Who Needs Predictions: I’ve Got the Facts

January 3, 2013

Instead of predictions for 2013, I’m here to give you the facts (and nothing but the facts).

1. Further restrictions on the sale of certain types of firearms will pass both the NYC Council and NYS Legislature in 2013. They will not reduce the number of people who die in NYC subways which currently averages one a week––some as a result of people with mental health issues either jumping in front of trains or pushing someone else off the platform.
2. New Yorker taxpayers will not be told how much federal Sandy relief aid will come out of their pockets. Gov. Cuomo will not inform the public that every dollar in federal relief will be borrowed money that taxpayers will have to pay back in higher federal taxes for decades.
3. The 2013 State Budget will be balanced as the law requires, but Gov. Cuomo and the NYS Legislature will use budgeting tricks, mirrors and slight of hand to accomplish it.
4. More than one locality will file for bankruptcy in 2013.
5. Voters will reject as many school district consolidation votes as they pass, refusing to see the writing on the wall––that it costs more to run two separate small school districts than one combined district and results in inferior instruction to boot.
6. More Democrats will join the Independent Democratic Conference in the NYS Senate when they realize membership gives them more power.
7. At least one daily newspaper will switch to a bi-weekly or weekly publication schedule.
8. Hillary Clinton announce that she will not be a candidate for the Presidency in 2016.
9. The Buffalo Bills will not make the playoffs in 2013.
10. The Empire Page will find a new owner in 2013 and Peter Pollak will retire (once again) to write more novels.


Election Analysis: What Went Wrong; What Can Be Done

November 8, 2012

2012 will go down as the year the Republicans proved wrong the theory that said a president could not get re-elected if the country faced high, persistent unemployment and slow growth.

Mr. Romney did considerably better than John McCain in 2008, but he failed to take advantage of Mr. Obama’s low approval rating and the country’s economic ills. Why?

The seeds of Romney’s failure can be found in the primary debates. Facing half a dozen challengers attacking him from the right, Mr. Romney took a hard line on immigration. Newt Gingrich was crucified for trying to avoid that pitfall, but Romney walked right into it. As a result, Romney won a lower percentage of Hispanic votes than either John McCain or George W. Bush. That cost him heavily in the battleground states.

Mr. Nice Guy

The second problem that showed up in the debate was his personality. Mr. Romney is by nature and by conviction a polite, considerate human being––too nice perhaps to be sent into battle against a veteran of Chicago style politics where it’s okay to lie as long as you sound convincing.

Romney did not fight back during the summer months when the Obama campaign painted him as a protect-the-rich vulture capitalist. Money may have had something to do with it, but after he failed to release his tax returns and was tarred with the 47% statement, he found himself in a deep hole at the start of the fall campaign.

In order to win the election, Romney had to dispel the image that he cared only for the rich and then convince people he had a plan that would help all Americans. He got off to a great start in debate #1, but the fact that Obama did so poorly may have given the Romney team a false sense of confidence. Whatever the reason, their man was not sufficiently prepared to go one-on-one with Obama in the town-hall format and then failed to attack Obama’s Benghazi cover-up during the foreign policy debate.

Instead of going toe-to-toe with Obama, Romney played presidential. Big mistake. That’s a strategy you employ when you’re ahead, not when you’re the underdog or tied.

Don’t Act Like Democrats

Republican candidates in the future need not act like Democrats––bribing special interests to get their votes. They must, however, speak to issues that impact Hispanics, seniors, etc. and where possible, take positions that address the concerns of those constituencies in constructive manner.

Mr. Romney failed to address immigration in a way that anyone found plausible. He dented the youth vote, but he did not fully disabuse seniors of the charge that he and Paul Ryan were going to gut Medicare.

On that basis I feel the Paul Ryan nomination was a mistake. In the end Ryan’s nomination appeased conservatives who were going to vote Republican anyway while doing nothing to counteract Obama’s characterization that Romney and the GOP care only about the rich. A better choice would have been Susana Martinez or Marco Rubio.

