Saturday, May 09, 2009

Obama Uses Weekly Address To Slam Credit Card Industry

The President's address this morning not only lambasted the slimy practices of the credit card industry, he also challenged the Senate to step up and legislate them into treating credit card holders with respect and fairness with a wide range of reforms.

Bloomberg Starts Charging Rent To The Homeless

I could hardly believe the headline, that the Mayor would want to charge the homeless who have gotten jobs and live in shelters, it sounded too perverse, even for me. Yet that is exactly what the Bloomberg Administration started doing this past week.

Imagine being homeless, out on the streets with almost nowhere to turn. Then you manage to get one of those rare openings in one of the city's shelters. With that ounce of stability, in these tough times you also manage to get a job. Then the shelter, under Bloomberg's directive, orders you to pay them up to half of your wages. Feeling hurt? Angry? Whatever your emotion, there is definitely something wrong here.

From The NY Times:

Vanessa Dacosta, who earns $8.40 an hour as a cashier at Sbarro, received a notice under her door several weeks ago informing her that she had to give $336 of her approximately $800 per month in wages to the Clinton Family Inn, a shelter in Hell’s Kitchen where she has lived since March.

“It’s not right,” said Ms. Dacosta, a single mother of a 2-year-old who said she spends nearly $100 a week on child care. “I pay my baby sitter, I buy diapers, and I’m trying to save money so I can get out of here. I don’t want to be in the shelter forever.”
So what's the reasoning behind this?

City officials said the new rent requirement had been in the works since a 2007 state audit that forced them to pay back $2.4 million in state housing aid that should have been covered by homeless families with income. They argued that homeless people with income should be expected to pay for a portion of their shelter costs, a model that echoes the federal Section 8 housing voucher program.

“I think it’s hard to argue that families that can contribute to their shelter cost shouldn’t,” Robert V. Hess, the city’s commissioner of homeless services, said in a telephone interview Friday. “I don’t see this playing out in an adverse way. Our objective is not for families to remain in shelter. Ourobjective is to move families back into their own homes and into the community.”
Oh, well if the state says so, then we must make the homeless shoulder that $2.4 million dollars right?

But advocates for the homeless said the new policy was punitive and counterproductive, and some shelter residents, in protest, have already refused to sign the documents acknowledging receipt of the rent notifications.

“Families have been told to pay up or get out,” said Steven Banks, the attorney in chief for the Legal Aid Society. “The policy is poorly conceived, but even more alarmingly, it’s being poorly executed. What is happening is that we have seen cases of families being unilaterally told, without any notice of how the rent was calculated, that they must pay certain amounts of rent or leave the shelter. We’ve already had a case of a survivor of domestic violence who was actually locked out of her room.”

Banks is right, this is a bad policy and one that is being poorly enforced. $2.4 million dollars to the city and $2.4 million to a group of people struggling to become productive members of society is not even close to being comparable. It is even worse that a twelve-year old rule has begun to be enforced in such devastating economic times. Seriously, have a heart Mayor (or buy one) and stop punishing the homeless, especially those that are trying so hard not to be living on the streets or in a shelter.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Coal Ash Isn't Just A Tennessee Problem

Back when most of us were rushing to do last minute holiday shopping this past Christmas, a break in a coal slurry dam resulted in millions of cubic gallons of coal ash spilling out, injuring several and devastating a large area in Tennessee. Public officials and most of the media helped to tamp down the story from becoming much of a sensation, but the damage still remains. What's worse, the Bush Administration suppressed a report concerning elevated cancer risks in the area. Now that Obama is in office we at least get to see that report, but the effects of coal ash reach much further than Tennessee.

From McClatchy DC:

WASHINGTON — People in 34 states who live near 210 coal ash lagoons or landfills with inadequate lining have a higher risk of cancer and other diseases from contaminants in their drinking water, two environmental groups reported on Thursday.

Twenty-one states have five or more of the high-risk disposal sites near coal-fired power plants. The groups -- the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice -- said that a 2002 Environmental Protection Agency document that the agency didn't release until March of this year adds information about toxic releases from these facilities to nearby water systems and data on how some contaminants accumulate in fish and deer and can harm the health of people who hunt and fish.

The report said that people who live near the most problematic disposal sites have as much as a 1-in-50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by arsenic. The highest risk is for people who live near ash ponds with no liners and who get their water from wells.

Basically, you don't have to have a large disaster in order to suffer from the effects of coal ash and the ponds that supposedly help retain the substance. Coal power plants are run in such a way that the process ultimately ends up harming the local population. For all the touting we hear about coal and it's potential to be "clean," there's really nothing clean about it.

Schneiderman Scolds Republicans For Putting M.T.A. In Its Current Mess

Dean Skelos has been holding his minority caucus together to vote no on the M.T.A. bill. His band of 30 have repeatedly criticized the Democratic plan, but with no mention of their culpability in creating the mess that Democratic members have decided to start cleaning up. Well Senator Schneiderman had a few choice words for them from the floor of the Senate today:

Bigotry And Racism Come Easily To Jeff Sessions

With Arlen off to the other side, the wise leadership of the Senate's GOP has decided to make Jeff Sessions the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Since Obama will be nominating someone to replace Justice Souter in the next few months, Sessions will help set the tone for Republicans as they try and battle whomever the President chooses. So who is Jeff Sessions? Well, going by his past, it seems as if Mitch McConnell's own pick is going to help solidify the party's image as a white, southern party.

From TPM:

When it became clear that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was poised to become ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, we recalled this 2002 article by Sarah Wildman which addresses some of the controversies that kept Sessions from being confirmed in 1986 as a U.S. District Court judge in Alabama.

Wildman writes in particular that the testimonies of two witnesses--a Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, and a black Sessions subordinate named Thomas Figures--helped to doom Sessions, then a U.S. Attorney, at his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. According to Wildman, Hebert testified reluctantly "that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." And Figures--then an assistant U.S. Attorney--told the committee that "during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he 'used to think they [the Klan] were OK' until he found out some of them were 'pot smokers.'"

And that's just the beginning of it, there's plenty more that Talking Points Memo found. Rachel Maddow also does a nice synopsis of Sessions. But all the evidence against Sessions isn't just in the past. There's also that exchange with Fox News when Sessions thought that gay nominees would make Americans uneasy. And of course you can judge for yourself by looking at his record. One thing is for sure though, Sessions is emblematic of the current status of the Republican party. Far to the right of the rest of country, narrow-minded and as you can see above, prejudiced to the extreme.

