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Guns and racism, twin exemplars of the hatreds that are devouring America from the inside. Held high on their odious perches by today’s around-the-bend Republican Party, which will do or say anything to retain power. If you think the political gridlock in Washington and the seething venom many white voters employ against their black president have no consequences on the street, South Carolina is here to remind you, for the umpteenth time, that they do.

Racism and guns. They align geographically and politically, and the twisted little turd who killed nine churchgoers in Charleston is just an offshoot of a deep-seated malignancy in the body politic. Geographically, Google has recently demonstrated that the Deep South and much of the rural Northeast (including rural NY) are the most racist sections of the country. Not coincidentally, these regions are also teeming with pro-gun fanatics. And they are ruled, almost without exception, by Republicans.

The Confederate flag in South Carolina
Flying high in South Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images.

For all of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s crocodile tears, the Confederate flag still flies over her statehouse.

What does all this have to do with the isolated citizens of little Greene County, New York, you might ask? Plenty. The Civil War is celebrated every summer in Windham. Excuse me, I meant to say “commemorated.” You see “Repeal the S.A.F.E. Act” signs everywhere on the Mountaintop. What you do not see are many black faces.

Republicans, largely of the dumb-ass variety, rule. Greene County is, in its own small way, aligned with places like South Carolina and Texas in its desire to resist change and progress. And you could in fact argue that the county has been more successful than most in resisting progress.

The little fuck who killed nine people in a church committed a political act and even seemed dimly aware of doing so, saying he wanted “to start a civil war.” Every cop who kills a black person and walks away free also makes a political statement. And if you have semiautomatic weapons in your house, or multiple guns of any kind, you too are making a political statement.

Our last civil war never really ended. Racism won’t go away, and apparently neither will our craven policy of allowing uncontrolled gun ownership.

I personally would like to see every Republican and Red State yahoo take their guns and move to Texas, and then have Texas go off on its own somewhere far away. But it’s far more likely I’ll be the one to move, to somewhere bluer. Not everyone has the resources to do that, though. For many people who are just trying to live their lives, things don’t look so good. For citizens of color, things look far worse.

America’s current political system is not just divided, it’s broken.

Last Thursday evening, the Greene County Democratic Committee, chaired by Doreen Davis, held the 14th Annual Salute to FDR at the Pegasus in Coxsackie. The featured speaker was NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens, pictured below. His remarks were modest and cogent, noting the strong environmental efforts underway in the state.

DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens
DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens. Photo: Tom Pletcher.

The FDR Salute came on the heels of a tough 2014 that saw many Democratic Party setbacks. That’s all more reason to salute FDR’s gigantic legacy. Although Greene County is deeply red and conservatives profess great disdain for FDR’s ideas, ideals and the man himself, the county’s citizens remain deeply bound to the safety net our 32nd president did so much to create. The relationship is perhaps best expressed in a Tea Party slogan of a couple years back: “Get your government hands off my Social Security.”

Without Social Security, Medicare and the many other social welfare programs initiated or inspired by Mr. Roosevelt, local citizens would be in horrific shape indeed. And given the fact that the 2016 presidential election will revolve in large part around the issues of income inequality and concentration of wealth, FDR remains more relevant today than ever.

Hats off to the Greene County Dems for the night’s celebration.

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.

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