Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bloomberg Dismisses Talk Of Fairness In Campaign Finance

Mayor Bloomberg, with all of his billions and propensity to spend many millions on his campaign, was quick to belittle those that dare question his take on campaign finance. In this year's race, his opponents will all be limited to how much they can spend because they are enrolled in the weak public finance program that we have now. Bloomberg on the other hand will be spending an estimated $80 million or more, akin to $100 per NYC voter. When reporters asked him to comment, he showed his more abrasive side to respond.

From The Gothamist:

When the issue was first posed to him at yesterday's press conference, he snapped back, "I think it’s one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. I can’t quite understand it, so we will come back to you later." When asked why he would need to spend what some are projecting to hover around $80 million to get his message across after seven years as mayor, he responded, "Sometimes—I know you will be shocked by this—sometimes some reporters don’t accurately describe what we have done, or what we will do, so we have to find another venue."

The mayor has a reputation for being generous when it comes to staff bonuses during election season. A policy adviser from the mayor's first successful bid tells the Times he was "shocked" when he discovered $25,000 in his bank account after Bloomberg's victory for what he saw as just a limited role on the campaign. And on top of all-expense paid stays at Four Seasons-level hotels while traveling overseas, the mayor's inner circle of aides have seen hundreds of thousands in bonus money after his victories. While Bloomberg insisted that "there is no campaign at the moment," he has already hired ten high-priced strategists—mostly Democrats, some with past ties to his potential rivals.

A campaign manager for one of those contenders looking to challenger Bloomberg, City Controller Bill Thompson, told Politicker NY, "It is the height of insensitivity to the economic challenges New Yorkers are facing for the mayor to be spending $100 million on a reelection while lecturing them on belt tightening and the need for austerity."

Austerity is one of the many things that Bloomberg lacks. Being in touch with the needs of the average resident is another. So the Mayor will spend tens of millions to tell us why the gentrification and denigration of what was New York City is so good for us. Meanwhile, as most of us suffer through this recession (and quite possibly soon to be depression), the city becomes more and more expensive, driving out the middle class from a metropolis that is desperately trying to retain its diversity and vibrancy in spite of the Mayor.

Obama's Weekly Address: Congress Must Meet America's Challenge

The House has passed a decent bill. The Senate has agreed on a less than spectacular bill. Now before they come together to make amendments to the final version for Obama to sign, the President reminds legislators that this isn't a Democratic problem, nor a Republican one.

Same Old BS At Deutsche Bank Site

We would have hoped that after the deaths of two firefighters at the demolition site, things would have changed. The unnecessary passing of those men were caused by negligence of the most severe order. Investigations ensued, the papers screamed for justice, blogs screamed for justice and the relatives of the firefighters most certainly let their feelings be known. We were promised that attitudes would be changed and that those in charge would make sure that it would be different from now on.

Well, they lied:

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Outrage at the Deutsche Bank building after workers sever a standpipe, again.

Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer calls for an investigation. Although, he's not sure who should conduct the investigation since police and fire departments were supposed to provide oversight.

"I call it an outrage because part of what we have really worked to do, to make sure that when trouble hits the building, there is an immediate warning to the workers within the building and to the residents throughout the community," said Stringer.

The Daily News reports workers ripping out drywall on the second floor of the cursed tower across from Ground Zero apparently fractured the pipe, investigators said last night.

We really have no idea who can be held accountable now, especially after repeated failures to ensure competent oversight. The pipe had been disabled in the morning, with alarms going off to make sure people knew. Yet the call to leave the building did not happen until several hours later. Seven hours where if anything went wrong, the chance for tragedy skyrocketed. This place was supposed to be ultra-secure but apparently, it isn't.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Do They Think That This Stimulus Is Just A Game?

I've given up hope for Republicans to come to the table and honestly help broker a package that can put America back to work. I've also been wary of conservative Democrats around this whole thing too, but now it seems a few of them really don't care much either. Take for instance Senator Bayh, who was too busy to go to a meeting he said included important discussions on the bill. And then you have people like Senator Ben Nelson, who defines the term "DINO."

From Greg Sargent:

Total Reductions: $80 billion


Head Start, Education for the Disadvantaged, School improvement, Child Nutrition, Firefighters, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Prisons, COPS Hiring, Violence Against Women, NASA, NSF, Western Area Power Administration, CDC, Food Stamps



Public Transit $3.4 billion, School Construction $60 billion



Defense operations and procurement, STAG Grants, Brownfields, Additional transportation funding


Nelson spokesperson Clay Westrope confirms the authenticity of the memo, adding that the figures obviously could change. But this is currently the general direction.

Instead of working with his party, he opts to go the "bipartisan" route, meaning that women, children, firefighters, mass transit and the poor will suffer at the behest of the Defense industry. Sounds like more of the same from the last eight years to me. The last thing we need is to make the Defense industry any more bloated than it already is. In fact, if our government really wanted to solve problems here at home, they would start cutting that $527 billion dollar budget (not including war expenses) and give it to programs that help the people.

Shame on Nelson for supporting tripe like this.

Contrary To The LA Times Assertion, We Will Not Continue To Torture*

The LA Times made big headlines on Sunday when they proclaimed that the Obama Administration would continue the practice of extraordinary rendition. Perhaps though, they may have wanted to go beyond their unnamed source and talk to Leon Panetta, who will head the CIA and oversee the Agency's practices. At least Sen. Dianne Feinstein had the wherewithall to ask that pertinent question at his confirmation hearing.

Update: I put the asterisk up there, because apparently Leon Panetta got ahead of himself, and retracted his statement you see above.

Unemployment Numbers Released Today Minimize The Problem By Half

The headlines this morning, even on the Huffington Post screamed about unemployment jumping 0.4% to 7.6%. These numbers haven't been seen in thirty-five years, but it is far from the reality of the actual problem we face. Unemployment in this country is a serious problem that continues to get worse, but that single digit number so many people see on their newsreaders is far from accurate. It is only one data point among five others that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to gauge unemployment. Their most comprehensive number, the U6, is actually at 13.9% and not even that gets the clearest snapshot of what is going on.

