Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Columbia Not Quite in Labor

As the Crain's Insider is reporting this morning, the Central Labor Council isn't quite ready to support the university's expansion plan: "Central Labor Council officials met recently with Columbia University to discuss endorsing its expansion plan, which would create work for trade unions. Insiders say there is a snag in the talks; the CLC says it is not ready to discuss the negotiations."

On information and belief, as the lawyers are wont to say, we surmise that the snag may be about the recent labor forays into the affordable housing market-and the university's lack of any effort in an area that labor believes to be essential, both for its own workers, as well as for low income New Yorkers being squeezed by gentrification.

Stay tuned for more deliberations in this area; and we're hopeful that Columbia will begin to see the wisdom of the Sprayregen swap proposal. The set aside of property on the East Side of Broadway-alongside other residential high-rise buildings, would be a winner for all concerned.

The Real Traffic Mess

In the argument over the congestion pricing plan, we've maintained that the focus on the city's CBD is both hypocritical and short-sighted. It's hypocritical because, in its use of asthma and other health maladies to, well, sell the product, it ignores the real traffic congestion that effects other areas of the city-many of which are real hotbeds of asthma and other respiratory ailments.It's shortsighted because it offers no remedy for traffic relief elsewhere.

And Staten Island is a case in point. As the Advance pointed out the other day, the island is approaching real gridlock conditions on a daily rush hour basis: "For every Staten Islander who has gotten "the look" from the boss when they arrive late to work in the morning; for every missed family dinner, doctor's appointment, or school play, for every extra hour spent standing on a packed express bus, there is hope on the way."

The hope in this case involves more express buses and an altered construction schedule for the Verrazano Bridge. It is precisely this traffic nightmare that spelled the death of Wal-Mart on the Island two years ago. The mayor's plan, by being so narrowly focused, is not the true city wide effort that is needed in order to really address the sustainability issue for our city.

Plastic Bagmen

In yesterday's SI Advance, the paper wrote about the City Council's legislative effort on plastic bags. What was interesting and different here was the Advance's reference to the support of the measure by the plastic bag manufacturer-in a rebuttal to our remarks: "Lipsky argued the bill offers no incentive for shoppers to return the bags, but a vice president of the bag alliance, David Vermillion, said stores likely will make money off the bags, which have a recycling value of 15 to 20 cents per pound, according to his organization."

Now we know Mr. Vermillion and genuinely like him, but to say that the store's will make money is,well, a stretch. You see, if this was such a money maker than, either the stores would have figured it out earlier, or some private recycler would have stepped up to collect all of that valuable plastic. And to use other state's or municipalities are exemplars is to misconstrue the uniqueness of the NYC environment, particularly the cost of real estate and the space premium.

We're more inclined to agree with Councilman Ignizio, the lone voice of pro-business sentiment that we've heard on this issue: "Once again, it relinquishes one's personal responsibility to businesses. I think if people want to be environmentally friendly, that's a laudable goal," Ignizio said. But "you ought not burden businesses with that responsibility. You're going to find businesses fleeing the city," he contended."

And the NY Post agrees, and in its editorial today make this observation: "By forcing city grocers to become the city's de facto plastic-bag-recycling agency, the council skirts its own duty. The city now prohibits New Yorkers from putting plastic bags in with other recyclables. Yet more people would dispose of the bags in an eco-friendly manner if they could dump them with the other plastics, as opposed to making a trip back to the grocery."

This is precisely the point that needs to be made here-one that Gristedes head John Catsimatidis has also already made. The city already has a curbside collection program that includes plastics of all kinds. So, once again as with the bottle bill, we are creating a dual collection system that adds costs to New York businesses and residents-without increasing the efficiency of recycling collection. If the curbside program is so ineffective, then why are we still paying $300/ton to collect recyclables-and doing it so poorly?

Which is certainly the case for Manhattan supermarkets, stores that are finding that the cost of doing business here just isn't worth it. Who knows, maybe plastic recycling kiosks can replace the evanascent groceries.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Plastic Panaceas

In an expected move, the City Council has introduced legislation that would establish a mandatory/voluntary plastic bag recycling program. As first reported in the City Room blog, the measure would require stores to set aside space for consumers to bring back their plastic bags to; and in addition, "This bill would require that each plastic bag carry a printed message, at least three inches in height and in capital letters: “Please return this bag to a participating store for recycling.”

The open question, however, is what incentives are being proffered for consumers to bring their used bags back to all of the stores that are over 5,000 sq. ft. As we told the NY Sun in today's story: "What we have here is a program that has no incentive for the consumer to bring the bags back." So what this amounts to is a preschool form of deposit system-one that will be second phased when the consumer fails to comply with the voluntary initiative.

Here's how we put it in the Sun: "Mr. Lipsky called the plan "a death by slow water torture" that would burden businesses with extra costs. He questioned whether it was "a deposit wolf in sheep's clothing" that would lead to tougher recycling laws similar to those for bottles." Our observation was rebutted by the Speaker who said that this wasn't a deposit requirement, and we agree for the short term. It lays the groundwork nevertheless.

It also, contrary to what the bill's sponsors argue, adds another regulatory cost onto an already overburdened retail sector. This is not the view of the speaker: "She minimized the impact of the bill on businesses. "This is not something that's going to end up costing stores any kind of significant money," Ms. Quinn said."

One wonders just how she knows this, since to the best of our knowledge there was no cost/benefit analysis done, and there's no economic impact study built into the bill. So what we have is another well-intentioned law that will add to the currently high costs of doing business in this city. And with supermarkets closing, and independent retailers disappearing, the current proposal is another nail in the small business coffin.

Road Reversal

The governor's radical makeover on drivers licenses continued with his joint press conference on Saturday with Homeland Security. As the NY Times reported: "In a major shift, Gov. Eliot Spitzer is backing off his plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain the same kind of driver’s licenses as other New Yorkers, after weeks of furor over the proposal."

What the Spitzer about face demonstrates is that the original plan had serious public safety weaknesses: "The new plan also reflects the increasingly complicated security requirements that have been developed by the federal government since the Sept. 11 attacks." This obvious weakness, however, hasn't made a dent on the illegal immigrant amen chorus-led by the civil liberties crowd that has never endorsed a single homeland security measure in the six years since the country was attacked.

It's as if 9/11 never happened for these ostriches, and as Ray Rivera reported yesterday, they are fighting back against the governor's understanding change of heart. Here's the full quote that underscores the kind of cliff that the governor was headed for if he hadn't been cold watered with a dose of political common sense:
“He’s now embracing and letting his good name be used to promote something that has been widely known in the immigrant community as one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation to come out of Congress,” Ms. Hong said.
She said having separate licenses would amount to a scarlet letter for illegal immigrants. “I know I’m speaking for millions of immigrants when I say I just feel so thoroughly betrayed.”The separate licenses could also serve as an invitation for law enforcement to arrest anyone carrying one on
immigration charges, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. She added that the new proposal could send illegal immigrants further into the shadows, compelling them to drive with forged or no licenses and without insurance.
“This flip-flopping is bowing to the fear-mongering of the Bush administration and turns New York into a poster child for policies based on fear rather than public safety,” she said."

