Monday, March 29, 2010

Landing the Space Shuttle in Manhattan

The effort to bring one of NASA's space shuttles to Manhattan appears to be gaining momentum. Manhattan is the perfect destination for a Space Shuttle, and NASA should listen carefully to leaders in New York City as they seek to secure a Space Shuttle for the Intrepid Museum.

Intrepid Museum

All New Yorkers can be very proud of the Intrepid Museum. It is a jewel and an example of what makes Manhattan the best place in the world. It now welcomes one million visitors each year and continues to innovate and impress.

The Intrepid Museum web site describes its history extremely well.

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is one of America’s leading historic, cultural and educational institutions. Opened in 1982, the Museum has welcomed more than 10 million visitors. The Museum is centered on the aircraft carrier Intrepid (CVS-11), one of the most successful ships in US history, and now a national historic landmark and one of the most unique attractions in New York City. In 1943, Intrepid was commissioned and served proudly in World War II. She went on to serve as one of the primary recovery vessels for NASA, three tours of duty off Vietnam, and submarine surveillance in the North Atlantic during the Cold War. Today she continues her service as a premiere educational center and a monument to all who have served our nation in uniform.
The Intrepid also has a special place in Black History. During World War II, when the US military was still racially segregated, African American volunteers in the US Navy were assigned a battle station on the Intrepid. These African American Navy volunteers bravely defended the Intrepid during combat in the Philippines, and ten of the volunteers were killed in battle.

Landing the Space Shuttle

New York's elected officials and even Arizona Senator John McCain (who served on the Intrepid) have called upon NASA to choose Manhattan as the destination for one of the Space Shuttles when the Shuttles go into retirement.

The New York Daily News has offered its support for the idea.

Yesterday, Senator Gillibrand was joined by Senator Schumer aboard the Intrepid to highlight the strengths of the plan to bring a Space Shuttle to Manhattan.

The logic and the logistics lend strong support to the effort to bring a Space Shuttle to Manhattan and to the Intrepid. NASA is seeking locations with large numbers of visitors and where the Space Shuttles can be enjoyed in an attractive environment. NASA also needs a long run-way to land a Space Shuttle on the back of a special jumbo jet, and JFK can provide the needed length.

Please sign the petition to bring a Space Shuttle to Manhattan and to NYC. The Intrepid is the right place for a Space Shuttle, and Manhattan is the proud home of the Intrepid.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Count Manhattan in the Census

Last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer articulated the need for Manhattan residents to participate in the Census this year. We need to follow his guidance, and we also need to change how the Census numbers are used for the distribution of government funds.

Stringer Asks Manhattan to Be Counted

Census forms just started arriving in Manhattan, and we must focus on getting the word out to our friends and neighbors regarding the benefits of participating in the census. We only have an opportunity to participate in a census once every ten years, and there is far too much at stake for us to fail to take full advantage of the situation. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is taking a leadership role in organizing Manhattan efforts to ensure that every Manhattan resident is counted in the 2010 Census. As he stated in an email to Manhattan residents last week, hundreds of billions of federal funds are distributed based on the population numbers that come from the census.

Stringer is collaborating with a broad coalition of individuals and entities to get Manhattan to stand up and be counted. As he stated in his email:
We have come together as elected officials representing communities in Manhattan to encourage every resident in the borough to participate in the 2010 Census. We have joined forces with community-based and non-profit organizations, along with individual volunteers, to conduct extensive outreach – and are soon hitting the streets to educate as many people as possible about the importance of responding to the 2010 Census. Now, more than ever, we need a strong response rate to ensure New York City gets the financial support it requires. The 2010 Census is completely confidential. We assure you that none of the information provided on the form is released, under strict penalty of law.

Every person who cares about our great borough and our great city should ask every friend or acquaintance living in Manhattan or anywhere in NYC to fill out the census forms and send them in immediately.

Theft Continues

While we need to be counted, we also must advocate for the census results to be used in a more fair way in the future. We have previously stated our frustration with the mistreatment of Manhattan and of communities of color in the census.

