Friday, August 26, 2011

Pataki's best bet: Switch parties

By Bob Gaydos
So George Pataki is thinking about running for president. So what’s new?
The former New York governor has flirted with making a presidential run a couple of times in the past, only to bow to the inevitable arguments against him: much of the country doesn’t know who he is, other candidates have raised a lot more money than he could hope to raise and, oh yeah, he is a traditional Republican from the Northeast, with traditional Republican values, in a party that not only doesn’t share those values anymore, it has become downright hostile to anyone who holds them and claims to be a Republican.
They even came up with an acronym for such Republicans: RINOs. That stands for Republicans in Name Only. Pataki ranked 6th among RINOs in a recent listing, not encouraging in an era when RINOs are a threatened species outside of the North. Today, the Republican Party is dominated by dinosaurs, which as any schoolchild knows, were put on this planet by God to provide food for Adam and Eve. Just ask Rick Perry.
Perry is the current governor of Texas, which gives him more current name recognition than Pataki. Texas’ ranking dead last among states in adults with a high school diploma gives Perry further cache with the people calling the shots today in the GOP -- the ladies who come to tea.
That would be Michele Bachmann, congresswoman from Minnesota and Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, former Republican vice presidential candidate, current barnstorming media star and, still, potential presidential candidate. The two women have captured the heart and mind of the Republican Party, such as they are. In the process they have made regard for the facts and respect for science and history irrelevant within party ranks by playing shamelessly to the fears and resentments of many of their constituents.
They have frightened grownups out of the party -- or at least out of decision-making roles -- and, bolstered by shameless media exploitation by Fox News and other outlets, made the Republican Party home to nay-sayers, whiners, quasi-patriots, demagogues and hundreds of elected officials who have sacrificed their principles -- their souls -- to appease the loud rabble so they won’t come after them. This is today’s version of the late Lee Atwater’s GOP Big Tent: It’s a lot smaller and you need to pass a loyalty test to get in.
In sum, it is not Pataki’s party’s finest hour. Which prompts me to offer a modest proposal: If he really wants to run for president, why not run as a Democrat?
Yes, he spouts the traditional Republican line about no taxes and less government, but he was governor for 12 years and he knows the truth. Executives find ways to raise revenue, whatever they may call it, and they recognize that compromise at some point becomes necessary to, well, govern.
Neither principle is accepted philosophy in today’s GOP. It’s not because the longtime office holders in Congress and elsewhere don’t recognize their validity, but rather because they have been scared off by the tea partiers, some of whom seem to think they are living in Egypt or Libya and need to overthrow a government that has brutalized them.
Pataki, who has been touring the country under the auspices of a non-profit group he formed -- No American Debt -- says he hasn’t heard any of the many Republican candidates “offer specific solutions” to getting rid of the national debt and the deficit. Quite true. Nay-sayers can only say nay. They do not offer solutions. (A lot of Americans have apparently caught on to this tendency of the tea partiers and blame them and Republicans they hang out with in Congress more for the recent debt fiasco than they do Democrats.)
But Pataki’s problems with Republicans is social, not financial. He is a pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-union, pro-government involvement, pro gay rights, pro-environment kind of guy. In other words, a Democrat, insofar as conservative Republicans -- which is redundant, if you ask me -- are concerned.
If he’s really serious and not just lonely for attention like Rudy Giuliani seemed to be in the last GOP presidential primary chase, Pataki should consider challenging President Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and hope to gain the support of more conservative Democratic Party members and the thousands of independents looking for someone with moderate political views and a healthy does of leadership capability.
That may or may not be Pataki, who certainly can‘t match Obama in the charisma or oratorical competitions. But Perry and Bachmann rely a great deal on personal charm for their success as well. Yes, they are vulnerable on the “That’s Just Flat Out Not True” scale, but the only Republican who tried to go there against Bachmann -- former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty -- dropped out of the race after doing poorly in a hoked-up straw poll in Iowa. He and Pataki are about equal on the charisma scale.