These are the people who have been driving the governor's cliff-heading bus; folks who want blanket amnesty for the illegals and spit in the face of citizens and all of the immigrants who have spent the time and money to gain legal status-and they ignore the fact that Utah, for instance, has a two-tiered system that the undocumented workers now support after initial trepidation. And to hear Donna Lieberman support something in the name of "public safety" is beyond funny.

But then again, this is the same position that is supported by the editorial scions at the Times, another quarter that has no interest in any measure that protects the country's citizens. In yesterday's editorial, the paper encourages the governor to educate the unwashed about why the original proposal makes sense, and why-as per the NYCLU-it's about security: "Democrats need to gather their strength, and Mr. Spitzer needs to help them marshal the substantial arguments for this cause. If this is about security, Mr. Spitzer wins. His plan is safer than the one we have now."

Someone, obviously with more seychel than the editorialist at the Times, talked sense to the governor, yet he still continues to put his foot in his mouth by saying-as per Liz Benjamin-that his proposal has been approved by Homeland Security. It's one thing, however, to argue the plan on whatever its merits might be construed to be, it's quite another to have a political psychotic break and argue that promoting this insult was good politics.

The NY Post captures this yesterday with the following prescient headline: GOV NEEDS YEAR TO FIX ID WRECK. And Mayor Bloomberg got it just right when he called the Spitzer epiphany, "a clear step in the right direction." What's clear in all of this, however, is that the NY Times remains the most clueless opinion-molding outlet in the country, an organization whose world view is way out-of-step with the perspectives of the vast majority of New Yorkers; and the governor takes the paper's advice at his own political peril.

Weighty Pronuncement at the NY Times

As expected, the NY Times weighed in on Saturday with editorial support for the DOH's new calorie regulation. As usual, however, the paper can't resist an anti-business trope: "There’s no telling how many calories the restaurant industry has expended running away from New York’s pioneering attempt to improve the city’s health by requiring chain eateries to prominently display calorie information."

If you just paid attention to the editorial page (and ignored Ray Rivera's balanced coverage of the issue) you'd never have a clue that there just might be some legitimate reason for the industry to oppose this cockamamie measure. In the Times' Manichean world, industry is in always trying to protect its economic interests against the efforts of public spirited folks only out to protect the common good.

The real question here is whether the Times is correct with the following comment in support of the DOH rule that limited to chains with 15 or more outlets: "That should minimize the burden on businesses but still help a lot of diners make better- informed choices about what to eat." But what evidence does the Times and the Health Department proffer for this optimism?

The answer is in a survey that, as far as we know, no one has seen and almost certainly was not scientifically designed and peer-reviewed. According to this survey, the customers at Subways are being informed about calorie counts and because they are, better nutritional choices are being made: "The big chains fighting the city might take a cue from Subway. The sandwich maker is using calorie counts as a marketing tool and a way to build on its reputation as a more healthful fast-food alternative. It has voluntarily posted calories where customers can easily see them, usually on the menu board."

So according to the NY Times, all fast food companies need to become health food stores in order to protect the poor people from their own ignorance ("The bargain-priced food appeals especially to lower-income residents, who are most likely to lack access to health care that might diagnose and treat the chronic conditions linked to obesity, including diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.")-a leap that ignores customer preferences as well as ignorance about the meanings of calorie information in the first place.

The Times also ignores the fact that the DOH survey found that the customers at Subways who read the calorie information only consumed 50 less calories that their ignorant fellow customers; which is certainly minimal, and from a methodological standpoint ignores the fact that the calorie readers may have come armed with both the knowledge and the motivation that the others lacked.

All of this may just be academic, however, if the courts weigh-in on the side of the industry here. It goes to show that there is nothing that the DOH-and the Times-won't do in the name of health: even if it creates an unhealthy business climate, and impacts the productivity and employment base of neighborhood stores that are vital to the city's economy.

License Insecurity Stalled

On Saturday Governor Spitzer, responding to intense public opposition, reversed course and rescinded his plan to give illegal immigrants New York State drivers licenses-at least the same ones that are given to the state's citizens. As the Post reported: "Following intense pressure, Gov. Spitzer is preparing to backpedal on his plan to issue state driver's licenses to illegal immigrants as he nears an agreement with Homeland Security in which undocumented aliens can obtain licenses as long as the cards are not recognized by the federal government, The Post has learned."

So it appears as if the governor may be coming to his senses, and not a moment too soon. If left unresolved, this issue was going to tar baby the Democrats in the coming 2008 election cycle. As the NY Times reported; "The shift comes as the governor has faced a firestorm of criticism both from Republicans and from within his own party."

Leaving aside the political implications, we're frankly puzzled why the governor went down this Drum Major path in the first place. The chorus of "progressive" voices that inappropriately conflate illegal with legal immigration-and accuse opponents of the former of the vilest of motives-will lead elected officials on the road to oblivion; both for themselves and for the innocents who are cut down because criminal illegal immigrants have been allowed, time and time again, to slip through the cracks of the criminal justice system.

In the current drivers license debate, these same voices arrogantly down played the homeland security dangers posed by providing a "breeder" document to illegals who may be here to cause great harm to this country. Which is why we're so glad the the governor's turnaround is generated in negotiations with the federal Office of Homeland Security. It's a recognition, particularly in New York, that we're still fighting a war against terrorists that will use our open society to cause harm.

Now that he's come to his senses on this issue, we can all hope that the governor gains some traction for governing; recognizing that the bulldozer style may be useful on certain principled issues, but should not be employed whenever he feels someone disagrees with one of his policies. Otherwise, he will continue to rapidly hemorrhage political support.

Friday, October 26, 2007

With Friends Like These...

The Congestion Commission held its Manhattan hearing last night and, as you'd expect, there was more support at the Hunter College venue than there's been so far at the other hearings-more sparsely attended than last night's. That being said, the level of support heard last night from the local and state elected officials was far from overwhelming.

In fact, as the NY Sun story this morning points out, the list of qualifiers was so long that you have to wonder to what extent the current plan-if, of course, it survives in anything close to its current form, will have any chance to succeed when it eventually is sent to the various legislatures for a vote.

As the Sun puts it: "Elected officials in districts that would be affected by Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan say that while they support the policy in principle, they have reservations about the details." The devil's really in the details here, and if these "small matters" aren't addressed than the whole plan will go down-courtesy of its supporters.

