Archive | April, 2011

The Artvoice Best of Buffalo Awards 2011

29 Apr

For the sixth straight year, several members of the WNYMedia family have been honored with nominations in the Artvoice Best of Buffalo poll.  For that we’d like to thank our loyal readers, supporters, listeners, friends and enemies.  Sincerely, we’re always pleased to find that people enjoy what we do and we’re grateful that you have helped turn a small local blog into “kind of a big deal“.

It was an exciting year for us with the Carl Paladino story, appearances on the Rachel Maddow Show and Keith Olbermann, and coverage of our exploits in The New York Times, Der Spiegel, The Washington Post, The Guardian and hundreds of other outlets.  We’ve grown our partnership with WECK Radio and we’re currently figuring out the next avenue for expansion.  All of that happens because each day, an average of 8-10,000 local people visit our website and read or listen to what we’re talking about.  So, thank you very much for your support of us and our advertisers.

In 2011, we’ll be covering the the special election in NY-26, the Erie County Executive race, as well as the redistricting and downsizing of Erie County legislature districts which will lead into a free-for-all election for those redistricted seats in November.  It’s going to be silly season all summer long.  As usual, we’ll be right in the middle; muckraking, causing trouble and having a good time.

The nominees:

Best Blog – BuffaloPundit and WNYMedia.net

Best Twitter Feed – @Buffalopundit and @WNYMedia

Biggest Naysayer – Chris Smith

Best Stand Up Comic – Kristen Becker

Best Scandal – Carl Paladino’s emails

Most Over-Covered Story – Carl Paladino’s emails

Best Local Radio Personality – Brad Riter

Best Activist Group – Buffalo ReUse (WNYMedia bloggers and our favorite non-profit partner)

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Jane Corwin Dot Org

27 Apr

Epic campaign silliness ensues in NY-26 as a new “Jane Corwin for Congress” website launches…

 

Corwin Outlines Comprehensive Pandering Strategy

WILLIAMSVILLE – Jane Corwin, successful daughter of rich people and candidate for New York’s 26th Congressional District, today outlined a comprehensive pandering strategy to say she’ll decrease gas prices because that’s what our polling research said people want to hear. Corwin discussed her pandering agenda to a crowd of local idiots.

The need for a “whatever-sounds-good” pandering strategy has never been greater.

“I don’t pump my own gas, or have any idea how much it costs, but my maid tells me she can barely afford to get to my mansion anymore! Washington has heavily subsidized the oil industry and I plan to do the same–except I call it reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Eww, foreign. It sounds so…foreign.” Corwin told the idiots. “When I’m in Congress I will crush the EPA and ensure that your grandchildren live in a dystopian environmental hellscape–I mean, lower costs of fuel.”

Corwin offered several no-nonsense ways to ensure these vague sentiments:

  • Increase domestic energy by burning the homeless and having gross fat people ride a treadmill that’s hooked into the grid.
  • Get Washington out of the business of regulating anything, at any time, for any reason.
  • Stop the EPA from doing stuff. Richard Nixon was one of our greatest presidents, but that agency is for losers.

“America’s energy concerns, kitchen table issues, groceries, et cetera, et cetera, things stupid poor people care about. I’m out!”

 

Who might be behind such a dastardly parody?  I think I have a suspect…

 

Ian Murphy, Habitual Linestepper

A simple whois search shows the site is registered to Paul Fallon, Founder and Mildly-In-Charge Muckety Muck at The Buffalo Beast.

Good job, guys!  I wish we had thought of it first…

The Embodiment of Buffalo

27 Apr

Cities have and need symbols. Chicago has the Sears tower; San Francisco twisting streets and trolley cars. New York City was shaken by the 9/11 attacks not simply because thousands died, but because a main symbol of the city fell. Our recently vanquished hockey opponents (I’m still in denial, and like this version better) have a bell for their past, and the Rocky theme, complete with jogging montage up the famous steps, for their present.

What is Buffalo’s symbol? That is an honest question I’d like to hear your answer to. A simple, superficial answer might be a main building, as I chose for Chicago or New York. But we know this city far more intimately, so I think we can do better (and I am sure the residents of Chicago or New York would pick differently themselves). So answer a slightly different, deeper question: what embodies Buffalo 2011?

Let me suggest a few of the potentially more popular answers. Is it an architectural masterpiece, like the Darwin Martin House, showing how we celebrate the future by restoring the past? Is it the Broadway Market, emblematic of our cultural, ethnic, and religious roots? Is it the chicken wing? Niagara Falls? An art festival or Taste of Buffalo? Or perhaps this picture:

I verge towards the cynical when addressing “Progress” in Buffalo, and I have a few more sarcastic and conceptual options. Is it our massive phallus shaped City Hall, ironically over-big for a shrinking population, both in terms of its own sheer physical infrastructure requiring maintenance and also symbolic of our ineffective, over-sized layers of government (regionally). Is it the Wide Right kick or Hull’s No Goal – we get close, but never quite succeed? Is it BERC, adrift since the small time corruption scandal involving the One Sunset restaurant? Is it the American side of Niagara Falls, a comparative wasteland in the shadow of the mighty Canadian tourism machine? For many at this site, the obvious answer is the Canalside failure – we can’t get out of our own way to just build something nice people would want to visit, with hundreds of millions of dollars in hand.

