Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big Pharma Drug Dealers Look To Retool For Obama

Big Pharma has been used to years of lax oversight, unabashed commercials for profitable drugs and general use of scumbaggerous (yes, that's my word) methods such as overcharging for life-saving drugs, skimping on research for rare disease because it isn't cost-effective and lobbying Congress at a ridiculous pace. Now with Obama coming into town, they are afraid of being regulated and are ready for reform...or at least look like it.

From The Washington Post:ad_icon

"We had better self-police and stop doing the things that cause so much criticism, or we're going to get legislated and regulated by government," said W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, the Republican former congressman who runs the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade association. The changes, he said in an interview, are an effort to move away from the industry's "slash-and-burn kind of policy" in response to previous regulatory and legislative efforts.

Even before Obama's victory, the drug lobby took a dramatic political turn: In 2008, for the first time in 18 years, industry contributions to Democrats were on par with money given to Republicans, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group.

"PhRMA had been isolated into a one-party camp," Tauzin said. "We're trying to reposition as less of a partisan player."
Well that certainly does sound like tough talk for a new era, but let's consider the source. Billy Tauzin is famous for handing large gifts to the drug companies in exchange for his current comfy position with them. He is hardly one to be trusted with actual reform. The only reason that he wants the industry to play nice with Democrats and gain a better image is because they are afraid of looking like the gluttonous a**holes that they have been for the last eight years (and more). Real reform is only going to come from one direction, tough regulation of an industry that is insanely out of control.

The World Knows They're War Criminals, Now We Must Do Something About It

And Barack Obama must lead the charge in affirming the rule of law and protecting our Constitution. The ever-amazing Rachel Maddow along with Jonathan Turley get into it:

Friday, January 09, 2009

Blogger Battles NYPD And Wins, Sorta

It has always been an uphill struggle for bloggers in this town, this state and this country for that matter. The establishment did not take the online community seriously for a long time and now, things are beginning to change. Politicos realize that we've helped elect candidates and win battles with the supposed conventional wisdom. Well that struggle is an ongoing process, including right here in New York. Today however, we won another battle, thanks to Norman Siegel and blogger Rafael Martinez-Alequin.

From The Daily Politics:

Maverick City Hall blogger Rafael Martinez-Alequin has won his battle to get the NYPD to give him an official press card, the DN's Frank Lombardi reports.[...]

One wrinkle: The crendentials are "identification" cards, which offer less access than those issued to "working press." The latter allow the bearer to cross police lines.

Martinez-Alequin and Siegel said the three would continue their federal suit despite being granted press credentials.

"This is an important first step, but only a first step," Siegel said. We still need to address the constitutional problems in the system of granting press crednetials in new York City that has run amok and needs to be changed immediately, so the lawsuit continues."

Siegel said he would prefer to see the city Department of Consumer Affairs handle press credentials, calling it inappropriate for a high-profile agency like the police department to have the final word on who is a journalist.

So Martinez-Alequin has his press pass, or at least something that looks like it. The NYPD didn't give all the way, but with that lawsuit pending, hopefully they'll be irrelevant to the process in due time. Your Free Press is now one step closer to the rest of the traditional media's position inside City Hall.

Blagojevich Impeached, Next Step...Conviction

Well the Illinois State House has done their part. Governor Blagojevich is officially impeached and will be tried by the State Senate for his crimes against the people of Illinois. It would have been great if they had done this last month so we could have avoided the drama surrounding Roland Burris, but, well, it is done now. Of course, Blago isn't done fighting, he'll be screaming and shouting till the very end.

From Yahoo News:

Blagojevich was out jogging in his Chicago neighborhood when the vote came down. When he returned to his home, he compared his situation to a short story about a petty criminal called "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner."

"And that's what this (impeachment) is, by the way, a long-distance run," Blagojevich said, promising to say more at an afternoon news conference.

Whether he is running a marathon, a triathlon or sitting still, at least forty State Senators are going to help convict the corrupt sonofab*tch. The House voted for impeachment by a count of 114-1 and I expect the margin to be similar in the Senate come next week or soon thereafter. Blagojevich has done enough damage to Illinois and the country, it is far past the time for him to go.

Pelosi:"Equal pay is an issue of fundamental fairness"

When it comes to this bill, Nancy Pelosi knows what she's talking about. For Congress to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act quickly is a great start to this new session.

Bloomberg Wants To Be A GoOPer

Bloomberg has been making plenty of news lately. Budget squabbles, ducking rockets in Israel and shouting his opinion on whatever, wherever he can. He certainly likes to be in the limelight. It might just be the reason he wants to run for Mayor for a third term, not only to hold onto power but to remain relevant. He relishes the attention. Though when it comes to being on the ballot, position counts immensely.

So why is it that he wants to be a Republican again?

Mayor Bloomberg has begun reaching out to city Republican leaders to gauge whether he could run on the GOP line in his re-election bid this year, several sources told The Post.

The maneuvering began in the past two weeks, and sources said the mayor is expected to try to run on a major-party as well as a third-party line, likely one of his own creation.

Several sources said Bloomberg's political aides have started reaching out to GOP chairs in the five boroughs, including Manhattan's Jennifer Saul.

This comes from the conservative NY Post, but if its true, it shows that Bloomberg is weak. Not that he doesn't have plenty of money to run with, but that the Democratic leaders must have refused him access to the coveted Row A on the ballot this year. Instead he'll have to show everyone what a floosy he is in order to get as high as he can on the ballot. He still has an excellent chance of winning a third term (even if it is because of dubious circumstances of his own making) but if the Democrats can come up with one strong challenger, we might just be able to dethrone Mayor Mike this come November.

MTA Uses The Environment To Get More Money Out Of NYers

As many of you probably know, the MTA is getting read to raises rates by 23 percent. If the state comes through and bails them out, it will only be a mere 8 percent increase, but that's still another knock at our wallets in the upcoming year. None of this is supposed to improve service, only keep it at the poor quality we get now (or worse). Now they are looking at even more ways of bringing in more money, one of which is an environmental appeal to those that use the MTA, whether by mass transit or by car.

