Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kirsten Gillibrand live-blogging!

Kirsten Gillibrand

... will be live-blogging today in the Blue America fund-raising series at:

Firedoglake
Saturday, Oct. 21
2:00 PM eastern

Please spread the word and join Kirsten at 2:00 PM!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

BILL AND TIMS’ (AND GEORGE AND JOHN AND JUAN’s) TERROR ADVENTURE

NOTE: The following post was sent in by a friend. For a little background on this story please see

here,
here
here,
and
here... and on to our story....


(after 4 days of trial, where I missed the 4th day)

It all began - when? With 911? When they started illegally listening to phone calls and reading e-mails, and equating any criticism, especially from Muslims, as support for terrorism? (And we’re hardly immune - they said "If you’re not with us, you’re against us." Well write my name down George - put me on that enemies list.)

THE NOTEBOOK

Or was it when they bombed a camp and other sites in northern Iraq in 2003, killed everyone there and then claimed they had been terrorists? Very convenient since they’re all dead.. Maybe that was the first "mistake." One of the groups attacked was Ali Bapir’s group - a moderate former IMK leader who was not opposing them - they later apologized for killing several of his men and detaining him for a few months.

We definitely know about the "mistranslation" of the word "kak" - which is actually a very common Arabic word for BROTHER - and which certainly does NOT mean "commander." But that was the thing that got Yassin Aref denied bail the first time. (The second time was based on his poetry and private journal but that was a year later.) Luckily Terry straightened the first one out, but how many times is the defense expected to fix government "mistakes" which end up hurting their clients? Apparently a lot.

OTHER MISTRANSLATIONS

Like the mistranslations of the journal. Which kept Yassin locked up when his bail was denied. Where the prosecutors implied the "American Plan" was to attack the US when it was really based on the Iraqi Liberation Act passed by the US Congress in 1998 where seven Kurdish opposition groups - including the IMK - were to get US $ for an uprising against Saddam Hussein. And the poem - the one that said something like "raise the jihad sword with blood"? They left out the first half which showed it was all about getting rid of Saddam.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL WIRETAPPING AND SECRECY

Then there’s the classified government motions and even decisions which Terry and Kevin - with top secret security clearances - didn’t even get to see. Orders were faxed to the Court with the heading of the "counter-terrorism" section of the "Justice" Department in DC - and the judge would sign them and then send us an electronic notice saying another classified order had crossed his desk and, no, the defense couldn’t see this one either. And this isn’t a bad judge, he’s actually pretty good as federal judges go. What is happening to our country??! When the defense went up to the Second Circuit the Court fiddled around in procedural swamps and completely ignored the main point - the burning of the Constitution. Luckily Michigan Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was brave enough to say no to these would-be kings - course she’s a Black woman - maybe that has something to do with her courage, and with her understanding of just what is going on.

Anyway, for whatever reason they really wanted to take down Yassin Aref. Maybe because he is very trustworthy, religious and devoted to his faith and his principles - and is afraid of nothing but God. (All that was played on a tape at trial.) So how do they go about it? Well, he was in the US so it was apparently still too risky to attempt an "extraordinary rendition." But they have other ways. They found a guy who they had some leverage over - actually a lot of leverage - he faced a long prison term and deportation, and his wife also faced deportation. He was slimy enough, slippery enough, and willing enough to suit their purposes. So they gave him a secret body recorder, put a VHS recorder in a clock in his office (which I think they also gave him), and gave him all sorts of instructions.

URDU TAPES

Meet with Mohammed Musharraf Hossain first. (He was a law-abiding hard working immigrant who was actually living the American dream. He lived with 9 others in a little flat above his pizza store. Sure, like most all Muslims, he was angry at Israel and unfortunately he blamed Jews. Like many of us, he was angry at a lot of things the US did. But he just liked to talk - he wasn’t going to do anything. He also said that people would gradually convert to Islam and there was no need for killing. And Malik for some reason at one point told him that this was legal and that nothing he imported was capable of killing a man or harming anyone. Musharraf did want money though and that’s what he was offered. He is the collateral damage of this case.)

Tim Coll told Malik: Get to know him, impress him with your riches, give presents to his children, tell him what a great guy he is, and how you want to learn about Islam from him. Tell him you’re interested in buying his pizza business. Then offer him money. $5000 - you’ll give him $50,000 and he only has to give back $45000. Wow, that definitely impressed him. He sure seemed a lot more interested in the money than in any "plot" which Malik hinted about. That’s called entrapment. He even thought the terrorist group was a musical act.

But the point was to get to Aref. So when Hossain said (showing that he didn’t think this was particularly illegal) that they needed to have the loan witnessed and recorded under Islamic law, FBI Agent Tim Coll told Malik the informant to say that they didn’t want any Pakistanis or Bangladeshis - turns out then that the obvious choice was Yassin Aref. Musharref fell right into the trap and suggested Yassin. Wonderful choice says Malik. Yeah, says Musharraf, because he’s very honest and would never break his word. Not ‘oh yeah, he would love to get in on this plot.’ Nope, and later, when Malik told Musharraf that he had told Yassin of the plot (though he didn’t really, just hinted and used words Yassin didn’t know), Musharraf was really very surprised, showing that not only did he never discuss it with him, but also that he didn’t think Yassin would support whatever it was that was supposedly going on. Of course Musharref was also extremely surprised that Malik told HIM about the missile.

And there’s no indication that anyone ever believed the insane fake plot about shooting the Pakistani Ambassador in NYC with a 10 foot long missile launcher. I can just imagine hiding that in my pocket walking down the streets of Manhattan - it wouldn’t even fit under a trench coat. And it’s heat seeking - so they’re going to fire it in the middle of a crowded city and expect to hit a particular target?

ENGLISH TAPES

So Yassin meets with them, and explains why it is so important to write down all the terms of the loan. And in fact it says in the Koran that if you’re asked to witness and record a financial transaction under this Surah (chapter of the Koran), it is your duty to do so and you cannot refuse. Especially if you’re an imam. He also explains, in connection with both giving and paying back the loan, how important it is as Muslims to fulfill promises. He says, when Malik hints about "black money" and avoiding taxes, that he doesn’t think this is illegal. Then it seems that he thinks it has to do with not paying taxes, which is illegal, but not that the source of the money was illegal. You can hear from the tapes how poor Yassin’s English was - it’s pretty clear that he was unfamiliar with the words "ammunition" (which is not illegal anyway) and "missile."

But Malik keeps trying - at one point throwing the phrase "I send the missile" into the middle of an unrelated conversation. There was no indication that Yassin even heard him - he just kept making his points as if there had been no interruption. Malik tries really hard to earn his money and stay out of jail - he says, ‘oh great Imam, you know so much, I really want to learn from you about our religion - please teach me.’ Which is part of Yassin’s duty as an imam. Yassin explains that his purpose here is to fulfil that duty - to lead prayers, marry people, counsel people. That when he came to this country he promised to obey American laws and it very important to him - and should be for all Muslims, as it is part of the faith - to fulfill promises.

Malik also tries really hard to get Yassin to say he supports the group JEM - which is a designated foreign terrorist group. But Yassin says over and over and over again (he is repetitive but extremely consistent) that he cannot support that group, he does not know enough about them. The most he can say is that if Malik knows about them and supports them, then it is up to him, he should support them if he believes they are doing the right thing. But that he, Yassin, cannot do so. He also points out that it is generally better to give money to service groups who help orphans and women who are hungry and cold in the mountains, etc.. That with many political groups money ends up going to the wrong people or for the wrong purpose.

Malik keeps trying though, and, still under the guise of being "taught about Islam" draws Yassin into political conversations. Yassin says that while he supports the right of peoples to self-determination, such as the Palestinians, the people of Kashmir and the people of Kurdistan, all of whom have been occupied and oppressed by others, he does not support suicide bombing or really any kind of bombings. And that for him it is irrelevant anyway, since he, though sympathetic to the plight of, say, a Palestinian child, is simply not in that situation. He is an imam, and his duties are to lead prayers, counsel people, etc...


TRIAL

So then comes the trial. First thing they do is put on a witness who holds up the shoulder-fired missile and explains how to use it. How is this even relevant? It was the government’s missile and they provided it to Malik who showed it to Musharraf - but not Yassin. The defense agreed to stipulate that the missile was what the government said it was (met the particular statutory definition of a "weapon of mass destruction" - so it fit into their carefully constructed plot) But no, they refused to stipulate - because the whole point was for the jury to see it - and be terrorized.