Many of the objections focused on the unfairness of charging residents of the zone when they leave it to commute outside-with Councilwoman Mendes describing how there are areas of her district where you need to walk for fifteen minutes in order to wait another fifteen for-"one of the worst buses in the city." She went on to ask why it was fair to charge someone from the Lower East Side the same $8 bucks for driving two blocks to the Drive. As the Sun says; "With this terrible bus service, one can't blame these residents for wanting to drive," Council Member Rosie Mendez added."

Councilman Dan Garodnick seconded the Mendes observation: "Mr. Garodnick also said there was "an inherent unfairness" in charging residents of the zone a fee to drive out of it." Others, like Assemblyman Micah Kellner, raised the possibility of removing the deduction that out-of-town drivers would get under the plan for tolls paid on the bridges: "Drivers entering the Lincoln and Holland tunnels should not pay a reduced fee, as the plan calls for, Mr. Kellner said. "The burden of congestion pricing should not fall disproportionately on residents inside the zone," he said."

This would be a surefire way to get the whole deal killed, and is the most salient example of how the plan's putative supporters may have a heavy hand in getting the kibosh put on the entire scheme. Many of the other objections focused on the arbitrary nature of the 85th Street demarcation line, with questions raised about how the line was chosen.

Many of the elected officials pointedly were worried about the ability of dedicating any funds from a congestion tax to the improvement of mass transit. And, if the Metro story this morning is right, they have every reason to be concerned. There's also a big question whether the system can accommodate the increased riders-and the ability of the MTA to do, well, almost anything: "The Metropolitan Transportation Authority might want congestion pricing, but it doesn’t have the money to pay for more bus and subway service. The MTA presented options to handle the increased ridership resulting from the traffic fee at Thursday’s meeting of the Congestion Mitigation Commission, which will determine the viability of congestion pricing."

And, since our application to speak was mysteriously deep-sixed, no one at last night's hearing underscored the unfairness of a $21 truck tax that has no correlation with any traffic reduction. At the Hofstra hearing, however, this issue was addressed: "Business owners said the proposal would hurt companies that must make multiple trips to Manhattan each day."Our industry is going to be majorly impacted," said Ron Billing, president of Ron's Rapid Delivery in Hicksville."

So it appears to us that the mayor's original plan has a long way to go before it sees the light of legislative day-and that likelihood isn't increased by the killing kindness exhibited last night by those legislators most inclines to be supportive of the congestion tax concept. What the objections last night did reveal, at least to us, that there are serious questions about the plan that simply can't be answered without a full and independent environmental review.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Send in the Pinkertons

In today's NY Newsday, the paper's Jim Pinkerton writes a prescient column about how the immigration debate is being won by hardliners. Pinkerton underscores our critique of the Drum Majorettes, folks who continue to obfuscate the immigration issue-as well as the lack of support that exists throughout the state and the country for giving unearned benefits to illegals.

What Pinkerton also points out, another issue that we've harped on, is how the failure to support a stronger anti-illegal immigration policy will come back to bit the Democrats on the butt: "But unfortunately for Spitzer and the bulk of his party, the politics of immigration are changing rapidly, nationwide, in a Tancredo-esque direction. Yesterday The Washington Post released a poll showing that three-fourths of Virginians count illegal immigration as an "important" issue, and they don't mean that in a good way."

In spite of these electoral realities there are still those who see the actions against the governor's plan as politically dubious-check out the responses to Liz's piece today on El Diario's shilling for the Spitzer plan (and Gerson Borrero's "jellyfish" epithet). The eight Dems that voted against the governor aren't spineless, they are "calling them as they see them." It would, however, truly be spineless to vote for the governor's plan out of a fear of political retribution.

The old saw is, "A rising tide lifts all boats;" But this political wave is more like an undertow, and it threatens to wash the Democrats out to sea if they don't alter their panderistic polemics.

High Caloric

As the NY Times (and the NY Daily News as well) is reporting this morning, the Department of Health has returned with a menu labeling rule that it believes will pass court scrutiny; its previous rule was struck down last month. It appears to us, however, that the rule will also be subjected to a court challenge and Judge Richard Howell's original decision, which was creative in the extreme, will be further tested.

All of which begs the question of the efficacy of what the DOH is doing here. According to today's story, Health Commissioner Frieden is convinced that the postings will have a beneficial effect: “The big picture is that New Yorkers don’t have access to calorie information,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “They overwhelmingly want it. Not everyone will use it, but many people will, and when they use it, it changes what they order, and that should reduce obesity and, with it, diabetes.”

That statement is, let's put it politely, lacking in empirical foundation that would give the commissioner any backing for the categorical surety expressed. New Yorkers "overwhelmingly" want to have calories posted in the manner that the Department envisions? And the rest of his statement is equally open to question since there is little scientific research that would bolster the commissioner's bold assertions.

In fact, what little research that has been done in this area raises more questions than it answers. We were interested in the revelation in this morning's Times story about some kind of survey done by the DOH last spring. Here's what it allegedly found: A health department survey this spring found that only 3 percent of customers at Domino’s, Papa John’s, Taco Bell and other popular restaurants saw the calorie information provided by those chains on their Web sites or other locations before ordering. By contrast, about 31 percent of Subway customers reported seeing the calorie information, which was posted prominently next to the cash register at the time of the survey. Those who said they did consumed about 634 calories, about 50 calories less than those who did not, the study found.

Now do we really have to point out just how silly-and thoroughly unscientific-all of this sounds? Aside from the fact that the Subway postings were not done in total conformance to the DOH formula, it is impossible to draw any conclusions from a comparison between Subway customers and, let's say McDonald's customers, without having a little bit of a priori knowledge of what the disparate customer bases are bringing with them in the form of nutritional information.

Subway, which has always emphasized its nutritional appeal, and markets its restaurants on this basis, may well be attracting customers with both the knowledge and inclination to utilize calorie information-wherever it's posted. And the fact that those who claimed that they saw the calorie info supposedly consumed "50 calories less" than those who didn't, proves, well, absolutely nothing because we simply have no idea whether this result, although correlated, has any degree of causal relationship. The less consuming calorie customer may only have been predetermined by the prior inclination and knowledge we've mentioned.

Or not. After all, what does a 50 calorie difference mean? If the DOH's own survey found that the readers of calorie posts consumed only 50 calories less than those who did not, it would seem to us to be an indication of the worthlessness of the entire scheme. We're also wondering if the DOH survey plumbed the depth of customer knowledge about calories and their importance? Our suspicion is that it didn't, but if it did the levels of ignorance found would have been astounding-a further indication of the silliness of the entire effort.

Which underscores what we have been saying all along: this is all just an elaborate, and expensive social science experiment that is, at best, nothing but a shot in the dark-done by folks who haven't been in a fast food restaurant in years, if ever. These chains are a vital cog in the economic foundation of the city's neighborhoods, and are owned and operated by many minority entrepreneurs. The DOH experiment, dubious at best, is being done at the expense of neighborhood small businesses, firms that will be forced to spend millions in compliance costs in order to help the good doctor generate his data.

