Archives for category: Congress

Former state Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, a Republican who said he was forming an “exploratory committee” last month, seems on the verge of formally announcing his candidacy for the 19th Congressional District. That, at least, is the strong impression given by a new johnfaso.com website, especially its “About” page.


The Fasos. Photo: johnfaso.com.

In the aforementioned About page, Faso says “A lot of us are left wondering if our children will have the same chances we did to live here in Upstate New York, start a career and raise a family of their own.”

I want to work to change that, he says.

How? By talking about broadband for years while doing nothing, like Chris Gibson? By doing nothing to improve rural education or medical access? By maintaining the stagnant upstate status quo, which seems to be the modus operandi of both political parties?

And speaking of both political parties, where are the Democratic candidates? So far we have John Patrick Kehoe, of Rochester—not a great start.

Is there no one who actually lives in the 19th Congressional District capable of running a compelling, charismatic, progressive campaign?

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.

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.

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.

Last Thursday, June 19, the indefatigable Doreen Davis, Chair of the Greene County Democratic Committee, pulled together a “Meet ’n Greet” for three candidates on the ticket this fall: Sean Eldridge, running for the U.S. Congress in the 19th District, Cecilia Tkaczyk, running for reelection as state senator in the 46th District, and Paul Salvino, running for county district attorney.

Ms. Tkacyyk had a conflicting commitment, but both Eldridge and Salvino addressed Democratic supporters in the spacious courtyard at the home of Jon Phillips and Ginnie Gardiner in Catskill.

Sean Eldridge Speaking in Catskill
Sean Eldridge Speaking in Catskill. Photo: Beth Schneck Photography.

I’ll focus on Mr. Eldridge in this brief summary. He was very much on his game Thursday, and reminded me of the favorable impression I reported last January. More to the point, Eldridge expressed confidence about this November’s election, even in the midst of lavish PAC spending by his opponent.

The Eldridge campaign, which got off to a rocky start, seems to be purring along nicely now. Case in point: the recent launch of The Real Chris Gibson website—a site which sharply outlines the many hypocrisies of “nice guy” Gibson, who constantly tries to cast himself as more moderate than he actually is.

That’s not to say that Eldridge vs. Gibson won’t be close—it likely will be—or that Eldridge doesn’t need your support (he does). But as Eldridge pointed out Thursday, Gibson is a prominent member of the least productive Congress in U.S. history. There is absolutely no rational reason to reelect him—particularly when Sean Eldridge is far more reflective of most voters’ values in our congressional district.

Visit the Eldridge campaign site for more information, and watch for opportunities to hear him in person yourself.

The mass shooting near UC Santa Barbara last Friday evening was but the latest in an seemingly endless stream of mediagenic gun tragedies. (Most gun-related deaths, murders and suicides alike, go unnoticed.) Once again we had a disturbed young perpetrator attacking his own frustrations by taking the lives of others, and then his own. Once again, we had candlelight vigils and pious expressions of sympathy. Once again, pundits attributed the latest slaughter to inadequate mental health procedures … to the culture at large, particularly misogyny … and to lax gun “controls,” even in a state with more “controls” than most.

But this time, we also had something different: we had a father of one of the victims putting the blame for this latest outrage where it belongs, with “craven, irresponsible politicians and the N.R.A.” Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was among Friday’s victims, spoke with courage and spoke the truth. Watch him here.

Richard Martinez Calls Out Craven Politicians and the N.R.A.
Richard Martinez Calls Out Craven Politicians and the N.R.A. Photo: You Tube.

Martinez calls on everyone to tell their elected officials “Not One More”. It’s a heartfelt and media-savvy slogan, but of course without legislative and/or judicial action it will go nowhere. The United States is so in thrall to the gun lobby that it can’t even produce minimal, common sense gun “controls,” such as universal background checks. And even if we could, it wouldn’t be enough. As gun fanatics love to point out, there are already some 300 million guns in private hands out there.

The heart of the matter lies with the Second Amendment, and the Second Amendment, as presently interpeted, lies. For more than 200 years, federal courts interpreted the Second Amendment quite narrowly—the phrase “well regulated Militia” limited the scope of the amendment, it was felt. It was not a freestanding right to own guns, as interpreted today.

The National Rifle Association, more than any other group, helped to change this historical interpretation—Mr. Martinez is right on target there. In response to their efforts to change the Second Amendment’s historical meaning, former Chief Justice Warren Burger (a conservative appointed by President Nixon) said this represented “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud’, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”*

Nevertheless, the N.R.A. succeeded. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, a majority of the Supreme Court accepted the view that Burger regarded as fraudulent.

Now another former member of the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, has issued a call to reverse this flagrant misjudgment and its tragic consequences. In his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Little, Brown, 177 pp.), Stevens proposes the Second Amendment be modified to specify that it applies only to those who keep and bear arms “when serving in the Militia”.

Now that would be gun control. And that is what it would take to end or, at a minimum, strikingly reduce the number of mass shootings America contends with today. New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik points out that similarly tough restrictions have proved effective in Australia, Canada, Great Britain and other countries. And he too salutes the honesty and courage of Richard Martinez.

Do I believe the Second Amendment is likely to be modified anytime soon? No, I do not—not when assholes like those belonging to the “Brunswick Sportsmans Club” hold events like this one a scant four days after the killings in California. BTW, our own Congressman Chris Gibson of the 19th District is listed as a keynote speaker. Talk about craven, irresponsible politicians. Gibson deserves to be voted out of office in November for this alone.

No matter how high the odds against change, if the truth remains unspoken then the situation is truly hopeless. Richard Martinez’s courage counts for a lot. Those of us who acknowledge he speaks the truth must join him in speaking out. It’s the only way we can begin to counter the N.R.A. and its distortion of the Second Amendment.

* See The New York Review, June 5, 2014, page 8.

This blog normally publishes comments. However, today’s post is likely to bring out the usual frothing N.R.A. apologists and trolls—those comments will not be published or acknowledged. Genuinely thoughtful responses will be posted, however.

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.

Today, February 11, is The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance. I’ll leave it to you to visit the link and contact your elected officials (Congressman Gibson will likely be receptive). Many people and organizations are behind this first drive to pass the USA Freedom Act and implement other reforms to reign in NSA spying.

What I’d like to do in this post is give you a brief outline of how to do a better job of protecting your privacy online.

First, a word of warning: there is currently no foolproof way to guarantee your privacy, online or anywhere else. But a lot of talented people are working to change that, and I think we can look forward to better privacy safeguards down the road. I hope we can, anyway.

The Fundamentals

It makes a difference which operating system you use. Windows is far and away the most vulnerable, but both Microsoft and Apple have likely cooperated with the NSA despite their official denials. I’d trust OS X over Windows, but the open source Linux is safer than either.

I’m sure most of you aren’t going to switch to Linux to gain increased privacy online—there are a fair number of technical hurdles involved for ordinary users. That being the case, you need to pay attention to the software you use.

Open source software is safer than proprietary software. This is true for the simple reason that anyone can view the code. Therefore, you should use open source apps whenever possible.

Internet Browsing Software

Firefox is the only major open source browser. It is safer than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari. It is safer still if you use the HTTPS Everywhere extension, which encrypts connections to many sites. Still, even with Firefox, your browsing isn’t truly safe.

For genuinely safe browsing, use the Tor Browser Bundle. Tor software hides your location and prevents anyone from seeing your web travels or logging your web searches. The browser itself is based on an enhanced version of Firefox. The Tor Browser Bundle is easy to install, easy to use and available for all platforms. Even today, it should protect your browsing from the NSA.

Email Software

Currently, email—like chat or any social network—is pretty much a lost cause. It’s not safe, period. If you want to have minimal protection, then use the open source Thunderbird (from Mozilla, like Firefox) in conjunction with GnuPG encryption (Thunderbird has a plugin to enable this). But real security is down the road a ways, in the form of projects like Dark Mail.

The Cloud

Like Dropbox? So do I—but it and every other cloud storage provider has been targeted by the NSA. A safer alternative may be BitTorrent Sync, currently in beta. Because this service doesn’t store your files on a company-controlled server (or any server, for that matter), your data should theoretically be safer.

Bear in mind, though, that the NSA has succeeded in shipping computers from name-brand manufacturers with secret radio transmitters inside. These machines are compromised even if they never connect to the Internet. And if the NSA should decide to target you through a back door built into Windows or OS X to install a keylogger on your machine, there’s absolutely nothing that can help you. That’s how bad the situation currently is, and why we need serious reforms.

Last night, at an organizational meeting of the Greene County Democratic Committee in Cairo, Sean Eldridge received the party’s endorsement for this year’s 19th Congressional District race against incumbent Chris Gibson.

The endorsement was a foregone conclusion but interesting nonetheless—Eldridge addressed the assembled group (it was the second time I’ve heard him speak), and he’s good. He does represent a convincing alternative to the Republican Gibson, and in the recently reconfigured 19th District, he stands a fighting chance.

Sean Eldridge
Sean Eldridge. Photo: seaneldridge.com.

Eldridge and his husband Chris Hughes represent something of a new wave in American politics: gay progressive power brokers. Both are young, bright and accomplished, and they enjoy substantial financial resources to support the goals they believe in.

Hughes co-founded Facebook while at Harvard and is the source of the couple’s fortune. He purchased and now publishes and edits the venerable journal, The New Republic. Hughes was also the coordinator of online organizing for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, an effort that was hugely successful and has influenced political campaigns ever since.

Eldridge runs Hudson River Ventures, based in Kingston, which has funded many area businesses, as well as the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center at SUNY New Paltz, which is working to bring cutting-edge manufacturing technology—including 3D printing—to the region. Eldridge was also instrumental in getting marriage equality passed in New York, and he is involved in efforts to increase environmental protections and reform campaign finance laws.

He is sharp and quick on his feet, in contrast to his sometimes plodding Congressional opponent. In fielding questions from the audience last night, Eldridge gave succinct but compelling answers which underscored his progressive views on a wide range of subjects, including economic inequality, NSA spying and gun control. (I do wish progressive politicans didn’t feel the need to preface their remarks on gun control with lines like “I myself am a gun owner,” but that’s another story.)

In short, Sean Eldridge is an exciting new candidate who has a solid chance of unseating Chris Gibson this fall.

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