New York: Where the Sun Rises and Sets

People who live on the East Coast have a tendency to think that the sun rises and sets there as well.  Where sometimes that’s meant to indicate that New Yorkers (sometimes correctly) think that their city is the center of the universe, sometimes that assessment is actually literal, as it will be tonight at 8:16 p.m.

New York is unique in that it is only one of a few cities that’s built on a very strict grid that’s relatively level.  That means that there are a few times throughout the course of the year that offers a startling image of the sun seeming to set in near total alignment with certain streets, such as 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 57th.  The effect is called Manhattanhenge, and it makes for a striking visual effect.  Writing about it doesn’t convey the visual impact that is has, so check out the link to see the pictures posted.

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New York: City of Scandal

People behaving badly has always been fun to watch.  We do it because we like to judge.  It’s part of who we are as humans, and it’s related to an evolutionary feature humans possess that regulates group behavior.  People like to watch miscreants so we can apply pressure to them to fall back into line and ensure the health and overall well being of the group.  We do it in plays, reality TV, news, and pretty much anywhere else we can find the salacious details of people misbehaving.

Not one to disappoint, this week’s issue of New York Magazine has compiled a history of scandal in the city, dating back to the 1700s.  New York has perennially attracted a certain kind of individual, be it the hedonist, the ultra-rich, gossipy snobs, high-achieving A type personalities, and, my personal favorite, the utterly delusional.  So, for some light lunchtime tidbits of juicy scandalmongering, give the story a read.  Like watching an episode of Hoarders, you’ll likely feel much better about yourself afterwards.

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks.

Whenever there’s homophobic politicians, I’ve come to expect at least one of them to be a closet case.  And with the guilty plea from state senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), he’s just another name on a long list that supports my theory.  Kruger was one of a handful of Democratic state senators who successfully blocked a same-sex marriage bill from becoming law in 2009.  Breaking ranks from his party, his defection, along with a few others, effectively blocked the bill from going forward, killing it for another two years.

Kruger now finds himself in the hotseat, having plead guilty to a plethora of corruption charges leveled at him by the Feds.  And in the investigation, it turns out that Sen. Kruger, who says he is not gay, lives with his ‘close companion,’ Dr. Michael Turano, and Kruger’s mother in a Liberace-styled manse in Brooklyn.  Testimony in the proceedings derived from a wiretap detailed conversations between Kruger and Turano in which the two would engage in baby talk.  Turano was involved in the investigation because of the transfer of bribe funds between accounts held by the two ‘friends.’

I don’t buy it.  Adult, heterosexual men do not engage in baby talk with each other, and they rarely live together, particularly when they have the money not to do so.  It’s usually closeted Republicans that are the loudest in leading the charge against the gays, but, wonder of wonders, there do exist their Democratic colleagues.  Their actions, both in terms of corruption, and also of embracing homophobia in order to deflect attention away from themselves is reprehensible.  At the end of the day, try as they may to prevent it, the truth will always come out, even if they don’t.

Corzine On Missing $1.2 Bn: Whoops!

Former Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), formerly US Senator and the head of financial behemoth Goldman Sachs, was the head of MF Global, a Wall Street trading house up until it declared bankruptcy.  Corzine stepped down in November.  The firm was suffering from a crisis of confidence, and investors began a run on their accounts, essentially demanding the money back, it surfaced that up to $1.2 billion of their funds were missing.

Gone.  The money just pulled a Keyser Söze.  Gone with the wind.  So, in this situation, I would expect that the putative boss, a former Senator and governor, also the head of the foremost investment firm on the planet, would be able to clearly and definitively explain what happened to the money, right?  I would.  But as it turns out, Corzine has no clue whatsoever.

There’s a revolving door between the corridors of power and the financial markets in this country.  The financial elites in the US have largely rigged the economy in their favor, and the government has signed off on it.  The reason is because there isn’t much of a distinction between Wall Street and Washington any more.  For all intents and purposes, they’re one in the same.  And that $1.2 billion has gone missing on the watch of one of the most sophisticated financiers alive will be just one more page out of the book ‘How Wall Street is Screwing America.’

