“Adopt-a-Hydrant” is an “app” that runs in your web browser or smartphone and it shows the location of every hydrant. It was written by one of the rockstar software coders at Code for America, a not-for-profit foundation that puts top software writers, designers and managers at the disposal of innovation-oriented local governments. It’s a kind of Peace Corps for Geeks, and their work is posted and available to others.
Not a year goes by without some report recommending that Long Island build its future around “Tech” and software. The ongoing disclosures about our government’s surveillance methods may have dealt a body blow to that kind of future, and to large segments of the American technology sector.
Our European allies are going ape over revelations in the German and British media that our National Security Agency has been spying on European Union offices on both sides of the ocean and has been intercepting over half a billion telephone calls, emails and text messages a month in Germany alone. Among our closest allies, only Canada, Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand have been exempted from these spy attacks.
We can liberate that money we send in to the tax office. We can transform it into the missing mechanism we need to control our fiscal destiny and begin addressing the future instead of pretending it isn’t there.
We need to consider the creation of a publicly-owned bank. Support for public banking as a solution to opening up credit to governments, small businesses and the public at large has been percolating for some time. With many now resigned to the idea that no help will be coming from Washington, probably ever, the idea is now geysering up. There are bills in at least eight states to create a state-owned bank (or a trust or public authority with banking powers) and bills in at least eight more states to direct some agency to study the possibility and report back.
We’re heading toward the deeper end of the pool now, and it’s past the time for local officials to seriously consider the sustainability of the governments and important programs we’ve entrusted to them. If we’re going to come through the stress tests of the next decade with critical functions intact, everything has to be rethought, everything has to be on the table.
We’ve got to build a common, positive “corporate culture” out of our public workforces. There are too many governments (see Nassau County) where training a fellow employee or even creating your own job description seems like only one more path to job elimination. Efficiency, innovation and cooperation are being stifled, just at a time we really need those qualities.
“The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time. Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have … we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.”
That’s a quote from Ira “Gus” Hunt, the CIA’s chief technology officer, discussing the agency’s goal of eventually collecting virtually all human-generated data — emails, texts, tweets, videos, all of it — and saving it for analysis. It wasn’t leaked. It wasn’t classified. He said it three months ago from a stage at Structure:Data 2013, a major annual technology conference in New York. You can watch the video. Two days later, the CIA entered a 10-year, $600 million deal with Amazon for cloud computing capacity. Saving everything takes disk space.
None of the four developer proposals to “reinvent” the Nassau Veterans Coliseum is shockingly flawed or disturbing.
A couple of the artist’s conceptions seem like real improvements to the look of the arena building, but it’s not clear that making a cooler coliseum is what we should be looking for. Now that we no longer have to focus on what the public can do for the Islanders hockey team, we no longer need to lock ourselves into merely a newer version of what we already have.
Yet we haven’t unleashed the public’s creativity, and we still haven’t measured or reassessed what it is Nassau County needs, wants and expects out of that site and any remaining space around it. The county government seems resigned to give us Islanders Lite. No NHL hockey? We’ll have minor league hockey. Minor league something.
Maybe all of us wear clothing or use electronics or a hundred other things manufactured in conditions we wouldn’t tolerate for our children or in our communities. We choose not to live hidden away in caves, and for important items for which there are few obvious alternatives we can put our heads down and plow through our day and make another small compromise with the world.
Most of us don’t want someone to die or endure suffering for our pleasure. Many of us draw our own lines regarding non-critical products. Most readers would not knowingly purchase “conflict diamonds,” which have helped fund murderous civil wars in Africa.
If 18, 19 and 20-year-old citizens are too immature to handle a cigarette, then they are too immature to handle the standard M4 carbine issued by the U.S. Army. Bring the kids back home.
In both the New York State legislature and the New York City Council, bills to ban sales of cigarettes to adults 18-20 years old look like they have legs, and now there’s a race with other states to put selective smoking prohibition laws on the books, maybe by the end of Spring. Some county legislators are probably readying their own press releases.
We’re all still peeved about the Long Island Power Authority’s response to the last two major storms, and its explanations. Most of us want to lash out in some way. The rails are being greased for a re-privatization of our power supply system, and this is all backwards and upside down.
We’re not starting with some noble value. There’s no goal to significantly increase renewable energy or decrease emissions more than LIPA, or to offer better reliability or accountability to customers than LIPA. It’s not clear at all how in the long run this can cost Long Islanders less than LIPA.
Five state legislators do the perp walk on criminal charges in five weeks, with maybe more on the way.
I always try to look at the bright side. One of these legislators wore a wire for three years and there haven’t been nearly as many arrests or indictments as some might have figured. Another silver lining is that a bunch of the charges really aren’t about corrupting government functions, but about political greed and personal sleaze. So we’ve got all of that going for us. Call me Mr. Sunshine.
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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