Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The U.S. Will Collaborate With Cuba … on Ebola

The U.S. Will Collaborate With Cuba … on Ebola

A Cuban doctor chosen to combat Ebola in West Africa posed for a picture in Havana on Oct. 21, 2014.Credit Enrique De La Osa/Reuters
After wrestling for days with the diplomatically awkward reality that Cuba could turn out to be America’s best ally on the effort to stem the Ebola epidemic, the Obama Administration has belatedly come around to a sensible conclusion: It’s willing to coordinate with the Cuban medics dispatched to treat patients in West Africa.
In a remarkably conciliatory statement, the State Department said on Tuesday night that it “welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Cuba,” which has pledged to send hundreds of doctors and nurses to treat patients in the three countries where the virus is spreading fastest.
“Cuba is making significant contributions by sending hundreds of health workers to Africa,” the State Department said.

The Ebola outbreak has presented the two nations with a rare opportunity to work collaboratively on a high profile global issue at a time when there is growing interest on the part of both governments for a rapprochement.
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the United States this weekend to set aside its long term differences with Havana in order to make headway on the fight against Ebola. Cuba recently dispatched 165 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone and a new group of 91 was set to travel to the region on Tuesday. The government has trained more than 400 health care workers on the precautions that must be taken to treat patients with Ebola.
The United States and the European Union have pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build up the beleaguered health care infrastructure of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. But the international community has struggled to put together a medical corps willing to treat patients with the highly contagious virus.
The Times editorial board on Monday called on the United States to coordinate with Cuban medics and to offer them assistance in the event any contract the virus. The State Department statement did not address whether American personnel would be willing to treat or evacuate Cuban health workers. American officials say they are still sorting out the broader issue of how medical evacuations of all foreign health care workers will be handled.

That Which Can Never Be Forgotten

Fidel Castro. (photo: unknown)
Fidel Castro. (photo: unknown)

By Fidel Castro, Granma International
16 October 14

On October 11, 2014 the New York Times' editorial board published an opinion titled, "Obama Should End the Embargo on Cuba." - Fidel Castro in Cuba's State Sponsored Granma International responds. - MA/RSN

