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adrian kuzminski

KUZMINSKI: Ensure Local Politics Is Local 

The View From Fly Creek

Ensure Local Politics Are Local

Everybody knows that it takes millions of dollars to run for the most important political offices, and even billions (counting PACs and ‘dark money’) to run for president.

Although big campaigns can be funded by small donors (under $200 each), as Bernie Sanders has shown, most campaigns depend on large donors (up to and including more or less self-funded billionaire campaigns like those of Trump in 2016, and Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg this year).

It’s not a level playing field. Money can buy you a better ground game by hiring strategists, managers, pollsters, and field staff; it can also buy you a better mass media game by flooding printed and digital space with advertisements, news events and internet buzz.

This kind of money politics is very different from the personal politics we normally expect. The latter is rooted in a one-person-one-vote sense of fairness and democratic decision-making.

But that’s not how the larger political system works. It’s not about one-person-one vote, but many-dollars-many-votes. We have the right to vote, to be sure, and that remains a check of last resort against any politics we don’t like. But we only get to the voting booth at the end of a long process saturated with fake news, propaganda, hypocrisy and demagoguery. Even worse, our equal votes are made unequal through gerrymandering, voter suppression and unequal representation, as in the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College.

Finally, recent Supreme Court rulings – especially Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) – have overturned limits on campaign contributions and institutionalized the big-money system of politics as a form of legalized corruption. Past attempts at campaign finance reform have focused on limiting how much individuals and organizations can contribute to political campaigns. But what they failed to address is the question of who should be eligible to financially support any particular campaign.

Currently there is no limit on how many political campaigns anyone can financially support. I live in rural Upstate New York, yet I am free to donate to anyone running for any office anywhere in the United States.

I can also contribute to national political parties and political action committees (PACs), which then cycle contributions back into political mobilization and organization throughout in the country. Corporations cannot make expenditures to influence federal elections, but they can contribute to political action committees.

Why shouldn’t I be free to financially support a candidate or cause anywhere in the United States? That sounds reasonable, until you turn the question around. Why should outside money routinely flow into the campaigns of my local state legislator or congressperson? Why should my representatives be beholden to interests outside of the district they represent?

Let me suggest an electoral reform. Call it district campaign financing. It would accept current laws limiting how much individuals and organizations can donate to political campaigns and organizations, but also insist that all political donations must come from within (not from outside) the electoral district in which the candidate or issue is on the ballot.

For instance, I must currently be a permanent resident of my town to run for town office. If district campaign financing were the law of the land, only permanent residents of my town, or other independent legal donors permanently headquartered in my town, could contribute to my campaign.

Similarly, anyone running for Congress could raise funds only from residents and legal donors within the Congressional district; and statewide candidates could raise money only within NYS; and so on. Only candidates for president could raise money nationally.

Independent legal donors within a district might include corporations, political action committees, political parties, and independent expenditure committees (super-PACs).

Under district financing, elected officials would no longer be torn between two masters, between the need to accommodate their voters on the one hand, and the special interests of outside donors on the other.

The idea of foreign money “interfering in our elections” has recently become a political football.

But we’ve had outside money “interfering in our elections” all along – money coming from outside the district in which the election is being held. If we’re going to continue to have money in elections (and it’s hard to see how we’re not), wouldn’t it be nice if it came from home?

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor

and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

KUZMINSKI: Let Home Rule Guide Sanctuary Movement

VIEW FROM FLY CREEK

Let Home Rule Guide

Sanctuary Movement

By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

As Americans have become dissatisfied with various policies imposed by the federal government, they have sought ingenious new means of resisting them.

One strategy, first developed by activists upset with federal immigration policy, was to establish “sanctuary” communities to protect undocumented immigrants, particularly from Central America, who were targeted by the federal government as illegal aliens to be deported.

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

In 1985, San Francisco kicked off this trend when it declared itself “A City of Refuge” by passing an ordinance prohibiting the use of municipal resources to assist the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

In the wake of the Trump Administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, the number of sanctuary communities has exploded.

