Opinion

The Great Debate

Why do New York politicians hate small business?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed a commission to figure out how to make the Empire State more business-friendly and change its reputation for high taxes. The New York state government is now running commercials on national television touting the tax breaks that businesses can get by relocating there. “Small Business Saturday” – the annual post-Thanksgiving event encouraging folks to patronize small businesses — was heavily promoted in nearly every media outlet.

However, there may be no place in the country that treats small businesses worse than New York. Harmful policies come out of both City Hall in Manhattan and the State House in Albany. The commercials, narrated by Robert DeNiro and set to Jay-Z’s iconic song, Empire State of Mind, may look cool, but what New York needs to make itself more conducive to investment, job creation and economic growth, is better fiscal policy. Not more glamour.

Though it’s great to see Cuomo own up to the fact that New York’s tax climate is inhospitable to employers — and events like Small Business Saturday are nice — this doesn’t change the fact that New York’s political class is uniquely hostile to small business. To the detriment of the entire state economy.

Step one is admitting you have a problem and Cuomo has done this with his commission. He has offered to waive taxes for businesses that set up shop in certain parts of the state, such as Albany. But then he signs bills that harm employers across the state.

If Cuomo, a 2016 presidential prospect, does decide to run, he might have trouble explaining the 2011 tax package he signed — if he makes it to the general election. Cuomo’s tax plan, as the Wall Street Journal described it, tossed out “the most desirable part of New York’s tax code, which is its relative flatness…The new code will include a ‘progressive’ ladder: 6.45 percent for couples earning between $40,000 and $150,000, 6.65 percent from $150,000 to $300,000, 6.85 percent from $300,000 to $2 million, and 8.82 percent above $2 million ($1 million for individuals).”

The election results no one’s talking about

Which is the most important result of Tuesday’s election?

A. A Republican governor won a landslide election in a blue state.

B. A Democrat was elected governor in a purple state during intense criticism of a new federal government program.

C. An outspoken liberal Democrat was elected mayor in a big city — where opposition parties had been in power for 20 years.

D. An education funding amendment lost in a mountain state.

If you said D, you’re correct.

On Tuesday, Amendment 66 was defeated in Colorado, with preliminary results suggesting a drubbing of two-to-one opposed. It would have improved education funding with slight tax increases and changed Colorado’s flat tax to a two-tiered, progressive structure.

How to build on the Bloomberg legacy

New York City is engaged in a highly contentious general election campaign for mayor. One of the fascinating turns in this race is how both candidates have chosen to distance themselves from the city’s current mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Bill de Blasio, the Democratic party candidate, has articulated a progressive agenda that might sound to some New Yorkers like 1960s liberalism. Echoing John Lindsay’s aspirational New York, de Blasio argues that the city must refocus public policy in support of the American Dream. Government continues to be important in de Blasio’s New York, but it must change its focus from supporting the wealthy to doing more for its poor and middle-class population.

Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate who served as Deputy Mayor during the Rudy Giuliani administration, is too smart to run a campaign on his former boss’ coattails. After all, Democrats have a 6 to 1 registration advantage in New York City, so the simple math dictates that he needs Democrats and independent voters to win the mayoralty. So, Lhota’s message is dark: New York’s economic health and civic peace is fragile and we can’t revert to those “bad old days” of high crime, economic decline, middle-class flight and a broken city government. Lhota also promises to cut taxes.

While it is not surprising that the campaign rhetoric often sounds anti-Bloomberg, the next mayor must understand that at this critical moment in the city’s history, our future will depend on continuing much of Bloomberg’s successful policies. I say this because there are an extraordinary number of changes that Bloomberg put into place that are vital for both the future economic well-being of the city, and for achieving the policy goals that both de Blasio and Lhota are advocating.

Bill de Blasio, the Not-Bloomberg

Bill de Blasio, whose strong support in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor may have averted any runoff, had a secret weapon — and I speak not of his delightful Afro’d son, Dante, but of the very man he wants to succeed, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Yes, if anyone handed de Blasio a win — besides de Blasio, his campaign and his feckless opponents — it was Bloomberg. He has never fully understood the art of politics, governing stubbornly with his head, never his heart. He has been substantive and steady, he has had many successes. But his inability or unwillingness to empathize with the public, especially on such gut matters as the policing policy of stop-and-frisk, gave de Blasio an opening. The public advocate campaigned as the anti-Bloomberg — and it worked.

The mayor can be persuasive, one on one. But it is a Bloomberg the public barely glimpsed. I recall thinking this a few months ago, when I was visiting a friend at Bloomberg News, and the mayor walked in. Within seconds he was lecturing me about the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk, urgently defending the policing policy, making his familiar arguments about deterrence, the importance of reducing gun possession through the police stops, which a federal judge has since said violates the constitutional rights of minorities.

Building trust between police and minority communities

A federal judge ruled Monday that the stop-and-frisk policies of the New York City Police Department were unconstitutional. That same day, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department will pull back from prosecuting low-level drug offenders to avoid triggering harsh mandatory sentences.

