Friday, January 31, 2014

On Checks-And-Balances and the Disappearance Of Dissent in NYC Politics

The Sheriff in Town is Looking for Deputies, but No Deputies Agree to Step Forward. It's Almost Straight Out of "High Noon."

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is Gary Cooper in "High Noon," the 1952 Western film that happens to be one of the best American movies ever made. In the film, Mr. Cooper portrayed a small-town sheriff, who just got married and was about to go on his honeymoon when a band of thieves ride into town with corrupt plans to unite with another bandit and then set out to attempt to murder the town's law enforcement.

As with Mr. Cooper in the movie, Mr. Bharara finds that he's the sole law man in this dust bowl with an intention to fight corruption. How long before Mr. Bharara becomes dispirited and just plain ditches his tin badge into the dirt road and climbs into a carriage and rides off into the sunset ?

Last fall, Mr. Bharara had noted that investigative journalism had been on the decline by the old, established media. Counteracting this trend was the spread of online news Web sites, which were acting to revive the investigative journalism needed to combat corruption.

The power of the press to hold elected officials accountable is one of the most powerful gears in the political machine that runs our government ; it's the reason the media has come to be known as the fourth estate. The power of the press can compliment his own work to fight corruption. Wise as he is beyond his age, Mr. Bharara knows the limitations of his office. Three months after Mr. Bharara expressed optimistic views of online journalism, he complained about the budget cuts imposed on the U.S. Attorney's Office that deny federal prosecutors the full resources to fight public corruption.

In a strange twist of fate, one of the Editorial Board members of The New York Times groused that a state corruption investigation panel didn't do the kind of thorough investigative journalism typically expect from The New York Times itself. What a zany Catch-22 ?

If the sheriff of New York City is counting on the media to investigate corruption, and some of the establishment media is counting on a state panel to investigate corruption, and the government is cutting the budget of the dust bowl's sole sheriff, where does that leave us ?

Ostensibly, Mr. Bharara isn't the sole sheriff in town. There are also city and state agencies that have some authority to investigate public corruption. When it comes to the undue influence of money and lobbyists in politics, the city is supposed to turn to the Campaign Finance Board, the Conflicts of Interest Board, and possibly the Department of Investigations. But the board members of the Campaign Finance Board and the Conflicts of Interest Board are appointed either by the mayor, the Council speaker, or the City Council, or a combination thereof. The nominee to head the Department of Investigations, Mark Peters, is a long-time close personal friend of the mayor, so close, in fact, that he has been the mayor's long time campaign treasurer. If campaign corruption involves any of the elected officials, who appoint these panels' board members, then there's no way to independently investigate allegations of misconduct, because these three city agencies answer in some form to either the mayor, the Council speaker, or the City Council.

When one of the lobbyists connected to Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito became implicated in managing a controversial $1 million Super PAC at the same time when the lobbyist was managing independent campaigns, which appeared to be benefiting from the Super PAC's spending, the Campaign Finance Board was sign to be investigating the circuitous flow of campaign money. But when the same lobbyist firm provided free lobbying services to Councilmember Mark-Viverito's speakership campaign, The New York Daily News urged the Conflicts of Interest Board to investigate the relationship. When it became apparent that The Advance Group had close ties to the mayor and the new Council speaker, both of whom have oversight over both the Campaign Finance Board and the Conflicts of Interest Board, the matter was referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review. The article, by the enterprising reporter Jill Colvin, followed other articles in which Ms. Colvin examined the role of big business interests and lobbyists in the new mayor's gargantuan $2 million transition team funding.

More and more, the media, in whom the last sheriff standing relies, is waking up to the blatant power grabs, conflicts of interest, and lack of oversight in the de Blasio-Mark-Viverito administration. Earlier this week, Morgan Pehme wrote an editorial column for the publication City & State casting doubts about the independence of the mayor's nominee to head the Department of Investigations. At the DOI nominee's hearing, Councilmember Inez Dickens pulled out the City & State editorial, saying that "serious issues" raised in the column make her believe that Mark Peters, the nominee, would not be independent enough from the mayor. Mr. Peters has had a close working relationship with the mayor for two decades.

Further complicating Mr. Peters' role at DOI will be the fact that under the Community Safe Act bills passed last year to reform, in part, the scandal-laden New York Police Department, the DOI chief will need to appoint an Inspector General, who is expected to independently oversee the NYPD.

But at his confirmation hearing, Mr. Peters said he would let the mayor have “significant input” in the selection of the new NYPD Inspector General. The DOI's role is to be independent of the mayor, and yet here again (as with the Speaker's race), another source for checks-and-balances on the mayor is going to be corrupted.

Some activists to the Left of the mayor have been critical of the mayor's reappointment of William Bratton to be NYPD commissioner. (Many activists believe the controversial appointment was made in contravention to Mr. de Blasio's campaign promises to "end stop-and-frisk era" and possibly as a give-back to the big business establishment and real estate developers, who worry that any imaginary uptick in crime would lead to a collapse of the stratospheric, high-end real estate market for luxury condos in New York.) Now that the NYPD Inspector General is going to be picked with the mayor's blessing, activists wonder where's the independent oversight of the police department is going to come from ?

Many of the mayor's early enablers counter that the mayor campaigned to be the "anti-Bloomberg" "progressive" Democrat, but already in the mayor's first month in office, the relatives of innocent New Yorkers, who had been killed by NYPD officers, have joined activists to protest the Bratton appointment. These sets of early protests have brought to the fore the police department's refusal to examine the many other areas in need of reform : from the NYPD's overuse of brutality and unnecessary gun violence against civilians, the impotent Civilian Complaint Review Board, the conflicted Internal Affairs Bureau, the over-militarization of the police force, the continued religious profiling and stalking of innocent Muslims, among many other issues. What is more, on the same day when the mayor announced that he was dropping the city's appeal of the landmark stop-and-frisk ruling, approximately 100 LGBT activists protested the lack of justice in the hate crime beating death of Islan Nettles. Two weeks ago, the police department made global news when it was reported that the police used physical violence against an 84-year-old man for jaywalking.

One of the mayor's most visible enablers, besides the new Council speaker, is Tish James, the city's new publicly-elected Public Advocate. However, she owes her entire political career to the Working Families Party, the same political party co-founded by the mayor, and whose political operatives now double as lobbyists in their effort to silence or demobilise opposition to the mayor. Besides the Campaign Finance Board, the Conflicts of Interest Board, and the Department of Investigations, the office of the Public Advocate is supposed to be our last line of defense against the unchecked powers of the mayor. But she's already in his pocket.

When it's said that we need a check-and-balance on the mayor, it's necessary to understand what one's motivation is in wanting to place a restraint on the mayor. Right now, the big business community and their lobbyists want to hold back the mayor's plan to place a tiny tax increase on the most wealthy. To do that, you can see the chess pieces move, for example, as big business interests put pressure on our neoliberal governor to deliver a small amount of state tax resources to the wily mayor in order to make it politically convenient for the mayor to forego the tax hike for the very rich. But why would grassroots activists, at the opposite end of the political spectrum from big business interests, want to place a check on the mayor ? What possible motive could grassroots activists have ?

Will the Mayor betray healthcare activists the same way he betrayed police reform activists ?

Without a public advocate-like government officials keeping a check on the mayor's powers, there will be no way to stop the mayor from carrying out the wishes of the permanent government players that always have a say in what government does, regardless of who holds elected office. Big business groups, sometimes organised like chambers of commerce-like groups like the Partnership For New York City, or organised like civic-minded groups like the Association for a Better New York, are pools of sharks infested with hacks and lobbyists for big business interests. You are already seeing their influence in some of the mayor's early actions because of the early start they got in helping to elect the mayor. As susceptible as former Speaker Quinn was to the influence of lobbyists herself, she was absolutely right in pointing out that when the mayor was only a candidate, he refused to release information about all the meetings he had with lobbyists. "Bill de Blasio has shown that he is quite consistent -- at talking out of both sides of his mouth," said Ms. Quinn's spokesman, Mike Morey, adding, "He rails against real estate and professes transparency -- except for when he is raising money from the industry and secretly meeting with its lobbyists." Another early indicator that the mayor's campaign had been compromised by lobbyists was their very role in his campaign. The corrupt real estate lobbyist James Capalino was an early supporter, raising warning flags about duplicity in the mayor's campaign about the controversial closing of St. Vincent's Hospital. As a candidate, the mayor denounced the closing of that hospital and others ; meanwhile, Mr. Capalino was handsomely paid by the real estate developers, who basically foreclosed on the hospital in order to raze it as part of a controversial $1 billion complex of luxury condominiums and townhouses. There was an even greater role for lobbyists to play in fundraising when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped to raise $1 million in campaign money for the mayor for his November general election at a tony fundraiser that took place at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Very powerful lobbyists served on the organizing committee of that fundraiser, which was unprecedented for the amount of money it raised. Later reporting showed that lobbyists, including the disgraced lobbyist Stanley Schlein, were also serving on or raising money for the mayor's transition team. The unrestricted flow of lobbyist money of this scale doesn't get given without strings attached. The influence that money from big business lobbyists is having on the mayor can be seen in how the mayor is altering his tune when it comes to saving two hospitals on the verge of closure : Long Island College Hospital (LICH) and Interfaith Medical Center, both in Brooklyn, that have been targeted for closure by Gov. Cuomo's healthcare cuts hatchet man, the Wall Street banker Stephen Berger.

cognitive dissonance : an inconvenient truth -vs- a reassuring lie : propaganda -vs- media ethics photo an-inconvenient-truth_zpsfed7b5e4.jpg

At a joint meeting, the mayor and the governor "carefully avoided saying that Brooklyn hospitals would be maintained at their current sizes," the biased reporter for The New York Times, Anemona Hartocollis, wrote, adding that Gov. Cuomo had said at the meeting that there were “excess hospital beds in Brooklyn” that needed to be eliminated. Even though her role in the community is as a reporter, Ms. Hartocollis appeared on a radio show in 2010 to oppose any deal to save St. Vincent's Hospital. The mayor campaigned for office on a promise to save hospitals from closing, and after he appointed the corrupt political opportunist Stanley Brezenoff to his inner circle of advisers, all of a sudden now the mayor is backing off his promise to save full-service hospital care in Brooklyn. Mr. Brezenoff has a checkered past and a controversial record. In the early 1980's, he served as chief of the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation under then Mayor Ed Koch when the city's hospitals failed to respond to the early outbreak of the AIDS pandemic. He milked LICH dry of its endowment fund, and he later opposed a deal to save St. Vincent's Hospital, too. "Under Brezenoff’s management, Continuum had a prior history of selling property of other hospitals under their jurisdiction," reported The Red Hook Star. It's painful to see how just a couple weeks following the announcement of Mr. Brezenoff's appointment, all of a sudden the mayor is turning his back on his past promises to save Brooklyn hospitals. But all this is a function of the undue influence of big business interests and their teams of political operatives that now guide the mayor's policies. With no check on the mayor, big businesses are already winning this early into the new mayor's term.

