An American Editor

September 25, 2016

On Politics: Do Facts Matter?

When editors discuss editing — whether among themselves or with clients — it is pretty clear that facts are important. If an author were to write that Columbus sailed the ocean for the Americas in 1692, I’m willing to bet that the manuscript’s editor would note that factual error. Getting facts right is one of the pillars supporting the concept of consistency in editing.

Alas, as we all know an editor’s penchant for fact accuracy does not seem to be a cornerstone of politics and this year’s presidential campaign may be the worst example of factual honesty thanks to Donald Trump. I doubt Pinocchio’s nose could grow long enough to envelope all his falsities.

With the first debate quickly approaching (Monday, September 26, 2016 at 9:00 PM EST), the question of facts in politics takes a front seat. An excellent opinion essay  on the issue of whether facts matter, see

Facts Matter

by Barbra Streisand at The Huffington Post. And when it comes to corruption, Trump is no slouch, as noted in this opinion piece by Paul Waldman in The Washington Post:

Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?

I find it odd that facts matter to editors and authors in their daily work but that some are willing to set aside the requirement for facts when choosing the president of the United States. Perhaps the presidential debates will demonstrate why we should be supporting and voting for Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

For me there is one overriding fact that supports my decision to support and vote for Hillary Clinton: I am confident that with Hillary Clinton as president there will still be an America for grandchildren 4 (or 8) years from now. I have no confidence that will be true should Trump be elected.

And if I were younger, a second fact that supports my decision is the economic harm that Trumpism promises to bring to America with his isolationism, and which I discussed  in On Politics: Freelancing in a Trumpian World.

Just as facts matter in editing, they matter in politics — especially when electing a president of the United States.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 17, 2016

On Politics: One Billionaire on Donald Trump

Filed under: Politics — americaneditor @ 4:01 am
Tags: , , ,

Wonder what Republican-Libertarian billionaires think about Donald Trump? I have wondered what successful business people really think of Trump’s capabilities, his business acumen, and his fitness to be president. Here is one view:

Mark Cuban Changes His Mind
An e-mail conversation about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with the billionaire NBA owner and Shark Tank star.
by Ira Boudway

I particularly like these quotes:

He [Trump] cares about two things, how people perceive him and how much cash he has in the bank.

Trump never takes on the intellectual challenge. He doesn’t even try. He just talks about having a good brain.

This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek (September 15, 2016) is about the U.S. electorate. It makes for fascinating reading. If you are interested in the 2016 race for the presidency and wonder what motivates Americans to support/oppose a particular candidate, I highly recommend this issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. It is an in-depth analysis, including interviews and profiles, of the 2016 American electorate.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

August 1, 2016

On Politics: Freelancing in a Trumpian World

I’m worried. Neither U.S. presidential hopeful is my ideal choice, and no, I was not a Cruzian; nor did I feel the Bern — in my 50-plus years of voting and following politics, I can’t remember a worse lot of primary candidates to choose from. But if I set aside general policy disagreements with the nominees and instead focus on my future as a freelancer, I can’t get past the Trumpian worldview.

Freelance editing has been globalized for decades. The globalization began in the 1980s with the consolidation of publishing companies into a few international conglomerates, the laying off of in-house staff, and the increased use of freelancers to fulfill previously in-house functions. I worked with several publishers over the years who had no in-house editing staff, just production staff, and even the number of production staff was limited because much of the production work was outsourced.

Globalization, of course, rapidly grew with the rise of the Internet and ever-faster computers with more capable software. When I began my career, the dominant software program for copyediting was XyWrite. Lippincott, which was at the time an independent, major book publisher, required freelancers to travel to its New York City office to be tested on their XyWrite skills and to be “taught” how to use the Lippincott version of the program. XyWrite’s primary competitor was WordPerfect. When Windows began to take over the desktop, XyWrite struggled to create a Windows version; the ultimate product was poor. WordPerfect did much better and became the leading word processing program until it was sold to Novell, a company that had no clue about consumer-focused software. Ultimately, Microsoft Word was crowned king.

Once Word took the throne, once Windows came to dominate the desktop computer, and once the Internet became truly usable from anywhere on Earth, the freelance editing industry became a global industry. Freelancers now obtained work from all over the planet, and the packaging industry began taking over the production of books. Today, American freelance editors may receive work from India, England, Australia — any place you can name. Similarly, freelance editors in those countries can and do receive work originating in the United States.

So, what happens when globalization becomes threatened? Donald Trump speaks of retreating from globalization, making the retreat a goal of his presidency. He talks of canceling trade treaties, of demanding that foreign-sourced work now be brought back to the United States. We know he is focused on manufacturing, but to think that there will be no ripple effect is to be naïve.