From The NY Times:

The authority said on Thursday that it was considering a “green MetroCard” program that would let riders make donations to help pay for making its operations more environmentally sustainable. The program would also apply to commuter rail tickets and E-ZPasses.

The idea was among dozens of proposals in a $1 million report by a commission appointed by the authority to recommend ways to lessen the adverse environmental impact of its operations.

Under the program, whose details are still being developed, riders buying MetroCards or commuter rail tickets at station vending machines could tack on an extra charge in the form of a tax-deductible contribution for green projects, said Ernest Tollerson, the authority’s policy director.
If they actually make it tax-deductible that would be fantastic. Though my confidence in them to do that is slim to nil. Now if they'd actually use those funds to "green" the system, I find that to be next to impossible. The MTA has always set money aside from one project to contribute to another or just a simple transfer to their general fund. If they truly wanted to make our mass transit more fuel efficient, they'd do it from their budget and not ask straphangers for more cash than they already demand of us.

Boehner On National Debt, He's One To Talk

I seriously wonder how Rep. Boehner manages to keep a straight face on when he talks about the worrisome rising national debt. While Bush nearly doubled the total, he said nothing. Now that Barack Obama is actually trying to save the economy by spending dollars on infrastructure, the Republican all of a sudden cares about deficit spending.

That goes for Mitch McConnell's feigned sincerity on the issue as well.

Unemployment Skyrockets To 7.2%, Err I Mean 13.5%

The Department of Labor released their ominous report today showing the unemployment rate (not including the underemployment and non-reported unemployed, where the rate is now 13.5%) to have jumped 0.4% last month to a sixteen year high of 7.2%. More than half a million jobs were lost in December and 2.6 million overall last year. As Bush exits, he leaves a devastating trail of economic ruin that the new President must try and clean up.

From The NY Times:

The unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent in December from 6.8 percent in November and 5 percent last April, when the recession was four months old and just beginning to bite. More than 11 million Americans are now unemployed, and their growing ranks seem likely to put pressure on President-elect Barack Obama and Congress to act quickly on a stimulus package that mixes tax cuts and public spending.

“These numbers, back to back, of more than a half million a month suggest that the U.S. economy is in a freefall,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight. “It’s scary, and it indicates that unless something is done and done quickly to turn this economy around, we’re looking at an awful situation this year.”

The 7.2 percent was the highest unemployment rate since January 1993, when the country was still shaking off a jobless recovery from the 1990-91 recession. The loss in total jobs for 2008 was the largest since 1945.
And there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon. David A. Levy, chairman of the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center thinks we are looking at a 9% unemployment rate by the end of this year. The numbers sorted by state aren't out yet, but one can assume things are looking extremely off in the Empire State. Wall Street is the epicenter of this debacle and economists know that the worst effects are felt here before they reverberate across the country.

This means that not only does Barack Obama have his hands full, so does our Governor, State Assembly and Senate. Now more than ever, we need drastic change in the way New York does business, and sugar taxes aren't going to cut it. We need to have true shared sacrifice in this state, and that starts at the top, with a truly progressive income tax. Get to it Governor....get to it Shelly Silver...get to it Malcolm Smith!

As Expected, Burris Isn't So Clean After All

Yesterday we learned a little bit more about the man that could and/or will become the next Senator from Illinois. Roland Burris made a big ruckus in Washington on Tuesday when the Secretary of the Senate refused to seat him. Yet he was confident, supposedly because the lord had Blagojevich seat him, that he'd prevail in the end. Well, it might not have been a heavenly presence that got him into the Club of 100.

From The Huffington Post:

Appearing before an Illinois House impeachment committee, Burris acknowledged that he had reached out to a close friend and former chief of staff to embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich to discuss the Senate seat. That appears to contradict Burris' statement in a sworn affidavit that he had no contact with any of the governor's "representatives." The former chief of staff, Alonzo Monk, is named as "Lobbyist 1" in the criminal complaint, and ran Blagojevich's most recent reelection campaign.

Grilled by members of the Illinois House, Burris said he brought the idea of filling Obama's Senate seat to "Lon" Monk -- whose cell phone was tapped by federal agents investigating Blagojevich's pay-to-play scheme.

Moreover, Burris testified that the meeting with Monk was to drum up state business from the lobbyist -- the image of back channel dealing that Burris has sought to avoid during his Senate roll-out.

Not exactly the stuff that gets you past the pearly gates, is it? Mr. Burris though, I suspect, cares only about the big doors that lead to the Senate floor. If he were staying in Illinois, it would seem that he'd get nothing from the legislature that raked him through his own coals yesterday. Majority Leader Harry Reid however, can't seem to tie his own shoes, so herding the Democratic caucus or dealing with an ethically and legally tainted Governor is out of the question. Of course, if the Feds can nail him for being part of a pay to play scheme, things could change. His answer to whether he was is quite telling.

Towards the end, a representative put the whole inquiry in the bluntest terms possible: asking Burris whether he had promised Blagojevich anything in return for the Senate seat.

"I can before this committee state that there was nothing legal, personal, or political exchanged for my appointment to this seat," Burris replied.

Do you think he left out the word "financial" on purpose?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blair Horner Sounds Off On Paterson's Lack Of Reform Talk

As stated before, Governor Paterson did not mention anything near and dear to the hearts of good government groups. Here is what Blair Horner of NYPIRG had to say in response to the State of the State:

Gonzo Still Out Of Work, Perhaps He Should Try Comedy

Alberto Gonzales departed the Department of Justice in shame, with threats of impeachment pending and a DoJ that was for all intensive purposes a political arm of the White House. More than sixteen months after that glorious day he left, Gonzo is still out of a job. He sat down with the Austin-American Statesman this week to clue us in on where he's at.

From The Austin-American Statesman:

It’s a rough economy right now, and it’s a tough time for a lot of law firms right now. Obviously they are very careful about bringing on new people, and they are going to be careful about bringing on people where there are questions about things that may have happened in their past,” he said. “Over time, I’m confident those things will be resolved, and things will work themselves out.”

