One of the major components of Gov. Cuomo’s recently announced “2015 State of Opportunity Agenda” is a broadband iniative that proposes to bring high-speed Internet access to every New York State resident by 2019. It is, the governor’s office says, “the largest and boldest state investment in universal broadband deployment in the country.”

But good luck making this ambitious plan work in Greene County. Given Greene’s god-awful business and governmental leadership, whatever money is spent here is likely to be wasted.


Warren Hart. Photo: Planning & Economic Development

Let’s look at the record. Greene currently ranks dead last among New York State’s 62 counties for broadband access—fully 79% of Greene County’s citizens lack access to even 6Mbps broadband, a minimal standard which will soon be revised upward. This, despite years of empty posturing by everyone from Congressman Chris Gibson to Planning and Economic Development Director Warren Hart.

It’s an absolutely pathetic record. If Cuomo’s broadband plan does seek local input to guide development, as it says it will, then let’s hope these clowns won’t be involved. (The governor’s website says input will come from the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils instead, which would mean the Capital Region in our case.)

Greene doesn’t fare a whole lot better in other quality of life measures, either. We rank 57th in county health outcomes (the Bronx ranks last here). In education, of the 429 school districts in 48 counties throughout upstate New York, Greene’s best showing is no. 145, for the Windham-Ashland-Jewett District. Catskill comes in at 396, and Cairo-Durham at 404.

What is the problem here? Why do Greene residents tolerate this sort of worst-in-class performance? Is it really impossible to imagine something better?

Last night, Barack Obama gave the strongest State of the Union address of his presidency. If Republicans and the political pundits were expecting any sort of contrition following the Republican victories last November, they must have been sorely disappointed. Obama was aggressive in defense of his policies instead, and vowed to veto any Republican attempts to impede them. Better late than never, as they say. It’s good to see the leader we thought we elected in 2008 finally emerge, and it’s good to see Obama abandon his attempts to find compromise with people who are so conspicuously wrong on every important topic.


Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images.

Under the rubric of “middle-class economics,” the President proposed raising the tax rate on the richest Americans and large financial institutions to Reagan-era levels (i.e., still relatively low). The revenue would be used to provide tax breaks for working families, a higher minimum wage, expanded child care, two years’ worth of free community college and substantial investments in America’s ailing infrastructure, including broadband. It’s a sound, middle-of-the-road, common-sense approach which Republicans of course reject.

Speaking of broadband, Warren Hart, Greene County’s underperforming director of Economic Development, Tourism & Planning, was supposed to announce a new county broadband initiative last week. There’s been nary a peep in the press about this. Oops. Not that it matters; more than a year ago, Hart was talking about using towers designed for emergency cell service to improve the county’s broadband coverage. That was a clumsy idea back then and it remains so now. If the county ever does gain decent broadband, it will be through policies imposed from the top down, either at the state or federal level.

Progressive change, as ever, is likely to be incremental and the Republicans, at every level of government, will try to obstruct such change. But it was good to listen to the President set the terms of the debate.

I woke up this morning to read this:

"Police in Idaho say a two-year-old boy shot and killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart store after finding the weapon in her purse."

Then I read it again, just to make sure I was awake. I checked the Times, which told me the details were "shatteringly ordinary"—"a 2-year-old toddler, sitting in a shopping cart in a Walmart, his mother’s purse unattended and within reach as she shopped."


Photo: Kathy Plonka/AP.

This was in Hayden, Idaho. A sheriff’s spokesman there said "it appears to be a pretty tragic accident."

Yeah. Pretty tragic.

It’s been a long time coming, but today Gov. Cuomo announced that fracking will be banned in the state of New York, in large part because of the health risks involved (a study of these risks has only recently concluded, after running for years).

Don't Frack New York
At last: New York bans fracking. Photo: inhabitat.com

This isn’t the time to go into the political calculations involved in the decision, though obviously they have been considerable. Let’s take some time instead to celebrate an important move forward, regardless of what it took to get to this point (and much of what it took is a lot of hard work on the part of progressives throughout the state, including Zephyr Teachout’s strong run in this fall’s Democratic primary).

New York is the first state with significant shale deposits to ban fracking, and that’s a great holiday gift for all of us who live here.

