The world can pretend that this is not an official or “hard” default, even though it’s the very definition of it. Already, markets are rising. Brent crude oil hit its highest price in three years since there will be no global reduction in demand. This week. Greece probably still can’t sustain its debt load for very long.
The corrosion of our public standards has oozed down into the local level. The flood of publicly financed mailings continues. I haven’t received one that has expressed a meaningful vision of where we’re supposed to go from here. This is a country and a county loaded with personal talent and a growing craving to be asked to help. We are failed not only by our leaders, but by the people who are supposed to be watching our leaders on our behalf.
It was a Vanderbilt rule of succession that the eldest sons inherited the bulk of their father’s property, along with the responsibility of managing it, increasing it and perpetuating it. William K. Vanderbilt, Sr.’s father, William H., had inherited about $100 million from Cornelius, “The Commodore,” who had founded the shipping and railroad fortune. William H. doubled the fortune, making him the richest man in North America, and he left $70 million each to his eldest sons. With the sudden death of the eldest son, Cornelius, in 1899, William K. was in general control of all the Vanderbilt railroad interests. And those interests were the talk of the United States.
While the public saw the Automobile Club (openly aided by a dozen or so very prominent millionaires) and the people of Long Island (openly aided by the street trolley companies) as the primary players in the automobile speed law fight, even more influential forces were moving behind the scenes.
Very quietly, never in open public, the railroads decided that the speed limit law had to be rendered ineffective. You might think that limiting the speed of automobiles would be the highest possible priority for the railroads, but you’d have the benefit of a century’s worth of hindsight. In 1902, the railroads saw the electric street railway as the biggest threat. The most powerful industrialists didn’t foresee the Model T or middle income families owning cars or farmers owning trucks. Fast automobiles would help hold off the trolleys, but could never hold enough passengers or cargo to be a threat to the railroads. It must have seemed so obvious.
The very phrase “speed trap” appears to have been invented in Nassau County. No fooling.
The Cocks automobile law of 1902 created New York’s first speed limits and the first penalties for driving too fast. Yet it was a huge disappointment to Nassau County State Senator William Willets Cocks, who considered the final version to be a gutted shell. He was disgusted enough that he would not commit to running for re-election until the last minute.
The bill, endorsed by newspapers around the state and wildly popular with many New Yorkers, flew out of committee and was expected to be passed by the Senate on Jan. 30. Just as the voting was about to start, a small group of Senators successfully pushed for the bill to be sent back to committee for more hearings. Back on the Senate calendar on February 20, the bill was called by the clerk and passed 48 to nothing. The same Senators, distracted and not recognizing the innocuous formal title of the bill, realized what had just happened, rushed the podium waiving typewritten amendments, demanding that the vote be revoked. After considerable and heated debate, and numerous huddles along the sides of the chamber, the bill was sent back to committee again.
It sure seemed that the bill was being delayed, either until the legislative session ran out or somebody somewhere decided what was going to be done with it.
1. Years ago, I had the privilege to hear an address by the writer Kurt Vonnegut and then to briefly meet him at a reception. He said that the challenge of his generation was to defeat Hitler and fascism, but the challenge of my generation would be to decide what people are for.
2. Right now, economic policy in this country is geared toward those whose dreams have already come true. If things haven’t worked out for you, we don’t want to hear from you. If things have really gone off the tracks, we expect you to literally disappear. We cheer at the thought of your demise at nationally televised political debates. There are no consequences. You don’t exist.
3. You know that old story about how you put a frog in boiling water and it jumps out, but if you heat the water slowly it stays in the pot until it dies? It isn’t true. The frog jumps out at some point.
4. The unemployment figures tell only a fraction of the story. Millions of working Americans increasingly feel overworked, put upon, disrespected. No options.
The political clip of the week has been Mr. Gingrich’s promise to build an American colony and a 51st state on the moon. He said this days before the Florida primary in Brevard County, where Major Nelson and Jeannie lived. In a region with lots of unemployed aerospace engineers, there was a cynical aspect to the moonbase speech.
There is a bigger problem. The United States is a signatory to a 1967 treaty that prohibits any country from claiming the moon as its own territory. The moon is to be part of the “common heritage of mankind.” Ratified treaties have the power of law, according to the U.S. Constitution.
A few companies are already trying to have their moon mining rights officially recognized. Helium-3, which might play a role in the mass development of fusion energy, is more abundant on the moon than on Earth. This might explain the advancing moon programs of China, India, Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency.
The bank of supercomputers at Goldman Sachs is possibly the most powerful computer array on Earth, located ten stories below The Street in a nuclear bomb-proof vault. Until several months ago, it used to take JPMorgan nine hours to run complete risk and value analyses on their vast holdings, but their new supercomputers do it in 238 seconds. Megafirm supercomputers are tied directly into the computers of every stock and commodity exchange. Using secret algorithms they can automatically move billions in assets milliseconds before the computers at the exchanges even acknowledge the buy and sell orders they’ve received. Some consider this high frequency trading to be an unfair advantage, a form of insider trading that many believe led directly to the infamous May 6, 2010 “Flash Crash” and other sudden freefalls.
And Governor Cuomo wants Joe who drives the school bus to compete with that.
Last fall, seven students in three Great Neck area high schools were accused of cheating on the SAT exam, possibly paying someone else to take the test for them. Thirteen others have since been accused. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice is taking the unprecedented step of prosecuting accused test cheaters in the legal system, in our names.
I’m not going to defend cheaters, rich kids, Great Neck or any other party in this sad story. I’m not sure in my own mind what should be done with the young people involved, if they are proven to be involved. I know that politicians are talking tough and over the top against easy targets. Teenagers are always easy targets.
Less than a week into 2012, Mayor George “Butch” Starkie of the incorporated Village of Farmingdale in the Town of Oyster Bay already has earned a 2012 nomination for some major good government award yet to be invented. In an effort to save the cost of two employees and some maintenance costs, Mayor Starkie has been pushing to have the neighboring Suffolk County Water Authority become operator of the village water supply system. Now, reasonable people might make a case for one of the other adjacent water suppliers to be the ones to pump village water. That Mayor Starkie has looked eastward, across the county chasm, is gutsy, realistic and, in the scheme of Nassau County political history, practically momentous.
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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