Adding to the Lack of Checks on the Mayor's Powers, the First Lady Will Oversee A Large Private Fund of Discretionary Civic Projects

The same Conflicts Of Interest Board, which one critic said was too close to the mayor to be an impartial arbiter of ethics compliance, has given the mayor's wife its approval, allowing her to serve as the unpaid chair of the board of directors of the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

Chirlane McCray, the First Lady, will have oversight over a large private fund that will be "in substantial sense a surrogate for the mayor," The Conflicts of Interest Board ruled, excepting that there will be no oversight, real or pretend, of the First Lady's functions as board chair.

The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City raises millions of private monies each year for civic projects that circumvent, for example, the transparency and other compliance regulations, such as they exist, for the Council speaker's slush fund. In past years, the Council speaker's slush fund has been a source of corruption charges where discretionary funds have been used, at times, for political retribution and even bribes, among other criminal intentions. That the First Lady will now oversee a similar fund, but with no oversight, should raise a red flag for possible politicalization of community project funding, as has been charged for some projects that have received allocations from the Council speaker's fund. But this far, none of the large good government groups have questioned the First Lady's role with the Mayor's Fund.

Wavering faith in the media, when political operatives and war rooms shepherd the news cycle, leaving voters uninformed at best, or deceived, at worst.

Good government groups won't challenge the potential for corruption in all of the unchecked power grabs by the mayor and his wife, but the media goes overboard in what appears to be a coördinated campaign to take down New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who is believed to be a prospective if undeclared candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential primary. Prior to the George Washington Bridge scandal, Gov. Christie had been a formidable rival to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is believed to be the presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential primary nominee. Another Republican political scandal, that in which Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm was caught on tape assaulting and threatening battery to a political reporter, reveals that politicians make use of intimidation to shut down politically embarrassing or damaging reporting. Intimidation was seen as a motivation when the troubled lobbyist Scott Levenson telephoned an LGBT blogger and activist in what was seen as an attempt to thwart new media reporting of Mr. Levenson's questionable financial and political backroom dealings.

Which brings us back to Mr. Bharara's hopes that the spread of online news Web sites will carry the day. But that presupposes that voters are actually tuning in. As it is, the mayor has manufactured a low voter turn-out rate of 24% of an already low voter registration rate to represent a blank check political mandate that is now being translated into open power grabs at every turn.

Noam Chomsky photo Noam-Chomsky_zps93db4798.jpg

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, one of the co-chairs of the do-nothing Moreland Commission, is leaving law enforcement for the seeming glamour of DC politics in Congress. With the compromised situation that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance finds himself, where for unexplained (and unreported) reasons he refuses to prosecute public corruption cases, the burden must be carried by our sole, courageous sheriff, Mr. Bharara.

The municipal elections of last November were the first time that the corruptive influence of Citizens United tainted local races. But the media has yet to fully examine the funneling of money into Super PACs. And, as we have seen, the media essentially left unchallenged the mayor's campaign theme of "a tale of two cities," even though the mayor's campaign contributors were virtually interchangeable for some of the city's most influential lobbyists and big business interests. We are only one month into the new administration of the mayor. There is still time for deputies to come forward, else continued voter complacency will only allow big business interests and lobbyists to complete their takeover of our government.

Let's hope the voters of New York City care enough to get involved, come out from hiding in their "veal pens," and do not end up like the do-nothing townspeople in "High Noon."

You believe that there's nothing wrong, because that's what the media tells you in the newspapers. But watch them in this frank panel discussion, to hear some backchannel realness.

CUNY journalism director Greg David moderated a panel discussion on Nov. 19, 2013, amongst several reporters about the quality of the journalism coverage during the 2013 New York City mayoral campaign. The reporters, who took part on the panel, were Brian Lehrer of WNYC, Errol Louis of NY1, Joel Siegel of The New York Daily News, Kate Taylor of The New York Times, and Maggie Haberman of Politico. They were joined by two political insiders : Stu Loesser, the former spokesman for outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Scott Levenson, a lobbyist who administered a controversial $1 million Super PAC.

The self-congratulatory media panel, embedded with two political operatives to keep reporters in check, tell you that the media did a good job of reporting the truth during the mayoral campaign, even though the consensus that night was that the media failed at vetting the mayor when he was only a candidate.

Watch as Mr. Siegel says, "I think, collectively, the media saw 20 years of Republican and Republican/Independent rule and thought that was the norm -- where the norm really is this is a city that voted 80% for Barack Obama. It's a very liberal city, and we all sort of -- I believe -- misread how serious a contender Bill de Blasio really was from the very beginning. I don't think he got the scrutiny from the beginning that Chris Quinn got or Bill Thompson got."

And so now we've come full circle : part of the reason that Sheriff Preet is relying on new media Web sites is that he partly needs new ways for voters to become informed about government corruption. Because if the old media won't tell you, who will ?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What does dropping NYC stop-and-frisk appeal change about NYPD discrimination ?

From: Louis Flores
Subject: Stop-And-Frisk Appeal
Date: 30 janvier 2014 21:31:53 UTC-05:00
To: thecall@ny1.com

Before Bill de Blasio dropped the appeal today, he had said that stop-and-frisk was no longer a problem, because Bloomberg and Kelly had already lowered it. Dropping the appeal was good, but what really changed ?

Today's press conference overshadowed the nomination hearing of the new Department of Investigations chief, who said that the mayor will have an input in deciding who the new NYPD Inspector General will be. Also overshadowed today was a protest outside NYPD, calling for justice in the beating death of a Islan Nettles, a transgender woman of color.

The whole fight for NYPD reform began because we need independent oversight of the police. Dropping the appeal changes nothing, because it was already a fait accompli.

Bill de Blasio and Bill Bratton are already acting as if there will be no real police oversight, even as the community continues to demand justice for minorities.

Louis Flores
Jackson Heights

Jimmy Van Bramer Queens Public Library Corruption Backlash

Last week, New York City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) was interviewed by NY1 concerning his new appointment as Majority Leader for the City Council.

