November 29, 2001
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An article in the metro section of today's New York Times reports matter-of-factly on a debate over pricing for rides in city taxicabs. "The fare increase is to be debated at a hearing of the Taxi and Limousine Commission on Dec. 27, four days before the mayor and most of the City Council, who choose the commissioners, leave office," the Times reports. "But the mayor made it clear that he supported some kind of increase, even saying at one point that the two-tier pricing system 'is something that I approved a couple of days ago.'"
The Times article never questions the underlying assumption that the city government ought to be setting the prices in transactions between taxi customers and taxi drivers. Yet in a world in which price controls and centrally planned economies are generally considered things of the past, the taxi fare-setting procedures are a vestige of a command economy. The Times doesn't have to agree with this point of view. But it would be refreshing if, in a news article like this, the newspaper once in a while sought comment from a dollar-van driver or free-market economist who might say something like, "We've pretty much decided in our economy that the government won't set the prices for restaurant meals, hotel rooms or neckties. So why should taxi fares be an exception to that general rule?"
Defenders of the current system will no doubt raise concern about traffic jams and the specter of unregulated drivers who don't know the city's streets or its language. But isn't that a debate worth having rather than skipping?
Command Economy, II: An editorial in today's New York Times discusses the financial difficulties of Enron. The editorial blames "fawning investors, Wall Street analysts, journalists and accountants unwilling to allow a company's lack of transparency about its business to get in the way of a dizzying ride, until they realize the destination is the top of a steep cliff."
The editorial goes on to say that, "Now Enron is the best argument for stronger supervision of public companies' financial data." And in case it's not clear what kind of "supervision" the Times has in mind, the newspaper specifies, "There is a certain irony that Enron, a champion of deregulation, now becomes a poster child for strong regulation on Wall Street."
The editorialists' approach to investments seems to be the same as the news department's approach to taxi fares -- that a strong government role is necessary to protect consumers. Yet, as the editorial itself concedes, the failure here was not the government's but that of "investors, Wall Street analysts, journalists and accountants." One might as well argue that Enron is a poster child for "strong regulation" of journalists by the government. Such regulation would be unconstitutional, of course, but what's more, there's no reason to suggest it would be effective. In the long run, in a free market, journalists who keep touting companies that collapse will lose their readership to more reliable journalists. Analysts who keep touting companies that collapse will find it hard to find employers willing to pay their million-dollar-a-year salaries. And investors will learn the hard way about the tradeoff between risk and reward. There's little, if any evidence that government regulators are in the long run any better guarantors of this than the free market is.
Nadler and the Welsh: An article in the national section of today's New York Times quotes Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York. "The bill before the House welshes on that solemn pledge," the Times quotes Mr. Nadler as saying. When Bill Clinton used the word "welsh" this way, Rees Lloyd, general counsel for the Welsh-American Legal Defense, Education and Development Fund called the remark "awful" and "insensitive," according to CNN. The New York Times stylebook describes this use of the word "welsh" as "an ethnic slur." So why isn't the Times headline, "New York Congressman Uses Ethnic Slur; Welsh Express Outrage"? Given the Times' tip-toeing around the sensitivities of other angry minority groups, it is interesting to see that Mr. Nadler get a free ride on what by the Times's own definition is an "ethnic slur."
Their Own Worst Enemy: An op-ed piece in today's New York Times asserts that "American Jews -- and even Israelis -- are probably far more open to some reasonable pressures on Israel in the cause of a Middle East peace than most politicians believe." It goes on to cite polls that purport to show this. The assertion is highly questionable. If you call people up and ask them if they would support skin boils in the cause of a Mideast peace they will say yes. This doesn't measure support for skin boils; it measures support for Mideast peace. What's going on here is an op-ed that asserts, "People support skin boils."
The op-ed piece relies on two surveys that are tainted by their association with advocacy groups. One is being described as having been conducted by "the Forward, an independent national news weekly of Jewish affairs." But in fact, since Lipsky-Steinhardt LLC sold its half-ownership of the paper (that's when the editor of Smartertimes.com, who used to work there, left), the Forward has hardly been "independent." The newspaper now effectively functions as an organ of a left-wing American Jewish advocacy group called the Labor Zionist Alliance, whose officers and directors interlock with those of the Forward. One of the social scientists hired to conduct the study for the Forward is a left-wing Israeli political activist. And even that survey's most interesting result was that, asked "Were Jewish groups right to protest administration pressure on Israel?" 61% agreed, and 38% disagreed. The Times op-ed doesn't mention that result -- a classic case of data-mining.
Just in case you're lost in the statistics, let Smartertimes.com just underscore again exactly how galling this is. The editor of a newspaper conducts a poll asking about Bush administration "pressure" on Israel. The newspaper's poll shows that, even with a very popular president in office after September 11, 61% of its respondents support protests against that pressure, while 38% oppose them. And what does the newspaper editor do? He writes an op-ed for the New York Times that doesn't even mention at all the 61% finding, but asserts, in the absence of any evidence, that American Jews support pressure on Israel. He hangs that on a basically split response to another question, one that asked about whether the Bush administration was right to call for "restraint." That question measured support for the Bush administration and support for "restraint," but it tells nothing about support for pressure. The question that asked about pressure, the op-ed writer left out of his op-ed, because the result undermined his assertion.
