The week at a glance...United States
New YorkNYPD scrutinizes Facebook rants: The New York Police Department is investigating claims that police officers posted disparaging and racist comments about West Indian Day parade-goers on Facebook. An online group called “No More West Indian Day Detail”—referring to police patrols of an annual Labor Day weekend parade in Brooklyn celebrating Caribbean culture—grew over several days in September to more than 1,200 members, some with names matching police officers. Posts on the group’s Facebook page, which has now been taken off-line, included references to the parade as “ghetto training” and to attendees as “filth,” “savages,” and “animals.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office said in a statement that “if the comments reported are accurate and from the officers, they are completely unacceptable.” The parade has been marred by violence in recent years, with several people killed and officers injured.
Washington, D.C.Student visa program under fire: The State Department this week ordered an “extensive and thorough review” of a popular student visa program in the face of evidence that it has been exploited by organized crime rings to spirit sex workers into the country. The J-1 Summer Work Travel program was originally designed to give foreign university students summer jobs in the U.S.; last week a federal indictment was unsealed charging that criminals have used it to provide Eastern European women to New York strip clubs. One woman told the Associated Press that she’d been promised a waitressing job under the program but ended up being raped and forced to work as a stripper. Other foreign students brought to the country under the program, including hundreds who walked out of a Hershey’s chocolate plant in August, have complained of harsh treatment and poor pay.
AkronCraigslist slayings: Prosecutors said this week they would seek the death penalty for a self-described “chaplain” suspected of killing three men who answered phony job ads on Craigslist. Richard Beasley, 52, will face charges that he lured three men to a deserted farm in rural Ohio with the promise of a job and then shot them in cold blood, apparently as a “thrill killing.’’ Police say a 16-year-old boy, Brogan Rafferty, served as Beasley’s accomplice; Rafferty has already been charged with aggravated murder and attempted murder. The murders were uncovered when a fourth intended victim met Beasley, heard a gun being cocked, knocked it aside, and escaped after being shot in the arm.
ChicagoBlagojevich gets 14 years: Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced this week to 14 years in jail for corruption, including his ham-handed attempts to cash in on his prerogative to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat in 2008. “I have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity and actions and the things I did and I thought I could do,” Blagojevich said in a 20-minute plea for mercy. Judge James Zagel said he took that acceptance of responsibility into account in rendering the sentence, which was less than the 15 to 20 years prosecutors wanted but far more than the three and a half years Blagojevich’s defense team had sought. In two trials, Blagojevich was found guilty on 18 felony corruption charges linked to the Senate appointment and his attempts to shake down a hospital administrator and a racetrack owner for campaign contributions.
Osawatomie, Kan.Obama attacks inequality: President Obama ventured into the conservative heartland this week to lay out in the starkest terms yet the populist themes of his 2012 re-election bid. In an hourlong speech, Obama called economic inequality “the defining issue of our time” and declared that this was “a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.” Obama urged Congress to pass measures that will help struggling middle-class Americans, including an extension of the payroll tax cut that is set to expire at the end of the year. Without an extension, he warned, 160 million Americans would see their taxes “go up by an average of $1,000 starting in January.” Republican leaders support that cut, but oppose the president’s plan to pay for it with a surtax on income over $1 million.
New OrleansBP blames Halliburton: Oil giant BP this week accused Halliburton of intentionally destroying evidence to hide its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. BP alleges that the oil-field services firm destroyed damaging test results showing that the Halliburton cement used in the Macondo oil well was unstable. Halliburton acted to “eliminate any risk that this evidence would be used against it at trial,” BP said in its court filing. The allegations, which Halliburton said are without merit, ratchet up the high-stakes fight over who must pay for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The two companies, along with Transocean, the owner of the destroyed Deepwater Horizon oil rig, face more than 350 lawsuits for billions of dollars in damages resulting from the spill. The first trial to decide the liability of each company begins Feb. 27 in New Orleans.