November 28, 2001
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Monday's Smartertimes dealt with the lead editorial in Monday's New York Times, which was headlined, "The Wrong Time to Fight Iraq." Today the New York Times's aversion to toppling Saddam Hussein spills over into the news columns, and it isn't pretty.
A news article in the international section of today's New York Times concludes, "Since Sept. 11, hard-line members of the administration have argued for aggressive action against Iraq. But Secretary of State Colin Powell has said there is no evidence linking Mr. Hussein to the terror attacks. He has also warned that an attack on Iraq would not have much support from many of the allies who support the United States' current campaign in Afghanistan."
That summary fails just about any test of fairness and balance. The supporters of aggressive action are not named, while the chief opponent is named. The supporters of aggressive action are labeled "hard-liners," while the opponents are not labeled at all. The Times does not include a single reason given by the supporters of aggressive action, while it gives two arguments that oppose aggressive action.
Another article in the international section of today's Times, a dispatch from Washington profiling retired General Anthony Zinni, reports, "During his final posting as head of Central Command, General Zinni criticized the Clinton administration's efforts to equip and train Iraqi exile groups in their effort to topple President Saddam Hussein, an aim supported by Republicans in Congress."
The use of the phrase "Republicans in Congress" is just a classic example of Times bias. The editors at the Times must think overthrowing Saddam is such a bad idea ("Wrong Time") that it could only be supported by "hard-liners" or "Republicans in Congress." In fact the Iraq Liberation Act that authorized such efforts passed the House of Representatives on October 5, 1998, by a vote of 360 to 38, and it passed the Senate on October 7, 1998, unanimously. Among its key backers in the Senate were Bob Kerrey and Joseph Lieberman, both Democrats.
Needed Support: A dispatch from the United Nations in the international section of today's New York Times reports on the American approach to sanctions on Iraq. "The approach also reflected a reluctance by the United States to provoke countries like Jordan, Syria and Turkey, which all have lively illegal trade with Iraq, but whose support the United States needs in the war on terrorism," the Times reports. It's strictly an opinion that America needs the support of Syria in the war against terrorism. Lots of people think that Syria is an enemy in the war against terrorism, and that America should be seeking not the support of its regime but that regime's destruction. The State Department lists Syria as a terrorist state. It's nonsensical to speak of needing the support of terrorists in the war against terrorism. If the Times wants to air this sort of nonsensical opinion on its op-ed pages or by quoting "experts" or government officials who hold that opinion, fine, but stating it as fact in a news article is another matter.
Bongo Drums: An article on the education page of today's New York Times reports on a protest at Colgate University over what some students say are "racially insensitive events, including an e-mail from a political science professor." The Times reports that the message said the professor was concerned "that too many students of color are seduced into taking exotic courses that make few demands on them rather than those courses that force them to grow emotionally and intellectually. It seems to me that if students of color graduate with inferior written and analytic skills to those of their white colleagues, Colgate faculty are certainly not serving the needs of all their students."
Compare that supposedly "racially insensitive" comment to the lament of the eminent black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, as reported in Midge Decter's new book "An Old Wife's Tale": "We fought and fought, people suffered, to get black kids into universities so they could have new opportunities. And now these university administrations are allowing them to go all through school studying their oppression and playing bongo drums."
Rather than examine the truth of Rustin's claim or that of the Colgate professor, the Times reports on the controversy about whether the remark was "racially insensitive." Do the Times and the Colgate protesters think Bayard Rustin was "racially insensitive"?
Blowing Smoke: A headline on an item in the National Briefing section of today's New York Times says, "Maryland: Antismoking Ban Loses Support." What's losing support, the news item makes clear, is a smoking ban, not an antismoking ban. The double negative is unnecessary and confusing. Maybe the Times should impose an anti-bad-headlines ban.
News Article: Smartertimes.com begins this month supplying some original, non-Times-related news coverage. Today's installment focuses on the New York City budget.
By Benjamin Smith
The next mayor could cut the benefits of city workers, clash with the popular Police Department, and even reopen Staten Island's massive, malodorous dump in response to what may well be a multi-billion dollar budget gap. Mr. Bloomberg will get a clearer view of the scope of the problem later this week or early next, when the mayor's office releases its first detailed forecasts for next year's crunch.
