Sunday, September 30, 2007

Aplogies Not Accepted at the Times

In this morning's NY Times, the paper runs an AP story on an apology made yesterday by Duke president Richard Brodhead concerning the college's failure to stick up strongly for the rights of its students during the lacrosse rape hoax (and we're thankful here for the outsourcing given the biases exhibited by the Times). The key point here is that the university, and many of its faculty-along with a gullible media that so desperately wanted to believe this meta narrative of racial and sexual exploitation-simply hung these kids out to dry with no real support for their presumption of innocence.

Here's the money quote from the Brodhead speech on this, as posted on the Durham-in-Wonderland website: "Second, some of those who were quick to speak as if the charges were true were on this campus, and some faculty made statements that were ill-judged and divisive. They had the right to express their views. But the public as well as the accused students and their families could have thought that those were expressions of the university as a whole. They were not, and we could have done more to underscore that."

For many of us, even though the recognition of failure is always healthy, the president's admission is a little bit late in the day, and there were many earlier junctures where Brodhead could have spoken out against the abuse of his students-by both the faculty and the prosecutor-to great effect. In spite of this failure, his mea culpa is appreciated simply because it is the right thing for him to do if the university is going to learn from this sad incident.

As much as the Brodhead apology may be seen as minimalist, given the egregious nature of the presumption of guilt by so many,it stands in sharp contrast with the behavior of the paper of wreckage in this matter. As we have mentioned before many times, here, here, here, and here, the NY Times' coverage of the Duke case was an embarrassment to the genre, What greatly exacerbates the paper's failure to accurately cover the case-a failure that is amply documented in the Until Proven Innocent expose of the matter-is the fact that the Times has never editorialized on the case after it, and the paper's coverage itself for that matter, was proven to be a hoax.

The Times colluded with the rogue prosecutor and still hasn't said a word about what can be seen as the single most egregious case of prosecutorial misconduct that was basically enacted before our very eyes; with the Times writing the libretto. And this is supposed to be a paper that has a concern for the protection of civil liberties-apparently only as long as the threat is against certain classes of people who need to have the Times as their perpetual guardian angel.

So,as a result of its ideological and ethical blinders, the Times continues to damage its once great name. It reminds us of the Op-Ed that the paper published four years ago on the "decline" in heart attacks in Helena, Montana. The author, an editor at Prevention, cited a study by two doctors that after the city passed its secondhand smoke ordinance, it experienced a 40% decline in heart attacks. Subsequently, proving once again that there's a big difference between correlation and causation, the study was thoroughly debunked. The Times has never corrected this misinformation, or apologized to its readers for the error.

What this all tells us is that are major MSM outlets need to be constantly and fairly monitored-and that anti-free speech laws that limit citizens from political advocacy while giving carte blanche to papers like the Times must be resisted for what they are: unfair advantages to certain people with a particular point of view.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Licensed Lack of Integrity

We have so far restrained from any comment on the proposal by Governor Spitzer to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. As is often the case, however, it is the NY Times that stimulates our need to speak out. In today's paper the Times editorializes in support of the measure, and the following comment really motivated our need to post: "Republican opposition to Mr. Spitzer’s move has taken a strident anti-immigrant tone that is unwelcome in this discussion."

Excuse me! We have examined the comments of both Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Minority Leader Tedesco, as well as other remarks from Republican opponents, and we're unable to see anything that remotely resembles an "anti-immigrant" mindset. In the Times editorial, the paper sees Bruno's claim that the use of drivers licenses by illegals would lead to these folks voting illegally as simply false. We're not sure that it is or it isn't; but if it is, than it is a simple policy disagreement and has nothing to do with being anti-immigrant.

In fact, it could equally be claimed that the position of Bruno, et al, is pro-immigrant, since it can just as well be seen as a defense of those immigrant who struggle to comply with our laws through legal immigration pathways. As one Republican law maker told the Times in a separate story: “Handing licenses out like lollipops to illegal immigrants is an affront to those who are in our country legally and puts our communities at risk,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez of Schoharie."

In examining the Times editorial there is one glaring omission: the absence of any recognition that the illegal immigration problem might pose a national security threat. Instead, and we see this with all of the open borders advocates, we are offended with the invidious comparisons of border security proponents with out right racists.

And we've never seen the Times editorialize when an illegal felon, often someone who is a repeat offender who should have been deported much earlier, murders one of our citizens (can we can say "our citizens" without being accused of xenophobia?). In fact, when Mary Nagle was killed in our old town of New City the only take the Times had on this was this headlined article: "Killing Leaves Suburbanites Wary of Immigrant Workers." The Times' only concern seems to have been that the killing would lead to an "anti-immigrant" backlash.

But don't simply take our word on this. The Times had nothing to say editorially about the disruption of the Minutemen speech at Columbia last year. On the contrary, the paper was forced to issue the following apology for mischaracterizing the group's intentions: "Correction: October 10, 2006, Tuesday An article on Saturday about a protest at Columbia University over a speech by the head of the Minuteman Project, a civilian border patrol group, gave an imprecise description of the group's stand on immigration. While it opposes illegal immigration, the group does support immigration in general."

There, it couldn't be clearer. So immersed in its own ideological miasma, the NY Times can't even report an immigration-related story with any degree of either accuracy or fairness. So let's take its drivers license commentary with an understanding of where the paper's coming from-it simply has no interest in protecting either the country' safety or your own.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Stringer: Word Up?

We've definitely been hammering BP Stringer over his questionable deal making acumen; but the animus derives from the way in which Stringer dramatically postured as a defender of the community when it was politically expedient to do so. As last year's March, 23rd article in the Columbia Spectator points out, Stringer, "expressed solidarity with opponents of Columbia's proposed Manhattanville expansion Wednesday night."

The last time we encountered such ephemeral allegiance, we found ourselves hooked up with the infamous Councilman Guillermo Linares, who sold out his own Dominican store owners on application to build a Pathmark Supermarket on 125th Street, for the promise of being Charlie Rangel's successor in Congress (How's that working out Guillermo?). Elected officials need to be held to their words, and in the case of Stringer he's clearly "a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience."

Here's what Scott said last March: "I want to promise you that as long as I'm borough president I'm going to do everything I can so that Columbia cannot run roughshod over this community," he said at a meeting of the Coalition to Preserve Community, a group that has protested the expansion plans. "I will stand with you, I will demonstrate with you," he said to the audience of about 125 people at St. Mary's Church, "We are as smart as those $600 an hour lawyers."

