Archive | March, 2011

$5MM in Poverty-Reduction Funds to Statler?

24 Mar

Poverty Reducer

Local restaurateur, developer, parking lot owner, and friend-of-Byron’s Mark Croce famously announced that he would commence an incremental rehabilitation of the Statler Towers. For the time being, only the first two floors will be rehabbed to re-enable the ballrooms to be used for events. The upper floors will be rehabbed as the market demands. The deal amazingly closed for only $700,000; in order to make the Statler commercially viable, he will have to repair of the exterior details, many of which have decided to plummet to the ground in recent years.

In order to do that, Croce has applied for a $5.3 million grant from the City of Buffalo, which would likely come from its Community Development Block Grant funding. That money, however, arises out of a HUD program to provide affordable housing and jobs for poverty prevention. Its purpose is to directly benefit low and middle-income people and reduce neighborhood blight. What that has to do with rehabilitating a millionaire’s $700,000 hotel rehab is beyond me.

Add to that the fact that it was announced just yesterday that a Croce LLC just closed on a $1.2 million Orchard Park mansion. I’m sure congress had in mind that CDBG money would go to help develop a crumbling downtown hotel owned by someone who can afford to plunk down $1.2 MM for a nice 12,800 SF house in a tony suburb. Right?

Ian Murphy and Kathy Hochul in #NY26

24 Mar

As we reported here first last week, Buffalo Beast Editor-in-Chief Ian Murphy (the guy who famously pranked Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker into revealing a lot of his tactical plans as to how he’d further do harm to evil, wealthy, greedy teachers and plow truck drivers) is officially the Green Party candidate for Congress in NY-26.

While some focus on outrageous outrages that Murphy has written during his time at the Beast, they ignore that he presides over an irreverent satirical publication that is meant to laugh and ridicule, and occasionally to make a political point. The same people who express disgust at a tiny fraction of Murphy’s work product at the Beast, generally detest “political correctness” when it comes from someone on the left demanding that people not, e.g., support the beating the shit out of gay people.

Murphy is the only true liberal in the race, and quite frankly the things for which he expresses concern in this video are important indeed. He won’t get too many votes in this largely suburban and rural, rather right-centrist district, but he will make waves, he will challenge his coached opponents and their focus-grouped messages, and he will make the race infinitely more interesting than it otherwise might be.

Visit Murphy’s campaign site at Murphy Can Has Congress.

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Kathy Hochul is Erie County’s likeable, competent clerk, who sailed to re-election just last November. Most people have very limited direct contact with government – when they pay taxes and fees, renew licenses, buy a house, set up an estate or administratorship, etc. Oftentimes, these are stressful times for people that can be made exponentially worse by rude, inefficient, byzantine bureaucracies. Hochul has made it her mission to make those contacts with government easy, friendly, and quick for the people of Erie County.

With her recent entry into the congressional race, her opponent (and opponent’s benefactors) have hammered her from the get-go with disingenuous and misleading ads. In what way did Hochul “learn how to tax and spend” while she worked as a part-time lobbyist for her family company two decades ago? Why insinuate that she is currently a “Washington lobbyist”? She raised Hamburg golf fees a dollar a round?! MARXISM! As I’ve said before, the rapidity and viciousness of Corwin’s campaign is (a) clumsy; and (b) indicative of a very worried campaign. Corwin has a thin political resume – sure, she’s got a voting record, but she has zero accomplishments. On the other hand, Hochul has nothing but accomplishments and a thin voting record. I’ll take the latter, thanks.

Literally as soon as Corwin entered the race, she reassured her base that she hates gays just as much as they do. Hochul, on the other hand, hasn’t said word one about her million-heiress opponent, instead focusing on her record of accomplishments, and her desire to do hard work for the people of NY-26. Gosh, which is a more compelling message?