From DailyKos:

But even the U6 figure undercounts, according to other observers, including John Williams, who runs the subscription-only electronic newsletter Williams hasn't yet posted his January calculations, but last month he put the jobless rate at 16.5 percent -- more than double the official rate. His figures include unemployed workers who have been left out of the overall count since "discouraged workers" were dropped during the administration of Lyndon Johnson and other downward adjustments were made in 1994. Those changes mean the official rate can't be fairly compared with the official rate in the 1980s, much less the 1930s.

Last month, Williams told Reuters: "I expect that unemployment in the current downturn, which will be particularly deep and protracted, eventually will rival, if not top, the 25 percent seen in the Great Depression."

According to increases reported at the BLS, Williams' number could be at or above 17%. A much more ominous report than 7.6 percent. The traditional media is trying to coat the story with the thickest amount of sugar as they can. While the media networks must address the seriousness of the problem, no one wants to make comparisons to the Great Depression. However, the American people are feeling the effects of this downturn, no matter what official number is touted.

What it all means is that we need a real, solid stimulus bill to be signed by President Obama as soon as possible. What a shame that Republicans and some conservative Democrats are being allowed to dilute the bill, when what it really needs is to be strengthened.

Not Just A Millionaire's Tax, A Progressive Tax For NY

I can not write about this enough, we need a change in our tax system, both here in New York and in the country. The income gap and the asset gap in our society has been widening at an alarming pace and consequently, things have gotten bad for the many at the behest of a wealthy few. Also, because of the economic mismanagement we've seen, the large majority of us are expected to bear the burden. As the apologists for the upper class say, we don't want them to leave, so we can't tax them anymore.

Now as any half-decent American historian can tell you, taxes for the rich used to be a lot higher. Yet they stayed where they were and...surprise, surprise, they did pretty well in spite of those taxes we in 2009 would deem astronomical. Bit by bit over time though, rates have fallen to where they are now, so that Republicans cry bloody murder when Democrats suggest the top tax bracket be restored to 39%.

Here in New York we face a budget crisis much like everyone else, where either we cut services, raises myriad taxes or take out loans. Well we can't do the loans for very long so for the better part of a few decades, the programs to aid the poor and middle class have been slashed by a thousands cuts. Recently, over the protests of the Governor, progressive groups and some in the Legislature have proposed a millionaire's tax, so that we raise a nice chunk of quick cash to decrease the deficit. Yet that does not go far enough and as the news shows today, a few State Senators are starting to get that there is a bigger picture to consider.

From PressConnects:

"This is an opportunity for us to develop a fairer tax system in New York," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx. "Any plan should include putting more money back into the pockets of the middle class."

Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, said it's unclear whether a tax cut would be feasible in the face of the state's $13 billion budget deficit.

But, he said, "In addition to the fact that we're looking to raise revenue to deal with the deficit, there are a lot of us who view the state tax system as out of whack and would like to restore some progressivity as part of this process as well."

A progressive policy formula is the only thing that will save us. Cutting programs and raising taxes on the middle class has not worked for us and will not work today or in the future. Yet we need more than the support of just Senators Klein and Schneiderman, we also need the Assembly to be on board.

Silver acknowledged this week that the state's tax code needs to be changed permanently. Currently, the top state personal income tax rate is 6.85 percent: for a family earning $40,000 a year or for a person earning $4 million a year.

"It is unfair that people who make $50,000 are paying the same tax rate as people who are making $50 million a year," Silver said.

But Silver warned that such changes should be a "long-range goal" and not necessarily part of the discussions to close the next year's budget gap.

It is unfair, he's right. Though waiting to change the system and calling it a long-term goal is dead wrong. In these times, we need to change the system and quick fixes, even if they are well intentioned is simply not enough. Albany is starting to listen, but we need to put more pressure on them so that Shelly Silver and even Governor Paterson understands that the system as we know it is broken. It must be changed.

Olbermann Tells Cheney To Leave America

Dick Cheney has done enough damage to our country, so his latest interview was highly unwelcome. Cheney's priority, as Olbermann said was to serve Cheney and not our country, so scram, you deluded war-mongering crook.

McCain's Attempt To Stay Relevant In Senate Fails

It is hard to be in the minority, no matter what legislative body you are in. When you are a recently failed Presidential candidate and your party was soundly rejected at the ballot box and continuing in public opinion polls, things get even worse. If John McCain and the Republicans actually wanted to help the American people, they'd have tried to work with Democrats on the Majority's bill. However, led by McCain of all people, going it alone resulted in where many Senate bills go, to the trash heap.

From The Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON — The Senate has killed an alternative economic stimulus plan by Sen. John McCain that would have cut income and payroll taxes but spent far less than President Obama's plan.

The party-line 57-40 vote against McCain's $421 billion plan came Thursday as a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans struggled to cut up to $100 billion from Obama's version.

McCain's plan would have cut the bottom two income tax brackets and lowered corporate income taxes. It also would have extended unemployment benefits and provide money to repair and replace military equipment worn out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course it wasn't surprising that this bill met a quick demise. It was never in the cards for a Republican sponsored stimulus to get any kind of recognition. I understand they want to be the party of opposition but pulling crap like this smells more like obstructionism than anything else.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thompson Scolds Bloomberg For Being Against Temp PIT Increase

Shared responsibility shouldn't just be for the state, it must happen on the local and federal level as well. While the Senate is busy mudding the intent of Obama's stimulus plan, we here in New York City have to take care of business in our own backyard. Hardly any other city in America has as much income disparity than NYC does, and in these tough times, leaning on those that are well off so that the last amongst us do not have to suffer anymore than they have to is good thing, from a moral and economic standpoint. However, our billionaire Mayor does not want to increase taxes for the very rich. Well, Mayoral candidate and City Comptroller Bill Thompson had some words for him about that.

From Thompson's website:

"Mayor Bloomberg's budget plan is as out-of-touch as it gets," Thompson wrote. "He plans to fix our budget crisis by raising sales taxes - burdening families and small businesses struggling to make ends meet."

"I stand with President Barack Obama and his call for shared responsibility. That's why I've proposed an increase in the city's personal income tax that focuses on taxpayers whose income exceeds $500,000 annually. As our economy recovers, this increase could sunset and return to current levels."

