Thursday, January 15, 2009

Public Descends On MTA Townhall Meeting

The M.T.A. has made it a custom, even if only a formality, to have a public comment period where New Yorkers can address their comments, concerns and tirades with board members. In these dire times, with fare increases and service cuts on the horizon people are pissed and not afraid to show it. They did so en masse at the Hilton Ballroom last night.

From The Gothamist:

Last night, hundreds people crowded a ballroom at the Hilton for the MTA's first public hearing on the proposed fare hikes and service cuts. Leona Adams, an 86-year-old, spoke out against raising Access-a-Ride fares 250% (or higher): "The medical field has extended our lives to whatever age we are...yet if we are not able to continue our active lives that Access-A-Ride allows, then we will become burdens to our family, the city, the state and the nation."

The crowd was feisty: Not only did over 200 sign up to give the MTA a piece of their mind, they cheered when someone spoke up for their cause—the M2 bus! the M8! Access-a-Ride!—and booed the MTA board. The chance to face the MTA board, amid talk of a $100+ monthly Metrocard and losing bus service (see full proposed hikes and changes here), forced the MTA to open up another ballroom for the overflow crowd.[...]

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer—who in his remarks to the MTA board said, "The MTA has proposed a doomsday scenario of fare increases and service cuts that would hurt every New Yorker"—told the Village Voice, "There are more people outside [the ballroom] than inside. [The MTA] purposefully didn't want the press to see how many people across the city are inside. It's outrageous." It's estimated that 800 people attended. With each speaker allotted 3 minutes to speak (some were no shows, but many went over their time), MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told us, "The last speaker concluded his remarks at 1:26 a.m."

MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger told the crowd he would love to keep everything the fare and the service the way it is (which did arouse some boos from those who think service is already shoddy). As for why the MTA faces a $1.2 billion budget deficit, MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sander, who understood the crowd's anger, blamed previous (read: before my time) borrowing for capital projects.

Boo is right, if the MTA had managed their money better and not wasted millions upon millions on redundant administrative costs, things might look a bit different.

Still, there would be a budget deficit and ultimately this all rests in the hands of Governor Paterson, who should demand to keep the system on track and improving. He....and the legislature have the power to ensure that funding is directed the MTA's way. Perhaps they could add on a restructuring of how the process works as well, because as the comments on Gothamist suggest, those boardmembers could care less about what the 800 people who showed up last night cared about. They just wanted to play their part and get outta there.

Hate Is Universal

The fearless Max Bleumenthal is at it again, this time taking on his own people (and mine), the Jews of New York. Of course this isn't everyone and I do not claim that all American Jews feel this way, but the hate for people that live in Gaza and the West Bank is atrocious. It is this kind of display that helps perpetuate the violence, the stereotyping and dashing the hopes for peace.

(h/t to ILJ for the video)

Ford Begs For Uncle Sam's Bailout Money Then Spits In His Eye

It is immensely troubling to see just how much our elected officials are eager to give money to car companies...or any multinational corporation. They will do tricks for bailouts when the government is offering billions on the table and then take their business elsewhere. That is exactly the path Ford has shown us they've taken by opening up a brand new plant in China today.

From RawStory:

Ford Motor Company started producing its fuel-efficient low-cost Fiesta car at a plant in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing on Thursday, the company said.

The Changan Ford Mazda Automobile Company will produce the Fiesta for the Chinese market, with the first vehicles expected to go on sale later in the first quarter, the company said in a statement.

Oh well at least this new Fiesta is good for the environment, right? No, wrong. Now I'm sure that Ford had this place in the works for months, long before they got in their corporate jets cars and went to Washington with hats in hand.

Yet their business models have been the same for quite a while and it has been all downhill for decades. Going with gas-guzzling SUVs was a dumb idea. Not creating fuel-efficient cars thirty years ago was a dumb idea. Paying CEOs hundreds of times more money than their workers was a dumb idea. If the American people are willing to save their corporate behinds, they should be doing something for the national economy that is keeping them afloat, not a country that has been experiencing double-digit growth for years and years on end.

Even In New Congress, Rangel Is Still An Ethical Thorn On Our Side

Charles B. Rangel is an institution in the House of Representatives and icon in Harlem, but for all the good he's done, there is a shady side that needs to be dealt with. He may think that his only problem is duking it out with the press, but if the press didn't have certain facts to report on then it'd be a different story. Yet Rangel confidently keeps on keeping on.

From CQPolitics:

Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel said Wednesday that an ongoing investigation by the ethics committee of his fundraising and personal finances would not hamper his leadership of the powerful committee.

“It does not diminish my ability to get the job done,” Rangel, D-N.Y., said after the organizing meeting of the Ways and Means Committee, which will consider the tax portion of the stimulus package. The committee also will have jurisdiction over much of the Democrats’ planned health care overhaul and over all trade legislation.

Rangel dismissed Republican calls for him to step down while the ethics committee completes its work.

“I don’t give that much consideration to the Republicans,” he said. Rangel said a number of GOP lawmakers acknowledge that there are distortions in news reports outlining allegations against him. But he added, “Some of them feel they have to do politically what the old Republican leadership has to do.”

I don't give much consideration to them either, but this isn't about giving Boehner a reason to smile. This is about keeping our principles in line and being above the ethical lapses of Republicans, not simply to think it's acceptable to sink to their level. CREW goes after corrupt politicians regardless of party and making their top 20 is a serious offense. Rangel should be ashamed of himself, but apparently he doesn't have the ability to feel it.

Bank of America's Bad Business Habits

BoA wants billions more from the government, meaning us, the taxpayers. Well SEIU has a message to anyone that thinks that could be a good idea.

