Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Waiting For Snow in Havana

May 28, 2015

Unknown-5Carlos Eire was eight, with normal childhood concerns, a love for fireworks and pools, and a loathing for lizards, until Fidel Castro came along and ruined everything. Eire’s memoir, Waiting For Snow in Havana – Confessions of a Cuban Boy, gives a mordant child’s-eye-view of “the Revolution.”

OK, his was an affluent family (his father a judge), with more to lose than most Cubans, for whom the ousted Batista regime sucked. But Eire’s book belies Castro’s “Revolution” being an advancement of social justice, exposing its dark reality.

UnknownThe judge was a peculiar man; believing himself the reincarnation of France’s King Louis XVI, the book always refers to him thusly; his wife was “Marie Antoinette.” He put his shoes on before his pants. He insisted on adopting a quasi-pedophile who tried to molest the judge’s natural sons. And he remained in Cuba with that adoptee after the rest of the family escaped to America, even though from the start he despised “the Revolution.”

I myself was suckered in by its romanticism in 1959’s heady days. Then again, I was only eleven, and soon enough repented. Many on the left never did.

Unknown-3This is a litmus test of one’s political seriousness. The left talks a good game of Enlightenment human values but often falls for empty labels and slogans in place of the real deal, and otherwise readily trashes those values (especially freedom of thought and expression). Thus the enduring idealization of Castro  – a megalomaniacal dictator who cemented his power by imprisoning, torturing, and shooting great numbers of Cubans who did not kiss his feet.*

I am sick of palaver about the wonderfulness of Cuba’s education and health care. Truth is, the regime schools and doctors its serfs sufficiently for them to function at work – for which it pays them a pittance. Thus the economy manages to creak along, just. “The Revolution” was quite good at destroying the wealth of the rich and successful – much simply confiscated – yet the average Cuban is as poor as ever, and in fact, inequality is if anything worse. But don’t ever dare complain.

Social justice? One weeps to think how much better off those poor people would be with a normal government that allowed their enterprise to flourish, rather than crushing it with an oppressive, dysfunctional, crackpot economic model crafted only to perpetuate total societal control by the masters.

Unknown-4The hip political satirist Mort Sahl, asked to name the personage he admired most, said “Fidel Castro.” This was long past the time when any sentient being should have grasped the reality. (We’ve seen the same syndrome with Venezuela and Chavez.)

It’s now been 56 years, but in Cuba, as Carlos Eire put it, everything is still “Revolution this” and “Revolution that.” Seems to me 56 years should have been time enough to complete a revolution (especially with all dissension obliterated) and get on with normal life (not to mention actually making it better). If Cuba did need a revolution in 1959, it needs one far more now. The book’s title is never explained, but that’s probably the “snow in Havana” Carlos Eire has waited for, in vain. He never returned.

* Batista was often called a brutal dictator. True; yet he was toppled with relative ease. Why haven’t the Castros been toppled? Such regimes (and Venezuela’s, Iran’s, etc.) are far more repressive than old style “right wing” dictators ever were, thus far harder to get rid of.

Fighting the Secret Plot to Make the World Richer*

May 24, 2015

President Obama is battling for “fast track” authority, to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, a trade deal among 11 big countries) without having it subject to Congressional amending. It’s the only way such a deal could conceivably happen.

Warren

Warren

Most Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren, oppose this. They say the trade negotiations are being conducted in secret, shaped behind the scenes by corporate interests. (We all know Obama shills for fatcats, right?) As columnist Ruth Marcus points out, this Warren argument is simply bogus. It’s not as though legislators will have to vote on the deal without our knowing what’s in it. In fact, the proposed legislation requires the terms to be made public 60 days before signing – an unprecedented proviso.

Unknown-2But, as Marcus notes, the secrecy argument is a mere excuse, and Warren et al would still oppose this deal if the negotiations were broadcast live on C-SPAN. They paint it as selling out American workers by helping foreigners to compete unfairly against them. This reprises the 1990s NAFTA debate, when Ross Perot warned of a “giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs going to Mexico. Warren says he was right. But in truth that sound was at most a whisper, with direct U.S. job losses minimal.