"While his extravagant campaign signals its willingness to spend $100 million to win a third term, Mayor Bloomberg is demanding to balance the budget on the backs of working people. Stand with me to ensure this doesn't happen."

Bloomberg is and has been seriously out of touch with the needs of New Yorkers. Now I can't say for sure that Thompson is the best candidate for Mayor at this time, he is definitely leaps and bounds ahead of Bloomberg. Mayor Mike doesn't want to increase income taxes and prefers to cut services and jobs, exactly the opposite of what our city needs. And with those tens of millions he'll spend on his campaign, he'll be spouting (last two paragraphs) tired, old and discredited right wing talking points about how increased income taxes will drive away the rich.

New York, like what we did for the Presidential race last year by demanding change, we need to do the same here at home, and change the priorities of our city's government so that we actually decrease the gap between the rich and the poor.

Obama Reminds GOP They Lost In November

The GOP has been acting just a little too big for their britches in the Senate, forgetting how the American people took in a lot of length on their particular brand of cloth. Yet McConnell and his forty troopers (along with a couple conservative Dems) are determined to continue the failed ideas of the past. Well, President Obama had a thing or two to tell them today:

Thoughts And Prayers For Justice Ginsburg

On a sad note today, the news is coming out that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was having surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in her pancreas. She was at Sloan-Kettering Hospital here in New York for the procedure, known as one of the best institutions in the world to fight cancer. She is certainly in good hands, but the news is anything but.

From NPR:

Ginsburg's pancreatic cancer was discovered early, in the course of a routine annual screening, but medical literature says even in this circumstance, a patient's five-year survival chances range from 10 to 30 percent.[...]

The five-year survival rate is 5 percent, with most patients living less than a year. Doctors say this poor survival rate is due in significant part to the fact that cancers of the pancreas are discovered late, when the cancer is very advanced.

Because Ginsburg previously underwent radiation treatment after her colon surgery, she likely will not be able to have radiation treatment a second time. Chemotherapy has not proved to be curative for pancreatic cancer.

She is one tough lady, as anyone who has seen her in action can attest to but the prognosis for her case is obviously grim. It is great that doctors caught it early though, so the situation isn't a worst-case scenario. Still, I'll have her in my prayers and I hope everyone else out there does as well (and if not prayers, then simply thoughts).

Malcolm Smith Hearts Millionaires

Malcolm Smith promised us a new day in Albany if the Senate would turn to the Democrats' control. So far, not much has changed in the way of reform, save for a committee to look into reform. Now the most immediate item of importance is the budget and how to solve the gap. Unfortunately, the Senate Majority Leader cannot even rise to the level of Speaker Silver over in the Assembly when it comes to the millionaire's tax.

Here's what he thinks of that idea:

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, said today that higher income taxes on the wealthy to help close the state’s $13 billion budget gap “would be the last resort. I think we can look at other things before we get there.”

Boy that sounds a lot like what Governor Paterson has said about that proposal. However I think he parts ways with the Governor after that, most likely by not cutting as much from the budget and either taking out loans or praying that the Federal government will bail us out completely. Smith clearly wants to have his cake and eat it too, by not offending anyone, though when push comes to shove, he'll ultimately agree to cut more programs than tax additions.

Of course, we could just make the income tax progressive...but hey, we wouldn't want to actually make that "shared sacrifice" rhetoric into reality, would we?

Funding Education Is An Economic Stimulant

Center for American Progress' Raegen Miller tells us why funding for education is such an important part of an economic stimulus. It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to realize that teaching the next generation skills for the 21st century is a good idea, but apparently a lot of people in Washington need to be reminded.

Could Pete Domenici Be The Next Ted Stevens

As Alaska and much of the nation is well aware of, ex-Sen. Ted Stevens is now a convicted felon, thanks to his undisclosed bribes from the oil industry. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) isn't as well known outside his homestate, but that could soon change if a Federal Grand Jury's probe of him turns out to find what many observers suspect he may be guilty of in association with the politically-motivated firings of several U.S. Attorneys.

From TPM Muckraker:

The federal grand jury is investigating whether Domenici and other political figures attempted to improperly press Iglesias to bring a criminal prosecution against New Mexico Democrats just prior to the 2006 congressional midterm elections, according to legal sources close to the investigation and private attorneys representing officials who prosecutors want to question. Investigators appear to be scrutinizing Iglesias' firing in the context of whether he was fired in retaliation because Domenici and others believed that he would not manipulate the timing of prosecutions to help Republicans.

Previously, Domenici was severely criticized by two internal Justice Department watchdog offices, the Department's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), for refusing to cooperate with their earlier probe of the firings of the U.S. attorneys. In part because of their frustration that Domenici and his chief of staff, Steve Bell, as well as several senior White House officials, would not cooperate with them, the Inspector General and OPR sought that a criminal prosecutor take over their probe. It is unclear whether Domenici will now cooperate with the criminal probe. Domenici's attorney, Lee Blalack, in an interview, declined to say what Domenici will do when he is contacted by investigators.

Domenici will most likely fight tooth and nail to avoid the clutches of the recently redeemed Justice Department. Pete wanted nothing to do with the initial report and by the way Iglesias' testimony went, it is likely because he doesn't want to confront the consequences of his actions. Everything was about partisan gain and combating Democrats with any and all means possible, even if it was illegal. The rule of law wasn't respected during the Bush years, so Domenici probably felt secure in what he was doing. Unfortunately for him, justice has a funny way of catching up with you, just ask Ted Stevens.

Fun Facts Of The 2nd Ave Subway

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (my rep by the way), with all the talk of economic stimulus via infrastructure bouncing off the halls of Congress, has decided to get in the game. The massive project underway in her district is none other than the infamous 2nd Ave. subway and guess what, it needs money. Maloney took the time to spout off some facts about how it helps the local economy, but forgets about how it hurts in the short-term.

