Entries related to things political.

Aaron Swartz, Carmen Ortiz, Lanny Breuer and the Digital Revolution

Yesterday, as I wrote about institutionalized racism in America, I asked the question, "Is there something we should be learning from Sandy Hook or the death of Aaron Swartz?" Perhaps part of the answer is that we are in the midst of a digital revolution, and sometimes heroes die during revolutions.

Typically, people talk about the digital revolution the way they talk about the industrial revolution, moving from one mode of production and distribution to another. Yet with any revolution, there is upheaval. There are winners and there are losers. Are we seeking to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible? What happens to the losers? How do they fight to avoid losing any privileges they had prior to the revolution?

I think these are all important questions to ask as we think about Aaron Swartz, for it seems that much of what he fought for was to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible. How do we make information as accessible to all people as possible?

If we look at PACER or JSTOR, we see similar patterns. There were means of production and distribution that made sense in the time of the printing press. Much of the information in court papers and academic journals was produced using taxpayer money and should be available to everyone for little more than the cost of production. Prior to the digital revolution, there was one cost structure for producing and distribution information in systems like PACER or via JSTOR. As the cost of production and distribution of electronic reports plummeted, some people were benefiting from the cost differences and others were being left out.

The prosecution of Aaron Swartz was an effort by the losers in the digital revolution to cling to power. The idea of Aaron Swartz as the epitome of the digital native, confronting U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, an up and coming political figure defending the status quo as the epitome of the digital immigrant is a compelling narrative.

And, it has played out in the digital political battlegrounds. The online petition site, We The People, set up by the Obama Administration, has a petition calling for the removal of United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. In the first three days it received over thirty thousand signatures, more than the threshold of twenty-five thousand signatures necessary for the administration to consider it.

The battle continues on, online. This afternoon, the Boston Globe ran the article, Reports: U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s husband attacks Swartz family on Twitter.

The article shows images of tweets, alleged to be from the husband of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, where he goes after some of the thought leaders in the digital revolution such as Mitch Kapor and Dan Gillmor. Yes, the battle lines have been drawn and President Obama is caught right in the middle.

Meanwhile, another blog post says, OK, But Can We Also Fire Lanny Breuer?. Perhaps U.S. Attorney Ortiz was just an ambitious foot soldier caught in the cross fire. Perhaps the General that needs to be taken out is the Department of Justice's Criminal Division head, Lanny Breuer.

We are seeing Congressional approval rates plummet, the approval rating of the Supreme Court slip, and one has to wonder what happens to the approval ratings of the Justice Department as the Swartz affair just adds more damage to a tarnished agency.

Yes, we are in the midst of a digital revolution. It is about changes in the modes of production and distribution, but it is shaking up power structures and real people, good people, are getting hurt in the cross fire.

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Living Leadership Out Loud

Every month, I head up to Hartford for a CT Health Foundation Health Leadership Fellows Program meeting and I come away with lots of new questions to think about. A couple key ideas that I've personally been focusing on is being more intentional in my actions and more focused on the impact they are having. At the same time, I'm focusing on being more public about what I am thinking and feeling and the questions this brings up. It is interesting to see how these ideas interact.

This month, we spent some time talking about leadership goals we have and skills we want to work on. There seems to be something very powerful about this, and perhaps it is a good question to start every day with. What leadership skills are you going to practice today? What new discovery will you make?

It reminds me of a section from Winnie the Pooh which is quote in the Tao of Pooh:

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.

As part of our gathering, we did the The Diversity Shuffle.

[The] exercise helps to encourage discussion about differences and similarities within our communities. This can then be used as a springboard for a dialogue about power differences in our communities and how they can be addressed.

It seemed as if everyone in the group had experienced forms privation and prejudice as well privilege and plenty in different ways. Remembering the some of the experiences was painful for some of us at different times. I found the exercise very empowering. I believe that recognizing the full spectrum of our experiences is something that can help us as leaders, as we try to recruit others to work with us and as we tell stories of what we are trying to address. It was important for me that this took place in a safe environment where I could explore my background, my feelings about that background, and think about how it fits with my leadership style.

Two quotes that I often refer back to are, "There but for the grace of God go I", and a great quote from Virginia Woolf, "The only thing wrong with privilege is that not everyone has it." When I think about friends who have led much more difficult lives, I can say, there but for the grace of God go I. I can say the same thing when I think of those with great privilege. Underlying all of this is a fight to get things, too often thought of as privileges; housing, a good education, health care, healthy food, etc., to be recognized as a right, or at least a privilege that everyone should have.

The exercise was done after we had seen the movie, Race: The Power of an Illusion: The House We Live In.

