Tompkins County

Hogs are hovering

"This presentation is not intended to support or oppose gas drilling activities..."  We'll have to see, of course, but the presentation in question, called "Looking Down From Above" sounds an awful lot like this video (complete with Pete Seeger music)—and, really, don't we all regularly view our property from a helicopter? 

The video's found at the Fracking Resource Guide website, whose sources include Pro Publica, hardly a neutral organization. I'm guessing that it's as likely that this presentation at the VFW will be neither pro- nor anti-fracking as it is that pigs will, you know...

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More "It's a fact that it's a possibility":

Higher ed in upstate NY: a perspective

Commentary on Tuesday's post on higher ed in our area by Tom Reynolds:

In the past, we have been shielded from the worst of economic times and the assumption is that it will go on forever—and that's what always gets us into trouble.  People borrow too much, governments spend too much, people drink too much beer thinking that life isn't a pendulum and good things last forever.

Colleges have not had a recession since World War II ended because the government has poured money into education without ceasing and, in many cases, without getting appropriate results.

SUNY colleges want to make decisions like private colleges, but they want the public funding subsidy to continue so they will still have a huge competitive advantage over private schools.  Let SUNY Cortland and SUNY Geneseo compete for students against Ithaca College on equal tuition terms if the SUNY schools are unwilling to fulfill the purpose for which they were established: to make a lower cost college degree available to NY residents.

Private colleges are directly subsidized through grant programs (Bundy money for example) and indirect programs for student aid (TAP, Pell, etc.).  They are also subsidized through required professional certification and continuing education courses that are taught by faculty and through overhead rates on grants (lab science grants came with a 100% overhead rate when I was handling them. So, a $1 million grant gives half a million to the college, not to the project).

But over 40 cents of every dollar spent by the feds is borrowed and the national debt will soon reach $16 trillion on an annual budget of $4 trillion.  NY State has huge structural budget issues that it will not address.  And yet education expects to continue to be funded in the manner to which it has become accustomed.

College liberals and our Assemblywoman decry "Wall Street," but colleges actively seek multi-million dollar gifts from those who got the hated "Wall Street bonuses."  Individuals invest their pensions in "Wall Street" and "oil company" stocks, and college endowments are filled with those "greedy" investments.  Where was the righteous indignation from our Assemblywoman last year when Cornell got a multi-million dollar gift from a "Wall Streeter"?  Why wasn't she condemning it as the progeny of "Wall Street" greed?  Colleges depend upon large donations and when business suffers, the giving suffers. 

Remember, the money that makes our colleges run comes from outside the Tompkins County area.  Tompkins will not continue as an economic island if we are surrounded by a sinking economy.  What happens if the governments cut back?  Where will the tuition money come from if "Wall Street" and "Main Street" are in a long term recession? Colleges say that people come back for an education when economic times are tough.  But they come back on borrowed money because they don't have a job. 

Many areas of Cornell could continue relatively unchanged as they are selective enough to ease their admissions standards in order to keep a full house and continue to support Cornell faculty in the manner to which they have become accustomed.  Of course, faculty will publicly decry the drop in standards while privately celebrating their continuing jobs.  But some areas of Cornell are public and they will certainly feel the effect.  Non-faculty may not be so lucky.  When Cornell sneezes, Tompkins County gets the flu.

Ithaca College will be another matter.  Certainly, they have a few selective schools, but when I worked there, admissions to their Liberal Arts programs required little more than the proverbial "pulse."  It has been many years since I worked for IC, but I know that private liberal arts colleges have not been increasing their admissions standards over the ensuing years, and they are heavily depedent upon government-supported student aid to keep up their census and high tuition charges.  A long term downturn in the economy and government aid will have a significant effect on IC and it will cause more than a sneeze.       

SUNY Cortland was contemplating major furloughs a year ago during that year's state budget crises.  They will certainly be affected by any state cutbacks, more so than Cornell or IC.  Cortland County, unlike Tompkins County, does not have a history of economic isolation.  

These institutions will not close, but cutbacks will affect their entire industry in an area that is primarily dependent upon that industry.  House values will sink as jobs dissappear.  People have already been leaving upstate NY in droves and if education falters, there is nothing left to keep people here.  Taxes will go up even more as there are fewer jobs to provide tax dollars.

