NEJM: Ebola Quarantine “Like Driving a Carpet Tack With a Sledgehammer”

From the leftist pinkos at the New England Journal of Medicine, who are totally in Obama’s evil, Marx0-fascist totalitarian pocket or something: 

The governors of a number of states, including New York and New Jersey, recently imposed 21-day quarantines on health care workers returning to the United States from regions of the world where they may have cared for patients with Ebola virus disease. We understand their motivation for this policy — to protect the citizens of their states from contracting this often-fatal illness. This approach, however, is not scientifically based, is unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source, which is the only satisfactory goal. The governors’ action is like driving a carpet tack with a sledgehammer: it gets the job done but overall is more destructive than beneficial.

Read the whole thing here, and stop living your life sprinting from one crisis spelling imminent doom to another. In other words, stop being this: 

Hobby Lobby: The Corporation Cult & Creeping Theocracy

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On Monday, an all-male majority chorus of Supreme Court Justices determined that a for-profit corporation’s right to exercise its religion is inviolable, and women should probably dummy up and why aren’t they barefoot and pregnant, making them a sandwich in the kitchen, by the way? 

To clarify the ruling’s logic

(a) people have a right to free exercise of religion, under the Constitution but within the context of this case, pursuant to the 1993 “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”
(b) corporations are people; 
(c) therefore, closely held (non-publicly-traded) for-profit corporations are free to impose their owners’ “sincere religious beliefs” on employees. 

The RFRA sets up a scheme whereby a law of general applicability that allegedly interferes with a person’s free exercise of religion be strictly scrutinized to determine if it is constitutional.  The law was passed in response to American Indians’ complaints that federal actions were interfering with their ability to practice their religion and hold services. It also extends to American Indians’ use of peyote in services, and it has been cited as protecting Rastafarians from prosecution for marijuana possession.

When your smug Obama-hating buddies start in with “unconstitutional”, that’s not this case. The Hobby Lobby decision did not rule on the constitutionality of anything. 

The law is designed to protect people’s ability to worship by applying strict scrutiny to any accusation that a law of general application is violating someone’s free exercise rights. “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The test a court will apply assesses whether the burden on religion is in the  “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” The interest must be more than just routine, or a simple efficiency improvement, and relates instead to “core constitutional issues”. Secondly, the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

Hobby Lobby, however, is not a person and is not exercising a religion. It is a corporate entity – a legal fiction – that sells picture frames and scrapbooking supplies. It’s not a “small business”, because this craft store chain has 15,000 employees and over 550 stores nationwide. It’s a closely held corporation, meaning it has corporate status but its shares are not publicly traded. Its fictional corporate “personhood” enables Hobby Lobby to operate and enter into contracts while limiting shareholder liability. The owners of Hobby Lobby’s shares are all evangelical Christians, and they make much of that on the company’s website. 

Hobby Lobby offers health insurance to its employees, but in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act, the policies needed to cover certain types of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby claims that it objected only to 4 of the 20 specified drugs and devices, because it believes them to be abortifacients – a point that is, itself, open to debate. (Plan B, Ella, and two types of IUDs were affected. These are the morning-after and week-after pill and prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. The Health and Human Services regulation at issue did not mandate RU-486 be covered. Scientifically, these are not “abortifacients”). 

Hobby Lobby itself was not mandated to hand contraceptives or IUDs to its employees, but merely to offer health insurance plans that covered them. Hobby Lobby argued that this mandate violated the company’s right to freely exercise its religion and sought injunctive relief enabling them to not pay for coverage of the four objectionable drugs and devices.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito sided with Hobby Lobby. The majority, assuming the government had a compelling interest at stake, had a less intrusive way of meeting its goals. For instance, the government could pay for the devices and drugs itself, or mandate the insurers to pay for them. 

So, the outrage over Hobby Lobby is overblown insofar as it’s being made to seem as if the company objected to all contraception. It is not, however, overblown on two other points; namely, the notion that corporations are somehow sentient beings that have “faith”, and the notion that your employer can interfere with and micromanage the coverages you contract for with your health insurer. Remember – it is the policyholder who is the contracting party. 

As Justice Ginsburg’s dissent pointed out, this is a wild expansion of corporate rights at the expense of individual liberties. She noted that the majority’s decision, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.” The majority basically responded that this was all no biggie. 

Corporate personhood is a legal fiction – a convenience. Yet now we’re to believe that fictional people can hold real religious beliefs – and in many cases, the rights of the fictional person override the rights of a human being. Hobby Lobby as a corporation cannot exercise religion – physically or otherwise. This is the right-wing elite’s dream of expanding the cult of the corporation – something that kicked off when the Citizens United case declared that corporations can have 1st Amendment rights to spend unlimited money to influence elections. 

Justice Alito explained why corporations should sometimes be regarded as persons. “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends,” he wrote. “When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

Justice Ginsburg said the commercial nature of for-profit corporations made a difference.

“The court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers,” she wrote. “For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.”

If Hobby Lobby can, by dint of its religious personhood, pick and choose which statutes and regulations of general application it will follow, the same is true of any closely held corporation, regardless of religion. If Hobby Lobby can exercise religion and reject a health insurance mandate for certain prescriptions, then any for-profit corporation can claim “free exercise” and religion rights to reject anti-discrimination laws in hiring, or public accommodations laws. How soon before companies like Hobby Lobby have a “no gays need apply” signs out front, or “no handicapped applicants will be considered”, or “transgendered people and transvestites stay out”. 

With this ruling, it should be mandatory that companies such as Hobby Lobby issue a formal disclosure of the corporate entity’s religious beliefs so that employees can make an informed choice whether to be employed there. It won’t, though, because we have elevated corporate personhood above human personhood, and we have elevated Christianity above all other religious beliefs. 

Welcome to the new theocracy.

Storming the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort

Dieu et Mon DroitWe have it all backwards. 

The tea party wasn’t a revolution. It was the most recent flare-up of a revolution that’s been killing America for 30 years.  

The great right-wing upheaval that began, not uncoincidentally, in late January 2009 is merely the latest flare-up of a war to fundamentally unravel the very fabric that has made America great over the last 200+ years. 

Go back to the time of the American Revolution and the creation of this amazing country, and recall that it was a direct product of the Enlightenment. Replacing mythology and tradition with science and thinking, this was a country founded on the notion that the people should govern themselves. At the time, this was as radical a notion as Marxism in the late 19th century. America was the first post-feudal country, no longer based on nobility, bloodlines, peerages, and royalty, but instead on liberty, social mobility, self-government, federalism, and limited and divided powers. At its foundation was an educated meritocracy. They didn’t attain power through accident of birth, but through excellence of deed and thought. 

