Archive | December, 2010

Cultural Tourism

28 Dec

A few weeks ago, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt wrote this:

“There’s a lot of ball-dropping going on,” said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat. “This is, in my opinion, a crisis in the making.”

Hoyt, in a letter to the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau, expressed concern about a “lack of cooperation” between the Buffalo Sabres, who are hosting the event, and the CVB.

“We can’t do these things in silos,” he told The Buffalo News. “What’s important is to take what little time we have left to make this right.”

The Sabres, who spent more than a year planning the 12-day, 10-team international tournament, reacted angrily to Hoyt’s claims…

…Hoyt said his concern is that whatever planning has taken place is insufficient for an event as large as the World Juniors.

He referred to the 2000 NCAA basketball tournament, when out-of-town fans walked out of HSBC Arena with no clue where to find food and drinks.

“What concerns me is that we have an opportunity to create thousands of Buffalo ambassadors,” he said. “The alternative is we leave thousands of visitors saying, ‘Boy, I saw a great tournament but Buffalo— what a lousy city.’ ”

At the time, some roundly criticized Hoyt for “bashing” the Sabres because of his ongoing feud with Floridian billionaire and Sabres-seller Tom Golisano.  Based on the outrageous & breathless media outrage over a 17 year-old hockey player’s Tweet calling Buffalo a “ghost town” that’s worse than Medicine Hat, Alberta, it seems as if Hoyt was exactly correct.

What, precisely, is a 17 year-old supposed to do holed up in the Hyatt or in the last Adam’s Mark on the planet? He can’t go drinking.  There’s quite literally no shopping.  The downtown mall is an embarrassment. All the stuff a teenager might enjoy is either up on Elmwood or out in the suburbs.

Too bad Mark Goldman’s Ohio Street arts corridor isn’t yet open.  Too bad Etem can’t go watch a laser light show projected onto a rusting eyesore of a grain elevator in subfreezing temperatures.  Too bad there’s nothing – not even a taco truck – at Canal Side for Etem to do or see.

While Allentown merchants banded together to promote their neighborhood to visitors, there’s no easy way to get there if you don’t have a car.  Not everyone enjoys the allure and mystique of grabbing exact change and waiting 20 minutes in the cold for a bus to appear.  A dedicated bus circuit specifically for hockey players and attendees wouldn’t have cost a lot, and would have gone a long way towards showing off the city and helping to entertain a visitor population that isn’t here to get drunk or admire Frank Lloyd Wright’s handiwork.

I realize that it doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks of the city, and that it shouldn’t be a media frenzy at all.  The point here is to bring up the fact that Hoyt specifically foresaw this and asked that planning be adequate to accommodate out-of-towners who don’t have cars and want to do things.

2010: This Year in Fail

27 Dec

Every media outlet does a “this year in” retrospective. However, no one else will kick theirs off by pointing out that 2010 was a year of chaps-free Cejkas.  2010’s prowess is legendary.

County government started out 2010 having settled a longstanding dispute with ECMC over yearly contributions. Over at City Hall, the Karla Thomas / HR problem was just getting going, and I asked why it was, precisely, that it all happened in spite of CitiStat. As new Senator Kirsten Gillibrand got used to her new Washington digs, the New York City elites were scrambling to find someone – anyone – to primary her. (Tennessee’s most famous Wall Street ex-pol sent up a Pigeon-assisted trial balloon, to no avail). You see, she’s one of those upstate, northern women. They had written her off before they even gave her a chance. Now, she’s well-regarded for her leadership on DADT repeal, 9/11 health workers, and health care reform. What a difference 12 months make.

