Monday, November 30, 2009

how to help us

Conflict of Interest theater company is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of Conflict of Interest theater company may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Go here to donate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

when your worst suspicions are confirmed

For those of us who grew up in the City, UHO "volunteers" have been a ubiquitous part of subway riding since the '90s. Now, it turns out it was all a fraud:
an investigation by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo appears to have confirmed what many New Yorkers secretly (if somewhat guiltily) suspected all along: The United Homeless Organization, supposedly a nonprofit group set up to help feed and house the homeless, was actually an elaborate fraud.

According to a complained filed by Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday morning, U.H.O. does not operate a single shelter, soup kitchen or food pantry. It does not provide food or clothing to the homeless. It does not even donate money to other charities that do.

Most of those coins and bills, Mr. Cuomo contended, end up in the pockets of the group’s founder and president, Stephen Riley, and its director, Myra Walker. The rest was kept by those working the donation tables, who paid a daily fee to Mr. Riley and Ms. Walker for the right to use the U.H.O. tables, jugs and aprons.

Those papers that U.H.O.’s workers display on their card tables? Nothing more than copies of the group’s certification of incorporation, according to Mr. Cuomo, used to mislead the public into believing they are permits.

“U.H.O. exploits the good intentions of people who thought that their charitable donations were helping to fund services for the homeless,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “Instead, their donations go directly to U.H.O.’s principals and workers, who abused the organization’s tax-exempt status to line their own pockets.”

No pithy note to end with here. Just a confirmation that for the most part, human beings are avaricious, exploitative walking piles of dung.

hey, guess what?

If you have iTunes, click here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

biting your own ass

Rick Perlstein's Nixonland is a masterwork. It draws taut lines between the middle of the last century century and the topography of the political landscape today; it explains how we got into this partisan madness, and -- I believe -- it just might predict the future. Perlstein recounts the shocked aftermath of liberals in the wake of Nixon's Checkers speech, in which Nixon managed to cast himself as a man of the hardworking people, and the Democrats of the party of the elite:
Liberal intellectuals [...] saw themselves as tribunes of the people, Republicans as the people's traducers. Liberals had written the New Deal social and labor legislation that let ordinary Americans win back a measure of economic security. Then liberals helped lead a war against fascism, a war conservatives opposed, and then worked to create, in the postwar reconversion, the consumer economy that built the middle class, a prosperity for ordinary laborers unprecedented in the history of the world. Liberalism had done that. Now history had caught them in a bind: with the boom they had helped build, ordinary laborers were becoming ever less reliably downtrodden, vulnerable to appeal from the Republicans.
Now consider this nugget from Saturday's New York Times:
...with roughly a quarter of the stimulus money out the door after nine months, the accumulation of hard data and real-life experience has allowed more dispassionate analysts to reach a consensus that the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working.

The legislation, a variety of economists say, is helping an economy in free fall a year ago to grow again and shed fewer jobs than it otherwise would. Mr. Obama’s promise to “save or create” about 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 is roughly on track, though far more jobs are being saved than created, especially among states and cities using their money to avoid cutting teachers, police officers and other workers.

“It was worth doing — it’s made a difference,” said Nigel Gault, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a financial forecasting and analysis group based in Lexington, Mass.

Mr. Gault added: “I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus.”
Granted, it's not quite the triumphalist America of 1952, but with many politicians calling this President Obama's recession, you can bet that should a recovery begin the economy's slow ascent to prosperity, it will be very hard for the White House to claim credit where credit is due.

It's a tight historical cycle in the United States: when people need help -- not mild assistance, but wet-your-pants-end-of-the-world help, they run to the political left, only to flee back to the right and decry freeloaders once the worst has passed. The 44th President could be in danger of getting the Churchill treatment: thanks for saving the world, now take a hike.

