Larry Littlefield's blog

Donald Trump, THE Man of His Generation

Over the past few decades I’ve seen a number of studies, generally produced for those in marketing trying to find someone who still had money they could sell to, showing that the inflation adjusted work earnings of ordinary Americans, at each phase of their life, has been falling generation by generation, starting at the back end of the baby boom and working its way up the educational and income scale. The peak earnings were had by those who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, which is to say those who were born between the mid-1930s and mid-1950s, those whom I have referred to as “Generation Greed.” The same generations that, when running the country, have essentially bankrupted the U.S., while shifting the sacrifices to those who will follow. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis recently released yet another study showing the same thing, this one a highly technical multiple regression analysis that adjusts for education, whether or not one is a saver, and other demographic and social factors. It puts the start of falling income a little earlier, in 1950, with the losses accelerating later.

The Fed’s main question for this analysis is the economic status of older Americans, and indeed since the young have other advantages the diminished status of younger generations will really hit home when they become old themselves. The diminished income and wealth of younger cohorts (based on birth year) at each point in the lifecycle is summarized starting on the bottom of page 26 and shown graphically in figures 29 and 30 on pages 73 and 74. But most people don’t like to look at graphs and think about multiple regression coefficients. They like to talk about celebrities. So I thought to myself, “which celebrity most exemplifies the direction of the country over the past 45 years or so?” And then it hit me.


Congratulations Mayor Beame II

Whoever you are. Probably DeBlasio, but let’s count the votes. In a recent article, the New York Times reported that his margin in the polls means he is “flirting with a record win for a non-incumbent; that record is currently held by Abraham D. Beame, who won election in 1973 with a 40-point victory margin, the largest in an open race since five-borough elections began in 1897.” It is fitting. Another long time Room Eight poster predicted DeBlasio would be another Lindsay, but as far as I’m concerned that job has already been taken. Giuliani, Bloomberg, and the New York State Legislature have already re-Lindsayed with regard to the debts and pension enhancements/underfunding that the next Mayor will inherit.

In keeping with a tradition that goes back all the way to Wagner in the mid-1960s, the current Mayor will leave the next Mayor a city that is going broke. Bloomberg has vastly increased the city’s debt, in some cases to pay for investments that will pay off in the future, but in other cases to just get by for a few years. After underfunding the pensions following the massive retroactive pension increases of the 1995 to 2000 period, Bloomberg is again currently underfunding the pensions by $1 billion per year according to the BS estimates of the city actuary (the reality is more). Including underfunding the huge 2008 pension increase for NYC teachers that Bloomberg went along with. Moreover, Bloomberg has also cashed out the entire retiree health care fund he built up earlier in his terms. He leaves behind public employees who have become vastly richer relative to the average New York City resident, given their pension increases and the stagnation of everyone else’s wages, and who are nonetheless demanding in the press to become richer still – and that the next Mayor not negotiate in the press. And that is just part of it, as explained further on Saying the Unsaid in New York.


The Propaganda War Against Obamacare, Citibike and the Common Core

I generally don’t pay much attention to the sludge of misinformation and deception that now passes for politics and journalism. I prefer to try to figure out what is actually true myself. But suddenly last weekend, it occurred to me that the massive propaganda war against Obamacare, Citibike and the Common Core are essentially the same. Those waging it may be different – the Tea Party, Tabloids and Teacher’s Union – but the goals, tactics and vested interests are more alike than different.

In each case, an attempt has been made to delay and then kill a different way of doing things before it got started, not because it might fail but because it might succeed. In each case, the group putting out the propaganda has an interest in keeping things as they are: older and wealthy Americans who already benefit from massive direct and indirect government health care spending on themselves and don’t want any benefits for others. Those who believe their own driving and parking is the most important (and only valid) use of the public streets that everyone pays for. And a New York City teacher’s union that has provided the people of New York City with inferior schools for nearly 50 years, generally in exchange for low funding but more recently – over the past decade -- in exchange for high funding. And the similarities don’t end there.


U.S. Healthcare: Money for Nothing?