Another study the Times op-ed piece cites was openly sponsored by the Israel Policy Forum, another left-wing advocacy group. When studies on these issues are conducted by independent pollsters or by more moderate groups such as the American Jewish Committee or the Middle East Quarterly, the results show that American Jews overwhelmingly oppose pressuring Israel to divide or surrender its capital in the face of Arab terrorism. The Times op-ed ignores those polls.
News Article: Another non-Times related original news article from Smartertimes.com:
Brownsville Councilman Pushes Ebonics,
Yet with a worn casual sweater (the council member-elect eschews suits on revolutionary principle) and close-cut salt-and-pepper hair over a cherubic face, the 51-year old, newly elected Mr. Barron looks more like a block association president than a proud former Black Panther. Indeed, he is president of the Bradford Street Block Association, and scourge of his neighborhood's drug dealers. He's pressed rap musicians to clean up their lyrics, and he's worked with neighborhood groups to replace schools' coal furnaces.
Mr. Barron says his entry into the "white power structure" that he's been battling for decades will give a new voice to the city's African-American and Latino residents, and he promises to shake things up from the inside. Others call him divisive. And critics say some of the policies he champions would end up hurting the people he is trying to help. Ebonics, a kind of black English, some say would trap African-American children outside the workforce, and the program was labeled a "cruel joke" by the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Kweisi Mfume. In any case, Mr. Barron's political career is worth keeping an eye on; he told Smartertimes.com he is already mulling a run for Gracie Mansion.
"I don't have to change who I am, I don't have to placate or capitulate to any white liberal group" to succeed in citywide politics, he said. "With the changing demographics, if people of color and progressive whites came together in a coalition, you only need ten percent of the white vote to win" the 2013 mayor's race.
"He's radical, but he's effective," the president of a school board in his district of East New York and Brownsville in Brooklyn, Reginald Bowman, said.
How radical is he? Well, he says he'll lobby for the release of Black Panther "prisoners of war" still in jail for shooting cops in the late 1960s and early 1970s. ("Who is going to raise [the issue] if not me?") He says that New York's most prominent African-American leaders are too close to the Democratic Party. He describes independent corporate investment in inner city economies as "domestic neocolonialism." As for Khalid Abdul Muhammad, he says the late anti-Semite "said some crazy stuff, some of it just wrong É but I know one thing: he loved black people."
But with pre-session City Council maneuvering already underway, Mr. Barron has also positioned himself as a leader of the Fresh Democracy Council, a mainstream group of new members calling for rule changes that will reduce the council speaker's power.
"A lot of people with a position and agenda as unconventional as his are not effective legislators," said another of the group's members, David Yassky, who, like Mr. Barron, is a newly-elected city councilman from Brooklyn. "He's the rare person who has both got an ideological vision but also understands that to get things done in government you need to compromise."
Mr. Barron grew up in a housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He says his political stance has changed little since he joined the Black Panther Party in 1969. To him, the panthers represented "education, children, clothing, survival programs" and "the boldness to pick up arms and stand up against a far more powerful white power structure." In other words, "the same values that the council is supposed to want for its people."
The Panthers collapsed amid arrests and infighting in the early 1970s -- leaving police officers dead in shootouts. Mr. Barron says he never carried a gun. Mr. Barron went back to school, earning a degree in sociology from Hunter College. He then returned to black separatist politics, eventually serving as chief of staff to Reverend Herbert Daughtry, the leader of the National Black United Front.
In 1985, Mr. Barron founded Dynamics of Leadership, Inc., now a two-person consulting business that earns its roughly $100,000 of annual revenues from his speaking tours and from "leadership training" sessions performed for schools, non-profit organizations, and others.
In 1997, Mr. Barron lost a tight race against incumbent Patricia Wooten, a fixture first elected in 1981. This year, with Ms. Wooten forced to retire because of term limits, he ran against former New York Knick Gregory Jackson, who had the backing of the Brooklyn Democratic organization. Mr. Barron garnered the support of some city unions, of the Rev. Al Sharpton, and of former mayor David Dinkins. He won by 269 votes in a six-way race.
"I will fight for radically rearranging American society," he said, vowing to "more equitably distribute the wealth to the masses of American people, particularly people of color."
Now the question is: how high can a self-described "black revolutionary Christian socialist" go in New York politics? Mr. Barron has a clear answer: he wants to be mayor when he's 63.
He seems an unlikely choice. Conventional wisdom has long held that winning African-American and Latino candidates are moderates who can appeal to white voters, who are the city's largest minority.
But Mr. Barron sees shifting city demographics as opening the door for a mayor from the far left.
His plan is undoubtedly a long shot. The radical coalition of African-American, Caribbean-American, and Latinos that he imagines will depend increasingly on the growing population of Latino immigrants -- who may not be all that radical.
"Latinos are one of the most conservative groups in the New York City ethnic spectrum," City University urban studies professor John Mollenkopf said.
But Mr. Barron pledges to press forward. In his neat office last week, he demonstrated his characteristic blend of radicalism and pragmatism: his first priority, he said, will be working the Fresh Democracy Council to lobby for rule changes. That, and do something about the art.
"I'm going to say, 'Mr. Speaker, Madam advocate, I want to pass a motion that we commission some artists and diversify the interior of these chambers here,'" he said. "'In other words, too many white men on the wall. Where's the black people? Where's the Latinos?"
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