Sunday, August 31, 2003

Tony Blair's Watergate?

For the Guardian Unlimited, Tom Bower writes about fallen spin-master Alastair Campbell’s startling resignation and the churning troubles for Prime Minister Blair that may be close to spinning out of control:

“…Just 24 hours after Tony Blair emphasized his loyalty to Alastair Campbell, his closest adviser has resigned. The echoes of Watergate are deafening.”

To read more about the unraveling story at No. 10, click here.

Bality, a Richmond Artist to Note

Andras Bality’s studio is in the Fan District and he studied at VCU, so it’s fair to call him a Fan District artist.

Bality’s paintings are the work of an artist who has hit his stride, with the particular style he has developed. It’s a pleasant task studying his canvasses, considering the choices he must have made to depict a scene. Many of the compositions seem to be suggesting a gray sort of day, a lighting situation in which color trumps shadow.

Bality’s work challenges the viewer, without shouting at him. While it’s consistently tasteful and easy to like, he is still experimenting. There's a playful sense to his art that's subtle, like a fleeting eye-twinkle.

Here’s a link to a Bality painting of a Fan District scene:

And, here’s the link to Bality’s web site (there are miniatures of several more paintings there.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Blair's Chief Spin Doc Quits

Wondering what to make of the sudden resignation of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s communications chief? Is this just an English thing, political infighting? Or is Campbell’s departure really the first to fall in a line of dominos that leads from 10 Downing Street – spanning the Atlantic Ocean – all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Read all about it, courtesy of BBC News:

"A press chief like no other?"

"Pundits divided over Campbell"

Friday, August 29, 2003

Fistfuls of Dollars

Is Dubya’s squint-eyed imitation of Clint Eastwood wearing a little thin for you yet? Only months into a war our wannabe bad-ass cowboy president says will take years and, already, it’s looking like a bigger disaster than many of his policy's harshest critics warned would be the case, before the invasion.

How bad does it have to get before his busy apologists run out of whatever it is they're using for fuel?

For the New York Times Paul Krugman takes an unflinching look at where we stand in Iraq: “…the costs of a ‘bring 'em on’ foreign policy are now looming large indeed. The direct military cost of the occupation is $4 billion a month, and there's no end in sight. But that's only part of the bill.”

Krugman’s analysis is penetrating. Click here to read it.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Progress vs. Power

On November 4 Richmonders will have the opportunity to vote, yes or no, on a city charter change calling for the election of a mayor by a citywide vote. The Wilder-Bliley Commission collected enough signatures on petitions to get the proposal on the ballot.

Currently, the nine members of City Council select the mayor from their own ranks. Under the Wilder-Bliley proposal, the mayor would be selected directly by the voters, every four years.

The City of Richmond needs this change. Read about why and the peculiar path that has led us to this point in a piece penned by F. T. Rea for STYLE Weekly.

Here’s a little teaser blurb: “In spite of how it might seem to a viewer after watching City Council meetings on television, personalities are not really what’s most wrong at City Hall. No. Cobbled together by conflicting moves made in 1948 and 1977, it’s plainly the system that’s twisted. This is a problem that is limiting our city’s potential all over town. For good reason, citizens of all backgrounds in Richmond have lost faith in their local government.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Jihad All-Stars

Maureen Dowd dissects the Bush plan, or lack thereof, for fighting terrorism in Iraq:

“…We don't know exactly which of our ghostly Arab enemies are which, how many there are, who's plotting with whom, what weapons they have, how they're getting into Iraq, where they're hiding, or who's financing and organizing them.”

Read Dowd’s piece, The Jihad All-Stars, in the New York Times.

The Wal-Marting of America

The term Wal-Marting is making its way into the vernacular of the day. On the surface the term refers unsympathetically to the boring, cookie cutter sameness that national chain stores have brought to our way of life. But that sense of what the likes of Wal-Mart and McDonalds have done to promote what amounts to utter conformity looks at the phenomenon from the outside in.

How about what Wal-Marting might mean from the inside out?

