Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Politics 2012

That’s the promise that is currently trumpeted on, among other places, a Route 9 billboard on the north side of Catskill.   Sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage ( and pointing to the web site, the message is aimed at a State Senator who on June 24 voted Yes on the Marriage Equality bill, legalizing marriage between same-sex partners.  The “You’re Next” threat refers to the fate of the Democrat who in September lost a by-election contest in a heavily Democratic district in New York City. N.O.M. chieftain Brian Brown claims that the upset was due largely to his organization’s success in mobilizing anti-same-sex voters to back the Republican candidate, Bob Turner. (That interpretation has not appeared in any regular news outlet).
Stephen Saland is one of four Republican State Senators who, along with all the Democrats in the upper house, passed the Marriage Equality act.  All four are targets of N.O.M. retaliation, along with one Democrat (Sen. Shirley Huntley of New York City, who voted Yes this time after voting No, along with all Republican senators, in 2009). 
The threat is hollow.  Although Mr Brown talks about spending $2 million to defeat those candidates, his cash intake so far has been small as compared with campaign funds already raised by active, organized, affluent supporters of the Marriage Equality Act.  Anyhow, if the Brown forces did recruit strong challengers to the targeted incumbents, they would produce a split that puts more pro-marriage equality Democrats in office.
What is more, the retaliation campaign evidently would be waged clumsily.  The “You’re Next” billboard on Route 9W, erected in October 2011, refers to a senator whose re-election date is  November 2012.  The billboard also is misplaced:  here in Greene County, which is not part of  Senator Saland’s district.  Greene County’s senator is James Seward.  He voted against the Marriage Equality bill. That fact is not acknowledged, much less explained, on his web site.
As for the “Let the People Vote” part of the N.O.M. campaign, it is a call for a popular referendum on the marriage equality question.   And it is wrong-headed call.  Its exponents tout a call "to let the people decide on the definition of marriage."  But legislation, whether enacted by popular vote or by elected representatives, is not an exercise in definition.  The Marriage Equality Bill (A8354-2011) does not define, re-define, or mis-define marriage.  It provides that
A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same sex or different sex.  No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage, whether deriving from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy or common law or any other source of law, shall differ based on the parties being or having been of the same sex or different sex.  When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner is all such sources of law.

Among contenders for the Republican nomination for President at the November 2012 national election, in sample surveys and straw polls, first or second place has generally gone to Mitt Romney.   In a field of seven or eight contestants, Mr Romney seems to be the preferred candidate of between 20 and 30 per cent of survey respondents.  Those respondents are self-styled Republicans or Republican activists.  Other contenders—Michelle Bachman, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain—have soared in popularity within that special population, and then lost ground.  So why has Mr Romney not picked up what those candidates left behind?  Why hasn’t he gained momentum?  Observers—some of them impartial—ascribe the problem to a feeling of distrust.  The feeling is related vaguely to Mr Romney’s Mormon faith, or his flip-flopping on hot-button issues, or positions and evasions that could betoken a slippery, impure sort of conservatism. (“His whole campaign has centered around tapioca,” says crypto-conservative blogger Erick Erickson).
That feeling can be fortified by a due appreciation of rhetorical tricks to which Mr Romney is disposed to resort.  Thus:
*Back in 2008, in a speech on the floor of the Republican national convention, Mr Romney undertook to identify key differences between “liberal” (bad; Democratic) and “conservative” (good; Republican). And his first item was this: 
…what do you think Washington is right now, liberal or conservative? Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitutional rights? It’s liberal!
Mr Romney was alluding to (and damning) recent action by the Supreme Court. He also was falsifying that action.  He did so by mischaracterizing the inmates of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Those inmates were being detained indefinitely, without the usual business of being charged, being arraigned, and in due course being brought to trial. They were detained as terrorist SUSPECTS.  It was prisoners SUSPECTED by U.S. authorities of perpetrating terrorist acts who, the Supreme Court held, are entitled to “constitutional rights.”  Mr Romney put the “liberal” stigma on a Supreme Court ruling that had not taken place.  He did so in a way that could be construed as disdain for commonly accepted principles of due process of law. (The distinction between terrorist and terrorist suspect was expressed during the Republican “debate” in Nevada on October 18.  It was voiced by Ron Paul). 
*Mr Romney followed his “Guantanamo terrorists” item with another purported contrast between liberal and conservative:
Is a government liberal or conservative that puts the interests of the teachers union ahead of the needs of our children? It’s liberal!
The context of that utterance conveys the suggestion that Mr Romney was alluding (as he did with regard to the Supreme Court) to a recent, substantive event.  But there’s the trick.  Instead of citing a specific event (a proposal, a governmental action), he conjured up a predisposition (a bias).  He delivered an arbitrary INTERPRETATION of the thrust of an unnamed measure and of the motivations of its sponsor.
*At the Republican “debate” in Orlando FL on September 21, Rick Perry defended his decision, as governor of Texas, to allow young illegal immigrants who gain admission to public Texas colleges to pay tuition at the in-State rather than the much higher out-of-State rate.   “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason…than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own,” said Mr Perry, “I don’t think you have a heart.”
At the next day’s resumption of that “debate,” Mr Romney picked up on Mr Perry’s “have a heart” expression.  He responded in these words:
My friend Governor Perry said that if you don't agree with his position on giving that in-state tuition to illegals, then you don't have a heart. I think if you're opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn't mean that you don't have a heart; it means that you have a heart and a brain.
Noteworthy about that statement, for connoisseurs of sophistry, is avoidance of the point at issue.  Mr Romney picked up on Perry’s “have a heart” expression but did not voice a position on the matter addressed by Mr Perry: the propriety of in-State tuition rates for resident illegal immigrants.  Rhetorically speaking, he pretended that the immediate issue was opposition (or not) to illegal immigration. 

U.S. Representative Chris Gibson apparently will be challenged for re-election next year in this (the 20th) district.  Joel Tyner, a Dutchess County legislator, has announced a bid to win the Democratic nomination for the seat that Mr Gibson won in November 2010.  (He out-polled the incumbent, Scott Murphy, who had won the seat in a March 2009 special election contest to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been elevated to the U.S. Senate by gubernatorial appointment). In launching his campaign, Mr Tyner declared (as reported in The Daily Freeman, 8/13) that “People are sick and tired of politicians that are all about Wall Street and not Main Street,” and that Mr Gibson favors corporations over individuals and the wealthy over the middle class.  On his web site he voices opposition to hydrofracking and to cuts in Medicaid and Social Security, and he classifies himself as a “progressive.”  His background includes stints as a teacher in mid-Hudson schools and campaigns for elective offices since the 1990’s.  After winning election to the Dutchess County legislature in 2003, from a heavily Republican and affluent district, Mr Tyner won successive two-year terms and now, for the impending (November 8) election, is unchallenged.  Last year he attracted news media attention with an effort to force Andrew Cuomo into a primary election for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  That effort failed for lack of sufficient petition signatures.
Mr Tyner must be just right for the 20th congressional district’s urbane, hip, cosmopolitan, progressive inhabitants.
But seriously, the Democrat-dominated re-districting process could make the 10-county, 20th congressional district a bit less safe for Mr Gibson.  It might even prompt him to
back his professed concern for the job shortage with a bit more thought than the vapid, vacuous formula ( “get the government out of the way.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Good News Doses

 The fame of Thomas Cole, the Catskillian who is sometimes hailed as founder of  the first distinctively American school of art, and who is often hailed as founder of what came to be known in the 19th century as the Hudson River school of landscape painting, is spreading.  September 1 was the starting date, and the Brazos Valley Museum in Bryan, Texas, was the starting place, for a traveling exhibit whose title is “Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting.”  The exhibit, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, will go from museum to American museum for the next five years. “Based on scholarship from Cedar Grove, The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, says the web site , “this emmersive [sic] and interactive exhibit will take the visitor both into the studio and into the woods.”  And perhaps it will impel visitors to enrich their experience by means of a trip to Cedar Grove, Cole's home and workplace, here in Catskill.
  Another exhibit could serve to bring in other visitors.  Those visitors would come in from the east.  They would be inspired by a special show, opening January 13, of paintings by Cole and by his contemporary, Asher B. Durand,  in the Louvre.  Yes; that place in Paris, France.  And with it, sub-titled in French, will be screenings of  “Thomas Cole: Painting the American Landscape," the film made by Cedar Grove staff.
  BTW: the National Gallery of Art, in Washington DC, exhibits Cole's 1841-42 set of Voyage of Life paintings, distributes a leaflet saying, among other things, that "Upon his death in Rome at the age of forty-seven, Cole was universally mourned."  (wwww/mga/gov).  Actually, he died at home in Catskill.

Official members of  GreeneLand’s Democratic Party gathered on a recent Monday night in Cairo, at Gallaghers banquet hall, for their biennial reorganization conference.  And they took part in transforming a potentially bruising contest into a happy event.
The hundred or so Democratic activists from the county’s sixteen municipalities were expecting to be obliged to take sides in a contest over the office of county chairman.  They were expecting to be obliged to choose between Tom Poelker of Windham, the incumbent, and Doreen Davis, party treasurer and leader of the Catskill Democrats.  Both of those leaders had circulated letters soliciting support.  The choice between them had nothing to do with ideology or current issues—nothing like the much-publicized strains in many States and towns between Tea Party Republicans and regular or established Republicans.  The need to choose between them did, however, bear prospective consequences for relations between mountain Democrats of GreeneLand and lowland Democrats.  Those relations are always a bit sensitive, as are relations between north county Democrats and south county Democrats.  Many of the conferees did not want to choose between those esteemed candidates.  Some planned to cast blank ballots.  Some couples among the conferees planned to split their votes.
  What happened, instead of a clash, was an accommodation.  Before the meeting, Mr Poelker approached Ms Davis in confidence.  He offered a proposal:  he would make a “lateral shift” into an appointive office called “executive director” of the county’s Democratic Party, and would continue to serve as its representative on the governing board of the New York State Democratic Party, while she would take over the county chairmanship.  Ms Davis readily concurred.  Then, at the meeting in Cairo, before the election of new officers, Mr Poelker was called upon to deliver his annual report.  After reviewing the activities and the fortunes of Democrats in GreeneLand in the past few years, and after saying that he had aimed to serve as chairman for one more term, he sprang the surprise.  He described the arrangement that he and Ms Davis had worked out, called it a “win-win” deal, and nominated Ms Davis for the office of Greene County Democratic Party Chairperson.
The vote was unanimous.

Wrong Times
 A bit of GreeneLand political history was recalled in a recent (Sunday, 10/9/11) New York Times story, incorrectly.  The story’s immediate focus was trickery in a pending recall election in Arizona.  The recall sponsors’ target was a Russell Pearce, president of the State Senate and author and staunch champion of harsh anti-immigrant legislation.  The trick, performed by the Pearce’s allies, consisted of recruiting a sham candidate whose Hispanic name offered a chance of siphoning away votes that would otherwise go to Pearce’s other (as in real) challenger. When the case went to court, according to reporter Mark Lacey,
The judge said the Cortes case was distinct from others in which sham candidates were put forward, including a dispute from upstate New York in which opponents of Linda H. Overbaugh, a candidate for the Greene County Legislature, circulated petitions on behalf of Linda L. Overbaugh, who had not given her consent to run.
  When I read that passage, I recognized what I took to be an error—by the judge? by the reporter?--that deserved to be corrected, even if nobody noticed the item.  To that end, I sent e-mail messages to Linda Haines Overbaugh and to the Times’s Corrections Desk.  In the latter I claimed that back in 2009, Linda H. Overbaugh was endorsed by GreeneLand’s Republican committee for election to the legislature, but her supporters mistakenly circulated petitions on behalf of Linda L. Overbaugh, who is a real person (and kinswoman), who resides in the same electoral district as Linda H., whose correct home address was stated, and who disclaimed any interest in being a candidate.  When the error was spotted (after the filing deadline), the validity of those petitions as support for Linda H. Overbaugh was questioned, and a State Supreme Court judge ruled against allowing either Overbaugh to appear on the ballot on the Republican line.  To verify this version of events, I suggested, check with Linda H. and with Elections Commissioner Thomas Burke (contact numbers provided).  
My messages went out at mid-morning on a Monday.  On Tuesday morning, a Times staffer called  Mrs Overbaugh (Linda H., that is), who confirmed the gist of my recollection.  By Tuesday evening a Correction had been broadcast on line, and it was published in the Wednesday Times:

An article on Sunday about a judge’s finding that supporters of Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce recruited a candidate to siphon votes from his opponent in a recall election referred incorrectly to a 2009 New York race for Greene County Legislature, in which petitions were circulated on behalf of a candidate who had not given her consent. In that race, supporters, not opponents, of Linda H. Overbaugh mistakenly put the name of another woman, Linda L. Overbaugh, on the petitions, resulting in their disqualification.
  The New York Times is a great news organization.

 The economy is stagnant.  Jobs are scarce.  Housing prices are down.  Loans are not being repaid. Big banks, national and international, are sorely troubled.  But many of the smaller, community banks  are still healthy.  And in the case of GreeneLand’s main community bank, “healthy” is an understatement.  For the fifth straight year, the Bank of Greene County’s assets, loans receivable, deposits, and net income have gone up: to $547million from $326million; to $301million from $207million; to $470million from $284million; to $5.3million from $2.3million.
   As bank president Donald Gibson says in the parent company’s annual report, these gains are all the more noteworthy in light of the “national economic crisis” of 2008 and subsequent events whereby “many banks struggled, and even failed.” 
   As compared with the previous fiscal year (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010), the bank achieved gains in of 8.2 per cent in net income, 10.5% in assets, 11.4% in deposits.
    Among its other “gains,” however, were unwelcome ones, such as “non-performing” loans (when promised payments don’t come in).  These increased not only in dollar size but also as segments of total loans: to 2.1% of all outstanding loans, as compared with 1.33% and 1.01% in the previous two years.   Similarly, non-performing assets, evaluated at $6.7million as compared with just $3.9 million in fiscal 2010) were pegged as of the end of the last fiscal year at 1.23% of total assets, as compared with just 0.79% and 0.64% in the previous two fiscal years.
    Mr Gibson reports too that demand for residential loans has slowed during recent months.  Moreover, property loans totaling $3 million are now in foreclosure, the number of loans that are in the process of foreclosure has “grown substantially,” and more would have reached foreclosure status but for the fact that, in consequence of recently adopted regulations, the process in New York takes two years to complete.  (One property that has gone through all the foreclosure steps, and will go up for auction on November 16, is Lange's Groveside resort in Acra).
    By comparison with other banks, the BOGC is in a flourishing state.  It can readily cover its dividend yield of about 3.8% (especially since the parent company, Greene County Bancorp, owner of a majority of shares, waives its right to dividends).
    Among the laggards is the Buffalo-based M&T Bank, a regional giant (nine States, 13,000 employees, 750 branches, $79 billion in assets) touting (on its web site) “a tradition of careful, conservative and consistent management.”  That institution reported losses in earnings, rate of return and net income; and its share price recently hit a 52-week low. 
    We mention that particular bank because it is plaintiff in a foreclosure action against defaulting borrowers who bought the former Orens Furniture store and warehouse in Catskill, undertook to transform the warehouse into up-scale condominium apartments (Union Mills Lofts) then pulled the plug.  The State Supreme Court judgment of foreclosure puts the amount owing as $1,120,381.44 “plus interest, costs and disbursements, attorney’s fees and other amounts….”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


        Four moving vans arrived the other day at the former Elco electric boat factory in Athens.  Their drivers, and a lot of helpers, proceeded to load, piece by piece, section by section, a single work of art.  The vanloads were driven down to New York City, where they were unloaded at 212 West 83rd Street,  home of the Childrens Museum of Manhattan.  There, in a 3000 square foot space, they are now being reassembled.  When that job is completed, visitors will undergo a unique esthetic and educational experience.  The theme of the whole installation is “Eat Sleep Play.”  Under a ceiling dotted with Smallagtites, visitors will make their way through a series of interaction-sparking stations, or chambers, that are dedicated to cultivating appreciation for, and practical knowledge about, healthy living.  There will be a Decision Center that is in the form of a giant brain, which responds to questions about the consequences of various patterns of behavior.  A walk-in stomach.  A seven-foot tall heart.  A chamber for every internal organ, including, yes, the bowels.  A Consequences chamber, that promotes learning about such matters as the costs of clogged arteries.   A Play station, where visitors can do various kinds of exercises, such a pedaling a stationary bike, and see readings of how much energy they are burning per minute.  Twenty-five chambers, culminating in the Forterium. 
       This comprehensive installation, this constellation of forms, is the masterwork of two Athens-based artists:  Carol May (to whom I am not related) and her husband Tim Watkins.   It is not their first effort.   They won the commission, amid stiff competition, on the strength of a plenitude of previous works:  interactive, compound, permanent  exhibitions for children’s museums in Calvary and in Brooklyn, plus large-scale, moving (as in wriggling, waving, spinning, dancing) creations in Maine and Oregon and Florida and elsewhere.  You can get a sense of their artistic feats by dialing their website:  And for a bit more information about the Manhattan project, the web site is

Delivery of the latest May-Watkins creation to its new Manhattan habitation, in time for re-assembly ahead of the November opening date, took place only because people showed up to offer help.  Hurricane Irene lifted the Hudson River, among so many other watercourses, to a new height.  The Elco plant was swamped to the extent of two feet.  The legs and other parts of “Eat Sleep Play” were soaked and bent.  Completion of some chambers was stalled.  The task seemed to be unmanageable.  But then friends (Tina, Doug, Joe…) showed up, unbidden, to lend a hand.  So did strangers.
That phenomenon—the turnout of volunteer helpers—occurred in place after storm-ravaged place.  Cumulatively, it’s the great GreeneLand story of 2011.  We know only fragments of cases:
*When flooding on Windham’s main street knocked out all the food retailers (cafes, restaurants), much to the consternation of locals and restaurant workers, Erica Reagan and some of her friends took the initiative of setting up a canteen in the town’s cultural center, the former church.  Mustering what they could find in the way of foodstuffs, they dispensed more than a thousand sandwiches in one day.
*Scores of mountaintop residents who were driven from their homes found  lodging, food and hospitality at Catskill’s Community Life Church (formerly called the First Baptist Church).
*Devastation in Windham from late August through early September placed in jeopardy the town’s traditional Autumn A-Fair, scheduled for the weekend of October 8-9.  But when scores of volunteers turned out to help with the restoration of stores and other buildings (as pointed out by Bryan Walsh in the TimesUnion, 10/10/11), the show did go on.
*In an effort to raise emergency funds to aid flood victims, M.A. Tarpinian and Sonny Rock (aka Clifton Anshanslin) organized, at the Michael J. Quill Cultural Centre, an October 1-2 “Concert for the Catskills.”  It was hard to get the word out in time.  Attendance and receipts were disappointing.  But Sonny’s call to fellow musicians yielded a turnout of some 35 bands, whose members paid their own way, played for no pay, and gave to Community Action half of what they took in from sales of CDs and other souvenirs. (See D.T. Antrim in 10/6/11 Daily Mail).
 *A van load of sub-teen girls arrived at the devastated site of Cone-E-Island in Catskill.  They set to work cleaning away mud.  Didn’t even ask permission. 
*On October 8, a hurricane relief benefit dinner and auction, sponsored by the Windham Mountain company, brought in, according to The Daily Mail (10/11), $171,000.
       *The downpour and the flooding washed away a 30-acre chunk of Windham Country Club’s golf course.  It also washed away the club’s maintenance machinery.  And it evoked help from owners of other GreeneLand courses—help, gratis, in the form of men and machinery.  In addition, members of the Windham club were made honorary members, for the remainder of the season, of most of the county’s other (“rival”) clubs.            
       *Last Friday (11/14), according to Daily Mailperson Melanie Lekocevic, members of Coxsackie’s Hose 3 firefighting troop  sold 400 pasta dinners, plus t-shirts and 50/50 raffle tickets, at a benefit for mountaintop flood relief.  That’s a riverside  troop, far away from the mountaintop.
       *There is a man in Columbia County who, according to Brad Poster (the United Way director), is “a real hero.”  In addition to contributing his truck and his labor to the task of salvaging Pratt Museum and Prattsville town hall pieces, for storage and restoration at the Columbia Ice plant in Hudson, Jeff Johnson “contacted me after hearing conflicting reports of peoples’ needs.”  Working “under the radar” from the first week of the disaster in Prattsville and Windham, dodging the complications and delays of applications, programs, he “tirelessly on his own and at his own expense” collected and delivered “relief materials.”  He would visit families personally, learned what they needed, and would return “with almost everything that has been requested.”  Jeff Johnson  “gives everything and asks nothing in return.”  [This item added 10/19, after original 10/18 post.  Ed.]          
       *The volume of food, clothing, and supplies that GreeneLanders and other donors contributed to the recovery effort reached, and surpassed, the point of saturation.  Further donations of clothing were politely declined.  Some non-perishable foodstuffs that had been trucked up the mountain were returned to established food pantries in our flatland communities.

       From the threatened devastation wrought by those rainstorms in Palenville, Highway Superintendent Alfie Beers extracted a benefit. Utilizing special authority that he was granted so as to cope with the emergency, he was able to cut through a maze of permit requirements and rush in crews and heavy machinery to the widen and deepen a bed on Kaaterskill Creek, thereby saving a couple of bridges from getting washed away—as had happened in the past, under milder conditions.  The long-targeted project had been stalled by permitting procedures.  (Other GreeneLand repair and improvement projects still are snarled in the regulatory maze).

       Geologist Robert Titus says rainfall this year is about 40% above normal here.  He said that last Spring.

   “The worst, however, has apparently gotten more bad.”  (Daily Maul, 10/15/11).