Sunday, January 8, 2017

Empire State Of Voting

New York state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have gotten a lot of flack for the state's convoluted voting rules, particularly in the wake of last year's primary. But that's another difference between red and blue states: red states want to make it more difficult and burdensome to vote, blue states want to make voting easier and more streamlined so as many people can participate as possible, and Cuomo is promising major voting reforms ahead of 2018's contests.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday a new proposal meant to make it easier for all New Yorkers to vote, which will in turn shorten lines at the polls and increase accuracy when ballots are counted. That proposal is called the “Democracy Project.”

It will allow early voting and institute automatic and same-day voter registration, thus streamlining voter services and making it simpler for all eligible citizens to vote and eliminate possible voting inaccuracies.

“These proposals will modernize and open up our election system, making it easier for more voters to participate in the process and helping to make a more fair, more just and more representative New York for all,” Cuomo said in a news release.

New early voting policy will require every county to offer access to at least one early voting site during the 12 days before Election Day, according to a news release. At least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on the weekend will be devoted to keeping voting sites open for this purpose.

There must be one early voting site per 50,000 residents and the location must be chosen by the bipartisan county board of elections, according to a news release. Location will be determined based on accessibility and convenience.

Early voting aims to increase access to the polls and make it easier for people with commitments to take the time to vote. That also means shorter lines on Election Day and makes it easier for poll workers to deal with registration errors as they arise.

The project also aims to simplify DMV services by automatically sending voter information from DMV applications directly to the County Board of Elections, according to a news release. Those who do not wish to register can simply check an “opt out” box on their application.

Citizens can already register to vote at the DMV but often face a number of regulations that slow down the process and create errors on voter rolls. Automatic registration aims to improve the accuracy of voter rolls and registration lists, increase convenience for voters and election officials alike and reduce total costs associated with the process.

Same-day voter registration will also go into effect as part of the project. New Yorkers will be able to register and vote on the same day and avoid deadlines before Election Day that could potentially keep them from registering in time.

Imagine that.  Some simple fixes to get people registered so that they can participate in the voting process where they live, but I guarantee you Republicans are screaming bloody murder right now because they know they do better when fewer people are allowed to vote.

Again, in a representative democracy like our own, making rules to add burdens to the citizen in order to vote, rather than putting the onus on the state, is unconscionable.  The state, not the citizen, is responsible for running a smooth, free, and fair election.  I'm very glad to see Gov. Cuomo propose these measures and I definitely hope New York can implement them in time for 2018 midterms.

Good job.

Bibi B-busted B-big Time

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is in quite a bit of trouble after leaked recordings showing that he planned to strike a deal to help an Israeli newspaper by freezing out access to a rival publication.

Media tycoon Arnon Mozes is the businessman who negotiated a quid pro quo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in conversations caught on tape that came to light on Sunday.

Haaretz reported Sunday that suspicions in the main corruption affair involving Netanyahu are backed by recordings documenting contacts between him and a businessman over mutual benefits.

According to Channel 2, several months ago Netanyahu offered Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, a deal that would limit the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom, Yedioth's top competitor and widely regarded as the prime minister's mouthpiece. In return, Mozes would make Yedioth's coverage more sympathetic to Netanyahu.

Israel Hayom, now Israel's largest newspaper, is owned and published by U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close confidant of the prime minister.

Mozes was questioned in the case last week and released under certain conditions.

Channel 10 reported that the negotiations were an effort by Netanyahu to prevent Yedioth Ahronoth from publishing a story about his son Yair. The conversations were apparently recorded by Mozes, whose financial benefit from such a deal would be significant.

The taped conversations were brought to the attention of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit months ago. Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan believed that while the affair had far-reaching ramifications politically, its legal status was unclear, Channel 2 reported.

In August, Netanyahu said he was considering promoting a bill that would bar recordings of conversations without consent from all the parties involved.

So now we know what the bribery and fraud investigation rumors from last month about Netanyahu involved: a cover-up to protect his son and to get better press.

We'll see where this goes, but I'm betting Bibi is in trouble here.

Sunday Long Read: Justice Served

Texas Monthly writer Skip Hollandsworth gives us this week's Sunday Long Read, the story of Edwin Debrow, who in 1991 killed a cab driver in San Antonio at age 12, and was tried under Texas's brutal juvenile law.  Debrow has served 25 years of his 40 year sentence, has been denied parole ever since he reached adulthood, and has essentially spent his entire life in a maximum security facility.

Just after midnight on September 21, 1991, a San Antonio school teacher named Curtis Edwards was found sprawled across the front seat of a taxi that he drove part-time at night to earn extra money. He had been shot point-blank in the back of the head. It was a gruesome scene: blood and bits of brain were scattered throughout the car. A few days later, police announced they had made an arrest in the case. Edwards’s killer, they said, was a twelve-year-old boy named Edwin Debrow. Apparently, investigators said, Edwin had shot Edwards while attempting to rob him.

At the police department, a photographer from the San Antonio Express-News took a photo of Edwin as he was being escorted down a hallway by a uniformed officer and a detective. Edwin, who was just four feet eight inches tall and 79 pounds, was wearing a T-shirt, basketball shorts, and unlaced high-top tennis shoes. His face was peeking out of a suit coat that the detective had thrown over his head in hopes of protecting his identity.

Almost overnight, Edwin became one of Texas’s most notorious criminals. People were stunned that such a small child could have committed such a cold-blooded killing. A prosecutor for the Bexar County district attorney’s office called Edwin a “sick little monster.” In a speech addressing the problems of the inner city, President George H. W. Bush went so far as to single out Edwin, describing his behavior as “truly horrifying.”

