Friday, April 25, 2008

An Offer You Can't Refuse

In the 1980's, Britain reformed its industrial relations laws, after the experience of crippling national strikes in the late seventies.   Of all the reforms proposed, the one that evoked the fiercest and most sustained resistance from British union leadership was the proposal to guarantee workers the secret ballot in elections for union leaders.   The secret ballot protected individual workers from intimidation and coercion in union elections.
Here in the United States, the secret ballot performs the same function.   But Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed legislation to strip American workers of their right to a secret ballot in elections to decide whether or not to unionize their workplace.   It would leave workers open to threat of job loss, intimidation, violence, and threats to the safety of family members.   Which is exactly why its supporters want it:   to make workers an offer they can't refuse.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Admire Obama for Not Wearing the Flag Pin

I don't have the consensus of my Mustard Street collaborators on this post, so I'm writing it in the first person.   They have, of course, agreed to my posting it as long as I'm speaking only for myself.

So, speaking for myself, it's not dwelling on the ephemeral to talk about Barack Obama's declining to wear an American flag lapel pin and I admire him for it.  When Obama explained it earlier in the campaign by saying that it trivializes genuine patriotism, he said something I've often thought myself when I see politicians wearing flag pins.  

How much easier for him just to wear the pin!   Who would it offend?   No one.   It's risk free.   Most people think it's just fine, and those who in their hearts spell "America" with a "k," for whom the flag (American, not Cuban) is a symbol of much of what they hate in the world, just dismiss it as a political "cost of doing business."

Instead, Obama rejects a cost-free piece of symbolism, even though doing so might cost him votes, something you will never see either of the Clintons do.

If Obama didn't take the flag seriously, he'd just pop on the lapel pin and forget about it.   That he doesn't shows a depth of character we see too rarely in the political world.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mendon Republican Restructuring

Remember where you heard it first!  

Last November, your Mustard Street team offered our analysis of the 2007 elections in our Almanac of Monroe County Politics.   One of our conclusions was that the Republicans in Mendon had become totally out of touch, thereby letting the better-qualified and better-informed Democratic candidates win, despite significantly wider Republican voter enrollment.

Therefore -- no wonder the County Republican Chairman is housecleaning the Mendon Republican Committee.   For those of you who haven't figured it out yet:   that's what political chairs are supposed to do!

Our analysis from last November:


Republicans have a 2 - 1 registration advantage in Mendon. This year those Republicans showed they're happy to vote for Democrats who will give them what they want.

Incumbent Democratic Supervisor Moe Bickwheat is retiring after 4 years in office, leaving an open seat. Republican Jeff Babcock is a lawyer and real estate broker. Democratic candidate Ian McNabb ran a nursery business for many years and has been active civically, most recently as member of the Honeoye Falls Conservation Board. He's a former president of the Honeoye Falls - Mendon Chamber of Commerce.

Mendon's library is aging. Each of the two Democratic candidates for Town Board is a trustee of the Mendon Library. Each supported resolving the issue of whether to build a new library, intimating that they favored it. McNabb took the same position. The incumbent Town Board Republicans weren't so sure. Supervisor candidate Babcock dismissed the need to come to a decision about a new library.

In a singularly regrettable admission for a member of a learned profession, Babcock said that he "rarely uses" the library. Ouch. An admission made not over the bar at Ye Olde Mendon, but to the editorial Board of the Democrat and Chronicle. OUCH!

Is anyone surprised that McNabb took it with 60%?

Shari Stottler and Mark Cottle, Democratic candidates for Town Board, matched McNabb's margin and easily swept aside Republican incumbents Marv Vahue and Pat Freeman, giving Democrats a majority of the Town Board in this 2 - 1 Republican town.

All three Democratic candidates are said to have run a thorough door-to-door campaign, in contrast to their complacent Republican counterparts.

In looking at factors that contributed to Republicans' loss of the Town Board, let's not forget the inexcusably shabby treatment Republican Board members accorded Supervisor Moe Bickwheat back when he took office, not even including him in the Town's swearing-in ceremonies. The two remaining Republicans on Town Board would be well-advised to remember this and not repeat it. They'd be well-advised also to (a) pay attention to issues their constituents consider important, and (b) actually campaign when they run for re-election.

