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Civil Politics

Thomas Raleigh, Democratic contender for the 21st Congressional District’s Assembly seat, has officially cut his ties with Citizen Action of New York. In giving its endorsement to incumbent Mike McNulty, the progressive political-advocacy organization has, Raliegh said, “compromised its principles, independence, and credibility.”

The Democratic primary between Raleigh, 47, and McNulty, 58, now in his 10th term, has been a mostly civil event. At their first joint public appearance Tuesday (Aug. 29) in Schenectady, there was little that they seemed to disagree upon. Common complaints about the war in Iraq and the current administration’s handling of the war on terrorism dominated most of the half-hour debate. Plus, they seemed in concert on social issues such as health care, social security, and alternative energy.

But there are points of contention that were avoided at the debate. And most heated is whether or not McNulty’s relationship with Citizen Action is wise or even ethical.

“McNulty,” Raliegh said, “donated, back in April of this year, $1650 to Citizen Action, an organization that subsequently endorsed him. There is something a little problematic about this. The fact that this [donation] is coming out of his campaign money and then they endorse him . . . I’m not suggesting something illegal, but you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this in the spirit of campaign-finance reform?’ ”

There is nothing wrong with the relationship, said McNulty. “I am a strong supporter of Citizen Action. I’ve been sending them contributions for years for their good work. I will continue to do that. I also contribute to the League of Women Voters. Does he think I should stop doing that?”

Citizen Action executive director Richard Kirsch is surprised that Raleigh would even raise the issue.

“I think it is pretty remarkable that Raleigh would think . . . it is helpful to the voters to make an issue of our support of Congressman McNulty,” Kirsch said, adding that Raleigh, “seems like someone who is desperate to get attention.”

But it isn’t just the donation that bothers Raleigh. Citizen Action made its name as an aggressive proponent of Clean Money, Clean Elections—legislation that would implement dramatic finance reform if passed. And although McNulty is a cosponsor of CMCE legislation, Raleigh argued that McNulty isn’t running a campaign in its spirit.

“Mr. McNulty,” Raleigh said, “is running his campaign like everyone else, having already spent over $200,000 this year.” Whereas, the Democrat contends, he is running a “clean” campaign, collecting only individual contributions of no more than $100.

Plus, Raleigh added, McNulty has not agreed (and probably won’t) to debate Raleigh a second time during this primary, as CMCE advocates stipulate.

“I’ve received one invitation to debate and I said ‘Yes.’ ” McNulty said. “I have to go back to Washington next week. I know that he is retired and has the luxury of campaigning full-time. I don’t. I’m very happy to debate all my opponents. But Raleigh made no direct request to me. He hasn’t contacted me since the day before he entered the race.”

Again, Kirsch is confused. How can Raleigh expect to hold the Democratic primary to the CMCE standard, he asked, when the legislation has not even been implemented?

The 21st Congressional District includes all of Albany, Schenectady, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, and parts of Rensselaer, Saratoga and Fulton counties.

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


What a Week

Not So Much Of America Online

In a move designed to stave off its impending irrelevancy, AOL announced this summer that it would offer free client software to users with high-speed Internet connections. But it has not been smooth sailing since. Stopbadware.org, a software watchdog group, announced that AOL’s new free software has many characteristics of “badware.” The group found that the software they tested installed extra software without alerting the user, did not uninstall completely, and altered other programs on users’ computers. AOL said that the reviewed software was old and that problems are being addressed.

A New Type of Facism

During a speech to American Legion members this past Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that America “faces a new type of fascism.” Rumsfeld insisted that critics of the Bush administration were suffering from “moral or intellectual confusion.” He went on to compare the so-called war on terror to World War II and quoted Churchill’s description of those who tried to appease Hitler: “A bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.” He went on to scold the American media for focusing on the negative aspects of the war on terror, saying, “Some seem not to have learned history’s lessons.”

Yes Men Have Last Laugh

A prankster with the Yes Men managed to dupe hundreds, including Louisiana public officials, at a New Orleans hurricane conference Monday. Posing as a senior federal housing official, “Andy Bichlbaum” an nounced that the government would reopen public housing to poor former residents. The hoax was the latest in a string of hoaxes by the internationally known pranksters.

Mystery Solved

An upcoming book authored by two journalists answers a question that has circulated in the press for more than two years: Who told syndicated columnist Robert Novak that the wife of Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA agent? The answer, according to the book, is former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, whose leak led to a national debate about whether journalists are required by law to reveal their sources. Armitage was never indicted by the federal grand jury that investigated the disclosure.



Slippery Slope

First Amendment advocates fear attempts to punish national-defense leaks will damage the free press

A U.S. District judge ruled in Aug ust that the Justice Department can in fact use the Espionage Act of 1917 in its prosecution of two former Washington lobbyists. In allowing the invocation of this highly controversial statute, First Amendment advocates fear, the court has further enabled the Bush administration in its efforts to quash a much-hated opponent—the free press.

“This is the first investigation and prosecution that we are aware of under federal law that charges someone who is not a government employee with espionage under the act,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “We are very concerned that this is the first step to charging reporters with espionage for doing their jobs.”

