Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fed Up!

Just as we said yesterday, it's never over till it's over when it comes to enforcing the tax on Indian cigarettes. At the eleventh hour, a federal judge issued a stay-and will hold a hearing on Thursday. As the Buffalo News reports: "U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara gave a temporary reprieve this afternoon to Native American tribes trying to fight off the state's efforts to collect taxes on cigarette sales to non-Indians. In a brief ruling issued at 3:40 p.m., Arcara granted a temporary restraining order that directs the state not to enforce a tax-collection law, which is scheduled to take effect just after midnight. State officials are "TEMPORARILY ENJOINED from implementing, administering and enforcing" the new tax law, the judge said in a written ruling given to lawyers and Seneca Nation business people in a packed courtroom."

What a crock! This, in our view, should be a matter of settled law-especially after the Supreme Court has weighed in on the legality of this issue on the side of  NYS-but this is going to really cost the NY's beleaguered treasury; because every day that the tax remains unenforced will cost NY State tax payers over $2,739,000 a day

And this is something that the governor should have been aware of when he staggered the enforcement provision of the law to lag behind the July 1st tax increase. What that disparity did was to enable the tribes to build a robust legal war chest to attack the enforcement with-it was just plain dumb to give these scofflaws a lucrative Indian summer of love.
And this judge will simply exacerbate the tax collection problem by a series of endless dilatory meetings: "While the judge's order protects Native American cigarette sales from state taxation for a period of at least two weeks, the litigation is far from over. Arcara will meet with attorneys in the case again on Thursday. He will examine the issue more closely in the next few weeks, his ruling at least temporarily delays implementation of a law that could ignite hostile and dangerous protests on Seneca Nation reservations in Erie and Cattaraugus counties."
The state needs relief now-and strong measures do need to be taken since the tribes have not shot all of the arrows in their quivers: "State Police, the FBI and numerous other law enforcement agencies have been gearing up in recent days for protest actions that could block the State Thruway and impede railroad trains passing through the reservations.They are also investigating a July 5 incident in which someone tried to derail a passenger train with 354 people aboard in Irving. Many police officials believe the incident was directly tied to the dispute over cigarette taxes."
The governor needs  to make a  strong public statement in support of enforcement-and draw a line in the sand so that the tribes no not to mess with him. The scofflaws have won this round; but it is crucial that NY's tax payers when the next one.

Indian Judgment Day Approaches

The tax avoiding Indian retailers are reaching the end of their legal rope-as a state judge has shot down their request for injunctive relief against the enforcement law that is scheduled to be implemented tomorrow. The NY Post reports: "A Buffalo judge sided with Gov. Paterson yesterday and refused to block the state from taxing cigarettes sold on Indian reservations to non-Native Americans. Paterson wants to start taxing the previously tariff-free tobacco starting tomorrow, but local tribes have mounted a vigorous campaign to stop the taxes, which they consider an attack on their sovereignty. Lawyers for the Seneca Indian Nation argued that the state didn't properly implement rules outlining how the taxes would be imposed. But the judge sided with the state, which argued that new regulations allow them to slap taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations, which previously could sell cigs without taxes."

The lost legal hope for the tribal scofflaws is federal court-but even there the judiciary hasn't been friendly: "The Senecas also are trying to get the taxes banned in federal court. That challenge is pending." In our view, if the Indian legal case collapses-and the tribes are playing sweet for the moment-watch out for the any means necessary crowd. As the Journal News tells us (via Liz): "State officials most likely do not want a repeat of 1997, when tribal members blocked the interstate in Cattaraugus County, leading to several hospitalizations in response to Gov. George Pataki’s attempt to collect the tax. This year, state officials say they are going about it differently: the tax will be collected from the wholesaler and not directly from the reservations. While Indian officials hope there won’t be any violence, the real battle may be in court."

So, as tomorrow's tax day approaches, the legitimate retailers and wholesalers are holding their breathe-they've been disappointed too often in the past to be totally optimistic that the government won't simply cave. But every indication so far is that the move to enforcement is inexorable. We'll see if that's true tomorrow.

Second Thoughts on the GZ Mosque

In yesterday's NY Daily News, the chair of CB#1 expresses some second thoughts about the Board's original support of the GZ mosque-and the re-thinking makes sense: "The lower Manhattan community board 1 chair, Community Board 1, voted overwhelmingly to support the Islamic cultural center to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero when the project was presented to our board in May. I stand by my vote. That said, the project has now become a symbol of discord and dissidence, the white hot emotional center of a volcanic shouting match. Raw nerves have been exposed on both sides of an ugly religious and ethnic divide - and the gulf between supporters and opponents has only grown with each protest, each argument, each accusation."

That said, perhaps Ms. Menin should have taken into consideration how this mosque site would effect folks before casting a vote in the affirmative-but the reconsideration is still a welcome one, because it reflects the fact that the mosque has become a lightening rod for exactly the kind of interfaith acrimony that it's founders claimed it was supposed to allay.

As Menin tells us: "Now it is very clear that something must be done to address this dissension and to move to heal, not divide. I believe it is still possible to bridge the gap without compromising the core principles of what this project is about - not by moving the mosque further away from the site of the attacks, but by bringing other faiths in. The mosque and community center near Ground Zero should not be enshrined as a battleground of discord, but rather be transformed into an inter-faith center for reconciliation and peace-containing nondenominational houses of worship to be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews. Its purpose - to bring us closer together, not split us further apart - could be reaffirmed in modified plans."

Who would have thought that a lowly community board chair would exhibit more sense than the city's richest man? Well, a great many of us are certainly not surprised-and the mayor is continuing to take it on the chin, this time from 9/11 family spokesperson Debra Burlingame who lays into Bloomberg for his usurpation of the views of 9/11 families: "It's bad enough that Mr. Bloomberg covers himself in the memory of the heroes who died on 9/11 in order to silence legitimate criticism of the mosque project, it is even more shameless of him to do it while misrepresenting the position of their loved ones. Mr. Bloomberg cited that his chairmanship of the memorial board made him privy to what family members think. Mr. Bloomberg knows full well that family members on the memorial board have grave concerns about this project, and that some of us have publicly opposed it. If he really cared what we think, he would have come to us and asked. We're still waiting for the call."

Don't hold your breathe Debra, we have witnessed the ongoing hubris for the mayor for eight long years, and have yet to see him exhibit anything but arrogance-but his exploitation of the family members for his own political posturing is way beyond anything we've seen from him up until this point. And his charge that others are using the issue  for pure political aggrandizement is a classic case of projection. Burlingame nails Bloomberg's pot and kettle routine: "He has the audacity to go out and stump for the mosque all over the media, while at the same time calling other political leaders--who reflect the position of 70% of the public--"shameless" or suggesting they don't really care--like him. We have said over and over that this isn't a challenge to freedom of religion. We are appealing to the mosque developers as a matter of decency. Bloomberg sticks his fingers in his ears; he will have none of it. Instead, he is causing grave injury to 9 /11 family members, while painting this insensitive, arrogant imam as a victim. Mr. Bloomberg is casting himself as a principled champion of the first amendment even as he is telling the rest of us to shut up. The mayor is pulling out all the stops to bully New Yorkers into falling in line with his politically correct nonsense at the last place in America where there should be any pretense about what happened on 9/11."

But she's not through with the man whose true colors are finally shining through-an arrogant disregard for the sensibilities of the little people (remember his Con Edison comments after the black out? We got a tiny glimpse then): "Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we're not intolerant. He's a disgrace."

And Bloomberg's invocation of Danny Pearl-citing that Imam Rauf spoke at his memorial-is given a thoughtful rejoinder from, of all people, Pearl's father Judah-someone who truly understands what the GZ mosque would symbolize. And Pearl understands the issue, effectively deconstructing the mayor's faux tolerance position: "A more realistic explanation is that most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story, but view the the 9/11 assault as a product of an anti- American ideology that, for good and bad reasons, has found a fertile breeding ground in the hearts and minds of many Muslim youngsters who see their Muslim identity inextricably tied with this anti-American ideology.The Ground Zero mosque is being equated with that ideology. Public objection to the mosque thus represents a vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimension that anti-Americanism has taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation."

So, if the MSM wants us to believe that opposition to the mosque will exacerbate radical Islamic movements, it needs to be alive to the extent to which the choice of this site was purposely provocative-although the developer/front man tells CBS News that he gave no thought to the possibility. But there is one thing that the mayor forgets-or perhaps misrepresents; that the underlying anger here is not going to go away, and is not driven by temporary political posturing.

