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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York was at one time considered a likely Democratic candidate for president. But the excellent investigative report in today’s New York Times, written by Susanne Craig, William K. Rashbaum and Thomas Kaplan, will, with luck, end that prospect once and for all. The story details how Cuomo established the Moreland Commission with great fanfare last year, supposedly to fight endemic corruption in Albany, then crippled the commission’s efforts to examine any issues related to Cuomo himself before disbanding the commission altogether (it was supposed to run through the end of this year).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Not to be trusted. Photo: AP/Mike Groll.

The Times story amply demonstrates the bombastic, bullying and aggressive style of the governor and his staff and casts serious doubt on the governor’s personal integrity (disclaimer: I spent much of last year working as a technology consultant in one of the state offices serving the governor). As of late afternoon, the story had prompted well over 400 comments on the Times site, most of them condemning the governor’s actions and lack of principle.

Here’s a representative comment, from Michael S. of Wappingers Falls:

Albany has been hopelessly corrupt since before the Theodore Roosevelt administration and nobody has succeeded in reforming it. Some Governors have been principled men and fought corruption valiantly. Unfortunately Governor Cuomo is endlessly self-aggrandizing and stands for nothing more than his own political advancement. Hopefully this scandal might put a spike into his presidential ambitions.

And that was one of the milder comments.

Unfortunately, even if Cuomo’s arrogant sense of entitlement succeeds in removing him from the national stage—and it should—he is still a presence to be reckoned with in our state. It’s really too bad the election is so close at hand. With just a little more time, the actions of Cuomo and his team—their “my way or the highway” style, and their sneering disregard of ethical considerations—might be able to get someone more qualified elected governor.

Addendum: I’ve just learned that Lawrence Lessig has started a petition which demands that Cuomo resign immediately. You can sign it here.

Here in upstate New York, bad telecommunications service is taken for granted. Many areas lack wireless service. Most areas lack adequate broadband. And—something I hadn’t known—it turns out that New York State ranks third in the number of people with no telephone service whatsoever.

rotary dial telephone
Can we improve NY’s telecom infrastructure? Photo: Wikipedia.

Now someone is finally trying to do something about the state’s lagging telecommunications infrastructure. Last week, the Communications Workers of America, along with 16 other organizations including AARP, Common Cause, Consumers Union, Citizen Action, the Working Families Party and the NYS AFL-CIO,
filed a petition to the New York State Public Service Commission requesting a formal investigation of the state of the telecommunications industry.

The new Connect New York Coalition was joined by approximately 75 elected officials, including the Mayors of Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Kingston and Poughkeepsie and many state assembly members and senators (though not Pete Lopez—no surprise there— or Cecilia Tkaczyk, which is a surprise).

The petition seeks to address these concerns:

  • The state’s unacceptably high ranking in the number of people with no phone service
  • A 500% increase in basic telephone service rates
  • Corporate plans—especially Verizon’s—to starve and abandon legacy landline service
  • The refusal of telecoms to expand broadband service to rural areas and many upstate cities
  • The steady deterioration in service quality and telecommunications infrastructure

This is very important stuff, and addressing it is long overdue. The quality of New York State’s telecommunications service has a direct impact on each individual citizen as well as the state’s overall economic well-being. The Connect New York Coalition’s petition to the Public Service Commission is a necessary first step toward improving telecom quality.

You can download a copy of the Coalition’s press release (in .docx format) here. For additional information, contact Dan Levitan of BerlinRosen Public Affairs, 646-200-5315 or dan@berlinrosen.com.

Last Thursday, June 19, the indefatigable Doreen Davis, Chair of the Greene County Democratic Committee, pulled together a “Meet ’n Greet” for three candidates on the ticket this fall: Sean Eldridge, running for the U.S. Congress in the 19th District, Cecilia Tkaczyk, running for reelection as state senator in the 46th District, and Paul Salvino, running for county district attorney.

Ms. Tkacyyk had a conflicting commitment, but both Eldridge and Salvino addressed Democratic supporters in the spacious courtyard at the home of Jon Phillips and Ginnie Gardiner in Catskill.

Sean Eldridge Speaking in Catskill
Sean Eldridge Speaking in Catskill. Photo: Beth Schneck Photography.

