Cuomo travels to Afghanistan, meets Fort Drum troops

Gov. Cuomo poses with a service-member in Germany while en route to Afghanistan. Photo: Office of NYS Governor'

Gov. Cuomo poses with a service-member in Germany while en route to Afghanistan. Photo: Office of NYS Governor’

Governor Andrew Cuomo made a surprise trip to Germany and Afghanistan over the weekend,  meeting with military officials and greeting service-members.  According to his office, Cuomo received briefings from the Defense Department on “counter-terrorism issues” and “evolving global threats.”

The trip comes just days after New York City went on high alert because of concerns about a possible terror attacks on American subway systems.  The governor’s office said that Cuomo planned to meet with members of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division “to thank them for their service.”

“Approximately 270 members of the New York National Guard and 900 members of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division are currently stationed in Afghanistan,” Cuomo’s office said in a statement released Saturday.

“It is a deep honor to deliver a message of support first hand to our men and women in uniform abroad: New York stands behind you,” Cuomo said in a prepared release.  The trip also comes in the final weeks of an election campaign in which Cuomo has sought to regain the popularity and luster eroded by ethics questions and by criticism from opponents on the right and left.

Here is the full press release issued Saturday:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today arrived in Afghanistan with a bipartisan delegation of governors at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Defense, which is sponsoring the visit. During the trip, Governor Cuomo is receiving a series of briefings from senior U.S. Department of Defense officials on counterterrorism issues, the evolving global threats that affect New York’s security at home, and other matters. Governor Cuomo will also meet with New York and other American troops who are currently stationed in Afghanistan – including those from Fort Drum, New York’s 10th Mountain Division – to thank them for their service.

“During a period of heightened security concerns, we are working closely with our federal partners to increase preparedness at home in New York and protect our citizens from the threat of global terrorism. At the same time, we must never forget the continuing courage and sacrifice of the members of our military serving overseas, who have dedicated their lives to defending our country,” said Governor Cuomo. “It is a deep honor to deliver a message of support first hand to our men and women in uniform abroad: New York stands behind you.”

Governor Cuomo is joined as part of the bipartisan delegation to Afghanistan by Under Secretary of the Army Brad Carson, Governor William E. Haslam (Tennessee), Governor Jeremiah W. Nixon (Missouri), Governor Brian E. Sandoval (Nevada), and other Department of Defense officials.

Governor Cuomo was invited to visit Afghanistan by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Due to security issues, the trip could not be disclosed publicly in advance.

Approximately 270 members of the New York National Guard are currently deployed in Afghanistan – the bulk of which are based in the Hudson Valley and New York City. Additionally, approximately 900 members of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division are stationed in Afghanistan.

On Friday evening, September 26, Governor Cuomo arrived in Washington, DC from New York. That evening, he received security briefings from U.S. Department of Defense officials before departing from Andrews Air Force Base and traveling to Ramstein Air Base in Germany en route to Afghanistan.

Governor Cuomo arrived in Germany on Saturday, September 27. While in Germany, Governor Cuomo visited Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where he met with hosptial staff and wounded servicemembers. (Photos of Governor Cuomo’s visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center are available here.) Governor Cuomo then traveled from Ramstein Air Base to Afghanistan – arriving in Afghanistan Saturday evening local time (Afghanistan is 8:30 hours ahead of New York time).

That’s no pistol in his pocket!

A red-eared slider. Image by Nightryder84, Creative Commons

A red-eared slider. Image by Nightryder84, Creative Commons

Here’s your quirky “just imagine” item for the week: Canadian man caught with 51 live turtles in his pants at U.S. border.

From the Canadian Press:

The U.S. federal court documents say officers with the Canada Border Services Agency intercepted Kai Xu as he attempted to cross into Windsor, Ont., from Detroit last month.

“During the secondary inspection, Xu was found to have 51 live turtles tapped (sic) to his person,” Kenneth Adams, a special agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stated in an affidavit outlining the criminal complaint.

“Specifically, Xu had 41 turtles tapped (sic) to his legs and 10 hidden between his legs.”

Canadian authorities seized the turtles, which included North American varieties such as eastern box turtles, red-eared sliders and diamondback terrapins — some of which sell for $800 each — and turned them over to American officials.

Ask anyone who ever had a pet turtle, or picked one up in the wilderness. It is amazing how strong they are, how hard they can push with their little, clawed legs.

The full story involves two alleged cases of reptile smuggling and even includes an actual stake out by intrepid U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents.

The size of the turtles was not specified.

