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By Mike Hudson

By Mike Hudson
Some guys just can't seem to catch a break. And in the world of New York State public relations hacks, that guy would seem to be Earl Wells.
You know Wells. He introduced himself to us as the paid mouthpiece for Cintra, the shady Spanish corporation that unsuccessfully attempted to steal the Niagara Falls International Airport. After that, while working for Kaleida Health Care, he failed to convince Western New Yorkers that closing Children's Hospital in Buffalo would be a good thing for the community.
Irene Elia hired him and his firm, E3 Communications, at a reported cost to the city of $50,000. He was supposed to be touting the positive developments occurring here but ended up explaining to reporters that the mayor didn't really pass those school buses while the lights were flashing.
He then went to work for Mark Hamister, trying in vain to convince both the populace and their elected representatives in Albany that the cash-strapped Buffalo bigshot should be given millions of taxpayer dollars in order to purchase the struggling Buffalo Sabres hockey franchise.
That's a record of failure almost anyone would be ashamed of. But for Earl Wells, it was just the beginning.
Last week, the public relations maven was tapped to put a positive spin on an Albany shopping mall's decision to have a fellow wearing a T-shirt bearing the words "Give Peace a Chance" arrested.
Stephen Downs, 61, had just sat down for dinner in the food court of the Crossgates Mall near Albany when he was approached by the mall's minimum-wage security guards, who ordered him to remove his T-shirt. Downs refused, the police were called, and he was handcuffed and taken off to the hoosegow.
The arrest made headlines around the world and was satirized by Jay Leno, David Letterman and John Stewart.
The funniest thing, though, is that Downs happens to be a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. He's a politically connected lawyer who sits on the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct. Following the arrest last Monday, hundreds of antiwar and pro-free speech demonstrators began picketing the mall.
Enter Earl Wells. The mall is private property and has had a long-standing policy of ordering people who display peace messages on their clothes to leave, he told Reuters News Service.
Four days after the arrest, the Crossgates Mall decided to drop all charges against Downs and let bygones be bygones. Downs has appeared on the Bill O'Reilly show and will likely file a multi-million dollar suit.
And, as for Earl Wells, he will be able to include the Crossgates fiasco on a resume that already includes the Cintra, Kaleida, Elia and Hamister failures.
The power and might of Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department and its expanded powers under the USA Patriot Act was put to memorable use recently to detain and then deport a 56-year-old Irish grandmother who came to the United States to visit a dying friend.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey -- a former member of the British Parliament who was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize -- was detained by immigration officials in Chicago on February 21 and denied entry into the country because of "national security" concerns.

INS agents threatened to arrest, jail and even shoot the legendary Irish civil rights advocate when she arrived at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

McAliskey was then photographed, fingerprinted and returned to Ireland against her will on the grounds that she "poses a serious threat to the security of the United States." The agents refused her request to see an attorney.

"We were going for our luggage," McAliskey told columnist Jimmy Breslin. "We were in Chicago because the cheap flight takes you to New York that way. We didn't have to go through immigration, they pass you through in Dublin now. The loudspeaker calls out 'McAliskey.' We go up to your man and say yes, and we're immediately surrounded by three men and a woman. They grab the passports out of our hands. One of the men says to me, 'We've a fax from our agents in Dublin. It says you're a potential or real threat to the United States.'"

When she told them she was a former member of Parliament and had been coming back and forth to this country for 30 years, the INS agents weren't impressed.

"You've evaded us before, but you're not going to do it now," one told her.

At various times during her captivity, agents told her she would be handcuffed and thrown into a cell, and threatened her with a story in which one of them had allegedly shot a Russian at the airport.

When she said she had the right to be protected under the Constitution of the United States, one agent told her, "After 9/11, nobody has any rights."

McAliskey came to America to visit 88-year-old George Harrison, a longtime supporter of the Irish cause now living in Brooklyn. Harrison issued a blistering written statement condemning her expulsion.

"Bernadette was prevented from paying a visit to this writer, who is now broken in health and almost housebound," he wrote. "The arresting officers gave no consideration to the fact that Bernadette is now in her mid-50s, a mother of three grown children, the beloved wife of Michael McAliskey, and that she carries in her body the bullets from her would-be assassins.

"It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will finally triumph."

In Northern Ireland, McAliskey is revered by the Catholic minority in much the same way that Martin Luther King is here.

And that might just be part of the problem.

Ashcroft holds an honorary degree from Bob Jones University in South Carolina, a virulently anti-Catholic institution whose founder characterized Irish Catholics as the most dangerous of a dangerous breed.

Another Bob Jones alumnus is the Rev. Ian Paisley, whose hate-filled speeches have fueled generations of Irish Protestant terrorists, some of whom attempted to assassinate McAliskey and her husband in their Derry home in 1981. The couple survived, despite being riddled with bullets.

Such are the connections of our attorney general, who seems far more interested in curtailing civil liberties than in bringing scoundrels like Enron's Kenneth Lay to justice.

The war on terror seems to have morphed into a war on those whose beliefs conflict with Ashcroft's narrow-minded worldview.

The USA Patriot Act was passed in great haste following the Sept. 11 attacks, ostensibly to protect Americans from al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups.

It contained some of the most sweeping changes to what were previously thought of as constitutionally guaranteed civil rights in the country's history, and it is doubtful that many of the senators and congressmen who voted for it thought it would be used to persecute an Irish grandmother.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.


Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 11 2003