Friday, January 30, 2009

Was Marcelo Lucero the Tip of the Iceberg?

On Wednesday Suffolk County prosecutors announced even more charges against the seven teens accused of beating and killing Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero. The accused, Jeffrey Conroy (17, the principle defendant who is accused of plunging a knife into Lucero's chest as his friends beat the victim), Christopher Overton (16), Jose Pacheco (17), Kevin Shea (17), Nicholas Hausch (17), Jordan Dasch (17), and Anthony Hartford (17) face more charges in connection with incidents in which Latino men were beaten unconscious and robbed, beaten with a pipe while being told he would be killed, and held down while being slashed with a knife. Prosecutors say that the teens went on violent sprees that targeted Latinos for 13 months before the Lucero killing.

Many questions arise from this. One of them is: were these incidents fully investigated? If this was going on for thirteen months did no one know what was going on? Some have stated that the Suffolk Police Department did not do enough when the racially-motivated attacks were reported. This could very well be true, but there is no objective way to prove this and there is no possible way to know if more intense investigations of the previous attacks would have prevented Lucero's death.  To argue one way or another may vent anger or emotions, but very little progress towards justice would be made.

One question worth investigating: who knew about this? If the police did not follow up the way they should have, they know it and have to live with that decision because in the back of their minds, they know they did not do their job. And those who knew of the "beaner hopping" of these misguided teens should feel ashamed, for if they had reported such repugnant behavior maybe Marcelo Lucero would be alive. These people know who they are.

All of this being said, if there are people who a) know that these seven kids did this or b) know that there are other people out there doing this you have a moral responsibility to come forward. If you don't you are implicit in their cowardly actions. As Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." A good read for those who are on the fence about reporting their peers is "The Hangman" by Maurice Ogden. Don't expect anyone to speak up for you if you remain silent while others are victimized.

The suspects' bails were raised given the new revelations about the previous year's attacks. Hopefully these cases will result in convictions of these bigots and they will spend a lot of time in prison for taking a violent and racist yearlong journey to the cold-blooded murder of Marcelo Lucero. The ultimate irony of a conviction for these teens would be that they would go from a society where they are the majority and felt able to take advantage of a minority into a society where they are the minority (in 2001 whites made up 16% of prisoners while Latinos made up 31% of prisoners and in 2005 80% of New York inmates were black or Latino) and may suffer similar abuses that they inflicted upon their minority counterparts. Peace.

Photos - Nicholas Hausch, Christopher Overton, Jordan Dasch, Anthony Hartford, and Jose Pacheco (l. to r.) (New York Times)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kristol Monday: The Last One

It's a bittersweet day for me, as I just found out that Bill Kristol has written his final column for the New York Times. It's sweet in that the country will not be exposed to his illogical arguments and one-sided "conservatives are always right" attitude, but also bitter because who will I trash on Mondays now? In order to give him the proper send-off, I'm going to rip his final column a new one.

To begin with, Kristol states that January 20, 2009 marked the "end of a conservative era." He cited Gingrich as the carrier of the torch for this "era" during the Clinton years, negating 8 years of a liberal president with a family-values conservative who cheated on his second wife while at the same time spearheading the impeachment of Bill Clinton for cheating on his (talk about sticking to your principles!). But if Gingrich is a continuance of Bush I and keeps the '90s conservative in Kristol's view, does Tip O'Neil get any recognition as a continuance of Carter and having a liberal effect in the '80s (with extra points for not being an adulterer)?

But there are more Kristol gems: "Over the next three decades, it was modern conservatism, led at the crucial moment by Ronald Reagan, that assumed the task of defending liberty with strength and confidence." Are we forgetting the Soviet-Afghan War and the rise of the Taliban and bin Laden with CIA money? Are we forgetting the Contras in Nicaragua and the money from Iranian arms sales (and as we know, Kristol hates Iran)? Or how Reagan increased government spending, yet is a hero to conservatives? Come on.

Then Kristol pulls the "if you disagree with me (i.e. "conservatism") then you are un-American" when he says: "Obama’s speech was unabashedly pro-American and implicitly conservative." So being pro-American is implying that one is really being conservative? One cannot love his or her country without subscribing to the Republican viewpoint? If I say we should not have sacrificed over 4,000 American servicemen and women in Iraq for a war based on false pretenses, does that make me un-American? If I say we should follow the Constitution - the very basis of this great nation - by not torturing or holding people in prisons without the right to a trial does that make me un-American? I thought we were done with this passive agressive name-calling, but leave it to Kristol to bring us right back down to the gutter.

So long, Bill Kristol. I wish we could say we hardley knew ye, but you made sure we heard you. While you may make outlandish statements like "Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of," without using any evidence to back it up, in your head you're always right and anyone else who says otherwise is just a liberal. Now that McCain lost to Obama and your post as Republican Party cheerleader will do little to help your stature as being part of the ruling party, you can act like the sore loser at the playground, take your ball and go home. Peace.

Photo - Bill Kristol (New York Times)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why Must Every New York Democrat Meet with Al Sharpton?

In newly minted junior senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand's first visit to the Big Apple since Governor Paterson's announcement that she will take over Madame Secretary of State Clinton's vacant Senate seat, her first stop was Al Sharpton's National Action Network. I understand the new senator's desire to win over black New Yorkers (her district upstate is only 2.7% black), but why Sharpton? Sure, a lot of people think he is a good leader for the black community, but has he won any political office?

Sharpton brings a lot of issues to the public's eye - issues that need to be discussed. But Sharpton as a messenger is not always seen as beneficial. One particular incident, and I've discussed this in the past, has completely illegitimized Sharpton as a public figure and he would better serve his community if he allowed someone else to be the face of NAN and he mentored this person behind the scenes. I do not see this happening because Sharpton (in my humble opinion) likes being the center of attention. That one particular incident I was referring to above is the Tawana Brawley fiasco. Sharpton's refusal to admit that he got took and his further refusal to apologize to those whose lives he put in turmoil shows his disregard for common sense and the rare, but necessary, human characteristic of knowing when you're wrong and admitting it. Sharpton is human and he makes mistakes, but his denial of them shows his dangerous hubris.

So given Sharpton's hard-headedness, why must every New York Democrat sit down with this guy? When Caroline Kennedy appeared to be the frontrunner (at least in the media's eyes) for Clinton's seat, she had to sit down with Sharpton at Sylvia's. Yeah, because eating at a soul food restaurant with a black reverend shows that you have credibility with black folks. Is this just bossism in the 21st century? You want black votes/support, you go to Harlem for an afternoon and sit down with their Tweed? I refuse to believe that a) the ability to sit down with Sharpton for a meal in Harlem gives you an epiphanic look into the lives of black people or that b) said black people buy into the fact that sitting down with Sharpton makes a politician credible in the black community.

So again, I pose this question: why must every New York Democrat meet with Al Sharpton? He is not the Moses of the black community, nor is he even an elected official. Gillibrand met with elected Queens officials post-Sharpton, and I'm not griping about that because these are folks who have been elected by constituents and who are colleagues of Gillibrand's because of their public servant status. Sharpton would have so much more credibility if he had not made the Brawley blunder. So while some of what Sharpton does these days is good, it is all overshadowed by his overbearing pride and refusal to admit mistakes. Peace.

Photos - Al Sharpton (Wikipedia)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Numbers Indicate Former Gitmo Detainees "Return" to Terrorism

The Pentagon last week put out numbers that stated 61 former detainees at the soon-to-be-closed Guantanamo Bay military prison camp have returned to terrorist activities according to U.S. intelligence (the same folks who may or may not have said that Saddam had WMD). Some security experts, however, have come out to say that the number of released Gitmo detainees who "returned" to terrorism may be highly misleading.

For one thing, I wish that the government were just as worried about the recidivism of terrorists as they were of state offenders. The recidivism rate for state prisoners is nearly 70%, which ends up costing the taxpayer untold amounts of money, while 61 former detainees at Gitmo represent only about 11% of the about 520 folks to have pulled a "revolving door" through Gitmo's gates in orange jumpsuits. For example, in 2005 alone 16,692 people were murdered on American streets in non-terror related homicides. Since 1983, terrorism has killed 6,640 (which counts the Beirut bombing, the USS Cole, the Kenyan embassy bombings, Iraq and Afghanistan). If you want to count only terrorist attacks on American soil, the number is 3,315 victims who lost their lives (WTC in '93, Oklahoma City, and 9/11). So while 16,692 people lost their lives in America thanks to domestic crime (whose offenders are, statistically, about 65% likely to commit another crime after spending time in our penal system) in a single year, it is national news (and an outrage that requires immediate attention) when over two decades see 3,315 dead (with only 11% of those likely to recommit terrorist activities). Which is the real national security issue?

Secondly, only 18 of those 61 former detainees have actually been confirmed to be involved in terrorist activities following their release from Gitmo. The other 43 are "suspected" of being involved in terrorist activities. Excuse my cynicism, but I believe that Saddam was "suspected" of being involved with 9/11. So in reality, we know that only 4% of released Gitmo detainees went on to be involved in terrorism. And that's the other thing: if the government says that they "returned" to terrorism, that means that they were involved in it when we picked them up. So if we knew this, how could we not convict them of such a serious charge and send them to prison for life? Is it possible that we picked up innocents who were implicated by their fellow villagers and other shady informants and happened to radicalize them while they were unjustly held without habeas corpus in a military prison on the island of a sworn enemy (Castro)? It does not seem out of the realm of possibilities.

Lastly, the Pentagon has admitted that some of the Gitmo recidivists have been implicated in terrorism for merely making anti-American statements in public. This is to be expected when a country locks you up with no trial, tortures you and deems you to be "the worst of the worst" while keeping you in conditions unfit for a stray dog (all the while, you may not have even done anything). If the only thing that those released from Guantanamo do is publicly make anti-American statements, then we're lucky. Gitmo is a lightning rod for radicalization and terrorist recruitment; Obama is doing this country a favor by closing it down. Think of it like this: a horrible crime occurs in your neighborhood and the cops think it was done by a neighbor. They round up every person in the neighborhood, believing they've caught the guy who did it. They don't bring official charges against anyone and use questionable interrogation techniques. After years of inhumane treatment, they release those that they believe had nothing to do with the crime (who happen to be more than half of all those detained). It turns out that because of the confessions of the man they believe committed the crime were made under torturous conditions, they won't hold up in court so he may get off. Tell me this: how quick would you be to forgive and forget if you were in that neighborhood?