According to some pundits in publishing, the book industry is in trouble. We all know reading is in decline (see, e.g., “Sharp Decline in Children Reading for Pleasure, Survey Finds” by Alison Flood [The Guardian (US Edition), January 9, 2015], “Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in U.S.” by Lynn Neary [All Things Considered, NPR, WNYC Radio, November 19, 2007 (Transcript of program)], “The Decline of the American Book Lover” by Jordan Weissman [The Atlantic, January 21, 2014], and “Decline in Reading in the U.S.” [EBSCO Host Connection]), and it appears that overall book sales are either stagnant or declining. To make more money, publishers are cutting costs. One way is by increasing the tasks that are outsourced and paying less to the freelancers to whom the work is outsourced. (I find it interesting that executive pay in publishing has increased since 1995 but that most publishers and packagers are offering freelance editors the same pay as was handed out in 1995. No adjustment for inflation.) Bringing those tasks back to the United States will not result in higher-paying in-house jobs for editors.

In fact, it is unlikely that the jobs will be brought back at all. More likely, books will be edited by non-American editors. I have seen the start of this trend; in recent years, I have watched projects that I wouldn’t do for the offered fee be assigned to foreign editors.

Not long ago, I was contacted by a packager from Ireland. We had no problem coming to agreement, except when it came to price. With the maximum they were willing to pay, I would have received 96 cents per page for editing technical material on a short deadline. The packager is clearly able to find editors willing to work for that price, but how many American editors can accept so little money to edit technical material?

I see a practical problem for freelance editors in the event of a Trump presidency: if the United States becomes protectionist in trade policy, should we not expect retaliation and/or reciprocation? With much of the publishing industry consolidated into non-American firms, how effective can a retreat from globalization be for us? Economists are already saying that if we want to see how well the Trump program will work, we only need to look at Walmart’s re-Americanization efforts (see “If Wal-Mart Can’t Bring Manufacturing Back to America, How Can Trump?” by Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 14, 2016).

So, because I’m a freelance editor who relies on business from around the world, the prospect of having Donald Trump as president alarms me. Some Trump supporters say that this is just bluster on Trump’s part, that he will not really upset the American economy, and that he will modify his stance once elected. That is a gamble I am unwilling to take.

Trump reminds me of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the populist U.S. senator who is elected president after promising America First economic policies in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here. If you haven’t read the novel, you should. Although written in 1935, it could be about the 2016 election. Also worth reading is “Trump’s Bigotry Revives Fears of ‘It Can’t Happen Here’” by Michael Winship (Moyers & Company, December 8, 2015).

There are, in my view, many economic reasons not to vote for Trump for president (e.g., “After 9/11, Trump Took Money Marked for Small Businesses” by Michael Warren [The Weekly Standard, February 15, 2016], “Donald Trump Sued Everyone but His Hairdresser” by Olivia Nuzzi [The Daily Beast, July 6, 2015], “How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions” by Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli [The New York Times, June 11, 2016], and “Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative With the Truth” by David Barstow [The New York Times, July 16, 2016]) as well as the social and cultural downsides to him as a candidate (e.g., his view of women [see, e.g., “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private” by Michael Barbaro and Megan Twoheymay (The New York Times, May 14, 2016), “Donald Trump Hates Women: It’s the One Position He’s Never Changed” by Franklin Foer (Slate, March 24, 2016), and “Sorry, Ivanka. I’m Not Buying that Donald Trump Will Be a Champion for Women” by Vivien Labaton (CNBC, July 22, 2016)]); his denial of human involvement in climate change [see, e.g., “Trump and Pence Are a Match Made in Climate Change Denial Heaven” by Natalie Schreyer (Newsweek, July 15, 2016) and “Water World: Rising Tides Close in on Trump, the Climate Change Denier” by Suzanne Goldenberg (The Guardian [US Edition], July 6, 2016)]; his clear dislike of non–Northern European immigrants; his willingness to tear apart families; his lack of trustworthiness; his short temper; and his threat to America’s existence even four years from now. But the danger he poses to the way the freelance editing business works in the real world is sufficient reason for me to vote for Hillary Clinton. That is what I encourage all freelancers to do — vote for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump’s world economic view is a danger to our livelihood.

(Addendum: Recently, Donald Trump asked a foreign government to intervene in the upcoming election. A petition to the White House asking for an investigation of Trump’s actions has been created at We the People, which is the government’s website for petitioning the White House. If you would like to review the petition and perhaps sign it, go to the petition at We the People. Sadly, as each day passes there are additional revelations, such as this one in The Guardian: “Donald Trump and Russia: A Web That Grows More Tangled All the Time.”)

