Wednesday, April 30, 2008

*spoiler alert*

Meanwhile, as we all focus like a laser on Jeremiah Wright, a second US carrier group has moved into the Persian Gulf, the recession that Bush refuses to acknowledge continues to deepen, the Iraqi occupation slogs along at over $341 million per day, suicide bombers kill in Kabul, Pakistanis struggle to restore an independent judiciary, a real genocide is happening in Sudan, our government continues to justify torture—the list goes on. Take a moment to compare how much time and space your favorite media outlet is giving to these stories. . . now compare that to today’s coverage of Obama’s remarks about Wright. . . .

Thought so.

God damn America.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

hoosiers like their hoops, but I’m thinkin’ ‘bout soups

Reading through reports on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision upholding an Indiana voter ID law, and reading about the rules imposed by Indiana’s Republican legislature on potential voters—most notably presentation of a valid, unexpired, Indiana state or US federal government-issued photo ID at the polls before voting—my mind quickly leapt to the image of Seinfeld’s infamous Soup Nazi. That character (based on real-life New York soup-maker and martinet Al Yaganeh) was famous for offering the most coveted cup of soup in the city, but to deal with the long lines that formed at lunchtime, the soup man imposed a set of strictures—know what you want in advance, no questions, substitutions, or special requests, move to the left after ordering, cash only, have your money ready—that it struck fear in the hearts of many customers. If the sense of intimidation lead to hesitation or an inadvertent violation of a rule, the chef would deny service with the shouted admonition, “No soup for you!”

(Continued on capitoilette. . . .)

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Friday, April 25, 2008

making lemonade out of kool-aid

Shorter me:

I just don’t see what Obama could accomplish on Fox that couldn’t be done better somewhere else.

Longer me: available on capitoilette. . . .

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McCain trying to have his cake and eat it too

(with a bit of “let them eat cake” thrown in, as well)

Republican Senator/perpetual presidential candidate John W. McCain (asshole-AZ) took his Doubletalk Express to New Orleans yesterday in order to use the grave and continuing misfortune of residents there as a handy prop for his personal ambition.

Speaking to a handful of folks—mostly of the Caucasian persuasion—McSame tried to put some completely undefined space between his Bush-lovin’ ass and the president that let New Orleans drown. Of course, the Bush-huggin’ senator stopped far short of actually blaming GWB for the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. . . but the establishment media pretended that he did anyway. . . .

The real news from this photo op came when McCain callously remarked that he was open to tearing down the very neighborhood he was using as a backdrop for his propaganda tour.

[McCain] told reporters he was not sure if he would rebuild the lower 9th ward as president.

"That is why we need to go back is to have a conversation about what to do -rebuild it, tear it down, you know, whatever it is,” he said.

It’s that coda—“whatever it is”—that really gets me. Here he is, on his—what is he calling it?—his “time for action tour,” which is supposed highlight the forgotten people of America—like the mostly poor, African American residents of New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward—and McCain is showing with one turn of phrase a complete lack of understanding for the issue at hand, and a complete lack of compassion for all the people such a “whatever” as tearing down the neighborhood would hurt.

To me, this is essential McCain: stupid and mean. He can’t be bothered to learn the details regarding the weighty subjects of the day (Iranian al Qaeda, anyone?), and fuck you if your details get in the way of his “straight talk.”

Lest anyone forget, here’s what McCain was actually doing on August 29th, 2005, just after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast:
Which, of course, is more essential McCain: hypocrisy in the service of George W. Bush.

Progressive Media USA puts it all in easy to digest pop-up form:

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

accountability alphabet: NYC DoB EPA WTC. . . wtf?

That little cheer you heard on Tuesday afternoon, rising above the noxious symphony of a thousand backhoes and jackhammers that serves as the soundtrack for lower Manhattan these days, well, that was me, celebrating the news that the embattled head of New York City’s Department of Buildings, Pat “Splat” Lancaster, had finally stepped up and stepped down.

