Wednesday Apr 23, 2014
Over the years, the citizens of our great country have grown to take many aspects of our life as Americans for granted. Our standard of living has increased every decade since the end of World War II. As that standard became higher, so did the everyday pace of our lives. Both parents working became the norm. Our children became more active in school activities and socially. We gave them all the things are parents couldn’t afford for us. Not many of us gave a second thought to how well off we, as a nation, were when compared so many countries in the world. Not every other country allows their citizens the freedom to pursue their own happiness, or the freedoms of speech, religion and the liberties that come along with them.
What gets lost in all of this is that we wouldn’t have all of these freedoms without the sacrifices of our veterans. They are the true heroes in this world. Unfortunately, we take this for granted.
What is truly a shame, and what I believe is a real embarrassment for our country, is how we have collectively forgotten about these men and women who have served their country, and served mainly on a voluntary basis.
Let me provide some statistics for veterans in New York State.
It is for these reasons the New York State for Veterans (NYS4VETS) was founded. While it is currently a small operation, its purpose it to assist returning veterans in finding jobs and helping with their transition to civilian life.
NYS4VETS is a not-for-profit organization located in Clifton Park, New York. NTS4VETS will assist any veteran who comes to their door or who contacts them through their website at www.nys4vets.org. Based on the feedback from returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, it appears the government agencies charged with assisting veterans in finding employment after their discharge are being very successful in executing their mission.
In my time as a volunteer with NYS4VETS it is clear the need to find employment for veterans is great. In these times of economic stress, many veterans who are discharged after two or three tours in a war zone return home and look to their parents as a safety net as they seek employment. What many are finding is their parents have lost their jobs and are also unemployed.
These veterans should not be a second thought, they should be a priority. It is extremely important to treat these returning heroes with pride, dignity and show respect for their service duty to their country. They deserve better.
Am I the only one getting tired of reading editorials, letters to the editors and articles about the firing of teachers and elimination of school programs such as arts and sports?
The solution to this conundrum appears rather simple to me. Restructure all existing public school districts. It would in effect consolidate the school districts by county. Each county would have a central administrative function. This is currently done is many other states including South Carolina.
This action would eliminate the need for hundreds of individual superintendents. It would eliminate the need for hundreds of business managers and finance directors and the staff in the back-office operations of all the individual school districts.
The operations of the individual schools could then be more standardized and that would mean more efficiency of operations. The use of technologies would be compatible throughout the county as well. Union contracts would become standardized. All back office operations and records would be uniform for student attendance, report cards, test scores and grades.
This restructuring could eliminate the need to fire as many teachers and coaches and allow the schools to get back to the business of teaching and molding our students. And it will stop the upward spiral of our school taxes. What a concept!
I know a little about trimming the fat. I started a weight loss program on January 27th, as I came to realize I was carrying a goodly amount of excess fat. Now, was it easy to make the decision? No, I have been carrying around three bowling balls worth of fat for the past four years. Was it necessary? Absolutely.
Is there fat in the budgets of the hundreds of school districts in New York State? You bet there is. As Governor Cuomo was recently quoted. “I know there’s waste and abuse in school districts.” Is there fat in the budgets of state agencies? Is the Pope catholic?
Just like the public employee unions will soon come to realize, as they are in Wisconsin, the fiscal crisis in governments all over the country is real. If taxes are not being raised, the money needs to come from somewhere. One of those places is by retrenchment; cutting back on positions or through a consolidation of school districts or state agencies.
I don’t enjoy saying, “I told you so”, but I have in many of my previous articles. They were an omen, a portend of things to come.
As I like to say “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, your choice.” This is what former Governor Paterson told the unions. They resisted. This is what Governor Cuomo is telling the unions. They appear to be resisting. And we are watching what is happening in Wisconsin.
I read, with some interest, a short piece in Saturday’s Times Union, “Teachers OK Givebacks to Save $1.4 million for Jobs.” Over 300 teachers at the Comsewougue School District agreed to pay givebacks of $4,500 each year to save their jobs. Comsewougue School District is the latest in more than a dozen on Long Island to approve pay freezes or other concessions. In exchange for the concessions, the school districts have agreed not to layoff teachers during the 2011-2012 school years.
And so it starts. These Long Island unions get it. They have seen the light. There is hope.
Now if the rest of the teachers’ unions and public employee unions could only learn by example.
Hey wait, isn’t that what teachers are supposed to do?
By the way, I’ve lost 50 pounds in the first 48 days of my weigh loss program. And I feel great.
