Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Last Post from a Party of One

It has been a little more than 16 years since I loaded up my first post on Room Eight, a group blog, after being asked to do so by Ben Smith, then of the New York Observer, later of the Daily NewsPoliticoBuzzfeed, the New York Times, and now something else.  At the time Tom Suozzi was running for Governor, but every special interest in the state had gotten together and decided to make Eliot Spitzer Governor, and they demanded that Suozzi drop out so an actual election could be avoided.  But that would have meant that those who agreed with Suozzi would not have had a chance to express themselves by voting.  Suozzi did the right thing, stayed in, and lost.  Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal sometime later.

Suozzi has won and lost a variety of elections for a variety of offices in the years since, until once again running for Governor this year.  And once again all the special interests got together and decided whom to appoint as Governor and as state legislators, and once again demanded that Suozzi drop out to avoid an election, even monkeying with the dates to ensure as few people voted in the primary as possible.  Once again Suozzi defied them, stayed, in and lost.  Once again this was the right thing to do.  You take your shot, speak your piece, and when you lose, you lose.

That could the theme for this blog too.  Because after 16 years of rowing into a social tsunami, and shouting into a social hurricane, I find I know longer have the heart and energy to keep grinding out what are, in effect, research reports in my spare time, while also working full time doing something very similar.  This will be my last post for the foreseeable future, and quite possibly ever.  It explains why I have done this, and why I will now stop.

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Inflation and Asset Prices:  I’m Tired of the Whining

When it comes to state and local government in New York, the primary subject of this blog, it is now reasonable to be unreasonable.  Because after decades of being reasonable and fair minded, willing to pay more in taxes and accept less in services while being supportive of the “heroes,” we find that we have been robbed and robbed and robbed.  Things have gone so far that demanding more, and demanding that we pay less, including a demand that the State of New York, City of New York, and related agencies declare bankruptcy — and shirk their obligations to those who have shirked their obligations to us — is now a fair-minded thing to so.  And the reverse – expecting that we’ll be forced to pay and pay and pay even more, while getting less and less and less in exchange, and be required to provide what used to be public services for ourselves, bike riding instead of transit, homeschooling co-ops instead of schools, neighborhood watches instead of police – is now the sensible thing for those who choose to live here.

On the other hand, with regard to the current whining about inflation, in general and with regard to specific goods and services, and decreasing asset prices, I have the opposite attitude.  What seems to be happening is that those who benefitted from their own past inflation, for decades, at the expense of those (people, groups of people, generations, industries) left poorer and facing personal deflation, now find that the serfs, and the lowest-wage workers in particular, have briefly gotten a little more at their expense.  And demand that something be done – by force through the government, rather than through voluntary action by themselves in the marketplace — to restore the natural order of things.

Question:   did the super-rich, today’s seniors – the richest in history, those working in industries that have been raising prices far faster than the average for decades, existing homeowners that bought their houses decades ago at far lower prices, and the political/union class in places such as New York, ever, during the past four decades, really concern themselves with those who have been facing personal deflation to offset their own personal inflation?  Those who were being left further behind so those cutting the deals could get further ahead?  The average later-born worker, and the lowest wage workers in particular, have been falling behind overall inflation, compared with those at the top and the generations that preceded them, for decades.  Yet only now, when the self-dealing winners of the past four decades are paying more, that is a national crisis that requires drastic measures?   And if an economic era is now ending, is that really a bad thing?  Bad for whom?

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For Guns, My Neighborhood is a “Sensitive Area”

The Supreme Court, while also having ruled that abortion is up to the states, nonetheless ruled that regulations for carrying firearms are not up the states.  Someone other than a complete cynic might had expected a little more consistency one way or the other, though one might say the new inconsistency is a mirror image of the old one.   

The court seems not to care about the difference between a firearm (or bomb or chemical, biological or nuclear weapon) on one hand, and a knife, sword, club or baseball bat on the other.  If someone uses a knife, sword, club or baseball bat to defend themselves – or just swings them around to feel macho and intimidating – they are not likely to kill or injure someone they did not intend.  Whereas volley of bullets from a firearm – shot at someone in self-defense, just popped off for the fun of it, or set off by accident — can travel a long distance and strike unintended targets.  The likelihood of firearms killing or injuring people those carrying it did not intend, but didn’t really care to avoid, depends on the density of people at a given time and location.

Immediately there has been a reaction that the upper middle class suburbs must be protected.  Those who live in private, gated communities, ride in private SUVs to private parking lots at private shopping centers or office parks, and work out at private health and recreation facilities, should be able to do so without fear that some depressed, angry hot head who is locked and loaded (and perhaps also loaded), might get into a dispute and start shooting.

