Bloomberg's Term Limits Scheme
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Term Limits
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| Wednesday 30 September 2009 4:45 PM

From theVillage Voice

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As it heads into the home stretch, the Bloomberg campaign has adopted a new slogan to sum things up and help focus voters on the big picture. The new motto was rolled out at the big Bloomberg rally held primary night on a West Side pier, a gala celebration aimed at snatching attention away from Democrats and on to Mayor Mike. The slogan was emblazoned on Bloomberg’s podium, and tattooed over and over on a TV backdrop. Which made it hard to miss. It read: “Progress. Not Politics.” The first word is a debate worth having. The next two are simply lies.

Not politics? Whatever you think of Bill Thompson’s erratic campaign, at least he was being nominated that very night by his own party in an open primary. Mike Bloomberg? His GOP endorsement came courtesy of a classic, old-school political deal in which five Republican county leaders sat down in a room and agreed to give the mayor their ballot line.

He cut the same insiders’ pact with the cultish local chapter of the Independence Party. The party’s nominating convention this spring featured all the democracy of a Chinese Politburo meeting, including a ruling clique that fawned over the visiting mayor. A few weeks later, Bloomberg sealed the deal with a $250,000 down-payment to the party’s coffers, with presumably a great deal more to come.

Not politics? Bloomberg continues to scorn the city’s campaign finance system, the hard-won reform designed to curb the influence of big money in elections. He spends as much as he wants—the same way the hacks used to do before limits were adopted.

Then there’s the bare-bones political scheming that won the mayor the very right to even appear on the ballot this year. That’s the one topic Mike Bloomberg still refuses to talk about. He gets an electric-like jolt whenever the topic is raised. Just when and why Mike Bloomberg decided to overturn the city’s term limits laws is shrouded in mystery. He’s done his best to keep it that way.

But there’s new light shed on the subject by Joyce Purnick, the veteran New York Times editor and reporter whose insightful political biography, Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics, is out this month.

Bloomberg gave Purnick unprecedented access, granting her multiple one-on-one, hour-long interviews. He also green-lighted his top aides—deputies Patti Harris, Kevin Sheekey, and Ed Skyler—to talk as well.

The book makes clear that many months before economic disaster struck in September 2008—the crisis that Bloomberg said prompted his reversal on term limits—the mayor was already pondering the move.

Purnick says that a few weeks after Bloomberg’s February 28, 2008, announcement that he would not seek the presidency, she asked the mayor about then-vague rumors that he was looking for a way to run for mayor again.

“It was clear he had given a third term some thought,” she writes. The mayor told her that “the mechanics” of such a bid were “difficult” because he would need the backing of the city’s daily papers. Bloomberg told her that he knew he could count on Post publisher Rupert Murdoch and the Daily News’ Mort Zuckerman. But he was in the midst of saying he was “uncertain about Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.” when a press aide cut him off, insisting that the rest of the conversation had to be off the record.

That spring, Bloomberg commissioned a poll on public attitudes about changing term limits. Purnick confirms that it showed that voters were likely to vote thumbs down on any move to change term limits in a new referendum.

Other hints of the mayor’s pre-crisis calculations came from her interviews with mega-millionaires who were urging Bloomberg to run again. In July, Bloomberg attended the annual tycoons’ retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho. There, Purnick writes, Bloomberg mingled with Murdoch and other pro–third term chums, including investment mogul Henry Kravis and Time Warner’s Richard Parsons. The mayor was apparently treated to a full-court press from those moguls, who were in turn consulting with real estate big Jerry Speyer and investment strategist Steven Rattner, both of whom were aggressively pushing a third term.

Purnick quotes one “business associate” saying that “they all came back from Sun Valley loaded for bear, sure he was going for it.”

Zuckerman, a key player in Bloomberg’s strategy, told Purnick that the September market crash wasn’t the reason. “No, it was not the economic crisis,” the publisher and real estate magnate said. “He wanted to run for a third term. What else was he going to do? He loves being mayor.”

Bloomberg hesitated, Purnick writes, concerned in part about the response of fellow billionaire Ronald Lauder (“Complication No. 1,” she dubs him), who spent millions to win the original term limits referendum and who successfully beat back a later challenge to the law.

