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Columns

KUZMINSKI: OPEN LETTER TO ANTONIO DELGADO

Column by Adrian Kuzminski for July 13, 2018

OPEN LETTER TO ANTONIO DELGADO

Fight Faso Over

Big Money In Politics

Adrian Kuzminski

Congratulations on winning the Democratic nomination for Congress in New York’s 19th Congressional District.
You’ve got a tough fight ahead against a smooth and wily opponent. I’m one of many who would like to see Representative John Faso defeated. He is a bought and paid for ex-lobbyist with big hardcore far right support.
The Mercer family, investors in Breitbart News and supporters of Steve Bannon, gave a half-million dollars to the pro-Faso PAC “New York Wins” in the last election, helping put him over the top.
All told, the Mercers spent over $25 million in 2016 supporting far-right candidates PACs, and organizations across the country, including New York State. Their agenda of radical privatization requires the destruction of public institutions and entitlement programs. That means lowering the standard of living for most people while concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
The Mercers are the .001 percent, and Faso is the guy they’ve hired to represent us in the 19th CD in
Washington.
All that ought to be a slam-dunk for the Democrats, but not unless they act on it. This is an opportunity for you, Mr. Delgado, to take up the challenge. Faso needs to be called out on his right-wing, pro-corporate, anti-people agenda.
The Democratic leadership unfortunately has enabled, even embraced, much of that agenda. Beginning with the Clinton years, they abandoned labor unions and sided with corporations, supporting trade agreements that outsourced jobs, and tax breaks that favored corporate development over public service.
They continue “to talk the talk” about fighting for their constituents, but they no longer “walk the walk.”
You and the Democrats aren’t going to win this election by supporting a status quo that is working for fewer and fewer people. Defending the status quo is Faso’s job, not yours. You need to challenge the system, not claim that you can work it better than he can, or that it’s not so bad.

Parker Fish/The Freenan’s Journal  – During a visit to the Hometown Fourth of July celebration in Oneonta, candidate Delgado chats with Steve Londner of the League of Women Voters.

You have to show voters that Faso is the local agent responsible for people’s growing insecurity.
You need to expose the sham property-tax reduction he tried to pawn off on voters by gutting local healthcare funding. You need to alert voters to his duplicity in
voting to repeal Obamacare, after promising otherwise – something he’s likely to do on Social Security and other entitlements.
You need to remind voters of his support for deregulating Wall Street and destabilizing the economy.
And then there’s Trump. He’s a demagogue who’s been left free to exploit the insecurities and fears of the people whom the Democrats have left behind, and Faso seems 100-percent behind that.
Trump and Faso’s agenda is the same as the Mercers’: Privatize everything in sight.
You’ve got to do what other Democrats haven’t done. They have not attacked the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, the culprits blocking the kind of universal, affordable healthcare enjoyed by citizens of almost all other developed countries.
They have not broken up monopolistic corporations, whether it’s Amazon, the Wall Street banks, Google, or Walmart, which collectively have killed off small business, the backbone of the economy.
The Democratic leadership has not fought to reduce military spending, which is funding immoral wars abroad and bankrupting our government, while sucking up tax money that should go to social services and infrastructure.
They have done little to get us off fossil fuels and onto renewables, allowing for the acceleration of greenhouse gases and the destabilization of theclimate.
And they have completely failed to get money out of politics, leaving us stuck with a corrupt, pay-to-play system, for which Faso could be the poster boy.
You don’t want to be part of those failed strategies.
If you fudge on these issues, you’ll lose; if you face up
to them, you have a chance to win.
But there’s an even bigger challenge. There’s little doubt that the benefits of American imperialism since World War II have run their course. Globalization led by unrestrained corporate power is no longer a tide that lifts all boats. It only lifts the yachts.
We can no longer economically dominate Europe and Asia, nor can we afford our massive global military machine.
Those days are over.
If globalization has a future, and I hope it does, it has to be more inclusive economically. In the meantime, America must figure out its own identity in a new, multi-polar world.
Now is the time to put our own house in order, and rethink what we’re doing. We need a new definition of American Exceptionalism, one that rejects racism, bigotry and narcissism in the name of a common understanding of the deepest American principles: democratic accountability, Constitutional rule, economic justice, and the greatest possible liberty that’s consistent with mutual respect.
Then we can redefine our place in the world. The Republicans aren’t going to do that, but you might. It could be our last chance.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

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ZAGATA: Is There No Way To Stop Child Separations?

