January 09, 2006

Horrendousness From Congress

Congress has passed, and the President signed, a law outlawing “annoying” behavior over the internet:

Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime. It’s no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity. In other words, it’s OK to flame someone on a mailing list or in a blog as long as you do it under your real name. Thank Congress for small favors, I guess.
The actual text in question:
“Whoever…utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet… without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person…who receives the communications…shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

This didn’t just pass on its own, of course:

This ridiculous prohibition, which would likely imperil much of Usenet, is buried in the so-called Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act. Criminal penalties include stiff fines and two years in prison.

Obviously it’s disgraceful that the President signed off on this. It’s equally disgraceful that the Senate passed it unanimously, and the House passed it 415-4, and that the offending language was sponsored by not just useless busybody Arlen Spector, but by the awful Pat Leahy, Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden. So it’s a totally bipartisan disgrace.

Ugh.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2005

And We Wonder Why People Hate Lawyers

Check this out: a lawyer who makes a profit by suing companies who don’t charge him sales tax on internet purchases:

Like many shoppers, attorney Stephen Diamond buys lots of stuff online. But unlike other consumers, he sues retailers that don’t charge him state and local sales taxes — and is making a profit doing it. Using a state whistle-blower law, Mr. Diamond since 2002 has filed about 95 suits in Cook County court here against retailers that failed to charge him taxes on Internet sales, alleging that they broke the law. In cases where the state of Illinois joins the suits and prevails, he is entitled to up to 25% of the financial damages, with the rest going to state coffers. Mr. Diamond’s first eight suits were filed against such retailers as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Office Depot Inc. and KB Toys Inc. He has netted about a half-million dollars already, from some retailers. Because of settlement agreements between the retailers and the attorney general’s office, the state’s judges have agreed to keep the names of most of the retailers and the settlement amounts confidential. More than 80 suits are pending in Illinois, and Mr. Diamond has made forays into other states as well. “This is a no-brainer,” says Mr. Diamond, a veteran class-action attorney who has a scenic view of Lake Michigan from his downtown office. “I started going on the Internet and discovered to my astonishment that companies like Target Corp. and Wal-Mart were not collecting taxes on their Internet sales. I was like, “Wow!”

Wow indeed; half a million dollars made by harassing companies and costing consumers money. Isn’t that grand?

About the only bright spot in this article is this:

In 2003, in Tennessee’s Davidson County Chancery Court, Mr. Diamond filed about 30 suits alleging noncollection of sales taxes on online purchases by Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon.com Inc., PetsMart Inc., and Bass Pro Shops, among other companies. But he didn’t reckon on the reaction of Loren Chumley, Tennessee’s commissioner of revenue, who wasn’t happy that a private citizen was using the whistle-blower law to enrich himself. Viewing Mr. Diamond as an opportunist exploiting a legal loophole, Ms. Chumley immediately set out to change state law. She succeeded, and the cases were dismissed. Ms. Chumley says that Mr. Diamond was misusing the law. Mr. Diamond counters that Tennessee wasn’t being aggressive enough in collecting taxes.

Good for Ms. Chumley. It isn’t for this bottom-feeding vermin from Chicago to judge whether other states’ governments aren’t being “aggressive enough” in collecting taxes.

Oh, there is one other bright spot: the state of Illinois doesn’t want to pay the aforementioned bottom-feeding vermin what he believe he’s entitled to:

In Illinois, meanwhile, Mr. Diamond is fighting with the state over his share of the proceeds in cases involving some big retailers he sued. Last year, the attorney general’s office negotiated a $2.4 million settlement with Wal-Mart, Target and Office Depot about uncollected sales taxes dating back to 1999. Mr. Diamond says that since he did all the legwork, he is entitled to the full 25% share plus any costs he incurred, which is allowable under the law. But the attorney general’s office wants to pay him less than 25%, and nothing for his costs.