The movie is close to an hour long, but it is well worth spending time watching and thinking about. It is so tempting to think about the United States with a mixed race President as being post-racial, but I suspect many of us don't know or fully comprehend the impact of U.S. racial policies in the twentieth century.

One of the big questions that whole day left me with is, what are the policies of our country today that people will look back with horror at a century from now? Is there something we should be learning from Sandy Hook or the death of Aaron Swartz?

Perhaps the biggest lesson is one that we all need to be reminded of on a regular basis, especially as we think about political leaders. Perhaps the real leaders aren't those who think they have all the answers, the real leaders are those who aren't afraid to search for new questions. The Health Leadership Fellows Program is helping me in this search for new questions and I hope these blog posts will help you search for new questions as well.

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Further Thinking about Animal Control

Thursday, I wrote about blog post, Concerning the Livestock Taken from Woodbridge Animal Control. Friday morning, as I was driving to my cousin's funeral, I spoke briefly with our First Selectman about some of the issues.

My cousin worked with animal rescue and with service animals. Her dog, Lucky, a silver labrador was trained as a service animal and my cousin's friends are busy arranging a proper service opportunity for Lucky. Lucky attended the wake and one of my cousin's friends brought a chihuahua to the funeral.

When I arrived back home, I learned that my blog post had been printed out and passed around at the police commission hearing in Woodbridge while I was up at the funeral in Massachusetts.

Saturday morning, the New Haven Register had a follow up article, Woodbridge livestock issues remain unresolved.

The article said,

Police Sgt. Ed Thomas, who has been assigned to oversee the shelter, said dealing with the animal control officers was challenging….

Woodbridge police said they felt animal control officers would show “resistance” if asked to move the livestock.

This leads me back to my hypothesis from my previous blog post, that something other than the best interests of the animals and the town is what motivated the action by the police. If the challenges of dealing with the animal control officers is too much for Sgt. Thomas, than he should receive proper training, or be replaced with someone who is capable of dealing with animal control officers. It is particularly concerning if police officers act unilaterally, disregarding the recommendations of the experts they are supposed to be working with. It should be a grave concern to all the citizens of Woodbridge if police officers are being asked to perform tasks that are too challenging for them.

Yet there are bigger issues. I've been following animal control topics for several years on my blog. An underlying concern is the role of animal control. In Connecticut, animal control is typically under the auspices of the local police departments. The goal of animal control is often to protect humans from animals with little to no concern about the welfare of the animals. This results in many conflicts between animal rescuers, animal control officers, and the police departments they work in.

My understanding of Connecticut State Law is that dogs, if not all animals, must be held for seven days if they are picked up and the owner does not claim them. This provides an opportunity for the owner to claim the animals, as well as an opportunity to make sure the animals are not carrying any diseases. What happens after that is up to the different municipalities. Some municipalities have made it a practice to euthanize the animals once the seven days are up. A few years ago, Derby had the highest kill rate of any municipality in Connecticut. All of this is perfectly legal if animals are seen simply as a nuisance to be dealt with.

Yet animals also serve as pets, companions and service animals. My cousin's dog Lucky is about to take a new job helping his next charge and there are wonderful stories about therapy dogs and therapy miniature horses coming to aid the people of Sandy Hook.

This brings us to another issue in thinking about animal control. Connecticut law appears to have special considerations for cats and dogs as pets, but not other animals. What happens when a miniature horse or donkey is a pet? What about a pygmy goat or a pot bellied pig? How do we handle service animals, like the miniature horses that came help the people of Sandy Hook.

We need to stop thinking of animals as simply nuisances that the police department needs to control and more as part of the fabric of our lives. Laws and policies need to be rethought as should the reporting structure of animal control.

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RIP Aaron

"Some days it seemed like all there was was gray". With those words, Aaron Swartz started off a blog post about his relationship with Quinn Norton. This morning, I started off my blog post about driving to a funeral with, "It was a grey January morning as I climbed into my black 1997 Nissan Altima and headed north".

It seems appropriate that my RSS feed is full of posts about Aaron Swartz who help with the creation of RSS. The posts are by some of the bloggers I respect most, David Weinberger, Ethan Zuckerman, and Larry Lessig to name a few.

I don't have stories of meeting Aaron when he was 14 or of him staying at my house at some point. I'm not sure if I ever met him, but given our mutual friends and mutual interests, I suspect we probably met somewhere along the way.

Yet Aaron's death hits me hard. Perhaps it is because of the recent death of my mother and of my cousin. Perhaps it is because now, more than ever, we need people like Aaron fighting for open access to information on the internet, in the courts and in our government.