That hesitation, she says, helped the mayor avoid pressure to put term limits on the ballot that fall, when it was even more likely to be defeated by the pro-Obama voters expected to swamp the polls. She said that one close friend of the mayor who was also urging him to run for a third term told her that the mayor “deliberately ran out the clock because of the poll in June.” The friend told her that Bloomberg’s “political advisers were telling him he wouldn’t win a referendum” overturning the term limits law.

It was while that clock was running down that the financial collapse struck, giving the mayor what Purnick dubs “a plausible reason” to push for a fast Council vote rather than a public referendum.

The mayor then turned to “Complication No. 1.” Lauder had already fired an opening shot, running a TV ad depicting politicians as baby diapers that need regular changing. But after what Purnick says was heavy lobbying by the pro-Bloomberg business crowd, Lauder bowed to a one-time change in the law in exchange for a small concession: that the mayor agree to name him to a new Charter Review commission panel in 2010—one that would recommend reinstituting term limits.

Bloomberg and Lauder were so excited about their agreement that they put out a press release describing it. The release was issued by Lauder’s eminent public relations adviser, Howard Rubenstein. But Bloomberg’s City Hall helped write it and approved it. “I will reluctantly support the mayor’s legislation to extend term limits to three terms,” Lauder stated in the release, “with the understanding that I will serve on a Charter-revision commission which will place the question of the number of terms before the voters in 2010.”

Lauder clearly wasn’t getting much in return: The commission doesn’t even exist, and if it is convened, he’ll be just one member. But it was also a glaring example of the city’s top executive using the perks of office to win political advantage. That is something officials are explicitly barred from doing by the City Charter. As good-government advocates Gene Russianoff of NYPIRG and Susan Lerner of Common Cause put it in a letter a few days later to the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, “We believe that Mayor Bloomberg has used his position in a prohibited manner to obtain personal advantage in a quid pro quo deal with Ronald Lauder.”

Whatever became of that complaint? “Nothing,” said Russianoff last week. “We never heard a word from the board.”

That’s the policy, a board official said when asked about the matter. When the board doesn’t find any violation, “the public never finds out,” he said. Which is just how the mayor wants to keep it until after November.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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Union Disclosure – More Obama Hypocrisy
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Posted by Howard Rich | Columns
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, News
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| Wednesday 30 September 2009 2:46 PM

There are multiple examples of how President Barack Obama has reneged on his promise to bring “transparency and accountability” to Washington, D.C., but fewer are more egregious than his cow-towing to labor leaders on the issue of union financial disclosure.

By rescinding Bush-era disclosure requirements for labor union leaders, Obama is swinging the door wide open to rampant corruption and systemic abuse. This decision represents a dangerous shift in federal policy – one that will no doubt be exacerbated by Obama’s appointment of top labor leaders to key enforcement positions within the federal government.

Instead of fulfilling his promise of “accountability,” Obama has now put the fox in charge of guarding the hen house with respect to U.S. labor policy. And instead of honoring his pledge of “transparency,” Obama has decided to strip away one of the few tools the public had at its disposal to hold union leaders accountable.

Why are these latest Obama hypocrisies worth noting?

First, they represent “pay-to-play” corruption on a sweeping, fundamental level. Labor unions gave Obama and Democratic Congressional candidates over $100 million during the last election cycle. In addition to these contributions, Obama and Democratic candidates also benefited from the efforts of a 450,000-strong “voter registration and mobilization” army of union employees.

This is where the most glaring hypocrisy comes into play.

Obama’s stunning reversal on the issue of union disclosure is more than just the latest “payback” to union leaders. Sadly, it’s a betrayal of the American workers whose money and sweat were tapped by union big-wigs to help elect Obama and his Democratic majority.

Take Tyrone Freeman, president of the Los Angeles local Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Freeman was forced to resign his post after federal filings showed that he spent hundreds of thousands of union dollars on companies owned by his family members. Freeman also billed the union $8,100 for expenses related to his wedding in Hawaii.

Then there is the case of Annelle Grajeda, executive VP of the national SEIU, who resigned after she was caught paying her boyfriend tens of thousands of dollars with union money, or Rickman Jackson, the Michigan-based SEIU leader who resigned his position after he was caught renting his home to a union-sponsored nonprofit and receiving nearly $200,000 in “surplus” compensation from non-Michigan unions.

Most recently, we have the stunning defeat of Ernie Duran, Jr. – the president of Colorado’s United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 – who was booted from office after it was revealed that he gave his son Ernie Duran III and daughter Crisanta Duran annual salaries of $134,000. Duran also expensed top-shelf margaritas, a new blue tooth and Denver Broncos’ tickets to union members.