By 2018, 560 municipalities in the United States, primarily in blue states, had declared themselves sanctuary communities. In reaction, about a dozen red states have banned attempts by sanctuary communities to protect illegal immigrants. The legality of all these moves remains unresolved.

In the meantime, other activists have recently endorsed the sanctuary idea. As reported in this newspaper, Oneonta resident Kaleb White and newly elected county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, following other Second Amendment activists, are promoting Otsego County as a “sanctuary county” for the Second Amendment, in which “local authorities would simply not enforce New York state’s SAFE Act and its gun-control provisions.”

The sanctuary movement has its precedents. In the classical world temples offered sanctuary to criminals and other fugitives, a tradition maintained by medieval Christian churches. The idea was that a sacred precinct automatically extended its protection to anyone needing protection.

The old sanctuary tradition has disappeared, but the modern revival of the idea is selective rather than universal. It assumes that a local community can choose for whom it will serve as a sanctuary, no matter what the law says, thereby embracing some fugitives but excluding others.

Communities offering selective protection are likely to end up segregating themselves from neighboring communities which make different choices, further fragmenting the country.

Sanctuary communities are controversial, insofar as they stand in defiance of the law. They are a form of civil disobedience, a radical step people take when normal options fail to work. Climate change, pro-life, civil rights, anti-war, pro-labor and anti-corporate activists have all turned to civil disobedience at frustrating points in their struggles.

There have always been grievances arising out of accumulated moral affronts and economic insecurities. But there seems to be deepening polarization at home and abroad, evident in seemingly intractable problems like climate change, social identity, and economic inequality.

This new desperation says a lot about where we are as a nation, politically and culturally. It suggests that the normal channels of political give and take are no longer functioning as they should.

We haven’t yet reached anything like revolution, but the preconditions for a significant rebellion, even a blue state-red state civil war, may be in place. Increasingly, the very legitimacy of state and federal government is being called into question.

What kind of rebellion is brewing? The willingness of activists of all stripes to defy state and federal law suggests that this isn’t a traditional left-right conflict, but a revolt by those at the bottom (local communities) against those at the top (concentrations of economic and political power).

This conflict is largely due to two powerful, mostly politically unaccountable forces bearing down on us: big government and big business. Right wingers complain about big government and give big business a pass, and left wingers complain about big business and give big government a pass. But, in fact, both big government and big business are a problem for everyone.

The sanctuary movement reveals the threat by big government to local values held dear by the left (multi-culturalism and open borders) and the right (personal freedom and the Second Amendment). Resistance to big business by both the left and the right is similarly evident in the growing opposition to the threats to small businesses and local communities by corporate giants like Walmart and Amazon, and to their control of politicians and legislation through lobbying and large donations.

The common theme here is the disempowerment of individuals and communities. Big corporations and big government are largely free to override local interests. Local governments have little authority to defend their values and way of life against decisions made in Albany, or Washington, or in distant corporate board rooms.

The irony of the sanctuary movement is that local communities can provide little sanctuary for their citizens when it comes to regulating social and economic power coming from the outside.

It could be otherwise. Short of civil disobedience, the Home Rule provision of New York State was successfully invoked by activists to pass anti-fracking bans which were instrumental in persuading Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in the state. That shows what communities could do to protect their interests if they were more broadly empowered.

Expanding the scope of Home Rule powers is an important (and neglected) way to make political and economic power more accountable, and make our communities truly sanctuaries.

KUZMINSKI: Trump Impeachment Reveals Flaws

View From Fly Creek

Trump Impeachment Reveals Flaws

The grounds for impeachment in the Constitution are stated as “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives has the sole power to bring impeachment, and the Senate, with the Chief Justice presiding, has the sole power to try impeachment.

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is not defined in the Constitution. But, then as now, minor crimes, usually punishable by less than a year in prison, have been generally understood as misdemeanors, and greater crimes, usually punishable by more than a year in prison, were understood as felonies like murder, robbery, etc.

A crime or misdemeanor is “high” only if it is committed by a public official, someone who had taken an oath of office, and betrayed the public trust. A president may be impeached for any crime or misdemeanor.

