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Mike's Blog

Mike's Blog (12)

Tuesday, 19 June 2012 12:29

Silent March to End Stop and Frisk

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On Sunday, June 17, I participated in the Silent March to End Stop and Frisk.  Dr. Edward Williams, president of the Far Rockaway NAACP, was kind enough to allow me to travel on their bus.  We were joined by Milan Taylor and the Rockaway Youth Task Force, who also played a role in organizing the trip to the march, as well as Councilman James Sanders and Chief of Staff Donovan Richards.

The march began on 110th Street in Manhattan and proceeded down Fifth Avenue to 79th Street.  Appropriately, it ended near Mayor Bloomberg's residence.  In response to criticisms of the policy, the mayor has recently been calling for Stop and Frisk to be "mended, not ended."  Although this was a silent march, thousands of us spoke loudly:  end Stop and Frisk.

I have been calling for an investigation.  Constitutional law requires officers to have reasonable suspicion anyone stopped and frisked is armed and dangerous.  According to the NYPD's own data, 88% of those stopped and frisked last year were innocent.  If they're wrong almost nine times out of ten, it's clear they're not only stopping and frisking with reasonable suspicion.  What, then, is their basis for determining it should happen to someone?

Aside from the legal implications, the policy is immoral and ineffective.  It's a form of psychological warfare.  It makes people feel guilty and unwelcome in their own neighborhoods.  It makes people distrust police.  Let's be honest:  it furthers racial stereotyping.  The mayor attributes a decrease in crime to the policy.  That claim is dubious in itself; a correlation does not establish causation.  However, even assuming the claim is accurate, it will have devastating long term effects.  When someone is abusive, we don't celebrate that the victim modified his or her behavior in response to being abused.  We condemn abuse because of the long lasting harm it causes.  Stop and Frisk is as abusive as it is unconstitutional.

 

We as a people should demand legislation to end profiling.  There was recently a bill in the House that would "prohibit any federal funds from flowing to law enforcement organizations that engage in any form of racial, ethnic, or religious profiling."  I lend my full support to this and measures like it.  Unfortunately, the bill failed on the House floor:

"The bill failed on a mostly party line vote of 193-232, but all of the city's Democratic representatives [who were present] voted in favor of the bill.  Three New York Democrats from outside the city -- Kathy Hochul, Brian Higgins and Carolyn McCarthy -- were among the eight Democrats who voted against it.  (Gregory Meeks and Louise Slaughter, who is recovering from a broken leg, didn't vote.)" - Source:  http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2012/05/5884382/city-dems-vote-house-bill-would-defund-nypd-profiling-king-loudly-o

And so the march continues.

Wednesday, 06 June 2012 01:02

Legislation to Benefit One Campaign Donor’s Bank

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Emigrant BankShould wealthy campaign contributors be able to get laws passed through Congress that only benefit their own companies?  A piece of legislation that recently passed through the House Financial Services Committee would do exactly that.

“A bill to amend the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to adjust the date on which consolidated assets are determined for purposes of exempting certain instruments of smaller institutions from capital deductions” is actually a bill that would do nothing more than keep Emigrant Bank of New York from losing $300 million in Tier 1 capital.  The bill’s co-sponsors include Rep. Michael Grimm, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, Rep. Gregory Meeks, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney – all of whom received at least $2,000 from Emigrant Bank owner Howard Milstein and his family.

Under the Collins Amendment to Dodd-Frank, banks above the $15 billion asset threshold cannot count trust-preferred securities towards their Tier 1 capital.  Emigrant Bank was above the threshold for two years.  The new legislation would change the effective date of the amendment to March 31, 2010, by which time the bank fell below the threshold.  Out of 7,307 banks in the nation only Emigrant would be affected by this legislation.  In other words, the law would exempt one campaign donor’s bank from financial reform provided by the Dodd-Frank provision.

