Thursday, July 11, 2013

Public Forums, Silver Linings, and Suspected Anti-Capitalist Comments

        If I hadn’t been brandished a rabid ‘anti-capitalist’ by my local paper--and suspected that was coming--I might have missed saying goodbye to Larry’s wife Bernice.  I knew Larry a bit better than I knew her, so that’s why I refer to her in that manner.  He had counseled me that, yes, I would get used to the darkness of the countryside surrounding the house I was considering placing under contract.  
         Larry was right.  
I am fighting to keep night a right where I live--and preserve the rural nature of the Town of Oneonta from urban sprawl.  I am not alone.  We are facing a nearby City's power grab of Town land.  Not for the first time.  But the players are different this time.  They include anti-frackers in league with the City of Oneonta's former College President-turned Mayor Dick Miller.  To my mind, these anti-frackers seem to be trying to determine sacrifice zones that preserve their areas, instead of fighting fracking everywhere in Upstate New York.  So, I’m frequently disappointed with local democratic party leaders who have endorsed the independent, but republican-leaning Mayor of the nearby city of Oneonta.  
For instance, the past year, a bogus ‘water protection district’ formerly named ‘zoning overlay district’ threatened to remove my property’s agricultural status.  I have lived in that 150 year old house for 11 years.  Nothing I have done, nothing the former owners ever did on that one acre plot threatened the City of Oneonta water supply.  The intake pipe, seldom used, provides less than one third of the city’s water.  Besides, it is to the north of my property--something I learned I would have to spend money for a survey to PROVE I don’t belong in the district should it be imposed.  
Call me paranoid, but I suspect I’m in the ‘district’ because of my ‘annoying’ anti-war and anti-fracking sings.  Politics makes for strange bedfellows and I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around local ‘progressive’ support for this mayor.  As you will understand when you read the comments I read into the record at last night’s town meeting.  I followed Dick Miller as an uninvited ‘petitioner’ in the agenda.
A gregarious man you can find at the local bars (which I think helps his popularity), Miller passed out his outline before he spoke.  His outline confirmed that I largely knew that he would advocate a sort of localized NAFTA:  
“More jobs--defense industry, tourism, casinos; erase the lines between City and Town; Grow baby grow, etc..”  
It’s the same plan I heard  Mayor John Fedo of Duluth, Minnesota advocate in 1981 regarding the plan for ‘inland ports’ bringing foreign/non-union-made goods in ocean-ready containers that would fit on special tractor trailers and trains for distribution to the still nascent box store industry.  NAFTA would later benefit from all those inland port zones.  As presidential candidate Ross Perot famously declare 11 years later about NAFTA, “You’ll hear a giant sucking sound.”  Now, thanks to such plans, and a federal lawsuit filed against my academic employer on the grounds of protected anti-racism under Title VII, I’m blacklisted, and living that sucking sound daily, working two minimum wage ‘economic development’  and ‘tourism’ jobs to survive.  
So, as the Mayor who wants my town under his city's thumb spoke, I knew I didn’t need to revise my comments, which you can see do not contain the word ‘capitalism’ anywhere:

Tonight’s presentation has a sort of eerie deja vu all over again flavor--it reminds me of the day I covered the county committee who had not yet read the document deeding the otsego manor to the privatization ‘lawyer’ so this public building (and all the employees in it?) could be sold.  Last month I watched public officials and former public officials obediently agree that this lawyer, this ‘officer of the court’, who would stand to profit from the manor’s sale knew what was best regarding a generations’-long commitment made by local taxpayers to care more for little people than for bigger people’s profits.
City of Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller’s speech tonight reminded me of that shameful moment and it reminded me of something else--a poem by John Milton. 
MIlton’s Aeropagitica is a staple of the journalism and media law canon.  Paraphrasing---let truth and falsehood battle it out in the ‘marketplace of ideas’  and truth will invariably win.  It’s a nice idea.  But in execution, the marketplace of ideas tends to be dominated by the powerful interests, as opposed to those truly serving the public.  so the scale has a giant thumb on it not necessarily toward falsehood--but the half truth.  And in many cases, a half truth can be as dangerous or more dangerous than actual obvious falsehoods.  
And so, I do not understand why our Town Board is giving the floor to a local politician, who, in my estimation, has proven himself to be the champion of the dangerous half truth.  
Dick Miller continues to push annexation of the town into the city. 
Why would you let him do this--particularly you democrats-- after referendums, petitions, even making us fund a survey that told you what you should have already known--the town residents don’t want to join with the city? even by the backdoor methods advocated tonight. 
also--Dick Miller has carried the fracking industry’s water via the half truth he famously spouted at last year’s foothills public hearing on the Constitution pipeline.  Saying the pipeline will not mean it would bring fracking here was disingenuous at best.  A half-truth.  A half lie by a prominent public person.  A person who has the power to whine to the newspaper and distort the righteous and impromptu indignation into the petulant, anti-Free Speech ‘heckling’ the Daily Star denounced.  1:25
Dick Miller has also, to my estimation and that of more than a few local-based, SMALL BUSINESSES sold them out to a private out of town developer.  These small business owners including landlords yes, but other business owners who’ve NEVER been visited by any mayor, democrat or republican to say hello, let alone offer them a tax break like that seen by the recent greased-track approval of the Blodgett development.
Why would you invite his crony capitalism speech about how to improve our local economy?
We are now getting a preview of the sort of public infrastructure devastation wrought by big new development.  There is nothing conserving about it.  Drive up upper east street, above where the town will probably be arguing about who will pay for a traffic light at East Street and Bugbee after we finance the development Dick Miller says will bring so much money to the City of Oneonta.  
You will see Mr. Bresee’s newest development patch off the east side of upper east street. 
Ignore the lack of hay bales to stop runoff where dirt is being dumped at 3 and 4 story levels--ignore the lack of water hoses used  to prevent blowing dust, ignore the 10 wheelers throwing their jake brakes to intimidate local traffic--they’re already acting like they’re fracking here.  Ignore all that.  Look at the road bed.  It’s gone where the big trucks and earth movers roam in and out of the private property.  Perhaps those are town of Oneonta orange cones marking where the ‘responsible’ developer refuses to buy 5 10 gallon containers of cold patch.  
You are stewards of the TOWN’s roads--the town’s monies.  It’s not an arbitrary geographical maginot line.  It’s a way of thinking that small is beautiful.  That money should be in the hands of MANY not the few.   That power should be equally distributed.
Inviting Dick Miller to speak sends all the wrong messages--particularly when our democratic party members appear to be ignoring, as Bear Bryant famously said, “...the ones what brung ya.’
Because Dick Miller, like other city officials when they preach to the town, travels with an entourage of paid city of oneonta employees--to nod and otherwise lobby town residents into abandoning the best interests of themselves, and their principles that small is beautiful.  
His appearance tonight also reminds me of the late George Carlin’s complaint that the problem with today’s economy is--too much money is in the hands of too few people. 
Don’t approve the water district.  Keep big business accountable.  Don’t make little people help their accountants--and that is what he is promoting.”

