Friday, October 29, 2010

Bill Perkins' Lonely Fight

In the fight to prevent the state and Columbia University from seizing private property for purposes that are only tangentially public, State Senator Bill Perkins has been a beacon of truth in a sea of political complicity and mendacity-and now Perkins is taking a further step in this battle by joing Nick Sprayregen and The Singhs in their appeal of the adverse NY State Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the university. The Columbia Spectator has the story: "As opponents to Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion seek to get their case heard before the nation’s highest court, one prominent Harlem politician has officially stepped into the fray. State Senator Bill Perkins urged the United States Supreme Court to accept the case by filing an amicus brief with the court on Oct. 25—a document, literally meaning “friend of the court,” written by a party not directly related to the litigation, but who has an interest in the case under consideration."

The main line of Perkin's legal attack is on the concept of public use as articulated by the high court in Kelo: "In Perkins’ brief, which Spectator obtained a copy of on Tuesday, he echoed the attorneys’ argument, asserting that the Court of Appeals ignored legal safeguards articulated in the landmark 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London­—in which the Supreme Court ruled that land could be transferred from one private owner to another through eminent domain in order to promote economic rejuvenation—and in the process abdicated its responsibility of judicial law review."

There is simply no way, in our view, that the confiscation of private property in West Harlem has anything to do with a public use-and the plan was hatched in the bowels of CU and emerged fully grown somehow as a state initiative-call it legerdemain. Yet the Court of Appeals, lacking much that is appealing to us, shot down this argument and bitch slapped SC Justice Kennedy's Kelo opinion: "Perkins’ latest move comes on the heels of a significant ruling in which the New York State Court of Appeals declared this summer that eminent domain can be used to obtain private properties in West Harlem. This outcome was a major victory for Columbia, as it effectively paved the way for the University to acquire the remaining private property in the neighborhood."

And it also paved the way for the complete evisceration of property rights in NY State-as the Appellate Court's adverse decision in East Harlem underscores. In that ruling Judge Catterson, who had eloquently struck down the Columbia seizures before the Court of Appeals did the same to him, basically threw up his hands even though he thought that the move to take the property of these small business owners was a crock, and the blight argument bogus:

"Judge Catterson's concurring opinion underscores just how non-existent property rights are in this state: "In my view, the record amply demonstrates that the neighborhood in question is not blighted, that whatever blight exists is due to the actions of the City and/or is located far outside the project area, and that the justification of under-utilization is nothing but a canard to aid in the transfer of private property to a developer. Unfortunately for the rights of the citizens affected by the proposed condemnation, the recent rulings of the Court of Appeals in Matter of Goldstein v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 13 NY3d 511, 893 N.Y.S.2d 472, 921 N.E.2d 164 (2009) and Matter of Kaur v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 15 NY3d 235, —- N.E.2d —— (2010), have made plain that there is no longer any judicial oversight of eminent domain proceedings. Thus, I am compelled to concur with the majority." (emphasis added)"

All of which dramatizes just why it is so important to change the laws of NY State so that they afford a modicum of protection for property owners. But, as we have pointed out, the issue has not been center stage in the current election cycle-and AG Cuomo has been noticeably silent. If left unchanged-and the Sprayregen/Perkins appeal is unsuccessful-the idea that a person's home is their castle will become outmoded and quaint; at least if you own property in New York.

Small Business Observations in City Limits

We have an opinion piece on small business in the age of Bloomberg in the latest issue of City Limits-and here is the money quote: "What NYC needs is a chief executive who understands that job creation at the micro-level is a function of lower taxes, smaller government and fewer regulations. Until that time comes, the successes of small business in this town are a function of the incredible grit of minority entrepreneurs who are really pursuing the American Dream against all odds. They succeed in spite of the NYC environment, and not because of it."

Read the whole thing.

SodaGate

The NY Times has come up with a blockbusting expose on the gross-and we say gross for obvious reasons-dishonesty of the city's health commissioner, a quacking fabulist named Dr. Tom Farley. The Times story, based e-maiils obtained through a freedom of information request, details how Farley overrode all of the concerns of subordinates-including his head nutritionist-as well as those of an outside expert adviser, to promote an anti-soda ad that was totally without scientific merit: "In the midst of a legislative fight over taxing sodas last year, the New York City health department put together a media campaign about how drinking a can of soda a day “can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.”

The claims were flat out false-and Farley knew it, but didn't give a fig-and he should be terminated for disseminating utter falsehoods on the public's dime: "But behind this simple claim was a protracted dispute in the department over the scientific validity of directly linking sugar consumption to weight gain — one in which the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, overruled three subordinates, including his chief nutritionist. “CAUTION,” the nutritionist, Cathy Nonas, wrote in a memorandum to her colleagues on Aug. 20, 2009. “As we get into this exacting science, the idea of a sugary drink becoming fat is absurd.” The scientists, she said, “will make mincemeat of us.”

Farley's response? It's okay to bend the truth curve as long as we are doing so in a good cause-another example of how the public heallth ideologues, but particularly those in the NYC DOH, corrupt science in the name of forcing people to alter their behavior in directions mandated by the health nannies: "But Dr. Farley argued that the advertisements had to have a message that would motivate people to change their behavior. “I think what people fear is getting fat,” he wrote."

Scaremongering, now that's a really healthy way to go about changing the lives of the average New Yorker-and it certainly isn't the first time that this has happened. When the city banned indoor smoking, Farley's evil twin predecesser Dr. Tom Frieden said that exposure to second hand smoke was causing 1,100 deaths in the city every year. We'd love to see the DOH e-mails on that whopper-and the liklihood is that Frieden pulled that number right out of his rectum.

But smoking has been so demonized, that you can corrupt data and say anything at all-and the impunity of the self righteous has so metastasized that they have gone from tobacco mythmaking to soda-and use the evil tobacco bogeyman to unfairly tar the soft drink bottlers with the same brush. Unfortunately, it is science that falls victim to the public health demiurge-leading to an unheallthy debate over important policy initiatives being based on utter falsehoods and frightening exaggerations.

We saw the same phenomenon with menu labeling. Nere the DOH didn't have the decency to forward its calorie posting proposal to the city council for oversight and review-allowing the unelected Board of Health to determine that this intrusive and unproven methodology should be foisted on the city's fast food operators despite zero evidence that the initiative had any efficacy whatsoever.

And what was the result of this social experiment? Fast food operators were forced to expend tens of thousands of wasted dollars for an effort that proved to have no impact on those fast food customers that were the most in need of weight loss-and it was the skinny and wealthier customers who were most impacted. The measure remains, however, as a monument to the ideological rigidity and bad faith of the health czars-success is not a prerequisite with the Bloombergistas when it comes to forcing health mandates on New York's public.

What emerges from the e-mails, is how truth is the first victim of self righteousness: "But the e-mails, which were obtained by The New York Times under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, also show what happens when officials try to balance science and public relations and toe the line between disseminating information and lobbying for a cause...But Ms. Nonas, along with at least two of her colleagues and a Columbia University professor they consulted, expressed strong doubts about the weight-gain message of the video and urged the department to rethink it. They pointed out that, on an individual basis, the conversion of calories into fat depends on factors like exercise, genes, gender, age and overall calorie consumption. "Basic premise doesn’t work,” Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, a professor of pediatrics and clinical medicine at Columbia, said in an e-mail to Ms. Nonas on Aug. 18, 2009."

Didn't matter to Dr, Strangelove: "The dissidents marshaled medical journal articles, including a study of twins showing that a significant part of the variance in metabolizing calories was because of genetics. As Dr. Farley and Mr. Cowley pushed back, Ms. Nonas tried to come up with a compromise. What was “defensible?” she asked in an e-mail to Harvard and Columbia professors. “What can we get away with?”

The answer: when you are progating for the supposed public's good health, you can say and do anything even if it is contradicted by scientific evidence-and if you are Falsifying Farley, you can override the professionals working for you: "Then, on July 1, 2009, Sabira Taher, who holds a master’s degree in public health and is the campaign manager for health media and marking for the department, wrote to Ms. Nonas raising doubts about the video’s message. “I think Dr. Farley really wants to say something about ‘gaining 15 pounds of fat in a year,’ ” Ms. Taher wrote. But she had reservations. “We know gaining and losing weight isn’t that cut and dry — some people can drink and eat whatever they want and still maintain their weight without doing an incredible amount of exercise to burn off the extra calories. I think going this route would raise a lot of skepticism within the public about our message.”

Doesn't matter: "But Dr. Farley had the final word. “I understand that there is inter-individual variation and the experts’ caution,” he wrote on Aug. 20, 2009. “But I think what people fear is getting fat, so we need some statement about what is bad about consuming so many calories.” Dr. Farley said he had reviewed other studies, a couple of them “quite old,” that “within the margin of error” would support the idea of a gain of 10 to 15 pounds. “So I favor the 10 pound sentence, but maybe keeping even a little more wiggle room,” he wrote. He suggested less certain language, saying that soda “can make you gain” weight, and he proposed a disclaimer at the end, along the lines of “assuming no other changes in diet or physical activity.”

And what happened to the small print disclaimer? "Just before the video went up, Ms. Nonas sent another message to Dr. Rosenbaum, explaining what the video would say. “I think this is broad enough to get away with,” she wrote. But she wanted to know “what the guru thought.” Dr. Rosenbaum wrote that the advertisement was “misleading in that there is no reference to energy output changes.” The disclaimer Dr. Farley had proposed about diet and activity had been dropped."

What is now clear, is that the NYC DOH should be placed under the supervision of the NYPD's Bunko Squad-if it is still in operation. We have a health commissioner who is willing to blatantly lie to the public-and a mayor who is so self righteous himself that he allows the prevaricator to remain on the job without even a slap on the wrist.

The health fascists are at war with the American people-and now the mayor and his minons are taking aim at the poor food stamp recipients; a cohort of low income people who make great guines pigs to experiment on: "The soda tax proposal was eventually dropped from the state budget, but the mayor escalated his antisoda campaign this month by requesting permission from the federal government to bar city residents from using food stamps to buy sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages."

But, as in all wars-even one that is as phony as this one-the first casualty is the truth. What the Times story reveals are public health professionals willing to go to any length to promote policies that have no basis in science-as long as they advance an ideological agenda. You may agree with the war on soda, but if you allow these folks to get away with this corruption of science, it won't be long before they jump to the next public enemy, one that you may feel is quite benign-and brazenly utilize phony science to justify their new crusade.

The Farley Follies then is Sodagate-and exposes this putative health professional as just another dishonest special pleader without portfolio. If he's not stopped here, it will become more difficult to stop him and his ilk elksewhere-and the food stamp experiment on the poor will devolve into a situation that finds us all unwillingly stuck to the doctor's petrie dish.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NY Times on AG's Silence

In yesterday's NY Times, the paper takes a closer look at the record of AG Cuomo-and finds that style often overrides substance. This is particularly true when it comes to the Willets Point investigation of Claire Shulman and EDC: "But the praise is neither universal nor complete, and there are many who assert that Mr. Cuomo has, not unlike his predecessor, been more interested in headlines than in undertaking the tedious chores needed to bring lasting reform, and that he has mishandled, sidestepped or prolonged some public integrity cases. For example, an investigation into whether the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and some public officials violated lobbying laws in their redevelopment efforts is still unresolved after two years. (Mr. Bloomberg last month endorsed Mr. Cuomo’s campaign for governor.)"

This is particularly hurtful because the AG has yet to make his position on the use of eminent domain clear-and that issue underlies the entire Willets Point fight. But even more compelling here is the fact that it appears when it comes to some kinds of untoward actions on the part of certain well placed elected officials, Cuomo will pull his punches-and will not be above politics and special interests in the way that he has said on the campaign trail.

Cuomo's position on eminent domain generally and Willets Point specifically is also of concern since the state's role in the approval of the ramps off of the Van Wyck remains unsettled. NYSDOT must approve the EDC application, and without this approval, neither the ramps nor the project can be built. When we last left the issue-and the NY Times had written an incisive expose of the torturous review process-DOT was promising a revised ramp report and Environmental Assessment sometime soon after Labor Day.

Now to be fair, they didn't specify what year, but the original date proffered for the revised report was March 15th. So the obvious question is, why the inordinate delay? In our view, the tardiness here devolves from the difficulty that the EDC consultants are having in justifying the ramps when the traffic estimates for the development clearly cannot be accommodated by either the ramps themselves, or the Van Wyck Expressway that is already severely challenged by heavy traffic volumes.

Adding to the difficulty-leading to the consultants' challenge of trying to square a circle-is the fact the EDC environmental teams, and their were two involved at various times, came up with widely divergent estimates on the project's impacts on the ramps. Aside from all of these difficulties, however, it is also possible that the DOT delays are a function of wanting to wait for the new governor to come in and put his own people in place at the agency. No bureaucrat wants to make a wrong move, especially when the governor-elect's intentions are unknown.

But the AG's reticence to act on the Claire Shulman transgressions-sins that were shared by EDC in a major way-is troubling; and could, ironically, lead to the issue being addressed by a new attorney general in January. The political and bureaucratic opacity of all this makes any prediction difficult.

All we know is that the evidence shows that the ramps cannot-under any circumstance-accommodate the severe traffic impacts from the proposed Willets Point project. Any report that purports to say that they do is, in our view, immediately suspect and will be challenged. It would behoove the AG-and likely new governor-to get on the right side of this issue and endorse the kind of independent evaluation that leading environmental groups like the Sierra Club and NRDC have called for. Stay tuned.

Spike the Bike Lanes: People Speak Out Against the, "Vicious Cycle"

In yesterday's NY Post, the paper devotes its letters section to comments about Steve Cuozzo's anti-bike lane column-and the reaction is indeed vociferous: "Thank you for expressing most New Yorkers' attitudes about the dictatorial, distracting and insane changes to our avenues and streets by constructing bicycle lanes ("Strangled by Bikes," Steve Cuozzo, PostOpinion, Oct. 22). Those changes were implemented without any input from citizens, wasting money while New York City goes bankrupt. Worst of all, bike lanes paralyze commercial traffic, making life even more difficult. Mayor Bloomberg has forgotten who elected him. It was people like me, but now we have had enough of his dictatorship."

That was from Anton Loew of Manhattan. We also heard from a Brooklyn community board head who complained that Cuozzo didn't credit her board's opposition-an opposition that is futile because its powers are advisory: "I take offense at Cuozzo's comments about community boards. We at CB 15 have been advocating for public hearings before any more pedestrian islands or bike lanes are implemented. CB 15 has voted unanimously against many initiatives of the Department of Transportation, but we are only advisory. Many times, the DOT forges ahead with its plans. CB 15 is anything but anti-car." That was from Theresa Scavo, Chairperson, CB 15.

And then there's Eric Anton who inveighs against the transformation of 34th Street-voicing a concern for local retailers: "The planned 34th Street change is insane. I live in Midtown -- what a mess. When you ask the DOT where people will unload, move in and deliver fuel or inventory to retailers, there is total silence. Pathetic."

If this crazy scheme were ever put to a referendum, the results would be lopsided-and only the bikers from TA would be manning the barricades agaiunst the city's drivers and small businesses. And, as letter writer Victor Cino points out, the traffic and public safety impacts are horrendous-even though unacknowledged by DOT: "The most serious problem with new and replacement bike lanes is the constriction of traffic lanes, which has resulted in stalled traffic flow and impediments to emergency vehicles, like ambulances and fire trucks. These bike lanes clearly demonstrate a serious lack of planning, which could have allowed for a healthy balance between bikers and other vehicles. When a fire truck is delayed because of traffic congestion and citizens are killed, then Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan will wipe that grin off her face."

And, as far as Park Slope is concerned, the bikers don't represent that community-and the lanes are mostly under utilized most of the day: "I was a part of the anti-bike-lane protest on Prospect Park West, where it was reported that we were outnumbered by the bikers at their counter-rally. At 8:30 a.m. the next day, there was not a single bicycle in sight. This is the case the majority of the time, of course, but the bikers have a one-issue agenda and can summon people for a rally at the drop of a hat who may not even live in the neighborhood. In the meantime, we have to suffer the ramifications of these changes 365 days a year. I am not sure how long-time, hard-working and community-minded residents of Park Slope became unconsidered victims of a DOT that is in thrall to Transportation Alternatives." (Jasmine Melzer)

So we encourage the inimitable Transportation Chairperson Jimmy Vacca to convene a city council hearing on this issue. A full airing will give New Yorkers a glimpse of the out of control nature of the entire Sadik Khan-driven experiment. And for Pete's sake, can we get a simple environmental review of any of this?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Injudicious Oversight

We have been ragging on the injudicious oversight of Judge Nicholal Garaufis on the hiring practices of the FDNY-and now Heather McDonald at the City Journal weighs in with an in-depth critique of the judge's lack of any real understanding of just what is going on. It turns out, that the only real evidence of bias is in the Garufis' rulings: "A fierce constitutional battle is being waged between an out-of-control federal judge determined to impose racial quotas on New York City’s fire department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, equally determined to resist race-based hiring. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis appointed himself the city’s de facto fire commissioner last week by enjoining the department from hiring any new firefighters without his approval—and he will give his approval only to the racial hiring schemes he has already tried to foist on the department."

 What McDonald's analysis reveals is a judge out of his intellectual depth when dealing with key constitutional issues: "Judge Garaufis’s rulings have been capricious and biased, creating new law while ignoring facts that undercut his radical new doctrines. And Garaufis’s ultimate goal—to craft a future hiring process based on racial considerations—would put the city’s residents at risk by making skin color as important a qualification for firefighters as actual preparedness."