Column by Mike Zagata, July 6, 2018

Is There No Way To

Stop Child Separations?

Mike Zagata

Most of us are the descendants of immigrants who legally entered the country via
Ellis Island.
As Americans, we should be proud that people want to come to our country. However, there are laws that control the rate of entry and processes to follow in adhering to those laws.
Today we’re besieged with a media blitz focused on the separation of children from adults caught entering illegally while they are subjected to our legal system.
Instead of jumping to the child separation issue, maybe we should stop and ask what it is that caused the separation, i.e. what are the adults
being processed for?
It turns out they have broken the law by illegally entering the country. Thus, it seems logical that any debate about immigration should begin there.
There are already at least two laws on the books that address these illegal border crossings, but they have, by several past presidents, largely been ignored.
Those presidents all took an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land so they bear some of the responsibility for our current dilemma.
Congress passed the current laws and therefore they have the Constitutional authority to either amend them or pass new ones to address illegal immigration. Where is the media when it comes to asking Congress why it has been unwilling to fix the problem?
Now let’s address the topic of children being separated from their accompanying adults. Why did I say “adults” and not “parents”?
The answer is really quite simple – we have no easy way of determining if the adults are the actual parents of the children they are with.
We say that should be easy, and then are confronted with the fact that 50,000 people illegally cross the border each month. It takes months to do a background check on a U.S. citizen who was born here. We don’t have “months” to determine if the accompanying adults are the actual parents and if they have a criminal record.
However, we do have a legal process for deciding how to handle these illegal immigrants, but that process takes time. What do we do with the children in the meantime?
Do we put them in with other adults for whom we have no background information? Would doing so increase the likelihood of real child abuse?
Do we build, at taxpayer expense, holding facilities for the “families” – remember, there are 50,000 new ones each month. That would require a massive infrastructure to build and staffing it would be very expensive.
Do we simply put those caught illegally crossing the border on a bus and send them back – where is “back”?
Why not just release them at the border until their hearing date? That’s what’s been done in the past and about 80 percent don’t show up at the appointed court date. One could say they are the smart ones and soon after they blend into the overall population and the issue just goes away – or does it?

Because of our heritage and compassion, we all want those who wish to immigrate to our country to have the opportunity to do it legally. No one wants to see children entering a new country separated, even for a short time, from adults who may be their parents.
To address that concern, a broken immigration system needs to be fixed – not a tinkering, but a comprehensive overhaul.
If you, like me, want that done, please let your congressman and senator know that you understand it is them, not the President, who makes the laws and thus they have the power and responsibility to get it done.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

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MORGAN: On Fourth Of July, Love Letter To America

