Thursday, March 07, 2013

Shooting Sophistry

   Last November, a columnist whose work appears regularly in mid-Hudson Valley newspapers shared with readers his take on the impending presidential election. “Unless you want to wake up in a house of horrors” on November 7, said Dick Nelson (“Outdoors”; 11/1/12), “you should” vote on November 6 for Mitt Romney.  This would help to prevent an event that is “more frightening” than a Halloween encounter with a poltergeist, more dreadful than the vision of “Hurricane Sandy turning into another Irene”: re-election of Barack Obama.  That would be terrifying on account of Obama’s record of “blatant disregard for the Bill of Rights—the Second Amendment in particular.”
   Although President Obama has only advocated banning assault weapons, Nelson warned, that is just a decoy. “Banning all guns is one of his top priorities and he will do anything within his means to make it happen.”  So, people, if you give Obama four more years you will “lose your right to keep and bear arms.”
   This bit of electioneering demonstrates three traits of character:
     *Tunnel vision.  The choice between presidential candidates allegedly hinges on just one issue: safeguarding our right to keep and bear (fire)arms.
     *Arrogance.  Nelson pretends to be a mind-reader.  He pretends to reveal, and thus to know, not just what Obama has said on a selected topic, but what he actually, urgently, intends. 
     *Contempt.  In his column Nelson offered not a single word in support of his opinions and accusations--that in the choice of presidential candidates, the gun issue trumps all others; that the President despises the Bill of Rights; that the President will do “anything” to ban all guns.  Such omissions exhibit, to Dick Nelson’s readers and to his role as public commentator, blatant contempt.
    (Instead of supporting those judgments, Nelson proceeded to name his preferred candidates for local elective offices; all were Republicans).
    Soon after the election, anyhow, Nelson’s words earned an additional claim to attention.  On December 14, in Newtown CT, a gun-wielding young man speedily slaughtered 20 children in a school, as well as six adults.  That massacre gave fresh urgency to the subject of civilian gun usage.  It triggered new demands for legal controls over gun ownership and use.  And on January 18th, Dick Nelson took up a reader’s challenge to explain how “gunowners” can “make a strong argument against stricter gun control when so many innocent children have been killed or when a crazed gunman goes on a shooting spree” at a shopping mall or school or movie theater.  Particularly, “What’s wrong with having a federal gun registration or making it tougher for anyone to own a gun?”  Nelson’s response, his version of the required “strong argument,” proved to be remarkable for positions not taken.  It went this way.
 SUPERFLUITY?  “There are already more than 35,000 gun laws on the books,” said Nelson, and “most” of them “aren’t being enforced.”  That factual claim (a bold bit of arithmetic creativity) could pave the way for contending plausibly that we don’t need stricter gun control laws because the present ones, if properly enforced, would suffice to meet the problems invoked by reform agitators.  But Nelson did not voice that argument.  He did not advocate enforcement, or stricter enforcement, of current gun control laws.  Neither did he affirm or deny that the Sandy Hook massacre, or any other events, offers cause for concern about civilian uses in America of firearms.
 FUTILITY?  If the opponent of a contemplated course of action contends that enactment would not bring substantial progress toward the goal(s) invoked by proponents, he lays the foundation for an appealing line of argument.  He offers practical advice that pertains to the proponents’ way of gauging success.  His advice earns further respect if the contemplated action would impose costs on affected persons (material costs, and/or violations of their sense of propriety).  And his advice earns more respect to the extent that, by recalling the apparent results of similar measures applied to comparable communities, he invokes relevant experience. 
    Nelson did not take that road.   He did not say, much less undertake to show, that the contemplated gun control measures would fail to reduce casualties inflicted on innocent civilians by gun-wielding psychopaths and other criminals. 
    And yet he did address the matter of effectiveness.  He asserted that stricter laws on gun ownership and use would not, could not, stop a resolute assassin: “None of the proposed anti-gun legislation will deter anyone hell-bent on killing the unarmed” (emphasis added). That kind of futility claim is question-begging.  It ignores the crucial question of quantity—of the extent that proposed gun control measures would cut the volume of carnage inflicted on innocent victims by clumsy shooters, crime-bent thugs and psychopaths.  It treats an imperfect deterrent as a useless deterrent.
 VULNERABILITY?  In addition to contending that gun control laws cannot thwart a hell-bent assassin, while dodging the matter of success against a mob of assassins, Nelson suggested that such laws put citizens at the mercy of hell-bent governors.  Thus, “Every national gun licensing and registration in history has led to confiscation…” and “history has repeatedly shown that gun registration has led to disarming its citizenry and the extirpation of millions of people.”
    Nelson devoted more attention to this grim scenario than to any other gun control issue.  He did not, however, make explicit the bearing of the alleged historical experience on the current American scene.  Perhaps he meant to invoke his arbitrary claim that President Obama craves total civilian disarmament.  Perhaps he meant to prophesy that any new regulations here on civilian gun ownership and use today would lead (by subtle insidious stages) to tighter regulations tomorrow, culminating in wholesale government-ordered extermination of domestic foes, who would be weaponless and not protected by soldiers, sailors, airmen, National Guardsmen, police or sheriff’s deputies.
    At any rate, in ostensible support of his version of the lessons of history, Nelson cited nine putative cases.  After Turkey, the Soviet Union, China, Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Guatemala and Uganda “established gun control” at times in modern history, masses of target group members (Armenians, political dissentients, Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, mental defectives, Malaysians, Christians), “unable to defend themselves,” were “rounded up and exterminated.”  The victims of these government-inflicted massacres numbered, cumulatively, “55 million-plus people.”
    In no case, however, did Nelson say, much less undertake to show, that the unspecified gun controls that were established in those countries actually yielded a major roundup of guns (=confiscation) and then a roundup of now-defense-less victims.  In no case, again, does Nelson say that, but for those gun control measures, the eventual purge victims would have been able to defend themselves.
    Two of his cases, moreover, work against his implied version of cause and effect. In China, “gun control” allegedly was imposed in 1935 while the murderous roundup of dissentients (“no longer able to defend themselves”) began in 1948—which is to say, after the regime that had enacted gun control was overthrown by gun-toting Maoist revolutionaries.  Similarly, the domestic Cambodian butchery that Nelson dates from 1975 was inflicted after gun-toting Khmer Rouge insurgents overthrew the regime that, 19 years earlier, had “established gun control.”      
    Dick Nelson’s rhetorical efforts, and those of his many National Rifle Association comrades, did not dampen the post-Sandy Hook clamor for fresh regulations of firearms.  In New York State, strong pressure was added by top government officials.  On January 10th, then, Nelson returned to the fray.
    After sketching the terms of “anti-gun bills” that had just been submitted to the State legislature (eventually bundled into the SAFE Act), Nelson declared that “each will do little to curb crime or carnage.”
    How little is little? 
    What cases show that each of the proposed measures would do no better than “little” to curb crime or carnage? 
    What would be the effect, on crime or carnage rates, of a package of those measures?
    Nelson did not answer those questions.  He did not address those questions.  
    Similarly, he opined that “all the gun control laws in the universe won’t stop the mentally ill from taking their psychotic behavior out on innocents.”  But would such laws cut the amount of death and damage inflicted by psychotics, and by non-psychotics, on innocents?  To that question Nelson addressed not a single word. 
   Those omissions are representative.  Through all his fulminations against gun controls, early and late, Dick Nelson has ignored vital questions.  He has not affirmed or denied that guns figure in a distressing number of deaths and injuries suffered by innocent American civilians.  He has not affirmed or denied that gun-related casualty rates differ significantly in communities that differ in, among other things, firearms regulations.
    The omissions (cum evasions) cannot be due to lack of opportunity.  Thus, in his column attacking the prospective SAFE Act, Nelson chose to include contentions that the National Rifle Association is composed of “average Americans” who happen to “love guns and the Second Amendment”; that rifles have been involved in killing people less than have blunt objects and personal weapon (fists, kicks…); and that guns serve as defensive weapons. 
    Nelson also found time to commit another act of arrogance and contempt. Without making even a pretense of proof, he declared that the present gun control clamor is not aimed at getting guns, especially fast-firing guns, away from crowded places and from felons and fools and psychopaths.  No sir.  Don’t be na├»ve.  Actually, it’s the “latest barrage of gunfire aimed at separating law-abiding citizens from their firearms.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Greene Gunnery