In short, there is no evidence as yet that Republicans are ready and willing to listen to -- and support -- candidates who do not live in an alternative universe, one where government never taxes anyone but the middle class and RINOs are fair game for anyone with a gun, which, by law, of course, is everyone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What life is like in Perryland

By Bob Gaydos
Some national political pundits are already promoting Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the head of the Republican class of presidential candidates because he is the chief executive of a state so large it can be regarded as a “mini-nation.” If you haven’t been paying attention, Perry is another folksy straight-shooter who once vetoed a bill that would have made it illegal to execute mentally retarded inmates. He has bragged a lot lately about his record insofar as creating jobs is concerned. Since he wants to be the chief executive of the whole dang nation, I thought it would be a good idea to check out exactly what kind of country we’re talking about. What is life like in Perryland, aka Texas?
For a detailed analysis, I went to the Texas Legislative Study Group’s fifth annual report on the state of their state, entitled “Texas on the Brink.” (You’re sensing something, aren’t you?) Full disclosure: The Texas Legislative Study Group does research on issues affecting Texans and prepares reports and policy papers for state legislators to help them decide what to do. It is a liberal-leaning group. However, all I’m presenting here are facts the group has compiled in assessing where Texas stands today in relation to other states. Texans do not quarrel with the study group’s facts; they merely disagree on their relative importance. That’s fine, I guess, if you’re happy living in Texas, but, as I said, Perry, who is as rigid as any other conservative candidate out there, wants to turn the whole USA into Perryland.
So, let’s start with jobs, shall we? Perry’s braggin’ on how Texas has created more jobs than any other state during the recession. True enough. Yet its unemployment rate in June was 8.2 percent, which was higher than New York’s. And last year, nearly 10 percent of the state’s work force, more than half a million people, were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or less. That ties Texas with Mississippi for having the highest percentage of minimum-wage hourly workers. Not where you want to be number one.
Of course, Texas always has available jobs because of its huge energy industry. It also isn’t big on regulating business, has low taxes and housing prices and a warm climate. Those factors may attract people from other states to go to work in Texas, but as a national policy for creating jobs, it cannot work -- unless we ease immigration policies on Canada. Mexico is clearly another story.
And what do people find when they settle in Texas? A snapshot of Perryland compared to the other 49 states:
  • It ranks 38th in average hourly earnings of production workers on manufacturing payrolls.
  • Government employee salaries rank 24th...
  • Percent of workers who belong to unions: 41st.
Of course, Perry has offered the usual argument about creating more jobs leading to greater wealth, better education and more opportunity. Here’s the state of education in Perryland (where teaching creationism is the governor’s answer to so many ills.):
  • The average salary of public school teachers (2009-2010): 31st
  • Current expenditures per student: 38th
  • State and local expenditures per pupil in public schools: 44th
Now, for a lot of our more conservative countrymen, these numbers might seem encouraging, since they feel New York and other states spend far too much on education in relation to the results. Well, the proof is in the pudding. Here’s how going cheap on schools has paid off in Perryland:
  • On SAT scores, Texas ranks 45th in the country.
  • Its high school graduation rate is 43rd.
And for real braggin’ rights:
  • In the percent of the population 25 and older with a high school diploma, Texas ranks 50th, dead last, in the country. (Some cynics might say that explains the election of the state’s last two governors.)
That takes care of opportunity, but that’s not all folks. All those low-income workers coming to Texas where the living is cheap have this to enjoy, courtesy of Gov. Perry:
  • Texas is 1st in percent of the population without health insurance.
  • Percent of non-elderly uninsured: also 1st
  • Percent of low income population covered by Medicaid: 49th
  • Percent with employer-based health insurance: 48th
  • Per capita state spending on mental health: 50th
  • Per capita state spending on Medicaid: 49th
  • Physicians per capita: 42nd
  • Dentists per capita: 39th
  • Registered nurses: 44th
Stay healthy, man.
And as far as being a low-tax state: A 2009 study found that families in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale pay more than three-and-a-half times as great a share of their earnings in taxes as the top one percent of Texans.
It all sounds like a very 21st century Republican approach to governing. Now, I’m all for reassessing budget allocations and belt-tightening all around, but I reckon I’m just not ready to turn the whole goldarn country into Perryland. Not just yet.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's none of my business, but ...