From The SEIU:

Taxpayers have given Bank of America $25 billion in bailout funds to help jumpstart our economy, but instead the bank has misspent on executive salaries and corporate jets. Then Bank of America took even more money from cash-strapped states by not paying for workers healthcare.

Its time for Bank of America to use its taxpayer-funded windfall to support a real economic recovery and provide health care for its 247,000 workers—or give the money back.

ConEd Corruption: Bribes, Kickbacks, Shakedowns, Oh My!

I've never really been a big fan of Con Edison but now they're even lower in my book. Granted that most employees are on the straight and narrow but as a Federal investigation has shown, not all are so squeaky clean. Perhaps with all the crookedness and corruption going on in this state, a few managers at Con Ed thought it was their turn to get in on the greed.

From The Gothamist:

Federal prosecutors say that eleven Con Edison supervisors (ten current and one retired) forced a contractor to give them over a $1 million in bribes so they'd approve payments on projects like clean-up from the 2007 steam pipe explosion near Grand Central Station. And what's more, the feds have wiretaps of them bragging about it. Classy!

Bribes were given in the form of Giants-Cowboys tickets, electronic gadgets and cash. According to the Daily News, "Con Ed construction manager Rocco Fassacesia lamented the difficulty of spending the dirty money on his daughters' college tuition without attracting attention." He was recorded saying, " I used to go up to the bursar's office at, at the campus and come out with their f---ing tuition for the semester in f---ing 100s." And the Post has this quote from Thomas Fetter: "From a couple of a--holes shaking down f---ing contractors, we did pretty f---ing good."

The accused were arrested yesterday, and the NY Times explains they apparently "approved invoices for work that was unnecessary or was never performed, or guaranteed faster payment for work that was performed"—and they'd get about 4% of the payment. U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said, "These defendants used their positions at Con Ed to line their own pockets at the expense of utility customers and the residents of the New York City metropolitan area."

"A couple of a**holes" is right. You would think that management employees would be on their best behavior after the disaster near Grand Central in 2007. Then again, the people above them were trying to deny responsibility in the accident, blaming everyone under the sun but themselves. It is sad to see this type of crap going on, but it isn't like they had much in the form of role models at the executive level of the utility.

Bloomberg To Focus On Jobs In State Of The City Address

Before Bush gets his airtime, Mayor Bloomberg will have his moment to talk about the State of the City and what he plans on doing to help us in this time of economic calamity. The leaked information so far is that the Mayor will emphasize job creation and revised tax codes so that businesses will get moving. Lots and lots of jobs in fact.

From The NY Times:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce an ambitious effort to create 400,000 new jobs over the next six years in his State of the City address on Thursday, according to people who have been briefed on the plans.

Mr. Bloomberg also plans to recommend revisions to the city tax code to help businesses — changes that the people briefed on the plans said would not add to the city’s deficit, which is estimated to reach $4.3 billion in the next fiscal year.[..]

Mr. Bloomberg’s job-creation plan will focus on small businesses, capital investment projects and so-called green-collar jobs. He will also propose to eliminate or reduce a tax on about 17,000 of the unincorporated businesses in the city. To make up for that projected loss in revenue, he plans to close tax loopholes.
I can't argue with green jobs, those are key to the future of our economy, both here in New York City and across the nation. Though like any State of the _____ address, big bold ideas are the norm and the implementation aspects are a bit more sketchy. Of course we'll have to wait until we actually hear it, but Bloomberg hasn't been that impressive in the last eight years of managing our city's money (unless you own a piece of Yankee Stadium) and I don't have my hopes up for his future plans either.

A Tortured Confession

This doesn't come directly from the Bush Administration, since they consistently say they did not or have not tortured but from a judge in the Pentagon. Judge Susan Crawford, perhaps feeling comfortable at the end of the Bush Presidency, came out and told the world the truth we already knew but still, it is good to see it aired out.

George Bush Channels Rod Blagojevich For His Last Primetime Address

The worst President ever is five days away from letting the nation exhale their long-held collective breath so that we can start anew. Barack Obama is going to start out big, signing the new S-CHIP law into place and repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell before going on to put out a stimulus that works for middle class Americans. But first, Americans will be figuratively bombed by George Bush on their television screens during primetime so that he can say goodbye one last time.

As if all those half-ass revisionist history interviews weren't enough, the 43rd President will annoy us yet again by breaking into the networks and putting his face on display to a populace that just wants it gone. Though there is going to be a twist in addition to whatever speech he makes and I just can't help thinking about Rod Blagojevich.

From The Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush will give a farewell address to the nation Thursday night, billed by the administration as a chance to reflect on his tenure and welcome Barack Obama without fighting old battles one last time.

Bush will deliver the speech, expected to run 10 to 15 minutes, from the ornate East Room of the White House. He will have a small audience of people in the room, chosen for their stories of personal courage.

Now Gail Collins in the NY Times has a very good take on this use of a heroic audience but I'd like to go further. Of course, whatever great things the people on stage with him have done for their community or country, they will be reduced to stage props for a President that is trying hard to remake his image so that he leaves not looking like the tyrant that he is.

So why Blagojevich? Well if you caught his "press conference" post-impeachment charade on Monday you know why. Blagojevich used disabled persons to show he signed bills into law that helped people, asking if that those good things were impeachable offenses. Of course, it was an easy ploy to see through but when you have an ego like Blagojevich's but when you are the man it is a different story.

Now Bush isn't trying to save himself from prosecution (hopefully that is merely a "yet") but his advisers were probably looking for something positive that Americans could most easily latch onto. Back when he had approval ratings above 90%, people thought he was hero for getting tough with terrorists and showing the world that we were resilient (before the disastrous policies took effect that is). So maybe this is an attempt to paint Bush as a hero. It's a longshot but when you are tasked with PR for George Bush (or Blago), there really isn't much to work with.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Could The Yankees Be Bloomberg's Undoing?

There are a lot of things that get me going about Mayor Bloomberg. Being out of touch with people who make less than a billion dollars a year, his undemocratic means of extending term limits, how he's gone about raising property taxes and a whole host of other things. I would like nothing better than to see him lose his re-election bid this year. Despite all those grievances, it might just be the storied New York Yankees that bring him down in the end.

From The Gothamist:

It appears that various members of local and state government have lost their cool with the Yankees and their struggles to finance their soon to open new stadium without the additional financial assistance. City Comptroller William Thompson came out swinging with the harshest rhetoric yesterday when discussing the ongoing state of the project stating, "Costs don't go up that dramatically in that period of time. Either someone did that intentionally or it is the worst job of management that I have ever seen." [...]

The Times questions whether the city's dealings with the Yankees could become an Achilles heel for the mayor's reelection campaign. They compare the situation to the mayor's attempts push for a West Side stadium before the '05 campaign, but with higher stakes given the current economic state. One Quinnipiac pollster speculates that close ties with the Yankees might do more harm than good just due to the fact that "people are being told we’ve got to economize, we’ve got to tighten our belts, and the Yankees are blowing money by the carload for players.”

Earlier this week, another Bloomberg opponent in the mayoral race Anthony Weiner took a jab at the Yankees fundraising efforts saying, “Maybe CC Sabathia can buy the big-screen TVs.” Comments like that have made it easier for Bloomberg aides to brush off the criticisms as nothing more than "political theater." Yankees President Randy Levine added, “Surprise, surprise — Billy Thompson is running for mayor. Billy voted for this deal in the beginning, I continually briefed him, and only after the term-limits law does he now decide to criticize the deal. What a coincidence.

Bloomberg and his people may think that this is all merely theater and they are entitled to that. However, this botched public funding of a deal that only benefits the players involved at the expense of the taxpayers is indicative of the Mayor's entire Administration. He's been touted as this economic guru because of his wealth, but for the last eight years middle class New Yorkers have fared worse while the rich have done very well thanks to zoning policies, eminent domain issues, property tax rates and those that have a stake in Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium.

His supporters in and out of the Council during the battle for term limits extensions were eager to say what a great financial manager he has been, but really, voters should be asking who's fiscal solvency does he have at heart?

S-CHIP: Why Republicans Being In The Minority Is A Good Thing

There are so many reasons that the American people have rejected Republicans at the ballot box in the last two elections. Here today we have House Minority Leader John Boehner, trying to make excuses about why we should not give health care coverage to children whose parents have trouble affording it:

NYC Retail Real Estate Plunging Fast

Despite many, many denials from the Bush Administration over the course of last year, the recession has been upon us for quite sometime. The jolt from the stock market starting in September was only a part of what has been going on. Americans had been feeling the pinch and the pain for a long time now and it showed in retail sales this past holiday season. Due to that drop in sales, many stores will be going out of business and even in Manhattan, the evidence will be all around us as we walk through the streets.

From The NY Times:

“The national retail scene is a mess, and it is going to impact us,” said Gene P. Spiegelman, an executive director in Cushman & Wakefield’s retail services group. He predicted that demand for space would soften throughout the city’s many shopping districts this year, and in fact, landlords in some of the trendiest areas have already begun lowering asking rents.

Industry experts say they also expect the pace of store closings to pick up in February and March, after retailers have tallied the cost of exchanging unwanted holiday gifts for cash.[...]

Suddenly, retail brokers say, this is shaping up to be one of the best tenants’ markets in years.

“Tenants definitely believe that the market has flipped in their favor,” said Michael J. Hofmann, a senior managing director at Colliers ABR, who represents both tenants and landlords. He said the tenants he was working with were negotiating more aggressively with landlords. Their offers, he said, “are at levels that we never would have proposed six months ago.”

Landlords have gradually begun lowering asking rents, even in some of the city’s most desirable shopping districts. For example, average asking rents fell by 3 percent last year on Madison Avenue, ending the year at $1,057 a square foot annually. And asking rents fell by 5 percent in SoHo, to $263 a square foot, according to Cushman & Wakefield.

Even in the upside of this news, there is still misery and sadness. Even with those lower rents, finding the credit for business to help move into new retail space is practically non-existent. It is definitely a buyers'/renters' market, but having the cash or capital to make the deals is tough considering the economic environment we are in at the moment.

Cuomo Continues Public Approval Dominance Over Kennedy

While Governor David Paterson keeps his thoughts about the Senate seat mostly to himself (which is not too cool) the public has seemed to have made up their mind on who they want to be their next Senator. Many names have been mentioned, but the two that are the strongest are the two that hail from political dynasties. At first Caroline Kennedy swept people off their feet. More than a month later we have gotten to know more about her (other than the Camelot stuff) and an actual elected official, Andrew Cuomo has been the frontrunner so far this year.

And it appears he continues to be as such:

New York State voters have cooled on Caroline Kennedy and more voters now prefer State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo 31 - 24 percent for Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate seat, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney gets 6 percent, with 5 percent for U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, 2 percent for U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, 18 percent for someone else and 14 percent undecided.

Still, voters say 38 - 33 percent that Gov. David Paterson will appoint Ms. Kennedy to the U.S. Senate.

Cuomo leads Kennedy 31 - 20 percent among upstate voters and 36 - 22 percent in the suburbs, while Kennedy gets 31 percent of New York City voters to Cuomo's 29 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Men back Cuomo 32 - 23 percent while women back him 31 - 25 percent.

New York State voters say 48 - 37 percent that Kennedy is not qualified to be a U.S. Senator and 40 - 37 percent that she would not be a good Senator. Democrats say 47 - 35 percent that she is qualified, while Republicans say 65 - 24 percent that she is not qualified. Independent voters say 51 - 34 percent that she is not qualified.
Quinnipiac guru Maurice Carroll thinks it is due to her "stumbling start" when she spent time being interviewed by various newspapers. She was particularly nasty with some publications and she was rightly put down because of that. Of course, it ultimately comes down to who Paterson decides, but I sure hope that he is paying attention to these polls.

Workers Want The Employee Free Choice Act

Hundreds of billions have been spent on the interests of the elite and the wealthy. Now it is time to give an advantage to the people who helped create the elite's wealth, our nation's workforce. In addition to real economic stimuli in terms of infrastructure and tax breaks for the middle class, giving people easier access to form a union is essential to keep that middle class going.

Congress Goes YouTube

Nancy Pelosi started her YouTube channel back in 2006 and has posted nearly 1,500 videos since then, including some not taken inside the House Chamber. Despite her good efforts in getting video of Congress out to the internets, it isn't nearly enough. Now Congress, all of it, is officially going YouTube.

From RawStory:

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Senate and House of Representatives have launched YouTube channels following a presidential election in which the video-sharing website played an influential role.

Steve Grove, head of news and politics at Google-owned YouTube, announced the creation of the channels,, and, in a post on the YouTube blog on Monday that also featured appearances in a YouTube video by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the chambers.

Grove said members of the US Congress would be "posting videos direct from their Washington offices, as well as clips of floor speeches and committee hearings alongside additional behind-the-scenes footage from Capitol Hill."
Well those will be two channels I'll be adding today. Hopefully all of the elected officials will make good use of them. As for C-SPAN, I'm sure they'll continue to do well with this new competition. Sometimes they are an essential source of information to have on in the background and of course if no one posts the video you are looking for.

MTA Officials Plead Their Case In Albany

Wall Street isn't the only location in New York that deals with bailouts. The M.T.A. wants one as well, only from Albany, not Washington (though both would be better). Some of the board members made their way up to the state capitol, by train no less, to tell lawmakers to show them the money so that straphangers do not have to carry the entire burden of budget shortfalls.

From The NY Daily News:

Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger and a contingent of MTA board members warned legislative leaders that massive service cuts and fare hikes await riders without state action.

"Hopefully, the legislators are listening very carefully because it's going to affect them because they get elected by those very same people," he said.

They listened - but offered nothing but more words for now.

"I'm hoping that there is something that we can do to help them," said state Sen. Martin Dilan, a Brooklyn Democrat and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "I am going to be working toward that."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) called the Metropolitan Transportation Authority doomsday plan unacceptable and vowed to help but also offered no specifics.

Both Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Smith represent areas with multiple subway lines underneath their constituents feet. Words and promises are not enough, especially when so many promises fail to deliver in Albany. Shelly Silver is right though, the current MTA budget is unacceptable, but he is one of the principal players in making sure that doesn't happen. A "bailout" of sorts is needed for the MTA or else at the rate prices are going up, soon no one is going to be able to buy a Metrocard.

What Is ThinkProgress?

Well, let them speak for themselves:

Some Advice For Christine Quinn's Blog

It is always nice to see more and more public officials blogging these days. When Congressmembers, Senators and ex-Presidents come around DailyKos, things get interesting to say the least. On the local level, the Governor drops by The Albany Project and many other officials give interviews to blogs and even create one for themselves. Last week the controversial Speaker Christine Quinn came up with the aptly named Red Room Blog hosted at the Council's website. Almost immediately, there were ideas thrown out to her.

From Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum:

In my opinion, it's only a matter of time before elected officials blogging will be the rule, not the exception, and I am glad to see more of my colleagues joining me in the blogosphere.
The Public Advocates Corner has already helped me let more people know what I’m working on, and what I care about, and hear more from New Yorkers about issues that concern them.

I hope the Red Room blog also serves to create an online conversation around legislative happenings and other council news (can we expect to see a space for comments?), and I look forward to reading it over the coming months.

as well when I saw the blog. It was apparently and dare I say, intentionally missing. See Betsy, Speaker Quinn doesn't generally like to get feedback on what she does. I remember during the term limits extension "public forum" time, she didn't even bother to show up to the chambers to hear citizens' grievances. Instead she went to small events around town that suited her interests.

Public officials that blog can be divided into two categories. Most politicians write online in order to spread their message, as if they were giving a speech and everyone in the room is honored just to listen. Then there is a smaller group that comes to participate, not only presenting a vision but responding to people's comments, concerns and suggestions. Quinn is clearly in the former.

With that said, I wish her goodluck in her blog. I do hope she follows that advice to open a comment section. And of course that she reads it from time to time, or at least has an intern or staffer that can read it to her when she isn't busy kissing Bloomberg's behind.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bush Couldn't Fill The Room For Last Presser

Although I found many of George Bush's statements amusing yesterday, not enough of the Washington press corp could even bother to attend. Even though the room is relatively nice and new, most journalists who cover Bush know they won't get much out of the President's scripted sessions. Despite it being the last presser for #43, it was the job of interns to make the room appear to be more popular than it was.

