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Monday, June 08, 2009

 

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

You may have thought that NY could never top the hi-jinx that resulted in the dramatic downfall of Governor Spitzer, but today's events in the State Senate came pretty close. In a surprising coup, two Hispanic Dems left the caucus to join with Republicans and demand a new vote on leadership, since they shifted the 32-30 majority to the GOP.

To review the bidding, last November's election shifted just enough Senate seats into the Democratic column to give them their first majority in over 40 years. This gave the Dems all three levers of political power in the state, since they have long held a dominant majority in the Assembly and have the accidental Governor Paterson. However, immediately after the election, a gang of four Dems, three Hispanics (Espada, Diaz and Monserrat) and Senator Kreuger, decided that they should use their leverage to extract concessions from new Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. He came through with the needed Chairmanships and leadership posts, however grudgingly, to finally assure election as Majority Leader. The deal was always on shaky ground, since the gang of four was never warmly welcomed back in to the caucus.

Meanwhile, the Dems November victory came with considerable help from billionaire businessman Tom Golisano, a Republican who had made a couple of futile attempts to run for Governor as an independent. He targeted incumbents he felt had contributed to Senate disfunctionality, giving large amounts of campaign funds to their opponents. Most of those targeted turned out to be Republicans, so Golisano had as much to do with the Dems winning the majority as anyone. So when Dems passed the "millionaires tax" as part of the budget process, it was ironic to hear Golisano moaning about how NY's high taxes had driven him to make Florida his official residence.

About 5 weeks ago, in a well guarded secret, Golisano, Republican leaders, Espada and Monserrat hatched today's plot. Apparently the trigger was that it became clear that Senator Smith intended to break the agreement with the Hispanic Senators by bringing the same sex marriage bill, which they oppose, to the floor. The execution of the plan was even more hilarious than it was dramatic. GOP Senator Libous took the floor and demanded that a leadership vote be taken. Apparently, Senator Breslin, filling in as Chair of the session, tried to reclaim the floor and then attempted to adjourn the meeting before a vote could be taken. Failing that, the Dems went so far as to have the chamber lights turned out, (the pictures of everyone suddenly sitting in the dark have to be seen to be believed), the Senate website taken down, etc. The Dems then left the chamber, while the GOP went ahead with their vote, swearing in Dean Skelos as the once again majority leader, and then even reassigning the Committee Chairs!

All this occurs with two weeks to go before adjournment and a full slate of bills, which means nothing will get done since staffers have to be completely without portfolio. The Dems claim the coup was illegal, the session was adjourned, and that Smith continues as majority leader, but I don't know how they can make that stand up where he only has 30 votes. Of course, he may get one back soon, since one of the two senators who crossed the aisle is under indictment for beating up his girl friend.

Only in NY, folks.

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Republicans are having a very difficult time modulating their response to the proposed appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. President Obama put them in the difficult position of dealing with the first Hispanic nominee, and a female at that. Never mind that Dems trashed Bush 43's Hispanic pick to the DC Circuit, never actually giving him the courtesy of a vote. Dems get a pass from the media when trashing a conservative, but they could not abide the GOP achieving a first of that type, particularly when the DC circuit is considered a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. The GOP gets no such pass.

So it's a given that Sotomayor will be confirmed, after Republicans make a mild show of opposition to placate the anti-abortion crowd. The fact is that while Sotomayor's statements indicate that she is a lightweight with a hopelessly misguided approach to constitutional law, her decisions indicate that she is far from the worst Obama might have picked. She has a middle of the road record on business and criminal cases (those are sometimes two different categories). So I am not all exorcised about this pick.

However, there are reasons for questioning it, and I haven't seen anything nearly as intelligent on the subject as today's WSJ op ed by Stanford's Shelby Steele. Called "Sotomayor and the Politics of Race," it should be considered required reading. Steele effectively makes the point that this is anything but a post-racial pick, and that it fits a pattern of Obama actions and statements that contrast with his carefully cultivated post-racial image. Here is the link to this excellent piece.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124442662679393077.html

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Since we're warming up for those really entertaining confirmation hearings where Judiciary Committee members are able to pontificate while taking 10 minutes to ask a question (and frequently receive a 10 second response), we will have the dubious pleasure of again seeing Chairman Pat Leahy of Vermont in "action" baiting his Republican committee colleagues. The man considered to be the most partisan senator (even worse than Schumer?!) is sure to be in top form for this one.

Leahy's legendary GOP baiting ways were the subject of recent reminiscences in one of the papers, which recalled a floor session during the last administration when he so exasperated Vice - President Cheney that the latter lost his normal cool demeanor and closed the dialogue by inviting the Senator to "f___ yourself."

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Counting Crows summer tour dates have been posted, now that they are back from Europe and Australia. This summer, Adam and the band will be touring with friends Michael Franti & Spearhead and Augustana. They will be at Central Park on September 3rd, and it did not take me very long to score a ticket from Live Nation.

Also worthy of consideration is one of those infrequent appearances by Steely Dan, appearing at the Beacon Theatre July 28-August 1. (Ticketmaster) This is the rock act that sounds the most like a jazz act.

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The Dow may be struggling to get even for the year, but the musings' accounts are up 10% Y-T-D, a small claw back of what was lost last year, but you have to start somewhere. On June 1 we sold 100 shares of Stiefel (SF) at 44.30, originally purchased in March of 2007 for an average price of 28.66. On June 3, we sold 200 shares of Knight Transportation (KNX) at 18.06, purchased on 1/10/2000 for 3.33. Today, we were still selling, 100 shares of Lancaster Colony at 46.22. The purchase was on 3/7/03 for 36.54. So we have taken some profits, but the tax man's take will be deferred. These were all IRA transactions.

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