Passing on all those answers, I think I have the perfect choice (other than the Butter Lamb Sabres logo), embodying all of Buffalo as it stands today: the ruin of the Fairmont Creamery.

No single structure in Buffalo combines as many hopes and failures, or as much political pettiness and small time crumb-scraping, as that poor abandoned building, passed daily by tens of thousands on a main highway artery. A gutted, century-old eight-story brick warehouse, it would be at home nearly anywhere within the city, discarded like much of our industry and left to rot. It is bounded on four sides by an over-large highway, the newish Elk Lofts, rotting steel of a potential casino, and parking lots, each of which individually could have been chosen as a potential symbol of Buffalo themselves. The former Creamery also lies proximate to HSBC Arena, the stagnant Canalside, and the Cobblestone “District” (two streets and three bars does not make a destination), all in their time touted as indicative of Buffalo’s bright future. Sandwiched as it is between the symbol of Buffalo’s population growth and renewal strategy  (loft living), our infrastructure built for a city of twice the size (highway), and the epitome of the power of the lawsuit by the few to stop the development for the many (casino), it could not lie in a better geographic location for selection in the poll, or for actual redevelopment itself. And yet it waits, like all of Buffalo, for market conditions to be right for investment. Will it be lofts itself? A hotel? Retail and offices? All of the above? We wait to find out, as we could ask the same question for much of shovel-ready and investment-ready Buffalo.

Even more than the physical characteristics, the political and philosophical conceits surrounding this building make the case for Buffalo 2011 embodiment. Owned by the largest real estate developer in Buffalo (and former embarrassment of a gubernatorial candidate), it’s current chief use is as holder of a billboard advertising an Inside Baseball political dispute with the publisher of the city’s dying newspaper, a rivalry the average citizen could care less about, and yet forced to endure as is occasionally spread across the front page by muck-raker style. Meanwhile, the property itself is the subject of legal action and incurs uncollectable fines for unenforced building code violations that the owner has the clout or simple will to ignore.

When the Fairmont Creamery is finally redeveloped, and cannibalizes tenants from other housing, retail or commercial real estate to fill, it will do so using a variety of tax incentives and grants to make the project economically viable. Then the care-taker mayor will hold a news conference, claim credit or victory, and hail the investment as yet another sign on the city’s rebirth. And we will all praise the news, without the perspective that many other cities have a Fairmont Creamery of their own, have already redeveloped it, and our having finally done so ourselves only brings us closer to average.

Escape the Urban: To Be a Boy in the Woods

24 Apr

I have four sons, aged 13,8, 5 and 2. I could follow strict impartial and impersonal journalistic guidelines and pretend they didn’t exist, that I travel from one outdoor adventure to the next free and clear of responsibilities or constraints. But in truth, they impact every trip and event I undertake. Day care and school schedules, not the weather, dictate outings, so I find myself playing dad on sunny days and biking in the rain and cold. Similarly, when planning a recon to Allegany State Park to scout a July-issue piece for a print publication, not only must I time-travel to imagine the height of warm summer green while enduring April sleet on unbudded brown, I lug four boys along, stir-crazy on their Easter break, while Mom stayed home in a warm quiet house and toiled under her own end-of-the-semester deadlines.

In deference to that same mother, I rented us a cabin in the southern Quaker Area of Allegany, choosing an isolated spot that, according to the meager map, was near a creek and out of the way. I normally like to hike in away from roads and noise and tent camp, bringing only what I can fit in my ample backpack. This approach works well with adults, and I have taken one son at a time (once they are hold enough to at least carry water and a change of clothes) on such trips, but it would fall apart quickly with four boys, one still in diapers. So my initial plan was to set up a tent next to our Swagger Wagon, enduring the back ache of a blowup mattress while still having sippy cups and plenty of food and wipes handy. This idea fell apart when Mom checked the weather forecast, however, and declared that her children would require significantly more shelter if I insisted on subjecting them to polar conditions. The cabin was a compromise that ended with me promising that no lips would ever turn blue, nor any shiver be endured at night.

As it was, I should not have worried for the crowds. I was expecting lighter traffic during a shoulder season. What I got was post-apocalyptic desolation. It is a bit unnerving, The Road style, to be the only vehicle and only family not in the wilderness, but in an expansive multi-road camping area with public restrooms and infrastructure for hundreds in the summer. The grey sky pressed down from overhead, sparse bits of freezing rain fell, and an ill wind blew as we played alone at the jungle-gym at the nearby public park, and then walked down the center of the wide asphalt street back to our cabin. Fortunately, two more vans arrived the next night, and we exited the Stephen King novel before the zombies attacked.

My eight year old son described our rented cabin as a wooden tent. This ungenerous description was not wholly accurate. While only one room, it had a wide porch over looking a swollen rushing stream, and contained four cots, a table and two benches, and two stoves: a wood-fired one for heat and a capable propane fueled kitchen stove for cooking. The box stove, a Vogelzang Model BX26E (Vogelzang of Holland, MI- Since 1927, approximately when the our stove was manufactured), seemed to make no dent in the chill until I went back outside into the dank night. The sleeping cots were metal frames with thin prison mattresses, of a type I was well acquainted with from years deployed in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Despite no electricity or insulation of any kind, overall the cabin felt surprisingly livable and spacious with four boisterous souls eating Spaghetti O’s and Dinty Moore, playing endless rounds of Uno, and giggling in sleeping bags long into the night while I snuck out to the van to catch the updated score of the Sabres game.

Over the course of our trip, my boys survived all of the plagues of the childhood camping experience, in sufficient quantity and amplitude so that they will inflict the same on their own children. Those trials, in no particular order, are universal and well known: eating dinner out of a can, enduring the farts and snoring of an older brother in the cot next to yours, sleeping with a knit hat on, throwing up in a plastic bag in the back of the van while driving on twisting mountain roads, constipation from refusal to poop in a smelly public park bathroom, falling out of bed disorientated onto a cold strange floor in total darkness in the middle of the night. I am proud to report my four sons met each hardship, and persevered.

In truth, however, our three days at Allegany consisted of more than avoiding a grisly horror-flick fate and cabin fever, or enduring childhood rites of passage. We hiked hills and wooded dells. We explored bear caves and snake holes, and mistook one for the other. We laughed at the funny faces on the stuffed beavers and bears in the small natural history museum at the main administration lodge in the Red House area. We climbed rocks at least as tall as ourselves. We skipped stones on a flat lake. We fell asleep to the sound of nothing but a running brook and wind in the nearby branches. And for the greatest treat of all, we pee-ed on a tree, or (gasp), directly into the creek outside our cabin door, making bubbles we could watch flowing downstream, over a small waterfall, and out of sight around a bend.

Celebrating The Broadway Market

22 Apr

Is there a more beloved Easter tradition in Buffalo then a visit to The Broadway Market?  Shopping at the market for butter lambs, sausage, pierogi, rye bread and all sorts of ethnic Easter delicacies is as part of Easter weekend in Buffalo as the Easter Bunny himself.

Over the years, the lovely and talented Christina Abt has led our coverage of this Buffalo institution with videos, live radio spots, newspaper columns and her extensive enterprise feature here at WNYM, “Market At The Crossroads“.  Like Christina, we believe that The Broadway Market is central to our identity as Buffalonians and is a very special part of our past, present and future.  If you love living in Buffalo and WNY and celebrate the region for what it is and not what we wish it to be, these videos originally filmed in 2007, are for you.

Photo taken from Flickr, photographer Chaz Adams, http://www.flickr.com/photos/chazadams/

In the first video, Christina tours Buffalo’s historic Broadway Market during the peak of the bustling Easter season.  In her unique style, Christina explores what makes the Broadway Market such a vital component of the rich cultural tapestry of Buffalo and Western New York.

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In the second video, Christina explores the reasons many people come to the market each season, the family history that brings people back and touches on ways to keep the market busy throughout the year.

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In the third video, Christina interviews the matriarch of The Broadway Market and the creator of the butter lamb, Dorothy Malczewski.  Dorothy is a special part of our local history, a wonderful woman with a love for her city.

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If you haven’t yet read any of Christina’s series on The Broadway Market, please click here and take the time to enjoy her enlightening work.

From all of us at WNYMedia to you and your family, we wish you a very Happy Easter…or as they say at The Broadway Market, Wesołego Alleluja!

Bullets or Deficits?

22 Apr

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll demonstrates how “the american people™” want to address the deficit.

Cut Medicare?  Support: 21% Oppose:  78%

Cut Medicaid?  Support: 30% Oppose:  69%

Raise taxes on incomes of $250K and higher?  Support: 72% Oppose: 27%

Cut military spending?  Support: 42% Oppose: 56%

These figures are in line with traditional polling results, yet the entire national discussion about deficit reduction is built on privatizing Medicare, drastic cuts in Medicaid, and another 10% tax cut for the wealthy.

One way to look at those numbers is that when given a choice to cut one of the three biggest costs centers in the American Government, the people pick the military over their government healthcare by a wide margin.  And why shouldn’t they?  Our defense budget is absolutely out of control.  The USA is responsible for 46.5 per cent of the world total of defense expenditures, distantly followed by China (6.6% of world share), France (4.2%), UK (3.8%), and Russia (3.5%):

Current basing numbers and force deployments are hard to come by, so we’ll go with Wikipedia for the sake of a roundabout number.

As of 31 March 2008, U.S. Armed Forces were stationed at more than 820 installations in at least 135 countries. Some of the largest contingents are the 50,000 military personnel deployed in Iraq, the 71,000 (101,000 as of 3/2011) in Afghanistan, the 52,440 in Germany, the 35,688 in Japan (USFJ), the 28,500 in Republic of Korea (USFK), and the 9,660 in Italy and the 9,015 in the United Kingdom respectively. These numbers change frequently due to the regular recall and deployment of units.

So, why are we not having a national discussion about drawing down those numbers, bringing our troops home and cutting off development for useless Pentagon projects like the F-22 or Osprey?  Why are we so focused on making sure old people have to use coupons for healthcare rather than demanding a drawdown of deployed military forces?  Once upon a time a retiring Republican President warned us about this.

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In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed – Dwight D. Eisenhower

If only we had listened…

Obligatory Legalization of Marijuana Post on 4/20

20 Apr

Happy 4/20!  For you nerds out there who don’t know what today is, click through for the Wikipedia entry on the term which is maintained by the team from High Times magazine.

4204:20 or 4/20 (pronounced four-twenty) refers to consumption of cannabis and, by extension, a way to identify oneself with cannabis subculture. The notable day for these is April 20.

Since today is the national holiday for weed smokers everywhere, it seems natural to have an adult conversation about the legalization of marijuana and the positive effects such a decision would have on the local and regional economy.

