In Plato’s Republic, the discussion of morality begins with the tale of Gyges and the Ring. Glaucon, Plato’s elder brother, presents the “common view” of morality that Socrates will oppose. “What people say is that to do wrong is, in itself, a desirable thing; on the other hand it is not at all desirable to suffer wrong, and the harm to the sufferer outweighs the advantage to the doer. Consequently, when men have had a taste of both, those who have not the power to seize the advantage and escape the harm decide they would be better off if they made a compact neither to do wrong or to suffer it.” And that is morality and law: an uneasy compromise between doing even to others with impunity, and having others do even to you without recompense.
To prove this Glaucon recounts the tale of Gyges, a humble shepherd who finds a ring that, turned the right way, makes him invisible. Thus able to take what he wanted with impunity, he raped the Queen and murdered the King. If there were two such rings, Glaucon asserted, one given to a just man and another to an unjust man, they would both act the same. “Surely this is proof would be strong proof that men do right only under compulsion; no individual thinks of it as good for him personally, since he does wrong whenever he has the power.” So what would Plato think of my so-called Representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, the New York State Senate, and the New York State Assembly, all of whom are invisible?
Virtually no one pays attention to elections for these legislative bodies, except for special interests seeking to grab more for themselves at the expense of our common future. And the conversations between those interests and out so-called representatives are invisible. So are our so-called leaders themselves, for what most of them want is for no one to notice they exist, so they can go on doing their little deals and collecting their little sinecures rather than having a real job. So it’s no surprise I haven’t heard much from them, haven’t read much about them, and generally have no idea what they are up to. Because what they are up to takes place in secret.
Let’s start with my State Senator. Now I pay more attention to what these legislative bodies do that most, but until I sat down to write this I had no idea who my State Senator was. Where I live State Senators are generally appointed between elections, with most people not even knowing what is going on, and then run unopposed. I believe my State Senator used to be Eric Adams, who is now the Brooklyn Borough President. That Adams chose to move from an office that in theory has tremendous power over people’s lives, to one that is generally ceremonial, tells you all you need to know about the New York State Legislature. The power is only in theory, because everyone who wants to be in with the crowd just votes yes on all the deals, without thinking about them or anything else.
After a bit of work, I found out that my State Senator is Kevin Parker. I know he has been a politician for a long time, but I guess he has recently been assigned to my neighborhood. As far as I know he has never once stood up for anything, but even so he had no Democratic primary, has no Republican opponent, and has no independent candidate running against him. There is a conservative opponent, but that opponent has not shown up anywhere, sent anything, or otherwise made much of an attempt to explain why he should take Parker’s place.
All I ever heard about Parker is that he is a man with an anger management problem.
“Parker “charged” toward a female colleague Tuesday night during heated, closed-door squabbling over whether to toss Hiram Monserrate from the chamber, Senate sources said…Parker dropped several ‘f-bombs’ and called Savino ‘a b—-‘ as she tried to explain why Monserrate could be immediately expelled with Republican votes, the sources said…Parker then swore at Klein and asked, ‘Do you want a piece of me?’”
Now I wouldn’t criticize anyone for being angry in Albany. After all, with what has gone on in Albany, if I were there I’d probably be angry all the time. What bothers me is what Parker seemed to be angry about. Which tribe of pols gets the bigger offices and perks. The fact that the legislature has been voting to sell the future of this state for 20 plus years doesn’t seem to bother him at all. At least there has been no report of such concerns. What, if anything, does Kevin Parker stand for? How does he justify the current and future consequences of the past budgets he voted for? Beats me.
It also took me a while to remember who my representative in the federal House of Representatives is. Oh yeah, Yvette Clark. As I vaguely recalled, she had to win an actual election to earn her current job, since the prior politician, Major Owens, retired on schedule (rather than leaving early so the machine could pick his replacement in a special election — the nerve!). Although I’m not with either tribe, and do not vote in primaries, I seem to recall that she won the primary in her first election with something like 19 percent of the vote. Obviously lots of pols were interested in running for an open seat for the vote to be so divided. Against an incumbent, even a nearly silent one? Not so much.
I don’t think I’ve heard from Ms. Clark since, even as the House of Representatives has gradually degenerated into a body every bit as bad as the New York State legislature. Not that the media as currently constituted is a fair measure of someone’s activity, but I have heard about here only once. When she appeared on the Colbert report and indicated that she believed there was still slavery in New York City in 1898, when the five boroughs were combined into the current City of New York.
“Some have called Brooklyn’s decision to become part of New York City ‘The Great Mistake of 1898,’ ” Colbert said. “If you could get in a time machine and go back to 1898, what would you say to those Brooklynites?”
“I would say to them, ‘Set me free,’ ” Clarke said.
Pressed by Colbert what she would be free from, the black congresswoman responded, “Slavery.”
“Slavery. Really? I didn’t realize there was slavery in Brooklyn in 1898,” Colbert responded, seemingly looking to give the lawmaker a chance to catch her error.
“I’m pretty sure there was,” Clarke responded.
“It sounds like a horrible part of the United States that kept slavery going until 1898,” the late-night comedian then quipped. Colbert pressed on, asking, “Who would be enslaving you in 1898 in New York?”
At that point, Clarke responded, “The Dutch.”
I guess after that the powers that be have since decided to put Ms. Clarke on ice, because I hadn’t heard of here making any public statements on anything since. Or so I thought. But with the use of Google, I did find there was one issue on which she has made a mark. Military hair.
“The military has done an about-face on its controversial policy governing hairstyles worn by troops and U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke is praising the change as a move that respects the diversity of the men and women in uniform.”
“Clarke (D-Central Brooklyn) was one of several lawmakers in the Congressional Black Congress (CBC) who pushed the Pentagon to reverse its policy banning long braids, dreadlocks, cornrows and other hairstyles favored by African-American women.”
“Clarke charged that the policy was discriminatory. The Pentagon’s reversal happened quickly, within the space of a few months.”
I’m relieved that was taken care of. Good job Ms. Clark.
Meanwhile, there are some other issues. Such as the bankruptcy of the country, and the diminished future of younger generations. But no one in Washington wants to talk about that. Because advancing revenues from the future, deferring costs to the future, and generally not giving a damn about those who will live here in the future is the one thing that otherwise “partisan” and “divided” body agrees on.
Keeping quiet seems to suit Ms. Clarke well. She was unopposed in the primary, is unopposed by a Republican and generally seems not to face any elections anymore. Thus the voters, the citizens, the majority of the people in her district, are no longer an issue for her. As long as she remains invisible.
Then there is my State Assemblymember, Jim Brennan. I know who he is. He has held his current position since 1984, two years before I moved to Windsor Terrace from the Bronx. That is already a 30 year run in the very same job.
Brennan actually has a major party opponent in the election, a Republican named Mikhail Yusupov. A decade ago, when I got fed up enough to run against Brennan (nothing personal – I would have been against ANY incumbent member of the state legislature) I handed out 20,000 flyers in an attempt to get people to read this website.
But I haven’t seen Mr.(?) Yusupov show up anywhere and hand out any flyers, and I couldn’t find any website. What I did fund out is that he clearly does not know how many rules there are out there. Rules that would allow the incumbent pols to fine him heavily, and perhaps throw him in jail, for not following regulations that few non-pols know about, if he ever becomes a serious threat. Being both cynical and paranoid, for example, I managed to find out about this one when I ran for office.
“Candidates for statewide elected office and the Legislature are required, pursuant to Public Officers Law § 73-a(2)(a), to file a Statement of Financial Disclosure (‘FDS’) with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (‘JCOPE’) or the Legislative Ethics Commission (‘LEC’), respectively. All FDS filings are due to JCOPE or LEC within 10 days of becoming a candidate. Based on a review of information compiled by the LEC and JCOPE, the following candidates have failed to file a statutorily-required FDS.”
Mr.? Yusupov has not filed. Now if you are an incumbent state legislator, you can get away with ignoring little annoyances like these. But if I were him, I’d be worried about a knock on the door. After all, Brennan must be wondering “what did I do to deserve this?” An opponent on Election Day? Outrageous! “In 61 (40.6%) of the 150 districts up for election in 2014, there is only one major party candidate running for election” according to Ballotopedia.
My answer as to what he has done to deserve this is simple – he has done nothing. Brennan voted, with the rest of them to run up debts, retroactively enhanced the pensions of public employees of his generation who were cashing in and moving out, and cut the pensions of future public employees. Doubling down on many of the generational inequities I accused he and other state legislators of when I ran against him in 2004.
And now he is head of a committee that will help decide, in theory, how to make younger and future generations worse off to pay for some of this, with regard to our mass transit system. Higher fares, tolls and taxes? A return of deferred maintenance until a 1970s like MTA collapse takes hold, and the cancellation of improvements that were promised 45 years ago (unless they benefit the suburbs)? Continued selling out the future a little longer, until Brennan and his crowd are ready to grab up the last of the booty and head for Florida? Or perhaps a combination? A couple of years ago Brennan crawled out from under his rock to suggest $4.5 billion in more debt – to cover a $15 billion MTA capital plan gap over five years.
