Tag Archives: Florida

Thoughts on the George Zimmerman Verdict: You Got a Problem?

15 Jul

A Florida jury found that the homicide of Trayvon Martin homicide was lawful and justifiable – that George Zimmerman had acted in self-defense and that his use of deadly force against Martin was reasonable. 

“Self-defense” is what we lawyers call an “affirmative defense”. Generally, the prosecution has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When the defendant raises self-defense, or some other legal justification for the crime of which he’s accused, the burden of proof shifts to him. That means that George Zimmerman’s defense team had the burden to prove that Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin was legally justified. 

In New York, self-defense is covered in the “Defense of Justification” article in the New York State Penal Law.  

Generally

Unless otherwise limited by the ensuing provisions of this article defining justifiable use of physical force, conduct which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when…

2. Such conduct is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the actor, and which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding such injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue. The necessity and justifiability of such conduct may not rest upon considerations pertaining only to the morality and advisability of the statute, either in its general application or with respect to its application to a particular class of cases arising thereunder…

More specifically,

The use of physical force upon another person which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal under any of the following circumstances…

6. A person may, pursuant to the ensuing provisions of this article, use physical force upon another person in self-defense or defense of a third person, or in defense of premises, or in order to prevent larceny of or criminal mischief to property,

Even more to the point,

1. A person may…use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself, herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by such other person, unless:

(a) The latter’s conduct was provoked by the actor with intent to cause physical injury to another person; or

(b) The actor was the initial aggressor; except that in such case the use of physical force is nevertheless justifiable if the actor has withdrawn from the encounter and effectively communicated such withdrawal to such other person but the latter persists in continuing the incident by the use or threatened imminent use of unlawful physical force…

…2. A person may not use deadly physical force upon another person under circumstances specified in subdivision one unless:

(a) The actor reasonably believes that such other person is using or about to use deadly physical force. Even in such case, however, the actor may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating; except that the actor is under no duty to retreat if he or she is:

(i) in his or her dwelling and not the initial aggressor; or

(ii) a police officer or peace officer or a person assisting a police officer or a peace officer at the latter’s direction, acting pursuant to section 35.30; or

(b) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery; or

(c) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a burglary, and the circumstances are such that the use of deadly physical force is authorized by subdivision three of section 35.20.

The emphases are mine. New York’s self-defense statute discourages deadly violence. The initial aggressor in a confrontation generally cannot assert the defense, but even in that case, the law gives the aggressor an opportunity to retreat from the encounter, in which case he is justified in defending himself from the original victim’s force. In order to use deadly force, a New Yorker must reasonably believe he is about to be killed and has attempted to, or has no way to, retreat. The only exception to that duty to retreat applies to a person in his own home who didn’t start a confrontation. The duty to retreat exists to avoid unnecessary violence and death

Florida is different. By weakening the duty to retreat, it opens the door to unnecessary, physically avoidable violence.

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or

(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

The section referenced above in subsection (2) is Florida’s castle doctrine statute – your home is inviolable and the law presumes that you are in fear of imminent bodily harm if you are home when burglarized. But it goes farther:

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

In Florida, there is also statutory language requiring that the person asserting justification wasn’t the initial aggressor.

776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who…

…(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or

(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

George Zimmerman’s defense team didn’t emphasize the “stand your ground” portion of the statute. It didn’t have to – it’s built in to the overall self-defense statute and the jury was instructed on it. Frankly, the person who was entitled to use that provision was Trayvon Martin himself. The Zimmerman team’s theory of the case was that Martin was the initial aggressor when he turned and confronted Zimmerman. “Stand your ground” is what informed law enforcement’s decision to not bring charges until 6 weeks after the homicide. “Stand your ground” is what was cited for the public presumption that Zimmerman was justified in killing this young black man who was wearing a hoodie, of all things. 

In court, we heard Zimmerman’s side of the story via videotape of him leading investigators around the complex the morning after the homicide. He did not take the stand. The problem here? Every story has two sides, and we only heard one. We’ll never be able to learn Martin’s side of the story. Did he really know the gun was there? Did he really reach for it? Did he really even initiate the confrontation? Did he swing first? Did he threaten Zimmerman’s life? 

Let’s backtrack for a moment and look at a few undisputed facts of the case: Trayvon Martin was legally on the premises of the gated apartment community where George Zimmerman was on “neighborhood watch” patrol. He was minding his own business. He was not committing a crime of any sort. He was unarmed. He was walking from the store to a private residence, where he was going to watch TV. George Zimmerman was cruising the property in his vehicle. The complex had been subject to burglaries, and he wanted to protect his home and others’ homes. Zimmerman told the police dispatcher that he was watching Martin, whom he considered to be a “real suspicious guy”. 

That’s the set-up; what happened next was the heart of the trial just concluded. Zimmerman called the cops. The dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his car. Zimmerman didn’t stay in his car, but instead followed Martin. Martin was on the phone with his friend and explained to her that he was being followed by a “creepy ass cracker”. We’re not quite sure what happened next, or what the exact sequence of events was. Could be Trayvon Martin turned to ask Zimmerman if he had a problem.

The case and its result have resulted in a deep split in public opinion – one unsurprisingly following the right/left political cleave. I don’t understand why thinking Zimmerman is innocent is a right-wing thing and thinking the homicide of Martin was unnecessary or not justifiable is a left-wing thing. It oftentimes seems as if Zimmerman supporters consider that Martin got what was coming to him, and there is no sympathy for a kid who was just walking home from the store on a rainy February night. But I think the divergence comes down to this difference in opinion: do you think that the sequence of events was set in motion when Zimmerman exited his car to follow Martin, or when Martin asked Zimmerman what his problem was? Things went downhill from there, and one person ended up dead. 

You can see Zimmerman’s explanation here. “You got a problem?” “No, man.” “Well, you got a problem now!” Zimmerman claims Martin somehow saw his gun, went to reach for it and threatened to kill him.  At this point, Zimmerman grabbed his gun and shot Martin once through the heart. Martin wasn’t around to offer a rebuttal. 

To suggest – as the Florida State Attorney did late Saturday night – that race and profiling wasn’t part of this case is a joke. The entire case was replete with issues of race and profiling. Was it reasonable? Was it reasonable for Zimmerman to see a young black kid in a hoodie walking through his neighborhood and instantly conclude that he was “real suspicious”? Was it reasonable for Martin to remark to his friend that some “creepy ass cracker” was stalking him on his walk home? It was 7pm in February in Florida. There is no presumption in the law that a black youth is deemed “suspicious” for wearing a hooded sweatshirt under those conditions. The temperature was in the low 60s, and it was raining. Indeed, because Martin was minding his own business and not breaking any rule or law, it was also perfectly reasonable for him to be a little creeped out by the guy who was following him first in his vehicle, and now on foot. How would you react if someone was following you – watching your every move while you’re just walking through your neighborhood?

Martin could have run away, but was under no obligation to do so. 

People forget that it wasn’t until March 16th that we heard the 911 call with someone screaming “help!” in the background – screams that ended when the gunshot is heard; could be Zimmerman was out of peril – could be Martin was mortally wounded. Zimmerman’s 9mm handgun was in the small of his back. It wasn’t until March 20th that Florida even bothered to submit the case to a grand jury. The chief of the Sanford Police Department resigned on March 22nd because the case had been investigated from day one under a presumption that it was a justifiable homicide. On March 26th, the police released pictures showing that Zimmerman was bleeding from cuts the night he shot Trayvon Martin. 

It wasn’t until April 11th that Zimmerman was formally charged with 2nd degree murder and taken into custody. It took a full six weeks before Florida even recognized that a crime may have potentially been committed. The state didn’t take the case seriously until the federal government and public opinion forced its hand. 

Zimmerman didn’t take the stand – he didn’t have to. His story was out there on the videotape, and he didn’t have to subject himself to cross-examination about, e.g., why he got out of his car in the first place. If Zimmerman is correct that Martin initiated the confrontation, why didn’t he run away? Well, he didn’t have to. Florida doesn’t think much of avoidance of violence. Zimmerman was brave enough to follow this “real suspicious” teenager, but not to subject himself to cross-examination. 

Because Martin is dead, we don’t know his side of the story and the prosecution evidently did not adequately present an alternative version of events. When Martin’s friend, Rachel Jeantel testified, she explained that Martin was afraid of Zimmerman. But, you know, as a 19 year-old black girl, she behaved like a 19 year-old black girl. She had avoided being involved in the case and was caught in some inconsistencies. Her speech and mannerisms insulted public opinion, and she was mocked as being fat, sassy, and stupid. 

