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

    Thursday, October 9, 2014

    ISIS in Washington

    By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
    08 October 14

    t happened so fast that, at first, I didn’t even take it in.
    Two Saturdays ago, a friend and I were heading into the Phillips Museum in Washington, D.C., to catch a show of neo-Impressionist art when we ran into someone he knew, heading out.  I was introduced and the usual chitchat ensued.  At some point, she asked me, “Do you live here?”
    “No,” I replied, “I’m from New York.”
    She smiled, responded that it, too, was a fine place to live, then hesitated just a beat before adding in a quiet, friendly voice: “Given ISIS, maybe neither city is such a great place to be right now.”  Goodbyes were promptly said and we entered the museum.
    All of this passed so quickly that I didn’t begin rolling her comment around in my head until we were looking at the sublime pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat and his associates. Only then did I think: ISIS, a danger in New York?  ISIS, a danger in Washington?  And I had the urge to bolt down the stairs, catch up to her, and say: whatever you do, don’t step off the curb.  That’s where danger lies in American life.  ISIS, not so much.
    The Terrorists Have Our Number
    I have no idea what provoked her comment. Maybe she was thinking about a story that had broken just two days earlier, topping the primetime TV news and hitting the front pages of newspapers.  On a visit to the Big Apple, the new Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, claimed that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by militants of the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS or ISIL), the extremists of the new caliphate that had gobbled up part of his country, against the subway systems of Paris, New York, and possibly other U.S. cities.
    I had watched Brian Williams report that story on NBC in the usual breathless fashion, along with denials from American intelligence that there was any evidence of such a plot.  I had noted as well that police patrols on my hometown’s subways were nonetheless quickly reinforced, with extra contingents of bomb-sniffing dogs and surveillance teams.  Within a day, the leading officials of my state, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, were denying that they had any information on such a plot, but also taking very public rides on the city’s subways to “reassure” us all.  The threat didn’t exist, but was also well in hand!  I have to admit that, to me, it all seemed almost comic.
    In the meantime, the background noise of the last 13 years played on.  Inside the American Terrordome, the chorus of hysteria-purveyors, Republican and Democrat alike, nattered on, as had been true for weeks, about the "direct," not to say apocalyptic, threat the Islamic State and its caliph posed to the American way of life.  These included Senator Lindsey Graham (“This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home"); Majority Leader John Boehner, who insisted that we should consider putting American boots on Iraqi and perhaps even Syrian ground soon, since “they intend to kill us”; Senator Dianne Feinstein, who swore that “the threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated”; Senator Bill Nelson, who commented that “it ought to be pretty clear when they... say they’re going to fly the black flag of ISIS over the White House that ISIS is a clear and present danger.” And a chorus of officials, named and anonymous, warning that the terror danger to the country was “imminent,” while the usual set of pundits chirped away about the potential destruction of our way of life.
    The media, of course, continued to report it all with a kind of eyeball-gluing glee.  The result by the time I met that woman: 71% of Americans believed ISIS had nothing short of sleeper cells in the U.S. (shades of “Homeland”!) and at least the same percentage, if not more (depending on which poll you read), were ready to back a full-scale bombing campaign, promptly launched by the Obama administration, against the group.
    If, however, you took a step out of the overwrought American universe of terror threats for 30 seconds, it couldn’t have been clearer that everyone in the grim netherworld of the Middle East now seemed to have our number.  The beheading videos of the Islamic State had clearly been meant to cause hysteria on the cheap in this country -- and they worked.  Those first two videos somehow committed us to a war now predicted to last for years, and a never-ending bombing campaign that we know perfectly well will establish the global credentials of the Islamic State and its mad caliph in jihadist circles.  (In fact, the evidence is already in.  From North Africa to Afghanistan to Pakistan, the group is suddenly a brand name, its black flag something to hoist, and its style of beheading something to be imitated.)
    Now, the Shia opponent of those jihadists had taken the hint and, not surprisingly, the very same path.  The Iraqi prime minister, whose intelligence services had only recently been blindsided when IS militants captured huge swaths of his country, claimed to have evidence that was guaranteed to set loose the professional terror-mongers and hysterics in this country and so, assumedly, increase much-needed support for his government.
    Or perhaps that woman I met had instead been struck by the news, only days earlier, that in launching a bombing campaign against the militants of the Islamic state in Syria, the Obama administration had also hit another outfit.  It was called -- so we were told -- the Khorasan Group and, unlike the IS, it had the United States of America, the “homeland,” right in its bombsites.  As became clear after the initial wave of hysteria swiftly passed, no one in our world or theirs had previously heard of such a group, which may have been a set of individuals in a larger al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel outfit called the al-Nusra Front who had no such name for themselves.
    Whatever the case, it seemed that the Obama administration and connected intelligence outfits had our number, too.  Although Khorasan was reputedly plotting against airplanes, not subways, transportation systems were evidently our jugular when it came to such outfits.  This group, we were told in leaks by unnamed American intelligence officials, was made up of a “cadre” or “collection” of hardened, “senior” al-Qaeda types from Afghanistan, who had settled in Syria not to overthrow Bashir al-Assad or create a caliphate, but to prepare the way for devastating attacks on the American “homeland” and possibly Western Europe as well.  It was, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper put it, “potentially yet another threat to the homeland,” and it was “imminent.”  As U.S. Central Command insisted in announcing the bombing strikes against the group, it involved “imminent attack planning.”  The Khorasan Group was, said Lieutenant General William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland."
