Friday, January 29, 2010
That anyone thought that the mastermind of 9/11 deserved the rights that all American citizens enjoy, is a real mystery to us-but not to many deep political thinkers down at city all it appears who can only prattle about cost and convenience. As the NY Daily News reports: "The White House ordered the Justice Department Thursday night to consider other places to try the 9/11 terror suspects after a wave of opposition to holding the trial in lower Manhattan. The dramatic turnabout came hours after Mayor Bloomberg said he would "prefer that they did it elsewhere" and then spoke to Attorney General Eric Holder. "It would be an inconvenience at the least, and probably that's too mild a word for people that live in the neighborhood and businesses in the neighborhood," Bloomberg told reporters."
And kudos the folks down in Chinatown who mobilized-with the help of Steve Barrison and the Small Business Congress-to finally convince the mayor to take the right stand on this issue, whatever his underlying motivations might have been: "Julie Menin, the chairwoman of Community Board 1 who helped rally opposition to the plan, called the shift "a step in the right direction.""I'm thrilled the White House is reconsidering," Menin said. "The trial has to be moved out of New York City."
But any change of venue doesn't mean a change of heart at the Justice Department or over at the WH-where the concept of giving the miscreant KSM a civilian trial is apparently a matter of high principle: "The order to consider new venues does not change the White House's position that Mohammed should be tried in civilian court. "President Obama is still committed to trying Mohammed and four other terrorist detainees in federal court," spokesman Bill Burton said Thursday. "He agrees with the attorney general's opinion that . . . he and others can be litigated successfully and securely in the United States of America, just like others have," Burton said."
Someone's not getting the Massachusetts message. As Charles Krauthammer, commenting on both the undie bomber and the KSM trial, writes this morning: "Of course, this case is just a reflection of a larger problem: an administration that insists on treating Islamist terrorism as a law-enforcement issue. Which is why the Justice Department's other egregious terror decision, granting Khalid Shaik Mohammed a civilian trial in New York, is now the subject of a letter from six senators - three Republicans, two Democrats and Joe Lieberman - asking Attorney General Eric Holder to reverse the decision."
In our view, it does little for our supposed standing in the world community to treat an enemy combatant that has decided to wage war on the United States as if he/she was a citizen with all of our constitutional protections. And the current trial of jihadi scientist Aafia Siddiqui is a case in point. Accorded all of our due process protections, this noxious nut job-whose defense is being paid from Paskistani sources-is making a mockery of the civilian trial concept.
And, on top of all of this, she is being treated in Pakistan as if she were some kind of martyr. Michele Malkin captures the insanity: "Imagine this nightmare courtroom scenario: Un hinged Jew-bashing, open mockery of American soldiers, juror intimidation and coldly calculated exploitation of US constitutional protections by a suspected al Qaeda defendant.
Well, there's no need to wait for the Gitmo terror trial circuses. New York City is already getting a glimpse of the future."
Imagine what the KSM crowd will generate if Lady Qaeda is a harbinger: "Siddiqui was taken into custody in Ghazni in July 2008 after attempting to shoot US military interrogators and FBI agents. Now, the savvy "terror mom" of three is pulling out all the stops to win a mistrial. Among her Cirque du Jihad antics:
* Demanding that jurors be genetically tested for a "Zionist or Israeli background" to ensure a fair and impartial jury of her Jew-hating peers.
* Ranting about 9/11 Israel conspiracies during voir dire.
* Screaming out loud during the testimony of US Army Capt. Robert Snyder, who was in the room in Ghazni when Siddiqui allegedly grabbed an M-4 rifle and proclaimed, "I hate Americans! Death to America!"
So, it's not that we're incapable of holding these kinds of trials and convicting these scum-but why would we? There's certainly nothing in the Geneva Convention that requires this kind of legal deference to enemy combatants who-out of uniform-attack this country. But the clueless left clings to this concept as some kind of righteous shawl. We'll give Professor Turley the last word so that you can see clearly how this mindset operates: "Attorney General Eric Holder suffered an embarrassing setback yesterday when the White House ordered the Justice Department to find another location for the trial of the 9/11 suspects. If true, this would be a troubling intervention of the White House into a pending criminal case and seems to follow political pressure on the venue for the trial."
Only thing criminal here is Turley's dangerous world view (okay, so we took the last word, it is our blog after all).
Come on Governor, Light Our Fire
One reporter's question stood out: "Why hasn't the governor put any money into the budget for the Indian tax revenue?" To which Senator Kruger responded, "That's a really good question." And it's the reason why the legislators came out yesterday-to show solidarity with the beleaguered business and health groups-and to demonstrate that they will be holding the governor's feet to the fire on this issue.
As the NY Daily News reports: "State Senate Democrats lit a fire under Gov. Paterson Thursday to collect taxes from cigarettes sold on Indian reservations. The group argued that bootleg cigarettes bought at Indian reservations and sold on the street at a steep discount cost city bodegas, grocery stores and newstands $250 million a year in lost business - and $30 million a week in lost state tax revenue."
And Kruger, for one, came out firing-raising questions about the viability of the governor's proposed tax increase: "Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, hinted that he would oppose Paterson's effort to raise the state's current $2.75-per-pack cigarette tax by another $1 unless there is demonstrable action on collecting the taxes from reservation brokers. "Right now, I think it would be hypocritical to support a tax increase on already taxed cigarettes while we show a blind eye to the untaxed cigarettes," Kruger said."
With the state in a deep fiscal hole-and small stores getting the shaft ("The bodega, grocery store owners and newsstand operators estimate that more than half the cigarettes sold in the city are bootleg cigarettes sold at such a discount.") the time for foot dragging should be at an end: "Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) demonstrated the scam Thursday by having an aide buy two packs of Newports outside his district office on Webster Ave. for $10. "Why would you go and buy in a store?" he asked. Paterson last week said he was going to force Indian dealers to pay the taxes. However, he did not include the new tax revenue in the current fiscal year budget, leading some to believe that he would not immediately enforce the tax."
