Tag Archives: economy

Donn Esmonde Looks at things Backwards

21 Jul

Donn Esmonde is an Ass” is the name of the series, and he seldom, if ever disappoints. In Friday’s column, he devoted about 550 words to talking about how lame Byron Brown is and how Bernie Tolbert sure is swell for trying.

Bernie Tolbert doesn’t need or want my sympathy. But I can’t help feeling sorry for the guy. Taking on Byron Brown is like trying to grab a puff of smoke or lasso a shadow. Nothing sticks to the Teflon Mayor.

On Brown’s two-term watch, Buffalo lost another 20,000 people. Schools went deeper into the dumpster, while he watched the charter school revolution from the sidelines. His anti-poverty “plan” for America’s third-poorest city was a lame, idea-absent rehash. Buffalo is basically a ward of the state, which covers a third of its budget and the bulk of its school costs.

The “charter school revolution” is city people suburbanizing city schools. Pull kids and money out of the traditional public schools, so your kids can have a Williamsville experience without moving to Williamsville. Esmonde has an especial hard-on for suburban schools, and has spent three or four columns advocating for the decimation of what had until recently been one of the best districts in the region. Esmonde’s concern-trolling about schools is utter nonsense, given his complete transformation into a tea party Sith lord.

Brown backed a proposed Bass Pro store that would have smothered the downtown waterfront, and a Seneca casino that experts say does us more harm than good. But mostly, he is mum – even on obvious causes such as expanding ECC’s downtown campus. Nearly two-thirds of respondents rated him no better than average in a Buffalo News leadership survey. He is vision-lite, cliche-heavy and largely uninspiring.

You would think that the man would be fighting for his political life. Instead, the mayor is livin’ easy.

2/3 of respondents in a poll rated Brown as “average”. The Siena Poll that the Buffalo News and Channel 2 commissioned, the cross-tabs for which have never been released.

Polls show him far ahead of Tolbert, who is barely known and fights a 6-to-1 dollar disadvantage. The Democratic primary in September decides the race, as city Republicans are an endangered species. My wish to see a progressive, idea-driven mayor in this lifetime may never be granted (in lieu of that, I’d settle for a Super Bowl). Pollster Steven Greenberg can’t explain Brown’s cushy lead, given abysmal marks on schools and job creation.

Esmonde uses the word “progressive”. It is to laugh. But while city Republicans may be an “endangered species”, you’d think that the underdog candidate, Sergio Rodriguez, might merit a mention. I mean, the guy has ideas, he’s saying a lot of what Esmonde is saying in this piece, and he has a name!

Which brings us to Brown’s political genius – he has mastered the art of low expectations. By keeping his head in the foxhole, by not championing big ideas and sweeping reforms, he has conditioned people not to expect much. So he can take credit for anything good that happens – even when, like the waterfront or downtown revival, it doesn’t have much to do with him – while avoiding blame for problems. It helps that Brown was preceded by three-term Mayor Tony Masiello, who, if possible, set an even lower bar.

At least Jimmy Griffin had an executive temperament, along with a temper.

A bolder, tougher, more visionary mayor would lobby for a regional planning board, to slow sprawl and funnel new business into the city. He would protect one of the city’s few resources – its stock of great old buildings – by data-basing historic properties and hammering negligent owners. He would push for mixed-income housing in the suburbs, to lighten the city’s heavy poverty load. He would embrace the choice of charter schools, while demanding accountability from traditional ones. And on and on.

How exactly does the mayor of the City of Buffalo “push for mixed-income housing in the suburbs”? Does he ask nicely, or is there some interjurisdictional power he has that I’m not aware of?

But Esmonde is partially right – to have Byron Brown record ads touting Geico, which is hiring way the fuck up in North Amherst somewhere, is an obscenity of the highest order. The city of Buffalo is precisely the place that Geico should have located its sprawling call center, but instead it went to North Bumfuck because it got a swell deal from whatever IDAs had handouts at the ready. It is the people who live in the city of Buffalo who are in desperate need of $30,000 entry-level white-collar cubicle jobs like the ones at Geico, because the manufacturing jobs are gone and working at McDonalds frankly sucks.