Zimmerman had a gun, and if you take his own story at face-value, it was when Martin saw the gun that the fistfight escalated to a threat on Zimmerman’s life. No gun, no shooting. Simple, isn’t it? Zimmerman had a conceal carry permit despite a history of violence, including interfering with an arrest and being the subject of a mutual restraining order with his ex-fiancee. Frankly, under normal circumstances, a person with a record of violence and harassment should not be allowed to carry a firearm. 

An armed society is a polite society” goes the Heinlein quote. But in this case, no matter what you think of the fairness of the case against Zimmerman, that isn’t true. 

The law should not reward violence. The law should not excuse aggression. To maintain a civilized society, we ought to reward and excuse the avoidance of violence and aggression. Zimmerman should have stayed in his car. He never should have been in a position to confront – or be confronted by – Martin. This is why we have police, and this is why we entrust them with public safety. Zimmerman should have waited for the cops and let them do their jobs. They likely would have questioned him, canvassed the area for Martin, and asked him some questions. Martin would have lived to see his 18th birthday. 

This isn’t just about dumb gun laws or bad justification statutes – it’s about profiling. 

Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, it’s Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher:  OK, and this guy is he white, black, or hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now, he was just staring.

Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area…

Zimmerman: looking at all the houses.

Dispatcher: OK…

Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.

Dispatcher: OK-you said it’s 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse…

Dispatcher: That’s the clubhouse, do you know what the-he’s near the clubhouse right now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me.

Dispatcher: OK.

Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.

Dispatcher: How old would you say he looks?

Zimmerman: He’s got button on his shirt, late teens.

Dispatcher: Late teens. Ok.

Zimmerman: Somethings wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out, he’s got something in his hands, I don’t know what his deal is.

Dispatcher: Just let me know if he does anything, ok?

Zimmerman: (unclear) See if you can get an officer over here.

Dispatcher: Yeah we’ve got someone on the way, just let me know if this guy does anything else.

Zimmerman: Okay. These assholes they always get away. Yep. When you come to the clubhouse you come straight in and make a left. Actually you would go past the clubhouse.

Dispatcher: So it’s on the lefthand side from the clubhouse?

Zimmerman: No you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left, uh, you go straight in, don’t turn, and make a left. Shit, he’s running.

Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?

Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood.

Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?

Zimmerman: The back entrance…(expletive)(unclear)

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that.

Zimmerman: Ok.

Dispatcher: Alright sir what is your name?

Zimmerman: George…He ran.

Dispatcher: Alright George what’s your last name? A clicking or knocking sound can be heard here

Zimmerman: Zimmerman

Dispatcher: And George what’s the phone number you’re calling from? Clicking or knocking sound is heard again

Zimmerman: [phone number removed]

Dispatcher: Alright George we do have them on the way. Do you want to meet with the officer when they get out there?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Alright, where you going to meet with them at?

Zimmerman: Um, if they come in through the, uh, (knocking sound) gate, tell them to go straight past the club house, and uh, (knocking sound) straight past the club house and make a left, and then they go past the mailboxes, that’s my truck…[unintelligible]

Dispatcher: What address are you parked in front of?

Zimmerman: I don’t know, it’s a cut through so I don’t know the address.

Dispatcher: Okay do you live in the area?

Zimmerman: Yeah, I…[unintelligible]

Dispatcher: What’s your apartment number?

Zimmerman: It’s a home it’s [house number removed], (knocking sound) oh crap I don’t want to give it all out, I don’t know where this kid is.

Dispatcher: Okay do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes then?

Zimmerman: Yeah that’s fine.

Dispatcher: Alright George, I’ll let them know to meet you around there, okay?

Zimmerman: Actually could you have them, could you have them call me and I’ll tell them where I’m at?

Dispatcher: Okay, yeah that’s no problem.

Zimmerman: Should I give you my number or you got it?

Dispatcher: Yeah I got it [phone number removed]

Zimmerman: Yeah you got it.

Dispatcher: Okay no problem, I’ll let them know to call you when you’re in the area.

Zimmerman: Thanks.

Dispatcher: You’re welcome.

Black kid in a hoodie. Real suspicious. Hand in his waistband. Looking around. Runs when he sees Zimmerman. These assholes always get away.

Trayvon Martin ran away from the man watching him from his truck. The man got out of his truck to follow him. Trayvon ran away

Zimmerman made a snap decision about who Martin was. He had to be up to no good. He looked wrong – black kid with a hoodie. Hand in his waistband, holding onto his iced tea. These assholes always get away. These assholes. Real suspicious. We glorify violence and we excuse people for being afraid and suspicious of black teenagers. “You got a problem?” Martin asked Zimmerman.

Yes. Zimmerman did, in fact, have a problem. More than just one.

By the way, how were the riots? 

The Return Of The Morning Grumpy – 5/30/12

30 May

It’s been a hellish few weeks of business travel, but I’m back in the saddle, ready to give you your daily dose of all the news, views, and filtered excellence for you to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. Once upon a time, there was a group of media outlets that made decisions about the types of information you, the consumer, would be able to hear, view or read.  They were gatekeepers and they decided what would be news and what would forever descend down the memory hole.

The internet changed all of that.  We, formerly known as the audience, suddenly became producers, curators and distributors of news and information using the semantic web and social networking. We could even influence the production of traditional media using the web; changing the face of the news to look a little something like this.

Using this technology, we would set information free and open new channels of communication independent of gatekeepers. Right?

Eli Pariser is the author of a book called “The Filter Bubble” which challenges that basic assumption.  I’ll let him explain the basics.

Pariser asserts that the tools we use to produce, aggregate, curate, and disseminate news have become the new gatekeepers. The complicated algorithms which make the web possible are actively working to create a personal internet, attuned to our biases and perspective. So much so that we’re beginning to lose touch with other points of view and information needed to make informed decisions as media consumers.

Essentially, Facebook, Google and others are turning into automated confirmation bias machines.

Interestingly, there are geeks all over the world who are working to solve this problem. The first product I’ve seen is a Google Chrome extension called rbutr. And it could change the way we consume information. Their solution is an amalgam of the two systems, technology tools and personal gatekeepers, working to keep each other honest.

Our current primary focus at this point is leveraging the platform we have to develop a strong, dedicate community of bloggers and skeptics who will continue to help building a network of rebuttal connections between relevant websites all over the web.

A healthy mix of people, skeptics, and algorithms. Sounds good to me. Their mission?

To link every page on the internet to its most appropriate responses, so that no one is ever forced to simply accept what they are ‘told’ by any one source ever again.

It comes along with a code of ethics and philosophy. A very unique tool for a confusing time in media.

2. This summer, we’ll have a redux of the fight over the debt ceiling and the effects of that showdown will derail the economy…which is exactly what the Republicans are hoping to accomplish.

Europe is crumbling. China is slowing. The Federal Reserve is dithering. Yet the biggest threat to the emerging U.S. economic recovery may be Congress.

John Boehner, the leader of the House Republicans, has promised yet another fight with the White House over the debt ceiling

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we suffered through an identical performance last summer. Our analysis of that episode leads to a troubling conclusion: It almost derailed the recovery, and this time could be a lot worse.

The brinksmanship displayed by the Republicans last summer resulted in a huge drop in consumer confidence, not just a drop in our credit rating.

High-frequency data on consumer confidence from the research company Gallup, based on surveys of 500 Americans daily, provide a good picture of the debt-ceiling debate’s impact (see chart). Confidence began falling right around May 11, when Boehner first announced he would not support increasing the debt limit. It went into freefall as the political stalemate worsened through July. Over the entire episode, confidence declined more than it did following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc

The only way, realistically, that Mitt Romney takes the White House is if the economy goes into the proverbial squatter. The Republicans were willing to derail the recovery and toy with the nation’s credit rating last summer to accomplish a political goal, why wouldn’t they do it again when the stakes are even higher? They reneged on the deals that were struck after that near economic nightmare last summer and they’re ready to bring it all crashing down.

As an added kicker, if you read this breakdown of the negotiations from last summer (some of the finest enterprise journalism of the last five years), you’ll learn that the Republican caucus is so fractured, that there isn’t one entity with whom the White House can negotiate.

In other words, buckle up, it’s gonna be One Crazy Summer and President Obama will be negotiating with the political equivalent of the Stork Brothers.

3. Speaking of that Presidential election, Medicare Fraud Enthusiast and Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is doing his best to turn the Florida election into a trainwreck of confusion and insanity. As in the run-up to the Presidential election in 2000, the Republican Party is doing their best to disenfranchise as many voters as possible.

Bill Internicola is a 91-year-old, Brooklyn-born, World War II veteran. He fought in the Battle of the Buldge and received the Bronze Star for bravery. He’s voted in Florida for 14 years and never had a problem.

Three weeks ago, Bill received a letter from Broward County Florida stating “[Y]ou are not a U.S. Citizen” and therefore, ineligible to vote. He was given the option of requesting “a hearing with the Supervisor of Elections, for the purpose of providing proof that you are a United States citizens” or forfeit his right to vote.

This decorated World War II veteran is just one of hundreds of fully eligible U.S. citizens being targeted by Governor Scott’s massive voter purge just prior to this year’s election, according to data obtained from Florida election officials by ThinkProgress. The purge list, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald, targets mostly Democrats and Hispanics.

If you can’t win on ideas, you change the meaning of winning.

4. Every day, the National Security Administration intercepts and stores over 1,700,000,000 emails, phone calls, texts, and online communications. Ya know, to keep us safe.

The Department of Homeland Security is also monitoring your communications, even on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other associated social media outlets. You’re not doing anything wrong, so you’ve got nothing to worry about, right? Well, if you’ve used any of these keywords in your communications, you should wonder.

Three months ago, a list of keywords was released by the Dept. for Homeland Security after the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the government for withholding the document.

Sure, they don’t monitor everything you say or type, but if you’ve typed the words “virus”, “social media”, “denial of service”, malware”, or “worm”…they certainly have checked you out.

This is probably a good time to remind you Proles that, “We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.”

5. As it turns out, customers prefer to be lied to about pricing.

You might have seen recently that iconic retailer JC Penney is slumping badly. You almost certainly have seen the reason why: A massive, creative and aggressive new advertising and pricing campaign that promises simplified prices.

Shoppers hated it.

The campaign, which launched on Feb. 1, appears to be a disaster. Revenue dropped 20 percent for the first quarter compared to last year. Customer traffic fell 10 percent. Last year, the company made $64 million in the first quarter; this year, it lost $163 million.

The CEO who came up with this concept was picked from the ranks of Apple, which made hundreds of billions of dollars by limiting choice and product options and simply relabeling it as “simplicity”. Now that the numbers are in, it would appear that people will dig this “simplicity” only if it’s paired up with the right kind of marketing in a very narrow product vertical. In department stores?

If a firm tries to educate consumers on tricks and traps, and tries to offer an honest product, a funny thing happens: Consumers say, “Thank you for the tips,” and go back to the tricky companies, where they exploit the new knowledge to get cheaper prices, leaving the “honest” firm in the dust.

JC Penney is, as they say, fucked. Switching back to shrouded prices and coupons so quickly will be disastrous for the company. Staying with the current strategy also leaves them exceedingly vulnerable in a very competitive marketplace. It’s fun to see a company make a big bet and take a lot of risk, but it’s terrible to see an iconic American brand lose so big on that bet.

Fact Of The Day: The Commodore 64 is the best selling computer ever made. To this day, I can strike anyone out with Pepe Perez’s screwball in Hardball.

Quote Of The Day: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” – Oscar Wilde

Laugh Of The Day: (Strong Language) “Funny As Hell” – Hannibal Buress

Double Laugh Of The Day: “Birth” – Patton Oswalt

Song Of The Day: “Cissy Strut” – The Meters

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

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

Clearing it Up

29 Apr

When health care reform is enacted to help insure almost all Americans, and initiate dramatically needed consumer protection into the health insurance industry, there was an outcry against it from the right, blathering about unconstitutionality.

When GM and Chrysler got massive loans from the government collateralized by stock, the right whinged about socialism, as if that somehow represented workers’ control of production.

When the banks got too clever for their own good and found themselves almost insolvent, when the entire economy collapsed and was on the brink of a once-in-a-century downward spiral, the right bitched and moaned that bailouts – many of which have since been repaid, with interest – were the worst thing since Hitler murdered 6,000,000 innocents and Stalin collectivized farms.

