Friday, June 19, 2009

Gotbaum Accuses Quinn Of Political Payback For Opposing Term Limit Extension

Three cheers for Betsy Gotbaum this morning, when she proudly stood in front of City Hall and lambasted Speaker Christine Quinn for not restoring funding cuts to the Public Advocate's office. Gotbaum, with just a few months left in office, pulled no punches and accused the Speaker of withholding funds for the city's watchdog office because Gotbaum opposed Quinn's push to extend term limits from eight to twelve years.

NYC Council Hands Out Nearly $50 Million In Pork

Times are tough, the Mayor and Council tell us we must skimp and save to weather the economic storm. They're doing that by increasing the sales tax, cutting city services and of course, pulling in almost a billion in fines. However, despite preaching to New Yorkers about fiscal responsibility, the Council is terrible practicing what they legislate for the rest of us. Thanks to Quinn's "reforms" concerning city spending after she was caught in a slush-fund scandal, we get a whole 24 hours to see what they are going to spend on member items. The possibility that this so-called transparency will do anything to combat their wasteful spending is slim to none.

From The NY Daily News:

The funds are disbursed by Council members to several thousand nonprofit and charitable groups that defenders say will help a wide variety of needy constituency groups.

But it also lets Council members - most of whom are running for third terms because they and Mayor Bloomberg lifted the prior two-term limit - boast they've brought home the bacon.

In a public disclosure on Thursday fraught with missteps, Council aides said the new pork pie is to be spent as follows:

  • $17.7 million dispensed by the individual 51 Council members, with some members getting to dole out bigger slices because they chair major committees or hold leadership posts;
  • $17.9 million dispensed through Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan);
  • $7.7 million equally divided among the 51 members to give to youth-service groups;
  • Another $5.5 million to be disbursed by the members to senior citizen groups.
  • A Primary For Pedro In The Works

    We are at the end of week two for the state senate debacle and Senator Pedro Espada's quest for power has taken some interesting turns in such a short time. First the GOP attempted to make him the temporary Senate President. Then he threatened to bring other Democrats with him besides Hiram to the other side (never happened, Hiram even left him). After that he found a key to the locked-up Senate chamber and held pretend sessions where nothing got done except for a lot of grandstanding. This week he tried to claim he had two votes because the Pro Tem is kind of like the Lieutenant Governor (he stopped). Then Democrats tried to negotiate, Pedro kicked and screamed, Republicans around him started to realize how toxic Espada is and is being pushed into the background of the power struggle.

    Despite Espada's quick rise and fall in this ridiculous leadership battle, he is still going to face consequences for helping the GOP pull this stunt. While the Bronx DA is after him for his criminal doings, Haile Rivera might be the answer to his political backstabbings.

    From The Daily Politics:

    After receiving several calls from community and clergy leaders in the district regarding Haile running for the 33rd Senatorial District and in light of the actions of our current State senator Pedro Espada Jr., Haile will be giving this race serious consideration, only after he helps elect Councilman Eric Gioia as the City’s next Public Advocate.

    He will be reaching out and speaking to the Chair of the Bronx Democratic Party Carl Heastie before he makes any formal announcement.

    As you know, Haile was a strong early supporter of President Barack Obama, when no elected official in the Bronx (except Michael Benjamin) believed that Obama stood a chance.

    But Haile stood behind his candidate, who he supported for US Senate back in 2004 as well and it paid off. Haile is no stranger to his community and to the issues affecting the residents of the 33rd Senatorial District.

    But again, Haile is completely dedicated to Eric Gioia and helping elect someone who will give New Yorkers a voice at City Hall and who’ll roll up his sleeves and work to solve problems.

    We will keep you posted.

    Putting out a press release like that means one thing. As long as no superstars step up to challenge Pedro, Haile Rivera will knock Espada out next fall. Rivera, as far as I know, is not covered in the stench of the majority of Bronx politics. He certainly looks like a breathe of fresh air for the 33rd District (of course the inside of a garbage truck would be healthier to breathe in than standing near Espada) and that is exactly what the district, and the state, desperately needs.

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Move Over Media Matters, Here Comes Fox News

    Whenever I need a laugh, or a reason to throw something at the television/computer monitor (take your pick) I catch a video clip from Fox News. Their latest talking point goes after ABC for committing the unspeakable crime of giving President Obama a platform to talk to the nation about his health care plan. I know, I know, I'm just as outraged as you.

    Dems Will Drink Monserrate "Lemonade" While Spilling Out The Espada

    State Senator Liz Krueger puts it best when assessing the situation where the Democratic caucus got one of two senators that defected. Monserrate is most certainly a lemon as far as the Democratic party goes but having him around for now keeps Espada's plans at bay, at least for the time being. Between now and the 2010 elections, before Pedro can be defeated at the polls, the caucus has an idea for Republicans to start the business of the Senate up again.

    From The Daily Politics:

    The Senate Democrats are trying a new tactic in their ongoing war with their Republican colleagues, calling on them to dump Pedro Espada Jr. as temporary president and replace him with somebody else.[...]

    So far today, I have received no fewer than three press releases from Senate Democrats - Klein, Liz Krueger and Dave Valesky (they're really covering the spectrum here, both geographically and ideologically) - calling for the Republicans to chuck Espada overboard. (Make that four: Sen. Craig Johnson sent one out, too, so they've got the Island covered).

    This is interesting, because it almost seems like the Democrats are acknowledging that Espada is indeed president - why would he need to be bumped if he wasn't actually in the post? Klein rejected that idea, however, insisting state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McNamara's ruling did not address that point.

    All the Democrats are saying is that they understand Republicans see Espada as President and if anyone wants to make any progress in negotiating a power-sharing arrangement, then Espada has to be pushed to the back of the GOP bus. Espada is a dangerous individual who has no place in the state senate to begin with, and for him to be so close to the governor's office is a disgrace to our state. Until the voters take care of him next year (or the justice system, whichever comes first) the Republicans had better keep Espada contained.

    Another Increase From The Rent Guidelines Board

    Summer is upon us (even though it doesn't look like it outside today) and for landlords of rent-stabilized buildings, it is time to salivate over how high the Rent Guidelines Board will raise rents. Of course, the tug of war will consist of the usual, "rents are too high" versus "our expenses are too high so we must have a large increase" and in the end the Board will pick something in the middle of the preliminary numbers. For this year, that means 2 to 4.5% for one year leases and 4 to 7.5% for two year leases.

    Gothamist has some more details:

    Of course, that doesn't sit well with the tenants. One told NY1, "A year and a half ago I had pneumonia and I was hospitalized due to lack of heat. They do not deserve an increase at all and many many other tenants are going through the same thing." And Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer pointed out that last year's hikes—4.5% for one-year leases, 8.5% for two-year leases—was approved when landlords said energy prices would rise, when in reality they didn't. Stringer said, "So come clean, admit you made a mistake and the reason you freeze the rents is because you rent gauged last year based on a faulty set of assumptions." But landlord Jimmy Silber said, "If people want a rent freeze, let's have a freeze on real estate taxes and water and sewer taxes, plumbing increases and legal increases."
    Basically, no matter how much screaming and shouting occurs from either side, there will be an increase of some sort. If people really want to change how this is done, they'll want to get rid of Pedro Espada and his GOP buddies so that the Democratic senate can get back to enacting reforms to help tenants get back rights that Republicans and a few developer-friendly Democrats (like Espada) have been stripping for the past few decades.

    Crazy Palin Supporters On Parade

    Sarah Palin has accepted Dave's (unnecessary) apology for making jokes about her daughter and A-Rod, but her diehard supporters are still demanding Letterman resign. Cenk Uyugr takes a look at just how loony this bunch was outside of the Ed Sullivan theater this week.

    Thompson Should Answer De Blasio's "Excellent Question"

    Despite the attention given to the clusterf*&k in Albany, Mayor Bloomberg still gets tons of press and amplifies it with tens of millions in campaign advertising. We all get that he is running for re-election, but is there a race? One smart voter asked that question of City Councilmember and Public Advocate candidate Bill de Blasio. His response is something that actual mayoral candidate Bill Thompson should take to heart.

