Archive | August, 2010

Senecas + Albany = Drama

31 Aug

The state and the Senecas are arguing and sniping over taxing cigarettes and casino revenues.

Under the 2001 agreement with the state allowing the Senecas to operate class III casinos, a cut of the take from slot machines is to be paid to the state. If the state were to legalize gambling and allow non-Indians to operate class III gaming facilities, thus eliminating the Senecas’ exclusivity, the payment of a cut of the slot proceeds would stop. Last year, the Senecas paid $32 million to the state. A lot of money, but a drop in the bucket compared to the revenues the state could collect on a private casino on private property located within the state of New York.

In the wake of state’s efforts to tax the sale of cigarettes to non-Indians, the Senecas are claiming that the state has violated its slots-exclusivity deal and they will be withholding further payments. Part of those payments are supposed to go to the host communities, as well.

Casino gaming is not permitted under the New York State constitution, but video slots and other games have been networked to make them nominally “competitive”, and they are now installed in racinos throughout the state, including Batavia and Hamburg. It’s time that casino gaming was legalized throughout the state so that casinos not on Indian Reservations pay property, sales, income, and other taxes to the state. The carving out of sovereign Seneca exclaves in Buffalo and Niagara Falls have done nothing to directly benefit either city, or their immediate surroundings. Paying no state tax and not subject to most New York laws, these places poach bar and restaurant business from surrounding neighborhoods.

The state’s dalliances with gaming has proved a few things: 1. it’s lucrative; 2. the state is unfairly limiting itself and its take from the casinos by refusing to just acknowledge that people like casinos and legalizing the damn things.

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UB2020 Dead, Simpson Out

31 Aug

Government and public spending has, can, and should play a role in moving Buffalo forward – out of its dead industrial past and into a knowledge-based future. Our excellent public university system molds and mentors the business leaders of tomorrow. They experiment and learn. They develop ideas, products, and services that may lay the foundation for future economic growth.

So, when the University at Buffalo finds its ambitious expansion plans stymied by a dysfunctional and downstate-heavy legislature, that doesn’t just adversely affect UB and SUNY. It harms Buffalo and WNY in general. Adding billions in local economic activity and tens of thousands of students, faculty, and researchers to our area would undoubtedly be a direct and immediate benefit, while the work and studying that they do could very well provide the region with benefits for years to come. UB was asking for autonomy, yes. But it was asking for autonomy in an order to expand, and to enter into cooperative agreements with private companies – freedoms that other states grant to their state universities, reflecting the fact that the worlds of business and academia advance when they work together.

UB2020 may or may not be the answer to all of Buffalo’s ills, but, typically, we’ll never know.

What Are Journalists For?

30 Aug

Are journalists, specifically news and political journalists serving the public well in this age of new and persistent media?

In a recent interview published in The Economist, NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen had this to say in response to that very question:

DiA: You’ve written a book titled “What Are Journalists For?” Looking at political coverage in America, how is your answer to that question different from the job journalists are actually doing today?

Mr Rosen: No one has ever asked me that.  I will let this instance stand for the whole.  A very typical pattern is when journalists fall into horse-race coverage, where they ask:  Who’s going to win?  What’s the strategy?  Is it working?  Focusing on those things helps advertise the political innocence of the press because “who’s winning?” is not an ideological question.  By repeatedly asking it journalists underline that theirs is not an ideological profession.  But how does this pattern help voters make a decision?  Should they vote for the candidate with the best strategy?

My own view is that journalists should describe the world in a way that helps us participate in political life.  That is what they are “for”.  But too often they position us as savvy analysts of a scene we are encouraged to view from a certain distance, as if we were spectators to our own democracy, or clever manipulators of our fellow citizens.  (emphasis mine) Weird, isn’t it?  So that’s why I wrote my book and gave it that title.

As I flip around the news channels each night and hit all my regular news websites throughout the course of the day, I keep rediscovering this theme.  Very little content on the issue at hand, more on the surrounding factors and the results of action.  None of which helps inform the public.  I just thought it was food for thought, read the whole interview for more…

Keeping Hope Alive

30 Aug

I, too, hope that someday Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and thousands of other Caucasian Americans have the right to vote, not pay a poll tax, to use the same public facilities as other Americans, ride anywhere in the bus that they wish, not be discriminated against in housing, public accommodations, or employment, and are otherwise not treated as second-class citizens.

It’s therefore perfectly fitting that Beck’s revival meeting was held on the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Photo credit: NY Daily News

Hey, new site!

30 Aug

So far, I’m liking the new WNYMedia.net. Then again, it’s easy to like the recent, new iterations of WNYMedia.net because Chris Van Patten knows what he’s doing and works within a deadline. So far the only major things I’m noticing are the omission of a blogroll (perhaps we can replace it with a blog-version of Twitter’s Follow Friday), the “sharing is sexy” thingy under comments that screams acid-washed jeans at me for some reason, and the fact that the body of posts is significantly narrower than the 630-ish px from the last site.