Not only was Stringer willing to man the barricades, he also told the Coalition to Preserve Community that he was adamantly opposed to the use of eminent domain. The full quote here gives a real sense of how deep the Stringer deal with CU is a betrayal of the community: "Stringer expressed opposition to the use of eminent domain to take property in Manhattanville and suggested he would be willing to use his vote in the Uniform Land Use Review Process, the procedure for approving rezoning of the area, to leverage Columbia into taking it off the table. "I'm not for eminent domain, and I do have a role in this ULURP process," he said. Columbia has asked the state to consider using eminent domain to forcibly buy properties from business owners who have refused to sell, though they say it remains a last resort.
"People in this neighborhood should not be shoved to the side just because we need to expand," he said in reference to Columbia.
"Columbia left to their own devices has a thirty year record of evicting tenants, of not dealing with the community," Stringer said."

This staunch stand on principle wasn't the first time that Stringer made his position perfectly clear on the use of ED. In 2005, right after he was elected, Stringer told the community: "We have a wonderful opportunity when a school of this magnitude comes to a community and wants to expand", he said, adding, "Part of what we have to recognize is that Columbia left to its own devices, unchecked, will use eminent domain ... I want you to know clearly where I stand. That is unacceptable."

Wow! In the space of eighteen months Stringer morphs into a completely different person, shedding principles like a reptile shedding its skin. It's no wonder that the community is up in arms. As the Spectator reported yesterday, quoting Sarah Martin of the Grant Houses Residents Association: "Martin was equally perplexed that the University would offer to create a housing fund outside of its Community Benefits Agreements with the LDC. According to Martin, discussions about a housing fund were in the works, though the LDC had yet to propose a dollar figure it would find acceptable. “Why is he [Stringer] trying to make the CBA for us?” she asked. “He should be supporting what we’re trying to do. ... He’s sold this community out.”

Which, as we said this morning, doesn't bode well for the Stringer future. Harlem Tenants Council president Nellie Baily deserves the last word here: "At a public hearing last week in advance of Stringer’s vote, the crowd was split, but a majority of speakers urged the borough president to reject Columbia’s plan, and some cautioned that he would face political repercussions if he approved it. “Politicians, I warn you, this is your litmus test,” Harlem Tenants Council president Nellie Bailey said at the hearing. “If you want to be in office, you’ve got to vote against this plan.”

Second Stringer

We have certainly commented enough on the pusillanimity of Manhattan BP Stringer in regards to his obeisance to the Bloomberg-Bollinger axis. Stringer's failure of nerve here, gives a good deal of fuel to the fire for those who feel that the office of borough president is an unneeded anachronism. Stringer's failure doesn't bode well for his desire to eventually move up to any available city wide office. Not if leadership is seen as one of the necessary prerequisites of holding office at that level.

A couple of additional points are still important to make on the Stringer sycophancy. In the first place, given that he has now taken a position diametrically opposed to that of the community and its 197-a plan, it is incumbent upon him to remove himself from the board of the West Harlem LDC. His role as an honest broker has been vitiated. In addition Stringer, in the person of Anthony Borelli, his rep on the LDC, has been in the forefront of the efforts to remove Nick Sprayregen from said board-allegedly because of Nick's conflict of interest. At this writing there is no one with a greater conflict in the issue of the Columbia expansion than Stringer, regardless of the fact that he's an elected official.

On top of this it needs to be said that Stringer in all of his discussions with Sprayregen and his attorney Norman Siegal emphasized that he would never support the Columbia plan as long as the issue of eminent domain was still on the table. However, as soon as the "Stringer Plan" (kind of like the Marshall Plan-no?) was adopted by the mayor's folks Scott, jettisoned all of his faux principles in a rank display of narcissism. As Sprayregen e-mailed us: "I feel that what Mr. Stringer has done is a complete betrayal of the West Harlem community. For over two years, he has gone on the record, as well as repeatedly said to my attorney, Norman Siegel, as well as to members of the Coalition to Preserve Community, (CPC), that he would refuse to back the Columbia plan as long as eminent domain was being threatened. Moreover, with this decision, Mr. Stringer is putting his own future aspirations ahead of truly doing what is right for the community that he serves."

Sprayregen's comments drew a response from the BP's office, that claimed that the West Harlem landowner was, according to a Crain's In$ider report, "spreading misinformation." So Stringer is now denying the positions that he previously espoused to numerous people on the issue of eminent domain, a perfect example of situational ethics.

Which brings us to the unintended display of honesty at the Stringer/Bollinger press event the other day. When pressed on the relatively meager university offering of $20 million for a $6 billion development, Stringer defended his midwifery to AMNY: "Stringer says Columbia understands the needs and concerns of its neighbors in West Harlem. He says the package contained enough benefits for the neighborhood to win his blessing."

When we speak of unintended honesty we're obviously not referring to the first part of the Stringer remark-a hilarious act of toadying that is frankly embarrassing. It's the second piece of the statement-the remark that Columbia had provided "enough benefits" to "win his blessing, that moved us here. It did so because it revealed clearly just how little it takes to extirpate any moral sense in the BP. In fact a cursory analysis of the agreement here, leads us to observe that General Robert E. Lee negotiated a better deal at Appomattox.

CB9 Chair, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc gets this at a much more fundamental level. As he told the Spectator: "He said that $20 million was “not even a drop” when compared with the community’s housing needs, and that at least $500 million would be required to address them."
And this from this morning's Crain's: "However, LDC President Pat Jones calls the package “modest.”Her board continues to talk with school officials about affordable housing, education and employment."

So in the end, when faced with his first opportunity to move up to the majors, the Manhattan Borough President revealed that he is a second stringer, lacking strong leadership skills. Let's hope that he gets the proper challenge he deserves when he stands for re-election in 2009.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Morose on Gay Rights

In today's DMI blog the indefatigable Maureen Lane flagellates herself in a post about gay rights. What makes all of this fascinating reading is the fact that the entry she writes devolves from a Daily Kos commentary on the Ahmadinejad speech where the Iranian Nutcase denied that his country had any gay people.

It would seem to us that the Ahmadinejad denial might have been a perfect opportunity for the regressive left in this country to reflect on some of the things that distinguish America from the Islamic orthodoxies of the world. Our bad!

Instead, the speech led our Kossak to ruminate on, "how do our own policies deny the gay community?" Wouldn't you know it, they just can't seem to miss the opportunity to not find anything good to say about their own country-and Lane falls right into this stultifying mindset with the following mea culpa: "I have not written enough about the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Inter-Sex, Transgender, Two Spirit, Questioning and Queer (LGBITTQQ) community and poverty. In that way, I have contributed to denying the community. When you compound discrimination, the intersection of race, sexuality and gender can be profound on people’s ability to attain economic security and to get help when they are in need."

Now let's make one thing clear, this is not a post about the absence of discrimination against gays in the United States-something we're far from expert about. The point is something quite different. There is a stark differential between the American mindset on these issues-yes even if we include evangelical Christians-and the medieval worldview espoused by radical Islam. As Bruce Bawer points out in his While Europe Slept, Jerry Falwell might have wanted to deny Bawer's marriage rights, but at least he didn't advocate stoning him to death.