If a more sensible compromise is not reached-along the lines that Julie Menin suggests-than this issue will continue to fester. And just as the mosque builders have constitutional rights, so do everyone else. Mark Helprin makes this point in yesterday's WSJ: "The proponents of the mosque know that Americans will not and cannot betray our constitutional liberties. Knowing that we would not rip the foundation from the more than 200 years of our history that it underpins, they may imagine that they have achieved a kind of checkmate. Their knowledge of the Constitution, however, does not penetrate very far, and perhaps they are not as clever as they think. The Constitution is a marvelous document, and a reasonable interpretation of it means as well that no American can be forced to pour concrete. No American can be forced to deliver materials. No American can be forced to bid on a contract, to run conduit, dig a foundation, or join steel."

Can you imagine the picket lines? Helprin can: "And a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that the firemen's, police, and restaurant workers' unions, among others, and the families of the September 11th dead, and anyone who would protect, sympathize with and honor them, are free to assemble, protest and picket at the site of the mosque that under the Constitution is free to be built. A reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that no American can be forced to cross a picket line in violation of conscience or even of mere preference. Who, in all decency, would cross a picket line manned by those whose kin were slaughtered—by the thousands—so terribly nearby? And who in all decency would cross such a line manned by the firemen, police and other emergency personnel who know every day that they may be called upon to give their lives in a second act?"

Mike Bloomberg has a tiger by the tail-and he should heed Menin's suggestion so as not to have his entire political reputation devoured in the aftermath of this battle. If that were to happen, however, it would be the ultimate example of poetic justice. After all, Mike Bloomberg would not have been elected if it weren't for the attacks on the Twin Towers. For his reputation to be torn down by this mosque fight would, in our view, restore a sense of equity to the understanding of an undeserved political ascension.

Wal-Mart's Money Back Guarantee

As Fred Dicker reported exclusively in the NY Post yesterday, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee sent back that $15,000 donation from Wal-Mart straight back to Bentonville: "State Senate Democrats have bowed to pressure from furious labor leaders and returned a controversial $15,000 campaign contribution they received from Walmart, The Post has learned. The action came just days after last week's disclosure in The Post that the Democrats had accepted the cash from the union-resisting Arkansas-based retail chain, which is believed to be interested in putting its first city store in Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson's Brooklyn district."

Wow, talk about radioactive! But the real issue that should be addressed, in our view, is what the impact of a Walmonster might be on the East New York community-and that's the question that should be addressed by a senate hearing on the issue. But kudos to Stu Appelbaum and the RWDSU for their advocacy on this: "The July 15 contribution, to the Senate Democrats' little-noticed "housekeeping" account, had been denounced as "blood money" by Retail and Wholesale Workers Union President Stuart Appelbaum and other union activists."

It's about time that we had it out on the Wal-mart to NYC question. We have throttled the retail giant in a number of different site fights-and we've found that there is no widespread clamor for the store. In fact, neighborhoods don't want all of the disruption and devastation that the Walmonster brings in its wake-just ask Tottenville and Monsey, NY.

We have lived through eight years of mega development by a two faced mayor who talks sustainability out of one side of his mouth, while promoting pollution heavy and car dependent developments out of the other-he's a real talk-the-talk kind of guy. So let's get it on-and by all means bring Wal-Mart and its defenders into a hearing on the potential Gateway site.With all of the traffic generated on the Belt Parkway by Gateway itself, we look forward to hearing from all of the environmental justice people on the auto proliferating mega store.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Money and Faith

The admonition from Nat Hentoff  for reporters to do their job on uncovering all aspects of the mosque story, is now being picked up-as the press disenthralls itself from Mike Bloomberg's liberal homilies. In Saturday's NY Daily News, the paper begins to do a background on the money man behind the mosque-and this initial foray begins to raise some interesting questions: "Years before his latest real-estate project ignited an uproar, Sharif El-Gamal racked up at least seven run-ins with the law, including a bust for patronizing a prostitute. "I regret many things that I did in my youth. I have not always led a perfect life," El-Gamal, 37, said in a statement to the Daily News. His most recent arrest was for a Sept. 10, 2005, assault on a barber who sublet a Manhattan apartment from El-Gamal's brother, Sammy."

Perhaps a tale of redemption? Perhaps not-it seems that Gamal's past and current status present a rather murky picture: "If his 2008 cries of poverty were genuine, El-Gamal experienced a dramatic reversal of fortune a year later, scoring a $39 million mortgage to buy a W. 27th St. commercial building. He had a partner, Egyptian-born businessman Hisham Elzanaty, who co-signed the loan. Elzanaty denied to discuss his dealings with El-Gamal. In a deposition for the Vassiliev suit, El-Gamal testified he worked as a waiter from 1997 to 2001 when he "moved onto greener pastures."

Maybe he hit the lottery. Maybe not: "In 2002, he became a commercial real estate broker and started his own company, Soho Properties, a year later. El-Gamal began amassing a property portfolio in 2007, snatching up and managing apartment buildings in Harlem and Washington Heights. He bought the property where he plans to build a $100 million Islamic cultural center, two blocks from Ground Zero, for nearly $5 million in July 2009."

But the News expose leaves out a Chelsea property that Gamal bought for $45 million. As Fox Five News reports: "With credit super tight, and prices plummeting, he paid $45 million for a 12-story commercial building in Chelsea that sold three years earlier for $31 million."It seems like a lot of pay in a downturn, considering it went for considerably less during the boom," said Stuart Elliott, the editor of Real Deal magazine. El-Gamal, the waiter turned mogul, plunked down another $5 million as down payment on the Chelsea building. "Something's up with that deal," Ken Brandman said. "Unless someone gave him a lot of money, or he won the lottery, than somebody else put up the money."

And then there is his background-as the Daily News points out: "He pleaded guilty in 1994, 1998 and 1999 to disorderly conduct in Manhattan. He also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 1990, DWI in 1992 and attempted petit larceny in 1993, Nassau County prosecutors said. Details were unavailable, but a source confirmed a 1994 arrest for patronizing a prostitute. El-Gamal says he's a different man now."

And then there's this from the NY post. It appears that Gamal has more issues: "The mosque developers are tax deadbeats. Sharif El-Gamal, the leading organizer behind the mosque and community center near Ground Zero, owes $224,270.77 in back property tax on the site, city records show. El-Gamal's company, 45 Park Place Partners, failed to pay its half-yearly bills in January and July, according to the city Finance Department. The delinquency is a possible violation of El-Gamal's lease with Con Edison, which owns half of the proposed building site on Park Place. El-Gamal owns the other half but must pay taxes on the entire parcel."

Perhaps he is a changed man, but to say, as Mike Bloomberg has, that it doesn't matter who is behind the mosque, or where the money is coming from, is staggeringly irresponsible. And Gamal the deadbeat comes off as someone who wouldn't be too choosy about the source of funds. So the money trail-even if it doesn't lead to the usual Islamist terror funding sources-should be followed assiduously by the press.

And the same goes for Mike Bloomberg's sudden tolerance epiphany. We all know how the press has given the mayor a total pass on how he uses his money for political self-aggrandizement-and the same hear and see no evil approach is being taken on the mayor's possible ulterior motives.

Mondo Frazier raises some intriguing questions on what just might be prompting the mayor to undertake such a reversal on his normal approach to ethical and moral questions:

"Call us cynical but we wonder whether Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s passionate backing of the building of a controversial mosque near Ground Zero stems as much from Bloomberg’s belief in America’s “freedom of faith” as it might from the Mayor’s belief in the “virtues of Islamic finance?”

Does the Mayor’s unshakable support have anything to do with The Bloomberg (company) becoming a ‘single provider of information that caters to the Islamic business market’? A Bloomberg five-year business plan for an Islamic finance portal via a Bloomberg hub at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is already a reality."

Frazier asks an important question-one that the Saturday WSJ exploration of the mayor's religious background elides: "While Bloomberg hasn’t been shy about questioning the motives of those opposed to the mosque’s location, the media has shied away from the Mayor‘s motivations. But what of the Mayor’s motives? What might they be? Does a strong passion for religious liberty explain all?"

There's a lot on intriguing plots and subplots going in the mosque controversy, and it is about time that all  of the media begin to do their job-keeping the cynicism and skepticism meter at the ready; and not just for the usual "right wing Republican" suspects. In our experience, when it comes to NY real estate the only core principle one should have is, "it's all about the money."

Will David Paterson Man Up?

In two days, the so-called D-Day for cigarette tax enforcement will be upon us, and the lingering question for those of us who have been on the front lines of this particular war is; Will David Paterson stand up for the law? The NY Daily News certainly hopes so, and on Saturday encouraged the governor to stand firm against the criminal tax evasion enterprises being run out of the Indian reservations: "Gov. Paterson is vowing to launch a long-overdue drive on Wednesday to collect legally owed taxes from Indian cigarette dealers. He must hang tough, and he must succeed. For decades, New York officials have shamefully stood by as scofflaws operating under the cover of Native American sovereignty have openly and aggressively sold millions upon millions of tax-free smokes.This rampant broad-daylight tax-dodging has cost the state billions in revenue, thwarted anti-tobacco campaigns, cheated law-abiding retailers and undermined respect for basic law and order."

