Apr 17, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon

New York

11New York Joins Campaign to End Electoral College

The electoral college has been a controversial method of voting in the United States for many years, as four presidents have been voted into office without receiving a plurality of the popular vote. Although it's relatively rare, this phenomenon occurred first in 1824 and most recently in the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

The state of New York has become the 10th state to take a significant step in order to change the way the electoral college system works. According to the New York Daily News, Gov. Cuomo recently signed the National Popular Vote Compact, which declares that the state will award its electoral college votes to the candidate that wins the national popular vote rather than the candidate that wins in the particular state’s popular vote. 

This is a small step in a process that would essentially eradicate the electoral college in a work-around manner. If all states voted according to the national popular vote, the electoral system would still technically be in place, but it wouldn’t actually matter. This is a quicker method of reforming the electoral process than attempting to amend the U.S. Constitution, which would require ratification by 38 states. 

As Slate notes, this method only works if the states that join what’s referred to as the National Popular Vote Compact combine for the total of 270 electoral votes required to be elected president. With 10 states and Washington D.C. currently on board, the total is now at 165. 

The National Popular Vote Compact seeks to end the practice of candidates targeting only certain states during election cycles, with other states being seen as a foregone conclusion in the electoral college.


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11Lawyer Who Defended Bin Laden's Son-In-Law Pleads Guilty To IRS Charges

Prominent New York City lawyer Stanley Cohen pleaded guilty to impeding the IRS yesterday. The openly anti-government Cohen has defended disadvantaged people and political activists in New York City for over 30 years now.

Most recently, he defended Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith as he was put on trial for his role as al-Qaeda’s spokesman over the last decade.

In a lengthy message linked to Cohen’s Twitter account, the lawyer says he is pleading guilty to impeding the IRS. He reiterates that this is not a case of tax evasion.

Cohen says his problems with the federal agency started 10 year ago, when prosecutors tried to frame the legal assistance he provided to al-Qaeda members as providing material assistance to terrorists.

Since then, Cohen claims, he has spent well over $600,000 fighting bogus allegations from federal agents and prosecutors. He says the fight simply isn’t worth it anymore, and he hopes to serve roughly one year in prison and put the so-called “witch hunt” behind him.

Cohen will lose his law license of 31 years upon his guilty plea. He plans to reapply for the license upon his release.  When reached by the New York Times, prosecutors declined to comment on the announcement. 

Sources: New York Times, Twitter

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11New York Animal Laws Need Overhaul, Says Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice

With Animal Humane Lobby Day just two days away, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced at a news conference Monday that New York’s animal laws are antiquated and “in desperate need of an overhaul.”

“This is nonsense that this is the state of animal crimes in New York State,” Rice told reporters. “

Laws against animal cruelty in New York are codified in the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law, and there has been little change in nearly 150 years, DA Rice said.

Police officers are not trained to enforce the Agriculture and Markets section of law, she added.

The District Attorney is calling for the Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill, which her office introduced in 2012, to be passed in Albany.

When New York codified its laws, “women could not vote, there were no traffic lights and burglary wasn’t considered a crime,” she noted.

It was April 19, 1866, when the first anti-cruelty law was passed. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded earlier that same year by Henry Bergh, based on the belief that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans.

By 1888, 37 out of the 38 states in the union had enacted anti-cruelty laws. Early goals of the ASPCA focused on efforts for horses and livestock, since at the time they were used for a number of activities. Starting at the turn of the 20th century, small domestic animals, like cats and dogs, became the focus.

Brian Shapiro, New York state director of the Humane Society of the United States, confirmed that: “There is a growing public consensus on the need to crack down on serious animal related crimes...However, New York’s anti-cruelty statutes have been placed out of reach in the state’s Agriculture & Markets Law, which is unfamiliar territory for most police agencies, prosecutors and judges.”

“I urge my colleagues to support this bill to help law enforcement better protect animals from cruelty, neglect, and abuse,” state Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, the Senate sponsor of the Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill, said in a news release issued by Rice’s office.

Sources: CBS, ASPCA

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11Beloved Dog Dead After Animal Hospital Wouldn't Stay Open Past Closing Time

Last week, Vince Vaccaro of Lindenhurst, New York brought his beloved dog Nugget to Babylon Animal Hospital after noticing that she wasn’t breathing correctly. He already had a scheduled appointment at the clinic, so when he told them what was going on, they decided to take her back for a chest x-ray. Minutes later, a doctor came out and told Vaccaro that Nugget had gone into cardiac arrest. Within a couple of hours, the dog was dead.

