Monday, November 30, 2009

Campaign Finance Farce

In today's NY Times, the paper, in discussing the need for new finance reforms in NY State, sets a new record for disingenuousness-even for those editorialists. Throughout the editorial, the paper makes jaw dropping statements and omissions, apparently seeking to raise hypocrisy to a new kind of art form: "Twenty years ago, the widely respected Feerick Commission on Government Integrity declared that “campaign finance laws in New York are a disgrace.” Politicians in New York City were embarrassed enough to create one of the best and fairest campaign financing systems in the country. Albany’s lawmakers, who know no shame, shrugged and did next to nothing. The system is just as disgraceful today as it was then."

Ok, let's begin there. That the Times can call the current campaign finance farce in NYC, "one of the best and fairest," right after their candidate Mike Bloomberg demonstrated what a joke it really was, underscores the paper's lack of seriousness. Perhaps they should have injected a bit of an aside-you know, a disclaimer-when they used this law to lead into their annual excoriation of the state legislature.

And, while we're at it, shouldn't the Times opine just a bit on the fact that the current city law exempts labor? Given the growing political clout of municipal unions, the exemption of labor from the current finance statute hardly makes it fair-or effective at controlling certain special interests.

But let's exam the paper's annual Albany sojourn. It makes an elaborate excursion through all of the ways in which special interests can participate in the election process and concludes: "As a result, big money rules in Albany. Big business, big unions, and any wealthy individual or interest group can buy access, block reforms, and sometimes even write their own laws. The state Board of Elections, which is supposed to enforce these flimsy rules, has almost no staff and no authority. The maximum fines are a joke: $500 for not filing a campaign disclosure report."

Yet, as per usual with the Times, it's unable to see the forest from the trees. With all of this special interest chicanery it fails to point out that NY State is just about at the bottom of the ladder for all states when it comes to its business climate-with tax payers taking it on the chin like the perennial punching bags that they have become.

If big business and "wealthy individuals" are so adept at gaining access, where are the results? They should-per the Times-be ruling the roost in a low tax low regulatory environment. So, with its penchant for non sequitor, what we get from the Times is an absorption with campaign finance minutia that loses any of the overall perspective that would be needed to suggest real changes that would benefit the average New Yorker.

And throughout this lengthy exegesis there isn't a single mention of the Working Families Party-a key electoral player that has been able to cleverly skirt the statutes-both in the city and at the state level-to elevate itself into one of New York's key political players. And in its list of remedies, it makes no reference to the WFP, or to its Data Field Services arm that has come under fire for its role in city elections.

It does single out Carl Kruger, though: "The current master at vacuuming in campaign contributions is State Senator Carl Kruger. Until recently, the Brooklyn Democrat was an Albany unknown. Early this year, he took the chair of the crucial Senate Finance Committee, where he can call any bill into his committee and, if he wants, bottle it up forever. Mr. Kruger’s “Friends of Carl” fund started January with $1.7 million; by July he had added over $560,000, giving him the largest campaign chest in the Senate. Senator Kruger, who says donors recognized he is “a rising star” in the part, is now a very special friend to Albany’s special interests."

Which interests are those? How has his influence been used? Is there any evidence of untoward behavior? No, none of the above. That would take a little subtlety, not to mention some actual reporting. The fact that Kruger-while in the minority-was able to generate as much money goes unremarked. Just the fact of the money is enough of an indictment for the Times.

But this gaping hole in the paper's analysis when it comes to Kruger, is symptomatic of the larger issue that it continually elides in its obsessive compulsive kneading of campaign dough. The State of New York is going to hell in a hand basket, yet the Times fails to start its analysis with the state's decline, so obsessed is its pursuit of campaign finance reform.

But without the meta analysis of decline and fiscal insolvency, the talk of campaign finance is totally inane. We need to know how and why the ship is sinking-not a rigorous accounting of the deck chairs. Which is why the Times' omission of the WFP and its role in the decline is so glaring.

Campaign finance may need to be reformed, but if it does, it should be done within the context of a larger reform movement that addresses the hijacking of the state's political culture by anti-tax payer and anti-business forces. But to do this, the Times would have to step out of its political comfort zone. By failing to do so, the paper's editorial rambles incoherently and becomes irrelevant to the political challenges ahead.

Willets Point: Empty Lots of Questions

In this morning's NY Daily News, we have the guest editorial on the lessons of both the Pfizer/Kelo aftermath, and the recent NY State court Atlantic Yards decision on Atlantic Yards. In our view, it would be a mistake for the city to see the AY decision as a green light for the permissive use of eminent domain: "Rather than running with their court-blessed authority to condemn and take property, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson should instead be looking to the Pfizer-Kelo mess. It offers a much more relevant real-world warning on the dangers of zealous use of the eminent domain authority. The New London fiasco serves as a cautionary tale, particularly in regards to the expansive and massively expensive project over at Willets Point, in Queens."

Now, we have always been cautious in our position on eminent domain-and have supported the Atlantic Yards development for a number of clearly stated reasons while, at the same time, representing Forest City Ratner, the project's developer. We believe that, in certain cases, it can be a legitimate tool for development. The case of Willets Point is not one of those times where ED makes either fiscal or public policy sense. It is too large, too costly, and way too speculative-particularly in these very scary economic times; as New London could tell you.

In addition, Willets Point has no developer and no plan-with its ultimate cost shrouded in mystery: "In order to successfully advance a 9 million-square-foot retail and housing development in that disparaged community, the city will have to - on spec - spend hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to prepare the land. Just to buy all of the property owners out will cost, based on the Economic Development Corp.'s public disclosure of existing sales that have already been negotiated, close to $700 million. And this is all before the cost of providing necessary infrastructure to the area, including sidewalks and sewers, that the city has neglected to provide for well over 80 years."

What the city council did in the land use application for the Iron Triangle was to simply provide the city with carte blanche-and a blank check-to do whatever it wants; whenever it can scrounge up the upwards of $4 billion to fully clear and prepare the site for development. And Mayor Mike has never given the tax payers a full accounting of the costs: "The city is very good at touting the collateral benefits of many of its large retail development projects, but it is understandably reticent about highlighting what can be seen as the collateral damages. Given the Pfizer debacle, in which New London's big promises and massive investments went up in smoke, it is crucial that Bloomberg and his economic development team now give a full and detailed accounting of all the predevelopment costs that will have to be absorbed even before a developer is selected."

So, what the council did was to cede its authority over to the mayor on the issue of what will be built at Willets Point and who will build it. The whole idea behind the current land use law is to provide for city council oversight-but with development in this long neglected area some time in the distant future, there will be none exercised by the city's legislature on this massive project.

Scores of predevelopment promises were made that are so much nonsense given the fact that we have no idea who the mayor will even be when and if there comes a time to select a developer. The city council never even, as it should have, provided a methodology that would have allowed the development to receive final approval once all of the pieces were put in place. So any "plan" that is being chatted up now is simply a fairy tale.

