Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tedisco Goes Positive, Then Straight Back To Negative

Things are not going well for Jim Tedisco's campaign. After losing a double-digit lead within a month, the candidate decided to change course and go positive, preferring to talk about him and not let the NRCC and Michael Steele do the talking anymore. After a couple of ads that touted Tedisco, the campaign went straight back to slamming Murphy for things that he really shouldn't be talking about. Further, the Times-Union fact-checked this Murphy-A.I.G. connection and found it to be a stretch at best.

Bloomberg Defends A.I.G. Bonus Recipients

It is tough being an executive at A.I.G. these days. Everyone out there loathes you, except for Rush Limbaugh but who wants that brand of compassion? What about billionaire Michael Bloomberg though? The media mogul turned mayor is still much more popular than Limbaugh (though his poll numbers have fallen considerably since he passed the term limits extension bill) and is currently C.E.O. of the city that A.I.G. has gotten away with so much in. Well anyway, screw those millionaire executives, why would Bloomberg come to the defense of these economy-wrecking scourges of capitalism?

From The Daily Politics:

Mayor Bloomberg today came to the defense of the public enemy du jour - the bailout cash bonus recipients - saying he disagrees with the push to publicize the names of financial sector executives who received taxpayer-funded salary sweeteners.

"Generally speaking, if you work in the private sector, I don't think your salaries and bonuses should be in the public domain," the mayor said during a Q&A with reporters, including the DN's Kate Lucadamo, that followed his visit to a retraining session employees of Rucci Oil Company in Port Richmond, Staten Island, where he was highlighting the city's efforts to help small businesses.

"If you are the heads of companies, there are laws that the top 10 executives or whatever have to be in the annual report and that is fine. The stockholders have a right to know but as you go down, people want to have their privacy. I don't think you'd wanting somebody snooping around in your private life."

This of course is in response to Attorney General Cuomo's successful court action to make the executives' names public. What Bloomberg fails to recognize is that A.I.G. is no longer a private company. If they were, they'd have either not gotten themselves into this mess or if we had free markets, they'd be a part of economic history. Now they belong (80% of the company give or take) to the American taxpayer and if we want to see their records, we better damn well have access. If they want our money, they'll learn how to be accountable, even if Congress doesn't is doing this primarily for grandstanding-purposes only.

Unfortunately, Bloomberg doesn't seem to get that, nor the animosity that most New Yorkers and Americans as a whole have towards these greedy schmucks. Perhaps in the rarified air that Mike breathes it is no big deal that the rich make themselves richer at the taxpayers' expense, but down here on Earth it is a tremendous problem that the public wants rectified.

Oh By The Way, The War In Iraq Turned Six Today

On this day six years ago, then-President Bush lied the country into occupying Iraq and leaving us with enormous costs in blood and treasure. Then there is the untold damage done to Iraq for this action. The millions who protested the war were mostly ignored, certainly by George Bush and in general by the media. I guess then it should be no surprise that on the sixth anniversary of our this particular national debacle the media will conveniently forget to mention its' passing.

From ThinkProgress:

Today marks six years since former President Bush launched the invasion of Iraq — a preventive war of choice based on “intelligence fixed around the policy.” Since that time, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, over 4,000 U.S. servicemen and women and hundreds more from coalition countries have died (tens of thousands more physically and mentally wounded), nearly 100,000 (or more) Iraqi civilians have parished and nearly 5 million have been displaced. Yet the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, and many other major American newspapers are ignoring the anniversary today. Only USA Today printed a story noting the anniversary of the invasion. Today’s Progress Report has more on the good, the bad, and the ugly of developments surrounding the Iraq war over the last year.
To be fair, a ThinkProgress reader noted the Washington Post mentioned it this past weekend, but by and large the traditional media is silent on the matter. Charlie Rose had Condoleeza Rice on the show yesterday to talk about it, but she was allowed to lie about how the whole affair had started. It'll be interesting to see in ten or twenty years how the public will view the war in hindsight (granted that we are finally out of there by then), especially since we have a media that is so willing to forget about the death and destruction we caused the Iraqi people and ourselves for the last six years.

Murphy Slams Tedisco For Not Supporting The Stimulus

It took an entire month for Jim Tedisco to take a stand on Obama's stimulus bill. Sadly, that position is one that goes against creating jobs in upstate New York. Scott Murphy seized on Tedisco's statement and is exposing him for the failed Republican ideas (or lack there of) that Jimmy has wedded himself to.

As State Senate Stalls, M.T.A. Gets Ready To Increase The Fare

In less than a week, New Yorkers could be facing the hard reality of a $2.50 fare and a monthly Metrocard of over a hundred dollars. The doomsday budget scenario is getting too close for comfort and while blame can be assigned all around, the majority of it belongs to the State Senate.

For months now, we've known that this problem has been coming. The M.T.A., as ethically flawed as they are (or as we think), has been warning us of their budget deficit for some time. Governor Paterson, as imperfect as he is, managed to call up Richard Ravitch to come up with a sensible plan. Then Sheldon "shrouded in secrecy" Silver signed up for Ravitch's solution more or less, accepting the ideas of tolls on the bridges that connect his district to Brooklyn. These quid pro quo'ers were aware enough to realize the gravity of the situation, but the State Senate is woefully behind.