Thankfully, it is obvious by now that the President is no fool. Anticipating the inevitable whiplash-inducing about-face, there are reports that beginning next year, the White House will anticipate the curve and transform from a New Deal outfit to a Reaganesque budget hawk's nest (except that Reagan really wasn't, but whatever).

The President's parenting skills are more necessary to his job than we ever imagined: what more does the American electorate resemble than a impulse-driven toddler?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

slicing the squid

Here's some Thursday wonk:

While performers and writers are bogged down in arcane details of web distribution, a change is on the horizon with far larger implications than the how-many-cents-per-download argument. Quoth the Economist:
Comcast, a big American cable operator [...] was close to a deal to acquire a majority stake in NBC Universal, a television and film outfit. The combination would rival Disney as the world’s biggest media firm.
The implications for creators of content -- and their consumers -- are huge.

Since the shift from solid distribution (i.e., paper books and plastic CDs/DVDs) to digital downloads, medial conglomerates have become obsessed -- Howard Hughes-style -- in ways to maintain their insanely high profit margins on a product that was cheap to reproduce and realtively easy control. With digital media, their stranglehold on distribution networks has collapsed. In a panic, they have actually cut their resources in what would arguably be their business' strongest selling point, i.e., production, while doing everything they can to antagonize performers and writers.

The WGA strike laid bare the conglomerates' position: the internet was exactly like old media, and just as media companies had gotten a sweetheart deal with writers and actors after the advent of the VCR, they expected the exact same treatment with the internet.

The difference, of course, was that videocassettes and DVDs still require an output of capital from consumers to obtain. Digital reproduction doesn't.

The last remaining advantage (for everyone who wasn't Viacom) was that the companies that finance the creation of content and the companies that distribute it (movie theaters, cable companies, et al) were distinct entities. Take a look at the ongoing wrangles between Apple Computer and the record industry if you need any evidence of how crucial that division of labor is: if EMI owned iTunes, we would all be paying a lot more than 99 cents for a download.

Comcast's proposed stitch up with NBC Universal would be catastrophic, as the company that finances the content and the company that delivers it would become one and the same. Since cable companies already hold monopolistic strangleholds on residential networks, there would be no need for them to negotiate prices favorably for consumers, or performer contracts, being the only game in town.

For evidence of the dangers, look at how regulators reacted a decade ago when Barnes and Noble tried to swallow up Ingraham, a major book distributor. There also the aim was to turn two links in the supply chain into one.

The Economist perhaps lays bare the true impetus behind this move: having lost the battle against technological progress, they're shooting for the next best thing -- gumming up the works:
There is, however, one extremely good reason for Comcast to do a deal. The big strategic problem facing media companies these days is how to move their products online while preserving margins—without swapping analogue dollars for digital pennies, as Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal’s boss, once put it. As one of the architects of Hulu, an online video service, NBC Universal has been deeply involved in these experiments. For their part, cable companies fear that people will become so accustomed to getting television and films online that they will drop their video subscriptions. A combined Comcast-NBC Universal would be able to exert a good deal of control over old media’s internet dreams, to say the least.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the madness of race and bloodlines, continued

Yesterday the Times recounted how the white and black citizens of Henry County, Georgia have come together in hard times:
During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.
Skip to next paragraph

But the recession has begun to erase those differences.

Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.
It is a compelling counter-narrative to the received wisdom that economic hardship exacerbates ethnic tensions:
At the Division of Family and Children Services, Keasha Taylor, 36 and black, helped explain the system recently to a white mother. Ms. Taylor, who was there because her family had been evicted, told the mother, who was in line for food stamps, that a child with acute asthma might be eligible for Social Security.

