Ithaca Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2006

MoveOn and the NY Senate Race: Hypocrisy In Action?, the avowedly activist online political forum, has challenged politicians, journalists, and others in power to show progressive leadership in these troubled times. They've solicited a lot of money and time from American citizens.

Now MoveOn itself is under criticism for avoiding an endorsement in the New York Democratic primary for the Senate, between incumbent Hillary Clinton and challenger Jonathan Tasini (see related Ithaca Blog article from August 23).

MoveOn maintains that Clinton's lead is so large that to endorse her is not necessary, while to endorse her challenger would be divisive. Critics say that this is hardly a guiding principle for an organization that endorses grassroots democracy.

The New York Times last week overtly suggested that MoveOn finds itself impaired by, and even afraid of, Senator Clinton's status and money. Clinton's campaign has so far raised over $40 million dollars, compared to Tasini's $200,000. Clinton has instant name recognition and is a leading candidate for the presidency in 2008, whereas Tasini is a relative unknown.

In terms of the issues, Tasini's positions are considerably more progressive than Clinton's. As senator, Clinton's failure to show leadership for same-sex marriage, and her support of criminalization of flag-burning, are two examples of an apparent strategy of courting a perceived centrist base necessary for national election. Similarly, and most significantly, Clinton voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, and has put forth no plan for exit from Iraq, while Tasini calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops.

The Democratic primary for the Senate in Connecticut last month had many parallels to New York's, with an unknown anti-war candidate challenging a pro-war incumbent. In that race, however, MoveOn endorsed the challenger, Ned Lamont, who went on to defeat the incumbent, Joe Lieberman.

Why the difference in MoveOn's positions? The discernible differences in the two races are not about issues, but power. Clinton's influence is growing, while Lieberman's has waned since his losses as Al Gore's running mate in 2000, and against John Kerry for the presidential nomination in 2004. And while Tasini's campaign struggles for money, Lamont had a personal fortune of millions invested in his effort.

So is MoveOn moving to the realpolitik of money and strength, instead of progressive principles?

MoveOn responded to the criticism today, announcing a poll that will dictate its stance. But while designed to lessen the political heat, the response might instead draw more.

The poll asks MoveOn voters to cast a vote for either Clinton or Tasini. But there are considerable catches in the exercise.

MoveOn says that if either candidate receives two-thirds of the votes in the poll, the organization will formally endorse that candidate.

But if neither candidate receives a two-thirds majority, MoveOn will formally abstain.

Which means they might as well announce the results now: no endorsement.

Even in the largest landslide victories in American politics, the winner won't get two-thirds. In 1972, Richard Nixon carried 49 states, and didn't get two-thirds.

So it certainly seems a move disguised as democratic for an outcome that is anything but. It seems to say that MoveOn's leaders do not wish to challenge Hillary Clinton; but this gesture lets them say that they have responded to the membership.

That response is being solicited with one day's notice - on a holiday weekend. And it requires a result that only a candidate with Clinton's advantages could possibly hope to achieve.

The progressive movement needs all the help it can get in doing the crucial work of this democracy. So it is difficult to criticize a group with MoveOn's visibility.

But in politics, as in life, everyone makes mistakes. And time and again in politics we see that mistakes are not as dangerous as the failure to admit them.

The great mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia, once famously said, "When I make a mistake, it's a beaut." Let's hope MoveOn can learn their New York lesson - and in a New York minute. The primary election between Clinton and Tasini is in less than two weeks, on September 12.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Fighting Democrat" for Central NY

Ithaca's U.S. Congressional district, the 22nd, has long benefitted from representation by Maurice Hinchey, one of the most progressive members of the House.

Now, the neighboring 29th district, long a Republican stronghold, has a chance to choose new and progressive leadership, with Democratic challenger Eric Massa running a strong campaign against incumbent Republican Randy Kuhl.

The 29th district includes much of the Southern Tier, including Schuyler and Chemung counties.

Kuhl won election to the district after the retirement of Amo Houghton, a Republican with a long and distinguished record of bipartisan leadership in Congress.

Kuhl's main commendation for the job, after an undistinguished stint in the New York State Assembly, seemed to be his party affiliation.

Kuhl's one term in Congress is similarly undistinguished, and in sharp contrast to Houghton's. In a long career in the House, Houghton was respected as a pragmatic and independent leader. Kuhl, meanwhile, voted with Tom DeLay on over 90 per cent of his votes, until DeLay's resignation in a corruption scandal. Kuhl also received money from DeLay's PAC fund.