Nativists Unite!

The effort to tarnish opponents of illegal immigration continues unabated, even as the general public (as well as more county clerks) continues to reject the policies and philosophical rationales of the open border crowd. The latest missive, courtesy of the DMI again, now refers to people who see the governor's drivers license plan as misguided-as nativists!

Memo to DMI: when you find yourself in a whole, just stop digging. If you keep up this kind of advocacy, and the Republican party is able to effectively pin the tail on the alien, it will lead the New York State Democratic party to defeat in 2008. Already the legislators in the suburban ring are heading for the hills to distance themselves from the governor on this hot button issue. As L.I. Assembly member Pat Eddington told Newsday (courtesy of Liz):“I am adamantly and vehemently opposed to licensing undocumented people."

But the drum beat in favor of the plan continues in spite of the polls that show that the folks aren't buying the arguments. In a post yesterday on its website the demonization of opponents of the plan follows the typical malignant progressive trope: "A recent New York Times editorial lays out the arguments for why this needs to happen rather than the country descending into Lou Dobbs hysteria (thank goodness his show got pushed into a later time slot – my ears and eyes have been hurting for a long time from his knee-jerk nativism)."

The best comment in the post, however, referred to the utility of embracing the illegals because; " Hello healthy birthrate sustaining the American economy after immigrants come to the US!" Now the US birthrate is healthy when viewed from the standpoint of citizens alone, unlike Eurpoe where Arab immigrant populations will metastasize to the eventual extinction of Western liberal democracy.

The day that the US has to open its borders in order to sustain population growth will be the day that America as we know it will have demised-something that the advocates of the rights of "immigrants without status" (where would these folks be without euphemisms?) are looking forward to. What the advocates can't seem to do, aside from uttering the word "illegal," is to support any form of enforcement policy that will stem the illegal immigration tide-or admit that a country that can't protect the sanctity of its own borders no longer has any sovereignty.

And so it goes with the Drum Majors. Here's their money quote:"It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that local communities are going to have to develop their own practical approaches to immigration policy and make sure they trickle up to the feds, who remain more obsessed with border fencing than with figuring out how to see immigrants (particularly undocumented ones) as important economic contributors and vital parts of our community."

And the Drummers remain more obsessed with handing out bennies to everyone who violates the country's borders than they are with honoring the laws of this country and protecting American citizens. In fact, any one who sees security-whether from foreign or domestic enemies-as important can count on being maligned as a racist or nativist.

And notice how they use the phrase, "obsessed with border fencing." It reveals the basic dishonesty of the open border position, because it intentionally obscures the fact that the Drummers of this world will oppose almost any enforcement measure that would potentially be effective; while giving lip-service to some ideas in this area that are unlikely to do much to stem the illegal tide.

Which brings us to the efficacy of the vaunted Spitzer license review mechanism. As the Times Union revealed yesterday, the equipment don't work that well: "Counterfeit documents have been getting through scanning machines that the Department of Motor Vehicles plans to use under Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to provide driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, according to a state government source familiar with the performance of the machines."

This won't really bother the advocates much, because they really don't give a hoot about documenting these illegals with any degree of effectiveness-except when it comes time to awarding government services; then there's great effort expended to insure that one and all feed at the public trough. It seems that they will go to any lengths to obfuscate the opposition's position on illegal immigration, characterizing it as the epitome of an obscurantism that they invidiously juxtapose against their own enlightenment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Recycling Arguments

As we have said before, the mayor's efforts to bogart Shelly Silver on the Gansevoort recycling center were doomed to failure-a fact that is confirmed to day in a story in the NY Times. We saw no good coming out of a mayoral press conference, where some members of the Democratic conference in the Assembly were quoted invoking environmental racism as the reason for the site being held up.

This is just the wrong way to win friends and influence people in Shelly Silver's Albany-and it doesn't bode well for another mayoral scheme, congestion pricing. Contradicting all that was said in last week's press event, the Times tells its readers: "The speaker said the city administration had failed to live up to a promise to seriously explore alternatives to the plan, and he said he was in no rush to move ahead until officials did so." Ouch!

"Immigrants": The Highjacking of the Language

In a post at the DMI website, the group's leader, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, continues with the progressive high jacking of the English language over the issue of illegal immigration. In a post that runs over 800 words, Schlesinger never once uses the word illegal to modify immigrant. On the other hand, any of us who see the widespread disregard for the country's laws as a threat to American sovereignty-and safety-are defamed as "anti-immigrant."

Schlesinger goes about her task with a bag of rhetorical tricks that camouflages the moral bankruptcy of her position-and she has a convenient bogeyman, CNN"s Lou Dobbs, who she employs to create a false dichotomy between a Know Nothing and raging xenophobia and a reasonable and humane compassion. What is it Andrea about the word "illegal," that you find so difficult to understand?

And what is it about the concern that average folks have about the disrespect for the rule of law that you can't even begin to understand? Schlesinger cleverly elides the realities of public opinion with the following-"Washington's failure to achieve consensus on an immigration bill should not obscure the fact that commonsense immigration laws have strong majority support. Americans believe it is neither feasible nor desirable to deport the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently here. Instead, there is consensus in favor of providing a path to citizenship for immigrants of all kinds who learn English, work hard, and participate in the American system. Unfortunately, the anti-immigrant sentiment fostered by Dobbs and his ilk kept Washington from pursuing it."

Wass up here? This citation conveys the kind of dishonesty that ignores where people really stand on the illegal immigrant issue. The fact that majorities of Americans don't want to deport all of the 12 million people here, shouldn't obscure the fact that even larger numbers don't want to confer legitimacy on illegals before any comprehensive system is put into place. And it needs to be said that most folks see border enforcement-and the deportation of criminal illegal immigrants-as essential features of any reform policy.

We're not sure where Schlesinger is on the enforcement and deportation side of the equation but we've never heard her polemicize about Mary Nagel or the Newark Three-victims of hard working illegal immigrant criminals who may be given further cover under the Spitzer plan; unless you're confident that local DMV officials will have the expertise to weed out the fraudulent and dangerous among the 12 million undocumented.

So when she says, "Immigrants are consumers and taxpayers. They are entrepreneurs. They provide the services that native-born Americans rely on from morning until night. They resuscitate struggling neighborhoods. They keep our Social Security system solvent. They are not terrorists," she consciously avoids the billions being spent to incarcerate illegals who have preyed upon our citizens. And by the way, some of these folks may very well be terrorists that DMV personnel won't catch as they carefully try to vet some Bolivian or Indonesian passport.

Americans do want immigration reform, a reform that has been stymied by folks, like our editorial friends at the NY Times, who have no real desire to protect this country's borders. These are the reasonable and humane people who demonize the opponents of illegal immigration by vile name calling and dishonest caricature.

