Friday, December 23, 2005

Baltimore is so Violent that Police Offiers...

Eugene Victor Perry Jr., 33, an officer with the Department of General Services,was being held without bail this morning on two counts of first-degree murder -- charged with killing his former fiancee and the man she was dating, both of them Baltimore City Police Officers. Vazquez, a 4 1/2 -year veteran of the city force, and Holliday, a newcomer to the force and mother of three, both worked the midnight shift at the department's Northwest District.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Revisited: Mawonaj

As a way to keep myself honest and accountable, I want to begin to revisit pieces that I have written in the past which have become problematic, in which my thoughts have changed or about which I have unresolved ambivalent feelings.

Today I want to begin with the most recent of such pieces: my recent comparison of the fire at Cafe Mawonaj with the flooding of New Orleans , and a "Mawonaj Update" in December.

Since the publication of these writings, I have learned a lot of things about Cafe Mawonaj and Concei, its current owner, that have caused me to SERIOUSLY rethink my position.

Up until the my December 9th post on Mawonaj, I did not take seriously any of the public accusations about Mawonaj on Indymedia because they were anonymous. As an open publishing forum, Indymedia has often been filled with . Since then people have taken responsibility for those accusations, including friends and colleagues of mine, as well DJ D'Salaam, host of a weekly event at Cafe Mawonaj. D'Salaam, along with others, claims to have been the recipient of unauthorized credit card charges by the restaurant.

My original piece shows some of my ambivalence toward Concei and his claims, qualifying Concei's claims by saying "according to the owners" and "Mawonaj has long claimed." I did, however, give them the benefit of the doubt because of the good work I had seen being done at Mawonaj and the prestige of DC organizations that Concei has worked with. His story about the fire and his interpretation of malicious intent were always suspicious, but again, I thought I would let his words speak for themselves.

New revelations about his relationship to the Common Ground clinic in New Orleans and the possible defrauding of Mawonaj's greatest supporters has left me also feeling defrauded, as someone who publicly supported Concei's statements following the fire. My skepticism of Concei's claims are so great that I think Mawonaj owes the community an opening of its books and its accounting for all supposed donations to orphanages in "Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to, as well ...[the] radio project in Senegal," and all donations on behalf of the Common Ground relief operation in New Orleans. Only with this accountability can the local community be confident that it is not being taken advantage of when we have resources to give in solidarity with activists in need. Only this way can the good work that Mawonaj has done (or at least claims to have done) be further developed and expanded.

The Big Story in Bolivia

Evo Morales has a commanding lead in the Bolivian elections and is all but assured the presidential seat. According to CNN, Morales has taken to calling himself "Washington's Nightmare." CNN, though paraphrases this as "America's nightmare." Evo Morales, quoting Simon Bolivar, would probably disaprove of the rewording.

Since Morales may not have more than %50 of the vote, the Bolivian congress may have the right to vote in another of the top leaders. Since Bolivian politics have been so unstable under governmental division since Morales' near victory three years ago, there may be more of an attempt to compromise by many local politically moderate actors.

However, the last time a Socialist president won the presidency of a South American country...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The LA Times, the Baltimore Sun and the Tribune Company

I do not normally pay much attention to the daily life of Barbara Streisand, but I was very interested to learn that she has cancelled her Los Angeles Times subscription after the paper fired columnist Robert Scheer. While the article I read in my local paper, the Baltimore Sun, suggested that this merely had to do with the loss of a "liberal columnist," I believe there is much more to this story. Indeed, the Baltimore Sun was bought by the Tribune Co. as part of the purchase of Times-Mirror Company whose flagship paper is the Los Angeles Times. At the time many commentators pointed out that the LA Times was a much more prestigious and important paper journalistically than the Chicago Tribune, which had been the flagship of the Tribune Company up until that point. This suggestion that the guppie was swallowing the whale of course ignored the business end of the newspaper business. The Tribune had been turning out much higher profits, allowing the paper`s owners to be the gobble up the Los Angeles Times despite the Tribune´s small standing within the study and field of journalism.

Since this purchase, I have seen the Tribune Company increasingly use syndicated columnists and reporters from its nationwide company and has even reformatted the Baltimore Sun so that it appears more like the most generic news paper in the Americas, the USA Today. The consolidation of ownership of the Baltimore Sun into larger and larger conglomerates was starting to homogenize its content. This process, of course, comes at the expense of Baltimore´s voice, individuality, and investigative reporting that made The Sun an exciting part of my life growing up in Baltimore. Even when I lived inside the Washington Beltway as a student at the University of Maryland, I usually preferred the Sun over the Washington Post because of its quality reporting and distinct Baltimore perspective.

The firing of Scheer, whom Streisand labels an independent voice "of dissent and groundbreaking expositional content," was part of this same process of homogenization that logically follows from the consolidation of for-profit media. While many people may not care what Barbara Streisand thinks, this process has had a great negative effect on US American media. One wonders, for example, what the effect of this lack of diversity in media ownership had on the run-up to the war in Iraq. While plenty of evidence existed that suggested that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor any ties to Al Qaeda, few media outlets questioned to audacious statements coming out of the whitehouse preparing this country for war. The American media, including the Tribune Company, surely shares some responsibility for the more than 100,000 Iraqis and 2,000 Americans whose lives have been lost in an Iraq without a clear purpose or plan.

Though occasional bright spots, such as the recent multi-part series on the lives of homeless students at Baltimore City Public Schools, have kept me reading the Sun since I moved back to Baltimore, I am considering switching my news source. Even if it isn´t the hometown perspective I can identify with, I want to get my information from sources I trust (which is increasingly not the case with the Tribune Company). Unfortunately, other major media outlets that used to feature quality reporting have lost my trust in different, if not wholly disimilar ways. I am, of course, referring to the Judith Miller´s reporting on Weapons of Mass Destruction for the New York Times and Bob Woodward´s relationship to the "Plamegate" affair while reporting for the Washington Post.

