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Corruption Retrial Begins for Former New York Assembly Speaker

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sheldon silver

Twice in the past three years, former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has sat in the same Manhattan federal courtroom and heard opening statements in his public-corruption trial.

“Power. Greed. Corruption,” then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen repeated in her November 2015 opening statements, in a courtroom that included former-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“Quid pro quo. This for that,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Damian Williams stated in a similar fashion on Monday, in a courtroom that included current Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.

Monday marked opening statements in the retrial of Mr. Silver, now 74 years old, who is being tried once again on charges of honest-services fraud, extortion and other crimes. Federal prosecutors have accused Mr. Silver of using his state power for personal gain, netting millions in profit.

Lawyers for Mr. Silver, who has pleaded not guilty, say the longtime legislator’s activities may appear distasteful but aren’t criminal.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

In 2015, a jury convicted Mr. Silver of seven counts and, the following year, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni sentenced him to 12 years in prison. After the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of some public-corruption crimes, a federal appeals court last year vacated Mr. Silver’s conviction.

Judge Caproni, who also presided over Mr. Silver’s first trial, estimated the current trial would take about a month. Mr. Silver, who wore a headset that appeared to be a hearing-aid type device, sat quietly during the proceeding, appearing not to look at the jury.

In his opening statement, Mr. Williams portrayed Mr. Silver, a powerful Democrat who for decades represented lower Manhattan, as greedy and deceitful. Year after year, he said, Mr. Silver took bribes then lied to cover them up.

“This was not politics as usual,” Mr. Williams said. “This was politics for profit, and no one played that game better than Sheldon Silver.”

Mr. Williams outlined two schemes. In the first, he said, Mr. Silver steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds to a prominent mesothelioma doctor. In exchange, the doctor sent patients to law firm Weitz & Luxenberg P.C., which paid Mr. Silver referral fees. The firm didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

In a second scheme, Mr. Silver supported policies to benefit certain developers, which steered its business to the Goldberg & Iryami law firm that also paid Mr. Silver fees.

In all, Mr. Silver netted about $4 million, which grew to roughly $5 million after he invested it, Mr. Williams said.

Michael Feldberg, a lawyer representing Mr. Silver, argued that Mr. Silver’s acts weren’t criminal, and certainly didn’t involve bribes.

“Imagine you’re Shelly Silver,” Mr. Feldberg said, before continuing to give much of his opening statement in the second person. You devoted your life to public service, and you were so good at serving that you got elected to be speaker of the state Assembly, he said. And while you served, he said, you had another job.

A slide flashed on a projector showed two teal circles, with the words “outside income” and “legal” connected by a large equal sign.

He said everything Mr. Silver had done had not only been legal, but intended to help people, including those with cancer.  Referral fees are legal, accepted and common, Mr. Feldberg added.

A slide flashed on the screen. This time the teal circles contained the phrases “no crime” and “not guilty,” once again connected by an equal sign.

“Being imperfect is not a crime. It is human,” Mr. Feldberg continued. “Is any of us perfect?”

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/corruption-retrial-begins-for-former-new-york-assembly-speaker-1525118241

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New York officials face backlash over ‘congestion’ tax push

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andrew cuomo

New York City is expensive. From parking to hotels to Broadway tickets, the city has a way of leaving the wallet lighter for any visitor. But it’s poised to get even pricier if a controversial new “congestion” fee comes to fruition.

With Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s backing, the proposed charge would be imposed at all Manhattan points of entry below 60th Street. While the price has not been set in stone, a report commissioned by Cuomo’s office recommends cars entering Manhattan during peak hours be charged $11.52, and trucks be charged $25.34 – on top of any bridge tolls.

The hope is that the fees eventually would help ease traffic, while sending needed funds toward public transportation, notably the city’s aging subway system.

But, on the heels of New York’s clash with Amazon that ended with the tech giant scrapping plans for a new headquarters there, the proposal is creating new economic concerns and political pushback.

Democratic state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn, told Fox News that “businesses are very concerned” about the higher costs of entering Manhattan.
“Being a business person in New York City is not easy,” he said. “… Congestion pricing is hitting them over the head.”

Cuomo, in his State of the State address last month, said the fee would raise about $15 billion by 2024. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the legislation but is calling for hardship exemptions for those traveling to Manhattan for medical care – as well as upstate farmers who sell produce in Manhattan.

Phase one, meanwhile, already has been enacted as New Yorkers riding below 96th Street started seeing increased prices in their taxis, Ubers and other rides for hire since Feb. 1: $2.50 for yellow cabs; $2.75 for Uber, Lyft and Juno; and 75 cents for ridesharing cars. Cuomo reportedly says the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can gain $1 million a day from the new surcharges.

But in a statement to Fox News, the Independent Drivers Guild representing over 70,000 app-based drivers blasted what it called a “sham” tax that “unjustly singles out low income for-hire drivers and their already highly-taxed riders.” The organization said the system “disproportionately hurts women, who more often opt for Uber or Lyft trips over public transit for safety reasons, especially at night.”

What comes next is not yet clear. Phase one only went into effect this month after a long legal battle. Phase two, which would extend to all drivers, would have to clear the state legislature – but could be a tough sell since the tax would affect any constituents who travel to the city.

New York City Councilman Barry Grodenchik, a Democrat representing part of Queens, worried about the impact to his constituents, many of whom rely on cars to get into Manhattan.

Leading opponent Richard Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman, told The New York Times last year, “This has always been a policy nostrum of the elites, sort of a big lab test in which the lab rats — the regular people — wanted no part of it.”

Supporters counter that the plan can work, and is sorely needed.

A spokesman for New York state Democratic Sen. Liz Kruger, who represents Manhattan’s east side and supports the plan, told Fox News the senator remains optimistic and “the devil is in the details.” Kruger thinks there is “a model that can be found that is equitable to all New Yorkers,” the spokesman said.

Democratic state Sen. Kevin Thomas, of Long Island, stressed the need to fund infrastructure repairs. “Much of my district commutes by train to the city, and improvements are desperately needed to the aging rail line,” he said, urging that most of the money go toward fixing the Long Island Railroad.

In Cuomo’s State of the State address, he said, “The status quo has got to go. Riders are fed up, the situation only gets worse. It’s like the old commercial: you can pay me now or you can pay me later. The system is just continuing to deteriorate and if we don’t invest now we’re going to pay more later and suffer in the meantime. … Let’s do it this year.”

Congestion pricing is not new. London has had an £11.50 surcharge since 2003, during working business hours. Los Angeles, too, is looking at a rush-hour toll system, with support from Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Source: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/new-york-officials-face-backlash-over-congestion-tax-push

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Open Forum: Socialist insanity: Keep your cars and your cows

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As presidential wannabes launch their campaigns for 2020, they seem to stand behind New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s harebrained neo-socialist Green New Deal. But when questioned about their support for the resolution, they capitulate by referring to the deal as only “aspirational.” It makes sense to dodge the political insanity, but they should denounce the Green New Deal openly.

The very notion of Socialism in America causes people like me to cringe, but apparently a small percentage of Americans see it differently. Socialism demands equality among individuals through government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

But to demand equality for all is a problem for some who believe that no two people are the same. Under socialism, those who administer, “or the ruling class,” divide the earnings from the sale of goods equally among those who produced them. So the ruling class creates a sense of equality that doesn’t exist.

Trying to force equality through administrative regulation and turning a blind eye to individual effort and talent ignores personal freedom and the effort to succeed. All individuals deserve the freedom to develop and improve their value in the workplace and increase their earnings. Without the freedom and incentive to produce more through innovation and increased personal effort, economic failure is likely.