So, the choice as between Hochul and Corwin: do you select the conservative Republican with no accomplishments who worked as a Wall Street Investment Banker, and whose “small business” was sold to the Hearst Corporation for $400 million, and who hates gays and will go to Congress and be Chris Lee with long blonde hair, or do you select the conservative Democrat who has looked out for the taxpayers of Hamburg and western New York throughout her career in public service, and has actual accomplishments that benefit all WNYers. Do you pick the woman who went negative, establishing her entitlement to a congressional seat by lying about her opponent, or do you pick the woman who talks aspirationally about WNY and touts what she’s done as proof of what she can get done in Washington?

With such a crowded race and Murphy being the only real left-of-center candidate, it’s no wonder Corwin is so spooked.

WECK Birthday Bash This Friday

23 Mar

This Friday, our partner radio station, WECK1230, is celebrating their third birthday.  WECK has spent three years building a hometown radio alternative in WNY featuring local hosts like Brad Riter, Nick Mendola, Lorraine O’Donnell, Tom Donahue, Bill O’Loughlin and many others.  To celebrate three years of being in business and on the air, WECK is hosting a party for their listeners at Hucklebuckets on Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

The Sabres will be on the big screen and NCAA basketball games will also be on the screens around the restaurant throughout the night.

The party starts with a live broadcast of The Late Nick Mendola Program featuring a listener who intends to take on the Hucklebuckets food challenge, called “The Dumper“.   The Dumper is a burger which features a full pound of certified angus beef, stuffed with ultra sharp cheddar cheese, six more cheeses, bacon, chili, pulled pork, two fried eggs over easy, guacamole, onion rings, fresh cut fries, froggy skins, jalapeno, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and huckleberry bar-b-que.

After that spectacle of food eating goes down, Jeremy Hoyle of Strictly Hip will play for the crowd and there will be food and drink specials as well as prize giveaways and wine tastings.

There’s a Facebook invite for the event, so click on that if you’re so inclined.  Otherwise, just show up and have some beers and a good time.

The Buffalo News and its Restaurant Reviews

23 Mar

Remember shorter Buzz? (I read it so you don’t have to). As I recall, it even had a handy-dandy scale of 1 – 10 of awfulness (10 being the most awful). Remember how much fun we had mocking Mary Kunz Goldman‘s short-lived weekly column in the Buffalo News? Her writing style even influenced other local bloggers to join in the fun. It all started, by the way, as a result of a column she wrote in 2004 in praise of the execrable George W. Bush.

We’re turning our attention now in a similar vein to the Buffalo News’ “restaurant critic”, Janice Okun. She’s been reviewing restaurants for as long as I’ve been alive, and I’m 42. Buffalo Chow has set for itself a mission to have Okun removed from the Buffalo News for a variety of reasons, about which they go into in detail in this post.

Think they’re wrong?  Just read Okun’s recent review of the hit-n-miss East Aurora eatery Tantalus.  The entire “restaurant review” is about the restaurant’s extensive (overwrought?) menu, and its claims that everything is homemade. A crab soup is described only as “rich”. A calves’ liver entree (at a ridiculous $16) is “nice”, “tender”, and “cooked perfectly”.  My favorite passage:

I ordered the Country Fried Pork Chop ($16.95) pounded, battered and fried crisply. Mashed spuds came along with this, too. And sausage gravy. (It was a diet meal.)

Well, how the fuck was it? For $17 for a fried pork chop and some mashed potatoes, it better have been the best Goddamned pork chop and orgasmic mashed potatoes you ever ate.  I mean, she describes what’s on the plate and how it’s prepared, but offers no opinion about the meal whatsoever.  All I know is that it’s expensive and fattening.

And she always – always – gives places a 1/2 star.  As if she’s being mean by just giving Tantalus an inexplicable 3 stars, so she throws in a 1/2 star like she’s letting the place keep the change. There’s no rhyme or reason to the star ratings, the writing is clumsy, the food she orders is always some safe choice like meat ‘n potatoes, and the reader is left with no real opinion about the overall dining experience.

(I’m not saying I’m the best restaurant reviewer in the world, or that my reviews are just perfectly awesome. This isn’t about me.)