Quinn's Hollow Support For NYC's Parents

This week we saw two large demonstrations made up of parents who are sick and tired of the way Mayor Bloomberg has run the city's schools. While Joel Klein is spinning up in Albany trying to keep mayoral control as is, down here people are pissed off that their preschoolers have been kicked out of day care and into overcrowded city schools or they have kindergarten-age kids who have been placed on wait-lists to attend public school. Each scenario is a testament to how Bloomberg has failed the city's children and instead of trying to remedy the problem, he mocks the parents' complaints.

With all of that, I was surprised to see Council Speaker Christine Quinn show up at one of the events to speak:

Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker and usually an ally of Bloomberg’s, said that all the major players need to come together and honestly assess the number of seats needed and then figure out how to create them. “It’s later than it should be, but it’s not September,” she said.
The paragraph seems to imply that Quinn is on the side of the parents, but that is hardly the case. Quinn is pretty much a solid ally of Bloomberg and when it comes to mayoral control and its' side-effects, she's completely on board for all the damage that's been done. She supports mayoral control and wants to continue it. She's also given her full support to developers who build and build yet does not require them or the city to increase classroom capability in order to handle the influx of school children.

Being in front of the camera and being mentioned by a newspaper or two for showing up may look great, but having her in office doesn't do those parents any favors.

Unemployment Keeps Climbing

Wall Street may be hopeful because we only lost 539,000 jobs in April (though the number will probably be revised upward in a week or so) but for those people and the 5.7 million who are already out of a job due to this recession there is no reason to celebrate. We are now at our worst levels of unemployment since 1983 and there is no reason to doubt that we'll be surpassing the bad times of the early 1980s.

Specter's Cancer Charity Is Really A Fundraising Tool

If you've ever been personally affected by cancer, this story about Arlen Specter might make you sick. Now Specter is a two-time survivor of Hodgkins disease and yes, a great supporter of cancer research. However, his website "" is not exactly what you might think it is. Getting baseline funding for the NIH is a wonderful idea, but the website's motives are not made clear to those that visit it.

From TPM:

The idea is pretty simple. Specter is an advocate in the Senate for setting a $40 billion annual funding baseline for the National Institutes of Health--and if he's defeated at the polls, that bill will lose one of its most storied and influential sponsors. But if he wins, then the money raised by Specter for the Cure will, de facto, also support Specter's various other, eclectic legislative priorities.

But that's not how he sells it. According to the website, "Arlen Specter will seek re-election to the United States Senate. Without Arlen Specter back in the Senate to see it through, Specter for the Cure could be lost to the ordinary politics of Washington that kills real change." Some of the money he uses in that re-election bid will surely come from people who think they're giving to a cancer charity.

If Specter is defeated at the polls he will be replaced by a strong, progressively-minded Democratic challenger. Since there is no way that the right-wing Pat Toomey will win in a general election, Specter can only be tossed out by an actual Democrat. All we'd have to do is ask Joe Sestak or Joe Torsella about their views on cancer research and that would be that.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

NY Senate Website Gets An Upgrade

There's more than enough criticism to go around for the New York State Senate but when they do good, it needs to be reported. Of course when you hire several web and blog-savvy progressives to revamp the Senate website, great things are going to happen. After a few weeks of prepping and planning, the new site is ready to go, and it gives the public more access to their legislators than ever before.

From the State Senate:

The New York State Senate took a very big step forward today by bringing New Yorkers into the legislative process in a way that has never been done before, by going live on the internet with a new website that infuses public participation with new technological capabilities.

"We are working to clean up the mess of the last 12 years and return government to the people of this state, and one of the best ways to achieve that goal is to capitalize on the use of new technology and the ways in which people communicate in the 21st Century," explained Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith.

Under the direction of new Senate Chief Technology Officer, Andrew Hoppin, the Senate has been undertaking a number of exciting new initiatives that will open up the Senate to the public, clean up the mess of costly outside vendors controlling content, and provide an unprecedented level of ease for the public to access legislative information. will host more than 90 unique websites serving all 62 members of the Senate and many committees, utilizing new technology for crowd sourcing, blogging, and linking into social networking sites.

"The previous Senate website was difficult to navigate and didn't provide much to visitors. By comparison, this site was built solely around encouraging public participation in the legislative process. We want to hear what New Yorkers think," added Smith.

The new website, built entirely on open-source software, helps Senators and Committees to more easily share their work with New Yorkers through blogging, the posting of news article, photos, videos, event calendars and public schedules.

The website also makes this information easy to access by providing powerful content search capabilities, RSS feeds, email and SMS text message news signups for all Senators and Committees, and one-click republishing of content from the Senate website to a range of social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The new website also provides a new platform for public participation in government, featuring public commenting on Senate blog posts, "public markup" on proposed legislation, and "crowdsourcing" of citizen ideas about critical pending legislative issues.

The Open Data section of the website is dedicated specifically to publishing data about the work of the Senate in a form that citizens and good government groups can use to exercise oversight over the Senate and other government entities of New York State.

The new website also gives citizens an in-depth look at critical issues that the Senate is dealing with; for example, the Federal Stimulus site gives citizens comprehensive information about how Federal Stimulus Funds are being used in New York State; the MTASolutions site and Plain Language Initiative helps break down the arcane budget of the MTA into a more intuitive form with visuals and analyses.

"This is the future and with Andrew Hoppin on board, the New York State Senate is going to lead legislative bodies across the country in the use of new technology. Part of the reason the Obama Administration has been so successful is because they have helped open the door to the public, and we want to bring people into this process," Smith concluded.

The change in the site is an incredible thing to see. Opening up and simplifying the business of the Senate is an important door that these bloggers have created. Now we as the public must go up and open it, so we can see what the Senate is up to, and either push them when they're going in the right direction or fight back when the opposite is the case.

Again, great job guys!

Lindsay Graham Peddles Gitmo Lies To Greta

Simply appearing on Fox News does not give someone the authority to blatantly lie (even though it happens all the time there) about the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Yet Senator Lindsay Graham did just that when he spoke to Greta Van Susteren earlier today:

Graham may be trying to look tough for his constituents and fellow Republican kool-aid drinkers, but the status of the detainees is not as clear cut as he might hope for.

Bloomberg Mocks Parents Outraged Over His Mayoral Control

With mayoral control up for debate in Albany, it might be prudent for Bloomberg to show that he stays in tune with the parents that send their children to his unilaterally run schools. Yet after the Mayor decided to pull five year old children out of the city's daycare centers and place them in the larger public school system, parents were up in arms and held two separate demonstrations yesterday denouncing the change. With so little space available in the city's schools for these children, the move makes it even harder for parents to find their kids a space in their neighborhood school. So what was Mayor Bloomberg's reaction to the upset parents?

From The NY Daily News:

"They complained about a couple of hundred kids not being able to get into the schools that they wanted to get into," he said.

