No, not the blizzard mess; secretly aiding Islamism....
No, not the blizzard mess; secretly aiding Islamism....
Michelle Rhee's DC departure is now official....
This New York Times front-pager chronicles an unsolved new York murder case dating back to...1609. Read this short article for a little spice in nasty times.
Last week fire destroyed the landmark mansion of Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Destroyed in the blaze was a priceless collection of highly-valued African-American art, which Mrs. Cafritz was considering giving to a major museum in DC. The blaze might have been put out in minutes, but for lack of water pressure at any of the nearby fire hydrants. Firefighters were thus helpless to prevent a catastrophic loss. Among other gifts, Cafritz also is a founder of the celebrated Duke Ellington School of the Arts. She also once headed the D.C. Board of Education.
What is one to make of this? Put simply, it represents a grotesque combination of stupefying civic incompetence and epic ingratitude: the nation's capital city local government failed to provide basic minimum protective services to one of its grandest ever benefactors. Mrs. Cafritz, to be sure, has too much politesse to personally point this out.
A Washington Post editorial supplies added shockers: the Georgetown Library & Eastern Market in DC, as well as other buildings, have burned down for the same reason. The WP editors ask:
Once again, a Washington landmark lies in ruins. And once again, D.C. residents are justifiably left to wonder whether the city, its agencies and its infrastructure are minimally competent to handle a basic urban function.
Bottom Line. If this is how the city treats one of its most generous citizens, how well can the rest of the citizenry expect to be treated? (Hint: Don't ask.)
What the Lord hath given Al Gore in the Pacific Northwest--a record heat wave--the Almighty hath taken away from New York City. The NY Times reports that New York City has finished its second or third coldest June-July (final tally depended upon July 31 figures, not available for article) in 140 years--not a single 90-degree day in either month.
The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday on an astonishing tale of bureaucratic insanity: District of Columbia officials delayed replacing old cars of the type that were involved in last week's catastrophic train wreck because--the DC government had financed purchase of the cars via a tax shelter for which early winding down carried financial penalties, meaning that replacement could not take place before 2014.
A friend and LFTC reader has published for more than 25 years a superb private newsletter covering a broad range of issues. He labels all District items "Lost Colony." This latest episode illustrates why.
The AP reports that in New York City 700 public school teachers are being paid to do....nothing. Well, actually, as the AP reports, they are doing things--just not anything that can be called teaching--while they await disciplinary hearings:
Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do.
Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms" — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.
The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.
The Big Apple spends $65M annually paying these teachers at full salary. Arbitrators number 23 for the entire city, and they hear cases five--yes, five--days per month. Teachers commonly hang in limbo for 2 to 4 years, and stays of up to 6 years have been recorded.
Bottom Line. Perhaps President Obama's desire to federalize education could be applied to the Big Apple, while leaving the rest of the country alone.
Manhattan Institute scholars own the Big Apple issues. Steven Malanga sees municipal union militancy & lack of muni-bond market transparency posing potentially grave risks to NYC's financial solvency. E. J. McMahon warns that NY State's pension fund bomb will soon explode. Scholar Nicole Gelinas notes that Mayor Mike negotiates union contracts with public sector employees as if the good times are still rolling. Urban historian Fed Siegel explains how the third big crash of New York City may prove worse than those of the 1930s & 1970s, as runaway spending swallowed up all revenue during good times and with Wall Street moribund, tax revenues are plummeting. As few as 1,501 people--NYC's 1,5000 wealthiest residents plus the new guy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in DC, may hold the keys to the city's survival. Those 1,500 New Yorkers can depart for other jurisdictions and escape city tax hikes and service cuts; the guy at 1600 calls Chicago his hometown.
Wednesday NY Governor David Paterson shocked police and firefighters by vetoing a routine measure renewing early retirement pension boosts that have been routinely approved since 1981 on a "temporary" basis; but the bill, which passed by lopsided margins in both legislative chambers, will likely be re-passed to override the governor's veto.
NY Post columnist Bob McManus details how NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has become the most powerful NY State politician since Governor Nelson Rockefeller a generation ago. The power vacuum created by the resignation of disgraced Governor Eliot Spitzer, and the failure of the hapless David Patterson to step strongly into Spitzer's gubernatorial shoes enabled Silver to seize the reigns of power. He effectively controls the state budget process, protects the powerful tort-lawyer lobby while pulling in big bucks as a rainmaker partner--sums he adamantly refuses to disclose. Favors big and small are in the discretion of Sultan Shelly. Perhaps the Empire State should change its nickname to the Silver State.
A WSJ editorial highlights school reform efforts by Team 44 in which a choice must be made--one the President & his minions deny--between serving the parochial interests of the teachers' union, which protects bad teachers from firing, and reformist educators such as DC's Michelle Rhee, who want performance standards made meaningful. Success in DC could tee up reform efforts elsewhere--precisely what the unions fear.
On another DC reform front lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey argue that the DC Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional while equally distinguished lawyers Ken Starr & Viet Dinh argue that DCVA is consonant with the design of our Founders and hence, constitutional. Rivkin & Casey point to US Const. Art. I sec. 2 as legal authority, the first clause of which, the Composition Clause, provides:
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
Starr & Dinh point to the District Clause of Art. I sec. 8 (the 17th and last specifically enumerated power given Congress:
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; ...
The "exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" language is the intellectual fulcrum of the argument made by Starr & Dinh. Rivkin & Casey note that at the 1788 New York Ratification Convention Alexander Hamilton proposed to give the District a House seat & thus a vote, and was rebuffed. They propose instead that the Constitution be amended.
