Archive | February, 2014

Mercado Revolution

27 Feb

The people behind Mercado Revolution are friends of mine. They’ve done an amazing job collecting wonderful experiences throughout the world, and they want to bring some of what they’ve experienced here to western New York.  But it hasn’t just been as facile as checking out markets and copying what they observe – they’ve done proper research and spoken with the people who run these facilities and operate the stalls. They have a particular vision, and if they pull it off it’ll be magnificent.  

I have no doubt that they’ll pull it off, because Jeremy Horwitz, formerly of Buffalo Chow and currently of iLounge, is especially diligent and has a knack for knowing what will succeed, and making it so. 

I haven’t been to Spain since before I was a teenager, but Mercado is not going to necessarily look like other markets with which you’re familiar – it won’t be like the Broadway Market or St Lawrence or Rochester. It will be…

Western New York’s first culinary bazaar. Built on the solid foundations of Spanish markets such as Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel and Barcelona’s Mercat de La Boqueria, and informed by successful American versions such as Washington, D.C.’s Union Market, Mercado will be a fantastic place to eat, drink, and participate in the global food revolution. 

Imagine a marketplace that would offer some of the best quality food in WNY all under one roof, and on top of that it would have spots for pop-ups and opportunities for chefs and purveyors to collaborate and experiment.  On top of all that, Mercado is bringing Scott Kollig, a talented young chef, home to WNY. Kollig is Chef de Partie at Jose Andres’ exclusive, modernist Washington, DC restaurant Minibar

“Good food changes things. One new dish can define a city. One new restaurant can revitalize a neighborhood. One new drink can turn an obscure bar into a tourist destination for a century. One new destination – if it’s truly wonderful – can get residents excited, attact tourists, and change a city.

We’re going to create something truly wonderful for Western New York.”

One of the myriad inspirations for this idea is a restaurant that Horwitz and his family experienced in Asheville, NC called Curate. It was opened in the mountains of western North Carolina by veterans of Ferran Adria’s El Bulli and Jose Andres’ Washington flagship restaurants, and it’s gained national recognition. Asheville isn’t a big city or, necessarily, a cosmopolitan one, but it’s become something of a foodie paradise. Like Asheville, Buffalo has a wonderfully burgeoning food scene that’s light-years ahead of what existed a dozen years ago. Its metropolitan area has less than half the population of Erie County, and median household income is $32,000; in Buffalo, it’s $49,000. The conditions here are ripe for something like Mercado. 

Mercado is happening, and it is running a Kickstarter right now to raise money for equipment and build-out. The $150k ask is ambitious, but this is a huge and exciting project. A Kickstarter doesn’t just raise money, it creates buzz, gets people excited, makes them feel like they’re part of a new revolution.

Above all, though, Mercado would be really fun. A curated group of the best of the best in WNY, all of whom would be encouraged to experiment and collaborate. 

Check it out below, and follow along on Twitter

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Quinn to School Board?

27 Feb

Here’s a secret: as bad and dysfunctional as Carl Paladino and Larry Quinn think the Buffalo School Board is, arrogant mansplaining / whitesplaining only makes the whole thing a bigger circus.

In point of fact, Paladino’s bull in a china shop dealings with his school board opponents underscores just what a disaster he and his ilk are, would be, and have been, whenever the electorate is unfortunate enough to elect them to some public office. Nothing has changed except angrier press releases and longer meetings. There’s no compromise – just conflict. So, the only solution is for Carl to recruit his super-rich buddy to come and help him out. 

Throughout all of it, the very real and evident question is – do these guys truly want to make the schools better, or are they looking to starve and privatize the system into a distributor of vouchers and regulator of charters? (Charters that are on the property rental market). Or is it just thinly veiled prejudice, founded on the notion that black females don’t know what they’re doing? Because it sure as hell looks that way. 

The crisis in Buffalo city schools is not something that can be fixed on a balance sheet or through privatization. But guys like Carl – tea party right wing extremists – don’t ever support the policies and programs that would help lift people out of multigenerational poverty. The “concentration camps of couth” or the Emily Post Correctional Facilities idea was the sum total of Carl’s ideas along those lines. 

If these guys truly want to help the schools, they should stop being assholes and start cutting deals, making friends, and earning allies. Through negotiation and discussion you can accomplish great things. By treating your opponents like idiots, you’ll accomplish nothing. 

