September 29, 2010

Shots Fired: 9/29/10

“…I think we don’t understand tenure.  I don’t see a need for it. I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that I have to be hired each year. And I think as younger teachers we’re seeing a lot of things that we need. The union contract is getting in the way. I know that in the South Bronx, my kids who don’t speak English need an extra vocabulary block, They need an extra phonics block. I need extra time before the test to do extra test prep, but we have a union contract that says the school day is from 8:20 to 3:30. And that’s what so attractive about charter schools, is that they can do what their kids need. If they need an extra hour on Saturday, they bring those kids in on Saturday. I’m not allowed to do that. And the reality is, in my case, is that the union contract is in the way.”         An unidentified young teacher, speaking out at one of NBC's Education Nation sessions earlier this week.

September 27, 2010

Point/Counterpoint: Two Conservatives

Dateline New York, NY. Rick Lazio, the Republican Party choice for Governor of New York, lost the primary two weeks ago to Carl Paladino, a western NY businessman. Lazio remained on the ballot on the Conservative line, but today ended his candidacy"While my heart beckons me forward, my head tells me my continued presence on the Conservative line would simply lead to the election of Andrew Cuomo," he said, referring to Paladino’s Democratic opponent. 

Dateline Watertown, NY. Doug Hoffman, who two years ago lost in an ugly three-way election for NY’s 23rd district, lost the Republican primary to Matt Doheny. Hoffman, also on the Conservative line, vowed to stay in the race, even though last time around, when he made the same choice, the Republicans lost a seat they had held since the 1800’s. "I have spoken with family, friends, supporters and staff as I have weighed my next step. So today, with new resolve and a strong commitment to conservative principles, I rededicate myself to this race and announce that I will actively campaign for Congress as the nominee of the Conservative Party." 

In response, a Tea Party leader told members not to vote for Hoffman, saying “Doug Hoffman doesn’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell of winning this election. A vote for him is a vote for Bill Owens.’’

September 24, 2010

Where do the leading economic indicators lead?

We regularly hear from various agencies, reporting on aspects of the economy and the recession, depression, or ‘Obamamession’ or whatever it is we’re in. What we buy, what we spend, what we save -  are all reported on, and commented on, and are supposed to foretell the future.  What  gets me about all this is how the numbers are ‘spun’ to show we’re in horrible straits, we’re not recovering, it’s getting worse by the day.

Take car sales. Last year we had Cash for Clunkers which ended in August, and sales were way up as people took advantage of the extra money taxpayers put up and traded in their gas guzzler for newer models. Then, we compare this year’s August sales to same month last year, and lo and behold, sales are down. Half the people who reported on this failed to mention the end of the incentive, but instead gave us a ‘woe is me’ reading of the figures.

Look at home sales, and you’ll get similar information. Sales in May were down considerably from April – 32% down - so that means that we’re stalled, the economy’s not moving, and the world’s coming to an end, right?  Nope – it just means that, without the $8000 taxpayer-funded incentives which ended in April, folks were not as interested in purchasing a new home.

The problem with these ‘economic indicators’ is, they become self-fulfilling prophecies. We hear, for example, that "banks aren’t lending money" and people think that all banks aren’t lending any money, so they don’t ask for a loan to expand a small business or kick off an entrepreneurial venture…then we don’t get any new jobs, so unemployment stays high. The truth of the matter is, lots of local banks are lending money to local businesses, just like they always have.

The indicators are also self-feeding. We hear complaints that credit card debt is out of control and people are in way over their heads with debt. Credit card companies begin to be more careful with rates and who can have how much credit, which should be a good thing. People start managing their credit card debt, paying off balances and being more careful with how they use credit, and that should be a good thing too. But it's really a bad thing, because some other indicator says that credit card use is a good thing. It’s all some crazy dog-chase-tail situation.

The best thing we can do is to understand our own economic situation as best we can, and act accordingly.  If you're comforable spending, go ahead and spend. If you'd rather save for a rainy day, go ahead and save. If you want a new fill-in-the-blank, buy it with your own money - don't wait for the government to help you pay for it.

If we listen to the experts, we’ll be too scared to sleep at night...and we need at least eight hours of sleep at night, or we’re all going to die… and if we all die, the economy will surely end up in the toilet… and...and...and...

September 22, 2010

Shots Fired: 9/22/10

"Regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent" ... "An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many." –“The Pledge to America”, the new Republican manifesto, being rolled out tomorrow at a Virginia hardware store.

“So Andrew, for the first time in your life be a man. Don't hide behind daddy's coattails even though he pulled strings to advance your career every step of your way. Come out and debate like a man.” – NY Gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, ‘inviting’ opponent Andrew Cuomo to debate.

