a house in Olive while still in law school in 1970, Ratner became so attached
to the area that he later bought a home in West Shokan so that he would
always have that connection to return to.
”Unfortunately, I didn’t really get there at all this winter,”
he said. “And right now I’m trying to think of a way to get
Ratner has been too busy in his role as a legal Lancelot on the frontline
of courtroom decisions that are redefining the concept of freedom in America
- tightly focused on the survival of habeas corpus and the fate of the
Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.
Founded during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s by famed attorneys
Arthur Kinoy, William Kunstler, Morton Stavis and Benjamin Smith, the
CCR gained renewed notice in 2002 with Ratner’s decision to challenge
civil liberties abridgments imposed following the 9/11 attacks.
“I would say our biggest success, so far, was making ‘Guantanamo
Bay’ a household word but, even more, in getting attorneys there
to protect people from torture and then helping release hundreds of the
innocent,” Ratner reflected. “Clearly, winning the first big
case in the 2004 Supreme Court decision for Rasul v. Bush, giving habeas
corpus rights, or the right to petition detention to the prisoners of
Guantanamo was vital.”
The Habeas corpus writ is a concept dating back to the Magna Carta in
1215 A.D., ratified in Britain in 1689 and included as a key provision
of the U.S. Constitution. Basically, it guarantees the right to a fair
trial to anyone accused of a crime. It was considered “the fundamental
instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless
state action.” But when Congress granted AUMF (Authorization to
Use Military Force) to the Executive branch of government in September,
2001, the administration expanded it to include anyone the President decided
was an “International Terrorist.” This was a first step, in
Ratner’s view, in the circumvention of Constitutional rights.
“In the United States, there were 93,000 people who were picked
up immediately afterwards, who were undocumented workers, not one terrorist,”
Ratner recalled. “These were special registration people for young
men between the ages of 18 to 35 from certain Muslim countries and people
the FBI wanted to look at.
““Then there’s the Guantanamo Bay category, which is
roughly 750. Five hundred have been released and we think the high majority
of those left there will also be released.,” the former NLG (National
Lawyers Guild) President continued. “That’s not the so-called
‘high value detainees,’ of which there are 14 and I’m
not willing to say very much about that. Not in the sense that I don’t
know but in the sense that most of what the government has to say turns
out not to be the case. Rumsfeld calls them ‘the worst of the worst’-
people who are going to chew through hydraulic cords, bring down airplanes,
that want to kill us and it turns out that this was not the case at all.
So, my feeling about what the government puts forward, either publicly
or in secret evidence, is that I’m highly, highly skeptical.”
Rooting his doubts in the CCR’s experiences in cases already handled,
Ratner sounds fairly optimistic about the defense even if, at first glance,
most of the chips seem be on the government’s side of the table.
The scorecard, however, seems to indicate otherwise. Even though CCR’s
client, the first ‘Gitmo’ detainee granted legal representation,
David Hicks, entered a plea bargain last year which allowed him to return
to his native Australia, the New York Times noted that he “was bargaining
in the shadow of many things-the conditions at the base, international
diplomacy, homesickness and the possibility of indefinite detention without
charge. But he was not, for the most part, bargaining in the shadow of
the law...The statute under which he was to be tried was brand new and
untested. The relevant regulations are as yet largely unwritten. ”
“They’ve never had a successful prosecution from beginning
to end. Not one,” observed Ratner of the Gitmo slate. “The
only case they had, a client I represented for a while - David Hicks -
pled guilty (as “enemy combatant”), got 9 months in jail and
is out. Every other time the government has been faced with a real hearing,
where they have to come up with actual evidence, they responded by releasing
the prisoners. And then you add torture and we know that victims and survivors
of torture really do say what their interrogators want to hear.”
Ratner points to the 2006 analysis of Defense Department files on 517
Guantanamo detainees by Professor Mark Denbeaux of Setion Hall University,
which found that the majority of detainees had committed no hostile acts
against the U.S. and, in fact, only 5% of them had been captured by U.S.
forces while 86% had been turned over for the $4,000 or $5,000 bounties
offered, no questions asked, and notes that the government’s use
of money has been a major issue.
