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Despite All the Dead Motorists, GM Gets to Pay Off Justice Department

handshake

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — Imagine if you will, if former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was able to pay the Justice Department hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of going to prison for 28 years. Imagine if Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, accused of having a hand in 19 murders, was able to pay a couple million dollars to the Justice Department instead of serving life in prison.  Imagine if Dr. Farid Fata, a Detroit area oncologist who administered chemotherapy to patients who didn’t even have cancer, paid a $10 million fine instead of getting a 45-year sentence.

And then imagine, if you will,  if General Motors was able to pay $900 million to the Justice Department in lieu of having some of its employees go to prison for sweeping under the rug a gravely serious problem with faulty ignitions that resulted in well over 100 deaths.

Call it murder.  Call it negligent homicide. Call it manslaughter.

Call it a bloody injustice. Call it a shame that General Motors is able to pay off the Justice Department to make a criminal case go away.  Reuters reported Wednesday that GM has agreed to pay about $900 million in fines and sign a deferred-prosecution agreement to end a federal investigation into its handling of problems.

The Justice Department will charge the company, not any individuals, with criminally hiding the defect from regulators and in the process defrauding consumers. So what.

The Justice Department has historically failed to address some corporate crimes appropriately by letting some folks off without prison time. The message is clear in cases like this: “Just give us money and we’ll make it go away.” GM could have recalled these dangerous cars with faulty ignitions 10 years ago, but nobody made them do it, so they didn’t.  Lives could have been saved.

Sure, GM’s CEO Mary T. Barra can take some credit for cleaning house and getting rid of those responsible. Now, those folks have lawyered up and shut their yaps.

The word is that the Justice Department didn’t have enough incriminating documents or a real whistleblower to put together a solid criminal case against individuals.

But that’s no reason not to pursue a criminal investigation. If the feds could get N.Y. Underboss Salvatore “Sammy The Bull” Gravano to flip and rat out his boss, John Gotti, they could certainly have worked the case more and gotten some white collar workers to flip on co-workers.

Again, Mary Barra and GM should get some credit for cooperating with a federal investigation and offering payouts to victims, but that shouldn’t mean a free pass for those who could have acted responsibly and saved lives.

The $900 million is certainly a lot of money to you and I. But for GM, that’s a quarterly earning. GM can absorb that.

We rely on the automakers to produce a safe product, one that many of us rely on nearly everyday of our adult lives.  We don’t expect the automakers to be perfect and always produce a flawless product.

But we do expect them to respond appropriately, and in a timely manner, when they realize a flaw in their product could kill us.

Unfortunately, the Justice Department has once again sent a message to the automakers that cover ups are OK, so long as you have the money to pay for them when you get caught.

 

My Adventures Tracking Marion Barry

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In March of 1997, after being on strike at the Detroit News for 19 months, I headed off to D.C. to work for the Washington Post.

Sure, D.C. was home to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but to me, just importantly, it was home to the legendary Mayor Marion Barry, the guy who had become fodder in the comedic stratosphere after being busted in 1990 in an FBI sting for smoking crack. Comic Chris Rock had a field day with Barry.

Barry’s death on Sunday at age 78 reminded me of the various encounters and dealings I had with him over the years while working at the Washington Post. Sometimes I had to track him down to get a quote for someone’s story or go to a community meeting where he was speaking ,or write about his encounters with the law.

He was a character, and a charismatic one at that, though it seemed in the latter years he had far less energy and zip and suffered from various ailments.

My first dealings with Barry came after I’d been at the paper a short time. Barry had publicly said he had turned over a new leaf and was loyal to his wife. He said he was no longer a stray cat on the prowl.

But some reporters at the paper were hearing differently, that he was still running around, and had at least a couple girlfriends on the side. They had names and addresses.

The Post editors wanted me to stake out the alleged girlfriends’ homes to show that Barry was lying. It smacked of the Gary Hart story the Miami Herald pursued in 1987 after Hart, who was running for president, denied rumors he was a womanizer. The Herald staked out a D.C. townhouse and found that Hart had spent the night with a woman named Donna Rice.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable snooping over something so tawdry. I didn’t like the Gary Hart story, and wasn’t too crazy about this one. But I was relatively new at one the nation’s top papers, and thought, well, if the Washington Post is doing this, it must be journalistically OK. Frankly, weeks and years later, I never felt good about it, and in hindsight, should have probably objected to taking part in the stakeout.

Nonetheless, one night I headed out to a stakeout on a street off of North Capitol, just blocks from Union Station. I sat about five houses down from the alleged girlfriend’s home. I remember sitting in the car, calling a friend back in Detroit and saying something like: “You’re not going to believe what they’ve got me doing.”

I thought, even if Barry showed up and went inside the house, short of him spending the night, what was I going to prove without peeking in the window to make sure he was getting naked? Other than that, for all I knew, he could have been going over there to watch a Seinfeld show marathon.

I sat there for a few hours. No Barry.