While the dog was being treated, Vaccaro says animal hospital staff informed him that they would be closing at 8 p.m. and that he would need to bring Nugget to a 24-hour clinic.

"I told them there is no way I would make it there with the dog in this condition," said Vaccaro to Lindenhurst Patch. "I begged Dr. Lopez and Dr. Biedermann to stay open as Nugget was in the incubator breathing well and maybe in a few hours she would be stable enough for me to move her and make the 20 minute trip to the 24-hour vet."

Still, the animal hospital reportedly wouldn’t budge. They stayed open until a quarter past the hour, but weren’t willing to stay any longer, and they asked Vaccaro, along with his family members, to leave. Doctors allegedly took Nugget off of the incubator that was allowing her to breathe, and immediately, Vaccaro ran out with her in his arms to get the beloved dog to an emergency clinic as fast as he can.

"I ran out the front door but by the time I fastened my seat belt she died in my arms," said Vaccaro. "I ran back to the front door with my limp dog in hands and it was locked. I banged on it and they opened and rushed her to the back to try to revive her but it was too late. My little baby was gone. Her heart stopped just a half hour before they sent me away with the dog in my hands.”

Vaccaro blames the hospital for being unwilling to keep their doors open, but Dr. Frank Liguori, owner of Babylon Animal Hospital, disagrees.

"The only thing I can say is that someone lost an animal due to an illness and is not happy about that," said Liguori. "He's just upset about losing his animal. I think it's just an upset person who has to get over it.”

Vaccaro says he would have done just about anything to convince the hospital to stay open so that they could save his beloved dog.

"Money was no object," said Vaccaro. "If he told me, 'I will stay here to till midnight. It's going to cost you $3,000.' Fine, here you go. She's my baby. You didn't give me any options but to leave." 

The Lindenhurst Patch article published online shows many comments from others who have had similar negative experiences with Babylon Animal Hospital.

“I am so sorry about your pet,” wrote user Jessie Nelson. “This is the same facility I brought my neighbors cat to several years ago. She was having trouble breathing. The doctor was angry I brought her after hours. So I said to him, then what would you consider an emergency. He replied to me 'death'. I would never go there again.”

Reports haven’t said whether or not Vaccaro plans to pursue legal action against the hospital.

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11Man Issued Traffic Ticket For Using Electronic Cigarette While Driving

The increased popularity of electronic cigarettes has presented both lawmakers and business owners with difficult situations. Although the products are referred to as cigarettes, the electronic devices emit nicotine in the form of vapor rather than smoke. The relative safety regarding an individual’s personal health is still under review, but the lack of smoke and smell makes the e-cigarettes much safer for indoor use. 

Thus far, there have been few laws passed regarding the use of electronic cigarettes. The technology is simply too new. According to the Examiner, however, a man in upstate New York was recently given a traffic ticket for “vaping” an electronic cigarette while driving. 

The man, Jason Dewing, was given the ticket on a technicality. Although using an electronic cigarette while driving is not illegal, using a “portable electronic device” while a vehicle is in motion is prohibited.

This law was undoubtedly created to regulate the dangerous use of cell phones while driving. In fact, that’s what the officer that pulled Dewing over suspected him of doing.

“The officer truly believed I had a cell phone in my hand when he pulled me over,” Dewing said, according to the Liberty Crier. 

Still, the judge presiding over his case claimed that an e-cigarette could be classified as an electronic device. Despite his protests, Dewing was found guilty in court of violating New York traffic law 1225-d on March 20, 2014. He plans to take his case to an appeals court, further explaining that he was using an e-cigarette rather than a cell phone. Dewing believes he has a strong case.

“The way the law is written, an e-cigarette cannot make a call nor can it send text or data; therefore, it cannot be a portable electronic device,” he said.

Several major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have begun passing laws that treat electronic cigarettes similar to their regular counterparts by banning them for indoor use. 

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11How A Fictional Town In Upstate New York Became Real And Then Fictional Again

Agloe, New York was a nonexistent town created by a mapmaking company in order to see if other mapmakers were copying their publications, but at one point, the seemingly fictional town wound up becoming real.

Kudos to NPR for unearthing this gem of a story.