    Thirteen of Greene County’s 14 legislators lined up on Wednesday night (2/20/13) in support of a memorable act of governance.  They voted for a resolution (12 Whereas clauses, four Therefore Be It Resolveds), drafted and re-drafted over a few days (see www.greenegov.com) that deserves to be remembered for its rich clump of qualities:
        INCOHERENCE. Although the resolution adopted by our 13 leaders was billed as “calling for repeal of the enactment of the New York SAFE Act,” its actual demand was for repeal of unspecified “sections” of that newly-enacted State law.
        ATROCITIES, or multiple assaults against the English language.  “[T[he right of the people to keep and bear arms is guaranteed as an individual right…and that is regarded as an inalienable right of the people…”; “lawful ownership and use of firearms is…a valued tradition in Greene County and that the right to bear arms is exercised by many Greene Country residents for which the County of Greene derives…benefits from safe forms of recreation which includes hunting and target shooting”; “our New York representatives could not and did not…receive the input of their constituents regarding this matter which is the standard by which the Greene County Legislature holds itself to when it comes to the enactment of such a controversial law and is a matter of simple due process”; “the crafting of the…Act resulted in complex policy changes, many subject to interpretation and are confusing to…officials who are required to enforce and explain them”;  “some areas of the legislation”; “there is the potential of a significant financial impact on Greene  County which will result due to sections of the Act which will require additional manpower and computer systems, as well as the tax share our residents will have to contribute if the proposed 2013-2014 budget spending of $36 million dollars for the implementation of the…Act”;   “…demand the repeal of all sections of the…Act which we believe infringes upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms; and is in our opinion unconstitutional….”
        FATUITY. In whereassing that “the only persons who will comply with the new high-capacity magazine ban are law-abiding citizens, leaving the same high-capacity magazines in the hands of those who choose not to obey the law,” our 13 legislators declared forthrightly that people who disobey a law are law-breakers.  Duh. (And they made it sound as if high-capacity magazines are jointly owned). 
       PREPOSTEROSITY.  In similar fashion, the 13 stalwart solons joined hands in asserting that the SAFE Act “effectively turns countless New York State law-abiding gun owners into criminals.”  Laws cannot do that.  Laws can prohibit what previously was legal (or the obverse).  People who violate a law (new or old) turn themselves into criminals.
       EVASION.  While charging that the SAFE Act “places increased burdens…on the backs of law-abiding citizens,” “turns countless New York State law-abiding gun owners into criminals” and  “fails to offer any meaningful solutions,” the resolute 13  neglected to offer a single word on behalf of those important judgments.
      CONTRADICTION. While maintaining that the SAFE Act “fails to offer any  meaningful solutions to gun violence,” the intrepid 13 also opined that “there are some areas of the legislation that the Greene County Legislature finds encouraging….”  (No “area” was specified).
      IMPOSSIBLE DEMAND.  Whereas those 13 county governors demanded “repeal of all the sections of the New York SAFE Act which we believe infringes [sic] upon [sic] the right of the people to keep and bear arms; and is [sic] in our opinion unconstitutional under both the Federal and State Constitution [sic],” they did not identify those sections.  They accordingly made it impossible for the prospective repealers to comply.                                                
`                         THE OTHER VOICE
    The one legislator who voted against that memorable anti-SAFE Act resolution was Vincent Seeley of Catskill.  He contended that the resolution would do “nothing but put more walls around Greene County’s relationship with Albany”; that some of the Act’s provisions “make sense”; that the constitutionality issue belongs to the courts; that “Instead of asking for a repeal, we need to work collaboratively to amend the areas that don't work for us”; and instead of squandering time and resources on this ill-conceived repeal campaign, Greene County’s legislators ought to be concentrating on jobs and the economy. 
                                                            #

