Donald Trump’s GOP Is Built On Sand

By William F. B. O’Reilly

This column can be found on Newsday website dated July 20, 2016

It’s bizarre watching the Republican National Convention on TV and rooting for the podium to break free of its moorings or for the lights to go out or — can you imagine? — for a speaker to get caught plagiarizing in a prime-time address.

Typically in a presidential year, I’d be on the convention floor working. I’d be the guy knuckling back tears at the veterans’ speeches, nodding at talk of “one America” and listening for perspicacious new themes to take home to clients.

Thursday night, I’ll be praying for Donald Trump to go off teleprompter, to start talking about his hands again — about bosoms or germs or Vladimir Putin — anything to remind Americans how unfit he is to be president.

It won’t happen. Trump will give an expertly crafted populist speech that will likely put him ahead in the battleground states.

The speech writes itself: Defense of police officers, Islamic terrorism, Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, greedy Washington insiders and the forgotten working-class American. A hundred bucks says it includes Benghazi and Clinton’s 2008 “3 a.m.” TV spot, as it should.

Unless Trump completely breaks character — he hasn’t in 30 years — there will be no humility and no contrition. Not even for his belittling of Sen. John McCain being shot down over Hanoi.

It stings to see faces at the convention who should know better than to be there. But there is solace in the rows of empty chairs. In them lies hope for eventual Republican Party renewal and survival. I see a future leader in every vacant seat.

This new GOP doesn’t see it that way. There are murmurs of a party purge.

Ivanka Trump told ABC News that no-shows “don’t want to be part of the future.” Trump, 34, couldn’t vote for her father in April’s New York primary. She wasn’t a registered Republican.

It’s excruciating to listen to the intermingling in Cleveland of sound conservative principles with the shifting sands of populism. They are being carelessly mixed in a bucket as the foundation of a new party that cannot last.

“A man’s house which is built on a foundation of rock will endure, but a man’s house which is built on a foundation of sand will be destroyed,” Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. Even then it was a reminder.

A party founded on the principle of equal rights under the law cannot bind with a nativist movement and survive.

A party that claims to believe in economic freedom, personal responsibility and constitutional limits on power cannot long sustain a standard-bearer who thinks nothing of walking away from debts, who favors trade barriers and who boasts that he’ll make U.S. military leaders commit crimes.

That’s what I’ll be reminding myself of during Thursday’s balloon drop. It’s why I won’t be taking home a balloon for my youngest daughter this year.

Republicans and conservatives who refuse to rationalize Trump’s candidacy are a lonely lot right now. But wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it, as Tolstoy put it. And two wrongs still don’t make a right. The looming and disagreeable prospect of a President Hillary Clinton makes Trump no less reckless and unfit for the presidency.

Millions of Americans can no more bear the prospect of voting for Clinton than they can of pulling the lever for Trump. They aren’t wrong. Neither candidate feels right for the presidency because neither candidate is right for the presidency.

That presents a giant opening for former governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party candidates for president and vice president.

It’s a place where millions of us can go after the conventions, and not hate ourselves in the morning.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.

 

Standing Up For The Victims

Stop Rape Now

By Amy Paulin

I wrote an op-ed piece for The Journal News that appeared over the weekend. The piece is about a Westchester resident who was allegedly assaulted at The University of Stony Brook. Here are my thoughts about her experience and the legislation I have proposed to help her and future victims:

It’s been more than 40 years since I was sexually assaulted and the image of my attacker remains with me.

I can still see his face and the details of that horrendous experience are etched in my mind.  I am adult now and logically I know this man can no longer hurt me. Yet the idea of having to face the predator who assaulted me continues to terrify me in ways that most people can never imagine.

So it was as if my heart stopped beating when I saw the headline, “SUNY grad says school made her prosecute her own sex attacker” on the front page of The Journal News.  Sarah Tubbs, a Montrose resident, attended the State University at Stony Brook on Long island. She was allegedly sexually assaulted on campus then required to prosecute the alleged attacker herself at a university disciplinary hearing.  She had initiated a disciplinary action because campus police had advised her that she didn’t have a case.  Sarah is now suing Stony Brook to have its practice of having sexual assault victims “prosecute their own cases and cross-examine and be cross-examined by their assailants” abolished and for damages.

The thought of Sarah having not only to confront her alleged assailant but also to act as both prosecutor and defendant is disconcerting as well as infuriating.  It flies in the face of everything we have learned and know about sexual assault and helping survivors of sexual assault.

Whether Stony Brook has abolished or will abolish this abhorrent practice remains to be seen. The Journal News reported that the university declined to comment on the issue.

I am calling on Stony Brook and every other college and university in New York State to strike down this policy and remove it from their respective student handbooks.  Such a policy has no place in any code of conduct.