Lancaster, who has served as Commissioner for the entire reign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was originally tasked with modernizing the DoB. . . which, under Bloody Mike, meant making it run more smoothly so that developers (don’t call them greedy, just call them Mike’s “base”) could demolish old New York, build their banal office towers, super-luxury high-rises, and boondoggle developments, and cash out before term limits forced a change at City Hall.

And to that end, I’d have to say Lancaster’s tenure has been an, er, um, smashing success.

Bloomberg continued to make it clear that in his idea of New York, you have to break some eggs to make Mike’s “revitalized” breakfast (construction work is “complicated,” he said on Tuesday), but, much to his chagrin, Lancaster used these “raw materials” to make a garbage omelet.

Ms. Lancaster not only presided over increases in construction-related deaths and injuries for most of this decade, several high-profile disasters like last year’s Deutsche Bank fire and last month’s crane collapse revealed an agency that consistently failed to perform some of its most basic tasks. Safety inspections were not done, complaints of unsafe conditions were not taken seriously, building violations were allowed to mount with little consequence, and zoning restrictions were ignored. This year’s thirteen construction deaths have already surpassed 2007’s dirty dozen, but Lancaster’s position remained safe until she made an absolute idiot of herself at a public hearing of the City Council last Thursday. (She not only fessed up—sort of—to ignoring zoning restrictions on the building that spawned the crane collapse, she was unable to identify any other dangerous sites that she and her agency had previously been asked to find and fix.)

Well, doing bad is one thing, but, to media mogul Mike, looking bad is another—so, on Monday, the mayor distanced himself from Lancaster, and, on Tuesday, he “accepted her resignation” (at least he thinks that’s how it went down—he really didn’t sound too sure).

It remains to be seen what Lancaster has to say for herself now that she has been set adrift from the Good Ship Gracie Mansion, but if she were feeling the strain of tiny budgets and untoward influences while she held a position of power, then she owed it to the citizens of New York to stand up and say something. Her relative silence in the face of years of construction disasters was all I needed to, uh, hear to know that Splat wasn’t doing her job. . .

. . . though paragraphs like the following also make that pretty damn clear:

Her defenders, including a number of developers, said that Ms. Lancaster, 54, had been unfairly blamed for the failings of an antiquated and underfinanced department with a long history of corruption, inefficiency and missing records.

“She did a terrific job in getting the department back on track,” the developer Douglas Durst said.

. . . .

She built a considerable following in the industry she helped regulate.

“I think the world of Patricia Lancaster,” said Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, a trade group. “I think she accomplished an enormous amount.”

Calling her “a shining star,” he added, “If you look at her six-year record, it’s overwhelmingly positive.”

It is very worth noting that the only quotes singing Lancaster’s praises came from the industry that she was supposed to regulate—the Times had none to offer from the people that she was supposed to protect.

It kind of gives new substance to six years of accusations that Lancaster was too cozy with developers and contractors.

Lie down with dogs, and you get a dog’s dinner.

And while we’re on the subject of lying, let’s take a moment to address yesterday’s ruling in the case of former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman.

In February of 2006, I wrote with more than a little personal interest about the ruling by Manhattan Federal Judge Deborah Batts that residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the World Trade Center could sue Whitman for lying about air quality in the aftermath of the Twin Towers’ collapse.

“Whitman's deliberate and misleading statements to the press, where she reassured the public that the air was safe to breathe around lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and that there would be no health risk presented to those returning to those areas, shocks the conscience,” Judge Batts wrote.

“By these actions,” Batts added, Mrs. Whitman “increased, and may have in fact created, the danger” to people living and working near the trade center.

About 50,000 personal computers, 424,000 tons of concrete, 2,000 tons of asbestos, and untold tons of other toxic junk were turned to dust when the towers fell. I was walking around in a stupid surgical mask for days afterwards—I’d gag and cough when I took it off. That’s not a scientific assessment, but, apparently, neither was Christie’s.