Monday, June 25, 2012

Politics 2012: The Primary

Tomorrow is Federal primary election day in New York State.  In terms of administrative cost per ballot cast, it will be an expensive exercise.  The turnout rate among eligible voters will surely be low, and abstention in many cases makes sense.   It makes sense so many  decisions have already been made.  Formally speaking, Democrats and Republicans will be nominating candidates for United States Senator and for U.S. Representative from each of the State's 31 congressional district.
But in the majority of cases, the decision has already been made.  Thus, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is assured of the Democratic Senatorial nomination, because nobody has filed a challenge.  And in 14 of the 31 of the congressional  districts, there is an intra-party nomination contest only on the Democratic or the Republican side, but not both.
From the standpoint of GreeneLand Republican and Democratic voters, respectively, there is one intra-party contest to be decided at tomorrow's primary.   
           THE SENATE RACE 
Three Republicans are vying for the opportunity to try to oust Ms Gillibrand from the U.S. Senate.  Ms Gilliband has held the seat since January 2009, first by gubernatorial appointment (to replace Hillary Clinton, who resigned in order to become President Barak Obama’s secretary of state), then by special election in November 2010 (for the right to complete the Clinton term).  Now she is uncontested for the Democratic nomination and the Working Families Party and Independence Party nominations, to win a full six-year term.  She has amassed a big war chest, has not been obliged to spend any of it in primary election contests, shines in opinion polls, and is running in a strongly Democratic territory.
    Vying for the right to be Senator Gillibrand's Republican challenger are, in alphabetical order, Wendy Long, George Maragos and Bob Turner.  For information about those candidates, see biographical information on Wikipedia.  For the way they choose to present themselves (and each other, and the meaning of the 2012 election), see their campaign websites: www.wendylongfornewyork.com , www.maragos4ny.com and www.turnerforny.com.
All three candidates profess to be “conservative” and all eschew the labels “moderate” and “centrist” (among others).   They differ, however, in what they designate as priorities.  Mr Maragos and Mr Turner give primary attention, initially, to jobs and economic recovery.  That orientation (as distinct from ObamaCare, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, abortion, socialism, left-wing radicalism, getting our country back, saving our national soul) seems to be the basis for distinguishing candidates who are moderates conservative from candidates who are “conservative.” 
Mr Maragos (accent on first syllable) is comptroller of Nassau County, serving a second term after upsetting an incumbent.  He offers the special attraction of being an immigrant.  He was born in Greece, went to Canada with his family, graduated from McGill University, and launched a career in business management and finance that brought him and his family permanently to America. 
Mr Turner is completing his first term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  After a rather illustrious career in advertising and television programming, he won that office by way of a special election in a preponderantly Democratic district in Queens.  His previous career was in television programming and advertising.  He is subject to suspicion of being a closeted moderate.   One piece of evidence: refusal to join most Republican House members in signing the notorious Grover Norquist pledge to actively oppose, in all circumstances, any and all tax increases. 
Ms Long qualifies to be ranked as the most “conservative” contender for the Republican nomination.  She is the endorsed Conservative Party candidate (and thus will appear on the ballot even if she does not get the Republican nomination).  She is endorsed by putatively conservative icons Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, John Bolton, Norquist and Steve Forbes.  She opines (on National Review Online) that the impending national election imposes a choice “between two radically different paths.  The solvency of the federal government, the future of free enterprise, the security of our people and the very character of out nation are all in the balance….”  Her interest in winning public office can be viewed as a natural concomitant of her work as a lawyer, as a judges’ law clerk, and then as founder of a pressure group, the Judicial Confirmation Network (later the Judicial Crisis Network) that is devoted to ensuring that authentic “conservatives” get appointed to high judicial office.  Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas, she declares, is one of America’s “greatest living judges.”
From the standpoint of entertainment, a general election battle between Ms Long and Senator Gillibrand might offer the liveliest spectacle best value.  Those two candidates share not only a gender, but also a similar background: both are lawyers with strong accomplishments, both are poised and articulate speakers, and both graduated from Dartmouth College (in 1982 for Stone, 1988 for Gillibrand).
From the competitive Democratic standpoint, the ideal result of Tuesday’s primary on the Republican side probably would be the nomination of Mr Maragos or Mr Turner.
Ms Long would still appear on the general election ballot, as the Conservative standard –bearer.  That arrangement would split the ranks of anti-Democratic, anti-“liberal” voters. 
               THE HOUSE RACE
For GreeneLand Democrats, Tuesday’s primary offers a choice between two contestants for the right to be the party’s nominee for election to the U.S. House of Representatives:  Julian Schreibman of Ulster County and Joel Tyner of Dutchess County.  The winner of that contest will be pitted in November against Christopher Gibson, the Republican (and Independence Party) nominee (via the absence of an intra-party challenge) who is the quasi-incumbent.   Representative Gibson presently holds the seat that is identified as the State’s 20th congressional district.  He won that seat in November 2010, unseating the one-term Democratic incumbent, Scott Murphy,who had succeeded the one-term representative, Kirsten Gillibrand, who had wrested the seat from a previously entrenched Republican).  After the 2010 election, however, the boundaries of all congressional districts in New York were redrawn (by the State Assembly, in keeping with legal requirement).  Greene County had been part of the 20th district.  Now it is part of the 19th
Participation by Democrats in Tuesday’s 19th district primary election makes sense, as a practical matter, if the choice between prospective challengers to Mr Gibson is competitively consequential.  The choice is consequential if the seat can be deemed winnable, and if one would-be nominee stands a better chance of winning.
On the former question, the most solid basis for a positive estimate is the fact that the new 19th district contains a bigger proportion of Democrats than the old 20th district.  Encompassing the new district are six counties and portions of three other counties. One of those counties--not part of the old 20th district--is Ulster.  Democrats there out-number Republicans, and independents have joined them in giving strong support to long-serving Democratic Representative Maurice Hinchey (who is retiring).  In the old 20th district, registered Republicans out-numbered Democrats by a margin of 50,033.  In the new 19th district, thanks largely to the inclusion of Ulster County, the Republican numerical edge is only 5634 (153,492 to 147,858).  Meanwhile, as reported by the State’s Board of Elections, 26,591 residents of the 19th district are registered as Independence Party adherents, 11,330 as Conservatives, 2308 as Working Families Party members, 1670 as Greens, and 121,380 (!) as un-partisans.
Those enrollment figures provided one of two considerations prompting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington to add New York’s 19th district to its roster of Republican-held seats that could be rated plausibly as prospects, with appropriate infusion of resources, for Democratic takeover. The other consideration that prompted that “Red to Blue” judgment was the availability of a seemingly viable candidate: Julian Schreibman.  
On the matter of viability, Mr Schreibman presented to the DCCC, and later to the public, evidence of strong local support (financial and otherwise), of past involvement in Democratic campaigns, and of an attractive personal history. 
As recounted in news stories and in his campaign web site ( www.julianforny.com),
Mr Schreibman, 39, is the son of a couple who ran a small Kingston business,   He was first in his family to go to college, thanks to loans and part-time work.  His college, and his subsequent law school, was Yale.  His professional career includes stints as a Federal Government lawyer (for the Central Intelligence Agency), as Special Assistant to the district attorney of Ulster County, and as partner in a private law firm. Politically, he has been active in Democratic campaigns and won election as chairman of Ulster County’s Democratic committee.
By way of contrast, Mr Tyner, 42, says nothing on his web site (www.joelforcongress.org )
about family origins.  He lives with his mother.  He graduated from Rhinecliffe High School and then from SUNY New Paltz.  He works intermittently as a substitute teacher.  Politically, he has won four terms as a Dutchess County legislator from a Republican-leaning district.  That electoral record is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that Mr Tyner presents himself as a staunch “progressive.”  His roadside signs proclaim allegiance to the so-called Occupy movement (“We are the 99%”), as well as giving special prominence to condemning hydrofracking.   His activities, however, have not attracted strong support from fellow Dutchess co-partisans.  The county’s Democratic committee has endorsed Mr Schreibman.  So have the party organizations in Greene, Columbia, Sullivan, Rensselaer and Ulster counties, along with numerous other organizations and noteworthy individuals, including the revered Representative Hinchey.
Mr Schreibman’s success in picking up endorsements around the 19th district stems in no small measure from showing up.  By way of contrast, again, Mr Tyner has  made few appearances away from home. There have been no campaign mailings from Mr Tyner to 19th district Democrats.  From Mr Schreibman there have been five.  Some of them dwell on what he promises to do, or to better than the Republican incumbent, namely,
       *Protect Medicare and Social Security
       *Help small businesses and family farms.
       *Invest in infrastructure and rural broadband
       *Work to protect our air and water
       * Stand up to the Republican extremists who are slashing funding for women’s health.
       *Fight to end the giveaways to Big Oil and to make our tax laws more fair so that millionaires pay their fair share.
This disparity in campaign activity can be ascribed partly to the disparity in resources. Mr Tyner’s campaign visibility has consisted largely of those roadside “We are the 99%” signs.  His camp also put out an anonymous automated opinion survey, asking respondents whether they prefer a “legislator and progressive activist” over a “C.I.A. lawyer and party boss.”  And folk singer Pete Seeger recorded an endorsement.  Then there was last week’s colloquy in New Paltz between the candidates—their only direct encounter.  According to Press reports, differences in policy stands did not come to the fore, but the two speakers differed in “tone.”  Mr Tyner made “sharp attacks” on Mr Schreibman and on the moderator.  This contributed to the warmer applause bestowed on Mr Schreibman. It also prompted Mr Tyner’s treasurer, next day, to quit his campaign, and to do so in a dramatic way.  In statements to the Press, Mischa Fredericks accused Mr Tyner of failing persistently to record outlays properly.  And she finally took that step, she said, because of Mr Tyner’s “atrocious,” “horrendous” conduct during the New Paltz encounter.  To that blast Mr Tyner responded that Ms Fredericks must be an enemy “plant.”  He also accused her of sexual harassment.
P.S.  Contrary to rumor, the two candidates do not disagree on "fracking."  Both are opposed.  Mr Schreibman voiced his opposition clearly at the New Paltz encounter and at a recent Catskill gathering.  In his words, "bad for the environment; bad for the economy." 
           





  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Politics 2012: GOP Soundings


Dear Fellow American,
What issues do you want our Republican presidential campaign to focus on in 2012 as we fight to make Barack Obama a ONE-TERM president?