I was intrigued by an article by a New York-based City Planner in the latest issue of Planning magazine (no link -- subscribers only). He was on a bicycle trip to Cuba when his friend dropped dead of a heart attack. “The experience, while traumatic, would take me into places difficult for a foreigner to reach.” Although Cuba has a reputation for excellent medical care he found “a country that was shockingly primitive. The medical attention my friend received was rudimentary, in a facilities that were skeletal.” He was “shocked at the worn, run down hospital corridors and the appearance of staff simply standing around, doing nothing.” He had to move his friend’s body into the hospital himself. “Parts of the hospital were dirty. To cite one vivid example: Directly across from the examining room where doctors tried to revive my friend was an overflowing toilet with a broken sink; there was no place for visitors to wash their hands.”

And yet, according to the article, "Cuba’s life expectancy matches the U.S., according to United Nations statistics.” Hmmm.


New York City: Economic Refugee Camp

When the federal shutdown ends and monthly employment data is once again released, we will probably find that New York City’s unemployment rate is still high. What is interesting, however, is why it is so high. According to the survey of business establishments, the number of people working at payroll jobs in New York City (including those who commute in) is the highest it has ever been. And according to data based on the survey of households, the number of city residents who were employed in June 2013 was only slightly below the pre-recession level of June 2007, while for the U.S. as a whole the number employed was 1.8 million lower. New York City’s unemployment rate is high because the city’s labor force, including those looking for work but not employed, has soared. In a country that is suffering a far greater economic decline than New York City, the city has become an economic refugee camp with young workers trying to find some economic hope.

But they aren’t earning so much. Before shutting down, the U.S. Census Bureau released American Community Survey data for 2012. The data showed that New York City’s median household income fell 5.5% from 2008 to 2012 when adjusted for inflation. The median work earnings per household fell 6.9%, and since full-time full-year workers showed some modest gains in earnings, the share of workers able to maintain that status must have fallen significantly. Moreover, inflation adjusted mean household income, affected to a greater extent by earnings of the rich, fell 7.7% from 2008 to 2012, showing that even the one percent have not been spared. This is the case nationally as well, according to data cited by this article. Some spreadsheets and additional commentary may be found here on “Saying the Unsaid in New York.”


How Adolfo Carrion Can Win My Vote

Unfortunately, the apathy of everyone else has left state and local politics to be dominated by the producers of public services, who want to force people to pay more for less, the wealthy, who do not require public services and benefits and do not want to pay for others to have them, and (to a lesser extent than in the past, fortunately) whackos obsessed by God, gays, guns and other issues of tribal and identity politics. These are the people and groups who donate the money and collect the signatures. And since the mainstream media uses endorsements, signatures and campaign contributions as the indicator of who is worth presenting to the broader public, their candidates are those who get the attention. Particularly since such candidates have flacks to do the work of the journalists for them.

Others are left with the valuable but unrewarding task of being protest candidates. As someone who lost nine months of income and ended my public service career to make a similar protest, they have my respect. I have previously written what the major party candidates for Mayor have to do to win my vote. If they fail to win do so, Adolfo Carrion can win that vote by showing, in the Mayoral debates, that he is prepared to speak for the rest of us, and for younger generations. Or by being excluded from those debates, which would really tick me off.


Big Issues in the Mayoral Race

In his 20s, Bill DeBlasio was interested in the Sandinistas and visited Nicaragua. Joe Lhota's wife was at fault in an auto accident five years ago. Next up, something Leonora Fulani said 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, and the candidates on twerking, whatever that is.

Not under discussion: the City of New York is broke. The State of New York is broke. The MTA is broke. The federal government is broke. People are increasingly broke, and younger generations are poorer than those who came before. Why? Who benefitted? Who should sacrifice, when and in what way, to stabilize things? It's joke.


