Thursday, December 15, 2011

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Wall Street Endures

The Occupy Wall Street campaign is faltering, despite considerable public sympathy for the social issues which the protesters seek to publicize.

The pickets and other demonstrators focused on a seam of popular discontent at economic inequality in the United States, the difficulty people face in obtaining work, and the failure of wages to keep up with rising costs. The effects of the Great Recession, specifically people losing their jobs, their mortgaged homes and large portions of their 401(k)s, have left millions of Americans unhappy with their own economic situation and their prospects for the future.

Although there is widespread dissatisfaction with President Obama, the public holds Congress in even lower regard. Last month, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll, Congress registered a 9% approval rating, the worst in the legislative body's history since Americans were first surveyed on the subject in 1977. Although the President may have erred in reaching too far and, paradoxically, retreating too often, the Congressional followers of Rule 9-J, "Just Say No", have offered the American people next to nothing.

One improvement in civic discourse comes from the spread of C-Span and other programs dealing with public issues. We know more about our public officials than we did years ago. We can discern with they really mean, both from their choice of cliches and from their body language. When one strips the gibberish and the platitudes from the remarks of the lawmakers and the witnesses who testify before them, one can get a sense of what is actually going on in the minds of the players.

It is true that they speak in code; that is a convention of public discourse. If many of our representatives said in public what they actually believe, their careers would be terminated. We see how many entertainers, performers or talking hosts have lost their jobs because of words and phrases which are politically incorrect, or capable of offending any group of people, whether racial, religious, ideological or gender-linked. It was said to have started with Uncle Don back in the 1920's on WOR. In reality, this never happened, but it has been so widely told over the years that it has become part of our popular culture.

Speech can be offensive, and the characterization of a group because of the behavior of a small number of its members places an unwholesome and possibly dangerous strain on the fabric of a heterogeneous society. We now attempt to deal with this situation by defining certain abusive words as "hate speech" and penalizing the speaker.

As always, the responsible approach in marginal cases is to seek balance, with freedom exercised with responsibility. At my law school graduation, a quotation was read that I learned was coined by a professor in the 1930's and has been recited annually since that time. "You are ready to aid in the shaping and application of those wise restraints that make men free."

By substituting 'people' for the possibly suspect noun 'men', the sentence gains at least another century of useful life, unless another euphemism comes into fashion.

The unhappiness expressed by the demonstrators, pickets and campers at Zuccotti Park is by no means confined to one city, state, or region. It partly stems from the belief that government is too far removed from the people, or at least far from the people who are complaining. It is partly a reaction to the resentment expressed against the poor, the disabled and others who may receive public assistance or public (except military) employment. The distaste for public programs may (or may not) have some roots in ethnic or class antipathy.

Occupy Wall Street offers no particular solutions to the issues it raises. Making public services free or more easily available will increase the $15 trillion national debt and promote economic instability. Rich people have far more mobility than the poor, and can more easily move to tax havens. It is not uncommon, however to hear groups complaining but without practical solutions to the problems they address. Sometimes futility raises the intensity of the complaint.

We will watch closely as this grievance spreads or withers, along with the oncoming Presidential campaign. Our thought is that the race will be decided by the public judgments of millions of individuals, which will to some extent be intuitive and individually may be irrational, as to which candidate is a better person and which one will do a better job. Television brings the candidates closer to the people, and assuming that the candidates are roughly equivalent in ability and resources to deceive the public, something close to the truth may emerge from the welter of claims and denials. E pluribus unum, out of many one.

What happened on Wall Street is simply that people got tired of the act. Every Broadway show opens and closes; almost all politicians, as well as empires, rise and then decline. What begins as new and striking becomes familiar and eventually tiresome. This is particularly true when the participants are not particularly knowledgeable about what they are doing.

We predict that there will be other disturbances in the pre-election period, and that there will be an attempt to unify the left on a program, just as the Tea Party movement has to some extent organized the right. Time will tell which group gains strength, but one thing that any political movement needs is an agenda, which has not yet emerged from the left, while the right simply offers negativity.

Someone will be sworn in as President on Sunday, January 20, 2013. We hope the person will be able. You have probably never heard of him, but you should add Gary Johnson, the Republican former two-term governor of New Mexico, as a long-shot who should be considered, if these decisions were made on the merits rather than on media attention or scandal.

