Category Archives: New York State

Uncle Andy’s Four-Phase Plan

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a four-phase plan by which businesses in New York State would reopen as the coronavirus threat passed:

  • Phase 1: Manufacturing, construction, curbside pickup for retail;
  • Phase 2: Retail, professional services, real estate;
  • Phase 3: Hotels and restaurants;
  • Phase 4: Schools, arts, recreation, and entertainment.

The state has been divided into ten regions for the purpose, with reopening in each region, and advancement through the phases, consistent on meeting a set of metrics.  Most of the metrics relate to hospital usage, which makes sense, although some of the thresholds seem arbitrary.  The threshold is a minimum 30% available hospital beds and intensive care beds, which most of the state passes, but if the threshold were 20%, the entire state would pass.

The one metric that worries me is the need for contact tracers.  The virus was spreading for a month and a half before it was determined to be an emergency: contact tracing now seems pointless and silly. 

Nevertheless, under the plan, there need to be a minimum of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents: New York City will need over 2500.  Organizing and training a force of that size will be at least a three-month project.  Are we to remain on lockdown until then?

More worrisome is the authority to be vested in these contact tracers.  Will they have the authority to compel people to be tested?  To separate people from their families for isolation (as is happening in California)?  To compel answers to, ‘Are you now or have you ever been…’ or ‘Tell us about your friends and associates…’?

The only thing that such an effort would appear to accomplish is practice for a new Stasi whose authority, in the name of public health, would extend beyond biological viruses to embrace improper thoughts and improper speech.  That may be unconstitutional, but what the hey: it’s an emergency.

When I first read about the plan, I expected that we might be reopening in a few weeks.  I thought my work life would get back to normal in 4-6 weeks, and my wife and I would be able to enjoy dinner out in maybe 6-8 weeks.  Live baseball this summer, alas, would be a lost cause.  But if New York City will not come off ‘pause’ until we have 2500 contract tracers on staff, fully trained and ready to go, it will be a much longer wait.

I sure hope Uncle Andy reconsiders. And it’s disgusting, but right now, that’s all I can do.

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Since the 1960s, when young men ran off to escape the military draft, the notion of running off to Canada to elude whatever turmoil the US was suffering has been with us.  It’s crossed my mind a couple of times, never very seriously, the last time in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected.

Now, in the name of public health, our liberties are basically gone.  Yes, there’s still freedom of speech, but only over the Internet, open to government monitoring.  Yes, there’s still freedom of religion–you can believe whatever you want—but all the churches are closed.

Alas, escaping to Canada won’t help.  They’re just as bad as we are.

Andrew Cuomo

Last Thursday we had the primary election in New York for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and some other offices.  It’s the first time that I can recall in my life that an election in the United States was moved from Tuesday.

But then, this past Tuesday was 11 September, the modern date that will live in infamy.  For me, it’s the day we learned our leadership is either stupid or evil, and to this day we’re afraid to find out which. Living well—or at least carrying on with aplomb—is the best revenge against terrorism, or stupid or evil governments.  Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Alas, I’m apparently in the minority.  11 September is supposed to be a day of moaning and interminable suffering, and not for normal things like elections.

Andrew Cuomo, son of Mario, won the primary and will be running for a third term in November.  His opponent this week was Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City. I knew it was a lost cause, but I voted for Cynthia, even though I disagree with most of her positions.  Then again, if a live turnip had been running for Governor, I would have voted for it.

It bothers me when a politician is himself the son of a politician.  (I’m sure we’ll have daughters of politicians running for office someday, and I’ll have the same objection.)  It says that talent is so thin on the ground that we have to look to the children of past leaders.  I thought hereditary government was something we fought a Revolution to get rid of.

Worse than that were his campaign commercials.  Cuomo’s campaign invective against President Trump rubbed me the wrong way.  It isn’t that I agree or disagree with his positions: I watched Cuomo’s campaign commercials and realized: I don’t like this person.  I want him to go away.

In contrast, in President Bush, we had someone who more clearly became President in 2000 as a result of electoral finagling, and who led us into a pointless war.  But other than John Kerry, whose entire platform running for President in 2004 was ‘I am not Bush,’ nobody felt the need to rail against Bush or make him the bogeyman.

Alas, Andrew Cuomo isn’t going away, and I expect that he’ll run for President in 2020.

