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Archive for the ‘Laws & Regulation’ Category

New Politics

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

People usually can’t tell what I am by looking at me. My skin is white, like my mom’s, but some tints of my dad’s Filipino heritage peek through, making me look equally Cuban, Puerto Rican, Italian, anything but Asian. I’m lucky enough to have never really had any allegiance to a certain race or identified with any specific notions of it. I often joke with my friends about these things, usually bringing up all kinds of offensive, inappropriate comments about certain groups to get a cheap laugh, most probably because it’s more complicated for me to get the same treatment. But being a man without a team – a free-lance race(er), if you will – I have few preconceived notions about them myself, allowing me to find a lot of humor and joy in the differences we have and how they effect our interactions and shape our perceptions. I kid because I love. I love diversity, I love that my children will have roots on 3 different continents and I love this country for giving me, my family and countless others like them a place in the sun. Obama’s speech last Tuesday was given from this perspective, which is probably why it inspired and impressed me more than anything I’ve seen in politics. That something has finally spoken to me in this way has also engendered quite a bit of resentment towards the reaction to it.

He is a politician, one trying to contain a damaging scandal that speaks to the very heart of his campaign, a scandal so grievous that it caused Hillary Clinton to overtake him in national polling for the first time in months. He is a candidate who often gets by on looks and charm, his silver tongue paving the way through a rather charmed candidacy. The allegiance to Wright and Trinity were undeniably instrumental in Obama’s acceptance in the black community of Chicago and subsequently by the national black community – a voting block that has been crucial in many of his primary victories over a white woman. These are all things we knew before he stepped to that podium and it was impossible to forget while listening to his words. Perhaps it is because I support him, because I am a racial mutt same as he, because I have been seduced by that aforementioned silver tongue, but I didn’t care about any of it.

If my Catholic upbringing has taught me anything, it’s that if you look hard enough at anyone, you will see faults, you will see sin – they even make you apologize for it first thing Sunday morning. All any of us can do is mitigate these as best we can through good works and faith in eachother, neither of which come easy or without failure. Barack didn’t hide behind his press secretary or some other surrogate, he didn’t throw out some half-baked sound-byte of appeasement in hopes things would blow over by the next news cycle, he stood there for 30 minutes and talked to us like adults. He told us things we all know, but never hear. He made no accusations, but rather placed responsibility equally among all of us, himself included. He asked us to stop raising our voices and start listening to eachother. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech or read the transcript in its entirety. The motivations behind these words are unimportant to me. Sure, he could’ve been trying to divert our attention to save his own ass, but I don’t care. I don’t care why he said what he said, just that someone finally did so.

A black man running for President put his campaign on the line, stepped up to the plate and spoke about race in a way no other politician has ever done, but you would have never guessed by reading about it. A great deal of reaction and coverage was spent haggling over details. He didn’t go far enough to denounce a man who baptized his children, he didn’t explain how many times he heard these statements or the ways in which he tried to stop a preacher from preaching, he made us feel guilty for slavery and that was mean. It is as if we are at a beautiful restaurant in front of a gourmet meal but no one is eating because they don’t like the fold of the napkins. Obama’s mistake wasn’t that he stood by his preacher, it was that he assumed people would actually pay attention.

Politics is a dangerous game, not just for the candidate but for those who support them. We pin our hopes and dreams on certain people every couple of years and when they fall by the wayside, so does our resolve. We allow these candidates to paint themselves as the magic bullet, as the only answer to our problems; and so in their defeat lies ours. The one thing that really made me jump into this campaign was that Obama asked us, the people, to work for what we wanted, to help him reach our goals. Part of this is obviously tactical. You can’t fight the Clintons with the establishment, they are the establishment. The most powerful political machine cannot be undone from within, so he was forced to look elsewhere for his support. His relative inexperience and lack of accomplishments give him less to run on by himself, so he needs more help and faith from the outside. He has no record, so he forgoes specific policy items in favor of meta-themes. It is also, though, an undeniable return to history.

In his incredible book, The Argument, Matt Bai put much of the focus on the Democrat’s search for a post-Clinton identity. But he also provided amazing insight into political movements at large:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

Barack has often been chastised for a lack of clarity, rhetoric instead of results. But perhaps this is because his movement, his base, has not yet codified their beliefs or their goals. Regardless of why, Obama has caused a progressive awakening in a generation that faces monumental challenges, my generation. One who has grown to see the prosperity of the 90’s – our formative years – become destroyed by forces outside our control: fanatical terrorism, global warming, economic instability. Those in power attempting to fix these problems are not the ones who live with the consequences. It is my friends who are getting laid off, who go to the emergency room for physicals, who are sent off to fight in the desert. We are the most diverse, best educated and technologically advanced generation this nation has ever seen and we must begin to take ownership of it. We can’t afford to be distracted by the horse race, but rather be enlightened by the message. Say what you want about Barack, but you cannot deny that his calls for a recognition of shared responsibility speaks to the best in us, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If it takes inflammatory remarks by a preacher for us to take stock of our treatment of one another, so be it. If an opportunistic, ambitious politician can dupe us all into working for eachother instead of against, we are the better for it.

But we cannot expect one man to do it all. Elections are not the realization of change, they are the beginning of it. If he loses the nomination, if he loses the general election, we cannot retreat into the background in defeat. If he becomes our President, it is our responsibility to hold him accountable and help to fulfill the promises of his potential and our own. Obama has outed us. The success of his platform and the goals he has set will only be met through the efforts we make. The themes he has brought to bear since his introduction of Senator Kerry in 2004 cannot be ignored, especially as we descend into an ever bloodier campaign season. Hillary – an impressive public servant in her own right – has undoubtedly inspired many young women to pursue ambitious careers. John McCain has given credence to sacrifice and centrism in a party that has been known for anything but. Obama’s message challenges us to recognize the nobility in our foes, to respect differences and approach challenges with optimistic pragmatism instead of cynical ideology. His candidacy might fade, but these ideas must not.