Now, I’m not a regular consumer of marijuana, it’s just not my thing.  But I’m cool with people who do.  I also see the obvious economic benefits of legalization, especially in New York State.  Governor Andrew Cuomo projects that New York State will face a $2 Billion deficit in fiscal year 2012-2013.  This deficit remains after draconian cuts in the 2011-2012 budget lowered the projected deficit by $13 Billion.

The choice for Cuomo and the NY State Legislature is simple, either hike taxes on what revenue sources are left (us) or cut spending to the bone.  Since this is New York, cutting the budget beyond the 2012 cuts is not a realistic option.  How about a third option?  Why not write some legislation which would result in new taxable entities and products?

Step 1.  Legalize marijuana.

Step 2.  ???

Step 3.  Profit!

Leading financial minds and economists such as Milton Friedman, Nobel winner George Akerlof, George Soros, and Howard Margolis put out a study detailing the economic impact of legalization. They estimate that if just the same people who use marijuana now continued to use it once it was legal, the legalization would generate/save $12BN annually on a national level.  The study does not even account for the anticipated increased uses of medical marijuana, the industrial adoption of commercial grade hemp or the likely increase in recreational pot smokers/users if it were legal.  If you factor in those things, it pushes the numbers tenfold higher. Basically, it is a $120BN, annually renewable resource waiting to be tapped.

Of course, these estimates are based upon national economic figures, usage rates and such; but tremendous economic value could be derived from being the one state to legalize marijuana.

The study by Friedman notes that New York spends an estimated $564 Million annually in total marijuana prohibition costs (enforcement, judicial, incarceration), one of the highest rates in the nation.  The study also estimates that New York State would be one of the largest economic beneficiaries of a legalization plan, generating an additional $65 Million annually through the imposition of a low marijuana consumption tax.

Assuming that many of the prohibition costs are “legacy” costs in that the apparatus, personnel and capital expenditures related to enforcement can not be written off in one year, we’re looking at a 5-7 year draw down of prohibition costs while consumption tax revenue pours in.

$2.5 Billion in lower total costs for New York State over a five year period while generating $325 Million in revenue?  Sign me up.

I could write more, but I don’t want to sound like some high school debate club contestant detailing the economic benefits of hemp as a replacement for paper, plastics whilst marveling at the incredible tensile strength of hemp rope.

However, we are at a critical juncture in our collective history.  A time in which we need to be re-evaluating our consumerist culture, our massive reliance on credit and other issues too numerous to mention.  One of those issues is whether or not the continued prohibition of marijuana in this day and age makes sense. It has become a hot issue because many states are facing significant revenue crises and legalization is a way to raise new tax revenue and reduce the cost of arresting, prosecuting and housing marijuana criminals.

So, the discussion we need to have in this country is about the public health costs, taxation, changes in drug enforcement funding, changes in employment law, legalization or decriminalization and a multitude of different factors related to this change in public policy.

Let’s get over our ideological xenophobia and stereotypes and have a real discussion about the issue.

Unions Make The Middle Class

20 Apr

Why should anyone—especially those who are not union members—care that union membership is at record lows and likely to fall even further? Because if you care about the middle class, you need to care about unions.

 

Unions give workers a greater voice not only by promoting political participation among all Americans—ensuring that more of the middle class vote and get involved in politics—but also by being an advocate on behalf of the middle class in the daily, inner-workings of government and politics.

 

 

(This article was originally posted at the Center For American Progress Action Fund Website)

Critics of unions claim they are unimportant today or even harmful to the economy, but unions are essential for building a strong middle class. And rebuilding the middle class after decades of decline and stagnation is essential for restoring our economy.

Unions make the middle class strong by ensuring workers have a strong voice in both the market and in our democracy. When unions are strong they are able to ensure that workers are paid fair wages, receive the training they need to advance to the middle class, and are considered in corporate decision-making processes. Unions also promote political participation among all Americans, and help workers secure government policies that support the middle class, such as Social Security, family leave, and the minimum wage.

But as unions became weaker over the past four decades, they are less and less able to perform these functions—and the middle class withered. The percentage of workers in unions steadily declined largely because the legal and political environment prevents private-sector workers from freely exercising their right to join or not to join a union. Membership in private-sector unions stands at less than 7 percent today, from around 30 percent in the late 1960s. Public-sector unionization remained stable for decades—it was 37 percent in 1979 and is 36 percent today—but is now under significant threat from conservative political opposition and could start declining as well. All told, less than 12 percent of the total workforce is unionized, and this percentage is likely to continue falling.

Without the counterbalance of workers united together in unions, the middle class withers because the economy and politics tend to be dominated by the rich and powerful, which in turn leads to an even greater flow of money in our economy to the top of income scale. As can be seen in Figure 1, the percentage of unionized workers tracks very closely with the share of the nation’s income going to the middle class—those in the middle three-fifths of income earners.

In recent years, the middle class accounted for the smallest share of the nation’s income ever since the end of World War II, when this data was first collected. The middle three income quintiles, representing 60 percent of all Americans, received only 46 percent of the nation’s income in 2009, the most recent year data is available, down from highs of around 53 percent in 1969.