Potter v. Wenger

26 Feb

What happens when you poke fun of the right-wing freakshow that WBEN has become? When you’re Buffalo comedian and WEDG personality Josh Potter, you’ll find WBEN operations chief Tim Wenger making stuff up about you. 

Fill-in host Michael Caputo was out of commission Monday due to an illness he jokingly blamed on the mics at WBEN. Potter retorted that it was from the “bullshit spewed” into them every day. Caputo thought it was funny, and parried with a swipe at liberal embarrassment MSNBC. Fun!

But then it suddenly took a vicious and ugly turn. Here on full display is the attitude that informs WBEN’s entire day of programming

Dafuq?! 

When you apply for a job, do you expect the company to blab about it publicly on social media? There’s no law preventing it, nor does Entercom promise confidentiality – after all, it has to vet the information provided. But certainly it crosses some sort of blatant ethical line for Wenger to try and humiliate Potter in a public forum in response to a harmless joke. There’s a real ominous mean-spiritedness behind that. 

Oh, and on top of all that – it’s a lie. 

Potter didn’t apply for a job with WBEN. He was, at one point, offered a job as a producer for WGR. Although WGR and WBEN are both Entercom stations, WGR doesn’t offer an “all paranoia, all the time” format. Take a look again at Wenger’s Tweet – he alleged that Potter applied to WBEN – not Entercom or WGR. Furthermore, he didn’t apply, he was courted

Luckily for Potter, WEDG was aware of his talks with WGR, so his livelihood is not threatened. But Wenger didn’t know that, and he deliberately, knowingly published a false statement of fact in order to embarrass a guy from a competing station who made a tame joke. 

It’s malicious libel. 

 

Radio is a competitive medium, and I love a good media war as much as anyone, but intentionally making a false and defamatory statement – information which, if true, should remain confidential – in order to embarrass someone who made a joke is wildly inappropriate and completely beyond the pale. 

Wenger can demean the blogosphere all he wants. Sure, we use poopy and potty and peepee words here. But he should check his own behavior before calling any other medium the “gutter”. 

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The WBEN Cuomo Advisory System

25 Feb

Rejected “Trico Saved!” Headlines

25 Feb

Krog Wipes Away Controversy

Monument to Lost Jobs Saved

Docs Nixed, Bricks Fixed

Trico “Really Ties the City Together” 

This Hotel Matters

Trico Saved #ForReal

Mayor Brown Makes Decision

As an aside, Krog intends to demolish the older, stone icehouse portion of the Trico building. I’d be shocked if he didn’t get massive pushback from genuine preservationists on that point. I’m sure he’ll just need to retain the right people as “consultants” on the job and any potential problems will dissolve. 

Extremism in Too Many Forms

24 Feb

Obama is unser Unglück, sagte der Idiot.

Some guy was on WBEN’s Hardline with Debo show on Sunday talking lovingly about his metallic penis extenders guns. I have no idea who this person was, but he was discussing how the Heller Supreme Court decision guaranteed an individual’s right to bear arms, and that state licensing schemes are illegal prior restraints of one’s 2nd Amendment rights.  

I’ve seen a lot of gun-huggers equate the first and second Amendments and prior restraint, despite the fact that, e.g.,  an anti-government polemic in a newsweekly never put a hole in another person. These people might be interested to learn that the 1st Amendment is not interpreted as being without limitations. Likewise, Heller held that your right to bear arms is absolutely subject to limitation. States have the right to regulate the time, place, and manner of one’s gun ownership and possession. The absolutist on WBEN made no exception for ex-felons or the mentally ill, nor did he make any exception for the type of weapon. Maybe the radical gun-huggers want ex-cons to have the legal right to own grenade launchers, but thankfully the Constitution has not been so mangled by even the most activist right-wing court to allow that. 

By this time, extremist cretin and has-been one-hit wonder Ted Nugent has reneged on his promise to die or go to prison following President Obama’s re-election. Nugent has made himself the de facto spokesman for the extremist gun-hugging movement, and the reactionary tea-party right has embraced him.  Mostly, it’s because he says wildly hateful and ignorant things, and suffers no palpable consequences therefrom. Because of this, he escalates his rhetoric from time to time, and has most recently, surprisingly found some pushback after having called the President of the United States a “subhuman mongrel“. Some prominent Republicans located their courage in the lost & found, and gently criticized the driver of the gun-hugging clown car. 

Why was this beyond the pale? Because subhuman, or “untermensch” and mongrel, or “mischling” were specific terms used by Nazis to dehumanize Jews and other racial undesirables. So, the gun huggers who support Nugent’s plain-speaking hatred should be fully cognizant of the fact that they are expressly condoning and supporting Nazi propaganda. Nugent and his ilk are too unintelligent and ignorant cogently to express genuine disagreements with President Obama’s policies, so they opt instead for racism, and then cry foul when they’re quite appropriately identified as racist. Simply put, not all Obama opponents are racists, but it’s safe to say that all racists are Obama opponents, and it’s not inappropriate to point out when they overlap. 

Let’s be clear on another thing: lefties sometimes say stupid things, too. When they do, they are criticized and in some cases ostracized. In at least once case, Nugent was doing the criticism. A lefty saying something stupid does not excuse Ted Nugent.  Each stupidity stands on its own demerits. Rage Against the Machine are not Democratic spokespeople, but Ted Nugent is a Republican mascot. 

It’s odd that Nugent should be the cause débile in any serious debate over policy. Ted Nugent is an admitted pedophile, (he convinced one girl’s parents to let him be her legal guardian so he could bang her that way, because ‘Murka), and avoided service in the Vietnam war by feigning insanity and shitting his pants. He loves huntin’ and shootin’ stuff that can’t fight back, but when it came time to serve his country, Nugent, “just wasn’t into it”. 

Meanwhile, we have a slide back into Apartheid as the Kansas and Arizona legislatures voted to legalize the separate but unequal treatment of the LGBT community in those states. The bill in Kansas never made it out of committee, but the Arizona bill is on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.  Both laws purport to legalize discrimination against gay people in public accommodations to protect bigots’ religious freedoms. Getting a tattoo and eating shellfish are just as prohibited in the Bible as being homosexual, but no state legislatures have yet addressed these matters.  Cowering behind a phony cloak of religion in order to justify your own bigotry, hatred, and fear is nothing new.  People used religion to justify slavery and racial discrimination. Hitler effectively created a new religion – with himself as deity – to justify the subjugation of a continent. Your religious beliefs may instruct you to hate or fear gay people, or to treat them as subhuman mongrels, but gay people are equal under the law. This is why church and state are separate. Nugent’s Nazi rhetoric and these pseudo-religious anti-gay bills are cut from the same cloth of ignorant hatred, and they serve to demean what America is and should be. 

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, it’s fun for fraternity pranksters to hang a noose and a flag of treason around a statue of James Meredith, the first black man to attend “Ole Miss”. Meredith, incidentally, is still alive and at 80 years old has more bravery and integrity in his toenail than these frat boy racists-in-training will ever have in their lives. 

University Chancellor Dan Jones said the ideas expressed by the vandals had no place at the university. But others have disagreed, saying the university should not necessarily punish free expression.

Expressing a desire to lynch a black man is protected political speech? That’s quite a stretch. Slavery and Jim Crow were based on a belief that black people were subhuman. Also

Mr. Meredith, whose iconoclastic life included a stint as an aide to the arch-conservative Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, says the lessons of the incident have more to do with religion than race or higher education. “What has happened in America, particularly in Mississippi, is a breakdown of moral character,” Mr. Meredith, 80, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a lack of teaching of right and wrong and good and bad, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. That’s what the problem is.”

Mr. Meredith said the “nonsense” episode would intensify his effort to have his likeness removed from the university’s campus.

“It’s a false idol, and it’s an insult not only to God, it’s an insult to me,” Mr. Meredith said.

Free speech, like the right to bear arms, isn’t absolute or limitless and the government has to tread lightly when punishing or restraining speech, but it isn’t completely without authority to do so. Just try saying “f_ck” on prime time network television. What I’d like to see is the media report the names of the people who committed this hateful act. It should perpetually haunt them on Google. They’re not charged with a crime, but they did rightfully get expelled from their fraternity and the school. 

It’s not Barack Obama or a private health insurance marketplace that is un-American; sharting Naziistic propaganda to de-humanize a sitting President is un-American. It’s not Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid who are extremists, it’s the 2nd Amendment absolutists who argue for the insane to own M1 tanks. It’s not gay people who are an abomination, but those who would relegate the LGBT community to second-class non-citizen status. It’s not integration and multiculturalism that destroyed r weakened America, it’s racism. 

Obama came to office promising to change America.  He did, in many ways.  Not the least of which? Inadvertently emboldening neofascist extremists and racists.

Erie County Republicans Support Free Tuition for All

24 Feb

I applaud the Erie County Republican Committee’s efforts to make a college education free for all in-state children. The problems that the students in this video identify are all wholly solvable through legislation, and I’m sure that our local Republican delegation is working feverishly to ensure that every New Yorker attending a state school gets the free quality education that our post-industrial society requires. 

Volkswagen Tennessee and the Works Councils

20 Feb

VW Bluecross Concept

Be careful what you agitate for. 

Last week, workers at the new-ish Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted to reject UAW unionization by a very narrow margin. 

Let’s not forget, shall we, that Volkswagen, AG has a global reach.  Here are its stated corporate “Basic Principles”: 

Top performance

To survive in the face of competition and to achieve top performance, the Volkswagen Group needs employees who enthusiastically give their best. A good balance between demands and ability (the so-called “flow channel”) is the basic precondition for optimum performance and results. For this reason, we do not want our employees to be overstretched, but also not understretched, so that they are able to deliver top performance and advance the success of our company. 

Leading by example

The management assumes a decisive role in this entire process. Our principle has to be “Lead, Demand and Promote”. The Group will only be able to achieve its goals with exemplary leadership and constructive cooperation between management and workforce. This includes both targeted and continual personnel development and work organisation, which we continue to develop with the so-called “Volkswagen Way”. 

Active involvement

A standard survey of employees across the Group was introduced in the form of the so-called “mood barometer”. The “mood barometer” gives employees the opportunity to anonymously voice their opinion and so to become actively involved in the organisation of the company. The results form the basis for continually developing our strengths and for exploiting potential that is brought to light. The high rate of participation shows that employees have positively accepted this instrument as an expression of their esteem. In this way, they make a contribution to the continued development of the company. 

Social responsibility

Not only does Volkswagen’s corporate culture focus on people, it also represents the sustainability of economic and social goals, “corporate social responsibility”. The “Declaration on Social Rights and Industrial Relations” expresses Volkswagen’s global understanding of social responsibility on the basis of minimum standards.

This includes Volkswagen’s active cooperative conflict resolution between the Works Council and the company management. We created European and Global Works Councils early and without any statutory obligation. We do not cling to traditional questions of co-determination. Rather, we discuss the development of the company with our Works Council representatives. This is the way from co-determination to shared responsibility.

In other words, Volkswagen has made a global commitment to maintain a positive and cooperative relationship with its employees.  It wants them to be happy and productive. Unfortunately, that sort of mentality is completely anathema to our post-Reagan “greed is good” labor-bashing stock price culture. 

But Volkswagen is thriving, building everything from the VW Polo to the million-dollar Bugatti Veyron, with some Audis and Bentleys in between. The Volkswagen Works Councils are an integral part of the company’s success. The push to unionize in Tennessee was not so much pushed by the UAW as it was by Volkswagen itself, because under American law the council can’t be set up without union representation. In fact, the Chattanooga plant is the only Volkswagen facility anywhere in the world where workers are not represented by a Works Council or labor union. 

This would also be something new for the United Auto Workers. They wouldn’t have the same relationship with VW as they do with Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford. Rather, the idea is to create something called a “works council,” which are widespread across Europe and enjoy tremendous influence over how plants are run. In America, that kind of body can’t be established without a union vote — but crucially, the works council would be independent of the union, meaning the UAW would give up some control as soon as it gained it.

Why does the company favor works councils

There are three major advantages of councils. You’re forced to consider in your decision making process the effect on the employees in advance…this avoids costly mistakes. Second, works councils will in the final run support the company. They will take into account the pressing needs of the company more than a trade union can, on the outside. And third, works councils explain and defend certain decisions of the company towards the employees. Once decisions are made, they are easier to implement.

Works councils don’t call strikes because they don’t need to. Their inherent authority helps to avoid crises before they arise. The UAW would not be running labor relations from the outside, and the vote in Tennessee was done via secret ballot

Currently, the Chattanooga plant manufactures Volkswagen’s Passat sedan, which is nearing the end of its life-cycle. It is a unique factory that can build more than one model side-by-side on the line, and it’s slated to get Volkswagen’s upcoming mid-sized 3-row SUV, to replace the Routan minivan and slot between the expensive Touareg and the smaller Tiguan. 