The census counts incarcerated individuals as living in the community where the prison is located rather than in their home community. While, as of 2002, only 24% of those incarcerated in New York State are from Upstate New York, 91% of prisons are in that part of the state. Manhattan loses the votes of those incarcerated and must subsidize the education and lifestyle of upstate communities. Manhattan subsidizes the parks in upstate communities, and Manhattan's ability to fight back is limited by the increased voting power of upstate communities. In fact, many Federal program dollars are allocated based on the number of low-income residents are in a given community. The Census results in those dollars being provided to upstate communities who don’t use the funds to aid those incarcerated individuals. This circumstance creates a windfall from the Federal Government for upstate communities at the expense of Manhattan and NYC.

It is worth noting that more than 80% of New York State's prisoners are Black or Latino, while the state's prison locations are nearly all in areas with very few Black or Latino residents. Though drug use equally common outside of communities of color as it is within communities of color (see page 271 of this report by the US Department of Health and Human Services), ninety percent of those in NY State prisons based on drug offenses are Black or Latino. Therefore, this theft from Manhattan is also a piece of a broader crime against ethnic minorities and people of color who reside in New York State. The impact of the diluted voting power and reduced resources that result from this theft is concentrated in neighborhoods where Black and Latino residents live in the largest numbers. These facts add insult to the injury. See a detailed report on the effect of prison populations on legislative districts in New York State in a report by the Prison Policy Institute.

Let us participate in the census this year in larger numbers than ever, and let us aggressively advocate for the process to be changed to eliminate the abuse of Manhattan and NYC as well as to eliminate the abuse of communities of color.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Soda Taxation Frustration

Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson have erred in pushing for a "soda tax" in New York. The plan to tax non-diet soda at 1 cent per fluid ounce is both regressive and illogical.

Regressive Taxation . . . Again?

We have been very critical of Mayor Bloomberg's love of regressive taxes. In 2009, the Mayor relied on regressive taxes to close his budget gap.
Regressive taxes should be avoided. By asking those with the lowest incomes to pay more of their income in taxes than those with the highest income, we increase inequality, punish poverty, dampen spirits, and promote social ills. We also lose moral authority. For privileged people to demand more of those with lesser privilege than they do of themselves creates an impression of reverse-Robin Hood politics - shifting wealth and income from poorer individuals to wealthier individuals based on a belief that wealthier people will make better use of the wealth being shifted. Mayor Bloomberg, as a multi-billionaire, may hold a view that wealthier people should have greater wealth than they do today and that poorer people should have less, but such a position is political untenable, morally repugnant, and contrary to basic principals of macroeconomics. When poorer people obtain additional wealth, they increase demand in the economy, which creates jobs and increases profits for businesses. Wealthier people are more like to save or invest additional cash - activities that are not unhealthy but that cannot create the level of economic growth that consumer spending does.

Ironically, the Mayor is supporting Governor Paterson in this regressive soda taxation effort. Paterson is likely the most progressive Governor in the history of our state, but he seems to be willing to ask the poor to fund his budget gap because the gap is so large. He should find another way.

A soda tax would take a far larger share of income from poor and low income New Yorkers than from those more fortunate. It is a classic regressive tax, and unlike cigarette taxes, it cannot successfully be defended on the basis of a claim that soda consumption is uniquely dangerous or unhealthy.


Advocates for the soda tax have attempted to justify it as a health measure, but making such claims undermines the credibility of the advocates.

Soda is singled out for taxation on the basis of its contribution to obesity, but candy bars, cakes, cookies, pies, and ice cream would not be affected. Can anyone argue that we should encourage New Yorkers to eat more candy bars and ice cream but drink less non-diet soda as our strategy for reducing obesity in New York? Even amongst drinks, soda is not the worst offender. Soda and orange juice have approximately the same amount of sugar. Grape juice has 70% more sugar than soda. If it is sugar consumption which we want to reduce, we should tax grape juice as well as candy bars and ice cream before we go after soda.

