Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Three Exciting Candidates

September 15, 2014

UnknownI first noticed Neel Kashkari in 2008 as a remarkably young Indian-American, standing beside the Treasury Secretary and being tasked with sorting out the floundering banking system. Having accomplished that, he’s now the Republican candidate for California governor.

Jerry Brown (first elected 40 years ago! – seems like yesterday) has actually been a great governor this time around, resurrecting the state with reforms that few once thought doable. But there’s more to be done, and Kashkari is the one who gets it. In a nation whose economy is hobbled by too much business regulation, California may be the most regulation-happy state of all, virtually building a moat to keep new businesses out, and a catapult to eject existing ones.* Unknown-2No surprise that its unemployment rate is among the nation’s highest.

Kashkari wants to fix this, and also another part of the problem, education, which in California is abysmal and strangled by bureaucracy, which Kashkari pledges to slash. He sensibly favors charter schools too (not that they’re necessarily better than public ones, but because both will likely be better if in competition with each other).

Kashkari also thinks Brown is nuts to budget a gazillion dollars on a high-speed rail boondoggle when California has much more pressing needs, like a water supply crisis.

But, unusual in today’s GOP, Kashkari combines all that economic good sense with classical liberal social views. He’s marched in a gay pride parade. He wants a more humane immigration policy. He wants others to be able to follow him in achieving the American dream.

This is my kind of Republican, embodying the reasons I became one myself, in the Pleistocene, when it was not a party with its head up its rear, but stood for values good for all Americans (and would-be Americans). This kind of Kashkari Republicanism might have a future. A Republicanism of grumpy old white men who don’t believe in evolution will prove themselves wrong by going extinct.

Unknown-1Speaking of grumpy old white men, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, 78, trying to fend off the Tea Party, turned himself into one of them stoopit Republicans. Kansas hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1932, and Roberts’s Democratic opponent has withdrawn, leaving him up against independent candidate Greg Orman, who’s getting much support from Republicans of the non-stoopit variety (yes, there are many of us, even in Kansas). Orman says he voted for Obama in ’08 and Romney in ’12, and, much like Kashkari, seems to make good choices in selecting from both the right and left sides of the policy menu.

Greg Orman,. cartooned in The Economist

Greg Orman, cartooned in The Economist

But Orman’s real attraction is his assertive critique of the partisan enmity that so afflicts today’s U.S. politics, with each side demonizing the other as not just wrong but evil. We need to can this, and boost up that “radical middle.”

Next, Brazil. The line goes, it’s the country of the future and always will be. What keeps Brazil from being an economic dynamo is big government. Yes, even worse than America’s; Brazil’s economy is so strangled with regulation and government meddling that businesses just throw up their hands in despair.

The current caretaker of this stultifying system is President Dilma Rousseff, a standard-issue unimaginative old lefty (sees nothing amiss in Venezuela, etc.), up for re-election. Many Brazilians are fed up and realize something must change. But, frustratingly, the best candidate, offering real change, Eduardo Campos, with a program of unshackling the economy, was running a distant third. Then in August he died in a plane crash.

Marina Silva, an ascetic black woman, risen from dire poverty (taught herself to read at 16!); former environment minister; had run third in the previous election. But trying again, she was blocked from the ballot on a technicality. So she joined Campos as his vice-presidential running mate.

Marina Silva

Marina Silva

And with Campos’s death, Silva has replaced him as their party’s presidential candidate. This seems to have electrified Brazilians. Partly it’s a personality thing – in a country plagued by repeated scandals, Silva’s backstory and perceived unimpeachable integrity are highly attractive. But she also appears to have bought into Campos’s agenda of economic liberalization. And she now looks likely to win the election. It would be a bracing breath of fresh air for Brazil.

* I’ve written about this here, and here.

“Cleaning Up” Albany Corruption: The Cuomo Way

September 7, 2014

Andrew Cuomo ran for governor in 2010 pledging to “clean up” Albany political corruption.

images-1In Cuomo-speak, “to clean up” must mean “to perfect.” (As Humpty Dumpty said, “when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”)

Back in May, I wrote of the Moreland Commission, a blue-ribbon panel Cuomo set up to investigate Albany. Before it finished, Cuomo pulled the plug, saying it’s his own commission so he can do with it as he likes. His pretext was that its purpose had been accomplished, the legislature having passed a campaign-finance reform. Only that “reform” was the joke of the year (applicable to one office-holder, for one election.)