After I spoke, a local newspaper reporter asked me if she had my name right.  I replied that I could send her my comments.  She said that would be great, but that she was leaving to file right away.  So, I left, chased out of the meeting, come to find out by a local PR person who praised my comments as always being ‘well thought out and well delivered’.  I thanked her, and emailed the reporter.  I called her and she said she’d received my comments.  
I drove home, awakening before 3 a.m. in the lovely, cool, quiet, dark, clean air that characterizes Oneonta town life year round.  Bliss.  And then I opened my email.  The reporter had said she could not open my word file and so had just relied upon her notes.  
  What could go wrong, right?
As I left my driveway, to find out, I noticed my next door neighbors’ newspapers had piled in her box, which I pondered at the local all night diner.  They said they don’t get the paper delivered promptly anymore, so I confirmed the paper was late at the local gas station.  I decided to wait up for the delivery driver.  I chased him down and he said papers piling up at Bernice’s place are a rare thing.  He planned to get the local paper to file a welfare check on her.  But, since the new corporate-style CEO from out of state took over, he no longer gets a spare newspaper and he needed to finish his route. 
I drove back down the hill to give a quicker call for a welfare check on my neighbor, and to read the paper at the local convenience store.   From there I called in a welfare check on Bernice--one thing about being remote enough to have plenty of bees means you also have a sporadic cell phone signal!  If I ever get a good-paying job, something  beyond what Dick Miller has in mind for at least part of the area’s residents, maybe I can again afford a land line.   But that might not happen locally, as I’ve been painted as ‘anti-capitalist’ per her ‘notes’ of my comments, in an article that seemed more like stenography for Miller’s re-election efforts:
Lisa Barr, a town resident, blasted Miller’s approach as supporting capitalistic interests that benefit the corporate sector at the expense of qualities and conservation interests of the town.
“Small is beautiful,” Barr said.
So, I’m a sometime local landlord, a local farmer, a local waitress, journalist, and journalism educator, but I’m an anti-capitalist?  Why--because I don’t want government monies and the tax dollars of little people benefitting major multi-national corporations already here (and on their way courtesy of an 'independent' apparently pro-fracking politician for the City and a ‘Democratic’, possibly pro-fracking politician in my town?  
My bliss was brief.  
Dawn was around the corner, I wanted to try attending the County meeting where my Town officials were going to ask for a 'Southside (corporate) Water District'.  I knew I needed to write this piece, and ask for a retraction and a chance for my entire comments to appear as a weekend guest editorial.  (Fat chance).  But I also feared for Bernice’s welfare.  An aunt of mine had spent 3 days on the floor of her Boston area house with a broken hip.  So, within 30 minutes I was telling the State troopers who wondered ‘should-we-break-down-her door-if she-is-merely-out-of-town?’ to just pick the locks and look around.  
They did.  
            They were scarily quick and efficient!   (Edward Snowden, who is NOT supported by my local newspaper editorial board is right?) No Bernice on the floor.  All seemed well.  And later that morning I saw Bernice with her daughter, making a return trip for her stuff.  She’s moving to assisted living near her daughter’s place in another town.  I hugged her goodbye as only a rabid ‘anti-capitalist’ can, and promised to watch her place.
So, if I hadn’t had well-founded worries about my portrayal in the local paper, I would have been lobbying the county development agency against Dick Miller's economic plans.  But, I might not have caught Bernice before she left.    I didn’t get to say any such goodbye to her husband.   Bernice had presided over his funeral, a very conservative religious event in which Larry’s many sins prior to converting to a particularly strict brand of religion changed him ‘for the better’  so that now he would ascend to heaven.  The rest of us, we were told, would be left behind unless we came down front and accepted Jesus Christ as our very own personal saviors.  I didn’t go to the alter that day.  But I did shovel Bernice’s front sidewalk when it iced up, in the ensuing 10 years, so maybe someday I’ll get to chat with Larry again after all.  
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to speak my piece in the local paper, where the online ‘DISQUS®’ trolls are already trashing me.  
  But the clouds are few and the air is great today in the Town of Oneonta, my fair city.  
            For the time being.