Tag Archives: new york

The Borscht Belt Debate

23 Oct

Courtesy WNED and CBS2 New York

Despite Brian Meyer’s desperate efforts to keep the format tight and moving, it was unwieldy. With four gubernatorial candidates being provided with equal time, it seemed at times that Cuomo and Astorino were afterthoughts. After all, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott threw some good ideas at people last night at WNED’s studio.

McDermott liked to cut through the BS and had one of the best answers about fracking; that his philosophy was that it was important to wait and see what it does to the environment, because you’re allowed to do on your property whatever you want unless it harms someone else. For his part, Hawkins gave super-liberals the red meat they crave – single-payer, a hard no on fracking, social justice, funding for mass transit. 

Alas, Hawkins and McDermott don’t have a credible chance. 

The format gave candidates one minute to answer questions that often seemed to run on for twice that time, and then occasionally a 30 second rebuttal. One of the problems with contemporary political speech is that we’re too reliant on dopey ads and sound bites, and this sort of debate-by-one-liner exacerbates the situation. No one watched that and learned anything. It treated us like dumb assholes, and yet again we’ll get the Albany government we’ll deserve. 

Take my wife, please. 

Republican Rob Astorino came out swinging at Andrew Cuomo, and didn’t get an opportunity to tell us very much about what he’d do. Cuomo gave as good as he got. It was a good time, but not at all a substantive one. 

Where did you get your haircut, the pet shop?

Here’s how it went, as it went along. 

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Ban the Flights! Which Flights? How?

21 Oct

That guy from Liberia who died from Ebola in Dallas – patient zero, right? Well, so far, there have been only two cases of disease transmittal, and they were both his nurses. The 21 day quarantine is over for everyone else who came into contact with him, and no one else contracted the disease.  There are, therefore, two (2) cases of new-onset Ebola in the US in its history, and everyone is freaking the hell out.  

That’s fewer people than have been married to Rush Limbaugh. 

None of this has stopped craven politicians and their ignorant media enablers from demanding an as-yet undefined travel ban. 

Rob Astorino thinks that the governor of New York can ban international travel? Under what legal authority? Wouldn’t this be something to be decided in Washington, or by the carriers themselves? How would the governor of New York gain access to the passenger manifests that federal agencies maintain? Would the governor demand to place State Police alongside customs or immigration agents at JFK – the only airport in the state with regularly scheduled transatlantic flights? Under what authority? Are we banning an entire Delta flight because one passenger connected in Paris from a west African nation? 

While the WHO declared Nigeria (a west African country) “Ebola-free” yesterday, most of the Ebola outbreak in that part of the world has been in the countries of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. It might surprise you to learn that there are no flights to the US – no flights to JFK – from any of those three countries. The only regularly scheduled flights to the US from that region originate in Ebola-free Senegal, Ghana, and Ebola-free Nigeria. 

As this study by Five Thirty Eight shows, the stricken countries have very few flights through Europe – only 18 weekly flights connect Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and half of those aren’t operating – so 9 weekly flights that could connect to flights to the US. 

Rob Astorino and other hysteria whores want to ban individual travel between JFK and as-yet-unnamed west African countries, but there’s no state-level authority for that, it wouldn’t work, and it would cost untold money and resources to do the requisite monitoring and banning of flights, and for nothing. If Nigeria can contain its Ebola outbreak, I’m pretty sure the United States  can, too. 

 

Trump: An Exercise in Brand Destruction

18 Jan

Dear New York State ultra right-wing Republicans: 

Andrew Cuomo is right. 

The reason you’re so angry? You know he’s right. 

But I would say the state GOP is split into three distinct factions, not just two. 

In 2010, the Republican Party was divided between the wealthy, country clubby downstate moderate Republican hierarchy on the one hand, and a brash, obscene, bellicose, ultra right-winger who energized (and was energized by) the Palinist wing of the tea party.  The glibertarian Paulist wing of the tea party also backed Paladino, somewhat begrudgingly. What all this amounted to was a complete blow-out whereby Democrat Andrew Cuomo defeated Carl Paladino 61% – 34%. 

Paladino was largely self-funded, and could buy himself all the media attention he wanted. His only disadvantage was his own mouth. And the policies he espoused. New Yorkers rejected him convincingly. 

Now, the ultra-right Palinists are thisclose to recruiting Donald Trump to run for governor against Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is, I’m sure, not relishing the fight because Trump has many advantages over Carl Paladino; for instance, Trump has an international brand; Trump is reasonably well-liked by people, regardless of his weird politics; Trump knows how to make headlines, and do so positively for himself; Trump has been vetted in the media for decades; people know Trump for fun things that have nothing to do with politics; he is a known quantity downstate;  and, Trump has the New York Post in his pocket. 