"I can tell you how to fix that: just lower the quality of the schools," he said. "Isn't it wonderful that kids want to get into schools?"

Told of the mayor's mocking, Sal Browne, a mother of two at Public School 116 in Murray Hill and toddler twins said, "That's the most absurd thing I have ever heard."

"This is not something to be shrugging off and joking about and saying this problem isn't really a problem," she said.

If the Mayor thinks that he can simply get away with this behavior and not pay a political price he'll be sorely mistaken. He can spend tens of millions of ads to numb the minds of this city but when you scorn a voter over the education of their child, there is no better way of helping your opponent than creating a cadre of pissed off parents.

Padavan Wants Leniency For Convicted Labor Boss

There's nothing like having a good group of friends to stand up in your defense, especially when one of them serves in the New York State Senate. Frank Padavan is the only member of the legislature that has asked the sentencing judge to be lenient with ex-labor boss and Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin. McLaughlin had stolen over two million dollars from the Electchester Little League but now he's looking to have the judge reduce or excuse him from doing jailtime.

From The NY Daily News:

Dozens of letters urge Manhattan Federal Court Judge Richard Sullivan to show sympathy for the former Queens assemblyman when he sentences McLaughlin on May 14 for a brazen $2.2 million cash grab.

McLaughlin, 56, faces up to 10 years in prison.[...]

His lawyers say McLaughlin convinced himself he wasn't stealing money from the Little Leaguers of the Electchester Athletic Association because he knew unused state money would be returned.

"McLaughlin had a major role in rescuing EAA when it fell upon hard times and was its consistent supporter," McLaughlin lawyer Michael Armstrong writes.

The lone lawmaker voicing support for McLaughlin is state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Queens).

I know he helped to bring Seminerio down, and that does give him some credit. But the guy stole a lot of money and there are consequences for one's actions, even if they suffering from the disease of alcoholism. It's great that he's reforming himself now but the law is the law. When you break it, you're eligible to go to prison for it. If this were a case where a young black man from the South Bronx was arrested for holding up a bodega for $200, there would be no question as to whether the judge would put him away, even if he apologized and had friends express their support. Just because you are sorry, it doesn't undo the crime you committed.

For Padavan to speak up for this criminal is ridiculous. It shows that Frank has no problem standing behind corrupt public officials and is willing to look past the justice McLaughlin deserves. Though to be fair, plenty of other Senators do the same thing, just not with McLaughlin.

Can A 16 Year Old Boy Undo The Patriot Act?

The P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act was cobbled together shortly after 9/11. Fear and hysteria gripped the nation and the Congress responded with a severe curtailment of individual rights under the guise of protecting people from terrorism. While there might be a few good things in there, much of it violates the Constitution. That was certainly the case for young Ashton Lundeby, and now his story might be the way to repeal or at least have the bill rewritten so that it respects our Constitutional rights. Regardless, it still needs to be repealed or rewritten.

Update: The answer is no unfortunately, Wired Magazine explains it here.

Merck Takes Their Deceptive Products To A Whole New Level

Pharmaceutical companies have used dubious means to get their products to market for decades. Whether it be an onslaught of advertisements showing happy people in a park or a guy smiling at his wife, paying off members of Congress, having their top-level employees work at the FDA or throwing gobs of money at universities to do biased research, there are many means for Big Pharma to make astronomical profits. Even with all that, Merck has redefined deception with their latest tactic to convince people their products are safe and effective.

From Attorney at Law:

Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical Goliath behind Vioxx, Gardasil, and other big-name drugs, allegedly paid the medical publishing firm Elsevier to crank out a make-believe medical journal that was nothing more than a marketing tool designed to promote the company’s products under the guise of legitimate medical research.

The journal, called Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, was used to publish favorable research and data on Merck drugs. Merck then quoted the fictitious research in promoting its drugs as being safe. But the purported journal cannot be found on the Internet and it’s not registered with Medline, the medical journal database, leading some to call the publication a scam.

Despite the good things companies like Merck develops, every drug manufactured is tainted by methods such as creating fictitious medical journals...and all other means of deception. It is a real shame that there are pharmacists out there that want to help people, but the people that control the budget (along with some of the doctors) ruin the industry with their greed and avarice. Putting profits ahead of people, especially in the context of health care is extremely dangerous to say the least.

Now that Congress is gearing up to tackle health care reform, legislators might want to pay attention to stories like this, and ignore Merck's (and Pfizer, Amgen, etc etc) lobbyists. When we look at the facts of what goes on, both in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, only then can something be done about the problems we face.

DN Op-Ed Scolds Albany For Trash-Talking The M.T.A.

Last night the Assembly and Senate officially passed the M.T.A. "bailout" bill after the leadership was assured of its' passage the night before. Democrats were delighted and Republicans acted angrily but both sides decried the M.T.A. for running a "less than clean" operation. Malcolm Smith repeatedly smacked them around with charges of pay to play, inappropriate perks and the infamous yet discredited theory that they ran with two books. Well, Bill Hammond at the Daily news has a few words for the legislators in Albany. The whole article is a thing of beauty, but here are a few of my favorite parts.

From The NY Daily News:

Just look at the recklessly irresponsible way the Assembly and the Senate - justly tagged as the most dysfunctional in the country - handled the MTA bailout.

It was almost a year ago that the MTA first raised an alarm about its looming fiscal crisis, due largely to economic forces out of its control.

It was 154 days ago that a blue-ribbon panel headed by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch delivered a solid rescue plan.

It was based on months of research and had the hearty endorsement of a rainbow of civic groups.

The MTA clearly warned of fare hikes and service cuts in December, held public hearings in January and February, and approved the details in March.

No one can claim to be caught by surprise.

You can't argue with that, this was a long time coming. And about Smith bashing the M.T.A.? Well....

But compared to the Legislature, the MTA is a model of open, clean government.

At least it has financial books it shares with the public - on a monthly basis. They're on the MTA's Web site, available to any lawmaker who actually cares to know the facts.

And those books are double-checked by an independent auditor, the state controller, the public authority budget office, a citizens advisory panel and any number of private watchdogs. The MTA also has an inspector general responsible for keeping things honest.

The Legislature, by contrast, shares its books with no one, is audited by no one and - despite a dozen criminal indictments of members in recent years - operates without a serious ethics cop on the beat.

Smith has no right to talk when the Senate he runs is more corrupt than the M.T.A. could ever be. There are several criminals in his midst, yet does nothing about it. And don't tell me that stripping one from chairing a Committee is a real consequence. That guy is looking at serious jail time if his alleged domestic abuse charges yield a guilty verdict. Then there's Espada, who's all kinds of crooked. Espada's friends, Diaz and Kruger are no angels either and the list goes on from there. But is there any accountability for anything?

