Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bill de Blasio, New York Liberals, and the Veal Pen (Updated)

PUBLISHED : WED, 08 JAN 2014, 11:11 PM
UPDATED : MON, 21 APR 2014, 04:10 PM

A moment of truth for "liberals" in New York City, as they are corralled into veal pens.

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Calves have no choice and would certainly not volunteer to be trapped in veal pens, where cattle factory farmers intend for calves to atrophy into valuable sources of veal, but liberals in New York City, following the lead of liberals in Washington, DC, check into proverbial political veal pens, eager to take their stated, if cramped, place with conscious volition.

The backroom selection of Melissa Mark-Viverito as City Council speaker on January 8 signaled the end, according to The New York Times, of "weeks of bitter, behind-the-scenes jockeying among county political leaders, union officials and others, who tussled over the speakership using such municipal prizes as committee chairs and patronage jobs as bargaining chips," adding that before Ms. Mark-Viverito was unanimously selected, there had been "rumors up until the noontime vote of a possible floor fight." Although the discord was real, it was safest to tussle in private, because none of the backroom fighters carried on their battles outside of the restrictive confines of the veal pen. There were certainly some expressions of exasperation shared with the media, but for the most part, the large activists groups, good government groups, corporations, and even billionaire business leaders publicly kept mum. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm....? Why was that ?

The Mayor Of Magical Thinking

When Mayor Bill de Blasio argued for a special income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers, a tax that is certainly needed to help fund a needed expansion of social services, he said that the income tax surcharge was needed because the annual budget dance of proposed service cuts and minimal budget restorations would make pre-kinder students unnecessary political victims of the vicious annual city budget negotiation process. “When the budget cuts come, children are often the first to take the hit. The vulnerable take the hit,” Mayor de Blasio said. Little did he own up to the fact that now that he's in charge at City Hall, it would be Mayor de Blasio, who would throw pre-kinder students under the bus. (It's the mayor, who plays the leading role in the annual budget dance, a sleazy process where the mayor first proposes budget cuts, then the Council speaker pretends to put on a show to restore the budget cuts, and then once the budget passes, the cuts are restored, and the City Council get to look like heroes, even though this process makes it impossible for city agencies and community groups dependent on city grants to adequately plan any kind of medium-term fundraising or long-term budgets.) Even though the mayor is proposing that the high income tax surcharge be dedicated to expanding pre-kinder, the mayor's failed to propose any budgetary mechanism to ensure that the mayor and the City Council don't cut other areas of public education during the annual budget dance. What does earmarking a dedicated revenue stream for pre-kinder mean if funding for kinder remains insecure ? Seems like it's almost double-speak to make such a big deal about ring-fencing the monies from the high income tax surcharge, doesn't it, if it leaves kindergarden students at risk for budget cuts ?

It's precisely because of this sick and twisted annual budget dance that homeless youths have grown wary of the shady municipal budget negotiations : a few brave homeless youths have turned to the Legal Aid Society to make a full, legal demand for the complete resources to finally provide shelter to homeless youths rather than take a risk that the new mayor will force homeless youth shelters to play along with the disingenuous annual budget dance. More on this shortly.

Going into today's speakership selection, Mayor de Blasio had received resounding criticism from the Editorial Boards of The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, and even amNew York. An anonymous attack video catching Mayor de Blasio in actual hypocrisy over having criticised former Council Speaker Christine Quinn for having been former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's puppet only to want to install his own puppet in the municipal legislature went viral.

Some bloggers dared to stick their necks out, but they were not joined by any large activist groups. The two good government groups in New York City, for their part, either danced on the graves of the County Bosses or issued toothless Cover-Your-Ass editorials, never mind that the deposition of the County Bosses is only replacing one corrupt political machine for another. But for the most part, given the mixed messaging, folks essentially stayed in the familiar surroundings of the veal pen.