Indeed, I find myself increasingly using the BBC´s website for news while considering a subscription to the Financial Times of London, The Guardian of London, or La Jornada of Mexico City. One even wonders how much longer American news sources can be profitable while continuing to lose credibility and quality in their reporting.

Mawonaj update

Concei from Café Mawonaj has sent out an "Open Letter to the Community" that goes beyond what I have written previously.

This update includes a US Department of Justice link about what the café was like under previous owners:
Rick's Pool Hall
624 T Street, N.W.
(PSA 305) (Ward 1)

This Nuisance Property was originally a business, operating under the name "Rick's Billiards". Despite its purported operation as a pool hall, the Nuisance Property served as a base for the sale and use of heroin, which resulted in large amounts of foot and car traffic and numerous arrests for heroin and other drugs in and outside the property... In 1999, a search warrant was executed on the property resulting in three arrests and a seizure of heroin from inside of the building. In short, community members and police officers watched for years as drug transactions and drug users operated in and around the nuisance property without regard for the negative affect on the community. The United States Attorney's Office Nuisance Abatement Team contacted the property owner and informed him of its intention to file a civil suit under the Nuisance Abatement statute. The owner promptly sold the property which is now operating as Café Mawonaj, a coffee house.

Concei´s open letter also raises the possibility of the recent fire being an arson, saying "It appeared that the place was torched with gasoline, judging from the patches of burns in more than one area." This claim is, of course, difficult to evaluate, but Concei also suggests that the Fire Investigators and police involved in the case have not been responsive in his concerns that an investigation of the fire is necessary.

Most concerning is the quotes attributed to Chip Ellis, who "bought the property last month." He appearantly showed up at 9 AM the morning after the fire (and it is unclear to Mawonaj workers how Mr. Ellis so promptly knew about the fire) and said
“I’m glad this happened. I want you to get the F**K out of here and take your business someplace else. We are going to tear this building down and do something else with it.”

This was said in front of witnesses. I didn’t know what to think about these words. I responded that we were going to stay. We still have several years on our lease agreement and there is no way that is not going to be honored. That response really did tick him off because he became very angry and started to swear. His words:

“We f***ing own this building now. I’m not going to allow it to be rebuilt and you can bet on my words.”

Paul Schwartzman of the Washington Post got a hold of my first blog post and has been talking to Concei about possibly writing a story on Mawonaj and the fire. We will see if anything comes of that.

Friday, December 09, 2005

My brother John Fitzgerald has just started as a "special guest" on the WebCast of a Chicago sports show Bearscast. The first episode can be heard online here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

NYU Graduate Student Workers Continue Strike... Need Your Support

Teaching Assistants and other graduate student employees of the New York University have been on strike for weeks because the NYU administration has refused to recognize the union. The Graduate Student Organizing Committee, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers, had been recognized by the university and had been negotiating a contract until a recent National Labor Relations Board (appointed by George W. Bush) reversed an earlier decision, now ruling that university teaching assistants were not guaranteed the right of collective bargaining.

NYU's president John Sexton recently escalated the battle, threatening to cut off all financial support to striking students after a raucus protest by the graduate students. While the graduate student union has enjoyed strong support from the UAW, AFL-CIO, Teamsters, academics and NYU teachers and students (some of whom hold classes off campus so as to not cross the picket lines), they are asking for more support in light of Sexton's "ultimatum." While the administration has agreed to postpone this economic pressure for 2 days in order to meet with a representative committe of the GSOC, this potential cut-off of funds could be devestating for some of the strikers.

Please sign a petition in support of the strikers and consider contributing the strike fund.

Checks can be made out to: "UAW Local 2110 Strike Fund."
Send it to:
UAW Local 2110
113 University Place, 5th floor
New York, NY 10003.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Update on Haitian priest being persecuted by the illegal coup government

Below is an update on Father Jean-Juste who sits in prison without formal charges, which Bill Quigley (the author of this update and many other writings on Haiti and New Orleans).

Update on Fr. Jean-Juste 12.1.05

We wound our through the hills of Port-au-Prince up the road that Father Jean-Juste calls Gologotha to the Annexe Pententiare Nationale, where he has been incarcerated the last several months. The Haitian National Police and U.N. soldiers from Senegal patrol the prison. Father's health condition continues to be serious and, in fact, has worsened since September, according to Dr. John Carroll who examined Father then and also today (12-01-05). Father is need of a complete medical work up and a surgical intervention.

As to his legal and ecclesiastical situations, he is waiting to hear from authorities on both. A judge in Haiti has his dossier and is reviewing the information. This "review" has been going on for months now. As there is no evidence that Father has committed a crime of any kind, we can only believe that he is being kept in jail until after the elections, which keep being postponed. They are currently scheduled for January 8.

Though Father is eager to leave jail, he hopes to hear from Rome first about his status as a priest. He was recently told by the bishops of Haiti that he could no
longer officially act as a priest. "It would be a great hardship on me if I couldn't say Mass after I am released from prison," Father said. He has little support from Catholic priests and bishops in Haiti or abroad. "Many of the Haitian priests who would be supporters of mine are dead," he said. Bishop Gumbleton from Detroit has visited Father and advocates for Father Jean-Juste's release.

Father's spirits continue to be strong; no one can keep him from God.

The feeding program at his parish, St. Clare's is going strong, four days a week, feeding 750 people each time possibly the only meal they will eat that day. If you would like to donate to this absolutely vital cause, contact Margaret Trost at or visit the What If Foundation website at

Father appreciates the support he receives from people in Haiti and all over the world.