    Had we not hit them hard, they would be -- so American intelligence officials assured us -- on the verge (or at least the verge of the verge) of developing bombs so advanced that, using toothpaste tubes, rigged electronic devices, or possibly clothes soaked in explosives, their agents would be able to pass through airport security undetected and knock plane after plane out of the sky.  Civilization was in peril, which meant that blazing headlines about the plot and the group mixed with shots of actual bombs (ours) exploding in Syria, and a sense of crisis that was, as ever, taken up with gusto by the media.
    As Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain pointed out in a devastating report at the Intercept, the whole Khorasan story began to disassemble within a day or so of the initial announcement and the bombing strikes in Syria.  It took next to no time at all for that “imminent threat” to morph into “aspirational” planning; for reporters to check with their Syrian sources and find that no one knew a thing about the so-called Khorasan Group; for the taking down of those airliners to gain an ever more distant (and possibly even fictional) look.  As ever, however, pointing out the real dangers in our world was left largely to non-mainstream sources, while the threat to our way of life, to Washington and New York, lingered in the air.
    Terror-Phobia and a Demobilized Citizenry
    This sort of soundtrack has been the background noise in our lives for the last 13 years.  And like familiar music (or Muzak), it evokes a response that’s almost beyond our control.  The terror about terror, sometimes quite professionally managed (as in the case of the Khorasan Group), has flooded through our world year after year after year.  ISIS is just a recent example of the way the interests of a group of extremists in making themselves larger than life and the interests of groups in this country in building up or maintaining their institutional power have meshed.  Terror as the preeminent danger to our American world now courses through the societal bloodstream, helped along by regular infusions of fear from the usual panic-meisters.
    On that set of emotions, an unparalleled global security state has been built (and funded), as well as a military that, in terms of its destructive power, leaves the rest of the world in the dust.  In the process, and in the name of protecting Americans from the supposedly near-apocalyptic dangers posed by the original al-Qaeda and its various wannabe successors, a new version of America has come into being -- one increasingly willing to bulldoze the most basic liberties, invested in the spread of blanket secrecy over government actions, committed to wholesale surveillance, and dedicated to a full-scale loss of privacy.
    You can repeat until you're blue in the face that the dangers of scattered terror outfits are vanishingly small in the “homeland,” when compared to almost any other danger in American life.  It won’t matter, not once the terror-mongers go to work.  So, in a sense, that woman was right.  For all intents and purposes, without ever leaving Iraq and Syria, ISIS is in Washington -- and New York, and Topeka, and El Paso (or, as local fear-mongers in Texas suggest, ready to cross the Rio Grande at any moment), and Salt Lake City, and Sacramento.  ISIS has, by now, wormed its way inside our heads.  So perhaps she was right as well to suggest that Washington and New York (not to speak of wherever you happen to live) are not great places to be right now.
    Let’s be honest.  Post-9/11, when it comes to our own safety (and so where our tax dollars go), we’ve become as mad as loons.  Worse yet, the panic, fear, and hysteria over the dangers of terrorism may be the only thing left that ties us as a citizenry to a world in which so many acts of a destructive nature are being carried out in our name.
    The history of the demobilization of the American people as a true force in their own country’s actions abroad could be said to have begun in 1973, when a draft army was officially put into the history books.  In the years before that, in Vietnam and at home, the evidence of how such an army could vote with its feet and through its activism had been too much for the top brass, and so the citizen army, that creation of the French Revolution, was ended with a stroke of the presidential pen.  The next time around, the ranks were to be filled with “volunteers,” thanks in part to millions of dollars sunk into Mad Men-style advertising.
    In the meantime, those in charge wanted to make sure that the citizenry was thoroughly demobilized and sent home.  In the wake of 9/11, this desire was expressed particularly vividly when President George W. Bush urged Americans to show their patriotism (and restore the fortunes of the airlines) by visiting Disney World, vacationing, and going about their business, while his administration took care of al-Qaeda (and of course, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq).
    In the ensuing years, propaganda for and an insistence that we “support,” “thank,” and adulate our “warriors” (in ways that would have been inconceivable with a citizen’s army) became the order of the day.  At the same time, that force morphed into an ever more “professional,” “expeditionary” and “foreign” (as in Foreign Legion-style) outfit.  When it came to the U.S. military, adulation was the only relationship that all but a tiny percentage of Americans were to be allowed.  For those in the ever-expanding U.S. military-industrial-homeland-security-intelligence-corporate complex, terror was the gift that just kept giving, the excuse for any institution-building action and career enhancement, no matter how it might contravene previous American traditions.
    In this context, perhaps we should think of the puffing up of an ugly but limited reality into an all-encompassing, eternally “imminent” threat to our way of life as the final chapter in the demobilization of the American people.  Terror-phobia, after all, leaves you feeling helpless and in need of protection.  The only reasonable response to it is support for whatever actions your government takes to keep you "safe."
    Amid the waves of fear and continual headlines about terror plots, we, the people, have now largely been relegated to the role of so many frightened spectators when it comes to our government and its actions.  Welcome to the Terrordome.