Senator Jeff Klein, a strong advocate on this issue for years, took offense at the so-called rioter's veto that has apparently stymied three governor's for the past fifteen years: "Efforts to collect taxes from cigarettes sold to non-Indians through reservations have been stalled for decades because governors have been concerned with possible violence. Several collection efforts in the 1990s resulted in blockades of highways upstate by the Seneca Tribe of Western New York. Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) said that everyone has an obligation to obey tax laws, adding, "It's disingenuous of the native-American side to constantly say every time we meet with them and every time this issue is raised that they're going to threaten violence."
The ball is now in the court of the legislature, and it appears that the state senate will be making this collection issue a chip in their deficit reduction bargaining-with Kruger, Klein, Espada and Senator Joe Addabbo playing the Cuba Gooding role to the governor's Jerry McGuire: "Show me the money!"
Money for Nothing: Wither Willets?
And, as we pointed out yesterday, the teachers are in the mayor's cross hairs: "Mr. Bloomberg is proposing that city teachers agree to a much smaller raise in their next contract or face the possibility of 2,500 job cuts. And when asked Thursday whether his position signaled a new era of hard-line bargaining with all unions, Mr. Bloomberg sounded almost exasperated."
Dire is the operative word here-but things good get even worse if the state budget cuts put forward by the governor come to pass: "Still, as dire as his proposal already was, Mr. Bloomberg did not mince words about how much worse the city’s fiscal outlook could become if Gov. David A. Paterson’s proposed state budget is enacted."
The mayor, never one for a way with words, nevertheless captured the proper spirit of the moment in his own laconic manner: “The bottom line is we don’t have any money,” he said." Which brings us to the question of the proposed development of Willets Point-and an issue we have raised in the past.
If the city is flat broke, and is willing to jeopardize public safety by closing twenty firehouses, than how can its chief executive contemplate the expense of a speculative condemnation of the businesses at Willets Point? Bloomberg needs to be forced to confront the fiscal realities that the city faces. Every responsible elected official, when confronted with the question of moving forward at Willets Point-and especially those who have signed on as enthusiastic supporters-needs to respond to the Cuba Gooding demand of: "Show me the money."
And Bloomberg needs to tell the public-that will soon be clamoring for the restoration of services that it holds dear-how much this project will cost, and where will the money come from to pay for it. These hard economic times demand that the city scale back some of its grandiose development dreams. A moratorium on the Willets Point project now makes more sense than ever.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Smoking Out the Guv
"Statements that came out of the executive were things like, 'We don't want to collect the tax for fear that we will shed a drop of blood. Well you know what, when an attempt was made, which lasted about 10 minutes, to collect the tax, some folks went out on a road and set some tires on fire. So everybody took a quick retreat, and the taxpayers of the state of New York lost billions of dollars."
Kruger went on to question why the threat of violence should deter the governor from acting. Referring to the actions that the Seneca took in the 1990s to block the thruway, the senator said: "I don't know one homeowner on Long Island or Nassau or Westchester County that wouldn't go out on the Sprain Brook or the Long Island Expressway and burn some tires if they didn't have to pay their property tax. And if they attempted to do it, they would be arrested."
The strong show of support for the tax collection gives considerable hope to beleaguered store owners-precisely because they know that if they have to rely exclusively on the governor's fortitude, they are sunk: "The highly controversial issue is one the governor now supports, although he has not included any expected revenues in the budget, so it's unclear just how committed he is to fighting to collect the taxes. (Lobbyist Richard Lipsky, who organized the event, said the governor had made a "rhetorical shift.") The electeds at the event, including state Senators Jeff Klein, Pedro Espada and Joseph Addabbo along with Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, were pressuring the governor to begin the legal steps needed to start collecting the tax as the budget season gets underway."
Now we'll see just how much of a gauntlet the legislature's willing to throw down in the upcoming budget negotiations. If they insist, as Senator Kruger says he will, that there will be no budget agreement absent the governor's concrete steps to close the Indian loophole, than real progress is possible. Stay tuned.
"In a contentious meeting that drew more than eight hours of public testimony, a city board voted early Wednesday morning to close 19 schools for poor performance, despite the protests from hundreds of observers who repeatedly drowned out the meeting with cheers, shouts and boos. More than 300 speakers addressed the board, the Panel for Educational Policy, beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene. By the time the panel began voting at 2:40 a.m. they had heard a litany of complaints from hundreds of parents, students, teachers and administrators and just a handful of speakers who said they supported closing the schools."
But, unfortunately, all of this turmoil was really a waste of time since the panel is purely there for, well, we're not sure what it's there for: "The panel has been widely criticized as a rubber-stamp to the Bloomberg administration and has largely held an obscure role in education policy. But under new laws governing the mayor’s control of the school system, the panel was required to make the final approval of closures of low performing schools, a centerpiece of the mayor and Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s effort to overhaul the school system."
Which underscores the extent to which the legislature really fell down on the job when it reauthorized the mayoral control edifice last spring. And, if our observation of the role of the UFT is correct-that it's support proved crucial in the state assembly-than it appears that the chickens may be coming home to roost. And our point may not have been well taken when we said: "Let's be very clear. Mayoral control was effected because it was passed in the Assembly in spite of fairly strong opposition from city assembly members. The assembly has been lavishly funded by the UFT-and the union's thumb on the scale of mayoral control would have been its death knell, So, what happened? Put simply, a deal was made between Bloomberg and the union-something that will be revealed, like the proverbial player to be named later, when the teachers' contract is announced."