Less than two weeks after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. declined to bring charges against a cop in the shooting of Michael Brown, a Staten Island grand jury has voted not to bring criminal charges in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a white police officer.

Garner’s crime? Suspicion of selling unlicensed cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry landing.

The decision not to bring criminal charges comes despite the fact that an autopsy by the city’s medical examiner found that Mr. Garner’s death was a homicide resulting from the chokehold and the compression of his chest by police officers. Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD’s own guidelines.

Another Cop Gets Away with Murder
Another cop gets way with murder. Photo: guardian.com.

Blacks have always been subject to discriminatory and disproportionate violence at the hands of the police, but the situation has grown wildly out of control. The militarization of police departments across the country is only accelerating this murderous trend. And President Obama and Attorney General Holder, both black, have so far provided only a tepid collective response.

The police occupy a position of substantial respect in this country, which goes a long way—along with America’s continuing and pervasive racism—toward explaining why grand juries defy evidence and logic to exonerate murderous actions.

Cops collectively no longer deserve the respect America has given them. Too many citizens are killed each year, in too many questionable circumstances, to warrant it.

It’s time someone had the guts to stand up to today’s murderous police criminality and also to America’s massive, corrupt and profitable prison industry (a major source of employment here in upstate New York). Law enforcement in America has become a sick joke and a national disgrace.

Windham, NY is a Republican town, and a rather slow-moving one at that. Both property and school taxes are fairly high, especially considering what one receives in return (virtually nothing). Yet this is the way things are, and the way they have been. It doesn’t seem to bother most residents, but it bothers us.

Below is an example of the sort of thing I’m talking about: here’s a Windham plow on one of the town’s far-flung streets. As you can see, there’s nothing to be plowed. The driver simply drove to the top of a hill and sat there, killing time. On his way back down—plow raised and inactive, of course—he stopped to answer a query as to what he was doing out on the road, since there was no snow.


Make-work: a plow with no snow in Windham.

“I agree, it’s stupid,” he said, or words to that effect. “But Tommy Hoyt (the town’s highway superintendent) sent me out here.”

I really shouldn’t single out Windham for this kind of wastefulness, even though I resent paying for it. The town of East Jewett is just as careless of taxpayer resources and funding, if not more so. There, we have also seen plows out on the road when there was no snow. On at least one occasion, the driver was industriously plowing the snowless road, sparks a-flying.

Earlier this week, prior to the disastrous 2014 election results, I raised the question of whether my, or your, individual vote really matters anymore—whether anything would change regardless of which way we voted, or whether we voted at all. I was enormously frustrated and cynical when I wrote that, but I was also pretty much correct: under our current two-party system, the individual doesn’t count for much.

The American Unwinding Continues
Image from George Packer’s The Unwinding, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013).

The mainstream media’s reading of the election results has been predictably superficial; the local media’s reading even more so. Yes, the Republicans won handily. Voters were unhappy, so they voted for “change.” This is of course starkly ironic, in that Americans heartily disapproved of Congress and Republican obstructionism before the election. Now we’ll have more of the same.

Still, one should never give up. What is the way forward?

For Democrats at every level (local, regional, statewide, national), the message needs to be sharper and stronger if the party is to stand for anything at all. Here in Greene County, I have nothing but admiration for Democrats who brave the odds and run for office (though I’d like to see them more dynamic and outspoken). But as regards the 19th Congressional District, I have to ask: what the hell was the party thinking? Surely Democrats will be able to come up with a more plausible candidate from this region the next time Gibson runs for reelection.

Timid, wishy-washy stances on every important topic contributed to the piss-poor showing of Democrats and progressives on Tuesday. A Democratic candidate in Ohio who wouldn’t even admit to voting for the president? Cuomo at the top of the Working Families ticket? (That party paid dearly for its mistaken “compromise.”) Candidates who were unwilling to address climate change or economic inequality? No wonder most people stayed home, or voted for the other side to voice their dissatisfaction (contrary to their own interests though that vote may have been).

Zephyr Teachout, who ran strongly against Cuomo in the Democratic primary, had this to say about the midterm results.

And the national news that Democrats lost—well, that’s a sign we need to return to our core progressive values with Elizabeth Warren-style populism if we’re going to win, not a set of manufactured milquetoast messages with no real ideas behind them. People feel powerless—we should address that honestly and directly, and take on the monopolists that are rigging the system. We need a trust-busting, pro-public school, clean energy Democratic Party that is unafraid to speak the truth and refuses the trickle-down ideology. So let’s keep up the fight.