It is a crime, under the World War I-era Espionage Act, to disclose or receive any information “relating to the national defense.” This is not limited to only information deemed “classified.”

“This is a really, really broad statute,” Dalglish said. “It is vague and over-broad. If you write about secrets that you got from someone in the government and the information was not authorized, you could be charged. Even readers of newspapers, under this statute, could be charged with espionage if they read a story containing classified information originally from the government. That is why we say it is too vague. There is nothing in the statute that limits it.”

In 2005, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, were indicted for allegedly conspiring to obtain information about Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. The charges state that Rosen, a prominent Washington lobbyist, and Weissman, a Middle East strategist, over a five-year period starting around 1999, received national-defense information from Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin. (Franklin pleaded guilty in January of divulging government secrets and was sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison.)

Further, it is alleged that the men shared this information with colleagues at AIPAC, an official at the Israeli Embassy and with a reporter at the Washington Post.

Of course, Dalglish said, no one is going to argue that information vital to national security ought to be transferred to our enemies. Government officials who leak information are routinely prosecuted. But in this instance, the government has chosen to prosecute not only the government official who leaked the information, but also the private civilians who had received the information and, in many instances, simply discussed what they had learned with colleagues.

“We didn’t take the position of whether talking to foreign agents was espionage or not. We took the position, if you read the indictment,” she said, “that quite a few of the overt acts are related to conversations these guys had with reporters. Those are the conversations that we were particularly distressed about.”

The judge on the case, T.S. Ellis III, conceded that allowing the Espionage Act to be employed was a controversial decision, not only because of the ramifications of the case but because of the nature of the Espionage Act itself.

“It must be said that this is a hard case,” he wrote in his decision, “and not solely because the parties’ positions and arguments are both substantial and complex. It is also a hard case because it requires an evaluation of whether Congress has violated our Constitution’s most sacred values, enshrined in the First and the Fifth Amendment, when it passed legislation in furtherance of our nation’s security.”

At the heart of the controversy lay the questions: Does the Espionage Act contain a fair warning of what is national-defense information? Does the act identify who is entitled to receive that information? In the end, Ellis decided that the act, under current understanding, was clear.

“Ellis found that the Espionage Act provided a constitutionally ‘fair warning’ as to who is ‘entitled to receive’ national-defense information,” wrote Ron Collins, analyst with First Amendment Center. “He also concluded that the executive branch had the constitutional authority to define such information, which it did through a uniform classification system for national-security information.”

“Is it overbroad? Is it vague?” Collins asked in an interview with Metroland. “Ellis did not see it that way, but reasonable minds can differ on that.”

“What is national defense?” Collins continued. “Can you tell me? What is the difference between national defense and classified? Is everything that is classified presumptively national defense? What if it is important but not classified?” These questions are mostly left unanswered.

In the motion to dismiss the indictments, Rosen and Weismann’s lawyers are careful to note that the prosecution has taken an unparalleled step in what they believe is an attack on the First Amendment rights of their clients. “The prosecutors in this case,” the motion reads, “have taken the unprecedented step of criminalizing an alleged leak not just against the government official . . . but also members of a public policy organization with First Amendment protection who listened to what this government official had to say.”

“Were this not chilling enough,” the motion continues, “the prosecutors have decided to pursue this course when all that was exchanged was oral information where whatever classified status of anything contained therein would be impossible for the listener to know.”

Journalists rely upon leaked information from government officials, and otherwise “classified” information, all the time, wrote Paul McMasters, ombudsman for the First Amendment Center: “The press has relied on leaks of classified information to bring to public attention a long list of issues critical to political discourse, including the Pentagon Papers; espionage scandals and other weaknesses in our intelligence agencies; biological and radiation experiments on citizens; vulnerabilities in our nuclear plants, transportation system and weapons facilities; security lapses at our borders and ports, as well as numerous reports of government abuse, fraud, waste and missteps.”

It is nearly impossible, Dalglish added, for a journalist to perform their job in Washington D.C. without running into classified information.

“We believe that what these two AIPAC employees are accused of doing and charged with espionage for that there is no principled distinction between what they did and what journalists do all the time,” Dalglish said. “They are accused of having verbal conversations with government employees and passing the information along. And that is the same thing reporters do everyday.”

The case will move to trial later this fall.

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


Lions, Tigers and Abuse–Oh My!

Rensselaer plays weekend host to Carson & Barnes Circus—and debate about animal welfare

As Capital Region families anticipate the graceful aerobatics, whimsical music and jaw-dropping stunt acts of this weekend’s Carson & Barnes Circus, some are muttering about a darker, humorless tradition that you’ll never see under the big top.

Deplorable confinement conditions and brutal animal training methods are as characteristic of the circus industry as the flying trapeze or lively clowns, according to animal-protection organization officials.

“The very nature of a circus generally denies animals everything that is natural to them. They spend their lives in extreme confinement. They’re trained through pain and fear. There’s just no way that a traveling circus can humanely provide for animals in any way,” said Lisa Wathne, captive-exotic-animal specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA isn’t the only organization raising red flags about the use of wild and exotic animals for entertainment. In addition to state organizations such as Animal Advocates of Western New York and the League of Humane Voters of New York City, several national organizations echo and reassert PETA’s position.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, there are laws that protect these animals,’” Wathne said. “No. In fact, the laws that are in place to supposedly protect these animals are so weak that it virtually endorses animal abuse.”