Richard Adin, An American Editor

June 11, 2016

Worth Reading: Why the Very Poor Have Become Poorer

Why the Very Poor Have Become Poorer” by Christopher Jencks (The New York Review of Books, June 9, 2016, pp. 15-17) is a review of the book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer (2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Jencks is the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard and author of Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty, and the Underclass and The Homeless.

I found the essay both interesting and disturbing. It illustrates the problem of political social thinking since the 1990s. If you combine that thinking with how politicians today, especially Republican politicians, want to reduce social welfare programs, you can see how the thinking is to shift from a “War on Poverty” to a “War on Those in Poverty.”

Regardless of how you view social welfare programs, this essay is worth reading. It provides a different way to look at how social welfare policy has evolved since the 1970s. I know I hadn’t looked at social welfare programs from quite the same perspective — not even when I was a social worker.

Why the Very Poor Have Become Poorer
by Christopher Jencks

After reading the essay, I have added Edin and Shaefer’s book to my To-Buy list.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

September 26, 2011

If They Were Editors, They Would Be Fired!

If they were editors, they would be fired! I’m referring to the Republicans contending for the Republican nomination to oppose Barack Obama in 2012.

The one thing that every client wants from an editor is consistency. If you chose to spell distension with -sion in chapter 1, then the client doesn’t want to see it spelled with -tion in subsequent chapters. Although “[a] foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” (Ralph Waldo Emerson), editorial consistency is a positive trait because it is not a foolish consistency.

To demand that our politicians be consistent in a very broad sense is to deny them the possibility of intellectual growth and the ability to change as circumstances change, yet some consistency, especially on overarching policy, at least for a year or two, is warranted. Alas, as the Republican fight gets nastier, the inconsistencies in overarching policy grow.

Consider Rick Perry’s statements regarding children of illegal immigrants in Texas. Perry, rightfully I believe, encouraged the state legislature to allow children of illegal immigrants to attend state universities at in-state tuition rates. Needless to say, his current opponents are attacking that stance. What is Perry’s response? According to Perry, he has shown “heart” for these children who are in Texas through no independent action of their own. So far, so good.

Now ask Perry to show some heart for the citizen children who lack health insurance and thus fail to get needed drugs or treatment (26% of all Texas citizens lack health insurance), and he demurs, suggesting that it is not government’s role to provide health care for citizens, let alone for noncitizens. But there must be a stink of money somewhere, because Perry tried to force every adolescent girl to be inoculated at state expense against cervical cancer.

Similarly, look at Mitt Romney. His creation of a statewide health plan in Massachusetts with a requirement that everyone must purchase the insurance was the model for Obama’s national plan. In fact, there are very few differences, mostly minor, between the two plans. But ask Romney today and he boasts of his Massachusetts plan and derides Obama’s national plan. It must be that only citizens of Massachusetts are worthy of health care insurance.

Worst of all, however, are the candidates who ape Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Their response, which the Tea Party cheered loudly, is that citizens need to be free to take their own risks and if they choose not to have health insurance and get sick, let them die. Of course, these wonderful candidates neglect to tell the audience how it is the members of the audience who would die because these showers of Christian charity all receive subsidized health insurance courtesy of us taxpayers. Interestingly, the one question they do not answer is what about those taxpaying citizens who want health insurance but can’t buy it? These folk don’t want to assume the risk but are forced to do so.

Another twist in all of the Republican candidates’ thinking is the issue of abortion. Each candidate loudly proclaims that they are prolife and antiabortion. There is nothing wrong with that position until one second after the child’s birth, when all of the candidates are willing to let the baby — or the birth mother or both — die if the parent doesn’t have health insurance. Republican-Tea Party caring seems to terminate as soon as the underlying political issue is no longer an issue.

America now has 50 million citizens who lack health insurance; that’s one-sixth of our population. Yet the people who make the decision about whether or not those 50 million men, women, and children should be given health insurance (which most would under Obama’s plan) all have taxpayer subsidized health insurance for themselves and their families.

To say that providing health insurance like Romney did in Massachusetts should be left up to the states is just another ploy. First, it would mean that many people could never migrate from their state no matter the opportunities elsewhere. Second, it would leave Americans subject to the whims of politicians. This year the Democrats are in control so we have health care; last year the Republicans were in control so we didn’t have it. Who knows what next year will bring.

Third, and perhaps most important, states like Texas would not provide universal (and probably not any state) coverage, but when an epidemic hit, would want the rest of the country to bail it out. (Notice the difference between the Republican federal emergency response to Hurricane Katrina and the Republican response to Hurricane Irene? In the former, Republicans demanded federal relief and got it within 10 days; now they obstruct relief.)

I sometimes wonder whether the Republicans are trying to find some way to make the country disintegrate — that is, do away with the concept of a United States and instead have 50 individual countries (I’m not sure what they would do about Washington, DC). Republicans like to talk of “state’s rights”; why not think, instead, of citizen rights.