Another night I was sent out to an apartment parking lot in Southwest Washington. Again, no Barry. Eventually, before I took off, I asked a few people in the parking lot if they had ever seen Barry come around. They had not.

That was the end of that.

The next year, I was working on a story on the 40th anniversary of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a legendary hot dog joint on U Street in D.C. Barry was a regular, as were a lot of politicians, and he was particularly fond of the turkey burgers. While interviewing him, he gave me a very memorable line, which unfortunately was cut from the article because of space.

“Ben’s Chili Bowl is for everybody. It’s for people who go to Morehouse and people who got no house.”

I loved that line.

Eventually, a Control Board, similar to an emergency manager here in Michigan, stripped Barry of his powers. And in 1998, he decided not to run for mayor again. Four years later, the man was back. He announced he was running for city council.

“It’s great waking up in the morning clean and sober,” he said at the time.

But weeks later, I wrote a story, along with colleague Martin Weil, that U.S. Park Police had found traces of marijuana and cocaine in Barry’s car. Police had been trying to keep the story quiet.

What happened was police encountered Barry after responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle in a no-parking zone in an area of D.C. known as Buzzard Point. The officer saw Barry ingesting something and searched the car.

Authorities decided the amounts of illegal drugs were too small to support a prosecution.

Barry dropped out the council race shortly after.

But he wasn’t done.

In 2004, he ran and won a seat on city council. He remained as a council member until his death.

He was a complex man with an addictive personality. Life wasn’t so easy.

But it sure was interesting for him. And frankly, he made it interesting for a lot of other folks including journalists like me.

The Washington Post Editorial board on Sunday put it best:

Those people will mourn Marion Barry today, but they should not be alone. All in this city who knew him over his half-century here ought to mourn the great promise lost over the course of a life that conformed in many ways to the dictionary definition of ancient tragedy, and recall with admiration the man who helped knock down barriers that are almost unimaginable to those of a younger generation.

 

 

 

Terrorists Have Probably Given Secret Service More Credit Than It Deserves

Director Julia Pierson

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

I think the American public in general has been blown away by recent news of the lapses in Secret Service security involving the President.

I have to think, had terrorists any clue that it was so easy to breach security and get into the White House, they would have tried something long ago.

Thank goodness that the perception of a secure White House has trumped the reality. How any one could make it so far into the White House is mind boggling. 

Of the many times I passed the White House, I never once thought it would be easy to get in.  It looked so daunting. So secure. Apparently, not so.

 I’ve known a lot of outstanding Secret Service agents over the years, and I have to believe there’s a collective feeling of shame for the agency.  

Should Secret Service Director Julia Pierson have been fired?

Well, under the circumstances there seemed to be no other choice.  

There had to be an expression of outrage that came from the Hill as well as the White House, not to mention the public.

So, yes, the coach had to be fired when the team performed so poorly. In this case, it’s not a game.  

Now, we have to bring some of the top security experts in the world to evaluate the weak points in the presidential security details, both on the road and at the White House. It wouldn’t hurt to bring someone from Israel, a nation obsessed with security.

 We in America need so be obsessed about this issue. 

 

 

We May Never Feel As Safe As We Did on Sept. 10, 2001

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Thirteen years  ago today, I was walking down Connecticut Avenue NW  in Washington, D.C.,  on my way to work, about to get on the subway, when I ran into a friend who asked if I had heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

I hadn’t. By the time I got off the subway at the Farragut North stop downtown, the city was in a panic. I ran into my editor at the Washington Post, who said she had heard that planes had crashed into the Pentagon and the State Department. Rumors were running rampant.

We got to the newsroom and everyone was standing around TVs watching the incredulous events unfold. 

A second plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center and a third had crashed into the Pentagon, not all that far away. We were under attack.

We all got our assignments. I was sent to D.C. Police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW to hang out all day. I walked there, about 1.5 miles.  On the way over there, you could hear everyone on the street calling loved ones, checking in.

At police headquarters, a  group of reporters stood out front, hanging out. The police chief, Charles Ramsey, (who is now the Philadelphia Police chief) would occasionally drive by and give us updates. A plane in Pennsylvania was still unaccounted for. We kept looking up at the sky wondering if it just might come our way.

The world changed that day. We had been shaken before as Americans. We had the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but this was of a magnitude we had never seen before.

We’ve learned a lot since that time. At first, the FBI, jittery from not unearthing the 9/11 plot, and getting plenty blame for that, followed up on every tip it got, regardless of how silly it might have seemed. In time, it learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. Also, for a while, authorities were overly paranoid about anyone in D.C. taking photos or video of buildings. That eventually changed.

Plus, the government, the White House, the FBI and other agencies,  had a lot to learn about Islam.  The FBI shifted its top priority to terrorism, and we created the Department of Homeland Security, which frankly, the verdict is still out on how effective that has been.

Since that day, Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve become far more aware of  the potential terrorism threat.