My own vote goes to Rivkin & Casey, as this is too big a step to take in Congress. The proper remedy is to retrocede parts of DC to Maryland (with which the District was federated from 1800 to 1854) and Virginia (which ceded its portion in 1846). Residents of DC would thus get a voting member in the House, and the right to help elect senators accordingly. The two extra votes DC residents have are an abomination created by the 23rd Amendment that Ike's last Congress passed in 1960, and which won ratification in 9 months (in 1961). Treating DC as a State was contrary to the Framers' design. Instead it should have been given one vote. So, what to do about these two extra Electoral Votes that Democrats will insist on keeping? Give Maryland & Virginia a "Retrocession EV" each, as compensation for taking DC residents under their wing.
In addition, on the practical side, both States and DC will have to be bribed with many billions to swallow an arrangement none really desire, but with trillions being tossed about like Frisbees this is a rounding error, and well worth putting an end to the headaches DC's current status gives us.
Here are the transcript (16 printed pages) and video (53:00) of Charlie Rose's March 10 interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. In stark contrast to Warren Buffett's CNBC interview, loaded with substance, TG skates on air with shopworn cliches. Perhaps we need the Omaha Oracle at Treasury. Meantime, here is the SNL Geithner video (6:26), which explains TG perfectly.
The WSJ editors note Team 44's intent to end DC school vouchers by stealth via legislative language supplied by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, which provides that the voucher program ends unless both Congress and the District of Columbia government re-authorize the program. Instead of voting to end it, and alerting DC parents as to what is happening, this ugly deed will be done at night, thus paying tribute to the Gods of Labor and Education.
The WSJ editors frame the poignant personal side of the issue:
Deborah Parker says such a move would be devastating for her kids. "I once took Sarah to Roosevelt High School to see its metal detectors and security guards," she says. "I wanted to scare her into appreciation for what she has at Sidwell." It's not just safety, either. According to the latest test scores, fewer than half of Roosevelt's students are proficient in reading or math.
That's the reality that the Parkers and 1,700 other low-income students face if Sen. Durbin and his allies get their way. And it points to perhaps the most odious of double standards in American life today: the way some of our loudest champions of public education vote to keep other people's children -- mostly inner-city blacks and Latinos -- trapped in schools where they'd never let their own kids set foot.
Check out the WSJ piece to see the photo of two kids at Sidwell Friends (where 44's kids go, as did Chelsea Clinton) who may be sent back to Education Purgatory come this fall.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg has started a new health crusade that targets salt, aiming for a 50 percent reduction in manufacturer & restaurant food content. Now salt does if consumed in excess cause high blood pressure. But do Big Apple residents need Nanny State cosseting and policing?
President Obama chuckled at DC transportation impotence after all of two inches of ice & snow. Check the link and have some laughs. If DC gets a blizzard, our new chief executive will find out that DC's snow removal program, per Hizzoner Marion Barry of the good ol' days, is...June.
Governor David Patterson proposes 88 new tax & fee hikes in New York State's $121 billion FY2010 budget. Residents of the Big Apple will enjoy seeing their taxes boosted to the levels of the state infamously known as "Taxachusetts." Patterson proposes to hold spending increases to one percent. When the legislature is finished with this, expect the spending number to increase.
A Wall Street Journal editorial details the Big Apple's sharply worsening financial picture. Having lived in Manhattan during the financial breakdown of the 1970s, I sense that even with a mayor vastly savvy about Wall Street and money matters, the city is headed yet again for the abyss, hemmed in by militant unions the mayor is not willing to confront. Two years ago Mayor Mike blew it when the transit workers, unconscionably, went on strike during XMAS season's last weekend, just to show off their political muscle, rather than negotiate while working. The city lost over $1 billion in lost business, and residents were living in total gridlock chaos for four days. But the union escaped with a slap on the wrist.
Sound familiar to those of a certain age? Back in January 1966, then newly-elected Mayor John Lindsay, a liberal Republican, let himself be taken down by the same union, then run by a tough Irishman named Mike Quill. Lindsay had threatened never to give in, etc. Quill called his bluff. And one fortnight into the first of his two four-year terms, John Lindsay's mayoralty was effectively over, fatally compromised by showing weakness. One union after another called his bluffs, and within a decade the Big Apple was insolvent.
It was the Spanish philosopher George Santayana who warned that those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.
Economist Irwin Stelzer sees three consequences of the latest financial meltdown: (1) fewer, more risk-averse financial firms; (2) more financing of American business shifting overseas--notably to the Sovereign Wealth Funds in the Mideast; (3) decoupling of financial firm performance from that of Main Street. Manhattan Institute scholar Nicole Gelinas warns that Wall Street's woes will spill over to the Big Apple. After the Internet bubble burst and 9/11, 40,,000 of Wall street's 200,000 jobs left town. Wall Street's losses were 1/6 of those for 2001- - 2003; a similar result could lead to NYC losing 10 percent of all its jobs this time around. Wall Street paid over 1/3 off all wages paid in the City. Losses in 2007 & 2008 were $33 billion--more than the record $21 billion the Street earned in 2006. In the past 6 months, 3 of NYC's top 5 investment banks disappeared: Bear Stearns & Lehman bankrupt & Merrill Lynch acquired (by Bank of America). Yawning budget gaps in NYC and NY State budgets can only grow as the Street continues to take water amidships.
A TAS article presents the returns on the District of Columbia's 2008 summer jobs program. It was so laden with fraud and waste that even former Hizzoner Marion Barry condemned it! Youths were paid if they worked, and paid if they did not work. "Youths" included 50-year olds. KIds were herded into a classroom and held all day, not even allowed to talk to each other. "Residents" included 207 non-residents. Of 21,018 participants, supposed to all be between 14 & 21, 1,881 dropouts never showed up. Some who did work were underpaid, while others got paid for non-existent jobs they were hired to "perform." These kinds of reports are not new: going back to 1980 the program has been reported as riven with fraud, waste and abuse. It may be churlish to observe, but these are the kinds of "jobs" programs drummed up by...yep, "community organizers."
All this was budgeted at $14.5 million, and ultimately cost $52.4 million. And what life lessons will kids take from this experience, as to how to succeed?