And the governor seems to get the fact that this tax evasion empire has crippled the legitimate small businesses-particularly upstate. As he said over the weekend (via Liz): “It’s one of the reasons that so many small businesses have been unable to run, and it’s not fair to them. So, as New Yorkers I would think that they would respect their neighbors who are trying to run businesses.” One of the reasons – not the major reason – but one of the reasons the upstate economy is in such dire straits is because the businesses have not been able to compete freely not just in the sale of cigarettes but also in the sale of gasoline.”

But if the governor holds steady, than the only thing left to worry about here-at least in the short term-is the federal injunction being sought to prevent the state from enforcing the law. So far, the judge in the matter has reserved judgment: "After hearing arguments for over three hours Friday, Judge Richard Arcara said he will reserve his decision on the issue of New York State tax collection from the sale of cigarettes to non-Indians on reservations."

But this should be a no-brainer; it is established law as the News reminds us: "Tribal leaders who claim to be exercising rights under centuries-old treaties are blowing smoke. Lawsuits argued all the way to the Supreme Court have established that Indian retailers may sell tax-free merchandise only to other Indians, not to the general public."

Interestingly enough, the local TV station that ran the story, also provided us with the following "independent" poll: "Nearly seven out of every 10 New Yorkers support Indian nation treaties that offer protection against collecting taxes on Native American-sold goods.The poll, conducted during the week of Aug. 23 by Zogby International, was commissioned by the Seneca Nation of Indians. The results show that of the 702 survey respondents, 68.4 percent believe New York should honor all existing Indian treaties."

Wonder if good old Zogby told the polled folks that they were being ripped off to the tune of well over a $1 billion a year? Or that the Supreme Court had already weighed in on all of this-and not in the Indians' favor? But we're sure that the poll never mentioned that, when confronted with enforcement in the late nineties, the Indians rioted. As the Daily News tells us-in  an admonition to Paterson to not get weak-kneed: "The last serious attempt at tax collection provoked violent resistance as Senecas blockaded a 30-mile stretch of the Thruway near Buffalo and scuffled with state police. Then-Gov. George Pataki backed down. Paterson casts the current threat in dire terms, raising the possibility of "violence and death," even as tribal leaders disavow such tactics. But his knees must not buckle. Because the consequence of nonenforcement is that New York has become an international mecca for illicit cigarette sales."

So, we await the Wednesday commencement of an action that has been put off for the better part of two decades-and in the interim we have lost hundreds of wholesalers and thousands of gas station and convenience store operators; not to mention billions in lost tax revenues. We'll give the News the last word: "Paterson has the option of negotiating alternate settlements with the tribes, but he should reject concessions that cost taxpayers money. Come Wednesday - at long last - Indian shops must obey the law, pay their full share of taxes - or go out of business."

Mayor Mike: Helping to Construct the Islamic Trojan Horse

Last week on the Daily Show, Mike Bloomberg confirmed just how out of touch on the GZM he really is: "New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg might consider checking out the polls. He's under the impression 100 percent of 9/11 families support building the Ground Zero Mosque at the current planned location."

Now the truth is that with all large diverse groups of people, there are differences of opinion on the mosque location; but considering that-at least according to the latest CBS poll-71% of Americans oppose the site, we think that the mayor is talking right out of his derriere. Bloomberg does, however, manage to point the accusatory finger unwittingly at himself: "

As Newsbusters points out: "A recent CBS News poll found that 71 percent of respondents believe it is "not appropriate" to build the mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero, including a majority (57 percent) of Democrats. A Time poll found that 68 percent are following the issue "somewhat closely" or "very closely."

"The family members, they do care," Bloomberg told "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart Aug. 26. "And the family members that I've talked to - and I'm chairman of the board of the World Trade Center Memorial - 100 percent in favor of saying, ‘These people, if they want to build a mosque, can build a mosque. The lives of our loved ones were taken because the right to build a mosque or say what you want to say was so threatening to people.'"

So, Mr. Mayor, as chairman of the WTC Memorial, when will we get to actually visit the site? While you have lately found your emotional mojo vociferously defending the mosquivites, where was your passionate promotion of the entire rebuilding effort? And,  by the way, we don't think that the Islamic terrorists bombed the Towers because the right to build a mosque in the US was so threatening to them-but we get his point about how the terrorists' motivation was precisely because of our freedom.

Since he understands this, it might help if he expanded his limited body of knowledge about Imam Rauf-and the entire corpus of contemporary Islam for that matter. In particular, the Islamic Society of North America funds around 80% of all the mosques in the US-and the ISNA is a direct offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood: "ISNA completed a $21 million ($45,856,568 in current dollar terms) headquarters complex in suburban Indianapolis using funds raised in part from Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Nada and the Emir of Qatar."

Nothing to see here. As Wikepedia goes on to point out: "In the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, the United States Department of Justice named ISNA, along with Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the North American Islamic Trust, as an unindicted co-conspirator and one of a number of "entities who are and/or were members of the US Muslim Brotherhood." Court documents at the trial indicated that ISNA is "an integral part of the [Muslim] Brotherhood's efforts to wage jihad against America through non-violent means," wrote conservative Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher. The case ended in a November 2008 conviction of five Holy Land Foundation executives on 108 counts of supporting terrorism."

The Muslim Brotherhood, unlike its activist wing of terrorists, is in for the long all-and is looking for the gradual acceptance of sharia law in this country. It's mosques reflect this-and there is absolutely no compatibility between sharia and the freedoms Mike Bloomberg lectures us about. There is someone on the left who does understand this quite well-and that is the legendary civil libertarian Nat Hentoff-and, as an aside, isn't it droll how Islam generates such religiosity among those on the left?

Here's Hentoff's take on the mosque: "The angry national debate over Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's intention to build a mosque two blocks north of the horror of 9/11 at Ground Zero has been further fueled by supporter Nancy Pelosi declaring, "I join those who have called for looking into how ... this opposition to the mosque is being funded."

What are Hentoff's concerns? Surely, no one would attack this first amendment purist for bigotry? "Imam Rauf said was interviewed on CBS' 60 Minutes (Sept. 30, 2001) by Ed Bradley. (I have the transcript.) Asked how he felt as a Muslim "knowing that people of your faith committed this act," Imam Rauf spoke about Muslim reaction throughout the world "against the policies of the U.S. government, politically, where we espouse principles of democracy and human rights and where we ally ourselves with oppressive regimes in many of these countries."

Why, that's as American as Noam Chomsky. Why is anyone upset with that? But Rauf has many more things to lecture us about: "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened," Rauf answered, "but the United States' policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. ... Because (the United States has) been an accessory to a lot of - of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, it - in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A."

To which Hentoff responds: "Were the heads of government in Iran, Hamas and Sudan also "made in the USA?" To the Hezbollah wing of the Democratic Party, the answer would be, yes-and this instructs us why the media-resonating comfortably with that mindset-can't get worked up over the Imam's statements.

But Rauf isn't done-not by along shot-and his defense of sharia law is what should get any genuine lover of Western freedom suspicious of what this mosque project might mean: "This imam - widely lauded in much of the press as "a moderate" Muslim - is not reticent, however, in his firm commitment to Sharia (Islamic law), which regards women as far less than fully human. In the Dec. 9, 2007 Arabic newspaper Hadi el-Islam, Rauf insisted:

Throughout my discussions with contemporary Muslim theologians, it is clear an Islamic state can be established in more than just a single form or mold. It can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of Sharia that are required to govern."

Here's Rauf's response to President Obama's Cairo speech to the Muslim world: "President Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo challenged Muslims, as Rauf wrote in a June 5, 2009 Washington Post column: “Live up to the tenets of our religion, embrace Shariah law as conceived by the Prophet, and see what happens.” But sharia inhibits all kinds of freedoms, especially those of women and non-Muslims. Islamic law protects only the lives, minds, religion, property, and families of Muslims — not all peoples of all faiths, as Rauf would have us believe."

And as far as Rauf is concerned, like father like son-and the elder Rauf's spiritual record over at the 96th Street mosque he founded speaks for itself:
"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the “96th Street mosque,” as ICCNY is typically known, became notorious for a more outspoken participant in its work. Its imam was another Egyptian, Muhammad Gamei’a. Shortly after 9/11, Gamei'a disappeared, resurfacing in Egypt on October 4, 2001, where he told an Egyptian website, regarding 9/11, “The Jews were behind these ugly acts, while we, the Arabs, were innocent. . . . If it became known to the American people, they would have done to the Jews what Hitler did!”