As VW negotiated with the UAW in advance of the works council vote, politicians in the notoriously anti-union, anti-worker South remained relatively quiet. That is, until it seemed as if the plant would, in fact, become the first auto plant in the South to vote to unionize. Republican politicians tripped over themselves to predict armageddon if the vote was successful, and panacea if it wasn’t. For instance

That doesn’t mean, however, that the vote is unopposed. National anti-union groupsand the state’s Republican leaders are campaigning against the UAW, saying unionization will spread like a contagion through Tennessee’s other auto plants. “Then it’s BMW, then it’s Mercedes, then it’s Nissan, hurting the entire Southeast if they get the momentum,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.).

BMW also uses works councils in other countries, to great success. It has operated a non-union plant in South Carolina since the mid-90s. But this wasn’t at all a fair vote. Big-money corporate anti-labor (Republican) interests from Washington interfered and campaigned against the works councils

Two of Tennessee’s most powerful Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, insist they know how to run an auto company better than VW. Despite this successful international auto company’s actual business experience with work councils, these GOP politicians say that they know what’s best, that they just know unionization won’t be good for VW.

A union-hating group, the National Right to Work (For Less) Committee, travelled to Chattanooga from its headquarters near Washington, D.C. with a carpetbag full ofcash for legal challenges to the unionization effort. And GOP crank Grover Norquistsent his Washington, D.C.-based organized labor-hating group, Center for Worker Freedom (To Work For Less), to Tennessee to thwart the Chattanooga workers’ right to unionize.

VW objected to the interference. CEO of VW Chattanooga Frank Fischer asked the outside agitators to stop, saying, “Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”

They ignored him — disregarding a CEO, a figure before whom Republicans typically grovel! That is how much Republicans hate unions.

They refuse to believe what VW is saying, that works councils are valuable management tools, despite evidence that the model already succeeds in the United States.

Corker went so far as to say that he had spoken with VW corporate, and that they had told him that VW would announce that it would be building the mid-sized SUV in Chattanooga (instead of in, e.g., Puebla Mexico) only if the vote to establish works councils failed.

… it was the conduct of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that most damaged the prospects for a free election. After stating that he would stay out of the vote, Corker returned to Tennessee to claim that he had been assured that VW would manufacture a mid-sized SUV in Chattanooga if the workers rejected the union. Head of the Chattanooga plant, Frank Fischer, immediately disowned his remarks and stated that the decision on where to expand production was separate from the union vote. Unperturbed by this denial, Corker accused Fischer of speaking from “old talking points” and stood by his comments. Corker’s remarks made a fair election impossible and did much to turn the vote against the union. He had used the authority of his office to say that a vote against the UAW was vote for more work in Tennessee, even though, according to VW management, his comments were unfounded.

Now that the election is over, Corker should have no problem disclosing who assured him that the rejection of the union would result in VW locating the SUV production in Chattanooga. If VW executives said this – which seems unlikely given the company’s respect for labor rights throughout the globe – that comment could form the basis of an unfair labor practice complaint. If not, it appears that Corker suggested this in order to pressure VW workers to vote against the union. While third parties are held to lesser standards in NLRB elections than the parties directly involved – allowing Corker to make comments that might be ruled illegal if made by VW or the union – the NLRB can set aside elections because of third party interference in exceptional circumstances such as these.

What are they so afraid of? Employees having rights, apparently

…a UAW victory would show that even billionaire anti-union zealots can be beaten. Right-wing groups are furious that Volkswagen is not fighting the UAW, so they have chosen to do so on their own. National organizations funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers and other right-wing activists have taken to the airwaves to demonize the UAW. State politicians have attempted to blackmail autoworkers to vote no by stating that Volkswagen may lose state financial support if it becomes unionized. Unionization, one elected official explained, “was not part of the deal.”

Promising auto lines out of turn? Threatening to withhold or withdraw negotiated, promised incentives? Blackmail? The anti-union Southern GOP and big-money interests may have won this round, but it’s also beginning to backfire

DPA, the German news agency, quoted [head of VW’s global works council Bernd] Osterloh as saying that, without a mechanism for “co-determination,” as Germans refer to the works council system, VW’s works council could “barely” agree to further investments in the US. The works council approves all decisions on investments in plants or their closure.

