Has the Decision Already Been Made to Sell Long Island Power Authority’s T & D System to National Grid?

Author’s note: Many, many thanks to our own Kelly Canfield who made all these gorgeous professional video clips. This post would not have been possible without him. 

 As some of you may know, I testified before the joint hearings of the NYS Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Oversight and the NYS Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions on February 27th. Some clips from that hearing will appear below. After the hearing I had a 3+ hour drive back from Albany which gave me time to reflect on what I had seen and heard. Some things jumped out at me:

1)      The Moreland Commission evidently already knows that the private entity that buys the LIPA electric Transmission & Delivery (T&D) system stands to make $100s of millions a year in profits.

2)      The primary basis for claiming that privatization could be economically feasible, even though not a single study has ever concluded that—not even the Lazard Study cherry picked it because it  did not specifically conclude privatization is a non starter like all the others did– is that it creates “new synergies between the new private owner and its existing nearby facilities.

3)      However, there are no “new synergies.”  National Grid already has a presence in the North East and has a related gas business on Long Island itself, whatever synergies which might be possible are already being enjoyed. There are no “new synergies”. I pointed this out to the NYS Legislators.

4)      Further, a letter submitted by the NYS Comptroller’s Office cast doubt on the existence of new synergies saying it was “difficult to quantify” the savings from synergies that the Moreland Commission was projecting. See, Newsday 3/7/13, “New doubts on privatizing LIPA”, by Mark Harrington [online title varies from print edition]. That same letter “notes the benefits of public ownership in getting federal reimbursement for storm costs” and notes that a private entity will have much higher financing costs. Id.

5)      A study commissioned by LIPA and conducted by the Navigant Group in 2010 assessed the value of LIPA’s T&D system at $5.4 billion. LIPA has debt of approximately $7 Billion, so a sale for $5.4 would leave taxpayers or ratepayers on the hook for approximately $1.6 Billion. See, Newsday 2/27/13, “LIPA study: Rates up if privatized”, by Mark Harrington.

6)      However, the Moreland Commission assumed a value of only $3.5 Billion, leaving $3.5 Billion in orphan debt. Id. Further, it seems that the studies currently being conducted by Lazard and NYPA, which I discussed yesterday , is using a valuation of only $3.5Billion.

7)      Perhaps the discount in value is the result of National Grid’s performance reports consistently putting its customer service performance at the bottom of national rankings? Supra, “New doubts on privatizing LIPA”, link at para. 4 above. Everyone you can name, including the Moreland Commission, the Governor, and both houses of the NYS legislature and local government of every stripe have denounced the poor management of National Grid over the T&D system.

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The Tale of Three Non-Transparent Investigations Into LIPA

Currently there are three investigations going on into the future of Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). The first is the Moreland Commission investigation, which caused quite a bit of controversy when it recommended selling all of LIPA’s assets, the electrical transmission, and in how public bond debt would be paid for, or how a privately held utility could afford cost of capital if it had to borrow at 10.7% instead of the 5% that LIPA’s bonds currently enjoyed.  Crain.s New York Business and Bloomberg Newsweek predicted that this would lead to a 20% hike in costs to customers.

The Moreland Commission has held few public meetings, but also claims to have conducted depositions and to have subpoenaed many documents. None of this other investigative work is posted on their website, or at least I couldn’t find it.

The interim Moreland Commission Report compared the current, moot, contract between LIPA and National Grid to privatization.  This is a false comparison. The National Grid contract expires at the end of this year. LIPA engaged in a multiyear, multi-consultant, series of management reviews and crafted a new contract which will begin January 1, 2014. This contract is a dramatic departure from the expiring contract and works on a new collaborative model that will allow for a transition to a fully municipalized LIPA, as the LIPA in-house team gains experience and expertise in directly running the T&D (transmission and delivery) system. The new business model is called ServCo, and its financial incentives align the new operator with the ratepayer’s interests.

