Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is billionaire right-winger David Koch strangling free speech on TV?

There used to be a saying that anyone in America could enjoy freedom of the press – as long as you were rich enough to own a press.

For a while there, it looked as if things were changing. Blogging on the Internet meant anyone could have his or her own newspaper.

That turned out to be mostly an apparition.

Yes, a million people ( Or is it a billion? Or is it a zillion?) have blogs these days. Anyone can write anything in some countries, including ours. But there are so many bloggers out there competing for attention that the attention gets very finely divided. With a few exceptions, it's a small miracle for most bloggers when 100 people check one of us out in a single day.

On the other hand there’s the billionaire David Koch, who is reported to have donated “$23 million” or more to various public broadcasting operations over the years. Do you suppose anybody thought he didn’t want something for that kind of money?

Like what? Like control.

A recent story in the New Yorker reports on David Koch’s influence and how that led to WNET, New York City’s public broadcasting outlet, from airing a movie on the subject of….yes, you guessed it. David Koch.

Not only that, reports the New Yorker, but in one of the most expensive Manhattan co-ops in the city (you need to show a liquid net worth of over $100 million before they’ll let you buy an apartment in the building for $20 million, or $60 million, or whatever the prices are these days) Koch is a cheapskate when it comes to tipping. In fact, he’d make Ebenezer Scrooge look like Mr. Generosity. If $50 at Christmas is how he treats the people who take care of them, imagine how he’d care for the people he doesn’t give a damn for.

Read the New Yorker article here. Read the Koch organization’s equivocating reply here. Read about the Park Avenue building Koch lives in, with several other sleazy multi-millionaires and billionaires here.

Then head straight for the toilet and vomit.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce: The New York Crank manages to finish up jury duty without his head exploding

 The old clichés are most assuredly the best clichés. I offer you “The wheels of justice grind slow,” as a flawless example. If you want proof of its flawlessness, just hightail your butt over to any of the courthouses in lower Manhattan and watch almost nothing happening at a majestically sluggish pace.

On the sixth of this month, eleven days ago in case you don’t want to count on your fingers, I showed up in one of the three separate court buildings I’d be entering and exiting in the ensuing two weeks. There was a long line stretching out into the street, because getting into a court building in lower Manhattan is a close approximation to boarding an airliner on a day when hijacking rumors are buzzing around the airport like platoons of rampaging mosquitoes wild with uncontrollable blood lust.

The courthouse airport shuffle

I took off my belt and tried to hold up my pants with my elbows while I took my cell phone, coins, keys and pen and deposited them in a Tupperware tub. Then I shuffled through a metal detector, which had been turned down low enough not to get set off by the fillings in my teeth, and retrieved my stuff just past the court officer with the electronic magic wand.

I spent the next hour or so in a large “jury room,” listening to a court officer drone on about how many perforated places we should find and tear apart on our jury summonses and in which basket on the front desk which part the summons should be deposited. Then they showed us a video that teaches how justice conquers all thanks to selfless jurors, and then let us sit and stew in our own selfless boredom for a while. (The courts do have Wi-Fi, but there’s no secureplace to leave your computer when you shuffle from building to building, floor to floor, and lunch place to court. You just have to lug it around with you all day. I wisely opted to leave mine at home.)

“We just can’t frisk you enough”

Right before lunch, a court officer led us downstairs, across the street, and a block to the south where we entered another court building, with more metal detectors and Tupperware boxes. From there we were led into another jury room, where we sat around for a while. Eventually, my name was among those of 60 potential jurors, who were lined up and sent downstairs to an actual courtroom for possible jury selection in a criminal trial.

It looked like it might be an interesting case. It had to do with crack cocaine. Some dude had sold “more than an ounce” – the dividing line in New York between "doing a little time" and sitting in prison until you rot –to an undercover narc. Almost instantly the jurors started to wonder aloud, to the discomfort of the judge and prosecutor, “Is this an entrapment case?” “How much more than an ounce? A microgram more or a truckload more? Do I have to sit on this jury if I think drugs should be legalized?”

Jurors of indeterminate gender

The judge finally stopped the jury from turning the tables and questioning the lawyers, since that would be like the asylum inmates grilling the psychiatrists. Eventually, the defense lawyer and the prosecutor chose their jury. I wasn’t wanted. Sex evidently played a role in the selection of this particular jury. The lawyers had chosen ten women and two people whose gender appeared undecided.

We were told to go back to the first room we had visited that morning, which meant crossing the street, going up the block, and going through the security line and the metal detectors again.

“If you’re here, go there.
But if you’re there, come here.”

Back in the first cattle pen, the clerk announced that we had blown our chance for a criminal trial and were now about to get shunted to a different court building for a civil trial. Again, we lined up, went downstairs, marched two blocks this time, entered the “Supreme Court” building (which in New York belies its title by conducting jury trials and having two levels of appeal above it.) Next, again having been duly frisked electronically, were told we had an hour for lunch.