Venezuela is but one example of socialism’s impact on a strong economy. From the 1950s to the early 1980s, the Venezuelan economy, buoyed by high oil prices, was one of the strongest in South America. In 1970 It was the richest country in Latin America and one of the 20 richest countries in the world. The violence, disease, and personal hardships suffered by Venezuelan citizens today, has developed over the past 20 years of rule under the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), ushered in by Hugo Chavez in 2007.

The better place for a blind eye is Ocasio-Cortez’s outlandish Green New Deal resolution. That would make more sense and better serve America since her plan would ban cars, planes, and cows, eliminate fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and offer free education to all in a mere 12 years? Get serious! American voters deserve the truth regarding economic policy platforms in America, not impossible and undoable socialist insanity that leads to economic failure.

The natural laws of physics would make most of the plan impossible. Renewable energy sources will not sustain America’s energy demands now and they never will. The money needed to support this delusional vision is unreasonable now and always will be.

I suggest that Americans keep their cars and their cows, continue to use fossil fuels to sustain energy requirements, and allow our free market system to preserve liberty and prosperity for all Americans. And the federal government should continue to protect the security and safety of our citizens and follow the mandates of our Constitution. Presidential hopefuls should be firm and dismiss the Socialist insanity!

Source: https://www.winchesterstar.com/winchester_star/open-forum-socialist-insanity-keep-your-cars-and-your-cows/article_dea1f421-46f1-5780-a3dd-86048a345202.html

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VULGAR MESSAGE TO DONALD TRUMP IN POLITICAL CARTOON CAUSES PAPER TO DROP CARTOONIST: ‘LOOSE LIPS SINK STRIP’

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A newspaper says it will stop publishing a popular cartoon after a vulgar message addressed to President Donald Trump appeared in its latest issue.
“Non Sequitur” is a syndicated cartoon by Wiley Miller and is a regular feature of the Pennsylvania publication The Butler Eagle.

Readers are encouraged to color in the three-panel, black-and-white cartoon, which this week featured a “Bearaissance” character named “Leonardo Bear Vinci.”

But on Sunday, readers spotted that a small scribbled message appears in one of the panels, which says “We fondly say go f*** yourself…Trump.”
Ron Vodenichar, Eagle publisher and general manager was unhappy with the message, which was brought to his attention after a reader spotted it.

In a Butler Eagle article headlined “Loose lips sink strip: cartoonist fired for cure,” Vodenichar was quoted as saying that the message was “apparently placed there by someone in the creative department of the creator of the comic strip or the syndication which controls it.

“Neither The Butler Eagle nor any other newspaper that includes this strip had an opportunity to remove it even if they had discovered it before distribution.

“We apologize that such a disgusting trick was perpetuated on the reading public. The Butler Eagle will discontinue that comic immediately,” Vodenichar said.

The strip is distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication whose website states that it appears in more than 700 newspapers. It is unclear if other publications will follow suit.

In a tweet, Miller appeared to refer to the message, by saying: “”some of my sharp-eyed readers have spotted a little Easter egg. … Can you find it?”
Miller does not hide his contempt for Trump on Twitter. After the State of the Union address, he tweeted on February 6: “Trump’s SOTU address was essentially that guy yelling at his bloodied wife, ‘WHY DO YOU MAKE ME KEEP HITTING YOU?'”

On immigration, he referred to him as “the Gaslighter-in-Chief” who presents “zero evidence to support this claim” about the numbers of people coming into the country from Mexico.
In response to reports that Trump had blamed the Democrats for faltering talks on the border wall, Miller tweeted: “The gaslighting projectionist explains it all. Such a stable genius.”

The negotiators for the Republicans and the Democrats had hoped that a deal would be struck by Monday so Congress could pass the legislation in time for the February 15 cut-off date.

Source: https://www.newsweek.com/vulgar-message-donald-trump-political-cartoon-causes-paper-drop-cartoonist-1325937

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