How Tom Reed Ignored my Thoughts on the Nuclear Deal with Iran

August 23rd, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

iran nuclear deal

Dear Readers,

 

Often times I feel that the political action that I attempt to take through our political system is spitting into the wind. Yesterday, I planned to attend a Town Hall meeting because our local congressman wanted to hear the community’s thoughts on the nuclear deal with Iran. He stated in the invitation, “I care about your thoughts on this issue.” I was unable to attend the meeting so I decided to share my thoughts on his Facebook page as the invitation instructed.

 

I posted the following on Congressman Tom Reed’s Facebook page:

 

Dear Tom Reed,

 

I am writing you this note because I was unable to attend the meeting at the Mina Town Hall this morning. I agree that the deal with Iran is far from perfect, but I do not understand what alternative those who oppose the deal recommend that would not lead to heightened military involvement.  What do you propose as an alternative to the deal?

 

I am certainly not a military expert, but the fact that 36 retired military officers contend that the deal is the best way to inhibit Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons makes it appear to be the most viable option. Their informed opinions matter.

 

This deal could halt the momentum of Iranian nuclear weapons programs for 10 to 15 years and in the meantime we can have a dialogue for a more peaceful solution thus avoiding another military quagmire in the region.  The deal represents diplomacy, which is favorable to military aggression whenever possible. Moreover, as you are well aware, we signed the deal along with five other nations who have all done research that has led them to conclude that this is the best possible action. The dangerous years of the United States taking unilateral action without careful consideration of the point of view of our allies has led us into costly and protracted military endeavors throughout the world that are bankrupting our economy. This has creating untold suffering for millions of other people. This deal with Iran is far from perfect, but if it limits their capabilities for more than a decade and is part of a shift to a more diplomatic and multilateral approach to international relations, it is a step in the right direction.

 Tom_Reed_Official_Portrait

 

 

I returned today to see if the congressman had responded to my thoughts. I found that my post had been shuffled to some back-alley of his Facebook page, where no one could view it. However, the page had been updated. There was a short video presentation from other constituents that was a series of short phrases.  The video consisted of four utterings about the nuclear deal that read: “Our Supporters Believe the Iran Deal is…” The responses were: “Unamerican!” “Abysmal,” “A mistake,” and “A detriment to the world.”

 

How can we have a real discussion about important issues if legislators only want to hear from people who support their biases? How can a discussion about something so important and complex be reduced to simple outbursts that it is “Unamerican!” (whatever that means)? We should demand more from our politicians and the political system as a whole.

 

Loren

Congress considering “The Low Income Solar Act”

August 17th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

solar

Sustainable energy is the future of our economy. Now is the time to consider new ways for our society to break from our addiction to fossils fuels and find greener alternatives. Right now congress is considering “The Low Income Solar Act,” which could make solar energy accessible to a larger portion of the population than ever before. Click on the link below for more information on the act and sign the petition:

 

Solar Act Link

New York State to Vote on GMO Labeling

August 9th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

label_gmos

The fight over genetically modified food continues to rage with large corporations like Monsanto pushing policy. The issues are complex and there are few easy answers. However, one aspect of the discussion that is important is GMO labeling.  We deserve labels that reflect what is going into our food. There are currently two bills in the New York state assembly that will address GMO labeling.

 

For more information click on the link below:

 

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/sign/support_gmo_labeling_in_newyork_now/?akid=1182.946882.fFPRDS&rd=1&t=6

Policing in America Part II: Four Important Lessons from Baltimore

July 26th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

Baltimore

Over the last year, the United States has been forced to reassess the way our country polices people. Most Americans, well most white Americans, never have to think about the way that we practice policing in this country. They may complain about the speeding ticket they got or about the random DUI checkpoint.  However, we are increasingly living in a country that utilizes two different types of policing: one for the middle – wealthy white folks and one for communities of color.  And one for the poor, homeless, or immigrants. The latter is the combination of broken windows policing, the drug war, and the subtle racial bias that all Americans hold. This policing divide has been “showcased” over the past year with the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, and others all at the hands of those charged with protecting us.

 

This piece will help explain the problem in Baltimore to the best of my ability. However, as a middle class white person all I can do is attempt to explain this problem as I have never experienced it myself. I contend that the problems in Baltimore and many other American cities is one of institutional racism within the criminal justice system and elsewhere in America.

 

I want to challenge anyone considering this issue to think critically about the entire problem.  This problem is about far more than a few “racist cops,” it is about an inequality within the criminal justice system that has led to the institutional oppression of people of color. Thus, protests such as the Baltimore Uprising are better explained as an expression of frustration and anger from a community that has been systematically denied equality as opposed to a “riot.”  This is a complicated issue, but below I will attempt to highlight key points with articles in an attempt to better understand and explain the problem in Baltimore.

 

 

1.  Deaths in Police Custody

 

Some may say the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody was a rare occurrence, however deaths while in police custody are more common than some may think and disproportionately affect people of color.

