Punishing the Family

There has been an ongoing court case in Texas that is the ultimate nightmare for many parents of special education students.  Chuka Chibuogwu is a young man with autism who was in the Alief Independent School District (AISD).  His parents decided to challenge AISD because they felt the school district was not doing its best to educate their son.  After much fighting, they gave up and pulled their son from school.  And that is when things became ugly.

AISD decided to sue the Chibuogwu family to recoup its legal fees due to their challenges.  After losing at lower courts, AISD even appealed to the Federal 5th Circuit Court, one of the highest courts in the nation.  Despite almost 6 years of legal fights, AISD has yet to triumph over the Chibuogwu family.  Yet just last month they filed another Federal appeal after failing to get the Chibuogwu family to sign a letter of apology to the district in a settlement.

At this point, the district has spent hundred of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the case.  The have lost repeatedly in the courts and even if they win, the family will be bankrupted long before the district would see all of their money.  Most observers believe that AISD is deliberately bullying the Chibuogwu family in an attempt to scare off anyone who would challenge how they educate their children.  In fact, the lawyer for AISD had previously run a seminar on how to financially penalize families who battle against schools.

http://www.myfoxhouston.com/dpp/news/local/120329-aliefs-revenge-effort-to-bankrupt-autistic-students-family-continues

 

So what are your thoughts on this case?  Is AISD defending itself or acting like a schoolyard bully?

Voter ID Law Blocked By Feds In South Carolina, Texas C ...

From Huffington Post

 

Voter ID Law Blocked By Feds In South Carolina, Texas Could Be Next

Last week the Justice Department blocked a South Carolina law that would require voters to produce photo identification at the polls. Now a similar Texas voter ID law could very well be next to face a legal challenge.

Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas numbers among a few states, including South Carolina, that must have federal approval of any changes to its election laws because of its history of racial discrimination.

The Texas attorney general’s office is prepared to take all necessary legal action to defend the voter ID law enacted by the Texas Legislature,” Texas AG spokeswoman Lauren Bean told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the organization’s senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said he expects the Texas law to be blocked as well.

“Our hope is that we see the same thing happening with Texas,” Shelton told The Huffington Post’s Black Voices on Wednesday afternoon. “These very nasty, very strong photo ID laws have a desperate impact on racial minorities and other communities.”

The Texas law is very similar to the South Carolina law, Shelton said, and because of the requirement placed upon the state to get approval for election law changes, he believes it is all the more likely that the Justice Department will block it, as the department did in South Carolina.

“Having the Justice Department come in as an impartial third party and actually do the kind of analysis that it did, and its thorough assessment of the law and a thorough investigation into its possible impact; and to come out with what it did says an awful lot,” Shelton said.

The Justice Department’s decision was a rare victory for those fighting to stop what has been described as an effort to suppress turnout among minority voters and other groups that have historically supported Democrats. But the government’s intervention in South Carolina may also serve as a goad to those who support such laws. Proponents of voter ID laws say the measures are needed to protect against voter fraud.

Both sides seem poised for a prolonged legal fight, with South Carolina as the first battleground. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has vowed to take the case to federal court, if need be.

Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the decision as an act of political “bullying.”

“It is outrageous,” she said in reported statements. “We plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned.”

More than a dozen states have passed tough new voting restriction laws this year. Eight of those states, including Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, require photo identification. A handful of these laws — including the Texas law signed this summer by Gov. Rick Perry — are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1.

In Texas, voters can present a gun permit but not college-issued identification.

The fight thus far has split along partisan lines, the debate tinged with elements of age, race and class. According to Democrats, about 25 percent of African Americans and 19 percent of Latinos do not have any form of government-issued identification. And the poor and many older Americans, reports suggest, are less able to pay various fees connected with acquiring the identification that would be required under many of the new laws.

A number of minority and labor groups, including the NAACP, the United Federation of Teachers, the health care workers’ union 1199SEIU, the National Council of La Raza, the Asian-American Legal Defense Fund and others have joined forces and continue to hold protests and rallies around the country.

Democrats have also launched an offensive of their own, much of it couched in a recently released report, “A Reversal in Progress: Restricting Voting Rights for Electoral Gain,” and the launch of a website www.protectingthevote.org.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently gave a speech in Austin, Texas, in which he urged political parties “to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success.”

“Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls — from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot,” Holder said during the Dec. 13 speech.

The debate has spread to the blogosphere and to the cable news shows.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, veteran activist and host of “Politics Nation” on MSNBC, said during a recent interview with The Huffington Post that the most important issues facing blacks today are jobs and the fight over the voter ID laws.

“Jobs, because people need to be able to feed their families,” he said. “Voter ID, because we need to be able to keep people empowered.”

Republicans have said the laws are necessary to protect against voter fraud, while Democrats contend that such fraud is extremely rare. Meanwhile, across the country, stories are emerging of citizens, many of them elderly and African American, being denied the required identification that would make them eligible to vote.

It has allegedly happened twice in Tennessee alone, including a 96-year-old woman who could not locate her marriage license, and a 93-year-old woman who had cleaned the state Capitol there for some 30 years. The latter woman, Thelma Johnson, was born in Alabama via midwife and was never issued a birth certificate, according to a report on the website thinkprogress.org.

Maria Cubria, an advocate with the Texas Public Interest Group, which opposes the laws, told The Huffington Post Wednesday that the fight in Texas over the voter ID laws has become an “over my dead body” issue.

“There’s the usual partisan bickering back and forth, but it’s almost a wait-and-see attitude for people who are very encouraged by the Justice Department’s ruling [in South Carolina],” Cubria said. “However, it ultimately could be some time before the court makes a decision if this goes to court in Texas. So people are balancing their optimism with caution.”

The issue was a cornerstone for Texas Republicans in the 2010 elections, she said. When Republicans gained a super-majority in the state legislature, the law’s passage became a near certainty.

“Voting is one of our most basic, fundamental rights as Americans, and we should be doing everything we can to make it easier to vote, not putting up barriers and wasting taxpayer dollars fighting these battles in court,” Cubria said.

Lenny McAllister, a conservative talk-show host and a regular on cable news shows, called the Justice Department’s decision “political social engineering,” and explained to HuffPost that to suggest the laws disenfranchise minorities is “offensive” to blacks.

“There really isn’t an excuse in 2011 for black Americans to be so detached from the American mainstream that we are arguing over having photo IDs,” said McAllister, who is black. “Didn’t our people die, didn’t our people get killed, lynched and castrated for us to not have to have these arguments?”

Those who fought and died to enfranchise blacks are “rolling in their graves,” McAllister said. “It is an ignorant argument for us as black Americans to even have.”

He, like many other supporters of the laws, argue that so many routine transactions, from purchasing an airline ticket to renting a movie, require photo identification, that making it a requirement to vote is not an undue burden. McAllister said that America is suffering from an “illegal immigration” problem and that many cities serve as sanctuaries for immigrants. His fear is that many of these “illegal” immigrants will infiltrate the voting booths using little more than utility bills.

“We have to ensure that our elections mean what they say and say what they mean,” he said. “We can’t give [non-Americans] the opportunity to impact America without being American citizens. That’s just wrong.”

Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny ...

From Tech Dirt:

Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny All Due Process, Hide All Details…

from the copyright-as-censorship dept

Imagine if the US government, with no notice or warning, raided a small but popular magazine’s offices over a Thanksgiving weekend, seized the company’s printing presses, and told the world that the magazine was a criminal enterprise with a giant banner on their building. Then imagine that it never arrested anyone, never let a trial happen, and filed everything about the case under seal, not even letting the magazine’s lawyers talk to the judge presiding over the case. And it continued to deny any due process at all for over a year, before finally just handing everything back to the magazine and pretending nothing happened. I expect most people would be outraged. I expect that nearly all of you would say that’s a classic case of prior restraint, a massive First Amendment violation, and exactly the kind of thing that does not, or should not, happen in the United States.

But, in a story that’s been in the making for over a year, and which we’re exposing to the public for the first time now, this is exactly the scenario that has played out over the past year — with the only difference being that, rather than “a printing press” and a “magazine,” the story involved “a domain” and a “blog.”

There are so many things about this story that are crazy, it’s difficult to know where to start, so let’s give the most important point first: The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications — or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn’t hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE’s domain seizures violate the law — and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional — look no further than what happened in this case.

Okay, now some details. First, remember Dajaz1.com? It was one of the sites seized over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend back in 2010 — a little over a year ago. Those seizures struck us as particularly interesting, because among the sites seized were a bunch of hip hop blogs, including a few that were highly ranked on Vibe’s list of the top hip hop blogs. These weren’t the kinds of things anyone would expect, when supporters of these domain seizures and laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP talk of “rogue sites.” Blogs would have lots of protected speech, and in the hip hop community these blogs, in particular, were like the new radio. Artists routinely leaked their works directly to these sites in order to promote their albums. We even pointed to a few cases of stars like Kanye West and Diddy tweeting links to some of the seized domains in the past.

In fact, as the details came out, it became clear that ICE and the Justice Department were in way over their heads. ICE’s “investigation” was done by a technically inept recent college grad, who didn’t even seem to understand the basics of the technology. But it didn’t stop him from going to a judge and asking for a site to be completely censored with no due process.

The Dajaz1 case became particularly interesting to us, after we saw evidence showing that the songs that ICE used in its affidavit as “evidence” of criminal copyright infringement were songs sent by representatives of the copyright holder with the request that the site publicize the works — in one case, even coming from a VP at a major music label. Even worse, about the only evidence that ICE had that these songs were infringing was the word of the “VP of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the RIAA,” Carlos Linares, who was simply not in a position to know if the songs were infringing or authorized. In fact, one of the songs involved an artist not even represented by an RIAA label, and Linares clearly had absolutely no right to speak on behalf of that artist.

Despite all of this, the government simply seized the domain, put up a big scary warning graphic on the site, suggesting its operators were criminals, and then refused to comment at all about the case. Defenders of the seizures insisted that this was all perfectly legal and nothing to be worried about. They promised us that the government had every right to do this and plenty of additional evidence to back up its claims. They promised us that the government would allow for plenty of due process within a reasonable amount of time. They also insisted that, after hearing nothing happening in the case for many months, it meant that no attempt to object to the seizure had occurred. Turns out… none of that was true.

What happened next is a story that should never happen in the US. It’s like something out of Kafka or the movie Brazil, but it should never have happened under the US Constitution. First, you have to understand the two separate processes: there’s seizure and then there’s forfeiture. Under the seizure laws, the government has 60 days from seizure to “notify” those whose property it seized (imagine having the government swoop in and take away your property, and not even being told why for two whole months). Once notified, the property owner has 35 days to file a claim to request the return of the property. If that doesn’t happen, the government can effectively just keep the property, so it tends to rely on intimidation and threats towards anyone who indicates plans to ask for their property back (usually in the form of threatening to file charges). However, if such a claim is filed, the government then has 90 days to start the full “forfeiture” process, which would allow the government to keep the seized property and never have to give it back. If the claim to return the property is filed and the government does not file for forfeiture, it is required to return the property. Thus seizures are supposedly used as a temporary part of the investigation, to stop criminal activity or to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, that’s not how things always play out in real life.

As we’d heard with a number of domain names that had been seized, the government began stalling like mad when contacted by representatives for domain holders seeking to get their domains back. ICE even flat out lied to the public, stating that no one was challenging the seizures, when it knew full well that some sites were, in fact, challenging. Out of that came the Rojadirecta case, but what of Dajaz1?

After continuing to stall and refusing to respond to Dajaz1′s filing requesting the domain be returned, the government told Dajaz1′s lawyer, Andrew P. Bridges, that it would begin forfeiture procedures (as required by law if it wanted to keep the domain). Bridges made clear that Dajaz1 would challenge the forfeiture procedure and seek to get the domain name back at that time. Then, the deadline for the government to file for forfeiture came and went and nothing apparently happened. Absolutely nothing. Bridges contacted the government to ask what was going on, and was told that the government had received an extension from the court. Bridges, quite reasonably, asked how that was possible without him, as counsel for the site, being informed of it or given a chance to make the case for why such an extension was improper.

He also asked for a copy of the the court’s order allowing the extension. The government told him no and that the extension was filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He asked for the motion papers asking for the extension. The government told him no and that the papers were filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He again asked whether he would be notified about further filings for extensions. The government told him no.

He then asked the US attorney to inform the court that, if the government made another request for an extension, the domain owner opposed the extension and would like the opportunity to be heard. The government would not agree.