She’s not talking about Hillary Clinton in 2016, folks.

This morning’s post prompted a response from Doreen Davis, the Greene County Democratic Party Chair.

I certainly understand your frustration but we’ve been working our !%& off on Cece and Paul Salvino. If we can get a countywide Dem elected to DA and return CeCe to the NYS Senate it would be huge for Greene County.

I agree. Vote for Tkaczyk and Salvino. Tkaczyk has in fact been endorsed by the Working Families Party, and both candidates are greatly preferable to their opponents.

I almost decided to ignore this election. Yes, the country is in dire straits and the stakes are indeed high. But it’s likely this election will have almost zero impact on any of our nation’s most important problems. For the first time in my life I’m tempted to skip voting altogether.

Vote Blue—Power to the People
Vote Blue 2014 POWER TO THE PEOPLE logo by Jeff Dombrowski.

And yet … there are differences. So you can argue citizens have a duty to choose, so as to minimize destructive outcomes. Chris Gibson is widely viewed as a nice guy, but that is no reason to vote for him, as this editorial makes clear. As for the rest of tomorrow’s choices, progresssive voters would do well to vote the Working Families Party line, with the exception of the choices for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. There, the vote should go for Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong, and tomorrow’s election will somehow make a difference.

Can Americans work together toward a better collective future?

The short answer is no.

Longer, more nuanced versions of this answer are available at the seventh annual conference at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, which runs today and tomorrow. The conference is titled, "The Unmaking of Americans," with a subtitled question asking "Are There Still American Values Worth Fighting For?"

The Unmaking of Americans
America’s more divided than ever before.

Earlier today, George Packer (The Unwinding), Charles Murray (Coming Apart: the State of White America, 1960-2010), Zephyr Teachout (Corruption in America) and others held forth on the reasons why Americans are no longer on the same page. (Hint: growing inequality has a lot to do with it.) Some of the participants are more optimistic than others, but all seem to feel the current fragmented state of American life does not bode well for our collective future and cannot continue indefinitely. This morning’s session, with Packer, Murray, Teachout et al. was streamed live with intermittent dropouts, at least at my rural location.

The differences in today’s America are stark, and run much deeper than current midterm election rhetoric would indicate. On my rural road in Greene County, there is a very wide range of educational attainment and income, ranging from an absentee property owner who earns tons of money working for the London Stock Exchange, to affluent retirees whose professional lives were based in New York City, to working class "natives" of limited means and prospects.

Charles Murray made the point this morning that the "new upper class" of Americans (highly skilled knowledge workers, for the most part) is almost completely out of touch with "ordinary" Americans. He uses TV watching, mass-produced American beer and pick-up trucks as class markers. There are plenty of all three on my street, and the people involved cluster together. So do people at the other end of the scale—we don’t watch much TV (streaming films on Netflix, mostly), we don’t drink much beer, let alone domestic beer, and we don’t own pickup trucks. But we do have interests in common, and they define who belongs to our circle. We cluck our collective tongues at the natives, who don’t have sense enough to vote in their own self-interest and can’t ever seem to get ahead. In turn, the natives resent us bitterly and will always regard us as interlopers. They jeer at the "citiots" who don’t have basic blue-collar skills and can be ripped off for various household maintenance and repair work.

The two tribes are more separate than ever before, and this is of course reflected politically. It’s also reflected in personal circumstances. Murray points out that marriage and family life are far more stable among the upper middle class and beyond, which is hardly surprising—money pressures are a huge strain on households.

Packer notes that previous channels of upward mobility are now blocked. People tend to get stuck in their current economic situations, and children have a more difficult time than ever transcending their parents’ status. Among the working class, it’s a truism that many people are only a paycheck or two away from becoming homeless. For many people, there is no safety net at all.

As I noted above, not everyone is totally pessimistic about America’s future. But there’s not a lot of room for optimism, either. Certainly the petty politics around next month’s midterm elections do not inspire confidence. Chris Gibson again? Really?

It’s "us against them," but as long as today’s harsh divisions persist no group is going to come out on top, or stay there for long. Which is exactly the way those who actually are at the top—the fabled 1%—want it to be.

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