Friday, June 25, 2010

NY Top Court Fails On Eminent Domain Yet Again

Allowing a wealthy developer to take the homes of a neighborhood to profit from condos and a basketball arena under the guise of community development was bad enough. Now New York's top court, the Court of Appeals, is bending for the will of an economic giant and against small businesses that stand in their way. We are talking of course, about the private Columbia University, the largest land owner in Uptown Manhattan versus the few business owners that stand in their way of a major campus expansion.

Instead of upholding the lower court's (correct) ruling that the judiciary must follow the state's lead on what qualifies as blighted, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and allowed the obvious pro-Columbia bias to commence. And of course, their reasoning flew in the face of good common sense and decency.

From WNYC:

Thursday's decision from the Court of Appeals said the lower court had ignored evidence that found disinvestment in the area reached back to the 1960s. The ruling also reaffirmed the principle central in last year's Atlantic Yards case, which found that the governor and his appointees should be given wide latitude in determining what is blighted, the first step in justifying seizure under eminent domain. "Not only has this court, but the Supreme Court has consistently held that blight is an elastic concept that does not call for an inflexible, one-size-fits-all definition," Senior Associate Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by five other judges. The court's seventh judge, Associate Judge Robert Smith, wrote a separate opinion in which he concurred, but reluctantly. Smith was also the lone dissenting vote on the Atlantic Yards decision. "The finding of 'blight' in this case seems to me strained and pretextual," Smith wrote. Professor Patricia Salkin of Albany Law School said the decision was not a surprise. She said the ruling was in keeping with years of precedent that grants the government wide latitude in eminent domain cases and corrects the mystifying opinion by the Appellate Division, First Department, in December. "The order of the day here was the Court of Appeals here continuing the message that where there may be just a difference of opinion with respect to what is blighted, that they are going to rely on legislative deference and the court is not going to substitute its judgment,” she said.
Legislative deference is a cheap way of shirking the judiciary's responsibility to protect individuals from legislation that does undue harm to the citizenry.

Now Eminent Domain is something to be considered when the government builds or does something beneficial to the entire area, such as a highway, railway or building that serves the community. Despite the Court leaning on the idea that Columbia is a non-profit and since Atlantic Yards was approved, this should be allowed to, the University is an institution that only selects a lucky few thousand every year to attend and utilize their facilities. And of course, entrance comes at an exorbitant price.

Instead of claiming the arguments shown above, the Court should come clean, and admit to what's really behind all this. When push comes to shove, the rich are given deference over those that are not. Campaign donations from those that can afford it are used to unfairly sway those that are elected to serve the people. Ultimately, the judges fall in line and make flimsy excuses for allowing this shameful practice to continue.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gasland: A Must See

If you live in New York, Pennsylvania or anywhere that gas companies are thinking of tapping natural gas deposits with a process called hydrofracking, you must see this film first. Josh Fox was offered $100,000 by one company to use his land to mine for gas, and this is what he did in response. Needless to say, that $100,000 disappeared quite quickly.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Orrin Hatch Seeks To Jump Start The Drug Testing Industry

Who says that Republicans are the "Party of No?" No longer can we claim that all the GOP does is block meaningful reform and access to health care and legislation that denies people from being helped back to work. Senator Orrin Hatch, a long-time conservative Senator from Utah has an idea to spur at least one American industry back into action.

From The Huffington Post:

Utah voters have reacted enthusiastically to Sen. Orrin Hatch's legislation to drug test the unemployed and those receiving other forms of government cash assistance, the Utah Republican told the Huffington Post after introducing his measure last week.

"A lot of people are saying, 'Hey, it's about time. Why do we keep giving money to people who are going to go use it on drugs instead of their families?'" Hatch said.

The goal, he said, is to get users into treatment.

What this has to do with anything, no one really knows. So far his Republican colleagues have wisely stayed away from making comments. Democrats have called the idea punitive and pointless.

Senator Hatch though, says that people love his idea. Whether or not he can back that assertion up is another matter of course.

What Hatch is really up to (besides revitalizing the drug testing industry) is trying to score political points by milking the "let's beat up on the poor" card that conservatives have loved to do since Reagan made it popular. Social policy experts however, can point to several examples where programs like this have been tried and quickly failed to make any real difference. Not that that matters to Orrin, he's just trying to get his own welfare....corporate campaign cash that is.

Israel Lifts Blockade. Hooray For Peaceful International Pressure!

If you haven't heard by now, the constant and thorough pressure brought upon Israel in the last few weeks since the flotilla incident has resulted in a humanitarian victory. Israel will no longer be stopping food and supplies for the emaciated and compacted slice of sand that is known as the Gaza Strip.

From the New York Times:
JERUSALEM — Bowing to worldwide pressure and condemnation, Israel on Sunday formally announced an eased blockade of Gaza that could significantly expand the flow of goods overland into the impoverished coastal Palestinian enclave, isolated by the Israelis for three years.

The announcement, made by the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, came three weeks after a deadly Israeli naval commando raid that thwarted a breach of the blockade by a flotilla of pro-Palestinian aid activists. That raid outraged much of the world and became a catalyst for a serious re-examination by Israel of its policy toward Gaza, which is governed by the militant anti-Israeli group Hamas and is home to 1.5 million Palestinians.
The blockade started shortly after Hamas took power, a method of Israeli "diplomacy" that tried to shame Gazans for electing the terrorist group. Unfortunately it only served as a tool that legitimized Hamas in the eyes of those they govern.

Between the election that saw the decline of Fatah in the Strip and the deaths of Turkish citizens during the raid on the flotilla, the blockade was largely ignored by the international community. Even though plenty of aid groups and NGOs tried their best to plead with the Israeli government to lift the blockade, it took the persistent shaming for Netanyahu to finally relent.

It goes to show that sometimes neither war or stealth shuttle diplomacy can solve crises in the Middle East. Sometimes you just need to get creative in how you make people realize their mistakes in treating other people.