Exercise in Futility

It’s been rather a while since I last wrote something here.  I’ve been frantically busy at work.  Until this year, I had exactly one instance where I had to pull an all-nighter (actually a bit more than that, as my all-nighters typically start around 7:00 am) in the service of my career.  This summer, I had four.  Such, it seems, is the way of the world….

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Exercise Your Right to Vote

Recently, message boards have been installed in the subway stations that indicate when the next train is arriving.   On the whole, it’s a good thing.  But yesterday morning, I looked up and was reminded to ‘exercise my right to vote.’  It bothered me.  If a friend reminds me to vote, it’s OK; if the League of Women Voters reminds me to vote, they’re doing their job.  But when the people who run the subway feel the need to remind me to vote, I have to wonder what the racket is.

Alas, voting seems an exercise in futility.  This year, NYC elects a mayor.  The incumbent, Bill de Blasio, is almost certain to be re-elected, not so much for his stellar achievements, but because of a dearth of opposition.  The Republican candidate, Nicole Malliotakis, doesn’t seem to have much of a platform other than that she isn’t de Blasio.

I don’t like de Blasio: he’s an echo of the leftist mayors of the past who ran the city into the ground in the 1970s and 1980s.  On the other hand, other than his influence-peddling scandals, I can’t see that he has actually done anything terribly wrong.  The wheels have not fallen off the city; crime is still at historic lows; we still have something that vaguely resembles prosperity.

But that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

The other major item this year is a referendum to hold a state Constitutional Convention.  The US constitution is short (20 pages, give or take), concise, and to the point.  The New York State constitution runs to about 300 pages, and includes all sorts of things that should properly be in the domain of the state legislature.  As a result, the actual state legislature is reduced to nibbling around the edges, and a legislature with nothing useful to do is truly the devil’s workshop.

One of the provisions of the State Constitution is that, every 20 years, there should be a referendum on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention.  Such a convention could propose amendments which then would go before the voters.

There are many who are opposed to a convention.  Civil servants, for example, don’t want anyone to change the provision that civil service pensions are sacrosanct: they can be increased at will (which the politicians will do when they’re feeling flush), but never decreased. And even if you believe that the State Constitution needs a kick in the pants, the Convention will likely not be much help, as it will be filled with the current political class, with a vested interest in the status quo.

Still, hope springs eternal.  I made the effort and got to the polls in a driving rain.  I voted for Nicole and for a constitutional convention, even though I know they’re both losing propositions.  I got an ‘I voted’ sticker, something that has appeared in NYC voting places in the last few years:
I Voted

I have to wonder what the point of the sticker is: my fascination with stickers started to wane… when I was six.

Post Dated Tickets are a Fraud and Farce…and $800+ ticket prices for “Hamilfraudton”….

Part One of this post…..

No Broadway theatre has any intention of honoring a postdate.

What is a postdate?

A postdate is a Broadway show ticket that has not been used by the purchaser on the day of the ticket’s performance.

The idea of it is to permit the patron to use that ticket for any performance available during the run of the show.

The catch is that the patron is to call Tele Charge after 11 on the day of the performance you wish to attend after the date of the original ticket performance has passed. The idea of it is that you are permitted to use that ticket for that day’s performance if space allows.

Sounds good, right?

I am still trying to find a way to see the show before the run of the show ends. I figured I’d see it once more and eat the cost of the second ticket or try to get in to see it for 2 performances, thusly utilizing both postdates.

Sounds easy, right?

Back on April 30, I was told by Tele Charge that I have until October 9 to use the 2 tickets.

I found out by accident that the run of the show is ending on June 26. It was last Wednesday that I found this out.

I have called Tele Charge daily — and on numerous other times since then, asking if the postdate can be honored this evening…

And every time, the answer is no.

Including 10 minutes ago. “No postdates for this run or any show up until Sunday when the show closes.”

If you ask me, I don’t think Tele Charge has any intention of honoring a postdate — I got stuck with my ticket for another show when I found out after the show closed that the show CLOSED.

This also means you cannot go to the theatre, get your 2 hard copy tickets and sell them to somebody on line. The theatre wants to sell 2 fresh and new tickets and make money. NOT let you sell YOURS in front of the theatre. Not honoring postdates so you cannot do that!

Telecharge does not tell you when a show is closing, if you have postdates for that show.

I got a bad nosebleed the day before the performance of American Psycho and I very well could not see the show with packing in my nose and with a sinus headache to boot, thanks to the tampon that was shoved up my right nostril. There was only one ticket. I wanted to see the show and I was going to go by myself. No such luck.

It is a fraud and rip off.

Part 2 of this post:

The $800+ legitimate ticket prices (as in not scalped) for “Hamilton”

You read right! $800+ for a premium seat! and over $100 and more for one of the cheaper seats way up in the never-lands of the theatre.

And the producers had the brass ones to complain about the scalpers? Uh, these ARE now scalped ticket prices! Where is the FTC? Where is the state board that regulates prices for consumers???

Hamil-fraud-ton, as I like to call it, will run indefinitely and these horrifically inflated ticket prices will be the norm.  And no consumer will complain about the price.

The even scarier thing is that there will be some sap ready to fork over the money for the performance and damn the inflated price.

That show can run at least 5 years and I will bet you a billion dollars in profit will be made from this show. A BILLION!

Chicago is running 20 years. Imagine what Hamilfrauditon will rake in over a 20 year period of time!

$800+ for a ticket that’s an orchestra  seat and nobody that’s a huge draw and commands a crush of patrons is in the cast. Sting could not save The Last Ship and who is a bigger name than Sting???

Sad and horrific — if you want to take a date to see the show and eat in the city, expect to fork over half a week’s pay, if you get the cheaper seats. $150 each,  plus a good $100 for dinner, including tip???

No such luck if you wish to take your spouse and kids to see that show. Will cost you a fortune.

And if by chance you cannot make it to the theatre to see the performance, you are shit out of luck for a postdate. Imagine being out $1700 for 2 tickets! Doubtful you will find somebody who can get to you with that cash and pick up the tickets well in advance of the curtain time!

The FTC needs to look into the dishonor of postdates and end these inflated prices. Somebody or someone or some entity is behind these scalped “legit” prices and nobody in charge is ending it.

Screw you, Broadway. That is what I think.

PS, Lin Manuel: Tommy is by far the most original concept for a staged show. Who did this in 1969??? Nobody. Nobody picked up the ball and tried to transition it from concept LP to legitimate rock opera… a rock opera in 1969 -1970, in he midst of 1776 and Oh! Calcutta and Company?

Not likely.

Feeling the Bern

Every Sunday night for the last three weeks, I’ve reminded myself that Tuesday is Primary Day and I have to vote.  And for the previous two Mondays (but not today), I’ve corrected myself that the New York primary election is on the 19th.

On one level, I shouldn’t care.  I’ve written in these pages previously that all of the candidates are, to put it politely, useless.  And I could reasonably say that I don’t have time: my duties this week have me leaving the house at 0530; I have to catch up with paperwork after hours; the polling place is in a really awkward spot, not near a subway station.

Beyond that, I’m a registered Democrat.  My parents were, and up until maybe 2000, I would consider the candidates for an office and often decide that while the Republican candidate’s views were closer to my own, the Democrat seemed to be less of an arrogant asshole.  I’ve thought about changing, but to vote in the Republican primaries this year, I would have had to change my party registration by last October.  And it wasn’t clear back then that the Republican primaries would be as interesting as they turned out to be.

Still, it’s Election Day, and I have a choice.  And our country is troubled: I have to make the effort, pointless though it may be.

And my choice, for tomorrow, is Bernie Sanders.

I actually disagree with Sanders on many of his policy decisions.  While I believe that there may be room for the rich to pay more in taxes, I don’t believe that we can tax enough to finance some of Sanders’s more grandiose schemes.

But if Bernie Sanders is elected President, with a Republican Congress, the result will be gridlock.  And that is, in fact, a good thing: it means that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will be able to make things worse.  Gridlock worked for the deficit: after years of trillion-dollar deficits, the figure has dropped to less than half that.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton is just another Demican (Republicrat?).  The Republicans will rail against her, as they do against Obama, but in the end will go along to get along. (And I’ll skip, for today, all the other reasons I don’t believe Hillary Clinton is unsuitable to be President.)

Our country needs a change.  Unfortunately, the change we really need will be necessarily painful and disruptive, especially in the short term.  And the government—even if it were an absolute dictatorship—can’t fix our problems by fiat.  Until we can face reality, then, the next best alternative is a government that does nothing, so that at least it can’t make things worse.