Also, obesity is a result of excess calories and a lack of exercise. We could subsidize exercise, tax calorie consumption, or tax excess weight itself of we want to encourage healthier behavior. Perhaps the Governor should set up weigh stations for people; if people are found to have lost weight based on voluntary official state-sponsored weigh-ins, they should be eligible for a tax credit.

The search for additional government revenues should focus elsewhere. Soda is not the source of our problems, and it shouldn't become our whipping boy.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Accountability In Vogue

After a second horrible political week in a row for Upper Manhattan, we look forward to the future.

Paterson Faces More Questions

The lesson seems to be re-learned again and again. The cover-up is more of a problem than the initial act. Governor Paterson has been accused of encouraging an accuser of one of his aides to avoid cooperating with the investigation into the investigation. That misstep has combined with his low poll numbers and his unwise attacks on the Kennedy family to cause him to announce that he will not seek re-election. Last week brought new allegations and new calls for the Governor to resign.

Those calls for resignation preceded the release of new ethics findings suggesting that Governor Paterson lied under oath with regard to a handful of World Series tickets he received from the Yankees (We are skeptical of any Yankee-related accusations, because Governor Paterson is a Mets fan). The situation may remind many of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy's legal troubles during the Clinton Administration. In Espy's case, there was no cover-up, and Espy was found not guilty of each of the mountain of charges he faced. The key is to avoid the cover-up.

Speaker Silver has expressed a desire to see Paterson remain in office, for now. We can all imagine that absorbing yet another NY governor resignation may cause more chaos than cleansing. Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch is enormously respected and has demonstrated the skills one seeks in a Governor. But, elevating the Lt. Governor will create new problems as he would seek to replace the Paterson staff and advisers with individuals he trusts personally. The budget negotiations may need to be re-started, and Governor Ravitch may choose to seek the appointment of a new Lt. Governor.

All of those challenges may be less problematic than the challenge of a lame duck Governor facing multiple investigations for misconduct.

Let us hope that Paterson proves to be an effective lame duck in spite of the allegations and investigations he faces.

Rangel's Gavel

Upper Manhattan's Congressman, Charlie Rangel relinquished his chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Though all of the allegations against him relate to sloppiness rather than greed or corruption, he found that he was creating more political problems for his Democratic colleagues than he was willing to endure. He stepped aside.

We hope that after the 2010 election, Congressman Rangel will return to his role as Chairman of Ways and Means or be placed in another high-impact chairmanship in the House. His 40 years of service may make him as effective leading another committee as he would be leading Ways and Means.

Bloomberg Must Be Scrutinized

The Paterson and Rangel troubles have reminded us that politics is a tough business. Warm-hearted people who would never harm another person can be hit with mud and attacks that don't end until they force a resignation (or that even go beyond the resignation, as in the Espy case). Both men will continue to face attacks from political opponents and journalists, and both men will face intense additional scrutiny in the coming months.

But, Mayor Bloomberg has escaped scrutiny for far worse deeds than the allegations of misconduct facing either of Paterson or Rangel.

Bloomberg has set a new record for stop-and-frisk activity in NYC, and he has permitted that activity to focus only on Black and Latino residents of New York City. Despite many protests, Bloomberg has continued to collect and retain data about the hundreds of thousands of NYC residents that are stopped each year. If Paterson had ordered the state police to stop hundreds of thousands of white residents (but to avoid stopping non-whites) and retain their personal details, does anyone think that he wouldn't be held accountable for that act of racial discrimination, poor policing policy, poor judgment, and violation of the rights of the people of New York? Bloomberg gets away with it every day. A New York Times columnist sought the resignation of the Police Chief because of the "gruesome and racist" practices of the NYPD in a column last week. But, the Police Chief takes direction from the Mayor. The fish rots from the head. Bloomberg should resign.

Bloomberg aggressively fought to continue the racial discrimination against African Americans in the Fire Department of New York. Even after the courts ordered him to cease the racial discrimination, Bloomberg expressed his wish to continue the discrimination.

