Archives for category: Law

 

You’ve heard about the nine-year-old girl who accidentally killed her “shooting instructor” with an Uzi. The incident encapsulates so much of what is wrong with America today that no comment is really necessary. Except, perhaps, to suggest that those who cling to their Red State values consider starting their own country somewhere else.

Andrew Cuomo, thwarted in his desire to avoid a Democratic primary next month and still smarting from criticism over his questionable handling of endemic state corruption, decided to take his first trip outside the country as governor.

He went to Israel, to voice his support for that country’s “right to defend itself.”

Cuomo Meets Netanyahu
Tough guys: Cuomo Meets Netanyahu. Photo: Rina Castelnuovo for NY Times.

As the New York Times pointed out, Cuomo is just one of a number of U.S. politicians hastening to score political points back home by traveling to Israel to show support. Israel may increasingly be a pariah on the world stage, but a majority of Americans continue to support the country regardless of how many war crimes it commits.

Did I say “war crimes?” Indeed I did. Indiscriminate slaughter of civilians qualifies, and Israel has done nothing but ratchet up its disproportionate use of force as the years go by. Yes, the country has a right to defend itself. But killing 1,900 Palestinians, nearly half of those civilians, while losing 60 soldiers (and 3 civilians) is not defense—it is a powerful, lopsided and unjustified offense. And the enormous number of Palestinian deaths is only part of Israel’s savagery; the widespread destruction of homes, property and facilities will cripple life in Gaza for a long time to come. Life that Israel’s “peacetime” policies already render exceedingly hard.

To say Israel’s actions can be blamed on Hamas (as Cuomo and Hillary Clinton have done) is to excuse the inexcusable. If Hamas has militants and equipment within a civilian population—a civilian population packed into a small sliver of land— does Israel then have the moral right to obliterate that civilian population? The U.N. and most of Europe do not think so, but America apparently still does.

You’re ever the diplomat, Andy.

Here in upstate New York, bad telecommunications service is taken for granted. Many areas lack wireless service. Most areas lack adequate broadband. And—something I hadn’t known—it turns out that New York State ranks third in the number of people with no telephone service whatsoever.

rotary dial telephone
Can we improve NY’s telecom infrastructure? Photo: Wikipedia.

Now someone is finally trying to do something about the state’s lagging telecommunications infrastructure. Last week, the Communications Workers of America, along with 16 other organizations including AARP, Common Cause, Consumers Union, Citizen Action, the Working Families Party and the NYS AFL-CIO,
filed a petition to the New York State Public Service Commission requesting a formal investigation of the state of the telecommunications industry.

The new Connect New York Coalition was joined by approximately 75 elected officials, including the Mayors of Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Kingston and Poughkeepsie and many state assembly members and senators (though not Pete Lopez—no surprise there— or Cecilia Tkaczyk, which is a surprise).

The petition seeks to address these concerns:

  • The state’s unacceptably high ranking in the number of people with no phone service
  • A 500% increase in basic telephone service rates
  • Corporate plans—especially Verizon’s—to starve and abandon legacy landline service
  • The refusal of telecoms to expand broadband service to rural areas and many upstate cities
  • The steady deterioration in service quality and telecommunications infrastructure

This is very important stuff, and addressing it is long overdue. The quality of New York State’s telecommunications service has a direct impact on each individual citizen as well as the state’s overall economic well-being. The Connect New York Coalition’s petition to the Public Service Commission is a necessary first step toward improving telecom quality.

You can download a copy of the Coalition’s press release (in .docx format) here. For additional information, contact Dan Levitan of BerlinRosen Public Affairs, 646-200-5315 or dan@berlinrosen.com.

The mass shooting near UC Santa Barbara last Friday evening was but the latest in an seemingly endless stream of mediagenic gun tragedies. (Most gun-related deaths, murders and suicides alike, go unnoticed.) Once again we had a disturbed young perpetrator attacking his own frustrations by taking the lives of others, and then his own. Once again, we had candlelight vigils and pious expressions of sympathy. Once again, pundits attributed the latest slaughter to inadequate mental health procedures … to the culture at large, particularly misogyny … and to lax gun “controls,” even in a state with more “controls” than most.

But this time, we also had something different: we had a father of one of the victims putting the blame for this latest outrage where it belongs, with “craven, irresponsible politicians and the N.R.A.” Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was among Friday’s victims, spoke with courage and spoke the truth. Watch him here.

Richard Martinez Calls Out Craven Politicians and the N.R.A.
Richard Martinez Calls Out Craven Politicians and the N.R.A. Photo: You Tube.