Any decent industry leader does not want to become dependent upon one source of revenue.  But in the past, our one source has kept Tompkins insulated from economic reality and our liberal leadership believes it will continue forever.  Maybe it will.  Then again, maybe it won't.  And if it doesn't, Tompkins will be in a bad spot in a state that is broke, with political leadership totally clueless as to what to do.

Higher ed in upstate NY: Knitting, eggs, baskets, and bubbles

Ithaca is actually on the radar of Greg David of Crain's New York Business:

The big success story upstate is Ithaca. Virtually untouched by the recession, Ithaca has added jobs almost every year since 2000. That area's most important industry? Higher education as it is the home of prestigious Cornell University and the well regarded Ithaca College.

The job numbers should be center stage in Albany because they show how higher education is the key to reviving the upstate economy. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw his support behind a plan to unleash the key SUNY campus from micromanaging by Albany--including deciding on their own tuition--so they can marshal the revenues to realize their potential. (A compelling case for the proposal is available on the Citizens Budget Commission website.)

The proposal is being blocked by downstate Assembly Democrats who worry that higher tuition will close the door to minority students. The claim is probably not true, and even if it is, the costs to upstate are devastating. The only alternative to giving SUNY the tools it needs is to condemn upstate to becoming even more a welfare ward of downstate. Is that what the Assembly Democrats really want?

In other words, upstate should stick to its proverbial knitting.  But is it wise to put all of upstate's eggs in one basket?

We've blogged about what may be a higher education bubble here and here. In 2010, Michael Barone, who spoke at Cornell recently, wrote in the Washington Examiner last September:

As often happens, success leads to excess. America leads the world in higher education, yet there is much in our colleges and universities that is amiss and, more to the point, suddenly not sustainable. The people running America's colleges and universities have long thought they were exempt from the laws of supply and demand and unaffected by the business cycle. Turns out that's wrong.

Read the whole thing.

And at TechCrunch is an interview with Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, hedge fund manager and venture capitalist, in which he says

A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed.  Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.

And as the interviewer, Sarah Lacey, continues

It used to be a given that a college education was always worth the investment– even if you had to take out student loans to get one. But over the last year, as unemployment hovers around double digits, the cost of universities soars and kids graduate and move back home with their parents, the once-heretical question of whether education is worth the exorbitant price has started to be re-examined even by the most hard-core members of American intelligensia.

Again, read the rest.

So if upstate NY does decide to stick to its existing knitting rather than diversifying, and at the same time potential students (or their parents) start to figure out that it might be wiser to acquire higher education in some non-traditional way (such as distance learning), or build up a work history and become self-sufficient earlier, thus becoming able to take more risks because they haven't racked up buckets of debt—what then? What happens to upstate? Wouldn't it just become "even more a welfare ward of downstate" anyway?

As we've said here before, the laws of economics don't stop at the state—or county—line.

This should sound frighteningly familiar

As we noted in an earlier post, "The town and city of Ithaca, the Town of Dryden and Tompkins County are all members of ICLEI."

For additional information on ICLEI, see "Do You Live In a One-World-Government ‘Sustainable’ Community Yet?"  A few points:

  • "ICLEI, or the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, was established in 1990 at the World Congress of Local Governments for a Sustainable Future, at the United Nations in New York."
  • "Sustainability” and ICLEI and United Nation’s Agenda 21, which was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, are synonymous."

and best of all

  • "ICLEI member cities pay their annual dues using local taxpayer money, which is used to pay city employees who work to carry out ICLEI’s programs."

So what do we do about this? "The ICLEI membership is renewable annually. Go all-out Alinsky on this! Stop the renewal..."

And read the whole thing.
 
h/t David

Icky ICLEI

More goodies from today's Ithaca Journal, this time the "Guest Viewpoint:"

Local governments have led the effort in recent years to envision, accelerate and achieve strong climate protection goals. The 600 local governments that are members of a national network called ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability, have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 23 million tons in 2005 alone. This translates into about $600 million in annual cumulative savings, largely on energy expenditures. The town and city of Ithaca, the Town of Dryden and Tompkins County are all members of ICLEI.

[...]

Town of Dryden

* Energy efficiency upgrades at highway department completed.

* Geothermal system and high-efficiency lighting added to town hall facility.

* Provided funding for local residents to get energy audits.