All I hear is crickets, and a whole lot of hypocrisy.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Gilliespie Makes Excuses For Bush Not Picking A Woman For The Supreme Court

Whether or not George Bush was seriously considering a woman for the Court when he nominated Samuel Alito, former RNC head and all around GOoPer Ed Gillespie had the worst excuse for Bush not going with a woman. How could he seriously say there were no women out there that were qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice:

I'm sorry but that is just pure unadulterated bullshit.

About Specter's Coleman "Joke"

Yesterday it was reported that in a New York Times interview with Senator Arlen Specter that he made a comment endorsing Norm Coleman's efforts at delaying Al Franken's ascendancy to the U.S. Senate. Basically he was wishing and hoping that Norm Coleman would prevail in his never-ending litigious quest against the victor of the Minnesota Senatorial election. Then when the story got out, I heard that it was just a joke, and that Specter misspoke. The whole thing was confusing, but apparently the joke wasn't funny with the rest of the Democratic caucus, so much so that they stripped him of seniority in all his committees. Losing seniority in the Senate is a big deal, so naturally people wonder if Specter was really telling a joke. Surely if it was in jest, the rest of his new-found party might consider some sympathy.

Well why not ask the woman who interviewed him:

So was Arlen Specter joking, when he seemed to say he wanted Norm Coleman to win in Minnesota? That’s what some people have been wondering after Specter said this: “There’s still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner.”

So I asked New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon, who conducted the interview, what her impression was of Specter’s actual tone of voice and overall expression.

“I trust he meant what he said,” Solomon wrote to me. “If he had been joking, surely he could have come up with a wittier line.”

Perhaps he has bad sense of humor but I sincerely doubt it. If I had to choose who I thought was more credible, a reporter from the New York Times or a life-long politician, I wouldn't even give my decision a second thought, unless of course that reporter was Judith Miller. Specter got what he deserved when the Democratic party pulled his seniority. Perhaps now he'll be more mindful of what he says, and as Markos said earlier, it looks like he's making progress today.

NY Leading The Wind Power Revolution In The U.S.

Wind power has been around for centuries, from small family farms in the Midwest to the windmills of Holland. Despite our knowledge of this clean, renewable energy source, our society still heavily relies on fossil fuels like coal and toxic nuclear material. However, things are slowly changing for the better. Even in America, with global warming deniers running rampant, change is happening. And I'm proud to say that the State of New York is leading the way.

From SET Energy:

SET’s home state of New York is moving to become a leader in offshore wind power. Both the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) have offshore wind farms they are pursuing. The NYPA project would be the first major freshwater wind farm in the world. And the LIPA project could end up as the biggest proposed offshore wind farm in the US.

New York Needs to Accelerate its Renewable Deployment

New York has one of the highest renewable shares of electricity at ~21.5%, largely due to the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls (only Washington and Oregon currently have higher renewable shares, also mainly due to hydro). New York aims to get 45% of its electricity from renewables by 2015, a goal that will take tremendous deployment to achieve. In fact, renewable capacity of ~10 GW is necessary to reach 45% at current generation levels. Achieving such a high capacity by 2015 would translate into average annual deployment of 1.5 GW.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, NY recently became one of only eight states with over 1 GW of wind power capacity. All of the existing wind capacity in NY and the rest of the country is land-based. Now, state leaders have their sites on offshore wind helping NY reach several GW capacity by 2015.

With offshore sites, brand new freshwater wind farms and the great Niagara backing the rest of the renewables up, New York is leading the way. However, merely having a great waterfall isn't going to win the day. Groups like NYPIRG have fought hard to mandate renewable energy standards and the power of dedicated people behind them has led to successes such as that 45% minimum required by 2015. It just goes to show that when people get together to create change, dedication to that cause eventually makes things happen.

Thompson Rails On Bloomberg For Pulling 5 Year Olds Out Of Daycare

The issue of mayoral control in the schools is heating up as Albany decides on what to do about the issue. Bloomberg's latest decision to yank five year olds from city daycare centers and placed into crowded public schools was a unilateral move that has enraged parents. It was also a golden opportunity for City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson to slam Bloomberg for the move.

The Fed Loves The Banks, Credit Card Holders Not So Much

Ever since Bear Stearns collapsed, the Fed has made the news more often than for the occasional interest rate change. Over the last year, they've helped bailout more companies than I can count. Billions and trillions have been doled out to banks to keep them afloat amidst the wreckage they've created for themselves. Almost every one of these financial service institutions have gotten the public money they've requested, so when the consumer comes calling for a little mercy from their credit card debts, the Fed is ready and willing to help, right?


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve rejected a request to force credit card companies to immediately halt retroactive interest-rate increases on existing balances, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said Tuesday.

Schumer and Christopher Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, asked the Fed last month to use its emergency powers for rescuing banks to also help credit card consumers being slapped with unexpected rate increases.

"The Federal Reserve's failure to protect consumers from these outrageous rate increases is unconscionable," Schumer said.

Why would the Fed be so cruel, so heartless, so dispassionate towards the millions upon millions of Americans that suffer from the deceptive practices of the credit card industry? Well, Bernanke has an answer:

In a letter to Schumer, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has called credit card practices "unfair and deceptive," said credit card issuers have been "encouraged" to comply with the Fed's final rules as soon as possible.

He also said shortening the implementation date of the Fed's rules could cause issuers to overreact by cutting the availability of credit and costing consumers more to use a credit card.

"We believe that issuers must be afforded sufficient time for implementation to allow for an orderly transition process that avoids unintended consequences, compliance difficulties and potential liabilities," Bernanke wrote in a May 4 letter.

Basically, credit card companies can cut people's credit down (and they have already, including my own) but as for helping consumers with the actual debt and service charge abuse....Bernanke wants us all to wait for the issuers to reform all on their own. As if credit card companies are eager to suddenly be nice to their debtors customers after screwing them in their pocketbooks for years on end. If Bernanke believes that, I've got a bridge over the East River to sell him.

Albany To Cut Bloomberg's Power Over NYC Schools

If there is one true thing about Michael Bloomberg, it is that he loves power. The "media mogul billionaire" status wasn't enough, so he ran for Mayor. Then as Mayor he helped enact mayoral control in his first term so that parents no longer had a say in the educational system they sent their children into. Towards the end of his second term he maneuvered so that he could run for a third term despite voter-approved term limits. While he's busy getting his re-election campaign started, he has his chief educational minion, Joel Klein, up in Albany so that he can continue to control the city's school system. There's just one little problem, everyone else is sick of mayoral control, including the State Legislature that has ultimate control over the program.