There is not much more to say than I am so sad.

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Concerning the Livestock Taken from Woodbridge Animal Control

For the past several years, I've been involved with animal rescue, as well as with writing about conflicts between animal rescue organizations, animal control officers and the police departments they are part of. I was very upset to learn about the livestock that were taken from the Woodbridge Animal control and placed at a local farm.

For background, read the two articles from the New Haven Register, Woodbridge cops take heat for removing livestock from animal shelter and Woodbridge police tell their side of livestock story

Let's try to read between the lines of the two stories to get a clearer understanding of what may have happened.

"Tuesday morning, the police placed 21 animals at a Seymour Road farm. The livestock had been kept at the Bradley Road animal shelter between six and 10 months."...

"“They knew Sgt. (Ed) Thomas was looking to move these animals,” Stuart said Tuesday. Thomas directly oversees operation of the animal shelter, which serves Bethany, Derby and Woodbridge. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday and was out of the office Wednesday."...

"Animal Control Officers Karen Lombardi and Paul Neidmann have said they were caught completely off guard by the officers showing up at the facility and announcing they were removing the animals."

The way this reads to me is that Sgt. Thomas was looking to move these animals potentially for quite a while. Yet Animal Control Officers Lombardi and Neidmann who were in regular contact with the animals and people interested in the animals did not believe that this was an appropriate time for the animals to be moved. Sgt. Thomas pulled rank, with the support of his superiors and acted in a way that was not in the best interest of the animals. This would make Asst. Police Chief Stuart's statement about the animal control officers knowing that Sgt. Thomas was looking to move the animals also fit with their statements about being caught completely off guard.

The fact that Sgt. Thomas could not be reached for comment on Tuesday and was out of the office on Wednesday makes me all the more suspicious of his actions. If he was honestly acting in the best interest of the animals and of the town, he should have made himself available and explained why his actions were better for the animals than what the animal control officers believed.

“I have adopted many animals from there, including chickens, and every time, even though they know me, I had to fill out an adoption application. Why wasn’t that done for more than 20 animals?” she asked….

Several residents raised concerns that the animals were not adopted legally, which would include filling out forms. But Thomas said livestock are not adopted, they are simply placed, and no forms are required….

Thomas said paperwork is only required by the state for the adoption of cats and dogs….

Ray Connors, supervisor of the Animal Control Division of the state Department of Agriculture, confirmed there is no required paperwork for livestock…

He said there should be something in writing concerning the animals’ new owners….

Thomas said Woodbridge police have recorded the new owner’s contact information….

The way I read this is that it is not a requirement of State Law that when animals other than cats or dogs are adopted that paperwork be filled out. That doesn't mean that it isn't a best practice that the Animal Control Officers in Woodbridge has followed and should continue to follow. Again, it seems like Officer Thomas was acting within the letter of the law, but not in the best interest of the animals or of the town.

This raises another issue that should be considered. There seems to be this view that 'livestock' are some how less of a pet than cats or dogs. Yet, with more and more people having pot bellied pigs, pygmy goats, miniature donkeys and other 'livestock' as pets, this needs to be reconsidered. Perhaps the State Laws need to be changed to reflect changes in the nature of pet ownership in our state. Lacking that, clear policies agreed upon by the Animal Control Officers, the Police Commission and the Board of Selectman should be made available which recognize that 'livestock' often are pets and should be afforded similar protections.

This brings up another problem with some of the police response.

Officer Rich Monaco said the farm’s owners can “absolutely care for the animals.” He said police visited the farm before and after the animals were relocated.

“This farm is an animal’s dream,” Monaco said. “These animals have a good home. They went from a temporary shelter environment to their more natural environment.”

If you are thinking of a pot bellied pig as a farm animal, that might be right. If you are not paying attention to any specific health needs of the animals, that might be correct. However, if you are thinking about pets that need special care, this may be the furthest thing from the truth.

This gets to my penultimate point.

Police said their general orders require animal control officers to find homes for all animals, including livestock, “as soon as practicable.”

From all that I can see, the decision of when it is practicable should be made by Animal Control Officers and not by bureaucrats with an ax to grind acting arbitrarily and capriciously.

Because of all of this, and in light of

Sheehy has the power to order the livestock returned to the animal shelter, but he said Thursday he plans to attend today’s police commission meeting with an open mind.

I have called First Selectman Sheehy asked him to order the livestock returned to the animal shelter. In addition, I strongly encourage the Police Commission to carefully consider if Sgt. Thomas has acted in the best interest of the town and of the animals, and if there is doubt about that, to find a chain of command for the Animal Control Officers that will better serve the town, its citizens and its animals.

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