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Elvis tops British charts for 2nd week with ‘If I Can Dream’

King of rock and roll Elvis Presley topped the British album charts for a second week with his 12th UK Number 1.

Nearly 40 years after his death, Elvis became the male solo artist with the most UK Number 1 albums last week with “If I Can Dream,” a collection of his classics featuring orchestral reworkings by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The album notched up over 88,600 combined chart sales, giving him the second-fastest selling album of the year behind Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ “Chasing Yesterday,” the Official Charts Company said.

New entries Little Mix’s “Get Weird” and Ellie Goulding’s “Delirium” took second and third place in the album chart, pushing Rod Stewart’s “Another Country” down from second to fourth place.

There was another trip down memory lane this week with a deluxe reissue of the Beatles’ album “1” entering at number five.

In the singles charts, Adele was top for a third week with Britain’s fastest-selling record of 2015 “Hello,” which also topped Britain’s weekly streaming chart with 4.7 million listens.

Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” was number two in the singles charts, followed by 2014 X Factor runner-up Fleur East with her debut single “Sax”.

Peace activists march to protest drones

Joy First has been arrested about 35 times.

“I think that many,” says the Mount Horeb resident, who has been active in the peace movement since about 2002 and the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And she’s willing to risk arrest again in act of civil resistance at Volk Field at Camp Douglas in Wisconsin. Volk is the site of the Tactical Unmanned Aerial System facility, a $4.5-million operation housing the RQ-7B Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and a platoon of operators, according to base information.

Aug. 18–25, First plans to join other peace activists in a 90-mile march from the Dane County jail in Madison to Volk. The activists plan to walk about 12–16 miles a day and spend their nights at churches, homes or campsites. 

On the eve of the march, a public assembly will be held at Edgewood College in Madison.

The organizing groups are Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars.

For more than three years, the coalition has been holding monthly vigils at the gates to Volk. The first vigil was held in December 2011.

The Shadow drones at Volk are not armed but, First said, “They are part of the bigger picture of U.S. warfare. Without the Shadow, they wouldn’t be able to use the Predator.”

The RQ-7 Shadow UAV is equipped with a camera and used for reconnaissance and surveillance; the Predator is a larger aircraft with weaponry.

The Shadow is being used by ground troops to support convoy operations, field artillery and troops in contact with enemy forces, according to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.

In August 2010, the Wisconsin National Guard at Volk launched the first test of the Shadow, which can reach heights of 15,000 feet and has a range of about 125 kilometers.

In December 2013, military leaders gathered with elected officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Volk to celebrate the construction of the unmanned aircraft facility. The Shadow, the speakers emphasized, would be deployed to help save the lives of U.S. servicemembers.

Activists decided to begin the August march at the jail to make a connection between the violence overseas and the violence committed by militarized U.S. police forces. At a short program at the jail at 10 a.m. on Aug. 18, the marchers will hear from representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We’re really trying to draw the connection by walking from the jail to the field that what the U.S. military is doing to brown people on the other side of the world is connected to what the police are doing to black people in this country,” said First. 

She added, “People are coming from all over the country to participate in this walk. And it really does feel like a family reunion.”

“These drones, we believe, are illegal and criminal,” said First.

“Most of the people who go are involved in a lot of different anti-war activity,” First said. The protesters assemble at about 3:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

Occasionally the protesters go beyond the gates. Demonstrators risked arrest to walk on the base with a letter to the commander and risked arrest again to deliver a call to prosecute for war crimes.

“We are handcuffed and arrested. They take us to the station 20 miles away,” she said. “We get bench trials, where we’ve been found guilty.”

She said charges often get downgraded from a misdemeanor to an ordinance violation.

First has participated in other anti-war actions, including at the White House and Pentagon, and she plans to attend another demonstration in Washington, D.C., in September.

First arrived at anti-war activism in her 50s. “This is something that I just feel I’m called to do. I think about my grandchildren and I have to do this.”

She has six grandchildren between the ages of 4 and 16 and she’s spoken with all of them about war and peace.

“We’ve talked about why I’m doing this and why it’s important,” she said. “We’ve talked about war and people dying.”

Wisconsinites float Lanterns for Peace

August brings peace actions around the world. The tradition, in part, commemorates the anniversary of America’s atomic bombings of Japan.

This year marked the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, on Aug. 9, 1945. The attacks by the United States hastened an end to World War II, with Japan’s surrender days later.

About 200,000 people died in the two blasts.

Each year, Japan’s government marks the anniversaries with a memorial at Budokan hall in Tokyo.

This year in Japan, memorials also were held in peace parks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as concerts, film screenings, art exhibits and seminars.

Memorials also were held across the country, including in Wisconsin, where Lanterns for Peace ceremonies took place at Governor Dodge State Park near Dodgeville on Aug. 2, Tenney Park in Madison on Aug. 6 and Washington Park in Milwaukee on Aug. 8.

Texas county where Sandra Bland died has history of racial tension

In the searing 100-degree Texas heat, Sylvester Nunn uses three worn beach umbrellas to protect himself and the produce piled in the bed of his old Chevy pickup truck as he carries on a generations-old summer tradition.