Gamei'a's successor at the 96th St. mosque, Imam Abu-Namous, told the October 26, 2001 issue of the Forward that "Imam Al-Gamei'a had not been speaking on behalf of the Islamic Cultural Center, which 'will continue to participate' in interfaith dialogue.” But he added that "he considered the evidence against Osama bin Laden insufficient, and said he could 'not rule out' any possible perpetrators, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish."

Moderation is obviously in the eye of the beholder-and to us, the location of this mosque is no accident; it is part of the da'wa nature of the sharia project: "In Islam, da'wa means a "call" or "invitation," and has been used to refer to a person being "called" to follow Islam. However, it has developed into the idea of a "mission" or "propaganda," either in a political or religious sense."

Hentoff captures this in his discussion of Rauf's last book: "I would greatly appreciate it if Imam Rauf explained, maybe Pelosi will ask him, more fully what he meant in his 2004 book, "What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America." In it he declares: "American Constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law." Rauf says Sharia law is a core principle of Islamic law. Does that also include a core principle of our Constitution?"

And then there's the book actual title: "This 2004 book's title in the English-language edition yields to a different title for non-English-speaking readers in Malaysia, reports Andrew McCarthy ("Rauf's Dawa from the World Trade Center Rubble," nationalreview.com).
This alternate title in Malaysia brings us right back into the civil war here about the imam's mosque near Ground Zero: "A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11." What does "dawa" mean? McCarthy explains: "Dawa, whether done from the rubble of the World Trade Center or elsewhere, is the missionary work by which Islam is spread. ... The purpose of dawa, like the purpose of jihad, is to implement, spread, and defend Sharia. ... through means other than violence and agents other than terrorists."

So, while Mike Bloomberg prattles on about America's, "core values," a slick Fifth Columnist is at work constructing his Islamic Trojan Horse. So, when it comes to the building of this mosque in full view of Ground Zero, we'll join with the notorious bigot Nat Hentoff-who deservedly gets the last word:

"New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg charges that opponents of Imam Rauf's mosque "should be ashamed of themselves" and are bigots.

Me, too, Mr. Mayor?

If you want to join Speaker Pelosi in investigating me, your honor, I'd be glad to oblige. I'm just doing my job as a reporter. I wish more reporters had gone beneath the shouting on both sides. There's another part of the First Amendment in addition to the free exercise of religion: The press is free to investigate the reasons for Imam Rauf's fixation on the 9/11 location of his mosque.

And why does this location make Hamas glow?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Questions on Flushing Commons

As we have already commented, the disposition of the property that currently housed Muni Lot1, is subject to a vote of the Queens Borough Board-and there are a number of unanswered questions that CB #7 Chair Gene Kelty is still concerned about. Kelty is apparently still miffed that all 17 CB stipulations were disregarded by the community minded local council member, Peter Koo.

The Queens Chronicle has the story: "When Community Board 7 OK’d the massive $850 million Flushing Commons mixed-use development project in April, it was with several recommendations. Now with the plan fully approved, the board is trying to hold the city’s and the developer’s feet to the fire. “We wanted concessions and now is the time to work them out,” said CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty, “but we don’t want to be rushed into it.”

In our view, however, Kelty and the CB should have withheld any support for the project until some guarantees were elicited from the developer-instead of voting a lame, Yes, But. The same holds true for Queens BP Helen Marshall who saw her recommendations tossed into the nearest trash can by the city council. For his part, Kelty wants more time to negotiate: "Kelty was referring to a Queens Borough Board meeting set for Sept. 20, which has on its agenda a vote on the Flushing Commons business arrangements. The board consists of all 14 Queens City Council members, community board chairpersons and the borough president...He wants the meeting moved to October, giving his community board time to discuss the issues."

The BB has the absolute ability to kill the whole deal-although if it did so, we would be shocked. So,what exactly does the Board want to see added here? "Topics to be covered include the time frame of the project, interim parking during construction, the funding stream and stipulations if the developer fails to get full finances. “These are just some of the subjects that have to be addressed,” Kelty said. “We want to see the plans in writing.”

Fascinating. As we pointed out earlier this month about TDC and its head man:

"Now Mr. Myer, as clever and slippery a character as we have seen-full of false bonhomie- was asked repeatedly during the ULURP process about his organization's fiscal capabilities. And, according to those at the various hearings on the land use application, the ever shifty realtor did what he does best-he shucked and ducked. But that was land use-and now we are going to have to determine the procedures for disposing of the muni lot property-and questions of financial viability should be front and center.

In addition, there is the further potential that the developer will have its funding stream collapse in the middle of construction-after the parking structure is demolished-leaving only a Robert Moses style hole in the ground. Is the city protected in case of this eventuality? Even more so, are the Union Street and other Flushing merchants going to be indemnified-not by the city-but by the developer should this kind of parking disaster occur?"

Looks as if Kelty is picking up the ball that Flushing Coalition leader Jim Gerson has been running with-and to these we would add the issue of where are all the mass transit riders supposed to go. TDC's deceptive traffic consultants have suggested that 50% of the folks going to and from the development will use the local train and buses; but there is literally no room for these additional riders. Will TDC be forced to pay up for the upgrading of the 7 Line? They should.

As we have already remarked in regard to Willets Point, the cumulative impact of an additional 30 million square feet of development in and around Flushing is about to hit Queens like a ton of bricks-generating another 197,000 bus and subway trips; along with even more vehicles for the over crowded roads and highways. What's missing here is any outspoken awareness from the legion of local elected officials-raising the question of who exactly is looking out for the borough's residents.

On Flushing Commons itself, Board Chair Kelty is admirably trying to fill in for the vacuous Koo: "We also want to negotiate concessions,” Kelty added. “We asked that the old YMCA building become a public school and want the developer to put in a small movie theater in the project.” Those were some of the recommendations put forth with CB 7’s approval of the project, but since the board is only an advisory body, they are not legally binding. “Why should we approve the business arrangement otherwise?” Kelty asked. “We also want money put back in the community and to ensure that the merchants are helped.”

Koo, however, remains clueless-and is simply a beard for the developer: "But Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) is not so concerned about the Borough Board meeting. “We can work out the details later after construction begins,” Koo said. “I look forward to the construction because the sooner it starts, the sooner we can enjoy its use.” He called the Borough Board’s action a formality and noted there will be a community advisory committee set up to monitor the project."

Not to worry, Koo is saying, just trust me-but if the council member's betrayal of the local community is any indication, trust is the last commodity any one should be looking to obtain from this elected official. In the case of Flushing Commons, Kelty and Marshall better get the deal in writing.

Tribal Warfare

Well, anyone who has followed the 16 year battle over the illegal sale of untaxed smokes by Indian cigarette retailers-and our own coverage of the controversy-can't be surprised by the latest news that there could be violence on September 1st-the date when the state is finally prepared to implement the enforcement of its own tax laws. As the NY Post reports: "Gov. Paterson is on the warpath. The state, after decades of failed talks, is slated to begin collecting taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations Wednesday. The last time the state tried to collect the tax, in 1997, protests erupted and tires were burned on the Thruway, shutting down a 30-mile stretch. "There will be quite an uprising and protest to this, but I am going to maintain this policy," Paterson said. "This is a very dangerous situation," he told WOR-AM. "There is a -- I think -- high alert. The State Police tells us over and over again that there could be violence and death as a result of some of the measures we're taking."

The state's cigarette stampers and tobacco retailers certainly are hoping that next Wednesday will be the dawn of a new day-the industry simply can't continue to survive in an anarchic environment. And the implied threat of violence has not been taken off the table: "The tribes have generally viewed efforts to tax their cigarettes as an attack on sovereignty, and occasionally have threatened to resist the moves with violence. Seneca Indian President Barry Snyder Seneca has repeatedly said "violence is not on our agenda," but the nation's leadership acknowledges that some of the tribe's more than 7,000 members might disagree."

Paterson, for his part, seems to be following Mike Bloomberg's advice to toughen up in the face of the threat of disruption-but he was upset by the mayor's imagery: "Gov. Paterson this morning shot down as "inappropriate" a recent controversial comment by Mayor Bloomberg over the state's effort to collect taxes on the sale of cigarettes by Indian tribes.Bloomberg suggested that Paterson stare down threats of Indian violence by standing on the state Thruway with a cowboy hat and shotgun while delivering the message the taxes will be collected..Paterson, who plans to begin collecting taxes on cigarettes sold by Indian nations on Sept. 1, said he is not looking to "raise the tension of a potentially dangerous situation with any kind of rhetoric."

