New York City’s Many Fire Trap Apartments

The cold fact is New York City is failing to protect its citizens.  A recent fire ended in tragedy and has helped expose some of the nastier habits of city inspectors.  While the practice of illegal conversions is getting some play in the press, another deadly hazard is not: The combination of gas stoves and insufficient heat.  My first apartment in NYC had almost no heat in the winter.  Exploring on HPD’s site allowed me to see violations and complaints for the past few years.  Every winter – heating issues.  The situation played out the same each time:

  1.  I’d call the city
  2. The city would call the super
  3. The super would pump up the heat
  4. The city would send an inspector
  5. The inspector would find nothing wrong

The first time the inspector came by, the super hadn’t reacted fast enough, and we both confirmed a violation.  Additionally, the inspector informed me the wall by the door to the apartment had been illegally setup, and was a fire hazard.  Subsequent calls to the city revealed no violation had been recorded, and each subsequent visit by an inspector went through the above steps.  Eventually I broke my lease and moved out.  However some of the older residents did not have that luxury – and remain.

I spoke to one such resident – who had been in the apartment for over 20 years (and hence was paying an extremely low rent).  She mentioned the heat issue had been going on every single winter she had spent at the property.  She compensated by turning on her oven and opening the door.  In addition to creating a Carbon Monoxide hazard, a gas oven is an especially problematic source of heat for an apartment.  My former neighbor was convinced the New York Housing Department was corrupt.

As far as I know, the apartment still has heating issues.  Visits to HPD’s site to check up on the property now return NO violations or complaints for the past few years – which I know to be false having provided a few of those complaints myself.  Whether this is the result of corruption, malfeasance, or incompetence the end result is same: New Yorkers needlessly suffering and needlessly at risk.

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Tax Havens Are Un-American

When you realize that nearly a $100 billion, annually, in tax revenue is going unpaid by large corporations, you have to wonder where are their tea parties?  Where are the pundits questioning the patriotism of companies that are so clearly helping send our country into debt by skirting federal taxes?  Are any of the companies receiving bailout money using tax havens?  Ah, the answer to that question is YES.

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Analyzing Governor Sarah Palin

If we were to sum up McCain’s politics since 2000 a single word would suffice: hypocrasy.  The same can be said of Governor Sarah Palin.  She was picked primarily to shore up support in the conservative Christian community.  Because of this, I don’t think either of her scandals around pregnancy will really hit home (or cause McCain to drop her).

On the one hand, she may have faked her 5th pregnancy for the sake of her daughter.  The same daughter who is now pregnant and plans to have the child and marry the father.  The key here is that both pregnancies led to a birth, and I see that playing very well with the anti-choice crowd.  Life isn’t about perfection, its about making the right choices with what you are given.  And while the rest of the US looks on in shock, I’m willing to be the conservative Christian community will look on in admiration.  In their view Bristol Palin shouldn’t have any moral choice other than caryring to term, and thus her mother’s efforts to hide the first pregnancy, and her determination to carry through with the second, are examples of her pro-life position in action when it hits close to home.  That can only engender trust that she is completely pro-life.  Add in her support of creationism, and she seems like a great choice to cater to the religious right.

So that takes care of the religious base.  But Governor Palin brings more to the table for McCain, and not all of it is beneficial for the Republican Presidential campaign.  She’s supposed to be a reformer, a paragon of principled politics.  Turns out she is in the middle of an investigation for sketchy firings of State Troopers for personal reasons.  Alaskan newspapers openly question whether she’s fit for the position.  (Not that the McCain camp would have known this, it seems like they never checked local papers to vet her in the first place!)

This is the kind of stuff that can upset anyone, but particularly independents (whom Obama appeals strongly too, and McCain needs to win the Presidency).  It is here that his choice of Palin cuts him deep.  Because Palin isn’t just pro-life.  She’s crazy pro-life:

In November 2006, then gubernatorial candidate Sarah Palin declared that she would not support an abortion for her own daughter even if she had been raped.

Granting exceptions only if the mother’s life was in danger, Palin said that when it came to her daughter, “I would choose life.”

At the time, her daughter was 14 years old. Moreover, Alaska’s rape rate was an abysmal 2.2 times above the national average and 25 percent of all rapes resulted in unwanted pregnancies. But Palin’s position was palatable within the state’s largely Republican political circles.

You don’t need to be a feminist to see that this is a seriously fucked up position to take.  She is in fact, to sum things up, an extremist.  In addition to opposing abortion, she (edited the html to remove formatting and fix a link):

She supports teaching creationism in schools.
She denies global warming and opposed listing polar bears as an endangered species because it might prevent off-shore drilling.
Speaking of drilling, she supports drilling in ANWR.
I guess not surprising, Palin is in big oil’s pocket.

On top of it all her lack of experience makes McCain’s attacks on Obama look ridiculous by comparison.

She was essentially chosen to tackle three problems the McCain campaign faced.  How to get the religious right fired up, how to reinforce his appeal as a “maverick” and reformer, and how to somehow get former Clinton supporters to jump in.  I don’t see that happening:

I have a piece up at TAP:

Palin’s addition to the ticket takes Republican faux-feminism to a whole new level. As Adam Serwer pointed out on TAPPED, this is in fact a condescending move by the GOP. It plays to the assumption that disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters did not care about her politics — only her gender. In picking Palin, Republicans are lending credence to the sexist assumption that women voters are too stupid to investigate or care about the issues, and merely want to vote for someone who looks like them. As Serwer noted, it’s akin to choosing Alan Keyes in an attempt to compete with Obama for votes from black Americans.

Now would anyone really fall for that?  Yes of course they would:

As for Governor Palin, her supposed views on abortion and lack of national security credentials are supposed to make her unsuited for the office of the Vice Presidency, yet Barack Obama’s actual views on abortion and lack of national security credentials are supposed to make him perfectly suited for the Presidency.

Supposed views on abortion?  (Riverdaughter has really outed herself as a Republican on this one.)  An actual Clinton supporter would never vote for someone with the positions on reproductive choice, and the environment Palin has.  (Nor would they feel much affinity for a politician who called Hillary whiny.)

Governor Palin is sure to boost McCain’s rating with the religious right, and if he holds on, might just be enough to keep that piece of the Republican party from drifting off.  However that comes are the expense of independent voters and disaffected Clinton voters.  He couldn’t be doing more to turn them off.  It also might come at the expense of Republicans who have had enough of lobbyists and rampant corruption.  Governor Palin is not clean when it comes to lobbyists:

Palin’s relationship with Alaska’s senior senator may be one of the more complicated aspects of her new position as Sen. John McCain’s running mate; Stevens was indicted in July 2008 on seven counts of corruption.

Palin, an anti-corruption crusader in Alaska, had called on Stevens to be open about the issues behind the investigation. But she also held a joint news conference with him in July, before he was indicted, to make clear she had not abandoned him politically.

Stevens had been helpful to Palin during her run for governor, swooping in with a last moment endorsement. And the two filmed a campaign commercial together to highlight Stevens’s endorsement of Palin during the 2006 race.

Given all of this, there is understandable speculation that Palin will be dropped from the ticket (perhaps in favor of Mitt Romney).  I highly doubt this, as dropping his VP pick would be a disasterous admission of poor judgment and weakness by McCain.  That is a perception he cannot afford to reinforce.  Additionally given his stubborness, I doubt he’d be able to bring himself to admit he’s made a strategic error.

Choosing Sarah Palin as his VP may have cost McCain the election, and there’s no way for him to back out without damaging his chances further.

Manhunt vs Abramoff: The Money McCain Keeps

John McCain decided to return the $2,300 personal donation from Johnathan Crutchley, founder of gay cruising service manhunt (Pamela at Pandagon).

McCain has decided to continue working with criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s co-conspirator Ralph Reed (Lindsay at Majikthise).

I’m having trouble running down a dollar amount for the latter, but I’m guessing a Reed run fundraiser will raise a bit more than 2 grand.

The message is clear: “No to Homosexuality, Yes to Corruption”.  Classic Maverick.

Spitzer Witchunt Tied to Banking Scandal

The Executive’s use of the Judicial branch to assault political opponents has taken an interesting turn (Crooks and Liars, emphasis mine):

At the time of Spitzer’s resignation, I blogged that something about the investigation didn’t pass the smell test, the Don Siegelman case foremost on my mind. But journalist Greg Palast has made a compelling case tying the Spitzer investigation to a different top story.

While New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was paying an ‘escort’ $4,300 in a hotel room in Washington, just down the road, George Bush’s new Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Ben Bernanke, was secretly handing over $200 billion in a tryst with mortgage bank industry speculators.

Both acts were wanton, wicked and lewd. But there’s a BIG difference. The Governor was using his own checkbook. Bush’s man Bernanke was using ours.

This week, Bernanke’s Fed, for the first time in its history, loaned a selected coterie of banks one-fifth of a trillion dollars to guarantee these banks’ mortgage-backed junk bonds. The deluge of public loot was an eye-popping windfall to the very banking predators who have brought two million families to the brink of foreclosure.

Up until Wednesday, there was one single, lonely politician who stood in the way of this creepy little assignation at the bankers’ bordello: Eliot Spitzer.

Who are they kidding? Spitzer’s lynching and the bankers’ enriching are intimately tied.

How? Follow the money. Read on…

This just keeps getting nastier. Will anything at all be done about it?

Thoughts on Spitzer

Theres more than a few ways to take the news that Democratic Governor Spitzer was a client of a prostitution ring.  My immediate reaction was one of disgust with his stupidity, much along August’s lines:

Jesus tap-dancing Christ, are you stupid. Are you really that stupid? Oh my holy titfucking Jesus, you are actually that goddamn stupid. You absolute dick. You complete and total stupid bastard. I mean, good god. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. You are so fucking stupid.

Listen to me. No, look at- I said fucking look at me. Look. At. Me. You. Stupid. Cocknugget. What the fuck were you thinking? Do you have any idea how fucking stupid you are? I just- fuck you, stop looking at me. Goddamn it. You fucking idiot. Holy shit, you are stupid. You are so fucking stupid. You stupid asshole.

For Lindsay’s reasons (emphasis mine):

The fact is, Spitzer is intimately familiar with wiretaps and he has more enemies in the banking industry than any man alive. He should have known better.

It’s a cliche to criticize a politician’s judgement when you’re mad at him but you can’t summon sufficient moral outrage about his behavior. But this time it’s entirely appropriate to raise questions about Spitzer’s fitness to lead on the basis of his colossal hubris.

Regardless of what you think of the morality of paying for sex, and irrespective of whatever understanding Mr. and Mrs. Spitzer might have had… Eliot Spitzer was a self-indulgent fool to think that he could arrange for sex over the telephone and move his money around to cover it! (…in an election year, as the Dems were poised to take back the State Senate, on the heels of the State police intel scandal…)

Spitzer displayed a Nixonian level of hubris. If he thinks the rules don’t apply to him, he shouldn’t be in power.

What I wasn’t thinking, was this (Ezra via Linsday, emphasis mine):

This is sort of the boring take on Spitzer, but what we’re seeing here is not the fall — if indeed he does fall — of a high-flying governor. It’s the final tumble of a crushed reformer. Spitzer, for reasons both structural and personal, has been utterly humbled by Albany. The new capitalism he promised, the age of transparency he spoke of, the national ambitions he harbored — all have broken before the obstacles he faced in the governor’s mansion. When you think of the hype he was getting only a couple years ago, that’s a rather remarkable fact. I don’t care about the prostitution. But the capacity of the system to stand against those who would reform it, and who come into office with a broad mandate to do so, is really quite sobering.

What gets me isn’t the dead on accuracy of Ezra’s words (nor their ironic humility, for his observation is anything but boring).  No, what gets me is why whenever the head of a movement falls the desires of the people who put that leader into power are ignored.  Spitzer’s calls for transparency and corporate responsibility enjoy wide-spread support among the people, in particular in New York.  Yet now that he’s been arrested, the people’s will magically becomes ignorable.

Lindsay is right.  A man who thinks he is above the law has no business being in office, he belongs in jail (cough: Bush).  But something is terribly wrong with our system when the only way to effect change is to elect a human being into office, and we suddenly are forced to forfeit that change as soon as they slip up.  That goes directly against the core principles of what government should be.

Backlash Against the VA Driving Tax

The new civil fees(pdf) being imposed in Virginia have generated backlash.  Looking at the fees, the smallest fine listed is $250.  What many don’t realize is that is an annual fee.  The total cost would be $750.  Thats mandatory.  There is no room for a judge to reduce the cost of a ticket.

Another problem with this law is it creates an additional motivation to issue potentially discriminatory traffic tickets.  Forget to signal?  That’s now a cash cow for the state.  Have you checked your tires lately?

Starting today, driving on bald tires could cost you $900 under new Virginia driving laws created to pay for road improvements.

Police have been assigned the role of tax collectors for the state of Virginia, and residents are sounding off about it:

Mayor Susan P. Irving […] can’t abide that “civil remedial fees” that took effect Sunday apply only to Virginians, not the out-of-state motorists who throttle into her town.

On talk radio, blogs and in letters to the editor, Virginians like her are sounding off about a burden only they bear while nonresident bad drivers are exempt.

