Saturday, November 3, 2018

How To Vote On The Three City Charter Reform (Reform?- Really?) Proposals on The November 6, 2018 Ballot! (NO, NO. . . & MAYBE. .?)

The adviceon how to vote on three proposal to change the NYC Charter sent out by two activist coalitions (above) is pretty similar and largely negative about the proposals.
The short answer is—

Vote NO on #1
Vote NO on #2
On #3?: Think about it, only MAYBE? YES.

In other words on the three proposals to change the New York Cit Charter that are on Tuesday’s ballot (all that “flip the ballot” stuff you have been hearing about that sounds oddly, perhaps intentionally, reminiscent of “Flip the Congress”) here is how it is recommended that informed, community activist-minded voters vote:
1.    On “Campaign Finance Reform- Reducing the amount of contributions to politician’s campaigns and increasing the amount of matching funds.”  VOTE NO.

2.    On “Creation of New Community Engagement Agency.”   VOTE NO.

3.    On “Term Limits on Community Boards.”  MAYBE VOTE YES (but THINK ABOUT IT!!- see below)
We are shortcutting this process and not doing all our own thinking on it.  Instead, having reviewed them, we present here the consonant recommendations, with some very validly expressed reasoning of both MTOPP (The Movement To Protect The People) and The New Yorkers For A Human-Scale City Alliance, two activist group coalitions vigorously fighting for more responsible, less destructive development (with less displacement) that will better reflect the wishes of New Yorkers.
First off, as you can glean from the title of this post, to call something a “reform” doesn’t mean that it actually is validly and unquestionably a “reform”; some changes labeled “reforms” actually make things worse for most of use while shifting more power, benefit and control to the powerful (think Trump’s “Tax Code Reform).  Next, the way that revisions to the City Charter get proposed and put before the voters makes it likely that proposed changes will benefit those already powerful and controlling the process and not those wanting to challenge power.  This will likely hold as the general reality of things unless and until strong, broad based populist efforts seize the initiative and coordinate for proposals that effect true reform.  That is not exactly true of the mostly below-the-radar way that the current proposals were cooked and served up.

Here is some background on what happened as described by The New Yorkers For A Human-Scale City Alliance.
The Mayor created a Charter Review Commission last spring, shoved it through with little advertising or public debate, and that Commission came up with three ballot proposals that you will encounter when you go to vote next week.  Most voters had no idea it was happening.  We testified at one of their hearings about campaign finance and community board reform.

The City Council, not to be outdone, created its own Charter Review Commission, which, I am told, is preparing another round of hearings this winter. We testified at the first round of their hearings and will be testifying again this winter and spring.

The composition of both Commissions is not encouraging (too many people who reflect the views of Big Real Estate and the Mayor), but the presence of campaign finance reform advocate Sal Albanese on the Council's commission is a hopeful sign that the Council's Commission will continue to address that particular issue this winter and we could get better reform ideas out of them that with the bad ideas the Mayor's team has come up with.  Here is what is on the ballot (to see more detail, go to Ballotopedia here.)
Remember that every ballot proposal is worded by the people who want to see it enacted and is thus worded with the hope of enticing people to vote for it.

One thing that is highly discouraging is that, as City and State observes in its reporting: “The measures from de Blasio’s commission . . have drawn overwhelming approval from the city’s Democratic lawmakers.”  Proposals that please "Big Real Estate and the Mayor"?  This is another example of how the Democratic machine in New York City continues to work against the most fundamental interests of the public while nominally working for the public dressing up, without significant challenge from the press, in fauxmanteau progressivism.  That’s why, to get some genuine reforms, this city needs to institute instant run-off voting and start growing third party generated alternatives for the voters to vote for.

Below are the proposals worded as you will see them on Tuesday’s ballot followed, in each case respectively by the analysis and recommendations of MTOPP and The New Yorkers For A Human-Scale City Alliance.  Interjected in brackets is some of my own Noticing New York thinking about the composition of community boards.
Question #1: Campaign Finance
This proposal would amend the City Charter to lower the amount a candidate for City elected office may accept from a contributor. It would also increase the public funding used to match a portion of the contributions received by a candidate who participates in the City’s public financing program.

In addition, the proposal would make public matching funds available earlier in the election year to participating candidates who can demonstrate need for the funds. It would also ease a requirement that candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, or Public Advocate must meet to qualify for matching funds.

The amendments would apply to participating candidates who choose to have the amendments apply to their campaigns beginning with the 2021 primary election, and would then apply to all candidates beginning in 2022.
Shall this proposal be adopted?
MTOP’s Recommendation to vote NO:
Campaign Finance Reform- Reducing the amount of contributions to politician’s campaigns and increasing the amount of matching funds.
First you have to keep in mind that there are a lot of laws on the books that allow Politicians to get large sums of money from various sources.  For example, campaigning and collecting funds when you are not facing an opponent!  This allows existing elected officials to create large war chests that they can use later, if a challenger does come a few years down the line.

Thus the reducing of the contributions will only benefit the large, well machined candidates who have the real estate industry working behind them exercising all of those other loopholes.  Whereas the small candidates who truly must rely upon small contributions will be further hurt. 

For example, in the election campaign against Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, she had three campaigns working for her. Her own, the Mayor’s and the Hotel Industry!!!  So a reduction in contributions to her campaign would not have made much of a difference, but with Ede, who was running against her, it would have been large since she had only one campaign!

MTOPP's  Position:
MTOPP says no.  If real voting reform is wanted (and it is not) then all of these loopholes need to be eliminated not just campaign contributions.
The New Yorkers For A Human-Scale City Alliance’s Recommendation to vote NO:
Proposal 1:  Vote No.  Lowers the maximum campaign contribution in the City's Campaign Finance Law (not the state law) from $5,000 to $2,000.
Vote NO.

Why vote no?  Think about it. Can you afford to give $2,000 to a politician?  This is a fake fix to the campaign finance system and all the politicians know it.  It won't stop the dependence of politicians on the wealthy or on big real estate, nor does it even address the issue we have been raising for a year about loopholes big as trucks that allow big real estate to get around the rules that are part of this law. This isn't a even an improvement - it's a pretend fix, an actual insult to good government groups and to the public. Don't let any politician get away with the claim that they "improved" the system with this one. It would be a shameful lie on their part.  Vote NO.
* * * *
Question #2: Civic Engagement Commission
This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Create a Civic Engagement Commission that would implement, no later than the City Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2020, a Citywide participatory budgeting program established by the Mayor to promote participation by City residents in making recommendations for projects in their communities;

Require the Commission to partner with community based organizations and civic leaders, as well as other City agencies, to support and encourage civic engagement efforts;

Require the Commission to establish a program to provide language interpreters at City poll sites, to be implemented for the general election in 2020;

Permit the Mayor to assign relevant powers and duties of certain other City agencies to the Commission;

Provide that the Civic Engagement Commission would have 15 members, with 8 members appointed by the Mayor, 2 members by the City Council Speaker and 1 member by each Borough President; and

Provide for one of the Mayor’s appointees to be Commission Chair and for the Chair to employ and direct Commission staff.

Shall this proposal be adopted?
MTOP’s Recommendation to vote NO:
Creation of New Community Engagement Agency.
This is suppose to be a government agency that will encourage more community engagement, foster more participation in elections and provide Community Boards with City Planners, (professionals who are suppose to know all about the rezoning laws etc..)

Now isn’t the community board suppose to be the place for community engagement? And why would you need a completely new government agency just to provide the community boards with planners?

The answer is simple.  If you empowered community boards to hire their own planners, then the planners would be beholden to the community board and have their best interest at heart.

However, if you allow another agency to do the hiring then those being hired would be beholden to that agency’s directives.  The Department of City Planning has such a bad reputation in communities all over the city that they are no longer trusted and in some community boards are told to get the hell out!   Now this new agency who’s leaders will be hired by the Mayor, will hire and then lend City Planners to community boards.

The rational is that the only reason community boards are saying no to all of these rezonings is because of ignorance. If they just understood all the benefits that would be gained from all the developments being proposed Community Boards would be more willing to agree to them.

For example, when the City Planning Commission was reviewing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden rezoning to increase the heights on land that was downzone to protect the garden, the Department of City Planning blamed the no vote that  Community Board 9 gave because CB9 didn’t have a planner! 

But we we did.  We had Richard Birack, Borough President Eric Adams's planner, at every meeting, “giving” his expert opinion, that sometimes amounted to pure lies and half truths. But the proof is in the pudding, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the devastating effects of rezoning, not when there are so many examples out in the world, including how the Department of City Planning will simply ignore all suggestions from the community despite all of those so called “community engagement” sessions!!!
The New Yorkers For A Human-Scale City Alliance’s Recommendation to vote NO:
Proposal 2:  Vote No. Creates a Civic Engagement Commission dominated by Mayoral Appointees who then get to mess around with so-called participatory budgeting and community boards land-use work. 
Vote NO.