A newly hatched diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) rescued from a runway at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport, New York. USDA photo by Jenny Mastanuono

A newly hatched diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) rescued from a runway at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport, New York. USDA photo by Jenny Mastanuono

Montreal launches new “homeless action plan”

Leroy Allen Skalstad

No easy fix for a problem faced by the uncounted and ignored. Image by Leroy Allen Skalstad, Creative Commons

City leaders in Montréal are launching a major new homeless action plan that includes additional funding and even a census to better understand the magnitude of the problem.

Presenting a new three-year initiative this past Thursday,  Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre said “…the minute we start treating the citizens in our midst who are the most downtrodden and vulnerable in an inhumane manner, we have lost the battle.”

As reported by the Montréal Gazette:

“The face of homelessness has diversified, notably in the growth in the number of Native Americans, Inuit, women, elderly, immigrants and youth among their ranks,” Coderre said at a news conference at the Maison du Père homeless shelter. “It is no longer a matter of one size fits all.”

According to coverage by the CBC:

Coderre said the city will collaborate with shelters and university researchers to launch a “homeless census.”

“This is an issue. Of course it’s not jazzy. Most of the time people just bury their heads in the sand or don’t look at [homeless people],” said Coderre. “I think the most important thing that we’re sending as a message today is that the city of Montreal will take a lead.”

The mayor said the city’s statistics are outdated and that makes it impossible to know where to put resources.

The article goes on to say that Coderre wants to create a Homelessness Advocate, to better connect homeless to services that could help.

CTV reports the new action plan will add an additional $2.5 million of funding over the next three years toward the issue.

The city’s promising to invest more in mental health care and substance abuse programs, and will create a specific program for the city’s aboriginal homeless community.

It also wants to provide more training for police and increase the number of specialized police units that are trained to deal with the homeless, since police are often on the front lines of this problem.

Finally, the city is promising to build 1,000 new social housing units with help from provincial and federal funds.

The Gazette cites homeless advocates as welcoming the news, while wishing still more could be done.

While it’s more obvious in urban areas, homelessness and hidden homelessness occurs anywhere, affecting people of many ages and circumstances. NCPR listeners learned that up close in reporting by Sarah Harris this past spring.

North Country kids are all right (really)

Monique Cornett in Lac Megantic Quebec.  Photo:  Brian Mann

Monique Cornett in Lac Megantic Quebec. Photo: Brian Mann

Generally speaking, I think Americans these days are trapped in a pretty ridiculous cycle of unwarranted nihilism and sheer grumpiness.

Whether we believe that climate change is going to incinerate the planet tomorrow (it’s not) or that Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ (he’s not) or that Common Core is a pact with the devil (it’s really not) we pretty much always keep our outrage dialed up to 11.

Nowhere is this dudgeon less warranted than our constant, bitter hand-wringing over young people.

I read essay after essay lamenting the imminent implosion of America’s youth, either because they’re lazy and feckless or because we adults somehow haven’t gift-wrapped a world suitably packed with boundless opportunity.

Just yesterday, I heard an hour-long discussion on NCPR of a new book that portrays America’s best, brightest and most ambitious college students as “excellent sheep.”

The last few months, I’ve had an opportunity — kind of rare for me — to spend a ton of time with young people.  I traveled over the summer to Lac Megantic, Quebec, with one of NCPR’s interns, Monique Cornett, who grew up in Potsdam.  I co-hosted a training workshop for young journalists at the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake.

And just this week, I had the opportunity interview Caroline Dodd, a Saranac Lake High School senior who took part in the United Nations climate summit in New York City.

Here are my takeaways.  First, this next generation of young people haven’t been brain-wiped by too much technology.  They’re not so addicted to texting that they can’t think.  They’re not lazy or depressed or hopeless.  They don’t appear to me to have been coddled or packed ear-to-ear with irony or ennui.  They have attention spans and they read books.

Surveys suggest that, yes, there is real concern among young people about the job market, about student loans, and about bigger issues like the environment and climate.  But every generation faces hurdles and speed bumps.

My second big take-away is that by and large these human beings are perfectly equipped to deal with the sharp corners and slippery patches of life.  Monique dove in with me on a brutally tough assignment, working through technical problems, rolling with confusion and uncertainty, and finding ways to make things work.

