Representative and presumptive Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has stated numerous times that his thinking about government and about life in general was greatly shaped by the late novelist and essay writer Ayn Rand. He actually credits her writing and philosophy as the “reason I got involved in public service, by and large….” He gave copies of Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s signature novel from 1957, to his Congressional staff as Christmas gifts.
From the giddiness displayed in self-described libertarian circles, it’s clear that many people see this as a Romney-Ryan-Rand Republican ticket. During the Republican Presidential primaries, several candidates repeatedly associated themselves with Ayn Rand, especially Representative Ron Paul, who adopted the “Who is Ron Paul?” slogan as a play on the “Who is John Gault?” mantra from Atlas Shrugged.
1. A stunning report issued last week by the Office of the State Comptroller analyzed data from over 4,000 New York local government units, and found over 300 of them had run budget deficits in 2010 or 2011 and over 100 had serious cash flow problems that threatened their ability to pay current bills and obligations. Declining sales tax revenues, property values, state aid and mortgage recording tax revenues have left many local governments “extremely vulnerable to any unanticipated expenditures resulting from emergencies, mandates, or unexpected increases in the costs of goods and services.”
2. Many governments have scaled back, particularly in the areas of public safety, health and recreational programs, garbage collection and road projects.
It was technically by mutual agreement, but Nassau Community College President Astrab was separated from the school last week, after two years and much complaining and agitation by faculty members who felt they were not given their traditional input into program changes. Already, there are published threats to turn the campus “into a shark tank” if the next president does not pay proper respect to faculty senate resolutions, or proposes tuition increases to maintain class choices. Two years ago, there were serious allegations of attempted manipulation of the presidential selection process by outside political forces. This time, it can’t be just another game.
It isn’t scientific at all, but it is telling that the first 119 posts on Newsday’s online comment boards about the NCC situation were largely (57 percent) negative toward the college. Just over a third specifically wanted the college closed, referred to it as “welfare,” or otherwise questioned why tax dollars go to this. This is definitely a minority view, but those who hold it have learned to make themselves heard. And politicians read this. They fear this.
1. July 20, July 17, July 7, July 2, June 18, June 8, June 4, May 30, May 16. These are the days the postal carrier delivered publicly-funded mail featuring County Executive Ed Mangano. That’s only what has arrived since he threatened a $40 million budget cut if legislators didn’t approve additional borrowing. On July 13, we learned that Nassau County finished 2011 with a $50.4 million deficit and faces, conservatively, a projected $45 million deficit for 2012. One hundred more county workers were sacked last week, and it’s just starters. Yet the brochures, postcards and booklets keep coming, some from the Industrial Development Agency, which doesn’t need to mail anything to residents, let alone “Thanks to County Executive Ed Mangano” postcards. Clearly the county executive doesn’t do subtlety or nuance. Half the space on the new county prescription discount card, initiated by former County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, is now taken up by Mr. Mangano’s picture. It was mailed to hundreds of thousands of families that never asked for another one. Some other public officials are abusers, but given the county circumstances and the timing, scale and seven-figure cost of it, this is way over the top. Incredible!
Bradford County, Pennsylvania, lies along the border with New York, several thousand feet above the gas-infused rock formation called the Marcellus Shale and less than a half-hour drive from the cities of Corning, Elmira and Binghamton. Last week, three Bradford County families reached a $1.6 million settlement with Chesapeake Energy of Oklahoma City (“America’s Champion of Natural Gas”), compensation for the ruination of their water wells by methane gas migrations from nearby high volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations. This is the first time ever that details of a Marcellus Shale settlement have been revealed to the public, at the insistence of the families.
Meanwhile, thousands of residents around the Binghamton area say the unproductive leases they signed with gas drillers several years ago have expired, but the drilling companies are claiming that the leases may be unilaterally renewed because the state’s fracking moratorium is a akin to a natural disaster or act of God.
Large sections of Ottawa Airport are now covered by high-definition cameras and wired for sound. The technology “will record conversations” in key areas, such as the primary inspection area for arriving international passengers, according to the official statement. Video and audio will be stored and retained. It’s part of the Canadian Border Services Agency plan to keep everyone safe from “organized crime and internal smuggling conspiracies.” Border services officers now have expanded powers to question, examine and search airport workers and both domestic and international travelers. Once any kinks are worked out this summer, the airports at Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver go online, and then all border crossings.
These are the Canadians, the “nice” North Americans. Some of their politicians are now funded by the same people who fund some of our politicians.
Meanwhile, thousands of residents around the Binghamton area say the unproductive leases they signed with gas drillers several years ago have expired, but the drilling companies are claiming that the leases may be unilaterally renewed because the state’s fracking moratorium is akin to a natural disaster or act of God.
Over a period of time now measured in decades, I’ve tried to pay attention to what generates attention for some issues and problems, while other worthy causes languish. Over the last year, two issues have suddenly entered the public consciousness with unusual speed and depth, and both involve the chemical industry. When I first wrote about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to release natural gas and other energy resources for processing, it was still a strange and exotic subject to most readers. Now, most of us are at least a little familiar with concerns over the chemicals and the wastewater. And the earthquakes.
It is estimated that local governments in the United States spend a little over $37 billion on computer software systems that are antiquated, difficult to use or performing below expectations. Across America, we see desperate municipalities turning off street lights, leasing out control of parking meters and walking away from providing services with long, popular histories. Yet every time some local government decision makers sit down at a desk, they stare at a way to achieve significant savings and maybe to upgrade service quality, but don’t recognize it.
Around the world, governments are catching on to “open source” and its immense potential not just to save some bucks, but to change the culture of frustration and dread now shrouding many local agencies into one of innovation and promise. This isn’t just an issue about ones and zeroes that might appeal to techies. Open source represents an ethos and a mindset that is sadly and conspicuously lacking across Long Island governments.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: email@example.com