Archive for December 2012

Terrific books for political junkies – By George J. Marlin

December 30, 2012

The following appears in the December 28, 2012 – January 3, 2013 issue of the Long Island Business News:

For Long Island political junkies who have made a New Year’s resolution to spend more time reading history and biography books in 2013, here are my picks of the best nonfiction works published in the past year:

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power,” by Robert Caro (Alfred A. Knopf, $35). This is the fourth volume of Caro’s monumental study of Johnson’s use of political power. In this work one learns how L.B.J. immediately grasped the reins of power after being sworn in as president in Dallas and moved through Congress Kennedy’s stalled tax and civil rights legislation. Caro, who has won just about every literary award available, sets the standard for political narrative.

Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World,” by Evan Thomas (Little, Brown, $29). This former journalist, whose previous works includes a fine biography on Bobby Kennedy, has turned out another exceptional work. He proves that Eisenhower was not the passive grandfatherly, golf-playing figurehead, but a behind-the-scenes activist chief executive. Ike could be brilliant and cold-blooded in manipulating adversaries in Washington, Peking and Moscow. During his eight-year term in the 1950s, he maintained the peace, kept the Communists in check and refused to commit troops to Vietnam.

The Last Lion: Churchill, Defender of the Realm 1940-1965,” by William Manchester and Paul Reid (Little, Brown, $40). Manchester fans have been anticipating the concluding volume of his masterful account of Churchill’s life since 1988. It was worth the wait. Shortly before he died in 2004, Manchester turned over his uncompleted manuscript to journalist Paul Reid and asked him to carry on. Reid has met the challenge. In fine prose, he describes how the brilliant and courageous prime minster refused to surrender to Hitler, organized his nation’s defenses and convinced U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help his struggling nation. Churchill’s postwar endeavors also make interesting reading. After being driven from power, he wrote his Nobel Prize-winning “The Second World War,” warned the world about the Iron Curtain that was descending on Eastern Europe and triumphantly returned to 10 Downing St. in the 1950s.

Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man,” by Walter Stahr (Simon and Schuster, $32). This is a most readable biography of William H. Seward, who served two terms in the New York State Senate and two terms as governor, and represented the EmpireState in the U.S. Senate until he became President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state in 1861. A leading member of the antislavery movement and a founder of the Republican Party, Seward expected to be his party’s nominee for president in 1860. After losing to Lincoln, he was big enough to join the administration and established an extraordinary relationship with his president advising him on foreign, domestic, military, political and personal matters.

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy,” by David Nasaw (Penguin Press, $40). The founding father of one of America’s political dynasties, Joe Kennedy ruthlessly built his fortune and promoted the political careers of his children. Kennedy was driven to beat the Boston snobs who hung “Irish need not apply” signs in their office windows and his strategy included electing his son as the first Catholic president. Joe Kennedy has his admirers and detractors, but as this biography demonstrates, no one could deny he was a brilliant operator.

Iron Curtain 1944-1956,” by Anne Applebaum (Doubleday, $35). The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Gulag: A History” has turned out another brilliant work describing how Stalin’s Eastern European henchmen bullied, threatened and murdered their way to power in the postwar era. For the long-suffering people of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the only thing that changed at the end of World War II was that Nazi slave labor camps became Communist slave labor camps.

Advertisements

LI’s political winners and losers in 2012 – By George J. Marlin

December 15, 2012

The following appears in the December 14-20, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Here’s my take on those that gained and those that lost this year in Long Island’s game of politics.

WINNERS:

Steve Bellone: Since taking office Jan. 1, Suffolk’s county executive has actually governed. He has made some tough budgetary decisions, and so far he has not resorted to kicking the fiscal can down Veteran’s Memorial Highway. While one might not agree with every one of Bellone’s policy initiatives (i.e., the police contract), he appears to be on track to avoid turning Suffolk into a ward of the state like neighboring Nassau.

Congressman Peter King: He handily won his 11th term to Congress. This affable and competent congressman has proven time and again that one can be a dedicated conservative who is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, and still win elections in blue New York. State Senate Republicans should heed his example.

Congressman Tim Bishop: In one of New York’s most expensive and contentious congressional races, Bishop was able to beat back for a second time Repulican challenger Randy Altschuler 52.2 percent to 47 percent. So much mud was flying between the Bishop and Altschuler camps that on Nov. 7 both candidates and their staffs had to take long, hot showers to wash it all off.

Jon Kaiman: The North Hempstead town Supervisor was lucky enough not to be named the chief executive officer of the Long Island Power Authority a few weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island. If he had received the nod he would now be standing on the unemployment line with other senior staff members.

LOSERS:

State Sen. Dean Skelos: The Rockville Centre senator thought he could not only maintain but expand his Republican majority by bringing the same-sex marriage bill to the Senate floor for a vote and by supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s income tax increases. He was wrong. The Conservative Party, true to its word, brought down recalcitrant Senate Republicans by denying them its nomination. To maintain power and perks for their own sake, Skelos has cut a ridiculous deal with several dissident liberal Democrats. Expect “Bi-weekly” Majority Leader Skelos to be nothing more than Cuomo’s knave.