Every re-do of the site takes some getting used to, but I like the way the gang has better integrated the writers and partners into the site this time around, and it’s fun to see what we keep talking about actually get implemented. Great job.

By the way, it’s the slowest week of the year, save Christmastime. Posting will be light. Besides, the city is too busy navel-gazing over City Grill.

The Soft Launch of The New WNYMedia

30 Aug

Today, we unveil yet another version of WNYMedia…we’ll consider it a “soft launch”.  We’ve still got a few things to work out, but we’ll be working on them through the course of the day.  The site design is based on feedback from nearly 1000 readers that we’ve received through various surveys we’ve done over the past six months.

Our plan is for WNYMedia to become a distribution point for what’s happening right now in our region.  We plan to introduce new features including live feeds, streaming video, podcasts, streaming radio, twitter/facebook integration and a consolidated feed of articles from our bevy of writers.  Our focus is on usability and ease of navigation, which were issues in the previous design.  Including our partners (Artvoice, WECK1230 and YNN), we’re creating upwards of 40-50 pieces of content each day, but we weren’t making it very easy to find or share.  We’ll have better tools for finding recent stories and an ability to track how they develop.

We’re adding all sorts of new functionality, but most importantly, this is a massive reorganization of content.  A reorganization of how we create, display, share and comment on the various articles we write everyday.

Previously, we created content which was published to an individual blog where everyone would read, share, or comment on the article.  We then aggregated links to the stories to the front page of wnymedia.net.

That’s changing.

Now, we will all be creating content on the front page of wnymedia.net.  You’ll see the excerpts of the articles along with the photo of the author who wrote it.  You’ll click the title to read, share or comment on it.  We’ll also aggregate the articles from each writer on their own author page, which you can access by clicking their name.

For now, poke around, tell us what’s broken, tell us what you like and what you don’t like, etc.

We’re just hoping this goes better than the Digg relaunch from last week

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Losing the Narrative, Always

29 Aug

I don’t understand how or why normal people cede the narrative on cultural issues to the cynical-hysterical ultra-right. I’m thinking specifically about the Park51 non-Ground Zero non-mosque, but it happens all the time. The right wing noise machine starts out with its daily talking points, Drudge, Fox News, which then morphs to talk radio and occasionally blogs. By the time the day is over, many people repeat the lies as fact, and they become the basis of the debate. All normal people are left to do is to try and rebut the lies, but the damage has already been done – the narrative has been set.

That’s why we’re busy rebutting the notion that this is an evil victory mosque set up by an extreme terrorist sympathizing imam who is taking money from al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Muslim terrorist groups that don’t get along at all. It’s why the Republicans who are demagoguing this nontroversy frame it as not so much a question of religious freedom, but one of feelings. Oh, sure it’s legal and they can’t be legally stopped, they argue. But that’s hallowed ground, near the Amish Market deli, the OTB, and the topless bar. That place is sacred! – it’s two blocks from Ground Zero, around the corner from two extant mosques in the neighborhood. It’s not that all Muslims are terrorists, but all the 9/11 terrorists were Muslim!

It’s a load of reverse-political-correctness bullshit. Hell, Carl Paladino – the forwarder of horse porn and emails containing the word “nigger” – the guy who idiotically calls the Governor a “drug addict” – the guy who wants to herd the poor and unemployed into decommissioned penitentiaries – the tea partier who wants to create a nouveau New Deal make-work program – the guy who (also) called Shelly Silver the anti-Christ – the guy who thinks the poors are so dirty that the state should teach them hygiene – the family values bullshit artist who has cheated on his wife, and fathered a child she didn’t give birth to – the candidate who wants to turn “three men in a room” to one man in a room – the guy who likened health care reform to 9/11 (I thought 9/11 was too sacred to sully or politicize).

Aside: Just look at that list – it says a lot that an admitted madman (see Beale, Howard) who has said, done, and advocated the things listed above in just four or five months is gaining traction in the Republican primary race. Then again, Lazio is MIA.

I’m sick and tired of the center-left being on the defensive from the get-go on these types of nontroversies, and it makes me quite depressed about the state of our republic that this kind of bullshit can happen so easily, and with such formulaic regularity. Whatever we’re doing isn’t working.

Meanwhile, a New York cabbie with 15 years’ experience named Ahmed Sharif was slashed by alleged drunken douchebag/asshole/slasher Michael Enright of Brewster, NY. Sharif had answered “yes” when Enright asked him if he was Muslim. It may have been alcohol-fueled, but it was also fueled by hatred and fear. That hatred and fear, in turn, was fueled by vicious demagogues like Carl Paladino, Pamela Geller, and other fascists like the little peasant on WBEN at 9am.

