Tea Party Dogs, Hosni Mubarak & Same Sex Marriage
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Tea Party animals
I may be wrong – it happens occasionally – or far from thorough in trying to understand the dynamics of the Republican Party, but it seems to me that the Tea Party folks seem to be the tail wagging the dog.
Now to avoid the letters of complaint, I like dogs, the tail-wagging analogy is not intended as offensive and if I was looking to make a metaphorical point, the Tea Party would have been the dog stuff the Republicans stepped in.
To clarify – and I admit to being no expert — the Tea Party is a grassroots movement whose members share core principles supporting the United States Constitution as they believe the Founders intended, specifically: limited federal government; individual freedoms; personal responsibility; free markets; returning political power to the states and the people. Now I always viewed them as a rather vocal group of Conservative Republicans who felt demonstrating loudly in front of opponents would drive them from office or to change their position. Sarah Palin typified their manner, style and charm to me. Read that line anyway you want; even if we don’t agree on Palin or the Tea Party, we likely agree on mutualities. As I read of the Congressional Republicans caucusing, it appears to me that the Tea Partiers are driving the bus or wagging the dog. Clearly, they are fiscally to the right of traditional Republicans and are looking to cut spending to such an extreme, reducing the size of the federal government to a point where the traditional GOP may not be able to find it. But as I watch and read, it looks like the Tea Party is aggressively dragging the GOP to the right and it’s not quite clear which side of the dog the head is really on. And sadly, I don’t think Democratic donkeys play well with two-headed dogs.
So far, New York City has gone through almost $39 million this winter clearing snow from the streets. The entire budget is gone prematurely, and all we can do is dream of spring.
Power To The People
If one million Egyptian people taking to the streets can drive Hosni Mubarak from Cairo and out of office after 30 years, I wonder what it will take to drive the members of the New York State Legislature out of office and Albany, which has been mired with their ever-increasing dysfunction for perhaps 30 years.
Oppressed people throughout the world should take heart at the almost bloodless revolution which just occurred in Egypt.
Such human efforts expressing freedom are infectious and there’s no telling where it may spread.
Same Sex Marriage
Last week, speaking at Hofstra, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he intends to ask the New York State Legislature to take up the legalization of same-sex marriage. The measure, which he will be working very hard to pass, has and will pass the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly, but went down in the State Senate by a vote of 38-24 just a little over a year ago. At that time, the Dems controlled the Senate – or at least had a majority. Now, with a majority of Republicans, the task could prove impossible even with a popular Governor.
The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Long Island’s Dean Skelos, opposes the measure but has indicated he will allow a vote.
With a significant majority of New Yorkers in favor of the measure, certain Assembly approval, can Cuomo work magic in the Senate, which failed on the measure so pitifully way back when the Dems were in control – last year?
And finally, should we be surprised that the Governor would add such a controversial test for himself with so many legislative hurdles ahead: budget, ethics, reapportionment and more?
Watching Albany is going to be fun this year.
Crime Down Over the Years; Ignorance Holds Steady
By HENRY STERN
Twenty years ago, crime was New York City’s most serious problem. In the year 1990, the first year of the Dinkins mayoralty, the number of homicides recorded in the five boroughs was 2,245, an historic high. The murder total declined by about 10 percent during the remaining three years of the Dinkins administration, and fell sharply (about 50 percent) under the eight years that Giuliani was mayor. It fell slightly during Bloomberg’s first eight years, although there was a slight rise in year nine (2010). Statistics for other crimes over the past two decades compiled by COMPSTAT show substantial declines, particularly auto theft, which fell from 187,591 in 1990 to 21,870 in 2009.
There is no doubt that people feel much safer in New York City than they did twenty or thirty years ago, and that many neighborhoods previously regarded as dangerous are now considered safe. While total crime, particularly street crime, has been substantially reduced, men still murder their girlfriends or exes despite orders of protection from the courts, and children are still hit by stray bullets. The general public, however, has less fear of family violence than of external assault, because they feel their own relatives are unlikely to injure them. Our public safety comes at a high price; the budget for the Police Department is $4.4 billion.
Crime will always be a problem, with contributing factors like poverty, addiction, abandonment, broken families, unemployment, gang warfare, terrorism and violence resulting from mental illness. New Yorkers, however, have seen massive efforts by law enforcement in the last twenty years which have reduced the fear of crime and the limitations on citizens’ daily lives which resulted from their legitimate fears of physical danger. Commissioners Bill Bratton (under Mayor Giuliani) and Ray Kelly (under Mayors Dinkins and Bloomberg) were particularly effective.
A TOUGHER NUT TO CRACK
The city’s success in dealing with crime has not, however, been matched by progress in education. One reason is that crime statistics are relatively reliable. To number murders, you count bodies. Other crime data is based on witnesses’ and victims’ accounts, precinct reports, and court convictions. In the schools, although there are now frequent tests to evaluate student performance, serious doubts remain about the value of the tests, the method by which they are scored, the alteration of test results, the standards required for passing the test, and the effect of testing and the consequent ‘teaching to the test’ on other parts of the curriculum. Educational testing is more susceptible to manipulation than counting corpses.
New Yorkers have been subjected over the years to a barrage of misleading information about test outcomes, some, but by no means all, coming from the New York City Department of Education. Recently, city test scores were challenged by the New York State Department of Education, which conducted its own study of test results at the request of the State Board of Regents. In the past, the State Education Department has been complicit in the misinterpretation of test results, because, to put it directly, they wanted as many people as possible to pass.
Years ago, we blamed school administrators for educational failures, and 110 Livingston St. became an address of ill repute. Although some public officials proposed in jest that the building be blown up, it was Mayor Bloomberg who sold it off for private condos and moved the educrats to the old Tweed Courthouse on Chambers Street, a symbol of corruption when it was built (over a century ago), and a symbol of futility as a new wave of bean counters rushed in to turn the old system inside out, and then undo what they had just done.
The mystery to us is how so many intelligent people could have been involved in a massive effort that has produced so little in the way of positive results. How many billions of tax dollars have been spent on new construction, renovation and substantial salary increases with major pension consequences, but without a major effect on student outcomes?
The bottom line is that the people running the system really do not know what the best strategies are, and it is too late in the administration for them to admit it. It is understandable that the mayor wanted a new Chancellor — the two-term limit makes sense there as well. Bloomberg put his money where his mouth was in providing amply for education over the years. Sadly, money was no panacea.
Today, the teachers have become scapegoats, as they were in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in 1968. We know there are good ones and bad ones, and teachers should be dealt with on the merits as individuals, not as if they were all cut from the same cloth. Teachers should not be fired by arbitrary formulas (LIFO) without regard to their abilities. But unless there is justifiable confidence in the executives who would make the decisions as to who shall go and who shall stay, there is little likelihood that they will be given absolute authority over others. But that is a long way from giving them no authority, and protecting mediocrity and incompetence in the classroom.
Who thought that, over twenty years, crime would prove a far easier problem to deal with than education? But that is the way it has turned out to be.
Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg should appoint Ray Kelly as Schools Chancellor. He has no background in education, but neither does Black. He has graduate degrees from St. John’s (J.D.), NYU (LL.M.) and Harvard (M.P.A.). Kelly has been one of the mayor’s best appointees; he knows what to say and what not to say, how to lead a major organization, and how to get people to do their best. His good example may encourage the children to do better.StarQuest@NYCivic.org