And file further extensions the government did. Repeatedly. Or, at least that’s what Bridges was told. He sent someone to investigate the docket at the court, but the docket itself was secret, meaning there was no record of any of this available.

The government was required to file for forfeiture by May. The initial (supposed) secret extension was until July. Then it got another one that went until September. And then another one until November… or so the government said. When Bridges asked the government for some proof that it had actually obtained the extensions in question, the government attorney told Bridges that he would just have “trust” him.

Finally, the government decided that it would not file a forfeiture complaint — because there was no probable cause – and it let the last (supposed) extension expire. Only after Bridges asked again for the status of the domain did the government indicate that it would return the domain to its owner — something that finally happened today. Dajaz1.com is finally back in the hands of its rightful owner. This is really quite incredible, considering the “rush” with which it seized these domain names, claiming the urgency in stopping a crime in progress. But, of course, after realizing that it had no evidence to suggest a crime was ever in progress – there was absolutely no urgency to correct the error.

The level of secrecy in this case makes it sound like a terrorist investigation, not the censorship of a popular music blog. Normally, when there’s a lawsuit, the docket is available on PACER. Even in cases where things are filed under seal or everything is redacted, there’s at least a placeholder for them in PACER. This case does not exist anywhere that anyone can find. The docket was apparently kept hidden in a judge’s office in Los Angeles the whole time. No one knew this was going on, other than the US Attorney and the representatives of Dajaz1 (who still never saw the docket or the extension orders).

Let’s just take stock here for a second. We have the government clearly censoring free speech in the form of a blog that discussed the music world and was widely recognized for its influence in promoting new acts. The government seized the blog with no adversarial hearing and no initial due process. Then, rather than actually provide some sort of belated due process in the form of an adversarial hearing, it continued to deny any and all due process by secretly (even to Dajaz1′s own lawyer) extending the seizure without any way to challenge those extensions. All in all, the government completely censored a popular web site for over a year, when it had no real evidence for probable cause of infringement, as it had falsely claimed in the original rubber stamped affidavit. As we noted in reviewing the affidavit, the case had been put together by folks who clearly did not understand the law, the site or the music space. But to then double down on that and continue to hold the domain for a year in secret? That just compounds the error and takes it to new extremes.

This was flat out censorship for no reason, for an entire year, by the US government… Everyone should be horrified by this. It also shows what a joke the claims of supporters are that since “a judge reviewed the affidavit,” there’s due process. Without the other party, there is no real due process. Not only that, but the government made sure, at every step of the way, that the other party was not heard. That’s horrifying. It wasn’t just an act of omission in leaving out the party, but actively preventing the party from being heard.

And yet the feds and private companies continue to say we should just “trust them” to get these kinds of things right? Even more bizarre, they want to expand their ability to do this incontestable censorship through laws like PROTECT IP and SOPA? If anything, this massive screwup on the part of ICE, the Justice Department and the RIAA should lead us to go in the other direction. ICE and the DOJ should be investigated and reprimanded, if not directly penalized, for clear First Amendment violations, while the ICE program for seizing domains should be dismantled. John Morton, who led ICE’s domain seizure program, should tender his resignation or be fired. Victoria Espinel, the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who defended these seizures to Congress, should issue a public apology, and begin a process to revamp the government’s role in such enforcement actions (and consider tendering her resignation as well). The federal government should issue a huge apology to the operators of Dajaz1 and make it clear that it will no longer take such drastic censorship actions. The RIAA should be investigated for providing claims about the site that were not true, and which it had no right to make.

If Congress needs to do anything, it should be to investigate the lawless, unconstitutional, cowboy censorship and blocking of due process by both Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The last thing it should be doing is allowing more such actions. This whole thing has been a disgrace by the US government, starting with a bogus seizure, improper and illegal censorship, followed by denial of due process and unnecessary secrecy. Dajaz1 is currently reviewing its options in terms of whether it can or should take further action as a result of this, but at least it has its domain back. And people wonder why we’re so concerned about these seizures and new proposals to further such censorship.

Would You Let Your Child Sleep In A Killer’s Hous ...

What would you do if your children were living in the same house of a man or woman who had killed their own kids a few years ago?  Sound like a story line for a Hollywood movie?  Think again.  And while the killer in question was acquited due to the claim that she had killed her children because of a drug reaction, it is inevitable this situation would be a nightmare for any parent.

