Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Cynthia Nixon for Governor — What is wrong with “progressives”

June 8, 2018

I switched enrollment from Republican to Democrat when the GOP went off the rails, to the dark side; I wanted to use my primary vote to keep at least one party on the rails. And I was glad when actor Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City”) challenged vile Governor Andrew Cuomo — even though from the left.

The other night Nixon was on The Daily Show.

At the start, the question was whether she’s really out to become governor, rather than just making a point.

Someone serious about the governorship might focus on the state’s real problems — like its weak economy beset by high taxes, a lousy business climate, and crumbling infrastructure. Instead, Nixon was all pet “progressive” memes. Such as inequality, $15 minimum wage, and “women’s issues.” Repeatedly chanting the word “progressive” as a talisman.

Cuomo himself has been doing the same, leaving little space to squeeze into on his left. But Nixon is trying, calling Cuomo insufficiently progressive. Like on the $15 minimum wage, being introduced gradually rather than immediately.

This kind of left-wing purity trial will kill the Democratic party for 2020. There’s already a big debate within the party over whether to countenance anyone not 100% for abortion. Are these people out of their minds?

Republicans have left vacant a vast territory in the American political center. But instead of moving briskly to seize that territory, Democrats like Nixon (and Cuomo) are fleeing it too.

Meantime, Andrew Cuomo is a very strong candidate, still basking in his father’s glow, with the party organization locked up, and a huge campaign war chest. How will Nixon compete with that?

I’m reminded how last year, a guy sought me out who wanted to run for Albany Mayor on the Republican line. The Democratic incumbent, Kathy Sheehan, had done reasonably well, and, mind you, the city is something like ten-to-one Democratic. No Republican had been elected to anything in almost a century. So this guy starts telling me all his nifty ideas for how Albany could be spruced up. One was something about bike paths.

Finally I stopped him and said, “All very nice. But is Sheehan going to lose to a Republican on the issue of bike paths?

The point being that to defeat a powerful incumbent you need a powerful issue. And Cynthia Nixon actually has one: public corruption. Andrew Cuomo is drenched in slime. His top honcho, Percoco (his “third brother”) was convicted of taking bribes, peddling his influence with the governor, and mis-using his position right under Cuomo’s nose. While another top Cuomo guy, Percoco’s partner in crime, pled guilty and testified against him while being revealed as a comic book sleazeball.

State government corruption was already so odoriferous in 2013 that Cuomo convened a special blue-ribbon “Moreland Act” commission to investigate and take action. Then he pulled the plug, disbanding the commission — when it started looking at the governor’s office. Eeewww. To her credit, Cynthia Nixon has pledged a new Moreland Act commission.

But did she mention any of this on The Daily Show? Not a word. The word “corruption” did not pass her lips. Instead she hammered the word “progressive” and stuff like “women’s issues.”

At the very end, Cuomo’s $31 million campaign kitty did come up. As something Nixon would have to overcome. I literally shouted at the TV: “Tell us how he got the money!”

She did not. Did not mention he got it by selling favors to contributors, paid for by taxpayers. Like the real estate developer who gave Cuomo’s campaign big bucks, and then was repaid many times over with a huge unnecessary public subsidy for a project which was already underway.

On all this Nixon was silent. She has one issue, and one issue only, that could conceivably elect her, and she ignored it — so wrapped up was she in her “progressive” shtick. Corruption isn’t an issue with a satisfying ideological thwack.

Last time around, Cuomo was similarly challenged from the left by Zephyr Teachout — who got a third of the vote. A lot of her votes, ironically, did not come from ideological “progressives” but rather upstaters angry over Cuomo’s gun control legislation. That’s why Teachout carried around 30 rural counties (while being crushed downstate).

Nixon will get all the votes Teachout got. And not one vote more.

Correction: one vote more. Mine.

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China versus America: the candid truth

December 3, 2015

I was recently on panel, with two Chinese natives, comparing our respective countries’ cultures. Here (a bit condensed) is my presentation:

UnknownChina is a great civilization with many accomplishments, a rich history and culture, and much to admire. I’m saying this because the rest of my comments won’t be so complimentary.

When I got the phone call to do this, I happened to be reading David Brooks’s book, The Road to Character. And I asked myself, would such a book be written in China? Because its approach is very humanistic, a book written for a society of individuals. Then I recalled the phrase “Asian Values” popularized by the late leader of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew: an attempt to dress up authoritarianism and paternalism as reflecting deep cultural traditions, as an alternative to Western values that emphasize democracy, human rights, the worth of the individual, and so forth.