From ThinkProgress:

When the White House announced President Bush’s final press conference yesterday, it sent a bulletin to reporters declaring “one correspondent per organization” and “standing room only for non-seat holders.” But as the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank points out, not enough reporters attended for the presser to make it “standing room only”:

Further complicating his last-minute legacy rehabilitation: Nobody seems to be paying attention. The White House had high expectations for yesterday’s final, historic news conference. “ONE CORRESPONDENT PER ORGANIZATION,” proclaimed the bulletin sent to reporters. “STANDING ROOM ONLY FOR NON-SEAT HOLDERS.” But when the appointed hour of 9:15 a.m. arrived, the last two rows in the seven-row briefing room were empty, and a press aide told White House interns to fill those seats.

Of course, everyone now is focusing on what President Obama is going to do, not the irrelevant couch warmer that is merely trying to build a fictitious legacy for the history books. The White House may have had high expectations for yesterday's main event over there, but like everything else concerning expectations and President Bush, it fell well short.

Blagojevich Has Nothing But Sunshine

I wonder how much of what the impeached Governor says, he actually believes. Either this guy is completely delusional or....well, his ego is off the charts:

Court Gives Bloomberg Green Light To Run For 3rd Term

In not so unexpected news, Judge Charles Sifton in Brooklyn denied the plantiffs from overturning the Mayor and Council's decision to extend term limits. It was a slim chance that New Yorkers would be given the right decision here, so it is on to the next battle.

From The Daily Politics:

US District Court Judge Charles Sifton has rejected a legal challenge to the term limits extension sought and signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg, agreeing with the city's argument that opponents of the change will have the ability to demonstrate their displeasure at the voting booth.

"To permit this particular group of legislators and city officials to run for re-election and thereby offer the voters the chance to select seasoned leaders at a time when the economic position of the city must be dealt with serves a legitimate government purpose," Sifton wrote.

"Because no fundamental right was infringed, and because the term limits amendment bears a rational relationship to a legimtiate government purpose, no reasonable fact finder could conclude the defendants had violated plaintiffs' substantive due process rights."

Sifton also found "no admissable evidence" to support the claim that there was a quid-pro-quo between Bloomberg and Ron Lauder, in which Lauder was promised a seat on the next Charter Review Commission that would review whether term limits should be permanently extended in exchange for his support of letting the current crop of elected officials seek a another four-year term.

So there could be an appeal, there could be a fight with the Federal authorities at DoJ (most likely in Obama's Administration by the looks of things) or we could just go straight to city politics and like the Judge said, let the voters decide in the ballot box. Chances are electoral politics is going to be where the deal is done. No matter how much mayoral candidates gripe and stand tall in front of the court, they'll have to take the Mayor down the old fashioned way.

Sadly though, the Judge, in my view is wrong that a fundamental right was infringed upon. His decision sounds a lot like Bloomberg's take on it, basically, if people have a problem with what I did, vote me out. However, the people had clearly expressed their intent about term limits....twice. No matter how you feel about the theoretical side of things, the intent of New York voters was firm. Yet Bloomberg and 29 CMs went along with him anyway for their own personal gain. That intent is there for anyone to see, whether they choose to accept the reality of the situation is another.

The Time Is Now To Get Afghanistan Right

Two days ago a group of progressive bloggers got together to expound on one single message, to get Afghanistan right. The new Administration will take power in less than one week and we still do not have a good way of dealing with that country. Obama's ideas of escalation simply won't work. I trust that he means well, but looking at the history of Afghanistan and our current role in the world and that at home, it is time to be smart about what we are going to do in the coming years.

From Get Afghanistan Right:

Opinion Leaders Launch Week of Blogging, Jan. 12-18, Opposing Military Escalation

Washington, D.C.--A group of bloggers, writers and activists today launched "Get Afghanistan Right Week," the start of an ongoing campaign to oppose military escalation in Afghanistan. From January 12-18, they will post stories and relevant materials to publicize growing opposition to the idea that more troops will bring stability to Afghanistan or secure the United States. Participants argue that Afghanistan has become an un-winnable, deepening quagmire, and that escalation will drain resources needed for recovery efforts at home. The group will post their work on various high-traffic websites and aggregate their work on a new website,

Participants include:
Brave New Films' Robert Greenwald
Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation
Alex Thurston and Jason Rosenbaum of The Seminal
Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny!

"With the economy continuing a severe decline and the international scene in turmoil, we absolutely cannot afford a hugely expensive troop increase in Afghanistan. The country desperately needs many of the reforms and programs proposed by the incoming Obama administration. But, an escalation in Afghanistan will cripple our ability to mitigate the effects of the recession while making that country less stable. The success of the President-elect's broader agenda depends on his ability to get us out of President Bush's wars," Robert Greenwald said.

Debate about the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan intensified in recent weeks as the economic recession deepened and questions arose regarding several key aspects of the Afghanistan crisis:

  • The New York Times' Thom Shanker and Christopher Drew revealed that an escalation in Afghanistan would be enormously expensive. "It is significantly more expensive to sustain each soldier in Afghanistan than in Iraq because of Afghanistan's landlocked location and primitive road network."
  • The Times' Dexter Filkins reported that "the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. ...[T]he state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it." Rampant corruption in Afghanistan's political apparatus could doom the counterinsurgency strategy that provides the impetus for a surge. According to The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, when countering an insurgency, "legitimacy of the host nation government is a north star".
  • Escalation proponents often cite the cause of Afghan women as a reason to put more troops in their country, but the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) recently denounced the Karzai regime and U.S. policy: "...[T]he country has been turned to a mafia state and self-immolation, rape and abduction of women and children has no parallel in the history of Afghanistan....RAWA strongly believes that there should be no expectation of either the U.S. or any other country to present us with democracy, peace and prosperity."

"An escalation would drain resources that are vital to President-elect Obama's goals for an economic recovery, health care, and social justice at home, while impeding other critical international initiatives such as the Middle East Peace process and a regional diplomacy in South Asia. On national security grounds, a U.S. occupation would be counterproductive to the stated goal of defeating Al Qaeda. This week, I and others will blog on this issue to raise awareness about the need to oppose an escalation and to get Afghanistan right," Katrina vanden Heuvel said.

Concerned citizens, members of the press and writers seeking to join the week of blogging can learn more at

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Sen. Schneiderman Chides Republicans For Reform Criticism

The Democratic rules reform for the State Senate may be far from perfect, but they are at least a step in the right direction. For Republicans to criticize Democratic efforts now is hypocrisy redefined. Good for Senator Schneiderman in his speech yesterday lambasting the "late-majority."

Justice Dept Finally Cares About Civil Rights Laws...For Whites

With a week to go in the Bush Administration, the Justice Department has finally decided to act on defending civil rights. Ironically though, it isn't to help combat the racial prejudice against minorities but to sue the city of Gary, Indiana for not hiring white EMTs. Perhaps this is one last hurrah and tip of the cap to the social conservatives still out there that would love to go back to the pre-civil rights reform era.

From RawStory:

The suit alleges that the city told applicants that offers of employment would be based on the order they were ranked. But the city seems to have ignored their own ordering and instead hired several African American applicants who placed lower than the white applicants.

Each of the six who were hired ranked lower than the highest-ranking white applicant, the Justice Department wrote.
OMG! This must be a case of affirmative action to the nth degree and a concerned citizen brigade's worst nightmare come true. It is but one example of the systematic persecution of whites in this country and it must be stopped here in Gary. Oh wait a sec, what, you want to know what Gary officials are saying?

Gary's corporate counsel, Hamilton Carmouche, told a local paper the list was prepared by the city's previous mayor, and gave preference to applicants who lived in Gary.

"We hire not on the basis of any race, but on the basis of residency," Carmouche said.
Shocking! Gary wants to hire people from within the community. Terrible isn't it?

Seriously though, for the last eight years the Justice Department has all but forgotten about standing up for civil rights in this country. Unless it was to protect a corporation in need or help a loyal Republican operative, the DoJ has been MIA. Spare us this phony discrimation crap and slowly exit the building before the grownups from the Obama camp arrive.

Obama Listens To Congress, Drops Trickle-Down Tax Cut

In a show of humility, Barack Obama dropped his bid for a $3,000 tax cut for businesses that hire new employees. Many critics saw it as a trickle down approach that immediately benefited those that did not necessarily need immediate help. Democratic leaders in Congress acted quickly to battle the President-elect and found it did not take that much to steer him back on course to focus the stimulus on workers, not companies.

From The Washington Post:

Obama suggested the $3,000-per-job credit last week as one of five individual and business tax incentives aimed at winning Republican support. He proposed $300 billion in tax relief in a bill that could reach $775 billion, and he resurrected the jobs-credit proposal from the campaign trail as one of his main provisions.

Republicans reacted favorably to the higher-than-expected ratio of tax breaks to spending for road projects, alternative energy production, health-care technology and unemployment benefits. But they offered mixed reviews of his specific tax proposals and floated their own, including cuts in corporate and capital gains taxes.

Stronger opposition came from Democrats, who dismissed the $3,000 credit to employers for every job created or saved as ripe for abuse and difficult to administer. When no champion for the proposal came forward, the president-elect decided to sideline the incentive.

Congress is now taking their time to iron out the details, something they miraculously forgot to do with President Bush late last year. Why they so eagerly gave Bush and Paulson $700 billion was astonishing to watch. Perhaps now they've learned their lesson (probably not but here's to hoping) that the Legislative branch is equal to the Executive. Making sure this stimulus works is priority number one, but they should not wait much longer than a month to get it to him, because Americans need the help of their government ASAP.

Weiner To Thompson, Show Me Your Ideas And I'll Show You Mine

No, that isn't a direct quote but merely the jist of what Congressman Weiner said to address a question about his Democratic competition for this year's Mayoral race, City Comptroller Bill Thompson. So far, besides the controversial vehicle registration tax from Thompson, we haven't seen many ideas as of yet from either of them. One thing is for sure though, they'd both be welcome changes from the incumbent.

The Speculative Market Of Oil

Gas went from two-something a gallon to well over four dollars and approaching five, now it is back down under two dollars again. What a crazy roller-coaster ride it has been in the last couple of years for the cost of oil and its most beloved byproduct, gasoline. While I believe the recent decline in price has a lot to do with the falling demand of a sagging economy, it certainly does not tell the entire story. It wasn't so much that so much demand more than doubled the price at one time, but speculators looking to make a quick billion or two...all at the expense of the millions who fill up their cars.

From CBS:

To understand what happened to the price of oil, you first have to understand the way it's traded. For years it has been bought and sold on something called the commodities futures market. At the New York Mercantile Exchange, it's traded alongside cotton and coffee, copper and steel by brokers who buy and sell contracts to deliver those goods at a certain price at some date in the future.

It was created so that farmers could gauge what their unharvested crops would be worth months in advance, so that factories could lock in the best price for raw materials, and airlines could manage their fuel costs. But more than a year ago those markets started to behave erratically. And when oil doubled to more than $147 a barrel, no one was more suspicious than Dan Gilligan.
So we have a quick history about why Wall Street has futures trading, but no explanation to why it gets abused the way it does, yet. And Dan had already told 60 Minutes all about this speculative business back when oil was at its peak last summer. Then those in the market denied everything Dan said. Then this happened in September.

If anyone had any doubts, they were dispelled a few days after that hearing when the price of oil jumped $25 in a single day. That day was Sept. 22.