NYC is going through the kind of economic downturn that should give it some pause when it comes to speculation-especially since so many of its economic development officials come from Wall Street where speculation is de rigueur-and can, at the same time, be seen as a significant underlying cause of the current economic meltdown we are facing. There is too much at stake over at Willets Point to have the tax payers rolling the dice.

When we look at the hundreds of businesses that are impacted at the Point, and the thousands of immigrant workers, we need to re-visit both the feasibility as well as the cost of this development-whatever the underlying legal issues are concerning the use of eminent domain. Jeff Benedict, the author of the definitive book on Kelo (Little Pink House), underscores why this revisiting needs to be done in light of Pfizer's taking a powder in New London: "In other words, the potential of a massive redevelopment scheme anchored by the arrival of Pfizer's facility justified evicting homeowners who stood in the way of progress. There's just one stubborn fact: It's been four years since the infamous Kelo ruling and the city hasn't gotten a thing built on the 90 acres it now controls. After all the shouting, the developer ran out of money and the city has zero prospective replacements. Barren weed fields are all that exist where homes once stood."

Willets Point offers an even greater-and exponentially more expensive-opportunity for failure. The local communities in the way of this development-and don't think that Willets Point can be done in isolation from its neighbors-have little idea how traffic will get in and out from the newly developed 9,00,000 square feet. As we point out in the Daily News: "In addition, it's estimated that the provision of adequate transportation into this peninsula - with an additional estimated 80,000 vehicle trips including 2,500 truck trips entering or leaving Willets Point every weekday - will run into the billions of dollars."

But those 80,000 cars simply don't have any adequate way of entering and living without totally disrupting existing traffic in and out of East Elmhurst, Corona, Flushing and College Point. These neighborhoods will function as door mats for any new development of this size-but just how the new traffic will be accommodated is also being treated as a municipal secret.

Ramps are being planned off the Van Wyck that may or may not-who knows?-alleviate all of these cars and trucks slated to plow through local roads. We say, who knows? because the city won't release its ramp reports and is seeking to get approvals from NYSDOT and the federal highway authority without any public review process.

So we are facing massive costs and uncertain infrastructure needs for a project that has no real definition aside from the beautiful renderings that demonstrate little more than the creativity of highly paid architects-and can be changed at the will of a future mayor. As we said this morning in the News-and we'll give ourselves the last word today: "With the prospect of tax hikes and service cuts hanging over the heads of New Yorkers, now is not the time for the kind of risky investment that cost our Connecticut cousins millions of dollars.The city needs to take a step back on Willets Point, fully examine the costs as well as the benefits, and ask the simple question: Can we afford this kind of publicly subsidized real estate speculation in the current economic climate? In the aftermath of New London, the answer should be a resounding "no."

Bloomberg Needed to Spend the Money!

News over the long weekend that Mike Bloomberg had-so far-spent more money than any other individual in an effort to obtain a political office was met with the usual shrugged shoulders; and nary an editorial whimper from the guardians of campaign finance probity over at the NY Times.
The paper did enlighten us in its news pages: "To eke out an election victory over the city’s low-key comptroller, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg spent $102 million of his own fortune — or about $174 per vote — according to data released Friday, making his bid for a third term the most expensive campaign in the city’s history. Mr. Bloomberg, the wealthiest man in New York City, shattered his own records: He poured $85 million into his campaign in 2005 (or $112 per vote) and $74 million into his first bid for office in 2001 ($99 per vote)."

While some may find this an outrageous sum-and a blot on the city's pretension to democratic rule-there are those who feel that the expenditure was justified: "Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for the mayor’s campaign, said that a harsh political environment helped oust incumbents in Westchester County and New Jersey. “The reason this anti-incumbent wave stopped at the Hudson’s edge,” Mr. Wolfson said, “is because the mayor ran an effective campaign based on eight years of success.”

And here's his $40,000/month opinion for the NY Daily News: "Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said this year's record price tag was "absolutely" worth it in a election season with a national anti-incumbent undercurrent. "In a climate in which people are unhappy - [with] the economy especially - campaigns have to start early, and they have to reach out to voters in many different ways," Wolfson said."

Well, we agree partially at least with the assessment of Wolfman Howard-Mike really needed to spend the money; not to dramatize the, "eight years of success," but to do damage control over the mayor's eroding base of support-exacerbated by his overturning of the city's term limits law. And the vaunted anti-incumbent sentiment is a concept that Howard reifies in his effort to minimize that the NYC anti-incumbent sentiment was all about Mike Bloomberg.

Oh, and did Howard forget that a good chunk of the money supposedly touting the mayor's political triumphs, was actually spent demonizing the record of his little known opponent? Howard, forever the dreidel, it seems.

But the mayor's methods will reverberate-and the backlash is already beginning to be felt as good government groups and council members push back against the arrogance of power: "
Mr. Bloomberg has now spent at least $261 million of his own money in the pursuit of public office, more than anyone else in the United States. Government watchdog groups criticized the nine-digit price tag for his re-election, saying it undermined a widely admired campaign finance system that Mr. Bloomberg helped install in the city."

"Widely admired? By whom? What's to admire about a system that allows a Michael Bloomberg to spend $102 million on a mayoral campaign, but restricts us nefarious lobbyists to $250? But NYPIRG's Gene Russianoff understands the damage that the Bloomberg campaign has done: "Mr. Bloomberg did not participate in the system, which rewards candidates who raise small donations with large matching money from taxpayers....“He has done long-term damage to the system,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group."

Now we'll see how the reformers do damage control. Bloomberg has undermined even the pretense of a democratic process. He should now be held to an extraordinary high standard-and his actions and policies should be scrutinized with a great deal of tender loving care.

Friday, November 27, 2009


We read with some amusement about how our Educator-in-Chief at city hall is going to use student test grades to determine teacher compensation. As the NY Times reported: " Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Wednesday that New York City public schools would immediately begin to use student test scores as a factor in deciding which teachers earn tenure, a proposal that has been bitterly opposed by the teachers’ union and criticized as putting too much weight on standardized exams."

Oh, Lord, how silly it is when arrogance and ignorance are combined in the crafting of public policy-and the use of already discredited student exams to do anything besides cleaning school bathrooms with them is an outrage. First, make sure that the tests are serious measures of student learning, then decide whether or not they can be used as a measure of teacher evaluation.

In our view, however, tests are always a risky tool to use. Way back in the day when we taught the fifth grade one year we had an influx of Dominican immigrants. And it so happened, that this batch of kids was extremely bright, although not yet fluent in English. At the end of the year, a large number of the kids had jumped from second and third grade levels in reading to eleventh and twelfth grade scores-a recognition, without a doubt, of our superior pedagogical skills.

This personal example is illustrative of the larger methodological problem-even if we factor out the test quality issue. But we certainly can't do that too prematurely considering the ongoing controversy over the quality of the current testing regime. As the Times reminds us: "The city already uses test scores in evaluating the system: to determine teacher and principal bonus pay, to assign the A through F letter grades that schools receive, and to decide which schools are shut down for poor performance. The mayor is now putting even more weight behind those scores by using them to decide which teachers should stay and which should go."