Fair enough, but it's also not the time to be looking too timid when some folks are trying to threaten the state to back off enforcement. As the NY Daily News reports: "A spokesman declined to say if the state police would ramp up security in anticipation of problems when the tax goes into effect next Wednesday. "We won't speculate about any potential for protests," Sgt. Kern Swoboda said. "Are we trained to deal with riot control and other situations like that? Absolutely." While Seneca Indian Nation President Barry Snyder called for nonviolence, other members of the 7,000-strong nation vowed to do whatever necessary to block the Sept. 1 start of tax collection.
"Let's start setting up some fires here and there just to let the public know that we are serious and we are ready to battle if this is what it is going to come to," read one post on the Seneca Voice blog. "I don't want violence, as our way is to be of peace, but if the state of New York wants our money, if they want our freedom then let them come in and get it." (emphasis added)

In our view, the time is right to tamp down the lawbreakers, their threats, and the phony claims of a sovereignty that the Supreme Court has long ago declared to be bogus. Serious as the threats nay be, the failure of the state to properly respond would be a far more serious situation-and would totally undermine the rule of law in New York.

Will Queens Roads Become Like China's?

The oversight of the proposal to build two ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway-in order to accommodate the massive Willets Point development-is mired in secrecy; and the question of just how honest and accurate the regulatory review will be is definitely up in the air. If nothing is done to create an independent oversight process, it is likely that Queens residents will be facing road conditions-as the picture on the left dramatizes-that will mimic those of China. Under the current methodology implemented by NYSDOT, the reliance on the flawed work and questionable ethics of the enviromental consultant AKRF, indicates to us that the process has been hot wired and the public interest jettisoned.

Let's start by examining what the NYSDOT's normal protocol is when they are confronted with an expensive and complex application that will impact the state and federal highway system. Thanks to the freedom of information data we have received we know the answer to this. The following inter-agency e-mail exchange illustrates the department's standard operating procedure:

Ian Francis (NYSDOT), 9/24/2009 at 10:19AM:

"The only outstanding comments are from the Environmental group, Jim Lau's group has to do the review in-house since AKRF prepared the report and they are the consultant retained to assist Environmental with reviews."

Jimmy Lau (NYSDOT), 9/25/2009 at 12:48PM:
"... I read through the Willets Point Draft Access Modification Report. ... In every aspect the report is complete and well documented through my cursor [sic] review.... After this review I have no major comments that would change the relevance of this submission and that they should finalize this report and submit for final design approval."

What does this signify? In the first place, it indicates that NYSDOT has a standard procedure for conducting an independent review, one that utilizes a consultant and not the in-house expertise of the agency-whatever that may be. The problem in the case of the ramps, however, is that EDC's consultant, AKRF, is also-in good monopoly fashion-the agency's own independent contractor.

In a true best practices environment, then, NYSDOT would proceed to let a contract out for an independent review of AKRF's submission on behalf of EDC. It did no such thing-and in fact allowed AKRF's flawed work to be vetted by the in-house staff that traditionally relies on this independent contractor; one that the department-and particularly this division-undoubtedly has a close working relation with.

Unsurprisingly, the head of the Environmental Group was poised-a year ago-to green light the AKRF work that was later found to be flawed; a consequence in large part of the intervention of WPU's Brian Ketcham who demonstrated just how defective AKRF's submission was. In the best of all possible worlds, NYSDOT would have reacted to these events with extreme caution-and would have, as a result, looked to get an unbiased traffic consultant in to review Ketcham's and AKRF's conflicting reports.

However, it did no such thing. It maintained an exclusive and secretive relationship with the EDC consultant in its review; in spite of the claims expressed in a meeting in February that there would be an open line of communication with the whistle blower Ketcham-whose superior work product had forced EDC to revise its defective ramp report.

But it gets worse. Seeing just how egregious the defective AKRF report was-and the way in which NYSDOT was continuing to rely on a consultant that had submitted shoddy and deceptive work-WPU approached the Natural Resources Defense Council-arguably the state's leading environmental group. When NRDC reviewed the Ketcham critique of AKRF's work, it fired off a letter to both NYSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration calling on both agencies to initiate an independent review of the ramps.

NRDC's request was a simple one: "NRDC is not taking a position on advancing the Willets Point project or on constructing the ramps. But based on our preliminary review, we are concerned over the discrepancies in the study results, and also by the prospect that a project could impair regional mobility..:Thus consistent with our position on other large-scale regional development projects we believe that the stakes are high enough with the building of new access ramps for the Willets Point project to warrant a full environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)...By undertaking such independent review, the public can be satisfies that the proposal's impacts have been adequately assessed..."

In July, however, NYSDOT informed NRDC that it didn't need to do any independent review saying, "The NEPA documents that are being developed are an Environmental Assessment and a revised Access Modification Report....We understand the request for an independent review but believe that working closely with NYCEDC, we can assure that the data will be based on sound data."

How blatant a slap in the face is this to transparency and the public interest? How can anyone trust the consultants who attempted to deceive the state agency with a fatally flawed document-one that contradicted its own earlier report submitted to the NYC Council as part of the land use review application? And what does it say about NYSDOT's integrity when the agency ignores the deceptive practices of the consultant and allows it to continue to perform as the exclusive agent for providing traffic data to determine the viability of the Van Wyck ramps?

We can see just how NYSDOT lacks trustworthiness and integrity in its apparent willingness to ignore the keen skeptical insights of Michael Bergman, its own structural engineer. Bergman told agency policy makers that the EDC report was simply junk.

Michael Bergmann (NYSDOT), 12/18/2009 at 3:40PM:

"I am not satisfied with the original document or with any of the responses. The consultant apparently refuses to recognize that his entire data collection work on the VWE near (former) Shea Stadium was badly flawed, because it took place during a major construction project. I have criticized his speed analysis, and his response was that the speeds and traffic volumes are related. His statement is correct, but that means that the traffic volumes used in the report are also flawed...

In my opinion, the report we have is poorly done and is not adequate justification for changes in access to an Interstate highway."

Yet, in spite of Bergman's attempt at righteous intervention, policymaker Pete King wants to move ahead:

Peter King (NYSDOT), 12/23/2009 at 5:22PM:

After several phone calls with EDC and internal discussion, we have the attached. Mike, I think you're correct in noting, earlier in the review, that the questions we raised were not being answered. Rather than tell us how they would address an in issue, they kept telling us why the issue wasn't being addressed. However, in looking at the attached, I believe that, by and large, they are making credible comments to our concerns. I know that there have been considerable discussions with EDC, URS, P/B (who did the modeling for X735.56) and regional staff. Planning is satisfied, as is Traffic/ Safety that the modeling and design speed issues have been adequately addressed."

But, of course, nothing had been adequately addressed-and the intervention by Ketcham and WPU blew a hole in this rush-to-approve effort to accept a ramp report that NYSDOT was later forced to admit was defective. Now the public is being asked to accept the agency's judgment that it can trust the defectors over at AKRF-this should be unacceptable to any Queens resident-or any local elected officials who still have their wits about them.

As Ketcham asked in an e-mail to us: "Does NYSDOT really want to trust an outfit that could not do quality control of their products and protect them from this nonsense?" And Queens gadfly Benjamin Haber, writing in the Ridgewood Ledger, agrees: "In addition to the loss of hundreds of small businesses and the jobs of thousands of employees and their dependents, the proposed Willets Point project also involves the general public, whose daily lives will be affected by the huge increase in the volume of vehicular traffic on the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway. Suffice it to say, the Willets Point businesses and their employees and the general public are entitled to a full and fair discussion of the issues, something the Bloomberg administration and the city Economic Development Corp. have sought to avoid."

But if this ramp construction is allowed to go forward-rubber stamped by an agency whose internal communications indicate that it has an unhealthy slavishness towards the mayor and his minions-then it is the communities of East Elmhurst, Kew Gardens, Corona, Flushing and College Point-just to name a few-that will suffer the cosnsequences of the malfeasance of the regulators. If this happens, the China Syndrome will come to Queens.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wrong Number!

What a shock it was to get an invitation from our favorite mayor to attend a fundraiser for the inimitable Harry Reid-an elected official that we just might like even less than we do the city's chief executive; and at the mayor's home, no less. Boy, did he get a wrong number.
We see that Daily Poliitics has picked up on the mayor's bi-partisan generosity-and Celeste wonders, as we do, WTF? "So is this a head-scratcher... or isn't it?"

Indeed it is a head scratcher, and we can't see how the Democratic Senate Majority Leader's agenda has anything in common with Mike Bloomberg's-or NYC's interests. DP quotes Ira Stoll on this: "Stoll writes: "Maybe the mayor is supportive of Mr. Reid's opposition to the Ground Zero mosque? His votes against partial-birth abortion? His support of gun rights? Some other stance on which Mr. Reid disagrees with the mayor? "Or maybe it's just transactional, with the mayor calculating Mr. Reid will probably win and be in a position to direct federal funds to New York City."

Perhaps Mike is looking to forestall the ending of the Bush tax cuts-a move that would cost NYC much more than almost any other municipality? It could, however, all come down to simply Mike Bloomberg's ego-and the endless need to nurture it; but the real puzzler is, regardless of the underlying motivation, just how did they get our name?