Riccardo McCray Photo

29 Aug

During yesterday’s press conference announcing that the Buffalo Police had arrested Riccardo McCray in connection with the murder of four people at Buffalo’s City Grill restaurant on August 14th, Police Commissioner Dan Derenda requested that the media not publish photos of the suspect.

Photo Courtesy of The Buffalo News, Photographer John Hickey

While he released the name and address of the suspect, Derenda claimed that publication of a photo would compromise identification of the suspect in a witness lineup.  Earlier today, community activist Darnell Jackson claimed that a photo of McCray had been posted in the Ferry-Grider projects, where McCray lives, as well as in other parts of the surrounding community.  He showed the media a copy of the photo for confirmation.

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Buffalo Police spokesman Mike DeGeorge said, “This is absolutely incorrect.  The Buffalo Police Department never posted photos of McCray in the neighborhood.  Officers were issued ‘Be On The Look Out’ (BOLO) photos to aid in the search, but those photos were police confidential and not for distribution to the public.  If those pictures were on the street, the Buffalo Police Department did not have anything to do with it.”

It’s quite possible that lineup identification has already been compromised due to the photo being widely available in the community.  “Posting McCray’s photo in the neighborhood was reckless, I mean, there was a street contract on him.  Posting it in the streets, but not for the whole community to see in the media just encourages street justice”, said one neighborhood activist who requested anonymity.

Like most media outlets, WNYMedia had been in possession of McCray’s BOLO photo since late last week and had refrained from publishing the photo so as not to interfere with an ongoing investigation.  The official line from the BPD was that McCray was  a “person of interest” who was “sought for questioning”.  However, our sources in the police department and in the community had told us he was being sought as the shooting suspect. We made the decision to err on the side of discretion until we had more details.

We were unaware that the photo was already available in multiple locations of the city.  If we had known, we would have posted the photo to advance the story and inform the public writ large about the identity of the suspect.

Perhaps media publication of the photo prior to McCray’s surrender would have more quickly led to an arrest.  It certainly would have alerted people in the community to the presence of an allegedly “armed and dangerous” criminal who could have been walking the streets.  In his interview with WIVB’s Rich Newberg, McCray claims that he did not turn himself in because he didn’t see his name or face in the media.  McCray had only heard from others on the street that he was being sought, he didn’t believe he was really being sought for questioning.

At this point, media outlets are still cooperating with police requests to not publish this photo.  Why?  McCray has surrendered, been formally charged and arraigned  for the crime.  People have a right to see the alleged face of the most heinous crime in Buffalo’s recent history.  What other criminal, after being formally charged with a crime has continued to have his identity protected by the media?  What other criminal has surrendered to a media outlet?  The media and our actions thus far are absolutely central to the larger story.

It’s not just about the photo, it’s about the role of media in this new era of information dissemination.  An era in which the Buffalo Police pays a former reporter to manage media relations and construct a narrative for the reporters to follow.

At what point does the media morph from being a watchdog for transparency and oversight of government agencies into an arm of the public relations operation of the Buffalo Police Department?  Certainly, journalists have to balance the need of the public’s right to know with public safety, but has the local media overextended courtesy in this instance?  We live in one of the most racially divided cities in America, it seems to me that the disconnect between the media, the police and what actually happens on the streets of Buffalo has never been more obvious.

We’ve spent the better part of 24 hours having an internal debate with our staff as well as with members of the establishment media whom we consider to be mentors.  I want to publish the photo as I believe people have the right to know.  Marc Odien does not.  We established a compromise to let the community have input into what we should do with the photo and also gather feedback on how you feel the story has been handled thus far.  The era of informational decisions made in a closed editorial board room are over, information deserves to be free.

Are we doing the right thing complying with police requests to withhold his photo or do people have a right to know?

You tell us.

Escape the Urban: Letchworth

29 Aug

Escape the Urban is a new regular feature exploring the outdoors near Western New York.

What more is there to be said about Letchworth State Park, the Grand Canyon of the East, a regular destination for families and tourists from Western and Central New York. Perhaps you have driven the winding roads, walked along the stone walled gorge edge, and enjoyed a waterfall or two. You may have had tea at the Glen Iris Inn, or marveled at the railroad bridge crossing high above the canyon. The western edge of the gorge is very car friendly, civilized, accessible, and, if you don’t mind me saying so, paved.

For a different perspective, try the other side of the gorge. The eastern, unpaved, uncivilized side, where a different view is possible.

Upper Falls from the east

This eastern side follows old canals and railways, hidden valleys and streams, and provides a completely new appreciation for a park many of us have already visited often.