By the Numbers

Mr. Obama should consider himself fortunate to still be president. He won despite pulling 6.8 million fewer votes than in 2008, including roughly 1.6 million fewer votes from African-Americans. Had Mr. Romney won just 1.5 million of those who voted (or 1.18 percent of the total), he would have been the winner.

Cover-Up of the Cover-Up

The electorate was less than enthusiastic about Obama than in 2008 and it took an expenditure of $900 million attacking Romney to pull it off. The national news media helped Obama tremendously throughout the campaign, parroting the campaign’s accusations, downplaying Obama’s failures and then by giving President a pass on his handling of Benghazi, they prevented the cover-up from becoming the defining issue it should have been.

Some Republicans argue Romney lost because he was not a true conservative. Litmus test nominating almost may work locally, but it guarantees defeat on the national level. Others argue he waited too long to move to the center. Playing to the extreme during the primaries and then trying to move to the center during the general election is also a poor strategy because it leaves the candidate open to charges that he’s unprincipled.

What’s the answer? To win in 2016, a candidate must be willing to weather attacks both from the party’s extreme right and from the Democrats on the left. No individual should be expected to have an empty personal history closet. Rather she or he must be willing to explain the contents of that closet in a way that defuses any issue. Did admitting his youthful drug use cost Obama votes? No. But, did paying lower taxes than people with lower incomes hurt Romney? Yes, because he didn’t defuse the issue.

A successful candidate must foresee possible attacks and be prepared to deal with them. She or he must also have a clear, well thought out plan for the country. Romney was unable to convince enough people that his tax and budget numbers added up. Had he done so, he might have moved voters away from their social issue concerns to voting their economic self-interest.

The Next Four Years

How Obama handles the fiscal cliff problem will have a lot to say about where the country will be in 2014 and 2016. If he thinks he has won a mandate and won’t compromise with the Republican-controlled House, his party will take another big mid-term hit and the Republicans should be in good shape for 2016. If Obama adopts Romney’s platform of tax and entitlement reform coupled with spending control, he can create a legacy for himself and give the Democrats a chance to hold on to the White House and Senate. Time will tell.


The prevent defense, the “war” in Iraq and Roundabouts

October 25, 2012

Remember the prevent defense in football? Teams with the lead towards the end of the game would allow their opponents to move down the field with little opposition until they got close to the goal line. That technique failed as often as it worked.

If Mitt Romney loses the election Nov. 6, it will be because he went into a prevent defense during the foreign policy debate when the score was tied.

**

President Obama keeps saying he ended the war in Iraq. What war is he talking about? The fact of the matter is that our pulling out of Iraq didn’t end the civil war that has been raging since we removed Saddam Hussein. Pulling out our troops also pulled news stories about the ongoing violence in Iraq out of our news media.

Need proof? Here’s one statistic: “Al-Qaida in Iraq has more than doubled in strength and carries out about 140 attacks a month, up from 75 a month earlier this year.” (http://www.opposingviews.com/i/politics/myths-iraq-and-afghanistan)

**

From national to local: Some people in Malta, NY oppose adding more roundabouts (also known as traffic circles) to major intersections (http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2012/oct/25/public-rises-halt-roundabouts-malta/). They prefer sitting at red lights instead.

I’d put that opinion in the league of those who want us to trade in our cars for horses and buggies. Traffic circles reduce serious injuries as well as pollution (cars and trucks coming to a halt, then starting up again use extra gas and put out extra emissions), not to mention improved traffic flow. That means people get where they’re going sooner and safer. Oh! Earth to taxpayers! Traffic signals are also very expensive to purchase and maintain. Maybe those who favor electric signals ought to have the cost added to their property taxes.


Benghazi: The Tragedy That Will End Hillary Clinton’s Political Career

October 13, 2012

If Hillary Clinton has been thinking these past four years that she could run for President in 2016, Benghazi has killed her chances. Her first mistake was to repeat the fiction that the events that led to the death of the American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans came as a result of a protest of an anti-Islam video. We now know there was no such protest. Rather the attack on the American embassy was a planned action by terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda. But she’d made two huge mistakes prior to that falsehood. First, she ignored Ambassador’s Steven’s requests for more security at the embassy; second, she ignored the warnings that anti-American groups were planning actions on the anniversary of 9/11.