June 15, 2011

On Politics: The Question Not Being Answered (or Even Asked)

At my age, I carefully follow any news that might impact my decision-making process regarding retirement. I also, regardless of age, watch for political news that might affect the taxes I pay. Being a New Yorker, I already am one of the highest taxed citizens of the United States.

Needless to say, the biggest potential impacts in current news are the Republican onslaught against universal healthcare, which Republicans have euphemistically labeled “Obamacare,” and the Republican plan to privatize (or voucherize) Medicare (and even Social Security). Neither really impacts me because I am in the “safe” age group (older than 55 years), at least insofar as the Republicans vocalize today (tomorrow the Republicans may change their mind); they do affect me, however, because I have children who will be impacted and because I do care what happens to my fellow citizens. Medicare and Social Security are the safety nets for the elderly. (Interestingly, many of the Republicans legislators who support the changes are well-to-do, have taxpayer-funded retirement and healthcare, and will not need either Medicare or Social Security to survive in their retirement years. Once they retire from Congress, they can get part-time lobbying jobs that will provide sustenance that Americans like me can only dream about!)

Yet I see one lingering question that I can’t seem to get a Republican congressperson to answer directly and clearly. Obfuscation seems to be the vocabulary word of the year and to make sure they remember the word, the Republicans practice it. The question is this:

If Obamacare’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, how can the Republican plan to require citizens to contribute to Medicare and receive in exchange a voucher for use in the private marketplace be constitutional? That is, what makes the individual mandate of required Medicare contribution and participation constitutional but not the mandate in Obamacare?

This really is an important question because it goes to the heart of Medicare even in its present form. (Worth noting, too, is that a citizen is required to apply for Medicare during a 6-month window at age 65 years, or be penalized.) Call it what you like, the reality is that citizens are being mandated to purchase Medicare (and Social Security) whether needed, wanted, or not, and semantics aside, I see no difference between those individual mandates and the Obamacare individual mandate. The end result is that the citizen is forced to buy healthcare coverage, whether wanted or not.

Note I’m not even talking about why Romneycare was great for Massachusetts’ citizens but the near-identical twin Obamacare isn’t great for Americans. (I did ask that question earlier, however, in The Forked Tongue Dialogues: Romneycare vs. Obamacare, and I still haven’t gotten an answer that makes sense. Worth noting is that many of the same Republicans who now oppose Obamacare praised Romneycare, although under Tea Party pressure they have “rethought” their earlier praise and now condemn Romneycare. All it took was a couple of clowns threatening primary fights against any Republican who didn’t recant for the great Republican flip-flop to occur. If only they would flip-flop on their “no taxes” pledge so we could logically and fairly solve the debt problem. I’m sure big oil would survive on profits of $30 billion rather than of $33 billion for the quarter.) All I want to know is this: Why is the individual mandate under Obamacare unconstitutional but the individual mandate the Republicans will impose under their Medicare privatization plan is constitutional?

I have asked this question in recent weeks of several Republicans — politicians and nonpoliticians. Either I have received no answer or I have received pablum statements talking about how great the Ryan budget proposal is for business (not for me as an individual, but for corporate America) and how the Republican privatization plan will bring back individual responsibility. No one will address the matter of how, under the Republican plan, limited-income seniors may have to eventually absorb as much as 65% of the cost of Medicare, the vouchers eventually covering only 35%. It is so difficult to pin a politician down. Do they run a special school for weaseling that is required for all new congresspersons and politicians?

While I wait for a cogent answer, which I suspect I will never get, I’m hoping some of the Republican attorneys-general who believe it is imperative to protect me from Obamacare will equally be prepared to protect me from Republicancare (or Ryancare if we want to keep the naming conventions consistent). Alas, I suspect that they view a Republican idea as god-given and god-driven and thus biblically mandated, unlike a Democrat idea, which obviously must be the work of some nefarious evil being.

Okay, perhaps I do exaggerate a minuscule amount, but not by much. From the moment Obama was sworn in as president, Republicans have called his presidency a failed presidency — and worked hard to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet many, if not most, of the policies that are Obama failures were initiated by Bush and called Bush successes — right up to the minute before Obama was sworn in and took the reins of government, so my exaggeration can’t be more than minuscule. Impressive, isn’t it, how, in less than a minute, industry bailouts can go from success to failure. All that is required is an oath-of-office ceremony.

Don’t get the idea that I think Obama has been a spectacular president. A Harry Truman, he is not. The buck clearly doesn’t stop at his desk. I think Obama has been a major disappointment as a leader on multiple levels. He has been a follower, not a leader, which, to me, has been and continues to be his greatest failure; his second greatest failure has been his focus on reelection. It sure would be nice to elect a president whose attitude was “America’s citizens first even if it means I don’t get reelected.”

