Monthly Archives: January 2009

How low can you go?

Apparently, a lot lower than Syracuse

Hunched on the eastern edge of the Monongahela River only a few miles from bustling Pittsburgh, Braddock is a mix of boarded-up storefronts, houses in advanced stages of collapse and vacant lots.

The state has classified it a “distressed municipality” — bankrupt, more or less — since the Reagan administration. The tax base is gone. So are most of the residents. The population, about 18,000 after World War II, has declined to less than 3,000. Many of those who remain are unemployed. Real estate prices fell 50 percent in the last year.

This year, the town will be featured in the film version of another work of art, Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Road.” Set in a post-Armageddon America where food is so scarce that many survivors turned to cannibalism, “The Road” was shot partially in Braddock.

They do, however, have a mayor who has tattooed onto his arm the date of each murder in Braddock that has occurred under his watch. His (mostly symbolic and largely personal) efforts to hold the place together are worth a read (and watch).

I have to laugh at those who look at the wider economic collapse and imagine all kinds of post-apocalyptic scenarios for America. As if that all just started this year.

We got eagles

Those outside of the Syracuse media market probably haven’t heard the talk of the town around here: a large group of bald eagles has returned to the area, and is overwintering at Onondaga Lake. You can read a column by the Post-Standard’s Sean Kirst, a blog post with many comments, another blog post with more comments, see a slideshow, and read today’s follow-up column on the best place to safely view them.

It’s hardly possible — in one blog post — to cover all of the environmental, ecological, economical, commercial, industrial, social, spiritual, historical, and political implications of their reappearance here. So today, I’ll just say:

We wanted the Creative Class. We got eagles.

Town Destroyer speaks

Obama Signals New Tone in Relations With Islamic World

In a transcript published on Al Arabiya’s English language Web site, Mr. Obama said it is his job “to communicate to the Muslim world that the Americans are not your enemy.” He added that “we sometimes make mistakes,” but said that America was not born as a colonial power and that he hoped for a restoration of “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.”

(But really, what would you expect the average Honedagyus to say? Sigh.)

The Emperor Chuck and his Yorker Hordes

As the dust finally begins to settle from the senatorial pick, the truth becomes plain: Chuck Schumer is the lord and master of the Empire State. It took a while. He’s churned through the equivalent of the entire Adirondack Preserve in press release pulp… stepped in every cow patty in the North Country… and visited every down-and-out gray burg along the Erie Canal. And then there was that Hillary speed bump. But he’s finally done it. He’s even now got his own real protege.

And I think that’s what is really irking the irked, down in the many centers of power down there. They were trembling breathlessly and waiting in the wings for their big moment… and then were smoked by a pro. I respect the anger of progressives who are really working in the trenches, those who hate the Gillibrand choice. But the dismay of the Albany/NYC wine and cheese set… if there is such a pure subset… yeah, I can laugh. Especially when they are taking out their fury on Paterson out of all proportion to any of his sins in this matter.

But back to the Emperor Chuck. New York loves its Uberpols. It’s a big state. It doesn’t want a dictator, but it wants one. As long as a politician is perceived to be strong and in control and as long as he/she purports to care about everyone, it doesn’t matter where they’re from.

Spitzer was widely seen as the next great Uberpol, and it was a shocker when he failed. It isn’t enough to be merely abrasive; and an abrasive personality who insults half the populace surely won’t advance (ask Ed Koch). Schumer may not be an Uberpol, but he is popular statewide because he has an optimum balance of in-your-faceness and frequent flyer miles. I can’t see him or anyone he mentors stumbling any time soon, unless the mentee is stupid, which Kirsten Gillibrand certainly is not.

