Monthly Archives: December 2007


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Rashida Ferdinand sits in front of her Lower Ninth Ward house.


Dec. 30, 2007, 7:12AM

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — In a city chockfull of 150-year-old houses with wooden porches and scrolling wrought iron, New Orleans would seem perfect fodder for This Old House.But when producers of the television show surveyed the city’s post-Hurricane Katrina landscape, they found old houses were only part of the story.They couldn’t ignore the pastel-colored homes being built for displaced musicians, or the construction projects spearheaded by actor Brad Pitt. So both will be included in the show’s 10-episode series scheduled to begin airing nationally Jan. 24 on PBS.

“It was worth departing from our comfort zone to tell every part of this story,” said producer Deborah Hood, in New Orleans recently with a video crew at the Musicians’ Village, where 68 homes are complete or under construction, and at sites where Pitt is building affordable, environmentally friendly homes.

On a previous visit, producers interviewed singer-pianist Harry Connick Jr. and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, the New Orleans natives who launched the Musicians’ Village.

They also included the story of a handicapped woman whose flooded Broadmoor home is being renovated by Rebuilding Together, one of the volunteer organizations so vital to the city’s recovery.

Despite the new angles, Hood says fans of the show’s traditional format won’t be disappointed. This Old House will cover in great detail the rebuilding of an 1892 Creole shotgun-style home in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Audiences will follow homeowner Rashida Ferdinand, 32, a fourth-generation resident of the neighborhood, as she rebuilds the home she purchased in 2004, about a year before Katrina smashed levees and inundated her home with floodwater.

As cameras rolled, her home was buzzing with construction workers hanging drywall and installing French doors.

A ceramic artist, Ferdinand called finding the home “a blessing” because of its lot size, studio out back and location near the Mississippi River. But it was the history of the neighborhood she cherished most.

“The Ninth Ward was a place of pioneers, a place where people found land, built on the land and started communities, especially right here along the river,” she said.

Though it’s taken more than two years to rebuild her dream, Ferdinand expects to be in the house by February.

She’s “on the forefront of the rebuild” in the Lower Ninth Ward, said This Old House host Kevin O’Connor.

Less than 10 percent of the neighborhood’s population is back, and like many of her neighbors, Ferdinand did not have flood insurance. She had to wait for help from a federally funded state rebuilding program.

“It’s hard for a lot of people to come back, and it’s not for lack of will. It’s for lack of resources,” O’Connor said.

Because Ferdinand’s home is a historical one, she qualified for a grant from the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office to save its historical elements, such as the exposed brick fireplace in her living room, the tongue-and-groove ceilings and walls made of boards from a disassembled Mississippi River barge.

She also is enlarging the house by building a second story at the home’s rear, creating what is locally known as a camelback style.

The upstairs addition will serve as a master suite, with three sets of French doors. Balconies facing the river offer views of an old pilot house, river boats and downtown skyscrapers.

“The Mississippi River was something I took for granted,” said Ferdinand, gazing in the direction of the river from the steps of her front porch. “I have so many memories of being close to the river, walking on the levee, riding bikes, flying our kites.”

She’s been living at a relative’s New Orleans home since Katrina, and longs to be back in her own house. She especially misses her kitchen.

“I love cooking New Orleans food,” Ferdinand said, spouting off some of her favorite dishes — stewed hen, baked macaroni and cheese, and file and okra gumbo. “I can’t wait to get in my new kitchen and have my family over.”

(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle)




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Dec. 30, 2007, 2:50PM

They say his advisers would profit from trusts that would benefit needy children and the singer’s grandchildren’s education

AIKEN, S.C. — Five of James Brown’s children say their late father’s will should be invalidated because his former advisers used undue influence to get him to create charitable trusts that the advisers would profit from, according to court documents.

The children were largely left out of the financial portion of the will, which leaves the bulk of the soul singer’s money to trusts set up to educate Brown’s grandchildren and needy children.

Atlanta attorney Louis Levenson said Brown’s children discovered earlier wills drafted by their father that cast doubt on whether he truly wanted to leave his estate to charity.