“We were big before we started adopting sophisticated procedures to be sure we met all of the government requirements,” he said. “While we were big, but still acting like we were small, we got into trouble with government requirements several times.” – Jack DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, one of two egg farms behind the salmonella outbreak this year which caused some 1600 people to become ill.

September 17, 2010

Poll Watch: 9/17/10

The US Census Bureau released a report showing the official poverty rate in America in 2009 was 14.3%,which equates to some 43.6 million of us, compared to 39.8 million in 2008.  

To put that number in perspective, it's roughly equal to the  the 2009 population of the 39 largest cities in the US: that would be everyone in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Austin, Columbus, Fort Worth, Charlotte, Memphis, Boston, Baltimore, El Paso, Seattle, Nashville, Milwaukee, Washington DC, Las Vegas, Louisville, Portland OR, Oklahoma City, Tucson, Atlanta, Albuquerque, Kansas City MO, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, and Mesa AZ.  

Also in the report: for the first time in 23 years, the number of people who have health insurance actually dropped – 1.5 million folks who had insurance in 2008 no longer have it today. There are also shifts in how we are insured - the number of people with private health insurance decreased by about 6.6 million people, and the number of people with government health insurance increased by about 5.8 million people. All of the gory details can be found hereThese numbers are at once fascinating and horrifying, embarrassing and frightening. America should be able to do better.

According to a new CBS/NY Times poll, more than three quarters of us (78%) feel that it’s time for most members of Congress to go, and more than half of us think it’s time for our own representatives to go. What’s interesting about the ‘most should go’ sentiment is that since 1994, the number feeling this way has never been lower than 64%. For Dubya’s midterms, the percentages were 76% in 2006 and 70% in 2002, not a whole lot better than President Obama’s.

Interestingly, folks are evenly split on the personal financial impact that will come from whether Dems or Reps have control of Congress. If Dems retain control, 16% feel they will be better off, 23% say they’ll be worse off, but 57% say there will be no difference. If the Reps gain control, 17% say they’ll be better off, 18% worse off, and 59% say no difference. 

Also noteworthy, 46% of respondents view Sarah Palin unfavorably, and both her favorable and unfavorable numbers are going south compared to last month. This is the part that CBS chose to highlight, and while I’m always happy when people don’t fall into the Palin Trap, it’s hardly the most important revelation in the survey. What will be most interesting is if we rise to the occasion in the voting booth, and actually get rid of the folks in Washington. You can read the full poll here.

Fox News highlights  a drop in President Obama’s approval rating in their latest poll – down four points to 42% since early September. On the other hand, 66% approve of the job Hillary Clinton is doing (even 42% of Reps approve).  And, while 70% feel nervous about the economy, 78% feel at least somewhat confident about their own economic situation.

Regarding health care, here’s a sample: Do you favor repealing the health care reform law to keep it from going into effect (44% yes), or would you oppose repealing it? 43% say don’t repeal. Back in April, the choices were: implement the bill as is (12%), make changes (47%), or repeal (36%). Without the ‘make changes’ choice, it’s hard to really tell whether or not opinions have really changed.  There’s lots of other fun stuff in the poll, which you can read here.

September 15, 2010

At Last - The Two Amigos Are Gone

(photo by Richard Drew/AP)
New York's Democrats accomplished at least two good things yesterday -- the Two Amigos, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, are finally done.

Espada, the hugely ethically challenged Dem-turned-Rep-turned-Dem who by many accounts doesn't even live in his district.  He was a key pawn in the coup perpetrated on New Yorkers by the ethically challenged Republicans in the senate, who offered him a leadership position to stumble across the aisle.  Dems, even more challenged than the Reps, offered him a bigger leadership role to return to the fold. Blissfully, he's been booted by folks who live in the district he represented.

(NY Daily News photo)
Monserrate, who was convicted of a domestic violence charge stemming from an incident in which his girlfriend's face was cut with a glass, and who was expelled by the Senate, sued  and lost, then tried to get voted back in. But the voters knew better.

Here's more on our friends Pedro and  Hiram, in case you'd put them out of your mind.

There's plenty of stench surrounding both of these guys, and I think an equal amount surrounding the Reps for enticing them over in the ill-fated coup, and even more so for the Dems for inviting them back in a sad game of Red Rover. Sadder still, all of this was ostensibly done for our benefit, so the right folks would be in power in Albany and would be doing things to benefit all New Yorkers.   Uh, right... 

Fortunately, in this case the voters didn't need the Albany 'leadership' to tell them the right thing to do -- they just plain knew.  Maybe there's hope after all.

September 13, 2010

Primary Day is Finally Here!