In an idea beyond satire, Big Apple Mayor Mike Bloomberg proposes putting windmills on top of the city's bridges and skyscrapers. The aim: provide 10 percent of city power within 10 years. Considering that Manhattan's first settlers were from the Netherlands, and New York City was first known as New Amsterdam and there is an Amsterdam Avenue.......
Hudson Institute President Herb London debunks the myth that the Big Apple would suffer, as Mayor Mike Bloomberg claims, a multi-billion dollar financial disaster if the UN decamps. As Herb London's article explains, taking into account the opportunity cost of the UN occupying pricey Turtle Bay real estate, rather than productive private assets, New York City probably winds up on the financial short stick. Among the biggest losers are not the City, which would collect taxes from new occupants, who would not be scofflaws, but rather New York's posh eateries, watering holes, and limo services, to say nothing of strip clubs and escort services. Add in possible impact upon global warming if all that hot air emanating from the UN building were moved to a more appropriate location, such as Zimbabwe.
Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald, a one-person truth squad on race, crime and cops, details the dismal realities of minority crime, and the disgraceful tactics of liberals who accuse cops of targeting minorities. Consider these politically incorrect numbers In the first half of 2008: (1) 787 people shot by 576 gunmen, with 83% of the shooters & 78% of the victims black; (2) add Hispanics to the mix, and 98% of shooters + 97.5% victims were either black or Hispanic. For 2007, of NYC's 496 homicides, 321 victims were black, nearly all killed by other blacks.
Mac Donald extrapolates further: Take the 1,927 homicide number for 1993--the last year B.R. (Before Rudy), and had homicides continued at the 1993 level, through 2005 there would have been an additional 13,698 murder victims--nearly all black & Hispanic.
Now look at police shooting figures. In 1973, 54 suspects were killed by the city's 29,000 cops, a rate of 1.82 per 1,000 cops; in 2007, with 36,000 cops, 10 suspects were killed, a rate of 0.28 per 1,000 cops. This is a 6-1/2-fold improvement.
Now, the 2007 population figures show that NYC's 8 million residents are 35% white non-Hispanic, 27% black, 27% Hispanic and 10% Asian. Yet blacks commit 83% of shootings, thrice the rate their population share would predict; Hispanics commit 15%, half the rate their number would predict; and Whites & Asians less than 2%, combined a rate less than 1/20th of what their number would predict.
As Mac Donald notes, none of this matters to the NYCLU or the racism-rap crowd.
Sexual battery (ranging from rubbing to full-scale assault) is a rising feature of New York City subways, with 70% of women reporting having had problems. Watch the video with the story and learn just how much ground has been lost in this one area of crime-fighting.
Hudson Institute President Herb London finds Albany's budget woes traceable to massive excess spending. His prime evidence? Try New York State spending more on Medicaid than California & Texas combined, despite there being 55 million in CA + TX, versus 20 million in the Empire State. (Medicaid is an entitlement program for low-income people.) Well worth a full read.
Manhattan Institute scholar Nicole Gelinas offers her solution: avoid the mistakes of the 1960s & 1970s, when Wall Street slowdown led to higher taxes that drove out one million jobs in the decade that ended in 1975; trim the budget, starting with a 10 percent cut in the city's Medicaid tab, now $6 billion per year.
NYC. Manhattan Institute scholar Nicole Gelinas explains how The Big Apple came to its worst financial state in over 30 years: Mayor Mike took the mega-injection of taxes revenue from Wall Street's boom and spent it on John Lindsay-style social programs. Bloomberg has grown NYC spending at 22% annually, versus 9% under Rudy; social program take as large a share of the budget as in 1974, at 25%. The problem: the financial crisis has undermined spending plans based upon revenues from Wall Street's cash cow. Because Wall Street has admitted it could not accurately price risk, investors will be spooked for a long time. So it is "deja vu all over again" for Gotham.
What makes this so awful is that Mike knows better. A huge success in Wall Street, Mike understands the Street's oft wicked ways. A huge success in business, turning himself from a millionaire securities trader into a billionaire provider of essential equipment for traders the world over, Mike understands business and entrepreneurship. So when he takes his city down the same garden path to financial ruin that the clueless political hacks of the Lindsay and Beame eras did a generation ago, he lacks their excuse of abysmal ignorance of the private sector.
Mayor Mike once wanted to be UN Secretary-General, a post he could not get, because no one from any of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council can be chosen, per custom. Too bad, because while his world-view is essentially the same the mayor is at least honest, and might have improved UN administration (not hard).
DC. Manhattan Institute scholar Howard Huscock flags bipartisan federal policy as having fostered the mess at Fannie & Freddie, who pursued "affordable housing goals and subgoals" set for them by the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), and the absurdly misnamed Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992. In 2005 HUD reported that 8.5 million families benefited from these rules. Husock translates the government-speak:
How are such affordable housing goals to be achieved? As recently as April of this year, Fannie Mae said it would use those government-written rules. Fannie actually boasted of "mortgage products and options" which included "reduced requirements for down payment and closing costs; choices for borrowers with less-than-perfect credit; and flexibility to provide loans to home buyers with no traditional credit history." The effects were not minor.
Minor indeed. Trillions at risk at something, but "minor" does not come to mind. US News & World Report editor-in-chief Mort Zuckerman calls Fannie & Freddie "too fat to fail" and notes that their equity cushion of $80 billion would be wiped out by a 2% decline in their $5.5 trillion mortgage portfolio. Democrats bear special responsibility, having flagellated lenders for "redlining" poor neighborhoods, denying credit-worthy borrowers access to capital. In July 2004 the National Association of Realtors warned Washington:
As great as they are, the uncertainties involved in measuring past performance are dwarfed by the uncertainties involved in predicting performance in future years which, in the end, must serve as the basis for establishing the GSE goals. ... Increases in housing prices have exceeded income growth in the past few years, interest rates are on the rise, and rental markets are soft. And ... the credit scores of renters have declined significantly over time, reducing the number of qualified borrowers.