“There was sporadic indication that Mr. Brown intended to benefit some charities, but the circumstances surrounding the making of these documents have always been clouded in mystery,” Levenson said.

Five Brown children are challenging the will in Aiken County Probate Court. They allege Brown’s longtime advisers Buddy Dallas, Alford Bradley and David Cannon persuaded the singer to create the trusts so the advisers would profit from managing the two charities after Brown’s death.

Dallas denied the allegations and called attempts to void the will “an act of desperation.”

“No one told James Brown what to do,” Dallas said, adding that if he were going to use his influence to benefit himself, “I would have just influenced him into giving me something.”

The Brown children challenging the will are Deanna Brown Thomas, Venisha Brown, Daryl Brown, Yamma Brown Lumar and Larry Brown. A sixth child named in Brown’s will, Terry Brown, has hired a different attorney.

One grandchild whose tuition would be paid for by the trusts has accused his relatives of trying to break the charities to get the money.

Most of Brown’s estate, including his Beech Island home and rights to his image, name and music, would go to the James Brown “I Feel Good” Trust for the education of needy children in South Carolina and Georgia, as well as to a family trust to educate his grandchildren younger than 35.

Brown died of heart failure on Christmas 2006. He was 73.

Just how much money is involved in Brown’s estate is unclear. In October, Forbes reported Brown made an estimated $5 million in 2005 alone. But attorneys have said Brown’s accounts do not have the money they expected.

(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle)

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Michigan State University sophomore Lauryn Scott, 19, reads to her cousin, Harmoniee Ryan, 2, at home in Oshtemo. Scott is among students benefiting from promised tuition.


Dec. 29, 2007, 11:45PM

Programs that promise tuition are springing up for public school grads


Kalamazoo, Mich.: Funded by private donors with four-year tuition-and-fee guarantee at a Michigan state-supported college or university, for graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Hammond, Ind.: High school students of parents who live in Hammond are eligible for $30,000 in tuition assistance, for any public or private college or university in Indiana, provided they have a 3.0 grade point average or a 2.5 GPA with a 1,000 SAT score on reading and math or a 21 ACT score on reading and math. Supported by casino revenues.

Pittsburgh: Paid for by initial grant of $100 million from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, covering all graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools. Applies to Pennsylvania state schools and all postsecondary schools in Allegheny County.

El Dorado, Ark.: Funded by Murphy Oil Corp., the plan offers graduates of El Dorado High School up to five years of tuition and fees at any Arkansas public university.

CHICAGO — John and Tashia Morgridge two weeks ago donated $175 million of their personal wealth to fund college scholarships for thousands of Wisconsin high school graduates.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center this month committed $100 million to help all future graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools go to college.

And in Kalamazoo, Mich., which triggered a nationwide movement two years ago with a privately funded guarantee to pick up the four-year tuition tab for any graduate of that city’s school system, officials are almost awestruck by the results — a dramatic increase in student enrollment, lower dropout rates and small but encouraging signs of economic development in a struggling city.

“There’s been a bigger buzz than we thought there would be,” said Bob Jorth, executive administrator of the Kalamazoo Promise. “Given the fact that we’re in Michigan and there
aren’t a lot of jobs, we’ve been pleased.”

Awaiting conclusions

Tuition guarantees are gaining momentum across the nation, with more than 20 cities either establishing such programs or planting the idea in hopes that private donors or taxpayers will pony up the money to help offset staggering increases in college costs.At the same time, these programs also aim to attract new businesses and spur home ownership.

It is too early to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of these fledgling programs, scattered around the country in places such as El Dorado, Ark., and Hammond, Ind. While the Kalamazoo Promise has generated tremendous interest, economists point out that many communities do not have the private wealth that Kalamazoo has. And school officials caution that the programs, by themselves, guarantee only that a student will be able to go to college.