Martinez calls on everyone to tell their elected officials “Not One More”. It’s a heartfelt and media-savvy slogan, but of course without legislative and/or judicial action it will go nowhere. The United States is so in thrall to the gun lobby that it can’t even produce minimal, common sense gun “controls,” such as universal background checks. And even if we could, it wouldn’t be enough. As gun fanatics love to point out, there are already some 300 million guns in private hands out there.

The heart of the matter lies with the Second Amendment, and the Second Amendment, as presently interpeted, lies. For more than 200 years, federal courts interpreted the Second Amendment quite narrowly—the phrase “well regulated Militia” limited the scope of the amendment, it was felt. It was not a freestanding right to own guns, as interpreted today.

The National Rifle Association, more than any other group, helped to change this historical interpretation—Mr. Martinez is right on target there. In response to their efforts to change the Second Amendment’s historical meaning, former Chief Justice Warren Burger (a conservative appointed by President Nixon) said this represented “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud’, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”*

Nevertheless, the N.R.A. succeeded. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, a majority of the Supreme Court accepted the view that Burger regarded as fraudulent.

Now another former member of the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, has issued a call to reverse this flagrant misjudgment and its tragic consequences. In his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Little, Brown, 177 pp.), Stevens proposes the Second Amendment be modified to specify that it applies only to those who keep and bear arms “when serving in the Militia”.

Now that would be gun control. And that is what it would take to end or, at a minimum, strikingly reduce the number of mass shootings America contends with today. New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik points out that similarly tough restrictions have proved effective in Australia, Canada, Great Britain and other countries. And he too salutes the honesty and courage of Richard Martinez.

Do I believe the Second Amendment is likely to be modified anytime soon? No, I do not—not when assholes like those belonging to the “Brunswick Sportsmans Club” hold events like this one a scant four days after the killings in California. BTW, our own Congressman Chris Gibson of the 19th District is listed as a keynote speaker. Talk about craven, irresponsible politicians. Gibson deserves to be voted out of office in November for this alone.

No matter how high the odds against change, if the truth remains unspoken then the situation is truly hopeless. Richard Martinez’s courage counts for a lot. Those of us who acknowledge he speaks the truth must join him in speaking out. It’s the only way we can begin to counter the N.R.A. and its distortion of the Second Amendment.

* See The New York Review, June 5, 2014, page 8.

This blog normally publishes comments. However, today’s post is likely to bring out the usual frothing N.R.A. apologists and trolls—those comments will not be published or acknowledged. Genuinely thoughtful responses will be posted, however.

Dick May, who founded and wrote the SeeingGreene blog for nearly a decade, passed away late last week.

Dick used his blog to comment perceptively on a wide range of issues affecting the county, including the Second Amendment issues that are so widely misinterpreted and misunderstood (his final post was on this subject). Dick’s clear-eyed, common-sense approach to life in Greene County was widely appreciated, and he will be missed.

4/23/14: OK, I will grant that photographs can be unflattering or misleading. But I see that picture of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in today’s paper* and I can’t help feeling that some people are just naturally mean and ugly underneath, and so their homeliness shows up more readily than it does for others.

My grandparents used to own a little getaway cottage in rural northeastern Oklahoma, Ozarks country. They were “salt-of-the-earth” types, simple and conservative. Good people at heart, and certainly good to me, but prone to suspicion and intolerance like many of their neighbors in Oklahoma and Missouri (they lived in Kansas City). I think they would have sided with the majority of today’s Oklahoma public in the ongoing death penalty debate—they would have wanted the executions to proceed, especially given that both of the men scheduled to die are black.

Difficult to acknowledge, but true. And apparently still true of many Oklahomans today.


Ugly is as ugly does.

So my onetime Oklahoma connection makes me especially curious about the ongoing methodological debate over executions that’s currently occurring there.

Clayton Lockett is one of the two black men scheduled to die in that bright red state. He was convicted of murder and does not contest the conviction. But the state wants to use a mix of poisons to kill him and they won’t say what it is or what’s in it or where they got it. They’re determined to do this, that’s why the governor has her ugly picture in this morning’s paper. A couple of days ago, the state Supreme Court stayed Lockett’s execution until the chemical questions could be answered, but then Governor Fallin said they’re going go ahead and inject him anyway. Just looking at her, you can see you she means it.

My question is, why does she have to come out like that in her blue suit and her red lipstick with a little silver cross around her neck and say we have to kill Lockett and this other guy right now? Why can’t she just wait for the question about what’s in the chemicals to get straightened out?