Many have belittled the thinking man in these times, but the consequences of looking tough and acting stupid are keeping us from what we can become. Harsh crime legislation and unyielding drug policy have stopped neither and added non-violent, first time offenders to the ranks of the incarcerated, now accounting for 1 out of every 100 of our citizens. Elliot Spitzer’s demise at the hands of a call girl might have been cheered by the Wall Street firms he savaged as Attorney General, but considering the greed and deception they perpetuated to bring down our economy – with no jail time in sight – one wonders who really got off and who got screwed. If we could have seen the facts in Iraq for what they were, free from agenda, fear or spin, we would have $1.3 Trillion more in our pockets, we would be without 29,000 wounds and be able to hold over 4,000 of our sons and daughters that have been lost to ignorance. We are waging war against an ideology instead of a nation, so it must be considered that our ideas and culture can and must fight as effectively as our military. If we continue to distill these complex issues down to sound bytes and slogans, deny the due process of debate and discussion and pigeon-hole the myriad points of view into mere black and white we run the risk of turning into the same fanatics that seek to destroy us. If we cannot decide the proper course of action through argument, we must find a way to do so through conversation. Obama or Hillary, Democratic or Republican, we all share the same fate. If there is one thing I hope this Presidential race will teach us, it is that there are more important things than winning elections.

Impending Florida Mail-In: Let the Clusterfuck Begin

In Civil Liberties, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 13, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Ever the beacon of our fair, balanced and uncorrupted representative democracy, Florida is at it again. There are several reports hitting the wire that the state “government” is day or so away from annoucing their “plan” to administer a re-vote via mail-in ballots. Here is the plan as detailed by the States Democratic Party chair, Karen L. Thurman:

Under her timetable, fundraising and a public comment period would begin today and end April 12, about when ballots go to production. Overseas and military ballots would be sent out April 19. Fifty temporary election offices would be set up May 1 in poor areas to ensure access to voters with mail difficulties. On May 9, the bulk of the ballots would be shipped out, and the election would officially be on June 3, a day shared with Montana and South Dakota.

The counting will be done by an outside contractor using optical scanning devices and signature confirmation and other validation will be done by state and local election officials. Considering the extremely tight timetable, officials argue, this is the best way to get an accurate vote, thereby representing their electorate honestly.

What a bunch of horse shit. Firstly, the “fundraising” period will inevitably include a good chunk of soft money contributions that have been banned in federal elections, making this process suspect from day one. Secondly, there are no gaurantees with the USPS and even if they were iron clad in their delivery, people have moved, they might be out of town, any number of scenarios can interrupt people actually getting the damn things. Not only this, the opportunities for fraud are as plentiful as fanny packs at Islands of Adventure. The verification process happens only when the ballots are received by government officials, allowing for any number of incidents to occur along the way. Buying ballots, hoarding ballots, soaking mail, the possibilities are endless. And most importantly, IT’S FLORIDA. We’re talking about people who got absolutely confounded by hanging chads, who had to go to the damn Supreme Court to tell them how to count and now they think that they can pull this completely new system out of the bag with 3 moths to go? (Here’s a more professional critique)

I have nothing against Floridians on spec, and they absolutely deserve to have their voices heard like the rest of us. But these rules were established by the DNC MONTHS AGO, in full view of the public, and they went ahead and broke them anyway. Citizens could have told their party leaders not to risk a penalty and representatives should have known better, so they have no one to blame but themselves. I undertsand the frustration of having Iowa dictate terms to the rest of the party. Such a small, rural state having this much influence on a nation as complex as this is a little ridiculous, but you don’t change the guidelines by pretending they don’t exist. That the race is so close, so hotly contested and getting so many’s passions boiling is reason enough to try something drastic, which is exactly why this shouldn’t happen.

No matter the outcome, people have to believe that the process is fair above all else, they have to feel that the election happened by the book and that their choice wasn’t hijacked by someone more connected or a favorable circumstance benefitted one group at the expense of another. Every one of Florida’s House Democrats – whether supporting Hillary, Barack or neither – don’t want any part of this because it simply cannot be trusted. 318 delegates can’t be thrown around on spurious information, and if this goes through, there will be no end to the arguments, litigation or controversy, further deepening the democratic impasse and inflaming hostilities on both sides; regardless of the outcome, no one wins this thing. Floridians are complaining that they don’t want to be disenfranchised, but that ship has sailed. You already voted. You were told – in no uncertain terms – that it wouldn’t count and you went ahead and did it anyway. You were disenfranchised from the day you moved your primary, from the moment you broke the rules and that can’t and should not be changed at the 11th hour by some hair-brained scheme. Since you can’t bring yourselves to obey the law, you get to sit and wait for this thing to play out, the same way the rest of the country did in 2000. When the decision is made, you’re gonna have to eat it the same way the rest of us did in Bush v. Gore.

Maybe Dean can cut you a deal and seat your delegates at the convention 50/50 or some other formula determined after the rest of us are through. Maybe you can come to some reconciliation yourselves and relax at the beach until November. But one thing is for sure: you don’t get to decide this race if you don’t follow its rules. Florida wants their voices heard at the expense of the rest of country, and they shouldn’t get to screw us again.

A 7 Mile March to the Polls in Texas (2008)

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Direct action, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, US Politics on February 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm

An incredible story popped up on Crooks and Liars today describing a beautiful answer to a disgusting act in an escalating primary battle:

Early voting starts today in Texas. In Waller County, a primarily rural county about 60 miles outside Houston, the county made the decision to offer only one early voting location: at the County Courthouse in Hempstead, TX, the county seat.

Prairie View A&M students organized to protest the decision, because they felt it hindered their ability to vote. For background, Prairie View A&M is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It has a very different demographic feel than the rest of the county. There has been a long history of dispute over what the students feel is disenfranchisement. There was a lot of outrage in 2006, when students felt they were unfairly denied the right to vote when their registrations somehow did not get processed.

1000 students, along with an additional 1000 friends and supporters, are this morning walking the 7.3 miles between Prairie View and Hempstead in order to vote today. According to the piece I saw on the news (there’s no video up, so I can’t link to it), the students plan to all vote today. There are only 2 machines available at the courthouse for early voting, so they hope to tie them up all day and into the night.

Yes, we’re talking about this election – 2008 – where black students are forced to these lengths to exercise their rights and draw attention to these abuses. This is early voting in a primary, mind you, I can’t wait to see what these kids will do for the general election. By the way, don’t think Yankees are invulnerable to this, either. A little publicized story in the New York Times has uncovered a drastic underreporting of Obama votes in several counties in New York’s primary – in some cases, not registering a single ballot cast in his favor. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an Obama man, but these are problems that have persisted since the clusterfuck of the 2000 election. No matter who you’re voting for, your vote deserves to be counted and no one – not Obama, not Clinton, not McCain and certainly not appointees to local election boards – should be allowed to destroy or steal them. Federalism has its place, but shouldn’t there be some sort of standard in national voting and election oversight? Shouldn’t we at least use the same machines and meet the same requirements to use them? How can the world’s most successful democracy tolerate these kinds of problems? If there are aspects I am ignoring, please, educate me.

Thanks again, Dennis

In civil, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Information, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., Progressive Politics, Technology, US Politics on January 17, 2008 at 1:33 am

American politics is so dirty and that it is usually a downer, but every time Dennis Kucinich makes the news he gives us something to smile about. Not long ago, he introduced a proposal for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. More recently, he managed to see past himself enough to urge his supporters at the Iowa caucus to move to Obama’s corner if he didn’t make the 15% required to be counted in a dictrict. And a few days ago, he asked for a recount in New Hampshire. Now I’m not saying I think New Hampshire was miscalculated, stolen, etc. But in light of certain questionable electoral maneuvers over the past decade (i.e. 2000, florida and 2004, ohio), I have come to the conclusion that asking for a recount can only be a good thing, and that it should be done more often. Candidates have to pay a fee to have a recount done, and Kucinich has chosen to pay for it from his own pocket: beautiful. This, mind you, is a hand recount, meaning that even the votes taken by computerized voting machines will be counted by hand, from the vote printouts they produce.

From TheHill.com,

The lawmaker said he does not expect his own vote count to be significantly affected by such a recount but he added that it is “imperative that these questions be addressed in the interest of public confidence in the integrity of the election process and the election machinery.”

In his request for a recount, Kucinich alleges that there have been “unexplained disparities between hand-counted ballots and machine-counted ballots.” […]

“This is not about my candidacy or any other individual candidacy,” Kucinich said. “It is about the integrity of the election process.”

Let me just be one to say: Thanks again, Dennis!

The Music Wars: The RIAA Trial and Our First Casualty

In Consumerism, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Music, Technology on December 6, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Jaimee Thomas is the first person to refuse to a settlement in an RIAA lawsuit, the first defendant in a file-sharing trial, and the first to be found guilty of copyright infringement by a jury of her peers . For this distinction, the single mother of two will be forced to pay her accusers the amount of $220,000. At $9,250 each, here are the 24 songs she infringed upon (from Wired.com):

  • Guns N Roses “Welcome to the Jungle”; “November Rain”
  • Vanessa Williams “Save the Best for Last”
  • Janet Jackson “Let’s What Awhile”
  • Gloria Estefan “Here We Are”; “Coming Out of the Heart”; “Rhythm is Gonna Get You”
  • Goo Goo Dolls “Iris”
  • Journey “Faithfully”; “Don’t Stop Believing”
  • Sara McLachlan “Possession”; “Building a Mystery”
  • Aerosmith “Cryin'”
  • Linkin Park “One Step Closer”
  • Def Leppard “Pour Some Sugar on Me”
  • Reba McEntire “One Honest Heart”
  • Bryan Adams “Somebody”
  • No Doubt “Bathwater”; “Hella Good”; “Different People”
  • Sheryl Crow “Run Baby Run”
  • Richard Marx “Now and Forever”
  • Destiny’s Child “Bills, Bills, Bills”
  • Green Day “Basket Case”

How much would you be willing to sacrifice for the Goo Goo Dolls? Considering that the plaintiffs had claimed she had distributed in the neighborhood of 1,702 songs through her Kazaa account, one wonders how they came to this eclectic mix of guilty pleasures (no pun intended). Also, the jury could have awarded anywhere between $750 and $150,000 in damages per song, making the amount of $9,250 seem just as arbitrary. Either way, it’s a substantial sum of money on top of already pricey legal fees, something Ms. Thompson will face on her own (from the West Central Tribune of Duluth):

“It’s been very stressful,” she [Jaime Thompson] said. “I have multi-billion dollar corporations with their own economies of scale suing me so it’s been very stressful.’’

She said the lawsuit has also affected her children. “I no longer have any disposable income whatsoever,” she said. “My disposable income used to go for CDs, but obviously not anymore. I’ve had to make some changes regarding extras for my children. All the disposable income went toward this case. I didn’t do this and I refuse to be bullied.”

Her appeal on the grounds that this constitutes excessive punnishment was recently rejected by the Department of Justice, setting a disturbing precedent for the future. The DoJ’s reasoning, surprising similar to the RIAA’s, is that infringement by an individual creates exponential damage to the copyright holder by fact of this dangerous interweb. Acting Assistant AG Jefferey Bucholtz breaks it down for us (from CNET):

Although defendant claims that plaintiffs’ damages are 70 cents per infringing copy, it is unknown how many other users–“potentially millions”–committed subsequent acts of infringement with the illegal copies of works that the defendant infringed. Accordingly, it is impossible to calculate the damages caused by a single infringement, particularly for infringement that occurs over the Internet. Furthermore, plaintiffs contend that their witnesses “testified to the substantial harm caused by the massive distribution of their copyrighted sound recordings over the Internet, including lost revenues, layoffs, and a diminished capability to identify and promote new talent…”

Since it’s “impossible to calculate the damages”, is $9,250 per song really enough? Why not $11,782.63 each? How about $25,902.17? If you’re going to make this woman responsible for the entire downfall of the music industry, if you’re going to make her take out 3 more mortgages her house and jeopardize her family anyway, why not just take her first born or a pound of flesh?

So this is the new business model? The RIAA and the Majors are betting that they can make up they’re lost revenue through suing the pants off people. It doesn’t matter if the product sucks, if we don’t listen to it or if we don’t want it, they’ll be sure to make us pay for it somehow. Who needs marketing when you have threats? High priced lawyers are a better investment than musicians, right? Wired’s interview with Universal Music CEO Doug Morris highlights the struggles going on between the ears of a lot of these old school executives, none of whom really get whats going on while still trying to reconcile the fact their audience is somehow indifferent to paying for something they hold dear. They’re digging their own graves without even knowing it. Yes, music is worth something, but people need to be convinced and lobbied more than the government, lawsuits sure as hell won’t be doing the business any favors. Radiohead’s run online will be over in a couple days, with an actual CD to follow. Initial numbers are not too encouraging, maybe 38% of people who downloaded actually paid anything and hundreds of thousands of copies were pirated off peer-to-peer eventhough it was offered free directly from the artist. However little they might have gotten, though, it’s a blessing that neither the Majors nor their RIAA lapdogs can touch a dime.