Enter Eric Massa. Massa is a Navy veteran identified as a "Fighting Democrat" - one of the scores of armed service veterans running as Democrats for Congress this year.

The appellation is meant to contrast the military service of the Democratic candidates with the lack of service among many of the Republicans responsible for the war.

Massa seems eager to continue fighting, on the political front. He made national headlines this week with vigorous criticism of Donald Rumsfeld.

In a speech to the American Legion this week, Rumsfeld accused Bush administration critics of "myths and distortions."

In a statement released by the Democratic national party, Massa said, "After 21 months of trying to find something I can agree with Secretary Rumsfeld on, it is true: the American people are being lied to and I totally agree with Secretary Rumsfeld. What I disagree with is the fact that he's the one doing the lying." Massa specifically accused Rumsfeld of lying about current progress in Iraq.

Congressman Hinchey was among the first and most outspoken critics of the invasion of Iraq. His leadership has not been matched by New York's senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, who voted for the Bush invasion, and might speak out against it, it seems, if it becomes expedient.

Meanwhile, New York voters in the 29th district have a chance to send Hinchey an ally in an active effort for peace, and truth in government. Likewise, New Yorkers statewide have a chance to vote for a Senatorial candidate, Jonathan Tasini, who has called for an immediate halt to the war. Tasini is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in the primary election on September 12 (see related Ithaca Blog article).

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina: Don't Mourn - Organize

It's the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as has been duly noted in the media, as the media dearly loves anniversaries of things, because it creates content with no effort.

So there are lots of pictures of devastation, and hand-wringing about suffering, and scarey speculation about the next big storm. But there is not much holding to account the Bush administration, whose negligence made for more suffering than the storm itself.

Nor is there much analysis of relief efforts, and who is doing what. Mayor Negin of New Orleans makes a gaffe about the "hole in the ground" that still exisits at Ground Zero in New York, and this dominates the headlines, as the media diverts attention from the real issues, and ducks its professional responsibilities in reporting them.

It's not leading the news, but it should be: to date, school children in America have donated more money to Katrina relief than most major corporations.

(Yesterday, it was reported that while worker productivity in the U.S. increased by 4 per cent last year, real wages for workers declined. Corporations taketh, and they taketh it far away.)

The lesson is that compassion and responsibility does not come from the powerful institutions in this country. Instead, it comes from those with the least. Think what we could, and would, do with more. And then work on taking that power. As Joe Hill, the labor leader, said before his execution, don't mourn - organize. A national third party for working people - not of, by, and for corporate money hoarders and launderers - is a good place to start.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ithaca Fun This Weekend

The big musical event last weekend, Samite at Taughannock Park, got dampened a bit, by a day of rain. The forecast this weekend is also for rain. So we will concentrate on indoor events this time.

Saturday: Farmers Market. Not strictly indoors - better, actually, with a roof to keep off the rain, but no walls to block the breeze and the views. If its raining, the crowds will be lesser. More for you and me. 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Small World Music. Shameless self-promotion time. But, as Jimmy Breslin says, if you don't blow your own horn, there's no music. We're open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Spend some time on a rainy day exploring a world of music CDS and LPs. The selection is great (new arrivals: Golden Smog, Matisyahu, Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy), and the prices are right. Thursday through Saturday, all Reggae is on sale, 20% off. You say you want more? You say you haven't had enough? Tell you what I'm gonna do. Mention Ithaca Blog, and get 20% off EVERYTHING. Thursday through Saturday only! 614 W. State Street, across the street from Kinko's, in a garage behind the house. Call for more explicit directions, or more horn-blowing from the maestro. 256-0428.

Schatz & Lyons Hurricane Katrina Anniversary Show. Greg Schatz and Jeremy Lyons are two great, street-wise musicians who come from Ithaca, but moved to New Orleans to hone their skills at givin' 'em what they want, so to speak, in the U.S. capital of such activity. They learned, and were developing nice careers in the Big Easy, when it all became very hard. They are back in Ithaca at the moment, and tonight will rock through rags, traditional and original songs, and blues, commemorating and celebrating. Chapter House, 10 p.m.

Sunday: Concert to Benefit Jonathan Tasini for Senate. See related Ithaca Blog posting ("Hillary Versus ... Jonathan?"). With Hank Roberts, Michelle Berry, Will Fudeman, et al. Castaways, 7 p.m. Suggested donation, $10.

Beyond these things, there's that old rainy-day standby, the movies. Cinemapolis and Fall Creek are featuring 6 fine films on their 5 screens, from the silly ("Little Miss Sunshine") to the serious ("An Inconvenient Truth"). Weekend matinees have discounted prices.