LIPA then put that ServCo contract out for competitive bid via an RFP (request for protocol) process.  Ninety electric companies bid. The winner was PSEG, which is currently ranked second in the Eastern United Sates for customer satisfaction from J. D. Powers & Assoc.  PSEG is also in the second year of a two year transition contract that terminates January 1, 2014, when PSEG is slated to take over operation of the system.

You would think that if Moreland were investigating the future of LIPA, they would be comparing the soon-to-begin new contract against all other possible alternatives, wouldn’t you? Yet when asked about the specifics of the new contract in a recent New York State Senate hearing, the Executive Director of the Mooreland Commission could not answer the question and deferred to a representative of the New York State Power Authority (NYPA). [cont’d.]

Author’s note: This post, and the post to follow tomorrow, would not have been possible without the hard work and talent of our own Kelly Canfield who excerpted all the video clips from hours and hours of committee hearing testimony. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. 

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The Tale of Three Non-Transparent Investigations Into LIPA

Author’s note: This post, and the post to follow tomorrow, would not have been possible without the hard work and talent of our own Kelly Canfield who excerpted all the video clips from hours and hours of committee hearing testimony. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. 

Currently there are three investigations going on into the future of Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). The first is the Moreland Commission investigation, which caused quite a bit of controversy when it recommended selling all of LIPA’s assets, the electrical transmission, and in how public bond debt would be paid for, or how a privately held utility could afford cost of capital if it had to borrow at 10.7% instead of the 5% that LIPA’s bonds currently enjoyed.  Crain.s New York Business and Bloomberg Newsweek predicted that this would lead to a 20% hike in costs to customers.

The Moreland Commission has held few public meetings, but also claims to have conducted depositions and to have subpoenaed many documents. None of this other investigative work is posted on their website, or at least I couldn’t find it.

The interim Moreland Commission Report compared the current, moot, contract between LIPA and National Grid to privatization.  This is a false comparison. The National Grid contract expires at the end of this year. LIPA engaged in a multiyear, multi-consultant, series of management reviews and crafted a new contract which will begin January 1, 2014. This contract is a dramatic departure from the expiring contract and works on a new collaborative model that will allow for a transition to a fully municipalized LIPA, as the LIPA in-house team gains experience and expertise in directly running the T&D (transmission and delivery) system. The new business model is called ServCo, and its financial incentives align the new operator with the ratepayer’s interests.

LIPA then put that ServCo contract out for competitive bid via an RFP (request for protocol) process.  Ninety electric companies bid. The winner was PSEG, which is currently ranked second in the Eastern United Sates for customer satisfaction from J. D. Powers & Assoc.  PSEG is also in the second year of a two year transition contract that terminates January 1, 2014, when PSEG is slated to take over operation of the system.

You would think that if Moreland were investigating the future of LIPA, they would be comparing the soon-to-begin new contract against all other possible alternatives, wouldn’t you? Yet when asked about the specifics of the new contract in a recent New York State Senate hearing, the Executive Director of the Mooreland Commission could not answer the question and deferred to a representative of the New York State Power Authority (NYPA).

This brings me to the other two non-transparent investigations.

Over the years, LIPA has hired a number of consulting firms to come in and diagnose what was going wrong with its management of the various private companies that were operating the T&D system for LIPA and to suggest alternative business models that might be an improvement. All but one of those consultants rejected privatization out of hand as too costly to the consumer. One consultant, Lazard, did not reject any model, they merely stated that they did not have enough information to make a recommendation.  See, Lazard Report, Section 5 “Recommendations” page 71, et seq (page 87 et seq in the pdf).

So, as you may have guessed, New York has now given Lazard a contract to find out if any private entity wants to buy LIPA’s T&D system and to evaluate the cost and benefits of that. This process has been entirely out of public view. I have no clue what they are looking at, or what they might be willfully ignoring.

