October 31, 2010

Veritable Pastiche Endorses Andrew Russo

Most regular readers know that typically the only endorsement I give at election time is an endorsement of the power of voting itself.  But this year, I’m actually endorsing a candidate, Andrew Russo, in the race for NY Senate in my district.  

Like most Empire Staters, I’m fed up with the nonsense that passes for ‘government’ in Albany, particularly in the Senate.  The governor’s mansion and the Assembly have their own issues, but the poster children for bad behavior, selfish partisanship, failed promises and do-nothing-ness have to be our Senators (read more here, here, and here). 

My senator David Valesky and John DeFrancisco, who represents pretty much the rest of Syracuse, are both key players in their parties.  Both have had ample opportunity to make things better, to collaborate on behalf of the citizens of Central New York and all New Yorkers as a whole. 

Instead, both were involved in the disastrous, embarrassing, and paralyzing coup in 2009 and since then neither have acquitted themselves well.  While I can’t take part in voting out DeFrancisco (I can only encourage his constituents to do that), I can participate in sending David Valesky home. I believe now is the time to do that.

Why now?  Because he squandered the opportunity he had as a member of the Senate leadership, at a time when the Dems controlled all three houses of government in Albany, to really make a difference for New York, to enact real legislative reform, and to make the hard decisions we needed him to make to help secure our future. 

Why Andrew Russo?  Because he believes in term limits, pension reform, and he talks logically about campaign finance reform. He believes that legislators should have real jobs (as he does), and get their benefits from those jobs, rather than from our tax dollars. He believes that good ideas come from people, not from political parties, and that the way to govern is to bring people together to put those good ideas into place. And of course he’s in favor of more jobs, lower taxes, reduced spending and increased growth in our state.  

How do I know this?  Because I asked him, and he answered me. Which means that, even before he’s in Albany, he’s a couple rungs up in my book because Valesky has never had the courtesy to answer my email

I’ve always considered myself a centrist Dem, but over time, I’ve become more fiscally conservative. I still believe that when citizens truly need help, government should be there, but to offer a leg up, not a handout. We can’t afford to make promises to and protect every corporate interest, every constituent group, every union job, and remain solvent. And we certainly can’t continue to afford a legislature as dysfunctional as the one we have today.

Andrew Russo is not perfect.  I think some of his ads were on the negative side, I'm not excited that DeFrancisco was an early supporter, and I'm not thrilled with the money and support he got from the Republican machine. I'm concerned about his ability to say no to them, and to collaborate with Dems if his leadership doesn't want him to. And I told him that.  He says I'm more important than they are, and I hope he's sincere.  

But under the circumstances, I think we could do a lot worse, including maintaining the status quo.  And that's why I'm voting for Andrew Russo. I hope you'll consider doing the same.

October 29, 2010

The piece of paper on the floor

I was recently invited to participate in a program at work, a 'change agent' development program.  I won’t go into a lot of gory details about the program, (which I fully support) but I'II still have some confusion on what exactly it is that a change agent does.

At a meeting this week, I asked the question, do we tell our fellow employees we’re here and offer assistance, or are we supposed to just sort of exude changiness’  One of the HR mentors at the meeting equated being a change agent to walking down the hall or the street and seeing a piece of paper on the ground…do we leave it there or pick it up? I pondered that response a bit, I’ll admit, trying to apply it to situations at work.

But the piece of paper analogy got me thinking about politics, and change, and how some of the local candidates would do with the whole paper on the floor thing.  Here’s what I came up with:  
  • John DeFrancisco, the ‘pit pull’ of the NYS Senate. He’s an entrenched incumbent Republican, been in office way too long, and sadly sees his primary responsibility as regaining control of the Senate for the Reps. DeFrancisco was a player in the disastrous coup of 2009.  He would only pick up the piece of paper if it would give him the majority of the paper, otherwise he’d simply ignore it. 
  • David Valesky, a Dem, is actually my Senator, for a couple more days, at least.  He’s had some challenges in the past couple of years as a high-ranking member of the majority party leadership, and is facing a tough battle.  He wouldn’t pick up the paper unless he thought it would be good for residents of his district (if you listen to him), or unless he was ordered to by the Downstate party bosses (if you listen to the Reps).  
  • His opponent is classical pianist Andrew Russo, a ‘citizen politician’ with strong support from the Republican party, which can practically taste victory on Tuesday.  But he’s got some unorthodox ideas for a Rep, including supporting term limits (good luck with getting that done here in NY).  I think he’d pick up the paper, but only a limited number of times.  
  • Andrew Cuomo, Dem for Governor, of course would pick up the paper, then find some Wall Streeter or industry bigwigs to whip into compliance so there’d be no more paper on the ground under his watch.
  • Last, we have Carl Paladino the Rep-ish who miraculously won the primary to flail against Cuomo. I pity the paper if Carl found it first; he’d cut it by at least 20% and leave it in tatters, then email rauncy photos of it to his friends. 
Ironically, on the two days after the change agent meeting, I found a piece of paper on the floor; I picked it both times. There were no witnesses, so I'm not sure I shifted the culture dial. I wonder how far it's going to shift on Tuesday...