 

https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2015/03/18/study-of-police-involved-deaths-in-maryland-finds-mostly-black-victims/

 

From 2010-2014, 109 people died during police encounters in Maryland. Two-thirds of those people were black and 41% of the victims were unarmed. The officers involved were charged in only 2% of cases.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/uk/deathsincustody

 

The Guardian keeps a chronological list of deaths while in police custody highlighting the fact that these deaths are more common than one may think.

 

 

2. Problematic Culture in the Police Department

 

Many believe that the problems in Baltimore have a lot to do with the questionable culture of the Baltimore Police Department, whose corruption and brutality has been well documented by local and national media.

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-brutality-of-police-culture-in-baltimore/391158/

 

http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/police-settlements/

 

One year before the incident with Freddie Gray the Baltimore Sun, publishes this article documenting the egregious amount of brutality on the part of law enforcement.

 

“The city has paid about $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits claiming that police officers brazenly beat up alleged suspects. One hidden cost: The perception that officers are violent can poison the relationship between residents and police.”

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-rough-ride-and-police-culture/391538/

 

Freddie Gray likely died from injuries sustained while in the back of a police van while handcuffed and unbuckled. This tradition has many slang terms in law enforcement, some define it as a “Rough Ride.”

 

 

3.  Institutional Racism in the Criminal Justice System and Elsewhere

 

While many political pundits will argue that this was simply an issue of one mishandled case, in Baltimore and elsewhere throughout this country black men and women face institutional racism that shows itself within the criminal justice system and other social institutions.

 

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/05/02/3654160/teen-turned-riots-faces-bail-higher-cops-charged-freddie-gray-death/

 

Black people in Baltimore are far more likely to be unemployed, fall victim to predatory lending, and have shorter life expectancies.

 

Furthermore, within the criminal justice system black and Hispanic people are far more likely to have bail set at an amount that they cannot afford. This is true in Baltimore and nationally, statistics on this can be viewed on The Sentencing Project.

 

http://www.newsweek.com/baltimore-goes-beyond-freddie-gray-326109

 

Perhaps the most offensive thing about the Baltimore Uprising was the news coverage and personal Facebook and social media posts that I witnessed. White America is more concerned with a CVS being looted than it is with addressing the systematic degradation that Black Americans face every single day. These protests are about far more than Freddie Gray, rather they represent a community’s frustration with broken windows policing and inequality in the criminal justice system. There have been so many victims like Freddie Gray, and the protests that followed his death are an expression from a community that faces state violence and oppression day by day.

 

4.     The War on Drugs and Broken Windows Policing

 

Another central problem that plagues Baltimore is the War on Drugs and the policing styles that come along with it. The aggressive strategies of law enforcement toward drug dealers and users has led to a community (especially in low income neighborhoods that disproportionately house people of color) that distrusts the police. Hence, Freddie Gray ran from the police when he saw them. Furthermore, it has led a generation of young black men imprisoned for minor drug crimes that due to the draconian drug laws of this country will likely debilitate their chances of finding work in the future.

 

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/29/david-simon-on-baltimore-s-anguish?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share-tools&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=post-top

 

The drug war has created a system in which the community distrusts police and police distrust the community (the poor community that is). It has also incentivized police to harass anyone that “looks like” a drug dealer which has led to police creating a volatile environment especially for young men of color. It has opened the window for no-knock raids, the militarization of the police, and searches without warrants all in the name of stopping low level drug dealers in urban communities who have little to nothing to do with the actual supply of drugs in this country. However the most problematic thing the war on drugs has done is that it has made its own citizens public enemy #1 and treated them as such.

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-baltimore-blew-up-20150526?page=3

 

“Broken Windows policing,” which gained renown in the 1990s thanks to politicians like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is the mutant offspring of our already infamous race history, a set of high-tech tricks to disguise old-school discriminatory policing as cheery-sounding, yuppie-approved, Malcolm Gladwell-endorsed pop sociology. The ideas grew out of a theory advanced in 1982 by a pair of academics, James Q. Wilson of Harvard and George Kelling of Rutgers. “If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken,” the pair wrote in The Atlantic, arguing in “Broken Windows” that disorder and crime were “inextricably linked” and that fixing the former would impact the latter.”

 

For more on the discriminatory nature of broken windows policing I would point you to the book The Divide by Matt Taibbi in which he documents the problem and its discriminatory outcomes in New York City and elsewhere in the United States.