Then they start playing the sting tapes. First the urdu ones with Malik and Musharraf. Many of their translations were bad, and Kevin got them thrown out, and replaced with translations by someone else. But the jury wasn’t told that and so the FBI translator came across looking like the perfect little translator who was SO careful about each word and would NEVER make a mistake... Then she said "jihad" meant "holy war." Well, she "enlarged" on that definition the next day, either at the request of the defense or because they knew it would come out later - and pointed out that, well, that is an over-simplification - that jihad really means "struggle" and can be inner or outer, defensive or offensive etc. Like the English word "crusade." She also "defined" a few other words - "mushrik" and I don’t remember what else. The underlying implication and assumption is that of course these defendants are terrorist extremist Islamists so she would "naturally" interpret the words in that context... Luckily the defense can show later that Yassin didn’t buy into the extremist definitions - that, for example, he bought meat at Price Chopper because he believed that Christians and Jews were not "mushrik" ("unbelievers") but were, rather "People of the Book" - that only pagans (idol-worshippers) were "mushrik."

HALABJA VICTIM HELPS THE DEFENSE

Then, the wonderful and heartbreaking testimony of the Kurdish witness Mohammed Aziz. Again slippery stuff on the part of the government translator, who tried to twist the Kurdish words into English which the government wanted to hear. Luckily Yassin was paying attention and raised enough of a stink so that, after a side-bar, the translation suddenly improved greatly and we started hearing a lot of good things said about Yassin. And when the witness sort of fumbled identifying Yassin by pointing in his general direction, Yassin probably made a good impression on the jury by jumping up and waving. (Channel 9 said that was an "obvious cultural divide between the defendant and his lawyers" but it was just a spontaneous move by Yassin showing he has nothing to hide. I liked it and am guessing Terry and Kent did too.) And, thanks to Terry’s "cross" - he was really sweet to the guy - we heard a lot about how Saddam gassed the Kurds in Halabja in 1988 - that’s why Mohammed, all these years later, is in constant pain and needs a new set of lungs. We also heard about how the IMK (the whole point of this witness was to connect Yassin to that group and make the group - which is clearly NOT a terrorist group - look bad) was a service organization with an office in Damascus which helped Kurdish men, women and children travel back and forth to Kurdistan, get medical treatment etc. On redirect Bill tried to get him to say that the IMK just helped IMK people, but he said, "no, they helped everybody, regardless of political affiliation." Also Bill tried really hard to get him to say that Yassin was in charge of the office (which is a lie anyway) and he never said that - if anything the implication was that his nephew, Lokman, a college friend of Yassin’s, was in charge. Bill also tried to get him to say that the college in question was some kind of nefarious training ground for extremist Islamists - but he said, no, there were various courses and majors - some were religious and some degrees were in language, history, etc. Terry asked "like a Catholic college?" The witness said he didn’t know, having never been to one, but everyone chuckled and got the point.

STING TAPES CHERRY PICKED BY GOVERNMENT

Long ago the government had given the defense a set of cassette tapes - the sting tapes recorded by the FBI. They also provided some pretty poor quality transcripts. Then shortly before trial they gave the defense some revised and generally improved transcripts - (although there were certain changes which were extremely prejudicial and misleading - such as using the word "terrorist" where it was really impossible to tell what the word actually was). Tim Coll made the new transcripts. But the government only provided the transcripts for the cherry-picked parts of the tapes which they wanted to use at trial. All the parts the defense wanted were left out. They tended to be short sections between the parts the government wanted - legally, the defense had a right to get most of them back under the "rule of completeness" So, since there were many page numbers missing from the government transcripts, the defense asked for the specific page numbers for the parts to be put back. The government refused. So then the defense hired a stenographer who stayed up late a couple of week-end nights listening to these tapes (which, as everyone at the trial knows now, are not easy to understand). She made a set of transcripts for the parts the defense wanted to add back. When the government learned that, they must have had a vision of playing their parts, and then having Terry or Kent say, "And now for the part they didn’t show you." So they said they were adding it all back in. And they even provided new transcripts with those parts included - the "missing" pages which had been requested earlier. So then on the day that they played those tapes, with Tim Coll on the stand, they somehow "forgot?!" to play the most crucial one they had agreed to add back - the part where Yassin says that when he came to this country he promised to obey American laws, and how important it is as Muslims to fulfil promises. That section is also where Yassin makes it clear that he is opposed to suicide bombing and bombing in general. So now the defense will most likely get to play that section, and give the jury the transcript for it - their attention will be even more focused on it than it would have if the government hadn’t made this latest "mistake."

WHAT NEXT?

Stay tuned....

A little bit on the Cast of Characters:

Bill is Bill Pericak, the main US atty on the case.

Tim is FBI Special Agent Tim Coll, the lead agent on the case.

Terry is Terry Kindlon, attorney for Yassin Aref.

Kevin is Kevin Luibrand, attorney for Mohammed Mushareff Hossain.

Kent Sprotbery is one of the defense attorneys conducting the trial - he is an associate with the firm and has extensive federal trial experience.

Yassin Aref is an Iraqi Kurd who had to flee after the anti-Saddam Kurdish uprising in 1991. He then returned to Kurdistan until 1995 when he came to Damascus to study and work. He worked for the IMK (an Islamic Kurdish opposition group which helped Kurdish refugees and exliles, many of whom came through Damascus since, due to the no-fly zone, they couldn't fly into Iraq) - Yassin worked there for a few months in 1999 and never denied that. Then in 1999 he entered a UN refugee program where they chose a country for him - which was the US. They also chose for him to go to Albany. He started working at Albany Med as a janitor, and later became the Imam of the Central Ave mosque. He has a green card but is not a citizen. Even if he gets completely aquitted, it is possible he could be deported, which would be especially rough for his children, who have been here since '99 - the oldest is 12 and the youngest is 8 months.

Musharraf is a citizen - he is from Bangladesh but came here many years ago, and owns Little Italy Pizzeria. I don't know as much about him. Neither defendant has ever been in trouble with the law before.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sen. Minority Leader David Paterson Q&A, Wed, June 14

New York State Senate Minority Leader and Democratic Lt Governor candidate David Paterson will be the guest speaker at the next meeting of Democracy for the Hudson-Mohawk Region on behalf of the Democracy for New York Coalition.

Who: Sen. David Paterson
When: Wednesday, June 14, 7:00 PM
Where: Democracy for the Hudson-Mohawk Region
SEIU Building
155 Washington Ave, Albany, NY (Map)
(right next to the Albany Public Library)

Sen. Paterson will speak briefly and then engage in a half hour question and answer session with attendees. Topics will be sure to cover:

ballot access;
prospects for Democrats picking up the 5 seats necessary to gain majority status in the Senate;
and legislative reform.

If you can be in the area tomorrow please RSVP here.

April 29 Democracy for New York had the pleasure of featuring Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer at our State Conference in Albany and we are very pleased to be able to follow up with Lt. Governor candidate David Paterson who spoke at our first conference last year.

Sen. Paterson has been a strong leader in New York on HAVA legislation. He and other Democratic Senators have worked with us and other public interest groups in advocating for statewide standards on voting technology specifically advocating for a paper ballot/optical scan solution. The Senator, who is legally blind, is a leading advocate for the rights of the visually and physically challenged people of New York and brings this perspective to the ballot access issue.

For more on Senator Paterson please see his Senate biography.

If you think you'll be able to be in Albany tomorrow evening don't miss this opportunity to hear this very engaging, humorous, and intelligent man speak.

You can RSVP for the event here.

Andrew
Democracy for the Hudson-Mohawk Region President

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sep 19, 1862 - Remember not just who but what they went through

From a transcription of the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Ezekiel Silas Sampson:

Sampson was from Sigourney, Iowa. Forgive the choppy and sometimes difficult to follow text. I have copied it here as I received it in a transcription of the original (in possesion of one of my cousins).


August 31st were mustered. Had a heavy shower in afternoon. Received letter from J.H.Sanders informing me that Governor Kirkwood had commissioned me Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th Iowa.
September 1st received commission and was qualified.
September 2nd entered upon the duties of my new position. Leaving my Company is like leaving home and my friends.


Lieutenant Colonel E.S. Sampson had been commissioned Captain of Company F, 5th Iowa Infantry Division at Keokuk on April 26th of the previous year.


September 4th served as brigade officer of the day. Bought a horse from William Carpenter - owe him balance of $60.00.
September 7th in evening struck tents and loaded up and held ourselves in readiness to march in a moment's notice. Rebels reported in large force at Booneville.
September 8th continued prepared to move until 4 o'clock pm. When we unloaded tents and pitched them on old camping ground.
September 11th at 10 pm orders came to prepare two day's rations, have teams hitched up at 2 am load up at 3 and prepare to move at 4.


Much of the previous entries in the diary, which begins in August 1862, are like this. Marching, setting up camp, being prepared to move, not moving, striking camp, pitching camp, looking for supplies, dealing with weather... etc.


September 12th visited camp at post 3am. Had returned to camp but a few minutes when firing was heard on Monmethe Road. Mounted and rode over as soon as possible and found that a Company of rebel cavalry of 40 or 50 had made a dash on our most advanced post and driven the sentinels in and taken one prisoner. Post occupied by Company B the sentinels fell back on their reserve about 1/2 mile distance. On the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th had all camp equipage loaded up ready to move. On the 15th there was a skirmish with our pickets of Sullivan's Brigade. On 16th train sent to Corinth with only having sufficient transportation, entrenching tools and three day's rations.