Trump has some negatives, too, though; for instance, he has no filter between his brain and his mouth; he can be not just exceedingly rude and hostile, but downright vicious when dealing with people who offer him even mild criticism; Trump has been scrutinized as a tabloid celebrity, but not as a serious candidate for elected office; Trump does not play well with others, and is used to getting exactly what he wants (or can buy); Trump is likely to mirror Paladino’s bellicose attitude and alienate many voters; Trump’s utterly bizarre and inexplicably vocal birtherism will make Obama voters (62.6% of New Yorkers voted for Obama vs. 36% for Romney) reject Trump outright; and Trump has never, ever before paid a stitch of care or attention to anything west of the Hudson and/or north of Saratoga when it comes to New York State. 

If Republicans think that Trump can win (if he runs), they may be right – he has a chance. But it won’t remotely be the cakewalk they’re thinking it’ll be.  Cuomo isn’t warm and fuzzy, either, but he is a centrist Democrat. 

New York State is overwhelmingly populated by Democrats. The vast majority of New York voters are located within the New York City metropolitan area and media market. These people know Trump, and while upstate flirts with this pretty TV celebrity, he’s old hat downstate. Many of them are likely to not take him at all seriously. 

All of these hypotheticals are naturally based on the assumption that he’ll run. He won’t if there’s a primary, he says, and the country clubbers that run the New York GOP aren’t warming to Trump yet. I’m not so sure he’ll run – this is already a huge publicity stunt for him, and running is secondary. What a wonderful branding exercise. 

But is it? Is Trump ready to sacrifice his brand further by wading into hyperpartisan politics? As an Obama supporter, I’ve already resolved to avoid anything with Trump’s name on it like the plague; I see his relentless birtherism as thinly veiled racist xenophobia, and I see his rejection of irrefutable evidence as a huge character flaw that disqualifies him for public office, and the money I earn. If Donald Trump thinks that the President is a foreign national who is ineligible for the Presidency in the face of a certified long-form Hawaiian birth certificate, that calls his judgment and credibility into question. Now expand that aggressive ignorance into state politics, and he’ll alienate Democrats and moderate Republicans even more. 

Oh, and here’s a tip, tea partiers: stop calling Andrew Cuomo “il Duce”. He was duly elected, and you maintain a right to hate and criticize him. He is, therefore, not a fascist totalitarian dictator. But he is Italian. Your defamation of Cuomo with this false, childish, base slur will not ingratiate you or your candidates to New Yorkers of Italian descent. This bigotry is vile and beneath you; you might as well call him a mob boss or depict him as an organ-grinder as soon as you’d depict Obama as an African chieftain or with a watermelon

Because for all the bleating about the NY SAFE Act, this race will be decided in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. The rural areas will go for the Republican, the urban areas will go for the Democrat, and these key suburban swing counties could go either way. Right-leaning upstate counties simply don’t have a lot of people. 60% or so of New Yorkers are registered Democrats. 30% or so of New Yorkers are registered Republicans. The Conservative and Independence Parties are now wholly owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party, so add another 5% on the Republican side. That’s the gap that Trump would have to win, and Cuomo made the point that he’s too extreme. 

Here’s what Cuomo had to say in remarks that enraged many New York right-wingers: 

You have a schism within the Republican Party. … They’re searching to define their soul, that’s what’s going on. Is the Republican party in this state a moderate party or is it an extreme conservative party? That’s what they’re trying to figure out. It’s a mirror of what’s going on in Washington. The gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It’s more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans.

… You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

If they’re moderate Republicans like in the Senate right now, who control the Senate — moderate Republicans have a place in their state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate Republican; but not what you’re hearing from them on the far right.”

Republicans can take umbrage to that, but it’s a fundamentally true declaration. New York Republicans may enjoy the extreme hatenouncements of pretty billionaires and petty millionaires, but your average New Yorker is pretty middle-of-the-road. Pataki won because he wasn’t an extremist. Cuomo won because he wasn’t an extremist. It’s about the center in New York, and Trump may have had appeal there before the birtherism, but now he’s just Paladino with a cleaner outbox, a TV endorsement, and more money in the bank. 

Oh, by the way, the New York State Attorney General is suing Trump for defrauding students through a now-defunct “Trump University” which took money in exchange for nothing.  

So, my initial prediction is that Trump won’t win because (a) there would likely be a primary; and/or (b) he doesn’t need the headache. If I’m wrong and he does run, then I think he outperforms Paladino, but doesn’t defeat Cuomo. The reason why? Trump is being backed and promoted by a small minority of a small minority political party – a fraction of 35% of the state population. 

You guys are great at buying your own BS, and because you only credit right-leaning media and reject any sort of critical thought or debate, you think that you “surround us”. The problem is that the numbers are not in your favor, and the ease with which you descend into crass, ugly rhetoric doesn’t help. This is before we get to the actual policies you espouse, most of which would never fly in a cosmopolitan blue state like New York. 

