Archive | February, 2010

For the Love of Sport

28 Feb

There are a little over 300 million Americans, and a little over a million Buffalonians. So, for rough math, one out of every 300 Americans is from Buffalo.

There are 205 athletes on the US Olympic team. Which means, if we’re lucky, we could statistically hope to have one athlete represent our city.

Instead, we have four directly from Buffalo (Matt DePeters, Patty Kane, Steve Mesler and Brooks Orpik), who competed in freestyle skiing, bobsled, and hockey. Between them, they are bringing home a gold and two silvers to Buffalo. Not bad. The British would refer to that as “punching above our weight.” 

We also have tangental associations to a couple others, due to the Buffalo Sabres, and connections to the US women’s team. When the Sabres play again on Wednesday, a medal of each color (Ruff-Gold, Miller-Silver, Lydman-Bronze) will walk onto the ice.

Buffalo is a quirky northern town, half-Canadian at times, and often overlooked by the country. The Winter Olympics are a quirky set of games, not the powerhouse favorites of the summer set, and often overlooked by America. But for the last two weeks, our hometown boys have been winning, and our goalie has been the hero of American kids everywhere. I have friends who were in the Atlanta airport (an average cross section of America at any given time) during the gold medal game today, and they said every bar was packed with fans screaming like you normally only see for the Superbowl. That’s pretty cool. Enjoy it.

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Quick Snarks

28 Feb

A couple quick items of irony from reading the paper this weekend:

Charlie Rangel is getting a slap on the wrist for taking at least three corporate bribes trips to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008. How did he avoid further discipline? While his aides wrote memos to Rangel detailing that accepting the trips was illegal, no one could prove that Rangel actually read the notes. Incompetence and illiteracy win as a defense. Speaker Pelosi, for her part, says she’s going “just see what happens next.” So much for running the most transparent, ethically pure Congress in history.

A white sorority is being accused of cultural theft for winning a “black” stepping competition. Stepping is a form of performance clapping and foot stomping, and there are big competitions around the country. But when a white sorority won, not only did event sponsor Coca-Cola give the runners up (a black sorority) an additional first place prize, but the white group is being told to “let the Black folks have their own thing for once.” Quick! Is it too late to kick Jerome Iginla off the Canadian hockey team, because he is stealing white Canadian culture? Only in PC America is it alright to beat down racism and sexism everywhere we see it . . . unless it involves “historically black colleges” and African-American culture.

If you think Forbes lists are crap, so are all those ballot-stuffing “awards” Buffalo loves to get. Just sayin.

Turns out we’re not the third poorest city in America. Turns out we have poverty rates equal to just about every other city the same size. Of what, oh what, will the “third poorest city” rebranders do now that their sound bite is debunked?

Reforming the System, Rebutting the Irrelevant

27 Feb

We need real, meaningful health insurance reform. We need to ensure that people can get health insurance coverage that doesn’t discriminate against pre-existing conditions, that doesn’t leave them bankrupted, that doesn’t cause them to lose their homes, to ensure that the very poor and the old aren’t the only ones guaranteed a right to health care in this country.

Oftentimes that statement is backed up with specific examples where a lack of coverage has harmed people physically or economically.

The examples are seen on the right as demagoguery, and they bring up examples such as the fact that the Premier of Newfoundland traveled to the United States to get heart surgery, or that Kaleida markets private health services to Canadians (for five very specific types of care that have wait times in Ontario, or bariatric surgery which isn’t covered there).

When you’re discussing health care, incorporated into that is that you’re discussing sick people. When you’re discussing sick people, incorporated into that is the fact that sometimes things go wrong. When you’re discussing the fact that things can go wrong, incorporated into that is the fact that specialties exist that may require care elsewhere.

This means that Canadian premiers may need to leave a remote island province to get better care elsewhere. This may also mean that Americans may need to travel to Switzerland to obtain care not available here.

Or Buffalonians may need to travel to Cleveland.

The examples here in the states involve people being harmed due to a lack of coverage, or inadequate coverage. But the Canadian premier’s travel is not precipitated by a lack of coverage, but by a lack of availability of care. That’s a Newfoundland problem. We don’t have that problem here, and a discussion of the quality of care is frankly not on the table.

Ask any American doctor if they’d appreciate a more predictable and streamlined health insurance claims process.

The family Chris cites didn’t lack for care – they received great care. They didn’t lack for health coverage – they had a policy similar to that held by anyone with private insurance.