    Man Infected With Ebola Through Casual Contact With Cable News

    Screen grab from Fox News. (photo: Fox News/The New Yorker)
    Screen grab from Fox News. (photo: Fox News/The New Yorker)
    By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker
    08 October 14

    The article below is satire. Andy Borowitz is an American comedian and New York Times-bestselling author who satirizes the news for his column, "The Borowitz Report."
    n Ohio man has become infected with misinformation about the Ebola virus through casual contact with cable news, the Centers for Disease Control has confirmed.
    Tracy Klugian, thirty-one, briefly came into contact with alarmist Ebola hearsay during a visit to the Akron-Canton airport, where a CNN report about Ebola was showing on one of the televisions in the airport bar. “Mr. Klugian is believed to have been exposed to cable news for no more than ten minutes, but long enough to become infected,” a spokesman for the C.D.C. said. “Within an hour, he was showing signs of believing that an Ebola outbreak in the United States was inevitable and unstoppable.”
    Once Klugian’s condition was apparent, the Ohio man was rushed to a public library and given a seventh-grade biology textbook, at which point he “started to stabilize,” the spokesman said.
    But others exposed to the widening epidemic of Ebola misinformation may not be so lucky. “A man in Oklahoma was exposed to Elisabeth Hasselbeck on Fox for over three minutes,” the C.D.C. spokesman said gravely. “We hope we’re not too late.”

    In Memoir, Cuomo Reflects on Highs and Lows

    Among the revelations contained in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new book: He blames himself for his father’s political demise.

    Mr. Cuomo covers much ground, from his complicated relationship with his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, to his 2003 breakup with Kerry Kennedy, to more current events — including a detailed account of how he persuaded lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage in New York in 2011. 

    From the Magazine: Cuomo on His Past Mistakes