“What we do not know is whether the percentage of kids going to college and staying it through and graduating will be very good,” said Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Big reform effort

The Pittsburgh Promise, as it is known, is intended to provide tuition guarantees for students attending Pennsylvania colleges and universities, starting with the 2,500-student graduating class of 2008, Roosevelt said.The $100 million commitment from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is a so-called challenge grant, designed to encourage other donors to kick in another $150 million.

Roosevelt said the Pittsburgh Promise is only one piece of a larger school reform effort designed to improve the quality of graduates of the city’s 28,000-student system.

The early results from Kalamazoo suggest that most of the 360-plus students who took advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise are at least surviving college. Jorth said the rate of student retention — those who return to school after their freshman year — is about 60 percent, a little above the national average.

One who returned for her sophomore year is Lauryn Scott, who is majoring in marketing at Michigan State University. “This is a great opportunity for me,” Scott said. “This is saving me a lot of money.”

Investment in opportunity

The Kalamazoo Promise guarantees full payment of four years of tuition and fees at any of Michigan’s 44 public colleges and universities for graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools. Tuition support varies, depending on the number of years that graduates spent in the system. The guarantee is paid for by anonymous private corporate donors, widely believed to include the family of Stryker Corp., a medical products supplier.John Morgridge, chairman emeritus of Cisco Systems Inc., and the endowment he established with his wife, Tashia, would award about 2,000 grants of $1,000 to $5,000 for the 2008-09 school year, and about 3,000 grants annually after that.

At the very least, tuition-guarantee programs are an investment in opportunity, making college a reality for students who would not otherwise be able to attend college.

According to a report from the College Board, average tuition and fees, through the 10-year period ending with the 2004-05 school year, jumped 51 percent at public four-year colleges and universities.

Bob Watson, the public school superintendent in El Dorado, Ark., said the percentage of his schools’ students going to college leaped this year from 55 percent to 83 percent.

“What it’s doing for our kids is unbelievable. These are kids who never thought they’d be going to college.”

At the same time, the number of students enrolling in El Dorado Public Schools has jumped in the past year, Watson said.

(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle)

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Joe Horn Horn has not been charged in the fatal shooting of two suspected burglars, although the district attorney will likely present the case to a grand jury to determine if charges should be filed.


Dec. 30, 2007, 2:08PM

Vigilante or just vigilant, Pasadena resident Joe Horn blasted himself into a world of controversy Nov. 14 when he fatally shot two men he said were breaking into the house of his next-door neighbor.Despite repeated admonitions of a 911 dispatcher not to confront the pair, the 61-year-old computer consultant stepped onto his front porch, spotted the men in his front yard and shot them in the back. Killed in the midday incident were Hernando Riascos Torres, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30, both black Colombian nationals later determined to have been in the United States illegally.

In a taped conversation with the dispatcher, a clearly agitated Horn expressed concern that the men would escape with a bag of stolen property.

Horn, in a written statement released through his lawyer, Tom Lambright, later lamented the shootings, conceding they would “weigh heavily on me for the rest of my life.”

While Horn’s actions may have been protected under law — his lawyer says he fired in self-defense — the shootings ignited a contentious debate on gun rights, racism and immigration.

Little more than two weeks after the killings, protesters led by black activist Quanell X verbally dueled with Horn supporters in front of Horn’s Pasadena home.

Quanell X called for Horn to be charged with murder. “Our position is that we do not condone their actions,” Quanell X said of the burglary suspects, “but Horn acted as police officer, judge, jury and executioner all at the same time.”

Motorcycle-riding Horn supporters revved their engines each time the activist attempted to speak publicly. One of the counterprotesters waved an American flag and shouted “Go home” at members of the New Black Panther Nation. “Don’t break into people’s homes, and you won’t get shot,” she said.

Letters and comments expressing similar opinions poured in to newspapers, talk-radio programs and computer chatrooms.

Although Horn had no way of knowing that the burglar suspects were illegal immigrants and that one had previously been deported for a drug offense, the shootings touched off a powder keg of emotion.

Still simmering among some was the memory of an August crash in which three people, one of them a 2-year-old boy, died.