This brings us to the third non-transparent investigation. According to the testimony of its CEO, NYPA is also doing a crosscheck investigation of the Lazard investigation.

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About Privatizing Long Island Power Authority- Part II

LIPA Storm Costs Budgets, the chart on page 3. (click to embiggen)

In his State of  the State speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo advocated taking Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) private. This is fascinating since LIPA was created to bailout private LILCO. LIPA owns most of LILCO’s former assets and has issued debt in the form of government bonds to the tune of over $6 billion. You can read more about it in Part I of this series.

Over the years LIPA has spent a fair amount of money ordering up management reports from a variety of consulting firms. In 2005, there was a Strategic Review performed by FTI Consulting in conjunction with Bear Stearns and three white shoe law firms. The consultants looked at three operational options: 1) continuing as a public private hybrid, 2) full municipalization, a public run utility, and 3) privatization.

The study concluded that privatization would result in an immediate and dramatic increase in electric rates. It also concluded that there would be problems with adding so many workers to the public payroll and pension system. The contract with Key Span was up for renewal and FTI thought that LIPA could extract concessions that would make it possible to improve performance and pay down the Shoreham debt. Instead, in the renewal negotiations, LIPA gave away something VERY important. LIPA changed the contract to allow Key Span to pass through its storm damage costs instead of budgeting for and absorbing them. A report by the NYS Comptroller shows how storm damage costs skyrocketed once Key Span/National Grid lost any incentive to control them. The chart on page 3 will knock your eyeballs out.

In February 2010, Lazard put out another Strategic Review of LIPA and explored the same three operational options as well as variations involving acquiring one or more generators and an enhanced status quo version that included an aggressive “green” initiative as well as smart grid technology. Lazard concluded that there was not enough data available to make a determination about whether continuing the public/private structure, privatization or full municipalization is best, and urges data gathering saying it should not be left until the current contract with National Grid expires until 2013.

In May 2010, Navigant Consulting did just that and concluded that full municipal would be the best deal for ratepayers.

In August 2011, there was another Strategic Review, this time by The Brattle Group. Brattle was tasked with providing the cost data comparisons that the Lazard Report requested. Brattle found that privatization would immediately increase rates by 10-20% but that the rate impact of both the Serv-Co option and full municipal options would be comparable to current rates and within inches of each other. The Serv-Co option was a new option to improve upon the existing public/private hybrid. It is a sort of training wheels approach for LIPA to allow its employees time to develop expertise and institutional memory necessary to be able to one day run the utility outright. If you click on the link above there is a more detailed explanation of the ServCo option. The conclusion of the Brattle Group was that privatizing would cost a fortune and immediate full municipalization might result in LIPA personnel not being able to manage the system. The training wheels Serv-Co won out by default.

In October 2011, LIPA began a public Strategic Review process that included hearings and input from the public to explore the Serv-Co option. On October 27, 2011, the LIPA Board of Trustees voted to adopt the Serv-Co option and the public process was to decide the details of how it would be done. I went to a number of the meetings, and followed the accounts of the others. There were a lot of good ides offered, including from the unions about how to manage the workforce and how to deal with the pension issue if the utility went full municipal. In fact, the electrician’s union had an elegantly simple idea which was for LIPA to contract directly with the union and the union is a contract labor provider and the workers stay in the union pension plan. There may be legal issues with that, but I thought it showed cooperative brainstorming by those involved.

LIPA put together and RFP based on the ServCo model that came out of this public process and bid out the new contract. PSE&G was the successful bidder and the contract was entered into in December 2011.

Bottom line, years of study and effort have gone into figuring out what form LIPA should take going forward. The only thing that all the consultants seemed to agree on was that privatization was too expensive. Lazard wrote the only report that held any prayer for privatization, sooooooo guess who has a new contract to go find a private company to buy LIPA? You guessed it, Lazard.