Dime Bags of Viagra: Follow Up, Pt. 2 – Oxycontin-tale

In Consumerism, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Misc., The War On Drugs on May 10, 2007 at 2:56 pm

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the increasing rate of prescription drug abuse in this country and around the world. The New York Times this morning reported that Purdue Pharma, the manufaturer of the strong painkiller Oxycontin, will pay a settlement of $600 Million as part of a plea deal for misleading the public on the risks of addiction associated with the drug.

Purdue Pharma heavily promoted OxyContin to doctors like general practitioners, who had often had little training in the treatment of serious pain or in recognizing signs of drug abuse in patients.

…Purdue Pharma acknowledged in the court proceeding today that “with the intent to defraud or mislead,” it marketed and promoted OxyContin as a drug that was less addictive, less subject to abuse and less likely to cause other narcotic side effects than other pain medications.

For instance, when the painkiller was first approved, F.D.A. officials allowed Purdue Pharma to state that the time-release of a narcotic like OxyContin “is believed to reduce” its potential to be abused.

But according to federal officials, Purdue sales representatives falsely told doctors that the statement, rather than simply being a theory, meant that OxyContin had a lower potential for addiction or abuse than drugs like Percocet. Among other things, company sales officials were allowed to draw their own fake scientific charts, which they then distributed to doctors, to support that misleading abuse-related claim, federal officials said.

The crime they pleaded guilty to is termed “misbranding”, basically putting a misleading label on a box of pills or allowing it to be prescribed for uses other than the one it was intended. What happens when you push an extremely powerful drug to unsuspecting doctors and patients without the correct safegaurds?

…both experienced drug abusers and novices, including teenagers, soon discovered that chewing an OxyContin tablet or crushing one and then snorting the powder or injecting it with a needle produced a high as powerful as heroin. By 2000, parts of the United States, particularly rural areas, began to see skyrocketing rates of addiction and crime related to use of the drug.

…Between 1995 and 2001, OxyContin brought in $2.8 billion in revenue for Purdue Pharma, a closely held company based in Stamford, Conn. At one point, the drug accounted for 90 percent of the company’s sales.

Just to recap, here, a major drug company was allowed to issue false documents and information to both government regulators and the public in order to make a large fortune by pushing a dangerous narcotic that resulted in an epidemic of abuse and crime; and all they have to do is pay out a mere 20% of their earnings to escape prosecution. This is not a case of “misbranding”. On the contrary, it is a blatant attempt to sell hazardous narcotics for profit, or, how do you say?…..ah yes…..DRUG DEALING.

Let’s say Purdue wasn’t a corporatoin, but rather a successful street-level drug dealer, or “private entrepreneur” as we classify them. Purdue obviously moved some serious weight in New York state, so he would be subject to the Rockefeller Drug laws, some of the harshest legislation passed against any crime, let alone the War on Drugs. Since, as the Times stated, Oxy is as powerful as Heroin, let’s say our man Purdue was pushin Heroin. What would be his sentence if he was arrested, tried, and convicted?:

Under the Rockefeller drug laws, the penalty for selling two ounces (approximately 56 grams) or more of heroin, morphine, “raw or prepared opium,” cocaine, or cannabis, including marijuana (these latter two being included in the statute even though they are not “narcotics” from a chemical standpoint), or possessing four ounces (approximately 128 grams) or more of the same substances, was made the same as that for second-degree murder: A minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

This is just for selling the shit, mind you. Purdue was a big time, national cat, so he also committed several other crimes in order to commit this one (trafficking, conspiracy, etc.) so at this point he’s looking at a few decades in Rikers. We prosecute drug dealers because they distribute harmful narcotics to our children and commit crimes in order to facilitate their business. If a pharmaceutical company is found guilty of the same actions on a larger scale, but given a fraction of the punishment, how is that possibly justice? If Purdue the dealer got off like Purdue the corporation, there would be community leaders and politicians falling over themselves to denounce our justice system, government, and godless society for perpetuating such an intolerable failure. What you wanna bet we hear anything close to this on Purdue Pharma?

The most disturbing fact of all of this is that the F.D.A., by standing idly by for 6 years, is more or less complicit in all of this. It’s true, they were provided with misleading information and all the rest, but you honestly mean to tell me that they can find a fatal chemical in Chinese pet food and be unaware as to the risks of a prescription pain medication? Glad to see our government is looking out for us a little less than our domestic animals.

“What Happens When Bush Vetoes?”

In Afghanistan, Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Policing, Terrorism on April 4, 2007 at 7:34 pm

From an e-mail sent to me by Chris Dodd for President, which, I suppose, is an organization trying to get Dodd elected president.

If President Bush delays funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by vetoing the war supplemental passed last week, how will Democrats react?

One course of action would be to capitulate and immediately write the President another blank check, devoid of benchmarks and accountability.

But that’s not the right choice, nor is it what Democrats were elected to do on November 7, 2006.

Assuming a veto, Senator Russ Feingold and Majority Leader Harry Reid plan to introduce legislation next Tuesday mandating that President Bush begin troop withdrawals one hundred and twenty days after passage.

The bill also serves notice that funding for the war will end by March 31, 2008.

Senator Dodd has signed on as one of the first co-sponsors of the Feingold-Reid bill.

Will you lend your support to this important piece of legislation and ask your personal networks to do the same?

http://chrisdodd.com/stopthewar

It looks like they want us to sign something supporting this legislation, which will only be introduced after Bush has smacked down some other legislation.  Well, ridiculous or not, I suppose I’ll sign it.  Feel free to do the same.

Iraq and Immigration Meet in Mass.

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, Iraq War, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 8, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Two festering cancers of America’s policy collided yesterday at a New Bedford, MA manufacturing plant. A small army of Immigrations and Customs Enforcements agents (ICE) executed a massive raid at a Michael Bianco, Inc., netting 327 illegal workers – out of 500 overall – and the company’s management. Though they are now prosecuting the company, our government had also awarded Bianco in the neighborhood of $90-$100 Million in contracts to manufacture quality goods for our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; this includes around $8.5 Million and $36.1 Million for backpacks and portage equipment in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Many words came to mind when I first read about this, and it will probably take a few paragraphs to get to them all, so please, bear with me.

There are many victims in this story, but I’d like to start with the innocent ones. The majority of the workers at Bianco were women, and while they were being handcuffed a rounded up with helicopters for working a $7 an hour job, their children were left stranded. From the Boston Globe:

About 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others, said Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. The state Department of Social Services found at least 35 children whose families were affected, authorities said.

