This Is Surely Not The Way I Would Run Things!
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
As the holiday season is now in full swing, politics takes a back seat. Why would anyone think any legislature would be in session during the holidays?
You mean the average Joe works? Does the average legislator? Congressional, State, or City?
If they are working, you likely will find them doing um, “fact-finding,” on a junket to some far off land, paid for by someone other than themselves. Now these folks who can’t take gifts, sure can take gift trips – by some other name.
How often in your lifelong work experience, has some foreign government, trade organization, civic or cultural cause offered you a free, all expenses paid trip to China, Israel or wherever? Now remember it can’t be a gift because the electeds can’t take gifts of value. And it can’t be to influence their decisions because that would be an ethical violation. So why do we see so many electeds on all levels of government flying across the world on someone else’s dime?
Because they can.
They make the rules.
What’s In A Name?
Before you think this is another of my rants, allow me to change pace and subjects.
Ed Koch deserves every tribute the people of this city can offer. He was and in certain respects still is Mr. New York. He gave us life and reason and fun back in his day. He still entertains and enlightens us.
But damn, the Queensboro Bridge has been the Queensboro Bridge for more than a century and certainly should not be renamed for anyone living. At times, Paul Simon caused us to think of it as the 59th Street Bridge as we were “Feelin’ Groovy,” but there are too few City landmarks named for our borough and now they are taking that magnificent bridge from us forever to be known for the Mayor who wanted to know how he was doin’.
Or is it forever until some other City Council with a different orientation decides to name it for someone else?
Now I’m picking on Ed Koch – and I really like the guy-but he’s alive and well and still writing movie reviews which he started for our papers. Living people shouldn’t get bridges (or tunnels). Sorry Hugh Carey, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel shall always be just that to me.
I still call the RFK Bridge the Triborough – though perhaps someday I’ll make the adjustment. Bobby is gone – tragically lost his life while running for President.
I think my rules would be: 1) the government doesn’t name anything for living people; 2) If it has had a name for, let’s say 100 years, its permanent — even the government can’t change it – unless it’s named for a person who later proves to be a mass murderer or even better.
So they leave Gracie Mansion named for some guy who built a different building but had to sell it to pay debts, on the site of the official residence of the Mayor of New York City, but take the beautiful Queensboro Bridge of my youth and change it to a cacophonous Ed Koch Bridge. Geesh!
Sorry Mr. Mayor, but I’m one of those purists. If you’re breathing, you’re entitled to our thanks, not our signage.
And if it is named for Queens, you can’t change it no matter what!
What’s In A Name 2?
The Gotham Gazette reports that The Chocolate Library, the recently opened artisanal chocolate shop in the East Village, may have to change its name. They cite a Diner’s Journal report that it’s actually illegal to incorporate the words library, school, academy, institute and kindergarten without the education commissioner’s consent. And the folks at the State Education Department are enforcing the law.
So here’s this cute little chocolate shop and a creative small businessman who has set it up as a reference to all who follow chocolate: with products clearly informatively labeled in white cubicle, to shelves accompanied by touch screen information kiosks for all to learn about chocolate.
What are they afraid of? Perhaps it will help make kids like going to the library.
If the State Ed bureaucrats prevail, Gotham Gazette reports that their lawyer is incorporating a back-up name: Chocolate 101.
Isn’t the State Education Commissioner busy enough deciding on the qualifications of Cathie Black not to get involved with the name of a chocolate shop?
Cast Your Vote
This is not the first time I’ve raised a written eyebrow at the City’s purchase of the new voting machines. These big boys come under a nationwide program with Federal money attached – HAVA, Help America Vote Act. New York State’s implementation of its program “Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005” (“ERMA”), came after great delay and I’m sure much lobbying.
Well, naturally the City had to wait for the State and, I’m certain, deal with more lobbyists – the winning company spent more than half a million dollars lobbying the city with a lobbyist who has since been indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in an unrelated political matter.
And this process, which took New York State longer than any other state in the union, produced machines where: privacy while scanning is in doubt; type has to be made tiny to squeeze all the candidates on it; the reverse side of the ballot has to be used for propositions and the like; to tabulate results, the scanning machines produce lengthy spool-like printouts that are difficult to decipher; and the initial tabulation for the first General Election using machines, missed 80,000 votes in Queens alone and some 200,000 in the state.
Any competent computer programmer can write a script to enable ordinary computers to match the form required to be used to forward to the police and Board of Elections, but the City’s failure is the result of a $50 million purchase.
Now I don’t mind the lobbyists making their money. And I don’t violently mind the politicians getting their campaign contributions. But to me, for $50 million, we should have gotten the best machines available.
Clouds Lie Ahead For Years to Come
By HENRY STERN
As the holidays approach, people are speaking broadly about the past year and what lies ahead for 2011.
There is a sense of wariness, if not pessimism, which colors our views of the future, at least as far as public issues are concerned. Individual’s’ personal outlooks vary widely, depending first on their own physical and mental health, then on personal economic issues. In these times, the focus is more on the availability of employment than the level of fulfillment it may provide.
The statistic of 9.8% unemployment is somewhat of an underestimate of the state of the economy. It does not count the underemployed, or the people who have given up looking for jobs and dropped out of the labor market. Unemployment remains high when the stock market and corporate profits are rising, so it is not as if a shrinking economy is to blame. It seems that America needs fewer workers than it used to, and that much of the unemployment is becoming structural, and therefore less likely to be cured when economic conditions improve.
Another concern of individuals is reflected in their belief that conditions will be more difficult for their children to deal with than they were for the parents. Upward social and economic mobility has been taken for granted in America for generations, particularly in immigrant communities. For the first time, many people are uncertain that the next generation will be able to get into the schools they did, or hold the jobs they have, or buy homes equivalent to those in which they live. This pressure is particularly acute on the middle class, or people who have good jobs in manufacturing, or on the lower levels of middle management. NAFTA and robotics may add to premonitory feelings of anxiety.
We don’t think too much about issues like how the next generation, or the ones after that, will pay off the ever-increasing national debt, or pay the interest that accrues annually on the $13.56 trillion public debt of the Federal government (as of 9/30/10).
We should also think of the balance of payments between imports and exports, under which the United States for years has paid more for the goods it imports than it has received from the goods it sells abroad. That is another trend that cannot continue indefinitely, yet it shows no sign of abating.
In the last few days, the controversy between President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress appears to have led to a compromise, which is the only alternative to inaction, neither side having enough votes to pass anything.
However, both the Democratic and the Republican plans are supposed to be paid for by increasing the national debt. The parties differed widely as to which category of taxpayers should get relief, and the Dems succeeded in winning a year’s extension of unemployment insurance, which seems increasingly necessary as the recession continues, but which does not result in increasing employment.
The sensible compromise, which appears to be on track, was intended to resolve those differences. However, the accommodation of the parties came at the expense of the future. If we believe that the growing debt will ever be repaid or substantially reduced, we have postponed the time when that might happen.
There are many other reasons to be concerned about the future. Nuclear proliferation is the most obvious and threatening. The problem is more severe when non-state actors acquire nuclear weapons, which is probably only a matter of time, as North Korea may place parts of its arsenal on sale in mint condition and never used.
To us, these problems arise from the rapid advances in the physical sciences made in the last few centuries, rushing far ahead of the behavioral sciences. It has taken billions of years for our species to evolve into what it is now, and we cannot expect substantial change in the handful of generations that may remain before, as my mother used to say, “anything happens.”StarQuest@NYCivic.org