Why vote no?  This is a blatant attempt to create even more power for a despotic Mayor who already has way too much power in our Charter. It also makes some of us laugh.  Our Mayor won't even take petitions or respond to petitions that neighborhood groups send him, and he wants a Civic Engagement Commission? Worse, those who came up with this idea seem to think civic engagement just means controlling community boards on land use and pretending to give us a say in budgeting. Ugh. This is an Orwellian proposal.  Vote no.
 * * * *

Question #3: Community Boards
This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Impose term limits of a maximum of four consecutive full two-year terms for community board members with certain exceptions for the initial transition to the new term limits system;

Require Borough Presidents to seek out persons of diverse backgrounds in making appointments to community boards. The proposal would also add new application and reporting requirements related to these appointments; and

If Question 2, “Civic Engagement Commission,” is approved, require the proposed Civic Engagement Commission to provide resources, assistance, and training related to land use and other matters to community boards.

Shall this proposal be adopted?
[Noticing New York Thinking:

As can be seen from the analysis of MTOPP and The Human Scale New York coalition below, there are huge problems with the current composition of the city's local community boards, including that they are often rife with conflicts of interest and accountable on very short leashes to the Borough Presidents.  We have seen the composition of such boards punishingly changed by Borough Presidents when they represented the community in their votes.  We have also seen the calculated re-composition of the boards and their committees in advance to prepare for and ensure the vote results the real estate industry wants in instances such as the proposed sale of public libraries for real estate deals.  But does the institution of term limits ensure any improvement with respect to what needs to be fixed?: Only sometimes in some particular instances, and other times it can have the opposite result.

In general, the Noticing New York thinking is to favor term limits for powerful executive positions like the President of the United States or the Mayor of the City of New York because they wield such power of office that, together with the bully pulpit keeping them in the spotlight, the power of their incumbency undermines accountability.  In the case of others operating as part of communal bodies that need to be strengthened in standing up to those powerful executives, it is likely a different story.  Term limits mean that those who have increased their power and influence by becoming knowledgeable (and appropriately skeptical?) learning how to represent the public are turned out of office, their resources lost even when the public needs and wants them.  Term limits can make office holders think short term and in terms of their next office, not their current one, which may not mean representing their current constituents' priorities.   Term limits were introduced to New York City by big money interests and when offices change hands big money has an extra out-sized influence when voters need to familiarize themselves with entirely new faces and dig down below a public relations blitz veneer (case in point- Councilmember Laurie Cumbo who obtained office by virtue of REBNY money and proved to be outrageously opposite to her the promises of her innocuous, reassuring campaign platitudes.)

The question is how to make community boards more accountable to and representative of the community.  More transparency with stricter conflict of interest controls would help a lot.  Should community board members be elected directly by the public?:  The problems with that, as with electing school board members and judges, is that it is too much for the average voter to catch up with by the time they get into the voting booth.  That opens the door for other inside powers to have too much influence.

What community boards and other New York City boards of influence (the Landmarks Commission, City Planning Commission, boards of the three city public library systems) might benefit from is diffusing the appointments to those boards among more elected officials who the public is likely to be able to identify and hold accountable when their interests don't get represented.  One of the benefits of all the myriad appointments to boards and commissions now made by the New York City mayor is that the public knows who the mayor is and, as such, can more easily hold him or her accountable.  What the mayor does is more likely to be written about and covered by the press.  But one individual having all the power involves no checks and balances and sets up just one easy target for the powerful influencers like the real estate industry.  Others who could be making appointments include, as the case may be: The New York Public Advocate (giving that office more of the power it should have), The City (and perhaps sometimes State) Comptroller, local City Councilmen, perhaps in some cases the City Council as a body, Borough Presidents (offices that also currently have scant power).

If nothing else, more diffused power means that when moneyed interests want to put the fix in they have more elected officials to corral and buy off and it is harder for them to operate for long stretches in secret.  It is also likely to provoke a few more real open debates on a few more things before votes rather than discussions before votes being as scripted as they almost always are now.

Maybe, rather than succumbing to the eyewash and pretending that there is any worthwhile  "reform" here, all of three of these proposals should just be short down together.]      

MTOP’s Recommendation to vote (a “hard one”- That is not very clear) YES:
Term Limits on Community Boards
There are two points of view: The Upper White Middle Class Community Boards and the Community of Color Community Boards.

As has been the case since the inception of Community Boards and their empowerment in 1974, community boards have fared a lot better in white upper middle class neighborhoods than in communities of color.

White Upper Middle Class Community Boards

Community Board members in white upper class community boards are knowledgeable, know their stuff, have been around the block and have been a thorn in the real estate industry side, because of their unwillingness to let anything slide by them.

These board members are very strong and Borough Presidents have been unwilling to let them go because of the political consequences.  However, if term limits are introduced, then the Borough Presidents can not be blamed and then they will get to put who they want in, who will be beholden to their goals and not necessarily the goals of the community.

Thus term limits in White middle class communities may weaken these boards!

Communities of Color
What about communities of color, who’s boards are already weakened?  There have been countless complaints against these community boards and their members.  Serious violations of the law are done openly and no one does anything about it.  For the most part the board behaves like a private club with a few people running the whole thing for years, at the expense of the rest of the community.

These open violations are tolerated by the City and Borough Presidents, to enable the political structure to get what they want from the board when they need it, i.e. rezoning requests.

In these communities people see term limits as a great opportunity to get rid of these long standing board members and to attempt to integrate and to diversify.  However based upon the experience of a Community Board (CB9) who had a major change in their members over the past four years ago, this may not be the answer, especially if the Borough President has his eyes on that community for rezonings.

An Example of Changing the Guard at a Community Board

In Community Board 9, (CB9)  Borough President Eric Adams, in 2014,  removed the long standing (30 years or more) board members (Jewish and White men),  and replaced them with Black folks who had the same agenda and motive - to rezone the community. However, not all of the new board members were apart of that intention and thus we have been successful at least of not having another rezoning request materialize at CB9, despite certain members of CB9 working all kinds of tricks to do so.

But our struggle hasn’t been easy, we have had to file at least seven lawsuits, we have demonstrated, we have filed complaints, we have been arrested and have decided to dedicate our entire lives to protecting this community against certain Community Board members who’s intention it is to fulfill Borough Hall’s mandate of rezoning for the real estate industry.

In fact, we lost one of our strongest allies, who was the first vice-chair of CB9 because she was a strong opponent against a massive rezoning.  She was removed off the board despite being an officer of the board, after only two years of service, whereas there were other board members who had been on the board for over 30 years, still there.

That means that even if community boards members are replaced, a lot of how that board will function will be determined by the Borough President and his/her agenda,

MTOPP Position

MTOPP Says Yes. This was a hard one, because we don't want to see community boards weaken, but  if this city wanted true diversity then they would diversify who can place members on the Board. Right now all of the board members are placed there by the Borough President with only the City Council members making recommendations. Having City Council people make those appointments as well as the Borough President could go a long way to diversifying and ensuring that it is not just the Borough President’s agenda that will be followed.

What we know however is that true diversity can not happen when only one person is allowed to appoint and remove board members off of community boards and this is not going to change unless people really fight and demand it.

In the case of CB9 we do believe that having representatives that are on the board who reflect the majority of the residents in the community has empowered us to at least prevent a massive rezoning, where as if the board was still in the hands of those few we might be writing a different story.
The New Yorkers For A Human-Scale City Alliance’s Recommendation to vote YES:
Proposal 3:  Vote Yes. Term Limits for Community Boards
Vote YES!

Why vote this way?  Well, to start with, Community Boards are, in the words of Councilmember Reynoso, "political cesspools", meaning that since they are unelected, they get filled with an even worse stew of unregulated conflicts of interest, lobbyists, political sycophancy, and executive teams of Democratic Party Political Clubs. They are the fiefdoms of Borough Presidents who appoint them and who control them tightly (ex: warning people who speak in ways they don't like to be quiet or get lost or just mass firing them as has happened in the Bronx).  The Community Board system desperately needs four reforms:

1.    term limits (and hey, if we need the institutional memory of the old-timers, they can always serve as non-voting public members);
2.    to be elected by neighborhood voters, we don't need a Borough President choosing who represents us, like a one-person Electoral College - we know how not to vote for lobbyists or real estate developers.
3.    much stricter conflict-of-interest rules to rid the boards of lobbyists;
4.    and a new mission and mandate to actually do something relevant to neighborhoods.

We see term limits as a good start and we can have them without the creepy civic engagement commission the Mayor wants.  We need more reforms as well, but this is one of them. We demand term limits from our elected politicians, why not term limits for our unelected neighbors who pretend to be looking after our interests? Vote YES!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

New York Times Didn’t Cover Biggest New York City Election Story As It Unfolded: The Insurgent Campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez– And It Has National Repercussions

It was front page news in the Times, but the Times did not report events leading up to it as they unfolded.
This is about a major local and national news story that the New York Times didn’t cover as it unfolded . . .