If Gary Johnson gets anywhere in 2012, remember that you read it first here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

After All, It Is a Park

City Moves on Zuccotti Occupiers

After Two Months' Acquiescence,

Next Round Will Be in Court

Last night, the city administration used its power to close down, at least temporarily, a street demonstration that had occupied Zuccotti Park, a previously uncelebrated 33,000-square-feet plot of choice Lower Manhattan real estate with trees and benches softening the skyscrapers surrounding it on three sides.

The Park is located on the west side of Broadway, between Cedar Street and Liberty Place, roughly two blocks north of Trinity Church, which is at the head of Wall Street. It is public open space, owned and maintained by Brookfield Properties and intended for passive recreation. It was created through a transaction in which Brookfield was permitted to build a substantially larger office building on the site. Mr. Zuccotti, a former first deputy mayor of New York City during the Beame administration, serves as the co-chairman of Brookfield, a Canadian company.

Zuccotti is a highly regarded public servant and a successful and innovative real estate executive. When the city was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1975, a principal demand of the business and civic communities was for his appointment as first deputy mayor, in effect the city's chief operating officer. His leadership helped to restore the reputation of city government, whose credibility had been seriously impaired as a result of misleading financial statements over the years, which concealed the city's failure to cope with deficits.

It is interesting that Zuccotti's name is more likely to be widely known for the two-month forcible occupation of the park designated to honor him than for the good works he accomplished for the city at a critical time in its history.

We must point out that today, in 2011, thirty-six years after that narrow escape from financial ruin, the city's position, although not so dire as it was in April 1975, when bankruptcy papers had been prepared by the law firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges to be filed in Federal Court, nonetheless conceals structural weaknesses. At this time, due to thirty years of relative fiscal restraint, the city is not as badly off as either the national government, with its $15 trillion public debt, the New York State government, which faces a $3.5 billion deficit in the upcoming fiscal year, or the euro zone, whose stability is widely regarded as precarious.

Unfortunately, there is no John Zuccotti on stage or in the wings today to deal with these fiscal problems. We must face these issues in the closing stage of a twelve-year mayoralty which largely avoided disaster and disrepute, and which initiated many worthwhile programs, particularly in health and housing, while being unable to eliminate the structural imbalance which has plagued city finances for over a generation.

While reserving for another time a discussion of the current mayoral candidates, we believe it is safe to say that none has demonstrated the stature or skills of a Zuccotti or a Felix Rohatyn, to cite two leaders of the past generation. As people criticize Mayor Bloomberg for various aspects of his persona, they should not forget the substantive achievements of his tenure or the relatively high quality of his appointments.

We will be fortunate if the next administration at City Hall is comparable in achievement to the current one. Political leaders are often more highly regarded after they have left office. Harry Truman epitomizes that history. The inevitable reassessment of the current administration is likely to start sooner than the Truman redemption. Our problem, however, is not with what will be Mayor Bloomberg's place in history, a position which will be measured in part in consideration of his enormous personal wealth, employed in the public's interest as well as his own.

The issue which will dominate the next two years in our municipal history is who the successor will be, and whether he or she will have the ability to deal with the daunting issues that still face the city. We have sounded the call that danger lies ahead, and it will take enormous effort and sacrifice to deal with the problems that have gravely impaired so many other places, both in this region and around the world. Time always gets shorter, and we should devote our abilities to a wide search for equitable solutions, because inaction leads to the aggravation of existing problems as the time to resolve them inevitably diminishes.

StarQuest #785 11.15.2011 714 words

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Where No Birds Sing

Governor Defers Budget Decisions,

Blames Volatility in World Markets

A widely used political metaphor is the canary in the mineshaft. The small yellow bird is said to be more sensitive to carbon monoxide and methane than human beings. Therefore, when poisonous gases accumulate in an enclosed underground area, the canary is reputedly the first creature to sense its toxic effects. This makes the bird a living smoke alarm, and signals miners and others to escape.

The canary warns of danger not by calls of alarm, but by their absence. Since canaries sing a great deal of the time, miners could read their silence as indicating that the birds were dead or dying, and that it was past time to flee. The concept of the canary in the mineshaft is used to describe a situation in which peril is perceived by a few, but is imminent for all.

The canary rule can be applied to financial situations, weather conditions, rising waters or other impending crises, physical or economic. The canary in the mineshaft provides an early warning of danger ahead. Theoretically, this avian warning information gives the authorities, or whoever has brought the canaries to the mine, the opportunity to take remedial action in an attempt to forestall the disaster that lies in wait if nothing is done.

