Archives for category: Education

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tomorrow evening, Wednesday February 27 at 6 PM, Ms. RoAnn Destito, Commissioner, Office of General Services, will lead a presentation and discussion of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address (“New York Rising”) and the 2013-2014 Executive Budget and Management Plan. The event will take place at the Meeting Room of the Cairo Public Library, 15 Railroad Avenue, Cairo. Everyone is welcome to attend, regardless of party affiliation. Again, the time and place are:

Wednesday, February 27
6:00 PM
Meeting Room of the Cairo Public Library
15 Railroad Avenue, Cairo, NY

The following story is true.

A few years years back, I was walking two large dogs on a rural road in Greene County, not far from my home. They were newly arrived rescue dogs, and they were alarmed by vehicles on the road—the breed is trained to guard, and they saw the vehicles as threats. Whenever one would come by, the animals would pull and lunge. Since they each weighed 120 pounds or so, controlling them was something of an effort.

A red pickup truck went by, going uphill. The dogs behaved predictably, and I struggled to get them back into walking mode. Two minutes later, the same vehicle returned, going downhill. This pissed me off, and I gave its driver the finger. He backed up to ask “what my problem was,” and a “conversation” ensued.

I pointed out that he had traversed the same space twice within a couple of minutes, and asked him if this was part of his entertainment routine, driving back and forth on a country road. He replied that he had gone to see a friend, who wasn’t home. I asked if he had ever tried using a telephone. And so on and so forth.

Now this was a big guy, but with the curious, high-pitched, whiny voice that many of Greene County’s “native” men seem to possess. He did not seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer. I asked him if he had a rifle in his truck, just to see if he conformed to the stereotype. “Yes I do,” he said proudly. “And if you don’t like hunting, why don’t you go back where you came from?” He pointed out that his “daddy” and his “daddy’s daddy” had been hunters.

Several days later, I was walking the dogs again, this time with my wife, when this guy—let’s call him Joe Moron—came by again. This time he feinted toward my wife and her dog with his pickup. We followed him to a neighbor’s house, this particular neighbor being another proud Greene County native. Further words ensued. When my wife noted that he had come close to hitting one of our dogs with his truck, Mr. Moron noted that “next time I will.” I told him that if he ever hurt my wife or one of our dogs, I would kill him. This was both a rhetorical commonplace and not; I was very angry. What I envisioned at the moment was a fistfight in which I left him bloody on the ground, even though he had 50 pounds on me and was a good 20 years younger.

“Oh, I’ll remember that,” was his response.

Fast forward a week or so. We’re out with the dogs again, about 25 feet from the entrance to our driveway, when we find two dead coyotes. They had been shot and dumped there, a crude and savage message. The following week, another pair of coyotes turned up dead on an adjacent road, where the original dog-walking incident took place. My wife and I found this upsetting, of course, but not really alarming, as we didn’t believe Moron had the personal daring or the intellectual wherewithal to actually harm us or our dogs.

We did feel bad for the coyotes, though. Four of them were needlessly shot, simply to make some redneck’s inchoate “point”. Another neighbor, a sensitive, intelligent woman (and a non-native), was terribly upset, and she put up a sign accusing the coyotes’ killer of moral depravity and cowardice. She was right, of course.

OK—what is the point of this rambling anecdote, you may ask?

Simply this: many people own guns who shouldn’t. Stupid people. Uneducated people. Violent people. People not fully in control of their thoughts or emotions. A right-wing Supreme Court has decreed it is their right to do so. But New York State has recently taken steps to disagree with that catastrophic decision, and to restore some balance to the questions of gun ownership and gun control.

The state didn’t go far enough, in my opinion. But at least it’s a start.

America dodged a disaster last night, managing to avoid what would likely have been four years of catastrophic misrule. Yet despite Mitt Romney’s shape shifting and evasions, and despite the Republicans’ desire to feed the rich at the expense of every pressing national priority, the election was close. Too close. We as a country are starkly and rigidly divided, and those of us on the blue team are breathing a sigh of relief today.

Worth a Thousand Words
A campaign victory image posted on Facebook.

The relief is likely to be short-lived, though. We face enormous challenges as a nation, and our divisions hamper our ability to face them. Still, I’m grateful that President Obama remains at the helm as we move forward.

Local election results were mixed. More on that in a future post.

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