But on Buffalo Chow’s point viz. Okun, I happen to agree. It’s time for the singular restaurant reviewer for the past 2 generations at Buffalo’s singular newspaper to step down in favor of someone who isn’t known, isn’t recognizable, and knows how to write about food, restaurants, and service in a way that speaks to a contemporary audience that is hungry for excellence.  Sign the petition.

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Libya? Really, Libya?

23 Mar

Surprise! We’re back to the Shock and Awe, knock-down-the-door, Tomahawk and JDAM war the US military in general, and Air Force and Navy in particular, like so much. Things are going swimmingly well in Libya because we’re still doing the parts we’re really good at. What comes next? If President Obama knows, he’s not saying, except that we won’t be in charge much longer (turns out the French never really were in charge after all, they just started the war first without talking to everyone). His War Powers Act clock is at 54 days and counting, but more on Obama’s failures in a moment.

Any public discussion of the fiasco in Libya seems to conform to a formula in three parts: two major – the question of whether to intervene, and the handling of the issue by the President – and one minor. Before I get to the major issues, let me dispense with the minor one.

The most insignificant portion of this issue is the hypocrisy watch all observers find themselves under, as the spectre of Iraq still looms, and our national politics are still played under broad Obama|Bush banners. For the record, I was for our action in Bosnia and Kosovo, because genocide was not a potential, but an ongoing horror. I was for intervention in conflicts we never stepped into, such as Rwanda. I was for the “little wars” of Clinton, in Iraq and Afghanistan in 1998, and wanted even more action because trouble seemed on the horizon and violence was escalating (embassy bombings, the USS Cole after, etc). I was for the invasion of Afghanistan at the time, because I was pissed, pro-Iraq War at the start, and pro-Surge as the best possible way to extricate ourselves from a bad situation. But now? A final analysis is complicated, as is inevitable when a war is personalized, and you find yourself invested in a very non-academic way. Lately, I find myself a recovering interventionist.

I say all of that as background to help you judge the following statement: what in God’s name are we doing in Libya? Have we gained no humility about the limits of US power, and learned nothing about picking sides in a tribal war, misunderstanding your enemy or allies, the limits of the capability of no-fly zones, and the grave responsibility of joining a war?

What are we doing in Libya? There is an ideological answer, and a realpolitik one. Both fail to pursuade, though (as is fundamental to its nature) the realpolitik answer is at least more pragmatic.

The ideologues, such as genocide expert and White House staffer Samantha Power, will tell you we must intervene in Libya because the international community can not stand by while a dictator murders his own people. While this sounds nice, it provides few practical specifics and is blatantly untrue. We stand by and watch dictators murder their own people all the time. In fact, we are currently doing so in Yemen, Bahrain, the Ivory Coast, Sudan, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and the Congo, just to name the worst. In each of those cases, far more people have been murdered over far longer of a time. “The International Community” is in a tizzy over a city being without power for a week or two in Libya. In Zimbabwe and the Congo, the slaughter has gone on for decades. In addition, such mushy aims lead to the questions Americans are currently asking: are we trying to kill Qaddafi? Who are the rebels (as a commentator from STRATFOR put it, who knew 6 weeks ago there even was a Libyan opposition)? Are we on their side? What is a civilian? Can we kill civilians to protect civilians? What if the no-fly zone doesn’t stop the conflict? What are our goals? What are the conditions that will allow us to be done? If Obama knows, he’s not telling.

With the ideological answer either wanting or ineffectual, one is left with the realpolitik answer. Here, the water is murkier. Khadafi has been alternatingly an international pariah and our ally strongman. He perpetrated some of the worst terrorist attacks against Europeans and Americans in the 1980’s, but he also was held up as the model of the reformed autocrat in the 2000’s, unilaterally disavowing his nuke program, shrugging off UN sanctions in 2003, and making amends with the Brits, such that they controversially released a Lockerbie conspirator only two years ago. In short, he was a neutral party (and occasional ally against Al Qaeda) much more recently than he was persona non grata.