So, good luck with this, but you might want to consider ways in which centrists and liberals might be attracted to Trump, rather than alienating them right from the start. Have a great weekend!

Love, BP

Exposing Public Corruption in NY: Laughable

15 Oct

It’s only a matter of time before we see former Erie County District Attorney Mark Sacha’s evidence of election law violations perpetrated by Steve Pigeon and the minor fusion parties with which he brokers deals. In the meantime, we get to enjoy Sacha’s relentless criticism of Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, which is turning out to be nothing but a lot of show

State government in New York is a set of two compliant mafia families, and any effort to expose or repair the horrible, corrupt way New York operates is strictly forbidden – it violates the code of silence. Don’t kill the job. 

Letter to Moreland Commission, Erie County and NY State Boards of Election

Also – do you remember when Joe Illuzzi was alive, Pigeon would feed him articles and information to post? Then Bob McCarthy would get around to printing it in the paper in some way? Now that Illuzzi’s dead, Pigeon only has Parlato and the Niagara Falls Reporter, and no one really reads that regularly outside of the Falls. So, now, he funnels his advertorials about how influential he is directly to the News, which thankfully bothered to vet the information with other people. 

One of these days, the law’s going to catch up. 

 

An Education in Education

4 Jun

Speaking of education, here are a few things I learned over the past few weeks. 

1. When Clarence’s school board decided to submit an above-cap budget for 2013-2014, it could only be passed by a 60/40 supermajority. The practical effect of that is that my yes vote is worth only about 5/8th of a no vote. That’s not “one person/one vote” and that’s not fair. There is a bill in the Assembly to right this wrong

2. Elections that are governed by the election law, which includes races for school board, are barely regulated and shadowy groups using untold amounts of money can operate with absolute secrecy. If, for instance, you want to spend more than $25 towards the election of another person who is running for a school board, you’re prohibited from doing so. But the penalty for breaking that law is non-existent. For an ultra-right wing group that wants to take over a school board or defeat a school budget, unlimited people can spend unlimited money to do it. In Clarence, that’s happening right now. 

3. There are no exceptions to the tax -cap legislation to allow for, e.g., paying court orders and school safety.

4. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is based in Maryland and was set up by one of the founders of UPS to, “build better futures for disadvantaged children and their families in the United States. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families.” Frankly, the sort of things a government should be doing. AECF ranks states in terms of the quality of the education children there receive. New York is number 19.  Clearly, there is work to do. 

5. The United States spends over $600 billion on educating its next generation every year. By contrast, our elective war in Iraq cost over $2 trillion.  The difference is that no one got to vote in a referendum on the tax levy for the Iraq war. Using 2007 numbers, the United States spent less than only Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Norway among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries per pupil. 

6. In a recent ranking of education quality, the United States came in as “average”. The top countries are Finland and South Korea. This has an adverse affect on kids’ abilities to compete in a global marketplace where their peers abroad are simply educated better. 

When it comes to education, “rah-rah US is #1” is untrue and just as jejune as allegations that kids can do well in school regardless of the quality of teachers or class sizes if they come from the right home in the right neighborhood with the right family makeup with a nice income. There is clearly a lot of room for improvement; especially if you live in a place like Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, West Virginia, or Nevada. The report which ranks education quality country-by-country comes up with these conclusions

  1. There are no magic bullets: The small number of correlations found in the study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.

  2. Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.

  3. Culture can be changed: The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.

  4. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviours of education: Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.

  5. Educate for the future, not just the present: Many of today’s job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, simply did not exist 20 years ago. Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.

Clearly, there is work to be done, and each side in the debate in the US have at least one point, but we’re missing the bigger picture because it’s difficult and time-consuming. Note that American teachers are paid wages below the world average. 

The solution, however, is not to cut teachers or to treat them like fast-food workers. It is not to cut programs that encourage learning, fitness, or creativity. We can work for systemic improvement while not sacrificing the quality of education that kids are receiving now. Testing and more testing isn’t the answer, nor is pitting teachers’ unions against everyone else. 

I don’t know whether Carl Paladino’s baseball bat or AFP’s decimation of public schooling are precisely the right solution.  But one thing I do know – I’m embarrassed and ashamed for having not paid closer attention to these things before, especially as it relates to my own town. 

School Budget & Board Elections: Vote Today

21 May

Today, communities across New York State will be holding their school tax budget referenda and, in some cases, school board elections. Turnout for these votes is always quite low, yet it’s one of the very few times you have direct control over the taxes you pay – in this case, school taxes assessed against the value of your home.

I live in Clarence, where there’s a battle over a proposed 9.8% rise in school taxes. The proposal rolls right past Cuomo’s property tax cap and needs a 60% supermajority to succeed. 