September 17th had orders to prepare two day's rations in Haversacks and prepare to move by 3. Raining.
September 18th left camp at 4 am, very rainy about 5 o'clock. Halted 6 am remained along the road feeding our horses from neighboring field and roasting corn for ourselves until nearly sundown. When we returned 1/2 mile and bivouacked in field of tall grass. Just as we got back a man of Company I placed in our hands a prisoner to be taken to Colonel Sanborn. Rested fairly.


And then we arrive at Iuka...


September 19th reveille at 4 took up march again for Iuka at sun half hour high - morning clear. Marched on passing a small entrenchment. Across the road fallen trees on the left side. Made a day or two by the enemy. Marched on to about 6 miles of Iuka. Halted, formed line of battle on right side of road. Ohio battery on left and the artillery commenced cutting brush and masking artillery. Soon orders came in to move forward.

In short time General Rosecrans came in with Sanborn's Division on a road intercepting ours on the left. Shortly three Companies from the right of our Regiment were ordered formed as skirmishers. I was at this time riding at the left of rear of Regiment. Colonel Matthies rode back and told me three companies had been ordered forward as skirmishers, I had better see if General Hamilton did not want someone to command them.

I rode briskly forward and met General Price's Aid de Camp coming for a commander for the skirmishers. I immediately went forward to General Hamilton who directed me to follow the cavalry to move ahead but if they met with an resistance to throw the skirmishers forward and push through.

I deployed Company E on the right and D on the left and held Company A as a reserve on the road. In a short distance I found there was so much cavalry to possess I assembled the skirmishers to allow them to fall in rear of cavalry. At this junction, just as the head cavalry had crossed a small creek in site of a large white farm house. The enemy skirmishers fired when they wounded a Lieutenant and Private. I immediately moved my skirmishers past the cavalry and deployed them as before. As I rode to the right in site of house, balls swithering freely. Company D hurried rapidly around to left under cover of brush and timber and routed them.

Had one man Lieutenant Jones wounded in hip. When I rode up to house found citizen there denied that the rebels had fired from his house. Said there had been two Companies near there - moved the skirmishers briskly forward twice to the lines and gave me very valuable assistance. We deployed as skirmishers and drive the scouts of the enemy before us until we were relieved about 3 o'clock by 6 Companies of the 26th Missouri under Lieutenant Colonel Hellman on foot. Where we were retired there was a house after the boys drive the rebels from it and helped themselves to the bread, butter and preserves.

We killed two of the enemies and wounded several. One was dead in a peach orchard, another was dying on the left in a low swampy place of brush and timber. I asked him a few questions which he answered freely. As I was passing through this swamp a grape vine caught me around the neck and jerked me from my horse, I wasn't hurt - it only halted me for a moment.

Soon after we were relieved - someone found in a small log house on the road a jar of cream and some cornbread. I got a glass of cream and a small bite of bread. We were all very hungry. After we got this, someone told us there was a woman in the other room. I didn't see her. In nearly every houuse we passed there was a table set as though they had been feeding the rebel soldiers. Men, women, and children had generally fled on our approach. We had not passed the house where we got the cream but about a half mile when a heavy volley was fired by the rebels into our skirmishers causing them to fall back double quick. The brigade was immediately deposed in order of battle.

The 11th Ohio battery was on the road, our Regiment on the right, 48th Indiana and 4th Minnesota to the left, 26th Missouri, 17th Indiana Sesame near where our left rested was a very small unfinished, not old looking school house and a road on a ridge running parallel with our line. Left on the crest of the hill and right on the slope to the West timber with tall underbrush of oak and pines, some places especially to rear of our right uncommonly dense and difficult to pass through. While we were forming we could hear the rebels forming and they were picking us with grape which went mostly over. Suddenly we formed and the battery fired a half a dozen shots. When the whole rebel line opened fire of musketry which was very severe on the battery. Our line opened in return except one Regiment which mostly reserved its fire. The sound of the tramping of the many through the leaves and brush of the line and the menditious force. (Often under curtail they had three lines.)

Enemies moved steadily forward shouting vociferously. Heard above the din and roar of arms. From the tremendous volley fired into us it would seem the enemy relieved each other with new Regiments frequently. Soon our battery was silenced. Half of the men and nearly all the officers either killed or wounded and the 48th Indiana Regiment of horseback. We had poured into the enemy with our wilfilled rifles and by the din of the 4th Companies of the 36th Missouri such a good fire as to cause them to move and fall back.

Twice we moved forward over the crest of the hill pouring into them our incessant fire. They would fall back and then return apparently with a fresh line firing in destructive volleys. Then there was battle in all this terrible realities. The lines of the contending armies swayed back and forth. Twice we moved forward firing a most destructive fire into the enemy. As we raised the rest of the hill their fire was terribly destructive on us.

We fell back to the first position where we continued firing until our cartridges were exhausted. We soon were enveloped in clouds of smoke. The roar of arms, shouting of contending armies, swithering of bullets were constant and deafening. The screams and the groans of the dying and wounded could scarcely be heard. The Regiment on our left 48 gave way. The enemy rushed forth upon the battery which had sometime been relieved. More than half of the men being either killed or wounded and from the most destructive fire from the left which nearly struck them to the earth.

Four companies of the 26th were brought in at the request of Colonel Matthies but when they were approaching them Colonel Brown was badly wounded. Colonel Matthies tried to get them in line with our Regiment but it was too hot a fire. They came promptly up and commenced firing, fought well but were forced back a short distance. Our Regiment had fixed bayonets at the commencement of the action and were continually ready to receive or make a charge.

I instructed the right wing not to fire until the enemy came near. When they fired it told fearfully upon the ranks. I was close to the line on the right wing. Not off of my horse and making every effort to keep them in line and to keep men in line in two ranks to prevent them from getting into confusion and backing to the rear. Many whom I ordered to the ranks who were coming to the rear would show me they were wounded. Lieutenant Marshall 2nd Missouri also on the right doing noble service.

When our cartridges failed, we fell back through very thick brush to an open field. Of very high grass but a short distance to our rear. Just as we came to the edge of the field the 11th Missouri passed up towards the enemy into the brush in the direction of the line we had occupied, and we soon heard their volley firing out upon the enemy but it was now quite dark. We returned across the field stopping a short time behind a fence then around on the road and obtained a fresh supply of ammunition. On the way we passed the 10th Missouri and part of the 26th under Colonel Hellman.

Near the road was a great crowd of stragglers, the 48th Indiana, 6th Iowa and 80th Ohio, and a few from other Regiments. Nearly all of our Regiments were with us except the killed and wounded. It had now been dark some time - we distributed cartridges by candle light. We were directed to remain where we were. Harry Lumbuck of my old Company gave me a bit of hard cracker and sugar which I divided with Lieutenant White who had none.

We were near the hospital and could constantly hear the groans of the wounded. We lay down near the road to get a little rest expecting a hard day's work on the morrow. The ambulances were running all night moving the wounded to the rear. I visited the hospital once in the night. It was a bloody sight. I noticed two lying on the ground who had just had their legs taken off above the knees.

About 11 o'clock there was quite a brisk picket firing. We had our horses saddled and everything ready to work. During the remainder of night we were quiet, not withstanding the great bustle, stir and passing of ambulances within a few feet of where we lay, I slept quite soundly.

Between 3 and 4 o'clock on the morning of the 20th we moved a short distance and formed a line of battle right in line of road. Stanley's Division had the front. We remained in line until break of day - moved a short distance to the rear, halted in road and those who were fortunate enough to have coffee made coffee and ate. My old friend of Company F gave me a cup of tea and some crackers which were delicious.

Here we heard from whom we supposed had been killed. Here during our hours of halt, the scenes of the evening before and the night were fully discussed - everybody talking. The fact that those present were so fortunate to exist left not withstanding their sorrow for their comrades told what they were doing, saying, how acting when the fatal shot struck them.

After our meager repose the brigade returned again toward town and passed back by the hospital and along the road into the battlefield where details were made to convey the wounded still on the field and to bury the dead of both armies; the Colonel being engaged away from the Regiment. I was obliged to remain most of the time with it.

As we passed by the hospital saw quite a pile of legs, arms, hands and feet which had been amputated and thrown together. From here on the dying and dead were stretched along the road. At first they were all blue uniforms but when we approached the rebel line of battle the butternuts lay in profusion. Between the line, blue and butternut were intermingled. The ground, grass and bushes were smeared and spattered with blood and limbs and mangled bodies lay thick around.

Saw two rebel brothers lying one partly on the other. I thought they had found a file with the bottle as shot of grape. The rebel corps were very black in the face supposed to have been caused by being intoxicated at the time of death. When in close contact the men said they could smell whiskey on their breath.