Column by Tom Morgan, July 6, 2018

Money Talk

On Fourth Of July,

Love Letter To America

Tom Morgan

We find dollops of hatred on the menu this 4th of July.
Facebook bristles with diatribes. As do various social media portals. Politicians screech insults. Hollywood stars spit gutter language at the President. Mobs drive White House staff and their families from restaurants. Academics rev up poisonous demonstrations. They fill young minds with anti-American bile. News networks blister the administration. Endlessly. Protests morph into hatefests.
Scratch the surface of all this. You will soon come upon a layer of people who dislike the foundations of this country. They discredit the U.S. with a list of complaints: Europeans nearly annihilated Native Americans. They enslaved Africans and made millions from their labor. Tycoons steamrolled the working class. The U.S. invaded countries whose governments we did not like. We toppled leaders elsewhere. We interned Japanese in WWII. We humiliated and denied blacks their civil rights. We suppressed women. We punished gays. Big oil buys our politicians. The list is a mile long.
Therefore, this country is illegitimate. Or should not be admired and celebrated. Or so these folks argue. They tell us the pages of our history are blotted with the blood of innocents. Our history stinks of injustices. And reeks of racism. And misogyny. Our Constitution was written by slave-holders and bigots.
You have heard these and more attacks on the legitimacy of the U.S. Let me proclaim that a lot of this is true. Actually, all of it.
So, what is there to celebrate about this country? Well, first, let us put our history in perspective. Name a significant country whose closet is not crammed with similar skeletons. Racism and slavery were not invented here. Invasions? There have been thousands. Injustices? From racial to religious to sexual, they choke the pages of history.
If we get real, we have to admit a sorry truth: Human activities are chock-a-block with evil. Everywhere you travel on this earth you find evidence of people beating up on people. Now and in the past. From the holocausts of Auschwitz to those of the Khmer Rouge and Rwanda. From the Irish famine to Stalin and Mao’s slaughter of millions. From Soviet gulags to Cuba’s imprisonment of its people.
My point? In the midst of this horrible behavior some countries have managed to create something good for their people. Some have guaranteed power to the people, through the ballot box. Some have created honest courts. Some have shed reservoirs of blood to defend human rights. Some have created and protected basic rights and liberties for their people.
Some have protected free speech. Some have gradually dismantled wretchedly unfair racist laws and customs. Some have created vast systems to care for the poor and disadvantaged. And produced wealth enough to fund such systems. Some have sent their troops abroad to fight for the liberty of others. Some have shared their wealth with poor nations and their people. Some have made education possible for all their children.
The world has always been a haven of evil. It simply is and has been and always will be. However, the world also contains goodness and decency, love and respect.
Confronted by those who hate this country, I can make a case that America is also blessed. With an abundance of goodness and decency, love and respect. I can make a case that we have more of such than most countries. And that many countries would have little of such, had we not come to their rescue.
I can make a case that despite humanity’s evil activities, this country is a decent place to live for most. Perhaps you disagree. If so, why do so many millions risk their lives to come here? And why do so few flee when things don’t go their way?
Some folks focus on the half-empty glasses of America. I look out on the world and see countless half-empty glasses. And many that are utterly empty and crushed. I look to America and see much to appreciate, admire and be grateful for.
From Tom…as in Morgan.

Tom Morgan, retired investment counselor in Oneonta who writes a nationally syndicated column, lives in Franklin.

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KUZMINSKI: Can GOP, Democrats Compromise?

Column by Adrian Kuzminski on June 29, 2018

Can GOP, Democrats Compromise?

Adrian Kuzminski

About a year ago, a deal was suggested between President Trump and establishment Democrats whereby Trump would support a path to citizenship for at least some illegal aliens while Democrats would support something like The Wall on the southern border.
The deal came very close, after Democrats met with Trump, but fell apart. It’s now back in the news again.
Is such a compromise possible, or even desirable? A Wall is anathema to Democrats. Closing off the southern border with some kind of impenetrable human barrier seems to them a crime against humanity.
Thousands of refugees from Central America in particular are fleeing the violence not only of drug lords, but also – this isn’t so well reported – of authoritarian regimes suppressing dissent, especially in San Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
A case could be made that the American support for these governments has contributed to the violence, and that the U.S. owes it to these people to take them in – but the Democrats aren’t making that argument.
The idealism of some Democrats has reached the point where, in their minds, national borders are an anachronism that should no longer exist. Since all peoples are equal, what could possibly justify any kind of barrier to admission to the United States?
Isn’t everyone really a citizen of the world? Isn’t the United States – as the exceptional society defined by the Constitution, not by ethnicity – the representative of the future, and thereby the natural home of all refugees?
Some Republicans, on the other hand, are alarmed by the loss of national identity and traditional values. They fear cultural dissolution not only from unrestricted immigration, but from the related forces of globalization and secularization.

This week’s controversial Time magazine cover juxtaposes a photo taken last week at the border in McAllen, Texas, with a photo of President Trump.

The certitudes of family, religion, custom, ethics, patriotism – even the rule of law – seem to be eroding away in favor of a disorienting cosmopolitan culture without clear values, where money rules, and traditional roles and behaviors are replaced by consumerism and egotism.
Walls don’t seem very promising. Think of the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, the Berlin Wall, or the current Israeli West Bank Wall. Border; security only seems to work when there is normal traffic, not a press of desperate refugees or insurgents.
On the other hand, there is arguably no national sovereignty if there is little or no border control at all. That’s long been the case on our southern border, where a blind eye has been turned to illegal immigrants because they provided cheap labor for jobs no one else would do. The result has been an illegal American underclass, estimated at around 11 million people.
In a deal, Trump would get his Wall, or some version of it, which would probably be more effective, if not foolproof, than what we have now. In return for this, the Democrats would get no less than a reasonable path to citizenship for ALL illegal aliens currently in the country, not just the Dreamers. Immigrants would be offered a dignified formal process for citizenship, with families kept together, in place of the police state tactics we have seen.
Some kind of standard of what it means to be an American would be established. Not everyone (criminals, etc.) would qualify, but most presumably would. Think of Ellis Island. The promise of an America for all would be restored, and the underworld of illegal immigration would be drastically reduced, if not eliminated.
Compromise takes courage and vision, now in short supply. The challenge is to figure out a definition of America that lies between the relentless march of a global cosmopolitanism that undermines traditional values, and a desperate reaction to it that doubles down on chauvinism, racism, and religious dogmatism.
The middle ground between these extremes is where a real compromise can be found. It would be the reinvention of a viable American center, something long overdue.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