Advance information is also a valuable asset in the business world. People have gone to jail for using it for their own benefit at the expense of others. The rules on this sometimes can be difficult to follow, although there are obvious cases where people (e.g. messengers or printers) have obtained information on the job about future transactions and used that knowledge for personal gain.

People who trade stocks and bonds make decisions based on their beliefs of what the market will do. Investment decisions should be made on the basis of the informed judgment of market professionals. It is logical that such judgments should be made, in part, on the basis of what other investors are doing. It is illegal, however, to be too well informed, and people can be prosecuted if they are caught at insider trading.

An opposite flaw in the dissemination of information is criticized in today's Post by E.J. McMahon. He observes that an important budget document is now more than ten days overdue. Every October 31 in New York State, the governor's Division of the Budget is supposed to issue a mid-year financial report, detailing the degree to which the state's real-world economic situation conforms to the projections laid out in the annual budget adopted by the legislature at the end of March.

In addition to tracking the state's actual tax revenues, which according to the comptroller's office are down by almost $400 million from the forecast numbers, the mid-year accounting is an important indicator of the "fiscal trends that will shape the next Executive Budget". It also provides a context to evaluate the budget requests made by each of the state agency heads, which were due this week.

Governor Cuomo explains his decision to delay the DOB's mid-year report, and, consequently, to postpone indefinitely the deadline for agency heads to submit their budget requests, as follows: "Between Greece and Europe and the stock market going up and down, there has been significant ... volatility. We want to make sure we have the best possible [projections], because we are going to start making real decisions based on this information."

The phrase "making real decisions" in government usually means firing people or shelving capital projects. Since the state has won major concessions from the unions in exchange for a no-layoff pledge, it will be more difficult to find areas in which expenditures can be substantially reduced.

Since it is unlikely that there will be a tide-turning economic recovery in the state in the next few months, the delay in submitting reports and budget requests will most likely mean that the reductions, when they come, will be sharper. This is a perennial situation; it recurs with monotonous and unsurprising regularity each budget cycle. The administration buys breathing room, but at a cost.

The next four and a half months will complete Fiscal Year 2011-2012. As the due date for the next budget approaches, the struggle to balance the budget, or to find a ruse to avoid a balanced budget, will intensify. Mandatory cost increases and a projected $2.4 billion budget gap will create an even more difficult situation for next year.

Some alleviation of the bad news may come from the fact that if the budget is so dire than reasonable people will not fault the governor for being unable to keep his commitments. However, Cuomo appears to be proud of his promises, and as a strong governor and potential national candidate, he is under closer scrutiny than some of his rivals.

We fear the silence of the canary. Muzzling or ignoring the bird may provide time to work on the problem, but it will not add any oxygen to the mineshaft.

StarQuest #784 11.10.2011 824 words

Friday, October 28, 2011

One Small Step

Pension Reform Agreed Upon,

But Will the Promises Be Kept?

By Henry J. Stern
October 28, 2011

The city's antiquated pension system has long been in need of streamlining and updating. The agreement reached yesterday by Mayor Bloomberg, Comptroller Liu and leading labor unions provides hope that 2012 will be a year of pension reform, but such hopes have previously arisen and been dashed on the rocks of political reality.

New York City employees have different pension plans, all under the management of the City Comptroller: the Employees' Retirement System (NYCERS), the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS), the Police Pension Fund Subchapter 2, the Fire Department Pension Fund Subchapter Two, and the Board of Education Retirement System (BERS). Each pension fund is financially independent of the others and has its own board of trustees, which include city officials and relevant union leaders. In general, the city and the unions have roughly equal authority over the funds.

Sometimes the city and union leaders work jointly on pension matters, while at others they are in disagreement, a difference largely based on the relationship between the mayor and the comptroller at the time.

Historically, the city's mayors and comptrollers have been at odds more often than they have been united. The comptrollership has been used as a stepping-stone for mayoral candidates and under those circumstances it is not uncommon for the mayor and the comptroller to disagree on issues.

The last comptroller, Bill Thompson, left office in 2009 after a close but unsuccessful effort to defeat Mayor Bloomberg's bid for a third term. The subsequently disgraced and convicted Alan Hevesi sought the mayoralty in 2001, but ran a poor fourth in the Democratic primary, losing to Mark Green, Freddy Ferrer and Peter Vallone, who all lost to Bloomberg.