Then, the Mooreland Commission comes out with this privatization recommendation. They don’t explain how privatizing will do anything about the causes of LIPA’s failures during Sandy or other storms. They don’t explain how it will be possible to finance LIPA’s billions of dollars in debt at commercial rates; they don’t explain why any private entity would want to take on all that debt. Nope, they just have some vague gut feeling that a private entity will be more “accountable”.  Never mind decades of study and analysis. Crain’s is reporting that the idea of privatizing will amount to a bailout of Long Island by the rest of the state.

But analysts believe that persuading a private company to buy the much-maligned utility would require the state to assume at least $4 billion of LIPA’s $7 billion in debt. A sale would then trigger nearly $1 billion in additional costs: early-termination fees paid to bondholders, as well as penalties for the derivatives contracts that would suddenly become void, according to people who have studied a privatization.
.               .               .               .               .               .

Any private buyer would seek to raise rates so it could pay down debt, cover the costs of stormproofing LIPA’s infrastructure—and generate a decent shareholder return. But higher rates are a nonstarter. Mr. Cuomo earlier this month demanded they be frozen as part of any privatization. The only way out of this box, analysts say, is for the state to assume a portion of LIPA’s debt so a buyer gains some financial flexibility.

NYS just struggled to close $1Billion budget gap. Where in hell is it going to get another $4-5 billion to bail out LIPA?

About Privatizing Long Island Power Authority- Part II

LIPA Storm Costs Budgets, the chart on page 3. (click to embiggen)

In his State of  the State speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo advocated taking Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) private. This is fascinating since LIPA was created to bailout private LILCO. LIPA owns most of LILCO’s former assets and has issued debt in the form of government bonds to the tune of over $6 billion. You can read more about it in Part I of this series.

Over the years LIPA has spent a fair amount of money ordering up management reports from a variety of consulting firms. In 2005, there was a Strategic Review performed by FTI Consulting in conjunction with Bear Stearns and three white shoe law firms. The consultants looked at three operational options: 1) continuing as a public private hybrid, 2) full municipalization, a public run utility, and 3) privatization.

The study concluded that privatization would result in an immediate and dramatic increase in electric rates. It also concluded that there would be problems with adding so many workers to the public payroll and pension system. The contract with Key Span was up for renewal and FTI thought that LIPA could extract concessions that would make it possible to improve performance and pay down the Shoreham debt. Instead, in the renewal negotiations, LIPA gave away something VERY important. LIPA changed the contract to allow Key Span to pass through its storm damage costs instead of budgeting for and absorbing them. A report by the NYS Comptroller shows how storm damage costs skyrocketed once Key Span/National Grid lost any incentive to control them. The chart on page 3 will knock your eyeballs out.

In February 2010, Lazard put out another Strategic Review of LIPA and explored the same three operational options as well as variations involving acquiring one or more generators and an enhanced status quo version that included an aggressive “green” initiative as well as smart grid technology. Lazard concluded that there was not enough data available to make a determination about whether continuing the public/private structure, privatization or full municipalization is best, and urges data gathering saying it should not be left until the current contract with National Grid expires until 2013.

In May 2010, Navigant Consulting did just that and concluded that full municipal would be the best deal for ratepayers.

In August 2011, there was another Strategic Review, this time by The Brattle Group. Brattle was tasked with providing the cost data comparisons that the Lazard Report requested. Brattle found that privatization would immediately increase rates by 10-20% but that the rate impact of both the Serv-Co option and full municipal options would be comparable to current rates and within inches of each other. The Serv-Co option was a new option to improve upon the existing public/private hybrid. It is a sort of training wheels approach for LIPA to allow its employees time to develop expertise and institutional memory necessary to be able to one day run the utility outright. If you click on the link above there is a more detailed explanation of the ServCo option. The conclusion of the Brattle Group was that privatizing would cost a fortune and immediate full municipalization might result in LIPA personnel not being able to manage the system. The training wheels Serv-Co won out by default.