It was at its founding an imperfect country, and America has always been a work in progress. Many laws were changed and much blood was shed to expand basic liberties and freedoms to those who were not lucky enough to be included in the American dream at the country’s founding. The sins of slavery and segregation still poison the country to this day. Racism, nativism, and genocide were an inherent part of our Manifest Destiny. Many of the promises of liberty were merely theoretical for many people, for a long time. 

Some now argue that the rights we hold so dear – codified in the first ten amendments to our Constitution – are inherent and God-given. They may indeed be, but I am wary of any such claims of sanctity, because oppressors – kings, dictators, and warlords all universally claim for themselves divine right. The whole point of the American Revolution was that it was we who control our own destinies and our freedoms are there for the taking, if we want them. 

The industrial revolution, our westward expansion, and the first World War brought great changes. As people lived longer, as industries found new efficiencies, as a mostly rural population suddenly turned to the cities and transformed into a working class, we as a nation decided that it was a good idea to care for the old, to feed the needy, to help the helpless, to welcome immigrants, to protect workers and consumers from predatory behavior, and to otherwise ensure fair and equal treatment, but not equal results. 

It was the post World War II era that brought about the predominance of the middle class – the ability for people to earn a decent wage for a day’s work, raise a family, build a house, buy a car, and have something that had previously only been reserved for the wealthy – leisure time. That period from 1945 – 1970 saw unprecedented economic, social, and political maturity and growth for this country.

The 70s brought about setbacks –  a series of global economic, military, and political crises delivered deep blows to our prosperity, outlook, reputation, and self-image. If you think it’s bad now, then you don’t remember the 70s – never mind the 30s. 

But in the 80s, we changed. The country changed. The Reagan Revolution was the precursor to what we’re dealing with today. Reagan did a great job restoring America’s self-image. We felt good about ourselves again. The Reagan economic stimulus had a heavy emphasis on tax cuts, introducing the supply side or “trickle down” theory of economics into action. The theory goes that you lower the tax and regulatory burden on high earners and businesses that supply our goods and services, the extra time and money they save will  “trickle down” to the employees through more employment, higher wages, and more productivity; if you make the rich richer, the prosperity will spread down the ladder.

We have been clinging to that as gospel truth for 30 years, but it never came to pass. The rich already have all the money they need to spend. What we got was massive deficits and sovereign debt, because the government grew. The situation improved in the 90s, but after 9/11, we did it again. And it worked for a short time, until we decided to wage two simultaneous wars without end in Asia. The trillions of dollars we spent prosecuting those wars could have built so much in this country. But by late 2008, the entire global economic system was collapsing under the weight of its own lawless nonsense. 

And so it was that a new administration came in to hit reset. In the past, as productivity went up, so did wages. But in the early 80s, something changed. Although productivity continues to increase, wages have stagnated; the middle class has made almost no progress. Protections for workers and consumers have been eroded. The tax cuts for the top earners has helped to make that segment of the population ever-richer, but the wealth never trickled down. Ever. It’s a completely discredited concept

Why? Because without people like you and me to buy, say, an iPad or to shop at, say, Home Depot, those things fail. Without average families with disposable money to spend on things, the companies that make or sell those things fail. An argument can be credibly made that it isn’t the CEO of Apple or Home Depot who is a “job creator”, but the consumer. The middle class. The middle class substituted its stagnant wages and decreased spending power with cheap debt. The people who are still waiting for the wealth to trickle down, living paycheck to paycheck, getting shafted by bailed out big banks, being taken advantage of by usurious payday lenders, watching jobs migrate to China, going bankrupt when a family member gets sick and the insurance runs out. 

We spent 30 years building an economic, social, and political system that is founded on protecting and comforting the extremely wealthy. Money has so poisoned our political system that our government institutions become paralyzed at the sight of the most uncontroversial matters. Money in politics is so unregulated, thanks to the Citizens United decision effectively legalizing outright bribery as “political speech”, that average people of all races, creeds, colors, and religions have become effectively disenfranchised. 

One need look to the health care debate as evidence. Since World War 2, this country has been discussing and debating whether people should, as a matter of right, have access to quality, affordable healthcare. All one has to do to defeat any such proposal is accuse it of being communism or socialism. Yet like Medicare or Social Security, it wouldn’t be a handout, but something that people pay for – pay into. What our health insurance system had become by 2008 was unconscionable, unfair, and palpably untenable. Policy maximums arbitrarily cut sick people off and plunged families into destitution and bankruptcy. The “richest country in the world” funds children’s leukemia treatments with change cups at gas station check-outs. People who lost coverage for a time but had a pre-existing medical condition found themselves uninsurable. The variety of different private insurance plans, regulations, rules, and restrictions meant that physicians had to hire people just to process claims, and untold hours and money is lost every year on tasks having everything to do with penny-pinching, private, often for-profit bureaucracies, and little (if anything) to do with patient care. 

Medicare was supposed to fix that; it did, for seniors. Hillarycare failed. Obamacare – now pilloried as a neo-Trotskiite fraud –  was, in the 90s, the conservative alternative to Hillarycare. Every country in the western world has a different system, and not one of them is perfect. Obamacare sure isn’t perfect, either. But every single one of them is a dramatic improvement over what we had before. 

The tea party revolution wasn’t what it appeared to be. If not at its founding, it quickly became a wholly-owned subsidiary of big money interests who wanted to maintain the supply-side status quo; who wanted to maintain the blind fetishization of wealth at the expense of average Americans. The tea party – conservative Americans resistant to Obama and his policies – played directly into the hands of big business, big lobbyists, and the shadow plutocracy that pushes a phony libertarian agenda to make sure that billionaires are free from income and estate taxes; a phony agenda that would maintain the sheen of “trickle down” without anything actually trickling down

They’re working to create two Americas, with the tea party rolling along as its useful soldiers. By de-funding public education through “school choice”, the middle class and poor get one, inferior, set of school “choices”, while the very wealthy – some of whom pay only a fraction of what you and I pay for income taxes, because they earn not through work, but through capital gains –  have their private schools subsidized by the middle class taxpayer. By maintaining the ridiculous health insurance status quo and eliminating the employer and individual mandates, CEOs can continue to pay themselves outrageous sums of money while employee wages and benefits stagnate – and they should be lucky their jobs aren’t in Shenzhen or Malaysia. 