During the hearing on the bill – a hearing the bill’s co-sponsors attempted to avoid, and not all attended – Emigrant’s chief regulatory officer claimed failure to exempt the bank would result in less available credit to individual borrowers.  “Cops, teachers, and firemen” were cited as those who would suffer if the bank were not exempted.  This is the same claim fiscal conservatives make when arguing the wealthy should receive continued tax breaks:  those at the top need more so they can support the regular people.  Time after time, we’ve seen the world does not work that way.  Legislation should directly support the working class instead of benefiting financial institutions in hopes that it will trickle down to the working class.

Many were angered when the banks were bailed out in 2008.  We’re now witnessing an attempt to legislatively provide aid to a bank that doesn’t need saving.  Emigrant currently has $10.5 billion in assets.  The fact that Emigrant’s officer was questioned at the hearing about the impact the bill would have on Emigrant further highlights this legislation is catered to that one particular bank.  I’m hopeful the bill will come under heavy public scrutiny before its vote on the House floor.  We simply cannot afford more of this political irresponsibility.

More information:

Why Did Congress Help Out One N.Y. Bank? - abcnews.go.com
Campaign Contributions Stir Unease on Emigrant Bank Bill - americanbanker.com
Bill would give bank a $300M benefit - politico.com
What a Few Thousand Dollars Will Buy You in D.C. - wallstreetexaminer.com
Outrageous Corporate Earmarks Stage a Comeback - thefiscaltimes.com
New York’s Emigrant Savings Pushes Dodd-Frank Tweak - blogs.wsj.com

Recommended Video: HPC 99% Club (Hollis Presbyterian Church) - Abandoned Houses on Hollis Ave

June 26:  The Date Incumbents Don’t Want You to Know

New York Congressional Primary - June 26, 2012

Did you know the congressional primaries in New York were on June 26?

If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be alone.  We’re used to them being in September, but they were moved up this year so the state would be in compliance with a federal law called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

Unfortunately, the new date hasn’t been very highly publicized.

When I attended the hearing on redistricting earlier this year, attorneys for the legislatures put forth an interesting argument.  They argued one of the factors the court should consider when determining election logistics is “incumbency protection.”  Because the judiciary looks to legislative intent when interpreting laws, the argument went, it should respect the legislators’ intent to protect incumbents.  In other words, the court should protect incumbents because incumbents want to be protected.

The reason we were in court to begin with was because the legislators could not, or would not, work out the parameters themselves.  When the period for petitioning to make it onto the ballot started, the district lines hadn’t yet been finalized.  It’s very hard to petition voters of a district when you don’t know where the district is.  Obviously, the delay favored incumbents:  they have the means to get campaigns together in shorter amounts of time.  Those who wanted to give voters another choice were handicapped.  Given the anti-incumbent mood across the country and the incumbents’ own pleads for judicial favoritism, I don’t think many would disagree if I suggested the stalling was by design.

Now that New York has four election days this year – the presidential primaries, the congressional primaries, the local primaries, and the general elections – turnout is expected to be low.  This is precisely what incumbents want.  They know the more people who vote, the more likely they won’t be reelected.  They would prefer if nobody but their core supporters knew when the elections were.  It’s our job, as citizens who know democracy only works when the people get to choose, to get the word out.

I recently noted to a colleague that the incumbent in my primary race didn’t seem to be doing much campaigning.  “Of course not,” he replied.  “He’s not going to advertise your election for you.”  What does it say when one candidate wants people to vote and the other seemingly does not?  I’ll leave that to you.  I just hope you’ll exercise your right to answer that question on June 26.

I recommend this short documentary, directed by Rik Cordero, about the tragic closing of Peninsula Hospital Center in Far Rockaway.

 

"Stranded: The Closing of Peninsula Hospital Center" Documentary

A documentary look at the plight of Peninsula Hospital Center in Far Rockaway, Queens NY due to mismanagement and profit-oriented health organizations. Filmmaker Rik Cordero interviews a number of people who have been affected by the hospital's struggles and explains how the corporate drive for profits has left numerous people in financial and medical disarray.