The middle class weakened over the past several decades because the rich secured the lion’s share of the economy’s gains. The share of pretax income earned by the richest 1 percent of Americans more than doubled between 1974 and 2007, climbing to 18 percent from 8 percent. And for the richest of the rich—the top 0.1 percent—the gains have been even more astronomical—quadrupling over this period, rising to 12.3 percent of all income from 2.7 percent.

In contrast, incomes for most Americans have been nearly flat over this same time period, and median income after accounting for inflation actually fell for working-age households during the supposedly good economy in the recovery between 2001 and 2007. The importance of unions to the middle class is not just a historical phenomenon, but is relevant to our lives today. To be sure, not everything unions do benefits the broad middle class, but unions are critical to defending the middle class, and their resurgence is key to rebuilding the middle class.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine a middle-class society without a strong union movement.

Across the globe, the countries with the strongest middle classes all have strong union movements. And in America today, states with higher concentrations of union members have a much stronger middle class. The 10 states with the lowest percentage of workers in unions all have a relatively weak middle class, with the share of total state income going to households in the middle three-fifths of income earners in these states below the average for all states.

Our analysis, more fully described in the body and appendix of this report, indicates that each percentage point increase in union membership puts about $153 more per year into the pockets of the middle class—meaning that if unionization rates increased by 10 percentage points (about the level they were in 1980)—then the typical middle class household would earn $1,532 more this year. This figure indicates how much better off all members of the middle class would be—not just those who are union members— if unions regained some strength. And these gains would continue year after year. To put these results in context, our analysis indicates that increasing union membership is as important to rebuilding the middle class as boosting college graduation rates, results that while shocking to some, are consistent with previous research.

In our democracy, when workers are joined together in unions they are able to more forcefully and effectively speak for their interests. Unions give workers a greater voice not only by promoting political participation among all Americans—ensuring that more of the middle class vote and get involved in politics—but also by being an advocate on behalf of the middle class in the daily, inner-workings of government and politics.

This provides a check on other powerful political interests, such as corporations and the very wealthy, and ensures that our system of government has the balance of interests that James Madison, a chief framer of our constitution, thought necessary to properly function. This counterbalancing role is essential for democracy to function properly and respond to the interests of all Americans.

In the workplace, workers who join together in unions are able to negotiate on more equal footing with their employers, providing a check on the inherently unequal relationship between employer and employee. As George Shultz, secretary of labor during the Nixon administration and secretary of state during the Reagan administration argued in support of trade unions, in “a healthy workplace, it is very important that there be some system of checks and balances.”

Indeed, the ability of workers united together to provide a check on corporate power was the very reason Congress guaranteed private-sector workers the right to join a union, writing in the findings section of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935:

The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry and by preventing the stabilization of competitive wage rates and working conditions within and between industries.

And government employers, like corporations, sometimes need to be reminded by organized workers to treat their employees fairly. That’s why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis in 1968 to help city sanitation workers gain recognition for their union as they faced low pay, terrible working conditions, and racist supervisors. Even the conservative icon Ronald Reagan recognized that publicsector workers should be able to join unions and collectively bargain. Reagan signed a bill to grant municipal and county employees the right to do so when he was governor of California.

Critically, the benefits of workers having a voice in the economy and in democracy spill over to all of society. In these ways, unions make the middle class. The challenge of rebuilding the middle class will take a long time, but would be impossible without a clear understanding of what makes the middle class strong. This paper will explore in detail why we need to do this and how we need to go about it. To rebuild America’s middle class, we need to rebuild the labor movement. It’s that simple—and that challenging.

David Madland is the Director of the American Worker Project, Karla Walter is a Senior Policy Analyst, and Nick Bunker is a Special Assistant with the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress.

See also: Interactive Map: Stronger Unions Create a Stronger Middle Class by Nick Bunker and David Madland

Read the full report (pdf)

Download the introduction and summary (pdf)


Unexpected Failures in Libya

20 Apr

It’s been a month, and we’re still bombing Libya. I know this may come as a shock to you – you would not know unless you listened deep into Morning Edition or read page 7 of the daily paper. Sandwiched between tsunamis, melting nuclear reactors, and Congressional budget battles, Libya only briefly captured America’s fickle attention.

Ignoring the opportunistic and blatantly political backlash by Republican Presidential contenders (faux and real), the legitimate critique of President Obama’s Libya policy has fallen into one of three basic camps: our plan is non-existent or unrealistic, the plan wasn’t communicated or Constitutional, and why this plan (Libya) and not other plans (Sudan). Me, I fell into all three camps – I admit I didn’t like the smell of this from the start.

But no matter which camp you fell in, the conventional wisdom also generally stated that while we can win the purely military phase of such wars (see: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq), the trouble would come once the rockets stopped flying, and the long, troubled, national building, elections and government phase began. Turns out the conventional wisdom misunderestimated our conventional military might – don’t look now, but we’re struggling in the shooting war part too.

With a messy mandate to protect civilians, defend rebel territory but only kinda attack the Gaddafi regime, NATO is stumbling. While still bombing select targets in Tripoli to seemingly little effect, in Misrata, last rebel stronghold in the west, and throughout eastern Libya, occasional NATO strikes from the air are not enough to make a tangible difference on the ground. Gaddafi’s forces have moved into the cities and dispersed with civilians, stymieing NATO attacks by ensuring that any bombing will break the West’s Hippocratic Oath. The rebels can gain no ground, Gaddafi’s forces continue their shelling, and a bloody stalemate endures. Internally, NATO continues to squabble. While NATO’s Danish secretary-general called for more precision bombing aircraft, French military commanders claimed plenty of aircraft were available, but more trustworthy target intel was needed. Meanwhile, the US is pulling out A-10’s and AC-130’s, exactly the kind of precision ground-pounders NATO says it wants.