Why not? Because the player to be named later here is not being elevated to the majors-and the UFT is finding out that he may have made the proverbial deal with the devil. As the Times notes elsewhere: "Breaking a long-established pattern in labor negotiations, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to demand that city teachers agree to a significantly smaller raise in their next contract or face the prospect of 2,500 job cuts."
Ouch! It looks as if the UFT sold the cow for a bag of magic beans that are, on closer inspection, rather ordinary. And, if so, it means that a chance for truly democratizing the educational governance process-and holding Bloomberg/Klein more accountable-was lost for the foreseeable future.
Which is why the following deserves to get the final word: "During the long overnight session, there was anger and there was theater. Two parents broke out sock puppets for their presentation. “Hi everyone, I’m a concerned parent,” said Jane Hirschmann, founder of the antitesting group Time Out From Testing, as she held up one puppet. “Hi,” replied Lisa Donlan of the Lower East Side, holding up another sock. “I am a puppet from the Panel for Educational Policy, and I brought my rubber stamp.”
Kicking Butts and Collecting Taxes
Trial and Error
Which raises the question of why he ever thought this made sense in the first place-and that's especially true given the incredible fact that neither the mayor or the police commissioner were ever consulted by the Obami before this stupid move was contemplated. As the NY Times tells us: "Mr. Bloomberg had steadfastly supported the location of the trial. When the news broke two months ago, he declared, “It is fitting that 9/11 suspects face justice near the World Trade Center site, where so many New Yorkers were murdered.”
So it now appears that the original decision was made without any forethought-and it goes hand in glove with the ongoing Bloomberg/Obama pas de deux. As Daily Politics reports, Bloomberg-against all evidence given some of his policy observations-grades the president's first term quite highly: "While admitting he doesn't always see eye-to-eye with President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg today gave high praise to the commander-in-chief as he marks his first full year in office and prepares to give his inaugural State of the Union address."
But, on his signature issue of health care reform, Bloomberg has opposed: "I think that both sides of the aisle and the Legislature, there's not been a lot of profiles in courage in being willing to stand up. The health care bill is a good example. You're not going to reduce the cost of health care unless you do tort reform." And remember the mayor bleated about the impact that the $500 billion Medicare cut would have on the city as well.
And then there's the bank tax-a signature issue of the faux populism that the president is reaching for: "That doesn't mean people - including the mayor of New York City - shouldn't disagree with the president, Bloomberg said, noting he has differed with Obama on the issue of bank taxes." KSM trial, health care reform, bank taxes, you kinda wonder what the hell the mayor's babbling about when he talks about giving the president high marks?
Bloomberg would have been right at home on the Nobel Prize committee-giving out high honors just for effort: "But the president's been willing to try some of these things. He's not going to succeed all the time." But, of course, it's hard to back away when, as a candidate for a third term, Bloomberg literally wrapped his arms around the president: "Bloomberg went out of his way to tie himself to Obama during the mayoral campaign. The president ended up giving only tepid support to the mayor's Democratic opponent, then-Comptroller Bill Thompson, who came closer than most expected to scuttling Bloomberg's bid for a third term."
But as far as the KSM deal is concerned, it's all about cost, not principle. As the Times points out, the principle objections are left to others-those with principles, we guess: "Congressional Republicans are threatening a financial maneuver to block the trials from being held in New York and are certain to seize on the mayor’s remarks. On Tuesday, six senators wrote to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and urged him to abandon the idea. The letter, signed by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut; John McCain, Republican of Arizona; Blanche L. Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas; Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine; Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia; and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, read, in part, “You will be providing them one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and to rally others in support of further terrorism.”
Which should have been obvious to the mayor before he started issuing woof tickets about the city's capabilities two months ago. Apparently, precisely because he isn't used to asking about costs before he buys anything, the idea of expense to the city never even crossed his mind in the first instance. But, given the city's fiscal condition, at least he was able to come to his senses-even if he's incapable of thinking clearly about the larger policy implications of trying this war criminal in a NYC court."
Here's hoping that the Bloomberg about face has an impact on this disastrous policy choice: "David B. Rivkin, a former Justice Department and White House lawyer in Republican administrations who favors military commissions, said that while the mayor’s view had no legal force, it had enormous political significance. “The administration is at a precarious point on this issue,” Mr. Rivkin said. If a quick solution is not found to the dispute over a trial site, he said, “this whole thing could come crashing down,” forcing the administration to reverse course and place Mr. Mohammed before a military commission at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba."
Let's hope so. We'll give the NY Post the last word on the inanity and insanity of this trial in NYC: "Make no mistake: We've always thought the decision to shoehorn KSM & Co. into the civilian justice system was a huge error. Terrorists aren't common criminals, and shouldn't be treated as such. But if such a trial must be conducted -- all things being equal -- New York City, the epicenter of al Qaeda's butchery, seemed a logical venue. It was the scene of the "crime," and New Yorkers are a particularly tough lot. Yes, a trial would entail sacrifices: Securing against the increased likelihood of an al Qaeda attack -- for the five years the trials are expected to take -- will require a massive police presence. Is that reasonable? No, especially since it has now become clear that the trials will cost New York City in excess of $1 billion over five years -- $200 million per trial, according to Mayor Bloomberg."
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Knucklehead Award? DN Should Self Certify
We can almost imagine what the "above politics" mayor was thinking: "Thank God I don't have to pretend to care about what these little idiots want." But the sheer callousness-or, perhaps boorishness, of the mayor's response deserves recognition-and we suggest that the NY Daily News respond forthwith with its coveted "Knucklehead Award" for the callous creep.