 

 

http://lancasteronline.com/opinion/broken-windows-policing-fractures-baltimore/article_37de1e04-ef65-11e4-b695-8b6af16114f9.html

 

“This is the kind of thinking that leads communities to install spikes under overpasses to prevent homeless people from seeking shelter.  It robs people of basic human dignity, merely because they look poor, young or black.   In other words, broken-windows policing has unintended consequences that have now reached a boiling point, making the tactic more of a liability than an asset.  Fixing a broken window might deter street crime, but treating broken people like they are removable windows leads to mass civil unrest.”  — April Kelly-Woessner is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College

 

It is my hope that the media attention on events like those in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore will lead to the reform of the Criminal Justice System. Just this past week, President Obama spoke openly about the racial inequality within the Criminal Justice System and was the first president to ever visit a federal prison. In order to stop events such as the death of Freddie Gray, we need to address both the way we police and the way we prosecute with the Criminal Justice System. First, we must end “broken window policing” which will require transitioning police strategy and culture from aggressively targeting low impact crimes to looking more at the big picture and working with the community to once again gain the trust of the citizens that police officers are obligated to serve. Further, we must end the War on Drugs that has led to the highest incarceration rate in world. Instead we should focus on the decriminalization of drugs and rather than imprisoning we should send drug users to treatment and low-level dealers to probation rather than filling prisons with non-violent offenders.

 

Finally, we must work to address racial inequality in areas outside of the Criminal Justice System. We must increase job opportunities and the quality of schools within low-income communities that disproportionately house people of color. All of this is within our grasp, yet nothing will happen if White America continues to ignore racial inequality and the problems of the criminal justice system. If we can address these issues, we can increase equality within this country and prevent more death at the hands of the state.

 

Kevin McElrath

Policing in America Part I: New York City

July 19th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

NYPD-2

In the aftermath of the Eric Garner protests, I was asked to explain/defend the actions of the protesters by people who saw Eric Garner’s death as an isolated tragedy and did not understand why masses of people were taking to the streets. As a lifelong New Yorker, it was clear to me that Eric Garner’s death was part of a larger pattern of overzealous policing tactics resulting in tragedy, tragedy that disproportionately falls on black men. However I have been hearing these stories for years, and I can see how to an outsider it could seem like it came out of the blue. So I put together a compilation of links to outline the story for those who have not been following for the past decade. In light of the recent events in Baltimore, I think there is a need to be familiar with the long-term story there in order to understand how policing went off the rails.

 

In what follows, I will give you a collection of news stories and other sources (mostly from that last 10-15 years) that I think support the suspicions that many residents of NYC, especially black residents, have of their police, and “the system” in general. I think that the sum-total of the information provided below demonstrates that there is a serious, systemic problem with overly enthusiastic policing, that this problem disproportionately affects minorities, that it fits into deeply rooted systems of inequality, and that entrenched interests stand in the way of even the most common sense reforms. I hope the weight of the information in these links will move you to be more sympathetic to those who carry out disruptive actions in order to draw attention to these problems.

 

 

1. There has been a string of high profile incidents of black men dying under strange circumstances at the hands of the NYPD, leading to a general sense that police cannot be held accountable, no matter what they do.

 

Amadou Diallo was unarmed and innocent, he was shot 19 times in what was most likely a horrible accident. Nevertheless, it is the sort of accident that it is difficult to imagine a non-cop getting away with:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Amadou_Diallo
http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-02-05/how-legacy-amadou-diallo-lives-new-yorks-immigrant-community

 

Patrick Dorismond was killed under disputed circumstances, with his friend claiming that the undercover cop instigated the confrontation without identifying himself as a cop:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Dorismond
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/13/nyregion/city-settles-suit-in-guard-s-death-by-police-bullet.html

 

Sean Bell was shot and killed on his wedding night in events that most likely resulted from overly nosey undercover cops checking out his wedding party.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Bell_shooting_incident

 

Ramarley Grahm was shot in his bathroom while trying to flush marijuana down the toilet:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/ramarley-graham_n_5765862.html
http://www.thenation.com/article/175778/will-there-be-justice-nypd-victim-ramarley-graham

 

Eric Garner:

 

The officer who put Mr. Garner in a chokehold has two complaints against him that suggest he may have some sadistic tendencies:

http://www.usnews.com/news/newsgram/articles/2014/12/05/nypd-officer-daniel-pantaleo-faced-misconduct-allegations-before-death-of-eric-garner

 

The chokehold wasn’t the only problem: What happened after was arguably worse:

http://nypost.com/2014/07/20/4-ems-workers-barred-from-duty-after-chokehold-death/
http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/harry-siegel-lonesome-death-eric-garner-article-1.2032281

 

Akai Gurley was shot in a stairwell by a rookie cop who had his gun out for no good reason:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/akai-gurley-case-grand-jury-to-weigh-nypd-shooting-of-unarmed-man-in-stairwell/

 

The officer who shot him texted his union representative before reporting the incident:
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/exclusive-texted-union-rep-akai-gurley-lay-dying-article-1.2034219

 

The one major case where the officers were held accountable to my satisfaction was the Abner Louima case, where a group of officers sodomized a Hatian man with nightsticks.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abner_Louima

 

 

2. Blacks have reason to fear the police and prosecutors:

 

 

- Although the homicide rate by black males is about 10x compared to white men, black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police. This suggests that biases in policing go beyond the simple differences in crime rates and include a component of bias which, conscious or unconscious, is sometimes deadly.

