Monday, June 30, 2008

A Post-Minarik World -- What's Next?

Maggie Brooks made a gutsy, decisive move in securing the resignation of Monroe County Republican Party chairman Steve Minarik.  It has proven already to be a resounding public relations success.

First, it separates Brooks from the public defender appointment and the community college's presidential search, each of which a hostile press spun into a public-relations negative for County Republicans -- although not for Brooks herself.  The fact that she was not associated with either situation, either in reality or in the public mind, makes her dismissal of Minarik that much more of a public relations win:   without saying so outright, she conveyed the message: "Minarik was responsible for these things and now I've gotten rid of Minarik."

In fact, we think Brooks's public relations success is so helpful to her and her party that it even wipes away negative residue from the court loss over the FAIR plan, an initiative the public did associate with Brooks, because of her public advocacy for the Plan.

However, beyond this very positive short-term fallout for Brooks, we wonder what comes next.   We're not talking about who will be the new Republican Chairman.  Brooks has underscored her role as the dominant figure in the Republican Party.  Whoever the new Chairman may be, that person's job will be to support the County Executive in her policy initiatives and decisions.   We're talking about what Brooks will do, now unencumbered by a party chairman with whom, we have to believe, she had serious differences over policy matters and approaches.

If Brooks intends to follow an approach suggested in the statement about Minarik's departure, she may be in for a serious disappointment.

"I was elected on a platform of collaboration and working together for positive change in our community, and I need party leadership that reflects that."

The problem for Brooks is that, while the Republican Party can change its chairman, the Monroe County Democratic Party will not change the relentless focus on its principal goal:   to force Maggie Brooks to raise the property tax, and to force Republican County Legislators to vote for it.

Consider some events of recent weeks:
• Assemblyman and Monroe County Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle spikes State Assembly passage of a no-brainer:   a bill making it easier for taxpayers to pay back property taxes, by increasing the number of installmemts.  Doing that would have caused the business engaged by the County to collect back taxes to have to pay an additional $1million fee (from the business, not from county taxpayers) to Monroe County each year.

That benefit to the county was the bill's undoing.   No way Morelle was going to put Maggie Brooks $1 million further away from having to raise property taxes to balance the budget.

• County Legislature Democrats demanded for years "a seat at the table" in planning for solutions to the budget crisis.   A month ago they were given one -- and refused to sit down!   Instead they demanded the County Executive first present a budget plan of her own.   Had she done so, Democrats would only have used it to criticize her.   They know exactly what the budget options are:   raise taxes or cut popular services.   If Brooks tried to work with the Legislative Democrats, at every step the conditions for their participation would require "just one more thing."

The reality is that Democrats in the County Legislature will oppose any proposal to ameliorate the budget gap if they think it would actually work, since it only would postpone the day when Brooks would be forced to raise property taxes as the only way out.  If, in the end, Brooks and the Legislature are forced to do just that, the Democrats will claim that they never did enough to avoid it.

"Collaboration" and "working together" require more than one side wanting to do it.   Democrats have a goal -- force Brooks to raise the property tax.   They eagerly will engage in public happy-talk about "cooperation," but nothing -- nothing -- will deter them in pursuit of their goal.

In particular, if Brooks imagines that she can win Democratic cooperation for a sales tax increase as an alternative to a property tax hike, it's not going to happen.   She is sophisticated enough that she must know this.

Nevertheless, there's political popularity in "everyone just getting along."  If Brooks can wrap the County Republican Party in that mantle, that she herself has worn so well, that could go a long way to helping Republicans hold on to County government, even if the budget might require some tough solutions.  By distancing herself from Steve Minarik so definitively, Brooks now has set the stage for this to happen.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Dropping the Pilot

There had been rumors of tensions between Republican Chairman Steve Minarik and County Executive Maggie Brooks, but what happened today came as a complete shock.

As Joe Morelle said in reaction to the news, "Steve Minarik single-handedly rebuilt the local Republican Party."  Therefore, for Monroe County, Brooks asking Minarik to go is as big a deal as Kaiser Wilhelm II firing Bismarck, who unified and created the German nation, from the office of Chancellor.

Whom will this hurt?   Whom will it help?

Lucy, our fellow-blogger, has been doing fieldwork to get more of the inside story.   Until we learn more, we remain, for once, speechless.   So, for the moment, to mark this event, we'll publish the 1890 cartoon captioned "Dropping the Pilot," depicting the Kaiser watching Bismarck disembarking from the ship of state.


Justice Arthur Kennedy

Revealing an understanding of the Supreme Court equal to its understanding of other public matters, the Democrat and Chronicle, editorializing this morning on yesterday's Second Amendment decision, refers to "Justice Arthur Kennedy."

Screenshot below.

You can read the whole thing here.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Heller v. District of Columbia

We weren't the only ones surprised by a clear majority opinion, especially with a constitutionally valid outcome, in the Supreme Court's Heller decision. The following is from this morning's liveblogging, at Scotusblog, of the opinion's announcement:

10:14 Tom Goldstein - It is striking that the decision is not clouded by ambiguity created by separate opinions. One opinion on each side.

10:16 Tom Goldstein - Apologies - there is a second dissenting opinion, but only one majority - no plurality and no concurrences.

Amazing.   The Supreme Court finds a right in the Constitution that's actually written in the Constitution!

In the lifetimes of most of us, they've been much more comfortable finding "rights" that aren't found anywhere in the Constitution and about which it doesn't even hint.

The Left had it's big day yesterday, with child rapists getting sprung from death row.   The great mass of ordinary citizens had our day today:   when the child rapists show up, we can gun them down before they get to the kids.

We'll have an even better day when the Court makes rulings that leave deterrents to crime in place, rendering unnecessary the perceived need for armed defense of the home.


Supreme Injustice

In case after case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the most regrettable legacy of the Reagan Administration, provides the fifth vote for the Supreme Court's liberal bloc, coming down on the wrong side of whatever's before the Court.

Yesterday he held to form, determining that it's "unconstitutional" to execute child rapists, a provision that one enlightened state had in its criminal code, because it's "disproportionate" to the crime.   He didn't dare use one of the favorite arguments of liberals on the Supreme Court, that the constitution has to reflect the "evolving standards of the people."   If only!   If that were the standard, Kennedy knows there would be no way to support yesterday's ruling.

See if you think the death penalty is "disproportionate" to this crime.   Read about what the child rapist, now spared by Anthony Kennedy, did to an 8-year old that got him the death penalty in the first place.   Warning:   it's not for the faint-of-heart.

Prediction: It is reported that the Court will release today its long-awaited opinion, on whether the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own guns.   Look for one of those maddeningly inconclusive decisions with multiple opinions, where Kennedy issues a "concurring opinion" of his own, agreeing with the outcome in this particular case, but leaving a large ambiguuity about the central legal issue at stake, thereby giving the Left the ability to argue that, see, the Court didn't affirm an individual right to bear arms after all.

As President, Andrew Jackson had the right idea.   Of a particularly objectionable Supreme Court ruling, Jackson said, "The Chief Justice has made his decision.   Now let him enforce it."   It wasn't enforced.

Along the same lines, we think it would be a salutary act of civil disobedience for the Governor of Louisiana to defy the Court and throw the child rapist into the electric chair today.   The Governor would instantly become a national hero, and deservedly so.

The Supreme Court has said for years that it derives its authority only from the voluntary consent of the people to follow it.   We hereby withdraw ours.   If the Constitution of the United States is really the bastardized accretion of decades of leftist rulings like sparing rapists of 8-year olds, then, most emphatically, we do not support the "Constitution" of the United States and we do not support the Country that tolerates it.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Carla Palumbo, Rubber Stamp

The great thing about being a Democrat elected to office in the City is not needing to have any shame. You're elected, for life, no matter what you do. Just like in Third World countries. There's no press scrutiny and no one to hold you responsible.