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KUZMINSKI: Demagogues Happen – And Can Happen Here

Column by Adrian Kuzminski June 15, 2018

Demagogues Happen –

And Can Happen Here

Adrian Kuzminski

The Wikipedia – it may be the closest thing we have to a common standard of what things mean in our culture – tells us that a demagogue is “a leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so.”
Notice that it’s “the common people” in this definition who are confused by prejudice and ignorance, and guided by the passions instead of “reasoned deliberation.” This reflects the classical ideal of ancient Greece and Rome – also held by most of the American Founding Fathers. The right kind of politician in this view is someone able to control his or her passions, as well as the passions of others, through the practical application of reason. The Stoics called this the cultivation of virtue, of self-control and clear headedness, of wisdom, and it lay at the heart of ancient politics.
But then, as now, not everyone was virtuous, or had the same idea of virtue. In ancient Athens and elsewhere demagogues (literally “popular leaders”) arose who appealed not to virtue but to prejudice and ignorance in order to rile up people’s passions, featuring fear-mongering, tribalism, and what we now call fake news. Demagogues are one of the hazards of democratic society.
A demagogue divides rather than unites us. This is done by taking the fluid and accidental differences among people and transforming them into fixed, absolute concepts, such as race and gender, rich and poor, smart and dumb.
To drive home the differences, the demagogue goes on the attack. He or she will mock and otherwise denigrate the enemies they’ve created, and invite others to join in what becomes a movement. Its victims find themselves insulted and redefined in hostile terms as political targets. The art of the demagogue is to inspire even more followers than enemies. It’s a vicious game.
This is suddenly an issue because we have, for the first time, a demagogue, Donald Trump, elected president of the United States.

Mark Wilson/empirewire.com

There have been other American demagogues – Huey Long and Joe McCarthy come to mind – but never before one elected president. Before Trump’s appearance on the scene, a level of public decorum consistent with the politics of virtue was standard in this country, at least among mainstream politicians. It’s not that they didn’t lie to us (they did when they thought they had to), but in spite of that they maintained a level of public courtesy and mutual respect that sustained a sense of the American community. Truth and reason were respected, if not always followed.
Trump, by contrast, has openly disparaged truth and reason and focused on the personal humiliation of his opponents. He has made this tactic mainstream, particularly at his rallies during the campaign and since. He has made fun of a reporter’s physical disability, encouraged his supporters to beat up hecklers, disparaged the looks of male and female competitors, used ethnic slurs to denigrate his critics, and given a pass to racist demonstrators. It’s as if the locker-room talk of Tony Soprano and his henchmen at the Badda Bing migrated from HBO to the White House.
This is a sea-change in American politics. The politicians of virtue – establishment Democrats and Republicans – are freaked out by their defeat at the hands of a demagogue, as they should be. The polite discourse to which they at least gave lip service – the rhetoric of reason, science, progress, and mutual respect – now looks stilted and fake to more people. Tony Soprano’s in the White House and his uninhibited talk is releasing emotions and taboos once locked up by the limits of virtuous politics.
We’re at a dangerous moment. Civilization is based on restraint and mutual courtesy. However we choose to respond to any demagogue, if we lose our own virtue in the process by adopting his or her tactics, then he or she will have won.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and moderator of Sustainable Otsego, resides in Fly Creek.

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ZAGATA: Doctor-Patient Discussions Private? Little By Little, Confidentiality Goes

Column by Mike Zagata, June 8, 2018

Doctor-Patient Discussions

Private? Little By Little,

Confidentiality Goes

Mike Zagata

Are there circumstances where it’s OK to violate your privacy? It might be OK if you make an informed decision to allow that to happen – but what if you don’t?
Have you heard of HIPPA – the Health insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996? If you have, you probably have a sense of comfort that it protects conversations your doctor has about your care or treatment with nurses and others.
Does it really do that, and are there times when it’s OK for your doctor, now known as your primary-care physician, to divulge information learned about you during a visit to law enforcement officials?
Does the doctor face an obligation to do so? It’s not your doctor’s fault if they do as they didn’t volunteer to assist your government.