“Right now, a lot of white people are in this situation,” Ms. Taylor said, recalling the conversation later. “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not.”
The key to why this doesn't work as an allegory for the larger racial picture of the United States, though, is in this paragraph:
One reason blacks have not gained more political power is that they are not heavily concentrated in any single area in the county — the cul-de-sacs carved out of farmland and pastures in the last decade became racially mixed enclaves for the upwardly mobile.
The trick is that "upwardly mobile" part. Just as we recounted during the Skip Gates imbroglio -- the issue here isn't race, it's class. The common language between the whites and blacks of Henry County is of the upwardly-mobile middle. The discovery that they have more in common than they thought is a significant one -- but the flip side of that coin is that each camp shares more characteristics with each other than the disadvantaged members of their own races.

That discovery, of course, goes unmade, since it doesn't quite fit with our country's larger racial narrative...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the madness of race and bloodlines, continued

This is one of those moments where the will to power conflicts with the will for ideological (or racial) purity. From a few weeks back on my old obsession, the British National Party:
BNP leader Nick Griffin has agreed to ask his party to amend its constitution so it does not discriminate on grounds of race or religion, a court heard.

The UK's equalities watchdog had argued the BNP broke the Race Relations Act by restricting members to "indigenous Caucasian" people.

The court heard Mr Griffin had agreed to use "all reasonable endeavours" to revise its constitution.

Nick Griffin is in a tough spot -- his party has a shot as mainstream respectability not seen in Western Europe (at least since Le Pen's National Front showing in France in 2002) as much a result of the Tories moving towards the right (since Blair's New Labour stole most of the Conservative economic program). In the bright glare of public review, Griffin tries to turn ethnic chauvinism into a coherent political program, a weight it simply cannot bear.

Just as segregationists the the American South only work ideologically when they're on the losing side -- protectors of a bygone era -- the BNP only works if they're being ignored by most of society. You can blame problems that trouble every major civilization (crime, unemployment, poverty) on immigration and "the other" only as long as you're not called upon to provide policy solutions. Blaming the foreigner doesn't come close to framing the issue.

Speaking of which -- we can't wait for Lou Dobbs' first policy paper. And his Hispanic media spokesman.

Monday, November 16, 2009

it's the journey that matters

Last night I caught AMC's remake of The Prisoner, and watching it dovetailed nicely with thoughts on some of the prep work we're laying down for a couple of projects that COI is working on. While the new show starring Gandalf and Jesus was very good, it made me think on Patrick McGoohan's original, which was (in)famous for its lack of resolution.

I'm the first to admit that I'm a cheap television whore, and especially a sci-fi whore. I love conceits, but rarely stick around for the whole story. I will tune in for the beginning of apocalypse movies -- I like to see how people say the world is going to end -- but I really could give a rat's ass about how the hero perseveres against the odds.

Accordingly, I never had much time for The Prisoner growing up (I was a Star Trek fan -- I wanted me resolution in an hour or less). Open-ended plots left me feeling cheated. (I'm hesitant to say this is a matter of maturity, because I'm also a huge Battlestar Galactica fan, and show was nothing if not one big whopping a-ha of a conceit.)

But watching the show last night I started to understand the joys of setting up parameters in order to let characters play, without too much of a concern for The Big Picture.

I think a lot of that has to do with the two projects we're working on for COI. Both projects -- one if a film project under the guidance of Sara Wolkowitz, the other a play directed by Leah Bonvissuto -- entail a 13-month process whereby a small group works in depth and at length on a project, the performative aspect of which is very hazy. Instead, the entire point of the endeavor is to delve deeper into character development and the creative process.

We'll announce each of these projects in more detail in the weeks and months to come, but in the meantime I was struck by how much my tastes have shifted in what I consider a payoff. Not two years ago it was gratifying enough to mount a show for a few weeks, sell some tickets, and feel like I'd accomplished something. By the time we got to this summer, I couldn't care less if we had an audience or not: I needed the process itself to be something transcendent, regardless of who was watching.

It was after the whirlwind that was doing Wrestling the Alligator and The Third Seat back to back that I realized I wanted something more out of this group. I was just lucky to have my ears open when both Leah and Sara, unbeknownst to each other, proposed very similar endeavors. Two year-long collaborations with no performance in sight are about as far from the Equity showcase code as you can get. And the absurdity of that process was how this company got its name in the first place.