Schlesinger appears to be auditioning for an opening at the Times with her mimic of that paper's tired tropes on this issue. Which is, to us, akin to looking for a job as captain on the Titanic. To the Times and its acolytes, any opposition to the careless legitimation of illegal immigrants is a result of "misguided sentiments," retrograde ideas that will dissipate once their betters are able to properly educate them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Licensing Humility

Bill Hammond has some useful advice for Governor Spitzer in his column today in the NY Daily News. Hammond urges the governor to issue modified licenses to illegal immigrants that clearly identify their immigration status: "A two-tiered licensing system would allow Spitzer to achieve his worthy goals without taking such a bloody beating in public opinion...He could still encourage many of New York's 1 million illegal immigrants to put their names, addresses and photographs into the Department of Motor Vehicles database - providing an invaluable resource for law enforcement. But he would also show a healthy respect for the 72% of New Yorkers who think licensing illegal immigrants is a lousy idea."

You think the governor's gonna do this? We hope so, because it would be a clear recognition that we don't live in a political "Father Knows Best" world-that's on steroids. Part of governing is listening to the electorate, and sometimes admitting-as Ed Koch used to do-that a mistake's been made.

The problem here is that the governor doesn't want to create a so-called second tier license that would, in the words of his aides, " brand people with scarlet letters." This kind of thinking is an insult to all of the New Yorkers-both immigrants and native born-who are here legally and are law-abiding. Folks who think like this-like State Senator Kevin Parker, who branded the governor's opponents "racists," are on the fringe of the state's political spectrum.

Finally, as Hammond highlights, the governor, by demonstrating humility and good sense, could regain some of his lost political footing-and undue damage that threatens his party all over the state: "By making this concession to the reasonable concerns of the people who elected him, Spitzer would demonstrate that he can and does respond to criticism - and live down his reputation as a steamroller who tries to flatten anyone who gets in his way. He would begin to make up for the ham-handed way he introduced the plan, announcing it as a done deal without inviting public comment or even consulting his fellow state leaders."


In his latest column, cited by Azi, former mayor Ed Koch warns of the political danger for anyone who supports the issuuance of drivers licenses to illegal immigrants: "If a general election were held today for the office of Governor, or in 2010, when it will, in fact, be held, any candidate who supports the granting of drivers licenses to illegal aliens would, I believe, go down to defeat."

With an already dwindling supply of political capital, we believe that the governor was ill-advised to jump on this hot potato. And the early signs seem to demonstrate this. As Liz points out in her Daily Politics blog yesterday, it looks as if the license issue may harbinger the defeat of the Democratic candidate for county executive.

We'll see how all of this plays out, but if the issue lingers well into the new year, it can only benefit the state's Republicans in the Senate, who are hanging onto their majority for dear life. And it will do Hillary no good at all, and we believe she will duck this one, or oppose it outright-it's aloser issue both locally as well as nationally.

The High Cost of Political Correctness

There's an interesting item posted on the Gotham Gazette website that comments on the high cost of living in NYC. There is, however, a glaring omission: there is no mention in the litany of costs of the city's high tax rates. Why this was left out is not clear, but even a casual analysis of the issue should lead the analyst to this hot topic.

For instance, there is a discussion of the high cost of groceries that concludes that there's an obvious connection between grocery prices and real estate: " Clearly there is no conspiracy of American farmers to charge New Yorkers more," said Frank Braconi, chief economist at the city comptroller's office. "If you have food prices going faster, in all likelihood it's going to come back to real estate one way or another ... supermarkets competing for space."

The competition for real estate space, however, is not only about rising rents in Manhattan. It's also the rising rate of commercial real estate taxes-taxes that were raised precipitously by the mayor and the council in 2002. Every commercial lease in the city has a tax pass-along, and the cost of groceries reflects this reality

Some of this can be seen in the relative price superiority of Fairway on 129th Street. Fairway, illegally zoned in this manufacturing area-having been given a pass on the required special permit-has a rent that is lower than just the commercial tax that a Gristedes pays on, let's say, 96th Street. In addition, as we have commented, the high retail prices also reflect the city's harsh regulatory environment.

All of the wonderful consumer protection contained in the myriad of fines that are issued to neighborhood stores, is a cost borne by the very consumers the statutes are devised to supposedly protect. If New York's consumers were presented with a cost/benefit analysis of all this, we think that a great majority of them would elect to eliminate the DCA in exchange for a leaner competitive market.

This discussion of cost pass alongs doesn't include the direct tax burden that is borne by city residents. As the Gothamist reported earlier this year: "A report from the Independent Budget Office showed that New York City has the biggest tax burden than eight other big cities. In fact, NYC's tax burden is practically 50% higher than the average of cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix and San Diego. (We don't know where San Francisco, Boston, or Seattle were during this survey.) For every $100, New York City's state and local taxes "absorbed" $9.02, while other cities average $6.16."

It is this basic reality that under girds-or should-any discussion of water bills, grocery prices, and transit fares; not to mention the proposed congestion tax. To talk about the high cost of living in NYC without mentioning the tax burden is to render the writer incoherent; or at least a member of the Times editorial board.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Demanding a Recount

We've been saying all along that the mayor's congestion tax scheme was badly in need of a forensic accountant-mainly because we feel that the tax consequences of the plan can be construed as a criminal assault on the city's middle class commuters. In today's NY Daily News, the paper's Adam Lisberg does what all of the press should have been doing months ago: closely examining the numbers, and analyzing the plan's projections.

And what he finds isn't pretty. As the News points out: "Mayor Bloomberg says congestion pricing will raise $390 million a year for mass transit, but that figure is nothing more than an educated guess..." Or, as we would put it, a not so educated guess that would eventually mean that the city's commuters-those in their cars as well as those using mass transit-would be an ever escalating fee for coming into the city's CBD.

Which of course devolves from the system's operating costs that will eat up most of the plan's revenues; monies that are projected to go to the needed improvement of the mass transit infrastructure. Without this improvement, the cars that are removed from the streets will mean thousands of new transit commuters for a system that everyone see as already over crowded.

So how does the administration respond to the news? Here's mayoral spokesman John Gallagher: "The true benefits of the plan are derived from reducing traffic-choking congestion." That is a decent goal to shoot for, but it isn't a panacea in the context of a crowded system badly in need of expansion and repair.

One major thing to keep in mind is the fact that the highly touted London system didn't meet revenue projections until it jacked up the tax to around $16 per day. So what we're looking at here is a continual assault on commuters and small businesses to feed a technologically complex congestion system administration.

Which raises the question of where the money's going to come from for mass transit. When the MTA revenue shortfalls are seen in the context of a congestion tax that fails to generate sufficient monies for trains and buses, it means that the mass transit commuters better get ready to be hosed-with the end result being that everyone will have to pay more in one of the highest taxed cities in the world.