Two weeks before the proposed fare hike, Majority Leader Smith questioned the M.T.A.'s deadline and was rightly admonished for it. This week, with a week to go, he came up with a half-assed plan that made absolutely no sense and angered everyone else in this state that is trying to come up with a feasible solution. The only people he has appeased are stooges like these guys. If Smith would stand up straight and act in accordance with his official title, he'd get those "Democrats" in his caucus to behave and go along with at least something that resembles the Ravitch Commission's proposal.

As for the complaints about the tolls, drivers that live in Monserrate, Kruger, Diaz and Espada's districts will be worse off when a reduced mass transit system adds more cars to roads and highways that are already clogged. These egotisitical senators must realize that our transit problem does not only happen to their particular district, it is a city-wide problem that has to be addressed as such. If they aren't willing to comprehend that, then Smith has the moral responsibility to ensure that all members in his caucus either get with it, or get booted altogether.

Bloomberg Won't Leave NY With A Fair Tax And Neither Will His Rich Friends

Mayor Bloomberg and all the other wealthy people in this state are not going to get up and leave if we make the state income tax progressive. Raising the rate for those that earn in the top 3-4% is not going to cause a mass exodus of the elite class and they know it. However, Mayor Bloomberg continues to make that fearmongering argument and so do his not-as-rich apologist allies like Governor Paterson and Majority Leader Smith. It is time to let that talking point go, and allow the rich to pay their fair share of this budget deficit. Simply put, the facts on the ground do not match the political rhetoric we hear from the mayor and the governor.

From The NY Times:

“At the level we’re talking about, there’s no quantitative evidence that it affects the mobility decisions of affluent taxpayers,” said Douglas S. Massey, a demographer at Princeton University and president of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Pressured by enormous budget deficits, officials in Illinois, Hawaii, Wisconsin and New Jersey are considering new taxes on the rich. Lawmakers in Albany have discussed several proposals, including increases for those earning more than $250,000.

But even experts who oppose such taxes on other grounds — out of fear that they will retard economic growth and innovation, or encourage lawmakers to indulge in bouts of new spending — concede that there is not much evidence that raising taxes on the wealthy would drive out a significant number.
For example, one state that has raised taxes on the rich has been the very-affluent New Jersey. Let's see what has been going on there shall we?

New Jersey raised taxes on the wealthy in 2004, increasing by 2.6 percent the tax rate levied on those making more than $500,000 a year; and Gov. Jon S. Corzine this month proposed a new increase on high earners.

But a study by Professor Massey and two colleagues, published in September, estimated that the previous tax increase cost New Jersey only 50 to 350 existing “half-millionaire” households — a relatively small number against the total of 44,000 such households in the state.
And the benefits in terms of revenue have netted the Garden State more than $850 million a year.

The reality is that if any class is leaving the city in droves, it is the working class. Studies have shown that those that earn around the median salary or below are moving outside the city so they can afford a livelihood. The fair share plan will help stem that tide by shifting the economic burden so that it isn't completely laid on the backs of the poor.

Cenk Uyugr Rips Rush For Being An AIG Apologist

It isn't news that Rush Limbaugh is a scumbag, but the audacity he has to defend the bonuses given to A.I.G.'s already-wealthy traders who destroyed their company is just beyond ridiculousness. Cenk rightly calls him on it:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Picking Up Where Dr. King Left Off

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an incredible symbol of the civil rights era and who's life was cut far too short. At the end of his life, he was transforming his message from one about race to one about class. Unfortunately, much of that mission to eradicate poverty was put on hold for the "great conservative movement" in the 1970s, 80s, 90s...basically up until now. Thankfully, the newest leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Council is determined to start a true Poor People's Campaign.

From Yahoo News:

ATLANTA – The Southern Christian Leadership Conference hopes to mobilize 50,000 people in the Mississippi Delta this summer in a campaign to draw attention to the poverty of a region where some Americans still live in homes with dirt floors and brown water flows from their faucets.

The effort is much like the one envisioned by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was planning a Poor People's Campaign and march on Washington before he was assasinated in 1968.

SCLC Interim President Byron Clay announced the initiative in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. He said the efforts would be centered not on the nation's capital, but in towns along the soil-rich, resource-poor Delta region.

"We will bring this nation face to face with poverty," Clay said. "We are organizing poor people of all colors, to form the kind of beloved community that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about."

Hopefully Clay is serious about this, because a movement for the people in the Mississippi Delta region is seriously needed. The event is only scheduled for three days in June but the effects must be transformational. The SCLC's once prominent influence has been sorely missed and it is about time they return. Religious groups have been all about restricting rights and not focusing on core "Christian" values, such as ending poverty and hunger.

Lobbyist Industry Still Booming In Albany

Times are tough now for many New Yorkers, but not for the lobbyists that work in and around the state capitol. Despite this recession-depression, the money keeps coming in for our politicians' campaign coffers. That goes double (to say the least) for those who hold the power.

From The Times-Union:

A New York Public Interest Research Groups study shows ticket prices paid to attend political fundraisers by those seeking to influence lawmakers so far hasn't taken a hit in the recession.

At the top of the list released Tuesday is new Senate Majority Malcolm Smith. The Queens Democrat charged up to $25,000 a ticket for a Jan. 26 fundraiser at a trendy downtown Albany restaurant.