By creating a second-class America, people like the Koch Brothers and their network of wealthy Americans create for themselves a new, subsidized American aristocracy. You and I? We become worker drones, as protections are abolished, clean air and water protections are weakened to ineffective levels, the minimum age for workers is abolished so our kids can work cheaply, so that we are so beholden to the new aristocracy that we would be mad to oppose it. These new aristocrats have already poisoned our body politic with money and gifts, so you and I have no meaningful chance. Remember – these guys truly believe, with all their hearts, that 47% of Americans – vets, the elderly, schoolchildren – are just takers. 

And they’re doing it in the shadows. In the dark, they hold their confabs and plot how to create their libertarian fantasy-world of controlling and keeping down the placated vassal class. It’s a country where a drunk teenager commits vehicular homicide four times over and gets zero jailtime. It’s a country where we fight each other over scraps from a pie we’ll never see. The billionaires running the tea party distract us with idiotic fights about guns. It’s a country where you and I are playing the game of life with a stick in the street while an entire separate population is playing in Yankee Stadium. We’ve created an inherently unfair, unequal system and we’re reaping unequal results. The American dream isn’t dead, but it’s being eroded, and the erosion is happening intentionally or recklessly, like the uncontrolled spill of unknown and unreported chemicals into the water source for 350,000 West Virginians. Like the unregulated, reckless  poisoning of western New Yorkers by Tonawanda Coke. 

I don’t want these guys to win. I want the tea party and progressives alike to see that the new plutocracy has pit us against each other to distract us from the larger issues. I want the very wealthy to play by the same rules as you and I when it comes to politics and taxation. I’m not saying everyone deserves to be a millionaire for no work – I’m saying that we all deserve to have the same opportunity on the same playing field. Will it take a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics? Sounds good to me. Will it take a complete, a-partisan re-think of how average Americans perceive problems and discuss solutions? Absolutely. Will it mean that people like the Koch brothers or George Soros will have to disclose how much money they spend on legalized bribery, and how much they raise – and from what sources – to assist them in that? Damn straight. 

Because America isn’t – and never has been – a county that embraced the extremes. Communists and fascists have been marginalized in our society – never mainstreamed. America generally votes the center. Americans generally consider themselves to be in the center. Extreme candidates appeal to a party’s base, but they seldom win general elections. 

I’m afraid we’re slipping back into a system that pre-dates even the enlightenment – a system that more closely resembles contemporary Russian and Chinese neo-fascism; nationalism and perpetual crisis used to confer a faux legitimacy on a system whereby all power is concentrated not with the people, but with the rich and politically powerful, who work in tandem to keep each other rich and politically powerful. 

But we can’t do it if the system itself has ceased to function. 

Misdirected Sympathy

fan-falls-from-top-deck-to-bottom-in-buffalo-b (1)You know how that guy got up onto a railing up in the 300 level at the Ralph? He put his ass on the railing, started to slide down, lost his balance, and plummeted into the level below, and onto another human being; an innocent and wholly unsuspecting human being, who was simply minding his or her own business, spectating a football game. 

We don’t know if the faller was drunk or high, or just stupid. Regardless, he made a poor and reckless choice, and could have killed himself – or worse, someone else. That no one died is amazing. 

So, let’s just say it: the rail-sliding asshole made a dick move and deserves what’s coming to him – firing, barred from the stadium, public embarrassment, and a thick and juicy lawsuit which may very well bankrupt him. He deserves every bit of it, just like you fervently believe that Dr. Corasanti deserved to be punished for striking Alex Rice with his car and killing her. 

But I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing in the media about the fallout from the reckless slider’s dick move. Oh, Eric Mower went to far by firing him! Oh, the Bills are overreacting! Oh, his poor life is roo-ned

FFS. 

This column in the Niagara Gazette perfectly distills the sympathy-for-the malfeasor angle. Let’s fisk it. 

My husband and I were having dinner with my oldest son the other day when he told us he knows that guy who fell onto another fan at Sunday’s Buffalo Bills game.

After talking with my son about his friend. I could feel a turnabout in my reaction to the event.

When I first heard the story, I felt queasy. Who among us can’t picture themselves enjoying a Bills game on a beautiful sunny day, minding our own business? Nobody ever thinks that some knucklehead will fall on us from the deck up above.

But as I learned more about the young man, it was like someone had refocused the lens on my awareness and suddenly the poor, unsuspecting fan who was fallen upon went out of my focus and the young man who fell upon him came into focus.

This is astonishing. Because your son is friends with a kid who just got through ruining his life, we can just forget about the guy who is the real victim and attempt to turn the reckless slider into a hero? What bizarro world is this? Let’s be clear – the reckless slider is lucky. to. be. alive. That’s it, full stop. 

I’m willing to bet that if the dummy who fell was just some average blue-collar shlub who lost his job delivering pizzas, no one would bat an eye. This? This was a good boy

Clearly, the faller made some bad choices, chief among them deciding it would be cool to slide down a railing at the edge of the top deck of seats.

Crazy, right? I’ve been in the upper decks. I don’t even like to stand up by those seats, they’re so far from the ground.  Who would mess around up there?

But, the other night at dinner, hearing about what’s happened to this guy, I couldn’t help but feel for him.

Not bad choices – dick move. He put his own life and the lives of others in direct peril, and for what? Bravado? Drunken feat of sliding? I have zero sympathy whatsoever for the person who set his own chain of negative events in motion

After the video of his fall went viral, he was fired from his job at at Eric Mower and Associates. His employer announced the firing on Facebook. The Bills banned him from the stadium — forever. Add to his punishment that he hurt someone with his thoughtless behavior, in an action which will be available to watch again and again on the Internet until the end of time. The road for this guy is bound to go steeply uphill for a while.

Wait a minute here. Your sympathy switched from fallee to faller because he got fired and can never set foot in the Ralph again? And because his fall will be on YouTube? Is this for real? 

First of all, we have to presume that the faller was an at-will employee with Eric Mower. This means that the company could have fired him because the sun was shining or not shining; they could have fired him because it was a Tuesday – an at-will employee can be fired at any time for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever, just as he can terminate his own employment in the same way and for the same reasons.

If Mower decided it didn’t want some asshole who recklessly falls on top of other people at football games on its payroll, it is wholly within its rights to get rid of him. Furthermore, he had a side business, and if his fall is so goddamn great for humanity, maybe he can use it as a selling point for his own design shop. “Hire us: we almost kill people” might be an effective slogan. I dunno, I’m not in marketing. 

He can’t ever go to a Bills game again? Boo hoo cry me the Buffalo River. Again: he’s lucky he isn’t up on manslaughter charges. So his choices of entertainment venues has a subtraction of one. Small price to pay. 

YouTube? If you don’t want people to turn you into a Tosh.O bit, then don’t try that shit at home. 