Unknown-1We hear a lot of nonsense that America is not really a democracy. But there’s really no voting at all in China, certainly no political competition, no opposition allowed, no freedom of speech and press. And this does reflect a cultural difference. We Americans do value people as individuals, whereas in China what’s most important is one’s role as a part of a group – the family, and, more broadly, the whole society. Compared to America, Chinese society is more like an ant colony or beehive, which biologist E.O. Wilson has likened to “superorganisms,” with the role of the individual ant or bee equivalent to that of a cell in a human body.images-1

One important element of human rights is the rule of law. President, Xi Jinping talks a lot about this, but it means something different to him than to us. It’s not a restraint on government, it’s a tool for government to restrain citizens. The government and the Communist party (pretty much the same thing) are still above the law.

China does have a constitution, full of worthy platitudes, yet the word “constitutionalism” is seen as a subversive Western idea. People have been jailed simply for voicing the radical concept that the constitution should be obeyed.

images-2I was one of those optimists believing that as China grew richer it would evolve toward democracy. For a while that seemed to be happening, albeit at a glacial pace. But now it’s gone into reverse. President Xi is consolidating power to a degree unmatched since Mao, cracking down on anyone and anything seen as remotely challenging to the party’s control. Recently all the country’s human rights lawyers were arrested.

Speaking of control, you probably know about China’s one-child policy, which just became a two-child policy. A long overdue change, but it’s still an unjustifiably cruel, coercive approach. It’s given China a big labor shortage, with not enough working age people to support a growing population of elderly pensioners. And because of a strong cultural preference for male children, people often made sure their one child would be a boy. So males outnumber females, and many of those pampered little princes won’t be able to find princesses to marry. This is a societal time-bomb.

Unknown-2Then there’s the hukou system. A hukou is a sort of internal passport and residence permit. It’s a very big deal. You can go from the countryside to the city to get a factory job, but you cannot get a city hukou. Without it you’re you’re barred from local public services, like health care, and your children can’t even go to school. One consequence is that an estimated 70 million children are left behind with other relatives, growing up with all kinds of psychological and adjustment problems. Another societal time-bomb.

Now, Americans are very patriotic, we love our country. Chinese love theirs, but with a difference. It’s perhaps explainable in light of China’s past history of depredation by other powers. Chinese are highly nationalistic and obsess about their global standing, with a chip on their shoulders. This is seen in China’s aggressive claims to vast ocean regions.

But here’s some good news: since Mao and his mad policies were buried, China has experienced phenomenal economic growth. In 35 years its average income has increased by 3000% — thirty-fold. Some would say this shows authoritarianism works. That would be wrong.

China is really two economies: the communist sector of state-owned businesses, and the private sector, which is in fact the closest thing ever to that mythical beast, “unfettered laissez faire capitalism.” And virtually all of China’s economic growth has come from that sector. The lesson is not that authoritarianism works, it’s that free market capitalism works.

My final point: compared to America, China is a profoundly corrupt society.

images-3We’re often told the U.S. Senate is a millionaire’s club. Well, China’s legislature – with much less real power – is packed with billionaires. And whereas our Senatorial millionaires in general earned their money outside of politics, most in China got theirs by abusing their official positions. American political corruption is mostly politicians catering to private interests to get campaign money, not personal wealth. In China it’s the latter. Being a high official is a license to steal.

Now, President Xi is crusading against corruption, and some big fish have been caught, like Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang. But this is really less a clean-up than a political purge, aimed mainly at tightening Xi’s control. China’s apologists like to point out that Western democracies are not immune to abuses of power, citing Watergate as a prime example. But Nixon fell because of checks and balances within the American political system – notably a strong opposition party and a free press. Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang fell to the power of an even bigger fish. And what will constrain that bigger fish’s power?

China’s culture of corruption goes beyond politics. Ironically, for a country that actually invented civil service examinations centuries ago, today it’s based not on what you know but who you know; the greasing of palms and disingenuousness. Yale University had a bad experience trying to set up branches in China. Of course there’s cheating in American schools, but Chinese students took it to a new level. Yale gave up and left. A New York Times essay quoted Chinese author Wang Xiaofang: “The habit of falsehood is fatal to a culture. But to us, falsehood is the essence.”

