Tag Archives: change

The Wheel

11 Oct

Courtesy Joe Janiak

It’s been a busy week, and it’s Friday, so I leave you with a few things to mull over. 

In 2012, Buffalo Spree writer Julia Burke wrote this article comparing how advanced the bicycle infrastructure was in Madison, Wisconsin as compared with the slow pace of similar change in Buffalo. It was rather uncontroversial. 

A Buffalo native, Burke recently left Buffalo for Madison – a city where she had no job, no family, and no friends. She wrote a compelling article about the reasoning behind her decision to move. This caused a furor on Twitter and Facebook. 

Here are a few passages that stood out for me: 

I moved to one of the Midwestern cities that have made themselves attractive and viable not necessarily through “Rust Belt Chic” but through flexibility and adaptation, by addressing the underlying problems plaguing American cities––struggling schools, segregation, lack of public transportation, violent crime––confident that the “cool factor” will come from real effort and foresight, and the superficial stuff will follow. I’m not interested in urban decay porn; I grew up with it, and I’ve seen how it reflects a hopeless privilege that places preserving the “charm” of detritus above making neighborhoods more accessible, environmentally conscious, livable, and integrated…

…After a recent event involving late-night art exhibits and performance in Buffalo’s grain elevators, a prominent artist friend of mine posted comments on Facebook about how wonderful the concept was and how the event could be improved by emphasizing a higher quality, rather than quantity, of art. Another commenter added that the event, while exciting and visually stunning, was set in a location rather ill equipped for its several thousand attendees, and addressing safety hazards for children and the disabled might be a good goal for next year. One of the event’s organizers jumped in and, rather than thanking the commenters for their very reasonable suggestions, shot back, “Thanks for all the negativity!” 

Growing up in Buffalo gave me most of my best friends and many exciting work opportunities. It imparted to me the toughness and resourcefulness that come from living through harsh winters and making ends meet waiting tables, tending bar, and stocking retail shelves in a city whose thirty-year recession has been recast as “affordability.” It ensured that I will never take snow-plowed streets or writing gigs or the knowledge that I am surrounded by a progressive, liberal mindset for granted. And in Buffalo, where we joke that everyone in the “creative class” has three jobs, the people working against tangible and intangible obstacles to feed their passion are some of the most amazing people I have ever met.

They deserve better than burnout. They deserve to be surrounded by people who have no interest in settling, who want to see their city rise from the ashes and will cut no corners ensuring its long-term viability. They deserve representatives who have traveled and who know what is possible.

Every problem we have in Buffalo has a political cause, and a concomitant political solution. In response to a promising young former resident’s article calling out Buffalo’s complacency, stasis, and inability to react positively to criticism, a Vice President from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s response was astonishing, claiming that the article was a “Dear John” letter; that it was “throwing mud” and she should “just leave”.  I had a Buffalo city planner repeatedly accuse her of writing criticisms she didn’t write, and which he wouldn’t quote when asked. He claimed that she was being disingenuous about the city’s walkability, which she didn’t criticize, the bus system, which she didn’t mention, and other things. 

I mentioned at one point that we have a bus system that doesn’t feature street furniture at stops which also displays “next bus” information. This is pretty much a standard issue thing in this day and age; even Rochester has this feature. Buffalo will never have it until one of the millionaire Lexus drivers on the NFTA board decides to take a ride to another city and deigns to examine a bus stop in, say, Rochester. Our Thruway system uses 50s era toll-taking technology in 2013, and because it has no incentive to change it (they’re all in Albany), and we’re simply not a priority, it will never, ever change. 

These are obviously little problems, which mask the much more serious socioeconomic and cultural problems that plague the city. We’re told repeatedly that sprawl without growth is unsustainable – I agree, but so is gentrification without growth. Buffalo looks great from the trendy ghettoes in and around Elmwood Avenue and Allentown, but there’s no “renaissance”, no “sense of place”, not a lot to be excited about if you’re part of the city’s vast, poor majority. Burke’s article mentions Geico jobs – jobs that are all but inaccessible to an inner-city kid, because Geico is 25 miles away from where that kid lives, and the bus system isn’t particularly swift. The region has been advancing, sorta – one step forward, two steps back. For all the cranes at Canalside, we have a failing and dysfunctional school district. For all the restaurants and boutiques on Hertel and Elmwood, we have crushing poverty. For all the soccer bars and dog parks, we have a violent crime epidemic and a city that fudges the numbers. Buffalo, for real. 