    From PolitickerNY:

    De Blasio said it was an “excellent question” before going on to say, “It’s up to us to make sure there is a mayoral race in this city. There is one and we have to regard it as such, we have to talk about it as such."

    He goes on to say it’s “irresponsible” to consider the race a forgone conclusion. “There is a deep desire for change among the populace, a lot of frustration with City Hall, tremendous frustration over the economy, obviously” and “a lingering anger over the term-limits decision.”

    Of course, Bill is not one to talk about frustration with City Hall and wanting change. Still, it is right that people want change. The only problem is that New Yorkers need to know who can actually provide it. Thompson must get out there if he stands a chance against King Bloomberg.

    Wacky Albany Wednesday

    As ridiculous as all this early June rain is in NYC, we'd have to see cats and dogs fall from the sky to keep up with Albany's pace of insane batshit craziness. Wednesday was another day of drama and childish behavior run amok on display by our state senate. While the judge has recused himself from resolving Espada, Monserrate (at least for the first few days) and Skelos' coup, the senate has become even more of a pathetic mess. Where the end of this is, nobody knows.

    Espada and Skelos have been busy plotting to hold onto their usurpation of power. Needless to say, their idea is going absolutely nowhere as long as there are 31 Democratic senators. The TAP thinks the GOP overplayed their hand and since nothing legislative is being accomplished in the 11 days this has gone on, each day of this stalemate will make those responsible for the coup look even worse in the public's eye.

    Newly designated conference leader John Sampson wants to go home instead of wasting the taxpayer's time and money and at least one senator has the guts to say what is really going on. One thing is for sure though, I will definitely not being voting for Pedro next year (and I'll show it on what I wear), and I encourage everyone in the East Bronx to do the same.

    Then again, like Espada's former pal Hiram Monserrate, he might be indicted and be put on trial before he even gets a chance to be re-elected. DA Robert Johnson is on the trail and he's collecting evidence. Espada, being the slimy weasel that he is, claims that this is a politically motivated stunt and that because a jury let him go last time, obviously he'll be let go this time. He asked the Inspector General to look into the DA's motives, but even that guy instantly shot him down. Until then though, Espada will talk all kinds of crazy, such as the premise that he can have two votes to break the deadlock. Now that is some fuzzy math.

    And now on to Thursday....I wonder if it can top Wednesday? Wait, of course it will, this is Albany folks!

    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    Heuvel Vs. Cantor, Not Even Close

    When it comes to health care, or any issue for that matter, smart, strong women like Katrina vanden Heuvel will decimate GOP hacks like Congressman Cantor anytime, any day. Here on MSNBC, she made him look like a fool when discussing the merits of having a public option in the upcoming health care reform legislation.

    Pots And Kettles Show Up For NYC Controller Debate

    To David Yassky, John Liu, Melinda Katz and David Weprin's credit, at least they showed up to debate each other. Yet since all of them have a chance at winning, it is simply politics 101 that a candidate attend events that gives free public exposure. Yet when as the Daily News points out that all four Controller hopefuls have similar viewpoints, these debates can get ugly, as they did last night.

    This exchange about what races they've run for was quite amusing:

    "I emphatically see the controller job, not as a steppingstone but an unbelievable opportunity to change city policy," said City Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn).

    Councilman John Liu (D-Queens) scoffed that Yassky recently ran for Congress and Brooklyn district attorney.

    "Dave, you've got to admit that this is like the fifth office you've run for in a number of years," Liu said.

    But Liu was himself a late entry to the controller race after campaigning much of last year for public advocate.

    He infuriated fellow Queens Dem David Weprin when he changed races, and Weprin wasn't about to let that slide.

    "I just wanted to point out, since Councilman Liu brought it up about Councilman Yassky, that Councilman Liu was actively running for public advocate for a long period of time prior to announcing, only after Mark Green entered the race, that he was now running for controller," Weprin said.

    Weprin agreed with Liu that Yassky had run for too many offices.

    When Yassky insisted he had never run for district attorney, and had merely considered a run, Weprin said he attended a DA fund-raiser for Yassky.

    "I was supporting you!" he said.

    The comedy writes itself, but really, it is sad when four elected officials resort to calling each other out on being stereotypical politicians. Most voters are aware they are this way and for the most part, have accepted it. What they should be talking about is how they'll be effective controllers who will stand up to the overpowering office of the mayor. Though according to the Daily Gotham, you can at the very least cross Katz and Yassky off that list. At least Weprin and Liu have some relevant experience. Perhaps they can talk more about it and over the petty accusations of who has the most slime on their record.

    More Than Meets The Eye For Education In The City Budget

    Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn stood up proudly earlier this week to say that they managed to reduce cuts to education. Heck, they are even keeping libraries open on Saturdays! Yet education advocates are not jumping up and down, because the reality of the situation is that the city's budget is still putting an extreme strain on the public school system. Bloomberg and Quinn can claim that they won't be firing any teachers (in large amounts and most importantly, for the meantime) but there is more to education than that.

    From NY1:

    "After school programs, art, music, staff are going to be laid off. We don't know the exact numbers, but it could be somewhere between two to 3,000 staff members," said City Councilman and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson.

    A Department of Education spokesperson says no teachers will get laid off, although some teacher vacancies won't be filled.

    The department has ordered school principals to cut nearly four percent out of their budgets for next year by this Thursday. But education advocates warn there's little left to cut without affecting the classroom.

    "We're cutting into the bone of a system where the majority of kids don't graduate on time," said Geri Palast of Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

    Of course we have to acknowledge that these are dire times and the budget deficit has been a hard one to fill with so much Wall Street tax revenue that has gone up in smoke. Yet if we want New York to have a solid future, we need to fix our public school system and not make it solely about passing the standardized tests that Bloomberg loves under his complete control of the system.

    Examining The Protests In Iran

    The images are inspiring to see, hundreds of thousands of Iranians demanding that their leaders adhere to the rules of democracy. It has to drive the hard line clerics mad. Yet as much as we here in America might want to help the opposition along, all we can do is be supportive from the sidelines and let the situation play itself out all on its own. We've made enough of a mess in Iran in the 20th century, let's not continue it in the 21st.

    Pedro Espada: Renters' Public Enemy #1

    Millions of New Yorkers better take notice. Renters who were hoping for reform under that new Democratic majority have Senator Pedro Espada to thank for extinguishing all hopes of getting something done this year. Sen. Hiram Monserrate also shares in the blame, but if you have to give top billing to one of them, it would be Espada. Good government groups have been up in arms over his refusal to follow campaign finance laws and now we have a lead on why. The most powerful lobbying group, the real estate industry, has a very good reason to financially support Pedro and it is one he'd rather not talk about.

    From The NY Times:

    In the weeks before Mr. Espada bolted, Senate Democrats were poised to vote on the most significant expansion of rent regulation and tenant rights in a quarter-century, including legislation that could have cost the owners of the more than one million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City and its suburbs billions of dollars on their investments.

    Mr. Espada, as chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, had assured Democratic leaders he would take up the bill, already passed by the Assembly, but repeatedly blocked it, citing technical objections and scheduling issues. Last Monday, after he defected to the Republicans and ascended to the Senate presidency, he announced he was opposed to the legislation.

    His move has all but assured that the bill will die this year.

    “It’s dead,” Michael McKee, a leading advocate for tenants, declared last week.

    Democrats said Mr. Espada’s actions raise questions about whether he received financial support from real estate interests as he contemplated his switch of allegiance to the Republicans. As chairman of the Housing Committee, he would be expected to be a primary beneficiary of contributions from the industry, which is among the most powerful in Albany.
    But no one knows how much money he got from them, because Espada shuns his responsibility from the law (I wonder where he learned that one from). All he cares about is himself and how much money he can make, presumably before he gets kicked out of office, but I'm sure there's a lobbying group that'll love to have such a sniveling snake as he.

    Now Monserrate presumably has said he's a big champion of vacancy decontrol (an important part of tenant reformers goals) and if he does stick to such a principal, that could be one of the reasons he came back to the Democratic caucus after a week. Yet if he had done five minutes of homework, he would have seen that his "friend" had been stalling rent reforms for the entire session this year. It wouldn't have taken a rocket scientist to figure out Espada wasn't a friend of the renters in his district or any other in the state.