Regarding the governor's actions in the possible intervention between his aide and a woman, the media and politicians are all stating that any allegation of improper influence must be investigated thoroughly and completely.

Where was this same concern when the mayor's office admittedly intervened into a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney of the Deutsche Bank fire, which killed my son Joey Graffagnino and fellow Firefighter Robert Beddia? The mayor's office even brokered a deal that there would be no criminal charges against any government agency or general contractor Bovis.

Where was the outcry from the media and politicians? Where were the cries to have an in-depth and thorough investigation into the mayor's office's actions? I guess the rules are different for a powerful mayor than they are for a besieged governor. How come no one has asked the attorney general to investigate this hypocrisy of justice? After all, the Deutsche Bank building is state-owned and state funds were spent.

Justice and unbiased investigations are more than just words. They are the foundations that all Americans are to believe and adhere to. Equality should be the same no matter if you're the governor, the mayor or a common citizen. Would the attorney general investigate the city's actions and the DA's actions into the Deutsche Bank fire and subsequent actions since then, or must it be during an election year? - Joseph Graffagnino

Now that we have found ourselves fixated by the desire to hold our elected officials accountable for their behavior, we should apply the accountability standard to Bloomberg.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Skin Color Requirement for Ethics

As we see the sad end of Governor Paterson's campaign for Governor and the US House's Ethics Committee admonishment of Charlie Rangel, we are reminded that we have overcome coordinated attacks in the past, and we will win again. More than ever, we have an increased awareness of the impact of skin color on political determinations.

Bad Week for Upper Manhattan

The New York State Police committed horrible crimes under Pataki, they engaged in criminal behavior on behalf of Spitzer, and their culture of criminality has ended Governor Paterson's run for Governor. We hope that Governor Paterson will clean house at the New York State Police headquarters and not leave this mess for his successor. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo did not create this mess, and he has no obligation to fix it from his current seat.

The NY Times unjustified and inappropriate attacks on the Governor will now appear justified by the behavior of the New York State Police. That should not be permitted.

Similarly, Upper Manhattan should not permit Chairman Rangel to be undermined by the Ethics Committee of the US House.

Skin Color Requirement

The Ethics Committee of the US House admonished Chairman Rangel for taking a Caribbean trip that the Ethics Committee had specifically authorized. The approach to the trip was guided by the Ethics Committee staff, but the Ethics Committee (with a straight face) chose to pretend the there was mild wrong-doing by others instead of simply apologizing for their own lack of integrity and lack of competence.

The comments of one member of Congress tell the story. House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, said she found the action “puzzling and inconsistent” because the ethics panel gave Rangel and five other lawmakers permission to take the trips and “five of them are exonerated of everything but Charlie is not.”

Even more troubling is the requirement that those investigated by the Ethics Committee be African American. In November, we learned that 100% of the members of Congress under full-scale investigation by the Ethics Committee are African American.
A document leaked to The Washington Post [in late October] showed that nearly three dozen lawmakers have come under scrutiny this year by either the House ethics committee or the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog created in 2008 at the insistence of Pelosi. While the list contained a substantial number of white lawmakers, the ethics committee has not yet launched formal investigative subcommittees with respect to any of them — as it has with the seven African-American members.

Why does the Ethics Committee attack members for activities that the Ethics Committee pre-approved? Why does the Ethics Committee have the view that it can only conduct full-scale investigations of African Americans?

Perhaps the "culture of corruption" that many of us thought was engineered by the Bush White House is still a potent influence within the Ethics Committee.

Stringer Food Fight Continues

Manhattan Borough President deserves praise for his creative, policy-oriented fight for improve nutrition and a better food strategy for all of New York City. We have analyzed his previous food proposals and been vocal about our enthusiasm for his approach. We will discuss his detailed and updated food plan in greater detail in the future, but his consistent attention to this issue is a reminder of how fortunate we are to have the benefit of his leadership here in Manhattan.