So begins a circular letter (6/7/12) from Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Among its recent recipients (6/7/12) is a GreeneLander who was “selected” from among “thousands of activists in our database” to “represent voters in your area in the OFFICIAL 2012 Presidential Platform Survey.”  Mr Priebus letter invites the recipient to fill out a questionnaire which is “REGISTERED to your name and address, identifying you as THE DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVE of VOTERS residing in your district.”  Accordingly, “The answers of selected and screened participants like you will represent the views and opinions of thousands of other grassroots conservatives [sic] in your area.” “Your answers will shape and guide our ongoing, official national campaign to elect Mitt Romney….and other Republican candidates….” They will indicate “how to weight serious issues in our 2012 Republican campaign efforts.” “That’s why you should be very proud to be among the select group of Republicans [sic] chosen to participate….”  Particularly:
Do you support Republican efforts to reform entitlements, cut spending and put our nation on track to a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?”
Do you support a full repeal of the ObamaCare healthcare legislation that [key Democrats] passed without revealing its full details, ever-rising costs and negative effects on quality, access and affordability?
[Do you share with Obama and the Democrats the belief] that higher tax rates and more federal spending are the keys to spurring economic growth?
Do you believe President Obama has done enough to strengthen and improve border security? Do you support expanding offshore drilling and increasing exploration for domestic oil and gas reserves to lessen our dependence on imported fuels?

Those questions function rhetorically as advocacy as well as inquiry.  While prepare the respondent for inquiries to come, they advocate a version of what ought to be regarded as the impending election’s main issues. 
Recipients of Mr Priebus’s four-page, single-spaced letter are urged to complete the Platform Survey and “return it to me,” along with “an election year contribution of $35, $50…or even $500,” “within the next 7 days.”   The suggested urgency, however, may be disingenuous.  The letter is a revised version of mailings that date back at least to last April. So is the questionnaire (whose text is still posted on the Republican National Committee’s web site).  The changes are illuminating. 
In earlier mailings, no assumption was made about who would be the Republican nominee for President.  Prominence was given then to the task of candidate-selection, and Mr Priebus took a clear stand on the matter of candidate-preference:  “With your input and support, we can let our Republican candidates know in no uncertain terms that folks like your WANT and EXPECT them to fight for our conservative values and principles….” (That sentence appears in the latest Priebus letter in a postscript).

THEN AND NOW
The current Republican Platform Survey opens with some standard demographic queries (age group, education…) plus “Do you plan on volunteering for your local Republican Victory Center in the 2012 Presidential Election?”  It closes with another query about intended participation in the campaign to extinguish the “radical liberalism, reckless spending and embarrassing foreign policy” of Barack Obama.  In between, 30 questions appear under five headings: “Presidential Performance and Issues” plus “economic,” “national security,” “health care,” “values” issues, as well as “Entitlement Spending” and “The 2012 Campaign.”  The choice of questions marks a contrast with the earlier menu.  Thus:

OMITTED
Do you believe Congress should block President Obama’s efforts to raise the federal debt ceiling for borrowing and demand real cuts to federal spending?
Would you support another federal bailout of the automobile industry or large banks?
Do you support reforming the way the government pays for Medicare for future retirees – while preserving the existing program and options for those who now utilize it?
Do you agree that it is time to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan?
Do you believe medical malpractice reform to stop frivolous lawsuits and ever-increasing insurance premiums should be a priority of healthcare reform legislation?
“The ObamaCare mandate forcing religious medical institutions to provide services which go against their beliefs is a direct attack on Americans’ constitutionally guaranteed 1st  Amendment right to freedom of religion.” [Agree/Disagree]

ADDED
“President Obama inherited an economy losing 800,000 jobs a month and averte a averted a worst economic mess while passing healthcare reform, saving the auto Industry, killing Osama bin Laden, and winding down the war in Iraq.  He has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected.” [Agree/Disagree/strongly/somewhat]
Do you believe that President Obama’s policies have helped make the economy better, had no impact, or made the economy, worse?
Do you support ID laws that require individuals to show a government issued picture ID when they go to the polls to vote?

Two of those new questions are distinctive in the survey as opportunities for respondents to voice esteem for the Obama record and policies.  They function as weed-outs, enabling the survey’s processors to spot respondents whose presence in the National Committee's data base is an error--respondents who are not  Republican activists and conservatives.

THE BIG ISSUES: RIVAL IMAGES
Question 3 in Republican Survey invites judgments about the relative importance of cited “issues.”  It also conveys suggestions about what matters qualify, and do not qualify, as contemporary political issues.   In this case, illumination can be gained by means of comparison, not with an earlier Republican menu, but with a competing alternative.
     As it happens, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Mr Priebus’s countepart as chair of the Democratic National Committee, has circulated on line a questionnaire (aimed at Democrats but accessible to all) soliciting opinions on, among other things, the relative importance of cited “issues.”   Thus, the rival party leaders offer an illuminating contrast between versions of potentially important issues, namely:

REPUBLICAN ‘ISSUES’
Strengthening border security
Reducing federal spending
Keeping taxes low
Exposing Obama’s radical left-wing policies
Repealing ObamaCare
Expanding domestic exploration for oil and gas
Stimulating job creation in the private sector
Reining in government employees’ unions
Demanding free and open trade to get U.S. manufacturing growing

DEMOCRATIC ‘ISSUES’
Job Creation and Strengthening the economy
Health Insurance Reform
Clean Energy
Education Reform      
Wall Street Reform
Immigration Reform
(In the Republican case, respondents are asked not how important they rate the cited issues, but “how important it is to voters in your state to give attention” to those issues.  That inquiry may be a hangover from the days of battles, national and local, for Republican nominations.  In the Democratic case, respondents are invited not only to rate the importance of each cited issue, but also to rank-order the issues in degree of urgency). 

KEY TERMS AS CLUE
Reinforcing the sense of contrast that is imparted by the inter-party contrast in Issue menus can be an appreciation of words that do not appear in the Priebus message(s).  Reflecting on political events and controversies that have attracted news media coverage in recent months, one might expect to encounter, in a party platform survey, references to
Environment  Climate change      Women /women’s rights
Poverty          Recession                 Alternative fuels
Equality         Inequality                 Democracy
Civil Rights   Civil liberties            Immigrants
Citizenship     Terrorists                  Guantanamo
Indefinite detention
Those terms do not appear in Priebus letter or in the Republican Platform Survey.

POSSIBLE PLANKS
Some questions in that survey pertain to prospective legislation, or what could be planks in a campaign platform.  They invite respondents to vote Yes or No on
*“a federal Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to stop deficit spending in Washington.”  
*“a phased-in increase in the retirement/eligibility age for Social Security benefits….”
*exempting retirees “from property tax increases on their residences.” 
(There’s a new one!)
*”allowng individuals under the age of 50 to opt to put a portion of their Social Security withholdings into private accounts that they control, but cannot access without penalty until their retirement.”
*“immediate and total repeal of the ObamaCare health care legislation.”
*the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade  
*“…allowing parents to use government vouchers to send their children to the school of their choice be it public, parochial or private”
*“voter ID law that require individuals to show a government-issued picture ID when they go to the polls to vote”?
*allowing federal funds to “be provided to non-profit organizations whose primary function is conducting abortions?” 

LABEL-MONGERING
Strewn through the Priebus letter and the questionnaire are ideological labels.  Barack Obama & Co. are characterized (qua accused) of perpetrating ”creeping socialism, massive accumulation of federal debt and economic stagnation”; of an “unrelenting “ campaign to enact policies that are “radical left-wing” and “liberal”, of committing  “radical liberalism, reckless spending and [an] embarrassing foreign policy.”  No effort is made to define the key political terms.  But Priebus & Co. may offer clarification by way of imputing to Obama a malign “strategy of treating all countries as equal to the United States,” and determination “to increase taxes on individuals and families he considers to be ‘wealthy’,’’ to impose on the people a ‘single- payer’ government-run health insurance and health care system,” and to get rid of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Meanwhile, the Priebus message is noteworthy for allegiance to the term “conservative.”  Recipents are assumed to be Republican activists and champions of “conservative” values.   Thus, for Republicans who style themselves as “moderates,” “centrists,” or “progressives,” no hospitality is offered.