In the meantime, a so-called “reform coalition” was formulated in the county legislature, giving County Executive Chris Collins a de facto majority. Democrats Tim Kennedy, Christina Bove, and Barbara Miller-Williams broke away from the remainder of the Democratic caucus to form a coalition with the minority Republicans and help progress the Collins – Pigeon – Brown agenda. It was the embodiment of the alliance of the Collins and Brown political machines, and died hard just 12 months later. Some of our writing got a bit inside basebally, so Chris and I wrote  “Profiles in Fail” to help fill in some blanks. The legislature became what we termed an “orgy of transactional politics”, and we explained the legislature coup in some more detail here:

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The first WNY-based Republican to start sniffing around the governor’s race was Chris Collins. He was also the first WNY-based Republican gubernatorial-race-sniffer to say something really, really stupid. In Collins’ case, he said in 2009 that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (a despicable little toad, for sure) was the third anti-Christ, and then quickly followed it up in January by jokingly asking Laura Montante-Zaepfel – a politically super-connected Uniland bigshot – for a lapdance during Governor Paterson’s State of the State address. Collins, true to form, is too proud and perfect to admit he made a mistake, much less apologize.  Collins and Paladino were similar in their patent, unrepentant misogyny.

Speaking of Carl Paladino, February was the first time we caught wind of Carl Paladino possibly running for governor.

If nothing else, Paladino’s alleged candidacy would be entertaining, because he is unafraid to speak his mind. As wealthy as he is opinionated, he can self-fund any campaign for office. Likewise, he could easily commit daily Collinsesque gaffes and get away with it, thanks to his reputation for not having a filter between brain and mouth.

I like that Paladino has a “fire” in his belly. But it would be better channeled at treating the causes, rather than just the symptoms, of our malaise.

But let’s say he became Governor. Now what?

Our state government is not some kind of dictatorship where the governor can just parachute in, make fundamental structural and political changes, and then parachute out. Like it or not, there is a legislative process and the rules there give other people power, as well. If you run in like you own the place, you’re going to be met with massive pushback, and existing crises can be made more acute.

Not to say that’s what would happen, but if you multiply the dubious accomplishments of “steamroller” Spitzer by 100, you probably get close to the effectiveness a Governor Paladino might enjoy.

But the whole Paladino candidacy is part of our collective Western New York dysfunction – our penchant for top-down, silver bullet solutions to really big, really complicated fundamental, structural problems. Instead of the people taking charge from the roots and initiating complicated governmental change from the bottom-up, we expect and rely upon saviors to do it for us. Instead of building up a new entrepreneurial class – a bourgeois revolution redux, if you will – we expect our existing powerbrokers and loudmouth millionaires to do it for us.

After all, as I wrote almost two years ago, there’s not much difference between the problems ailing Cuba and the problems ailing WNY. And I’m not talking about socialism, per se. I’m talking about cynicism, stasis, and reliance on change from above.
Whether it’s Bass Pro, the Adelphia Tower, Chris Collins, or Carl Paladino.

We need to stop relying on gimmicks, one-shots, and silver bullets, and start attacking problems at their source. All the Paladinos in the world aren’t going to change Albany if you still have people in office like the dynastic Dale Volker or the hackish Bill Stachowski in office.

The execrable Antoine Thompson hemmed and hawed about how he’d vote re: expelling his slash-happy colleague, Hiram Monserrate. Later in the year, he got belligerent with Ron Plants, of all people.

Chris Collins decided he had had enough of poor working mothers having subsidized day care so they could go to work and earn a living. Eric Massa turned out to be something of a weirdo. Shame, that.

Collins and Sheriff Tim Howard found themselves targets of a federal inquiry into the extraordinarily high number of suicide incidents in the county jail system – an issue that still hasn’t been fully resolved. In response, Collins bitched and moaned that anyone who had a thought in his head that wasn’t in complete synchronicity with his own has an “agenda” and is in favor of the “status quo”. Shorter Collins: suicides, schmuicides.

But I never did end up writing that “Chris Collins should drop dead” post.

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Meanwhile, development in Buffalo was as inactive a laughingstock as ever. The Statler has stood empty all year – worthless, empty, crumbling, anachronistic. It is symbolic in many ways of Buffalo itself, a shadow of its former glory, struggling to find relevance in a world that’s largely passed it by. Rocco Termini’s Lafayette Hotel project moved forward in fits and starts, but that 10 year-old Artvoice billboard on the side of AM&A still serves to underscore that building’s emptiness.