esterday morning, on Sunday October 12, the Sunday internet edition of The New York Times – a newspaper which under certain circumstances follows the political line most convenient to its country’s interests – published an article entitled “Obama should end the embargo on Cuba;” with opinions as to how, in its view, the country should proceed.
There are times when such articles are written by some prestigious journalist, such as someone I had the privilege of meeting personally during the first days of our struggle in the Sierra Maestra with the remainder of a unit which had been almost totally eliminated by Batista’s air force and army. We were at that time quite inexperienced; we didn’t even realize that giving the impression of strength to the press would be something that could merit critique.
That is not what the brave war correspondent, Herbert Matthews, thought with a story which made his name during the difficult times of the fight against fascism.
Our supposed fighting ability in February 1957 was a little less, but still more than sufficient to wear down and overthrow the regime.
Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, leader of the People’s Socialist Party, was witness to what, after the Battle of Jigüe in which an entire unit of select troops were forced to surrender after 10 days of combat, I expressed regarding my fear that the regime’s forces would surrender in July 1958, when the elite troops hastily retreated from the Sierra Maestra, despite being trained and equipped by our northern neighbors. We had discovered an effective way of defeating them.
I could not help but expand a little on this point as I wished to explain the spirit with which I read the aforementioned article of the U.S. newspaper, last Sunday. I will cite the most important parts in quotations:
“Scanning a map of the world must give President Obama a sinking feeling as he contemplates the dismal state of troubled bilateral relationships his administration has sought to turn around. He would be smart to take a hard look at Cuba, where a major policy shift could yield a significant foreign policy success.
“For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo. The Castro regime has long blamed the embargo for its shortcomings, and has kept ordinary Cubans largely cut off from the world. Mr. Obama should seize this opportunity to end a long era of enmity and help a population that has suffered enormously since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro assumed power.
“…a devastated economy has forced Cuba to make reforms — a process that has gained urgency with the economic crisis in Venezuela, which gives Cuba heavily subsidized oil. Officials in Havana, fearing that Venezuela could cut its aid, have taken significant steps to liberalize and diversify the island’s tightly controlled economy.
“They have begun allowing citizens to take private-sector jobs and own property. This spring, Cuba’s National Assembly passed a law to encourage foreign investment in the country. With Brazilian capital, Cuba is building a seaport, a major project that will be economically viable only if American sanctions are lifted. And in April, Cuban diplomats began negotiating a cooperation agreement with the European Union. They have shown up at the initial meetings prepared, eager and mindful that the Europeans will insist on greater reforms and freedoms.
“The authoritarian government still harasses and detains dissidents. It has yet to explain the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the political activist Oswaldo Payá.”
As you can see a slanderous and cheep accusation.
“Travel restrictions were relaxed last year, enabling prominent dissidents to travel abroad. There is slightly more tolerance for criticism of the leadership, though many fear speaking openly and demanding greater rights.
“The pace of reforms has been slow and there has been backsliding. Still, these changes show Cuba is positioning itself for a post-embargo era. The government has said it would welcome renewed diplomatic relations with the United States and would not set preconditions.
“As a first step, the Obama administration should remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations, which includes Iran, Sudan and Syria. Cuba was put on the list in 1982 for backing terrorist groups in Latin America, which it no longer does. American officials recognize that Havana is playing a constructive role in the conflict in Colombia by hosting peace talks between the government and guerrilla leaders.
“Starting in 1961, Washington has imposed sanctions in an effort to oust the Castro regime. Over the decades, it became clear to many American policy makers that the embargo was an utter failure. But any proposal to end the embargo angered Cuban-American voters, a constituency that has had an outsize role in national elections (…)The generation that adamantly supports the embargo is dying off. Younger Cuban-Americans hold starkly different views, having come to see the sanctions as more damaging than helpful. A recent poll found that a slight majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami now oppose the embargo. A significant majority of them favor restoring diplomatic ties, mirroring the views of other Americans.
“Cuba and the United States already have diplomatic missions, called interests sections, which operate much like embassies. However, under the current arrangement, American diplomats have few opportunities to travel outside the capital to engage with ordinary Cubans, and their access to the Cuban government is very limited.
“The Obama administration in 2009 took important steps to ease the embargo, a patchwork of laws and policies, making it easier for Cubans in the United States to send remittances to relatives in Cuba and authorizing more Cuban-Americans to travel there. And it has paved the way for initiatives to expand Internet access and cell phone coverage on the island.
“For instance, it could lift caps on remittances, allow Americans to finance private Cuban businesses and expand opportunities for travel to the island.
“It could also help American companies that are interested in developing the island’s telecommunications network but remain wary of the legal and political risks..
“Failing to engage with Cuba now will likely cede this market to competitors. The presidents of China and Russia traveled to Cuba in separate visits in July, and both leaders pledged to expand ties.
“It would better position Washington to press the Cubans on democratic reforms, and could stem a new wave of migration to the United States driven by hopelessness.
“Closer ties could also bring a breakthrough on the case of an American development contractor, Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned by Cuba for nearly five years. More broadly, it would create opportunities to empower ordinary Cubans, gradually eroding the government’s ability to control their lives.
“…Western Hemisphere heads of state will meet in Panama City for the seventh Summit of the Americas. Latin American governments insisted that Cuba, the Caribbean’s most populous island and one of the most educated societies in the hemisphere, be invited, breaking with its traditional exclusion at the insistence of Washington.
“Given the many crises around the world, the White House may want to avoid a major shift in Cuba policy. Yet engaging with Cuba and starting to unlock the potential of its citizens could end up being among the administration’s most consequential foreign-policy legacies.
“Normalizing relations with Havana would improve Washington’s relationships with governments in Latin America, and resolve an irritant that has stymied initiatives in the hemisphere..”
“…The Obama administration is leery of Cuba’s presence at the meeting and Mr. Obama has not committed to attending.
“He must — and he should see it as an opportunity to make history.”
One of the most educated societies in the hemisphere!!!! This is indeed recognition. But why doesn’t it mention this straight away, that in no way is this society comparable to that which Harry S. Truman bequeathed to us when his ally and great public treasury looter Fulgencio Batista took power on March 10, 1952, only 50 days after the general election. This can never be forgotten.
The article is obviously written with great skill, seeking the greatest benefit for U.S. policy in a complex situation, in the midst of increasing political, economic, financial and commercial problems. To these are added the effects of rapid climate change; commercial competition; the speed, precision and destructive power of weapons which threaten the survival of mankind. What is written today has a very different connotation to that which was written just 40 years ago when our planet was already forced to stockpile and withhold water and food from the equivalent of half the world’s current population. This without mentioning the fight against Ebola which is threatening the health of millions of people.
Add to this that in a few days the global community will reveal before the United Nations whether it agrees with the blockade against Cuba or not.

Ebola’s grim original secret: How capitalism and obscene military spending got us here

It's time to look at America's perverted sense of death, health and prevention -- and how we're spending our money

Ebola's grim original secret: How capitalism and obscene military spending got us here (Credit: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
This week stateside, the edge may be off the Ebola story for the U.S. news media, as those people in Dallas who were close to the late Thomas Eric Duncan emerge from their 21-day quarantine. The Obama administration has appointed an Ebola czar and the military is pulling together a kind of infectious disease SWAT team that can helicopter in the next time a “world-class” American hospital fumbles an Ebola case.
Glad that’s resolved.
What a human tragedy it will be if we fail to grasp what are the existing pre-conditions that set the stage for this unprecedented global outbreak of Ebola.
Missing from the wall-to-wall coverage of the global Ebola crisis is a root-cause analysis that shows how unfettered free market global capitalism and our obscene spending on the military both play a part in creating the environment for this latest outbreak and the ones that are sure to follow.
Annually the world spends more than $1.7 trillion on the military. According to the Wall Street Journal the world spends a whopping $27 billion on the world’s public health. Keep that obscene imbalance in your mind the next time you see pictures of Liberians bleeding out in the street.
No missile killed them, but our greed and global death-oriented spending priorities have left fingerprints on all these bodies.
Here in the U.S. we spend close to $700 billion on the military annually, roughly 20 percent of the federal budget, equivalent to just under $2,500 per capita. Contrast that with our foreign aid for things like public health where we part with just $19 billon, or .6 percent of the federal budget, just $61 per capita. Twenty other nations actually give a higher percentage of their gross national product in non-military aid to nations in need than we do.
Our military spending squeezes out so much that needs to be done both at home and abroad. And there are lost opportunity costs of not doing what needs to be done, like seeing to it that places like West Africa, the epicenter of the latest Ebola outbreak, have a basic public health infrastructure.
This latest global pandemic shows just how yesterday our “homeland security” threat–based security matrix is. In the jet age of hop-and-a-skip Ebola, it feels fatally provincial. Ultimately, our essential homeland is planet Earth.