Why these questions? If you’ve had a recent doctor’s appointment, the following questions might sound familiar: “Do you feel secure at home?” and, “Are you depressed?”
What is likely to happen if you answer “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second?
If you’re a firearms owner, you’re likely to receive a visit from the state police and see your firearms depart with them. You may also receive a visit from the folks at Social Services in an effort to determine if you’re the victim of spousal abuse.
The goal is to reduce the likelihood of domestic or other forms of violence, e.g. school shootings. That’s a laudable goal. However, does it, at the same time, violate your right to privacy and lead to the breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship? Is it the best way to achieve the goal?
As with most issues like this, there will likely be opinions on both sides of the issue. That’s one of the many benefits of living in America. The fact that we are losing our privacy right at an alarming rate is just that – fact.
The debate has already been held – by someone somewhere – and the decision made to allow that to happen.
Do you want your driving habits to be recorded each time make a trip to the grocery store or church? Do you want your location recorded each time you dial a number or utter a voice command on your cell phone? Do you wonder why you receive certain e-mails from marketers who seem to know your buying habits?

Yes, our cars and mobile phones offer convenience – but at what cost? To those of us who are older, this cost represents change and thus we are likely to be aware that it is happening. But what about the next generation?
This is life as they know it and therefore not perceived by them as a threat. You can be certain there will be more change – change they may then perceive as a threat because it’s different from that to which they are now accustomed.
It will happen incrementally over time and, at some later date, those of us still alive will awaken to the fact our lives are no longer recognizable and ask: “What happened?”

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive in Fortune 500 companies, resides in West Davenport.

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KUZMINSKI: Are Today’s Disputations Only Reformation Battles Revisited?

Column by Adrian Kuzminski, May 31, 2018

Are Today’s Disputations Only
Reformation Battles Revisited?

Adrian Kuzminski

A recent op-ed in the New York Times by a University of Virginia professor, Gerard Alexander, was provocatively titled: “Liberals, You’re not as Smart as you Think.” It may have been a shocking idea for the Times, but it’s old news for anyone who’s been listening to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity or watching Fox News.
Hillary’s comment about the “deplorables” in the 2016 campaign was seized by conservatives as proof of liberal arrogance and snobbery. It helped lose her the election.
Conservatives feel that liberals have been in charge, and that it’s gone to their heads. Liberals won the culture wars – women’s rights, gay rights, multi-culturalism, globalization – and they often seem to have the background, education, and professional training needed to succeed economically in a changing world while others are struggling.
The conservative attempt to defend traditional values has largely been in resistance to disconcerting change. No wonder that many conservatives embraced Trump’s campaign rhetoric: America first, the Wall, anti-globalization, anti-elitism.

A little history might help explain how we got here. Martin Luther could be considered the first liberal. He insisted that individuals had the capacity to decide for themselves the truth of religion.
It turned out, however, that there seemed to be no way to prove that one person’s subjective belief is right, and someone else’s wrong. With no way to compromise over a common, public religion, the only option was to fight it out in a series of disastrous religious wars.
As a result, knowledge based on traditional faith was increasingly privatized, and modern Thinkers – European Enlightenment philosophers, the American Founding Fathers – began to look for alternatives to organize society.
They ended up abandoning religious faith as a social principle in favor of reason and science.

Secular ideas focused on Nature replaced religious ideas focused on God as guides to public life.
The biggest turning point was probably Darwin’s theory of evolution, which upset the Biblical account of creation. Another turning point, in the United States, was the separation of church and state. That allowed for freedom of conscience, but it also ensured that the growing public realm would remain secular.
Reason and science, however, didn’t necessarily make us better people; they haven’t solve our moral problems. Nor have they led to a more egalitarian society. Serious conflicts about values and what’s right and wrong continue.
Reason and science, and the technologies they spawn, seem stubbornly neutral, as easily adapted for good as for evil. The secular world did not, it turns out, provide a solution to the crisis of faith.
For many, the private beliefs of religion have continued to inform their values in a secular world.
But many others, abandoning religion, have been attracted by the rise of new secular faiths, or Ideologies – fascism, communism, nationalism, libertarianism, socialism, human rights, identity politics – all of which purport to tell us how to live.