I’ll focus on Mr. Eldridge in this brief summary. He was very much on his game Thursday, and reminded me of the favorable impression I reported last January. More to the point, Eldridge expressed confidence about this November’s election, even in the midst of lavish PAC spending by his opponent.

The Eldridge campaign, which got off to a rocky start, seems to be purring along nicely now. Case in point: the recent launch of The Real Chris Gibson website—a site which sharply outlines the many hypocrisies of “nice guy” Gibson, who constantly tries to cast himself as more moderate than he actually is.

That’s not to say that Eldridge vs. Gibson won’t be close—it likely will be—or that Eldridge doesn’t need your support (he does). But as Eldridge pointed out Thursday, Gibson is a prominent member of the least productive Congress in U.S. history. There is absolutely no rational reason to reelect him—particularly when Sean Eldridge is far more reflective of most voters’ values in our congressional district.

Visit the Eldridge campaign site for more information, and watch for opportunities to hear him in person yourself.

After a flurry of last-minute negotiating last weekend, Andrew Cuomo has managed to win a place on the Working Families Party ticket this fall. This goes against the wishes of a large number of Working Family members, who would have preferred Fordham professor Zephyr Teachout—or anyone else, really—to Cuomo. For years now, the governor has been seen as too centrist, too compromising and too untrustworthy by the more progressive Working Families Party.

Governor Cuomo Wins Again
Governor Cuomo Wins Again. Photo: Mike Groll/AP.

To achieve his place on the Working Families line, Cuomo—helped by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Cuomo tries to keep under his thumb—had to make some concessions. He agreed to support a Democratic takeover of the State Senate leadership, something he’s previously resisted. He also agreed to pursue campaign finance reform, a chimera that remains ever elusive (much like eliminating state political corruption, which the Moreland Commission was supposed to do until Cuomo shut it down), a higher state minimum wage and passage of the Dream Act, which would permit college students in the country illegally who meet certain criteria to access state financial aid.

Who knows whether Cuomo will follow through on any of this—rank-and-file Working Families Party members don’t trust him, and neither do I. (Disclaimer: I spent much of last year working as a technology consultant in one of the state offices serving the governor.) He rules his staff by fear and intimidation, and is inconsistent at best when it comes to standing on principle. The consensus opinion is that Cuomo places his own political ambitions above all else and will cross any line he needs to in order to win.

The governor wants a landslide victory this November, to demonstrate what an attractive candidate he is for national office. If the Working Families Party had opposed him, his victory margin would have been significantly reduced. And yet, as long as Hillary Clinton remains the front runner for 2016, what difference does this make? There is no way Cuomo can successfully challenge Clinton in the primaries. Is he angling for the number two spot on the 2016 ticket? That seems unlikely, given Cuomo’s stupendous ego. But what a potent, Machiavellian, House of Cards-style ticket that would make!

The mass shooting near UC Santa Barbara last Friday evening was but the latest in an seemingly endless stream of mediagenic gun tragedies. (Most gun-related deaths, murders and suicides alike, go unnoticed.) Once again we had a disturbed young perpetrator attacking his own frustrations by taking the lives of others, and then his own. Once again, we had candlelight vigils and pious expressions of sympathy. Once again, pundits attributed the latest slaughter to inadequate mental health procedures … to the culture at large, particularly misogyny … and to lax gun “controls,” even in a state with more “controls” than most.

But this time, we also had something different: we had a father of one of the victims putting the blame for this latest outrage where it belongs, with “craven, irresponsible politicians and the N.R.A.” Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was among Friday’s victims, spoke with courage and spoke the truth. Watch him here.

Richard Martinez Calls Out Craven Politicians and the N.R.A.
Richard Martinez Calls Out Craven Politicians and the N.R.A. Photo: You Tube.

Martinez calls on everyone to tell their elected officials “Not One More”. It’s a heartfelt and media-savvy slogan, but of course without legislative and/or judicial action it will go nowhere. The United States is so in thrall to the gun lobby that it can’t even produce minimal, common sense gun “controls,” such as universal background checks. And even if we could, it wouldn’t be enough. As gun fanatics love to point out, there are already some 300 million guns in private hands out there.

