Archives for category: Economy

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.

The Sept. 9 Democratic primary is coming up fast. There was supposed to have been a debate this past Tuesday between Gov. Cuomo and his primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout. Cuomo chickened out but Teachout showed up, and she had some very interesting points to make. You can watch this informative one-person debate here.


Zephyr Teachout scores points against an absent governor. Still: NY1.

A breath of political fresh air rolled into Woodstock last night, as Zephyr Teachout and her Whistleblower Tour bus pulled up around 9 PM to address supporters waiting at the funky/charming Havana Club Bar & Grill at the Woodstock Lodge. She’d been slated to appear at 8:30 but was running late from an address across the river in Columbia County. The Havana Club’s patrons didn’t mind—Zephyr was worth the wait.

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Zephyr Teachout at the Havana Club. Photo: Tom Pletcher.

Ms. Teachout was nearing the end of her second full day of the Whistleblower Tour, which kicked off in midtown Manhattan Wednesday at One57, the billionaires’ residence built by Extell. The theme of the tour is endemic corruption in New York State, and the way ordinary people have been ignored in the current political process. Economic inequality and lack of opportunity are among the inevitable results, which Teachout vows to address in her bottom-up underdog campaign.

She was absolutely terrific, despite having spent a long day on the tour: sincere, engaging and compelling. And she’s got some strong momentum going, too: the New York Times declined to endorse her opponent, Cuomo the Lesser, and urged people to vote for Zephyr instead, in order to “send a message.” Yesterday the Times decided to endorse her running mate, Tim Wu, for Lt. Governor. Wu is vastly preferable to the conservative and hypocritical Kathy Hochul, just as Zephyr Teachout would be an enormous improvement over Mario Cuomo’s autocratic, unlikeable son.

Among her ideas to revitalize the upstate economy: big investments in 21st Century energy sources and modernized transportation systems. You’d have to dig deep into Cuomo’s idea bank to find any thoughts on improving things upstate, and what you’d come away with is casinos (a day late and a dollar short, as they say).

Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu deserve the support of every progressive New Yorker, and they need your support now, with only 11 days to go until the Sept. 9 primary. Please volunteer or donate as you can.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the prospects of Catskill making a comeback, and how the town’s best chance lay in the “creative economy” vision of Nina Sklansky and her Catskill Action Team. Shortly thereafter, this vision was borne out in the announcement of a new farm-to-table restaurant on the site of former Mayflower Café on Main Street, scheduled to open this April.


Watch this space for a new destination restaurant.

Now Sklansky has upped the ante by purchasing the property at 404 Main in Catskill. She plans to lure another destination restaurant for the 2500-square-foot ground floor, and develop the rest of the building in other interesting ways to be determined. By investing her own money and creativity on behalf of the town’s development, Sklansky underscores her belief in and commitment to Catskill’s potential—and helps bring that potential closer. We wish her, her new building and the town every success.

In yesterday’s Daily Mail, Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley is quoted as saying that he met with representatives of a casino developer to explore the possibility of building a casino in Catskill.

“Essentially, they reached out to me through contacts in the industry to set up a meeting,” Seeley said. “They were very, very interested in the Point.”

To his credit, Seeley acknowledges that a casino may not be the best possible route to Catskill’s future.

“Regardless of whether or not a casino is the right fit for our community, which is something we will ultimately decide as a community, we will use the information [from the casino representatives’ meeting] to make Catskill a more attractive place for development,” he said.


Credit: Nina Sklansky and the Catskill Action Team.

It could be argued that Catskill is already an attractive place for development, albeit of a very different kind. Catskill resident and advertising whiz Nina Sklansky and her Catskill Action Team are doing brilliant promotional work with their Catskill the Village campaign and website.

I can easily see Catskill evolving into a more down-to-earth and affordable version of Hudson, with plenty of restaurants and shops to attract visitors, and plenty of real-estate bargins to attract creative new residents. In fact, over time the Catskill-Hudson nexus could become a pocket “creative economy” somewhat like the towns of the Berkshires.