Morticia the Terminator

Of all the people you'd least expect to weigh in on the Charter Revision Commission's proposal for term limits, Mort Zuckerman and the NY Daily News would be right there on top-after all, Morticia lead the charge to alter the law so that his good bud Bloomberg could usurp an additional term. Just goes to show you that effrontery is an essential character trait of the super rich.

Here's what the News opines this morning: "The Charter Revision Commission that voted to deny New Yorkers a full say over term limits must come back into session and carry out its sworn duties without any more weaseling. Mayor Bloomberg empaneled the commission in fulfillment of a pledge to those voters - huge in number - who were furious that he and the City Council changed the rules in 2009 to go from a max of two terms for elected officials to three."

Now, having midwifed the mayor's illegitimate extra session, the News can revert back to its scolding hypocritical morality: "New Yorkers deserved the chance to settle a simple question: Should the mayor, Council members and other officials go back to two terms, or may they stay at three? There's scant doubt as to how the vote would go. By overwhelming margins, New Yorkers have twice previously voted for the two-term option. They'd surely do so again if given the opportunity."

But given the paper's shameful shilling of the term limit overturn, why should anyone listen to the News now? And the same goes for Mike Bloomberg, a man who, once he got his, seems unconcerned about what will happen, Apres Le Deluge. It has nothing to do with him anymore so, the same fellow who rigged the vote of supposedly independent council members, couldn't manage to properly direct his own appointees?

And, of course, Morticia can't manage even a simulcrum of opprobrium for his friend the mayor in the entire editorial-excoriating some of the no name commissioners in a classic exercise in misdirection: "But the panel, chaired by CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, chose instead to give the public the back of its hand. It voted to put on the November ballot a proposition that would set two terms for everyone - except, incredibly, for incumbent officeholders. They alone would be permitted to run three times; never mind that some of these same Council members supported the 2009 overthrow of the voters' will. How this misbegotten result came about is a study in the misapplication of power."

Ah, the moment is missed for Mort, someone who's always been more comfortable beating up the women and children than the real bad guys. After all, blaming the puppets and not the puppet master makes no sense at all: "Some, like the Rev. Joseph McShane, Fordham University's president, understood what they were assigned to do: Give voters a two-term option. But others, like Staten Island County Clerk Stephen Fiala, denied voters the choice they deserve based on his own opposition to term limits. He called them "antithetical to our way of life." Still others brought extraneous considerations to bear: Commission Vice Chairman John Banks, a vice president at Con Ed, asserted that requiring incumbents to abide by a two-term maximum would somehow discriminate against minorities. That, too, should have been an issue for voters."

And so it goes, laying the wood to the lame and the halt-and taking zero responsibility for the paper's own dereliction of its public interest guardian role. All of this has a distinctly horses having left the barn feeling. But, that being said, the News is right on the two term limit that the public voted on twice-and since it was twice, perhaps the paper is right like the proverbial stopped clock.

No Silver Lining at Ground Zero

With all of the controversy swirling around the GZM-and with the mayor suddenly emerging from his normally somnabulent state to jump start his nascent emotions-we have lost sight of the fact that there is still a giant whole in the ground. Nine years after Mike Bloomberg came out of nowhere to become NYC mayor-propelled by the events of 9/11-we are now finally about to get a deal approved with billionaire Larry Silverstein, the disgraceful owner of the rights to build on the devastated site of the terror attack.

City Room has the story: "The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is expected to convene Thursday to formally ratify a plan that would allow the developer Larry A. Silverstein to build two office towers at ground zero with up to $1.6 billion in public financing and subsidies, according to Port Authority and real estate executives. Mr. Silverstein, who leased the trade center six weeks before it was destroyed in the 2001 terrorist attack, has already started construction of one tower on Church Street, at the southeast corner of the 16-acre trade center site. Under the terms of the development plan, the authority would provide about $1 billion in financing for that project. If Mr. Silverstein is able to raise at least $300 million in cash for the second tower on an adjacent site and secure leases for tenants, the authority, state and city would provide $600 million in subsidies."

So while the world is focusing on the mayor's version of, "Cry the Beloved Country," no one-least of all maudlin Mike-is paying attention to how Larry Silverstein is holding up the city and state for a kings ransom: "After years of delays and missteps, the trade center site is crowded today with thousands of workers. The authority is building a skyscraper — the $3.2 billion 1 World Trade Center — as well as the national memorial and a $3.2 billion transit hub. Mr. Silverstein, who has put little of his own cash into rebuilding other than insurance money, had sought to have the authority finance all three of his towers after he was unable to obtain private financing and secure tenants. The authority balked, in part, because of the weak economy and the real estate markets." (emphasis added)

Nor is anyone focusing on the mayor's malfeasance regarding the rebuilding effort-something that should have been his priority number 1, and signature issue of his mayoralty. Perhaps there's a bit of Machiavellian intrigue involved in the mayor's soap box posturing on the mosque-a classic case in misdirection in our view.

So, while the mayor rails against mosque critics in the name of private property and the first amendment, we are supposed to forget that he has allowed the disreputable Silverstein to drag his feet over rebuilding while haggling over just how much the public will be forced to foot the bill for a property that he had owned for five minutes before the planes struck on 9/11. And where's Bloomberg's fiduciary responsibility here-allowing his billionaire brother to socialize the risk and privatize the rebuilding profit? "Still, some board members said they were only reluctantly approving the plan, which they say still allows Mr. Silverstein to profit while a huge public investment is at risk, if the towers do not find tenants at adequate rents."

As we have already commented Mike Bloomberg, the scourge of the small property owner in NYC, has allowed Silverstein to skate when it is precisely this kind of public project that the whole concept of eminent domain was designed for. The mayor's lassitude in this case has us wondering once again whether the class of the developer has colored the mayor's view of the development. One City Room commenter nails this: "This makes no sense. Seize the property through eminent domain. Then let the government auction the property off to raise revenue. Imagine the nerve of this greedy developer to ask for subsidies during these difficult economic times. Bloomberg should take him to court over eminent domain, and seize the property. Who the heck would give this greedy landlord a subsidy?"

Apparently, Sleep-at-the-Switch Mike would. If Mike Bloomberg had been diligent with regard to what even the president has called, Hallowed Ground," the entire area would have been designated for redevelopment for an agreed upon public vision for the site-and the slippery Silverstein would have been sent packing years ago. And, by the way, the entire surrounding area could have been included-eliminating the sleazy strip clubs and other inappropriate retail uses around GZ.

Instead, Mike left this most important task to something called the Porty Authority-as dysfunctional an entity as we have this side of the  MTA. The mayor was too busy trying to take Nick Sprayregen's property in West Harlem and Irene Presti's land in Willets Point-folks who definitely don't travel in Bloomberg's lofty social circle.

So, while the world debates the merits of the mayor's new found public passion for "core American values,", we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that in his most important task-remembering the dead who gave their lives to the misguided religious vision of 19 Islamists-Mike Bloomberg was simply nowhere to be found. It seems that when it comes to simple patriotism Mike Bloomberg is MIA-and his travels to Governor's Island to make a speech in defense of a mosque, shows just how far away he is from the core values of the American people.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mosque Rallying From the Leeward Side

Many of the dwindling number of Americans who support the location of the GZM come from the extreme left side of the political spectrum. Much was made after the dueling Sunday protests about the "intolerance" of the opposition-while the media was totally silent, even in the face of the bold signage being displayed, about how the supporters were mainly from some obscure socialist sect.

Yahoo News gives you a flavor of the airbrushing: "The proposed mosque near ground zero drew hundreds of fever-pitch demonstrators Sunday, with opponents carrying signs associating Islam with blood, supporters shouting, "Say no to racist fear!" and American flags waving on both sides." No mention of the provocative, and dare we say, anti-American signage at  all: "At the pro-mosque rally, staged a block away from opponents' demonstration, several hundred people chanted, "Muslims are welcome here! We say no to racist fear!"

And in a casual perusal of all of the media coverage of the dueling demos, we couldn't find any of the socialist worker party signs-only the anodyne, "Support Freedom of Religion." But there was one exception-and leave it to our friends at WNYC to speak the emmis that others dare not: "The other rally, supporting Park51, was organized by a coalition of anti-war and socialist groups, but drew unaffiliated individuals and some Muslims as well. The organizers weren't able to secure a permit for a soundsystem, so speakers ended up standing on a small step ladder and shouting their remarks to the assembled demonstrators. Many of them felt the opposition to the mosque was borne of Islamophobia."In the last 10 years we've seen all this demonization of Arabs and Muslims to help justify two unjust wars, Iraq and Afghanistan," said Hannah Fleury, a member of the International Socialist Organization. "And so to me this is the logical conclusion of that climate since September 11. So I'm absolutely opposed to it."