 

Parents are naturally protective of their children, and are wont to do anything and everything to ensure their children’s safety.  But how does one protect their children if they are sleeping under the same roof of a woman who had previously shot her own children in their sleep?   How would you feel, and what lengths would you go to support or prevent this?  This article is from the New York Times.


  
(Manuel Valdes/Associated Press)

 

Fight to Keep Children Away From Killer Is Lost

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

SEATTLE (AP) — Trisha Conlon’s motherly instinct seems reasonable: she does not want her teenage boys living with a woman who shot and killed her own daughters in their sleep 20 years ago.

 

Trisha Conlon lost a court battle that will allow her two sons to live with their father and his first wife, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity of shooting her two children 20 years ago.
 

But that will happen on Sunday because of a bizarre and convoluted custody dispute with her former husband, John P. Cushing Jr., a retired Marine fighter pilot.

 

Mr. Cushing, who lives on Vashon Island south of Seattle, is back together with his first wife, Kristine, who used a .38-caliber handgun to kill their daughters, who were 4 and 8, at their home in Orange County, Calif., in 1991.

 

The killings shocked the well-to-do community of Laguna Niguel. Many wondered how Kristine Cushing — who seemed like a “super-mom,” ferrying the girls to music, soccer, dance and the orthodontist as her husband was on military assignments overseas — could snap so tragically. She blamed a bad reaction to Prozac for the killings, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and served nearly four years in a mental institution.

 

After a decade of psychiatric monitoring, Ms. Cushing received an unconditional release from the State of California in 2005, when the authorities determined that she posed no risk. But that has done little to soothe Ms. Conlon. After learning that Ms. Cushing had returned to Mr. Cushing’s home, Ms. Conlon went to court to alter the parenting plan for the two sons she had with him.

 

“I just don’t understand how a person could have marital relations with the person who killed their children,” Ms. Conlon said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

 

But the court ruled against Ms. Conlon.

 

Commissioner Leonid Ponomarchuk of King County Superior Court said that since the boys had been spending time with Ms. Cushing since 2008 with no problems — even if it was unknown to Ms. Conlon — there was not evidence of a change in situation that would warrant a change of the parenting plan.

 

“I have to look at this dispassionately,” Commissioner Ponomarchuk said. “Would I ever want my children around her? I would say no. But that is an emotional reaction coming from a parent.”

 

In court declarations, Mr. Cushing has emphasized that Ms. Cushing was considered temporarily insane, and thus “there was no crime committed.”

 

“There was a horrible tragedy that resulted in the deaths of our two daughters,” Mr. Cushing wrote. Ms. Conlon and her lawyer, he added, “seem to feel that anyone who suffers from temporary insanity is incapable of recovering from that condition. Kristine’s doctors disagree.”

 

“Kristine M. Cushing is doing well,” he wrote. “She is busy, enjoys life and loves me and my sons.”

 

Mr. Cushing noted that he stored his guns at a friend’s home when he was not using them at a range. Ms. Cushing said in her own declaration that she loved Mr. Cushing’s sons “very much” and has “a good relationship with both of them.”

 

Ms. Conlon lives in Silverton, Ore. She and Mr. Cushing married in 1995 and divorced in 2004. Their older son is 14 and lives with her during the school year, while the younger son, 13, lives with Mr. Cushing. The boys are together during holidays and vacations, which they split between their parents.

 

Mr. Cushing remarried his first wife in 2005. Ms. Conlon suspected that Ms. Cushing might be back in Mr. Cushing’s life, but said she did not learn it for certain until two years later, when she received a call from a Washington State Child Protective Services worker. The worker told her that the agency had just received a call from Ms. Cushing’s therapist, who reported that she was living with children again.

 

Ms. Conlon threatened then to go to court to seek a change in the boys’ parenting plan, court records show. Instead, Mr. Cushing told her not to worry about it; Ms. Cushing had decided to divorce him and move out.

 

But the divorce was never finalized. Ms. Cushing moved back in. According to a court declaration by Mr. Cushing, that was in March 2008.

 

For the next three years, Ms. Conlon said, she had no idea her boys were spending time with Ms. Cushing. Mr. Cushing deliberately concealed that fact, she claimed, by instructing the boys to refer to their stepmother by a different name — “Mrs. M.”