And so tonight, I’m feeling the Bern.

(Or is it that I just had too much to eat?)

 

Snowjobbed

The spectacle of the Exploding Meteorologist has been a fixture of New York City winters for at least the last twenty years: the weather reporter breathlessly telling us about the monster snowstorm, which ends up yielding, perhaps, two inches.   Of course, every once in a while, a real snowstorm shows up, and the Exploding Meteorologists do their thing.

But this time, the Exploding Meteorologists were joined by an Exploding Mayor.  Yesterday’s morning news included this item:

Yeah, right, whatever.

I rearranged my schedule to get through my meetings earlier, and walked out of my last meeting at 12:20 pm.

Back in the office, I put on  WINS, the go-to radio station in New York City for bad weather.  I found that the Exploding Mayor had been joined by our Exploding Governor, Andrew Cuomo.  He admonished us, like little children, not to go out in the snow, and ordered all non-essential vehicles off the road at 11:00 pm.

I left the office about 5:00 pm, and had a pretty normal ride home, except that the trains were not as crowded because most people had left work earlier.  Back home, I learned that the ‘travel ban’ also included the subways.  Usually, the trains keep running when it snows, and during NYC’s worst snowstorm ever, in 2006, the subways kept running.  (I know, because I was travelling that day.)

At 11:00, ready to sleep, I looked out the window: there had been a substantial lull in the storm.  So much for the Exploding Meteorologists.

In the morning, my wife noted that the G train was running: we can see the viaduct from our windows.  Slowly it dawned on me: the subways could have kept running, and perhaps did to some extent. But we, as passengers, were not allowed to ride them, by order of the Governor.

The morning news reported that the storm had moved off to the east, and the travel ban had been lifted.  NYC got about a foot, although snow is continuing to fall, and New Jersey got 2-3 inches: hardly worth complaining about.  The subways are starting up and will run on a Sunday schedule for the rest of the day.

In another time, the Mayor and Governor would have declared states of emergency, ordered private vehicles off the roads, and left it at that.  Why did they feel the need to shut down mass transit?

Don’t tell me it was to protect the public: we’ve had many, many snowstorms, and this was the first time it was felt necessary to shut down the subways pre-emptively.  (Usually, in a really bad storm, lines that run outdoors are shut down on a case-by-case basis as conditions worsen.)

Is it a case of liability making cowards of us all?

Were they simply asserting their authority because they could?

Are they getting us in practice for martial law?

Whatever it was, I’m sure it wasn’t good.

Mario Cuomo

Yesterday, Mario Cuomo, former governor of the State of New York, passed away at the age of 82.

Even though I remember when Mario Cuomo was governor, and I even voted for him, I can’t remember anything that he did that was noteworthy.  He was a liberal with an expansive view of government, but he couldn’t follow through on it while he was governor because there was never quite enough money.  He delivered a rousing speech at the 1984 Democratic convention, in a year when the Democrats had consigned themselves to losing anyway.

I’m sure that they will rename the Queens Midtown Tunnel for him, or maybe the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  In recent years, the state has been renaming bridges and tunnels after dead politicians.  The Triborough Bridge (actually a complex of three bridges, as you might suspect, to connect three boroughs) was renamed the Robert F. Kennedy bridge; the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel became the Hugh Carey tunnel.

Mario Cuomo’s  son, Andrew, is governor now, having been re-elected last November.  He made a big splash when he first arrived in office, delivering an on-time state budget for the first time in eons.  But then, he turned into another New York State politician.  His chest-thumping achievement was a state income tax cut not large enough to pay for a daily newspaper.  (OK, maybe it would pay for El Diario, which is still fifty cents.)  Last year, with great fanfare, he named an ethics commission to investigate the state government, then shut it down before it could actually find anything.

But it’s not just the Cuomos: looking back through my lifetime, I can’t think of a single New York State governor who actually accomplished anything worthwhile.  Even if I cheat, and Google past governors to see what they did, I still come up mostly empty.  OK: Hugh Carey, back in the 1970s, helped save New York City from bankruptcy.  And Andrew Cuomo did sign gay marriage into law, although that seemed more a case of jumping in front of the parade and strutting, than actual leadership.