Well, free trade does threaten some jobs by exposing them to tougher foreign competition. But this perspective is like viewing the universe through a straw, blind to the bigger picture. Part of that picture is that freer trade lowers prices for consumers. This is huge; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that imports add $10,000 annually to the average American family’s purchasing power. That enables them to spend more, stimulating the economy and generating more jobs – probably way more jobs than the few lost to foreign competition.

Unknown-1By harping on those latter lost jobs while ignoring the benefits to consumers and the economy as a whole, Warrenite Democrats are literally favoring the interests of the few (very few) over the interests of the many. Some populists.

Unknown-4Interestingly, for most of its history, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Democratic party understood perfectly well that freer trade was good for the many while protectionism cosseted the few at their expense. Not a good deal for “everyday Americans.” This was in fact a headline issue for Democrats. But then (perhaps too heavily invested with union interests) Democrats lost their way on the trade issue.

Meantime, even the focus just on America’s economy is too narrow and misses the larger reality. If NAFTA’s impact on U.S. jobs is debatable, its impact on Mexican ones was unarguably huge, making Mexico much more prosperous than it would otherwise have been. And surely a richer neighbor is something in America’s national interest.

imagesIndeed, whatever its effect on any particular job, or industry, or country, freer trade makes the world as a whole richer.** Any serious economist will tell you so. It does this by enabling capital investment to be put to the most economically efficient uses, unhindered by artificial barriers and constraints, which results in production of more goods with fewer inputs of resources and labor. That’s an enlargement of the global economic pie, so more people can get bigger slices. Since WWII, this – an increasingly globalized world, with more and freer trade – has been the prime driver which has raised billions of people out of poverty.

Surely that is something in America’s national interest. A richer world is a less troubled world; and can buy more that U.S. workers produce.

Warrenites cloak themselves as tribunes for those “everyday Americans,” believing that if Democrats sound this trumpet loudly enough they’ll win. Thus they are trying to move the party, and Hillary Clinton, to the left of President Obama – who in fact was just barely not too far left to win – barely. The British Labour party made the same mistake in their recent election, believing the country would embrace pet left-wing themes. It did not; Labour was crushed.

imagesOur next election, with a Democratic candidate tacking left and having big trustworthiness issues besides, will be the Republicans’ to lose. If only they can control their own self-defeating instincts and offer a halfway sensible nominee.

* I cribbed this title from a recent article in The Economist.

** Potentially $220 billion richer annually, from the TPP alone, it’s estimated.

The British Election Mess

May 4, 2015

Time was, Britain ruled the world. Even in later times it “punched above its weight.” But no more. Chastened by perceived failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Brits have been sadly missing in action regarding Syria, Ukraine, and ISIS.

At least they have a record of effective governance, as against America’s dysfunctional gridlock. But that too looks set to change. Here’s a primer on the looming May 7 election disaster:

Blair

Blair

Let’s start with Tony Blair, who heroically dragged the Labour Party into electability by defanging its loony left. But they never forgave him, and used Iraq to make him a pariah after leaving office. His Labour successor, Gordon Brown, lacking Blair’s flair, became a sitting duck at the 2010 election.

Cameron

Cameron

It was won by David Cameron who, Blairlike, had detoxified his own Conservative (Tory) party. But – partly because Britain is effectively gerrymandered to favor Labour – the Tories missed an overall parliamentary majority, so went into a more or less unprecedented coalition with the Liberal Democrat third party, holding the balance of power.

Miliband

Miliband

Then, in the fight for Labour’s leadership, the obvious candidate, David Miliband, was beaten by his own brother, Ed – theretofore a nonentity. Why? Ed played to the party’s unrepentant loony left, tired of politically unsexy moderation. Since then, he’s generally been rated a disaster.

Cameron’s government has done quite a good job cleaning up the fiscal mess Labour left, Britain’s economy is humming nicely, and the Tories have noticeably failed to commit the crimes of Labour’s fevered class-war scaremongering. But many Brits give the government little credit for its economic achievements, and don’t feel much better off. Yet even so, given such a lame Labour alternative, spouting economic quackery, whom no one can seriously picture as prime minister, game over, no?

Well – it’s complicated.