Jon Corzine ought to be hung out to dry.  I’d love to see a federal prosecutor of the likes of Patrick Fitzgerald be tasked with a new job, namely, the Chief of Enforcement of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Because it’s events like this that are undermining public confidence in our government.  Get a new sheriff, give them some teeth, tell them to bite and to chomp down hard.

The Empire State Strikes Back

2011 has decimated the expectations that Americans have of their federal government.  Republican intransigence to any form of revenue enhancement (fancy talk for taxes) and a Democratic unwillingness to cut spending without it have made any kind of progress on addressing the crippling debt that the nation faces impossible.  The not-so ‘Supercommittee’ failed dismally to cut even $1.2 trillion from the deficit over the coming decade, a veritable drop in the bucket relative to what’s actually required.

But, in New York, Democrats in the state Assembly and Republicans in the state Senate have achieved something rare on the national stage: a compromise.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a deal that would increase taxes on those in New York making six-figure salaries, and trim targeted spending programs.  Both sides had to give a bit in order to get what they wanted, and miracle of miracles, it worked.

New York has long been a trendsetter in the nation, be it culturally and socially.  And, for once, what was once a horribly corrupt and ossified state system has given way to something new here: a state government that’s willing to face the problems head on, ditch party orthodoxy, and move forward with compromise, instead of clinging to outdated visions of politics.  We’ve led the country on many fronts, but our way of governing here in this state has not been one of them.  The  Feds would do well to take a page out of our playbook.  Who knew?

OWS: Pissing Match of the Century

I’m a Reagan baby, through and through.  Thank God I wasn’t born in the 1950s, as I would have made a horrible hippie in the 1960s.  I’m not the sort to demonstrate.  I’m not the sort to march.  That’s probably just the conservative Midwesterner in me.  My dad was a hippie for a minute, but I suspect that was a reaction to his suburban Catholic upbringing and the chance to sample some mind altering substances from time to time, rather than any genuinely held political convictions.  As soon as he married my mother, he shaved his beard, became a registered Republican, and started complaining about taxes.

I digress.  But my point is this: while I don’t agree with the methods of the Occupy Wall Street ‘movement,’ I sympathize with their goals, at least as I understand them.  I think the economic system in this country is indeed rigged for the benefit of those that need assistance least, and that productive enterprise has fallen by the wayside in favor of financial manipulation.  I wish that the OWS crowd would put out more of a coherent policy platform, but that’s their perorgative not to.  Hierarchy, structure, clearly defined policy goals and a willingness to compromise with their opponents are all necessary to translate popular frustration into actual, honest-to-God change.

So what do we have instead?  A pissing match between the police and protesters.  What we have here is a bunch of people who are frustrated at being pushed around, and a Mayor (whom I happen to like, a lot) who’s sick of accommodating what he views as vagrants.  They’re camped out on public property, and they have a point to make.  Bloomberg tries to clear them out for a few hours, but does so in the dark of night, and with police reinforcements.  They refuse to leave, and arrests ensue.

Both sides are seriously in danger of overplaying their hands.  Does the city have a legitimate claim to clean up the park?  Sure.  Why not decamp and let the Department of Sanitation do their job?  But why do so suddenly and without prior notification and during the light of day?  While I’m not a fan of the movement, I sympathize with their goals, and while I am a fan of the mayor, I do not sympathize with his methods.  This little incident is symbolic of what we’re facing in modern US politics.  It’s not cut and dried as it seems.  Compromise is indeed called for.  The actors involved are claiming to be acting in the best interests of the nation, and while their hearts are in the right place, their tactics are those of children.  I’d love a few more adults in the room, please.

Manhattan Rental Market: Godawful, Again

I’ve lived in New York for years now.  And I’ve split my time pretty evenly between Brooklyn and Manhattan.  I like both, but Manhattan, hands down, is far more convenient.  And while there’s always been a price on convenience, as of late, it subsided somewhat.  Following the onslaught of the Great Recession, rental prices in Manhattan not only stalled, they declined, significantly.  The real estate market in New York was never impacted the same way that it was in Michigan or Florida, with either the economy drying up completely or prices reaching highs that totally collapsed.  Yes, the real estate market here slowed down and went through a period of stalled prices, it’s back to business as  usual.  New York is back on top of real estate prices.  Thank God for rent stabilization.  Some of you might say that’s socialism.  I say it’s home.