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A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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August 6, 2011

Paul Tonko Does The Right Thing

The President and the Republicans continue to compromise the economy, but our Congressional representative stands firm

The other week I received a form letter from my Congressman, Paul Tonko, thanking me for contacting his staff over the phone “with my concerns.” I get these impersonal mailings from politicians fairly often. Usually I rip them open, scan the words quickly, laugh or snarl or shrug. Then I very carefully file them away for immediate recycling.

Congressman Paul Tonko, NY 21
Congressman Paul Tonko, NY 21

This doesn’t mean I don’t take these politician form letters seriously. But all too often our elected officials, particularly the big State and Federal politicians, have nothing to say to us voters other than to justify their latest lies and corporate giveaways. As such I’ve noted that the quality of the words contained in a politician form letter corelates directly to the quality of the sender.

Once in a while I get a politician form letter that is worth reading. Usually I consider these letters notable because I consider them Evidence. I show them to other people so I can rant at my victims about politics. Sometimes the letters end up on this blog so I can rant about local politics to people on the other side of the world.

This particular letter from Mr. Tonko was actually an email that looked exactly like one of those official Congressional dead tree letters delivered by mail carrier. Of all the taxpayer funded constituent letters that I regularly recieve, Mr. Tonko’s is the only one who uses email in such a cost saving way. Quite unusual for a Baby Boomer in his early sixties.

This is what Mr. Tonko had to say in his form letter, right at top:

Medicare and Social Security are two of the most successful government programs in U.S. history, and I am committed to ensuring their success well into the future. It is because of programs like these that we are living better, longer, and healthier lives than in the past. I pledge to do all I can to preserve these essential social safety nets. This is a time to ensure a strong future for Social Security and Medicare, not the time to cut benefits, as many in Washington are proposing.

This e-letter came because a week or so earlier I had been moved to call Mr. Tonko’s office to weigh in on the National Budget Farce that was then playing out in the corporate media. Right now everyone is saturated with information about how our extreme radical right wing corporate socialist president Barack Obama has been “compromising” with America’s enemies to further weaken and possibly destroy our country.

But everyone will completely forget about these past months of intense noise in less than a week. There will be no collective memory of how, once again, in the summer of 2011, we were all bullcrapped by the corporate politicians into making us regular folks a little poorer. Again. So for the record I’ll reiterate while the trail of slime left by the crime is still wet and sticky.

Congressman Paul Tonko, NY 21
Corporate Socialists Play Golf, House Speaker John Boehner Teams With President Barack Obama in June.

For the past few months the corporate media has been screaming something like this: “The United States will go into default on August 1st and everything will go to hell. The Re-pubs in the House of Representatives are trying to trim the bloated budget and the Democratic president is trying to hang on to unwanted entitlement programs. It’s a standoff! Gosh, what will happen next? Who will win the contest?”

That’s what the corporations were telling us through their media. What really happened is that the corporate socialist Republicans were being strongly encouraged by our corporate socialist Democratic President to gut and destroy our very successful Social Security program. And these “leaders” were also falling all over each other to eviscerate and ultimately murder our very successful Medicare program because, as we all know, both parties are rabidly opposed to cost-saving single payer health systems.

Oh, and as an aside, Obama and the Re-pubs discussed (and eventually agreed) to cut taxes for the top two percent richest persons and corporations. At the same time they are hiking middle class taxes. That’s what happens when you “compromise” with Re-pubs. Your taxes go up. Again.

Boehner And Obama
Boehner And Obama

Obama and the Re-pubs want to dismantle Social Security and flush all of our saved money down a big toilet called The Stock Market, after which we taxpayers will never see that money again. They also desperately want to destroy the highly successful Medicare program because it continuously demonstrates that single payer health works way better and is way less expensive than corporate health.

The overwhelming majority of American people are opposed to destroying these rare returns on our taxes. However, ignoting their despised constituents, Obama and the Re-pubs were bahaving as if the American people were nothing but a bunch of Teabagger Dittoheads angrily demanding to be further impoverished. They acted out a transparent farce, a dance with the corporate media, and they pointedly ignored the needs of the American people. Again.

Finally, on August 1st, Obama “compromised” with his Republican Party comrades. The corporate socialists announced through their media that they were deferring the planned takedown of Social Security and Medicare until some point when the American people aren’t paying attention. Don’t worry folks, they won’t quit working against us, and they won’t quit working for their corporate masters.

Paul Tonko With A Constituent
Paul Tonko With A Constituent

It was one of those endless emails from some advocacy group which I more or less agree with that caused me to call Mr. Tonko’s Washington DC office. They told me I ought to call my Congressional representative, so I did. Why not.

The call, which I made in the middle of the day, was handled efficiently by one of Mr. Tonko’s staffers. I felt like I was actually being heard. I made the call at a time when apparently hardly anyone was calling to weigh in on this issue, so the fellow on the other end seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.