Worse, it seems true at every level of politics.  In 2013, we had Joe Lhota as the Republican candidate for mayor.  He seemed to go out of his way to be colorless, and he lost.  The 2016 Presidential election seems to be shaping up as a contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.  And which ever one is elected will probably do the same things.

Everything Old Is New Again

When I was a kid, on Election Day, my parents would sometimes take me inside the voting booth to see what went on.  Back then, there were mechanical voting machines, with a lever for each candidate.  Push the lever, see the little ‘X’ pop up, and when you were finished, swing over the big red lever, and all the little ‘X’s would disappear into the belly of the machine, and your vote would be recorded.  It felt simple, sure, positive.

It isn’t really fair to call that a childhood memory, since the same machines remained in service until about five years ago.  In 2009, a new system went into service, in which one would mark one’s votes on a paper ballot, and then feed it into a scanner.  It was really clunky: if you wanted your ballot to really be secret, you would have to slip it into a folder after filling it out, and then deftly pass it into the scanner so that nobody could see your votes.  The scanner would then cogitate for half a minute or so before accepting the ballot.  Still, it seemed more modern than the old machines.

This year, we will elect a new Mayor, which means that there will be primary elections in September.  If there is no clear winner for each party, there will be a runoff election shortly after.

These elections will be conducted on the old voting machines, because the election officials insist that it would not be possible to certify the results of the primary election, establish the need for a runoff, and then reconfigure the system should a runoff be necessary, in three weeks.  (It’s normally two weeks, but that day would fall on the Jewish holiday Sukkos, so the runoff was pushed a week later.)

So we’re back to the future with our old voting machines.

Now, if there were only a candidate that I’d actually want to vote for….

Nanny State (1 of 2)

The New York State Senate (S.6779) and Assembly (A.8688) are contemplating a bill that would require the following:

A WEB SITE ADMINISTRATOR UPON REQUEST  SHALL  REMOVE  ANY  COMMENTS POSTED ON HIS OR HER WEB SITE BY AN ANONYMOUS POSTER UNLESS SUCH ANONYMOUS POSTER AGREES TO ATTACH HIS OR HER NAME TO THE  POST  AND  CONFIRMS THAT HIS OR HER IP ADDRESS, LEGAL NAME, AND HOME ADDRESS ARE ACCURATE.  ALL WEB SITE ADMINISTRATORS SHALL HAVE A CONTACT NUMBER OR E-MAIL ADDRESS  POSTED  FOR SUCH  REMOVAL REQUESTS, CLEARLY VISIBLE IN ANY SECTIONS WHERE COMMENTS ARE POSTED.

In the definitions, an ‘anonymous poster’ is in fact anyone who posts on a blog (like this one) or any Web site that solicits comments.  If you identify yourself in your posts, you’re still anonymous.   Although I don’t use my real name in my posts, it’s easy enough to find it.  So for the purposes of the bill, this is an anonymous post.  And the bill does not distinguish between posts (which appear on the home page and have titles) and comments (written in response to posts or other comments).

I try to be a good citizen, even when I think the law is stupid.  So what would I have to do?

  • Set up an e-mail address for removals (trivial).
  • Place the address so that it appears on every page with posts or comments (probably not too difficult).
  • Monitor the address for removal requests (taking a small amount of time, but probably not a major problem).
  • On receipt of a request for removal, do one of the following:
    • Contact the original poster or commenter, and ask for his legal name, home address, and IP address.  (I don’t like doing this, but I don’t like the alternative either.  So I’ll ask.  I believe that anyone capable of writing a post knows his or her name and home address, but the IP address is trickier.  The system records IP addresses for comments, but not for posts.  Some of the more tech-savvy readers can find out their Internet IP address easily enough, while I can write instructions for others.  But the address you find through this procedure may not be the IP address that you used when you wrote your post or comment.)  If the poster/commenter supplies this information, then either he or I must append his name to the post/comment.Otherwise, we fall through to the second alternative, which is:
    • Delete the post/comment in question.

By the way, I learned English grammar from the old Warriner book, which indicated that one uses the masculine form of the pronoun when referring to a person whose gender is unknown.  I know that many of the followers of this site are women, and I don’t mean for anyone to feel slighted, or believe that they might be exempt from the requirement to identify themselves.