The underpinning for the judge's judgments, as it were, is the notion of disparate impact-the sheer absence of  "enough" minority firefighters when seen in proportion to the city's overall population: "Under the misguided legal theory of “disparate impact,” however, an employer can be found guilty of discrimination simply if minority applicants don’t score as well as whites on a job test. Once an employment test is shown to have a lower black pass rate, an army of testing experts hired by the plaintiffs descends on the courtroom waving “coefficient alphas” and “construct- and criterion-related validation methodologies” to nitpick the suspect test to death and to claim that it measures skills (such as reading comprehension) that are not relevant to the job while not measuring skills (such as cooperativeness or persistence) that are."

Oh, good grief! What this means is that the onus is always on the employer-and intent is not the issue. This can lead to a great deal of mischief-the one thing that Garaufis apparently is good at. But McDonald puts her finger on the central fallacy that we have already pointed out: "Disparate-impact jurisprudence rests on a massive lie: that blacks and whites would score identically on tests of cognitive ability, absent a biased test design. Given the racial disparities in average cognitive skills—black 12th-graders read, on average, at the level of white eighth-graders—it is impossible to design a test measuring cognitive ability that will not have a lower black pass rate. Garaufis, however, rejects this reality; he has sneered at the city’s suggestion that the differences in scores between white, black, and Hispanic fire department applicants reflect differences in “capability and preparedness,” calling that explanation “dubious.”

Joel Klein better watch out, using the judge's biased world view, the entire school testing regime is likely to be declared null and void because of the disparate racial gap-the only thing dubious here is Garaufis' good faith and intellect: "Not surprisingly, then, in July 2009, Garaufis agreed with the plaintiffs’ charge that the city was guilty of disparate-impact discrimination, since the black pass rate on firefighter tests has traditionally been less than the white rate. (Eighty-nine percent of white test-takers passed the 1999 exam, compared with 61 percent of blacks; 97 percent of whites passed a watered-down 2002 exam, compared with 85.6 percent of blacks.) In an adumbration of rulings to come, Garaufis found the city guilty of disparate-impact discrimination not after a trial in which the city could present evidence for the business necessity of its firefighter exams, but without a trial, by granting summary judgment for the plaintiffs."

This is beyond outrage-summary judgment based on the mere fact that there was a racial gap in test results. What's next, a repeal of the laws of gravity? "Summary judgment means that a judge finds no legitimate factual dispute between the parties that requires elaboration at trial. Though the city had put ample evidence into the record supporting the exams’ validity and contesting the plaintiffs’ charges, Garaufis peremptorily rejected it all. By granting summary judgment, he kept the case away from jurors, who probably would not cotton to the idea of firefighters chosen on the basis of race, not skills, showing up to save their homes from fire."

Garaufis needs to be exposed as the meddling and dangerous quack that he is-and the people of New York need to know who is not looking out for their safety. But then this blind justice went even further and found fintentional discrimination out of simple disparate impact: "Garaufis pointed to no evidence of deliberate discrimination on the city’s part in that January 2010 ruling; he merely bootstrapped the disparate-impact finding into an intentional-discrimination one. Such a technique is almost unheard of in disparate-impact cases. The whole point of disparate impact theory is to keep the discrimination juggernaut going in a world where intentional discrimination by governments and large employers has virtually disappeared."

This step is, in our view, so wrongheaded that it should be grounds for the judge's impeachment. He is a menace to public safety-and, in comparing Mike Bloomberg to Bull Conner, he should have forfeited his right to remain on the bench: "Garaufis’s finding of intentional discrimination was not just groundless, it was recklessly inflammatory. It mirrored the outrageous charge of the Vulcan Society’s past president, Paul Washington, that Mayor Bloomberg embraces “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Garaufis’s language may have been slightly more circumspect, but his meaning was identical to Washington’s. Perhaps not coincidentally, Garaufis’s intentional-discrimination ruling also gave him expanded powers to intervene in the fire department’s affairs by crafting a new exam and dictating hiring policies."

So the trumping up of the intentional discrimination charge was a ruse used by Garaufis to make himself the fire commissioner-and the FDNY is right to fight this boneheaded fool; someone who believes that having an elementary reading level is  not a job requirement for being a firefighter. As McDonald points out: "Both during their training period and on the job, firemen must absorb written instructions about firefighting, EMS techniques, and an ever-increasing array of hazardous materials. Further, the capacity to read is not a self-standing, isolated skill; it demonstrates cognitive abilities essential to learning and sound judgment."

There's so much more that is egregious here, but read the entire piece if you want to get nauseous about the state of our federal judiciary-suffice it to say, that the city must appeal this ruling and take it right out of Goofy Garaufis' hands: "The city should take an immediate appeal to the Second Circuit. Ideally, one of New York’s elite law firms would help it litigate this important case on a pro bono basis, though the left-wing slant of most pro bono work makes that assistance unlikely. There is simply no evidence in the record that city officials have ever devised fire department hiring policies with the deliberate intent of keeping blacks off the force. The overwhelming reason why blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented on the force has been their historical lack of interest in a fireman’s job; the effect of the hiring exam is trivial compared to minorities’ low application rate."

There ar now hundreds of potential minority firefighters who have already passed the city's test, and thanks to its recruitment drive, there will be more to come. But if Garaufis gets his way, it will lead to a poisonous atmosphere in the firehouse since each firefighter is part of a team whose safety very much depends on both ability and mutual respect-it's not only about public safety: "Creating a new fireman’s class based on race risks poisoning the esprit de corps and mutual respect essential for optimal firefighting."

But the judge's underlying misconception remains-cognitive tests are prima facie examples of intentional discrimination. And given that false world view, there isn't a test in the world that could pass the Garaufis smell test: "The long-term solution to all such racial imbalances is for blacks and Hispanics to apply themselves more diligently in school. There is not a single cognitive test out there today that is designed to produce disparate racial pass rates. Until black and Hispanic language and thinking skills improve, such disparate pass rates are unavoidable."

As for Garaufis, what he deserves is for a conflagration to break out in his courtroom, one that threatens his own sorry behind. If that were to happen, would it be unconstitutional-a violation of the first amendment perhaps-to yell fire in a crowded courtroom? We're not sure, but we won't be asking Garaufis for his opinion.

The Great Wal-Mart of Bloomberg

Crain's Insider, apparently looking to emulate the Onion for great satire, has an item on Bloomberg, Wal-Mart and promises unkept-the post's title is, The Bloomberg Wall: "Before last fall's election, the union representing supermarket workers endorsed Mayor Mike Bloomberg based on word from the mayor's campaign that Bloomberg would not spend political capital to bring Walmart to the city, according to the union. At the same time, Bob Lieber, then deputy mayor for economic development, was pledging to do his part to help Walmart, according to a source who heard it firsthand. The most benign conclusion that can be drawn from the discrepancy is that a thick wall separated campaign and administration operations."

Benign conclusions aside, this is all purely a case of bait and switch-and there is no wall of separation between the campaign and the mayor. Putting it charitably, how could there be for someone who believes in the principle of, l'etat, c'est moi. But relying on mayoral assurances is not a sound organizational decision-nor is similar ingenuousness when it comes to the promises of Related-just ask CM Barron.

All of which brings to mind the situation regarding the Columbia University expansion-and the allegation that its consultant AKRF was conflicted since it also represented ESDC. In its defense, AKRF claimed that there was a, "wall of separation," between the two sides of the firm that were working for the two separate clients. Judge Catterson of the Appellate Court saw right through this, pointing out that the fix was in: "But the court, and in our view got it right, saw it otherwise-and paid particular attention to the collusion between the university, its consultants and the state. As the Observer had pointed out about the court's ruling "It also was highly critical of the process of determining blight, a major component of the use of eminent domain. The state had hired the consulting firm AKRF to do both the environmental review for the project and the determination of blight. Ultimately, the ESDC brought in a second contractor to replicate the original blight study, but, as the court pointed out, this was well after the decision had been made to use eminent domain."

So much for these virtual walls. In dealing with Ross and Bloomberg (Bialystock and Bloom?), it is absolutely essential to get everything in writing-notarized, if possible. Which brings to mind Justice Hugo Black's observation about loyalty oaths, "Words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self-interest..."

A Study In Deceit

Tomorrow a substantial group of council members will convene at city hall to announce their support for the living wage bill-and denounce the EDC-sponsored put up job. The NY Post has the story: "On the heels of the bruising defeat of a bill to require paid sick days in the city this month, a coalition backing a “living wage” measure for projects getting city subsidies is set to release a report tomorrow attacking the city’s ongoing study on the issue. The Living Wage NYC coalition will unveil an 8-page condemnation of the city Economic Development Corp.’s study of the Council bill, which would require developers getting subsidies from the city of $100,000 or more to pay $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50."

The coalition, in issuing its own study, is right to suspect the bona fides of the city's study. In our view, we adopt the I.F. Stone position that, "all governments lie"-and one should never treat any government report with anything but disdain. As the Post points out: "The pro-living wage report, written by the National Employment Law Project and the Fiscal Policy Institute, points to successful living wage policies in place in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, according to a copy obtained by The Post. It also blasts EDC for choosing what the coalition considers a biased consulting firm - Charles River Associates of Boston - to conduct its study, which is expected to be released in March. The report says the economists at that firm have long expressed opposition to the concept of a mandated minimum or living wage."

And, according to living wage proponents, the lead author of the EDC study is a ringer-the NY Times reports: "On Wednesday, two liberal research groups — the National Employment Law Project and the Fiscal Policy Institute — plan to release a critique of the study’s leaders and methods and to contend that the labor economists leading it are too “biased” to produce a credible analysis. One of them, David Neumark, is “such a controversial figure” that his involvement is “surprising and troubling,” the critique says. It goes on to characterize Mr. Neumark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, as a leading critic of policies intended to raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers."

The professor, however, demurs at the charge: "From his West Coast office, Mr. Neumark sounded only mildly perturbed at the prospect of being publicly demonized by Council members and labor leaders 3,000 miles away, though he took umbrage at being called biased. “I fail to see how someone can read all my research and say, ‘This guy is biased against living wages,’ ” he said. “My research on living wages, I think, reads as kind of wishy-washy, if anything.” By that, he meant that his studies on living-wage policies in different parts of the country had generally concluded that while they did cost some workers their jobs, they also reduced poverty among others whose wages rose. Despite the increase in unemployment, he said putting a living wage into place “may be a relatively intelligent thing to do.”

Perhaps, but if this EDC study is a fair analysis, it would be a first-and we don't believe in this administration's honest search for the unbiased truth, Professor Neumark's statements notwithstanding.

But, that being said, the prospects of the bill's passage remain uncertain-after all, the paid sick leave bill expired when the speaker announced her opposition. As Gotham Gazette reports, the waters remain choppy: "In the wake of Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s decision not to support paid sick leave, some City Council members and advocates are attempting to make waves on another issue: the living wage. Currently two bills to require some sort of wage mandate at city-subsidized developments are treading water at City Hall. One would require a prevailing wage for building service employees, while the other would require a living wage for every worker on a city-assisted development, including the development’s tenants. Quinn has not taken a position on either. When asked during her sick leave announcement earlier this month, she sidestepped the issue."

On the other hand, there are some major differences between the two legislative issues-and Speaker Quinn may look to tack back to a more progressive position after her cold water throw on sick leave. Still, the attack on EDC is a righteous one: "The presser tomorrow, according to an advisory we just got, will “exposes Charles River Associates (CRA), EDC’s choice to conduct the study, as a business-backed lobbying group using economists who oppose living wage and even minimum wage policies for EDC’s study.” The chief economist on the study is Daniel Hamermesh, a reputable professor at the University of Texas at Austin. David Neumark, a professor of economics at the University of California and a fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, is also on the study team. He has authored several studies questioning the sustainability of living wage policies."

The EDC study is quite simply a dodge-and no one believes it will conclude that living wage makes sense. Kind of like the so-called studies of the bike lanes done by DOT-a methodology that favors conclusions first; and then data derived from them. Now we might not take the Coalition's study as gospel, but the EDC sham effort needs to be deconstructed and debunked-and the council should try to seek an outside independent analysis.

But even if it doesn't, what the living wage legislation exposes, are the anti-small business policies of an administration that is misappropriating tax dollars for destructive economic development policies. Even when the money isn't earmarked for Doctoroff cronies like Steve Ross, it is still wasted-check out the IDA splurge on Manhattan Beer, one of the country's wealthiest beer distributors.

As we pointed out in this regard, once again Bloomberg fronts for the big guy who doesn't need the money at the expense of smaller competitors. IDA handed over millions that the company didn't need, to build a Bronx warehouse that it needed to build-with or without, government help: "Basically Manhattan Beer holds a monopoly over the distribution of hot beers such as Coors and Corona and, due to the concentration in both production and distribution of malt beverages, it is able to operate with significant profit margins-while, at the same time, its customers, the bodegas and neighborhood supermarkets, are suffering without any hope for relief from the public sector...But don't go expecting that the price of a six pack of your Corona will be reduced-or even that it will stay at current price levels. That's because these IDA bennies come with virtually no give backs to the tax payers that are forced to pony up; and there's little apparent due diligence investigating whether, absent the public money, a company like Manhattan Beer would refuse to build. To us, this is corporate welfare in its most egregious form."

But at least the Manhattan Beer workers are unionized and well paid-not so much the retail workers who, after the Relateds get the gold mine, all they get is the shaft If the Bloombergistas are going to irresponsibly steer tax dollars for real estate boondoggles, than for crying out loud, pay the damn workers a decent wage.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wal-Mart: On the Tusk of Defeat

Crain's Insider is reporting (subsc.) that Wal-Mart has hired Bloomberg errand boy, Bradley Tusk, to help navigate the city's choppy political waters: "Walmart has hired former Bloomberg campaign manager Bradley Tusk to bolster its efforts at establishing a foothold in New York City. Tusk was hired in the past month as a consultant “to help us tell the Walmart story,” a company spokesman says...Walmart's spokesman says Tusk was hired because of his “strong relationships” with city officials but has not yet talked to its most powerful opponent: labor. “We're a nonunion retailer,” he says. “That hasn't changed.”

The news was upsetting to UFCW Local 1500-and should be placed under the unrequited love column: "The move outraged Pat Purcell of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, which represents supermarket workers and sees Walmart as a threat. UFCW endorsed Bloomberg with the understanding from Tusk that the mayor would spend no political capital to bring Walmart to the city, Purcell claims. “I find it shocking he would turn around and take them on as a client,” Purcell says."

Unlike his mayoral opponent Bill Thompson, who made a strong anti-Walmart commitment to opponents, Bloomberg has never ceased his love affair with the Walmonster-and we doubt the affection derives from the mayor's own shopping experience at the store. Put simply, Mike Bloomberg will always be fronting for the big guy-and can often be found, like the former small-statured French emperor, with his right hand tucked into his suit jacket.

We were amused, however, by a couple of the comments made by the Wal-Mart folks: "If Walmart proposes its first city store, it will argue that it would provide jobs and low-cost products at a time of high unemployment and tight consumer budgets. The spokesman says the company wants to look in neighborhoods facing double-digit unemployment. Last year, Walmart paid more than $5.7 billion to city-based businesses for merchandise and services."

The facts, though, contradict this self-serving narrative-as the Chicago study on that city's first Wal-Mart demonstrates: ""Our analyses of data on taxable sales in Wal-Mart’s home and adjacent zip codes are consistent with the hypothesis that Wal-Mart’s sales displace a significant amount of sales from its home zip code. There is some evidence that Wal-Mart’s sales also reduce sales in some adjacent zip codes, but this effect seems to be small and inconsistent."

Translation: Other stores are put out, and those workers are replaced-but in the process we replace scores of independent local businesses for one out of town retail giant. This is not a good deal for NYC-as Stacy Mitchel's keen insights underscore. She highlights this in her article on buying locally: "Buy-local campaigns work in part because they are not simply empty marketing slogans. They aim to educate and their messages are grounded in empirical research. They highlight, for example, the many studies that have shown that $100 spent at locally owned businesses generates significantly more local economic activity and supports more local jobs than $100 spent at national chains. (This is because independent retailers purchase more goods and services from other local businesses than chains do.)"

Mitchell goes on to dramatize something that Mayor Mike is tone deaf about-the importance of small business to the health of neighborhoods. In the process she also points out something that should reverberate within the sustainability band that Bloomberg makes believe he is conducting: "Other research shows that communities with vibrant local business districts score higher on measures of social and civic health, and that local businesses often have a much smaller environmental footprint than their big-box competitors. (For a comprehensive collection of such studies, visit www.newrules.org/retail.)"

All of this will go right over the head of the edifice complected officials down at EDC-folks whose notions of economic development begin and end with a phone call to Steve Ross at Related. And if the Bloombergistas have the effrontery to make the economic development and job related pitch for Wal-Mart, we can refer them to the new findings of the Tax Foundation that places NY State last in its business climate index. That is the reason why local business is suffering-a condition that Wal-Mart will exacerbate and not ameliorate.

Here's the Foundation's money quote: "Taxes matter to business. Business taxes affect business decisions, job creation and retention, plant location, competitiveness, the transparency of the tax system, and the long-term health of a state's economy. Most importantly, taxes diminish profits. If taxes take a larger portion of profits, that cost is passed along to either consumers (through higher prices), workers (through lower wages or fewer jobs), or shareholders (through lower dividends or share value). Thus a state with lower tax costs will be more attractive to business investment, and more likely to experience economic growth."

Bloomberg, who entered politics telling one and all that higher taxes were no bar to economic growth, and that NYC was a, "luxury product," then went on to disprove the point by raising taxes and fees; leading to historically high bankruptcy and foreclosure rates-particularly among the most vulnerable small business sector. Wal-Mart simply makes the bad Bloomberg-induced situation that much worse.

The bottom line here: Wal-Mart is not a good job generator, hurts entrepreneurship and workers; and is bad for the ecology of NYC-a case we will continue to make, even as the Walmonster attempts to co-opt all of the mayor's substantial entourage.

Bloomberg's Emily Litella Moment

According to Daily Politics, Mayor Mike has now renounced his apostasy on term limits and is prepared to vote to restore them-ex post Bloomberg: "Mayor Bloomberg, who leaned hard on the City Council to change the rules so he could serve a third term, now confirms that he thinks three terms is good for him -- and only him. Asked how he would vote on the ballot question restoring the city's term limits to two terms, he said he's "voting to restore," reports our Erin Einhorn."

The mayor went on to admit that his hand picked charter revision commission messed up: "He added that what his charter commission put on the ballot "is not the bill that I wanted. It's not the bill that I think the commission should have passed. It's not the bill I think that most of the members of the commission wanted to pass, but it's better than what we have now and I committed that we would have that referendum and I personally am going to vote for it."

Bloomberg's explanation is, however, a classic example of opacity in extremis: "Asked to why he planned to vote that way, he declined to elaborate, saying his vote was "because the public, when they changed term limits, I had said it was changed legally by the City Council and that we would give the public another chance and a referendum to decide whether they wanted two or three and now they can do that. If they vote no or don't vote they'll have three if the vote yes, it'll go back to two except for elected officials sitting right now."

Translated: I got what I wanted and now the law can go back to what it was for the less exalted elected officials-or not; it really doesn't matter a whole lot to me, now that I don't have any skin in the game. Adding insult to injury we have a weekend at Bernie's moment with the disinterring of Ron Lauder on this issue-now that his master is out of the picture the moribund Lauder is, well, gonna get loud: "Lauder wouldn’t say how much his new TV spots will cost, but “it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars,” according to Allen Roth, the executive director of the Lauder-created New Yorkers for Term Limits. Lauder, an heir to the Lauder cosmetics fortune who is estimated to be personally worth about $3 billion, had spent a combined $4 million on his efforts to enact a two-term limit and uphold it. Roth said that additional funds will be pumped into the commercials “as money comes” The buy is a big one, he added, and is almost exclusively for the regular broadcast TV stations—Channels 2, 4, 7, 11 and Fox 5 (where it’s not blacked out by Cablevision)-- with some spots on cable, such as NY1. There will be no radio or print ads."

Great timing Ron-and all of the mayor's little gremlins felt that it was safe to come on and play civics once again: "On hand with Lauder, when he held his press conference this morning by the steps of City Hall, was Michael Long, the chairman of the New York State Conservative party, and Henry Stern, a former Councilman and former city parks commissioner who now runs nycivic.org."

All in all, a sad display by the Bloomberg enablers who have really forfeited any right to lecture the citizens on governance. As for Mike, it was one of those middle finger, "whatever," moments-a real question of mind over matter: he doesn't mind, and no one else matters.

NYC's DOH Bugging Out

We have been commenting on the fact that the NYC DOH has seemed to have lost its proper train of thought-going off on a tangent from its core public health mission into regulatory excess and behavior modification experiments. Now comes more proof-and from the Washington Post, no less.

According to WaPo, NYC is losing millions of tourist dollars because of the bed bug epidemic: "New York City's bedbugs have climbed out of bed and marched into landmarks like the Empire State Building, Bloomingdale's and Lincoln Center, causing fresh anxiety among tourists who are canceling Big Apple vacations planned for the height of the holiday season. Some travelers who had arranged trips to New York say they are creeped out about staying in hotels and visiting attractions as new reports of bedbugs seem to pop up every few days. And officials in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration are concerned about the effect on the city's image and $30 billion tourism industry."

But hey, banning the use of food stamps for the purchase of soda is more important, right? Or, perhaps, the Scarlet Letter regulation regime for the city's restaurants is more pressing an issue-after all, we've had all of those outbreaks of ptomaine poisoning that we've had to respond to, haven't we?

But back to the core mission, and the agency's abdication: "But those reports, along with bedbug discoveries in movie theaters, hotels and clothing chain stores, are causing skittish travelers to call off trips planned months ago. Industry professionals - who have privately told city officials that they are nervous about bedbugs hurting New York's reputation - say publicly that they are not aware of any bedbug-related cancellations. But several would-be tourists tracked down by The Associated Press say they are aborting their trips here because they fear the bloodsucking pests. "It sounds like you can get them anywhere, any time of day and not know it until you get home," said Patty Majerik, from Baltimore."

Has the mayor or the commissioner had one press conference on this? Well, perhaps, but somehow we don't sense the same kind of urgency that the mayor expresses towards, let's say, smoking in bars-or the parks for that matter. Meanwhile, the disgust of tourists grows  apace: "Suzanne Baldwin said she is forfeiting money spent on reservations for a November trip to New York City from her home in Florida. She had already grown accustomed to checking hotel rooms for bedbugs - and has done so in New York before - but she is now overwhelmed at the idea that the bugs have spread beyond hotels. "We thought long and hard about this trip," she told the AP in an e-mail. "However, we decided, knowing we would lose quite a bit of money from nonrefundable tickets, it was not worth the worry."

But it's good to know that the mayor hasn't lost his sense of humor-or, perhaps has discovered it at this late date: "Bedbugs are famously difficult to eradicate; they hide in many more places than beds and can go a year without feeding. Bloomberg recently joked on David Letterman's "Late Show" that bedbugs "are probably tougher" than New York City's notoriously hardy rats." Quite a knee slapper, no?

But maybe we need a Dr. Stockman to emerge to challenge the mayor's jocularity-humor that is meant to deflect from the fact that the city's spa is being polluted. You do get the feeling that the deflection and lack of public attention is designed to forestall the following: "The city's tourism agency, NYC & Company, said it has not seen mass cancellations because of bedbug fears. But officials said some New York hotels, museums and other attractions that depend on tourists have told the administration they are concerned the bedbug rumors will scare travelers away. Tourism officials are keeping an eye on the situation and are trying to decide how to address the public relations side of it."

Crain's weighs in as well on this: "City officials and experts say it is difficult to fully measure the extent of the problem, partly because of bedbug stigma and the lack of solid data about confirmed infestations. For the first time, the city health department included a question about bedbugs on its annual community health survey. In 2009, it found, more than 6% of New Yorkers—one in 15 adults—said they had battled the pests in the past year. Until the AP reported those results earlier this year, data had been limited to government statistics on bedbug complaints and private pest control company surveys."

Looks as if the ball has definitely been dropped-and someone should also check movie attendance to see if our family's refusal to go because of the bed bug infestation is simply an anomaly-the failures here could be having far reaching and undocumented consequences. A full scale investigation and a public announcement of the proposed remedies needs to be done ASAP.

This is a serious public health issue, but the public health professionals have been sidetracked by more enticing endeavors involving altering the way we eat and live. For our money-and it is our money-the entire DOH bureaucracy can be dismantled down to a core of true public health specialists who are equipped to deal with rodent and insect infestations in the city.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Zuckerman's Dog That Didn't Bark

In Saturday's NY Daily News, the paper editorially laments about the loss of manufacturing jobs in NYC-the latest being the closing of a Wonder Bread factory in Jamaica: "Two hundred well-paying blue-collar jobs will soon be lost to New York with the closure of the Queens factory that has turned out Wonder Bread since the 1920s. And the city's working-class hemorrhage goes on. Come January, the unionized bakers, machine operators, mechanics and truck drivers who made $18 to $20 an hour, with a good health plan and a pension, will be in search of new opportunities."

The News, always sharp eyed, goes on to spot a definite trend: "Just as happened last summer to 220 workers who held similar positions at Old London Bakery, where Melba toast and other snack foods had been made for decades in the Bronx. Just as happened to 138 workers at the Stella D'Oro bakery, another long-time Bronx employer, after a national snack-food maker bought the company and centralized production in Ohio."

Seeing a trend, the paper then searches for an explanation-and almost manages, like the proverbial blind squirrel, to uncover a nugget of truth: "While there are variations on the sad sagas of Wonder Bread, Old London and Stella D'Oro, the common theme is that they couldn't make a go of it in New York - a state whose political leaders have all but assured future job losses. They fight fearlessly for hefty wage hikes, rich pensions and free health care coverage for public employees while saddling private enterprise with job-killing rules, regulations and taxes.They cook up economic development schemes that turn into money-wasting patronage."

Ah, those nameless and faceless political leaders-but the News is right as far as it dares to go; and it certainly is the political culture in NY that is a major factor in preventing robust economic growth. Left out in this lukewarm and indistinct finger pointing is the elephant in the room-or, to mix the metaphor, Zuckerman's dog that doesn't bark: the mayor of the City of New York. Because, unless we missed something, these bakeries were exiting NYC-and the city's chief executive deserves at least some opprobrium from the editorial finger pointers, no?