Michael Greenberger, a former director of trading for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the federal agency that oversees oil futures, says there were no supply disruptions that could have justified such a big increase.
Of course there is nothing out there to do that, unless we went to war with Iran and they blocked the Straits of Hormuz. Anyways, here comes the big academia investigation:

A recent report out of MIT, analyzing world oil production and consumption, also concluded that the basic fundamentals of supply and demand could not have been responsible for last year's run-up in oil prices. And Michael Masters says the U.S. Department of Energy's own statistics show that if the markets had been working properly, the price of oil should have been going down, not up.

"From quarter four of '07 until the second quarter of '08 the EIA, the Energy Information Administration, said that supply went up, worldwide supply went up. And worldwide demand went down. So you have supply going up and demand going down, which generally means the price is going down," Masters told Kroft.

"And this was the period of the spike," Kroft noted.
So, drumroll please, that means the increases were artificially created. So who is at fault? Well, that would include all sorts of financial entities, such as investment banks, hedge funds, commodities traders and the like. They were all looking for quick profits and found an avenue to do so in the oil futures market. So, I'll leave you with a sad joke from the interview, which pretty much sums things up.

Yes," Gilligan said. "I tease people sometimes that, you know, people say, 'Well, who's the largest oil company in America?' And they'll always say, 'Well, Exxon Mobil or Chevron, or BP.' But I'll say, 'No. Morgan Stanley.'"
Sad but true.

Monday, January 12, 2009

State Public Integrity Chair Resigns, Integrity Left Long Ago

Today's news out of Albany, besides that of rules "reform" in the Senate was the resignation of John Feerick. Feerick was the head of the Commission on Public Integrity in New York, an office possibly tainted in its own right. The problems stem from how then-Governor Spitzer may have used the office and those in it for his own ends during the Troopergate fiasco.

From NYT Cityroom:

The commission, which oversees ethics and lobbying rules in Albany, announced the surprise resignation on Monday afternoon. The commission is mired in an investigation by the state inspector general.

Inspector General Joseph Fisch has been examining whether Herbert Teitelbaum, the commission’s executive director, or any other commission staff member improperly passed information to the staff of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in the midst of the so-called Troopergate scandal.

The commission has said nothing improper occurred.
What the commission says and what actually happened is still being determined by I.G. Joseph Fisch. Perhaps it was just best for Feerick to go because of the connections to the previous Administration. Whatever the case may be, health reasons or not, Feerick oddly left Spitzer alone during those innocent, pre-client #9 times. Finally, we'll be able to get closer to the end of that chapter of the Spitzer scandals.

Obama's Team Comments On The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan

There is so much to do and much of it has to start as soon as possible. Thankfully Obama has a team that knows what needs to be done. Infrastructure means so many different things to our country in the 21st century. Whether it be replacing pipes and roads or building mass transit and broadband networks, our country has to prioritize these items and get this policy out into the real world.

Bush Speaks His Last Press Conference, Lies Continue

George Bush gave his Q & A session for the press at the White House this morning. To no one's surprise, it was full of false assertions, half-truths and outright lies. He went on for quite a long time and responded to many, dare I say harsh questions from the assembled press. He tried to be cute and affable, repeating his infamous "misunderestimating" word and as has been the case for the last couple of months, looking to conjure up a legacy that just isn't there. Lovers of truth and accountability must have cringed through the whole thing, but there was one part that really got me going, his revisionist history of what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

From ThinkProgress:

During his final press conference this morning, Bush defended his response to Katrina. He said he has “thought long and hard about Katrina” and admitted that “things [could] have been done better” but denied any problem with the federal response to the disaster, insisting, “Don’t tell me the federal response was slow!”[...]

The federal response to Katrina was nothing short of a disaster. A 2006 report compiled by House Republicans slammed what it called “a failure of leadership,” saying that the federal government’s “blinding lack of situational awareness and disjointed decision making needlessly compounded and prolonged Katrina’s horror.” The report specifically blamed Bush, noting that “earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response” because the president alone could have cut through bureaucratic resistance.

There is no question that the federal response was slow — deadly slow. Katrina made landfall on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, and the New Orleans levees were breached that morning. Despite the numerous warnings he had received about the storm’s severity, Bush spent that Monday traveling to Arizona and California to promote his Medicare drug bill. It was characteristic of the entire federal response.

And TP lists just a few of the disgraces, such as the late arrival of the National Guard, FEMA's late arrival, the fact that Michael Brown was there in the first place and how he mishandled his job, how long it took to evacuate the wretched SuperDome and Bush's lackadaisical response in general.

The days, weeks, months and yes, years after have been horrendous for the area. Nearly two thousand died from the breached levees, some from Klanish behavior, many from neglect and who knows how many have been affected in the long term from the toxic brew of water that people had to wade through and whether it is in the drinking water now. Hurricane Katrina was a national disgrace and defined the Bush Presidency from there on out. For him to try and wave a magic wand and make it look different is nothing short of a pathetic response from a callous and cold man.

50,000 In New York Alone

Let's face it, things are terrible out there. As we begin a new year, the employment picture hasn't looked this bleak since...well officially 1993 by way of the U3 statistics put out by the Department of Labor. However, when the numbers are closely examined and underemployment is added into the mix along with those that have disappeared from the unemployment rolls, that number, the U6, is at 13.5%. That's a far cry from the already dismal 7.2% figure that are more frequently mentioned.

Now granted, the government is trying to help to some degree. Many of the recently unemployed were given an extension in their benefits, stretched out from 26 weeks to 46 weeks. All those that were a part of that increase to the term of unemployment benefits got a reprieve from having no income whatsoever. The hope is that you find a job in those twenty extra weeks. The problem is, there is no work out there and jobs are vanishing as we speak. Just here in New York, 50,000 of those beneficiaries are about to disappear from the system.