Let me clear – winning militarily in Libya is a matter of political will, not capability. George Friedman notes the fallacy of the Immaculate Intervention – humanitarian wars, those that substitute sentiment for tangible goals, have an expectation of near zero cost to the invading force or the civilians to be assisted. NATO could (and to some small degree, must certainly be) send in terminal controllers and special forces to collect ground intelligence and direct strikes. NATO could also send arms and advisors to assist the rebels. Then they could send in security to defend the advisors. We have seen this movie before. We may be replaying it again – the Brits are talking about sending senior military strategists, and the EU humanitarian aid guards, a la Somalia ’93 Redux. The West does not like to lose wars once we’re in them. But Libya is Limbo – enough will to stay, not enough to “win” even the conventional military portion where our strength lies.      

How long will the average Libyan civilian be supportive of Western involvement if it proves ineffectual? The latest reports are troublesome:

Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of air strikes. “We have not seen any protection of civilians,” the doctor said. “NATO air strikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here,” he said.

The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said at a news conference: “There’s no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive.”

This is where the United States loses. Early in his latest book, Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier tells the story of visiting a Russian in a decrepit Soviet-era apartment block, utilitarian concrete and humorless. The man is proud of his meager furnishings, and excitedly shows off each stick of furniture and modern convenience. But when the tour arrives in the kitchen, the solitary incandescent bulb hanging from the ceiling fails to light when the switch is thrown. The man, visibly annoyed, fiddles with the switch, and then, after retrieving a step-ladder, the wiring around the light itself. Finally, the man fetches a new bulb and changes it with several deliberate turns. He flips the switch again, and the light turns on. Opening his arms wide and gesturing to the whole of the now well-lighted room, the man proudly exclaims, “Ahhhhh. America!”

Vice-President Cheney infamously predicted that US troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq, and they were . . . at first. It did not take long for the lights to not turn on fast enough, and the warm glow of America to dim. America may now be coming too slow to Libyan dissenters and rebels. We, with NATO, are the greatest military force on the planet. How can we not have “won” yet? And upon winning, how can we not make everything work right away?

Redistricting Shenanigans

19 Apr

In the “Cow Days” episode of the Comedy Central series South Park, Officer Barbrady, officially declares “shenanigans” after discovering a carnival game is rigged.  The declaration of shenanigans by an officer of the law gives the townspeople free rein to destroy the carnival with brooms.

I think its high time to declare “shenanigans” on the Erie County Legislature redistricting process.  As I understand the law, declaration of shenanigans in Erie County gives the locals free rein to turn Spaulding Lake into a flexible lawn.

Due to the approval of a referendum measure in 2010, Erie County will be downsizing the number of legislators in time for the 2011 countywide election.

With the decision, next year’s candidates will run for 11 new legislative districts, drawn to reflect census-based shifts in population. If all goes according to plan, 11 lawmakers will take their oaths of office in January 2012.

The question then became, who will draw those new legislature districts and what methodology will be used to draw them?  The existing county law requires the Legislature to create a citizens advisory committee on redistricting, but that law does not stipulate that the Legislature follow the recommendations of the committee.

That Citizens Advisory committee, advertised as “non-partisan” is filled with active members of the Republican Party apparatus and various members of the Democratic Grassroots political club and the Erie County Democratic Committee.  It also offers positions to the two Board of Elections chairmen, Dennis Ward (D) and Ralph Mohr (R).  So, partisan arguing and bickering is the order of the day, as documented by Geoff Kelly from Artvoice after he attended the first meeting of the committee in early March.

So I wondered, as I considered these and other thorny issues, if many commission members on both sides of the political fence might secretly hope that time constraints would prevent the downsizing from occurring this year at all—that, come November, we will still have 15 legislators running along the current district lines, while the reapportionment process grinds slowly forward in the courts.

As the process has slowly marched on, I’ve been copied on several communications between the members of the committee that demonstrate Kelly was right to wonder if anyone was interested in meeting the deadlines for reapportionment.  Or, these emails show that the most petty and awful among our community are spending way too much time arguing over such horrible nonsense.  I report, you decide, or something like that.

Below are a series of e-mails between the Chairman of the Reapportionment Committee/Grassroots Muckety Muck Adam Perry and Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward which then branches off to include others. The exchange stems from Dennis Ward’s request that Legislative Staff bring, and display, his “examples” of newly apportioned legislature districts at the public hearings so that they can be discussed. An objection was raised because it would give the public the impression that the maps being discussed at the hearing are official proposals and they are not. Ostensibly, the purpose of the public hearings was to get public feedback on reapportionment, not to discuss specific examples.