We have a tendency to cheer for incremental changes and mere attempts, regardless of the outcome. We cheer for our efforts to do things that other cities have long ago figured out. That’s nice, dear. Let’s instead focus on the difficult issues and cheer when we, I don’t know, establish a regional plan for what we want this area to look like in 20 or 50 years, and then create the infrastructure and personnel to get us there. That takes hard work and we have a population that is exquisitely resistant to change. Activism doesn’t just mean preaching to the choir, but convincing the public at-large that the deep changes we need benefit everybody; we have to stop pitting one group against another and lift all goddamn boats. 

What do you think our regional priorities should be? How do we sell fundamental, deep regional political, social, educational, and economic change to a conservative and resistant population? How can we sell these big ideas while convincing people (a) that they aren’t going to “lose” while others “win”, and that these changes will benefit them, too? 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 
Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 

Round, round robin run round, got to get back to where you belong, 
Little bit harder, just a little bit more, 
A little bit further than you gone before. 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod, 
Big wheel turn by the grace of God, 
Every time that wheel turn ’round, 
Bound to cover just a little more ground. 

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, 
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, 
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, 
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. 

Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more? 
Won’t you try just a little bit harder, 
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more 

Honoring Labor

4 Sep

Labor Day is the day set aside to honor work and workers. From the Department of Labor:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Chris already posted the 1956 message from Young Republicans to the labor movement, which praised organized labor, urged union members to attend meetings, and asked them to vote Republican. Here is what the Republican House Majority Leader wrote yesterday. It’s cloud-cuckoo land. 

 

Learning Massachusetts’ Lessons

6 Feb
Massachusetts coat of arms.png

We Could Learn a Thing or Two

This is an extraordinarily significant article. Massachusetts, a Northeast liberal bastion if ever there was one, taxes its people far, far less than New York. The Buffalo News’ Tom Precious likens the commonwealth’s Proposition 2 1/2 to Cuomo’s current tax-cap proposal.

How has that shaken things out in the 30 years since Massachusetts property taxes have been limited in growth?

“I can’t remember the last time I talked about anyone’s property taxes,” said Carl Bradford, a retired financial planner whose large colonial home sits a couple miles from the New York border. His property tax bill is at least a third less than that of a comparable home across the border.

Bradford looked a bit confused when asked if property taxes ever made him think about retiring elsewhere.

“It’s never occurred to me,” Bradford said as he cleaned snow off a neighbor’s car one recent day.

His house in western Massachusetts — a mostly rural area but a cultural mecca, especially in the summertime — is worth nearly $600,000. His tax bill is about $4,500.

Just 45 minutes away, in the Albany suburbs, the owner of a house worth half as much is likely to pay nearly twice as much in property taxes.

We can talk about our culturals, preservation of old buildings, and a sense of place all day and night, but the bottom line is that people won’t come here, participate in our economy, and enable us to do all of those wonderful things until and unless the political and taxation climate in New York is fundamentally altered.  Luckily, we’ve just elected a governor who not only promised to do that, but is actually doing so, and has the political capital to get it accomplished.

But how has Massachusetts compensated?  Have services been reduced to something resembling Alabama or New Hampshire?  Do they have a high sales tax?  Nope. They changed their culture.  They adapted.  They learned.

Critics say it reduced services, especially in the early years, in such areas as public education before the state stepped in during the early 1990s with more money for school districts.

But Massachusetts also has undergone a tax attitude change.

Soon after the limit was imposed, more fire agencies and schools merged. Some villages got rid of their local police departments. By the end of the 1990s, county governments — which cannot impose their own separate sales tax — were all but abolished, except for providing a few services such as running jails. Unlike New York, where property owners can receive separate bills for county, municipal and school taxes, Massachusetts residents receive a single bill.

The limit has affected other taxation.

In 1980, Massachusetts had the nation’s second highest state and local tax burden, only slightly behind New York.

By 2008, Massachusetts was number 23 — at $3,600 per capita.

By comparison, New York, at $4,850 per capita, ranked second and was waging a pitched battle against New Jersey for first place, according to U.S. Census data compiled by the Tax Foundation.

New York has the sixth highest sales taxes, while Massachusetts is number 31.

Let’s learn from others’ successes, not repeat our own failure.

Priorities

8 Nov

On Saturday, I made this joke: Continue reading

The Trust Gap In American Politics

4 Aug

If you’re like me, you’re tired of the the anecdotal arguments, misinformed positions, corporate feeding of astroturf organizations and the general “deluge of dumb” in the current debate about healthcare reform.  It’s a disservice to an issue that will determine the future and perhaps survival of our republic.

Corporate money and influence clouds the issue at a very fundamental level.  Blue Dog Democrats, Republicans and other opponents of a public option are recipients of campaign finance largesse courtesy of the medical and pharmaceutical lobbies.  It is an economy of opportunity that the lobbying groups have created which distracts from the discussion about the health of our people and the best way to provide access to health care.

It is exceptionally clear to me that our legislative system is fundamentally broken.  Our Representatives and Senators are not able to properly and logically address significant problems facing our nation due to the influence of money in politics.  Until we can trust that our representatives are making the right decisions, for the right reasons, sensible legislation is impossible and the public trust compromised.

It’s time to publicly fund state and federal elections.  Eliminating the dependence on lobbying money and focusing our legislators on the tasks at hand is a necessity if this country is to prosper.  It was an idea first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago and it’s time that it be considered once again.

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Limiting campaign donations to an intial amount of $250 with built in increases (tied to inflation) over time and allowing for access to public funding once a certain number of petition signatures are collected is where we begin.  The idea is loaded with details that need to be addressed due to the hundreds, if not thousands, of loopholes in our existing system.

It will not be an easy job to build a new system, but it is the only way in which we can return sanity to our government.  We will also need to address and perhaps limit the power of incumbency to avoid franking abuses and influence gained through seniority.  We now have professional legislators who are simply waiting for the opportunity to become professional lobbyists and trade on the influence accrued while in office.  At the state level, we have hangers-on like Steve Pigeon who can bring to bear the financial resources of one man to essentially throw an entire state into gridlock.  Is this the way we want to be governed?

It should be clear to all, right or left, that the system is fundamentally handicapped.  Monetary influence from unions, corporations, industry associations, PAC’s and other niche lobbies are crippling our ability to tackle the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Corporate donations and industry authored legislation inhibits the proper measurement of costs and consequences when we attempt to address long term deficits, military largesse, foreign policy, climate change, infrastructure, urban planning or skyrocketing healthcare costs.

This video is about the economy of influence and the trust gap between Americans and Congress.  It’s worth the time, please watch it.

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Do you agree with this idea to change the system?  If so, head over to Change Congress and voice your support.

Lessig On The First Problem

5 Mar

Lawrence Lessig tells us that we can’t address the biggest problems until we fix the first problem.  It’s one of the most clearly worded presentations on how to fix America that I have seen.

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The longer I’ve been active in politics, the more cynical I have become that I am simply an unnecessary cog in a machine.  Special interest groups, corporations, unions, industry lobbies, and wealthy donors have stolen democracy from us.  It’s time to take it back.

Support this idea of reform with your votes at change-congress.org

National Day of Service in WNY

19 Jan

Buffalo ReUse and Push Buffalo teamed up for today’s National Day of Service, in honor of Martin Luther King day and tomorrow’s historic inauguration.  The groups along with a host of volunteers, old and new alike, spent the day boarding up vacant properties around the city’s west side.

To find more volunteer opportunities in WNY, sign up at the USA Service website.