But this system has been quite fairly ridiculed as both arbitrary and capricious-with teacher bonuses being handed out as if Chancellor Klein was back on Wall Street in Christmases past. In fact, this does remind us of the way that some of the Wall Street CEOs were given big bonuses even while their company's performance was tanking.

The mayor, for his part, made the speech while in Washington where he was looking to continue cement his BFF status with Secretary Duncan and the president. And his promotion of the teacher test concept was, get this, prompted by the availability of stimulus money-the money that was supposed to be all about job creation: "In a speech in Washington on Wednesday, alongside the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, the mayor also called on the State Legislature to make a number of changes...that would help New York State compete for hundreds of millions of dollars in the so-called Race to the Top federal grants. The program will distribute $4.35 billion in stimulus financing to states for innovative education programs."

By the way, it should be pointed out, simply as a public service of course, that the budgget for the national Department of Education has risen from around $60 billion to over $140 billion because of ther injection of all of that job creating stimulus money. Why we would want to encourage Washington in this direction is beyond us. But we digress.

We do, however, need to ask; Aren't we already spending enough money locally on education? Talk about being jobbed! The mayor is gonna be in for some fight on this initiative-and that he would double down on fraudulent tests is really jaw dropping to us. But Bloomberg appears to have been numbed by the numbers: "The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “With a transparent new evaluation system, principals would have the ability to make layoffs based on merit — but only if the State Legislature gives us the authority to do it.”

So get ready for a major Albany battle-and we know how this will go if the UFT and CSA really gear up and fight. What the mayor wants to do is develop his own stat-based metric to ax the teachers and administrators he feels merit being let go. As the NY Post points out: "Among the items he’s seeking changes to are teacher seniority rules — so that layoffs would commence with the worst teachers rather than the least experienced ones — and the notoriously lengthy and onerous hearing process, which makes it more difficult to boot bad teachers from the schools system. He also asked the legislature to give teachers who have been cut from shrinking or closing schools just one year to find a new gig before they’re axed."

We can't wait for this battle to heat up. It will resemble the West Side Stadium fight-and we predict that the result will be the same. Only this time it will leave Mike Bloomberg even more diminished than before; as the jerry-built nature of his testing edifice is exposed for what it is-a colossal waste of money with educational progress either exaggerated or simply impossible to measure.

Eminently Debatable

The federal court decision that serves to justify over 60 years of municipal neglect on Willets Point, is a reminder to some degree just how limited legal action can sometimes be-and how conventional judicial thinking usually is: "A federal judge on Wednesday upheld New York’s $3 billion redevelopment plan for Willets Point, an industrial section of Queens dominated by car-repair shops and waste-management businesses, finding that although the city had neglected the neighborhood’s infrastructure for decades, the constitutional rights of the businesses there — many of which will be forced to relocate under the plan — were not violated."

So, the businesses may have been screwed, but the sex was consensual? According to Judge Korman: "The plaintiffs, who organized themselves into an entity called the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association, and who “have established thriving businesses (notwithstanding the grossly inadequate infrastructure of the area)” and employ hundreds of people, “are understandably aggrieved by the fact that the plan that the city is in the process of implementing has no place for them,” the judge, Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, wrote. However, he ruled, it was not the place of federal judges to intervene in the dispute."

Even if the basis for the removal is a blight condition that the city itself could be seen as causing? As the NY Daily News points out: "Brooklyn Federal Judge Edward Korman rejected the property owners argument that their Constitutional rights had been violated by the city - denying them access to vital infrastructure like trash removal, sewage lines and paved streets. But the judge acknowledged the 70-acre industrial area is a dump. "Indeed, Willets Point is not a neighborhood that Mr. Rogers would recognize," Korman wrote in his decision made public today."

And it should be clarified that the suit in question here did not, as some reporters argued, seek to overturn the entire redevelopment plan-it was solely directed to the deprivation of city services. This point is recognized over at the Village Voice: "As a commenter points out, this suit did not explicitly seek to overturn the redevelopment plan. Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain Abuse, a different group, has filed an Article 78 petition "challenging the environmental review that was completed by the City of New York" and seeking to nullify the city council's vote authorizing the plan."

And it is the plan itself that has become the focal point of the attack-notwithstanding one's views about the issue of eminent domain itself. Put simply, the EIS is such a fraudulent effort to diminish the traffic and attendant environmental impacts, that when the real impacts become known it will cause a real sh#t storm-an outcome that we will be magnanimously be helping to generate.

The traffic generation and the inadequacy of the mitigation-not to mention the costly over all nature of the project-is going to lead to a lot of second guessing-particularly post-Kelo/Pfizer. Some of this is captured over at the NY Times in a section on comments over the Pfizer get out of New London fiasco. As one reader comments: "Good. It was a rotten plan and until a better system of compensation is worked out - not just market value, but something that takes a person's lifetime emotional investment in a home into account - such eminent domain projects should be severely curtailed. Those who had their homes plowed down for nothing should get their land back, gratis. The city has shown poor planning and stewardship skills."

Or, check out this observation: "Redevelopment" is one of the biggest scams going. It is often the case that developers cozy up to local city councils and redevelopment agencies and sell them a bill of goods. The politicians and bureaucrats that fall for this, either through incompetence or corruption, should be thrown out of office. Redevelopment is often just another example of corporate welfare."

What this says to us, is that the Willets Point project needs to be re-evaluated in the current post-Kelo context; an environment that is characterized by burgeoning municipal deficits and service cut backs. It must also be given a more careful scrutiny-particularly on the environmental impact side.

Any development that has had so much political juice on its side, even to the extent of recommissioning Claire Shulman for active duty, will have an immense incentive to shortchange the public on any number of important impacts-beginning with a smoke and mirrors mitigation provision for an increase of 80,000 car trips per day.

All of this will be brought to light in the fight over a public review process for the approval of the Van Wyck ramps-an approval that is the linchpin of the entire redevelopment. It's as simple as, "No ramps, no project." But if that's the case, than the ramps better be properly evaluated, and any behind the scenes whitewashing must be fought by everyone-not just property owners threatened with the loss of their land.

So, whatever happens in the current court cases, it is the cost and feasibility of the redevelopment of Willets Point that should be on the minds of, not only the contiguous neighborhoods that will function as an unwelcome mat for the massive project, but all of the tax payers in NYC.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kingsbridge Re-Moat?

The NY Daily News is reporting that negotiations over the fate of the Kingsbridge Armory have stalled: "The Kingsbridge Armory cliff-hanger will keep dangling well into next month, after a failed attempt yesterday to reach a compromise on the living wage issue there. Bronx Council delegation members, who met with Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber, said they are determined to hold out until the last possible minute."

In a surprise move, however, Council member Joel Rivera told the News that the council may modify the land use application, and send it back to City Planning in order to buy a bit more time to negotiate with the city: "Normally, under the city's tightly scripted ULURP, the full Council would have to vote on the proposal by Dec. 14, or else the project would be approved by default.
Project opponents on the zoning subcommittee plan to extend that time with a vote to modify the proposal, which will send it back - according to the ULURP script - to the City Planning Commission for a two-week review before the full Council must act. By putting off the vote to modify until Dec. 9 - the last possible day for the subcommittee to act - opponents would effectively stretch the deadline to Dec. 21."