All of which illustrates how the left continues to see its own country with the most jaundiced eye-and explicates why these folks would even support an Ahmadinejad over Prersident Bush. Politics has been known to make strange bedfellows but this really takes the cake. In many ways this is similar to the phenomenon that Paul Berman writes about in Terror and Liberalism, where he observed how French socialists morphed into supporters of the Nazis.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own self-righteous disputations that we blind ourselves to some self evident truths-one in particular being that there are many less savory political environments than our own, and that there are some really evil people in the world; far more than any neocon or Republican.

Negotiated Surrender

Yesterday, as expected, Manhattan BP Scott Stringer lived up to his deal with the mayor, and agreed to support the Columbia expansion plan-with little of community benefit to show for his willing acquiescence. What he did get out of the deal was good for Scott; he gets to point with some degree of exaggerated pride to the city's support for the rezoning plan that he has put forward as an answer to the anticipated Columbia-generated widespread dislocation in the West Harlem community.

It is, however, way too little to show for his efforts. As Matt Schuerman of the Observer pointed out, the $20 million that Columbia has pledged to support affordable housing is a cruel joke when juxtaposed against the dislocation that the the university's own consultants envision will be generated by the massive gentrification impacts of the plan. As Scheurman observes:

"Some $20 million will be devoted to an affordable housing fund that will partially offset the indirect displacement that the new campus is expected to cause outside the footprint.
But given the fact that it costs, conservatively, somewhere around $400,000, and sometimes as much as $1 million, to build an affordable apartment in Manhattan, the contribution would only go so far in alleviating the indirect displacement. The draft environmental impact statement, for instance, says that “
approximately 3,293” nearby residents would be forced out because of gentrification."

So what the BP has failed to do is to draw a principled line in the sand, something that would have been reflective of true leadership on behalf of a beleaguered community that has been looking for a righteous defender. Instead, just two days after Lee Bollinger acquiesces to an Iranian nutcase, Stringer acquiesces to Bollinger and becomes the midwife for the gentrification that he claims to be so concerned about.

Here's Stringer's comment on all of this sleight-of-hand: “This is a win-win for Columbia,” said Stringer. “It's a win for West Harlem, and quite frankly it's a win for all of New York City. Columbia's expansion will keep it at the forefront of higher education and scientific research. While it becomes an active partner with the community, we can be assured that binging affordable housing and jobs, sustainable development and economic opportunity is something that we will have to continue to strive for."

Notice the interesting circumlocution here? Columbia gets its expansion, but everything else is put in the "continue to strive for" category. It's a classic buying of a pig-in-a-poke, with Stringer acting as the auctioneer. Let's face it, Stringer, when confronted with the Columbia behemoth, simply blinked-afraid to tackle the university and its plan head-on. Where will the affordable housing be built. What good will the $20 million be if no space is set aside in the 18 acre footprint? Isn't this the real "player to be named later" that the baseball executives talk about?

It all reminds of of Popeye's Wimpy, who would always tell the sailor: "I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." In this case, it is Columbia getting the hamburger today, while it is West Harlem that will be continually waiting to see if Tuesday will ever come.

Let's hope, as the Times reports this morning, that the deal making is not yet done: "Yesterday, some Harlem officials said the agreement by Columbia was a good-faith effort to begin discussions about the project and its impact." If this is so, we can only hope that the next negotiation phase will be led by those who understand that Columbia needs to truly modify its plan if the community benefits are to have real substance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

The Traffic Congestion folks got started yesterday, and if the first meeting is any indication, it should make for interesting copy as we proceed along in the discussions. Right off the bat, critics of the mayor's plan wasted no time in voicing their criticisms. Assemblywoman Vivian Cook worried that, "...her district, which includes Long Island City, could become a "parking lot" because of drivers avoiding the fees."

The mayor's presenter responded to Cook's concerns by saying that the issue could be addressed by residential parking permits and muni-meters. Perhaps so. But how can we possibly gauge any of this without the requisite data collection and analysis? There are simply no vetted numbers available to give us any confidence in the mayor's rather brazen assumptions. This shortcoming was highligted in this morning's Metro, when critics of the plan asked the mayor's rep where the numbers were.

Which brings us to the issue of cost. As Richard Brodsky pointed out yesterday the London comparison, as questionable as it might be, still is based on the fact that the congestion tax in that fair city is now around $20, which if approved here would mean that New York commuters would be paying over $5,000 a year in additional taxes. This is the issue that has particularly roiled opponents of the mayor's plan.

This is on top of the fact that we're already over burdened and, as Nicole Gelinas points out, the current rates are eroding the city's economic diversity and competitiveness. Add to this the ill-conceived truck tax-also sure to escalate, and you got a further big government anchor on the city's entrepreneurial class. An additional issue here is whether the goal of the tax is to reduce traffic or simply to raise revenue, a question that was raised by Assembly Ways and Means Chair Denny Farrell: "Are they trying to decrease the amount of cars coming in or increase the amount of money we're getting?" he asked."

All of which is of course complicated by the fact that an inefficient agency is in charge of all of these issues; and the MTA is certainly failing in its efforts to win friends and influence people as it lurches toward an ineviatble fare hike. It will soon be time to take a time out on all of this, and launch a more sober evaluation process to determine how to deal with a whole host of mass transit problems.

Trader Joe Comes to West Harlem

In this morning's NY Sun, the paper reports on the decision by the Bloombergers to support the rezoning initiative of Manhattan BP Scott Stringer. As the Sun says; "The decision by the city was announced in a letter yesterday from commissioner of the Department of City Planning, Amanda Burden, to the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, who has been pushing new development and height restrictions. As Columbia's intended new development would transform an area that consists mainly of warehouses and industrial buildings, the planned expansion has already helped to raise land values in the area around the campus footprint, community leaders say."

Can anyone say horse trade here? It certainly appears as if the Bloomberg administration has offered its support for the Stringer plan in exchange for the BP's support of the current Columbia expansion. We can't believe that the support would be unconditional.

If so, this would be a disappointment since we have argued, persuasively we believe, that the Stringer plan is only a good first step, and is certainly no panacea for the kind of displacement impact that the university's expansion will have on the West Harlem community. In fact, if this is the trade than the only thing that the community is getting is the standard major league stand-by-either a "player to be named later,' or the time-honored "future considerations."

It most definitely doesn't compensate for the utter paucity of affordable housing in the existing expansion plan, and we're hopeful that the BP will play a more direct midwife role in a concrete response to the displacement issue, since, as the Sun points out; "With the City Planning Commission scheduled to hold a hearing on the subject next week, the university has yet to reach any agreement with the two major remaining private landholders in the campus footprint. The largest landowner, Nicholas Sprayregen, has put forward a proposal to swap land with Columbia and build hundreds of units of housing across the street, though he has yet to talk with the university about the plan."