To me, it all stank to high heaven. Then in July, The New York Times published an extensive investigative report on the Moreland Commission – showing how Cuomo and his stooges systematically interfered with, manipulated, and hobbled its work, trying to stop its investigation getting close to Cuomo or his campaign donors.

UnknownIn launching the commission, Cuomo had repeatedly said it would be free to investigate anything in state government including the executive branch. After the NYT exposé, Cuomo asserted the commission could not investigate the executive branch because it was a creature thereof (not only contradicting his own prior words, but clear nonsense). He also waved about a statement just released by one commission member disavowing any interference – a statement obviously solicited by, and probably drafted by, Cuomo’s team.

Thereupon, Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, who’d also been investigating the Moreland miasma, sent Cuomo a stern letter cautioning him against witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

Since Watergate, it’s a cliché that the cover-up is worse than the crime, and it’s been applied to Cuomo. But here, the crime itself was pretty awful, a cesspool of manipulation and mendacity, selling down the river any hope of the “clean up” New York was promised.

I’ve also written about the Cuomo administration’s dishonest manipulation of a referendum authorizing new casinos. But the real crime is Cuomo’s betting New York’s future on casinos (and the economics of predation upon poor suckers).* Since the vote, the news has been full of casino decline. images-2Casinos were successful and lucrative when they were few and far between. With casinos everywhere now it’s a very different story, of over-saturation. As Times-Union columnist Fred LeBrun put it, New York is too late to cash in on the casino “boom,” but not to reap all the downsides. Nice play, Guv.

Unknown-1This year we have another referendum, to approve another of Cuomo’s sham “reforms,” this one on legislative redistricting (not a mere technical issue, it’s crucial to political control). And once again the ballot wording is blatantly deceptive. It makes it sound like an independent body will control redistricting. However, it won’t be independent, but a creature of the legislature, which can anyway reject the “independent” body’s maps and once more do its own – which the ballot question does not mention! So we’re being asked to vote for a lie. This will actually entrench gerrymandering. And also forever entrench the Democratic party (once Republicans inevitably lose the State Senate). A one-party state is not compatible with democracy.

Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout

Cuomo is opposed in the September 9 primary by Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Rain Teachout (her real name). His bullyboy attempts to knock her off the ballot, using New York’s arcane election laws, first by challenging the signatures on her nominating petitions, and then her residency, failed. (So New York is not quite Soviet yet.) Cuomo has refused to debate her. (Debates can be a “disservice to democracy,” he declared!) Teachout is a darling of “progressives”**, and I disagree with her on many issues (like fracking). But something more important is at stake. There are standards. So between Zephyr Teachout and Moreland Cuomo, my strong endorsement goes to Teachout. (And running mate Tim Wu for Lt. Gov.)

Cuomo’s Republican challenger is Rob Astorino. The governor will use his huge campaign war-chest (stuffed by the special interests he dissolved the Moreland commission to shield) to blanket the state with TV ads shamefully smearing Astorino. Our local paper, the Times-Union, though it ran absolutely blistering editorials about the Moreland scandal and redistricting, will turn around and endorse Cuomo’s re-election. (The T-U has long been a reliably partisan cheerleader for Democrats.) Similarly, The New York Times, despite its exposé, will endorse him.***

Cuomo will win.

I will throw up.

images-4Once-proud New York will continue its descent down the toilet.

Those are my predictions. (Some optimist, huh?)

* Slot machines do not work randomly. They are programmed to pay out just often enough to string players along.

** A viewer poll by PBS’s “New York Now” show – which they cautioned is not scientific — gave Teachout 93% of the vote!!

*** The Times refused to endorse him in the primary, but would not endorse Teachout, citing lack of experience. Because experienced politicians have served us so well?? The Times did endorse Wu. The Times-Union has been strangely silent about a primary endorsement.

Injustice To Muslim-Americans

August 10, 2014

The other day I did something I hadn’t done in over 20 years: marched in a demonstration. The previous time was a protest against the acquittal of officers who beat Rodney King. As a white person I felt I had to express solidarity with black Americans that day.

Photo by Carl Strock

Photo by Carl Strock

On this blog I’ve been highly critical of Muslims and Islam. Yet this time I marched in solidarity with Muslim-Americans. My reasons were similar. Again, a trial verdict was at issue: the 2006 conviction of two local Muslims on terrorism-related charges.

The demonstrators were mostly what an acquaintance (who is one himself) labeled “the habitual pacifists,” plus 99-percenters, no-nukers, and other assorted lefties. Not my usual crowd! But I felt fine in their company. Unlike too many today, I do not regard people with opposing politics as wicked. To the contrary, these are good people, sincere in seeking a better world – even if misguided on how (IMHO).

