Archive | July, 2011

Escape the Urban: Salmon River Runs

31 Jul

This is the latest in a series of articles on learning to be a whitewater raft guide for Adventure Calls Outfitters. Here are the previous two entries on Dreaming of the Salmon River and getting into The Flow.

My grandfather used to say “Anticipation is Greater than Realization.” He usually pulled out this uplifting gem in late December, as we grandchildren were eagerly looking forward to Christmas morning. “No matter how much fun your new toys may be,” he would remind, “your imagination of what you will receive is always more vivid than what you’ll actually get.” The life of the party, my grandfather. Always sowing seeds of hope and optimism.

Fortunately, when it came to rafting the Salmon River last weekend, his advice was absolute bollocks.

Image courtesy americanwhitewater.org.

Thank God for New York and our rock-bottomed creeks. Pour a little water over some exposed earth in this part of the world and you’re bound to eventually create a whitewater playland. The Salmon River runs west off the Tug Hill plateau, an unimpressive massif thrust up between the southern Adirondacks and Lake Ontario. A wild collection of proud redneck ville’s, untrammeled boondocks and prime hunting and fishing grounds, this section of upper New York would not, at first glance, seem to contain prime whitewater. In fact, driving in from the south on Interstate 81, I never even saw the Salmon. It has not yet cut away any great valley in the land, and instead blends in innocuously just behind the next grove of trees or down some small ravine. Exiting at Pulaski and heading east, the land simply rises gently, river out of sight, the road winding into backwoods hamlets and angler-friendly campgrounds. When one enters Letchworth, by contrast, there is no question where the water is. Here I was afraid I had made a wrong turn.

I should not have worried. Tucked into a narrow black slate-walled canyon crossed by crumbling railroad trestles, the Salmon makes up in quality water what it lacks in initial flash. Most of the year, the Salmon River sports some of the best fishing – steelhead, trout, and yes, salmon – in the country, and the local businesses reflect that. Here tackle shops and designated fish cleaning stations pop up every hundred yards and the motels have names like “Salmon Heaven” (thanks Brenda for the hospitality). But three weekends a year, the reservoir is opened and prime fly-fishing country becomes prime whitewater – a guaranteed 750 cubic feet per second of tannin-stained warm goodness that draws kayakers and rafters from across the northeast.

The ten mile, three and a half hour run starts east of the village of Atmar and bears west through Pulaski, where the largest rapids lie. The slow build of the river yields a progression I most enjoy – lazy and luxurious up front, while you teach your boat to paddle together. Then a steady increase in size and difficulty, to ease newcomers into the idea of rapid running. Lastly long challenging rapids through the final third, culminating in a grand finale of the best drops of the day: Lusitania, Titanic and Black Hole. Nothing like the prime water at the end as a reward for a day of paddling in the sun.

On Saturday afternoon, as I was picking my line through Town Rapids, ferrying upstream to hit the maximum number of holes for my happily screaming guests – including two girls, twelve and fourteen, who self-admittedly rarely saw the outside of a mall and their adventure minded uncle who was determined to change that fact – I realized I was in the middle of a unique experience. I was a guiding a river I had never run before.

On the Catt and the Genny I received training and orientation runs before stepping into the back cockpit. And if I move on to other rivers and other companies in other parts of the country in the future, I’ll most certainly need to do the same. But here, hopefully as a vote of confidence but probably due to the reality of the large number of guests, I was assigned as a middle guide on my first trip down the river. The middle guide is the low man on the totem pole, neither responsible for picking the lead line on the point, nor sweeping for straggler boats as the drag. But on the swiftly moving and twisting Salmon, the boats in my front and rear went out of sight on more than one occasion. I and my four paddlers could have been the only souls on the river. And what lie ahead – the size of the rapids, the depth of the holes, the scattered rock gardens, the washing machine churn along a sheer cliff wall – was as much of a surprise to me as the newbies in my raft.

Does it get any better than that? Anticipation and realization merged into the same frothy moment last weekend. Lucky is the kayaker, rafter or guide on their own personal first river descents.

Announcing The #BuffCashMob

31 Jul

Do you want to make a difference in your community? Do you like social media? Are you someone who digs doing cool stuff with cool people? Do you love supporting local small business? Well, welcome to the hastily formed #BuffCashMob!