Now, more than two years and several WTC Syndrome fatalities later, a federal appeals court has overturned Judge Batts.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that Mrs. Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, was forced to balance competing interests after the attack. The court found that complying with instructions from the White House to hasten the return of financial workers to Wall Street as soon as possible after the World Trade Center was destroyed conflicted with Mrs. Whitman’s obligation to highlight the health risks facing people who lived, worked or went to school in Lower Manhattan.

“Whether or not Whitman’s resolution of such competing considerations was wise,” the court said, “she has not engaged in conduct that ‘shocks the conscience’ in the sense necessary to create constitutional liability for damages to thousands of people.”

The competing interests of. . . wait, let me get this straight. . . the interest of lying to cover for the president’s lies is competing with the interest of protecting the health and well-being of the citizenry. I am almost speechless (almost). If Christie Whitman’s conduct doesn’t shock the conscience, the idea that there was a balance to be struck between these “interests” most certainly does.

Well, if the head of the government agency tasked with testing the air quality isn’t accountable for her lies because she had to consider the interests of the White House, then surely someone higher up in the Bush Administration must be accountable, right?


Where does the buck stop around here—in the country, in New York City—where? Is any public servant ever going to be held responsible for what they do (as opposed to being held responsible for whom they do. . . well, at least if that official is a Democrat) while entrusted with the care of the people that pay their salaries?

Be it buildings falling down or building going up, it seems increasingly clear that the answer is “no.” If you are not rich, powerful, of a friend thereof, if you need the protection of the NYC DoB or the US EPA, well then, I’m afraid that you are SOL.

(cross-posted on capitoilette, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Friday, April 18, 2008

DoB admits it approves buildings that don’t meet zoning requirements

An absolute stunner in today’s New York Times:

The high-rise building under construction on the East Side where a crane collapse last month killed seven people did not conform with zoning regulations and was approved in error, the city’s buildings commissioner said on Thursday at a City Council hearing.

Later, in a clarification, the commissioner, Patricia J. Lancaster, told reporters that the Buildings Department should not have approved the building as proposed. But she left open the possibility that it might have been properly approved in a different configuration.

The commissioner would not say whether the high-rise, set for 43 stories at 303 East 51st Street and Second Avenue, should have been built at a different height or interior square footage.

. . . .

The approval error was discovered before the crane collapse when the developer, James P. Kennelly, asked that his plans be reviewed for compliance, Kate Lindquist, a department spokeswoman, said after the hearing.

“The zoning issues have to do with the configuration of the building and the way the tax lots are combined,” Ms. Lindquist said. A tax lot is a tract of land used by the city to determine real estate taxes.

The department did not seek to stop the project as soon as the error was discovered because buildings officials were talking to Mr. Kennelly to resolve the matter, Ms. Lindquist said. Neither she nor Ms. Lancaster would give a specific date for the discovery of the error. Calls to Mr. Kennelly were not returned.

. . . .

Under direct and often withering questioning by council members at the hearing of the Housing and Buildings Committee, called to review crane safety and inspection, Ms. Lancaster said the building under construction had been approved “not in accordance with the zoning regulation.”

“Wow,” said Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, whose district includes the site of the crane collapse. “You’re telling me this building should never have been approved in the first place?”

“That is correct,” Ms. Lancaster replied.

After her testimony, Ms. Lancaster sought to clarify her remarks with reporters.

In response to a question about what specifically was wrong with the Buildings Department’s clearance of the project, Ms. Lancaster replied: “It has to do with the zoning regulations, where setbacks and the height and width and the combination of zoning laws, and when you can combine them and when you can’t. It’s complex.”

Does this mean that the building should never have been approved at all? the reporter continued.

“I think the community doesn’t want the building at all,” the commissioner replied. “In fact, that property owner has property rights like anybody else who owns property and can build a building there. The question is the configuration. It’s a small adjustment in the configuration.”