My son, who is not one to suffer fools gladly, described his friend as an intelligent, kind and funny young man. 

Because I respect my son’s opinion, I had to reconsider my own.

I imagine most of us, at one time or another, have done something colossally stupid and just got lucky that things didn’t end badly.

While my initial response was to feel deep sympathy for the man who was fallen upon, I now — knowing the rest of the story — also feel deep sympathy for the man who fell.

So, because he’s your son’s friend, he doesn’t deserve to suffer the consequences of his actions?

To him — as the mother of his friend — I would like to say this:

Surely you wish this never happened to you, but what I have learned repeatedly in my years, is that you don’t want to wish someone away from an experience that could shape their character and their destiny, because even the most horrific events are rich with opportunity for personal growth.

Maybe he should add it to his resume: “Achieved personal growth through a bad choice that almost killed myself and someone else”. 

There are two paths that lie ahead for you. You can let that horrible day in the stadium define you and perhaps destroy the very best that you are or you can use the event as an opportunity to evolve into an even better human.

I’m certain you already know all this, as every child is taught some form of what I’m saying here, but I also know from experience that we forget the most important life lessons, just when we need them most.

Take the consequences of your actions bravely and do not complain. Make it right as best you can with the most integrity you can muster.

Hope you’re judgment-proof, have good insurance, or a good lawyer! You’re going to be facing criminal and civil time in court. 

You’re getting beat up in the media and online. Forgiving yourself for this incident will be the hardest. Flog yourself a little if you must, but then get on with the business of living.

“Forgiving yourself”?! No, flog yourself a fucking lot. Re-examine the person you are and the choices you’ve made. Re-evaluate what led you to show off like that and almost take a life? Don’t forgive a thing – get help. You clearly need it. “Getting on with the business of living” is the sort of feel-good bullshit that teaches people that it’s ok to do fundamentally and palpably stupid, dangerous things as long as you have a modicum of hippie self-awareness. 

You’ve received a hard lesson, at your own hand, but there’s a strong possibility that it could be your most important lesson.

Yes, don’t tempt fate by trying to pull off inherently dangerous stunts. (How much do you want to bet he sues the Ralph himself because, e.g., it didn’t have spikes on the railing to prevent dumb assholes like him from doing dumb asshole moves like he did?) 

Lastly, during this public humiliation, you will learn who your friends are. They will understand what we all inherently know but often forget — that while there are many of us who would have never done anything as wild and risky as what you did, we likely all know and care about at least one other person who might.

 Yeah, no. One thing you learn when you become an adult – and our reckless slider is pushing 30 and has no excuse – is to behave yourself. When you don’t, you’re going to suffer the consequences. And part of being an adult is doing just that, and you don’t whine about it, and you plead with your friends’ moms to please not write sympathetic drivel in the local paper. You’re a dick. Try not being a dick in the future. 

Rob Ford Crack Video: The Police Have It

When Rob Ford has lost the Sun…

Former Washington, DC Mayor Marion Barry is no longer the last chief executive of a major North American city to be caught smoking crack cocaine. In May, the Toronto Star and Gawker.com reported that reporters of theirs had seen iPhone video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack, and cracking wise. The guys possessing the video – Somali-Canadian gangster drug dealers – wanted big bucks. The Star wasn’t paying, but Gawker launched a kickstarter to raise the $250,000 the guys wanted. By the time the money was in, the video had disappeared.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Police, who were already investigating drug dealing in the Etobicoke projects near where Rob Ford lives, turned their attention to the Mayor and one of his confidants, Alessandro Lisi. It’s alleged that Lisi was a drug dealer and acted as a sort of enforcer for the mayor.

Meanwhile, Ford and his city councilman brother, Doug, have spent almost every day since mid-May denying the existence of the video, “how can I comment on a tape that I haven’t seen or doesn’t exist” is the line. They’ve spent months lying to the people of Toronto and the journalists trying to get to the truth. The Toronto Star in particular, which is left-leaning and the only Toronto outlet to have seen and reported extensively on the video, was singled out for especial rage and insult. When the video story broke, Ford called Lisi. Lisi then called several people connected to the drug investigation. For some reason, the police had only recorded the call logs, but didn’t have warrants to tap the lines. 

The Toronto Star was vindicated yesterday when the Toronto Police released almost 400 pages’ worth of surveillance information which led to Lisi being charged yesterday with extortion related to the video. At some point, the police’s drug investigation morphed into “Project Brazen 2”. It’s unclear whom Lisi extorted, and how. Contained within the information are hundreds of references to Ford – Lisi and Ford meeting in odd ways, at odd times, in odd places, away from possible bugs. Countersurveillance measures taken. Weird hand-offs of things at gas stations. It’s all very cloak & dagger and downright fascinating. On the cover of today’s Toronto Star will be a police surveillance photograph of a Toronto Star reporter meeting with Mohammed Siad, one of the middlemen brokering the sale of the crack video. 

The kicker? At a late morning news conference Thursday, the chief of Toronto Police confirmed that earlier this week, police investigators had decrypted a hard drive from a computer taken in a raid of an Etobicoke drug house related to the investigations. On that computer, police found a video file that had been deleted. When they restored the file, police found the Rob Ford crack video, confirming that it was consistent with what Gawker and the Star had reported. Bombshell

Court documents on Mayor Ford’s friend Alessandro Lisi

//www.scribd.com/embeds/180513187/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&show_recommendations=true

By the end of the day Thursday, even the right-wing Toronto Sun – the tabloid that had been Ford’s biggest and most strident cheerleader – was calling for his immediate resignation. Indeed, every single one of Toronto’s four major papers had called for Ford’s resignation – the Star, the Globe & Mail, and the National Post

Today’s a good day to look at the Newseum front pages of the Star, the Globe & Mail, the National Post, and the Sun

For his part, Ford held a press avail in the afternoon. He tersely said, “I wish I could come out and defend myself. Unfortunately I can’t. It’s before the courts. That’s all I can say right now,” adding, “I have no reason to resign. I’m going to go back and return my phone calls.” 

Yesterday saw a fascinating display of journalism and truth leading to an investigation and, hopefully, accountability by someone as brazen as the name of the investigation suggested. 

Clarence School Enrichment Fund : Fixing What We Broke

presentationGifft11Last week, the Clarence School Enrichment Fund presented a check for almost $40,000 to restore certain clubs and sports that had been cut in the wake of the Spring’s budget fiasco. That sum was paid to the Board of Education in order to enable those Fall semester activities to be able to prepare for a school year that begins in just a few weeks. The check was presented to the board by the CSEF board and by two little girls who raised money for CSEF with a lemonade stand. 

Unfortunately, an article in the Buffalo News that appeared the next day caused the CSEF some problems

More than 100 donors pieced together nearly $40,000 to give to the School Board on Wednesday night – enough to restore modified and freshman sports for the fall season.

At the time the check was presented, the CSEF had actually raised over $70,000. Only a part of that was paid to the district to ensure that certain sports and clubs would be restored. In fact, four clubs – science, foreign language, Latin, and technology – were funded with that money. All the Fall sports that had been cut were restored.  At last check, 250 families had joined the “1000 families challenge” where folks were asked to donate the difference between their actual tax bill, and what their school tax bill would have been had the 9% budget increase been passed in May. 

But [the CSEF cautions] that they won’t be around every year to close the gap between the programs that students want and funds the school is able to provide. “This is a one-year deal,” Cerza warned. “We’re going to have to find a way to get these things back into the budget.”

After this year, the organization will likely exist as a booster club to buy minor items like soccer balls and uniforms, but as for the teams themselves, “it’s going to be up to the school to reinstate them in the future,” he said.

Everything I’ve heard about the CSEF is that it was originally constituted not to fund picayune things like balls and uniforms, but big-ticket capital projects that the district can’t – or won’t – fund. The Foundation accelerated its fundraising efforts to expedite private funding – for only one year – of programs cut from the budget. It has consistently stated that it expects the district to restore these sports, clubs, teams, courses, and activities on its own next year. 

As of today, the CSEF has raised over $76,000 in just about 6 weeks, and people can now help just by dining at Brennan’s any Monday night – the restaurant will be donating 10% of the take every week to the CSEF

That will be the big danger – that the tea party forces that manufactured last Spring’s crisis will use the CSEF to argue that the district needs to divest itself of even more people and programs because the private sector can do it on its own. This is a battle for which the school supporters will be prepared. Business as usual isn’t. 

Carlos Danger & IOKIYAR

Because everyone’s a puritan busybody, everyone will call on serial sexter Carlos Danger (aka Anthony Weiner) to pull out of the New York City mayoral race in the wake of new evidence of his horny behavior. Lost in this is that the only thing he’s known to have done is text dick pics to women who were willing participants in the sexting. I’m not condoning or condemning what he did any more than I condone or condemn whatever you want to do sexually. 

To the holy rollers who are all a-shocked and a-stunned, consider why Louisiana congressman David Vitter is still happily in congress and spouting off about “family values” despite being caught up in a prostitution scandal – involving actual sexual intercourse – and diapers. Why should that creep still be in office and Weiner be treated any differently? 

Yesterday, Howard Stern interviewed Alec Baldwin, and the two talked about Bloomberg, Weiner, and Spitzer. While Stern is a fan of Bloomberg’s, Baldwin is not, and expressed that he thinks the billionaire three-term mayor has made New York City a worse place to live for everyone except the ultra-rich. They then turned to Spitzer and Weiner, and rhetorically asked, “do you really think Spitzer wants to be New York City comptroller?” Baldwin suggested that they’re both so incredibly ego-driven that Weiner saw this race as his political comeback, and Spitzer – not to be outdone – thought, “why not me?” and entered his race at the 11th hour.  The argument was that both of them were in it for their own egos than for any desire to serve the public (and both Baldwin and Stern would be exquisitely in tune with that motivation). 

I’m not saying Spitzer and Danger should get a pass. On the contrary, I think their behavior calls their sincerity, maturity, and seriousness into question. But Weiner committed no crime, although Larry Craig may have. Spitzer did, but so did Vitter. Chris Lee’s shirtless Craigslist trolling was one notable exception of a Republican screwing up and getting the hell out of dodge, mostly because his white, elderly, conservative constituency would never go for that sort of thing. Why is there a double standard here whereby it’s ok if you’re a Republican

I don’t think that’s necessarily the way it works, and Lee proves it. What this does is harken back to the way in which the Supreme Court had treated broadcast indecency and obscenity cases – the law leaves it up to “community standards” to dictate what language is and isn’t acceptable. 

It therefore follows that community standards in New York City – a place where 8 million people are constantly in each other’s faces and privacy is at a premium – is going to have a different tolerance for nonsense than, say, East Amherst. Louisiana has a weird, permissive culture all its own – unique for the South – that Vitter can get away with diaper whoring. 

In the end, Weiner said there’d be more, and now there’s more. Don’t act so shocked. 

It’s A Fine Line Between Provocation And Self-Defense

A Virginia man wearing a bizarre outfit approached a 12 year-old boy and his sibling, who were selling lemonade on a hot day, and threw a piss-filled balloon at them. He followed up by demanding that they go back to Africa, which sounds like a lot of the people in this Facebook comment thread

So, as far as I can understand, had the boy begun hitting his assailant – and then started to win the fight – piss-balloon man would have been justified under Florida law to “stand his ground” and shoot the boy dead.

Piss-balloon man would be the only one up on the stand, and he can just testify that he was all done with his assault and had retreated, so it was the boy’s own fault he got shot, and he never uttered a racial remark, and the kid may have had detention once and his sibling is fat and rolls his eyes on the stand. 

Let that sink in.

Thoughts on the George Zimmerman Verdict: You Got a Problem?

A Florida jury found that the homicide of Trayvon Martin homicide was lawful and justifiable – that George Zimmerman had acted in self-defense and that his use of deadly force against Martin was reasonable. 

“Self-defense” is what we lawyers call an “affirmative defense”. Generally, the prosecution has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When the defendant raises self-defense, or some other legal justification for the crime of which he’s accused, the burden of proof shifts to him. That means that George Zimmerman’s defense team had the burden to prove that Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin was legally justified. 

In New York, self-defense is covered in the “Defense of Justification” article in the New York State Penal Law.  

Generally

Unless otherwise limited by the ensuing provisions of this article defining justifiable use of physical force, conduct which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when…

2. Such conduct is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the actor, and which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding such injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue. The necessity and justifiability of such conduct may not rest upon considerations pertaining only to the morality and advisability of the statute, either in its general application or with respect to its application to a particular class of cases arising thereunder…

More specifically,

The use of physical force upon another person which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal under any of the following circumstances…

6. A person may, pursuant to the ensuing provisions of this article, use physical force upon another person in self-defense or defense of a third person, or in defense of premises, or in order to prevent larceny of or criminal mischief to property,

Even more to the point,

1. A person may…use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself, herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by such other person, unless:

(a) The latter’s conduct was provoked by the actor with intent to cause physical injury to another person; or

(b) The actor was the initial aggressor; except that in such case the use of physical force is nevertheless justifiable if the actor has withdrawn from the encounter and effectively communicated such withdrawal to such other person but the latter persists in continuing the incident by the use or threatened imminent use of unlawful physical force…

…2. A person may not use deadly physical force upon another person under circumstances specified in subdivision one unless:

(a) The actor reasonably believes that such other person is using or about to use deadly physical force. Even in such case, however, the actor may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating; except that the actor is under no duty to retreat if he or she is:

(i) in his or her dwelling and not the initial aggressor; or

(ii) a police officer or peace officer or a person assisting a police officer or a peace officer at the latter’s direction, acting pursuant to section 35.30; or

(b) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery; or

(c) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a burglary, and the circumstances are such that the use of deadly physical force is authorized by subdivision three of section 35.20.