“I can absolutely imagine that a future VW facility in the USA, should another one be built there, would not definitely go to the south again,” Mr Osterloh said.

Ugly stuff, that. It would be a rich irony if the malicious intervention from Republican union-busters and Washington corporate interests in Tennessee resulted in the expansion halt that they threatened would happen if the works council was allowed to pass. Works councils cannot be formulated in the United States without union involvement – the company cannot create one unilaterally

Indeed, Mr. Osterloh’s comments have been interpreted to mean that VW head office in Wolfsburg will not permit the Bluecross-based SUV to be built in Chattanooga specifically because of the defeat of the works council and the malicious, false intervention by the likes of Senator Corker. 

Volkswagen wanted this union vote to pass, because it wanted the works council set up now – not in a few years when people get around to changing the rules. Republican lawmakers and special interests thwarted this, and it’s mind-boggling that these CEO-worshippers would deliberately thwart the wishes of a big manufacturer,  and threaten a big employer in the process. 

Since 1999, I have owned a Golf, a Jetta Wagon, two GTIs, a Passat Wagon, a Chattanoogan TDI Passat, two Beetles, and a TDI Beetle Convertible. I love the design, driving experience, features, engine choices, and build quality of Volkswagens. 

The Republican party and its lobbyist paymasters have long ago jettisoned good policy and good government for ideological purity. This has been – simply put – bad for America. It’s high time these nihilists were hoist by their own petards. 

Attica U.

19 Feb

Via Wikimedia Commons

New York State’s prisons are not necessarily filled with bad people. 

They are, however, filled with people who have made bad – sometimes violent – choices. They are filled with people who have broken our laws. 

Many of them, for instance, have been imprisoned falsely. Some are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes. Many are just straight up murderers, rapists, assailants, batterers, burglars, armed robbers, kidnappers – people who have deliberately or recklessly done harm to innocent people. 

It’s very, very easy to forget the purposes of incarcerating criminals. It’s not always just punitive – there is supposed to be a degree of redemption and rehabilitation built into the system. However, it hasn’t worked that way, and people are loath to try because “coddling criminals”. 

How we treat New York’s inmates reflects on us as human beings. It also speaks to whether we’re smart or not. As it stands, we’re not. 

America has the highest incarceration rate in the world; about 3/4th of 1% of our population is behind bars. About 22% of America’s detainees are awaiting trial; presumed innocent, having been convicted of nothing. Incarceration rates have skyrocketed since the early 1980s, and New York is 37th in the nation in terms of the rate of its people who are behind bars – about 1/3 of 1% of New Yorkers. Of those, the prison population is overwhelmingly black and Latino – the disparity between the general population and the prison population is dramatic. Most state prisons are upstate, and these newpats are counted as part of the local population for election purposes. 

It costs $60,000 to house, feed, and guard New York prisoners, and also to give them just enough entertainment so they don’t murder each other or the men and women who guard them. Anyone who thinks that New York’s prisoners are guests at a country club facility should arrange a visit to, say, Attica. These are grim fortresses housing a great many people who never had a fighting chance at doing anything else with their lives. 

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he wanted to implement a program to give inmates a chance to earn a free college degree. A private initiative operated by Bard College has found that recidivism rates among prisoners who earned a degree while behind bars plummeted from 40% to 4%

The knee-jerk reactions from outraged people was swift, furious, and downright disheartening. I believe that people deserve a chance, and even a second chance, at least.  I believe that a $5,000 annual investment to provide an eager, motivated inmate with a second chance at a productive life outside prison is an investment well made. Would we rather shove him out of the prison environment back into the environment from where he came, with no help, services, skills, or education? What do you think is going to happen? Shall we do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Would you rather that a man fresh out of prison with nothing more than a probation officer is going to magically find his way to building the sort of life that you or I enjoy, without any guidance, mentoring, or life skills? 

I would rather not pay for an inmate’s return to prison. I would rather that society save the money on pretrial detention, police services, court time, court personnel, transportation, post-conviction detention, food, housing, clothes, etc., through a program to redirect and truly attempt to rehabilitate people motivated to find a new way. 