But if the Bronx delegation holds firm, time isn't on the city's side-and unless someone breaks the logjam, the whole deal could be turned down: "Rivera remains confident the Bronx delegation - which opposes approving the deal without a commitment on living wage retail jobs - can marshal the votes to kill the project if Related won't agree. Related's lawyer, Jesse Masyr, has long maintained that agreeing to a living wage mandate would doom the project. "It wouldn't be too surprising," Masyr said before yesterday's hearing."

How much of this is posturing is hard to determine-and it should be pointed out that total defeats are as rare at the council as snow in August. Still, if attitudes continue to harden, it will make resolution that much more difficult to achieve: "But Rivera said, "It's not like that neighborhood is starved for retail," pointing to nearby Fordham Road as the third busiest shopping corridor in the city. With both sides holding to their hard lines, Rivera said he expected the fight to come down to the wire - sometime around Dec. 21 under the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure."

The News points out that any resolution that either leads to a living wage deal, or kills the plan outright, will be perceived as a victory for Bronx BP Ruben Diaz-the instigator of the new militancy: "Whether the project is killed or saved by some last-minute wage compromise, either option would be a tasty stocking stuffer for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who took on the armory wage fight as a signature issue after his election earlier this year."

So, the ball's in the city's-and Related's-court. We believe that compromise should be reached-and usually is-but what that might look like is hard to envision, even at this late date.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Community Organizer Charade

One of the supreme ironies that emerged during the last presidential campaign was the conservative onslaught against BHO for his community organizing/Saul Alinsky background. The irony lies in the way in which this background was manipulated by the Obama forces to create the impression of the candidate's populist bona fides. In a word, street cred pure and simple.

But the entire narrative was to us-and remains-entirely one of artifice. Obama has little of the Alinsky worldview-except perhaps a bit of the old organizer's flair for grandiosity and manipulation. Which is why, at least to us, the news that the president has invited Mike Bloomberg to tonight's state dinner was certainly no shock-nor was Obama's petty ante treatment of Bill Thompson in the mayoral campaign.

At his core, Obama is a pure elitist-and one who has embraced the new Democratic party's conjugal relationship with the fat cats on Wall Street. Mike Bloomberg is, therefore, a soul mate-or at least one of a cohort of Illuminati that the Obami are joined with at the hip-to wit, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner.

This is all brilliantly captured by Michael Lind at Salon. Here's the devastating money quote:

"The financial industry is now to the Obama Democrats what the AFL-CIO was to the Roosevelt-to-Johnson Democrats. It is touching to watch progressives lament that "their" president has the wrong advisors. "We trust the czar, we simply dislike his ministers." Obama owed his meteoric rise from obscurity to the presidency not to any bold progressive ideas -- he didn't have any -- but rather to a combination of his appealing life story with the big money that allowed him to abandon campaign finance limits. According to one Obama supporter I know, the Obama campaign pressured its Wall Street donors to make their contributions in the form of many small checks, in order to create the illusion that the campaign was more dependent on small contributors than it was in fact. Even now President Obama continues to raise money on Wall Street, while his administration says no to every progressive proposal for significant structural reform of the financial industry."

So, as the ironies continue to unfold, it is left to the Tea Party movement and the enthusiasm behind the Palin phenomenon, to represent true working and lower middle class populism-while looking, at the same time, as if they are the true heirs of the Alinsky playbook. And, in our view, the current healthcare mania, pursued while real unemployment has been gauged at close to 17%, indicates just how elitist and out of touch the Dems are today.

Lind underscores this observations about how the health care obsession has led the party astray:

"It is only in the post-New Deal era that universal healthcare has become the Holy Grail of the American center-left, rather than, say, full employment or a living wage. Sure, Democrats from Truman to Johnson sought universal healthcare, and Medicare for the elderly was a down payment for that goal. But the main concern of the New Dealers was providing economic growth with full employment, on the theory that if the economy is growing and workers have the bargaining power to obtain their fair share of the new wealth in the form of wages, you don't need a vastly bigger welfare state. Having forgotten the New Deal's emphasis on high-wage work, all too many of today's progressives seem to have internalized the right's caricature of FDR-to-LBJ liberalism as being primarily about redistribution from the rich to the poor."

So, it seems to us as it does to Lind, that the Democrats are dangerously out of touch-and clueless when it comes to the burgeoning anger in the heartland-and its base is being driven by an almost John Lindsay like tone deafness: "This shift in emphasis is connected with the shift in the social base of the Democratic Party from the working class to an alliance of the wealthy, parts of the professional class and the poor. And progressive redistributionism also reflects the plutocratic social structure of the big cities that are now the Democratic base. Unlike the egalitarian farmer-labor liberalism that drew on the populist values of the small town and the immigrant neighborhood, metropolitan liberalism tends to define center-left politics not as self-help on the part of citizens but rather as charity for the disadvantaged carried out by affluent altruists. Tonight the fundraiser for endangered species; tomorrow the gala charity auction for poor children."

There it is, in a nutshell-and why the coupling of Barack Hussein Obama and Mike Bloomberg is a definite MasterCard moment. It is an elitist and condescending form of liberalism that reminds us of the passage in the great book by Joe Flaherty, Managing Mailer. When the late Norman Mailer was running for mayor of New York in 1969, he went to an East Side reform club made up of rich liberal women. When he began to advocate for community control and other empowering ideas for the poor, he was sharply interrupted and reminded: "Mr. Mailer, its about what we can do for them."

All of this is embodied in the hauteur of Obama-more Harvard Yard than South Side of Chicago. And our feeling is that the president was barely listening the Rev. Wright all those years as he carefully went about constructing this persona that elevated pretense into the highest kind of art form. So, as the president and NYC's richest man dig in to the haute cusine tonight, you will be able to get a glimpse of the authentic Obama. He is finally in the community where he is most comfortable.

Not All in the Family

According to Jacob Gershman in New York Magazine, a movement is growing to mount a challenge to the political dominance of the Working Families Party: "With the pro-labor Working Families Party on the rise, a coalition of New York business elites is laying the foundation to counteract its influence with a political operation of their own. The plan is to collaborate with the Independence Party, which just backed Republican Mike Bloomberg, to push what they see as fiscally responsible positions.”

A challenge it certainly is, since the WFP has become one large tail wagging NY State's Democratic dog-witness the success locally of John Liu and Bill deBlasio. But the even greater hurdle is to create a coalition that will not be seen as a revival of the kind of permanent government that has always ruled in NYC-often to the detriment of small businesses and homeowners.

This is, however, trickier than it seems-and labor loyalist Mike McGuire understands the problem: “The problem is who is their constituency,” notes labor lobbyist Michael McGuire. “Unions are all member organizations. Who are the members of ‘business’?”