Saw Lieutenant Holcomb and acting Lieutenant Lister. The expression of Holcomb's countenance was firm and tense. Lister had the appearance of having bled to death. He was shot through the thigh and had tied a strap around his leg to stop the blood. To see so many noble boys lying dead on the field caused one to reflect that the glory of the field was dearly bought. Saw most of the dead and wounded of Company F either on the field or along the road or near the hospital and passing in the ambulance. Remained on the battlefield until about noon, then leaving a detail to finish burying the dead returned to Jacinto road 6 miles and bivouacked for the night. Boys had plenty of fresh beef and sweet potatoes.


With all our advances in technology, medicine, and efficiency in killing each other... I don't think that war has really changed all that much in 143 years.

Ezekiel Silas Sampson, my great-great-grandfather (his daughter was my father's much beloved and fondly remembered "GrannyBird"), went on writing in his diary until spring of the following year, including the battles of Champion Hill and Vicksburg, but then he stops writing...

... except for lists of the names of the dead and wounded.

On this Memorial Day let us not simply remember our own loved and lost warriors but the hell we as a society put them through by not working towards real solutions to the common problems we, all societies, face in this world.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Brian Keeler for NY State Senate

Brian Keeler is a New York DFA member running for the State Senate in the 41st district (Columbia and Dutchess Counties). I've know Brian (NYBri) on-line for a year or so now but met him personally for the first time at our DFNY state convention last month. I think he'll make a great State Senator.

He is making his formal announcement and posted it on-line at DailyKos:

I'm told Markos of DailyKos will be featuring Brian's campaign today. If you are a DailyKos member please recommend Brian's diary. If not, please read and learn about Brian and his campaign. His is a very winnable seat. Democrats only need to win 5 seats to take control of the state senate and I think Brian's can be one of those 5.

Brian's district overlaps with Kirsten Gillibrand's and you might consider helping out both campaigns over the summer and fall if, as I do, you Brian is one of your candidates for this year.

Please check him out!

I think you'll like what you see.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

John Sweeney's Labor Record

Congressman Do-Over... er... Rep. John Sweeney sent his first campaign mailer the other day. I haven't received one (what? you don't love me anymore John?) but curtesy of the Albany Times Union we have this shot:


According to the Times Union:
"U.S. Rep. John Sweeney’s latest campaign mailer highlights what seems to be the central theme of his (yet to be announced) re-election effort: That he’s just a local blue-collar boy running against a rich, New York infiltrator who’s out of touch with working-class families in the 20th CD."

"Sweeney’s brochure also gives a nod to organized labor, a traditionally Democratic bastion, noting that his dad helped found the Troy branch of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, Local 196.

Unfortunately for working men and women in the 20th district John’s father isn’t running for office. Instead we have Congressman Do-Over with his atrocious voting record on labor issues.

Fortunately we have Project Vote Smart available to see just what sort of friend of the working man Dear John is. He can't run on his fathers record. He has to run on his own. A small sampling:

2005 Representative Sweeney supported the interests of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers 25 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Sweeney supported the interests of the Service Employees International Union 12 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Sweeney supported the interests of the United Auto Workers 21 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Sweeney supported the interests of the AFL-CIO 27 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Sweeney supported the interests of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers 0 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Sweeney supported the interests of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Worker 17 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Sweeney supported the interests of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees 13 percent in 2005.

Oh... and it turns out that Teachers (0 percent) and farmers (17 percent) don’t like him much either.

"My actions in Congress aren’t guided by political opinion surveys or by some Washington special interest group," the mailer reads. "My actions are guided by a lifetime of living here and the opinions of people who put me in office…I will never forget where I came from, or who I'm fighting for now."

Congressman Do-Over’s actions are unfortunately very much guided by Al D’Amato, Bill Powers, Tom DeLay, George Bush and the lobbyists that put him in office. Fortunately it is still possible for the people of the district to over rule those folks and remove him from office. Which we will do in November. Every 2 years we get an opportunity for a "do-over" too and we’ve had enough of Sweeney and the "do-over" approach to government of he and his republican bunch.

It’s time to get people into office that are serious about getting it right the first time around.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Republican Trickery and Misinformation

Yesterday John Sweeney finally admitted the obvious,
"I was wrong," Sweeney said to thunderous applause and laughter.


Sweeney hosted a a fund raiser headlined by John McCain, a man called the head of the "anti-New York, anti-northeast" caucus during the 2000 Presidential primary.
"As I said, you can be wrong in this business and you get do-overs. This is a do-over."

Sweeney is under increasing pressure from Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand. So much so that he felt it necessary to bring in McCain for a kiss and make up session. So much so that his Deputy Chief of Staff Melissa Carlson felt it necessary to engage in a deliberate misinformation campaign regarding Gillibrand's own high profile fund raiser tonight.
Sweeney's deputy chief of staff, Melissa Carlson, said Gillibrand's camp canceled today's fundraiser with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., because of pressure exerted by Republicans. The Clifton Park GOP issued a release Thursday calling Emanuel, a Chicago congressman, "corrupt."

When will the media start calling Republicans like Sweeney and Carlson on their lies? The inability of Republicans like Sweeney to campaign on the issues is not excuse for their blatant falsehoods.

"Republicans are going to have a difficult challenge in this election." Gillibrand campaign manager Bill Hyers said his camp is shocked McCain would stump for Sweeney after the congressman's remarks in 2000.

"It's obvious that (Sweeney's) an endangered incumbent seeking to get any popular Republican that's out there," Hyers said.

Hyers said the accusation [against Emanuel] was ridiculous and that Emanuel couldn't come to the fundraiser because of a family emergency. Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, will come to the Crown Plaza event in his place tonight, Hyers said.

In Saratoga, about 125 people picked at cold Asian chicken salad and chocolate chip cannolis for $150 a plate as McCain spoke.


Outside about 3 dozen "Swillionaires for Sweeney" organized by the Alliance for Democracy showed their "support."


Later that afternoon Sweeney and McCain joined State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno at a charity picnic in the Town of Brunswick, Rensselaer County.

Meanwhile, members of the Rensselaer County Democratic Committee, a local grassroots organization 20TrueBlue, and Democracy for the Hudson-Mohawk Region, canvassed the Town of Brunswick with Kirsten Gillibrand introducing her in Joe Bruno's backyard as a serious and intelligent alternative to the failed policies of Republican "leaders" like Sweeney, Bruno, Bush, and McCain.

Sweeney cannot hide from the fact his votes in Congress have been as "anti-New York" as John McCain's...
Outside, about 30 protesters hoisting picket signs and brooms said it was time to "clean out the House" by not re-electing Sweeney. Stillwater resident Lisa Scerbo cited Sweeney's support of CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), which passed by a 217-215 vote.

"How many New Yorkers lost their jobs over that," she said.

Scerbo said she was disappointed that McCain, who she used to respect, had cozied up to Sweeney.

For the record:
Democratic House Minority Whip the HONORABLE STENY HOYER cordially invites you to a reception honoring KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND Democratic candidate for Congress, NY 20
Sunday, May 21 from 5:30-7:00pm at the Crowne Plaza (corner of State and Lodge Streets)Albany, New York

You are all invited. See you there!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"... is to be governed by your inferiors."

Today was graduation day at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. My niece, 2-time All-American Sarah Elizabeth Berheide (Field Hockey and Lacrosse), graduated Magna Cum Laude today. Her story is already an inspiring one... and it is just beginning. I couldn't be prouder if she were my own.

Included with the 600+ Class of 2006 Honorary Doctorates were bestowed upon 3 distinguished guests, Douglas Greenberg, visiting professor of history at the University of Southern California and executive director of USC's Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education; Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey who was head of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the U.S.; and Arthur Mitchell, founder and artistic director of the Dance Theater of Harlem.

Mr. Greenberg spoke about the joy of watching his daughter Molly graduate that day. His memorable quote was that when people asked him what lessons he has learned from history, particularly the Holocaust on which he has particular expertise, he said that there are 3 decisions that people should never make.

1. To be a perpetrator
2. To be a victim
3. To be a bystander

He spoke of Darfur and other troubles in the world today and said that we are all mostly bystanders. Unfortunately I missed what Mr. Mitchell had to say as SPAC is an outdoor theater and it was very cold so I returned to the car to get a blanket for my granddaughter.

Gov. Thomas Kean spoke of public service. He told how when he was the age of the graduating class a young President, John F. Kennedy, urged his generation to public service. He pointed out how his generation was ready to retire and asked who would replace them. He then urged them to at least consider spending a number of their years in some form of public service or other.

And then former Gov Kean (R-NJ) quoted Plato:

"Plato said, "The penalty for not participating in government is to be governed by your inferiors." Think about it. It may be happening."