Although the State Universities of New York adopted, at Governor Cuomo’s urging, a stricter sexual assault policy last December, Sarah’s alleged attack occurred in January 2014. Sarah wants to make sure the SUNY policy expressly prohibits victims being forced to prosecute their attackers at student disciplinary hearings.

My heart goes out to this young woman and to every other woman or man who has been forced to confront the predator who has forever changed their lives.  We must remember, whether it’s in society or on campus, to protect the one who has been attacked, not just the alleged attacker.

I have introduced legislation (A.5400) that requires college campuses to adopt policies and procedures concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, involving on and off campus students. The policies must include a definition of affirmative consent (note a person cannot consent if incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs), and victim-centered protocols that cover the initial response by the school to a report of an incident and investigating and adjudicating the report. Colleges would also be required to implement comprehensive prevention and outreach programs addressing sexual violence and, where feasible, enter into agreements or collaborative partnerships with existing on-campus and community-based organizations, including rape crisis centers, to refer students for assistance or make services available to students.

Stories of sexual assault on college campuses have become all too familiar and the statistics often cited are chilling.  According to the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, at least 1 in 4 college women will be the victim of a sexual assault during her academic career.

The Department of Justice reported in 2007 that 1 in 5 women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students, compared to about 1 in 16 college men.  A 2014 White House Task Force reported that many victims report they are sexually abused while drugged, drunk, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated.

Yet less than five percent of rapes and attempted rapes of college students are reported to campus authorities or law enforcement according to the National Institute of Justice.

Rather than accept these statistics as the norm, we must compel colleges to establish clearer policies and procedures regarding the handling of reports of sexual assault and the treatment of sexual assault victims while safeguarding the rights and privacy of both accused and accuser.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to pursue any action, whether through the courts or through an academic disciplinary process, against the person who has sexually assaulted you.  We, collectively, have an obligation to ensure that when that decision is made, the report of sexual assault is properly investigated, a fair adjudication process is maintained, and the victim is treated with sensitivity and respect.

I was a victim and time, according to some, heals all wounds. Some wounds, though, don’t go away. And if four decades haven’t changed how I feel about confronting my attacker, how must Sarah Tubbs have felt just months removed from her alleged assault.

Amy Paulin is a member of the New York State Assembly.

The Farce of Ethics Reforms in Albany

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By John Verni

The arrest of the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for enriching himself with $4,000,000 due to his position is the latest in a long line of corruption originating from our state capitol.  Only in Albany would the leading proposal to address these misdeeds be to increase the pay of our lawmakers.

So let’s go through it. The reasoning is that our lawmakers are abusing their positions of power because they are not getting paid enough and that if we would just pay them more of the taxpayers’ money they will stop abusing their power and stop taking money from special interests.  If we just limit our state legislators outside income and make the state legislature their only job, there will be no more temptation to abuse their power. Really?  Is that what we are going with?

Generally our society addresses misdeeds with some sort of punishment to serve as a deterrent.  Some of the other suggested reforms include: 1) loss of pension benefits upon conviction of a crime to deter misbehavior; 2) term limits, at least for the leaders, to diffuse the concentration of power in a few; or 3) making the legislative sessions shorter and the job is truly part-time so that the legislators can have other careers and not rely on their legislative salary to support themselves and come to their work as true citizen-lawmakers.  These all make more sense.

Sheldon Silver was paid $121,000 per year as the Assembly Speaker. If we as taxpayers paid Sheldon Silver more, say $200,000 per year, would he have not reached for the $4,000,000 from special interests? What number would do it? $250,000? $300,000? $500,000? Shelly, what number would make you stop?

Corruption is about an abuse of power. It is not about making ends meet.  Corruption is about arrogance, not economic hardship.  Lord knows that the judiciary is not paid that well, but our judges are not being carted away at same alarming rate as our state legislators.

Our state legislators will have to decide between these suggested reforms to regulate their own actions. Which reform do you think they will reach for?

John Verni is host of “Stuck in the Middle”, a local radio show on WVOX discussing politics from “middle of the road.” John is an attorney, a former assistant district attorney in Westchester County, and a senior legal correspondent for WVOX.

Fighting Human Trafficking in New York State

End Human Trafficking NowBy Amy Paulin

Born and raised in New York City, Brianna was nine when she was kidnapped and raped by her school janitor and sold to a pimp. Bounced from trafficker to trafficker, she was sold for sex to men who knew her age. When she was not servicing men, she was locked in a closet in a house without electricity or running water. Brianna is a victim of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a horrible $32 billion industry. In 2013, approximately 27 million people were trafficked, 80% of whom were women and girls. The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is thirteen, with more than 100,000 youth sexually exploited each year. New York is a leading entry, transit and destination point for trafficking victims, with young people sexually exploited right here in Westchester County. Nearly 60 minors have been identified in the past 18 months by Westchester DSS as sex trafficking victims. The majority are from lower Westchester.