As we approach Labor Day take a look at Harold Meyerson’s examination of the effect Wal-Mart is having on the American labor force. Here's a sample blurb:

“…Controlling as it does so much of the low-end retail market, Wal-Mart has, with great success, pressured suppliers to cut their labor costs. No other American company has done as much to destroy what's left of the U.S. clothing and textile industry or been so loyal a friend to the dankest sweatshops of the developing world.”

Read the article in the Washington Post.

Monday, August 25, 2003

The Snipe Hunt in Iraq Continues

Scott Ritter, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, writes about the baffling methodology that has been/is being used to find the infamous WMD presence President Bush said was the most pressing reason for launching his go-it-alone war to liberate the suffering people of Iraq: “Some 1,500 American investigators are scouring the Iraqi countryside for evidence of weapons of mass destruction that has so far eluded them…”.

After reading Ritter’s OpEd piece in the New York Times we are left to wonder -- what was/is really going on with the so-called search for WMDs?

Regarding such brutal futility, as appears to be in the air in Iraq, perhaps Marvin Gaye put it best in his classic 1971 anti-war song: “What’s Going On?”

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Three Trains Crossing

On a pretty summer Sunday take a break from the noisy news of the day to click on this link to view a colorized (circa 1940’s) shot of what was billed as, “the only point in the world where three trunk line trains may cross each other at the same time, and over their separate tracks.”

Depicted in a wonderful old postcard, one this scribbler remembers seeing as a child, is a scene of three trains, on three different levels, passing over the same point in Shockoe Bottom. To see more of these charming postcards visit the VCU Special Collection of vintage postcards.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Anti-Occupation Rally

For information about the rally to protest the American occupation of Iraq, being staged in Richmond’s Monroe Park on Sunday, August 24, at 4:30 p.m., visit the Richmond Independent Media Center.

Is Kerry the Donkey With the Best Legs?

Candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) profiled by

Searching for Needles of Truth in Haystacks of Sham

Which is the Bush administration more interested in -- finding out how 9/11 was accomplished by its perpetrators and allowed for by our government, or in covering its own ass?

Gail Sheehy writes: “…So afraid is the Bush administration of what could be revealed by inquiries into its failures to protect Americans from terrorist attack, it is unabashedly using Kremlin tactics to muzzle members of Congress and thwart the current federal commission investigating the failures of Sept. 11.”

That excerpt is from Sheehy’s eye-opening account of the efforts of four dauntless 9/11 widows to find the truth, the whole truth, about what killed their husbands. The story of the complex shell game that is being used to deny those women the facts, and thus keep us all in the dark, is both bewildering and chilling. Read it in the New York Observer.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Fox Denied; Franken Unrepentant

Today Fox News struck out with its absurd attempt to block sales of comedian/political commentator Al Franken’s new headline-making book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

Newsday reports: “’There are hard cases and there are easy cases,’ U.S. District Judge Denny Chin told Fox's lawyers Friday. ‘This is an easy case in my view and wholly without merit, both factually and legally.'”

Afterwards, claiming the publicity had increased demand for his book, Franken said, "I'd like to thank Fox's lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen in my life."

Read the fair and balanced piece.

Bringing It On

In “Behind the Failure” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes about the Bush administration’s utter misunderstanding of the reality on the ground in Iraq before it launched its go-it-alone war, and the rash statements that have flowed from that mistake.

“...consider our president's statement on July 2 in response to a question about attackers targeting our troops. ‘Bring 'em on,’ our president declared. ‘We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.’ Mr. President, they're bringing it on.”

Read the article in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Gotta go, gotta go...

by F. T. Rea

RICHMOND, VA (August 19, 2003): The horns wailed as they entered the Arthur Ashe Center. At about 12:30 p.m. a brass New Orleans-style procession playing "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" led the family, friends and fans of the late L. Eric "Rick" Stanley into the memorial ceremony.

It was a service for the deejay known to his local listeners as Eric E. Eric Stanley died on August 12, 2003.

The program billed the occasion as a "celebration of life." What followed the procession, two hours-plus of music and colorful Rick Stanley anecdotes with a somewhat restrained dose of old-time religion, lived up to the billing.

