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Columns

Law, Precedent Prohibit Giving Driver’s Licenses To People Here Illegally

‘GREEN LIGHT’ POSITION PAPER

Law, Precedent Prohibit

Giving Driver’s Licenses

To People Here Illegally

Editor’s Note: Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner developed this position paper on the state’s new “Green Light” law before asking President Trump to intervene and ensure it doesn’t require New York State’s county clerks to violate their oath of office.

By CRAIG HAYNER • Saratoga County Clerk

The ability of states to regulate who drives on their roadways dates back to the Model T with the 1916 Supreme Court decision regarding Frank J. Kane v the State of New Jersey, which found the state within its right to issue registration fees.

States were further supported in regulating who drives in 1999 when the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, in the case of Donald S. Miller v the California Department of Motor Vehicles, ruled that there is no “fundamental right to drive.”  And again on June 7, 2007, when New York’s highest court upheld the state DMV’s right to require Social Security numbers (SSN) from driver-license applicants or a letter of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration, in the case Cubas v Martinez.

By statute, the NYS DMV has required driver-license applicants to supply their Social Security numbers since 1995. DMV also accepts a letter of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration (SSA) along with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) documentation from anyone ineligible for a SSN.

 

As stated in the Cubas v Martinez decision, the policy was not the result of a post-September 11 panic over immigration; the internal document adopting the policy is dated Sept. 6, 2001. This anti-fraud policy was validated in 2002 with the DMV’s Social Security verification program uncovering massive amounts of fraud, according to testimony by then-DMV Commissioner Martinez to the NYS Assembly Transportation Committee on Aug. 19, 2004.

The current legislation, now signed into law (A3675B & S1747B), known as the “Green Light Bill,” disregards history and case law, attempting to rewrite the law in the interest of a few at the expense of many:

  • Provides the Option to Refuse to Provide a Social Security Number: The law provides the option for Standard License applicants to refuse to provide a Social Security Number (SSN), allowing criminals to exploit the system. This reverses the State DMV’s law enforcement arm’s nearly two decades of work in uncovering and preventing fraud discovered using Social Security Verification.
  • Requires a Visually Identical Design: The law requires that licenses issued to those here illegally be “visually identical” to a federal-purpose license. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to deceive and a violation of the federal REAL ID Act, which requires non-compliant cards to have a unique design or color indicator. While the bill states the Commissioner may adopt additional regulations to comply with federal law, the use of “may”, rather than “shall”, provides the commissioner the option of non-compliance with federal law.
  • Changes Automatic Registration to Selective Service System to Opt-In: The law changes the provision that directs the DMV to provide information to the Selective Service System (SSS) of young men who are required to be registered with Selective Service from an automatic registration to an optional registration. According to federal law, with very few exceptions, all males between ages 18 and 25 must register with the SSS. This includes U.S. born and naturalized citizens, parolees, undocumented immigrants, legal permanent residents, asylum seekers, refugees, and all males with visas expired more than 30 days. These changes not only create unnecessary red tape for DMV employees, but also make it easier for people to thwart their lawful duty to register with Selective Service.
  • Requires Notification to Anyone whose Records are Sought – The law requires the DMV Commissioner to notify within in three days any person whose records are sought from “any agency that primarily enforces immigration law,” informing the individual about the request and identifying the agency requesting the records. The bill also requires such agency or representative to obtain a warrant or court order to access any DMV records. This is a deliberate effort to impede federal immigration investigations and allow those under investigation to obstruct justice. 
  • Provides the Option of Implementation before it becomes Law: The law back dates to Jan. 1, 2019, the proofs of identity required to be accepted to include a variety of foreign documents. It also provides for the state to amend or repeal any rule or regulation necessary for the implementation of this act before it actually becomes law. These provisions provide the unprecedented ability for the State to implement policy before it becomes law and offers no time for training for DMV clerks who will be forced to accept documentation they cannot translate or authenticate. Further, in the midst of REAL ID implementation, which is creating a great influx of customers, longer transaction times, and frustrated customers in DMV offices throughout the state, this bill would haphazardly thrust even more responsibilities and a greater customer demand on our overworked DMV clerks without providing them the respect or resources to ensure they properly implement the law.
  • Provides an Opportunity for Voter Fraud: Newly installed Customer Facing Devices in all NYS and County DMV offices prompt customers to register to vote during any type of license or ID transaction, regardless of the customer’s citizenship status or age. The customer must answer yes or no before their transaction can be completed. The State DMV has been aware of this computer issue, but to date has yet to address it, passing the issue along to the Board of Elections to determine eligibility after they receive a list from the DMV of anyone who pressed yes.
  • Compromises the Oath of Office: The new state law to provide driver licenses to those in this country illegally circumvents federal law, unjustly putting County Clerks and DMV employees in the compromising position of violating their oath of office, which is to support and defend the Constitutions of the United States and the State of New York.
  • Forces DMV employees and County Clerks to be Immigration Authorities: The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the unconditional and absolute power to regulate immigration. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1876 that immigration regulation was an exclusive federal responsibility. This law shifts that authority to the State of NYS DMV and forces DMV employees to become experts on identifying a multitude of foreign documents from around the world, placing the sole responsibility on DMV clerks to ensure people are who they claim to be and to ferret out fraudulent documents. DMV employees would have to do this in addition to the hundreds of motor vehicle transactions the offices process daily.
Only Grassroot Activists Can Save Our Planet