Not that we're gonna be holding our breathe waiting for this deserved recognition to be sent the mayor's way-not when the Daily News editors seem to be taking their talking points directly from city hall. Yesterday, as if on cue, the News tuned up the governor's budget-a day after the mayor did the same in Albany: "The consequences of Gov. Paterson's failure to craft the revolutionary budget that the times demand are coming into focus - and they are a nightmare for New York City. Confronting a historic deficit, Paterson's approach was utterly conventional and, it is now clear, unworkable. He made hard choices - but they were ordinary choices, rather than extraordinary measures designed to fundamentally restructure state spending."
And in case we didn't know this was a directed comment, we read: "As a result, Mayor Bloomberg testified yesterday, Paterson's plan would force the city to:
*Reduce the ranks of the city's teachers by 8,500 through layoffs and otherwise.
*Lay off 3,150 cops, reducing the NYPD's strength to 1985 levels.
*Lay off 1,050 firefighters and close firehouses.
*Lay off 500 parks workers.
*Drop protective services to 2,700 at-risk."
Bad, bad governor! But earlier the News was less caustic-criticizing Paterson for being unimaginative, but crediting his recognition of the need for austerity: "For floating a budget that would hold spending nearly flat in the face of a historic economic downturn, Gov. Paterson is reaping a whirlwind of outrage from all the usual do-nothing suspects...What the governor proposed was a workmanlike plan to close a $7.4 billion deficit by biting the two single largest areas of state spending: schools and Medicaid."
In recognizing the "workmanlike" nature of the plan, the News understood that the governor-hemmed in by big spenders in both houses of the legislature-was devising a plan that was realistic: "Unfortunately, flaws and all, Paterson's plan is the best we're likely to see. Now he has to stick to it, invoking the full powers of the governorship to block the Legislature from rolling him."
And what about the role played by Bloomberg's ill advised profligacy? Airbrushed out of existence-dismissed like the school children who were left aghast on the city hall steps. As the News observed yesterday: "New York City taxpayers are now in a hell of a bind. After successfully squeezing billions of dollars in costs out of his budget through efficiencies, Bloomberg is up against a $4 billion deficit of his own. And Paterson is digging the hole deeper."
Oh, that valiant, frugal Mike Bloomberg! Is someone having a psychotic episode over on 33rd Street? This is the mayor that raised taxes and spent money like a drunken stockbroker-bloating the city's budget to the point of needing stomach stapling, fiscal bypass surgery. As the NY Times points out this morning-commenting on all of the lucrative jobs being reserved for the mayor's campaign staff: It has been an especially lucrative period for those who left city jobs for the campaign and came back. After the election, Patricia E. Harris, the first deputy mayor, returned to her $245,760 job; Degan Leopold to a $86,528 job in Ms. Harris’s office; and Christiana Huus to a $91,000 post in the office of citywide events coordination. On their way out of campaign headquarters, all received generous campaign bonuses, paid out of Mr. Bloomberg’s pocket. He gave $400,000 to Ms. Harris, $12,000 to Ms. Leopold and $16,000 to Ms. Huus."
Are these hirings part of the "efficiencies" the News lauds? As the Times goes on to say: "The hirings hold risk for Mr. Bloomberg as he tries to make a case to the public that the city is in dire financial need. On Monday, he told state legislators that proposed reductions in state aid would force the city to lay off 18,000 people."
And the overall picture sure isn't the lean and mean one that the News' lap dogging would suggest: "Under Mr. Bloomberg, the city’s labor expenses have swelled, even as the number of workers on the payroll has fallen slightly. The cost of salaries and benefits for the municipal workforce has grown to $35.7 billion from $22.4 billion since he took office, according to the Independent Budget Office. Rising pension costs have caused much of the rise, but Mr. Bloomberg has fueled that problem by granting big raises to city workers, including his own staff. Over the summer, as the financial crisis deepened, Mr. Bloomberg granted City Hall workers annual raises of up to $18,000 a person..."
So, what all of this underscores is the extent to which the Daily News editorial page is an ongoing saga of homage to the wonders of Mike Bloomberg-with side stories on Espada, Monseratte and Rangel (and now Paterson; getting a picture here?) acting as distractions from the peccadillo's of the paper's hero; presented with all of the honesty of a Socialist realism painting.
Which gets us back to those left in the Blomberg dust school kids down at city hall that Liz was so kind to tell us about: "“When I saw him pass by I thought he might stop,” said 12-year-old Miranda Rowe who was holding a letter. “I didn’t think he would just not accept it. I was surprised he didn’t do anything, that he just walked away,” she said. “I thought they’d actually listen because we took the time to come out here and protest.” Miranda’s mother said she was “shocked.”
Miranda's mother's shock would be understandable if all she knew about the mayor she had learned from the editorial pages of the Daily News. For the rest of us, it's simply business as usual for the Mike Bloomberg we have gotten to know over the past eight years.
Noxious Daily News Cartoon
And, as the editorial page goes on in this manner the greater felon, as it were, our own mayor, is allowed to get away with a corruption of the political process that apparently knows no bounds. The story, ironically perhaps, deals with Bloomberg's purchase of the Independence Party and can be found on the Daily Politics blog that thankfully doesn't drip with the same editorial bias.
As DP tells us: "At the height of the fall campaigns, Mayor Bloomberg quietly contributed an eye-popping $1.2 million to the state Independence Party, according to the party's Jan. 15 campaign finance filing. Bloomberg cut the party's housekeeping committee, for which contribution limits do not apply, two $600,000 checks from his personal account - one on Oct. 30 and the other on Nov. 2 (the day before the general elections).Taken together, the two contributions are the largest donation recorded by the board since it started keeping electronic records in 1999 that wasn't from a self-funded candidate to his own campaign."
This apparently isn't any kind of big deal to Morticia-what's a little subornation among friends, after all? Which underscores the hypocrisy and misdirection that lives in the editorial precincts of the tabloids today. Keep a close eye on Espada and Monseratte-or good old Charlie Rangel-while Mike Bloomberg buys off, not only the electorate, but every special interest that is eager to be placed in a dog collar.