“Their claim with regard to at least some of the so-called ‘secret
detainees’ who are in some of those black sites and through whom
they claim to have been able to solve some plots, I don’t have it
in front of me but a lot of that is essentially ‘made from whole
cloth’,” Ratner charged. “To the extent that we’ve
been able to dependably corroborate whether those plots even existed or
whether the torture resulted in any apprehensions, we’ve been able
to demonstrate that they haven’t gotten very much of anything from
With such an enormous percentage of the national budget geared to the
terror threat and the techno-security companies favored by the administration,
this is a disturbing claim. Over last weekend we saw an example of how
the “new justice system” flexed its muscle as “Operation
Sudden Impact” coordinated a three-state task force encompassing
federal, state and local agencies in an “anti-terror, anti-crime”
operation in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas. Although no actual terrorists
were discovered, 332 arrests were made and 1,292 traffic violations issued
in Memphis alone. But, more importantly, it was the first known exercise
of the NIMS (National Incident Management System) equipment issued to
towns around the country from FEMA funds to interconnect federal, state
and local authorities.
As reported here in December, 2006, the Olive Police Department received
a $25,000 grant, secured from the state budget by Senator Bonacic, to
enable them to participate in the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention
Program under Director of New York’s Homeland Security Office, Brigadier
General F. David Sheppard... when the call comes.
Additionally, as a New York municipality, Olive will have the benefit
of plugging into a federally-funded database called Matrix (Multistate
Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange) owned by Seisint, Inc., a private
security company associated with former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, to protect
it by sharing data like voter registrations, civil court records, history
of address changes, etc. instantly between the agencies. New York is only
one of 7 states in the nation to have signed on to the program so far,
the others being Florida, Ohio, Connecticut, Michigan, Pennsylvania and
Utah. States which have rejected the system, for reasons of long-term
costs or privacy concerns, include California, Texas, Oregon, Alabama,
Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky.
A writ of habeas corpus stands as the most important item to the 332 people
arrested in the sweep, even if they aren’t accused of terrorism.
But Ratner’s 2004 habeas corpus victory, which the New York Times
hailed as “the most important civil rights victory in 50 years”
was short lived and the battle continues even as his Center defends one
of the “high-value detainees” against a death penalty charge
issued in February.
“What we got out of the June 2004 decision was the ability to send
attorneys to Guantanamo and we now have a group of some 600 attorneys,
not just from civil rights groups but mostly from big law firms, who are
representing the Guantanamo detainees,” said Ratner, sounding like
he was quoting from a John Grisham novel. “As a result of that,
we were able to stop the torture at least there and put pressure on various
countries and the government to get people out. So, that success opened
a huge door for us.
“At the same time, Congress passed a law stripping habeas from them
and it went to the Supreme Court again in 2006,” he noted. “The
Court said it wasn’t done right and Congress did it again, supposedly
right, and that’s the case still pending, which will be decided
in about a month. So, it’s Sisyphus-like; the third time we’re
been there but in the interim we’ve at least been able to protect
people from the worse aspects of torture and help get people out.”
In an exclusive April interview, which concludes in our next issue, Michael
Ratner (whose book with Ellen Ray, Guantanamo: What the World Should Know
is available in paperback) also shares his views on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
& the closing of Monument Road in Olive; the shocking behavior of
the mainstream press on issues of urgent concern; the use of private corporations
in foreign conflicts and domestic intelligence gathering; how the use
of huge bounties led to a flood of false arrests and why the Center for
Constitutional Rights will continue its pursuit of European indictments
of Donald Rumsfeld and other former key administration officials for war
crimes, adding President Bush and Vice-President Cheney to the list as
soon as they leave office.
Steps In For CWC
Many took turns lauding the 90 plus year old Shelton, who was born in
the Ozarks and ended up in Trout Creek, but the humble statesman kept
deflecting the attention away from his contribution to the end result
of that battle- the creation of the CWC and of a multi-million dollar
host of programs benefiting upstaters- by noting that the end result was
achieved by a much larger group of talent, both from the City and from
Upstate, with many others, like environmentalist Robert F Kennedy Jr.,
But it was toward the end of the casual ceremony when it became clear
that although much had been accomplished, there was still more to be done.