How Joe Lhota Can Earn My Vote

I’ve noted that I don’t vote for Democrats at the local level, because they represent the producers of public services at the expense of increasingly less well off taxpayers and consumers of public services. And I don’t vote for Republicans at the federal level, on generational equity grounds and because they represent the unearned privileges of the wealthy in exchange for campaign contributions. In my post on Bill DeBlasio, I challenged him to earn my vote by separating himself from the public employee unions and contractors, to at least present the illusion that someone will be representing everyone else. In this post on Joe Lhota, I challenge him to separate himself from policies that shift costs to the future and disadvantage younger generations to make things easier for Generation Greed – and politicians today. Admit that the future will be tougher for younger generations, and they will have to settle for less as a result. And to break the seeming rule of Omerta with regard to what has gone on in the past by talking about it, saying it was wrong, and promising to try to reverse it or at least not make it worse.

In general Republican politicians have robbed the future from younger generations with debts and tax breaks for seniors, and Democratic politicians have done so with pension deals and senior services what will leave younger generations destitute when they reach old age themselves. But in bi-partisan New York State, both Democrats and Republicans work together to destroy the future of the city and state, and those who will live in it, both ways. Including the Giuliani Administration and those who have run the MTA. Let’s take a walk down memory lane with two examples of the policies Lhota would need to bring up, criticize, vow not to repeat, and admit that things will be worse – not better – to pay for going forward.


New York Times Endorsements: NYC Democrats Are Different, and Worse

I’ve often noted that my general voting rules are: don’t vote for any Republicans at the federal level, don’t vote for any Democrats at the New York City local level, and don’t vote for any incumbents from either party in the New York State Legislature. Recently, I followed a link to a timeline of New York Times endorsements for Mayor of New York, and found I may not be the only person who thinks that way, at least for the first two rules. The timeline shows that in 32 mayoral elections going back to consolidation, the Times endorsed only 9 NYC Democrats. This includes two endorsements of Ed Koch in 1981 and 1985, when he was also the Republican candidate. I’m not sure that counts. And two endorsements of Jimmy Walker in the 1920s. I think they’d like to have those back. That brings it down to 5 out of 32. And 15 times the Times endorsed third party or fusion candidates, nearly half the total. This is the organization that opposed non-partisan elections?

This is the liberal, Democrat loving Times? Yes, if you are talking about Democrats from somewhere else. At the national level, in 33 elections since 1884 the Times has endorsed Republican candidates for President only six times. And one of those was a local, Thomas E. Dewey. I’m not sure that counts, given that Dewey was probably popular with the Times’ readers. That brings it down to 5 of 33. Heck, the Times didn’t even endorse New Yorker Teddy Roosevelt. The Times has not endorsed a Republican for President since Eisenhower in 1956. There was also one third party/fusion endorsement. The rest, 25 out of 33, were Democrats.


How Bill DeBlasio Can Earn My Vote

It won’t be easy. For years – decades – I have generally stuck by a few simple voting rules. Don’t vote for any incumbent New York State legislators of either party, based on what the state has done for the past 20 years. Don’t vote for any Republicans at the federal level, on generational equity grounds among others. And don’t vote for any Democrats at the local level, because they represent the self-interest of producers of public services (the public sector unions and contractors) at the expense of the less well organized, generally less well off consumers of public services and taxpayers, in the city with among the highest tax burdens in the country. While being willing to cut a deal with wealthy business interests from time to time as well. I’ll certainly give Joe Lhota a hearing, though I have some big issues with the generational equity of certain financial policies of the Giuliani Administration, back when he was its budget director. And unlike many I’ll give Adolfo Carrion a hearing. He’s the only candidate I’ve actually had a conversation with, decades ago when we were both junior city planners with the NYC Department of City Planning.

As it happens, the public sector unions generally endorsed Bill DeBlasio’s rivals in the Democratic primary. Same with those in the financial and real estate sectors, and most of those in the private sector who make their living from government contracts. But they’ll rush to endorse DeBlasio now. If he wants to earn my vote, he can start by actively pursuing the support of private sector unions, who seem to be rushing to endorse him, but politely turning down the support of public sector unions, while promising to be fair to city workers. And turning down or even returning contributions from contractor organizations, real estate interests, and the financial sector. To send the message, or at least provide the illusion, that when labor contracts, development deals, and tax breaks are negotiated in the room, the people outside the room will be represented by someone too.