Caroline Dodd at the United Nations in New York City.  Photo provided

Caroline Dodd at the United Nations in New York City. Photo provided

Here’s what she wrote after our trip:  “There is nothing stopping you at any given time from making something: whether it is using your body to dance, your hands to sculpt, or your voice to sing. You can create things. Whatever your passion is, there is a huge chance you don’t need a title or paycheck to continue creating something. For me, this means there will always be stories to tell and people to learn about.”

I got a similar sense from Caroline Dodd, listening to her take on one of the world’s biggest challenges, climate change.  She had a far more level-headed, grounded sense of the opportunities and the limitations on our collective response to global warming than I hear from most activists twice her age.  “It’s kind of a small world and we’re all in this fight together,” she said.

And the young journalists we hosted in Blue Mountain Center were deeply ethical, intellectually curious, and full of the kind of Pabst and vinegar you want to hear in people under the age of 30.  These folks didn’t need or want anything gift-wrapped.

So here’s the deal.  Yes, our kids spend more time on their smart phones and less time in the woods.  Yes, they can be irritating as hell.  Yes, they have habits that make us cringe, like Monique’s fondness for dill pickle-flavored sunflower seeds.  (Why is that even a thing?).

But really it’s another symptom of our own collective “Get Off My Lawn-ism” that we see these young people as anything other than another turn in what I like to think of as the endless cycle of us.

For some reason, I’m reminded of Fitzgerald’s famous line.  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  Only in this case, they’re rowing ceaselessly forward into the future, facing some tough currents, and looking pretty strong and confident as they go.

So here’s my challenge to In Box readers.  Instead of debating this in the abstract, share one specific story (no need for names) about a young person in your life.  How are they doing?  Are they making you proud?  Frustrating you?  Exceeding expectations?  Still lost in the tall grass?Comments and stories welcome below.

 

Let’s talk about North Country’s flood of rape, sex violence

The North Country faces a constant drum beat of sexual assault and violence against women and children. Stephen Howells (left) was accused of abducting two Amish girls last month in the St. Lawrence Valley; he was hardly alone. Michael Geraci (center) is accused of choking and threatening to kill a woman in Oswegatchie. Eric Davis (right) is accused by State Police of engaging in sexual behavior with a 9-year-old child. Photos: NYS police agencies

The North Country faces a constant drum beat of sexual assault and violence against women and children. Stephen Howells (left) was accused of abducting two Amish girls last month in the St. Lawrence Valley; he was hardly alone. Michael Geraci (center) is accused of choking and threatening to kill a woman in Oswegatchie. Eric Davis (right) is accused of engaging in sexual behavior with a 9-year-old child. Photos: NYS police agencies

The last few months, North Country Public Radio has reported extensively on the heroin and prescription drug epidemics here in our rural region.  We’ve seen law enforcement ramp up its arrests, calling for task forces, better coordination and new funding.  Lawmakers have held public hearings and the scourge has dominated headlines.

The weird thing is that there’s another, arguably far more serious epidemic in the North Country that doesn’t get talked about much, doesn’t get treated as a pattern or as a problem that needs an ‘all hands on deck, boots on the ground’ response.

I’m talking about rape, sexual and domestic violence, and the sexual assault and exploitation of children.

This issue drew big banner headlines last month, when two Amish girls were abducted and allegedly sexually assaulted in St. Lawrence County, a horror that drew national headlines.  But the reality is that this horror is a near daily event, and a constant danger in our small towns.

A drumbeat of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence

Scroll through the New York State Police bulletins for our region and you find a flood of sickening accounts of men — and yes, they’re almost always men — facing accusations of horrific sexual violence toward women and children.

On September 16, 2014, State Police arrested 27-year-old Daniel A. Horacek of Jay in Essex County for “forcibly engaging in various sexual acts with two female victims. The abuse occurred over the course of several years, prior to 2004.”

That same day, State Police arrested and charged 43-year-old Ralph E. Planty of Liverpool, New York, allegedly engaging in “inappropriate sexual contact with a 12-year-old female victim at a residence in the town of Potsdam.”

The day before, State Police arrested 23-year-old Derrick J. Terry of Keeseville for allegedly raping a 30-year-old victim.  “Terry forcibly raped the victim at a residence in Ausable Forks in the early morning hours of June 4, 2014,” according to their report.

A couple of days before that, State Police arrested 30-year-old Michael T. Geraci of Oswegatchie following a domestic dispute in which Geraci allegedly “choked the 32-year-old female victim, and punched her in the face, causing visible injuries.”

Geraci allegedly chased the woman through the neighborhood, threatening to kill her and snatching her cell phone away so that she couldn’t call for help.  Fortunately, a neighbor intervened.