Canal Side started making news in 2010 with talk of a living wage mandate for workers hired by businesses located within the project. It’s a requirement being pushed by the Canal Side Community Alliance and Coalition for Economic Justice, and backed by a handful of city councilpeople. Naturally, we can leave it to Carl Paladino to discuss it reasonably. Later in the year, Mark Goldman and the Fishers decided to sue the state because it was using public money on the Canal Side project, ignoring some patent irony.

Paladino’s campaign donned some makeup and sent up another trial balloon in the form of a nasty open letter to Brian Higgins on the issue of health care reform. He made his run official just a week later, coinciding nicely with the start of the 2010 WNYMedia.net Tournament of Political Failure. The complete rundown is shown here, and congratulations – you won!

At least Volker opted to bow out.

Carl held a big party in early April with all his employees and friends, appropriating the cry of madman Howard Beale as his campaign slogan.

A glowing, lengthy bio piece in the News revealed the existence of an extramarital child – a revelation that would sink mere mortals within minutes. Yet Paladino was unmoved, instead lecturing people about welfare queens and teh gayz, claiming, “I bring values, resiliency, a thick skin and I’m not afraid to be confrontational.”

Yet his values were non-existent, his skin was thinner than parchment, and we outed him as being a bit crazy when it came to forwarding emails. At least once a year, we break a big story – this year, it was Carl’s emails, and that story had some legs, still being talked about right up through election day. But contrary to popular belief, we never said Carl was racist.

But we had a great deal of fun with him, and the growing cleave within the local tea party groups. Rus Thompson, partly due to his close working relationship with Paladino, who was now accepted by the Republican establishment, drew criticism from former friends. But the “tea party coalition” did mighty battle against the “TeaGOP”. In the three-ringed circus of WNY politics, Allen Coniglio proved himself time and again to be its clown shoes. Again. And Again.

Although I later changed my mind twice, I originally predicted Paladino would never win.

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His campaign turned out to be quite touchy indeed; perhaps the touchiest ever. Andrew Cuomo officially announced in late May. Paladino ended up choosing a renegade Queens Republican as his running mate.

I went down to Westchester for the Democratic Convention, which was largely uneventful, save for a marathon session to permit all the AG candidates to remain on the September ballot, and an entertaining visit from “King Cuomo II”, i.e., Curtis Sliwa.

Somewhere, there is a place where competent government and taxation intersect. It behooves us to find that crossing whenever possible to at least avoid irreversable catastrophe.

There were other races, as well. Republicans fought to replace Volker. Marc Coppola announced he was running against Mike Ranzenhofer AND electoral fusion. Rory Allen tried to ride roughshod over Antoine Thompson. In a golf cart. The Democrats fought to replace Stachowski, with Tim Kennedy ultimately winning. In the summer, NYPA ponied up some more money to Canal Side, which was starting to talk Bass Pro again, and outer harbor connector.

The Buffalo News all but banned commenters, and then inexplicably forbade Jim Heaney from blogging about the goings-on in city and county government.

As the Republican gubernatorial primary “heated” up, it came down to: who hates Muslims and the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” more? Paladino won that argument. Handily. The execrable, ambiguous, mulleted freak heard daily on WBEN from 9 – 12 went along for the Mooslim-hatin’ ride, because he’s a conspiratorial bandwagon-riding cretin, and an intellectual coward, to boot.

Paladino then decided it’d be swell to throw welfare recipients into decommissioned prisons.

We found out this summer that finally, Bass Pro wasn’t coming to Buffalo, ever. All done. Enough. But now, HSBC was throwing a monkey wrench into the works.

The Buffalo News published Mark Goldman’s prissy “Obstructionist Manifesto”, and we responded with the “Regular Buffalo Person’s Manifesto”. The Coalition of Enough Already was reborn, and Chris and I punctured the myth of the singular Buffalo elite. I later wrote “New Buffalo’s” obituary.