This is a tough economy and many small businesses in Buffalo and WNY are looking for ways to increase cash flow. That’s where we, the organized social media denizens of Western New York, come in.

Rather than do the slacktivist thing, posting links to businesses we like and writing on their Facebook pages, let’s get out, en masse, and show them some straight up cash love. Buy their goods, pay for their services, patronize their establishments. And have a great fucking time doing it!

The goal will be to get 100 people to “flash mob” a local establishment to spend $10-$20 each on the goods and services offered. No discounts, no coupons, no special deals. Just spend $10 in their business.

We’ll take nominations for businesses who will get a visit from the #BuffCashMob on the WNYMedia website each Monday. We’ll keep our eyes on Twitter to check for other nominations there as well, but make sure you use the #BuffCashMob hashtag so we’ll know to look for it. Your nomination should tell us something about the business, what they sell and why they deserve some #BuffCashMob love. Lets show local businesses that social media isn’t just about nerds talking about “branding”, that it’s about bringing people in the door to spend some cash.

We’ll make the #BuffCashMob event cool with some onsite activities, so let’s get this thing started.

Suggestions? Make ’em! Criticisms? Let’s hear ’em!

Most of all, just show up on Friday at 530PM to support the local business we’ve all nominated and selected.

The Death of Compromise

29 Jul

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) breaks down what’s going on right now in Washington, as Speaker John Boehner (OH-8) can’t get his caucus to back a horrible plan to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling, but re-engage in this process in 6 months – a plan that won’t see the light of day in the Senate.

One of the stories coming out of last night’s aborted vote indicated that cuts would be further sharpened, affecting Pell Grants.

The differences couldn’t be more stark now: the Republicans, led by the tail by the tea party, want to further hurt the poor and middle class in order to ensure that the wealthy are protected. The Democrats, led weakly by an increasingly feckless President, want to further hurt the poor and middle class by cutting federal Medicare and Social Security entitlements and gently repeal the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.

This – and the death of compromise – is why the #fuckyouWashington hashtag has become so popular on Twitter.

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Buffalo Common Council 86es Food Truck Rules, For Now (UPDATED)

29 Jul

Yesterday, there was a hearing at the Buffalo Common Council on proposed legislation that would allow food trucks to actually move about during the day, pay a meter, and stay at any given location for two hours. Certain restaurants, like Jim’s Steakout and ETS, are vehemently opposing the law.  They say it’s not fair, that it’s too easy for the food trucks to become set up, and that they can set up at a location for “days on end”.

UPDATE: Here is the text of the proposed legislation: 

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To placate the brick-and-mortar restaurants, the Common Council tabled the issue for a month – the most profitable month for food trucks. Absent from this decision is the consideration that food trucks rely on the good weather to break even – they are at a massive competitive disadvantage during the winter months. What the restaurants are doing to the trucks is akin to the trucks clamoring for restaurants to be required to, e.g., open their windows when it’s sub-freezing.

Food trucks don’t cost a pittance. They cost tens of thousands of dollars to purchase, set up, stock, fuel, and operate. Does ETS have to fill up a 22 gallon tank with diesel fuel costing $4.15 per gallon?

The restaurants aren’t entitled to artificial protection against competition from government. The food truck phenomenon (my favorite is the Where’s Lloyd taco truck) is in need of regulation and rules, but they should be fair to both sides – not just to the established brick-and-mortars.

In Buffalo, it’s never easy. There are too many entrenched and intransigent bureaucracies that have zero incentive to change or be efficient. (By contrast, during a trip to Washington this week, I noticed food trucks simply parked at a meter, serving food to waiting customers in the downtown core. The regulations for opening a food truck business are quite clear, and handily set forth at this website.

Once granted this license, you agree to operate according to the law. You can only solicit customers who flag you down. The 35-year-old law was intended for ice cream trucks and obviously did not foresee social media playing such a vital role. Please understand that this is current regulations and we will enforce the rule for vendors who do not follow this rule, traffic and parking rules.

For example: If a Mobile Vendor parks on A Street NW for 5 customers who flag them down or alerted the vendor they were waiting via social media, the vendor needs to find a legal parking spot to serve customers and then must leave once all customers are served. Anybody found not following these rules is subject to fines and possible revocation of their license.

Here is the report from Channel 2. It’s too bad that the city can’t, and won’t, tackle an issue that’s been evident for a year now, and instead chooses to punt in order to provide restaurants a competitive advantage of doubtful fairness.

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For the record, the currently active food trucks in Buffalo are:

Where’s Lloyd (tacos)

The Whole Hog (BBQ)

R ‘n R BBQ

Roaming Buffalo (Buffalo favorites)

Coming soon is Fork on the Road (Vietnamese street food)

The Morning Grumpy – July 29th

29 Jul

After a one day sabbatical, I’m back to give you the news, video, and links that help make your morning grumpy a more pleasurable experience. Let’s get to it.

1. Here’s another cool thing I wish we had right here in Johnson City!

The Small Business Administration announced on Tuesday that it had formed a $130 million venture capital fund to invest in high-growth companies in Michigan. The fund is the first of what Karen Mills, the S.B.A. administrator, said is a $1 billion commitment over five years through what the agency calls Impact Investment funds, part of the Obama administration’s Startup America initiative announced in January.

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The Obama administration has not sought to renew the equity program, either, though the S.B.A. says it is developing a $1 billion fund for early-stage companies, set to be launched in late 2011 or early 2012.

Calls and emails to Mayor Brown’s office predictably went unanswered. If offered the opportunity to ask the Mayor about this program, it would go a little like this:

  • When you were at the White House for the Super Bowl, did you do anything other than shop around for a job?
  • Did Steve Casey eat all the dill dip at the party? Everyone hates the guy who lingers over the dip…
  • Did you think it might be appropriate to ask the President about ways in which the federal government could help us out of our 50 year economic downturn?
  • Might you have any interest in a program like this? Any plans to pursue it? If so, who would lead the effort and what would you be seeking?

2. TEDxBuffalo2: Electric Boogaloo is happening. The first TEDXBuffalo didn’t happen for several reasons, most notably, because a crazy person was leading the effort. Now, we have a team of real adults (myself included) and accomplished professionals working on the effort which is being led by completely sane person and local technology maven, Kevin Purdy. Here are the details as we know them.

  • We have a theme: “No Permission Necessary”
  • We have a place: Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College
  • We have speakers and performers (to be announced soon).
  • And we want YOU to SAVE THE DATE (Tuesday, October 11, 2011) to watch the event streaming over the internet, at a viewing party (we’ll let you know about those, too) or live in person.
  • We’ll be announcing more about the event and all the details in the coming weeks, so check back here, as well as our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

WNYMedia will be a sponsor of the event, providing the video streaming and other video services. I tell you this because I intend to talk about this event frequently and you should know why.

3. Speaking of TED, here is a video that I fell in love with and watch frequently. I wanted to share and get you hyped up for our local version of the event. Barry Schwartz tells us where we went wrong and encourages us to rediscover our practical wisdom.

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4. Has anyone else seen this bizarre item in their local frozen foods aisle?

There has to be a reason they are named “wyngz” and not “wings”, right? Why am I using so many unnecessary “quotation marks”? Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I dug into this issue like a sumo wrestler at a buffet line. It turns out something is amiss in the frozen aisle

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service allows the use of the term ‘wyngz’ to denote a product that is in the shape of a wing or a bite-size appetizer type product under the following conditions.”

The statement may only reference the term “wyngz” (no other misspellings are permitted).

AND

a statement that further clarifies that the product does not contain any wing meat or is not derived only from wing meat

The more you know…

5. Want to know why your broadcast media sucks? Might have something to do with this…

Large media outlets have been cowed into avoidance of anything resembling an opinion or judgement on the news of the day for fear of being labeled as biased. The fear of an appearance of bias or informed opinion is so strong that outlets resort to he said/she said reporting and a determination of “winners”.

It is a pointless determination which does little to inform the people about the issues of the day and frankly; it is absolute chickenshit journalism. Tell me what’s happening, who is involved, where and when it went down. Then, maybe, just maybe, give us an informed analysis of why it’s happening and tell us what you think will happen next. It doesn’t matter “who’s winning” the debate, it’s not a horse race.