Not only that, but cheer while he overturns two city wide referendums, so that the citizenry can benefit from an economic acumen that has left the city with an unemployment rate of 10.6%-its worst in over 17 years! And don't forget to ignore the national school tests in order to lionize the mayor's educational charade as revolutionary.
And while you're at it Mort, keep a close eye on the bumbling governor, but not on the guy in the city who, over eight years, has spent us into an untenable budget situation while making the city the most expensive place to live and do business in. We guess when it comes to a classmate, mum's the word.
Remarkable malfeasance at work here. How about unleashing the investigative talents of Barbara Ross on the Sharpton-Klein alliance? Or how about digging in to the mayor's philanthropic portfolio to discover who's on the Bloomberg retainer? Or, if you can't do that, how about graciously shutting up?
"Additionally, the Department of Taxation and Finance will withdraw its Advisory Opinion regarding the Department’s policy of forbearance of sales by agents of unstamped product to Indian retailers. The Department will promulgate regulations for public comment, a process that will take six months. This action will permit the State to seek the lifting of the injunction preventing the State’s statute prohibiting the sales of unstamped cigarettes to Indian retailers from going into effect. The purpose is to stop a handful of wholesalers from selling unstamped cigarettes. No revenue is currently assumed in the State’s financial plan from tax collections related to these products, as the regulatory process is not yet complete. Governor Paterson maintains his commitment to tribal sovereignty and will work with the State’s Native American tribes to implement these measures in a peaceful and efficient manner."
Which must be why there is no appropriation in the budget for Indian cigarette tax collection. But why make such a big deal over the policy change in your speech last week if you weren't gonna move quickly to enforce? Our answer: simply a rope-a-dope strategy to try to box Senator Finance Chair Carl Kruger and his colleagues in on this inflammatory issue.
And, if you'll notice what Taxation is saying above, you'll realize the audaciousness of this mendacity. The state needs time to go into court and lift the injunction? Really? But the injunction is based on the fact that state hadn't publicly promulgated regulations or issued tax rebate stamps to the Indians-cart and horse anyone? The issuance of the coupons must precede the court action-that is, if one is truly serious and not simply posturing.
And Crain's Insider also weighs in on (subsc.) this issue today: "Euphoria has receded among cigarette-selling merchants in the week since Gov. Paterson announced that the state would enforce the collection of sales taxes on tobacco sold to non-Indians on Indian land. Having realized that Paterson did not include any revenue from such an effort in the budget plan, they worry that he won't follow through."
But, on the issue of regulations, we had a fascinating conversation with former attorney general Oliver Koppell. He told us that the successful defense of the state law in the US Supreme Court that legalizes the right of NY to tax these scofflaws, was based precisely on the state's prerogative to promulgate regulations-regs that were ready to go then and have apparently been gathering dust for 16 years!
Which further erodes the credibility of any delay-as Crain's points out: "The state budget office insists that it will take six months to write and implement regulations so that taxes are collected on Indian land. No revenue was assumed in the budget plan because the regulatory process is not complete, according to the office. However, the budget does assume revenue from various other measures that require state legislation that has yet to be passed, or even written."
So it is this four corner offense of Paterson that will be challenged at our Thursday press conference: "Last year, Paterson backed down on a proposal to tax sugared soda and reversed his opposition to a state income tax hike. To pressure the governor to keep his vow this time, supporters of enforcing the law on cigarette sales are planning a press conference Thursday morning at City Hall. They contend that the $1-a-pack increase should not be implemented until tax collection on Indian cigarette sales begins."
Boy, was the governor right when he said to watch his words, but not his actions. Unfortunately his rhetoric won't pay the bills, or help struggling businesses survive against smugglers and black marketeers.
Here's our advisory for Thursday:
Press Conference on Indian Cigarette Tax Avoidance
Date: January, 28, 2010
Where: City Hall Steps
When: 11 AM
On Thursday, the 28th, a broad based-and growing-coalition of small business, labor, health, and good government groups will join with a diverse array of elected officials to praise Governor Paterson for his decision to rescind the, “letter of forbearance” that has enabled state government to continue to allow Indian cigarette retailers to sell untaxed smoke.
Because of this misguided policy, the state is not only losing close to $1.6 billion a year-with now over half of all cigarettes sold in New York coming from untaxed (primarily Indian) sources-but there is an accompanying black market that increases access to cigarettes, particularly for children.
At the same time, the coalition will also be calling on the governor to insure that regulations are promptly promulgated, and that-pursuant to these regulations- all cigarettes sold in the state must have a tax stamp affixed; and any tax agent/wholesaler that violates the rule will have their license revoked. In addition, the state needs to issue coupons to the Indians so they can recoup the tax on cigarettes sold exclusively to other Indians.
Finally, the governor needs to instruct the attorney general to go into court to lift the injunction on the law’s enforcement-a ruling made because the state had made no effort to promulgate rules or issue tax coupons in the first place when the law was first passed.
It is our view, that there is no need for a long drawn out process that will not only allow the current black market to flourish, but will also deprive the state of the much needed tax revenue that could be immediately made available if the state acts expeditiously. The governor is giving every indication that he will drag this out for six months or more, effectively pushing the issue aside for a likely successor to deal with. This is totally unacceptable.
In addition, and given the evident foot dragging we have seen, the governor’s proposal to add an additional $1 a pack cigarette tax is unwise and counterproductive until the current Indian loophole is substantially closed. If this isn’t done, the state will have created an even wider differential between taxed and untaxed cigarettes, fueling to an even greater extent the flourishing black market.
The coalition that will be attending includes representatives from all of the state and city’s major small retail association. Among those groups planning to attend are the Bodega Association, the New York State Association of Convenience Stores, the Newsstand Operators Association and the Korean American Small Business Service Center. These retailers have borne the brunt of the loss sales that have resulted from the growing black market and are losing over $250 million a year to the city’s black market.
Also attending will be the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Stroke Association, Project Aspire, and Hip Hop Healing. We anticipate that a representative from the NY State Association of Counties will also be present to voice support for enforcement of the tax laws.
The governor in his State of the State address has said that this is the moment that we need to respond forcefully against what he characterized as the special interests. In our view, there is no more special an interest than Indian cigarette dealers who have been allowed to operate beyond the laws that the thousands of other small retailers are forced to live with.
In the process, the state’s tax payers have been victimized and the efforts of health advocates to reduce the prevalence of smoking have been thwarted by an out-of-control black market that has flooded our streets with lower priced cigarettes.
Elected Officials who are tentatively scheduled to attend: Senators Carl Kruger, Jeff Klein, Pedro Espada and Addabbo. Assembly members Nelson Castro, Jose Rivera, Michael Benjamin,and Marcos Crespo. Council member Ydanis Rodriguez
Richard Lipsky (914-572-2865)
Monday, January 25, 2010
Derailing the Collusion Express
And in addition, there might have been more safeguards negotiated to insure that the final environmental review for the one actual mitigating factor-proposed ramps off of the Van Wyck-was done by an independent team of consultants, with a proviso that the entire review process be re-submitted to the council for approval. All of this might have happened if there was any genuine concern for environmental impacts at either the city council or the city planning commission.
The reality is, however, that the entire ULURP process has degenerated into a Kabuki theater performance-with the AKRF's and URS's of the world getting paid huge coin for an expensive pantomime act that is never really examined by any of the decision makers in the legislative play acting. In fact, as we told our consultant Ketcham-a true Diogenes in a world of liars for hire-the only time these traffic studies actually get read is when the Alliance hires him to review them.
So, while a reform of the ULURP fraud is way over due, we come back to the sleight-of-hand exercise on the Willets Point traffic stop. The original EIS-and its accompanying traffic study-was handled by the folks at AKRF, the same candid cameras who gave us the duel representation effort on the Columbia expansion scheme; representing the city for a blight study, and Columbia for the environmental review.
Now AKRF doesn't do the traffic work-and in the case of Willets Point the work was farmed out to an outfit called Eng-Wong Taub. Still, as we pointed out, E-WT's analysis, although alarming and severe, was still de minimis, underestimating just what the overall traffic volume would do to the contiguous communities. But what is truly alarming, is that the second subcontractor for the AMR (ramps) report-URS-has managed to submit traffic data that totally contradicts what is contained in the original traffic study done under ULURP for the original zoning application.
As Brian Ketcham's letter has told NYSDOT-the review agency for the ramps-the AMR report fails to account for the original documentation provided the city under CEQR: "However, I will show you that the draft AMR does not appear to fully account for the Willets Point Development Plan and other approved development in close proximity to the ramps that will generate approximately 100,000 trips per day in 2017 (including 80,000 from the Willets Point project) and will continue to do so in 2035."
Which means that AKRF-yes, once again-as the general contractor for both the FGEIS and the AMR report (or at least the consultant that was most familiar with both documents) has managed to keep quiet about what it should know intimately: that the two reports are contradictory, with the AMR document a clear attempt to both minimize and mislead the NYSDOT and the FHWA authority so that the ramps can be approved-even though they will apparently do little to mitigate the severe traffic impacts that the Willets Point development will foist on its neighboring communities.
All of which should provide ample fodder for a State Senate Transportation Committee hearing-and the fact that Senator Perkins, the official who has lead the fight against agency/consultant collusion, also sits on the committee is fortuitous for those who want to put an end to fixed development games sponsored by quasi-independent state or city agencies. In the case of Willets Point, sunlight will be the best disinfectant.
Artificial Budget Sweetener
Some of this is brought home in a City Room post last week-a story that highlights our good friend Nelson Eusebio and his anti-beverage tax coalition: "Mr. Eusebio wears two hats, both firmly cocked against the soft-drink tax. He is the chairman of New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes, which describes itself as a coalition that opposes “unfair and misdirected beverage tax increases.” Its members include soft-drink bottling companies, vending machine trade groups and supermarket chains. He is also the executive director of the National Supermarket Association, which represents more than 400 supermarkets in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut."
Eusebio points out how this kind of tax has a negative ripple effect throughout the beverage distribution system: "While the governor is taking aim at obesity caused by sugary drinks, Mr. Eusebio worries that the proposed tax would slim down the beverage industry, which he said pays $6.7 billion in wages statewide and generates billions more for the economy."
From the manufacturer, to the advertiser, to the route driver, right down to the bodega on the corner-but these kinds of cold realities don't penetrate the minds of some-like Times editorial writers, as well as the governor-who have little appreciation or understanding of how business works; and how the fact that it does so, has benefits that many are able to partake in.
And then there is the law of unintended consequences-and how a soda tax would push the price of the product higher than low priced beer: "“A six-pack of soda is going to cost you approximately $4.99” if the penny-an-ounce tax goes through, Mr. Eusebio said, “where you can pick up beer from $2.99 to $3.99.” Off to the neighborhood supermarket, where it turned out that Mr. Eusebio’s math was not far off. With the tax, a six-pack of Coca-Cola or Pepsi would cost 2 cents more than a six-pack of the cheapest beer in the store."
All of this frankly turns our stomachs. The governor is trying to posture as a man concerned with the health of our children while he simultaneously picks their pockets; and those of their parents and the local neighborhood stores that are simply struggling to survive. All of this comes along with the demonization of an entire industry-with those failing twin enterprises, the Boston Globe and the NY Times leading the way.