That same day, State Police in Watertown arrested Chad Lacey, age 25, after a two-year-old child was hospitalized with a “facial injury” that was “attributed to Lacey.”  Two days earlier, on September 9th, Eric Davis, age 41, from Evans Mills in Jefferson County was arraigned for allegedly “subjecting a 9 year old female to sexual contact.”

We still have a week to go but September has already been an atrocious shameful month and it’s not out of the ordinary.

On August 29, State Police in Alexandria Bay arrested 25-year-old Tyler Reason for rape in the first degree after “a 24 year-old female victim reported to investigators that Reason had sexual intercourse against her will.”

Two days earlier, State Police arrested Jaquine Ali-El, 23 years old, for allegedly striking his wife with his car “causing physical injury” during an incident in Evans Mills.

It’s important to note that all these men are innocent until proved guilty.  But the cycle of arrests goes on and on and on, week after week, month after month.  And it’s hard to believe that we’re not just scratching the surface.

Are doing enough?  Hell, no.

We as a society are beginning to think more seriously and aggressively about dealing with this shameful problem.  We’ve come to realize that sexually predatory behavior goes well beyond the Roman Catholic priesthood, or college campuses, or the US military, or the Boy Scouts, or the NFL.  There is in our society an epidemic of sexual and domestic violence.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has made these kinds of assaults and rapes — particularly on campuses and in the armed services — a major part of her agenda in Washington.  “[The] price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted,” Gillibrand has argued.

The truth is, we have a long way to go.  While local and state police are getting better at targeting sexual predators and domestic abusers, there is still a lot of resistance.  Many organizations still insist on dealing with accusations of sexual criminality “in house,” without reporting alleged assaults to police.

But even in the law enforcement community we haven’t created the same kind of big-picture, coordinated strategy that we’ve seen with drugs.  It turns out that nationwide there’s a backlog of more than 400,000 rape kits — evidence gathered after women were assaulted — that have never been processed.

“There is good evidence that pulling out old rape kits makes a difference,” reported the New Republic earlier this year.  “After New York City processed its 17,000-kit backlog in 2001, the arrest rate for rape cases jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent,” the magazine found.

But the rape kit issue is only a symbol for the larger lack of a zero-tolerance, coordinated strategy.

Why don’t we just say No to sexual violence?

It’s important to ask why this is.  Why do we regularly trot out statewide campaigns against things like prescription drugs, cocaine, and marijuana, or driving while texting?  Why do we see protest marches around abortion issues and the environment?  Meanwhile, we fail to take on a desperately overdue crusade to sharply curb rape, domestic and sexual violence.

How is it that we’ve spent decades talking about performance enhancing drugs in college- and pro-sports, but we haven’t had a big conversation about the role that athletic departments have played in minimizing or covering up sexual violence by athletes on campuses?

Why are there huge cash incentives and rewards for law enforcement agencies that crack down on even small amounts of illegal drugs, while there are almost no resources or rewards available for cops and police departments who focus their energies on stopping rapists and child molesters?

I suspect that in part it’s because so many of the most dangerous predators are people living in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in our bedrooms.

We hate to confront the fact that so many of the men in our communities and our families — a small minority, but still a dangerous minority — are predators.  These are people we know.  They’re our sons, our brothers, our fathers.  In some cases, they’re our sports heroes, or our pastors, or our teachers.

The intimacy of this threat makes it one we would rather ignore.

But I think the long, dreary chapter of willful blindness is coming to an end.  We’re starting to think bigger about ways to make our families and our schools and our streets safer from sexual and domestic predators.  We’re starting to hold people accountable when they fail to create safe environments.

These are baby steps.  With more rapes and sexual assaults being reported every single week in the North Country, we need to push aside sacred cows and small town pride and all the old squeamish barriers and ask ourselves tough, self-critical questions.

The alternative — the price for complacency and silence –  is just too awful for any decent community to tolerate.

Rob Ford saga turns deadly serious

No stranger to controversy, Toronto Mayor Rob meets members of the press in April 2011. Image: West Annex News, Creative Commons

No stranger to controversy, Toronto Mayor Rob meets members of the press in April 2011. Image: West Annex News, Creative Commons

Back in 2013, when word first emerged about a video allegedly showing the mayor of Toronto smoking crack, I asked News Director Martha Foley if that was worth a blog post. She thought not. It was still just a rumor and Toronto was so far away.

That was a good call, in keeping with responsible journalistic standards. Only, who knew how fast and how far “the Rob Ford story” would become a tabloid-like international mainstay of headlines and comedians?