They'd know this already if they spent more time in the library.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pay Taxes on Election Day

Ronald Reagan once said, famously, that for Republicans, every day is the Fourth of July and for Democrats every day is April 15.

Given the highest property taxes in the country, the State of New York is unstinting in its dedication to making every day feel like April 15.

Almost to the day, April 15 is as far removed in time from election day, in either direction, as the calendar permits.   Those of you who think that's a mere coincidence have a future writing newspaper editorials.   For the rest of us, a modest proposal:   by law, all taxes, state and federal, should be due on Election Day, and all school taxes payable on the day of school budget elections, at the polling place or at the school district's offices.

What better way to align action with consequence:  bringing together the inseparable realities of political choices and what they cost each of us.

Which is why it will never happen.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Supervisor Dunning: My, How You've Grown!

We're not the only ones to have noticed the political partisanship of the Democrat and Chronicle becoming not merely more pronounced in recent months, but more strident, on occasion to the brink of hysteria.

The good folks at Monroe Rising ran a piece today by Cincinnatus observing that three whole days have passed without the D&C denouncing Chili Supervisor David Dunning for switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican.

Cincinnatus asks what the D&C would have to say if a Republican switched parties?

Just a guess on my part, but I think their reaction would be totally different from how they view Supervisor Dunning’s switch.

Not only that, Cincinnatus, but we have a fair idea of what that reaction would be.   When Republicans change parties and become Democrats, at left publications like the D&C it's called it "growing in office."

Funny thing, though.   Are we overlooking something, or does it seem that most party switches by local office holders involves Democrats becoming Republicans, rather than the other way around?   For example, Greece Supervisor John Auberger began political life as a Democrat.   Senator Joe Robach made the same move more recently.   County legislators Charles Eber and Chris Wilmot both became Republicans while in office; former County Legislator Ray DiRaddo made the same switch earlier in his career, before being elected to the legislature.   So did current Republican Legislator Jeff McCann, who in his earlier incarnation as a Democrat worked for David Gantt in the State Assembly.   Former County Legislator David Proud switched from Democratic to Independent while in office.

On the other hand, the number of Republican political figures in Monroe County who switched to the Democrats while in office includes .  .  .   Actually, we can't think of any.   OK, District Attorney Mike Green was a Republican until denied his party's nomination for DA.   At that point there was only one other major party available to confer a nomination for District Attorney, and since they didn't have a candidate of their own yet .  .  .   But that was a tactical move of mutual convenience for Green and the Democratic Party, not the evolution in personal convictions that characterized the D-to-R switches we mentioned above.

We don't have any explanations to offer as to why party-switching by elected officials in this town involves one-way traffic only.   If any of our readers do (do you hear that, you two?) we'd like to know what you think.

Whatever other significance Supervisor Dunning's party change may portend, it has triggered yet another extravagant exposition of partisanship on the part of the Democrat and Chronicle.   Here's what the paper said in endorsing Dunning last October:   Dunning, it said,

.  .  .   promises to .  .  .   bring openness back to the process, to involve the town board fully in decision-making. He's bright, accessible and has garnered a lot of political experience as leader in the neighborhood fight against the Chili Commons project.

Dunning is the Democrat and Chronicle's choice to be Chili supervisor.

The rap on Dunning, of course, is that he hasn't held elective office. But he is a well-regarded manager at a local company who is used to handling budgets and personnel.

• • •

What Dunning has shown is an ability to connect with people and a willingness to allow the public a voice in government. He's not anti-development. But he wants to be receptive in every case to neighborhood concerns about business growth and traffic density.

He has the skills and the attitude to be the leader Chili deserves.

Note that the endorsement refers to personal attributes and experience of Dunning the candidate. It doesn't say that being a Democrat is what qualifies Dunning for office.

So now Dunning has a new party label.

And now were supposed to think that suddenly he's no longer "bright" or "accessible?"

That he never really "garnered a lot of political experience as leader in the neighborhood fight against the Chili Commons project?"

That he wasn't really "a well-regarded manager" and isn't really "used to handling budgets and personnel" and the D&C just made that up as a pretext to endorse him?

That he now, suddenly, has lost both his "ability to connect with people" and his "willingness to allow the public a voice in government?"