Now there some obvious holes:

  • How do I know that the request to remove something represents a valid complaint against specific posts or comments?  I don’t: the bill admits no effort on the part of Web site administrators to verify the authenticity of a removal request.  I cannot contact the party requesting a removal and ask him to confirm his legal name, home address, or IP address.  If someone told me to remove everything, as they feel insulted by all of the content on this site, according to the bill, I would have to comply.  (OK, maybe the category headings could stay, as they’re not actually ‘comments.’)
  • How do I know that the poster/commenter will give me correct information?  In fact, I don’t.  But there is no requirement that I verify further.
  • When I do remove content as required by this bill, can I include a note, ‘Removed per direction of Joe Blow’?  The bill is silent on this point.  (Of course, Joe Blow could write back and ask me to remove the note, as well.)

I would write to my state legislators, but I know they’re useless.  And even if the measure got defeated this year, I’m sure it will return in the next session.

Perhaps it’s time to move to New Jersey.

Just Another Politician

In 2010, I voted for Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate, in the New York gubernatorial election.  He was the Tea Party candidate, and a bit of a nut, but I couldn’t to bring myself to vote for Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate, because he was just another politician.  (That, and his father had been governor before him.)

I doubted that Paladino would actually win, and I was right.

But I was pleasantly surprised with the first few months of Governor Cuomo.  He stood up to the rest of the government and was able to balance the budget with no new taxes.  Even though I didn’t vote for him, I was pleased to see him succeed.

Until this week.

In 2009, New York passed a temporary income tax surcharge on those earning over about $200k/year.  The surcharge is set to expire at the end of this year.  It’s the mirror image of the Federal ‘Bush tax cuts’ in that it’s a temporary increase in tax rates.

For the last few months, Governor Cuomo was insisting that he would not renew the surcharge.  But he’s apparently been worn down.  In the last two weeks, he has been talking about ‘using the tax code to create new jobs.’  I have no idea what that means.

And now this week, we have new income tax rates.  The highest rate is now 8.82%, well above the pre-surcharge rate of 6.85%, but below the surcharged rate of 8.97%.  For the rest of us, we get a 0.2% rate cut, or about 3-4% of the average New Yorker’s state income taxes.

Oh, goody: I got a tax cut.  It’s not enough to even pay for my daily newspaper, but I’m supposed to be all happy about it.

And if I earned millions, I could still say I got a tax cut, at least with respect to last year’s tax rates.

I still can’t see for the life of me how such tweakage will create one single job.

Aren’t We Supposed to Be Broke?

NYS Survey Request

About two weeks ago, I received a request from New York State to participate in a survey about ‘green jobs.’  (Aren’t all jobs ‘green,’ if you get paid in real money?)  I filled in the survey over the Internet.

Yesterday, the mailman brought me a Second Notice: evidently I hadn’t filled the survey out fast enough.  This time, the package included a paper survey form for me to fill out, perhaps believing that the reason I didn’t respond the first time was because I didn’t have Internet access.

New York State is quite thoroughly broke.  The Legislature is still on its own little planet, sucking its thumbs and ignoring the billions of dollars by which tax receipts (including a nifty new tax on employers) fail to cover the state’s expenditures.  And yet, somehow, the Department of Labor has the funds for this exercise.

But it’s not just pointless surveys.  A while back, the State and City spent $4 million to rename the Triborough Bridge as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.  And now they want to rename the Queensboro Bridge as the Ed Koch Bridge.

I recognize that many of the things that government spends money on are fixed in law and cannot be readily changed.  Still, can’t we at least lay off the stupid stuff?

Knowledge by Proxy

Sunday’s New York Post brought the story that Governor Paterson was seen in a New Jersey restaurant, being affectionate with a woman not his wife.  The governor asserted that it was a business meeting, but it didn’t appear that way to a reasonable observer.

I’m disappointed.  Not because the reporter didn’t get to the bottom of the governor’s relationship with the woman, nor because it’s yet another example of the stupidfication of the news.  Shortly after Governor Paterson replaced the previous governor, he reported, as a pre-emptive strike to the gossip columnists, that he had had affairs in the past, but the past was past, and he was now having a happy, or at least functional, marriage.  And now that seems in doubt.

But why should I care?

After all, if the governor cheats on his wife, she is the only real victim of the event, and it’s her decision as to how to handle it.  It really doesn’t affect the rest of us.

