#BlackLivesMatter – Day Of Resistance 12.13.2014

Emmett Till. Dr. Martin Luther King. Rodney King. Abner Louima. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner.

One hundred and fifty years and counting after the Civil War began, half a century after Brown v. Board, still the national disgrace of institutionalized racism persists, today, here, in America. It is enough.

If you believe as we do, that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are a calling and an obligation, that all of our lives matter, and that the murders, the daily humiliations of men and women of color cannot go on in this Land of the Free, then join us and many other Progressive organizations on the streets of New York City on December Thirteenth, 2014.

Silence is not an option. Be Heard.

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“The American Spellbound”: A Tale of Human Frailty.

My book, The American Spellbound, was released on Nov 11th. Katya G. Cohen is my penname.

I think it is hard for any author to describe, when asked, what his or her book is about in a few words. I would say that my novella is about human frailty and illusions we build to get us through the day, described through the prism of Wall Street corruption and the financial crisis. Wall Street doesn’t care whether you’re a nice guy: once you entered its realm it has ways to turn you into a loyal, blind and obedient soldier. And there’s no release.

I open with a telling quote from Arthur Miller’s “Death of Salesman.”

BERNARD: But sometimes, Willy, it’s better for a man just to walk away.

WILLY: Walk away?

BERNARD: That’s right.

WILLY: But if you can’t walk away?

BERNARD: I guess that’s when it’s tough.

Below is an excerpt, describing the power of the Wall Street’s spell. How can one resist going down that path?

The biggest secret that traders don’t want the world to know is that anyone with a more or less sane disposition can do what they’re doing. The trick is getting access to the trough, to the P&L, to the “book.” The road toward it is tough, treacherous and crowded. On the way there, you will be misled into believing that in order to be a trader you must have a physics PhD, or know how to write code and build models, or have a top-school MBA, or, when all else fails, just be a young Caucasian male. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who made it to the top. In the end, it all comes down to merely placing a bet. The ideas of those who made it become validated by the platform on which they stand, by the levers they can pull.

Becoming a trader is like reaching a craps table on your twenty-first birthday with your rich uncle’s money in your hand; without that craps table and without that money, you are a nobody. Without a seat and a desk and a Bloomberg terminal, your ideas aren’t worth shit. Whatever you do at home with your 401(k) doesn’t matter; your trades have to be big and visible to everyone or, at the very least, to those who dispense your reward at the end of the year. If you know how to drive but don’t have a fancy car to demonstrate your prowess, no one cares about your prowess. The platform becomes a powerful communication tool: One should have great ideas and only act on them using a big podium.

The “book” is the medium through which you can communicate your entire worldview and let fools know that they’re fools without needing to actually say anything. If you’re right on your trades, you will become rich; you can then fancy yourself to be Bruce Wayne or John Pierpont Morgan or James Bond. You can establish scholarships in your name and start foundations to spread your gospel — conservative, liberal, libertarian, whatever floats your boat. If you’re wrong, well, you won’t get more money from your uncle, but you will gain an invaluable experience. You will earn your bona fides to speak about the irrational players and stupid monetary policies and dysfunctional government, and still insist that your general strategy was correct and would most likely work next year. And you’ll probably be right, too, at some point. You can’t lose! Becoming a trader is the greatest trade of all.

In this newfound realm, Vika had developed a new moral compass. Indecisiveness was an especially grievous offense according to her new standards. One should do the analysis, pick a side and stick with it — not question it afterward, not wring hands and second-guess. But those who overanalyzed and became paralyzed by the weight of their knowledge as a result immediately made it into Vika’s mental black book. Those chin-stroking pointy-heads who can argue both sides just don’t have the stones to take the plunge. They mask their fear and inaction with perpetual pettifoggery.

“If my grandma had balls, she would have been my grandpa,” Vika liked to say, mocking the absurd mental contortions of someone complaining about the way a trade had gone. “Take a loss and move on. What use is it to dwell?” Stepping into the abyss requires a certain skill, a special mental disposition, an ability to let go. This philosophy of letting go, of abandon, fascinated Vika. Once she’d decided on a trade, she would fight off the doubts. And with shaky, sweaty hands, Vika would pick up the phone and make a trade. And then… the weightlessness, the fall.

Why is it that we claim to want certainty? Only fools and cowards seek certainty. Certainty is a dead end; it’s a rich old widow living out the rest of her days on the Upper East Side with a little dog and big memories. Unless you are a senior citizen, you’ll go nuts after a few weeks of knowing what the rest of your life will bring. You’ll die of boredom. But uncertainty is what keeps us alive. It is that flip of a coin, that brief moment when it’s in the air or spinning on its side, that snaps us out of our daily stasis. Some invisible Odds Gods are giving you a chance to become better, smarter, richer. What fun it is to get paid if you earned it by the skin of your teeth, by the close call. And how dreadful it is to shoot fish in a barrel. Exposure to uncertainty earns you membership in a select tribe: You are a Padawan mastering the Force.  Once the trade is on, once the die has been cast, you’re in a parallel, auspicious universe. There’s only one way forward and there are only two ways out: Take it off at a loss or take it off at a profit.

Four Solid Reasons to Vote for Teachout/Wu Next Tuesday

1. Tuesday’s Democratic primary is a rare opportunity to support candidates who articulate a progressive message and the values we espouse. Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu stand for limiting the impact of corporate money on our state government, for protecting our environment from oil and gas interests, for public education and for net neutrality, among other things.

2. Your vote counts! Primary turnout is always low (15% of Democrats voted in the last gubernatorial primary in 2006), so your vote means a lot more than in the general election. A very small number of determined people can win.

3. Andrew Cuomo has not governed as a progressive Democrat. He has consistently broken his promises. He broke his promise to veto gerrymandered districts drawn by Republicans, he handed the richest a big tax break, he undercut New York City Mayor De Blasio’s plans for pre-kindergarten, and he disbanded the Moreland Commission when it came too close to his own administration in its ethics inquiries.

4. Not even the New York Times could bring itself to endorse Cuomo’s re-election. Although it stopped short of endorsing Teachout, it did endorse Tim Wu for lieutenant governor over Cuomo’s new running mate Kathy Hochul. This is a real vote of no confidence in Cuomo’s leadership.

Want to volunteer? Go to http://TeachoutWu.com. Be sure to vote Tuesday, September 9th!

Can Facebook Elect a Governor?

Andrew Cuomo has disappointed progressives again and again. He has refused to ban fracking while accepting big donations from oil interests. He disbanded the Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption when its subpoenas landed too close to home and upset his contributors. He worked to keep the State Senate under Republican control. Property taxes are high and there’s not enough money for education, but Cuomo found the money for huge tax breaks for the wealthy.
 
In June, Cuomo had no opposition. He was a shoo-in to win overwhelming reelection. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor, stepped into this void with courage, spunk and determination to get the word out that there is an alternative.
 
Andrew Cuomo is running scared. Facebook is scaring him. He knows that our friends, our friends’ friends, and their friends are all reading about Zephyr Teachout and responding to her message of reform. Cuomo has unsuccessfully used aggressive legal tactics to keep Teachout off the ballot and is refusing to debate her. All of our friends are watching and taking note. And we will vote. For Teachout.
 
The September 9th Democratic Primary is our time to send a message to Andrew Cuomo: You can’t win a Democratic Primary unless you have Democratic values.
 
Could there be a shocking upset? My Facebook page says yes!

Why Vote in the Primary? Aren’t All Politicians the Same Anyway?

If we vote in the primary on September 9th we can pick candidates who will win in November and will fight for progressive causes. We can make it so that when Democrats take over the State Senate we will pass:

  • The Womens Equality Act (equal pay, anti sex trafficking, codifying Rove v Wade into NYS law)
  • The Dream Act (giving undocumented NYS high school graduates equal access to college)
  • A raise in the minimum wage indexed to inflation
  • Public funding of NYS elections
  • GENDA (equal rights for transgender New Yorkers)
  • Fracking (a state-wide ban on hydraulic fracturing)

Why Vote in an Unwinnable Race?