The economic crisis has only underscored a key truth about who we are: New Yorkers are not nice people. They are, at heart — and from whatever region they hail from — proud survivalists. They are egotists. It’s why Upstaters never give an inch (at least in their own minds) to the encroachments of Downstate. It’s why the spirit of the Big Apple is that they’re God’s gift to the Universe. It’s why the Haudenosaunee are still around and still players. It’s why women dared to speak up here and create the Declaration of Sentiments. In an economic downturn, no one here is going to go all egalitarian. They are going to look out for Number One. And anyone who appeals to that instinct on a statewide level, is golden.

I’m not saying this is admirable. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. But you can’t get past it. Everyone in this state has an attitude. I don’t know what the Latin is for Where’s My Cut? but that is the real state motto.

And the economic situation throws this character into the light. New Yorkers of all regions and political persuasions want much more of the national cut than they have been getting. Especially now that the pie is shrinking. We are not in for a new era of national togetherness and common purpose, no matter what the President says… we are in for a scrum. We’ve already seen it with the banks. Now, the states are jumping in. The most rapacious ones will probably prevail. And New York, jolted by what has happened on Wall Street, is going to be in it for New York alone.

Even the normally fragmented Upstate contingent has formed caucuses (plural!) to git da money.
There is one that consists of all Upstate Congressmen (Dems and GOP), and another that consists of all Upstate Democrats (Congressmen and Assembly and State Senate).

I’m not sure I like the idea, ideologically, of an all-out unholy-alliance pork-assault on Obama’s stimulus efforts (whenever they comes along). It implies a collapse of order, and too much potential unfairness if progressives (and/or Upstaters) don’t fight for their share. Self-interest can easily turn into elite self-interest. That said, at least Schumer is conscious of his own power and the potential power of a united New York. It’s why I think Gillibrand wasn’t a poor choice. But just because we’re riding with the Cossacks now doesn’t mean anyone should stop watching their back.

Time to grow up

A new president… Caroline Kennedy drops out… Kirsten Gillibrand drops in… Joe Bruno indicted… what a week! Where to begin?

Herkimer County Progressive is happy at the choice of Gillibrand, although many would say she’s hardly “progressive.” Rochester Turning has a more nuanced view (with bullet points), which pretty much agree with my own. I didn’t want to lose Cuomo as AG. I didn’t want Kennedy (boy, did I not want her). I would have loved to see Holtzman named to the job, but I understand why she wasn’t picked. I don’t know much about Gillibrand except she is to the right of me on several things. There is nothing about her appointment that strikes me particularly as a disaster, as she is expected to begin tacking to the left promptly. But she represents a district that has not really experienced the depths of the economic deep freeze that we are familiar with here in Central New York; and she’s not exactly an outsider.

Perusing various national political forums, it was depressing yet unsurprising to see how poorly New York State is understood around the nation as a political entity. We’re deeply stereotyped as some sort of mythical “true blue state” — one that’s elected Pataki, Giuliani, Bloomberg, D’Amato, Schumer, Clinton and Spitzer, all noted for their 100% progressive credentials (ahem). But the change was in how many people — voices both known to me and unfamiliar to me — came out to talk Upstate to the world and explain its great variety and complexities. York Staters was even plugged. Maybe Gillibrand isn’t “the voice of Upstate New York,” but she is getting a lot of voices to speak up on our behalf.

This conversation is not always going to be modulated – again, something new for us. Now that we’ve been noticed (if imperfectly), people are going to care about what we think and how we vote more than ever before. Maybe this little idyll of civility/inaction is soon to disappear. What will happen when we get down to the nitty gritty of talking about our values, instead of just about our survival? What does Upstate New York want to be when it grows up?

Things are changing all around us that are going to have an impact on politics and civil discourse in our region for years to come. The state’s power brokers would never admit the uncomfortable truth — that Wall Street’s prostrate condition has at least temporarily disrupted business as usual in the state, and in the country and the world. I see Paterson’s choice as part of a chain of chaos – one hopes, creative chaos – that started long before he became governor. He’s taking a lot of heat, but he alone can hardly be blamed for a result that many of the good and the great did not predict. “Things fall apart.”