So the question is not really whether Catskill can come back, but how it should come back. A casino in Catskill seems a long shot, but if it happened the village and town would be profoundly transformed, and quickly. This transformation would probably not be for the better. The Catskill Action Team’s vision for the future seems far more likely to produce a happy outcome. If you’re interested in helping to make that happen, you can drop them a line here.

The new year is nearly upon us—what to expect is anyone’s guess, but what we should strive for is increasingly clear. Broadly, we need more equality, greater justice and a more peaceful, sustainable world. Here is an excellent outline of some of the specifics, courtesy of Senator Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont.

Dear Thomas,

I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy new year. I also want to express my gratitude to you for the political support that you have given to me, and for all of your efforts in trying to move our country and the world in the direction of peace, justice and environmental sanity.

As we survey our country at the end of 2013 I don’t have to tell you that the problems facing us are monumental, that the Congress is dysfunctional and that more and more people (especially the young) are, understandably, giving up on the political process. The people are hurting. They look to Washington for help. Nothing is happening.

  • The middle class continues to decline with median family income some $5,000 less than it was in 1999.
  • More Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history. Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is not 7 percent. If one includes those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time, real unemployment is 13.2 percent — and youth unemployment is much higher than that.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.
  • Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
  • The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable.

Clearly, if we are going to save the middle class and protect our planet, we need to change the political dynamics of the nation. We can no longer allow the billionaires and their think tanks or the corporate media to set the agenda. We need to educate, organize and mobilize the working families of our country to stand up for their rights. We need to make government work for all the people, not just the 1 percent.

Before we talk about 2014, let me ask you a favor. Do you know of friends, family or co-workers who might be interested in receiving our email newsletters and updates? If you do, please forward this email and encourage them to sign-up for occasional updates. They can sign-up for our emails by clicking here.

When Congress reconvenes for the 2014 session, here are a few of the issues that I will be focusing on.

WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

JOBS: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

WAGES: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income we must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.

WALL STREET: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

WAR AND PEACE: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Let me conclude by once again wishing you a happy and healthy new year — and by asking you to share this email with friends, family and co-workers. They can sign-up for our occasional emails by clicking here.

This is a tough and historical moment in American history. Despair is not an option. Let us stand together as brothers and sisters and fight for the America our people deserve.

Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Senator Bernie Sanders

To the Senator’s worthy agenda, I would only add this:

GUN VIOLENCE: It’s time we treated gun violence as the public health menace it is. That means real legislative reform and much tougher regulation. This is one of the most, if not the most, politically difficult fights that rational Americans face today, but it is increasingly urgent.

Here’s to a better world in 2014. Happy New Year, everyone.

A December 4 article by Kyle Adams, one of the few local reporters I can stand to read, highlighted Greene County’s utter lack of progress in developing adequate broadband service. In fact, Greene’s record in this regard is so dismal that it warranted a visit from the federal government’s Government Accountability Office. The office is trying to determine the efficacy of the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Broadband Loan Program.

In Greene’s case, of course, that efficacy is non-existent. Zero. Zilch. This is true primarily because Mid-Hudson Cable (identified only as “a small telecommunications company” in Adams’s otherwise straightforward article) declined a Rural Utilities Service broadband loan.

According to Warren Hart, the County’s way-overdue-for-replacement director of Economic Development, Tourism and Planning, Mid-Hudson declined the federal loan because of “the high administrative burden involved”. “It was just too much for this small company,” Hart said.

Warren Hart points out a vast expanse of nothing.
Warren Hart points to a vast expanse of nothing.
Photo credit: Kyle Adams/Columbia-Greene Media.

As someone who recently paid Mid-Hudson several thousand dollars to run a cable to my house, I’d maintain that Mid-Hudson calculated it would be more profitable to continue its business as usual, where extending service to anyone not served under the sweetheart town contracts it’s negotiated requires that hapless new customer to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Hart went on to lament that the county’s scanty broadband infrastructure is a handicap compared to more urban counties (as though this were just a geographic fact of life, and not a consequence of decisions made or not made by the county’s business and political leadership). He was joined in his hand-wringing by Jeff Friedman, executive director of the Great Northern Catskills Chamber of Commerce, another organization not noted for its succcessful track record.