I’m off track now, so let’s return to the subject at hand. If anyone can get an answer to my question — one that is really an answer and not some more pablum and one that is not semantical — I hope you’ll post it here. If the only answer we can get is a semantic one, then perhaps a few thousand whispers in Democrat ears to change the semantics of Obamacare would be appropriate to take the wind out of the Republican sails.

By the way — is anyone buying the Republican cry of Democrat distortion on the issue of Republican plans for Medicare? I find it amusing that Republicans consider Democrat characterizations of the Republican Plan as false and misleading but with the same forked tongue don’t consider Republican characterizations of Obamacare (remember, e.g., “death panels”) as false and misleading. Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

October 20, 2010

The Strangeness of Politics

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion,Politics — americaneditor @ 5:50 am
Tags: , , , , ,

In a recent New York Times article, “Stand Against Earmarks Grows Lonely as Home State Sees a Need,” it was noted that South Carolinians are upset with their conservative senator, Jim DeMint, because he isn’t supporting a request for $400,000 of federal taxpayer money to conduct a feasibility study on the dredging of the Port of Charleston, which if feasible, would lead to a further request for federal taxpayer funds of up to $250 million to actually do the work. It seems that South Carolinians are willing to accept federal money when they are willing to accept federal money. Seems to me that South Carolinians want it both ways, which, of course, the rest of us would like as well, but which seems to me to negate the idea of the United States being a single nation.

Although I am what DeMint would characterize as a liberal, which is anyone a smidgen or more to the left of Jim DeMint, I have to applaud him for taking a principled stand — he is against earmarks, period! — something many of his coconservatives are not when it comes to getting handouts. Usually they want the handouts but without any strings attached. (And this is not to say that liberals are any less desirous of either handouts or restriction-free handouts — they aren’t! You can take the politics out of the money, but you can’t take the money out of the politics.)

South Carolina is opposed — adamantly — to federal bailouts and handouts, especially to items like mandatory health insurance that could benefit all U.S. citizens — except when they are not, which is hard to predict when that will be. I think South Carolinians should lead the way and simply refuse any and all federal money. This would tell the rest of us that they truly do mean what they say.

But with the recent revelations about the problems with the mortgage foreclosure documents, I wonder how quickly conservative and Tea Party tunes will change should there be a sudden raft of major bank failures that affect their pocketbooks? Bank of America, for example, has dealings with nearly half of Americans. Should it collapse, a lot of currently wealthy people would find themselves wealth-less. And retirees, who are a large portion of the Tea Party movement, would be in trouble as the ripple of such a colossal failure spread. Relying on having an FDIC insured account is problematic because the FDIC doesn’t have enough capital to cover that size failure without further government borrowing, which, of course, we just know Jim DeMint and the Tea Partyers would vehemently oppose, preferring to have all of their wealth disappear in the collapse.

Some economists, including conservative ones, say that the latest banking fiasco could result in a bigger financial crisis for the banks than the subprime bubble burst. Which makes me wonder —

Should we see a bank like Bank of America start to topple as a result of this latest crisis, will the conservatives and the Tea Partyers stick to their principles and filibuster any proposed bailout of the banks? I admit I’m not an economist or much of a financial expert, but even I can see that if banks like JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America are allowed to fail, there are going to be a lot of formerly rich Republicans and Tea Partyers wondering what happened.

Of course, it would be an appropriate payback to all those corporations who are donating nondisclosed millions to the rollback-the-regulation candidates should their supporters let them fail. Isn’t it strange that the big Wall Street firms who were shored up by Democrat officeholders are now spending millions to kick the Democrats out. Grateful the bankers aren’t!

If the Congress swings to the right as expected, here are a few bits of legislation that the new right-wing majority should introduce: legislation to

  1. eliminate all Congressional pay raises until the budget has been balanced for at least 5 consecutive years and the national debt has been fully retired;
  2. do away with all taxpayer-funded medical and retirement benefits for all members of Congress and their spouses and families;
  3. return America to the days of the founding fathers by eliminating the filibuster — it isn’t in the Constitution — and bringing back majority rule.

There is nothing more impressive than seeing our leaders truly lead. And the cry to follow the intent of our founding fathers should be honored in the practice by recreating their work conditions. After all, they couldn’t have foreseen air conditioning, so certainly wouldn’t have considered spending taxpayer money on it to be constitutional — I see no air conditioning clause in the Constitution or even in the Federalist Papers. Perhaps if Congress had to work in the swelter of Washington without air conditioning, there would be less pompousness and more getting the people’s work done.