http://callisto.ggsrv.com/imgsrv/FastFetch/UBER2/07irgc046
http://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white

 

-Current and former black officers attest to feeling harassed off-duty, or at other points in their lives:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/23/us-usa-police-nypd-race-insight-idUSKBN0K11EV20141223
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/opinion/we-must-stop-police-abuse-of-black-men.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/06/i-was-a-st-louis-cop-my-peers-were-racist-and-violent-and-theres-only-one-fix/

 

- One black woman shares her experiences and feelings: http://gawker.com/my-vassar-college-faculty-id-makes-everything-ok-1664133077

 

- “Driving while black”
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/opinion/we-must-stop-police-abuse-of-black-men.html
http://www.newsweek.com/ferguson-profiling-police-courts-shooting-264744

 

-Sentencing disparities:
http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324432004578304463789858002
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/05/18/2032401/federal-appeals-court-drug-sentencing-disparity-is-intentional-racial-subjucation/

 

-Disparities in punishments at school:

 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/12/11/racism_and_school_suspensions_black_girls_are_punished_more_harshly_than.html

 

- Experiences of black friends with the justice system versus my own.

 

 

3. The system facilitates and encourages abusive cops.

 

- Even clear incidents of wrongdoing rarely result in serious punishment
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/12/how-police-unions-keep-abusive-cops-on-the-street/383258/
http://reason.com/blog/2014/08/14/police-unions-produce-rules-that-protect

 

- NYC’s Civilian Complaint Review Board is toothless: http://www.wnyc.org/story/window-secretive-police-misconduct-investigations/

 

- NYPD officers have blocked traffic and rioted to prevent oversight in 1992. Rudy Giuliani encouraged them:
http://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/17/nyregion/officers-rally-and-dinkins-is-their-target.html

 

- A small percentage of NYPD officers seem to be the ones that people always “resist arrest against”, and a similarly small group disproportionately accounts for accusations of excessive force. Yet the NYPD keeps them on the streets.
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/06/1349810/-5-of-New-York-City-cops-make-40-of-all-resisting-arrest-charges#

 

- Statistics regarding the nature of complaints against the NYPD:
http://www.vocativ.com/usa/nyc/87-chokehold-complaints-nypd/

 

Civil forfeiture: The NYPD is basically robbing people (or taxpayers. then the cops lose in court) using methods that the courts have ordered them to stop using:

http://gothamist.com/2014/01/14/nypd_civil_forfeiture.php

 

This happens all over the country too:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2014/01/15/gawker-on-asset-forfeiture-abuse-at-nypd/
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/08/12/taken

 

The the police union fights body cameras tooth and nail: http://nypost.com/2013/08/14/nypd-in-a-snap-judgment-pba-and-brass-resist-order-to-carry-cameras/

 

Police have incredibly high rates of domestic violence: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/

http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/police-domestic-abuse/

 

 

4. There have been numerous non-lethal incidents of NYPD officers being out of control, and I have a sense that they are acting from a sense of impunity.

 

- Bicycle push incident: A cop walked up to a guy and pushed him off his bike, knocking him to the ground. The officer was fired, but it the cop seems to have estimated that he could get away with it. He was convicted of falsifying a criminal complaint, but got no jail time:
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/patrick-pogan-nypd-pushed-critical-mass-cyclist-ground-no-jail-time-article-1.464247

 

- The NYPD uses undercovers at protests to provoke instead of calm tensions:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/22/nyregion/22police.html?pagewanted=all

 

- There was a recent high profile case of NYPD officers planting drugs on people, with allegations that the practice is widespread.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/nyregion/brooklyn-detective-convicted-of-planting-drugs-on-innocent-people.html
http://gothamist.com/2011/10/13/nypd_narcotics_detective_testifies.php

 

- There is something fishy about the way these officers make gun busts. Circumstantially, it looks plausible that they might have planted guns on some people.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/12/nyregion/gun-arrests-with-2-things-in-common-the-officers-and-unidentified-informers.html?gwh=7B407416550D12E4C8E531E41EF5A5C1&gwt=pay&assetType=nyt_now

 

 

- Pregnant woman tackled
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/exclusive-pregnant-woman-thrown-nypd-article-1.1950499

 

- Man roughed up by police for his “copwatch” activities.
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/man-cops-roughed-filming-plans-sue-nypd-article-1.1988283

 

“Stopped and frisked for being a “f*cking mutt”, a video where a young man demonstrates the overly authoritative and disrespectful way police act towards him.
http://www.thenation.com/article/170413/stopped-and-frisked-being-fking-mutt-video

 

The “cannibal cop”, who used his access to records to stalk women that he talked about murdering and eating.
http://nypost.com/2014/11/12/cannibal-cop-gets-slap-on-wrist-for-accessing-nypd-databases/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/07/01/new-yorks-cannibal-cop-released-after-judge-overturns-2013-conviction/

 