The 78-year-old is selling watermelons by the roadside just outside Hempstead, Texas, where the perfect combination of sandy soil and rainfall make this the watermelon capital of Texas. During the first half of the 20th century, the area was the nation’s largest shipper of the sweet red fruit.

But it’s a more troubling tradition — of racial strife — that has resurfaced here in the days since a black woman named Sandra Bland died in the county jail after a traffic stop by a white state trooper.

Video of the confrontational stop ignited long-simmering passions and caused some blacks to raise their guard around law enforcement in Waller County and the county seat of Hempstead, once known as “Six Shooter Junction” because of white supremacist violence in the 1800s.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” said Nunn, who is black. “I know how it could happen, but nothing’s happened to me. It’s been all right with me.”

Other people insist the area about 50 miles northwest of Houston has left its troubled past behind.

Bland, a 2009 graduate of nearby Prairie View A&M University, had just accepted a job at her alma mater when she was jailed July 10 for allegedly assaulting the trooper who pulled her over for an improper lane change.

Three days later, the woman from the Chicago suburb of Naperville was found hanged in her cell — a suicide, according to a medical examiner. Bland’s relatives and other supporters dispute that finding.

The FBI is leading an investigation.

“It’s a sad thing,” Michael Wolfe, Hempstead’s mayor since 2004 and the city’s third black mayor since the 1980s, said of Bland’s death and the negative attention it has drawn. “It is not a true reflection of people who live here. It creates a level of animosity that may not be true. The community has changed tremendously.”

District Attorney Elton Mathis acknowledges the county “does and did have a lot of things that went on here that we’re not particularly proud of, as far as racial interaction.”

Mathis said he could understand how some people “looking at some of the bad things in our past would jump to the conclusion that this was a murder and not a suicide.”

But, he added, “people need to realize there is a new generation in control of government here … a more progressive generation.”

Waller County was named for Edwin Waller, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico in 1836, who four years later became the first elected mayor of Austin. Whites make up 44 percent of the 47,000 residents, Hispanics 29 percent and blacks 25 percent.

First settled in the early 1820s, the area became home to slave-labor cotton plantations. Hempstead was incorporated in 1858 thanks to a railroad terminus.

The plantations were dismantled with the end of the Civil War in 1865. Three years later, historical records report a race riot, followed by unrest in the 1880s, when a White Man’s Party was established to blunt active black political participation in the county where blacks outnumbered whites.

That’s when violence blamed on the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist groups gave it the “Six Shooter” sobriquet.

More recently, voter intimidation and voting-rights complaints have arisen from students at Prairie View A&M University, a college established in 1876 specifically to train black teachers.

The complaints led to a federal lawsuit. The district attorney at the time, in 2004, reached a settlement and apologized. But the issue resurfaced only two years later and again in 2008, when additional early voting sites in the county were established only after federal pressure.

“There’s a lot of prejudice going on,” said Eugene Hood, citing a history of police harassment as he cut hair at Chad’s Barber Shop on University Drive, just south of where Bland was arrested outside the main entrance to the university.

Marie Armstrong of Dallas, a Prairie View senior, remembers being pulled over and ticketed for a broken brake light and being forced to go court. She wished police would exercise some judgment.

“I’m not saying he was wrong,” she said of the officer who stopped her. “We’re college students. I was just going down the street. I got it fixed the next day.”

Resa Henderson, 48, has lived in the area all her life and said she has never felt discrimination.

“I try to stay out of trouble,” she said from behind a counter at the A-1 Variety Flea Market, Beauty Supply & Apparel shop where she works now after a 20-year nursing career.

Sheriff Glenn Smith has been singled out by some activists as the person who needs to be fired in the wake of Bland’s death.

Smith was suspended for two weeks in 2007 and ordered to take anger-management classes after using profanity and pushing a black man during an arrest, according to Patricia Cernosky, Hempstead’s mayor pro tem.

He was fired as Hempstead police chief in 2008 and then elected county sheriff.

“I’m not a racist,” Smith insisted, blaming “small-town politics.” He plans to seek re-election next year.

Jessica Cotton, a junior at Prairie View from Houston, said she’s never had any problems with law enforcement, but what happened to Bland gave her pause.

“It could have been me,” she said.

Memo to media covering protests in Ferguson, Missouri

ColorOfChange.org, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, is urging both local and national media to be particularly mindful of their coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country in the wake of the grand jury’s impending decision regarding Officer Darren Wilson.

Recognition of the dangers posed by a hostile media climate for Black people is crucial at this very important juncture in our nation’s history. In the wake of yet another young life lost to police violence, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to express their outrage and demand better of law enforcement, as well as our justice system. This is a constitutional right. Our media should aid in the protection of those rights, rather than contribute to a racist drumbeat against them.

It is also important to recognize how our media impacts the perceptions of its audience. Research shows there are dire consequences when stereotypical images of Black people rule the day; less attention from doctors, harsher sentences from judges, and abusive treatment by police, just to name a few. Rather than feeding into the hostile media climate that contributed to the deaths of Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, and so many others, we should use this opportunity to forge a fair and humanizing media landscape for Black people.

