Archive | August, 2009

The Passive-Aggressive non-Accusation Accusation

31 Aug

Bob Gioia has become the master of the passive-aggressive non-accusation accusation.

As for not making more specific statements about Gainer’s gaffs as CEO of Buffalo ReUse, Gioai said, “I’m not going to say anything about Michael; I have too much regard for him, but if this were the private sector it would have resulted in termination  Our hope is that all parties are able to hash this through, but we don’t play a roll in the process.”  He added that  ReUse is too important for our community and that the inspirational, passionate endeavor that Gainer started needs to be preserved.  “What’s best for the organization?” he asked.

Shorter Bob Gioia:

I’m not saying Michael Gainer is horrible at everything, but you should pre-emptively fire him from whatever future job he might aspire to.

I’m not saying Michael Gainer is bad with figures, but he can’t get the sum of 2 and 2 without using his fingers.

I’m not saying Michael Gainer is a criminal, but he looks good in orange.

It’s shameful and a poor attempt at deflecting attention away from what has suddenly become the much bigger issue – the very urgent transfer of 635 South Park from a Jamestown investor to Buffalo ReUse.

By the way, Buffalo ReUse’s members have called a special meeting.  Word is that the Board of Directors sent a letter to the members indicating that the board would not recognize anything that takes place at the 9/3 meeting because it’s somehow illegal.  Problem for the board is that the 9/3 special meeting was called in 100% compliance with the bylaws, and they ignore what happens there at their peril.

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The Jonas Brothers

31 Aug

Last night, my daughter got to see her favorite band, the Jonas Brothers.  She’s 9 years old and smack in the target demographic for the Disney-managed trio.  The show had several opening acts, including this one, which was just phenomenal in its cheesiness:

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The “Wonder Girls” are 5 young women from Korea who, I gather, have taken Asia by storm.  They sang one song, then left the stage.

But the Rogers Centre was sold-out.  55 – 56,000 people in there, and I have never heard in my life such noise.  I have never before felt the concrete floor of a stadium feel like it was going to buckle from the weight of thousands of tween girls jumping up and down.  A phenomenon they definitely are.  Manufactured by Disney.  But.

But.

There is no doubt that these guys are talented.  They play actual instruments.  They sing actual songs that they actually wrote on those instruments.  They can sing.  They entertain.  There is nothing at all wrong with them.

And I’m not talking about the suggestive foam-spraying or the purity rings or anything else that South Park so excellently parodied last season.  I’m talking about the fact that this is perfectly reasonable music, especially for this age group.

No big choreography.  No multiple costume changes.  This isn’t N’Sync or Backstreet Boys or New Kids on the Block.  It’s schlocky, but not that schlocky.  The music isn’t Beatlesy, but the phenomenon is. My ears are still ringing.

So when I joked on Twitter/Facebook yesterday that the loneliest place in the world was the men’s room at a Jonas Brothers concert, it was the truth (seriously, I was the only guy in there, in a stadium, and that bathroom has never before been as clean, and probably never will be again).   I figured somebody would give me the, “you won’t catch me dead taking my kids to see the musical flavor of the month” line, and sure enough, there it was.

But my thought is this.  She’s a good kid.  She likes these guys.  They’re harmless, and they play instruments, which inspires her to learn hers.  They actually don’t suck and they put on a pretty good show.

But above all, it’s fine to teach your kids to listen to jazz and classical and whatever other more acceptable, proper music there is.  But it’s also fine to let them listen to and enjoy popular music, even if you hate it. Even if you can’t stand it and think it’s pedestrian.

Having her choose some of the music she listens to helps her love music.  And I’d rather she got interested in better music on her own initiative rather than having me lecture her about it.

Because we all probably liked some shit our parents hated.  Because it’s ok for our kids to just be kids and enjoy kid stuff once in a while.

Now, I have to take her to guitar lessons.

And Now For Something Completely Different. . .

30 Aug

Its August, a time (normally) for summer vacations and a slow news cycle. Not so this year, with a healthcare debate, town hall revolts, and the death of Ted Kennedy. I tire of the political brinkmanship and Hitlerisms. I mourn (figuratively, not literally) for Uncle Teddy, because he seems an irreplaceable loss. I may disagree with 90% of his politics, but TMK was principled and eloquent, a thinker and a patriot. I would take 50 of him in the Senate as opposed to 1 Tom Delay, and I’m on Delay’s team. It is a passing of an era, and there is a decided lack of statesmen left like him on either side. John McCain said after the 2008 campaign he would return to the Senate and be the Republican’s Lion. Disappointingly, that hasn’t happened. But more on that later.