Well, I don’t think it’s because she’s a mean, hateful bitch, although that is probably part of it. It’s because the people who put her in office believe things should always work in a certain way, and they want her to run things in accordance with the way they believe. Anything unpleasant or unfortunate or unsettling or even confusing or different (read: otherness) needs to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Crime needs to be harshly punished. And not just crime, but the effrontery required to commit the crime. It has to be squashed without mercy.

Governor Mary doesn’t want the courts to interfere with disposing of Clayton Lockett and closing out his case.

I see she’s wearing some nice little earrings in what appears to be the same silver as her cross. And she’s got some kind of button or patch on her blue jacket; I can’t make out what it is.** There are nice, healthy-looking green plants sprouting in front of her podium. I think that’s funny. It’s like the plants are supposed to be warm and friendly and indicative of life and growth and happiness and so on. But Governor Mary is talking in this photograph and her mouth is open. You can see the sharp edges of her teeth, and the darkness inside that open mouth looks scary—not warm and friendly at all.

Clayton Lockett is black, as already noted, and so is the other guy they’re planning to execute, Charles Warner. Everyone else involved in this story is white, except the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. The fact that he’s black must represent some kind of progress, right?

It turns out the court, the state Supreme Court, is contradicting itself. Two days ago they put a hold on the executions. But now they say it’s fine to go ahead and inject that stuff, whatever it is. Lockett doesn’t need to know what’s in it or where it came from. Doesn’t even have the right to know, according to them.

Most of the OK State’s citizens were really pissed off when the court stayed the executions before. They started talking about impeaching the judges for not doing their duty (to execute Lockett and Warner). The judges got that message pronto.

I’m looking at Mary Fallin’s photo again. She’s got a little pig nose. Her nostrils really pop out at you in that picture, two black holes smack in the middle of her face. And that blond hair somehow makes her piggy nose stand out even more.

You know what the state Supreme Court said, after they caved on staying the executions? They said that Lockett’s request to know what drugs were going to be used to kill him was “frivolous and not grounded in the law”.

The particular dude, the justice, who said this went on to offer a bunch of analogies. He was one of the eight white justices, just for the record.

The justice said, “The plaintiffs have no more right to the information they requested than if they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know [who was] providing the electricity; if they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition. I hope that this case ends any thought of future journeys down this path that has led this court to this day.”

This frivolous path. This frivolous day.

Here’s the problem, though: other states have mixed and matched drugs to create their new death cocktail blends as well. And those executions were botched as a result—they lasted too long, they caused too much obvious pain. So it’s not unreasonable for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner to wonder whether they’re going down that same path.

I think Governor Mary expects they are, judging by her photo.

* Theguardian.com. Fallin photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP.

** I checked later. Turns out it is the state seal.

4/28/14: Both men were convicted of pretty heinous crimes (Lockett of shooting a 19-year-old woman with a shotgun, then watching while she was buried alive; Warner of raping and killing an 11-month-old baby, though he claims he’s innocent), so my concern for them as individuals is somewhat deflated here. Plus, the state did wind up divulging the names of the drugs that will be used to kill these men tomorrow (at 6 PM and 8 PM). The source and composition/quality of the drugs remains unknown, however, and the issue of how executions are conducted (and whether they should be conducted at all) remains extremely important. I think most people would agree it’s likely there are people on death row somewhere who are innocent.

4/30/14: Things went very wrong during Lockett’s execution. You can read about it here.

This is what Governor Mary Fallin had to say:

“I have asked the department of corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened, and why, during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett,” she said in a statement. “I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed.”

Nice. She might have considered this “full review” at the same time the state’s Supreme Court originally stayed the executions, instead of sneering at them and proceeding apace.

As one of the inmates’ attorneys noted, “Clayton Lockett was tortured to death.” Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment, said someone “was killed tonight by incompetence.”

So what’s next?

Well, it would be somewhat redemptive if the Oklahoma Supreme Court reinstated the stay on Charles Warner’s execution, without an artificial time limit attached (he is currently scheduled to die in 14 days). That probably will not happen, though.

It may help if people outside the state make their feelings known, especially by joining with groups opposed to the death penalty, such as the ACLU or Amnesty International.

The point is, if you’re bothered by botched executions (or executions in general), you need to do something to try and change things.

Oklahoma and its governor are just one aspect of a very ugly situation.

Here we go again—in just the past week, we’ve had asinine gun-rights eruptions both locally and around the country. It is a disease, and it’s spreading rapidly.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the physician that President Obama nominated to be the next Surgeon General, knows that gun violence in America has reached epidemic proportions, and should be treated like the societal illness it is. But because he sees gun violence as a public health issue, the NRA and its Republican/Tea Party allies are doing everything they can to derail his nomination.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the NRA and the Republicans have sent an incredibly idiotic pro-gun measure to the governor’s office for his signature. Now you’ll be able to take your gun into a bar or bring it to the airport. Brilliant.