Well, we were all encouraged to carry prefabricated signs. Most named organizations I don’t support. So I wound up asked to hold up one end of a huge heavy banner. Probably served me right. At least I had no problem with its message.

The march proceeded to the local mosque, where we saw a short play giving the essential story: showing what a monumental travesty of justice this case was. images

The two men never plotted anything. But the FBI hired a slimy felonious informer to entrap Yassin Aref (then the mosque’s imam) into endorsing a fake loan deal, the money supposedly coming from sale of a fictitious missile. Fearing Aref would balk if he actually understood a missile was involved, they did all they could to obfuscate this. Yet the case against him hinged on his alleged intentional involvement in a  missile plot. But never mind. Meantime, to nail him for conspiracy, they needed a co-conspirator, so they roped in Aref’s friend Mohammad Hossain, who’d otherwise been minding his own (pizza) business.

images-1The judge instructed the jury that the government had valid, albeit secret, reasons for targeting Aref in the first place. The judge had been told (in secret, with defense lawyers barred) that Aref’s name had supposedly appeared in some Al Qaeda notebook.

On this ridiculous “evidence,” both men were convicted (even though the jury actually determined that Aref did not understand about the missile). What they were actually convicted of doing (if anything) was totally obscure. And it later emerged that that Al Qaeda notebook had been mistranslated! Aref was never involved with Al Qaeda.* But never mind. Courts have ruled on appeal that the men got a fair trial. cartoon-236x236

This turns my stomach. This is not the America I know and love, under rule of law. This was a trial worthy of Egypt, or China, or Venezuela. Or to quote a Russian émigré friend (about a different government outrage), “Is like Soviet Union. America is transforming into Soviet Union.”

Aref and Hossain should not be in prison. Instead it should be all the government creeps who conspired to deny them their civil rights, doing more to harm America than any imaginary missile plot ever could have. Unknown

Alas, this case is not unique. There have been hundreds like this, touted by the feds as “successes” in the “war on terror.” A war on American values is more like it. Of all the hundreds jailed, it’s doubtful any were really “terrorists.” The whole thing is reminiscent of putting citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps during WWII.

That’s why I felt that, as an American, I had to be on this march.

A final word: This also shows why libertarians like me have such a skeptical view toward government. It’s somewhat ironic that most of the “progressives” on that march are at the opposite end of the political spectrum. However much government betrays their values (as in this case), yet still they idealize government, like a battered spouse still professing love for the batterer, a triumph of hope over experience. They don’t seem to grasp that government is made up of human beings, with all the defects to which humans are prone. Just like the corporations those lefties hate so much. Except that government has vastly more power.Unknown-1

No corporation can put you in prison.

*Aref is Kurdish. The Kurds have been great friends to America; there is no Kurdish anti-U.S. terrorism.

How Hillary Can Be Beaten

July 30, 2014

UnknownNot in recent memory has one presidential prospect, so far in advance, been so pre-emptive a front-runner. To be exact, not since Hoover in 1928.

But the presidency has been called “the greased pig of American politics,” and there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. So Hillary Clinton’s coronation could be derailed faster than I can sling metaphors. (Five in the last two sentences, if you’re counting.)images-1

Her candidacy’s vulnerability is that she doesn’t really stand for anything, apart from the novelty of being a woman. That was trumped in 2008 by the novelty of a black man. But by now we’ve had so long to get used to the idea of a woman president that we can just as well move on without actually electing her.

Warren

Warren

And the woman thing could be neutralized this time by Elizabeth Warren – many Democrats would prefer a woman who does stand for something.* Remember, this is party primaries, dominated by activists. Warren’s populism, and bashing their favorite bogeymen, make them swoon as boring old Hillary cannot. She’s also cuter.

And if Warren fails to grasp her opportunity, how about Bill de Blasio? He’s built his political ethos on a single word – using it like some people use the F-word in every sentence – “effin’ this and effin’ that” – for de Blasio the word is “progressive.” Apparently just mouthing the word diddles the erogenous zones of lefty voters. images-3Why not try that shtick in presidential primaries? (Bill’s a white guy, but his wife’s a black ex-lesbian. And a last name beginning with a lower case letter – that’s sure a novelty.)

Remember, it’s not about qualifications, and not about issues, it’s about atmospherics. Obama didn’t beat Hillary in ’08 because his healthcare plan was better. (She favored mandates; he was opposed!) He beat her by thrumming Democrats’ heart-strings, not their dendrites. It was romance, not policy. Cotton candy, not green beans.

images-4And what about the Republicans? Conventional wisdom says guys like Rand Paul or Marco Rubio just aren’t in Hillary’s league; or are too right-wing. Maybe; but maybe not.

Realize that 40-45% of the electorate is locked in to voting for the Democrat, and 40-45% against. Presidential elections are decided by the remaining 10-20% — many of them the least ideological, engaged, or informed. They don’t really know Paul or Rubio or the others, haven’t formed solid views of them. Effectively, these candidates can write on a blank slate, and create a persona in the minds of impressionable swing voters. And for those, even more than for the activist partisans, it’s atmospherics rather than issues that count most.Unknown-1

But I do think there is a role for issues. Issues can shape atmospherics. And I believe a Republican can win the next election through unpopular issue stands.

Let me explain.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said Republicans must stop being the “stupid party.” They come across like a bunch of frat boys. But a Republican can defeat Hillary by rising above Hillary. By making her seem just another typical tired old pol, the type of politician who has gotten us nowhere lately.** The Republican must instead exude gravitas; leadership; vision; statesmanship.

This is where unpopular stands come in. It’s not just a matter of appearing refreshingly “courageous.” It’s acting grown-up, and treating the American people as grown-ups. That means being serious and telling them the truth; telling them taxes must rise, and popular programs must be cut (no, not for the needy; for the coddled affluent). You may say that’s political suicide. I don’t think so. I think Americans are smarter than they’re given credit for, and will know a true leader when they see one.

Perot

Perot

I keep coming back to Ross Perot in 1992. He ran something like the campaign I envision, showing voters what an unsustainable path we were on. And even though he was a very flawed candidate, with an even more flawed running mate, on a third party, he got a substantial 19% of the vote. Today, of course, the kinds of issues Perot stressed are far more grave.

Today, American politics and government are broken, preventing us from tackling the problems we must face for our future. We have to get out of this cul-de-sac of partisan gridlock. I think many people realize this, even if the zealots responsible for it do not. I see a real market for a presidential candidate who shows he understands the situation, and credibly offers a way out. (Obama had postured as such but unfortunately as president funked it completely). Obviously, Hillary can’t be that candidate either; she’s the total antithesis of that. This is the opening for a non-Hillary.

images-5Of course, the kind of candidate I’m talking about would have to get through the Republican primary gauntlet. The 2012 experience was not encouraging. Can the GOP grow up?

* I make no comment here on the pros or cons of Warren’s stances.

** Anyone remember John Lindsay’s 1965 NY mayoral slogan? “He’s fresh and everyone else is tired.”

Mexico and India: Some Good News For a Change

July 12, 2014

imagesThe world is always full of bad news, but here’s something in line with this blog’s title.

Background: Mexico had a big revolution/civil war a century ago. When the dust settled, power was monopolized by the “Institutional Revolutionary Party” (PRI), whose rule was anything but revolutionary. Mexico stagnated with a closed rentier economy of crony capitalism, its big shots labelled “dinosaurs.”Unknown

The PRI’s chokehold was finally broken by the opposition PAN party winning the presidency in 2000. PAN’s program was right, but it was stymied not only by PRI holdovers but also a third left-wing party. So after two PAN presidencies, little had actually changed.

Peña Nieto

Peña Nieto

In 2012 the PRI recaptured the presidency with Enrique Peña Nieto. Bad news? To the contrary. No dinosaur he. The Peña administration’s tone was set at the start. Emblematic of Mexico’s dysfunction was a teacher’s union so politically entrenched that it controlled the whole school system. Unknown-1Its boss: Elba Esther Gordillo, a quintessential dinosaur. Peña had her arrested on charges of (flagrant) embezzlement and organized crime.

But he was just getting started.

Carlos Slim

Carlos Slim

Peña has moved boldly to reform, shake up, and open up Mexico’s politics, educational system, and economy, by promoting competition and curbing the kind of monopoly power that has so long hobbled the country. (His telecommunications stranglehold made Mexico’s Carlos Slim one of the world’s richest men.) A centerpiece of Peña’s agenda is to break what for generations has been a PRI sacred cow: exclusive government control of the energy sector.Unknown-2

Not all of Peña’s initiatives have yet been successfully pushed through, and inevitably, there have been stumbles and criticisms. And Mexico still has some very bad problems, notably horrendous gangster violence. But you can say this: Peña has changed the rules of the game, and shown what true visionary leadership looks like.  Now this is what I call progressive. (What a contrast to loudmouth lefty populists of the Chavez sort.)

Modi

Modi

Similarly heartening was the recent smashing election victory by Narendra Modi in India. His BJP party won an outright parliamentary majority – seemingly impossible given India’s fractured politics with numerous regional and caste-based parties usually divvying up the spoils. The stale old Congress party was practically annihilated. This gives Modi a tremendous opportunity to remake India for the better. He’s been talking the right talk. Now let’s see the walk.

Why Both Left and Right Are Wrong

June 26, 2014

The Left’s calling itself “progressive,” while in some ways annoying, isn’t entirely wrong. A key element is caring about other people, including those outside the traditional ambit of human concern (our own families and tribes), and even sometimes including non-people. UnknownThis is indeed progressive; this widening of human concern, working toward a better, fairer world, with lessening conflict and violence, compared to the past, reflects very real progress. It’s ironic that another typical attribute of the “progressive” temperament is denial of such progress.

It’s because being critical and cynical flatters the Left’s intellectual vanity. Indignation is a satisfying emotion. To be an optimist, on the other hand, to believe well of others, and that we’re making progress, seems just too sappy. It isn’t hip.

The Left views market capitalism with hostility, as though it’s some kind of perverted system artificially imposed by a conspiracy of a few to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest; which could be changed if we wanted to. Not a single element of that catechism reflects reality. A market economy is merely the natural, indeed inevitable, way that any bunch of humans interacts. Yes, with friends and family, we do a lot of sharing. images-1But otherwise if you have something of value – be it an object, or your labor – you won’t give it without getting something in return, indeed the most you can get (bar fraud or cheating). That is in fact merely justice (a word the Left loves). Striving to do well for oneself isn’t wrong; mostly people do that by creating value for others who’ll pay them for it. And this is how we’ve made a better, richer world — by people putting in efforts in order to improve their own situation. Is this the “greed” we hear so much about?

And the Left’s conception of justice tends to omit what ought to be its principal component: deservingness. While they do insist no one deserves to be poor, they meantime seem to deny that anyone deserves to be rich. At least they don’t see any entitlement to keep riches one has earned.

The right is less confused about the economics, but frankly tends to be grinch-hearted. images-2Its conception of justice is flawed in mirror-image of the Left’s – believing that when people don’t succeed it’s because they didn’t deserve to. That the less successful are basically slackers and moochers (this is why Romney’s infamous “47%” comment was so resonant). The right doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge how much luck determines one’s situation. And if the Left is overly obsessed with inequality, the right is too complacent about it.

Even cave people were humane enough to take care of the sick, infirm, or injured. Today’s right no longer seems to regard this as a fundamental societal obligation. Part of the problem is that the whole issue of helping the needy is crapped up by the fact that the great bulk of “help” goes to people who aren’t needy at all (look at the farm program, for example, most of whose subsidies go to millionaires). Unknown-1This blatant milking of the government teat tends to taint all such spending.

But we are a very rich society that can easily afford to take care of those less fortunate – if only we focused on just that.

Lessons From the VA Scandal

May 30, 2014

Suppose you’re Eric Shinseki (Veterans Administration head).

Actual VA photo

Actual VA photo

You learn of huge problems – a vast backlog of unprocessed paperwork (partly because it is literally paper, mountains of it, not computerized) – and now this scandal of delayed medical attention and resulting horror stories and even deaths – compounded by widespread cover-ups of those treatment delays via fraudulent record keeping.images

So you snap your fingers and order it all fixed. Right? Wrong. The VA is a vast organization, but these scandals tell us it’s not actually vast enough. The paperwork piled up because the VA lacked the manpower to deal with it, let alone take steps to computerize it. Likewise, appointments were delayed because there weren’t enough doctors and other resources to meet patient needs.

Unknown-2No snap of the fingers could have fixed this. It required money. Shinseki should have been shouting from the rooftops, “Houston, we have a problem,” pre-emptively telling Congress and the president the VA is in trouble and needs more money.

But wait, you’ll say: isn’t that what bureaucrats are always whining? That they could do wonderful things if only their budgets were increased? Was there ever a bureaucrat who said, “My budget is quite adequate, thank you very much”?

We’re told the VA scandal shows what a lousy manager President Obama is. I’m loath to dispute that; but I take a bigger lesson. It shows what a lousy manager government is. Especially big government.

Unknown-1It’s actually probably unfair to imagine Obama should somehow have seen and fixed the VA problem. The VA isn’t exactly all he has to worry about. The government is a monster with a million tentacles and a very small brain – the president and his administration – to minutely direct those tentacles’ behavior. Good luck.

Yet the essence of American liberalism is the faith that government, because it is the avatar of disinterested public spiritedness, of the wish to do good – in contrast to a (selfish, grubby, greedy) quest for private profit – will do good, if given our trust (and money). images-5But the fly in the ointment is that government is comprised of human beings, not angels, and while they may indeed be motivated for good, they are also subject to all the other personal motives that govern human behavior in any context. And when those motives conflict with the disinterested desire to do good, it’s a rare person who will sacrifice the former for the latter.

VA staffers are probably mostly altruistic people who sincerely want to help veterans. But caring also for their own asses, in the situation, has made many of them perpetrate a great crime. Performance incentives, great in theory, merely incentivized VA personnel to cook the books to earn the rewards despite screwing patients. (And it’s not obvious how Shinseki might have avoided bamboozlement.)

At least in the private sector, the (selfish, grubby, greedy) profit motive – and competition – impose a certain discipline that’s lacking in the public sphere. Unknown-3That’s a fundamental reason why government is so problematic. No private sector organization could survive in a competitive marketplace treating customers as badly as the VA.

More broadly, the VA scandal shows that we, as a society, have gone way overboard in what we ask of government – greatly outstripping the money to pay for it. It’s not as though we’re miserly with the VA; its budget is huge; yet still evidently insufficient for its ever expanding mission, as more and more veterans survive better and live longer, with ever more and costlier medical advances to help them do so. This story is emblematic of so much of what government does, and why spending outgrows what we can afford. We borrow the difference, but as I keep saying, there’s a limit to how far we can stretch that without triggering economic disaster.

Unknown-4I’m not suggesting shutting down the VA. We must honor our commitment to veterans. But we, as a nation, must get serious about the overall gap between what we ask of government and what is affordable. This is the great problem of the age, which Obama is sweeping under the rug.

 

 

Andrew Cuomo: New York’s Odious Governor

May 8, 2014

I actually thought Governor Andrew Cuomo started off admirably.

For one thing, he seemed sensible toward fracking. But then the antis ramped up their campaign, and Cuomo’s fracking policy became study-it-to-death and endless weaseling. Just like Obama on Keystone, cowed by the anti-progress “progressives.” Even they must be nauseated.

As to New York’s notorious gun law, I am no fan of the gun culture, but that legislation seems extreme, was rammed through with scant public consultation, and its true purpose was just to fuel Cuomo’s presidential imaginings.

Note the quotation marks

Note the quotation marks

But the biggest disgrace, in a word: Moreland. The stench of Albany corruption got so bad that Cuomo felt compelled to invoke the state’s Moreland Act, convening a blue-ribbon panel to investigate and make recommendations. The commission duly met a number of times, held hearings, and was in the midst of fulfilling its mandate — when Cuomo abruptly pulled the plug. The pretext for this breathtaking action (“It’s my commission,” he said) was that the purpose had been served, because it got the legislature to pass reform to clean up the mess.

And what, exactly, did this reform consist of? A state public campaign finance law. Excellent, you might say – until told that this “reform” was applicable to precisely one elected official, for precisely one year. The official happens to be State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who – coincidentally, I’m sure – happens to be in Cuomo’s dog house. And even for DiNapoli, participation in the campaign finance scheme was made optional. He promptly opted out, saying this “pilot program” was designed to fail.

But this was not the first shell game Cuomo’s played with reform. Previously it was gerrymandering – at the very heart of political dysfunction. “Gerrymandering” means drawing legislative district lines for partisan advantage. It virtually eliminates electoral competition and thus legislators’ accountability to voters. Well, Cuomo swore up and down he would not accept the redistricting required after the last census, absent a reform that took redistricting out the legislature’s hands altogether.images-2

Guess what? A reform was enacted, giving the process to an independent commission. But the commission will have an equal number from each party. And what if it deadlocks (as it’s thus guaranteed to do)? Redistricting goes back to the legislature. In other words, another totally bogus “reform.”

Cuomo postures not only as the Great Reformer, but also the Great Tax Cutter. Needless to say, the tax cuts are equally a sham (and New York’s business climate remains 50th out of 50 states). But the scheme will have the state send every taxpayer a rebate check. No doubt with Cuomo’s name prominently displayed. This will be in October – right before the election, when voters can show their gratitude.

images-4Excuse me while I go lose my breakfast.