Gov. Kean did not know that a liberal blogger was in the audience and would be posting his words on the internet within hours. However, Skidmore holds it's graduation at SPAC, The Saratoga Performing Arts Center and it was a full audience. He most certainly knew that he was speaking publicly. By his intonation one could tell that he intended a particular effect. By the applause and laughter he received (from most, not all) one could tell that the effect was achieved.

Elsewhere in Saratoga Springs today, John "anti-New York" McCain was the guest at a fund raiser for embattled Congressman John Sweeney. Swillionaires for Sweeney were on hand to show their support.

Meanwhile today, 20TrueBlue and Kirsten Gillibrand were canvassing in New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno's backyard of Brunswick, NY. Last week, Democracy for the Hudson-Mohawk Region canvassed with Kirsten Gillibrand in Clifton Park, NY, currently John Sweeney's backyard.

"Plato said, "The penalty for not participating in government is to be governed by your inferiors." Think about it. It may be happening."

Democracy is not a spectator sport. Are you participating?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Nobody will be calling me George Bush's favorite Democrat."

Ned Lamont is running for US Senate in Connecticut against Joe Lieberman. His campaign has a new video out introducing some reasons why not-Joe and some reasons why Ned Lamont will be the next Senator from the State of Connecticut.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sweeney reaches out to female voters

Rep. John Sweeney (R-Alpha Delta Phi) is continuing his plan of reaching out to a wide range of constituencies.

Following on his successful outreach to the youth vote the increasingly desperate Mr. Sweeney is now working on securing women's votes.

In an article in Sunday's Troy Record Sweeney is quoted as saying in regard to his female Democratic opponent Kirsten Gillibrand...
"You can't take a resume and a pretty face from New York City and say to people this is good for you simply because we can spend a lot of money and raise a lot of money."

Judith Hope, former chair of the New York Democratic Committee and founder of the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee had this to say...
"Someone should tell John Sweeney that it's 2006, not 1906. Women are serving in Congress, serving in the military and are not just pretty faces. The fact is Kirsten Gillibrand is an accomplished civic leader and attorney. Mr. Sweeney's behavior has become an embarrassment to himself and his constituents. Comments like these make it clear how out of step he is and how desperately this district needs a change."

Asked if she thought the comment was sexist, Hope said:
"That's for voters to decide. The remarks jumped out at me because I think it's so inappropriate for the congressman to use... As a woman in politics I call on Mr. Sweeney to represent the district and address the issues and provide accountability and some answers."

Sweeney's remarks wowed another politically active woman as well...
The Working Families Party weighed in, with Capitol Region co-chair Karen Scharff saying: "Maybe he thinks he can talk that way in a frat house, but it doesn't play real well with grown-ups."

John Sweeney's long-time support of working women shows that he knows how to play with adults too.

Kirsten Gillibrand will be the guest speaker at the Working Families Party Capital District Annual Fundraiser, Wednesday, May 10, at Ristorante Paradiso, 198 Central Avenue, Albany NY, 5:30pm - 7:30pm.

Speaking of accountability the Albany Times Union sure was impressed with Sweeney the reformer...
It's time for a reassessment. The toothless and cowardly lobbying bill that the Senate voted for in March, much to our denouncement, isn't necessarily the worst way to fix a Congress that's too susceptible to corrupting influences after all. It's instead merely the second worst. For that, thank the House, which has shamefully outdone the Senate.

The Times Union was pleased to point out that Democratic Congressman Michael McNulty voted against this worst of all reform bills and that John Sweeney was completely in favor of it.

Sweeney has also been working hard to secure the absentee vote since the beginning of 2005 as well.

Too bad for Sweeney's opponent this year, Kirsten Gillibrand, that he is being so successful in his outreach programs. I'm sure his efforts will go a long way in swaying youthful voters and female voters and reform voters regardless of her recent listing on Democracy for America's DFA-List of endorsed candidates, or her endorsement by EMILY's List.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee, an organization dedicated to funding and training progressive women candidates in New York State, on whose board Kirsten has spent the last few years is sure to waste it's time and effort supporting her campaign as well.

Sweeney's impressive record on reform is sure to blot out the fact that Kirsten Gillibrand is also on the board of the Brennan Center for Justice which has taken a lead role in government reform issues in New York. I'm sure John Sweeney's sterling ethics record will outshine Kirsten's call for ethics reform as well.

Yup, John Sweeney sure has a strong, aggressive and intelligent campaign strategy revving up.

Regardless of Sweeney's impressive campaign Democrats are targeting this district as one of the 15 seats they need to gain to take back control of the House of Representatives featuring John Sweeney as their inaugural "crony of the week" at the GOP Auction House.

The Glens Falls Post-Star reported various political pundits points of view...
"If Democrats take back the House, it's going to be with New York as their backbone," said Clark Todd, contributing editor to NationalJournal.com, a nonpartisan political newsletter.

Republicans in the 20th Congressional District are clearly taking Gillibrand's campaign seriously, said Robert Turner, a political science professor at Skidmore College.

"They are, in the words of one Republican consultant I talked to, 'going to take out their (Democrats) legs early,'" he said.

The district is "one of the safest districts in the Northeast" for Republicans, said Alexander "Sandy" Treadwell, who represents New York on the Republican National Committee.

"I don't get it," Treadwell said, referring to Democrats targeting Sweeney's seat. "But if they want to spend their money and waste it, so be it."

Treadwell had been rumored to be mulling a primary battle of his own against Sweeney before chickening out.

Kirsten Gillibrand is running and will need our help against Sweeney's strong campaign tactics.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"It's hard to imagine a congressman more embarrassing... "

... than John Sweeney of the New York 20th congressional district."

So begins the endorsement today of Kirsten Gillibrand by Democracy for America.


"In addition to voting in lock-step with President Bush, enjoying ski trips with lobbyists, accepting thousands of dollars from Tom DeLay, and partying at college fraternity houses on the weekends, John Sweeney's found time to try to privatize Social Security and give away billions to the oil industry.

Thankfully, DFA candidate Kirsten Gillibrand is everything that Sweeney is not. She's smart, ethical and will represent Upstate New Yorkers with the honor and dignity they deserve. Let's help Kirsten bring dignity back to DC."


Within minutes of the announcement being posted and my cutting and pasting the post here the contribution page at DFA for Ms. Gillibrand has had these words added...

"So far, we've raised $165.00 from 8 contributors!"

Whoops... make that...

"So far, we've raised $175.00 from 9 contributors!"

What will it read by the end of the day? The week? This month? This cycle?

Kirsten has made a strong commitment to combining traditional large dollar fund raising (at which she has been outstanding - outraising the incumbent over the last 3 quarters despite all his PAC and lobbyist money) with local house party and internet generated small dollar contributions. Her campaign organization is based on the local grassroots organizing pioneered in the Dean campaign.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kirsten 2 years ago when we were looking for a candidate in 2004. I knew in the first few minutes that this was my candidate. Kirsten immediately impressed me with her intelligence, capability, and understanding of what it would take to win this campaign and rid the 20th district and the United States House of Representatives of one of the worst of Republican rubber stamp congressman. Kirsten had a plan and now I am having the pleasure of watching her execute that plan and being a small part of it.

As I review the campaign landscape across the country I see that Democrats have a great opportunity to take control of the House this year. We need to gain 15 seats to become the majority party in the people's House once again. Looking at the various campaigns that are in play I see Kirsten Gillibrand's campaign as that 15th seat.

Let's make sure Democrats win those 15th seats. Let's help Kirsten represent New York's 20th Congressional District. If you live in or near the 20th please contribute your time and effort. If you live elsewhere in the country but want a Democratic House to check the abuses of the Bush White House then please contribute today to the campaign of Kirsten Gillibrand.

Ummm... make that...

"So far, we've raised $845.00 from 30 contributors!"

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mayor says ethics and obeying law "doesn't mean anything"

Republican Harry Tutunjian, Mayor of Troy, NY says "To me, it doesn't mean anything," after hiring former State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Spargo to replace former City Court Judge Henry Bauer as the cities corporation counsel.

Spargo, a Republican, was removed from the bench for misconduct in March. He replaces Bauer who was recently elected to the city council. Bauer, also a Republican, was removed from the bench in 2004.

In Bauer's case:
The 39 misconduct charges upheld against Bauer essentially fell into two categories: more than two dozen cases where the commission found that the judge set excessive bail and several cases where he failed to advise defendants of their right to counsel. In general, Bauer was accused of abusing his bail discretion to coerce guilty pleas from unrepresented defendants.

One case cited by the commission and Court involved a man who was charged with a violation for riding his bicycle on a sidewalk without the appropriate lights. Even though the maximum penalty for that offense was a small fine, Judge Bauer sent the man to jail for seven days in lieu of $25,000 bail, records show.