It needs to reiterated, especially with the questioning concerning Lee Bollinger's leadership role during the current Ahmadinejad flap, that the CU president has yet to reach out to address the community on the use of eminent domain, and his "my way or the highway" approach may lead to more grief then the university has bargained for here.

Bloomberg's Ennui

In the aftermath of the Ahmadinejad controversy, we are once again struck by the mayor's bloodless response to the event. It appears that the passions that roil this kind of contretemps simply pass right by Mike Bloomberg. As the NY Sun reported yesterday, the mayor took a totally different position on the affair than the one taken by Speaker Silver, who had raised questions about the levels of state funding that Columbia receives.

Bloomberg, on the other hand, demurred: "I think Columbia's budget should be, or whatever help the state gives them, should be based on the quality of the institution and the need for that institution to grow, thrive and be here and to advance science and the arts," Mr. Bloomberg told reporters." So let's get this straight. The mayor feels that hosting a Holocaust denier who wants to wipe Israel off of the map is advancing the sciences and the arts?

We suppose, in defense of Mike Bloomberg, that at least the Iranian guy hadn't come out in favor of chain smoking or fast food-the only things that seem to really get a passionate response from the mayor. Which is quite typical of an end of ideology liberalism, one that has no real beliefs to take a stand for-that, because of its bankruptcy of beliefs, needs to elevate health to a moral end in and of itself.

This is something that we're seeing all over a Europe that no longer believes in the value of its own civilization and is, in the words of Claire Berlinski, a place with "No past, No Future, No Worries." It is in the context of this spiritual void that Europeans, and the health nannies like the mayor, raise health into a final value for living. In the end, however, it is a pale substitute for the robust Islamic worldview that Ahmadinejad represents, and it dramatically underscores why Mike Bloomberg's brand of apolitical politics is simply wrong for our challenged times.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

The averting of a total calamity yesterday at Columbia, is owed to the courageous stand by CU president Lee Bollinger, who used the nutcase's presence on campus as a teaching moment. Now, we have been highly critical of Bollinger who did precious little to chastise the Columbia's students who prevented the leader of the Minutemen organization from speaking at CU last year; and we still feel that there was no need for the university to give this low rent dictator a prestigious platform. Bollinger's confrontation, however, managed to salvage the situation.

But was this really all about free speech? Free speech-and the vigorous exchange of ideas in an unfettered marketplace-is a principle of democratic politics, and doesn't extend to the avowed foreign enemies of this country. And a free speech forum is about promoting dialogue and debate; Is there something to debate about the Holocaust? Or about the proposed genocide of a nation?

Now obviously, the clerical fascism that the Iranian avows sees homosexuality as a mortal sin, deserving of a stoning death-which is the kind of punishment that has already been executed in Iran on more than one occasion. Would Columbia's invite a religious leader from America to campus to espouse these kinds of views? We think that all hell would break loose.

So why invite Ahnadinejad, only to excoriate him for his odious opinions, beliefs that Bollinger rightly believes have no place in any democratic system? Last year our good buddy Clyde Haberman chastised conservatives for rebuking Columbia for allowing the Minutemen to be shouted down, while at the same time pressuring the university to not allow Ahmadinejad a platform:
"Particularly upset last week were the city’s more conservative editorial writers, who accused Columbia of not doing enough to protect speech unpopular on the politically liberal campus.
A few weeks earlier, the same editorialists had applauded Columbia for canceling a speaking invitation sent to
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the nuke-seeking, Holocaust-denying president of Iran. Someone like that, the editorials said, had no business being invited. Sound familiar?

This is as false a comparison as you can make. To say that an American wanting to advocate a certain border policy for immigration is equivalent to a foreign dictator whose largess is contributing to the deaths of American soldiers is to reify the concept of free speech into an unrecognizable concept. We need to have the voices of the Jim Gilchrests on campus, if only because they are so rarely espoused. On the contrary, the virulent anti-American and anti-Israeli opinions that we've heard from the Iranian are, well, quotidian on most US campuses.

So one cheer for Bollinger. But we're still skeptical about the reification of free speech at Columbia because we know too well how selective and hypocritical the elite professoriat can be. We know full well that you wouldn't see the kind of polite demonstrations that were seen yesterday on Broadway, if a vicious right wing foreign figure was invited to Columbia, But why fantasize? That's a situation that simply will never happen at any Ivy League institution.

Hitting the Bricks on Broadway

Yesterday was a powerful day in the ongoing deconstruction of the experiment on free speech at Columbia University. The lively and combative Rachele Lipsky joined us for a turn at the Morningside Heights barricade, and combative she was, giving an impassioned rationale for a Michele Malkin interview on why the invitation to the Iranian nutcase had nothing to do with free speech.

There were around two thousand folks gathered in front of the university yesterday, and the basic theme on display was outrage at Columbia's insensitivity in the granting of a prestigious platform to a Holocaust denier and American-soldier killing leader of a terrorist state. Those who try to use the free speech banner in cases like these are generally some of the same people who are absolutely intolerant of any voicing of conservative views on the campus-as was the case with the rescinding of Larry Summers speech invitation at the University of California.

What is also important to emphasize is that the vaunted free speech domain on campus is very much a chimera-at Columbia as well as elsewhere around the country. Too many academic departments appear to be dedicated to a particular political ideology, and alternative viewpoints are almost non-existent. And when folks raise a fuss about all of this, the fragile academics-unused to being challenged-scream "McCarthyism."

So let's open up our university campuses to real diversity of opinion. If we don't they will continue to become what Bruce Bawer called the "one idea state," a place were opinions range narrowly from left to far left. In this process, as ideological lock-step metastasizes, the idea that no beliefs should be treated as sacred is lost in the enveloping orthodoxy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Third Wrong

Columbia is doing us all a great favor because, by its offering a platform to the Iranian madman, it allows all to see clearly the moral dry rot that infects so many of our elite campuses today. The repercussions are starting to come in. In today's NY Sun, the paper writes about the response to the university's grave error from Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver: "In an interview with The New York Sun, the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, said lawmakers, outraged over Columbia's insistence on allowing the Iranian president to speak at its World Leaders Forum, would consider reducing capital aid and other financial assistance to the school."

This should only be the beginning, since the school has compounded its initial error by an additional outrageous statement from the Dean of the International School, one clueless fellow named John Coatsworth, that Columbia would have invited Adolf Hitler in the 1930s to speak at a university forum. This has led the NY Daily News to call for the dean's firing. In an editorial entitled, " Monstrous Idiocy," the paper says; "Coatsworth's invitation to the Iranian president was a gross abuse of academic freedom that he has been attempting mightily and futilely to defend. But there is no way, at least in civilized society, to defend Coatsworth's expressed openness to granting a forum to a man who was the world's most determined, most efficient mass murderer."