- There was an incident with a motorcycle group basically taking over the West Side Highway (the very same one I marched on), and engaging in a high speed chase that ended with a man being beaten in front of his family until bystanders intervened. Cops were nowhere to be seen in spite of a large group of cyclists acting threatening. As it happens, there was an undercover cop in the group, who seems to have participated in the beating. It’s impossible for me not to wonder if this gangs wild rides were not tolerated due to some sort of inside connection with the police.
http://nypost.com/2014/01/18/victim-of-motorcylce-gang-beating-sues-city-over-biker-cops/
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/undercover-lied-role-biker-beatdown-suv-driver-source-article-1.1479369

 

- Don’t forget the corruption of Bernard Kerik. At least he wasn’t above the law, but how did he get so high up?:
http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-02-27/news/bernie-kerik-passes-along-his-infection/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/18/AR2007121802333.html

 

- Every year thousands of lawsuits are filed against the NYPD, as are tens of thousands of complaints:

http://thefreethoughtproject.com/isolated-incidents-lawsuit-filed-nypd-2-12-hours/

 

- Cop kicks fruit vendor without provocation, claims fruit vendor assaulted him, assistant DA files charges anyway even though he had seen the video, then backs down when called on it:

http://gothamist.com/2015/02/14/assault_charges_dropped_for_fruit_v.php

 
5. Several lines of evidence suggest a culture of retaliation inside the NYPD which is impeding attempts at reform.
NYPD officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly taped evidence of illegal quotas for ticketing people being put on officers, and orders to take steps to skew statistics by downgrading the level of crime reported. A group of 20 officers showed up at his house and took him off to a mental hospital, where he was confined for a week.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_Schoolcraft

 

http://www.villagevoice.com/specialReports/the-nypd-tapes-the-village-voices-series-on-adrian-schoolcraft-by-graham-rayman-4393217/

 

It appears that the police may have attempted to retaliate against the person who taped the killing of Eric Garner. The person who made the tape was arrested days later for supposedly giving a gun to a minor. There were no fingerprints on the gun, and DNA evidence is taking quite a while:

 

http://www.silive.com/northshore/index.ssf/2014/08/despite_his_testimony_grand_ju.html

 

http://spectator.org/blog/61157/guy-who-filmed-eric-garner-death-gets-indicted

 

A cop who was left to die by his fellow officers because of his role in an anti-corruption probe still gets hate mail for violating the “blue wall of silence”.

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-police-are-still-out-of-control-112160.html#.VKAiBlIMBA

 

6. More diffuse issues such as “gentrification” are also interwoven with the other problems I am discussing here. The vigorous enforcement of “quality of life” laws is good for property values, and that is considered a good thing in most places, but in a renter city like NYC, things are different. Increased property values drive out working class families, ironically denying them the safer neighborhoods that reduced crime was supposed to bring them. In tightly knit communities, keeping things somewhat dingy looking is beneficial to the residents, who feel safe themselves, and are happy not to have too many new people trying to move to their neighborhood too fast.

 

The sense is that longtime residents are being bothered for minor offenses that would previously have been ignored, and that this is being done for the benefit of real estate interests who naturally want the best paying tenants they can get. It also fills the cities coffers with fines.

 

Broken window theory has merits if not applied excessively, but it morphed into “zero tolerance”, which is very much against the New York way of life:

 

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/excessive-force

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,41921,00.html

http://www.psmag.com/navigation/politics-and-law/breaking-broken-windows-theory-72310/

http://www.businessinsider.com/criticism-for-giulianis-broken-windows-theory-2014-12

 

Here are of the more absurd and annoying (if fairly harmless) examples of excessive ticketing and restrictions on things that make city life tolerable for working class people:

 

http://gothamist.com/2011/05/09/in_cyclist_crackdown_cops_told_to_e.php

 

http://gothamist.com/2011/05/25/cyclist_class_action_lawsuit_expect.php

 

http://gothamist.com/2011/02/25/cops_ticket_cyclists_in_central_par.php

 

http://www.rockawave.com/news/2003-05-30/Columnists/020.html

 

http://nypost.com/2014/06/05/nypd-is-cracking-down-at-rockaway-beaches/

 

http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20101117/washington-heights-inwood/chess-players-ticketed-by-nypd-for-using-inwood-hill-park-chess-

tables

 

http://www.ny1.com/content/news/30372/bronx-resident-gets-a-ticket-for-sitting-on-milk-crate

 

http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/07/09/nypd-issues-more-tickets-for-sidewalk-riding-than-speeding-on-local-streets/

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daron-murphy/true-crime-how-i-was-put-_b_3500257.html

 

http://www.thirteen.org/nyvoices/features/license.html

 

http://www.villagevoice.com/2002-11-26/news/a-crash-course-in-cabarets/

 

 

7. Adding to the dull, aching sense of loss that gentrification strikes in the hearts of longtime New Yorkers is the knowledge that one of the factors driving up real estate values is rich foreigners buying apartments that they won’t live in, and using them as tax shelters.