From The NY Daily News:

ALBANY - Several state lawmakers warned Tuesday they intend to soften mayoral control over the schools - and urged Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein to get on board.

"If you come in here and continue to say to us that the system is perfect - leave it that way, you're going to be very unhappy," Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) told Klein at a Senate Education Committee hearing.

Lawmakers seemed most focused on getting more parental involvement on the chief policy-making board, which the mayor now controls, as well as more independent monitoring of the Department of Education.

"Mayoral control has been a disaster," Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) told Klein.

Who Will Win The "GOP Survivor" Contest?

With so many personalities and so much at stake, which one of these contestants will come out on top to rule what is left of the Republican party? The creators of the ad at the DNC do not make a guess as to who'll win, so I'll make one. Since the party is all about money and power and principles be damned, the contestant with the most natural ability is Rush Limbaugh. With an eight-figure salary from Clear Channel and an impressive skill that makes other Republicans bow before him, Rush can decimate his opponents with just a few seconds of airtime on his syndicated show.

M.T.A. Bill Gets Green Light From Legislative Leadership

Richard Ravitch is happy, Gene Russianoff is happy and the three men in the room are ecstatic over the fact they got something passed to help out the struggling M.T.A. Although Ravitch and Russianoff would have preferred something better, perhaps a little more comprehensive, they realize that in Albany, simply passing a bill, whether it does the job or not is a success. So with all this cheering, what can straphangers expect to find come June?

From The NY Times:

Under the deal, the base fare for a single bus or subway ride would rise to $2.25 from $2. The cost of a monthly MetroCard would probably rise to about $89 from $81, according to officials in the Legislature. Other fares and tolls, including tickets on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, would go up about 10 percent.[...]

The legislative leaders also agreed to set a single rate for the payroll tax in all 12 counties served by the authority — a tax of 34 cents for every $100 of payroll. An earlier Senate version of the plan called for a lower rate in three outlying counties.

The payroll tax is expected to raise $1.53 billion a year.

The plan also includes a series of charges on vehicles and drivers in the 12- county region: a 50-cent surcharge on taxi rides, a $25 increase in vehicle registration fees, a 25 to 30 percent rise in drivers’ license fees and a 5 percent increase in a tax on car rentals. Those fees are expected to generate a total of $270 million a year.

So there you have it, the damage, so to speak is spread out amongst straphangers, drivers and employers, though more so on the employers. For a last minute maneuver, Silver, Smith and Paterson did a decent job. The only problem is that the M.T.A. is still going to consider another increase in a few months, so we'll see what the Legislature can do when the next deadline looms.

For now though, subway riders will have to pay a little more instead of a lot, drivers won't be tolled on East River bridges, taxi cab riders are only looking at a 50 cent surcharge instead of a dollar and service cuts will be avoided. For the next few months at least, doomsday has been averted.

Yet for some reason I can't get the thought out of my head that this was all some sort of psychological game played out before us. Drivers are still getting higher tolls where tolls exist and their fees are going up. Mass transit riders still have to pay more after an increase in the fare last year (those of us that buy weekly or monthly cards, which is for most New Yorkers), making the increase on a monthly between 2007 and now roughly 18%. Tolls have also risen at an astronomical rate. Then in 2011 and 2013 the fares will go up another 7.5% each time. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that these costs beat the rate of inflation, and at the same time we have a state government that passes bloated budgets every year.

Next year, instead of acting like pigs at a trough, perhaps our represenatives could get together and revamp the way the M.T.A. is funded, so that we do not have to face a crisis over fares whenever the economy sours. Relying on real estate and sales taxes is simply an unstable solution. When the Republicans were in charge, they probably realized this, but instead of remeding the situation, they tacked on more than a billion dollars in debt to the M.T.A. and magnified the problem. Instead of patting each other's backs over this quick fix, Smith, Silver and Paterson would do right by attacking the core of the problem and ensure that we continue to have the best mass transit system in the country for decades to come.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

What Kind Of Democrat Roots For Norm Coleman?

Before the name "Joe Lieberman" pops in your head, please remember that he is no longer a Democrat, even if he caucuses with them. No, the Senator that wishes to thwart the will of the voters in Minnesota and have Norm Coleman drag out the process for another month or two is the newly-minted Democrat, Arlen Specter. Although he's only been in the party a week, so far he hasn't said anything that resembles what one would think an elected Democratic politician might say.

From TPM:

In an interview with the New York Times, Specter stated in no uncertain terms that he wants Norm Coleman to win the disputed Minnesota Senate race: "There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner."

So what exactly are the Dems getting out of this whole deal?

Late Update: NRSC press secretary Amber Wilkerson gives us this comment: "First he voted against President Obama's budget, then he said he wouldn't be a loyal Democrat, now he wants Norm Coleman to win. We've never agreed so much with Arlen Specter. You just have to wonder whether Joe Sestak agrees with the positions of his fellow Pennsylvania Democrat?"

Well Amber, Joe Sestak doesn't even consider Arlen a Democrat yet. If he keeps this up, Sestak for one will be challenging him in the Democratic primary come next year. While Norm Coleman doesn't stand a chance at coming back to the U.S. Senate anytime soon, the way Arlen Specter is going, he'll be out of a job once the Pennsylvania Democratic base replaces him with an actual member of the party, not one that slaps a (D) next to his name to avoid the wingnuts from primaring him on the right.

Update 5/6/09 11:15AM: Specter backtracks, but only after he was stripped of seniority for the remainder of his current term.

Senate Health Care Committee Meeting Starts In Protest

The Senate is only beginning to discuss what to do about our national health care crisis but not everyone is allowed at the table. With all of the health care officials testifying, no one who advocates for the Single Payer option was allowed to address the Committee.

Baucus addresses the protesters, and "respects" the views of the Single Payer advocates yet does not allow them to have a seat at the table.

Can Project 2010 Save Our State?

Let's face it, our state government is broken. Political opportunism wins out over principle every single time, quid pro quo is only frowned upon if you are caught and "lulus" are considered as a birthright for politicians that are in the majority. The Assembly, the Senate and the once-reform minded Governor are all reticent to change and to make the government open and accountable to the people. Something radical has to happen for us to break free of our plagued State Legislature, and a right-winger just might have the answer.

From WIVB Buffalo:

One reform group says it's time to let the voters decide on a constitutional convention to dismantle New York State government and start over again.

The "Primary Challenge" group prides itself on being a non-partisan group for change. Today they held a rally in Niagara Square calling for an overhaul of NY State government.

The group is petitioning for a statewide referendum to abolish New York State's constitution and government in hopes of creating a "new government", as they call it, under a new constitution.

The "non-partisan" label is being trumpted by one Leonard Roberto, who has consistently run and lost in the Republican primary to Dale Volker in the last few elections cycles. His motivations may be partisan in nature, since the Democratic party controls the Assembly, the Governor's mansion and some say the Senate, but the idea has potential. I must mention that I am currently writing a paper on this topic for a Law and Social Change class and couldn't help but click on the news.

Something certainly has to give, and a constitutional convention could, if the process was respectful to all New Yorkers regardless of political affiliation and class, might be a cure to what ails us. Of course getting the convention started is just the beginning, what happens between opening and closing gavel is what counts the most.

More And More Of The Middle Class Face Eviction In NYC

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last year or two, the fact that times are tough is inescapable. Foreclosures are up, the availability of jobs has plummeted and the economy is in the toilet. So I guess it should come as no surprise that here in New York, tenants are having more trouble keeping up with their rent. The evidence from the city's housing courts undeniably suggests that the middle class is starting to have a serious problem.

From the NYT Cityroom:

Lawyers, judges and tenant advocates say the staggering economy has sent an increasing number of middle-class renters across New York City to the brink of eviction, straining the legal and financial services of city agencies and charities. Suddenly, residents of middle-class havens like Rego Park in Queens and Riverdale in the Bronx are crowding into the city’s already burdened housing courts, long known as poor people’s court.

No one knows exactly how many of those kinds of tenants are facing eviction; the city’s five housing courts, and two smaller community courts that hear similar cases, do not keep data on the income level of litigants. Overall, court records show that the number of cases filed citywide for nonpayment of rent jumped about 19 percent in the first two months of 2009 from the same period last year, to 42,257 from 35,588.
These numbers are sad, but not surprising given how the economy has suffered in the last year. However, the blame cannot be put squarely at the feet of the laid off renter. Rental prices have been skyrocketing in this city for years and the fact is, rentals are too damn high for a large percentage of New Yorkers. True, prices are starting to come down but with so many people spending half their income on rent, when the income disappears the ability to stay in their apartment is quickly cut off.

What we need to do is pull together and pass rental reform in the city and across the state. Whether or not Paterson, Smith and Silver can, or will want to do that is up for debate.

Paterson Proposes Spending Cap Legislation

In these sour economic times, Governor Paterson approved the State Legislature's budget that increased spending by a staggering 8.7% a month ago. Now Paterson is attempting to enact a spending cap to prevent future skyrocketing budgets, though with so many big spenders in Albany, the likelihood of this getting traction is slim.

Obama Needs To Whip Dems Into Line Over Tax Havens

President Barack Obama has taken a bold stance on the issue of corporate tax havens and what to do about them. For far too long companies have gotten away with the ability to do business in the United States but avoid paying taxes by utilizing off-shore bank accounts. They've been robbing America for years and years. Now is the time to put that shameful, greedy practice to an end. Yet back in the 1980s and 1990s, much of the Democratic party became the "party of business" just as the Republicans already were. Loving corporate donations became a bipartisan affair and both parties are going to fight the reform and possibly the elimination of these tax havens.

Already, we see the opposition forming:

May 5 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s plan to end tax breaks for U.S.-based multinational companies drew a skeptical response from fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill, indicating that his plan may face obstacles on its path through Congress.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, called for “further study” of Obama’s proposals within minutes of the president’s announcement yesterday. Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said he’s wary because the tax changes would hurt Citigroup Inc., his New York district’s largest private-sector employer.

Natalie Ravitz, a spokeswoman for Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said that any tax overhaul should not lead to “unintended consequences.”

The vagueness from Boxer's office is given a little more clarity by Crowley's worry for Citigroup. What this group of Democrats are worried about is the amount of contributions from multi-national corporate donors.

God forbid we subject these bloated companies to the tax laws that apply to everyone else, from the individual taxpayer to the struggling small business owner. Would an "unintended consequence" be the leveling of the playing field in American business Senator Boxer? "Further study" is acceptable, Senator Baucus, only if it means Congress gets the ball rolling on smart, diligent and timely reform for corporations that take advantage of loopholes in our tax code. However, if "further study" is merely a way of scuttling the legislation, then that is unacceptable and the President should make sure Baucus, Boxer and the rest of them understand that.

Senate Dems Finally Agree On Something For The M.T.A.

With less than four weeks before the M.T.A. introduces the doomsday fares and service cuts, the Senate Democrats have finally agreed on something, even if it doesn't address the systemic problems embedded within the transit authority. Last night Majority Leader Malcolm Smith was able to announce his "victory" within his caucus.

From The Daily Politics:

The tolls are still out. The 34-cent/$100 payroll tax, graduated so Dutchess, Putnam and Orange counties pay less (25 cents/$100), is in. The $1 taxi drop-off fee is back to 50 cents, with 25 percent of the revenue generated going to pay for debt service on MTA capital projects through 2011, but not for upstate and Long Island roads and bridges.

One sticking point: The Senate Democrats want school districts in the 12-county MTA service area to be "held harmless" from the payroll tax, and it's unclear whether that means relief would come on the front end (by not charging the districts at all) or the back (by reimbursing them after the fact).

They also want an assurance that districts will be held harlmess in perpetuity - regardless of how the state's economic circumstances change.

Protecting the schools sounds good, preventing a drastic fare hike at the end of the month is definitely good but looking ahead, this short-range plan is nothing but a cheap political fix. And of course the Majority Leader takes the first "hit" of victory by chiding his fellow Democrats for not going along with his plan back in March:
"Basically, I won't say all of you, but a number of people, basically indicated they thought that was the wrong thing to do," Smith said. "In recent stories I think there's been some discussion about some merit to that."

"...Obviously, if you had adopted my plan back in March, we wouldn't be here," the majority leader said later. We tried to tell everybody back then, but we all...were told we were wrong. Things have come full circle."

Nothing has come full circle Mr. Smith. All you have is this moment and if anything, is a pyrrhic victory for the M.T.A. This deal, and the deal back in March was done for the sake of political expediency, not for the long-term health of New York's mass transit system. This is still the wrong thing to do, but sadly, it seems this is the best you can do.

Why The Employee Free Choice Act Is Necessary

Center for American Progress put together this little spot to explain exactly why we need EFCA legislation. The fact is, unionizing a workplace is extremely difficult in this day and age, where after years and years of anti-union bills have passed through Congress at the behest of their Corporate America donors.

Monday, May 04, 2009

GOP Should Listen To Scarborough, Stop Hatin'

Joe Scarborough may be a Republican, but at least he's one that has the ability to look at the party and shake his head in shame. Joe has been out of Congress for a few years now and without someone like John Boehner to boss him around, he can see that the whole fear card isn't working out too well for what was once the Grand....Old Party.