Over the past several weeks I've been bombarded by political phone calls, the majority of them encouraging me to vote for one of the many Dems running for Attorney General.  I say 'many Dems' because I'm really not sure how many there are, I think five, which is typical of our party.  Why not put up a whole mess o folks, spend a whole mess o money, do a whole mess of character assassination, and then rally round the standard-bearer after the primary and on into November. Fortunately tomorrow is Primary Day, I can vote, and move on.

It's interesting to see when they were calling, and what it may mean about their momentum, their money, or their chances. Sean Coffey I heard from early and often, at least seven calls in the last week of August and into the first week of September, but basically nothing since about September 4th. Kathleen Rice left me a few phone messages, and she's had the most ads on TV, but it's been a few days since I heard from her last. Eric Schneiderman has been the big bell-ringer of late, with a call a day for the past four days. To his credit, his supporters at least seem human; they do more than mumble their candidate's name and ask if I'm going to vote for him. Today's caller mentioned the new voting machines with the giant paper ballots we get to slide into the scanners, and she was the second one to ask me if I had any questions about her guy. That's much more than any of the others have done. Some of Sean Coffey's supporters I couldn't even understand, and had to ask them to repeat his name a couple of times.

Until today, I had not received a single call asking for my support for Richard Brodsky - but today my mayor called me and asked me to support him.  And I also received my first and likely only call from Eric Dinallo, former head of the NYS Insurance Department. While I'm not likely to vote for him, he gets my vote for the most original campaign call: Hi, this is Eric Dinallo-- WAIT, Don't Hang Up! -- and then goes into his speech. 

I question how much impact the AG can or should have on 'reforming Albany' or 'reforming Wall Street' -- that's Steamroller Spitzer's old line (emphasis on old) and it may be time for us to move on -- but that's about all the candidates talk about. There must be something for NY's AG to focus on, something that has meaning for the average New Yorker -- after all, there are five of them running...

In the overall scheme of things, I don't think this will be the most important vote I'll cast this year.  Mostly I'm just looking forward to some peace and quiet during the dinner hour.

September 8, 2010

Point/Counterpoint: Two Congregations

Dateline Syracuse NY: Trinity Assembly of God, located in one of Syracuse’s northern suburbs, donated their collections for two weeks to purchase cleats for the players on an inner-city football team. Members of the congregation, some of whom struggle themselves to make ends meet, dug deep to help out the kids from the wrong side of the tracks. The church’s pastor shopped locally and online to find the best deal to get the shoes for the 31 players on the team, and the congregation seems, if this is any indication, to strive to live up to this quote on their website: “For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other.”

Dateline Gainesville FL: The Dove World Outreach Center is planning on going ahead with its self-declared ‘International Burn A Koran (Quran) Day’ on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The pastor, Terry Jones, was pressed to admit in an interview with Chris Matthews that he respects George W Bush but even Dubya would not be able to dissuade the pastor from burning the some 200 Korans that have been sent to his church since his intentions were announced several weeks ago. The pastor believes his church, with a congregation of about 50, has to send a strong as a warning for everyone “before it’s too late for America” just like it’s “too late for Europe.”

September 6, 2010

You Lie Like a Rug?

As part of the recent redecoration of the Oval Office, a new carpet was installed; the rug includes inspirational quotes the President is fond of sewn into the border. The quotes (and their attributions):

 • "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself," President Franklin D. Roosevelt 

• "The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice," Martin Luther King Jr. 

• "Government of the People, By the People, For the People," President Abraham Lincoln

• "No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings," President John F. Kennedy

 • "The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us," President Theodore Roosevelt

There’s been a bit of a stink that the quote attributed to King is really not his – when he used it back in the 1950s, he was paraphrasing Theodore Parker, a minister, abolitionist, and all around good guy of the 1800s, who used similar but less concise language in talking about the abolition of slavery.

Interestingly, I can’t find much uproar surrounding the Lincoln attribution, which is another of Parker’s quotes, from a speech he gave in 1850. Parker himself took the line from John Wycliffe, who used it this way: “This bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people” sometime in the late 1300’s. Even righteous entertainer Glenn Beck quoted Lincoln’s use of the “…of the…by the…for the…” at his Sermon by the Reflecting Pool, and failed to mention either Theodore Parker or John Wycliffe. Must be it’s OK for Beck and Lincoln to paraphrase, without attribution, but not OK for Martin Luther King.

In the overall scheme of things, the new d├ęcor is pretty far down on the list of things we need to be worrying about, but you gotta love it when something as inconsequential as a new color scheme in the Oval Office can generate this much half-baked controversy. 

September 5, 2010

Poll Watch: 9/5/10

This morning, I’m introducing a new feature – Poll Watch – a sampling of information from recent public opinion polls. To maintain my current unbalanced fairness, or fair imbalance, the feature will include polls from different outlets. I’ll set em up, and you can knock them down.