At the bottom are minority party lawmakers like Assembly Republican leader and congressional candidate James Tedisco. He charged just $50 a ticket for a fundraiser Saturday at the same restaurant. "At least something is working in Albany," said Blair Horner, NYPIRG's legislative director. "These are fundraising sessions, not legislative sessions."
Whatever you want to call these parties, it is prime-time for lobbyists looking to do their clients' bidding with those that hold power in Albany. When someone is paying $25,000 for a ticket for access to Malcolm Smith, there has to be a nice return for the people that he listens to. Perhaps that's why it is so hard to get the support for the Fair Share Plan as well as real reform in the capitol.

What we need is to put an end to these fundraisers that only afford access to the wealthy few. Instead of $25,000, we need a more equalizing dollar amount, like $5 or $10. If Arizona, Maine and a few other states can have clean elections, then so should New York.

Ancient Greek Philosopher Descends On Albany

This video comes from Jimmy Vielkind at the Politicker:

I guess if the good government groups haven't made much headway in reforming Albany as of yet, why not give Randy CredicoDiogenes a shot.

W.F.P. Dares Albany To Take On A.I.G.

Despite the half-hearted efforts of A.I.G. head Ed Liddy to return some of the bonus money, there will still be taxpayer funds used to make wealthy traders richer. Congress and Barack Obama have delivered a lot of tough talk, but so far they have not done all that they can to stamp out A.I.G.'s greed. So here's an idea care of Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party, have Albany tax every dime out of those bonuses.

From PolitickerNY:

The Working Families Party called today for a 100% state tax on the $165 million in announced bonuses at insurance giant AIG.

"If Washington can't find a way to get this money back, Albany should," said Dan Cantor, Working Families Party Executive Director. "The same people who helped wreck the economy are taking home millions in taxpayer-funded bonuses while classrooms, hospitals and homeless shelters here in New York face billions in cuts. It's disgusting in the extreme. AIG got its bailout. When will working families see theirs?"

Cantor continued: "Opponents of Fair Share Tax Reform like to talk about how much the rich have suffered from the economic downturn. But the real pain of this recession is being felt by millions of hardworking New Yorkers who bear no responsibility for the financial shenanigans that got us into this mess."

"The Governor proposes to balance the New York's budget through devastating cuts that would place the burden almost entirely on the backs of working families. Taxing AIG bonuses and asking those who can afford it to pay a little more in taxes is a far better solution."

Amen Dan! New York needs every spare penny we can find to help balance the budget this year. Further, not only should these bonuses be taken away, the entire wealthy class should be made to pay their fair share. I know Majority Leader Smith and Governor Paterson are sick of hearing about the Fair Share Plan, but until they approve it the working class will continue to fight tooth and nail for it.

Democratic State Senate Staff Gets Hefty Pay Raise

While the terms of bailing out the M.T.A. are a major struggle for the State Senate, there is one thing the new majority can agree on, pay raises. The leadership had approved hundreds of thousands in raises at a time in our state's economy that sounds rather selfish and hypocritical with the amount of cuts that will be made in this year's budget.

From NY1:

To the victors go the spoils. Fresh from ousting Republicans from more than 40 years of state senate control, Democrats have dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars in raises to select staffers, even amid a fiscal crisis expected to require tax hikes and deep spending cuts.

A NY1 investigation found about three dozen aides saw their salaries grow in the past three months.

Among the aides is the deputy chief of staff for Nassau Senator Craig Johnson, whose salary climbed 63 percent, from $47,500 in 2008 to $77,500 this year.

The chief of staff for Bronx Senator Jeff Klein saw his wages grow by 36 percent, from $55,000 in 2008 to $75,000 this year. Four other people in Klein's office saw salary increases, but their positions stayed the same.

I guess it was to be expected, the Dems got in power and now it's time to get paid. Their excuse though is a 'noble' one, in that with more responsibility comes higher benefits:

With their new majority, Democratic lawmakers say they and their staffs have gained new responsibilities. Johnson became a committee chairman and Klein has become the Senate's deputy majority leader.

"Remember, staff don't get paid for a Saturday and Sunday and overtime," said Senator Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. "So even a salary bump, if you had to pay them by the hour, they're being paid a whole lot less than what they're worth in terms of the time that they're putting in."

Aww, that is too bad. I'm sure that the tens of thousands of recently unemployed New Yorkers sympathize with those poor staffers. Now it must be mentioned that Republicans had also been paying their staffers the same hefty salaries but I thought we were supposed to be reforming the Legislature and setting an example. Following the lead of Bruno and Skelos was not supposed to be a part of the plan. As for the reduction in the Senate's overall budget by 10%, that remains to be accomplished as of yet.

Hagel Calls Cheney's Fearmongering Against Obama Ridiculous

Rachel Maddow had Chuck Hagel on last night to talk about Cheney's interview this past weekend. Hagel soundly rejects Cheney's assertions that Obama is making us less safe and calls it "folly" and is sorry the ex-V.P. even opened his mouth.

"Go Magazine" Adds Their Name To Yetta Kurland's Endorsement List

Christine Quinn has been trying her hardest to look like a tough, independent Council Speaker lately. Her decision to skip the St. Patrick's Day parade yesterday and lobby Albany for education dollars was made to look good for the press. Ever since she helped pass the term limits extension bill, she's tried to look like the reformer she once was. Unfortunately for Quinn, many in the 3rd Council District see otherwise and understand that it is time for a change in representation. The NY Blade certainly saw through Quinn's populist facade by endorsing Yetta Kurland and now so does Go Magazine:

Previously, under the term limits twice approved by the city’s voters, elected officials could only serve two consecutive terms in an office. But thanks to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial proposal to extend term limits, which the City Council passed in the fall, he and many other powerful incumbents will be asking New Yorkers once again to re-elect them to their seats.

That turn of events is just one reason why it is time for the city’s residents to look carefully, and consider a new candidate unencumbered by tired old debates, someone who boldly presents ideas for the future.

Yetta Kurland is that candidate for City Council District 3. A resident of the district for nearly 15 years, she understands the issues facing the community she aspires to represent. “I have fought my whole life to work to empower those around me to be able to be themselves and to express themselves, and I will continue to do so as the next City Council Member for the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen,” says Kurland. She may be a newcomer to elected office, but she is no stranger to the political life of New York City, and to urgent items on the agenda, such as civil rights, education and development.
While Quinn may be sitting pretty now as the all-powerful Speaker of the Council, the people of her district are not. Quinn has angered many New Yorkers by selfishly backing Bloomberg's term limit extension legislation. For that, we already have two major community publications calling for Quinn to be voted out and replaced by someone that truly cares for the district and not the real estate and development industries that wish to reshape it.

Dana Perino's "Middle Class" Makes Millions

At the end of the Bush days, it was always amusing to watch Dana Perino in action as White House Press Secretary. The way she tried covering for ex-President Bush made her look like a vapid idiot. With Robert Gibbs running the show in the press office now, I wondered what Ms. Perino has been up to. Well wonder no more, she was on C-Span this past weekend defending the "middle class" who work at A.I.G.

From ThinkProgress:

On C-Span’s Washington Journal on Sunday, Perino defended the bonuses:

PERINO: And the people who are working there that are middle-class people, are expecting to get this bonus. If they do not get it, maybe they won’t be motivated enough to try to help the company turn around and getting the company to turn around and be more profitable is important for all of us.

Perino then chastised the “rhetoric in Washington” that “can try to make things so black and white, and make things sound so easy — demonize people when I don’t think that that’s fair.”

Oh no, it isn't fair to demonize people. We wouldn't want to express national outrage at millionaires who are getting million dollar bonuses in the hope that they stay at A.I.G. after aleady running the insurance giant into the ground, right? Why, after throwing $170 billion in taxpayer money at the company, should people be red in the face, especially when many of those that were paid retention bonuses left their jobs anyways? When the pitchfork mobs start forming, I certainly hope she hides herself for safety's sake....she could start by staying away from C-Span and all things punditry.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thompson Calls Justice Dept Decision "Stunning And Disappointing"

All the principal players have had something to say about the Justice Department's decision to uphold the Mayor and Council's term limit extension law. One of those happen to be Mayor Bloomberg's primary opponent, NYC Comptroller candidate Bill Thompson.

It's great to see him talk about the issue, but this press conference will not persuade the Justice Department to change their ruling. If Thompson wants to be the one that ousts Bloomberg, he needs to start talking about his vision for New York and what he intends to do for the people that Bloomberg can't or won't accomplish.

Obama Calls For A Ceasefire In War On Drugs

Could it be, that after decades of wasted manpower, money and lives destroyed that the U.S. will plot a new course in dealing with our national drug problem? Obama promised change and in under two months he has done a lot, but the war on drugs? Can that really be turned around? Well, Obama is going to give it a try.

From The Guardian:

The Obama administration signalled today that it was ready to repudiate the prohibition and "war on drugs" approach of previous presidents, and steer policy towards prevention and "harm reduction" strategies favoured by Europe.

David Johnson, an assistant secretary of state, said the new administration would embrace policies supporting federally funded needle exchanges. The aim, he said, was to establish a policy based on public health needs. "This will result in a policy that is broader and stronger than the one we had in the past," Johnson said on the sidelines of a UN drug strategy conference in Vienna.

His words come days after the nomination of the Seattle police chief, Gil Kerlikowske, to the post of director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the nation's drug czar. Kerlikowske has built a reputation in Seattle for pursuing drug policies based on harm reduction. The state has an established needle exchange programme, has legalised marijuana for medicinal purposes and has made marijuana among the lowest priorities for law enforcement.

Smart actions followed by smart words, now that is the President that I voted for. Our country has caused untold damage in Latin America fighting this "war" with no real effect here at home. Finally, we might just begin to treat the problem where it needs treating and from an economic standpoint, cutting the demand with treatment centers will ultimately help lessen the supply.

Obama's Justice Dept. Gives Bloomberg A Pass

Not that I was counting on the Justice Department to stop the legally dubious extension of term limits, but it was still disheartening to see their decision in favor of Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor and Council deliberately went around the will of the people this past October/November and extended term limits despite two separate ballot decisions that put those limits in place. Plenty of challenges were made to the change in the law, but nearly all have failed, as far as the courts and now the Attorney General are concerned.

From The Daily Politics:

It now appears that there are only two possible bumps remaining between the mayor and completely smooth sailing to the fall elections - and both of them are longshots: The term limits lawsuit (now on appeal) and legislation that is moving, albeit slowly, in both houses of the state Legislature that would require another public referendum on the term limits change.

