DNA: Join The Database

May 31, 2007

Albany’s “three men in a room” are watching one another closely, for any sign of double dealing when it comes to the double helix.

They’re in what appears to be the final stage of negotiations, for expanding New York’s DNA database to include everyone convicted of any crime- not just the felons forced to give up their biological “fingerprint” now.

dna.gifAssembly Democrats have until now been at odds with (Governor) Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno… The governor and the Republican leader have wanted to expand it to all misdemeanors. Currently the database, in place since 2000, holds samples from people convicted of any felony and a few misdemeanors.

Just days ago, Assembly Democrats introduced a counter proposal. They would agree to the expansion if the others consented to allow more protections for the wrongfully convicted. (Speaker Sheldon) Silver wants to establish an independent commission to review cases and to give defendants a three-year window to file a post-conviction appeal for DNA evidence rather than one year, as the governor proposed.

Ithaca Journal/Gannett News Service

Senate leader Bruno also seems agreeable to an “innocence commission,” so it appears there’s been a breakthrough. And state legislators, at hearings today, are expected to hear some powerful arguments in favor of expanding the database from The Innocence Project. That’s the New York City-based legal group that recently got Roy Brown, the CNY man wrongly convicted of murder, released from prison on the basis of DNA evidence.

Now there’s little doubt that DNA sampling will become an even more routine part of the legal process. Everyone acknowledges that some innocent people will be put in the database. But they could later have their records removed, or- in extreme miscarriages of justice like the Brown case- actually regain their freedom because they were forced to give up that sample.


Chinese: Death Sentence For Dog Killer

May 30, 2007

Well, that headline may be a teeny bit of an oversimplification. The man didn’t exactly kill any dogs himself (that we know of), but the pattern of corruption he helped to set killed a lot of pets in the United States and elsewhere, and killed some people in Central America.

We’re talking about Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of China’s equivalent of our Food and Drug Administration. The Chinese government says that over a period of years, he took about $850,000 worth of bribes, to bring harmful drugs and additives to market. For doing that, he’s been sentenced to death.

Let’s not flatter ourselves to think international notice is taken of anything that’s written here, but we’ve been on a little bit of a tear about this lately because the practices have just been so awful: Pets poisoned with melamine, a kind of junk mineral Chinese criminals added to food to boost its apparent nutrition levels, along with their profits. And some Panamanians killed by an anti-freeze ingredient slipped into cold medicine, and now Mr. Cool toothpaste. It has a nice sweet taste- but it may be the last thing you’ll ever taste.

As we said on May 19th, in reference to that very un-cool toothpaste, “The Chinese government badly needs to get the outlaws of business in that country under control.” The death sentence for Zheng is apparently its effort to show that China’s rulers are taking this seriously, will put an end to the export of poisoned food and drug products, and protect people around the world, along with its immense export business.

Will they actually execute the former food and drug regulator? The New York Times tells us today that China has a history of commuting death sentences, when the people facing them have been high-ranking officials.

Too Much Power, Too Little Progress

May 29, 2007

Behind the scenes in Albany, two very tough, smart men with differing ideas on how the state should be run are in danger of spinning their wheels, and ours, with a personal feud that could stand in the way of progress.

Governor Eliot Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno are engaged in a so far hands-off prizefight, a title bout that would crown its winner as the undisputed ruler of New York. Bruno, who used to be a boxer, is pretty good at making the man we elected to run the state angry and frustrated.

brunospitzer.jpgThe governor sternly warned Mr. Bruno at a public meeting, “This is my room and we’ll play by my rules.” At the same meeting, Mr. Bruno puckered his lips and blew air kisses when another lawmaker complimented the governor. In a speech this month, Mr. Bruno mocked the governor before more than a thousand Republicans, recounting the way Mr. Spitzer once described himself as “a [expletive] steamroller.”

“Well,” Mr. Bruno said, “he’s right about the first part.”

The New York Times

The Times tells us one argument between the pugnacious pols got so loud, people in the Capitol thought a crew of construction workers just outside the building was about to duke it out. No fisticuffs between Joe and Eliot yet- so far as anyone knows. Despite his famous temper, the governor probably would not take a swing at a man 31 years his senior.

They could just wait each other out, but Spitzer can’t resist making political moves to break the Senate’s Republican majority, and Bruno is forever on the attack, making it more difficult for the governor to advance his agenda.

A continuing federal investigation of his business dealings could wind up crippling or removing Bruno- if the FBI actually has a case. Otherwise, the old man of the Senate shows no sign of slowing down, and remains as aggressive as the Governor in trying to get what he wants. If only they could find a way for both to win, the people of their state might also come out on top.

Stealth Celebrity Visits

May 28, 2007

It’s the nature of CNY, and of celebrities, that we often find out they’ve been here after the fact. That’s the word today about a Syracuse stop by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose girlfriend is here to shoot a low-budget movie with an Israeli director.


Hollywood heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio quietly slipped into Syracuse for about 24 hours over the weekend to visit actress Bar Refa’eli…

DiCaprio did not visit the set of “Session,” the movie being filmed Sunday night inside bc Restaurant in Armory Square, according to John Craddock, the film’s producer.