The Obama’s administration handling of these events mirrors the mishandling by the Carter administration of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Teheran. It shows gross incompetence at the minimum.

Not only did the administration fail to heed the ambassador’s pleas; not only did they fail to heed the 9/11 anniversary warnings, but they tried to shift the blame for their failures first onto the film maker and then onto Mitt Romney for “politicizing” the death of Americans. That also is a lie because Romney’s statement came after the protests in Cairo and were made prior to the events in Libya. The only way the administration can tar Romney with Libya is by falsifying the timing of the events. On all counts their behavior has been disgraceful.

The 47 Percent Problem

Mitt Romney’s remarks last spring in answer to a question about election strategy were unfortunate if he believed at the time that everyone on the government teat lacks political independence. The general point he was making however has an element of truth. Too many people in America today would rather live off the government than support themselves by taking available jobs.

My evidence? There are today 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs. I can’t believe that the job requirements for those positions are such that none of the 23 million un- and under-employed Americans qualify.

The sad truth of the matter is that too many people prefer collecting unemployment, welfare and food stamps.

That unfortunately includes too many people collecting disability. There’s a big racket for people who want to collect disability that involves fake accidents and fake doctor’s reports. I remember an employee years ago bragging about how her boyfriend faked hurting himself on the job so that he could collect disability. He was out for two years and I believe he received free tuition to attend the local community college.

There is also another rarely discussed factor in all of this––the underground economy. How many of those who are collecting unemployment are working jobs off the books? The number is probably in the millions because in some parts of the country working off the books is a way of life.

Believe it or not, the underground economy also extends to the retail sector. A friend told me about the time she was considering purchasing some flooring. After discussing options with a store owner, she was told there were two prices: if she paid cash she wouldn’t be charged sales tax. In other words the store owner was not going to report the sale as income, thus lowering her taxes and was not going to collect or pay state sales tax if the customer paid cash.

The underground economy puts the lie to unemployment statistics and politicians who campaign on behalf of the 47%. That, however, doesn’t excuse Mitt Romney if his intent was to lump everyone who lives off government payments in the same pile. People who collect social security are getting back what they paid into the system and of course soldiers are being paid for serving their country. I’m sure Mitt understands that was an error in judgment––one however that pales in comparison to the Obama administration’s handling of the tragedy in Libya.


Election Challenges

September 7, 2012

After watching both conventions, it’s clear that both presidential candidates face major challenges.

As the incumbent, Barack Obama should have gone into the convention as the favorite. His approval ratings, however, have been low based on the sluggish economy and polls had the race at dead even. At the convention, therefore, the Democrats had to recast their record from one of failure to one of moving in the right direction. To win this argument, they have to convince voters that the Republicans’ solutions are the same ones that got the economy into trouble in the first place.

At Tampa, the Republicans portrayed Obama as having blundered the job of managing the economy and offered themselves as knowing how to fix the problems. Romney/Ryan face a major challenge in winning the electoral college even if the popular vote is close. Therefore, it is imperative that they overcome the portrait of Romney as someone who is too rich to appreciate the problems of the middle class and Ryan’s tea party philosophy as cruel and un-American.

People who follow these issues closely can easily take apart each candidate’s arguments. Fact checkers can point out the many discrepancies and inconcistencies. But the election will be determined in large part by perception not fact. Thus, Bill Clinton could have a major impact on the outcome. The GOP lacks anyone of Clinton’s stature or his effectiveness as a speaker. He is unequalled in his ability to reduce complex issues to a sound bite.

The debates give Romney an opportunity to overcome Clinton’s impact. Painting Obama into a corner will not be easy. He sounds convincing even when he’s contradicting previous statements or decisions he made over the past three plus years.

To win the debates and the electrion, Mitt Romney must both catch Obama off-guard, pointing out where his claims lack veracity, and make a convincing case that his plan will work. It’s a tall order, but he doesn’t deserve to win if he can’t accomplish both goals.


