Friday, April 30, 2010

Save St. Vincent's Hospital

Community Town Hall Meeting on St. Vincent's Hospital
Come ask questions and get involved in organizing our community to fight for a hospital in Lower Manhattan and nothing less !
Date: Friday, April 30, 2010
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: Hudson Guild (Fulton Center - 9th Ave between 17th and 18th Sts)
Address: 119 9th Avenue, New York, NY

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Repealing self-dealing

The « Pelican Brief » on Mike Bloomberg's ethics

Ever since I received the latest comment ("Somehow when Mike Bloomberg does something good, he doesn't get any credit. A few minor issues seem to invalidate all the good he does in people's minds.") from an anonymous YouTube profile ("hoochee003"), I've been thinking about how to state in one clear blog post one of the "few minor issues," which highlights how Mayor Michael Bloomberg has breached the social contract, which gives him the right to govern New York City.

John Alan Cohan once wrote that there is a "popular perception that government officials serve their own purposes and those of influential interest groups, rather than those of the public." Further, "the public sees politicians as disconnected from the fundamental principles they ought to be serving." Let's examine the record, to see how Mr. Cohan's statements, although not made about Mayor Bloomberg, can still apply to the shady way that Bloombo Dicto bent the laws to run for a controversial third term as mayor.

In early 2008, Mayor Bloomberg decided to bow out of the race for U.S. President. Because the presidential race proved to be so costly and the public was suffering from Republican fatigue, Mayor Bloomberg, who was already nearing the end of his maximum two terms as mayor of New York City, had to look for another gig. By late 2008, Mayor Bloomberg decided to keep his mayoral title, even though, at the time, it was against the law.

While he was holding a public office, Mayor Bloomberg thought that there was nothing wrong with choosing to change the law with a self-serving result to help him win another, previously-forbidden, election. In addition to striking a deal with the City Council to change the law, as was correctly predicted by artist and political activist Suzannah B. Troy in her prophetic YouTube video, but the Mayor was also able to get his way by striking another deal with a respected private citizen, who had the important role of being a government watchdog.

Within days of having publicly acknowledged or announced his intention to change the laws banning third terms for local politicians, Mayor Bloomberg reached an agreement with civic activist and term limits champion, Ronald Lauder. Mr. Lauder, who had twice underwritten voter referendums that put into place restrictions of two term for local, elected government officials. The pact called for Mr. Lauder to support Mayor Bloomberg's ill-conceived, self-serving term limits extension in exchange for Mayor Bloomberg offering Mr. Lauder an appointment to a city charter revision commission to be formed by Mayor Bloomberg, once Mayor Bloomberg had safely been reëlected to a third term.

Mayor Bloomberg's excuse for needing to run for a third term was that he offered the kind of leadership (aka "fiscal prudence") needed by the city to get through the financial crisis. His strategy involved baiting many term limits' compromised City Councilmembers to vote through a self-dealing extension of term limits; not only would Mayor Bloomberg be eligible to run for a previously-unavailable third term, but so would council members, like Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who were publicly thought of being interested in running for mayor, but who now had to kill 4 more years because they were afraid to publicly challenge the powerful mayor. Since Mayor Bloomberg had decided to bow out of the 2008 presidential race, now everybody else had to put the advancement of their political careers on hold, too.

And if that wasn't enough, midway through the 2009 campaign season, the City Council, which was caught up in a slush fund scandal and had nevertheless passed Mayor Bloomberg's extension of term limits, made its own foray into compromising another important government watchdog : the Office of the Public Advocate. After the Public Advocate publicly criticised the manner in which the City Council and the mayor were changing the term limits law, the City Council proposed a budget, which was accepted by Mayor Bloomberg, which slashed the Public Advocate's budget by an unbelievable 40 per cent. The "job of the Public Advocate is, most fundamentally, that of a watchdog, ensuring that all New Yorkers receive the City services they deserve and have a voice in shaping the policies of their government." (As a matter of fact, the City Council continues to fret anytime the Public Advocate makes mention of the City Council's slush fund scandal.)

After having spent a record amount of money as of November 2009 (over $100 million) to win his ill-fated third term, Mayor Bloomberg only "won by fewer than 5 percent points, at a cost of roughly $20 million for each point," The New York Times reported. Undoubtedly, there was a backlash by the voting public to the cynical method used by Mayor Bloomberg to win reëlection. Fast-forward to March 2010, and Mr. Lauder decided to decline the offer he had accepted in October 2008 (to have served on the karmically-doomed city charter revision commission, which was widely expected to have reset term limits back to two terms). Looks like Mayor Bloomberg was losing the political cover he needed to cloak his machinations and transactions with any shred of credibility.

In social contract theory, it can be said that public servants have a responsibility of respecting a duty of care when carrying out their official tasks. The idea of this theory is that when you first run for public office, you are making an implied promise to give up self-dealing and self-interest for the greater good of society. It's supposed to motivated by a selfless act of wanting to give, not a selfish act of expecting to receive.

In response to hoochee003's request to show cause, the bottom line is that, when we all look back at what hoochee003 may call a "minor issue," we rightly see the manipulative manner in which Mayor Bloomberg fabricated a case to win his third term as mayor of New York City. Mayor Bloomberg essentially and intentionally deceived voters into believing that we needed the business expertise of his billion dollar deal-making in this time of financial crisis so that we could benefit from his personal business acumen. And just like there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify its invasion, likewise there is no proof that New York is served better as a result of Mayor Bloomberg's financial expertise to justify the enactment of a self-dealing loophole to the term limits law. Two prime examples come to mind : the bottomless hole in the MTA's deficit and the closing of St. Vincent's Hospital. If it can be said with genuine sincerity that each new announcement of the MTA's budget deficit, which incidentally seems to come far more frequently than the G train, only come as a "surprise" to politicians, then what explains the fact that the Bloomberg administration actually "anticipated" the closing of St. Vincent's Hospital -- yet did nothing about it ? Where has the mayor's financial acumen been on display ? If the financial insolvency of neither a subway system that carries millions of people each day, nor a hospital critical to the care and lives of many thousands of New Yorkers trigger the leadership of such a financial genius that we have in Mayor Bloomberg, then what will ?

Meanwhile, it is difficult not to imagine that Mayor Bloomberg stands to personally gain from clinging onto the mayoral office for four more years, until such time as he could perhaps reconsider running for president in the next election cycle. This has all been a patent violation of public trust, which is, if you will recall, an important underpinning of the social contract we make with one another in a representative democracy. Whereas, in the case of Mayor Bloomberg's third term win, his acts of self-dealing involved misappropriation of opportunities, not money. In contrast to what Mr. Cohan wrote, the "key to reëlection or winning an election" may not necessarily only be "money," but could also include compromising the integrity of government watchdogs, like Mr. Lauder or the Public Advocate.

Now, therefore, if social contract theory calls for selflessness, then we can all agree that that is not how we can describe the political machinations and transactions Bloombo Dicto needed to bring about, in order to to win his third term. He used his position of power and influence over the City Council and government watchdogs.

Sometimes, I wonder whether if it can be shown that a self-dealing politician can be considered a fiduciary, whose powers of the purse make him accountable to a higher standard of ethics and professionalism, then would it constitute a breach of the fiduciary responsibility or relationship for that self-dealing politician to have engaged in machinations or transactions that benefited himself ? Could a courageous citizen come forth and make a showing that they were harmed by the self-dealing changes in term limits or the decimation of the Public Advocate's budget ? Could such a cause be able to recover the citizen's loss of property or rights, as well as disgorge the politician's wrongful profits or winnings ?
What kinds of profits or winnings can a wealthy mayor pocket if all he earns is $1 per year ? The perks that come with being a top government official can actually save a billionaire a lot of money. The high level of security that an otherwise wealthy private citizen would have to pay can be substantial. But if you also happen to be wealthy and mayor of New York City, you can make out very well by receiving security in form of NYPD escorts at your discretion. A wealthy citizen, who just so happens to also be mayor, can put many of his campaign workers onto the city's payrolls, in order to transfer the expenses of their employment from one's pocketbook to the city's treasury. Furthermore, a wealthy politician can also appoint city employees to represent his various private charitable efforts, which also serves to help one save money and perpetuate his power over important city cultural institutions. Still further yet, a politician can also save money on publicity, like asking the city to create or broadcast video footage of one's numerous vanity trips, for the sole purpose of building one's political brand.

For billionaires, whose assets are comprised of or concentrated in one single large investment or business ownership (but who may or may not also be cash poor), finding ways to transfer one's lifestyle expenses can save a billionaire from having to draw down his ownership, or turn to borrowing against his ownership interest, in his flagship enterprise. This is all hypothetically-speaking, mind you, but besides the prestige, there are all of the above financial motivational factors that can inspire a wealthy businessman to become a politician or, at least, encourage him to cling to his political title, even if he deceptively claims he is a selfless public servant. It could take the form of this : pretending to do public service as charity by paying oneself only $1 per year. Do you see how that might work ? Taxpayer money is going to pay for a wealthy person's lifestyle, not to further any service to the public.