“We’re continuing to get stories today about infants that were left behind,” she said. “It’s been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that no children were stranded and that authorities released 60 detainees for humanitarian reasons, most related to child care issues. Spokesman Marc Raimondi said that the agency coordinated with the state officials Monday afternoon, and that those still in custody were given the option of letting their children stay with a guardian or putting them in state care.

“We had an agreement in place,” he said. “We are not aware of anyone who had any children that weren’t being cared for.”

Social service officials said they were working with local authorities and community activists to help families.

Since their parents – all but the 60 the ICE mercifully released – spent the night detained in a nearby Army Base, one wonders just exactly where these children were and what kind of care they were given. It is important to note that most of these children are, by birth, American citizens, and as such, are entitled to care in this country. Despite this, a majority of deportees choose to leave with their children, preferring to keep the family together in uncertain poverty rather than burden the state and tear their lives in two. The former, though, will most likely be difficult if not impossible to accomplish given that these workers are now in custody and caught in the unrelenting tide of bureaucracy on their way out of the country. Just what kinds of rights they are granted during processing – most specifically phone calls to loved ones and legal consel – is also suspect:

At Fort Devens, federal agents began a second round of interviews with detainees, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said.

He said the majority will be flown to detention facilities outside of Massachusetts, where they will appear before an immigration court judge for deportation proceedings.

Depending on the judge’s decision, the detainees will either be deported to their home countries or allowed to return to New Bedford, he said.

The length of stay at the detention facilities depends on where the immigrants are from, Mr. Rocha said. Deportation to Mexico is quicker than those to other countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, he said.

This effectively puts these estimated 100 children in indefinite limbo for doing absolutely nothing. Give me one Minute Man who says this is justice, this is American values, and I’ll write in George Bush on my next Presidential ballot.

The second tier are the workers themselves. Whatever, your opinions on immigration are, it is important to understand the conditions in which these people work:

Investigators said the workers toiled in dingy conditions and faced onerous fines, such as a $20 charge for talking while working and spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

“The whole story will come out, and at that point it will be a very different scenario,” said Insolia’s lawyer, Inga Bernstein.

I’m sure it will, Inga. The pay they received – $7 an hour – and lack of benefits is, unfortunately, not that much different than many low-skilled jobs US citizens are forced into these days. But the simple fact that these people are without rights negates any inkling of fair, honest, and even humane treatment by their employers as they risk imprisonment and deportation for reporting mistreatment. I say again, whatever your thoughts on this issue, the plain fact is that these people risk life and limb to come here and be exploited all so that their children can escape the burdens they endure. We are also led to believe, over and over, that these people come to this country to do the jobs American’s won’t. An excellent Op-Ed piece from a local paper stated that the raid happened “on the same day that the state reported that the city’s unemployment rate was the highest in the commonwealth and just one day after a historic copper company founded by patriot Paul Revere announced it will close its historic plant in New Bedford” When a big time factory can beat it’s competitors while still keeping it’s local work-force in unemployment, it’s a Red-Letter day for American business. With the closing of any plant, fingers start pointing all over the place over who is responsible for the lost jobs. Is it the fault of the immigrant for working the sub-standard wage, or the employer for offering it?

The most unnerving thing, in my opinion, is that all this was done with the full knowledge, if not complicit action of the government. Not just the Department of Defense, who awarded them the contract, but several government agencies turned the other way to continue the flow of cheap goods Bianco dolled out to our troops. From the Op-Ed piece:

As early as February 2002, the Social Security Administration found that there were problems with the paperwork of nearly one in four of Bianco’s 83 employees. Over the next several years, state and city police stops turned up Bianco employees who said they had purchased fraudulent documents.

And report after report, filed over a four-year period, to Social Security found wholesale problems with Bianco Inc.’s work force, including Social Security cards whose numbers matched those of dead people.

And yet, the company was awarded more than $100 million in federal contracts to manufacture gear for U.S. soldiers. To meet the demands of the federal contracts, Bianco quadrupled its work force from 151 in February 2005 to 646. The company even received tens of thousands of dollars from Massachusetts, apparently to train illegal immigrants how to do taxpayer-supported jobs for the U.S. military that should have gone to U.S. citizens.

Most of what we eat, be it livestock or produce, has been given off the back of illegal labor for years, so I guess it was only a matter of time before the government stopped riding shotgun and started actively working to engorge American business with cheap labor. While we were being pummelled with the “debate” on these issues going on throughout the halls of government, while walls and fences were being built to keep these dastardly illegals out of our country and rhetoric flew like electrons from our elected officials, hundreds of workers – just counting Bianco, mind you – were being ignored if not encouraged to keep quiet and meet their quotas. The Senate felt it appropriate to demonize these workers while ignoring the employers that brought them here in the first place; these captains of industry who supplied Mexicans, Brazilians, Guatemalans and Jamaicans – just to name a few – with false identification and denied them any rights whatsoever in order to avoid the labor laws and civil rights that come with a legitimate workforce. But hey, that crap’s expensive and we live in a global economy. However encouraging it is to see Francesco Insolia, Bianco’s owner, and the rest of the company’s management being led away in the same cars as the their victims, it is merely window dressing when compared to monumental task at hand. It will take much more than raids to cure the culture of corruption we have let infect our economy through lax oversight and an unwillingness to face the issues at hand. It will be curious to see if the new Democratic leadership will be able to cut the bullshit and find a solution, be it amnesty or prosecution, to this festering problem. There are many who believe that they would rather wait out this supposed lame-duck administration and deal with the problem on their own terms come ’08 instead of working with Bush to solve it, thereby reinvigorating his languishing term. How many millions of workers will be prosecuted from now until then? What will be the human cost of all of this useless politcal posturing?