From The Gothamist:

Yesterday, Representative Carolyn Maloney released a report detailing how construction for the Second Avenue Subway, as well as the East Side Access plan, have helped out the economy. According to the findings, the Second Ave Subway has created 16,00 jobs, generated $842 million in wages, and produced $2.87 billion in economic activity, while East Side Access has created 22,000 jobs, generated $1.176 billion in wages, and produced $4 billion in economic activity. And by the endShe said, “The stock market may be slumping, but these two transit megaprojects are delivering a very healthy return on the federal and state investments in them... While these projects won’t cure everything that ails our economy, they are a huge help in getting us back on track.” Read the report (PDF). Last month, NY1 focused on 2nd Avenue businesses that have taken a hit since the dig—Second Avenue Business Association says, "Within the first six months of the construction process commencing, business declined between 15 and 20 percent."
The jobs and wages are great, the impact on local businesses is not so great, but the long-term impact of having a second subway line on the eastside is essential for NYC. Back when the project was initially started in 1929, the city was so eager for it that they tore down the El lines in anticipation of the underground route. Of course as we know now, eighty years later and we still do not have a working T train. So basically I feel for those suffering businesses, but then again thinking long-term is key here.

Joe The Plumber Now Joe The RNC Strategist?

How sad is it that a <>plumber McCain ally war correspondent schmuck like this has to come in and help try to save the Republican party?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Wall St. Flips Out Over Obama's Proposed Executive Pay Cap

Barack Obama made the announcement today that top executives at companies receiving TARP money must cap their salaries at half a million dollars. While that is a sum more than 99% of Americans would love to claim as their own, those that make more are steamed that Obama could try to enact such a thing. Just take a look at what they had to say in reaction to it.

From ThinkProgress:

As news of the plan leaked last night, wealthy Wall Street went into panic mode, insisting that the caps would ruin the financial industry. It’s “a nightmare for any financial institution,” CNBC host Joe Kernen proclaimed this morning, while Fox Business host Alexis Glick said it was evidence of Obama being “a little anti-business.” Others insisted that the “draconian” caps would drive the “best and the brightest” away from Wall Street and that Obama’s anger over executive bonuses was misplaced:

That is pretty draconian — $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus.” [James F. Reda, founder and managing director of James F. Reda & Associates]

If I didn’t pay [bonuses], the people were going to go. … These people didn’t choose to cure cancer. These people didn’t choose to do public service work…These people chose to make money.” [Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric]

Yes Mr. Welch, they did choose to go out and make money, but the problem is that they lost much more than they could have possibly hoped to take home. Their reckless handling of the economy has resulted in more than two trillion lost in pensions alone. The world economy has been rocked by their callous greed. Judging by the reaction of these tycoons to Obama, that callousness has not worn off despite having billions in TARP money coming their way. Alexis Glick can claim Obama is anti-business all she wants, but the evidence of who has been ruining countless business is not pointing in Obama's direction. These scoundrels should be happy to make half a million in salary, because in a just world, we'd have already demanded they billions upon billions in salary and bonuses they've taken in only a few short years.

It's (Almost) Official, Padavan Wins

Three months to the day after the 2008 election, we have finally determined that Frank Padavan won his re-election bid to represent Northeast Queens in the State Senate. The battle was drawn out after the initial close results, full of recounts, counting ballots that were initially declined and a whole lot of political drama in the press.

From The Daily Politics:

With all but 265 ballots fought over, counted and recounted, Republican Frank Padavan retains a 578-vote lead over his Democratic challenger, Councilman Jim Gennaro, according to a Queens GOP source who has been monitoring the situation.

That makes it arithmetically impossible for Gennaro to pull out a victory - even if those last remaining ballots all cut his way, which, of course, they wouldn't.

Ironically, that's not all that terribly far off from the unofficial results on election night last November when Padavan was up 723 votes.

Considering that the DSCC gave next to nothing in support for Gennaro and that Padavan has been in office for more than thirty years, the close race shows that this district is vulnerable to be flipped. As Liz notes, Gennaro is getting ready to contest the race again next year and with his numbers in 2008, there should be a big push to get him over the top and to make the very Democratic area represented by one from their own party.

Ackerman Bashes SEC's Vollmer For Being "Worthless"

Ackerman is right, the SEC has been an abominable failure for many years now and they deserve to be investigated for any criminal mischief in conjunction with their private sector friends. TO not go after Madoff and others like him when the evidence to do so was readily is all highly suspect.

Oh and Ackerman, he should get with it too. This bluster is great for the cameras, but real action is needed here too.

Obama Claims 228,000 Jobs For NY

Barack Obama has talked about three to four million jobs created from his economic stimulus and now the White House has helped to break it down for the Empire State. According to them, 228,000 jobs could be created if things go to plan. Of course, the whole "going to plan" part is what worries many of us that actually want to create jobs more so than tax breaks.

From The Journal News:

WASHINGTON - New York state would gain an estimated 228,000 jobs over the next two years under the economic stimulus legislation working its way through Congress, White House officials said yesterday.

California is expected to gain the most jobs - 421,000 of the 3 million to 4 million positions that the administration says could be created for transportation projects, sewage system upgrades, weatherizing homes, making federal buildings more energy efficient, creating electronic medical records and expanding access to broadband.

New York lost 102,900 private-sector jobs in the last three months of 2008 as the unemployment rate climbed to 7 percent.
New York is set to lose more jobs in the immediate future and no one knows for sure how many of those 228,000 are counted as saving jobs that haven't been lost yet. There is definitely plenty of opportunity to be had, whether it be building more mass transit capabilities, fixing roads, building clean forms of energy and the grid to supply it across the state (and country). The biggest problem though is how much of the bill will be diluted and watered down, and unfortunately that is happening in the Senate right now.

How Albany Pulled The Revised FY 2009 Budget

There are only a few months left in the fiscal year of 2009 and only a couple before Albany must come up with a budget for FY 2010. Yesterday, they took care of the shortfalls of this year, without addressing the concerns for the next. With our state government as dysfunctional as it is, how did they manage to keep the machine humming til October?

From The NY Times:

The agreement employs a grab bag of more than dozen spending cuts, tax increases, and accounting devices, along with the government equivalent of piggy-bank raids, like $306 million taken from the accounts of the New York Power Authority, a public utility that is theoretically independent from the executive branch. But a much larger deficit still looms in next year’s budget.