In October 2011, LIPA began a public Strategic Review process that included hearings and input from the public to explore the Serv-Co option. On October 27, 2011, the LIPA Board of Trustees voted to adopt the Serv-Co option and the public process was to decide the details of how it would be done. I went to a number of the meetings, and followed the accounts of the others. There were a lot of good ides offered, including from the unions about how to manage the workforce and how to deal with the pension issue if the utility went full municipal. In fact, the electrician’s union had an elegantly simple idea which was for LIPA to contract directly with the union and the union is a contract labor provider and the workers stay in the union pension plan. There may be legal issues with that, but I thought it showed cooperative brainstorming by those involved.

LIPA put together and RFP based on the ServCo model that came out of this public process and bid out the new contract. PSE&G was the successful bidder and the contract was entered into in December 2011.

Bottom line, years of study and effort have gone into figuring out what form LIPA should take going forward. The only thing that all the consultants seemed to agree on was that privatization was too expensive. Lazard wrote the only report that held any prayer for privatization, sooooooo guess who has a new contract to go find a private company to buy LIPA? You guessed it, Lazard.

Then, the Mooreland Commission comes out with this privatization recommendation. They don’t explain how privatizing will do anything about the causes of LIPA’s failures during Sandy or other storms. They don’t explain how it will be possible to finance LIPA’s billions of dollars in debt at commercial rates; they don’t explain why any private entity would want to take on all that debt. Nope, they just have some vague gut feeling that a private entity will be more “accountable”.  Never mind decades of study and analysis. Crain’s is reporting that the idea of privatizing will amount to a bailout of Long Island by the rest of the state.

But analysts believe that persuading a private company to buy the much-maligned utility would require the state to assume at least $4 billion of LIPA’s $7 billion in debt. A sale would then trigger nearly $1 billion in additional costs: early-termination fees paid to bondholders, as well as penalties for the derivatives contracts that would suddenly become void, according to people who have studied a privatization.
.               .               .               .               .               .

Any private buyer would seek to raise rates so it could pay down debt, cover the costs of stormproofing LIPA’s infrastructure—and generate a decent shareholder return. But higher rates are a nonstarter. Mr. Cuomo earlier this month demanded they be frozen as part of any privatization. The only way out of this box, analysts say, is for the state to assume a portion of LIPA’s debt so a buyer gains some financial flexibility.

New York State just struggled to close $1Billion budget gap. Where in hell is it going to get another $4-5 billion to bail out LIPA?

So what’s up with this LIPA privatization idea? Part One

The history of how LIPA got to where it is today.

In a 10+ year construction project that was originally estimated at $75 million, but ultimately cost $2 billion, LILCO (Long Island Lighting Company) built the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. It was completed in 1984. In 1983, the Legislature in Suffolk County, where the plant was located, voted not to allow the plant to come online because there was no safe way to evacuate Long Islanders in the event of a meltdown or other serious event. Other municipal entities throughout Long Island followed suit.

After massive public protest, Governor Mario Cuomo acquiesced to the environmentalists and ordered that no state official should approve any LILCO evacuation plan. Still, LILCO thought they could change public opinion or litigate its way out of the problem or something (hostage taking?) because in 1984-5, LILCO doubled down on its bad investment and got Nuclear Regulatory permission to do testing at 5% power. This caused all the piping, etc., to become radioactive.

In 1989, Governor Mario Cuomo and LILCO announced a deal where the state would bail out the costs, which now had grown to $6 billion, including a $1.4 billion fine from the Public Service Commission for shoddy construction, mismanagemen,t and hundreds of millions of dollars in decommissioning cost,s and costs to move the radioactive material to Pennsylvania, and created LIPA which would purchase LILCO’s assets and debt. A 3% surcharge was to be added to customer bills and used to pay off the debt, at which point it would be feasible to re-privatize. Although the surcharge was authorized for 30 years, the planned retirement of the debt was in 2013. Which might explain why the current Governor Cuomo thinks 2013 is a good year to talk about privatizing LIPA?