THE VIEW FROM FLY CREEK

Only Grassroot

Activists Can

Save Our Planet

By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Sustainable Otsego has been both a social network and political action committee since its founding in 2007. Over that time, it has advanced three principles around which local life could be organized:

  1. Sustainable Living.
  2. Economic Independence, and
  3. Home Rule.

Today let me address Sustainable Living; I’ll take up the other two in later columns.

Sustainable Living turns out to be a lot harder than many of us thought. The very word “sustainable” has been corrupted by phrases like “sustainable growth” and “sustainable capitalism.” Thanks largely to corporate propaganda and misinformation, it is less and less clear what terms like “sustainable” or “green” mean.

If it means anything, sustainable living means living on renewable resources on a finite planet.

At least that was the idea when the term “sustainability” went mainstream in the early 2000s.

Energy analysts had begun to worry about “peak oil” decades earlier, but by the early 2000s compelling evidence of limited conventional oil reserves, as well as of the depletion of other resources (fertile soils, clean water, essential minerals, species diversity), brought the issue of sustainability to a larger public.

The idea of sustainable living was a response to this brewing eco-crisis. It meant avoiding practices that led to pollution and a deteriorating natural world. The idea was to recycle everything, go organic, and use less energy and resources. We were supposed to lower our “carbon footprints” to minimize global warming and mitigate climate change.

Sustainable living became no less than a moral movement, a kind of secular religion where

Nature takes the place of God, cooperation takes the place of competition, holistic thinking replaces partial thinking, and harmony and compassion replace strife and tribalism.

That was a profound cultural moment, and it changed important human behaviors. It’s been the main force behind the progress made in recent years towards surviving on this planet. The hope was to maintain something like the middle-class lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.

The plan was to do it by replacing fossil fuels with eco-friendly renewables, poisonous chemicals with “natural” ingredients, and accumulated waste by recycling and composting.

But it didn’t quite work out that way, at least not yet. New technologies (fracking) expanded access to oil and gas reserves, postponing “peak oil” indefinitely, while locking in our reliance on fossil fuels through low prices. Recycling has yet to absorb the vast waste stream, and organic alternatives, popular as they are, are far from replacing cheap, chemically based products.

In the meantime, the methane and CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by continued fossil-fuel use has brought us to the verge of uncontrollable climate change.

The easy steps of sustainable living – buying a Prius, recycling, eating organic food, switching to

LED lighting, etc. – are no longer enough. We need structural, not just personal, changes.

Our continued post-fracking reliance on cheap fossil fuels has allowed the oil and gas industry to dominate the political system, frustrating the transition to renewables. Corporate-led deregulation has rolled back the environmental standards necessary to fully promote organic products and eliminate waste. Indeed, under Trump we’ve gone backwards on all these fronts.

At this point, only upheaval from below seems likely to change national politics. And that will happen only when the urgency of the biggest threat – climate change – reaches a critical threshold in most minds. Because of it, we’ve witnessed in recent months massive wildfires out West, catastrophic floods in the Midwest, melting glaciers and polar ice packs, another record heat wave in Europe, accelerating wildlife extinctions – the list goes on.