So instead of another retread post of today’s national (Birfer Bad! Healthcare Good!) or local (where is Mickey Kearns?) politics, here is something completely different.

Dr. Philip Jenkins of Penn State has written a fascinating book: The Lost History of Christianity. You do not have to do be Christian, or particularly religious, to be entranced by history most of the world has forgotten.

Modern society, fast paced and in a constant state of flux, tends to lack introspection or perspective. Ironically, in a world where things constantly “change,” most of the world looks at the current situation today as “how its always been.” This is certainly true for the great religions of the world: Europe is (or was) Christian, the Middle East and South East Asia are Muslim, India is Hindu, etc. Where those areas intersect, war happens.

Jenkins throws that model on its head. There have been a spate of semi-popular books lately, like 1491 by Charles Mann, that seek to show you how “everything you thought you knew was wrong.” What Mann did for Native Americans, Jenkins has done for the spread of Christianity. Its not that Europe was the center of the Christian world. Its that it is the only piece left.

Jerusalem As the Center

Jenkins details how Christianity spread across the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and into China in the 600 years between the death of Jesus and the birth of Mohammed. Large Christian centers of learning were established not just in Carthage and Antioch, but Mosul, Basra, Herat (in modern Afghanistan) and Tangut (Tibet). Christians served as viziers and counselors to Arab sultans. Christian bishops debated Buddhism with Chinese mystics. There is even evidence that Nestorian hymn books served as the basis for some passages in the Koran. In short, for 1200 years, Europe was not the center of the Christian world, but a backwater.

What changed? The Crusades, a reaction to the Arab conquest of the Holy Land, may have been bad on Europe, but was a disaster for the Christians native to the area. The Mongols, prior to their thirteenth and fourteenth century conquests, were a mix of Muslims and Christians. But when they converted fully to Islam, Christians under their reign fared badly. When the Ottoman Turks consolidated their empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Christians were also rounded up and killed (partially as a reaction to threats from Russia and Western Europe – Christians were spies or worse). Of course, Muslims were not the only threat: the Catholic Church’s missionaries of the seventeenth century often tried to “convert” the Christians they found in Asia.

Despite all those challenges, tens of millions of Christians remained in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia in 1900. Copts, Chaldeans, Maronites, Greek and Armenian Orthodox, Syrians and Nestorians still retained enclaves. Remarkably, what truly made those areas nearly entirely Muslim, as we know them today, are actions taken in the last 100 years. The Turks massacred the Armenians in 1915 and Greek Orthodox in 1922, a genocide that still causes significant political rancor today when mentioned. The British formed the Iraqi state just in time for the killing of Assyrians and Chaldeans in 1933. The French formed Lebanon as a refuge for the Maronites, and we all know how that has turned out. In a final bit of under-reporting, the American invasion of Iraq has been devastating to the few Chaldeans still remaining in Iraq, with 80% – 90% of their population now dead or migrated from that country. 

Through all of this ugly history Jenkins remains fair, unbiased, and even handed; quite an accomplishment. He presents few heroes or saints in his tale of the faithful killing in the name of their religion. If you enjoy upsetting your worldview, and learning some history you probably missed in school, its worth a read.

Buffalo ReUse And The Media

28 Aug

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Since becoming the “official” spokesperson of the Buffalo ReUse membership, I have taken a pass on commenting on the Buffalo ReUse situation on this site or others. I have responded to questions from reporters with a steady hand and not made public accusations or made passive aggressive non-allegations about the evolving situation.

I am a founding member of Buffalo ReUse and I am proud to be a supporter of their mission. ReUse has been a partner with WNYMedia since the first day ReUse went online. I remember having a conversation with Michael Gainer about the value of social media over two years ago and encouraged him to embrace blogs, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and other outlets.

In the end, new media and citizen journalism is a significant reason why Buffalo ReUse has had such a tremendous effect on our entire community. Because they were fun, open and playful, they became “our” local non-profit. And by “our”, I mean the younger generation of Buffalonians who are more interested in doing than talking. ReUse had a board of directors filled with youthful and excited supporters, a big corps of volunteers, and a tidal wave of community support. Everyone felt invested in it.

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Now, as this organization approaches a critical juncture in its maturation, the fight for the direction of Buffalo ReUse has become a public matter in both new and establishment media. Aside from the initial news of Michael’s firing and the subsequent statements from both sides, everything that has come out from the parties with direct involvement since then has been unnecessary and unhelpful.

Whether it was the statement from Bob Gioia and the Oishei Foundation, Bruce Beyer’s unauthorized public disclosure of the potential transfer of a South Buffalo building to ReUse or Harvey now defending himself, his board and Oishei in a comment section on another website…it all needs to stop.

There are people who draw a salary working at Buffalo ReUse and all of these public discussions and unpleasant press releases are putting their continued employment at risk.

When large local companies vacated the East Side and took their jobs to other parts of the country or Mexico, they left behind a massive suckhole of disinvestment, poverty and blight. Buffalo ReUse represents one of the first major investments and initiatives in these long forgotten neighborhoods…it’s not just a store or a deconstruction company or a community based organization, it’s a neighborhood hub of hope.

The membership group which has called for a special meeting of the full membership is interested in preservation of this organization. We are asking for a review of the strategic vision of Buffalo ReUse and to ensure that it continues to chart a course as an East Side organization responding to decades of disinvestment. Our options, the criteria for our decision or the consequences of those decisions should not and will not be published for public consumption.

It’s time for everyone to put on their big boy pants and deal with things behind closed doors. If you’re being criticized publicly, deal with it. If you’re unhappy with damage to your reputation, work on it after resolution of all the issues.

Enough is enough.

Questions for the Board of Buffalo ReUse

28 Aug

1. Will the Reuse board abide by the decisions made and actions taken at the ReUse members’ special meeting on 9/3?

2. Does the board believe that there is anything illegal or improper in the substance or procedure taken with respect to the 9/3 special meeting?  If so, what is illegal, and

2A. If so, will the board sue to enjoin the meeting from happening? or,

2B. If so, will the board pretend the special meeting never took place and refuse to abide by whatever takes place there, thereby forcing the members to bring them to court?

3. Do you agree with the statement that it is the members, not the board, not the directors or officers, and not the Oishei foundation, who have the ultimate decision with respect to the values and direction of the organization?

UPDATEHarvey Garrett replied thusly at Buffalo Rising:
<blockquote>1. I can’t speak for the board but I hope everyone gets together soon and de-polarizes this situation.
2. See my response to question #1
2A. See my response to question #1
2B. See my response to question #1
3. I think this organization is made up of members, board trustees, staff, volunteers, funders, and other supporters. I think the members, staff, and trustees (at the very least) need to get together as quickly as possible and find some common ground.</blockquote>

ReUse and 635 South Park, On the Record

28 Aug

Over at Buffalo Rising’s comment thread, Harvey Garrett weighs in on the 635 South Park issue, going on the record with this whole ReUse fiasco for the very first time. He states that the building on South Park is like the most awesomest thing ever, but no one’s trying to move ReUse to South Buffalo.

That was interesting to me. Not the substance of what he posted, which was quite opaque, but the timing. Here’s how I replied:

One thing’s for sure – there’s no shortage of empty space or vacant lots on the east side of Buffalo. You could probably pick up a decent space for practically no money.

Harvey, I’m intrigued that it’s this topic of 635 S Park – one that I verified independently yesterday – pulled you to comment on the record.

When the narrative was just how horrifically negligent Gainer was with bookkeeping, you remained silent. When Gioia released against Gainer what I thought was the most egregious piece of character assassination I’ve seen in a long time, where he basically said, I’m not saying Michael Gainer committed any crimes, but an orange jumpsuit would look good on him, you remained silent. Nobody – not you, not Stephanie, not anyone aligned with Oishei – defended him or condemned Gioia’s non-accusation accusations.

Seriously, for a week now everyone aligned with Oishei on this matter has gone out of their way to “not comment” on Gainer’s misdeeds, but imply that they were severe enough to be criminal.

Meanwhile, on Artvoice’s comment thread, some people are coming out of the woodwork to accuse ReUse and Gainer of poisoning children and needing to be investigated by the authorities. That’s a new one on me against a guy and an organization against whom/which I had never heard an ill word until last week. People don’t randomly write things like that. Someone feels threatened.