October 26, 2010

One last thing on Muslims wearing their garb

Our never-ending ‘news’ cycle aided and abetted Juan Williams in his desire to no longer be employed by NPR, and led to the ridiculous firings of former Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod and CNN’s Rick Sanchez, the ‘retirement’ of Helen Thomas, and the perpetual circling of countless other recitations of stupidity uttered by both the famous and the infamous, the well-known and the unknown. 

Imagine how hard it would have been for Howard Cosell (remember the ‘little monkey’? ) or Jesse Jackson (painfully realizing he’d be relieved if the people who were following him were white), if we’d had this heightened sense of urgency about everything -  good or bad, important or inconsequential -  back in the day when their comments were misunderstood, taken out of context and repeated without nuance. 

But one cool thing has come from the Juan Williams flap – and could only really have come in our current highly creative technological age - a great new blog on Tumblr, called Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things.  This website in only a few short days has amassed pages and pages of pictures of Muslims wearing all kinds of garb, from athletic uniforms and tutus to kilts and tuxedos.  Some of the folks pictured are well-known Muslims; some are famous people you may not have known are Muslim; and some are just your everyday, garden variety Muslims. And yes, Muslims, like the rest of us, come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and varying degrees of sartorial splendor.  Some are even wearing ‘traditional garb’ such as the kind that occasionally make Juan Williams nervous. 

So thanks, Juan Williams - had you not said what you did, we wouldn't be seeing these great pictures. I encourage you to check them out!

October 25, 2010

What if Juan Williams had said this?

Seems folks continue to be up in arms about NPR’s firing of Juan Williams. In some cases, the sense is he was fired for saying what ‘everyone’ thinks. Other folks are upset that he was fired un-nicely, instead of in some nice way. Although, If you’ve ever been fired (I was, once) there really aren’t a lot of nice ways for it to go down. 

My post yesterday, which prompted a few comments from folks, took the position that the guy had an employment contract, he’d had issues in the past, and the company with whom he had a contract had a Code of Ethics which he appeared to have violated. I didn’t get into whether what he said was true or right or wrong, but simply that he should have known better based on his prior experience with NPR over the years, including a shift from anchor to ‘analyst’, NPR’s request that his appearances on Fox do not make reference to his alternate reality on public radio, and the NPR ombudsman's published support of his work but not so much his actions.

There are a couple of things about the whole situation that bug me, and it’s not that Williams got fired. First and foremost was the almost immediate call for pulling public financing for NPR by current and former nitwits of the Republican variety --and by Juan Williams himself. No slowpoke, this guy - nope - immediately starts earning his new $2 million contract with Fox News. 

But here’s the bigger thing that gets me -- what if Williams had said something really scary? What if he had said this, instead: “…when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in clerical collars and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as priests, I get worried. I get nervous.”

After all, Catholic priests molested considerably more children than there were people killed on 9/11. And there are many more priests accused of molestation than there were extremists who attacked us on 9/11.   The ramifications of the priest sex abuse scandal are worldwide, and the scariest thing is that they were (and perhaps still are) hiding in plain sight, under the protection of their collars.  

What kind of outrage would be expressed if someone - anyone - put this kind of opinion out there on Fox News?