We'll be talking about these things more in the weeks to come, but it's interesting how sometimes projects fit a larger pattern, a pattern that defies even our most outlandish goals.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

audience amnesty

It's a common confession -- many theater people don't actually see a lot of theater. I'm certainly guilty of it. And some of the people who I think are the best at what we do have also confessed in the past few months that they tend not to see shows, either -- to a truly shocking degree.

It takes a lot of psychic energy to attend a play. It has never been hard wired into American culture, and with instant delivery of entertainment, entire generations have come of age without any inkling to see a live play. Youth theater companies talk about "cultivating an audience" and then couch their terms in education-speak: learning the language of Shakespeare, etc etc etc -- it's not that at all. They're trying to teach kids how to sit still in the dark for an hour.

So I try not to be a jerk about friends and family coming to our shows -- I certainly understand that it takes a lot of effort to go. And that's why the fact that our last show, Third Seat, was in bar was so much fun for the cast as well as the audience.

If I could, I would do every show in a bar. I just might.

But just in case that doesn't pan out, maybe we should always be sure to have a sidebar in the lobby of whatever theater we go to next with booze and pub food. Would that get the people in? And a 310-pound gentle gorilla named Elsie will come to your house and carry you TO the theater like a baby. After she carries the cast in for half hour.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the death of tribalism

The mayoral election here in New York City was far closer than anyone predicted, and with the mayor achieving re-election, having outspent his opponent 16 to 1, it's rather pathetic that the margin of victory was about four points.

On the other side, many in the Democratic Party are wondering what might have been -- with a candidate that so many left for dead months ago (one who, it must be admitted, played possum perhaps a bit too well), it seems like not much effort in getting higher voter turnout or finding funds for a slightly more robust advertising campaign just might have made the difference.
Check Spelling
The Times' postmortem strikes an odd oblivious note
, wondering how it could be that the Democratic Party suffers at the ballot box, despite overwhelming advantages on paper.
The mystery of Democrats’ mayoral failures is considerable, not the least to Democrats. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about five to one in New York City, and unemployment is in the double digits, with joblessness among black males near 50 percent.

“This was a winnable race, no two ways about it,” said Bill de Blasio, who was elected public advocate. “The first and most dominant factor was Bloomberg’s spending. But the spending was a double-edged sword, as it thoroughly alienated people.”

Mr. Thompson, too, had the advantage of a considerable racial and ethnic base, which has been gold to city candidates for close to two centuries. And the city’s economy was listing toward the water line. “The conditions were there all along for a formidable challenge to the mayor,” said Andrew Breslau, an observer of city politics and the executive director of City Futures, a nonpartisan urban policy group. “There was class resentment in this economically fraught time.”

And yet, once again, Democrats struggled to run an effective mayoral campaign.
The article is quick to list the reasons, which include a broken political machine, and high-level defectors seduced by the incumbent's effectiveness, which trumped party loyalty. But in all it sounds a bit like someone wondering why newspapers aren't flourishing, now that paper is so cheap.

The problem isn't this particular match up, it's the larger dynamic shifts in the electorate -- such as it is (turnout, as always, was in the toilet).

What we are witnessing is the logical outcome of a fractured polis and the ascendancy of niche identities. The repeated refrain from Virginia and elsewhere was that without the President's name on the ballot, younger voters simply weren't interested.

But what about the fact that perhaps the President appealed to a movement that has been sorely lacking on the political stage: the appeal to a common cause. So often now we look for candidates that are demonstrably "one of ours"; voters are unwilling to reach across racial, ethnic, regional, or class divides to back a candidate because it's so much simpler to find the candidate that looks and sounds just like you.

No wonder the parties can't mobilize a credible "get out the vote" effort: how can you galvanize 20- or 30-year-olds to join a machine when every other element of their consumer culture is carefully calibrated to appear to be customized?