Many of the faces in the crowd of approximately 1,500 were familiar to anyone who has followed the live music scene in Richmond over the last 20-some years. Interestingly, for a city reputed to be trapped in habits that separate blacks from whites, Stanley once again demonstrated his unique ability to appeal to both sides of Broad Street.

Eric Stanley, who was 53 when cancer took his life, was the host and producer of the Bebop, Boogie, & Blues Review, a radio show of his own invention that was heard most recently on WJMO-105.7FM on Sunday nights. As well, he was a promoter/producer of many live shows.

Stanley's bright-eyed daughter, Erin Stanley, closed her remarks with her father's trademark radio sign-off: "Gotta go, gotta go..."

Tears flowed – of course they did – but the overall mood in the room was decidedly upbeat. Stanley's presence was symbolized throughout the cavernous space by photographs and other traditional remembrances on display, which included his own harmonica – a Hohner Pro Harp, a 10-hole diatonic with black cover-plates.

For the recessional the musicians played "When the Saints Go Marching In" to lead the gathering into the sunlight.

Those who were so disposed went to the closest restaurant/bar, Dabney's, where a lively reception ensued, and lingered. No doubt, it was a crowd Rick Stanley would have enjoyed being a part of.

His silent black harmonica was there.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Al Franken Sued Over Slogan

Fox News Channel has sued humorist Al Franken to prevent him from using the phrase "fair and balanced" in the title of his upcoming book. Read the Washington Post story.

Then, there's this reaction:"Save Al Franken!"

Eric Stanley Dies

Eric Stanley, 53, known to his Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue listeners as Eric E -- longtime Richmond deejay and promoter of live music -- died today (Tuesday, August 12) at 7 a.m..

The music/entertainment community in the greater Richmond area will miss one of their own. Stanley's radio audience, which spanned the two sides of Broad Street in a way that was quite unusual in Richmond, will miss his unique approach to broadcasting.

A memorial service will be held at noon on Tuesday, August 19, at the Arthur Ashe Center, on the Boulevard, just north of The Diamond.

To read more about Eric Stanley click here.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Nagle Fires Back at Edwards

Ed Note: On Sunday whistle-blower Nancy Nagle issued a challenge to Henrico County school superintendent Dr. Mark Edwards. It came to SLANT as an email, which the reader will find below. Nagle’s thrown-gauntlet is being published in its entirety:

Dr. Edwards,

This is in response to your Q & A interview printed in the August publication of Richmond Magazine. When [you] asked about me calling the police, you stated that I called "weeks after it had been reported by the principal". Then you went into your "spin" of rhetorical language of HCPS confidentiality policies. You further make the inference that when a teacher is innocent of such accusations, a career could be unnecessarily ruined by reporting prematurely. Betty's resignation, due to "family issues" was accepted on December 16th, 2002 and we both know that closed the HCPS book on Betty Moore. I contacted the police on February 3rd, 2003. That's not premature

When you state that the principal reported the abuse to the appropriate authorities weeks before I contacted the police, are you referring to the "one" incident (Tamia Tootles hand slapping incident) that he reported to CPS after the nurse supervisor followed up several days after their meeting? So out of 2 pages of documented allegations of abuse that were delivered to him between the dates of December 4th and December 6th, he felt the need to only report one incident? Do you agree and defend this reporting practice and do you truly feel that it was sufficient? Would it be sufficient if it was your child?

Why didn't he report each and every allegation...including the one that Betty pleaded guilty to on May 1st? That would be the incident involving little Pierre Evans on November 26th, 2002. You see, if he had reported each and every incident, then a proper investigation by CPS would have been conducted and then that agency would have decided whether HCPD needed to be called. I contend that HCPS had enough information to call HCPD themselves. But that never happened and I believe that it never would have happened.

I know Cuffee questioned named witnesses and none of them denied that the incidents occurred. I know that Deborah Brown was one of them. I know that when he asked Mrs. Brown if she had ever witnessed Betty striking a child, her response was, "with her hand...with an do you mean because I've seen her do both?" So, based upon that response, why didn't he report the incidents involving Mrs. Brown as a witness?