From RawStory:

In an appearance Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Scarborough offered Ronald Reagan as a model of temperamental moderation, saying, “We need to be conservative, but like Reagan. … We can’t scare little kids.” On his own MSNBC program the next day, he emphasized again, “They’ve got to drop the hate.”

“If you know you’re right, then why be angry?” Scarborough asked calmly. “I do a radio show, and a lot of callers that call in expect me to scream and yell and say I hate President Obama. Being against his policies, for some reason with a lot of people in the base that’s not enough. They want you to hate the man.”[...]

“If you’re mature enough,” Scarborough continued,” you realize Barack Obama doesn’t hate America, I don’t hate America — we just have different views of how to make America a better place And if you look at history over 250 years, that’s worked out pretty well.”

The problem though Joe, is that too many Republicans that have made it into office aren't mature. They'd rather stoke the fears of people and make them believe that the other side hates America, and blah blah blah. GOP leaders get caught up in this hysteria and run with it, never hesitating to look back and take stock of the damage they do with that violent rhetoric. It ends up with people feeling like their states should secede from the union. That isn't just wrong, it's insanity.

Transit Advocates Say Nay To Paterson's Plan

Paterson may be happy that the new 1% payroll hike (and that's it) plan might have enough support to pass, but that doesn't make transit advocates happy in the least. The Ravitch Commission recommendations have been thrown by the wayside in Albany, and political expediency is the name of the game now. Unfortunately, so too does a real solution for the woes of the M.T.A.

From PolitickerNY:

ALBANY—Even if it is palatable enough to pass both houses of the legislature, the plan to bail out the M.T.A. that David Paterson formally unveiled this weekend is not getting a warm welcome from the alliance of labor leaders and transit advocates that pushed firmly for the Ravitch plan. They write, with charming understatement, that the plan "may not" adequately address the system's capital needs.

"The current worsening of the MTA's finances combined with the difficulty of passing new sources of revenue in election years, like next year, adds up to a very real threat," say Kevin Corbett and Bob Yaro, the co-chairs of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, in a letter sent to Paterson and legislative leaders Friday. "As members of the business, civic and labor community, we call on the state's leadership to act on a final package that responsibly and adequately provides a long term source of funding for the transit system's rebuilding needs. Now is the window of opportunity. The future health of the transit network and the region itself depend on the state meeting these long term needs."

The problem though, is that state senators' idea of long-term is election day of next year. They could care less whether or not the health of the M.T.A. improves, so long as their constituents re-elect them (and their contributors are made happy, which is part of the whole "re-elect" thing) again and again. Meanwhile, New Yorkers will have to deal with an increasingly expensive and less comprehensive mass transit system.

Jane "The Warrior" Harman

There's nothing like a YouTube clip that has a politician to be claiming something she's not, especially when the politician is George Bush apologist and constitutional disgrace Jane Harman:

Paterson Gives Hotel Labor A Leg Up

Perhaps it was backlash from challenging the unions during the budget process, the flubbing he gave them during the LCA gathering or his dismal poll numbers but Paterson decided to do something good for unionizing in New York's hotel industry last week.

From The NY Times:

Gov. David A. Paterson has issued an order making it easier for labor unions to organize thousands of workers at some of New York’s largest new hotel and convention center projects, including hotels in Niagara Falls and at the Belmont Park racetrack in Nassau County and the expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

The directive, which was signed on April 24 and issued on Friday, will require the operators of projects that receive assistance like loans, tax breaks or property leases from state agencies or public authorities to obtain “labor peace” agreements with unions seeking to organize their workers.[...]

The new rule signifies a major victory for Unite HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers union, which has been pressing Mr. Paterson and his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, to issue the directive for more than a year. The move also gives Mr. Paterson, who is struggling to shore up his political base and improve his poll numbers, a chit with unions that have been close to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, his most likely rival in a Democratic primary.

“What the governor is basically saying with this order is if the state has a proprietary interest in a hospitality project, we need to take steps, just like any responsible private investor would, to forestall the possibility of any future disruption to revenues to the state associated with those projects,” said Neal Kwatra, the director of political and strategic affairs for the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, which represents about 30,000 hotel workers, primarily in the city.
With just a quick signature of the Governor's pen, hotel workers got a huge boost out of Albany. Employee Free Choice legislation is having difficulty in its passage nationwide but here in New York our government must respect and encourage the labor movement so that workers are given the chance to stand up against employers who look to get the lowest labor cost that they can. Now if Paterson can stop mocking the unions and stand in solidarity with them, then we can really get things done.

The Patricof Family, One Cog In The Corrupt City Apparatus

Walking on the streets of New York City, it is nearly impossible to miss the orange envelopes marring the windshields of parked cars from Lower Manhattan to Riverdale and from the Westside to Little Neck. What most people do not see, except for those that wish to contest their fines, are the parking judges that determine whether to drop, reduce or leave the fine as is. One of these judges is Allan J Patricof and he is makes more than any of his fellows on the "parking" benches. If you're wondering why, all you have to do is ask his wife Rochelle, who determines salaries for the court.

From The NY Times:

According to city records, the judge, Allan J. Patricof, earned $110,472 in 2006, the same year that city investigators found that he had submitted time sheets for some hours when he was not at work. Mr. Patricof is married to Rochelle Patricof, the deputy finance commissioner.

Mr. Patricof’s earnings were $20,000 more than any of the other 145 administrative law judges who hear ticket cases for the agency. In 2007, Mr. Patricof earned $84,687.24, also more than any other parking judge.

The department said it had yet to calculate how much the judges earned in 2008. It has said the deputy commissioner does not have a role in overseeing the hours assigned to parking judges.
There are so many problems with this situation and they aren't all centered on the Patricof's.

First of all, both Allan and Rochelle each need to be fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Unless he's a true workaholic, those hours he billed are just a little bit unbelievable. The next most busy judge billed 381 hours less. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduct what Patricof was up to. The fact that he got away with it and that is wife is Deputy Finance Commissioner aren't hard to put together, and neither will it be for a jury.

Then there's the system that must be considered. The department denies the deputy commissioner plays a role in overseeing hours. That's a crock of the foulest smelling shit I've ever heard. She may not have officially signed off on his time sheet but an indirect connection isn't hard to find. For the department to try and deny it shows just how they feel about New Yorkers' intelligence and knowwithall about how the city works.

As for the Conflict of Interests Board.....for them to approve of Mr. Patricof to be in this position considering where Mrs. Patricof sits, is completely proposterious. I don't think they could find a conflict of interest if it slapped them in the face and hit them upside the head.

