Last week, despite predictions from Governor Paterson and others, Long Islanders and other New Yorkers again refused to scapegoat public school districts for a nationwide public finance meltdown. As long as school leaders show a good faith effort to hold down costs and understand their special responsibility to strained taxpayers, most of us are willing to cut the kids some slack and try to hold things together. How long they can continue to extend that rope is not clear at all. For now, it seems that residents don’t want education used as a prop in some zero-sum game of pass-the-buck.
Almost 20 years ago, I met a friend for lunch in the city and he introduced me to his successful brother, who worked in an upper-middle management position for IBM. I did not believe this at first because the brother wore a beard and casual clothes, and everyone knew that IBM employees had gray suits, short hair, no beards and lifetime job security. He explained that IBM, realizing too late that they were no longer in control of their own destiny, had reduced obvious expenses and were now experimenting with dumping fixed assets, selling off buildings and properties. IBM no longer wanted him to show up to an office except for meetings, and he sent his work in electronically from his house. “I have never been more productive in my life,” he told me.
There are 276 million cell phones being used in the United States. I last wrote a full column about health concerns from these EMF (Electro-Magnetic Field) devices five years ago (“Be Smart With Your Cell” in issues of May 7, 2005). We still don’t know much, and that’s a problem.
1. “…oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills” stated President Obama on April 2.
2. Mike Miller, the near-legendary Canadian oil well fire-fighting consultant, has been widely quoted around the world regarding the Gulf of Mexico rig explosion (“I expect this will be the biggest oil spill in the world by far”). This is not me.
An eternal fight for natural resources would suit some people just fine. Not long ago, but before the propaganda from some circles had shifted to “It’s all a hoax,” a radio pundit was bloviating about how even the worst climate scenarios were no big deal. Even if the Midwest plains dried up from drought and coastal cities became swamped, plenty of new and fertile land will be opened up in the new, unfrozen Greenland and Antarctica. Right? Except the United States doesn’t own Greenland and Antarctica. I suppose the countries that have troops all over them will own them. Even the Canadians, only a little bit removed from actually being part of the United States, are not giving in or backing down over control of the new shipping routes and resources opening up in the Arctic. Will we eventually have troops in Quebec City?
Last week, the U.S. Joint Forces command released a major policy report, signed by General James Mattis of the Marines, that within two years, “surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear” and that by 2015 there could be serious shortages. The same week, the International Energy Agency announced that oil consumption in 2010 will be a record 86.6 million barrels a day and that the worldwide economic recovery was threatened by “the potential of supply falling short of demand.” One month ago, an Oxford University report argued that conventional oil reserves are overestimated by several hundred billion barrels and that demand may outpace supply within four years. Two months ago, Sir Richard Branson, that Virgin billionaire guy, told an international conference that the oil crunch would come in five years. Another report, based on industry data, says we probably have until 2022. Somewhere in there is the truth, and it isn’t far away.
2010 marks the 30th anniversary of an event that eventually squeezed the American Middle Class and left a hundred million dreams scattered along the roadside. Long Island was at the center of it all, but I’m not aware of any planned public ceremonies or anniversary journals. After the Supreme Court ruled that banks could “export” interest rates charged on credit cards across state lines, the Citibank people told state officials that unless ceilings on credit card interest rates were significantly raised, they would move their credit card operations from the Route 110 corridor in Huntington to South Dakota.
On February 11, the Google company announced that it would pay for a trial of ultra-high speed broadband networks for between 50,000 and 500,000 Americans in one or more communities. The one gigabyte-per-second fiber optic networks would deliver data at about 100 to 300 times faster than most Americans get in their homes today. Applications were due on March 26, touching off a six-week frenzied, friendly, race-to-the-Big-W-style competition among big and small towns across the country.
In the end, I caved. I lasted until about 24 hours before the vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act before deciding that it just had to pass. Whatever happens next, and insurance lobbyists have years to influence and game the final regulations, we had to get past this. I’m done with fear, rage, screaming bullies and cynical political gamesmanship. I am willing to ride the rapids of a flawed and inadequate health care strategy that may eventually make things worse, rather than empower those who would definitely make things worse.
Local governments have limited leverage when dealing with the cable company. Not long ago, the exclusive Westchester village of Pound Ridge was trying to attract a competitor to the local cable monopoly, but refused to grant $12,000 in property tax offsets. The competitor withdrew. A village whose residents include Tom Brokaw, Richard Gere, Michael Meyers, Susan Sarandon and other major celebrities was punished for its recalcitrance.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org