The NYTimes has more:

“They’re ridiculous,” said Aaron Quinn, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, which claims about 6,000 members. The very legislation that created the penalties “says its purpose is to generate revenue,” Mr. Quinn said, adding: “It’s essentially a tax on drivers and has nothing to do with safety. There is no evidence that increasing fines increases safety.”

And the backlash is bipartisan against a bill written by a Republican, and signed into law by a Democrat.  Even the ultra-conservative washington times is on this:

But $1,050 for driving 20 mph over the speed limit is predatory, tax-and-spend government at its worst. For families in the middle or at the bottom of the economic ladder, this reaches 4 percent and 5 percent of annual take-home income. Government is supposed to serve the people, not fine and tax them toward the poor house for what amounts to ordinary behavior.

Some legislators like Terry Kilgore (R) are joining governor Kaine in taking another look at the bill:

Nonetheless, he admitted that since the public became aware of the fees, there’s been such an uproar that the General Assembly may have to revisit the law.

“We don’t want it to cast too wide a net,” he said.

The 1st District delegate said the law was the brainchild of Delegate Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, who based it on similar legislation in New Jersey and Texas.

The fees were adopted as part of the overall transportation funding package, he said, and during negotiations of the package nobody brought up the concerns that are now surfacing.

Kilgore said once the legislation was approved and signed, the Virginia Supreme Court compiled a list of offenses to which the law would apply and, “once I saw the list, I knew things need to be looked at again.”

But Kilgore fundamentally misrepresents the law and the surrounding discussion:

This list, he added, is also in part responsible for much of the misinformation being circulated.

In a letter he has drafted to constituents concerned about the fees, Kilgore said the basic premise of the transportation abuser fee is that Virginia’s most dangerous drivers should proportionately pay their share for safety improvements to roadways rather than placing the bulk of the burden on the general public. The possibility of being assessed these fees is meant to serve as a deterrent to unsafe driving since the fees are targeting habitual offenders and extremely reckless drivers.

How is the list of offenses helping spread misinformation?  You would think knowing the violations which trigger the mandatory fines would be informative.  Additionally, Kilgore is wrong to represent the fees as “a deterrent”.  If they are meant to be a state fundraiser, they are counting on violations.  This isn’t about safety.  Its about taxes.  As Todd Foster writes, this is about “Virginia legislators too spineless to raise the outdated gas tax to pay for highway maintenance”.

Nick wonders whether this is a fine or a fee, and DailyProgress.com answers:

Their chief complaints: The fees are outrageously high, and they apply only to Virginians – not to out-of-state drivers.

The “fines” are actually “fees” because they are administrative rather than judicial. They are not meant as less a punishment for wrongdoing but rather than as a revenue source for highways.

Nick’s assessment of the bill is right on:

I’ve long ago suspected that if government didn’t make as much money as they did off of traffic violations, that the 55 mph speed limit would have gone the way of the dodo long ago.  Almost nobody obeys it, and there is very little need to.  Cars are significantly safer today than 20 or 30 years ago, and not just in a crash.  Suspensions and steering improvements make 55 mph laughably slow.  No… this is selective taxation.  It’s like a reverse lottery ticket.  If you’re unlucky enough to get pulled over, then you get to pay for some highway.

But he’s made a really interesting catch with regard to the Bill’s Republican sponsor:

But who on Earth would come up with such an egregiously selective and arbitrary law?  The part of the story that few people seem to be catching onto is that the architect of this law is a Virginia state legislator who just happens to also own a law firm which specializes in… wait for it… defending people charged with traffic violations!

The self-described “chief architect” for this bill is Delegate David Albo. Albo boasts on his website that he’s worked for 20 months to bring this bill into law. What his website doesn’t mention is that when Albo isn’t legislating tough new laws aimed at Virginia‘s motorists, he’s representing those same motorists in court.

That’s right. Albo’s a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. The firm that bears his name specializes in traffic law, particularly in representing people charged with DWI and reckless driving. And yes, that’s the firm’s actual URL: virginiadui.com.

Isn’t that graft?  It appears as though the media is picking up on the potential problems(via Terminal Chaosity):

But the hefty penalties could be a bonanza for the politically connected law firms that chase down unpaid court fines.

The contracts are awarded by local commonwealth’s attorneys, who get campaign contributions from the lawyers they hire.

This bill is a mess, from start to finish.  But when you look at what went into passing this bill and the motivations of its sponsors, it really starts to stink.