We ask that any journalists reporting on the important events in Ferguson and across the country take the following into consideration:

Cultural bias in our media and society persistently excuses the name calling of people of color, resulting in very real, sometimes deadly consequences. We must be vigilant in rooting out the use of coded, racialized language in news coverage. To be clear, the protesters in Ferguson are exercising their constitutional rights. More importantly, they are human beings, not the “thugs,” “rioters,” “criminals,” or “animals” our media has routinely described them as. Yet, when a predominantly white mob erupted into a full scale riot during a pumpkin festival in New Hampshire last month, the media called them “rowdy, mischievous revelers.” The double standard would be laughable if weren’t so incredibly dangerous.

Name calling on the part of our news media spins a narrative of dehumanization and degradation that threatens the lives of communities of color, one not unlike that which led to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner tragedies in the first place. The demonization of Black folks and their allies contributes to a hostile, dangerous media landscape that actually threatens lives.

The state violence on display in Ferguson against protesters is inexcusable, and should concern us all. The over-militarized police there waved and pointed guns at protesters and drove through neighborhoods in tanks, unnecessarily heightening an already-tense situation. But too often, journalists and news organizations turn Black communities into enemy combatants in their own neighborhoods by focusing almost exclusively on alleged acts of violence perpetrated by a small minority of protesters, crafting a deceptive narrative that vilifies Black people and their allies, and threatens their lives.

Here’s the truth: for years, Department of Defense programs have supplied local law enforcement in places like Ferguson with the same weaponry used by US Armed Forces in war zones. Rather than devoting their energies to building a healthy relationship with the communities they serve, precincts across the country are loading up on armored tanks and tear gas. It’s an incredibly dangerous, unhealthy state of affairs that deserves a prominent place in any substantive conversation about the unrest in Ferguson.

Black people are not to blame for police brutality, nor do they deserve it. Yet, media outlets, and talking heads like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, point to so-called “black-on-black crime” as an excuse for the consequence-less murder of Black people by law enforcement. As Michael Eric Dyson eloquently explained to Mayor Giuliani on Meet the Press last Sunday, the issue at hand is that America has a serious problem with letting white people get away with the murder of Black people, especially agents of the state like Officer Darren Wilson. To somehow point the finger at Black people and blame them for their own oppression and injustice is not a valid critique. Rather, as Dyson asserted, it only exemplifies “the defensive mechanism of white supremacy.”

The VAST majority of Ferguson protesters are peaceful. Yet somehow, the stories coming out of many major media outlets paints a picture of total lawlessness, undermining the real work being done on the ground to bring attention to the very legitimate concerns of hundreds of thousands of people. The implication is that these efforts are largely violent, senseless, and deserve to be dealt with harshly. This could not be further from the truth. These stereotypical portrayals of Black people shape perceptions that, when acted upon, can mean real life harm for Black people.

Ferguson protesters have taken to the streets to assert that Black lives matter; that Black folks cannot be killed with impunity. The suggestion that these motivations lack legitimacy are unacceptable and contribute to a hostile media climate for Black people.

The opinions of protesters, activists, and Michael Brown’s parents matter, too. The situation in Ferguson has ignited an intense, national conversation around a host of very important topics. It is imperative that our news media present fair, even-handed coverage. The marginalization or complete shutting out of the voices and opinions of those sympathetic to the concerns of protestors or victims of police violence is all too common, and totally unacceptable.

Structural racism tells the FULL story. Yet, oftentimes our media conversation begins and ends with individual acts of racism, outright dismissals of racism, or the notion that racism now exists in our cultural rearview, and is no longer relevant to today’s world. According to a recent report from Race Forward, the majority of today’s news media is not systemically aware, ignoring or omitting engagement with the policies and practices that lead to the racial disparities at the heart of situations like the one in Ferguson. It is critical that we inject the realities of structural racism into the national conversation, and hold media outlets that refuse to do so accountable.

Editor’s note: With more than 850,000 members, ColorOfChange.org is the nation’s largest online civil rights organization.

At home and abroad, rising tensions over Israel’s Gaza incursion spark acts of hate

Last month Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke asked for the public’s help in monitoring suspicious activity around religious sites. He had good reason.

“With the heightened tensions and military activity occurring in and around Israel and the Gaza strip, there is the potential that local agitators will seize upon the current climate to opportunistically attack religious sites, including synagogues, temples and mosques, and deface or vandalize them under the guise of legitimate protest,” Clarke wrote in a press release.

In Europe, and less frequently in the United States,  numerous such instances have occurred. Meanwhile, Arab World Fest returns to Milwaukee’s Summerfest Grounds on the weekend of Aug. 8–10, and the Jewish High Holidays, which routinely present heightened security challenges, begin on Sept. 24. This confluence of events raises concerns.

Adding to those concerns in Milwaukee is an unfortunate anniversary: On Aug. 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek. In other American cities, such attacks have been undertaken by racists who’ve confused Sikhs with Muslims, although there’s no evidence that’s what motivated Page. 

As WiG headed to press, Milwaukee Police Department spokesman Mark Stanmeyer said there have not been any reported crimes in the city related to the conflict in Gaza. But he said law enforcement authorities throughout the area remain vigilant.