Sage advice. Like most sage advice offered inside the Beltway, it was ignored. Taxpayers will, as usual, foot the bill.
New York City's fabled Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) subway, which I rode countless times as a kid, is, the New York Post Monday cover story reports, about to get an ad makeover. It seems that a group innocuously named the Islamic Circle of North America plans an ad campaign to "educate" the system's 4.9 million daily straphangers (Apple-speak for subway riders) about Islam. Oops! Seems that a prime spokesman for the ad is a radical imam who--get this--appeared at the World Trade Center bombing trial...as a character witness (per Dave Barry, I am NOT making this up) for...Sheik Omar abd-el Rahman. Yes, that Sheik Omar, the "Blind Sheik" who orchestrated the 1993 WTC bombing.
The Brooklyn imam who appears in the ad, one Shiraj Warraj (try to pronounce that one), once said: "In time, this so-called democracy will crumble, and there will be nothing, and the only thing that will remain will be Islam."
Democracy will crumble? Sounds like a twist on Ira Gershwin's "It's Very Clear" lyric: "In time, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble..." Bet you the imam does not know who the Gershwin brothers were. Which is reason enough for the MTA to reverse field and reject the ads.
Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald fingers the Apple's best export: 18 of "New York's Finest" have gone from NYPD to other city police forces, bringing the Giuliani Success Formula around the country. Savor them, and note that the possible all-time 5-year performance improvement record goes to an NYPD alum in the 95% black city of East Orange, New Jersey. "intelligence-led policing" is the wave of crime fighting. William Bratton, who initiated the CompStat program in Rudy's first term, has brought crime down 34% in Los Angeles, despite a vastly larger city and 1/4 the number of police to cover it (plus less support from LA's City Hall than he got in NYC).
Manhattan Institute scholar Steven Malanga explains succinctly how, seven years after the atrocities of 9/11, the WTC Tower project is mired in government red tape, with years before anything can go up on the 16-acre site. The only rebuilt structure is 7 WTC, rebuilt by developer Larry Silverstein; ground was broken for the 52-story tower in May 2002, as the cleanup of Ground Zero was finishing, and it opened for tenants in 2006. Meanwhile, local pols demonized who else but Silverstein, calling him greedy for having the temerity to strike tough commercial bargains, while they and the gaggle of activists hovering like vultures over Ground Zero cannot get their collective act together to do anything but carp and posture. In Malanga's telling, even Rudy did not cover himself with glory on this one. Malanga details the whole mess in a riveting read. Mayor Mike has, it seems, brought the Big Apple back to some of the ways that got the city into the mess of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.
Dan Henninger goes farther, calling the impasse at Ground Zero a metaphor for our contemporary politics, in which "can-do" is replaced by "can't possibly do"; 19 agencies created "a perfect storm of contemporary American politics" in which "toxic" values such as being "inclusive" and allowing families of the victims to be "heard" have made productive decisions impossible. The cost rises above $15 billion and counting.
Perhaps instead of an oddly-shaped building and a lachrymose memorial it is best to leave the pit as it is. It is stark, ugly and irrefutable testament to our enemies and what they wish to do to our civilization and society--the first installment on a long-term payment plan. Doing so is cheaper, by $15+ billion, and teaches a better lesson than the proposed memorial, which ignores the vast difference between victims trapped inside the towers and the heroes that went into the towers to try to save them.
Last week the House passed, 311-104, a bill proposing $14.4 billion for high-speed rail, with the first item a demo project between NYC and Washington, DC, a two-hour "rocket train;" a similar proposal passed the Senate, 70-22, last fall. Should a bill emerge from conference, President Bush says he will veto it. But the margins of passage suggest that an override is very possible, perhaps even probable. As a rider of the Acela, which takes 2 hours, 45 minutes but is frequently late, I look forward to faster rail travel. But this is too modest a goal. If we are going to vote a boondoggle, make it top-end: a one-hour trip is doable with straight track (new) given today's technologies. Japan's famed Shinkansen "bullet train" hits 300 kilometers per hour (187 mph); Spain's AVE matches that speed, and has tested at up to 404 kph (251 mph)--in 2002, riding from Madrid to Cordoba, our train hit 345 kph (215 mph) in spots; France's TGV (tres grand vitesse--very high speed) set the speed record, albeit in test prototype, of 574.8 kph (357 mph); today's TGV service hits about 400 kph (250 mph). Here is video (2-1/2 min. highlight) of the train's record run. Japan's maglev (magnetic levitation) train set an even higher mark, in late 2203: 581 kph (361 mph), but is, as new technology, not ready for prime time.
"NYPD 23" is a helicopter that patrols the skies over NYC. It is, says police chief Ray Kelly, a unique asset. Its primary task is to thwart terror, but it helps re other crimes as well. Civil libertarians, naturally, fear privacy snooping via the powerful cameras. The NYCLU's complaint reminds me of "Blue Thunder" (1983), the Roy Scheider flick about an experimental military helicopter intended for crowd control--firing cannon to disperse demonstrators. Hollywood is, after all, a fantasy factory.
While Mayor Mike puts surveillance cameras in the financial district to hunt for terrorists, the District government plans to use downtown cameras to go after the REAL homeland security threat. WMD? Terror cell training sites? Terror crimes? Nope. Try...illegal parking violators. OK, terrorists illegally park, too. But does anyone think that is why DC is doing this? The concept is called maximizing tax receipts. This kind of imbecilic abuse of surveillance will give civil libertarians ammunition to ban surveillance when it is really needed, to find terrorists.