So in summation, the numbers released by the Pentagon days before Obama took office appear to be slightly misleading. Additionally, one could easily make the argument that we have a larger national security issue on our streets thanks to unbelievably high recidivism rates for state offenders. On top of all this, the Pentagon considers those who make statements against the country that tortured and inhumanely (if not illegally) detained them "terrorists." The way I see it is this: if we have the evidence, convict the terrorists, if we do not have the evidence, then how do we know they're terrorists? Unfortunately, thanks to Bush and Co. policies, some legitimate terrorists may have to be let go due to illegal interrogation techniques (or continue to be held illegally). This is America: we pride ourselves on taking the moral high ground; land of the free and home of the brave. It takes much more courage to follow things such as the Geneva Conventions and other internationally agreed-upon rules (and also legally beneficial in the long run) than to sacrifice the freedom of some innocent people halfway across the world and defy the international community. So which path do we choose, bravery or cowardice? Peace.

Photos - Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay (CNN), A cell at Gitmo with a reading room in the inset (Wikipedia)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama to World: I Am Breaking with Bush Policies

Today Obama signed a significant executive order that states the controversial just-out-of-constitutional-jurisdiction Guantanamo Bay military prison will close no later than a year from today, among other incarceration- and interrogation-related orders left over from the Bush Administration. What this primarily does is send the message that a new dawn has arisen in the war on terror and the use of controversial techniques and absolute secrecy will slowly fade out. The decision has been hailed both at home by Democrats, others who have read the Constitution and leaders abroad.

Obama has pledged to go through each detainee's files (which seem to have been ill-kept under the Bush Administration) and decide which detainees are releasable, triable, and untriable. A detainee may be untriable for a number of reasons, such as lack of evidence (this is where we can see the habeas corpus violations) or the use of torture to obtain confessions and other evidence (thanks to the previous administration). Another important aspect of the executive order is the assertion that the U.S. and its intelligence agencies use only the non-coercive techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual, rather than the SERE techniques being used at Gitmo and other CIA black sites.

Why is this logical? There are many reasons, but one of the main ones is that it is morally right. No one should be tortured, never mind at the hands of the most powerful country in the world that has timelessly claimed to take the moral high ground. Secondly, torturing folks is not the way to win the "hearts and minds" of those folks at risk to become extremists. In fact, images from Abu Ghraib have been used to recruit terrorists. And imagine being detained without trial for something you did not do. When you're released, are you going to defend your captor when others are angry with them? Sure, you were innocent before Bush came along and rounded you up and threw you in a cage, but that sure pissed you off and now you want death to America. Places like Guantanamo do not make America safer in the long run; in fact, they threaten our national security severely.

And Obama's decision to close Gitmo is no knee-jerk reaction to the misguided policies of the Bush Administration, despite what some Republican leaders may say (more on those folks later). Obama admits that there are some dangerous people at Gitmo who are not triable because of a lack of evidence and the allegations of torture used to obtain evidence against them. It seems that these accused terrorists will not be freed until a plan is devised to deal with them. So while they may not be housed at Gitmo, they aren't going anywhere soon.

So what do many high-profile Republicans think of this? Peter Hoekstra of Michigan (ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee) said that the decision to close the prison within a year "places hope ahead of reality — it sets an objective without a plan to get there." House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "The big concern is, how do you come up with a policy to say, ‘We're going to close Guantanamo,’ without having a policy in place for what you're going to do with those that are there?" These two decry a lack of a plan (something Obama has acknowledged and made clear that those accused terrorists deemed dangerous to the U.S. but untriable will not be released), yet both voted for the Iraq War, a war that many have come out and said was poorly managed and had no coherent plan from the get-go. So let me get this straight: Hoekstra and Boehner have no problem allowing a Republican to lead us into Vietnam II that is the Iraq quagmire, yet throw their hands up in protest when a Democrat tries to close the torturous prisons that have so hurt America's stature in the world. Also keep this in mind: Bush stated that he was the "decider" and gave a facade of omnipotence when it came to Iraq and war strategy while Obama has come out and said that decisions have to be made on what to do with the untriable detainees and nothing brash will occur before those decisions are made (and also does not have Nixon cronies making said decisions for him). I guess I am looking for Hoekstra's and Boehner's credibility and failing to find it.

In all, Obama's executive order makes it clear that the Bush Administration's policies of torture and incarceration without trial is coming to a close. Many Bush supporters say that history will treat 43 well and we will look back on this in 25 years and say, "Wow, Bush had foresight." I disagree. Gitmo will be viewed like the Japanese internment of WWII, Iraq will be viewed like Vietnam is today, when all the behind-the-scenes information comes out in the next few decades Bush will be seen as the second coming of Nixon (hell, half his staffers were Nixon's anyway), and Bush's number one accomplishment will be declaring war on an ideology. Guantanmo Bay will (hopefully) be closed a year from today and America will be safer in the long run for it. Peace.