As we have commented before on exactly these issues-especially when the News tar babied Bx. BP Diaz and Councilmember Vacca when Melba made its move out of the Bronx:

"All of which makes the efforts of the NY Daily News to tar baby Ruben Diaz and James Vacca all the more indefensible. Here's what the News said in its attack: "The Bronx, borough with the city's highest unemployment, is on the verge of losing 228 jobs that pay well and have excellent benefits - and self-styled champion of the working person Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is standing idly by. Diaz's inaction as Old London prepares to vacate a plant where the company has made Melba toast for more than three decades stands in sharp contrast to his aggressive battle against developing the Kingsbridge Armory into a shopping mall."

And the paper goes on in this vein: "Although its plans have been reported in the Daily News and in Crain's, Diaz has never contacted Old London, nor has local Councilman James Vacca. Whatever the reason for their inattention, there is no doubt Diaz and Vacca have no clue how to create an economic climate that would hold onto a company like Old London. They were similarly clueless and missing in action when the Stella D'Oro bakery packed up last year from its Kingsbridge facility and moved to Ohio, eliminating 138 good-paying jobs."

Of course, the News' attack on local Bronx electeds becomes even more egregious since the paper fails to give proper discredit where discredit is due-at the feet of the city's chief executive who actually has some power to create an economic development policy and to respond to the needs of local company's looking to expand.

The same critique can be applied to the Stella D'Oro and Wonder Bread situation-with Mike Bloomberg once again starring in the production of, "Where's Waldo?" Let's go back to the money quote in Saturday's News, the one attacking those nameless political leaders: "They fight fearlessly for hefty wage hikes, rich pensions and free health care coverage for public employees while saddling private enterprise with job-killing rules, regulations and taxes." And where does Mike Bloomberg fit in this discussion of government profligacy?

As liberal bĂȘte noire, Sarah Palin might say, "You betcha! Mayor Mike Bloomberg deserves prominent placement in the Daily News' rogues gallery of political leaders-as we have said time and time again, he has been as impecunious as John Lindsay, but without the panache. Here's the excellent analysis of Nicole Gelinas: "Where does Bloomberg's culpability lie? "Sure, the mayor has been able to balance the books through three years' worth of fiscal crises. But beneath the balancing tricks lurk scary, permanent gaps: Like Greece, we permanently spend more than we take in. And the gap looks to grow wider. In fiscal year 2009 (which started in July 2008), New York spent 6.1 percent more than it took in via tax collections and other recurring local revenues -- a $2.5 billion gap. In 2010, the city spent 5.2 percent more -- $2.2 billion. For the new year, 2011 -- which starts this July -- the city will spend 7.6 percent more than it takes in, or $3.3 billion. By 2014, we'll cross an important line, with an 11.3 percent gap. Like Greece did, we're approaching scary double digits."

Gelinas once again, in case you might have missed the point: "It's almost jaw-dropping that the mayor, faced with these projections and with no hope of a return to a bubble-era "normal" on Wall Street, has made things worse. City workers' salary growth, for example, is set to rise 13 percent between now and our drop-dead year - largely because the mayor late last year voluntarily entered into labor contracts granting hefty raises to both civilian and uniformed workers. The cost of higher pay adds nearly $1.7 billion to the drop-dead-year deficit."

And then there are the crippling regulations that Steve Malanga underscored in his seminal look at small business in the City Journal:
"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.

But on the editorial pages of the Daily News, Mike Bloomberg doesn't even rate dishonorable mention-let alone a Knucklehead Award. Those are reserved for men and women from the lower orders-like BP Diaz in the Bronx. The fact is that Mike Bloomberg has exacerbated the very same situation that the News excoriates rather amorphously, whistling passed the graveyard one might say-silenced by either fear or, more likely, too great an intimacy with one of Morticia's closest classmates.

When the dust settles on the Reign of Mike, and the Owl of Minerva finally flies, the judgment of history will, we believe be a harsh one. Coming on the scene, unencumbered by the normal political ties and restrictions that hamper traditional pols, Bloomberg had a great opportunity to challenge the entrenched big government culture-instead he embraced it. In the process, he has been aided and abetted by editorialists loath to utter a discouraging word, but happy to beat up on-not the king-but the hapless woman and children.

In our view, if Morticia suffers from lockjaw when it comes to Mike Bloomberg, he really should stay quiet about the smaller sins of those whose grip on the reins of real power in the city is tenuous at best. His barking in this case is truly discordant and unenlightening.

Sweetheart Double Standards

The NY Post has been waging an all out assault on Brooklyn assemblyman Vito Lopez-and its latest installment accuses him (or really, his surrogates) of benefiting from a sweetheart rent deal: "It's the grandaddy of all sweetheart deals. First the city gave away land to a senior-citizens group linked to Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez. Now the city pays sky-high rent to the Lopez-founded group for the same property. "It's kooky -- the city is paying for something it doesn't have to," said a city official who looked into the matter."

Now we don't know the details of this deal, or how and by whom it was negotiated-but then again, neither does the Post. And we're quite sure that, "kooky," isn't the equivalent of illegal. That doesn't stop the Post from tarring the assemblyman with a broad biased brush -even though it has no evidence of any untoward actions by Lopez. It might have, just as unfairly, had Mayor Bloomberg's picture grace the story-after all, it was the city that negotiated and signed off on this kookiness.

But the unfairness gets worse, because after the tarnishing headlines and lede, we find out the following: "City officials defended the arrangement with Ridgewood Bushwick, saying the Diana Jones center is one of the city's best-performing senior centers and has innovative programming like art exhibitions featuring neighborhood artists. "The Diana Jones Senior Center is a state-of-the-art facility that seniors love and its rent per square footage is well within norm," Aging Department spokesman Christopher Miller said."

So apparently, the only ones who really gets a sweetheart deal out of this are the Bushwick seniors who get to experience the Diana Jones innovative programming-but to find this out, you would have to wade down past the Lopez calumny. Which brings to mind the actual granddaddy of all sweetheart deals-the deeding over of the Bronx Terminal Market in a no bid contract by Deputy Dan Doctoroff to his close friend Steve Ross, CEO of the high powered Related Company.

In searching the Post web site, however, there is no mention of the sweetheart nature of that deal-one that saw the eviction of 22 mostly minority wholesalers. There is, though, the following comment from EDC's Seth Pinsky about Related and the BTM-a comment made in response to Related's ill-fated plan for the Kingsbridge Armory: "Pinsky said Related, which built Manhattan's Time Warner Center and won the right to redevelop the Bronx Terminal Market into a retail center, plans to recruit a destination-type department store for the project."

But, "won," is generally understood to be something that occurs subsequent to a contest-just what was absent in the collusion between Doctoroff and Ross. But all of this goes as business as usual for the Post-a place where sweetheart deals are only seen within the purview of Democratic pols that they are after. And we'll say this about the Bushwick senior center-it never evicted anyone; let alone minority business owners that are seem by the Bloombergistas and their apologists as little more than trash to be tossed aside.

Mike Bloomberg's National Ambitions

In yesterday's NY Daily News, Times reporter Joyce Purnick-Mike Bloomberg's biographer-is given a forum to muse about the mayor's national ambitions. And, proving that all great minds don't have to think alike to come to the same conclusions, Purnick agrees with our assessment that Bloomberg's national prospects aren't very promising: "So, do I think that Bloomberg, who came this-close to running last time as an independent and has the billions to finance a campaign, will run? No. Those dreaming of an "I Like Mike" presidential candidacy should get over it."

Now Purnick comes to this conclusion initially from the fact that, precisely because he comes from New York, he wouldn't play well in Peoria: "What works on Broadway bombs in most of America. We New Yorkers are a peculiarly pragmatic folk. Despite his dyspeptic personality and term limits shenanigans, Bloomberg, 68, has been a strong, independent mayor. That's enough for us. But: There is us and there is them. Though he grew up in a Boston suburb, he is now one of us, and just about everyone else in the country is them. The political queasiness this election season is not about to change those distinctions; in fact, it is emphasizing them."

Yet, what exactly does Purnick mean by this dichotomy? Here she comes closest to our observation that the angry national mood is not something that a Mike Bloomberg comprehends-or, even if he did, could easily tap into: "Okay. Let's assume the aggrieved do manage to unite and seek a candidate of their own. They are not about to light on Bloomberg. Talk about a mismatch! New York's matter-of-fact mayor does not tap into the frustration that is gnawing at today's angry American."

Why not? Well, Purnick sees this incongruity more about persona than ideological substance-and she is partially correct about this, since the aloof, technocratic and pragmatist mayor does fit poorly into the current national mood. Mike Bloomberg is never going to feel your pain-but, in our view, he is also someone who will never really get it either.

That's because the current malaise, if you will, is about governmental over reach-something that Bloomberg embodies and is therefore ill equipped to lead any kind of revolt against. As we said a few weeks ago: "The anger in the electorate isn't, in Ed Koch-like fashion, isn't about corruption and the failure to compromise-it is about ideological over reach and the growth of a national government that is unsupportable without massive increases in taxes and levies. How does Mike Bloomberg's record jibe with this critique? In his almost nine years the mayor has raised taxes and fess, increased the size of the public payroll-while all the time turning government into Big Brother."