The heart of the matter lies with the Second Amendment, and the Second Amendment, as presently interpeted, lies. For more than 200 years, federal courts interpreted the Second Amendment quite narrowly—the phrase “well regulated Militia” limited the scope of the amendment, it was felt. It was not a freestanding right to own guns, as interpreted today.

The National Rifle Association, more than any other group, helped to change this historical interpretation—Mr. Martinez is right on target there. In response to their efforts to change the Second Amendment’s historical meaning, former Chief Justice Warren Burger (a conservative appointed by President Nixon) said this represented “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud’, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”*

Nevertheless, the N.R.A. succeeded. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, a majority of the Supreme Court accepted the view that Burger regarded as fraudulent.

Now another former member of the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, has issued a call to reverse this flagrant misjudgment and its tragic consequences. In his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Little, Brown, 177 pp.), Stevens proposes the Second Amendment be modified to specify that it applies only to those who keep and bear arms “when serving in the Militia”.

Now that would be gun control. And that is what it would take to end or, at a minimum, strikingly reduce the number of mass shootings America contends with today. New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik points out that similarly tough restrictions have proved effective in Australia, Canada, Great Britain and other countries. And he too salutes the honesty and courage of Richard Martinez.

Do I believe the Second Amendment is likely to be modified anytime soon? No, I do not—not when assholes like those belonging to the “Brunswick Sportsmans Club” hold events like this one a scant four days after the killings in California. BTW, our own Congressman Chris Gibson of the 19th District is listed as a keynote speaker. Talk about craven, irresponsible politicians. Gibson deserves to be voted out of office in November for this alone.

No matter how high the odds against change, if the truth remains unspoken then the situation is truly hopeless. Richard Martinez’s courage counts for a lot. Those of us who acknowledge he speaks the truth must join him in speaking out. It’s the only way we can begin to counter the N.R.A. and its distortion of the Second Amendment.

* See The New York Review, June 5, 2014, page 8.

This blog normally publishes comments. However, today’s post is likely to bring out the usual frothing N.R.A. apologists and trolls—those comments will not be published or acknowledged. Genuinely thoughtful responses will be posted, however.

Dick May, who founded and wrote the SeeingGreene blog for nearly a decade, passed away late last week.

Dick used his blog to comment perceptively on a wide range of issues affecting the county, including the Second Amendment issues that are so widely misinterpreted and misunderstood (his final post was on this subject). Dick’s clear-eyed, common-sense approach to life in Greene County was widely appreciated, and he will be missed.

4/23/14: OK, I will grant that photographs can be unflattering or misleading. But I see that picture of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in today’s paper* and I can’t help feeling that some people are just naturally mean and ugly underneath, and so their homeliness shows up more readily than it does for others.

My grandparents used to own a little getaway cottage in rural northeastern Oklahoma, Ozarks country. They were “salt-of-the-earth” types, simple and conservative. Good people at heart, and certainly good to me, but prone to suspicion and intolerance like many of their neighbors in Oklahoma and Missouri (they lived in Kansas City). I think they would have sided with the majority of today’s Oklahoma public in the ongoing death penalty debate—they would have wanted the executions to proceed, especially given that both of the men scheduled to die are black.

Difficult to acknowledge, but true. And apparently still true of many Oklahomans today.


Ugly is as ugly does.

So my onetime Oklahoma connection makes me especially curious about the ongoing methodological debate over executions that’s currently occurring there.

Clayton Lockett is one of the two black men scheduled to die in that bright red state. He was convicted of murder and does not contest the conviction. But the state wants to use a mix of poisons to kill him and they won’t say what it is or what’s in it or where they got it. They’re determined to do this, that’s why the governor has her ugly picture in this morning’s paper. A couple of days ago, the state Supreme Court stayed Lockett’s execution until the chemical questions could be answered, but then Governor Fallin said they’re going go ahead and inject him anyway. Just looking at her, you can see you she means it.

My question is, why does she have to come out like that in her blue suit and her red lipstick with a little silver cross around her neck and say we have to kill Lockett and this other guy right now? Why can’t she just wait for the question about what’s in the chemicals to get straightened out?