New York has led the nation in efforts to end human trafficking, treating the sexually exploited as victims, not criminals, and providing them with critical services to rebuild their lives. But there is more work to be done. We must hold accountable those that perpetuate this evil – the traffickers and buyers who fuel the growth of this massive underground industry. That is why I continue to push to enact the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA,A.506/S.7), a comprehensive bill I authored that will improve upon current law, strengthening our States response to human trafficking, by including the stiffening of penalties for traffickers and enabling law enforcement to conduct better surveillance of traffickers.

The TVPJA has bipartisan support in both houses and is backed by major womens groups, including NOW New York, Womens City Club of NY, Sanctuary for Families, and the 110+ organizations comprising the NYS Anti-Trafficking Coalition, including Westchester groups such as My SistersPlace, Pace Womens Justice Center, and YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester.

Yet this common sense, bipartisan-backed legislation has been stuck in neutral for two years due to Albany politics. 

In 2013, TVPJA became a part of the Governors 10-point agenda, the Womens Equality Act (WEA). The State Assembly passed all 10 points as a package in both the 2013 and 2014 sessions, but the State Senate did not. Instead, the Senate passed 9 points as individual bills leaving out the component that would codify Roe v. Wade. The State Senate refused to pass all 10 components of WEA as a package and the State Assembly refused to pass the bills individually. Sadly, my bill has been stuck in stalemate. Yet, the State Assembly did vote on one part of the WEA as a separate bill that strengthened orders of protection laws for domestic violence victims, and that bill did eventually become law.

So at the beginning of 2015, we are starting where we left off last year. The State Senate has already passed 8 components of the WEA as individual bills, including TVPJA, and again leaving out the codification of Roe v. Wade. Now the State Assembly must decide whether it will allow the WEA to be voted on as individual bills. Meanwhile, with TVPJA still just a bill, we have not provided law enforcement with all the tools needed to fight human trafficking.

I have spent my entire political (and nonpolitical) career fighting for women’s rights and continue to be a staunch supporter of the WEA. At the same time, I recognize that we have the opportunity to strengthen womens rights in so many important areas such as sexual harassment in the workplace, pay equity, family status discrimination, and pregnancy discrimination, as well as to end the victimization of women and children from human trafficking, by passing each of the bills.

I remain hopeful that politics can be put aside, so that we will soon enact into law the WEA measures, including my human trafficking bill, that will improve the lives of women in this State.

Amy Paulin serves in the New York State Assembly.

Trust in the Time of Silver

Sheldon Silver CapitolBy Noam Bramson

I had one conversation with Shelly Silver. It was 2002. I’d just won a Democratic primary for the New York State Assembly in which the Speaker had backed my opponent. Meeting Mr. Silver at his office in lower Manhattan, I made an pitch for his support in the November general. The pitch fell short, and, two months later, so did my campaign. In retrospect, I dodged a bullet — much happier serving as mayor of New Rochelle than I would have been as a legislator in Albany.

Given this tenuous connection, I can’t really claim that the news of the Speaker’s arrest on corruption charges hit me in any personal way. But I still find the whole thing horribly upsetting.

Time to insert the usual caveats. In America, we are innocent until proven guilty. The Speaker has been accused, not convicted. He is entitled to his day in court. And it’s a good idea to suspend judgment on any subject until you’ve heard both sides. Maybe when everything is aired out, things won’t look so bad.

But, man, they sure look bad right now. If even a fraction of the U.S. Attorney’s claims are accurate, the Speaker constructed and concealed a web of business and legal relationships aimed at converting his public position into personal riches.

No comment is needed on the self-evident illegality, immorality, and general awfulness of the alleged arrangement – all that’s obvious. What concerns me even more is that episodes like this inevitably tarnish the whole enterprise of government. They feed a widespread perception that legislatures, city halls, and executive mansions are populated by crooks, that public action is routinely warped by the hidden motive of private gain, and that politicians as a breed are congenital liars.

When basic trust is gone, why bother voting? Why care about public debates? Why allow yourself to be inspired? It’ll only make the inevitable disappointment that much more painful.

So let me mount a brief, heartfelt defense of my chosen profession, during a week when it really needs one.

This is not a naive, blind defense; human failings are rampant in politics, like in every other field. At one time or another, I have been angry with, exasperated by, or directed fantasies of minor injury toward just about every politician I know personally. (Those feelings are surely mutual.)

But many are truly admirable in their character, intelligence, drive, and ability. And even the clunkers who may be dumb as posts, or timid as mice, or abrasive as sandpaper, are almost always in politics because they really believe in something. They toil away in mainly unglamorous positions, often making financial or family sacrifices, because they have a rough sense, sometimes justified, sometimes deluded, that they can make a positive contribution.

