Art Dealer Charged With Smuggling Ivory Into U.S.

Of the millions of tons of stuff that comes through Kennedy International Airport in travelers’ suitcases each year, some of it is not supposed to be there.

Like the tusks of hundreds of threatened African elephants.

A Philadelphia art and antiquities dealer, Victor Gordon, was arraigned on smuggling charges in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday after, the authorities said, they seized about a ton of carved ivory that he had had a confederate bring into Kennedy in his luggage between 2006 and 2009.

The seizure is one of the largest American seizures of elephant ivory on record, the United States attorney’s office said.

Mr. Gordon, 68, had his agent purchase raw ivory and get it carved and then stained or dyed so that it appeared old and therefore not subject to endangered species law, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said. He then sold the carved tusks through his shop in Philadelphia, Victor Gordon Enterprises, they said.

Mr. Gordon pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate. He is also charged with violating the Endangered Species Act and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.

All told, agents of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service seized 491 carved tusks from Mr. Gordon, 13 of which he had brought to agents in Brooklyn in November 2009, the authorities said.

Trade in the ivory of African elephants is illegal under the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, better known as Cites.

“We all have a responsibility to protect endangered species, both for their sake and for the sake of our own future generations,” Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said in a statement.

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New York Challenges U.S. Defense of Marriage Act

The New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, acting just days after the state began allowing gay couples to wed, filed a legal brief on Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Mr. Schneiderman asserted that the law, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, violates the right to equal protection under the law for gay and lesbian couples.

The brief (attached at the bottom of the post), filed in Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York, refers specifically to New York State’s Marriage Equality Act, which was approved by lawmakers last month and took effect to great fanfare on Sunday.

“Without such equal treatment by the federal government,” Mr. Schneiderman wrote, “New York’s statutory commitment to marriage equality for all married couples will be substantially unrealized.”

Mr. Schneiderman submitted the brief in support of Edith S. Windsor, the plaintiff in Windsor v. United States. Ms. Windsor was married in Canada in 2007 to her longtime partner, Thea Spyer. The couple lived in New York City, and when Ms. Spyer died two years after their marriage, the federal government refused to recognize their marriage and collected estate taxes on her inheritance, prompting the lawsuit.

Ms. Windsor’s legal challenge was one of two lawsuits that prompted President Obama in February to direct the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which Mr. Obama determined was unconstitutional.

There are several other legal challenges to the act being considered in federal courts around the nation, and President Obama has called for the law’s repeal.

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Two Miles Offshore, Officers Rescue Dog Who Paddled Too Far

New York City got a reprieve from the monstrous heat on Monday, but it was apparently still not cool enough for an 8-month German shepherd named Charlie.

The dog dove into Jamaica Bay off Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, for a dip about 7:35 p.m. Monday, but strong current quickly carried him away, the police said.

Charlie was eventually picked up by the police, who were on the harbor doing a routine patrol by boat.

He was two miles from shore.

The police said that Charlie had recently arrived in the city from Germany and that his new owners — Brooklyn residents whom officials would not identify — had just picked him up for the first time. When they opened the back of their car to let him out, Charlie bolted for the water.

By the time his owners reached the beach, they could see him bobbing in the distance.

Charlie paddled frantically, but was no match for the currents.

As he struggled to stay afloat, Officers Benjamin Reiver and Edward Carr happened by on patrol. The point where they picked up Charlie was two miles out into the bay and a mile down the shore from where he had entered the water.

Officers Reiver and Carr steered their boat toward land and, in search of the dog’s owner, began canvassing the beach. The owners flagged down the officers’ boat to report their missing dog. When they looked inside, they found Charlie was already aboard.

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Officers Rescue Dog Who Paddled Too Far

New York City got a reprieve from the monstrous heat on Monday, but it was apparently still not cool enough for an 8-month German shepherd named Charlie.

The dog dove into Jamaica Bay for a dip about 7:35 p.m. Monday, but strong current quickly carried him far from shore, the police said.

Charlie was soon picked up by the police, who were on the harbor doing a routine patrol by boat.

The police said that Charlie had recently arrived in the city from Germany and that his new owners — Brooklyn residents whom officials would not identify — had just picked him up for the first time. When they opened the back of their car to let him out, Charlie bolted for the Brooklyn shore and dove into the water.

By the time his owners reached the beach, they could see him bobbing in the distance.

Charlie paddled frantically, but was no match for the currents.

As he struggled to stay afloat, Officers Benjamin Reiver and Edward Carr happened by on patrol. They snatched Charlie from the water about two miles from the beach and a mile down the shore from where he had entered the water.

Officers Reiver and Carr steered their boat toward land and, in search of the dog’s owner, began canvassing the beach. The owners flagged down the officers’ boat to report their missing dog. When they looked inside, they found Charlie was already aboard.

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Child Found in Battery Park Is Identified

A toddler found on Monday morning in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan was identified on Monday night, and the police have contacted his family.

The boy, Trevon Frazier, 3, was found about 9:30 a.m. in Teardrop Park. The police distributed a picture of him to the news media and asked for help determining his identity.

By Monday evening he was identified. A Police Department spokesman said the police had made contact with members of his family in New Jersey. The spokesman did not know how the boy was identified.

Trevon was in the custody of the Administration for Children’s Services on Monday night.

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Police Seek Information on Child Found in Battery Park

A lost or abandoned boy between 2 and 4 years old was found in Battery Park City on Monday morning, and the police are asking for help in identifying him.