“’Brennan at the moment is the only game in town” because he’s “proposed something other than agency borrowing,’ said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign” at the time.
What Russianoff failed to mention is what Brennan had actually proposed was having the state borrow money and give it to the MTA, rather than having the MTA borrow money. More borrowing, and nothing more.
The previous time we heard from Brennan on issues of substance, he was opposing bridge tolls, one option to actually pay for the ever-increasing amount the political/union class charges for public services.
And questioning the Prospect Park West bike path, with bicycle transportation one of the ways younger generations can cope (on the transportation front) with the institutional collapse engineered by Generation Greed. While leaving those coming after to pedal themselves, while paying for those who came before, those who are in reality represented by Brennan (whoever they are) seem to resent making it less dangerous for them to do even that.
There was a time when we heard much more from the likes of Parker, Clarke and Brennan. What has made them disappear? Here is what I think. It is something that has happened that I wholeheartedly agree with – the end of federal Congressional pork and state legislature member items.
As I noted eight years of so ago, back in the day members of Congress and the New York State legislature, in exchange for voting “yes” on whatever sellouts were agreed to by the three men in the room (or having their vote automatically recorded as yes), got small pots of money to hand out in the community as if it were coming out of their own pocket. Buying votes with the taxes people had paid, with a large percent taken off the top for expenses. For most members of Congress and most state legislators, these little grants were all they talk about, and probably all they ever thought about. Since all the big decisions – like the budget and pension increases – went through at 4 am without a vote.
The little grants allowed our state legislators to strut around like local heroes rather than slink around like parasites (or worse, confront actual problems that require actual decisions rather than backroom deals). Perhaps you recall the era, when pols like Brennan, Parker and Clarke showed up to be celebrated for directing a small pot of money here or there, and have this duly reported in the newspaper.
Now the only time I hear from Brennan is when I get his taxpayer funded mailing telling me when alternate side of the street is. Something that was useful back when I owned a car and before the internet. I never hear from the others.
With the little grants gone, my Congresswoman and legislators have virtually disappeared. They have been exposed as being virtual empty suits. But there is still no real opposition. They are accountable to no one, except for the limited number of interest groups that are playing the game and could theoretically threaten them. This is democracy? This is a Republic, Platonian or otherwise? Whose fault is it? Theirs, or ours?
What I can say is this. When I ran against Brennan, I talked to a lot of people. Including lots of younger people who didn’t vote. And a whole lot of people who do vote, but who had no idea what the state government (as opposed to the federal and local governments), actually does and what, therefore, a state legislator is responsible for. They wanted to talk about the President. Or ask about local zoning, which I happened to know quite a bit about, but pointed out that wasn’t what I was campaigning about.
You know who did know what the state government does? And had somewhat informed opinions, enough to understand what I was saying and to respond as to whether or not they agreed, and why? Orthodox Jews. Aside from the special interests, they are the only ones paying attention. And as a result, some perceive them to be a special interest themselves, and wonder what they are doing wrong. Perhaps the question is what everyone else is doing wrong.
So what to do on Election Day? As noted previously, the new voting system makes it very easy to write in a candidate. Since I’ve been presented with no real choice, and could probably do a better job that Brennan, Parker and Clarke (and I’m not bragging about myself when I say this BTW), perhaps I’ll write in my own name. You can write in my name, or your name, too. Or Daffy Duck, as a protest.
Meanwhile there is a proposition on the ballot calling for bi-partisan redistricting – for the 2022 election, when the entire Generation Greed state legislature may finally head for Florida. I’ll vote for it, as I don’t want to make the best the enemy of the slightly better. But at most less gerrymandering would get us a few more competitive districts between the two major parties. What we really need is term limits, which we got for the NYC Council only because the powers that be allowed initiative and referendum to slip through in the 1989 Charter Revision. And non-partisan elections, so in one-party districts there could at least be two Democrats, or two Republicans, on the ballot on Election Day for offices like these. They have that in California, along with term limits, probably because they have initiative and referendum there.
Since the New York State legislature is not about to allow either of these, the only way we are going to get real democracy back in this state is to wise up and throw out each and every current member of the legislature, without exception. Without any help from the mainstream media, which opposed term limits and non-partisan elections and never reports on challengers to sitting incumbents except when those incumbents are under indictment. I wonder what the MSM has to say about my lack of a real alternative on Election Day, something bi-partisan redistricting won’t solve in this heavily Democratic area? Not much, because the MSM is disappearing as well.