This isn't some misguided appeal to Cold War conformity; but just as forty years or more have been expended in attempting to add imagination into the public sphere -- allowing for a portrayal of American identity that is diverse -- we now have to shift that imagination within ourselves, and strike allegiances outside of our comfort zones. Can we get the majority of fellow citizens to commit to political action (as simple as casting a ballot) for a larger ideal: not necessarily the enactment of the agenda we want, point for point, but the enactment of an agenda on the part of a representative government that reflects the participation of a majority of its citizens?

That is the only future we have if we're to reject narrow tribalism that lurks in the shadows.

Monday, November 9, 2009

in need of a new map

The incredible events of this weekend, which saw the first steps toward meaningful health care reform (a vital issue not only for this blog in its political leanings but also for all underemployed American artists) laid bare the need for a drastic realignment of political allegiances in Washington.

For too long both major parties have cobbled together a shaky allegiance between issues of money and morality, and it nearly derailed the Democratic agenda, especially when it comes to abortion;
It was late Friday night and lawmakers were stalling for time. In a committee room, they yammered away, delaying a procedural vote on the historic health care legislation. Down one floor, in her office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi desperately tried to deal with an issue that has bedeviled Democrats for more than a generation — abortion.

After hours of heated talks, the people she was trying to convince — some of her closest allies — burst angrily out of her office.


To save the health care bill she had to give in to abortion opponents in her party and allow them to propose tight restrictions barring any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions.
When Democrats -- who ostensibly believe in state intervention to check human greed -- and Republicans (who ostensibly believe in vigilance to check an over-reaching state picking the pockets of its citizens) both twist their fundamental philosophies to cater to a third group -- men and women who could care less about money and care about matters of religion and legislated morality -- we have farcical dances like the debate over Stupak Amendment, where members of the House argue against a bill because they're for it.

Let former Democrats and former Republicans who believe in the magic of the free market band together, while moderates who see a need for government intervention on matters foreign and domestic make common cause.

Then, those who care only about the hereafter can chirp up when they feel so moved, and we don't need each national party making a mess of their agenda trying to reconcile mutually exclusive principles.

But it's not about principle. It's about maintaining power. Oh, if only someone had warned us of this danger. Oh, wait -- someone did.

Friday, November 6, 2009

hear the bill is up and running (and has been), the group I volunteer for, has an announcement. They do great work, and I'm proud to be a part of it:

On the eve of historic vote in U.S. House...
Voice Actors Get Audio of Health Care Bill to the Public

Legislation Now Online at

Those who can't or don't want to read the House healthcare reform bill now have another option: the bill, all 1,990 pages of it is available as audio files online - read by a team of volunteer voice actors who want to make sure that as many people in America as possible can find out exactly what's in the legislation. was created by voice actors Kathleen Keesling of Colorado and Diane Havens of New Jersey as a public service for the visually impaired and those who prefer audio to text, such as the millions of people who listen to audio books.

"As this important legislation is going to a vote, we are providing another way, a more accessible way, for people who care about this issue to find out what is in the bill," said Keesling.

Over 100 actors have volunteered to accomplish this, each of whom took on a portion, reading from an average of twenty to as many as hundreds of pages, recording many hours of audio. They are a diverse group from around the country -- and the world -- with backgrounds in all different aspects of voice over and radio. Some have done theater, film and on-camera work. None of them have ever recorded legislation before.

The nonpartisan site is fast approaching one million hits since its launch in September with the audio version of HR3200, the House bill proposed in July. HR3962 is available free, fully downloadable, and indexed by title headings, so that users can locate specific sections of interest more easily.

"It has been tremendously gratifying that so many of our colleagues realize the historic importance of this legislation and what it means to all of us and our families," said Havens. "We receive emails every day from our listeners who thank us for our efforts, and that's a great feeling."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

update on those magnificent racists

We've already chronicled the wonderful justice of the peace in Louisiana who refused to marry interracial couples. Here's an update, via the Associated Press, via the New York Times (via my mother):
A Louisiana justice of the peace who refused to marry a couple because the bride was white and groom was black resigned Tuesday, after weeks of refusing to step down despite calls for his ouster from officials including the governor.

Keith Bardwell quit with a one-sentence statement to Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and no explanation of his decision: "I do hereby resign the office of Justice of the Peace for the Eighth Ward of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, effective November 3, 2009."
You can imagine Justice Bardwell's rage. This world is a world gone upside down, with chaos, socialized medicine, and uppity Negroes forgetting their place. In some sick way, I sympathize. It's hard to stand against the tide of history and know, irrefutably, that you are going to lose. It feels horrible to be obsolete. It's unfair. But, in keeping with Bardwell's clipped eloquence, I will keep my assessment brief:

Good fucking riddance.

whispers in the dark (for the elite)

From Patrick Healy and the If Only This Was Our Problem Department (via the New York Times):

Ticket holders at this week’s first previews of Matthew Broderick’s new Off Broadway play have been privy to a second drama: watching the veteran theater actor try to learn his lines, with help from a prompter sitting in the front row.


While opera companies have long had hidden prompters at the rim of the stage, many theater actors shudder at the idea of needing help with lines during performances. For them, mastery of a script is a benchmark of professionalism. Still, acting fallbacks have a long but largely unnoticed history in the theater. During the national tour of “Legends” in the 1980s, Mary Martin, who was in her 70s at the time, used an earpiece that also picked up taxi signals, according to published accounts.

While the image of Mary Martin randomly shouting out street intersections in the middle of a performance is a tempting one, the bigger issue is watching a production assistant with a script in the front row of a show you've paid hundreds of dollars to see.

There are a couple directions we could go with this:

(1) Righteous indignation: Movie stars aren't up for the rigors of treading the boards and this whole episode (along with Sushi-gate) lays bare just how craven a move it is when Broadway producers to use movie stars, regardless of talent or work ethic, to sell tickets.

(2) Overwrought sentimentality: Picking up cues, even with the aid of a prompter, is a lost art -- an old pro would know a way to get their lines without needing someone sitting in the audience to give them.

or we can just go with

(3) Naked honesty: if I could charge people to come to a show before an actor had their lines down but needed to have someone whispering lines from the house, I absolutely would.

But, see, we're poor; we don't get to fudge our opening night, extend previews, and say just kidding, we're still in process. Now, will that be cash or credit? Every show opens with a closing date. If we could get away with it, believe me, we would.

There's another issue about this, which Healy treats with some delicacy, calling it "the benchmark of professionalism" to be off-book on time. Others have another term: it's called not being a dick.
But now the use of prompts has become a matter of inquiry for the Actors’ Equity union, which is investigating a recent dismissal by the Hartford Stage theater of an actor who peeked at bits of dialogue that he had taped inside his character’s hat for a difficult scene.


In the Hartford Stage incident, the fired actor, Matt Mulhern, 49, was appearing in Horton Foote’s “Orphans’ Home Cycle,” a series of three plays over nine hours. Mr. Mulhern said he never received any warning from Hartford Stage that his job might be in jeopardy; “Orphans” is a co-production with Signature Theater Company in New York, where it is transferring next month.

In an interview, Mr. Mulhern described the prompt in his hat as a “crutch” that he relied on because of script changes during rehearsals. He said he had been “emotionally devastated” by his Sept. 22 dismissal, the first of his 27-year career. He also acknowledged he had “ruffled feathers” among colleagues for a variety of other reasons after rehearsals began in July.

In other words, he admits that he was pretty much being a dick, and by the time he didn't know his lines for performances, no one was ready to help out.