OK, I’m back. Now, where was I? So — Republicans will nominate Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who seems a very reasonable guy with a strong record of accomplishment (including genuine tax and budget cutting). So far his campaign has focused on a factual deconstruction of Cuomo’s record. In contrast Cuomo, with his bulging $30+ million re-election war chest, has rushed out TV ads smearing Astorino. One ad says he’s “so far right he’s wrong for New York.”

Rob Astorino

Rob Astorino

This uncannily echoes a recent Cuomo comment that people with right wing views – which apparently means any views different from Cuomo’s – don’t belong in New York State. (Yet again we see the tortured relationship “progressives” have with freedom of thought and expression.) Cuomo’s remark justly elicited a barrage of condemnation. But not, apparently, enough to deter using the same tar-brush on Astorino. Never mind that there’s actually no basis for calling Astorino “right wing,” let alone “far right.” It’s simply name-calling, unashamedly cynical, based on the proposition that if you fling enough mud, some will stick.

Another ad says Astorino as County Executive is “in violation of anti-discrimination laws,” all but calling him a racist bigot. The grounds for this incendiary accusation? Westchester County’s opposing federal government efforts to seize control of the county’s public housing.

Unknown-1I think I’m going to lose my lunch now.

But one final thing: somebody please inform Cuomo that loud yelling isn’t eloquence.

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition*

April 29, 2014

imagesIn the Spanish Inquisition, if your beliefs did not conform to religious orthodoxy, you would be tortured to change them; and failing that, burned alive. America is different and, being nonconformist myself, I cherish that difference. I’ve always felt free to express myself. Yet even America has its Inquisitors.

Brendan Eich was not tortured or burned alive for his beliefs. images-1Not quite. But a campaign by gay activists recently forced him out of his job as head of Mozilla. His crime? In 2008, he donated to California’s referendum against gay marriage.

Now, such censoriousness might arguably be defensible were the beliefs in question especially stupid and/or heinous. Holocaust denial, say. Though in my view even Holocaust deniers have a right to hold and express their ideas (and not be jailed, as has occurred in Europe).

However, in Eich’s case, the views at issue were not beyond the pale. In fact, at the time, his was the prevailing view. That referendum passed, remember. Yet now, to have supported it is deemed so atrocious that a man should lose his job over it? Have Eich’s persecutors lost their minds? What about the other 50+% of Californians who voted “yes”? Fire them all too? (Good thing there’s a secret ballot.)

Gay marriage is a just cause. But it’s sullied when its advocates pursue it by unjust means. You (and I) might think opponents are wrong, but theirs is not an illegitimate opinion to which they have no right.

Unknown-2Unfortunately the Eich episode isn’t some isolated aberration. It’s all too typical of the mentality of the so-called “progressive” left, which thoroughly contaminates their politics. While the left is all “free speech” and “freedom of expression” and “academic freedom,” what they really mean is freedom for them and them alone. The hypocrisy mirrors Putin’s – he’s all against outside interference in a country’s affairs – Russia’s affairs — but not Ukraine’s. (And all against Ukraine “killing their own people” – after Putin killed at least 25,000 Russian Chechens.) The left even has a magazine named Dissent! I guess opposing gay marriage doesn’t count as dissent. Or at least not the good kind.

Eich is, again, no aberration. Remember when Larry Summers speculated that women’s underrepresentation in math and sciences might be due to brain differences? Truthiness didn’t save him from Harvard’s feminist political correctness Inquisition, which ultimately booted him out of the school’s presidency. images-2And in campuses all across America, students and teachers are criminalized and booted out for violating “speech codes” that sacralize particular political orthodoxies. Is this what the 1960s campus “free speech” movement was for?

Of course, the right too demonizes opposing views. But there’s a real difference. You don’t see the right seeking to punish anyone for their opinions. At one time communists were jailed, but nobody would seriously suggest that now. Indeed, for all the liberal alarm about the religious right and putatively looming theocracy, nobody – nobody – would seriously suggest punishing atheists! Only the left is into punishing dissent.

Why? Why is the left so gosh-darn intolerant? Because they are imbued with hypermoralism? Seeing politics as a morality play, with diverging views not just mistaken but evil? There is certainly a lot of that. Yet that’s true on the right as well, but, again, the right doesn’t generally seek actual suppression, and indeed punishment, of opposing opinions. Maybe the difference is that the right doesn’t imagine for a moment they could get away with it; whereas the left, certain of its monopoly on virtue and posturing on the high horse of a tolerance ethic, can get away with the worst intolerance. Sanctifying nonjudgmentalism, they are the most judgmental of people. And don’t forget McCarthyism and blacklisting — people persecuted, and kept from working, due to their political beliefs. The left still lionizes those victims and loves to cry “McCarthyism!” Yet isn’t the Eich story perfect McCarthyism?

The howling contradiction between the left’s professed ethos and its actual behavior seems baffling.

Then again, so many policies embraced by the left are likewise grounded in curbing other people’s freedom. Unknown-3Progressives seem to have an Orwellian understanding of the word. (They certainly have down pat 1984’s concept of “thought crime.”) And how about their excusing the rottenest human rights abuses by monsters like Castro or Chavez? But cynicism is a hallmark of left thinking too.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer recently addressed the whole Citizens United money-in-politics issue. There’s irresolvable tension between the undeniably corrupting effect political money can have, and the idea that in a free country government has no business regulating political participation at all (which always really amounts to incumbent protection). Krauthammer saw the ideal answer as full disclosure of political contributions and spending. But then he noted how disclosing Eich’s referendum donation resulted in the man’s persecution, ruining his life. Krauthammer therefore concluded that his full disclosure solution to the campaign finance conundrum is – as often happens – ruined by zealots. People should feel free to make political donations without expecting the Spanish (or American) Inquisition.

Here yet again we see the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners style of partisanship poisoning our body politic.

Unknown-1Jefferson said that the best response to bad ideas is not suppression, but better ideas. Nobody should expect the Spanish Inquisition, and punishment for their beliefs. In general I see people whose views differ from mine as being wrong, but not evil. These are the precepts of a genuinely free and good society. But undermining those crucial precepts – as happened in the Eich case – may be not just wrong but evil.

*For my younger readers, the reference is to a famous Monty Python skit. In a conversation, one guy being questioned a bit closely blurts out, “Well, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition!” At that, a bunch of red-robed churchmen suddenly materializes, intoning “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

UPDATE NOTE: The comments by “Rob” illustrate exactly what I’m talking about regarding the left-wing mind and freedom of speech. Worth a look; really frightening.

Do Women Earn Less Than Men?

April 12, 2014

President Obama’s been loudly hitting the supposed pay gap between women and men. All too typically, this is a phony issue distracting from our true economic problems he should be tackling.

Unknown-1Obama dismisses pay gap deniers by saying, “It’s just math.” I’m reminded of the old line, “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.”

True, if you average all American women, and all men, women earn less. But what’s the significance of this? Not much – because it ignores differences in jobs, industries, career paths, etc. The fact is that women and men don’t have comparable working lives. Women – for a host of reasons (many having to do with differences in psychology and temperament; male and female brains don’t work identically; not to mention divergent parenting roles) – tend to have different talents and proclivities, to want different things, and to choose different careers and jobs than men. They tend to interrupt their career paths more often. And to be less aggressive in seeking advancement.

Such factors explain why, on average, women earn less. But – studies have found that if you control for these factors – that is, you analyze women and men following comparable career paths in comparable jobs – the pay gap is practically zero.

The President might reply that, well, women can’t necessarily get the jobs men get. But that’s wrong for the same reason that pay for comparable jobs really is virtually equal. imagesBecause in today’s highly competitive globalized economy, businesses cannot afford to discriminate against women, instead needing to get the best talent, irrespective of gender. In fact, if it really were true that firms could hire women with equal qualifications for less pay than men – why would they hire any men?

Undoubtedly, at one time women did face severe career limitations. images-3But that time is long past, and so this latest presidential crusade is disgracefully bogus; a cynical political ploy to posture as the champion of women (against a purported Republican “war on women”) and to perpetuate a gender gap that really does exist – in voting.

But it actually sends women a bad message, falsely warning that they face workplace discrimination. How many young women will thereby be discouraged in their career choices? Wrongly imagining they’d be blocked in their true ambitions, and choosing lesser ones instead? And I don’t think the politics of stoking resentments is good for the country.

Nor are the remedies Obama seeks for this largely nonexistent bugaboo of discrimination. All would reduce flexibility while adding bureaucratic and paperwork burdens for businesses, and pretexts for proliferating litigation, making it harder and costlier for firms to function. Yet again we see a president who constantly whines about jobs and pay yet constantly does things that handicap the businesses that provide jobs and their ability to pay workers.

images-4Meantime he ignores what is surely our biggest economic problem: ever more retirees soaking up pensions and health care, with an ever shrinking percentage of working people taxed to pay for it. That’s our real pay gap, and borrowing cannot bridge it forever. It will end in an equal-opportunity catastrophe, for all Americans – working and nonworking – and women as well as men.


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