On to the rancorous nonsense…

From: Perry, Adam [mailto:APerry@xxxxxx.com]
Sent: Wed 4/13/2011 11:40 AM
To: Perry, Adam; ‘Jeremy Toth’; ‘bbiggie@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dboody@xxxxxx.org’; ‘chapjc@xxxxxx.com’; ‘ecolaiac@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jderosas@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jsh@xxxxxx.com’; Mohr, Ralph; ‘jondrivera@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com’; Ward, Dennis; ‘bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net’; ‘jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com’; ‘lamparelli@xxxxxx.net’
Cc: Davis, John; Fiume, Bryan
Subject: Public Hearing Issues

Committee Members:

First, I apologize for my early departure last night. I did advise staff and a couple of Committee members that I would have to leave early, but I should have made that clear to all members and the audience at the beginning of the hearing. I do think attendance by all Committee members at all public hearings is important, which is another reason why it is my personal preference for fewer and better attended hearings at larger venues familiar to most citizens of the County.

Second, I understand that there has been a request by Mr. Ward to have the examples, maps, or whatever we are calling them (I’ll call them diagrams), displayed at the next two public hearings. I also understand that there is a disagreement as to whether such a process should occur. I am stating for myself that I don’t currently object to showing one of those diagrams as an example in the absence of substantial objections, but I oppose showing more than one. I also personally feel that the diagrams may be misleading and I would be inclined to vote against their use if there is substantial objection and we vote on the matter. Accordingly, I intend to poll the Committee by e-mail (and verifying with anyone who does not respond by e-mail tonight) as to whether the showing should be allowed. Assuming we vote to show a diagram, I also personally have no objection to allowing Mr. Ward a very short explanation of the diagram and an opposing view — if there is one — of his explanation. However, I do intend to subject this issue to a vote before the showing will be allowed within the public hearing venue. In any case, I do think we should re-emphasize that the diagrams are available on the website to the public.

Third, I believe we need to ask for a clarification from the Board of Elections commissioners on the issue of the software availability (I thought it was available some time ago and we were just waiting for the data), and how we address the counting issues based on the opinion of the County Attorney which is directly contrary to the opinion given by the Board of Elections on prisoner populations. I feel this is an important issue to have a clear understanding of in order to defend our process. Indeed, we were being urged by some to produce and distribute maps to the public which would have counted a statistically significant numbers of ineligible people and would have to have been produced without final Census date, and without correct designation of Census tracts, and without input from the public based on actual Census data, and without the software we were told was available to prepare the maps.

Adam W. Perry, Esq.

The vote to which Mr. Perry refers resulted in a decision from the committee to not display the maps.  Of course, Mr. Ward was not very happy with that decision and rapidly took fingers to keyboard to send his indignant response.  Note that he publicly copied Jay Rey of The Buffalo News on his reply.

—–Original Message—–
From: Ward, Dennis [mailto:Dennis.Ward@xxxxxx.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 1:46 PM
To: Perry, Adam; Jeremy Toth; bbiggie@xxxxxx.com; dboody@xxxxxx.org; chapjc@xxxxxx.com; ecolaiac@xxxxxx.com; jderosas@xxxxxx.com; jsh@xxxxxx.com; Mohr, Ralph; jondrivera@xxxxxx.com; dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com; bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net; jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com; lamparelli@xxxxxx.net
Cc: Davis, John; Fiume, Bryan; jrey@xxxxxx.com
Subject: RE: Public Hearing Issues

Members of the Commission:

I have never heard such absolute hypocracy about displaying the “examples” of how the ultimate map of the county Legislative Districts can be partially drawn. What is quite clear is that certain members of the Commission – those appointed by the ruling coalition of the County (the Chair and the Republican minority) have already made up their minds that they will split towns in violation of the provision of MHRL,  Section 10 (1) and, more importantly, in violation of good public policy. It is apparent that the so-called “gerrymandering” of the drawing of lines has already begun – among those appointed to at least try to avoid that at the advisory commission stage.

The examples that I had submitted were merely suggestions of how to avoid dividing towns – assuming that the commission wishes to follow the law, and more importantly, what is good public policy. It was in no way meant to preclude any commission member from doing the same, with other groupings of towns which differ from those I included. On the day I presented them and when we decided to put them up on our webpage, the invitation was extended to all other commission members (indeed, any members of the public) to produce additional such examples of the grouping of towns, to assist the commission in its task of drawing lines. The fact that no other commission members have bothered to do any work outside of appearing at meetings it is not my concern. Maybe it should be.

At some point, this commission will be sitting down in so-called “work sessions” and reviewing whatever has been submitted to the commission for its consideration – be they maps, partial maps, examples of how drafting can be done, together with a background of what has been derived from the hearings and public comment we receive. We will need it all so that an intelligent discussion can be had and work can be done in arriving at a map (or maps) we will be recommending to the full Legislature. At least, I assume that we will have work sessions since otherwise, it will be clear that members of the commission are merely “tools” of those in the ruling “coalition” in the Legislature that has appointed them, who are only interested in retaining the incumbents.

That is not to say that commission members cannot bring maps, or partial maps, that they would like to discuss, to those commission work sessions. Any such submissions will be of help to the commission and will be the subject of discussion, in public, by the members of the commission. That is what “transparency” is all about. That will allow the public to watch the process and ensure that the rationale for any such maps is well grounded in the law and good public policy – not just a furtive effort to advance the agenda of certain incumbents.

I am particularly amused that a commission member would suggest that the displaying of such examples of how to draw the district lines without dividing towns would be “misleading”. How, pray tell, and who would be misled? And misled about what – that it isn’t possible to do? How will the public be able to evaluate the position of whether it is possible to avoid dividing towns without actually looking at examples of how it can be done?