Liz Holtzman was defeated for reelection as comptroller in the 1993 Democratic primary by Hevesi, who raised integrity issues against her. She never ran for mayor, but was defeated as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 1980 by Al D'Amato and in the 1992 Democratic Primary for Senate by Robert Abrams. Her predecessor as comptroller, Harrison J. Goldin, made a bid for the office in 1989, finishing fourth in the Democratic primary behind Richard Ravitch (3rd), incumbent mayor Ed Koch (2nd) and David Dinkins, the eventual mayoral winner. Goldin had succeeded Abe Beame, the only comptroller in City history to ascend to the mayoralty since Consolidation in 1898.

It is one thing for public officials to disagree on a policy issue, a frequent occurrence, but another to be in chronic dispute on questions of investment and expenditure of public funds, in situations in which the outcomes can result in financial gaps of millions of dollars in return on investments. The hydra-headed current system leads to such results.

The relationship between third-term mayor Mike Bloomberg and first-term comptroller John Liu has been particularly chilly. Although they cannot run against each other in 2013 they clearly have different visions as to what the city should do in the interim.

Liu has been in full-fledged campaign mode for the 2013 Democratic nomination for Mayor from the day he took office 22 months ago. His initial act was to publicly decline a mayoral invitation to lunch on his first day in office, which, though not substantial, set a tone of antagonism over a non-issue. There are other issues, great and small, where the two men have differed. One chronic bone of contention deals with the comptroller's issuing reports faulting the conduct of a mayoral agency. The press asks the mayor to respond, and he generally does.

Whatever justification for a particular dispute it seems clear that the mayor and the comptroller are often on opposite tracks in their judgment of the city's financial crisis and the way for it to dig itself out of the mess. The mayor sees the solution as based on reducing expenses and increasing renevue with an economy that gets better, while the comptroller believes the city can survive the recession by continuing to spend as it has done in the past.

Of course, all this may change in the next few months, since new economic data is constantly arising and influencing the stock market, corporate earnings, and tax receipts. The financial situation may improve, or deteriorate.

The tentative agreement reached yesterday between the mayor and the comptroller will require considerable fine-tuning in addition to approval by the State Legislature in Albany. It is by no means complete and dispositive of the main issues that have arisen. It does indicate a desire to reach common ground and the recognition that the city's urgent and continuing fiscal troubles require more savings to be made without endangering the pension system.

Some watchers believe that the decisions announced yesterday are not real, but a paper gloss over a more severe situation designed to buy a few months breathing room in which city and state officials will work out a more comprehensive reform. Of course, if the financial situation improves over the next several months to the extent that these measures will not be fully required, so much the better.

The working agreement announced yesterday will require the relinquishment of some authority by the comptroller, who now possesses almost plenary authority in making investment decisions for the $120 billion that remains in the city's pension accounts. It is a rare for public officials to spontaneously limit their authority in any way, unless they are required to do by law enforcement or other external authorities.

Liu has been under fire in the press in recent weeks for alleged fundraising irregularities, including taking campaign contributions from certain donors under the name of others in order to increase the amount of matching funds he would receive from the city's Campaign Finance Board. If he made concessions as the result of current political weakness, it remains to be seen whether he will adhere to them when his own situation improves.

It should always be remembered that every high political office is but a few steps from the grand juries' chambers in the county court houses. The higher one rises in the system, the more vulnerable one is to accusations of various types of misconduct.

The trouble is, as we say in Rule 32, that some of the charges are likely to be true.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spirit of '76

How Do We Get
Better Leaders?

Today is the fifth day of fall in the year 2011. The political calendar has however raced ahead. We are in the midst of the 2012 Presidential campaign, and the 2013 Mayoral race is already under way.

This acceleration of political competition is due in part to campaign finance laws, which require reporting of contributions far in advance of the election. Candidates are judged by the media and the public by the amount of money they have raised. It is therefore in the interest to collect as much as they can as soon as they can.

A political action committee supporting women candidates calls itself "Emily's List", the acronym standing for 'early money is like yeast', which means that it helps the cake rise, hopefully so people will donate when campaigns begin and encourage others to do the same. Gender-based organizations may encounter problems when two candidates with the same reproductive system seek the same office, but Emily's List makes the selection process less burdensome by limiting its support to pro-choice Democrats.

Under current law, there are political action committees for both major parties and for independents. Their ability to raise funds and donate to candidates may ultimately be determined by the Supreme Court of the Unite States. At present, there is some uncertainty as to the effect of the Citizens United decision of December 2010, which overturned nearly a century of precedents by ruling that corporate spending on elections could not be limited, based on the court's expansive reading of the First Amendment. Precedents seem less important where there is a political agenda. See Bush v. Gore (2000).

Individuals have the right to contribute as much as they wish to candidates under the Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo (1976). Today we will discuss other events in that memorable year in our history, the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.


BTW, the Buckley in the Valeo case is not the author William F. Buckley, who ran for Mayor in 1965, but his brother James, who was a United States Senator from New York at the time of the High Court's decision. James had been elected on the Conservative Party line in 1970, when the liberal vote was divided between Democrat Richard Ottinger, a Congressman, and Republican-Liberal Charles Goodell, who had been appointed to the Senate in 1968 by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to fill the vacancy caused by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Senator Goodell had five sons, one of whom is Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League.

After one six-year term, Senator Buckley was defeated for re-election by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democratic-Liberal candidate. After leaving the Senate, Buckley was appointed by President Reagan as Undersecretary of State for International Security Affairs (where he succeeded Matthew Nimetz) and Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (where he was succeeded by John G. Roberts, Jr.).

Moynihan had narrowly won the Democratic primary in a race which featured three candidates from the party's left wing: Congresswoman Bella Abzug, former City Council President Paul O'Dwyer and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Abe Hirschfeld, a garage magnate later imprisoned for the criminal solicitation of a hit man to kill his former business partner, ran fifth. After his release from prison, he ran again for the Senate.

Under the New York State Election Law, political parties are required to nominate candidates before Primary Day. The minor parties, therefore, must make their choices before the major parties. The Liberal Party could not foresee who would win the Democratic primary for the Senate. The identity and philosophy of the Democratic nominee would be a major factor in determining whom the Liberals would choose. It was therefore necessary to select a candidate who could withdraw after the primary. The law provided only three paths to withdrawal: death of the candidate, moving out of the State of New York, or nomination for a judicial office. It was therefore desirable to nominate a lawyer, who would be able to depart from the race honorably and safely if circumstances warranted a substitution.

At that time, I was City Councilmember at Large from Manhattan, and the only elected Liberal in the state. I was asked to be the Senate candidate and, of course, accepted. When Pat Moynihan won the Senate primary, the Liberal Party found a candidate it could proudly support, and I was nominated by the party for the New York State Supreme Court, an office that had always been filled by major party nominees. What would have happened if Bella Abzug had defeated Moynihan is a question that will never be answered. Alex Rose, leader of the Liberal Party, died in December 1976. However, even if Ms. Abzug had received the Liberal nomination, she might have lost to Senator Buckley. Moynihan defeated Buckley by about 585,000 votes. He was considered a moderate liberal and appealed to a broader range of voters than Ms. Abzug. Of course, no one can be certain with regard to hypothetical contests.

The determining event in that primary was the New York Times' last-minute support for Moynihan, a decision made by publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger (not the present publisher, but his father) to over-rule the editorial board, which had supported Ms. Abzug. That was an extremely important choice, because Senator Moynihan, who had been U.S. Representative to the United Nations and had advised four Presidents (two Democrats and two Republicans) was re-elected three times and enjoyed an extraordinary reputation. Moynihan retired in 2000 and was succeeded by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served until she resigned in 2009 to become Secretary of State.

Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear. The other New York Senate seat was occupied successively by Jacob K. Javits, four terms, 1957-81; Alfonse D'Amato, three terms, 1981-99; and Charles E. Schumer, 1999 to the present. The seat Moynihan held was held, as we have noted by, James Buckley, Charles Goodell and Robert F. Kennedy, who defeated Kenneth Keating, a Rochester Republican congressman. FYI, years ago, New York was considered a Republican state.

The governor in 1976 was the late Hugh Carey (Rockefeller had become Vice President under Ford). The state comptroller was Arthur Levitt, a Democrat who served from 1955 to 1978 (six four-year terms), longer than anyone else in the history of the office. The attorney general was Louis J. Lefkowitz, a Republican, who also had the longest tenure in that position, 1957 to 1979 (five and one half terms). Lefkowitz succeeded Jacob Javits, also born on the Lower East Side, who resigned as AG when he was elected to the Senate in 1956.

Do public officials today measure up to the standards of those of a generation or two ago? I think probably not. It is altogether possible that the bosses did a better job of choosing candidates for high office than the consultants and sloganeers who now manage political campaigns for hire. After all, Alfred E. Smith and the first Robert F. Wagner were plucked by Tammany Hall from the mediocracy of the state legislature. And are any boss-chosen governors comparable to Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson?