Here’s a tip – if people can’t comment on it, then people shouldn’t comment on it, period. The worst crime you can be accused of is the one you don’t name.

If, as you say, this property has nothing to do with anything, then I have no doubt that the board of ReUse will instruct Gioia/Oishei that it’s not interested in a warehouse in South Buffalo that costs $50k per year to upkeep, a cash flow ReUse can’t afford. That way, Mr. Black can find some other non-profit to donate it too so as to “pay no tax”.

Pay no Tax!

27 Aug

That’s a screen cap from R. J. Gullo & Co., Inc., a company that’s been retained to broker the sale of 635 South Park Avenue from Daniel Black of Blackstone Business Enterprises of Jamestown and the Oishei Foundation ostensibly to benefit Buffalo ReUse, a non-profit entity that engages in green demolition and salvaging of architectural materials from demolished buildings.

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Buffalo ReUse’s current location is below:

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Meantime, the annual upkeep on that particular South Park property is $50,000-ish per year, which one of the members of ReUse complains about, stating,

Will the membership overthrow the board and go back to the grassroots organization that they began as – wiser for the experience – or will they become a top-heavy not-for-profit that needs benefactors to cover their high overhead (up to $50K/year including taxes), when they become realty owners? Having high overhead is counter to the original mission and self-sustaining goal Buffalo ReUse hoped for when the formed.

More specifically, Blackstone sold the property to Daniel A Black LLC for $550,000 in 2006, with the assistance of R.J. Gullo & Co., Inc as a go-between. Blackstone bought the property in 1999 for $700,000 from Gibraltar Steel.

Buffalo Rising brought up today an issue that has been much discussed here behind the scenes – why did Gioia bring up the transfer of property to ReUse so much?

It was because of this concrete improvement that the Foundation agreed to release a $50,000 payment of grant funds to [Buffalo ReUse]. It was also the basis on which BRU was recommended by the Foundation to the owner of a building as an ideal candidate to receive the potential donation of the building. After several conversations between the parties, it was decided to go forward in the due diligence process. The Oishei Foundation has offered to pay for legal counsel through the initial phases, which is currently estimated to be about $10 – 12,000 over the next few months.

and

They’re now on the verge of having something as substantial as a building given to them,” he stated. “We could have easily thrown the towel in, but we clearly feel the organization is headed in the right direction. A revolt against the board now would be in the wrong interest.”

People don’t generally give away big buildings, and donations of buildings to non-profit entities may result in significant tax benefits to the donor. I’ve never heard of deferred exchanges of real estate with the use of a certified exchangor, so maybe someone can educate me/us. But there’s something somewhat odd about this real estate transaction which has been identified by Gioia as the key issue pending now for Buffalo ReUse.

Particularly because 635 South Park is far removed from ReUse’s east side base, where it was conceived and grew. Part of the mission of ReUse is to help train neighborhood people to do the sort of work ReUse does – marketable skills. Remove ReUse from the neighborhood, and part of what ReUse was originally meant to be is also removed.

But this is the most telling reveal:

The building was presented to the board and membership 2 1/2 months ago. The entire parcel is between South Park and Mackinaw, Fitzgerald and Katherine.

Because of its size, Garrett felt it would be best shared with other entities such as AmeriCorps and Father Baker Victory Services. Gainer, along with founding members Kevin Hayes and Caesandra Seawell had a look at the building and liked it, according to ReUse member Bruce Beyer, but felt that even shared, it would be unaffordable. “At that point,” Beyer says, “Garrett cut Gainer out of all talk about the building.”

Get that? Notice that there’s nothing whatsoever about months-old problems with Gainer’s bookkeeping, which was the original rationale given for Gainer’s sacking. Nothing here has to do with fiscal problems of any kind.

What is all this?

For some reason, the Oishei Foundation is dead-set on transferring 635 South Park Avenue in Buffalo from Daniel A Black LLC to Buffalo ReUse, Inc. with R.J. Gullo as the exchangor. When Gainer balked, he was kicked out, and pretexts given for that removal. After the board withheld comment on the alleged personnel issues, Gioia was all too happy of accusing Gainer of all sorts of practically criminal behavor, while half-assedly praising him.

What’s up with this property? With this transaction?

Matthew Ricchiazzi

27 Aug

Last week, I interviewed Buffalo Mayoral Candidate Matthew Ricchiazzi at our Niagara Street offices.