Well, maybe.

I expect my leaders to have integrity and a sense of personal honor.  Now I can’t follow the governor around and watch him make all his governmental decisions.  And even if I could, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to observe his actions and determine that he had handled every situation honorably.

But I can observe how he handles what is, for many of us, a deep personal commitment.  If he behaves honorably with respect to his marriage, I’m more willing to believe that he will handle his executive responsibilities with honor.  It’s not foolproof, of course, but it’s a useful indication.

But then again, he works in Albany.  What should I expect?

Blackberries and Coups

It’s long been my contention that the Blackberry device, with its instant ability to send and receive e-mail, is a detriment, rather than an asset, to one’s professional abilities.  I’ve known too many people who fire off an instant Blackberry response to an easy question or to good news, but disappear for weeks when asked something requiring actual thought.  And I’ve had too many instances of confusion over someone’s half-baked Blackberry answer.  (For my part, I have a cell phone with Windows that can send and receive e-mails.  But it will only do it when I ask: it won’t poke me in the ribs when a message comes in.  And I usually wait until I’m at my computer to answer the e-mails, unless it’s genuinely urgent or the phone is the only device at hand.)

Now the Blackberry has tripped up the apparently former Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, Malcolm Smith.  There are 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans in the State Senate, and Smith is the leader of the Democrats.

But this week, two Democratic state senators decided that they would caucus with the Republicans instead, tipping the balance of the Senate.

And how did this happen?  Apparently some time in the recent past, Smith had a meeting with Tom Golisano, one-time candidate for Governor, who recently moved to Florida, amid considerable publicity, to avoid heavy New York State taxes.  And at this meeting, Smith apparently offended Golisano by paying more attention to his Blackberry than his guest.  So Golisano set the wheels in motion for a Republican coup.

As far as my reaction to the coup itself, I have none.  The New York State Legislature is a nexus of evil in the modern world, and I don’t believe that it matters which party is in power.  I can’t say that the Republicans are better or worse than the Democrats (within the NY legislature), and I can’t say whether the coup was a blow for democracy or an exercise in corruption.

But it’s good to see a Blackberry addict get what he deserves.

A Little Housekeeping/MTA Bailout

I have been terribly busy the last few weeks, and haven’t had much time to write.  But while I’ve been out, I note that a number of… entities… have signed on as subscribers to this site.  The names and e-mails addresses seem strange: not strange enough to have been obviously generated by a computer, but not like people’s actual names.

I have to believe that it’s a new form of spam, although I can’t understand to what end: if someone writes a comment, I have to approve it before it appears on the site.  And so far, I haven’t received any comments.

In any case, I’ve deleted all of the subscribers that have signed on so far.  If you meant to be a subscriber, I’m sorry; you’ll have to go back and subscribe again.  But for those who would subscribe in the future: after you subscribe, you have one week to submit a cogent comment on one of the postings.  If I don’t see a comment (I don’t necessarily have to agree with it!), I’ll assume that you’re some kind of bot, and will delete your subscription.

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Last week, the state legislature passed a plan to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  The plan will raise about $1.5 billion through a new payroll tax and  a surcharge on taxi rides.  As a result, the Draconian service cuts that were contemplated a few weeks ago will not come to pass, although there will be some cuts and a modest fare increase.

I should be relieved: while the fare increase is not a big deal for me, the service cuts are a problem, and part of my income as an engineering consultant is derived from the MTA’s capital spending.  But I don’t like it.

One again, the state has papered over the problem with taxing and spending, rather than addressing the real problems.  Why does operating the MTA cost what it does?  Can it work more efficiently?  Given that the operation of the MTA is vital to the economic health of the region and the state, why didn’t the state face the problem squarely in the first place, instead of coming up with half-measures later?  State spending increased by $11 billion this year: what did they spend it on?  And what happens next year, expecially if the economy is still sagging?

But the answers to those questions require thought….

New York State Budget

This past week, the New York State Assembly passed, and the state Senate is contemplating, the state budget for the fiscal year that began… last Thursday.

At a time when the economy is reeling, and one would figure the need to cut back, the budget weighs in at $132 billion, up some $11 billion over last year, and $8 billion over the budget that Governor Paterson proposed.  The State Assembly news release indicated that the budget “closes a projected a $17.65 billion General Fund gap by implementing $5.1 billion in necessary spending cuts, raising $5.2 billion in revenue, utilizing $1.1 in non-recurring revenues and maximizing $6.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars.”