Frankly, in the days that followed Sept. 11, 2001, I thought life would never be normal again.  Fortunately, things have returned to some semblance of normalcy.

But we’ll likely never feel as safe as we did on Sept. 10, 2001.

Justice Department’s Seizure of Associated Press Phone Records is Disgusting!

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Last time I checked, John Mitchell of the Nixonian era was no longer our Attorney General.

But you’d be hard pressed not to feel that the crooked Mitchell was heading up the Justice Department, which we now learn,  secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press. It’s something John Mitchell would have done.

AP calls it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”

I call it one of the most disgusting things to come out of Justice  in a long long time.

Eric Holder’s Justice Department has offered no public justification.

That’s because there is no justification in a nation where we have a First Amendment, in a nation where the government is not supposed to run amok and trample on the rights of press.

(Update: Holder said Tuesday that he recused himself from the probe involving AP and that deputy Attorney General James Cole supervised the probe. He said he’s certain everything was done according to the law, and that the aggressive probe into a leak was essential.)

In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012, according to AP.

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt shot off a letter to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder Jr.:

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

The Obama administration has come under constant attack by the right. With offensive antics like this,  it may not be able to count on support from the other side of the aisle in the future.

This shouldn’t happen, that is, unless it’s really the ghost of John Mitchell who’s running the Justice Department.

I’m not sure Attorney General Eric Holder would like to be saddled with a legacy like that.

 

If Dead Kids Doesn’t Do It, What Will?

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It’s nauseating to say the least to see how spineless our Washington lawmakers are, how fearful they are when it comes to standing up to the NRA and the people who insist that universal background checks are too intrusive and assault weapons are necessary to own.

The Newtown shootings should have been enough to give lawmakers the backbone to stand up.

No, the Gabby Giffords shootings should have been enough.

No, the Aurora movie theater shootings should have been enough.

No, the Virginia Tech shootings should have been enough.

No, the Columbine shootings should have been enough.

You get the point, nothing, not dead high school kids, not dead elementary school kids, not a dead federal judge, nothing will move some of our lawmakers.

Granted, banning assault rifles at this point won’t instantly remove them from circulation. But we have to start somewhere, and banning assault rifles will eventually make them much harder to get. And the universal background checks, well, that’s another no brainer. Currently, about 40% of guns purchased from places other than licensed gun dealer (like collectors and guns shows) do not require background checks. That would change under a new proposal in Washington that is under intense debate.

I’m afraid we’re missing the window of opportunity to enact some tougher gun laws. No, I’m not advocating taking away guns. But we need change. Now. Not after 10 more tragedies involving unstable people.

In most societies, the senseless, mass deaths of kids is enough to make politicians respond.

Apparently, not in this society.

Which really really worries me.

If dead children doesn’t do it, what will?

Shouldn’t We Do More to Avoid Mass Deaths By Crazed Gunmen?

By Allan Lengel
For Deadline Detroit

During my visits to Israel, the idea of security was never far off. At the train station, at the bus stop, I went through a metal detector. An armed guard checked through packages and asked if I was carrying a gun.

After Sept. 11, 2001, I thought the U.S. would have second thoughts about security in public places, particularly with the threat of terrorism looming here.

I figured maybe places like malls or movie theaters might consider screening customers.

But no. That hasn’t happened. Americans have a way of conveniently forgetting or deferring such concerns until the next tragedy.

All around the country, we’re seeing all too often crazed gunmen — homegrown terrorists if you will — open fire on innocent citizens. Each incident is a reminder that we probably aren’t doing enough.

To read full column click here.

Law Enforcement Needs to Take On Mental Illness If It Wants to Reduce the Chances of More Mass Shootings

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — Looking at the mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years, from Tucson to Aurora, Colo. from  Columbine to Oak Creek, Wisc., two things become apparent: The gunmen all had easy access to guns and they all had severe psychological problems.

I won’t address the issue of the guns. Not in this column.

But I want to address the issue of mental illness.

Law enforcement has to recognize this as a crime problem.

Law enforcement needs to partner with social services and psychiatric agencies and address mental illness in this country that is being played out in such deadly ways these days.

When states cut budgets, social services and mental health facilities often take hits. That means more untreated mental illness or people going without their meds.   That potentially opens us up for the next Aurora or Sikh temple shooting. That should be unacceptable.  Law enforcement should let that be known.

As early as elementary school, we can often identify problem children. Teachers and counselors need to play a bigger role in identifying those kids.  Law enforcement needs to make sure funding and  treatment is there.

In junior high, I could already see that some of my classmates were destined for trouble. One ended up being fatally shot during an armed robbery right after high school graduation. Another had the distinction of being known as “the west side rapist.”

Not to suggest addressing mental illness is the end-all solution.  But it is  part of the solution.

Law enforcement needs to recognize that.  Responding to the massacres  isn’t good enough.  We can’t keep watching these massacres unfold and simply wonder why.