For more information please visit:
http://www.facebook.com/groups/146071492140515/

Director/DP/Editor: Rik Cordero
Producer: Ryan Biazon
Sound Recordist: Amir Moussavi

http://www.rikcordero.com
http://www.three21media.com

Thursday, 15 March 2012 16:33

The Importance of a Primary Election

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ballot-box

When you watch the news, you probably get the sense that all that matters when it comes to a congressional seat is whether it is occupied by a Democrat or a Republican.  It’s not surprising:  the balance of power in this country is largely determined by which party holds more seats.  Additionally, it’s an easy sell to present politics as a sporting event.  Right now, the red team leads the blue team 242 to 192.  A primary election doesn’t change the score, so the media doesn’t find it sexy.  The problem, however, with reducing democracy to a numbers game is that it disregards the players.  Congressional approval is at an all-time low because people aren’t satisfied with the individuals who represent us.  Instead of focusing solely on Ds and Rs, let’s start looking at who the actual candidates are.

To continue the sports analogy, a primary determines whom each team puts in the game.  While a coaching decision may not be as exciting as a slam dunk, it absolutely impacts the result.  Jeremy Lin couldn’t have led the Knicks to seven straight wins if he were kept on the bench.  The Republicans have more seats in Congress because the Democrats continue to nominate weak candidates who refuse to fight for the people’s needs.  It’s astonishing how many times I’ve heard people say, “I don’t agree with the Republicans on most issues, but at least they have a spine.”  There are potential all-stars in the Democratic Party, but first we need to be given the ball.

A primary also keeps candidates honest.  Most obviously prefer to forego the primary process because it’s one less election they have to win.  More than that, though, no primary means they get to ride the party wave with no personal accountability.  Many districts are not swing districts.  People have their ideologies, and come Election Day they’re going to vote along party lines.  A primary forces the candidates to take a stand.  It’s easy to regurgitate party talking points, but multiple candidates vying for the same party’s nomination compels nuanced discussion.  It makes incumbents defend their records and challengers explain what they’d do differently than others in their party.  Without it, there really is no meaning behind who belongs to what party anyway.  Candidates could claim the popular party and govern as if they belonged to the other.  And that essentially renders the scoreboard meaningless.

Image © taoty / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, 02 February 2012 20:39

The Rap About Conservative Economics

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On a recent episode of Real Time, Bill Maher compared presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to rappers who brag about their success.  He suggested conservative politicians seduce the middle class the same way rappers sell grandiose imagery to regular people who shouldn’t be able to relate.  These consumers identify with the rappers because they imagine themselves living that same lifestyle.  In their mind, they’re spending millions and partying with the most beautiful women too.  According to Maher, this is how conservative politicians manage to get support from people who aren’t rich.  Although their policies only benefit the wealthiest, many everyday Americans can see themselves in that category.  Coming from a Hip Hop background, I felt compelled to comment.

We should first stipulate that not all rappers boast about material wealth – at least not to the extent discussed here.  However, I don’t believe Maher was making a sweeping generalization about all rappers.  To be fair, not all conservative politicians prey on ordinary folks who think they’ll be rich.  The fact remains that imaginary wealth is a major part of the appeal in both rap and conservative politics.  I have met a surprising number of devoted Hip Hop fans with conservative leanings, precisely because rap taught them it was cool to crush everyone in their way of getting rich.  To be clear, these individuals were not rich.  They would characterize someone like Mitt Romney as “gangster” for becoming successful at their expense.  In spite of this, I’ve found the overwhelming majority of rap fans have progressive views.  This is because most of us are able to separate fantasy from reality.

For one, the rappers themselves almost always exaggerate their level of success.  And we’re fine with that because we use it as a form of escapism.  When we’re having a bad day, it’s nice to close our eyes and imagine we’re on top of the world.  More than that, we can apply that feeling of being able to conquer anything to our own lives.  When we listen to rap music, most of us aren’t fantasizing about crushing the oppressed.  We’re probably being inspired to “crush” that test, or that job interview.  When people who aren’t rich think conservative policies benefit them, they aren’t having the same kind of fantasy.  They literally believe they’ll soon be rich and the liberals will raise their taxes.  The difference between rap fans and conservatives is most rap fans don’t believe we’re going to be the 50 Cent we hear on record; many conservatives do believe they’re going to be the Mitt Romney they see at the podium.