* Sustainability planner hired (who is the person writing this piece--tvm)

* Energy coordinator to be hired in 2011.

* Sustainability planning process under way.

Sounds unimpeachably wonderful, doesn't it? Well, as many people who have been paying attention to the zoning and sustainability discussions (and, yes, they are connected as noted in an earlier post) in Dryden are aware, not so much. Poke around the ICLEI website, and then take a look at the "ICLEI Primer: Your Town and Freedom Threatened."  Sound familiar?

Village Squared, and some nuggets from the "Tompkins County Election Worker News"

I know, I know—the newsletter sounds like a snoozer.  It's not, really.  Two things:

95 Years of Election Results Online

We [the Tompkins County Board of Elections] recently completed a major project to compile, digitize, and make available Tompkins County Election Results dating back to 1915. Many staff members and interns took part in the various steps to make this possible. Decades of results handwritten in old ledger books had to be entered into an Excel database, proofed, then turned into a format that could be viewed online, and uploaded. As far as we know, we're one of the few, or perhaps only county in the US to have such detailed information online. Check it out on our website, www.votetompkins.com.

Might be useful for students, or maybe there's something there for real writers (certainly not yours truly) to draw on for a historical novel or a nonfiction book.  Or it might just be fun for local history/local politics junkies.  If anybody discovers something interesting, please share.

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IMPORTANT DATES

March 15: Village Elections in Cayuga Heights, Dryden, Groton and Trumansburg. Polls open noon to 9 p.m.

April 26: Lansing Village Election. Polls open noon to 9 p.m.

Sept.13: Primary Election. Polls open noon to 9 p.m.

November 8: General Election Polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

This a big “local” year. Although there are no State or Federal offices on the ballot, there are almost fifty offices across the County up for election. See votetompkins.com for a complete list.

The complete Election Workers newsletter may be found here

And even though there are no federal, state, or even Tompkins County offices up this year (all the offices on the ballots are either village or town), 2011 is important locally and 2012 elections are right around the corner.  Go to VillageSquared, sign up, and also become a member of one or more of the "Groups" that appear on the right-hand side of the page. So far, there are groups for folks represented by Lifton, O'Mara, Nozzolio, Seward, Hinchey, and Hanna, as well as a Village of Dryden group and a Town of Ulysses/Village of Trumansburg group.  We're going to want to hit the ground running, so go sign up toot sweet.

"...you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas."

Mark Finkelstein? No, Davy Crockett. Has that same slap-in-the-face kind of feel to it, though. Another kulak flees the gulag.  Over at Legal Insurrection:

And now after 25 years in Ithaca, Mark is fulfilling the dream of approximately one-half of Northeasterners.  He's moving to Texas.

Redistricting--Discover the Networks

The NY League of Women Voters (LWV) held redistricting information sessions today in Ithaca. Their PowerPoint presentation may be found here, and the position paper supporting it here.

The "Discover the Networks" in the post title refers to David Horowitz's website of that name, which is described as "a guide to the political left." It's a treasure trove, a veritable candy store, of information about all those groups and individuals that you always suspected were connected, only you weren't sure how. Now you'll know. The national LWV has its very own page here. Enjoy.

The value of an education

In an area that tends to be education-centric thanks to the nature of major employers in the county, it's not unreasonable to ask what exactly is the value of a four-year degree these days.  I've had conversations with fairly recent (as in the last few years) college graduates that have caused me to wonder, "You have a bachelor's degree?" Well, apparently the evidence is no longer just anecdotal:

Report: First two years of college show small gains

By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY

Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows.

I don't think the situation improves much thereafter, frankly, but you can read the whole thing.

Thinking back, I now realize that everything I needed to know I learned by the end of 8th grade. Really. High school (and I attended one of the specialized public high schools in NYC that you had to take an entrance exam to get into) and college (the college also served as the convent for the same sisters that taught me through the 8th grade—and they were not a bunch of habited nimrods, but highly intelligent and degree-laden women who taught courses at the college as well as the classes in our otherwise quite typical and unexceptional parochial school) were just the icing on the cake.  Isn't that the way it should be, for everybody, everywhere? Instead we are, societally speaking, like food photographers who take pictures of luscious-looking "cakes" whose fondant décor has been carefully applied to a cardboard base. And at great expense, in terms of both money and opportunity cost.  Honestly, now—does this make sense?

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