This doesn’t mean we’re going to be handing out Bachelor’s degrees to murderers, but if there’s a drug dealer behind bars at 21 who’s due to be released in his 30s, doesn’t it make sense to give that person hope and life skills for a future where he’s not relying on crime or the victimization of others? 

In 1995, Governor Pataki dismantled an already existing program. This Huffington Post contributor wrote this, at the time

We the imprisoned people of New York State, 85% of whom are black and Latino, 75% of whom come from 26 assembly districts in 7 neighborhoods in New York City, to which 98% will someday return, possibly no better off than when we left, uneducated and lacking employable skills, declare this Kairos in response to the elimination of the prison college programs, GED and vocational training programs and education beyond the eighth-grade level. The elimination of prison education programs is part of Governor Pataki’s proposed budget cuts. It amounts to less than one third of one percent of the total state budget, but it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars in the years to come.

I went on to state that many studies, even one conducted by the New York State Department of Correctional Services, have demonstrated empirically what people know intuitively: that prisoners who earn college degrees are far less likely to return to a life of crime upon release. According to research conducted by the Department, of the inmates who earned a college degree in 1986, 26% had returned to state prison, whereas 45% of inmates who did not earn a degree were returned to custody. For many prisoners, gaining an education signals an end to personal failure and a ladder out of poverty and crime. Without it, the governor may as well change the name “Department of Correctional Services” to “Department of Correctional Warehousing.” As the former Chief Justice Warren Burger stated: “To confine offenders without trying to rehabilitate them is expensive folly.”

The author of that passage was imprisoned at Sing Sing for a nonviolent drug offense under the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws – he went in the system in 1985 and was released in 1997.  During that time, he took advantage of a then-extant program at Sing Sing operated by the Bronx Community College. 

My two year degree opened my eyes to the value of getting a college education. After that I received my B.S. in Behavioral Science from Mercy College, then went on to receive a graduate degree from New York Theological Seminary. I survived imprisonment because of my ability to transcend the negativity around me because of the rehabilitative qualities of a college education.

When I was released from prison after receiving executive clemency for Governor George Pataki in 1997 my reentry into society was eased because of my college education. But it was not an easy deal. When some people found out about where I got my college education they were not too happy. I remember going on a few television shows and talking about my college education. Instead of being happy for me they talked about how I got a free college education instead of being punished. My response was that I did not get a free education, I paid dearly for it serving 12 years in prison and I did everything I could to make a bad situation good.

Our prisons should not be equipped with revolving doors for poor, uneducated, downstate black and Latinos; kids who more often than not came from dysfunctional homes, bad neighborhoods, and who had no one to teach them the value of anything. At some point, some effort should be made to ensure that there is no return visit. Through that investment, we can – in the long run – help save the taxpayers billions. 

Former inmate Anthony Cardenales, 39, of the Bronx, earned degrees from Bard College during his 16-year prison sentence on manslaughter charges. He is now vice president of an electronics recycling company in Mount Vernon.

 The costs of our high recidivism rate is throwing good money after bad. The people convicted of crimes deserve to be punished, yes. But we as a society are completely ignorant and blind to the societal costs of reintroducing ex-cons to society without the support and tools they need to make it. We don’t spend $60,000 per year to rehabilitate them – just to cage them. The New York system already uses their slave labor to build furniture. (Here is another article about other penitentiary work programs).

We already run GED programs and high-school level courses for inmates. 

If we can exploit their labor, certainly we can give those who want it an education and a chance at a better life as productive members of society. 

Criminalizing Love in Small Town NY

19 Feb

Jamestown City Council President Greg Rabb has been instrumental in turning the Chautauqua County city known as the birthplace of Lucille Ball into a same sex marriage destination.  When Rabb first proposed the idea in 2012, he was threatened. (More here). 

But it’s been quite the little bonanza for the city, and Mr. Rabb penned this letter to the local paper

To The Reader’s Forum:

Marriage equality went into effect almost two and a half years ago. During that time it has been my pleasure as a City Marriage Officer to perform sometimes as many as 10 same-sex marriages per week. Couples have come to Jamestown from as many as 20 different states and every continent in the world. My goal was to make Jamestown a same-sex marriage destination and we have succeeded.

Couples stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, and reserve local venues for receptions including the Lucy-Desi Museum. Doing what is right has been good for business without the city having to spend a dime on promotion but relying on word of mouth.