Mike Bloomberg is in good company indeed-and the rally in support of the GZM today was more of the same, with the knee jerk left wing crank Arthur Waskow right in the forefront of the action: "A group of Jewish activists and community leaders voiced their support for a planned mosque near ground zero and said opponents, including the nation's leading Jewish civil rights group, are perpetuating misunderstandings about Islam. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center, joined about 30 other religious leaders and Jewish activists Thursday at the spot where the Cordoba Initiative hopes to build an Islamic center that will include a mosque, an athletic center, a culinary school and art studios. Waskow says the mosque will help people learn more about Islam."

But will they learn more about Waskow? The rabbi is someone who is not only a strident critic of American foreign policy, but of Israel's as well: "Pointing to the implications of the Jubilee year for the peaceful and meditative redistribution of land, Waskow has argued that prophetic Judaism contains elements of social vision that have reappeared in some aspects of Marxism and some aspects of Buddhism. Waskow has been a strong critic of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza. He is opposed to the Second Iraq War, citing what he describes as Jewish religious grounds. He has supported the positions of Cindy Sheehan. Waskow has said he has found no evidence of Sheehan making anti-Israel statements attributed to her."

But there's more on wacky Waskow: "Though a critic of the environmental policies of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Waskow has disagreed with claims that Chávez is anti-Semitic, pointing out that his critical comments on ". . .some minorities, descendants of those who crucified Christ, descendants of those who threw Bolívar out of here . . .took the world's riches for themselves. . ." were referring not to the Jews but to the heirs of the Roman Empire that crucified Jesus and of the Spanish empire that attacked Bolivar -- that is, to the US empire of today."

This my friend is the real grass roots face of the support of the mosque on sacred ground-from folks who flat out don't believe in the sacredness of that space at all! Aided and abetted by the useful idiocy of our coreligionists usual suspects. But just who exactly was the group that led Sunday's pro rally? None other than our friends from the Leon Trotsky Memorial Project-calling themselves, the "Internationalist Group."

From their website "Welcome! The Internationalist Group, section of the League for the Fourth International, fights for international socialist revolution, the conquest of power by the working class, led by its Leninist party, championing the cause of all the oppressed. After a decade and a half in which the ruling class trumpeted the supposed “death of communism,” the imperialists are bogged down in losing wars of colonial occupation in the Near East while a global economic crisis shakes the foundations of the capitalist order. With mass unemployment, poverty and hunger ravaging the planet, once again there is talk of socialism and revolution. But as in the past, the key question is that of forging a vanguard to lead the struggle of the workers and the oppressed."

So, as Paul Berman has warned us, the left is aligning itself with the fascists in order to promote what it sees as anti-imperialism-and anything that is against America, Israel and the West is okay by these subversives-and Rabbi Waskow belongs with them, his real mishbukah. But it speaks of an even more pernicious tendency, this alignment with Islam by the left. More pernicious because in the rush to appear tolerant, the liberal intellectuals rush to a defense of indefensible behavior and abhorrent practices.

The real question is why so many on the Left sympathize with Islamism of any sort. Why the toleration of the growth of Islamic intolerance, especially in the West? We suspect it has to do with the Left's instinctive sympathy for "the downtrodden" and hostility to Western civilization. This instinct translates into accommodating Islamic intolerance in the name of "diversity". Of course, that tolerance ends up being a one-way street. It is, in essence, cultural appeasement of the basest kind."

Which is why we  are unsurprised to find the mayor styling in these precincts. The dhimminutive chief executive has no real intellectual depth-and his wisdom could fit comfortably on a Hallmark card. But the mayor's bromides conceal the real dangerous movement afoot here-and in his desire to seek out moderate Islam, he is likely to be hoisted on his own petard. We can only hope that we all don't get hoisted along with him.

Bloomberg Downtown: The Islamic Mosquito?

When you're alone
And life is making you lonely,
You can always go downtown

When you've got worries,
All the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

With Mayor Bloomberg continuing to sing the Islamic version of the Petula Clark song-trying to insure that he doesn't slip into irrelevance in his lame duck third term-the political tide against the mosque's location is decidedly going in the other direction-underscoring once again the mayor's tone deafness. But, given the acrimony on both sides, the debate is beginning to resemble a raucous fight between two rabid groups of sports fans. And in that spirit, we believe that the only thing the pro-mosque team is lacking is a mascot-and what could be a more appropriate one than a Mosquito. We hereby nominate the vertically challenged mayor for that coveted role

As the NY Post reports: "A defiant Mayor Bloomberg, saying there should be no compromise, insisted last night that a mosque be built near Ground Zero, declaring, "We must do what is right, not what is easy. "And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years," he told Muslim-American guests invited to Gracie Mansion for dinner to mark the breaking of their fast during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan. Bloomberg said there is no middle ground when it comes to religious liberty, calling the plan to erect the mosque a litmus test for upholding "American values."

Oh boy, and this is from a fellow who, before he became mayor, had never once marched in the Israeli Day parade or had any known connection to issues of religious freedom. And Bloomberg believes that this mosque and these mosque founders are the rock that he wants to place his first emotional exercise of first principles on? He does acknowledge that Iman Rauf might have said some regrettable things is the past: "The mayor also praised Rauf -- acknowledging that the imam has made some controversial statements in the past, but recalling that Rauf spoke at the interfaith memorial service for Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, a Jew murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002."

But you can't simply elide what Rauf has said-and said on numerous occasions: "The controversial imam at the center of the debate over the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero says his goal is to create coalitions across the religious divide, but during a 2005 conference in Australia, he said America may be worse than Al Qaeda."We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than Al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims," said Imam Fiesal Abdul Rauf, speaking at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Center during a question and answer session dedicated to what sponsors say was a dialogue to improve relations between America and the Muslim world."

And Rauf went on the blame the death of 500,000 Iraqi children on America-a ridiculous statement even if you ignore the fact that the sanctions against the country was in response to the brutal dictator's own actions against the world and his own people: "You may remember that the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations," said Rauf, who called himself a spokesman for Islam. But diplomats and others, including former President Bill Clinton, have said that sentiment is wrong. Saddam Hussein's regime corrupted then-U.N. sanctions and denied humanitarian aid to his own people. In a Nov. 8, 2000, interview on Pacifica Radio, Clinton said if any child is without food or medicine, then Saddam is to blame because the dictator is "lying to the world and claiming the mean, old United States is killing his children."

But now more and more Americans are coming to the conclusion that this has nothing to do with religious freedom-in spite of the mayor's overheated rhetoric-but Bloomberg fits comfortably within the ideological parameters of the political class-those who definitely don't cling to their guns and religion.. And the effort to ignore the politicization of Islam-and Rauf's comfortable fit in this Islamist movement-threatens to relegate the mayor to jackassery.
Bloomberg has also adopted the now popular left wing meme that moving the mosque will somehow spur terrorism-as if these Jihadist folks needed any greater incentive. But, Rauf himself has stated that 9/11 was in part a response to American foreign policy-going so far as to say that we were, "co-conspirators." Yes Mayor Mike, he has said some controversial things, hasn't he?
The NY Times reports on Bloomberg's "weekend at Bernie's" emotional resurrection: "It was Mr. Bloomberg’s second major speech in three weeks supporting the plan, and its soaring tone and forceful arguments suggested that he had firmly embraced his role as a national defender of the plan for the center, even as high-profile voices have called for a re-examination of the wisdom of the current site. Mr. Bloomberg rejected those calls, arguing that to move the center would slight American Muslims and damage the country’s standing. “We would send a signal around the world,” he said, “that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.”
What a load! It is in fact the mosque founders' stubborn insistence on singing their, "We shall not be moved," spiritual that has exacerbated the debate-along with the Iman's wife Daisy Kahn's accusation that the critics of the site have generated a "metastasized anti-Semitism." As one NY Post letter writer points out: "This is not about healing, understanding or acceptance of a certain religion. Imam Rauf and Khan should listen, try to understand and meditate on a solution. Instead, they are adamant about their agenda. This is about them and their statement. Where is the spirituality in that?"