Wednesday, the day after the primary elections it was on the front page of the New York Times: Democratic Power Broker, Once a Possible House Leader, Loses Primary.  (On the Times website the article’s print headline is now: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Defeats Joseph Crowley in Major Democratic House Upset.)  The opening paragraph reads:
Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, once seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the House, suffered a shocking primary defeat on Tuesday, the most significant loss for a Democratic incumbent in more than a decade, and one that will reverberate across the party and the country.
The article also lets you know the election was not exactly a squeaker:
The race was not close. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had more than 57 percent of the vote [57.5 actually- a 15% double digit lead], with almost all precincts reporting.*
(* 15,897 to 11,761 when 98% of the districts reported.)
Ocasio-Cortez did it with people power, defeating the money.  Crowley outspent Ocasio-Cortez significantly, by perhaps more than 8 times, with a recent set of tallies from Politico for April through June 6th giving Crowley expenditures of $1.1 million versus $128,140 for Ocasio-Cortez.

I heard on the Jimmy Dore show after the election (June 28th- June 30th) that the New York Times never covered the campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before she won.  Could this be true?  I checked it out: It is basically true, plus the Times never ran a picture of her as candidate either.

How did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez win the election if her campaign wasn’t being reported on by mainstream media and the paper of record, the New York Times, the principal newspaper for her hometown of New York City?  The Jimmy Dore Show offered the satirical suggestion the voters got into the voting booth and just made a lucky guess.

By contrast, The Jimmy Dore show proudly crowed that it covered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an insurgent candidate worth paying attention to a year ago.

Some things worth knowing about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez: She is frequently referred to as a "progressive," sometimes as a "grassroots progressive," to distinguish her from the faux-mantel progressives (or "fauxmanteau progessives"), corporate democrats dominating the Democratic party like NYC mayor Bill de Balsio or councilman Brad Lander (locally) who inoffensively give largely safe lip service to certain social ideas, but stow away any principled response when confronting money and establishment power (aligning with such power to sell off public assets like libraries).  Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, like Bernie Sanders the man she previously campaigned and organized for, refers to herself as a "Democratic Socialist."  She is for single-payer universal health care, government-funded higher education, the abolition of ICE (a post 9/11 agency founded in 2003), and she seeks justice for Puerto Rico now targeted in a brazen privatizing attempt to transfer the island from its people to wealthy profit seekers.  This means she is considerably to the left of the New York Times and the usual establishment interests that Democratic and Republican parties serve.     

As for verification of the assertion on the Jimmy Dore Show that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign was not covered by the Times before her win turned the world of mainstream media political coverage upside-down, if you go to the New York Times site and do a date restricted search to discover mentions of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign you find mentions of it in just five articles, and essentially no coverage that would tell you who she was or what she stood for as a candidate or indicating the strength and attraction of her campaign or what her win would signify.

Just five articles mentioning the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before the election.
Hilariously, the New York Times has subsequently treated her win as so important that if you search its site without date restrictions you now get lost in a sea of more than 60 headlines (so far) virtually all published in just a few day's time.
If you search the Times now, you will get lost there are so many articles about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, more than 60 mentioning her since her primary win.
Here, in date order, are the few words the Times offered about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez during her campaign to defeat Mr. Crowley in those five Times articles that mentioned her:

Stacey Abrams Didn’t Play It Safe. Neither Do These Female Candidates, by Susan Chira and Matt Flegenheimer, May 29, 2018.
The question went out late one night on a private message chain of insurgent female candidates for Congress: Do you really attack a fellow Democrat?
“I feel like I’ve been pulling punches,” wrote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is challenging a longtime Democratic incumbent, Joe Crowley of New York, in a primary. “Do you ever get any pushback from voters, or those who don’t want ‘party infighting?’”
Within the hour, peers from Texas, Washington State and North Carolina had weighed in: Keep up the fight.
“We’re not trying to ask permission to get in the door,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old organizer on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, said in an interview.
Opinion: Adem Bunkeddeko in the Ninth District, by The Editorial Board, June 14, 2018.
In the 14th Congressional District, which spans Queens and the Bronx, Representative Joseph Crowley is defending his seat against an insurgent campaign from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former campaign organizer for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Crowley, the Queens Democratic leader, has ambitions of succeeding Representative Nancy Pelosi as the House Democratic leader that could redound to the city’s benefit. But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, has won an impressive measure of support, casting herself as a grass-roots alternative to an incumbent with deep sway in local politics.
New York Today: Primary Races to Watch, By Jonathan Wolfe, June 19, 2018.
Democratic upstarts in the city. A group of incumbent Democrats in New York are facing primary challengers, many of whom are first-time candidates under the age of 35. Representative Joseph Crowley, who some see as possibly replacing Nancy Pelosi as the head of the House Democrats, is being challenged for the first time since 2004, by the progressive candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Representatives Carolyn Maloney (Manhattan’s East Side and parts of Queens), Eliot Engel (the Bronx), Yvette Clarke (central Brooklyn) and Gregory W. Meeks (southern Queens) are also facing insurgents within their party.
Opinion: If You Want to Be Speaker, Mr. Crowley, Don’t Take Voters for Granted, by The Editorial Board, June 19, 2018.
. . Indeed, the snubs should be galling not only to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Crowley’s constituents in New York’s 14th Congressional District, in Queens and the Bronx, but also to anyone who cares about the democratic process.

Mr. Crowley, 56, is a powerful congressman who leads the Queens County Democratic Party. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, has presented him his first major primary challenge in years. Despite long odds, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a former Bernie Sanders campaign organizer, has garnered significant support, waging a high-energy campaign and positioning herself as a grass-roots alternative to Mr. Crowley.

The candidates have met once, in a Spectrum News NY1 debate last week at which both candidates held their own.

* * * *

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter after the debate that in sending Ms. Palma, Mr. Crowley chose “a woman with slight resemblance to me” as his surrogate. Both Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Palma are Latina.
For Democrats Challenging Party Incumbents, Insurgency Has Its Limits, By Shane Goldmacher and Jeffery C. Mays, June 21, 2018.
For Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, challenging Representative Joseph Crowley has meant watching local Democratic officials bolt the other way from her at parades, wary of appearing too close to her. Some have agreed to meetings, but behind closed doors — no cellphones allowed.

Mr. Patel, 34, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, are among a group of energetic Democratic insurgents across the country, many of them young or female or people of color, who are seeking to knock off some of Congress’s most tenured Democrats.

* * * *

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, in particular, has become a cause célèbre for some on the left who seem set to put a scare into Mr. Crowley, the head of the Queens Democratic Party, one of the last and most powerful political machines remaining in New York. and Our Revolution, an outgrowth of the Sanders campaign, both endorsed her, and the news site The Intercept has generated a drumbeat of negative stories on Mr. Crowley.

Earlier this week, she showed up to debate Mr. Crowley, the potential future leader of House Democrats in Washington — only to discover that he was a no-show, a Latina surrogate sent in his place. (Mr. Crowley had debated her earlier this month.)

“We have a political culture of intimidation, of favoring, of patronage and of fear and that is no way for a community to be governed,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said.

* * *
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said there is “camaraderie” among congressional challengers, and that she’s spoken with Mr. Bunkeddeko and Mr. Patel to “share best practices in dismantling this calcified machine.”
By contrast to those paltry five articles before the election, in the few days since, the Times has run more than three score articles where mention of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez factors in.  There are pictures of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez galore and video to boot, a positive glut, surely enough to surfeit the most avid fans.  Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is not the main subject of each and every one of these articles, but she is a central subject of a very respectable number of them.  Since, along with its own by-lined stories,  the Times also runs stories by-lined by the Associated Press and Reuters this jump up in number is also a window into their coverage.

Sometimes the biggest news stories are what is not being covered in the mainstream press.  I guess that's one reason I am getting more and more of my news from sources like the Jimmy Dore Show.

Here, to conclude this article, are links to 62 articles in the Times in which Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has been mentioned since the Tuesday June 26th primary through today, Friday June 30th.  Enjoy perusing just the headlines.  They will give you a sense of what's covered.  I can't think who would dare to read all the articles themselves.  It's enough to make a media hound like Senator Chuck Schumer extremely jealous.  Enjoy:
Elections- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Celebrates Victory in the Bronx (Video) June 28, 2018.

New York - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: A 28-Year-Old Democratic Giant Slayer, By Vivian Wang, June 27, 2018.

Politics- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: I’m ‘Unapologetic About What I Believe’(Video), June 29, 2018.

Opinion: What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Means, by The Editorial Board, June 27, 2018.