“Greater opportunities,” Gonzales, 53, said, “will present themselves once the stories are out there.”

Oh it is rough, but bastards like you have helped shape their fate in more ways than just economic ones. Morality might have something to do with it as well. Helping to defend the practice of torture perhaps to name an example. Though he is writing a book so a publisher could throw him at least a little cash for that pile of lies. Oh and in the last part of the interview, he states he thinks about being baseball commissioner or something like that. Now where could he have gotten an idea like that?

I know this was billed as a serious interview, but really Gonzo, you could go on the road with a routine like that. Of course, that is permitting you stay out of prison for all those crimes you committed with your buddy George Bush.

Conyers' Proposed Prez Powers Commission Doesn't Go Far Enough

Not only is John Conyers busy protesting Sanjay Gupta, he is looking ahead to starting a commission to investigate what the hell went on in the last eight years. There is plenty we already know, but didn't go on the record because we had a combination of a timid Democratic Congress and a Republican one that didn't care. The question is though, is it enough?

From The Public Record:

In one of the first acts of the 111th Congress, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers,” including torture of detainees and warrantless wiretaps.

Conyers’s proposal for a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties also signals that Congress will devote significant time this year to investigating the Bush administration’s most controversial actions with an eye to rolling back its expansion of executive power.

Many civil liberties and human rights groups feared that the Democratic-controlled Congress and Barack Obama’s administration would duck any sustained inquiry into wrongdoing by George W. Bush and his subordinates, to avoid angering Republicans.

While Conyers’s plan falls short of the criminal probe that civil rights groups have sought, neither would it prevent a criminal investigation by Obama’s Justice Department if the new administration moves in that direction, said two aides on Obama’s transition team who spoke on condition of anonymity.
I'm glad that Obama's people are still thinking about the possibility of criminal investigations. Conyers however, isn't willing to go the distance that is necessary. Bush, Cheney and the rest of the cabal deserve to be put in front of the full force of the law. We aren't looking for slaps on the wrist or a sternly worded letter. This isn't about revenge, it is simply so that we as a nation of laws (not men) follow those laws. Conyers should not be afraid of that and neither should the rest of Congress.

Obama Promises To Not Live In A Bubble

Now this is a gigantic step away from the position of the current President when it comes to living in bubbles:

Conyers Goes After Obama For Thinking Of Gupta For Surgeon General

While Barack Obama has done many things right since being elected President, one of the odder items has been floating the name of Sanjay Gupta for Surgeon General. Sure, people know him from CNN and he is a brain surgeon, but is that really enough to be Surgeon General. Plenty of people think not, including Paul Krugman. Krugman cites his rash behavior with Michael Moore and oh-so-closeness with Big Pharma, both good reasons. Yet his complaints do not even come close to having the pull of someone like John Conyers.

From The Huffington Post:

I join in opposition with respected Noble Peace Prize award wining economist Paul Krugman, who has very serious concerns with having Dr. Gupta be the nation's Surgeon General. [...]

Also, there are highly experienced medical professionals who question whether Dr. Gupta has the necessary experience or even the medical background to be in charge of some 6,000 physicians or more who work in the United States Public Health Service. Gerard M. Farrel, Executive Director of the Commissioned Officers Association, stated in the January 7, 2008 Washington Post that Dr. Gupta will certainly face a "credibility gap" because he never served in the National Health Service Corp, and furthermore, does not have the "experience or qualifications to be the leader of the nation's public health service." Clearly, it is not in the best interests of the nation to have someone like this who lacks the requisite experience needed to oversee the federal agency that provides crucial health care assistance to some of the poorest and most underserved communities in America.
Gupta may be media savvy and as pointed out on The Daily Show last night, perhaps a little too much so. Humor aside, this is a serious position that must be filled and Gupta really doesn't have the experience necessary. He should stick to CNN and all sorts of pithy commentary (he can even keep defending Big Pharma) and leave the administrative work to those that know what they're doing. Perhaps Obama should talk to former Surgeon General Richard Carmona when going back to the drawing board on this one.

45 By 15 Is More Of What We Need In NY

The numbers make you think of a clock. In a way the program presented by the Governor is a way of helping beat the clock presented by our climate crisis. We all need to do our part to conserve and be efficient with our energy usage but our government needs to help provide clean energy so that coal and oil are eventually thrown to the wayside. Forty-five percent clean energy by 2015 is a great start to making that completely clean energy future a reality.

From PolitickerNY:

Paterson unveiled a new goal of having 45 percent of the electricity generated in the state from "clean and renewable sources" by 2015. He said the measure would produce 50,000 jobs. "We are going to have to make New York a more energy efficient and more energy independent state," he said. This would be done by converting public buildings to alternative energy sources, and providing incentives for homeowners. He also hoped that upstate New York could be the home of the development and manufacture of renewable energy sources.
Clean energy proponents are behind the Governor on this one and state legislators should follow suit. Newbie Senator Daniel Squadron likes the plan, so that is at least one politician in the bag. Although we aren't going to get all the changes New Yorkers wish to see in their government, at least there seems to be a chance of passing through this vital bill for the good of our environment....and as a bonus, tens of thousands of jobs in order to get it done.

Yes, Pecan!

Yes We Can, Yes We Did and now....Yes, Pecan! I hope I can get some of this stuff to go with whipped cream and chocolate sauce for inauguration day:

O.K., so it's just Butter Pecan renamed, but still, there's a good cause attached.

From Mark at Common Cause:

Ben & Jerry’s has decided to donate associated proceeds of the sales of Yes Pecan to Common Cause, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to open, honest, and accountable government.

In addition, Ben & Jerry’s will donate $1 for each person who signs up with Common Cause on Facebook (up to $10,000) during the month of January.

Obama Gets Tough With Economic Stimulus

After putting Dianne Feinstein back into line with Leon Panetta as his pick to head the CIA, Obama is on to more important business. Getting fellow Democrats to STFU over appointees is necessary, but for the American people, getting a real economic stimulus bill passed quickly in this new Congress is absolutely essential.

From The Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday that the nation's recession could "linger for years" unless Congress acts to pump unprecedented sums from Washington into the U.S. economy, making his highest-profile case yet on an issue certain to define his early presidency.