Did Luther’s faith in reason lead to today’s disputations? Let’s hope a 30 Years’ War doesn’t follow.

These beliefs are secular insofar as they invoke Nature rather than God. They go beyond reason and science insofar as they appeal to arbitrary, non-evident absolutes like race, gender, the dictatorship of the proletariat, or the hidden hand of the marketplace.
Ideologies, like religious convictions, are matters of personal faith, not public knowledge.

Liberalism and conservatism today divide mainly over which secular faith to embrace, not which religion to adopt. Liberalism is historically identified with socialism, communism, and identity politics, while conservatism is historically identified with fascism, nationalism, and libertarianism.
Liberals tend to embrace change, and conservatives to resist it. That may be the main difference between them.

We seem to have come full circle. The new secular faiths are just as subjective as the old religious ones. They are no more evidence-based than were the old God-centered religions.
There remains, it seems, no objective way to decide that any faith – old or new, religious or secular – is right and its competitors wrong.
Just as Protestants and Catholics could not convince one another that their faith was the right one, so today’s liberals and conservatives cannot seem to convince one another that some secular values are right and others wrong. We remain divided.
It took a couple of centuries of futile warfare for the religious struggles in Europe to burn themselves out. Our divisions aren’t yet that profound, and let’s hope they never get that bad.
We are in conflict about our secular beliefs because they are matters of faith, not evidence. Perhaps taking them a little less dogmatically would be a step towards defusing conflicts over them.

Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor, author and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

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ZAGATA: ‘Big Brother’ May Be As Close As Your Next New Automobile

Column by Mike Zagata, May 25, 2018

‘Big Brother’

May Be As Close
As Your Next New Automobile

Mike Zagata

If you haven’t read George Orwell’s book “1984”, now would be a good time to read it. In the book, Winston Smith wrestles with oppression in Oceania, a place where the Party (Big Brother) scrutinizes human actions with ever-watchful eyes.
Winston chooses to defy a ban on individuality by daring to express his thoughts in a diary and pursues a relationship with Julia – both are punishable by death.
I remember reading it and thinking, “This could never happen in America.”

I was wrong. It is happening each and every day, and it’s not just “Big Brother” that is keeping track of everything we do and attempting to establish new mores about what is socially right and wrong.
The “Left”, joined by a liberal media, is also changing the rules and holding those who don’t agree with them accountable. I recall when, in the 1960s, Berkley was a bastion of free speech. Today the liberal campus is torn by riots in protest of a conservative speaker. What happened?
Whether or not you like our current President, I’m hoping you’re shocked by the behavior of the FBI with regards to its pursuit of justice. We don’t spy on our own citizens without just cause – we just don’t do that. Or do we?
And if we do, does a majority of the American public support it? I hope the answer is a resounding “No”, because, if it isn’t, any one of us could become tomorrow’s “target”.

Technology, as suggested by Orwell, has made it ever easier to keep track of everything we do. Our cell phones are used to track our habits and patterns and the information collected without our being aware of it is sold to those seeking to exploit us.
I received an unsolicited report via e-mail from my new vehicle telling me that during the course of the past month I had come to an abrupt stop 16 times. It went on to report that my driving habits were better (whose definition?) than 85 percent of other monitored drivers. If that is true, I hope I don’t meet one of them on the highway!
You may not be aware of it, but a new partnership among Cornell, Syracuse and DEC will allow them to monitor, without your being aware of it, how you are stewarding your land. If you are not managing it for “sustainability” (not sure whose definition is being used) you could be subjected to some form of punishment; for example, not be allowed to sell your timber into the marketplace.

I wrote this because the changes that are occurring are subtle and thus often go un-noticed when taken one at a time. However, when taken in their totality, they are having an enormous impact on our lives.
Consider the camera on Chestnut Street just East of “Nick’s Diner” that monitors your speed. The day will come, as it has in many cities, when it will initiate the process of issuing you a speeding ticket and cameras don’t care if you’re a townie or from out of town.
Is it time to think about how good we had it in days past? Is there a way to return to them? There was a time when we had five police officers in Oneonta and the SUNY campus had a custodian with a broom for security.