Briefing- Supreme Court, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, World Cup: Your Wednesday Briefing, By Chris Stanford, June 27, 2018.

New York- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Emerges as a Political Star, by Andy Newman, Vivian Wang and Luis Ferré-Sadurní, June 27, 2018.

New York- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Defeats Joseph Crowley in Major Democratic House Upset, by Shane Goldmacher and Jonathan Martin, June 26, 2018.

New York- What Does Ocasio-Cortez’s Win Mean for Cynthia Nixon? By Jesse McKinley, June 27, 2018.

Opinion- The Lessons of a Stunning New York Primary, by Frank Bruni, June 27, 2018.

Letters- New York Primary Shocker, June 27, 2018.

Opinion- Primary Turmoil Visits the Democrats, by David Leonhardt, June 27, 2018.

New York- An Upset in the Making: Why Joe Crowley Never Saw Defeat Coming, by Shane Goldmacher, June 27, 2018.

New York- Ocasio-Cortez Toppled a Giant. Are These N.Y. Democrats Next?  By Shane Goldmacher, June 28, 2018.

Politics- Will a Shocker in New York Have a Ripple Effect in Massachusetts? By Katharine Q. Seelye and Astead W. Herndon, June 28, 2018.

New York/Big City- Lesson of the Blue Wave Primaries? We’re All Struggling Now, By Ginia Bellafante, June 28, 2018.

Politics- Top Democrat’s Defeat Throws Party Leadership Into Turmoil, by Jonathan Martin and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, June 27, 2018.

Politics- 4 Takeaways From Tuesday’s Primary Elections, by Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin and Matt Flegenheimer, June 27, 2018.

Politics- Here Are the Biggest Stories in American Politics This Week, by Emily Cochrane,  June 29, 2018.

U.S.- Facing Cuomo, Nixon Looks to Ocasio-Cortez Win, by The Associated Press, June 28, 2018.

U.S.- Political Novice Ocasio-Cortez Scores for Progressives in NY, by The Associated Press, June 26, 2018.

U.S.-  Political Star Ocasio-Cortez Appears on TV's 'The View,' by The Associated Press, June 29, 2018.

U.S.-  Shock, Then Ambition: Ocasio-Cortez Hopes to Shake Up House, by The Associated Press, June 27, 2018.

Television/Best of Late Night- Ocasio-Cortez Tells Colbert: ‘We Changed Who Turns Out’, by Giovanni Russonello, June 29, 2018.

Politics- Democrat Joseph Crowley Loses Bid for 11th Term, by Reuters, June 27, 2018.

Arts- Guest Lineups for the Sunday News Shows, by The Associated Press, June 29, 2018.

Politics- Pelosi Doesn't See Party Shift to Left in Crowley Defeat, by The Associated Press, June 27, 2018.

Politics- Is This the Year Women Break the Rules and Win? By Kate Zernike, June 29, 2018.

Politics- Stunning Defeat Emboldens Left as Dems Eye New Identity, by The Associated Press, June 27, 2018.

Opinion- The Millennial Socialists Are Coming, by Michelle Goldberg, June 30, 2018.

Television/Best of Late Night- Seth Meyers Tries to Persuade Kennedy to Stay on Supreme Court, by Giovanni Russonello, June 28, 2018.

Politics- How ‘Abolish ICE’ Went From Social Media to Progressive Candidates’ Rallying Cry, by Sydney Ember and Astead W. Herndon, June 29, 2018.

Reader Center- Bulletin board- From New York’s Primary Upset to Polling Data, How The Times Is Covering the Elections, By The New York Times, June 28, 2018.

Politics- Democratic Heavyweight Loses in New York as Trump Picks Win, by The Associated Press, June 26, 2018.

Politics- Democrats Reading Tea Leaves After U.S. Congressman's Upset, by Reuters, June 27, 2018.

Politics- Trump Celebrates Victories for 3 Endorsed Candidates, by The Associated Press, June 27, 2018.

Politics- High-Ranking House Democrat Dealt Surprise Defeat at Polls, by Reuters, June 26, 2018.

Politics- The Latest: In Oklahoma, Republicans Ousted Over Teacher Pay, by The Associated Press, June 26, 2018.

Briefing- News Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of the Week’s Headlines, by Chris Stanford and Anna Schavverien, June 29, 2018.   

U.S.- 10 Things to Know for Today, by The Associated Press, June 27, 2018.

New York- Crowley’s Loss Heralds an ‘End of an Era’: Last of the Party Bosses, by J. David Goodman, June 28, 2018.

Politics- Primary Takeaways: A Liberal Newcomer Ousts Top Dem Leader, by The Associated Press, June 27, 2018.

Politics- Agents Seek to Dissolve ICE in Immigration Policy Backlash, By Ron Nixon, June 28, 2018.

Politics- Ben Jealous ‘Just Climbed K2’ in Maryland Governor’s Race. Next Is Everest. By Daniel Victor, June 27, 2018.

Politics- Hundreds Arrested in DC Protesting Trump Immigration Policy, by The Associated Press, June 28, 2018.

Politics- Trump's on a Hot Streak: Court Rulings, Vacancy, Summit Plan, by The Associated Press, June 29, 2018.

New York- New York Today: Who Won the Primaries, by Jonathan Wolfe, June 27, 2018.

New York- New York Today: Where the Corpse Flowers Bloom, by Jonathan Wolfe, June 28, 2018.

Briefing- Asia and Australia Edition/China, South Korea, Najib Razak: Your Thursday Briefing, by Inyoung Kang, June 27, 2018.

New York- Dan Donovan, Aided by Trump, Holds Off Michael Grimm in G.O.P. Primary, by Shane Goldmacher, June 26, 2018.

Briefing- Maryland, Supreme Court, Russia: Your Thursday Evening Briefing, by Joumana Khatib and Marcus Payadue, June 28, 2018.

Student Opinion- Summer Reading Contest, Week 3: What Interested You Most in The Times This Week? By The Learning Network, June 29, 2018.

U.S.- Trump Dubs Heitkamp a 'Liberal Democrat,' Urges Her Defeat, by The Associated Press, June 27, 2018.

Briefing- Supreme Court, Disney, Unions: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing, by Joumana Khatib and Marcus Payadue, June 27, 2018.

Briefing- Anthony Kennedy, Immigration, World Cup: Your Thursday Briefing, By Chris Stanford, June 28, 2018.

U.S.- All Over U.S., Local Officials Cancel Deals to Detain Immigrants, By Simon Romero, June 28, 2018.

U.S. Gender Letter: What Should Women Sound Like? By Jessica Bennett, June 29, 2018.

Briefing- Europe Edition- Supreme Court, Migration, Poland: Your Thursday Briefing, by Dan Levin and Matthew Sedacca, June 27, 2018.

Briefing- Supreme Court, Capital Gazette, ‘Sicario’: Your Friday Briefing, by Chris Stanford, June 29, 2018.

Politics- Trump Helps Boost Two Preferred Candidates While Progressive Democrats Gain, by Jonathan Martin, June 26, 2018.

New York- New York Today: Where to Cheer, or Cry, During the World Cup, by Jonathan Wolfe, June 29, 2018.

Politics- The Latest: ACLU Says Government Wrong to Detain Families, by The Associated Press, June 29, 2018.

Elections- New York Primary Election Results, by The New York Times, June 28, 2018.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Reimagining Our Library Spaces: Where Once There Were Books There Will Now Be “Maker Rooms” To Be Named Appropriately After A Famous Hedge Funder and Presidential Candidate

"Major" changes are coming to Brooklyn's Gran Army Plaza Library with name changes to reflect the future and sponsorship
Do you know about the “Major” changes they are making to our libraries, perhaps particularly as exemplified by the changes in the works at Brooklyn’s last central destination the library, known up to this point in time as the Grand Army Plaza (“GAP”) Library?  The changes being made are so extensive that everything is getting renamed.  The library won’t be called a “library” anymore, but an “Information Center.” Inside, all the rooms will be renamed after a hedge funder acclaimed for creating value through corporate restructurings who may yet run again successfully for president.

But first, speaking of holding elected office, did you know that Brooklyn Public Library is making a big thing about its announcement via BPL president Linda Johnson that the GAP Library is being renamed after Major R. Owens a librarian who went on to become a prominent, revered black congressman representing Brooklyn.  Major Owens died in 2013.  That was that the year that the BPL announced that it was starting to sell shrink and sacrifice libraries for real estate deals, “the most valuable ones first,” like the Pacific Street Library next to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards and Brooklyn’s second-biggest library the central destination Brooklyn Height Library in Downtown Brooklyn also adjacent to Forest City Ratner's property.
The changes being made at the formerly named GAP Library and the plans to now name it after Major Owens are the reason that the New York Times just ran an article descriptive of many of the changes (In Brooklyn, Modernizing a Library for Downloads and Robots, by James Barron, March 25, 2018) that begins by recounting a dream Major Owens is said to have once had:
Major R. Owens once dreamed that an alien spaceship had landed and that the creature that clambered out told the first person it encountered, “Take me to your librarian.”  When the alien was brought to the library [“information center”?], his human guide pointed up and said, “look up in the sky, it’s a librarian, it’s a robot, it’s a . . . 
Why should a dream about librarian-seeking aliens and robots commence a New York Times article about the how libraries are changing?  It may seem far out, but good explanations will come to those who wait.

First, let’s talk about the rest of the visionary renaming of the spaces within the library.  Lest the Major Owens renaming seem too populist or bookish, other spaces in the library will be renamed for achievements that more customarily get recognition in our society.  The 42nd Street Library has now been renamed by the NYPL the “Stephen A. Schwarzman Building” (or the sassy sounding “SASB” for short).  Mr. Schwarzman, still very much alive, is for anyone who doesn’t know, the head of the Blackstone Group and now the first Corporate CEO to pull in an annual income exceeding $1 billion.  Naming the “building” after Mr. Schwarzman is not only good for the burnishment of his brand, it inspires democracy by helping to encourage everyone else to follow in his footsteps in being alert for ways to achieve similar wealth . .  . And so that they too may have their exploits chronicled by the likes of such famous authors as Jane Mayer.

The sassy SASB is the central jewel of the NYPL system.  The renaming of the spaces at the BPL’s central jewel, spaces at the GAP Library will be in a similar vein and may help another recognized financial wizard to burnish his brand, which means perhaps also helping him politically in the future.  The name change will also help the BPL get across what it has to offer and the message it intends to send to its clients.

The BPL is focused on how to repurpose its library spaces for the 21st Century and the 22nd Century.  “We are looking to the future,” says BPL president Ms. Johnson hardly suppressing her glee as she borrows the Buzz Lightyear phrase to say that with our library information centers we are headed “To Infinity and Beyond!”  What does this mean?  It means the new repurposed spaces will all meet the standards of what is called in the new jargon for transforming libraries, “Makerspaces.”
Here is more to let you know how exciting information center makerspaces can be if they are for young adults (from the Young Adult Library Services Association):
Makerspaces, sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs are creative, DIY [“Do It Yourself”- exciting!] spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. The focus, actually, is on the type of learning that goes on, not the stuff.  Making is about learning that is: interest-driven and hands-on and often supported by peer-to-peer learning.  This is often referred to as connected learning.  Also, you don’t need a set space to facilitate this type of learning.  You can have pop up makerspaces at various library branches, afterschool programs, community centers, etc.  Or you can set up a ‘maker cart’ that can travel anywhere in the library.  Perhaps what your teens need most are maker backpacks that are stuffed with resources and activities they can do at home.*
(* NOTE: "At home"- No expensive library space needed!)
Of course, makerspaces are flexible spaces so they can be a lot of things, and they don’t have to be for the youth.  They are also intended for adults.  Going back a few years, the BPL has already converted much of its space at the future Major R. Owens Information Center (MROIC “pronounce it `More-ick’,” suggests BPL PR officer  David Woloch) into conference rooms that can be used by “makers” starting new businesses or needing “gateways to technological tinkering” for their work.

There was one problem with our makerspace efforts,” said Ms. Johnson, “but we have the solution now.  The term `makerspace’ has been around far too long, since 2006 when we were first telling the public of big changes for our libraries.  The term has lost its pizzazz.  We like to keep mixing up the terminology so when we use so it always sounds fresh and convincing when we say we are doing future oriented things nobody has yet been able to conceptually grasp.  `Makerspaces’ was the term back when we first introduced in alongside `STEM’ education. For excitement purposes we now often mix it up now by referring to `STEM’ a lot of the time to ‘STEAM’ education.”

Ms. Johnson then presented her big news: “We have a brand new name for these makerspaces, and we do mean `brand.’  We will now be calling them `Romney spaces.’  That is honor of Mitt Romney when he was a presidential candidate so memorably differentiating for us that our society is composed of `makers’ and ‘takers.’” Ms. Johnson continued on to say that they had further refined to term that would usually be used to clearly indicate that upscale clientele they hoped to attract to the spaces should have fun in them by calling the spaces: “Romney Romping Rooms.”

Ms. Johnson explained that affixing the Romney name to these spaces to highlight the maker/taker dichotomy would help her and the library in its mission a great deal.  For instance, Johnson said that people often reacted negatively when articles like the one in the Times wrote sentences like “among many other things, the plan for the central library calls for replacing two levels of old-fashioned `stacks,’” Ms. Johnson said that if she could just more succinctly say they were doing away with all the “taker” spaces in the library she would get a better reaction.  Henceforth all the space in the library not devoted to the Romney Romping Rooms will be designated and described as “taker” spaces.

Similarly, while doing a presentation for Open House New York the other day, architect Francine Houben, working for the NYPL to remove books from both the 42nd Street Central SASB library and the Mid-Manhattan Library (in a consolidating shrinkage) got flack for saying that “stacks” that could not be easily removed from the libraries and done away with at the whim of the trustees were “problematic.”  Not surprisingly, the NYPL, in sync with the BPL and Queens Library, will also be dividing up their spaces into Romping Room spaces and “taker” spaces.
Much of the former GAP Library will be closed for many years to create the Romney Romping Rooms, but the BPL already has plans to ensure that they are a success when they open.  The BPL will open them with a special overnight event.  The BPL has already had several all night 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM nights of Philosophy and Ideas.”  Repeating this wonderful idea, the “makers” of Brooklyn will be invited to fill the Romney Romping Rooms for an all night inauguration.
Coverage of a previous BPL philosophy night when attendees were not required to walk the tightrope of Bain Capital's prescribed philosophy  
“Previously, we didn’t steer the ideas under discussion so much,” said BPL spokesperson David Woloch, “but in honor of bequeathment of the Romney name we will provide a focus this time.”  Mr. Woloch said that libraries are about “information,” and that being “a `maker’ in a DIY, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society is about capitalism” so that putting the two together the focus for the evening would be virtues of “information capitalism.”

Click to enlarge
Mitt Romney’s own Bain Capital has been gathering together some of the suggested reading material.  Included is a selection from John E. Buschman’s Dismantling the Public Sphere- Situating and Sustaining Librarianship In the Age of the New Public Philosophy where he summarizes an overview of thinking from Frank Webster setting forth what he sees as the tenets of “Information Capitalism.”  Although what was presented was intended by both those authors to be a critique of “Information Capitalism,” the executives at Bain thought it was a spectacularly well put description of what they believed in and ought to promulgate.  Those tenets were summarized as follows:   
    •    The ability to pay is now a major criterion determining provision of high-quality information.
    •    Provision is made on the basis of private rather than public supply.
    •    Market criteria are the primary factors in deciding what is made available.
    •    Competition for funding (as opposed to a steady tax or tuition basis) is coming to be regarded as the appropriate mechanism for organizing the economics of librarianship.
    •    Commodification of information is the norm.
    •    Private information vs. public is favored.
Makers coming to spend the night to discuss “information capitalism” will be invited to bring and change into their pajamas.  “We think this will help us corral a lot more young people,” says Woloch, “something that’s very important to us.”   In addition, following its new principles the BPL now holds no events without partnering with private sector partners.  In this case it will be partnering with Victoria's Secret and Flap Happy, another pajama manufacturer.  Models from  Victoria's Secret will stroll through the Romping Rooms modeling night lingerie, “which should certainly help with our young male attendance” says Woloch.  The BPL is not breaking any new ground here: Britney Spears unveiled her new lingerie collection in the Celeste Bartos Forum of the NYPL’s sassy SASB in 2014.
In 2014 Britney Spears howed off her new lingerie (right) in the Celeste Bartos Forum of the NYPL’s sassy SASB (center) while the SASB stacks (left) were empty of books
Flap Happy will be donating free pajamas for those who don’t bring their own.  What kind? Rompers with feet of course.  The Rompers will have the Bain Capital Logo embroidered above a (not so vintage?) Romney presidential campaign buttons.  Bain is also partnering in the event and Flap Happy is one of the companies, now manufacturing in China, that has been through a Bain restructuring that stripped out excess value.

“We expect we may start implementing modest charges to use the Romney Romping Rooms,” confessed Ms. Johnson. “Modest charges are a way of testing whether makers are really and truly real makers. . . plus it will serve to reduce the absurd cost and burden on society of maintaining libraries.”  Ms. Johnson says the charges, the kind of thing that was previewed by the BPL when it was turning over library space free of charge to Spaceworks, a private company with good intentions like Bain, “does not mean that we are privatizing the space.”

“Our libraries have always been a public commons,” says Ms. Johnson, “but we are talking about ushering in the future and while the libraries continue as a commons in that future we understand that commons in terms of having evolved and kept pace with the future to become the neo-commons that makes sense today.”

The Times article about the changes in the library tells us that Congressman and former librarian Major Owens was always referred to the “Librarian in Congress” a play on the “Library of Congress.”  The BPL’s David Woloch is frank when he is asked about why the library is being named after Major Owens:
Several reasons: There is the fact that Major Owens was black and we have to cover over and divert attention from how harmful what we are doing to the libraries is, most particularly to people of color and those who are not so very wealthy.  Then there is the felicity of the name `Major.’  When you are consolidating and shrinking libraries it makes those libraries seem bigger if you can call them `Major.’  In fact, where we used to call this particular library the `central’ library, we are revising it to call it the system’s `major’ library, so it will be a `Major Major Library.’
“I know that’s sort of Hellerish thing to do,” Woloch told the Times reporter making sure reporter was “Catch 22ing” that he was making a “literary allusion.”

Chris Owens, son of Major Owens, a musician, singer-song-writer, politically active as a District Leader, former candidate for political office himself, and an activist who fought Atlantic Yards says he is not going to be fooled by the BPL naming anything after his father.  He says:  
Anyone who accepts what they are doing to the libraries by turning them into real estate deals and eliminating books with space conversions is getting `booby prizes.’  It’s unacceptable.  My father was Democrat and nobody is going to allow his name to be wrapped around a bunch of Romney Romping Rooms named after a Republican looking to fleece the public.  Now that the BPL has announced the intention to use my father’s name they’ve booby-trapped this for themselves because come time to cut ceremonial ribbons we will call them out on this.
Chris Owens went on to link it into the Atlantic Yards fight:
We fought Atlantic Yards and we fought Bruce Ratner.  We know that the first two most valuable libraries the BPL wanted to sell, Pacific and Brooklyn Heights were both adjacent to Ratner’s Forest City sites.  We know that the person who prioritized those libraries for the BPL’s sale came from Forest City Ratner. We are not going along with any of this cover-up.
So why did the Times begin its article about what the modernization of a library by recounting a dream about librarian-seeking aliens and robots?  Why were “Robots” referred to in the Times headline for the article?

BPL robot librarians
It was possible to refer to “Robots” in the headline because the article explained how the library makerspaces could now be used by makers to build robots.  The BPL’s Woloch also bluntly explains there was another reason: “We asked the Times to put `robots’ in the title of their article. People were regularly Googling to find a Noticing New York article about how the BPL is on the cutting edge of introducing robot librarians to replace the real ones.  Putting`robots’ in the title of the Times article helps divert attention when people are looking to find out how soon we might really be shifting to robots librarians.”

But to be fair, there is real talk about using library `Romping’ spaces for various sorts of robots to roam.   Architect Francine Houben, working for the NYPL, has suggested that the new central atrium of the soon to be renovated Mid-Manhattan Library will be an excellent place to test fly robotic drones before procuring a license to fly them outside, especially if sight lines are improved by the oft suggested removal of bookstacks.  Such robot drone flying includes test flying swarms of new nano-robotic bees.
New Mid-Manhattan atrium space- According to architect Architect Francine Houben a perfect place to fly drones, even better if the book stacks are removed as suggested.
Yes, it is possible to imagine a future where, when you visit a library, you will be met by a flying drone and, surprise, it will be your librarian ready to serve you.  (Such flying robotic librarians would also solve surveillance challenges in keeping track of what patrons read.)

But why aliens?  Does it seem creepy that everyone these days is suddenly always bringing up extraterrestrial aliens?  Fox News, New York Magazine, Saturday Night Live, even on the front page of the New York Times?  Is everyone having the same dream?  Like in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”?

Here is the creepy thing.  The NYPL is selling the biggest science library in New York City (SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library) to the son of a librarian, a man who became wealthy beyond belief through his knowledge of science.  The man leads a life like he is hell-bent desperate to be written into a James Bond novel, a feet of the world’s largest yachts, a fleet of vintage warplanes, building the largest airplane in the world, building a plane to go into space.  His name is Paul Allen.  Mr. Allen also had a sci-fi sort of dream that could relate to what a landing alien in the future might find if they land: A dying or threatened civilization that can only save itself t it can find the trove of knowledge it needs.

What, additionally, is Mr. Allen spending his money on now besides privately acquiring NYC’s biggest science library?  He is spending muti-millions of dollars on trying to discover the extraterrestrial aliens out there!  And now, just so you know, that is absolutely true, notwithstanding that this article has been an April Fool’s article written satirically for your amusement even as it riffs off far too much else that is unfortunately too, too true.  (If you want to know how real such threats truly are to our libraries, go to Citizens Defending Libraries, of which I am a co-founder, and there you will find facts galore.)
Something more that is true: At the last Brooklyn Public Library trustees meeting on February 27, 2018, where trustees were given copies of the NYPL's the BPL's updated "strategic plan", the creatively titled (but hard to type) "Now➔ Next."   At the same time, the trustees were told that a substantial portion of the Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn’s biggest library would be closed for a long while the library is “modernized” and, as described by the Times, its stacks eliminated.  What’s more, as was clear with what else the trustees were told the meeting there will be other libraries concurrently off-line: The central downtown Brooklyn Heights Library, once Brooklyn’s second biggest library and the only other central destination library is closed and now a hole in the ground as it is substantially shrunk, pushed more underground and its books largely eliminated as it is replaced by a supertall luxury tower (its Business, Career and Education Library has virtually disappeared), the Sunset Park Library will be shut down as it becomes a real estate project, construction will similarly put the Brower Park Library into the Children’s museum in another consolidating shrinkage, the Greenpoint Library too is getting `modernizing' construction.  Creation of a DUMBO library as an experiment in teeny-weenyness was supposed to pick up some slack, but the trustees were told they haven't yet found the teeny-weeny space for it.  This will be as Mid-Manhattan the city’s largest circulating library is closed for book-eliminating “modernization,” the 42nd Street Central Library where books have been eliminated undergoes work and, as mentioned, SIBL, the city’s largest science library is sold to Mr. Allen, its science library eliminated.

That said, in the spirit of April 1st let’s put just a few more last words in the mouth of BPL spokesperson David Woloch:
In today’s day and age of the internet, the inconvenience of temporarily closed libraries matters less and we’ve steadily removed a lot of the books from the shelves ahead of time in tests that proved our conclusion about this to be true.  These extended concurrent closures of library space will also help people forget what libraries were in the past while letting them get used to not having libraries in the present so that in the 21st Century future people won’t even know what they are missing when we reopen our doors of those spaces we have, for the time being, still kept, to experience our fabulous Romney Romping Rooms.  Besides, in the interim, we are partnering to send our library patrons off to city museums with a new “One-Pass” or "NYC culture Pass" Museum visit program.  This is great because Museums are themselves partnering with profit making partners seeking attention with sensational blockbuster shows.  Moreover, in the future, for greater efficiency and cost reduction we may further meld our infotainment institutions, so who knows what we will then be asking people to get used to or to do without.
For real: Linda John before the BPL trustees on February 27th ad they are told about a "culture pass" to send patrons to museums.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

With No Irony, No Trepidation, The New York Times Publishes Story About Micro-Housing That Mimics Our April Fools' Story For 2017

Come on everybody: The New York Times just ran an article about "extreme ideas" for solving housing crisis problems that suggests people take up compact living in drainpipes . . . . .

. . . . Didn't people read our Noticing New York article done for last April 1st?
See: A Giant Leap Forward Into Tiny Benefits: Bloomberg Micro-Apartment Initiative Shrinkage Grows Under de Blasio, Saturday, April 1, 2017.
At this rate what the heck are people going to be able to produce for April Fools' Day that will safely constitute genuine satire without the truth catching up too fast?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Reporting About Multiple Troublesome Real Estate Deal Connections Between Presidential Son-In-Law/Advisor Jared Kushner and Presidential Advisor Stephen A. Schwarzman, New York Times & Press Overlook Connections, Including Library Sale

Stephen Schwarzman and Jared Kushner captured in black tie together in 2007 around the time the Donnell Library sale was being concocted.  Schwarzman with Trump running his economic forum where the public infrastructure he wants to privatize was discussed.  Graph information about the benefit Schwarzman's Blackstone is getting from a Kushner-negotiated deal with Saudi Arabia for selling American infrastructure and where public employee pension fund money is being taken from to benefit the Trump family.  New York Magazine dubs Kushner the nepotistic "President-In-Law."  
Last August when the New York Times reported on the economic benefits of being politically connected to Donald Trump as president (The Benefits of Standing by the President, by Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Ben Protess and Michael Corkery, August 19, 2017) it came up with an impressive seemingly one-stop-shopping list of real estate deal connections between presidential son-in-law/advisor Jared Kushner and presidential advisor Stephen A. Schwarzman, the head of the Blackstone Group.  Of course, the bigger topic lurking was conflicts of interest.