McGuire is correct, but the problem isn't insurmountable if it is approached in the right manner. That approach needs to view the effort as a grass roots organizing campaign-the very kind that the Alliance has conducted over the past three decades. The greatest danger is for this effort to be perceived as elitist-and there is some redolence of this already: "It’s being advised by Jay Kriegel, a longtime Democrat and member of the city’s Establishment who started his career as a hotshot 25-year-old aide to Mayor Lindsay. Most recently, he was executive director of Bloomberg’s failed 2012 Olympics bid. (Today, he works as an adviser to developer Stephen Ross.)"

There is nothing wrong with a coalition of interests-one that includes businesses both small and large-but there needs to be more of an effort, if the campaign is to really gain traction, to build the coalition from the ground up. It needs to be more tea party than tea room-and it needs to utilize a more populist (dare we say, Alinsky-style) approach.

And there is certainly some common ground here-and that commonality devolves from the expansion of government in the state and city, and all that the expansion entails in the way of taxes, fees and regulations: "The movement began taking shape after lawmakers in Albany passed a $133 billion budget in April, increasing taxes and fees by $7 billion and raising spending by 9 percent. Deficit projections have risen to nearly $30 billion over the next three years. While Governor Paterson has warned lawmakers that the state may not be able to pay its bills by the end of the year, the Legislature has spurned his attempts to slash education and health care."

These are trends that really hurt the small business backbone of the state and city's economy-and send tax paying homeowners fleeing to less burdensome environs. But using the mayor as a paragon is, in our view a mistake: "They want to help elect Bloomberg-like candidates statewide. The problem is going to be convincing voters that what’s good for the capitalists is good for them too. Their tentative slogan? “It’s Your New York.”,

That's a huge barrier to entry for any grass roots movement because it's perceived elitism precludes tapping into the kind of populist sentiment that will provide the ground troops necessary in order to compete with the union-backed WFP. Gershman hints at this: "Challenging the WFP, which is allied with a sophisticated army of operatives, canvassers, and pressure groups, is not going to be easy. The Independence Party lacks the same boots-on-the-ground infrastructure. Crosson says his new coalition knows what it’s up against: “They’re very effective and entrenched. The business community will be playing a game of catch-up for a long time.”

The Alliance has been doing precisely this for years-and by doing it successfully by tapping into small business and local neighborhood unrest at large and out-of-touch, and, yes, elite-driven government; a style of governing that the current mayor has been emblematic of. So the challenge is to find a way to tap into the funding of larger business interests while, at the same time, finding a way to inspire and mobilize the troops at the grass roots level.

If the latter isn't done properly, than the entire campaign will lack genuineness; and will appear as little more than an Astroturf effort by the rich folks to reassert their former dominance-a methodology that is almost guaranteed to end in failure. Still, the effort needs to be started and soon-or else we will all be singing in chorus; "California Hear I Come."

Small Business Challenge

Eliot Brown does a nice job in the Observer cataloguing the effort by a wide range of small business groups to pass what is called the Small Business Protection Act-a bill that would insulate small businesses against arbitrary eviction and other landlord abuse. Robert Jackson, the bill's sponsor, isn't getting much help from council leadership, even though there are enough supporters to pass the measure should it be allowed to come to a vote.

As Brown points out: "With a month left before the current Council term ends and legislation expires, Mr. Jackson is scrambling to bring his bill to a vote—it has the official support of 30 of 51 members—making noise, threatening and pressuring fellow members to help him move on his top priority. The main resistance comes from Speaker Christine Quinn—Mr. Jackson said Mr. Yassky was deferring to her on a vote as is customary—who says she believes the bill would be ruled illegal by the courts."

Perhaps so, but as Eliot reminds us, there have been numerous bills that were of questionable legality that have managed to pass the council-indicating that this legislation has other impediments, like an enraged real estate community: "Mr. Jackson’s unusually strong push has sent a jolt of fear through the real estate world that had, until recently, paid the bill little attention, and industry advocates are now working to erode the bill’s support on the Council (though they do not seem to think there is much threat that the bill will come up this year). Landlord groups balk at the mere mention of new regulation on commercial rents, and seem to find Mr. Jackson’s legislation nauseating."

To us, the fact that the bill has generated this much support-both within and outside of the city council-is a tribute to Steve Null's organizing efforts-and his ability to bring so many disparate small business groups together on this contentious issue. It also underscores just how bad it is for small business in this city-and how its plight has been exacerbated under the Bloomberg watch, something we have underscored in our previous post..

As the Observer tells us: "The bill’s backers, led by a large set of minority business owners, call it absolutely essential for the survival of small businesses in the city. Landlords’ ability to dramatically raise rents after a lease expires forces far too many neighborhood stores to shutter, the advocates say, leaving streets with a limited and unhealthy variety of retail."

We're not really sure that this legislation is the silver bullet that is needed to address the severity of small business problems in the city-and we haven't been asked by any of the groups to get directly involved on the issue-but we understand where all of the angst is coming from. And it has been made that much worse by a businessman mayor who is simply tone deaf on anything related to neighborhood retailing.

And Big Real estate doesn't present an attractive opponent on this concept when it argues the following: "Then there is also criticism over the bill’s timing. In a recession, when rents are naturally falling everywhere, there is less hue, cry and demonstrated urgent need compared to the heady days of rapid gentrification and rent hikes a couple of years back."

Yeah, bad timing Little Guys. Just when the rent situation's getting better for you, you try to ram this rent bill through the council. Of course, the current recession has already led to the record shuttering of local stores; creating a situation where some falling rents don't come close to alleviating the current plight of the store owners.

But all of this back and forth elides for us the more severe underlying issue-the absolute heinous business climate in the city, one that is precipitated by a big government culture that the permanent government (including the real estate moguls) have done little to address. And the mayor's role here has not been insignificant.

We get as nice glimpse of this in a NY Post editorial today on Bloomberg's labor policy. Under the mayor, city government has grown almost exponentially, with municipal labor being aggrandized by a chief executive who apparently shares their grand vision: "Maybe this is Mayor Creampuff's -- er, Bloomberg's -- idea of driving a hard bargain. "There are newspapers that think we've been too generous with our unions," the mayor said recently. "I don't happen to think so. If you want great services, you have to have good people . . . You have to pay them fairly." It's an odd message to send at a time when the city's facing a $5 billion deficit -- and negotiating a new contract for its 80,000-plus schoolteachers."

All of this underscores the real challenge that has led to crisis pushing the organizing efforts behind the Small Business Protection Act-the size and scope of government; and the tax and regulatory structure that makes it so difficult for small businesses to survive in NYC. Put simply, Bloomberg's philosophy of government isn't that dramatically different from that of the Working Families Party-and it is this philosophy, along with those who promote it, that need to be confronted before the city's finances collapse completely (along with those of NY State).

Which is why we were disappointed-but understood-when the coalition behind the current protection measure made a deal to support the Paid Sick Leave Bill sponsored by the WFP. As the Observer points out: "The bill's supporters are no political fools. A set of small-business owners appear to have formed a pact with the increasingly influential Working Families Party to push the legislation. At a hearing last week on the WFP’s top priority, a paid-sick-leave bill, the small-business owners testified in favor of the commercial rent bill, which generally is opposed by businesses, as it adds to their cost. The WFP recently sent a letter of support to the Council in favor of Mr. Jackson’s bill (the group has previously said it is in favor of the legislation)."