    Monserrate will be gone if and when he is convicted of slashing his girlfriend in his face but Espada thus far has not been charged with any crime (though he is being investigated for several). It is Mr. Espada that we must focus on, because his lust for power can do far more damage than I believe Monserrate ever dreamed of doing.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Tortured Detainee Admits He Told Interrogators What They Wanted To Hear

    This was last night's news, but it bears repeating. When Dick Cheney or any other torture apologist tries to say that breaking the Geneva Convention helps procure good intelligence, they are lying. Recently released information from the White House adds to the overwhelming evidence that torture does not work, just ask one of the guys they tortured.

    From ThinkProgress:

    The Bush administration has long justified its use of torture by claiming that it obtained valuable information from torturing 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Late last year, former Vice President Dick Cheney said, “Did it produce the desire results? I think it did.” He explained:

    I think, for example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number three man in al Qaeda, the man who planned the attacks of 9/11, provided us with a wealth of information.

    But according to documents released by the Obama administration in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, Cheney was lying. Mohammed told U.S. military officials that he gave false information to the CIA after withstanding torture:

    “I make up stories,” Mohammed said, describing in broken English an interrogation probably administered by the CIA that concerned the location of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

    “Where is he? I don’t know. Then he torture me,” Mohammed said. “Then I said, ‘Yes, he is in this area.’”

    Interrogation experts have always maintained that torture does not work, and actually hinders an investigation because of false information being told to make the pain stop. The very fact that we are having this debate is bad enough, but at least the truth can come out that shows people like Dick Cheney, John Yoo, George Bush and the rest of them are full of it when it comes to fighting terrorism with torture.

    Mickey Carroll Sees A Disconnect Between Term Limits And Bloomberg

    The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Bloomberg's approval rating and twenty point lead over his top challenger Bill Thompson. What the poll doesn't show is how people feel about the term limits extension and how Bloomberg manipulated the process to get that extension through. Quinnipiac director Mickey Carroll talks about it with the Observer's Azi Paybarah, and asserts people just don't care enough about it to sway their decision about who they'll vote for in November.

    Perhaps the problem is that while people know something about the term limits extension, they do not know the full truth about how far Bloomberg went to get that passed without letting the people have a say. His authoritarian notions would impress many a dictator around the world for how he pulled that off, and this is still a matter of informing voters of what exactly went down last fall...and of course, everything else he's done to this city.

    Espada And GOP Could Care Less About Power-Sharing Or The Judge's Ruling

    Yesterday after the failed meeting between Senate leaders on both sides, Republicans (including Espada) proclaimed they were the leaders based on last week's vote and that compromising with the Democratic caucus wasn't going to happen without Judge McNamara's adjudication this morning. Well 10 a.m. came and went, and the judge delayed his decision again in the name of progress between the two camps. I wonder if he thought that about the latest development from Espada, Skelos et al.

    From The Daily Politics:

    This doesn't necessarily bode well: Sens. Dean Skelos and Pedro Espada Jr. just announced they have scheduled a session for 3 p.m. with 62 bills on the active list, many of which are "critically important" to counties and cities across the state.

    A brief review of the list finds it includes bills sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, including this little number:

    - S4071: Provides for the sanitization of every used mattress or bedding material transported, stored or sold in the state.

    Guess who the sponsor is? Sen. Hiram Monserrate.

    Bloomberg's Billions And The Budget Are Tools For His Re-election

    As has been argued before, there is more to Bloomberg's campaign strategy than simply inundating mailboxes and television commercials with his deceiving messages. With yesterday's $59.4 billion dollar budget deal, it seems that the Mayor, and his Deputy Mayor ally Chris Quinn is getting his ducks in a row to win over key constituencies while leaving the door open to cut more programs once the election is over.

    From PolitickerNY:

    Michael Bloomberg and the City Council agreed on a $59.4 billion City budget deal that squashes the mayor’s plan to shutter sixteen fire companies, maintains current six-day services at libraries, prevents layoffs of child welfare workers, and trims by an unspecified margin the number of layoffs planned for other city workers.

    “This is basically, as Chris said, preserving services,” Bloomberg said, referring to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, during an event with the Council in the City Hall rotunda this evening. “I don’t think there is any major cut that is going to really hurt anybody.”