Mr. Cuffee knew by under-reporting to CPS and NOT contacting parents that there would NEVER be a CPS outcome of a "founded" case, let alone a police investigation. He told people to "let it blow over" and to "be Mrs. Moore's friend during this difficult time". He exalted her as "a valuable employee that will be missed". On December 12th when Betty was being questioned at CO, a CO administrator was asked by an ECSE teacher, "is there something going on with one of our preschool teachers?" The administrator responded with, "Dr. Edwards is handling that personally." The ECSE teacher reported that conversation firsthand to me the same day.

I felt it was time for simple, straight talk from me, the "whistleblower", the "informant", the "source". Since you personally handled this matter from the beginning, you must now deal with the outcome. You can't do the minimum and then feign having followed "appropriate procedures". It creates continued outrage. It makes closure difficult for people affected by your actions.

Would you be interested in a joint interview involving the two of us by an agreed upon news source? We could answer direct questions based upon a timeline of events and then the public and your constituents can decide if "appropriate procedures" were indeed followed. The CPS investigation is complete. The HCPD investigation is complete. You are obviously willing to answer questions and make public statements regarding the case now. Remember when you couldn't comment because there was "an ongoing investigation" and the case involved "confidential personnel information"?

But then, later, your office began issuing public statements about the case. Remember when you made the public statement to Nicole Johnson of RTD back in May? That was the one where you stated Mr. Cuffee had "contacted each and every parent personally". This was supposedly the response of some newly found duty on the part of Mr. Cuffee to discuss and answer the abuse allegations.

But, Dr. Edwards, what you failed to explain is that he had just made those contacts....the day before...when he asked the ECSE teacher that replaced Betty for a list of the names & phone numbers of all the students in her class...this was, of course, a full five months after the abuse was reported. Further, you left out the fact that he frantically started making these calls after your office was contacted by Ms. Johnson for a comment on a story she was working on based upon how the parents had NEVER been contacted by anybody at HCPS.

Do you remember the TAC meeting on May 15th, 2003? That's the one where you made statements about and fielded questions in regard to the article in the RTD that ran on the same day. That story was about me having received a reprimand for reporting the abuse and speaking to the press. You see, I faxed my certified letter from Lyle Evans to the reporter. When you used that meeting as a forum to defend your actions, you referred to me as "that teacher" and you used your "ongoing investigation" defense. When do I get to make statements and field questions to TAC representatives regarding my own actions?

So, I think a joint interview might be a more honest and fair way to answer the same questions at the same time. I have nothing to hide. I decided a long time ago that as long as I simply told the truth and followed my heart, I would have no regrets. Can you say the same?

-- Nancy Nagle

Ed Note: On Monday attorney Steve Sommers told SLANT that two more lawsuits stemming from the alleged cover-up of Betty Moore's repeated abuse of children will be filed later this week. When asked why they were not filed with the two in the Richmond Times-Dispatch story about suits flied on Friday, Sommers said: "No reason for the delay, other than the length and complexity of the matters."

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Under the Curiously Lumpy Rug

An eye-opening interview with Henrico County
whistle-blowing teacher Nancy Nagle

by F. T. Rea

Ed Note: (This interview was published in July in the Summer issue of SLANT.)

In an age of institutional malfeasance run amok and toppling ethical standards, we-the-people owe plenty to any citizen with the grit to be willing to stand alone, just to do the right thing. Last year Time (magazine) named a trio of headline-making whistle-blowers - Cynthia Cooper (WorldCom), Sherron Watkins (Enron) and Colleen Rowley (FBI) - as its Person(s) of the Year.

Since conscience-driven whistle-blowers, such as Cooper, Watkins and Rowley, frequently put their own futures at risk in the doing, most mortals tend to shy away from such a role. Fortunately, there are still a few brave souls who can become "outraged in a way" they can't "subdue" - and then they must act.

Fan District resident Nancy L. Nagle, 49, a public school teacher in Henrico County, is in the process of learning how difficult life can be when one is at odds with entrenched power, acting to cover its... exposure. Nonetheless, to protect what she saw as children in need, Nagle broke ranks to go public with the dark story of a fellow teacher who was habitually abusing disabled children, and a principal who was routinely ignoring it.

