Sewage plants, incinerators, subways, turnpikes, sports arenas, bridges and bus lines are licenses for local agencies to print money, until the equipment ages or needs expansion. All of these things, and almost every water supply district in Nassau County, started out as private enterprises or as public investments managed by private contractors, until the low-hanging profits were picked off. Then, as service deteriorates and rates go up, the public itself steps up and sets things right.
2. My bank says I’m green if I order their credit card with a picture of Earth on the front.
And it turns out that it’s not so bad. In fact, whatever Long Island is going to be next, whatever backbone the next Nassau County will have, they are going to be part of it. They. Them. The other.
ALEC is back in the news, where it probably doesn’t want to be. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, until recently virtually unknown to the general public. People are starting to understand.
Made up of about 2,000 legislators representing all 50 states and about 300 representatives from corporations and foundations, ALEC creates “model legislation,” hundreds of bills which are introduced in state legislatures across America each year. Exactly which bills were from ALEC and a lot of other details were once shadowy subjects, but since last year have been repeatedly dragged into the spotlight thanks to the work of several government and media watchdog organizations, and the independent media.
Scrutiny, oversight, accountability and integrity are all twisted up together. Pull one thread out and really bad decisions can get made. Lines blur, and it becomes very hard to pick out the bad guys from the good guys, who is for you from who is against you.
In the wee morning hours of March 15, long after most observers had left, a massive pile of legislation was dumped on the desks of state legislators in Albany. As Thursday wore on, New Yorkers learned that new deals were cut and legislation passed making significant, precedent-making changes to the state pension system, to casino gambling policy, to the creation of state and federal legislative district boundaries, to the system of collecting DNA from convicted criminals. Most of the legislation did not appear until 3 a.m.
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.
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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