In the 1930s, mapmakers at General Drafting Co. decided they needed to protect their work from others that would duplicate it, so they came up with the fictional town of Agloe, found a random spot near a dirt road intersection in Upstate New York, and placed the town on the map. The name Agloe was derived from the scrambled initials of the company’s director and his assistant, Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers.

A few years after placing the fictional town on the map, a different company, Rand McNally, placed Agloe on their map, and when the folks at General Drafting Co. discovered it, they thought they had a case against them. It was revealed, however, that Agloe had since become a real town, and Rand McNally put it on the map in good faith.

The town of Agloe had actually been registered with the Delaware County administration because someone had decided to build a general store at the intersection and named it Agloe General Store after seeing the town of Agloe on a map.

Years later, the Agloe General Store closed and subsequently, the town disbanded. Now, decades later, NPR reported that a search of the town on Google Maps came up in the correct location for the fictional/non-fictional place, but was corrected soon after the discovery. In the end, the town of Agloe remains nonexistent after a clever trick to stop piracy wound up creating a short-lived town.

Photos from NPR

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11Jogger Peter Shankman Faces $1,000 Fine For Running Too Early In Central Park

Peter Shankman is a CEO, TEDx speaker, NASA advisor, and HARO founder, amongst other things. He can now add one more accolade to his resume: being the jogger who was ticketed for running too early in the morning in Central Park.

Shankman was with his running partner in Central Park at 4:30 a.m. training for an upcoming triathlon when a police officer cited him.

According to the NYPD officer, “the people’s park” does not open until 6am.

"Most people who've gotten in touch think it's a bogus charge, and have mentioned end of the month quotas as a reason I didn't just get a warning," Shankman told Gothamist.

Shankman gave an account of what happened on his Facebook page:

At 4:30 this morning in Central Park, at mile 2 of my ten mile run, I was stopped by the police and given a summons for exercising in the park "before it opened." Apparently, Central Park doesn't "open" until 6am, and my exercising (running) in the park before 6am is illegal. Note - Running in the park. Not "performing sex acts for crack," or "laying down explosive charges," but "running." Because apparently, a 215 pound man running through Central Park at just over a 9:10 pace is a threat to Manhattan.

To answer the question of why I was running so early - I needed to do ten miles today as part of Ironman training. If I didn't start that early, I wouldn't be done before my first meeting of the day.

A "hey, buddy, the park doesn't open until six, you need to run on the sidewalk outside" from the police officer wouldn't have sufficed? Apparently not, since he made it clear that his boss was in the car with him, so he had to write me up.

I now get to go to court in May and fight this. What a waste of taxpayer money, and my time. Ridiculous.

Shankman claims he saw no signs or warnings at 63rd Street and Central Park West where he entered the park, reports the Daily Mail.

“The last 12 years have really been about getting the city healthy, you know,” Shankman said to Pix 11. "No smoking in bars, no trans fats, and here I was, I was running, I was exercising, trying to lose a few more pounds before this race. Thank god I wasn’t holding a BIG Gulp.”

Shankman faces a fine of up to $1,000 and must appear in court in May.

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11Cat Lawsuit Drives Vet Clinic Owner Shirley Koshi To Suicide

Distraught New York veterinarian Dr. Shirley Koshi took her life on Feb. 16, following a lengthy civil lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by self-deemed cat rescuer Gwen Jurmark, was over a cat Koshi rescued in Wallenberg Park in August 2013.

While walking through Wallenberg Park, two women saw Karl, a sickly black and white cat. The women took the cat into Koshi's clinic. Karl had a urinary tract infection and was given a 10-day course of antibiotics.

Weeks after Karl was rescued, Jurmark came forward and claimed the cat was hers.

“Ms. Gwen Jurmark appeared on the scene weeks after the cat improved saying this was her cat that she ‘keeps’ along with many others at Wallenberg Park,” Koshi said in court papers. “Gwen Jurmark rescues cats … then drops them off in parks instead of finding homes for them.”

Koshi did not want to relinquish control of Karl only to see him back in the park. But as the lawsuit proceeded, Jurmark went public with her side of the story. Jurmark's supporters posted negative things online about Koshi and her Gentle Hands Clinic. Jurmark reportedly staged an event outside of the clinic in which dozens of protestors joined her in protesting outside of Gentle Hands.