The reality is, as Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, that there is no greater recognition of America's tolerance to Muslims than the fact that there has not been any widespread eruption of anti-Muslim bias since the attack on the Towers: "And there isn't an anti-Muslim climate either. Yes, there's a lot of heated rhetoric on the Internet. Absolutely, some Americans don't like Muslims. But if you watch TV or movies or read, say, the op-ed page of the New York Times - never mind left-wing blogs - you'll hear much more open bigotry toward evangelical Christians (in blogspeak, the "Taliban wing of the Republican Party") than you will toward Muslims."
In fact, even though America has been the most hospitable place in the world for Jews outside of Israel, the level of genuine anti-Semitic activity in this country far outstrips the "Islamaphobia" that the mayor and his new inamorata Daisy Khan are seeing because of the GZM: "In 2001, there were twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim, again according to the FBI. In 2002 and pretty much every year since, anti-Jewish incidents have outstripped anti-Muslim ones by at least 6 to 1. Why aren't we talking about the anti-Jewish climate in America?"
And why is the tolerance come lately mayor leading the crusade against this persistent prejudice? For Mayor Mike guns take precedence over the threat to his co-religionists:. And after doing nothing for nine years about the disgraceful hole at Ground Zero, Bloomberg is now, and only now, fully engaged in the debate on building at the sacred site-where has the mayor's emotional demiurge been hiding for all these years? It has taken the possibility of a mosque in the proximity of the towers to get his Rip Van Winkle-like emotions awakened?

But if there is going to be a Muslim backlash-we can thank the mayor. As Goldberg tells us: "And now, thanks to the "ground zero mosque" story, we are again discussing America's Islamophobia, which, according to Time magazine, is just another chapter in America's history of intolerance."  But it is the provacation of Iman Rauf and his intransigent enabler Bloomberg that is doing more to stoke the Jihadist fire around the world. They are the ones who have conflated a real estate site fight into a Holy War-and they will reap the whirlwind-unfortunately it will be for all of us.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Out of Their League

The NY Daily News' Adam Lisberg has done a good job at outing the supine relationship of Al Sharpton with Mike Bloomberg-a kind of rent-a-rabble rouser concept. The Sharpton pimping of Bloomberg's political ride-something that we have already highlighted (along with Wayne Barrett)-should be seen as just a tip of the ice berg. Put simply: Sharpton ain't the only one on the tab. But to understand this, in all of its manifold manifestations, you need to be able to understand the dog that didn't bark phenomenon.

The term comes from the Sherlock Holmes mystery, "Silver Blade." Here's the relevant passage:

"Gregory : "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

He (Sherlock Holmes) was referring to the fact that a watch dog didn't bark and wake the family, which implied that the villain was someone familiar to the dog. And so it goes with Rev. Al-who stands by with lockjaw when the Times runs a story about how the Bloomberg administration is actually whiter than the Giuliani regime. The fact that this mutt doesn't bark bespeaks of an unseemly familiarity-one could say intimacy-between the mayor and the erstwhile racial arsonist.

But, as we have said, Sharpton is no anomaly-and we believe that a number of environmental groups are in the Sharpton barkless category (although less exalted on the Bloomberg food chain perhaps). Which gets us, in round about fashion, to the case of the NY League of Conservation Voters-and an exchange we had with the inimitable Liz Benjamin who questioned whether we had the goods on the League. Alas, no smoking gun, but a pattern of behavior that should prompt the Lisbergs, Barbaros, and Barretts-of the press world (not to mention Liz herself) to do a little digging (and we place the Environmental Defense Fund in this category as well)

But back to the no-bark scenario. As we have been pointing out, the Bloombergistas have been speaking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to sustainability-a concept that is expressed eloquently in the Magnum Opus called PlaNYC 2030. So, while the mayor's minions are waxing rhapsodic about sustainability and reducing the city's carbon footprint, they are at the same time undermining the entire concept with a mega development philosophy that runs diametrically opposed to the very concept of  sustainability-as we have said here and here.

And, as a result of this policy, our air quality stinks-as the city's own Department of Health survey revealed last week. As we opined at the time: "In the face of all of this smog, the mayor is driving forward-now last seen promoting the traffic nightmare Wal-Mart at the Gateway Mall off of the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. As we said a few month ago: "It is now the right time to call out the mayor on his two faced sustainability policy-and the best way of doing that is for the state legislature-along with the city council-to hold joint traffic and environmental impact hearings on PLaNYC 2030; with the Gateway Mall acting as the star witness to the mayor's blatant hypocrisy."

And, it is in the plan to develop Willets Point, that the mayor's violation of sustainability principles is manifested so starkly-a plan that the League (and EDF) endorsed-indefensibly-as a model of sustainability. Perhaps the two organizations were simply beguiled by the mayor's rhetoric; after all, contrary to any sense of reality, that's exactly how EDC marketed the project. But, more likely in our view, their sanguine outlook on the Willets Point extreme makeover was a consequence of less noble motivations-and, like the Revenue Al, the Bloomberg cash nexus lies at the root of this environmental lap dog that didn't bark.

In any case, the League, as well as EDF have been called out by Brian Ketcham-a man whose forty years of environmental advocacy is beyond reproach. Ketcham details just how damaging the Willets Point development will be-and how it puts the lie to any sane concept of sustainability. Other environmental groups like the NRDC and the Sierra Club, have begun to raise questions about the Willets Point plan-barking if you will-but these two groups remain mum.

Which brings us to the continued posturing of the League which, as Liz points out, is busy anointing candidates with its esteemed environmental laurels. Before anyone takes the League's accolades, however, it would be useful to determine to what extent it no longer is a principled and autonomous environmental advocate-and if it is remaining silent on Willets Point because of the support given to it by the mayor, it defaults on its ability to anoint anyone for environmental purity.

As in all things political, it is essential to follow the Golden Rule here: he who has the gold, rules.

Daddy Wal-Bucks

The NY Post is reporting that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has quietly accepted a $15,000 contribution from Wal-Mart-something that doesn't sit well with the RWDSU's Stuart Appelbaum: "Top labor leaders are furious with Senate Democrats for quietly accepting a $15,000 campaign contribution from Walmart, the union-hostile retail giant believed to be interested in putting its first city store in state Senate leader John Sampson's Brooklyn district, The Post has learned. A little-noticed entry in the Senate Democrats' "housekeeping account" filed last month with the state Board of Elections lists the July 12 contribution, apparently the first ever by Walmart to state Senate Democrats."

Appelbaum's response? Send it back: "Retail and Wholesale Workers Union President Stuart Appelbaum yesterday angrily accused Democrats of accepting Walmart's "blood money," and demanded that the cash be returned. "The Democrats need to send the money back to Walmart with a note, 'No thank you. We are better than that,' " said Appelbaum. "This is blood money," he charged."

The Democrats' response was perhaps instructive: "Senate campaign spokesman Eric Blankenbaker wouldn't respond directly to Appelbaum's criticism but said, "Some [Senate] members support Walmart and some don't. That's why we have support from a broad coalition of groups. "Senate Democrats have received support from labor, business, real estate, you name it, and it's not reflective of any one member."

From our view, what is most troubling about the contribution is its timing-and the looming prospects that the Walmonster may be eying a location right smack dab in the middle of Leader John Sampson's East New York district: "Blankenbaker, asked about the possibility that the Walmart contribution was tied to an interest in locating a store in Sampson's district, responded, "I don't think it's related."

Well, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating-and we are awaiting word from Senator Sampson about the Wal-Mart hearing that he signed onto last June. The timing for such a public airing could not be more propitious, since the prospective hearing's focus was going to be on the environmental impact of the giant super center right off of the Belt Parkway. The NYC Department of Health has already weighed in on the city's air quality-and wouldn't you know that air around highways was found to  contain the highest degree of pollutants.

As we commented last week:

"The report, which examined various types of air pollution, revealed that a variety of contamination occurs throughout the city, depending on the type of neighborhood. "The take-home message here is that the air quality just isn't great anywhere in New York City. What's surprising is just how variable the air quality is across the city," Deputy Health Commissioner Daniel Kass said."

And guess what the DOH found? That's right, outer borough neighborhoods right next to highways are those that are most dangerous to your health: "Lower and midtown Manhattan, The Bronx and outer-borough neighborhoods that flank major highways have higher levels of this form of pollution. Neighborhoods with the largest crowds during the day had, on average, 22 percent higher levels of particulate matter, while areas with the heaviest traffic had an average of 15 percent more than other neighborhoods in the study, which was conducted between June and August 2009."

Now, from our view, there are any multitude of reasons why one could take issue with the entry of the Walmonster into New York City-and a corollary to the DOH findings is the fact that Wal-Mart-along with the rest of Related's huge mega-mall-siphons shoppers away from the local neighborhood businesses; a further manner in which the city's carbon footprint is increased. Local shopping is environmentally friendly and is more in keeping with the mayor's professed (but often violated) sustainability goals-not to mention the fact that the local shopping dollars and independently owned stores is a bigger economic boost to the city's economy than sales generated from national chains.

So a Wal-Mart store creates a great deal of collateral damage-and we haven't even broached the company's atrocious labor policies. Senator Sampson needs to move forward so that the various stakeholders-labor, enviros, small businesses, and community groups-can weigh in on the wisdom of Wal-Mart in East New York. Now that the retail giant has ante-d up, its time for the Dems to turn over their cards.