Thursday, February 28, 2008

The law of diminishing returns

This is to the folks on the Kerekes committee who came out with the list of money saving ideas for the New Haven city budget.
Read the story in today's New Haven Independent here.

First, I think it's a grand idea for citizens to keep an eye on government overspending. Giving money to a politician is like giving candy to a kid. The kid will eat the candy, whether it's good for him or her or not. The politician will spend the money, whether it's good for the municipality or not.

But, I think these folks may have gone out a little far. There is a point where the law of diminishing returns cuts in.

First of all, I'm basically living on a fixed income, plus what little I can get from working here or there, such as covering things for the New Haven Independent. This is known as the disclaimer.

I spent the lion's share of the last two decades in Westchester County, New York, working for The Journal News, the daily newspaper that covers the area from the Bronx to Dutchess County on one side of the Hudson River and from the New Jersey border to Orange County on the other. That's a lot of territory, but one of the issues in common was cell phone towers. Nobody wanted them in their town. Either they ruined the view, or there was fear of radiation or whatever.

I remember a reporter coming back from a meeting at which this woman was ranting and raving about how cell phones and cell towers were ruining civilization as we knew it. She had to stop in mid rant, however, to answer her cell phone.

These Kerekes folks remind me a little of that woman. They want to make sure there's as little overtime as possible for the police, yet I'm sure would be the first to complain if a cop wasn't there to answer their call.

I guess I'm wondering about the kind of city we'd have if we sold the skating rink, didn't spend money on cultural places like the Shubert Theatre, left Tweed-New Haven Airport for general aviation only, much like Meriden Markham Airport or the strip out in Oxford.

Look, I know the city spends too much money. I never thought I would say these things, but I think the mayor is starting to get it. At a meeting I covered earlier this month, he said the city had enough subsidized housing, was spending millions sheltering people, including those who are dropped off on New Haven streets by other towns or dropped off by the state after being in prison or jail.

We can save money by getting the towns to do their fair share. The citizens of suburban towns benefit by being able to attend cultural events for example, at the same rate of payment for tickets and parking as New Haven citizens. They don't pay any more at restaurants or bars than New Haven residents.

If those two examples seem silly to you, dear New Haven resident, try parking your can by the West Haven beach during the summer. Yes, we New Haveners get into Lighthouse Point Park free, while others have to pay, but you can't park by the beach in West Haven, for example, for any price.

We need the towns to start paying their fair share, maybe by kicking in for the Shubert subsidy, for example. If the subsidy is $410,000 for the Shubert, why not let East, North, West Haven, the Branfords, Madison, Milford, Hamden get together and kick in $300,000 of that. Let Yale charge a little more to out of town residents for concerts and events. Sell parking cards to New Haven residents at a bit of a discount. Everybody pays the same parking rate if they pay cash, but New Haveners get a little off the top if they use a card.

If we think creatively, we can save money without selling off the skating rink or the golf courses. We can't make the city a sterile place by unwise funding cuts. Absent the high taxes, New Haven is a great place to live. Let's keep it that way.

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I've always known by friend Pio is a great guy, a giving guy, and a smart guy. I just didn't know until yesterday (Feb. 27, 2008) that he was an astute political kingmaker.

I was sitting in the barber chair at Pio's shop, Pio of Italy on Whalley Avenue in New Haven. As usual, we were talking politics. Both Pio and I were concerned about the presidential election.

Those who have read these rantings know I'm for Hillary Rodham Clinton because I don't think Barack Obama gets it. He's great at giving speeches and rallying hope, but hope doesn't get it done on the world stage.

Pio was saying his thinking went along the same lines, but he didn't know what to do about it. We started throwing out running-mate combinations. He started with John McCain and Joe Lieberman. I said I didn't think the Republicans were ready for Joe and he's burned his bridges to the Democrats.

We briefly talked about an Obama-Clinton ticket, with Obama doing the talking and Clinton with her hand at the back of his head, like Edgar Bergen to Charlie McCarthy. We dismissed that -- Americans certainly won't go for a strong woman and a scholarly African-American on the same ticket. Too much newness.

So, we tried to figure out a combo with McCain. Then Pio hit it: John McCain and Mike Bloomberg.

I started to laugh. "That could go," I kept saying. "That could go."

Think about it. Bloomberg is relatively young, seriously rich, a proven vote-getter, a man who runs the toughest city in the world and will be out of a job soon because of term limits.

