Archive | March, 2009

Oversell at the Times

29 Mar

The New York Times published a piece a few days ago entitled, “Reinventing America’s Cities”. It recounts how during the ’80s and ’90s, while the US was in full Reaganomics-small-government-is-good-government mode, Europe was building things like an efficient high-speed rail network, and doing so in an environmentally sensitive way. The piece mentions how several European cities are contemplating change.

It then turns to US cities and brings up the New Deal’s WPA and Eisenhower’s interstate program as examples of our country making that sort of groundbreaking change.

The problem in America is not a lack of ideas. It is a tendency to equate any large-scale government construction project, no matter how thoughtful, with the most brutal urban renewal tactics of the 1950s. One result has been that pioneering projects that skillfully blend basic infrastructure with broader urban needs like housing and park space are usually killed in their infancy. Another is that we now have an archaic and grotesquely wasteful federal system in which upkeep for roads, subways, housing, public parkland and our water supply are all handled separately.

With money now available to invest again in such basic needs, I’d like to look at four cities representing a range of urban challenges and some of the plans available to address them. Though none of the plans are ideal as they stand today (and some of them represent only the germ of an idea), evaluated and addressed together as part of a coordinated effort, they could begin to form a blueprint for making our cities more efficient, sustainable and livable.

  • New Orleans: needs to rebuild almost from scratch.
  • Los Angeles: give the Los Angeles River its natural flow and riverbank again, and the Metro should run along Wilshire Blvd.
  • the Bronx: demolish some of the Bruckner and Sheridan Expwy, freeing up 28 acres of land for housing
  • Buffalo: don’t expand the Peace Bridge plaza, thus requiring the demolition of 5 blocks’ worth of homes on the West Side.
  • Regardless of how you feel about expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza (I favor shared border management, with all inspection carried out on the Fort Erie side of the river), I fail to see how that would be a “reinvention” of Buffalo. Halting yet another in a long line of bad ideas? Sure. A victory for that neighborhood? Naturally. But reinventing the city?

    Seems a bit of an oversell.

    Daily News Takes on Albany

    29 Mar

    The New York Daily News is doing a series called “Capitol Offenses”, detailing and recounting Albany’s colossal suckitude.

    Battered by an unprecedented national economic meltdown, New York is suffering an enormous, well-chronicled fiscal crisis. Spending must be slashed, or taxes must be raised, or both – all within the next few days.

    But no one has any idea what proposals Gov. Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco and Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos have put on the table.

    Beyond the most general outlines, no one outside a small circle knows what programs will be cut and by how much, or how high certain taxes will rise. Although politically connected lobbyists have been hard at work, the public at large has had no say over any of the matters.

    Neither house has introduced a budget bill, let alone held a hearing. Both houses have blatantly disregarded rules requiring them to settle differences in public in conference committees – standard in Congress and state legislatures across the country.

    But not in New York. In New York, lawmakers can do as little as they please in the open. Because they have, with methodical efficiency, rigged the system to deny would-be candidates fair shots at challenging incumbents.

    Then, established as impregnable, they have all but eliminated ethics and financial disclosure rules. Agencies charged with policing conflicts of interest and worse have been eviscerated.

    Sure as night follows day when politicians operate without public accountablity, Albany has descended into a culture of chiseling and outright crime. Soon we’ll be able to establish an Indictment of the Week club.

    Whose fault is all this? In the largest sense, we have met the enemy and he is us. We haven’t thrown the bums out, so they respond to all criticisms by claiming to be beloved of the people. Which is, of course, crap.

    Next to blame are rank-and-file lawmakers. They have surrendered their initiative and independence to bosses who buy loyalty with extra pay and perks. And the pols sell cheap.

    New York deserves much better. Over the coming days, we will lay out a reform agenda, calling for specific actions in areas ranging from redistricting to establishing a muscular, independent investigative authority.

    We should all pay attention.

    #TCDOT 1

    29 Mar

    Over on the Twitters, people sometimes add what’s called a hashtag (#) to their tweets, so that they’re easy to aggregate with other, similar posts. One quite active hashtag is “#TCOT”, which stands for “Top Conservatives on Twitter”. If you fancy yourself a conservative Twitterer, you simply add #TCOT at the end of your pithy 140-character message, and other top conservatives on Twitter who care will see it and nod their head knowingly at Obama’s dangerous Communism or Pelosi’s dangerous Californianism. Or whatever.

    My favorite is a 30 character post with more hashtags than there are actual words in the tweet. God, it’s so important that several different hashtags must be served! To be fair, I’ve used hashtags before, including #Clarenceplanecrash and #Buffalo or #BuffaloNY, but I don’t refer to myself as a top anything on Twitter. According to Twitter Grader, I’m 25,089th of all 1.8 million people on Twitter.

    But for some reason, Republicans seem to have the notion that by dominating Twitter, they can do for their party what Obama’s use of Web 2.0 did for the Democrats. So, there are numerous conservative Twitterers who converse with each other about what a blatant Marxist Obama is, and they enjoy replying to each other in the affirmative. It’s a happy little echo chamber, and once in a while I dive in and challenge their premise when it seems to me to be really kinda stupid.

    I have also begun occasionally using my own new hashtag. TCDOT. Top Conservative Dummies on Twitter.

    Today’s TCDOT entry comes from the blog “Blogs for Victory”, fka “Blogs for Bush”. It’s a story about the “Obamavilles” popping up in certain parts of the country, and how tent cities in the midst of a deep recession, high unemployment, and the recent popping of a housing bubble/crushing of the housing market is all Obama’s fault – plus, he really wants these people to suffer in tents.

    Note that the article linked to starts discussing how the tent cities started cropping up 18 months ago, yet the author refers to them as “Obamavilles”, evoking “Hoovertowns” of the depression era. Nuance and thought is completely *poof* into thin air with Mr. Noonan, the author of the post.

    I didn’t see any remarks about how wealthy America’s poor are because they’re fat or eat food or have cell phones or own tents, etc. But this was awesome:

    Now, to be sure, the bulk of the homeless are either shiftless or mentally deficient – in other words, people you can’t so much ask to come off the street as people you should take off the street because they have proven themselves incapable of taking an adult’s place in the world. But especially as our economy has declined more and more people who are hard-working find themselves living out of doors.

    “The bulk of”, i.e., a majority of homeless are dismissed as “shiftless or mentally deficient”. How beautiful a sentiment is that?

    Out there in our increasingly impoverished America grow these shanty towns – called “Hoovervilles” in the 30’s, but rightly called “Obamavilles” today because it is what Obama wants: people suffering and with only the government to help them. Fear not, says Obama, all will be taken care of – and like braying asses, his liberal followers are thrilled that the poor will be helped…and without liberal asses actually having to get out there and deal with those icky poor people who are unfashionably dressed and smell funny and aren’t nearly as cool close up as they are in a heart-rending documentary.

    It’s all so intellectually dishonest, if not downright idiotic. The very premise is faulty, the analysis of why or how people are helped is silly, and the author seems to miss the irony of, in one instance, referring to the homeless as mostly “shiftless and mentally deficient”, and in the next breath criticizing liberals for not wanting to go out and “deal with those icky”, unfashionable poor people.

    My Post-Tea Party Interview with Rus Thompson

    28 Mar

    I was struck by Rus’ open-minded pragmatism on the issue of public financing of state elections.

    (The other person asking questions is Channel 2’s Heather Ly)

    3:57 Worth of Video Highlights from the Buffalo Anti-Albany Tea Party

    28 Mar

    Doctors are Subsidizing the Political Class (?)

    28 Mar

    I have no idea who the lunatic who yelled, “it doesn’t matter, we’re all New Yorkers” is. 🙂

    An Example of the Nonsense

    28 Mar

    In this post, I wrote:

    I agreed with about 75% of what was being discussed. 15% I could take or leave, and the last 10% was nonsense.

    I wanted to present an example of the nonsense.

    At some point in Rus’ speech, he brought up the fact that Erie County was getting out of the WIC benefit delivery business, and that it was going to be assumed by a private, parochial charity. Since WIC is 100% federally funded, it’s (a) not likely that service will be adversely affected by this move; but also (b) not really making much sense why Collins stop county involvement. It seems as if the motivation has to do with sloughing off county workers we don’t need and whose pensions we don’t want to fund anymore. Reasonable people can disagree on this move, but so long as women with small kids can get basic foodstuffs through the program, whatever.

    There are arguments – on the merits – that can be had on both sides of this issue.

    Unfortunately, during the tea party, when Rus mentioned that people had protested the WIC issue, someone in the crowd yelled, “I bet they had cellphones!” And the crowd tittered. I didn’t find it that funny, however.

    A cellphone may have been an exorbitant luxury 10 years ago, but they’re pretty ubiquitous and cheap nowadays. Anyone can walk in off the street and buy a pay-as-you-go $15 cellphone. It’s cheaper than a landline, easier to budget for, and obviously mobile. Maybe they have it to help in a job search. Yeah, the WIC recipient has a cellphone. So. the. f*ck. what.

    If you want to make a point, make it using the facts that are not only at hand, but relevant. If you start demonizing the recipient, you’ve lost me.