James Tierney, former State Watershed Inspector General and currently
a Deputy Commissioner at the State Department of Environmental Conservation,
recalled Shelton’s homespun influence over the issues of days gone
by, and assured the man himself that the partnership he helped forge between
the City and Upstate was in good hands as the struggles of that partnership
change with the times.
The significance of those words rang crystal clear when Tierney announced
that the Governor’s office has stepped in to help solve what many
in the room considered to be the most pressing upstate/downstate issue
of today: The financially crippling challenges the City has launched against
local assessments of City lands in towns throughout the region.
The City of New York this month agreed to settle a long and costly legal
battle with the Town of Olive over the assessed values of the City’s
vast holdings in that town. As a result of the deal, the City’s
property will be assessed at $550 million, much to the delight of Olive
During the legal battle City Attorneys claimed the property, which includes
the Ashokan reservoir, was valued at only $115 million as opposed to Olive’s
assertion that it was worth $600 million. Olive officials shuddered at
the notion when the City first challenged the assessment seven years ago
because the City pays over half the property taxes in the town. Had the
City won the battle, the rest of the town’s taxpayers would have
been required to pick up the slack.
Under the settlement the City and the town agree to assessed values for
the next 10 years. The property will be worth $550 million now though
2010. The value goes up to $560 million in 2011, $570 million in 2012,
$580 million in 2013, $590 million in 2014-2015 and $600 million for 2016
Another major win for Olive, the Onteora school district and Ulster County,
which were also joined in the case, is that none will be required to pay
back over $20 million the city argued it was due in back tax payments
it’s lawyers claimed were unfair.
The CWC has a special account to pay such costs for tax assessment challenges
made by the City against municipalities within the City’s watershed
region, a vast territory covering parts of Ulster, Greene, Delaware, Schoharie
and Sullivan Counties. Although there are still ten different challenges
pending in other communities, Olive’s battle had nearly depleted
CWC Executive Director Alan Rosa has been warning watershed dwellers for
over a year that the tax issue must be resolved because the City has the
resources to go far through the legal system while the upstate towns will
go broke in the fight. At Monday’s meeting he spoke with optimism
about the talks run by the Governor’s office, which began in January,
and said that he felt the discussions to date played a role in the settlement
reached this month with Olive.
Rosa and other watershed representatives insisted Monday that the talks
were totally confidential, much in the same way the talks were back in
the 1990’s when he, Shelton, and a host of other local representatives
met under former Governor George Pataki to reach the deal they all signed
in 1997 called the memorandum of agreement.
Rosa did say he hoped that all the outstanding land assessment issues
in the watershed would be resolved within a year as a result of the talks.
Matters... What’s Their Stance?
together this Wednesday to discuss school board candidates,”
Boggess said this week of a planned April 16 gathering at the Olive
Free Library in West Shokan.
She noted that one newly-announced Olive candidate, Ralph Legnini,
had asked if he could come before Olive Matters to seek their support
for the slate of four candidates he’s running with who are against
the current board’s pending proposal to redistrict Onteora for
a new 5-8 Middle School, necessitating the closing of another elementary
“We said that’s crazy, that’s like asking somebody
from Woodstock to support an Olive candidate,” Boggess continued.
“We’re definitely not supporting anyone not from Olive…
Olive only candidates, that’s who we support.”
Later, Boggess wrote that the group DID meet with Legnini, who made
his case. But all in attendance politely disagreed, standing by their
belief that taxpayer issues were paramount at the moment, at least
in their terms.
In explanation of the Olive Matters Olive-only stance regarding Onteora
matters, Boggess was no-nonsense. She noted that even though a deal
has been struck between New York City and the Town of Olive that makes
the Large Parcel issue that raised the townspeoples’ school
taxes moot for the coming decade, her group won’t be happy until
laws are passed in Albany that specifically remove reservoirs from
any consideration if its implementation.
“All we have now is a ten year reprieve,” she said. “What
happens after 10 years if New York City and the town can’t agree
on a value anymore?”