October 24, 2010

Firing Juan Williams

So, Bill O’Reilly, one of the main Fox gasbags, had a hard time on ABC's The View when he announced  that Muslims attacked us on 9/11.  In the ensuing flap, two of the hosts, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, walked off the set in a huff, but later returned.  Since then, O’Reilly has been talking about his View appearance, ostensibly looking for support, and last Monday, he got into a conversation on this with Juan Williams, a news analyst under contract with NPR who also has a contract with Fox News and appears regularly on O’Reilly.  

Here’s what Williams said, after professing that he was not a bigot: “…when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you  know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” 

Now, Williams is probably not a bigot, based on most reports, but what he said was foolish for someone who walks both sides of the line.  Williams has long been a ‘lightning rod’ (to use NPR’s own words) because of the opinions he expresses during his other appearances.  In this February 2009 post by NPR’s ombudsman, we learn that Williams himself appreciates the difference between what he says (or how he says it) on Fox and what he says (or how he says it) on NPR after some comments he made about First Lady Michelle Obama.  He was even asked to remove his NPR affiliation from his appearances on Fox.  

And in this latest instance, it at least appears that Williams has violated the NPR Code of Ethics which (when this post was originally published)  said in part: "10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows in electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis." And while the ombudsman feels that the firing was handled poorly, she agrees with NPR for doing it. 

Juan Williams exercised his freedom of speech, and NPR exercised their freedom to employ independent contractors who act in accordance with their employer's rules. The bottom line is that sometimes expressing your own opinion can get you in hot water -- not because you're not allowed to have an opinion, or voice one, but because sometimes there are consequences. 

Should everyone who expresses an opinion that differs from their employer's face termination? Nope.

But should someone who has to know he's crossing the line - since this is not the first time it's happened - be surprised when he does get fired?


October 21, 2010

Poll Watch: 10/21/10

In a Fox News poll taken last week, we continue to disapprove of President Obama’s performance, but by a lesser percent than in September; last month his disapproval number was 52%, and now it’s down to 47%, among registered voters.  Likely voters are likely to like the President less – 52% disapprove.  Turning to Congress, both Dems (57%) and Reps (60%) are letting us down, with higher disapproval numbers than the President.  Fortunately, while 55% of  respondents think that ‘an everyday American’ can do a better job than most current members of Congress, only 43% of them think they can do a better job, so we might be OK for a while longer. 

Concerning the Tea Party, an ABC News/Yahoo News poll shows that 31% want to see it become its own party; 28% want to see it become part of the Republican party, and 25% want to see it simply fade away.  Dems and Independents, more than Reps, want to see it become a separate party. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation has released their latest poll regarding our impressions of health care reform legislation; 42% express generally favorable opinions, (more Dems than Reps), with 44% generally unfavorable.   When asked to describe their emotional response to HCR, disappointed (48%) and confused (47%) led, followed by pleased (41%), enthusiastic (30%), and angry (28%). Of the angry people, most (75%) are not angry about health care reform specifically, but about Washington in general.  Go figure.

October 20, 2010

A New Reality Show for NY?

My head is still spinning from Monday’s prime time political extravaganza, the alleged debate between the seven candidates for Governor of NY. Broadcast live from Hofstra University on TV and on NPR, it was more of a reality show or infotainment than debate. Of course, around here we never get ‘debates’, we typically get smarmy sound-bites from major party candidates only, with no air time at all for any of the lesser-party representatives.  

All that changed on Monday.  

On the stage, in addition to Dem front-runner Andrew Cuomo and Tea Partier-pseudo-Republican Carl Paladino were: Kristin Davis, a former madam representing the Anti-Prohibition party; Warren Redlich, a Libertarian attorney/entrepreneur; Howie Hawkins, a hometown Syracuse guy who is always offered up by the Green Party; Charles Barron, a former Black Panther and now NYC politician from the Freedom Party, and Jimmy McMillan, the larger-than-life representative of the Rent is Too Damn High party. Seriously.   

There was a lot of silliness, and gentle ribbing, and posturing, and fun-having by the minor parties, with digs aimed at both Cuomo and Paladino from pretty much everyone on the stage. McMillan tied everything to ‘the rent is too damn high’, at one point causing Cuomo to laugh out loud, something the audience did regularly. Somehow, for the most part, the moderators stayed reasonably in control, and for that they have my admiration.   

Davis wants to legalize marijuana and casino gambling, to bring in about $4 billion in new revenue, 50,000 new jobs….and countless other problems, which she didn’t get into, naturally. She is a former madam, however, and has a track record of delivering services on time. Former Governor Steamroller Spitzer can allegedly attest to her business acumen.   