And the overwhelming majority, from the most talented to the least, are honest.

It’s admittedly hard to tell from the headlines, especially out of Albany, but political corruption of the cash-in-envelope variety is rare, probably rarer today than at any time in American history. (The perfectly legal, institutional corruption of the campaign finance system is another story.)

Does this somehow excuse or mitigate the instances of corruption that do exist? Not for a second. In fact, the broader damage done to public confidence makes these corrupt practices even more contemptible. Throw the book at ‘em.

My plea is simply this: leave some room for trust. It can be cautious, it can be provisional, it can be limited to those who have proven worthy. But, somehow, make a place for it. Trust is worth the risk of disappointment. And the collapse of trust is a much bigger threat to our Republic than a hundred sleazy pols on the take.

Noam Bramson is the Mayor of New Rochelle, New York.

It’s No Secret Why Employers Leave NY

By William F. B. O’Reilly

Goodbye New YorkSometimes I watch my beloved Mets and wonder, “Are they even trying?” I mean really, as a franchise, is winning actually a priority?

I get the same feeling about Albany. We’re just a few days into the 2015 legislative session and already it’s clear that nothing to sharpen New York’s competitive edge is even on the table. New York needs good fastball hitters and Albany’s arguing over centerfield signage.

Other states don’t have this problem. Florida announced another feather in its cap Monday. Voxx International, the car stereo company, is moving its headquarters to Orlando. The company formerly known as Audiovox has been on Long Island since 1960.

“Florida will provide an excellent location and a pro-business climate,” Voxx chief executive Pat Lavelle said, not so subtly zinging New York for its nation-trailing business climate.

Pennsylvania is in the hunt. The state reaping billions of dollars from natural gas drilling — New York turned up its nose at the opportunity — has been feasting on Entenmann’s cakes since August, when that company moved west from New York after 116 years.

Texas was responsible for 23% of the nation’s economic growth in 2012. It’s clearly trying. So is Alabama, which recruited Remington Arms Co. away from upstate Ilion last year, just as Virginia lured Altria Group from Park Avenue.

It’s no secret why businesses and families keep leaving New York. With the highest taxes in America and the most arduous business regulations, New York has become one big ripoff. Moving makes sense. Staying doesn’t.

If you think the State Legislature is on the case, think again. The state with higher Medicaid costs than Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined is actually debating whether to expand Medicaid into a single-payer health care system, and arguing whether the most classroom spending in America is enough.

Other topics of interest? Taxpayer-funded elections. Scholarships for immigrants here illegally. Criminal justice reform, aka, sticking it to NYC cops. Even fewer restrictions on abortion.

I can almost hear Casey Stengel, manager of the of the 1964 Mets. “Can’t anybody here play this game?” he asked of the 53-109 team.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.

Race, Rhetoric and Rational Reform

unnamedBy John Verni

The murder of two NYC police officers by a black man to avenge the death of two black men at the hands of the police is the latest tragedy in a recent deterioration in race relations in this country. The rhetoric has been heated over the last few weeks between the politicians, the protestors, the police unions, and the press. The root causes of the tensions between the police and the minority community are many and complex and not easily solved. But where does all this rhetoric get us? Where do we go from here? Are there any rational reforms that can be made?

The sparks that lit the recent fire were the decisions of the grand juries not to indicted the police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. In both cases there were claims of an inherent bias that the prosecutors who presented the cases to the Grand Jury have in favor of the police officers they work with everyday. Any “no true bill” therefore becomes suspect. There have been calls for an independent prosecutor in such cases.

In New York, Attorney General Eric Scheiderman has suggested that he should be that independent prosecutor. This is a terrible idea on many levels. In general, we do not want an Attorney General who is subject to the political pressures of facing the electorate every 4 years to be deciding cases based upon political winds, not the rule of law. Such a structure would lead to mob rule with facts decided based on the volume in the public square rather than the facts presented in a courtroom. A Special Prosecutor’s Office, as we have seen in the past, is also subject to the same politics in selection and decision-making, and is ultimately second-guessed by the public.

Rational Reform

The answer is the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division in the State of New York was established under the New York State Constitution to be both the first court of appellate review and a court with certain de novo review powers meaning it can return cases to lower courts and other government entities for further fact-finding.

A rational reform would require any Grand Jury proceeding involving the death of a citizen at the hands of the police to be immediately reviewed by the Appellate Division. Normally, once a “no true bill” is voted, the case is over and not appealable. As we have seen, such a “no true bill” leads to these calls of a conflict in interest between the prosecutors and the police which in turn can remain to simmer with no adequate channel for review or redress. Under this proposal, the case would be presented by the District Attorney’s Office to a Grand Jury and immediately reviewed by the Appellate Division before a final decision either way can be delivered. If the Appellate Division deems necessary, the case can even be sent back for further fact finding or different instructions on the law.