Hochul…said she also wants to “create a system where the default position is for a private business that a concealed carry is not allowed unless they affirmatively offer the right to someone to come in with a concealed carry.”

Or be harassed in other ways.  The private property owners, in suburban and Sunbelt America, have a right to set rules.  The public in urban America does not.

I have a different suggestion.

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The DeBlasio and Cuomo Administrations:  Leadership

Governments enact rules to force people to do and not do things, or force them to pay taxes and use the money to do things for them.  You have the political power, the monopoly of legitimate violence, and the economic power, using incentives to made it harder to do one thing and easier to do another.  That’s public policy.  But what about all the choices people make in their own lives, with regard to how to live, how to live with each other, and how to act in society?  This can be influenced through leadership.

In a democratic society a politician is not the leader, the way they are in a totalitarian society. But a politician could be aleader, one of many.   At one time, in addition to elected officials, Americans looked to poets, preachers and priests, philoseophers and artists for direction.  At one time even architects and city planners aspired to leadership, creating buildings and communities that facilitated a certain lifestyle and society.  And then there were parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, back when more people spent their lives nestled in a large web of family relationships. Not anymore.  

But that doesn’t mean that people, most of whom don’t really figure things out for themselves, aren’t being led and influenced.  Celebrities and paid influencers have taken the place of the prior sources of leadership.  Who is providing meaning and direction in people’s lives?  Who is deciding what it means to live a good life, or to be a good community?  The advertising industry, which means that a good life ends up costing more and more and more for people who have (in inflation-adjusted dollars) been paid less and less, generation by generation.  Did Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio try provide an alternative?  Not really.

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America on Its Knees Thanks to Generation Greed, McMansions and SUVs

One reason for the war in Ukraine, and perhaps many others to come, is the perception on the part of autocrats that the United States is a nation in decline.  They are right, and it isn’t something that has happened in the last year.  It is something that has happened in the last 40 years.  Four decades of cashing in the future to make things easier in the present, four decades of making those generations born before 1958 the priority compared with those born after.  As a result the United States is deep in debt, and dependent on others to keep lending us more and more money to buy things we can no longer make ourselves and, given falling average pay, can no longer afford.  And the U.S. and its allies are collectively dependent on fossil fuels under the control of autocrats.

That’s why the U.S. has been bogged down in the Middle East for two generations.  And it is why economic sanctions against Russia are so weak.   A stronger country would be telling Russia and, if needed, China, you want to overthrow democratic regimes?  Fine.  You are cut off from the rest of us economically until that stops, and we’ll figure out a way to make things work.  But apparently, we can’t do that.  Sending someone else’s children off to fight and perhaps get killed or crippled in a war?  Maybe.  Gasoline at $5.00 a gallon?  Interest rates at 5 percent?  Please Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi, Al Qaeda and Isis, we surrender!

The theory of sanctions is that the U.S. can wage an economic war in order to avoid the catastrophe of a military war, without surrendering.  But the last time an American leader called for economic sacrifice – when Jimmy Carter said that conservation and the pursuit of alternative energy was the moral equivalent of war — he was turned out of office.  

Carter, who had fought in WWII, was out of step with the generations that have dominated this country politically and economically, in their own short-term self-interest, ever since his administration.  When George W. Bush, in the wake of 9/11, said that Americans should show their patriotism by borrowing money, cashing in savings, and going shopping – that was more like it.

In this post I’ll give examples of what a more capable country waging the moral equivalent of war might actually do.  And what individual Americans, if they wanted to, could do themselves.

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Medicaid by State and Age Group in FY 2019:  Curiouser and Curiouser

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid no longer provides state-level data on Medicaid expenditures and beneficiaries by age group, but it does provide state-level data on enrollment, expenditures, and expenditure per enrollee by “basis of eligibility.”  Spending per enrollee isn’t as good as spending per beneficiary in analyzing how much is being charged by the health care industry, because expenditure per enrollee is affected by the number of people enrolled who do not currently require expensive care.  And basis of eligibility is not as good as more detailed age groups, but it at least does provide separate data for children (under 18), non-disabled adults (18 to 64), seniors (65 and over), and disabled adults and children.  

When I looked at the per enrollee New York State data for FY 2019, however, I found it was reported to be far below the level of 2018, and even below the U.S. average for children and non-disabled adults.


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COVID-19 Deaths By Race:  It Would Seems That Somebody Has Done Something About Racial Justice

The COVID-19 pandemic has gone on for so long, it’s almost hard to remember the ambush phase of the epidemic in early 2020, nearly two years ago.  At the time the ambush was centered in Wuhan, a few cities in Spain, a few cities in northern Italy – and metropolitan New York.  At the time there were not only no vaccines, but also no masks, and hospital workers were forced to keep re-using the same masks and wearing garbage bags in place of hospital gowns. 

And at the time, here in Metro New York, deaths were disproportionately concentrated among Blacks and Hispanics.  I remember seeing a media image of all the NYPD employees who had been killed by the disease.  It was almost all brown faces, something I know is not indicative of the composition of the NYPD as a whole.  Why?  Poverty?  City of New York public employees are not poor.  Lack of access to health care?  City of New York public employees have the best health care of anyone, aside from $billionaires who can pay for it on their own.  There was some discussion that those whose ancestors came from sunnier climes don’t make enough vitamin D when living farther north, and vitamin D deficiency made Covid-19 worse.  Others believed the answer was obvious – it’s because White people are racists.

Now it is almost two years later, and I happened to click on the Demographics Trends tab to the left on the COVID-19 Data Tracker page on the Centers for Disease Control website.

Things have certainly changed.  And it could be argued that Republican politicians and conservative influencers and media, deserve the credit – or the blame, depending on how you look at it.

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Needed To Save Democracy:  A Way to Throw the Bastards Out Without Putting the Other Bastards In

According to The Economist magazine.

Roughly 40% of the politically active say that members of the other tribe are evil; 60% believe they are a threat to the country. More than 80% think the system needs “major changes” or “complete reform”.

I have good news for politically active Democrats and Republicans.  I agree with them, and have for decades.

Not because I have been convinced of their opposite’s evil by politically active Democrats and Republicans.  I believe they are completely focused on their tribalist, culture war issues as extensions of their own egos.  And are completely beholden to the interest groups that back them – sometimes both of them – and have been therefore allowed to use the power of government to pillage the future of country, and the later-born people who will live in it, in exchange.  And not because I pay any attention to the media that makes money by pandering to their views, repeating their propaganda, and whispering sweet nothings to power.  I have never had cable TV, or been on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  I fact, these days the only national and international news sources I trust are those from outside the United States.

Rather, I see them as evil and a threat to the country because I have observed what the two political parties, when given the chance, have actually done, and how that has actually affected regular people just living their lives.  And have become increasingly disappointed.

So does that mean I’m opposed to the two-party system?  What two party system?  If a large share of the electorate is so brainwashed that they are unwilling to vote for the other party no matter what their own party does to them locally, and the members of either one party or another are concentrated in large areas of the country, then there is, in reality, a one-party system.  And that party, and the special interests that back it, know that they can get away with anything, with zero accountability from either the voters or the media.  The Democrats (especially in New York) and Republicans (in other states and at the national level) have, therefore, become irreformable.  The only way out is from outside them entirely.

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All Tribalists Are Bastards

Former President Donald Trump promised to “Make America Great Again,” implying that it used to be great, but wasn’t anymore.  Former President Barack Obama said in response that as far as he was concerned, America was great right now.  Former New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said that America was never that great, and isn’t great now.

Each was saying what they believed certain political supporters wanted to hear.  Governor Cuomo was saying what Democrats in New York wanted to hear.  Who was right?

I believe that the United States of America has been, and remains, a nation of great aspirations.  An aspiration to transcend the human tendency to aggregate in groups around some characteristic, and then be set against each other, and instead have different types of people share a society with mutual tolerance under a common set of laws.  And just because those aspirations were not fully achieved on July 5th, 1776 does not mean that ours is a worse society than those that never had such an aspiration to begin with.

And yet now you have politicians of both parties, and the media, using tribalism as a convenient explanation (for some an excuse) for our economic, social, political and psychological decline — after four decades of generational and interest group self-dealing and other sociopathic trends.  Using this base instinct to suppress the discussion of other issues, the search for other explanations, the raising of other questions.  Questions about generational inequities for example.  Or whether it has been fair for the executive/financial class and (in New York) the political/union class to take so much at the expense of everyone else.  Rather than face those questions, far better to have the serfs and the later born, to whom our institutions have less and less to offer and demand more and more in exchange for it, divided along tribalist grounds.  Since the self-dealers have had some success in that regard, a question has to be asked right now of every American.  Do you or do you not believe in the aspirations of the United States?  Do you even know what those are?

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“Defunding” the Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon Police

I recently read an article about the the controversy over “defunding” the Portland, Oregon police department.

Minneapolis has a measure on the ballot to eliminate its police department and replace it with something else that would include fewer police officers.

The debate over police funding is strictly tribalist, culture war, and fact free.  To the extent that the actual current level of police staffing is discussed at all, the police say they have staffing shortages, and the anti-police say there are too many police, but no one provides any numbers compared with other places and other times.  I happen to have those numbers – and comparable numbers for the U.S. average, New York City and other places– sitting on my computer and posted on my blog.  Does anybody care?

If so, read on.

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