Being a city girl myself, I was out on the town the other night and came across an old friend who's active in city politics. She noted a discussion we once had about political parties as rubber stamps, which made me think about former county legislator, now city councilwoman, Carla Palumbo, and her voting record.

Ms. Palumbo has been in the City Council now for six months and has voted with Mayor Bob Duffy on every single vote. That's 181 times. Consecutively.

The City Council minutes through May 2008 tell the story:

Proposals before Council
(nearly all proposed by Mayor Duffy)
Councilwoman Palumbo (D)
181 “Yes” Votes

This is the same Carla Palumbo who, as County Legislator and Democratic Minority Leader, whined incessantly that the Republican Majority was just a rubber stamp for the County Executive.

Amazing how her attitude has changed!


Brooding Over Bruno

Here and there we've read commentary today anguishing over how much of a loss Joe Bruno's departure from public life represents, and what a debt of thanks the citizens of New York owe him.  These comments are from usually Republican-oriented sources.   For that reason we're surprised.

Bruno is the incarnation of Jay Gallagher's celebrated dictum, "There's only one party in Albany:   the Party of Government."   He's a Republican only in the same sense that O.J.'s looking for the real killers.

Sychophant of the teachers union, opponent of a state constitutional convention in '97 (our only hope for salvation short of revolution), champion of the status quo in the toxic array of policies that has made the The Empire State into The Bankrupt State and The Exodus State, Bruno's last contribution to the public debate before announcing his retirement was to oppose Gov. Paterson's proposed cap on school taxes.   If you've read this, you know what we think of the proposed "tax cap."   Functionally useless, at least it's an acknowledgement of the need to shift policy in a certain direction.   But even that's too much for the errand-boy of the teacher's union.   At least Bruno went out in character.

Moreover, we can't think of a single Republican state senator who's any different.   That's why they're going to lose the State Senate in November.   It's because they deserve to.


Bruno's Retirement Changes Nothing

Why has the retirement of Senator Joe Bruno set off such speculation about change in control of the State Senate in November?

As we told you in February, the election of Democrat Darrel Aubertine in the special election in the North Country clinched Democratic control of the Senate, come the November election, for reasons we described in that earlier posting.

Bruno's retirement changes nothing.


Friday, June 20, 2008

How to Kill A City 101

Here’s something you won’t read in the Democrat and Chronicle:

The one-party City of Rochester government is doing such a great job with downtown economic development, is working so tirelessly to keep and attract businesses that . . . it just raised taxes on city businesses, raised taxes and fees on city residents and raised parking rates at the 7 city owned garages. Leave it to the Party of Fairness to find a way to hurt city employers and employees at the same time!

All this was approved unanimously by City Council as part of the 2008/2009 City Budget.

Great work.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Story Spiked By Gantt's Bum-Boys at the D&C

The New York Daily News ran this editorial on Tuesday -- and not a word about it or the underlying story in Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle.

Red light district

No one has done more to preserve, protect and defend gridlock in New York City than Assemblyman David Gantt, and Tuesday he made sure that bus riders are condemned to commuting at a crawl.

Gantt, who heads the Transportation Committee, led the panel in killing Mayor Bloomberg's plan to use cameras to ticket drivers who clog dedicated bus lanes. He had previously blocked the city from adding red-light and anti-speeding cameras.

For years, this Rochester Democrat has nuttily maintained that traffic-enforcement cameras represent an invasion of privacy to the public. But recently, Gantt began to suppress his fear of Big Brother after a friend and former aide landed an $80,000 lobbying job for an upstate red-light-camera company.

Now, Gantt is lead sponsor of a bill tailor-made to promote the technology of his pal's client - while blocking Bloomberg and elected officials in other jurisdictions from using cameras provided by different vendors.

This is Albany at its worst.


New York Times Reports on Gantt Scandals

Here in McPaper's monopoly zone, we're held in a news blackout over the unethical behavior of public joke and nuisance David Gantt.