The resignation of Eliot Spitzer has sparked much commentary about the tragedy it is for his family, which no one disputes, and equally, the overdue comeuppance of a self-styled "steamroller" crusading reformer who showed his victims no mercy. That mercy is properly reserved for the merciful, and denied the merciless, seems to be understood by most. Spitzer's resignation (effective March 17), if ultimately an aid to a plea agreement, would show that Spitzer does indeed possess the precious quality of mercy--for himself, at least. But the U.S. attorney, in a rare statement, said that there was no plea deal of any kind made; here is a list of charges Spitzer could face.
Legal eagle Alan Dershowitz sees entrapment in the Spitzer case, and worries of open-ended investigative excess. WSJ pundit John Fund notes that Spitzer self-styled himself as the Enforcer--on his kiddie soccer team!, that he often prosecuted low-level corporate types, below the radar screen and after coercing millions from their corporate chieftains, and that he often lost those cases.
Spitzer was a supremely ruthless figure: his cold-blooded pursuit of political and prosecutorial power, his threatening to throw the awesome power of the state at targets who had the temerity to resist and protest their innocence, his coerced restructuring of companies by confronting them with Draconian penalties for the sin of resisting, his use of the press to convict victims in public without risking failure at trial, his calculated circumventing of the campaign finance laws so as to enable him to spend part of his vast family fortune. But most ruthless of all was his clandestine use of an unwitting friend's name as an alias to keep his trysts secret. It was a chilling negation of the very foundation of friendship, the marriage of trust and concern for the welfare of cherished others that makes for joy in life.
So what to do about post-Spitzer governance? His successor, David Paterson, solves New York State's immediate problem, gubernatorial succession. Notably, Peterson is personable and willing to listen respectfully to others, even those with whom he disagrees. The contrast is most welcome. But there are other problems yet to be faced, let alone, fixed.
The problem posed by the Spitzers of the world may be called the Savonarola Syndrome: extremes of ruthlessness used by political reformers, who treat and label their adversaries as evil, and thus to destroy them, literally as well as symbolically. The problem is especially acute when a public prosecutor has aspirations to higher political office, and pursues his legal career with political ambitions in mind.
At the root of Spitzer's career is an all-consuming ambition that, in its gross excess, is a danger to those who cross his path and, for public figures, to the public as well. It was best summed up in this timeless comment from Caesar to Antony in Act I, Scene II of Julius Caesar:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.
As with all problems of this kind, solutions will be at best imperfect, offering no universally satisfying answer. I propose the following: (1) public prosecutors should either be barred outright from running for higher political office, or else be barred for 5 to 10 years from running; (2) prosecutors should be required to seek special judicial approval, before using extraordinary tools against defendants; (3) prosecutors should be penalized for leaking evidence to the press, by being prosecuted themselves; (4) prosecutions, in extreme cases of trial by press, should be thrown out, or at minimum the prosecution should be barred from using leaked evidence in court; (5) successful defendants, save in cases certified as extraordinary, should be reimbursed for their legal costs.
Separating Law & Politics. Limiting or barring outright prosecutors from seeking higher office carries a cost: Talented prosecutors who could govern effectively would be denied opportunity, or at least face diminished chances for reaching higher office. Rudy Giuliani, New York's finest mayor ever, might never have been elected. But people who combine Rudy's talents as a top prosecutor and as a top executive are rare. All too common are less talented Savonarolas.
Special Case Authority. The routine use of special legal tools like RICO (Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations) for purposes other than originally intended (RICO targeted organized crime), can be curbed. Extreme asset forfeitures can coerce innocent defendants into negotiating a plea deal, that they may ultimately resume their lives. Put simply, extraordinary tools like instantaneous seizure of assets, loosened evidentiary standards as to establishing conspiracies, and the like, should be reserved for special cases against defendants in certain designated classes. Organized crime bosses, drug lords, terrorists, are the kinds of defendants who pose special problems for prosecutors, including their ability to cause great public harm by intimidating witnesses, and highly-skilled evasion of statutes. For such cases, advance judicial certification of a case as being in such a special class should be required, before such tools can be used. Assaults on ordinary defendants--even those with vast financial resources, should be prevented. Only where special public harm is in prospect should the awesome power of the State be unleashed in its full force.
Penalizing Prosecutorial Leaks. A common tactic of ruthless prosecutors is to artfully leak selected evidence to the press, thus sullying the reputation pf defendant. While this may be satisfying as to particularly evil targets, the danger of harm to the reputation of other defendants is too great. The First Amendment precludes forceful action against the press (whose unholy and eager cooperation with Spitzer is detailed by WSJ columnist Kimberely Strassel), so the abuse must be stopped at the source.
Limiting or Tossing Scarlet-Letter Prosecutions. Where public abuse bids fair to irreparably harm a defendant's reputation, the courts should toss the case out, or as a lesser remedy, exclude leaked evidence from trial. Consider it analogous to the rationale for the Exclusionary Rule, which bars the use of illegally-seized evidence from being used in court. The objective of the ER is to deter misconduct (its efficacy is debatable); a Scarlet-Letter ER might limit resort to trial by press.
Reimbursing Successful, Non-Special, Defendants. Finally, forcing the State to pay the costs of unsuccessful prosecutions might deter marginal cases from being brought. Defendants classed as special, as noted above, should be exempted: We don't want the State to underwrite the defense costs of crime bosses, drug lords and terrorists.
These I term semi-solutions, because nothing works perfectly. But by making a replay of Eliot Spitzer's crusading career less likely, there would be immense public benefit. Oh, and there is one more politician who loses--a little, at least: Spitzer was a super delegate, pledged to Hillary. He has stepped aside, leaving Hillary with one fewer super pledgor.
New York may not be quite the "Wonderful Town" of the Comden-Green lyrics from 1944's "On the Town," but the New York Sun reports that the murder rate in the Apple is headed for the lowest mark in over 40 years, with 427 deaths recorded as of November 18. Which would mean, if the pace is maintained, about 502 homicide deaths for all of 2007. This is inflated, because 16 of the 427 were whacked in earlier years but didn't die right away, which, if projected, would make for 483 for 2007. (After a low total of 539 in 2005 the city's total jumped up to 579 in 2006.) But all these numbers look good compared to 1990's record 2,245. 2007's rate would be a 78 percent decline from 1990. Significantly, very few of these were stranger murders.