I grant that this seems silly, but it seems no sillier to me than the idea that we should revert to what the founders thought, especially when the founders weren’t of one voice on any topic, but were of hundreds of voices on every topic. The only single voice the founders had was that of compromise — they realized, which the “party of no” doesn’t seem to grasp, that the art of nation building is really the art of compromise. To their chagrin, the founders learned that confederation (remember the Articles of Confederation?) really doesn’t work and so compromised a different approach, the Constitution, which has worked — so far.

Compromise is the one lesson that Congress and the Supreme Court are in desperate need of learning, as are the South Carolinians who put out their hand to take but not to give. This disease — the lack of compromise — breeds the strangeness of modern American politics, which would even have been strange to the founding fathers as much as it is to the average citizen today. We all compromise everyday as part of our daily lives — unless we are politicians who can reap taxpayer largess while not accomplishing anything.

And if compromise really galls the Tea Partyers and the Jim DeMints of the American political scene, then I offer this bromide: Lead us to salvation by voluntarily giving up your Medicare, your Social Security, your exorbitant congressional pay and benefits. Be austere in your own lives first; go without medical insurance and demonstrate how the free market will take care of all your needs without government intervention. I, for one, am willing to be convinced that you are right; I just want to see you lead by example rather than by decree and platitude.

July 29, 2010

November’s Around the Corner, Yet Here We Go Again

Filed under: Politics — americaneditor @ 5:11 am
Tags: , , , , ,

The campaign season has gotten into gear. Here in New York State, we are still in budget crisis yet our politicians want us to reelect them. The irony is that most of them will be reelected even though most voters think the politicians should be kicked out.

What really gripes me is that yesterday the state legislators were called into special session, costing us taxpayers $100,000, and what did they do? They pledged their allegiance to the U.S. flag, had the call into special session read to them, and then adjourned. Nothing was discussed, nothing debated, but we taxpayers owe them another $100,000.

To top that off, I was annoyed last evening with a “research” telephone call regarding the state senate race in my district. The caller identified themselves as a pollster and asked if I would participate. So far, so good. Then the questions came. Only an idiot wouldn’t have seen through the smokescreen. It wasn’t really a poll; it was a fake poll designed to boost the incumbent and deflate his challenger. The questions were so biased toward the incumbent, I finally asked for the pollster’s complete contact information, at which point the polling stopped and the pollster hung up.

Politics has always been a dirty game. When I read about the election contests at the birth of our nation, it is clear they were as riddled with fabrications as today’s campaigns, and equally as dirty. Subsequent campaigns were no better.

The fault is that of the voter, so I stand up and accept my share of the blame. First, we allowed politics to become a permanent occupation. Why should any officeholder be allowed to be elected to an office more than a couple of times? We talk about the Kennedy seat, the Rangel seat, the XYZ seat, but never about the people’s seat. Was Ted Kennedy entitled to the seat? Or how about Robert Byrd? Charlie Rangel’s ethical problems are a result of his character and his district’s constantly reelecting him without question.

Second, we always believe that the politicians are doing us dirty as citizens — not necessarily a wrong belief — but then reelect our politicians. It is always someone else’s politician who is doing us dirty. It’s pretty hard to thrown stones when you live in a glass house yourself. It was recently reported that 70% of Americans think Congress is doing a horrendous job and all those up for reelection this November should be voted out of office. Then they were asked whether they intended to vote for their current incumbent, and slightly more than half said yes. What it means is that 434 Representatives and 98 Senators are ruining America but our 3 aren’t. Mr. Smith went to Washington in fantasyland, not in real America!

Third, we have created a culture in which our politicians believe they are entitled to everything they can get. How many of us have health insurance plans that equal or surpass that of our Congressperson, both in coverage and in cost? How about our retirements? And no need to go that far — what about our incomes. If it is true that fewer than 5% of American households have incomes greater than $250,000, why is it that so many congressional households are in that plateau? Perhaps if Mitch McConnell had to stand in an unemployment line he would understand the need to extend unemployment benefits. Perhaps if congresspersons had no health insurance coverage at taxpayer expense, they would better understand the need to do something about the problem; maybe they would recognize that it is a problem.

Which brings me to my last frustration with politicians (well, the last for this article; I’ve got a whole list more): Why is it we can afford billions upon billions of dollars for foreign wars, unusable/unwanted weapons systems, aid to foreign countries, pork-barrel projects, and tax cuts and special tax legislation that do not demonstrably bring jobs to Americans, but we cannot afford better healthcare, better education, and to feed, clothe, and shelter every American reasonably? I’m not suggesting, for example, that our military doesn’t deserve a lot of its budget or that a congressperson’s pork for a local children’s museum isn’t a good thing; rather, I want to understand the underlying thinking that rarely ever addresses budgetary deficit resolution with these things in mind. Yet, we voters tolerate that thinking, if not outright endorse it.

Which brings me to my voter frustration. We voters tend to focus on a specific, narrow issue when deciding for whom to cast our vote. A neighbor who is significantly underemployed and has had to put his house up for sale is solely focused on the candidates’ Second Amendment positions. He will vote for the candidate who he thinks will best promote his right to own and use guns without restrictions. I don’t dispute that to him it is an important issue, but THE issue? He doesn’t care about any other issue, just that one issue. It is more important to him than issues about funding schools for his children to attend, supporting the food pantry where he occasionally goes to supplement his larder, healthcare in light of his loss of coverage because of his sporadic work in this economy, and matters of his retirement, which isn’t many years away, and future employment prospects.

I guess politicians are simply a reflection of the voters — neither seem to be able to look at the big picture and act on it for the benefit of all. I get so tired of hearing a politician say it is good for her constituents even if it is a disaster for all the rest of the country so she is supporting it. I’m not sure America isn’t more divided today than it was in 1861; I am sure that politicians and voters haven’t evolved any since then.

June 3, 2010

None of the Below: An Election Blessing

I live in the most politically dysfunctional state in America — New York. In my state, there is really only one truism: if it is good for the citizens, the legislature will not enact it; if it is good for the politicians, they will.

As the November elections get closer, I become more irate with the political process. With a lot of hoopla and expectations, Andrew Cuomo has been nominated for governor. So far, he has had exactly one good, solid idea — call a constitutional convention and rewrite New York’s anti-citizen constitution. Now if Rick Lazio, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, would join this call, there might be hope.

Of course, this was tried in the 1960s and failed — the politicians and special interests convinced the citizens to vote no on the proposed reforms, and like good sheep, we did. Perhaps this time would be different — assuming the politicians muster the courage to call for a convention and the delegates are ordinary citizens not politicians.

There is one major reform I would like to see: the “none-of-the-below” ballot option. I am tired of professional politicians, people whose only interest is in preserving their own jobs regardless of the cost to those whom they purportedly represent. I’m even more tired of New York’s faux part-time legislature that receives more than full-time pay. Consequently, I propose a new election system.

My proposal would begin, as is done today, with each political party nominating its candidate for a political office. The ballot would list each party-nominated candidate and affiliation but at the very top of the ballot would be the option — in extralarge letters — NONE OF THE BELOW.

Now here’s where it gets good — at least good for the citizens. If “None of the Below” gets the most votes — even if it is just a plurality — “None of the Below” wins. The consequence is that none of the party-named candidates who were on the ballot can be on the ballot again in this election cycle.

How do we get new candidates? If the election is for a county-level office or lower, anyone, regardless of political affiliation or independent status can be self-nominated by a petition signed by 3% of the county’s population (if it is a city, town, or village office, it would be by 3% of the city, town, or village’s population). A candidate for an office at a level higher than the county level, would need signatures equalling 1% of the population that the particular office covered; for example, if it is a statewide office like governor, 1% of the state’s population would have to endorse the candidate. If it was a congressional district, it would be 1% of the population of that district.

A petition-nominated candidate would have to declare any party affiliation (if the candidate is a party member) or list him- or herself as independent (nonaffiliated). The political parties would not be permitted to run a party-nominated or party-endorsed candidate — the parties had their exclusive run and lost to “None of the Below.”

To move things along, a special website would be created where potential candidates could list themselves and where people willing to “sign” their petition would go to sign it. There would be no door-to-door or street corner petitions to sign; it would all be done electronically and petition signers would be permitted to sign only one petition for a particular office. The nomination process would be open for 7 days.

Once the nomination process closed, an electronic ballot would be created within 3 days and the first-round vote held online within 30 days after that. Candidates would have 30 days to campaign. Unless a single candidate received at least 50.1% of the votes cast in the first round, all candidates would be removed from the ballot except the top 2 candidates who would face each other in a runoff. Again, the balloting would occur 30 days from the first-round balloting, thus limiting the final 2 candidates to 30 days of campaigning.

The winner of this second-round vote would be elected to office.

The advantage to this system is that it would empower the citizens and decrease the power of special interest groups, including self-serving politicians. The established parties and the special interest groups would have the first crack at electing a candidate, but if they fail, the general citizenry takes over. With the uncertainty as to who would make it to the final round, and the limited campaign time, it would be difficult for the special interests to muster their forces behind a particular candidate — not impossible, just difficult. Consequently, their influence would be reduced.

More importantly, it would also give independents and disaffected party members an opportunity to nominate candidates who don’t owe their success to the political parties — candidates who, hopefully, would be more responsive to constituent needs than to special interest needs. And it would make it easier for unhappy citizens to remove office holders. Now it is almost impossible when one party renominates the incumbent and the other party has difficulty finding a good party member to run against the incumbent.