But don't get despondent about all of this because we read in the NY Times this morning that we Americans are severely undertaxed! Yes, compared to other industrialized countries, we're lagging behind! And; "This country’s meager tax take puts its economic prospects at risk and leaves the government ill equipped to face the challenges from globalization."

So we guess that everyone should begin to see our new tax burdens as our chance to catch up with Holland and Germany-countries whose government sponsored welfare programs and poor economic growth will lead to an inevitable implosion in the next twenty years. Another example of why the Times itself is becoming like the Dodo bird.

But we digress. What the Daily News story dramatizes is the fact that the entire congestion tax scheme cannot withstand any kind of independent scrutiny-for either its revenue numbers or its traffic reduction estimates. Which leads us to urge our Assembly friends to save us all from buyer's remorse and can this ill-conceived experiment.

Spitzer Gets Pass Protection

We've already commented on the amnesia over at the NY Times when it comes to the drivers license issue, and the role of Richard Clarke in his flip-floppin' defense of the governor's policy. Now, however, the paper goes a step further in galvanizing support for the Spitzer plan. In yesterday's paper the Times, with a picture of a pugnacious Spitzer, focuses on how, "Mr. Spitzer has shifted his tone once again, taking the offensive and pouncing on opponents."

The tone of the piece tends towards the adulatory ("The attacks have clearly rekindled Mr. Spitzer’s fighting spirit"), with a great deal of emphasis on how the governor has regained his combative footing-"In interviews, the governor and his advisers suggested that there is little to be gained in remaining apologetic."

Yet Danny Hakim is too good a reporter to ignore the widespread unease in Democratic circles over the governor's combativeness: "Fellow Democrats were elated when Mr. Spitzer won, but they have wearied of saying that he needs to play nice in the political sandbox. Some also worry that his staff has too many former prosecutors and that the governor has been unwilling to fire members of his inner circle." And the story goes into the way in which the governor's actions have paralyzed legislative momentum by alienating the Senate Majority Leader, Joe Bruno.

All of which raises questions about the feasibility of the governor's promotion of a wildly unpopular initiative. Certainly, he no longer has the kind of moral capital to pursue the drivers license issue-and his rhetoric against Mayor Bloomberg's opposition to the policy-"Mr. Spitzer called Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong” for opposing the driver’s license policy"-doesn't bode well for his future salesmanship.

None of this, of course, disturbs the Times' editorial support for the plan. The editorial page is getting so predictably bad that its challenging the maxim, "even a stopped clock is right twice a day." And the editorialists even cite the praise of the aforementioned Mr. Clarke for the policy-"Richard Clarke, an adviser under the last four presidents, mostly on national security issues, has said that making driver’s licenses available to immigrants regardless of their legal status would promote security because “it is far preferable for the state to know who is living in it and driving on its roads."- ignoring the fact that Little Richard, who had said something totally different on the Times Op-ed page in June, contradicted himself in the process.

It kind of makes you wonder whether the Times folks read their own newspaper. And the situation's made worse by the fact that-see the NY Post story yesterday-the track record in other state's doesn't give great confidence in the workability of the plan. What's undeniable, however, is that the issue is a lose for Spitzer-something that is probably underscored by the way in which the Times enthusiastically endorses it.

Hearing Loss

If the new Congestion Commission had wanted to purposefully denigrate the public review process, they couldn't have done a better job than scheduling the -hopefully-first round of hearings at such a short notice. The first hearing, in Queens, is set for this Tuesday, and the short notice gives both sides very little time to alert their partisans.

What this means to us, and we agree with Senator Liz Krueger on this (unusual in itself), is that the Commission needs to set up a second round of hearings and do a better job at publicizing them. As Krueger told her constituents, in a letter posted on Streetsblog: "I am extremely disturbed by the short notice provided for this hearing. I have discussed this issue with the members of the commission, and requested additional hearings be held in Manhattan with more adequate notice."

But not only in Manhattan. What about the fact that Rockland County is completely left out of the hearing process? Rockland, with no decent mass transut access to the CBD, is especially vulnerable to any congestion tax scheme-a fact that was pointed out when a number of Rockland legislators held a press conference to announce their opposition to the plan in July.

What the congestion tax plan needs is more exposure, not less. Any indication that the public review process is simply cursory will buttress opponents' arguments that the entire scheme has not been fully evaluated-and it lacks any degree of transparency. So, we guess that. as opponents of this ill-thought out plan we should encourage our friend Marc Shaw-someone not really comfortable in the limelight-to continue to keep on keeping on.

Nicked on Affordable Housing

In last week's Spectator, there was an article on the CB9 rejection of Nick Sprayregen's re-zoning proposal. A number of reasons were given for the unusually close 16-12 vote, but what caught our eye was the Board's concern with affordable housing: "After much debate over the resolution's wording, CB9 rejected the proposal in a close and contentious vote. The resolution set forth conditions that the plan would need to meet for board approval, including making at least 50 percent of residential units affordable housing and defining affordable housing within CB9’s average mean income."

What's fascinating here is the way in which the community is holding Nick to the same standards that it is holding Columbia to-the insistence that an affordable housing piece be included as a term for any community board approval. Of course at this early stage, and with no zoning approval, there's no way that Sprayregen could promulgate an affordable housing plan with any specificity-the community has a better beef with area elected officials who have had lockjaw on the affordable housing issue.

The pols should be lined up in concert to demand that the city, state and university put forward such a plan for the area as a precondition for any Columbia expansion. In the absence of such principled action, Sprayregen becomes a convenient scapegoat for the community's frustration.

The Spectator also speculates that the defeat of the Sprayregen rezoning can be partially attributed to the ill-will spread by Columbia consultant Bill Lynch: "But some of the dissent may have come out of doubts over Sprayregen’s credibility and allegations that he cares more about the money in his pocket than the well-being of the neighborhood. Much of the criticism can be traced to former deputy mayor Bill Lynch, whose firm, Bill Lynch Associates, was hired by Columbia in April 2006 to lobby for its expansion plans."

We're less sure about this. The more likely source is the over all sense of powerlessness-and the frustrating lack of political leadership, underscored by the pusillanimous actions of the Manhattan BP and the failure of the West Harlem LDC to generate any sense of sanguinity over the prospects of a worthwhile CBA.

In another Spectator piece about the community board's discouragement with the LDC, one of the members of the negotiating group demurred: "Maritta Dunn, a former board member and member of the LDC, the body negotiating a community benefits agreement with Columbia, responded to board members’ accusations that politicians have co-opted the LDC and that CB9 representatives have not fought to be heard since the group’s creation. “The LDC is the only game in town,” Dunn said, adding that it only helps Columbia when board members are divided over the LDC. “We need to stop knocking it,” she added."