LIPA was able to issue tax-free bonds to finance this debt, which would be ruinous to finance at commercial lending rates. Many of those bonds are not “callable” which means you cannot pay them off at will, but must continue to make periodic payments until the bonds expire. Bloomberg News has estimated that it would require additional debt, just shy of an additional $1 billion, to establish a sinking fund to make those payments if the Authority is abolished. I question whether they can do that without additional legislation because some of these bonds are dedicated funding source bonds which means you cannot just substitute another source for repayment just because you feel like it.

So, let’s relieve this conversation of any notion that investor owned utilities are somehow inherently better managed than publicly run utilities. [cont’d.] (more…)

So what’s up with this LIPA privatization idea? Part One

The history of how LIPA got to where it is today.

In a 10+ year construction project that was originally estimated at $75 million, but ultimately cost $2 billion, LILCO (Long Island Lighting Company) built the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. It was completed in 1984. In 1983, the Legislature in Suffolk County, where the plant was located, voted not to allow the plant to come online because there was no safe way to evacuate Long Islanders in the event of a meltdown or other serious event. Other municipal entities throughout Long Island followed suit.

After massive public protest, Governor Mario Cuomo acquiesced to the environmentalists and ordered that no state official should approve any LILCO evacuation plan. Still, LILCO thought they could change public opinion or litigate its way out of the problem or something (hostage taking?) because in 1984-5, LILCO doubled down on its bad investment and got Nuclear Regulatory permission to do testing at 5% power. This caused all the piping, etc., to become radioactive.

In 1989, Governor Mario Cuomo and LILCO announced a deal where the state would bail out the costs, which now had grown to $6 billion, including a $1.4 billion fine from the Public Service Commission for shoddy construction, mismanagemen,t and hundreds of millions of dollars in decommissioning cost,s and costs to move the radioactive material to Pennsylvania, and created LIPA which would purchase LILCO’s assets and debt. A 3% surcharge was to be added to customer bills and used to pay off the debt, at which point it would be feasible to re-privatize. Although the surcharge was authorized for 30 years, the planned retirement of the debt was in 2013. Which might explain why the current Governor Cuomo thinks 2013 is a good year to talk about privatizing LIPA?

LIPA was able to issue tax-free bonds to finance this debt, which would be ruinous to finance at commercial lending rates. Many of those bonds are not “callable” which means you cannot pay them off at will, but must continue to make periodic payments until the bonds expire. Bloomberg News has estimated that it would require additional debt, just shy of an additional $1 billion, to establish a sinking fund to make those payments if the Authority is abolished. I question whether they can do that without additional legislation because some of these bonds are dedicated funding source bonds which means you cannot just substitute another source for repayment just because you feel like it.

So, let’s relieve this conversation of any notion that investor owned utilities are somehow inherently better managed than publicly run utilities.

During the early period of the bailout, LILCO continued to own and operate most of the generation, transmission and distribution system as well as a natural gas distribution system. It took almost ten years to negotiate a complete the sale of most of the LILCO assets. Its natural gas system was sold to Brooklyn Union Gas which later became Keyspan. Some of the power generators were sold to private investor owned companies and are in private hands to this day. While this was going one, most of the rank and file and middle to upper management people from LILCO stayed in place and ran the electric distributions system the same as always. LIPA had no need to get involved with the day to day running of the power system and was primarily a funding organ with its ability to access funding at less than ½ the commercial rate. The same people, who already knew how to run and maintain the system, reported to work to the same places and went home their own Long Island houses. Since they were customer as well as suppliers, they had self interest in making sure the power stayed on.