Today, Edwin is 37 years old. He is five feet ten inches tall, and he weighs 170 pounds. He looks a little like the boxer Floyd Mayweather, and because of the exercises he does every day in his cell—endless numbers of push-ups, crunches, pull-ups, and leg lifts—he is built like him too, with broad shoulders, a tapered waist, and biceps the size of baseballs. His head is shaved, and his arms and chest are inked with tattoos. “When my mom comes to see me, she always says I still look young,” Edwin told me during one of our conversations. “But I know she’s only trying to make me feel better. I know I’ve got the prison look.”

“The prison look?” I asked.

He gave me a thin smile. “The look of someone who’s not going anywhere soon.”

Edwin has been behind bars since the day he was arrested: he is now more than halfway through a forty-year sentence that a juvenile court ordered him to serve as punishment for Edwards’s murder. Although he has been eligible for parole since 1999, the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles have refused to release him, always citing the severity of his crime. If he continues to be denied parole, he will not be released until September 2031. He will be 52 years old.

For decades, the members of the criminal justice system have argued about what should be done with kids who commit violent crimes. Lawyers, judges, police officers, politicians, and victims’ rights advocates have debated whether lawbreaking youngsters should be treated as regular criminals or as misguided delinquents with potential for rehabilitation. Is the public better served by putting them in adult prisons and keeping them off the streets for years and years? Or does the experience of incarceration only make them more disturbed and even more dangerous?

In Texas the law allows for very strict punishment of juvenile offenders. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, of the 140,000 inmates now housed in its prisons, approximately 2,000 are there for crimes that they committed as juveniles, which state law defines as anyone under the age of seventeen. Nearly a hundred of those inmates committed their crimes when they were only eleven, twelve, or thirteen years old. Of that group, only two have served more time than Edwin. “I’m considered the bad seed, the worst of the worst, all because of one stupid, terrible thing I did when I was twelve,” he told me.

He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Why can’t people understand I’m not that twelve-year-old boy anymore? Why can’t I be given a second chance?”

Edwin Debrow did kill when he was twelve, but throwing a child in prison like this is unconscionable.  For him to still be in prison now is repugnant.  And yet odds are very good he will serve his sentence and have nothing waiting for him on the outside, no skills, no hopes of getting a job, no place to go.  He'll be a 52-year-old black man in Texas after serving 40 years in prison.

The death penalty would have been a kindness.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

In a finding that should surprise precisely no one, it seems Trump voters are not only ignoring the report on Russian interference with US elections, but are actively hostile towards the notion and consider it to be nothing more than "fake news".

“Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s.

“Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him.

“Bunch of crybabies,” Reed Guidry, 64, offered from across the table.

The subject of conversation was the report released by United States intelligence chiefs on Friday informing President-elect Donald J. Trump of their unanimous conclusion that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered an extensive, but covert, cyberoperation to help Mr. Trump win the election. The Russians had hacked and leaked emails, unleashed “trolls” on social media and used their “state-run propaganda machine” to spread stories harmful to Hillary Clinton.

In Washington, the report was viewed as extraordinary, both for its timing, raising sharp questions about the president-elect’s legitimacy on the verge of his taking office, and for its assertions, describing the operation as Russia’s boldest effort yet to meddle with American elections, to spread discontent and to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order.”

But interviews with Trump supporters here in Louisiana, a state the president-elect won by 20 points, and in Indiana, a state he won by nearly the same margin, found opinions about the report that ranged from general indifference to outright derision.

“From the parts of the report I’ve seen,” said Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel who twice ran for Senate here as Tea Party favorite, “it seems silly.”

There are genuine concerns about Russia’s cyberoperations, he said, but the notion that they changed the outcome of the election was absurd. (The report made no determination on how they affected the election.)

Of the comments he had seen from fellow Trump supporters on Facebook and in emails, he added, “90 percent of them are like, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

The Russians may have very well gotten involved, several people said. They added that kind of interference should be combated. But many assumed that foreign actors had long tried to play favorites in American elections, and that the United States had done the same in other countries’ elections. Even if the Russians did do it — which some were more willing to concede than others — what difference did it make? People did not need the Russians to make up their minds about Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump’s election opponent. Blaming her loss on the Russians was, as one Trump supporter here said, “just being sore losers.”

Again, there's nothing that Trump could do to lose support from Angry White America short of pledging to help those people like Obama and Clinton did.  If the Russians were involved, so what?  Even Republicans who are worried aren't going to lift a finger about it.  Trump's promised to help them and punish the Obama coalition.  That's all that matters.

As they watched their son skate with his Boy Scout group at the public ice rink in downtown Valparaiso, Monty and Mary Willis, both registered Republicans, considered the ramifications of the intelligence report.

“The idea of a fair election” had been placed in doubt, Ms. Willis said. “We were concerned about money being involved in the election. Now you’re talking about espionage.”

The Willises, who both work in real estate, might be Republicans, but they were not Trump voters. In fact, they had last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 2008, when Senator John McCain of Arizona ran. The party seemed to have changed in recent years, they said. And the incoming administration had them deeply worried.

“Our president being in cahoots with the Russian government?” Mr. Willis said. “Yes, I’m very concerned about that.”

In Louisiana, David Gubert, 56, chain-smoked Eagle 20 cigarettes in the cab of his pickup, with stacks of firewood for sale behind him in the bed. Like the Willises, he ruminated on what it would mean if the Russians had gotten involved, and possibly even swung the election.

But Mr. Gubert came to a different conclusion.

If that’s what it took,” he said, “I’m glad they did it.”

We are now ruled by those who believe anything is permissible as long as those people are the ones made to suffer as a result.

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