“The Milwaukee Police Department, through its Southeastern Wisconsin Threat Analysis Center, works with federal partners to assess potential threats to special events,” Stanmeyer said via email. “I’m not aware of any planned increase in Milwaukee Police resources as a result of recent events.”

Vicious verbal attacks on both Jews and Muslims have spiked recently on local social media pages. “It’s the usual heartbreaking, hateful drivel” about Jews “running the media, controlling people, using power for deleterious ends, etc.,” said Elana Kahn-Oren, director of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council. “Thank goodness we’ve not experienced vandalism or physical attacks like other communities, including Chicago.”

In Chicago, anti-Semitic leaflets were left on cars in a North Side Jewish neighborhood on July 20. In Miami, a synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic slurs and cars owned by Jews have been egged. Vandals in Philadelphia spray-painted hate symbols on a local synagogue. 

In recent weeks, many Madison and Milwaukee-area Jewish congregations have held services and rallies to show solidarity with Israel. On July 27, a rally at Milwaukee’s Congregation Shalom drew 800 pro-Israel demonstrators and a group of about 200 counter protesters, who hurled anti-Semitic epithets at ralliers, according to the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. Protesters called the supporters of Israel “animals,” according to Kahn-Oren and others. They chanted, “Hey, Yid go home,” and, “Jews and Nazis are the same, the only difference is the name!”

Pro-Palestinian sympathizers have staged protests across the state as well, including in Appleton, Racine, Madison and Milwaukee. Participants have called on Israel to end its military incursion into Gaza, which has killed more than 1,000, including many children. Pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian op-eds have flooded Wisconsin newspapers.

Like the local Jewish community, Milwaukee’s Arab community also have received taunts and insults, particularly as worshippers entered and exited area mosques during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on July 28, said Othman Atta, executive director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee.

“We’ve had a few eggs thrown at us and people calling (by phone) and shouting profanities and so forth, but that’s been the extent of it so far,” Atta said. “There hasn’t been any kind of direct attempt to attack the mosques.”

Atta said the local Arab-American community, composed largely of people of Palestinian descent, maintains tight security around mosques and other Muslim gathering places. “We’re very careful about who has access to the center, especially during times when we have a lot of attendees,” he added.

Milwaukee’s Muslims and Jews

Muslims began to establish roots in Milwaukee during the 1950s, and today the community is about 15,000 strong, according to the most recent estimates. Wisconsin is home to 23 mosques and Islamic centers.

Suspicions toward Muslims remain strong in Wisconsin, just as they have across the nation since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Late in 2007, Milwaukee’s first Arab-American police officer sued the city on charges he was taunted and discriminated against due to anger over 9/11. Public backlash against the opening of an Islamic center in Sheboygan County in 2010 exemplified anti-Muslim sentiment. 

The Jewish community has a much longer history in Wisconsin, and several high-profile Jews have lived in the state. Among them was Golda Meir, a Ukrainian refugee who immigrated to Milwaukee, where she taught school before going on to become Israel’s fourth prime minister.

The Jewish Community Study of Greater Milwaukee 2011 found that the Jewish population of the area is about 30,000 people, including a large Russian-Jewish community on the city’s North Side. But due to growth in interfaith marriages and the backlash toward religion in general among young people, Wisconsin’s Jewish community is struggling to maintain its size and identity. Many people believe the community is shrinking.

In general, Jews and Muslims in America have been cautiously supportive of one another. As minority religious groups in a politically Christian nation, they have worked together on shared interests involving religious freedom, civil rights and immigration policy.

Relations between the two communities, however, have become increasingly strained due to the global rise of Islamic terrorism and Israel’s political turn to the hard right, which resulted in territorial aggression toward Palestinian lands and the apartheid-style treatment of Palestinians living in Israel. Interfaith programs in Wisconsin and elsewhere have become strained, according to those involved.


Around the nation and the world, the military campaign underway in Gaza has provoked a much stronger backlash than it has here in Wisconsin. In the United States, that backlash has primarily targeted Arab-Americans, while in Europe it has focused on Jews.

“The big backlash is not happening here, it’s happening in Europe, which we see every time there is trouble between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Anti-Semitism has been firmly entrenched for centuries in European societies. While many progressive Europeans oppose Israel’s treatment of Palestinians on the grounds of social injustice, many others use it as cover for anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League released a survey this year that found 34 percent of eastern Europeans and 24 of western Europeans hold anti-Semitic views. 

People in the U.S. view Israel more favorably. In the post-9/11 world, the Jewish nation is a strategic military ally in a region that’s otherwise hostile to American interests. In addition, evangelical Christians believe the second coming of Jesus is dependent on Jewish control of the Holy Land — and evangelism is far more widely embraced by Americans than Europeans.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted between July 18 and 20 found 57 percent support among Americans for Israel’s actions in Gaza. 

Europeans “don’t have the same tradition of supporting Israel that we do,” Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, told The New York Times. “That area of the world is closer to them, and they get more exposure to Arabs and Muslims, and are more open to the Palestinian point of view.”

Anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have been rising precipitously for the past two decades. Since the Gaza conflict began, scores of European Jews have been attacked, synagogues have been firebombed, Jewish businesses, homes and neighborhoods have been vandalized and numerous demonstrations have called for “Death to the Jews,” despite the fact that a large proportion of Jews, even Israeli Jews, condemn what is occurring in Gaza. Israeli Jews have staged several large protests in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square condemning the attack on Gaza, and dozens of the protesters have been arrested.

The anti-Semitic backlash over Gaza has been the worst in France, which, in addition to its anti-Semitic tradition, also has Europe’s largest population of Muslim and Arab immigrants. But a July 29 Newsweek cover story titled “Exodus: Why Europe’s Jews Are Fleeing Once Again” reported that even Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city, recorded 60 anti-Semitic incidents from 2010 to 2012, including the bombing of the local Jewish community center.

Although Malmö’s mayor blamed the acts on Zionism rather than anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, the former U.S. special envoy for combating anti-Semitism, told Newsweek that the city exemplifies the “new anti-Semitism,” which uses anti-Zionism (opposition to Israel’s existence) as a disguise for hatred of Jews. (Rosenthal is currently president and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, but she was unavailable for comment during the week that WiG prepared this story.)

For many Jews, the escalating anti-Semitic attacks in Europe are reminiscent of the 1930s, when most of the Jews who failed to flee wound up in Nazi gas chambers. “At what point do the Jews of America and the Jews of Israel tell the Jews of Europe that it might be time to get out?” American-Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg asks in the Newsweek article. 

Demystifying Islam

In America, it’s the Arab community that faces the greatest threat of a widespread backlash over Gaza. So far, violence toward Arabs hasn’t resulted in serious injuries or deaths.  But Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described incidents such as “an  old guy getting pelted with eggs coming out of a mosque in New York” as violent attacks.

There’s certainly a large enough reservoir of hatred to fuel violence toward Muslims. Hooper and his organization regularly receive emails that make Nazi propaganda read like Hallmark cards in comparison. Hooper forwarded WiG an email he received in which the writer called for the slaughter of Muslim babies in the most brutal terms possible.

Hooper said that CAIR, which many consider a radical organization, encourages open houses at mosques and cultural events to demystify Islam and “decrease suspicion (caused by) lack of knowledge.”

Atta said that’s exactly what Arab World Fest aims to accomplish. “People go to partake in the food, customs and music,” he said. “The people who go there are pretty open-minded, and they’re there because they’re willing to learn. It’s a social time. 

“There’s a good mix of people that come in. The people that go there, they go and enjoy themselves. It’s not political or anything of that sort. It’s more entertainment in nature. There are cultural and historic dimensions, but most people go for the food and the marketplace.”

Security at the Summerfest grounds is technologically advanced and reliable, Atta adds, so no one should hesitate about attending Arab World Fest, despite what’s happening elsewhere in the world.

Meanwhile, Clarke hopes to deter small acts of hate-motivated vandalism that could lead to escalated violence.

“Nationwide, the ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ campaign has proven to be a simple and effective program to raise public awareness in helping to deter and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement authorities,” Clarke said in his press release. “Nowhere is this concept more applicable than in safeguarding our fellow citizens’ houses of assembly and worship.

“Any citizens observing suspicious activity in relation to these sites, and particularly activities occurring during off-worship times or under cover of darkness that may presage acts of vandalism, are asked to contact their local municipality’s law enforcement immediately.”
To report suspicious activity, call 414-278-4788. 

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How to honor Pete Seeger? A park? A bridge? A song?

Someday, it might be possible to take the Pete Seeger Bridge to Pete Seeger Park and listen to Pete Seeger music by the Pete Seeger statue.

Plans abound to honor the recently deceased folk icon — a few early events were held Saturday, on what would have been his 95th birthday. But trying to honor a hardcore egalitarian like Seeger raises some questions.

How do you single out a singer who revered the masses? Is it OK to bestow honors on Seeger that he declined during his life? And would the old eco-warrior want his name on a $3.9 billion bridge serving suburban car culture?

“He did everything possible to not take credit for anything. It was always a group effort,” said George Mansfield, a council member in Beacon, the Hudson River city near where Seeger and his late wife, Toshi, lived for decades. “People say `How do you best memorialize Pete?’ and everyone agrees the best way to memorialize him is to continue what he started.”

Seeger, who died in January at age 94, was known around the world for his activism and gentle voice on such signature songs as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” He was also known closer to home for his deep connection to the Hudson River and his tireless efforts in the movement to clean it up.

That’s why Beacon plans to rename its riverside park for Seeger and his wife, who were instrumental in converting the former dump into Riverfront Park. And more controversially, some people want to put Seeger’s name on the massive span that will replace the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson just north of New York City.

“I just imagine a family driving across the bridge years from now and some kids says, ‘Who is Pete Seeger?’ That kind of thing. That would be cool,” said Bill Swersey, a New York City resident who liked the bridge-naming idea so much he created a Change.org petition that has more than 14,000 signatures.

Critics say naming a bridge for Seeger that carries some 140,000 cars a day between sprawling Westchester and Rockland counties would fly in the face of the singer’s live-simply ethos. One counterproposal has been to rename the more ecologically friendly Walkway Over the Hudson about 45 miles upriver.