I’m not saying they did a perfect job, Hurricane Gloria caused an outage that took 2 weeks to fully restore, but their interests were aligned with those of their family, friends and neighbors. By 1998, Keyspan had hired the LILCO workforce and entered into two primary agreements with LIPA : 1)The Power Supply Agreement whereby Keyspan agreed to keep various generators not owned by LIPA open and available to supply power if needed so that LIPA could meet mandated peak demand generation capacity levels, and 2) the Management Services Agreement under which Keyspan would manage the former LILCO employees for LIPA. LIPA was still primarily a conduit for bond financing. In my humble opinion the Power Supple Agreement is seriously biased in favor of the private investors who own the power plants. LIPA pays for power on a cost plus basis AND pays the property taxes and other costs of keeping these plants open. There seems to be virtually no downside risk to the “entrepreneurs” to justify the generosity of the contract terms.

In 2007 Keyspan merged with a British company, National Grid. Suddenly, the decisions about day-to-day management were being made by suits in London who would not be inconvenienced in the least by a blackout on the other side of the Atlantic. I’m not calling our English brethren out, it’s simply that the natural alignment of interest that occurs when the seller is also the consumer, was now lost. I first found out about the merger when I noticed that the tree trimming methods had changed. I used to be the Capital Construction Counsel at NYC Parks & Recreation and you pick up knowledge about things like proper tree trimming methods. When I noticed the change, I asked the pruning company I used for my own yard and they said that the new method would increase productivity in the short run, but cause new growth to come back in a way that would be even more detrimental to the overhead wires. I asked around a bit and found out about the merger, and that the new overlords were looking to have the company hit certain metrics.

The contract between LIPA and National Grid did allow LIPA to monitor National Grids work and do contract compliance, but LIPA had not developed any real capacity in this area and National Grid proceeded to run roughshod over LIPA. When Andy Cuomo refers to National Grid being in violation of their contract, as he has on several occasions, he’s not kidding.

In the next installment, I’ll take you through the reasons LIPA lacks certain management capacities and what it has done in the past to mitigate those deficiencies and why it is counterproductive and premature to talk about privatizing LIPA right now.
In the meantime, you might want to listen to a conversation I had on WOR radio the other day with John Gambling about the LIPA issue.

References available on request.

Congress Vacations While Sandy Victims Freeze

People in New York and New Jersey are huddled in the cold and dark and apparently the US Congress cannot manage to vote for Superstorm Sandy relief before they go on their vacations.

Nothing I am about to say should in anyway suggest that I take what happened in New Orleans less seriously, but there is one major difference between the (unacceptably) slow-moving reconstruction aid in Louisiana vs. the Northeast in autumn and winter: the weather.

Today in New Orleans, it’s mid 50’s sweater weather. Nobody’s going to freeze to death in home that are still without power. In the NYC metro area, it’s 24 derees at the hour I am writing this. People can die from exposure in that kind of cold.

John Boehner is so captive to the like of Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan that he is refusing to allow the Sandy aid vote to come to the floor. Even GOP lawmakers from the Northeast are taken aback by this willingness to let fellow Americans freeze to death for the sake of politics. The New York Post quoted Rep. Michael Grimm protesting House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to not allow the vote for Sandy relief:

For the first time, I’m not proud of the decision my team has made. I’m going to be respectful and ask that the speaker reconsider his decision. It’s not about politics, it’s about human lives and human dignity and I pray that he understands that.

We just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and Executive Order that had no precedent. The most recent President Bush started two wars and spent gazillions of dollars on them without getting prior Congressional approval.

If Congress REFUSES TO DO THEIR JOB AND EVEN VOTE ON TIME CRITICAL LEGISLATION, then the President has ample reason to step in with emergency Executive Orders giving the Sandy relief in a timely fashion. Congress has forced this on him by their own inaction. Further, he can force them to stay in session until they do their jobs and vote on a Sandy package.

Congress Vacations While Sandy Victims Freeze

People in New York and New Jersey are huddled in the cold and dark and apparently the US Congress cannot manage to vote for Superstorm Sandy relief before they go on their vacations.