Maybe so, but many others remain unconvinced about the LDC's bona fides: “I never have blind faith,” community board member Norma Ramos said. “I’m never going to surrender my right to raise any issues and I‘ve been consistently raising the issue of the lack of Latino representation on the LDC and I’m not going to be silenced about that by being told that I am against the interest of the community.”

So it seems to us that Nick Sprayregen is really a victim of circumstances on all of this, and as much as we'd like to blame Bill Lynch, the real blame lies with the university and its political enablers. The real issue in the expansion debate is residential displacement and the concomitant need for affordable housing. The fact that the city and area electeds have allowed a newly-created West Harlem LDC to bear the burden of community concerns over these matters is a sorry example of buck passing.

What needs to be done now is for the university to become proactive on the affordable housing issue. Sprayregen has put an interesting and creative land swap concept on the table, one that could lead to the significant increase of affordable housing in the neighborhood. Is it enough? Probably not; but it's the first positive step in the right direction, and we're hopeful here that Columbia will see it as such.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Poverty of Culture Redux

In an insightful column today in the NY Daily News, Errol Louis sings the praises of Bill Cosby for the comedian's outspoken attack on the decline in cultural standards in parts of the African American community. As Louis says; "Cosby's straight talk and self-help solutions flow like a fresh breeze through the tangle of university jargon and cowardly excuses that so often turn discussions of inner-city problems into a muddle."

This is important stuff. There are issues in the Black community that are not easily remedied by policies imposed from outside-whether it's increases in certain forms of assistance, or the hair-brained check book morality scheme to pay people to behave better.

And the seriousness of these issues are certainly not going to be remedied by the nostrums proposed by self-styled progressives, whose contributions to the debate is to white wash the dysfunctions in a paroxysm of accusatory "blaming the victim" rhetoric. Here's how Maureen Lane of the DMI puts it, in her criticism of the Manhattan Institutes's Heather McDonald: "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."

Lane couldn't be more wrong-and save us from all of those who want to become saviours for folks whose salvation lies more with a radical trans valuation of the negative cultural norms that shackle them in place, than from the "policies' designed to uplift them. One can here the sarcasm dripping from Lane's lips as she utters the ultimate epithet: "middle class values."

These are the same values that enabled Lane herself to achieve some decent things in this culture, but she turns around and scorns them when discussing the problems of poverty. The question here is, What is more racist? Is holding people to a standard of behavior that you know will lead to success racist? Or is it a racist assumption that these folks, with different cutural values, are unable to achieve without a massive outside intervention? In fact, the latter comes really close to a "white man's burden" philosophy

In our view, having high standards for people, and believing that they can achieve by emulating them, is to treat them with a respect that the progressives never have for those who may be downtrodden-so afraid are they that they're not respecting their cultural differences that they can't see that the emperor has no clothes.

Change needs to come from a radical reordering of cultural imperatives; this is what Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint are saying in their new book on the subject: "A house without a father is a challenge. A neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe, and that's just about what we have today," write Cosby and Poussaint, citing startling statistics: Of about 16,000 murders in this country each year, more than half are committed by black men.Young black men are twice as likely to be unemployed as other American men. Although black people are just 12% of the general population, they are some 44% of prison inmates."

This does not mean that there's nothing that the larger mainstream society can do. It just means that the standard "progressive" victimology is a policy cul-du-sac, one that will perpetuate the very victimhood that these folks are always excoriating-generally for the benefit of the "benefactor class" of social workers, progressive think tank thinkers (one is reminded of the "Thinkery" in Aristophanes' Clouds), and government bureaucrats.

Which is exactly what Errol Lois understands as he rebuts the retrograde ideas of some of Cosby's detractors. One in particular, Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the LA Times, captures the old tired analysis: "This is hardly the call to action that can inspire and motivate underachieving blacks...," says columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson. "Cosby's blame the victim slam does nothing to encourage government officials and business leaders to provide greater resources and opportunities to aid those blacks that need help."

Hutchinson, stilled mired in the "culture of poverty" school emanating from the sixties critique of the white power structure, misses the point. The amount of resources devoted to these poverty problems has already been immense; and he's unable to see, so invested is he in the ideological prison that he's constructed, the degree to which the continued utilization of the standard liberal approach is ultimately doomed to failure.

Louis has the final word on all of this: "And sadly, Hutchinson speaks for plenty of others who would rather close their eyes to what is, like it or not, an unpretty picture for black families.
They are dead wrong. Many government and business leaders, who over the last 50 years have committed billions of public and private dollars to a long run of housing and social welfare programs, are closing their checkbooks as they watch troubled black families and neighborhoods continue to disintegrate."
A change in perspective is long overdue.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Old Grey Mare...

We've been commenting for some time on what we feel is the dangerous nature of the governor's decision to grant drivers licenses to illegal immigrants-from a philosophical as well as security standpoint. So we were interested in how the governor was going to frame the policy when he spoke down at NYU yesterday.

Obviously, he was going to have to try to buttress the plan from a homeland security standpoint, but we were surprised when he dragged out former national security advisor Richard Clarke to perform this difficult task. As the NY Daily News reported: "Richard Clarke, who served in the Clinton and Bush administrations, disputed Spitzer foes who say giving illegal immigrants government IDs threatens public safety."

Now Clarke, besides being a bitter partisan fellow adept at telling the same story in different ways to different audiences, has the failures of 9/11-no matter the extent to which he bears personal culpability-high up on his resume. Even worse, however, when he was last seen hawking his book on 60 Minutes, he was telling a more disparaging account of the Bush administration than the one depicted in the book itself.

Well, he's baaack! Now he's once again contradicting himself on the drivers license plan for illegals. As the NY Post uncovers, Clarke's current position flatly contradicts the one he laid out last June in an Op-ed piece in the NY Times. According to the Post: "The governor quoted a statement from Clarke saying, "States should act to register immigrants, legal and illegal, who use our roadways as New York is doing." But in June, Clarke said: "The result is that potential terrorists here illegally can easily use phony licenses or, in many states, get real ones issued to them, along with credit cards and all of the other papers needed to blend into our society," he wrote."

Typical Clarke, but what about the amnesia over at the Times? In today's story the paper covers the Spitzer press event, but fails to mention the apparent contradictions in the security adviser's public statements-one that was even published on its own pages! Exacerbating the omission is the fact that the Times covers the Spitzer remarks but fails to address any of the opposition from other security analysts who perceive the governor's plan as a danger to public safety.

Put simply, the story lacks even a rudimentary balance, and concludes with the following tendentious observation: "Even before Mr. Clarke’s statement, some security experts had spoken favorably of the plan, saying it was a way to bring a hidden population into the open and ultimately make the identification system more secure, as well as a way to ensure more drivers are licensed and insured."