Well, I don’t think it’s because she’s a mean, hateful bitch, although that is probably part of it. It’s because the people who put her in office believe things should always work in a certain way, and they want her to run things in accordance with the way they believe. Anything unpleasant or unfortunate or unsettling or even confusing or different (read: otherness) needs to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Crime needs to be harshly punished. And not just crime, but the effrontery required to commit the crime. It has to be squashed without mercy.

Governor Mary doesn’t want the courts to interfere with disposing of Clayton Lockett and closing out his case.

I see she’s wearing some nice little earrings in what appears to be the same silver as her cross. And she’s got some kind of button or patch on her blue jacket; I can’t make out what it is.** There are nice, healthy-looking green plants sprouting in front of her podium. I think that’s funny. It’s like the plants are supposed to be warm and friendly and indicative of life and growth and happiness and so on. But Governor Mary is talking in this photograph and her mouth is open. You can see the sharp edges of her teeth, and the darkness inside that open mouth looks scary—not warm and friendly at all.

Clayton Lockett is black, as already noted, and so is the other guy they’re planning to execute, Charles Warner. Everyone else involved in this story is white, except the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. The fact that he’s black must represent some kind of progress, right?

It turns out the court, the state Supreme Court, is contradicting itself. Two days ago they put a hold on the executions. But now they say it’s fine to go ahead and inject that stuff, whatever it is. Lockett doesn’t need to know what’s in it or where it came from. Doesn’t even have the right to know, according to them.

Most of the OK State’s citizens were really pissed off when the court stayed the executions before. They started talking about impeaching the judges for not doing their duty (to execute Lockett and Warner). The judges got that message pronto.

I’m looking at Mary Fallin’s photo again. She’s got a little pig nose. Her nostrils really pop out at you in that picture, two black holes smack in the middle of her face. And that blond hair somehow makes her piggy nose stand out even more.

You know what the state Supreme Court said, after they caved on staying the executions? They said that Lockett’s request to know what drugs were going to be used to kill him was “frivolous and not grounded in the law”.

The particular dude, the justice, who said this went on to offer a bunch of analogies. He was one of the eight white justices, just for the record.

The justice said, “The plaintiffs have no more right to the information they requested than if they were being executed in the electric chair, they would have no right to know [who was] providing the electricity; if they were being hanged, they would have no right to know whether it be cotton or nylon rope; or if they were being executed by firing squad, they would have no right to know whether it be by Winchester or Remington ammunition. I hope that this case ends any thought of future journeys down this path that has led this court to this day.”

This frivolous path. This frivolous day.

Here’s the problem, though: other states have mixed and matched drugs to create their new death cocktail blends as well. And those executions were botched as a result—they lasted too long, they caused too much obvious pain. So it’s not unreasonable for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner to wonder whether they’re going down that same path.

I think Governor Mary expects they are, judging by her photo.

* Theguardian.com. Fallin photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP.

** I checked later. Turns out it is the state seal.

4/28/14: Both men were convicted of pretty heinous crimes (Lockett of shooting a 19-year-old woman with a shotgun, then watching while she was buried alive; Warner of raping and killing an 11-month-old baby, though he claims he’s innocent), so my concern for them as individuals is somewhat deflated here. Plus, the state did wind up divulging the names of the drugs that will be used to kill these men tomorrow (at 6 PM and 8 PM). The source and composition/quality of the drugs remains unknown, however, and the issue of how executions are conducted (and whether they should be conducted at all) remains extremely important. I think most people would agree it’s likely there are people on death row somewhere who are innocent.

4/30/14: Things went very wrong during Lockett’s execution. You can read about it here.

This is what Governor Mary Fallin had to say:

“I have asked the department of corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened, and why, during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett,” she said in a statement. “I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed.”

Nice. She might have considered this “full review” at the same time the state’s Supreme Court originally stayed the executions, instead of sneering at them and proceeding apace.

As one of the inmates’ attorneys noted, “Clayton Lockett was tortured to death.” Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment, said someone “was killed tonight by incompetence.”

So what’s next?