All it takes is for 218 members of the House to file articles of impeachment for any reason they can agree to call a crime or misdemeanor, which can be almost anything they don’t like.
Impeachment was among the most debated issues at the Constitutional Convention, before it was approved as a check on the powers of the president and other federal officials. The Founders anticipated that it would be used far more than it has.

In their view, impeachment was a tricky matter. Although important as a condition of good government, it remained a dangerous tool in partisan hands.

The problem, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in “Federalist No. 65,” is that impeachment “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and divide it into parties more or less more or less friendly or inimical to the accused …

It will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or the other.”

The Founders presumed that occasions of serious misconduct, whether crimes or misdemeanors, would be clarified by the factual evidence presented. Unfortunately, if evidence is
missing or subject to conflicting interpretations, the issue becomes political rather than factual.

The worst fears of the Founders have come to pass. Impeachment has become politicized, a tactic of factional struggle, as the strict party-line votes in Congress make evident. The price of faction is loss of truth, as the Founders understood.

Fast forward to today. The Democrats have impeached Trump for “abuse of power” in interfering in the 2020 U.S. elections by asking for Ukrainian help to investigate a political opponent, Joe Biden.
Trump and the Republicans claim that he was asking for Ukraine’s help in investigating interference from Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. elections, purportedly made at the hand of the Democrats.

Democrats have further charged that Trump obstructed justice by directing senior officials in his administration to ignore Congressional subpoenas from House committees considering impeachment.

Trump and Republicans claim executive privilege and have called for judicial review of the issue.
Party politics are all about defeating your opponents, not about justice, or minority rights. Facts no longer matter in a highly politicized world where objective truth no longer exists. What counts instead is how to spin some facts and ignore others, how to construct a “winning” argument effective in persuading a mass public in your favor.

In the partisan-charged atmosphere Hamilton feared, and which we are now experiencing, where is justice to be found? What is to keep a party with Congressional majorities from dismissing any president and passing any laws it wishes? What’s to keep it from over-riding the courts? What is to prevent, in due course, the oppression of minorities, even their elimination, by partisans led by demagogues and ideologues?

There may be a silver lining to the potential abuse of impeachment. More routine impeachments would be a strong check on the ambitions of an imperial presidency. They would restore a measure of power which Congress has lost in recent decades to presidents and to the “deep state” embedded in the executive branch. They would make it harder to conduct unauthorized foreign wars and reduce liberties at home. More frequent impeachments would re-center authority in the collective deliberations of the peoples’ representatives, where it arguably belongs, rather than in the whims and dictatorial potential of individuals exercising the power of the presidency.

The re-centering of power from the executive branch to the legislative branch would benefit the public, however, only if Congress gets its own house in order. Gerrymandering, the power of big donors, structural discrimination against third parties, over-sized districts, partisan deadlock, and “winner take all” elections have gradually corrupted Congress to the point where its recent Gallup poll disapproval rating is 75 percent.

If Congress is as problematic with most Americans as the presidency, it only shows how serious our country’s problems are, and how much we need fundamental structural change to deal with them.

KUZMINSKI: Reconsidering Impeachment

Column

Reconsidering Impeachment

This writer was happy to see the Democrats initiate a formal investigation into impeaching President Trump. Impeachment is a legitimate Constitutional mechanism to address pressing issues of conduct in office, something we desperately need.

Elections are our normal mechanism for sorting out political differences, but there is no way in the long periods between elections to resolve serious tensions like those we have now. In the meantime, we get an endless stream of experts, panelists, commentators and pundits, pontificating on radio, television and the internet, with little or no reality check on their opinions.

Even worse, the fierce partisan views they articulate are absorbed by the rest of us and recycled as opinion in the echo-chambers of our own social networks. This is a recipe for mindless, inconclusive debate, in which each side self-righteously digs in its heels.

The Founders, we’re usually told, saw impeachment as a last resort, confined to “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But maybe it’s time to broaden our understanding of it.

Instead of seeing impeachment as a rare and arcane ritual, we might think of it more like a vote of no-confidence similar to what we see in parliamentary systems. Even in those countries it’s hardly an everyday occurrence, but it is routine enough to providea way to resolve contentious political disputes in a timely way, something we lack.