The ticket balances geographically, an Arizona guy with a New Yorker. It balances politically: Bloomberg is pretty liberal and McCain is pretty conservative. The right-wing crazies won't like it, but they'll like Obama less. Bloomberg has more money than Croesus and flies his own plane. We could sell the C-17 that serves as Air Force 2 and could rent Bloomberg's plane for $1 a year and let him buy his own gas.

They are both friends of Israel. Bloomberg is Jewish, at least on paper, and that gets a "first" on the ticket. Joe Lieberman was really the first Jew elected vice-president, but because of Ralph Nadir (spelling on purpose), he couldn't serve. So it could be the first Jew as vice president against the first African-American as president.

Of course, if by some miracle Clinton wins the Democratic primary, then we can bid a Emily Latella-ish "never mind" to the whole thing.

Viva Pio.

Until next time...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shame on you, Barack Obama

Yeah, it's me again, beating what appears more and more to be a dead horse.

I watched the 20th and hopefully last presidential debate last night (Feb. 26, 2008), I say shame! to Sen. Barack Obama.

It's not that he was any less sincere in his "some of my best friends and supporters are Jewish" speech than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but he seemed to be a lot too blase about the support he received from Minister Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan has made pointed and horrible anti-Semitic statements for years, calling Judaism a "gutter religion" and worse.

Farrakhan has, however, had nice, very nice things to say about Obama. The Nation of Islam figure called Obama "the hope of the entire world" and said it has captured "black and brown and red and yellow" audiences.

When Obama was questioned last night about Farrakhan's praise, he gave a "so what" type of answer.

When NBC chief Obama backer Tim Russert asked whether Obama rejected Farrakhan's endorsement, Obama could have said yes or said he distances himself from Farrakhan and all he stands for, but he didn't. He played a semantics game. When Clinton lectured Obama about the power of words and the difference between rejecting praise and distancing himself from a known anti-Semite, Obama conceded the debating point, but never said he rejected Farrakhan, didn't want any money or support from Farrakhan or anyone who thought like him.

The words of the president of the United States are parsed closely, not only by diplomats but by ordinary people worldwide. The difference between one word and the other has started arguments that have led to wars, such as, for example, whether Iraq has or had weapons of mass destruction. We all know Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction because he used them on the Kurds.

The Bush administration took Saddam's word that he still had those weapons. It just so happened that the message was meant to scare Iran so the Tehran mullahs wouldn't attack Baghdad, but it got intercepted and misinterpreted by the geniuses of the Bush administration and before you could say wrong number, we were off to war.

Words are important. I'm now more sure than ever that Obama isn't ready to be president of anything, not to say the United States.

The Farrakhan gaffe is not considered a major one by analysts. It should be. Obama is starting to remind me of Ronald Reagan, in that they both did very well with scripted speeches before adoring audiences, but didn't do so well in debates or answering questions one-on-one. You need to be able to do better than look bored and condescending and pick up your finger to be recognized and give your debating point.

As president, one has to think clearly in the clutches, consider all sizes of a question quickly and give a response that will stand up to analyses from all sides.

Obama just hasn't shown me he can do that.

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Let me have my say about Tweed-New Haven Airport.

The anti-Tweed folks remind me of Cinderella's step-mother and step-sisters. They rip up Cinderella's dress, pull out all her hairdressing, smash her shoes and then tell her she may go to the ball if she pleases.

These residents, with the backing of the late Mayor Biagio DiLieto, whose political base was the East Shore of New Haven and the anti-airport contingent who lived there, took a going concern and turned it into a joke. The word "jet" scared them. East Haveners were just as bad.

Bruce Lawson, who was airport general manager when I covered the airport authority back in the late 1980s, took me on a tour of the facilities one bleak day. Back then, USAir and Continental offered services to hubs in New York (JFK), Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The tiny Boeing 1900's and Twin Otters were replaced by ATR 42s and similar propjets that flew to National in Arlington, Va., in a couple of hours.

Air Wisconsin's attempt to fly small four-engine jets was defeated by a strict noise ordinance. United offered jet service to Chicago, but the large consumers of air service refused to back the service and United soon pulled out.

Today, USAirways offers service to Philadelphia. Private and charter planes use the airport now.

I can see how jet service with screamers like DC-9s and Boeing 727s would frighten people. But today's MD-80s, Boeing 737s and smaller Boeing 717s, a 100-seat aircraft that AirTran flies out of Westchester and other places nonstop to Florida, are really quiet.

During our tour of the airport, Lawson said the runway at Tweed could support aircraft as large as Boeing 757s, a jet that can fly nonstop to California, with just a few inches of material to increase the depth of the runways.

