The Morning Grumpy – 2/18/13

18 Feb

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.


1. When many Western New Yorkers think of “preservationists”, certain memes have become pervasive. They’re often called obstructionist busybodies who abhor progress, often times by writers here at Artvoice (including me). The reason for this? Because some are obstructionist busybodies who abhor progress, that’s why. And many of us are too intellectually lazy to credit the others for the good work they have done and continue to do. We simply paint them all with the same broad brush.

Often lacking the capital, will, or desire to get their hands dirty, to own the problems and lead by example, old school preservationists can get bogged down in bikeshedding and NIMBYism and sometimes miss the larger community issues at hand. However, a new breed of preservationists are emerging in Buffalo and they’re changing the game. In fact, they’re inspiring. They’re loosely organized under the umbrella term of “Buffalo’s Young Preservationists“, an energized group of young professionals and university students in the city and region.

Buffalo’s Young Preservationists (BYP) is an energized group of dedicated historic preservationists actively sharing our knowledge and passion for our region’s historic built environment. We are young professionals and university students in preservation and other related fields, such as architecture, planning, history, and the arts. BYP engages, educates, and mobilizes young people through preservation advocacy and action.

These people have put skin in the game and are hustling, organizing, fundraising, starting small development companies, and putting in the labor to save Buffalo’s architectural gems. Action is contagious and yesterday, Mike Puma, (a Project Manager at Preservation Studios and a writer for Buffalo Rising) led a team of 20 to winterize, secure, and stabilize the Sattler Theater on Broadway.


In December, they raised money and then worked with the property owner to help preserve the building before the damage becomes irreparable. They secured the assistance of Zee’s Property Services to pump nearly eight feet of water out of the basement, secured open entrances, boarded up windows, and are working with the owner to get a new roof put on the building this spring.


Redefining the fight to save these buildings as economic progress rather than obstructionism is key to wider adoption of the preservation cause. Redefining what being a preservationist means is also key to changing minds and garnering broad-based support. Rather than scolding or chiding us for our disregard for these pieces or our past, BYP is celebrating the beauty found in them and showing us how to join the effort to save them. That’s why they’re changing the game.

2. How corporations and shadowy PR firms manipulate public opinion via hordes of paid bloggers and their echo chambers, drowning out legitimate discussion and poisoning US politics.

The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns that create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public.

Companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of each astroturfer, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.

This software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.

A good example of astroturfing is found in the coordinated effort to malign a woman named Susan Crawford, whose book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age has taken the telecom companies to task for purposely stifling Internet speeds and inflating costs.

If you look at this woman’s book reviews on, there is a mysterious spike of 1 star reviews. For the most part, these 1 star reviews are very detailed, with bullet points, trying to debunk the material in the book. A hatchet job by paid consultants, perhaps? It certainly seems that way when you dig into the history of these “reviewers” who seem to only comment on books about the telecom industry, have links to lobbying and PR firms, re-use the same talking points, and slam the authors. Everything is terrible.

3. President Obama has asked Congress to raise the Federal Minimum Wage from $7.25/hr to $9.00/hr and then indexing it to inflation. Why?

The first statement we can make without fear of contradiction is that, at $7.25 an hour, the current minimum wage is pretty low. In nominal dollars, it’s gone up quite a bit over the past twenty-five years. In 1978, it was $2.65; in 1991, it was $4.25. But these figures don’t take into account rising prices, which eat away at purchasing power. After adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage is about $3.30 less than it was in 1968. Back then—forty-five years ago—the minimum wage was $10.56 an hour, according to a very useful chart from CNNMoney.

The rest of the story informs why reporters shouldn’t simply throw up their hands and say “Who knows?” when it comes to the issue of whether or not minimum wage increases help or hurt the economy.

A second important and (largely) undisputed finding is that there is no obvious link between the minimum wage and the unemployment rate.

The national debate on issues of import like this are damaged when reporters fail to explore the depth of information on the subject at hand. Let’s be smarter.

4. Meet the guy who I think is America’s best reporter, Charlie LeDuff, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is now reinventing city beat reporting in Detroit. He tells non-traditional stories about Detroit in a way that is incredibly “of the moment” and “of the place”.

He’s the author of a new book called Detroit: An America Autopsy. Here’s the scoop on the book from NPR.

For some, Detroit may be a symbol of urban decay; but to Charlie LeDuff, it’s home. LeDuff, a veteran print and TV journalist who spent 12 years at The New York Times, where he shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2001, returned home to the city after the birth of his daughter left him and his wife — also a Detroit native — wanting to be closer to family.

The city he returned to, however, was dramatically different from the one he had left 20 years earlier. “It was empty,” he tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. “It wasn’t scary. It was sort of like, in many respects, living in Chernobyl in some neighborhoods. … I looked and I thought to myself one day: What happened here? What happened?”

He explores that question in his new book, Detroit: An American Autopsy, which, he says, “is dedicated to those of us who live here in the industrial Midwest, specifically Detroit and its inner-ring suburbs. We’re still here trying to reconstruct the great thing we once had.”