But Gantt's behavior is at a point where The New York Times blog is now paying attention.   Read it in The New York Times.  Because you sure won't find it in McPaper.

The comments to the Times item are noteworthy.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tax Cap or Tax Crap?

We hold Governor Paterson in good regard, and give him credit for helping to bring the concept of a property tax cap into the arena of serious consideration, by endorsing the proposal of the State Commission on Property Tax Relief.  In the most reactionary and backward state in the country, where any proposed change to the policy status quo is efficiently strangled in the crib, that alone is a step forward.

However, we're less enthusiastic about the substance of the tax cap proposal that the Governor has adopted.   No more than four percent per year?   With an exception if voters in our third world-style school budget elections make it higher?   For most of us that's the equivalent of no cap at all.   Next, maybe someone will propose a law against domestic violence that says you can only beat your wife 26 weekends of the year instead of 52, with exceptions if you're drunk.

A 4% per year limit isn't a property tax cap.   It's property tax crap.

Want to see a real tax cap?   Here's one:

Section 1. (a) "The maximum amount of any ... tax on real property shall not exceed One percent (1%) of the full cash value of such property."

The legislation then:

• establishes a benchmark year for determining assessed value, and

• limits to the inflation rate any increases in assessed value beyond the benchmark, but not to exceed 2% per year.

That's California's groundbreaking Proposition 13, passed in 1978. (As usual, New York is only 30 years behind).   It's what a real tax cap looks like.

A majority of states that provide direct democracy in the form of voter initiatives have real tax caps.   The teachers union and its fellow travellers in the schools establishment and elsewhere say tax caps compromise quality of life, especially (of course) "for the children."  Isn't it strange, then, that the states with real caps in place are the states people move to, and places like New York, run by a spenders' coalition led by the teachers union, are the places people move away from?

If the quality of life purchased by New York-style through-the-nose taxation were so great, you'd think all the people in the mass exodus from New York would be sticking around.

Although we believe the Governor proffers his tax cap in good faith, it illustrates a prime danger in the road toward actual tax relief in New York.   When public pressure finally frightens Bruno and Silver into acting, you can bet your life savings that what they'll propose is a "property tax cap" that will be (a) utterly toothless; and (b) adopted with great fanfare about "listening to the people" and responding as the true champions of tax relief.

In every state where a citizen-led tax cap initiative made it onto the ballot, the state legislature placed its own, watered-down version of "tax relief" on the ballot to compete against it.   In each case, voters could tell, and chose, the real thing.   In New York we don't have that choice.   The Governor's functionally useless version is the only game in town.

It's the basis from which negotiation with the Terrible Twins, Silver and Bruno, begins.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Road Tax

As if we needed reminding of the repulsive squalor of government in the State of New York, today brings news that the State Senate approved a law allowing six local towns to lower speed limits from 30 to 25.

You see, it's just getting easier and easier to get around these days, as we're sure you've noticed.   Too easy, in fact.

So easy that, apparently, angry owners of beige Buick Centurys who can't see over the steering wheel (evidently a powerful voting bloc), demanded redress!   Thirty miles per hour is just too darned fast!  A proposition so self-evident to any driver that the State Senate approved the speed reduction unanimously.

In the smoke and mirrors world of New York government, it's always necessary to look through the outward form of things to their actual substance, in order to know what's really going on.

Unreasonably slow speed limits benefit every special and powerful interest involved, at the expense of the public.

First, of course, is the state government, which gets the fines from speeding tickets and then gets to impose a "surcharge" on the unfortunate driver.  When speed limits are unrealistically low, only a few eccentrics obey them.   So the police can stop and ticket nearly anyone, at will.   What you have, then, is not a speed limit, but a randomly-imposable road usage tax.

Insurance companies
love unreasonably low speed limits.   They enable insurers to hike up insurance rates on perfectly safe drivers, once those drivers start accumulating points for "speeding" at an astonishing 30 -- even 35! -- miles per hour.