The boy was wearing a white tank top, red plaid shorts, black sandals, and has an earring in his left ear. He was found in Teardrop Park around 9:30 a.m.

If you have any information about the boy, you are asked to contact the Police Department’s Crime Stoppers unit by phone (1-800-577-8477), Web site or text (send “TIPS 577,” followed by the message, to 274637).

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Gay Marriage | A Reader-Submitted Photo Album

On Sunday, July 24, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples said “I do” on the first day of same-sex marriage in New York. To document the occasion, we asked readers to help us to create a wedding album. The above photo was submitted by Ruti Smithline, who took it in Brooklyn and wrote:

“This was the crowd cheering as the happy couple walked out of Borough Hall a married couple!”

We’re still accepting submissions, but here is a selection of images we’ve received so far. As always, thank you for sharing with us.

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Apples vs Oranges: Why schools cannot be compared internationally

The field of our youth‟s education is plagued with the locusts of doubt with constant cries of falling skies and failing systems. Being the number one nation in the world has stricken us with the ever looming fear of being overcome by the shadow of mediocrity. The system itself is a bit dated, bogged down in bureaucracy and in need of reform but, the schools are not failing, and the nation is not slipping into insignificance.

The past decade has been subject to a calculation, turning our students into numbers and pegging them against other faceless figures around the world. The study TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) conducted by the IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) claims to be “the largest, most comprehensive, and most rigorous international study of schools and students ever conducted.” The study was performed on students in the fourth and eighth-grade and the final year of secondary school from 41 different countries. In mathematics, it claimed that fourth-graders were above the international average but outranked by seven other nations. Eighth-graders in the same subject scored below the international average and twelfth-graders were found among the lowest of the 21 participating nations. Science scores found fourth and eighth-graders above average but twelfth graders below. Considering the estimated 196 nations worldwide, being in the top 20 may not be „exceptional‟ but is nothing that will make the sky fall.

The concern is reasonable, but overstated. We should always strive for improvement especially when considering our future. However, there are certain factors to appreciate when looking at America‟s education system compared to any other nation. We are an exceptional nation, after all.

First, secondary education ends in the United States at the twelfth grade with an average age of 18.1 years. As addressed by http://azschoolsmakeadifference.org, Grade 14 students were in the tested populations of Austria (19.1), Canada (18.6), and Iceland (21.2), while France (18.8), Germany (19.5), Switzerland (19.8), Italy (18.7), and the Czech Republic (17.8), included grade 13 students. In South Africa they only tested twelfth grade students, but their average age was 20.1 (South Africa, along with Denmark, Germany and Slovenia, also did not follow the student sampling guidelines).

Two years can make a very large difference in education. Often times, young adults can go through drastic changes in less than the course of one half year.

Second, Denmark excluded students who completed their formal schooling after grade 9, presumably low scoring students not expected to go to high school. In Denmark the percentage of 25-34 year-olds who have completed “secondary education” is 69%, in the Netherlands it is 70%, in New Zealand 64%, in Australia 57%, in Italy 49%, while in the U.S. it is 87%. Russia and Cyprus excluded vocational students, the Netherlands excluded apprenticeship students. The United States has been pressing the importance of education with legislature like the “No Child Left Behind” laws under Bush and Obama in his state of the union boldly claiming “To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.” So comparing our high school students to their “secondary” students is comparing apples to oranges.

Third, an MIT sponsored conference on brain research and education pointed out that despite countries like China and Singapore outperforming the U.S. on mathematics tests, they can‟t compete with our top technical universities from which big tech companies are recruiting. China has actually been spending the last few years examining the structure of American classrooms and trying to restructure its approach to create more divergent (creative) thinkers rather than convergent thinkers who can narrow choices down on a multiples choice test. Basically, what good are the score comparisons if our citizens are still the ones in demand for the jobs?

Finally, we purposefully sought to provide a free education to every child in America. The initial push for our free public school system for all children started in response to child labor. It was also designed to prepare those children to grow up with basic reading and writing skills to work in factories during the industrial revolution. It was never designed to be “in-depth,” though it has improved over the last 30 years or so with the standards movement. The greater issue isn‟t necessarily having inadequate schooling, but trying to overly homogenize education by using identical curricula or methods for every school when the geographical and ethnic scope of education today is so large.

Recently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested that the “No Child Left Behind” law be revised and made more flexible, as reported by the New York Times. The change of heart resulted in response to an overwhelming amount of requests of states to be waived from the legislature‟s strict requirements in proficiency in reading and math. The mandates in NCLB were completely unrealistic and too broad. Special education students were factored into performance scores, it did not take into account developmental timetables of some students and states were fudging test scores making them ultimately meaningless. Schools were facing major penalties like school closings, which would seriously disrupt communities. NCLB had great intentions, but was underfunded and had serious flaws.

If the United States wants to increase its global competitiveness, the current system needs reform at the philosophical level. We need to decide how to educate everyone effectively without stifling creativity. We should be able to create a school system that is diverse in its approaches, have high expectations, and be inclusive. The battle over education is increasingly gaining steam in the capital and will become a major issue if it is not considered so already. The future of American education will certainly be an odyssey of epic proportions. Should the powerful teachers‟ unions continue to have a monopoly, or should competition be increased through charter schools and voucher systems? Educational Improvement is important and worth everyone‟s time for many reasons, but we should not allow inappropriate international comparisons to create a sense of gloom.

Molly Capriotti, Assistant Research Analyst
Caesar Rodney Institute

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