The Appellate Division courts in New York State are courts in which a five judge panel reviews the evidence and the law and either upholds or overturns the lower court, or in this case the Grand Jury’s decision. The judges of the Appellate Division are judges serving 14 year terms and then chosen for the Appellate Division after going through a judicial screening committee and being referred to the Governor for selection. These are the most experienced judges in the state and are much more removed from the political process than the Attorney General. The Appellate Division is therefore much more likely to decide cases based upon the facts and the law rather than politics.

John Verni is host of “Stuck in the Middle”, a local radio show on WVOX discussing politics from “middle of the road.” John is an attorney, a former assistant district attorney in Westchester County, and a senior legal correspondent for WVOX.

Let’s Honor Murdered Cops And Avoid Divisive War Of Words

nypdBy Jim Cavanaugh

The best thing our civic leaders – both elected and self-appointed — can do to honor the two New York City police officers who were murdered yesterday is to impose a self-moratorium on agenda-driven rhetoric while the City grieves and pays these officers the respect they deserve. They should focus on the officers and their sacrifice, and take time off from their increasingly divisive war of words.

But they can’t help themselves.

Today a local Congressman is on the air saying this is what happens when people start criticizing the police. A potential presidential candidate tweeted that the murder is the result of the atmosphere created by Mayor DeBlasio and the protesters.

Simple statements from politicians who want us to believe there are simple answers. There aren’t.

The gunman seems to be a career criminal of the type that should have been removed from the streets long ago. Before he murdered the police officers he also tried to kill a former girlfriend. He may have said the murder of the officers was in retribution for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but the fact is that he was a repeat felon from way back. He didn’t need reasons to harm people. He just did.

At a time when one-third of all Americans have a documented brush with the law, we should be asking why this guy was still walking around when we spend so much time and effort to lock up non-violent offenders, drug addicts, and juveniles.  If our criminal justice was better focused, then police would be safer, along with the rest of us.

Those who use yesterday’s tragic murders to condemn those who have questioned police tactics in recent months are no more helpful than the Ferguson or Staten Island protesters who claim cops are institutionally racist. They might score points with their followers, but they lead us no closer to bridging the gap that still divides the races in America.

And what about the Eric Garner case? The public seems to have it right even if the headline-grabbers don’t. Sixty percent of New Yorkers think the police mishandled the Eric Garner incident – to the extent that they believe some sort of charges were warranted. But a majority is also sick of the protesters shutting down streets, and they don’t agree with demonizing the police department as racist. They have far more respect for the difficult job these men and women accomplish than do the protesters – or more importantly their headline-seeking leadership.

Yet those who advocate for police are also fanning the flames. The head of New York City’s police union is on the air claiming the City is back on a “war footing.” He’s wrong, as anyone who lived in New York during the eighties and early nineties knows. This kind of escalating rhetoric is exactly what we don’t need.

The anti-cop protest crowd has taken a momentary turn, scrambling over themselves to praise the police that they were so roundly condemning just last week. But as soon as there is another incident that jibes with their agenda, they’ll be back. Meanwhile, those who want to protest the protesters will use this tragedy to accuse them of collective responsibility for the act of a single murderous individual.

It is time to reject all of those who insist on casting our society as us and them. Let’s embrace those who only believe in us.

Jim Cavanaugh is former Supervisor of Town of Eastchester and former Chair of Westchester County Republican Committee.

Talking Past Each Other – Ferguson, Garner and Race

King-Hands-Up-300x174By Noam Bramson

The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have stirred a heated national dialogue about racial disparities in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and our society as a whole.  I don’t claim any special wisdom or originality on these difficult subjects, but as the mayor of a city that prides itself on diversity — and as someone accountable for the conduct of a Police force — I feel a duty to speak out.

Let me acknowledge up front that it is hard for me to grasp how these incidents do not warrant an indictment, especially in the case of Eric Garner . . . yet I am reluctant to pass harsh judgment on the grand juries.  By their very nature, grand juries are required to focus narrowly on the specifics of a case as presented to them, and to set aside broad social context.  Moreover, every detail, from the physical position of hands, to an officer’s state of mind, to the distinction between surrendering and charging, is filtered through human memory and perception, which are always fallible and subjective.  While each of us may be convinced of our opinions from afar, when you get deep into the weeds like a grand jury, things may look murky and ambiguous.

It is only when you zoom out that the murkiness disappears, revealing a picture that is crystal clear and deeply disturbing:

•  Black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males; black drivers are three times as likely as white drivers to be searched during a stop; black offenders receive longer sentences than white offenders convicted of the same crime.

Then zoom out even further:

•  White households have a median income 72% higher than black households; the typical white family hassix times the wealth of the typical black family.

It starts almost immediately:

•  Black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school; black students are four times more likely than white students to attend schools with under-qualified teachers.