Sestak's Reponse To Specter's Switch Is Spot On

Arlen Specter's change in party has made for a considerable amount of news. Part of that story was the support of many within the Democratic establishment without really examining what Specter is going to bring to the party. Joe Sestak, a congressman that had already been considering running against Specter (before the switch) was on CNN yesterday and he when presented with a question about Specter being a good Democrat, responds with a question:

That should be on the minds of Democratic Pennsylvania primary voters next year when Arlen asks to be on the ticket as one of their own. Specter probably believes that his defection entitles him to be nominated as a Democrat in the primary, but Pennsylvania Democrats are not about to simply bow down in his presence.

A 4th Grader Does A Better Job Than The Traditional Media

Misha Lerner may only be in the fourth grade, but he is years ahead of many who consider themselves professional journalists. Throughout most of this decade, the press was reticent to ask tough questions of Bush Administration officials, especially those who were high up and had been involved with making the United States into a country that tortures, even if the glorious leader denies it. What only a few press credentialed individuals have done, so too has Bethesda, Maryland's young Misha Lerner.

From The Washington Post:

Then Misha Lerner, a student from Bethesda, asked: What did Rice think about the things President Obama's administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from detainees?

Rice took the question in stride. saying that she was reluctant to criticize Obama, then getting to the heart of the matter.

"Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country," she said. "But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country."

She added: "I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die. . . . Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country."

It's too bad that Misha couldn't do a follow-up question, because not only did Rice lie to Misha about breaking the law, she used the horrible tragedy of September the 11th to reinforce a terrible justification for torturing other human beings. Misha was only two years old when it happened, but I hope he understands (or his parents make mention of it to him) that you can't trust all grown-ups, especially those that have worked for George W. Bush.

Same-Sex Marriage Passage Will Have To Be A Bipartisan Affair

When Governor Paterson decided to throw same-sex marriage legislation onto the State Senate this year so that they take a vote on it, many advocates were not happy about having to face a possible losing vote. Yet the governor, desperate to take attention away from his disastrous budgeting abilities wanted senators to take a stand, saying that the issue deserved a vote whether it be up or down. A few weeks later and the movement is closer than ever to having New York join Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and of course, Massachusetts. The only problem is that in the narrowly-held Democratic State Senate, a few conservative Dems don't believe in equality and that means a few good Republicans must be found.

From NY Magazine:

So who might those votes come from? Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, suggests four of the seven Democrats in the “nay” camp are actually movable: Senators George Onorato of Astoria, William T. Stachowski of Buffalo, David J. Valesky of Oneida, and Shirley L. Huntley of Jamaica. In 2007, Van Capelle says, Democratic Assembly members like Joe Lentol opposed the bill initially but ended up voting for it. “So we know that when we do the work that needs to be done, which includes giving the facts and telling our stories, people can change their minds.”

If those four come around, only two Republicans will be needed to pass the measure—though lobbyists hope for more. “Nobody wants to be the one person to change the vote,” said Marriage Equality New York head Ron Zacchi. The current legislative session ends June 22, so there’s still time for persuading. Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has said already he won’t let the measure hit the floor unless the votes are there.

Two Republicans immediately come to mind. Senator Thomas P. Morahan of Rockland County told the Times through a spokesman that he’s “not going to come out one way or the other,” which supporters view as promising. And though Senator Kemp Hannon of Nassau County told the paper that he’s inclined to oppose the bill, he added that it “deserves serious consideration.” To lobby groups, that’s the definition of “movable.” (Several others have yet to say anything about their positions.)

If a Republican can't commit to saying no on the matter, that is definitely a good sign. With the Republican leadership allowing members to vote their conscience and not to party loyalty, it is open season for citizens to lobby their senators so that they vote the morally correct way. Northeast Republicans, at least what is left of them, realize that trying to act like their southern and western compatriots in the GOP is a losing proposition up here. So instead of legislating with thoughts of hate, intolerance and bigotry, they have a chance to do the right thing and spread equality to same sex couples that only want the same rights that straight couples have. This shouldn't be a partisan issue, it is a moral one and because of that, a bipartisan affirmation of this bill would be a wonderful thing.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Why Are Churchgoers More Likely To Support Torture?

That is the question asked in a recent poll, and reiterated by CNN's Jack Cafferty. He gets quite a few responses that are all over the board but the one I agree with most comes at the 2:35 mark. "All radicalized forms of thinking lack innate tolerance," is a quote that anyone who doubts the findings of the poll should consider. Not all churches (or any house of worship) preach against tolerance but there are plenty that do, and that is one of the many reasons why torture has become accepted by far too many people in our society.

Will Obama's Pragmatism Show Up On The Supreme Court?

In five months the next term of the Supreme Court will be in session and Justice Souter will no longer be on the bench. Within that amount of time, President Obama will have chosen his replacement with the consent of the Senate and conservatives will have something new to complain about at Fox News, Republican press conferences and the rightwing blogosphere.

The likelihood of a liberal dreamboat such as Justice Albert Gore is far less than slim, much closer to "not a chance." No, the President is a pragmatist and the writing has been on the wall long before Barack went to Washington. Now politics plays a role in all of this too, so Obama will choose someone that is not going to get many complaints from what is left of the moderate conservatives (like Republican Democratic Senator Arlen Specter) or even the typical Republican Senator that is to the right of Specter but to the left of say, someone like Jim DeMint. That is why I think Esquire nailed it several months ago before Obama was elected President.

From Esquire Magazine:

If Obama becomes president, his first nominee to the Supreme Court will likely be Sonia Sotomayor. As a Hispanic woman with 16 years of court experience, Sotomayor would slay two of the court's lack-of-diversity birds with one swift stone. "These are criteria that matter these days. Even Laura Bush was disappointed that her husband didn't name a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor," says Mark Tushnet, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard. And because Sotomayor has a reputation for staying behind the scenes and sits on a federal bench known for its centrism, it's likely that she would be able to garner a two-thirds majority in the Senate, even if the Democrats only control an estimated 55 or so seats. Plus there's an insurance measure if the nomination gets too politicized publicly: Sotomayor was appointed to the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush. Says Tushnet, "If you're a Democratic strategist, you can gin up ads that say, 'She was good enough for George H. W. Bush. Why isn't she good enough for Mitch McConnell?' "
Now there are even more Democrats in the Senate, making confirmation far easier when you have Merkley, Hagan, Franken (hopefully soon) and other more liberal newbies who will support the President while their predecessors might not have. However, that partisanship might not even get much play with someone like Sotomayor (even if the nominee isn't ultimately her). Republicans would love to rail against hardcore liberal, but chances are, Obama won't give them the opportunity.