http://nymag.com/news/features/foreigners-hiding-money-new-york-real-estate-2014-6/

 

-The developers who have benefited the most from the building boom are not honest folks, and they seem to be above the law. This sort of thing magnifies the sense of rage at injustice and inequality in our city.

http://nypost.com/2012/04/30/cutting-cheaters-a-break/

 

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/huge-contractor-bovis-lend-lease-hit-fraud-charges-overbilling-jobs-city-article-1.1066636

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/nyregion/lend-lease-expected-to-admit-to-fraud-scheme.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

http://www.wnyc.org/story/202224-blog-feds-settlement-reached-construction-firm-linked-deutsche-bank/

 

https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=14969

 

- What I personally saw of Bovis (name changed to Lend Lease Corporation):

They were in charge of demolishing a building in front of my building. They put back-hoes on the roof and smashed the roof in by driving around and hitting the roof with the backhoe. I looked at it with worry for days until my worries were proved correct:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/15/nyregion/15collapse.html?pagewanted=all&gwh=AC096444C5B61D1AA2A525CCE3438344&gwt=pay

 

 

8. Drug laws, “broken windows” policing, and economic and political interests invested in the prison system combine to make a toxic soup of injustice.

 

- Drug war and incarceration rates
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Incarceration_rates_worldwide.gif

 

http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/drug-war-mass-incarceration-and-race

http://theblinker.com/mainpage/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/average-marijuana-arrests-daily-new-york-city-1978-2014-Harry-Levine-CUNY-Queens-College.jpg

 

- More than half of people in prison are there for drug offenses:
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-xv6hNQdIt0U/UCWBVN5BG8I/AAAAAAAABYw/z2FscK_3V08/s320/types+of+offenses.png

 

-Marjiuana arrests have risen even as violent crime arrests have fallen:
http://mic.com/articles/107088/watch-america-s-prison-system-explode-in-one-alarming-gif

 

- Special interests fighting to keep the drug war going:
http://mic.com/articles/95682/these-5-groups-are-standing-in-the-way-of-you-and-legal-marijuana

http://reason.com/blog/2012/08/22/what-does-it-mean-that-public-sector-pri

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/27/opinion/prison-based-gerrymandering.html
http://www.vice.com/read/prison-gerrymandering-is-absolute-bullshit

 

The drug war was founded on racism:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/marijuana-prohibition-racist_n_4590190.html

 

 

9. There are many other cultural dynamics outside of policing which highlight the fact that systemic and culturally entrenched racism is still very much with us:

 

-Having a black sounding name is a real handicap:

http://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/w9873.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_undercover_economist/2008/02/amazing_racism.html

 

College education doesn’t close the gap:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/us/01race.html?_r=0

 

- There also seems to be a problem with racial bias in doctor-patient interactions:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140753/

 

- “Positive feedback bias” from teachers, which lowers standards on minority students.: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/05/when-teachers-overcompensate-for-racial-prejudice/256951/

 

 

10. And finally, some perspectives on Ferguson:
http://www.npr.org/2014/08/25/343143937/in-ferguson-court-fines-and-fees-fuel-anger

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/15/the-day-ferguson-cops-were-caught-in-a-bloody-lie.html

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/michael-brown-shooting/black-st-louis-suburbs-hit-ticket-blitz-n185061

http://www.newsweek.com/ferguson-profiling-police-courts-shooting-264744

http://warontherocks.com/2014/08/ferguson-and-the-lessons-of-conflict-zone-policing/

https://medium.com/war-is-boring/even-the-armys-crowd-control-rulebook-says-ferguson-police-tactics-are-dumb-541156b710f2

 

 

I think that the above examples should amply demonstrate that the problem of blacks not getting a fair shake in this country is still very much with us, that excessive policing is a real problem, and that when the two are combined, the result is particularly toxic. These issues are urgent and must be reckoned with now and not later. It’s gone on for too long already.

 

 James Hanks is a life-long New Yorker, and has no special expertise in the area of criminal justice.

 

Note:  This is the first part of a two part series.  The second piece will focus on Baltimore and will be published on 7/26/15.

 

Flexible Labor and the Precarious Economy

July 5th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

work pic 1

Precarious or contingent workers are defined broadly as those with a lack of an attachment to their employer. Examples of this include part-time workers, independent contractors, temps, and interns. Recent scholarship has highlighted the rise of precarious work arrangements since the 1970s, as this group occupies nearly 30% of the American workforce.[1] This group is incredibly diverse encompassing a variety of skill levels and education from the worker making your burger at McDonalds to the adjunct professor teaching at the local college.  This leads us to a couple questions: Why has this shift occurred and how does it impact American workers?

 

The rise of the precarious workforce is likely a result of the shift in the American economy from manufacturing to the service industry as well as the transition from the “breadwinner” household to that of the “dual-earner” or single parent household. This transition has led both organizations and workers to look for greater flexibility in their employment relationship. However as the push for flexibility occurs from both sides, it seems that many organizations have taken advantage of this.

