who are deemed to do the public good. It's really hard to be totally neutral and non-judgmental. I know that. But what passes for journalism nowadays, within many news organizations, is not neutral or non-judgmental at all.

One member of the Metro Seven just left her job as the editor of one of the Patch neighborhood newspapers. The clarifying moment for her came when she edited and published an article that made some major person in the community upset and her boss slammed her for it.

Back in the day, Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, gave her newsroom absolute freedom in covering the news. It didn't matter if it was a negative story about an advertiser or even herself. And she refused to have herself in the society pages unless there was a larger issue at hand. That kind of ethical journalism is hard to come by these days. 

From The G-Man proudly salutes Mike Hodge and the Metro 7 as American heroes.... and journalism trailblazers.