"I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible," Obama said in a speech set to be delivered at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., outside Washington. Excerpts from his prepared text were released in advance by his transition team.

"A bad situation could become dramatically worse," he added, painting a dire picture _ including double-digit unemployment and $1 trillion in lost economic activity _ that recalled the days of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Originally Congress was supposed to have the bill ready by the time Obama takes office. Now with less than two weeks to go, "leaders" on the Hill aren't too sure about that. The new President isn't going for those kinds of stall tactics and is demanding action in the strongest terms. We can certainly take as much as rhetoric as Obama can dish out in order to pass that real economic reform America needs.

Paterson Forgot All About Reform For Albany

The State of the State was slightly lengthy yesterday afternoon, but it still missed out on a lot. Reforming the government and all that goo goo's want were not mentioned even once. The topic used to be something the Governor cared about when he represented Harlem. Now he completely forgot about it. Blair Horner of NYPIRG certainly saw it and so did many others.

From The NY Times:

The most glaring omission was any plan for real political reform. He did not mention the need to change the campaign finance system or the scandalous way legislators draw their own districts. This was a missed opportunity in an otherwise promising summons to confront New York’s historic challenges.
The Governor did talk about reform in other ways, such as for the Rockefeller Drug Laws and how Medicare and Medicaid is distributed. He did have plenty of good ideas in that speech. Yet, if we do not work to fix the broken system, the worst in all the land, then none of those good ideas are going to have as much an impact as they could. New Yorkers want better times just as much as Paterson, but if we do not have trust and faith in our government then getting to the promised land is going to be a much more arduous journey than it needs to be.

Tell the Governor we need campaign finance reform now. The cost of such a program is minuscule compared to some of his other policies (even in these hard times) and the benefits pay out exponentially over time.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

How Close We Came To Losing Our Privacy

Mike Papantonio talks with Jon Mills about how dangerous the Bush regime was:

Albany, Show Us All Of The Money!

Yesterday we found out, or had the choice to find out the salaries of everyone that works for the New York State Government. Well, almost everyone. See the politicians have their state salaries listed, but those are technically part time jobs and the citizens that elected them are not allowed to see where they have other incomes, especially if it creates a conflict of interest. That is exactly what we are still seeking.

From The Poughkeepsie Journal:

"This should be the top ethics issue going into next year's session," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "Right now we have the combination of a lousy disclosure law and nonindependent oversight."

State law requires lawmakers, who are part time even though their government salaries are $79,500 a year (plus stipends), to report any sources of outside income of more than $1,000 to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is made up of a majority of lawmakers and has never publicly criticized a lawmaker.

Lawmakers also report to the commission ranges of their income, in six categories ranging from less than $5,000 to more than $250,000. The public can see the sources of the income, but not the categories of the amounts.

Keeping such information secret "confirms the worst suspicions of cynics who say that the elected representatives don't work for the people - they have outside interests that have primacy," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

And that is exactly how the system works, for the politicians and their outside entities that no one else is allowed to see. Seminerio is only one example of a massive problem we have up in Albany. Lawmakers say that changing the rules will scare good candidates away from running, but does anyone really buy that excuse? Good candidates shouldn't have to be afraid of where they work. What they have done, want to do and their overall record should prove to the people what kind of politician they are. Helping to hide those outside sources only adds to the general taint of what goes on in our state's capitol.

Paterson's State Of The State For 2009

I don't know if you had an hour and change to kill during the middle of the day to see the Governor's State of the State speech, but I did. Gov. Paterson addressed a lot of different items, many of them we know from his earlier roll out of the plan for the 2009 budget. Much of what he said we already know, shared sacrifice, tough times, sugar tax, etc.

What I liked hearing was his mentioning of preventive care funding and getting away from how we currently waste dollars in our state's health care system. Attacking that issue at the root cause is the smart thing to do for the future. So is expanding health care from parents to children from ages 19-29. Also, putting money into education is another great way to invest in the future. New York is in tough times now, and the only way to dig ourselves out is to do it smartly and to prepare for brighter days ahead. They won't come unless you lay out the road to them.

Unfortunately, the Governor is taking away from education by raising tuition for students that are having trouble affording college as it is already. Also, as the People's State of the State addresses, the crisis we are in now is due to the greed of the wealthy in and around Wall Street. Everyone is suffering due to their incompetence and failure. As Mark Dunlea of the Hunger Action Network mentions, the speech in Albany is always (and was) more positive than the realities out there. If the Governor wants to get real about our problems and ways of solving them, we need to have fair taxation for all, not just those that like sugary soft drinks.

Paterson is good at talking with us
, now let him know how you feel about what he's offering and what we need to add to the budget to make it work for all of us.

Joe The Plumber In Israel: You Can't Make This Stuff Up

How sad is it that in our culture we laud people like Joe the Plumber and actually send them to report on the situation in Israel. What an insult to the remaining journalists that work to cover the tragic story over there.

Ex-MTA Boardmember Caught Using Police Tags Illegally

While Governor Paterson talks high and mightily about the future of New York State, here in New York City things are business as usual. Paterson briefly mentioned the MTA and building the projects that were proposed eighty years ago, such as the Second Avenue subway line. That certainly sounds exciting, unlike the story of ex-boardmember Alan Friedberg.

From The NY Daily News:

Alan Friedberg left the MTA board six years ago, but he's still tooling around town in his snazzy red Jaguar with a police-issued parking permit.

Friedberg defied an order from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to return an MTA police-issued permit that lets him park just about anywhere.

On Sunday, Friedberg took full advantage of the perk - stowing the $76,000 luxury vehicle in a restricted zone on 43rd St. near Broadway theaters. His traveling party Sunday included his wife, wrapped in a full-length fur coat, and another couple.

"This vehicle is on official police business," states the MTA Police Department placard displayed prominently inside the 2008 Jag.

How is it that an ex-boardmember still has a tag that expires in February of this year is ridiculous. While the MTA asked for the placard back last year, it should have been forcibly taken from him after he initially refused. And when illegally used, police should have towed his car and impounded it for him his fraudlent use of the perk.