I have nightmares, even when I'm not actively in a production, about going up while on stage. It's terrifying to be there without a net -- and having one would actually make me a worse performer, because it would take away all incentive to mitigate risk and do my homework (cf. Google search: "banks too big to fail").

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

contesting history

Ian Urbina brings us this horrific story from Cleveland, where a man that stands accused of multiple accounts of rape and murder could have been stopped much earlier, had police followed up on disparate police reports of assault filed over the course of many months.
The police in Cleveland were notified repeatedly about violence in the house of a convicted rapist where the decomposed bodies of six women were found last week, a neighbor said Monday.

The neighbor of the man, who was arrested Saturday night after the bodies were found, said the police had done little, despite the calls.
It brought to mind the bad old days of New York City, before Compstat. Under the current policing regime in New York City, so the story goes, these threads would have been woven together to create a picture of this monster, and he would have been stopped.

In this post-2001 world where everything scares the living daylights out of us, most New Yorkers take it as a given that elevated policing makes for more livable cities. Here in New York, the candidates for mayor and their surrogates argue over who gets the credit for the City's descent into a police state. Michael Powell in the New York Times:
Rudolph W. Giuliani, as he had done before, indelicately broached this rhetorical question while campaigning a week ago for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. If you elect the Democratic mayoral candidate, Mr. Giuliani, the former Republican mayor, warned a mostly Orthodox Jewish audience in Brooklyn, New York could well return to a time when a feckless liberal Democrat let services decay and crime and homelessness run rampant.
On the other hand, there are many who feel that Giuliani is, in fact, stealing credit from Dinkins:
“Dinkins faced a very sharp economic downturn, and he was in the very difficult position of coming in with high expectations from many constituencies,” said John H. Mollenkopf, a political science professor at the City University Graduate Center. “Yet he expanded the police force and rebuilt neighborhoods; he deserves more credit than he gets for managing that time.”

Mr. Dinkins’s most lasting achievement might have been in the very area where he now fares worst in popular memory. He obtained the State Legislature’s permission to dedicate a tax to hire thousands of police officers, and he fought to preserve a portion of that anticrime money to keep schools open into the evening, an award-winning initiative that kept tens of thousands of teenagers off the street. Later he hired Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, and in the mayor’s final years in office, homicide began its now record-breaking decline.
Alex Pareene, over at Gawker, makes my favorite rhetorical shift when he points out we're arguing about the wrong thing:
Let's talk about the cops, for a second: they are still operating under Giuliani levels of complete disregard for the law. They are getting drunk and running people over and shooting unarmed black people and sodomizing people in subway stations. The Civilian Complaint Review Board has become a joke, unless your case gets a lot of publicity. There's obviously no accountability, whatsoever, and no attempt to recruit and train more cops from the communities they actually police. The NYPD remains, primarily, the home of roided-out white people from outside the city with a great deal of contempt for civil liberties. The Mayor always sounds properly upset when some of them rape someone, but he's never done a damn thing to rein them in or change the culture.

What he has done is Keep Us Safe by never once giving a shit about Civil Liberties. The cops stop and frisk thousands more people every year, your 4th Amendment rights do not apply in the Subway system, and expensive and completely ineffective new rings of cameras are going up across Manhattan.

Bloomberg deserves to be run out of town on an inadequately funded public rail line for the 2004 GOP convention alone. Remember that ridiculous farce? No, of course not, no one does, besides the thousands of people improperly spied on, arrested, harassed, and detained by the NYPD. All of this was completely illegal. No heads rolled.

One more special bonus factoid: New York leads the world in marijuana arrests! Specifically, marijuana arrests of black people!
But no one cares about that. Instead, we read about places like Cleveland, cluck our tongues, shake our heads, and scold: that wouldn't happen here. Because we're different. We have a system based on law, order, and statistics. It's an attitude more fitting with the suburbs.

In fact, we should be taking better note and better care of our neighbors. That's how crime stays down -- not by voting for more surveillance cameras and inspection tables at the subway turnstiles.