A George state representative applauds his handiwork. Photo: NY Times.

Closer to home, the Rev. John Koletas of the Grace Baptist Church in Troy raffled off a new Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle in church after a service dedicated to the “Christian values” exemplified by the Second Amendment. Outstanding. Way to go, Rev.

And if handing out semiautomatics in church strikes you as absurd, then here’s a little something on a lighter note: the Columbia County Board of Supervisors recently voted to deny the use of the official Columbia County seal in any correspondence relating to the NY SAFE Act.

Wow—no use of the Columbia County seal! Now that’s serious.

It was Ghandi who said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” By this standard, America has a long way to go. People without financial, intellectual or emotional resources do not fare well in this country. And animals, who cannot speak for themselves, are abused with appalling frequency.

Buster’s Law dates from 1999, when a teenager soaked a Schenectady house cat named Buster in kerosene and burned him alive. The law elevated animal abuse to a felony offense, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Both punishments seem far too lenient for someone who would deliberately inflict such suffering. Still, making animal abuse a felony does represent a step forward.

Now State Assembly Members Didi Barrett (D–106) and Jim Tedisco (R–112) are leading an effort to create a registry of convicted animal abusers under Buster’s Law. The statewide registry would be available to law enforcement, district attorney’s offices, humane societies and animal welfare and rescue organizations. Convicted animal abusers on the registry would be legally prohibited from keeping pets. In addition, animal abusers would have to undergo a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and register annually until a court declares they are “fit” to care for animals, based on psychiatric test results.


Photo: didibarrett.com.

This addition to Buster’s Law should be of some help in reducing animal abuse in our state. It would do nothing to address the crimes of factory farming—which continue to reflect poorly on our country’s lack of empathy for “lesser” creatures—but it would at least make it less likely for a truly sick person to be able to kill or torture household pets repeatedly. And that is definitely worth pursuing.

Today, February 11, is The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance. I’ll leave it to you to visit the link and contact your elected officials (Congressman Gibson will likely be receptive). Many people and organizations are behind this first drive to pass the USA Freedom Act and implement other reforms to reign in NSA spying.

What I’d like to do in this post is give you a brief outline of how to do a better job of protecting your privacy online.

First, a word of warning: there is currently no foolproof way to guarantee your privacy, online or anywhere else. But a lot of talented people are working to change that, and I think we can look forward to better privacy safeguards down the road. I hope we can, anyway.

The Fundamentals

It makes a difference which operating system you use. Windows is far and away the most vulnerable, but both Microsoft and Apple have likely cooperated with the NSA despite their official denials. I’d trust OS X over Windows, but the open source Linux is safer than either.

I’m sure most of you aren’t going to switch to Linux to gain increased privacy online—there are a fair number of technical hurdles involved for ordinary users. That being the case, you need to pay attention to the software you use.

Open source software is safer than proprietary software. This is true for the simple reason that anyone can view the code. Therefore, you should use open source apps whenever possible.

Internet Browsing Software

Firefox is the only major open source browser. It is safer than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari. It is safer still if you use the HTTPS Everywhere extension, which encrypts connections to many sites. Still, even with Firefox, your browsing isn’t truly safe.

For genuinely safe browsing, use the Tor Browser Bundle. Tor software hides your location and prevents anyone from seeing your web travels or logging your web searches. The browser itself is based on an enhanced version of Firefox. The Tor Browser Bundle is easy to install, easy to use and available for all platforms. Even today, it should protect your browsing from the NSA.

Email Software

Currently, email—like chat or any social network—is pretty much a lost cause. It’s not safe, period. If you want to have minimal protection, then use the open source Thunderbird (from Mozilla, like Firefox) in conjunction with GnuPG encryption (Thunderbird has a plugin to enable this). But real security is down the road a ways, in the form of projects like Dark Mail.

The Cloud

Like Dropbox? So do I—but it and every other cloud storage provider has been targeted by the NSA. A safer alternative may be BitTorrent Sync, currently in beta. Because this service doesn’t store your files on a company-controlled server (or any server, for that matter), your data should theoretically be safer.

Bear in mind, though, that the NSA has succeeded in shipping computers from name-brand manufacturers with secret radio transmitters inside. These machines are compromised even if they never connect to the Internet. And if the NSA should decide to target you through a back door built into Windows or OS X to install a keylogger on your machine, there’s absolutely nothing that can help you. That’s how bad the situation currently is, and why we need serious reforms.

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