Archive | April, 2011

The Good Slaughter?

19 Apr

Meet Larry Althiser, the owner and head meat cutter for Larry’s Custom Meats in Hartwick, NY, a small farming community between Syracuse and Albany. Larry takes pride in his slaughterhouse.  He’s been butchering and processing animals for over 30 years, learning through hard work his philosophy on the right way to slaughter animals so we can eat.


I don’t think I’ve ever watched a video that was at once so compelling yet so revolting.  I’m a big boy, I know where my food comes from and I know how it ultimately ends up on my table.  I’ve also seen my fair share of PETA propaganda videos that depict the horrors of factory farming and animal cruelty.

This video is different.  It depicts a man who obviously loves his job, takes the time to do it right and has a respectful approach to putting food on people’s table.

The process Larry follows to slaughter the meat is careful, professional and clean but the barbarism of the entire process is still hard to process.  For some reason, and I’m not sure why, this video seems more barbaric to me than the PETA videos.  Probably because Larry is emotional about the animals and it humanizes them in ways that make it harder to see them as a product. Anthropomorphism is a powerful thing…

Let me know what you think.

The Cockfight Episode 6

18 Apr

Three years ago, was a hub of podcasts and live internet radio featuring our merry band of sports fans, liberals, libertarians, community activists and comedians.  As things usually go here at the WNY headquarters of half-baked plans, we eventually stopped recording the shows and moved onto live radio with our partners at WECK1230AM.  While the relationship with WECK has been very positive, we think it’s high time to re-introduce the podcast to the WNYMedia PuPu Platter of offerings. Brad Riter, the Program Director at WECK has graciously allowed us to utilize their production studios for the recording of the podcasts and TJ Schratz of WECK has graciously offered to produce the show for us.

The WNYMedia Broadcast Studio and Engineering STaff

This week, Kevin Pritchard, Mark Pietz and I talk about Bandits Lacrosse, NFTA traffic rules, racial stereotypes, Sabres/Flyers Games 1 & 2, beer, hockey contracts, the rest of the Sabres playoff series and the twitter hive mind.

Give it a listen and let us know what you think.  We’ll have an iTunes feed up next week, but until then…

Left click to play or right click to download

Mayor Brown, No Orange For You

18 Apr

As the Sabres-Flyers NHL Playoff series shifts to Buffalo for games three and four, today Mayor Byron Brown declared the lobby of City Hall a “No Orange (Flyers) Zone”. To emphasize the point, the Mayor has hung a banner with those words in the lobby of City Hall.


Before the series began, Mayor Brown said he was not going to wear or eat anything orange during the series. Evidently, this doesn’t include neckties.  The Mayor picked the Sabres to win the series in six games.

Escape the Urban Book Review: The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Guide Book

17 Apr

In the dark, cold space between prime outdoor seasons, a fire to warm the shins while the wind howls and snow flies, or the occasional nordic ski or snowshoe on brilliant blue and white days, can take the edge off the worst of the wanderlust. Similarly, there are times when the rolling hills of Western New York fail to satisfy, the ski runs feel short, the whitewater small, the cliffs less craggy, the panoramas less sweeping. The cure for both afflictions are the same: a little dreaming and planning for the next Big Trip, a more epic expedition for which weekend local excursions serve as effective training and preparation.

I find the planning for a Big Trip almost as enjoyable as actually being out in the thick of the act. My best partner in such fire-side winter daydreaming is a good guide book, the encyclopedic report on mastering an area or trail. In this regard, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail guide has been a good friend and companion these last several months.

The NFCT itself earns epic status. At 740 miles long, from Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine, it is big, and winds through some of the wildest places left in the northeast – reminiscent of, and a tribute to, the voyageurs who traveled the same path nearly 400 years past. After starting at the southwest end of the Adirondacks, it takes advantage of some of the best small boat flatwater in the world in the Raquette, Long and Saranac Lake sections, before crossing Lake Champlain into Vermont, sneaking into southern Quebec, and nipping through New Hampshire on the thin northern end. Here, though, you are only half done, as the trail spends half its time in the utter humanlessness of rugged western Maine, terminating at the last homely house at the far northern tip of the American eastern wilderness. Despite this massive scale, the NFCT is also amazingly accessible – five hours from driveway to paddle in the water from most of Western New York.

Photo courtesy

I have only traveled a short section of the NFCT myself, along Stony Creek and the accompanying ponds, north from the old hamlet of Axton Landing to the Indian Carry portage that connects to the Saranac chain of lakes (Segment 2, Map 8-20). If the whole trail is like that small section, then months of utter zen await the lucky kayaker who runs the whole gambit. Waterways are best experienced when in a craft well proportioned to its size. I often feel lost in my kayak in the Niagara River or on the Great Lakes – the vista is too sweeping and wide for a such a small, slow moving boat, and you never feel like you are making headway; better to be on a sail boat when plying larger water. Conversely, this section of the NFCT was perfectly kayak sized, the wild close and intimate. My paddle nearly reached from one side of the stream to the other in some places, as the slow moving creek wound back on itself like a coiled rope, between pined ridges and among water lilies and swamp grasses. And then, a breakout into the open pond, an horizontal view of mountains and stony banks, loons bobbing for fish on the mirror surface. My heart aches as I remember that warm late-summer day. 

The official NFCT guide, newly published less than a year ago, contains everything a comprehensive handbook should: thorough descriptions of the route, tips for negotiating tricky passages, sidebars of both natural and human history along the trail, and photographs that whet the appetite and induce a piercing longing for the sore backs and cramped legs that come from hours in a boat. It also provides an elevation and weather guide, to allow for planning of portages around rapids and dams, and predictions of when streams will be rushing but buggy (May and June), warm but perhaps low (July and August), or reliable but cool (September and October). If I have one complaint, it is that the maps, while broadly complete, are lacking in detail. This guide is meant to be used in conjunction with large maps also available from the non-profit organization that has worked to assemble the easements, clean and steward and promote the water trail the last 11 years. I do not begrudge them the desire to raise a little money selling you additional materials, but as a lover of maps, I could spend hours just pouring over foldout charts, imagining what lies beyond each bend and lake.  

Ten days ago it was snowing on my car’s kayak carrier, newly installed in preparation for the breaking Spring. Today, the sunshine is rushing into my writing office in a waterfall of hope. Time to get outside and do it.

The Corwin Foundation

17 Apr

Below are the Form 990s for the Philip M. and Jane Lewis Corwin Foundation.

Seems like a lot of busywork to donate $20,000 to Boston College and another $20,000 to the Nichols School every year.

Most of us need – and rely on – a strong public school system. Yet to the Corwins, public schools exist in an abstract, theoretical way. Note how their foundation started doling out $500 to certain school districts located in her Assembly district when Corwin became bored with her post-Talking Phone Book retirement and went into public “service”.




Jane Corwin and the Republican Budget

16 Apr

The Friday night news dump is especially reserved for embarrassing or harmful information. And for five solid days, Democratic candidate for NY-26 had been hectoring her Republican opponent, Jane Corwin, to reveal her stand regarding the Republicans’ 2012 budget proposal. Known widely for its chief proponent, Wisconsin Republican representative Paul Ryan, who is its chief proponent and chairman of congress’ budget committee, the Republican plan would further cut taxes on the wealthy, transform America’s popular and efficient Medicare single-payer plan for seniors and turn it into an insurance voucher program, and do other things that greatly benefit the wealthy and large corporate campaign donors so that the deficit might be eliminated by 2040.

Congress passed the Ryan budget with only 6 Republican defections or abstentions.  No Democrat voted for it.  The most repellent part of that legislation is the privatization of Medicare.  The entire reason why Medicare exists is that older people become less and less able to arrange their own affairs, need more medical attention more often, and are, frankly, a poor insurance risk. Indeed, private health insurers aren’t exactly happily anticipating an influx of millions of post-boomer seniors buying insurance with vouchers, the value of which will rise slower than the rate of health care itself.  Suddenly, older Americans, who are now largely free from concerns about who will pay for their health care costs, will have to start worrying about it again for the first time since 1964.  The CBO projects that seniors would be on the hook for 2/3 of their medical costs within 10 years of the plan’s implementation. Unless you’re a baby boomer. Then you can still keep the single-payer Medicare everyone loves.