So why Libya now? Besides the need to secure oil for Western Europe, the unspoken realpolitik answer is Iran. Through the eyes of the international geopolitical chess-player, the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa go something like this. The January immolation and uprising in Tunisia was a genuine cry for help by the “Arab Street.” The events since, however, that were thus set in motion have been pre-planned coups and proxy battles that used the street protests as cover. Mubarak fell because the Egyptian military ousted him, payback for him wanting to install his non-military son in power instead of the next general in line, as the military regime has done for 60 years. Protests in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain are actually battles between Shia and Sunni, with Iran funding and provoking the protestors and Saudi Arabia coming to the aid of the Sunni regimes in power. The US does not condemn the actions in those countries, or establish a no-fly zone over Bahrain, because we are actually opposing Iran, and want the protests in those country’s crushed. Libya is thus another proxy, a convenient way of showing Iran that America can walk and chew gum at the same time, or bomb one country while stuck in a ground war with two others. It also lowers the bar for military intervention, and allows us to potentially act to protect our national interests (read: seize oil fields, violently open the Straits of Hormuz, allow Israel to bomb Iran’s nuke program) in a much more flagrant way.

Under this explanation, President Obama would rightly see Libya as a side-show. Perhaps that explains why he is treating it as such, aloof and seemingly uninvolved. Which brings us to the second major issue – Obama’s disappointment as Commander-in-Chief. Afghanistan is adrift – it has been months since we heard anything consequential on that decade long conflict. Now his eye is off the ball again. Whatever is going on inside his head on the topic of Libya, ideological, realpolitik or political, we do not know because he has not said. Little consultation with Congress other than a cattle round-up conference call. No evening address to the American people. It displays a lack of seriousness with the military task at hand – he has publically spoken about sending our forces into a new war as much as he would about the EPA making a regulatory rule change. 

To say nothing of the utter hypocrisy. Candidate Obama in 2007 said:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.

What made him change his mind in this case? In fact, what made him change his mind in the last ten days? Two weeks ago mainstream liberals were lampooning “neocons” for trying to drag us into another war, and the prospect of intervention in Libya was laughable. At the end of February his Defense Secretary said he should have his head examined to get into another conflict in the Middle East, and later, on the topic of Libya, said a no-fly zone meant open war (implying it should be avoided, or at least not taken lightly). In a matter of days, Obama had, as David Gergen said today, a “head snapping reversal of policy.”

Bush was criticized for changing his mind about why we invaded Iraq (WMDs to Democracy) after the conflict began. I suppose one way to avoid that charge is to have no position at all. Going to the UN Security Council does not mean he is slow, indecisive or wussy to let the Europeans lead (though, like we said, they aren’t really leading, and now France and Italy are now bickering about who is doing what). Rather, Obama’s issue with going to the UN is that he used it as a substitute for planning or forming a policy. The UN confers precious little legitimacy anyway – a Security Council resolution simply means Russia and China do not have sufficient economic or political interests to interfere if the West wishes to additionally bankrupt itself on another expensive excursion. In this case, a veneer of legality is being substituted for substance.

When Obama returns from South America, we will probably have a policy speech explaining our goals in Libya . . . justification for the bombing after it began. In the meantime, The Daily Show describes the mess well:

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Bellavia Bribery? Bull.

22 Mar

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

A local website is reporting that former Paladino campaign manager Michael Caputo offered to convince independent conservative NY-26 candidate David Bellavia to withdraw from the race in exchange for money; it accuses Caputo of soliciting a bribe from the million-heiress’ campaign.

Caputo issued this response:

I have never solicited a bribe in my lifetime. I play no role whatsoever in the NY26 race. I do not work for David Bellavia and I made no contact with the Corwin camp at his behest. More importantly, David Bellavia would never entertain such an unconscionable idea.