 

Ms. Conlon said she became suspicious early this year that Ms. Cushing was back in the house. She arrived at Mr. Cushing’s home to drop off her older son for spring break and saw a painting by Ms. Cushing hanging on a wall. It was dated 2010.

 

She and her lawyer, Todd DeVallance, hired a private investigator, who confirmed it.

 

Ms. Conlon went to court in mid-June and was granted full custody of the boys for 30 days, at which time she would have to make a showing in court that the parenting plan should be permanently modified. The hearing was on Monday.

 

Mr. DeVallance and Ms. Conlon are appealing the decision to the King County Superior Court judge assigned to the case. But they cannot get a hearing until Aug. 25.

 

In the meantime, Ms. Conlon will drop the boys off with the Cushings on Sunday, she said.

 

Biggest Losers In A Tragedy: Victims Or Survivors?

If you have ever wondered if our country is too litigous, no case is proof of that than the Diane Schuler tragedy.  For those of you who were unaware, on July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler was driving home from a camping trip upstate in a minivan with her two children and three nieces.  She took a wrong turn, and ended up driving on the wrong side of traffic, and crashing into another car

 

Diane swerved into oncoming traffic on the Taconic State Parkway, where she crashed head-on into an SUV carrying Michael Bastardi, his son Guy and family friend Daniel Longo. All three men were killed, along with Diane, her daughter Erin and her nieces Emma, Alyson and Kate. Only 5-year-old Bryan Schuler survived.

 

Nine days later, Diane’s toxicology report was released. Results found a high level of marijuana in her system, along with a blood alcohol level of 0.19—the equivalent of 10 drinks. A broken bottle of vodka was also found in the wreckage of her minivan.

 

Daniel Schuler denies that his wife drank or did drugs that day and believes an underlying medical condition contributed to her behavior. “She was a perfect wife, an outstanding mother,” he says. “I go to bed every night knowing my heart is clear. She did not drink. She’s not an alcoholic.”

 

HBO released a documentary about this tragedy only a few days ago.  While evidence shows that Diane Schuler was drunk and impaired by the use of marijuana, they did not believe she she was a regular drinker or alcoholic.  But she was witnessed stopped twice by the road, possibly throwing up.

 

State police investigators spent weeks digging, and documents from the case file on the crash contain much of what they uncovered. The documents were released to the families of the three Yonkers, N.Y. men who died when Diane Schuler smashed her minivan full of children head-on into their SUV.

 

“They want to know what happened that day,” said forensic investigator Michael Archer.

 

Archer, who works for the family of victim Daniel Longo, said the documents confirm much of what Schuler’s husband Daniel refuses to discuss: his wife Diane was a pothead.

 

Police told WCBS that this information supports a new theory of the fateful night — that Schuler, who smoked marijuana regularly according to her sister-in-law, but did not drink often, was overcome by the 10 shots of vodka she is believed to have consumed during her deadly drive.

 

Authorities believe Schuler was not an alcoholic, according to the station.

 

Documents released Friday show that Schuler pulled over twice prior to the crash, where she was seen “bent over as if she was sick” at 11:45 a.m., and again 30 minutes later, outside the van, “like she’s getting sick,” WCBS reports.

 

And some investigations into the tragedy and Diane Schuler suggest that Diane may have been suffering from depression, and that the pressures of being a perfect wife may have what led to her drinking binge shortly before her death.

 

Diane Schuler’s friends also portray her as keeping her feelings — especially negative ones — to herself. One says, “I’ve never seen her mad or angry,” another, “she infrequently talked about personal feelings.” She never talked about her parents’ divorce, and refused to speak to her mother — some friends even thought her mother was dead. When Fishman asked Danny “how well he really knew” his wife, Danny answered, “She’d talk to me if things came up.” His examples: “The house needs painting, the gutters need to be cleaned.”

 

To hear Fishman tell it, the Schulers’ story seemed like a long, drawn-out, and bloody example of the consequences of secrets in a marriage. Did Diane Schuler feel pressured to be the perfect mom — Danny mentions her expertise with birthday cards and holiday decorations — and thus keep her substance problems to herself? Did she feel she couldn’t confide in her husband because their work schedules meant they were rarely home at the same time? Did her parents’ divorce make her feel she couldn’t rock the boat in her own marriage? Why didn’t her friends know more about her troubles? Probably these questions will never be answered, but if there’s a tragic flaw in the whole Schuler saga, it’s isolation.