Unknown-3Recently we learned about China’s cyber-hacking, stealing corporate secrets. Here again, of course such things happen in the West. But for the government to set up a whole bureaucracy to carry it out? David Brooks has commented that this shows China sees world economic competition as equivalent to war, with all weapons allowed. But this destroys the trust that lubricates free exchange and international commerce. This is not how you become a global economic leader.

I recognize that, compared to China, American government has become dysfunctional and paralyzed. It’s mainly down to our partisan political polarization. But Francis Fukuyama wrote a book in 1992, titled The End of History, arguing that the classically liberal Western model of democratic government under rule of law, accountable to the governed, is bound to prevail because it satisfies a basic human hunger for personal dignity and self worth. America may be in decline relative to a rising China; but I’d rather live in a declining democracy than in a rising authoritarian state.

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.

The Scandalous Sochi Olympics: Medals for Disgrace and Bullshit

September 4, 2013

imagesAn Olympic gold medal was always one of my fantasies. Standing up there, while our majestic national anthem is played – what a supreme moment! But, at 65, that dream has kind of faded. Not that I was athletic anyway. Not that I could even do, say, a single chin-up in high school.

But I will hereby award an Olympic gold medal: to the International Olympic Committee  (IOC) itself, for the sprint to the bottom of disgrace in giving the 2014 winter games to Sochi in Russia. That deserves a special prize.

Winter Olympics Site (the white stuff is not snow)

Winter Olympics Site (the white stuff is not snow)

Sochi might seem a bizarre locale for winter games: a beach resort on the Black Sea, whose climate The Economist labels “subtropical,” noting it’s “one of the very few places in Russia where snow is scarce.” So the organizers have been hoarding last year’s snow. Also, Sochi is next door to still simmering violent conflicts in the North Caucasus.

But never mind such quibbles. Vladimir Putin wanted this, and so it was bestowed on him by the IOC as a reward for . . . what? His splendid record on human rights and international cooperation? images-1Indeed, Putin wanted these games as a form of “regime laundering,” to give his murderous gangster mafia a veneer of international legitimacy; so he could puff out his over-exposed chest and preen in the Olympics’ reflected glory.

But that wasn’t all. As if to demonstrate why the games should never have been awarded to Russia, their cost is now estimated at $50 billion, the highest ever. The original estimate was only $12 billion. Why the huge overrun? In a word, corruption.

Il Capo di Tutti Capi

Il Capo di Tutti Capi

Putin wanted these games not only for international legitimacy but to make a mockery of that very legitimacy by using the games to loot the nation’s coffers, for the benefit of the crony capitalists who feed off him and prop him up (see my past post on The Dictator’s Handbook). The games are mostly paid for by the Russian government, with the money flowing to a coterie of big, politically connected insider contractors. So, inflating the bill from $12 to $50 billion? No problem. Who’s gonna complain? Another Magnitsky? (Murdered, to shut him up.)

Russia exemplifies those states where government, instead of building national prosperity, is a vehicle for extracting wealth to benefit a narrow elite. There’s no democratic accountability to stop them. Russians mostly bend over for this, thinking they’re not too bad off. They fail to realize not only how much is stolen from them, but how much more prosperous a rule-of-law economy would make them.

Navalny

Navalny

Regime critic Alexei Navalny (see my past post) was recently convicted and sentenced to five years in a labor camp on obviously phony charges. At his “trial” his defense was not allowed to call any witnesses, nor even to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. That’s why I put “trial” in quotes. At protest demonstrations, random participants have been arrested and charged with “violence against police,” carrying heavy prison terms. Regimes like this talk a lot about obedience to law.  But instead of rule of law – which means means applying laws impartially –  it’s really rule by law, which is just a tool for a ruling group to repress and exploit everyone else.

To stick yet another thumb in the eye of the IOC and the world community, Russia recently passed a law making it basically illegal for gays to come out of the closet.

The IOC is now considering a 2020 site selection. Turkey is in the running; will the IOC learn its lesson? See my post about recent developments in Turkey.

And for more Sochi details, check out The Economist’s report. It concludes by quoting – without further comment – Russia’s original bid for the games: it claims to provide “a stable political and economic environment in order to improve and enhance quality of life. The government is based on free and open elections, freedom of expression and a constitutionally guaranteed balance of power.”Unknown

Do they give an Olympic medal for bullshit?