Byron Brown and Warren Buffett and the Buffalo News all think locating Geico up near Quebec was a swell idea.

A decent wage, a decent job, and some semblance of an opportunity are the very foundation on which you build a better future for young, underserved and underprivileged city residents. Not your “stock of great old buildings”.

Esmonde and his preservation-first cohorts have it backwards. Fixing up great old buildings doesn’t turn around the local economy, but turning around the local economy will help spur more fixing up of great old buildings. The focus on Buffalo’s hardware is well-managed by exquisitely touchy people who think that attracting “cultural tourists” to see the Darwin Martin house and other buildings is the antidote to a half-century of decline. Our town is replete with ultra-wealthy foundations sporting the names of the founders of businesses that long ago abandoned Buffalo, all of which seem to think that their deep pockets provide an avenue for them to tell everyone how they’re doing it wrong. Meanwhile, the best thing anything with the name “Oshei” in it could do is open a Goddamn windshield wiper factory in Buffalo.

Regular people will rehab your pretty old buildings when it makes economic sense to do so. People will do it when you don’t have to retain a preservation activist to help navigate your way to tax credits, and around demonstrations and litigation. People will preserve our “great old buildings” when they have money to do it. And how do you create wealth in a shit economy? You make sure you have a decent educational system, and that there are available jobs to help lift a generation out of poverty and into the economic mainstream.

Instead, we applaud the fact that Geico brings thousands of jobs to the sticks – just a few bus transfers and a commute that would make Long Islanders cringe! It’s appalling. It’s sickening. It’s a disgrace.

His city is on life support, yet Brown shows little passion and champions few causes. What, me worry?

Granted, the mayor has strengths. He is likable, projects concern and looks good – all political pluses. The streets get plowed, and the garbage is picked up. And his timing is good. He is in office while the waterfront is shaping up and downtown is repopulating. Albany and Washington dollars, not city money, stoke the waterfront, and downtown revival is traceable mainly to market forces and momentum. Still, the rising tide lifts his boat. As numerous insiders have told me, Brown stays out of the way and shows up for the ribbon-cuttings.

Brown stays out of the way? The stories of institutional, tolerated bribery and corruption within City Hall are legion.

In Buffalo, the city of low expectations, it goes a long way. A lot further, I think, than it should.

An irony here is that Esmonde does so much to keep those expectations low and stupid.

What’s At Stake

31 Oct

Why Obama Now. Prepared by an animator for the Simpsons, and if it does nothing more, it should help popularize the term “Horse and Sparrow” as a euphemism for trickle down / supply side. 

What's At Stake

31 Oct

Why Obama Now. Prepared by an animator for the Simpsons, and if it does nothing more, it should help popularize the term “Horse and Sparrow” as a euphemism for trickle down / supply side. 

Gas and the Dow

20 Oct

During the second Presidential debate, this exchange happened

MR. ROMNEY:…If you’re paying less than you paid a year or two ago, why, then the strategy is working. But you’re paying more. When the president took office, the price of gasoline here in Nassau County was about a buck eighty-six a gallon. Now it’s four bucks a gallon. Price of electricity is up.

If the president’s energy policies are working, you’re going to see the cost of energy come down. I will fight to create more energy in this country to get America energy-secure. And part of that is bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia where the people want it.

MS. CROWLEY: Let me —

MR. ROMNEY: Those things will get us the energy we need.

MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President, could you address — because we did finally get to gas prices here — could you address what the governor said, which is: If your energy policy was working, the price of gasoline would not be $4 a gallon here. Is that true?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, think about what the governor — think about what the governor just said. He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was 1.80 (dollars), 1.86 (dollars). Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse; because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney is now promoting. So it’s conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices, because with his policies we might be back in that same mess. (Audience murmurs.)

I’ve seen a bunch of Republicans make this charge – that it’s Obama’s fault that gas prices have skyrocketed from a reasonable $1.80/gallon to the current $4.00/gallon. But that is so fundamentally misleading – such a basic symptom of Romnesia

If it’s Obama’s fault that gas prices have gone from $1.80/gal in February 2009 to $4.00/gal in October 2013, then it’s also his fault that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has skyrocketed from 8,000 to 13,300 in that same time. 


What else? Well, let’s take a look at some more trends

Retail Sales: 


Car sales: 

Highest since 2007: 

So, don’t listen to the doom and gloom, and don’t succumb to Romnesia, whereby you completely forget what happened in 2008. 

The Morning Grumpy – 6/20/12

20 Jun

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

Just links today…a shorter grumpy is better than no grumpy.

1. Business lessons from a Mexican drug cartel. A fantastic long read.

2. Peter Orszag the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget and former director of the Congressional Budget Office makes the liberal case for economic optimism.

3. JPMorgan receives a government subsidy worth about $14 billion a year, according to research published by the International Monetary Fund and Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s analysis of bank balance sheets. The money helps the bank pay big salaries and bonuses. More important, it distorts markets, fueling crises such as the recent subprime-lending disaster and the sovereign-debt debacle that is now threatening to destroy the euro and sink the global economy.

4. E.J. Dionne writes that if the Tea Party is to be believed, radical individualism has defined American history. But their story is wrong, and progressives must say so.

5. A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.

Thank god for that!

Fact Of The Day: Did you know that Walgreens sells sex toys? Now you do.

Quote Of The Day: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” -Richard Dawkins

Video Of The Day: Gilbert Gottfried Records The Audiobook Version of “Fifty Shades Of Gray

Song Of The Day: “Help Me” – Sonny Boy Williamson

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

Crisis Politics

15 Jul

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com



The Morning Grumpy

1 Jul


I have a voracious appetite for internet memes, video, podcasts, news and analysis, so each morning I’ll share several links that you can consume during your “morning grumpy”.

1. Van Jones, liberal firebrand, has started a new movement you should give a shit about. It’s called “Rebuild The Dream“. It’s the liberal answer to the Koch-funded Tea Party. I’ll let Van explain the three pillars of the movement. Check it out.


2. This conversation at Forbes is about Detroit, but it might as well be about any rust belt city.

3. The Sunlight Foundation has created some excellent tools to increase government transparency, including something called the Influence Explorer. The tool shows that Bank of America is among the heaviest investors in Congress. Bank of America made $3,613,051 in campaign contributions in the 2009-10 election cycle, 62 percent of which went to Republicans. Read about how much other banks and investment firms have donated to influence policy.

4. In the current economic recovery, 88% of national income growth has gone to corporate profits while just 1% has gone to wages. Wow.

5. Have kids? You’ve undoubtedly read them the book “Goodnight Moon“. Here is the backstory of the meandering, royalty-funded life of the guy who inherited the rights to the book.

6. Contrary to what Republicans keep repeating on all those “liberal media” channels, Americans are fine with raising some taxes along with cutting spending in a bid to cut the deficit and the debt.

7. Still think Fox is “Fair and Balanced”? Well, let this be proof that it was never intended to be anything but a GOP propaganda machine. Seriously.

8. Keith Olbermann says goodbye to Glenn Beck. Fantastic.


9. Reading material for the weekend, The Atlantic highlights the 14 Biggest Ideas of the year.

Facts About Why the Economy Sucks

17 Jun

In the late 18th century, we fought our bourgeois revolution against nobility and kingdom. I don’t know why we can’t reclaim that proud heritage, instead it’s like we’re going backwards.


Cheap, Poor, and Desperate (UPDATED)

8 Jun

So there’s an outfit in town that bills itself as “nxtArrow“, which purports to be a business incubator that wants to attract, support, and mentor entrepreneurs to start a business in – or move a business to – Buffalo. Great, right? We need more of that in this town, especially since the chambers of commerce and IDAs are fractured.  The name evokes Pierce Arrow – a luxury car marque that was based in Buffalo between 1901 – 1928. (Between 1928 – 1938, Pierce-Arrow struggled after having been bought out by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, IN.) To my mind, not exactly a fantastic or realistic model to emulate.  Not only is the idea of a new Pierce-Arrow stupid, but a Swiss consortium is actually trying to resurrect the brand as an automotive manufacturer. In Switzerland. About 4,000 miles from Buffalo.