The cuts, which could add up to about 10% of New York City's more than $40 billion budget, will go far beyond the city's balance sheet. Services from sanitation to schools could be contracted out or sold off to private operators, while elected officials may have to do with leaner staffs. The new mayor can chip away at the shortfall with special borrowing privileges and hiring freezes, but he has pledged to avoid any tax hikes. Unexpectedly strong growth could make up some of the deficit by increasing tax revenue. But some spending cuts are probably unavoidable. Smartertimes.com asked a dozen New York City policy and budget experts for their opinions on where to cut and how. Most said that the real savings will have to come in cuts in labor spending, which now accounts for about half of the city budget.
"You can't do it by cutting expenditures for electricity, you can't do it by cutting expenditures for copying machines, you can't do it by cutting contracts," Columbia Business School professor Raymond Horton said. "Basically you can only get at a problem this large by making major reductions in the amount of money you're paying out to your municipal workforce."
Some of those savings could be won by the kinds of productivity gains suggested by the Citizens Budget Commission last December -- merit pay, reformed work rules, and salaries based on the market. (http://www.cbcny.org/CollectiveBargaining.pdf). Even then, the new mayor will probably have to look at the budget for additional cuts. Here are some suggestions from the budget watchers who spoke to Smartertimes.com.
1. Make city employees contribute to health care costs. "Like everyone else, city employees have to provide for some minimal payment toward their health care," Cooper Union professor Fred Siegel said. Employee contributions toward health insurance premiums and copayments for medical costs could trim $500 million annually from the city budget, the Citizens Budget Commission estimates.
2. Merge and slash bureaucracies. The Mayor's Office of Midtown Enforcement, for example, is a "vestige" of Times Square's seedier days, said Harvey Robins, who served as an aide to mayors Koch and Dinkins. And the Department of Records and Information could be folded into the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. "When you eliminate a commissioner by consolidating a function, you retain the function, but you don't need to have . . . the assistants, and all the bells and whistles," Mr. Robins said.
3. Replace desk-bound cops with civilians. The city could save by putting the administrative functions of Police Headquarters at One Police Plaza in the hands of administrators, not trained and more highly paid police officers, Douglas Offerman of the Citizens Budget Commission said. City Comptroller Alan Hevesi estimated in 1999 that the measure would save $36 million a year if officers were replaced through attrition, and more with a more aggressive approach.
4. Reform police overtime. Overtime costs have tripled since 1995 to more than $300 million, and excessive overtime -- as opposed to using employees during their regular shifts -- reflects "mismanagement," said Glenn Pasanen, associate director of City Project, a budget watchdog group. "The problem is political," Mr. Pasanen says of any cuts at the NYPD, citing the public focus on security and the department's hero status.
5. Sell off buses, garbage trucks, schools. "The most significant thing that could and should be done [to reduce costs] is to continue and accelerate the process of privatization," Baruch College Professor E. S. Savas said. Municipal employees unions would fight tooth and nail, and introducing school privatization has proven particularly difficult. But he estimates that 35% savings in public transit could dramatically reduce the city's annual more than $300 million subsidy to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
6. Cut non-core social services, like parenting classes, day care at high schools, and sensitivity training. Education "should focus on the absolute essentials, which is creating a literate workforce and citizenry," Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Heather MacDonald said. But the question is how much the new mayor is willing to antagonize many of the liberal Democrats who voted for him.
7. Reopen the Fresh Kills Landfill. Staten Island would holler, but "we do spend a lot more money exporting our waste than we used to," said the executive director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York, John Mollenkopf. New York now spends about $200 million a year exporting garbage, the Independent Budget Office reported.
8. Slash elected officials' staff. Many city officials, like borough presidents, don't actually have much responsibility -- but their staffs have continued to grow, said a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation, E.J. McMahon.
No cuts will be easy. A slipping economy means higher demand for social services. The city's labor agreements limit layoffs. And some of the city's federal and state funding mandates fixed city spending. Then there's an apparent conflict, at times, between good government and good politics.
"Across-the-board cuts are mindless and devoid of management skills," former New York State Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey Ross said. "They penalize agencies that are using resources effectively."
Singling out specific programs and agencies, however, will mean going head to head with powerful interest groups.
"There's nothing that government spends money on that doesn't have a substantial constituency, and it's going to be very hard to make those cuts," CUNY's Mr. Mollenkopf said.
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