Saturday, December 08, 2012

Sanitary District 2: Will the Politics of Destruction Trump Honesty?

 [NEWS UPDATE 10:54 pm, 12/12/2012:  Final vote to Dissolve the local district was 1682 yes, 4597 no.  Local residents crushed the out-of-town political nonsese by almost 3:1!  Congratulations to Baldwin, Baldwin Harbor, South Hempstead, and Roosevelt!!!]

I was raised for the first 24 years of my life in Baldwin Harbor, on Long Island’s south shore.  Born into – and living among – other blue-collar, working class families, I was a Republican for most of my life.  

 But, as happens to many of us, time and experience change us, and I have since become an advocate for largely liberal and progressive causes.  As I eye eventually returning to Long Island in my retirement, I have looked at the political party structure in New York, and found myself drawn to the Working Families Party, a recent addition to the NY electoral scene with stridently liberal views.  Sustainable development, energy sanity, environmental stewardship, and election reform all make more sense to me than ever before.

How disheartening, then, to discover that, like the major parties who use the money and muscle of Super PACS to do their dirty work,  the Working Families Party is no different.  Operating under the parallel name of the “Long Island Progressive Coalition,” and, most recently, by the fly-by-night invented group, “RESD” (Residents for Efficient Special Districts), these so-called progressives are anything but progressive, good-government advocates; rather, they have become as nasty, dishonest, and destructive as the  Republican and Democratic SuperPACS.

The current battle – to be settled at the polls in a few days (December 12), is an effort to dismantle a special sanitary district – “Sani 2” – serving 55,000 people in the communities of Baldwin, South Hempstead, and Roosevelt on Long Island.  The stated purpose for the drive to dismantle the district is ‘cost savings,’ though no credible figures have been supplied yet.

Let's cut to the chase: the entire circus is an invention of a failed candidate for Sanitation Commissioner who, in a fit of super sour grapes, has decided that if she can’t rule the district, she will ruin it.

In 2005, Laura Mallay ran for election as a Commissioner against incumbent Gerard Brown. Apparently, at the time, she felt the special district was important enough to ask voters to give her some responsibility in managing it.

But Mallay didn’t quite understand that Long Island voters do not simply ‘award’ politicians with an office simply because that politician wakes up one day with a brilliant idea and expects applause.  Mallay was trounced in the election, losing by a margin of more than 20 points.

So, rather than consider why voters rejected her, she invented a group, “RESD,” annointed herself as its Executive Director, and began a campaign to force a vote to dissolve Sanitary District 2, and to have 55,000 residents' garbage, recycling, and hazardous materials handled by some other as-of-yet unspecified entity.

"The District," claims Mallay, “is not economically sustainable.”

This, of course, flies in the face of the reality of the District’s existence for some 85 years, and the fact that the District’s annual budget increases for the last five years have been less than the annual rate of inflation...meaning that the District actually continues to more with less, and becomes more efficient each year.

Mallay has compared Sani 2's costs with other districts, and found them to be higher.  But Mallay’s calculations conveniently neglect to mention that Sanitary District 2 engages in additional, non-mandated activities that improve life for its residents, increase environmental quality and awareness, and which are not carried out by other ‘cheaper’ services.

Sanitary District 2 purchases bulk oil contracts for other area services, saving the local fire departments, school districts, and, therefore, taxpayers -   thousands of dollars annually.  Unlike other sanitation departments, they sponsor community cleanups, waterways cleanups (the picture above is from the recent Milburn Creek cleanup), graffiti removal efforts, and greening/planting projects. The value added to the community by this community-run district is enormous.

But that means nothing to Mallay, RESD, and the LI Progressive Coalition. Rule or Ruin is the battle cry.

Flyers promoting district dissolution fail to reference any credible  sources for their secret financial information. As an Economist, I see this as a highly troubling - and disingenuous - aspect of their campaign.

Letters delivered door-to-door this weekend failed to even contain a single signature assigning responsibility for their tirades. And in fact, almost 100% of the effort to destroy the district is coming not from within the district, but from paid campaign operatives who live nowhere near Baldwin or Roosevelt.

Meanwhile, the workers at Sani2, while understandably concerned about being tossed to the curb themselves if the vote to dismantle the district passes…have become heroes to those who know them best.
 One month ago, Hurricane Sandy slammed Baldwin Harbor with unprecedented fury. Neighborhoods that never saw water found themselves under several feet. Rugs, furniture, soaked sheetrock, and personal belongings of every kind were heaped in traumatized residents front yards. When destruction like this takes place in an area several square miles large, how do you even begin to deal with the clean-up?