SOURCES

BTW
The GreeneLander who received the Priebus message(s), correctly named and addressed, is not a Republican activist. Or a GOP-style conservative. Or a Republican.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Special Saturday

     In GreeneLand, in the course of a single day, June 2, residents and visitors took part not only in the routines of shopping, ball games, gardening, televiewing, loafing, cleaning, eating, but also in a rare assortment of special events.
     Some of them looked over this year’s cleverly made cat figures, displayed on Main Street and elsewhere in Catskill Village.  Some made a tour of the Rip Van Winkle figures that were scattered among the mountain towns.  And around 10,000 fans of bluegrass and rock music gathered at Hunter Mountain for the Mountain Jam.  They were entertained on separate stages by 50 bands.  Saturday’s rain-dampened offerings concluded with a tribute ramble for the late Levon Helm.
      In East Durham, motorcyclists gathered in and around Weldon House for a conclave hosted by the Troy-based chapter of Hells Angels.  Attendees were offered, we understand, food, beer, tattoos, bike games, music and midget tossing, along with dictum to arrive with “no bad attitudes.”
      Nearby, in the Town of Durham, including the hamlets of Cornwallville and Oak Hill, Greene County Historical Society members hosted their 37th annual tour of historic homes.  Under cloudy skies and occasional drizzles, some 200 visitors were given a special reason to get acquainted with some of our most picturesque, bucolic territory.  They journeyed from the former Lyman Tremain opera house (now the cozy Yellow Deli, run by adherents of the Twelve Tribes) to, among other stops, an old homestead with general store, a Federal-style brick home with adjacent barns and gardens, a venerable farmhouse with a panoramic valley view, an Arts & Crafts home, a restored church, a school house dating from 1840.  They also were invited to visit the Durham Center Museum.  Thanks to those tourists’ purchases of tickets (with maps and guidebooks), plus sponsorships and a grant (from Nick Nahas), the 2012 tour of historic homes (and other buildings)  brought to the Historical Society—for its acquisitions, cataloguing, storing, lending, publishing, restoring, conserving--an increment of $6200.
    Up in New Baltimore, meanwhile, the Van Etten farm’s 22nd annual Antique Machinery and Agriculture Festival (qua Ag Fest) offered hundreds of Saturday visitors a taste of earlier days, what with hayrides, an antique tractor pull and a look at old farm implements, along with a silent auction, vendors’ products and entertainers.
    In Catskill, Saturday’s special events began with Spring Rush.  That test of fitness, started seven years ago by school teacher Patrick Hernandez, and subsequently managed by high school students, drew hundreds of triathletes for its challenging mix of 2.5-mile run, 10-mile bicycle pedal, and mile-long kayak paddle.
   Going by the clock, Catskill’s special Saturday concluded at the Freightmasters building at Catskill Point, where 510 revelers converged, in fancy dress, for the 24th annual Columbia Memorial Hospital Ball.  Specially honored on the occasion was Jane Ehrlich, the hospital’s president and chief executive who, said host Marlene Brody, “in only 18 years…transformed a sleepy country hospital into a state-of-the-art facility.”  Thanks to sponsors ($1000 to $25,000), to contributors ($500), and $500 ticket buyers, as well as regular ticket buyers ($375), plus journal advertising (40 pages) and donated beverages (Hudson Wine Merchants, Chatham Wine & Liquor, Fairview Wine & Spirits, Kinderhook Wine & Spirits)—and after the costs of valet parking, decorations, fine food, attentive table service, tent rentals, invitation and journal design and printing, and Stan Rubin’s 15-piece Dance Orchestra--netted about $400,000.
     Most important of Saturday’s special events, however, was the mid-afternoon program at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.  Celebrated there, and at four other places outside of GreeneLand, in conjunction with National Trails Day, was the opening of the greatly expanded Hudson River School Art Trail.  That project opened first in 2005, with eight developed trails leading visitors (with maps and explanations) to country scenes where Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Jasper Cropsey, Asher B. Durand, Sanford Gifford and other painters created pictures—now collectors’ items of immense value—that came to be known collectively as works of the Hudson River School.  To the original eight sites, all in Greene and Columbia counties, nine have now been added.  They are in New Hampshire, Wyoming and Massachusetts as well as New York.  Installed at each site is a reproduction of the painting that resulted from the originating artist’s presence there.  What is more, each Trail site is depicted vivdly, and its place in art history is adumbrated, in a video that was created with substantial help from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The results of that work are accessible at http//thomascole.org/trail or www.hudsonriverschool.org. Saturday’s celebrations at the various kick-off sites attracted lavish news media coverage.  For creation of the Trails, for their expansion, and for the richly informative videos, to quote The Almanac Weekly, Catskill’s  Cole Site was “the epicenter.”


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dark Greene

WRONG MOVE?  Back in 2005, when Fr. John J. Murphy was obliged to retire as pastor of St Patrick’s Church in Catskill, at age 76, after 34 years, the parish experienced some turmoil. A satisfactory, durable successor to Fr Murphy proved to be unobtainable. Archbishop Howard Hubbard assigned administrative duties to a nun, Sr Mary Mazza, who already was managing St Patrick's church business in Athens.  Then a collapsed ceiling made the Catskill church unsafe for services, which were conducted thereafter in a basement chapel.  These developments troubled some parishioners, who responded by joining other churches.  Among those new affiliations was  Sacred Heart  in Cairo.  There the departed Catskillians came under the priestly supervision of Jeremiah Nunan.
  That prelate, after graduating from a seminary in his native Ireland, had joined the Albany diocese in 1963.  He had served at St Henry’s church in Averill Park, at St Mary’s in Little Falls, at Assumption perish in Lathan, at St Mary’s in Hudson, and as chaplain for the Columbia Memorial Hospital’s school of nursing, before being transferred by Archbishop Hubbard to the Cairo parish (and to Our Lady of Knock mission in East Durham) in 2007.  His arrival there came in the aftermath of what appeared to be a scandal.
  In 2006 a California-based priest, Mark Jaufmann, went public with street demonstrations claiming that, while he was an altar boy at St Mary’s, and later as well, he had been abused sexually by Fr Nunan.  Jaufmann’s accusations prompted an official church investigation, during which Nunan was placed on administrative leave (no officiating at a Mass or other sacrament; no presenting self as a priest).  The review board reported in January 2007 that it could not find reasonable support for the accusation.  Fr Nunan was restored to pastoral duty and transferred to the Cairo/Durham posts.   (Fr Jaufmann died in March 2008). 
  Last month (on 4/14) the diocese announced that Fr Nunan had been placed on leave again, pending the outcome of an investigation that was triggered by a lawsuit accusing him anew of molesting a minor.  The news attracted abundant Press coverage  (TimesUnion; Daily Freeman; Associated Press; Daily Mail), from which much of this account is taken.  This time the priest (now 74 years old) is accused of criminally molesting in Hudson two former altar boys who were under his supervision:  Ivan Morales Jr. and his brother Martin.  As evidence (in the civil suit aimed at the priest, the parish, and the archdiocese) the plaintiffs cite large sums of money given by Nunan to Ivan--in the form of checks drawn from parish funds.  They also blame the priest for Ivan’s troubled passage into young adulthood.
  Will the departed Catskillians be returning?
REVOLTING.  According to a Greene County Republican leader,  Barack Obama is a “political socialist ideologue” who is “unlike anything world history has ever witnessed,” and if he wins re-election in November, then American patriots “shall not have any coarse [sic] but armed revolution.”  Thus spake Ponch McPhee, in The Constitutional Conservative, newsletter of the Republican Party of Greene County, VIRGINIA.  His  party’s county chairman repudiated that declaration. (www.gcrcgop.com) (www.rightwingwatch.org)
BILKED. Maurice Latimer of Catskill is named in a TimesUnion report (B. J. Lyons; 5/21/12) as one of hundreds of victims of a Ponzi-like racket conducted, prosecutors say, by Albany stock brokers Timothy McGinn and David J. Smith.  The partners have been indicted by a grand jury on charges of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, and they are targets of a civil suit brought by the Securities & Exchange Commission.  Estimates of the victims’ total losses exceed $100 million.  Mr Latimer, however, put his dollar loss in the hundreds.  He is identified in the TU story as an insurance claims adjuster, but he is better known around the county courthouse as the dapper guardian of jurors.
JOBS.  The GreeneLand situation, as gauged by State Department of Labor data collectors, is still dismal.  Although the rate of unemployment did drop a bit from March (9.6%) to April, it still is worse than in April of 2011, and it still is one of the highest—meaning worst--at 9.4 per cent, in the State.  (Worst, at 12% is Bronx County; best, at 5.7%, is Tompkins County).  It is worse than the nation-wide rate (7.7%), the State rate (8.1%) and the Columbia County rate (7.2%). 

          AND LIGHTER GREENE
RISING STARS.  Included in the Business Review’s new “40 Under 40” roster of promising young Capital Region business people are two GreeneLanders: Elena D’Agnese, 33, of East Durham, and Alexander Betke, 35, of Coxsackie.  Ms Agnese is director of marketing and communications for the Albany-based Center For Economic Growth (www.ceg.org), which touts early-stage, high-growth companies to prospective investors.  Mr Betke is a partner in the law firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, is Coxsackie’s elected town supervisor, is lawyer for Catskill (village) and for Saugerties and is an active, baseball-coaching father of 4.
INDUCTED into the Blues Hall of Fame (1989 incarnation) last Sunday (5/20/12), at a New York ceremony and jam session, was GreeneLand  drummer (and Windham disc jockey) Cliff Anshanshin, better known as Sonny Rock.  Not
bad for a guy who almost died of severe burns at age 3 and has needed periodic surgical treatments ever since.
SCHOOL FINANCE.  Among events that did NOT happen on Tuesday, May 15, contrary to apprehensions, was voter rejection of proposed GreeneLand school district budgets.  As reported in The Daily Mail, majorities of voters in all six districts (of the voters who turned out, that is) gave approval to planned outlays totaling $135 million.  Margins of support, with one exception, were substantial: Catskill, 547-302; Cairo-Durham, 632-353; Coxsackie-Athens, 722-599; Greenville, 778-354; Windham-Ashland-Jewett, 193-30. The exception was Hunter-Tannersville: 277 Yea, 212 Nay.
SPROUTS, the free arts program for children (3-7) will happen again this summer, during July-August, at six GreeneLand locations.  It’s an art/music or theatre/dance program with five daily session led by professionals who are assisted by teen volunteers.  Ruth Leonard (6344 2289) directs it for the county Arts Council (943-3400).  Registration fills quickly.
MEMORIAL DAY was observed at GreeneLand’s  Juniper Woods Campground by way of a “Red, White & Blue” picnic.  Uniforms, among other garments, were optional.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Greene Goodies



ACHIEVERS.  Carly, Kassadi, Tyler, Jordan and Seth are first names of children who share at least three traits.   They attend Catskill public schools (Middle and High).  They scored top academic honors during the latest school term.  And their last name is Bulich.
 LAGGARDS.   The latest scores on local school kids' academic achievements confirmed, with one exception, a familiar pattern: male retardation.  Although boys make up about half of the student population, they do not provide half of the good students. At Coxsackie-Athens High School, 27 of the 45 seniors who achieved top academic honors in the latest term are girls.  At Catskill High School, in grade 9, 15 girls and only four boys achieved top honors.  In grade 10, the ratio was 16 to 4.  In grade 11, among the 16 High Honors achievers, only five boys were included.  But the grade 12 results provided a radical departure from the gender norm:  4 girls, 10 boys (including two Buliches).
COOKING!  "O'Sullivan Stew," the musical which was first presented in Catskill 2010, based on a book by GreeneLand’s Hudson Talbott, on songs composed by GreeneLand’s Frank Cuthbert, on staging by GreeneLand’s Casey Biggs, was performed dozens of times over the last year by Urban Stages, a New York City theater group that presents plays and musicals to  libraries and charter schools.  "O'Sullivan Stew" also is one of five plays, out of 177 entries, that won selection for performance at a new works festival recently at Bowling Greene University in Ohio.  What is more more, “The Last Pine Tree on Eagle Mountain,” another original work by Mr Cuthbert (story and music and lyrics) was produced for Earth Day 2012 performance in the New York City Public Library.
CULTURE BOOSTS.  Ten GreeneLand non-profits will be receiving grants of county money, in amounts ranging from $500 to $3000, to help with the costs of programs to be offered during the year.  The money, totaling $18,000 (scaled down from $62,475 in requests), comes from the county legislature’s Initiative Program, with recipients and their allocations decided by a panel of county Arts Council selectors.  The program dates from 1983, and it has long been distinctive for geographic diversity.  This year’s winning applicants include the county Historical Society’s Bronck Museum ($2200), the Catskill Mountain Foundation ($3000), free103point9 Wave Radio ($1200), Horton By the Stream theater company ($1000), Inter-Cities Performing Arts (concerts and a play; $500), the Grazhda music and folk arts center in Jewett ($2350), Planet Arts (jazz; $1650), the Thomas Cole National Historic Site ($2400), the Windham Chamber Music company ($2500), and the Zadock Pratt museum ($1200).   Other arts-boosting grants, to groups and individuals, may eventuate.  The State Council on the Arts has earmarked $22,000 for “re-grants” allocated by GreeneLand's arts council.  (See www.greenearts.org )
IDEAS.  In response to our question (Seeing Greene, 5/5/12) about salutary uses of the Union Mills (ex-Oren’s Furniture) property on Main Street and on Water Street in Catskill, we have received two suggestions.  One is to transfer to that site the headquarters of the aforementioned Council on the Arts.  That move would allow for expansion, and could enable the Council to serve as a kind of magnet for independent arts-related projects, under the same roof.
    The second idea is to establish in that commodious space a branch of the institution that is known officially as the Columbia-Greene Community College although physically it only exists on the Columbia side of the Hudson.  So: put some C-GCC courses in Union Mills building.   There's plenty of room for classes.  Offer courses that are particularly popular with Greene County students and  would be particularly convenient for GreeneLand high school kids who are doing Advanced Placement work (or who would do that work if the classroom were closer to home).
   Those two ideas, BTW, are not mutually exclusive.
    Moreover, there has been abundant talk about building dormitories to house C-GCC students.  Must those dormitories be right on the current campus?  What about adapting the residential section of the Union Mills lofts?
BANK SHOTS.   Good things have happened lately for GreeneLand’s foremost local bank:
 *Profits.  In its latest quarter, Greene County Bancorp, parent of the Bank of Greene County, scored record earnings.  As reported by company president Donald Gibson, net income from the start of the current fiscal year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012) grew by 15 per cent, and the pace of increase in the latest quarter (January 1 to March 31) was faster than in the previous quarter.  Moreover, net income relative to number of company shares also went up.  The bank's assets now total almost $580 million, a gain of around $25 million since this time last year. That increase was recorded even while the dollar tally of outstanding loans that are classed as “non-performing”—likely defaults—has reached $6.8 million.  Anyhow, the bank’s good fortune is due largely to a nice combination:  more borrowers, plus  an increase in the spread between rates of interest payable to the bank by its borrowers and rates payable by the bank to its lenders.
 *Recognition.  Exceptional fiscal feats won for Greene County Bancorp elevation by an investment bank, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, to an “honor roll” of  “most profitable [U.S.] banks over the past decade.”  That recognition—bestowed by KBW on 45 out of a population of 400 banks--was based on meeting three tests: no yearly loss over the past decade; yearly net income per share of stock that is at least the highest posted over the past decade; and consecutive net income increases, before extraordinary items, since 2009.    In size of deposits, Greene County Bancorp was the smallest newcomer to KBW’s 2012 honor roll.   And that fact won for the bank special attention in an American Banker magazine story. There, Mr Gibson is credited with making the point that his company “sticks to the traditional formula of collecting local deposits, making loans in the deposit area and shunning risky bond purchases.”  Accordingly “’We’re just trying to do the basics, making all the layups and the foul shots’.”
   (Incidentally, the biggest bank included in KBW’s 2012 “honor roll” is JP Morgan Chase, whose inclusion pre-dated the revelation that the Chase incurred, in the space of about six weeks, losses totaling $2  billion.  The losses came from the practice that is called Proprietary Trading and is a prime example of not sticking to the basics of banking).   
  *Innovation.  Late in 2011,  Greene County Bancorp formed a real estate investment trust, Greene Property Holdings Ltd.  To that subsidiary, with 20 per cent of preferred shares owned by “certain employees of the bank,” went all the mortgages held by the bank.  The change, we understand, yielded immediate tax advantage and thus promises to boost profits in coming quarters.
 *Infusion.  According to a report in The Register-Star, the BOGC is about to receive a multi-million dollar deposit.  And for the use of that money, as a way to earn money as a lender, the bank will pay a pittance: 0.75 per cent.  The infusion will come from Columbia County government funds, transferred from the Bank of America.  The transfer is the result of a bidding contest.  For the privilege of holding Columbia County deposits, the BOA was willing to pay interest at the rate of just one-fifth of one per cent.  The BOGC topped that offer, and other banks’ offers, with an 0.75 per cent bid.  It thus acquires a big pool of money that can be loaned to mortgagees at a considerably higher rate of interest.
FAST ACTION.  The girl in that picture actually is an adult, a mother, a part-time Athenian, and a budding mogul.  Lexy Funk is president of Brooklyn Industries, which Crain’s New York Business calls the “hipster clothing chain.”  The picture illustrated a May 13th story about “fast fashion,” or turning to local manufacturers in order to get designs to the market in a more timely, well, fashion.  Six weeks instead of (for things made in China) six months.  
 
(Full disclosure: we are related to that mogul)




Sunday, May 06, 2012

Downtown Undoings

   As foreshadowed here on August 7th, downtown Catskill now has yet another empty building.  In this case it is one of Catskill’s biggest and finest: 355 Main Street (corner of Bridge), which housesd an HSBC bank branch.  Its emptiness is a consequence of a big deal whereby HSBC (advertised as “the world’s local bank”) sold all its local New York State operations (184 branches) to First Niagara.  That paved the way for closings wherever branches of the two thrifts have been near-neighbors. Around the State, consequently, 35 branches have been closed or are slated for closing, including 11 in the Capital region.  HSBC’s Catskill customers will be accommodated right next door at First Niagara.
    That HSBC exit augments an already-abundant stock of vacant commercial properties:
     *Idle cement plant sites up and down the Hudson.  Future boating and golf resorts?  Dream on.
     *The former Dunns Builders (and then Herrington’s) complex just below the Uncle Sam Bridge.
     *The former Irving Elementary School building, now partly and elegantly converted into apartments. 
     *The former Agway branch on West Bridge, with its four buildings plus a big strip of street frontage. 
     *The former St Patrick’s Academy, with its classrooms, offices, gymnasium, playing fields, Hudson River view. 
     *Two big former automotive dealerships. 
     *Departed downtown restaurants-- Fire House; MOD; 355; Bells--and galleries, plus Imagine That!
     *The former Orens Furniture store on Main Street, with its huge creek-side warehouse that is partly and elegantly converted into potential creek-side condominums.  Last Wednesday it was offered at auction, again, apparently fruitlessly, by the foreclosing Buffalo bank, in one two-unit parcel (69,600 square feet) or two parcels.  The assessed value of the respective units was $195,000 and $290,000, with full market value being pegged officially at $324,000 and $464,000.  But the auction may not have been in vain.  Aaron Flach, the Coxsackie-based champion of restorations and conversions, has expressed to the bank a more-than-casual interest.  While no deal is imminent, he told Seeing Greene, he is seriously interested, and is eager to collect ideas about how best to adapt the two buildings in a financially viable way that contributes to the social and cultural well-being of the community.  (flachdvlp@aol.com)
  
Looking for more words of comfort?  Well,
   *the residential housing market is picking up. 
   *Catskill’s public library is offering more programs and services than ever before, and drawing record volume of patronage. 
   *The Bank of Greene County has continued to grow and prosper, notwithstanding our ‘down’ economy.  (More on that anon).
   *the venerable Pollaces Resort in Catskill was hailed recently by the TripAdvisor organization as one of this country’s top 25 “small hotels and motels for families.”  That designation was not a product of inspections by visiting agents.  It was a reflection of the persistently warm terms of voluntary reviews posted to the TripAdvisor web site by Pollace visitors. 
   *Also winning rave notices from guests is Catskill’s new Bed & Breakfast: the Post Cottage on Spring Street.  Guests persistently give it the top (five stars) TripAdvisor rating on all five tests of merit. 
   *Community Action of Greene County had a festive opening on Saturday at its new, spacious, accessible headquarters: the former Sawyer Motors used car dealership at 7856 Route 9W.  Turnout, and participation in multiple activities for kids, was HUGE.  A terrific start. 
   *The Thomas Cole National Historic Site has reopened (as of last Sunday, 4/29) for the new season, with a fresh collection of Hudson River School art.  The featured artist for 2012 is Louis Remy Mignot (1831-70), a Charlestonian of French origins whose glowing landscapes (European and South American, as well as upstate New York) draw upon the leadership of Thomas Cole and of Cole’s pupil, Frederic Church. The opening started with an illuminating, illustrated lecture by Katherine Manthorne, professor of art history at the City University of New York’s graduate center.  Mignot, she said, was an “enigmatic” and “multi-faceted” artist, who belonged to "the inner circles of “polar opposites," Church and James Whistler.   The fresh opening marked the ninth year of exhibitions that have been mounted since the restoration of the house and grounds in Catskill where Cole lived for most of his extraordinary career as founder of the first distinctly American school of art.   Attendance at the opening was abundant, with many coming from out of town, as they did for monthly pre-season lectures.  The attendance, along with the substantial growth in staff and in volunteers, bodes well for the final great project of restoration at Cedar Grove: resurrecting Cole’s New Studio, the structure that he designed and used in the final years of his life.    
   *The second stage of the latest Masters on Main Street art-appreciation project, “Wall Street to Main Street,” commenced in Catskill.  To the store window exhibits and installations that have been on display since March 17th will be added, as organizer Fawn Potash (of Council on the Arts) says, “skill-sharing workshops, demonstrations, discussions, panels, tours and more.”  Those activities are designed “to encourage democratic art and free speech,” providing “a window into the ideas, dreams and inspirations” that have arisen from the ongoing global “Occupy” movement.
   *At Catskill Point, a splendidly refurbished Port of Call restaurant has just reopened.   
   *Downtown Catskill has been enhanced in the past year by the additions of Bryan Hunter's bicycle shop (Catskill Cycles), a chocolate shop (Sweet Sensations), a local produce outlet (Chuck Solberg’s Catskill Country Store) and a restaurant (Casa Latina; tasty and cozy).
   *And Kirwan’s Game Store, now fully stocked and furnished to attract the post-Dungeons & Dragons generation, is proving to be a big regional draw.  Think of it:  Catskill as geek destination.
                               #
FIRST IN LINE. For Catskill Village’s annual Clean Sweep Day on Saturday morning (volunteers, supplied with gloves and sacks, cleaning up downtown and creek-side public sites) who was the helper to sign in? A Schoharie County resident, Assemblyman Pete Lopez.  

REST IN PEACE:  Jack Guterman.

REST IN PEACE:  Nanette (Nette) Margolius.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Greene Mischief

   Although  Seeing Greene hibernated during the late long winter, staff minions did gather some   items that could be deemed blog-worthy.  In the category of Greene Mischief, accordingly, could be recorded or alleged cases of welfare fraud, of home invasion (two of them, with weapons;  against acquaintances), of daylight burglary (by women), of counterfeiting (with five-dollar bills being “alerted” to look like fifties, per The Daily Mail), of the priest who has been suspended from duties after being sued in civil court for alleged sexual abuse, of statutory rape in “a suspicious vehicle,” of the would-be property developer in Hunter who flouted DEH regulations and court orders, and of the seven store clerks who evidently did, and the 21 who did not, get caught in a sting operation, mounted by Sheriff Greg Seeley and the State Liquor Authority, that was aimed at curbing sales of alcoholic beverages to minors.  
  Now for some more interesting, or entertaining, cases. 

*GRIFTER GAME.

Sad Moment..(I Need Your Help)..
Hello,
I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, my family and I came down here to Manila, Philippine for a short vacation and we were mugged at gun point last night at the park of the hotel where we lodged, all cash and credit card were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us...

We've been to the Embassy and the Police here, but they're not helping issues at all they asked us to wait for 3 weeks but we can't wait till then and our flight leaves in few hours from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the hotel bills, we are freaked out at the moment...Well I really need your financially assistance...Please let me know if you can help us out. Write me back so I can tell you how to get it to me.

That e-mailed plea for help went to scores of GreeneLanders.  It went to people who were included in a list belonging to the ostensible sender: none other than this county’s official historian, David Dorpfeld.  It was a hoax.  The actual Dorpfelds are safe and well.  And solvent.  And literate.

*CENSURE CENSURED

   GreeneLand’s Board of Ethics has been convicted of unethical conduct.  According to State Supreme Court judge Richard Platkin (as reported in The Daily Mail, 2/16/12), when the Board inflicted censure on New Baltimore town councilman Art Byas it “failed to abide by its own rules and regulations.”
   The case originated with a compound complaint made in 2011 by town employees, who accused Mr Byas of failing to heed, promptly, a call to return or destroy his copy of a file of confidential personnel information that had been distributed inadvertently to several local officials, late in 2010, by Town Supervisor Susan O’Rorke.  Mr Byas did not heed the call immediately, but by December, according to the town attorney, all recipients had done so.
   The ethics panel--Michael G. Avella, chairman; Rosemarie Webb; Joseph Konopka—adjudged that when Mr Byas did not heed the call, immediately, he violated a provision of New Baltimore’s ethics code, prohibiting municipal officers from disclosing confidential information acquired during performance of official duties.
   No recipient of disclosure was ever named.
   Mr Byas challenged the board’s ruling, along with the aura of validity that Ms O’Rorke and some other town council members had bestowed on it.  He accused the Board of Ethics of making its judgment on the basis of an inaccurate news article and without “making direct contact with me, or attempting to subpoena me.”  (Ms O’Rorke claimed that Mr Byas “ignored” several chances to explain his actions to the ethics panel).
   Judge Platkin ruled that the ethics board’s censure, being “devoid of legally sufficient proof,” and marked by “respondent’s failure to according petitioner the protections to which he is entitled by law,” is “vacated, annulled, and declared of no legal focus or effect.”  (In the Daily Mail account, the last quoted word was affect).
   The Board of Ethics reportedly issued a statement averring that the judge “misunderstood the facts and erroneously applied the law.”  But no such statement, or any link to the county’s Board of Ethics, exists on the Greene County Government web site.
   
*NEGLIGENCE? 

   That web site offers, among other things, a list of Departments, each with its e-mail address.   Click the address for Treasurer and you get an invitation to send an internet message to, ahem, Willis Vermilyea.  Click for Sheriff and, after being told that Gregory Seeley is the sheriff, you click what is identified as his email address, you get a prospective mailing to Richard Hussey.  With regard to Mental Health, where Margaret Graham is listed as director, clicking her nominated e-mail address yields a call to pkconrad.  In the case of the Industrial Development Agency, Sandy Mathes is identified as executive director; and clicking on the link to his email address yields a prospective note to that gentleman.  But Mr Mathes left the I.D.A. nine months ago.  Mr Hussey has not been sheriff since 2008. 
   Meanwhile, the county government’s link to “Press Releases” produces—and has produced for several years—the message  “No new releases.” So who, pray tell, is minding GreeneLand’s official web site?

*STIEFEL STIFFS STAFF?


   Charles Stiefel, former head of the multi-national Stiefel Laboratories (skin care products, with a production plant here in GreeneLand), is being accused by the federal Securities & Exchange Commission of defrauding company employees.  In an action filed in Florida, the Commission contends that Stiefel and his sons kept employees in the dark about the imminent sale of the company to the pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline.  Before that deal was known to be in prospect, they offered to buy back private company shares that were owned by employees.  According to the Commission, the Stiefels gave “misleading valuations” of those shares, buying back the units at about a third of what GSK soon afterward paid for them as part of a $2.9 billion purchase.  The deception, according to the SEC, short-changed the employees to the extent of $110 million.   
   In addition to the SEC’s legal action, the former chief financial officer of Stiefel Labs, along with three other former company officers, is suing the Stiefels on grounds resembling those cited in the SEC action for fraud. 
   At the time of the sale to GSK, about 200 employees operated the Stiefel plant in Oak Hill.  Among them, and since retired, was Cairo town councilman William Carr Jr.  In response to a call from Seeing Greene, he identified himself as one of “many dozens” of former shareholders who have a stake in the outcome (in 2013, perhaps) of the SEC’s lawsuit.
     P.S.  Charles Stiefel was honored by accountants Ernst & Young back in 1996 as Florida Enterpriser of the Year.
     P.P.S.  When the GSK takeover took place in 2009, closure of the Oak Hill Stiefel plant was announced.  But a rescue operation that was led by Sandy Mathes, who at the time was executive director of the county’s Industrial Development Agency, induced the new owners to stay in Oak Hill, albeit with a shift from making skin care products to making toothpaste.  The inducements--tax breaks, low-interest loans, cash grants--amounted to about $2 million.
    (For more coverage of the Stiefel matter, see Scott Thrum, “SEC Sees Bitter Pill at Drug Maker,” Wall Street Journal, 1/24/12).