Archive for June, 2016

The crime that dare not speak its name

The ugly truth is that the Orlando shooting was not an act of terror; it was a good old-fashioned American hate crime. The connection between the shooter, Omar Mateen, and radical Islamist groups appears to have been aspirational at most. Sure, ISIS accepted credit for his bloody rampage. Why not? He gave them a freebie.

Terrorism is a political act of desperation. Those who commit terrorist acts are driven by principle, however misguided. Their intent is to induce a nation state to do their bidding by frightening its populace. On 9/11, for example, al Qaeda wanted to goad the United States into invading Afghanistan where their leader, Osama bin Laden, believed we would suffer a fate similar to that of the Soviet Union—a humiliating defeat followed a collapse of our government and economic system. Fifteen years later we are still bogged down in that benighted South Asian country with no clear exit. It is only thanks to the strength and resilience of our economy that bin Laden’s expectations have not come to pass—at least not yet.

President George W. Bush, for reasons at which we can only wonder, doubled down on bin Laden’s gamble by invading Iraq and completely destabilizing the Middle East. By removing the secular Baathist government of Saddam Hussein, Bush set the stage for the rise of the Islamic State, ISIS, and the resumption of the centuries old civil war among competing radical Islamist factions. For each their own reasons, the traditional world powers have been unable to resist the temptation to perpetuate the mess they have made in the region over the past 150 years by intervening in that conflict. Faced with mighty militaries of the US, the EU, and Russia, ISIS has turned to the only weapon at their disposal: terrorism.

It is not my intent to justify attacks on innocent civilians whether committed by bands of terrorists or by drones and bombers. My point is simply that terrorism exists in a political context and has a certain logic within that context. The killing of some 50 patrons of a gay nightclub is clearly outside of that context. It is a hate crime motived as such crimes usually are by hatred and fear. Mateen appears to have fought with the demons of his own ambiguous sexuality. In the absence of rational controls on firearms he was able turn those demons on hundreds of innocent people. Do not dignify this atrocity by calling it terrorism or excuse it by blaming it on foreign ideologues. It was nothing more, or less, than the sort of radical bigotry that has been a part of the American experience from the beginning empowered by the suicide pact we call the 2nd Amendment. In the end, we cannot stop ignorance and hatred but we can disarm it. Calling a crime like this one terrorism only supports who mistakenly believe that an armed citizenry somehow contributes to our national security. The enemy here is not ISIS, it is the NRA. And it is time to take the fight to them.

A New York state of spying

We New Yorkers like to think of our state as rather progressive and in many ways it is. However, when it comes to surveillance, especially electronic surveillance, the Empire State is stuck in the era of rotary-dial phones and black-and-white photography. While it is illegal to intercept a phone call or other conversation between two parties not including yourself, you can record communications between yourself and another person without that person’s knowledge or permission. The matter of video surveillance is even more egregious. Your neighbor, or anyone else for that matter, can position overt or hidden cameras to image your property, even the inside of your house, so long as they do not look into areas where you have “an expectation of privacy”—rather narrowly defined as your bathroom or bedroom. In other words, think twice about going around your living room naked because someone could—entirely legally—be recording you doing so. And, short of outright blackmail, there are few restrictions on what they can do with that recording. Ok, so perhaps not many people go to the trouble and expense of targeting someone for surveillance. But what about your paranoid neighbor whose house and yard bristle with infrared cameras? What if those cameras just happen to image your property? Too bad. There is no law in New York State that says that such systems must be installed to view only the owner’s property. In fact, your neighbor can sit in his yard and look into your windows with binoculars and be entirely within the law.  

If, like me, you think that this is outrageous, I urge you to write to your State Senator and Assembly Representative. Demand that they introduce legislation to protect the privacy of New Yorkers from deliberate and incidental invasion by the ubiquitous panoply of electronic surveillance devices. If you do not know who your representatives are, contact me at and I will provide you with that information. Stopping illegal surveillance by the government is not enough; we need laws protecting us from freelance spying as well.

Let Trump be “the Donald”

The Democrats and liberal media need to stop attacking Donald Trump over his many questionable business dealings…until after the Republican convention. Why? Because bringing Trump down before the convention is a dangerous strategy. Suppose he is found to have committed crimes in the operation of Trump University. The Republican National Committee could use that to invalidate his primary victories and throw open the convention. The result would almost certainly be a stronger GOP candidate without the contrived negatives that Clinton faces. And that could endanger a near-certain Democratic victory in November.

