Dealing With New York’s Real Problems
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
New York City has banned the use of trans-fats in restaurants.
According to a schedule devised by the board of Health with input from the food industry, trans-fats – those artery clogging cooking oils and shortenings – will be phased out of use and totally disappear from New York City and its restaurants by July of 2008.
In an effort initiated by Mayor Bloomberg and supported by the City Council, the Board of Health regs will certainly producer a healthier New York.
Bravo! I think.
Here’s the rub.
Actually, there are two.
Yes, this health conscious writer – no comments please – has two serious concerns about the action taken in our city to ensure that our French fries are better for you.
Number one: If health is the issue, why are we just banning trans-fats?
Numero dos: How far should a government go to regulate the behavior of its citizens?
Before I elaborate, some credit for this column goes to a member of the City Council who reacted in a recent phone call, in a manner similar to how I am reacting right now. For probably smart political concerns, that Councilmember does not want to take pot shots at what is clearly intended as a “good health” measure.
We both approve it in practice.
However, cigarettes are available for sale in New York. And I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t be.
Saccharin, the once feared thought-to-be carcinogen and main ingredient in Sweet and Low is and always was available in our fair city. And we’re not suggesting it should be any other way.
Candy? Not good for you. But we sure don’t want the government messing with our access to anything chocolate.
I mean what besides trans-fats is known to potentially harm human beings when consumed?
There are people who have lived on a heavily trans-fat saturated diet and have not suffered from heart disease. And I’m sure there are people who have avoided them like the plague and died from clogged arteries at a young age.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a scientist and am not poking holes in any scientific theory. I am wondering out loud why government only picks on the sale of trans-fats and leaves let’s say, cigarettes, alone.
Could it be revenue? And if so, what commentary is then appropriate?
I am not advocating bringing back trans-fats (which aren’t even gone yet) and I’m not advocating the ban of cigarettes sales. I am merely observing that the City gets a whole bunch of money from the taxes on cigarettes – not to mention the contributions made by cigarette companies. And I just don’t think that trans-fats put much money in City coffers.
Do we or should we measure damage to health by revenue raised? Perhaps civil libertarians understand that with government regulation comes perversion of purpose. That’s why they yell that elected officials should keep their noses out of private affairs.
Let me do what I want, they yell. Consume what I want as long as I’m not injuring anyone else.
If a label on the side of a pack of cigarettes reading “Warning: Smoke this and you may die” is sufficient, why not label the bag of French fries with: “Eat one and you may clog your arteries!”
Or is the solution simpler: Why don’t they just tax trans-fat or French fries and drink to your health?
Speaking about the biggest problems facing New Yorkers, Alan Hevesi has received a lot of press lately. As a matter of fact, he has sadly received more press in the last two months than he has in his 35 years of public service including: two-plus decades in the Legislature, his run for Mayor, his eight years of service as NYC comptroller, his election and first term as State Comptroller. His entire impressive record of service has been overshadowed by his ethical failing.
The use of NYS personnel to drive and care for his wife was not a slight misstep, nor was it to provide security – especially since there was never any security training or personnel involved. His failure to pay for the services was not a result of being forgetful; it was either the arrogance of office or a plain ol’ fashion attempted rip-off of the people’s money.
His skilled oratory, controlled public statements and inaccessibility leaves the public with the statement that Hevesi thinks he made mistake – he forgot to pay for something, he was going to – it slipped his mind.
He didn’t keep records for three years but he was going to get around to figuring it out.
When he did he wrote a check for $82,000. The Attorney General’s Office said it was $90,000 more than that and now it’s over $200,000. Ooooooppppps. He forgot.
Nevertheless, he was reelected – by a big margin. My friend Henry Stern, Mr. Good Government in my book, indicates he should be allowed to remain in office.
Wayne Barrett, the city’s leading muckraker for most of my political reading life, seems to say the same thing. He was re-elected and is not a rapist or murderer.
He’s not a bad guy either.
I called for Alan to be defeated during the election – I thought then and still do that he had crossed the line of acceptable behavior for a public official. I believed and still do that his ability to function as a financial watchdog has been critically threatened. The State would be better off with any other reasonable, competent, ethical person in the office. That’s why I voted for Chris Callaghan and this paper endorsed him.
Callaghan wouldn’t have been in my top 10,000 choices for the office, but in my judgment he was better than a compromised and ethically challenged intellectual star named Hevesi.
The people didn’t agree with me. The State now is suffering the results of not ridding themselves of Alan when they had the chance to. I don’t want to witness another “impeachment proceeding.” It is a painful process and takes its toll on government’s ability to function effectively. The New York State Legislature is at least as challenged as Alan – probably more so. It is ironic to picture these guys who have seen more indictments amongst their ranks than incumbents defeated at the ballot box, judging someone else’s ethics. Yeah, the gang who hid the member items and then we found out that a number of them were hiding them in their own pockets, are going to sit in judgment on Alan’s use of State personnel.
I assure you, many of them are cringing that their cars, lulus, expenses and use of staff members may be subjected to scrutiny during the Hevesi proceeding. There can be no fair proceeding by a Legislature that has failed to reform itself.
Although Eliot Spitzer came to town with a new broom, it would be foolhardy for him to try to rid himself of a seriously ethically challenged official by using the seriously challenged State legislators to sit in judgment. That’s just no way for a new Governor to begin.
He must lead them to clean up their own act before judging anyone else.
If he is to find a way to get Alan out of office, he must turn to David Soares, the Albany County District Attorney. Because if indeed Hevesi has broken the law and could be indicted, then an exit strategy may be found which serves both the State and Hevesi.
We sure don’t want Alan to stand trial. He screwed up badly but should not face jail time.
We sure don’t think his continued service is in the best interest of the people of this State.
And finally, the biggest task in Albany is to deal with the deficit and chart a new course of operations for an ethically challenged, inept state Legislature.
That task must take precedence over the Hevesi situation.
Good luck, Eliot.
Legislative Session Fizzles
As you probably know, the Legislature met for one day last week. The three men in a room failed to agree, so no civil confinement law or pay increase was adopted. Sometimes, the fact that the leaders despise each other turns out to be in the public interest, because the legislation they could pass if they agreed might not be beneficial.
The civil confinement bill for sexual predators can be taken up in January, and we are assured by Speaker Silver that no rapists or murderers will be freed over the holidays. The pay raise is another matter, because the State Constitution prohibits legislators from increasing their own salaries during their term in office, so a raise approved next year could not take effect until 2009.
The Assembly and its lawyers are ingenious, however, in finding ways to circumvent any law or the State Constitution for that matter. They can vote themselves cost-of-living adjustments, increase their lulus, or raise the expense allowances they already receive for each day’s session in Albany or New York City. It will be up to the courts to decide on the legality of any of these schemes and remember that it is the Legislature that sets salaries for the judges. The good old boys in Albany are proficient pickers of the public’s pockets, and only Governor Spitzer and the courts stand between their snouts and the public trough.
The Governor should never bargain pay raises for consent to any piece of legislation, because then he will be in the position of having to purchase approval for whatever bills he proposes. Rudyard Kipling wrote a very fine poem on the subject, “Dane-Geld”, which you should read in order to supplement your cultural literacy. The poem offers a valuable lesson.
The Legislature deserves some credit for not rejecting the report of the Berger Commission on Hospital Closings. To do that, the two houses would have had to agree with each other by December 31. We imagine that next year, the legislators will respond to pressure from the health-care lobby, but the major players there appear to have given tacit consent to the relatively mild Berger report, so it is possible that the plan will be implemented.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato