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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller

Is The Gas Bubble Bursting?

Friday, 13 July 2012 00:00
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 akin to a natural disaster or act of God.

 

We Haven’t Fixed Health Care Yet

Friday, 06 July 2012 00:00
Forgive me if I don’t join in all the merriment and celebrating over the Affordable Health Care Act decision by the Supreme Court. The delivery of millions of Americans into the clutches of the insurance companies, without adequate cost controls, is not going to fix what is making our health care system sick. We don’t even need a single-payer system or a “public option” to make important changes that will lower costs, although either would be improvements to the non-systemic mess we have now. We can maintain a profitable role for private insurance companies, which are still an important element in the health care systems of some other industrialized countries whose citizens enjoy outstanding health care and lower costs.
 

Who Really Runs Things In Albany?

Friday, 29 June 2012 00:00

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.

 

Technology Citizens

Friday, 22 June 2012 00:00

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.

 

Don’t Miss Opportunity To Do Better

Friday, 15 June 2012 00:00

In North Hemsptead, momentary political expediencies from 10 years ago are about to be hardened in place, saddled on top of citizens and taxpayers who didn’t do anything to deserve them. They desire, and pay top dollar, for better. It’s a good example for everyone of how important it is to do things right in the first place, because in any bureaucracy or a static political environment even the most obvious bad choices can become fossilized in place, with implications for decades.

Everyone lives in a place. The U.S. Census Bureau recognizes 1,189 cities, incorporated villages and unincorporated places in the State of New York. Out of those 1,189 recognized places, the three with the highest percentage of Asian residents and seven of the 10 with the highest percentage of Asian residents are within North Hempstead. Parts of New York City have many more Asian residents, but overall Asians make up only 12.7 percent of the city’s population. Of the 34 places in New York where at least 15 percent of residents are Asian, 20 of them are in Nassau County and 14 are primarily in North Hempstead. In southwestern North Hempstead, moving east and south from the Lake Success area, nearly a third of over 57,000 residents in contiguous villages and unincorporated neighborhoods are Asian. The voter rolls are changing.

 

Is It Time to Dissolve Nassau County?

Friday, 08 June 2012 00:00

It doesn’t have to be the disorganized, seat-of-the-pants, helter skelter dismantling that we’re heading toward. There may still be time for a controlled demolition. It is time to put on the table the possibility of dissolving the government of Nassau County. At least most of it.

Dissolution as a strategy to salvage critical functions is increasingly being raised as local governments around the United States run out of options.

 

A New Hope

Friday, 25 May 2012 00:00

1. And yet, there is hope. All over, in the oddest places, some people are seeing the folly.

2. When Moody’s downgraded the bonds of 16 Italian banks last week, they cited “government austerity reducing near-term economic demand.”

3. A Republican, anti-tax state legislator who represents suburban Bucks County in Pennsylvania has introduced legislation phasing out school property taxes and replacing them with state income and other taxes: “I love M&Ms as much as the next guy, but I’d be willing to pay an extra 7 cents for a $1 bag of candy if it meant my entire property tax bill would disappear,” he said.

 

Frothing

Friday, 18 May 2012 00:00

1. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives took the time to pass legislation prohibiting gay marriage and “marriage-like” ceremonies on military bases, and limiting reprimand for soldiers voicing opposition to gay soldiers. This was the big accomplishment of the week. This is what our leaders are focused on. This is the way it’s going to be until after Election Day.

2. Fifty-five days after Election Day, possibly in the middle of multiple transitions in the executive and legislative branches, the payroll-tax cut, investment tax credit and enhanced unemployment insurance will all expire. Also expiring are the so-called Bush tax cuts. At the same time, the automatic, across-the-board cuts in domestic and defense spending that were part of the debt ceiling agreement will kick in, including the immediate “sequestering” of $100 billion in federal spending.

 

Drilling Down: The Student Loan Crisis

Friday, 11 May 2012 00:00

For months, there has been a television, radio and newspaper blackout across this country regarding the “Maple Spring” in Quebec, right on New York’s border. Since Feb. 13, a student strike has closed colleges throughout the province. Hundreds of thousands have participated in peaceful rallies and nightly marches. The spark was tuition increases. The Quebecois government refuses to negotiate and has attempted several times to brutally break it up. This is front-page news around earth, except here.

 

Debt To Society

Friday, 04 May 2012 00:00
1. Since 1985, college tuition and fees have gone up 559 percent. Let’s start there.

2. Since 1999, student debt in this country has increased over 500 percent, to $870 million if you believe the Federal Reserve’s estimates, or to $1 trillion if you believe everyone else. Student debt now exceeds total credit card debt. Our federal government, which backs most outstanding loans, is on the hook for hundreds of billions of it.

 

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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net