By Bob Gaydos
Time for my occasional stroll through the headlines, a la Jimmy Cannon:
Maybe it’s none of my business, but when did TV reporters start interviewing caddies at the end of major golf tournaments? Last week, Australian Adam Scott won the Bridgestone Invitational tournament, for his first World Golf Championship victory. Yet the post-tournament focus on CBS was on Scott’s caddie, Steve Williams.
For those who understandably don’t follow golf on TV (zzzzzzzzz), Williams was the caddie for Tiger Woods for many years. Carrying the bags for a dozen years and 13 major championships. Yet on Sunday, Williams was declaring Scott’s victory “the most satisfying win I've ever had, there's no two ways about it. The fans have been unbelievable. It's the greatest week of my life caddying and I sincerely mean that."
Well, gee, Stevie, that’s nice, but wasn’t Scott the one hitting the ball and putting it in the hole and weren’t you the one carrying the bag?
Williams is ticked off at Woods for firing him. The caddie says he wasted a couple of years of his life waiting for Woods to get his life and game on track again. Fine. But Williams has made a fortune carrying bags for Woods and earned more than Woods did on Sunday caddying for Scott, whom he never mentioned in the TV interview.
A word to CBS and Williams: The story is never about the caddie.
* * *
Speaking of ratings, maybe it’s none of my business, but doesn’t anyone think it’s odd that stock markets around the world are thrown into chaos because a credit rating company blamed for playing a large part in creating the worldwide economic recession issued a downgrade in the rating of the United States from AAA to AAplus? That downgrade, by the way, included a $2 trillion error and seemed to lean more on politics than economics in its conclusion.
Standard and Poor’s, which has nothing good to say about the ability of the U.S. to cover its debts, is the company that had nothing bad to say about all those worthless sub-prime mortgages that sent the same stock markets reeling when banks realized they were stuck with worthless paper, and lots of houses. Of course, if the checks on such ratings companies that were included in legislation passed by Congress in the wake of the recession had actually been put in place, we might have a clearer, more objective idea of what is really going on. But hey, who needs regulation? It’s only money.
* * *
I know this is really none of my business, but sometimes rioters are just hoodlums and thieves looking for an excuse to do damage. Which seems to be what much of the rioting in London and other British cities is about. It may have begun with anger over the shooting of a citizen by police, but the mobs of young people looting and burning businesses and attacking police have no apparent connection whatsoever with that incident.
* * *
The wide-eyed photo of Michelle Bachmann on the cover of Newsweek says a lot more about the steep, sudden decline of the magazine, with its new owner and editor, as a viable news weekly than of Bachmann as a viable presidential candidate. Neither is. Viable, that is. Of course, since I have canceled my subscription to Newsweek, this is none of my business.
* * *
I really wish no ill will of Jorge Posada and I appreciate those years of occasional key hits and trying to call games as a catcher, but when he strikes out looking every other at bat, I feel like it’s really my business, as a fan, to say swing or get off the bench.
* * *
OK, maybe this is nothing for me to be sticking my nose into, but he is my president, so I have to ask: Has anybody seen Barack Obama’s spine lately? (I wasn’t sure how to spell cojones, although I understand Sarah Palin apparently knows how and was wondering the same thing about Obama.)
* * *
By the way, happy 50th birthday, Mr. President. For all your difficulty dealing with Republicans in Congress, it looks like Republicans themselves are having as much trouble dealing with their new friends, the tea party people. If I were you, I’d keep encouraging every one of them to declare their candidacies for president. It may not be the most impressive way to get elected, beating a God-fearing, science-fearing, Muslim-fearing, education-fearing, Mexican-fearing, logically challenged, contraception-fearing, homophobic gun worshiper who loves the death penalty and hates Medicare and Social Security, but if you don’t mind, then I don’t either.
* * *
And finally, a report tells us that NASA-funded researchers have found DNA elements -- the building blocks for life -- in meteorites. Which suggests, strongly I guess, that the components for life on Earth may have originated in outer space. I guess that’s kind of everybody’s business. Even the tea party people.
Until next time.