 

It was therefore a suprise to hear that Diane Schuler’s husband was pursuing a number of lawsuits.  Her husband is suing the Department of Traffic and the owner of the minivan Diane Schuler was driving.  Victims in a third car who suffered minor injuries from the accident are suing the estate of Diane Schuler.  And the famlies of the three men who died in the second car are also involved, with  the family of the father and son considering  a lawsuit as well, while the family of a passenger in that same vehicle is suing not only the estate of Diane Schuler, the owner of the minivan Diane Schuler was driving, but also the sister of the son who died, and who was driving the car that the passenger died in, even though the son was not at fault.

 

The husband whose wife killed herself and seven others in a horrific wrong-way crash on the Taconic State Parkway is suing the state, claiming poor highway upkeep and signage are solely to blame.

 

 But her husband, Daniel Schuler, contends it was the state’s “negligence, carelessness and recklessness” in its design and maintenance of the highway that “solely” caused fatal injuries to his daughter, Erin, 2.

 

 One has to wonder what kind of argument Daniel Schuler is going to offer to support his claims.  Signage was incorrect?  How do you see the signage if you are driving down the wrong side of the road?  This occurred in the afternoon, so you cannot say it was too dark to see a sign or the road.  And reports indicated that Diane Schuler was driving for nearly 1.7 miles weaving through oncoming traffic at speeds of upwards of 85 miles per hour.

 

A sober person, seeing that they were driving into oncoming traffic, would have immediately pulled over to the side of the road, especially if they were driving five children in their vehicles.  Furthermore, the lawsuit against the owner of the minvan, who is the brother of Diane Schuler, is against the father of the three nieces who were also killed in the accident.  One can only wonder at the pain this has caused a father who has already grieved for the loss of all three of his children in the crash.

 

Clearly, this event was a tragedy, but a bigger tragedy is how our legal system has allowed for lawsuits like this, and for victims to turn on each other in the hopes of cashing in on the tragedy.  And as much as they may claim that the lawsuit is for the benefit of the survivors, one  has to wonder what the victims themselves would say, if they could voice their opinions.  Would they approve of the litigous response to the tragedy, or would they also look on with disapproval as well at the families who should be grieving together are now torn and fighting each other, and even amongst themselves.

 

Is this what America has become?  A nation whose only remedy for any and all problems is to file a lawsuit?

 

Phones, GPS, and Your Right to Privacy

So the other day I happened to catch the news on television somewhere while I was shopping, and the report was about how Apple iPhones now have an application built into the phone that tracks the GPS location of the owner of the phone, storing the information so that Apple could access that information and use it for marketing purposes.  What shocked me was that the feature could not be turned off, and that the user had no say in whether or not the information could be recorded, and/or used for marketing purposes.  Now having GSP tracking the location of a phone is not new, it’s in many phones.  But the inability to turn it off is what makes it different from other phones on the market.

An Associated Press article poses some interesting questions and points about the issue:

 The debate over digital privacy flamed higher this week with news that Apple Inc.’s popular iPhones and iPads store users’ GPS coordinates for a year or more. Phones that run Google Inc.’s Android software also store users’ location data. And not only is the data stored — allowing anyone who can get their hands on the device to piece together a chillingly accurate profile of where you’ve been — but it’s also transmitted back to the companies to use for their own research.

Now, cellphone service providers have had customers’ location data for almost as long as there have been cellphones. That’s how they make sure to route calls and Internet traffic to the right place. Law enforcement analyzes location data on iPhones for criminal evidence — a practice that Alex Levinson, technical lead for firm Katana Forensics, said has helped lead to convictions. And both Apple and Google have said that the location data that they collect from the phones is anonymous and not able to be tied back to specific users.

But lawmakers and many users say storing the data creates an opportunity for one’s private information to be misused. Levinson, who raised the iPhone tracking issue last year, agrees that people should start thinking about location data as just as valuable and worth protecting as a wallet or bank account number.

“We don’t know what they’re going to do with that information,” said Dawn Anderson, a creative director and Web developer in Glen Mills, Pa., who turned off the GPS feature on her Android-based phone even before the latest debate about location data. She said she doesn’t miss any of the location-based services in the phone. She uses the GPS unit in her car instead.