On top of that, the horror stories about Canada and the UK that reform opponents cite are irrelevant. Single-payer isn’t on the table in the US right now. What is on the table is a public health insurance option that people could opt into, and which may force health insurers to actually offer competitive insurance policies that won’t leave families bankrupted when catastrophic care is needed.

That won’t affect the quality of care.

No one in Canada or the UK is marching against Medicare or NHS. Indeed, the Tories in both countries pledge to strengthen national health. Interestingly, you don’t see a lot of horror stories cited by reform opponents out of Switzerland, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Austria, or other countries with guarantees of universal health coverage.

Ensuring that everyone has access to health insurance that provides affordable, adequate coverage – coverage that won’t leave them bankrupt wards of the state if they exceed the limits of the policy or find their policy retroactively rescinded – is something that is decades overdue in this country, regardless of the label you assign to it.

Buffalo Niagara Convention Center Upgrades

27 Feb

The Buffalo Niagara Convention Center will be spending the summer and $7 million to renovate the 30 year-old concrete bunker lining Franklin and Pearl Streets downtown.

The Failsign will finally be replaced by something that works, a new entryway will be constructed, and some behind-the-scenes improvements will also be made.

The renovations will not, however, have any affect on an exterior that resembles a horizontal version of Buffalo’s execrable city court building, nor on the massive boarded-up hotel across the street.

On Day One, Everything Changed, Alright

27 Feb

Governor David Paterson has canceled his campaign to become elected Governor of the State of New York. The fall-out, coincidentally enough, stems from a New York Times story that had nothing to do with alleged sex and everything to do with alleged abuse of power. While Paterson has been carrying a ridiculously heavy burden trying save this sinking ship of a state, he never polled well, and this story just killed it. You don’t recover from 15% approval ratings with “abuse of power” hanging over your head. Not when it’s alleged that your cop detail bullied a battery victim.

The 2006 Spitzer-Paterson ticket self-immolated within its first term. Meanwhile, Spitzer’s scandal is so remote now that he’s actually poised to make a political comeback. And every time he opens his mouth, he happens to make a great deal of sense.

So, right now we have exactly one announced candidate for Governor – former Republican Congressman Rick Lazio, from Long Island. A decade ago, he fought a tight race against Hillary Clinton for the US Senate. Now, a bit grayer, Lazio pledges to bring fundamental reforms to Albany. I’ll be frank – a lot of what’s on his agenda is stuff that I can get behind. One of his ideas is a unicameral legislature. That’s great, but only under certain circumstances.

It is anticipated that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is going to run on the Democratic ticket. I wonder if it would be unprecedented to have two Italian-Americans from the Island of Long (the Cuomos are from Queens) running against each other for governor? Cuomo troubles me because he comes packed with loads of baggage, and is more of an entrenched machine politician. As AG, Cuomo’s office has made some significant strides towards governmental transparency and consolidation of taxing entities. He has a reform record on which to run, and he naturally has a massive enrollment advantage.

Like Buffalo, New York State operates under a mid-50s political mindset. Incumbency is king – legislators go back to Albany every year en masse, and get re-elected based on the ten thousand dollar big-checks they deliver to fire departments and senior centers. Take away member items, as we did for county legislators, you get a legislature that will have to work harder to get re-elected.

When you get right down to it, the biggest problem that plagues Albany is legalized corruption.

The way things get done there have everything to do with money, and little to do with policy. In the exquisitely rare instances that Albany hacks get bumped from office, they invariably step over to begin a six-figure gig lobbying their former colleagues. Special interests give massive amounts of money and get their pet projects passed. Legislators dole out member items and get re-elected. Actual decisions get made by three men in a room – everyone else goes along. The gay marriage vote and debate was so striking because it was an example of actual legislative debate where no one knew the outcome.

The entire operation is a broken joke, and what I am most concerned about is whether an Andrew Cuomo or a Rick Lazio have the right ideas, but also the political skills to get real reform done. It’s not hard – NYU’s Brennan Center has pretty much set forth a blueprint for democratizing New York.

By “political skills” I bring up the notion of Carl Paladino running as a tea party candidate for governor. While he may be something of an unlikely millionaire folk hero here, no one downstate knows who the hell he is and it would cost millions for him to get some name recognition. Paladino’s got the scratch, but will he spend it?

Whom will the Golisano/Pigeon axis of patronage endorse? Who will buy get the Independence Party line?

I thought Spitzer would reform this place. He didn’t – in part because the Senate and Assembly wouldn’t play ball, because Spitzer was rude to them. Paterson hasn’t done much better.