All of these examples of waste and corruption came to light thanks to Bush-era disclosure requirements that enabled the public, press and union members to see how union leaders were spending their hard-earned dues. Unions are compelled to disclose given their various government-granted social powers (including the collection of mandatory dues) and their increasing institutional reliance on taxpayer-funded support services. Were it not for heavy federal involvement in labor policy, unions operating in a free market could insist on privacy and enter into whatever agreements with employers they like. But since the federal government dictates a wide range of rules and conditions (most favorable to the unions), they have assumed a corresponding responsibility to oversee them.

Unfortunately for rank-and-file members, Obama now wants to go back to the “Wild West” system in which union leaders were permitted to spend money on whatever items they wanted without worrying about their members ever becoming the wiser.

How does this approach benefit the workers whose sweat and financial clout ultimately helped elect Obama?

It doesn’t. In fact, it all but guarantees that union employees will never know how their leaders are spending their dues – which is an open invitation to nepotism, cronyism and every form of corruption imaginable.

According to a 2009 Heritage Foundation report, over the last eight years the Office of Labor Management Standards has won 929 convictions against union officials for fraud and embezzlement – resulting in $93 million worth of court-ordered restitution to union members.

Of course the real impact of the union disclosure laws wasn’t necessarily the number of abuses they exposed, but the number of abuses they prevented because union leaders knew that their members would be able to track individual financial expenditures.

Over the last three decades, American workers have been rejecting unions with increasing frequency – with corruption invariably ranking among the top reasons. Rather than living up to his rhetoric and rooting out this corruption, however, Obama seems intent on working with union leaders to cover it up.

Of Blight and Men
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, News
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, Property Rights
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| Monday 28 September 2009 4:16 PM

From The Wall Street Journal

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Last week saw a major victory for property rights, as besieged homeowners in New Jersey claimed victory against politicians and developers trying to seize their land. This continues the nationwide grassroots effort to stop government abuse of eminent domain power since the Supreme Court’s misguided 2005 Kelo ruling.

This story began back in the mid 1990s, when the city of Long Branch marked the well-kept neighborhoods of a cottag beach community “in need of redevelopment.” Residents were told that their homes and property were “blighted” and were to be handed over to real-estate developers for a more than $100 million condo project. The families, represented by the Institute for Justice, protested but the confiscation was initially allowed to proceed by state judge Lawrence Lawson. In August 2008, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division unanimously reversed and remanded that decision, saying that the city did not have enough evidence to declare the area blighted. And last Tuesday the city of Long Branch agreed to drop their eminent domain claims.

This is big news in a state where eminent domain abuse has been rampant. While New Jersey law set a constitutional standard for blight, that standard had been weakened over the years by a legislature intent on pushing through development projects that would win friends or raise tax dollars. In 1992, a redevelopment law was passed that allowed government to seize properties if doing so could be somehow construed to improve the neighborhood.

Under that standard, as Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in her dissent in Kelo v. City of New London, any Motel 6 can be knocked down for a Ritz-Carlton. In the Long Branch case, the contracts even ceded the city’s power of eminent domain to the developers, giving private businesses the ability to tell the city when it should confiscate private property.

Such flagrant abuse of public power for private purposes troubles most voters. In the wake of Kelo, some 43 states have reformed eminent domain laws to ensure they couldn’t become a tool used casually against local homeowners on behalf of private interests. New Jersey is one of seven states that did nothing. The Garden State’s courts have been more active, however. In 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that to qualify for blight, an area must be a detriment to the health, safety and welfare of its residents. Subsequent rulings have adopted this more robust protection of private property, including for the homeowners of Long Branch.

A bill now being considered by the New Jersey legislature would codify the blight standard now being used by the courts. It would also increase compensation and provide for clearer notice and rights for homeowners whose property is at risk. Eminent domain reform has languished too long in the state, and Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts will be responsible for seeing that it isn’t left on a shelf to expire at the end of the session. This is a populist cause that GOP candidate for governor Chris Christie could get behind.

Nothing can repay the homeowners of Long Branch for their decade-long ordeal, but their victory sends a welcome message to politicians who think private property can be confiscated at their whim.

Moore To The Point-Shorten The Term
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, News
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, Term Limits
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| Monday 28 September 2009 3:49 PM

From the Cooksville Times

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Every few years people talk about term limits for U. S. Senators and Representatives.