We close with a memorable couplet by the satirical poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), who wrote in "An Essay on Man" in 1734:

"For Forms of Government let fools contest;
Whate'er is best administer'd is best.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dance of the Districts

Political Panel Praises
Partisan Redistricting,
Solons Are Discomfited
At Koch Remonstrance

The reapportionment dance took a few steps forward and backward today as LATFOR (The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research) held a public hearing in lower Manhattan. The committee has been traveling around the state to hear from the public, but that is no indication that they will respond to the complaints that have been received from academics, good government groups and potential candidates.

The first grievance, which has been expressed by speakers who caught the road show before it arrived in New York City, was that LATFOR should not exist all, but that an independent redistricting commission should be appointed, rather than leaving the task to the assembly of incumbents now conducting the hearings and charged with preparing a plan for the approval of the Legislature, the body that will be affected by the plan.

The reformers want to prevent self-serving partisan districting, which fulfills the desires of a political party at the expense of non-members of that party. They want nonpartisan districting, either this year by law or permanently by Constitutional amendment. The incumbents' idea of avoiding one-party favoritism is bi-partisan districting, which serves the needs of both the Democratic and Republican parties, at the expense of challengers and independents of all stripes.

The star witness at the hearing was former Mayor Edward I. Koch, co-founder of New York Uprising, which is a coalition of former public officials favoring independent non-political districting. Click here to read Mayor Koch's testimony, an informative review of current state of efforts to draw fair lines.

Under the Constitution of the United States, a census of the population is taken every ten years, and the results determine the apportionment of seats in Congress. Because of New York State's comparatively slow growth, it will lose two seats as a result of the 2010 census. The usual political tradition when New York loses two seats has been to take one upstate Republican seat and one downstate Democratic seat. The situation has been complicated since 2010 by the departure of three members of Congress from New York State because of sexual misconduct, in three cases different from each other and all involving unrequited desires.

The custom in New York has been for the Democrats to draw Assembly district lines and the Republicans the Senate lines. For seats in Congress, the parties had to reach agreement on district boundaries. Because of changing demographics and social attitudes, the Republican hold on the Senate has becoming ever more tenuous. A law adopted when the Senate was in Democratic hands changed the districts that would benefit from the head count of inmates from the upstate counties were they were incarcerated, providing employment to local residents, to the downstate counties where they lived while committing the crimes, largely, felonies that resulted in their being sent upstate.

Some people want the Democrats to win both houses, so responsibility for whatever happens or does not happen can be placed on one party. Others prefer a divided legislature, so that conservatives as well as liberals will be heard. A number of players publicly prefer domination by their own party, but their private opinion is another matter. Common sense tells us that moderate government is more likely to be achieved under diverse leadership than when the legislature is under the control of one party. A political system dominated by either party tends to reduce the importance of general elections and increase the effect of party primaries, where the more extreme members of each party have proportionately greater influence, in part because independents are forbidden to vote.

Redistricting will be an important issue in the months to come, and much will said on the subject. The argument is not ideological, the left against the right, the spenders against the savers, or liberals against social conservatives. The issue here is one of equity and fairness, of expressing the wishes of the people, as opposed to those in both parties who would manipulate the system, deny ballot access to challengers, preserve incumbents by any means available, and place individual legislators under the thrall of the legislative leadership, where any expression of autonomy is punished.

The New York State legislature, periodically derided as the most dysfunctional in the United States, has earned its ill repute, not only through acts of dishonesty by members of both houses, some of which have resulted in prison sentences, but by an arbitrary system of rules and protective walls around the leadership, so that although the great majority of the members are honest, there is precious little they can accomplish without the consent of men who, to put it politely, are more responsive to special interests and individual desires, often paid for by political contributions.

To allow the leaders to retain the power to choose their followers by drawing their districts condemns the backbenchers to little more authority than their constituents, who may decennially be moved like cattle from one district to another to serve the political interests of those whose lack of responsibility and desire for re-election have helped give rise to the state's now acute financial problems.

Do not take this commentary as indicating that any particular legislator is better or worse than any other. Some considered paragons of virtue may never have been subject to temptation. Others usually reviled are not only smarter than most others but are better politicians. And when people elected to high office as reformers are found to have several screws loose which prevent positive interaction with other people, the distinction between intellect and insanity becomes difficult to find.

But regardless of their intellect, ability, integrity or state of rage, all public officials should run in honestly drawn districts, equal in size, compact and contiguous, and linking communities by interest. Political boundaries should not be perpetrated on the public by self-serving incumbents, who have systematically manipulated the electoral system to serve their personal needs at the expense of the public interest in honest government.