The summer also saw the City Grill get shot up, and all hell broke loose. Will you also surrender to Rich Newberg?

Right before primary day, Rachel Maddow hosted our own Marc Odien, (more here and here), and there were rumors afloat about Antoine Thompson being vulnerable. Nothing came of that, but Paladino obliterated Rick Lazio. David DiPietro fought in court to stay on the ballot despite losing the GOP primary to Pat Gallivan. On the Democratic side, Cynthia Appleton ran a valiant race against the former Sheriff, Gallivan, and the bellicose tea partier, DiPietro. On the county side, we continued to question Chris Collins’ ideas and motivations.

Suddenly, Paladino was thrust into the national and state media spotlight. Despite a few missteps, the response from a Democratic side that was unprepared for his victory was so anemic that I went ahead and predicted Carl’s victory. It was all a big temper tantrum, though, and Paladino’s media handling was quite adept.

All that was needed was another opportunity for Carl to be caught unawares.

We got that opportunity when Carl decided he’d threaten to kill the New York Post’s Fred Dicker. On camera. Suddenly, Paladino was on the defensive again, and got ever-touchier.

In October, the Board of Elections claimed that the legislature downsizing ballot question could not be put before the voters on a technicality. That was defeated.

Carl Paladino tried to get back on-message after the Dicker fiasco, and bought some TV time to set the record straight and get back to “issues”. Instead, the 5:13 to Nowhere was just a whine-fest and little more. Featuring Nancy Naples, of all people, pointing her bejeweled finger at you, shaming you into giving money to Carl.

The final nail in the coffin of the Paladino campaign was his bumbling, fumbling handling of the Yehuda Levin anti-gay controversy. Having read remarks someone else handed him, Paladino said horrible things about gays, only to retract them days later. We decided that his invocation of “pornographers and perverts” in discussing gay marriage was particularly egregious. Paladino also insisted that all the gubernatorial candidates – even the fringe ones join in any debate. He got his wish, resulting in Jimmy McMillan’s 15 minutes of fame coming and going.

Even Carl’s friend David DiPietro got into the Carl email fun.

By the end of October, Carl’s race was all but over. He became less and less credible and relevant with each passing day. As it turns out, Carl’s gay nephew, who allegedly prompted Carl to flip flop on the Hasidic/gay thing, is something of  an asshole, but an asshole who should have the right to marry any other asshole.

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Not to be outdone by an imploding Carl Paladino, Antoine Thompson did everything he could in his re-election bid to become an even less relevant laughingstock. The last straw was his anti-lawyer vitriol directed at all-around-nice-guy Mark Grisanti. In the “race” in NY-27, Higgins’ opponent Lenny Roberto turned out to be a rank homophobe with questionable campaign funding.

A New York Observer piece named WNYMedia.net, “the site that saved Andrew Cuomo.” In November, the WNYMedia.net writers collaborated on our endorsements, as Carl Paladino threw his buddy DiPietro deep under the bus.

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Cuomo made his final argument, Kerplunk went the turd, and the vote was over. We WNYMedia.net types finally made the FCC-regulated airwaves to cover election night with Brad Riter on WECK 1230.

With the election season behind us, it was time to start bikeshedding development issues again. It started, more or less, with a call for the ECHDC to “pause” a decade-long process. We thought everyone should just relax. Seriously. We WNYMedia.net types came up with our own recommendations, and we attended the open houses. We saw the videos, and commented on them. “Lighter, Faster, Cheaper” was the mantra being thrown around, and became moot when the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation called Goldman’s bluff.

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I started reading the My View column out loud, most recently, one penned by Stefan Mychajliw.

Finally, the year was topped off by the Erie County Legislature doing battle with Chris Collins over 0.1% of the county budget. The regular fights and protests from the culturals came to fruition, and if there’s one bright spot, it’s what appears to be the demise of the detestable “reform coalition”. There’s got to be a better way. Some sort of solution should be discussed in earnest.