Asked to elaborate on the adjustment, Ms. Lancaster said officials were “still in conversation” with the developer about that.

During the hearing, the buildings commissioner said she could not quantify the pace of building construction in New York City. Several council members said it was “out of control” and “astronomical.”

Another stunner: Pat “splat” Lancaster still has her job.

As has been reported earlier, the Trump SoHo is also being built in violation of its area’s zoning restrictions. But, as Lancaster has now admitted, the Department of Buildings doesn’t let a silly thing like the law get in the way of a developer’s rush toward astronomical profits.

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dear Mr. Hoyt. . .

Mr. Clark Hoyt
Public Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Dear Mr. Hoyt,

It has now been nine days since reporters at ABC News told us of “dozens of top-secret talks and meetings” held in the White House by senior Bush Administration officials to discuss in fine detail the interrogation techniques to be used on so-called “high value al Qaeda suspects,” and it has been one week since ABC told us that President Bush knew about these meetings and approved of the result—namely, the torture of certain detainees by CIA interrogators.

I make note of this timeline because, as of this writing, I am still waiting for the New York Times to report on these revelations.

At first I thought I had just missed the story. Surely the paper of record finds it newsworthy that the Vice President of the United States, The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the National Security Advisor (who is now, herself, Secretary of State) all gathered in the people’s house and there agreed to violate domestic law and international treaties—not to mention some of the principles most Americans consider central to what we are as a nation. Surely the Times thinks it noteworthy that a President that has repeatedly told your reporters and the American people that “we don’t torture” has now cavalierly admitted that we do, and did even while he claimed the contrary. Surely your paper, which only days earlier had reported on how one Justice Department Attorney had drafted a memo theoretically legitimizing torture for his bosses, came to realize with the reporting by ABC that the very highest ranking officials of the executive branch approved of torture and designed methods even before they obtained their legal “cover.”

Surely the New York Times could not have decided that none of this was worthy of some independent reporting or at least some prime space on their news pages.

At least that is what I thought.

But after a week of watchful waiting, it seems, I surely thought wrong.

A Times search of the terms “George Bush,” “George W. Bush,” and/or “President Bush” narrowed by “torture” turns up no entries after your April 2 news piece and April 4 editorial on the Yoo memorandum. Broadening the search to “Bush” and “interrogation” only adds an AP wire story about a DoJ probe of whether the advice in the March 2003 memo was even legal.

Honestly, this makes absolutely no sense to me. I cannot think of any rationale that would explain why the Times has chosen to ignore a story about a sitting President and his top officials discussing, designing, and approving methods by which to torture other human beings—no matter whether they are “high value suspects” or some other type of captive—especially when you have President Bush confirming on the record that these torture meetings took place. That is why I am now writing to you.

I would greatly appreciate an explanation from your point of view, and, of course, from the viewpoint of the editors in charge of delineating what are, to my mind, such skewed priorities.

I appreciate your attention, and look forward to your response.


New York City

This is the letter I sent this morning to New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt. While others have rightfully advocated for letters to the editor in order to protest what is a shameful silence by the establishment media in light of such grave revelations, I decided that it might also do us well to contact public editors, ombudsmen, and the like, since they are supposed to be our most direct link when we have questions about or problems with the choices made by the news organizations. They are also often tasked with investigating the errors and oversights of the reporters and editors.

I encourage all reading this to send their own questions to Clark Hoyt, and to similarly tasked people at other newspapers and television news divisions. If you have—and if you have had any response—please let me know in the comments section.


(cross-posted on capitoilette, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pat and Mike kill again

With Monday’s death of a 25-year-old window installer on the upper east side of Manhattan, city construction accidents have now killed ten New Yorkers (according to the New York Times; 13 by WNYC’s count) since the start of 2008. But if Mayor Michael “Bloody Mike” Bloomberg or his Buildings Commissioner Patricia “stick with Pat—see workers go splat” Lancaster are alarmed, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

“We will be holding the individuals responsible for this terrible tragedy accountable,” Ms. Lancaster said during a visit to the site. “Construction companies, owners, architects and engineers have to obey the law.”