“With any technology, there are security risks and breaches,” she added. “How do we know that it can’t be compromised in some way and used for criminal things?”

Privacy watchdogs note that location data opens a big window into very private details of a person’s life, including the doctors they see, the friends they have and the places where they like to spend their time. Besides hackers, databases filled with such information could become inviting targets for stalkers, even divorce lawyers.

Immediately some questions came to mind:

  • What does Apple do with this information that i collects?
  • Does Apple use this information for its own marketing purposes, or will it sell that information to other marketing companies that may be willing to pay for that information?
  • Will it provide that information to Federal, State, or Local law enforcement freely or require a court order?
  • How safe is the information being collected and stores?
  • If it is being stored on the phone, to be retrieved whenever Apple wants to, can that information be stolen?
  • And if it can be retrieved remotely, can anyone else figure out how to trigger the release of that information by illicit and illegal means?
  • What other information is Apple collecting about its users that have not been discovered yet?

Now, I don’t have anything to hide, and I certainly don’t have a problem if the government needs to track me if they have a suspicion I’m doing an illegal activity (after all, I don’t make it a habit to partake in illegal activities), and it does give me some peace of mind knowing the government can track a potential terrorist if there is evidence of illegal activity. However, what I find more bothersome than big brother following my every move is having corporate America doing the same as well, and in the process, receiving spam email and unsolicited mailings as a result of the tracking.  The issue has clearly caught the attention of the government, and even they are alarmed by the policy to store information unencrypted, even though the government would benefit the most from Apple’s decision to use the GPS technology in that manner.

With geotagging a common practice in many photos taken on cell phones and mobile devices, it is already possible to track where a picture was taken.  A recent incident involved Adam Savage of the TV show “Mythbusters,” in which a photo he posted up provided enough geotag information that provided the location of where he had taken the picture, which was taken in front of his house.  As a result, anyone with a little know how could have hacked the geotag to find his home.  In fact, a new website called “ICanStalkYou.com” is doing just that, by scouring Twitter to find pictures uploaded and demonstrating how the geotag location of the picture could be used to track the user’s location, in some cases, where they live (and since it’s all public information, it’s not really a crime).

Now, I don’t presently own an iPhone, but had considered getting one.  And possibly even an iPad in the future.  But knowing that the tracking application is in place, and not knowing what else could possibly be put in the phone to track our activities, suddenly I’m not so comfortable about the idea of getting an iPhone.  And if Apple is doing this, one can only wonder what other companies might be inspired to do the same.  When do we start getting MP3 players that track what kind of music we like, and then advertise similar music to us.  Then again, does the iPod do that already?

Perhaps one day, where you drive, after GPS tracking information is made available  to marketeers, suddenly you get offers from certain gas stations along the route you drive everyday, perhaps you frequent a specific part of town regularly, and you start getting sales offers from stores and restaurants in that area.  Maybe some of you would like that, but what if you didn’t have a choice on whether or not to receive that information.  Where does this all stop?

 The only good news is that there is a new app available for free that prevents the storing of location tracking, by deleting the database on a regular basis to prevent the information from being remotely access by Apple.  The program, called Untrackered, is available for free from the third party App Store Cydia.  Still, despite this free app, the phone is still tracked, and one has to wonder how long it takes Apple to eliminate storing tracking data on the phone and opting instead to update and send the data directly to Apple to eliminate the need to track and store the device, but it would still be collecting the data.

What does this technology mean for the right to privacy of Americans?  How do you feel about this?  And are you concerned or unconcerned by a corporation being able to track a customer, something not even the Federal government may do without a court order.  And if this only the first step, how long before corporations find new and inventive ways to spy on our lives?

Obama Declares Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

 Could this mean the legalization of gay marriage?  Is this a question of family values?  Or a question of human rights?  More soon…

From [url=http://amfix.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/24/justice-department-will-no-longer-defend-defense-of-marriage-act/]CNN.com[/url]:

Justice Department will no longer defend Defense of Marriage Act
Posted: 07:51 AM ET
by Rebecca Hillman

In a major policy shift, the Obama administration has instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Passed in 1996, The Defense of Marriage Act prevents the government from recognizing same-sex marriage and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Though the administration is now saying the Act is unconstitutional, the Act remains in the books as a law.