Others counter the term limits argument by saying that we have term limits by virtue of the ballot box.

Take Teddy Kennedy–47 years is too long. Robert Byrd–50+ years is too long. Alcee Hastings from Miami has been a Representative for 20+ years. He’s been there too long. He was a Federal judge who was impeached.

How’s this for an idea? In lieu of mandatory term limits on all 535 members of Congress, every 20 years on a year that there’s a Presidential election the ballot would reflect a “house cleaning” question.

If it passes nationwide, the members of Congress would be prohibited from running in their next election.

They would be barred from running for Congress for ten years.

Should it pass, there wouldn’t be a complete turnover in the Senate but all 435 House members would be gone in two years.

The states could do the same in their years when each elects a governor.

The founding fathers never meant for our Senators and Representatives to gain a stranglehold on Congress.

Their original idea was for ordinary citizens to go to the Capitol whether it was New York, Philadelphia, or Washington to represent ordinary citizens.

They never envisioned that our elected representatives would get rich in the process.

Neither did they ever think that it would cost so much to get elected and re-elected into infinity.

These people start working on their re-elections the day after their November victory.

It’s quite apparent that they have forgotten a very important principle.

They work for us. We don’t work for them. This little issue is true for many local elected officials.

But, most local Councilpersons and mayors are term limited.

I’m awfully tired of our Congressmen and women who think their jobs are secure forever.

At least Zach Wamp is leaving Congress. He gets it.

That “housecleaning amendment” looks better each day.

Steve Moore contributes this column and the thoughts and opinions are his and do not necessarily represent those of cookevilletimes.com or the parent company UC Media Group, LLC. If you have an opinion or opposing viewpoint to Steve or have an opinion on anything else, we welcome you comment. Just click e-mail in the top menu bar and send us you thoughts.

Conn. land vacant 4 years after court OK'd seizure
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Friday 25 September 2009 2:59 PM

From the Associated Press

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NEW LONDON, Conn. — Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation’s most notorious eminent domain project.

There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne’s lace, thistle and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot’s towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant.

But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to come wrapped and ribboned with up to 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing.

Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it a “poetic justice.”

“They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing,” said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the landmark property rights case. “I don’t think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision.”

Kelo’s iconic pink home sat for more than a century on that currently empty lot, just steps away from Connecticut’s quaint but economically distressed Long Island Sound waterfront. Shortly after she moved in, in 1997, her house became ground zero in the nation’s best-known land rights catfight.

New London officials decided they needed Kelo’s land and the surrounding 90 acres for a multimillion-dollar private development that included residential, hotel conference, research and development space and a new state park that would compliment a new $350 million Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility.

Kelo and six other homeowners fought for years, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2005, justices voted 5-4 against them, giving cities across the country the right to use eminent domain to take property for private development.

The decision was sharply criticized and created grassroots backlash. Forty states quickly passed new, protective rules and regulations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some protesters even tried to turn the tables on now-retired Justice David Souter, trying unsuccessfully in 2006 to take his New Hampshire home by eminent domain to build an inn.

In New London the city’s prized economic development plan has fallen apart as the economy crumbled.

The Corcoran Jennison Cos., a Boston-based developer, had originally locked in exclusive rights to develop nearly the entire northern half of the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

But those rights expired in June 2008, despite multiple extensions, because the firm was unable to secure financing, according to President Marty Jones.

In July, backers halted fundraising for the project’s crown jewel, a proposed $60 million, 60,000-square-foot Coast Guard museum.

The poor economy meant that donations weren’t “keeping pace with expenses,” said Coast Guard Foundation president Anne Brengle.

The group hopes to resume fundraising in the future, she said.

Overall, proponents say about two-thirds of the 90-acre site is developed, in part because of a 16-acre, $25 million state park. The other third of the land remains without the promised residential housing, office buildings, shops and hotel/conference center facility.

“If there had been no litigation, which took years to work its way through (the court system), then a substantial portion of this project would be constructed by now,” said John Brooks, executive director of the New London Development Corp. “But we are victims of the economic cycle, and there is nothing we can do about that.”

A new engineering tenant is moving into one of the office buildings at 1 Chelsea St., and a bio tech firm with as many as five employees is getting ready to move into an existing building on Howard Street, Brooks said.