The floods a few years back gave us a taste of what can happen here, though climate change for us so far has been mostly incremental and cumulative, rather than sudden and overwhelming.

But it’s not any less significant for that. Hundred-year floods now occur a lot more than once a century. Storms and power outages are more common. The growing season has lengthened.

Winters are milder. Tornados, once unheard of in our region, now occur repeatedly.

If you experience the weather mostly when walking to and from your car, it’s easy to dismiss all this as some kind of delusion, a fake crisis. But if you’re a farmer, a gardener, someone who works outdoors, or manages infrastructure (powerlines, roads, etc.) exposed to the weather, you’re more likely to recognize that climate change is happening right before your eyes.

Sustainable living is both more important than ever, and even harder to achieve. To recognize its challenge is to feel its urgency, and especially the vital need to replace fossil fuels with renewables.

This is evident in the deliberations of the new Otsego County Energy Task Force, where climate change concerns and economic-development issues are coming together for the first time locally.

In response to this growing crisis Sustainable Otsego has evolved into a political action committee focused on local government. Given the failures of our major parties nationally and locally, Sustainable Otsego remains resolutely non-partisan. Visit us on Facebook, and at sustainableotsego.net.

If we’re to respond successfully to climate change from below, it will be because local grassroots activists – conservatives and liberals alike – insist upon it. Only they can force our representatives – local, state, and national – to do what’s necessary to secure the transition to sustainable living. No one else is going to do it.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor

and co-founder and moderator of Sustainable Otsego, lives in Fly Creek.

 

Participate In Census – Or Lose Clout

FROM WAR ON POVERTY’S FRONT LINES

Participate In Census

– Or Lose Clout

By DAN MASKIN • Opportunities For Otsego CEO

As mandated by the Constitution, the United States conducts a decennial census.

This once-every-10-year count of the population – it is coming up in April 2020 – shapes the future of  our communities and helps ensure political power is fairly allocated among the states and at the local level.

Some communities, like those with higher rates of low-income households and people of color, have historically been classified as hard to count.

Fair Practices Act May Force Farms Out Of Business

COLUMN

Fair Practices Act

May Force Farms

Out Of Business

By State Sen. JIM SEWARD • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Earlier this year the New York City-centric state Senate leadership, for political reasons, blocked Amazon and 25,000 jobs from coming to our state.  Now, in the closing hours of the 2019 legislative session, the same group of “leaders” are killing off existing jobs by targeting our state’s number one industry – agriculture.

To be clear, when New York was announced as the winning site for the Amazon HQ2 project, I raised questions.  The lack of transparency involved in constructing the deal was concerning.  I have stated very clearly that we need more accountability and input when it comes to all of New York’s economic incentive programs.

How to Waste $400 Million

COLUMN

How to Waste

$400 Million

By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • Special to wwww.AllOTSEGO.com

At the January 2019 Otsego County Energy Summit in Cooperstown, sponsored by the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, a NYSEG representative surprised many present by announcing that the utility was planning to rebuild and expand the DeRuyter pipeline, which brings natural gas to Oneonta.

In a subsequent report, filed with the Public Service Commission on March 15, NYSEG states, with regard to the DeRuyter pipeline, that it “will replace approximately 50 miles of 8-inch and 10-inch 298 psig-coated steel gas transmission gas mains with 12-inch main in several phases.”

Construction is expected to start in 2022.

Mike Zagata: Do Renewables Make Sense Yet?

COLUMN

Do Renewables

Make Sense Yet?

By MIKE ZAGATA • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

I see the left is at it again.  If you disagree with or question their agenda, then you are labeled as “evil.”

Now I’m being accused of being opposed to renewables.  If you’ve read my writings on the topic, then you know nothing could be further from the truth.  Anyone who is aware of the concerns regarding climate change and understands that fossil fuels are not renewable, i.e. we’re going to run out of them, would be looking for new sources of energy.  Renewables like solar and wind must, at some point in time, be part of that mixA

What I am opposed to is being asked to drink the renewables Kool-Aid without being told what’s in it.  That’s what happened to the cult members who died in Jonestown, Guyana – the results weren’t good.