As the Globe opined last year-conflating correlation with causation and citing no less a health authority than the president: "Obama said. “And every study that’s been done about obesity shows that there is a high correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity.’’ Sure, along with everything else under the sun-including potato chips, Twinkies, fast food, and ice cream.
Pardon us for being skeptical of Dr. Obama-and the equivalency game between soda and tobacco is simply tendentious. As one critic of the soda tax points out-critiquing the genius of the Times' Nicholas Kristoff: "Kristof is also way off base in his effort to liken non-diet soft drinks to tobacco. “These days,” Kristof asserts, “sugary drinks are to American health roughly what tobacco was a generation ago.” Kristof then quotes long-time food nanny Barry Popkin, who says, “Soft drinks are linked to diabetes and obesity in the way that tobacco is to lung cancer.” As this column has pointed out before, there simply is no scientific basis for concluding that non-diet drinks cause obesity or diabetes. The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2002 that, “There is no clear and consistent association between increased intake of added sugars and [body weight].” And this remains true today."
And, of course, the nannies will not be dissuaded by evidence, nor will they simply park their health intrusion truck in the long term soda lot. Not when there is so much else left to regulate.
We're all for educating people to live better lives-but government tax policies that punish certain products and industries are not the right way to go. Maybe our governor should try to stick to economic development policies that promote job growth, and leave the health hectoring to our well meaning spouses and significant others-a category he will soon find out, from New Yorkers at least, that he is permanently excluded from.
And We Elected This Mayor Because...?
On the other hand, it prints a wide range of intelligent critiques demonstrating that-as per Diane Ravitch-the very same educational experiment is a fraudulent house of cards, built on bogus and inflated test scores that hide the fact the, for all the extra money the city has spent in this area, nothing has really improved dramatically-if it has improved at all.
It also prints excellent analyses from E. J. McMahon, Nicole Gelinas and Steve Malanga-along with other like minded editorials-that demonstrate irrefutably how the mayor's own tax and spend big government policies have exacerbated the city's current economic plight-raising questions about just why we needed to overturn the voter's will on term limits to give a third chance to a mediocre incumbent.
And just yesterday, the Post allows Steve Malanga to once again lay waste to the Myth of Mike-placing responsibility for the city's current dire plight right at the mayor's feet: "Defending an increase in real estate taxes in 2003, Mayor Bloomberg described New York City as a “luxury product” that businesses were willing to pay more for. “It isn’t Wal-Mart,” the Mayor said, “it isn’t trying to be the lowest-priced product on the market.” But the mayor was ignoring the tens of thousands of businesses outside of Wall Street that operate throughout the city on low profit margins in highly competitive markets, businesses that struggle to cope with the city’s high costs and are especially vulnerable to a steep recession. And now New Yorkers are seeing what happens to a “luxury product” in a steep recession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data show that the unemployment rate in the city has exceeded the nation’s, jumping to 10.6%, with nearly 425,000 people looking for work — the most in the 33 years since records have been kept."
Which brings us-along with Malanga-right back to the lame State of the City address that we commented on last week; one that didn't receive the derision that it truly deserved: "In his state of the city speech last week, Mayor Bloomberg listed a series of modest steps to help firms survive and the unemployed find work. But unless the city tackles the big cost disadvantages for businesses, nothing short of a major, unexpected revival on Wall Street will bring back the jobs the city is now losing."
Malanga is way too kind to the mayor-and we would add that his Hizzoner's enablers at the editorial boards of all three local papers deserve opprobrium for their own myopia. Here's the key point: "The city lost an estimated 80,000 jobs last year and, the data show, those losses go well beyond struggling financial firms. Hard-hit manufacturers, many of which perpetually struggle to survive in expensive New York, shed 12,000 jobs in 2009. The city’s retailers eliminated some 10,000 positions, while core industries like publishing, legal services and real estate all contracted by thousands of jobs."
Which is precisely why we derided all of the concern for the "lost jobs" at the Kingsbridge Armory-demonstrating an almost psychotic break kind of view of the reality in the Bronx that has seen the continual loss of manufacturing jobs with little response from a mayor afflicted with an edifice complex. Does anyone remember the mayor's concern for the closing of the Stella D'Oro plant?
No the attention needs to be paid to the horrid business climate that the mayor-while he didn't create it-certainly did his damnedest to perpetuate: "Let’s start with property taxes. Thanks to the mayor’s tax increases, as well as sharp boosts in assessments, firms located in Midtown Manhattan pay, on average, $15.20 a square foot in property taxes, up 53% since 2001, according to research by the Studley real estate firm. That bite is more than triple the national average of $4.48 a square foot for major cities, and it’s five times the average of commercial property taxes per square foot in northern New Jersey, resulting in millions of dollars of extra taxes for big companies The bottom line: Since 2002, total real estate tax collections in New York have almost doubled, from $8.6 billion to $16.1 billion — a rate of growth nearly three times the rate of inflation."
But, as Malanga points out, these short term gains for temporary budgetary relief have long term negative repercussions, as firms like JetBlue look to flee to tax friendlier climes. But real estate taxes aren't the entire story by any means: "Real estate taxes only begin to tell the story of New York’s competitive disadvantage, however. A 2007 Independent Budget Office study of the overall tax burden in America’s largest cities calculated that the local tax bite in Gotham is 90% higher than the average in America’s other large cities. Taxes on business make up a large part of the difference."
The Bloomberg story is one of profligacy, with the mayor playing the role of the grasshopper to the city's struggling small business ants. More importantly, however, is that this was a story that was purposefully hidden during the last campaign by a NY Post that should have known better-and should have been truer to its core convictions. If the incumbent was anyone other than billionaire Mike, would the paper had been as kind?