Some Calves Refuse To Take Their Place In The Veal Pens

With the exception of the police reform protest group New Yorkers Against Bratton, the pro bono service agency Legal Aid Society, and the AIDS activist group ACT UP, many activists say that they will keep Mayor de Blasio accountable, but they agree to stay put in their veal pens.

For weeks before the new mayor was inaugurated, a group of activists seeking to fully end stop-and-frisk in New York City came together to protest and reject the appointment of William Bratton as the new NYPD commissioner. Even though the new mayor had campaigned to "end the stop-and-frisk era," the mayor appointed the man widely credited as the architect of stop-and-frisk, Mr. Bratton. The group has been the leading force to keep Mayor de Blasio accountable to his biggest broken campaign promise thus far.

Two days before the new mayor was publicly sworn into office on the steps of City Hall, the Legal Aid Society filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York, demanding the full resources to provide shelter to homeless youth. They did so, because the New York City budget never before provided the full resources to make shelter available to homeless youth, as required by law, because before the Legal Aid Society stepped forward, all the homeless advocacy groups had remained in their veal pens like good little calves. The Legal Aid Society, tired of the annual budget dance of proposed cuts and minimal restorations, decided that homeless youth shouldn't become political victims to the way City Hall and City Council probably plan to only concentrate on social service groups or causes that hire The Advance Group as their lobbyists.

Like the Legal Aid Society, ACT UP sees the writing on the wall : they'd been patiently waiting in the veal pen for the last few months, stretching back to before the mayoral primary, hoping to get a meeting with the mayor's campaign team, then his transition team, and now his administration team. But the mayor has not deigned to receive AIDS activists, to hear out their demands for a comprehensive city-wide AIDS agenda that begins by appointing a responsive city health commissioner.

When too much time passed, ACT UP broke free of the veal pen, and they protested outside of the mayor's inauguration ceremony.

"By Your Command" : The Calves Know That The Veal Pen Is Guarded From The Inside

When Mayor de Blasio saw that the Legal Aid Society was challenging it on government policy, how did the de Blasio administration respond ? The mayor recruited the top attorney at the Legal Aid Society, Steve Banks, into his administration. To further neutralize the field of outside activism, the de Blasio administration also lured the noted government reformer Lincoln Restler and at least three Spanish language journalists : Maibe Ponet, Roberto Perez, and Erica Gonzalez into the veal pen, just to be sure. Other activist groups have folded, like Queers for Economic Justice and the Brecht Forum, because now that a Democratic mayor has taken office, entrenched political interests don't want to encourage political pressure from the Left. A large foundation that funds non-profit community groups, the North Star Fund, accepted monies from lobbyists loyal to the mayor, Dan Levitan, a vice president at BerlinRosen, told The New York Times. For the few activists and community groups, which do not fold before the mayor's pressures to impose his top-down policies, there are growing numbers of civic leaders, who are being silenced and rendered immobile by the veal pen.

In contrast to the bold leadership of New Yorkers Against Bratton, two former prominent critics of stop-and-frisk have actually turned their backs on the overwhelming community demand to keep the NYPD accountable. After the Bratton appointment was announced, Councilmembers Ydanis Rodriquez and Jumaane Williams said that they supported the controversial appointment, leading to a sense of betrayal among police reform activists. Even the notoriously independent head of the NYCLU, Donna Leiberman, has climbed into the veal pen. Police reforms that the prior police commissioner never adopted remain outstanding, and Ms. Leiberman has not dared to confront the new police commissioner with the NYCLU's recommendations made following the massive 2003 anti-war protest and the 2004 Republic National Convention. Supposedly, the police department enacted some reforms in 2008, but the NYPD's promises were short-lived, because reforms of controversial police tactics were proven to be situational. Witness the police's militaristic response to Occupy Wall Street.

The message being telegraphed to the community is clear : climb into your veal pen and shut up.

Similarly, the LGBT poster child of police entrapment and unconstitutional sexual orientation profiling, Robert Pinter, has disappeared from any public demonstrations condemning the new police commissioner. Prior to the selection of Mr. Bratton, Mr. Pinter had visibly taken part in demonstrations calling for reform of the NYPD, including having once called for the end of stop-and-frisk. Apparently now, Mr. Pinter takes cues on police issues from Bratton-enablers.

Even Yetta Kurland, who I love, because she saved my job for me when they were trying to fire me at Credit Suisse, does not want to encourage ''left leaning friends'' who ''bemoan'' the appointment of the controversial new NYPD commissioner. The message is clear : the new mayor's supporters want to silence critics.

Other activists noted for their work during the primary campaign have also become muted.

The activist-administrator of one very active Twitter account keeping tabs on the corrupt Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo from the Bronx in the time leading up to the municipal primary elections, @arroyowatch now seems to want to stop short of calling for reforms, and only seems content with changes in figurehead politicians without getting to the root of the broken political system.

Separately, in an article in Gay City News, Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, said of Mayor de Blasio, "I think the community needs to hold his feet to the fire," but Mr. King's done nothing to actually hold the mayor's feet to the fire.

When a corrupt lobbyist tied to both Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito was exposed for working to defeat LGBT candidates for the City Council, no LGBT civil rights group dared speak out against the politically-connected bigot. Indeed, a corresponding Change.org petition only attracted a few signatures. At today's selection of the new Council speaker, LGBT Councilmembers voted for Ms. Mark-Viverito, even though she had rigorously defended her close working relationship with the bigot lobbyist.

The LGBT community fought so hard to come out of the closet only to, out of political expediency, climb into the veal pen.

Animal rights activists used to carry the banner against the corrupt record of Speaker Quinn, but now they are quick to denounce any activist who tries to hold the de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration accountable for delivering reforms.

Even powerful business leaders, seeking to do billions of dollars worth of "business" with New York City, have obediently kept quiet, "saying they are worried about the consequences of offending the mayor," wrote two City Hall reporters for The New York Times.

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The Council speaker takes her post in the veal pen.

The prospect of Speaker Mark-Viverito, who was an organiser with the 1199SEIU, the healthcare union that backed Mr. de Blasio's winning mayoral campaign, serving hand-in-hand with the mayor has been invoked by big business interests in the manner of a menacing scare tactic : the rich are going to leave New York City in droves, business are going to close and move to Florida, and the de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration is going to choke off enterprising new businesses from forming in an era of leftist over-regulation, like a planned nominal expansion of the paid sick leave law. Ms. Mark-Viverito also owes her speakership to the interventions of Mayor de Blasio. When some activists criticised the mayor's violation of separation of powers to advance Ms. Mark-Viverito's speakership, they weren't invoking "checks and balances" to help prop up a big business agenda, as some claim, but to, instead, question Speaker Mark-Viverito's resolution to challenge the mayor on controversial neoliberal moves, like the Bratton appointment or the decision to embrace a close relationship with real estate developers. The new mayor has a failed record of fighting for affordable housing in connection with large, controversial zone-busting development deals, like at the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. The tragic irony is that for everybody supporting a Democratic take-over of both Gracie Mansion and City Council, Speaker Mark-Viverito may not have the courage to openly challenge the mayor to deliver a truly progressive reform agenda that would include letting the calves know that they could very easily walk out, free from the confines of the veal pen. One need not look any further to how councilmembers refused to either criticise the Bratton appointment or to call for campaign finance reforms following the various scandals tied to the lobbying firm, The Advance Group.

In New York City, the calves get just enough water and feed brought to them that they willingly accept the inhumane conditions of their own existence, and they lash out at anybody trying to fix this system of atrophy and waste. Politicians, like factory farm ranchers, have successfully conditioned voters to mistakenly think that this is all there can be, too, except for the few brave calves who have learned to break free of the veal pen.

As was seen with Ms. Mark-Viverito's successful speaker race, even after the Editorial Boards of four major newspapers challenged the mayor and the Council speaker, the calves still defended their place in the veal pen. What will it take for them to escape this prison of their own making ?

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