Archives for category: Media

Lots of political ups and downs in recent days. This is generally the way politics go, of course, but the localized nature of these events makes them stand out more than usual.


Bad news from the top down. Cuomo photo: NY Times.

Starting at the micro level, here in Greene County, what’s up with Windham town supervisor and former police chief Stacy Post? Investigative officials apparently removed a computer from her town hall office in recent days, and also searched her condo on Route 23 in Windham. Why this was done has yet to be announced, and the American way is to presume someone innocent until proven otherwise. Still, at this neighborhood level of politics, where we can see how someone is performing, even a hint of impropriety added to the inefficiency and outright dysfunction of most local officials is hard to stomach.

That’s why Will Pflaum’s recent win against longstanding corruption in Columbia County is so satisfying. I’m referring to the discredited attorney Tal Rappelyea, who routinely billed for more than 24 hours a day while some Columbia officials turned a blind eye. This situation ain’t over, but it’s nice to see a good guy win one.

Far less inspiring is recent news concerning high-profile Democrats at the state and national level. Let’s start with the 19th Congressional District, where newcomer Sean Eldridge plans to take on incumbent Chris Gibson this fall. Although Eldridge has already locked up Democratic support for his run, his campaign so far has been a disaster. At least it has according to normally liberal-leaning outlets like Huffington Post, Politico and Slate. Even WAMC’s outspokenly liberal Alan Chartock weighed in, calling Eldridge “cookie cutter”.

This is not to say that you should go out and vote for Gibson this fall. But the fact that someone with money to burn can come in and lock up regional Democratic support early on, then go on to generate this sort of widespread negative coverage, is just goddamn depressing. Eldridge has obviously chosen to overpay the wrong handlers.

Finally, that brings us to our “progressive” Democratic Governor, Mr. Andrew Cuomo, widely hated in these rural parts for the SAFE Act he proposed and passed. Last year, to great fanfare, the governor announced an “independent” Moreland commission to investigate state corruption. “I work for the people, and I won’t stop fighting until we all have a government that we can trust,” Cuomo said at the time.

Well, he’s stopped fighting and we still don’t have a government we can trust—Cuomo disbanded the Moreland commission, amid reports that the commission was being micromanaged and interfered with by members of the Governor’s own staff. Fortunately, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara plans to pick up where Cuomo left off.

Bharara was sharply critical of Cuomo’s decision, as was the New York Times: this editorial sums the situation up nicely. Be sure to read the comments accompanying the Times article above, which savage Cuomo’s starkly ego-driven political ambitions and general phoniness. Again, it’s just goddamn depressing.

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.

After last Friday’s horrific event in Connecticut, America badly needs a massive infusion of good news. We don’t have that. However, statements by the president and others, vowing to prevent a recurrence of Newtown, seem to be at least a tentative step in the right direction. Let’s see what the NRA has to say on Friday, and let’s hope that the majority of Americans’ outrage at our lax guns laws continues to push politicians for change.

Meanwhile, closer to home, I’m happy to report a little good news on a less important topic (although it’s a topic of consequence for our local economy). You may have read a recent, eyebrow-raising Daily Mail article by Kyle Adams, which raised questions about ethical conduct at the local chamber of commerce. I’ve also covered the issue. Well, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden has stepped in to remove one serious conflict of interest at the chamber. A county employee had been named to be the next board chairperson—thanks to Mr. Groden, that will not be happening.

Other ethical issues remain to be resolved at the chamber, and those will continue to be pursued. For now, though, a hearty shout-out to Shaun Groden for a job well done.

Today’s Daily Mail article on the ongoing ethical issues at the local chamber of commerce does not serve readers well. Kyle Adams may turn out to be a decent reporter, but today’s story bears the heavy hand of his paper’s repressive management—the same management castigated by no less an authority than the Columbia Journalism Review for the exodus of several young reporters recently.

This story is a whitewash. It trivializes ethical violations serious enough to warrant the chamber executive director’s resignation, and casts them in a neutral he-said, she-said light to indicate this is merely an internal flap, and therefore much ado about nothing. My wife, the executive director who resigned, is inaccurately painted as a disgruntled employee. Her antagonist, Kathleen McQuaid, the chamber board of directors chairperson and a person in serious conflict with the chamber’s own ethical guidelines, is allowed to sum up the article by stating, outrageously, that “everything is as it should be”.

Whitewash
The Daily Mail: covering up problems, preserving the status quo.

Everything is NOT as it should be. What part of “ethics violation” does the reporter—or the chamber’s chairperson—not understand?

The chamber has both Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest Disclosure documents that board members are supposed to sign. The Code of Ethics document should be self-explanatory, but apparently is not. It outlines examples of what would constitute ethical violations, including “self interests relating to financial gains” and “bias relating to personal associates,” among many others. McQuaid and vice chair Tom Fucito are in violation on both counts—both bill the chamber for their professional services, and both were instrumental in the disastrous hiring of the barely there employee Doug Calkins, an associate of Fucito’s.

Yet McQuaid says she signed the Conflict of Interest Disclosure form, so everything is OK. The board approved her ethics violations, in other words. Were the jobs that McQuaid’s firm performed for the chamber put out for bid? No, she admits, stating that such work “does not necessarily have to be.” But what is the alternative to putting such work out for competitive bidding? Simple: the board member (McQuaid) will simply perform the work herself and bill for it. See above re, Code of Ethics & self interests relating to financial gains. This is not rocket science, folks.

Oh, and McQuaid goes on to note that she would just love to "donate" all her work to the chamber, but she is not a wealthy person. How altruistic of her.

Among the many, many other things wrong with this story:

- Was it ever determined whether or not McQuaid signed the chamber’s Code of Ethics? It doesn’t make a lot of difference at this point, but it would be interesting (and relevant) to know.

- How is it that vice chair Tom Fucito’s billing of the chamber was left out of the story? He, like McQuaid, has drawn money out of the chamber for services rendered—accounting services, in his case.

- Why did the story not note that both McQuaid and Fucito plan to continue on the board (and, one assumes, plan to continue billing the chamber)?

- Why did the story not mention that a new chairperson is scheduled to take office soon, and that this person comes with a built-in conflict of interest? I am referring to Karl Heck, a Greene County employee who administers a number of grant programs. Some of these programs are directly relevant to the chamber’s small-business membership. At least one concerned citizen (not me, and not my wife) has written to Greene County Administrator Shaun S. Groden expressing concern about this arrangement.

Adams did contact Groden, who was completely noncommittal and gave no indication he plans to do anything about the situation. Nevertheless, Adams should have noted the fact in his story. Feel free to drop Groden a line; his email address is linked above. Or, you could email the county’s Board of Ethics at ethics@discovergreene.com, though I can’t guarantee you’ll receive a response.

The Daily Mail had a chance to do something constructive here: a pretty straightforward set of ethical problems could have been highlighted, the better to resolve them in service to the community at large. Instead, the paper deliberately misconstrued the situation and closed with an outrageously misleading “everything is as it should be” summary, in a story with many glaring omissions. It’s yet another example of preserving the status quo at all costs.

The reading public deserves far better.

UPDATE, 9:10 PM

From Will Pflaum: I really want to be clear that I respect law enforcement. They are the good guys, I hope.

If you live in our area and you bother to read the Register-Star or the Daily Mail, you know that they do not meet the highest standards of journalistic excellence. It’s arguable whether they even meet the bar set by the lowest common denominator. The recent Tom Casey firing imbroglio, and Publisher Roger Coleman’s ludicrously self-serving front page rationale for it, simply underscored how badly readers and our region are served.

There are several local blogs that do a far better job of reporting honest news than our so-called newspapers. Among them are Jim Romenesko.com, SamPratt.com and Hudson Sunshine. Unfortunately, the last of these has just been shut down.

You’ll remember that in Part 2 of this “Going Backward” series I commended Hudson Sunshine blogger Will Pflaum for going after municipal attorney Tal Rappleyea and his highly questionable billing practices. His reporting was picked up by the Times Union (a newspaper several rungs up the journalistic ladder from the Register Star & the Daily Mail), the result of Pflaum’s extensive and expensive, FOIL-based investigation. Now Pflaum has gone after other officials who’ve displayed questionable ethical behavior. One of them apparently had the clout to have law enforcement step in and “express concern” about Pflaum’s latest charges. The fact that law enforcement would do this is of course ironic, not to mention worrisome.

I contacted Will Pflaum, and here is what he had to say:

Local law enforcement has informed me they have concerns about some of the matters and sources in my recent posts. Pending a resolution of this matter, I have temporarily removed access to the Hudson Sunshine blog. My expectation is that law enforcement will pursue the issues I have raised to a successful conclusion. Whether or not that occurs, Hudson Sunshine will eventually return and I will report the outcome then.

UPDATE, 5:40 PM

NB: Here’s a corrective update from Will Pflaum, sent after this post went live:

I would just say I’m down pending a law enforcement investigation. I’m hoping the cops are the good guys and they didn’t ask me to do it … exactly.

This entire scenario just seems flat-out wrong in 21st century America. If someone felt Pflaum had published something false or defamatory about him or her, the typical recourse should be an attorney’s office, not a police station. Countries like China and Iran pressure websites they don’t like—the police in upstate New York should not be doing the same thing. Nevertheless, it seems Mr. Pflaum made the decision to take his site down.

Stay tuned.

Mitt Romney, throughout the primary season, was viewed as the stable (if unexciting) Republican candidate. Now, after his ill-considered and inaccurate remarks on the crisis in Libya, that judgment seems premature.

On September 11, a day that was supposed to be free of political campaigning, Romney simply could not restrain himself. That evening, upon learning that an American official had been killed in Libya, Romney lurched into attack mode, claiming that Obama had apologized for “hurting religious feelings” and had sympathized with and tried to appease Islamic extremists. Romney was reacting to a statement that had been issued by the American embassy in Cairo.

Romney went on to accuse the president of “sympathizing with those who waged the attacks.” In doing so, he demonstrated a craven willingness to score political points at any cost, even in the face of a serious foreign policy crisis. He also demonstrated an alarming lack of judgment, considering that the embassy statement he condemned was issued several hours before any violence occurred. He got the chronology wrong, but charged ahead anyway.