Sturgeon

Sturgeon

One complication, that seemingly cuts against Labour, is Scotland where, despite losing the independence referendum, the Scottish National Party (SNP, with a spiffy new leader, Nicola Sturgeon) is on a tear to annihilate what had been Labour’s solid block of Scottish parliament seats.

But meantime, in England, the Tories’ lunch is being eaten by the UK Independence Party, blokish, anti-EU, and anti-immigrant, also with a quasi-plausible leader in Nigel Farage.

Farage

Farage

UKIP will actually win few seats (Britain does not have proportional representation), but may well drain enough votes to sink the Tories in many constituencies.

What about the Lib-Dems? They were a popular third alternative, a “less loony left,” as long as they could posture virtuously without dirtying their hands with actual governance. Now that bloom is off the rose, and the Lib-Dems are plummeting, likely to lose most of their seats. They’ll be supplanted as the third largest block in parliament by the SNP, whose very raison d’etre is Tory-hatred (the chief impetus behind Scottish independence).

Some other oddball parties will win seats, including Welsh and Northern Irish local outfits, and possibly Greens, making it even harder for any party to get an absolute majority in parliament. The result will be a real mess. But, barring an unlikely outright Tory majority, we’ll probably wind up saying hello to Prime Minister Miliband – with a weak government hostage to a party of regional secessionists having an economic program even dottier than his own. Moreover, whereas in the past an inconclusive result might have meant quick fresh elections, under current rules poor Britain will be stuck with this parliament for a full five year term.

What’s happening here is seen elsewhere in Europe – cranky voters unwilling to go along with responsible, grown-up economic policies, and bedazzled by the allure of shiny objects dangled by political hucksters.

Mayweather & Whoever

Mayweather & Whoever

Ah, democracy. Surely more interesting to follow than pro sports (like that recent thing – I could not care less which of two brutes can batter the other senseless.)

UPDATE MAY 8 — TORIES WIN!!  Confounding pre-election polls showing Labor and Tories about equal, presaging a hung parliament, Cameron’s Conservatives wound up crushing Labour and winning, albeit barely, an overall parliamentary majority. So the Brits (or enough of them) came to their senses in the end — it must have been my blog post that turned it around. Labour was also, as predicted, wiped out in Scotland. Their wretched leader, Ed Miliband, has resigned. So much for the loony left.

Presidential Politics

April 24, 2015
"Season 2"

“Season 2″

After two decades of Clinton wars, Bush wars, and Obama wars, will we really elect Hillary Clinton and extend this baneful syndrome of half the country hysterically hating the president? We may get it in any case, but wouldn’t this be just asking for it?

She herself once spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against the Clintons. Sure, there was opposition; but that was exactly the kind of hyperbolic language feeding the syndrome.

Emailgate does too, going to the heart of why so many people distrust Hillary. She says the e-mails not made public were personal, but we have only her word for that, with no independent review.

"I did not have inappropriate email with that server."

“I did not have inappropriate email with that server.”

What could she be hiding? Plenty — like conflicts of interest between her public duties and contributions to her foundation, some from influence peddlers and sleazy foreign governments. This spits in her detractors’ faces. Gad, what would her presidency be like?

Better than Obama’s at least. There’s hope of ameliorating the calamitous global unraveling for which he can partly be blamed. I’d rather have Hillary in the White House when Putin makes his move on the Baltics. One might also dream that a pragmatic Clinton, loath to leave a legacy of economic disaster, might force her own party to face fiscal reality.

Which brings me to Chris Christie’s recent call to raise eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare (and cut off Social Security for high earners like me). “Through its unwillingness to address our biggest challenges in an honest way,” Christie said, “the Obama administration has put us on a perilous course for both our short-term and our long-term futures.” He added that politicians “don’t believe that the American people have the appetite for hard truths. Once again, they underestimate the people that they serve. Americans not only deserve fairness, they deserve the honesty of their leaders.”

Unknown-1Christie must have read some of my past blog posts. He’s being incredibly gutsy. We know the kind of attacks Democrats will lob (remember the ads showing Paul Ryan dumping granny over a cliff). Let voters choose between such demagogy and a forthright reality-based set of proposals like Christie’s.

There’s also much to like in Marco Rubio’s candidacy.