Boggess said the rest of the Onteora School district had former Woodstock
supervisor Jeremy Wilber and former Shandaken supervisor Bob Cross
to thank for the Olive Matters stance, which would push for their
town’s complete control of the school board until which time
Large Parcel is removed from consideration by the state. No matter
what any local candidates say about not implementing it. And no matter
whether either of the former supervisors ever apologized for their
She also noted that Olive Matters was fully supporting the Middle
School plan, and planning process, pushed by the three incumbent candidates
it helped bring to the Onteora board in an upset election three years
ago. She pointed out that the middle school discussions had taken
long enough – three years – to already allow everyone
a say, and that “parents who don’t want this don’t
understand” that unless schools are closed and consolidation
allowed to happen, there would be more cuts to education, including
“things like band and art” because of the district’s
Boggess’ husband Drew served as a member of the school district’s
Budget Study Group that recently recommended closing a school and
consolidating programs, as well as hiring new teachers at lower wages,
as a means of stemming the sort of high costs it characterized, in
its recently disseminated report, via the image of a runaway train.
“These three people have kept our budget down and done a bang-up
job,” Boggess said of OCS Board President MaryJane Bernholz
and boardmembers Cindy O’Connor and Rita Vanacore. “We’re
tired of seeing our board members being unduly badmouthed, just like
we’re tired of being bad-mouthed as a town.”
Boggess spoke about how candidates opposing the Olive incumbents were
talking about issues related to qualities of education and community
when what mattered most to the Olive voters Olive Matters represented
were more interested in pure economics.
“They should ride around with our Meals on Wheels programs and
ask our seniors themselves to pay these $100,000 salaries for teachers,”
she said. “Tell them why there are 60 passenger busses with
only 40 kids on them. Tell them you want all this stuff paid for out
of their Social Security checks.”
Boggess noted that Olive Matters didn’t care which school closed,
as long as one did.
“We can’t keep feeding this monster,” she said.
After noting that Olive Matters wouldn’t mind Woodstock and
West Hurley splitting from the rest of Onteora, the better for the
remaining district’s school aid formulas, Boggess was asked
whether anyone in her organization was giving thought to the effects
of rising energy prices and those who are now saying it will force
an eventual return to smaller, community-oriented education.
“I don’t think a lot of people here understand or care
about any of that right now,” she replied. “Right now,
everyone’s more concerned about paying bills that are piling
up. And a lot of our senior citizens are without children now, so
they don’t really care. ‘Why would it effect me,’
Should the new slate ask to speak to Olive Matters at an upcoming
meeting, via Legnini, an Olive resident, or any of the other candidates,
Boggess said they would likely be put on the agenda. But the she added
that there might also be a chance that no one would show up to listen
Does Olive Matters have a fourth candidate for the open slots up for
election May 20, in addition to the three incumbents they consider
Boggess said there were other petitions out but no official word of
Has their turnout been as strong as it once was, back when Large Parcel
was more of a pressing issue?
“We have a turn out. We’re kind of silently active, with
a formidable e-mail list,” Boggess said. “WE want a big
push to have only Olive people on the board.”
“It would be nice to figure out how the heck all these towns
can get together,” she said. “But for now, we’re
sick of people considering us ‘low tax Olive.’”
Running together in a four-candidate
block are Woodstock resident Donna Flayhan, Olive resident Ralph Legnini,
Shandaken resident Ann McGillicuddy and Woodstock resident Laurie
Adam Pollack, a Woodstock resident and a senior attending Onteora
High School also joined the campaign. He recently turned 18, therefore
qualified to vote and run for office.
The block of four candidates are challenging the incumbents based
on the school board’s recent decision to create a five-through-eight
middle school and close an additional elementary school. Bernholz,
O’Connor and Vanacore all voted in favor of the middle school,
but no decision has been made on which school will be closed. The
three believe that enrollment is declining at a rate that will result
in only two elementary schools being needed in the future. They say
their plans make long term fiscal sense to district taxpayers.
Flayhan, Legnini, McGillicuddy and Osmond all believe that community
elementary schools with smaller classrooms are most important. They
do not support a middle school bond with total renovations that they
say could cost taxpayers between $70 million and $86 million, nor
do they support the closure of an elementary school. The four have
joined together from all areas of the district as a response to the
fact that five out of six school board members currently come from
the town of Olive.
