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An Election Season We Can All Be Ashamed Of

An Election Season We Can All Be Ashamed Of

We can be thankful that the 2016 election nightmare is officially over. There are almost no happy observations we can make, but I’m compelled to talk about the bad, which has outweighed the good. The best thing that happened during the entire election cycle was the Cubs-Indians World Series. At least we had a few moments of relaxation thanks to the battle of two underdogs.

I’m not sure which disappointment to list first, but let’s start with the influence of big money. The race between Todd Kaminsky and Chris McGrath for a State Senate seat in the 9th District is reported to have cost $7 million. If that’s true, and I believe it is, it’s not only obscene, but outrageous. The fate of every Long Island Senate seat is a big deal, because they affect control of the Senate. But $7 million?

When you look around the country and hear how much money was spent on House and Senate races, you’ll find that, collectively, they cost over $1 billion. Add to that the battle for the White House, which easily cost over $1 billion by itself. The good news is that as far as New York state is concerned, we generally know where all the money came from. When it comes to national races, however, we had no idea where the big bucks came from, and that’s the scandal.

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations are considered people, and they can give — and give freely. The Citizens United case opened the door to uncontrolled spending in federal races, and the targets are now both Republicans and Democrats. Republican candidates were happy (for a short time) that all that mystery money would pour into their campaigns. Lately, quite a few Republicans I know are complaining about the amount of money their Democratic rivals are spending, so the through-the-roof spending is finally bashing both parties.

My second great disappointment in this election is what it did to personal relationships. Once upon a time you could have an intelligent conversation about your favorite candidates, no matter their party, but not this year. I have witnessed, with shock, dozens of verbal battles between husbands and wives, fathers and children and total strangers on the street. It’s fine to clash over which candidate is best qualified, but calling people crooks, perverts and other obscenities is way over the line of protected free speech.

The tone of this year’s battle has been disgraceful. It started during the Republican primary debates, when Donald Trump had a name for all of his opponents, from “Little Marco” Rubio to “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz to “Low Energy” Jeb Bush, all of which were uncalled for. I can’t imagine what happened during the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates, but I don’t think Abe Lincoln called for his opponent to be locked up. What’s worse is that we encourage our students to pay attention to the election, and they see things like a grown man mimicking a disabled person and talking about attacking women.

As the father of four daughters, I very much resented Trump’s verbal assaults on women based on their body types, looks and real or imagined stamina. What’s terribly sad is that elections don’t automatically stop people from doing obnoxious things. Women have a hard enough time competing with men; they didn’t need Trump to raise the glass ceiling even higher. Hillary Clinton may have called Trump supporters “deplorables,” but at least she apologized. Trump doesn’t apologize for anything.

My last and greatest disappointment is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As far back as I can remember, it was the gold standard for law enforcement. I can still envision Elliot Ness locking up the bad guys and putting the FBI on the map. In recent years, the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency have been feuding instead of cooperating on the challenging issues of the day. The recent conduct of the FBI raises the issue of whether it’s an investigative agency or a political club.

Let’s all hope that the next national election will be conducted at a higher level. Unfortunately, the next 12 months promise to be more of the same ugly stuff.



Looking Ahead To More Gridlock

Looking Ahead To More Gridlock

It’s time for us to breathe a collective sigh of relief as the 2016 presidential election cycle ends. Any national election that strains friendships and puts us all on information overload is not a great experience for the country and the world around us. There is no doubt that the final results will not placate a large number of people whose needs have to be addressed. The question is, who is going to take on the challenges that we face?

For the past eight years, the United States Congress has been in a state of political paralysis. Many of its leaders spent their every waking hour trying to undermine President Obama and by all measures, they did a very good job. By and large, the two legislative bodies, our House and Senate, have spent most of their time doing nothing but arguing over power and process. I often wonder why these 535 members take the trouble of traveling to Washington, D.C. every week just to return empty handed.

Occasionally, we read the announcement that a federal grant has worked its way down for an important local project, but that doesn’t solve the problem of why aren’t big things getting done. Obamacare has been in existence for six years and all the House of Representatives has done is vote 62 times to repeal it. Repeal it and replace it with what? The rise in premiums has been the subject of a lot of talk, but how do we protect the 20 million people who now have health benefits and make the system work?

I am tired of seeing budget bills tied up and major programs being stalled because a handful of empty suit members want to show the people back at home that they are fighting for some narrow interest group. We all know that our highways, bridges and tunnels are in a state of major disrepair, but in the end, all that the Congress can accomplish is pass a bill that provides the same amount of money as in all previous years. It is hard to imagine that setting aside money to fight the Zika virus can be held up indefinitely because some narrow-minded members think the money will go to Planned Parenthood.

Looking back at the battle to provide medical care for the 9/11 first responders has to make the average voter nauseous. We know that the Southern legislators don’t like the people from up north, but 9/11 was an American tragedy and not some local incident. So the question going forward is will the United States government start working in behalf of its people or are we going to experience another two years of gridlock?