Rubio

Rubio

Republicans too often needlessly invite the granny-over-the-cliff trope, appearing as though uncaring toward less affluent citizens. Rubio does not, and is a poster boy for how sensible conservative policies can benefit the whole country, including the disadvantaged. One line in his 2012 convention speech really impressed me: calling out the fallacy that every dollar in a rich person’s wallet is taken from a poor one’s, a notion which underlies much economic quackery. Rubio’s insightfulness is refreshing.

Announcing My Candidacy For President

April 16, 2015

images-1I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.

Leadership.

Middle Class.

Renewing America’s Promise.

Jobs.

Fairness.

Common sense.images

Education.

Did I mention Middle Class?

A new direction.

Investing in our future.

Fight for you.

The America I love.

A helping hand.Unknown-2

Not big government but smart government.

Our neighbors.

An America that works.

Our kids.

Across the partisan divide.

For all Americans.images-1

Our grandchildren.

Best days are still ahead.

Our planet.

Middle class.

God bless America.

images

 

 

 

 


CLICK HERE

 

Political Corruption: America versus China

February 22, 2015

UnknownThe chief corruption in American politics is the need to raise large sums for campaigns, the money coming heavily from interests wanting something. In effect it’s bribery, though politicians don’t (normally) get rich from it; what they get is re-elected.*

(New York is something of an exception. In 2012 I wrote about disgraceful State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Update: Silver was recently arrested by the Feds for millions in bribes and kickbacks disguised as legal fees. After initially rallying behind him, Assembly Democrats turned on him, and Silver was forced out as speaker.)

China, if you can believe it, is even worse than New York. While it’s often noted that our Congress is peopled by millionaires, the average wealth in China’s equivalent body (which has much less power) is vastly greater, it’s stuffed with billionaires. And whereas American legislators typically earned their affluence outside of politics, that’s not true in China. Being a bigwig in Chinese politics is a license to steal. And everything in China is outsized, including the corruption.

Bo Xilai

Bo Xilai

The country being so important, you’d think headline Chinese corruption scandals would get significant attention in U.S. media. They don’t. Not long ago Bo Xilai, boss of Chongqing, was a major figure in Chinese politics. Then he fell spectacularly, he and his wife charged with not only corruption but murder, both getting long prison terms.

An even bigger fish (or “tiger” in Chinese parlance) was Zhou Yongkang, at the center of power, controlling China’s oppressive national security apparatus.

Zhou Yongkang

Zhou Yongkang

He was China’s Beria. Now he too has fallen, blackened in China’s media as (to quote The Economist) “a thief, a bully, a philanderer and a traitor . . . the spider at the center of a web of corrupt patronage, he enriched himself, his family, his many mistresses and his cronies at vast cost to the government.”

Chinese might ask how such a villain could have gained so much authority. And while his downfall might be seen as “the system working,” the real story – as in Bo Xilai’s case – was power politics. This is the kabuki of top-level Chinese politics – since rule is by a sort of divine right (“the mandate of Heaven”), a man can be shorn of power only by voiding his divine right, by making a criminal of him. As if the other guys are different.

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping

The Zhou Yongkang case ostensibly reflects President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. While Xi does seem to recognize what a problem corruption is, the fact remains that the prosecutions are mainly political – getting rid of functionaries who aren’t Xi’s sycophants. He’s also been talking “rule of law,” but understands it differently than we do – rule by law, i.e., rulers’ commands, another tool for waging politics. The party, and its top dogs, are still above the law. Indeed, in China there’s really no “law” to be above.

Further, the regime is wrestling with the related concept of “constitutionalism.” China does have a constitution, which says a lot of good things. But the leaders don’t actually accept that the constitution should, even in theory, be followed. That idea is seen as “Western,” and people have been jailed merely for saying the constitution should be obeyed.

China’s apologists like to point out that Western democracies are not immune from corruption and abuses of power, citing Watergate as a premier example. But (as The Economist noted), Nixon fell because of checks and balances within the American political system – including, crucially, a free press. images-2Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang instead fell to the power of an even bigger fish. Who will constrain his power?

(And don’t even get me started on the profound, vicious, all-encompassing corruption in Putin’s Russia, where the government is simply a criminal enterprise.)

* We often hear about “buying elections.” Can’t be done. While money does get your message heard, high-spending candidates regularly nevertheless lose.

Stop the Hate Speech

January 29, 2015

American political discourse “is ugly, as civility has been replaced by bitter reactive battles,” laments Michael Werner in a recent issue of The Humanist magazine. Then he says, “we have to expose the hidden racism that permeates political discourse.” And later he queries how we can “bend the needle towards mutual understanding.”

UnknownHere’s a suggestion: stop calling people racists.

Our politics has indeed been poisoned by zealots seeing opponents as not just wrong but wicked. Both sides are guilty – but the left far more than the right. The same issue of The Humanist also had an excerpt from David Niose’s book on how to combat the right. Typically, like authors Thomas Frank and George Lakoff, whose books I’ve reviewed, Niose sees the political right as basically just shilling for, and manipulated by, “corporate interests.” Lakoff actually believes corporate profits are what conservatives mainly care about. Frank thinks they want the poor kept poor; indeed, want more people poor. And Niose, like Michael Werner, plays the race card: he calls racism the “underlying catalyst” and “at the roots” of modern American conservatism.

I’ve noted lab experiments showing most people unconsciously do react to racial cues. imagesHowever, call me starry-eyed, but the vast majority of Americans, in their conscious minds and hearts, harbor racial goodwill. Those who do not – the real racists – are a small minority of losers at the margins of society. To throw around phrases like “hidden racism that permeates political discourse,” or to tar the political leanings of half the country as rooted in racism, is irresponsible smear-mongering. It’s hate speech.*

Speaking of which, Paul Rapp is a lawyer and columnist for a local alternative newspaper.

Lying, pathetic, pandering, etc. . . and of course racist?

Lying, pathetic, pandering, etc. . . and of course racist?

Writing about “net neutrality,” which Senator Cruz (I’m no fan) called the “Obamacare of the Internet,” Rapp said this “reveals Ted Cruz as a lying, pathetic, pandering, cowardly, racist, fascist little douchebag, an embarrassment to us all.” More recently Rapp labeled John McCain a “doddering old traitor.” (Who’s the embarrassment?)

I don’t consider myself “conservative” or “on the right” in today’s American political taxonomy. But I think I understand that viewpoint. Whereas its popularity flummoxes writers like Frank, Lakoff, and Niose. Were conservatism truly the stinkpot they imagine, its political success might indeed be baffling. However, these guys are clueless about what really makes conservatives tick; they’re blinded by their stereotyping, demonizing caricatures.

Unknown-1A better understanding is found in Jonathan Haidt’s excellent book, The Righteous Mind. His analysis shows conservatives aren’t less moralistic than liberals; in fact, they use a larger moral palette. Tellingly, Haidt reports on questionnaire studies, where liberals were instructed to answer as though they were conservatives, and vice versa. Conservatives did quite well at predicting liberal responses; but liberals failed miserably at guessing what conservatives would say. images-1That’s because they really do see conservatives as grotesquely uncaring and selfish. They can’t seem to imagine that maybe, just maybe, the political right is motivated not by racism, or greed, or “corporate interests,” but, rather, sincere beliefs about what is truly best for all of society.

* We’re told relentlessly that opposition to Obama is, at its core, all about his race. Would a white Democrat with the same policies have gotten less pushback? Was the left’s hatred for Bush 43 any less intense than the right’s for Obama?

Great News: Sri Lanka Blows Off Authoritarianism

January 15, 2015
Rajapaksa

Rajapaksa

I have written before about Sri Lanka’s vile President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Yet another example of how power corrupts. Together with his band of brothers he was well along toward thoroughly undoing Sri Lanka’s democracy, and establishing a repressive authoritarian regime. The Rajapaksa boys were using the time-honored method of crushing any opposition or dissent through every means possible ranging from abuse of legal process to outright murder.

Last time, the big hero of Sri Lanka’s recent civil war tried to run against Rajapaksa, but was easily seen off and jailed for his trouble. Rajapaksa must have been pretty cocky because he decided to advance the next election by two years; no credible opponent was on the horizon, and Rajapaksa, controlling the vast resources of the government to propagandize, did seem impregnable.