Every couple has remarked to me how friendly everyone in Jamestown has been and how warmly they have been received resorting in referrals to their friends to get married in Jamestown by an openly gay city councilman.

In addition, we have been fighting poverty by waiving my fee and asking the couples to donate to St. Susan’s Center, our local soup kitchen, providing hundreds of meals each week to Jamestown residents in need. The couples have been very generous writing checks in 100, 200, and 300 dollar amountsall out of state money. I drop hundreds of dollars off to St. Susan’s each week without them having to do anything other than continuing their good work.

I knew marriage equality was the right thing to do and thanks to everyone in Jamestown and beyond it has turned out to be a good thing as well.

I bring this up not to brag about my work but to celebrate this community and the wonderful loving gay and lesbian couples it has been my pleasure to bring together in marriage celebrating their love.

Happy New Year!

Gregory Rabb

Jamestown

President, Jamestown City Council

Everybody wins, right? 

Here’s how one resident responded

In order to justify his own personal crusade, he claims, “Doing what is right has been good for business without the city having to spend a dime.” But does that really justify imposing his own personal deviant views on an entire community? Same sex marriage is unfortunately legal in New York State, but Rabb doesn’t stop there; instead, he wants to make our community a magnet for homosexuality.

Frankly, this is offensive, as well as an abuse of office. Again, who authorized our Council President to pursue this goal? Nobody. And it’s questionable whether his self-appointed social experiment is really reaping any economic benefits to the city and surrounding area.

But even if there were financial benefits shouldn’t there be some discussion as to whether we want to pursue this route to economic gain? In Lakewood, there’s discussion as to whether an adult porn shop should be granted permission to do business. No doubt one argument in favor of the porno store is that it helps grow the local business economy, but an argument against it would be the many negative social consequences, such as its potential harmful effects on families, youth, etc. Rabb seems to bypass all discussion in his crusade by using his office to promote Jamestown as a gay marriage headquarters. He says he’s “doing good” and “doing what is right.” Says whom? What’s next, an annual Jamestown gay pride parade with drag queens and transgenders celebrating their perversity? Wouldn’t that generate revenue? Or how about opening up a few gay bathhouses? Surely these would attract more people to Jamestown and boost local businesses.

No thank you. Greg Rabb’s vision for Jamestown is to make it into a gaudy, cheap and tawdry Pottersville. And that’s not “A Wonderful Life.”

Pastor Jeff Short

Jamestown

And another one

When a nation founded on God’s principles and greatly blessed by Him turns to brazen rebellion, we know what happens. Old Testament history and prophets’ writings record the glaring example of Israel.

Billy Graham recently said “Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle. Our society strives to avoid the possibility of offending anyone – except God.”

Ruth Graham once remarked, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah” (see Matthew 11:20-24). Sodom and Gomorrah were prideful, materialistic, and “gave themselves over to sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust” – becoming a byword through the ages for homosexuality. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with a fiery cataclysm; they were never rebuilt. See Genesis 19, Ezekiel 16:49-50, 2 Peter 2:6, Jude 7.

Extensive research, including by the GLMA, continues finding that homosexuals – even in “gay-friendly” countries like Holland – have much higher rates of disease, drug and alcohol abuse, mood/anxiety disorders, battering, and suicide than heterosexuals.

Recent Dutch research found that even gay men with a steady partner averaged 8 sexual partners per year. 40% of homosexual men have a history of major depression, compared to 3% for men overall.

Yet such living is celebrated and called good? “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

God’s Word is clear about homosexuality (Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:9-11, Jude 7), and Jesus gave the eternal definition of marriage in Matthew 19:1-12.

But many American leaders today have the “Jehoiakim attitude.” This wicked Jewish monarch rejected, cut in pieces, and burned the Word of God.

When a town elects leaders that rebel against God to the point that “same-sex marriage” is proudly extolled, and it becomes a “same-sex marriage destination,” that town has invited God’s judgment. If you think Jamestown has problems now, just watch.

God is saying to the people of Jamestown today, “Wake up and repent, for you have welcomed a Trojan horse!”

Randall S. Braley

Jamestown

Remember that hatred, ignorance, and bigotry is ubiquitous. People will wrap a warm blanket of scripture around their hatred, implying moral certitude. What this shows is that people who are completely unaffected by others’ love want to criminalize it nonetheless. 

How sad for us.