Along the way, situations that represented a real dilemma for Mayor Ford and the city of Toronto became spectacle for the rest of the world. All the more because it played against Canada’s image as “nice but boring”.

Believe it or not, there’s even something on stage right now called Rob Ford: The Musical, which a reviewer for the National Post labeled “a surprisingly nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of Toronto’s ailing mayor“.

But much of the jeering may subside now as the story turns somber. As reported by CBC Sept 17th:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of malignant tumour, but doctors are optimistic about treating it, according to the head of his medical team.

The disease in question is “malignant liposarcoma” which a supplemental CBC article discusses here.

Despite the turmoil associated with his time in office, Rob Ford was running for re-election in the mayoral race taking place on Oct 27. His brother Doug Ford, already a member of the Toronto City Council, will be running for mayor instead, as Rob will need to focus on treatment and survival.

In what some have quipped as a “Fordian switch“, Rob Ford will run instead for his brother Doug’s council seat.

This CBC analysis article says a Doug Ford mayoral candidacy comes with less baggage, but that Doug doesn’t connect as well to voters as his gregarious brother, Rob. (Topic summary pages on Rob Ford can be found at the National Post and the Toronto Star, among other news sites.)

The external image of Canadian politics as oh-so-dull and very polite was never truly accurate. But it is unusual to have quite this much drama attached to who’s running and why.

The scourge of cancer isn’t funny. Here in Canada, criticism about Mayor Ford has generally switched to hopes for a full recovery for a politician who is also a husband and father of two.

Canadian views on Scotland’s vote

Still Scotland, still part of the United Kingdom

Scotland, still part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Image: Creative Commons

Like many world leaders, federal politicians in Canada are expressing relief that Scottish voters chose to stay part of the United Kingdom.

And why not? Dealing with the status quo tends to be far simpler than a lengthy period of upheaval and re-alignment. Not to mention that while Canada’s own separatist movements seem quiet for now, under the right conditions that could always change.

Of course individual opinions on the question of Scottish independence varied considerably. The issue also matters to many Canadians because of their own heritage.

Here’s how that topic was summarized by a Quill & Quire review of a 2010 book, How the Scots Invented Canada, by Ken McGoogan

Since the 1700s, the Scots have had a ­profound influence worldwide, as American author Arthur Herman emphatically argued in his 2001 book, How the Scots ­Invented the Modern World. So why do we need another book about Scottish ingenuity focused solely on Canada? Because, writes Ken McGoogan, “except for the homeland, this is the country where Scots and their ­descendants have accomplished the most.”

Scots have never exceeded more than 16 per cent of Canada’s population, McGoogan points out, yet 13 out of 22 Canadian prime ministers were of Scottish heritage. Low- or high-born, the Scots who came here tended to possess strong leadership skills as well as open, flexible attitudes that helped give rise to Canada’s cultural pluralism.

Sir John A. Macdonald circa 1878. Canada's first Prime Minister was born in Scotland.

Sir John A. Macdonald circa 1878. Canada’s first Prime Minister was born in Scotland.

In any event, many Canadians with Scottish ties were watching Thursday’s ballot question with keen interest, both those for and against independence.

Take Leith Davis, an English professor at Simon Fraser University and the current director of the Centre for Scottish Studies. As reported by the Canadian Press, although Davies was disappointed by the result, a plus may come in how the world sees Scotland:

“I think to see a nation that can have this kind of conversation in a peaceful and democratic way where they’re so strong, such strong difference of opinion, the rest of us should take notes and be envious.”

Indeed, while final numbers are still being calculated, voter turnout was gauged at over 80% in many districts, and even over 90% in the best instances, with an average of just under 85%. That proves the engagement of the electorate.

The other group in Canada most focused on the outcome was probably Quebec separatists, some of whom went to observe events firsthand.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard (who is not a separatist) shared his take on the event with the CBC:

“It is an example of a healthy state of tension in sub-national states in countries like U.K. or Canada between a strong feeling of identity, which I think Scots and Quebecers have in common, and at the same time the desire to belong to a larger political organization, the U.K. or Canada”

Coulliard went on to say there were important differences as well:

“The [Scottish] campaign was not centred around identity or exclusion of this or that category of person from who is a Scot, who is not a Scot, as we unfortunately heard here in Quebec. It was mainly about fiscal and economic issues, which is quite a different context than what we went through, in the recent months in particular”

Of the Quebec separatists who went to see the Scottish vote in person, Coulliard said ”It’s time for them to come home and work on real issues.”