DiCaprio and Refa’eli, who portrays a psychiatric patient, spent Saturday together and then watched an Ultimate Fighting Championship event on television, according to several people on the set. DiCaprio left Syracuse Sunday morning.

The Syracuse Post Standard

If you’re looking to spot celebrities, better head for someplace like New York City or, this time of year, maybe Martha’s Vineyard. In the past, singers and actors performing here have been sighted at the airport, on golf courses and in restaurants- but most have been the type who don’t put on dark glasses, wigs or fake mustaches to hide from their fans.

It appears that Leo wasted a huge opportunity. Saturday was a beautiful day. He could have been out biking in Onondaga Lake Park, getting a hot dog at Heid’s and rubbing shoulders with everyday people. Must have been that Ultimate Fighting show that kept him locked up in the hotel room.

Legislation For Sale

May 25, 2007

You’ve heard that money is the mother’s milk of politics. Maybe you haven’t heard just how big a flood of nourishment pours over Washington every day. Thanks to a plug in The New York Times, a Web site that illustrates the point is about to get a lot more attention.


Maplight.org…a new Web site with a very simple mission: to correlate lawmakers’ voting records with the money they’ve accepted from special-interest groups. All of this is public information.

All of it has been available for decades. Other sites, including OpenSecrets.org, expose who’s giving how much to whom. But nobody has ever revealed the relationship between money given and votes cast to quite such a startling effect.

If you click the “Video Tour” button on the home page, you’ll see a six-minute video that illustrates the point. You find out that on H.R.5684, the U. S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement, special interests in favor of this bill (including pharmaceutical companies and aircraft makers) gave each senator an average of $244,000. Lobbyists opposed to the bill (such as anti-poverty groups and consumer groups) coughed up only $38,000 per senator. Surrprise! The bill passed.

New York Times Tech Columnist David Pogue

Look up CNY congressman Jim Walsh on Maplight.com, and you’ll see that attorneys and law firms are his top contributors, followed closely by lobbyists and public relations people, then construction unions.

Nothing illegal about any of that; the site is just a much-needed reminder that our system of lawmaking often favors those who have the biggest bankroll, and not necessarily those who have the biggest legitimate problems and needs.

Bare Bones II: Obituaries Mourned

May 24, 2007

Early in April, our post on “Bare Bones Death Notices” drew a fair amount of indignant agreement that in charging grieving families for a simple obituary, newspapers may be going too far. We’re not talking about those full-column rambles listing every pet the deceased ever owned, but about a simple bio, a list of close surviving relatives, and the final arrangements.

ithacajournal.gifWell now, the Ithaca Journal- the focus of most of the original story- is at it again. It has moved the names of the recently dead to the front page, and is limiting the obit section toward the back of the paper to paying customers. Bad idea? Some readers are practically in mourning:

The new policy of the obituary page in The Ithaca Journal saddens me deeply.

In the highest respect for people, the obituary column was once shared by all. With the policy change, that right no longer stands. The Journal now has split their policy. The death notices are listed on the front page and only the paid notices on the obituary page.

Letter to editor from G. Gary Jaynes

So here’s how the paper is trying to dig its way out of this one:

The Ithaca Journal has revised its policy on reporting local obituaries. The unpaid listing on deaths of local residents that appears on page 1A now includes the name of the funeral home so relatives and friends can obtain additional information on pending memorial services. In addition, information on the decedent’s age and town of origin are listed.

Ithaca Journal editor’s note

A lovely parting gift to the non-paying customers, don’t you think?

It’s still practically guaranteed that you will get your name in the paper twice: when you’re born and when you die. But now, in Ithaca, this means that the deaths of people with limited means (or uncaring relatives) will be front page news- in a limited sort of way.

Your Money’s No Good Here

May 23, 2007

And you thought the Roman Catholic Church might be a little strict, about who gets the top-level jobs as leaders of worship?

paulawhite.jpgToday’s Syracuse Post Standard lays out a real cultural curiosity: local radio broadcasters refusing to take the money of a female televangelist. She is Florida’s Paula White, who has virtually adopted “Pastor” as her first name. The directors of Mars Hill Network say she is not one, because the Bible clearly says women cannot hold that position.

Religion writer Renee Gadoua, who knows this territory inside out, gets quotes from other strict interpreters of Scripture (including the Syracuse pastor who happens to be Grace Jones’s daddy) to say the radio guys have it wrong. But they’re sticking by their decision not to sell White any air time to plug her appearance at the City Wide Crusade, a preaching and prayer event scheduled for the second weekend in June at the Oncenter.

Jarring contrast: This news comes as the female mayor of Ithaca- a place thought by some to represent the polar opposite of fundamentalist belief- declares her bid for re-election. So in one CNY city, we have a majority of people who’ve chosen a woman to lead a whole community, and in another, a minority of people who don’t believe a woman has the right to lead a religious congregation.

Just one more in an endless series of curiosities we have to write about- and to think about- as the cultural divide makes life interesting, to say the least, here in the early 21st century.