Archives for category: Congress

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.

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.

I recently had to renew the lease to this website, and nearly didn’t. It’s an uphill battle to carry the progressive blue flag in Greene County—lots of negative feedback, no tangible rewards. Apart from that, it is simply an increasingly difficult task to keep up with the accelerating news cycle. It’s one over-the-top event or revelation after another. The Tea Party shutdown and the threat of default, which will soon recur. The disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, still ongoing. The ever-more-sweeping revelations of American spying, courtesy of Edward Snowden. And of course the local news, or lack of same. Why bother to comment on, or try to make sense of, any of this?

The answer I arrived at, boiled down to its essence, is that not to engage with today’s events would be tantamount to giving up. Too many people have done that already. Greene County, NY amounts to a tiny sliver of this critical juncture in America’s history, but it’s important to those of us who live here. And too many of its residents stand outside the mainstream of progress.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the referendum on casinos coming up next Tuesday. A “Yes” vote is being pitched as a panacea for upstate New York’s economic ills. This is untrue. The jobs a casino in the Catskills would create would be menial, for the most part. Many of the better jobs wouldn’t even go to local residents, but to people from out of state. And the squalid social conditions associated with gambling’s downside (see: Atlantic City) would only make life upstate worse, and push genuine opportunities even further away.

Vote No on Tuesday.

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.

Tonight the House of Representatives votes on a measure to block the NSA from gathering the phone records of innocent Americans. This could be an important step forward for restoring citizens’ protections under the Fourth Amendment, and would be an important landmark in privacy rights. Our U.S. Representative, Chris Gibson, has indicated he is against the NSA’s indiscriminate gathering of phone records. Please call his office—the number is 202-225-5614—and urge him to follow through by voting against the NSA’s blanket phone surveillance.

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