But Purnick, to her credit, is also alive to the ideological incongruities that a Bloomberg candidacy would represent: "Bloomberg's policies and ideas are anathema to much of America. On social issues, he stands to Obama's left. He is passionate in his support for immigrants to a country that includes Arizona, arguing that we need immigrants as an economic necessity. He is in a shooting match with the NRA over illegal guns. He supports abortion rights, gay marriage and a more radical health care reform than the President signed into law. His aggressive attempts to regulate salt, trans fats and sugar have been tough enough to swallow in New York City, much less in the Midwest. Not religious, he refuses to pander, and, a strong defender of religious freedom and the Constitution that guarantees it, supports the "Ground Zero Mosque."

And then, as we have noted time and time again, there is the Bloomberg big government love affair-a belief and a nine year record that represents what the national uprising holds in contempt: "It would also not help Bloomberg for the country to learn that, though a proclaimed fiscal conservative, he chose to raise taxes in his first term rather than cut services after the devastation of 9/11. And he was never rough on the city's unions; he's given teachers a massive raise as part of his effort to rebuild the public schools." (although Purnick doesn't question whether the excess school spending was worth it)

Bloomberg not only embodies a governing philosophy that is discordant with a growing national mood he also, as we have pointed out, is representative of aWall Street that has become as much of a bogeyman as Big Government: "Though his speaking style has improved, it hardly thrills. In fact, he is most eloquent in defending his alma mater - Wall Street, a place less popular even than Washington in many quarters. As Joe Klein of Time Magazine found as he crossed the nation recently, "the financial industry and its debilitating effects on the American economy over the past 30 years was the issue that raised the most passion, by far, in the middle of the country."

Purnick's keen reporter's eye takes in all of these Bloomberg political infirmities-but, in the end, can't resist caricaturing the populist impulse abroad in the land: "But he would never win over the voters agitating the loudest for change. They want radical fury, not centrist rationality. They want to abandon Medicare and phase out Social Security. They reject stem cell research and climate change. They may not know it yet, but Bloomberg would never go along with any of that."

Wait a minute here. Immediately after Purnick gets finished underscoring Bloomberg's big government, ultra-liberal agenda, she pivots away from her analysis to characterize the mayor's approach as, "centrist rationality." But it isn't that at all-not if we look at the surveys that place liberalism as a dwindling 20% cohort of Americans. Mike Bloomberg may be a centrist in NYC, but everywhere else he is a garden variety liberal; and not only that-but one who also has a gnawing need to meddle in the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.

Purnick's failing on this score is to some sense a matter of class-and the sharp divide that separates the average citizen from their ruling elites. The division reveals itself in the disdain that elite chatterers have for the Tea Party-and the sense that the movement is a revolt of the dunderheads; a return of the No Nothing Party. P. J. O'Rourke captures some of this-and his own cry for a "restraining order" on government underscores the deep seated anger and fear of a wide swath of the electorate. This fear is precisely what Mike Bloomberg remains clueless about-and what Purnick seems to dismisses with a bit of smug disdain.

The country's sharp divide is manifested by the chasm separated our new, "cognitive elite," and those average Americans who haven't benefited from the putative merits of an Ivy League education. As Charles Murray pointed out yesterday in the Washington Post: "Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody's business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn't intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn't get America, there is some truth in the accusation." (read the whole thing)


Mike Bloomberg is the apotheosis of this elite class making his candidacy, as Purnick says, a quixotic adventure. But, as a practical matter, Purnick is on the same page as we have been on for quite some time-even though her implication is that the mayor's political disabilities derive from the fact that the yokels wouldn't be able to appreciate him the way she-and other prescient New Yorkers-obviously do.

That being said, we encourage him to run-for, as we have said, it would be great entertainment. Run Mike Run: "But we want to encourage Mike to go for it-but with one proviso. He needs to resign as mayor in order to make the run-and thus give us the two-fer we long for; a fantasy run for president, along with his swift exit from the city-and the cognoscenti like Purnick-that he has bamboozled for all these years."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Not on the DOH Menu: Ratatouille

We have been ragging on the NYC DOH's meddling into areas that are less than germane to their core mission-calorie posting, menu labeling, salt intake restriction-and, of course, grading local eateries. Not that these things that are unrelated to health, but because of the manner in which the Health Intrusion Squad at the department seeks to use these issues to force feed NewYorkers-kind like spinach; whether they like it or not.

But, even more importantly, the DOH's interest in becoming ubber-regulators of the lives of the city's citizens, takes it away from doing what is normally considered the purview of a health department-eliminating real concrete threats that are truly unhealthy to the population. Enter the rats. As the NY Daily News reported the other day, they are a ubiquitous threat that is most prevalent in the city's poorest neighborhoods. So, while the health department labors mightily to reduce obesity in those poor precincts, disease spreading rats run wild with seeming impunity.

The News lays this out: "Bedbugs may be the latest pests in town, but rats still command top billing in the nightmares of many New Yorkers. A new survey of Manhattan residents shows that rats are still scurrying all over the place - with Harlem taking the top spot for the "rattiest" neighborhood in the borough."

And in neighborhoods all over Manhattan, the complaints abound: "There are rats everywhere," said Radhames Santos, 30, of Washington Heights. "They're like cats." The survey, however, found the problem was widespread, with neighborhoods all over Manhattan being overrun by rodents. In Hell's Kitchen - which came in fourth place with 9% - residents say it sometimes feels like the persistent pests are lurking around every corner. "I've seen people standing on cars screaming. They come out of the basement and run all over the streets," said 53-year-old Nick Apongalook. "It doesn't matter if it's garbage day or not. It's a pandemic."

This is the kind of public health problem that the NYC DOH should be prioritizing-and it's defensive comments notwithstanding, one would be excused for feeling that this isn't issue number one down at Worth Street: "The city Health Department said it is keenly aware of the problem and has been working on new initiatives to battle rats. A pilot screening program in the Bronx has resulted in an 83% decrease in the number of properties reporting rodent infestations, the department said."

Every one feel better now? Thought not-but one citizen has a useful, if limited, observation: "For Manuel Parkas, 40, of Harlem, there's only one solution. "It is very simple. If you keep your home clean, you won't have any rats to deal with. If you do not, you will have rats to deal with," he said."

But keeping your own space clean is no panacea-as we pointed out before. When food waste is not properly stored and disposed of in your neighborhood, than be prepared; as our friend Brian Ketcham found out when the local Park Slope Trader Joe's left garbage out on the street for too long.

DOH, as part of his proactive public health agenda, should be promoting food waste disposers in order to eliminate the old veritable smorgasbord that Charlotte Web's Templeton the Rat sang about in that movie. But too much time conspiring to think of more ways to control how people live, gets in the way of the more mundane tasks that actually could enhance the city's public health. It's time that the DOH went back to basics, and simply leaved the rest of us the hell alone.

Hitting for the Cyclist

The NY Post's Steve Cuozzo picks up where we left off yesterday-and goes off against DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan for her unilateral imposition of bike lanes all over NYC: "Brooklyn residents yesterday rallied against an ugly, two-way bicycle lane on majestic Prospect Park West -- just the latest costly and increasingly destructive traffic-rerouting scheme imposed by city Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Sadik-Khan's department dishonestly calls the bike lane "temporary" pending an analysis of its impact on traffic and safety, which won't be done until January. Does she really expect anyone to believe her?"

Where the hell is the oversight here-and in its absence we have an anti-democratic governance scheme being forced down our throats as a dictat by an unelected bike freak: "The Department of Transportation also promises to take into account Murray Hill residents' concern over a "proposal" to install useless, concrete-barricaded bus lanes river-to-river on 34th Street. Sure. Although DOT has for now backed off an absurd scheme for a $30 million pedestrian mall, if history is a guide, count on the bus lanes to go forward. DOT previously promised to heed local complaints about other disastrous, bike-centric schemes that it has imposed all over the five boroughs -- and its ruinous Times Square traffic rerouting and pedestrian "plazas." Just temporary, folks! You won't be stuck with it until we find out how it's working!"

It's all working well-if the definition of the term is how well its working all of us over-and where is the city council? These so-called experiments are always self graded as excellent even when the review data shows no such thing: "Every time, the DOT concluded that its brainstorms worked just fine -- even though it's failed to persuasively document any improvement in vehicular flow that was the nominal rationale. The latest horror is on Columbus Avenue north of West 77th Street. The DOT dangerously narrowed auto lanes from 12 feet to 10 and replaced an entire parking lane with a little-used bike lane. Cars must now park in the middle of the avenue."

And as we said yesterday about all of the hordes of phantom cyclists on Columbus: "But we do know a bit about the lanes that Sadik conned us with on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan-where truck deliveries now crowd out all but two lanes on the formerly four lane thoroughfare. And finding a cyclist on Columbus Ave is a little like the old Where's Waldo game."