    Rus Thompson’s Buffalo Tea Party

    28 Mar

    About 300 people attended Rus Thompson’s tea party this afternoon to call on Albany to reform itself and let WNY be WNY. When I arrived, Jim Ostrowski was speaking, resplendent in his Ron Paul for President t-shirt. At one point, he began to call upon Buffalo’s professional class (doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, media moguls) to step up and stop supporting politics as usual and start working on behalf of the people. Some in the crowd heckled Ostrowski, accusing him of being off the mark when it comes to physicians, and of “demonizing” people.

    While I understood what Ostrowski’s point was, I guess sometimes it looks better when it’s written down than it sounds when it comes out of your mouth. It did sound as if Ostrowski was heaping criticism on groups that weren’t supposed to be the target of the crowd’s ire. Sometimes, Ostrowski can be his worst enemy. During his speech, he announced that a study that Free NY had produced would be sent to Erie County residents, and people began throwing dollar bills at that idea.

    WBEN personality and former Sandy Beach caller Kathy “from Williamsville” Weppner appeared, discussing the founding fathers.

    State Senator George Maziarz barked about reform and Albany, without noticing the patent irony.

    Finally, Rus Thompson spoke. He was dressed in 18th century Colonial garb, complete with tricorner hat, and spoke with passion about his fight against the tolls, about Albany reform, about the people taking back their government, about secession, and other topics that were on his mind. Although he had prepared remarks, he often strayed from them, caught up in the moment, and energized by the huge and friendly crowd.

    I haven’t seen a protest like this in Buffalo in many moons.

    Afterwards, I interviewed Rus, and instead of working from my memory, I’ll post the video once it’s edited & done. I came away from this particular event thinking that although the symbolism and the tea party stuff was a bit much, I agreed with about 75% of what was being discussed. 15% I could take or leave, and the last 10% was nonsense.

    But fundamentally, these people are right. Rus is right. Albany is in desperate need for reform. I’ve been railing about for years. Not just dopey small-time reform, but fundamental stuff. Stuff that Geek and I have been discussing, working out a sort of New York Manifesto that would spell out critical changes that would help to diminish the power Albany has, regulate the influence downstate has, and ultimately help the whole state, and WNY in particular, escape its political doldrums.

    The structural and substantive deficiencies that plague Albany are things that, more often than not, people on all sides of the political spectrum can find consensus on. In the end, we all want a better future – less of what keeps us down and more of what can lift us up.

    This tea party was directed at Albany. Republican State Senator George Maziarz was the only Albany politician present (and the longtime incumbent wasn’t all that well received). While not unexpected, there needs to be a way to effectively express our discontent in a way that makes elected officials sit up and take notice. If SEIU was pissed, they’d listen. Perhaps if we took a cue from the public sector unions and fought them on their turf, and under their rules, we’d have a decent shot.

    It was an impressive turnout, a positive event, and somewhat heartening. But the hard part starts on Monday.

    A slideshow of the pictures I took at the event:

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    Bulletin: Ralph Wilson is Still Alive

    28 Mar

    NY-20: Murphy in the Lead

    27 Mar

    The fact that Democrat Scott Murphy now enjoys a slim 4-point lead over Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco underscores one very important fact: the Republican Party doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing – not statewide, not nationwide. It isn’t so much a political party as it is a loose confederation of malcontents. The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder called the GOP a PINO – party in name only.

    This NY-20 race was a test – could the Republicans find a winning message? Could they pull their shit together enough to eke out a win in a district where they enjoy a very large enrollment advantage?

    Apparently not.

    When you have a special election, it enables the very best and brightest campaign workers in a party to come and help out. After all, there’s not much else to do. Jim Tedisco, who enjoyed a 12-point lead when Gillibrand got sent to the Senate, has suffered negative momentum ever since. Murphy has run a competent campaign built on his credentials as a successful upstate businessman. Sound familiar? It’s what the GOP runs in Erie County.

    Tedisco, on the other hand, is an Albany hack extraordinaire. He’s hardly a real Republican, and he’s part of the same Albany machine that everyone mocks and hates. But Tedisco for weeks refused to say how he’d have voted on the Obama stimulus package. Murphy made hay of this:

    When Tedisco finally took a stand, the result was this:

    and this:

    That “that’s an Albany politician for you” line? I’ll bet it gets repeated throughout the state in years to come.

    How desperate and pathetic has the losing Tedisco campaign become?

    How about trotting out the 9/11 hijackers for a full minute to make a point about the death penalty? Consider the sheer stupidity of talking about the death penalty for suicide bombers.

    Or how do push-poll robo-calls strike you? Tedisco is clearly poised to lose and clearly out of ideas. This 9/11 crap and the push polling stuff is a last-minute hail Mary, and it will never work.

    As goes Tedisco, so may go Michael Steele.