As impressive as the list was when compiled, the question is what did it still leave out?  One thing it left out was the a library shrink-and-sink deal, the sale of the Donnell Library once owned by the NYPL, for a minuscule fraction of its value in what was essentially a no-bid transaction arranged in secret.

Here are the Kushner/Schwarzman transactions the New York Times listed in their article that day: 
•    In 2013, (before Mr. Trump was a candidate), Blackstone financed the purchase of warehouses and industrial buildings by Mr. Kushner’s family company.

•    Blackstone also made a loan, which has since been paid off, to Kushner Companies on a Rector Street property (2 Rector Street) in Manhattan.

•    In the summer of 2016, an entity controlled by Blackstone lent $376 million to Mr. Kushner’s company to purchase a large property in Brooklyn that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had operated for many years.

•    Separately, Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, invested up to $500,000 in a fund that Blackstone manages.

•    Mr. Kushner urged the staff at his Commercial Observer newspaper, to place Jon Gray, the senior Blackstone executive at Blackstone who runs Blackstone’s real estate business, higher on its list of “Power 100” real estate executives and in 2016, Mr. Gray was No. 1 on that list.  (Blackstone is the largest commercial real estate investor in the world.)
And adding context, consider which is most important:
•    Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, attended what many described as the obscenely lavish 70th birthday party Mr. Schwarzman held for himself in February 2017 at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., near Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

•    Mr. Schwarzman speaks with Mr. Trump as much as once a week, typically (the Times tells us) “about the economy though also about social policy.”
•    When the national economic policy forum that Trump had created and put Schwarzman in charge of imploded following Trump's embarrassing racist Charlottesville comments, Schwarzman called Jared Kushner to give Trump a heads-up. Then, with the panel not yet announcing it was disbanding, Trump tried to claim it was his initiative.  (Infrastructure had been a key topic for the forum's moguls.)
A few months before the Times article, Bloomberg News zeroed in on the Kushner Schwarzman connections.  See: Kushners' Blackstone Connection Put on Display in Saudi Arabia, by Caleb Melby and Hui-yong Yu, May 25, 2017.

The Bloomberg article was far more direct in how it linked a $20 billion Saudi investment in Schwarzman’s Blackstone not just to Trump, but specifically to Jared Kushner and to a $110-billion arms sale to the country Kushner concurrently negotiated to the country noting that Schwarzman was with Kushner and Trump in Arabia when these deals were negotiated:
When Saudi Arabia announced last week a $20-billion investment in a U.S. infrastructure fund managed by Blackstone Group LP, many noticed that it came shortly after presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner personally negotiated a $110-billion arms sale to the country. What went unnoticed -- and is largely unknown -- is how important Blackstone is to the Kushner family company.

Since 2013, Blackstone has loaned more than $400 million to finance four Kushner Cos. deals -- two of which have not been reported -- making it one of the business’s largest lenders. And their ties go beyond the loans. Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder and chief executive officer, heads Trump’s business-advisory council and was in Riyadh with the president and Kushner. The Saudi promise to invest in Blackstone’s fund drove the firm’s stock up more than 8 percent.
The Bloomberg article thoughtfully included a chart to make explicit how much Blackstone stock had gone up when Blackstone nailed, as the Times described it, “one of the biggest deals on Wall Street this year.”
By contrast to the earlier Bloomberg article, the triple-bylined Times article somehow neglected to mention the stunningly huge Kushner-negotiated arms deal at all, a deal which has all sort of implications given that Saudi Arabia is currently busily using its U.S. supplied arms to bomb and cut off food and water to the people of Yemen.  It’s not exactly fair to think that this arms deal is even hinted at by Times statements that, “Other deals involving chief executives with ties to Mr. Trump were announced during his visit to Saudi Arabia” or “In all, there were more than 40 signed agreements between Saudi Arabia and largely American corporations, including General Electric and the defense contractor Lockheed Martin.”  Nor should we be expected to cleverly discern the information when being told that the “guest list” for the business meeting that the “Saudis scrambled to put together . .  on the same weekend as Mr. Trump’s visit” included “an oil executive, defense contractors and a college president.” 

Given that the Bloomberg article had let the cat out of the bag covering the major points of the Kushner/Schwarzman real estate relations in May, the toned-down write up by the Times of essentially the same facts in August almost comes across as damage control together with a dutiful  checking of the box for the paper of record obligated to cover what is obviously major news.  Much of the Times article equivocally explained that there may or may not be indications of quid pro quo in Schwarzman’s and Kushner’s dealings and it almost sounds like an apology for Mr. Schwarzman being in Riyadh to say that:
Dozens of chief executives from across the United States faced pressure over the meeting. Some of them, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had felt they had no choice but to go if they wanted to do business in Saudi Arabia.
The Times article takes a sort of have your cake and eat it too approach, one that’s almost schizoid, about whether it is truly suggesting to its readers that there is anything bad about economic benefits that flow from being politically close to Trump and Kushner.  (With multiple bylines pastiched did some reporters have cake while others ate it?)  The article quotes  Schwarzman furnishing this profundity: “Public service is a core value for people of my generation . . . It’s a great privilege to be asked to help the country — even if it occasionally comes with some degree of criticism.”

The article also includes comments about Mr. Schwarzman from Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, a regular go-to person for quotes who can be depended upon to say nice things about powerful people.  Sinking any last possibility that the article’s ambiguity doesn’t do its job the article contains this direct statement: “There is no suggestion that Blackstone did anything wrong.”
Nevertheless, the Times probably figured that they were leaving a sufficient trail of crumbs for any readers priding themselves on being astute about such things to read between the lines and between the ambiguity and the denials.  That includes those readers who would intuit the sort quid pro quo they consider abominable, as well as those eager to know what Mr. Kushner and Mr. Schwarzman are up to so that they can keep up with the competition and abreast of the latest tactics and status of what people can get away with.

The Bloomberg article writing about how “the sequence of the deals and the intertwined personal relationships of the principals raise concerns about conflicts of interest” is also different from the Times in that the Bloomberg article reported on the lack of transparency.  It said that of the “$400 million to finance four Kushner Cos. deals” that Blackstone has loaned since 2013, two “have not been reported.”  More specifically, that Blackstone “was quietly financing two Kushner endeavors,” that although documents didn’t show it, Blackstone was among the project lenders giving Kushner an “$88 million loan for the property at 2 Rector St.,” and that a “similar arrangement enabled Kushner Cos.’ purchase of five Jehovah’s Witnesses warehouse and printing buildings” and “again, Blackstone was among the undisclosed partners.”

This lack of transparency is an essential ingredient of the story.  It should not be glossed over.  It was wrong for the Times to neglect to mention it.

In May the Wall Street Journal reported how Kushner improperly didn’t disclose (just forgot to?) business ties and $1 billion in loans he owed with “personal guarantees to pay more than $300 million of that.”  (See: Trump Adviser Kushner’s Undisclosed Partners Include Goldman and Soros- Investments show ties to major finance and technology names, by Jean Eaglesham, Juliet Chung and Lisa Schwartz, May 3, 2017)

More specifically (and the list below includes Blackstone declining to comment):
Lenders to Mr. Kushner, either directly or via properties he co-owns, include Bank of America Corp. , Blackstone Group LP, Citigroup Inc., UBS Group AG, Deutsche Bank AG and Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC. Royal Bank of Scotland didn’t respond to requests for comment; representatives of the other firms declined to comment.
The Times did eventually report separately about Kushner’s lack of disclosure (separately is not such a good thing), but in another example of the Times lagging months behind, it was finally reporting only in November about non-disclosures previously reported by others. 
The potential conflicts extend from the cabinet to the West Wing. Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an adviser whose portfolio ranges from Middle Eastern peace to government technology, revealed over the summer that he had failed to disclose dozens of assets on his initial government ethics forms.

    “It is precisely because we have extraordinarily wealthy individuals running the government that we have no way of knowing what the conflicts of interest really are,” said Gary Kalman, executive director of the FACT Coalition, a network of anti-corruption groups. “They use complex structures to hide their money, both domestically and abroad.”
See:  Too Rich for Conflicts? Trump Appointees May Have Many, Seen and Unseen, by Nicholas Confessore, November 10, 2017.

Another layer texturing the information about the $20 billion Saudi investment in Blackstone is that the money is seed money for deals to privatize American public assets.  So you can bet that $20 Billion will be generating scads of spin-off deals.  Those deals may not benefit the American public, in fact you can expect them to diminish the public domain and the wealth of what is publicly owned, but beneficiaries like Jared Kushner are not likely to be far away.  The sale of the Donnell Library in which Kushner and Schwarzman each participated on opposite ends of the transaction, was essentially a prototype for the kind of selling off of public property that we ought to anticipate Saudi/Blackstone funds will be used for.  The Blackstone fund is looking to mobilizemore than $100 billion of purchasing power for infrastructure projects.”