As President Obama does his best to shift back and forth from commander in chief of the war on terror to global public health advocate, he is going to find maintaining the public’s trust, both here and abroad, essential but difficult. For quite a while now the U.S. brand has been tied to its myopic prosecution of the the war on terror, even if it killed innocent civilians and put the global public health at risk.
How else does one explain the CIA’s fraudulent use of a public health vaccination program in Pakistan to harvest DNA from households they suspected of harboring Osama bin Laden? As a direct consequence of the CIA’s subterfuge bin Laden supporters targeted several public health workers administering polio vaccination for assassination.
Although that particular CIA strategy did not help the U.S. achieve its ultimate goal, there was major blowback. The U.N. had to shut down its polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, one of only a handful of countries in the world at the time where wild polio transmission still happens. So severe were the potential consequences that in January of 2013 deans of the 12 leading American schools of public health wrote President Obama directly, taking the CIA to task. “This disguising of an intelligence gathering effort as a humanitarian public health service has resulted in serious collateral consequences that affect the public health community,” read a press release put out along with the letter.
A week later Lisa Monaco, the White House’s top counter-terror and homeland security expert, wrote back pledging the CIA would not repeat the ruse.
But the damage may have been done, especially in the parts of the world where U.S.-based pharma multinationals’ vaccination products have long been viewed as suspect and with the same skepticism expressed by vaccination opponents stateside. By in the spring of this year the World Health Organization was reporting a resurgence of polio centered in the Middle East and Africa that “constitutes an extraordinary event and a public health risk to other States for which a coordinated international response is essential,” WHO warned the world. “If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the most serious vaccine preventable diseases.”
For global context, keep in mind that in 1979 polio had been eradicated in the United States, but experts say maintaining that status requires high vaccination rates here and an aggressive program around the world. In an increasingly mobile world, the Centers for Disease Control warns that without a coordinated international effort “scenarios for polio being introduced into the United States are easy to imagine.”
No doubt this reality creates a dynamic tension between public health and commerce that is so present in the current “fly–no fly” Ebola debate. We have a media-induced near religious belief that only through unfettered global free trade and travel can a brighter tomorrow dawn. We think we have conquered the natural world but it can still kick us in the ass with fatal results. We have failed to grasp even the basic consequences of the mobility many of us take for granted. We are blind to the social and ecological costs exacted on the people of Africa by transnationals in the hot pursuit of everything from bauxite to crude oil.
Despite our 21st century genius we lose jet airliners and killer epidemics can percolate for several months in remote places like West Africa, impoverished by an extraction industry like the mining of bauxite used to make the aluminum we need for the planes we fly and the latest high-tech gadgets we depend on to stay connected. Our pressing question all too often is, Can we get an upgrade?
Suffice to say most Americans have no idea where this virulent Ebola strain has come from or how many people it has already killed. Media figures vary. Laurie Garrett, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, told the PBS News Hour this week that for the first time officials at the World Health Organization had conceded the “bad news” that they had no real data from Liberia. Garrett says she estimates the actual Ebola death toll is between 15,000 and 16,000 deaths.
There is expert consensus that the Ebola tide has to be turned where it originated. We can’t just hermetically seal our borders.
According to the World Health Organization, “ground zero” for the outbreak was “in the remote Guinean village of Meliandou” where the borders of the West African nations Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone all meet. The first fatality, according to WHO, was a 2-year-old boy who died two days after he became sick around Christmastime of last year.
Within a matter of weeks his 3-year-old sister, mother and grandmother all had succumbed to what was still at that point a mysterious disease to the local doctors who were unfamiliar with Ebola because it had previously been only associated with countries in Central Africa. In one of the most medically underserved places in the world, local doctors were all too familiar with the regular outbreaks of infectious diseases like cholera and malaria but were baffled by what they were facing.
“Following the young boy’s death, the mysterious disease continued to smolder undetected, causing several chains of deadly transmission,” according to WHO’s account. “Who could have ever guessed that such a notorious disease, previously confined to Central Africa and Gabon, would crop up in another distant part of the continent?”
It was not until March of this year that WHO officially posted the Ebola outbreak advisory. For months there was lots of public health hand-wringing. Experts were lured into complacency when local outbreaks seemed to wane, only to resurge with a vengeance, decimating a part of the world that, despite its great natural resource wealth, lacks basic public health infrastructure.
For Africa in the age of unfettered global capitalism, the leverage is still with transnational corporations that can easily exploit the corruption and political instability that grips so much of the continent. “With 24 percent of the world’s infectious disease burden, Africa has only 3 percent of the world’s health professionals, with massive shortages of physicians, nurses, technicians, health administrators and planners,” writes Jennifer Cooke, author of “Public Health in Africa.”
Any effort at coming to understand Ebola has to be pursued holistically. As reported earlier this month in the Digital Journal, there are expert estimates that West Africa has lost as much as 90 percent of its virgin forest lands to human activities including farming and mining.  Scientists believe there is a corollary between deforestation and the increasing frequency and severity of Ebola outbreaks.
Ebola is a zoonotic disease, transmitted from animals to people. As the population grows and human settlement expands into the shrinking tropical forests, the local population, which survives off bush meat, is increasingly exposed to the disease present in species like fruit bats and chimpanzees. Such was the conclusion reached in the 2012 report “Ebola Virus Outbreaks in Africa and Present” published in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Medicine.
At the same time a never-ending cycle of political violence in the region makes it impossible to achieve the stability needed to establish and maintain the public health infrastructure necessary for a traumatized and often at risk population. All too often African leaders decide it’s more critical to spend money to buttress their military for their own self-preservation, as opposed to investing in the public health of their constituents. Add into the mix a terrorist group like Boko Haram and you have a civil society constantly under duress.
Historically, for Americans and Europeans, Africa was a place to get slaves, free labor. In modern times it is a place from which we extract diamonds, gold, bauxite, oil, whatever, at the lowest possible price, so as to make the most profit. It is just business. If you can add to your mass consumer market in the process, that’s fine too. But, overwhelmingly, the majority of Africans are left out of the global free trade wealth-creating machine that is fueled by Africa’s natural resources.
As for the U.S., with the fall of the Soviet Union and after Sept. 11, we have increasingly asserted ourselves with drone attacks and strategic military raids in Africa aimed at disrupting terrorist networks.
Despite all the rhetoric about being interconnected it is hard to get the developed world to really have skin in the game over the long term. Yes, President George W. Bush’s focused efforts to spend billions to fight HIV-AIDS in Africa was a bipartisan success that made a difference for millions.
Yet last year the Washington Post reported that President Obama actually became the first president since Reagan to back off the U.S. commitment to fighting HIV-AIDS, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from the program.
What this Ebola outbreak has to drive home is the reality that U.S. aid to support public health in Africa is not a selfless act of charity but one of self -preservation. Over the decades of African relief ads on late-night TV we may have become inured to the image of starving and disease-stricken children. That’s not to say the world has not made progress. Consider that in 1990 the World Health Organization reported that around the world 12.6 million children under age 5 died. That’s almost two Holocausts a year.
By 2012 that was down to 6.6 million dead children and about half of them were from sub-Saharan Africa. But as we have seen with the death of the 2-year-old in Guinea last Christmas, the loss of just one can have repercussions felt around the world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Latino leader rips de Blasio over lack of Hispanic appointments