In the agreement reached on Tuesday, tuition will rise for students at the State University of New York, adding $62 million to state coffers; $50 million dollars will be cut from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund; Mr. Paterson will squeeze $135 million more out of the state agencies he leads by scrutinizing contracts and capital spending; the state will also delay by several months a tax rebate to New York City, taking advantage of the different city and state fiscal years.
The plan was basically like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It works for a few months, but does not address the concerns of next year at all. As the Times points out, reform groups are unhappy, the Governor is certainly displeased and it all has to be reexamined by April. What they really need is a plan that works, but until then it will be all about squabbling, such as that highlighted between Skelos and Smith at the end of the article.

Bernie Sanders Wants A Real Investigation Of The Economy

Fixing the fiscal crisis we are in is extremely important and we have to stimulate the economy so that it actually moves again. That is not good enough though, because if we do not take a good look at what is going wrong with the system, then it will eventually fail us again. Senator Sanders (I-VT) wants to see that happens and tells Rachel all about it last night.

A President That Knows How To Apologize

I always say that when picking members of your Presidential Cabinet, make sure to ask the hopefuls to have paid their taxes. Well, I guess President Obama has been rather busy and he didn't have time to heed my advice, but that's O.K. I think that he gets it now and even if your picks are qualified, it is best that they pay what the government expects of them by law. Though unlike Bush, who would have just brushed it off and ignored the troubles, Obama owned up to what happened.


Oh it made me angry and disappointed and it's something I have to take responsibility for. I appointed these folks. I think they are outstanding people. I think Tom Daschle as an example could have led this health care effort, a difficult effort better than just about anybody. But as he acknowledged, this was a mistake. I don't think it was intentional on his part but it was a serious mistake. He owned up to it and ultimately made a decision that we couldn't afford the distraction and I've got to own up to my mistake which is that ultimately it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes. And so I'm frustrated with myself, with our team, but ultimately my job is to get this thing back on track because what we need to focus on is a deteriorating economy and getting people back to work.
Thank you for taking responsibility and acknowledging these mistakes. Next to President Bush, there really is no comparison. However, I still have a gripe about the Cabinet. Seriously Barack, what is up with Judd Gregg? You aren't changing the makeup of the Senate by doing this and we are talking about a man that wanted to abolish the Commerce Department altogether a couple years ago. I know you are into bipartisanship, but that is ridiculous. And also, bipartisanship is a two way street, before walking down that road you should make sure that Republicans understand that they have to learn the word "compromise" and embrace it.

Towns Is Certainly No Waxman

When Congressman Waxman left the House Government and Oversight Committee for the Energy and Commerce Committee, there were big shoes to fill for his replacement. Unfortunately, thanks to seniority, that man was Brooklyn's Congressman Ed Towns. It isn't that he has the worst record among Democrats, but that he has hardly any record, in twenty-six years of representing his district. His tobacco connections also do not look so good. Naturally, I did not have high hopes for his very first Committee Chair position.

And well, neither does he:

California Democrat Henry Waxman, Mr. Towns’ direct predecessor, was the paradigm, leveraging the position for maximum influence by spearheading high-profile investigations and afflicting the powerful with his peevish demeanor. “Waxman showed what could be done in that committee,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “The chair has got a roving commission to go after almost anything, from the spill in Tennessee at that coal impoundment pond to hauling in Citibank executives.”

Expect Mr. Towns’ style to be somewhat different.

“I’m not one of the guys who jumps in front of the cameras,” he told The Brooklyn Paper in August 2008.
Video of Mr. Towns, a North Carolina native, at committee hearings and giving Congressional testimony depict a mild-mannered politician who sticks to his talking points.
Now sure, he does have plans to do oversight, but nothing along the lines of what Congressman Waxman has done in the last Congress and before Republicans took over in 1994 as well. Personally, I believe that in this crucial role, one must be a passionate advocate for reform and exposing crooked activities, whether it be in the public or private sector. Waxman had that tenacity. Going on Towns' quarter of a century in Congress, he doesn't.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Rachel Maddow And Sen. McCaskill Take Bank Of America To Task

Rachel Maddow knows how to expose ridiculous corporate behavior. Senator Claire McCaskill knows how to as well. And when the two got together on Maddow's show yesterday they went all out on Bank of America's egregious actions.

Reminding Bloomberg Poor People Matter In NYC Through Protest

This afternoon Mayor Bloomberg had a lunch meeting to help chart the direction of New York City. It was aptly titled "The Future Of New York City" and hosted by Crain's. Of course that means issues of finance, growth and zoning to name a few were discussed. What was missing was the voice of the people, but the collective group Right to the City-NY was ready, willing and able to help out.

From The Daily Politics:

A grassroots coalition calling itself Right to the City-NY has claimed responsibility for disrupting the mayor's speech this afternoon at a lunch hosted at the Grand Hyatt by Crain's and business groups entitled "The Future of New York City."

The advocates chanted "this is what democracy looks like" as they burst into the hotel ballroom and tried to deliver a letter to the mayor that noted the absence of working-class, minority and immigrant New Yorkers at the conference and called for a meeting on the concerns of low-income city residents.

"The policy recommendations that come out of today’s “The Future of NY” conference could have a serious impact on the lives of low-income people - those that are most impacted by the current economic crisis. We are asking you to broaden your circle of advisors to include us, and to stop holding closed-door meetings with the political and business elite of New York. We have the right to be involved in the decision-making process that affects our lives and communities,” the letter to the Mayor states.

“We ask that you extend the same courtesy to us that you have shown the city’s elite by organizing a convention of low-income New Yorkers to produce policy recommendations that actually reflect community priorities for the city’s economic future."

Many different long-standing organizations in New York have come together to join this larger movement for an essential cause. When only the elite groups of a community are represented in planning for the future, they almost always leave out the interests of others. Bloomberg has consistently shown he is out of touch with many New Yorkers and has no problem showing his disdain for us. Anyone who has to drive to take the subway when they live on the Upper East Side is clearly in another world.

Balancing New York's Budgets, With Or Without The Governor

While Governor Paterson is busy spewing rightwing BS, the State Legislature is getting ready to deal with the budget gap for the current fiscal year. The bad news for this year isn't even close to budget deficit this year so there isn't as much radical change needed, but that does not mean Paterson will not protest what the Legislature is up to this week.