Meanwhile, that other government watchdog, the editorial board of The New York Times, which endorsed Bloombo Dicto's third term campaign, suddenly is finding something wrong with the rubber stamp nature of the city charter revision commission. This is the very city charter revision commission, which was supposed to include Mr. Lauder and which was born out of a deal to let Bloombo Dicto keep his office until the next presidential campaign. Why should it come to anyone's surprise that nothing good can ever come out of such ill-fated, karmically-doomed self-dealing ? How can a reasonable person have any altruistic expectation from a compromised city charter revision commission that was created with no regard to public trust ?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The return of the YouTube Hater, Online Bully, and possible Identity Thief

Anonymous YouTube Hater profile hoochee003 (possibly aka BloombergForLife, CIoeBuckingham, LordCarruthers, hoochee002, et al.) strikes again.

On YouTube, we all know about members who leave nasty comments. We call them, "haters." But some members cross the line, like the owner of the anonymous profile, "hoochee003."

During the 2009 campaign for New York City mayor, hoochee003 posted many harassing comments on the activist YouTube videos that were made by Suzannah B. Troy and I. Some of hoochee003's comments were inane and harmless, but the volume of comments were sometimes great, and the fact that hoochee003 would jump from one activist's YouTube account to another showed that his intention was to harass and bully online activists.

Since many anonymous comments were posted on our videos leading up to last year's mayoral election, it has become suspicious that so many hateful, nasty, and negative comments could be generated in such a short period of time from a series of anonymous YouTube profiles. One of the anonymous profiles even represented that he was Tony Avella, the former New York City Councilman. At times, it has been thought that all of these anonymous profiles were the act of one person working under different YouTube usernames. After Ms. Troy informed the real Mr. Avella of the suspected identity theft, action was taken to suspend the fraudulent account.

As a result of the way Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council denied voters a referendum on term limits last year, an internet community was created, in opposition to the unethical and highly questionable official acts by the Mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Because many online activists were linking to each others' blogs, online posts, and YouTube videos, these anonymous profiles were able to stalk the opposing online activist community. There is evidence to show that the owner of an anonymous profile would jump from one activist's message to another's, in a series of coordinated actions, the sole intention of which could only be described as harassment.

This week, one of those anonymous YouTube profiles has returned to further post hateful comments.

If the Internet is all about the democratisation of communication and interconnectedness on a massive, world-wide scale, then there is something wrong when the likely owner of a series of YouTube profiles abuses the platform that is supposed to facilitate a two-way conversation over the Internet. Where the owner of these anonymous profiles may cross the line is that his or her actions can be deemed harassment, because the hateful comments are perpetual, there is no way to have a meaningful conversation with the profiles' owner, and the one-sided nature of the offensive comments only causes frustration and are clearly intended to disturb or upset the productive online community. It threatens to disturb, silence, or censor the independent voice of online activists, who are trying to make a positive contribute to the online community and to New York society.

From September 22-23, 2009, Ms. Troy's YouTube account was suspended by YouTube for reasons that were never clearly explained. This possible act of censorship by YouTube (many of Ms. Troy's videos involve the subjects of her art, her reviews of the arts, and her views of politics) is in striking contrast to how YouTube tolerates anonymous users like hoochee003 (and other online bullies), who post pejorative, racist, sexist, offensive, and homophobic comments.

How can YouTube respect hoochee003's freedom of speech, when it clearly lacks the integrity to respect Ms. Troy's ?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reflecting badly on Bloombo Dicto

Quoted entirely from The New York Times, but with an added hyperlink at the very end :
Editorial : Redoing the City Charter
Published: April 9, 2010

To help quiet the uproar about changing New York City’s term-limits law so he could run for a third term, Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised to set up a commission to rethink the City Charter from top to bottom. The mayor has said “every issue will be on the table, and every voice will be heard,” which is appropriate for what amounts to the first major review of the city’s governing constitution since 1989.

The committee began work last week and already there are uncomfortable signs that issues of particular interest to Mr. Bloomberg — like term limits and nonpartisan voting — will be hurried through in an effort to get them on the ballot in November. That would be a serious mistake, and reflect badly on the mayor and the 15 able civic leaders he has named to the commission.

Any broad recasting of the City Charter has to be done methodically and fairly. That cannot possibly happen in time for this November’s ballot. The following November is not a good choice either, because there would be little else to draw voters to the polls. The most sensible date would be 2012, even if that means reappointing the commission beyond its two-year term.