Unbelievable.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:35 PM | Comments (2)

August 26, 2005

I'm Not Sure I See the Problem

Convicted murderer John Allan Muhammad, already sentenced to death for his role in the Washington-area sniper killings back in 2002, is on a hunger strike:

A judge granted Montgomery County jail officials yesterday the authority to force-feed convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad, who has refused to eat or drink since he was transferred Monday from a Virginia prison. Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan issued the order after the county’s Department of Correction and Rehabilitation filed court papers yesterday saying Muhammad was “in imminent danger of very serious bodily harm, including death, if he does not begin to receive nourishment within the next several days.”

The state is going to force-feed him, as noted above, but it seems to me that, seeing as how Muhammad is already sentenced to death, if he wants to starve himself to death, he ought to be allowed to do so.

Oh, and by the way, am I the only one who wonders why the state of Maryland is going to spend $3 million to try someone already convicted of murder and sentenced to death?

The explanation given in this article:

State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler has said that prosecution of the two men in Montgomery is necessary as an “insurance policy,” in case they are freed on appeal elsewhere. A hearing scheduled for Sept. 2 will determine the time for future hearings and dates for Muhammad’s trial.

…seems pretty weak. Can’t they just put all the evidence in storage somewhere, and bring it out in the unlikely event that Muhammad is ever actually freed?

Just wondering…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:39 AM | Comments (1)

July 14, 2005

And Bernie Wept

Isn’t it sad? 25 years in prison for Worldcom fraudster Bernie Ebbers:

A federal judge Wednesday sentenced former WorldCom Inc. chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers to 25 years behind bars for his role in the nation’s largest accounting fraud, the harshest prison term yet to flow fromcorporate scandals that rocked the stock market three years ago. The once-brash mogul, 63, wept and sniffled as U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones imposed the sentence in front of a packed courtroom. Ebbers, a former basketball coach who built a telecommunications empire from scratch, must serve 85 percent of the prison term — making him eligible for release in about two decades. The judge recommended he be sent to a low-security facility in Yazoo City, Miss., so relatives and friends who live nearby could visit.

25 years barely scratches the surface of an appropriate punishment for Mr. Ebbers. Here’s what the man was responsible for:

The fraud at WorldCom ultimately topped $11 billion and led to the country’s biggest bankruptcy filing, in July 2002. Nearly 17,000 employees lost their jobs as a result of the scheme to bury expenses and inflate revenue, according to a probation report.

Did Bernie weep when he signed off on the firing of thousands of employees? Did he weep at the disapperance of pensions and 401K funds? No. He just pocketed his take and went about his business.

25 years? He got off lightly.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2005

Eminent Domain, Part the Nth

John Tierney of the NYTimes, with yet another reason that the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo vs. New London is wrong, and also why the “great deference” the court was so keen to show to local governments in matters of development is not always such a good idea:

Bulldozers razed the Lower Hill District, the black neighborhood next to downtown that was famous for its jazz scene (and now famous mostly as a memory in August Wilson’s plays). The city built a domed arena that was supposed to be part of a cultural “acropolis,” but the rest of the project died. Today, having belatedly realized that downtown would benefit from people living nearby, the city is trying to entice them back to the Hill by building homes there. In the 1960’s, the bulldozers moved into East Liberty, until then the busiest shopping district outside downtown. Some of the leading businessmen there wanted to upgrade the neighborhood, so hundreds of small businesses and thousands of people were moved to make room for upscale apartment buildings, parking lots, housing projects, roads and a pedestrian mall. I was working there in a drugstore whose owners cursed the project, and at first I thought they were just behind the times. But their worst fears were confirmed. The shopping district was destroyed. The drugstore closed, along with the department stores, movie theaters, office buildings and most other businesses. You’d think a fiasco like that would have humbled Pittsburgh’s planners, but they just went on. They kicked out a small company to give H. J. Heinz more room. Mayor Tom Murphy has attracted national attention for his grand designs - and fights - to replace thriving small businesses downtown and on the North Side with more upscale tenants. The city managed to clear out shops and an office building to make room for a new Lazarus department store, built with $50 million in public funds, but Lazarus did not live up to its name. It has shut down and left a vacant building. Meanwhile, the city’s finances are in ruins, and businesses and residents have been fleeing the high taxes required to pay off decades of urban renewal projects and corporate subsidies. Yet the mayor still yearns for more acquisitions. He welcomed the Supreme Court decision, telling The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that eminent domain “is a great equalizer when you’re having a conversation with people.” Well, that’s one way to describe the power to take people’s property.

