Tag Archive | "economy"

Congressman Tim Bishop Talks Candidly About the Future

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By Claire Walla

New York Congressman Tim Bishop doesn’t seem the type to lounge around. He commutes between offices in Southampton, Patchogue and Washington D.C., and attends events across the state and across the East End, where he represents nearly 700,000 people.

But last Tuesday, October 18, Bishop sank comfortably into the cushions of a big white couch in a house off the Bridgehampton Turnpike and, surrounded by a dozen of his constituents, he began to chat.

The purpose of his visit was as part of the Bridgehampton Children’s Center’s series: “The Politics of it All.” (Past guests have included State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.) And although the conversation hinged on politics, Bishop spoke candidly about his positions on all topics raised that night, from early childhood education to what he called the “repulsive” tactics of the Tea Party Movement.

While casual, the tone of the evening was relatively dour as those who attended the discussion looked to the congressman for answers to what they see as glaring inefficiencies within the U.S. political system.

Perhaps the most outspoken attendee that evening was Randall Dobler, who before he spoke distributed a five-page document titled “Randall Dobler Economic Recovery Plan.”

He asked Bishop why — especially if the United States is looking to create more jobs and lessen its dependence on foreign oil — the U.S. government is not moving faster to promote the use of natural gas as a clean energy alternative.

Bishop’s answer turned out to be the relative mantra for the evening: “political opposition.” In the case of natural gas, he said many members of Congress who have thus far been opposed to passing legislation that would give American families the economic incentive to switch from heating their homes with oil to natural gas object to the part of the proposed bill that would put a tax on carbon-based fuels. According to Bishop, they maintain that the free market economy should reign supreme.

While political opposition is nothing new in Bishop’s line of work, the assemblyman’s critique of the current political climate went far deeper than typical party spats. For example, he said there’s “no political will” among many conservative members of Congress to move away from carbon-based fuels. And then, raising the pitch of his voice in frustration, he added: “Many members [of Congress] don’t even believe in climate change!”

Bishop reaffirmed what many in the room seemed to already believe, that such fundamental differences between members of Congress have created a vast schism within government, which has steered the country to where it is now: at a relative stalemate.

After the group lamented the woes of the American work force — which event organizer Bonnie Cannon said is worrisome because it’s been flooded with many college graduates who can’t find employment — attendee Lucius Ware, head of the East End chapter of the NAACP, drew comparisons between today’s problems and the American workforce in the 1950s and 60s. The so-called “space race,” he said, “kicked the workforce into high gear.”

“This is our Sputnik moment,” Bishop agreed. “But the environment could not possibly be more adverse to get that done.”

Bishop said he is baffled by the notion that certain measures he feels would bolster the American economy — like bills to boost spending for infrastructure that would create jobs — have been shot down by Congress in large part because Republicans are unwilling to budge on the issue of raising taxes in any way, shape or form. Referencing a Republican debate back in August during which the eight candidates stated they wouldn’t even consider raising taxes $1 for every $10 of spending cuts, Bishop said, “That’s lunacy!”

“I hate to say it,” he continued, “But [the conservative right] is not about to give [President Barack Obama] a win. That sounds hopelessly partisan, but I believe it’s right.”

Bishop explained that there are currently 25 million Americans under or unemployed in the United States, and he feels there is “no chance” the conservative right will accept the president’s spending plans, which currently propose $50 million for infrastructure and $35 million for schools.

“I see intransigence on the part of Republicans,” he added. “And a total unwillingness to move [on these points].”

The group went on to discuss government cuts to early childhood education programs, including Head Start. Bishop complained that the budget passed by Congress last April included 25 percent cuts to the program. To which Bridgehampton Head Start Manager Daphne Gil, who shared the couch with Bishop that night, noted that such cuts actually have an adverse affect on the work force as a whole.

“You have to allow people to let their children go to daycare and go to school so that they can go to work,” she said.

Bishop sympathized with her complaints and said, of the cuts, “there’s not logic to it.” Bishop added that he believes these programs should be restored, and said the country needs to put more effort into bolstering math and science programs, because this, he noted, is where the future of the job market will be.

In the midst of such a seemingly bleak forecast, Cannon made an attempt to shift the discussion.

“I’m feeling a bit down,” she said with an ironic laugh. “Can you tell me there’s some light at the end of the tunnel?”

Without being specific, Bishop offered an analysis of the current political climate.

“At the root of everything is fear,” he explained. “Fear of not having a job, of not being able to send your kids to college… and that leads to resentment, resentment leads to distrust, and distrust leads to anger. And that is one of the forces at play that I think is very debilitating.”

As an antidote, Bishop said he is advocating passion; people in politics “who think we can do better.” As for how the U.S. gets to a place where passion overcomes anger, “It’s hard,” he added. “But it’s important for people to say: this isn’t the country we had in mind.”