Enjoy yourself!

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hillary Versus ...Jonathan?

Even in this celebrity-laden age, there aren't many people with first-name recognition among the American public. In politics, "Hillary" ranks high among them.

It will take "Jonathan" a while to get there. For now, "Jonathan Tasini" would probably be happy with both-name recognition.

Or even for recognition after introduction. Jonathan Tasini is running against Hillary Clinton in the September 12 Democratic primary for the U.S. senate.

It was a hard battle for Tasini to get on the ballot in the first place. Now his challenge is to compete with Clinton in public awareness.

Tasini can concede the battle for campaign funding. He has raised about $200,000, to Clinton's $44 million.

He feels the fight is for voter awareness, and that if New Yorkers would "vote for what you believe in" - his campaign motto - he would win.

Tasini makes the point that two-thirds of New York voters oppose the war in Iraq. He has been outspoken in his opposition to it, and in his criticism of Senator Clinton for her vote for it.

He has also criticized Senator Clinton for her support of Israel's military action against Lebanon, which he opposes. Tasini is Jewish and has family members in Israel.

Insurmountable as Senator Clinton's advantages might seem, the recent victory of Ned Lamont over Senator Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary is an interesting parallel, and a measure of hope for Tasini's supporters.

Ithaca, with its reputation for progressive politics, has emerged as an important center for the Tasini campaign. A benefit concert for Tasini is scheduled for 7 p.m., Sunday, August 27, at Castaways, on Taughannock Boulevard.

The concert is sponsored by the Ithaca Progressive Democrats of America. Performers will include Hank Roberts, Michelle Berry, Radio London, Will Fudeman, and Susan Lytle. The suggested donation is $10. Tickets are available at the door, or in advance at Autumn Leaves, Ithaca Guitar Works, and Small World Music.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


The headline in today's New York Times reads: "Bombs Aimed at G.I.'s in Iraq Are Increasing."

The sub-head says, "The insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to statistics from the U.S. military in Baghdad."

The story gives the details: "... the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January... 'the insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,' said a senior Defense Department official... 'The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.' "

Sometimes, in discussing things like this, or trying to, if you're not immediately shut down by the sheer horror, you can be shut down by the seeming complexity. Of the geopolitics, the history, the factions, the torrent of events.

But for all the complexity, the story in the Times seems to reflect a simple truth: violence doesn't work.

Take it out of the realm of the Middle East, or geopolitics, or even politics. Take it back to the old neighborhood - or allow me to.

I read one time in a New York newspaper an interview with a Mafia captain. He was talking about conflict among Mob families and how "we try not to shoot anybody." The interviewer was a little incredulous. "Well, you know, " the Mob guy explained, "they shoot back."

We can probably say that he was expressing a practical consideration rather than a moral one. But the result can be the same, whatever the application.

Violence is wrong. Most religions and legal codes subscribe to that, even if our politicians don't, and somehow don't feel compelled to - and are not compelled to, either by courts or public opinion. But beyond that, violence doesn't work. Even if we can't be good enough to see that, we can at least be smart enough. And we can demand that standard from our leaders.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Food World

Okay, so the title "Food World" is a little large for what we're going to do today.

In the future, on Ithaca Blog, we're going to write about the gamut of good food in Ithaca. Supposedly, Ithaca has more restaurants per capita than any other city in America (I say supposedly because I have heard the same thing about San Francisco. And probably that town in Wisconsin that says it, not Ithaca, is the home of the ice cream sundae, has adopted this claim, too).

So: maybe, maybe not. But we do have a lot of eateries, and a lot of great ones, and certainly a lot of great vegetarian ones. In fact, one culinary claim that is probably indisputable is that Ithaca has the best ratio of vegetarian restuarants to McDonald's anyplace.

Ithaca also has a number of fine food retailers, whose efforts we will explore at length, and often.

But for right now, we're just going to look at a few little things that I like at a couple of our food stores.

1. Bulk cookies at Wegman's. They are cheap. They are good. And you don't have to buy a whole big bag. Whole big bags tend to go a little stale a little too fast, or - the opposite problem - get finished a little too fast. Buying in bulk you can buy 60 or 70 cents worth and be happy as you thwart your natural desire (perhaps I should speak only for myself) towards gleeful (temporarily) gluttony. Try the chocolate chip.

2. Did you ever notice that sponges cost too much? You have to buy a pack of 2 or 3, and they are a little expensive for something you are going to make filthy and throw out. GreenStar Co-op sells individual packaged sponges for 99 cents, and they're good, with a scrubby side on top. They also sell scrubby-rags, two to a pack, for about the same price. Keep that kitchen clean for cheap.

