New York’s Democratic governor banned state travel to North Carolina this week, citing its residents’ supposed lack of equal protection under the law, weeks after he announced efforts to facilitate travel from New York to Cuba, which is ruled by a repressive communist dictatorship that routinely imprisons political dissenters.
“In New York, we believe that all people – regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation – deserve the same rights and protections under the law,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo in announcing a ban on “non-essential” state travel to North Carolina.
The move came in response to a new North Carolina law that restricts gendered restrooms to people of their respective biological sexes.
New York will no longer sponsor official travel to North Carolina, but Cuomo himself has recently undertaken official travel to Cuba, and teamed up with JetBlue airlines to encourage travel to the island nation, where the government has imprisoned and tortured transgender people.
Attitudes towards gay and transgender individuals on the island have liberalized in recent years, but many say they are still “harassed and detained by police,” according to a January report from Public Radio International. “They also say they can’t get jobs.”
One transgender individual described her attitude:
And even with US and Cuba relations normalizing now, she still can’t bring herself to ever go back home.
“I suffered too much trauma in Cuba. It would cause me too much panic to return there. I wouldn’t go back, even for a short visit.”
Her resolve hardens when she looks down at her arm. The self-inflicted scars left from her life in Cuba’s prisons are a permanent reminder of a time when she could not be free — could no [sic] be herself.
There’s now a Masturbation Station in New York City for men to relieve some stress during the workday.
The company said 100 men used the booth on its first day.
On Tuesday, Hot Octopuss erected what it called a “GuyFi” booth on 28th Street and 5th Avenue in New York City, where men could, in theory, go to “relieve stress.”
The company simply put a cloth over a phone booth in what amounted to a marketing gimmick. Inside was a chair and a laptop.
Hot Octopuss was inspired by a Time Out survey, which concluded that 39% of the New York men it questioned admitted to masturbating while at work. A more expansive Glamour survey of 1,000 men in 2012 suggested 31% of its readers have done so.
Hot Octopuss created the booth so men can “take this habit out of the office and into a more suitable environment designed to give the busy Manhattan man the privacy, and the high-speed Internet connection, he deserves.”
“We may be insinuating that these booths could be used in whichever way anyone would like to ‘self soothe,’” a representative tells Mashable, “but the brand is not actively encouraging people to masturbate in public as that is an illegal offense.”
The company claims approximately 100 men used the booth on its inaugural day.
Former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted on all seven criminal counts Monday in a corruption scheme that traded taxpayer cash and political favors for nearly $4 million in payoffs.
A Manhattan federal jury deliberated less than three days before finding the veteran lawmaker guilty of seven charges of honest-services fraud, extortion and money laundering.
Silver, 71, faces a maximum 130 years in prison for the long-running scam.
The conviction of Silver – for decades one of the three most powerful politicians in the state – was a huge victory for anti-corruption crusading Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara.
”Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” Bharara said in a statement.
Jurors had appeared to be in disarray several times during deliberations, with one demanding to be taken off the panel because she said other members were hassling her over her views, and another claiming a newly discovered conflict of interest earlier Monday..
The second juror, Bronx cabbie Kenneth Graham, 69, told the judge that he only recently learned that he leases his taxi medallion from a man who “associates with Mr. Silver.” The judge refused to excuse him.
“He was guilty, and that’s all,” Graham said of Silver outside court, when asked about the verdict.
“All of [the evidence] was compelling. We come to a conclusion, and he was guilty.”
But Graham indicated that the jury struggled to come up with its verdict.
“It was hard… on the last day and the day before… There was a lot of hold-outs,” he said.
“I feel relief. Maybe I don’t feel good,” he added.
The decision cemented a stunning fall from grace that began when the Manhattan Democrat was busted in January following more than three decades as one of state’s most powerful pols.
His arrest forced Silver to resign his leadership post, but he held onto his longtime Assembly seat.
Under state law, Silver’s conviction automatically boots him from office and bars him from ever again holding any state position.
Monday’s verdict came midway through the corruption trial of Silver’s onetime counterpart in the state Senate, former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who’s charged in an unrelated influence-peddling scheme along with his son, Adam.
During Silver’s 3½-week trial, prosecutors presented an array of evidence that included testimony from co-conspirators who turned rat to avoid getting charged in the case.
Columbia University cancer doctor Robert Taub – who got $500,000 in taxpayer-funded research grants from Silver – testified that he steered dozens of asbestos victims to Silver for legal representation by the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm.
Silver, who was “of counsel” at Weitz & Luxenberg at the time, pocketed more than $3 million for delivering the clients.
Veteran Albany lobbyist Brian Meara also testified that he set up a meeting between Silver and an exec at the Glenwood Management development company, which hired another law firm with ties to Silver to handle its lucrative property tax litigation.
Silver – who changed his position on legislation extending real estate tax abatements and blocking stricter rent regulations – got more than $700,000 from the firm of Goldberg & Iryami, with Meara testifying that he was both “surprised and concerned” when Silver revealed the fee-splitting arrangement.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Andrew Goldstein told jurors that Silver was motivated by greed: “This was bribery. This was extortion. This was corruption – the real deal. Don’t let it stand.”
Goldstein also blasted as “preposterous” Silver’s claim that his actions were merely “politics as usual in Albany.”
Defense lawyer Steven Molo insisted that Silver had never engaged in the sort of “quid pro quo” that’s legally required to sustain a conviction for honest-services fraud.
Molo also accused prosecutors of viewing Silver through a “dirty window,” adding that they had “failed to demonstrate that any harm has occurred.”
In a real-life story that seems taken out of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, a New York lawyer accused of fraud is actually asking for a trial by combat to settle a legal dispute.
Richard Luthmann says his bizarre request may sound ludicrous to most people, but it certainly isn’t against the law. He pointed out that the right to Trial by Combat was technically never outlawed in the state of New York, or anywhere else in America. “The common law of Britain was in effect in New York in 1776,” he told reporters “And the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution recognises the penumbra of those rights. It’s still on the books.” Historically, trial by combat was indeed a little-used but accepted aspect of English common law.
Luthmann, 35, feels that his request for a combat trial is fair, given that the legal dispute itself is silly and “baseless”. It started in 2013, when Luthmann represented the losing side in a lawsuit between two investment firms. His client, David Parker, was supposed to pay $550,000 to the opposition, but he disappeared without a trace. So the opponents decided to sue him instead, alleging the lawyer helped his client hide his assets in order to avoid payment.
After spending the past two years filing motions and countermotions against the other lawyer, Luthmann was at his wits’ end. “This is not a lawsuit anymore; this is an absurdity,” he told the New York Post. “So I will give them absurdity in kind.” That’s when he decided to make use of a loophole in the law and challenge them to a medieval-style duel to settle the matter.
In his brief, Luthmann asks “that the court permit the undersigned (Luthmann) to dispatch plaintiffs to the Divine Providence of the Maker for Him to exact His divine judgment once the undersigned has released the souls of the plaintiffs and their counsel from their corporeal bodies, personally and or by way of a champion.” Alternatively, he’s willing to settle for just having the case dismissed.
It sounds like a joke, but Luthmann is actually pretty serious about testing the power of the Ninth Amendment. “The judge may look askance at it, but I’m prepared to take it to the highest level,” he said. “I’d love to have a court determine whether we have those rights under the Constitution. This is a matter of honor.”
It’s highly unlikely that the judge will accept Luthmann’s request, but in any case, he’s prepared to go to combat dressed as Game of Thrones character Robert Baratheon. His weapon of choice – a warhammer.
The plaintiff’s lawyer, Richard Chusid, feels differently about the issue. “It should be clear that we do not find the brief amusing and, we believe, neither will the court, both from a legal and ethical perspective,” he said.
You have to admit, seeing two lawyers fighting for their lives medieval style would be fun to watch.
A federal judge in New York has struck down a test used by New York City to vet potential teachers, finding the test of knowledge illegally discriminated against racial minorities due to their lower scores.
At first glance, the city’s second Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST-2) seems fairly innocuous. Unlike the unfair literacy tests of Jim Crow, LAST-2 was given to every teaching candidate in New York, and it was simply a test to make sure that teachers had a basic high school-level understanding of both the liberal arts and the sciences.
One sample question from the test asked prospective educators to identify the mathematical principle of a linear relationship when given four examples; another asked them to read four passages from the Constitution and identify which illustrated checks and balances. Besides factual knowledge, the test also checks basic academic skills, such as reading comprehension and the ability to read basic charts and graphs.
Nevertheless, this apparently neutral subject matter contained an insidious kernel of racism, because Hispanic and black applicants had a passage rate only 54 to 75 percent of the passage rate for whites.