Gloria Steinem: Surrogate Bill Would Put Poor Women At Mercy Of Rich Ones

COLUMN

Steinem: Surrogate Bill

Would Put Poor Women

At Mercy Of Rich Ones

Editor’s Note:  Another one of many troubling ideas out of Albany this session – the creation of a surrogate-mother industry – led Gloria Steinem to ally herself in opposition with the state’s Catholic bishops.  She wrote this letter June 11. The state Senate passed the bill, but as this edition went to press, it was stalled in the Assembly.  Happily, the legislative session ends today, June 19.

Dear Friends,

Gloria Steinem

A few months ago, I joined over 100 women leaders in New York State who wrote a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo opposing the “Child-Parent Security Act,” a bill that would legalize reproductive commercial surrogacy in our state. We need your help to stop this bill. Women’s health, rights and lives may depend on it.

The danger here is not the use of altruistic surrogacy to create a loving family, which is legal in New York now, but the state legalizing the commercial and profit-driven reproductive surrogacy industry. As has been seen here and in other countries, this harms and endangers women in the process, especially those who feel that they have few or no economic alternatives.

Under this bill, women in economic need become commercialized vessels for rent, and the fetuses they carry become the property of others. The surrogate mother’s rights over the fetus she is carrying are greatly curtailed and she loses all rights to the baby she delivers. The bill ignores the socio-economic and racial inequalities of the reproductive commercial surrogacy industry, and puts disenfranchised women at the financial and emotional mercy of wealthier and more privileged individuals.

Renewables, Yes, But Decompressor As Well

OTSEGO CHAMBER POSITION PAPER

Renewables, Yes, But

Decompressor As Well

Kathleen O’Donnell, the retired Hartwick College professor and a Concerned Citizen of Oneonta, was among attendees at the Chamber’s Energy Summit in January. Second from left is Tracy Allen, SUNY Oneonta dean of sciences. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

Editor’s Note: The Otsego County Chamber of  Commerce released this Energy & Infrastructure Policy Thursday, June 13.

Otsego County has a diverse economy. Manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, and tourism have been part of the economy for hundreds of years. Having a large part of the economy linked to these sectors, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce affirms that Otsego County requires a variety of energy sources to allow it to be both economically competitive and environmentally responsible.
To achieve these goals, the public and private sectors
must collaborate to ensure that needed energy and transmission infrastructure upgrades are implemented.

Jim Atwell: New View, From Delaware Street

A FRONT PORCH PERSPECTIVE

New View, From

Delaware Street

It’s a pleasure to be writing again for The Freeman’s Journal (as well as, for the first time, Hometown Oneonta).  I’ve been here before, though it was about two decades ago. More about that in a future column.

Jim Atwell

For this new stint of columns, of course I need a new name. “From Fly Creek” just won’t do. Though all I learned and came to love while writing from that hamlet still lives in me, I’ve moved on, and not just in age. (In August I’ll be eighty-one.) I’ve also moved through a range of new experiences including deteriorations that have come with continuing Parkinson’s, and now with diabetes and uncertain blood pressure.

So mine’s a different perspective now, and I should address you from it. And I’ve concluded to assure that by naming this series from Anne’s and my new home base: halfway down the two long blocks that form one of Cooperstown’s most handsome streets.

Delaware Street runs straight as a die from Chestnut down to Beaver Street. It’s lined with fine trees and well-maintained homes. Nearly all the homes have comfortable front porches. Just now almost every porch features hanging baskets of trailing flowers, plus a colorful pot or two arranged along the steps. Many are also brightened by our national flag, wafted by breezes.

Local Police Exempt From Mug-Shot Ban, State’s Expert Avers

COLUMN

Local Police Exempt

From Mug-Shot Ban,

State’s Expert Avers

Editor’s Note: This is reprinted from the June edition of NewsBeat, a publication of the New York Press Association.

One provision of the recently passed state budget has been interpreted by many as a “ban” on police agencies releasing booking photographs.

But state officials have since clarified it’s not an outright ban, and local police retain a great deal of discretion in how they handle mugshots.

The measure in question, which was passed as a change to the state’s Freedom of Information Law, states that booking photographs can be withheld from the public under the exemption for records that constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy “unless public release of such information will serve a specific law enforcement purpose and disclosure is not precluded by any state or federal laws.”

The provision is intended to curtail a nefarious practice (by certain websites) that is tantamount to extortion. Those websites publish mugshots online and then charge people who want them removed.

An idle Internet search can yield booking photos that indefinitely damage an individual’s employment and personal prospects. To be clear: the public and media will still be able to access records and photos, as local law enforcement will continue to decide if there is a need to release photos and all court records are public records.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government and an expert on the state’s Freedom of Information Law, said New York State Police will no longer be able to release mugshots due to a change to a different law, but other local law enforcement agencies are not “banned” from doing so.

“We advised for years and the courts agreed that mugshots are public,” Freeman said. “…Common sense would tell you that if you can see the face of the person who’s been charged during a public judicial
proceeding, disclosure of the photograph of that person does not rise to the level of an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

COLUMN: If Facts Can’t Defuse Deniers, What Can?
The View From Fly Creek

If Facts Can’t Defuse

Deniers, What Can?

‘What is Truth?” Pontius Pilate famously asked. Lately, it seems a bigger question than ever. If, like me, you surf between conservative and liberal websites, Fox News and CNN/MSNBC, talk radio and PBS, Sean Hannity and Alan Chartock, you know that you’re getting radically different, irreconcilable
versions of the truth on virtually any subject.

It’s scary.

The other day, driving down Fly Creek valley, it was Glenn Beck on the radio making fun of people worried about climate change, something President Trump calls a “hoax.” Trump, in a recent tweet, approvingly quoted a renegade Greenpeace activist, Patrick Moore, who says:

“The whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science.”

There are policy implications as well. The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is planning to alter the reporting of the government’s “National Climate Assessment” to eliminate projections for the years after 2040. That’s when the worse consequences of greenhouse gas emissions are expected to kick in.

Many conservatives reduce climate change to nothing more than liberal propaganda: a tactic by the left to frighten people into submission while providing a handy excuse to centralize government power and move towards socialism.

Call this Climate Change Denial. One is reminded of other, similar Denials, including Holocaust Denial, the denial that priests ever abuse children, or that smoking causes cancer.

What these denials all have in common is a rejection of overwhelming factual evidence. Photos, documents, and testimony about Nazi extermination camps are brushed aside or said to be fakes.

Accounts of child abuse are dismissed as preposterous. The established correlation between smoking and lung cancer is reduced to speculation.

In the case of climate change, the documented accelerating effects of humanly generated greenhouse gases warming the planet are simply ignored.

This in spite of a near consensus among climate scientists.

An oft-quoted statistic states that something like 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the evidence shows that human activity – using fossil fuels – is the main factor driving climate change.

This near-scientific consensus is blown off by climate deniers. One wonders if they would reject a medical diagnosis given by 97 percent of doctors, or legal advice given by 97 percent of lawyers. That would be considered, by most of us, classic cases of denial.They key tactic of deniers is to find any dissenting opinion at all, and use that to argue that the issue in question remains unsettled.

If you’re an addicted smoker, if you benefited by the appropriation of Jewish property during the war, if you’re a church trying to avoid scandal, or if your economic security depends on the continued use of fossil fuels, then you have an incentive to deny that smoking causes cancer, that the Jews were dispossessed and murdered, that priests molest children, or that humanly created greenhouse gases cause global warming.

Deniers come down on the side of calling something into question just because it’s been disputed. It’s a clever strategy that substitutes opinion for evidence, and it’s become a staple of fake news. It turns into denial when it persists in the face of overwhelming evidence.

This allows climate-change deniers, Holocaust deniers, child-abuse deniers, cigarettes-cause-cancer deniers, and other deniers to sound reasonable. I have my opinion, you have yours, they say, while subverting the truth.

Denial isn’t a monopoly of conservatives, to be sure. Many liberals, for instance, deny that globalization has dramatically increased economic inequality, or that open borders have negative consequences, or that there are gender differences, or that Trump voters are anything other than stupid, misguided “deplorables.”

Indeed, who among us hasn’t fallen into denial at some point in our lives? If I’m focusing here on climate change Denial, it’s because climate change is arguably the most disruptive challenge we face. It’s a denial we can no longer afford.

Absolute certainty isn’t required to make informed, rational decisions. What’s necessary is an objective, reliable standard of evidence, not uniformity of opinion. There will always be outliers who reject objective standards, out of fear, greed, or sheer craziness.

In such psychological states, objectivity itself is denied. Truth, by contrast, is what we normally observe in our common experience, including what we are most likely to experience in the future. We ignore it at our peril.

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

ATTENTION PARENTS! Vaping Is Threatening Your Kids

COLUMN

ATTENTION PARENTS!

Vaping Is Threatening Your Kids

Editor’s Note: CCS Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw sent this cautionary letter to parents.

Dear Parents and Caregivers,

Dr. Crankshaw included this illustration showing samples of vaping equipment in his letter to parents.

Cooperstown Central School District has experienced a sharp increase in “vaping.” This dangerous trend is a common concern in almost all schools nationally. Locally, the most current Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2018) indicates that 44 percent of high school students, grades 9-72, in Otsego County have used vapor products. This is a staggering statistic and evidence for concern.

We plan to increase our efforts to protect our students from the use of e-cigarettes, vape pens, or juuls, which use a liquid solution comprised of nicotine, crystallized marijuana (THC) and other dangerous substances imbued with attractive flavors. Current policy addresses tobacco, nicotine and other substances that are prohibited from use by students in school. Regulation and our Code of Conduct are consistent with policy. However, deep knowledge of vaping by the general public, including parents and caregivers – and all threats associated with it – is either unknown, misunderstood, or misrepresented.

Is Any Government Agency Efficient?

COLUMN

Is Any Government

Agency Efficient?

By MIKE ZAGATA • View From West Davenport

When Bernie Sanders starts a sentence by saying “The truth on this matter is,” it’s time to reach for your wallet to see if it’s still there.  He’s not alone in that regard, as there are lots of candidates trying to sell us on the virtues of socialism.  To learn how socialism has affected you, read the last three paragraphs.

book, “Our Revolution,” developed by the Stephen Colbert show, that has been circulating on Facebook.

The major differences between socialism and capitalism can be defined by the role of the government.  In general, capitalism affords economic freedom, consumer choice and economic growth. On the other hand, socialism, which is an economy controlled by the state and planned by a central planning authority, provides for a greater social welfare and is expected to decrease the business fluctuations likely to occur in a free market.

Capitalism is a market-based economy made up of buyers (people) and sellers (private or corporate-owned companies). The goods and services that are produced are intended to make a profit, and this profit is reinvested back into the economy.

The U.S. is considered to be a capitalist economy, along with most of the modern world.  Economists, however, are quick to point out that almost every society has a socialist aspect or program within it, i.e. Social Security.

Slow-Walking Inflation-Rate Hikes Hurt Poor

COLUMN

Slow-Walking

Inflation-Rate

Hikes Hurt Poor

By DAN MASKIN • CEO, Opportunities For Otsego

Mollie Orshansky was an economist at the Social Security Administration in the 1960s. At the time, she proposed Official Poverty Thresholds (OPM) based on the cost of food. She calculated that any family earning less than three times the USDA estimate for the subsistence food budget was  considered poor. That’s how the poverty guidelines began.

These thresholds have remained in place for the last 50 years and are virtually unchanged other than cost-of-living adjustments. Right now the OPM guidelines count as poor a household of three earning less than $20,212 per year (Katherine Gallagher Robbins, “Talk Poverty,” May 8, 2019).

The problem is that the OPM is artificial at best. It does not take into account the many variations that exist in other economic situations. For example, the cost of living in Decatur is different than the cost of living in Cooperstown.

Not only is the OPM too low, it skews people’s understanding of poverty. The “Talk Poverty” article goes on to say that 70 percent of voters have confronted a serious hardship in the last year. The point being that financial hardships are a reality for families earning even twice the OPM threshold.

But now, the White House is proposing to make those thresholds even lower. The cost-of-living adjustments for the current OPM is based on the Consumer Price Index, which tracks the changes in price for a set group of consumer goods. By making slow incremental changes to slow the rate
of inflation, the poor, who are already living paycheck to paycheck, are going to have to struggle even harder.