    But advocates gathered around City Hall quietly muttered to themselves and reporters the fear that whatever was placed into the budget could be stripped after the November elections, when Bloomberg and a majority of the Council are expected to be re-elected.

    “This may not be the last word on this year’s budget,” said Bloomberg, referring to projections that the national and local economies were projected to grow slightly in the months ahead.

    Bloomberg is going to do whatever it takes to win this election, already showing that he's willing to spend tens of millions to convince New Yorkers to re-elect him. The latest polls show him ahead by 22 points or more but people are starting to get tired of all the advertising. Bloomberg has many smart minds on his team and they most certainly realize all of this. So blitzing the Internet, the postal service and the airwaves is not enough for Bloomberg's ambitions. Making deals with unions and holding off on cuts in services goes a lot further with people than any ad.

    The important thing for voters to realize is that the programs saved today may not be around come mid-November. The key is to look at what Bloomberg has done over the last seven years, not in the last few weeks.

    Bill Maher Wants Obama To Deliver On Health Care

    Making speeches is easy to do, but getting real reformational policy enacted is another. Obama spoke forcefully for the public option in front of the American Medical Association but back in the Senate, things are going more and more for the GOP and the corporate agenda. Maher, like he mentioned on "New Rules" a few days ago, wants Obama to act like Bush and get things the other side doesn't like, passed.

    Espada And Senate GOP Refuse Compromise

    So much for working together. Yesterday, after Judge McNamara told both sides of the Senate to go work out their differences, Skelos and Espada left the meeting after an hour. Smith followed newly chosen Conference Leader John Sampson into the negotiating room to come up with some way to share power, but they were rebuffed.

    From The Times-Union:

    During the meeting, Senate Democrats proposed a power-sharing plan that would rotate the position of president pro tempore between two the parties on a daily basis, with that person running the Senate with a floor leader from the opposition party. A bipartisan committee of six senators, three from each party, would set the session agenda.

    Espada and Skelos emerged after less than an hour to essentially throw the future of negotiations back into state Supreme Court, saying no progress could be made until the question of the coup's legitimacy had been resolved.

    "We have decided that we need the judicial decision from Judge McNamara," Espada said.

    "Our position is that it's 32-30," said Skelos. "That was the vote. So as many times as you want to say it didn't occur, it occurred." The Democrats, he added, "are getting paid and they aren't showing up for work."

    While Skelos can say what he wants to the press about 32-30, the reality of the situation is that Monserrate flipped back to the Democrats. The dog has left the coalition and if Skelos tries to do anything with this stubborn attitude, he's always going to end up with one senator short of a quorum. So instead Espada and the Republicans will go before the judge this morning and await his decision. Hopefully McNamara will assess the situation and rule to reflect the reality of what is going on, not what Skelos wishes for.

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    CEO And Senator John Sampson, Reporting For Duty

    It is just a little past three in the afternoon on Monday, but already a lot has gone on this week in Albany. Monserrate came back to the Democrats early this morning and deadlocked the institution. Attorneys for both caucuses have been told by a judge to work it out or else face his decision by 1pm 10am Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, Monserrate says he's back because Majority Leader Smith is stepping back to let Senator Sampson step up, with a spiffy new title known to us as the "Conference leader," which in business-speak, according to Smith, means that Sampson will be the new CEO.

    From PolitickerNY:

    The members of the conference—still without defector Pedro Espada Jr.—announced State Senator John Sampson will have the new title of "conference leader," Majority Leader Malcolm Smith explained, and will handle the "day-to-day business" of the conference. Smith said the structure was similar to a board chairman and CEO, with Sampson serving as CEO. Smith, I'm hearing, is holding on by a legal technicality.

    Monserrate was called a "friend" by both Sampson and Smith.

    "I'm clear about the following: This conference is united," Monserrate said. He tacitly confirmed reports that his flip back into the Democratic conference had to do with differences with Espada Jr. over tenant-protection issues.

    The leadership of the State Senate is still uncertain. Lawyers for both sides were due in court around the time this press conference started; the judge hearing the case has said he does not want to get involved. Spokesman Austin Shafran said Democratic lawyers plan to tell the judge that progress is being made out of court.