Kelo, paid $442,000 by the state for her old property, now lives across the Thames River in Groton, in a white, two-bedroom 1950s bungalow. Her beloved pink house was sold for a dollar and moved less than two miles away, where a local preservationist has refurbished it.

Kelo can see her old neighborhood from her new home, but she finds the view too painful to bear.

“Everything is different, but everything is like still the same,” said Kelo, who works two jobs and has largely maintained a low profile since moving away. “You still have life to deal with every day of the week. I just don’t have eminent domain to deal with every day of the week, even after I ate, slept and breathed it for 10 years.”

Although her side lost, Kelo said she sees the wider ramifications of her property rights battle.

“In the end it was seven of us who fought like wild animals to save what we had,” she said. “I think that though we ultimately didn’t win for ourselves, it has brought attention to what they did to us, and if it can make it better for some other people so they don’t lose their homes to a Dunkin’ Donuts or a Wal-Mart, I think we did some good.”

Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, argued Kelo’s case before the Supreme Court. He calls “massive changes that have happened in the law and in the public consciousness” the “real legacy” of Kelo and the other plaintiffs.

The empty land means the city won a “hollow victory,” he said.

“What cities should take from this is to run fleeing from what New London did and do economic development that is market-driven and incorporate properties of folks who are truly committed to their neighborhood and simply want to be a part of what happens,” he said.

Interim leader: U.S. snubbing Honduras
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Posted by Howard Rich | News
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| Thursday 24 September 2009 1:03 PM

From the Washington Times

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Interim Honduran President Roberto Micheletti said in an interview Wednesday that he has been snubbed by U.S. officials while his adversary, ousted President Manuel Zelaya, attempts to force his way back into office by using the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital as a podium to rally support.

In the face of a tense standoff on the streets of the capital, Tegucigalpa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for calm while attending a U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Zelaya’s surreptitious return to Honduras on Monday an opportunity to restore him to office and “have a peaceful transition of presidential authority and get Honduras back to constitutional and democratic order.”

Mr. Micheletti bristled at such suggestions by Mrs. Clinton and others that Mr. Zelaya’s ouster was unconstitutional.

“We have not spoken to any ranking U.S. officials,” Mr. Micheletti told The Washington Times by telephone, speaking in Spanish. “They have shut the door on us. We want [President Obama] to understand and to send officials to Honduras to see for themselves that we didn’t do anything unconstitutional.

“What has happened in Honduras is part of a judiciary, congressional process that went into effect when Zelaya tried to extend his power and authority against the constitution.”

Mr. Zelaya, a leftist ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was ousted in June when the Honduran Supreme Court ruled he violated the constitution by seeking a second consecutive term. The constitution limits the president to a single term.

The court has since ruled that Mr. Zelaya faces several charges, including treason, and would be subject to trial if he re-entered the country.

He has so far avoided arrest by sneaking into the country and taking shelter at the Brazilian Embassy, where diplomatic protocols put him beyond the reach of Honduran authorities.

Mr. Zelaya called on supporters Tuesday to converge on the capital last night to demand his reinstatement.

Mr. Micheletti said he was equally determined not to give in, accusing Mr. Zelaya of acting like a dictator with “revolutionary intent on inciting violence and disorder.”

The United States, Organization of American States and United Nations have condemned what they say is a military coup and sought to isolate Honduras unless it accepts a negotiated a solution to the standoff.

Mr. Micheletti’s government has rejected an agreement brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias that would permit Mr. Zelaya to return and serve out his term as leader of a national-unity government – albeit under sharply curtailed powers.

The country is due to hold presidential elections on Nov. 29, and Mr. Micheletti has said he will step aside after the vote.

The U.S. government has revoked visas for top officials in the interim government and withheld millions of dollars in aid but Mr. Micheletti said the “Honduran government will not cave in to demands.”

Mr. Zelaya is a populist with close ties to other leftist leaders in Latin America who have attempted to change constitutions so they can keep running for re-election.

He had made numerous unsuccessful attempts to return to Honduras before turning up at the Brazilian Embassy on Monday.

In Honduras, Reuters news agency reported Tuesday that hundreds of soldiers and riot police, some in ski masks and toting automatic weapons, have surrounded the Brazilian Embassy, where Mr. Zelaya and roughly 40 supporters are holed up.

In New York, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva described Honduras as under siege and rejected calls to turn Mr. Zelaya over to authorities.