Redlich wants smaller government, and he was true to that throughout. Barron and Hawkins had many similar positions, including their union support. They favor progressive taxation as did most of the other minor party candidates, and everyone thinks we need to do more about education – although there were some differences on how best to effect change.  

Paladino and Cuomo tried hard not to make a mess of things; Cuomo was successful, Paladino seemed less so, stumbling over his speaking points and frequently running out of time. They tried to stick to their scripts without controversy, and I think folks can forgive Paladino his hasty trip to the men’s room during the closing statement round.   

In the end, we didn’t learn much about the folks most likely to win – but we learned that there are lots of other voices out there, and somehow, someone found them and invited them to the show. I loved the pilot for "The Real Gubernatorial Candidates of NY" -- it’s too bad we are never likely to see Episode Two.

October 17, 2010

Shots Fired: 10/17/10

“Power mongers such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who controls the Democratic majority in his chamber, must go. At the least, voters must send a message to Silver and his minions that New Yorkers are no longer willing to allow them to continue ruining a once great state.

The best way to communicate that sentiment is to refuse to return all incumbent Democrats who control both the Assembly and Senate.

Minority Senate Republicans deserve the boot, too, because they have shown more interest in regaining power than real reform. Remember their ill-fated coup attempt last year and their willingness to broker a deal with Sen. Pedro Espada, the disgraceful Bronx Democrat ?” --Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

“We do not despair for the State of New York.

But we do despair for the State of New York's Legislature, deemed the most dysfunctional in the nation well before this session's budgetary incompetence and political debacles, including the mess Democrats made of the Senate.

And we have been so critical of that performance, which made up in show what it lacked in substance, that we can recommend neither re-election this year of many of the Legislature's current members nor election of many challengers who seem to be running more on a show of anger than on a substance of policy knowledge, experience and expertise.” –The Buffalo News 

October 16, 2010

PPOD October 16, 2010: Politically correct, my eye...

My Sweet Baboo and I recently spent a week in Virginia, where we had the opportunity to visit the home of three early presidents: Jefferson (Monticello), Madison (Montpelier) and Monroe (Ashlawn-Highlands). While we enjoyed our tour of all three places, one thing really bugged me. 

Each of the presidents at one point owned slaves, and at each of their homes the guides, the materials, the signage all referred to the slaves as African-Americans. Seriously. African-American slaves.  Here's just an example, at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

To pretend that the slaves, who were owned, bought and sold by whites (statesmen and non-statesmen alike), were ‘Americans’ doesn’t soften the blow of slavery, doesn’t make it any less a painful part of our history. And it doesn’t fool anyone. Frankly it’s ridiculous. And it’s my PPOD for today.

October 15, 2010

PPOD October 15, 2010: Who's paying for this election, anyway?

This being election season and all, or maybe that should be ‘heightened’ election season – around here they never seem to stop – I’m being bombarded with mail from the ins and the wanna-be ins from both parties. 

One thing that stands out in all of the mail I’ve received is that not one piece I’ve received says “paid for by the guy who wants your vote.” And that’s my Pet Peeve of the Day.

The ones for Andrew Russo, the concert pianist and music educator turned Republican NY senatorial hopeful, are all paid for by the New York Republican State Committee. Russo has some challenges to overcome, including the fact that he’s not been a regular voter. But for me, the biggest challenge is his claim that he’s running a ‘grass roots campaign’ that’s paid for by people 'rooted' outside the district. 

His opponent, incumbent Dave Valesky, is a member of the Dem leadership in Albany. One recent piece I received on his behalf is paid for by Education Reform Now, in Brooklyn NY. A second one is paid for by the NY State Democratic Committee or the NY State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (both are listed on the mailing) in Albany. Valesky also has detractors outside the district – a ‘report card’ I received was paid for by Common Sense, a group out of Glen Allen, VA. 

A while back I complained about President Obama allegedly trying to talk our Accidental Governor out of running for reelection. Obama thought Paterson would hurt the party; I thought Obama was hurting New York by sticking his nose into our business.  Similarly, one day, I’d love to see an election where all of the candidate’s money is raised in their district, and where all of the ad money comes from within the district – because, again, who represents us should be up to us – the real constituents.