Photos - Obama signing the executive order declaring that Gitmo will be closed a year from today (New York Times), Detainees at Guantanmo Bay, Cuba (Washington Post)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cops Who Abandoned 14 Year Old in SI Swamp Plead Guilty to Lesser Charges

Two Staten Island police officers who found a teen throwing eggs at cars on Halloween in 2007 and subsequently dumped him in a swampy area to fend for himself have pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the case after the teen refused to testify against the officers. The cops avoid prison time altogether and only have to pay $95 in court fees and serve a conditional discharge (meaning they will not have to check in with the Department of Probation). The incident occurred on Halloween in 2007 when the two officers came upon the teen being a teen and throwing eggs at cars. Instead of driving him home to be dealt with by his parents or to the precinct to fill out the proper paperwork and allow the DA's office to do their job, the two officers, Thomas Elliassen, 28, and Richard Danese, 26, both of Great Kills, thought that they were qualified to be judge, jury and executioner. In what they called "teaching the teen a lesson" they drove him out to a swampy area and abandoned him after hitting him a bit. Their original 33 count indictment has now been whittled down to a simple DIS/CON.

Now many people have a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to criticizing Elliassen and Danese. They hide their lack of an argument behind the accusation that those who criticize the officers are wholeheartedly defending the teenage victim. Was the teen in the wrong by throwing eggs at cars? Yes. Were the officers in the wrong to not deal with him by the book? You bet. There are no winners here (especially because it sounds like this kid has some issues as he was arrested for bringing a boxcutter to school a year after this incident). But what's unbelievable is that the taxpayer has continued to pay Elliassen's and Danese's salary this entire time. There is no word that these officers have been released from the force despite having pleaded guilty to committing a crime on duty, in uniform, and violating NYPD directives. Maybe the cops will be let go tomorrow, but one more day of taxpayer-funded salary for these two would be embarrassing.

We expect police officers to rise above the fray of criminality when we give them badges, guns, and cars with shiny lights on them. We expect them to keep order, stay objective, and know the legal limits of their job which involves arresting people and testifying in court when needed and NOT to dole out punishment. But cops are human just like the rest of us and are prone to mistakes like this, which is when they need to be let go. It's like any job; if I showed up to work and did something that involved me pleading guilty to a misdemeanor because of my performance, I don't think I'd be at that job very long (I probably would not be paid for doing less while the outcome of the prosecution was pending, either). Again, bad cops tarnish the badge for the good cops. If I were a cop who played by the rules and did my job dutifully, I would be pissed at these two for giving my profession and my employer a bad name; I would not defend them nor would I try to cover up for them because what they did was wrong and in life, there are appropriate consequences to your actions. If these two officers were allowed to continue their employment with the NYPD after this admission of guilt, it would be a major shame for the entire force. Peace.

Photo - Officers Thomas Elliassen (left) and Richard Danese leaving State Supreme Court last year (SI Live)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New

People love to poke fun at George W. Bush. Comics, cartoonists, and commentators have made fun of him regularly over the past eight years. We’ve seen plenty of footage of the President saying and doing objectively stupid things, and we got so used to this as the norm that we started to pay less attention to his embarrassing blunders as time went on. But in the midst of having such an ineloquent, mistake-prone President, we’ve become so jaded that perhaps we have begun to forget the extremely serious predicament into which he has led us up until today, the last day of his Presidency.

George W. Bush’s tenure was defined by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After that fateful and frightful moment in our history, we banded together. We proudly waved American flags, opened our hearts and our wallets to victims’ families, and put all our faith in our elected leader to help mend the world and make sure such a catastrophe would never recur. At that point, Americans were ready to heed the call of service, of patriotism, and of community, and we were ready to go in whatever direction the President wanted to take us in.

But the President led us astray. He should have used the “rally around the flag” effect to enact sweeping changes and help usher in a new era—by raising taxes, with what would have surely been little fuss, in order to help wean us off foreign energy sources that were strengthening terrorist-harboring countries, and move us toward a new, independent energy economy. He should have exploited people’s willingness to serve and sacrifice by asking us to consume less energy, to help our neighbors, and to serve our communities.

Instead, he told Americans to “go shopping.” He hindered our progress toward energy independence by underfunding renewable energy investment and research. He led us into a war that no sound intelligence indicated was a relevant front to combating terrorism. He led us toward more foreign oil resources instead of away from them. He neglected an opportunity where nearly all the countries of the world were behind us, ready to help us however they could, and instead violated the trust of some of our greatest allies and the international community at large, unilaterally launching our country into a deadly, ill-advised, and protracted war and ultimately sending an already unstable region into further havoc.

I often wonder what the world would be like right now if Al Gore had won the 2000 election. The only thing I can say with certainty is that it would be a much, much different world. Eight years after Bush’s first inauguration, we find ourselves in an economic recession, with a little-regulated financial system that has spiraled out of control. We find ourselves with our power and influence around the world at perhaps its lowest level since World War I, as few countries still look to us as a moral exemplar. We find ourselves contributing more than ever to dangerous global climate change and more dependent than ever on foreign oil.

Today, we have witnessed history with the inauguration of our first African American President. But we are handing our new President a country that is battered and bleeding. The idea of “change” is not just a campaign slogan. It’s something that we desperately need, and have desperately needed for the last eight years. Only now, with so much opportunity squandered, so much patriotism wasted on questioning others’ loyalty to the country, so much fear instilled in the minds of Americans instead of good will and hard work elicited from our hearts and our hands, we need change more than ever. It’s not going to be easy being President right now. But just as we put our faith in President Bush after September 11, let’s put our faith in President Obama now, and hope for a better result.

Photos: Obama taking the oath of office (New York Times), Americans with flags (MSNBC)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Former Rikers CO Ricardo Walters Gets 203 Years in Prison

Ricard Walters (YouTube)
While I was caught up in the election and digesting the post-election results and Cabinet appointments, I missed a significant update on one of the stories that I have covered on this blog in the past. Some of you may remember Ricardo Walters, the former Rikers CO who was accused of robbing a woman at gunpoint at a bus stop with his service firearm. It then came out that Walters was implicated in numerous kidnappings and rapes in and around his hometown of Hempstead, New York. All of this occurred after he killed someone trying to break into his car (which, for the record, was justified.)

When Walters was charged with the kidnappings and rapes (six counts of kidnapping, five counts of robbery, and four counts of sex abuse, among other charges to be exact), I had a feeling that the prosecution was going to win their case. It seems harder to convict those in law enforcement and on top of that Walters faced serious charges (which are often pleaded down.) But with DNA evidence and a confident investigator (one detective said, "The bottom line is: this guy, he's a predator") a conviction seemed to be the next step. And it was.

Two days ago Walters was sentenced to 203 years after being convicted of first-degree rape, four counts of first-degree robbery, two counts of first-degree criminal sexual act, four counts of first-degree sexual abuse, kidnapping and second-degree attempted kidnapping. The judge minced no words during the sentencing, castigating the former corrections officer for invoking the Lord's name in the rapist's statement: "When I hear you invoke a higher power, I'm disgusted," McCormack said. "What higher power was [your victim] going to turn to when you had her in the back of that alley, raping and sodomizing her?"

Walters will now be in prison for the rest of his life and hopefully the women he victimized have found peace since the gruesome attacks. Kudos to the women who had to relive their experiences on the stand to make sure that their attacker sees justice. Something smelled fishy from the report of the robbery, and it turns out that this guy was even worse than a gunpoint robber. It's unbelievable that this man was able to work for the DOC for more than a decade and be able to do something as horrific as this. Justice has been served and Walters will never be able to terrorize another innocent person again.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two Queens Narcs Frame Innocents, Diminish the Badge

It's been a while since I focused on a local story, and I read about one that outraged me today and figured I would take a closer look at it. It has to do with absolute power and the police (big surprise there for those who have followed this blog). It seems that two narcs from Queens are accused of framing four men for dealing cocaine at a club in Elmhurst, Queens a year ago. It seems that one of the officers, Detective Stephen Anderson, claimed that he bought one bag of blow at the club from two men (Gabriel Lira and Julian Martinez). The other officer, Henry Tavarez, claimed that he bought two bags of blow from four men (Jose Colon, Maximo Colon [they're brothers], Raul Duchimasa, and Luis Rodriguez). The reality of the situation is much different.

What really happened was that Detective Anderson bought three bags of the nose clams from Lira and Martinez (the two have since pleaded guilty) and Officer Tavarez took two of the bags and claimed that the Colons, Duchimasa and Rodriguez sold them to him. The arrests occurred on January 4, 2008 and five of the men were released the next day with no bail (Maximo Colon spent three days in jail until he could post $2,500 bail). Charges against the four innocent men were dismissed when Jose Colon was able to go back to the club (called Club Delicioso) and obtain video footage which showed that the four men had no contact with the crooked narcs. Since the indictments have come to light, Officer Tavarez has been placed on modified assignment without his badge or his piece (so don't worry, he's still being paid with taxpayer dollars). Detective Anderson is no longer with the NYPD, as he left to join the Nassau County Police Department but dropped out before graduating from the academy (probably did not pass the professionalism and ethics portion).

So here are my questions: what if Jose Colon went back to the club and could not obtain a copy of the video that exonerated him and his brother and their friends? What if the club had no CCTV or had erased the tapes? Would our taxpayer dollars be used to prosecute and imprison these four innocent men? What about all of the other collars these two officers have made? This opens up massive room for appeals and calls into question every arrest made by Detective Stephen Anderson and Officer Henry Tavarez. So, because of their boneheaded actions, legitimate drug dealers could be back out on the streets because these two boys in blue tried to lock up innocent bystanders.

It does not end there. This also exposes the NYPD to a lawsuit, which would be paid out with taxpayer money. It also erodes confidence in the NYPD, which has had less than a stellar week as one officer pleaded guilty to illegally accessing the feds' terrorist watch list to help a friend in Canada with a child custody dispute, and a NYPD lieutenant stabbed and shot his wife to death (in front of his own daughter) before turning the gun on himself (the gun was his service revolver). What is unfortunate about police officers getting caught doing horrible things is the fact that it erodes the public's confidence in the police force as a whole. There are some good officers out there who care for others, but there are also people like this, and you cannot tell just by looking at a cop whether he's good or bad. Though impossible to implement in this economy, the best things to weed scumbags out of the NYPD would be to increase training, salary, and the requirements to be a police officer (make it more competetive). Being a cop is an important job and one that is needed in America, but there's got to be a better way to do this so we don't have as many issues as this.