Once their higher failure rate was established, the burden shifted to New York to prove that LAST-2 measured skills that were essential for teachers and therefore was justified in having a racially unequal outcome. While it might seem obvious that possessing basic subject knowledge is a key skill for a teacher, District Judge Kimba Wood said the state hadn’t met that burden.
“Instead of beginning with ascertaining the job tasks of New York teachers, the two LAST examinations began with the premise that all New York teachers should be required to demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts,” Wood wrote in her opinion, according to The New York Times.
LAST-2 hasn’t been used in New York since 2012, but the ruling will still have repercussions. Minorities who failed the exam (who number in the thousands) may be owed years of back pay totaling millions of dollars, and those who were relegated to substitute teaching jobs could be promoted to having their own classrooms. In addition, while Wood’s ruling only applies to New York City, the test was used statewide, and it could serve as a precedent for further lawsuits.
The ruling could also pave the way for another ruling finding New York’s current teacher test, the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), to be discriminatory as well. That test is even harder than LAST-2, with a strong focus on literacy skills such as writing and reading comprehension, and like LAST-2 it has a very large gap in scores between whites and minorities. A lawsuit, once again being heard by Wood, is already pending, with the plaintiffs arguing that there is no clear evidence strong literacy skills are essential for a teacher.
The anxiety and unrest that has crippled Baltimore spilled over into the Big Apple Wednesday as more than 120 people were arrested across Manhattan in scuffles with cops during protests over the death of Freddie Gray, sources said.
Hundreds of demonstrators, who first gathered at Union Square for what was supposed to be a peaceful rally, erupted into a free-for-all in the streets at about 7:30 p.m. as groups splintered off to create havoc around town.
“What do we want? Justice! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” protesters chanted as officers started to detain people and corral them in police vans.
The demonstration was billed as a show of support for protesters in Baltimore, where a nightly curfew was imposed this week following riots sparked by Gray’s death from injuries suffered while in police custody.
From Union Square, protesters marched along East 17th Street toward Fifth Avenue before being stopped by police.
An NYPD helicopter hovered overhead and a police loudspeaker warned protesters that they would be arrested if they marched in the street.
As some protesters resisted arrest, cops carried them by their limbs and shackled them.
Other protesters trying to breach barricades were shoved back by cops.
Then rowdy agitators began to push back at cops and some even started throwing punches along 17th Street and Fifth Avenue, where dozens of arrests were made.
The protest then split off into factions. Some marched toward the Holland Tunnel, where outbound traffic was briefly halted. Others took to the West Side Highway and marched up to Times Square.
“Black lives matter. No justice, no peace,” protesters chanted as they marched through Times Square.
Meanwhile, in beleaguered Baltimore, the second night of a state-imposed curfew went mostly without incident as concerned members of the community formed groups and urged citizens to head home and not partake in violence.
In Washington, DC, protesters stood in front of the White House with signs bearing slogans in support of Gray and Michael Brown, who was shot dead by police in Ferguson, Mo., last year.
Protests returned to Ferguson as well – one day after looting, fires and gunfire in Baltimore protests over Gray.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake defended her handling of the situation in her city, denying a report that she had told police commanders to “stand down” and let protesters vent their rage.
Rawlings-Blake, 45, a Democrat, said state officials were involved in decision-making from the beginning – and she mocked Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s claims that he didn’t receive return phone calls from her as the riots unfolded Monday afternoon after the funeral for Gray.
“When he has people right there in the [emergency operations] center with us, the notion that he didn’t get a call back from me directly… that’s absurd,” the mayor said as tensions showed signs of easing in the city.
A senior law enforcement source told Fox News that Rawlings-Blake had ordered her officers to stand down as the rioters torched buildings and cars and looted stores.
Asked if Rawlings-Blake had been responsible for the order, the source said, “You’re goddamn right [she] was.”
Later, when asked by Fox News if there had been a “hold-back” order to police, Rawlings-Blake said, “No… you have to understand, it’s not ‘holding back.’ It’s responding appropriately.”
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said, “What we’ve always tried to say is, this is a very fluid situation. We will use these tools [curfews] as long as they’re needed.
“But the second it comes that we feel they’re not needed anymore, we won’t keep the curfews in place and we won’t keep the National Guard here.”
New US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, meanwhile, condemned the rioting, calling it “senseless acts of violence.”