3. Among monthly specials at GreenStar, in August they have quart bottles of Recharge flavored sports drink (natural Gatorade) for 99 cents. Three different flavors. I am drinking the orange right now, but I prefer the lemon. They also are selling an excellent brand of tuna fish for 99 cents. I buy each every time I go in there (and I go in there a lot - my shop, Small World Music, is two blocks away). I have to resist the impulse to tell other shoppers there that if they walk out of the store without those items, they are suckers. Actually, I usually don't resist that impulse. I say it nicer, though.

4. Wegman's and GreenStar both sell one-pound bags of organic carrots for 99 cents. They are a great snack, and an excellent antidote, or at least counterpoint, to cookies.

That's it for now. There will be plenty more to come, as I am an inveterate eater, and a great believer in being cheaper off, and encouraging good food sellers. If you are similar, please check back often.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Car Sharing in Ithaca: Revving Up

Is Ithaca ready to become the latest U.S. city to adopt a car sharing program? A coalition of public and private groups here think so, and are working to make it happen soon, perhaps as soon as this winter.

Ithaca Car Share comprises public and private groups in Ithaca and Tompkins County that see the benefits of reducing the number of cars on our roads: benefits to individuals, freed from expensive and often wasteful car ownership (imagine owning a house, for example, that you only used for an hour a day?), and benefits to the community, which is on the verge, or maybe past it, of automotive overload on our roads.

Already on board are the city, the county, Cornell, Ithaca College, TCAT, EcoVillage, Ithaca Hours, and other civic groups and businesses.

These various groups have various interests in promoting a car sharing program. But through many months of meetings they have seen that their interests overlap rather than compete.

Studies show that a carshare vehicle eliminates from 6 to 23 cars from the road, depending on the organization and locality. Think about that the next time you are trying to drive up east hill via Green and State Streets at 8 a.m. on a weekday. The city and county are sure thinking about it, and how much it could ease their road maintenance budgets.

Studies also show that CO2 emissions are reduced by about 50% for every participant. Thus EcoVillage's interest. Presumably, EcoVillage residents, as individuals, are also interested in the financial savings of reducing car dependency, eliminating the need for a second family car, etc.

Ithaca Hours is interested in the prospects of cutting car expenses for individuals, thus freeing up money to spend at local businesses, for local resources, to fill healthier needs. Hours has put forth an offer for an interest-free loan in local currency to the project.

TCAT, like the city and county, has an interest in less congested roads. It is also interested in promoting all ideas and efforts for better transportation in the areas it serves.

Cornell and Ithaca College - again, like the city and county - would like to reduce the amount of money and space they allocate to accomodating a mass of vehicles that might never lessen without positive action.

The colleges see car sharing as a valuable employee benefit and recruitment tool. Large local businesses do, too.

What can car sharing do for you? It is pleasant to contemplate the savings, and the creative community possibilities. You can find out more at Ithaca Car Share's website:

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Monday, August 14, 2006

Coming Soon: Big Car Sharing Effort

Ithaca Blog will continue our series of articles on alternatives to automobile ownership in Ithaca by branching out a bit, and meeting with some people who are very active in bringing car sharing to Ithaca - for real, and soon.

The meeting is set for Tuesday 15 August. We will have all the details right here, as soon as possible, on what's happening and when.

Thanks for reading, and please stay with us, and tell your friends how to find us!

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Reviews: Cinemapolis and Fall Creek Cinema

In our first Ithaca Blog posting about entertainment, we raised some issues of viewer's rights to comfort and joy, as it were, at the movies.

Why is it that people are so particular about movies they see - checking reviews, etc. - but not about where they see them? Probably because reviews of venues don't exist.

Until now. And we are happy to report that the state of the cinema - not only the art form, but the forum - is good in Ithaca.

If you've lived here a while, you know we have two independent movie houses downtown: Cinemapolis, and Fall Creek Cinema.

They can be a little hard to discover. Fall Creek Cinema is at the northern fringe of town, at the end of North Tioga St. Cinemapolis is right on the Commons, but down a flight of stairs from street level, with only a small marquee in an alley to announce it.

Once discovered, however, they become cinematic homes away from home for the movie- lover who still cherishes the public aspect of movie viewing.

The glory days of the movie houses were before the days of home air conditioning, so a chill movie house was a big draw in the summer. In Ithaca today, where home a.c. is still rare, it still is.

There's a question of whether a theater in August without good a.c. is even bearable. A good question. Maybe for real art lovers, it doesn't matter. But as barrister Roy Cohn once said, I don't want to know the law, I want to know the judge. So, give me a good movie, yeah. But show it in a box with bad a.c., and there goes the art form, for me.