If a majority of the House of Representatives – arguably the most democratically representative body in the federal government – loses confidence in the president, for whatever reason, then a simple majority (218 votes) can initiate formal impeachment, to be resolved by a vote of the Senate.

What really matters is not the reasons for impeachment – vital as they may be – but the fact that those reasons be credible enough to persuade a majority of Representatives to act on them. An impeachment proceeding, if allowed to unfold, would replace the endless speculations and distorting propaganda of the media with a public process in which arguments and evidence would be presented in a systematic fashion, and a final decision would be rendered by duly elected members of the Senate, one way or the other.

The impeachment process may be our best hope of resolving our current political divide. In fact, we might do well to put more faith in impeachment than in elections to sort out deeply polarized issues. Elections remain essential, but suffer from corruption by campaign donors, PACs, gerrymandering, media propaganda and narrow party interests. In recent decades they seem, sadly, to have exacerbated rather than relieved controversial issues.

However, impeachment differs significantly from a vote of no-confidence in that the former necessarily involves some degree of criminality, whereas the latter can be about honest policy differences as well as crimes. The Constitution states that federal officials, including the president, “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Misdemeanors, in the English Common Law tradition, are low rather than high crimes, but crimes nevertheless.

Unlike the other crimes of which he is accused – collusion with foreign governments to subvert American elections, obstruction of justice, emoluments, tax evasion – Trump’s environmental policies arguably qualify as an even greater crime: a crime against humanity.

He has denied the climate change crisis and systematically and purposely obstructed all attempts to remedy it.

Crimes against humanity were first articulated at the Nuremburg Trials, where they were defined as systematic harmful actions taken by organized forces against a general population. These include, it is important to note, not only the atrocities we usually think of, but other high crimes such as political repression, racial discrimination, and religious persecution.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are accelerating global warming and putting millions of people at risk for property and life, the deliberate insistence by the Trump Administration on fossil fuels at the expense of renewables not only exacerbates the threat; it needlessly puts the planet, and therefore humanity, in serious and potentially fatal danger.

Depriving current and future generations of a viable future, which is what Trump’s climate policies are doing, would seem to quality as a crime against humanity. His climate policies are arguably more harmful to humanity than any of the other accusations he faces. This is what youth activist Greta Thunberg and many others are beginning to point out.

An Oregon case currently in the courts, Juliana v. United States, seeks to establish a clean environment as a fundamental right. If upheld, it would give powerful support to impeachment for harmful environmental practices like Trump’s energy policy.

“Crimes against humanity” sounds ominous, but the penalty under impeachment is simply removal from office. A disgrace, to be sure, but perhaps sufficient for the purpose.

Further personal punishment risks resentment and backlash and is likely to deepen rather than moderate our political polarization.

Future generations in particular are being willfully deprived, by people in power who should know better, of any opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That’s a taking of the highest order, if not (yet) an atrocity. Trumpian climate policy ought to be recognized for the criminal enterprise against humanity that it is.

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

DOWNEY: Affordable Power Needed: For Now, That Means Gas
LETTER from DICK DOWNEY

Affordable Power Needed:

For Now, That Means Gas

To the Editor:

Adrian Kuzminski’s latest editorial, “Refocus $500M From Pipelines To Renewables,” plays three-card monte with reality and the truth.

Mr. Kuzminski questions NYSEG’s petition to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for a rate increase. In particular, he objects to the allocation of $203 million (not $500 million as headlined) toward upgrading and expanding capacity of the DeRuyter gas pipeline servicing Oneonta. He states, “To cover costs of the pipeline, NYSEG is asking for a combined gas and electric hikes of 27 percent.”

Better to fund renewables, he says. Their energy source, the sun, is FREE (his emphasis). He notes, “wind farms have gotten so cheap you can build and operate them for less than the expected costs of buying fuel for an equivalent natural gas plant.” Supporting gas infrastructure denies funds for renewables which, in turn, “all but guarantees our region will remain an economic backwater.”

Wrong overall and often disingenuous.

First, some background. The state grants utilities area-specific monopolies but regulates rates. That’s the deal. To the Editor

Utility companies aren’t exciting businesses like Amazon or Apple. They attract investors by paying decent dividends. The state allows for this attraction but little else. Rates must serve the public while guaranteeing a reasonable profit to the utility. Profits increase as the monopoly area prospers, drawing new ratepayers who want to work and live there. NYSEG isn’t that fortunate. It services Upstate New York. Now New York saddles NYSEG with extra burdens which brings them before the PSC.

Mr. Kuzminski neatly combines NYSEG’s gas and electric components in the rate hike of 27 percent. He neglects to tell you that natural-gas expenses account for only 2 percent of that hike. The remainder, the burdensome part of the rate hike, is the electricity costs.

This isn’t due to an uptick in tree trimming or emergency calls. The cause is Andrew Cuomo’s “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV), an energy plan filled with a web of renewable subsidies, rebates, priorities, mandates, favored businesses and programs that that bleed traditional energy servers such as NYSEG in favor of renewable energy entities.

The beauty part for the Governor is that his thumb on the scales is never seen; his policies cause the rate hikes (in reality, a tax) but the utility does the collection and takes the abuse. Sweet!

When the REV was published two years ago, Otsego Electric warned its subscribers that rates would rise. Good call! However, this shouldn’t have been a surprise.

In Europe, where REV-like policies were already in place, rates had skyrocketed. Germans pay three times the amount paid by Upstate New Yorkers for electricity. If our current rates and policies are unable to attract industry, what happens when the rates triple?

The consulting firm McKinsey recently found that Germany is endangering its economy and energy supply through the transition to renewables. (Forbes, 9/5/19). After favoring renewables for almost 20 years, Germany gets only 27 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and hydro. To offset an energy disaster, it burns biomass, garbage, and lignite (dirty coal), is building a second gas pipeline to Russia, and is constructing an LNG hub near Hamburg.

That’s the real cost of FREE energy, Mr. Kuzminski.

Mr. Kuzminski praises a wind farm breakthrough where the cost per kilowatt hours is less than that of gas. The praise is well deserved. We need cheap energy, be it from sun, wind, water or gas, all competing in the marketplace for the best price.

Not mentioned in Kuzminski’s column is that these breakthrough wind farms are few in number, well over a thousand miles away, situated in that great geographic wind tunnel extending north from Texas to the Canadian border. This area, called the Interior, has the greatest wind resources, and therefore the greatest growth, which is why you can find some of the best electricity rates in Texas as of right now.

The Northeast has less wind, has the highest construction costs, and produces a more expensive product. However, we do have gas, under our feet and in Pennsylvania. Regionally, it’s our best road to economically attractive power.

Finally, Mr. Kuzminski predicts Upstate New York is doomed to be an eternal “economic backwater” if we don’t go all in for renewables. Really? One million people left New York in the last decade. They left for better opportunity elsewhere — lower taxes, less regulation, lower cost of living, and a lower cost of doing business. No one’s leaving town over a lack of renewable energy infrastructure.

Affordable power and heating is part of the solution to our economic woes. Here and now, natural gas fills the bill.

DICK DOWNEY

Otego

 

KUZMINSKI: There Is No Gay Lifestyle, And No Straight Lifestyle
LETTER from ADRIAN KUZMINSKI

There Is No Gay Lifestyle,

And No Straight Lifestyle

To the Editor

An earlier column of mine, “Flying the Flag,” generated some strong responses, mostly private.

Some friends were outraged, saying that I lent credibility to homophobic attitudes by citing a comment a community member made about “gay lifestyle.”

That was not my intent, but it clearly had that effect in too many minds, which I deeply regret.

The idea of a “gay lifestyle” is as much of a myth as the idea of a “straight lifestyle.”

How easy it is, I’ve learned, to give support inadvertently to things that you don’t mean to support.

ADRIAN KUZMINSKI

Fly Creek

On Flying The Flag

COLUMN

VIEW FROM FLY CREEK

On Flying The Flag

By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI  • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

A balloon drifts past the flagpole at Main and Pioneer, Cooperstown, during the Clinton Regatta in May. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

The other day I was chatting with a long-time local business man in Cooperstown who occasionally reads this column. He brought up the recent decision of the Village of Cooperstown to officially fly the Gay Pride flag on Village property.

He expressed discomfort with at least some aspects of gay lifestyle, and clearly felt that the village action did not represent him and, by implication, others who shared his reaction.

An isolated reaction, some might think. Isn’t being gay now an accepted part of public life? Yes, it is, but not everyone understands it in the same way.

There are still a lot of people unsettled about minority challenges to traditional cultural norms, and distressed by what they see as political correctness being foisted on society. It’s not always clear, they say, where the resolution of long-standing injustice ends, and where resentment and ideological fervor take over.

KUZMINSKI: Home Rule In Constitution, But Limited

COLUMN

Home Rule In

Constitution,

But Limited

By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

I’ve been commenting in recent columns on the first two Principles of Sustainable Otsego:  Sustainable Living and Economic Independence. In this column, I want to take up the third and last principle: Home Rule.

“Home” is where we live with family, friends, and neighbors. Its scale is small enough to sustain in-depth relationships with people and places. Home has the capacity to inspire love, not least because it embodies a complexity of human experience not otherwise available.

The largest political unit with which people identify, and which preserves this sense of community, is the county, where people from different backgrounds and neighborhoods are still able to come together on an individual, face-to-face basis for the services, commerce, education, recreation, spirituality and government which make up everyday life.

KUZMINSKI: Do We Give More Than We Take, And Does It Matter?

COLUMN

THE VIEW FROM FLY CREEK

Do We Give More Than

We Take, And Does It Matter?

By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Jane Jacobs “Death and Life of American Cities” helped spawn the historic preservation movement.

In my last column, I discussed “Sustainable Living” – one of the three principles of Sustainable Otsego. Today I want to consider the second principle, “Economic Independence.” I’ll take up the last principle, “Home Rule,” in a later column.

The phrase “economic independence” is bandied about these days by politicians and pundits alike. But what would real economic independence look like? How could we measure it?

The issue was clarified some years ago by the insightful economic and social critic, Jane Jacobs, in her influential book. “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

Her key idea is what she calls “import replacement.” Insofar as a community imports more goods and services than it exports, it runs what’s essentially a trade deficit. Money drains out faster than it pours in.

We usually think of trade deficits as a national issue, but they are in fact a good indicator of the economic health, or the lack thereof, of any community.

So let’s take Otsego County.

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.

 

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.

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.

KUZMINSKI: A Guaranteed National Income?

COLUMN

A Guaranteed National Income?

Democratic president hopeful Andrew Yang flips pork chops during a swing through Iowa. (Yang2020 photo)

By ADRIAN KUZMINSKI • The View From Fly Creek

You might have heard of  Andrew Yang. He’s running for president as a Democrat. A long shot, for sure, but he’s already generated considerable interest and support.

Last month, he announced that he had received contributions from over 65,000 donors in over 20 states, enough to qualify him for
the first round of debates by the Democratic candidates.

Yang, from a Taiwanese immigrant family, was born in nearby Schenectady (like our congressman, Antonio Delgado), and became a corporate lawyer working for startup companies. Later he served as the CEO of Manhattan Prep, a company which administers the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for business school applicants. He went on to run a non-profit, Venture for America, whose internship programs place graduates into startups across the country.

As a presidential candidate, Yang stands out for proposing what he calls the “Freedom Dividend,” a $1,000/month payment, or guarantee annual income, to all U.S. citizens over 18 years of age. There’s a long interview on “The Joe Rogan Experience” explaining his ideas which has received over 2,600,000 views. (Type “rogan” and “yang” in the youtube.com search line.)

Yang’s campaign slogan is “Humanity First,” which reflects his big campaign issue: the fact that automation and robotics are displacing human labor throughout the economy. Jobs are a key issue locally and nationally. The solution may not be more jobs, but something entirely different, like Yang’s Freedom Dividend.

Cutting labor costs enriches investor/owners, but it’s catastrophic for workers. Self-driving vehicles are going to put truck drivers out of business, just as scanners have reduced supermarket checkout clerks, and online purchasing has devastated retail outlets.

Automation affects not just factory-line workers, but most wage-labor, even on a professional level. Doctors, lawyers, and tax preparers are being replaced by remotely controlled automated services, the way travel agents have been replaced by online booking, and teachers and college professors now compete with online courses. Certain service sectors – plumbers, electricians, contractors, waitresses – continue to resist automation, but they too are vulnerable.

There are still jobs, of course, but they no longer provide the economic security they used to for the bulk of the population. Traditional wage-labor is a shrinking proposition, ever harder to achieve, leaving most of the population redundant, less and less able to support itself. The jobs that remain are all too often low-skill and low-pay, insufficient to support a family.

Labor, Yang is telling us, is no longer the source of security and value it once was. His attempt to restore economic security – a basic guaranteed income – is a radical departure from the usual remedy of trying to “create” more jobs. The government simply prints and sends you the money, instead of trying to find you a job.

If you just give people money, they will spend it, and stimulate the economy. At least that’s the idea. Adding money to the economy – all other things being equal – means more dollars chasing the same goods and services. That’s inflationary, unless the new spending is matched by enough new production to satisfy the new consumption.

And that’s the problem. If money is continuously printed faster than the economy is growing, we will suffer inflation, perhaps hyper-inflation. Yang and other guaranteed income advocates have yet to explain how their schemes will avoid inflation.

There might be a clue, however, in his use of the word “dividend.” The word suggests an income from a share of ownership in corporate assets. Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend comes to mind. Since 1982, it has distributed an annual royalty share of corporate revenue from Alaskan public resources (mostly oil and gas) to all state residents. The amount fluctuates (up or down) with corporate profits (and losses) over time. In 2018 the payment was $1,600 per person ($6,400 for household of four).

A guaranteed national income could be modeled on the same idea – an individual dividend paid out of a permanent fund supported by corporations. That would add a measure of public ownership of the means of production. Instead of 100 percent of corporate stock being privately held, a certain percentage could be publicly held, and form the basis of a national dividend.

A national dividend would not only give regular citizens a stake in the economy, it would also ensure that the money distributed would be neither inflationary or deflationary, but an accurate measure of the value of the economy, fluctuating with the ups and downs of economic activity.

That’s not socialism – corporations would still be privately run for profit – but it is a way to share ownership more broadly. Call it populism.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor

and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

 

Don’t ‘Abolish’ Otsego Now, But Consider Broader Council
from ADRIAN KUZMINSKI

Don’t ‘Abolish’ Otsego Now,

But Consider Broader Council

To the Editor:

I am privileged to be a columnist for this newspaper. Readers ought to be aware, however, that editors, not authors, choose the titles for op-eds, letters, and columns.

My last column was misleadingly titled “Abolish Otsego Now.” That suggests shutting down

Otsego Now, and everything it does. I advocated instead that its functions be included in a much broader Economic Development Council.

The Editor also paired his title of my column with his own editorial calling to “abolish” Otsego

2000, suggesting some kind of equivalence which does not exist.

Material submitted to the paper ought to be allowed to speak for itself, and not be manipulated for sensational effect, especially in the very same issue in which it is published.

ADRIAN KUZMINSKI

Fly Creek

ABOLISH OTSEGO 2000!

ABOLISH OTSEGO 2000!

Abolish Otsego Now? Goodness. It’s Otsego County’s “single point of contact” on economic development, the locus of job-creating efforts.

Adrian Kuzminski, our creative and thought-provoking columnist, suggests such in the column on the opposite page. Read the column. But here’s an alternative idea.

How about abolishing Otsego 2000? It’s arguably the “single point of obstruction” to any economic development in Otsego County, evident most recently in the drive to stymie a
10-year effort to  redevelop Oneonta’s vacant D&H railyards.

Here’s just one instance: A few years ago, Otsego 2000 successfully blocked the 160-turbine
Jordanville wind farm because the windmills would have degraded the “viewshed” from James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass.

The typical 1.5 MW wind turbine creates enough electricity to power 332 homes; 160 would have powered 53,120 homes, more than double the 23,921 homes in Otsego County.
Now, Otsego 2000 has dug in its heels on bringing any more natural gas to Otsego County. Zilch. Nada. Zero.

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