From PressConnects:


Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate majorities indicated such cuts are unlikely and they will look instead to a variety of one-shot budget measures, such as money saved through hiring freezes or sweeping unspent money from state agencies.

Lawmakers said major cuts are unlikely because the state is in line for billions of dollars from the federal stimulus package. They could vote on closing the current year's budget gap as soon as today.

Gov. David Paterson has warned lawmakers to not rely on the federal aid to bail out the state from its current or an estimated $13.7 billion gap in the 2009-10 fiscal year, which starts April 1.

As much as the Governor wants to slash and burn programs throughout the budget, the Assembly and Senate refuse to do so, at least for right now. What they need to do is this, and listen to the experts, not David Paterson.

The Governor is clearly and quickly losing a lot of political capital and sadly, it is all his doing. He tried to take on too many different interests all at once without any sacrifice from the upper echelons of society and as a result, everyone else got together to pile on and attack his proposed budget cuts. Coupled with a lack of discipline and coherent strategy to stay on message, his relevancy in this process is fading fast.

Irreversible Damage To The Environment?

That is the verdict from a team of scientists at the NOAA who have studied the effects of carbon dioxide on our atmosphere. The only variable to them is that the more CO2 we emit, the worse the damage will be. This doesn't sound good at all.

Negligent Homicide Is Not The Same As An Accidental Death

Although not widely reported, it is old news that Halliburton's subsidiary KBR installed faulty showers on U.S. bases that led to shocks and even the deaths of U.S. servicemen. The problem though is what is and what is not being done about it. Not only was KBR engaged in these dangerous activities, putting soldiers' lives at risk, but the system itself was all about giving the corporate entities a pass and covering up the deaths they caused.

From The Army Times:

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class David A. Cedergren, 25, of South St. Paul, Minn., died Sept. 11, 2004, while showering. His family was told he died of natural causes.

Late last year, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology changed the manner of Cedergren’s death to “accidental,” caused by electrocution and inflammation of the heart. The Naval Criminal Investigative Services has reopened an investigation into his death, Ed Buice, a NCIS spokesman, said Monday.

Cedergren’s death is among 18 electrocution deaths under review as part of a Department of Defense Inspector General inquiry. The inquiry primarily involves electrical work done at a facility where a Fort Campbell, Ky.-based Green Beret, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Pittsburgh, was electrocuted while showering in January 2008.

It is heartening to hear that that military is now taking an interest in pursuing the cause of their deaths instead of merely covering up the evidence. For too long KBR, Halliburton and the rest of the war profiteers over there have been allowed to get away with crimes against Iraqis and our very own troops. The culture over there has been beyond the pale. Now that people within the Pentagon are realizing the seriousness of the situation and are acting on it, the important thing is how they should ultimately act. Slapping KBR on the wrist or prosecuting a few low-level contractors will not get to the root of the problem. The remedy is to go straight for the top.

Citi Field No More?

The joke surrounding the new ballpark in Queens is that Citi-Field should be renamed City Field. With all of the taxpayer money going to Citigroup, there has been plenty of criticism surrounding their $400 million dollar deal with the Mets to name the new stadium for the next twenty years. Now it appears that Citigroup is finally getting the joke, and changing their tune.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Citigroup Inc., eager to quell the controversy over how lenders are using government bailout money, is exploring the possibility of backing out of a nearly $400 million marketing deal with the New York Mets, say people familiar with the matter.

Officials at Citigroup have made no final decision about whether to try to void the 20-year agreement, which includes naming the Mets' new baseball stadium after the bank, say these people.

In a statement Monday, Citigroup said that "no TARP capital will be used" for the stadium -- referring to government funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Yes, it isn't a change in company policy but the confusing words have more meaning than what they lend to believe. Pat Kiernan calls them ridiculous for the statement because one dollar is just as good as the next. Of course reading between the lines shows that the beleaguered banking behemoth is ready to cave to popular sentiment on this issue. Now if they can start serving the interests of the shareholders taxpayers in everything that they do, that would be real progress.

Daschle's $128,000 Mistake

Seriously, how, after working as a Senator who wrote tax legislation, do you fail to pay $128,000 in taxes? I'm sure he's going to be confirmed and for all I know he's a great guy, but I hope that he runs HHS better than his own finances.

Update (2/3/09 1PM): Oh well, so much for that.

Rove Will Now Cooperate, But How Much Can He Recall?

Abruptly and all of a sudden, Karl Rove has decided to cooperate with investigators concerning the politically motivated firings of several U.S. Attorneys. He had stonewalled officials for quite some time, claiming executive privilege and hiding behind the Bush Administration. Well the White has changed hands, but it didn't sway Rove until yesterday. So I wonder, did Alberto Gonzales give him some tips to help make this all go away?

From TPM Muckraker:

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said that Rove, however, will cooperate with a federal criminal probe of the firings being led by Nora Dannehy, the Acting U.S. Attorney for Connecticut who was selected by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to lead the investigation. Dannehy has recently empaneled a federal grand jury to hear evidence in the matter.

Luskin told me that Rove had earlier not cooperated with the Inspector General and OPR probe into the firings because "it was not his [Karl's] call... it was not up to us decide." Luskin said that Rove was directed by the Bush White House counsel's office not to cooperate with the Inspector General and OPR.

Perhaps he thinks (or knows?) that Dannehy will throw him soft ball questions since she's a Mukasey pick. She was after all installed long after the Department of Justice was tainted by Bush's quest to politicize everything about our government. Or Rove could just pull that Gonzales defense and claim to not know anything of any importance. Karl has never had much regard for the law, so why should he start now?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Rent Control Reform On Shelly Silver's Agenda

Elections do have consequences and rent control reform in New York may just be one of those. The Democrats took over the State Senate in last fall's election and although they are far from perfect and still part of a broken system, they can still enact some change. Repealing Rockefeller Drug Laws and rent control reform are two aspects. Doing something for tenants and not their landlords is a policy agenda long overdue in New York.

From 1010 WINS:

Under the system established in 1997, landlords are allowed to raise rents and remove controls when the rent has risen to $2,000 a month or more, and the apartment becomes vacant or the tenant's income tops $175,000 a year. Those thresholds haven't changed since.