I’m afraid to ask how there can be a $5.1 billion dollar cut if spending is up by $11 billion, and I’m not sure how ‘maximizing’ Federal aid differs from spending it.

Somewhere in New York is $5 billion in State spending that is absolutely wasteful and stupid, and the State leadership was finally able to kill it.  But beyond that, it seems as if the State simply relied on Federal aid and tax increases to otherwise maintain the status quo.  What happens a couple of years down the road, when the economy has recovered and the Federal government is no longer handing out aid?

Meanwhile, the budget legislation also modifies the state drug laws to favor rehabilitation instead of prison.  The original Rockefeller laws from the 1970s were modified a few years ago to eliminate their supposed Draconian excesses, and it seemed to work: prison populations are down, and the streets are far safer now than 20 years ago.   Yet the state Legislature is changing them now, and allocating additional funding for drug treatment alternatives.

So the state has money to preserve the sacred cow of education, and can drop the pile of nuisance taxes that were part of Governor Paterson’s original plan, but they can’t come up with a way to provide funding for the MTA and deter fare hikes and service cuts.  (Perhaps the MTA was one of the stupid items that got cut.)

The distressing part of it is that there seems to be nothing that we as citizens can do to stop this madness.  The state election laws effectively favor incumbents by making it very difficult for newcomers to run for office.  Once in a while, someone makes it, gets sucked into the Albany machine, and turns into a Legislature droid.

And electing a new governor doesn’t seem to help, either.  A while back, we elected Eliot Spitzer on his promise to clean up Albany.  Within six months, he was in a pissing contest with Joe Bruno, leader of the State Senate.  Governor Spitzer had a legitimate question: was Bruno using State travel privileges for political gain?  But by pursuing the matter in a thoroughly inept manner, making it look as if he was using the State Police to spy on Bruno, Spitzer effectively shot himself in the foot.  Needless to say, no actual cleanup occurred.

And then Spitzer really imploded when it turned out that he was seeing prostitutes, and he left office, leaving us Governor Paterson, who has been a singular model of ineptitude.

What can we do (besides move to New Jersey)?

MTA Budget

Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), our local mass transit agency, voted to raise fares and cut service.  The price of a monthly MetroCard for the buses and subways will go from $81 to $103 per month, and fares and tolls for other MTA facilities (they’re also in charge of the commuter railroads, and toll bridges and tunnels) will similarly go up.

That, in and of itself, wouldn’t be too bad: public transportation in New York works pretty well, and would be a good value even with the fare increase.  But the plan also includes a series of service cuts, including dropping two subway lines and about 30 bus routes, and reducing late-night subway service by one-third.

In good times, financing the MTA is not a critical problem: the agency is financed with transfer taxes on real estate and other similar transations.  But since the economy went kablooie, tax revenues are way down.

Historically, New York State has subsidized the MTA to some extent, but that’s difficult right now because the state is broke.  It’s not as if we couldn’t see the problem coming: Richard Ravitch, who ran the MTA years ago, was tasked last year with coming up with a plan to help finance the MTA under the current circumstances.  However, none of his recommendations have gotten through the New York State Legislature.  The Ravitch report included a plan to charge tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges that are currently free, but somehow the Legislature first decided that the toll could only be $2 (not the $5 proposed in the Ravitch report) and then couldn’t be done at all.

The only thing that the Legislature has apparently done, and isn’t specific to the MTA, is to crank up the income tax on higher brackets (above $250,000/yr).  While such a tax increase is a necessary component of dealing with the problem,  it can’t be the entire solution: raise the taxes enough, and the people who pay them will go elsewhere.

But then the Legislature seems to be on its own little planet, where there’s a shortage of funds, but never any need to do anything about it, and the Governor is on his own little satellite, apparently sucking his thumb while the whole mess unfolds.

The thought is that the Legislature will get off its rump and ‘do something’ to help fund the MTA.  The newspapers have been suggesting that we should all call the Governor and our legislators to get them to do something.

It seems pointless: I’ll save my breath to cool my porridge.

But watch: sometime late in May they’ll put something together, and the fares will only go up by 10%.

They always do stuff like that.

They’ll come through.

Won’t they?