The emphases are mine. New York’s self-defense statute discourages deadly violence. The initial aggressor in a confrontation generally cannot assert the defense, but even in that case, the law gives the aggressor an opportunity to retreat from the encounter, in which case he is justified in defending himself from the original victim’s force. In order to use deadly force, a New Yorker must reasonably believe he is about to be killed and has attempted to, or has no way to, retreat. The only exception to that duty to retreat applies to a person in his own home who didn’t start a confrontation. The duty to retreat exists to avoid unnecessary violence and death

Florida is different. By weakening the duty to retreat, it opens the door to unnecessary, physically avoidable violence.

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

The section referenced above in subsection (2) is Florida’s castle doctrine statute – your home is inviolable and the law presumes that you are in fear of imminent bodily harm if you are home when burglarized. But it goes farther:

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

In Florida, there is also statutory language requiring that the person asserting justification wasn’t the initial aggressor.

776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who…

…(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or

(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

George Zimmerman’s defense team didn’t emphasize the “stand your ground” portion of the statute. It didn’t have to – it’s built in to the overall self-defense statute and the jury was instructed on it. Frankly, the person who was entitled to use that provision was Trayvon Martin himself. The Zimmerman team’s theory of the case was that Martin was the initial aggressor when he turned and confronted Zimmerman. “Stand your ground” is what informed law enforcement’s decision to not bring charges until 6 weeks after the homicide. “Stand your ground” is what was cited for the public presumption that Zimmerman was justified in killing this young black man who was wearing a hoodie, of all things. 

In court, we heard Zimmerman’s side of the story via videotape of him leading investigators around the complex the morning after the homicide. He did not take the stand. The problem here? Every story has two sides, and we only heard one. We’ll never be able to learn Martin’s side of the story. Did he really know the gun was there? Did he really reach for it? Did he really even initiate the confrontation? Did he swing first? Did he threaten Zimmerman’s life? 

Let’s backtrack for a moment and look at a few undisputed facts of the case: Trayvon Martin was legally on the premises of the gated apartment community where George Zimmerman was on “neighborhood watch” patrol. He was minding his own business. He was not committing a crime of any sort. He was unarmed. He was walking from the store to a private residence, where he was going to watch TV. George Zimmerman was cruising the property in his vehicle. The complex had been subject to burglaries, and he wanted to protect his home and others’ homes. Zimmerman told the police dispatcher that he was watching Martin, whom he considered to be a “real suspicious guy”. 

That’s the set-up; what happened next was the heart of the trial just concluded. Zimmerman called the cops. The dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his car. Zimmerman didn’t stay in his car, but instead followed Martin. Martin was on the phone with his friend and explained to her that he was being followed by a “creepy ass cracker”. We’re not quite sure what happened next, or what the exact sequence of events was. Could be Trayvon Martin turned to ask Zimmerman if he had a problem.

The case and its result have resulted in a deep split in public opinion – one unsurprisingly following the right/left political cleave. I don’t understand why thinking Zimmerman is innocent is a right-wing thing and thinking the homicide of Martin was unnecessary or not justifiable is a left-wing thing. It oftentimes seems as if Zimmerman supporters consider that Martin got what was coming to him, and there is no sympathy for a kid who was just walking home from the store on a rainy February night. But I think the divergence comes down to this difference in opinion: do you think that the sequence of events was set in motion when Zimmerman exited his car to follow Martin, or when Martin asked Zimmerman what his problem was? Things went downhill from there, and one person ended up dead. 

You can see Zimmerman’s explanation here. “You got a problem?” “No, man.” “Well, you got a problem now!” Zimmerman claims Martin somehow saw his gun, went to reach for it and threatened to kill him.  At this point, Zimmerman grabbed his gun and shot Martin once through the heart. Martin wasn’t around to offer a rebuttal. 

To suggest – as the Florida State Attorney did late Saturday night – that race and profiling wasn’t part of this case is a joke. The entire case was replete with issues of race and profiling. Was it reasonable? Was it reasonable for Zimmerman to see a young black kid in a hoodie walking through his neighborhood and instantly conclude that he was “real suspicious”? Was it reasonable for Martin to remark to his friend that some “creepy ass cracker” was stalking him on his walk home? It was 7pm in February in Florida. There is no presumption in the law that a black youth is deemed “suspicious” for wearing a hooded sweatshirt under those conditions. The temperature was in the low 60s, and it was raining. Indeed, because Martin was minding his own business and not breaking any rule or law, it was also perfectly reasonable for him to be a little creeped out by the guy who was following him first in his vehicle, and now on foot. How would you react if someone was following you – watching your every move while you’re just walking through your neighborhood?

Martin could have run away, but was under no obligation to do so. 

People forget that it wasn’t until March 16th that we heard the 911 call with someone screaming “help!” in the background – screams that ended when the gunshot is heard; could be Zimmerman was out of peril – could be Martin was mortally wounded. Zimmerman’s 9mm handgun was in the small of his back. It wasn’t until March 20th that Florida even bothered to submit the case to a grand jury. The chief of the Sanford Police Department resigned on March 22nd because the case had been investigated from day one under a presumption that it was a justifiable homicide. On March 26th, the police released pictures showing that Zimmerman was bleeding from cuts the night he shot Trayvon Martin. 

It wasn’t until April 11th that Zimmerman was formally charged with 2nd degree murder and taken into custody. It took a full six weeks before Florida even recognized that a crime may have potentially been committed. The state didn’t take the case seriously until the federal government and public opinion forced its hand. 

Zimmerman didn’t take the stand – he didn’t have to. His story was out there on the videotape, and he didn’t have to subject himself to cross-examination about, e.g., why he got out of his car in the first place. If Zimmerman is correct that Martin initiated the confrontation, why didn’t he run away? Well, he didn’t have to. Florida doesn’t think much of avoidance of violence. Zimmerman was brave enough to follow this “real suspicious” teenager, but not to subject himself to cross-examination. 