Instead Democrats should spend this next month building up Secretary Clinton by aggressively debunking the decades of dishonest right wing attacks on her. Far too many Americans across the political spectrum suspect that she is deceitful and corrupt despite the total lack of evidence to support those attacks.  Her supporters need to emphasize her experience, intelligence, and integrity to counter those untruths. As anyone who have ever met her will attest, in person Ms. Clinton is warm, open, and charming. Her political strength has always been her ability to connect with small groups. Through the primary campaign she has begun to come out of her shell somewhat. It is time for her and her staff to let the voting public see the real Hillary Clinton.

And meanwhile those of us who support Clinton need to lay off the Donald and let the GOP dig its own grave. Taking him down while the Republican Party still has time to regroup is a serious mistake.

The case against Vice President Sanders

Now that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, the Bernie Bros are lobbying for her to choose Senator Sanders as her vice presidential running mate. That would be a big mistake for a number of reasons.

First of all, Senator Sanders is not a team player and, frankly, can not be trusted. It is critical, especially in foreign affairs, for the US government to be seen as speaking with one voice. That does not mean blindly acquiescing to the president’s wishes—Vice President Biden is known to have strongly opposed some actions taken by the Obama administration, notably the raid to capture Osama bin Laden. But once everyone has been heard behind closed doors and the president makes a decision, it is critical that the entire team back that course of action. In this regard, Mr. Biden has exemplified a loyal teammate. The risk that Mr. Sanders would conduct an independent foreign policy from Observatory Circle is simply too great.

Secondly, being from Vermont, Senator Sanders brings little strength to the ticket besides his appeal to the Bernie-or-bust crowd. Whether that actually would translate into votes for the Democratic ticket is doubtful. Many of those true-believers will see Mr. Sanders accepting the number two spot on the ticket as his selling out and will simply stay home on election day. Others will drift to Green Party perennial, Jill Stein. And the most rabid of Sanders’ supporters are threatening to vote for Donald Trump to “hasten the revolution.” Electorally, Senator Sanders is at best a wash.

Finally, and most importantly, is a very practical issue. Senator Sanders is 74 years old. While his life expectancy should see him through a Clinton presidency, the consequences were he to die in office are grave. In that case, under the 25th Amendment, the president would nominate a successor subject to confirmation by a majority of both houses of Congress. If recent history is any guide, in the likely event that the House of Representatives remains in Republican hands, such confirmation may well not even make it to the floor of that body. In that case, the next in line for the White House is the Speaker of the House, who might well be presidential hopeful Republican Paul Ryan. It is not difficult to image that in such a case, Congressional Republicans would be tempted to try to remove President Clinton by impeachment and accomplish what would be, in effect, a coup d’état.

If any of these scenarios seem farfetched, you have not been paying attention. The future of the country is too important for Secretary Clinton to risk choosing Senator Sanders to be Vice President. Perhaps he has done some good by goading her to the left, but it is time for him to go home and rest.

Fair and balanced is anything but

Now that Hillary Clinton has apparently clinched the Democratic nomination, setting up a general election contest between her and Donald Trump, it is interesting to see how the media refer to them. USA Today, for example, calls her “the controversial former Secretary of State.”  But there is nothing controversial about Secretary Clinton that has not be created out of whole cloth by the right wing media machine. That same paper calls Mr. Trump a “blustering billionaire,” completely ignoring the inflammatory nature of that bluster. Meanwhile, a subhead refers to the legal issues faced by both candidates as though they were equivalent. In fact, while Mr. Trump faces very real charges of impropriety and illegality in connection with Trump University while Ms. Clinton is faced with what is, at worst, a minor technical violation of a law concerning official records. And this is all in a newspaper that prides itself on being non-partisan. In an apparent effort to appear “fair and balanced” many newspapers are, in fact, introducing gross distortion into their reporting. Unless the media begin to tell the truth about the two candidates—that one is a proven public servant and that the other a self-serving con man—this election season will be a complete farce. And credit for that will go to the dark money empire of the Koch brothers whose thirty-year propaganda onslaught against the American press has so thoroughly distorted our national debate.

Black lives don’t matter in Broome County

On Mothers’ Day a two-car crash on East Maine Road in Johnson City killed a four-year old girl who was riding in a child safety seat the back of a Toyota Camry driven by a young black man. The driver of the other car, a white man driving a Cadillac Escalade, was issued eleven traffic tickets for, among other things, being in the wrong lane. But for some reason he was not charged with vehicular homicide which would be usual in a case like this. Republican Sheriff-for-life David Harder and Republican District Attorney Stephen Cornwell claim that they there were insufficient grounds to bring such a charge. Well, surprise, surprise. The driver of the Escalade, one Thomas Steyer, is married to the daughter of Broome County real estate mogul Robert Kuzel and appears to be the niece of Republican Broome County legislator Christopher Kuzel. I suppose that is enough to erase the evidence of a crime in Broome County.

This just in: DA Cornwell appears to have reversed himself and is reportedly taking this case to a grand jury. Stay tuned.