A statement, by the way, that President Lee Bollinger endorses! This is the university that is asking the city and state to condemn other people's property so it can expand its civilizing mission into West Harlem? As we have already said, we can no longer take it for granted that this expansion, spearheaded by moral idiots, is in the public interest. And we're certainly not alone.

As the NY Sun also reports this morning, Council Finance Chair, David Weprin is taking a similar stance: "Bollinger made a big mistake, and there should be consequences for him for making that decision," the chairman of the New York City Council's Finance Committee, David Weprin, said in an interview. "We should look at everything involving Columbia, whether it be capital projects, city and state, or other related things that we do in the city for them," he said."

As the expansion application wends its way through the ULURP process Columbia appears to be treading on some thin ice of its own making. The university is so used to its own ideological echo chamber that it seems to think it's immune from the normal political process. It should beware, however. The Sun's editorial today captures Speaker Silver's angry response:
"There are issues that Columbia may have before us that obviously this cavalier attitude would be something that people would recall," Mr. Silver told our Jacob Gershman yesterday. "Obviously, there's some degree of capital support that has been provided to Columbia in the past. These are things people might take a different view of … knowing that this is that kind of an institution." Mr. Silver faulted Columbia for "attempting to legitimize this individual," saying, "We have an obligation because of the U.N. to allow him to come to this country. It doesn't mean we have to make him welcome. We don't have to give him a forum."

Columbia, through its own arrogance, is creating a situation whereby all New Yorkers will need to re-evaluate is putative contribution to the city's civic life. Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin really gets this: "Opening the door to every global psychopath is not principle. It is pure provocation. It is not defending freedom of speech. It is embracing moral equivalency, a lazy leftist dogma that says all "ideas" are equally deserving of being taken seriously. That Columbia has fallen into the value-less trap shows that an expensive education doesn't buy common sense." Indeed, it appears to militate against having it.

Columbia Issues a Til Ticket to Ride

In Friday's Spectator, the paper writes about the Columbia proposal to relocate the Til tenants to comparable housing "within the community." This news is very much a mixed blessing. On the one hand, according to the university, the tenants will be given new apartments under the same potential ownership option that all of the Til folks currently have. On the other hand, as CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc told the Spectator:

"I was "flabbergasted" about a press release being issued without first having communicated with the TIL Tenants and gotten their concurrance if they actually decided or not to accept the offer and it needs to be an outstanding offer that will benefit the TIL Tenants and the community at large..
HPD has made it clear that the TIL Tenants will decide their future and CB9M has made it clear will will support the TIL Tenants no matter what their decision is, expected to be made freely and without coercion from any quarter."

So what Columbia has done in this situation, is to hold separate negotiations with HPD behind the tenants back-only to present them with a take-it or-leave it proposition. This is not really any kind of good faith bargaining. It also doesn't address the larger housing issues that are bound to be generated by the displacemenrt effects of the university's expansion.

So while we are glad that there may be a possibility that the Til tenants will be able to stay "within the community," we are disappointed that the univesity believes that the way to expand is to do so unilaterally through the issuance of diktats. Clearly, real engagement is missing and, as yesterday's Times editorial said, Coumbia needs to overcome its decades of "aloof detachment" if it is going to win over its neighbors.

NY Times' Half Measures

In yesterday's editorial in the City Section, the NY Times correctly points out that Columbia has done precious little to gain the confidence or support of its neighbors in West Harlem for the university's ambitious expansion plan. Here is the editorial at its most cogent: "And while Columbia has worked hard to accommodate residents, including finding replacement housing for those who would be displaced as it builds, more is needed to reassure the neighbors, particularly those who have not been impressed by the school’s promises of thousands of new jobs or by its deepening ties to the community."

The editorial goes on to say that the city is "recognizing the rift" and is doing so by taking a long look at the zoning plan proposed by BP Scott Stringer. And while we certainly support Stringer's efforts to deal with direct and indirect displacement of the area;'s residents we have already pointed out that the Stringer plan, in dealing with the Columbia aftershocks, doesn't deal directly with the impact of the plan itself.

In particular, as the Times highlights, gentrification is a major threat here: "Even those who live outside the university’s expansion area fear the spillover effects of new growth that could push them out, a prospect already faced by residents in other parts of the city where rents have risen with gentrification." Yet, curiously, the paper doesn't suggest any specific modification to the Columbia plan that would deal directly with the displacement issue.

Which is why the adoption of the Stringer plan needs to be seen as part of an overall comprehensive solution that includes the university's commitment to affordable housing and the negotiation with key property owners to swap land in order to build these kinds of units. In essence, the plan itself needs to be modified-and after that, the after-effects must be prepared for.

The Times is right that; "Columbia’s efforts to win over its neighbors have been hampered by the reputation for aloof detachment it helped create a generation ago and has been trying to live down ever since." The way to remedy this, is to treat the community with respect, take its demands seriously, and come up with a plan that engages the key community issues.

Contrary to what the Times says, the Stringer plan alone is not the compromise that "could give Columbia the room it needs to remain a first-class university and the neighborhood residents the assurances they need that their lives will not suffer." A more comprehensive solution needs to be crafted, and the Stringer proposal is just a good first step.

"Progressives" Beguiled by Poverty

In a post last week on the Drum Major Institute site, Maureen Lane took Heather McDonald of the Manhattan Institute to task for setting up a false dichotomy between poor people and"the rest of us." Here's how she set this up:

"Heather's premise is that people are not doing things like, taking kids to school on time, going to PTA, going to doctor's appointments, because they have bad behavior and they just need to "do the right thing" like the rest of "us" (by which she must mean the presumably middle class viewers). Setting poor people outside society by drawing a "them versus us" dichotomy is a tried and true way for ideologues to frame arguments for not working directly on economic and public policy solutions to poverty."

Let's take a critical look at Lane's assumptions here. What she's saying is that by placing a major responsibility on people to behave in certain ways-ways that have been demonstrated to be successful in achieving certain socially desirable results-we are excusing our unwillingness to work directly "on economic and public policy solutions to poverty." This is demonstrably a false statement. Heather's supposedly invidious dichotomy is designed to underscore the fact that the most successful public policies for addressing poverty confront the issue of the relationship between values and behavior.

What is clear is that when some poor people adopt the values in question here-you know those "bourgeois values" that our progressive friends are always happy to deconstruct because of their putative role in under girding the power dynamic that they detest-they can be successful in raising themselves up into a more comfortable middle class status. This has been demonstrated historically by wave after wave of immigrants who have come into the United States hoping to achieve a better life.