6. After that weird mix of news, you might be in the same spot as Homer. Let’s take a break.

7. The problem with the American economy, summed up in three paragraphs.

Back in the U.S., companies are squeezing more productivity out of staffs thinned by layoffs during the Great Recession. They don’t need to hire. And they don’t need to be generous with pay raises; they know their employees have nowhere else to go.

Companies remain reluctant to spend the $1.9 trillion in cash they’ve accumulated, especially in the United States, which would create jobs. They’re unconvinced that consumers are ready to spend again with the vigor they showed before the recession, and they are worried about uncertainty in U.S. government policies.

For now, corporations aren’t eager to hire or hand out decent raises until they see consumers spending again. And consumers, still paying down the debts they ran up before the recession, can’t spend freely until they’re comfortable with their paychecks and secure in their jobs.

Corporate profits in Q2 of FY11 have exceeded expectations, so I’m sure all the job creators will soon take advantage of the ten years of tax breaks and start, ya know, creating some jobs!

8. While the national GOP is holding the economy hostage over the debt ceiling issue, their state GOP counterparts are busily at work making sure we won’t have as many people at the voting booth in 2012 to do much about it.

In states across the country, Republican legislatures are pushing through laws that make it more difficult for Americans to vote.

There are only two explanations for such action: Either Republican governors and state legislators are genuinely trying to protect the public from rampant voter fraud, or they are trying to disenfranchise the Americans most likely to vote against them. The latter would run so egregiously counter to democratic values — to American values — that one hopes the former was the motivation.

And yet, a close examination finds that voter fraud, in truth, is essentially nonexistent.

9. A primer on raising your kids to be rational, skeptical, and curious critical thinkers.

I want my kids to see the universe as an astonishing, thrilling place to be no matter what, whether God exists or does not exist, whether we are permanent or temporary.  I want them to feel unconditional love and joy at being alive, conscious and wondering. Like the passionate love of anything, an unconditional love of reality breeds a voracious hunger to experience it directly, to embrace it, whatever form it may take.

Children with that exciting combination of love and hunger will not stand for anything that gets in the way of that clarity. Their minds become thirsty for genuine understanding, and the best we can do is stand back.

Perfect.

10. Debunking the right wing version of tax burdens which usually features some version of, “half of all Americans don’t pay taxes at all!” From those filthy pinko hippies at “The Economist“.

American society is becoming more unequal. Incomes at the bottom level are stagnant or declining, while incomes at the top are rising. This is why a large number of people at the bottom levels of the income tier don’t make enough money to pay any federal income tax. At the same time, we’re not collecting enough overall revenue to pay for our government spending. We could try to raise the money we need by repealing tax breaks for poor children and the elderly, if we were sort of mean and determined to hurt people who don’t have the political strength to resist, but I think it makes more sense to raise the taxes we need by increasing rates on relatively well-off people whose incomes have risen dramatically over the past couple of decades and can thus afford to pay them.

Have a day!

Things WNY Does Right

28 Jul

1. Summertime Festivals 

Along with Sabres games, they put the lie to the notion that suburbanites won’t come to downtown Buffalo because of all the scary bums/[insert ethnic group]/emptiness/one-way streets/lack of parking.

If you give people something fun to do, something to see, something to buy and shop for, they’ll come. The festivals bring a mass of people downtown several times a year, so we’re not talking about one store making a difference – it has to be big enough and novel enough and, above all, fun.

So, festivals are something WNY does right, and efforts being made to grow downtown Buffalo ought to learn some lessons from them.

Collins Should Reject Conservative, Independence Party Endorsements

28 Jul

Yesterday, reputed golf cheat and local wealthy person Chris Collins called on Mark Poloncarz to reject the endorsement of the Working Families Party because ACORN! SOSHULIZM! and because of improprieties that took place by New York City-based representatives of that party – well, to wealthy industrialists from Spaulding Lake “money donated by unions” is a synonym for “improprieties”.

By that logic, I call on Chris Collins to reject the endorsements of the Conservative Party, which is fundamentally corrupt and based not on political ideology, but on what’s in it for its members.  I also call on Chris Collins to reject the endorsement of the so-called Independence Party, which has also been mired in controversy after controversy, including Mr. Haggerty’s current unpleasantness, accusations regarding quids pro quo in Erie & Monroe Counties with Jack Davis, and myriad other, daily payoffs that the IP gets for confusing unsophisticated voters into thinking that their endorsement means that the candidate is in some way “independent” of something.