While Bauer engaged in practices abusive of defendants Spargo, a "leading expert" on election law was guilty of breaking election law and subsequently of abusing his office to solicit contributions from lawyers with cases pending before his court.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct cited several acts of misconduct by the justice in releasing its removal recommendation Friday. They included his solicitation of a $10,000 contribution from one lawyer for his legal expense fund as he challenged the legal right of the commission to pursue a disciplinary case against him. The commission said Spargo also arranged a lunch at a local restaurant at which his friend solicited contributions for Spargo from other lawyers who had pending cases before the justice.

Other instances of wrongdoing cited by the commission dated back to 1999, when Spargo handed out $5 coupons and free drinks while he was campaigning for a town justice seat. The commission also said his appearance at a Monroe County Conservative Party fundraiser in 2001 violated state rules about judges' involvement in political activities in New York state.


Not cited in the case was Spargo's involvement with Rep. John Sweeney (R-Animal House) in the recount rioting in Florida 2000 commonly known as the Brooks Brothers Riot.

One can only assume that figuring out how to break election law is what makes one an expert in Republican circles these days. Sad, very sad.

Which leads us to Mayor Harry Tutunjian of Troy who hired first Bauer after his removal from the bench and now Spargo to replace Bauer.
"Tom Spargo is a talented, brilliant lawyer, and I am proud to have him be a part of my administration to represent the city in legal matters," he said.


The state commission on judicial conduct appeared to think differently when it said:
"By engaging in a series of acts that conveyed an appearance of 'exploiting his judicial office for personal benefit,' the respondent diminished public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary as a whole and has irretrievably damaged his usefulness on the bench," the commission wrote in its decision.


"Their actions as judges shouldn't translate into how they represent the city," Tutunjian said.

"To me, it doesn't mean anything," Tutunjian said. "We are searching for talented attorneys to help us run the city of Troy. To have someone of Mr. Spargo's caliber on our team is a bonus."


Troy, NY... the home of John Sweeney, Henry Bauer, Harry Tutunjian, and now apparently, Tom Spargo.

Ethics? Obeying the law? Judges shaking down lawyers? Locking people up for not having a light on their bicycle?

"To me, it doesn't mean anything," Tutunjian said.

For more on the wonderful adventures of Troy, NY see The Troy Polloi.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

GOP Crony of the Week: Why YOU pay higher gas prices.

With gas prices anywhere from $3.06 to $3.11 per gallon around the 20th district these days it is fair for us all to ask... why?

How come gas prices have more than doubled under the Bush administration? Fuel oil. Natural gas. Diesel. They have all gone through the roof under the Republicans while Exxon-Mobil rakes in record profits for any company in history for multiple years in a row. As if that is not enough the CEO of Exxon-Mobil retired with a $400 Million pension.

And Republican Senators talk of buying off our unrest with $100 rebate checks. Where do those rebate checks come from? Exxon-Mobil? The pension of the retired CEO? No. Republican lawmakers are so beholden to oil companies that they are suggesting a measly $100 rebate of OUR OWN MONEY to us rather than taking it back from big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil in the form of an excess profits tax.

In honor of the bankruptcy of Republican politics the DCCC has started a new web site... The GOP Auction House.

To inaugurate this new feature exposing the crony politics of Republican run Washington the DCCC has chosen The GOP Crony of the Week our very own John Sweeney. Mr Sweeney you may have read yesterday flip-flopped on the subject of gas prices and CAFE standards for increasing gas efficiency. Sweeney actually told the truth about the issue however when he said "Listen, in Washington it's always politics."

Given that Sweeney voted in favor of Dick Cheney's $8 billion in giveaways and tax breaks to the oil and gas industry and has raked in over $120,000 in Big Oil and gas industry money since 1998 it is hard to believe his recent change of views is anything more than election year nervousness.

In the meantime, Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand announced her plan for immediate and long-term solutions for the energy problems Republicans have exacerbated and mostly ignored.
Gillibrand's plan calls for a suspension of the gas tax, investigations into oil companies that engage in predatory and anti-competitive pricing and new investment for development of alternative sources of energy to ease the nation's dependence on oil.


"It is time for a change when Congress finds the time for lavish million dollar compensation packages and pension payouts to energy company executives, but can't protect working families and small businesses from such outrageous gas prices," said Gillibrand. "We need to stand up for hard-working middle class families and show that help is on the way."


In the meantime, the DCCC points out Sweeney's "rubber stamp" qualities like voting against cracking down on the oil and gas industries price gouging and more.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

John Faso and Constituent services

The Troy Polloi shares an interesting and humorous interview with us today that sheds a great deal of light on the character of John Faso, Republican candidate for New York State Governor.

Is this the man we want in the highest office in the state?

Monday, April 24, 2006

The 15th Seat: Kirsten Gillibrand and NY-20

The good news and good reports have been coming fast and furious for Kirsten Gillibrand Democratic challenger in New York's 20th Congressional District.

USA Today's Andrea Stone highlights Gillibrand in a report on Democratic chances for recapturing the US House of Representatives in this falls elections. Democrats need to gain a total of 15 seats in order to gain majority control.

Describing the upstate New York district as "the land of opportunity" and a "key" to Democratic "strategy for gaining control of the House of Representatives," Gillibrand is quoted as saying:
"There's a shift happening right now in the district and the region," says Gillibrand, 39, a lawyer and a former Clinton administration housing official. "People want new leaders who are accountable."


Gillibrand has made ethics and accountability centerpieces of her campaign. She opened her campaign with a humorous but hard hitting ad attacking the incumbent, John Sweeney, for his coziness with lobbyists amid the Abramoff-DeLay scandals striking at the heart of Republican Washington.

The northeast region, particularly New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania is considered "fertile gound for Democrats to pick up many of the 15 seats they need to regain House control." There are more a dozen Democratic candidates vying to take currently Republican held seats in the area.
"If there is a (Democratic) wave this year and it's going to hit anywhere, it's the Northeast," says Amy Walter, analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report. "That is where Bush's weakness is felt."


Incumbent Republican John Sweeney, a "rubber stamp" for the Bush agenda, is feeling the heat. While recent health problems have had some in his own party questioning whether he would run for re-election or not. Sweeney insists his health is improving and dismisses questions regarding his and his wife's personal ethics and finances. Even while admitting the New York GOP is "in disarray" and that there are vulnerable House Republicans, Sweeney insists that his seat is safe.
"They get a good mark for effort," Sweeney says of the Democrats Northeast strategy. "But if they're going to spend their time in my district, they're wasting their time."


Meanwhile various political analysts have moved the district from safe Republican to Republican favored and are listing this as a race to watch to see if Democrats can succeed in taking control of the House.
Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, which includes several Northeastern lawmakers, says the GOP faces several challenges: "The president's numbers, the war in Iraq, the famous six-year itch. There's a lot of things that are around this."


New York Republicans tend to be traditional Republicans. Fiscal conservatives, fiercely independent and libertarian in regard to individual liberties. While Sweeney and his surrogates like to point to the districts large Republican enrollment advantage it is the independent voters that often make the difference.
Dartmouth University political scientist Linda Fowler says the "most ominous" signs for Republicans there are the disenchantment of independent voters and fiscal conservatives who are fed up with deficit spending by Congress.


Local elections across the 10 county district showed Demcoratic gains at almost every level including Democratic sweeps of several long time Republican strongholds. Democrats are quick to point out that the district has been won in statewide elections by Sen. Chuck Schumer and this years Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer during his previous election for Attorney General. Many analysts also expect a banner year for Democrats and depressed turn-out amongst Republicans due to the overwhelmingly strong top of the Democratic ticket which features Spitzer and Sen. Hillary Clinton and the complete disarray of the Republican party that may feature virtual unknowns at the top of their ticket.

Congressional Quarterly reported last week that Gillibrand's 1st quarter FEC filing ranked her 14th among all House challengers as of March 31. CQ subsequently moved the rating on this campaign from Safe Republican to Republican favored.

Virtually all analysts believe that this is exactly the kind of race that Democrats must win if they are to gain the 15 seats it requires to become the majority party once again the US House of Representatives.

NY-20 is the 15th seat. If we win here we win control of the House.

For more on Kirsten Gillibrand please visit her web site.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

On Primary Schedules

Reading CAat14K's front paged diary Alabama: Moving on up (over at MyDD) had me thinking again about the best way to schedule presidential primaries.

Defining "best" as that which serves the people best removes what I am about to write from the realm of political reality in Washington, DC and various State capital circles that actually get to decide these things. In those places "best" is defined by political and financial capital and some people's short term views of the "best" way to produce a winner. What is "best" for the people is not part of that equation.

What I hear most of us clamor for is diversity and the opportunity for our state and therefore our vote to count. We want a say in who our Presidential nominee will be. This too separates us from the circles of the politically powerful who believe they know what is best and therefore want to keep that decision to themselves.

Being mathematically and logically inclined it seems to me that the "best" way to approach this is to divide the states up into geographic regions; divide the states up into groupings based on population size; and to divide the calendar into equal portions in an effort to give as many people in as many states as possible a say in who is each parties nominee.