In the interview, the new Majority Leader bragged that he worked for 11 years for the Queens Public Library as a community organizer, adding that he "really, really believes in good government." In the interview, Councilmember Van Bramer added that he cared about libraries, noting that he considered cultural services "dear" to his heart and to the heart of Queens.

However, muckraking journalist Juan Gonzalez published a scathing report in The New York Daily News on Monday, detailing how the library's president Thomas Galante was paid more than $390,000.00 and wasted $140,000.00 to renovate his offices at the Central Library. Meanwhile, the library president cut nearly 130 library jobs over the past five years.

When Councilmember Van Bramer learned about the scandal at the Queens Public Library, he figuratively hit the roof, telling The New York Daily News on Tuesday that, "It hurts the library in so many ways to have this happen, which just infuriates me," adding, "We need to ask the tough questions and get the answers about the nature of this spending."

The New York Daily New report noted that the City Council planned to hold a hearing into the Queens Public Library's financial scandal.

But by Wednesday, Councilmember Van Bramer had triggered controversy in his own right over his demand for controlling the City Council hearing. Some of his fellow councilmembers from Queens "questioned whether his ties to the Queens Library would compromise his ability to conduct a hearing on the library's finances," The New York Daily New reported. Mr. Van Bramer used to work for the Queens Public Library president.

“Who are you to question my integrity ?” the new Majority Leader reportedly shouted at Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) after she raised concerns about the Majority Leader's objectivity. “How dare you ?" Councilmember Van Bramer demanded before he accused Councilwoman Crowley of bieng out of line. "You’re out of place and out of order,” he said.

If Councilmember Van Bramer is allowed to conduct the City Council's investigation into the Queens Public Library's finance scandal, he will join the new Council speaker in a murky new world of conflicts of interest in the City Council.

In the time leading up to her selection as Council speaker, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito created controversy herself over the possibility that she had violated city ethics rules after Councilmember Mark-Viverito had accepted free campaign lobbying services from The Advance Group.

Global Supermarket in Jackson Heights reopens, but union workers were not rehired

About 2 dozen union members, neighborhood residents, and members of Occupy Queens stood outside the new Global Supermarket at 75-07 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, to protest this morning the new supermarket owner, who refused to rehire former supermarket employees. The supermarket changed hands after the former owner, then operating under the name of Trade Fair, fired all of its employees and shut down right before Christmas in an ultimate act of union-busting against its employees.

Union employees at Trade Fair had been demanding better working conditions, and the supermarket had become the site of many demonstrations last year. Some of last year's demonstrations had even attracted mayoral candidates, including former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who spoke at one protest last April :

Because the labor problems have dragged on from the previous owner to the successive owner at the Jackson Heights location, it was important to former Trade Fair employees that Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) showed up this morning in a sign of solidarity with the former employees.

Some activists, including Congressman Crowley, distributed flyers, informing the community about the corrupt actions of the new supermarket owner. Other activists collected signatures on a petition, demanding that Global Supermarket rehire the former Trade Fair workers. Some of the former Trade Fair employees had been members of a local service union, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW.

During this morning's protest, few neighbors walked in Global Supermarket. If local residents continue to express their disapproval with the new owner, perhaps the new owner will make the commercially-responsible decision : to rehire the former Trade Fair employees ? Otherwise, the store may fail anew -- and end up closed, for good.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Is it time for Greenlight Capital to short stock of Sochi Olympic Sponsors ?

Hedge funds can probably make a killing by shorting stock of Sochi Olympic Sponsors

The marketing setbacks facing Coca-Cola's karmically-doomed sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics seem to be the tip of the iceberg.

Last year, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a highly-visible attack on super-sized sugary drinks, seeking to ban the sale of high-calorie drinks as a way to fight obesity and obesity-related maladies, like diabetes and heart disease. A court blocked Mayor Bloomberg's ban on large sugary-drinks, but Mayor Bloomberg's successor has vowed to fight to restore the ban. Efforts to improve its corporate image have also proved to be problematic for Coca-Cola after the corporation faced allegations that it was depleting ground water and contributing to pollution in India. Coca-Cola's role in creating water shortages in India have led some local authorities to suggest last week that they would take actions to demolish a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Uttar Pradesh.

Coca-Cola is still recovering from the shocking 2009 documentary exposé, The Coca-Cola Case, of its labour violations in Colombia, Guatemala, and Turkey.

Similarly, the damage that McDonald's is doing to its own reputation following it's own deadly silence on the violent Russian LGBT crackdown comes at a time when the world's largest hamburger chain is losing customer loyalty and is facing an embarrassing sales slump. "We've lost some of our customer relevance," CEO Don Thompson told Wall Street analysts during a conference call this week.

Separately, it's unclear how much the credit card issuer VISA stands to lose, if anything, from the recent spree of credit card fraud impacting several large American retailers.

Is it time for Greenlight Capital to create a bespoke basket of Olympic sponsor equities, and then short it ?

2014-01-27 at 21.44.49 Virtual Assistant Greenlight Capital Short Coca-Cola Stock Screen Shot photo 2014-01-27at214449VirtualAssistantGreenlightCapitalShortCoca-ColaStockScreenShot_zpsf71905ed.png

What Rep. Grimm's Threats of Violence Against NY1 Reporter Teaches Us About Media Intimidation

If Reporters or Bloggers Dare To Report Truth About Political Corruption, Politicians and Lobbyists Become Enraged

Rep. Michael Grimm's violent outburst and threats of bodily harm to NY1 Capital Hill reporter Michael Scotto revealed how elected officials keep political reporters and bloggers on a tight leash. “I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last,” Rep. Grimm said, in part, in a statement published by Politicker.