David’s opponents have done some pretty rotten things to force him out of this race. They’ve lied to his face, they’ve lied to others, they’ve denigrated his valorous combat service to our nation, they’ve illegally accessed his credit report, they’ve left bribe offers on his voicemail, they’ve maligned his family, and more.

Clearly, this is just another attempt to smear David: when a candidate fuels his campaign with integrity, he becomes a popular target for those who have none.

Were Bellavia to leave the race now, having been accused of being associated with an attempted bribe, he would be under a cloud of suspicion for some time. He can’t withdraw now; his hand has been forced.

One must … be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.

By staying in the race, Bellavia clearly hurts Jane Corwin‘s chances, siphoning off more conservative voters and probably many veterans, as well.  Even detestable xenophobe Jack Davis harms Corwin’s campaign, because he’s running as a tea-party candidate to pull out the “I hate brown people” vote.  Hell, even Ian Murphy helps Hochul’s campaign because his Green Party platform and likely Beastly antics will help to moderate Hochul’s demeanor by contrast, and help position her as a centrist.

[I]t is far safer to be feared than loved

So, who benefits the most from having Bellavia stay in the race, hurting Corwin’s chances?  Who benefits the most by having Kathy Hochul win NY-26 and go off to Washington come June 2011? Who was so petrified of a Kathy Hochul candidacy that he famously (infamously?) berated the beloved county clerk within reporters’ earshot? Who has a hotline to the website that published the Bellavia bribery bullsh*t?

It all boils down to the fact that this race is eminently winnable for Hochul, and there appears to be a faction even within the Erie County Republican establishment that would very much like that to happen. It explains why the NRCC went negative on Hochul yesterday, and why Corwin went negative on Hochul today – so negative, so fast (and so clumsily)? Someone’s worried.

In 2006, 40+% of NY-26 voters held their noses and voted for Jack Davis. In 2008, 40+% of NY-26 voters voted for Alice Kryzan. If a generic Democrat can pull in 40+% of the vote in that district, a Kathy Hochul – who represents as clerk more people living in NY-26 than Jane Corwin does – can expect to do somewhat better. Hochul is well-liked, seen as someone who has made government services more streamlined, businesslike, and accessible. She is unknown in Monroe County, but that’s surmountable.  Attempts to tie Hochul to Nancy fricking Pelosi smack of such small-time, disingenuous hackery.

The root of this Bellavia bribery story has, therefore, got to be in Chris Collins’ camp, we think. He’s got the motive, the means, and the opportunity to slime Carl’s enemy, Caputo, and simultaneously lubricate Hochul’s path to Washington.

And you thought the Machiavellianism in WNY – especially from our esteemed, tax-hiking County Executive – couldn’t get any more tinpotty.

EmpireWire Cartoon Catch-up

22 Mar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marquil from EmpireWire sends me these, and sometimes I simply don’t get to them. Oftentimes, he sends them after I’ve already done my posts for the day, and I forget to get to them the next morning.  So, I apologize for the fact that these have been accumulating in my inbox, because I think he’s among the most talented political cartoonists in the state, if not the country. His likenesses of public figures are spot-on, and he is an expert at the cartoonist’s craft of making a political argument through a static image.  Check him out at EmpireWire.com.

Six Sigma = Efficient!

22 Mar

Yesterday,

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but the press release couldn’t be posted to the county’s website.  Why?

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See Jane. See Jane Speak.

21 Mar

Back when the sartorially challenged Chris Lee ran for his first term in office in 2008, he seldom spoke on his own behalf. Oh, he’d give prepared speeches, and he’d appear on the occasional talk show, but almost every public pronouncement was handled by Nick Langworthy, who has since become the ECGOP chair.  When WNYMedia.net dared to approach the candidate with a communard “question”, Langworthy ran interference.

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A similar pattern is developing with Jane Corwin. The candidate has seldom spoken for herself, running almost all commentary through Langworthy or her own spokesperson, Matt Harakal. Like Lee, Corwin figures all she has to do to win is (1) throw money at the race; (2) deliver right wing talking points; (3) ignore her own Wall Street past and frame herself as a “small businesswoman”; (4) invoke the name of Nancy Pelosi when describing Kathy Hochul.