There is more texturing to the Blackstone/Kushner/Saudi/Military arms deals to consider if you think about that how tight the behind-the-scenes alliance has been between the Saudis and the Israelis.  The same trip Trump and Kushner took in May going to Saudi Arabia also involved flying directly to stop in Israel next.  The Times noted more recently about that stop in Israel:
Last May, Jared Kushner accompanied President Trump, his father-in-law, on the pair’s first diplomatic trip to Israel, part of Mr. Kushner’s White House assignment to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Shortly before, his family real estate company received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of Israel’s largest financial institutions, according to a Menora executive.

The deal, which was not made public, pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm.
(See: Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even With Mideast Diplomatic Role, by Jesse Drucker, January 7, 2018.)

When the New York Times finally got around to reporting about the nondisclosure of potential conflicts of interest by Kushner on his ethics forms and other Trump advisor/associate ’s business engagements that are generating potential conflicts of interest, it reported that among the investments Mr. Kushner initially failed to publicly disclose was a real estate technology start-up called Cadre.

According to PR published on the web, Ryan Williams, the “co-founder” and face of Cadre, a young (29-year-old) black fellow from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who came from Goldman Sachs, had just recently started working at Blackstone’s real estate private equity group when he started “thinking about a new endeavor — disrupting the real estate industry at large,” i.e. starting Cadre.  He says that Blackstone had “approached him about working in their real estate group given his technology experience.”  (See: How this 50-person startup is planning to completely transform the real estate industry, by Taylor Majewski, April 5, 2017.)

As “Thrive Capital” Jared Kushner and his brother Joshua Kushner are backers and strategic advisers to Cadre.  Cadre’s offices are in the Kushner owned Puck Building.  In other words they are very much involved.

In a March 1, 2017 Real Deal article (Trump assumed the presidency January 2017) Ryan Williams explained his closeness with the Kushner brothers, styling himself as a metaphorical third brother:
Every day, I speak with Josh Kushner. Josh, an investor through Thrive Capital, brings his tech domain expertise. He played an incredible role early on helping to seed us and give us the capital to build the business. Josh and Jared are both like brothers to me. Jared was an adviser and not involved operationally day to day. He was always a great sounding board for us.
Assessing this undisclosed close business relationship that Jared has with his brother Josh, it is worth bearing in mind that when Jared Kushner wanted to contend that he was taking appropriate steps to deal with his conflicts of interest he transferred some of his questionable assets to  brother Joshua and to a trust overseen by his mother. Such laughably useless gestures are the family M.O. when it comes to ‘resolving’ conflicts of interest with Donald Trump putting his own business interests in the hands of his sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr.  Ivanka, Trump’s daughter and Jared’s wife, similarly retains the benefits of her business “empire” through such trust and close family relationships.

The Times has editorially worried that the Saudi Arabian government might try to exercise influence over Donald Trump through companies that Trump Organization recently established in that country wanting to do real estate deals there.  Meanwhile, one of the Trump Saudi trip deals, unveiled concurrently with the Schwarzman infrastructure privatization investment and the arming of the Saudis, was for the Saudis to put $100 million into the hands of Ivanka for a “new foundation” she was proposing.

When quid pro quo arrangements (possibly illegal) are bilateral, i.e. people connected by being each on one side of a single transaction, it is easier to conceptualize, comprehend and identify them. When organizations are huge, diffuse and ubiquitous, identifying problematic conflicts of interest can be much more challenging. Some people think it’s sufficient to conclude that the system is defective if you know powerful players view themselves as all being in the same club looking out for each other.  Maybe so, but with multiple players and possible combination there are a lot of variations in between the simple bilateral and the `we are all in the same club' mentality.  They can be very hard to spot. 

When Connecticut Governor John Rowland resigned in 2004 in a bribery scandal one of the bribery schemes that was uncovered was an exceedingly difficult to detect three-way: Bribing the governor by having an antiques dealer pay him nearly twice the legitimate value when purchasing a condominium from him, while one step removed, that overpayment was funded and reimbursed by a business man who had the real interest in bribing the governor buying antiques from the dealer at an inflated price.

How do you spot these things, or know with any certainty when they have or have not happened?

Back in May WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz produced a story alerting the public to another business deal partner quietly helping to fund Jared Kushner projects, an outfit called CIM Group, a private equity company based in Los Angeles.  (See: Trump and Kushner’s Little-Known Business Partner, May 25, 2017)

The story told how “CIM has done at least seven real estate deals that have benefited Trump and the people around him, including Kushner.”  These include:
    •    Kushner’s $340 million purchase of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower (“one of the biggest real estate transactions in Brooklyn history”).

    •    The trouble plagued Trump SoHo that could have gotten Trump family members criminally indicted that CIM rescued with “a reported $85 million lifeline.”  (Family investors include Donald Trump and his children Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.)

    •    200 Lafayette Street, an office building.

    •    2 Rector Street, an office building.

    •    85 Jay Street, a parking lot in Brooklyn, (“for an eye-popping $345 million.”) 
The story raises a slew of concerns about CIM’s trustworthiness and its interest in influencing politicians including with donation of “tens of thousands of dollars to a series of statewide political action committees.”  It quotes Konrad Putzier, a reporter for the Real Deal magazine saying that “CIM stands out as being very secretive.”  It quotes Laurent Morali, the present president of the Kushner Companies saying of CIM that they “can work through complicated situations, are thorough and strategic.”

The story sniffs around for the traditional bilateral sort of quid-pro-quo concerns saying that the “full extent of CIM’s government ties is not known,” while telling us that public disclosure documents show that CIM “received annualized rent of $37.7 million from the General Services Administration and other federal agencies” and that it has “pursued an array of lucrative government contracts, pension investments, lobbying interests, and a global infrastructure fund, all of whose fortunes could benefit from a Trump presidency.”

And the article reports that CIM has gotten a great deal of its money from public pension funds.  This, with concerns of pay-to-play overtones when political donations are made, is something that Schwarzman’s Blackstone has also been involved in.  WYNC links to the information that public employee pension funds in at least seven states (California, New York, Texas, Arizona, Montana, Michigan and Missouri) have invested in a CIM fund benefitting Trump and his family.
From Reuters, the seven states where the money from public employee pension funds is going to help the Trump family.
As noted, WNYC was sniffing for problematic overly-cozy bilateral arrangements.

Here is something more to think about-  Schwarzman’s Blackstone also does business with CIM.  Blackstone did the following two deals (reported in 2017) with the CIM Group that could be viewed as infusing cash into the business:
    •    Blackstone Real Estate Partners bought 211 Main Street, an office building in San Francisco from CIM for $312.9 million or $750 per square foot, according to sources that were aware of the sale.  CIM reportedly acquired the property in 2009 for $113 million. (“Blackstone declined to comment when contacted for this story.”  March 29, 2017)

    •    The Blackstone Group provided a $360 million loan to CIM Group to finance 1440 Broadway according to a December 21, 2017 article in the Real Deal.
Conflicts of interest in government are a diminishment of the public realm because they mean, by definition, that decisions being made are slanted to be more beneficial to private interests than to the public whom government officials are supposedly in office to serve.  The idea that the public realm is susceptible to being sold off is what then makes infrastructure deals, selling off publicly owned American infrastructure, just as Schwarzman’s fund is setting up to do, such juicy attractions for the greedy.  The private plundering of the Donnell Library with Kushner on one side and, on the other, Schwarzman in a position of public trust as an NYPL trustee, is a prime example of just how heinously detrimental to the public the looting of its assets can be. . .  But we are increasingly at the mercy of those in power who would seek to enrich themselves by diminishing the public realm, claiming its various dismantled parts as their own territory.

One final symbolic irony, perhaps even an irony that’s forcefully intended: In 2011 a new slogan was raised, a cry adopted and resonating across the country, recognizing the public as the “the 99%” while power and  wealth were being wielded with increasing destructiveness by the “1%.”  It was raised by Occupy Wall Street a protest movement that took to the street and seized Zucotti Park in New York City in order to be publicly heard and seen.  Zucotti Park was once named Liberty Plaza Park, before it was renamed in honor of a real estate lawyer. . .

I’ve written previously in Noticing New York about how Zucotti Park and its occupation directly raised the question of the public realm and how we are shrinking the public domains both physical and cultural that the public is still permitted to occupy.

Although Zucotti Park is dedicated and supposed to be for the public, it is technically privately owned by an adjacent property that got zoning bonuses for providing the public with the park.  Ever since Occupy Wall Street was forcible evicted from the park, tight private ownership control has been exercised over the park to ensure that such meaningfully expressive protests don’t erupt there again.  The latest news about Zucotti: Schwarzman’s Blackstone acquired 49% ownership* of it and the adjacent building.  A trophy intended to be symbolic of someone’s victory?
(* NOTE: If you know real estate, you know the various structures whereby 49% can be actual control.)