Somewhere in the middle of the "Great Society" euphoria, however, we lost our way-so intent were we not to make anything the responsibility of individuals when we had a racist society conveniently at hand to blame. As a result, large welfare bureaucracies were established that created a self-perpetuating dependent population; which was great for the "New Class" of social workers and welfare policy makers, but ultimately horrid for those mired in dependency.

All of which is apparently over Maureen Lane's head as she tells here readers: "Generally speaking, poor families are coming from poor communities where poor women and poor men are sidelined from family sustaining jobs." Just how are they sidelined? Doesn't this come back to exactly what McDonald is trying to say? Which gets back to why McDonald said that the one good thing about Bloomberg's "charity" plan for the poor was that it recognized that behavior needed to be changed.

The question here, with welfare rolls declining since the reform measures of ten years ago, is how to reach the intransigent remains of the dependency class. Clearly, for Lane and the DMI bunch, capitalism isn't the answer. She cites, approvingly, the "renowned" Hunter professor, Mimi Abromovitz: "......Meanwhile, the American Dream the promise that work pays faded for the working and middle class. In 2004, 7.8 million people aged 16 or older spent at least 27 weeks either working or looking for a job but earned below poverty-level wages in companies that provided few basic benefits such as healthcare or parental leave. More than 58% of these working poor women and men were on the job full-time and 90% worked at some time during the year."

Conservatives such as Heather McDonald, however, simply don't get it: "Heather MacDonald and other conservative thinkers are also flummoxed in their own way. Their ideas are infused with the dust and grime of worn-out stereotypes. Their solutions reflect the stuffy answers that do not lend themselves to innovation and advancement." Indeed they must not, since the kind of innovations that are likely to come out of the DMI are the same kinds that led to all of the welfare dependency in the first place.

Perhaps, then, we should look to our socialist friends in Europe, whose economies are collapsing under the weight of all of the "innovative" government-driven solutions that have empowered public bureaucracies at the expense of a robust private sector. It is, moreover, to the "fading American Dream" that all of the immigrants-legal as well as illegal-still come in search of; in spite of what any "renown" professor (an oxymoron for sure) might opine.

Beware of progressive innovation, it is free market hostile and government bureaucrat friendly, a combination that has proved to be historically deadly after a brief period of necessary checks and balances on private sector excess. And Lane, et al, should look at what's happening all over the world, where poverty is being addressed by private sector growth. It may be messy and it certainly isn't perfect, but it reminds us, by way of analogy, of the axiom about our political system: "Democracy is the worst political system, except for all of the others."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Getting the Point

According to Crain's In$ider, the business owners at Willets Point have hired environmental attorney Michael Gerrard to fight the city's ULURP process on the Iron Triangle site. Gerrard told Crain's that his role was, to fight "the total destruction of the neighborhood." In addition, the well-respected lawyer told the newsletter that he had fought many "unstoppable" projects successfully.

What's initially at issue here, is the city's effort to ULURP the entire 50 acre site in a pig-in-a-poke manner, meaning that the City Council will be approving a "concept," and not a specific project with clearly identified tenants. In our twenty five year experience this will prove to be a big mistake. General concepts don't really encompass the actual important project details, some of which can prove to be quite nettlesome. For instance, the zoning that allows for a large retail use cannot exclude a Wal-Mart or a BJ's.

It is also true that the need for zoning approval gives the Council the leverage needed to negotiate some important community benefits with an actual development company. Once re-zoned that leverage disappears.

All of which doesn't even begin to deal with the merits of what the city is trying to do on the Point. One of the things that concerns us the most is the loss of so many immigrant businesses and their employees. These are the kinds of firms that are able to give relatively unskilled workers who don't speak English an opportunity to work and prosper.

What is clear is that Gerrard, and the other attorneys the businesses have hired, is geared for a fight; and if the Alliance is asked to help, this will become a battle royal. Stay tuned to the situation as the city prepares its ULURP application.

Wither Columbia?

Yesterday we posted an item on what we termed the "shame" of Columbia University in its provision of an honored platform for the Iranian nutcase. Today, all three tabloids in the city follow suit with their condemnation of the university-here, here and here. The favorite editorial take? That the Columbia forum is a disgrace. As the NY Daily News says: "Columbia University will play host on Monday to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leader of the foremost sponsor of global terrorism, would-be eradicator of Israel and manufacturer of roadside bombs that are killing American troops in Iraq, in a shameful abuse of academic freedom."

All of which should begin to generate some second thoughts about the lionizing of this ivy league institution, and the eagerness that many in the city are displaying in the support of Columbia's expansion. We don't say this lightly. If Bollinger and the university are so tone deaf on this issue, what does it say about the character and direction of Columbia? Is the university becoming something that most New Yorkers would rather not have in their midst (kind of like the UN itself)?

The NY Sun captures this when it writes: "Our phone has been ringing with calls from New Yorkers appalled, most of them, that President Bollinger is going to permit Columbia University to host President Ahmadinejad — and sick that Mr. Bollinger is personally going to honor the Iranian anti-Semite, an enemy of our country in a time of war, by personally meeting with him and conducting a dialogue that, no matter how sincere Mr. Bollinger is, will be phony."

Up until this point most of us have take for granted that, no matter what are particular objections may be, the university's expansion into West Harlem is-as Martha Stewart would say- "A good thing." Can we be so certain today? That the Bollinger gang would so blithely affront the sensibilities of most New Yorkers-and we are delighted that Speaker Quinn so forcefully gets it-should sound the alarm bells for all of us. Quinn's words need repeating: "The idea of Ahmadinejad as an honored guest anywhere in our city is offensive to all New Yorkers," Ms. Quinn said in a statement. "He can say whatever he wants on any street corner, but should not be given center stage at one of New York's most prestigious centers of higher education."

Bollinger better be careful. He has already, in his non-actions against the Minutemen disrupters, shown that he is no true champion of basic free speech values-more concerned apparently with not affronting the left wing faculty. Does it really make sense to give this university carte blance to expand-and take people's property in the process? This serious question needs to be debated as the ULURP process continues.

Can't They Take a Bank?

In today's NY Sun, the paper reports on the hearing held last night by the MTA in regards to the need to condemn certain properties in order to build the Second Avenue subway line. At the hearing scores of property owners expressed concerns about the process and the threatened loss of the full use of their properties. As the Sun said: "The Metropolitan Transit Authority last night held a public hearing on the acquisition of residential and business property along the subway route under the state's eminent domain law and several property owners were expected to express their concern that the law is being used too liberally, and that construction of the subway should circumvent their property."

In addition, a number of elected officials and/or their representatives testified against the displacement of many rent-controlled tenants from their buildings. Clearly, there needs to be a greater oversight over this process since the MTA is not known for either its expertise or its transparency.