Not a really good move in our view, but made in desperation since the WFP's opposition to protection would thoroughly sink its chances of passing. But these bedfellows are just too strange for us-and the short term gains aren't worth the deal with the forces that are, to us, deleterious to the long term health and survival of Mom and Pop in New York. The sick leave bill symbolizes the forces that are deadly for small business success.

The more meritorious and challenging battle, is the one that looks to confront the deteriorating business climate-and does so by aligning businesses, both big and small, with the city tax payers and homeowners. This is a righteous fight that, in the long run, will do more for the little guys than the current rent protection bill will ever do.

One Fine Day

In Sunday's NY Post, the paper gave the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs a ream of free publicity-and nary a dissenting voice was heard about how DCA vigilant may be doing more harm than good: "New Yorkers are getting short-changed by supermarkets, delis, drugstores and gas stations that illegally inflate weights and measures, charge higher-than-marked prices and slap the sales tax on nontaxable items. City inspectors issued 2,976 violations so far this year to retailers who soak their customers -- a 58 percent increase over last year's 1,882 tickets."

Yikes! It sure sounds pretty bad-but we're so grateful that city regulators are on the case of all of these malevolent local businesses. Of course, what is left out in this kind of ticket blitz is just how much it costs NYC consumers when regulators are doing the blitzing. In fact, in our view, the aggregate cost of the fines adds to the already overly costly business climate in the city-a situation that has contributed to the high store vacancy rates in neighborhoods throughout the city.

What's really missing from the Post article, however, is just how pointless and arbitrary these fines and violations can often be. There are a myriad of fines for things like missing a light bulb on an exit sign, having your fruit overhang your outdoor stoop stand, and a fine for the failure to item price every single one of your products in a grocery store. These fines-some as high as $1500 a piece-can really add up.

And we haven't begun to even factor in our supremely vigilant Department of Health that is simply driving restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and food markets nuts. Make no mistake about it, this is big business for NYC-and adds to the small business failures that have driven local unemployment numbers so high.

But what about short weights? Here's the Post's take: "We have zero tolerance for an uncalibrated scale, and when the economy is in distress, that's especially important," said Jonathan Mintz, commissioner of the city Department of Consumer Affairs. "In the vast majority of cases, we don't think it's purposeful fraud. But whether it's a significant overcharge or a small overcharge to a significant number of people, that's unacceptable. Pennies add up."

Let's deconstruct. First: "When the economy is in distress..." Okay, we guess the commissioner is expressing support for strapped consumers-but at Whole Foods? Seriously, though, if the economy is distressed, shouldn't we be even more solicitous about being overly zealous in our attack on the retailers who are providing the employment? And, by the way, many so called short weight violations due to faulty scales inure to the benefit of consumers-and actually shortchange the big bad retailers. But why get in the way of a good storyline.

In examining DOH fines, the NY Post found a drastic escalation in the levies under the current administration. As the paper pointed out a few years ago: "The Health Department expects to collect a record $27 million in fines this year, about 25 percent more than it projected 10 months ago, The Post has learned...Last year, the Health Department projected that fine revenue would total $21.9 million by June 30, the end of the 2007 fiscal year. Last week, that was revised upwards to $27 million."

And so it goes with DCA as well-and we refer you to our section on DCA fines at the Alliance web site for more on this situation. All of this falls quite neatly into the narrative that Steve Malanga over at the City Journal has laid out about the city's hostility to small business.

Here's Malanga's money quote:

"Doing business in Gotham has rarely been easy for the nearly 200,000 small firms that form the backbone of the city’s local economy. Virtually everyone who runs a business in New York has long had to deal with uncompromising inspectors, unsympathetic city bureaucracies, and complex regulations, to say nothing of profit-crushing taxes. But over the past few years, small businesses’ woes have worsened significantly, say many entrepreneurs and business groups. Taxes, fees, and fines are worse than ever; city departments have stepped up inspections and enforcement; city agencies have stymied efforts to cut red tape; and at a time when the national and city economies are struggling, commissioners have promoted new social policies that have added to businesses’ burdens. “In 25 years, this is the worst I’ve seen things,” claims Ramon Murphy, owner of two bodegas and president of the city-based Bodega Association of the United States."

And what about the taxes? The city has been squeezing local businesses-particularly on the their property taxes; and, at the state level, the current budget crisis has underscored just how a bloated government bureaucracy is harmful to business growth. This hasn't, however, stopped the Working Families Party from urging even higher taxes as an alternative to needed budget cutting.

So before the NY Post goes about reprinting some DCA press release we suggest that it gives more attention to how the city over-regulates and over-taxes retailers-and how groups like the WFP exacerbate this ominous trend by introducing job killing measures such as the current paid sick leave bill, legislation that we have described as the mandatory retirement act for small business employees.

And, by the way, where are the short weight fines for the city's proliferating bands of fruit and veggie peddlers? DCA is apparently too busy making it hard for the tax paying store owners to succeed in this most difficult of business environments to worry about people doing business right on our streets. If things don't change soon, neighborhood shopping strips will be better utilized as play streets.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mene, Mene, Tekel

Is the writing on the Armory wall for the redevelopment of that Kingsbridge landmark? According to this morning's NY Daily News, and Councilman Joel Rivera, it just might be: "Monday could be the turning point for the embattled Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment plan, with critical City Council members now claiming to have the votes to kill the project. Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera (D-Bronx) told the Daily News he has the support of enough members of the subcommittee on zoning and franchises, meeting Monday, to block plans to turn the 575,000-square-foot fortress into a $310 million shopping mall. "We have the votes to pass it, or to kill it," said Rivera, who noted not just Bronx members on the committee are ready to vote the proposal down."

Now, we have been down this kind of road before, and have seen many a unforeseen thing happen-so it isn't time yet for opponents to start any victory dances. And the real question is whether Related-and the administration-will be able to find a compromised middle ground: "At issue is whether the developer, The Related Companies, will agree to require retail tenants to pay workers a living wage. Related has said it would have to walk away from the project because it would be unable to get bank financing under such terms. Sources said that Related's options are to either offer some compromise on the wage issue, see the subcommittee kill the proposal or withdraw its application and let the city issue a new request for proposals to develop the armory."

Today could well tell the tale-and determine whether or not the redevelopment of the Armory will become the very first project to go down to actual defeat during Mike Bloomberg's mayoral tenure-although the Alliance was involved in another Related comeuppance over the building of a BJs warehouse club on Brush Avenue in 2005. At that time, the developer, bowing to the inevitable, did withdraw its application. As we told the Daily News when the zoning application was withdrawn: "They committed suicide rather than wait to be executed."

Whether history repeats itself, may now be up to the team of Bloomberg and Ross (Related's CEO Steve): "Rivera and other Council members are set to meet privately with Lieber this morning prior to the hearing in what could be make-or-break negotiations, with Related officials expected to be standing by. "They have a decision to make," Rivera said of Related. "Do they want to see this project move forward? If they don't budge, we have the votes to block it." Calling opposition to the project "unprecedented," subcommittee Chairman Tony Avella (D-Queens) agreed the armory proposal could be doomed."

Whatever happens, it is clear that the lobbying campaign that has been executed by KARA, the RWDSU and the Alliance has been a formidable one-and the issue of the supermarket that we raised at the earliest juncture doesn't even seem to be up for any discussion; so united is the Bronx delegation on this issue. If the Armory plan is defeated, it will mean that the next four years could well be characterized by a new found militancy at the city council.

The next few days may well tell the tale-but for Related and the mayor-just like for the Babylonian King Belshazzar-the writing may be on the wall. The room for maneuvering is getting smaller by the day.

InFatuated With Healthcare

One of the main reasons why health care costs are so expensive is because Americans are too fat-something that Allysa Finley points out in the Wall Street Journal, isn't addressed in the current legislation: "While lawmakers like to vilify insurance and pharmaceutical companies for driving up health-care costs to make fat profits, obesity is actually a far bigger reason for ballooning costs. Call it the obesity bubble, and a study out this week shows that it's in no danger of bursting...Unfortunately, the pending health-care legislation in Congress isn't going to help reduce obesity-related costs, despite the supposed increased emphasis on "prevention."

But why not? Well, it seems that there's more sensitivity to the overweight than to the idea that others should pony up for large numbers of people behaving badly: "What's more, the House legislation specifically bars incentives for Americans to lose weight. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) lobbied against provisions that would help businesses use financial incentives to promote weight loss. The NAAFA also opposed allowing insurers to use a person's weight or BMI to differentiate rates or deny coverage. With two thirds of the population overweight or obese---and that share is predicted to increase to at least three in four in the next 10 years---a slim portion of the population is going to be bearing disproportionately the health-care costs of the large majority. That's a fat tax on thin people."

There is, however, this nugget in the bill: " Sure, there's a provision mandating that chain restaurants include calorie counts on their menus, but two scientific studies have come out this year demonstrating that New York City's calorie labelling law hasn't had a significant impact on people's caloric intake. People see the information and then usually choose to ignore it."

What we have, then, is the existence of a public health ideology that seeks to force everyone to pay for the unhealthy habits of others-whether the burdensome, expensive and ineffective calorie posting reg, or a tax on soda. While we are opposed to the government's mandating of behavior, there's nothing wrong with insurance that assesses risk.

But this isn't happening with today's third party insurance plans: "Because of the nature of our third-party payer health-care system, the costs of obesity aren't just borne by the over-eaters. This can result in the demonization and scapegoating of overweight people ("I wouldn't be paying so much for health care if you didn't keep eating Cheetos!). No one likes to feel that they're picking up the tab for other people's unhealthy behaviors, but most people don't like to feel that they're unfairly costing other people money either."

But imagine when the government gets to control the whole enchilada. With no pre-existing conditions as central to the public nature of the plan, you have a particular mindset embedded that looks to avoid stigmatizing-and also parceling out costs in any kind of equitable manner: "The public option, expansion of Medicaid, and government health-care subsidies will just exacerbate these resentments by making the costs of obesity more dispersed among the public. As Marilyn Wann, author of "Fat! So?" and a strong advocate of the public option, notes "We're all in this life raft together."

But if there are too many people like Wann, the raft won't float! And what's missing from these healthcare proposals are decent incentives to promote healthier behavior: "Obesity has become a collective action problem with people failing to take positive action because they don't reap the benefits. If Americans were told that they could save $821 a year by maintaining their current weight for the next 10 years, most people probably would. If told that they could double those savings by dropping 20 pounds, most probably would. So why don't they? Because they don't have any skin in the game. If they lose weight, they don't reap the financial benefits through lower insurance premiums, though they may reap the health benefits. Unfortunately, for many people, that's just not enough."

So, as Finley tells us, the solution isn't with menu labeling or soda taxes. The rational approach is through imposing a cost/benefit equation that elevates personal responsibility: "People are remarkably receptive to financial incentives. A 2006 survey of CEOs by the Conference Board, an organization that collects and analyzes business information, reported that wellness programs yield up to $5 of health-care savings per dollar invested. CEOs noted that awarding employees who drop weight with cash, extra vacation days, and insurance rebates has helped them reduce their health-care costs."

Basing insurance on risk surely isn't a new concept; but the way the current legislative dance is going, it looks as if the only risk that's in play is the one that devolves from the dangers of a mounting national debt. We'll give Finley the last word: "And no doubt such incentives could work on a national scale with insurers offering reduced premiums or rebates to individuals who maintain a healthy weight. But the House health-care legislation prohibits such incentives because it is "discriminatory." That's right. It is price discrimination. Health care shouldn't be a buffet where everyone pays the same amount no matter how much they consume, though that seems to be what Congress wants. But we all know the problem with buffets. It's too easy to consume too much."

Willets Point: Hide and Sneak

The effort of Willets Point United-the group of business owners trying to stave off eminent domain generated eviction over at the Iron Triangle-is being stonewalled by the city's Economic Development Corporation in its effort to have all of the relevant project traffic information publicly disclosed. Of particular urgency is the data that pertains to the proposed Van Wyck ramps-the linchpin of any ability that the city would have to mitigate the impact of the 80,000 cars/day that this massive redevelopment will generate.

What the city is doing here, is attempting to avoid any public scrutiny-a scrutiny that would reveal the extent to which the entire traffic study that lead to the project's initial approval at the city council fraudulently fails to disclose essential information that would, we believe, totally undermine the public support for this expensive venture.

Central to this unethical-and perhaps illegal-end run, is the withholding of the Access Modification Report (AMR); and all of the data that has been generated to come up with the report that is the key to getting both state and federal approval for the ramps. While the report itself may still be considered, "work product," the traffic information that has been utilized to make it up, certainly isn't.

What exactly is the city trying to hide? Huge costs and unmitigatible local and highway traffic. As Brian Ketcham, WPU's traffic expert points out: "...the project will generate 80,000 vehicle trips on an average weekday (of which 2,500 are truck trips) and about the same number of trips for weekend days, with peak hour impacts of between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicle trips."

And nowhere in the original environmental review is the impact of the ramps ever actually analyzed. Ketcham again:

"The project assumes the construction of new access ramps on and off the Van Wyck Expressway south of the Whitestone Expressway. The ramps do not exist but are assumed as part of the project. However, they are not included as mitigation nor are the impact of these proposed ramps included in the New York City’s Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS). The ramps are not mentioned in the Mitigation chapter of the FGEIS. Nor are they analyzed in the traffic and parking chapter although Plan trip assignments are clearly assumed to utilize these ramps (while the FGEIS fails to provide details it appears New York City is planning on diverting about 2,000 trips during the evening weekday peak hour to these ramps, about a third of total PM peak hour trips)."