Middle Falls

For my son’s first overnight backpacking trip, I chose a nine mile trek from Portageville in the south to a bivouac shelter up in the hills above the Genesee River. Nine miles is the perfect mix of misery and accomplishment, exhaustion and achievement, to provide the true backpacking experience: tired feet and shoulders, aching back, empty stomach, and the exhilaration that you trudged sleeping bags, tent, food and water up a path only accessible by your hard work and sweat.

Our trip was exclusively along the Letchworth Trail, a spur trail of the mighty Finger Lakes Trail, that connects Allegheny State Park with the Catskills, and provides access to the Great Eastern Trail, Appalachian Trail, and Long Path along the way (more about our unlikely and tremendous national footpaths in a future column). Those nine miles, only one third of the Letchworth Trail’s total length, cover a wide variety of Western New York history and habitat.

The southern end of the hike, climbing out of Portageville, and up the eastern side of gorge, quickly picks up and follows the old Genesee Valley Canal, this section built in the 1850’s and used into the 1870’s to connect Rochester to Olean via waterway, by skirting the massive falls of the Genesee River. The path is relatively level, just wide enough for the mules that used to ply it, and splits the gap between the gorge on one side and the abandoned canal on the other. All that is left of the canal itself, a massive construction undertaking rendered obsolete in less than twenty years by new rail lines, are massive ten foot timbers, the rotting former walls of the canal, and beaver dams backing up the water in low pools not yet filled with rock slides and debris.

The end of the gorge

The Letchworth Trail leaves the old canal bed after a couple miles, and takes a nearly half mile detour around a massive landslide, before joining the old bed of the Genesee Valley Railroad, the progeny and successor of the canal system, and now the Genesee Valley Greenway. The railroad was, astoundingly, not removed until the 1960’s, though throughout much of its life, construction equipment was permanently stationed on the gorge wall to repair track done in by the natural processes of erosion. Now these old right of ways provide transportation opportunities of a different kind: hop on your bike in Letchworth, and you can peddle to Genesee Valley Park in Rochester via the Greenway.

Inspiration Falls from Inspiration Point on the east rim

The Greenway/Letchworth Trail continues along the gorge edge, past Inspiration Point (with a view a Inspiration Falls), and then plunges into the hills, leaving the fading rock walls behind. The Greenway leads to an old DEC road for a short time, and then becomes a true footpath again, across Dishmill Creek (ingeniously named for the industry that used to occupy its shore), and fording innumerable tributaries that form the Genesee Valley watershed. The beauty here is more subtle, and less dramatic, than the wide views of the canyons and waterfalls left behind. Stands of long needled White Pine and Shagbark Hickory. Solitary giant oaks and maples, remnants of the old growth before the logging. Narrow slate bottom creeks, rock tabled from years of erosion, where one could imagine a smaller Falling Water being right at home. Up, and down, and across, five more miles later, my son and I spotted our shelter with weary gratitude.

A different view of the famous railroad bridge

If You Take a Photo of Riccardo McCray, You Steal His Soul

27 Aug

It’s the last weekend in August, so I’m going to blog lightly over the next week or so.

With respect to the poll yesterday, here’s how it shook out:

Of those who clicked “other”, here were the responses:

Joe Illoser
darnell jackson
Mendola
Channel 2’s Jodi Johnston
Commander Tom
A naked Melissa Holmes ( :
Paris Hilton
Johnny Walker Green
MY ATTORNEY
Buffalo Pundit
don esmonde – but he’d decline, too scary…
Ginger Geoffery
Ginger Geoffery
The Police
Channel 2’s Jodi Johnston.
a lawyer
MAry Kunz Goldman – and what is WECK?
Jodi Johnston
Lady Gaga
Maria Genero
Channel 7’s Mike Randall
Linda Pellegrini
unhh, the cops?
Jodi Johnston
My Lawyer
alan bedenko
my attorney
Jodi Johnston
Joe Major
Dave McKinley
Diane Sawyer
Liz Benjamin
Melissa Holmes
Carl Paladino
Stever Tasker
WIVB weather guru, Don Paul (‘cuz he cracks me up)
Pope Don Paul
Kevin Jolly
Fareed Zakaria
Rev. Al Sharpton
Newell Nussbaumer at Buffalo Rising
Buffalo Rising…Maybe it will force them to write about something meaninful…
WBEN’s Susan Rose
Sara Serafin
shredd and regan
Channel 4’s Tricia Cruz
Commander Tom

In the meantime, read this piece by Glenn Greenwald, and note that Carl Paladino so despises the dysfunctional, corrupt, and otherwise nasty political class in Albany that he’s cozying up to asshole extraordinaire and friend of Espada, Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr.

Happy Weekend!