The negative publicity Koshi and Gentle Hands received from the case drove her business into the ground. The clinic's income plummeted. Koshi was forced to use her own income to keep the business afloat. Then, a flood last month ruined much of the clinic. It all proved too much for Koshi to handle. She took her life last week.

“She was being harassed and vilified by various individuals, including the person who filed the complaint,” Koshi’s lawyer, John Sarcone, said.

“Besides financial problems, the lawsuit drove her over the edge,” former Gentle Hands employee Will Page added.

Police ruled her death a suicide by apparent overdose.

After Koshi’s death, Jurmark reclaimed custody of Karl.

Sources: NY Daily News, Riverdale Press

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11Cities Hand Out Condoms, Then Arrest People Carrying Them for Prostitution

In a startling bit of irony, New Orleans both passes out free condoms to sex workers to promote public health and also arrest people who have them as prostitutes. According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, the fight against HIV and AIDS in Louisiana is being lost because of inconsistent policies regarding sex work and harshly consistent policies regarding illegal drug abuse. New Orleans has the third-highest instance of HIV and AIDS infection in the U.S.

In Louisiana, non-medical syringes are illegal and most efforts for needle-exchange are criminalized and driven underground, which contributes to this problem. However, New Orleans has free condom distribution that is explicitly meant to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Yet, according to Reason, “condom crackdowns, along with vague loitering laws” are used to arrest anyone on the grounds of suspicion of prostitution.

New Orleans isn’t the only city doing this, however. Condom-profiling has been reported in many cities such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York. A report from VICE tells the story of nurse and grandmother Monica Gonzalez, who was arrested on the way to the hospital while suffering an asthma attack. Later, charges were dropped because Monica hadn’t even had a condom in her possession.

The New York state legislature has a bill, versions of which have been stuck in committee for years, which addresses this very issue. The law would ban condoms as evidence for a variety of prostitution charges, including “maintaining a bawdy house.” As of January 8, 2104, the bill officially “died” in the Senate.

As it stands, this practice has caused many sex workers to forgo condoms altogether. Also shocking is how this policy leads to harassment of women wearing a certain style of clothing and the transgendered. With Piers Morgan and trans activist Janet Mock in the news for a petulant tiff over terminology, this sort of trans harassment is being ignored. 

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11Man Stabs Wife And Two Daughters After NYPD Fails To Translate Domestic Abuse Report

A New York woman and her two young children were stabbed to death last month.

Guatemalan immigrant and Queens resident, Deisy Garcia, 21, filed a domestic-abuse report on May 30, 2013, saying she was afraid that her husband would kill her.

According to TheBlaze, the report, which was in Spanish, was never translated into English.

New York City Police also responded to two reports filed by Garcia, at least one of them in Spanish, regarding her husband’s violence and threats last November, but no arrests were made.

Garcia and her daughters, Daniela, 2, and Yoselin, 1, were found dead in their apartment on Jan. 17, allegedly stabbed by Garcia’s husband and the girls’ father, Miguel Mejia-Ramos.

The NYPD did not have an explanation to why there was no English translation of the report.

“I knew about the police report, and I knew about the police showing up at the house previously on one of the times where Deisy had called the police because she had been the victim of domestic violence,” Roger Asmar, the family's attorney, told CNN. “But we did not know that every time Deisy filled out a report — every time she went to the precinct or the cops came to the house — no one actually translated the text into English, so, apparently no one looked into it.”

Garcia’s family says that if the police had taken action, she might still be around.

“I know she contacted them and told them he kicked her and abused her, but the police told her they needed to see proof of the abuse,” Luzmina Alvarado, Garcia’s mother, told the New York Post.

An NYPD representative said, “The allegations are under internal review.”

Officers were also reminded that police department policy mandates that reports in foreign languages must be translated into English.

According to statements to police after his arrest, Mejia-Ramos, 28, was angry when he found a Facebook photo of his wife with another man. He allegedly used two knives to kill Garcia before hugging and kissing his daughters, asking for forgiveness, and then stabbing both of them multiple times.

The New York Times reported that after two suicide attempts, first stabbing himself in the chest and then hanging himself, he fled. An illegal immigrant, Mejia-Ramos was arrested in Texas on Jan. 20 en route to Mexico after police tracked his cellphone.

He surrendered and confessed to killing his children because he didn’t have any car seats to take them.

Mejia-Ramos was nearly deported, but his case was closed in 2011 after it fell under guidelines set up by the Obama administration that directed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on cases involving those found guilty of serious crimes.

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