Meanwhile supporters of the “No” option (a vote to stay with the UK) were also paying close attention to possible lessons from Canada’s brushes with Quebec exits.

According to the Toronto Star, Westminster’s Secretary for Scotland (meaning the UK’s point man on the issue) Alistair Carmichael had this to say:

“I draw very heavily on the experience of our friends in Canada and the fact that they ended up going round this process not once but twice,” Carmichael said on Friday in a post-referendum briefing to media in Edinburgh.

“They ended up going through it a second time (in 1995) because they didn’t deliver on the promises of reform that were made in 1980.”

Solemn assurances were made by the main party leaders in the UK in the days leading up to Thursday’s historic vote to enhance Scottish interests if voters would only choose to stay united. Keeping “the vow” may matter. Again, from the Star article:

In one of his recent trips to Canada, Carmichael sat down with many of the leading figures from the 1995 referendum, including former prime minister Jean Chretien, with whom the Scottish Secretary has been consulting regularly.

“The strong opinion I came away from is that you ended up back in this situation in 1995 because you didn’t deliver on the promises of reform in 1980,” Carmichael said. “So whatever mistakes we made in the campaign, I’m quite clear that in order to avoid coming back to here, our first priority is to deliver the reform we’ve promised.”

This is an age of spirited separatist movements, as shown by an attempt to hold a similar November vote in the Catalan region on possible separation from Spain. That’s been a far less harmonious affair, with Madrid calling that planned vote illegal.

A good argument can be made that decisions of such significance should require more than a simple majority to enact. But aside from that complaint, Scotland (and England) gave the world a powerful example of peaceful, constructive democracy in action.

Protect loses another round in Big Tupper resort fight

Peter Bauer, Protect the Adirondacks

Peter Bauer, Protect the Adirondacks

Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club have lost the first round of their effort to appeal a court decision that upheld the Adirondack Park Agency’s decision to grant permits for the proposed new resort in Tupper Lake.
A state court ruled in July that the APA followed proper procedure in issuing the permits.  Some environmental activists felt that the court’s decision set a dangerous precedent, allowing state officials too much leeway in interpreting laws designed to protect open space in the Adirondacks.
Their request to appeal the July decision, however, was rejected. Jim LaValley, head of a group called ARISE that formed to support the Adirondack Club and Resort project, issued a statement on Thursday praising the decision.
“I am very pleased to report that the Appellate Division has denied Protect’s motion for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals,” he said.
However, Protect and the Sierra Club announced that they would immediately file one more appeal — expected to be their last legal maneuver — to the New York State Court of Appeals.  They said they expected a decision by the end of the year.
Here is the press release issued by the environmental group:
Statement from Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club on Denial of Motion for Appeal by the Appellate Division, Third Department, to challenge July 2014 decision upholding the Adirondack Park Agency’s Approval of the Adirondack Club & Resort Project
The NYS Appellate Division, Third Department, has rejected a motion for leave to appeal by Protect the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and a neighboring landowner to challenge its July 2014 decision to uphold the approvals by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for the 6,000-acre Adirondack Club & Resort project in Tupper Lake. The Appellate Division, Third Department issued a decision that upheld the APA approvals in July. PROTECT and the Sierra Club will make a new motion for leave to appeal to the NYS Court of Appeals. This motion will be filed within the next 30 days.
Protect the Adirondacks and Sierra Club strongly disagreed with the Appellate Court decision. The lawsuit brought by Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club lawsuit primarily focused on the approval by the APA of 80 “Great Camp” lots spread widely throughout lands classified as Resource Management under the APA Act. The court’s decision did not examine the failure of the APA to uphold the APA Act for development of lands classified as Resource Management. If the Appellate Division decision is upheld, it will create a ruinous precedent that will negatively impact hundreds of thousands of acres classified as Resource Management across the Adirondack Park.
Another principal objection is that the Appellate Division erred when it held that the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan of the APA Act is merely guidance to APA and is not binding on the APA, despite the plain language of the statute to the contrary. This reverses 40 years of legal practice at the APA and accords APA decision-makers with vast opportunities to issue permits with little justification.
The Appellate Division also erred when it held that APA’s reliance upon post- approval studies of adverse impacts to wetlands and wildlife, which had not yet been conducted, as grounds for approval of the project, was not arbitrary and capricious.
The Court also did not examine the APA’s reliance on materials that illegally supplemented the hearing record to make its decision. The Court also failed to examine ex parte communication issues.
A decision by the Court of Appeals on this motion is expected by the end of the year.