We are happy to report that trips to both cinemas in the first week of August revealed two well-modulated a.c. systems. Comfortably cool - but not too cold. (Personal standards vary, of course, so the delicate might want to bring a sweater, or at least sleeves.)

Concessions at both cinemas are commendable. Good popcorn, with inventive and healthful toppings available. A good selection of drinks. And a good selection of candies, reasonably priced. (Our choice was a big box of Sno-Caps, for $1.50. No need to stop at the gas station for cut-rate Rolos.)

They do everything right, pretty much, at these movie houses. Comfortable seats. Consistent showtimes. No commercials. Repeat: no commercials.

And a friendly environment, at both places, where chances are you will see people you know, or might like to know, and can get to know. Visit Lost Dog Cafe or Maxies or Benchwarmers after the movie, and extend the pleasure. And think about how good it is to be able to do that, the next time you're thinking about Netflix.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Movie Reviews: the Ithaca Blog Way

In the planning stages of Ithaca Blog, the question came up of whether, in covering life in Ithaca, we would review food and movies.

Food, surely. It provides a legitimate, perpetual excuse to get out and meal up. ("Mealing Up", in fact, will be the name of the section, starting soon.)

But movies? If you need a good movie review online, you can go to the New York Times. Instead we thought we would review movie theaters.

You know, when they review cars, they don't review what they looked at while they drove . They review the conveyance they were in.

Same with us for movie theaters. We want to know about the conveyance experience.

We want to know about the air conditioning. This is important. How ironic would it be to go see Al Gore's movie about global warming while sitting miserable in an un-air conditioned, windowless steambath? Very ironic.

On the other hand, you don't want to be sitting there with overactive air conditioning turning the sweat in your t-shirt to tiny ice crystals. It makes it hard to relax. It's already hard enough to relax with Al Gore.

And how are the concessions? First-rate, second-rate, or rank? This is important if you're in a rush and you need to know how sufficiently you need to meal before the movie. Can you save time by having coffee and a brownie at the theater? Will you be happy with that decision when you pay, and more importantly, ingest?

These are the questions. Having raised them, we are happy to answer them, in our next installment in Ithaca Blog: reviews of what we found this week at our downtown cinemas, Cinemapolis and Fall Creek, in the first week of August 2006.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Car Owning: A Compromise

In four previous pieces here on Ithaca Blog, we've looked at TCAT, Tompkins County's bus system, and analyzed its operations, and seen that TCAT has much to offer Ithacans looking for alternatives to polluting, expensive, wasteful automobile ownership.

A couple of drawbacks to being without a car: car ownership is convenient, and a car is helpful to one's social standing, or at least social life. These drawbacks have already been acknowledged and accepted.

But of course, they can't be dismissed.

As a healthy fellow, living downtown, single, I can take care of a lot of my needs without a car. But it's a lot harder for someone with a family, or poor health, or living in a remote area.

The status issue, I do feel. Earlier in this series we mentioned the "loser" aspect of being without a car. A good self-image can help that. But what is hard to help, is becoming a ride mooch on your friends.

You don't want to. You try not to. But say you're making plans with someone, and they're driving, and you're not. You will end up riding with them. Once, twice, a few times. It's no big deal . Yet.

You will try to make it up to them. You'll buy gas. You'll pay for the movie. But guess what? They will still end up getting annoyed. At least a little. Maybe not soon. But eventually.

Let's give them full credit. No friend wants to be valued for their resources, or their convenience. That's how it can feel.

So it is really a matter of autonomy. Pardon the pun. Your driving friend is autonomous, and wants you to be, too.

It's a large issue. Because, ironically, autonomy is a big part of getting away from cars in the first place. How autonomous do you feel at the gas pump, paying three dollars a gallon to burn into the sky, because you have somewhere to go, and you don't have a choice? Paying what they tell you, when they tell you? I'm from Brooklyn and I know that relationship. That's the relationship between addict and dealer.

The oil companies, of course, make profits drug dealers only dream of.

The solution, maybe, in fighting one dependence without adopting another, is to replace car owning with car sharing. And to use shared cars along with public transportation, biking, and walking.

The movement for car sharing is flourishing in Europe and now, with the awareness of global warming and the rise in gas prices here, finally in the U.S. Recently, in Ithaca, there have been meetings among some groups interested in bringing the idea here. The next turn in this Ithaca Blog series on carlessness will be to chart this movement, see what it's about, what the options are, and see how the effort can be hastened.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog