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The Morning Grumpy – 9/24/12

24 Sep

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


1. Have you been enjoying Jim Heaney’s outstanding work at Investigative Post? If so, click here to become a supporting member of his organization and sponsor the best journalism in Buffalo.

Nearly a century ago, British press baron Lord Northcliff declared: “News is what someone, somewhere wants to suppress, everything else is just advertising.”

Investigative Post is not in the advertising business.

We’re in the business of producing hard-hitting investigations and in-depth analyses and training young journalists to do likewise.

Investigative journalism is costly, labor-intensive work. Unlike our media brethren, we’re not underwritten by advertisers or other commercial interests. We rely largely on donors, both big and small, who recognize the value of high-quality journalism.

Seriously, you haven’t clicked yet? What are you waiting for?

2. If you missed this essay by Paul Wolf in this week’s print edition of Artvoice, you’re missing out. Paul presents us with a stark and disappointing fact; Mayor Byron Brown is flush with a $1,000,000 in his campaign account. The grim reality that number presents is that an ineffective, caretaker mayor with no strategic vision nor leadership skills will walk to re-election in 2013.

The fact that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has $1 million dollars in his campaign war chest is good news for the mayor but bad news for the citizens of Buffalo. It means there will not be a real election for mayor of Buffalo next year. No challenger will be able to compete in a significant way against $1 million and the power of incumbency. Sadly, there will not be a real debate about the future of Buffalo.

The fact that the mayor of the third poorest city in the nation can build a war chest of $1 million dollars shows you how much campaign dollars are about the legalized bribery of “pay to play.” Incumbents, no matter what office they hold, hold many advantages, including:

• the ability to get free and taxpayer-paid-for media attention;

• campaign funds and volunteers from government employees;

• campaign funds from people and companies that do business with government.

Mayor Brown’s campaign war chest, like those of most incumbents, is built on contributions from people who personally benefit from government in the way of jobs and contracts.

Let’s be honest, the kind of money that Mayor Brown has at his disposal makes a primary challenge against hizzoner nothing more than a quixotic adventure. You might be able to round up a group of well-meaning activists and put together a spunky and fresh campaign strategy, but Mayor Brown will overwhelm you with cash, paid organizers, and all other sorts of professional campaign apparatuses. We’re making progress in this city in spite of the Mayor, but it would be pretty great if we had a leader.

3. Many politicians use his songs as campaign themes, but few resonate with an audience the way Bruce Springsteen does. So, what can progressives learn from Bruce and his politics of meaning?

That in order to organize and engage the masses of people we need, progressives have to expand their notions of what makes people tick, of what they need, of what they value and long for—-from a simplistic liberal emphasis on economic justice and equity to a broader view of human needs that include needs for recognition, meaning, connectedness, and agency.

Bruce Springsteen’s music and his performances do just that.  They suggest the possibility of a relationship with oneself, with others, and with the social world that elicit and cherish just these kinds of values and needs in his audience.
Rural voters and the poor vote with Republicans not because of a connectedness to their economic policies, but in spite of them. They vote with Republicans for the values those policies represent. Country, service, respect, responsibility, patriotism. Progressives have seemingly lost the ability to connect with red state voters on this level. Let Bruce show you the way.

4. The end of “eds and meds” as an economic development strategy? Someone should inform the economic development planners in WNY, as it looks looks like we may be chasing a ghost.

In the last few decades, as suburbanization and deindustrialization devastated so many cities, they turned to two sectors that seemed not only immune to decline, but were actually growing: universities and hospitals. The so-called “eds and meds” sectors, often related through university affiliated hospitals, became a great stabilizer for many places.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these sectors have come to dominate so many cites’ economic development strategies. It’s harder to find a major city that isn’t touting some variation of a life sciences “cluster” as a strategic industry than one who is, and local medical schools and hospital complexes feature prominently in this.

Yet in reality, overreliance on eds and meds is problematic. Firstly, these tend to be non-profit, and thus reduce the tax base in cities that are dependent on them.

But for cities hanging their hat on eds and meds growth, a more fundamental problem now looms: these industries are at the end of their growth cycle. Spending on healthcare and college tuition costs has been skyrocketing at rates greater than inflation for years.  Here’s a chart, via Atlantic Cities, showing job creation by sector since 1939:

As the US starts to groan under the weight of spending on health care and higher education, it’s clear that, as a society, we need to be spend less, not more on these items as a share of national output.  Some cities with unique strengths, like Boston, with its many specialized biotech firms, or Houston, with the world’s largest medical center, may thrive in this environment, but the vast majority of cities are likely to be very disappointed in where eds and meds growth will take them.

Honest question, do you think that anyone in a leadership position in this town reads articles like this? Do they incorporate data put forward by think tanks and research firms like this into our regional strategy? Or do they simply plug headlong on the same path until they hit a brick wall? I’m not proposing that we abandon our current direction, but there is a great amount of research and data available in economic development circles that this “eds and meds” cycle is coming to a close and that progressive and innovative cities are already looking for the next big thing.

5. If only solar power, wind farms, and biofuels received this kind of support, we could truly have a “free market miracle” like the natural gas industry is currently enjoying.

It sounds like a free-market success story: a natural gas boom created by drilling company innovation, delivering a vast new source of cheap energy without the government subsidies that solar and wind power demand.

“The free market has worked its magic,” the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry group, claimed over the summer.

The boom happened “away from the greedy grasp of Washington,” the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank, wrote in an essay this year.

But those who helped pioneer the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, recall a different path. Over three decades, from the shale fields of Texas and Wyoming to the Marcellus in the Northeast, the federal government contributed more than $100 million in research to develop fracking, and billions more in tax breaks.

Subsidies and tax credits for renewable energies have skyrocketed under the Obama administration, but the oil and gas industries have the advantage of ten decades worth of funding, research subsidies, manufacturing tax credits and infrastructure support from federal and state governments. We need more investment in renewables, way more than we have now, if the industry is to ever get a foothold against fossil fuels.

Fact Of The Day: Until 2008 Walmart de Mexico was paying its employees with vouchers only redeemable at Walmart.

Quote Of The Day: “Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.” – Ambrose Bierce

Video Of The Day: Sam The Sheepdog

Song Of The Day: “Plenty” by Guru

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