    Having Monserrate back is an odd definition of progress. However in the New York State Senate, any direction is both backwards and upside down all in one motion. Hopefully Sampson and Smith can both "defriend" criminals once they are convicted of their crimes, or if they get primaried, whichever comes first. Sampson will now have to deal with the backstabbing Monserrate, and the rest of caucus amidst an incredibly turbulent and unpredictable time in our state's government.

    Meanwhile, back in "reform coalition" land, Espada allegedly bussed in some supporters to shout down the reform advocates that had initially come up last Tuesday to lobby for good goverment issues such as independent redistricting and whatnot. Espada's people came with t-shirts that are just a bit outdated though, proclaiming that Monserrate is still on their side despite what went on today.

    Ah, the dramatics of Albany...who needs soap operas when you can just tune in to state politics.

    Robert Greenwald To NY: Vote Down The Supplemental

    The only way our democracy is going to work is if we all participate in it. If you disagree with the additional war supplemental bill, tell your representatives to vote it down.

    Gov. Dean Reminds Sen. Conrad Health Care Is An American Problem

    Health care reform is one of the most pressing issues that our nation faces today. Yet progress in the Senate is slow-going with Senator Baucus in charge. He has dragged his feet to stop the public option from being seriously considered and he is getting help from his conservative Democratic friends to appease not only the Republican minority, but the health care industry as well. Senator Conrad tried to argue for a "compromise" plan that lets non-profit cooperatives negotiate prices instead of Medicare, but Governor Dean was quick to shoot his ridiculous attempt at "bipartisanship" down.

    From ThinkProgress:

    This morning on MSNBC, former Gov. Howard Dean rejected Conrad’s proposal, saying it is “not a real compromise.” “This is a fix for the Senate problem,” he said, “this doesn’t fix the American problem.” After heaping praise on Conrad, Dean explained:

    He’s wrong about this. The co-ops are too small to compete with the big, private insurance companies. They will kill the co-ops completely by undercutting them, using their financial clout to do it. In the small states like mine and like Senator Conrad’s, you’re never gonna get to the 500,000 number signed up in the co-op that you need to in order for them to have any marketing [power].

    This is a compromise designed to deal with problems in the Senate. But it doesn’t deal with problems in America. And I think it’s time for the Senate to stop playing politics, do what has to be done. … If the Republicans don’t want to get on board, then we can do this without the Republicans.


    That Senate problem has nothing to do with actual concerns of Americans who are either being denied or short-changed by the current health care system. The fact is, having a public option is the compromise. If leaving the system the way it is would be the starting conservative position, then instituting a single payer program like other Western democracies would be the beginning point for the liberals. Having the option to go with a public option is a great compromise, and it will give health care industry proponents the chance to prove in the open market that their way of doing things works best.

    Of course, they know it doesn't, and that is why they have tools senators like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus to do their bidding.

    MTA Money Goes Where Politics Dictates, Not By Necessity

    While we wait to see if the Senate can sort itself out before a judge does, let's take a look at how Albany's culture of corruption affects the M.T.A. Of course it was only last month when the state legislature stepped in at the last moment to save the public from 25% fare increases and leaving a 10% rise in it's place. It seemed as if they saved the day by increasing payroll taxes and tolls but what was not mentioned is the slush fund legislators have access to that was inserted into the mix. How those extra millions were spent speaks to how our dysfunctional capitol works.

    From The NY Daily News:

    State lawmakers have spent some $240 million on pet transit projects through a slush fund that has helped suburban rail riders far more than city straphangers, the Daily News has learned.

    State legislators have directed approximately $190 million from the Customer Service Reserves to expand parking, renovate stations and make other upgrades along Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road lines, an MTA breakdown shows.

    Only $50 million or so of the reserves has gone toward NYC Transit subway projects, the data show, even though subway ridership dwarfs commuter train ridership.

    Why does NYC get so little, and why didn't we know about it? Gene Russianoff of N.Y.P.I.R.G. and the Straphangers campaign explains how that goes, along with a knock at the Senate's new "transparent" website:

    It has gone unchallenged because the reserves are distributed in secrecy by majority leaders in the Assembly and Senate.