And, by “obey the law,” Lancaster means letting the construction companies, owners, architects, and engineers continue to build their monuments to Bloody Mike’s revitalization plan and profit off of the deaths of working class New Yorkers to the tune $45 million this decade.

“Safety is not a priority at the Buildings Department,” says US Representative Carolyn Maloney (whose district includes the site of the latest construction death)—which is a problem, since the DoB is the city agency tasked with ensuring construction site safety.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer reported that the development that killed the worker on Monday had been cited for 38 building code violations; the DoB says the number is 25, but whatever the number, construction continued while fines were assessed totaling a whopping $25,690. . . on a 30-story luxury tower that will net its developers millions in profits.

Under the reign of Bloomberg and Lancaster, construction accidents, injuries, and deaths have all skyrocketed while NYC development has charged ahead. Mayor Bloomberg has pretty much always exhibited a callous “to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs” attitude toward the city residents that actually work and live here, so his official silence on Monday, while disgusting, is hardly surprising. But, it is amazing to me that Commissioner Lancaster—a woman who continually talks of trying to reclaim the Department of Buildings from the years of neglect it suffered under Mayor Rudy Giuliani—well, it’s amazing to me that Pat can sleep nights.

I have, in recent months, repeatedly called for accountability in these matters. I have called for Lancaster to accept responsibility for the repeated failures of her department and step down—and if she won’t step down, then it is Mayor Bloomberg’s responsibility to show that he finds this reign of death/rain of bodies intolerable and fire her. At this point, however, after so many have died and continue to do so with no real accountability, that really isn’t enough.

I am not often one to call for frog-marching. . . but my feeling today is that slapping on the handcuffs and hauling Patricia Lancaster down to the courthouse is the least that this city can do. The Bloomberg Administration’s disregard for worker safety—indeed, all of our safety—is criminal. If the city’s officials can’t see their way clear to jailing the developers and contractors that keep killing New Yorkers, then it is time for us New Yorkers to start jailing our officials.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

outsourcing the surveillance state

With a scant nine months left to the Bush Administration, the push to open every single minute in the lives of every single American to the watchful eyes of the federal government is in crunch time. Obviously, in order to fight The Global War on Terror ™, it is crucial that everything we say and do is documented, recorded, analyzed, and stored for future use against us in a court of law military tribunal. But total surveillance is expensive, and with the Iraq War siphoning about a half-million dollars from the GWOT™ every minute, our watchful minders are now having trouble finding the necessary cash to pay all their bills to the great and patriotic telecommunications companies and related industrialists and war profiteers.

Here’s where you can help.

With the Quik Pod Pro ™, you now can fill in some of the all-seeing eye’s blind spots. Simply extend the telescoping, lightweight, aeronautical-grade aluminum Quik Pod shaft, and you can make sure that you capture every waking moment in wide angle. You never again have to ask a friend, family member, or random passerby to handle your surveillance (which means that you only have to carry one camera, because if a friend, family member, or random passerby is photographing you, it is only fair, after all, that you take over photographing them).

There’s no need for a macro lens because the Quik Pod extends to a full 18.5 inches—and there’s a built in mirror to make sure that you, as a loyal and patriotic American, are always in the frame.

So, do your part John and Jane Q. Public! Help George and Dick keep you out of the sights of the terrorists by keeping yourself in the sights of George and Dick. Pick up your Quik Pod Pro for $29.95 (a Quik Pod tax deduction is in the works) wherever fine surveillance equipment is sold.

Quik Pod: because Uncle Sam and Ma Bell can’t always be there.

Help us help you help us.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

for want of a Penn. . .

Normally I hate kicking a guy when he’s down, but when it comes to Mark Penn, really, you just can’t kick hard enough. . . .

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