The employees of Sani2 – all of whom are working-class, home-town local community members – worked round the clock for weeks to help homeowners sort through the wreckage of this storm.  While Mallay was safely ensconced in her dry home and political headquarters elsewhere in the state, the working men of Sani2 whose jobs are on the line performed Herculean tasks to clean up their community and share the heartbreak and burden with their own neighbors.

 If sanity prevails, the voters of Baldwin, Roosevelt, and South Hempstead will see this charade for what it is, and soundly defeat the effort to dismantle an 85-year old community institution.

And if the Working Families Party has any sense, they will distance themselves from the loose cannons that have taken control of their Long Island apparatus. 


Monday, December 03, 2012

Another Pet Dog Needlessly Shot & Killed by Police

 Will there be justice for Chloe?

A Commerce City, Colorado police officer was caught on a now viral video shooting a captured dog five times. Neighbors are outraged as they say the shooting was unnecessary, as well as unsafe.

The tragic shooting of 3-year-old Chloe, a pit bull-labrador mix, took place in an upper middle class neighborhood of Commerce City. The home owner, who had custody of Chloe at the time of its shooting, was taking care of the animal for her cousin. She has asked to have her identity remain private.

Chloe was given a bed in the home owner's garage, and she then went to work. Not having an animal, the home owner did not anticipate the possibility of her garage door's automatic opening mechanism being activated by Chloe. Unfortunately that scenario is exactly what happened.

With the garage door now open, Chloe was then free to wander about the neighborhood, doing what any other domesticated dog would do. Sniff and pee on things, marking her new found bastion of territory.
A neighbor, Kenny Collins, saw Chloe and did not recognize her and called police. Not because he felt threatened, but simply because the dog was loose and he did not want it to get hit by a car.
According to, Collins stated:
He never came at me in an aggressive manner.
When police arrived Collins' son took it upon himself to record the officers. The video shows officers having cornered Chloe on its own property. An animal control officer was also present. Chloe was feet from the bed that was given to her by the homeowner. Commerce City police can be seen on video twice attempting to use a tazer on Chloe. After that method failed the animal control officer, who is a highly trained professional, used a tool known as a catch pole to capture Chloe.

The animal can be seen attempting to flee the garage after its neck was caught in the catch pole. This is a natural response for any animal, and it is why the pole was designed, to allow animals to be controlled from a distance.

This is when the Commerce City officer opened fire on Chloe, shooting her five times, killing her within seconds.
Kenny Collins is absolutely outraged. He claims he did not call police because Chloe was violent. He also believes his life and his family's lives were put in danger by the action of the officer. Preliminary reports show that six shots were fired. Five struck Chloe, and one struck a Commerce City police cruiser. Collins says that the bullet which struck the car would have easily struck any one of the members of his family, including himself. He said on the record:
That bullet was fired in my direction with me standing across the street.
Naturally the Commerce City Police Department has an entirely different take on the situation. They released the following statement:
"An animal control agent was able to place a catch pole around the dog's neck. The pit bull remained extremely agitated and continued to attempt to attack the animal control agent. Due to the dog's size and aggressive demeanor, it could not be controlled on the catch pole. For the safety of the animal control agent and the community, a police officer shot and killed the dog."
After reviewing the video multiple times, it is evident that the statement by the police is a blatant and baseless lie, and is an attempt to cover-up an abuse of power. At no point does it appear that Chloe was attempting to attack anyone, let alone repeatedly attempting to attack. The neighbor who called animal control said that the dog was not aggressive.
It is odd how the animal became a "threat to the community" only after police arrived.
More questions remain and a detective with the Commerce City police department named Mike Saunders spoke locally with 9Wants to Know and reaffirmed the officer's killing of Chloe:
Yes, the dog was on the catch pole. But, it was the officer's concern that the animal control agent wasn't able to maintain control of the animal and the fear was that the animal was going to come off the catch pole and attack the officers or get loose and run back into the neighborhood putting citizens in danger. They attempted to taze the dog twice however that had no effect on the dog.
The summation by the detective is nonsensical. The animal control officer is a trained professional. They are trained in the fine art of dealing with wild animals. Everyday, all day long. Police officers, however, do not deal with wild animals on a daily basis.
With that common sense in mind it begs the question of what authority did the officer have to second guess the abilities of the trained animal control professional? Chloe was restrained by the catch pole. The rational is because a police officer doubted an animal control officer's ability to do their job that an innocent dog was killed? On what basis do they make such a judgment? Their own irrational fears, because they don't work with animals?
Chloe did not attempt to attack anyone. She was in a strange place, with strangers surrounding her, trying to place her neck into a noose. The natural inclination of any animal would be to run, and that is precisely what the video shows.

A Commerce City city council meeting is currently underway to discuss the shooting of Chloe.

A Facebook community page has been founded. It is called Justice for Chloe -Dog shot by Commerce City Co Police.

Interested in signing the petition for Chloe? As of this writing over 8,000 signatures have been collected.

Monday, November 26, 2012

34th Anniversary: Assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone


Statement, November 27, 2011 by Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk, co founder of the Harvey B. Milk Foundation

My uncle Harvey Milk gave us his life 33 years ago, knowing that the first of any civil rights movement, who so clearly and loudly proclaim their right to equality, most often meets a violent and sudden end. George Moscone was a steadfast ally and friend of both my uncle and to the core principles of equality that Harvey represented.

Today the memory of both men stand as beacons of light not just in San Francisco, not just in California and not just in the US, but across the globe to all who are diminished for simply being authentic. I am frequently asked if I am deeply saddened that my uncle Harvey did not get to see all those who eventually would proclaim a right to live openly and thereby come to stand on his shoulders or that he also did not see all the places where the light of equality would burn brighter than the darkness of antiquated prejudice-and I have long replied, he did see all those open and proud people living an authentic life and he did see those cities and states and nations that would etch equality into both their laws and their societal values, for he could not have given his life without his seeing and visualizing the dream of that day and he has left us, all of us, with a compass based on hope, hope born of bullets, not smashing into his brain, but smashing our masks and our fear of authenticity.

We also offer timely reflection today on my uncle’s ground breaking collaborative work and his understanding and explanation that we are not weakened by our differences, in fact that our potential is only reached when the full diversity of all those that make up our communities are celebrated. Today his legacy is not of a people or community or a nation being better then another, but communication and teaching of the knowledge that we are so much less when we do not embrace, without qualification, all members of our unique and varied humanity.

My uncle’s legacy has many monuments, not the least of which are the openly LGBT public officials who, through their willingness to serve and live a publicly visible life, continue to offer Harvey Milk style leadership to a world yearning for these examples. And all our strong allies, like President Obama and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi here in the US, and our many new allies across the continents who fight everyday to keep us all embraced. And monuments to Harveys legacy are given light each day with every new young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered person who comes out and lives an authentic life – these are real tangible living monuments to Harvey’s legacy that have the clear impact to effect change, a real enduring societal change. For as my uncle said, when they know us, when we are visible to all in our lives, hate diminishes.

Today we both mourn our loss and celebrate the legacy we were left with. The memory of Harvey and George burns bright and they have inspired equality minded communities across the country and out onto the global stage to keep alive both Harvey’s dream of a truly inclusive society, without qualification and to follow the example of enduring and selfless collaboration that marked the life of both Harvey Milk and George Moscone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Annual Thanksgiving Post

 Several video clips narrating my all-time favorite Thanksgiving story...and an absolute MUST for anyone who has adopted children from abroad, anyone who immigrated to America, anyone whose ancestors immigrated to America...and anyone conscious of the current immigration controversies in American politics. These are short videos, but the entire book is readily available in stores and online, and is titled, "How Many Days to America: A Thanksgiving Story," by Eve Bunting.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!!!

The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


Monday, November 19, 2012

Tawadros II Enthroned as Coptic Pope, Grieves over Gaza

 On March 17, 2012, we reported on the death of Pope Shenouda, the 117th leader of the Egyptian Coptic Church (see ).

Yesterday, the Coptic Church enthroned Pope Shenouda’s replacement in the culmination of one of the most unique decision-making processes in all of Christendom: he was chosen by lottery.

Two weeks ago, a young boy was chosen, brought forward to the alter, and blindfolded. He then picked one of three pieces of paper from a jar. The paper was shown to the congregation. On it was the name of Bishop Tawadros, and, according to Copts, this makes him God’s choice to be the next Coptic Pope. The congregation broke into spontaneous applause. 

Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic Watani newspaper, explained “We end up presenting three to heaven, and we ask heaven to choose one of them.”

While westerners often associate the word "pope" with the Roman Catholic Church headquaretetred in the Vatican, the Egyptian and north African Christians have looked to Alexandria (founded by St Mark) as the seat of their patriarchate since at least the second century.  They also call their spiritual leader, "Pope." 

The new pope is 60 years old, with global experience: he studied in Britain, worked in Egypt and abroad, and managed a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. 

Tawadros II steps into leadership at a very delicate time in Egypt. While Copts make up 10% of the Egyptian population (the largest Christian minority in the middle east), Christians have long complained of discrimination, especially as the country's Muslim majority have moved the nation toward religious conservatism since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak two years ago.  

Tawadros II wasted no time staking out his role in Egyptian life, using the Sunday coronation to express his grief over recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip saying,

"We share the pain of our brothers in Gaza."

Meanwhile, the world watches as the Israeli-Gaza conflict escalates...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Why Churches Should NOT be Taxed

 Over the last year, I have gained many liberal readers who have supported my über-progressive positions on many issues: the environment, bank bailouts, marriage equality, war, and the surveillance of citizens to name a few.  

But this post is sure to piss off many of my liberal readers.  Nonetheless, this blog is not meant to be a liberal rubber stamp, but to use reasoned analysis to bring together both progressives and libertarians who fear the power of an authoritarian state and corporatism - and that means crossing swords with friends every once in a while.

Calls for the taxation of churches is not grounded in sound constitutional law, sound taxation procedure, or sound historical understanding: it is based solely on resentment against churches – specifically conservative churches – whose doctrines and members advocate for conservative causes.

1. The Constitutional Prohibition

The very first words in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution  read: 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”

The admonition here has two parts:  The US Government shall not take any action that establishes an official religion (or which advantages one religion over all the others), and the US Government shall pass no law that prevents people from worshiping in their chosen church.

It is not up to the government to decide what is good worship or bad worship, recognized churches vs unrecognized churches, good doctrine or bad doctrine:  the government’s role is to stay out of religion.  In 1970, the U S Supreme Court – by a decisive vote of 8-1 ruled that the Federal Government could not tax churches, as that would constitute undue government interference in the exercise of religion.

This notion has long legal precedence.  A unanimous Supreme Court noted in 1819 in McCulloch vs Maryland that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” Any federal income tax levied on churches – depending on how that tax rate was structured and how that tax law was written – would possess the capability of destroying or bankrupting churches.  Worse, depending on the application of the law to individual churches, it would necessarily favor one denomination over another as church organizational structures, expenses, and revenue sources (tithes, donations, yard sales, mass cards) differ from church to synagogue to mosque.  The government is not permitted to favor one group over another.  

2.  IRS Regulations Prohibiting Political Involvement by Non-Profits

Many who wish to tax religious institutions point to IRS regulations which specifically prohibit all 501c3 Non-Profits from political engagement. They argue then, that those churches that get involved in politics should lose their tax exempt status. There are several glaring problems with this approach.

First, the IRS is a Johnny-come-lately.  Yes, their regulations say this, but there regulations may in fact violate the Constitutional provisions mentioned above. Churches were treated as tax-exempt entities in law, under the US Constitution, for more than 175 years before the IRS created that regulation.  The Constitution trumps regulatory body rules.  

In any event, this regulation only came into effect in 1954, the same year that “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  It is a curious phenomenon that those who oppose God in public life often point to the fact that the “God” phrase in the Pledge is a very recent innovation..but conveniently forget that the IRS regulation is just as recent.

No IRS regulation can eliminate a Constitutional right – including the Freedom of Speech.  Anyone and Everyone in this nation has the right to engage in political commentary, and, as the recent election proved, they do. The right to speech is as fully engrained in our Constitution as the freedom of Religion….and that means we let our raucous democracy loose with political discourse.  There is a good reason that the IRS almost never goes after churches for violating this regulation: they would probably lose at the Supreme Court.

Remember, the IRS provision against political engagement applies not only to churches, but to all non-profits.

It applies to AIDs service organizations that testify at public hearings, requesting increased funding for those without health insurance.

It applies to Veteran’s Organizations lobbying city councils for increased services to the homeless.

It applies to Teachers Unions meeting with their state legislators when education budgets are cut.

It applies to the Environmental organizations when they advocate against genetically-modified food, the keystone pipeline, relaxed standards for deep-water drilling, and Arctic drilling.

You really want to strip taxes of their tax-exempt status because of their political involvement?  Better look around at all the other non-profits that exist in the same regulatory boat, my friends.

3. Churches already pay taxes.

Yes, that’s right.  The only tax levied by the federal government is Income Tax (discussed more fully below).  Other taxes: State Income Taxes, Sales Taxes, and Property Taxes – are levied by state and local governments.

Employees of religious organizations – organists, secretaries,  maintenance, cantors…already pay personal federal income tax and social security taxes on their wages.

On a state and local basis, churches can be asked to pay property taxes.  In New Hampshire, where thousands of acres of land are owned by church-operated summer camps, those churches pay both property tax on the camps and business income tax on the profit experienced by the camp. In other places, towns and municipalities place ‘assessments’ or fees for municipal services such as fire protection, water use, and trash collection.

But for most people calling for taxation, it is the issue of federal Income Taxes they wish to see addressed.

4. Basic Accounting 101 Suggests Churches Would Pay Nothing Under an Income Tax.

Think about your personal Income Tax for a second.
You place your gross income on the top line, and then you begin taking off ‘deductions’ – you, your spouse, your children, and then the standard exemption or the Schedule A that permits mortgage interest, charitable donations, and health expenditures.  At the bottom of your form, you pay tax on what’s left: NOT on your gross income, but on what was left after permissible deductions.  It’s quite common for a family making $75,000 in wages to actually pay tax on only $35,000 after all the deductions are subtracted.

Corporate Income Tax works the same way.  We do not tax companies based on the raw number of dollar bills that land in their cash register; we tax them on their PROFIT (revenue less expenses).  That means that corporations subtract their expenditures on labor, raw material, equipment, utilities, advertising, etc., before any tax is applied…because THAT is how an Income Tax functions.
Some cavalierly believe that a tax on churches would be a tax on gross donations.

Think again: an income tax on churches would be applied to Profit, not gross donations. And regardless of how much a church receives in donations, you can bet that just about all of it goes out in expenses: clergy salaries, musical instruments, food, charitable work, utilities, payments to diocesan offices, roof repairs, etc…and that means, given the experience of the vast majority of American churches, your income tax rate would be applied against a profit of….zero.  Such an effort would be a pyrrhic victory indeed: tax church profits, only to find that from an accounting perspective, there are no profits to tax.

And forget the idea of taxing gross donations: that would be like taxing raw register receipts, and treating churches this unique way would be a display of government hostility towards religion that would never pass Constitutional muster, regardless of who was sitting on the Court.

5. Liberals, Be Careful What You Ask For.

Our collective memories tend to be very, very short.

Most agitation for taxing churches comes from liberals who resent the money and the ‘power’ of conservative churches like the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, and a plethora of Fundamentalist Bible Churches who rail against every liberal cause.

But a brief walk through history shows that every great liberal victory was won because liberal churches mobilized en masse.
Do we forget that the Civil Rights movement and marches were organized by the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Pastor of Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference?  Have we forgotten that the voter registration drives conducted in the south in the 1960’s were organized in black churches?

Imagine if conservative, white southern governments thought they could destroy the civil rights movement by increasing taxes on small rural black churches, and then mercilessly taking them when property or income taxes weren’t forthcoming.  “The Power to tax is the power to destroy.”
 Women’s rights to vote, immigrant rights, union rights, the Abolitionist movement…all were spearheaded by churches. The most recent civil rights battle of our time – Marriage Equality – has seen Episcopal Bishops like the Rev. Gene Robinson using his clerical office to testify before state legislatures and encourage the Episcopal faithful to advocate for gay rights. Congregational churches, Reform Jewish Congregations, Quakers, and Unitarian-Universalists have all organized peace rallies, marriage equality campaigns, and immigrant right  initiatives.


As I wrote earlier, most of my liberal friends don’t want to see Shelters for Homeless LGBT Youth, or Environmental Organizations, or Black Churches driving voters to the polls to be taxed or lose their tax-exempt status.  

Rather, they want to use the heavy hand of government taxation to ‘punish’ those conservative churches with which they disagree.

And that, more than anything, would do violence to our Constitution, which requires an even-handed government approach to all religious groups.

The answer is not to find a way around the Constitution; the answer is to allow the free flow of ideas in a democracy, and out-organize and out-vote those with whom you disagree.

And history has shown us that we can do that.