Mayor de Blasio promised to make his the most diverse administration in decades — but his racial-ethnic balancing act is being questioned by a leading Latino leader.
“Despite his broad progressive policy agenda, his administration has developed a blind spot when it comes to his appointment of Latinos at levels reflective of our size of New York City’s population,” said Angelo Falcon, director of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
“At last count, despite making up 29 percent of the population, Latinos were only 12 percent or less of de Blasio’s appointments, the biggest disparity among the city’s racial-ethnic groups,” Falcon complained in his group’s newsletter sent out Monday via e-mail.
There are a number of Hispanics in top positions in the administration.
Liliam Barrios Paoli is the deputy mayor for health and human services and Carmen Fariña is the schools chancellor.
Gladys Carrion heads the Administration of Children Services, Kathryn Garcia is the sanitation commissioner and Marco Carrion heads the mayor’s community affairs unit.
But Falcon complained that a majority of the 26 top Hispanic mayoral appointments are concentrated in only three agencies — the mayor’s office, the Department of Education and the mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
“The result is that Latinos are not a significant presence in policy-making positions in most of the city’s agencies,” he said.
“And despite repeated requests by Latino community leaders for a meeting to remedy this problem, the mayor has chosen to ignore these voices of concern,” said Falcon, who then compared de Blasio to the last “progressive” mayor, David Dinkins.
“Will history repeat itself? Quien sabe? [who knows?]”
Other Latino leaders were willing to cut de Blasio some slack.
“We need to give him time to put the hirings in place. The mayor is moving in the right direction,” said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brookyn), chairman of the state Legislature’s Hispanic Task Force.
“In comparison to . . . Bloomberg and Giuliani, he’s doing a good job.”
De Blasio’s office defended the Latino representation in his government — but didn’t dispute Falcon’s figures.
“The mayor and his leadership team are committed to increasing the representation of Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian American and Pacific Islanders across the administration,” said mayoral spokeswoman Marti Adams.
“ We have been very clear in our intention to build an administration that is representative of all New Yorkers and we are proud of the diverse team that we have built to date.”

De Blasio admits need to rein in homeless storage program

Mayor de Blasio admitted Monday that he needs to rein in an out-of-control city program that pays millions of dollars to store the possessions of homeless people, in the wake of a Post exposé about a woman who ran up more than $200,000 in taxpayer-funded storage bills.
De Blasio blamed Albany lawmakers for the program’s soaring costs, which reached $14.6 million in fiscal year 2014, saying the city is mandated to keep homeless residents’ stuff in storage until they find permanent housing.
“As you know, we are compelled by state law in that area, and I certainly have concerns, because our focus is on housing people not belongings,” de Blasio said. “So I’d like to see resources go to people not belongings, but we have to figure out how to navigate that state law.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) said he was stunned to learn from The Post’s page-one story on Monday that Andrea Logan, 54, racked up the astounding storage bills over eight years and that last year the tab to store her belongings had reached $3,585 a month — enough to rent her a well-appointed Manhattan apartment.
“Obviously, it was shocking! I had no idea that we were actually paying to store people’s property when they become homeless,” said Avella, chairman of the Social Services committee.
“If it’s a temporary situation that’s one thing, but for long-term storage, it’s just absurd.”
Avella also fired off a letter demanding a response from the city’s Human Resources Administration, where a source told The Post: “Clearly, there’s a problem.”
Meanwhile, a court ruling from 2010 exposed further abuse of the homeless storage program by a man who had gotten approval to keep his possessions locked away at taxpayer expense — even though he’d been paying rent on a share of a Hell’s Kitchen apartment for more than seven years.
Bankruptcy Court records revealed that Alain Mercier got the benefit in March 2008, despite claiming to own less than $1,400 worth of possessions.
Officials canceled his $144-a-month grant for storage fees in 2009, and Mercier — who was paying his rent with a $350 “enhanced shelter allowance” — sued to hold onto the benefit.
But a judge tossed the case in 2010 because state law didn’t require that his storage bills be paid “for an indefinite period.”
An HRA spokesman said the agency is “concerned about the rates that are charged, and this is one of the reasons why we plan to develop a new process to identify which storage companies and rates will be approved.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

City pays $200K to store homeless ex-model’s belongings

By Yoav Gonen, Reuven Fenton and Bruce Golding
The city has shelled out more than $200,000 to store a homeless woman’s belongings — enough to have set her up in a swanky Manhattan apartment for years.
Andrea Logan’s possessions have been locked up — at taxpayer expense — since she lost her Upper East Side apartment in 2006 after a debilitating stroke, court records reveal.
And the city has picked up the tab, following a state law that requires it to cover storage expenses for homeless people.
Logan, 54, had jammed 11 storage units full of belongings in the years after her stroke, and officials didn’t notice the huge tab until it reached $3,585 a month last year.
That’s more than enough to score a one-bedroom duplex in Greenwich Village with a fireplace and roof deck, or a newly renovated, two-bedroom pad on the Upper East Side.
Even Logan’s storage units — some as large as 10 by 16 feet — cover well over 1,000 square feet of space, way more than offered by most Manhattan homes.
It was unclear exactly how the city learned of Logan’s sprawling storage empire. But officials finally refused to pay for all of her units last year, prompting her to sue in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Under a deal this year with the city Human Resources Administration and the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Logan agreed to whittle down her belongings to fit into only three units at a Storage Post facility in The Bronx, at a total monthly rate of $1,297.
Logan, who ran an antiques business before the stroke left her legally blind, says her stuff includes “hundreds of cartons of books,” as well as furniture, appliances and women’s clothing in sizes ranging from 4 to 22.
Asked to estimate the value of the stash, she said, “There’s so much stuff that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
“The most critical and valuable things are the irreplaceable items — documents from medical-malpractice and personal-injury cases, personal family documents, photographs and mementos.”
Logan said she also has accumulated a trove of household items that she bought for each shelter stay but wasn’t allowed to bring with her when she got relocated.
“I have 10 to 12 brooms,” she explained. “You name it, it’s there: soup to nuts.”
Logan said that while she remains homeless, she hasn’t lived in a city shelter for four years and is instead bunking with friends or squatting in abandoned buildings.
She said city officials have been trying to force her into a tiny apartment in a “supportive building” in Chelsea for people with severe disabilities so “they can justify not paying my storage.”
“I went to a meeting with HRA, and they popped a surprise psychiatric visit on me,” she said.
But taxpayers are still footing the bill for her belongings. State law mandates that the city pay for storing furniture and personal belongings for homeless people “so long as eligibility for public assistance continues and so long as the circumstances necessitating the storage continue to exist.”
In the years since Logan became homeless, the cost to taxpayers for providing such storage to homeless people has soared from a total $6.8 million in fiscal year 2006 to $14.6 million in fiscal year 2014.
The average cost per case also rose, from $1,333 a month to $1,549.
The HRA wouldn’t discuss Logan’s case, citing privacy issues.
But agency spokesman David Neustadt said, “The policy of [Mayor Bill de Blasio’s] administration is to house people, not just their belongings, and we are actively implementing that policy.”
Additional reporting by Frank Rosari

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Progressives Are Coming!

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City. (photo: Richard Perry/NYT)
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City. (photo: Richard Perry/NYT)
By Luke Brinker, Salon
12 October 14
Center-right Democrats finally face a formidable challenge -- and that has them terrified

ast December, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler of the Wall Street-funded think tank Third Way penned a widely-discussed op-ed for the Wall Street Journal warning Democrats of the perils of economic populism, which Cowan and Kessler called a “dead end” for the party. The piece lambasted prominent progressives like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, asserting that their focus on income inequality and their unwillingness to back savage cuts to social insurance programs was both irresponsible and politically foolish.
The piece triggered a fierce backlash against Third Way, and even two co-chairs of the organization disavowed Cowan and Kessler’s anti-populist screed. But the plutocratic wing of the Democratic Party hasn’t breathed its last, and the latest centrist attack on progressive populism is a real doozy.
It comes courtesy of a Politico Magazine essay by Progressive Policy Institute president Will Marshall. A co-founder of the now-shuttered center right group the Democratic Leadership Council and a onetime aide to former Sen. Joe Lieberman, Marshall has long been a leading agitator on behalf of a more right-leaning Democratic Party. Aggressively hawkish on foreign affairs – Marshall was associated with the erstwhile neoconservative group the Project for a New American Century and was a big booster of the Iraq War – Marshall also harbors distinctly center-right views on economic issues, joining deficit scolds in railing against so-called “’borrow and spend’ policies” and championing “entitlement reform” and corporate tax cuts.
Marshall’s central thesis is that to win power, Democrats must capture the loyalties of moderate voters. Given the high number of Americans who tell pollsters that they’re “moderate” in their political orientation, it sounds sensible enough. But Marshall proceeds to simply ascribe to rank-and-file moderates the center-right views of the Beltway punditocracy, the better to make his case that progressive populism is a losing prospect. To win moderate voters, Marshall writes, Democrats must shun “leftish orthodoxy” on by “supporting trade agreements, real accountability in education, changes in entitlements, development of America’s shale-gas windfall and efforts to lower regulatory obstacles to entrepreneurship.” The party must refocus its efforts toward reducing the budget deficit and national debt, and it must place a higher priority on “economic growth,” not “redistribution to achieve equality.”
From a purely political standpoint – the vantage from which Marshall is primarily writing – this is nothing short of bunk. Most recent polling, for instance, shows Americans are skeptical of “free trade agreements” and support expanding Social Security. Moreover, while the way a poll frames choices may lead Americans to say growth should be a higher priority than reducing inequality, surveys indicate that Americans see inequality as a dire problem and want to raise taxes to solve it. Asked to chart an ideal distribution of wealth for society, a majority of Americans show preferences for a far more egalitarian society than we have now.
The policies Marshall advocates are no better than the politics. Reducing economic inequality, for instance, is essential to economic growth, while spikes in inequality contribute to financial crises. As economist Thomas Piketty points out, “One consequence of increasing inequality was virtual stagnation of the purchasing power of the lower and middle classes in the United States, which inevitably made it more likely that modest households would take on debt, especially since unscrupulous banks and financial intermediaries … offered credit on increasingly generous terms.” Meanwhile, phrases like “real accountability in education” are meaningless sloganeering, designed to obfuscate an anti-union agenda and push education “reforms” that don’t actually work. On climate change, Marshall is being nothing short of disingenuous when he suggests that pouring resources into natural gas production is compatible with a sustainable environmental policy. While natural gas itself may be cleaner than other fossil fuels, fracking for natural gas leaks methane, which is 34 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
When it comes to foreign policy, Marshall shows no signs of having learned the lessons of the disastrous militaristic policies he enthusiastically backed in the Bush administration. “U.S. foreign policy can’t simply be a series of belated, ad hoc reactions to crises,”he argues, as if progressives were advocating a “belated, ad hoc” foreign policy. “We need a new strategy for weakening Islamist extremism in whatever form it takes, for revitalizing NATO as a bulwark against Russian expansion, and for creating a balance of power in East Asia that protects the region’s free and open societies.” Marshall doesn’t explain what achieving these sweeping goals would entail, but it’s clear that the Iraq War cheerleader is fearful that progressive Democrats aren’t as keen on American interventionism and chest-thumping as he’d like.
While Cowan and Kessler at least had the courtesy to name high-profile adherents of the ideology they were castigating, Marshall’s piece doesn’t name-check a single soul; the closest he comes is a general swipe at “self-appointed ideological minders like MoveOn and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.” It’s possible that Marshall genuinely believes, despite evidence to the contrary, that these unnamed leftist villains’ policies are politically perilous. But it’s hard to escape the sense that what really terrifies Marshall and his ilk is the realization that their brain-dead centrism finally faces a robust challenge.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

End the Embargo on Cuba

Recent political shifts make this the right moment to build a new relationship, including formal diplomatic ties.

For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo. The Castro regime has long blamed the embargo for its shortcomings, and has kept ordinary Cubans largely cut off from the world. Mr. Obama should seize this opportunity to end a long era of enmity and help a population that has suffered enormously since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro assumed power. 


La Habana en junio de 2011. Credit Desmond Boylan/Reuters 

Leer en Español: Tiempo de Acabar el Embargo de Cuba


    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Homeless Services breaks own rules, lets people sleep overnight at office

    The Department of Homeless Services has broken its own longstanding rules by letting people sleep overnight on chairs at its Bronx office, The Post has learned.
    At other times, DHS bent the rules by shuttling people to a nearby hotel before dawn for as little as an hour — before returning them to the center.
    “You’re not supposed to sleep there, they’re supposed to take you somewhere. They didn’t,” said Cynthia Penns, who was with her 14-year-old son. “There were a lot of people sleeping — kids, babies, too.”
    The strain at the registration center comes as the homeless population has increased by 4,400 since January to more than 56,000.
    DHS spokesman Chris Miller said just five families have slept overnight at the intake center.

    Principal of Failing Brooklyn School Quits, Saying City Lacks an Education Plan

    Bernard Gassaway, the principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, offered Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Education Department one of its sternest public rebukes yet.

    Boys and Girls, which has existed in some form since 1878 and is Bedford-Stuyvesant’s main high school, has a long list of distinguished alumni, including Shirley Chisholm, Norman Mailer and Aaron Copland. But in recent years, its reputation has become checkered.
    In 2005, a class-action lawsuit against the city alleged that some students at Boys and Girls were essentially warehoused in an auditorium for large portions of the day, segregated from the rest of the students and not given enough opportunity to earn the credits needed to graduate. The suit was settled in 2008; the city did not admit any wrongdoing.

    Friday, October 10, 2014

    Cuomo’s pick for Lt. Gov. facing challenge from left

    Gov. Cuomo’s new running mate for lieutenant governor, pro-gun and anti-illegal immigrant former Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, of Buffalo, is “99 percent certain’’ to be challenged in the Democratic primary by a prominent anti-Cuomo “progressive’’ with millions to spend, The Post has learned.
    Cuomo critic Bill Samuels, son of New York City OTB founder Howard Samuels — who ran for governor in 1974, losing the Democratic primary to Hugh Carey — told associates over the weekend that he’s furious that Cuomo selected Hochul, a bank lobbyist, whom he described as “out of step with the progressive reforms this state needs,’’ one source told The Post.
    Samuels, 71, who told an associate that he’s “99 percent certain to run” against Hochul in the September primary, has already begun planning a campaign built around appeals to Mayor de Blasio’s core supporters: labor unions, left-of-center activists and African-American and Hispanic voters, the source said.
    Asked by The Post if he was preparing to run against Hochul, Samuels — who has raised millions of dollars for state Senate Democrats and created a stir in March when he said Cuomo, 56, should run for re-election as a Republican because he’s helped re-elect Senate Republicans — responded, “I’m giving extremely serious thought to it.’’
    Samuels told associates that he’ll make a final decision within a week, when the petitioning process for the primaries will be under way.

    Bill Samuels (pictured) is furious that Cuomo chose Hochul as his new running mate for lieutenant governor. 
    Photo: AP Photo

    A well-financed Samuels challenge to Hochul, a virtual unknown in heavily Democratic New York City who ran for Congress with the backing of the National Rifle Association, could upend Cuomo’s re-election strategy by dividing state Democrats, exacerbating racial tensions and forcing the governor to spend his campaign funds on Hochul’s behalf.
    Bronx state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a socially conservative Democrat whose son, Ruben Jr., is Bronx borough president, publicly ripped Hochul last week for her high-profile opposition as Erie County clerk to then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan in 2007 to grant driver’s licenses to illegal “undocumented’’ aliens.
    “You should know that Kathleen Hochul . . . is a well-known professional advocate against immigrants. Does anyone believe that she will support the DREAM Act that we in New York State’s Democratic community are fighting for?’’ Diaz asked.
    “Our community has been slapped by Governor Cuomo twice: first, that no minority has been selected to serve with him at the top of the ticket; and second, that a person who adamantly opposes immigration rights was selected to serve in that slot,’’ Diaz continued.
    Two Democratic strategists contacted by The Post said a serious race by Samuels against Hochul could be successful because of the widely chronicled unhappiness with Cuomo by left-of-center unions and party activists.
    Samuels is not only a threat to Hochul — his candidacy could seriously threaten Cuomo’s hopes of winning a landslide victory against GOP challenger Rob Astorino in November.
    That’s because the governor is counting on votes cast for the Democrats’ Cuomo/Hochul ticket being bolstered by votes for the same ticket that was approved last week by the Independence Party and expected to be approved this week by the Working Families Party.
    However, if Samuels is able to defeat Hochul in the Democratic primary, the opposite would be the case.
    A Cuomo/Hochul ticket endorsed by the Independence and Working Families parties would not count toward the vote total received by the Cuomo/Samuels ticket running on the Democratic line and would, in fact, serve to siphon votes away from a victorious Cuomo’s total.

    McCray aide left $28K IRS tax lien off disclosure form

    Filling out government forms is not her forte.
    Mayor Bill de Blasio’s embattled aide Rachel Noerdlinger left personal information off yet another government form, The Post has learned.
    Noerdlinger failed to list her remaining debt from a 2011 IRS tax lien of $28,190 on a public financial disclosure form that the Conflicts of Interest Board requires all top city officials to file each year.
    It’s the latest instance of first lady Chirlane McCray’s chief of staff withholding sensitive information.
    Last week, the Department of Investigation found that Noerdlinger, who earns $170,000 a year, failed to disclose in her government background paperwork that she lived in Edgewater, NJ, with her convicted-killer ex-con beau, Hassan McFarlan.
    The DOI form is not open to public scrutiny, but the COIB form is. Its purpose, in fact, is to let the public and the press review the finances of high-ranking city officials and managers for potential conflicts.
    On Noerdlinger’s 2013 COIB form, she failed to mention a lien the IRS placed on her assets for unpaid taxes dating back to 2007 in the “List of Money You Owe” section.
    Noerdlinger, an ex-aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton and an associate of scandalized lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, has since entered into a payment plan to settle up, according to her attorney.
    After The Post inquired about the omission, mayoral aides said she is amending the form. The COIB form also has a private section, and the mayoral aides said Noerdlinger answered “Yes” when asked about outstanding tax liens but inadvertently failed to provide that information in the public portion.
    Rachel reported her outstanding tax liens on her COIB financial disclosure report … it is not uncommon for filers to update their financial disclosure forms, especially first-time filers.
     - Marti Adams, mayoral spokesman
    The mayor’s office insisted the omission wasn’t a big deal. “Rachel reported her outstanding tax liens on her COIB financial disclosure report,” said mayoral spokesperson Marti Adams. “She is in the process of including additional information, as it is not uncommon for filers to update their financial disclosure forms, especially first-time filers.”
    Meanwhile, the DOI rejected a Freedom of Information Law request filed by The Post for its findings on Noerdlinger’s background-check flub — claiming “disclosure would warrant an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
    The DOI has traditionally released its findings after cases are closed and the targets of investigations face penalties.
    Noerdlinger got a mild slap on the wrist — a notice in her personnel file — for not listing her boyfriend on the background check.
    DOI concluded Noerdlinger had not provided McFarlan’s name when specifically asked to identify whom she lives with — but concluded the omission wasn’t an attempt to deceive.
    The mayor extended that free pass by declaring the “case closed” when questioned about it this week.
    Noerdlinger didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    Mandela and Fela, Honored in Dance and Song

    Nelson Mandela and the Nigerian musician Fela will be honored in multidisciplinary events this weekend at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and BRIC in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

    Opinion »

    Mayor Bill de Blasio with Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, at a meeting on the Ebola threat on Thursday. On some other issues, the mayor has been increasingly curt.
    Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times
    Mayor Bill de Blasio with Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, at a meeting on the Ebola threat on Thursday. On some other issues, the mayor has been increasingly curt.
    City Hall Memo

    De Blasio’s Transparency Is Turning Opaque Under Fire

    Faced with embarrassing questions about his wife’s top aide and other issues he finds annoying, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been replacing his promised ask-me-anything attitude with “case closed” peevishne