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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Dog Days Conversation Starters

1. Nassau County has a natural and historic “Hub.” The problem is that it’s in a place that some people don’t want it to be. Until the 1960s, when officials busied themselves with removing the last remnants of the old rail links between Mineola, Garden City and Hempstead, the Village of Hempstead was always considered the county’s hub. I’ve collected dozens of articles and advertisements from daily newspapers, from the 1920s into the 1950s, that actually use the phrase “Hub of Nassau County” to describe Hempstead. To my surprise, I’ve found dozens more that call the village the “Hub of Long Island,” a phrase I didn’t know. A concerted effort was made to cut Hempstead out of the “hub” picture decades ago, and it continues today.

 

2. In the past two months, officials of at least two Nassau County towns have publicly bragged about credit ratings, and specifically ratings issued by Moody’s Investor Service. Longtime readers of this space know that the bond ratings agencies do not measure financial health, management quality or even general competence. They measure the likelihood that investors will be paid back, even if push came to shove and massive tax increases became necessary. But the recent bragging raises a particularly serious question: Why are we hiring this firm at all? These officials are bragging about receiving the same or even lower grades issued to many of the toxic subprime mortgage derivatives that helped bring on the financial crisis. Some local and state governments want bond rating companies to stop exaggerating the risk associated with government bonds. Prominent experts insist that nearly all of the 29,000 public entities that pay Moody’s to assess risk merit an AAA rating. Lower ratings are costing taxpayers across the country billions each year in higher interest rates.

3. Ratings agencies should not be paid by the firms and governments they evaluate (for decades, the firms rated all those low-risk government bonds for free, as a public service. No more). From 2000 to 2007, thanks to the fees it charges, Moody’s enjoyed operating margins averaging 53 percent (Exxon averaged only 17 percent).

4. A lot gets made about the very high re-election rate of New York State legislators, which is consistently well over 90 percent. However, the re-election rate has not significantly changed over more than a century. Something else has. A hundred years ago, the average Member of the Assembly served three one-year terms and then stepped down or ran for something else. Right up through the early 1970s there were years in which one out of four legislators in either house did not run for re-election. The legislature, with its salary, benefits and other perks, has become a career.

5. Several weeks ago, I got an (unsolicited) email from a longtime elected official announcing their new permanent campaign website. The link in the message leads to a dead page. Found the correct page through a search engine. Click on two of the six menu items and you get a page that says, “Coming Soon.” It’s been like that for weeks now. Who is this meant to impress? If you can’t do these things right, don’t do it. At the very least, don’t brag about it when it clearly doesn’t work.

6. Seven weeks after switching cell phone carriers, I’m still sorting out the first bill, which contains incorrect or unexpected charges. Unfortunately, the cancellation period expired after 30 days, a week before I could find out what the charges would be. These companies not only use the airwaves that are owned by the public, they use our physical rights of way for their posts, towers and other equipment. Yet, in the end, there’s little the consumer can do to fight back.

7. Nassau Downs OTB now has 20 branch offices, “Fast Track” locations and other facilities where you can place a bet. All 20 are physically located south of the Long Island Expressway. Nineteen are south of Jericho Turnpike (one is on Jericho Turnpike). Whose money is being redistributed by this system?

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net