What is more, a former staffer for Rep. Grimm told The New York Post that, “This is not the first time he’s tried to intimidate a reporter.”

In other words, elected officials have a sense of entitlement when it comes to giving reporters access to interviews. Elected officials do not believe that political reporters have a duty to fully inform voters about the government's work. Rather, politicians have come to believe that they can trade "favors" with representatives of the media. But when reporters or bloggers do not subjugate themselves to politicians, violence or rage can ensue, as was captured by NY1's camera.

After a series of blog postings published last year about allegations of campaign finance irregularities involving the political lobbying firm The Advance Group, the firm's head lobbyist Scott Levenson called me in a fit of rage. His tone was confrontational, similar to the anger Rep. Grimm expressed to Mr. Scotto. I believed that Mr. Levenson was trying to intimidate me into silence, the way that Rep. Grimm had tried to intimidate Mr. Scotto.

Many bloggers believe that one of the main reasons that political reporters do not fully report the truth about political corruption is that politicians and their army of lobbyists trade "favors," provide insider "tips," set up "interviews," or act as "sounding boards" for reporters. According to this cozy relationship, politicians and their lobbyists expect that reporters will never ask tough questions that are "off-script." You especially see the kind of soft-balling on local TV news programs, where hosts never fully confront powerholders for the truth the way Mr. Scotto and I had, recently.

The instance of Mr. Scotto actually confronting Rep. Grimm on camera about allegations of corruption is rare for TV news. Very few reporters dare to actually embrace the discomfort of approaching politicians or lobbyists on camera with questions about political corruption. Because of this rarity, it's all the more evident that the media's two most recent "shake downs" have been of Republican politicians : New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Grimm. No TV news program dares to go after the Democrats, who now oversee the corrupt city Board of Elections, for example. Are behind-the-scenes expressions of anger and rage, like this but never caught on tape, the reason why Democrats have been able to slay the news media from investigating political corruption ?

Rep. Michael Grimm Assaults Michael Scotto, Threatens NY1 Reporter With Battery

PUBLISHED : WED, 29 JAN 2014, 03:46 AM
UPDATED : FRI, 25 APR 2014, 05:40 PM


Rep. Grimm Threatened Bodily Harm to Mr. Scotto by Breaking Him in Half and Throwing Him Off a Balcony.

NY1 Capitol Hill reporter Michael Scotto interviewed Staten Island Republican Rep. Michael Grimm following President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, and Rep. Grimm became enraged after Mr. Scotto pressed the Congressman on camera about the Congressman's growing campaign finance scandal.

After Mr. Scotto had asked the Congressman questions about allegations of campaign finance crimes, Mr. Grimm told Mr. Scotto, "I’ll break you in half," according to a report of the attack published in The New York Times. Rep. Grimm also threatened to throw Mr. Scotto off a balcony, according to a transcript of Rep. Grimm's threats reviewed by The New York Times. "The confrontation occurred in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, part of the Capitol complex," The New York Daily News noted.

Rep. Grimm is a solidly-built, 43-year-old former U.S. Marine and ex-undercover FBI agent. According to The New York Post, Rep. Grimm's threats to Mr. Scotto suggested that Rep. Grimm was physically intimidating Mr. Scotto as a way to control Mr. Scotto with fear. “Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off this f–--king balcony,” Rep. Grimm said, adding, “You’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”

"A two-year federal investigation of fundraising for Grimm’s 2010 campaign led to the arrest this month of a former girlfriend, Diana Durand. She was accused of using so-called straw donors so she could exceed the $4,800 maximum allowable contribution to his campaign," reported The New York Daily News, adding that, "According to the criminal complaint, once she reached the donation limit, she gave money to at least two other people so they could contribute to Grimm. Durand was the second person arrested in connection with the case. Ofer Biton, an Israeli citizen who helped Grimm raise campaign money four years ago, pleaded guilty on Aug. 18 to visa fraud as a result of the investigation."

Rep. Grimm has reportedly denied any wrongdoing in the crimes involving the campaign finance scandal, and he himself has not been charged with any crimes, yet.

"It is extremely disturbing when anyone threatens one of our reporters – let alone a U.S. Congressman," NY1’s political director, Bob Hardt, said in a series of messages on Twitter, adding, "The NY1 family is certainly alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of Representative Grimm and demands a full apology from him. This behavior is unacceptable."

If Reporters or Bloggers Dare To Report Truth About Political Corruption, Politicians and Lobbyists Become Enraged

Rep. Michael Grimm's violent outburst and threats of bodily harm to NY1 Capital Hill reporter Michael Scotto revealed how elected officials keep political reporters and bloggers on a tight leash. “I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last,” Rep. Grimm said, in part, in a statement published by Politicker.

What is more, a former staffer for Rep. Grimm told The New York Post that, “This is not the first time he’s tried to intimidate a reporter.”

In other words, elected officials have a sense of entitlement when it comes to giving reporters access to interviews. Elected officials do not believe that political reporters have a duty to fully inform voters about the government's work. Rather, politicians have come to believe that they can trade "favors" with representatives of the media. But when reporters or bloggers do not subjugate themselves to politicians, violence or rage can ensue, as was captured by NY1's camera.

After a series of blog postings published last year about allegations of campaign finance irregularities involving the political lobbying firm The Advance Group, the firm's head lobbyist Scott Levenson called me in a fit of rage. His tone was confrontational, similar to the anger Rep. Grimm expressed to Mr. Scotto. I believed that Mr. Levenson was trying to intimidate me into silence, the way that Rep. Grimm had tried to intimidate Mr. Scotto.