And it shapes almost all of us:

•  A mountain of psychological research shows that subconscious racial bias is widespread, even among those who do not knowingly harbor any racist views.

These are stark and brutal facts.  And they pose a fundamental challenge to our nation’s core principles. Continue reading

Bramson’s Election Musings – Viewer Guide

By Noam BramsonVoting 2014

I don’t watch much TV — Game of Thrones, Top Chef on DVR.  That’s about it.  So I’ve been pretty disconnected from the ongoing campaign, which is playing out primarily in 30 second advertisements.  Then the other day, I turned on the box for a few minutes.

Whoa!

Heated charges, ominous voice-overs, dire warnings that the end cometh if Candidate X somehow attains public office.

There’s nothing new about this.  We get it every election nowadays, and I was up to my ears in it myself when I ran for County office last year.  But it gets worse with each cycle, as more money gets poured into the process.

It’s easy to understand why so many people feel disgusted by it all and swear off politics entirely.  But if you want to be a responsible citizen in a democracy, that’s not a good option, so I got to thinking about how to sort through these ads and determine which are worth our attention.

First, step back for a moment and consider how, in an idealized world, we would cast our votes.  In this fantasy scenario, every one of us would have perfect knowledge of how the election of one candidate or another would shape the actions of our government, we would be able to predict with perfect accuracy the consequences of our vote, and then we would cast ballots in order to best advance our own interests and values.  In other words, we’d behave like rational actors in classic economics theory.

Well, even if such perfect knowledge were attainable (and it’s not), who has the time?  So, in the real world, we use short-cuts.  We vote for the candidate who belongs to our party, or the candidate who was more cogent in a debate, or the candidate we met at the supermarket, or the candidate who seems like less of a jerk.  All those 30-second ads are aimed at influencing our shorthand, sometimes emotional, impulses.

And the more I reflected on those ads, the more I concluded that the usual standards for judging them — whether they are positive or negative, whether they are nasty or polite, even whether they are 100% truthful or cut some corners with the facts — kind of miss the point.

The better standard is whether an ad moves us closer to or farther away from that ideal, perfect understanding.  Does it connect our vote to future actions and consequences, or does it draw our attention away from future actions and consequences.  In short, does the ad clarify our real choice, or does it insteadobscure our real choice?

How can you tell one from the other?  There’s no foolproof method, but there are a couple of tests that make sense to me.

One, is the ad mainly about who a candidate is or mainly about what a candidate has done and will do?  Anyone can make claims about character, pro or con, and such claims rarely have much to do with the responsibilities of an office-holder.  Give more weight to ads that focus on deeds and plans.

And, two, is the ad about consequential topics or about minor side subjects?   If you’re on the wrong side of the big issues, you try to make the election a referendum on the trivial.  So beware of ads that focus on second or third rank nonsense with short-term emotional punch and no long-term relevance.

Apply these tests, and ads can start to look very different.  A nasty commercial that goes after Candidate X for positions on important public policy may be unpleasant, but it can help clarify our choices.  A gauzy, upbeat commercial featuring the testimonials of Candidate Y’s family may be nice, but it can obscure our choices.

Of course, a lot of this is a matter of opinion.  It would be hard, for example, for a media outlet to subject political ads to an objective clarity-meter, like the more familiar (and largely ineffectual) truth-meters.  But I still find this to be a helpful framework for my own use, and maybe it will be helpful for you, too.

So next time you see an ad for or against a politician, before deciding whether you agree or disagree with the position expressed, before deciding whether the ad leads you to think better or worse of the candidates, ask yourself a more basic question: does the topic of the ad even matter in the first place.  Does it matter to your life, to your family’s life, or the life of your community and country.

If the answer is no, then tune it out.  And if enough of us do just that, it won’t necessarily make our politics less nasty or less polarized, but it might make our politics more relevant, and that would be a step forward.