Because Martin is dead, we don’t know his side of the story and the prosecution evidently did not adequately present an alternative version of events. When Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel testified, she explained that Martin was afraid of Zimmerman. But, you know, as a 19 year-old black girl, she behaved like a 19 year-old black girl. She had avoided being involved in the case and was caught in some inconsistencies. Her speech and mannerisms insulted public opinion, and she was mocked as being fat, sassy, and stupid. 

Zimmerman had a gun, and if you take his own story at face-value, it was when Martin saw the gun that the fistfight escalated to a threat on Zimmerman’s life. No gun, no shooting. Simple, isn’t it? Zimmerman had a conceal carry permit despite a history of violence, including interfering with an arrest and being the subject of a mutual restraining order with his ex-fiancee. Frankly, under normal circumstances, a person with a record of violence and harassment should not be allowed to carry a firearm. 

An armed society is a polite society” goes the Heinlein quote. But in this case, no matter what you think of the fairness of the case against Zimmerman, that isn’t true. 

The law should not reward violence. The law should not excuse aggression. To maintain a civilized society, we ought to reward and excuse the avoidance of violence and aggression. Zimmerman should have stayed in his car. He never should have been in a position to confront – or be confronted by – Martin. This is why we have police, and this is why we entrust them with public safety. Zimmerman should have waited for the cops and let them do their jobs. They likely would have questioned him, canvassed the area for Martin, and asked him some questions. Martin would have lived to see his 18th birthday. 

This isn’t just about dumb gun laws or bad justification statutes – it’s about profiling. 

Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, it’s Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher:  OK, and this guy is he white, black, or hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now, he was just staring.

Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area…

Zimmerman: looking at all the houses.

Dispatcher: OK…

Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.

Dispatcher: OK-you said it’s 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse…

Dispatcher: That’s the clubhouse, do you know what the-he’s near the clubhouse right now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me.

Dispatcher: OK.

Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.

Dispatcher: How old would you say he looks?

Zimmerman: He’s got button on his shirt, late teens.

Dispatcher: Late teens. Ok.

Zimmerman: Somethings wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out, he’s got something in his hands, I don’t know what his deal is.

Dispatcher: Just let me know if he does anything, ok?

Zimmerman: (unclear) See if you can get an officer over here.

Dispatcher: Yeah we’ve got someone on the way, just let me know if this guy does anything else.

Zimmerman: Okay. These assholes they always get away. Yep. When you come to the clubhouse you come straight in and make a left. Actually you would go past the clubhouse.

Dispatcher: So it’s on the lefthand side from the clubhouse?

Zimmerman: No you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left, uh, you go straight in, don’t turn, and make a left. Shit, he’s running.

Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?

Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood.

Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?

Zimmerman: The back entrance…(expletive)(unclear)

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that.

Zimmerman: Ok.

Dispatcher: Alright sir what is your name?

Zimmerman: George…He ran.

Dispatcher: Alright George what’s your last name? A clicking or knocking sound can be heard here

Zimmerman: Zimmerman

Dispatcher: And George what’s the phone number you’re calling from? Clicking or knocking sound is heard again

Zimmerman: [phone number removed]

Dispatcher: Alright George we do have them on the way. Do you want to meet with the officer when they get out there?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Alright, where you going to meet with them at?

Zimmerman: Um, if they come in through the, uh, (knocking sound) gate, tell them to go straight past the club house, and uh, (knocking sound) straight past the club house and make a left, and then they go past the mailboxes, that’s my truck…[unintelligible]

Dispatcher: What address are you parked in front of?

Zimmerman: I don’t know, it’s a cut through so I don’t know the address.

Dispatcher: Okay do you live in the area?

Zimmerman: Yeah, I…[unintelligible]

Dispatcher: What’s your apartment number?

Zimmerman: It’s a home it’s [house number removed], (knocking sound) oh crap I don’t want to give it all out, I don’t know where this kid is.

Dispatcher: Okay do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes then?

Zimmerman: Yeah that’s fine.

Dispatcher: Alright George, I’ll let them know to meet you around there, okay?

Zimmerman: Actually could you have them, could you have them call me and I’ll tell them where I’m at?

Dispatcher: Okay, yeah that’s no problem.

Zimmerman: Should I give you my number or you got it?

Dispatcher: Yeah I got it [phone number removed]

Zimmerman: Yeah you got it.

Dispatcher: Okay no problem, I’ll let them know to call you when you’re in the area.

Zimmerman: Thanks.

Dispatcher: You’re welcome.

Black kid in a hoodie. Real suspicious. Hand in his waistband. Looking around. Runs when he sees Zimmerman. These assholes always get away.

Trayvon Martin ran away from the man watching him from his truck. The man got out of his truck to follow him. Trayvon ran away

Zimmerman made a snap decision about who Martin was. He had to be up to no good. He looked wrong – black kid with a hoodie. Hand in his waistband, holding onto his iced tea. These assholes always get away. These assholes. Real suspicious. We glorify violence and we excuse people for being afraid and suspicious of black teenagers. “You got a problem?” Martin asked Zimmerman.

Yes. Zimmerman did, in fact, have a problem. More than just one.

By the way, how were the riots? 

Your Concerned Stock Photo Neighbors in Clarence

On Friday, Clarence households received yet another ultra-slick mailer from astroturf organization Americans for Progress opposing the school budget. This time, thanks to a tipster’s suggestion, I ran the images through a reverse image search. Who, exactly, are these Clarence residents and neighbors depicted on the flyer? After all, I’d love to speak with them about their concerns. 

As it turns out, they’re pricey stock photographs. 

(I have written about the 2013 – 14 Clarence school budget on two occasions; here, and here). 

This woman earnestly looks into the camera and tells us that local AFP astroturfers are conservatives and/or liberals – just like you and me! 

Except she’s as phony as the claim that “Citizens for Sustainable Schools” is a plucky local effort of concerned citizens with a PR department, a graphic design department and six figures to spare. 

Is she a former Maryland-based drug addict

Is she a joke in the Onion

Did she win big in an Alabama lawsuit

A reverse image search using Tineye reveals that this woman is a stock photo from istockphoto.com. She is described as “Forty Something Hispanic Woman” and if you want to use her image for your slick Clarence mailer, you have to pay about $70.  

The others are as phony as she. 

There’s hardhat guy. 

Hardhat guy has also been used on other websites.  Hardhat guy is also identified via TinEye as an istockphoto.com image, except the stock photo company that sells him describes him as “manual worker in hard hat and safety glasses.” He’s also a bit cheaper than his “forty something hispanic” female counterpart, above. 