Nearly twenty five years ago, I was in a race to be promoted to Assistant Director of Contracts and State Expenditures in the State Comptroller’s Office. My competitor, Jack Flynn, was also my good friend and a wicked nice guy. He had progressed through the ranks from a clerk up to a Chief Auditor of State Expenditures (Grade 27). A great accomplishment achieved by few state employees. I on the other hand, had entered state service in the State Comptroller’s Office straight out of Bentley College as a State Accounts Auditor (Grade 14) and I had progressed to the same position of Chief Auditor of State Expenditures.
Jack headed up the larger expenditure approval side of the Bureau and I headed up the contract approval side, including the approval of grant contracts to charitable organizations. Jerry Shrager was the Director of Contracts and State Expenditures and he had been my mentor since he recruited me to come to the Bureau of Contracts after I had worked for him in the Bureau of Field Audit where we had both started our careers. Jerry loved us both like sons. We were like the Three Musketeers, without swords. Jerry was a great mentor and the most knowledgeable person I have ever met in government procurement and contracting.
In the mid-eighties, Harold Hall, the Assistant Director, retired. Jack and I both knew the decision would be a tough one for Jerry to make. He knew we could both handle the job from a technical standpoint, he had trained us. But in the end he chose me to be his new Assistant Director. I felt terrible. But Jack in his jovial manner supported the decision as the good soldier he was trained to be and our friendship flourished. He knew I felt bad.
A few years later Jack started to miss work, and he never called in sick although he had a wife and five small kids at home. This continued and then we received the devastating news, Jack was suffering with leukemia. This is the type of news that will question ones own faith in God. A loving family man, a great fun-loving stand up guy, a good friend. As Jerry would say a true “menche”. The entire staff was devastated. The people he dealt with at all of the State agencies were devastated. He was well liked by everyone.
So, I have a personal stake in fighting against this disease know as leukemia and lymphoma. It took a great friend from me. I am now working to raise as much money as I can during the upcoming period March 11, 2011 to May 6, 2011 as a candidate for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Man/Woman of the Year Campaign.
As you know, government funding for charitable organizations like LLS is under attack. Funding is being cut on a yearly basis. As a result, in order for LLS to continue its great work, it is up to the people, to us, to help support this organization.
Please join me in my crusade to raise $20,000 or more for LLS by making a generous donation. You can do that in the following ways:
Please join me and my team to fight and conquer blood cancers. This is our window of opportunity to “pay it forward” and to give something back to people who are less fortunate than us.
Come on with me and join the fight.
I just read Paul’s recent article in his column Eye From Albany in this same Empire Page. It think Paul has it right in his assessment and I think it is important enough to repost right here in my column along with my own comments at the end. Here it is:
I am at a loss for understanding how the USA became a nation with taxaphobia (my label for the phobic opposition to taxation).
Coming of age in the 1950s, I didn’t give a great deal of thought to taxation other than to think that the USA benefited from a progressive tax system where those who made the most money paid the highest taxes to provide for public goods . It made sense to me. These public goods included the infrastructure and public safety that created the conditions allowing the wealthy to be wealthy and to safely enjoy their wealth. If we want (and who doesn’t want) good means of transportation, quality education, public health and safety, a healthy environment and parks to highlight primary public goods, paying taxes seems like a reasonable necessity.
Somehow the supply side notion that cutting taxes stimulated the economy started the erosion of progressivity in our tax system. It was a slippery slope to the point where progressivity or taxation at a higher rate for those with the most money began to disappear. The absurdity of this was highlighted perhaps a decade or so ago when a Wall Street Journal editorial recommended increasing the tax rate for lower income tax payers so they would better understand the horrors of taxation and come to oppose a tax burden on the wealthy.
The accepted wisdom beginning with Reagan and moving on to George Bush and to the Republicans in the current Congress as well as the current thinking in many State Capitals is that taxes should not be raised for anyone including the rich and need to be capped if not decreased. (Former President Clinton called this a “theology” when he spoke at the University at Albany.)
Now when politicians and pundits say we all must pay our share, they mean public employees who are being asked to pay more for their health insurance and their defined pensions as well as accept cuts in their salary, assuming they are not fired and loss their salary. Of course, an increase in taxes, even of the wealthy, should not even be thought about. How did we come to being this way?
Whatever the reason, it isn’t lack of wealth. Three years ago I edited an article on TOW or the transfer of wealth that will take place as the baby boomers age. This transfer between generations has already begun and it is estimated to total $41 trillion (that is trillion with a “t”).