One major issue here, was the possible closure of the popular Gristedes supermarket on 86th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Gristedes owner, John Catsimatidis, prepared testimony that pointed out that we are losing too many supermarkets on the east and west sides of Manhattan; "We're not opposed to the Second Avenue subway, but there's a shortage of supermarkets in New York City right now," Mr. Catsimatidis said. "I would think that the MTA should take that into consideration."

Given the proliferation of banks all over town you'd think that the MTA could have found one of these outlets to gut rather than a retailer providing vital neighborhood services. At the end of last night's hearing, however, it appeared that the agency may be moving away from gutting the Gristedes. We can only hope so, not only for the thousands of New Yorkers who shop there every week, but also for the 88 union jobs that need to be preserved.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shame on Columbia

Columbia University, the bastion of the first amendment and of free speech, is inviting the cretinous head of Iran to address its students at its School of International and Public Affairs. This is the same school that is headed by Dean Lisa Anderson who helped to whitewash the anti-Israel bias investigation and supports the campaign to divest from companies that do business in that country. And, get this, she is "member emerita" of the board of Human Rights Watch!

Anderson herself belongs on the same stage as Ahmadinenjad. As Campus Watch points out: "Her most recent achievement was in raising money, almost entirely from Arab sources for an "Edward Said Chair in Middle Eastern Studies." Though Edward Said was neither a scholar or teacher of either Islam, or of the Middle East, but a celebrated polemicist, Anderson found nothing peculiar in naming this chair after him—rather as if one had decided to create the "Noam Chomsky Chair in American Political Theory." Indeed, she managed to raise $4 million, and was instrumental in keeping the sources of that funding secret for as long as possible. Much effort had to be expended to persuade Columbia to reveal those sources, though New York State Law requires such information to be reported when it involves foreign funds."

Will we see any protests of the Holocaust-denier leader? Probably not from anyone at Columbia, since there is only an appetite there to protest speakers who may support this country's foreign policy-or support the integrity of its borders. In fact, we're confident that the faculty of the Middle East Studies Department will feel more ideologically at home with the Iranian nutcase than with George Bush-or Hillary Clinton even.

All of which underscores the intellectual hypocrisy and dry rot that exists on the nation's elite campuses. As David Bernstein points out, free speech doesn't really exist in the universities-except for a range of acceptable opinions. It's as if the commissars have taken over, and having read Herbert Marcuse's Repressive Tolerance, have set out to expunge "wrong thought" from the campus. We are in desperate need of a Herculean effort to clean up the Augean Stables.

Rat Tax Infestation

In today's NY Daily News, the Manhattan Institute's Steve Malanga warns New Yorkers about the tax hikes that are sure to come once the city's fiscal situation takes the upcoming downturn. As Malanga points out; "With the national economy apparently heading for a dip and Wall Street firms reporting lower earnings and cutting jobs, New York City may soon be facing its biggest fiscal jam since the recession that occurred in the aftermath of 9/11."

The situation is made worse by the fact that Mayor Mike has not seen fiscal discipline as a high priority-and has turned a blind eye to the plight of overtaxed and over-regulated homeowners and small businesses. As Malanga says, "But the mayor has done little to try to rein in costs." In addition, there has been no effort to trim the size of government or to search for innovative ways to do more with less, which is why he has one the strong support of the "tax 'em till they drop crowd."

All of which doesn't bode well for the small retailers in this city who are constantly under the gun from an over-zealous regulatory bureaucracy. Here Malanga makes his strongest point;
"In the meantime, businesses, which have been paying far higher property tax rates and haven't gotten any rebates, can forget about long-awaited tax relief. They will continue to pay the highest taxes of any business community in the country. If the recent past is any indication, small businesses in particular will bear the brunt of higher licensing fees and increased fines."

When the city really puts its mind to it it is unbelievably effective at extorting money from the small business folks. The just released Mayor's Management Report highlights this larcenous skill in relation to restaurant inspections. As the NY Post reports, the city flunked one out of four restaurants in the past fiscal year, leading our friend and small business advocate Rob Bookman to say; "This doesn't surprise me at all," said Rob Bookman, a lawyer for the New York Nightlife Association. "I think it's probably reflective of the larger number of violations they're issuing in general. Their position seems to be compliance through fines."

And fine they will. And tax they will. And trim the sails of Big Government they won't-not with a mayor who doesn't have a municipal cost-cutting bone in his body and who wanted to use the Charter Revision process to give the Department of Consumer Affairs even more judge and jury regulatory power over helpless retailers. Even the NY Times felt that this went to far.

In six years in office the mayor has not attempted to address the nature of the city's unfair kangaroo administrative courts, procedures that can threaten a business' livelihood without the requisite due process protections. As one keen observer who has defended businesses before the city points out:
"For workers and businesses licensed by the city — street vendors, taxi drivers, restaurants, grocery stores and dry cleaners among others — the courts wield tremendous power...I can also state without reservation that the taxi drivers I have represented have little confidence in the fairness of the commission's court. This is in large measure because its judges are hired by the commission, and can be fired or have their hours reduced at any time. In short, their paychecks depend on the commission."

So all we can hope is that the next mayor has a greater sensitivity towards the tax payers and businesses than does the current out-of-touch billionaire. Until then the two-legged rats will run free and continue to unleash inspector torment on the hard working retailers and restauranteurs of this over-regulated municipality.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blight Makes Right

In a companion editorial in today's NY post, Tom Eliot exposes the climate of collusion that often is generated when land use decisions are being made in NYC. In this case it is the relationship between the consultant AKRF, Columbia, and the state's economic development agency, ESDC. As we have ourselves pointed out, AKRF is no disinterested consultant since, as CU's land use advisor, it has a vested interest in finding that the area the university wants to expand into is "blighted." So, how can the AKRF folks be working simultaneously for the state?

A local judge wondered the same thing; "While acting for Columbia, AKRF has an interest of its own in the outcome of [ESDC's] action, as AKRF, presumably, seeks to succeed in securing an outcome that its client, Columbia, would favor." But ESDC's appeal of that ruling won't be heard until December, so everything's going ahead for now."

That doesn't take away from the obvious implications that the state has impaneled a hanging jury in this matter, and when people's property is in the balance we should be able to do better than this. The conflicts of interest here, calls into question the legitimacy of the entire expansion plan, something that elected officials should be able to recognize if they can don the cloak of impartiality.

What this should mean is that there are a myriad set of reasons for saying the Columbia plan is badly in need of compromise and serious revision. Nick Sprayregen has offered his own possible olive branch. How long will the university dither, and leave themselves at the mercy of consultants-of all stripes-who may not be able to advise them properly?

Columbia's Turf Toe

Every knowledgeable football fan knows the dangers that astroturf can pose to the health of the players on the field. This unnatural surface yields a wide range of knee, foot and back injuries because of the unyielding nature of the field's composition. Which is why the term astroturf has been applied to phonied up efforts to generate grassroots support for projects that, well, don't really have any. And, just as with the manufactured imitation grass football field, unnecessary harm can come to the players when this tactic is employed.

