Posts tagged Albany

Metropolitan secession

(Via Serf City 2008-01-31.)

Here’s something I mentioned some time back during a conversation about secession, decentralism, and decoupling the revolutionary doctrine of secession from the noxious notion of states’ rights:

I mean, one kind of decentralist politics that you might endorse would be to advocate the secession of urban centers from the surrounding states and a decentralist order that’s partly based on people forming a network of poleis around these urban centers. Certainly there are a number of cities (New York, San Francisco, Detroit, Austin, Atlanta …) where enough people are disgusted enough with their state governments that this kind of idea might have some real traction. After all, the power of suburban and exurban and rural counties to lord it over cities through majoritarian control of the state government is, or at least ought to be, just as much a concern for decentralists as the reverse.

So it’s interesting to read that Peter Vallone, a City Council rep from Queens, was proposing something like that earlier this year—stressing, in particular, the way that Albany’s tax-eaters parasitically exploit the wealth that the City produces, and the futility of trying to make your voice heard in a majoritarian regime where you’re outnumbered and have no right of exit:

Emboldened by Mayor Bloomberg’s testimony in Albany this week that the city’s taxpayers pay the state $11 billion a year more than they get back, a City Council member is offering legislation that would begin the process of having New York City secede from New York State.

Peter Vallone Jr., a Democrat who represents Queens, is pushing the idea, and the Council plans to hold a hearing on the possibility of making New York City the 51st state.

I think secession’s time has definitely come again, Mr. Vallone, who spearheaded a similar push in 2003, told The New York Sun yesterday. If not secession, somebody please tell me what other options we have if the state is going to continue to take billions from us and give us back pennies. Should we raise taxes some more? Should we cut services some more? Or should we consider seriously going out on our own?

During a visit to Albany this week, Mr. Bloomberg called on lawmakers to give the city its fair share of tax revenue and said that the state took in $11 billion more from New York City than was returned in the state budget. Mr. Vallone says that the state’s demands on the city in worsening economic times now make it necessary to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them.

Not only is it about self-determination and self-rule, but it’s about fairness, Mr. Vallone said. It’s something we see every year in the budget. They take $11 billion from us and give us back a mere pittance and they make it seem like they’re doing us a favor to give that pittance back. Somehow they missed the point that that is New York City’s own tax money and we deserve it.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

Of course, Vallone is an elected Democrat, and like any politician, he takes a perfectly good radical idea and waters it down with stupid concessions to power: immediately after decrying the way majoritarian state government swindles people in New York City and denies them control over the fruits of their own labor, he goes on to propose that New York City ought to fix it by seceding from New York State, and then subordinating itself directly to the majoritarian rule of the United States federal government as the 51st state. I suppose there’s something to be said for cutting out the middle-man, but if you think that’s going to stop you from having billions taken from you and getting a pittance back, well, I have a fine bridge in the autonomous city-state of Brooklyn that you might be interested in buying.

And, like a politician, he proposes a stupid means to his stated ends:

Mr. Vallone’s legislation would create a commission to study the issue and then recommend whether to put it to a referendum. Since secession would have to be approved by the Albany legislators, its passage would be unlikely.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

The idea of holding a direct referendum is fine; but making that referendum contingent on a politically-appointed council of Experts is a waste of time and energy. If you want New York City to be free, begging Albany to let your people go isn’t about to work. You’ve got to just start talking with your people about getting up and leaving, whether Albany likes it or not. I mean, Christ. Supposing that you talked it up and got it organized and actually had enough people in New York City behind you, what are they going to do about it? Boycott Manhattan? Invade the South Bronx? Why wait on their permission?

The answer, of course, is that this is most likely half-sincere at best, and in large part an act of pointless political grandstanding by Vallone, which he would not be attempting but for the fact hat he can be sure it won’t go anywhere. But even if his plan won’t, it’s very interesting, and worth the attention of genuine secessionists and real revolutionaries, that a party hack from Queens figures there’s enough of that kind of sentiment in his neighborhood that he can exploit it for an applause line. And that other dissident city council members would be willing to endorse the same logic in the course of public political debate:

Another to council member, Simcha Felder, who chairs the Governmental Operations committee, said the bill will be considered this year.

It certainly has merit, Mr. Felder said of the proposal. Why in the world should New York City be held hostage to the state? It just doesn’t make sense.

Mr. Felder acknowledged that the bill would face many hurdles, but said it deserved a debate.

I think the people in New York City are very interested for the most part in it. The question is the people outside New York City in New York State who have been eating the fruits of our labor for all this time. They aren’t going to be ready to just say forget about it.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

So don’t give them the opportunity. Why choose a strategy that requires you to wait on them to get ready for your freedom? If the people in New York City really are very interested, then do what every successful independence movement in history has done: stop worrying about what the people who oppress and exploit you will say about it. Get talking, get organized, declare independence and then, if the state keeps trying to issue you orders, act like you mean it — by ignoring those orders and treating the people who issue them the same way you’d treat any other lunatic who thinks he’s Napoleon. Of course, a strategy like that is hard. Of course, it’s likely to fail. (Lots of independence movements have.) Of course, it will take years to organize and win even if it doesn’t fail. But it is a strategy that might possibly succeed, which puts it ahead of plans for having the city government petition the state legislature. And it’s also a strategy we can start talking about now. And talking about that may start a lot of other conversations that are worth having, about taxes, war, empire, and the rest.

New York City ALLies: how many people do you know who are very interested in the idea of an independent New York City, which is no longer held hostage to the state? Remember that interest and sympathy and idle wishes are enough to start with: conviction and solidarity and organization are things that you can build by getting people to take the idea seriously, by educating them about it, by dispelling their ars, and by showing them that another City is possible. So, are there possibilities in doing anti-imperialist education, outreach, and, ultimately, organizing to free Occupied New York from the Empire State?

If so, let’s talk about how to do it. Maybe we can start in the comments here. Free the New York 8,274,527, and all political prisoners!

See also:

Gosh that’s tough

In a footnote on a generally appalling post, devoted entirely to abusing anyone who might have the temerity to hold the doing-worse-than-nothing Democratic Congressional majority in general — or Nancy Pelosi in particular — to account on matters of principle (a post which makes itself completely impossible to reply to with anything other than more abuse and facile sarcasm, because the post does not, at any point, identify any particular person or action that is being targeted, and so offers no basis for serious discussion), Anthony McCarthy has this to add:

Volunteering in a political campaign, seeing what they go through, I’m sick and tired of hearing people run down our [sic] politicians. They are just about all dedicated to pubic service. Few moderate to liberal Democrats serving in elective office at the national level couldn’t be enjoying a much more comfortable and profitable life pursuing a wealth-making career. With considerably fewer headaches. You think it’s such a bed of roses, try getting yourself elected. Try dodging the bullets and balancing the pressure groups.

It must be so hard on them.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is out there trying to dodge metaphorical bullets. If she doesn’t make it past those metaphorical bullets, then, sometime in early 2009, she’ll be demoted to a mere Representative, or might even have to look for a new well-paying white-collar job. Meanwhile, near Mosul, a woman and a child failed to dodge some actual bullets, when U.S. soldiers opened fire on their car.

They died.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A woman, a child and two gunmen were killed by U.S. forces conducting a military operation targeting al Qaeda in northern Iraq, the military said on Sunday.

It said U.S. forces fired on a car carrying suspected militants that refused to stop near the northern city of Mosul on Saturday.

… Iraqi and U.S. troops launched a major offensive in northern Iraq on Saturday against al Qaeda militants in the region.

— Dean Yates and Sami Aboudi, Reuters (2008-05-11): Two civilians killed in U.S. operation in N.Iraq

Those non-metaphorical bullets were paid for by the United States government. The reason that they keep getting paid for is that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi keeps on voting for the government to keep paying for it, and has used her considerable power and influence, both under parliamentary rules and through back-room party politics, to make sure that her fellow Democrats in Congress also go on voting to keep paying for it. (She is about to do her damnedest, along with her other political cronies, to do this yet again, and is trying to figure out how to ramrod the bill through Congress as quickly as possible.)

This war would be over if Pelosi didn’t choose to spend the past year and a half safeguarding her political career at the cost of perpetuating a murderous and disastrous occupation, which she herself recognizes as a bloody failure. The reason for this disgusting policy, forcing me and millions of other antiwar Americans to pay hundreds of billions of dollars over this past year and a half, for a war now almost universally recognized as a catastrophic mistake and an unrelenting failure, is that doing anything different is widely thought, among Democratic power-brokers like Pelosi, to be political suicide. (That’s the melodramatic metaphor that politicians and their enablers like to use to describe an act that will probably cause you to lose some measure of political power that you’d otherwise have some hope of seizing and holding onto. Thus it is endlessly used to justify, or excuse, politicians who sacrifice the very things that they supposedly wanted the power in order to achieve for the sake of the power itself. Thus, by rhetorically equating a hold on political power with life itself, power is treated as if it were an end-in-itself rather than what it is, a mere means to further ends, which are always more important.)

Let me tell you a story about something that happened less than 40 years ago. On April 9, 1970, the New York Assembly passed a new abortion law, which repealed almost all government restrictions on a woman’s right to choose abortion. The vote was extremely close. In fact, it was so close that the final round of floor voting resulted in a 74-to-74 tie. Without a tie-breaking vote, the repeal bill would be defeated, and the New York state government would go on coercing women in the name of forced pregnancy. But just before the clerk could declare the bill officially defeated, an upstate Assemblyman named George M. Michaels got up and took the microphone. He was a Democrat representing a conservative district, and while he was personally pro-choice, he knew that most of his constituents were anti-abortion, and would be outraged by a vote for the abortion bill. Here is what he did.

George Michaels (voice shaking): I fully appreciate that this is the termination of my political career…. But Mr Speaker, what’s the use of getting elected, or re-elected, if you don’t stand for something? … I therefore request you, Mr. Speaker, to change my negative vote to an affirmative vote.

So the bill passed. Abortion was completely decriminalized. But Michaels was right: it was the termination of his political career. He was running for re-election that year, and within weeks of the vote his political party formally announced that they were abandoning him. Two months later, Michaels was defeated in the Democratic Party primary. George Michaels’s political career was over. But abortion is still legal in the state of New York.

It’s one of the most admirable and important things an elected politician has ever done in the United States. And it was a deliberate act of political suicide.

Those who would never think of doing something like that, who dismiss the very idea of political suicide out of hand, with a shudder or a sneer, and who make self-pitying pleas about how much it would cost them to take some kind of stand — which is to say, sanctimonious excuses for clinging to power, no matter how much they sacrifice and betray in order to keep it — are worth less than nothing as political allies.

Further reading: