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: , and
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 (,
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 ( )
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).

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:

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]

“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.

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:

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

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). 

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.

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?” 

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.


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// or 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.”