Thursday, January 22, 2015

Longtime NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Surrenders to FBI

NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been an Albany fixture for 2+ decades. He was Speaker back when I was working in the legislature. And he's survived and thrived despite multiple scandals. But this is one scandal too far.

The Manhattan Democrat, who is the longest running Speaker in state history, is being charged with corruption over payments from one law firm (he is of counsel with another firm too).

I've been saying for years that the legislature should stop being a part time gig; they pay full time wages ($79,500, plus perks on position). Yet, they allow members to work elsewhere - like law firms, and can serve up conflicts of interest in no time. Eliminate the outside work, and you eliminate a major source of conflicts of interest.

Silver has stood against those reforms for years, in part because he benefited from the status quo arrangement. According to the NYT:

While it is legal for lawmakers to hold outside jobs, investigators said Mr. Silver failed to list the payments from the firm, Goldberg & Iryami, on his annual financial disclosure filings with the state.

In the past, Mr. Silver has been criticized for his outside law practice, a lucrative career that supplements the $121,000 he earns as speaker.

In 2013, Mr. Silver earned at least $650,000 in legal income, including work for the personal injury law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, according to his most recent financial disclosure filing.

But what he does to earn that income has long been a mystery in Albany, and Mr. Silver has refused to provide details about his work.

He also managed to survive threats to his speakership when there were multiple sexual harassment/sexual assault cases that his office bungled/fumbled/buried. These include the Michael Boxley matter (who was one of his top staffers), investigations into whether other Assembly members engaged in sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, including Micah Kellner, Vito Lopez, and secret settlements to silence the scandals. Silver admits that he shouldn't have used public money to fund the Lopez settlement.

The Assembly has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements over these and other sexual harassment cases involving members and staffers. That doesn't count the boatload of money spent on legal fees.

Silver's actions in those cases should have been grounds for his caucus to send him packing, but he used divide and conquer to split the caucus from picking a replacement.

But he couldn't outrun federal prosecutor Preet Bharara. He's managed to do more to roll up corruption in Albany than Gov. Cuomo's defanged Moreland Commission. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I suspect there's lots more to come.

Friday, January 09, 2015

In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo

As of this posting, there are at least two separate hostage standoff situations near Paris. One is at a kosher market (I've heard it referred to as a supermarket, deli, or grocery) on Ave Porte de Vincennes in the 13th Arr (that'd be Southeastern Paris). The other is near Charles de Gaulle airport. There have also been reports of an incident near the Eiffel Tower in the Trocadero, but so far news about that incident is limited.

There have been casualties reported in one of the incidents, with at least two dead.

The two standoff situations appear related to each other and to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, as well as a separate attack resulting in the death of a French policewoman the other day. It's likely all part of the same cell.

Yet, there's something irking me about all this. We're being told that it required training and tactics to carry off the attacks, but yet the best that this cell could manage is to kill a bunch of unarmed journalists and a couple of cops who were caught by surprise and off-guard before engaging in standoffs at locations like a grocery store.

Is this the best that al Qaeda in Yemen can do?

I know that sounds off or somehow callous but if you're studying tactics, methods, and capabilities, al Qaeda has gone from being able to pull off spectacular attacks against the USS Cole (a military target no less), the African embassy bombings that killed hundreds of people, and 9/11, which killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands more, to now being able to attack a French satire paper.

That's quite telling about the limits of what al Qaeda is able to do more than a decade after 9/11. It doesn't mean let your guard down, but it should also put things in perspective.

Also putting things into perspective? That the cry and hue about Muslims overwhelming Europe are so vastly overblown that a handy dandy visual is needed to hammer it home:

Or, perhaps a few other statistics about the threats from terrorism:

And if you're listening closely, just substitute Jew for Muslim in all those calls for banning Muslims from entering the country because the acts of a handful are indicative of the intent of all (and that's the most limited kind of rhetoric streaming from the right, which also includes expulsion and flat out genocide). Even in France, where anti-Semitism is rampant, the fact is that most people - of all religions - just want to live in peace, and there are those who want to deny everyone that opportunity. They happen to include Islamist extremists who do not speak for all Muslims.