Thanks, everybody, for a great 2010 & have a great 2011!

Merry Christmas!

24 Dec

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Das Scheißhaus war voll, ganz voll!

Happy Christmas, Godspeed in the New Year

23 Dec

Whether you and yours celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah (a little late now), the Winter Solstice, Yuletide, or the secularized worship of old men in red suits and the materialist consumerism he brings, make it merry, relaxing and peaceful, and all the best in the New Year. As I’m reflecting on a wonderful and eventful year here at WNYMedia, and gearing up for bigger and better in 2011, I’ll be taking the next week off from writing, unless major local and world events demand otherwise.

I’ll leave you with one last thought, as you throw another log on the fire: this Saturday, thousands of young men (and a few hardy women) will leave their cold cots, don their gear, hoist rifle and radio, and trudge out on patrol like the 25th is just another date on the calendar. Don’t feel sorry for them – they volunteered for the job. But do remember them, while you enjoy your table of plenty, and let’s hope many many more of them are home this time next year.

Fah who for-aze. Dah who dor-aze. Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day.

Depoliticize the Mundane

22 Dec

That deal whereby Chris Collins would dip into $100,000 of his own personal federal stimulus rainy day fund, and local foundations would pony up another $400,000 to fund the tertiary tier of cultural groups, died yesterday after a short illness.  It was one week old.

It is survived by Robert Gioia’s Oishei foundation’s decision to spend $400,000 on the culturals through the Fund for the Arts, which was set up during the last, genuine county budget crisis (as opposed to the thoroughly manufactured and non-existent one that is taking place now).

To:      Chris Collins, Erie County Executive,
Barbara Miller-Williams, Chair, Erie County Legislature
Clotilde Dedecker, Convener, Fund for the Arts
From:  Jim Wadsworth, Chair, The John R. Oishei Foundation
Robert Gioia, President, The John R. Oishei Foundation
Re:      Offer of Cooperative Assistance to Cultural Organizations
Date:  December 21, 2010

Because of the astounding amount of responses, misunderstanding, and apparent “unintended consequences” related to the Oishei Foundation’s offer to raise $400,000 to match a county contribution of $100,000, we have decided to revise our strategy and work directly with the cultural organizations through the Fund for the Arts. Whatever funds we are able to raise will be provided to them through the process established by the Fund for the Arts.

It is our strong hope that efforts to provide support to the critical ‘second-tier’ cultural organizations, as well as the Library, will continue in earnest by those legislators who believe in their importance. If the legislature or the executive wishes to participate in the Fund for the Arts with a financial contribution to the Fund, it will be welcome; however, it will only be accepted without any conditions beyond a requirement to report on how it was distributed.

The Fund for the Arts was begun in response to a similar legislative budgetary disaster in 2005, when many of the same organizations were similarly caught in a political struggle. Since it was begun, nine foundations – all with differing funding processes and philosophies – have managed to agree to distribute over $1 million in pooled funds to these groups for general operating support and for technical assistance and training programs. We will continue to work toward strengthening the arts and cultural sector.

The Oishei Foundation has been a major contributor to the Fund for the Arts, and in addition to that effort, has made major contributions to such organizations as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Roycroft Campus, Darwin Martin House, Buffalo Philharmonic, and many others. We will continue to do so. However, we have concluded that working with the leadership of the legislature and the administration of the county on this effort is doing more harm than good in a number of ways.

We are announcing this action to the public via press release today.

Democratic lawmakers subjected Gioia to a bit of a grilling on Monday – Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams in particular.  Two weeks ago, she had been trying to craft a compromise package with Collins’ input.  That effort ultimately failed.  When Collins vetoed 154 budget line items, there weren’t enough votes to override any of them because the Republican lawmakers had rode in as saviors of the tertiary tier of culturals with this $100k for $400k deal with the foundations.