And you know what?  There’s nothing wrong with envisioning yourself as being successful.  That’s what the law of attraction is all about.  If you want a positive outcome, you should focus on that result.  But the problem with supporting conservative economic policy is that it makes it harder for people to do well.  While we shouldn’t embrace a defeatist attitude that says upward mobility is impossible, we have to create an environment that maximizes everyone’s chance to succeed.  If the everyday people who are the foundation of this country have the support they need, the economy will improve and everyone – including the wealthy – will be better off.

Sunday, 22 January 2012 19:06

Thinking Differently About Education

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imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.netAt last Wednesday’s Community Board 12 meeting, education was a focal point.  One major problem facing southeast Queens is its lack of viable schooling options.  This was an issue with which I was confronted when I was a child.  After graduating from PS 195 in Rosedale, I had to travel out of the neighborhood to continue attending public schools.  That was because Rosedale had no public intermediate or high school.  Though the sacrifice was worth it to me – I will always appreciate the dynamic education I received from Queens public schools – I recognize the hardship this creates for many families.  Often times, students are forced to commute outside their neighborhoods to schools that are themselves unsatisfactory.  Forget about afterschool programs:  even if adequate extracurricular activities were available, an arduous daily commute can prevent students from participating.  The result is more of our youth feeling excluded and alienated.  In an area that has one of the highest crime rates in New York City, this is very unsettling.

We have to change our approach to education.  Using standardized test scores as a means of determining where the money goes is not good policy.  For one, the emphasis on standardized tests has incentivized educators to only teach what they believe will be tested.  We should instead be encouraging teachers to employ creative techniques that serve the unique needs of their classes.  Further, this system rewards places that require the least help.  We obviously can’t allocate funds on the basis of poor exam performance, either:  that would encourage purposely bombing the test.  What we’re left with is the realization that quantitative solutions to education do not work.  Let’s stop obsessing over raw scores and start considering what our children need to be successful.

Among those needs are more local schools that challenge and engage our children.  I applaud the Black Spectrum Theatre Company for its efforts to open a charter school in the community.  The proposed middle school, which plans to integrate arts into the curriculum, would serve 360 southeast Queens students.  It’s this type of outside the box thinking that will enable us to better serve our youth.  While I remain a strong proponent of traditional public schools, and I want to see charter schools held to the same accountability standards, more options in an area where they are often limited are supremely necessary.

Image © imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, 30 December 2011 15:58

Money Shouldn’t Rule Our Politics

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Money Shouldn’t Rule Our Politics

“It is…for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us …that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” –President Lincoln, Gettysburg Address.

One in two members of Congress is a millionaire.  Do half the people you know have a million dollars?

That isn’t what I would describe as “by the people, for the people.”  So it shouldn’t surprise us when Congress cuts programs like Medicare and student loans instead of ending tax breaks for the wealthy.  They’re only looking out for their own interests.  Unfortunately, their interests are not in line with those of most Americans.  They seem addicted to making themselves richer at everyone else’s expense.

To be clear, this isn’t about demonizing the rich.  This is about creating a better future for all Americans.  This is about promoting an economic climate in which everyone has a chance to succeed.  The great irony is that even the rich would do better in a stronger economy.  A crippled middle class is bad news for everyone’s bottom line.  But our elected officials are evidently oblivious.  Like all addicts, they are blissfully unaware of the long-term consequences of their acts.  Money talks, and it speaks the same language to Democrats as it does to Republicans.

When money determines election results more than ideas and qualifications, the system is fundamentally broken.  The influence of money on our politics has to be curtailed.  In the technological age, there’s no reason campaigns should be so expensive.  I’ve had meetings with political directors who told me I’d have to spend upwards of $100,000 on mailing literature alone.  Shouldn’t that be covered by email these days?  Of course, candidates are only provided with voters’ physical addresses.  The entire process is set up to reward those with the most cash.

It’s time to put an end to this.  As a member of Congress, I will make reducing money’s influence on politics a top priority.  I have made the decision to reject corporate PAC money, and I would support a law requiring all candidates to do the same.  Candidates should not be permitted to spend millions of their own dollars to buy elections.  When politicians leave office, they should not be allowed to become lobbyists.  We need serious reforms to ensure our democracy works as intended.