When Arizona passes a law that has the effect of requiring natural born United States citizens of Latino origin to carry citizenship papers with them at all times for wholly domestic travel, the right shrugs and tells the brown people, tough shit.

Just wanted to clear up what they do and don’t consider an unconstitutional outrage.  Social programs = bad, unconstitutional police-state-junior = dandy.

Maybe we need to institute the same policy in Florida and direct it at illegal Cuban immigrants. Let’s see how that goes over.  How about it, Mr. Rubio?

The Vacation Brain Dump

24 Feb
Walt Disney World Resort logo
Image via Wikipedia

Since I was immersed in the world of Disney over the past week, this is all I know or care to know right at this particular moment. Here are some observations from my first stay on-property at Walt Disney World.

1. Avis gave me a Toyota Camry. I checked, and it did have an “N” setting in the gearshift, and I checked again and discovered that I could pop the car into “N” even when the accelerator was pressed. All done “unexpected acceleration”.

2. We stayed at a “moderate” resort on-property called the “Caribbean Beach Resort”. Because it was school break week, it was exorbitantly expensive. Perks included free parking at the theme parks and extra hours at the parks when the general public couldn’t be there. We booked through AAA and got “Diamond Parking” which basically enabled us to park in a lot adjacent to the handicap lot, within walking distance of the entrance. The resort’s nightly cost was far in excess of comparable luxury suite hotels nearby like the Hilton Grand Vacation Club properties or the Sheraton Vistana Villages. I think it’s the last time we stay on-property, although I’ve always wanted to stay at the Contemporary Resort (the one with the monorail through it) since I was a little kid. The problem is that the cost of a deluxe resort last week was akin to booking first class travel to Europe. Given the choice, I’d book first class travel to Europe. Maybe some other time.

3. Disney’s web access is poor. They have a deal with Verizon, so the park app is only available to its subscribers. The mobile web site is poor. There is no free wifi on site – only an ethernet cable for an extra $10 per day on top of an already inflated price for what amounts to a glorified motel. There is no easy way to access the Disney Dining site on a mobile phone when you’re out and about, and the Disney website is atrociously slow and difficult to navigate. Restaurants on the Disney property are booked months in advance, and I’m not a Disney poweruser so with the exception of one character dinner, we didn’t make any reservations in advance. The Disney Dining phone line was ok, but time-consuming.

4. Magic Kingdom is great, as always, but if no one goes on the Stitch ride or into Mickey’s Philharmagic, why bother keeping them around? It’s a Small World dates back to the 1964 NY World’s Fair, but people still flock to it. I’m sure they can figure out something to put in there. Also, the “Tomorrowland Speedway” uses two-stroke engines that are probably giving those cast members emphysema. Maybe in “Tomorrowland” they update those cars to something electric.

5. Epcot’s future world is looking dated, but the handful of rides are pretty great – Soarin’, Mission: Space, and Test Track are all fantastic. The updated Spaceship Earth is also pretty cool and generates a video featuring your face which you can download. Hard to explain, but it was pretty neat. Over at World Showcase, which is basically another grouping of Worlds Fair pavilions, a “Kim Possible” spy game is available to kids and we had a lot of fun solving the mysteries and the game was integrated into the park in an amazing way. Also, Japan has the best store, and the British pavilion’s restaurant has mushy peas.

6. It used to be a tradition to go to the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at Downtown Disney. Never again. Think Shanghai Reds in an 80s atmosphere. It was lovelessly made banquet food delivered in a careless way. On the other hand, another tradition held up wonderfully – we had an incredible meal at Emeril’s at Universal CityWalk.

7. Save money and get breakfast fixins at Publix at Osceola Parkway and the 192. $40 for the week for cereal and yogurts and stuff to keep in the fridge, although we did take the kids for Krispy Kreme a few times.

8. Chevys.

9. The Nemo Musical show at Animal Kingdom was really wonderfully done. We rode the Everest roller coaster a few times and did the great but campy safari. The wilderness walk in Africa was also relaxing, and the setting there is lush and tropical. We didn’t spend enough time there.

10. Hollywood Studios has some great features that not a lot of people know about – you can get a drawing lesson from a Disney animator. We skipped the American Idol thing, but the parade was great for the kids, and the Rockin’ Roller Coaster is great, as always. It’s a compact park that has a lot for big and little kids.