Police said the driver of a second vehicle, illegal immigrant Juan Felix Salinas, was intoxicated. He had been arrested earlier in the year for “violently shaking his wife,” authorities said. He avoided being detected by immigration authorities, however, by signing a “non-arrest” bond, which some victim advocates have called a loophole for illegal immigrants.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office later stopped issuing such bonds.

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| Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES – In a murderous quest aimed at “cleansing” their turf of snitches and rival gangsters, members of one of Los Angeles County’s most vicious Latino gangs sometimes killed people just because of their race, an investigation found.

There were even instances in which Florencia 13 leaders ordered killings of black gangsters and then, when the intended victim couldn’t be located, said “Well, shoot any black you see,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said.

“In certain cases some murders were just purely motivated on killing a black person,” Baca said.

Authorities say there were 20 murders among more than 80 shootings documented during the gang’s rampage in the hardscrabble Florence-Firestone neighborhood, exceptional even in an area where gang violence has been commonplace for decades. They don’t specify the time frame or how many of the killings were racial.

Los Angeles has struggled with gang violence for years, especially during the wars in the late 1980s and early ’90s between the Crips and the Bloods — both black gangs. Latino gangs have gained influence since then as the Hispanic population surged.

Evidence of Florencia 13, or F13, is easy to find in Florence-Firestone. Arrows spray-painted on the wall of a liquor store mark the gang’s boundary and graffiti warns rivals to steer clear.

The gang’s name comes from the neighborhood that is its stronghold and the 13th letter of the alphabet — M — representing the gang’s ties to the Mexican Mafia.

Federal, state and local officials worked together to charge 102 men linked to F13 with racketeering, conspiracy to murder, weapons possession, drug dealing and other crimes. In terms of people charged, it’s the largest-ever federal case involving a Southern California gang, prosecutors say. More than 80 of those indicted are in custody.

But eliminating the gang won’t be easy. It’s survived for decades and is believed to have about 2,000 members. Its reach extends to Nevada, Arizona and into prisons, where prosecutors say incarcerated gang leaders were able to order hits on black gangsters.

According to the indictment, F13’s leader, Arturo Castellanos, sent word in 2004 from California’s fortress-like Pelican Bay State Prison that he wanted his street soldiers to begin “cleansing” Florence-Firestone of black gangsters, notably the East Coast Crips, and snitches.

His followers eagerly obeyed, according to federal prosecutors.

In one case, F13 members came across a black man at a bus stop, shouted “Cheese toast!” and fired. “Cheese toast” is a derogatory name for East Coast Crips, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin S. Rosenberg said.

The victim, apparently targeted only because of his skin color, survived being shot several times, Rosenberg said.

F13 isn’t the only Latino gang linked to racial killings. Last year, four members of The Avenues, a gang from the Highland Park area east of downtown Los Angeles, were convicted of hate crimes for killing a black man in what prosecutors called a campaign to drive blacks from that neighborhood. And last January, authorities announced a crackdown on the 204th Street gang following the killing of a 14-year-old black girl.

The violence goes both ways, said Adam Torres, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department gang detective whose beat includes Florence-Firestone.

During a recent patrol on the east side of the neighborhood, he pointed to a cinderblock wall peppered with bullet holes. Torres said the Crips still control that area and any Hispanic there is at risk of being shot.

Despite the wave of violence, George Tita, a criminologist with the University of California, Irvine, said racially motivated gang killings are an exception. Latinos and blacks are far more likely to be murdered by one of their own.

“You don’t see these major black-brown wars, either within the context of gangs or outside the context of gangs,” Tita said.

Residents of Florence-Firestone are loath to discuss gangs, fearful they might end up as targets, but there are signs of change. Murders in the neighborhood dropped from 43 in 2005 to 19 in 2006, Baca said. For 2007, there were 19 murders as of Dec. 24.

Jose Garcia sees the difference. The security doors on the store where he works aren’t covered with graffiti as often and he hasn’t heard a gunshot in two months.

“It used to be at least once or twice a week,” he said.


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