Looking at the piece, a Times reader would be hard pressed to understand just why only 22% of New Yorkers support the governor's plan; and the credibility of contradictory Clarke is left unchallenged. Which leaves it up to the NY Post to state the obvious in today's editorial: "Back on June 1, The New York Times published an opinion piece written by Clarke that argued precisely the opposite: "Potential terrorists here illegally can easily use phony licenses or, in many states, get real ones issued to them, along with credit cards and all of the other papers needed to blend into our society . . . Indeed, those arrested for allegedly planning to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey included illegal immigrants who apparently had little difficulty getting along in this country."

If you're looking for a strong reason to explain the decline of the NY Times, this small piece offers as good a rationale as any. In it we find a failure to question official pronouncements because of ideological agreement; and the absence of proper balance that would enable the reader to make her own mind up. The paper needs to find more news that's fit to print, since the current evidence dramatizes a lacuna that's big enough to drive a semi through.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Stringer Hilarity

Azi has posted a job listing from City Limits that has Scott Stringer searching for a Director of Communications. Here's what the blurb says: "Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer seeks a Director of Community Affairs and Constituent Services to implement a shared vision of progressive policies and community-based planning."

Could the Manhattan BP have reached any greater degree of unintended hilarity if he had tried? Who're they kidding? Didn't we just witness the kind of sellout over the Columbia expansion that would have made Quisling proud? Seriously, if the BP wants someone who knows about community-based planning, why doesn't he just give CPC's Tom Demott a call?

Clubs are Trump

In what we think is a historic agreement, the city has announced a new nightlife policy that creates a working partnership between the traditionally adversarial NYPD and the clubs. This is a working relationship and collaboration that the industry has long sought-particularly after the bad publicity from two years ago when a number of club-related (but not caused) homicides.

In addition, the new arrangement is the result of the hard work of the New York Night Life Association (NYNA), and its leadership, particularly Rob Bookman and Dave Rabin. Since we've helped NYNA off and on over the past few years, we know just how hard Rob and Dave labored to achieve yesterday's agreement with the city's police force. As Bookman told the Post: "No establishment has to fear calling the police again." The Times summarizes: "The police encouraged the clubs to report problems and seek help when needed. Club owners have been reluctant to call 911, fearing that they would blamed and subjected to tickets, arrests and challenges to their liquor licenses."

And a great deal of credit needs to go to Speaker Quinn, who we've criticized in the past on a number of issues. The NY Sun's take on this; "The nightclub industry and city officials led by the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, have been at odds in the past after a year-long effort to tackle problems with the city's $9 billion nightlife industry, including underage drinking and unlicensed bouncers," misstates the situation. It was Quinn who spearheaded the diplomacy that led to yesterday's deal.

The deal symbolizes what should characterize all of the relationships between the city and area businesses: collaboration and not confrontation. All too often the neighborhood bar, restaurant or bodega is seen as a pinata to be beaten for revenue, and not as valued businesses that should be seen as an essential part of the city's mosaic.

Licensed Lunacy

There's a public policy argument to be made in favor of granting drivers licenses illegal immigrants. Now it's not one that we'd make, or one that we think has much merit in this age of terrorism. But one of the biggest problems we have with something like this, is the fact that when Eliot Spitzer ran for office he made no mention of this boldly divergent public policy, one that departs dramatically from the current standard practices.

So it's interesting to read the governor's explanations for his initiative in today's NY Sun. As the Sun tells us: "Governor Spitzer said he has no intention of retreating from his contentious effort to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, insisting that the new policy would be more widely embraced if New Yorkers had a better understanding of its benefits."

If that's in fact the case, then the governor should have used the election campaign to educate the voters about the need to do something as radically new as this, since he believes that the polls aren't a good gauge of popular sentiment: "I'm not sure that the number accurately reflects the true public sentiment if it were presented in questions that reflected the underlying facts," Mr. Spitzer told the Sun." (An update is in order here. Juan Gonzales informs us that Spitzer did tell "immigrant leaders" about his intentions; it would have been nice, however, if he had told the 72% of New Yorkers who think that this is a bad idea).

And when he tells the Sun that he doesn't care about the polls that show that almost 75% of New Yorkers oppose the policy, ("I stand and govern based upon principle, not poll numbers. Humility has nothing to do with caving to poll numbers," he said. "Principle is what I've stood for, for nine years, and that's why I was elected by the largest margin by any governor in history.") he pointedly omits the political rationale that many folks see behind the governors move-a campaign promise to a number of powerful labor unions (and those "immigrant leaders").

Making all of this even more fascinating is the possibility, also examined in today's Sun, that most illegal immigrants would be reluctant to take advantage of the governor's generous offer. As the paper points out: "Far from the political debate on Governor Spitzer's plan to give undocumented immigrants valid driver's licenses, discussions are under way in New York City's immigrant-heavy neighborhoods about whether undocumented New Yorkers would even be willing to share their identities with the government."

Talk about money for nothing! As one illegal immigrant said: "Policies can be good today, but turn bad tomorrow." People are scared that, once they've been documented, their continued presence in the country will be at risk. Which raises the question of how much due diligence was done by the governor to determine whether his intended beneficiaries would not only appreciate his efforts, but actually utilize the license option. As one local Chinese-American official told the Sun about immigrant reactions to the new policy: "They say they are very happy with this new program, but they are not coming here today because they are very scared."

What's really at stake here is the country's immigration and homeland security policies. The governor's not waiting on the federal government, and by moving forward in this way he may be complicating the efforts to craft an immigration reform policy that is both fair and provides security to American citizens. In the process, he may also be damaging his own political stature.

Hiram Trains for a Rematch

In yesterday's local political blogs, the future political fortunes of Hiram Monseratte got front and center attention. At the City Room, Jonathan Hicks focused on the councilman's strenuous physical fitness regimen: "In the last three months, City Councilman Hiram Monserrate has been on a fitness program and has lost 25 pounds. He said that he has been undertaking a regimen of weight lifting, running and kick boxing to trim down."

What needs to be said, is that Monseratte's new found health kick coincided with his support of Dr. Mehmet Oz's HealthCorps initiative that was funded by the City Council this year. At a press conference earlier in the year, Hiram stood with Dr. Oz and committed to the weight loss. He's proven to be a man of his word when it comes to being a role model for health.

The potential re-match between Monseratte and incumbent state senator John Sabini is, of course what most interests our local political observers; the election battle in 2006 saw Sabini narrowly defeat Monseratte by 260 votes, making him appear to be the most vulnerable of the Democratic incumbents. As Azi points out, Sabini's vulnerability is enhanced because of his recent drunk driving beef.

The Sabini court fight over this charge, highlighted by Liz's Daily Politics blog, will continue to underscore some of Monseratte's arguments that he is better suited to represent the 13th Senatorial district; but the real challenge for the incumbent will be the changing demographics in this largely Hispanic district.