Friday, October 20, 2017

Interview: Ross Barkan, State Senate Candidate for District 22

Well, this is interesting. 

Back in September, I interviewed political reporter Ross Barkan for this blog. He's a well-respected scribe on New York City and State politics, and he gave Mr NYC some great insights about the upcoming mayor's race. His interview has quickly become a popular and widely-read post. 

Little did I know but apparently Ross had something in the works and now it's official: he's throwing off his reporter's mantle and running for the NY State Senate. He's vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican State Senator Marty Golden in 2018. According to Barkan, he plans to focus on the issues of "Single-payer [healthcare], transit, fixing Albany, and a lot of other things."

Ross is certainly a smart and courageous person. I just hope he knows what he's in for. Politics is brutal. I mean brutal. Remember the famous Game of Thrones line? "You win -- or die." Well, in 21st century American politics, maybe you don't literally die, it's still really, really tough. Ever the gentleman, Ross was kind enough to give Mr NYC another interview -- this time as a candidate:

Lots of aspiring politicians talk about the "sacrifice" of running for office but, let's face it, for most, it's a business, a career plan, and no sacrifice at all. But you're a successful, talented journalist who doesn't need to do this. Why?

I felt motivated to do it because I’ve been repeatedly disappointed by the political class. There are good people in politics and some very talented individuals, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t think the pols of yesteryear (with few exceptions) were particularly impressive. But we’re facing several crises here in Brooklyn and across the state and I saw that few were standing up to offer solutions or call out the bad actors who’ve screwed us. In the past, I had mused privately about running for office, and got serious about it a few months ago. When I announced this campaign, I said to myself I wanted to run a race on the values I care about, like Medicare for All, fixing our failing transit system, and cleaning up corruption. I want to run a campaign I would be proud of. In my corner of Southwest Brooklyn, a retrograde Republican state senator named Marty Golden represents me. He’s a nice enough guy and my grudge against him isn’t personal—it’s grounded in policy. He doesn’t care about public transportation or a woman’s right to choose or the discrimination faced by the Arab-American community. It’s time for him to go. And I plan to chase him out. On a personal level, this was a good time to run a campaign. I’m young enough. I don’t have children. In a decade from now, I probably won’t have this kind of time. I didn’t want to look back with any regrets.

Politics is ugly for a reason: it's the battle for power. You're trying to take power away from people who already have it or who think they deserve it more. Are you ready for people saying hateful things about you in the media, investigating your life, perhaps attacking your family, perhaps having people following you around recording you, all sorts of nightmarish stuff. Are you ready for the onslaught? (You realize that the Brooklyn Democratic machine might have other ideas of who should go up against Marty Golden and, if you win the primary, the GOP machine is going to fight like hell for a State Senate seat that pads their tiny, basically non-existent majority)?

Politics is a very rough business. I know it well. Am I ready? I hope. I’ve done my fair share of digging on other people and now I expect people out there to return the favor. I’m not na├»ve about the process. It will be a tough but exhilarating time, and I think ultimately it will be worth it. Not enough people take risks in politics. They hew to the conventional wisdom, play it safe, slink into the shadows. That’s not really my way. I intend to speak my mind. Maybe I’ll make some people uncomfortable. More often than not, though, I’ve found people don’t want to hear bullshit. Let the GOP cash machine come after me. I’ll have the truth on my side.

You said on Twitter that you'll never join the IDC. That's good to hear! Is there anything more you want to add about that?

The IDC needs to go. In an ideal world, the conference would be destroyed, never to return. All members of the IDC would lose and go home. Of course, that will be hard to achieve. Jeff Klein sits on millions of dollars and is a known quantity in his district. Diane Savino is good at constituent work. Defeating all eight is going to be very challenging. Do I hope it happens? Yes. I don’t want a scenario where I have to cast a vote for co-leader Klein. I really don’t. I will never vote for him. What galls me most about the IDC is the deception. To pose as progressives and literally keep conservatives in power. It’s disingenuous and wrong and I’m glad people are speaking up and fighting back.

Any more thoughts or things we should know about your State Senate run?

I said somewhere I am going to be unapologetically myself, no matter what. I won’t morph into an android politician. I won’t be Jon Ossoff. Win or lose, I will battle on the issues and values that matter most to me and my supporters.