Meanwhile, sixty jurors who were in the Supreme Court jury room when we arrived there were sent back across the street to a criminal case. The rule of thumb in New York courts is, wherever you are, you need to go somewhere else.

"Hey, we're close to Chinatown!"

One hour is just enough time not to be able to make it over to one of those great cheap Chinatown eateries, order something exotic, gulp it down, run back to court, and stand in the long security line for yet another frisking. So I ate a bad salad at a close-by bad deli, got back in line to get re-frisked, and returned to the jury waiting room in the not-so-Supreme Court building.

Early that afternoon, I got picked for a jury. This one had to do with a woman who tripped over a safety “shunt board” that covers electrical wires strung across a sidewalk. She tripped on it, took a flop and shattered her patella.

“If you think you’re impatient to get this trial going think of us,” whined one of the lawyers, while examining us to see if we were worthy to decide whose fault the wrecked knee was and how much it was worth. “We’ve been waiting for a trial for three and a half years now.”

Well, if they were in such a hurry to finish up the case, why didn’t they just settle it three and a half years ago? During the trial, I’d find out why.

“I want everything.”
“You’ll get nothing.”

The utility company that had placed the shunt board that the woman tripped on took the position, in effect, that “She shoulda watched where she was goin,’” and that therefore, they had no responsibility and owed her nothing. True, they had provided not an iota of extra light at night near the sign on a dark-ish block. No, there were no visual cues that the bump in the sidewalk was coming, such as orange cones or stanchions. But she shoulda watched where she was goin’. Hey, this is Noo Yawk!

The woman with the busted knee claimed no days of lost work, is not confined to a bed, wheel chair or a walker, presented no medical expenses (she’s presumably insured), demonstrated no loss of income or ability to make a living, paced the corridors during breaks and crossed her legs in the back of the courtroom. She complained only that she had some ongoing knee pain and that she could no longer take long energetic walks every night with her husband, (thus destroying her lifestyle, one supposes.) Then, perhaps fatally, she declared during her testimony, “Well, I feel I’m entitled to compensation.”

Entitled? Bad choice of language. If you live in one of the fancier ‘burbs and have a husband who testifies he’s a tax and estates lawyer, it’s not smart to claim entitlement in front of a six-person jury where two of the women are working-class Hispanics and everybody’s losing work listening to your complaints and demands.

Especially not considering that, after the jury was chosen, the trial was postponed for three days by one of the participants, and further into it, postponed another day by the judge.

“Can’t we just give her money
without somebody being at fault?”

But if you think the use of “entitled” blew some minds on the jury, you should have seen the shock when the plaintiff’s lawyer wrote “$500,000” on a big art pad with magic marker and suggested to women who deal with the daily aches and pains of their work for a salary less than a tenth of the award he wanted, that half a million bucks would be the only fair compensation to his victimized client.

Back in the jury room, it was chaos. None of us thought the pain and suffering caused by the injury was worth more than 50 grand, much less 500 grand. At least not on the basis of the evidence presented to us. And some wanted to give less. One woman, buying the electric utility lawyer’s reasoning, wanted to pay nothing because the plaintiff shoulda watched where she was goin’. Another wanted to award some money, but didn’t want to declare the electric utility culpable of negligence. It took nearly superhuman effort, and a not inconsiderable amount of time, to explain to her, over and over again, why you couldn’t give somebody money unless the other side was negligent. I mean, if you want proof that our schools are failing us when it comes to simple reasoning, just go sit in a jury room.

As the deliberations droned on, I kept hoping the lawyers in the courtroom would settle. “Maybe we can force them to settle,” I said sotto voce to a fellow juror. “We can send out two questions to the judge: 1. How many zeros are there in a gazillion dollars? And 2. Can we order the plaintiff to pay the utility’s legal fees?”

In the end, I think both parties got what they deserved. The jury put the utility on notice that while “Hey, jerk, watch where ya goin!” is a familiar New York idiom, that attitude might one day, although not with this jury, start costing them some serious money. And that maybe they ought to think about shining more light on those shunt boards. Or maybe just decorate them with reflective tape.

And the trip-and-fall lady and her negligence lawyer get to divvy up the 25 grand for pain and suffering and three and a half years of legal representation, however they agree to do it. Maybe next they can sue each other. Meanwhile, the lawyer with the watch-where-you’re-goin’ attitude has another lost case on his tally sheet. Next time maybe both sides will settle.

I coulda gone to Paris

As for me, I’m self-employed in a business where unless I can commit in advance to assignments, I can’t get them. While I spent only spent six days in court, those days were spread over two full weeks, thanks to the four days total of postponement. The state compensated me, $40 a day for the days I was in court only. I’ll never know how much daily income I lost.

Meanwhile, I had been through the courthouse metal detectors more so many times, I could have taken several airline trips to Paris.

As the jury exited the courtroom, I could nearly feel the glares from both parties burning into our backs. Oh yeah! We left nobody feeling happy.