Attempts to reach Mr. Zelaya and his spokesman on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

However, the Honduran Embassy in Washington posted an official statement on Monday condemning the ouster of Mr. Zelaya and the Honduran authorities for “the use of violence and intimidation by military and police forces controlled by the illegitimate government of Micheletti against the people of Honduras and calls for the immediate restoration of peace in Tegucigalpa.”

Mr. Zelaya’s government said in the statement that “from the ground, peaceful demonstrators supporting the return of the constitutional president of Honduras are being attacked and beaten and an overall atmosphere of insecurity is now being imposed around the Embassy of Brazil, where President Manuel Zelaya is stationed.”

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. is concerned about Mr. Zelaya’s return and “the possible impact it may have on the situation on the ground, especially with the possibilities for clashes.

“And for this reason, we’ve called on both sides to exercise restraint with this new situation.”

Mr. Kelly said that the U.S. pressed the Honduran government to abide by diplomatic conventions that protect embassies. “We helped get some of the personnel out. We provided some vehicles. But mostly, it was a liaison role to help restore the power and water, and also get personnel out and back to their homes.”

Mr. Micheletti said it is the responsibility of the Brazilian government to turn Mr. Zelaya over to the Honduran authorities.

The Times first reported in July that Mr. Zelaya and his chief of staff, Enrique Flores Lanza, withdrew millions of dollars from the Central Bank of Honduras before his June 28 ouster.

According to Honduran government documents obtained by The Times and testimony by the three witnesses, Mr. Zelaya’s people had stolen about $2.2 million from the Honduran Central Bank. An additional $550,000 was withdrawn hours later from the bank by order of Mr. Lanza, according to bank documents. Mr. Zelaya and his aides denied any wrongdoing.

Two Honduran political opponents of Mr. Zelaya with knowledge of the transactions told The Times Mr. Zelaya planned to use the money in connection with a referendum that if successful would have permitted him to serve a second term as president.

Mr. Micheletti said he fears Mr. Zelaya will cause Honduras to spiral further out of control. He said he hopes the upcoming elections will bring peace back to his country.

“I’m not here because of the military but because of a democratic process initiated by the courts and Congress,” he said. In January, “when the new president is inaugurated, I will be done. I can only hope that the November 29 elections run smooth and that they are free, democratic elections and a new president will be elected for the Honduran people.”

Do Charters 'Cream' the Best?
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, School Choice
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| Thursday 24 September 2009 9:05 AM

From The Wall Street Journal

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‘Creaming’ is the word critics of charter schools think ends the debate over education choice. The charge has long been that charters get better results by cherry-picking the best students from standard public schools. Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford economist, found a way to reliably examine this alleged bias, and the results are breakthrough news for charter advocates.

Her new study, "How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement," shows that charter students, typically from more disadvantaged families in places like Harlem, perform almost as well as students in affluent suburbs like Scarsdale. Because there are more applicants than spaces, New York admits charter students with a lottery system. The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable."

According to the study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials. But positive results already begin to emerge by the third grade: The average charter student is scoring 5.8 points higher than his lotteried-out peers in math and 5.3 points higher in English. In grades four through eight, the charter student jumps ahead by 5 more points each year in math and 3.6 points each year in English.

Charter students are also shrinking the learning gap between low-income minorities and more affluent whites. "On average," the report concludes, "a student who attended a charter school for all of the grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the ‘Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap’ in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English."

The New York results are not unique. In a separate study, Ms. Hoxby found Chicago’s charters performing even better than the Big Apple’s. Using the same methodology, other researchers have seen similar results in Boston.

Charters are also a bargain for taxpayers. Nationwide on average, per-pupil spending is 61% that of surrounding public schools. New York charters spend less than district schools but more than the national average because, unlike district schools, they generally have no capital budget and must pay rent from operating expenses.

Little wonder President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pressuring states to become more charter-friendly. Why the Administration can’t connect the dots from the evidence to other effective school choice reforms, such as vouchers, can only be explained by union politics. Caroline Hoxby has performed a public service by finally making clear that "creaming" is a crock.

New Jersey still needs eminent domain reform
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Wednesday 23 September 2009 4:45 PM

From NJ.com

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Tom Anzalone is proud about his father’s decision to save his beachfront home in Long Branch. “He may be 92,” Tom said, “but my father made all the major decisions. It’s his house. He has that World War II fighting ethic, fighting for his rights.”

On Tuesday, attorneys for the majority of property owners in the Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue neighborhood in Long Branch signed a final consent order of settlement in their long-standing eminent domain case. As the attorney for homeowner Louis Anzalone, I was one of them.