From The NY Times:

About 50,000 New Yorkers who had been collecting unemployment checks for 11 months — the longest stretch that benefits have been available since the last recession eight years ago — will stop receiving weekly payments this week, according to the State Labor Department.[...]

This will be the first time since the early 1990s that workers are exhausting benefits that have been extended twice because of an economic downturn. The inability of those people to find work after so many months provides a stark reminder of the weakness of the job market, officials and experts say.

So now they'll have to look for work without that help, or go on welfare. For New York as a whole, it means that the unemployment numbers will go down because so many will disappear from the U3 numbers. What needs to happen is to change the way we measure unemployment in the state and the nation. We can not truly work on the problem of putting people to work if we don't know who they all are.

Bush's Last Press Conference

So few of them held over the last eight years, but at long last we are at the last of them. View a great display of bull below:

Smith's Reforms For State Senate Do Not Go Far Enough

Last week, we saw a great change at the State of the State speech. Not only was the Lieutenant Governor of last year now at the podium, a Democratic State Senate Majority Leader was close behind him at the lectern. Yet the promise for reform in that legislative body does not look too hopeful. He had promised a marriage equality bill in 2007, but that clearly isn't going to happen, at least for now. Though he did assure us just last week that rules reform was a reality. So let's see what exactly he reformed.

From The Times-Union:

Smith's resolution contains three real changes: slightly more relaxed motions to discharge bills from committee to force a floor vote, eliminating canvass of agreement so that "no" votes are recorded on discharge and amendments, and allowing minority members to sign onto bills without receiving permission. The proposed rules would expire at the end of the year. Senate leaders would need to draft, consider and vote on a new set.

There is nothing wrong with these changes, but they fall far short of the kind of comprehensive reform the Senate needs if it is to become the deliberative, open, representative, accountable body that the Senate Democrats promised before the November elections.

To give the Senate Democrats the benefit of the doubt, up until just a few days ago, many members were almost exclusively focused on whether they would actually take control of the chamber and who would lead the conference. It is doubtful many had much time to discuss or deliberate about legislative rules changes in the past few weeks.

With that thought in mind, there is still one glimmer of hope for change in the Senate. The Democrats' proposed resolution also creates a seven-member "Temporary Committee on Rules and Administration Reform" to recommend further changes in the rules.

So basically this Op-Ed by members of the Brennan Center state that Smith's changes aren't bad, but more is needed. Perhaps this committee can enact some change with their recommendations in three months from now, but my worry is that it gets lost in the middle of the session. Smith had months, nay, years to fashion and get ready to implement the transparent government he promised and that all of us who believe in good government dreamt of.

How Much Can A Four Day Week Save NY?

Almost everyone that has seen the budget deficit New York faces has at least a few ideas on how to solve it. Tax the rich, tax the poor, cut services for the poor and relying on Barack Obama are the four basic avenues. So in Assemblyman Michael Gianaris' case, proposing to cut the work week by one day for state employees, is he thinking out of the box?

From The NY Times:

The assemblyman, Michael N. Gianaris, said on Sunday that even though his plan called for no pay cuts and would exclude education, transportation, public safety and hospital workers, it would save the state some $30 million a year in building maintenance and transportation costs.

Under the plan, all state agencies providing what Mr. Gianaris called nonessential services would change their working hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday instead of from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. New York has about 237,000 full-time state employees, according to census figures.

Mr. Gianaris said electricity and fuel bills would be lower because agency offices would be dark and vehicles would not be driven on the fifth day.

Besides all of these agencies being closed one business day a week, they are all technically open the same amount of hours. Of course, $30 million isn't really that much when you are talking about closing a $15 billion dollar gap. The unions seem open to discussing it and knowing Governor Paterson, he'd welcome to at least hear about how to cut more money from the state's tab. For me though, I'm still more set on the first option the rich.

Nothing Has Changed, Except For More Fly Ash

It has been nearly three weeks and while large items are slowly being cleaned up, the toxic ash is not. The Tennessee Valley Authority would love if everyone would forget about the disaster they helped cause, but these intrepid activists aren't about to let that happen:

Oh and if you missed DailyKos yesterday, read this.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Defense Industry Doesn't Have Much To Fear...Yet

Now that the Democrats are in full control of the government, what exactly does that mean to the behemoth military-industrial complex? Well, probably not too much at the moment. Obama seems fully committed to raising the stakes in Afghanistan, even if it comes at the expense of throwing money in the general direction of Iraq. The only thing they have to worry about is not getting a piece of the economic stimulus pie.

From RawStory:

Many in the industry would like to see an increase in money for the military included in the roughly $800 billion stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.

Leaders in the industry realize the slim chances of that happening, however, and are focused instead on preventing cuts in defense accounts to make room for the growing stimulus.

"The defense industry’s main goal right now is to avoid being a bill payer," said Loren B. Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank, and a consultant to defense contractors. "They know they are not going to get more money. They just don’t want to end up being the piggy bank for other projects."
Aww, if only I could muster a single, solitary tear for those poor, poor war profiteers. They have trouble realizing that their industry of death and destruction is a large part of the problem in our societ. Billions upon billions are wasted on not-so-smart weapons and other toys designed to kill people when a fraction of those projects could fund our public education system, universal health care, job training programs and so much more.

A Republican by the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of the potential power these companies could have 50 years ago. Though even Ike could not have imagined just how big they'd get. If he were in office today I'd have more hope of change in this regard. For now, I pray Obama will keep them where they're at, and then slowly but surely make war a less profitable and desirable business. Long ago merchants of war were universally despised....and it can happen yet again.