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Matthew is a young guy who is clearly well-educated, bright, and possessed with the ignorance of youth. I don’t mean that derisively, the kid is audacious in what he believes and ignores obstacles put in place by those who disagree. I was impressed by his grasp of the issues and the thorough campaign platform he has constructed.

Matthew is running as an independent candidate after he was unable to secure the support of the Republican Party. I think that actually works out better for him in the long run as he can now be seen as what he is without the negative perception filter people in the city apply to the Republican Party.

The first few questions were about the lack of strategic vision laid out by the Democratic candidates in this election. It seems that Brown and Kearns are focused on provisioning of services rather than setting a big picture agenda for the city and region. It’s the smallness of our politics that hold us back and the lack of ambitious goals which ultimately results in us failing to move forward. Incremental improvements to previous failure is not a plan for success.

Ricchiazzi might be young and he might be politically inexperienced, but he’s the one candidate who is talking about the future and applying lessons learned in other emerging cities.

Clearly, I liked him, but I realize the enormity of the task in front of him in the general election. He is underfunded and lacks the organization behind him to run a traditional city-wide campaign and sophisticated GOTV effort.

Even if he fails to make a significant dent at the voting booth, he can become and advocate for positive change and introduce big picture ideas into our collective politics.

I’ll post the rest of the videos later as I want to discuss some of his ideas in-depth, but take a look at his plans and let me know what you think. It’s an interesting mix of tax reduction, market based strategies, urban planning, and traditional left wing issues of social/economic justice.

We’re scheduling interviews with Mickey Kearns and Byron Brown for next week to answer many of the same questions.

Prediction On Healthcare Reform

27 Aug

obama_chill

It’s often been said that President Obama plays the “long game” and cedes the fight for the daily news cycle to his adversaries. During the campaign, this rope-a-dope strategy worked well with both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. IOW, give your opponent enough rope and they will eventually strangle themselves as they increasingly get more rabid trying to solicit a response. This strategy is the source of the Obama “Keeps It Cool” meme.

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I happen to think that Obama is doing it yet again and not just with his political adversaries, but with his base. Most people who reside on the left are advocates of a single payer policy for health care, but can ultimately be convinced that a “public option” is an acceptable compromise. Many in the center of the party feel that a public option is actually the preferred choice over single payer.

So, two weeks ago, when Obama sensed the left was growing frustrated with his waffling on the public option, he had surrogates hit the talk show circuit and say a public option wasn’t a necessity to getting a bill passed. The goal was competition and “insurance reform”.

Righteous indignation flamed on the left and people rallied around “at least” making sure the public option was included. Out of that has come rallies, phone banks, and grassroots campaigns to ensure that HR 3200 or whatever bill passes includes a strong public option. People are feeling empowered again and “hope and Change” is back on the left.

All of this is being done in the face of extreme pressure from the right to leave health care alone. The more passionate and nutty the right wing base appears, the more applause Obama will receive for getting “anything” done. With such vitriol coming from the right, a fervently oppositional Republican minority in the House and Senate, and blue dogs fighting him…the media narrative will become how incredible it was that Obama was able to finally shepherd a bill to passage. After all, he was being attacked from all sides!

The left will feel like they motivated bottom-up change, the insurance industry and PhRMA will feel like they didn’t give up too much, Obama will get credit for trying to be bi-partisan and the soft and chewy nougat center of America will go back to mouthbreathing and watching Family Guy re-runs.

So, we’ll get a bill. It will include a public option and it will include lots of compromises to get the blue dogs to vote for it and it will be passed on a near party line vote. Obama and surrogates will hit the talk show circuit and the beltway enablers will all clap for their courage in getting it done. Republicans will kvetch and moan and plan for midterms and Obama will be able to claim in 2012 that his administration passed the single largest health care reform bill in history. Everyone wins. By October 1st, this will all be over and we can go back to arguing over who will win American Idol and watching football.

It’s a shame it had to come to this. I mean, wouldn’t it have been easier for Obama to show up for a national address with a flowchart that looked like this and explained to Americans how health care reform would benefit them and the rest of the country?

healthcare_publicoption_flowchart

Nope, Americans are too dumb to be treated like adults. We want, nay, need the drama…like Sarah Palin needs moose blood.

Deep Thought

27 Aug

Like “liberal”, “welfare” wasn’t always an epithet.