Archives for category: Media

They just couldn’t wait, could they? Despite numerous petitions last week urging the media and the Democratic Party to refrain from prematurely announcing Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, major media outlets did just that on the eve of six primaries, including the all-important California primary. When primary voters woke up this morning and read that Hillary had already clinched the nomination, how many of them were motivated to go and out vote?

It’s a disgusting conclusion to a disgracefully biased nominating process. One can only hope that progressive voters will be so pissed off by this blatant attempt to jump the gun that Hillary will lose California anyway.

I Win
Clinton: “I Win!” Photo: RedState.

One can also hope that Tim Canova will defeat the despicable Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida’s 23rd congressional district this fall. From the very beginning, Wasserman Schultz has employed every tactic imaginable to rig the nominating process for Clinton.

It’s a shame the DNC chair can’t cheat for Clinton in the presidential race as well—Hillary could certainly use the help. She is an extraordinarily weak candidate whose only hope this November lies in the fact that her opponent may be even more disliked than she is.

Come on, California—get out and vote. Remind the country how democracy is supposed to work before we embark on the worst presidential election process in living memory.

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.


You’ve heard about the nine-year-old girl who accidentally killed her “shooting instructor” with an Uzi. The incident encapsulates so much of what is wrong with America today that no comment is really necessary. Except, perhaps, to suggest that those who cling to their Red State values consider starting their own country somewhere else.

Andrew Cuomo, thwarted in his desire to avoid a Democratic primary next month and still smarting from criticism over his questionable handling of endemic state corruption, decided to take his first trip outside the country as governor.

He went to Israel, to voice his support for that country’s “right to defend itself.”

Cuomo Meets Netanyahu
Tough guys: Cuomo Meets Netanyahu. Photo: Rina Castelnuovo for NY Times.

As the New York Times pointed out, Cuomo is just one of a number of U.S. politicians hastening to score political points back home by traveling to Israel to show support. Israel may increasingly be a pariah on the world stage, but a majority of Americans continue to support the country regardless of how many war crimes it commits.

Did I say “war crimes?” Indeed I did. Indiscriminate slaughter of civilians qualifies, and Israel has done nothing but ratchet up its disproportionate use of force as the years go by. Yes, the country has a right to defend itself. But killing 1,900 Palestinians, nearly half of those civilians, while losing 60 soldiers (and 3 civilians) is not defense—it is a powerful, lopsided and unjustified offense. And the enormous number of Palestinian deaths is only part of Israel’s savagery; the widespread destruction of homes, property and facilities will cripple life in Gaza for a long time to come. Life that Israel’s “peacetime” policies already render exceedingly hard.

To say Israel’s actions can be blamed on Hamas (as Cuomo and Hillary Clinton have done) is to excuse the inexcusable. If Hamas has militants and equipment within a civilian population—a civilian population packed into a small sliver of land— does Israel then have the moral right to obliterate that civilian population? The U.N. and most of Europe do not think so, but America apparently still does.

You’re ever the diplomat, Andy.

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.

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.


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”.

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, 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.


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, 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.


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.