Police love them because instead of having to go after actual criminals, who might be dangerous, they get to harass ordinary citizens trying to get back and forth from work, or to pick up their kids.   It's a lot easier being a uniformed tax-collector than chasing bad guys.

Everyone wins, except the ordinary citizen, who pays for it all.

Protestations by local governments about "safety concerns," to justify unrealistic speed limits, are a contemptible farce.   Unreasonably low speed limits actually cause more accidents, as drivers take more risks to get around the Buick Century drivers, and get pushed further in the direction of road rage.

Lowering limits to 25 will exact the social costs of increasing contempt for the law among ordinary citizens and breeding disrespect for police. It will educate children across Monroe County, even more thoroughly than before, that it's OK to be a scofflaw.   Mom and Dad don't pay attention to those speed laws, do they?   Why should I obey laws?

There's nothing we can do about it, of course.   After all, this is New York, where citizens are chattel of the state.   But if the law makes scofflaws of us all, we can at least make scofflaws of the law.   When you find yourself in one of the new 25-mile per hour zones and there's a cop behind you, keep it right to 25.  Watch how long it takes before he passes you.

If local governments really wanted to slow traffic instead of shake down ordinary citizens for more money, they'd try innovative approaches, like the one in Denmark that you can learn about in the video below.



Even Educated Fleas Do It

In the controversy started by Bob Lonsberry's comments about school programs for unmarried students who have given birth, no one's talking about the most important issue:   where are the school programs to connect students with birth control?

The church groups and others criticizing Lonsberry would be doing a lot more good if they devoted the same time and energy to getting birth control to young women who need it, and young men who should use it, as they spend in complaining about a radio show.

Birth control programs should be promoted in middle schools and high schools everywhere - urban, suburban, rural.  (The human body works the same, no matter where you live.)   A good place to start would be in any school district where student pregnancy is significant enough to warrant special programs for unmarried mothers.

Planned Parenthood is an excellent organization and the right partner for school districts to work with in crafting programs to promote birth control.

Lonsberry is justified in his frustration over schools spending resources on programs for single-mother students, instead of devoting resources to preventing those pregnancies in the first place.  He's right in saying that it sends some very wrong signals.

However, in other ways Lonsberry is wrong.   First, for criticizing the existence of these programs.   Regardless of what should have or could have happened, the schools have students with babies and without husbands.   It does no one any good to let them slip further behind.   We're glad the City school district is offering programs to help them succeed.

Lonsberry is also wrong for focusing exclusively on behavior as the sole issue here.   We agree that one of the most important messages the schools can impart, in settings where there are no parents or community culture to impart it, is   "Don't have babies until you're married. Don't get married until you're at least 21."   (We'll take the complaining church people seriously when we see them advocating that message as vigorously as they denounce Lonsberry.)   Encouraging abstinence until marriage is part of getting that message across, but human nature is going to assert itself, especially where there's no reinforcement of the message whatsoever outside of school.

That's where programs to promote and provide access to birth control come in, and why they're needed.

Cole Porter would have understood.   See below.



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Clinton Traveling Circus; Pain from McCain

Camille Paglia weighs in on the start of the general election campaign:

Hillary for veep? Are you mad? What party nominee worth his salt would chain himself to a traveling circus like the Bill and Hillary Show?  If the sulky bearded lady wasn't biting the new president’s leg, the oafish carnival barker would be sending in the clowns to lure all the young ladies into back-of-the-tent sword-swallowing.
•    •    •   
With stilted, stodgy intonations that seem to descend from the late-19th century era of one-room schoolhouses, McCain laboriously reading a speech is a painful spectacle. After the mumbling, disjointed George W. Bush, doesn't the U.S. deserve a more sophisticated leader on the international stage?

Read the whole piece.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Country Better Than Ours

It was called "America."

Dennis Prager recalls it.

When I was boy, people dressed up to go to baseball games, visit the doctor and travel on airplanes.   Today, people don't dress up even for church.