Let’s see how often Corwin speaks to the cameras on her own behalf in a non-scripted way. Then again, the conservative district would likely re-elect Chris Lee given the chance, because he has an (R) at the end of his name.

Libya isn’t Iraq

20 Mar

I was not a supporter of the Iraq war because the United Nations never approved or otherwise sanctioned the use of force against Iraq. I am a strong believer in the United Nations, it being the only legitimate entity where the world’s nation-states can meet to discuss and solve international crises.  (This post isn’t about the efficacy or efficiency of the United Nations, nor is it an invitation to people to start in about one world government or other John Birch Society talking points).

Despite historical revisionism, the stated reason why the United States invaded Iraq had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein’s brutality; the stated justification for the invasion was that Hussein had violated United Nations sanctions, no-fly zones, and above all, continued to maintain and pursue an active campaign to seek and build a catastrophic arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell disgraced himself forever when he took to the Security Council to seek that body’s approval to use military force against Iraq for its alleged failure to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which was a final chance for Hussein to abide by past disarmament commitments.  1441 was passed unanimously, but did not authorize the use of force without further Security Council action.  Instead, it authorized the creation of UNMOVIC, which commenced a series of inspections, which Hussein famously jerked around and obstructed for the sake of jerking around and obstructing; he had no active WMD program.

The US, Britain, and Spain met in March 2003 and decided independently that Hussein had violated 1441, and that the invasion would commence.  No Security Council resolution was ever introduced or voted on to authorize the use of force, as it would clear that at least one of its permanent members would veto it.  Kofi Annan, the UN’s Secretary-General, said in 2004 that in the UN’s eyes, the war in Iraq was illegal.

The war in Iraq was all about ideology, lies, mistakes, and using 9/11 as a pretext to complete unfinished business from the early 1990s.

By contrast, 2011 seems to be to the Arab world something similar to what the world saw in eastern Europe in 1989. Mass demonstrations and revolutions have sprung up among average citizens to overthrow corrupt mafia regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, with smaller conflagrations in Jordan and Syria. The United States’ chief ally in the Middle East is Israel, and we often see affairs in that region through a “how will this affect Israel” prism.  That’s legitimate, and many have tried to foment domestic opposition to the Arab uprisings by suggesting that these places would all become latter-day Afghanistan Taliban regimes. That ignores how comparatively cosmopolitan and stable Tunisia and Egypt are compared with an Afghanistan that’s been in political, economic, social, and military crisis almost non-stop since the 1970s.

If the Arab uprising is their 1989, then longtime madman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who has practiced a weird sort of pseudo-Socialism with a strong cult of personality in that country since taking power in 1969, is their Ceausescu. He has plunged that country into a civil war, ordering his military to turn its guns on his own people.  Being mindful of the fact that he took power via coup, he had kept that country’s military deliberately weak, so he has employed the services of foreign mercenaries to destroy the rebellion.

On March 17th, the United Nations Security Council took up and passed Resolution 1973, authorizing the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya, to halt Gaddafi’s bombing of his own population.  It was a second step after Resolution 1970, which called on Gaddafi to stop harming civilians. It includes an arms embargo and an assets freeze.

The resolution was brought about thanks to a Security Council resolution voted on in the United Nations.  It specifically and explicitly authorizes the use of force taking place now in Libya, and the US is participating.  It came about thanks to the urging and support of the members of the Arab League, and the US has not taken the lead in this matter, letting regional actors do so instead – notably France. The stated primary purpose of the resolution and resultant action is legal, sanctioned, and has the stated goal of preventing Libya from using its military and hired mercenaries from murdering its own civilians.

This has no parallel with the Iraq war, and more closely resembles NATO and UN action taken in Kosovo and Bosnia to prevent humanitarian tragedy and slaughter of civilians.