And think of the mental gymnastics at issue here. What the Ryan budget actually does is replace a popular single-payer health care plan for seniors and replaces it with…Obamacare.

“It’s exactly like Obamacare,” said NRSC chairman Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in the Capitol Thursday. “It is. It’s exactly like it. Which strikes me as bizarre that you’re seeing so much pushback [from Democrats].”

This is admirable candor — Cornyn was the only legislator I could find, Republican or Democrat, who would acknowledge this obvious truth. Indeed Cornyn didn’t even let me finish my question before excitedly volunteering that the House Republican budget would turn Medicare into a plan that mimics the key aspects of President Obama’s health care law.

What explains the irony? If you think of the health care system as a highway with unbridled free market private insurance on one end and universal single payer on the other end, then two parties are now approaching each other from opposite directions. Democrats pushed ObamaCare for working-aged people as a move away from unrestrained private insurance, toward a universal program. In trying to dismantle Medicare, Republicans are seeking to rollback a successful example of single payer toward freer market.

They’ve now awkwardly encountered each other in the middle. The similarities between the two policies creates a dilemma for Republicans who have smeared the health care law as an existential threat to the United States and for Democrats who’ve attacked the GOP plan as a corporate giveaway and dangerous for seniors.

So, WTF, right? “Obamacare” is socialism when proposed by the President, but great policy when proposed by the Republican House.

The GOP plan, as suggested above, would put future Medicare beneficiaries into an exchange — a pooled marketplace of private health insurance — and subsidize those policies with federal revenues. That’s the very same principle underlying “Obamacare.” But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Cornyn.

“Basically people who lose their employer-provided insurance, right, under Obamacare, go into the exchanges and then are provided with a taxpayer subsidy to help them buy private insurance,” he said. “That’s exactly what the premiums support plan that Paul Ryan is proposing.”

Correct! Yet Cornyn supports one and vilifies the other. “[ObamaCare] was 2,700 pages long, and I did oppose it for a multitude of reasons,” he said.

If you present members with the notion that the two plans are similar in anyway, you get obfuscation, or word salad, or both.

“I’m curious as to how,” said freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI). “A lot of people believe that’s going to be a system that’s a little more similar to what we have as federal employees, too.”

“What we do, is what the President has called for and so many of our friends on the other side and that is, don’t you think that seniors ought to have the same kind of health coverage as Members of Congress?” said Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. “The program we would put in place is one that essentially mirrors the federal employee health benefits program and a series of premium assistance for seniors who are not able to have the financial wherewithal.”

This is a common refrain from Republicans. One problem with it, though is that Obama’s health care reform law also provided uninsured people with benefits similar to those members of Congress have.

Well, it’s all very easy to understand.

In a way it’s no surprise that Republicans and Democrats have such similar approaches. The health care law is based on an old Republican policy idea — one they quickly abandoned when Barack Obama adopted it.

Ezra Klein notes that the Ryan proposal takes the burden of insuring seniors off the government, and places it squarely on the backs of seniors themselves.

The proposal would shift risk from the federal government to seniors themselves. The money seniors would get to buy their own policies would grow more slowly than their health-care costs, and more slowly than their expected Medicare benefits, which means that they’d need to either cut back on how comprehensive their insurance is or how much health-care they purchase. Exacerbating the situation — and this is important — Medicare currently pays providers less and works more efficiently than private insurers, so seniors trying to purchase a plan equivalent to Medicare would pay more for it on the private market.

It’s hard, given the constraints of our current debate, to call something “rationing” without being accused of slurring it. But this is rationing, and that’s not a slur. This is the government capping its payments and moderating their growth in such a way that many seniors will not get the care they need.