Seeger declined such honors in his life, so the idea of lending his name to bridges sits uncomfortably with some.

“He hated the spotlight,” said family friend Thom Wolke, who believes living up to Seeger’s ideals is a more fitting remembrance.

Mansfield said Seeger’s family approved of renaming the Beacon park, provided Toshi was included. He said the family also will have a say in what sort of sculpture or plaque will grace the renamed “Pete and Toshi Seeger Riverfront Park,” which could be anything from a representational statue to something abstract. One Seeger family member, grandson Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said he’s for naming anything that keeps his grandfather’s name alive.

“Whenever someone wanted to name something after him I’d ask him, and he’d say, `Do it when I’m dead,” Cahill-Jackson recalled. “And he’s dead, so I think this is a good time to do it.”

Cahill-Jackson is among the people who will honor Seeger in the most obvious way: with song. He is raising money for Seeger Fest, a five-day series of music and events in the Hudson Valley and New York City —including a concert at Lincoln Center’s outdoor performance area — starting July 17.

Seeger’s birth date on Saturday will be marked with shows featuring his songs in Woodstock, New York and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Wolke organized a show in Fontenet, France. The shows will be held in different places with different artists, but the thought is the same.

“I think part of me is doing this because I want to keep them alive,” Cahill-Jackson said. “And I’m hoping that weekend, they’ll be alive.”

Colorado police: Student who died in fall ate more pot than recommended

A Wyoming college student who jumped to his death at a Denver hotel had eaten more of a marijuana cookie than was recommended by a seller, police records show — a finding that comes amid increased concern about the strength of popular pot edibles after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.

Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, consumed more than one cookie purchased by a friend — even though a store clerk told the friend to cut each cookie into six pieces and to eat just one piece at a time, said the reports obtained late last week.

Pongi began shaking, screaming and throwing things around a hotel room before he jumped over a fourth-floor railing into the hotel lobby March 11. An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a “significant contributing factor” in the death.

Marijuana cookies and other edibles have become increasingly popular since Colorado allowed people 21 and over to buy recreational marijuana this year at regulated stores. Federal authorities don’t regulate the edibles because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

After voters approved recreational pot, Colorado lawmakers tasked regulators with setting potency-testing guidelines to ensure consumers know how much pot they’re eating. Those guidelines are expected to be released next month.

Lawmakers also required edible pot to be sold in serving sizes of 10 milligrams of THC, marijuana’s intoxicating chemical.

The cannabis industry tries to educate consumers about the potency of marijuana-infused foods. But despite the warnings — including waiting for up to an hour to feel any effects — complaints by visitors and first-time users have been rampant.

In a separate case, a Denver man accused of killing his wife while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher ate marijuana-infused candy and possibly took prescription pain medication before the attack, according to a search warrant affidavit released last week.

It wasn’t known if pot influenced the behavior of Richard Kirk, 47, who is accused of shooting Kristine Kirk, 44. The affidavit says the woman told a dispatcher her husband had ingested marijuana candy and was hallucinating.

Pongi, a native of the Republic of Congo, and three friends from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., traveled to Colorado for spring break.

At their hotel, the group of four friends followed the seller’s instructions. But when Pongi felt nothing after about 30 minutes, he ate an entire cookie, police said.

Within an hour, he began speaking erratically in French, shaking, screaming and throwing things around the hotel room. At one point he appeared to talk to a lamp.

Pongi’s friends tried to restrain him before he left the room and jumped to his death, police said.

One of his friends told investigators it may have been his first time using marijuana — the only drug toxicology tests found in his system. All three friends said they did not purchase or take any other drugs during their stay.

“The thing to realize is the THC that is present in edibles is a drug, and as with any drug, there’s a spectrum of ways in which people respond,” said Michael Kosnett, a medical toxicologist on the clinical faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

He said a person’s genetic makeup, health issues and other factors can make a difference, and first-time users might consume too much, unaware of how their bodies will react.

“The possibility for misadventure is increased,” Kosnett said.

The marijuana concentration in Pongi’s blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado law says juries can assume someone is driving while impaired if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter.

In the days that followed the death of Pongi, Denver police confiscated the remaining cookies from the pot shop to test their levels of THC. The wrapper of the cookies bought by the students said each contained 65 mg of THC for 6 1/2 servings. Tests showed the cookies were within the required THC limits, police said.

However, the wrappers also cautioned that “this marijuana product has not been tested for contaminants or potency.” One of Pongi’s friends became sick to his stomach after eating part of the cookie, but the others felt no negative effect.

Colorado law bans the sale of recreational marijuana products to people under 21, and adults can be charged with a felony for giving pot to someone under the legal age.

Authorities, however, said they would not press charges against Pongi’s 23-year-old friend who told police she bought the cookies while he waited outside the store. Denver district attorney’s spokeswoman Maro Casparian said investigators determined there was no crime. She declined to elaborate.

25 years later, Exxon Valdez spill effects linger

Before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, there was the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, at the time the largest oil spill in the U.S.