Sounds good. I wish Ross luck. People are always complaining that good people don't run for office so here's a chance for the people in Brooklyn. It'll be interesting. If you want to know more about his campaign, you can go to his website here

Self-Driving Cars in Lower Manhattan = Insanity

Self-driving cars are, like the Internet and most technology we use these days, probably inevitable. After all, who wouldn't like to have a car that can drive and park itself, freeing its riders from the hassles behind the wheel? I'm an awful driver so this is a technological development I welcome!

So the world turns.

That said, there's a long way to go before self-driving cars become an every-day reality and it'll require lots and lots and lots of testing. What does testing means? It means that these test cars will have to drive around and crash before they can become safe for regular drivers. So, if you were a company developing these cars, where would you test them? Perhaps in a place where they couldn't do much structural damage or stall or, you know, kill people. Perhaps a low-population, low-density area like ... Lower Manhattan???

Yes, it turns out that GM -- you know, that car company that almost went out of business until taxpayers bailed them out? -- is planing to do just that. They want to start testing their self-driving prototypes in Lower Manhattan next year. This is dumb and dangerous and Mayor De Blasio is, rightly, strongly against the idea. Testing these cars in that environment is madness and he's vowing the stop it.

So who gave these cars the metaphorical and literal green light? Governor Cuomo -- oh, and the state Department of Motor Vehicles didn't alert the city Department of Transportation before approving this. Instead, they sent out this nasty, self-defensive missive when De Blasio vowed to stop this: "The mayor can do whatever he wants but the city is subject to state jurisdiction ... We understand that the mayor's taxi industry donors don't like it, but it is the future and all states are exploring it.” So instead of addressing the concern the state attacks the mayor personally and throw its authority in our face. Oh, and GM contributed to Cuomo's campaign funds. Yeah, the statement didn't mention that. 

Something is rotten about this -- it's all corrupt. This must be stopped! No self-driving car tests in Lower Manhattan! Or else the state, and not the city, will literally have blood on its hands. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October 19, 1987 - Black Monday

Today is Thursday but thirty years ago on this date -- October 19, 1987 -- the New York Stock experienced its biggest crash in history. The Dow Jones Industrial Index, something you might call "the stock market of the stock market", plunged by 508-points or 22% of the "index." 

Imagine that the value of your house evaporated by almost a quarter in a single day and you can imagine why it was a dark, dark day on The Street, recorded by history as Black Monday.

What caused it? Many explanations: a weak dollar, investor fears of inflation, conflicts in the Middle East (i.e. unpredictable oil prices), and the vagaries computer trading. News reports, like the one above, assaulted viewers with terms like "S&P 500", "market capitalization", "index funds", blah blah blah, trying to make sense of the madness. But the market quickly recovered and the Go-Go '80s soon became the Go-Go '90s.

Of course, 21 years later, in the fall of 2008, the market would yet again crash due to the collapse of the housing market and nonsense of the the big banks. This would lead to the Great Recession that we are still, almost a decade later, recovering from.

So October 19, 1987, Black Monday, was a sad one indeed but, ultimately, one of the good ol' days. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cow in Prospect Park

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences, Good Neighbors

Ever since the amazing The Gates in Central Park exhibition in 2005, I've become a lover of public art. There's nothing cooler than seeing the streets and parks of NYC turned into a canvass for a creative vision. NYC is always interesting but is made only more so when parts of it are re-imagined, temporarily, as something else. That's the glory of art, one of the things that makes NYC great.

The famous Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei has just mounted one of the most ambitious public arts projects in NYC history. It's called Good Fences, Good Neighbors and it's a multi-borough exhibit of fences -- yes, fences -- that highlight the plight of refugees and migrants who are fleeing wartorn countries and natural catastropheos. Fences can protect but they can also exclude -- something that refugees are keenly aware of but that most of cannot really appreciate 
-- and this exhibit drives that point home.

What makes this exhibit so particularly interesting is how is both grand and small. Some of the installations are tourist heavy, obvious places like Washington Square Park and Flushing Corona Park -- and others are on bus stops in Brooklyn and shelters in The Bronx. There is also an audio visual component to this exhibit too, with videos showing the plight of refugees in many far-flung parts of the world.

This project seems like a once-in-a-lifetime, you-were-there, blink-of-you'll-miss-it experience so, if you're in NYC, try to find it and check it out.

It runs until February, 2018. For a comprehensive list of locations, go here

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cy Vance and the Fear of Power

Why aren't Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump's daughter and husband in jail?

After all, there's overwhelming evidence that both committed crimes (in Harvey Weinstein's case, against women; in Donald Trump's kids case, for fraud, since they mislead buyers of the Trump Soho building about how many units were actually sold). 

Thanks Manhattan DA Cy Vance for not prosecuting these miscreants. Not only did the lawyers of these people contribute heavily to his campaign, but Vance apparently has an MO for vigorously prosecuting low level offenses committed by poor and powerless people but letting the rich and powerful skate. 

The reason is easy to see: it's scary to prosecute people who have money and connections. They will fight you with everything they have, they will smear you in the press, they will sue you personally and try to get you disbarred, they will prevent family members and people who work for you from getting jobs, they will hire private investigators to terrorize your life, they will do whatever it takes to stop you and stay out of jail. So why bother? The fear of that is enough.

Part of me is angry at Vance for letting these people get away with their crimes but another part of me understands. It's all about power. That's what power is, after all -- literally getting people to do, or not do, what you want. This is something that the Harvey Weinsteins and the Trumps of this world fully understand. 

Like the character Varys says in Game of Thrones: "Power is a trick, a shadow on the wall." And the big question is, where does the power come from? Who performs the trick, who casts the shadow? Every few years we go to the polls and elect to give certain people "power" over our lives for certain periods of time. But let's face it -- when people have power over those people, when the supposedly powerful and accountable are at the mercy, perceived or real, of the even more powerful and unaccountable, what hope is there for the rest of us? How can justice truly prevail?

In the case of Cy Vance, not often. The fear of power, the real power, is too great. 


Friday, October 13, 2017

Sinovision and NYC Chinese Media

At least once a week I pick up food from this small Chinese joint in my neighborhood. Very often they have a flatscreen on the wall playing a Chinese language station called Sinovision

I've become fascinated by it. Sinovision is beautifully produced and super local with shows and commercials that distinctly target a NYC audience. I only wish that I understood so I could actually watch it, and I only wish there were more local TV stations like it. 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Memo from NYC

The news roaring around NYC and Hollywood and the interwebs these days is about the fall from grace of Harvey Weinstein, whose companies Miramax and The Weinstein Company produced some of the best movies of the last quarter century. 

Surprise, surprise, it turns out Mr Weinstein is a nasty creep who used his power in the movie business to harass and coerce women into unwanted sexual activity. This has become a familiar pattern as of late: a story breaks about, or a lawsuit is filed against, a rich, famous, and powerful man (like Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, or Bill O'Reilly, etc.) and then more stories surface, and then even more stories surface, about how they used their positions to force women to submit to them (and then paid off or made them sign agreements to stay quiet). These men then lose their careers and become pariahs, and much hand-ringing ensues about why such men were able to thrive and get away with their behavior for so long.

Unless, of course, you're Donald Trump -- then you not only get away with it, you become president.

Wait ... perhaps that explains it!

Perhaps the fact that Trump is president shows us why these other guys got away with it for so long: there's something in American culture that actually approves of this kind of behavior, there's some demon within ourselves that wants this kind of alpha-male, "grab 'em by the ..." mentality to be okay. That's why, in part, men overwhelmingly voted for Trump. They want his kind of gross behavior to be condoned, to be mainstream, and what better way to make predatory behavior seem normal than to make a predator president? 

Let's face it: many men, if they had the money and power of these guys, would be doing the same thing. "Man!" a lot of them think, "If I was them, it'd be broads 24/7!" After all, they wonder, what's the point of money, power, and fame if it can't get you laid? 
I know men. I am one. This is how a lot of us think: women are a prize to be won or a commodity to be acquired. They're the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Like Tony Montana said in Scarface: "In America, first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the wo-man." 

And let's not entirely absolve women from this whole nightmare either. While I don't blame the victims, I also wonder if, sometimes, some women (please let me emphasize only some women) unintentionally contribute to this sick culture of exploitation. After all, there are dating websites for "sugerbabies" looking or "sugardaddies." There are shows like The Bachelor where women literally compete to attract a guy. Oh, and let us not forget this depressing fact: a majority of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016 even after his notorious "grab 'em tape" was leaked. Trump, a raging narcissistic misogynist pig (among other offenses), is sitting in the Oval Office instead of the first woman president because women put him there! That said, that doesn't let us guys off the hook: men should not tolerate the crap that guys like Weinstein and Trump perpetuate. We have to be as loud against it as any woman, because it reflects on all of us, all men. 

Power is not carte blanch to sexually dominate women -- or anyone. Period. 

Final thoughts: I'm not rich, not famous, never been powerful, and probably never will be. But I've been a working stiff for almost my entire adult life. And it amazes me to see guys, even those who are nowhere near as rich and powerful as the aforementioned villains, hit on and creep on women at work, creating an uncomfortable environment for them and everyone in their place of business.  Guys, listen up: a place of business is not a singles bars, it's not a dating app, it's not frat party, it's not pick up joint -- it's a place where people go to earn a living, advance their careers, and build towards their futures. It's also a place where, let's face it, you're only there to help someone else make money. Wanna score chicks? Do it on your own time, somewhere else. But at work, work, and only use your big head. Or you may wind up like Harvey Weinstein.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NYC Mayor's Debate #1

Last night the three major candidates for NYC Mayor debated and it was a disaster. 

First, the audience as raucous and rude, always interrupting with cheers and boos that often made it impossible to hear what anyone was saying. The moderators seemed unable to do anything about it.

Second, Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl spent most of their time playing to the crowd, yelling and bloviating and lying, that it only made it worse. At one point Dietl's mic got cut off because he was interrupting so much and Malliotakis  (in a Trump-like manner) attacked one of the questioners of "carrying water" for De Blasio. That's the level of intellect that aspires to run this city. Dear God.  

Third, Mayor De Blasio didn't bring his A-Game. He didn't attack his opponents that hard and just repeated standard defenses of his record. He was playing it safe which, when compared to his two vile opponents, made him look better but also made him look a little overwhelmed.

If you want a recap of this debate, listen to this

However, the good news is that De Blasio is currently pulverizing Tweedledee and Tweedledumber in the polls, and seems safe bet for reelection. I can't imagine this debate will "move the needle" on those polls in anyway. There's one more debate scheduled and let's hope it's a little more civil.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kevin Smith @ LaGuardia: A Celebrity Sighting and a Thought

On Friday morning I was at LaGuardia airport, waiting outside for my traveling companion to arrive (turned out I was at the wrong terminal, but that's another story) when a big black SUV pulled up and out popped a man in a hockey jersey. 

The driver came out, helped the man in the hockey jersey take his bags out of the trunk, and then the man in the hockey jersey gave the driver a hefty tip, a "bro" handshake, said "Thanks Man", and ambled into the terminal. As I was waiting there, noticing this, I thought, "Is that Kevin Smith, the famous director, who made Clerks and Chasing Amy, two of my favorite movies ever?" 

Turned out it was: besides his recognizable voice and beard, his hockey jersey said "SMITH" on the back so I safely determined that it was the great man himself. 

I was impressed. Here was a big celebrity being kind and respectful to a humble driver when he didn't think or know that anyone else was looking. I've noticed people a lot less successful than Kevin Smith treat such workers like dirt but there was Kevin Smith being a decent guy just because ... well, that's who he is.

As you probably know, there's a huge storm swirling right now about Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul, who was responsible for producing lots of great movies and boosting many careers (turns out Mr. Weinstein isn't such a kind, decent guy). One of those careers he boosted was Kevin Smith's who has express grief at the situation. But I don't believe in guilt by association, people should be judged by their actions alone, and the kind, decent behavior I saw from Mr. Smith, in my opinion, speaks for itself. 

In this age of "Grab 'em" Trump and "toxic masculinity", there's an understandable, cynical urge to look at all famous and powerful men as potential monsters. Many of them doubtless are. So that's why it was so great to see a famous, powerful guy act like a mensch and decent human being -- and it gave me a sliver of hope for humanity.  

Btw, Kevin Smith has a great Twitter which you might enjoy.