Which is just the case with the Columbia expansion effort, and the work of Bill Lynch to cultivate some kind of community coalition in support of the university's plan. In today's NY Post, the paper's Tom Eliot slices and dices the Lynch led Potemkin village-like effort to generate grass roots support for Columbia. As Eliot writes: "COLUMBIA University is making great efforts to prevent community objections from derailing its plan for a massive expansion in West Harlem. But its methods seem to rely more on big-money power politics than on listening to the folks who live and work where the school wants to build."

Eliot goes on to describe how folks from a neighborhood drug treatment program were dragooned to a recent community board meeting in order to give some kind of community face to the big money effort that the university is using to inveigle support for its expansion. It transparent phoniness was exposed by, who else, members of the real community coalition that opposes what Columbia wants to do in West Harlem. As the Post points out:
"Visnja Vujica - a recent Barnard grad and member of the anti-expansion Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification - says she discovered that the pamphleteers were patients from East Harlem's Addicts Rehabilitation Center (ARC).
"I talked to one man, J.R., I think, who was wearing one of the 'Future of Manhattanville' stickers. He said he was paid; wouldn't tell how much, but said something like, When you're given pretty much a blank check, you don't ask questions," she said."

Which leads us to wonder whether Columbia is only able to garner community support from those neighborhood residents who are so unaware of what's going on because they might be in a drug-induced haze. Kidding aside, the university opens itself up to these criticisms because it has put itself in the hands of consultants who clearly don't know what the hell they're doing-so much so that we might speculate that the university could be in a position to sue for theft of services.

What this means for the expansion plan itself is still up in the air, with the borough president's hearing on the plan is scheduled for tonight. Stringer has already begun to voice reservations. It does appear, however, that the university would best serve its own interests by looking to accommodate some of the community concerns in ways that the community itself (the actual one) will appreciate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Columbia Contraction

In what appears to be another strong example of the dissent that the Columbia expansion plan has generated, the Office of Manhattan Borough President has indicated that it may well oppose the university's proposal if some significant adjustments aren't made. As the Spectator is reporting: "A representative for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said Friday night that unless significant modifications were made, Stringer would vote to reject Columbia’s proposed Manhattanville expansion."

The apparent dissatisfaction of BP Stringer comes on the heels of CB9's almost unanimous rejection of the university's proposal last month. Clearly, some major alterations are going to need to be made here if the university is to successfully navigate the ULURP process. This is something that Columbia now looks like it is finally recognizing. As the Spectator observes: "Columbia officials have signaled that they are willing to make concessions to gain approval for the project. “I anticipate over the coming months concerns that have been raised will be addressed, and a satisfactory outcome will be arrived at,” said Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin."

The Stringer opposition comes from the BP's awareness that Columbia's expansion will likely have a significantly negative effect on the ability of the existing neighborhood residents to remain in the community that they live in. As Stringer's land use chief told the Spectator, referring to the Stringer special district zoning proposal, the CU plan would displace thousands of local residents: "Borelli said the special district aimed to “preserve the existing physical and social character of West Harlem” and “address the potentially negative secondary impacts that large scale development and other real estate pressures would otherwise have on the community.”

All of which should give the Sprayregen Swap some additional momentum. This is the plan that the area's leading property owner has proposed that would allow for the building of a large number of affordable housing units, while at the same time permitting Sprayregen to retain certain of his property rights in the neighborhood that he has helped stabilize for the past thirty years.

Now we all await the proactive response of Columbia. Will they be able to walk the walk? Will Bill Lynch become useful, earning his enormous retainer? These and other questions will be on the agenda tomorrow when the BP holds his land use hearing at City College. Stay tuned.

Wake Up Call for Healthy Breakfast

With all of the vigorous actions being taken by the city's Health Department to try to regulate New Yorkers to better health, there is one thing that is really in the city's control when it comes to insuring this vital goal-classroom breakfast for the city's close to 1,000,000 school kids. As Councilman Joel Rivera says this morning in his editorial in the NY Daily News, "In addition, by providing the majority of our low-income students with a nutritious breakfast, our schools can become an important factor in the reduction of the alarming increase in childhood obesity in our city."

And he's right. Kids who come into the classroom without eating breakfast are less able to concentrate on their school work and educational outcomes suffer as a result: "One study by the Nutrition Consortium of New York State found that the method had a positive impact on education and student performance, including decreased tardiness, reduced absenteeism, fewer disciplinary referrals and fewer visits to the school nurse."

Classroom breakfast has also been endorsed by the California Food Policy Advocates group that recommends that schools should institute a number of different breakfast methods, including the use of the classroom as a preferred venue. The reason? Once again it relates to the health and educational benefits that can be attained when more kids eat a health breakfast.

Staff from the Health Corps, a group that wants to take the lead on this issue, will be meeting with NYC DOE school food heads this week. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the implementation of a classroom breakfast pilot program in the city schools. Let's hope that educators, parents and educrats can all get together in this worthwhile effort.

Monday, September 17, 2007

NY Times' Farey Tale

In yesterday's NY Times the paper editorializes ("Softening the Blow") once again on the MTA's proposed fare hike. This appears to be part of a series where the paper gets to continually adjust its perspective as the situation dictates. Last month the Times had excoriated the agency for its historic inefficiencies, which led us to say: "In fact, the MTA is a monument to inefficiency and the absence of any real accountability. Certainly, given its governing charter, there is no reason for anyone living in NYC to grant the agency any credibility whatsoever."

So what are we to make of the fact that the Times is once again ignoring this cogent evaluation in its support of congestion pricing? After all, without the kind of agency overhaul that the paper suggests it wouldn't be very prudent to commit more funds-whether in the form of a fare hike or a congestion tax-to the very agency that the Times correctly has no confidence in.

And the Times goes on to further complicate its own convoluted reasoning when it goes on to say: "State lawmakers can strike a blow for more affordable mass transportation by voting by next March 31 to adopt Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan...The money would go to mass transit, either helping to hold down fares or supporting the M.T.A.’s rebuilding program." Let's not go there again.

How many times do we have to say that the congestion tax is earmarked, out of absolute necessity because of the poor state of the city's mass transit infrastructure, for the improvement of mass transit options? If these options aren't improved than there will literally be no room at the inn-i.e., no place to go for those taxed out of their cars. That being said, the amount of money a congestion tax would raise would fall far short of the providing the needed funds to address the transit system's immense infrastructure needs.

Which once again demonstrates what we have said-this entire plan is badly in need of a good forensic accountant, and shouldn't be dependent for evaluation on those (like the good editors at the Times) who really don't care how the money is earmarked because they start with absolutely zero concern for the city's tax payers.