August, 2016

Will I have to hold my nose when I cast my ballot?

I don’t know how many national elections you’ve experienced, but for me these happenings date back to Franklin D. Roosevelt. While I was only a child, I learned quickly that my parents, who survived the Great Depression, had a true passion for their president and voted as if it were a religious requirement.

I vividly recall the church bells ringing on an April afternoon in 1945 when the world learned that President Roosevelt had died at his retreat in Warm Springs, Ga. While I was not yet a student of politics, I came to understand how the right person at the right time commanded the loyalty of millions for all the right reasons.

Subsequent elections exposed voters to a variety of personalities, most of whom evoked some type of loyalty or devotion. Harry Truman was a simple Midwesterner who had the courage to order the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and thus end the war with Japan. While he wasn’t very charismatic, the voters recognized leadership and elected him. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, a much-decorated warrior, appeared on the world stage at a time when the country wanted to be kept safe, and he had many devotees.

John F. Kennedy, young and charismatic, was embraced by young and old who believed that he would take America to a higher level. Richard Nixon may have won a few elections, but he didn’t stir the type of loyalty that his predecessors did. He was for some the only game in town.

Ronald Reagan came along at just the right time. America was disillusioned with President Carter and immersed in the Iran hostage crises. Reagan gave the country a feeling that we could truly be great again.

No one fainted with excitement when the two Bush presidents were elected, as they fit the role, but didn’t leave voters screaming for them to become emperors. Bill Clinton was another story. Despite all his weaknesses and scandals, he spoke to something in voters’ hearts, and people truly believed that he felt their pain.

The election of Barack Obama stood out because it was historic, and voters were attracted to the promise of a different type of presidency. Whether his tenure will be considered a success is up to the historians, who will make their pronouncement 10 or more years from now.

When I think about the 2016 election, I wonder whether I should take a shower before I vote or immediately after I leave the voting booth.

Never in my lifetime, or those of many who came before, have we experienced such an ugly and sick election cycle. Never before have American voters been asked to pick the lesser of two evils to be our commander in chief. The candidacy of Donald J. Trump is a warning for now and forever to avoid embracing TV or movie stars or sports icons. They may be slick and smooth in the media, but that isn’t the test of worldwide leadership.

When Trump announced his candidacy, a lot of us from both sides of the aisle thought it was just another commercial for the Trump brand. We started out thinking it was a joke, but it has escalated to an American tragedy. Is this country ready for an uninformed huckster who has insulted the vast majority of Americans and has cast a dark cloud over the most respected country in the world?

Are the majority of voters ready to make an empty suit the leader of the free world? I know that there’s a big swath of voters who are ready to do just that — some because they like Trump for all the wrong reasons, and others who want to kiss up to him for their own personal gain. Trump is incapable of making America great again, but is proving beyond any doubt that he is capable of making America hate again.

I wonder what the Trump kids, an accomplished group, are really thinking? If he were my father, I would be hiding in a closet at Trump Tower, totally embarrassed by his daily rants and his dark views. The last time a candidate with emotional issues was nominated for high office was when the Democrats picked Tom Eagleton to be their vice presidential nominee in 1972. He had the courage to bow out. You can look it up.



Tap Into the Public’s Unhappiness for the Election Victory

Tap Into the Public’s Unhappiness for the Election Victory

I have always been a big fan of Vice President Joe Biden. He comes from a humble background and truly has his finger on the pulse of the country. Biden, in a recent interview, spoke about the public’s deep unhappiness with our elected officials and what was wrong with our political system. “The public just doesn’t relate to their government, because government doesn’t make them feel that it understands their needs and their pain,” he said.

That is the real challenge for. Bill Clinton has always been one of my heroes and I truly believed him when he said he “felt your pain.” Coming from a dysfunctional family, with an abusive father who had a serious alcohol problem, he spoke to the hearts and minds of many Americans.

When you think about the past four or five presidential elections, it is clear that many of the losing candidates were totally incapable of connecting with the voters. Something was missing and the majority of the electorate figured out who best represented their views. Senator Bob Dole was a career politician with a good record on the issues, but he didn’t spark any enthusiasm.

Senator John McCain was a war hero, despite what Donald Trump says, but somehow he didn’t stir mass loyalty. Poor Mitt Romney got quoted complaining about the “47 percent who rely on the government to take care of them.” Obviously, Romney failed to get those voters on his side and it cost him the election. President Barack Obama, as a candidate, hit a special chord with the voters and he won two terms in the White House.