NxtArrow’s incubation model basically guarantees participant companies a free first year in Buffalo. Free space, free services as part of a network run under the auspices of nxtArrow, which is registered as a private, for-profit corporation, but says on its website is currently a d/b/a of a hitherto-unfunded 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity that was created by the founder of the local advertising and PR house, SKM.  NxtArrow is remunerated for its network organization, although the details are not fully disclosed on its website.  The man behind nxtArrow has a background in insurance sales, mental health services, libertarian punditry, and theology.  There’s not much there to my mind about being a startup mentor/guru, but I’m just a negative naysayer.

About a week or so ago, nxtArrow’s President retweeted something from a new design house called Queen City Studio, indicating that it had joined nxtArrow’s network and was offering free design services for a year to companies participating in nxtArrow’s incubation scheme.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/70911671190831104″%5D

From my experience with Hero Design Studio, I knew that this was something that they frowned upon because it not only drives down the prices Hero can charge locally for its work, but it presupposes that design services are free; valueless. A debate ensued, and in the end I expressed that I don’t like the idea of one for-profit entity being recruited to provide free services to another for-profit entity, while a nominally not-for-profit middleman takes a cut. The whole thing is fraught with potential and real legal issues, and to my mind defeats the very purpose of building business in Buffalo.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/70953586250612736″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/70948829154910208″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/70948234046091264″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70916193619423232″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/70947441540739072″%5D

This one enraged me:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/70955357505204224″%5D

So, I went on a multi-tweet rant:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70957148737257473″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70957337615155200″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70957493907501058″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70957637323333633″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70957748170391552″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70957900654329856″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70957980526448640″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/70958242993422336″%5D

You don’t build and promote business by giving people’s goods, services, or labor away for free; you promote and build business in Buffalo by engaging in the local economy and buying, paying for those goods, those services, and that labor. The economic engine runs on that exchange.  To my mind, we have enough non-profits, governmental and quasi-governmental agencies, and foundations subsidizing what passes for economic activity in this town, and we need to move away from that.

I don’t have a problem with barter agreements. I don’t have a problem with people or companies giving things away for charitable purposes. If Nickel City Studios wants to do a free website design or logo for the Diabetes Walk, then go for it.

But nxtArrow doesn’t work that way, and frankly there’s no guarantee that these businesses will stay in town. Assuming there’s a contract with a in-Buffalo clause, how do you chase down a company that’s breached it? That’s pretty costly and time-consuming, even if all it entails is enforcement of a venue and choice-of-law provision. How do you chase down a company that’s gone belly-up? That has no assets? That’s bankrupt? And what, exactly, does Queen City Studios get in exchange for giving its work away for free? A mention? Its logo on a website? An unenforceable prospective promise of more business down the road?

Finally, the whole concept reeks of desperation. It’s pathetic – it stinks like a last-ditch effort to save something that’s dying. Implicit in the very concept of the free year is that Buffalo is such an awful and horrible backwater of a hellhole, that we can only attract people and businesses if we give it away for free. I don’t think the Crazy Eddie or Ron Popeil model works for lifting up a region and attracting businesses to it. In fact, I think it has – consciously or subconsciously – the exact opposite effect.

The guys at SmallBusinessBuffalo took an interest, (website here), and I participated in a three-part video with them last week at WNYMedia.net offices. I touch on the nxtArrow issues I outline above, but also generally talk about the need for regionalism and a one-stop-shop – a coordinated effort – to attract and retain businesses and people in the greater Buffalo area.




UPDATE: Howell responds to my comments in these videos here this morning.  A few interesting tidbits emerge therefrom:

1. Howell says I don’t understand his policies. They aren’t exactly plastered all over nxtArrow’s website, so no – I don’t understand what isn’t disclosed.