Nancy Nagle, wife, mother of six, a specialist in Early Childhood Special Education in Henrico County for six years - a movie-lover who looks a little bit like Michelle Pfeiffer - has put her future on the line to do what she believed was her duty. The main players in the purple drama that is still swirling around Nagle are as follows:

Betty Moore: Until her sudden resignation in December 2002, Moore, whose classroom was adjacent to Nagle's at Ratcliffe Elementary School, had served as a teacher in Henrico County's Early Childhood Special Education Department for over a decade.

Chelley Stokes worked as Moore's educational assistant at Ratcliffe for three years. It was Stokes' specifics on Moore's abuse of disabled students - criminal behavior that had already been reported by the school nurse - that set the wheels in motion.

Angelo Cuffee was the principal at Ratclliffe for nine years, prior to his retirement on July 1, 2003. It was Cuffee who received the report by the nurse, and then Stokes' subsequent report. However, Nagle says she has learned that Cuffee had also reprimanded Moore for striking a child during the 2000/01 school year.

Sgt. Cindy Wood is attached to the Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Division of the Henrico County Police Department. Wood was the investigating officer assigned to look into what crimes Moore may have committed, especially in December of 2002. Wood entered the picture in mid-February of this year.

Lyle Evans, Superintendent of Administrative Services for Henrico County Public Schools, questioned Nagle about the Moore case in March of 2003. At that point Nagle's name was yet to be cited in the local media's regular accounts of the brewing scandal. When Nagle refused to admit that she had been speaking with the press (at this point, without attribution) their tense meeting ended abruptly. Shortly afterward Nagle received a certified letter from Evans, reprimanding her for not following proper procedure, with regard to reporting child abuse.

On May 3, 2003 Nicole Johnson wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that under an arranged plea agreement, Betty Moore had been sentenced to 12 months in jail; the term was suspended for three years. As our whistle-blower was a key witness, Johnson's news story mentioned her name, and put Nancy Nagle on the record as the source for the press Evans had been searching for.

According to Johnson's article, leading up to Moore's conviction on a single count of assault, witnesses said they had seen Moore, "striking a child in the mouth, hitting a child's hand, pulling a child in a wheelchair by his jacket to the floor, and spanking a child."

With Moore's departure having been orchestrated behind closed doors, and since this is hardly the only serious problem to surface in the county's public school system in the last year, one is left to wonder - just how much dirt has been swept under the rug in Henrico?

SLANT: What was the date you made the decision to go over Cuffee's head, the decision that led to your contacting the press? Was there a specific event that pushed you to that point?

Nagle: "I decided to pick up the phone and alert the authorities on Friday, December 20th [2002]. This was precipitated by the events of the previous two weeks. Simply put - what I expected to see occurring, just wasn't happening."

SLANT: What do you mean?

Nagle: "The first eyewitness delivered her account to Mr. Cuffee on December 4th. Betty wasn't removed from the room until December 10th. A second eyewitness account was delivered to Mr. Cuffee on December 9th. [At that time] He began to question the witnesses named in the first account. A third witness, questioned by Mr. Cuffee, put her account in writing - at his request - on December 19th."

SLANT: When did Moore step down?

Nagle: "Betty resigned on December 16th."

SLANT: Did you speak with her during this period?

Nagle: "On Friday, December 19th, I had a phone conversation with her. Betty told me that she had been given a choice to resign, rather than possibly being terminated. She said she'd been questioned by two Henrico County school board members; she said they had assured her that if she resigned, her personnel file would be clean. I asked her specifically about a Child Protective Services investigation, and about notification of the parents. She [Moore] said there was no mention of either being contacted.

"She [Moore] scoffed at the thought of her license being under scrutiny, and was sure that the Henrico County Police Department had not been contacted."

SLANT: It sounds like that conversation was significant in pushing you toward blowing the whistle. Was it that you feared a whitewash was in the works?