And we can take it a step further.  In its unpopular Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money on political causes.  While they rightfully cannot contribute directly to candidates, they can use the loophole known as the independent expenditure to support or oppose candidates and issues.  This significantly undermines people’s ability to participate in our democracy.  Corporations are not people.  Individuals associated with a corporation might not even agree with the message its money is being spent to promote.  I support the constitutional amendment proposed by Senators Udall, Schumer, and others that would overturn Citizens United.

While I realize it’s going to take money to get me there under the current system, I pledge to do everything I can to change that system from within.  I hope you’ll stand with me in delivering government back where it belongs – to the people.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011 12:43

We Must Defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

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We Must Defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) 

Stop SOPAThere is a frightening bill making its way through the House of Representatives called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).  The bill’s counterpart in the Senate is known as the PROTECT IP Act.  Back in September, my colleagues and I summarized the PROTECT IP Act for the Solid Ground site as follows:

[The PROTECT IP Act] would allow the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take down any Web site it felt was involved with copyright infringing activities. The DOJ would be allowed to demand search engines and social networking sites block access to the targeted site. Under certain circumstances, the site could be brought down before the Web site owner were given his or her day in court.

This bill would hurt everyday Americans because the government would not be held accountable if they could shut down Web sites without proving unlawful activity. This could deprive everyday Americans of their constitutional rights to due process and free speech.

The SOPA version of the bill makes no effort to resolve these constitutional issues.  It would, among other things, allow the government to block access to Web sites containing links to other sites that turned out to be infringing.  (That is how the DOJ interprets the language authorizing the government to target sites that “facilitate” infringement.)  Web sites don’t live in vacuums.  As hard as it is to monitor all the content on one’s own site, it’s absurd to hold site owners responsible for what appears on other sites.

It would effectively give the government unfettered authority to censor the Internet.

The bill uses a similar framework as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which requires sites like YouTube to take down content as soon as someone files a notice alleging copyright infringement.  If falsely accused, the user can file a “counter notification” to have his or her content restored.  However, by the time that happens, the damage has often been done.  This presumption of guilt mechanism offends the principles of our Constitution and is all too easily exploited.  In today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle, having content blocked for mere days can be fatal to one’s message.  Even presidential campaigns have complained of frivolous take down notices causing their political speech to be silenced.  Imagine how everyday people are affected.

Under SOPA, rights holders could notify payment facilitators (e.g., Paypal) and ad networks about a site’s alleged infringement.  Those parties would then have to suspend services to that site, unless that site filed a counter notification.  This presents the same issues as the DMCA, except now entire Web sites are implicated.  It’s bad enough that YouTube videos can be removed without proof of infringement; now YouTube itself – along with Google, Facebook, and countless other sites – may be threatened.  This could significantly damage Internet commerce, which has been the most thriving sector of our economy.

Further, major sites like the ones mentioned have resources to fight these existential threats.  Most people do not.  They can see their Web sites – and thus their speech and perhaps their businesses – shut down without anyone proving they violated the law.  This presents major First and Fifth Amendment problems.  The Supreme Court has ruled that any government action suppressing speech without a “prompt final judicial decision” after both sides have the opportunity to argue their case is presumptively unconstitutional.

Protecting intellectual property is an important concern, but administering what has been described as the Internet death penalty without having to prove unlawful activity cannot be tolerated.  I support requiring proving in court actual knowledge of infringement to trigger liability for Web sites.  Shutting them down based on speculation or accusation is inherently harmful to our democracy.

I was disappointed to learn that Go Daddy, the company my campaign site uses for domain registration services, was a SOPA supporter.  After a justified boycott of that company began, it has softened its stance on the bill.  However, I do not feel it has done enough to denounce its initial position.  It still mentions working to “craft revisions” of SOPA instead of defeating it completely.  As such, I have instructed my campaign to move www.scalaforcongress.com away from Go Daddy.

Through efforts like these, we can shut down this legislation.

Mike Scala is a Democratic candidate for New York’s sixth congressional seat in the United States House of Representatives.

June 26 - New York Congressional Primary