2. Howell says there are “two kinds of ‘free'”. The first one is a “buy four, get one free year” type “agreement”, and the second is essentially net 365 – you obtain goods & services for the first year, and pay for them all in a lump sum at the commencement of your second year.  The first “kind of free” isn’t an enforceable contract, because there’s no consideration for whatever is being given for free in that first year. A promise to enter into a long term future contract is illusory, because there’s no consideration for the present value received. As to the second “kind of free”, it’s a bait & switch. Nowhere on nxtArrow’s information, website, or in his lengthy Twitter retorts to me or Chris does he mention that it’s really just a delay in payment of one year. Whether or not it’s made-up, it’s silliness.

3. He equates what he’s doing with giving a discount or offering a sale. “Free” isn’t a sale – and all of his promotional writings say “free” everywhere. First he defends the idea of giving stuff away for free, now he says it’s not free at all. I don’t know which it is, but it seems weird.

4. Initiation fee? How does that factor into a “free year”? In his own literature, Howell writes,

Who Says There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

In fact, you won’t mind paying for lunch. It will be just about the only thing you’ll have to pay for in your first year in Buffalo Niagara.

Well – yeah. Lunch, plus the initiation fee, plus the delayed payment or illusory promise to enter into a future contract with vendors. Otherwise, TOTALLY FREE ZOMG.

5. When asked about companies that breach the contract by leaving, or cannot fulfill its terms by going under, Howell replies, “that’s the risk we all take”.  Well, no. It should be the risk that you take. I don’t see what the benefit is for a small local company in a depressed area in a down economy should be taking your risk for you. Once the initiation fee is paid to nxtArrow, it’s all set.  After that, the burden rests with the members of the vendor “network” to fulfill some sort of unclear contractual obligation to provide free services with no real, enforceable way to get paid for that?  Frankly, nxtArrow has no skin in the game – the risk appears completely to be borne by the providers of these “free” services like Queen City Studio.

6. Howell refers to Chris Smith as my “boss”. Okaaaaay.

7. He argues that his scheme does not devalue Buffalo – that it gets people here and lets them see the secret strengths of this region. So far, it hasn’t gotten anyone here, the few companies that have been announced are laughable and palpably unvetted, and it indeed treats this place as being worthy of residency and business-opening only if it’s all free. I disagree. We have value. We have lots of impediments to opening a business and succeeding at it.  Since Howell has no entrepreneurial experience in this area, I fail to see how he can help a newcomer navigate complicated rules and regulations, or point them in the direction of local VC and other sources of capital or incentives. This isn’t rocket science, but the way Buffalo is, it’s pretty damned close and I’d trust someone who’s done it and can act as a pilot, helping to bring a business to port safely.

There’s a huge need for those types of red-tape navigating assistance, mentoring, and access to good, inexpensive services. Unfortunately, nxtArrow doesn’t meet that need, and seems unclear on what it is offering.

Michael Moore is Fat

4 Jun

The jobs report yesterday was shit, and John Cole at Balloon Juice sums up the Democrats’ opponents’ position on this succinctly and accurately:

The libertarian/conservative plan is quite clear- cut taxes, deregulate, drill, ban abortion, attack unions, gut social spending and win the pr war for the Ryan plan to end Medicare, block every administration appointee and job creation plan, and free market Jeebus will do the rest while they blame the economy on Obama and Democrats. Let’s not forget who wanted employment to be much, much worse when they opposed the stimulus and did everything they could to make sure GM and Chrysler died.

So how are “we” going to create all these jobs? Simple, you guys aren’t going to even try. Hell, by playing with default, they are actively trying to make things worse.

We’re in dire straits here, folks, but Michael Moore is fat and Paul Krugman is shrill and a Democrat is President, so there just isn’t much the GOP and libertarians are willing to do about the situation.

I’m sure defaulting on the debt is the best way to grow jobs and fix the economy, just like eliminating Medicare is the best way to save Medicare.  Gosh, it’s almost as if the Republicans won’t work with the Democrats to do what’s right for the country because we have a Democratic President and to help the country would help Obama politically.