I figured out a long time ago that if you are the first to weigh in on an issue then you will get the most consideration. That is, the politician or staffer or whatever will either be glad I called or will be very annoyed. That would depend on how well my opinion agrees with the person I’m calling.

Allow me to share my experience here. If I call a politician with a disagreement I will be treated coldly by his or her staffers, sometimes with surprise or annoyance. Naturally. But all too often I will call to agree with a politician’s stated policy, and by the staffer’s reaction to my agreement will discover that politician is being publicly duplicious. I’ll hear a nice, vague reply delivered through gritted teeth. Lying always takes effort.

President Obama Explains Compromise In July
President Obama Explains Compromise In July

About a week after I made that call to Mr. Tonko’s DC office, the Hearst-owned Albany Times Union put on its front page Barack Obama’s appeal to readers to call their Congressional member. No doubt Obama and the corporate media editors assumed that a few dozen Teabag Dittoheads would then scream at and threaten their local representatives, while the vast majority of taxpayers would not bother to call.

The ploy backfired. The usual handful of deluded Teabaggers called to scream nonsense, but crowds of responsible people called and showed up outside of congressional offices. Mr. Tonko’s staffers were swamped with people angrily demanding that he defend Social Security and Medicare. But see, he was already there. I’ve got the letter to prove it.

It is one thing for Paul Tonko to say in a constituent letter that he is firmly opposed to attempts by the corporate radicals to destroy Social Security and Medicare. But we should never judge a politician by what he or she says, good lord they all say whatever you want to hear at the moment. We judge them by their actions, which means for a Congressional representative we judge them by their votes.

Paul Tonko Earlier This Year
Paul Tonko Earlier This Year

On August 1st Paul Tonko voted against the budget farce “compromise.” He issued this statement immediately:

I cannot support this job-destroying plan -- and the reasons are simple. It asks for sacrifice from the middle class, while protecting tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, subsidies for big oil, and corporate tax loopholes. It threatens to weaken Medicare and Social Security benefits. And it calls for cuts in domestic spending that will send more people to the unemployment line and weaken the economy.

Overwhelmingly, my constituents have been calling my office to demand a balanced solution with shared sacrifice rather than an assault on the middle class. They want to protect Medicare and Social Security -- and they want us to take action to create more jobs. This plan bows to the will of ideological extremists and wealthy special interests. It ignores the will of the American people and will further deepen the jobs crisis that continues to be my district’s number one concern.”

Two times over, I have voted in favor of plans to end this debacle, but I cannot vote for a bill that ends a manufactured default crisis by deepening a very real jobs crisis.”

I must say that I never imagined that I would live to hear an elected official who depended on my vote make such an amazing statement so full of raw truth. This is a man who is not just standing up to the corporations and their obnoxious Teabaggers. Mr. Tonko is effectively rebuking the President himself, the alleged leader of his own party.

That takes a lot of courage and it takes a lot of nerve. You know the man has been under a lot of pressure to conform to Barack Obama’s latest corporate socialist giveaway. You have to admire someone who chooses to do what’s right instead of what’s safe and convenient at the moment.

Paul Tonko Easily Out-Debating His Re-pub Opponent (at right) Last October
Paul Tonko Easily Out-Debating His Re-pub Opponent (at right) Last October

There is a lingering threat to Paul Tonko because of his firm stance against corporate socialism. Democratic office holders are always at risk of a carefully choreographed media takedown, a problem which Re-pubs never have to worry about. (Re-pubs worry about rogue bloggers.) I’m sure Mr. Tonko is aware of his vulnerability and has judged the risk worthwhile.

Make no mistake about it, Barack Obama is an executive like his predecessors Dick Cheney and Dub Yuh, jealous of his own power and vengeful. Like them he is perfectly capable of sending the White House “Justice” Department to work with corporate outfits like the NY Times to smear a politician’s good name. These wicked birds of prey pick up on a Democratic politician’s breadcrumb sins and regurgitate them into a phony scandal.

Not that Mr. Tonko has any notable sins to pick at, not that I’ve heard. But he is indeed human, and human beings have vulnerabilities. The White House Corporate Media Smear Machine doesn’t need much to destroy a perceived opponent. I’m sure that if Obama decides to take down Mr. Tonko, he will do so with the enthusiastic support of his Republican comrades.

I have observed how the local corporate media workers are under orders to supress positive news about Mr. Tonko. Take, for example, this incident from the Martin Luther King celebration in my neighborhood this past February.

I noticed Mr. Tonko talking closely with local neighborhood activist Willie White after the Memorial ceremony for Dr. King. It was clear to me that the two of them were up to something. A moment later Willie, his arm around Paul Tonko’s shoulders, was delivering Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech from memory. I stumbled over the snow banks and managed to snap off one photo of the moment.

Paul Tonko And Willie White In My Neighborhood Last January
Paul Tonko And Willie White In My Neighborhood Last January

And right there beside me was one of the Hearst Times Union picture snappers, who had noticed my sudden interest and followed me to see what was up. (They often do that.) But as Mr. White recited the speech, the Hearst employee just stood there with his camera lowered. As soon as Willie was done reciting and had started to walk away, that is, as soon as Mr. Tonko was out of the picture the content provider raised his camera and snapped away.

I wish I had saved the snapshot that then appeared in the dead tree version of the Hearst Rag. It was of Mr. White walking away from the scene unaware that he was being photographed. A lousy picture, but it was politically acceptable to the corporation. And that’s what counts, not quality.

William F. Burroughs talked about how people obey “the policeman within.” I would say that the content providers for the corporate media serve “the CEO within,” who guides and shapes their thoughts and keeps them obedient.

Paul Tonko Debates Another Re-pub
Paul Tonko Debates Another Re-pub

Three years ago Mr. Tonko entered the 21st District Congressional race months after the campaign had started. Largely because of his familiar name and largely because of his record in the NY State Assembly this turned out to be a strategy that worked beautifully. I had already been committed to what I and a lot of other people considered the best candidate so I certainly did not switch my support to Mr. Tonko. That would have been a lame thing to do. But I was happy to see him win.

Mr. Tonko was not at all a “freshman” his first year in Congress, he had spent some 24 years representing Amsterdam in the Assembly and was already quite familiar with the legislative process. Indeed his time in the Assembly was rather outstanding. Because of this practical experience, almost from the start of his Congressional term he has proven accessible and effective.

I think that the candidate I supported, Phil Steck from Colonie, would have done a good job. But Mr. Steck’s was inexperienced, his short stint in the Albany County Legislature did not match Mr. Tonko’s long experience swimming in the State toilet bowl. Mr. Tonko already knew how to swim and how to get along with all the floating turds.

Former Congressman Michael McNulty  (At Right) Congratulates Paul Tonko
Former Congressman Michael McNulty (At Right) Congratulates Paul Tonko

Mr. Tonko’s predecessor Michael McNulty, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, always played to the corporate media first and did little more than humor his constituents. Part of the reason he behaved that way is that before the internet (circa 2005) there was only the corporate media, and for the most part McNulty’s constituents thought and spoke exclusively the way the corporate owners wanted them to think.

To a certain extant McNulty’[s subsevience to the corporate media was understandable, back then the corporate media reigned supreme and could have made McNulty’s life intolerable. But I don’t recall McNulty ever trying to get around the corporate media, he was content to float along letting the corporations do his thinking for him.

Paul Tonko Gave A Rousing Speech At The Working Families Awards Dinner Last April
Paul Tonko Gave A Rousing Speech At The Working Families Awards Dinner Last April

One cannot help but admire Mr. Tonko’s independence from the corporate media. Of course he is no fool, he treats all of the media as the dangerous and unpredictable thing that it is. But over the past few years I have observed that he consistently listens to his consttituents first, and deals with the media second. That’s a difficult job that takes experience, but somehow Mr. Tonko almost makes it look easy.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m proud of my Congressional representative. He sees the situation clearly and stands up to the people who are causing the problems. When eventually those people try to take him down, well, it’s not much, but he’s got my support.

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If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by:Barbara
Posted on:08/07/2011
I was just thinking that I had misjudged him myself. It was when I heard that he voted against extending the Patriot Act.

Posted by:cek
Posted on:08/19/2011
I couldn't agree with you more. Paul Tonko is present at every local event, every demonstration -- and his interest and support are genuine. I find him extraordinarily responsive to constituents. When he was in the Assembly and we lived in northern Fulton County we were impressed that he routinely showed up for events held outside his district attended by people who couldn't vote for him.

After a lifetime as a registered Democrat, two years of Obama forced me to change my registration. Fortunately I can still vote for Tonko in the general, and I continue to hope there are others on the local level who prove to have some modicum of integrity and don't reveal themselves to be part of the Dark Side once they're in office.

Posted by:Leo
Posted on:09/08/2011
I am very impressed with Paul Tonko. He gave a great keynote speech at Albany's Labor Day Solidarity picnic, focusing on the interrelationship between labor unions and the creation/survival of the middle class and noting at one point: "It's our time to get loud in the streets." Part of that presentation is on the website of the Sanctuary for Independent Media (and on YouTube) at (where his part ends at about 4:30 of a 10:35 video).

Posted by:octavian61
Posted on:03/29/2012
Corporate Socialists? Obama? Repubs? Them two in bed together? Are you kidding me? I have called Tonko's office and spoke to one of his handlers with a disagreement. I was very respectful to the young man on the phone. He said that he would tell the comgressman about it and hungup on me before I had the chance to thank him for taking my call. Typical politicain. When they agree with you, they treat you very nicly. If you don't they treat you coldly. I'm reminded of Sen Harry Reid stating that all visitors to the Capitol smell badly. That is how they think about us.

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