The fact that many of our troops are now equipped with the products made by this company is nothing short of poetic irony. At the very least, corners have been cut and rules have been bent in countless ways to keep this war afloat. The complete and total lack of responsible oversight and accountability that has been so well documented in Iraq has finally been revealed to us at home, and one can only wonder how much more of our military is being supported by these illegal and unethical companies. We have been told that we wage this war for the people of Iraq to have a taste of the freedom we take for granted here, that it is our job to cast away the darkness of oppression with the enduring light of liberty. Yet here we are, oppressing our own people with unemployment and foreigners with much worse, supplanting the equipment our troops deserve with that which is cheapest and orphaning scores of children without any consideration to their future, all in the broad daylight of this liberty we take for granted. My mother was born of Polish and Czech immigrants who arrived here at the turn of the century and my father came here from the Philippines in his twenties, which makes immigration a very personal issue for me, and probably why I’ve written more of a manifesto than a post. Most immigrants don’t come here for themselves, they do so for their families and their children, seeking to spread the apparent overflow of prosperity upon those they love. This was the founding principal of our nation, it was the reason why George Washington didn’t want to pay his taxes and why Jose’ worked 3 jobs with no insurance, they both wanted to be citizens of the United States. Should people come here legally? Yes. Regulating this, though, must start within our own borders by prosecuting the companies perpetuating it. The fact remains that there are millions of people who have spent year after year toiling in sheer exploitation that deserve, if not the name, at least some of the rights guaranteed by citizenship. By instead putting them in shackles and tearing apart their families, we relive another notorious and shamefull period of our history. If we cannot enforce our laws equally across tax brackets, guarantee the well being of our citizens and the humane treatment of those who are not, we scar the traditions that built this country. If we can’t fulfill our promises here, how are we supposed to fight and die to fulfill them elsewhere?

Dime Bags of Viagra: Follow Up

In Consumerism, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 7, 2007 at 1:40 pm

A post I put up a few days ago (Dime Bags of Viagra) described a report by the UN Drug Control Board stating that abuse of prescription drugs is surpassing abuse of illicit/street drugs. I placed some of the onus on multi-national drug corporations and their questionable marketing techniques, and commented on the fact that the NY Times didn’t carry a story on the report. An article in yesterday’s paper makes me feel pretty good:

The chairman of a House committee has asked two medical device companies and three drug makers for documents as part of an investigation into product safety and marketing practices.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson for information on their drug-coated stents to treat clogged heart arteries, citing concerns about the safety and off-label use of the devices.

Off-label use of medical devices and drugs occurs when doctors use the products to treat ailments other than those for which they are approved by regulators.

Mr. Waxman also sought information about allegations of inappropriate marketing by the drug makers Eli Lilly & Company, AstraZeneca and Cephalon.

Despite my argument that our perception of drugs is at the root of out abuse problems, I am very glad to see some level of governmental oversight finally making inroads in these kinds of issues, regardless of the motivation. These are merely letters at this point, and it will be interesting to see the amount of disclosure these companies will be willing to give and the amount of push back from the House if they don’t get the answers they want. In many ways, this may become reflexive on the progress of “ethics reform”, one of the key issues in the Democrat’s 2006 platform. If this is as far as the story goes, or they enact some toothless legislation after an ineffectual investigation, one can assume that Drug money is still alive and well on the Hill. As I wrote before, this is a big issue facing the health and well-being of millions of Americans, hopefully we’ll see some action from our elected officials.

Bush Continues Anti-Regulatory Efforts with Industry Nominee to CPSC

In Civil Liberties, Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, International Trade, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 7, 2007 at 11:37 am

Just another re-post

In nominating Michael E. Baroody Mar. 1 to be chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), President Bush demonstrated yet another example since the 2006 elections of his efforts to slow down or roll back government regulation. CPSC is the independent regulatory agency charged with protecting the public against injury and death from a wide range of consumer products.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Baroody currently serves as the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), an industry trade group which often works to ease regulations on manufacturers of consumer products. Baroody has been at NAM since 1990, except for a year when he worked for the Republican National Policy Forum. While at NAM, Baroody built a powerful lobbying and communications arm, which has had a very strong anti-regulatory agenda. He appeared to be next in line to get the top job at NAM until former Michigan governor John Engler was appointed president and CEO…

The Los Angeles Times reports that, for example, Baroody fought against ergonomic standards that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration recommended in 2000, and he spoke on behalf of NAM when the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted constitutionally when it issued air pollution limits in 2001. Baroody’s nomination goes to the Senate Commerce Committee where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has vowed to scrutinize the nominee…

As we watch our nation’s inability to respond to a range of challenges, whether it’s regarding the quality of our national parks, our veterans’ health care quality, the readiness of the National Guard, Hurricane Katrina, or the regulation of our food supply, Bush continues to nominate people not to govern the country, but to achieve ideological ends and protect corporate interests.

HIV-positive soldiers no longer to be forced from Mexican army

In Civil Liberties, HIV/SIDA, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Policing on March 1, 2007 at 7:33 pm

From Upside Down World:

Mexico’s Supreme Court has reversed a law that allowed the military to force HIV-positive soldiers out of the armed forces. 11 members of the military brought the case to the court after more than 300 HIV-positive soldiers had been fired in the last 13 years, judged ‘‘useless’’ by the military. Five of the members may be reinstated.  Two died before the ruling, but their families could be helped by receiving benefits formerly denied to them by the former law. The decision was approved 8 to 3 on February 27…

Dime Bags of Viagra

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Consumerism, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., The War On Drugs on March 1, 2007 at 1:43 pm

It looks as though there has been a paradigm shift in drug use. According to the United Nations Drug Control Board, abuse of prescription drugs will surpass use of street drugs for the first time in history. An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette brings it home:

“Prescription drug abuse already has outstripped traditional illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy in parts of Europe, Africa and South Asia, the board said in its annual report for 2006.

In the United States alone, abuse of painkillers, stimulants, tranquilizers and other prescription medications has gone beyond ‘practically all illicit drugs with the exception of cannabis,’ with users increasingly turning to them first, said the group, based in Vienna, Austria.”

For many, many years, we’ve been told that weed is the quintessential “gateway drug”. It has been the pillar of our narcotic education since the 80’s, but it looks like the herb’s gonna have to move over:

“The prescription and heroin addictions are often linked, Dr. Capretto noted, because abuse of OxyContin has led many addicts to heroin for economic reasons. While an 80-milligram OxyContin pill can sell for up to $80 on the street, a stamp bag of heroin has dropped to $10, even as purity levels have reached 90 percent.

‘Someone spending hundreds of dollars a day on OxyContin can buy heroin for one-third, one-fourth that amount now,’ he said. ‘You have suburban kids who never thought they’d stick a needle in their arm shooting up.’

Richard Goldberg, Allegheny County deputy district attorney in charge of the narcotics unit, agreed that OxyContin users are turning to heroin because dealers of both drugs are reacting to market forces of ‘supply and demand’ in a price war.”

It should be no surprise that “good” drugs and “bad” drugs are being dealt by the same people. Chemically speaking, Heroin and Oxy are both Opioids containing essentially the same active ingredients, though prescriptions are derived synthetically instead of from the evil Poppy plant. Prescriptions are far more potent than street drugs as well, so the risk of harm is usually much higher. This kind of frank discussion about drugs, though, has never and probably will never occur in this country, this “drug free” America where I can be locked up for 15 years for a bag of weed but can easily write away for a free sample of pills to enhance my genitals – not that they need enhancing, necessarily, but Pfizer wants me to know that it’s on the table. My father was an Anesthesiologist for decades, doling out the Dolodit and other high powered medications to needy patients, so I am well aware that they’re both needed and helpful. Drug companies – like gun makers – can’t really be held responsible for the misuse of their products. While watching TV the other weekend, though, my Dad was incensed by the countless advertisements for drugs clogging up the nightly news. “People shouldn’t be diagnosing themselves,” he said. And, as he likes to say, he was absolutely right.

It’s not that advertisements like these promote drug abuse, but they do soften the seriousness of drug use. It seems drug companies can no longer make back the hundreds of millions they pump into R&D by simply selling things people need, they have to cater to what they want: Getting to sleep, staying awake, paying attention, the aforementioned genital enhancement and a wide array of sexual assistance are just a few examples of unnecessary medication being pushed on us at every turn. The ambiguous ads are my favorite: “What is Xenoxoprol? Take it and find out!”. Because they don’t actually describe what the hell the thing does, they don’t have list the many ugly side-effects – “Gaseous Oily Discharge” – that you’ll most likely experience. Is this any different from getting your fix from a dude in the alley? No. But it’s more profitable to keep us all thinking that it is. It affords us billions of dollars for a misguided War on Drugs and keeps many English majors in the green by writing copy for Xanax.  These inequalities underline class issues as well.  Crack and cocaine are basically the same substance, but since one is bought by poor minorities and the other by rich socialites, we treat them differently.  Working poor don’t have the money to buy Vicodin, let alone the healthcare to get the prescriptions.  Lets see how often we see Anti-Drug campaigns for designer pills.

Drug abuse and addiction is a serious problem, but it won’t get better through legislation or prosecution. Until we change our perception of drugs that are “good” and “bad” by realligning them to reality, regulation in any form will fail. Interestingly, this story was not picked up by the NY Times or CNN, despite the fact that it affects the lives of millions of Americans. It looks like denial is still our opiate of choice.

Redistricting Prisoners

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, The War On Drugs, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 11:21 am

Another one that isn’t a new conversation, but good to see Schneiderman keeping it on the table…

Where prisoners are counted as population for redistricting purposes is an urgent issue for New York to deal with before 2010 Census redistricting, especially considering the Community Service Society of New York reports that,

“Approximately 80% of New York State’s prison population consists of Blacks and Latinos from New York City’s predominately Black and Latino communities, including Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side, the South and East Bronx, Central and East Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens. When released, the majority of the former prisoners return to these communities.”

This, from today’s Albany Times Blog,

Eileen Markey’s article in City Limits alludes to another parallel. The majority of our state’s prisoners come from downstate (New York City), but virtually all the state’s prisons are upstate. More importantly, those prisoners are counted as “residents” of upstate towns in the decennial census, but they are unable to vote. Thus, for the purposes of reapportionment and redistricting in NY, prisoners are like seat fillers at the Oscars: they give districts the appearance of being full, but they have absolutely no clout.

This practice has meaningful economic and political consequences. The resources diverted to districts upstate do little to aid prisoners, while the actual residents get a disproportionately large slice of the pie. In turn, less money is directed to downstate districts that already lack resources and support returning prisoners upon their release. Politically, this method has favored Republicans, who are heavily concentrated upstate. By allocating prisoners up north, redistricters respecting one-person/one-vote doctrine must create more districts upstate; these puffed-up districts have tended to elect GOP candidates.

There are simple ways to change New York’s method of counting prisoners. Some states simply do not count prisoners when redistricting. Others, including Sen. Eric Schneiderman have proposed creating a database with the last known addresses of prisoners, and counting them there. Either proposal would bring more fairness to the system and help end the current practice in NY which heaps insult onto injury: not only are prisoners being used for partisan gain, but their home districts suffer as well. Or, put another way, not only are they little more than nominees with no chance at a statue, they’re left without the coveted swag too.

Income Inequality: Income of 1.2m on top = Income of 45.5m on bottom

In class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Laws & Regulation, Progressive Politics, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:39 am

In case you need a good pick-me-up with your cup o’ joe, here are some tid-bits the Wall Street Journal pulled out from a recent CBO report. Nothing too new, but good to stay motivated:

…Before taxes, the bottom 40% of U.S. households got 13% of the nation’s income in 2004; after federal taxes of all sorts they got about 15%, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimates. Because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a cash bonus the government offers low-wage workers, many Americans at the bottom get money from the government, rather than having to pay income taxes; they still face payroll taxes on their wages.

Before taxes, the top 1% got about 16% of income; after taxes they ended up with 14%. (Yes, you read that right: The 1.2 million best-off households got about as much income, even after taxes, as the 45.5 million worst-off.) That top 1%, by the way, pays about a quarter of all federal taxes.

…The Treasury benefits more when CEOs get bigger raises than when ordinary workers gain, and that, along with the buoyant economy, is a big reason for today’s surge in federal revenue.

Immigration Detention Centers Privatize Food (PS: Food’s top reason for rioting)

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Race, Terrorism, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:26 am

Whew… Could turn into an underreported mess

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau has decided to hire an Alaska Native corporation to take over detention center food service work currently performed by dozens of federal employees.

Fifty-six ICE food service employees at detention centers in Miami; Los Angeles; Los Fresnos and El Paso, Texas; Florence, Ariz.; and El Centro, Calif., will be replaced by ANC workers, according to a notice posted earlier this month on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. The decision was made after the agency conducted a streamlined public-private job competition, in which officials decided after completing market research that it would be best to outsource the work.

Officials then announced in the notice early this month that, rather than soliciting proposals from all interested private sector companies, they would give the work to an Alaska Native firm. These companies are considered disadvantaged and allowed to bypass some of the normal competitive procedures required to win federal contracts.

…”ICE is not required to even show that this type of contractor is cheaper or better than federal employees, so the results of the … competition don’t matter, much less the way it was conducted,” said one person at the Homeland Security Department, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. ICE is part of DHS.

…A separate agency source predicted that officials may have a difficult time making a smooth transition to a contract workforce.