Electoral Fusion is, at its core, a jobs-generating joke. It has no political value whatsoever. The Working Families Party actually has a platform, at least.  It’s just that its platform helps working people – something Chris Collins wouldn’t know very much about.

Political Stories Left Unwritten

27 Jul

Like many writers, I keep a list of story ideas for future use. I use a big whiteboard in my office, a leftover of my time in the military when I organized our unit’s tasks and deployment schedules in a similar manner. If an article has been writing itself in my head for a couple days, almost a subconscious exercise for me, then I have no need to check the board. I can go weeks without glancing at it. But on a day like today, when nothing in particular has caught my enthusiasm, I look for inspiration.

Some of the story ideas are timeless – book reviews, or the unchanging nature of Buffalo politics. Some are waiting for the perfect opportunity to fit the zeitgeist; I wanted to write about Grand Rapids for a full year before the American Pie lipdub phenomenon, contrasted with the Buffalo: For Real video, provided the right timing and opening I needed. And some stories sit and rot and likely will never be written, because they are no longer relevant (the Islamic center near the former WTC), no longer true (Obama should run against his own party in ’12), or are increasingly unlikely to occur.

It is into this last bin that I toss today’s inspiration fodder. Normally, erasing a couple lines of black dry-erase ink does not merit a column itself. But today I’m a bit pained, as my idea was as much Hope as substance.

I wanted to write about the Republican Party redonning Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose mantle. About reclaiming the “Progressive” title that was once a hallmark of such policy, and be the party of leadership and vision in an otherwise empty Washington void. About how we they should embrace High Speed Rail, green energy, and a number of other targeted investment strategies that are fundamentally good for business, so our economic recovery is about more than recreating the failed investment bubbles and house-of-cards service sector of 1992 – 2008. About how the Republicans should embrace cities, because that’s where the voters are, and cut support to massive western infrastructure development that is both unsustainable and bloats the federal budget.

But I’m not writing that article, because I don’t write fiction for WNYMedia. It will never happen in my lifetime. Never say never, right? Well, I won’t hold my breath.

In 2001, prior to September 11th, moving the Republican Party to the center was a difficult, though real, possibility. Compassionate Conservative President Bush’s first “major” policy debate involved finding a middle ground on stem cell research. His first agenda items were education and tax cuts; he compromised on both, famously with Ted Kennedy on the second. History had ended in the Clinton era, and the tone of the Presidency and country were quite different, so different it can be hard to relate now. People like David Frum had spots at the table in the White House. Who knows what would have been possible by now.

Instead, Frum (and every voice like him) is sidelined and marginalized. Unlike Democrats, who usually seek to promote the smartest guy in the room, Republicans had been clever enough (since the days of Buckley) to put their wonks in think tanks and their statesmen in office. No longer. The statesmen have retired and the wonks have fled. We are left with tin-pot Tea Party economist politicians who confuse ideology with policy, personal confidence with wisdom, and brinksmanship with leadership. Running a business is a useful skill, but not the only skill needed to run a government. Every lesson is over learned or misunderstood. The ice of competent governance is thinning beneath the national party’s feet.

Unfortunately, the Republican foibles do not cure the Democrat’s own systemic failures. Take branding, which should be a strength for a party dominated by Hollywood and East/Left Coast media types. Republicans won the fight over the debt default as soon as it became about “default.” To a nation of credit card abusers and fleers of underwater mortgages, “default” doesn’t sound so bad. It sounds like the new normal. Strictly speaking, the United States will not “default” on its debt August 2nd. That would require not paying the $385B a year in interest on our Treasury notes, an eventuality no one is considering. What will actually happen is partial government shutdown, as the federal budget expenditures will overnight immediately have to equal revenues. Lopping a trillion off this year’s budget will cancel every road repair project, close every national park, put millions of “non-essential” employees on unpaid furlough, and a variety of other messy outcomes. “Government shutdown” is a winner for Democrats, which is why Republicans love “debt default.” It casts them as the tough-love parents of the discussion.

Democratic troubles extend far past word choice. President Obama and Harry Reid haven’t learned how to govern just because Boehner and Cantor are fighting dissention in the ranks. There is a significant pot/kettle problem when Democrats complain that Boehner does not speak for his entire caucus. Pelosi rarely herds her cats well, but within Democratic circles, such free thinking by rogue representatives is seen as a sign of strength. Bold Republican Tea Partiers, Class of 2010, are for once giving the fitful Democrats a taste of their own disorganized medicine. In the meantime, no one is picking up the “seriousness” slack. 

The main legit critiques of Candidate Obama, that he was an inexperienced legislator and untested leader, are both unfortunately proving to be sound. I did not expect Constitutional Scholar Obama to supplant Political Obama, but how else does one explain his constant deference to Congress for healthcare, debt ceiling and budgetary plans? Yes, we know they write the laws and you sign them. But would a little direction from that bully pulpit kill you? President Obama never learned how to cut a legislative deal himself, and clearly heading up a Presidential campaign, where everyone is on your side and wants to win like you, is not sufficient proof of leadership acumen. 

When Republicans don’t have an easy solution, they deny the problem exists (see: climate change, debt limit). When Democrats don’t have a plan, they blame Bush. Eric Cantor was in the minority so long, in his state legislature and Congress, he doesn’t know how to produce a majority effort. Democrats have been against Bush so long they don’t know how to govern independently, without a specific foil. While all the sides try to grow up, the United States may slip out of our unnatural boom back to our nearly forgotten historic average.

The Morning Grumpy – July 27th

27 Jul

1. Yesterday, I was asked to break down the debt ceiling debate into simple terms for someone who hadn’t been following the ongoing nonsense. I fumbled for various analogies, but settled on the final Mexican Standoff scene from Reservoir Dogs as the basis for explaining the political fight. However, the above scene fails to explain what is really going on right now. We’re mired in an epic battle for the soul of America. No, I’m not overstating it.

This is about the top 1% of our economic strata fighting for final control over our political process. It is corporatism vs. populism, it’s a defining moment for America and the populists are finding themselves severely outgunned for the fight. Why? Because the man we elected to represent us in this fight, the progressive President that we had hoped for, who promised to change the fundamental course of our politics turned out not to be the one we’ve been waiting for.

When Obama said “Change”, he meant a more intellectual discussion, filled with mutual respect for all viewpoints, a more gracious tone, a more civil debate filled with the beautiful results of continual compromise. What he didn’t expect was to find himself mired in “debate” with an opposition party which simply refuses to grant him legitimacy. He simply cannot govern when the minority party refuses to engage in the process. As Josh Marshall said yesterday,

“Yes, at some level it’s (the debt ceiling debate) a game of chicken. Something we can all understand pretty intuitively in human nature and game theory terms. But to really get what’s really going on you’ve got to understand one key point: one of the two cars doesn’t have a driver in it. Which changes everything”

Where we go from here, I really don’t know. One thing is for certain, we’re surely in uncharted waters and it doesn’t look like the Skipper knows how to navigate.

2. To that end, here is the speech the President could give to the nation which would pull us back from the brink.

Congress has not passed an increase in the statutory debt limit as the deadline approaches. Members of the House majority have informed me that they will not agree to an increase in the debt limit without imposing restrictions on the government budget that will threaten our nation’s recovery, imperil the national defense, and cause widespread suffering. I have offered to negotiate in good faith, as I did during the budget crisis, but they have shown no interest in real negotiations.

As of midnight tonight, the government’s statutory borrowing authority will be exhausted. If no measures are taken, the government must either default on its bonded indebtedness or on its obligations to seniors on Social Security, to unemployed workers dependent on federal insurance payments, and to American service personnel serving in areas of armed conflict.

The Constitution explicitly requires me, under my duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” to meet and pay all debts of the United States.

This requirement is absolute. It is contained in Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment, which directs, in no uncertain terms, that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

3. Alan wrote about the Mayoral Leadership vacuum that plagues our fair city. It is a topic we have visited in various ways over the years; from the lack of definition of our civic brand to our lack of a coherent planning and development strategy which hampers any efforts to make citywide or regional improvements. Every problem in WNY, no matter what you can think of, has a political cause and requires a political solution. We still lack a leader who can help get the all the wood behind one arrow and define measurable goals for the city and region.