Circuses are subject to animal-welfare regulations imposed by several levels of government. At the base of the oversight pyramid is the federal Animal Welfare Act, designed to protect animals by establishing minimum standards of care and mandating annual, unannounced compliance inspections. Animal Welfare Act enforcement falls under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Animal Welfare Act, in addition to legislation enacted at the state and local level, does little to deter everyday brutality necessary to train performance animals, according to animal-rights activists.

“Essentially the only way to get an exotic animal such as an elephant to perform is to use abusive training mechanisms,” said Nicole Paquette, an attorney for the Animal Protection Agency. “The standard industry tool of the trade is the bullhook, [also called] the ankus.”

Wathne described the bullhook as resembling a fire poker. “It’s a long, heavy rod that has an iron hook and point at one end, and it’s this hook and point that is jabbed into the most sensitive parts of the elephant’s body: Behind the ears, on the feet and ankle, underneath the tail. . . . They perform because they are afraid not to. They know that if they don’t do what is asked of them, when they get back to the barn they will be punished with bullhooks.”

Not so, said Ben Trumble, media-relations coordinator for Carson & Barnes. “It’s a guiding tool,” he said. “It’s a push-pull tool. It’s not meant for beating elephants with. It’s meant to say, ‘Go this way,’ or, ‘That way.’”

The most damning evidence contrary to Trumble’s statement, as well as the tradition of quality animal care Carson & Barnes officials assert, is contained in undercover videotape footage from PETA that was shot during the late 1990s. The bulk of the approximately six minutes of edited footage shows Carson & Barnes employee Tim Frisco during an elephant-training session. Although the video never actually shows Frisco jab an elephant with a bullhook, the action is assumed to accompany statements such as, “Sink it in the foot. . . . Make ’em scream,” and the sound of elephants trumpeting.

The video is available for viewing at circuses.com. Its footage captures Frisco instructing others in the barn, “Sink that hook in ’em sometimes a couple times, and when you hear that screaming, then you know you got their attention. . . . Right here in the barn. You can’t do it on the road.”

Frisco also is shown poking the elephants in the flank with an electric shock-emitting prod tool in order to move them forward.

While they acknowledge the footage, Carson & Barnes officials have raised several credibility concerns since the video’s release. They question the film’s editing, which does not show the training session in its entirety, and includes a segment capturing caged bears that were not owned by Carson & Barnes. Also, they argue the footage contains a voiceover in place of Frisco’s actual voice.

“The film itself is muddy,” Trumble said. “So, no, I can’t say that I see abuse in it. Nor were we cited for abuse as a result of it.”

In 2002, however, the circus paid a $400 fine for the incident. The official USDA settlement document cited the circus for failing “to handle an elephant as carefully as possible in a manner that does not cause stress or physical harm when training,” actions inconsistent with the Animal Welfare Act.

Within the guidelines of USDA procedures, Carson & Barnes representatives technically are truthful when they declare that the circus has a spotless animal-care record. Only a USDA administrative law judge can officially declare Animal Welfare Act violations, but many reports of noncompliance never make it to this phase. Often, a circus company can correct the noncompliance issue or pay a fine, avoiding official conviction.

In the case of the incident documented in PETA’s video footage, by paying the $400 fine, Carson & Barnes essentially wiped its slate clean.

“We are not animal mistreaters or abusers,” Trumble said. “We have a good record for animal care, and we’re pretty proud of our record. We think anyone who talks to either local, state or federal regulators who have taken a look at us over the years—and we are constantly under scrutiny—will verify that we’re not the bad guys.”

While accurate in that Carson & Barnes Circus has never been convicted of an Animal Welfare Act violation, annual USDA inspection documents obtained by Metroland note multiple, and sometimes recurring, noncompliance issues over the years.

Although Carson & Barnes’ upcoming performances in Rensselaer have made it the subject of the most recent local PETA initiative, circumstances of animal mistreatment are not limited to just one circus.

“The sad reality is that [the video] shows what happens in every circus,” Paquette said. “Circuses can deny left and right that it’s just the individual trainer that did that, and it’s not the practice, but what we’ve gathered through documents and other just basic facts about what happens in the circus, that is the standard training method.”

—Nicole Klaas

nklaas@metroland.net


PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

Preparing for Adventure

Last Thursday, Yusef Burgess of the Department of Environmental Conservation prepared 20 young men for their trip to the Adirondacks as part of an environmental leadership program. The group pitched tents in Van Rensselaer Park and then cleared brush at the former property of Thomas Elkins, a key player in the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. “My socks are getting dirty,” declared one youth as he swatted away at weeds. “Brother U that stinks!” declared another as he pointed to an uprooted plant. “That’s the smell of fresh earth!” Yusef calmly assured the boy. This week the group spent three days visiting places like the John Brown Farm and Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks. —David King


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