Many bloggers believe that one of the main reasons that political reporters do not fully report the truth about political corruption is that politicians and their army of lobbyists trade "favors," provide insider "tips," set up "interviews," or act as "sounding boards" for reporters. According to this cozy relationship, politicians and their lobbyists expect that reporters will never ask tough questions that are "off-script." You especially see the kind of soft-balling on local TV news programs, where hosts never fully confront powerholders for the truth the way Mr. Scotto and I had, recently.

The instance of Mr. Scotto actually confronting Rep. Grimm on camera about allegations of corruption is rare for TV news. Very few reporters dare to actually embrace the discomfort of approaching politicians or lobbyists on camera with questions about political corruption. Because of this rarity, it's all the more evident that the media's two most recent "shake downs" have been of Republican politicians : New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Grimm. No TV news program dares to go after the Democrats, who now oversee the corrupt city Board of Elections, for example. Are behind-the-scenes expressions of anger and rage, like this but never caught on tape, the reason why Democrats have been able to slay the news media from investigating political corruption ?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sunday, January 26, 2014

American Presidential Elections vs. The Miss America Pageant

Really, just how hard would it be to reform federal elections, if we cared ?

They choose from just 2 people to run for President, but 50 for Miss America photo Federal-Election-Reform-President-Miss-America_zpsea5b78bd.jpg

Scurrying Off, In Secret, Away From The Press

Francois Hollande - Sneaks off to meet Mistress at Secret Apartment

Mayor Bill de Blasio has secret rendezvous with American-Israeli group behind closed doors ; French President has secret rendezvous with Julie Gayet behind closed doors

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was "forced to defend himself Friday after a Thursday speech to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee was left off his public schedule," The New York Daily News reported, adding, "A reporter from the website Capital New York who found out about the event and tried to cover it was ejected by security, the outlet said."

Separately, Capital New York reported that Mayor de Blasio blamed AIPAC for refusing entry to the reporter, noting that, "The mayor insisted AIPAC wanted the dinner to be closed to the press, but agreed he should have informed reporters regardless."

This isn't the first time that Mayor de Blasio has locked out reporters from covering a controversial event. Last month, Capital New York reported that then the mayor-elect attended a fundraiser for New Yorkers for Clean Livable & Safe Streets (NY-CLASS), the backers of a controversial $1 million Super PAC that exceeded Campaign Finance Board restrictions to defeat the mayor's chief challenger, Christine Quinn. The NY-CLASS fundraiser was also closed to reporters. (And all the behind-the-scenes lobbying that the mayor did to select Councilmember Mellisa Mark-Viverito as the new Council speaker hasn't been exactly transparent, either.)

During the aftermath of the post-Christmas 2010 blizzard, then Public Advocate Bill de Blasio excoriated Mayor Michael Bloomberg for being absent while the city lay buried in unplowed snow.

"The City Council is calling for an investigation into why so many neighborhoods were still buried in snow, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sent a letter to Bloomberg demanding to know what happened," the local ABC News affiliate reported at the time.

So much for a real progressive reform agenda when it comes to government transparency and openness. Mayor de Blasio's secretive disappearing acts remind us of embattled French President François Hollande, who took to a motor scooter to travel to a secret rendezvous now and then with his mistress, the actress Julie Gayet.

Does the First Lady have anything to worry about ?

Bill de Blasio - Sneaks Into Pro-Israel Lobby AIPAC photo Bill-de-Blasio-TA132a1pp_w860_h617_zps03889c0d.jpg

Bronx Man Dies After Waiting Hours For E.R. To Treat His Rash

Berger Commission and Medicaid Redesign Team hospital closings created failures that have led to long E.R. wait times in New York

A Bronx man who went to Saint Barnabas Hospital to get his rash checked out was found dead in the emergency room waiting room after an eight hour wait. John Verrier, 30, went to St. Barnabas at 10 p.m. last Sunday night; he was found dead by a security guard around 6:40 a.m. the next day. "He was found stiff, blue and cold," a hospital employee told ABC News. "He died because [there's] not enough staff to take care of the number of patients we see each day. We need more staff at Saint Barnabas."

Verrier had his vitals taken when he first got to the hospital, then told to wait for a doctor to see him. Hospital spokesman Steve Clark told the Post that Verrier's name was called "two or three times" between his arrival and 2 a.m. A security guard passed through the waiting room around 2 a.m. to wake up the many homeless people who sleep there, and Verrier was "moving, he was alive." Then when the security guard passed again around 6 a.m., he was dead.

Clark added that an in-house review found “all guidelines were met.” But the hospital worker who spoke to ABC said nobody was really checking on him: "There's no policy in place to check the waiting room to see if people waiting to be seen are still there or still alive." That worker says Verrier's name was called over the PA three times, but "based on number of people in the waiting room it is impossible to check on each person physically."

New York State is ranked 46th in the country in overall emergency room waiting time. St. Barnabas is the worst in the city when it comes to the average time patients spent in the emergency room before being sent home: it's 306 minutes there, compared to a 155 minute wait statewide and the average 137 minute wait nationally.

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Tell Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop closing our hospitals : 1 (518) 474-8390

You can also tweet your concerns to Gov. Cuomo at : @NYGovCuomo

Coca-Cola Social Media Gimmick Censors "Gay" But Not "Straight"

Enjoy Coke, as long as you're not "gay" ?

In a startling new development, the world's largest sugary-drinks maker Coca-Cola has censored its social media followers from using the word "gay" in the company's new social media gimmick -- but not the word "straight."

The normally proud Sochi Olympics sponsor, Coca-Cola is expressing shame to its social media followers if they try to type the word "gay" into a meme generator that lets users affix brief messages on a blank red Coca-Cola can, but one that still bears the trademark white swoosh, or wave. The censorship is evidenced by a capture video of a computer screen's movements posted to YouTube by a user named Kaleb Sutra.