The Sham of Redistricting Reform

May 11, 2012

The state’s editorial boards sound like a broken record on redistricting reform. Their claim? That an independent commission would create fairer districts. Unfortunately, they’ve bought an argument based on unexamined assumptions. Redistricting reform would neither remove the bias from the process nor result in fairer districts. What it would do is undermine the public’s voice in state government.

First, let’s examine the concept that redistricting reform would produce an “independent” commission. What does independent mean in this context? Would commissioners only come from people who are not enrolled in a political party? I doubt such a restriction is either intended or would stand up in court. Would political considerations be removed from the selection process? Not in the least. The commissioners would be chosen––as all such bodies are chosen––by the governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. So, on what basis would such commissioners be independent? The answer: None.

Further, the idea that an independent commission would be able to draw lines that are fairer than those drawn by elected officials is based on false assumptions. The rap on the current system is that lines are drawn to favor incumbents. (P.S.: The media like to ignore the fact that lines drawn by legislators are repeatedly found to be both legal and constitutional.)

The question then is on what basis would an independent commission’s lines be drawn? The best answer one can extract from editorials on the topic is districts that are shaped more like circles than hot dogs. That the shape of a district has anything to do with fairness is another unsubstantiated assumption.

The truth of the matter is that the independent commissioners wouldn’t draw a single line. The lines will be drawn by paid staffers using sophisticated computer programs, and since there must be some criteria to draw the lines, the biases in the system would be put there either by the programmer or by the staffers running the program.

An independent commission will hide the biases that are inevitably built into drawing district lines. The commission will issue a press release declaring that the new lines are unbiased. But they’d be unbiased by definition not in fact. The public would never know what biases have been built into their districts and thus our democratic system will be that much diminished.

The notion of an independent election commission ignores the fact that one of the deserved rewards of having been elected to a seat in the State Legislature is the power to control district lines for future elections.

Elected officials are supposed to make decisions that favor their constituents. They are supposed to provide benefits to their districts and to the groups that favored their election. The notion that elected officials are should be neutral or “objective” is absurd on the face of it, yet the state’s newspapers continue to advocate that position as if it were logical and sound.

What then is behind redistricting reform? My guess is that it is a reaction to the fact that the public is more and more upset about how things are done in Albany and in Washington. Redistricting reform is being offered as a way to convince the public that government is paying attention. Since reform will not change one law or one policy, what reformers must hope is that they can put it in place and retire with their fat pensions before the public catches on to the hoax.

It’s time to put this redistricting farce to bed. No commission can be independent and district lines cannot be drawn without prejudice. In the end, the public loses if redistricting reform is passed.


Redistricting: Democracy’s Omlet

January 26, 2012

The new legislative maps are out and everyone is critical of them. They protect incumbents. They favor the other Party. They cut up some communities and fail to unite others.

The truth of the matter is that fair redistricting is an oxymoron, just as is a fair tax code, but that doesn’t stop people from getting on their high horses, issuing press releases and crying foul.

What is sheer lunacy is the idea that it will be any different if the process is turned over to an “independent” commission. First, independent is a one-word oxymoron. There is no such animal as an impartial, independent human being other than those who occupy boot hill. Second, the outcome will always be “unfair,” because fairness is a subjective value. It has never existed, it does not exist today and it never will exist.

Can the system be made fairer — i.e., slightly better? Maybe, maybe not…and probably only for a short period of time before “unfairness” wins out. But that is the essence of democracy–the worst system of government ever invented …except for all the rest.

Let’s stop playing the redistricting is unfair game and focus on what is fair and good — namely that we live in a society where each person has the right to free speech, where each person has the right to run for office and where each person gets one vote.

So, if you don’t like the proposed boundaries, the thing to do is work harder to win the election without regard to whether the voters are too white or too rich or too Republican. Treat the voters in your district as if each one of them is open to being persuaded that you are the right person to represent them in whatever body you are running for. Honor democracy and quit whinning. I for one don’t want to hear it.