 

Research from sociologist Arne Kalleberg et al. suggests that precarious work arrangements increase workers’ vulnerability to low pay without offering fringe benefits (such as health insurance). Precarious workers are also not under the same legal protection as regular employees, and thus are increasingly vulnerable to sexual harassment, discrimination, and health/safety violations. Not only are these positions harsh for those in them, but some evidence suggests these work arrangements have a negative effect on all employees. Statistical analysis of survey data suggests that when firms utilize precarious work arrangements, the employment security of all workers is negatively impacted. As precarious work negatively affects both workers within these positions and full-time workers alongside them, how can this situation be mitigated?

 

In the age of the global economy where competition is greater than ever, our labor policy must strike a balance between the ability of organizations to have flexibility in labor use and workers to have security in their employment. The days of the “company man” are gone and as increasing numbers of Americans fall into precarious work arrangements and transition from job to job more frequently we must ask ourselves how we can adapt to these macro-economic changes? This can be done largely by expanding the social safety net and socializing the risks employees face as a result of the increase in precarious work arrangements. Many will roll their eyes at the last sentence, yet everyone is benefiting from precarious workers in one way or another, companies enjoy record profits through cheap labor and consumers enjoy the cheap services provided by the precarious workforce.  As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we have the ability to provide everyone with a decent living, however the question remains: do we have the dignity to do so?

 

 

 

Kevin McElrath


[1] Ross Perlin, Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. Brooklyn, NY: Verso (2011).

 

Profits Flow as California Drought Worsens

June 28th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

drought pic

California enters the summer in the midst of a historically bad drought that has plagued much of the state for nearly four years. In recent months, Governor Jerry Brown implemented the first water restrictions, highlighted by a 25% decrease in water usage by citizens and non-agriculture businesses. A crisis such as this certainly warrants a response, but what we must ask ourselves is was this an efficient way to address the worst drought California has seen in the last 100 years?

 

California has been dubbed an agricultural superpower, producing roughly half of the county’s fruits, nuts and vegetables as well as exporting a large amount of agricultural products to China. This agricultural prowess provides jobs to Californians and a sizable portion of the food consumed in the US, yet it is an extremely wasteful process in terms of water use. As Mark Hertsgaard reports, Agriculture uses 80% of the water in California while only contributing 5% of the state GDP.  As the state’s largest water user, why was the agricultural industry spared from the recent restrictions placed on water consumption?

 

While the recent restrictions on water consumption didn’t include the agricultural industry, the past year has seen federal and state water agencies drastically reducing the amount of water distributed to farmers in California. This has had a major impact on farmer’s lives as a large majority of acres remain unplanted and economic livelihoods lost. However, with a vast amount of resources and capital “Big Agriculture” has been able to continue normal production and has boasted of record profits recently. In the face of a decrease in available water from state and federal agencies, corporate farms have turned to ground water extraction.

 

The deep pockets of “Big Ag” and lack of state regulation have allowed companies to continue drilling deeper for groundwater, something that the average farmer cannot afford to do. Much of this is due to the political clout of the agricultural industry in California. Billionaires such as Stewart Resnick have been among the top contributors to the political campaigns of California’s top politicians. This clout is evident in the recent fight for ground water legislation, which due to agricultural interests will not be implemented until 2022 and full implementation won’t occur until 2040. Further, agricultural lobbyists continue to fight increases in the price of water which is kept cheap due to federal and state subsidies. California is also the only western dry state without legislation on ground water use. This drilling is at the expense of other Californians, as continued overuse of ground water could destroy aquifers and leave the ground barren.

 

This turns us back to the question of what type of policy should be in place to get California through an environmental crisis. Should large corporations be allowed to buy their way out of the drought? It’s a simple question, should public policy favor corporate profits over the needs of the masses? Policy should be logical and efficient, California’s recent actions are not.

 

For more on Big Agriculture and the California drought see the following:

 

http://www.alternet.org/environment/why-jerry-brown-letting-big-ag-and-oil-gluttons-suck-most-californias-water

 

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/04/03/dry-california-thirsty-oil-and-big-ag-industries-exempt-water-regulations

 

http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article17268866.html

 

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Critics-say-agriculture-unfairly-left-out-of-6178208.php

 

Kevin McElrath

 

Kevin McElrath is a PhD student in sociology at Stony Brook University. His research focuses on work, economic inequality, and labor markets. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2014 with a BA in sociology. He is an avid sports fan following the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Cavaliers and Duke Blue Devils.

 

 

 

 

Three important Lessons About Blogging

June 24th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

generating idea 03

As a blogger, freelance writer, and regular contributor to Can the Man it is often hard to continue to come up with fresh topics to write about on a daily basis.  While I was stumped on what to write about this week I did a quick internet search to find an exciting topic.