11. It’s incredible to me that these parks put on such amazing fireworks displays almost daily.

12. The kids absolutely loved this vacation – it was so full of stuff to do that we never used the hotel pool, and they didn’t complain about it once. When we found out we needed another day on a multi-day park hopper, guest services will add a day on for a whopping $4 per person. The customer service was impeccable.

13. This on a 24-hour loop as the default TV station:

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So, there’s the Disney brain dump. Now, back to reality.

Ignorance & Indifference

22 Feb

So, right this minute, one kid is on a ride with her mom while we switch off watching the one who’s napping.

The vacation I’m enjoying has a lot to do with hanging out with these people who are my family, yet whom I only get to see for a few very stress-packed hours on weekdays and a couple of days each week we call “weekends”.

This is a Disney vacation, and we’ve ventured off-property only a handful of times. It’s the first and likely last time we’ll do this, and it’s been so packed with fun stuff we haven’t gone to the pool, and the kids haven’t noticed.

I’ve also vacated myself from giving a rat’s ass about Buffalo – Chris Collins’ bullshit interview with Matt Spina, and news of a boarded-up Statler notwithstanding.

That’ll pack ’em into that shite bunker we call a “convention center”, even if they do give it a shiny new Failsign.

See you in a few.

Canalside, A Dime a Dozen

26 Sep

Business travels just took me from Vegas to Northwest Florida. Specifically, the town of Destin in the Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-Destin MSA, population 188K.

I used to live in this part of Florida, and hadn’t been back in seven years. In those seven years, a shorter length of time than we’ve been arguing here in Buffalo about what to do at the Erie Canal Harbor, Destin has managed to build three complexes the size of Canalside, including:

Destin Commons

Destin Commons, and

Harborwalk Village

Harborwalk Village. Its time we admit that building Canalside will not make us a distinctive destination. It will only bring us up to date with the rest of the country, including podunk towns of less than 200,000 people in the redneck part of Florida. Can we just build it already? Just sayin.

Golisano Treads Into Nut Territory

23 Jun

Naples’ own Tom Golisano is considering for the U.S. Senate. But he’s not taking on Schumer or Gillibrand. We’re talking about one of the seats from Florida.

I thought he was all about cleaning up Albany or something.

What’s the difference between Tom Golisano and a kook? About $1.8 billion.

Exodus

27 May

While Tom Golisano changes his domicile from New York to Florida in a press-released, “pay attention to me” fit of pique, we should be far more concerned about the case of the Bell family’s escape of New York taxation for the warmer climes and lower taxes of Florida.

Golisano didn’t move Paychex and his other business concerns to Florida, after all. Just himself and his stuff. The Bells, on the other hand, are really picking up everything and getting out of dodge.

It would be easy to just end the whole story there – high taxes, the Bells are leaving town the end.

But there’s more to it than that. A lot more.

It’s no secret that different regions and states compete against each other for business and development. Florida has loads of ways to incentivize a move, and New York has fewer arrows in its business development quiver. Particularly when it comes to small mom & pop operations as compared with, say, Geicos and Yahoos.

So while I sympathize with the fact that the Bells file their taxes in such a way that they will be hard-hit by the increase on the marginal income tax rate for high earners in New York State, and Florida has no income tax at all, the story for me is that the absolutely worthless business development entities we are unfortunate enough to have here failed.

While BERC is busy running a destined-to-fail restaurant owned by a political friend of a friend, we have myriad other entities that trip over themselves and couldn’t find their asses with their elbows. BNE, the Partnership, multiple IDAs, etc. It’s all an incomprehensible hodgepodge of groups and associations that will continue to feed you the line that more is better.

Their plight also drew two very different reactions from local economic development officials. In Erie County, the Bells said, help or even encouragement was, at best, lacking. In Nassau County, a rural spot north of Jacksonville, Fla., officials leapt into action to entice the Bells southward — and in interviews were extremely knowledgeable about the Bells and their company and what they say will be their growing future in Florida.

Last fall, the family had no thoughts of fleeing. After buying out another company, the business was looking to relocate somewhere in Erie County.

and

Last year, the family, which will say only that the company’s sales total several million dollars a year, was looking for sites in the Buffalo area. They contacted the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. It didn’t go well.