When we moved to western New York in 2001, we chose to live in Clarence for one sole reason – the excellence of its schools. We have grown to love the town and our neighbors, many of whom also made the move to Clarence because of the school system. It is not hyperbole to suggest that the schools are the town’s very foundation, and if you do harm to them, you harm the entire community. 

Over the past 10 years, the school tax rate has decreased while personnel and non-mandated programs have been cut. Because past budgets were only balanced thanks to use of now-depleted savings, a one-time budget in excess of the cap is necessary to maintain the school curriculum. 

The forces opposed to the school budget are vocal and well-funded. One effort in particular that anyone with a Clarence mailbox knows about has been carefully created and funded from outside the area. Koch Industries’ anti-tax fake grassroots conservative activist group “Americans for Progress” has developed the mail pieces and websites urging a “no” vote and manipulating the data to mislead residents about what’s going on. I, for one, don’t take election of advice from people who proudly, and without irony, place massive election signs on derelict eyesore properties in the town

You can read about the AFP mailers here and here. You can read the reasons to vote YES on the Clarence budget here

Assemblyman Steve Katz on the Bills Stadium

13 Mar

The next time you get all parochial and upset about something that’s happening in some other part of the state, and think to yourself, “why should we pay for that?” consider this.

Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) represents the 94th Assembly District, and is a Republican representing extreme northern Westchester and part of Putnam Counties. (He happens to be my parents’ Assemblyman). When confronted with a bill to send $60 million in state funds to renovate Ralph Wilson stadium, he said,

Manhattan Democratic Assemblyman Herman Farrell, Jr., (D-Washington Heights) the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, brought up the examples of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and the Jets and Giants playing in New Jersey. A Democrat from Manhattan defending your hobby fandom against a Republican from the rural New York exurbs? Consider that, Buffalo.

 

Koch at the Pearly Gates

4 Feb

Almost Heaven for Ed Koch

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

 

Happy Anniversary

26 Jun

Perhaps you saw this image floating around on the Facebooks this week.  Not only is same-sex marriage the right thing to do from a civil rights perspective, but it’s good for business. Treating fellow citizens like equals is really something of a no-brainer, and it’s important to note that the biggest homophobic, anti-SSM group, the “National Organization for Marriage” has decided that the best strategy is to pit African American voters against the LGBT community, and to go back to the “Obama radical” well, which has been dry for some time. 

I’ve come to the personal conclusion that one’s support of same-sex marriage is tantamount to a test of intelligence. A gay couple getting married has no bearing whatsoever on anyone else. It’s simple but true to say that if you don’t like same-sex marriage, don’t get one. Religious freedom and your own conscience do not, however, deserve to be codified as a prohibition on others’ behavior. 

Just because certain Jewish people keep Kosher, doesn’t mean every grocery store and restaurant has to follow those laws. 

And so it is, a year later, there’s a lawsuit pending brought by same-sex marriage opponents, and the execrable patronage mill called the “Conservative Party” has made repeal of the act a mission. 

As we celebrate the anniversary of this victory for civil rights and common sense, don’t forget the local electeds who would have denied this basic right to LGBT couples. 

Assembly

Robin Schimminger, Jane Corwin, Dennis Gabryszak

Senate

Michael Ranzenhofer, Pat Gallivan, George Maziarz

It’s Legally OK to be Gay

14 Jun
Pride flag is raised!

Photo by Flickr user Whitney Arlene

Defamation – and its synonyms “slander” (spoken defamation) and “libel” (published defamation) – is generally defined as a false statement of fact that causes harm to a person and his reputation.  Obviously, its more complicated than just that, and the law is different if you’re a public figure or a private person. 

In New York, “a statement has defamatory connotations if it tends to expose a person to ‘public hatred, shame, obloquy, contumely, odium, contempt, ridicule, aversion, ostracism, degradation or disgrace, or to induce an evil opinion of [a person] in the minds of right-thinking persons.'”  A plaintiff suing for slander must show that he has suffered damages unless the alleged statement is considered slander per se

Slander per se, until recently, included “statements (i) charging [a] plaintiff with a serious crime; (ii) that tend to injure another in his or her trade, business or profession; (iii) that [a] plaintiff has a loathsome disease; or (iv) imputing unchastity to a woman”… the Appellate Division Departments, including this Court in dicta, have recognized statements falsely imputing homosexuality as a fifth per se category.”

Because of changing social perceptions and changes in both federal and state laws concerning homosexuality, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department recently ruled that the inclusion of homosexuality among the per se categories imputed some sort of shame or disgrace, and ruled that it would no longer be considered defamatory per se. 

This little, barely-noticed ruling, is yet another step in the massive societal shift that has been taking place over the last several decades whereby homophobia has gone from being the statutory norm to, itself, a subject of shame and sometime criminality. While the people who rely on, and profit from, hatred and fear are having their last gasp, at least in New York State, we can say we’re doing the right thing.