LIPA’s management team: Hurricane Sandy proved that this important state agency cannot and should not be run by local political hacks. The management team learned nothing from 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene. They failed to improve customer communications and failed to implement simple recommendations to prevent blackouts such as trimming tree limbs. Expect the size of LIPA’s overpaid staff to significantly shrink.

Congressman Steve Israel: He may have easily won his seventh term to Congress but as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he was a dismal failure. Under his leadership the Democrats made little headway in their quest to regain control of the House of Representatives. Also, the special deal Israel cut that reduced his home mortgage repayment by $93,000 did not pass the political smell test.

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos: For reasons known only to him, Maragos thought he was well-suited to take on U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012. Despite the support of Nassau’s GOP, he came in last place at the Republican State Convention and in the September primary. The hapless candidate, who received only 14 percent of the vote in the primary, proved it takes more than money to be a viable candidate.

The Hempstead Town Animal Shelter’s management team: This animal shelter, which costs twice as much to run as other Long Island shelters, has squandered millions of taxpayers’ dollars on high salaries, perks and excessive overtime. The state audit of this Republican patronage-laden operation concluded it is “a case study in mismanagement, poor recordkeeping and budgetary incompetence.”­

The Emerging Hispanic Catholic Vote – By George J. Marlin

December 12, 2012

This article I wrote appears on The Catholic Thing web site on December 12, 2012.

LIPA: Symbol of government failure – By George J. Marlin

December 8, 2012

The following appears in the December 7-13, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers learned a lot about the nature of their fellow citizens and of their governments.

As for people, the crisis brought out the best in them. Tens of thousands of volunteers traveled to ravaged areas to help feed, clothe and comfort the victims of the storm. These unsung heroes were not looking for awards or overtime pay; they were simply living by the golden rule, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

As for federal and state government agencies, they, by and large, failed. Sometimes they appeared to get in the way of progress. The sign posted on a local Federal Emergency Management Agency office door the day after the Nov. 7 nor’easter, “Closed Due to Weather Conditions,” says it all.

The poster child of failed government for residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties, who spent days and weeks without electricity (my power was out for 14 days, two hours and 30 minutes) is the Long Island Power Authority, a New York state public benefit corporation.

LIPA was created by the state in 1986 so Gov. Mario Cuomo could pursue his ill-conceived plan to stop the LILCO-owned Shoreham nuclear plant from ever opening.

In 1998, Gov. George Pataki used LIPA – despite a campaign pledge to the contrary – to acquire LILCO with $7 billion of tax-exempt debt. Having served on the LIPA transition team in 1994-95, I know that LIPA was intended to be a holding company with 25 staffers to oversee the financing and National Grid’s operation of the electric system going forward.

Instead, under the ego-driven leadership of the former, longtime CEO, LIPA ballooned to over 100 staffers, ravenously consumed tens of millions of dollars on ad campaigns for a monopoly public-sector utility, morphed into activities inappropriate for a public utility and became another unresponsive level of government.

LIPA was in the past chastised by the state comptroller and elected officials of both parties for its misdeeds and skated close to the ethical edge. LIPA improperly authorized spending of public monies for polling regarding elected officials, awarded no-bid contracts worth tens of millions of dollars and was well-known for hiring the sons and daughters of the politically connected and members of the political class seeking high-paying employment. In short, LIPA became a refuge for hacks of both parties.

Most critically, LIPA’s performance in communicating with its customers and restoring service after Hurricane Irene last year was profoundly deficient. That’s not my opinion; that’s what Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at the time. Not surprisingly, LIPA’s customer satisfaction ratings are the lowest in the United States.

LIPA’s dismal response after Hurricane Sandy revealed that the agency learned nothing from last year’s disaster. In fact, LIPA failed to implement common sense recommendations intended to prevent blackouts, such as trimming tree limbs, replacing damaged electrical poles and updating ground workers technology equipment and customer communication systems.

LIPA’s fundamental problem has been the absence of competent leadership. And the state doesn’t need to spend money on investigative commissions and panels to confirm that.

The governor must first fill LIPA board spots he has left vacant for too long and replace holdovers with smart public-spirited members, not stone-deaf hacks. Then he must order the reorganized board to find a utilities expert to fill the CEO job, which has been vacant for over two years. This will mean offering a competitive salary. No well-paid potential CEO is going to leave a smooth-running power agency to take over the LIPA mess for $200,000 a year.

LIPA staff and overhead must be significantly shrunk. LIPA’s wasteful advertising campaigns must be halted and the “LIPA brand” must be phased out. LIPA’s expensive environmental “investments” should be pursued by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, a state agency with relevant experience.

The state created the LIPA monster and now it is time for Albany officials to focus on downsizing and reforming it. Long-suffering and overburdened customers deserve no less.