“Essentially, they couldn’t care less about us. We only had 20 jobs, and it wasn’t important to them,” said 22-year-old Nathaniel Bell. And agency officials said they could not do anything about the big state income tax increase.

Alfred Culliton, the development agency’s chief financial officer, said his agency gave Science First all the help it requested. While the agency is not a real estate operation, two of his senior officials, he said, worked with the company in trying to find buildings for its relocation. He said the company never sought any financial assistance, such as low-interest loans, from the agency.

“I don’t know why they would say we were not eager to help small businesses,” Culliton said. He said the firm wasn’t able to find the real estate it wanted locally. “That brings the question into mind of how realistic were their expectations,” he said, noting that no rent subsidy programs are available for companies like Science First and that available space is charged at market rates.

They never sought, but were they offered? I mean, should available incentives for a business looking to stay in a high-tax area be hidden, only to be revealed when specifically requested? That seems counterintuitive.

Yes, taxes are too high, and it’s mostly thanks to Albany. It’s hardly a partisan issue, incidentally, as the Republicans and Democrats are equally tone-deaf and inept when it comes to reforming the state, or reducing taxes or spending. Scoff at Paterson all you want, but do so while reminding yourself of Governor Pataki, who ran the place for about 12 years.

On top of all of that, consider the fact that there are too many turf-protecting entities passing themselves off around here as business development groups. They pretty much suck, and they’re pretty much failures. There’s poor-to-know concerted, coordinated effort to attract or keep jobs or businesses here.

“Taxes taxes taxes” is a convenient mantra, but hardly the complete picture.

Dear Tom Golisano:

19 May

I read this in the Buffalo News yesterday:

“I wish there were 100,000 people standing behind me feeling the same way and acting the same way, but they’re not,” Golisano told reporters at the state Capitol. But, he added, he still feels a sense of responsibility to stay engaged in trying to change the ways of Albany — even if he has moved his legal residence to Naples, Fla.

There are a million people, probably more, who feel the same way as you about reforming New York, its taxation structure, its spending, and the general way it does business. We can’t all “act the same way” because we’re not billionaires. But many of us try, and still more have tried, to effect some change, with varying degrees of success.

I did a post last week that highlighted the fact that it’s no big surprise, and in no way unique for you to move to Florida. People move to Florida from western New York every day. It just so happens that you’re a politically connected billionaire, so there’s more at stake when it’s a guy like you leaving.

But back to your “wish” of having 100,000 people standing behind you – when exactly did you invite them? Responsible New York was never a grassroots organization. It never tried to organize people to take action – or really do anything whatsoever.

All you did was throw some money at some people whom you liked better than other people. You apparently helped to fund a vicious and likely illegal effort to obliterate Sam Hoyt and his reputation. Your political organization was a top-down affair run by one of the most divisive political figures western New York has ever seen. By selecting that person to run Responsible New York, it lost pretty much all of its credibility as a change agent, and guaranteed that its successes would be accidents.

Throwing money at races is fine, but money doesn’t always win the race. I’m quite sure that a well-organized, well-funded effort to organize average people to effect change in New York State government(s) would find a warm reception in every corner of the state. Imagine if there was a group representing average taxpayers that could rival the lobbying prowess and spending ability of the big special interests and unions that run the show in Albany.

You never set that up, though. Instead, you just wrote some checks and put up a totally non-transparent website that didn’t even have any sort of social media aspect to it – except a seldom-updated blog – so that the people you pretended to be representing in that effort could communicate with you, and with each other, and get involved.

I guess the upshot of it all is, don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. Responsible New York was never about change and reform. It’s about kingmaking and backscratching.

As for your grandstanding on taxes, I only wish that the unfriendly business climate in New York could someday enable my taxes to go up by $5 million per year when the rate is raised by 2.12%. Hope you enjoy Florida. I hear Naples is really gorgeous.

Love,

BP

Tom Golisano moving to Florida

15 May

Wow – that’s never happened before. Wealthy New Yorkers of a certain age moving down to Florida, where homestead rules and other regulations are lax, taxes are low, and weather is mild? My sweet God, this is a blockbuster! People moving out of New York!?

Look – Golisano says he’ll save $13,000 per day in taxes by moving to Florida.

Obviously, New York has been brutally disastrous to Mr. Golisano, given that his income is such that he has to pay $13,000 per day in taxes.

Say hi to Rush.