This from a newspaper, such as it is, that routinely pontificates against partisanship as a basis for making evaluations?


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Camille's On Wheels

Our monthly visit with genius:   Camille Paglia in Salon.

Postmortem analysts of this presidential campaign will have a field day ferreting out all the cringe-making blunders made by her clique of tired, aging courtiers who couldn't adjust to changing political realities.  Hillary's forces have acted like the heavy, pompous galleons of the imperial Spanish Armada, outmaneuvered by the quick, bold, entrepreneurial ships of the English fleet.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pearls of Wisdom

From Cincinnatus, who writes on Monroe Rising, comes today the best brief summary of the political landscape in Monroe County we've seen anywhere.   Referring to County Executive Brooks, Cincinnatus observes,

The challenges she faces are numerous — no control over the expenses in her budget and having to get your political opponents’ ok before you can raise the sales tax – for starters.   And this is against the backdrop of a hostile daily newspaper, a minority caucus dedicated to causing her political problems and liberal activist groups that have stepped up their game by adding professional protesters to their ranks.
This in a piece urging Brooks to drop the Renaissance Square project.   Should she?   Read what Cincinnatus has to say about it.


Monday, April 7, 2008

The Coming Budget Spectacle

Back from vacation, we're doing some thinking today about the fiscal issues facing Mayor Duffy and City Council with the City budget, and County Executive Brooks and the County Legislature with the County budget.   We'll be hearing more from the Mayor in his State of the City speech tonight.

The County's situation is particularly acute in the aftermath of the court ruling overturning the FAIR plan, leaving the County with a $30 million hole in its budget.  How the County government approaches the issue, and the political dynamics we'll be seeing, should segue very nicely into our upcoming pieces on members of the County Legislature and on the business strategy of our tabloid-that-prints-on-broadsheet, the Democrat and Chronicle.

For the County Executive and Legislature, it's back to the status quo of last September, before the FAIR plan, with a big deficit hole to fill and a determination to avoid at any costs a property tax increase.   Yet it's anything but back to last September for the Republican legislative majority.   Back then they had a comfortable margin over the Democrats.   Today they have a majority of only one.   Researching our piece on the legislature, one GOP insider, not a legislator, told us that, before the last election, the Republican side on the legislature consisted of "the smart and loyal members, who supported the smartest members, and therefore kept a couple of stupid members from doing damage."   Are the "stupid" members, each one now a kingmaker, in the driver's seat today?

On the Democratic side it should be considerably less complex, as the County Legislature's Democrats revert once more to single-minded focus on their prime objective:  to force Maggie Brooks and the Republicans to raise the property tax.

We outlined their strategy in this regard last fall.  With the prize being to force Republicans into a property-tax hike,

. . . County Democrats attack any proposal that could meliorate the County's fiscal position.

Showing similar discipline in proposals of their own, legislative Democrats hew to a rigorous protocol:

1. Propose no measure that, if permitted by law, would reduce costs or otherwise improve the County’s financial position.

2. Propose measures that would help, but are legally prohibited.

3. Propose measures that conform to either rule above, and would pit Republican constituencies against each other or otherwise help Democrats politically.

And we should add a fourth approach, which will be: 
Propose measures that would help, but whose enactment requires consent of another level of government (typically the State), which consent is guaranteed not to be forthcoming.

McNewspaper will depict the struggle over the budget gap in terms as bloody, hysterical and strife-filled as possible.  It has now completed its evidently conscious transition to tabloid status, evidenced by contriving crises to milk as long as possible, in order to support declining newspaper sales.   Recent history tells the story:   first the public defender appointment, then, when that ran out of steam, the naming of a new president for the community college, then it will be on to inflating the sense of crisis about the budget solution.  We're continuing to work on our piece showing how, at this stage in its maturity as a business, the newspaper must follow this course in order to avoid the ultimate fate of being sold by its parent company, Gannett Co., Inc.

Interesting how the budget issue now helps to bring into focus these other issues we've considered important, like who are these people in the County Legislature (and after that we'll do City Council, which should be especially interesting because it's been insulated from serious press scrutiny for so long), and how business demands on the local newspaper corrupt the community's civic discourse and processes.

It all sounds very grim.   Maybe we should have stayed in Florida.