Here's the text:

This refers to Local Law No. 51 (2008), which amends Sections 1137 and 1138 of the city charter as they relate to term limits for the offices of city councilmembers, mayor and other elected officials in the City of New York in Bronx, Kings, and New York Counties, New York, submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C 1973c. We received your submission January 16, 2009; supplemental information was received on February 26, 2009."

The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes. However, we note that Section 5 expressly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin the forcement of the changes. Procedures for the Administration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (28 C.F.R. 51.41).


Christopher Coates
Chief, Voting Section

I had discussed the matter with a friend who is knowledgeable in civil rights law to get a take on how this would play out. Basically, this was to be expected because rarely will the Justice Department overturn a bill passed by a City Council. Unless the action of the local government is so egregious in its' violation of the Voting Rights Act, the likelihood of interference is nil. Despite the (obvious and) implicit effect on the rights of minorities here, there is nothing in the bill's language that directly impacts their ability to vote fairly.

This attitude will likely be held by the whole of the State Legislature as well. For a state law that trumps city law would also step on the toes of the locality. Even though the bills in Albany to overturn Local Law 51 have made some progress, the possibility of them making it to the floor and passing is slim to none.

So what does this all mean? Basically, if we want to punish Bloomberg, Quinn and the other 28 Council Members for extending term limits, we need to vote them out in the upcoming primary and general elections. Bloomberg, being as out of touch as he is, thinks that people will forget the undemocratic political maneuver. However, as long as we get out there and fight for change in this city, we'll kick Bloomberg to the curb, where he belongs.

Despite Gov. Sanford, South Carolina Wants Their Stimulus Money

Mayor Jackson of Allendale, SC would love to put some of his town's residents back to work with stimulus funds. However, Governor Sanford refuses to accept the federal money for political reasons. Apparently appeasing the rabid GOP base to boost his Presidential chances in 2012 is more important than the welfare of the people in his state.

GOP Filibuster Hypocrisy Alert

You gotta love the outright brazenness of the Republican party these days. It was bad enough when they were in power, but now as an increasingly irrelevant minority their demands know no bounds. Their latest temper tantrum is over judicial nominees and they want Barack Obama to know about it. According to a letter signed by all 41 in the GOP caucus, they have committed to using the filibuster if they do not get to "consult" the President about who gets nominated for such positions as Supreme Court justice. Of course, just a few years ago they were threatening to do away with the filibuster altogether.

From The Washington Times:

It also required that some senators go back on their previous positions, but Republicans said it’s more important that Democrats, not Republicans, be consistent.

“We’re not asking Leahy to follow the Hatch position; we’re asking Leahy to follow the Leahy rule,” said a senior Republican Senate official involved with judicial nominations. “Senator Hatch isn’t chairman now, and he wasn’t chairman for the last couple Congresses.”
Clearly, the "P" in GOP does not stand for "principles." I can't wait for next year and their caucus loses another few members. Then they can threaten to filibuster all they want, it won't amount to a hill of beans. Then again, they'll probably complain and demand the Majority Leader lower the filibuster bar to thirty-five or thirty senators.

Un-Whole-ly Foods

Their food is great but still ridiculously overpriced and a perfect fit in New York City. Whole Foods has boomed in our town and in other wealthy areas across the country. Yet the chain is still cutting corners where it can and in the most devious of ways. Down at the Union Square store, ex-employee Ralph Reese found out just how heartless they can be.

From the NYT Cityroom:

Whole Foods fired Ralph Reese for taking a tuna fish sandwich. But was it misconduct? It is a question that matters. Anyone fired for misconduct is denied unemployment benefits.

Whole Foods argued that Mr. Reese, 57, of Queens, tried to steal a sandwich by taking it from the trash at the end of his shift as a deli clerk at the Union Square Whole Foods on Nov. 9. The company’s policy is that food cannot be taken without being paid for, though employees receive a 20 percent discount.
Yet it doesn't end there. Thankfully the judge listened to Mr. Reese, who did not actually eat the sandwich and called the matter a "moment of poor judgment," thereby restoring his access to unemployment benefits.

Despite the minute details that allowed him to get the benefits, the real problem lies with Whole Foods and their idiotic policy of not allowing their employees to take what's going to be thrown in the trash. If something is going to be tossed anyways, give it to the people like Reese, who was making a measly $11.50 an hour. Further, this petty way of "laying people off" and denying them benefits is simply cruel. This is where workers would benefit from the Employee Free Choice Act, so that more workers can unionize and strike companies that treat their employees so poorly.

Tedisco's Latest Ad Goes Positive, Quotes Obama

Jim Tedisco's campaign realized that after a month of being slammed and seeing their lead over Scott Murphy evaporate, that they better change their tune. I expected something different for his latest ad, but this one goes all out, with a "Jobs Plan" and an appeal for bipartisanship by quoting President Obama. Tedisco has to be extremely worried about his chances when he has to run away from the GOP name in a district that is still chock full of Republicans.

There's More To AIG Than Their Bonuses

The story that (thankfully) won't stop about AIG's $165 million in bonuses has provided another shock to an already repulsed nation. As the media holds on to it, politicians from the President on down are expressing their outrage at the situation. How dare they take those bonuses! The gall! The audacity! The....oh come on now, we knew that they'd go ahead and further enrich themselves with the Fed's our money. If anything, our elected officials should have known this would have happened.