By William J. Ward, managing partner of Carlin & Ward in Florham Park. The author has practiced eminent domain law for more than 35 years and is the author of the New Jersey Eminent Domain Law Blog.

Peter Wegener represented the other homeowners, and Scott Bullock and the Institute for Justice joined the case on appeal. Together we formed a united front on behalf of the property owners. Still, it was the participation of New Jersey’s Public Advocate Ronald Chen that made the difference, not only in this case but in all the important cases that are redefining the way we view eminent domain in New Jersey.

In the Long Branch matter, mediation went on for months after an August 2008 Appellate Court decision, which reversed in part and sent the case back to the court that ruled against the property owners in June 2006. Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lawrence Lawson wisely placed the mediation process in the hands of Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Cavanagh Jr., who brought negotiations to fruition. On Tuesday evening the Long Branch City Council voted 4-1 to accept the terms of settlement. So the litigation is over.

The agreement dismisses the condemnation complaints, eliminates the use of eminent domain in these same properties, guarantees the property owners’ rights to redevelop their own properties, and gives the property owners the same tax abatements that would be given to any developer. The agreement also stipulates the counsel fees that will be divided among all counsel and paid by the city, which by law are awarded when a condemnation complaint is abandoned. And the city will upgrade streetlights and pave and maintain the roads. The designated developer will adhere to a demolition schedule to take down those homes in the neighborhood that were vacated and boarded up.

Blight is not in the eye of the beholder, contrary to a statement made by Justice Kennedy during the oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Kelo vs. New London. In New Jersey, “blight” is a word that has specific meaning and a public purpose as set forth in the 1947 New Jersey Constitution.

In 1992, the Local Redevelopment Housing Law developed criteria to determine blight that could result in a condemnation of almost any property. And that was where the Public Advocate came in, as a friend of the court in support of the property owner’s position in the 2007 state Supreme Court case, Gallethin Realty vs. Borough of Paulsboro. Blight has to be proved by substantial, credible evidence. The courts insist on more than a cursory review of the properties or a recitation without substantiation of the statutory blight criteria. Thus, there is a trend toward a more restrictive interpretation of the law. But it is apparent that many experts presented by the municipalities do not provide substantial, credible evidence to support a conclusion that an area is in need of redevelopment. That’s what happened in Long Branch, and that’s why the Appellate Division reversed the blight designation in 2008.

But victory has no time to waste, resting on laurels. Gallenthin Realty vs. Borough of Paulsboro reminds us that, while the New Jersey Legislature enlarged the power of eminent domain to include the taking of private property for redevelopment, the judiciary is the final arbiter. The City of Long Branch vs. Anzalone case is a reminder of what remains undone. We gain a piece here and a piece there through case law, but what is required is a comprehensive review of the statutory structure.

The New Jersey Legislature has been considering eminent domain reform for more than four years and has yet to pass substantive changes to the Eminent Domain Act of 1971, the Local Redevelopment Housing Law, and the Relocation Assistance Act and Regulations. A reform bill was voted out of the Sen. Ronald Rice’s Community and Urban Affairs Committee, but has not moved. According to the Institute for Justice, 43 states have passed significant eminent domain reform since the Kelo case in 2005. Not New Jersey.

Without statutory reform, the potential for eminent domain abuse will continue. And New Jersey’s property owners will fight city hall, case by case, for their homes, their farms, relocation for their small businesses, and their right to redevelop their own property.

GOP’s Brady whacks Madigan, proposes term limits
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, News
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, Term Limits
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| Wednesday 23 September 2009 12:57 PM

From the Chicago Tribune

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State Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican candidate for governor, today assailed the control Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has over state government and proposed term limits, a return to multi-member House districts and campaign finance reforms.

“We have reached a point where too few people control too much and the power is too concentrated,” Brady said. “There’s no question that the speaker of the House, representing little over 100,000 people, has had absolute control over the state of Illinois. He’s been able to do that for nearly three decades and it’s time for that to end.”

Brady proposed a combination of state constitutional amendments and legislation to implement what he called his government reform package. But the Bloomington Republican, who has spent seven years in the House and a like amount of time in the Senate, acknowledged it was unlikely that the Democratic-dominated legislature would put the constitutional changes on the November 2010 general election ballot. Madigan, of Chicago, has served as speaker of the House for 24 of the past 26 years.