Guest Blogger Noam Bramson is the Mayor of New Rochelle

Arrogance In Albany: The State of Corruption in New York

By John Verni

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NYS Capitol

British historian Lord Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Unfortunately, such is the state of affairs in our state capitol. Our Empire State is governed by a group of corrupt career politicians that have become so self-serving and arrogant that they believe they are above the law. Nothing is beyond the reach of corruption in Albany, and as recent events have shown, that includes the very commission set up to root out corruption.
A Corrupt Game of Musical Chairs
The corruption in Albany is so rampant and commonplace that most of our statewide officials owe their positions to the corruption of others. The Albany insiders seem to be playing a game of corrupt musical chairs where one member loses his seat in shame only to be replaced by another Albany insider. The music never changes, the chairs get rearranged, but the players remain the same. So here is a primer on Albany’s Corruption Musical Chairs – your very own “Cheat Sheet”.
The three top jobs in Albany are Governor, the guy running the State; the Comptroller, the guy watching our money; and the Attorney General, the guy making sure it is all legal.
Our present Governor is Andrew Cuomo who came to power on a promise of “cleaning up Albany”. At the time of Andrew Cuomo’s election, several members of the legislature were already under investigation, indicted or convicted. Former Governor David Paterson himself was seen as so ineffective and ethically challenged that he could not be re-elected. Paterson had admitted to personal ethical lapses involving cocaine use and having an extra-marital affair with a state worker. At the end of his time as Governor, Paterson was embroiled in a scandal in which he called the victim of sexual abuse by one of his key staffers and coaxed her not to proceed in court against the staffer – hardly the actions of a Democratic Governor supposedly sensitive to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Former Governor David Paterson, who is the son of former State Senator Basil Paterson from Manhattan, became a State Senator in his own right from Manhattan, then became the Lieutenant Governor, and then became the Governor himself when Governor Eliot Spitzer had to resign due to a corruption scandal involving the hiring of prostitutes.
Former Governor Eliot Spitzer was the former Attorney General who made a name for himself cleaning up Wall Street as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” and became Governor on the promise of cleaning up Albany, only to be found breaking the law himself by hiring high-priced prostitutes.
Our present Comptroller, the guy who is supposed to be watching our money, is Thomas DiNapoli, who is a former Assemblyman from Long Island, who became Comptroller when former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who himself was a former Assemblyman, was caught accepting bribes from people who wanted to be paid to help him watch our money. Alan Hevesi was prosecuted by Andrew Cuomo, who was the Attorney General at the time and used that conviction as proof that he would end the “pay-to-play” mentality in Albany.
Our present Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was a State Senator from Manhattan who became Attorney General when Andrew Cuomo, who was the Attorney General at the time, decided to run for Governor on the promise of cleaning up Albany, when Eliot Spitzer, who ran for and won as Governor on the same promise of cleaning up Albany got caught breaking the law, and his ethically challenged Lieutenant Governor, David Paterson, became Governor, and then got caught in his own scandal and decided not to run.
And the drum beat of corruption has not stopped.
Corrupting the Corruption Commission
Now Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo, is accused of corrupting the anti-corruption commission he set up to clean up Albany by telling the commission who it could and could not investigate.
Governor Cuomo had set up the Committee to Investigate Public Corruption to great fanfare and expectation with the promise of “cleaning up Albany”. The Governor asked several district attorneys, the top law enforcement officials in their respective counties of New York, to serve on the Commission.
The Commission had as two of its three co-chairs, William Fitzpatrick, the District Attorney of Syracuse, and Kathleen Rice, the District Attorney of Nassau County. Fitzpatrick and Rice were appointed by Governor Cuomo and deputized by Attorney General Schneiderman to look into any wrongdoing by the State Senators, of which Schneiderman had been one, or by the Assembly members, of which Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and his predecessor Alan Hevesi had been members. There had been many recent corruption scandals in the state legislature, the State Senate and Assembly, involving all kinds of criminality ranging from members of the legislature embezzling public funds for their own benefit ; to the paying of hush money to cover-up sexual harassment of legislative staffers by members of the legislature ; to domestic violence by members of the legislature; to outright attempts to buy elections.
In setting up the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, Governor Cuomo promised that the Commission would be “totally independent”. At the time, Governor Cuomo stated, the Commission could investigate anyone – “me [the Governor], the Lieutenant Governor, the Comptroller, the Attorney General, any State Senator, any Assemblyman”. In order to give this Moreland Commission more teeth, the Governor had the commissioners deputized by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as Assistant Attorney Generals. Governor Cuomo knew the importance of deputizing the commissioners under the Attorney General’s Office because he had been the Attorney General himself – the guy in charge of making sure it is all legal – the guy who had prosecuted others in the past for public corruption.
Now it has come to light that Governor Cuomo’s Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was not so independent at all. After a three month investigation by the New York Times they reported that they “found that the governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.” When questioned by the New York Times, the Governor’s office released a 13 page statement that took the position that despite his earlier assurances that even he could be investigated, “a commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive. It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.” The only laugh is the statement itself, which belies the arrogance that pervades Albany.
Immediately after the revelations in the Times article, Governor Cuomo cancelled his public appearances for a few days as he pondered how he would respond to this expose’. Rather than the expected announcement that his chief aide, Larry Schwartz, the instrument of the interference, had “resigned” and had acted beyond the authority granted to him by his boss, Governor Cuomo extended his arrogant flourish with a pronouncement that the anti-corruption commission had been a “phenomenal success.” Only in Albany can you get caught red-handed and then claim victory for having a red hand.
The revelations that the Governor interfered with his own corruption-fighting commission seems to confirm what many Albany observers had expected from the very start of this Commission – that the Governor had set up the Commission to pressure the legislature to allow him to push his social agenda; pass an on-time budget to demonstrate his effectiveness; promote fiscally conservative measures to solidify a perception as a tax-fighting crusader; and allow him to paint a narrative of working with both Democrats and Republicans to become the type of transcendent “uniter” that we need as our President down in Washington. So after the passage of his fourth straight on-time budget, several liberal-endearing legislative triumphs, and the passage of some lukewarm “ethics reforms”, Governor Cuomo declared victory and closed the Commission. The legislature was happy because the Commission would stop prying around in their personal transgressions and financial shenanigans and they could get back home and campaign for re-election – a cycle that conveniently has returned close to 100% of the incumbents to office every two years for the last 50 years.