You can’t win an election if you don’t vote! Surprises do happen.

Elected officials need to know that progressives care. They can’t take us or their reelections for granted. They need to know we’ll hold their feet to the fire about issues we care about.

Are these good enough reasons to vote? YES!

Two key Democratic Primaries that ACT NOW wants to have an impact on:

Governor: Zephyr Teachout vs. Andrew Cuomo

ACT NOW is supporting Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who has taken a heroic stand against the corruption of Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo disbanded the Moreland anti-corruption commission before it could finish its job. He has chosen not to use his incredible influence to pass public financing of elections or to ban fracking. He has supported tax cuts for the wealthy and promoted casino gambling.

State Senate: Oliver Koppell vs. Jeff Klein

Oliver Koppell is running against state Senator Jeff Klein in Westchester and the Bronx. ACT NOW is supporting Koppell. By pulling five elected officials out of the Democratic Conference, Klein and his IDC have helped block voting on the Womens Equality Act, a ban on fracking, and public funding of elections among many other things.

Oliver Koppell has been an elected official in the Bronx for more than 30 years. He has written more than 300 laws and has a long list of accomplishments, notably in the areas of environmental protection and social legislation.

What is ACT NOW doing about it?

On Sunday, August 24th we are having a phone bank in Central Park at 4 PM. We will be making calls to support Oliver Koppell. Come on Sunday at 4 PM to Crystal Springs on the North side of Sheep Meadow next to the Pan Quotidien. E-mail merle@actnowny.org to RSVP and get exact directions. It’s great way to spend Sunday afternoon. Betsy will bring snacks!

Central Park Phone Bank for Democratic Candidates

Volunteers at one of our Central Park phone banks

Volunteers at one of our Central Park phone banks

Join ACT NOW as we phone bank to support Democratic State Senate and US House Candidates.  All you need to bring is your activist spirit and a charged cell phone.  We will be making calls on behalf of Oliver Koppell, Dave Denenberg, John Liu, and Domenick Recchia.

The location is Mineral Springs, just north of Sheep Meadow, just east of the Le Pain Quotidien in the Park (@69th Street).  See you there!

Act Now To Take The Senate: Koppell v. Klein

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ACT NOW is working to help defeat Democrat-turned REPUBLICAN Jeff Klein, the traitor who handed control of the State Senate to Dean Skelos in exchange for personal power. Progressive Alternative and former City Councilman Ollie Koppell is giving Klein a run for his money in the Bronx and ACT NOW is supporting him any way we can.  This Sunday, July 20, we are going to help his campaign.  RSVP here or contact Merle@ActNowNY.org for more information.

Act Now to Take The Senate: Denenberg

Lets put this man in the Senate

Act now to put the New York State Senate in Democratic hands!

Democrat Dave Denenberg is mounting a spirited race to take the seat being vacated by long-time Republican Charles Fuschillo in a winnable district on Long Island.

ACT NOW is scheduling volunteer days to help Denenberg through election day, every Monday and Wednesday at 1:20 PM.  We are meeting at the ticket area at 1:20 to catch the 1:40 train to Bellmore, where we will help the campaign.  Please RSVP here or contact Betsy Malcolm for more information, Betsy@ActNowNY.org

*subject to cancellation in the event of a LIRR strike

 

 

Vegas as a State of the American Mind.

“Real dope gives you the freedom to dream your own dreams; the American kind forces you to swallow the perverted dreams of men whose only ambition is to hold their job regardless of what they are bidden to do.” Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

I’ve been to Vegas a million times, always having a great time. My routine has always followed the same pattern: sleep till noon, have a breakfast in the room – eggs, bacon, mimosa – the whole shebang. Then some time by pool. Then an hour at the gym, sometimes followed by a visit to the spa and a massage. Then light dinner and poker till the wee hours of the morning. I always loved Vegas.

It’s not like we are unaware of all of the fakery and the illusion and the buffoonery of Vegas, and yet we flock to it as if looking for something. Perhaps for an adventure that we don’t have at home. We are looking, in vain, for a contrived “Hangover”-style bacchanalia. But it only works in the movies: in real life, if you want an adventure it will be staged and choreographed, because someone has to make money off of it. In Vegas your desires will be met like the whims of a petulant but doted upon child. The staff is highly trained. The flawless diction, the straight look in the eyes, the smiles, the friendliness, the knowingness. They know what you need before you do. They know what you need to stay in the facility for as long as possible. In Vegas even TSA agents are friendly. If Vegas is a mental facility, then the staff is an army of Nurse Ratcheds, schooled in the art of placating the patients.

Even if you are sane and rational, Vegas will get to you. You may be fully aware of the business model and all the tricks of trade and how everything is designed to keep you in and part you from your money and yet you will still fall under a spell. Knowledge does not protect you from the charms. It’s like heroin. You know it’s bad, you’ve heard all the stories but you do it anyway. Because it feels good.

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Bill de Blasio is off to a Good Start

Hizzoner

 

Unlike most progressives, I had a lot of doubts about Bill De Blasio before he was elected. I knew that he would never be able to get the Legislature to enact a millionaires’ tax to pay for pre-k. I was worried that he would be <a href=”http://grist.org/cities/driving-force-will-bill-de-blasio-stand-up-for-new-yorkers-without-cars/”>overly auto-centric</a> in his transportation policy. I was worried that in his zeal to break with Bloomberg, he would also throw the baby out with the bath water and reverse course on some of Bloomberg’s good policies, notably on the environment and in transportation. And I wasn’t sold on his ability to generate money to spend on good priorities through finding efficiencies elsewhere.

So far, de Blasio has proven most of my concerns wrong and he is hitting it out of the park on several issues.

As I suspected, the Legislature refused to raise taxes on millionaires’. But de Blasio did secure $300 million from the State for pre-k, and his proposed budget has large spending increases for great things like <a href=”https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CC0QqQIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2014%2F05%2F09%2Fnyregion%2Fde-blasio-new-york-budget.html&ei=CMNuU9PuJqfLsQToqYCADg&usg=AFQjCNExbgxghGDSzZxc-snuStIcv9SZPg&sig2=RLVUd6kAlMtEEtz0YLppcg&bvm=bv.66111022,d.cWc”>libraries and after-school programs</a>. He was able to <a href=”https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=newssearch&cd=3&ved=0CDkQqQIoADAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2014%2F05%2F02%2Fnyregion%2Fde-blasio-new-york-teachers-contract-deal.html&ei=M8NuU5LqG-3jsAT_hoCQDQ&usg=AFQjCNGEcesQyunNns8yTpYB4eo0lBivlQ&sig2=V8SDwc2CyT4S3FS4NS_BfA&bvm=bv.66111022,bs.1,d.cWc”>find efficiencies in city spending</a>, like in pensioner’s health care plans that allow the city to afford to both not cut benefits and also give fair retroactive raises to the city’s teachers. If all municipal contracts follow the same pattern, that will be a great achievement.

On the environment, de Blasio has continued the great work outlined in former Mayor Bloomberg’s <a href=”http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/images/homeslider/progress-report-042214.png”>PLANYC</a>. On transportation, he has continued expanding the bike lane network and in implementing Vision Zero to protect pedestrians and bikers by reducing traffic deaths.

And on housing, de Blasio has just released an excellent plan that essentially takes a good Bloomberg policy known as inclusionary zoning, and <a href=”http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/johncassidy/2014/05/bill-de-blasios-middle-ground.html”>put it on steroids</a> by calling for a great increase in high-density development, with the higher density incentivizing developers to build affordable multi-bedroom apartments that are permanently affordable.

All of these policies show that, at least so far, de Blasio is a pragmatic progressive with a wonk’s view of municipal policy. If he can continue making the right choices during his tenure in office, he could be considered one of the best mayors NYC ever has. Let’s hope he does.