The Republicans are coming! The Republicans are coming!
For the first time in its history, the Grand Old Party will hold its convention in New York City, a place the party’s Presidential candidates prefer to avoid except at check-collecting time. It’s a brilliant stroke for the party and terrific news for the city. A good news/good news scenario, if ever there was one.
By assembling here in 2004, the Republicans will show our allies and our enemies just how resilient we are-as a city, a nation and a people. We were terribly wounded on Sept. 11, 2001, and we became a symbol of the civilized world’s struggle with the ruthless forces of a backward, oppressive ideology posing as a religion. But we are fighting back. The Republican Party, to its credit, recognizes New York’s pain, its grief and its determination. The party’s decision to convene here is a welcome show of support, a moving tribute to our sacrifice and a bold gesture of defiance.
But the importance of the convention goes beyond issues related to Sept. 11. The Republican Party wants to, and needs to, broaden its base. It has made a concerted effort to woo Latino voters. Republican New Yorkers like George Pataki and Michael Bloomberg (and before them, Tom Kean in New Jersey) have reached out to minorities and labor unions, persuading them that the party is not hostile to their issues and concerns. What better place to change the party’s image than in diverse and multicultural New York? It’s also good for the city, frankly, to strengthen its bonds with the Bush administration. In addition, having the Republicans in town will be a boost to the economy: They like to live well and can be counted on to spend money on restaurants, hotels and in high-end retail stores.
It’s too bad that the Democrats so sullenly took their show to Boston because Mayor Bloomberg rightly refused their demand that he stop trying to woo the Republicans. Democrats wanted New York exclusively, and when they didn’t get their wish, they walked away.
Republicans never made any such demands, and they will benefit from their presence here. And so will we.
Seidenberg and Babbio: Verizon’s Greedy Duo
Once upon a time, a job with the telephone company was the ultimate working-person’s dream. The company never laid off workers and provided a salary that wasn’t exceptional, but was secure and good enough to help build a middle-class life for the employees and their families.
But that was before Ivan Seidenberg and Larry Babbio took over the company now known as Verizon. From 1997 to 2001, Mr. Seidenberg, the company’s chief executive, skimmed $56 million from the coffers in various forms of compensation. His vice chairman, Mr. Babbio, did even better, sucking out more than $78 million. And how did the company fare under their charge? Verizon lost half a billion last spring and wrote off two-and-a-half billion in stinko investments.
It sounds like Verizon’s leaders should have been run out of town. Instead, the company laid off 2,400 workers in New York, and hundreds more around the Northeast, just in time for the holidays. Mr. Seidenberg and his annual salary of $13.4 million, and Mr. Babbio with his salary of $24 million, are safe. No doubt they enjoyed a happy new year.
This latest example of corporate greed is simply outrageous. Verizon’s middle-class workers are losing jobs because of rotten decisions made by the gluttons who run the company and who are suffering not a bit from the results of their own incompetence. No wonder Verizon’s employees are embittered: They understand that the telecommunications business has changed, and they know that no job is forever-not any more. But they’re also right to point out that people like Mr. Seidenberg and Mr. Babbio, and not the middle-class work force, are sheltered from economic storms. They don’t get laid off in bad times. They don’t suffer consequences when they make bad decisions. They simply reward themselves all the more.
In an age when service counts, Verizon executives continue to slather themselves in perks rather than investing in the workers who do the work and maintain the vital lines and equipment.
How Rich Do You Feel?
While New Yorkers are feeling the economic pinch along with the rest of the country, many are fortunate enough to have thriving careers, decent apartments and some spending money left over. In fact, they may feel like they’re quite comfortably well-off, thank you very much. But chances are that many of the self-styled “well-to-do” are actually suffering from a new condition known as “affluent attitude.” Diagnosed by the pollsters at Yankelovich, affluent attitude occurs when those in the middle class start behaving with the attitudes and expectations of the very rich. It can be seen when shoppers with modest incomes demand premium brand names for their ice cream, their clothing and their cars. As The New York Times recently pointed out, Americans kept spending wildly in 2002, despite the overwhelming evidence of mass layoffs, a slumping stock market and dim economic forecasts on the nightly news. Surely, New York restaurants are packed each night with well-meaning folk who have no business spending $30 on a piece of fish or $65 on a bottle of wine.
Affluent attitude runs deep. A Time magazine survey found that 19 percent of Americans believe they have incomes within the top 1 percent -and that an additional 20 percent believe they will someday. It doesn’t take an economics degree to realize that if you have 40 percent of the country living under the delusion that they are far wealthier than they actually are, you’re going to see a country awash in credit-card debt and tragically unprepared for the future. As The Weekly Standard ‘s David Brooks recently commented, the people who will be most damaged by America’s epidemic of affluent attitude are our children and grandchildren, who will be left to pay our bills and puzzle over a cure.