Actually they did:

Sherman told me in an interview today that the Treasury Department wouldn't have to be withholding $30 billion in aid from AIG until the company restructures its bonus payments, because Congress already had given Treasury the authority to prevent those bonuses from being paid.

Referring to the original bailout Congress passed in October, Sherman told me:

We had a provision in there that said Treasury was supposed to establish, by regulation, standards for executive compensation. We required that to be done -- had it been done, it would have been binding, whether [or not] these contracts had been signed earlier. It's entirely within the power of the federal government to have contracts modified [at companies receiving public aid]. Nixon had contracts modified by the federal government. We gave a similar power to Treasury.
Oh but wait you say, in October Bernanke and Hank Paulson were in charge, why would this be anyone but Bush's problem? Well, Geithner and Summers were a problem back then and they still are now. The decisions they make are at odds with what Obama says in front of the cameras and empathize with the traders, not the American people who were bludgeoned by the greed of Wall Street.

It's great that we have people like Cuomo that want to go after these financiers for their bonuses, but we still need to address the systemic problems such as Obama's conservative choices when it comes to dealing with the financial industry. The hard truth is, we still need the change Obama promised as far as Wall Street goes. Until proven wrong, I still see Geithner as part of the problem, not the solution.

State Senate Compromises The MTA

Politics is all about compromises right? Well, "politics" is certainly underway in the State Senate, as Malcolm Smith's fractured caucus (with zero help from the other side of the aisle) has decided to go ahead with a Ravitch-lite plan that helps some of the MTA's ailments but certainly not all. If the Senate gets its' way, this bill would do nothing but put a band-aid on a gunshot wound.

From The NY Times:

The Senate proposal, which was presented privately to Democratic Senators on Monday afternoon, includes a 4 percent fare increase, half of what Mr. Ravitch had proposed. It would also impose a tax of 25 cents on every $100 of payroll on employers within the 12 counties served by the authority. That is significantly less than the 34 cents that Mr. Ravitch had proposed.

“The immediate impact would be, all service cuts are restored, fare increases would be cut in half, and there would be no tolls,” said one of the two people briefed on the plan.

Democratic staff members reviewed some of the authority’s finances in recent days and concluded that a scaled-back plan would suffice in the short term. But the Senate proposal would require the transportation authority to submit to a deeper forensic auditing, a step lawmakers from both parties have demanded as a condition of laying out more taxpayer money for the authority, long dogged by waste and corruption.
Well I certainly applaud the desire for transparency, though the demand comes from an institution that is deeply flawed in that department as well. If the Senate really wanted transparency out of the MTA, they should work hand in hand with the Authority so that they get the facts and figures they need. If the Senate wants transparency, then demand it here and now. Otherwise, this sounds more like a lame excuse more than anything.

What this short-term plan will do, according to MTA head Elliot Sander, is increase the debt load of the Authority and lead to more future problems. Also, as Mr. Ravitch says:

Mr. Ravitch has insisted that any short-term or stopgap solution would only exacerbate the authority’s fiscal woes and create a bigger budget hole next year. In an interview last week, Mr. Ravitch said that the defeat of his plan would be “disastrous to the economy and the people of the M.T.A. region.” Mr. Ravitch declined to comment Monday night on the Senate’s counterproposal, saying he did not know the details.
This is no time for stopgaps, if anything, we need government to help secure our mass transit future now instead of making the problem worse. If only Smith and the several other Dems had the courage to be leaders and do the best for all New Yorkers that use the MTA instead of what they think will get them re-elected in their districts next year. Then again, that would be expecting too much of Smith, Kruger and the rest of the stalwarts up in Albany.

Monday, March 16, 2009

DNC Highlights The Party Of "No"

How sad is it that a once proud GOP has disintegrated into an irrelevant party that does nothing but obstruct the progress that the Americans voters sought to implement this past November? Of course, the Republicans have done this to themselves, by working against the wishes of the American people for their own deluded ideas of partisanship. The DNC decided to help them and condense the GOP agenda into a 36 second advertisement for all to see:

Smith Decides To Get On The Ball For An MTA Bailout

Speaking of train service and mass transit, the fate of MTA's service and price of the fare hangs in the balance. The deadline according to the MTA officials is coming up a week from Wednesday and the State Senate has been dragging its' collective feet on bailing out the struggling transit authority. Last week Majority Leader Smith called the deadline "questionable" and accused them of holding us all hostage. Meanwhile everyone else was quite serious about implementing a bill similar to the Ravitch Commission's proposal and ensuring that the doomsday scenario does not occur. Smith looked foolish in the face of the seriousness of the matter, and now he's finally beginning to realize that.

From PolitickerNY:

ALBANY—After two weeks of public hemming and hawing on the issue of the M.T.A. bailout, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith says he will present a plan to members this afternoon to plug the M.T.A.'s deficit.

Sources involved in formulating plan with Senate leadership said that central staffers worked on the plan all weekend, and are trying to keep it as much under wraps as possible so as not to be co-opted by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver's position is on the table.

"All I'm going to say is that it's good and I think will work for everyone," one of the sources said.

The rest of the article gives a timeline of the MTA bailout battle and is great for anyone that hasn't been following a possible fare hike and simultaneous service cuts for our mass transit system.

As for Smith, he's doing the right thing by realizing that the deadline is a hard date that needs to be adhered to so that straphangers do not have to pay extra and lose service. Hemming and hawwing will not get you anywhere with voters when they start to suffer the effects of political inaction. And for the other Senators that tried to block a bailout bill for the MTA, shame on them as well. Grandstanding does nothing for New York and only a small boost for the politician's already over-inflated ego.

Amtrak A Big Winner With Obama

For years our nation's train system has languished with minimal support and easy access for people to use airlines. Now that the cost of flying has skyrocketed and the technology (and political will) for high-speed rail has finally come to America, funding for trains is now a reality. That doesn't mean just talk, it means a huge boost for Amtrak:

WASHINGTON - New England travelers should benefit from faster, more frequent and safer train travel with an extra $1.3 billion pumped into the long-struggling Amtrak, half of it directed to the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, the Obama administration announced yesterday.

Amtrak, never a favorite of the Bush administration or Republican Congresses, has struggled to retain critical federal subsidies in recent years. But the $787 billion stimulus package recently signed by President Obama will allow the system to renovate trains and stations, improve safety systems, and provide more passenger capacity, administration officials said.

"Amtrak has never been at the trough," said Vice President Joe Biden, rejecting the long-held conservative position that the nation's rail system is a money-losing series of pet projects.

High-speed rail is the key for our short to medium-distance trips. Creating high speed networks is the ideal as we go forward, but for now a large investment in Amtrak is a good start. It will definitely help travelers in the Northeast, but eventually we'll start looking a little more like Europe when it comes to train travel. And no, that isn't a bad thing at all.

Thompson Talks Term Limits

Thompson stood with Randy Mastro and others to protest Bloomberg's term limit extension law today on the steps of City Hall. They believe the change instituted by the Mayor and Council is discriminatory in nature and should be struck down by the Department of Justice.

Thanks to the ever-intrepid Azi Paybarah of the Observer/PolitickerNY, we have it on tape:

Can Congress Get Our Money Back From AIG?

The news over the weekend about AIG and their hundreds of millions in bonuses have pissed a lot people off, including those in Congress. People like Barney Frank want the taxpayer dollars given back and it appears that Speaker Pelosi wants to get involved too.

From The Gavel:

While American workers see their wages decline and face record job losses, it is unconscionable that AIG, which is receiving more than $170 billion in government assistance, would permit such extravagant executive compensation practices without any accountability to the taxpayer.

I have asked Chairman Barney Frank of the House Financial Services Committee to examine options that are legally available to recover taxpayer funds of companies that abuse the privilege of taxpayer assistance.

I call upon the executives at AIG to right the wrong they have done to American taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the most expensive government rescue in history. They should renounce the bonuses and refuse the excessive retention pay they previously agreed to.

Congress, working with the Obama Administration, has put in place tough executive compensation and responsibility measures to ensure that taxpayers are protected and we will continue to take all action necessary to ensure transparency and accountability.

That sounds great, but examining what to do and actually doing it are two totally separate things. Congress has issued many strongly worded statements before with little punch behind them. For too long the Legislature has been great at handing out large sums of money (whether as tax cuts for the rich or blocks of money known as "bailouts" and "rescue packages"). When it comes to watching what happens with that money and making sure it is effective is another matter. AIG isn't going to part with our billions easily, so Congress must act forcefully...and not just on the Speaker's letterhead.

Bloomberg Still Waiting On Justice Dept's O.K.

Mayor Bloomberg is already spending millions on his re-election campaign, yet it could all be for naught. The Justice Department has yet to make a decision to allow the term limits extension to go through. The courts have given him a pass, thanks to Christine Quinn the Council let it pass but it must check out with the Voting Rights Act first and the deadline is tomorrow.

From The NY Daily News:

The Department of Justice's section for voting rights must decide by Tuesday whether the October term limits extension will hurt minority voters.

If it does, every two-term incumbent in the November elections would be suddenly ineligible - sending Bloomberg and a boatload of other politicians on a retirement cruise.

The city Law Department filed 1,789 pages with Justice to make sure that doesn't happen, saying that "term limits by definition affect all candidates and their constituencies in precisely the same manner" without any racial overtones.

Norman Siegel and Randy Mastro - lawyers on the other side of the issue - sent their own sheaf of paper to Justice pointing out what should be glaringly obvious to anyone who looks at the City Council: Without term limits, incumbents stay in their seats.

"Since 1993, no minority candidate has ever unseated a white incumbent for any municipal office in New York City," Mastro said. "It's a textbook case of a civil rights violation."

While the Bush Administration's DoJ would haven't thought twice about giving Bloomberg his chance to hold onto power, the Obama Administration might have other ideas. They may also listen to several local Democratic Members of Congress who have voiced their own concerns about the Mayor and Council's term limit extension. Ultimately though, it comes down to whether the city's law violates the Voting Rights Act and as long as the DoJ analyzes the situation, they'll quash Bloomberg's (and many incumbent City Council Members) third term ambitions.