Deficits at the Federal and state level have many causes including the “great recession” and excessive spending. But, as the New York Times points out in an editorial: “…a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.”
There are many fellow citizens suffering difficult financial conditions, out of work, carrying large student loan debts and/or losing their home and so forth. But there are also people with a lot of money, some with an obscene amount of wealth. How did these people become immune from increases in taxation? This taxaphobia does not bode well for our nation unless we want to be a nation solely for the rich.
I am pleased that the State Assembly is now committed to supporting extending the “millionaires” tax for another year. I believe in frugality and practice it in my own life. But I also believe in fairness and having a caring society. When the budget is decided, we will know whether New York State continues to be a progressive State or whether it is going the way of States like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio that want to beat down the middle class and, of course, wonderful Texas which has no income tax but has more debt and poorer education than we and most other states.”
Here is my reply:
“Paul, excellent article and very well stated. As I have written on this topic in the past in my column in The Empire Page. I truly believe the “Me, Me, Me” generation of the 1970s and 1980s was a large factor in all of this taxaphobia. Personal and corporate greed and power corrupted a majority of the people making all the wealth in the country. It wasn’t enough to report a dividend of $1.20 a share to stockholders, it needed to be $2.40 a share, and that way it would justify increasing the salary of the CEO to $80 million a year from the $40 million he was earning. Of course who was suffering was the end-user consumer who now is paying more for the products that are produced by that same company.
The optimization of wealth is admirable but at what cost to the general economy? Money, power and greed are the Three Deadly Sins plaguing our great nation.”
I find it somewhat intolerable how high-ranking government officials, high-profile professional athletes and celebrities get caught breaking the law and because of their notoriety, wealth, family ties or connections, are not prosecuted or are convicted of a much lesser crime.
Why is it that some citizens of this country seem to be above the law, while average citizens, with no “juice” get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law? In my humble opinion, it is just simply wrong. We all know the high-profile names we are talking about: O.J. Simpson; Kobe Bryant; Ray Lewis; Representative Charles Rangel; and, the worst case, IMHO, former Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer.
I recently spoke to Douglas Burns about the Eliot Spitzer situation and how was it that he was never prosecuted and convicted of the crimes he admitted to have committed, and why he never lost his license to practice law. Douglas Burns was a federal prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York. He is also appears quite frequently in the media as a legal commentator, on CNN, HLN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Bloomberg Television, Tru Tv (formerly Court TV) and Fox News Radio.
In brief, here’s is his analysis:
“Eliot Spitzer committed a crime, albeit one that is also not prosecuted much against “Johns.” However, he also caused the woman to move in interstate commerce (between Washington, D.C. to New York) — so that’s a more serious “Mann Act” violation.
The answer to your question is twofold: a) we have a huge amount of elitism in our system and politicians are on many levels above the law — look at the Charles Rangel situation; and, b) while the Department of Justice is supposed to stay out-of-state politics, they consider themselves the biggest gorilla in the conference room and, most likely, they basically told him to resign or they would indict him.”
So, there appears to be a form of quid pro quo almost there “heavy breathers”. Do you suppose the fact Eliot Spitzer was the “top cop” in New York State, as the Attorney General, and coming from one of the wealthiest and influential families in New York had anything to do with him keeping his license and not being prosecuted?
It’s wrong and something should be done about it. And now he has his own television show.
Only in America.
For this piece, the playground is New York State government. In the playground is a sandbox and many of the major decisions affecting the citizens of this state are made in the sandbox. Governor Cuomo came into the sandbox full of piss and vinegar. He was riding a wave of popularity that current day governors can only dream of achieving. At the same time, the leaders of the Legislature are experiencing their lowest approval ratings in the history of this great state. Scandal after scandal; ethics violations; power struggles for control; not being productive in passing legislation or advancing program initiatives.
Let me set the stage for you. The sandbox is the top leadership of New York State government. It is reserved for the guys that are supposed to get things done for the taxpayers and for their respective political parties. In one corner of the sandbox sits Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly. He knows how to play well in the sandbox and how to get along, but from time to time he throws sand at the other two people in the sandbox. In the other corner, is Dean Skelos, the Majority Leader of the Senate. He has only been in the sandbox for a short time, but had been in there a couple years ago. He also can play nicely, but for the most part he hasn’t been happy in the sandbox because his political party has lost significant power in New York State. Then here comes the new kid, newly elected governor Andrew Cuomo. But he doesn’t just walk into the sandbox like most kids, he dives right into the middle of it and gets sands in everyone’s eyes. And he starts to talk tough about setting up new rules for playing in the sandbox and how it much will cost to run the sandbox.