“I don’t mean that as an anthem to a dead city, but it’s almost there,” he says. “Everybody asks me, ‘What’s the future here?’ and I say, ‘We have auto companies. We have the biggest trade corridor on the continent with Canada. We have all the freshwater in the world. We have great hospitals and the tech center. We are well-positioned, but none of that is going to flower until we weed the garden today of people like [former city councilwoman] Monica Conyers and these sludge contracts, and all the cheating and robbing and killing. Forget the future. Focus on the present. And if we don’t, then, yes, we will completely be dead.”

Sound familiar? There is a shared tragedy between Buffalo and Detroit and in some way, we’re the story of America. Documenting the decline and destruction of these great American cities is necessary to plan for their possible re-emergence. Listen to the full Fresh Air interview.

5. The deficit chart that should embarrass deficit hawks.

Here’s a pretty important fact that virtually everyone in Washington seems oblivious to: The federal deficit has never fallen as fast as it’s falling now without a coincident recession


The deficit is expected to fall faster in 2013 than at any time in the last 60 years and with that sort of austerity usually comes recessions. See: Europe 2008-2013. Also, see the current analysis from the Congressional Budget Office that austerity and Washington’s “deficit obsession” has hurt the economy.

Fact Of The Day: Printed dates on food are not required by the FDA and are not intended to mean food safety, only quality. An avg family of 4 throws out 1,344 lbs of perfectly good food each year because of the misconception of the meaning of these dates

Quote Of The Day: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” – Hubert Humphrey

Video Of The Day: “African” – Godfrey

Song Of The Day: “Frozen Love” – Buckingham Nicks

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10 Responses to “The Morning Grumpy – 2/18/13”

  1. MaxPlanck February 18, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Thanks for the Charlie LeDuff piece which was poignant, tragic and funny and didn’t know he’d returned to D-town. 

    • Christopher Smith February 18, 2013 at 8:53 am #

       Buffalo is in desperate need of a Charlie LeDuff-type character.

  2. Peter A Reese February 18, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Chris:   Really cheap shot showing a dog here to suck in animal welfare enthusiasts.     Shows a complete lack of any moral character or integrity.    I like that in a person.    Ever think of running for public office?     I’ve seen help wanted ads somewhere.    Give me a call and we can do lunch.

  3. Michael Rebmann February 18, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Government spending, as a percentage of GDP, was nearly flat at 5% for over 100 years.  Interestingly, it was during this period that the greatest growth in personal wealth occurred and during which many people were able to lift themselves out of poverty.  Now, government spending is nearly 40% of GDP and the poverty rate is stagnant at best.  That is indicative of a government spending problem, compounded by defecit spending and fiat dollars that erode the value of our money.

  4. Colin Eager February 18, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    1. I think it’s great what those folks did at the Sattler, but holding it up as a model for preservationists doesn’t really work. Motivated individuals can do great things at one or two or ten sites, but everything else will continue to crumble if the government allows owners to let their properties crumble, if the tax structure incentivizes demolition, etc. Changing that stuff is bound to be much more controversial than some volunteers working to save a single building.

    2. If you’re interested in what happened to Detroit — and by extension, to Buffalo and the Rust Belt — the book to read is The Origins of the Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue.

    • Christopher Smith February 18, 2013 at 10:25 am #

      I agree on the broader point you make about the city taking ownership of the issue, but I see the direct action of BYP as a means to generate pressure on the city to do so. I think it’s plausible to say that the city does little on securing buildings and holding owners accountable for demolition by neglect because the constituency in support of such efforts seems both small and under-capitalized. If BYP can drive this as a community issue, they can broaden that constituency and demand larger change.

    • ROCKOMAN202 February 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      “if the government allows owners to let their properties crumble”  Wow. 
      What government ?  Would it be the politburo ? 
      Yeah I’m all for preservation where it makes sense, but certainly the governement should not be the arbitor.  I have seen centuries old buildings throughout Europe repurposed and rebuilt using appropriate modern materials – yet still exuding the charm built into them centuries ago.  Tim horn dictators of preservation are why so much is allowed to rot in our area. 
      In no event however should the government be obligating behavior involving private property unless conditions somehow endanger the public.  If Tim horn dictators of preservation want something preserved – let them get out their checkbook – or put on their work clothes and volunteer to the property owner.

      • Colin Eager February 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

         The answer to your totally honest and not at all bullshit rhetorical question is the city government, of course. Property owners are required by law to maintain their property. This isn’t a controversial point. Unfortunately, the city often does nothing about neglected properties until it’s time to approve the emergency demolition, in which case they snap to attention and get things done lickety split.

  5. Andrew Kulyk February 18, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    Props and high fives to Mike Puma, Chris Ziolkowski, Bernice Radle and their team. Thank you thank you from this fellow Buffalonian for your leadership and passion and hard work!

  6. Kathi Zgoda February 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at the Sattler Theatre. As far as I’m concerned, if an entity is trying to actively save a building, the least I can do is help clean up and carry out trash. It was a productive day and I’m looking forward to helping out wherever it’s needed.

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