Both decisions reflect fundamental changes in U.S. law enforcement practices. The resulting strident opposition to the changes and equally adamant support illuminate the deep disagreements in the nation’s unresolved racial divide.

Holder pointed out that mandatory sentences fell disproportionately on minority communities and had led to grossly overcrowded prisons. Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the New York police policy violated the Constitution — police are most often stopping and frisking innocent male minorities.

Why is Bloomberg keeping New Yorkers smoking?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s aggressive nanny-state policies — such as his crusades against trans fats and large-size sodas — have been annoying and, at times, unconstitutional. While some of his critics have suggested sinister motives, the most charitable assessment has always been that Bloomberg is well-intentioned; it’s just that his policy solutions are misguided.

Now, news leaked last week that Bloomberg is getting ready to push for a series of ordinances intended to drive electronic cigarettes off the market in Gotham. In doing so, Bloomberg is making it evident that he really does just want to boss people around — even if it’s not for their well-being.

For decades lawmakers and bureaucrats have tried to mitigate smoking and the harm it causes through punitive taxation and heavy regulation. However, the technological breakthrough behind electronic cigarettes could be a disruptive technology — letting the free market provide a solution to a problem that social engineers have not been able to address through stiff government regulations. It’s one reason why businessmen like Sean Parker, an early investor in Facebook and founder of Napster, have become big boosters of electronic cigarettes.

A politics of ‘unreliable narrators’

An unreliable narrator cannot be trusted.

He comes in many guises. There is the delusional unreliable narrator, like Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, unaware of how the reader and the other characters perceive him. There is the mad narrator, as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There are the unreliable narrators who lie to themselves to make the unreality appear real. Middle-aged professor Humbert Humbert in Lolita famously lies to the jury and to himself,  believing his sexual affair with the drastically under-aged Lolita is not criminal. Yet Vladimir Nabokov, the author, gives a wink to  the reader: We know the protagonist is not being honest with himself.

These characters are coming undone — the reader slowly notices fissures in their thinking, which clue us in that  these narrators  are  living in an alternative universe. Then there is the more subtle unreliable. Nick Carraway, who narrates The Great Gatsby, is not to be trusted because of the way he chooses to tell his story. From the first word he is hiding the real story from the reader.

As with most linear storylines, the narrator knows far more than the reader, and Carraway’s is no different.  From the first word, he is hiding the story of Jay Gatsby, a notorious unreliable, from the reader — the way Gatsby holds his identity from Nick.

Seeking consensus on immigration, guns

Two tough issues — immigration reform and gun control. “It won’t be easy,” President Barack Obama said about gun control in December, “but that’s no excuse not to try.”   Tuesday, he said about immigration reform: “The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.”

Which does he stand a better chance of winning?  Answer: immigration. On immigration, Obama has Democrats strongly behind him. Republicans are divided — and freaked out by the issue. On guns, he’s got Republicans strongly against him. Democrats are divided — and freaked out by the issue.

On both issues, the president has the public solidly behind him. That’s his biggest asset. “There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” he said on Dec. 19, five days after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.’’ On Jan. 29, when he went to Las Vegas to speak about immigration reform, he said, “A broad consensus is emerging and … a call for action can be heard coming from all across America.”

Why Bloomberg evicted Occupy Wall Street

By Joyce Purnick

The views expressed are her own.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been a headache for mayors around the country. For Michael Bloomberg of New York, the encampment-like protest in a privately-owned park in lower Manhattan was more like a chronic migraine.

It would not go away, and despite some false starts, Bloomberg could not, or would not, stop it for weeks on end. In the interim, his reputation suffered. Even the New York Post, otherwise devoted to Bloomberg, admonished him for his attack of indecision.

What was it about the increasingly annoying and messy protest that got to the normally impatient mayor, stopping him from clearing out Zuccotti Park until this week—two months after the demonstrators took it over? He didn’t want a street riot on his hands, for one. Nor did Bloomberg, who prides himself on protecting free-speech rights, want it to look as though he was cracking down on protesters in the communications capital of the country (especially since he did not agree with them). But the strongest factor behind the delay may well have been what wasn’t happening: Bloomberg was trying to negotiate an agreement, but the OWS protesters were having none of it. Bloomberg can be flexible—as brusque as he is—but you have to play by his rules. The occupants of Zuccotti Park weren’t even playing the same game.

Michael Bloomberg and America’s guns

Bernd Debusmann— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions are his own —

New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is stepping in where President Barack Obama fears to tread — confronting America’s powerful gun lobby. In the country that holds a commanding global lead in civilian gun ownership, it promises to be a hard fight.

No matter how it goes, America’s position at the top of the list of gun-owning nations looks secure. Up to 280 million guns are estimated to be in private hands and the arsenal is growing year by year. On a guns-per-capita basis, the United States (90 guns per 100 residents) is way ahead of second-ranked Yemen (61 per 100), according to the authoritative Small Arms Survey issued by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

Obama has been a sore disappointment for advocates of tighter gun controls, and a boon to gun manufacturers and dealers. Predictions that his administration would swiftly work towards greater restrictions helped spark a huge run on firearms after his election. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s biggest gun lobby, said its members reported widespread shortages of ammunition.

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