He’s exactly right.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

Hah!

Well, he did vote for this, after all:

Could a hotel be built on the land owned by Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter? A new ruling by the Supreme Court which was supported by Justice Souter himself itself might allow it. A private developer is seeking to use this very law to build a hotel on Souter’s land. Justice Souter’s vote in the “Kelo vs. City of New London” decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner. On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter’s home. Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land. The proposed development, called “The Lost Liberty Hotel” will feature the “Just Desserts Café” and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon’s Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.” Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

As the letter to the town says:

I am proposing to build a hotel at 34 Cilley Hill Road in the Town of Weare. I would like to know the process your town has for allowing such a development. Although this property is owned by an individual, David H. Souter, a recent Supreme Court decision, “Kelo vs. City of New London” clears the way for this land to be taken by the Government of Weare through eminent domain and given to my LLC for the purposes of building a hotel. The justification for such an eminent domain action is that our hotel will better serve the public interest as it will bring in economic development and higher tax revenue to Weare. As I understand it your town has five people serving on the Board of Selectmen. Therefore, since it will require only three people to vote in favor of the use of eminent domain I am quite confident that this hotel development is a viable project. I am currently seeking investors and hotel plans from an architect. Please let me know the proper steps to follow to proceed in accordance with the law in your town.

I’d love to invest in this project. I’d really love to be there on the glorious day that eviction papers get served on Justice Souter, and the even more glorious day when the bulldozers rip down his house.

Why not? If he thinks it’s good enough for the rest of us lumpenproles, it’s sure as hell good enough for him…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 02:13 PM | Comments (1)

June 25, 2005

Kelo Explained

Emperor Misha, in his own imitable style, explains matters:

Yet we don’t need to look to the long-term or cultural benefits when even the short-term will yield such rich financial rewards. Take a block containing 20 average houses, each paying maybe $800 a year in property taxes. A good capitalist executive can toss in $16,000 as a bonus to the city council to guarantee the city no loss in annual revenue. On top of this are the payroll taxes for the demolition crew who demographically cleanses your block, then the payroll taxes for the builders who erect the new casino, Wal-Mart, or Chinese free-trade zone. The rest is all gravy, even establishing a new revenue stream for city officials, in the form of constant legal studies, land surveys, fees, and tributes. Requiring random groups of homeowners to spend their nest eggs hiring lawyers to justify their continued property possession would generate more good jobs, and this money would remain in the local economy, not rotting away in some foreign investment portfolio. No longer will businesses and chain stores be forced to shop around for vacant lots, dig through zoning laws, or make do with second-tier locations. Each of us has suffered the inconvenience of not having a nearby 7-11. Well no longer. If your neighborhood needs a 7/11 badly enough then they can build one on your home’s bulldozed foundations. One homeowner may suffer, but the rest will benefit. Beyond this, a city with a sharp eye on the real-estate market could use their new power to snap up properties cheaply, especially after threatening such actions for a few years prior to keep the real-estate prices further depressed, all of which would save the public even more money. Then the city could create new revenue-enhancing developments, or if a housing shortage results, the city could just subdivide the houses and rent out rooms to generate yet more revenue. A more enlightened city might even decide to convert your castle into a well-run public brothel. Why on earth didn’t we think of this before?

That’s pretty much it.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2005

Something to Sign

A petition concerning the horrific Kelo decision:

http://www.petitiononline.com/lp001/petition.html

It’s also worth writing directly to your Senators and Congressperson. I’ll be doing so today.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

This is Eminent Domain

A tale from New Jersey, from just last month:

The city is offering a resident $14,730 for the vacant lot it seized from him, even though it sold the lot to a developer for more than four times that - $60,000. Now, Charles Shennett said he wants more for his former Summer Street property. But an attorney familiar with eminent domain said state law supports the method officials used.

So Mr. Shennett’s property was taken from him by his local government, which then sold it to a private developer at a 300% profit.

Despite the discrepancy in price, which has been a source of contention, the city has the right to pay Shennett less for the property than what it was sold for, said William Ward, a Florham Park attorney with the firm Carlin and Ward, which specializes in eminent domain cases. Ward said the discrepancy is due to a zoning change. In 2002, the City Council designated Shennett’s property as part of a redevelopment plan for blighted and vacant properties. The city can sell the land for a higher price because it has more value under the redevelopment plan, Ward said.

So government is turned into a profit center by the simple expedient of stealing property from citizens. Again, nice.

And who was the land sold to?

In the meantime, Wayne Asset is building a new house on Shennett’s property. Wayne Asset is run by Wayne Alston, a former city councilman who in 1992 was charged by federal authorities with taking $6,000 in bribes from a city landlord and paying himself $15,000 in bonuses from state funds. But a mistrial allowed Alston to plead guilty to a lesser charge, and he was sentenced to five months in prison and a year of supervised release.

Yeah, that’s on the up-and-up. A corrupt, convicted former city councilman is the benificiary of a land grab by the city government.

And what of Mr. Shennett, whose land was stolen?

Meanwhile, Victor Herlinsky, the Redevelopment Agency’s attorney, said the city had always been willing to work with Shennett, who was previously sent correspondence from the city about his property being included in a redevelopment plan. “We have even permitted several property owners to keep their properties and develop them as long as they show a good faith effort and the ability to develop it,” Herlinsky said Friday.

Read that again. “We have even permitted several property owners to keep their properties.”

So we’re serfs, who only own our property until some petty bureaucrat like Herlinsky decides that we shouldn’t own it anymore.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:43 PM | Comments (1)

The Wealthy Elitist View of the Kelo Decision

Both the WashPost and the NYTimes are pleased with the Supreme Court’s abolition of property rights yesterday.

The Post at least recognizes that there is an injustice here:

New London, Conn., has been attempting to take the property of residents of Fort Trumbull, an economically struggling area, for a redevelopment project that would replace their waterfront neighborhood homes with a hotel, offices and other new features. A few residents refused to sell, so the city — or rather, a private, nonprofit corporation acting on its behalf — asserted the power of eminent domain to force them to sell. The Supreme Court ruled that the city has the right to do so, which means that people who have lived for long periods in Fort Trumbull will be forced from their homes based on a vague and uncertain redevelopment scheme. It isn’t a pretty picture.

But in the end, the Post’s editors just don’t get it:

City authorities may be wrong in their judgment that their plans are a good way to revitalize the town. But the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause was never meant to ensure good judgment or wise policy. Indeed, it was intended less as a restraint on the substance of what government does than as a guarantee that it will pay reasonably. However unfortunate New London’s plans may prove, stopping the city based on a standardless judicial inquiry into how “public” its purpose really is would be far worse.

Here’s the the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

I think that there’s no way any reasonable person can look at that and say “Indeed, it was intended less as a restraint on the substance of what government does than as a guarantee that it will pay reasonably.”

But then, clearly, the Post’s editorial board is not reasonable.

Even less reasonable is the editorial board of the Times, who title their piece on Kelo “The Limits of Private Property.” Their view is odious and deserves a closer look:

The Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday that the economically troubled city of New London, Conn., can use its power of eminent domain to spur development was a welcome vindication of cities’ ability to act in the public interest. It also is a setback to the “property rights” movement, which is trying to block government from imposing reasonable zoning and environmental regulations. Still, the dissenters provided a useful reminder that eminent domain must not be used for purely private gain.

It’s a “welcome vindication” of cities’ ability to act in the interest of wealthy developers who are buddies with city officials, that’s for sure.

Eminent domain allows governments to take property for a public use, such as building a road. The property owners in New London claimed that handing over private property to a private developer cannot be a public use, even if it is part of a comprehensive plan to turn around a depressed city. The Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, sided with the city. The court noted that in past cases it had taken a broad view on this issue, and given governments wide discretion to determine when a taking of property meets this standard. New London, the court held, was within its rights to decide that its development plan was a valid public use. (The New York Times benefited from eminent domain in clearing the land for the new building it is constructing opposite the Port Authority Bus Terminal.)

Well, there we go. If it benefits the New York Times, it must be a “public good.”

In a blistering dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor lamented that the decision meant that the government could transfer any private property from the owner to another person with more political influence “so long as it might be upgraded.” That is a serious concern, but her fears are exaggerated. The majority strongly suggested that eminent domain should be part of a comprehensive plan, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing separately, underscored that its goal cannot simply be to help a developer or other private party become richer. That is not the situation in New London. Connecticut is a rich state with poor cities, which must do everything they can to attract business and industry. New London’s development plan may hurt a few small property owners, who will, in any case, be fully compensated. But many more residents are likely to benefit if the city can shore up its tax base and attract badly needed jobs.

Why are Justice O’Connor’s fears exaggerated? Because Gail Collins and her cronies at the Times says they are? Because the “few small property owners” in New London aren’t the sort of people who read the Times or go to the right parties, so fuck ‘em, let’s steal their property to build some nice restaurants and shops that Times editorial writers might enjoy going to, if they’re ever in New London?

And what, exactly, does “fully compensated” mean? Will the folks in New London get fair market value? I doubt that very much.

And I love the statement that “the majority suggested” that a comprehensive plan “should be” part of the eminent domain process. “Should be.” That’s certainly reassuring to people who will lose their homes.

But then, folks who write editorials for the Times, and their target audience, aren’t the sort of people in danger of losing their homes to redevelopment. They are the sort of people who are pals with big developers and city officials, and they are also the sort of people who know that they know best what’s good for the poor, ignorant “little people” out there, who may be “hurt” (I guess that’s a new word for “dispossesed”) in the pursuit of the greater good.

This decision, and those who support it, are disgusting beyond words.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 11:06 AM | Comments (1)

June 23, 2005

More on Today's Atrocious Decision

Check out Arguing with signposts for a big roundup of reaction (pretty much all of it shocked, appalled, angry, horrified, etc) to the Kelo decision.

I especially like this comment from Brian Carnell:

Thank goodness the Supreme Court today ruled that cities have the right to seize people’s homes in order to sell them to rich developers. I’d hate to live in a country where petty things like property rights actually stood in the way of enlightened bureacrats dreaming of high-rise hotels and shopping districts.

Before all is said and done, blood will be shed over his decision. Some people aren’t going to be willing to give up their home so that a land developer can put up a new Walmart or shopping mall or gas station on their property, regardless of what their city council, or the Supreme Court, says. And some of those people, no doubt, own guns. And when the sheriffs come to throw those people out of their homes, they will use those guns. and they’ll be right to do so, and I, for one, will be cheering them on.

And for those people who won’t leave, but who also won’t resort to violence, we’ll all be treated to the spectacle of sheriffs and police dragging men, women and children forcibly out of their homes so that those homes can be handed over to whichever developer has bribed the most members of the local government.

And we’ll be able to lay it all at the feet of the five justices who decided today that property rights aren’t, apparently, rights at all.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 03:18 PM | Comments (4)

So Apparently There's No Right to Private Property Anymore

The Supreme Court issued its decision this morning in the case of Kelo vs. New London:

A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local governments may seize people’s homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth often is at war with individual property rights. The 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas. As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.

This is horrifying, and it’s counter to everything that this country is supposed to be about. The principle that the Court has established today is that your property can be taken away from you any time that your local government decides that it can generate more tax revenue by giving your property to someone else.