Mike Zagata, a former DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

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KUZMINSKI: Money Made Out Of Thin Air, But Be Sure To Repay Lenders

Column by Adrian Kuzminski on May 11, 2018

Money Made Out Of Thin Air,
But Be Sure To Repay Lenders

Adrian Kuzminski

You’ve got to have money to make money, the saying goes. If you have money, you can invest (or speculate) in something you hope will produce a profitable return. If you don’t have money, you’ll need to figure out where you can get some.
There are two basic options for most people: work and debt, and they usually go together. Earning money by working, by selling your manual or intellectual labor, is what most people do. But it’s usually not enough.
Most people also need to borrow money. You have to repay with interest as time goes on, but you can use the borrowed money right off the bat to invest in something you need or want, like a house, a car, an education, or a business.
The ability to borrow money is fundamental to modern societies, and is part of what makes them modern.
Until the invention of modern finance in early 18th century Britain, it was hard to borrow money. Banks were few and far between, and most loans were private affairs between individuals.
Money in circulation was largely limited to inelastic precious metals. What happened in England was the creation of a set of interlocking institutions: a central bank, national debt, stock and bond markets, and institutionalized lending.
Together these made it far easier for private banks to issue loans to the public. These loans, which circulated as bank notes, or currency, pumped money into the economy.
This was no small thing. It started the industrial revolution. The “English System” of credit, as Alexander Hamilton later called it, made it possible for English landowners and manufacturers to borrow large sums to improve their estates and industries. The British economy exploded.
The hitch was that borrowers still had to pay interest on their loans – a kind of private tax – even though the money which the private banks lent was created out of thin air.
When you borrow money, even today, say for a mortgage, the bank isn’t giving you money that it already has on deposit. Rather it’s giving you a line of credit backed almost entirely by the likelihood that you’ll repay it with interest.

“Charging Bull,” in New York City’s financial district, has become a symbol of our monetary system.

The effect is to concentrate wealth in the hands of creditors. It’s tolerable for debtors as long as they remain productive enough to cover their loans and interest, and still leave a profit for themselves. A loan provides a way, not otherwise available, to appropriate new assets and put them to use.
That works as long as the economy is growing as fast as the interest rate. When loans get too far ahead of productivity, however, and can’t be repaid, we have a crash.
Up to now, crashes have weeded out the less efficient investors, and allowed the rest to restart the process. That was possible as long as opportunities for economic growth remained.
For better or worse, after a long run of 250 years, the credit-based industrial revolution may be coming to an end. We have a finite planet with finite resources, weighed down by pollution and environmental degradation, struggling to support over seven billion people.
As the rate of production decreases, it gets harder and harder individuals and governments to pay off their debts. The federal government – with its $20+ trillion debt – isn’t even trying anymore. There is increasing concern that the overall debt burden is getting too big for the economy to absorb.
In the old days, not paying debts led to insolvency and bankruptcy. More recently, government bailouts have replaced bankruptcy – provided you’re too big to fail.
In 2008, only one major company – Lehman Brothers – was allowed to go under. The other big players, from AIG to General Motors to the big banks, were bailed out. Since it was politically impossible to raise taxes, this was done by increasing the federal debt.
However the debt crisis may be resolved, the need for credit will remain.
One alternative is public banking. The idea is to lend money not for profit, as private banks do, but at little or no interest, as a public service. We need to transition to a steady-state as opposed to a growth economy, and no-interest loans might help get us there while still meeting the need to invest in our future.
But that’s another column.

 

Adrian Kuzminski, former Hartwick College philosopher-in-residence and Sustainable Otsego moderator, resides in Fly Creek.

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DEAN: To Succeed, Otsego County Must Be Known

Column by James Dean, May 11, 2018

To Succeed, Otsego

County Must Be Known

Editor’s Note: James R. Dean, the Cooperstown village trustee, has been proprietor of New York Custom Curved Wood Stair Railings & Handrailings locally since 1973. In last week’s Part I, he analyzed out economic-development challenges we face. This week, Part II offers solutions.