Cuozzo captures the fact that this is all a slight-of-hand designed to backdoor congestion pricing: "To push an agenda superficially plausible -- urging people to leave their cars home for mass transit -- Mayor Bloomberg tapped into Sadik-Khan's zeal to put everyone on two wheels. But lots of people must drive through town, as mad as it strikes those of us who don't. Many corners of the five boroughs, even Manhattan, are far from subways. The MTA is slashing train and bus service. Could there be a worse time to make driving harder?"

The lack of any over all review of this mishogos is unconscionable: "Yet, in a city where the smallest actions are often subjected to withering public review, the DOT's wholesale remaking of the streetscape escapes meaningful oversight. The DOT's street redesigns -- like the closing of Broadway to vehicles in Times Square, shunting traffic and fumes onto overcrowded Ninth Avenue -- have far more impact on those who live and work in a neighborhood than incidental Building Code variances requiring approval by the City Council."

Calling CM Jimmy Vacca-the council's sagacious chair of the council's transportation committee. Can we get some oversight Jimmy? "The DOT's cityscape-altering decrees, on the other hand, are subject to no meaningful oversight. Community boards -- typically dominated by anti-auto activists out of touch with their own districts -- rarely raise a peep. Business leaders who hate the changes are mute. They fear retribution by myriad agencies -- not only the DOT but also Sanitation, Buildings, Health and even the NYPD. The views they share privately often are very different from their public statements.

All of which demonstrates that the sounds of silence are not indicative of underlying satisfaction-but simply a sign of cowed acquiescence to the man who has perfected the bully pulpit; using a combination of power and money to engineer an enforced lockjaw epidemic. All except to Brooklyn BP Markowitz-and we'll give him the last word: "Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is the rare elected official to call unambiguously for public oversight of the DOT's do-as-it-pleases ways. "The City Council should be involved," he says. "The council has not had an opportunity to vote on, or to let residents know whether they're for or against re-engineering our streetscape to the vision or lack of vision of the leadership of the DOT."

Rocky Mountain High Comedy

It's a story that would find a worthy place in the pages of the Onion-a fabulist's tale of accomplishments that are not visible to the naked eye. The fable, contained in a Bloomberg press release, describes the mayor's touting of his illusory school success story while on a trip to Colorado: "“Students in the United States are falling through the cracks and struggling to compete in today’s global economy,” said Mayor Bloomberg.  “New York City has made great gains in ensuring that every child who graduates high school is ready to start college or a career.  But unfortunately, our state has not been able to implement large-scale, comprehensive reforms.  The reforms adopted in Colorado are really a model for the Empire State, as well as the entire country.”

The Bloomberg Big Lie has apparently reached Denver, Colorado in its most unadulterated form: "Under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership, New York City has been an important model for big-city school reform,” said Denver Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg. “And today was a terrific opportunity to share ideas and continue working together to build on the strong progress we’re seeing in our cities’ schools.”

A model? Reminds us of our feeble attempt at putting together the plastic B-52 we received for our eigth birthday-glued together the pieces resembled nothing that has ever lifted off of the ground in flight. But for those with their hands out, the Emperor is an exemplar of sartorial splendor: "We’ve watched the reforms going on in New York City, and we are thrilled to have Mayor Bloomberg here to see the progress we are making in Denver,” said Denver Scholarship Foundation Executive Director Cindy Abramson." (Pant, pant)

Than there's the issue of racial disparities-follow the pea and guess where it lands: "Over the last 8 years, New York City’s 1.1 million students have made progress.  Graduation rates have gone up 16 percentage points, and our African American and Hispanic students have closed the ethnic achievement gap on state tests by 37 percent in reading and 18 percent in math."

This is just fraud, pure and simple-and you'd think that after the state tests were exposed similarly as fraudulent, these jokers would have the decency to exercise a bit more reticence. As we noted in August-citing the seminal analysis of Diane Ravitch: "Writing in yesterday's NY Daily News (and credit the paper for printing her piece), Ravitch calls a lot of spades, spades: "When the scores were released, there was a sound of bursting bubbles across the state. What once were miracles turned into mirages. Since 2005, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have trumpeted historic gains. But after the state's adjustment, the pass rate on the state reading test among city students fell from an impressive 68.8% to an unimpressive 42.4%, and from an astonishing 81.8% to a disappointing 54% in mathematics. Overnight, the city's historic gains disappeared. Now, look at the achievement gap between the performance of white students and that of minorities. Last year, black students were 22 points behind white students in passing the state English exam. This year - after the state corrected its scoring - the gap increased to 30.4 points. In math, the gap grew even more. Black students were 17 points behind whites last year. Now they've fallen 30 points behind."

The press release prevarications in this regard are simple breathtaking-as Andy Wolf reminded us on HuffPo last week: "Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, perhaps America's most perceptive observer of the education scene, puts it this way: "After 8 years as the czar of New York City's public schools, Klein might want to stop blaming other people for his failures." Klein, a lawyer and not an educator has had his chance. He and Mayor Bloomberg were given absolute, unprecedented powers over the schools by the state legislature in 2002. Now as they begin the 9th school year under their regime, the scope of their failure is increasingly being understood."

As the exhaustive expose of the NY Times dramatized, the entire Bloomberg miracle is simply a house of cards-and for the mayor to try to take a national victory lap on the basis of inflated scores that he improperly flaunted for his own political purposes, is simply an egregious attempt to add insult to injury. But the clue to understanding Bloomberg's excellent Denver misadventure can be gleaned from the following press statement: "Mayor Bloomberg will address 1,600 of Denver’s community leaders as the keynote speaker at the Denver Scholarship Foundation’s annual benefit dinner later tonight."

Oops, there it is! The collusion of the extended handed sycophants-salivating while applauding the mayor's faux triumphs-with the expectation that their complicit duplicity will soon be amply rewarded by a large check for their scholarship fund. This, however, is a phony pas de deux that the rest of us can decline to participate in. The facts contradict the myth-let us all disenthrall ourselves.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bike Dictats

There were dueling protests in Brooklyn today over a newly installed bike path, "experiment." The NY Times reports: "Along Prospect Park West on Thursday morning ,there was much ado about a green stripe of paint. Before most residents had to be at work, dueling protests between supporters and opponents of the boulevard’s new separated bike lane massed in rival camps, hoisting signs and chanting slogans. If it wasn’t quite a merry war — each group was far too polite, and there were far too many cameras blazing — the close proximity of the two parties provided ample theater."

Much of the protest in favor of the new bike access related to a general animus to auto traffic in the city-read the reader comments on this; while the protesters had other concerns: "The rally attracted mostly those who lived in the immediate vicinity of the Prospect Park West bike lane, which has been a source of neighborhood controversy since it was installed over the summer. The protest dwarfed a similar one last week in Manhattan over new lanes along First and Second Avenues. “Thing have come to a critical pass,” said Lois Carswell, one of the organizers. City officials, she said, “have already declared it a success” before any review could be done. She said she hoped her protest would help encourage an “impartial” evaluation of the lane, which is still in a trial phase."

While we sympathize with Ms. Carswell, her comments are appropriate for good street theater-and not because her idea for an impartial review is funny. What is laughable, is her call for something that's unheard of in this administration-an independent and unbiased review of anything. And if any study is done, DOYT will simply bring its liars for hire over at AKRF to ratify the master's plan.

Let's be clear, the Prospect Park bike lane issue is not simply a parochial one-but it speaks to the complete lack of any oversight or public planning with the installation of these bike lanes all over the city. A cafe owner in Park Slope must hire a traffic expert and a lawyer and go through a lengthy review process if she wants to add a table outside her restaurant-but NYC's Sadik can, willy-nilly, simply install these traffic obstructions wherever; and do so without a single public hearing.

We have no opinion about the PP bike lane-that's a matter for the locals. But shouldn't a hearing be held before installation? Hey, at least go through the motions of public review. But we do know a bit about the lanes that Sadik conned us with on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan-where truck deliveries now crowd out all but two lanes on the formerly four lane thoroughfare. And finding a cyclist on Columbus Ave is a little like the old Where's Waldo game.

Another key point-one that the NY Daily News emphasizes-is that there may be some serious safety issues with the PP lanes: "Basically, we think that it's rather unnecessary to have the bike lane on Prospect Park West; there is one in the park and it could be reconfigured," said Louise Hainline, president of Neighbors for a Better Bike Lane. Critics need to keep the bike lane issue alive to highlight safety problems, said Hainline. This week, Brooklyn News reported that many senior citizens who live near Prospect Park West found the new design dangerous, complaining about accidents and near misses with bikers while crossing into the park. "We see this as something that has negatively impacted our neighborhood and the people who live in this neighborhood," said Hainline, who has lived on Prospect Park West at President St. for 13 years."

These are the kinds of things that emerge in a public review process-and the absence of this kind of review reflects on just how autocratic and out of touch the Bloombergistas really are. As for Sadik-Khan, she should be biked all the way  to Copenhagen where she belongs.