So, as luck would have it, we find ourselves again at a fork in the road. Do we – can we – elect someone who has the will and ability to bring real, meaningful reform to this state? Or will we elect someone who talks a good game but has no intention or ability to buck the special interests who bankroll everything in Albany?

RIP Hummer

26 Feb

I think this Family Guy clip accurately captures my opinion of Hummer and Hummeristas. (language NSFW)

Shall Surely

26 Feb

This is a good point that Sullivan brings up regarding the Christianist use of Leviticus 20:13 to justify discrimination against gay Americans.

That passage reads, If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.

They’re not just advocating discrimination against gays – they’re advocating their execution. In Uganda they’re considering legislation written by American fundamentalist Christians that would put gays to death.

Next time someone cites Leviticus as the rationale for denying gays equal rights, ask them about the whole execution part, too. And here’s a handy list of other capital offenses.

After all, it’s in the Bible.

Slaughter on Health Care

25 Feb

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-28) at Thursday’s health care reform summit:

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I’ve been through this before. I was here when we had the Clinton debate. It was started, some of you will remember, by Lee Iacocca, who said, “We cannot export our automobiles, there is a $1,000 cost for health care in every one of them. My competitors are way ahead of me. They are eating my lunch.”

That was one of the main reasons, Mr. President, if you recall, that we decided we had to do something about that.

In the 13, 15 years since that’s happened we have done nothing about health care. We don’t export so much anymore. The automobile business is basically gone. We have done nothing to encourage entrepreneurs.

and

I think it would be really a good thing for us today, while we’re here in this room together, to really think about what’s absolutely important here. Not nitpick over little pieces of this and that, but think about all the people out there every single day, the number of people, excess deaths, because they have no health insurance.

I even have one constituent — you will not believe this, and I know you won’t, but it’s true — her sister died. This poor woman had no denture. She wore her dead sister’s teeth, which of course were uncomfortable and did not fit.

Do you ever believe that in America that that’s where we would be?

This is the last chance as far as I’m concerned, particularly on the export business. We have fallen behind. We’re no longer the biggest manufacturer in the world. We’ve lot our technological edge. We have an opportunity to do that, but a major part of the success of that is getting this health care bill passed.

Setting aside the fact that stories like this are all too common even in our “best system in the world”, the trade issue is an important one. In Canada, Ford, Honda, GM, Chrysler, and other automakers don’t have to worry about offering and paying for ridiculously expensive and crappy health insurance coverage for their employees. They get free comprehensive medical through the provincial government.

Maybe the Republicans are right. Maybe we should scrap the bill and start from scratch.

Since no serious politician is willing to badmouth or abolish Medicare, if it’s good enough for the over-65 set, it’s good enough for the under-65 set. Expand Medicare as an option available to all and be done with it.

Did He Keep His Socks On?

25 Feb

Looks like Governor Paterson has his own State Police/influence issue.

Evidently, an aide of his beat up a woman, and the victim complained in court that members of the governor’s state police detail had been pressuring her to drop the charges.

She told the police that Mr. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, had choked her, stripped her of much of her clothing, smashed her against a mirrored dresser and taken two telephones from her to prevent her from calling for help, according to police records.

The woman was twice granted a temporary order of protection against Mr. Johnson, according to the proceedings in Family Court in the Bronx.

“I’m scared he’s going to come back,” she said, according to the proceedings, in which a court referee at the initial hearing noted bruises on the woman’s arm.

Some Democrats are asking Paterson to suspend his campaign or even resign. Denise O’Donnell, whose office oversees the State Police, resigned today in outrage over the imbroglio.

New York and her politicians never disappoint to disappoint.

We Can’t Have Nice Things

25 Feb

A change that Florida has made to one of its toll roads.

See that?

The people with a toll transponder stay on the main highway lanes at highway speeds, while people who have to pay cash pull over to the side and enjoy their wait.

New York State Thruway failure of an Authority, why the hell can’t we have that? If you’re going to make me pay almost $30 to drive to Yonkers, at least let me fly through the damn tolls.

Want to talk about Buffalo being branded as fun or innovative or historical or a place with great wings? How about just a basic competence?* If we had just that, we’d be one step ahead and worrying about how to brand this place would be significantly easier.

We can’t have dessert until after we’ve finished our meal. Buffalo hasn’t even ordered yet.

*I realize that this sounds like I’m bashing Brian’s post, but I’m not. I’m just saying that none of that branding stuff matters if we can’t do really simple, basic things properly.