James Dean

So what is the plan?
Almost everything that has been done so far to increase our population and business base, while very good, has not been enough to reverse our situation and we need to rethink what we need to do and how we need to do it.
As Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig often says, “We need more people.” I fully agree. Nothing changes in Otsego County without more people.
We need more people at the same time that we know we are in an imperfect situation for an ideal promotional effort. Knowing that, we should still move ahead to try to attract more people, businesses and outside money to Otsego County. The needed improvements will follow as our promotional efforts succeed.
Rebuilding Otsego County will not happen without a laser focus on promoting the big picture of “Otsego County New York” to the outside world. “Otsego County New York” are the four most important words that the outside world needs to hear from us. We need to reach out with public and private strategic messaging designed to capture the attention of people and businesses, that previously did not know about life in Otsego County New York.
Counties and businesses up and down the Hudson Valley, and elsewhere, are putting promotional and advertising money, and other resources into attracting new people and businesses to their area, and it is working. People are moving from the Hamptons to Hudson Valley where their money buys so much more.
I do not see that in Otsego County. To see what pride and promotional efforts of an area looks like, go to the Kingston area’s Luminary Media’s Arts and Culture website www.Chronogram.com.
Chronogram also has impressive print edition that is distributed free, in over 750 locations, from Stamford to Brooklyn, on both sides of the Hudson. It serves 51 towns and 9 counties in the Hudson Valley (see distribution). They are capturing customers, in a very organized way, while we are completely off the radar. Luminary media also has a real-estate advertising website http://upstatehouse.luminarymedia.com/, with similar print editions and equal distribution, reaching the same people. We have nothing like that here. How do we compete with that? At the very least we should try to be included in their orbit.

This image from Doug Decker’s 2015 video, “Oneonta, Life Enjoyed!”, depicts youngsters fishing. People would come to Otsego County if they knew about its charms, Jim Dean asserts.

People wanting to buy homes and property in Otsego County is a major component of deep, structural, long-term, local economic development. Zillow.com is a major real-estate advertising website that shows almost every home for sale in Otsego County (search Otsego County NY in Zillow). This is a tool that should be used to showcase Otsego County homes available for purchase. Local realtors already sponsor these Zillow ads and would handle most of the sales.
The Zillow interactive website platform is also an interesting model for a possible new, very visual, map based, all inclusive, fully interactive website, solely for the promotion of living and working in Otsego County New York. This new website could become the information destination for comprehensive and organized promotional efforts.
I suggest “OtsegoCountyNewYork.com” as the name for this possible new website. I have secured this name for possible future use. This new website would have click on/off layers for the major categories of interest in Otsego County like city, towns, villages, healthcare, churches, education, recreation, parks, businesses, shopping, real estate, restaurants, transportation, arts and culture, places to visit, etc. To see a simple Google Map prototype go to https://tinyurl.com/yaw5vm2t. Each similarly formatted layer would have mouse over icons that would identify the location, clickable points of interest that would open up with information, photos, audio, videos and/or “mini tours”. The purpose of this “master website” would be as a “central destination” for many outreach efforts for the “big sell” of all that Otsego County has to offer.
This new website would allow viewers to tour all of Otsego County on their own, at any time, from anywhere. This single focus new website would be fair and equal in providing information about all of Otsego County, from Richfield Springs to Unadilla (supported by volunteers from around the county, grants and donations) and would carry no paid advertising or preferential promotions.
Ideally, it would be developed and managed by a new, neutral entity, independent of any special or competing interests.
Quality of life is one of our major assets. Many people in other places have more money, but they do not have the quality of life, and they do not know where to look to find it. We want to paint our picture, and tailor our messages, to meet that need and welcome them to join us.
First, we sell them a forever home; then they help us build out the future of Otsego County. This applies to retired people, young creatives, entrepreneurs and self-employed people with businesses and families. Creating, and then conveying, a sense of pride of community and common cause will go a long way to helping Otsego County succeed.
I can think of no other publications that so beautifully portray, in pictures and text, so much of what we enjoy, need to convey, about Otsego County New York than “Otsego County – Its Towns and Treasures”, “Cooperstown”, and “Otsego Lake”, all three books published by The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. Also “Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York – 200 Years of Health Care in Rural America” for the rich history of the first-class healthcare that has always been available in Otsego County New York.
Our problem, in my view, is not that people do not want to come here. Our problem, in my view, is that people do not know that we exist.
It is very important, in my view, for Otsego County local governments, businesses, schools, public and private organizations and interested individuals to work together, and to invest, in this common cause.
Rebuilding Otsego County is the collective responsibility of every person, hamlet, village, town and city in our county.

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