What is quite clear is that certain members of this commission are now all weighing in on the side of not allowing the public to see something that is in the record of the commission and which apparently will become the focus of an internal debate about the legality and the wisdom of dividing towns in arriving at a “gerrymandered” legislative plan. There are members have generally remained silent throughout the proceedings, so far, but now are moved to speak (in the security of e-mail) to deny the public the right to see what will be debated by the commission. What are they afraid of?

If they have some secret “plan” that is superior to adherring to the principle of not dividing towns, let’s hear from them – and let’s see something as a work product. To this point, we have seen nothing. Are we to truly believe that a map will sometime in the future just suddenly “materialize” – and drop on to the laps of the commission – which will then simply rubber stamp it? Is there no willingness on the part of the commission members to do any work for the public to observe?

And finally, let us allow the public to see both sides of the argument. Lets have them able to comment on what is clearly becoming a major (if not the issue) of dispute – whether the age old practice of dividing towns to promote a gerrymandered plan is really a desirable tool. Perhaps people from the many towns will come in to actually request that their town to be divided – who knows? But those who do attend these public hearings ought to have the tools and the information to know the issues involved and to be able to speak on them.

As for the “permission” of the commission to display the “examples” – I don’t need that nor will I abide by that. I will simply retrieve them myself from the Legislature as my work product. Since you are apparently taking the position that they are not a part of the commission’s body of information. I will bring them to every public hearing and I will have them displayed – period. The public and the media have a right to all information available, and which will be used in the commission doing its work. That’s what “open meetings” are all about.

I am shocked that any member of this commission, and in particular the chair, would be a part of suppressing public information. That reveals a story that itself needs to be told in public. I will see all my fellow members of the commission at the next public hearing tonight at 5 PM at ECC North.

Dennis E. Ward
Commission Member

This email about hypocrisy and undermining the will of the people from the elections commissioner who worked with his partner, Mr. Mohr, to keep the downsizing initiative off the ballot last November on technicalities.  Mr. Perry replied to Ward’s email with the following:

From: Perry, Adam [mailto:APerry@xxxxxx.com]
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 2:50 PM
To: Ward, Dennis; ‘Jeremy Toth’; ‘bbiggie@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dboody@xxxxxx.org’; ‘chapjc@xxxxxx.com’; ‘ecolaiac@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jderosas@xxxxxx.com’; ‘jsh@xxxxxx.com’; Mohr, Ralph; ‘jondrivera@xxxxxx.com’; ‘dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com’; ‘bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net’; ‘jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com’; ‘lamparelli@xxxxxx.net’; Perry, Adam
Cc: Davis, John; Fiume, Bryan; ‘jrey@xxxxxx.com’
Subject: RE: Public Hearing Issues

I will not respond to Mr. Ward’s defamatory, misleading, and self-serving diatribe. I encourage others not to respond. His statements are not worthy of a response and not worthy of an individual admitted to practice law where duties of candor and civility are the rule and not an option. I intend to conduct all proceedings and communications with my colleagues in a professional and civil manner.

We’re 2200 words in, still with me?  If so, it appears Mr. Perry’s guidance to not respond to Mr. Ward was ignored by committee member Emilio Colaiacovo.

—– Original Message —–
From: Emilio Colaiacovo
To: chapjc@xxxxxx.com ; jsh@xxxxxx.com ; jderosas@xxxxxx.com ; dboody@xxxxxx.org ; Ward, Dennis; Mohr, Ralph; dsovinsky@xxxxxx.com ; bbiggie@xxxxxx.com ; Adam Perry ; Jeremy Toth ; lamparelli@xxxxxx.net ; bwittmeyermspt@xxxxxx.net ; jondrivera@xxxxxx.com ; jwilmartjr@xxxxxx.com
Cc: jrey@xxxxxx.com ; Fiume, Bryan; Davis, John
Sent: Thu Apr 14 13:55:37 2011
Subject: RE: Public Hearing Issues

I find this amusing, since you were instrumental in trying to keep the public referendum on downsizing off the ballot last year. Does this constitute suppressing the will of the public or at the very least suppressing public information? I really don’t want to get into this type of exchange with you, as I don’t have the free time to go on and on. This isn’t a contest on who can say more or the loudest. I think the process has been very deliberative and open. Many of us have concerns about your maps – my concern is I do not want the public to think that they constitute the work product of our committee, as they represent only your opinion (or the opinion of those you serve). I find the comments elicited from our public hearings important. I certainly do not wish to engage in map-drawing without first hearing from the public. While I don’t believe my comments are hollow, you need not disparage others who take a contrary opinion of what you believe to be gospel. See you tonight. Emilio

Emilio Colaiacovo, Esq.

The email chain here continues on with some explanation from Mr. Ward and another reply from Mr. Colaiacovo.  I’ve killed it here because I think we’re past the point of it being informative.

The larger point here is that this process for reapportioning our legislative districts is being undertaken by a political class which seems more interested in sweeping together and hoarding the crumbs on the table as if they were political chits to be cashed in at a future date.  Nowhere in this chain of emails does one find legitimate discussion about how to best realign our legislative districts to better represent the public and make government more efficient.  This small-minded political bickering is exactly why Kevin Gaughan had recommended outside consultants to design a reapportionment proposal for the Legislature itself to consider and vote upon.

Instead, we’ll get weeks of foot dragging, and backroom political bickering in order to avoid making a decision before petitions circulate for legislature candidates in early June.

Hooray!