 

I happened upon the “Blog Post Idea Generator” on www.buildyourownblog.net.   The idea generator is an interesting tool that produces prompts for blog writing.  This tool functions very similarly to writing prompts that I have used in writing classes and workshops to stimulate various writing projects from personal essays to short stories.

 

When clicking on the generator it produces a kernel of a thought to build on.  The one that was generated for me was “Lessons I have learned…”  This got me thinking about the lessons I have learned about blogging.  After considering it for a while I came up with three of the most important things I have learned about blogging:

 

1.  Variation:  It is important to vary the content of your blogs.  Blogging can be a great way to explore many different interests.  The short blog format allows one to wade into topics without having to delve deeply.  It is a great excuse to learn about new subjects and expand one’s knowledge.  Variation is also good for growing a readership because it draws more people to your website with diverse interests.  Also, it keeps the content fresh so your readers don’t get bored.

 

2.  Boosting the blog with Media:  The blog format is conducive to using other types of media than simple text.  Individuals have many different ways that they learn best from visual to audio learners.  So, it is important to utilize the blog format by incorporating other media such as videos and pictures, this creates a richer experience for your readership by catering to various ways people enjoy consuming information.

 

3.  Keep it Simple:  Blogs are best when they are not too lengthy and don’t consist of lots of complex language.  In much of the academic writing I have done the language must be of a technical nature and often it is bogged down by stuffy jargon.  Blogs should generally be more conversational than many other types of writing, even more so than what you would find in a news magazine like Time or in your daily newspaper.  I usually sign only my first name to the blogs because I feel that I am developing a more intimate connection with the reader, so the formalities can be stripped away.

 

So these are some of the most important aspects of blogging I have learned over the past few years.  With these tips and tools like the idea generator, you could be well on your way to a blogging career of your own!

 

Loren

Five Important Quotes from Ronald Reagan that offer a Glimpse of the Man behind the Legend

June 14th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

 ronald_reagan_funny

Some people view Ronald Reagan as the demigod and other as a demi-clod.  No matter what your opinion of “The Great Communicator,” you have to admit that he produced some entertaining quotes.  Here are five notable utterances from the actor-president.

 

1.  Reagan on the Military: “You have to remember, we don’t have the military industrial complex we once had, when President Eisenhower spoke about it.”  (1/5/83)

 

2.  “The Gipper” on Unemployment: “Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders.”  (Sacramento Bee, 4/28/66)

 

3.  Important thoughts on Political Theory: “Fascism’s private ownership, private enterprise, but [with] total government control and regulation.   Well, isn’t this the liberal philosophy?”  (Newsweek, 1/12/76)

 

4.  Nancy’s husband on the virtues of Nuclear Energy:  “Nuclear power is the cleanest, the most efficient, and the most economical energy source, with no environmental problems.”  (Sierra, 9/10/80)

 

5.  Reagan’s stand on the Civil Rights Act: “I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at the point of a bayonet, if necessary.”  (L.A. Times, 10/20/65)

 

Then: “I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”  (L.A. Times, 6/17/66)

 

Loren

The Patriot Act, The Freedom Act, and the Future of Surveillance

June 7th, 2015 Print This Post Print This Post

patriotism

Despite its name the Patriot Act has done little to advance causes that benefit most citizens in the United States.  Since the legislation passed in the wake of 9/11 that act has curtailed many rights of citizens for many reasons, including allowing the government unprecedented access to information that citizens once had the right to keep private.

 

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s leak of information sparked a new debate on how much the United States could spy on its own citizens.  The debate had been raging for weeks in Congress, leading to deep divisions within the Republican Party and across party lines.

 

What Happened

 

After a heated debate in congress led by Mitch McConnell who vehemently supports government oversight of U.S. citizens’ in the name of security and Rand Paul who asserts that such programs are curtailing freedoms a decision was reached.  On June 1st Section 215 of the  Patriot Act, the provision that allowed for the National Security Agency’s aggressive information gathering program, was allowed to expire.

 

The Freedom Act

 

For those who support the Patriot Act, their reasoning can be boiled down to a single phrase “national security.”  Opponents assert that the premise that the Patriot Act greatly improves national security is deeply flawed and the greater result from the type of security measures that the Patriot Act allows is a curtailment of basic rights.  Other opponents such as Rand Paul contend that the act is an assault of privacy and must be stopped at once.  As a substitute for the protection lost under the Patriot Act, the Freedom Act (another bill with a lofty, but misleading name) would allow government surveillance with additional bureaucratic oversight.   More on the freedom act here.

 

What Does this Mean?

 

Allowing Section 215 to elapse is a victory for those who believe that the U.S. government is overreaching its limitations on domestic surveillance.  But the debate will continue to rage and other infringements on civil liberties remain unchecked.

 

Here are some helpful links for further reading:

 

http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/22/politics/patriot-act-debate-explainer-nsa/

 

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/fivepoints/the-usa-freedom-act-explained

 

http://www.vox.com/2015/6/2/8714649/senate-usa-freedom-act

 

 

Loren