One of the many Assembly bills would increase the threshold of tenant income to $240,000, and the monthly rent would have to be more than $2,700. The bill would require both thresholds to be met.

"This has to be a priority especially during the economic downturn,'' Silver said. "It's clear that we have an affordable-housing crisis.''

Now landlords are crying foul and that raising limits will be bad for tax receipts and land values, as well as the motivation for new construction. Their arguments fail to acknowledge though that all of those benefits had only gone to the wealthier parts of society. Renters have suffered for decades and the amount of affordable housing has dropped considerably since rent control restrictions were loosened.

We shall see if the Senate has the guts to follow through with this legislation in the same way that Silver is now pushing for it. Sheldon Silver has many faults, but if he can help working people as he claims, then I'll have to give credit where it's due. Of course, it hasn't happened yet, so we'll have to wait and see.

Thou Shalt Not Lie Doesn't Apply To Mormon Church

I know there are a lot of good Mormons out there, but their administrative headquarters could care less about one of those ten commandments. "Thou shalt not lie" is null and void to the Church's leaders when fighting the rights of gay people are at stake.

More Audacity Out Of Wall Street

The bravado and greed of players in the financial district is truly astounding. Even now, after billions have been given out from the Federal treasury to Wall Street, there is no humility in their bones, whatsoever. It isn't just the companies themselves, like Bank of America spending $10 million on the Superbowl after taking $45 billion in government money. The disconnect between the average American and this small part of America is incredible on the individual level as well.

From OpenLeft:

Another snippet for the I Shit You Not File: In the New York Times, a head hunter for banks defends the $18 billion in taxpayer-subsidized bonus payouts to Wall Street executives and traders by insisting that those executives and traders can't be expected to live on $150,000 to $180,000 a year - I shit you not:
"Without a doubt, $18 billion is a lot of money, but it's a drop in the bucket on Wall Street," said Gustavo Dolfino, president of the WhiteRock Group, a headhunter for the banks. "These bonuses are down, and the salaries are not enough for these people. They can't live on $150 to $180,000, so they haven't saved any money. They put it on credit lines and at bonus time, they thought they'd pay it off."

The median household income in the United States is about $49,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau - and that's for full, multi-person households. But Wall Street would have believe that individual executives and traders "can't live on $150,000 to $180,000 a year," and so the same taxpayers whose median household income is $49,000 a year must subsidize their bonuses.

Clearly these people have no comprehension of the real world and what most people make...and get by on. The median salary is in NYC is actually about the same, or in 2007 a few hundred dollars lower than the national average. When people think of New York City, they often forget about the people that live in all five boroughs. And apparently, so do many of these financiers that barely manage on $150-$180K a year.

More Evidence Bloomberg Has No Clue About Stewarding NYC's Budget

I can't say it enough (especially since Bloomberg and his pro-term limit extension allies did in October) but Mayor Bloomberg loves to tout his financial expertise. In these trying economic times, he argues we need a leader (e.g. him) that knows how to fearlessly go where no Mayor has gone before and hammer out a responsible budget for the city when the tax base is drying up. Well, that would be great, if it were true. The fact is, his people were "spending money like drunken stockbrokers" and if we put our trust in him, we'll be as screwed as we were for the last eight years.

From The Neighborhood Retail Alliance:

Take a look at the numbers and you'll see that the Bloombergistas have been spending money like drunken stockbrokers-and now we're tapped out: "From 2002 to today, city spending rose nearly 29 percent after inflation. All that kept us from drowning was an even more reckless Wall Street, whose tax revenues (temporarily) let the city indulge in booming Medicaid outlays and ever-costlier benefits for city workers. Now tax revenues are dropping at just as torrid a pace. They're on track to drop 13.5 percent between last year and the next fiscal year, which starts in July. Personal-income taxes will fall by 35 percent. Since 1971, when the city started keeping good records, New York has never seen a drop-off like this one. The money is gone."

The reason that we're in this situation goes straight to the mayor's inabilities-a complete lack of knowledge of government when he arrived, compounded by a personal philosophy that saw government expansion as good for its citizens. In effect, his nanny-like policies for calorie posting and trans fat elimination-and here comes the salt attack-are emblematic of his positive view of an interventionist government. For Mike Bloomberg, more and bigger government is better, because it has a bigger and better chance to intervene to help the folks.

This warped world view-as bankrupt as the Wall Street firms that Bloomberg identifies with-has had a withering effect on the city's small businesses and homeowners; and his budget continues to reflect this: "Second, there's Bloomberg's proposal to hike sales taxes by nearly $1 billion. This hike would push the rate up to where it was after the tech bubble burst. But that hike was proposed as temporary; this one isn't. Ending the tax exemption for clothes, as the mayor also proposes, would kill already suffering retailers...It's telling, anyway, that the mayor wants retailers to give back nearly twice as much as he's asking from his union workforce."
The basic fact is, Bloomberg's wealth has been created by Wall Street and Wall Street, as we have clearly seen, is broken. He spent recklessly like stockbrokers have and now he, as they, want the public to pay the price. He does this with cuts to crucial public sectors for the least amongst us and higher taxes for the middle class. If anything, we need the opposite of our current Mayor, not more of the same.

Kurtz Thinks Armey Should Pay A Penalty For His Sexist Remark

Unfortunately in the GOP, it'll probably only get Mr. Armey a high five or two.

Paterson Looking Especially Weak With His Budget

It wasn't a good week for Governor Paterson at the end of January and the beginning of February isn't looking much better. He made a giant mess with the Senate appointment process by trying to be secretive when the media kept pressing him for information he didn't want to give. Then it all blew up in his face and he hasn't recovered from that. He couldn't even respond to SNL mocking him again. And now he can't even retain control over the budget.

From The NY Post:

APOLITICALLY impotent Gov. Paterson has told a secretmeeting of worried business leaders that there's nothing he can do about Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's plan to hike income taxes on the wealthy.

"He told them to call Shelly about the taxes, that that's what they should do," a participant at the secret gathering -held just over a week ago at the Manhattan home of real-estate mogul Jerry Speyer, CEO of Tishman Speyer - told The Post.