The commission’s chairman, Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York, has promised to keep some distance from City Hall and engage in “extensive public outreach” before any proposals are made. His first effort was not encouraging. On very short notice, only about 100 people showed up for the commission’s only scheduled public hearing in Manhattan. One official rightly deemed the turnout as “disgraceful” for a city of opinionated people.

The abbreviated session further reinforced suspicions that the whole exercise is really aimed at getting a swift vote this year on term limits and nonpartisan elections. Term limits are a seductive but fundamentally undemocratic idea that can prematurely terminate the careers of some very good public servants. Voters should decide who gets thrown out of office and who stays longer on the job.

Nonpartisan elections are another lofty-sounding idea that create more problems than they solve. Political parties can keep good candidates from succeeding, but parties vet many more. Winners in nonpartisan elections often turn out to have only one real asset: loads of cash. Nonpartisan elections also could undermine New York’s model campaign financing laws.

There are other important issues that need to be addressed. The comptroller, not the public advocate, should assume the mayor’s duties if the mayor can no longer serve. The city’s land use system needs rethinking. Ways should be found to encourage more candidates to run for office and to increase voter turnout.

The last major charter revision was almost three years in the making. Slapping a few politically charged items on the ballot this fall is a recipe for mischief. The commission must do it right: aim for 2012.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Charter revision, barter commission

Copied entirely from The New York Times :

Flashback to October 2008 : Groups See Ethics Violation In Mayor's Pledge to Lauder

Published: October 10, 2008

Two civic groups said on Thursday that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg violated the city's ethics laws when he pledged to put Ronald S. Lauder on a charter revision commission in exchange for his support for the mayor's third-term effort.

The groups, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause, made the charge in a complaint filed with the city's Conflicts of Interest Board.

Mr. Lauder, who underwrote the campaign in 1993 to create the city's two-term limit for elected officials, had posed a serious threat to Mr. Bloomberg's plans to legislatively allow a third term.

Mr. Lauder had vowed to oppose the mayor's plan to make a three-term limit permanent, until Wednesday, when Mr. Bloomberg promised to appoint him to a charter revision commission that could return the law to its original limit of two terms.

The civic groups contend that the deal violates a provision of the City Charter, which says that a mayor cannot ''use or attempt to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant.''

In their complaint, the groups said that ''we believe that Mayor Bloomberg has used his position in a prohibited manner to obtain personal advantage in a quid pro quo deal with Ronald Lauder.''

Mr. Lauder's support, they said, represents a ''a great gain, given Mr. Lauder's track record of spending millions to defend the current two-term limit.''

Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, said there was no conflict of interest. ''This is purely a publicity stunt by people who are distorting the intent of the conflicts law because they disagree with the mayor on a matter of public policy.'' He added: ''It's the first of what will likely be many headline-seeking activities to prevent the City Council from exercising its authority to change a local law.''

Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that ''more and more, the mayor looks like just another politician desperate to do anything to save his government job.''

Two members of the City Council filed a separate complaint on Thursday with the Conflicts of Interest Board. The members, Bill de Blasio and Letitia James, contend that extending term limits would be self-dealing, since it would allow legislators to seek a third term in office.

Like the civic groups, the council members cited a city law that prohibits elected officials from using their positions for ''private or personal advantage.''

Friday, April 9, 2010

Save St. Vincent's Hospital

The US census nonsense us : St. Vincent's Hospital is closing before the 2010 Census can confirm that we really need it to stay open.

Count us down and out.

According to an exposé on NY1, "Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city had been anticipating the closure of St. Vincent's Hospital, and that the New York City Fire Department is ready to take over the hospital's 13 ambulance tours as soon as it is needed."

Naturally, this is the same FDNY that the Mayor is trying to gut with his plans for disastrous layoffs, dangerous firehouse closings, and devastating budget cuts.

The closing of St. Vincent's Hospital is occurring during the 2010 Census. Meanwhile, back at the New York State census website, we are told propaganda on the FAQ page that analysis of the census would help determine whether our communities need more hospitals.

4. How does census information affect my community?

Census data is used to determine the need for social services, including community development block grants and other grant programs essential to many communities. Census information helps determine locations for schools, roads, hospitals, child-care and senior centers, and more.

2010 Census,MTA SubTalk Poster

Back to the NY1 exposé article, the importance of St. Vincent's Hospital on the community was analysed by these precious statistics : "St. Vincent's currently employs 3,500 people and averages 60,000 emergency room visits per year."

Sounds like the hospital is needed now, and is pretty vital to the community, now don't it ?