Jim Tedisco Takes NY For A Wild Ride

Jimmy T's "wild ride" refers to his penchant for charging taxpayers thousands of dollars to drive to work when the Legislatue is in session, even though without traffic he can make it to the Capitol in under half an hour. This news came out a while back, but it is never too late to reiterate what type of politician Jim Tedisco is...the self-serving kind.

"Unity '09" Seeks To Strengthen The Left And Obama

This could be Bill O'Reilly's worst nightmare, where progressive groups come together to strengthen the mission of the Obama Administration. Freedom of Assembly for anyone other than an officially sanctioned Bill O'Reilly group is treasonous in his eye but for the rest of us it could mean huge leaps forward for our country. For far too long Democratically-minded groups have slugged it out alone without much cohesion. This might be the end of that "strategy."

From Yahoo News:

The online-based is a central player in the nascent organization, but other groups involved in planning Unity '09 span a broad spectrum of interests, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Council of La Raza to Planned Parenthood, as well as labor unions and environmental groups.[...]

Unity '09 comes at a time of increasing coordination on the left, including an effort this week by the Democratic National Committee, Obama's grassroots network and other groups to defend Obama's budget and attack the GOP as obstructionists.

But Unity '09 is setting a broader, and longer-term agenda, aiming to exert grassroots pressure on lawmakers in their home states over the next several years on the entire spectrum of political issues.

"When progressive activists are working in concert and the right is forming a circular firing squad, you know it's a new day," said consultant Paul Begala, who said he's not involved in the new organization.

I couldn't agree with Begala more on this. The power of our ideas and creativity combined is an extremely potent force. As the Republicans struggle to find relevancy these days, the importance of building a dominating coalition of progressive groups can not be stressed enough. At one time the conservative movement had a well-oiled machine going and they were able to make our country regress by several decades. Now that America has seen their ideas fail in spectacular fashion, it is time to propel the country back into the present-day and beyond.

NY Senate Considers Some Form Of Fair Share Tax Reform

Could it be that a massive union demonstration around City Hall two weeks ago paid off? The protesters were looking for the state government to have the wealthy to pay their fair share of NY's massive budget deficit. Majority Leader Smith on the other hand, wanted to focus on spending cuts alone. Yet now after considerable pressure, he looks like he's ready to budge at least somewhat.

From The NY Times:

ALBANY — Democratic leaders in the State Senate will seek income tax increases on at least some affluent New Yorkers and a sales tax increase of a quarter of 1 percent to help balance the state budget, a Senate official with knowledge of the plans said in an interview over the weekend.
Now that's good news, but how serious are they about it?

“The Senate is signaling that it needs to balance the budget in a balanced way, meaning smart cuts and fair taxes,” Mr. Cantor said.

The Senate official also said that the Democratic majority, led by Malcolm A. Smith, would resist some other key parts of Mr. Paterson’s executive budget, including a proposal to raise the state tax on income earned by hospitals, known as the gross receipts tax, and a plan to merge the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation into the Empire State Development Corporation, the state’s main economic development agency.

The Senate’s forthcoming proposal will serve as a framework for negotiations among Mr. Paterson, Mr. Silver and Mr. Smith.
And that is the key, the framework that is set when Paterson, Smith and Silver come to the that room. If Smith and Silver are already willing and able to raise taxes on the wealthy, it'll be extremely difficult for Paterson, as unpopular as he is already, to resist the groundswell for this effort.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jim Cramer Uses Cheap Trick To Dodge Discussion Of His Daily Show Interview

After the pounding that Jon Stewart gave to Jim Cramer this past Thursday night, is it any surprise to see Jim Cramer do this on his next show:

Yeah, cute move Jim, too bad you aren't man enough to address what really went down with your own audience.

Yassky Caught With Hand In DiBrienza's Filthy Cookie Jar

The story that has come out concerning ex-Councilman and current Council candidate Steve DiBrienza has the guy in so much hot water, he may just cut his candidacy short. DiBrienza's dubious non-profit did not only help DiBrienza, his wife and his former staffers though. It turns out with all that money coming from the city (see: taxpayer expense) it wasn't only him that was cashing in. Quinn's knowledge of the matter seems likely, but what about current City Councilman and NYC Comptroller candidate David Yassky?

From The Daily Gotham:

The Brooklyn Paper has picked up on this Yassky-DiBrienza connection, though they discuss Yassky giving $15,000, probably a more accurate figure. But they also pinpoint the reason for Yassky's pandering to DiBrienza with taxpayer money: payback for an endorsement. From the Brooklyn Paper:

Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights), for example, requested $15,000 for DiBrienza’s group right after DiBrienza endorsed him for Congress in 2006.

Yassky told The Brooklyn Paper that this out-of-district donation to DiBrienza’s group was not a kickback or a quid-pro-quo, but voters will certainly raise their eyebrows.

Now Yassky funneled city money to DiBrienza right after DiBrienza endorsed him for his failed bid for Congress in 2006. Yet it isn't payback, according to Yassky. Problem is, this isn't the only time something like this happened. I wrote back in 2006 about another case of Yassky proposing city money right after getting an endorsement.
Now why in the hell would New Yorkers want a comptroller like that? Now I know the definition of comptroller but with Yassky's record (also see: term limits), putting him in that position makes absolutely no sense. Yassky has shown himself to be just as tainted as the rest of Quinn's ethically-questionable brood...and deserves neither Council nor Comptroller seat.