Fuck that.

Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Souter all agreed on this disgraceful decision; they’ve demonstrated that they neither care about nor understand any of the founding principles and ideals upon which this country is based.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been a key swing vote on many cases before the court, issued a stinging dissent. She argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.

Justices Rehnquist, Thomas and Scalia joined O’Connor in her dissent.

As for the victims of this disgrace, who will be thrown out of their homes to accomodate the whims of real estate developers, they’re angry:

“It’s a little shocking to believe you can lose your home in this country,” said resident Bill Von Winkle, who said he would refuse to leave his home, even if bulldozers showed up. “I won’t be going anywhere. Not my house. This is definitely not the last word.”

And he shouldn’t go anywhere. Because regardless of what the Supreme Court says, he’s right, and the city of New London and the developers and the Court isself, are wrong. And the votes of five unaccountable and out-of-touch people in black robes might give the color of law to the theft of personal property by government, it’s still theft, and still wrong, and should still be resisted.

Some others folks have commented on this already: Pejmanesqueis also unhappy about this decision, and the decision itself is here.

I’ll quote from Justice O’Connor’s dissent, with which I agree fully:

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. “[T]hat alone is a just government,” wrote James Madison, “which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

It’s impossible, Ithink, to overstate just how awful this decision is, and how harmful it will prove to be.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2005

So Parents Have No Rights At All, I Guess

This is extremely disturbing:

A Texas couple is fighting to regain custody of their 12-year-old cancer-stricken daughter after the state seized the girl, claiming her parents have not done enough to treat her. A judge has postponed until tomorrow a ruling on whether or not doctors can treat Katie Wernecke against her parents’ wishes, KPRC-TV in Houston reported. Katie’s parents, Michele and Edward Wernecke of Agua Dulce, Texas, say their daughter’s Hodgkin’s disease is in remission and she doesn’t need radiation treatment after undergoing a round of chemotherapy. Mr. Wernecke is worried that more treatment will have harmful long-term effects on his daughter and wants an opinion from doctors outside Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi. But the Texas Child Protective Services believe the recommendations of doctors at the hospital should overrule the parents. Robert Rosetti, program director over investigations at the CPS Nueces County office, claims the parents are being “medically neglectful.”

So in today’s world, wanting a second opinion before subjecting your child to radiation treatments that may or may not actually be necessary and useful is grounds for losing custody of your kids to the state.

That’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Our society really is going straight down the toilet.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2005

The Word We're Looking For is: "Theft"

But local and state governments across the U.S. call it by another name: eminent domain.

Eminent domain has been used since the founding of the republic to obtain land for roads, schools and other public uses, as the Constitution provides for.

But in recent years, the definition of “public use” has expanded to include private development.

There’s a major case before the Supreme Court right now (Kelo vs. New London), but more cases are cropping up all the time, like these…

In New Jersey:

The city is offering a resident $14,730 for the vacant lot it seized from him, even though it sold the lot to a developer for more than four times that - $60,000. Now, Charles Shennett said he wants more for his former Summer Street property. But an attorney familiar with eminent domain said state law supports the method officials used. In May 2004, the city’s Redevelopment Agency, a state-approved board, was granted a court order to employ eminent domain - the government’s right to seize property - for Shennett’s lot. Last week, Shennett said he learned for the first time in January that his property had been taken. The city sent him letters in 2004, but Shennett says he never got them. During a hearing on the matter in Superior Court last week, a judge ruled that Shennett was never properly informed and that the commissioners who approved the $14,730 compensation price for the property must meet again and allow Shennett to get his own appraisal. The Redevelopment Agency, meanwhile, sold the property to Wayne Asset Management of Kinnelon for $60,000 in December.