To put this figure in perspective, as of November 18, New Orleans had tallied 188 homicides for 2007. This in a city with less than 300,000, versus 8.2 million in NYC. (New Orleans made the top 50 city population list in 2005; it is no longer on it. Depending up whose guess one chooses to believe for NO's population today, the Big Apple has 25 to 30 times as many people.) Take the Big Easy's 188 homicides in 2007, multiply by 25 and 30, and you get a per capita equivalent range of 4,700 to 5,640. Which makes NO's per capita rate 9.4 to 11.3 times greater than NYC's in 2007.
Illustrative of NO's problems is this delicious nugget from a WSJ piece that says NO may have reached bottom: Big Easy Mayor Ray Nagin, speaking of the high local crime rate, had this to say: "[It] kept the New Orleans brand out there." As one LFTC reader likes to say, you can't make this stuff up, can you? (Nagin's quip reminds me of then-Mayor Marion Barry's famous crack about DC's skyrocketing crime rate and whether folks could safely visit: "It's not so bad, if you don't count the murders.")
Former Mayor David Dinkins, who presided over NYC's peak murder years, likes to take credit for the initial drop, which happened in his last years. This is half-true. First, the 2,245 for 1990 included several social club fires that caused mass deaths. Simply by not recurring, this brought the total down. (OK, murders never recur, but the mass deaths were outliers that distorted regular crime numbers.) Dinkins did appoint Ray Kelly in 1992, which helped--Kelly returned under Bloomberg and is tops. But Dinkins opposed most of Rudy's anti-crime moves, which made for the big push in reclaiming the streets. Rudy, take another bow, and Bloomie, too. Too bad Comden and Green are gone, as they might have written a new song in celebration.
Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger details how an obsession with environmental hazards at Ground Zero has left a 40-story hulk standing six years by making demolition nearly impossible, thus causing the recent tragic, unnecessary deaths of two firefighters. Eco-fanaticism can carry at high price tag. This is something to ponder as Global Warming Politics "Al Gores" us. For more on how Mayor Mike messed up, this op-ed by nonpareil urban historian and Guiliani biographer (the superb "Prince of the City") Fred Siegel closes the case. Siegel adds to Henninger's enviro-mess the mess of NY politics. The two have proved a lethal combination. And speaking of Ground Zero, former FBI Director Louis Freeh explains how a President Giuliani would better manage homeland security than other candidates, and do better than has this Administration.
The Washington Post reports that in the first 5-1/2 years of the new century the District's non-Hispanic black population fell from 60 to 55 percent; Hispanics are now 8 percent, whites are 32 percent and Asians are 3 percent. Blacks have been departing the city for Maryland and Virginia. For the US as a whole, the latest figures put Hispanics at 15 percent, non-Hispanic blacks 12 percent and Asians 4 percent, with whites now but 69 percent. For the first time, minorities top 100 million. In four states--Hawaii, New Mexico, California & Texas--whites are already a minority. A major demographic trend is the relative graying of the white segment vis-a-vis minorities.
For the US the changes will be felt in the medium- to long-term, and could lead (as the WP piece notes) to inter-generational conflict, sharpened by racial demography. For DC this likely will mean less. Many new arrivals coming to DC are reliably liberal. Not many red-meat conservatives choose to live here, and they will never be a majority force in a government town. Statehood will be just as dead as it is now: it only takes 13 states to decline to ratify a constitutional amendment. As the center of federal power, DC will never be popular enough to get 38 state ratifications, regardless of the city's racial make-up.
But there is good news in one sense: the tribal triumphalism of Marion Barry's heyday is gone forever. And good riddance to it, too. Anyone who doubts this should read Dream City, by Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe (1994). It tells the tale of how Barry rose to the pinnacle of local power and then, in his ghastly decline, took the city with him. It has yet to recover.
Longer-term, the best future for DC is to have the federal government parts Vaticanized, and the remainder retroceded back to Maryland, with which DC was federated from 1800 to 1854. DC residents would vote in all local, state and federal elections. Maryland would get an extra House seat. The two absurd DC Senatorial electoral votes (a mess created by the 23rd Amendment) would have to be bargained off in the form of added House seats in two Democratic states. But this is a long way off, if ever. It would put DC's political class under state suzerainty. This is anathema to the locals, but would be a relief to Congress, whose members rarely win constituent brownie points for devoting time and energy to supervising governance of the District. Still, don't hold your breath.
The transit worker union boss, Roger the Thug, was let out 4+ days early into his 10-day sentence, apparently for "good behavior." This means, presumably, that he did not insult guards nor assault anyone. The charade was understood, according to news reports, by all concerned. Under NY law a prisoner who behaves gets an automatic 1/3 sentence reduction. Then factor in that NY law forbids releasing prisoners on the weekend. Starting a 10-day sentence on a Monday means that the Wednesday following is Day 10. But subtracting 3-1/3 goodie days means a Sunday spring. So the "get out of jail free" date is moved up to Friday, making 4-1/2 days out of 10 the final penalty-box tally. That Roger the Thug openly expressed complete lack of remorse for causing $1 billion in damage to innocent parties, that he encouraged union members to march in a vigil while he served his mini-sentence, that he threatens future job slowdowns in targeted (read: key) areas if his union does not keep all the goodies it initially rejected, did not stop authorities from releasing him. Neat message to send to all potential future violators of the State's anti-strike laws.