In an interesting twist, there was an even more radically Randian Republican budget being brought to a vote on the floor of the House before the Ryan budget.  It was so outrageous that even many Republicans thought it too draconian (read: politically harmful), so they figured the Democrats would defeat it for them. But instead, the Democrats all voted late, and then voted “present”, which doesn’t count as a vote.  Suddenly, the Republicans were scrambling as politically sensitive reps desperately tried to change their yeas to nays,

Republicans realized they were about to accidentally pass a plan that was too politically radioactive even to them. So they pressed several of their own members — including Reps. David Dreier (R-CA), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Buck McKeon (R-CA), and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) — to switch their votes from yes to no. Indeed, when they realized what the Dems were up to, Republicans managed to flip just as many votes as they’d need to kill the RSC plan, even if every Democrat voted “present.” Only 15 Democrats declined to switch their votes from “no” to “present.” The plan failed by 16 votes.

“We got a lot of them to change, not every one of them to change,” Hoyer said. Those who didn’t, including several Blue Dogs wouldn’t budge. “There were a variety of reasons. I think some have tough races. Some said they’d never voted present. I was disappointed that they did not follow what I think was a strategy to highlight the position of the Republican Party.”

Kathy Hochul, who is vying for the Congressional seat most recently vacated by Chris Lee (R-Shirtless) came out against the Ryan budget proposal days ago. Her most recent press release from Friday reads:


The following is a statement from Fabien Levy, Director of Communications for Kathy Hochul for Congress:

“In just a few hours the House will vote on the Republican budget proposal that would end Medicare as we know it.  For days, Kathy Hochul, candidate for New York’s 26th Congressional District, has called on her opponents to join her in rejecting any budget that would add burdensome costs onto the backs of America’s seniors.  Today, there is only one candidate whose silence signals her intentions to break the promises made to our elderly population.

“Jane Corwin remains the only candidate in this race who has refused to tell the voters of the 26th District where she stands on the current budget proposal.  As the only Republican in the country currently running for Congress, she has repeatedly dodged every opportunity to take a position on the Republican’s 2012 budget.

“While her silence signals apathy, the truth may be even worse.  The people of the 26th want to know, if Jane Corwin was currently a Member of the House of Representatives, would she vote to slash benefits, increase costs, and hold America’s elderly population responsible for fighting with insurance companies?  Kathy Hochul has firmly stated her opposition to this proposal and promised to reject any budget that fundamentally alters Medicare.

“Assemblymember Corwin, before the vote is cast, tell the voters of the 26th District how you would vote today – would you reject the current budget proposal before the House or would you vote to decimate Medicare?”

Well, we all got our answer late Friday evening. Corwin emailed this to “Capital Tonight’s” Liz Benjamin:

“As a member of Congress, I would have voted both for this week’s plan to cut $38 billion and for the 2012 House budget resolution passed today because these bills are good initial steps in addressing America’s crippling deficit.”

“Our country is on the verge of bankruptcy, and our economy, our children’s future, and the security of our seniors are in jeopardy if we choose not to act. Now, it’s time that my opponents say exactly what they would do to address our nation’s burgeoning deficit.”

Well, no, the country isn’t on the “verge of bankruptcy”. But more starkly, there is nothing more repulsive and abhorrent to me than to see a small-time Republican political automaton who is a million-heiress living in the region’s most exclusive and expensive little neighborhood essentially telling everyone under 55 that there will be no Medicare for them.  All done, all gone. Of course, there’s no fiscal pain in the Corwin household, where they could literally bathe in dollar bills, but for regular folks, average non-multi-millionaire households, future seniors (that’s me) would grow old in some idiot voucher system where we’d be on the hook for 66% of our health care costs.  The social contract altered by millionaires on the backs – and to the detriment – of the poor and middle class. In other countries, people riot over that sort of mind-boggling arrogance.

Jane Corwin would not, however, change the Medicare single-payer plan for people currently over 55. I don’t know how that plays with the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, and I thought the Congressional Republicans had decided that they’d include a statement of constitutionality with every bill.

In 2009, seniors came out in their thousands during the debate over Obama’s health care reform plan, and demandedloudly – and angrily that the government keep its socialist hands off their Medicare. One wonders how those same people will react to this Republican plan. Oh, they didn’t complain much at all? Because they’re exempt from it. But they were exempted from Obama’s plan, too.

The conversation we should be having in this country is how to make Medicare available to any American who wants to opt in. People could still by supplemental coverage on the open market, and others could choose to opt out. But the fact that we’re still having the same damned debate we had some 47 years ago about how – and whether – to provide universal health coverage is a massive and ongoing, embarrassing failure.

But we at least now know that Republican parrot Jane Corwin would like those of you without bread to go ahead and eat cake.


15 Apr

I’m taking the next two weeks off (more or less) from the site. You’re all paying attention to hockey anyway. Don’t break anything.


The Placemaking Scam

14 Apr

They never told you what they were doing was merely temporary. They never explained to the assembled crowd that it was all a stopgap to make the waterfront less ugly and more usable for the period of time before final structures could be built.

That’s why Donn Esmonde giddily wrote this column a few days earlier, during one of the PPS’ “let’s talk benches” mixers.

But with respect to the Mark Goldman-led insistence that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation embrace “lighter, cheaper, quicker,” the Project for Public Spaces, Fred Kent, crowdsourcing of ideas, and all kinds of unproven, untested, unscientific gobbledygook, there has been a wholesale theft of money from the people of New York State.  I’ve sent an email to ECHDC asking how much, exactly, PPS was paid.

Because, as far as I’m concerned, the ECHDC could have taken the money it spent on Fred Kent and the PPS, burned it, flushed the ashes down the nearest toilet, then spat on them, and gotten a better return on their investment than the unserious, make-believe nonsense the PPS provided.


For giving us the work-product of unempirical wishes, a Google image search, and an unwieldly PowerPoint presentation, the PPS or Mark Goldman should pay the people of the State of New York back every dime of money that went into that embarrassment.

Just a couple of weeks after the PPS punked Buffalo, the ECHDC presented what seems like the 900th serious plan for developing the Aud block. It’s a beautiful plan that features *gasp* underground parking. I eagerly await the howls of disapproval from Buffalo’s ersatz intelligentsia, demanding permanent implementation of “flexible lawns”.


On Reversing 30 Years of Falsity

14 Apr

Memo to Barry: Fight!!The President, yesterday, commenting on Representative Paul Ryan’s “deficit reduction” 2012 budget plan, which is just shorthand for “ending Medicare, Medicaid, and the social safety net as we know it, plunging the United States backwards into the 19th century”:

The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know.

The Republicans have doubled down on their obeisance to the superwealthy and powerful corporate interests. They have been quite adept at hiding their preference for oligarchy behind appeals to God, patriotism, and Reagan.  But abolishing the social safety net so that the very rich can pay de minimis taxes, so corporations can relocate freely to the Caymans, or game an system that is advantageous to the hyperwealthy to avoid all taxes, and paying for those tax cuts on the backs of the middle class and wage earners is the real class warfare being waged.

The Ryan plan, aside from directly benefiting do-nothing middleman health insurers – those feckless David Brents of the health delivery industry – promises to not touch Medicare for those now over 55.  So for those of us who have lived, say hypothetically, 42 years in a country with an expectation that at least some of our health care expenses in old age will be covered by a generous and well-run government single-payer health plan, we’d have been deceived. This is fundamentally unfair and unacceptable – simple pandering to the massive baby boomer vote at the expense of “everyone under 55”.  The Ryan plan completely avoid making any cuts to military spending – an unbelievable joke to presume that not even a dollar’s worth of savings might be siphoned off from the military-industrial complex.

Most Americans are politically middle-of-the-road, and economically middle class. The Republicans have spent the last 30 years duping regular folks that it’s critically important to make sure the superwealthy don’t pay a lot in taxes. I don’t quite know why that steaming, fetid pile of lies is still accepted as truth, or reasonable policy.