This is a massive cover up. Although NYCEDC may be entitled to withhold records that are inter-agency/intra-agency communications, the portions of those records that consist purely of statistical or factual tabulations or data (such as traffic statistics) must be disclosed. FOIL explicitly says so. Therefore, NYCEDC has erroneously applied a claimed blanket exemption from disclosure to every element of the AMR, when no such blanket exemption is available. NYCEDC's denial is discretionary, not mandatory, and NYCEDC should not choose to deny access under the present circumstances.

Of course, the less the public knows about what kind of traffic the Willets Point development will generate, the less the hue and cry from local civic groups and elected officials. In addition, the greater the traffic mess, the greater the concomitant need to create extensive road infrastructure to mitigate-something that will be inordinately expensive for the city's strapped tax payers.

EDC's shucking and ducking should not come as a surprise. When the city employs-and funds-an illegal lobbying group to create the pretense of grass roots support for a project, camouflages actual traffic impacts in a fraudulent environmental review designed to obscure rather than enlighten the effected communities, and refuses to divulge the actual costs of the expensive adventure, you just have to know that the attempted fix is in.

Which is exactly why there is a compelling need for the intervention of the federal government under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The feds, in this case the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), need to do a full an unbiased traffic study and environmental review.

And we are calling on the FHWA to intervene. We are fully aware that USDOT/FHWA goes to great lengths to appropriately include the public in its decision making, especially a project that is as significant as the Willets Point Development Plan would have on this region. We are requesting that it open up the AMR to public scrutiny and that direct NYSDOT to provide all materials relevant to the AMR; including all modeling results demonstrating the effects of ramps on the region’s expressways and on the local roads in Queens accessing the Willets Point area. We are also asking that FHWA review the FGEIS for indications that this assessment violates NEPA requirements.

It's past time for this conspiracy of silence to be put to an end. This project's potential to damage local community quality of life is simply too great to allow a review process to be, not only advanced in the dark, but under conditions that suggest that the fix is in. Open the books up EDC-what are you afraid the public will find out?

My Dear Old Nanny

In Saturday's NY Post, Reason's Jacob Sallum points out how the calorie counting mindset is poised to be incorporated into ObamaCare: "The most conspicuous effect you will see from President Obama's health-care overhaul won't be at your doctor's office or the hospital. It will be at your local Burger King. That's assuming the Senate goes along with a provision, already approved by the House, that requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display calorie counts on their menus. Although supporters claim such mandates have the power to make people thinner and prevent obesity-related disease, New York City's experience suggests they have little or no impact, possibly because customers who are interested in nutritional information can already obtain it."

Now we have commented extensively on this silly but dangerous regulation-and our observations were given a forum last month in the NY Post, where we pointed out: "And the lesson here — just as with the failed menu-labeling regulation — is that you need to educate the folks in order to change their behavior. This involves treating them as functional adults who can think and act for themselves."

Education, however, isn't the goal of the new health care mandates-and the trend should be obvious. If the federal government gains full regulatory control over the health care of 200 million + Americans, it will begin to set the parameters by which we all will have to live. After all, if the government (read tax payers) is paying for your health care it will have the right to tell you what to eat and how to live-under the rubric of no one should be made to pay for the mistakes or the unhealthy habits of others (except, it seems, when it comes to abortion).

If you think this sounds alarmist-remember the pushback over the "death panels" claim-then you're someone who hasn't lived in New York under the reign of Mother Tom Frieden (now, fittingly, the head of Obama's CDC). Government run or controlled health care will be the most intrusive federal program yet into the most intimate aspects of the lives of all Americans.

And the fact that some of the mandated behavioral changes are inane-as is calorie posting-will not make one damn difference to the nannycrats. For them, it's all about control-and their self-delusion that they know best how others should be living their lives.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Unhealthy War on Small Business

The continues march to government run health care continues-and the implications for small business in this country are profound: "The last thing struggling small businesses need now is yet another employer mandate from the government, but they'll be getting a big one if Congress passes the so-called Affordable Health Choices Act, better known as Obamacare. And the last thing the economy needs is more unemployment, which this budget-busting, jobs-killing bill virtually assures."

As we said last summer: "Yesterday we were given an opportunity by Lou Young of WCBS TV to comment on the president's health care plan; and our position remains, that the plan will severely damage the already reeling small business sector because, as we said, there is no cost containment that will insulate small firms from additional-and expensive-mandates. The current plans simply make matters worse.

With record job losses piling up every month, and with no clear idea on just how the 40 million or more folks who are currently uninsured are going to get covered-and who will be forced to pay for their coverage-it is not the best time for the federal government to be engaged in a complex overhaul of 17% of the American economy. And, as we pointed out to Lou Young, we're currently experiencing record bankruptcies and foreclosures in the NYC small business sector, and any additional burdens-no matter how well intentioned-will further cripple an already hobbled economic sector."

It's just the same thing as the proposed sick leave bill wending its way through the city council in New York. As the NY Post commented last week: "The bill, on which the council heard testimony yesterday, would require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees -- at least five days a year from all businesses, and nine if it employs 10 or more people. That may be nice for workers in the very short term -- but at a time when firms are still struggling just to survive, the last thing they need is steeper operating costs. And as for expansion, well, just forget about it. So let's call this what it is: a jobs tax, pure and simple."

The kinds of mandates that the health care bill are seeking to impose would be just that-a tax on small business and a barrier to any kind of expansion that the economy desperately needs in these high unemployment times. When we started advocating on behalf of small business three decades ago, what impressed us most was the entrepreneurial energy-and yes the job creation that resulted from it.

So it looks as if Joe the Plumber was right-at least about the president's myopia when it comes to understanding the economic principles that are the foundation for all real economic growth. As one small business web site puts it: "We’ve been having a lot of conversations with Small Business owners about how they will change their businesses if Congress passes their monstrous, prosperity-killing Health Care Bill. We are also small business owners and employees ourselves, and what is emerging from these conversations frightens us and should frighten all American workers.The consensus? “They can force us to pay for health care, and fine us if we don’t, but they can’t prevent us from firing workers or lowering wages.” When you change incentives, you change behaviors, and if this bill passes, Small Businesses are incentivized to lay off workers and lower wages."

As is true of the current sick leave legislation-something that shouldn't be done in the middle of a recession. What makes the health care bill's even more dangerous, however, is that there's a tax waiting to be imposed on top of the mandates; along with the fact that insurance premiums will be driven up to pay for both the uninsured as well as those with pre-existing conditions

As the Wall Street Journal points out in regards to the Rangel proposal that was largely incorporated into the current health care legislation: "Every detail isn't known, but late last week Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel disclosed that his draft bill would impose a "surtax" on individuals with adjusted gross income of more than $280,000 a year. This would hit job creators especially hard because more than six of every 10 who earn that much are small business owners, operators or investors, according to a 2007 Treasury study. That study also found that almost half of the income taxed at this highest rate is small business income from the more than 500,000 sole proprietorships and subchapter S corporations whose owners pay the individual rate."

So there you have it. Expensive mandates, higher premiums, and the taxes to pay for an expansion of a government entitlement program that will add the the already ridiculously high national debt. How many more workers need to be let go before we begin to realize that we're all speedily heading for economic Hell on the road paved with the good intentions of the economically illiterate.