In summation, Anderson and Tavarez should go to prison, just like they tried to get the four bystanders in prison. We give police officers a lot of power and expect them to use it correctly and justly. All the NYPD cars say "Courtesty, Professionalism, Respect" on the back of them, and it's clear that neither Anderson nor Tavarez embodied that slogan. How Tavarez was able to rise to detective in the NYPD is beyond me and hopefully his superior officers are doing some self-evaluation trying to figure out the same question. If Anderson and Tavarez don't see the inside of a prison, they won't learn their lesson and will join other people of power who get away with murder (literally and figuratively). Peace.

Photos - Jose and Maximo Colon (l. to r.) (New York Post), Screenshots from the video that exonerated the Colons and their friends (New York Post)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kristol Monday: More War Drum Beating for Iran

Brill Kristol never ceases to amaze. This week's column was basically last week's column, only instead of talking about Hamas and Israel before making it sound like war with Iran is inevitable, he talked about Obama and how much of a politician he is before saying war with Iran is inevitable. For some reason Kristol's absolute and utter desire to go to war with Iran remains as strong as ever and he is using his column at the New York Times to start drumming up support for military action against the Middle Eastern nation.

First, though, let's look at the beginning of his column (after he makes some lame jokes about the Obama family's choice of a family pet). Kristol slams Obama for not fully breaking from the Bush Administration in terms of foreign relations. This is fair, as the barometer for dealing with other nations on earth should be look at what Bush and Co. did, then do the opposite. But here is the irony in Kristol's statement: he has been a cheerleader of the Bush Administration from Iraq to defending the indefensible Dick Cheney. So to slam Obama for not breaking with Bush's policies (he's not even in office yet, so if you're going to call him a grandstander and someone who only has rhetoric, wait until he is in office and judge his actions, not his words) is to say, "Hey, you suck because you're continuing to do what I think is right, even though I slammed you for saying you wouldn't do what I think is right a few months ago and now you're saying you're going to do what I think is right but I'm still going to find a reason to slam you." Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

Bill Kristol's war advice is well documented (see my post here). Why would he think anyone cares what he thinks about engagement (military or otherwise) in the Middle East? He must suffer from the same grand delusion that I do when I think people read and care about my writing. But in all seriousness, Kristol is not the man to turn to when it comes to diplomatic advice. It all goes back to the snake bite analogy; maybe cutting off my leg is a good idea because of the horrible situation I'm in now, but if I hadn't listened to you in the first place I wouldn't be here thinking about cutting my damn leg off. Kristol used all of his "Listen to me" points with Iraq. With such a war-weary population in America, the last thing anyone should be advocating is military action against a large nation like Iran. But Kristol and common sense are like water and oil; they just don't mix. I guess we'll have to wait until next week to see what topic Kristol discusses before trying to convince people that we need to go to war with Iran. Peace.

Photos - Bill Kristol (ThinkProgress)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Burris Calls Senate's Bluff, May Get Seated

Let it be known: if you whine enough, you will get what you want. At least that's what I take away from the whole Blagojevich-Burris fiasco. Despite an earlier tough stance on not seating Roland Burris from many party leaders, many Democratics have recently scaled back their defenses and are actually making it look like Burris might sit with the new Senate. Why?

One may be the illegitimate cry of racism coming from Burris supporters. Bobby Rush even said that we should not "lynch" Burris just because Blagojevich appointed him. No one is lynching Burris, just like no one lynched Clarence Thomas, but Rush understands the powerful symbol of the noose in American politics and politicians' inability to defend themselves against it, even if criticisms are legitimate (like being appointed by a corrupt scumbag). This is similar to when Sarah Palin supporters called criticisms of her credentials (or lack thereof) sexist. I've said it before; Burris may very well be qualified for this seat, but the process through which it was (tentatively) obtained is not legitimate. Hell, his papers aren't even in order, as Illinois' Secretary of State Jesse White refuses to co-sign the appointment with Blagojevich. So if you want to get technical (which Burris seems to want to do), his appointment is not yet completed. Additionally, the Senate has the ability to govern itself and can refuse to seat someone, as outlined in Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution.

Another reason why leaders in Washington have lost their previously displayed backbone against corruption is that they were bluffing and hoping that Burris would not call their bluff. It's like a mother at the supermarket when her kid starts throwing a tantrum for a piece of candy. "Don't make me count to three. One... Two... Two and a half... Two and three quarters..." What's going to happen when she gets to three? Nothing, it's a bluff. In the end, the mother has two choices: continue to take a stand against the immature kid or just give the kid the piece of candy to shut him up. Burris is in the midst of a pretty severe tantrum right now with his actions. Rallying supporters who lashed out at anyone opposing Burris' seating as racist, declaring that his Senate status has been ordained by the Lord, and going to Washington despite repeated warnings that he will not be allowed into chambers are all acts of immaturity and egotism and embody the modern-day political temper tantrum.

One thing that Burris and those who support him need to understand is that this is not a "crusade" against God's chosen Illinois senator. This is people standing up to corruption and sleazy politics. Why Burris would even want to be associated with Blagojevich is beyond me, but to accept his appointment and fight, esentially, on his behalf? This legitimizes Blago, which is the last thing that should be happening right now. The problem is this: by seating Burris you are legitimizing Blagojevich and willing to sidestep the fact that he is involved in a massive corruption scandal over the very same seat Burris so desperately wants. To not seat Burris is not racist; it instead says that we will not allow the corrupt governor (the real target of peoples' animosity and who, by the way, is white) to appoint anyone, not just Burris in particular.

At the end of the day, anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich to the U.S. Senate has no business being there while the investigation continues. Because Roland Burris was appointed by Blagojevich and the investigation into Blagojevich's actions is ongoing, Roland Burris has no business being in the U.S. Senate. His qualifications and accolades (not to mention his race) have nothing to do with this. Unfortunately I see the Senate seating him to shut him up, just like the mother finally relenting and giving her kicking and screaming kid candy in the supermarket. Peace.

Photos - Burris meeting with Senate leaders today (New York Times), Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White (Illinois Channel)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Uncertainty About the Middle East Conflict

There are lots of issues that I have no problem speaking out about, like the ones I’ve covered so far in my posts. Then there are others, like abortion or illegal immigration, about which I don’t feel confident enough in my opinions to assert them publicly. One of these issues is the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, which has escalated to warfare in the past week.

This Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been a sticky one for me, especially being a Jew and being conditioned in Hebrew school from a young age to believe in everything Israel without a second thought. It seems like the more “liberal” take on the conflict is a more peace-oriented one, calling for a two-state solution, for Israel to withdraw from settlements in the Gaza strip and the West Bank, and for Israel to maintain peace with the Palestinians, including Hamas-controlled Gaza, no matter what the circumstances.

Then there are the more traditionally “conservative” arguments, which seem to devote unconditional support to Israel, being the sole free-trading, America-loving democracy in the Middle East (and it’s not an Arab or Muslim country, to boot). And now, with Bush’s presidency drawing to a close, Israel may in fact be undertaking this military offensive while they know they still have a staunch ally at the helm in the US, with Obama claiming to be a strong supporter, but his true convictions on the matter being yet untested.

Hearing about all the Palestinian civilians who have been killed and injured is heartbreaking. And with so few Israelis having died on the other end, it’s not surprising that there have been protests worldwide (including in New York on Saturday) against Israel’s aggression, as well as some pretty damning press. While Israeli spokespeople claim that Israel is doing everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties and only hit Gaza in militarily strategic areas, there have been hospitals, schools, and mosques hit by airstrikes, and dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians killed.

The Israeli argument centers around Hamas’s rockets that have been launched into Israel fairly incessantly over the past several weeks and months, even during the cease fire. Children living in Israeli towns near the Gaza strip, as my friend Leo has recently seen firsthand, are experiencing a constant fear and panic as to where and when the rockets will hit next. If the United States were at the receiving end of rocket fire from Mexico, you can bet your life that our army would be in there in no time to carry out whatever operation was necessary to cease any further attacks. Is that a bad thing, as many liberals might contend? In that instance, should we be strictly seeking diplomatic negotiations, and not getting our military involved? Is it a flaw of Israel’s and the United States’ that our solution to violence is a robust militaristic response?

This is where I’m not sure how I feel. American Jews tend to be more in tune with Israel’s response because they feel connected to the land and can empathize more easily with the Israeli people, just as any American, even most liberals, I would guess, would support military action in response to the Mexico scenario. But war is never a positive thing, and so I cringe when I find myself tacitly approving of it.

Still, for many in the Arab world (and elsewhere), the conflict has less to do with the current hostilities and more to do with Israel’s fundamental right to exist. That is a completely different discussion, and one that I don’t think is relevant to finding a solution to what is happening right now. But no matter who is right and who is wrong, I hope the fighting ends as soon as possible. No one deserves the fate, or even the fearful lives, that countless Palestinians and Israelis are experiencing.

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Please comment.

Photos: Israeli soldier (Associated Press), Palestinians carrying injured man (BBC), Israel Map (State Department)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Defining Denial: Mr. Burris Goes to Washington

Despite being named to the Senate seat by one of the dirtiest politicians at the moment (if not dirtiest), Roland W. Burris continues to jump over hurdles of logic by departing for Washington this afternoon for what the New York Times is predicting will be a "public showdown on Capitol Hill." I don't think there's any need to go into the details of embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's "pay-to-play" scandal but suffice it to say that Blagojevich was essentially selling the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder. The Department of Justice came in, declared that they had miles of tape with Blagojevich on it saying how "fuckin' valuable" the seat was and that he's not going to give it up for free. Blagojevich went on to nominate Burris, despite the imminent impeachment proceedings and his tainted reputation. Even more stupidly, Burris accepted the nomination as if nothing were wrong and now has the gumption (thanks Brusty) to be surprised when people say he should not be seated.

To begin with, can we just take a moment to realize the absolute absurdity of what is going on here? Shouldn't it be common sense that Blagojevich should not be allowed to seat a senator, at least not until this whole "pay me to seat you as senator" thing works itself out (or he is impeached, whichever comes first). And then, to accept a nomination from Blagojevich - are you serious? If I were Burris, I wouldn't accept a dogcatcher nod from Blago. But to take it to this level of histrionics and drama is just childish and embarrassing. Yet, we know Burris has no shame in the first place because he accepted the nomination from Blagojevich (so maybe we should not be so surprised). What is shocking is that Burris seems to think he is on a mission from God: "We are hoping and praying that they will not be able to deny what the Lord has ordained." Using a defense that old European monarchs used to rule absolutely (and undemocratically) is not the way I would have gone with that one.

But one thing that caught my eye - and really pissed me off - was those who come out and say, "If you don't back Burris, it smacks of racism." It's not that I don't back Burris (though accepting this nomination certainly calls into question his ethics and judgment); he could well be qualified. It's that Blagojevich nominated him. I don't care if you put a white guy there, or a golden retriever - whoever it is should not be seated. It's funny that those in New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church - who have formed a group that the Times says is more focused on Burris and his race than the corrupt Blagojevich - are more concerned about getting a black man in the Senate than an uncorrupted choice. It is here that I want to pose this question: should former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick be put in the seat over a non-black man, simply because of the color of his skin? Is race so blinding to some people that it clouds good judgement and clean politics? I agree that the nationally elected officials of this country do not accurately reflect the landscape of the American population (especially in the Senate), but I certainly would not want to sacrifice dignity and respect by allowing a scumbag like Blagojevich to nominate someone in order to get a minority senator in the Capitol.

You want racism in politics? How about "Barack the Magic Negro"? The song was on a CD distributed by Chip Saltsman, one of the men vying for the Republican National Committee chairmanship. While the RNC's current chairman, Mike Duncan, condemned the song as highly inappropriate, Saltsman defended the song, along with his former boss Mike Huckabee (Saltsman ran Huckabee's failed campaign for the Republican nomination in 2008). So while folks like Representative Robert Rush (D - 1st District IL) wants to say that the the Senate is "the last bastion of racial plantation politics in America," he seems to have been silent on the issue of blatant racism earlier in the month (that is, no news about him coming out about it or putting out a statement on his website). It seems Rush should pick and choose his battles, and Burris is not one of them.

So to sum up: everyone involved in this matter should shut up and go home. Burris has no place in the Senate as long as Blagojevich put him there, Blagojevich needs to be impeached so he can stop wreaking havoc in the state of Illinois, and those who want to cry racism at logic and anti-corruption need to re-assess the situation. Just like a woman who cries rape who really wasn't raped, those who cry racism when none exists just denigrate the seriousness of the charge. Then when a truly racist incident occurs (something, maybe, like calling the president-elect a "magic negro") no one wants to hear about it because the racism charge was used to allow a corrupt governor to seat a Senator. In the end, everyone involved in this is simply childish. It just shows the selfishness of those involved, for if Burris really wanted to serve the state of Illinois and his country, he would have avoided all of this by saying no to a governor who is recorded on tape trying to sell the Senate seat. Peace.

Photos - Roland Burris at Midway Airport before heading to Washington (New York Times)

Kristol Monday: So Close

Reading Bill Kristol's column today, I thought to myself, "Wow, I'm not going to have anything to write about because a) I do not know enough about the Israel-Hamas conflict to say he is wrong and b) he is actually making sense!" But then came his last two paragraphs and suddenly I realized why I'm not a fan of Kristol's writing. While in one breath saying that the United States has succeeded in Iraq - an impossible statement when the stated goals were few and far between and no one in the Bush Administration (or anyone, for that matter) has bothered to define what "victory" or "success" in Iraq would look like - he then begins to beat the war drum for military action against Iran. Damnit, Kristol, do you not learn from your mistakes?

I am going to keep this post brief because the past few ditties I've written have been about Kristol and it is the same thing over and over: either taking potshots at the left while making backhanded compliments to make it look like Kristol is open-minded or being utterly and completely wrong about Iraq while hoping for war with Iran. We all know Bill Kristol's assertions about what war with Iraq would look like: Kristol said that the war would only need 75,000 troops in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, that it would only cost $16 billion a year, and that after a year or two we would only need a few thousand troops in the country. On August 7, 2007 - more than four years after the initial invasion of Iraq - there were 162,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. That is more than twice the number Kristol used for the immediate aftermath and 54 times what he predicted would be needed a few years after the invasion. The cost of the war in Iraq so far has been more than $585 billion. Divide that by the five years we've been there, and that's more than $117 billion per year ($9.75 billion per month), which is, needless to say, incredibly higher than Bill Kristol's estimate of $16 billion a year.

So success in Iraq, being undefined, is impossible to gauge. If we define success as meeting one's goals or predictions for something, then, at least in terms of Bill Kristol, Iraq has been anything but successful. More U.S. troops have died in Iraq (4,221) than Kristol predicted would be needed in the years after the invasion. If there is anyone in this country who should not be talking about going to war, it is Bill Kristol. Would you take car manufacturing advice from Bob Lutz? Then why would you take war-waging advice from Bill Kristol? Peace.

Photo - Bill Kristol (New York Times)