A majority of people from Olive successfully voted in their candidates
over three years in reaction to a 2004 implementation of the Large
Parcel Bill. Seven of the current eight candidates have publicly stated
that they will not support a vote to enact Large Parcel if the subject
Pollack could not be reached for a statement.
The top three vote winners will fill three three-year terms. The fourth
place winner will take the remaining time left on Rosenfeld’s
seat, for reelection next Spring
In other Onteora business, the current board’s agenda for its
Wednesday April 23 meeting included mention of a “termination,”
for Deborah Fox’s position as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum.
Does this mean the position itself was terminated, or Fox as the person
According to Superintendent Leslie Ford, the board feels that curriculum
is important and “we will have that position filled.”
The title will not be folded into another administrative position,
but another person will be hired. She would not make comments on why
Fox was terminated and her contract will end June 30, 2008.
Fox was hired as an assistant superintendent under the leadership
of Justine Winters in 2004.
Also, Middle School Principal Paul Schwartz has resigned effective
June 30, 2008, when he will have been employed with the district for
one year. The reason given for his resignation was listed as “personal,”
and Ford said she would not comment on such issues.
Rosenfeld Explains His Resignation
Herb Rosenfeld resigned from the Onteora’s school board on April
4 and in a recent phone conversation explained why he made his decision
to step down after nearly five years of service.
“I felt like I didn’t fit into the way the board processed
information and came to conclusions,” He said, noting that educational
topics he presented were never addressed, he carried a lack of voting
power and his opinion was often ignored.
Rosenfeld believes the school board’s proposed 5-8 middle school,
that would necessitate the closing of another elementary school, lacks
a major component - education for all. He emphasized the “all,”
part. This is something Rosenfeld said is being largely ignored.
“We do fine with kids who wind up in fancy schools,” said
Rosenfeld. “We need to develop a vision on what we want for
all students.” He described the need for an education “blueprint,”
a vision designed to engage all students and so far with the new reconfiguration
he has not seen any benefits for kids.
Rosenfeld, a retired educator with 40+ years of experience, said investments
should be made in more “pedagogy and curriculum.” Teachers
need space to call their own, he explained but, “this $80 million
project, it’s a Cadillac of jobs that we’re going for,
instead of finding alternatives.” Rosenfeld wants the school
board to put the breaks on the proposal.
Rosenfeld also does not understand why the current board placed a
15 minute limit during the “public be heard” section of
the board agenda. He called the move “disrespectful” to
the public. He said, “I sat for hours listening to the people
when they closed West Hurley (elementary),” in 2003/2004. He
noted the same procedure when Large Parcel was open to public discussion.
Both had public input before any vote was taken. He does not blame
the district leadership for what he believes is its mishap, but said
things will change if the board were to change. Superintendent Leslie
Ford is, “interested in doing her job-I don’t think that
she is the issue.”
Rosenfeld called the current board, “politicized,” primarily
because of the Large Parcel legislation where the town of Olive found
candidates who, once elected to the school board, would vote against
the bill. Five out of the current six school board members are from
the town of Olive. He believes the board, “was elected to serve
the Large Parcel issue and wound up with a fortress mentality that
they stick to.”
Rosenfeld said there is nothing wrong with a 5-8 middle school model
except that it does not fit in the Onteora district. In a narrow four
to three vote that approved the middle school, he voted against it
because it meant closing an elementary school. He also said there
are equally positive studies for 6-8 middle school and Kindergarten-through-twelve
configurations. He also warns against the proposed larger classroom
size population of students that will happen if a school closes. He
said studies do not support any positive outcome.
“If you close down another school you are going to shift 250
plus kids into two elementary schools,” he said. “The
research as to what that would do is astounding.”
Rosenfeld explained that the board should start at the beginning with
public meetings, town meetings and “utilize more than one architect”
at competitive bids. “I mean you would do that when building
a house.” He noted that really good changes are happening at
the elementary schools, so what is the purpose of changing or closing
a school when it works.