The anti-school brigade has been especially concerned about seniors, and uses two pictures of local Clarence seniors. Who are they? 

You guessed it – she’s a stock photo, too. She’s the alliterative “serious senior woman supermarket shopper makes selection“. 

Finally, the senior on the front of the flyer – 

She is “Summer portrait of a lovely grandma”,

…and here she is in a story sponsored by Liberty Mutual

As I wrote late last week, it is critical that you vote yes for the Clarence school budget on Tuesday May 21st at the High School gym (Gunnville at Main). In order to right past wrongs and to ensure that the budget can maintain a steady course within the tax cap in years to come, these measures must be taken. 

The efforts of tea party activists using outside materials paid for with outside money, falsely asserting their “local” or “bipartisan” nature must be strongly rejected. Indeed, to compare the slick use of stock photography and glossy card stock from Long Island with a simply despicable sign that’s been popping up around town: 

That’s the sentiment, boiled down to a nutshell. It’s not as slick, and no expensive, tested PR department vetted the message or language, but it reflects the true grassroots effort to decimate the schools. 

Unlike the proud patriot with the black sign, the AFP’s effort is a form of concern-trolling; they pretend to be supportive of the schools, but bring up their “concerns”, masking the fact that they are not at all supportive. If they had genuine concerns, they could have picked four photographs of actually concerned Clarence residents. Instead, we have “forty something hispanic woman”, “manual worker in hard hat”, and “serious senior woman supermarket shopper”.  This is a sophisticated, media-savvy effort – not one that’s done in Clarence by local activists

This, on the other hand, is a genuine grassroots effort made in support of the school budget: 

The “Citizens for Sustainable Schools” is a group made-up and paid for by the Long Island-based Americans for Progress New York chapter, but that doesn’t justify vandalizing their signs. Not if they depict the “summer portrait of a lovely grandma” or anyone else. It doesn’t justify damaging a massive sign costing hundreds of dollars that’s conveniently sited on an abandoned eyesore motel across from the high school. It also doesn’t justify the myriad pro-budget signs that have been ripped from people’s yards and discarded. 

A teacher writes, 

Lisa Thrun needs to be exposed for what she is.  She had three children attend Clarence schools…I taught two of them …  All three then went on to higher education and have done pretty well, from what I understand …  So basically their kids had a great experience (they were all very involved in the school) at Clarence…but too bad for everyone else now?  My kids are done so now screw you?!  And then she has the audacity to say “she and her people have to remain anonymous for fear of backlash?!”  How horribly insulting I find that to the teaching profession and to Clarence…our teachers are wonderful, caring people of character …  Clarence is a small, tight-knit community…and they are destroying it…but I would never ever hold that against a student, past or present.  It goes against everything a teacher stands for.  Shame on them for those comments.

Dr. Coseo and the Board of Education also need to be called out for getting us into this disaster… so much bad decision-making and poor planning.  The Board always did pretty much what (prior Superintendent) Dr. Coseo told them to do…all “yes” people…don’t rock the boat.  

(Edited to omit identifying information)

Although the Clarence Republican Committee’s executive board decided to stay out of the school vote issue, AFP puppet Lisa Thrun has now reached out to them in a desperate cry for help. To read her own words is to be disgusted: how dare schoolkids advocate for the schools?!

From: Greg and Lisa Thrun <EDIT>
To: Greg and Lisa Thrun <EDIT> 
Sent: Saturday, May 18, 2013 3:18 PM
Subject: Your help is needed

Dear Clarence Republican Committeemen and Committeewomen,
I am writing you today, to ask for your help in the upcoming school budget vote on Tuesday, May 21st at the Clarence High School Gym on Main St. from 7 am-9 pm.
 
As you know, many in our community are very upset about the 9.8% school property tax increase and how that will affect their families and businesses.  It is not just the higher tax rate that is the concern, but the unwillingness of the Board of Education and the Clarence Teachers Association to take the necessary measures to avoid cuts to student services and teaching positions in the very near future.
 
The issues and solutions outlined by Citizens for Sustainable Schools (EDIT) have started the conversation about ensuring the quality of education with a tax rate we can all afford.  The path the district is on is unsustainable and measures must be taken now if we are to continue to offer a Clarence education our town is known for. 
 
There have been some lawns signs and emails circulating that are meant to distract from the conversation and claims that the funds for the efforts are coming from outside sources.  The truth is that we heard from seniors that are worried about losing their homes, families that are considering moving out of state because they can no longer afford to pay the high taxes, and small business owners that are concerned that a 10% increase will force them to pass the costs on to customers and make them less competitive.  They offered their services, money, and time to help educate the public about the issues and to stop this excessive tax increase.
 
The district and the union has been organizing for months prior to the budget being formally adopted.  An art show, an all elementary school track meet, and a chicken dinner has been lined up which will make it very difficult for others to get into the polling place.  Superintendent Hicks and BOE President Mike Lex have been holding meetings with every PTO, Booster Club and even the Post-Prom Party Committee.  They added a last minute concert where only a few songs were played but a pro-budget pitch was included.  There are PTO Facebook pages that have posts with accusations and links to articles with wrong information and have gone so far to word emails that can be construed as endorsements for specific candidates.  Now you may have received a knock at the door by students asking for your YES vote.
 
We do not underestimate the organization of the union or the advantage the district has with communicating with the school community.
 
The GOP is the party of lower taxes and limited government, understanding that those principles lead to the betterment of a community, state, and nation.  Although the executive board has decided not to tackle this issue, we are asking for all of you as individuals to help with phone banking and door to door efforts.  Your neighbors, business associates, and fellow residents are taking a stand —please join them.
 
We will be holding a phone bank from 5:30-9pm on Monday at an office location to make GOTV calls.  Phones are limited so please call for a time slot and location.  If you would like to make calls from home, we can email call lists.  We can also make arrangements to drop off flyers and maps.
 
We understand that this is a controversial issue, but how can any of us stand on the sidelines when members of our community will be hurt by this and while the education of our children will face future risk?
                                   
Sincerely,
Lisa Thrun
H: 741-****
C: 604-****

As soon as I find out which office hosts this phone bank, I will expose it, and I will urge people never to patronize it. Guess what? Also, I suspect that our local AFP stooges vandalized their own sign in order to get on TV and make budget proponents look like thugs. AFP has spent tens of thousands – maybe more – to try and defeat the school budget. The schools are a huge part of what makes Clarence what it is. Your property values reflect that. 

Vote yes on Tuesday, and vote DePasquale and Andrews. The reasons why are here. 

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