This is the antithesis of presidential leadership. In times of crisis, it’s the president’s job to get the facts straight, rally the American people and articulate our shared values to chart a path forward, based on real-world considerations. Instead, Romney misread the facts, lied about the president’s motivation and actions, and attempted to score cheap partisan points with his base.

Sadly, Romney’s unstable performance in the face of this overseas crisis was only the latest in a long string of amateurish, misguided or bungled foreign policy pronouncements:

• He says our #1 geopolitical foe is Russia. Not Islamic terrorists, but Russia. He might as well have said “Soviet Union”—the world has changed a great deal since the Cold War ended, but Romney’s international outlook has not kept pace.
• A senior Romney advisor was quoted as saying “real Americans” don’t care about foreign policy.
• In his convention acceptance speech, Romney forgot to note we have troops serving in Afghanistan.
• When touring overseas as a presidential candidate, Romney’s most striking headlines were garnered by insulting the British, in claiming they weren’t ready to host the Olympics.

Romney’s erroneous remarks have been roundly and deservedly condemned. Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Daily Beast, says this episode shows Romney and his advisors are “unfit for government”. Joan Walsh, in Salon, wrote this: “Mitt Romney, flushed and shifty-eyed, stepped to a podium Wednesday morning with a chance to disavow the despicable late-night attack his campaign launched on President Obama. Instead he intensified it, and that’s why he’ll never be president.”

On Wednesday morning, instead of reconsidering, Romney renewed his attack on Obama, as Ms. Walsh notes above. “The statement that came from the administration was a statement akin to an apology,” he said.

In Britain, where the successful Summer Olympics recently concluded, the Guardian wrote: “Many senior Republicans greeted the renewed attack with horror, briefing reporters that Romney had made a catastrophic error of judgment that could have fatal consequences for his election campaign.”

When President Obama finally took time to respond to Romney’s misguided attacks, he said “You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”

“I think most Americans, Democrats or Republicans, understand that there are times when we set politics aside, and one of those is when we’ve got a direct threat to American personnel overseas,” Obama said.

That is leadership. President Obama has it. Mitt Romney falls disastrously short.

Newspapers have been on the skids for some time now. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans recently announced it was cutting back to a 3-day-a-week print schedule, and focusing most of its efforts on the web. The powerful New York Times is increasingly dependent on its successful digital subscription model, with more and more people reading the paper online. Here in the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region, the Catskill Daily Mail and Hudson Register-Star are generating new reader interest online, especially with their Opinion sections (which overlap, since the two papers are under the same ownership).

Both papers, along with their smaller brethren like the Windham Journal, have long published right-wing rants in their opinion pages. Perhaps it was seen as part of the local color (red). But an interesting new phenomenon is now taking hold: when a self-righteous curmudgeon like William Durr (who regularly sneers at diversity and “free-loading” social programs, and suggests we’ll need to revert to living in caves if Obama wins reelection) or a religious zealot like James Varelas (who claims that a decrease in “Biblical Christianity” is destroying Western civilization) spouts off, people now answer them. They answer curtly, sarcastically or with thoughtfully reasoned rebuttals—but they answer, something that was not always the case.

Since the “opinion pages,” especially the online version, represent what passes for Town Hall-style debate these days, this is encouraging news. BlueInGreene—Tom Pletcher in particular— has tried to respond with a progressive point of view to the more egregious right-wing lies in the local media, and has been predictably vilified for it. “Go back to the city” is among the gentler comments we’ve received.

But many citizens in Greene and Columbia Counties are coming to our defense, and calling out the local demagogues on their specious assertions and divisive, us-against-the-world diatribes. This represents real progress. We’re delighted by it, and we thank those who’ve had the courage to stand up for reason and progress in our local press.

The genesis of this group dates back to summer 2011 and the Rebuild the Dream movement, which was hosted by MoveOn.org. A few months later the name “BlueInGreene” and this website were created to rebrand the Greene County council of MoveOn. (Local MoveOn councils cannot use “MoveOn” in their names.) However, for a variety of reasons—including MoveOn’s status as a federal PAC and the restrictions that go along with that—BlueInGreene has decided to sever formal ties with MoveOn.org and become an independent organization.

We continue to believe in fair play, opportunity for all and forward motion. And we will continue to work on behalf of progressive policies in Greene County, the Hudson Valley region and the country at large. We’ll also continue to partner with other progressive groups, including MoveOn, but our new, independent status will allow us to back progressive candidates in ways that PACs cannot.

If you’d like to learn more, or you’re interested in working with us, please write to info@blueingreene.org.

Bill Moyers, who has been a voice of truth and courage in the face of years of media pressure, has a new TV show – Moyers and Company – in which he discusses issues of interest to us all. The premiere episode of Moyers & Company explores how America’s gross inequality is no accident, but was in fact “politically engineered,” with insight from Winner-Take-All Politics authors Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. Also: A Bill Moyers essay on how Occupy Wall Street is waking us up to economic inequality. It airs on PBS – WMHT locally – on Saturdays at 7:00PM.

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