Well, it would be somewhat redemptive if the Oklahoma Supreme Court reinstated the stay on Charles Warner’s execution, without an artificial time limit attached (he is currently scheduled to die in 14 days). That probably will not happen, though.

It may help if people outside the state make their feelings known, especially by joining with groups opposed to the death penalty, such as the ACLU or Amnesty International.

The point is, if you’re bothered by botched executions (or executions in general), you need to do something to try and change things.

Oklahoma and its governor are just one aspect of a very ugly situation.

Lots of political ups and downs in recent days. This is generally the way politics go, of course, but the localized nature of these events makes them stand out more than usual.


Bad news from the top down. Cuomo photo: NY Times.

Starting at the micro level, here in Greene County, what’s up with Windham town supervisor and former police chief Stacy Post? Investigative officials apparently removed a computer from her town hall office in recent days, and also searched her condo on Route 23 in Windham. Why this was done has yet to be announced, and the American way is to presume someone innocent until proven otherwise. Still, at this neighborhood level of politics, where we can see how someone is performing, even a hint of impropriety added to the inefficiency and outright dysfunction of most local officials is hard to stomach.

That’s why Will Pflaum’s recent win against longstanding corruption in Columbia County is so satisfying. I’m referring to the discredited attorney Tal Rappelyea, who routinely billed for more than 24 hours a day while some Columbia officials turned a blind eye. This situation ain’t over, but it’s nice to see a good guy win one.

Far less inspiring is recent news concerning high-profile Democrats at the state and national level. Let’s start with the 19th Congressional District, where newcomer Sean Eldridge plans to take on incumbent Chris Gibson this fall. Although Eldridge has already locked up Democratic support for his run, his campaign so far has been a disaster. At least it has according to normally liberal-leaning outlets like Huffington Post, Politico and Slate. Even WAMC’s outspokenly liberal Alan Chartock weighed in, calling Eldridge “cookie cutter”.

This is not to say that you should go out and vote for Gibson this fall. But the fact that someone with money to burn can come in and lock up regional Democratic support early on, then go on to generate this sort of widespread negative coverage, is just goddamn depressing. Eldridge has obviously chosen to overpay the wrong handlers.

Finally, that brings us to our “progressive” Democratic Governor, Mr. Andrew Cuomo, widely hated in these rural parts for the SAFE Act he proposed and passed. Last year, to great fanfare, the governor announced an “independent” Moreland commission to investigate state corruption. “I work for the people, and I won’t stop fighting until we all have a government that we can trust,” Cuomo said at the time.

Well, he’s stopped fighting and we still don’t have a government we can trust—Cuomo disbanded the Moreland commission, amid reports that the commission was being micromanaged and interfered with by members of the Governor’s own staff. Fortunately, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara plans to pick up where Cuomo left off.

Bharara was sharply critical of Cuomo’s decision, as was the New York Times: this editorial sums the situation up nicely. Be sure to read the comments accompanying the Times article above, which savage Cuomo’s starkly ego-driven political ambitions and general phoniness. Again, it’s just goddamn depressing.

Here we go again—in just the past week, we’ve had asinine gun-rights eruptions both locally and around the country. It is a disease, and it’s spreading rapidly.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the physician that President Obama nominated to be the next Surgeon General, knows that gun violence in America has reached epidemic proportions, and should be treated like the societal illness it is. But because he sees gun violence as a public health issue, the NRA and its Republican/Tea Party allies are doing everything they can to derail his nomination.

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, the NRA and the Republicans have sent an incredibly idiotic pro-gun measure to the governor’s office for his signature. Now you’ll be able to take your gun into a bar or bring it to the airport. Brilliant.


A George state representative applauds his handiwork. Photo: NY Times.

Closer to home, the Rev. John Koletas of the Grace Baptist Church in Troy raffled off a new Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle in church after a service dedicated to the “Christian values” exemplified by the Second Amendment. Outstanding. Way to go, Rev.

And if handing out semiautomatics in church strikes you as absurd, then here’s a little something on a lighter note: the Columbia County Board of Supervisors recently voted to deny the use of the official Columbia County seal in any correspondence relating to the NY SAFE Act.

Wow—no use of the Columbia County seal! Now that’s serious.

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