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So we learned this week that State Assemblyman Pete Lopez plans to run as Chris Gibson’s successor in the 19th Congressional District next year. (Gibson himself is supposedly considering a run for governor somewhere down the road.) This is depressing news indeed.

It’s depressing on two counts.

First, Lopez is unqualified, even by the meager standards of today’s U.S. Congress. He is a local politician, in every sense of the word. And, he holds far-right views that are out of step with many voters in this district. He would actually represent a step backward from Chris Gibson.

Pete Lopez
Pete Lopez. Photo: David Lee, Columbia-Green Media.

The second reason that a projected Lopez run is depressing news is the fact he could win.

The National Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the announcement of a Lopez run seriously enough to issue a response. "For a disturbing preview of what Assemblyman Lopez would do in Washington, voters only need to look at his record in Albany," the committee noted, citing Lopez votes against equal pay for women and against increasing domestic violence protections.

Lopez has cultivated a "nice guy" persona that has served him well in a district where lots of disadvantaged and less thoughtful voters are impressed by his apparent earnestness and ubiquity (Lopez attends nearly every local function imaginable). He has good name recognition throughout the district, along with an aura of friendliness and good intentions. These are superficial and misleading assets but they are assets nonetheless, and a weak Democratic candidate may have a tough time overcoming them.

Lopez is not yet guaranteed to be the Republican candidate, and Gibson has not yet endorsed him. A number of other Republicans are interested, including Columbia County Republican Committee member John Faso.

But regardless of who runs for the Republicans, the Democratic leaders in this region will need to field a far stronger candidate than they have in the past two Congressional elections. One hopes they’re already hard at work and planning to do just that.

Hundreds of animal rights supporters from across the state gathered in Albany on Tuesday, March 24, for the annual Humane Lobby Day, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States. The event was led by HSUS State Director Brian Shapiro in support of three bills:

  • The Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill, A.352 (Rosenthal)/S.3201 (Lanza)
  • A bill to prohibit the unnecessary declawing of cats, A.1297 (Rosenthal)
  • A bill to prohibit the unnecessary tail-cutting of dairy cows, A.925 (Rosenthal)/S.4100 (Martins)

Humane Lobby Day in Albany
State Senator Phil Boyle at Humane Lobby Day. Photo: Barbara Mattson

The first bill is by far the most far-reaching, and it would serve to strengthen and reform New York State anti-cruelty laws dating back to 1867. The problem with the laws currently on the books, apart from their outdated language, is that they reside within the state’s Agriculture and Markets statutes. The Consolidated Animal Crimes Bill would move the laws into the penal code where they belong, and where the police and courts would have easy access to them. As New York State Senator Phil Boyle noted, “it makes perfect sense.”

The CACB is sponsored in the State Assembly by indefatigable animals right advocate Linda B. Rosenthal (District 67). So are the other two bills, which would save cats and cows a lot of unnecessary pain. Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary made a very strong presentation on behalf of A.925, noting that when people fifty years from now look back on our behavior toward animals, they will ask how we could have behaved as badly as we do. We salute Mr. Friedrich, Ms. Rosenthal and the other bill sponsors, Farm Sanctuary, HSUS and everyone else working on behalf of animals.

If you live in Greene County and would like to add your voice in support of these common-sense bills to improve animal welfare in New York State, please contact State Assemblyman Pete Lopez at LopezP@assembly.state.ny.us or 518-943-1371 (Catskill office) and State Senator George Amedore at Amedore@nysenate.gov or 518-455-2350 (Albany office).

Thanks.

Since not much else seems to work, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has decided to try a new approach: humor.

There is a website, CrimAdvisor, which purports to show criminals where their best options are (and the facts are all too real). And there is the video below:

Those of you with your hearts in the right place will laugh, and hope this campaign has some sort of impact. The rest of you here in upstate New York may laugh at the notion that this state is one of the "unfriendliest" for would-be gun purchasers. There’s certainly no lack of buying opportunities here in Greene County.

The New York Times reports today that gun advocates are pushing to legalize firearms on college campuses. There is a group called Students for Concealed Carry (seriously) that is among those urging the legalization of guns on campuses in Florida, Nevada, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

Their primary argument: guns will help prevent rape. (Again, seriously.)

Penis Gun
Penis gun sculpture, on flickr.com.

The only problem with that theory is, what if the guy draws first?

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.

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