So, while attention is rightly focused on Paris and the search for the Charlie Hebdo killers, there's Muslims living in fear of Islamic extremists the world over, and few places are more dangerous right now for Muslims than Nigeria where Boko Haram is operating with ruthless abandon. This terror group is rampaging across northeastern Nigeria, where reports of slaughter continue. That terror group is now threatening Cameroon as well, and Niger has now refused to assist Nigeria in retaking the area around Baga. Reports continue circulating that 2,000 or more people were killed by Boko Haram since the start of the year there, and that at least 20,000 people have been displaced. Some reportedly drowned attempting to flee across Lake Chad.

Yet, the silence and lack of media reports and access means that this horrific attack isn't getting anywhere near the press coverage of the attacks in Paris.

Cross posted to LGF.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Justice. Only Justice Shall Thou Pursue

I learned about the execution style killing of two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, in Brooklyn while at a family gathering, and it is heartbreaking to learn under any circumstances.

These officers were doing their jobs, trying to reduce crime in a high-crime area of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn they weren't even from the local precinct but  rather called in from other parts of the city to help. The man who killed them had an agenda that had nothing to do with protests or protesters; he had a lengthy criminal record and had shot and nearly killed his girlfriend before coming up to NYC to engage in more mayhem.

But NYPD supporters who ignore all that ails the Department and that there are bad officers in their midst, will try everything to link the killer to the protests. The PBA's Pat Lynch and others will try and blame the Mayor for the killings, claiming that the Mayor doesn't support the officers wholeheartedly and without reservations.

The problem is that there's no truth to the matter asserted. The Mayor does support the police. He also doesn't want anyone to tolerate criminal behavior by the police. He wants justice applied evenly and fairly. He has to warn his son (who is black) that police might not respect him or treat him properly because of the color of his skin, even if he does nothing wrong. That's not disrespecting the police; that's stating an objective fact. Police in NYC, and nationally, do engage in racial profiling and they do stop blacks far more often than whites when adjusting for per capita.

Justice. Only Justice Shall Thou Pursue. It's originally found in the Old Testament. It's a call for justice and to follow the law.

It's not just an empty slogan.

I've been referring to this belief quite frequently in the past several months, if only because it's become abundantly clear that there are some people who don't think that justice applies to everyone.

Some people believe that law enforcement is immune from being responsible for their actions that result in the death of unarmed people and particularly unarmed black men and children. This belief extends to the police and prosecutors who are supposed to uphold the law.

When the police and prosecutors fail to do their jobs properly, that harms everyone - it's a breach of the social compact that the police have with us. And they have to be responsible for their actions as well.

It's pitiful that the police boosters are trying to pin blame on people like Al Sharpton or Mayor DeBlasio for the shooting of the two cops; we don't hear these same voices blaming right wingers like Rush or Hannity when white supremacists and sovereign citizens use the same rhetoric and vitriol in stalking and targeting law enforcement. There, those people are categorized as lone wolfs and not representative of everyone else.

Personal responsibility.

It cuts both ways. It is ultimately the responsibility of the shooters and criminals who carry out these acts. It is also the responsibility for everyone to call out those who use extreme rhetoric.

Justice demands it.

The need to seek justice for those who are killed at the hands of police is not mutually exclusive with the need respect or to mourn their losses in such horrible circumstances. The NYPD has done heroic things, such as running into the burning WTC before it came crashing down on 9/11, and they've killed unarmed black men including Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and Amadou Diallo. They've sodomized Abner Louima, and the fight for justice continues. Good cops shouldn't stand to see their ranks sullied by those who violate the social compact, and yet that's exactly the message we get from their union leadership who blames the assassination on the mayor who represents an entire city, and not just a police union.

Justice demands it.

Cross posted at LGF.


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