Let me tell you jokers something. If don’t like the result you got, settle this crap on your own next time.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Right you are, Mayor Bloomberg. More stop-and-frisks mean fewer crimes. And if we put everybody in concentration camps, there’d be fewer crimes still.

The scandals growing out of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policy grow larger and more outrageous every day.

In the Bronx, an Afro-American medical student named David Floyd got stopped and frisked twice, once for being black while walking, a second time for having the temerity to help a neighbor who had been locked out.

An organization called the Center for Constitutional Rights, after interviewing stop-and-risk victims – “victims” is the only proper term for most of them – made this finding:
A number of people interviewed by CCR stated that during the course of being stopped by the NYPD they were inappropriately touched, sexually harassed, and/ or sexually assaulted. Several interviewees described having their genitals touched or groped by the NYPD during searches and/or were told or forced by the NYPD to remove their clothes in public. Speaking out against inappropriate touching can lead to a charge of resisting arrest. These experiences often leave people feeling disrespected and violated. 
And the victims have a right to be scared. You can be innocent of anything, and spend weeks and months going back and forth to court, after being arrested on a trumped up charge after a stop-and-frisk search. Your life and your future can be ruined even if a judge eventually throws out your arrest as unwarranted. You can lose your job (and quite a few people do.)  Few companies want to hear that their employees have been absent because they’ve been arrested. You can even lose your homeless shelter pass for not being there because you were being held by a cop trying to make quota.

A whistle-blower policeman named Pedro Serrano, now in deep trouble for getting fed up with the system that forced him to stop, frisk and sometimes arrest innocent people, tape-recorded his supervisors giving clearly illegal orders and suggestions. 
Bronx NYPD officer Pedro Serrano taped his supervisor telling him, in a recording that was introduced as evidence in court, “The problem was what? Male blacks. And I told you that at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this: male blacks 14 to 20.”
And then there are stop-and-frisk incidents that lead to sheer, unwarranted brutality, like this one:
My jeans were ripped. I had bruises on my face. My whole face was swollen. I was sent to the precinct for disorderly conduct. I got out two days later. The charges were dismissed. At central booking, they threw out the charge. No charge. I felt like I couldn’t defend myself, didn’t know what to do. No witnesses there to see what was going on. I just wish someone was there to witness it. I felt like no one would believe me. I couldn’t tell anyone. I kept it in till now... I still am scared.
You’d think that anyone with a sense of justice, or even a dim inkling of basic morality, would be outraged by this. But not Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is all but commiting verbal assault against those who support moves – from court actions to proposed legislation – to limit these stop-and-frisks and to have an Inspector General review cases. Hey, the U.S. Army has an IG. The State Department has one. So do numerous other Federal departments and agencies. But heaven forbid we should have impartial inspectors in New York City government. The police department and the mayor insist they should be above the law. Why?
In what was described as “a 45 minute tirade” by the Huffington Post – a rant amplified by other statements made he to TV cameras in New York City ­– Bloomberg blasted the enemies of police state-ism.
"Make no mistake, this is a dangerous piece of legislation and anyone who supports it is courting disaster," Bloomberg said, addressing a crowd of dozens of uniformed police officers on the second floor of police headquarters."If you end street stops looking for guns, there will be more guns on the streets, and more people will be killed. It’s that simple."
No Mayor, only a simpleton would think it’s that simple, and the fact that you did your preaching in a roomful of the converted is almost prima facie evidence that you know damn well it’s not that simple. 
What you’re doing is the equivalent of bombing and strafing the entire Boston Marathon – runners, innocent bystanders and the press – to kill some bombers “before they do any harm.” Your cops aren't looking for guns. They're searching people whom they know perfectly well aren't carrying guns. Your cops are looking to make their stop-and-frisk and arrest quotas.
Some facts and figures you don’t want to hear, Mayor:
                In 88 percent of these encounters—4.4 million—the person detained was doing nothing wrong.
                Nearly 90 percent of those stopped were Black or Latino.
                Only 1.9 percent of those frisked in 2011 had a weapon.
          In 2002, there were less than 100,000 stop-and-frisk stops; in 2011 there were 685,724—a 600 percent increase.
The truth is, for seven years or so I lived three blocks from the mayor’s private mansion, which is located on East 79th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenue, in New York’s richest zip code, 10021. In all that time I saw not one of these over half-a-million stop-and-frisks, simply because they don’t happen to white people in rich white neighborhoods.
If they did, if the teenager children of bankers and bond brokers and corporate moguls got stopped and frisked and felt up and brutalized and busted on the way to prep-school, the way it happens to kids in other boroughs and parts of Manhattan on the way to high school, the practice would stop in a millisecond.
Yes, a reasonable ­– I said reasonable – suspicion of illegal possession of a weapon, or of possession of stolen property or hard drugs ought to be investigated. But the cops aren’t acting on their suspicions, based on the search victim's "walking in a furtive manner," whatever that means. The cops are just trying to make their numbers. And the mayor and the police commissioner know that, perfectly well.