A Wall Street Journal editorial understates the case as to the wrist-slap given the Transit Workers Union for the December walkout that cost New York City an estimated $1 billion. A $2.5 million fine and three months suspension of dues check-off privileges, plus a measly ten days in jail for the union's president is nowhere near enough. Reports have the union president inviting the 34,000 members to take ten days vigil at the jail as a gesture of solidarity. A treasury-emptying fine plus one year for the union thug-boss would have been more appropriate. Small business owners destroyed by the strike will just have to move on.
George Will sees America's future: the GM deal with the unions: entitlement commitments that cannot be met and thus will drive bankruptcy, forcing confrontation with a reality those who made the original deal refuse to confront.
Dick Morris has the numbers showing that in the past month Hillary's standing has slipped among Republicans (12 points), Democrats (6 points) and independents (15 points, down from 64 to 49 percent support). Her poll lead over Ynokers Mayor John Spencer, who has yet to run a TV commercial and thus is known only locally, has shrunk from 61-33 on January 13 to 54-33 on March 27. Her 19-point margins in the suburbs and upstate are now 7 and 1, respectively; her lopsided NYC margin of 49 points is now 37. Seems her "attack dog" mode is not playing well. Read the details here and pray it continues. Even a narrow win against an unknown would seriously damage her prospects of winning the Democratic Presidential nomination. As with Howard Dean in 2004, activist Democratic voters may decide that if she barely wins in a blue-state in 2006 she is toast nationally. That may of may not be true, if they they think it is they may act accordingly, and whether true or not will be moot for Hill.
The New York Post's Steve Cuozzo details the utter train wreck Gov. Pataki has made at Ground Zero, and suggests that for the remaining 9 months of his gubernatorial term he leave it alone. Good advice.
Some stories leave one with the feeling of, to borrow the title of a 1960s play, "Stop the world, I want to get off." What else to think about the Big Apple's director of ministerial services for its prisons turning out to be an adherent of radical Islam. Mayor Mike has suspended him pending review. Oh, the guy was hired in 1993, the year of the first World Trade Center bombing. Rudy, what were you thinking?
Real estate developer Larry Silverstein, who needs $3 billion in Liberty bonds to fund his vision for Ground Zero, has lost control of his destiny. His GZ plan is dead, reports Davison Goldin in the NY Sun. The one building Silverstein completed has 15% occupancy to date. Gov. Pataki & Mayor Bloomberg's envision a part residential space. They will condemn Silverstein's property. Despite a trial court verdict calling for a double insurance payout Silverstein, according to Goldin, will win $4.5B, closer to the single-tower payout of $3.5B than a full double sum of $7B. Oh yes, the likely election of Democrat Elliot Spitzer this fall as NY's new Governor has gotten Pataki & Mayor Mike off their duffs, at long last, to do something to get GZ rolling.
Goldin (NY Sun - paid): Silverstein's Predicament
The 2/2 NY Post reports re the NYC transit workers who recently rejected the proposed contract their union leaders negotiated, by a mere 7--yes, seven--votes out of over 23,000, that the strongest "no" votes--at 70 percent against--came from train conductors. This after union boss Roger Toussaint fought to save their jobs and also to prevent conductors from having to roam the cars as part of their job. Why such ingratitude? The conductors vehemently object to being asked to pay 1.5 percent towards the cost of their health care, a practice widespread in private industry.
Train Conductors Betrayed Roger
I just received a lovely flier from the District of Columbia government, addressed charmingly to "resident customer" and entitled "DC Snow Emergency Guide." White XMAS pictures decorate the cover: snow trucks clearing streets--your tax dollars at work. Inside is a map of the District, a depiction of a sign reading "Snow Emergency Route" + "No Parking During Emergency," a warning that parking is banned on snow emergency routes--a fine of $250 may be levied, and your vehicle may be towed. Oh, yes: to locate a towed vehicle call 202-727-5000. And the mayor's Media Center (202-727-1000) will tell you if a snow emergency is in effect. (If more than 2 inches are on the ground, don't worry, it is.) At the bottom of the inside of the flier is an admonition to "Please remember to help your neighbors"--"Please help elderly and physically challenged neighbors who may find it difficult to clear snow from around their homes."
It all makes one nostalgic for Hizzoner-for-Life, Marion S. Barry. In 1987 two 10-inch snowstorms hit the District, the first just before the Super Bowl and the second just after. Hizzoner was where every mayor should be when his city is under siege: in a sun-drenched paradise (San Diego, that year) attending the Super Bowl. Asked if he had a snow removal program, Barry answered: Yeah, June."
Oh, wonder what the "S" stands for? Shepilov, as in Dmitri Shepilov, a Soviet Politburo member known only to Sovietologists and Julian Barry, Marion's dad and a leading American Communist. Want more on Hizzoner? The classic work is Dream City: Race, Politics and the Decline of Washington, DC (1994), by Tom Sherwood and Henry Jaffe, two local newshawks.
Quite a first week of 2006 for Hizzoner-for-Life Marion Barry: First, he was robbed Monday 1/3 at gunpoint. A group Barry heads decided to shift the Martin Luther King Day parade to April 1--in order to have warmer weather, a move that sparked instant outrage. Placing the parade near the anniversary date of MLK's assassination (April 4) was bad enough); but choosing to honor MLK on April Fool's Day? On 1/4 the date was moved to April 8. As for the robbery, it was Barry who upon becoming mayor in 1979 systematically destroyed the DC police, whom he has hated since his 1960s radical days. Poetic justice or just desserts? Call it fielder's choice.
WPost: Robbed at Gunpoint, Barry Harbors No Animosity
D.C.'s King Parade Moved to April 1
NYC Police recorded 540 murders for the Apple in 2005, the lowest since the Police began tabulating figures formally in 1963, when 549 were tabulated. 2006, alas,off to a bum start with 6 dead in the first two days. Yet even that figure, extrapolated out for the year, would mean 1,095; NYC's peak was 2,245 in 1990. 2006's bum beginning would have been a lovely opening for David Dinkins (mayor 1989-1993), he of the "Save the squeegie men jobs" fame, and of the "Let 'em blow off steam" non-response to the 1990 Crown Heights black pogrom of Jews, and "Laissez faire" to the Korean grocer boycott by blacks, and the "gorgeous mosaic," yadda, yadda......