What to Do Instead

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By Hope Harris

What is wrong with this country?! With us? What led us to believe that each one of us could have anything he or she wanted? What made us believe each of us could own a 40,000 square foot house, or a $40,000 car or write a great book or be a great artist? Our culture makes every one of us famous for a day and tells us we can own and be anything we want. And for the past ten years, we’ve been borrowing money and thinking we never had to repay it!

And look what happened!

But the irony is that unlike people in the rest of the country, we turn out to be luckier than most. While the financial meltdown has affected everyone to some extent, Manhattan and The Hamptons have not been hit hardest. Granted not many houses are selling or renting, but conversely, very few owners are in foreclosure or have declared bankruptcy. There are no long lines for food stamps or jobs. Some people did get “Madoffed,” but they’re not entirely wiped out. Sure, some second-home owners would like to sell their houses, but not if it means taking a tremendous loss. Owners would like to rent, but if they don’t get close to what they’re asking, they’ll use their second homes themselves.

In truth, what’s happened here is that, unlike others, we’re in Park. Not Neutral. Not Reverse. Park. We can turn off the (real estate) engine, park the car and do something else until the market shows renewed signs of health. It might be two years, it might be longer, but very few people in our unique and (still) moneyed area, will go under. This is not Ft. Myers or Phoenix or Detroit.

So, if we can hold on; all of us—brokers, teachers, police, first and second home owners, retailers (not Ralph Lauren and Tiffanys—we know they’ll make it through), restaurateurs, pharmacists, car dealers — we’ll be OK, and might, in the interim, learn to live differently. On less.

We can sit down, take a deep breath, and think. We can stop running and think. About what we’ve always wanted and wanted to do; about helping people less fortunate; about spending less and enjoying more. We can stop shopping. We can clean out our closets and give the clothes we never wear to people who can use them. We can eat at home. Volunteer this new time we have. Turn down the heat. Read more books. And for God’s sake, we should turn off the television and the media which is working overtime to scare us to death. Daily. Hourly. Weekly. Monthly. Maybe for years to come.

We can try to learn to live without “things.” “Things” is what got us into this mess in the first place: every new gadget, cars and houses and things to put in our houses; trips and clothes and fancy restaurants, and big parties, and bigger cars and then bigger houses and before we knew it, we were all in over our heads. The mortgage companies gave mortgages to people who couldn’t afford the monthly payments and credit cards gave us unlimited funds. Didn’t we learn anything from the Tech Bubble? How long can everyone have everything he or she wants?

So let’s just leave the car in Park, get out, look around, take a walk. Re-think who we are and what we truly need to be happy. Let’s all hope the answer isn’t money because—for a while anyway—there isn’t going to be a lot.

The Shirley Temple Effect

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By Harvey Jacobs

Between political pundits and financial gurus burbling all over radio and television these days, one phrase emerged that is new to me. Several analysts of the global fiscal debacle speak about a phenomenon they call: The Shirley Temple Effect.

In the midst of chatter about the “bail out” –or is it “out on bail”?— while I listened to various worse case scenarios about the coming  apocalypse, when they mentioned Shirley’s Effect, images of Volker, Greenspan and Paulson dissolved. There came the sound of tiny feet tap-dancing up a storm, or down a circular staircase, while a sweet little crinkly voice sang “The Good Ship Lollipop.”

The vision of a curly-headed nymph, navigating the peaks and valleys of The Great Depression, suddenly appeared, shooing away frightening bar charts and graphs showing lightning bolts crashing into former dreams of affluence.

Of course, I recognized that impossibly impish, entirely lovable child. It was Ms. Shirley Temple, the fortunate recipient of my first valentine, a five-cent epic (plus a two-cent stamp) that had the words JEEPERS CREEPERS preserved inside a flaming red heart. I was also reminded that I am still waiting for her answer though a few decades have somehow slipped by since I sent it.

I’d read that a woman calling herself Shirley Temple was reported to have been forced to laugh and cry on cue by the ultimate stage mother during a miserable Hollywood childhood. She was now full-grown, married, a Republican who once served briefly as our representative to the United Nations. She has the audacity to claim that she had once been that magical child! Well, I didn’t believe a word of it. My Shirley occasionally pops up on the TV screen, looking exactly the same as the living doll I remember, bursting with innocent, joyful chubby-legged energy– every inch the centrist liberal I assumed her to be. Bottom line, she hasn’t changed a bit.)

So, what is The Shirley Temple Effect these excess prophets are talking about? In the 1930s, while FDR was trying to piece together a broken America, when “Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?” was number one on the hit parade, hundreds of millions of desperate people here and abroad headed for the movies seeking respite from a dismal reality. And the biggest grossing star of the Depression era was, yes, my own valentine, Shirley Temple!

There was something mystical about watching that “darling of the silver screen” scatter demons of despair and kindle candles of hope in the battered hearts of her unemployed audiences. Her Effect was to actually make people feel happy.

There is another Effect, call it The Princess Effect, that replaced Shirley’s during World War II. Watching Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret, standing in decimated London during the blitz, confirmed America’s resolve to help the Brits survive and crush the Nazis. Another song, “My Sister And I,” cemented our resolve to make Hitler pay for putting those children in jeopardy. (Oddly, the song wasn’t written about the royal sisters—just generic sisters.)

The need for Effects faded after the war, along with Shirley Temple’s career. But wait…now, here in the 21st Century, I am told by the anointed knights of Dow Jones, that, in this moment of chaos, when the floor has been pulled out from under anything even resembling stability, what we really need is  Shirley Temple to trigger our will to survive and prosper.

Leadership, sure. Wisdom, definitely. Action, absolutely. But mostly, something to conjure The Shirley Temple Effect to get us through this monumental mess.

It isn’t hard to imagine a migration of the walking wounded staggering toward the Sag Harbor Cinema, searching urgently for transformative diversion, murmuring “The Effect, The Effect”  like Zombies in a George Romero film. But where is Shirley when we need her?

Judy Garland might have been helpful as a Shirley substitute. Marilyn Monroe would have done her bit to offer some semblance of damage control. The sad truth is, we have nobody to replace the magnificent moppet who once saved a dismal day.

Consider our choices:

Britany Spears? Never.

Paris Hilton?  She might capsize “The Good Ship Lollipop.”

Miley Cyrus? Maybe for a baby crisis.

The Vanna White Effect? Close, but could Vanna lead us to Bonus Land?

Sarah Palin? Effective?

It’s amazing that the guardians of our solvency are forced to turn to old film reels to find a feel-good metaphor culled from a time when the need for rescue was as pressing as it is today.

We look to the past to help predict the future, but often we ignore the lessons of other people’s experience, however obvious. What does the Soup Kitchen generation have to teach us? Aren’t we so much smarter, so much better defended against doom and gloom then our hobo ancestors? They harvested  “The Grapes Of Wrath.” We have tofu and buffalo burgers.

So how come the “global market” is in the tank? How come so many citizens of the richest country in the history of the world are losing their homes, not to mention their cars, laptops, cell phones, 401Ks and medical insurance?

How come, in this age of microchips and genetics, implants and transplants, satellites and space stations, we’re suddenly reacquainted with a five-year old changeling  transformed from being a kid into being an Effect?

And we’re reminded of a deep hunger to reconnect with a vibrant, loving life-force always waiting in the wings to bail us out of our own conundrums—along with some work and a little luck.

Hey, Shirley… JEEPERS CREEPERS…

 

Harvey Jacobs’ new novel, Side Effects, is due around December from Celadon Press in Sag Harbor.

New Way of Life

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Last week on these pages we mused over what might be coming down the pike as a result of the current economic crisis. In the days since, the situation has only worsened and the economic panic that has gripped the country now appears to encompass the entire world.

It’s still hard to know for sure how the major events on Wall Street will ultimately impact life here on the East End – that isn’t likely to be revealed for several more months or even years.

But on the local level, there are already some indications that we may need to do some belt tightening on the East End. With a major shortage already in its coffers, East Hampton Town is expecting to bring in $1.5 million less in mortgage tax revenues this year. We’ve also learned that the town is expecting to raise property taxes by a whopping 19 percent — for East Hampton Village residents, it’s more like 28 percent —while slashing $7 million in the budget. Included in that amount is $1 million in grant money for social and cultural organizations like the East Hampton Daycare and after school programs.

But before you decide to pack up and move to Southampton, you might want to consider this. Mortgage tax revenues have fallen there as well in light of the decline in the building and construction trade. Meanwhile, taxes will go up there five percent this year, the maximum allowed under the cap. Also, given the sluggish housing market, we can expect that the stellar performance of the CPF in both towns to lag. Even before the financial news of last week, Southampton Town was down from $55 million last year to $32 million in 2008. On top of that, federal mandates and rising costs have lead to rising school budgets every year despite school board efforts to keep them reasonable.

For East End residents, this all represents a bitter pill on top of some truly vile medicine. If you have an adjustable rate mortgage on your home, or you’re trying to get a mortgage at all – or a loan for a new car, forget it. Now you can add sharing the burdens of local municipalities to the list of your woes. Though these increased expenses may not have occurred directly as a result of the financial crisis, it’s certainly like getting kicked in the teeth at a time when we’ve been brought to our knees.

Though we have written in the past about ideas like shared services between schools and the reduction in fossil fuel use by walking and biking, driving a Prius or heating houses through alternative sources, in the next year, it strikes us that these are the sorts of cost saving measures where the rubber will truly meet the road.

Given the gloomy economic forecasts, it may just be that these once largely symbolic gestures have become our new way of life as we face a reality that most people on this planet have been living with for years.

So like it or not, you better tighten those belts, folks — we’re in for a bumpy ride.