Miller-Williams and other Democrats questioned the timing of this deal, because it made them look bad and dealt the Republicans a bit of an “everyone wins”  victory.  Evidently, Gioia had proposed this very solution to Collins weeks ago, and Collins brushed him aside.  Republican lawmakers got wind of it on the day of the veto override and revived it without notifying the Democratic majority, going so far as to bar them from attending their press conference on the issue.

So now the legislature is concerned that it won’t have any input over which groups get the money.  It’s classic scrambling, because the doling out of public money equates with power in this town.  After all, just about everyone’s got a hand out.  Some of the grilling of Gioia seemed petty and pointless.

So, Gioia took his ball and went home.

The Republican legislators reacted,

The Republican Caucus was disappointed in learning that Robert Gioia and the Oishei Foundation have withdrawn its offer to support cultural organizations through a public-private partnership with Erie County. The announcement came one day after the Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee met and criticized the foundation’s generous offer and how it was made.  The Caucus thanks Mr. Gioia for his offer to help County cultural organizations and for his continued support for the region. This public-private partnership was an exemplary plan, one that the Republican Caucus strongly supported.

Well, what the committee really criticized was the political way in which this political deal came about politically and the fact that there was no plan for distributing the money, and no guarantee that the affected culturals would all receive funding.

Late yesterday, Miller-Williams released this statement,

I have received the Memorandum from Mr. Jim Wadsworth and Mr. Robert Gioia of the John R. Oishei Foundation this afternoon.  Since then I have reached out to Minority Leader John Mills and Majority Leader Maria Whyte regarding this matter. In addition, I have notified all Legislative Colleagues regarding the content of the Memorandum.  Collectively, with the County Executive’s Office, we are seeking to find a solution that will benefit the residents of Erie County and provide needed financial support to the noted Arts and Cultural Organizations.

It’s time to depoliticize the mundane. The legislature has been helping to fund regional cultural organizations for years, because the public wants them to exist and survive.  The arts and the libraries are what differentiate us from cavemen, and no civilization can exist without them.  These very groups are what people point to when explaining why it’s tolerable to live in this windswept, surface-parking-laden tundra.  The arts rely – and have always relied – on benefactors.  Whether it be private commissions, philanthropic generosity, or public money, society has made a value judgment that the arts are worth supporting because it helps to lift up the whole region. Seldom do artistic entities rely solely on ticket sales or operating “like a business”.  Because they’re not businesses.  They’re artistic and cultural nonprofit organizations. Whether you go to them or not, they help to attract businesses and people.  And their money.

In the old days, there was a nonpartisan board that would make recommendations to the county government as to which organizations should get how much.  Collins did away with that “ECCRAB” board because it meant he couldn’t  micromanage things and hyper-politicize the process.  Instead of a transparent application process, it became a Collins-driven mess.

This battle royal over what amounts to peanuts in a $1BN+ budget is a ridiculous annual tradition that serves no one.  It only benefits the press, politicians who like to see their names in print, and snarky bloggers who need dumb crap about which to write.  The culturals are ill-served, the public is ill-served, and the political process is further cheapened.

And we’re not even talking about the Comptroller’s office and the cuts thereto.  We don’t have the wherewithal to rationally debate these things because Collins isn’t interested in democracy or debate.  He is the law.  Le comte, c’est lui.

So, Gioia told the legislature to go and get its shinebox, and Collins has indirectly succeeded in removing the funding of the tertiary cultural tier from the county government’s purview altogether.

For now.

Because Gioia’s deal is a one-shot solution to a longstanding problem, and we’ll be right back in the same spot next year, arguing over the same peanuts.  Hopefully, however, we’ll have just elected a new County Executive who believes himself or herself to be accountable to the people.

In the meantime, a beleaguered place is further shamed by shameful things done by shameless people.

[UPDATED to fix some language and add some thoughts]

A Legacy of Wrongs Righted

21 Dec

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”  a compromise ploy that made few happy when instituted, will be dead before the end of the year. It was a bad policy, and a wrong has been righted. But the tone of the cheers I have heard for its demise seem to miss the point: why it took so long to go, and what its true implications will be.

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 Snarky idiot commenters at HuffPo accurately sum up the collective young American zeitgeist reaction to the repeal of DADT: “What took so long?” “Welcome to the 21st Century!” “It’s about time the military caught up.” Any such comment reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of the military itself, how it works, or even why we have one in the first place.

The US Military exists to kill and destroy our nation’s enemies. Full stop. It is not a mirror into which we see the best or worst of our country. It is not a subset of America to mold and shape to our desires. It is a fundamentally discriminatory organization. You can’t be too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny (so you can’t lift heavy gear), too out of shape, too unhealthy, disabled, or wish to overthrow the US government. You can’t join the infantry if you are a woman or a special unit unless you pass a number of academic and physical tests. The military is an undemocratic organization defending democracy, disciplined with rules abhorrent to the larger society and subjecting its members to stresses not found in the civilian world, because of the importance of its mission. I lost any shred of modesty or decency I had in the military, and have never found a non-sexual situation since in civilian life where co-workers spend as much time sleeping, showering, and being naked together. Such inconvenient facts complicate policy.  

These points are not new, but obviously bear repeating. The military is not general American society writ small, nor a petri dish. US military bases are not college campuses where the young people wear funny clothes. Most soldiers are happy to not question the wars they are asked to fight, but don’t want to be tinkered with or manipulated for outside political or social grandstanding.

Repealing DADT was the right decision not for broad civil rights reasons, or because we want the military to uphold American values, or because its the 21st Century, or because this is the next step in the LGBT struggle. Repealing DADT was the right decision because the US military needs as many smart, capable volunteers as it can get, and being gay or lesbian – unlike being too fat or too stupid or a criminal – does not make you a bad soldier. And it never has. The tragic, open secret in the US military is that while homosexuals were being discharged under DADT in some units, in others they served (and continue to serve) openly. I had several work for me while I was in command – everyone knew, and no one cared. The vast majority of the US military is under the age of 30. Individually, most could care less who is gay and who isn’t, and though not easy, the military is now ready to change collectively.

Being gay doesn’t make you a bad soldier, and neither did being Black. Which brings us to the next point: the implications for the future. Lost in the current “Who bunks with whom?” debate is the long term effect this policy change will have. In my opinion, the military will lead the way on gay marriage the way it did on racial integration 63 years ago.

Members of the military are paid different allowances for housing and food based upon how many dependents they have. Dependents are counted up in the military the same way they are on your taxes – you and your spouse each count as one. Gay soldiers have every reason to expect that their spouse, who they married in Vermont, would receive housing and medical care the same as any other spouse. Anything less is discriminatory. Before you know it, there is a de facto federal recognition of same sex marriage.

This policy on dependents has yet to be finalized. But it would be fitting for the military to be sniped at for being behind the times, only to be a national leader when all is said and done.

A Special Christmas in Buffalo

21 Dec

In a city which is host to tens of thousands of families who struggle to get by each and every day, it takes thousands of unnoticed random acts of kindness to keep it all together. Trite? Not by a long shot.

St Luke’s Mission of Mercy is a headquarters of hope on Buffalo’s East Side. Earlier this month, we visited St. Luke’s to see how their efforts were making a difference in their community this Holiday season.

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Each person who contributes in small, meaningful ways provides the glue which keeps this struggling community together.   So often, their efforts are overlooked because of a bigger, presumably more important story.   These people don’t contribute to charities or help those who are less fortunate in order to garner news coverage or even a thank you.   They do it because it’s the right thing to do and because they love their community and the people in it.

Michele Johnson is one of those people.  If you know Michele, you’re a better person because of it.   She is an asset to this city and she has touched the lives of so many with her grace, generosity and dignity.

In memory of her beloved son James, who passed away tragically in January of 2009 at the age of 24, she and her friends put together nearly 200 Christmas Stockings for kids at St. Luke’s Church in Buffalo.  Each stocking is filled with some warm socks or mittens, a small toy, a candy cane and a gift card.   For many kids, it’s the only Christmas present they’ll get this year.