The sandbox is generally a place for great controversy and debate….not all of it civil or friendly. Each one would like to gain more control of the sandbox. So they don’t usually play nice but keep in mind, there are always at least two in there from the same political party, and the remaining kid is usually defending his corner tooth and nail against the others.
Now that you have that pictured in your minds, let me tell you about one of the kids I saw give a speech yesterday to the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce at the Desmond Hotel & Conference Center. It was Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. I was poised with pad and pencil in hand, ready to take some notes of the severe sand slinging that was about to occur. It didn’t happen. He must have emptied his pockets before he came. He had no sand to throw. He was very informative and witty and said that one of the other kids in the sandbox called him to wish him a happy birthday, and it wasn’t Shelly Silver. I was disappointed and yet somewhat pleased to see the voice of the Republican party in New York State playing nice.
In the last few years, Republicans in Congress and in the Legislature here in New York have been more or less acting as obstructionists to any and all legislative initiatives put forth by their Democratic counterparts. This is what I expected to hear, more of the same. But no, it never came. My first thought was that maybe, just maybe, the leaders of each party realize the dire straits New York State is in and they are going to work together to fix it.
Of course it’s too early to know if that will remain the case. Politics is like the wind, wait a minute or two and it changes direction. I golf, I know.
To coin an old Laurel & Hardy quote “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”. And let’s go with one more quote from a song by Cher “If I Could Turn Back Time”. I give you these two quotes to set the stage for one of the largest leadership fiascos I’ve ever seen.
In a previous article in this blog, Public Unions: Wake Up and Look Around, I was very critical of the public employees union leaders because it seemed to me that it made sense in these historically bad economic times, for unions to give back some of what they were getting for the good of the entire workforce and New York State. It was not without good cause that former Governor Paterson was asking for concessions from the unions.
But the union leadership decided to dig in, play it tough and take the hard line. In my article I wrote, “Maybe they (the unions) would like to canvass their membership to ask the question: “What would you rather do, insist on no concessions and have the governor lay off 8,700 people; or, give back your 3 percent raise and have nobody laid off?”
This question would still be relevant today in face of the continued fiscal crisis, but it isn’t because now that they already refused to give back before, Governor Cuomo has assumed they will not make concessions now, so he is not only proposing no raises in the new contracts as the old ones end on March 31, 2011, he is also going to lay off the nearly 8,700 Paterson was going to have to lay off, but another 1,300 on top of them. Double whammy!!!
So, any state employee that ends up receiving a pink slip in the next few months, in large part you have your esteemed leadership to thank for it. I hate to say I warned you and I told you so, but…….I warned you and I told you so.
First it was the Tea Party. Then came the Coffee Party. And now there are now several citizen action groups across America, all basically trying to do the same thing: Make their voices heard to the president and to all members of Congress that, just like in the movie Network, “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore.”
As you know from my column, I advocate strongly for all citizens to get involved. I don’t advocate for any one group, it’s your decision to make as to which group aligns with your point of view on the issues. All I advocate for is you getting off your ass and get involved, and if you don’t then stop whining about how the country is being run.
What follows is a recent article about the newest grass roots group and one I think just may have the right idea as to how we actually start to take back our country from a misguided Congress and the special interest groups that unduly influence them.
On the 100th Anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, a powerful new grassroots organization dedicated to the ideals and values championed by President Reagan is being launched across the United States.
Responding to the urging of many concerned national leaders, Advancing American Freedom Co-Founders Peter E. Waldron and Paul Louis Cole announced today the launch of a grassroots organization that will energize local leaders, activate and attract millions of Americans into the political process and give a voice to the often overlooked faithful and patriotic citizens of the United States.
Waldron said, “Americans are ready for a future that is filled with promise, opportunity and prosperity.
Advancing American Freedom represents the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans without a voice. Starting today we will recruit members to build an organization that will do that which is necessary to fulfill America’s destiny to be what President Reagan declared, “a shining city on a hill”.
AAF will deploy key representatives throughout the nation for the purpose of training activists, registering voters and coordinating get out the vote campaigns. A series of National Policy Seminars are scheduled in major cities across the nation including Nashville, Washington DC, Newport Beach, Orlando, Chicago and Dallas.
Cole added, “There is a need for a new dynamic voice that will put more American people in the process, people who love this country, who embrace the moral, social and political values that make our nation unique among nations. We intend to join as allies, other powerful friends and groups that are activating a new wave of greatness in this nation. We believe the best days of our nation are ahead of us…we believe that by working together, the world can be a better place.”