"He said he doesn't want the tax hike, he's not pushing for the tax hike, so he said it's important that they call Silver," the source continued.

Another source said, "People were flabbergasted by the governor's comments. He seemed to be saying he wasn't in charge. He seemed weak.

He certainly sounds weak. Nevermind that he held a secret meeting with business leaders for the moment (how about one of those with the rest of us?). The fact that he just handed off responsibility of whether the tax will be added or not shows a Governor in disarray. Paterson has tried to be all things to everyone and in the end has lost himself completely. If he had any principles left, that budget would have had a more progressive income tax and a plan to help the people of New York. It would have given him the political capital to push through a smart plan to deal with these trying times but instead he has managed to anger everyone. And now that he has given up on trying to protect the one group that liked the budget, the most well-off among us, they don't care for him either.

Going Beyond Scandals, Albany Is Rotten To The Core

Over the years we've heard plenty of scandals that rocked the state. When corruption is exposed it makes big headlines, and sometimes the politician in the spotlight goes to jail. While it is good to see justice being served, the problem goes much farther than the individual in question for the moment. The entire culture of our state capitol is a mess and the FBI investigators and U.S. Attorneys who investigated Joe Bruno can attest to that.

The Buffalo News
took a closer look yesterday:

In chasing after Bruno, the feds ran into an old Albany problem: Connecting the dots here is no easy task.

“If you read the congressional record, you see virtually everything a legislator says on the floor of Congress is recorded in some fashion,” said acting U. S. Attorney Andrew Baxter. “Our experience with the New York State Legislature is that bills are passed, member items are granted, and it is very difficult to reconstruct which individual senator or Assembly people were actively involved in promoting or casting the legislation or granting those member items.[...]

In Albany, rule No. 1 is to control the flow of information. Lawmakers and the governor spend millions each year on publicity efforts — whether it’s a personal photographer for Paterson or state-of-the-art TV broadcast facilities where legislative staff members ask puffy questions of lawmakers to beam back to local stations.

But want to get things unfiltered, say transcripts of legislative floor debates? You can look at the Senate Web site but only if you work for the Senate. On its public Web site, no such transcripts exist.

The state’s exalted Freedom of Information law? In practice, it’s often a tool to deny or delay access to information. Or, increasingly, it’s just ignored. The Buffalo News, for instance, in September filed a FOIL seeking documents on government hiring during a period when a hiring freeze was supposed to be in place. The governor’s office still has not complied.

It isn't just one particular legislator, it is nearly the whole lot of them...and their staffers too. What goes on up there is criminal when you think that they are charged with serving the people of New York. The only service is self-service and those that fight it on a daily basis (e.g. Good Gov't groups) know that they are up against a system that has been set in stone for decades. Though after a long investigation, the Buffalo News does have some suggestions in terms of reform.

It must start, reformers say, with redistricting, the mother of all incumbency protection machines. It’s the once-a-decade process that occurs after the census, when legislators redraw state legislative and congressional district lines to take into account population shifts. But the legislators protect the incumbents with party-friendly voters, or at least the favored incumbents.

The next round is just a couple of years away, and critics are calling for an independent body to craft the lines to put an end to districts such as the “earmuff district” for Rep. Louise M. Slaughter that curls from Buffalo to Rochester in search of Democratic voters or a downstate legislative district kept contiguous, as required, by connecting across a sand bar at high tide.

Next, move on to campaign finance and New York’s high donation “limits.” Consider: When new U. S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand runs next year, the most an individual is allowed to give her is $4,800 for a primary and general campaign. That’s a federal law.

And that is just for starters. Yet every one of these reforms will be fought tooth and nail by the leaders of both parties while they scream and shout that nothing is wrong and that they are open, they do make reforms and no, all that stuff isn't necessary. Now of course the ones saying this are people like Shelly Silver, Jim Tedisco, Malcolm Smith and Dean Skelos. Yet it doesn't have to be them, because the next high profile names are being groomed to continue the tradition. They'll never cede this power willingly, and that is why we need real corrective methods in New York. We need campaign finance reforms that make the system completely financed through public means. We need to make sure everyone can see what these legislators do in their spare time and whether those companies benefit from which politician are on their payroll. We must have transparency and if Albany doesn't give it to us, we must force it upon them. What that force could look like, I do not know yet. Whether it be from the Department of Justice, a grassroots phenomenon to vote them all out or whatever else, but something has got to give. No amount of scandal is going to make the leaders in Albany reform themselves, obviously, they've made that loud and clear.

Barney Frank Reminds Republicans Where The Wasteful Spending Is...In Iraq

The GOP has miraculously overnight become the party of fiscal conservatism yet again, claiming that Obama's stimulus package is too expensive. Creating tax cuts for the wealthy is a much higher priority than creating a job in the minority party's eyes. However, Congressman Frank reminds them where all the money really went.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

GM Makes The Case For Real Government Oversight

Congressional pressure to make the CEO of GM take a car instead of his corporate jet was a nice jesture, but obviously it had no effect on the real operations of the company. The attitude behind the jet is still there, and it can be seen when the auto giant takes a billion dollars of that taxpayer bailout and sends it down to Brazil so that they can grow their business down there.

From The Latin American Herald Tribune:

SAO PAULO -- General Motors plans to invest $1 billion in Brazil to avoid the kind of problems the U.S. automaker is facing in its home market, said the beleaguered car maker.

According to the president of GM Brazil-Mercosur, Jaime Ardila, the funding will come from the package of financial aid that the manufacturer will receive from the U.S. government and will be used to "complete the renovation of the line of products up to 2012."[...]

For Ardila, the injection in Brazil's automobile sector of 8 billion reais ($3.51 billion) recently announced by the federal and state governments of Sao Paulo "has already begun to revive sales," which fell by 12% in October.
It is great to see Brazil's investment in GM so that business comes back in their country, but in these dire times, American bailout money should be focused right here at home. The problem is that these multi-national companies take advantage of national governments around the world, whether it be for giveaways or low-cost labor. If only nation-states got together to combat these companies....oh yeah, I know, that sounds like a pipe dream. However, the money given by the Bush White House to GM via TARP should be revamped by the Obama Administration, so that we can start to get some sort of handle on these corporate behemoths.