I’m not sure which is worse: the continued false promises of improved broadband service from Congressman Chris Gibson on down to politicos at the local level, or the continued absence of said broadband service, with no improvements on the horizon.

Wait, though—Warren Hart has a plan. “Plan A,” he said, is to marry wireless broadband Internet service to the emergency communications towers planned throughout the county. The first such tower, at Windham Mountain, is expected to be completed in spring 2014. It is being constructed to improve emergency communications, though, not to provide broadband service. Hart nevertheless “hopes it will” provide broadband service.

No Plan B was mentioned.

Human progress is measured in inches, painfully gained over decades or longer. Any student of history can tell you that, and can also tell you that we are living in an era where progressive gains are especially difficult.

The Affordable Care Act, due to launch this Tuesday (although few would know this from its low-key promotion), remains an affront to the Republican far right. (It remains an affront to the American left as well, for different reasons.) Nonetheless, the new law is set to inch American standards of medical care forward, and move the country slightly closer to the more advanced health care standards prevalent in Europe. It will do this primarily by offering needed medical care to more Americans than presently receive it.

Eric Cantor, Enemy of Progress
Eric Cantor, Enemy of Progress. Source: NY Times

But not if the Tea Party can help it. Their impetus is to roll back progress and shrink government, and shutting down the federal government puts them in a partying mood. Listen to Representative John Culberson of Texas:

“I said, like 9/11, ‘Let’s roll!’ I can’t control what the Senate does. Ulysses S. Grant used to say, ‘Boys, quit worrying about what Bobby Lee is doing. I want to know what we are doing. And that’s what the House is doing today, thank God.”

Talk about mixed metaphors—Culberson invokes 9/11 and the Civil War in the same breath, but by citing U.S. Grant he places himself on the wrong side. He and his fellow freak-show Congresspeople are more akin to the most rabid elements of the Confederacy, united in their hatred of the U.S. Government.

Over and over this weekend, Republicans justified the coming government shutdown as necessary to give the American people what they want, i.e., the end of Obamacare. The fact that they lost the last two presidential elections is meaningless in their eyes—it’s their view that counts, and no one else’s. The majority who actually voted Obama into office don’t factor into their conception of “the American people” at all.

We can only hope that the fallout from the looming shutdown is punishing enough to the crazies that they will back away from forcing a U.S. default in October. Given the tenor of the times, though, anything could happen.

Now and then the local political scene produces a shining event, one that’s bright with the promise of better things to come. One such occurrence took place yesterday at Blue Stone Farm in Catskill, when New York State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk attended the Greene County Democratic Committee‘s annual picnic and promised to turn Greene County blue.

Even the weather joined in, with sunny blue skies and low humidity—perfect for attracting a large crowd. Well over 100 Democrats were in attendance and they applauded heartily as Tkaczyk and Greene County Committee Chair Doreen Davis outlined local Democratic priorities. The urgent need to supply local broadband service—an issue that Chris Gibson once tried to co-opt—was met with roars of approval. So too was the determination to tackle local issues that Davis recently outlined in the Daily Mail, issues like Greene’s high unemployment rate, poor health care delivery systems and lackluster economic development.

Since these are all issues this site has highlighted in the past, the afternoon generated plenty of optimism. And so did the presence of Tkaczyk and Davis, two of the brightest stars in the political firmament.

It often surprises me that Vermont, our neighbor to the east, seems so much more progressive than upstate New York. Bernie Sanders is probably the most prominent case in point—prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, Sanders served as the openly Socialist mayor of Burlington.

Sanders recently brought us news from Denmark, a consequence of touring Vermont with Danish Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen. In an article entitled “What Can We Learn from Denmark?” that appeared in the Huffington Post last week, the Senator outlined some of the ways in which the U.S. might profit from following Denmark’s lead.

You should find it thought-provoking, regardess of your political persuasion.

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