Nothing I am about to say should in anyway suggest that I take what happened in New Orleans less seriously, but there is one major difference between the (unacceptably) slow-moving reconstruction aid in Louisiana vs. the Northeast in autumn and winter:  the weather.

Today in New Orleans, it’s mid 50’s sweater weather.  Nobody’s going to freeze to death there in homes that are without power. In the NYC metro area, it’s 24 derees at the hour I am writing this. People can die from exposure in that kind of cold.

John Boehner is so captive to the likes of Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan that he is refusing to allow the Sandy aid vote to come to the floor. Even GOP lawmakers from the Northeast are taken aback by this willingness to let fellow Americans freeze to death for the sake of politics. The New York Post quoted Rep. Michael Grimm protesting House Speaker John Boehner’s decision not to allow the vote for Sandy relief:

For the first time, I’m not proud of the decision my team has made. I’m going to be respectful and ask that the speaker reconsider his decision. It’s not about politics, it’s about human lives and human dignity and I pray that he understands that.

We just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, an Executive Order that had no precedent. The most recent President Bush started two wars and spent gazillions of dollars on them without getting prior Congressional approval.

If Congress REFUSES TO DO THEIR JOB AND EVEN VOTE ON TIME CRITICAL LEGISLATION, then the President has ample reason to step in with emergency Executive Orders giving Sandy relief in a timely fashion. Congress has forced this on him by their own inaction. Further, he can force them to stay in session until they do their jobs and vote on a Sandy package.

How dare they vacation while their fellow Americans are freezing.

Because of redistricting, today is the last day that Pete King is my Congressman. It is also the first day that I am proud to have him speak for me.  This is what he had to say on FOX:

No one even told us, the Speaker walked off the floor, told an aide to the Majority Leader that the Congress was finished. There were no votes and they come back and told us. Listen, I’m not taking this as personal offense. I’m talking about the thousands of people in my district, hundreds of thousands of people throughout the New York-New Jersey area. Within 10 days after Katrina, $60 billion was appropriated. Nine weeks after Sandy, not one penny has been appropriated. And let me just make this one point. These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they’re out raising millions of dollars. They’re in New York all the time filling pockets with money from New Yorkers. I’m saying anyone from New York and New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their mind. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans, it was an absolute disgrace.

Why does the Republican party have this bias against New York, this bias against New Jersey, this bias against the Northeast. They wonder why they’re becoming minority party. Why the they will be a party in permanent minority. What they did last night was so immoral, so disgraceful, so irresponsible. They’re supposed to be the party of family values. And you have families that are starving, families that are suffering, families that are spread all over living in substandard housing.

This was a disgrace. They are inexcusable.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but — what Pete said!

Charles Durning – Regular New Yorker

Charles Durning

When I was a young lawyer working in Manhattan, I religiously went to see Shakespeare in the Park and would organize these big group picnics with friends with good Italian cold cuts and semolina bread and chocolate covered strawberries and different wines for each course.

So, one night, three or four of us are watching Tracy Ullman and Morgan Freeman in Taming of the Shrew (set in the Old West, no less) and during intermission we pull out dessert from the baskets and tote bags. We had fresh strawberries, homemade May Wine, champagne and meringue cookies. Charles Durning and a younger man –who from their conversation appeared to be in show business as well– were sitting behind us and had been making very intelligent analysis of the play. So, we turned around and offered them wine and dessert. We wound up having the best convo all through intermission and then they hung around after the play ended and we stayed in our seats and finished all the food and wine.

Just as security was trying to throw us out, Morgan Freeman came out to say hello to Durning, so we got to stay, and then all the rest of the cast trickled out. By that point we were all pretty crocked and Durning tried to pass us off as his nieces.

Really nice, down to earth, fun guy, and a really great night.

I always think of that evening whenever his name is mentioned.