Nagle: "Specifically, I was waiting for some kind of acknowledgment that this was an on-going investigation by the Central Office Administration. At the same time, I was aware of Mr. Cuffee's purposeful, secretive behavior, in demanding that the parents of the children named in the allegations not be notified.

"He [Cuffee] warned the staff to 'say nothing' and 'to just let it blow over.' It all added up to a cover-up, and I was outraged in a way that I couldn't subdue."

SLANT: Now that Betty Moore has been removed from her position as a teacher, what do you want to happen to resolve this matter properly? What is missing at this point?

Nagle: "What is missing is the reason why I became involved in the first place. The school administrators that received the complaints of abuse by Betty Moore decided against a complete investigation. They decided, instead, to swiftly and quietly usher her out of the county and call it a 'resignation' due to 'family issues.' When they acted on behalf of their interests, in place of those of the victims, and their families, they lost an opportunity to be responsible to the very people they are paid to serve."

SLANT: How would you fix this mess? What needs to happen?

Nagle: "What I'd like to see is the initiation of an independent investigation, beginning with the events of December 4th, 2002, when the complaints were first delivered to Mr. Cuffee. The investigation needs to be carried out by an agency with no county allegiances."

SLANT: So, you're saying the county can't investigate itself?

Nagel: "Absolutely!

"I think it is a dangerous practice, when an organization assumes the responsibility for investigating the possible criminal behavior of an employee. The question then becomes - did the leaders believe they could act without bias, or did they just not care?"

SLANT: With the way this story has been reported by the media, so far, what area of it do you think the public needs a better understanding of?

Nagle: "The public needs a better understanding of how poorly these Ratcliffe families have been treated by Henrico County Public Schools. Since this story was first reported [by the media], on February 26th, it has been presented in segments that focus on different angles. As a result, there are gaps in the [perception of the] story."

SLANT: Do you now believe Henrico County has disrespected your right to free speech?

Nagle: "My civil liberties were most definitely disrespected. When Lyle Evans stated in his [March 21] letter to me that I was in direct violation of HCPS's Professional Growth Plan for Licensed Teachers - by speaking to the press - he simultaneously failed to recognize my First Amendment Rights as a citizen of the United States."

SLANT: OK, at the end of the day, is this the story of an abusive teacher who was an aberration? Or, is it the story of a county that has been systematically covering up abuse, for whatever reasons? Or, what would you call it?

Nagle: "I would call it a symptom of a bigger disease. Betty Moore's behavior was blatant and extended over a long period of time. Other co-workers reported the same conduct prior to her Ratcliffe assignment. Ultimately, the source of the disease lies at the feet of the people who hired her, supervised her, evaluated her and signed her contract year after year."

SLANT: At this point, do you have any regrets in this matter?

Nagle: No, I have no regrets about my actions as a whistle-blower.

SLANT: Do you plan to stay on, or have you had enough of teaching in Henrico County?

Nagle: "Yes, I have decided to continue working for Henrico County Public Schools, after initially feeling that I should leave.

"The question was, 'Do I want to be part of an organization that operates under a value system that is in direct conflict with my own?' But then I realized that the majority of [HCPS] employees exemplify the best of what public education has to offer. Once I became a controversial figure, it was evidenced by the support from friends, community members, co-workers and parents of students that my conflict was limited to only a few administrative figures."

Ed Note: This rather bizarre story is eventually going to enter a new dimension. A local attorney, Steve Sommers, is in the process of preparing a batch of legal action that will surely put the Betty Moore saga back in the news, in spite of her plea bargain on the criminal charges.

"I represent four families of children that have allegedly been abused by Betty Moore, while she was a teacher in Henrico County Public Schools," Sommers told SLANT. "The pending civil suits that are being prepared will allege culpability beyond Betty Moore in the Henrico County Public Schools."

Bottom Line: As with the bewildering and far-flung child abuse scandal that has spilled out of the Catholic Church, the key question about this local behind-closed-doors problem is this: How far up the chain of command did the knowledge and facilitation of abuse go?

In legal jargon such guilty knowledge is called "scienter." The reader shouldn't be surprised to see that term used in future articles about what else is eventually found under that curiously lumpy rug.