One of the major goals of AAF is for Americans to advance the freedoms promised by the Constitution under assault by the government, courts, and special interest groups. President Ronald Regan explained it best, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
Advancing American Freedom strives to elevate freedom to a priority in America and around the world.
There’s quite a bit of work to get done and there are more than enough unhappy citizens in this country to can get it done. So get up and take that first step: volunteer and get involved.
I was recently referred to an article in the National Science Foundation by Michael Palumbo, a fellow singer of mine in the Mendelssohn Club of Albany. We had been debating the pros and cons of the Democrats view and the Republicans view on several topics. As you know, I am apolitical and don’t take sides and try to keep an open mind on all issues political. I try to keep-it-real on both sides of the aisle. He produced this article in support of his opinion that Republicans will stay blind to an issue regardless if they is overwhelming scientific data and “scientific consensus” that runs contrary to what they believe or doesn’t furthers their goals.
I thought it was an interesting article and I insert it below for your reading pleasure. Let me know what you think.
September 13, 2010
Suppose a close friend who is trying to figure out the facts about climate change asks whether you think a scientist who has written a book on the topic is a knowledgeable and trustworthy expert. You see from the dust jacket that the author received a Ph.D. in a pertinent field from a major university, is on the faculty at another one, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Would you advise your friend that the scientist seems like an “expert”?
If you are like most people, the answer is likely to be, “it depends.” What it depends on, a recent study found, is not whether the position that scientist takes is consistent with the one endorsed by a National Academy. Instead, it is likely to depend on whether the position the scientist takes is consistent with the one believed by most people who share your cultural values.
This was the finding of a recent study conducted by Yale University law professor Dan Kahan, University of Oklahoma political science professor Hank Jenkins-Smith and George Washington University law professor Donald Braman that sought to understand why members of the public are sharply and persistently divided on matters on which expert scientists largely agree.
“We know from previous research,” said Dan Kahan, “that people with individualistic values, who have a strong attachment to commerce and industry, tend to be skeptical of claimed environmental risks, while people with egalitarian values, who resent economic inequality, tend to believe that commerce and industry harms the environment.”
In the study, subjects with individualistic values were over 70 percentage points less likely than ones with egalitarian values to identify the scientist as an expert if he was depicted as describing climate change as an established risk. Likewise, egalitarian subjects were over 50 percentage points less likely than individualistic ones to see the scientist as an expert if he was described as believing evidence on climate change is unsettled.
Study results were similar when subjects were shown information and queried about other matters that acknowledge “scientific consensus.” Subjects were much more likely to see a scientist with elite credentials as an “expert” when he or she took a position that matched the subjects’ own cultural values on risks of nuclear waste disposal and laws permitting citizens to carry concealed guns in public.
“These are all matters,” Kahan said, “on which the National Academy of Sciences has issued ‘expert consensus’ reports.” Using the reports as a benchmark,” Kahan explained that “no cultural group in our study was more likely than any other to be ‘getting it right’,” i.e. correctly identifying scientific consensus on these issues. They were all just as likely to report that ‘most’ scientists favor the position rejected by the National Academy of Sciences expert consensus report if the report reached a conclusion contrary to their own cultural predispositions.”
In a separate survey component, the study also found that the American public in general is culturally divided on what “scientific consensus” is on climate change, nuclear waste disposal, and concealed-handgun laws.
“The problem isn’t that one side ‘believes’ science and another side ‘distrusts’ it,” said Kahan referring to an alternate theory of why there is political conflict on matters that have been extensively researched by scientists.
He said the more likely reason for the disparity, as supported by the research results, “is that people tend to keep a biased score of what experts believe, counting a scientist as an ‘expert’ only when that scientist agrees with the position they find culturally congenial.”
Understanding this, the researchers then could draw some conclusions about why scientific consensus seems to fail to settle public policy debates when the subject is relevant to cultural positions.
“It is a mistake to think ‘scientific consensus,’ of its own force, will dispel cultural polarization on issues that admit scientific investigation,” said Kahan. “The same psychological dynamics that incline people to form a particular position on climate change, nuclear power and gun control also shape their perceptions of what ‘scientific consensus’ is.”
“The problem won’t be fixed by simply trying to increase trust in scientists or awareness of what scientists believe,” added Braman. “To make sure people form unbiased perceptions of what scientists are discovering, it is necessary to use communication strategies that reduce the likelihood that citizens of diverse values will find scientific findings threatening to their cultural commitments.”