“They are on the cusp of being incredible,” he said, giving
credit to good teaching, coupled with the new reading/writing program
and community and parental involvement. He said Phoenicia has shown
increased enrollment at the lower levels and he does not trust demographic
reports when the reconfiguration plan will maximize space.
Rosenfeld reflected that he voted on very controversial issues such
as the closing of West Hurley elementary school. Always, he worked
with his fellow board members and enjoyed their company, even though
he was vehemently against the majority’s vote.
His first couple of years on the board, he explained, were different.
“Then,” he said, “The lines weren’t drawn.”
But now continuing his term as a school board member he viewed as,
whole society changed markedly starting around the 1940s as a result
of burgeoning cheap fuel supplies. Land use planning in the US encouraged
the expansion of the suburbs with cheap fuel and relatively inexpensive
cars that provided the means to live in the country and commute to a
distant city for employment. The suburban sprawl has resulted in a substantial
loss of farmland across the US and has also contributed to the 22 barrels
per person per year of oil consumption in the US, 40% of which is used
for transport. (The rest of the industrialized world uses 4 to 6 barrels
of oil per person per year.) Modern food production requires 10 to 15
calories of petroleum inputs in the form of synthetic fertilizer, pesticides,
herbicides and tractor fuel to produce and deliver 1 calorie of food
to your dinner plate. On the other hand, organic agriculture uses natural
farm-derived inputs that are usually composted before use on the gardens
or fields. The caloric input required is much lower and it is derived
on the farm to the greatest extent possible. The organic system depends
on recycling waste (animal and green manures and compost) back to the
soil to replace nutrients taken out with the crop. When Cuba suffered
a collapse of oil imports due to the collapse of the former Soviet Union
in 1991, their relatively modern agricultural sector was stopped dead
in its tracks. Organic gardeners and farmers were elevated by government
decree to the status and pay of doctors and engineers, and they were
given control of the state farms and lands. It took three years and
an average weight loss of 25 pounds per person before they got their
production back and they are now a model for the rest of the world.
Many visitors from other countries now visit Cuba for the purpose of
documenting their natural organic food production systems for possible
adoption and use in their home countries. High fuel prices are now driving
the conversion back to organics in many countries.
The organic way requires more labor but is that bad? The new energy
paradigm may well cause a return to more local food production in the
US and indeed there seems to be a growing consciousness of food and
where it comes from. With that context in mind the following observations
and recollections by our neighbors who grew up on local farms from the
30s through the present are all the more relevant.
The way of life that they describe is essentially seasonal organic production.
They have much of the knowledge needed to at least partially convert
back to traditional local biological means of production, if necessary.
There are common threads throughout the growing number of interviews
of local farmers, trappers, sawyers and stonecutters, retired and not.
They all described a varied work life that revolved around the seasons
and production for home use of all types of food, fuel and other necessities,
with the excess production going to market. The rocky Catskill foothills
in Olive and uplands leading up into Shandaken were not conducive to
large scale farming such as exists in the rich bottomland of the Rondout
and Esopus Valleys. The farms here in Olive and Shandaken were small
scale and diversified with small to medium sized dairy’s predominating
being well distributed throughout both Olive and Shandaken.
All persons interviewed observed that cows were omnipresent and many
families had a cow or two to produce milk and cream to make butter,
cheese and yogurt for home use and for sale. The cow seemingly was the
basis of the local homestead nutritional system, providing food, compost
and cash from the excess production, including a premium for the value-added
goods like butter, cheese and yogurt. They are self reproducing, to
boot. Little wonder there was literally several thousand cows from Olive
up into the Catskills right up through the Roxbury Valley in Delaware
County by the early 1940s. By the 70s and 80s the local dairy industry
was all but gone due to low milk prices and increasing costs. One by
one they folded and sold off the herds and equipment with the Fox Farm
in Olivebridge being the last modern dairy in these parts to close and
liquidate the herd somewhere around 1990 with the encouragement of the
federal PIK buyout program, which would buy out and liquidate dairy
herds due to overproduction and depressed milk prices.
The shoe seems to be on the other foot now with milk bringing eighteen
dollars a hundredweight in 2007 and slightly less in 2008.
Next Issue: The last farmers remember, and look forward to a rebirth
of fagriculture in these hills...