The White House Office of Management & Budget is asking for comment on these proposed regulatory changes. Opportunities for Otsego will, of course, be submitting its own. And, the National Community Action Foundation as well as the National Community Action Partnership are mobilizing the 1,100 community action agencies around the country to make comments as well.

KUZMINSKI: Can Only Small Business Save ‘Common’ For All?

COLUMN

Can Only Small Business

Save ‘Common’ For All?

One of the landmarks of the early environmental movement was the essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in 1968 by the ecologist Garrett Hardin in Science. It can be to an individual’s private advantage, he points out, to exploit common resources at the expense of others.

In the absence of other constraints, he argued, most people will take more than their share, out of greed or fear, eventually depleting the resources in question.

By the same token, those who don’t take advantage for themselves end up with less.

In a later essay, “Living on a Lifeboat,” he elaborates further: “Under a system of private property the man (or group of men) who own property recognize their responsibility to care for it, for if they don’t they will eventually suffer.

“A farmer, for instance, if he is intelligent, will allow no more cattle in a pasture than its carrying capacity justifies. If he overloads the pasture, weeds take over, erosion sets in, and the owner loses in the long run.

“But if a pasture is run as a commons, open to all, the right of each to use it is not matched by an operational responsibility to take care of it. It is no use asking independent herdsmen in a commons to act responsibly, for they dare not.

“The considerate herdsman who refrains from overloading the commons suffers more than a selfish one who says his needs are greater.”

Hardin highlights the disconnect in an open, unregulated commons between “operational responsibility” and the preservation of common resources. He insists that “idealism” – some form of restraint and self-sacrifice for the greater good –doesn’t help in this situation.

The only way to guarantee “operational responsibility,”  Hardin argues, is if your survival depends on your owning and maintaining the resources you need. This means not just owning some personal possessions, but owning, as your private property, a productive enterprise providing goods and services on which your living depends. It means being in business for yourself.

You might be a simple herdsman, as Hardin pictures it, or a farmer, or any other independent business person. But you have to be small enough so that the success or failure of the enterprise hinge on the decisions you make.

There was a time in American history, before the rise of corporations after the Civil War, when the vast majority of people were small independent business owners of the type Hardin describes. Most were farmers, but there were also artisans, tradesmen, manufacturers, shopkeepers, wholesalers, teamsters, ship owners, undertakers, lawyers, doctors and many others.

These small independent business owners were the heart of the pre-corporate economy. They were obliged by circumstances to ensure the preservation of the raw materials they needed to continue in business.

In what was still a low tech, agricultural society, this meant having to follow a natural ecological way of life, which put limits on despoiling the land, water, and air.

It wasn’t all good, of course – forests were clear cut by farmers, paper mills and tanneries polluted streams, wood and coal fires polluted the air, etc. – but it remained largely within the power of small independent producers to change their behavior under such circumstances.

Today, however, independent business owners comprise a small and declining – even endangered – part of the population. Most of the economic ownership, once widely distributed, has been steadily consolidated into fewer and fewer hands – mostly in large corporations.

The vast majority of people today are wage laborers, working for somebody else. They are not “operationally responsible” for the success of the enterprises that employ them.

No wonder most people feel powerless in the face of the political and economic problems we face today: They have been relieved of any effective “operational responsibility.”

Hardin drew a simple picture of herdsmen using a pasture, but we can imagine as well the large corporations roaming the earth and consuming its resources as if it were one big pasture. In an increasingly deregulated world, there is no effective check on corporate behavior.

This is the tragedy of the commons writ large. Each corporation, bound by the profit motive, has no choice but to act selfishly to maximize its private advantage in exploiting whatever resources it can command. Otherwise it will be overtaken and consumed by the competition.

The personal survival of those running corporations – CEOs, top executives, and boards of directors – no longer depends on the survival of the corporation. They can skim off short-term profits and make money from inflated salaries, stock buy-backs, golden parachutes, and even bankruptcy.

Corporations are not too big to fail, but if they fail, it is the rank and file wage-earners who suffer, not the executives.

We’re not going back anytime soon to a non-corporate, decentralized, re-personalized, re-localized model of independently owned and run businesses. Yet, if Hardin is right, that may be the only way in the long run to achieve a sustainable society, one in which we preserve rather than destroy the resources we’ve been given.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor

and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

 

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