Brady, who finished third among the four major candidates in the 2006 GOP primary for governor, proposed a state constitutional amendment that would limit state lawmakers to 10 years and statewide elected officials to 12 years. Lawmakers who are forced out because of term limits could return in six years.

He also proposed a return to what’s known as cumulative voting for the House. Under his plan, the Senate would be trimmed from 59 members to 41, with three House members elected from each Senate district.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn led a push in 1980 that eliminated the cumulative voting system. Critics have said eliminating that system paved the way for increased one-party control of the legislature and dominance by top legislative leaders.

Brady also called for the adoption of campaign donation reforms that conform to the current federal limits of $2,300 per election. He chided Democratic leaders and Quinn for first passing, then vetoing a complicated campaign finance limit plan that critics said was filled with loopholes.

Brady also said he had no favorite for a lieutenant governor running mate among a field of several lesser-known candidates. He criticized former GOP state chairman Andy McKenna of Chicago, a new entry in the governor’s race, for “deal making” in running with state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine. Murphy dropped his bid for governor to run with McKenna as lieutenant governor.

Along with Brady and McKenna, other candidates for the Republican nomination for governor include state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom of Naperville, political pundit and operative Dan Proft of Chicago and transparency advocate Adam Andrzejewski of Hinsdale.

Dillard unveiled his ethics reform proposals last week.

Long Branch victory heats up eminent domain debate
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Posted by Howard Rich | Issues
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, Property Rights
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| Tuesday 22 September 2009 4:51 PM

From Philly.com

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NEWARK, N.J. – After winning a lengthy battle to stop her city from seizing her home for an upscale condominium project, Lori Vendetti is pretty sure of one thing: The fight isn’t over.

Vendetti is part of a small group of homeowners in the seaside town of Long Branch who prevailed last week in the state’s most celebrated case involving eminent domain, the law that allows a government to take land needed for a public use or redevelopment after paying a fair price for it.

As she enjoys her victory in a dispute that dates back to the late 1990s, Vendetti is part of a statewide group that advises other New Jersey homeowners in New Jersey who may be vulnerable to similar actions , a product, she and other property rights advocates say, of the state’s legislative inaction.

“They think because the Long Branch case went away that we’re going to go away,” Vendetti said last week after a judge awarded more than $400,000 in legal fees to the Long Branch residents. “But the same law that threatened our homes is still on the books.”

In broad terms, eminent domain cases can be classified by whether they were filed before or after a landmark 2005 case in which the Supreme Court upheld the seizure of private homes for a downtown redevelopment project by the city of New London, Conn.

Since that ruling, 43 states have modified their eminent domain laws and increased protections for individual homeowners, according to the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, a national advocacy group. New Jersey is one of the seven that haven’t.

As a result, New Jersey residents have had to rely more heavily on the courts to achieve their ends. That has worked in some cases, said attorney Anthony Della Pelle, whose firm has represented numerous clients in eminent domain cases. He cited homeowners in Harrison, West Orange, Englewood and Carteret who were able to keep their property in recent years.

“The courts have been increasingly conscious of protecting property rights,” Della Pelle said. “It has become more commonplace for people in redevelopment areas to defeat redevelopment projects because courts have scrutinized local government power more carefully than they used to.”

Other property owners haven’t been as fortunate. Retired pharmacist Robert Miller and other business owners in Cliffside Park unsuccessfully opposed a plan in 2006 to raze part of the northern New Jersey town for a residential and retail development that has yet to be built.

“We all had lawyers, and we formed a coalition of property owners, but it just didn’t seem like enough of the people were willing to step up to the plate,” he said. “In the interim, they basically destroyed the retail section of their own city.”

The Institute for Justice said it is monitoring more than a dozen cases in New Jersey in which private homes or businesses have been targeted for acquisition through eminent domain.

A pending bill in New Jersey’s Senate would revise existing law to “remove the possibility of property owners losing their homes simply because a ‘better’ use could be envisioned by a local government.”

Bill co-sponsor John Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro, said the legislation also would require developers to reapply after five years if they have not acquired land by eminent domain, to prevent homeowners from living for extended periods under the specter of having their homes taken if projects are delayed.

Meanwhile, Vendetti has a message for homeowners who may be hesitant to fight City Hall.

“We just learned as we went along,” she said. “We divided up the jobs and did the researching. Some things fell in our laps, and we had a lot of public support. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it.”

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