Archives for category: Greene County

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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