“I foresee disturbances likely to occur after the new contractors take over,” said the source, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity. “One of the primary reasons inmates [and] detainees riot is the quality of the food service. Contract employees will be held to strict time limits, [and] the quality and quantity will surely suffer as a result.”

Some Brooklyn News

In Housing, Land rights, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on February 20, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Being a Brooklyn resident, I thought that I would share some information that I received from the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn newsletter.  It’s a good website for keeping up with Brooklyn development (i.e. Atlantic yards/Ratner), so go check it out.

First is a report about a recent court hearing:

Federal Judge Hears Eminent Domain Oral Arguments; Case Could Derail “Atlantic Yards”
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An overflowing crowd of Brooklyn residents and reporters (some late arrivals had to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV in the courthouse’s cafeteria) filled the courtroom of Federal Magistrate Robert Levy on February 7th, as the judge listened to initial oral arguments in the eminent domain lawsuit filed by property owners and tenants whose homes and businesses lie in the footprint of the proposed “Atlantic Yards” development.

The hearing, in the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, was held in response to a motion to dismiss the case, brought by the defendants, who include the Empire State Development Corporation, Forest City Ratner, former Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The defendants are fearful of the case going to trial in Federal court, where the fate of Bruce Ratner’s “Atlantic Yards” project would rest solely on the law – and with a politically independent, impartial judge.

If the case proceeds to trial – and many courtroom observers believe that Judge Levy’s demeanor and his line of questioning indicate there’s a good chance it will – it would derail Ratner’s plans to erect an arena and a superblock of high-rise buildings in Prospect Heights. If the plaintiffs win, the project will have to go back to the drawing board, or be scrapped altogether, because the arena cannot be built, nor can streets de-mapped, without the plaintiffs’ homes and businesses.

During the nearly four hours of sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-technical courtroom back-and-forth, Judge Levy seemed largely unmoved by the defendants’ arguments; at one point, he interrupted ESDC lawyer Douglas Kraus to tell him “you and I have very different ideas about the law.” For more on the courtroom blow-by-blow, we recommend the coverage at the always-excellent Atlantic Yards Report, and this story from The New York Sun.

Judge Levy is expected to make a recommendation to presiding Judge Nicholas Garaufis on the defendants’ motion in the next few weeks. If he denies the motion (and we’re optimistic he will), the discovery process will begin, leading to a trial some time in the next few months.

 

Secondly, here are some screening dates and locations for a movie about the proposed development projects and the “antics” behind them.  I haven’t seen the movie, but it looks good, and i might go try to check it out.  It’s definitely an issue that people need to understand more about.

Brooklyn Matters,” local filmmaker Isabel Hill’s documentary chronicle of the shenanigans behind Bruce Ratner’s full-court press to erect his massively scaled, massively subsidized “Atlantic Yards,” is a must-see – and it’s coming to a location near you.

“Of all the protesting voices and hundreds of thousands of words in opposition to the proposed Atlantic Yards development, nothing is as convincing as Isabel Hill’s excellent film.”
– Stuart Pertz, FAIA, former member of the New York City Planning Commission

Brooklyn Matters is a remarkable film that slowly, quietly, calmly reveals the extreme ugliness at the heart of one of the most ill-conceived mega-developments in New York history.”
– Francis Morrone, architectural historian and author

The next two Brooklyn showings are as follows:

February 21st, 7:30 p.m.
Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Auditorium
357 Clermont Avenue (between Lafayette & Greene)
Fort Greene
Presented by the Fort Greene Association & The Society for Clinton Hill
Complimentary refreshments will be served beginning at 7:00 p.m.

February 27th, 7 p.m.
Fifth Avenue Committee
621 Degraw Street (between 3rd & 4th Avenues)
Park Slope
Presented by the Fifth Avenue Committee

Both screenings are free and open to the public. The running time of the film is approximately 55 minutes.

For up-to-date information on additional screenings, and to view a trailer, please visit www.brooklynmatters.com.

Fed’l Agencies May Have to Report All Data Mining Activities

In Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on February 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week approved language that would require federal agencies to report to Congress on their use and development of data-mining technologies.

The language, approved unanimously, is based on legislation, S. 236, co-authored by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H. He used the bill language for an amendment to a bill, S. 4, that would implement recommendations of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There is a sharp distinction between the federal government looking at digital records of terrorists and other criminals, and those of law-abiding citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure that this technology, which can analyze vast quantities of data, does not unintentionally infringe on Americans’ personal privacy.”

Cheney formed fourth branch of government… years ago

In Blogs we like, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:51 am

From the good folk at Free Government Information (“Because government information has to be free”):

The Office of the Vice President (OVP) is refusing to cooperate with a government directory known as the “Plum Book,” which lists government employees. Federal agencies have to comply by listing staffers in the directory, but Dick Cheney’s office claimed an exemption for itself, arguing that the “Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch.” But it’s not just the phone book with which the OVP refuses to cooperate. Evidently, the OVP is not part of the executive branch and so need not comply with ANY disclosures.

An important legal ruling is pending over Vice President Cheney’s refusal to disclose statistics on document classification and declassification activity. The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for the policy and oversight of the government’s security classification system and declassification, has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to direct Cheney’s office to disclose these statistics. According to Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, “for the last three years, OVP has refused to divulge its classification statistics to ISOO, despite a seemingly explicit requirement that it do so. Prior to 2002, such information had routinely been transmitted and reported in ISOO’s annual reports to the President.”

Hmmm, the OVP doesn’t want the public to know who’s working there or how many documents they’re classifying. What’s going on there?

Today’s Cartoon

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Direct action, Economic Justice, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Immigration, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Policing, political cartoons, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:45 am

Jack Bauer fills post-9/11 torture void, and then some

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

well put, Political Animal

GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS….Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Joel Surnow, the right-wing producer behind 24, has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The use of torture on the show has become so routine and so outlandish that even some Army officers are unnerved by the effect it’s having. In a scene she describes, an Army interrogator tells the show’s staff that “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

But here’s another observation about TV torture. It’s alluded to in passing in Mayer’s article, but an LA Times piece spells it out:

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture [in prime time television], according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said.

….The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer’s identity was more likely to be an American hero like “24’s” Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days.

Pre-9/11: torture is used by bad guys. That’s one of the ways you know they’re bad guys.

And today? Actually, nothing’s changed. It’s still how you know who the bad guys are. We just seem to have temporarily forgotten that.