Social media followers who type the word "gay" are met with the following response : “Oops. Let’s pretend you didn’t just type that," the same as if followers had just typed in curse words, like "dick," "pussy," or "bitch."

Coca-Cola's association of "gay" with profanity comes on the heels of the proud Sochi Olympics sponsor trying to disassociate itself from the doomed marketing gimmicks of McDonald's, which launched a karmically-challenged social media campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #CheersToSochi in the face of a violent, seemingly government-sponsored crackdown against LGBT Russians following the passage of an anti-gay propaganda law last year.

That the tinge of censorship has now befallen Coca-Cola's latest social media campaign reveals the adverse advertising conditions the large sugary-drinks maker must confront in connection with this year's controversial Winter Olympics, set to take place in Sochi, a southern Russian coastal resort town across the Black Sea from Turkey. Russia's anti-gay law has sparked global outrage ahead of the Olympics, and many foolish corporations like Coca-Cola, which blindly paid large sums of money to sponsor the Sochi Olympics, must now account to their customers for the sponsorship of the games in a nation that is violently cracking down against its very own LGBT citizens.

Since last summer, Coca-Cola had become the target of protests based on its sponsorship decision, and last week one LGBT activism group released a brilliant YouTube video, mocking Coca-Cola's morally bankrupt brand for having once sponsored multi-cultural dignity and respect but which now supports Russia's violent anti-LGBT crackdown.

No word yet on how Coca-Cola's own Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally (LGBTA) Business Resource Group, or its other Diversity Advisory Councils, are able to reconcile the corporation's controversial sponsorship of the Sochi Olympics.

Is it time for Greenlight Capital to short some stock ?

These latest marketing setbacks add to Coca-Cola's growing problems. Last year, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a highly-visible attack on super-sized sugary drinks, seeking to ban the sale of high-calorie drinks as a way to fight obesity and obesity-related maladies, like diabetes and heart disease. A court blocked Mayor Bloomberg's ban on large sugary-drinks, but Mayor Bloomberg's successor has vowed to fight to restore the ban. Efforts to improve its corporate image have also proved to be problematic for Coca-Cola after the corporation faced allegations that it was depleting ground water and contributing to pollution in India. Coca-Cola's role in creating water shortages in India have led some local authorities to suggest last week that they would take actions to demolish a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Uttar Pradesh.

Coca-Cola is still recovering from the shocking 2009 documentary exposé, The Coca-Cola Case, of its labour violations in Colombia, Guatemala, and Turkey.

Similarly, the damage that McDonald's is doing to its own reputation following it's own deadly silence on the violent Russian LGBT crackdown comes at a time when the world's largest hamburger chain is losing customer loyalty and is facing an embarrassing sales slump. "We've lost some of our customer relevance," CEO Don Thompson told Wall Street analysts during a conference call this week.

Separately, it's unclear how much the credit card issuer VISA stands to lose, if anything, from the recent spree of credit card fraud impacting several large American retailers.

Is it time for Greenlight Capital to create a bespoke basket of Olympic sponsor equities, and then short it ?

2014-01-27 at 21.44.49 Virtual Assistant Greenlight Capital Short Coca-Cola Stock Screen Shot photo 2014-01-27at214449VirtualAssistantGreenlightCapitalShortCoca-ColaStockScreenShot_zpsf71905ed.png

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bill de Blasio's staff had role in determining City Council leadership posts

Mayor de Blasio violated checks-and-balances

Given to how much control Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to have over the City Council, like picking its new speaker, the mayor also wants to have a say in who would lead the various Council leadership posts.

And when Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced this week the new leadership posts for the City Council, her deputy, Councilmember Brad Lander, told reporters, “A lot of people were consulted." When pressed further by reporters about the role of the mayor's administration in selecting the new Council leadership posts, Councilmember Lander admitted that, “Yeah, I guess I did talk to members of the administration ...." (Bill de Blasio aides consulted on New York City Council committee assignments * Capital New York)

Mayor de Blasio's efforts to subvert the will of the City Council in determining its own leadership flies in the face of all the criticisms he hurled at his chief rival in last year's mayoral race. Previously, Mayor de Blasio had excoriated the former Council speaker, Christine Quinn, for serving as a rubber stamp for the former mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

But now, it seems, Mayor de Blasio is seeking from Speaker Mark-Viverito that which he formerly charged Mayor Bloomberg from seeking in Speaker Quinn : a doormat.

New Activist Video Mocks Coca-Cola's "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" Over anti-LGBT Russian Sochi Olympics

LGBT activism group Queer Nation NY release protest video attacking Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the anti-LGBT Russian Sochi Olympics

The pop culture touchstone that was once Coca-Cola's advertising jingle, ''I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)'' has been juxtaposed over snippets of video showing the violent anti-LGBT crackdown taking place right now in Vladamir Putin's Russia.

The irony of the disturbing images in this protest video is that this theme song originated from one of Coca-Cola's most effective advertising campaigns ever -- an advertising jingle, ''I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke (And Keep It Company),'' a little ditty of "hope and love sung by a multicultural collection of teenagers on the top of a hill" -- has been transformed to reveal how morally bankrupt Coca-Cola's brand really is.

If Coca-Cola cared about diversity and the respect and dignity that every person deserves, irrespective of how people may be "different," then Coca-Cola should fully address the violence now taking place in Russia since President Putin enacted legislation that bans the dissemination of so-called "gay propaganda."

Perhaps the LGBT community should begin protests outside of businesses that serve Coca-Cola and sing a new interpretation of "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke (And Keep It Company)," one whose lyrics more accurately reflect the disturbing images of violence and brutality in Queer Nation NY's new protest video.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

After LGBT Twitter Bombs, Is Sochi Olympics Social Media Marketing Dead ?

LGBT Activists Twitter Bomb McDonald's Olympic Hashtag Campaign Until McDonald's Apparently Gives Up.

The Sochi Olympics corporate sponsors, who have been coldly indifferent to President Vladimir Putin's violent crackdown on LGBT Russians, have become targets of online protests by LGBT activists.

Ever since the fastfood chain McDonald's announced a Twitter hashtag campaign around #CheersToSochi, LGBT activists have been reappropriating that hashtag for messages about McDonald's callous response to the ongoing state-sponsored violence and discrimination against LGBT Russians by their very own government.

LGBT activists have been challenging Olympic sponsors, like McDonald's, to break their silence around the violent crackdown against LGBT Russians. When multiple users coordinate tweets with the same hashtag on Twitter, it's called Twitter bombing, a term used to describe either activism or a form of guerrilla advertising, as a way to increase visibility about connotations surrounding a particular hashtag. In the case of McDonald's, activists were trying to convert the commercial aspect of McDonald's Twitter hashtag into a protest about cold, corporate callousness.

The effort of some LGBT activists to challenge McDonald's gained the attention of one prominent openly gay media figure, Michelangelo Signorile, who has been following the LGBT Twitter bombing.

After about three days of the Twitter bombing campaign, McDonald's has appeared to have ceased using #CheersToSochi on Twitter, leading LGBT activists to believe that the large fastfood giant had seen its online goodwill deteriorate beyond salvation.

The damage that McDonald's is doing to its own reputation following it's deadly silence on the violent Russian LGBT crackdown comes at a time when the world's largest hamburger chain is losing customer loyalty and is facing an embarrassing sales slump. "We've lost some of our customer relevance," CEO Don Thompson told Wall Street analysts during a conference call this week.

Activists from around the world are questioning why the media and people in the media are refusing to acknowledge the human rights abuses taking place against LGBT's in Russia. Last year, the French pop superstar Mylène Farmer was in Russia when anti-LGBT violence broke out in Saint-Pétersbourg. Ms. Farmer, who enjoys a huge LGBT fan base, remained mum about each of the violent attack and the over-all crackdown that claims as victims her very own LGBT Russian fan base.

LGBT activists have also been targeting special NBC Olympics commentator Johnny Weir, the former figure skater. Mr. Weir has been using many media appearances to deny that the violent LGBT crackdown is taking place in Russia -- leading activists to label Mr. Weir as a "Putin apologist."

The Advance Group Federal Complaint Referred To Moreland Commission


SPECIAL NEWS UPDATE: FRI, 25 APR 2014, 09:50 AM
Scott Levenson NY-CLASS Christine Quinn Bill de Blasio FBI Investigation into Campaign Corruption photo 2014-04-25TheNewYorkDailyNewsFBIReport_zps189d95ac.png

In the past few weeks, FBI agents have been asking questions about the campaign by the animal rights group NY-CLASS to strong arm former Council Speaker Christine Quinn (center) to support a ban on the iconic horse-drawn carriages, two sources familiar with the matter told The New York Daily News. The horse lobbyists in question include Scott Levenson, and they are linked to Mayor Bill de Blasio (inset). (FBI investigating claim that Christine Quinn was threatened by Scott Levenson for refusing to support carriage horse ban during the mayoral race * The New York Daily News)


Were Possible Coordination of Independent Expenditures and Free Gifts of Lobbying Services Violations of Federal Laws ? Will the Moreland Commission Investigate Possible Campaign Corruption ?

The Civilian Crime Report filed yesterday with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York was forwarded today to certain members of the Moreland Commission. As the Moreland Commission continues its work to investigate public corruption, will it examine The Advance Group's role in the recent past New York City municipal elections ?

2014-01-22 Gmail - Referral to Moreland Commission : The Advance Group

2014-01-20 the Advance Group USAO SDNY Civilian Crime Report

Prior to the backroom deals that selected Melisa Mark-Viverito as the new Council speaker, she had accepted unpaid assistance from The Advance Group, a prominent lobbying firm headed by Scott Levenson, the news Web site Politicker reported. (The Advance Group Helping Melissa Mark-Viverito in Speaker’s Race * Politicker) After controversy erupted over Ms. Mark-Viverito's receipt of unpaid assistance from The Advance Group (City Council Speaker candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito may have violated city ethics rules * The New York Daily News), Ms. Mark-Viverito deceptively announced that she fired the The Advance Group. (Melissa Mark-Viverito Drops Advance Group for Speaker Bid * Politicker) However, Jonathan Yedin, an operative with The Advance Group, has been working in Brooklyn Democratic Party politics for more than a decade and belongs to Frank Seddio’s political club. Mr. Yedin was a crucial player in brokering the backroom deal with Mr. Seddio to give Ms. Mark-Viverito the win in her bid to become the next Council speaker, sources said. (Inside Melissa Mark-Viverito’s Road to Victory * Politicker) But The Advance Group was never paid for their work, according to New York State Board of Elections campaign finance disclosure records, raising the specter anew that Ms. Mark-Viverito was in violation of prohibitions on publicly-elected officials from accepting a “valuable gift” from a firm that intends to do business with the city, according to an analysis by The New York Daily News of the City Charter regulations, which include prohibitions on lobbyists from giving valuable gifts to publicly-elected officials.

The Advance Group, which is providing unpaid consultants to Mark-Viverito, worked for the City Action Coalition PAC, which lists 'traditional marriage' as its platform and supported opponents of gay City Council candidates.
(The New York Daily News)
Did Scott Levenson sabotage LGBT civil rights attorney Yetta Kurland's political campaign ?
(Scott Levenson : Biggest Loser Of The Week * NY Pop Culture & Politics)