In the old days, we used to say that a national election helps settle a lot of issues. That won’t be the case this year, and if things continue along the same path, the real question is do we really need a Congress at all?



Picking Up the Pieces of the GOP

At one time or another you may have passed the scene of a car accident.

As you drive by you see possible victims, broken glass, skid marks, metal shards and other types of debris.

Once the police have left the scene it is up to the on-site workers to clean up the mess.

The whole occurrence reminds me of what the American political system will look like the day after this year’s election.

The major victim of this year’s ugly national contest will no doubt be the Republican Party.

After years of running candidates that almost all looked alike and sounded alike, the party this year was stuck with Donald J. Trump, who in no way fits the mold of the party of Lincoln.

Donald Trump should have never been the party’s candidate if the few remaining money people and so-called leaders, had been awake during the presidential primary process.

For a long time Donald Trump’s desire to grab the national spotlight was the worst kept secret in politics.

When Trump launched the “birther” movement attacking the right of President Obama to serve as president, he didn’t do it just to sell more condominiums.

Trump was carefully analyzing the mood of the public and testing which messages would resonate with the voters.

Once 16 candidates entered the race, all Trump had to do was make himself the voice of the dissenters and he did it artfully.

Come Election Day the Republican Party will be licking its wounds, but it can’t be healed when there are three separate paramedics giving different medical advice.

Can you imagine the Trump people, the right wing nut jobs and the mainstream Republicans, all getting together to smoke a peace pipe?

It just isn’t going to happen that soon, if at all.

How about some other election casualties?  Women!

For years the Republicans were home to a large number of conservative and moderate women, all of whom were true believers in their party.

The Trump campaign will have erased all of those gains and if anything, the Trump effect may linger for the next ten years.

Most of the candidates waiting in the wings for 2020 are people like Marco Rubio,Ted Cruz and Michael Pence, all of who are also a threat to thinking women.

Race relations? You can argue all you want as to whether they got better or worse under President Obama, but the Trump campaign has fired up a large group of racists who will not go silently away after the election is over.

The hidden groups of haters have found a voice through Trump and even if he disappears, they will have been emboldened.

Immigrants? Donald Trump decided early on to attack the immigrant population as it was a way to build up his base.

Even though a large majority of his own employees are immigrants or from immigrant families, these often voiceless people were an easy target.

Trump’s supporters have decided that their lifestyle has been destroyed by “those people” and people of immigrant descent will be targets for many years to come.

The Constitution?

This is a great country and there is abundant proof that the vast majority of Americans have benefitted from all the opportunities that were available to them.

Facing a possible wipeout at the polls, Trump continues to spread the myth that the election is “rigged.”

There is no doubt that in Putin’s Russia the election is rigged, but Trump does America a disservice with his continuous whining about the election process being tainted, unless, of course he wins.

The media? For over 18 months, media outlets of all political sides, treated Donald Trump like some kind of circus act who would never be able to win his party’s nomination.

It boosted their ratings. Once Trump was the party’s choice, the left and the right went into a state of shock.

The common Trump complaint now is that the media is stacked against him.

Just like they made him they decided to break him. It’s time for the national media to do some soul searching and read some history books about the 1930’s.

Like Colin Powell says, “once you break it you own it.”

There is a lot more damage on the political roadside but that is best saved for another day.

This year’s election is very much like those messy accidents on your way home.

There is a lot of broken glass, debris and the cleanup.

The real cleanup starts on Nov. 9.


A Positive Move for State Energy Policy

A Positive Move for State Energy Policy

The last time I looked at a map, New York State ran from Buffalo to Plattsburgh, downstate to the city and Long Island. Our state is made up of 62 counties and a more diverse population than any of the 50 states.

Somehow Steve Levy in his Oct. 4 column, “A tale of two Cuomos and two nuke bailouts,” seems to have lost those facts.

The time has long passed to rehash the Shoreham debacle and the way Gov. Mario Cuomo pushed to close the plant, including the resulting benefits to bondholders. It is fair to note that almost every member of the Assembly and Senate from Long Island voted for the bailout following the will of their constituents, knowing full well that there was no guarantee of state support.

To this day Long Island consumers and businesses are paying the price for what was no doubt a major mistake with a lot to blame on both sides.

The real question in Steve Levy’s mind seems to be why must downstate New Yorkers pay to “bailout” upstate nuclear plants whose jobs and power nearly exclusively benefit upstate?

There are several reasons. I am sure the people of Ithaca would have a strong case to make about why they should not help pay for new cars for the Long Island Rail Road or the New York City subway. Many other communities could also be howling mad about giving up precious upstate hydropower to help struggling businesses downstate.

Aside from the fact that we in New York have, since our creation, always provided benefits around the state, there are more practical reasons for asking ratepayers to very modestly support keeping upstate nuclear plants running. The assistance comes through a zero emissions credit which takes into account the societal benefits nuclear provides as it does not emit carbon or other toxic emissions.

The State of New York calculates these savings to be $1.4 billion in public health and other societal costs. The Public Service Commission also took a holistic look at the overall financial impact of the Clean Energy Standard, the program through which the assistance is provided. Because it keeps plants up and running, which account for 24,000 jobs and significant tax payments and other economic activity, the program will provide a net benefit of $4 billion to New York in its first two years. These benefits help people upstate and downstate.

In fact, the state’s energy czar, Richard Kauffman, has strongly refuted claims made by the New York Public Interest Group, which are similar to Levy’s, about the cost of the program.

In an Oct. 5 letter to NYPIRG, Kauffman says, “Your claim that the Clean Energy Standard will cost an estimated $8 billion is deeply flawed and predicated on the wrongheaded assumption that energy prices will stay the same as they are today (currently at historic lows) through 2030. This is highly unlikely, and refuted by forecasts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Public Service Commission.”

Gov. Cuomo has wisely proposed that New York reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2030 to show important leadership in addressing the severe threat of climate change. It is an accepted scientific fact that nuclear power is the cleanest form of energy on the market and its continued use will help New York meet these important goals.

Without the upstate nuclear plants, there would be an immediate spike in the use of fossil fuels and a spike in emissions. Wind and solar alone will not fill the resulting gap.

The road to a cleaner energy future is not easy or cost free. But an important part of the best way to get there, for all New Yorkers, is to keep upstate nuclear plants running.

Civic Engagement is the Only Cure for Political Corruption

Civic Engagement is the Only Cure for Political Corruption

As I look at the mess that has become New York politics, I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson. When asked by a local Philadelphian outside of the 1787 Constitutional Convention about what they created inside the secret conclave, Thomas Jefferson quipped, “a republic, if you can keep it.”

Over the past decade we have watched with great frequency as politician after politician has been convicted of a wide range of abuses of the public’s trust. These folks range from the most powerful in federal and state government to local power brokers looking to cash in on their political relationships. More than a dozen high ranking state and local officials have been caught in the cross hairs of federal and state authorities.

This week on Long Island, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano [the state’s largest county] and his wife along with Supervisor John Venditto, Town of Oyster Bay were arrested by federal agents on a 13 count indictment, which included a pay to play kickback scheme.

The aforementioned alleged crimes have become so normalized in our culture that the voters have become numb to the headlines. As a student of politics I wonder if this is the way it has always been or is it the technology that has shined a light on the misdeeds of those operating in the shadows.

Perhaps the English Christian historian and former Member of Parliament, Sir John Dalberg-Acton was correct when he famously stated that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Given the rate at which the federal government has been rounding up these pols, it is not a stretch to think more arrests are on the horizon. While the government is doing their part to go after those who make up the foundation of this culture of corruption – it is our job to find solutions.

There are many good-government groups who have pushed for ethics and campaign finance reform in New York; however their efforts have been thwarted by the culture of the status quo. Many reformers believe that seizing on a possible vote for a New York Constitutional Convention (e.g., vote slated for November 7, 2017) will force the state legislature’s hand to pass meaningful reforms. In theory it makes sense, but the one variable that will dilute this purist approach is politics. The same people who are impotent on the issue of reforms are the same people who will set the rules and ultimately run the convention. As the recently published “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism, a Dark History of Constitutional Conventions” details, you only have to look at the mess that was the 1967 convention to see the political boondoggle at work. The best approach is to engage the citizenry and get them mobilized to act (e.g., vote).

The people of New York State have amended their constitution over 200 times through a public referendum. It costs must less than the estimated price tag of $320 million for another convention. Legislation is only half the equation, the other half is to proactively change the way we campaign for public office. That will require citizen engagement.

The prosecutors in their statements after arresting a pol almost always includes a not so subtle hint that we must change the way our political system does business. The message is not only directed at our representatives, but to New Yorkers themselves. The common response of many people is, “politicians are all crooked and I have to focus on surviving and providing for my family – this mess doesn’t directly affect me.” Wrong.

When a pol takes a payoff from someone in return for an illegal government backed loan guarantee for their business and that person defaults – the taxpayers are responsible for that loan. The net result is taxes go up to pay the loan back and you have less money in your pocket.

The only way to truly reform the system is to take back our government and bring back the citizen legislator. This can be done through a number of reforms that includes:

  • extending a single term from two years to four years;
  • setting legislative term limits;
  • increasing legislator’s pay;
  • setting up a bi-partisan state ethics review board staffed by former judges;
  • allowing the State Comptroller to audit all government contracts; and
  • explore the possibility of publicly financed elections.

Keeping in mind that the judicial system is not immune to corruption, we must reform the way our judges are selected and eliminate the stronghold that political party bosses have on the system. This is not FanDuel or DraftKings, judges are not fantasy sports players who can be bought and traded by non-elected power brokers. This is a serious problem and the people must address it.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were not wrong when they famously stated “this is a rigged system.” It’s only rigged if we continue our apathy towards the political system. Regardless of where you stand on the ideological pendulum, we can all agree we live in the greatest country in the world and our vote is the most powerful tool we have to change the status quo.

The ball is in our court. November is the election and January starts the state’s legislative session, so don’t let this important opportunity to reform our way of life pass by forever.