Here's the budgetary horror show under the reign of error: "Even more troubling is that the city taxes have grown under Bloomberg, who constructed the city’s budget as if the housing and finance bubbles of a few years ago would go on forever. A previous IBO study estimated that the local tax burden in 1997 was 79% higher than other cities, but the burden then shrank because of tax cuts enacted by the Giuliani administration and the City Council in the late 1990s. Between 1997 and 2000, the burden declined by about 8%, before starting to rise again under Bloomberg."
And has continued to rise-along with an unconscionable regulatory burden that Bloomberg finds to be unacceptable only when it is applied to his beloved Wall Street. And the concomitant business loss has lead directly to the rising unemployment rate. Something has got to give: "This can’t go on. In a post-meltdown city that no longer can harness the enormous earning power that Wall Street, New York will have to find ways to make itself more competitive by cutting taxes and other levies on businesses, which it can only do if it also restrains spending, which is the highest on a per capita basis among major cities, and far higher than most suburban locations."
So, NYC has re-elected the very same mayor-on a platform of a recycled "Five Borough Economic Plan-whose policies are directly responsible for the city's current dire straights. All that's missing now is for the NY Post to re-channel its inner Giuliani and give Mike Bloomberg the performance review he-and its readers-richly deserves.
Friday, January 22, 2010
It's still incredible after the Small Business Survival Act Committee hearings last year when the Deputy Mayor Walsh for Small Business, etc., bragged of loans available to small business, when over 95% of the struggling main street neighborhood businesses don't need more debt, they need relief from the high fines, taxes and rising cost to operate a business here and live here.
We introduced studies taken of what over 95% of the NYC small businesses need and guess what, it wasn't loans! Even the Feds in DC don't get it, bragging about loans available for the small businesses. Well for those that need it, great, but the overwhelming majority of small businesses don't! The last eight years demonstrate with a clear record to look at that the mayor for two terms actually hurt small business more than any other mayor since the great depression.
What small business, real world, hands on experience does he or his staff bring to the discussion? How many worked in main street retail, mom & pop stores, local service businesses, grocery or local supermarkets, etc?? How many owned or managed them? The time is now for the real working small business owners to be invited to the table to make policy addressing their needs now for main street and every community in NYC.
Bryan does a good job at recapitulating the long years of hard work put into the redevelopment of the Armory by members of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition-the foundation of KARA: "In the case of Kingsbridge, though, Pilgrim-Hunter recounts a 13-year campaign, spanning two administrations, that began when the community and clergy coalition demanded that the armory be redeveloped, and reached a clear and early consensus that redevelopment had to meet community needs. "If we had a singular advantage, it was that we initiated the process, and we drove the process through to the end,” said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a leader of KARA and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition."
And the proper kudos are given to KARA's union supporters: "Community Benefits Agreements in Los Angeles and elsewhere have been successful. In New York, though, developers routinely use such agreements as cover for bad projects. In 2005, mindful of both scenarios -- and knowing that securing a seat at the table provided no assurance that the community would be served anything but crumbs -- 19 organizations founded KARA. They included the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, local housing and community organizations, and, in a departure from the standard community-vs.-developer playbook, labor with Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, which represents porters, doormen and other property service workers; the NYC Building Trades; and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union."
And Bryan gives proper due to the RWDSU's other work at the community level: "For its part, the retail workers union had worked with community organizations before, joining with Make the Road by Walking in Bushwick and working with GOLES (Good Old Lower Eastside) to create the Retail Action Project in SoHo in support of workers fighting against wage theft and other abuses. Before the decline of organized labor in the U.S., unions were a part of the social fabric. If unions are to grow -- or even survive -- in the new economy, they need to rebuild their links to communities, according to Jeff Eichler, the retail workers' representative to KARA. Forming alliances and supporting low-wage, non-unionized workers in communities like the Northwest Bronx are very much in the unions’ self-interest, Eichler said."
In addition, Bryan also keenly understands some of the shortcomings of the ULURP process: "Communities are typically caught flat-footed when the ULURP clock starts ticking: It’s hard to assess the situation, coalesce around a response and put a strategy in play before the 185-day timer runs down. Instead, changes needed for the project to gain final approval from the City Council are often embodied in 11-th hour side agreements, negotiated behind closed doors."
What's missing from this, at least as far as it goes, prescient understanding of the Armory battle? The role of MortonWilliams, the Alliance and the coalition of Hispanic supermarket owners who were. arguably, the catalysts for the ultimate defeat of the project. This mixture of small business elements gets totally airbrushed in Bryan's otherwise incisive understanding of what happened in the Bronx.
But this lacuna in her analysis is not only insulting, it also serves to mystify and romanticize what actually happened-ignoring how the Alliance and its allies were in many ways the linchpin of the politics of the development's defeat, beginning with the fact that MortonWilliams paid for all of the traffic studies that provided the rationale for the city council's negative vote.
But the supermarket exclusion issue isn't even in Bryan's picture. Yet, it was this issue that was the initial impetus for uniting the entire Bronx delegation-the first step towards its coalescing on the wage issue. So, it goes without saying, that KARA and its allies were a necessary ingredient for the project's demise, but KARA wasn't alone; and to ignore the small business component of the opposition is to miss a vital aspect of this successful campaign.
The Alliance has been in the forefront of many such campaigns, and in each and every one of them there has been both a community as well as a small business component in the successful coalition-and on numerous occasions, labor has played a key role also. On the other hand, there have been a plethora of community only coalitions that have floundered because they didn't have either the critical mass necessary, or the political acumen to successfully navigate the policy making process.
The absence of this key factor in Bryan's analysis takes away from what would have been a thoroughly insightful overview of the campaign's success. The Alliance and MortonWillams deserved better for the role that they played.