First, the Iraq War:
Seven years ago, according to a report in USA Today, close to 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks. That thinking was spread across party lines, with majorities of Dems, Reps, and Independents responding to the Washington Post poll sharing the thinking, even though, of course, there was no connection. The same article referenced a NY Times/CNN poll which included the fact that 71% of Americans believed that the US “has done a good job in Iraq since the end of major fighting”... Must be referring to that Mission Accomplished stuff we all remember. Last of note, even though at that time we supported the war, 49% of us thought that the military action was not worth the price in lives lost and money spent.

Compare those findings with a more current poll taken after we withdrew our last combat troops from Iraq. According to a new poll, in early August 69% of us opposed the war; a month later, that number had slipped to of those things that makes you go hmm? 62% think that the war was not worth it, and 80% think that the war is not over.

Gay Marriage:
When asked by CNN Opinion Research Corp whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid, 49% said yes and 51% said no, compared to 45% and 53% respectively in 2009.

Demographically, more women than men were in favor, and more folks under 50 than over 50 approved. Not surprisingly, Republicans and Conservatives (at 27% each) were less in favor than Dems (56%) and Moderates (55%).

Repealing the 14th Amendment:
From the same poll, 49% would favor a constitutional amendment to prevent children born here from becoming American citizens unless their parents are also American citizens, with men (53%) and whites (51%) leading the demographics. Republicans and Conservatives are heavily in favor, not surprisingly.

Last, politics and politicians:
Large majorities of Dems (74%), Reps (84%), and Independents (74%) favor term limits on Congress – overwhelmingly, 78% of all surveyed were in favor, according to a FoxNews poll. Only 22% approve of the job Congress is doing. They also asked about specific people or groups; more folks think favorably of Barack Obama than George Bush, the Democratic Party than the Tea Party, and Nancy Pelosi than John Boehner, but more than half had never heard of the man who is expecting to be the next Speaker of the House.

Interestingly, 52% think that President Obama has truly made an effort to reach across the aisle, compared with 58% who think that the Republican leadership has not really tried to work with the President. Overall, 51% are looking for more compromise and less partisan nonsense, but among Republicans, only 36% feel compromise is the right thing to do.

If that stays consistent, we’re going to be in this mess for a while.

September 2, 2010

Defining Patriotism by the Flag You Fly

So this guy in Arizona hung up a Gadsden Flag, the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag made famous back in the 1770’s as a symbol of our determination not to be stepped on by the British. While the flag has been historically significant since then, it’s been flying at his house only for a few months; the homeowner say’s he not a member of the Tea Party, who has adopted the flag as a symbol, but only appreciates the historical significance of the flag and the idea for which it stands. 

Enter the Homeowner’s Association, who has cited the homeowner for having ‘debris’ on his roof in violation of the Association's rules, based on an Arizona statute  that defines what flags a homeowner’s association cannot prohibit, and of course by omission defines what flags can be prohibited as pretty much ‘everything not listed above.’  The homeowner vows to fight and (by some accounts) is asking for donations for his legal bills.

Naturally, the ACLU has gotten involved, because they can and I guess they should – if you think it's OK for them to advocate for one man's rights over the rights of the other members of the homeowner's association, who are abiding by the rules they accepted when they either moved to the neighborhood, or by staying there. But that's a whole nother issue entirely.  

Want to know what the biggest problem is, though? It’s not the homeowner himself, who for whatever reason decided to put up a flag that he knows is against the rules (after all, he's a former director of the association) and it’s not even the homeowner’s association, which by design has to enforce all of the rules on their books lest they run into accusations of selective enforcement, and we all know where those go…

To me, the real problem is the politicians who, in a knee-jerk definition of patriotism, decided to craft a law on this issue, and narrowly defined the acceptable flags as “the American flag or an official or replica of a flag of the United States army, navy, air force, marine corps or coast guard, The POW/MIA flag, the Arizona State Flag, or an Arizona Indian nation flag.” That’s it – nothing else. 

Some say the Gadsden flag is a ‘replica’ of a military flag and should therefore be allowed, but that’s really just splitting hairs, and frankly to officially identify (within confines that will hold up in court) all of the flags ever used formally or informally, officially or unofficially, by any branch of the military would be asinine. And, in reality, we have many more significant things to worry about, and to legislate about, than what flags can fly over someone’s house.

Ironically, the Gadsden flag design was lifted from this Ben Franklin illustration of a severed snake, with the message Join, or Die.   If only we’d pay attention to Franklin’s message of unity, rather than this other nonsense of trying to define patriotism, and trying to make one person's rights more 'right' than everyone else's, we’d be much better off.