So the real test for Clinton and Trump is which one can best tap into the public’s unhappiness and translate it into an election victory. Trump was able to win the Republican Party primary with his over-the-top rhetoric and his promises to make the country “great again.” Bernie Sanders won a massive number of supporters just by promising things that they wanted to hear, even if they were politically impossible to solve.

But now we are in an election campaign and the rules are different. Building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico will not create new businesses and more jobs. Beating up on immigrants will only carry you so far. The voters expect a lot more. This is the opening for Clinton to fill. She is smart on issues and talks about them. She is far more capable than Trump to sit in the White House.

In order to win this election she will have to convince the voters that she understands their grievances and “feels their pain.” Trump is incapable of arousing anything more than hate. So November presents her with the opportunity to win the election on the merits.



Keep on Powering Nuke Plants

New York’s energy policy has reached a critical crossroads. Without action by the Public Service Commission, several large nuclear plants are all but certain to close for economic reasons.

This will dramatically increase the state’s carbon emissions. It will be a blow to the state’s economy, including putting thousands out of work. And, it will drive electricity prices higher, especially upstate.

By adopting a carefully formulated and well-studied Clean Energy Standard, the PSC avoids these perils. The CES puts the state on a clear path to meeting Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent and having 50 percent of all power come from renewable sources by 2030.

Importantly, the CES includes a zero emissions credit provision, which takes into account the value of — that is, it monetizes — the emission-free power from nuclear plants. This is similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative launched by Gov.George Pataki, which places a tangible value on carbon emissions, providing a market incentive to reduce carbon emissions. Plants have to apply for, and demonstrate, financial need to participate in the zero emissions credit program.

New Yorkers have already spent billions in taxes and subsidies for renewable energy projects, yet wind, solar and other renewables (excluding long-established hydro plants) account for less than 6 percent of the state’s electricity portfolio today.

By contrast, New York’s six nuclear facilities prevent 26 million metric tons of carbon emissions from entering our air annually. They produce 32 percent of the state’s total electricity and nearly 60 percent of its clean energy.

Nuclear plants account for billions in annual economic benefits for New York and make a substantial contribution to clean air and fighting climate change. With many strongly opposing new pipelines and the construction of any new fossil fuel plants, it will be very challenging for New York to have the electric power it needs in the years ahead.

As nuclear plants operate consistently, they are the backbone of our present system and the bridge through which the state can keep emissions low and build more renewables. The ZEC is a sensible investment in New York power generation and economic security.

A study by the Brattle Group documented that New York’s nuclear plants generate 18,000 state jobs, while the facilities pay $113 million annually in state and local taxes to support schools, first responders and community services.

New Yorkers have benefited for five decades from the energy, economic and environmental contributions of nuclear plants. We will need them as the bridge to a renewable future. The PSC should listen to the millions of voices in such diverse groups as the New York state AFL-CIO, Environmental Progress, the Business Council of New York state and the communities that have nuclear plants on the verge of closure, all of whom support the goals of the CES.

The PSC should adopt the Clean Energy Standard as soon as possible.



New York’s Fiscal Mess

New York’s Fiscal Mess

If the Great Recession of 2008 has taught us anything, it is that, if you do not have the money – “Don’t buy it!”

Our nation fell into tumult, because people over extended themselves with a little help from an unscrupulous financial system that actually bet against the very loans they were issuing.   One would have thought our political leaders had learned a valuable lesson, given we are still paying for those mistakes.

Unfortunately, they did not.

According to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli who runs the New York State Comptroller’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System, which assesses the financial strength of local governments, at least 26 localities currently have a fiscal stress designation of “Significant” the highest possible rating.  Of those, at least two are large Long Island municipalities and one is the state’s Capitol (e.g., Nassau County, City of Glen Cove and Albany).  This does not include the Town of Oyster Bay, a large Long Island township whose credit rating was recently downgraded to junk status by the rating agency Standard and Poor’s.

Another issue that ran in parallel to the 2008 financial crisis was the continued strains put on local governments.  As tens of millions of people across the country lost their jobs, they fell behind on their mortgages, household bills and taxes.   The loss of steady tax revenue hobbled many municipalities.  While special pet projects can be cut or scaled down, several of the more significant costs were unavoidable.  This includes paying down debt from bonding and covering the pension costs of municipal retirees, which are protected under most state constitutions.

So, with ever decreasing revenues and mounting debts, what is a municipality to do?  Get more credit to pay the bills, of course.  In short, in order cover their obligations many municipalities have come up with “creative” short-term solutions that in effect turn into long-term problems.  For example, a municipality falls short of covering their employee pension contributions, so they bond out the difference for millions of dollars and only pay the interest on that loan with the promise to begin paying the principle at some point in the future.  This is the equivalent of a household opening up a credit card to pay down the old one while only paying the interest on the new card.

This issue is not exclusive to one political party.  It is a systemic problem rooted in years of fiscal mismanagement and guided by short-term political agendas to the determent of the taxpayers.

Across the U.S., there are many communities struggling to stay solvent and some, like Detroit, fall under the weight of their own incompetence.  Detroit’s elected officials, many falling prey to political corruption, did so at the expense of their schools and public infrastructure. While New York has a procedure in place that allows the state legislature to create a state financial monitor for a municipality in crisis, similar to what we see under the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, it only goes so far.

While New York’s financial control board law can be tailored to address the financial issues of a specific municipality, it will require more teeth to handle the administrative component.  Under Michigan’s emergency manger law, enacted in Detroit, the state will grant that manager, under their supervision, with full administrative and financial decision-making authority to navigate that municipality toward a recovery.   There are certainly critics of this path, especially since it temporarily takes away administrative powers from the local elected officials. (Yes, those same people who got you into this mess in the first place.)

Municipal restructuring is an issue that certainly both presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should be discussing. 

The state must take a hard look at Michigan and other states to identify policies that not only oversee the financial management of a struggling community in a time of emergency, but ones that help chart a new course for the future.

Given the major problems that currently face several New York municipalities, the state legislature has a golden opportunity to change the current way of doing business.  The best approach will be to bring in professionals, free of political influence, to institute positive long-term structural changes to those institutions.

After all, if it’s broke, it should be fixed.



To Cool or Not to Cool, That’s a Question

It’s finally summer. The two most basic things that we enjoy having are sunshine during the day and air-conditioning around the clock.

The weather is beyond our control.  

However, when it comes to air-conditioning it is a privilege that we have and very often abuse. 

In addition, if some people have their say, we may not have much electricity in the future to keep things cool.

Utility companies urge us to cut down on our use of air conditioning, but most people don’t pay attention. Many energy users will keep the air on when they leave their home, just to make sure that they will return to a cool bedroom or living room. 

To keep the air flowing we need electric power and it has to come from somewhere.

Right now, we rely on either natural gas or nuclear power to generate the energy to heat and cool our homes. 

There is no immediate substitute for these plants.  Many of those plants are aging quickly and will have to be shut down. 

So what happens then?

Environmental groups tell us that we need more solar and wind power and that those two sources will meet our energy needs. 

However, if you follow the news on Long island, there isn’t much hope for either type of power. 

About 10 years ago the Long Island Power Authority proposed that windmills be built out in the Atlantic Ocean not far from Jones Beach. That announcement was greeted with enormous protests.

I still remember attending two hearings on the South Shore attended by almost 1,000 people. 

They complained that the windmills would kill birds and harm the fish. I learned for the first time that there was something called “visual pollution.” 

The locals didn’t want windmills because somehow they would make the ocean view ugly. Even though many of the island’s most prestigious environmental groups supported the plan, it was eventually shelved.

Last year two private companies announced that they wanted to install solar panels on large stretches of vacant land in rural Suffolk County. 

Their proposals were met with all types of opposition. Some neighbors complained that the solar panels would be unsightly. 

Others argued that they would harm property values.

This past week National Grid, as part of its carbon free program, proposed that solar panels be installed around the site that once had the Shoreham nuclear power plant. 

Since the Shoreham plant was closed down in 1989 and the plant dismantled, nothing has happened with that site. Among the victims of the plant closure was the local school district and the town, both of whom relied heavily on the tax revenues. 

Literally, within minutes, neighbors started complaining that the solar installation would result in trees being cut down and a variety of other empty claims. 

According to National Grid, the solar farm would provide clean power for 13,000 homes and generate 72 mgw of electricity. 

I am all in favor of saving trees, but we have to get our future power from somewhere. Many of the existing power facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties were built before 1980 and there is a need for future power sources. 

The only major solar facility on Long Island is at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. It is a model for the nation and is a source of badly needed energy as a backup for that great scientific organization. 

Attempts to build another power plant at the site of the Caithness plant in Islandia have been rebuffed, even though the existing facility has been praised for its clean air qualities. 

Whether our residents like it or not, the island needs new and cleaner sources of energy. 

We love our air conditioning and use it freely. 

But if the naysayers keep up their drumbeat of opposition, it might be wise to start buying fans like they use in those hot places that don’t have air conditioning.