She uses our site, Facebook, SpeakUpWNY, Twitter, email, and the phone to rally people to the aid of those in need during Christmas and all year round.  The beauty of Buffalo and WNY is that there are thousands of Michele Johnsons doing the very same thing.  I single her out because she is the reason I feel a very special Christmas spirit this year and she is one of my closest, most dear friends.  Meeting someone like Michele who gives so much of herself can change your life for the better, it certainly changed mine.

Last year, we shot this video of her and her friends bringing Easter baskets to the children of St. Luke’s.

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Bringing a moment of joy to children is a beautiful thing. If you have the time or resources, there are so many organizations which need your help this year, please consider helping out with donations of food, gifts, gently used clothes, warm coats, mittens, hats, and boots to the Buffalo City Mission, The Matt Urban Hope Center, Friends of The Night People, or any of the other hundreds of organizations in the city which help the less fortunate.

Learn more about St. Luke’s:

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Heroes For Kids Bike-a-thon

21 Dec

On Friday, July 29, 2011, three lifelong friends will complete the bike ride they started 25 years ago, but never got to finish together. The ride, titled “Heroes for Kids Bike-a-thon 2011,” is a 2,352-mile journey from Seguin, TX to Buffalo, N.Y., that will benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs (BGC), including the Geneva, NY chapter, as well as the Seneca Babcock Community Center in Buffalo, NY.

The purpose of this ride is to teach youth about finishing what they start and to increase awareness and funds for organizations such as the BGC and the Seneca Babcock Community Center, that provide critical services and programs to underprivileged youth.

In 1986, four guys started on an 8,141 mile journey to raise money for a Boys Club that shaped their lives.  Along their journey, one of the riders had to leave the trip for family reasons and two were hit by a truck while they were riding along the side of the road in Seguin, TX.  Only one of the original four riders was able to finish the trip. Doctors Dave Cywinski and Dan Alexander, who work together at the Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center and Tony Glosek who works with them, will bicycle 2,500 miles in 25 days next summer.

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Alexander, Cywinski and Glosek all grew up on the impoverished streets on the south side of Buffalo, N.Y. and attended Babcock Street Boys & Girls Club as children and through their teenage years. From an early age they understood the importance of sacrifice, community and the need to provide a fun, safe environment for children to “go and grow.” Because of the poverty and crime that existed in their neighborhood, they always credit the BGC as the key to staying out of trouble and helping to point them in the right direction.

“Without the Boys & Girls Clubs growing up, we wouldn’t be where we are today and we owe so much to the wonderful people who helped guide us,” said Dr. Cywinski. “Now, it’s our turn to give back and to provide a safe place for children to go and to help lead them in the right direction.”

On the south side of Buffalo today is the Seneca Babcock Community Center, which provides enriching, educational, recreational and social programs to community members of all ages. For more than 33 years, the community center has been in the forefront of youth development, working with young people from disadvantaged economic, social and family circumstances. Additionally, the center is dedicated to ensuring that the community’s disadvantaged youth have greater access to quality programs and services that will enhance their lives.

Get involved:

Follow the Heroes on Twitter as they plan their trip

For more information or for corporate sponsorships, contact Bill Wiesmore at 716.553.5158 or william@heroesforkidsbikeathon.com.

The community can also support Heroes for Kids Bike-a-thon 2011 by visiting http://www.heroesforkidsbikeathon.com.

Towards 2011

21 Dec

I had a major life change (a positive one) occur yesterday, and between that and the Holidays, posting will be thin over the next few weeks.

I’ll probably pop in from time to time, but I wish you all a very happy holiday season and wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2011.  I’m grateful to all of you who continue to read and support the site, and have helped make it what it is today.  Thanks to all of you who make Buffalo and WNY a better place.

The Circle of Life

19 Dec

As the Goldman/Fisher anti-Bass Pro lawsuit dies, the Peace Bridge and Casino litigations will be born, or reborn (as the case may be).

So goeth “development” in Buffalo.