With this in mind I created 10 geographic groupings of 5 states each. I then split these into 2 sets of 5 groupings each. Further, I ordered the states in each grouping by census data from 2000. In addition I created an eleventh category that includes Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and Americans Abroad. I know that there are other territories that hold individual primaries or caucuses of their own but forgive me for not being sure of which and how many they are. They would be placed in this eleventh category as well.

So the resulting groupings are as follows. The numbers following each state are their population ranking.

Set 1

Northeast:
Massachusetts - 13
Maine - 41
New Hampshire - 42
Rhode Island - 44
Vermont - 50

South:
North Carolina - 11
Virginia - 12
Tennessee - 16
Kentucky - 25
South Carolina - 26

Ohio River Valley:
Pennsylvania - 6
Ohio - 7
Michigan - 8
Indiana - 14
West Virginia - 38

Southwest:
Texas - 2
Arizona - 20
Oklahoma - 28
Arkansas - 34
New Mexico - 37

Mountain:
Colorado - 24
Utah - 35
Nevada - 36
Idaho - 40
Wyoming - 52

Set 2

Atlantic:
New York - 3
New Jersey - 9
Maryland - 19
Connecticut - 30
Delaware - 46

Deep South:
Florida - 2
Georgia - 10
Louisiana - 22
Alabama - 23
Mississippi - 32

Upper Midwest:
Illinois - 5
Missouri - 17
Wisconsin - 18
Minnesota - 21
Iowa - 31

Northern Plains:
Kansas - 33
Nebraska - 39
Montana - 45
South Dakota - 47
North Dakota - 48

West:
California - 1
Washington - 15
Oregon - 29
Hawaii - 43
Alaska - 49

And -

Other:
Puerto Rico - 27
District of Columbia - 51
Americans Abroad - unknown
and perhaps others....

Now, set a primary calendar that begins the third Tuesday in January and schedules a primary every third Tuesday from there through July. Schedule 5 (sometimes 6) different states for each date.

For the first date in January we will select 1 state from each of the 5 groupings in set 1. To the closest degree possible we will select the highest numbered state in each of 5 population groupings (i.e. 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50). 3 weeks later we will do the same only this time selecting from Set 2. 3 weeks later, set 1; 3 weeks later, set 2, etc.

The result would be a primary schedule that looked something like this:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008:
Michigan - 8
Arizona - 20
South Carolina - 26
Maine - 41
Wyoming - 52

Tuesday, February 5, 2008:
Georgia - 10
Maryland - 19
Oregon - 29
Iowa - 31
North Dakota - 48

Tuesday, February 26, 2008:
Ohio - 7
Tennessee - 16
Oklahoma - 28
Idaho - 40
Vermont - 50

Tuesday, March 18, 2008:
New Jersey - 9
Wisconsin - 18
Alabama - 23
Nebraska - 39
Alaska - 49

Tuesday, April 8, 2008:
Pennsylvania - 6
Virginia - 12
Colorado - 24
New Mexico - 37
Rhode Island - 44

Tuesday, April 29, 2008:
Illinois - 5
Washington - 15
Connecticut - 30
Mississippi - 32
South Dakota - 47

Tuesday, May 20, 2008:
Texas - 2
Indiana - 14
Kentucky - 25
Nevada - 36
New Hampshire - 42

Tuesday, June 10, 2008:
Florida - 4
Missouri - 17
Puerto Rico - 27
Kansas - 33
Hawaii - 43
Delaware - 46

Tuesday, July 1, 2008:
North Carolina - 11
Massachusetts - 13
Arkansas - 34
Utah - 35
West Virginia - 38
District of Columbia - 51

Tuesday, July 22, 2008:
California - 1
New York - 3
Minnesota - 21
Louisiana - 22
Montana - 45
Americans Abroad - unknown

There are a couple possible variations on this theme. I purposefully picked the lowest population state in each of the 5 groupings in order to keep someone from wrapping up the nomination by winning California, Texas, and New York in the opening weeks. This could instead be handled randomly.

Instead of having all 5 states have the same primary day they could be broken up to Tuesday and Thursday in the same third week or perhaps 1 per day during every "primary week."

4 years later it would be necessary to ensure that each state rotated to a different location on the schedule in order to ensure that states such as West Virginia and Minnesota didn't always get the shaft of being in the last groups and that the modern day problem of Iowa and New Hampshire claiming ownership status as first in the nation didn't occur either.

I think the end result of such a schedule and 3 week spread would be one of more states seeing more candidate visits and being included in more candidates electoral strategies. More states and more voters would have a say. Urban, rural, east, west, south, mountain, plains, coastal, midwest, southwest, northwest, would all get a chance to have their say in who best represented their views and values in a Presidential nominee.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The story of one immigrant family

His name was Thomas White and he came to America looking for a new life. We don't know where he was born nor when. We don't know who his family was. He left them behind. He started showing up in records in Weymouth, Ma. in 1635. No one knows what his wife's name was, when he arrived, or where, what ship he came on, or under whose authority or command.

But he came to the new world to make a life for himself and his family. He begins to show up in town records in 1635. These records begin to show him as a productive member of society. He was a surveyor and became a leading citizen in town. His sons likewise became productive and leading members of the society they adopted and that in turn adopted them.

It is believed he was born around 1599 but he was undocumented and this date is pulled from a record in which he stated his age as 60 in 1659. He died in Weymouth in August, 1679. He had been made a freeman and later a Captain of the local militia. He had served as a Selectman for the town and was so highly esteemed an immigrant that he was elected as a Deputy from the town to the General Court (equivalent of the colony legislature) in 1637, and again in 1657 and 1670.

It is believed that his eldest children were born in another land but his youngest son Ebenezer was born in his adopted country America in 1648. Ebenezer like his father served well in the town of Weymouth, admitted a freeman in 1674, commissioned a Lieutenant of the Weymouth Company, serving as a Selectman for the town in 1690, according to the available records "a man of integrity and worth and a respected and useful citizen." He served in the expedition to Canada against the French and the Indians, in King Williams War (1690-1). He died a fairly wealthy man in August 1703.

His eldest son Rev. Ebenezer White was a graduate of Harvard University receiving a Master of Arts in 1692. He went on to serve as Pastor of the church at Southampton, LI, NY where he own son later served.

Lt. Ebenezer's third son Samuel was likewise a leading citizen of Weymouth. His son Ezekiel removed his family to the wilds of western Massachusetts in 1777. All of his sons and sons-in-law served in the Continental Army during the revolutionary war. It appears all of them served during the pivotal battles of Saratoga. At least one of those sons, David, wintered with George Washington at Valley Forge.

After the war David White moved his family to the wild country of western New York being one of the first settlers there. His was the first European-American death there 2 years later. His wife Martha Cottle raised their family there later remarrying. All of their sons served their nation in the War of 1812. Two sons became Doctors, a son-in-law a Judge, the eldest son was a Brigadier General and co-founder of later became Sylvania, Ohio. The youngest boys, twins Orin and Orpheus, age 14, served as drummer and fifer under the eldest brother during the war.

Dr. William White can be found in records of early western New York as the first Doctor or as building the first mill and similar tasks. His son Arthur married Hannah Warner and raised their family in and around the Buffalo area. Their nephew, Glenn Scoby Warner, was trained as a lawyer but became a football coach instead. Because he was older then the other lads at college they decided to call him "Pop" and the name stuck.

Later generations of this immigrant family served in World War's I and II. One was a famous stained glass artist whose work graces many a church and whose murals are seen as some of the best works of the depression era WPA. Others went into the ministry and served their nation during the civil rights movement.

This typical American family began with an undocumented immigrant family that came from an unknown place at an unknown time aboard an unknown ship arriving in unknown place and appearing in records as productive and eventually leading members of their new community. They went on to help build this nation in the small ways. Not as Presidents and Senators but as Doctor's, lawyers, military men, teachers, builders, etc.

This family merged in recent generations with the Clock or Klock family. A Dutch family that similarly began to show up in records around 1635 in what was then New Amsterdam. Abraham Martensen Klock settled near what is now Wall Street. He was a craftsman and spent time on contract at Ft. Orange (now Albany).

The most recent immigrant ancestor in this family was a young Irish lad, David Carson Patrick. He too arrived at an unknown time, in an unknown place, by an unknown method. He simply shows up in records the middle of Iowa after the civil war. The family story is that he arrived alone at the age of 11 from Ireland near the end of the potato famine but this is unconfirmed. One of his daughters married a Clock, the son of a civil war veteran, whose daughter then married a White. That White's maternal grandfather was one Ezekiel Silas Sampson, another civil war veteran, Judge, and 2 term congressman.

And we haven't even discussed the Quaker ancestors on my Mother's side of the family that came to America looking for religious freedom.

So here we have a brief outline of only half of a typical immigrant family in America. Every member of Congress has a similar one. Some of them argue immigrant families ought to be sent back where they came from. Where do I go? Which part of me is sent to Ireland? And which part to England? Which to Holland? Scotland? Wales? France?

There is no crisis. There are issues that need addressing. As with my own immigrant ancestors there are economic and religious problems that need to be solved.

For them the solution was to leave their homelands and families behind and come to America. Today is no different because no one is discussing how to solve the economic and religious problems in the modern day immigrants homelands. In typical fashion though we look narrowly at the issue with a punitive eye, politicians bluster and say nothing worth hearing, and we all miss any opportunity to create real solutions to the real problems.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's 9:00 PM. Do you know where your Congressman is?

Our friends over at Democracy in Albany have the scoop on John Sweeney's Pool Game.

Mr. Sweeney's supporters like to complain at length (ad nauseum frankly) about his competitor Kirsten Gillibrand holding fund raisers in New York City. Last I checked New York City is still a part of New York State. It may seem like another world but it is still an integral part of the state.

Sweeney prefers to hold his fund raisers with lobbyists in place like Park City, Utah and Buffalo Billiards in Washington, DC.

My Dad did a good job teaching me how to read a map as a kid so I'm fairly certain that neither of those places are anywhere near New York State. I'm also fairly certain that the lobbyists and PAC representatives that show up for these affairs don't have upstate New York's best interests in mind either when they hand Sweeney those $1,000 checks.

April 5, 2006 7:00 p.m. Congressman John Sweeney's 3rd Annual Eight-Ball Tournament
Buffalo Billiards 1330 19th Street NW
Washington, DC
Casual Attire $1,000 PACs $500 Personal
Enquiries: 202-302-7678 (Phone) 202-986-5319
(Fax) MikeGBurton@aol.com

It's 9:00 PM. Do you know where your Congressman is?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bush's War hits close to home again

The Albany Times Union reports today that Capt. Timothy Moshier of Bethlehem was killed in Iraq Saturday when the helicopter he was piloting apparently took enemy fire and went down. Moshier was 16 days shy of his 26th birthday. He leaves behind his parents, James and Mary Ellen, his wife Katherine, and their 10 month old daughter Natalie.

Albany County Executive Mike Breslin who interviewed Moshier prior to recommending him for West Point spoke in glowing terms about his character. Breslin also said,

"This was a very special young man, and it's a tragedy that he's no longer with us. And sometimes you can't explain it," he said.


There is no sensible explanation for the continuation of Bush's War. Families like the Moshier's suffer these immense tragedies for no good reason whatsoever.

Can we stop this please? Before another family has to suffer this grief?

Monday, April 03, 2006

DeLay afraid to face voters in wake of indictments

Another indicted Republican resigns.

Who's next?

Time magazine has the details. Tom DeLay has informed reporters, staff, and colleagues that he will announce that his official residence is now in Virginia thereby making him ineligible to run for office in Texas. DeLay won the Republican primary in Texas just about a month ago.

Speculation of another impending indictment of DeLay followed the guilty plea of Jack Abramoff associate and former DeLay staffer Tony Rudy. Legal and political analysts have reported that Rudy leads to his former boss, another former DeLay staffer, Ed Buckham. Buckham is widely expected to be indicted soon and to perhaps plead guilty in the bribery and corruption scandal that has already taken down another former DeLay staffer, Michael Scanlon, and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. From Buckham it is expected that DeLay himself will be next in the indictment line.

John Sweeney has been quiet regarding DeLay's recent troubles. This after being his leading defender following his earlier indictments in Texas. Sweeney has long been an admirer of DeLay, considering him a mentor.

The Department of Justice recently pulled the financial records of Sweeney at the same time they pulled records of DeLay and several others involved in the Abramoff-DeLay-Norquist scandal. It is unknown whether the DOJ is investigating Sweeney, who has received money from Buckham and several of his partners at Alexander Strategy Group, as part of this scandal, his wife's skimming of campaign contributions or some other, as yet unknown, scandal of his own.

DeLay's resignation makes 2 in recent weeks following the conviction of Duke Cunningham in another bribery and corruption scandal rocking the Republican party in Washington. There has been wide speculation about other resignations of Republican House members in the wake of the several on-going scandals and investigations.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gillibrand Campaign and NY-20 gaining momentum

It's been a bad week for Rep. John E. Sweeney (R, NY-20). It was a bad month for John Sweeney. For that matter it has been a bad year for the incumbent (as it has been for most Republican incumbents) and it really began going downhill for him in Sep. of last year.

And there are no signs it is going to get any better for him in the coming month or the remaining 220 days.

Kirsten Gillibrand, Sweeney's challenger in this years election, nailed him earlier on the hypocrisy of his Utah skiing trip with lobbyists on the heels of his having attempted to paint himself as the bold reformer. Thus ended that storyline for Bush's representative to the 20th CD.

In the last week there have been revelations about Sweeney rewarding his favorite lobbyist and staffer friends with a skiing trip in Lake Placid on the New York tax payers dime.

Gov. George Pataki (R-NY) has ordered an investigation into the New York Power Authority's funding of the junket.

Sweeney's on-going health problems seem to have abated a little and he has returned to work. He says his doctor has said he can walk and ride a bike but that skiing is out for now.

All of this has fueled on-going reports that the weakened Sweeney may face a challenger within his own party, former State Republican Chairman Sandy Treadwell.

With the complete disarray in the state party comes even more circling buzzards and Republican dirty laundry being aired by conservative blogger Bob Fois at News Copy, New York. Normally an admirer of Sweeney, Fois expresses distaste at what we have come to know as the typical behavior of Sweeney and his surrogates in their betrayal of another Fois favorite Assemblyman Patrick Manning. Perhaps Fois will begin to see the sort of man Sweeney really is.

All of this was preceded by the revelation that Sweeney's wife has a similar arrangement to that of Rep. John Doolittle's wife, skimming 10% off of his campaign contributions into the personal family bank account.

And then we can add the more typical corrupt practices of Sweeney being in bed with the food lobby mainly through his former Chief of Staff Brad Card, brother of former Bush Chief of Staff, Andrew Card. Card, now a lobbyist with the food industry, is a regular contributor to Sweeney's campaign along with Altria, the parent company of Kraft foods. Sweeney is a co-sponsor of the bill to destroy food safety labeling laws in New York and elsewhere.

In the meantime, Kirsten Gillibrand, who has already out raised Sweeney over the last two quarters, is reported to have had her best fund raising quarter yet.

Sweeney, who appears to have a spending problem, went through more money then he raised last quarter racking up impressive bills for $1000 cigars, liquor bills that would impress WC Fields (remind me to tell you someday about an older skiing trip of Sweeney's where he crashed his car into a power pole and knocked out the power to an entire town), and what appear to be the purchase of 2 vehicles.

Having spent most of this quarter in the hospital is likely to have depressed his own fund raising. Amazingly, though to ill to do his job most of the quarter, he did manage to recover briefly enough to attend a couple fund raisers so he will have something to show for the quarter. In particular his spokeswoman promised his FEC reports would show just who attended the Utah Skiing trip at least part of which was hosted by pharmaceutical lobbyists.

Meanwhile, the capable, personable, and intelligent Kirsten Gillibrand has seemingly been everywhere. While concentrating on her own fund raising she has found time to attend house parties and events all over the 10 county district. Glowing reports for attendees, reporters, and skeptics have followed wherever she went. One couple I know that walked in to one house party unsure of their support walked up to me afterwards positively glowing and saying "Well! I'm sold!" All this while a basketful of checks showed that they weren't the only one's. Comments from sources close to the campaign tell me that this quarter has been outstanding, exceeding even their own lofty expectations.

Gillibrand has been in the news with her Comprehensive Ethics Proposal marking a stark contrast between her and the incumbent.

Meanwhile, Sweeney's surrogates have attempted to lash out at her by attacking her family members. Her father, her recently deceased grandmother, her husband, all have been subject to the slime typical of the Rove, D'Amato, Sweeney wing of the once respectable Republican party.

While Kirsten engages the people of the district and talks about issues that matter the incumbent through his surrogates slimes and smears while he betrays the hard working people of the district voting against our interests time and again.

This campaign is far from over and is not an easy one. The Republicans like to remind us that Sweeney is a street fighter, not that we are likely to forget. Sweeney's right hand man in Florida by the way, was one Thomas Spargo. Spargo was relieved of his seat on the New York Supreme Court just this past week for shaking down attorney's appearing before his court (amongst other things).

But I digress... this campaign is far from over and we'll need your help. This is exactly the sort of seat we need to win in order to take control of the US House of Representatives. There are several we should win. Those will get us close. Then there are those that we shouldn't win but can. Those will get us control of the House. This is one of those races.

By the way, did I mention that she has stated she would immediately call for or support an investigation into the Bush administrations lies and deceptions that got us into the Iraq War? Or that she would also call for or support an immediate and full investigation into the Bush administrations warrantless domestic wiretapping activities?