The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Cutting taxes on those whose dreams have already come true does not create good jobs. Growing a healthy economy creates good jobs, and you cannot have a healthy economy in which a vast majority are losing ground or are barely holding on, or are just worrying about next month.
Biologists and naturalists conduct experiments in resource scarcity and competition using yeast, paramecium, flour beetles and other little animals. Behaviors change, relationships change, levels of ferocity change. A series of recently published surveys show that one third or less of Americans trust their fellow citizens in everyday interactions. As social trust deteriorates, so does a willingness to work for a common good. I am hopeful that Americans will handle things better than the flour beetle, but we need to hold it together and keep our perspective.
Federal, state and city lawmakers have the power to reduce the region’s traffic congestion while also promoting mass transit. If the past is prologue, they will decline to use it.
Congress, for instance, has until the end of this month to extend a law allowing mass transit users (e.g., bus, subway, commuter rail) to use up to $245 in pre-tax dollars toward their monthly commute. The federal government already allows $245 in pre-tax dollars to be used by drivers each month for their parking expenses, a figure which will increase to $250 on Jan. 1, 2014. The monthly pre-tax limit for transit users will fall to $130 on New Year’s Day should Congress fail to act on this matter by year-end 2013, something which happened in late 2011. D.C.’s inaction left transit users at a competitive disadvantage to drivers in 2012.
Written by Michael A. Miller, Millercolumn@optimum.net Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00
Five state legislators do the perp walk on criminal charges in five weeks, with maybe more on the way.
I always try to look at the bright side. One of these legislators wore a wire for three years and there haven’t been nearly as many arrests or indictments as some might have figured. Another silver lining is that a bunch of the charges really aren’t about corrupting government functions, but about political greed and personal sleaze. So we’ve got all of that going for us. Call me Mr. Sunshine.
By some counts, we’ve had 32 legislators and other state officials busted since 2006.
Some of it is simply bad socialization, a lack of training and understanding about expected behavior within a group. First-term legislators used to be expected to sit and watch and learn. No more. Now you see elected officials take the oath, and before they even figure out where the restrooms are, they are speaking at media conferences and hearings, posting videos and generally calling attention to themselves. Mostly, their insipid email blasts and Tweets demonstrate that they can be boring or uninformed. They are going through the motions of being legislators without grasping what it is they might be accomplishing or why. They come to see themselves as independent agents, and even other legislators are more like props than colleagues.
They don’t owe anything to anyone but themselves, not even their constituents.
So now we’ve got a drumbeat to do something. Something. But what? It’s pretty easy to wave our finger and heap scorn on someone stupid enough to accept an envelope slid across a desk. What’s going on here isn’t all one thing, and no one thing is going to make things better. It’s clear that many politicians are so ingrained in the system as to be clueless.
On May 7, as many of us were reading about the indictment of one state senator, another chairing a hearing on proposals to establish “clean campaigns,” funded partly by the public, was shutting out good government groups and the public from testifying or even watching. Some of the recent arrests and indictments stemmed from desperation to raise campaign cash, but several senators declared fierce opposition to the idea of taxpayer dollars paying for any part of (their opponent’s) political campaigns. Forms of it work in Canada, the U.K., Israel, Maine, Arizona, New York City and other exotic places. For some legislators, it’s a horror. That same day, I received another taxpayer-funded newsletter that declared, “Thank You Ed Mangano For Not Raising Taxes.”
And it slides. That’s where this all starts. It sounds like a piddly little thing, hardly noticeable. So is a cancer cell. Instead of tossing around words like “corruption” and “ethics,” we first need to concentrate on “standards” and “expectations.”
Even before that, we must figure out what we want legislators and elected officials to be.
There have already been numerous calls to jack up legislators’ salaries and make them “full-time” without outside income. Define income. New York legislators are already too holed up in Albany. The entire government center and the Capitol used to be open for citizens to stroll around and observe. Not any more, and it isn’t healthy at all. Making this an official career will make things worse.
New York is one of only four states in which legislatures meet throughout every year. Those other legislatures (California, Pennsylvania and Michigan) are at least as messed up as ours.
The American legislative system was designed around citizen-legislators. It is part of our political heritage. If we build a better citizenship, we will get better legislators.