    "It's not up on a Web site or enumerated in a capital plan," Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said. "It's only by rooting around and incredible persistence you get this information, and it's wrong."

    Bill Maher's New Rules, Don't Taser Grannies!

    Another great "New Rules" from Bill Maher. He covers a bunch of topics from last week, but the focus on a Texas cop tasering a grandmother for using bad words is well deserved:

    Oh and of course, for the main part of this video, all I have to say is "hell yes!"

    Khamenei Fears Iranian Uprising?

    I wasn't going to post anything about the Iranian election initially because frankly, the "republican" part of that regime is a minor blip in comparison to the power that the mullahs and specifically Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds in the country. Yet the aftermath of this apparently manipulated election is what makes the story in Iran so important. Khamenei had initially decreed that the results were "divine" but the only thing that matters is that if the people believe it to be so. Despite Ahmadinejad's attempts to beat his opponents into submission, social unrest has led Khamenei to walk back god's rule and will now hold an investigation into President Ahmadinejad tainted the political process.

    From UPI:

    TEHRAN, June 15 (UPI) -- Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Monday ordered an investigation into fraud allegations surrounding the country's troubled election, state-run media report.

    Khamenei also urged Mir Hossein Mousavi to pursue his challenge of election fraud through legal means, CNN reported.

    Mousavi is disputing the official results of Friday's elections that declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner with more than 62 percent of the vote to Mousavi's 33 percent. Since the results were released, Mousavi's supporters have staged demonstrations, clashing with Ahmadinejad supporters and police.

    Now the determining factor is how far this investigation gets. If Khamenei allows investigators to show the fraud allegedly committed, then we'll see if Iran will hold another election, retabulated the results to show the actual vote totals or merely ignore the opposition after claiming to look into the matter. That is still up for debate, but it rests heavily on how the opposition persists in the coming days and weeks. Of course, if the people truly want reform, they'll have to not only go after the authoritarianism of Ahmadinejad, but the entire state apparatus.

    Monserrate Deadlocks The Senate

    Senator Dave Valesky is one man in Albany that makes his feelings about Espada known, but how does he feel about Monserrate now? Monserrate has added another shockwave to the debacle in our state government by switching yet again, this time back to the Democratic party and thereby creating a deadlock in the Senate. The indicted Queens Senator had been hemming and hawing for a few days now about whether he should come back to the party that got him elected and apparently he made some sort of deal that leaves Pedro Espada stranded. Not only is Espada left out in the cold, but the situation effectively kills all business in the Senate. Of course, that isn't how Republicans see it.

    From The NY Daily News:

    First off, a judge on Monday must still rule on the legality of last week's GOP-led coup, which ousted Democrat Malcolm Smith and replaced him with Democrat Pedro EspadaJr. as Senate president and Republican Dean Skelos as majority leader.

    If the court rules the coup was legal or declines to get involved, Espada and Skelos would remain as leaders of an evenly split chamber. The GOP claims that as president, Espada would actually get to cast a second vote to break any ties.

    Normally that function falls to the lieutenant governor, but the state has been without one since David Paterson became governor last year upon Eliot Spitzer's resignation.

    Democrats argue Espada legally can't have two votes and are looking into the possibility that Paterson is still considered the elected lieutenant governor and thus can still cast a tie-breaking vote.

    What that means is that barring Espada having two votes and Paterson is given his old job back, each side will have to come together to find a way to share power so that they can do their job as Senators and pass legislation for the people of New York. It really does amaze me that amidst all this drama, the least important political actor in the process is the voter and the people at large. For the last week the only two people that have mattered are two criminals, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate. The latter is indicted and it is only a matter of time before the former is charged for multiple counts of corruption (A.G. Cuomo is on the case).

    Personally, I feel Monserrate is a toxic asset and the only way to bail this problem out is by letting the jury throw him in jail for the crimes he committed against his girlfriend. Then his Queens district can replace him with someone a bit more straight-edged. As for Espada, it is only a matter of time before his time in the spotlight is over. Come November 2010, a Democrat will be representing the 33rd district and not this slimy crook that's there now.