This plan also has the bonus that once a candidate is rejected, the candidate doesn’t get an immediate second chance. The citizens rejected the candidate once, which should be sufficient. It is this feature that I particularly like, because it will mean that an incumbent who wants to be reelected will need to pay less attention to special interest groups and more to constituents to strengthen his or her chances of getting elected on the first ballot.

It seems to me that this would be a good way to flush the dysfunction and special interests out of New York’s politics and reempower the citizens. Perhaps New York would become a good place to live. I know the plan has its problems and needs refinement, but even if enacted as outlined here, it has to be better than what New Yorkers currently suffer with.

May 19, 2010

On Words: Politics, Political, and Their Progeny

Okay, I know this is dangerous territory, but I heard a speech by Robert Reich recently in which he amused his audience by defining the origins of politics. Professor Reich noted that poli is from the Greek polis and polites, or city and citizen, respectively, and that tics are blood-sucking insects. Although I found his definition amusing, and perhaps a bit accurate in our current state of political partisanship, I began to think about politics, political, and their various progeny. So here goes a look at the words and a political rant.

One source says politic is a late Middle English word derived from the Old French politique, via Latin from the Greek politikos. A different source traces its roots to a borrowing in 1427 from the Middle French politique. In the end, the birth is the same — from the Latin politicus and the Greek politikos.

But deviant forms also appeared. Politician appears to have been coined in 1588 and meant a shrewd person (and today we might mean a shrew person). One year later the meaning had morphed to a person skilled in politics. And today, when we say someone is a political animal, we can thank Aristotle and a translation from the Greek of his words politikon zoon, whose literal meaning was “an animal intended to live in a city.” Interestingly, polecat, a possible term of endearment for a politician, doesn’t have the same roots as politics.

Politics as the science and art of government dates from the 16th century. Political science first appeared in 1779 in the writings of David Hume. Political appeared in 1551 and was the English formation, believed to have its roots, again, in the Latin politicus with the addition of the English al. Politics is one of those few words that is both singular and plural, depending on context and usage.

In American English, politician originally was a noun that referred to the white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus). In Wilson’s American Ornithology (v. II, p. 166) published 1804, the vireo was described as: “This bird builds a very neat little nest…of…bits of rotten wood,…pieces of paper, commonly newspapers,…so that some of my friends have given it the name of the Politician.” Could this have been the first linking of rotten and politician? (Okay, perhaps a bit harsh.) In 1844, Natural History repeated Wilson’s association. And it was repeated again in 1917 in Birds of America.

In 1914 the Cyclopedia of American Government defined political bargain as “an agreement, usually corrupt, between contending political factions or individuals….” Seems like nothing has changed in 100 years.

Today, politician and political are simply synonyms for stalemate, for corruption, and for abuse. Alright, that’s cynical, but I’m tired of politics and politicians as usual because that is what it generally amounts to — the grinding to a halt of the country’s business to satisfy the egos of those who wield the political power and those who can buy it — especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has given license to unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns. I can see it now: Goldman Sachs will spend $500 million — probably 1 day’s profits — to buy the next Congress, against which my paltry $500 contribution will be like a single grain of sand thrown at the Rock of Gibraltar as my attempt to influence the crumbling of the Rock.

America is quickly becoming the land of the extremes, a place where centrists, which is what most of us are, wield little to no influence, and a land where doublespeak is the language of the day. (I’m still waiting for my Tea Party neighbors who rail against socialized medicine to give up their Medicare [can I suggest a Burn Your Medicare Card rally?]. The day I see that happen will be the first day I really believe that the Tea Party is a semi-honest political movement. Until then it looks like a “me first and only” movement.)

Group greed is what seems to move America today. In my local school budget vote, my city’s school budget was soundly defeated by a 3:1 margin. I admit that for the first time in my life I voted against a school budget — and that’s a lot of votes cast over many years. The final straw was when the teachers refused to make any sacrifice whatsoever, claiming that they needed their raises and continued free benefits because their living costs have been rising. Are they so naive as to think no one else’s living costs have also been rising, that they are unique?

I know that in reality nothing has changed. Today’s group greed is the same as yesterday’s, only the groups have changed. But somewhere someone besides me must recognize the lack of equilibrium between lower taxes and maintaining or increasing government services. Something has to give. It’s like the demand for electricity to power our summer air conditioners — we want more without brownouts but we don’t want to build the infrastructure to provide more; we want less reliance on foreign oil but we want ever larger and powerful automobiles; we want our children to breathe clean air but we oppose cap-and-trade legislation.

Makes me wonder who the children really are!

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