11.18.2011 – Conspiracy Roundup: Goodbye Monkey Crotch. Hello Censorship (for TruTV.com Conspiratorium)

Conspiracy Roundup: Goodbye Monkey Crotch, Hello Censorship

Benjamin J Spencer
By Benjamin J Spencer
November 18, 2011 2:56PM
Gobi desert
Could the Congress-proposed Stop Internet Piracy Act result in censorship of the World Wide Web? Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL,  and eBay seem to think so.

What are the gigantic, mysterious patterned structures spotted by Google Maps satellites in China’s Gobi desert? Messages to alien visitors? Target practice for missiles? Or simply an innocent tool to calibrate China’s spy satellites?

If upstate New Yorkers didn’t have enough reasons to distrust hydro-fracking, here’s another one: it’s suspected to have caused hundreds of small earthquakes in the Midwest.

Well, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to follow Pakistan’s lead and ban “monkey crotch” on the internet and in text messages. No good can come from that phrase.

Why have the Feds suddenly become reluctant to continue declassifying decades-old spy satellite imagery? (And did anyone even know we have something called a “National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency”?)

And  Russia’s military chief warned that NATO expansion to its former satellite republics could provoke nuclear wars.

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05.29.2011 – Martha Stewart Posts (Tasteful) ‘For Sale’ Sign – Week On the Web – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Martha Stewart posts (tasteful) ‘For sale’ sign

Media and home decor franchise explores options, while Albany decides on a property tax limit and hedge funder David Einhorn invests in the Mets.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 29, 2011 5:59 a.m

Bloomberg News

Even DIY craft maven Martha Stewart knows when she needs help. On Wednesday, her limping Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced that it had hired Blackstone Advisory Partners to evaluate its options, including a possible sale of the company.

The news sent MSLO shares soaring nearly 30%—to all of $5 each. The value of Ms. Stewart’s famed franchise, nearly $2 billion back in early 2005, was a mere $250 million after the day’s trading.

It’s been a hard few years for the media and home decor franchise. Magazine ad dollars dried up; a merchandising deal with Kmart wasn’t renewed. In January, NBC dropped Ms. Stewart’s morning television show and its related spinoffs, relegating them to Hallmark Channel oblivion. The company’s CEO position has been vacant since 2008; Lisa Gersh, a founder of Oxygen Media, is slated to assume the post June 6.

The company’s announcement came just as 69-year-old Ms. Stewart, who has had the job title of chief editorial officer the past few years, is set to rejoin its board of directors, ending a five-year banishment due to her 2004 federal conviction for obstruction of justice.

TAX-SQUEEZED SUBURBANITES, REJOICE: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state leaders agreed to impose a 2% limit on annual property tax increases statewide. The guv says property taxes soared 5.5% per year between 1999 and 2009, and the new cap aims to combat economic decline. Still, the state teachers union said limiting tax increases would devastate low-income schools outside of New York City. Legislators seem set to vote on the cap next month. …

HEDGE FUNDER DAVID EINHORN BET $200 MILLION ON THE METS, buying a minority stake in the financially strapped team. Whether that’s enough to buy a championship, or even downplay owner Fred Wilpon’s recent tongue-lashing, remains to be seen. …

THE HUFFINGTON POST IS NOT OFF THE HOOK, YET. A federal judge declined to throw out a lawsuit claiming the media company’s founders, Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, stole the idea for the online news site from a duo of Democratic political consultants—a charge AOL Huffington Post Media Group said is “pure fantasy.” …

THE FEDS ARRESTED GERARD DENAULT, the lead manager on the controversial CityTime project, and charged him with receiving $5.6 million in kickbacks from a technology subcontractor. Mr. Denault, who oversaw the rollout of the computerized timekeeping system for more than 100,000 municipal workers, could not be reached for comment. His employer, Virginia-based SAIC, has not been charged with wrongdoing. …

TWO MASSIVE, LONG-VACANT BROOKLYN PROPERTIES WERE FINALLY CLEARED for redevelopment. A judge rejected a community group’s lawsuit and green-lighted a $2 billion redo for the former Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg. The city is now free to rezone the 11-acre site for a mixed-use residential project. And in Sunset Park, a 1.1 million-acre warehouse shut since 2000 gets its own shot at redemption: The city’s Economic Development Corp. tapped Salmar Properties to redevelop the charmingly named Federal Building #2 for light industrial use.

04.12.2011 – NY, NY: It’s a Government Town – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

NY, NY: It’s a government town

Bronx is up, Battery’s down, public jobs all over the ground: The six largest employers in NYC are government entities, not private enterprises, according to Crain’s ranking of top employers.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
April 12, 2011 1:50 p.m.

Albany and Washington, D.C., are known as government towns. Maybe New York City should be, too: The six largest employers here are government entities, according to Crain’s latest ranking of the city’s top employers.

The Crain’s list shows that New York City’s top employer is the city itself, with 152,836 full-time employees in 2010, not including the Department of Education, which is second on the list, with 121,255 employees last year.

Ranking third, with 66,240 employees, is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, even though it shrunk its New York area workforce by 5% last year, more than any government employer in the city.

Rounding out the Top 6 here are the U.S. government (with 52,800 federal workers in the city), the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. (36,964 employees at such public institutions as Bellevue and King’s County hospitals) and the state of New York (with 26,500 workers in the five boroughs).

The government employers on the Crain’s list of the city’s 40 largest employers together represented 426,408 full-time or full-time equivalent positions—or half of all the local employees counted on the entire list.

In addition, several of the rest of the Top 40 employers are heavily dependent on government funding, including the City University of New York and large private hospitals that survive on Medicaid and Medicare payments.

New York City’s reliance on government work adds an intriguing local economic layer to some of the political debates over public-sector spending in Washington and Albany these past few years.

The recently passed state budget, for instance, calls for $450 million in state workforce cost reductions for the fiscal year that began April 1. If the costs cuts can’t be negotiated with public worker unions, then the state might have to lay off as many as 9,800 employees over the next 12 months.

“We could be seeing the loss of thousands of middle-income jobs in New York City,” said James Parrott, chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think tank based in New York.

Cutbacks in public sector jobs could “act as a brake on recovery,” Mr. Parrott warned, adding that “the reduction in state government contracts for social services, senior services and child welfare that go to non-profit organizations are [also] likely to mean job cutbacks in the private sector as well.”

E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, downplays such dire talk. The new state budget introduced “not so much cuts as non-growth,” he said, noting that the city’s 100,000-plus job losses during the Great Recession makes 9,800 potential state layoffs a “rounding error.”

“This won’t affect the city at all,” Mr. McMahon said. “The [government] layoffs in the city have to do mostly with people retiring or accepting early retirement.”

The Crain’s survey of top employers found that each of the six public-sector employers reported declines in full-time staff over the last year, from a 2.6% drop in city government ranks to the 5% hit at the MTA.

Public employees weren’t the only ones to feel the economy’s sting, of course. Insurer American International Group Inc., media giant Time Warner and phone and cable company Verizon Communications all posted double-digit job losses last year, even as the local economy began recovering from the impact of the global financial crisis.

And some employers even grew their New York City workforces in 2010.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. eclipsed Citigroup Inc. last year to become the Big Apple’s largest private-sector employer. J.P. Morgan reported a 13% increase in employees in the five boroughs, to 24,927 at the end of 2010 from 22,066 at the end of 2009. Meantime, Citigroup held steady with a slight 0.2% rise, to 24,442 last year from 24,393 in 2009.

Other big gainers last year include media company Bloomberg LP, where local jobs grew by 8.6%, and private hospitals North Shore-LIJ Health System (up 7.4%) and NYU-Langone Medical Center (6.3%).

01.30.2011 – The Week on the Web: Jan. 24-30 – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

The Week on the Web: Jan. 24-30

Retailers expect super sales

By Benjamin J. Spencer
January 30, 2011 5:59 a.m.

Newscom

The sought-after jerseys won’t be Jets green, but Super Bowl-related retail spending this year is expected to top $10.1 billion—a 13% increase over 2010’s take, according to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.

Football fans, possibly piqued by a showdown between perennial powerhouses the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, are expected to shell out big-time this year for team apparel, food and beverages, and electronics, with an average tab of $59.33, according to the association. For instance, at least 4.5 million people, or about 4.5% of the game’s estimated audience, are expected to buy new televisions for the event; that’s up from 3.6 million last year, when the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts.

Even without a New York team hitting the field, local electronics retailers are gearing up for a run on flat-screens. Best Buy, with seven city locations, hopes the TV sales will help it regain ground after a lackluster holiday season, and Manhattan’s own J&R is slashing prices on some giant sets by as much as $600 leading up to Super Bowl Sunday.

NASSAU COUNTY LOST ITS INDEPENDENCE when the state’s Nassau Interim Finance Authority took over the county’s finances, after reports of flawed bookkeeping and flat revenues led to a dismal Moody’s credit rating. The takeover halts the county’s short-term borrowing for operating expenses and could result in wage freezes for county staffers. New York state bailed Nassau out once before, in 2000, to the tune of $100 million.

… THE PACKED SIDEWALKS OF SOHO should get a little cleaner now that the City Planning Commission has approved the creation of a SoHo Business Improvement District. The green light came amid objections by some residents and the local community board. The proposed BID will add to the 63 other business improvement districts currently spread over the five boroughs. Some residents had argued that a SoHo BID was unnecessary, since SoHo already draws lots of tourists. The BID still needs City Council and mayoral approval.

… J.C. PENNEY’S BIGGEST SHAREHOLDER JOINED ITS BOARD OF DIRECTORS on the same day that the retail chain announced plans to close 25 stores. William Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management, who bought up a 16.5% share in the retailer last October, has a reputation for buying into and then shaking up companies he thinks are undervalued. Vornado Realty Trust’s Steven Roth, whose company owns 9.9% of the retailer’s stock, was also named to the board.

… THE NONPROFIT CENTER FOR JEWISH HISTORY PAID OFF ITS LONG-STANDING DEBT after an 18-month capital campaign flushed out some generous donors, including the Fairholme Foundation, which gave $6.8 million. Another 19 donors helped erase the $30 million debt incurred since moving to its West 16th Street location.

… ADVERTISERS CONTINUED TO SHED SKINS, MTV’s new teen drama that has drawn criticism for its frank depiction of sex and drug use among the underage crowd. Subway shops and Schick razors withdrew their advertising, following the flight path of Taco Bell, L’Oréal and Foot Locker.

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2011 print issue of Crain’s New York Business.