It gets better:

Wayne Asset is run by Wayne Alston, a former city councilman who in 1992 was charged by federal authorities with taking $6,000 in bribes from a city landlord and paying himself $15,000 in bonuses from state funds. But a mistrial allowed Alston to plead guilty to a lesser charge, and he was sentenced to five months in prison and a year of supervised release. Meanwhile, Victor Herlinsky, the Redevelopment Agency’s attorney, said the city had always been willing to work with Shennett, who was previously sent correspondence from the city about his property being included in a redevelopment plan. “We have even permitted several property owners to keep their properties and develop them as long as they show a good faith effort and the ability to develop it,” Herlinsky said Friday.

Not only did the city steal a homeowner’s property, it then sold the land to a convicted criminal. Isn’t that nice?

Oh, and the last quote is great: “We have even permitted several property owners to keep their properties.” There are so many things wrong with that sentence that I don’t even know where to begin.

Another case is in Ohio:

The city of Norwood properly used eminent domain when it seized five properties off Interstate 71, saying the homes and businesses on the land were deteriorating and posed a danger to the community, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Friday. Norwood handed over the land to Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group after seizing the properties, citing a study that found the property was deteriorating. They are building a $175-million complex of offices, shops, residences and restaurants. The developers have bought 65 other properties in the area bounded by I-71 and Edmondson and Edwards roads, most of which have already been razed.

This is, simply, wrong. Office parks, apartment buildings and restaurants are not public uses. Property rights should not be revocable at the whim of city governments, and they should not be subject to seizure merely because someone else comes along and claims that they will build something that will generate higher property taxes on the land.

It’s criminal. It’s theft. It’s a fundamental violatin of every principle on which this country is supposed to be based.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:51 PM | Comments (1)

May 09, 2005

When Law And Justice Are At Odds

Here’s a horrifying story from Saturday’s WashPost: an admitted, convicted and unquestionably guilty sex offender has been set free, thanks to a remarkably stupid error by the court that convicted him 25 years ago:

Some things are worse than murder, and nobody wants to know about them. So when the pudgy mama’s boy named Johnny Kroll did what he did to the 9-year-old little girl out by the lakes 25 years ago and the courts sent him to prison for eternity, everyone agreed justice had been done. Nobody wanted to talk about it anymore. What the 30-year-old Kroll did was kidnap the child and brutally assault her. However, here’s a short list of people who blew it the day Kroll pleaded guilty: The prosecutor. The judge. The defense attorney. Read: Everybody. He assaulted that little girl in the Appalachian hills, yes, and Maryland nailed him for it. The problem was and is that he did it in Pennsylvania, not Maryland. The Maryland court sentenced him for an assault committed in another state. It’s a bone simple violation of jurisdiction, perhaps the most basic pillar of the legal canon.

And now his sentence has been vacated, and he will very likely go free in the very near future. Kroll is, without any doubt, a monster:

…on April 30, 1970, when he was 20, Kroll drove his car, at a low speed, into another teenage girl. This one was 13 and she was walking in a city park. He dragged her into the woods, slashed her neck, scalp and forehead with a penknife, with such ferocity that the blade broke off. He sexually abused her. He beat her nearly to death with a tree limb. When police arrested him, he acknowledged chasing and cutting a 15-year-old girl a few months earlier, a case that had been unsolved. The investigation was unsettling. Police found that Kroll kept a half-dozen six-inch wooden dowels in his bed. Some had girls’ names on them. He had lain on top of them so often he had a callus on his belly. “His behavior could be quite bizarre and potentially dangerous,” a state psychologist wrote. “The patient apparently derives sexual pleasure by torturing his young victims.” Kroll did eight years.

See, the problem starts here. In a sane society, he’d have been executed for the 1970 crime; or, frnakly, local authorities should have looked the other way and let the families of his victims do the job for them.

But that didn’t happen, and he was released, so that he could sexually assault more little girls. And it’s a pretty safe bet that when he is released in the near future, he’ll do so again.

This is not justice, and this is not how a sane society protects itself. I hope that, as the Post article reports that authorities are trying, a way is figured out to keep this monster in prison; because if he’s not, a child (or, worse, children) are going to suffer - and maybe die - for a technicial error made 25 years ago.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:05 AM | Comments (5)