The 987-foot tanker, carrying 53 million gallons of crude, struck Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989. Within hours, it unleashed an estimated 10.8 million gallons of thick, toxic crude oil into the water. Storms and currents then smeared it over 1,300 miles of shoreline.

For a generation of people around the world, the spill was seared into their memories by images of fouled coastline in Prince William Sound, of sea otters, herring and birds soaked in oil, of workers painstakingly washing crude off the rugged beaches.

Twenty five years later, most of the species have recovered, said Robert Spies, a chief science adviser to governments on the oil spill restoration program from 1989 to 2002. But some wildlife, as well as the people who live in the region, are still struggling.

Here’s a look at what’s changed since the spill:


Bernie Culbertson was preparing to fish cod when the Exxon Valdez ran aground. With oil in the water, fishing came to a standstill and life for he and other fishermen drastically changed.

“The bottom fell out of the price of fish,” he said. Pink salmon that sold for 80 cents per pound fell to 8 cents per pound. Consumers turned to farm fish or tuna out of fear of tainted salmon. His boat caught 2.5 million pounds of pinks one season and lost money.

Culbertson turned to other fisheries, traveling as far as California. Fishing 12 months a year, his marriage failed. Friends couldn’t repay loans and lost boats or homes. Exxon compensation checks, minus what fishermen earned on spill work, arrived too late for many.

The fisheries today are not the same. “The shrimp are slowly, slowly coming back. The crab aren’t back. The herring aren’t back. The salmon are back in abundance,” he said.


At the time of the spill, complacency among government officials and the oil industry had set in after a dozen years of safe shipments, said Mark Swanson, director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council and a former Coast Guard officer.

When the tanker ran aground, for instance, spill response equipment was buried under snow. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. in 1989 had 13 oil skimmers, five miles of boom and storage capacity for 220,000 gallons of spilled oil.

Now, Alyeska has 108 skimmers, 49 miles of boom and on-water storage capacity of almost 38 million gallons. North Slope oil must be transported in double-hull tankers, which must be escorted by two tugs. Radar monitors the vessel’s position as well as that of icebergs.

The company conducts two major spill drills are conducted each year. And nearly 400 local fishing boat owners are trained to deploy and maintain boom.


After the spill, the population of herring crashed. It is now listed as “not recovering.” The silvery fish is a key species because it is eaten by salmon, seabirds and marine mammals from otters to whales. Four years after the spill, the estimated herring population based on modeling shrunk from 120 metric tons to less than 30 metric tons.

How that happened remains a question, said Scott Pegau, research program manager for the Oil Spill Recovery Institute in Cordova, Alaska.

Here’s what’s known: Adult herring feed on zooplankton, which crashed for three years after the spill. With less to eat, herring may have been more susceptible to disease normally fended off within a herring population.

Herring populations can stabilize at a low or high number, but something has prevented a rebound. Oil likely is no longer a factor, Pegau said.


Responders estimated that as many as 3,000 sea otters died the first year. Hundreds more died in the years after of exposure to oil that persisted in sediment, where otters dig for clams.

Three factors could have had an impact on the otters’ ability to survive. Oiled fur loses insulating value. Otters ingest oil as they groom, and researchers years after the spill found blood chemistry evidence consistent with liver damage. Grooming takes time away from feeding.

“One of the lessons we can take from this is that the chronic effects of oil in the environment can persist for decades,” said Brenda Ballachey, who moved to Alaska a few months after the spill and spent the next summer dissecting sea otter carcasses collected from beaches and frozen.

The U.S. Geological Survey research biologist is the lead author of a federal study released last month that concludes that sea otters have finally returned to pre-spill numbers.


The pigeon guillemot, which looks like a black pigeon with web feet, is one species that has not recovered. Numbers were declining before the spill. An estimated 2,000 to 6,000 guillemots, or 10 to 15 percent of the population in spill areas, died from acute oiling.

Researchers suspect river otters, mink and other predators targeted guillemot eggs as an alternative to foraging on oiled beaches.

Like sea otters and another bird that took years to recover, harlequin ducks, pigeon guillemot’s forage for invertebrates in sediment and likely were affected by lingering oil, said David Irons, a seabirds expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The decline of its other prey, juvenile herring, didn’t help. Numbers continue to decline in both oiled and non-oiled areas. Irons has proposed reducing mink numbers on the heavily oiled Naked Islands, once prime habitat for guillemots, to restore their numbers.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of anti-gay Westboro church, dies

The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church widely known for its protests at military funerals and hateful anti-gay sentiments, has died.

Phelps, 84, was being cared for in the days before his death at a Shawnee County facility, Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain said.

Shirley Phelps-Roper told The Capital-Journal in Topeka this morning that her father died late Wednesday.

Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Westboro Baptist, a small group made mostly of Phelps’ extended family, inspired a federal law and laws in numerous states limiting picketing at funerals. But in a major free-speech ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the church and its members couldn’t be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on grieving families under the First Amendment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights nonprofit group, has called Westboro Baptist Church a hate group. On its website, the SPLC described Phelps as “America’s most notorious anti-gay activist. On his ‘God Hates Fags’ website and in tracts sent from his church compound in Topeka, Kan., Phelps and his congregation — composed mainly of his extended family — pump out reams of anti-gay material, much of it so vulgar that many anti-gay activists complain that Phelps has given them a bad name. Phelps and his followers have crisscrossed the country to picket the funerals of AIDs victims and engage in other, similar protests. But it is his group’s picketing of the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq — to tell the world, as Phelps argues, that their deaths are God’s punishment for America’s ‘fag-enabling’ ways — that has inspired almost universal revulsion and contempt.”