In a public meeting about the mayor's redevelopment plans, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said he hasn't been happy with the work of the airport panel he helped appoint. Neighbors and officials are supposed to be meeting about the extension of the safety zones at the end of the airport.

In the late 1980s, I did a story for the New Haven Register comparing Tweed to Westchester and Worcester airports. Westchester is still a going concern despite the kind of county-backed interference from airport neighbors in Harrison and Rye, N.Y. and Greenwich, Conn. That's because there are flights going where people want to go. Last year, I took AirTran from Westchester to Orlando. Except for having to mortgage my house to pay parking fees, it was a great experience.

Look, how's about this for an idea. Why don't we give the airport a real chance. We've spent money renovating the place a few years ago. That cash shouldn't be wasted. If Yale, AT&T and other consumers of air service were to pledge to use the service and give it a real chance, maybe that could be used to persuade some airlines to come back.

Imagine being able to step on a 100-passenger jet and be in Orlando in a few hours. Imagine being able to fly to places like Toronto, Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., or Atlanta. Imagine not having to drive for more than an hour to get to Bradley International, or God knows how long to get to JFK, Newark and La Guardia. Westchester Airport in Harrison is 45 minutes away and charges $21 a day to park, if you can find a space.

We have a real gem here. Let's give it a real chance.

Until next time...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ralphie's on his ego trip again

Hi there. You must have thought I'd finally gone away.

Well, I almost did. I was never so sick in my life as I was a couple of weeks ago. The week after that, my step-mother took sick in Maryland and the trip with three grandchildren, one daughter and my wife turned into a hospital visit instead of the planned show-ma-the-great-grandkids visit.

Anyway, Ralph Nader, the man who shows us that a life can have both very good and very nutty in it, is off on his quadrennial ego trip again.

Eight years ago, the votes he collected in Florida made the race tight enough so Bush could steal it. Of course, Ralphie said there was no difference between Bush and Al Gore. He may believe that. The difference, however, between himself and the other four dozen people in the nation who believe that is that he isn't confined to an asylum for the mentally challenged.

As you all no doubt know, Ralph Nader started out life as a real consumer advocate. His seminal work, "Unsafe at Any Speed," no doubt saved lives by drawing our attention to rattle-traps that exploded on impact and caused untold misery.

A decade or so ago, I was saddened to note that Ralph's ego had taken over and he was now shilling for ambulance-chasers. I ran into him at an insurance convention and was able to tell him of my disappointment in a career that started out so wonderfully. Tears ran down my cheeks as I lambasted him.

After his performance in 2000 and also in 2004, when he didn't send the election to Bush, he has chutzpah to run again. He takes no responsibility for the mess this nation is in now. Ralphie is just living in his own head. Fortunately, the poor misguided souls who backed him in 2000 aren't around to help him today.

One hopes that nobody will send him money and he will just go quietly back inside his head.

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Speaking of living in his own head, Barack Obama is upset because Matt Drudge has trotted out a 2006 Associated Press photo of him in native Kenyan dress. Maybe it's the headdress that might look like one that a Muslim might wear.

Mr. Obama, sir, you of the consummate ego and haughty expression, let me direct your attention to the hundreds, even thousands of photos extant of presidential candidates in all kinds of costumes. Start with Silent Cal Coolidge in a full-feathered American Indian headdress. You seem to pattern yourself after John F. Kennedy -- I seem to remember him in cowboy hat and other headgear.

Candidates have to kiss babies, eat strange foods and wear weird costumes. What are you going to do if you win and have to make a trip to Kazakhstan and some little kid presents you with some kind of headgear?

It's not a put-on. Be proud of your heritage. Your dad was Kenyan? Embrace it.

By the way, Obama's people accused the Clinton camp of leaking the photo to Drudge and said it was a nasty thing to do. I hope the Clintons weren't part of any Obama's-a-Muslim campaign. But that's mild compared to what the GOP rat-f**kers are cooking up for the Democratic nominee. Get used to it or get out. No, it's not the way the game should be played, but in the political big leagues, it's the way it is played.

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Here's another Len's Lens unsolicited endorsement. I received no consideration for the following.

During our trip last week to see my step-mother, we stayed at the Summerfield Suites in Gaithersburg, Md. We took a two-bedroom suite and there was plenty of room for my wife and I, my daughter and her three children, ranging in age from 6 years to 7 months old.

We had a full-sized fridge, three televisions, two bathrooms, two king-sized beds and a studio couch. The place served a hot buffet breakfast, put a newspaper in front of your door each morning and the service was possibly the best ever.

Hear this: With kids, you need to take a break from hospital visits, so we headed for Washington, D.C. Since people have spent their entire adult lives looking for a parking space in D.C., we took the metro. The hotel provided a free shuttle service, complete with installing three child seats in their van, took us to the Metro station and picked us up later with the child seats reinstalled in the van. All we had to do was call from a couple of Metro stations away and the van was waiting when we arrived.

Bravo, Summerfield Suites.

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To those who are reading this, thank you for keeping watch. I will try to be more consistent in the future.

Monday, February 4, 2008

In the end, Clinton just makes more sense

Before I get started on politics, an brief comment about the Super Bowl.

A century ago, when I was warming the football bench at New Britain High School, my coach said something that stuck with me. I don't think he was smart enough to mean his comment as a lesson for life, although it is.

What he said was that when you are tackling someone, make sure he's down before you let go of him. Listen for the whistle, and then you can get up.

If the New England Patriots had minded that advice during the game, they just might have been able to pick up a victory, as undeserved as it would have been, and claim a perfect season. The New York Giants (actually the New Jersey Giants in everything except name) deserved to win that game.

As much as it pains me to say so, they outplayed the Patriots in all facets of the game. Congratulations to the Giants and to the 1972 Miami Dolphins, whose record goes on.

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OK, here goes.

On the Republican side, it's easy. I covered John McCain yesterday in Fairfield and what I saw was Ronald Reagan with brains. To read my story, please go to

He was personable, even telling lawyer jokes and introducing his mother. His position on the war in Iraq is troubling, but Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are downright scary.

On the Democrat side, it's more complicated. Let's say this is easy because you can't really get it wrong, except that you can. Let me explain.

Barack Obama is a bright, energetic man full of enthusiasm and great ideas that may not be really thought out. In this morning's New York Times, the columnist Paul Krugman analyzes the Obama plan for health care against the plan put up by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Krugman's analysis is that Obama's plan may seem a little cheaper than Clinton's, but doesn't cover all those who don't have insurance, while Clinton's plan will cover all 45 million or so people for about a third more money altogether, but less per covered person. Clinton's plan is just better thought out, more complete.

As Krugman points out, the chances of anyone's plan being passed by Congress in whole cloth are slim, but this bring home a lesson.

Obama is a great cheerleader and I agree the nation needs a great cheerleader right now. The nation, however, needs someone who can translate all those good ideas into fruition, not just chant "change".

As a nation, we revere John F. Kennedy. He had a lot of great ideas, but I don't think he would have been able to armtwist as many of them through Congress as Lyndon B. Johnson did.

As I said, I don't think either of these individuals would make a bad president. I wanted to ask McCain yesterday what he thought of standing in the way of history, that he wanted to prevent the election of either the first woman or the first African-American president. It's a silly question, but I would have loved to hear his answer anyway. By the way, as a trivia item, Obama would be the first president with a pronounced vowel at the end of his name.

If McCain were elected president, I would not rip my clothes and sit in ashes, but I'd rather not have him as our next president. I think Hillary Clinton would do better against McCain, and that is where I think we can get it wrong. If we choose the wrong Democrat, we get McCain.

I know it's not politically correct to say this, but I don't trust my fellow Americans not to be racists. I can't see some hillbilly or redneck going into the voting booth and voting for a black man. And there are a lot of hillbillies and rednecks out there, or at least people who think like them.

Clinton is bright, maybe even brighter than her husband, who might have been the smartest president we ever had, at least above the belt. She thinks things out, reasons them out. The next president needs to mend a lot of fences around the world that have been kicked down by our president. I think Clinton is more of a known quantity around the world.

All these things, taken alone, are not the reason to vote for someone, but together, I think they are. Turning a nation is like turning an ocean liner. It doesn't turn on a dime. You need to know that going in and saying you are going to do this or do that to lead the nation in a new direction may be fine rhetoric, but you need to have plans to do things while the ship is turning.

I just think Clinton has the better ideas for leading the nation. I am also afraid that Obama will become the 2008 version of George McGovern.

Old George was an exciting person who was going to get us out of the war in Vietnam the day after he took office. He had all kinds of ideas to turn the nation around. But Spiro Agnew's silent majority, who are the ones who actually elect the president, were scared of him and voted for Richard M. Nixon in droves. McGovern won one state -- Massachusetts -- plus the District of Columbia. He lost by 520-17 in the Electoral College.

That scares me. Along with the other reasons, that leads me to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton and urge those silly enough to care what I think to do the same.

Until next time...