John Verni is the host of “Stuck in the Middle”, a local radio show on WVOX discussing politics from a “middle of the road”, moderate perspective. John is an attorney, a former assistant district attorney in Westchester County, and a senior legal correspondent for WVOX. He hopes this article helped you keep track of the corrupt state of New York politics and shed some light on the upcoming elections.

NERVOUS NITA SPENDS $1M AS ANGRY SUBURBANITES AID ASTORINO

By Ryan Karben

Seething suburban voters are threatening the re-election prospects of longtime Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) and markedly constraining the margin of victory for Governor Andrew Cuomo. The vaunted Democratic get-out-the-vote operation will likely carry the day in the end, but it is battling some of the most pissed off people in America.

Affluent and Angry for Astorino

Money certainly isn’t buying happiness for affluent suburban voters- and their discontent may be enough to allow Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino to deliver an embarrassing loss to Cuomo in Westchester County, where Astorino is the current chief executive and Cuomo lives. Cuomo carried Westchester with 66% of the vote in 2010.

Westchester residents and other voters in the New York City suburbs are super-sour about the state of the union. According to a survey conducted ten days ago by the Siena College Polling Institute, 69% of suburban voters think the United States is going in the wrong direction.

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(And the more you make, the more pessimistic you are- voters making more than $100,000 are 40% more likely to think things are going poorly than those making $50,000 or less.)

Despite their persistent foul mood about the nation’s direction, Sienna’s pollsters found as recently as a month agothat suburban voters still believed New York State was going in the right direction.

But the newer data shows that suburbanites are gloomy about New York too. Last week, Siena reported that voters in the suburbs now believe the state is headed in the wrong direction by a margin of 53 to 40.

Even in economically challenged upstate, voters who believe things are in the state are going in the wrong direction only narrowly edge those with a positive view. And it’s a world away from New York City, where voters who believe things are going well outnumber those think they aren’t by a 20-point margin.

This suburban angst steams from a politically toxic brew of relentless property tax hikes, anxiety over diversifying schools and shock over seemingly ceaseless land development. Despite a Cuomo-enacted 2% cap on property tax increases, well-to-do retirees and new suburban homeowners both blame state government for property tax bills exceeding $15,000 a year.

Intensifying suburban discontent is lifting Astorino’s suburban support. Astorino now edges out Cuomo by 2 points in the suburbs (46-44) after trailing him in the region by 19 points (33-52) in September.

That means nearly every suburban voter who made up their mind in the past four weeks opted for Astorino. The Republican made six stops in Suffolk County Sunday and may put the county in his win column on November 4th despite a nearly certain statewide loss.

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American Politics Are A Mess. Is This Why?

American politics are a big mess. Is this why?

American politics are a big mess. Is this why?

(Thanks to New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson for appearing as our first Guest Blogger).

In a thought-provoking feature in this week’s New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai recounts in (surprisingly gripping) detail the collapse of Gary Hart’s presidential campaign and then pivots to make a larger point about the tabloidization of American politics.

Bai’s article, which is rightly getting a lot of attention, suggests that the push to expose personal character flaws in politicians has shoved substance to the margins, both for the media and for candidates. From there, the dominoes fall in ugly progression – capable people choose not to run for public office, mediocrities take their place and are never really challenged to demonstrate depth, campaigns devolve into nasty battles about trivialities, government grinds to a dysfunctional halt, and the public grows increasingly disenchanted with choices that all look bad. Here’s a key excerpt:

“As an industry, we [in the press] aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions . . . Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. It drove a lot of potential candidates with complex ideas away from the process, and it made it easier for a lot of candidates who knew nothing about policy to breeze into national office, because there was no expectation that a candidate was going to say anything of substance anyway.”

Much of Bai’s account is hard to dispute; anyone who thinks our political system is in good shape just isn’t paying attention. And part of the appeal of his argument is that it can serve as a sort of grand unified theory for everything that’s gone wrong.

But is the media’s excessive interest in personal scandal really at the root of the superficiality and viciousness of today’s politics? I’m not convinced. Yes, tabloid-style coverage is a problem, but I see much bigger factors at play:

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