I know a lot of liberals, progressives, and others who supported Obama are disappointed at a lot of what he’s done, and more at what he hasn’t done. It’s been an intensely complicated three years, to put it mildly. I’m mildly disillusioned, but I’m not ready to abandon the guy yet.  Not when he can so succinctly make the case that the opposition has essentially abandoned regular folks.

Asking billionaires to pay 37% of their income versus 35% isn’t class warfare. It’s reverting back to the Clinton era, when the economy was booming and the government ran a surplus.

Efforts versus Results

14 Apr

On Tuesday night, I received a media advisory from the staff of Preservation Buffalo Niagara in which they requested WNYMedia (among others) send a reporter/videographer to a press conference on Wednesday morning.

Masten District Councilmember Demone Smith, joined by the Hamlin Park Taxpayers Association, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, and Preservation Buffalo Niagara, will announce a major preservation victory at a media event in the Hamlin Park Historic District tomorrow, Wednesday, April 13, at 10 am at 16 Harwood Pl.

We receive roughly 10-12 media advisories each day, inviting us to all sorts of press conferences. After all, everyone loves earned media coverage for their event. It’s like advertising, but better! We go to some, we don’t go to others. We did not attend this particular press conference and received several emails from interested parties inquiring about our absence. Rather than responding to those parties individually, let me respond here with a statement of editorial purpose and a few definitions.

Efforts:  The incremental work done to achieve a particular end.  Not to be broadly celebrated unless related to toddler potty training.

Results:  Something tangible that comes from the purposeful application of effort.  Something to be celebrated.

At WNYMedia, we save our positive affirmations for people who create results.  We sometimes discuss efforts, offer criticism or get involved, but we rarely (if ever) celebrate the mere presence of effort.

Why?  Because efforts don’t necessarily align themselves neatly with results. Buffalo has enough plans, plans to make future plans, diagrams, development dioramas, proposals, and designs to fill the once proposed Adelphia Tower or Bashar Issa’s City Tower. In fact, old time Buffalo radio host Danny Neavereth once proposed we open a museum in which we would put all those failed plans on display.

Celebrating efforts also leads to a celebration of mediocrity and a lingering stink of desperation. We celebrate business churn in our retail districts, we celebrate announcements about planned future openings of things, we celebrate waterfront dioramas featuring buildings without proposed tenants, etc. We celebrate efforts to redesign our zoning code…call me when it’s approved and in place. Until then, get to work.

Think about the various boutique and large scale hotel projects that have been announced for Downtown Buffalo in the past three years. How many of those were ultimately built?  Think about the various preservation efforts like the one announced yesterday How many of those planned projects summarily fell apart due to lack of capital, shortsighted developers, lawsuits or regulatory issues?  There are almost too many to count.  Remember Mayor Brown’s “Good News In The City” spreadsheet published on the city website which featured all the planned developments in the City of Buffalo?  He stopped posting it when the failure rate for listed projects approached 70%.

Does our lack of enthusiasm for announcements and plans make us cynical or skeptical? No, we’re people who demand results and expect success. We don’t like to hand out participation ribbons, we like to get excited about real things.  Also, when efforts are announced but fail to gain traction, it simply feeds the dragon of disillusionment and frustration people have with Buffalo and Western New York.  The result?  The addition of yet another log to the burning sense of disappointment many feel with their hometown and making it that much harder for further efforts to succeed.

So, give us a call when buildings are built on the waterfront, because we’ve seen the sweet titillating renderings before.  Call us when the Lyth Cottage is renovated, not when it’s sold. Call us when the casino is built, not before bearded men from Parkside sue it into rusted obsolescence. Send us a media advisory when 50 Court Street is done, Mr. Paladino, not when you’ve announced your seventh site plan in ten years.

This is a media outlet that reserves our “Hoorays” and back pats for people and organizations who actually finish something.  Who make a plan with little fanfare, implement that plan and ultimately produce a tangible result.

It’s how successful municipalities should measure progress.