But then his former health minister, Maithripala Sirisena, defected to run against him, on a shoestring. And – despite the incumbent’s overwhelming advantages – a huge shocker, Rajapaksa was beaten by a margin sufficiently decisive that he didn’t even try to tough it out.

Sirisena

Sirisena

Sirisena says that what Sri Lanka needs is “not a king, but a real human being.” Taking office quickly, he’s already dismantling some of Rajapaksa’s instrumentalities of repression, like blocked websites, and surveillance. Rajapaksa looks likely to be prosecuted now for his abuses, and headed for prison.

This is an absolutely thrilling thing. I’m reminded of Lincoln’s famous line that you can’t fool all the people all the time. Despite the intensive propagandizing by the Rajapaksa regime, the Sri Lankans – at least a majority – could see through it, and were smart enough to reject it. So much for the oft-invoked conventional wisdom that Asians are somehow culturally comfortable with authoritarianism.

Of course history never runs neatly, and things may well get messy in Sri Lanka. But the big fact is that its democracy has now been rescued, by its citizens, from a grave threat. People do understand the value of a democratic society, and will act on that understanding. This was a good day for optimists, and a bad one for cynics.

imagesMaybe Francis Fukuyama was right after all.

Mario Cuomo and Bess Myerson

January 6, 2015

imagesMy view of Mario Cuomo was not colored by his having knocked me publicly.

I was a PSC administrative law judge, presiding over a case involving Long Island’s Shoreham nuclear power plant – at the time, a huge issue. Governor Cuomo was hostile to the plant and its utility builder. One day when I came to work, people made remarks like, “Hey Frank, how are your credentials?” I was mystified, until I saw a news report: asked at a press conference about one of my recommendations (contrary to his position), Cuomo dismissed it, saying, “Well, what are his credentials?”

images-2Shoreham fell victim to a safety hysteria. There was no undue risk, in relation to all the normal risks of modern life. But “nuclear” is a scare word, and opponents thought it reasonable to insist on literally zero risk (even those traveling to hearings by car, a technology with risks far above zero). The Cuomo administration aligned with those opponents and spearheaded a settlement to junk the nearly completed $5 billion project. The PSC had to approve this, and I was again the judge. I recommended against the settlement. At the Commission’s meeting I was given no speaking role – highly unusual. And my report was not made public, also highly unusual. However, one Commissioner cheekily appended it to his dissent. And PSC Chairman Bradford later told me he’d welcomed my recommendation – it gave the proceedings a veneer of objectivity!

images-3Later, one early evening I was driving not far from the Executive Mansion and ahead of me saw a man who seemed to be wandering aimlessly in the middle of the road. I thought he was drunk, and had to slow to avoid hitting him. As I passed, I recognized the Governor.

Recently I had occasion to comment on Cuomo’s most famous speech, the 1984 “tale of two cities.” UnknownI thought it was an unfair attack on President Reagan, as though he, and Republicans in general, were blind to those Americans having a tough time. Admittedly, Republicans do a good job opening themselves up to such jabs. I don’t understand how Democrats get away with posturing as the tribunes of the common man, when their policies are actually ruinous for the country as a whole. (Trade protectionism is a prime example: protecting the few at the expense of the many.)

But Cuomo’s 1984 speech made him a great liberal hero, so that 30 years later, the local paper and NPR station gave his death massive fawning coverage. I wonder whether his successor George Pataki, who served an equal three gubernatorial terms, will get anything remotely comparable.

I will say this about Mario Cuomo: he was an honorable politician, a mensch, a man of true substance, who played it straight. His son, not so much.

images-4Bess Myerson’s link with Cuomo was her being a big pal of Ed Koch, whom Cuomo beat for Governor. She was the first – and so far only – Jewish Miss America – before I was born, in 1945. Her ethnicity was actually very controversial then – how far we’ve come since! Unlike Cuomo, she died in obscurity, so much so that her December 14 death wasn’t even reported till January 5.

Unknown-1I had a Bess Myerson moment too. In the ‘70s she was New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner; I met her when she testified at a PSC hearing. A recess found me in a side-room talking on the telephone. Myerson walked in and said to me, “Is that phone working?”

My So-Called Political Career – Rage Against the Machine

December 20, 2014

UnknownWhen young, I was mad for politics; active in both campus and local Republican politics in Queens, NY – generally playing the outsider-provocateur-clown. Yet I dreamed of a serious political career.

Arriving in Albany in 1970, I became a committeeman and ward leader’s sidekick. Albany was ruled by the famous old O’Connell Machine (in ’73 I authored a book about it). No city Republican had won an election since 1921; but a newly combative county chairman, Joe Frangella, was trying. My own ward, full of students, state workers, and yuppies, was the hotbed of machine opposition. This wasn’t just politics, but a moral crusade.

Unknown-1In 1972 our ward leader quit and wanted me as successor. The county chiefs had their own candidate, and sent three stooges to our meeting to browbeat us. Bridling against this, the committeemen unanimously elected me. No longer the clown – now the other guys were.

But my initiation was harrowing. First walking the circuit of my eight polling stations was to go from one fight to another. Each had two election inspectors from each party, yet the Democrats hogged all the chairmanships (which should have been decided by coin tosses). These intimidating tyrants let their committeemen get away with nonsense like “assisting” voters inside the booth.Unknown

I needed better election workers – and set about recruiting anti-machine reform Democrats. Yes, they could legally serve as Republican inspectors. I drilled them to be more assertive, especially about those chairmanships. And when next I walked that circuit, all was calm – with Republican chairmen in seven of eight districts! We might not win elections, but we’d won a big battle over their conduct.

In 1973, I was responsible for my ward’s candidates for alderman and county legislator. For the latter I recruited a presentable-seeming preppy fellow. A reform Democrat was running for alderman, a woman I knew; I made a deal to back her while she’d back my legislature candidate. Which she didn’t really do; she was a flake; and relations with my own guy soured when he bizarrely accused me of touching his repellent wife. Anyhow, both lost. So did our mayoral candidate, in a close race.

Rezsin Adams (2007)

Rezsin Adams (2007)

In 1975, another county legislator election. The machine put up a nothingburger. I found a great candidate: community activist Rezsin Adams. But most of her left-wing Dem pals wanted nothing to do with Republicans, while the GOP hierarchy gave me hell over allying with any Democrats. However, I had the backing of City Chairman Fred Hershey, and we did finally manage to maneuver Rezsin onto the ballot as a Republican. I worked my heart out to get her elected.

Meantime, city Republicans were chafing under feudal treatment by the county leadership. At a ward leader meeting, I mused that we could ignore the nominating petitions sent from the county and put up our own slate of party functionaries.

images-2So we did – a primary fight. Tense negotiations ensued; I and others met with Frangella, and got agreement for more city autonomy, including choosing our own city chairman. But I couldn’t persuade my colleagues to withdraw the primary slate, so I actually wound up voting against the candidates whose run I myself had instigated.

Also in 1975, Albany’s first county executive was elected. We had another great candidate, Theresa Cooke, an intrepid crusader, our Joan of Arc, who’d just been elected county treasurer. Unknown-3But due to some petty spat about her running mate, Republicans stupidly put up a third candidate instead. That killed the GOP as an effective force in Albany county. With the anti-machine vote split, the Democrat won. (He later went to prison.)

Rezsin Adams lost too. And so did I, as a sacrificial candidate for city court judge.

Then to replace Fred Hershey as city chairman, the county sachems decided on Andy Capoccia, a reptilian opportunist. Frangella was also now gone, along with his pledge about picking our own chairman. At the big 1976 county meeting, Capoccia’s annointment should have been a formality, but I got up and cheekily nominated someone else. Unknown-4When, in my speech, I mentioned Theresa Cooke, her name was booed. Ouch. Of course Capoccia won. (He later went to prison.)

So I was back to being the outsider provocateur. I was disillusioned that the Republican party didn’t appreciate me. In truth, while my academic knowledge of politics was legion, I had no aptitude for its human relations aspect. I resigned, my political career over at age 28. It had been quite a ride. (At least I didn’t go to prison.)

A few years later, I moved to a different ward, and some GOP leading lights actually begged me to run there against one of the machine’s major slimeballs. Winning might not have been impossible. But after careful thought, I declined. I guess I was now cured.

The political machine eventually faded away. But to this day, no Republican has won any election in the city.


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