NY Sun: City Records Six Murders in Two Days
Today's NY Sun reports that both sides are digging in for a protracted strike. The thug who runs the NYC local transit union is named Roger Toussaint; his name was aptly given him to honor Haiti's murderous black revolutionary leader, Toussaint de l'Ouverture, father of Haiti's blood-soaked 1804 revolution against France that set the tone for the ensuing two centuries of chaos. Toussaint, the Sun reports, compared his union's struggle with that of--yes, Rosa Parks. The quote:
"We have pointed out that there is a higher calling than the law and that is justice and equality. Had Rosa Parks answered the call of the law instead of the higher call of justice many of us who are driving buses today would still be in the back of the bus."
Uh, Rog, Rosa Parks boarded a bus, manned by a driver who had reported for work.
NY Sun: Talks May Be Futile
Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern paints a vivid portrait of transit union local leader who is defying his international superiors to wound millions of New Yorkers, plus thousands of city enterprises--public and private--despite representing employees better paid and with better pensions than most. Worth a read.
Manhattan Institute scholar Steven Malanga has a remedy for union militancy and blackmail: fire the workers, and then offer jobs on the MTA's terms--including to existing workers, many of whom probably disagree with the decision taken by their renegade leadership. Then privatize partially, as cities from Denver to London have done. With 40 bus companies in London, there is no collectivist union to blackmail the city. Which is why London is not at the mercy of unions (not known for mercy) in the way Paris is.
Stern: The Transit Strike
Malanga: Do a "Reagan"
Will Mayor Mike have his John Lindsay Moment dealing with NYC's third transit strike in forty years? Or will the mayor take a page from Ronald Reagan, who in 1981 prevented the air traffic controllers' union (PATCO) from destroying his Presidency, by firing 11,000 striking controllers? In January 1966 a tough Irishman named Mike Quill destroyed the brand-new Lindsay Administration, its leader sworn in on New Years' Day, in twelve days. Quill and his union violated the then-in-force Condon-Wadlin Act, which made strikes illegal and called for firing strikers. Lindsay promised to do so, but backed down. The union even won amnesty for its leaders. Municipal unions lined up per "pattern bargaining," and John Lindsay's financial house of cards crumbled; bankruptcy was narrowly averted under Lindsay successor Abraham Beame, but only with federal help and Draconian controls administered by a financial control board.
In 1967 the state legislature passed the Taylor Law, making strikes illegal but calling for double-pay fines per day for public employee unions out of work illegally; mandatory firing of workers was abandoned. The union (Transport Workers Union Local 100) has refused arbitration, which the current employer (a change made after the 1966 strike), the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), would accept; mutual consent is required by law.
In April 1980 transit workers struck April 1, returning April 11. Mayor Koch vowed resistance, but Governor Hugh Carey settled on terms that undercut Koch, who commented that he won in the streets what Carey lost at the bargaining table. Koch has proposed a binding arbitration be enacted by the state legislature; in order to prevent arbitrators from splitting the difference, he proposes using a method called "Last Offer, Best Offer" ("LOBO"), under which the arbitrator takes one or the other last offer. Another reform, offered by former New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern (whose website, New York Civic, is a treasure-trove of NYC lore--see link in right column), is to return transit financial control to the city, taken away in the late-1960s. MTA is controlled mostly by interests outside the city, which contributes more money than its share of power warrants. The city is, simply put, underwriting suburbia.
Costs to the city could run $440 to $670 million per day. The starting salary for a subway train motorman is $52,644 per year, versus $25,100 for a rookie cop, so the city is calling for a much smaller raise. Sticking points besides salary include closing outmoded token booths as technology is phased in, and pensions for workers hired in the future; the MTA wants to raise their retirement age from 55 to 62, while the union wants the retirement age cut to 50. MTA wants workers to contribute one percent annually to health care premiums, which the union rejects.
Late last night MTA made a final set of concessions, going from a 10.5 percent increase over the proposed three-year contract, but the union stayed firm at 18 percent; the union won Martin Luther King day as a paid holiday. The union offered to reduce its pay offer only if MTA "significantly reduces" its disciplinary actions.
The union leader is walking out partly to show his militant credentials--fighting for his flock (and spurning the option of working without a contract and negotiating, as other unions have done)--and partly out of a belief that the union gains much leverage because the public's pain threshold is lower in cold weather, and even lower during the last days of XMAS shopping. But the flip side of this is that public anger will mount as people walk in chilly weather and their shopping plans are disrupted. Bloomberg is no Reagan, but he is no patsy either, and he stands strong as a crisis mayor. Pataki, if he still dreams of having a shot at the 2008 Republican Presidential nod, cannot afford to cave--or to be perceived as caving in like Carey did in 1980.
The betting line here is a short strike--2 or 3 days--that allows union leaders to burnish their tough-guy credentials, but then accepting a tiny pay boost, paying the one percent health care premium, and the retirement age of new workers staying at 55. MTA has a $1 billion surplus, and is in much better shape than the union. This punts the pension mess down the road until the pension costs reach ("oops!") train-wreck status. The health care payment aids the city's bottom line now. A long strike would severely harm city retailers during high season. But passions during these events run high, and matters could spin out of control. The biggest losers, as always, are the 7 million daily subway riders, who must be hoping for a transfer to Baghdad, where the weather is at least warmer.
Gelinas: Put Teeth in Taylor
WSJ Editors: Subway Grinches
NY Civic: Is This The Eve of Destruction?
NY Civic: 1980?
Stern: Put the City in the Drivers' Seat (registration req.)
NY Sun: Political Consequences of Transit Strike Could Be Colossal