Mayor Pressured Out Of Suite-Heart Deal At New Stadiums

Mayor Bloomberg was looking forward to having a free luxury box at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field this year, but that is just not in the cards for him and his staff anymore. Approximately $2 billion dollars has been shelled out or asked for from the city (meaning us, the taxpayers) to finance both new ballparks. Of course that is a lot of money, especially when it could have been used to save programs needed by the poor and to curtail rising property tax rates. So the Mayor wanted to paid in the some fashion. Now that enough pressure has been applied, he is shying away from that pricey perk.

From NewsDay:

NEW YORK - Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration will forgo luxury boxes at the new Yankees and Mets ballparks, the city said Tuesday after months of criticism about its handling of the stadium projects.

The administration has worked out a new deal with the Yankees to get extra money, instead of a luxury box. A separate and similar agreement is being worked out with the Mets for their new park, a Bloomberg spokesman said.

Senior Bloomberg aides had fought hard to get the luxury boxes, describing the perk in internal e-mails as "a big issue to the mayor" during negotiations with the teams in 2006.

That battle for the boxes only recently came to light as state and federal lawmakers launched investigations into how the teams and the administration went about making those deals.
Of course, Bloomberg is only doing this because he is running for re-election. He doesn't want New Yorkers to see him for who he really is, an out-of-touch plutocrat that cares nothing for the average New Yorker. To him, it is all about image and nothing in terms of actual substance. He'd rather see the ballparks built with our money than people getting real economic relief. As Assemblyman Brodsky says, "This whole thing has been an embarrassment."

Bush And The Blair House, Pettiness To The End

This really is the act of a five year old. Refusing Obama and his family use of the Blair House has been a major pain not only for Barack but the Secret Service and the Hay Adams hotel. Sigh, at least there is less than two weeks to go until the grown-ups are in charge again.

Brennan Center Re-Checks Sheldon Silver

Earlier this week the Brennan Center put out a report showing how broken our state's government is. Speaker Sheldon Silver, being one of the key players in keeping things the way they are, responded to their findings. Unfortunately, the truth is too much for Shelly's attempt at spinning and the Brennan Center comes right back to put him in his place.

From ReformNY:

In response to yesterday’s release of the Brennan Center’s report Still Broken: New York State Legislative Reform 2008 Update, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver issued a statement suggesting that our report misrepresents the legislative process in the Assembly. We thought we’d set the record straight. Our responses to excerpts from Silver’s statement (in italics) are below.
In analyzing the work of the legislature, the Brennan Center report completely omits the state budget, as well as countless bills that pass either house every year.
This is incorrect. The analysis that forms the basis of the report included all of the budget bills listed on the New York Legislative Session Information page for 2006 and 2007 except the Legislature and Judiciary Budget Bill and the State Debt Budget Bill in each year. The statistics regarding substantive floor debate, meaningful dissent, and committee deliberation regarding these bills generally conform to the poor performance of both houses in considering the rest of the major legislation analyzed in this report.

The fact of the matter is that while the budget process in New York has become somewhat more transparent in the last few years, it is still far too opaque. Budget deals are still cut behind closed doors – once the budget bills are drafted, most details of budget reductions, tax increases, and member items are briefed and debated outside of public view.
The response to the response goes on, picking apart all of what Silver has to say for himself and defusing his nonsense. The modus operandi for people like Silver for the longest time has been to pretend things are transparent while working extremely hard to make important documents exceedingly difficult to decipher.

Good government groups try hard to unwind the mess, but because there is so much to entangle, by the time we can see what is going on the damage has already been done. It is important though that things do get untangled and places like the Brennan Center document the opacity of our state government so that people are more aware of the problems created in Albany. Hopefully because of it, the public gets motivated to actually do something about it.

Majority Leader Smith

Well now it's official, Malcolm Smith has come out on top and is our newest State Senate Majority Leader. He announced the news with the Gang of Three in tow last night up in Albany, after hammering out a deal. The infamous three each got their cut of power and lent Smith their vote for him.

From PolitickerNY:

Smith said he would be "conclusively" elected tomorrow, in a session presided over by State Senator Neil Breslin before David Paterson delivers the State of the State address.He was joined in conference by the gang of three, who then emerged by his side to announce details of the deal.

The agreement gives leadership posts to the gang of three -- Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. will chair the Aging Committee, Senator Carl Kruger will chair the Finance Committee and Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr. will be vice president of the Senate for urban policy, as well as vice chair of the rules committee and chairman of the Committee on Housing Construction and Community Development.[...]

Smith also pledged several rules reforms, including measures that would record votes to discharge bills from committees and that pertain to amendments on the floor will be recorded (they are not currently under a rule known as 'canvass of agreement'). More rules reforms were promised, and will be announced in two months after a commission studying the chamber makes recommendations, Smith spokesman Austin Shafran said.

The people of New York have certainly been treated to a roller coaster ride from these pols and finally this part of the ride is over. Of course, we have plenty of twists, turns, drops and jolts to come. One thing that is still up in the air is the issue of gay marriage and no one is sure where those chips may fall. The budget though will come first and seeing this new Democratic group deal with the Governor's proposal promises many fireworks when programs are actually strapped down on the chopping block for a waiting axe.

So Smith got away with his deal and has the ultimate power (and the highest lu-lu) but at what cost. Each of the three in the Gang got their own sweet deals though this time it was acceptable enough to the rest of the Democratic caucus. If I were one of those other 28, watching this drama unfold teaches one terrible lesson, that if you want power in New York, do your best to steal, connive or trick your way into it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Congressional Drama In 100 Seconds

TPM knows how to clip the first day back for Congress, and to fit in some Obama and Richard Simmons too:

Dems Take Gender Into Account For New House Rules

It may sound insignificant in the scheme of things, but the House of Representatives did something nice for all those who support gender equality. I'm sure Newt Gingrich and Denny Hastert had too much on their minds when they were Speaker to change the language of the House, but Nancy Pelosi took the time to equal things out.

From ThinkProgress:

In its new package of rule changes, the House has finally decided to make its official language gender neutral, recognizing the growing representation of women in Congress (including as Speaker of the House). Gone are references to “he,” “chairman,” and phrases such as “his duties.” From the resolution:


Read the full list of changes here (gender neutrality language beginning on p. 9).

Of course the actual legislation passed by this new Congress matters far more than a simple rules change for the 435 members of the House. Yet it is still a positive move and frankly, it was always odd to call a woman a Chairman...striking the "man" part works out just fine. Furthermore, it breaks down one of the small institutionalized settings that have helped to favor men over women for centuries.

Justice For The Arabic Language

Despite the high and lofty ideals set forth in the Constitution, all men are not treated equally (even though they are created as such) and because some of us rely heavily on fear, others' rights are taken away in the name of false security. Sometimes the silliest situations make for the best examples, such as what happened to Raed Jarrar at JFK as he was flying JetBlue back in 2006. In response to his wearing a t-shirt with Arabic writing on it, a few passengers made a ruckus and JetBlue forced him to change and sit in the back of the plane. Not a bright idea on their part, now it's payback time.

From The ACLU:

NEW YORK -- In a victory for constitutional rights, two Transportation Security Authority (TSA) officials and JetBlue Airways have paid Raed Jarrar $240,000 to settle charges that they illegally discriminated against the U.S. resident based on his ethnicity and the Arabic writing on his t-shirt. TSA and JetBlue officials prevented Jarrar from boarding his August 2006 flight at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport until he agreed to cover his shirt, which read "We Will Not Be Silent" in English and Arabic, and then forced him to sit at the back of the plane. The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Jarrar’s behalf in August 2007.[...]

On August 12, 2006, Jarrar was waiting to board a JetBlue flight from New York to his home in Oakland, California, when he was approached by two TSA officials. One of them told Jarrar that he needed to remove his shirt because other passengers were not comfortable with the Arabic script, telling him that wearing a shirt with Arabic writing on it to an airport was like “wearing a t-shirt at a bank stating, ‘I am a robber.’”

Jarrar asserted his First Amendment right to wear the shirt, but eventually relented to the pressure from the TSA officials and two JetBlue officials who surrounded Jarrar in the gate area and made it clear to him that he would not be able to get on the plane until he covered up his shirt. Terrified about what they would do to him, Jarrar reluctantly covered up his shirt with a new t-shirt purchased for him by JetBlue. The lawsuit later revealed that JetBlue and the TSA officials did not consider Jarrar to be a security threat. Nevertheless, even after he put the new shirt on, Jarrar was allowed to board the plane only after JetBlue changed his seat from the front of the plane to the very back.

JetBlue and the TSA should be ashamed of themselves for this behavior. While ordinary passengers are entitled (unfortunately) to their ignorant fears, representatives of airlines and a government agency should know (or at least act) better and respect people's rights. A t-shirt with Arabic is just as threatening as one with English, Spanish, French or Farsi. It is time that Americans start to understand that.

Obama In D.C., Ready For Business

We are still a little over two weeks away from the Obama Administration's official start, but now that the President-Elect is in Washington, it is time to get down to the business of working on our fiscal calamity:

Burris Denied Entry By The Senate

Today is the first day of the 111th Congress and already we are seeing fireworks, unfortunately the unnecessary kind. Instead of getting and focusing on action that the American people deserve, we have the drama that is Roland Burris. The ethically tainted and disgraced Gov. Blagojevich appointed him, yet he is not officially certified by the Illinois Sec. of State. Burris also went there knowing that a majority of the Senate (the Dems that is) made it clear they wouldn't seat a Blagojevich choice, even before that choice was made. And now the drama begins.

From TPM:

Burris just made a brief statement to reporters, after his credentials were rejected by the Secretary of the Senate. "Members of the media, my name is Roland Burris, junior Senator from the state of Illinois," Burris said, in an effort to establish his legitimacy. "I presented my credentials to the Secretary of the Senate and was advised that my credentials are not in order, I will not be accepted, and I will not be seated, I will not be permitted on the floor."

He then added that he was not seeking any kind of confrontation -- but did not expressly rule out any lawsuit. Instead, he said he would be consulting with his attorneys on what his next step will be.

It is ridiculous that as a country have to be subjected to this nonsense. Now there'll be lawsuits, multiple press conferences and missing Senators from the chamber that will impede the business of the people. And this is just the beginning, already we have DiFi and Rockefeller protesting the Panetta pick for CIA head and Reid and Pelosi have already proven themselves as weak leaders in the previous Congress. Barack certainly has his work cut out for him if he is to have a successful start to his Presidency.

So Much For Change In The State Senate

It seems that Malcolm Smith has completely forgot about his little speech after the first deal with the Gang of Three fell through. Back then he and his members were ready stay in the minority instead of making self-interested deals for the Gang. Senator Smith said it was supposed to be about reform and changing the government *cough* bulls**t *cough*. So much for that, Albany is clearly going to stay exactly the same, just with a (D) instead of a (R) controlling the strings in the Senate.

From The NY Daily News:

One source said that Sen. Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat and a leader of the rebel Democrats, would become chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, and Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat and another so-called Gang of Three member, would become chairman of the Aging Committee. Bronx Democrat Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., who under a previous deal that fell apart was to become majority leader, would receive an "influential policy position," sources said.

"Espada will come out the most senior and influential Hispanic in state government," one source said of the Bronx Democrat.

Unlike the previously aborted deal, the positions of president pro tempore and majority leader will not be decoupled. Smith (D-Queens) will hold both titles.

Also, Kruger's Finance Committee will not get a separately funded staff, a source said.

So there are a few changes, limiting some power from the original deal, but the fundamentals stay the same. Basically, Smith is foregoing any appearance of having principles to attain power by giving unearned power to three Senators who threatened his lust for becoming Majority Leader. From now on, if a Senator wants to rise up in the ranks, he or she will know that it is best to make threats at the expense of the institution and their party instead of, you know, actually deserving it.

The Coal Truth Is Being Hidden In Tennessee

The traditional media won't report more than what TVA spokespersons tell them, so why don't we just go around and see what the coal sludge disaster actually did to Tennessee's rivers, valleys and people.

Sandra Diaz, National Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, Hurricane Creekeeper John Wathen and Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby paddle up the Clinch and Emory Rivers to record the conditions after a 5.4 million cubic yard spill of coal waste from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Coal Plant.

Bush Cites His Failed Attempt At Privatizing Social Security As A Success

Up is down and left is right in the Bush Administration. Even when George Bush isn't using outright doublespeak, what he says makes absolutely no sense at all. Two of his ever-lasting cheerleaders, Fred Barnes and William "The Bloody" Kristol went to interview him and extolled his greatness, even if the examples of it were disastrous failures.

From ThinkProgress:

Speaking of Bush’s legacy, Barnes reports that the president cited his push to privatize Social Security as his biggest domestic policy accomplishment:

On domestic policy, Bush was asked if he made progress in some areas for which he hasn’t and probably won’t get credit. Topping his list was his unsuccessful drive in 2005 to reform Social Security. Bush said his effort showed it’s politically safe to campaign on changing Social Security and then actually seek to change it.

He also said it was important to have raised private investment accounts as an attractive option in reforming Social Security.

It seems odd that Bush cited an unsuccessful effort as his biggest domestic policy achievement, but understandable given that he doesn’t have much else to consider. But not only was Bush’s drive to privatize Social Security an utter failure, the concept is also widely unpopular with the American public and if enacted, it would have had disastrous consequences for Americans’ retirement funds.

Billions upon billions, even trillions of dollars could have been lost had Bush won that legislative battle. Highlighting that episode is even stranger because it marked a turning point in his Presidency. It was only a few short months after being re-elected and his popularity plunged when he tried to privatize the third rail of American politics. His response to Hurricane Katrina did him in, but this was what started his long decline.

Term Limits Debate Gets Its Day In Court

Bloomberg got the City Council to vote against the wishes of the people this past October and extend term limits, but the fight over the issue is hardly over. While the Mayor is still deciding on whether to ask the Feds to give their seal of approval, the courts are looking at whether what the Mayor and Council did was legal. The key question of course is, if the Council can overturn the referendum that the people passed twice in a row without having their consent.

From The NY Times:

Each side tried to make its case, and the judge, Charles P. Sifton, acknowledged how difficult a decision this might be for him.

“We’re talking about different interests,” said Judge Sifton, whose ruling will essentially decide the makeup of the citywide ballot. “It’s difficult to convert into some common denominator.”[...]

Overturning the law extending term limits would most likely cause chaos in the city’s political world, compelling politicians who would be forced out of office to come up with new plans and candidates who had given up running against entrenched officeholders to rethink their strategies.

Judge Sifton, who last month denied a city request to have the case moved to Manhattan and combined with another lawsuit challenging the law, did not set a date for his decision. “I’ll issue a written opinion as fast as I can,” he said.
Sifton certainly has a lot on his plate here. Even though he denied Bloomberg's attempt at making these lawsuits go away faster, the Judge's opinion is far from being known. He is certainly aware of the stakes here and most likely his decision will be appealed one way or the other. Regardless, Sifton represents the judicial branch of government here in the city, and he must act as a check on the Executive and Legislative sides that have clearly run amok of the will of the people.

Whether it be denying Bloomberg outright or demanding a special election (there'll be quite a few coming up for newly-vacated City Council spots anyways), something must be done to stop the travesty committed just two months ago.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Can You Guess Who's Getting Ready To Slow Obama's Stimulus For America?

Well Mitch McConnell for one, but the many of the Republicans remaining in Congress will do their best to stop money going to the middle class instead of the wealthy that have benefited so well over these last eight years. If Mitch wants a fight over that, he'll get one.

Caroline's Support Dropping Faster Than A...

Insert your comparison here, it looks like Caroline's attempt at getting herself installed the next Senator Kennedy is not doing so well. Despite her "listening" tour upstate and new found fondness for diners, New Yorkers are not buying her excuses for Senatorial chops. When her name was first raised to take over for Sen. Hillary Clinton people loved her for her name. Now that we're all getting acquainted (or not) with her things aren't looking so good for the future of the dynasty.

From TPM:

The last month's publicity hasn't been kind to Caroline Kennedy, with a new survey from Public Policy Polling (D) showing that she's now being trounced by state Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo as the choice of New York voters.

Cuomo now leads Kennedy 58%-27% as the one that voters would like to see Gov. David Paterson appoint to the Senate, with a 54%-34% spread among Democrats only. In last month's poll, which tested Democrats only, Kennedy had a 44%-23% lead. So a 21-point Caroline lead among Democrats has turned into a 20-point Cuomo advantage.

Wow, that is some quick movement on the polls. Once we start seriously looking at the potential appointees' credentials, it is easy to see that Kennedy, although a great woman, is clearly not ready to represent New York in the Senate. While Cuomo comes from a political dynasty himself, he has at least proven himself as a competent Attorney General that has actually won a state-wide race before.

Time For Malcolm Smith To Stick To One Of His Remarks

The United States Congress starts up tomorrow, nearly all set to go. Here in New York however, State Senators have until Wednesday and no one knows how things will turn out by the opening gavel. One thing is for certain is that the Gang of Three is still in business and is looking for the best deal possible for themselves, regardless of their constituents, their party or their state. The power they seek though, will either come from one of two men, Democrat Malcolm Smith or Republican Dean Skelos.

From The NY Daily News:

Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith - heir apparent to the leadership spot - met face-to-face with the so-called Gang of Three on Sunday night in the Bronx.

It was his first meeting with the renegade Democratic trio since a power-sharing deal brokered by Gov. Paterson imploded and imperiled Smith's standing with his fellow Dems.

The highly public death of the deal created a significant "trust issue" between Smith and the three senators - Ruben Diaz Sr., Pedro Espada Jr. and Carl Kruger - that Smith has yet to resolve, a Gang of Three source said.

"No one has a great deal of faith in [Smith] until this check clears," said the source.

"They've been down this road before. The old Clint Eastwood line comes to mind about your mouth writing checks your body can't cash. They're prepared to bury him if that's the case."

What "bury" means exactly here is still unclear. Skelos would love it if he could hold onto the reigns by having Espada, Kruger and Diaz caucus with him, but people who elected them are mostly Democrats and with the right messaging, will have nothing to do with those turncoats in two years time.

Smith clearly wants to be the Majority Leader but it won't happen the way he wants it with these three schmucks. If he were smart and could look further than right in front of him, he'd stick to a line he uttered when the first deal went kaput. That is, he should stick himself in the minority for another two years and do it right with a stronger and more principled Democratic party in 2010. With the Gang of Three viciously pursued out of office, it'll teach any other potential miscreants to be good Democrats instead of the selfish brats that make up the Gang.

So Malcolm, please, no deals, be a man and wait it out. Giving in to the gang's demands will sour Albany even more than it is now...and that is no short order.

And The Golden Duke Winners Are....

I saw this a week late, but the winners are all so well as many of the runners up:

Hopefully 2009 will bring about less competition for these infamous awards.

Does The NY Times Think "Gay" Is A Beeping Word?

Censorship is generally never a good thing, unless you have some sort of family broadcast and a host inexplicably starts cursing and doing all sorts of inappropriate things. That is besides the point though. "Beep," "beep" and "beep" are good substitutes for "F**k," "s**t" and "a**." But the New York Times has added another beeping word to their mobile service that is either ridiculously careless or just plain stupid, homophobic and ignorant.

From Towleroad:


A bad word?

Text message someone an article with the word "gay" in the title from the New York Times' mobile website, and they may be a bit confused as to what you're sending them.

That's because the service replaces every instance of "gay" in a headline with the word "beep".

My friend Al sent a message to me on New Years Eve containing a link to Frank Rich's recent column about Rick Warren, and it arrived with the headline "You're Likable Enough, 'beep' People."

I wonder if Pastor Warren had anything to do with it? And how could the Times allow that to be censored, or was it the spitefulness of someone that works at their mobile server? Either way, someone in charge needs to do something about it or "beeping" heads will roll.

Galt Co. Continues To Profit After Deutsche Bank Indictment

It is absolutely sickening that events transpired the way they did in the Deutsche Bank building fire and subsequent deaths of two firefighters. There was plenty of blame to go around, to the Fire Department, the City, LMDC and the contractors. The John Galt Co., which is being held primarily responsible for the tragedy, especially after being kicked out of the demolition site and their eventual indictment. Yet, justice isn't that simple here in NYC and a few tricks by Galt President Greg Blinn shows how easy it is to get around such things as the deaths of Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino.

From The NY Daily News:

The company quickly became a target of a criminal probe. On Dec. 22, Galt was indicted on manslaughter charges in the deaths of firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino.

All of this has had little effect on Galt's president, Greg Blinn. Another of his companies, Regional Scaffolding, is still working at the Deutsche Bank and other public works projects across the city.[...]

After the fire, the agency barred Regional from future contracts, said spokesman Mark Daly.

The state has taken no such action with Regional. Ten months after the Deutsche Bank fire, the NYPD gave Regional a $4,700 contract to fix a sidewalk in front of a Bronx precinct.

Its nice that some agencies have realized the crooks they are dealing with and taken appropriate action, but obviously many have not. It is unacceptable that Galt and anyone associated with the negligence at the infamous site be allowed to work on any public project. Those who are culpable deserve jail time, not a state or city check.

A New Year, An Old Fight

The Sunday shows, like last week, were all about the conflict in and around Gaza:

Sadly, there's no end in sight here and the fighting will continue to worsen....and darken the hopes for the future.

Reid Talks Tough On Bush...But Where Was The Action?

Sen. Harry Reid went on Meet The Press yesterday with some harsh words for the outgoing Commander in Chief. At the beginning of the 110th Congress, Reid said Bush will go down as the worst President ever. The preceding six years (at that time) were horrific for our country and the Republican-dominated Congress was eager to let Mr. Bush have free reign over the nation. Well, dear old Harry was not about to back down for David Gregory's "tough" questions.

From ThinkProgress:

GREGORY: Before you go, do you have any regrets about the way you have publicly battled with President Bush?

Over the years you’ve called him a liar, a loser, and you’ve described him as, quote, our worst president ever.

REID: I wrote a book and I said that in the book several times. David, I am who I am. I’m going to continue being who I am. I think you just have to call things the way you see them.

I really do believe that President Bush is the worst president we’ve ever had. I think his efforts to destroy Social Security were very bad. That brought about one of those statements.

Gregory continued to pressure Sen. Reid on the statement, but the former boxer didn't waver, saying he was who he was. Well, words are great but his actions.....are a different story. As the Leader of the Senate for the last two years, Reid has bent over backwards to appease the President and in the spirit of "collegiality" has let a (close) minority of Republicans in the chamber to block crucial bills without an inkling of a fight.

Reid may sound strong on MTP, but "Give em' hell Harry" he certainly is not.

NY Legislature Claims Top Honor As Most Dysfunctional

Not that this is a big surprise to those that follow state politics here in the Empire State, but NY has the most crooked legislature in the country. The Brennan Center did the statistical and factual compilations and shows us just how bad things are in Albany. Last year was just another repeat of a broken system where personal greed is encouraged next to nothing gets done for the people.

From The NY Daily News:

Almost five years after nailing the Assembly and Senate as partners in America's worst legislative branch, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School has compiled a fresh set of scandalously damning data:

  • The state's 212 lawmakers introduced 18,239 bills and resolutions in 2008 - triple the number introduced in the next-highest legislature and half again more than introduced in Congress.
  • More than 90% of the bills made it only as far as press releases and then they vanished without serious consideration.
  • Legislative committees - which should move the bills to up-or-down votes - existed in name only. They held almost no hearings and produced exactly zero detailed reports on major legislation.
    And the list goes on and on. In a nutshell, bills brought up by individual members have no chance at all unless given a go by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader in the State Senate. Nothing has changed in a long time in our capitol and without a lot of hard work on the people's part, Albany will continue to be the scourge of the nation.