You’ve no doubt noticed by now that I’m fascinated with the ongoing battle to save Detroit. Their problems may be similar, but their approach to solving them is radically different from our own. They have a Mayor with a vision who is setting measurable goals for success and holding everyone accountable for creating an environment in which Detroit can again prosper. Read about the Detroit Works Project and read this article about how the project is being implemented. Maybe we can learn from the failures and successes in Detroit and apply those lessons to making a Better Buffalo.

4. Yesterday, Governor Cuomo visited Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse to formally announce the membership of this much-ballyhooed Regional Economic Development Councils.  Cuomo has created ten regional councils which will be tasked with developing “economic master plans” that are specific to the local community.

Those councils will report their plans to Lt. Governor Duffy and each region will compete for a share of $1BN to implement their plan. To get a batter understanding of how the plan works, click here to read the full proposal. During his visit to Buffalo, Cuomo announced the brain trust which will make up the WNY regional council. The team will be co-chaired by local developer Howard Zemsky and UB President Satish K. Tripathi. You can find out what other local luminaries made the council by clicking here.

While it’s nice to see some new faces involved here, it’s not the most inspiring of lists. A mix of corporate welfare queens, campaign donors, heirs to spaghetti fortunes, government leaders, etc. The people chosen to serve by Cuomo were obvious choices, for the most part. But, it lacks anyone with a significant vision. These people are all practitioners, not thinkers. It lacks people who know how to “Question the question”, think differently and be innovative.

The bench for those type of people in this region is pretty short, because there is a paucity of youth, energy, entrepreneurial spirit, new ideas or fresh perspectives. That’s not a problem with Cuomo and his process for choosing, it’s THE problem which faces WNY.

5. Let’s lighten it up a bit, shall we?

6. The July 2011 FAIL Compilation

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Have a day!

Buffalo’s Mayor Vacuum

26 Jul

The reason why we have so many glib, arrogant, and self-important surrogate mayors in this town? The reason why they’re able to be so influential, and bully state agencies, public benefit corporations, and others to bend to their will? The reason why we’re talking about the awesome success of shacks and chairs (but not successful enough for market buildings yet!)?

Because we don’t have a real mayor doing these things.

If we had a real mayor – someone with a vision and a plan for future Buffalo, someone who wasn’t just biding his time until the next big job comes along – then we’d have someone using his influence, his political capital, and his bully pulpit to ensure that Buffalo gets something not just piddling and mediocre, but great.

If we had a real mayor – someone who isn’t being completely left behind by the changing times, someone who rolled up his sleeves and got to work to hammer out what’s going to happen with any one of a number of same-old, same-old controversies throughout the city, someone who wants to fight crime, not just take the credit, someone who wants to grow the city, not just talk about it, someone who wants to set the foundation for future Buffalo – then we’d be in a much better place.

But instead, we have this huge power vacuum in City Hall that affects everything. That power vacuum is being filled by opportunists, many of whom have obvious conflicts of interest.  (Anyone wonder why an Allentown restaurateur might have qualms about the growth of a waterfront entertainment district?)  The Mayor was at the snack shack ribbon-cutting, but what hand did he have in building it? What input did he have?  What did he have to do with the deck chairs? Nothing.  In fact, the only way in which Byron Brown got his name in the news regarding Canal Side had to do with his efforts to halt development of a restaurant / bistro in the Naval Museum structure.

That’s right – our Mayor halted development because disgraced former politician George Holt’s Mattie’s restaurant hadn’t participated in the RFP process.

This caretaker Mayor has been biding his time in office since 2006, and he’s known only for Machiavellian politicking. Whatever positives have happened in Buffalo in that time have largely come about in spite of – not because of – him. City Hall is rife with petty corruption and a 1940s way of doing business.

Until we have a Mayor who is actually interested in results, rather than who’s in charge of the Democratic Party – until we have a Mayor who is genuinely interested in changing the political and economic culture of the city, rather than making sure the right friends and family get jobs, this city will continue to wallow in mediocrity, and everything that happens here will continue to be susceptible to being hijacked by self-righteous Buffalo elites and their private foundation benefactors.

It’s quite clear that Byron Brown doesn’t really want to be mayor of this city. He wants a cush appointment, maybe in Albany or Washington. The next Mayoral election is in 2013. Last time, the bench was pretty empty.