In a pamphlet for the church, Phelps said, “America is doomed for its acceptance of homosexuality. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for going after fornication and homosexuality then why wouldn’t God destroy America for the same thing?”

In a 1996 press release for a demonstration at a synagogue, Phelps said, “Rabbi Lawrence Karol is an apostate Jew who denies the faith of his fathers, militantly promotes the anal-copulating agenda of Topeka’s filthy fag community, and persecutes the Lord’s people just as his vermin ancestors did in killing the Lord Jesus Christ and their own prophets and persecuting the apo[s]tles of Christ. Hence they live filthy lives of sexual perversion, greed, violence, and oppression of the Lord’s people. This is why the vile Jews of Temple Beth Sholom promote sodomy and persecute Baptists.”

The SPLC said Phelps, since 1951, was arrested multiple times for “assault, battery, threats, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and contempt of court. He has been convicted four times, as well as disbarred, but has successfully avoided prison.”

Phelps was born in Mississippi in 1929. He dropped out of classes at Bob Jones University in 1947 and made his first news splash in 1952, when, as a street preacher, he was profiled for crusading against “dirty” humor.

Phelps eventually earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, and positioned himself as career as a civil rights lawyer. But he was, according to the SPLC, disbarred in Kansas in 1979 for perjury. He ceased practicing in federal courts in 1989, as the result of a plea deal that followed repeated complaints about false testimony.

Phelps began what would become a national anti-gay crusase in the late 1980s in Topeka, where his church was situated in a small compound.

Nate Phelps, an estranged son of Fred Phelps, told The Associated Press in a phone interview earlier this week that members of Westboro voted his father out of the church last summer, apparently “after some kind of falling out.”

Nate Phelps, who broke away from the church 37 years ago, said church members became concerned afterward that his father might harm himself and moved him out of the church, where he and his wife had lived for years. Fred Phelps was moved into a house, stopped eating and then was moved into hospice care, Nate Phelps said.

The estranged son was in contact with other family members who are also estranged from the church and said two of them managed to visit his father earlier this month.

With news of the minister’s failing health, Kansas’ leading gay-rights group urged the gay community to respect the privacy of the “notoriously anti-LGBT” pastor and his family.

Phelps and the members of his church have “harassed” the grieving families of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kansans and others, Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said in a prepared statement.

But Witt added: “This is our moment as a community to rise above the sorrow, anger, and strife he sowed, and to show the world we are caring and compassionate people who respect the privacy and dignity of all.”

Nate Phelps said he has no doubt some people would want to protest his father’s funeral but added, “I wish they wouldn’t.”

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Kansas senator declares anti-gay marriage bill dead

An anti-gay marriage proposal that roiled Kansas politics is dead, the chairman of a state Senate committee assigned to review it said on Feb. 18.

But the declaration from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King didn’t appear likely to end the debate over providing protections for people and organizations wanting, for religious reasons, to discriminate against gays and lesbians seeking goods and services.

King, an Independence Republican, said he’ll still have hearings on whether Kansas needs to enact so-called “religious liberty protections” in case the federal courts strike down the state’s gay-marriage ban.

The House approved a bill last week to prohibit government sanctions or anti-discrimination lawsuits when individuals, groups and businesses cite their religious beliefs in refusing to provide goods, services, accommodations and employment benefits related to a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or a celebration of such relationships.

Supporters said their intent was to prevent florists, bakers and photographers from being punished for refusing to participate in same-sex weddings, keep churches from having to provide space or clergy for such ceremonies and keep religiously affiliated adoption agencies from being forced to place children with gay couples.

Critics said the bill was much broader than advertised and would encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Senate leaders already had said the bill would not pass their chamber, but King said this week that his committee won’t even take it up.

“We’re not working House Bill 2453,” said King, an Independence Republican, referring to the measure by number.

King said he’s not drafting a narrower alternative. He said he’ll have hearings so interested parties can have national experts discuss whether Kansas needs a new law.

“Something new would have to arise out of these hearings,” he said.

Supporters said frequently that the bill has been misrepresented. Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the House committee that handled the bill, said the intent was “religious liberties protection.”

“The issue is not going to go away,” Brunk said. “As the topic progresses, we’ll refine the language.”

But some House members felt burned.

“It’s so tainted now, it needs to go away,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, a conservative Olathe Republican, who supported the bill. “Did I make a vote that I regret? Yeah; that happens.”

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, said he’s pleased by King’s declaration that the House bill is dead but doesn’t expect the issue to vanish. His group and several others are planning a “Rally for Equality” next week at the Statehouse.

Witt said he’s looking forward to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings.

“It’s not going to be focused on `we have to move this bill,’ and all the acrimony that goes with it,” he said.