Hey Twentysomethings: My Clueless Daughters Will Not Be Voting in the Mayoral Primary, Will You?

What happens when you cross two carefree college students in their late teens and early 20s with the New York City Board of Elections? The loss of the ability to vote, in something as rare in New York City as the reappearance of as the 17-year cicada – a real election with a real choice. From the time they came from college in May, I pestered my daughters to send in a new absentee ballot form, but like most Americans that age they didn’t want to do something unless and until they had to. And when they finally got around to looking at the absentee ballot form, they decided they didn’t have to do anything at all. The form allows you to put in the dates when you will be away. They filled out the form last year, voted in last year’s election, and put in as the dates that they would be away all four years of college. That’s it, they decided, they were covered and didn’t need to fill out the form again. “That’s what the form says Dad,” followed by my least favorite phrase. “It’s fine.”

The Two Phases of the Mayoral Race

The Mayoral race has been a farce. The so-called policy books of the candidates provide all kinds of little giveaways, to you and you and you, with for the most part no idea where the money will come from. Meanwhile the mainstream media and the candidates point to a grave fiscal crisis that will later be used as an excuse. Here is the Times in its endorsement of Quinn. “The biggest challenge has not been talked about much — next year the new mayor will have to confront a budget crisis with no money to spare and all those expired municipal contracts to settle.”

Why? Why was it not talked about? Why is there a budget crisis? Employment is at a record high. Stock prices were at a record high and remain up for the year. The State of New York has raised income taxes on the rich, and MTA payroll taxes on everyone who earns a wage. The federal government has also raised income taxes on the rich, and payroll taxes on everyone else. The city has increased property taxes and fees. Services have been cut. What is going on, who has benefitted? Why is this fair? No one is willing to say. Because those who say will find themselves very unpopular with the limited number of self-interested people who matter.


How I Got the Pollsters To Leave Me Alone

I found that saying I'm not a Democrat or Republican makes them go away.

Should I Write About the Candidates for Mayor?

It sure has gotten quiet here on Room Eight. Perhaps those who once posted here regularly have spoken their piece after seven years. Perhaps they’ve decided to clam up because they are hoping for a job in the next administration, and don’t want to tick anybody off. Perhaps it’s hard to come home to a hobby that involves typing and calculating when your job is the same.

While waiting for the next spark of inspiration, I’ve been wresting with the question in the title. I don’t know the candidates for Mayor, and they don’t know me. The press coverage has been vacuous, the “policy statements” not much better. Neither get to the core of the question – when push comes to shove, who will be asked to make what sacrifices when, and why, and for what goals? When I’ve written about something publicly, I’ve known what I was talking about. I could be wrong, but it don’t consider it likely. With regard to the candidates for Mayor, what I have is impressions – things that have been said or done that stuck with me as indicative of broader values. Because for me that’s what it’s about – values. Not celebrity or personality or which tribe gets to suck out more or put in less at the expense of the other tribes, and the common future. Does it make sense for me to put forth my limited knowledge for the benefit of those who know even less? Or better to keep my mouth shut?


The Generation Greed Political Class Doesn't Understand Life Among the Serfs

"Speaking of rabbit years, Councilman Lew Fidler thoroughly disapproves of Time Warner Cable’s CBS blackout. “Shame on all of you,” he declared at a recent hearing. “There is something wrong with all of you … Every time I want to watch The Big Bang Theory I have to put 50 cents into the pot? … No one has rabbit ears anymore!”

Actually, I've never been willing to spring for paid TV. Same with quite a few people I know. And Brooklyn has traditionally been the urban county where paid TV had the lowest percentage of the market. But that may have changed, because younger generations, who are poorer, are skipping cable TV (and auto ownership and homeownership) in droves to try to offset the economic and fiscal hand they've been dealt by Generation Greed. I guess you can’t expect those in politics, who are mostly in Generation Greed or insulated from the situation of those coming after, to get that.


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