Who will control the US Senate after November? A prediction

The biggest political question this November is whether Republicans will win control of the US Senate.  It seems like a no-brainer.  Democrats are deeply unpopular right now, thanks in part to President Barack Obama’s lackluster second term, and the unpopularity of Congress, for which voters give much of the blame to Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

He'll get close but will he get his majority?  Photo:  US Senate

He’ll get close but will he get his majority? Photo: US Senate

Democrats are also defending a lot of seats in states that have become fairly bright red, places like Arkansas and Louisiana.  Call it good old fashioned horse race journalism, but I’m going to go out on an early limb and predict — against the grain of conventional wisdom — that the Senate will remain in the control of Democrats.  Here’s why.

A good GOP year but maybe not a great one…

First, the Republicans just plain have a huge amount of ground to make up.  Democrats and their Independent allies in the Senate hold a whopping 55 seats.  The GOP, in order to gain a clear majority, needs to capture six US Senate seats.  That’s a tall order even in a wave year. 

Republicans are going to have a great November.  They’re almost sure to gain Democratic seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.  But they still have to find three more pick-ups, without losing any seats of their own.

Second, while the national mood on Democrats is sour and that affects state-by-state contests to some degree, Senate races are not in the final equation a referendum.  Mr. Obama isn’t on the ballot.  Neither are generic Republicans and Democrats.  Which means that when voters go to the polls, they have to choose between real candidates, real people.

And the truth is that in many states where Senate control will be decided, Democrats are fielding strong, well-funded candidates, some of them incumbents.  Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Mark Begich in Alaska are both running capable, hard-driving re-election bids and both have a real shot at squeaking through.  Begich is outspending his rival on campaign ads.  Hagan is polling consistently ahead of her Republican challenger.

Even in Louisiana, where one would think a GOP pick-up would be a cake walk, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu has kept the race competitive, thanks in part to a third-party bid by a Tea Party candidate.  A GOP win there is by no means assured.

A Republican year faces some bigger trends

The third advantage for Democrats is that parts of the US continue to trend purple, or even blue, despite the zeitgeist of the moment, thanks in part to the growth of Hispanic voting power, increasing urbanization, as well as strong support for Dems among women and younger voters.  Those patterns are helping Hagan, but they’re also boosting the hopes of Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat seeking another term.

In Iowa, a rural-heavy state which has trended Democratic — voting for Democrats in four out of the the last five presidential elections — Democrat Bruce Braley is running consistently (if narrowly) ahead of Republican Joni Ernst.  (A recent poll shows Ernst surging past Braley…)

The final advantage for Democrats is that they only need to win five of the big battleground Senate races to hold their majority.  That’s because in a tie Vice President Joe Biden is empowered to cast deciding votes.  The GOP, meanwhile, has to win six contests to gain a clear majority.  In the end, that one-seat structural advantage could make all the difference.

So here’s my mid-September scorecard

In the key battleground states, Democrats will win Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina, giving them the 50 seats they need to hold control.  They also have two longer-shot win possibilities in Arkansas — where incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor is still within a few points of his GOP rival — and Kansas, where incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts faces a surprisingly stiff challenge from Independent candidate Greg Orman.  If Orman wins, he’s expected to caucus with the Democrats.

Meanwhile, I see Louisiana as a complete toss-up.

Republicans can count on winning Georgia and Kentucky.  But to give Mitch McConnell the gavel, they need to find more big wins against solid incumbent candidates.  In the case of Roberts they’ll have to overcome his significant missteps early in the campaign to hold that traditionally Republican seat.

Granted, all this plays out against a very tough season for Democrats.  The president’s party traditionally gets whalloped in elections held in his sixth term and Mr. Obama is deeply unpopular in many of the states where control of the Senate will be decided.

It’s also only fair to point out that my predictions tend to be wildly and hopelessly wrong.  With those caveats, I’m predicting that it’s going to be a squeaker, but on a state-by-state basis Democrats still have the edge.

NY21: Is Green candidate Matt Funiciello a 9/11 “Truther”?

Some people, including Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, question the widely held view that the 9/11 terror attacks were carried out solely by Islamic radicals. Photo: Robert J. Fisch, Creative COmmons, some rights reserved

Some people, including Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, question the widely held view that the 9/11 terror attacks were carried out solely by Islamic radicals. Photo: Robert J. Fisch, Creative COmmons, some rights reserved

Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello has confirmed that he believes that the truth about the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 has been concealed from the public, despite  numerous investigations and probes.

“I’m definitely as an American in no way satisfied with the official story that we’ve been told over and over again about the three towers that came down and the subsequent damage on 9/11,” Funiciello said in an interview with NCPR.

He described himself as a “questioner” of the official narrative:  “The story does not make sense and it is not just from me.”

Check out WWNY TV’s coverage of Funiciello’s 9/11 views here.

The issue arose during a hotly contested House race in which Funiciello is polling at 10%, trailing Democrat Aaron Woolf and Republican Elise Stefanik.

In comments posted on-line, Funiciello said that he doesn’t “believe the horrific and nonsensical fairy tale our government has sold us concerning 9/11.”

As evidence that the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC was part of a more complex conspiracy, Funiciello asserted that one of the structures that fell, known as World Trade Center 7, collapsed under mysterious circumstances.

In fact, a report produced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that the WTC 7 collapsed when fires inside the building weakened its structural integrity.  “Our take-home message today is that the reason for the collapse of World Trade Center 7 is no longer a mystery,” NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder said at the time.

Asked about that report, Funiciello replied, “I guess you have a source that you believe is correct and I have what I saw with my own eyes.”  He added that he has friends, family members and acquaintances “who don’t agree” with the official findings.

A growing issue in on-line discussions

The last couple of weeks, anonymous comments about Funiciello’s 9/11 beliefs have been popping up in various on-line discussions.  Here’s an example from this blog.  “Phil” writes, “Don’t you think it’s only right that the media reveal to voters that Matt Funiciello is an outspoken 9/11 Truther?”

Similar accusations have popped up on the blog of Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham and the comment section of the Watertown Daily Times.  In past writings, Funiciello has appeared convinced that we don’t yet know the true story about the causes of and main conspirators behind the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC.

Funiciello’s 2010 article suggests that Wall Street Traders knew in advance about attack

In an essay posted on the Albany Times Union website in 2010, Funiciello wrote the following:

Some of the questions we should ask ourselves about 9/11 are pretty simple. Why doesn’t our so-called “free media” report on GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAWTC 7 at all? You know, the third tower that fell for no reason and that only 5% of Americans are even aware of?

Why were no scramble orders issued to shoot down hijacked planes flying over two of our major cities? Why were the “put options” [a reference to an investment tool used by Wall Street traders] that clearly show foreknowledge not important enough for the 9/11 Commission to explore (a.k.a. the “Nouveau Warren Commission”)?

How did the cockpit of the “plane” that hit the Pentagon make a hole smaller than it actually was and then spontaneously combust without leaving any evidence of the crash? Why were there massive amounts of thermite (a highly flammable accelerant) found in independent samples of the dust taken?

It turns out the issue also surfaced on the campaign trail this year.  During a candidate panel in June in Old Forge, while talking about the NSA spying scandal, Funiciello argued that Americans “still don’t really know why a third tower came down on 9/11. Why don’t we spy about that?”

In recent days, Funiciello has defended his views in numerous posts made in the comment section of the Watertown Daily Times.

Conspiracy theories about 9/11 have been widely debunked

A large number of journalists and government agencies have probed these questions and reached a general, though not universally held, consensus that 9/11 conspiracy theories don’t hold up under scrutiny.  The magazine Popular Mechanics conducted one of the most exhaustive probes a few years ago.  Here’s what they concluded:

Sadly, the noble search for truth is now being hijacked by a growing army of conspiracy theorists. A few of these skeptics make a responsible effort to sift through the mountain of information, but most ignore all but a few stray details they think support their theories.In fact, many conspiracy advocates demonstrate a maddening double standard. They distrust every bit of the mainstream account of 9/11, yet happily embrace the flimsiest evidence to promote their wildest notions: that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States with help from the CIA; that the hijacked planes weren’t commercial jets, but military aircraft, cruise missiles or remote-control drones; that the World Trade Center buildings were professionally demolished.

This discussion about Funiciello’s views on 9/11 and the causes of the terror attacks come as the Green Party candidate is polling at 10 percent, and as he prepares to take part in three debates with Democrat Aaron Woolf and Republican Elise Stefanik this fall.  He’s argued that Woolf should drop out of the race to clear the way for his candidacy.

But that kind of clout in the race is sure to come with more scrutiny and a closer look at Funiciello’s ideas and arguments.  It’s also likely to draw attacks from his political opponents.  What do you think?  Does it matter to you that Funiciello holds views about the 9/11 attacks that are generally discounted?